NCF Nation: Anthony Fera

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 11

November, 11, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 11 in the Big 12:

Teams of the week: For the first time this season, we're recognizing two teams here, as both Baylor and Kansas State snagged the biggest wins of their seasons in impressive fashion.

The Wildcats jumped to a 35-10 lead at then-No. 25 Texas Tech, then coasted to a 49-26 rout. QBs Daniel Sams and Jake Waters produced the two-highest Big 12 Adjusted QBRs of the week (98.4 and 94.9), while John Hubert, who had a 63-yard touchdown run on the opening drive, finished with a season-high 157 rushing yards.

Baylor was equally dominant in a 41-12 win Thursday night over Oklahoma. QB Bryce Petty kept his Heisman campaign alive with three touchdowns passes and two touchdown runs. Baylor's defense put the clamps on the Sooners, holding them to just 237 yards, the lowest output from an OU offense since 2007.

Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma traveled to Waco with a chance to gain an upper hand over the Big 12's favorite. Instead, the Sooners were exposed as a second-tier team in the conference. OU was especially dreadful offensively. Blake Bell completed just 15 of 35 passes with two interceptions for a raw QBR score of 5.9 (scale 0-to-100). The Sooners averaged only 2.6 yards per carry on the ground, as well, with just one run going for more than 10 yards. With games at Kansas State and Oklahoma State still looming, the Sooners could be on the verge of their worst season since 2009.

[+] EnlargeShock Linwood
AP Photo/Tony GutierrezThird-team running back Shock Linwood had his third 100-yard game for Baylor on Thursday.
Big (offensive) men on campus: Baylor running back Shock Linwood, TCU receiver/quarterback Trevone Boykin and the Kansas State offensive line.

With Lache Seastrunk banged up and Glasco Martin injured, Linwood kept the Baylor ground game rolling without a hitch, piling up 182 yards while averaging 7.9 yards per carry. Despite being Baylor's third-team tailback, Linwood astonishingly is second in the Big 12 with an average of 89.3 rushing yards per game.

Back in the role he was always meant for, Boykin was excellent at Iowa State as a receiver and change-of-pace quarterback. He scored three touchdowns on five carries, including a one-yard keeper in the final minute to lift TCU to a 21-17 win. Boykin also had four receptions.

Finally, K-State's offensive line obliterated Texas Tech up front, setting the tone for the Wildcats in Lubbock. Behind Cornelius Lucas, Cody Whitehair, BJ Finney, Keenan Taylor and Tavon Rooks, the Wildcats rolled up 291 yards on the ground with an average of almost seven yards per carry.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed, Oklahoma State defensive tackle Calvin Barnett and Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon.

The Longhorns gave up 40 points in Morgantown, but Jeffcoat and Reed were swarming West Virginia's backfield all night. The two combined for three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, as the defense gave the Texas offense excellent field position for most of the game.

Barnett spearheaded another strong defensive effort from the Cowboys in a 42-6 win over Kansas. Barnett had five tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

Dixon led Baylor's shutdown effort of the Sooners. He had a team-high 8½ tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup, as Oklahoma failed to score a touchdown until late in the third quarter.

Special-teams players of the week: Oklahoma State returner Justin Gilbert, Iowa State returner DeVondrick Nealy and Texas kicker Anthony Fera.

With former Oklahoma State great Barry Sanders in attendance, Gilbert pulled off his best Sanders impression, taking the opening kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown.

Nealy opened the third quarter against TCU with a 98-yard TD return that tied the game.

As he has been all year, Fera was clutch in Texas' overtime win at West Virginia. He converted all five of his extra points and all four of his field goals, including the 24-yarder in the final seconds to send the game to overtime. Fera has missed only one field goal attempt all season, and the four makes at West Virginia were a career-best.

Play of the week: With 59 seconds to play, Texas faced fourth-and-7 trailing West Virginia 40-37. Out of a timeout, QB Case McCoy stepped into the blitz and delivered a first-down strike to Jaxon Shipley a yard ahead of the marker. Fera ended the drive with a game-tying field goal, then the Longhorns prevailed in overtime to win their sixth straight game.

Stat of the week: After surrendering an average of 7.0 yards per carry in losses to BYU and Ole Miss, the Texas defense has held its past six opponents to a combined average of 3.2, with nobody topping more than 4.0 in a game.

Quote of the week: "We're not a tradition. But we're going to be here awhile, the way this thing is going." -- Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Bennett, after the Bears' 41-12 win over Oklahoma

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 7

October, 14, 2013
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Taking stock of Week 7 in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas. Not only did the Longhorns pull off the biggest Red River upset in 17 years, they completely reversed the outlook of their season. At 3-0 in the Big 12 standings, Texas is right in the middle of the conference race. The Longhorns also finally found an identity in Dallas, which could make them a tough out during the second half of the season. The Longhorns ran the ball with authority between the tackles behind their experienced offensive line, which took pressure off quarterback Case McCoy. Defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, meanwhile, disguised his defenses beautifully and utilized Texas’ speed in timely blitzes. Baylor remains the favorite to win the Big 12 crown. But Texas, which travels to Baylor in the regular-season finale, could be a factor. What a difference a week makes.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Jackson Laizure/Getty ImagesBlake Bell had one of the worst performances statistically by an OU QB since 2005.
Disappointment of the week: Oklahoma. While Texas found its identity in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners seemingly lost theirs. The defense’s Achilles' heel resurfaced from last season, as Oklahoma couldn’t stop the run. That made the Sooners vulnerable against deep passes, which McCoy capitalized on with a pair of long touchdowns. As much as the defense struggled, the offense looked completely lost. Blake Bell took four sacks, threw two interceptions and was utterly miserable on third down. Bell’s QBR on third down, in fact, was 0.1 percent (he had been 89.8 on third downs coming into the game). Bell wasn’t much better the rest of the game with an Adjusted QBR of 2.8, which was the fourth-worst single-game adjusted QBR of any FBS quarterback this season. Curiously, Bob Stoops said the offensive staff didn’t feel comfortable running Bell in this game. And the Sooners couldn’t figure out which running back to feature, with no back receiving more than seven carries. This is a team that doesn’t look like it knows who it is all of a sudden.

