NCF Nation: Andrew McDonald

With a 1-8 record and prospects bleak for getting a Big Ten victory, Indiana can only hope for better things in the future.

In some ways, that future has already begun.

A youth movement is in full effect in Bloomington, for better or worse. On Saturday versus Northwestern, the Hoosiers did three things no other FBS team in 2011 has done, according to the school. They started 12 freshmen. They started eight true freshmen. And they had seven freshmen start on defense.

[+] EnlargeTre Roberson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIndiana's Tre Roberson has shown that he can run. Now he aims to be a more efficient QB.
IU first-year head coach Kevin Wilson said he didn't simply throw in the towel on the season and start grooming players for next year.

"They're truly the best guys," he said. "They're practicing the best."

And that tells you a lot about the challenge facing Wilson. It's one thing to play some young guys. Just look at Indiana's opponent this week, Ohio State. The Buckeyes have inserted true freshmen into key roles like quarterback Braxton Miller and receiver Devin Smith, while mixing in plenty of other fresh faces. But they also are surrounded by battle-tested veterans and leaders.

The Hoosiers are perilously short on leadership. When I asked Wilson on Tuesday about his upperclassmen who were leading the way for the youngsters, he didn't need to speak in generalities. He gave a short list of the upperclassmen who are doing so, which included senior tight end Max Dedmond, senior offensive linemen Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald, senior linebackers Jeff Thomas and Leon Beckum and junior defensive linemen Adam Replogle and Larry Black. And that's where he stopped.

"From there it kind of falls down to the freshmen," Wilson said. "We don't have much in between there."

The lack of senior leadership became even more evident this week when star receiver Damarlo Belcher, expected to be a key player on this season's team, was dismissed from the program after serving a suspension last week. Wilson said he tried to develop some senior leadership in the first few weeks after he took the job last winter.

"We didn't do a good job, in hindsight," he said. "We had some seniors who maybe didn't have things go their way or maybe didn't buy into our system. They were used to doing things a certain way."

So Wilson has gone young. Real young. He has already started 11 true freshmen, six redshirt freshmen and 10 sophomores this season. There have been some nice success stories in there, like promising true freshman quarterback Tre Roberson, sophomore transfer Stephen Houston at running back and freshman safety Mark Murphy. Wilson says it's not a matter of just playing his guys instead of those he inherited; he points out that he didn't actually recruit many of the current freshmen.

But at least he likes the looks of his young players, many of whom were in the first class recruited after Indiana upgraded its football facilities.

"I think it was a more competitive recruiting class," he said. "And the skill set of that freshman class is a little bit better maybe than some of the other classes."

The Hoosiers have some young talent. More upperclassmen leadership to guide them would be very helpful. But they may have to find their own way toward a better future.

K-State's dream start continues

October, 8, 2011
10/08/11
8:40
PM ET

Call it Bill Snyder magic.

His offense from last year's seven-win team lost its two-year bellcow Daniel Thomas, who led the Big 12 in carries and rushes the last two seasons.

What does Snyder do?

Rally his team to a 5-0 start with a 24-17 win over Missouri, earning what may be a top 15 ranking come Sunday afternoon.

The Wildcats gave up two fourth-quarter touchdowns but iced the game with a clutch drive, highlighted by a one-handed catch by Andre McDonald to convert a 3rd-and-3 with an 18-yard gain.

John Hubert topped 100 yards for the Wildcats, but this was a gritty game that won Kansas State's way: on the ground. K-State ran the ball 50 times and threw it 16.

An early lead provided that luxury and Snyder's Cats took advantage. Kansas State's huge win (as three-point "underdogs," mind you) may mean something else, too: Is Oklahoma facing another big hurdle on the road it hopes leads to the national title game?

Kansas State travels to face Texas Tech and Kansas in consecutive weeks, but win there? Oklahoma may come to Manhattan to face a 7-0 Kansas State team in the top 10.

Look out.
The preseason position rankings march on with the offensive lines. Team rankings are below, and we'll take a look at the individual rankings for tackles, centers and guards early next week.

Looking at the league landscape, offensive line could be a major strength throughout the Big Ten this season. Although standout players such as Outland Trophy winner Gabe Carimi and All-American Stefen Wisniewski depart, I see improved depth for several teams as well as quite a few multiyear starters.

Honestly, there aren't any bad lines in the league; just some with more question marks than others.

Let's get to the rundown.

1. Wisconsin: Talk about an ability to reload. The Badgers lose All-Americans Carimi and John Moffitt, plus the versatile Bill Nagy, and they still shouldn't take any steps backward. Injuries have allowed Wisconsin to build depth the past few seasons, and four of the five spots look extremely solid. Tackle Ricky Wagner, center Peter Konz and guard Kevin Zeitler lead a group that will block for the league's top running back tandem. Wisconsin's track record up front is impossible to ignore, and this year's line should continue the trend.

