NCF Nation: Ashton Leggett
1. Pryor vs. Harris: Two Heisman Trophy contenders will share the field in Columbus as Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor goes up against his Miami counterpart Jacory Harris. Both Pryor and Harris looked good in their debuts a week ago, but the heat will be turned up at Ohio Stadium (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET). Pryor likely will have to mix in the run more against an athletic Miami defense while still spreading the ball to multiple targets as he has in his last two games. Harris really struggled against a Big Ten defense (Wisconsin) in the Champs Sports Bowl. He'll need a much better performance against an opportunistic Buckeyes defense that recorded a pick-six last week.
2. Bolden vs. rising Tide: Rob Bolden made history last week when he became the first true freshman quarterback to start the season opener for Penn State in a century. Bolden now tries to shock the world and lead No. 18 Penn State to an upset road win against top-ranked Alabama (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). His presence adds a fresh twist (pun intended) to a matchup pairing two traditional powerhouses. The 6-4, 208-pound Bolden showed good poise and made strong decisions at Youngstown State, but he'll likely fall victim to some mistakes in Tuscaloosa. How he responds could determine Penn State's chances against the Tide.
4. Cyclone warning: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn didn't mean to dis Iowa State with his "only team in the state" comment this summer, but the Cyclones certainly are using his words as motivation as they head to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Clayborn has his own motivation after Iowa's D-line looked "like a bunch of tired dogs" last year against the Cyclones. Iowa State has made strides since the 2009 meeting, and Alexander Robinson is the first of several outstanding running backs the Hawkeyes will face this fall. Iowa should prevail Saturday, but this series hasn't been easy for Kirk Ferentz's crew. Should be interesting to watch.
5. Backs in action: Michigan State and Iowa had no trouble running the ball in Week 1, and both teams get a boost Saturday. Jewel Hampton returns to the Hawkeyes backfield for the first time since 2008 after missing all of last season with a knee injury and then serving a suspension last week. Adam Robinson made a good case to be the starter in the opener (109 rush yards, 3 TDs), but Hampton will push him for carries after an excellent preseason. Projected starter Larry Caper is back for the Spartans after missing the opener with a hand injury. He'll share time with sophomore Edwin Baker and freshman Le'Veon Bell, who combined for 258 rush yards and four touchdowns last week.
6. Must-win for Illini: Sure, it's only Week 2, but Illinois can't afford an 0-2 start with upcoming games against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State, not to mention a Sept. 18 date with a Northern Illinois team picked to win the MAC West. Vic Koenning's defense is down another starter -- suspended end/linebacker Michael Buchanan -- and faces a Southern Illinois team that put up 70 points last week. The bigger story is on offense, where quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tries to rebound from a four-turnover performance in his collegiate debut. Illinois is 11-0 all-time against other public schools in the state, although SIU typically is one of the stronger FCS programs.
7. Cleaning up at Camp Randall: Wisconsin had a pretty convincing win in its opener against UNLV, but the Badgers are looking for a much cleaner performance Saturday against San Jose State at Camp Randall Stadium (ESPN, noon ET). Two Wisconsin turnovers last week led two UNLV touchdowns, and both miscues came from veteran players (quarterback Scott Tolzien and receiver Nick Toon). Wisconsin should win this game easily, but it faces a pretty stout defense next week in Arizona State and needs to work out the kinks on offense.
8. Big Ten feel in Evanston: Northwestern will see quite a few familiar faces Saturday against Illinois State. The Redbirds are coached by former longtime Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack, and their roster features eight former Big Ten players, including former Michigan State running back Ashton Leggett. Spack knows how to defend Northwestern's offense, which had its ups and downs in the opener. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald says the run game isn't far away from catching fire, but he might be tempted to air it out with quarterback Dan Persa, who completed 19 of 21 attempts for 222 yards and three touchdowns last week.
9. Marve, Weber take aim: Quarterbacks Robert Marve (Purdue) and Adam Weber (Minnesota) both did some good things in Week 1, but they're looking for more on Saturday. Marve completed 31 of 42 passes against Notre Dame but struggled to stretch the field. Expect him to take some shots against Western Illinois. Weber came up big in the fourth quarter at Middle Tennessee, but he's still looking for a go-to receiver. He takes on a South Dakota team that allowed 241 pass yards and two touchdowns last week against Central Florida.