Big (offensive) men on campus: The Texas offensive line, Kansas State quarterback Daniel Sams and Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro.

The most experienced offensive line in the Big 12 blocked like it at the most opportune of times. Kennedy Estelle, Mason Walters, Dominic Espinosa, Trey Hopkins and Donald Hawkins paved the way for Johnathan Gray and Malcolm Brown to become the first Texas duo to top 100 rushing yards apiece in the same Red River game. The Bevos up front also kept McCoy upright, as the Texas quarterback was not sacked all day and barely pressured, either.

In Manhattan, Sams played valiantly in K-State’s 35-25 loss to Baylor. He rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns and almost single-handedly kept the Wildcats scoring with the high-powered Bears. Sams' late interception that effectively ended the game was a huge mistake. But his 86.1 Adjusted QBR was 13th-best in college football for the week. Sams now is second in the Big 12 in Adjusted QBR (86.5) for the year, trailing only Baylor’s Bryce Petty (95.1).

Amaro continues to be a security blanket for Texas Tech’s true freshman quarterbacks. Against Iowa State, he had his best game yet with nine receptions for 143 yards. Amaro leads the Big 12 with 47 receptions. Teammate Eric Ward is second with 34.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Kansas State defensive end Ryan Mueller, Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon and Texas defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Cedric Reed.

Along with Sams, Mueller was a major reason the Wildcats were in the game in the fourth quarter. In what might be the defensive highlight of the season in the Big 12 so far, Mueller stripped Petty while simultaneously recovering the fumble to set K-State with field position in the third quarter that would turn into a go-ahead touchdown. Mueller finished with seven tackles, two sacks and a pass breakup.

Dixon, meanwhile, came up with the defensive play of the game, as he beelined to the sideline to intercept Sams with four minutes to play. Off the turnover, the Baylor offense sealed the victory with a touchdown that put the Bears up two scores.

Jeffcoat and Reed, meanwhile, were terrific against the Sooners. The swarming defensive end duo totaled three sacks and kept the Oklahoma running backs from bouncing much of anything outside.

[+] EnlargeDaje Johnson
AP Photo/Brandon WadeDaje Johnson delivered Texas' first punt return for a touchdown since 2009.
Special-teams players of the week: Texas returner Daje Johnson, Texas kicker Anthony Fera and Iowa State returner Jarvis West.

Johnson delivered the dagger to the Sooners with a weaving 85-yard punt return touchdown late in the third quarter, which put the Longhorns ahead 30-13. It was Texas’ first punt return touchdown since Jordan Shipley did it in 2009. Fera came up big on special teams, too. He nailed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime that stymied the Sooners’ momentum from a long Roy Finch kick return that led to a touchdown the previous drive. Fera also nailed 50- and 31-yard field goals to be perfect on the day.

West kept the Cyclones above water in the first half as the Iowa State offense struggled. His 95-yard kickoff return -- Iowa State’s first non-onside kick return for a touchdown since 1994 -- tied the game in the first quarter 7-7. West later added a 38-yard punt return, and he finished with three receptions for 36 yards.

Play of the week: With the Red River Rivalry tied 3-3 in the first quarter, Texas' Adrian Phillips came off the edge untouched on a third-down zone blitz and slammed into Bell. The hit caused Bell’s pass to flutter behind intended receiver Jaz Reynolds and into the arms of defensive tackle Chris Whaley, who rumbled 31 yards for the touchdown. The Longhorns never gave up the lead the rest of the way.

Stat of the week: Bell’s QBR against Texas was the lowest by an Oklahoma quarterback since Rhett Bomar posted a 1.6 against Tulsa in 2005.

Quote of the week: "We love the guy. We’re playing for the guy. You all keep writing those articles bad about him. We’ll keep playing for him." -- McCoy on coach Mack Brown

Big 12 weekend rewind: Week 3

September, 16, 2013
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Oklahoma and Oklahoma State rolled, Texas capitulated, Texas Tech prevailed, TCU scuffled, West Virginia and Kansas State cruised, Iowa State and Kansas faltered and Baylor watched. The third weekend that was in the Big 12:

Team of the week: Texas Tech. So far, the Red Raiders have been the big surprise of the Big 12. The first two games Tech won with quarterback Baker Mayfield and its air assault. Thursday, the Red Raiders beat TCU 20-10 with hard-nosed defense. Tech is off to a phenomenal start and could keep it going with four winnable games coming up next. Those games will be even more winnable if this defense proves to be the real deal.

Disappointment of the week: Iowa State. After a disappointing opening performance, the Cyclones had high hopes they could turn their season around against their instate rival. Instead, Iowa jumped to a 27-7 lead, then withstood Iowa State’s mild fourth-quarter rally. The Cyclones have not looked good offensively through two games, and outside Sam Richardson throwing the ball up to Quenton Bundrage, have really shown no pop. The Cyclones desperately need a running back and a running game to emerge. So far, neither has.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsBlake Bell took charge as quarterback for Oklahoma.
Big (offensive) man on campus: Blake Bell. After losing the preseason quarterback battle to Trevor Knight, Bell roared back to recapture the job for good. Bell completed 27 of 37 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns in Oklahoma’s 51-20 win over Tulsa. Accounting for both rushing and passing, Bell finished the game with a QBR of 96.7. According to ESPN Stats & Info, that’s the highest single-game QBR (before opponent adjustment) by a qualifying Oklahoma quarterback since Sam Bradford recorded a 99.0 at Baylor in 2008.

