NCF Nation: Allan Evridge

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's nearly August, and Wisconsin tight end Garrett Graham still doesn't know who will be throwing him passes this season.

What else is new?

  Tim Larson/Icon SMI
  Garrett Graham led Wisconsin in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns last season.

"You get used to it, I guess," Graham said. "It seems like the same thing happens every year in our program. But I don't think a lot of guys worry about it. The best guy is going to play and you can't argue with that."

Graham has grown accustomed to Wisconsin's revolving door at quarterback. He worked with John Stocco in 2006, Tyler Donovan in 2007 and both Allan Evridge and Dustin Sherer last year.

The uncertainty under center will create some concern among Badgers fans heading into the fall, but they have no such worries about the personnel turnover among the tight ends/H-backs.

Former All-American Travis Beckum has moved on, but Graham leads a formidable group that should once again be a strong point for the team.

Beckum's injury woes in 2008 created increased opportunities for Graham, who led Wisconsin in receptions (40), receiving yards (540) and receiving touchdowns (5). Graham enters the fall as a candidate for the Mackey Award and will be backed up by veterans Lance Kendricks and Mickey Turner.

"We have to put the offense on our shoulders this year," Graham said.

Beckum put up big numbers in 2006 and 2007 at the H-back position, a place where Graham could see increased time this season. Graham and Turner both can move seamlessly between the tight end and H-back spots, and Kendricks, listed primarily as an H-back, is starting to gain the same versatility.

"I'm comfortable being on the line and motioning into the backfield, dropping back into a fullback position every once in a while," Graham said. "Then again, I'm fine with being split out on a single side."

Graham will be an asset to Wisconsin's quarterback no matter where he lines up. After earning first-team All-Big Ten honors last season, the 6-foot-4, 248-pound Graham filed paperwork with the NFL to check his draft status before opting to return.

Graham declined to say where he was projected in April's draft but "never really seriously considered" leaving Wisconsin. He spent the offseason developing his speed and quickness to complement his sturdy frame.

"We incorporated a lot more speed and agility this year, and I feel as fast as I ever had and as agile," he said. "It definitely paid off."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Paul Chryst isn't trying to skirt his responsibilities as a well-paid decision maker, but he also knows that the easier his choices are, the better off Wisconsin should be this fall.

The Badgers' offensive coordinator is gearing up for another quarterback competition, which begins March 24 as the team opens spring practice. Chryst will be evaluating four players -- senior Dustin Sherer, junior Scott Tolzien, redshirt freshman Curt Phillips and true freshman Jon Budmayr -- aiming to lead a Badgers offense that ranked third in the Big Ten last fall but flat-lined at key times.

  David Stluka/Getty Images
  Dustin Sherer helped lead Wisconsin to wins in four of its final five regular-season games.

"When you're deciding who your starters are at quarterback or any other position, there really aren't a lot of hard calls," Chryst said. "If you've got a good team, it's pretty clear to see who your guys are. What was hard about last year was there wasn't a lot of separation and there was inconsistency. That's what makes hard decisions."

Chryst didn't make any decisions on the quarterback spot last spring and expressed disappointment about the lack of separation. Allan Evridge eventually claimed the job late in fall camp, but Chryst didn't enter the season feeling great about the position.

"That was my biggest concern, and it was because there wasn't separation, because there was inconsistent play," he said. "That's your worst-case scenario. I remember in camp, a couple times pleading for someone to take the job and also talking to them about [the fact that] this is a position that's got a big question mark on it. And I kind of challenged them, 'Who's going to take the question mark off and put an exclamation point on it?'

"If you look back and if you're truly honest with yourself, it was a question mark and at times, a negative behind that position. We, as a group, have got to take that personal and don't want that spot to be the weak link on the offense."

Quarterback play hurt Wisconsin during a disappointing 2008 campaign that began with legit BCS bowl aspirations. Evridge started the first five games, throwing as many touchdowns as interceptions (5), before giving way to Sherer, who helped Wisconsin to wins in four of its final five regular-season games but struggled in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State.

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Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin needs a quarterback. So do Michigan and Michigan State. Ohio State is looking to replace star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells. The Spartans? They need a back, too, after the graduation of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer.

Every Big Ten team has some holes to fill, and the process begins in spring ball as position competitions kick off throughout the league. Here are five key spots to watch when practices get under way.

Team: Michigan

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Steven Threet (eight games), Nick Sheridan (four games)

Candidates: Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, David Cone

The skinny: Threet's recent decision to transfer from Michigan shook up the competition before spring practice. Sheridan has the edge in college game experience, starting the final three games last fall, but Forcier enters practice as the front-runner. The true freshman, who enrolled in January, has the skill set that suits Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Robinson also will be a factor when he arrives this summer, but Forcier has an opportunity to gain a head start this spring.