[+] EnlargeRiley Reiff
David Purdy/Getty ImagesWill arm length be an issue for former Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff in the NFL?
2. Iowa: The line is undoubtedly Iowa's biggest strength and should be one of the nation's elite units in 2011. Iowa returns starting experience at all five positions and should have decent depth. Left tackle Riley Reiff, projected as a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft, will enter the fall as a leading candidate for the Outland Trophy. James Ferentz is one of the league's top centers, and Markus Zusevics is poised for a big year at right tackle.

3. Ohio State: Depth is the only reason the Buckeyes' line isn't higher in the rankings. Ohio State boasts arguably the nation's top center in Mike Brewster, and first-team All-Big Ten tackle Mike Adams will be back after a five-game suspension to begin the season. The Buckeyes need big things from tackle Andrew Norwell during Adams' absence, and tackle J.B. Shugarts must play like a veteran. After struggling to put two sets of capable linemen on the field this spring, Ohio State has to find more depth in preseason camp.

4. Michigan: This is another group that could climb up the rankings by season's end. Center David Molk is a terrific piece to build around, and if gifted players like Taylor Lewan and Patrick Omameh continue to develop, Michigan's line will be a major strength. The concerns are Molk's ability to stay healthy and an adjustment to a new offensive system under Al Borges. The line did an excellent job of protecting Denard Robinson in 2010, allowing a league-low 11 sacks.

5. Illinois: The Illini flat-out punished opponents at the line of scrimmage on several occasions last season, and I really like the potential for the front five in 2011. The biggest reason? Left tackle Jeff Allen, one of the Big Ten's most experienced linemen. Allen and center Graham Pocic will contend for All-Big Ten honors, and if Corey Lewis gets healthy, this should be one of the league's top offensive lines.

6. Purdue: Expectations are high for a line that coach Danny Hope thinks will be Purdue's strength in 2011. Left tackle Dennis Kelly is an All-Big Ten candidate with NFL potential who has started the past 24 games. Center Peters Drey and tackle Nick Mondek help anchor the group. The big question is whether mammoth guard Ken Plue, a multiyear starter, can get out of Hope's doghouse to help lead the way. Plue will be pushed by James Shepherd this summer. The combination of experience up front and the return of running back Ralph Bolden bode well for the Boilers.

7. Northwestern: The Wildcats boast the nation's second most experienced line (137 combined career starts), but experience must start translating to production. This group still must prove it can spark a decent rushing attack after several years of decline. Left tackle Al Netter is an All-Big Ten candidate and center Ben Burkett enters his fourth season as the starter. If Northwestern gets more consistent play from right tackle Patrick Ward and others, it should be a solid group.

8. Penn State: This is a big year for Penn State's O-line, which has heard the criticism and has vowed to erase it in 2011. The tackle spots look solid with Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli, but Penn State needs to shore up the interior after losing Wisniewski, a mainstay for the past four seasons. If veterans like Johnnie Troutman and DeOn'tae Pannell step up and turn in consistent performances, the line should hold up nicely.

9. Nebraska: The Huskers ranked ninth nationally in rushing last season but have quite a few question marks up front. Center Mike Caputo is a building block and sophomore tackle Jeremiah Sirles is a returning starter, but Nebraska has little proven experience. The Huskers will benefit from a healthy Marcel Jones at right tackle, and Yoshi Hardwick adds depth. This could turn out to be a decent group, but the experience issue combined with a scheme change creates some uncertainty.

10. Michigan State: Not to put too much pressure on the line, but arguably no position group will have more influence on Michigan State's season. The Spartans must replace both starting tackles and their starting center, never an easy task. All-Big Ten guard Joel Foreman returns to lead the group, but Michigan State needs immediate contributions from unproven players. The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism up front by moving players like Dan France and Blake Treadwell over from the defensive side.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers boast a mix of veterans and youth, and it'll be interesting to see whether the group comes together this fall. Hopes are high for young tackles Eric Olson and Jimmy Gjere, but they'll need help from seniors like Ryan Wynn and Chris Bunders on the interior. Minnesota needs to regain its swagger as an elite rushing offense, and it starts up front this fall. This is a group that certainly has a chance to make strides.

12. Indiana: I like some of Indiana's individual pieces, but as a group, the Hoosiers must show they can create space for the running backs. Indiana switched to the pistol offense in hopes of sparking the ground game but produced barely 100 rushing yards a game in 2010 (112th nationally). The line allowed only 12 sacks and must continue to protect its unproven quarterbacks this fall, but getting the run game going is paramount. Returning starters Will Matte, Justin Pagan and Andrew McDonald give Indiana hope.
Welcome to National Depth Chart Day. No day on the college football calendar inspires more curiosity about depth charts than the Monday before the season, when most teams release their Week 1 two-deeps.