Big (defensive) men on campus: Terrance Bullitt and Will Smith. Several different Red Raiders qualified for the honor, but the senior linebackers were instrumental in the win over TCU. Bullitt collected six tackles and batted down four passes, which helped prevent Horned Frogs quarterback Trevone Boykin from generating any rhythm on his shorter passes. Smith, who led Tech with nine tackles, helped stuff TCU’s run up the middle. With Tre’ Porter anchoring the secondary and Kerry Hyder wreaking havoc up front, the Red Raiders have the makings of a very solid defense, if this level of linebacker play from Bullitt and Smith continues.

Special teams player of the week: Anthony Fera. Don’t blame the Texas kicker for the Longhorns’ 44-23 loss to Ole Miss. Fera nailed all three of his field goal attempts in the defeat, including a 47-yarder that put Texas up two scores just before halftime. Of course, the Longhorns failed to score the rest of the game. Fera was effective punting, too, pinning Ole Miss inside its own 20 twice. The Longhorns don’t have much going for them at the moment, but at least they have a reliable kicker and punter.

Play of the week: Texas Tech’s DeAndre Washington appeared to have scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 49-yard pass in the fourth quarter against TCU. Washington, however, let go of the football just before crossing the goal line. The ball rolled into the end zone and came to a stop, but no one touched it after the field judge signaled touchdown. The play was reviewed and the touchdown was overturned, but Tech was given the ball at the half-yard line (though a celebration penalty pushed the ball back to the 15). The Frogs have a beef about the field judge signaling touchdown prematurely, but, according to the rulebook, officials made the right call on the replay. Had a Frog picked up the ball or had the ball rolled out of the end zone, TCU would have taken over possession, but none of that happened. Instead, Tech was given back the ball, and Davis Webb found Bradley Marquez for the game-winning touchdown -- a play that could have long-lasting effects for both the Red Raiders and TCU.

Stat of the week: After giving up 272 rushing yards to Ole Miss, Texas now has the third-worst rush defense in college football. The Longhorns are allowing 308.7 rushing yards per game. No one else in the Big 12 is giving up more than 223.

Quote of the week: “Forget the coaches, come for the kids. Come for the young guys who are really trying, and come watch them try to beat Kansas State, which we haven't done very often.”

-- coach Mack Brown, in a plea to Texas fans to keep filling the stadium despite the Longhorns’ 1-2 start.

Instant analysis: WVU 48, Texas 45

October, 6, 2012
10/06/12
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AUSTIN, Texas – If there was any doubt as to whether West Virginia is the best team in the Big 12, the Mountaineers gave their answer on Saturday night.

In front of a Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium-record crowd of 101,851, West Virginia didn’t flinch even despite two Geno Smith turnovers. Its much-maligned defense made stops on two crucial fourth-quarter Texas drives, and its offense -- thanks to a remarkably potent rushing attack - was as good as advertised in the 48-45 victory.

Here’s how it all played out:

It was over when: Anthony Fera missed a 41-yard field goal with 5:25 left in the fourth quarter. A Smith fumble put Texas at WVU’s 12-yard line, but the Longhorns took a 16-yard loss on a bad snap on third down. Fera, a Penn State transfer making his Texas debut after a groin injury had sidelined him all season, pulled the kick wide right.

Game ball: Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. Their Heisman-favorite quarterback gets most of the press, but Bailey and Austin were what broke this Texas defense. Bailey caught three touchdown passes, and Austin added another score, 102 receiving yards and 111 yards on kick returns.

Game ball, part II: Andrew Buie. The West Virginia running back burned Texas time and time again on Saturday night, hitting the soft middle spot of the Longhorns defense for a season-high 207 yards and two scores on 31 carries. He entered the night averaging 56 rushing yards per game.

Stat of the game: 5-for-5. West Virginia was perfect on the night on fourth-down conversions despite going 3-for-12 on third downs. The biggest pickup came in the first quarter, when Smith hit Austin on fourth-and-4 and he broke upfield for a 40-yard touchdown.

What it means: West Virginia is firmly in the driver’s seat for the Big 12. Its much-hyped Air Raid attack had no problem scoring on an athletic Texas defense that was supposed to be among the conference’s best. Texas, meanwhile, must go back to the drawing board and figure out how to fix its still-porous D. The loser of Texas-Oklahoma next Saturday may need lots of help to get back into the conference title discussion.
When Oklahoma State quarterback Wes Lunt went down nearly two weeks ago, he clutched his left knee immediately and writhed in pain.

It was easy to fear the worst.

In the days that followed, those fears proved unfounded. Lunt's injury, Oklahoma State said, wasn't as bad as previously believed. He might be back in a couple of weeks, maybe longer.

Would he play against Texas on Saturday, though? Coach Mike Gundy said there wouldn't be any official word until a day before the game when Oklahoma State traditionally releases its injury report.

The Cowboys don't seem too keen on updating Lunt's status, but they've been more forthcoming than most.

He'll probably practice later in the week after getting out of a knee immobilizer, Gundy said. There would be more word on his status on Friday.

Gundy has been reasonably forthcoming with his high-profile injury, but as Pac-12 dust-ups have pushed injury information to the forefront, should Gundy and his colleagues be set on equal ground when it comes to what they do and don't have to reveal about injuries?

"I don’t know that you could ever control it," Gundy said. His Friday report, though basic and terse, is more than some coaches across the league offer.