Team: Ohio State

Position: Running back

2008 starter: Chris "Beanie" Wells

Candidates: Dan Herron, Brandon Saine, Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde

The skinny: Wells' foot injury last fall gave Ohio State an idea of what life will be like without the 237-pound power back. Herron, who served as Wells' primary backup in 2008, has the inside track to claim the job but needs a good spring performance. He's deceptively strong despite a smallish frame (5-foot-10, 193), but Ohio State might go with more of a committee system this fall. Saine could be a factor if he stays healthy, and heralded recruits Berry and Hyde will compete when they arrive this summer.

Team: Wisconsin

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Allan Evridge (six games) and Dustin Sherer (seven games)

Candidates: Sherer, Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips, Jon Budmayr, James Stallons

The skinny: The quarterback position really hurt Wisconsin last year, and the Badgers once again enter the spring with major questions under center. The competition last spring didn't provide much clarity, so offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be looking for any type of separation this time around. Sherer had mixed results last year, helping Wisconsin to four wins but struggling in the bowl game. Tolzien is a heady player who could be a factor this spring, but the spotlight will really be on the two young quarterbacks, Phillips and Budmayr. Both were heralded recruits, particularly Phillips, and Wisconsin might be looking for a multiyear starter to emerge after the last few years.

Team: Michigan State

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Brian Hoyer

Candidates: Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol

The skinny: This will be a fascinating story to watch, as the promising Cousins goes up against Nichol, a transfer from Oklahoma who grew up an hour from the Michigan State campus. Cousins is the favorite after a solid performance as Hoyer's backup last year, completing 32 of 43 passes (74.4 percent) for 310 yards. But Nichol didn't come to Michigan State to ride the bench and has a year in the system after running the scout team last fall. Without Ringer, Michigan State will look to upgrade its passing attack, so the quarterbacks will take center stage this spring.

Team: Penn State

Position: Defensive end

2008 starters: Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines

Candidates: Jerome Hayes, Jack Crawford, Kevion Latham, Eric Latimore

The skinny: The Lions also have holes at wide receiver and along the offensive line, but defensive end became a surprise area of need after Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft as underclassmen. Hayes has torn the ACLs in both knees the last two seasons, so he's far from a reliable bet to step in as a starter. Crawford, who grew up mostly in England, is still fairly new to football but has good ability and could emerge this spring. Latimore had a sack in nine games last year, and Latham recorded three tackles in eight contests. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson seemingly produces star pass-rushers every year, but this could be his toughest challenge yet.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

It's not quite the holiday vacation yet, and there are still plenty of ACC bowls to talk about. Today we'll focus on the Champs Sports Bowl and the Emerald Bowl. Let's start with the Seminoles.

Here are three reasons why Florida State will win:

1. Speed. The Seminoles have it, and Wisconsin isn't used to seeing it. Badgers quarterback Dustin Sherer, who replaced Allan Evridge as the starter in October, will get up close and personal with FSU defensive end Everette Brown, one of the best pass-rushers in the country. And the Badgers' scoring defense has been friendly, allowing 25 points per game. FSU has plenty of speedy playmakers ready to take advantage of a veteran defensive line that has underperformed this season.

2. Home turf. Florida State has never lost a game in Orlando (6-0-2), and is 2-0 in bowl games there. Bobby Bowden played -- and won -- the first bowl game of his career in Orlando, a 40-17 win over Texas Tech in the 1977 Tangerine Bowl.

3. Special teams. The Seminoles have Lou Groza award winner Graham Gano, and Wisconsin has the worst kickoff return unit in the country. FSU's Michael Ray Garvin leads the country in kickoff returns, and Gano leads the country in field goals. Gano is averaging 41.1 yards per punt, and Wisconsin is 48th in the country in punt returns.

Here are three reasons why FSU won't win:

1. Momentum. Wisconsin enters this game on a three-game winning streak while Florida State is trying to regroup after losing two of its last three, including that pounding the Noles took from Florida.

2. The Big Ten's No. 1 rushing offense. This is obviously the Badgers' strength, as they lead the Big Ten with 212 rushing yards per game, good for 14th in the country. It's the best the program has been on the ground since 1999. Junior P.J. Hill and redshirt freshman John Clay combined to run for 1,866 yards this season. Over the past four games, Hill and Clay each went over the 100-yard mark three times and combined to total 773 yards (an average of 193.3 ypg). They also scored 13 touchdowns over that span. Wisconsin will try to pound the ball and control the clock.

3. Wisconsin's secondary. Niles Brinkley, Allen Langford and Shane Carter have combined for eight interceptions this season, and Jay Valai has developed a reputation as a hard hitter. If the Badgers can force quarterback Christian Ponder to throw the ball, this group is capable of making game-changing plays.