10. JoePa and The Bear: If you love college football history, tune into the Penn State-Alabama game. Joe Paterno heads to Tuscaloosa for the first time since setting the all-time coaching wins record previously held by former Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Paterno declined to discuss his relationship with Bryant this week, preferring to focus on the game, but their past is well documented. Alabama and Penn State have had several unforgettable games, like the 1979 Sugar Bowl, which decided the national title. Alabama won the game following a goal-line stand and a touchdown-saving tackle by All-America cornerback Don McNeal on Penn State's Scott Fitzkee. Turns out, McNeal is the great uncle to Rob Bolden. Small world.
Best game: Minnesota-Middle Tennessee. Considering nine of the 11 games were decided by more than one score, there were not many choices here. At least the Gophers brought some drama in Murfreesboro, rallying from a 17-14 second-half deficit to win 24-17. Minnesota also provided the most touching story of the weekend, as fullback Jon Hoese rushed for three touchdowns and recovered a fumble just days after his father suffered a severe stroke. Hoese nearly didn't make the trip.
Biggest play: After a somewhat sloppy first 30 minutes by Penn State, Chaz Powell created some distance on the scoreboard with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the third quarter. Powell, back at wide receiver after being moved to cornerback this spring, had Penn State's longest kick return since Rich Mauti's 100-yard runback in 1975. Honorable mention goes to Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, whose forced fumble led to a touchdown early in the third quarter against UNLV after the Badgers led by only three points at halftime.
Best call: Joe Paterno and his staff made a historic call by starting true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden in the opener, and it paid off. Bolden showed impressive skills and poise, completing 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Rich Rodriguez's decision to go with Robinson at quarterback for Michigan also looked good.
Game balls (given to players not selected for helmet stickers)
- Ohio State S/LB Tyler Moeller: Moeller's return to the field following a year away was memorable enough, but he also played an outstanding game for the Buckeyes' defense. The senior recorded a team-high six tackles, including two for loss with a sack and a forced fumble against Marshall.
- Iowa RB Adam Robinson: A-Rob made a good case to be Iowa's starting running back, rushing for 109 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. He'll need to hold off Jewel Hampton, who plays his first game since 2008 on Saturday against Iowa State.
- Penn State WR Brett Brackett: People seemed to forget about Brackett during the preseason, but he clearly formed a bond with his new starting quarterback. Bolden and Brackett connected eight times for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
- Indiana RB Darius Willis: Willis made the most of his limited action against Towson, rushing 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. If he stays healthy, Indiana should finally have a consistent run game.
- Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan and Illinois DT Corey Liuget: Their teams both lost Saturday, but Kerrigan and Liuget did all they could to prevent it. Kerrigan recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, assisting on a safety, and had a sack and a forced fumble. Liuget recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, assisted on a sack, broke up a pass and recorded a quarterback hurry.
- Minnesota RB Duane Bennett: The Gophers dominated possession time against Middle Tennessee, and Bennett was the reason why. He did everything but score touchdowns, racking up 187 rush yards on 30 carries.
Now, let's take a quick look at the Week 2 slate ...
Penn State (1-0) at Alabama (1-0): Joe Paterno heads to the home of the Bear, although this time he'll face Nick Saban and the defending national champs (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Bolden surprised a lot of folks with his play in the opener. Now he'll try to shock the world against the Tide.
Michigan (1-0) at Notre Dame (1-0): Who ever thought this matchup of tradition-rich powerhouses would feature two spread offenses? If Michigan's Robinson pulls off a repeat performance against Manti Te'o and the Irish defense, the Wolverines should be 2-0.
Iowa State (1-0) at Iowa (1-0): Adrian Clayborn didn't mean to tick off Iowa State with his "only team in the state" comment, but you can bet the Cyclones will use it as motivation Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Iowa's Hampton plays his first game since 2008.
Michigan State (1-0) vs. Florida Atlantic (1-0) at Detroit: How weird will it be to see the Spartans wearing their road unis for a game in nearby Detroit? Florida Atlantic is the home team Saturday (ESPNU, noon ET).
San Jose State (0-1) at Wisconsin (1-0): After a few hiccups in the opener, Wisconsin aims for a cleaner performance at home (ESPN, noon ET) against a San Jose State team that lost by 45 to Alabama in Week 1.
Illinois State (1-0) at Northwestern (1-0): The Wildcats try to revive their anemic run game against an Illinois State team filled with Big Ten connections, from head coach Brock Spack, the former Purdue defensive coordinator, to former Michigan State running back Ashton Leggett.
