NCF Nation: Allen Langford

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Sometimes, all a player needs is an opportunity.

And as several sizable senior classes and national award winners depart the Big Ten, there will be opportunities around the league this spring.

Here are five Big Ten players on the verge of breaking out. Obviously, there are other potential stars in the league, but these are five who came to mind.

Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn -- Clayborn could become one of the Big Ten's top pass rushers in 2009. He recorded eight tackles for loss, two sacks, three pass deflections and a forced fumble as a sophomore last fall, though defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul understandably got most of the credit. It will be tough not having King and Kroul inside to occupy offensive linemen, but Clayborn has the skills to bust out.

Ohio State wide receiver DeVier Posey -- Some wondered why the dynamic Posey didn't play much more as a true freshman, but he shouldn't have trouble seeing the field this fall. Boasting top-shelf speed and size, Posey could evolve into Ohio State's best big-play threat. It doesn't hurt that he's very good friends with starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

Northwestern defensive end Vince Browne -- Browne showed plenty of promise as a redshirt freshman, recording four sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He should step in seamlessly to the starting spot vacated by Kevin Mims and provide a viable end rusher opposite All-America candidate Corey Wootton. As Wootton recovers from knee surgery, Browne will take center stage in spring ball.

Michigan running back Brandon Minor -- The Wolverines' offensive struggles of 2008 are well documented, but Minor finished the season as one of the Big Ten's hottest running backs. Michigan mixed and matched for some time before Minor emerged as the top option, racking up 447 yards and seven touchdowns in his final five games. He should thrive in a featured role.

Wisconsin safety Jay Valai -- Valai established himself as one of the Big Ten's most ferocious hitters last fall. He should take the next step and become more of a complete player during the spring. Wisconsin loses its top defensive back in corner Allen Langford, and more of the burden will be on Valai, who recorded 56 tackles and three forced fumbles last year.

Posted by ESPN.com'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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Happy hump day. Quarterbacks dominate today's lineup of links. 

  • Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark continues to blame himself for last week's loss to Iowa, but head coach Joe Paterno hopes the junior starts to ease up a bit, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"This is a test of my will," Clark said in a conference call. "Like I said, I did some soul-searching on Sunday. I'm like: 'OK, the past couple of games you really haven't come to the party. What are you going to do?' It's not like I haven't prepared enough or taken the teams lightly or anything like that. It just happened.

"But you have two games left. 'What are you going to do to help this team out? Are you going to step it up or are you going to be mediocre?' I can't accept that. I have to play the best possible way that I can. My efforts were terrible Saturday. It would be unacceptable for it to continue."

  • Quarterback Curtis Painter is optimistic about returning to action this week, and the Boilers could use him, particularly for the two-minute drill, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier. 
  • Standout prep quarterback MarQueis Gray is returning to Minnesota after passing the  ACT, the Star Tribune's Kent Youngblood writes in his blog. Gray plans to re-enroll in January so that he's ready for spring practice. 
  • A strong finish could take the sting off of Michigan's poor season, Lynn Henning writes in The Detroit News.
  • Wisconsin cornerback Allen Langford is sorry he won't be seeing Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker on the field Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. Langford watched last year's game from home because of a knee injury.

He was watching when television replays caught Decker punching [Jack] Ikegwuonu in the groin in the second quarter, causing Ikegwuonu to temporarily leave the game.

"I was disappointed, I was upset," Langford said of his reaction. "That was my guy, to see him out there and see something like that happen, I was hoping he would bounce back and, eventually, he did."

"Apparently the idea of having Buck-whipped second-string quarterback Todd Boeckman take a knee on the final play still hasn't crossed Tressel's troubled mind."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Happy Halloween. I'm all out of sweater vests. Any other ideas for a Big Ten-themed costume? 

While you ponder that question, check out these links. 

  • Despite mounting criticism of Ohio State's offense, head coach Jim Tressel still plans to have the final say in play-calling decisions, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
  • Minnesota coach Tim Brewster has shown that he does more than talk a good game, Jim Souhan writes in the Star Tribune. Brewster is acting less like a PR man and more like a coach.

"Brewster arrived in town eager to appear on every TV and radio show in town, eager to repeat his favorite mottos and talking points. When he proved unwilling to answer any questions with candor, and followed a summer of relentless promotion with a 1-11 season, he lost credibility faster than Alan Greenspan.

