NCF Nation: Amari Spievey

B.J. Lowery came to Iowa because he impressed a rival coach. Before leaving the Hawkeyes, he wants to make a similar impression on his young teammates.

After playing understudy to Hawkeyes standout cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Micah Hyde, Lowery understands and embraces the role he now occupies for the secondary.

"My role this year on the defense is going to be major," Lowery told ESPN.com this week. "I'm about to be a senior, so I have to lead by example. I know all the younger guys are going to be following me, good and bad, no matter what I do. They're going to remember me."

[+] EnlargeB.J. Lowery
AP Photo/Scott Boehm"I pretty much lead by example," said B.J. Lowery, an elder statesman among Iowa's cornerbacks, "so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright."
Lowery hopes he's remembered fondly as Iowa tries to rebound from a 4-8 season. After starting nine games opposite Hyde at cornerback last fall, Lowery established himself as the team's top cover corner this spring, a player capable of continuing a nice run of Iowa cornerbacks that includes Hyde (Big Ten defensive back of the year in 2012, fifth-round pick in April's NFL draft); Prater (first-team All-Big Ten, fifth-round pick in 2012 draft) and Amari Spievey (first-team All-Big Ten, third-round pick in 2010 draft).

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound Lowery recorded 50 tackles, including one for loss, along with an interception and three pass breakups. We named him Iowa's most indispensable defender, and he stood out during spring ball, including Iowa's spring game.

Lowery admits he struggled at the start of the 2012 season with some of Iowa's coverage concepts. But he made strides in the second half, recording a career-high nine tackles against Nebraska in the season finale. He has equal comfort with playing man and zone and has spent much of the offseason studying film with younger cornerbacks like freshman Malik Rucker.

"I'm not really a vocal guy," he said. "I pretty much lead by example, so if guys follow my lead, hopefully we'll be alright. I want to set a good example for those young guys coming in, so everything I’m doing, I’m looking over my shoulder to see who's watching."

Fortunately for Lowery, Doc Gamble was watching as he began to blossom for Hughes High School in Cincinnati. Back then, Gamble coached Withrow High, Hughes' top rival.

He took notice of Lowery, an all-conference defensive back as a sophomore and a junior, and contacted Phil Parker, then Iowa's secondary coach and now the team's defensive coordinator.

"That kind of changed everything for me," said Lowery, who had received an offer from Akron but not much interest from major-conference schools. "[Gamble] gave Coach Parker my film and told him to come down to my school. And before you knew it, Coach Parker came down and we talked and that's how the recruiting process began."

Lowery stays in touch with Gamble, now an assistant at Kent State, and often sees him at semi-pro games back home in Cincy.

"We used to go at it every year, my high school and his high school, so I guess I did somehow, I impacted him, and he reached out and helped me out."

Lowery also received help from Prater and Hyde, who exuded confidence and instilled it in others. Lowery wants to follow their lead this fall as he mentors younger cornerbacks like Rucker, junior Jordan Lomax, sophomore Sean Draper and redshirt freshman Maurice Fleming.

Lomax and Draper are competing to start opposite Lowery.

"I want to be a role model for the younger guys," Lowery said. "I want to be productive and let the team do what we plan to do this year, which is win."
The position rankings march on as I take a look at the top five secondary units in the Big Ten this fall.

1. Iowa: Playmaker extraordinaire Tyler Sash leads a group that boasts good experience but must fill a major void following the departure of All-Big Ten cornerback Amari Spievey. Sash has recorded 11 interceptions in his first two seasons and already holds the team record with 350 interception return yards. His heroics overshadow the very solid play of fellow safety Brett Greenwood, who has started for two and a half seasons and owns seven interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his career. Shaun Prater is a returning starter at corner, and Iowa also has Jordan Bernstine, Micah Hyde, William Lowe and others.