Dec. 27, 4:30 p.m., ESPN

Wisconsin take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Both of these teams will have an eye toward the future when they clash Dec. 27 at Citrus Bowl Stadium.

Wisconsin's BCS bowl dreams have long since vanished, but it recovered from a miserable four-week stretch to close the regular season with three consecutive wins. The Badgers seemed to establish an identity on offense after junior quarterback Dustin Sherer replaced Allan Evridge, and they finally started to utilize the Big Ten's deepest rushing attack.

Quarterback Christian Ponder is Florida State's future, but like the team this season, the sophomore had mixed results. The same can be said for Wisconsin's veteran defense, which will need to contain Ponder and running back Antone Smith.

Defense and special teams are Florida State's strengths, and Wisconsin must wear down the Seminoles with running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay, who were used effectively in the final four games. Sherer won't have many opportunities to attack the nation's eighth-ranked pass defense, but Florida State struggled to stop the run against Georgia Tech and Florida and could be vulnerable against the ground game.

Florida State take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: Florida State will face a middle-of-the-pack Wisconsin team that was reflective of a bulk of the Big Ten -- average. The Badgers were expected to contend for the Big Ten title, but fell below the preseason expectations and barely escaped their season finale against Cal Poly.

It's the first time these programs have met, and they're similar in that their strengths are both their running games. The Badgers finished the regular season 14th nationally and lead the Big Ten with 212 rushing yards per game, and are led by P.J. Hill, who has 1,021 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.

The Seminoles are holding opponents to an average of 291.8 total yards, and have the No. 5 rushing defense in the ACC. Wisconsin's challenge will also be to stop the run -- namely Antone Smith and Jermaine Thomas -- and force quarterback Christian Ponder into throwing the ball deep and making mistakes.

The Badgers will also be challenged to match Florida State's speedy playmakers, and stop the ACC's No. 1 scoring defense at 32.7 points per game. Wisconsin has the No. 5 rushing defense in the Big Ten at 133.2 yards per game. Wisconsin won three straight to end the season.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Three weeks ago, Justin Siller was practicing as a running back at Purdue, having made the move from quarterback in an effort to spark a sputtering offense.

 Harry How/Getty Images
 Mike Kafka set a Big Ten quarterback record with 217 rushing yards.

Mike Kafka hadn't switched positions at Northwestern, although some thought he'd be better served as a running back or a wide receiver. Two weeks ago, Kafka went through another round of workouts as Northwestern's backup quarterback, his on-field work limited to 14 pass attempts in the last two seasons.

Then Saturday arrived, and the scripts changed for both players.

Siller accounted for four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) and threw no interceptions in leading Purdue to a 48-42 win against Michigan, which snapped the Boilermakers' five-game losing streak. Kafka set a Big Ten quarterback record with 217 rushing yards and also fired two touchdown passes as Northwestern upset then-No. 17 Minnesota at the Metrodome.

Two reserve quarterbacks, a backup (Kafka) and a third-stringer (Siller), shared Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for Week 10. Given the quarterback landscape this season in the Big Ten, it comes as no surprise.

If this is the year of the quarterback in the Big 12, it's the year of the backup quarterback in the Big Ten. Backups have played prominent roles for seven of the 11 teams, either because of injury or performance.

"A change at Wisconsin, a change at Iowa, in our own case, in Northwestern's case, changes because of injuries," Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. "Same in [Indiana's] case. So circumstantially, there's a greater opportunity for guys to step up. And fortunately for all of us, we've had some guys that, when the season began, were relegated to a backup role that have come through."

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Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

By all accounts, Malcolm Jenkins could have spent August in an NFL training camp.

Five teams drafted cornerbacks in the first round of April's draft -- Buffalo, Arizona, Tampa Bay, Dallas, San Diego -- and Jenkins would have been a great fit with any of them. He had recorded four interceptions and seven pass deflections in back-to-back seasons, earned consecutive first-team All-Big Ten selections and several All-America mentions.

 AP Photo/Amy Sancetta
 Against Purdue, Malcolm Jenkins blocked a punt that teammate Etienne Sabino returned to the end zone for the game's only touchdown.

An NFL prototype at 6-foot-1 and 201 pounds, Jenkins was regarded as one of the best, if not the best cornerback in last year's class. But he opted to return to Ohio State for his senior season, saying he still had more to accomplish as a college player.

Jenkins reported for Buckeyes preseason camp Aug. 3, just as he had the previous three years. He tried to focus on the coming season and the unfinished goals ahead of him -- a national title, the Thorpe Award -- but he couldn't completely block out his own hype.

"The hardest thing in sports, period, and kind of in life, is to handle praise," Jenkins said. "It's kind of easy to handle people doubting you and saying you can't do things because if you have a strong-enough attitude, you'll just use that as fuel.