"These days, Brewster spends games barking at officials, spends his postgame news conferences -- even after victories -- seething at perceived and sometimes nonexistent slights.

"While he has become less likeable as a promoter, he has become more credible as a head coach."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Before I head over to The Shoe, here are some observations from the three early Big Ten games.

NORTHWESTERN-INDIANA

This was a disastrous 21-19 loss for the Wildcats, one that could change the complexion of a very promising season. Not only did Northwestern lose to arguably the Big Ten's worst team, but it lost starting quarterback C.J. Bacher (hamstring) and starting running back Tyrell Sutton (wrist) to injuries. Much like the Michigan State loss, the Wildcats were hamstrung by turnovers (5), bad red-zone play-calling and poor special teams play. The defense did a nice job aside from forcing no turnovers, but the offense never attacked a banged-up Indiana team down the field, as Illinois did last week. If Sutton and Bacher miss extended time, the Wildcats should struggle in their remaining games.

Indiana backup quarterback Ben Chappell played a terrific game, committing no turnovers and converting several big-play opportunities. Head coach Bill Lynch really liked this guy in the preseason, and the sophomore showed us why. Wide receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher stepped up, and the defense came up with big plays in the fourth quarter. The heat on Lynch should go down a bit, and with a manageable closing stretch aside from Penn State, Indiana could salvage its season.

ILLINOIS-WISCONSIN

Illinois might be one of the Big Ten's most talented teams, but it's also arguably the most inconsistent. Quarterback Juice Williams had his first poor performance of the season, tossing three interceptions in a 27-17 loss. Heralded sophomore linebacker Martez Wilson missed several tackles, and the defense remains vulnerable against the run. This will be a better team next year, but getting bowl eligible could be a challenge with a tough closing stretch.

Wisconsin played an inspired game on both sides of the ball, and coach Bret Bielema deserves credit for igniting his team after a four straight losses. Dustin Sherer did what Badgers quarterbacks are supposed to do: limit mistakes and make plays here and there. He proved to valuable on the move (40 rush yards, TD), and he found David Gilreath for two touchdowns. A leg/ankle injury to All-American H-back Travis Beckum didn't look good, and his absence could sting down the stretch. But the defense regained its swagger as cornerbacks Allen Langford and Niles Brinkley and safety Chris Maragos snared interceptions.

MINNESOTA-PURDUE

The Gophers added another chapter to one of college football's great stories this season, improving to 7-1 with a 17-6 win at Purdue. I'm continually amazed by Minnesota's opportunistic play on defense, as the Gophers forced four Boilermakers turnovers in the win. Tim Brewster clearly found the magical bye-week formula as his team came out ready, though the coach won't be pleased with 13 penalties. I realize Duke had to fire Ted Roof, but this guy can coach defense.

Purdue has really played decent defense for most of the season, and coordinator Brock Spack deserves credit. But no matter who takes the snaps (Curtis Painter, Joey Elliott or Justin Siller), the Boilermakers offense simply can't find the end zone. Siller might be the starter next week against Michigan as Painter continued to struggle. But confidence has to be low right now, and outside of kicker Carson Wiggs, there aren't too many reasons for optimism.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- Ohio State might be the most hated team in America, but there's a lot to like about the new-look offense featuring Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells.

The Buckeyes have mixed up their formations, going from the I-formation to the shotgun spread to the pistol. They scored their lone touchdown in the pistol, with Wells lined up next to Pryor and Dan Herron as the deep back. An Ohio State beat writer told me that while the team has used the pistol before, this marked the first time Wells has lined up next to Pryor. It worked on a 33-yard touchdown run, as Wells pushed aside Shane Carter on his way to the end zone.

Wisconsin is staying close thanks to its defense, which has forced Pryor into some tough situations. Cornerback Allen Langford made a great athletic play to intercept a deep ball to Brandon Saine, and a blitz brought down Pryor for a huge loss. Though the Badgers are having trouble bringing down Pryor on first contact, they're swarming nicely.

Wisconsin's offense hasn't done much (55 total yards). H-back/tight end Travis Beckum is playing but has yet to make an impact. After a third-down overthrow, quarterback Allan Evridge and Beckum were talking about a possible mix-up. Evridge seems out of sync (2-for-5 passing).