[+] EnlargeTyler Sash
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Tyler Sash will be one of the leaders of the Big Ten's No. 1 secondary.
2. Penn State: The Lions are always solid in the front seven, but the secondary might lead the unit in 2010. Starting safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay both return, and cornerback D'Anton Lynn takes on an enhanced leadership role after recording five pass breakups last fall. Penn State also has high hopes for cornerback Stephon Morris, who recorded 30 tackles and an interception as a freshman in 2009. Converted receiver Chaz Powell should add depth at the corner spot. Opponents completed just 54.1 percent of their passes against Penn State last fall.

3. Ohio State: There are some question marks here after the departures of All-Big Ten standout Kurt Coleman and veteran safety Anderson Russell, but Ohio State almost always finds a way to survive in the back four. The return of Tyler Moeller definitely helps, and safety Jermale Hines could have a big year after recording two interceptions in 2009. Is Chimdi Chekwa ready to be a shut-down corner in the Big Ten? We'll find out. Also keep an eye on athletic corner Devon Torrence and safety Orhian Johnson.

4. Wisconsin: This isn't a shut-down secondary -- evidence: 55th in pass defense in 2009 (217.5 ypg) -- but there are playmakers and hard-hitters, specifically veteran safety Jay Valai, among the group. There's good depth at cornerback with returning starter Devin Smith, Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Marcus Cromartie, who has stood out in camp so far. Chris Maragos is a significant loss at safety, and it remains to be seen whether Aaron Henry can regain his pre-injury form as he moves from cornerback to safety.

5. Minnesota: I'm taking a little leap of faith here again, but if safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret are on the field together, good things will happen. The two combined for 159 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2009, and finished with an outstanding performance in the Insight Bowl. I also like talented young cornerback Michael Carter, while Ryan Collado brings experience to the other corner spot. Minnesota expects juco transfer Christyn Lewis and redshirt freshman Kenny Watkins to add depth at safety.

Up next: Offensive line

More rankings ...
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Like every other resident of this state, Kirk Ferentz watched in amazement last month as Northern Iowa shocked Kansas in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

But when the final horn sounded and Panther pandemonium began, Ferentz took notice of the crushed Kansas players leaving the court. He turned toward his wife, Mary.

"That could have been us last September," he told her.

[+] EnlargeRicky Stanzi
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireRicky Stanzi owns an 18-4 record in two seasons as Iowa's starting quarterback.
It took two blocked field goal attempts as time expired for Iowa's football team to survive a season-opening scare against those very same Northern Iowa Panthers on Sept. 5 at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes escaped 17-16 and went on to win their next eight games -- the 9-0 start marked the best in team history -- before capping an unforgettable season with an Orange Bowl championship.

How would things have changed had the Northern Iowa kick sailed through? Or if Ricky Stanzi's pass to Marvin McNutt at Michigan State had been batted down? Or if Adrian Clayborn hadn't blocked the punt at Penn State? Or if Michigan could have engineered one more scoring drive? Or if Tyler Sash hadn't snared that pinball interception against Indiana and raced 86 yards for a game-changing touchdown?

These are the questions Ferentz and his Iowa players ask themselves. They're healthy questions. They're questions that keep a team grounded throughout a season on the edge, and heading into another season where expectations are already sky high.

"We may have been close to the Rose Bowl, but we were also close to no bowl," Ferentz said. "You could cite five or six games where it was just basically a coin toss which team was going to win. So, yeah, we were 11-2 last year, but we very easily could have been 5-7 or 7-5.

"Expectations, those are for fans and for media people. They don't have to go out and compete. The guys that line up and play, they realize going in that it's tough to win."

Iowa will be picked to win a lot in 2010.

The Hawkeyes return 16 starters from the Orange Bowl squad, including first-team All-Big Ten defenders Clayborn and Sash, as well as Stanzi, who owns an 18-4 record in two seasons as the starting quarterback. After surviving a brutal road schedule last fall, Iowa will play most of its toughest opponents at Kinnick Stadium this season, including dates with both Ohio State and Wisconsin. Iowa must reload on the offensive line and replace two first-team All-Big Ten players on defense (linebacker Pat Angerer and cornerback Amari Spievey), but the team has few obvious weaknesses.