"Whether you could regulate it at the college level, I don’t know that it would ever be consistent," Gundy said. "One coach could say a guy is probable and he’s really not, so I don’t know how you’d ever really measure and get a feel for what the exact injury report would be."

Kansas coach Charlie Weis will answer questions from the media on Tuesdays, using an NFL-style scale. If a player has a 75 percent chance to play, Weis will tell the media he's "probable." If he's questionable, he's got a 50 percent chance to play. Doubtful, 25 percent.

"I think that you have to understand on the one hand, you don’t want to be giving your opponent any information they don’t need to know. On the other hand, I think the writers and reporters have an ethical responsibility to try to do their job," Weis said. "The thing is, how many people are going to give you an honest evaluation? That really is a bit subjective, but there’s always going to be gray area when it comes to injuries, and because there’s nothing uniform, there’s no value in trying to tell everyone what’s going on injury-wise because the other guys don’t have to do the same thing."

Weis' in-state rival, Kansas State coach Bill Snyder, won't ever address a player's injury. Some schools only address injuries if they're season-ending.

[+] EnlargeTommy Tuberville
John Albright / Icon SMI "It doesn't do any good to hide anything [about injuries,]" coach Tommy Tuberville said. "There probably needs to be somewhere, somehow looked into a national way to do it. Everybody on the same page. "
Texas Tech, though?

"There’s so much information that comes out on Facebook and Twitter that even gets around us a little bit. We’re one of those we just tell how it is, when it is, how it happened," Texas Tech coach Tommy Tuberville said. "It doesn’t do any good to hide anything. There probably needs to be somewhere, somehow looked into a national way to do it. Everybody on the same page."

Like Weis, Texas coach Mack Brown favors an NFL-style injury report early in the week. Brown says he'll bring up the idea at the league's spring meetings next year.

In order to report injuries on a consistent basis like that, however, schools may have to get around federal HIPA laws that protect the privacy of students' health.

More challenges await coaches, too.

"You’ve watched us around here, we try to be as honest as we can," Brown said.

The Longhorns are dealing with injury issues of their own, waiting to see if running back Joe Bergeron (shoulder), linebacker Jordan Hicks (hip) and kicker Anthony Fera (groin) will be available when the Horns play at Oklahoma State on Saturday.

"It’s a very difficult thing for coaches, because you don’t know. ... Things change," Brown said. "When people ask to evaluate or give an evaluation from your doctors and trainers on Sunday or Monday and then maybe you say they get ready to play and they get hurt on Wednesday. I think that’s maybe something we can all talk about and see how much information you can give out and what’s best to give out and trying to be honest and fair. It’s a very difficult thing."

At Texas, Brown can only tell the media exactly what trainers tell him, and assistant coaches aren't allowed to talk about injuries.

"If you say a guy can play and he goes and has a pulled muscle on Tuesday, it looks like you lied, so it is a difficult thing," Brown said. "If you’re coming off injuries, you’re not going to practice them at the same speed you do other guys in some cases, so you may not know until game time whether they’re ready to play."

The only thing anyone knows for sure is coaches are torn on a weekly basis with so much variance and so little information required.

How much information should be given? Should it always be the right information? Do you endanger players by giving out too much? The conversation has arrived, and it sounds like there'll be plenty more when the season is over.

"I really wish that either across the board we’d have no comment or maybe we go to an NFL style and the trainers are the only ones that can comment and you have to come forth with it, and if it’s wrong, there’s some penalty," Brown said. "I don’t know, but we’re all over the place with injuries right now and it’s a very difficult thing to do."

Backup kicker leaves Penn State

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
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Penn State players and coaches have said they're sticking with Sam Ficken as their kicker despite his brutal outing last week at Virginia. The Nittany Lions now don't have many other options.

Ficken's backup, freshman Matt Marcincin, has left the team for personal reasons, it was first reported by the Centre Daily Times and later confirmed by the school. Now, normally, a backup kicker leaving the team is hardly newsworthy. But these are not normal times for Penn State.

Ficken went just 1-for-5 on field goals and missed an extra point in the Nittany Lions' 17-16 loss at Virginia. While Bill O'Brien said Ficken would remain the starter, he also said there would be a kicking competition each week in practice.

With Marcincin gone, there is only one other placekicker on the roster: Kevin DiSanto. The position was thinned when incumbent kicker/punter Anthony Fera transferred to Texas this summer, using the NCAA exemption to become immediately eligible. The Centre Daily Times reports Penn State will hold open tryouts for kickers next week.

And, of course, all player departures from Penn State make news right now. Marcincin was not a scholarship player, however.

The best thing that could happen is for Ficken to bounce back and have a good game this week against Navy. Then no one will think much about kicker depth again.

Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. Spartans or bust: With all due respect to Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota, the Big Ten is down to one legitimate remaining BCS title contender after just two weeks. Michigan, Wisconsin and Nebraska have already seen their hopes of an undefeated season vanish. Ohio State technically could win The Associated Press national title, but the probation-saddled Buckeyes can't play for the BCS crown. So Michigan State, which looks like the Big Ten's best team right now, is really the only league team that can hoist the crystal trophy. The Spartans own the league's best nonconference win (the opener over Boise State), an elite defense and a strong running game behind Le'Veon Bell. Their passing game needs more work, but quarterback Andrew Maxwell and his young receivers made some strides in a blowout win over Central Michigan. Michigan State still has a demanding schedule, including next week's game against Notre Dame. But as the only Big Ten power still without a blemish, the Spartans represent the conference's last, best hope for a BCS championship this season.