Southern Illinois (1-0) at Illinois (0-1): Can you say must-win? SIU is typically one of the nation's top FCS programs, and the Salukis would love to score an upset against the state's top public school. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tries to bounce back from a rough opener in front of the home crowd.
Western Illinois (1-0) at Purdue (0-1): Something tells me Robert Marve and the Boilers offense figure things out in a big way this week, although Western Illinois blanked Valpo 45-0 in its opener.
South Dakota (0-1) at Minnesota (1-0): The Gophers barely escaped last year against South Dakota State, winning 16-13. They'll shoot for a more convincing win against South Dakota, which got pummeled by Central Florida in its opener.
Junior defensive tackle Oren Wilson and redshirt freshman wide receiver Myles White both face assault and conspiracy charges. Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio on Tuesday indefinitely suspended both players from all football-related activities. Both Wilson and White must turn themselves in for arraignment.
"As with the previously suspended players, their status with the team will be re-evaluated on a case-by-case basis as their legal issues are resolved," Dantonio said in a statement issued through the school's sports information department.
Eleven players now have been charged in the incident, which took place during a fraternity potluck function held the same night of Michigan State's team banquet. Four other players were suspended from the team for being present at the residence hall, though none faces charges.
Wilson started for Michigan State in the Alamo Bowl on Jan. 2, while White was suspended for the game for an unrelated incident. Dantonio, through a spokesman, said he didn't know Wilson and White were present at the residence hall until being notified of the forthcoming charges late last week. Though the suspensions were announced Tuesday, the punishments went into effect last week.
Dantonio handed down suspensions or dismissals for all the other players identified as being at the residence hall before the Alamo Bowl. Players were given opportunities to come forward about their involvement in the incident, but both Wilson and White declined to do so. MSU police in early December identified 10 suspects in the assault and were hoping to identify five more. Now we know that all 15 suspects were football players.
Still, it's troubling that more than two months have passed before Spartans coaches knew Wilson and White were involved.
Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings told the Lansing State Journal: "MSU Police has wonderful investigators and to me, it was never a question of if these two individuals were going to be identified, just a question of when."
Here's the breakdown of what's happening with the 15 players:
- Running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette, who face charges and have previous legal issues, have been dismissed from the team.
- Running back Ashton Leggett pleaded guilty Jan. 14 to two counts of misdemeanor assault as part of a plea agreement in which a more serious conspiracy charge against him was dropped. Leggett since has transferred to Illinois State. Defensive end Jamiihr Williams, who also faces charges, will transfer as well.
- Brynden Trawick and Ishmyl Johnson, who were suspended for being at the residence hall but not charged, are transferring.
- Five players who face charges -- cornerback Chris L. Rucker, offensive lineman J'Michael Deane and wide receivers, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Fred Smith -- had their pretrial hearings postponed earlier this month. Dantonio allowed them to attend a team meeting several weeks ago, but their ultimate status will be determined after the legal process concludes. Wilson and White both are now in the same boat as these players.
- Donald Spencer and Chris D. Rucker were suspended but not charged and attended a team meeting earlier this month.
Obviously, this remains a messy situation for Dantonio and Michigan State, which could be without a sizable chunk of the roster when spring practice begins.
The recent wave of player suspensions and dismissals remains the top story around Michigan State, though linebacker Greg Jones' return to school is significant as well. Dantonio has reinstated seven players suspended following a Nov. 22 assault at a campus residence hall, five of whom are facing misdemeanor assault and conspiracy charges.
The suspended players who remain at Michigan State were allowed to attend a recent team meeting when the squad assembled following winter break.
"They have been outside of the football facility and everything to do with football for the last six or seven weeks," Dantonio said. "And at this point in time, we are going to welcome them back into that environment for clarity purposes. They are on our football team."
Four suspended players, including two who face charges stemming from the residence hall incident, have transferred from Michigan State. A total of nine players were charged Dec. 10 with misdemeanor conspiracy to commit an assault and battery as well as misdemeanor assault and battery. Two of those players, running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette, have been dismissed from the team.
"We are not doing anything as a team right now," Dantonio said, "but at least to sit in a team meeting room for our initial meeting back, they were welcomed to be in there, and then we will make decisions based on what happens at a later date."