A top-10 preseason ranking is likely, and the buzz already is starting to build around the Hawkeyes.

"We were so close [in 2009], and we let two games slip away from us," defensive tackle Karl Klug said. "That's the difference between the Orange Bowl and the Rose Bowl.

"Ultimately, that is the goal: to get to the Rose Bowl."

(Read full post)

Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Big Ten, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, Jerel Worthy, Mitchell Evans, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Louis Nzegwu, Lance Kendricks, Stefen Wisniewski, Robert Marve, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, Michael Shaw, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Kyle Jefferson, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jacob Charest, Dan Herron, Jammie Kirlew, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Juice Williams, Daryll Clark, Sherrick McManis, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Bani Gbadyu, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Julian Vandervelde, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Anderson Russell, Randy Walker, Navorro Bowman, Paul Jones, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Garrett Graham, Martez Wilson, Tim Brewster, Evan Watkins, Rich Rodriguez, Pat Fitzgerald, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Pat Angerer, Brandon Graham, Niles Brinkley, Jared Odrick, Devin Gardner, Nathan Scheelhaase, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Tate Forcier, Kurt Coleman, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Mike Kafka, Greg Jones, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, O'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Arby Fields, Ian Thomas, Nate Stupar, Riley Reiff, Shaun Prater, Clay Nurse, Paul Petrino, Jeff Horton, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, 2010 spring what to watch, Albert Evans, Darius Johnson, David Gilbert, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Gary Emanuel, Jeff Tarpinian, Joe Palcic, Jordan Hall, Josh McKinley, Mike Trumpy, Scott Concannon, Terrance Thomas, Tyler Nielsen

Big Ten pre-spring power rankings

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
11:08
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It's that time again.

Four weeks have passed since the year-end installment of the power rankings, and while no games were played during the span, there has been some news. We know who's coming back (Greg Jones, Evan Royster, Cameron Heyward) and who's not (Thaddeus Gibson, Navorro Bowman, Amari Spievey). We also can size up the recruiting classes for each Big Ten team.

Spring practice in the Big Ten officially kicks off March 13 at Wisconsin, so let's take a look at how the teams stack up heading into the spring. Please remember that the power rankings can -- and will -- change several times before the season begins Sept. 2.

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will be a consensus top 5 team and a legit national title contender entering the fall. Heyward's decision to return is huge for a talented defensive front. If quarterback Terrelle Pryor builds off of his Rose Bowl performance and Ohio State solidifies things at left tackle, safety and possibly running back, this team will be scary good.

2. Iowa: The NFL draft stung the Hawkeyes a bit, as both Spievey and left tackle Bryan Bulaga opted to turn pro. But All-America candidate Adrian Clayborn returns, and Iowa will be stacked at both running back and wide receiver in 2010. Rebuilding the offensive line will be Iowa's top priority as it aims for a Big Ten championship this fall.

3. Wisconsin: The mojo is back in Mad-town as Wisconsin returns the core players from a team that went 10-3 and finished 16th in the final AP Poll. Heisman Trophy candidate John Clay leads a balanced and efficient offense, while the defense boasts a lot of young talent but must replace star pass rusher O'Brien Schofield.

4. Penn State: No Big Ten team lost more standout players than the Nittany Lions, but Penn State has shown an ability to reload, particularly in the defensive front seven. Royster's decision to return is huge for Penn State, which will rely on the rushing attack and an improved offensive line in 2010. A crucial quarterback competition begins this spring, as Kevin Newsome tries to hold off several young challengers.

5. Michigan State: I'm a bit leery to put Michigan State this high after 2009, but Jones' decision to return eased some concerns about the defense. The Spartans must get better on both lines and in the secondary, and quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to rebound after a rough finish to his sophomore season. Recruits William Gholston and Max Bullough should help the defense right away.