It has been a bit weird without a marching band here. Wisconsin students were allowed into the seats usually occupied by the band just before kickoff, and they've been pumping in music like a NFL game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
 Allan Evridge and the Badgers know they let a few opportunities get away from them on Saturday.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A 2-point conversion attempt with 13 seconds left on the clock encapsulated the type of day Wisconsin had.

Opportunity presented. Opportunity lost.

And the Badgers could only blame themselves.

After wide receiver David Gilreath atoned for several dropped passes with an acrobatic touchdown grab, Wisconsin tried to tie the score at 27. The Badgers succeeded. And then they didn't.

All-American tight end Travis Beckum, a player the Badgers hoped to hold out of the game because of a lingering hamstring injury, hauled in the conversion from Allan Evridge. But officials flagged Beckum for being an ineligible man downfield. The senior should have lined up off the line scrimmage rather than next to another tight end, Mickey Turner.

"It was improper alignment on our part, which was kind of the story for us all day," head coach Bret Bielema said. "We missed opportunities on our end."

Most of those opportunities took place in the first half, when the Badgers had chances to bury Michigan.

They converted only one of Michigan's five first-half turnovers into a touchdown. Twice they took over at the Wolverines' 27-yard line following takeaways and had to settle for field goals.

Those chances ended up costing Wisconsin its top 10 ranking, its undefeated record and its hope of ending a four-game slide at Michigan Stadium.

"There were so many opportunities lost," Evridge said. "It's going to be even more frustrating to see on film the opportunities you let go."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Purdue's media day begins later Thursday morning, and I'll be there to check in with Heisman candidate Curtis Painter, coach-in-waiting Danny Hope and the rest of the Boilers.

First, I give you the links on the other 10 teams. 

  • My appearance at Camp Rantoul made Bob Asmussen's daily practice recap in The [Champaign, Ill.] News-Gazette. Thanks, Bob. Much more newsworthy items include a note on Illinois center Ryan McDonald and the fact several projected starters will appear on special teams this fall. Zook's best recruits at Illinois have come from the Washington, D.C., area, but he's also going back to his Ohio roots for talent. No big secret here, but the 2008 season hinges heavily on quarterback Juice Williams.  
  • Forget about Iowa's history of bouncing back from bad seasons on and off the field. Want a reason to be optimistic about the Hawkeyes? Wide receiver Andy Brodell is back in the fold, Susan Harman writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Brodell is a difference-maker. Forbes magazine calls Iowa's Kirk Ferentz the worst value in college football, given his salary. I still think Iowa had to finalize Ferentz's contract at the time.
"The most overpaid coach is Iowa's Kirk Ferentz, who made $3.4 million last year despite lackluster results on the field, for a score of 71. Just how lopsided is Ferentz's deal? During the last three years he's pocketed $10 million, including a record $4.7 million in 2006, but has led the Hawkeyes to just a 19-18 record."
  • Mitchell Evans came to Indiana with an open-minded attitude about where he'd play. The Hoosiers are putting that approach to the test by moving Evans to wide receiver, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. A couple of more previews on Indiana, which wants to get back to a bowl game and win it this time.
  • Rich Rodriguez might not be beloved on the practice field, but he also keeps his door open for his new players, the AP's Larry Lage writes. Nebraska's Bo Pelini isn't the only big-time coach looking to rebuild the walk-on program at his school. RichRod wants all the help he can get, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. 
  • Michigan State running back A.J. Jimmerson is no stranger to competition at his position, Chris Solari writes in the Lansing State Journal. A nationally televised opener at Cal gives the Spartans a chance to make an early statement, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
  • Running back is a big concern at Minnesota, but a healthy Jay Thomas should help matters, Myron Medcalf writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Two years ago, Jeff Tow-Arnett and Adam Weber worked on the quarterback-center exchange as young scout teamers at Minnesota. Now they're in the spotlight as starters, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
  • The Chicago Sun-Times' Jim O'Donnell checks in from Camp Kenosha, where Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sees his defense improving and his new-look offensive line coming together. The Wildcats' bowl hopes hinge heavily on senior quarterback C.J. Bacher, Jay Taft writes in the Rockford Register Star.
  • Despite two national title misses, Ohio State's coaches aren't concerning themselves with the past, Rob Oller writes in the Columbus Dispatch. Probably a good thing. Defensive tackle could be a weak spot for the Buckeyes, but defensive coordinator Jim Heacock likes what he has, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. Buckeyes center Jim Cordle could fool defenders at the line by snapping the ball with both hands, Ken Gordon writes in the Columbus Dispatch.
  • Tyrell Sales is filling some big shoes as Penn State's linebacker leader, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The starters look set in Penn State's secondary, but watch out for reserve safety Drew Astorino, The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News' Bob Flounders writes in his blog. The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane has a rundown of the improvements at Beaver Stadium this fall.
  • Wisconsin cornerbacks Allen Langford and Aaron Henry have walked parallel paths following ACL surgery. Both men are back in the mix for starting jobs, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Defensive end O'Brien Schofield, a projected starter opposite Matt Shaughnessy, will miss 1-2 weeks of practice after suffering an ankle injury. End Kirk DeCremer remained out of both Wednesday practices, while quarterback Allan Evridge could return today, Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Malcolm Jenkins had four interceptions last season.