(And then there's Purdue, which didn't include a depth chart in its game notes for Notre Dame. Ugh.)

I've had the chance to review depth charts from those programs that released them today -- two-deeps from Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota are coming soon -- and I checked in on several coaches' news conferences.

Here's what stood out:

INDIANA
  • Even though Indiana will shift to a 3-4 defensive alignment this year, the depth chart lists a 4-3 with Darius Johnson and Fred Jones as the starting ends and Chad Sherer and Tyler Replogle flanking junior college transfer Jeff Thomas at linebacker.
  • Interesting to see several veteran offensive linemen like Justin Pagan and Cody Faulkner listed as backups rather than starters. Junior Andrew McDonald steps into some big shoes at left tackle as Rodger Saffold departs to the NFL.
  • The backup quarterback job remains open, as Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are both listed as No. 2 behind Ben Chappell.
  • Indiana expects big things from redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson, listed as a starter at wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
IOWA
  • Sophomores Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo are listed as the starting cornerbacks. Shaun Prater doesn't appear on the depth chart after dealing with a leg injury in camp. Prater hasn't been officially ruled out for the Eastern Illinois game, but I wouldn't expect to see much of him on Saturday.
  • James Ferentz is listed as the starting center, a spot where Iowa might be a little thin following Josh Koeppel's motorcycle accident Monday morning.
  • Starting defensive end Broderick Binns is suspended for the opener, so Christian Ballard is listed as a possible starter at both end and tackle. Mike Daniels and Lebron Daniel are the next options behind Ballard.
MICHIGAN
  • Sophomores Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier and freshman Devin Gardner are listed as co-starters at quarterback. Head coach Rich Rodriguez reiterated Monday that Gardner won't redshirt this fall.
  • Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw are listed as co-starters at running back, with Michael Cox behind them.
  • True freshman Carvin Johnson is listed as the starter at the spur position (safety/linebacker). Pretty big surprise here, and a testament to Johnson's work in camp.
  • Senior James Rogers steps into Troy Woolfolk's starting cornerback spot opposite J.T. Floyd.
  • Receivers Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady clearly showed enough in camp to be listed as starters or possible starters against Connecticut.
NORTHWESTERN
  • Sophomore running back Arby Fields returned to practice Monday and wore a no-contact jersey after being sidelined with a shoulder problem. He's listed as a co-starter at running back with Jacob Schmidt and Stephen Simmons. Northwestern wanted a clear No. 1 running back to emerge in camp, but Fields' injury changed the plan.
  • Junior Bryce McNaul is listed as the third top linebacker alongside returning starters Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. McNaul won the job in camp.
  • Venric Mark is the only true freshman listed on the depth chart, both as a backup wide receiver and a co-starter at punt returner. I'll go out on a huge limb (sarcasm) and predict Mark will be the man on returns for the Wildcats very shortly.
OHIO STATE
  • Junior defensive end Nathan Williams, a projected starter, will miss the Marshall game with a knee injury. He should be back shortly thereafter. Solomon Thomas will start in Williams' spot Thursday night.
  • Starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) is questionable for the Marshall game, but corner Devon Torrence (hamstring) should be fine.
  • Sophomore C.J. Barnett's strong performance in camp lifted him ahead of Orhian Johnson on the Week 1 depth chart. Johnson missed a chunk of camp with an injury.
  • Start salivating, Buckeyes fans, because running backs Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry likely will handle kickoff returns against Marshall.
PENN STATE
  • Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin and freshman Robert Bolden are listed as co-starters at quarterback for the Youngstown State game.
  • Sophomore Devon Smith's strong camp landed him a starting spot at both receiver and kick returner, and a backup role on punt returns.
  • Redshirt freshman Garry Gilliam is listed as the starting tight end, as Andrew Szczerba likely will miss the opener with a back injury. Penn State obviously is thin here after losing Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
  • Veterans Nate Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are listed as the starting linebackers, with promising younger players like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges right behind them.
WISCONSIN
  • After a very impressive camp, freshman running back James White appears at No. 3 on the depth chart behind both John Clay and Montee Ball. White also is the No. 2 punt returner behind David Gilreath. His emergence likely will result in veteran Zach Brown redshirting the season.
  • Senior Blake Sorensen likely will start at outside linebacker, as Mike Taylor continues to rehab after undergoing a second procedure on his knee in camp. Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are listed as the other starting linebackers.
  • The starting cornerback spots remain open, as Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith will compete in practice this week.

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