6. Northwestern: The Wildcats proved in 2009 that they could overcome the losses of several offensive standouts. They'll need to do it again as All-Big Ten quarterback Mike Kafka departs and junior Dan Persa steps in. Northwestern must revive its rushing attack this spring behind an offensive line that returns fully intact. The secondary also is a concern as three starters graduate.

T-7. Michigan: The offense will put up points again, but Michigan's big concerns rest with a defense that loses standouts Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren. A recruiting class headlined by safety Demar Dorsey certainly should help matters, as Michigan needs immediate contributions from its young players. The Wolverines need a strong spring from their early enrollees as they prepare for a critical 2010 season.

T-7. Purdue: It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Purdue finishes in the top half of the Big Ten in 2010, but a few key questions remain. The biggest one comes at quarterback, where Miami transfer Robert Marve and sophomore Caleb TerBush will compete for the top job. Purdue also must reload in the secondary and improve a run defense that has ranked last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons.

9. Minnesota: Spring practice will be critical for a Gophers team trying to establish an identity on offense and reload on defense. The starting quarterback job is up for grabs as incumbent Adam Weber tries to hold off MarQueis Gray and impress new coordinator Jeff Horton. Minnesota must replace all three starting linebackers, both starting defensive tackles and both starting cornerbacks.

10. Indiana: The Hoosiers should be very dynamic on offense in 2010, but they must address their chronic defensive woes as soon as possible to rebound this fall. Head coach Bill Lynch is moving several offensive players to defense this spring, and IU's ability to identify impact players likely will determine whether it can rise up the rankings.

11. Illinois: Things have been anything but quiet around Champaign the last eight weeks, as head coach Ron Zook shuffled his coaching staff, bringing in two new coordinators and four new position coaches. Illinois doesn't have time for growing pains, and the new assistants will need to implement the scheme and get the most out of a roster filled with question marks. One way or another, Illinois will be a fascinating team to watch between now and the season opener.
It's still early February, but signing day is over and you can officially start looking forward to the 2010 season. But before we look at who's back in the Big Ten, let's look at who will be missed the most when the teams return to the practice field this spring.

Here are five players who leave big shoes to fill around the league:

Penn State QB Daryll Clark: Clark finished his career as one of the best quarterbacks in Penn State history, setting team records for career passing touchdowns, single-season passing touchdowns, single-season passing yards and single-season total offense. He was even more valuable as a leader both on and off the field, and few players invested as much as the two-year starter. His presence certainly will be missed.

Northwestern QB Mike Kafka: Kafka basically became the entire NU offense in 2009 as the run game struggled. He developed into a precision passer and ended up as one of the most valuable players in the Big Ten. The second-team All-Big Ten selection led the league in both passing (3,430) and total offense (3,729). Although backup Dan Persa got some playing time after Kafka was banged up against Penn State, he'll have a tough time replacing the senior.

Michigan DE Brandon Graham: The Wolverines defense struggled mightily with Graham on the field, and it's scary to think where the unit would have been without his nation-leading 26 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Graham was arguably the most disruptive defensive lineman in the country in 2009, and he leaves a major void on the edge. Michigan will need several players to step up to fill the production void left by Graham's departure.

Iowa CB Amari Spievey: Some will argue with this one, but of all the players Iowa loses from the 2009 team, Spievey could be the most valuable. He took away one side of the field, forcing opposing quarterbacks to look elsewhere and freeing up playmaking opportunities for safety Tyler Sash and others. Iowa has some decent corners coming back, but none with the shutdown capabilities of Spievey, who recorded two interceptions and 10 passes defended.

Penn State DT Jared Odrick: Penn State has little trouble reloading in the defensive front seven, but the Lions will be hard-pressed to find another Odrick in the middle of the defensive line. Odrick consistently commanded double- and triple-teams, opening up lanes for teammates to reach the backfield. Big Ten coaches named him Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year, high honors given the league's depth along the D-line. Odrick was the biggest reason why Penn State finished sixth nationally in rushing defense (89.9 ypg).