Here's a look at where everyone stands:
- The following players who face assault and conspiracy charges have been reinstated: cornerback Chris L. Rucker, offensive lineman J’Michael Deane, wide receiver Mark Dell, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, wide receiver Fred Smith.
- Wide receivers Chris D. Rucker and Donald Spencer, who were suspended for being at the residence hall but never charged, also are back with the team.
- Running back Ashton Leggett, who was suspended and charged, has transferred to Illinois State. Defensive end Jamiihr Williams, who was suspended and charged, has transferred to Northeast Mississippi Community College.
- Linebacker Brynden Trawick and nose tackle Ishmyl Johnson, who were present at the residence hall but never charged, also have transferred from Michigan State.
- Wide receiver Myles White, who was suspended for a situation unrelated to the residence hall assault, also is back with the team.
The players facing charges are scheduled to appear in court Thursday morning for pre-trial hearings. Ingham County prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III told the Detroit Free Press that no plea agreement is in place at this time, though that could change.
Head coach Mark Dantonio announced Tuesday night the following players have been suspended from all team activities: wide receiver Mark Dell, wide receiver B.J. Cunningham, wide receiver Fred Smith, running back Ashton Leggett, cornerback Chris L. Rucker, linebacker Brynden Trawick, nose tackle Ishmyl Johnson and defensive end Jamiihr Williams. Last week, Dantonio dismissed running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette for an unspecified violation of team rules.
Michigan State police have confirmed that all 10 players were present during the Nov. 22 assault at Rather Hall. While the school is not officially calling the players suspects, MSU police have identified 10 suspects following interviews with witnesses and victims and a review of on-site video. So you can do the math.
The investigation is ongoing, but police are trying to identify five additional suspects. The police will forward their findings to Ingham County Prosecutor Stuart Dunnings III early next week.
We'll have to wait and see what charges are filed and against whom, but the accounts of the assault, which took place during a potluck function sponsored by the Iota Phi Theta fraternity, don't look promising for Michigan State. The Winston connection is particularly damaging, given his role in an off-campus altercation last year that led to four months served in jail and an immediate return to the roster upon his release. Other football players were involved in the previous altercation.
Of the 10 players dismissed or suspended, six have started games this season. Michigan State's depth for an upcoming bowl game could take a major hit, depending on the length of the suspensions, though that should be the least of Dantonio's worries right now.
The bottom of Michigan State's news release reads: "MSU Athletics Director Mark Hollis emphasized he and Dantonio share high expectations and standards for conduct and behavior of student-athletes."
A message left for Hollis on Tuesday night was not immediately returned.
More to come on this story.
We've got a new No. 1 team and a lot of shuffling throughout the rankings this week. There's still a lot of uncertainty after the fifth spot, but things should get interesting down the stretch.
1. Ohio State (8-2, 5-1): Surprise, surprise, the Buckeyes are back on top in the Big Ten, a league they've owned this decade. After a blowout win against Penn State, Ohio State only must beat Iowa next week to secure the Big Ten's automatic BCS berth, most likely the Rose Bowl. The Buckeyes come in very confident, while Iowa likely will be without starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
2. Iowa (9-1, 5-1): The quest for perfection is over in Iowa City, and the loss to Northwestern came with a cost as Stanzi left the field with a severe right ankle sprain. Iowa can still win the Big Ten with a victory next week, but it has struggled mightily in Columbus and will need big things from redshirt freshman James Vandenberg in his first career start at quarterback.
3. Penn State (8-2, 4-2): Because of a soft schedule, Penn State had only two chances for signature wins this season and it failed on both chances. Despite getting both Iowa and Penn State at Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions couldn't generate much offense and endured surprising breakdowns on special teams. Penn State probably saw its chances for a BCS at-large berth vanish after Saturday's poor performance.
4. Wisconsin (7-2, 4-2): Is there a more under-the-radar 7-2 team than Wisconsin? The Badgers quietly keep winning, though Saturday's game against Indiana got rather interesting down the stretch. Freshman running back Montee Ball really picked up teammate John Clay (concussion), and the Badgers' ground attack surged yet again. Wisconsin remains in good shape for a 10-2 season.
5. Northwestern (6-4, 3-3): The Wildcats move up two spots after their first win against a top 10 opponent since 2004. Not much has gone their way this season, but they continue to show unbelievable resolve in overcoming adversity. The defense is playing better each week, and Pat Fitzgerald is finding just enough offense despite injuries to quarterbacks Mike Kafka and now Dan Persa.