"But whenever you have people telling you that you're at the top and you're the best, it's hard not to believe it. It's hard to motivate yourself. Your attitude is, 'Well, if I'm at the top, how much better can I get?'"

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Big Ten internal affairs

October, 22, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to look inside five Big Ten teams.

Penn State -- Despite Navorro Bowman's emergence, there has been some concern about linebacker play this year, and the picture only got cloudier last Saturday. After Michigan's run game started strong, the Nittany Lions called for reinforcements and put freshman Michael Mauti and sophomore Bani Gbadyu in the game. The two young players stepped up, combining for 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Both Mauti and Gbadyu could once again see increased playing time in place of Tyrell Sales and possibly Josh Hull against No. 9 Ohio State (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Mauti's speed on the edge should help against Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Wisconsin -- A week after saying the 2009 season had no impact on his starting quarterback decision, Badgers head coach Bret Bielema certainly appears to be looking toward the future at that position. Junior quarterback Dustin Sherer will make his second consecutive start Saturday against Illinois, and sophomore Scott Tolzien will take more snaps this week in practice with the second-team offense. Fifth-year senior Allan Evridge, who started Wisconsin's first six games, has effectively been moved to third string. Sherer and Tolzien will compete for the starting job next season with Curt Phillips and James Stallons.

Illinois -- Freshman offensive tackle Corey Lewis could see increased playing time against Wisconsin after performing well in his debut against Indiana. Lewis can play either tackle spot and spelled left tackle Xavier Fulton for several series last week. Sophomore Ryan Palmer will remain sidelined for some time with a foot stress fracture, and Lewis likely will be needed against the Badgers. Lewis also can play on the defensive line. "I wanted to get Corey in there," head coach Ron Zook said. "We kind of joked about that when we told him we were going to play him because he's 18 now and old enough. He's excited about it and I noticed a little different intensity out of him."

Purdue -- Head coach Joe Tiller admitted this week that Purdue's offense has become too basic and needs to diversify after four straight losses. In previous years, the Boilermakers entered every game with two "deceptives" in the offensive plan. This season, the outside-the-box, high-risk, high-reward plays have not been included. That will change Saturday against Minnesota (ESPN Classic, noon ET). "From this point forward I want to see, when the game plan is presented later in the week, two deceptives," Tiller said. "Now, I'm not guaranteeing you they're going to get called, but we're going to have 'em as a possibility anyway, which we haven't had." Purdue ranks ninth in the league in scoring offense (22.3 ppg).

Michigan -- Despite a third consecutive loss, the Wolverines might have found their featured running back last Saturday at Penn State. Junior Brandon Minor had 117 rush yards and two touchdowns against the Big Ten's No. 2 rush defense (103.9 ypg). Minor's emergence allows head coach Rich Rodriguez to take pressure off of true freshman Sam McGuffie and, to a lesser extent, true freshman Michael Shaw. McGuffie has carried the load for much of the season but needs more time to grow into a top role. Minor's ability to run inside and grind out yards will benefit Michigan down the stretch. The junior claimed the top spot on this week's depth chart.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Ten things you don't want to miss this weekend in the Big Ten.

1. Javon vs. Beanie -- We're on a first-name basis with these two superstar running backs, who match up Saturday at Spartan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Michigan State's Javon Ringer remains in the Heisman mix and can help his cause with a big game in the national spotlight. Chris "Beanie" Wells has been solid since his return from injury, but with Ohio State's passing game struggling, his workload likely will increase. Wells has been at his best in big games, and he needs another strong effort against the Spartans.

2. The scoreboard at Beaver Stadium -- How bad will it get for Michigan? No. 3 Penn State enters Saturday's game (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET) on a nine-game losing streak to the Wolverines, and the Lions undoubtedly have the ability to run up the score. Michigan's defense needs a big performance to keep things close, but the Lions could be looking for revenge. Wolverines quarterback Steven Threet could be limited with a bruised elbow, and the offense likely will struggle against the league's top defense.

3. The man taking snaps for Wisconsin -- Badgers head coach Bret Bielema opened up the competition at quarterback this week, and it seems likely that junior Dustin Sherer will replace Allan Evridge against Iowa. The Hawkeyes allow fewer than 100 rushing yards a game, and Wisconsin will need its quarterback to make some plays. Bielema and offensive coordinator Paul Chryst liked the spark Sherer provided in mop-up time against Penn State. They might make a switch after seeing too many mistakes from the quarterback spot.

4. Terrelle Pryor and the passing game -- There was some grumbling this week in Columbus about a punch-less passing attack, and it will be interesting to see how Pryor responds against Michigan State. Pryor has taken too many sacks in recent weeks, and he needs to make some quicker decisions and get wideouts Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline more involved. Ohio State has slipped to 108th nationally in pass offense (143.6 ypg).