Five more who will be missed: Purdue QB Joey Elliott, Iowa LB Pat Angerer, Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield, Ohio State S Kurt Coleman.

Iowa's Spievey declares for draft

January, 11, 2010
1/11/10
3:57
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After helping Iowa to a FedEx Orange Bowl championship, cornerback Amari Spievey has decided to forgo his senior season and enter the NFL draft.

Spievey ranked second on the team with 42 solo tackles and recorded two interceptions and 10 passes defended as a shutdown corner this season. He finishes his college career with six interceptions and 124 tackles.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Spievey earned All-Big Ten honors in each of the past two seasons.

"My time at the University of Iowa has been great and the opportunity Coach [Kirk] Ferentz and defensive coordinator Norm Parker have given me has been tremendous," Spievey said in a statement released to ESPN.com. "Even though I love being a Hawkeye, moving on to the NFL is in my best interest."

Spievey is rated as the nation’s No. 4 junior cornerback by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. He's expected to be selected in the second or third round.

You can't blame Spievey for making the jump, though he would have been the Big Ten's premier cornerback in 2010 if he returned. This is a big loss for Iowa's defense, which returns star pass-rusher Adrian Clayborn and playmaking safety Tyler Sash, but will need to reload at linebacker. Spievey took away one side of the field in most games, and while you didn't hear his name that much this year, it was because opposing teams rarely challenged him.

After offensive line and linebacker, cornerback now becomes a big priority for Iowa in 2010.
Dace Richardson's star-crossed college career ended on a high note, as he helped Iowa's offensive line overpower Georgia Tech in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

Richardson will go out on top, opting not to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. The All-Big Ten guard hopes to make it in the NFL, and if he can stay healthy, he's got a good shot.

With Richardson gone, the attention turns to left tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerback Amari Spievey, both of whom face decisions about the NFL. Bulaga plans to release a statement later this week regarding his decision, while Spievey is heading home to Connecticut with no guarantees he'll be back in Iowa City for the start of the spring semester.

Here's what Bulaga told The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette on Tuesday night about his decision:

"The thing is it's not all about the money. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. It’s about the love of the game. Every guy in here dreams about the next level and going to the NFL. When an opportunity knocks on the door, some guys are ready to take it and some want to stay an extra year. That’s where I’m at right now. It’s more than just the money. It’s your career, it’s your dreams, it’s everything. There’s a lot more that goes into it than just making some money. There’s more to it than just that."

Sounds like a guy who's ready to make the jump to the next level. Bulaga certainly helped his cause Tuesday night against Georgia Tech. Aside from one holding penalty, he pretty much shut down star defensive end Derrick Morgan and created rushing lanes for Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher.

Bulaga already has the credentials to get noticed. He was named Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year this fall and earned back-to-back All-Big Ten honors.

It'd be a surprise if he came back. If Bulaga leaves, Iowa's offensive line will have to replace three starters, which is tough but far from impossible.

Spievey also could make the jump, though he said he's 50-50 right now. Another year at Iowa could help his draft stock, but it's already pretty high.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Derrell Johnson-Koulianos sensed something wasn't right as Iowa went through its final preparations before Saturday's game against Indiana.

 
 David Purdy/Getty Images
 Derrell Johnson-Koulianos caught three passes for 117 yards and a touchdown in Iowa's come-from-behind win over Indiana.
The Hawkeyes' star wide receiver felt sluggish, and he wasn't the only one.

"I was still tired," Johnson-Koulianos said. "I’m like, ‘I’ve got to wake up here. I’ve got to focus and concentrate a little more.’ I felt our whole team, guys were just a step slow or a step off or something. And [Indiana] got up on us and we’re like, ‘Oh, crap. All right guys, it’s time to wake up and let’s go.'"