6. Michigan State (5-5, 3-3): Mark Dantonio said his team must regain respect in November, and Michigan State took a step in the right direction by pounding Western Michigan. Quarterback Kirk Cousins was brilliant and running back Ashton Leggett answered the bell with four rushing touchdowns. The Spartans now face a critical game at Purdue that could determine whether they reach the postseason.
7. Purdue (4-6, 3-3): What a wild season for Danny Hope's team. The Boilers outplay Oregon on the road, drop close contests to Notre Dame and Northwestern, shock Ohio State, lay an egg against Wisconsin and now rally to beat Michigan. Quarterback Joey Elliott and his teammates are extremely resilient, and they have a very real shot at a bowl game. Purdue can't afford any slip-ups and must beat Michigan State this week.
8. Illinois (3-6, 2-5): The confidence is coming back in Champaign as Illinois notched its second consecutive victory. Ron Zook's defense has come alive, and cornerback Terry Hawthorne and end Clay Nurse led the charge Saturday at Minnesota. It will be tough if quarterback Juice Williams misses extended time, but the Illini have faith they can do the unthinkable and finish .500 after a 1-6 start.
9. Minnesota (5-5, 3-4): A Jekyll-and-Hyde season continued for Tim Brewster's crew, which couldn't sustain the momentum from last week's victory against Michigan State. Minnesota came out completely flat in the first half and found itself in a huge hole against Illinois. The Gophers turned it around after halftime, but they're simply too inconsistent this season. This week's game against South Dakota State is a must win.
10. Indiana (4-6, 1-5): You have to feel for the Hoosiers, who just can't turn the corner like other Big Ten programs have (Northwestern, Purdue, Michigan State) in recent years. Junior quarterback Ben Chappell and sophomore wide receiver Tandon Doss have really impressed me this season, but when you can't consistently run the football or stop the run, you're going to lose games. Indiana needs a miracle this week against Penn State to keep its bowl hopes alive.
11. Michigan (5-5, 1-5): It's a meltdown at Michigan right now, as a team that started 4-0 and had some positive vibes going has totally fallen apart. The Wolverines squandered a 24-10 halftime lead against Purdue and endured more breakdowns from a young and marginal defense. Rich Rodriguez's seat is definitely getting hotter as Michigan needs an upset in the final two weeks to make a bowl game.
I'm limited to only five stickers, though there were many more exceptional performances this week.
- Northwestern's defense: A unit decimated by injuries all season did what it needed to do against an Iowa offense that lost quarterback Ricky Stanzi to an ankle injury. The Wildcats held Iowa to no points and 119 total yards after Stanzi's injury, and Iowa entered NU territory just once in the final three quarters. Corey Wootton's sack of Stanzi in the end zone might be the defining play for both teams down the stretch.
- Ohio State's defense: I'll repeat what I said before Saturday's game: Ohio State's defense is the single most dominant unit in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes own three shutouts this season, but arguably their best performance came Saturday at Beaver Stadium. Ohio State held Penn State to seven points and 201 total yards and completely flustered quarterback Daryll Clark (12-for-28 passing, INT).
- Illinois DE Clay Nurse: The Fighting Illini have turned around their season with defense, and Nurse headlined the effort today. He recorded a career-high four sacks, which ranks second on the team's all-time single-game list behind All-American Simeon Rice, who had five against Northwestern in 1994.
- Purdue QB Joey Elliott: Elliott rallied Purdue from a 24-10 halftime deficit and threw for a career high 367 yards and two touchdowns in leading the Boilers to their first win at Michigan since 1966. He completed 28 of 39 passes and added a rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
- Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins and RB Ashton Leggett: The backfield mates share a sticker after dominating Western Michigan in Saturday's win. Cousins was nearly perfect, completing 22 of 25 pass attempts for 353 yards and two touchdowns. Leggett raced 71 yards to the end zone on his first carry and added three more touchdowns for the Spartans.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Fifteen spring practices still don't mask all the warts a team has, and every head coach has a position group that keeps him awake at night. After looking at where each Big Ten team got help this spring, here's a look at the positions that still look a little shaky around the league.
Illinois' offensive line -- The Illini boast arguably more offensive firepower than any Big Ten team, but they'll struggle without improvement up front. There's youth throughout the front five, and while players like Jeff Allen boast loads of potential, there are a few unknowns heading into the fall. The line allowed five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in the spring game.