5. C.J. Bacher vs. Curtis Painter -- Both senior quarterbacks have struggled this season, ranking eighth and ninth in the league in pass efficiency. Northwestern is 10-0 in games when Bacher starts and throws fewer than two interceptions and 3-10 when he throws two or more picks. Painter hasn't thrown a touchdown pass this month and needs to inspire confidence in his teammates with a strong performance at Ryan Field.

6. Juice and the record books -- Illinois quarterback Juice Williams has set stadium records for total offense in each of his last two games. That's 934 yards of offense in eight quarters. Mercy. He now takes aim on an Indiana defense that has allowed 42 points or more in three of its last four games. Williams already has eight completions for 50 yards or more this season -- the most for any FBS quarterback -- and Indiana's secondary is susceptible to the big play.

7. Jim Tressel vs. Mark Dantonio -- Tressel and his former defensive coordinator square off for the third consecutive season, and though their teams are the bigger story this time, it will be interesting to see the two coaches match wits. Both men admit they don't enjoy facing one another, but Dantonio and Michigan State can take a major step forward by beating Tressel and the three-time defending Big Ten champions. "I sort of enjoy playing Ohio State," Dantonio said. "I always did when I was here before. I don't enjoy playing people that are close friends, I guess, but I enjoy playing against a football team that is from where I grew up."

8. Indiana's quarterback situation -- Kellen Lewis sat out practice this week and is listed as questionable for the Illinois game with a high ankle sprain. Indiana trusts sophomore Ben Chappell, who has shared the field with Lewis at times this season. But Lewis remains Indiana's biggest threat, and the Hoosiers will need more playmakers to develop if the junior is limited or unavailable against the high-powered Illini.

9. Penn State and the trap game -- Lions players insist they're not concerned about the losing streak to Michigan or the psychological effect such a slide could have on Saturday. But if Michigan somehow jumps ahead, it will be interesting to see how Penn State responds. These teams aren't comparable on paper, but college football always has some surprises and Penn State has a huge game next week at Ohio State. As Penn State coach Joe Paterno said recently, "I don't know what an upset is any more."

10. Do-it-all backs in Evanston -- Tyrell Sutton and Kory Sheets don't get the same attention as Ringer, Wells, Shonn Greene and Evan Royster, but there aren't two more versatile running backs in the conference. Sutton is quietly averaging 100.5 rush yards per game and ranks third on the team with 24 receptions. Sheets ranks second in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (156 ypg), accounting for 34 first downs (29 rushing, 5 receiving) this season.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Time for our weekly look inside five Big Ten teams.

Michigan State -- The Spartans went deep into their roster against Northwestern, as 59 of the 70 players in uniform for the game saw action in a 37-20 victory. Freshmen Glenn Winston and Keshawn Martin made big contributions on kickoff returns and in the passing game, and Jeremy Ware sparked a banged-up secondary with five pass break-ups. Michigan State could be a bit healthier for Saturday's clash against No. 12 Ohio State, as top cover corner Chris L. Rucker might return from an elbow injury. Wideout Mark Dell remains the starter on the depth chart despite being limited against Northwestern with an undisclosed injury.

Ohio State -- Head coach Jim Tressel reaffirmed his support Tuesday for starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor despite struggles on offense the last few weeks. Tight end Jake Ballard stumped for senior Todd Boeckman and a two-quarterback system that could better balance the offense. The Buckeyes rank 108th nationally in pass offense and 70th in scoring, but Tressel is satisfied with the direction. Pryor's individual yardage totals have dropped in each of the last three weeks, but Ohio State continues to win and didn't fare much better with Boeckman at the helm.

Wisconsin -- In addition to having no definitive starting quarterback at this point in game week, Wisconsin could have a new look on the offensive line Saturday at Iowa. Right guard Kraig Urbik, who has made 45 consecutive starts on the line, likely will miss the game after sustaining a knee injury last Saturday against Penn State. Sophomore Bill Nagy would start in Urbik's place. The Badgers are a bit more hopeful about getting left tackle Gabe Carimi back for Iowa, though Carimi also has a knee injury and is questionable. Redshirt freshman Josh Oglesby could get his second straight start and would protect the quarterback's blind side if right-hander Dustin Sherer replaces Allan Evridge.

Purdue -- The Boilermakers' offensive line had another setback with the season-ending loss of tackle Garrett Miller to a foot injury. Miller, a fifth-year senior, will undergo surgery in the coming weeks. Purdue's other tackle, Sean Sester, has been battling back problems this season. Starting center Cory Benton hurt his elbow against Ohio State and reserve center Jared Zwilling recently had an ankle injury. Purdue is tied for 52nd nationally in sacks allowed (1.67 per game) and on Saturday faces a Northwestern defense that is tied for the Big Ten lead in sacks (19).