Iowa snapped out of it with a dominant fourth quarter, scoring 28 unanswered points to turn out the lights on Indiana and maintain its perfect record. But no one wearing black and gold would characterize the win as easy, which has been the case week after week this fall.

There's not a team in college football that has exhibited greater mental toughness this season than Iowa. And there are few teams that have been in as many nail-biters as the Hawkeyes, who have rallied in eight of their nine wins.

With so many down-to-the-wire games and so much fourth-quarter drama, does mental fatigue ever become a concern?

"Mentally, that's what we've prepared for," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It's not easy, I can assure you. But that's just the way it is, so we've got to do the best with what we have and not think too much about how tough it is."

Iowa is, by nature, a "slow-start team," as Johnson-Koulianos put it after the Indiana win. But the Hawkeyes seemed unusually out of sorts on Saturday.

They committed four first-half penalties (Iowa leads the Big Ten in fewest penalties this season) and two special-teams blunders, a Ryan Donahue shanked punt and a fumbled return by Amari Speivey. Keep in mind, the Hawkeyes were coming off their third night game this season, an extremely physical contest against Michigan State that wasn't decided until the final play.

"We’ve played a handful of night games, and it’s getting late in the season, and we’re a little banged up," Johnson-Koulianos said. "So there’s a lot of things that are playing a role. ... But if we figure out how to come out of the gate fast, we’re going to be an amazing team. Right now, we’re 9-0, basically because of the second half.

"Thank God for second halves."

Linebacker A.J. Edds said the team's ability to "flush" wins and refocus for the next week has played a major role in the perfect season.

“We’ve played 60 minutes last week [at Michigan State]," he said. "It took 60 this week. We’ve got a resilient group of guys."

At Iowa, mental toughness isn't a choice. It's mandatory.

As Ferentz reiterated Tuesday, Iowa lacks the recruiting advantages of national powerhouse programs, which can cast a net around their state and bring in enough talent. Ferentz and his assistants can't afford to be sticklers for size, but they always look for players "motivated to do the most with what they have."

This season, the motivation hasn't wavered.

"If you're in a competitive conference, which the Big Ten is, you better have that mindset, or you better have a great team," Ferentz said. "There have been some teams that just steamroll their way through every game.

"That must be nice to be involved in one of those."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Quick analysis from halftime at Kinnick Stadium, where Indiana leads No. 4 Iowa 21-7 (upset alert!).

Turning point: After Iowa had closed the deficit to 14-7, star cornerback Amari Spievey muffed a punt and Indiana recovered inside the red zone. It marked the second turnover for Iowa. The Hoosiers converted for a touchdown and took a 21-7 lead to the locker room.

Best player in the half: Indiana junior quarterback Ben Chappell has been terrific so far, completing 12 of 19 passes for 87 yards and two touchdowns. He has made smart decisions and did a great job recognizing the blitz and finding Damarlo Belcher in the end zone with nine seconds left in the half. Honorable mentions go to Belcher and fellow wideout Mitchell Evans.

What Indiana needs to do: Keep the pressure on and forget what happened last week when the Hoosiers blew a 28-3 lead and lost to Northwestern. Chappell should continue to attack, and Indiana shouldn't get away from the run with Darius Willis. The Hoosiers must make Ricky Stanzi win this game and take away the run.

What Iowa needs to do: How about showing up to play? The Hawkeyes look woefully unprepared for this game. This team is used to being behind, but the sloppiness in the first 30 minutes is really uncharacteristic. Iowa needs to force a few turnovers and take better care of the football.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Stuck on you.