Indiana's wide receivers -- Kellen Lewis' dismissal from the program after spring practice creates a major void at receiver. Lewis was pegged to be Ben Chappell's top target, and with Ray Fisher moving from wideout to cornerback, the Hoosiers need big things from young players like Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.
Iowa's defensive tackles -- This position will be a question mark for the Hawkeyes right up until the season opener, and most likely beyond. Iowa must find a way to replace mainstays Mitch King and Matt Kroul, and it lacks much experience besides Karl Klug. The team needs continued development from guys like Mike Daniels and Cody Hundertmark.
Michigan's defensive line -- Brandon Graham should be one of the nation's top pass-rushers this fall, but he needs some help up front. Michigan likes what it has in young linemen like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and incoming freshman Craig Roh. Those players will need to grow up fast so the defense can generate consistent pressure.
Michigan State's running backs -- Few players meant more to an offense than Javon Ringer did to Michigan State last fall, and the search for a replacement remains a bit murky. Aside from a brief surge by Ashton Leggett, the running back room remains very crowded as Caulton Ray entered the mix this spring. Two heralded freshmen arrive during the summer in Edwin Baker and Larry Caper.
Minnesota's offensive line -- The Gophers have the bodies up front, but they've still got a long way to go in picking up the new offensive system/philosophy. It's a fairly dramatic change for returning starters like Dom Alford and Ned Tavale, so growing pains are expected. But a talented Gophers team can't take another step forward if its offensive line doesn't come together.
Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters are gone at receiver, and no one really wowed during spring practice. Northwestern should get better here as Jeremy Ebert returns from hip surgery, but it's time for experienced players like Andrew Brewer and Sidney Stewart to step up as primary targets for new starting quarterback Mike Kafka.
Ohio State's offensive line -- Michigan transfer Justin Boren undoubtedly had a positive effect on the offensive line this spring, but questions remain about a group that underachieved for most of 2008. Can Mike Adams complement his physical gifts with a toughness needed to play left tackle in the Big Ten? How will Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning adjust to new positions when the games begin? Stay tuned.
Penn State's secondary -- Head coach Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern for this group, which lost all four starters from 2008. Breakdowns in the secondary doomed Penn State in its only two losses last fall. Safety Drew Astorino should be ready for big things, but cornerback A.J. Wallace must find a way to stay healthy and become a legit shutdown guy on the outside.
Purdue's quarterbacks -- Joey Elliott boasts the knowledge to be an effective Big Ten starter, but does he have the skills to get it done? He has spent a lot of time on the sideline during his college career, and Purdue would benefit from having another viable option at quarterback. Justin Siller's dismissal really stings, and the development of backup Caleb TerBush looms large this summer.
Wisconsin's linebackers -- The Badgers lose a lot of production in DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, and they don't have much proven depth at linebacker. They can ill afford an injury to Jaevery McFadden or Culmer St. Jean, and it's imperative to develop more linebackers during preseason camp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The two Spartans quarterbacks would have felt a bit like Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers. They would have been waiting a while.
Michigan State's senior class divided into two teams and made the selections for the Green and White squads. They filled 16 different position groups before coming to the quarterbacks. Even the long snappers were scooped up before Cousins and Nichol.
The Green team finally relented and picked Cousins, the sophomore who backed up Brian Hoyer last season. That meant Nichol went to the White team, which seemed happy to have him.
"It was interesting how the guys who may be the MVP, the quarterbacks, they're some of the last ones picked," said head coach Mark Dantonio, who officiated the draft inside the team meeting room. "It's because everybody feels they're both very, very good players and they both can lead and they both can make plays. That's a positive thing."
This year's draft wasn't nearly as entertaining as its predecessor, in large part because Dantonio was the only coach in the room. Last year, quarterback Brian Hoyer and Pat Narduzzi got into it regarding the drafting of offensive lineman Joel Nitchman.
"We've kept coach Narduzzi out of there this year," Dantonio told the players with a smile.
It was fun to watch the normally all-business Dantonio oversee the proceedings. He split up the entire football staff between the two squads, all the way down to the trainers, operations staff, film coordinators and turf management staff.
Defensive line coach Ted Gill will serve as head coach of the White team, with linebackers coach Mike Tressel as his defensive coordinator and tight ends coach Mark Staten as the offensive coordinator. Offensive line coach Dan Roushar will be the head man for the Green squad, with quarterbacks coach Dave Warner as offensive coordinator and secondary coach Harlon Barnett as the defensive coordinator.