2. The Leaders Division race is wide open: Hold off on Wisconsin's coronation. The Badgers look completely out of sorts after barely holding on against FCS team Northern Iowa in Week 1 and then nearly getting shut out in a loss at Oregon State in Week 2. If Wisconsin's offense is going to be that pedestrian, to put it kindly, then Bret Bielema's team no longer looks scary for the rest of the teams in the division. Purdue, even in a loss to Notre Dame, might have had the best performance by a Leaders team Saturday. Illinois got dusted in the desert against Arizona State as its vaunted defense faltered. Indiana is 2-0 but is most likely not ready to contend in the division, especially with quarterback Tre Roberson now out for the year. Ohio State might end up being the best team in the division, but the Buckeyes can't go to Indianapolis. Right now, it's anybody's guess who will represent the Leaders at Lucas Oil Stadium.

[+] EnlargeCaleb TerBush
Matt Cashore/US PresswireCaleb TerBush pulled Purdue into a late tie at Notre Dame with a 15-yard TD pass.
3. There's fight in these Nittany Lions, but transfers continue to sting: No matter your opinion on Penn State, you had to feel for the Nittany Lions players and particularly sophomore kicker Sam Ficken after their 17-16 loss to Virginia. Penn State thoroughly outplayed Virginia and received gutsy efforts from linebacker Michael Mauti, quarterback Matt McGloin and others. But it repeatedly missed scoring opportunities, setting some type of record for drives started in plus territory that didn't translate to points. Ficken missed field goal attempts from 40, 38, 20 and 42 yards, the last on the final play of the game after McGloin led an impressive drive. Although Ficken is a scholarship player who needs to convert, he was thrust into this role once All-Big Ten specialist Anthony Fera transferred following the NCAA sanctions (though Fera, now at Texas, is currently injured). Some pointed to Fera's departure as the second most significant of the nine -- behind running back Silas Redd. Penn State certainly could have used him Saturday. The Lions deserve credit for moving the ball and for forcing turnovers, but the player departures have and likely will continue to hamper this team. It will be interesting to see how they bounce back from Saturday's heartbreaker.

4. New coordinators struggling at Wisconsin, Iowa: Both Wisconsin and Iowa went through some significant coaching changes during the offseason, including new offensive coordinators in both Madison (Matt Canada) and Iowa City (Greg Davis). So far, any concerns about the new hires are looking justified. After setting offensive records the past two seasons, Wisconsin came 91 seconds away from being shut out against unranked Oregon State. The Badgers finished with 35 net rush yards and couldn't get Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball going. While the players bear a lot of responsibility, Canada's play calls seemed questionable at best. Iowa's offense also is spinning its wheels under Davis, who took criticism toward the end of his Texas tenure but was supposed to diversify the Hawkeyes' attack. Like Wisconsin, Iowa didn't come alive offensively until the closing moments, and senior quarterback James Vandenberg struggled again with no touchdown passes and two interceptions. Iowa has scored one touchdown through the first two games. Although both Canada and Davis faced some personnel challenges with their offenses, they didn't walk into dire situations, either, particularly Canada. The results so far are extremely disappointing.

5. Braxton Miller needs some help: Urban Meyer doesn't want to overexpose his sophomore quarterback, but the Ohio State coach doesn't have much choice right now. Miller had a whopping 27 carries in Saturday's 31-16 win over Central Florida, rushing for 141 yards. He also threw the ball 24 times. Jordan Hall remains out with an injured foot, and Carlos Hyde left Saturday's game with a knee injury, leaving the Buckeyes without many options at running back. Miller took a few hard hits against UCF, and it's clear that if he has to miss any significant time, the Ohio State offense will nosedive. The Buckeyes have to find some complementary players so Miller can make it through the year. We could say the same about Michigan's Denard Robinson, who accounted for more than 100 percent of his team's offensive total against Air Force. But we're pretty sure Fitz Toussaint will contribute more than 7 rushing yards in the near future. The Buckeyes need Hyde or Hall to get healthy or for someone else to emerge as a reliable running mate for Miller.


Former Penn State kicker Anthony Fera has only been at Texas a week, but his move to the Longhorns has taken an unfavorable turn.

Fera aggravated a groin injury and won't be practicing. There's no timetable for his return, Texas announced on Friday.

Not what you want to see if you're the Longhorns, who traditionally don't announce injuries unless they sideline players for substantial periods of time.

Fera hadn't played a down yet, but he might have been a great replacement for Justin Tucker at kicker, and might have taken over the punting duties, too.

Eventually that might be the case, but for now, it looks like a sizeable setback for Fera.
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Penn State started 8-1 in 2011 because of a ferocious defense. The Lions rotated quarterbacks, failed to generate much of a passing attack and got a bunch of yards but not many touchdowns from Silas Redd.

They won four games without scoring more than 16 points, three in Big Ten play.

It's a blueprint the Blue and White likely must follow again in 2012 to have success in Bill O'Brien's first season. Although O'Brien is an offensive guru, the line should be better and new contributors should emerge, the Penn State offense, at present, simply doesn't look like it can score many points.

Wide receiver Justin Brown's departure to Oklahoma, as colleague Joe Schad first reported, is the latest blow for Penn State's offense. Make no mistake: The biggest came when All-Big Ten running back Redd transferred to USC. But Brown, the team's leading returning receiver with 35 receptions and 517 receiving yards, is a significant loss as well.

Brown is the ninth player to transfer from Penn State since the NCAA leveled heavy sanctions against the program July 23.

His departure leaves Penn State with no players who recorded more than five receptions in 2011. There's some talent at receiver and running back -- don't be surprised if Alex Kenney and Bill Belton take big steps this season. The tight end position will be featured more in O'Brien's offense. But Penn State undoubtedly is relying more on potential than proven track records.