  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan -- Kerrigan led the charge in Purdue's upset of No. 7 Ohio State with a team-high nine tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. His forced fumble on the second play from scrimmage set the tone for a Boilermakers defense that recorded five takeaways in the victory.
  • Michigan State WR Blair White -- The former walk-on continues to show why he's one of the Big Ten's premier wide receivers. White caught touchdown passes of 47 and 22 yards as Michigan State rallied from a 7-0 halftime deficit to beat Northwestern. The senior set career highs in both receptions (12) and receiving yards (186) and tied his best mark with the two scores.
  • Purdue head coach Danny Hope -- The first-year Boilers boss deserves a ton of credit for keeping his team together through some very tough times this season. Everyone knew Purdue was better than its 1-5 record indicated, but Hope was able to maintain, well, hope and kept his players' spirits up despite four losses by six points or fewer.
  • Iowa CB Amari Spievey -- After being fairly quiet during Iowa's first six games, Spievey showed Saturday why he's one of the Big Ten's premier cornerbacks. The junior recorded his first two interceptions of the season and finished with six tackles, including a big hit on punt coverage, as Iowa remained perfect on the year.
  • Indiana QB Ben Chappell -- Chappell turned in his best performance as the Hoosiers' starter, and he couldn't have picked a better time. The junior set career highs in both passing yards (333) and touchdown passes (3) as Indiana beat Illinois to preserve its bowl hopes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MADISON, Wis. -- At some point down the line, Iowa will need to showcase some style points.

It's an unfortunate reality in a sport without a playoff. Winning simply isn't good enough. Teams are required to be flashy and dominant in victory, and as the Hawkeyes continue their path toward a possible undefeated season, they'll need to win pretty.

 
  AP Photo/Andy Manis
  Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz leads the best team in the Big Ten.

But Kirk Ferentz and his players don't care about that right now. They've developed a formula for both achieving success and handling it, and they're showing no signs of slowing down.

Iowa's latest example came in Saturday's 20-10 victory over Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. For the sixth time in seven games, the Hawkeyes came from behind to win. For the second time in as many Big Ten road games, Iowa rallied from a 10-0 deficit in a hostile stadium.

They won Saturday with clutch third-and-long conversions and critical defensive stops.

They didn't show much leg, but they showed plenty of heart.

"We're certainly not the prettiest car in the lot," said Ferentz, whose team is off to its best start since 1985. "But that's OK. We're not going to be a big style-points team."

Iowa's success stems from a mindset that every game will be difficult. Rankings and records are meaningless, and entitlement doesn't exist.

The players understand adversity is inevitable, and they've experienced it in almost every imaginable form this year: season-ending injuries in the preseason (running back Jewel Hampton, cornerback Jordan Bernstine); key losses during nonconference play (left tackle Bryan Bulaga, tight end Tony Moeaki, wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos); the flu spreading through the team last week; and numerous third-and-long situations in Saturday's game.

And every time, the Hawkeyes have had an answer.

"We don't expect the worst, but we don't expect anything to be easy," said quarterback Ricky Stanzi, the poster boy for the team's resilient play this season. "It doesn't get any easier from here on out. There's a bunch of good teams we've got to play, so we can't hang our hats on the ranking, a number, or anything like that."

Iowa fans can hang their hats on these numbers.

After Ohio State's loss to Purdue, Iowa is clearly the No. 1 team in the Big Ten and Sunday will enter the top 10 in the polls. The Hawkeyes are riding an 11-game win streak, the second longest in the country, and have reached the midpoint of arguably the toughest conference road slate in the country.

"The more we win, the higher we become ranked, the more teams are going to target us," Johnson-Koulianos said. "As we win more, the stakes are going to be raised."

The stakes were raised Saturday, and the Hawkeyes repeatedly came through with their backs to the wall.

Wisconsin's aggressive defense racked up a whopping 13 tackles for loss, but almost all of them occurred on first or second down. Iowa converted four third downs of four yards or longer in the second half, including a third-and-13 as Stanzi found tight end Tony Moeaki for 27 yards.

Stanzi and Moeaki hooked up for a 24-yard touchdown strike to tie the score midway through the third quarter. Predictably, the play took place on third-and-7. Iowa's repeated conversions eventually took a toll on the Badgers defenders.

"They die a little bit inside," Hawkeyes wideout Trey Stross said.

Iowa, meanwhile, seems to draw life from the toughest situations, perhaps because they've been in so many this season.