The national runner-up Spartans men's basketball team also will play a key role in the Green-White game. Outgoing seniors Travis Walton and Idong Ibok attended the draft and will serve as two of the honorary captains for the Green team, while the hoops assistant coaches will do the same for the White squad.
Walton, ever the team captain, seemed to be running the Green team's draft, while defensive end Trevor Anderson was the point man for the White squad. Each team received two minutes between selections.
- For the second straight year, All-Big Ten linebacker Greg Jones was the first player drafted, going to the Green team, which won a coin flip. Safety Trenton Robinson's stellar spring rubbed off on the White team, which selected Robinson with its first pick.
- There was a bit of strategy involved, especially since the seniors had been drafted to the two teams by the coaches earlier in the day. Dantonio said Gill chose Anderson with the top pick among seniors.
- A bit of a surprise as Caulton Ray, not Ashton Leggett or Andre Anderson, was the first running back drafted, by the Green team. The White team then picked Leggett and Anderson went Green.
- Despite cornerback Jeremy Ware's desire to draft Mark Dell, the White team went with sophomore Keshawn Martin as the first wideout taken. The Green team scooped up Dell, while the White took B.J. Cunningham. Walk-on wideout Milton Colbert was picked before Fred Smith, a heralded 2008 recruit.
- After the Green team picked Charlie Gantt as the first tight end, the White squad went with Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum instead of Garrett Celek, who played a decent amount last year.
- The White team has the edge in special teams with starting kicker Brett Swenson and starting punter Aaron Bates.
- The Green team ended up with most of the first-string offensive line (tackle J'Michael Deane, right guard Jared McGaha, center Joel Nitchman), while the White team will counter with several starters on the D-line (Anderson, defensive tackles Jerel Worthy and Oren Wilson). After the draft, the White squad proposed a trade that would swap Cunningham for Deane, but got shot down. "Alright, we're good to go," Anderson said, before high-fiving his teammates.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Forget about that other draft taking place at Radio City Music Hall this weekend. The real draft will be held at 2:15 p.m. ET today in the Skandalaris Football Center, as Michigan State picks teams for its annual Green-White Game, which will be played Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio has borrowed the idea from former boss Jim Tressel -- Ohio State, by the way, has its own spring game draft today -- and it sounds like a pretty fun event for players, coaches and all involved.
"It makes it a little bit more fun," Dantonio said Tuesday. "It makes it competitive. I actually started doing it at Youngstown State back in 1986, and we've done it ever since, whether I was with coach Tressel or since I've been a head coach."
From what I've gathered about the draft format, here's how it works:
- The Spartans seniors are divided and pick the teams.
- Assistant coaches are also assigned to both squads.
- When a player is picked, a teammate who plays the same position goes to the other team. So if quarterback Kirk Cousins is selected first, Keith Nichol in all likelihood would go to the opposing team.
- Dantonio has the final say and can move players to the other team to even things out.
- At stake, steak. The winning team eats it, while the losers get franks and beans.
Things apparently got pretty heated last year between quarterback Brian Hoyer and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. With senior offensive lineman Mike Bacon already on his team, Hoyer drafted starting center Joel Nitchman for the White squad. That left the Green team with no experience at the center spot, so Narduzzi demanded a trade and Dantonio eventually sent Nitchman to the Green tem.
Let's hope there are some similar fireworks today.
Though the spring game is all about fun, it does provide some hints about the team.
It will be very interesting to see which quarterback candidate -- Cousins or Nichol -- gets drafted first. Same thing for the running backs -- Ashton Leggett, Andre Anderson, A.J. Jimmerson and Caulton Ray.
Last year, Cousins was picked ahead of Nick Foles. Cousins went on to back up Hoyer during the season, while Foles transferred from the school.
Check the blog later this afternoon for a full draft recap.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Love dem links.
- Greg Paulus can join Michigan's team next fall, but he doesn't have a scholarship offer right now, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. Adding Paulus is a win-win for the Wolverines, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. A hint of desperation is beginning to show for Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez, CBSSports.com's Dennis Dodd writes.
- Ashton Leggett is creating some separation in Michigan State's running back competition, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode writes in his blog. Also, jailed Spartans running back Glenn Winston remains on scholarship, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
"At some point in time as a running back you've got to be able to break tackles," head coach Mark Dantonio said. "Ashton has shown that."