The rankings return with the cornerbacks, followed by the safeties later. Malcolm Jenkins and Vontae Davis top the list, but things get a little bit cloudy after those two. Just a reminder that the rundown is only cornerbacks, so if you're looking for names like Anderson Russell, Anthony Scirrotto and Austin Thomas, check back in a bit.

1. Malcolm Jenkins, Sr., Ohio State -- It's a tight race with Davis for the top spot, but Jenkins gets the nod. He enters the fall as the Thorpe Award frontrunner after passing up NFL millions. The back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection had four interceptions last season and can shut down one side of the field.

2. Vontae Davis, Jr., Illinois -- His pro stock is skyrocketing and Davis soon will join his big brother Vernon in the NFL. Last season the Thorpe Award semifinalist had four interceptions, eight pass breakups, nine tackles for loss and two blocked punts, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

3. Lydell Sargeant, Sr., Penn State -- With Justin King gone, Sargeant moves into a featured cover role and has the tools to step up. In his first season as a starter he led Penn State defensive backs and ranked third on the team with 70 tackles. And Sargeant isn't afraid of big stages -- in March he was one of the introductory speakers at an on-campus rally of 22,000 people that featured presidential candidate Barack Obama.

4. Donald Washington, Jr., Ohio State -- His two-game suspension at the start of the season could hurt, but Washington has plenty of experience to readjust. Often overshadowed by Jenkins, Washington has big-play potential, as he showed by returning his lone interception last fall 70 yards for a touchdown.

5. Donovan Warren, So., Michigan -- One of the top young defensive backs in the league, Warren earned several freshman All-America distinctions last fall. He recorded 52 tackles and forced and recovered a fumble against Notre Dame. Like most Wolverines players, Warren improved his conditioning level this summer and should turn in a strong sophomore season.

6. Morgan Trent, Sr., Michigan -- The team's most experienced player has made 29 career starts in the secondary, collecting 108 tackles [92 solo] and 19 pass breakups. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season. Trent has been burned at times by elite receivers, but he brings leadership to the secondary and complements Warren.

7. A.J. Wallace, Jr., Penn State -- Wallace turned heads as a freshman, playing on both sides of the ball and dazzling on kickoff returns and reverses. Hopes remain high for his progress at cornerback, as he moves into the spot vacated by King. After a superb Alamo Bowl performance [five tackles, interception, fumble recovery], Wallace should do big things this fall.

8. Bradley Fletcher, Sr., Iowa -- Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada had Iowa's starting cornerback spots on lockdown, but Fletcher still contributed with 53 tackles and two interceptions last fall. With those two gone, Fletcher steps into a featured role this fall. He has played a lot the last two seasons and should step up as a senior.

9. Allen Langford, Sr., Wisconsin -- How Langford responds following ACL surgery is critical, but he brings plenty of experience to a suspect Badgers secondary. He has six career interceptions and 19 pass breakups, including seven in 10 games last fall before the injury. If healthy, the fifth-year senior provides a big boost in the back half.

10. Kendell Davis-Clark, Sr., Michigan State -- Davis-Clark ranked second on the team in tackles [73] in his first season as a starter and should continue to progress this fall. He had eight pass breakups and was effective on blitzes with four sacks in 2007. Davis-Clark's next step is making more plays for a takeaway-starved Spartans defense.

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