Several Penn State fans who responded to me on Twitter tonight pointed out Brown's dropped passes and inconsistent play last season. That's true to an extent, but the team still would have benefited from having a senior with 19 career starts. He was the only Lions player to record at least one reception in every game last season.

Losing only Brown wouldn't sting Penn State too much. But the cumulative effect of losing Brown, Redd and standout kicker/punter Anthony Fera could cripple a unit that already had question marks before the sanctions hit, including a giant one at quarterback.

Redd, Fera and Brown accounted for 116 of Penn State's 251 points in 2011. No returnee accounted for more than 12 points last year.

The good news: Penn State's defense still should be very, very good, and the unit hasn't suffered a crucial departure (Khairi Fortt might have started at linebacker, but the Lions still should be fine there). This team has won without a dynamic offense recently, and it could again in 2012.

But there will be times when the offense must deliver. Penn State needs some mystery men to answer the bell.
Penn State has absorbed personnel hits on both offense and defense since the NCAA handed down major sanctions against the program last week.

The Nittany Lions' special-teams units won't be spared, either.

Junior Anthony Fera, who handled both punting and place-kicking duties in 2011, will transfer to Texas, colleague Joe Schad and others are reporting. Fera earned second-team All-Big Ten honors (media) as a punter last season, averaging 42 yards per punt with 18 punts inside opponents' 20-yard line. He also connected on 14 of 17 field goal attempts and was a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.

Fera, a native of Cypress, Texas, earned three Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors in 2011 and became the first Nittany Lions specialist since Chris Bahr in 1975 to be the starter for field goals, kickoffs and punts.

Next to starting running back Silas Redd, Fera is the most significant departure for Penn State so far. The Lions likely will turn to sophomore Sam Ficken for place-kicking duties and junior Alex Butterworth to handle the punting, but Fera certainly will be missed, especially for an offense that could have some significant struggles.

Fera is the seventh Penn State player to confirm a transfer elsewhere, joining Redd (USC), linebacker Khairi Fortt (Cal), tight end Kevin Haplea (Florida State), quarterback Rob Bolden (LSU), safety Tim Buckley (NC State) and defensive lineman Jamil Pollard (Rutgers). There likely will be more to come, including possibly top wide receiver Justin Brown, who would be another significant loss for the offense.

There was a lot of excitement in Nittany Nation about the pledges of loyalty made last week by a group of Penn State's upperclassmen as well as several top 2013 recruits. In reality, most of the seniors wouldn't have benefited from leaving State College. Who expected guys like Matthew McGloin or Michael Mauti to leave? All along, the key players to watch were those with multiple years of eligibility remaining.

So far, those are the individuals heading elsewhere.
Our series ranking each position group from the 2011 Big Ten season comes to a close today with the final group, and one that is often overlooked but is always important: special teams.

Special teams is a broad spectrum, so we're combining performances in punting, kickoffs and field goals to come up with each team's position on this list.

And away we go:

1. Nebraska: Boy, did we mess this up in the preseason by ranking the Huskers 11th out of 12. Though we wrote at the time that Nebraska would almost certainly outperform its low rankings, we thought replacing star punter/kicker Alex Henery would be tough. Not really, as Brett Maher was one of the best punters and kickers in the league and the country. Freshman Ameer Abdullah was a star in kick returns, finishing ninth nationally in that category. So just remove one of the ones from that preseason number, and then we've got it right.

[+] EnlargeRaheem Mostert
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesRaheem Mostert took a kickoff return back 99 yards for a score in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
2. Purdue: The Boilermakers were mostly mediocre on offense and defense but did some great work on special teams. Freshman Raheem Mostert led the nation in kickoff returns, while sophomore Cody Webster finished second in punting. The strong-legged Carson Wiggs tied Maher for most field goals made in the league, though he still needs to improve his accuracy. Blocked kicks helped secure wins over Middle Tennessee and Ohio State, but Purdue lost on a blocked field goal try at Rice.

3. Penn State: When Anthony Fera returned from suspension and took over field goal duties, the Nittany Lions' special teams became truly special. Fera hit 14 of 17 field goals after Penn State had looked very shaky in that area early in the year, and he was also one of the league's top punters. Chaz Powell and Justin Brown were dangerous return men.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes ranked among the top third of Big Ten teams in just about every special-teams category. Field goal kicker Drew Basil made a dozen in a row at one point, and Ben Buchanan was solid at punter. Jordan Hall added some big returns.

5. Michigan State: We ranked the Spartans No. 1 in the preseason, and they came up with some game-changing plays, particularly in the first game against Wisconsin and in the Outback Bowl win over Georgia. But statistically speaking, Michigan State was average in most aspects of the kicking game. But Mike Sadler had some big moments punting, and Keshawn Martin did excellent work on punt returns.

6. Wisconsin: A tough team to rank, as there was both good and bad here. Jared Abbrederis led the nation in punt return average at 15.8 yards per attempt. Brad Nortman was a very reliable punter, while Philip Welch made five of his six attempts at field goals, something the Badgers didn't need very much with Montee Ball assaulting the end zone. But we can't ignore the big special-teams breakdowns against Michigan State and Ohio State that had as much as anything to do with ruining a potential undefeated season.

7. Michigan: The Wolverines weren't outstanding at any one area on special teams, but they proved much better than the No. 12 ranking we saddled them with in the preseason. Brendan Gibbons solidified what looked like a scary place-kicker situation and played a large role (along with brunette girls) in the Sugar Bowl victory. Michigan was also strong in punt returns and kick coverage, though its punting and kickoff returns left much to be desired.

8. Iowa: The good news first: Iowa led the league in net punting, thanks to a strong showing by senior Eric Guthrie in his first year starting. Now the bad: The Hawkeyes ranked second-to-last in kickoff coverage, and Mike Meyer missed six of his 20 field goal attempts, including both tries in the humbling loss to Minnesota.