Illinois -- Juice Williams' importance to the Illini offense has become even greater after the weekend arrest of backup quarterback Eddie McGee. The sophomore was arrested for allegedly shoving a woman, and his status for Saturday's game against Indiana is unclear. McGee has appeared in only one game this season, completing one of two passes, but he's the only other Illinois quarterback with collegiate game experience. Williams leads the Big Ten in passing (279.5 ypg) and ranks fourth nationally in total offense (353.7 ypg).

Wisconsin reaches rock bottom

October, 12, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
 Wisconsin Badgers head coach Bret Bielema walks off the field Saturday after the Badgers were manhandled by Penn State, losing 48-7.

MADISON, Wis. -- DeAndre Levy stood in the darkness outside the McClain Center on Saturday night, trying to make sense of a three-week nightmare.

Wisconsin was the first team ever to open Big Ten play with games against traditional powers Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers entered the stretch with a Top 10 national ranking, an extra week of rest and confidence on both sides of the ball.

They leave it with their BCS title hopes dashed, their Big Ten title hopes effectively dashed and their dominance at Camp Randall Stadium a distant memory. Each loss brought its own breed of disappointment.

An inexcusable second-half collapse at Michigan, which fell to Toledo on Saturday.

A hard-fought heartbreaker against Ohio State, which snapped Wisconsin's 16-game home win streak.

Then came Saturday night's disaster, a thorough beating at the hands of a national title contender that cleared out Camp Randall Stadium halfway through the fourth quarter. The 48-7 pounding marked Wisconsin's worst loss since 1989. The Badgers fell to 0-3 in Big Ten play.

"That's very unlike this ball club," said Levy, the senior linebacker and co-captain, who had only two tackles in the loss. "I'm kind of at a loss for words right now to explain it, for it to be such a big game like this and for them to come in our house and do what they did to us, it's disappointing."

Levy and the defense struggled to stop Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and the dynamic Spread HD scheme, but Wisconsin's continued struggles on offense were more troubling.

Fifth-year senior quarterback Allan Evridge had an interception and a fumble, and after boos boomed from the home crowd, he was replaced in the third quarter. Backup Dustin Sherer provided a mini spark that quickly extinguished with an interception near the end zone. Sherer completed seven more passes than Evridge but had the same number of turnovers (two).

"We went into the game and I had basically told him that he needed to be ready," head coach Bret Bielema said. "He went in there and I really like the energy he showed in the huddle."

"It's obviously very frustrating to get taken out of a game," said Evridge, who completed only 2 of 10 pass attempts. "It wasn't the way I wanted to play."

A quarterback conundrum faces Bielema and his coaches this week, and the schedule doesn't get much easier. Wisconsin next will travel to Iowa, which finally broke through Saturday, before hosting Illinois and then visiting a strong Michigan State team.

Can the Badgers bounce back?

"It's going to be tough," Levy said. "It's going to hurt tonight, it's going to hurt tomorrow, but I'm kind of anxious to see how we respond to it. "We've still got a whole season in front of us."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Any questions?

Right now, Penn State seems to have all the answers.

The Nittany Lions are doing what a national championship contender is supposed to do. They're dominating an inferior team in every aspect of the game. And it's been the same way all season. Joe Paterno is in the press box for the second straight week with what is now being called a right hip injury, but the 81-year-old could coach this team from just about anywhere.

Daryll Clark, Evan Royster (58 rush yards) and the Spread HD offense cranked it up in the second quarter, but Penn State's special teams have been the most impressive element of its play. Derrick Williams continues to reaffirm himself as a major threat, notching his first punt return for a touchdown this season after two scores on kick returns. The Lions' kickoff and punt coverage has been tremendous, and dangerous Badgers return man David Gilreath has paid the price every time he touches the ball.

Wisconsin finally showed a pulse midway through the quarter, as quarterback Allan Evridge used his legs to get the struggling offense in the end zone. The problem continues to be the passing game. Evridge has completed just 2 of 8 attempts, and his fumble deep in Wisconsin territory turned a manageable halftime deficit into a nearly insurmountable one. Penn State sophomore defensive end Aaron Maybin is for real (1.5 TFLs), and Badgers running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay aren't getting through for any big plays.

At least the Badgers band is back. But if the offense doesn't notch a big play or two, this could get even uglier.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Penn State enters tonight's game trying to further validate itself as a top 5 team and a national title contender. Wisconsin is simply trying to save its once-promising season.

Throw in the possibility of hobbled Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno spending another game in the press box and the game has some intriguing storylines.

Penn State (6-0, 2-0) hasn't won Big Ten road games in consecutive weeks since 1995, when it beat Purdue and Iowa. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-2) had its 16-game home win streak snapped last week against Ohio State and is trying to avoid an 0-3 start to Big Ten play.