"I love third downs," Johnson-Koulianos said. "It's my favorite down because of the sense of urgency, how huge they become in the game. I love third-and-13. I love third-and-24 -- that's my favorite."

Ferentz disagrees, but he loves what he saw from his defense after a rough start.

Wisconsin bulldozed Iowa for 10 early points behind running back John Clay, but the Hawkeyes didn't allow a point for the final 38:09. Clay didn't look the same after a right ankle injury in the second quarter, but he didn't have much room to run, either. Cornerback Amari Spievey recorded two interceptions, and linebacker A.J. Edds had a huge second half for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa's best stand came after its only major mistake, a Stanzi fumble at the Hawkeyes' 25-yard line. With the game still knotted at 10-10, the Hawkeyes didn't allow a first down and Wisconsin missed a field goal.

"Our job is to put the fire out," said linebacker Pat Angerer, who led Iowa with nine tackles, a sack and a pass breakup. "It's as simple as that. We just said, 'We're back out here, we might as well stop them.'"

Sounds like a motto.

Since the Hawkeyes are winning games, they might as well keep it up.

"We're going to win how we win," Johnson-Koulianos said. "A W's a W."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Iowa boasts quite possibly the Big Ten's best secondary, which is why Daryll Clark's game-opening strike to Chaz Powell was such a big surprise.

But since the coverage gaffe that allowed Powell to run free behind corner Amari Spievey, the Hawkeyes' back four has stepped things up significantly. Spievey hasn't made a mistake since and nearly notched an interception, and cornerback Shaun Prater picked off Clark inside Iowa territory.

Prater was suspended for Iowa's first two games after an OWI arrest in March. The Hawkeyes certainly missed his presence opposite Spievey in the secondary.

Even though Iowa still trails 10-5, it feels like the Hawkeyes have the momentum.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Forget about the rain and the conservative offense it usually demands.

Penn State came out of the gate slinging, and the Lions went right at arguably Iowa's strongest defender. The most impressive thing about Daryll Clark's 79-yard touchdown pass to Chaz Powell was who it came against -- Hawkeyes cornerback Amari Spievey.

Spievey is regarded by many (including yours truly) as the best cornerback in the Big Ten. He has shut down many of the league's top wide receivers. And yet he got absolutely burned by Powell on the first play from scrimmage. The play marked the longest pass of Clark's career and the longest reception for Powell.

A quick note: Iowa senior tight end Tony Moeaki (ankle) is in uniform but hasn't entered the game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Penn State wide receivers Derek Moye and Chaz Powell were relaxing in their room Tuesday night when the subject came up again.

The feeling of disrespect tends to fester, and despite three victories this season, both Moye and Powell still sense it.

"Last year, the year before, we were just sitting on the sideline watching these games," Moye said. "Now we're going to be in the spotlight. All eyes are going to be on us and we're happy to be in this position. We're going to go out and show everybody what we can do."
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Penn State wide receiver Derek Moye intends to prove the doubters wrong.

Penn State had turnover at several positions following its Rose Bowl run in 2008, and no spot lost more production than wide receiver. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood all started for most of their careers and combined for 132 receptions, 1,932 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns last year.

Throw in Williams' production as a rusher and a return man, and it was obvious that Penn State had a major void to fill. Receivers like Moye, Powell, Graham Zug and Brett Brackett had appeared in plenty of games, but their numbers paled in comparison to the big three.

So how have the Rodney Dangerfields of Happy Valley fared so far? Pretty well. Penn State has been forced to throw the ball a lot in its first three games, and Moye, Powell and Zug all have reached double-digits in receptions. They have combined for 37 catches, 474 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

But doubts still linger. Penn State hasn't played anyone so far, and the wideouts are still unproven on the big stage, which arrives Saturday night against Iowa (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

"There's always people who say the competition wasn't there," Moye said. "But this week and in weeks to come, we'll prove what we did the first few weeks wasn't a fluke."

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