9. Minnesota: Even without premier return man Troy Stoudermire, who missed most of the year with an injury, the Gophers ranked fifth in the league in kickoff returns, and they led the league in kickoff coverage. But a team that punted as much as Minnesota did in 2011 needed to do better than 11th in the conference in that category. Bonus point for the perfectly executed onside kick in the Iowa win.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats' defense got the brunt of the blame in Northwestern's losses, but special teams didn't hold up its end of the bargain, either. Northwestern made only six field goals all year and ranked near the bottom of the conference in most categories. The bright spot was a league-best punt return unit.

11. Indiana: Mitch Ewald went 13-of-16 on field goals, but the Hoosiers weren't very good in most other areas. They returned more kickoffs than anyone in the Big Ten -- a product of a crummy defense -- but didn't do enough with them in finishing 108th nationally in that stat.

12. Illinois: Ron Zook didn't help his case to be retained as head coach through the performance of his special teams, a part of the game that was supposed to be his field of expertise. Illinois was simply dreadful in creating advantageous field position, finishing last in the nation in kickoff returns and third-to-last in punt returns. The Illini also weren't very good at kickoff coverage, though at least Derek Dimke made 10 of 12 field goals. Even that was marred by his missed 42-yarder at the end of a 10-7 loss at Penn State.
Editor’s Note: Tune into the “AT&T ESPN All America Team Show” on Saturday (ABC, 1:30 p.m. ET) to see who ESPN’s writers and experts selected.

The envelope, please ...

OFFENSE

QB: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB: Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
WR: Marvin McNutt, Iowa
WR: B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State
TE: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern
OL: David Molk, Michigan
OL: Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
OL: Peter Konz, Wisconsin
OL: Joel Foreman, Michigan State
OL: Reilly Reiff, Iowa

DEFENSE

DL: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
DL: Devon Still, Penn State DL: Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
DL: John Simon, Ohio State LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska
LB:
Gerald Hodges, Penn State
LB: Mike Taylor, Wisconsin
CB: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
CB: Johnny Adams, Michigan State
S: Trenton Robinson, Michigan State
S: Nick Sukay, Penn State

SPECIALISTS

P: Anthony Fera, Penn State
K: Brett Maher, Nebraska
KR: Raheem Mostert, Purdue
PR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin

Comments: We said before the season that the strength in the Big Ten lay in the interior lines, and that is illustrated in our picks. Still and Worthy had All-American seasons, and Simon was great as well. We didn't even have room for Michigan's Mike Martin, who had a terrific season. Our offensive line has two centers in Molk and Konz (two Rimington Trophy finalists) because we thought that position was much stronger than tackle. (Konz has played guard in his career, so we could figure it out if we actually had to play with this team). Some of our toughest choices came at the second receiver spot, where we liked Cunningham's production down the stretch far more than A.J. Jenkins' early numbers for an Illinois team that faded badly; the third linebacker spot, where we could have gone with Taylor's teammate Chris Borland or Illinois' Jonathan Brown; and the second safety selection, where we chose Sukay over Northwestern's Brian Peters, Minnesota's Kim Royston or Wisconsin's Aaron Henry because we felt Sukay made a big impact on a better defense. Lastly, only eight players who we chose on our preseason All-Big Ten team ended up on our official postseason squad. That shows how much things can change from season to season -- and it also shows that maybe our prognosticating skills need some improvement.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

November, 21, 2011
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Saw you so much clearer, once you were in my rear-view mirror.

Team of the week: Michigan. The Wolverines flexed their muscles and blew out Nebraska 45-17 in their best performance and arguably biggest win of the season. Michigan is now the Big Ten's best hope for an at-large BCS bid. Michigan State sure liked what happened in Ann Arbor this week, too.

Game of the week: Penn State 20, Ohio State 14. Ultimately, this game had no bearing on the Big Ten title race, but try telling these two teams that. In a week without many thrillers, the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes played an old-school, physical game that featured no second-half points but plenty of hold-your-breath moments. Given the backdrop of what Penn State had been dealing with back home, it was far from meaningless.

[+] EnlargeJustin DuVernois
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireIllini punter Justin DuVernois is tackled by Wisconsin's Conor O'Neill after a game-changing fumbled snap Saturday.
Biggest play: Illinois led Wisconsin 14-0 in the second quarter when punter Justin Duvernois dropped the ball after catching the snap. The Badgers' Conor O'Neill tackled him at the 2-yard line to set up a Montee Ball touchdown run and finally give Wisconsin some momentum. Who knows how the game would have unfolded differently had the Illini taken a 17-0 lead into half instead of 17-7. And for a team that had special-teams breakdowns in losses to Michigan State and Ohio State, it was good for Wisconsin to get one back in the kicking game.

Best call: Lions turning into Wildcats. Interim coach Tom Bradley and his staff decided to use Curtis Drake and Bill Belton in the Wildcat formation against Ohio State, something Penn State hadn't shown much of all season. By the time the Buckeyes adjusted to it, Penn State had piled up 254 yards and 20 points in the first half. The defense did the rest in the second half. Question: Would the Nittany Lions have used that kind of creativity if Joe Paterno was still the head coach?

Toughest call: Robert Marve's touchdown-no-fumble near the end of the Purdue-Iowa game. The Boilers quarterback scrambled and dived for the end zone with 1:27 left in the game, losing the ball just as he hit the pylon. The officials on the field ruled it a touchdown, which would have cut the lead to 31-27 with an extra point giving Purdue a chance to get within a field goal. But after a review, the play was ruled a lost fumble in the end zone, which gave the ball to Iowa and basically ended the game.