A good game night atmosphere, as usual. You know you're in a swing state when people are parading Barack Obama and John McCain signs at house parties before a football game. Things were getting a little heated over on Breese Terrace, which flanks the west side of Camp Randall Stadium, but no punches were thrown.

Nice to see everyone involved in the political process.

The weather is unseasonably warm. Should make for a real nice night of football.

INJURIES Penn State starting wide receiver Jordan Norwood is expected to play tonight after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.

Wisconsin starting left tackle Gabe Carimi is questionable with a knee injury sustained last week. Redshirt freshman Josh Oglesby would start in his place.


* Daryll Clark played an extremely smart game last week at Purdue, and the Penn State quarterback will need another poised performance against Wisconsin. Clark has proven himself as a passer, but his ability to scramble and use his athleticism could loom large tonight.

* Wisconsin redshirt freshman running back John Clay has provided a big boost in the last two games, but how much will the coaches give him the ball? Clay's problem isn't ability, but being able to grasp the offense and his responsibilities. The Badgers need him to grow up fast tonight to have a shot at the upset.

* Aside from the final drive, Wisconsin's defense limited the damage against Ohio State's offense. Tonight will provide a much bigger challenge for linebackers DeAndre Levy, Jonathan Casillas and Jaevery McFadden. Penn State's veteran offensive line allows little penetration, and both Evan Royster and Stephfon Green average more than six yards per carry. Missed tackles will result in points, and the Badgers' back seven needs to be sharp.

* Penn State's defensive line has turned in a heroic performance thus far this season, barely skipping a beat despite dismissals and suspensions. Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge has been struggling, and if the Lions can apply steady pressure and force a turnover or two, Evridge could quickly lose confidence. Penn State also could capitalize if Carimi can't play and Oglesby makes his first career start. And finally ... some tidbits for you, courtesy of ESPN's fine research department.

* Bret Bielema will be coaching in his 32nd career game on Saturday. When Bielema was born on Jan. 13, 1970, Joe Paterno had already coached in 43 career games and had two undefeated seasons. Bielema was born 12 days after Penn State beat Missouri in the Orange Bowl following the 1969 season to cap a perfect 11-0 campaign.

* Wisconsin has held Penn State to six points combined in the last two series meetings at Camp Randall Stadium.

* The Badgers love playing night games. Since a 17-9 win at Penn State in 1995, Wisconsin is 21-2 in night games, with one of those losses coming last week against Ohio State.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It should be another revealing week of Big Ten football, particularly in Madison and Evanston. Here are 10 things to track as you watch the action Saturday.

Quarterbacks are popular on this week's rundown.

1. Quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and C.J. Bacher -- The man who plays better likely will determine the winner of the Michigan State-Northwestern game. Both players share backfields with capable running backs (Heisman Trophy candidate Javon Ringer and Tyrell Sutton), but both signal-callers have struggled with consistency this season. Bacher has dominated the Spartans in two meetings but faces a much-improved defense. Hoyer is starting to hit his stride but still owns an unsightly completion percentage (47.7).

2. Joe Paterno's whereabouts -- With questions looming about the 81-year-old's coaching future beyond this season, Paterno could end up in the press box for the second consecutive week because of a right leg injury. He also might tough it out on the Camp Randall Stadium field, where he suffered a broken left leg in 2006. Penn State has continued to win no matter where Paterno ends up, but the Nittany Lions face a big test against the browbeaten Badgers.

3. Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge -- Evridge remains the Badgers' starter, but head coach Bret Bielema hardly gave him a ringing endorsement this week. The fifth-year senior needs to improve his accuracy and limit mistakes. All-American Travis Beckum had six receptions last week against Ohio State, and Wisconsin could get talented tight end Garrett Graham back in the mix. Aaron Maybin and Penn State's talented defensive line likely will pressure Evridge, who needs to keep his poise.

4. Eric Decker vs. Vontae Davis -- The nation's leading wide receiver goes up against one of the top cover corners in FBS. Decker and Minnesota have a great chance to validate a surprising start against Illinois, which comes off its best game of the year last week at Michigan. Ohio State and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins held Decker in check two weeks ago, and the talented Davis will try to do the same.

5. Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter -- After being replaced in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to Penn State, Painter gets the start against No. 12 Ohio State. Coach Joe Tiller wondered this week whether Painter has been trying too hard after seeing his completion percentage drop (57.6) and his touchdown-to-interception ratio balance out (5-5). Painter's career stats are impressive, but he struggles in big games and needs a strong showing against the Buckeyes.

6. Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe -- Head coach Kirk Ferentz has defended O'Keefe and shielded him from the media, but another poor offensive performance against Indiana will turn up the heat on both men. Fans are concerned that Iowa has fallen behind the times with its offensive structure and play calling. O'Keefe can quiet the critics -- momentarily, at least -- if the Hawkeyes capitalize on a Jekyll-and-Hyde Hoosiers defense and end a three-game slide.

7. Michigan's defense -- When Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez ripped his team for playing "soft" against Illinois, he was speaking directly to a veteran defense that had answered the bell before last week. Top pass rusher Brandon Graham (leg infection) could be sidelined, but Michigan needs to regain its defensive edge against Toledo, which has scored just 16 points the last two weeks after a 54-point effort against Fresno State.

8. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster -- He didn't play up his return to his alma mater, but you can bet Brewster would like nothing more than to beat Illinois. Illini players said Brewster wanted the Illinois head-coaching job that went to Ron Zook, and they expect a fired-up Golden Gophers squad on Saturday. Zook asked Illini fans to turn out in force this week -- and to bring their "Zook Zone" towels -- to cheer on a team that played its last two games in two tough environments (Michigan Stadium and Beaver Stadium).

9. Northwestern's coaching staff -- Pat Fitzgerald and his assistants have had two weeks to prepare for one of the more anticipated games in recent program history. The extra time should help veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz figure out a way to contain Ringer, but Fitzgerald's ability to keep his players grounded will be the biggest key. Fitzgerald knows what it's like to play with expectations at Northwestern, something the team has struggled with since 2000.

10. Offensive play calling at Camp Randall -- Penn State fans hope the Lions offense went conservative in last week's unstylish win at Purdue and will open things up again against Wisconsin. Galen Hall and Jay Paterno likely will expand the playbook, particularly with top wideout Jordan Norwood back, but quarterback Daryll Clark must continue to play smart on the road. Wisconsin reserve running back John Clay has provided a lift in each of the team's last two losses. Clay has to touch the ball more for the Badgers to have a chance at an upset.

Big Ten picks for Week 7

October, 9, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

At first glance, this week's slate appears a little easier to project, but as we've found out this season, anything can happen on Saturday. The Big Ten title picture will take shape even more as No. 6 Penn State faces its toughest test to date against hungry Wisconsin, while No. 23 Michigan State visits unbeaten Northwestern.

No promises of another perfect week, but here's how I see things shaking out.

Iowa 24, Indiana 20 -- The Hawkeyes finally break through after dropping three consecutive games by a combined nine points. Both teams are struggling, but Iowa has fewer problems. Iowa can run the football with Shonn Greene and contain Kellen Lewis with one of the Big Ten's most physical defensive lines. The Hawkeyes limit turnovers, force some and beat an Indiana team still searching for its identity.

Michigan 30, Toledo 13 -- Rich Rodriguez called out his team for playing soft last week, and the Wolverines should respond against a weak Toledo team. Michigan's defense could be without top pass rusher Brandon Graham but regains the form it showed in the first four games. Toledo ranks 110th nationally in scoring defense (35.8 ppg), so quarterback Steven Threet and the Michigan offense turn in a strong showing.

Illinois 34, Minnesota 24 -- This should be a good one, as Minnesota coach Tim Brewster returns to his alma mater with a surprising 5-1 Golden Gophers team. An upset of the high-powered Illini would further validate Minnesota's surge, but quarterback Juice Williams and his many weapons overpower an improved defense. Keep an eye on the perimeter, as Illinois' Arrelious Benn goes up against talented cover man Marcus Sherels and FBS receiving leader Eric Decker faces Illini star cornerback Vontae Davis.

Ohio State 34, Purdue 17 -- The Boilermakers' bend-but-don't-break defense could keep the game close for a while, especially if Chris "Beanie" Wells is limited by soreness in his right foot. But Purdue's passing game has been inconsistent all season, and Ohio State's veteran secondary will capitalize on Saturday. Coach Joe Tiller sticks with struggling senior quarterback Curtis Painter all game, but Purdue's offense continues to struggle in the red zone, where it ranks 10th in the league (73.3 percent).

Michigan State 23, Northwestern 21 -- Easily the toughest game to pick this week, and one that could go either way. Northwestern has won four of the last six meetings and should have won a fifth in 2006. Wildcats quarterback C.J. Bacher always plays well against the Spartans, who could be banged up in the secondary. Both teams have improved on defense, but the Spartans' offense, led by Heisman Trophy candidate Javon Ringer, will be a little more consistent. Northwestern makes a costly turnover and the Spartans escape with a win.

Penn State 30, Wisconsin 24 -- Nittany Lions coach Joe Paterno ends up in the press box again, and he watches his team grind out its toughest win of the season. Wisconsin will be motivated after consecutive losses and last year's 31-point setback in Happy Valley, but Penn State has a better offense than Ohio State and will stretch the Badgers' defense with its numerous weapons. If quarterback Allan Evridge steps up and running backs P.J. Hill and John Clay control the clock, the Badgers could pull the upset, but Penn State prevails.

Byes: None

Season record: 43-7