Boilermakers coach Danny Hope brought a still picture of the play to his Sunday media briefing, saying it showed Marve's hand hitting the pylon and the ball out of bounds. Other angles and replays seemed to validate the replay officials' ruling. You can watch the video of it here at the 1:40 mark. Either way, Purdue simply made too many mistakes in the game to be whining about one call, no matter how crucial it was.

Big Men on Campus (Offense): Wisconsin's Ball and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. Ball had career highs in rushes (38) and yards (224) and scored three more touchdowns, becoming just the fifth player in FBS history to reach 30 touchdowns in a season. Robinson bounced back from a couple of rough outings to account for four touchdowns and 263 total yards of offense against Nebraska. He has now won six Big Ten player of the week honors, third-most in league history.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland. The sophomore made a career-high 16 tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles against Illinois. His second forced fumble gave the Badgers a short field to set up their second touchdown, and he helped lead a defensive effort that shut out the Illini in the second half and forced four turnovers. A special shout out also goes to Northwestern's Brian Peters, who forced and recovered a fumble and made an interception despite wearing a cast on one arm against Minnesota.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Penn State's Anthony Fera. He made a 43-yard field goal and a 46-yarder at the end of the first half to account for the margin of victory in the Nittany Lions' 20-14 win against Ohio State. He also had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including one on the 3-yard line. How good has Fera been this season? This is third Big Ten weekly honor of the season.

Strangest moment: It's not often you see an offensive guard taking a handoff and running a sweep. But Michigan State's Joel Foreman did just that on Saturday in a nice gesture from Mark Dantonio.

The Spartans were up 48-3 on Indiana when Foreman lined up at tight end and came around the left side for a three-yard gain. Dantonio said he thought of the idea in practice Thursday as a way to honor Foreman, a fifth-year senior who has started 46 career games at left guard.

"That was for every big guy out there who ever wanted to run the ball," Foreman told reporters. "I'm averaging three yards a carry, broken tackle. I think that's more than [quarterback] Kirk [Cousins] has, so I'm doing all right."

It was a particularly appropriate way to end the home season for Foreman, who let cancer survivor Arthur Ray Jr. begin the game in his place in the season opener despite his consecutive starts streak. After Foreman's run, he jogged to midfield with the ball under his arm, saluted and then came out of the game. Ray was one of the first players to greet him.

"He got the game ball for that," Dantonio said of Foreman. "He took it, as a matter of fact."
Time to recognize the best and brightest from the Big Ten in Week 12:
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: It was a vintage "Shoelace" performance against Nebraska. Robinson ran for 83 yards on 23 carries and threw for 180 yards while scoring four touchdowns in a 45-17 win. Robinson accounted for three more total yards than the Huskers' entire offense.
  • Iowa's triplets: No one in the Big Ten has a more productive trio than Iowa's combination of quarterback James Vandenberg, receiver Marvin McNutt and running back Marcus Coker. All three showed up in a big way in a 31-21 road win at Purdue. Vandenberg completed 22-of-32 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns. McNutt caught two of those scores and had 151 receiving yards on nine total receptions. And Coker rumbled for 139 yards and a score on 30 carries.
  • Wisconsin RB Montee Ball: It was another big day for "MoneyBall," and the Badgers needed it to avoid an upset. Ball carried 38 times for 224 yards and two scores and caught a touchdown pass. He became just the fifth player in FBS history to score 30 touchdowns in a season.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: In his final home game, the Spartans senior completed 16-of-23 passes for 272 yards and three touchdowns in a 55-3 shellacking of Indiana. His two favorite targets, B.J. Cunningham (six catches for 132 yards and two scores) and Keshawn Martin (8 receptions for 99 yards and a touchdown, plus a 19-yard scoring run) also had big days as Michigan State clinched the Legends Division crown.
  • Northwestern S Brian Peters: The senior had 11 tackles, intercepted a pass in the end zone and forced a fumble that he recovered as the Wildcats got bowl-eligible with a 28-13 win over Minnesota.
  • Penn State P/K Anthony Fera: Fera played a huge role in Penn State's win against Ohio State. He kicked a career-long 43-yard field goal in the first quarter and then bested it with a 46-yarder to close the half. He also placed three of four punts inside Ohio State's 20-yard line, including one that went out of bounds at the 3-yard line.

3Q update: Penn State still up 20-14

November, 19, 2011
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Now that's more like it, a scoreless quarter between Penn State and Ohio State. Here are some notes and observations after 45 minutes of play, as No. 21 Penn State still leads Ohio State 20-14.
  • Both teams are in love with the Wildcat formation and have had some success, Penn State more than Ohio State. The Buckeyes went to the well one too many times deep in their own territory as running backs Jordan Hall and Dan Herron couldn't complete a handoff, leading to a fumble. Fortunately for Ohio State, its defense turned in an impressive goal-line stand to keep Penn State from taking a two-score lead.
  • I loved Penn State's decision to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but the play calls before were highly questionable. Running backs Stephfon Green, Silas Redd and Brandon Beachum have been terrific, and yet Penn State went with two Michael Zordich runs and a Matthew McGloin sneak. You've got to give the ball to the running backs before fourth down.
  • Ohio State seemed to have its offense cooking late in the quarter before a Carlos Hyde fumble. The turnovers are killers, but the Buckeyes must continue to pound away at the Penn State defense with Herron, Braxton Miller and others. Ohio State has had good success running to the outside.
  • Penn State kicker/punter Anthony Fera might be the team's MVP so far today. He has kicked field goals of 43 and 46 yards, both career longs. He also pinned Ohio State at its own 3-yard line late in the quarter.

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