- Iowa's heralded 2005 recruiting class has one final chance to shine this fall, Pat Harty writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- It's taking time for Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski to adjust to the center position, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror. Nittany Lions' hoopster Jamelle Cornley might follow Paulus' lead into a football career, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
- Wisconsin wideout Nick Toon and cornerback Aaron Henry had an intriguing head-to-head competition at Thursday's practice, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
|MSU Sports Information|
|Michigan State running back Andre Anderson will be one of three Spartans backs looking to pick up where Javon Ringer left off last season. |
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State kept giving the ball to Javon Ringer, and Ringer kept taking it, leaving his three understudies to watch and wait.
"After a while, you start thinking, 'This can't keep going on forever, not the whole season,'" Jimmserson said.
"You've always got that in the back of your mind, like, 'Alright, he just ran about 60 yards, maybe he'll come out,'" Leggett said. "But it never happened."
Ringer was college football's Ironman, carrying the ball 390 times, 23 more than any back in the country. The All-American and Doak Walker Award finalist had 20 or more rushing attempts in 11 of 13 games and had 32 or more carries in seven contests.
Given Ringer's production and consistency -- 1,637 rush yards, 22 touchdowns -- there was little reason to remove him from the field. So Michigan State didn't.
Opportunities were extremely scarce for Jimmerson, Anderson and Leggett, who combined for just 40 carries all season, less than Ringer's game totals against Florida Atlantic (43) and Indiana (44).
"It got a little frustrating, but then again, you've got to know your role," Leggett said. "Everybody's got to pay their dues. You've got to wait your turn sometimes."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.
Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.
Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.
Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.
Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.
Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.
Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.
Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.
Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.
Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.
Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.
Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Scott A. Miller/US Presswire|
|Iowa running back Shonn Greene's production will not be easy to replace.|
As we continue to preview Big Ten spring football, which begins March 14 at Michigan, it's time to look at five key replacements around the conference.
The Big Ten took the biggest hit at running back with the departures of Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, Chris "Beanie" Wells, P.J. Hill, Tyrell Sutton and Kory Sheets, among others. There also were key losses on both lines (Mitch King, A.Q. Shipley, Aaron Maybin, Willie VanDeSteeg) and in the secondary (Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Otis Wiley), though the quarterback crop returns mostly intact.
The league's lone head-coaching change was pre-planned, as Danny Hope takes over for Joe Tiller at Purdue. But several key assistants depart the league, creating some holes to fill.
Here's a look at five sets of shoes to fill before Sept. 5.
Big shoes: Iowa running back Shonn Greene
The replacement: Sophomore Jewel Hampton
All Greene did last fall was win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back, set Iowa's single-season rushing record (1,850 yards) and eclipse 100 yards in all 13 games. As the team switched quarterbacks, identified playmakers at wide receiver and jelled up front, Greene was the constant. Hampton earned high marks as Greene's backup, rushing for 463 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman, but he'll take on a much bigger load this fall. The 5-9, 200-pound Hampton lacks Greene's brute strength and size, but he provides a different look for an Iowa offense that will always be based around the run game.
Big shoes: Penn State center A.Q. Shipley
The replacement: Junior Stefen Wisniewski
The defending Big Ten co-champs lose the undisputed leader of the league's best offensive line in Shipley, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center last year. Wisniewski started at guard in 2008, but he's expected to shift to center and replace Shipley in the heart of the Lions' line. Expectations will be high for Wisniewski, a talented junior whose father and uncle both were star offensive linemen for Penn State.
Big shoes: Michigan State running back Javon Ringer
The replacement(s): Senior A.J. Jimmerson, sophomores Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett, freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper
No running back in the country had a heavier load than Ringer last fall. He led the nation with 390 carries and tied for the national lead with 22 rushing touchdowns. Michigan State benefited from his tremendous durability, but the coaches didn't develop a reliable backup. The competition to replace Ringer features several young players, including two heralded incoming freshmen. The Spartans could use more of a committee system in 2009, blending speed (Anderson, Caper, Baker, Jimmerson) with size (Leggett). The freshmen should help the situation, but head coach Mark Dantonio wouldn't mind if Anderson, Jimmerson or Leggett emerged in spring ball.
Big shoes: Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley
The replacement: Mike Schultz
Not only was Locksley one of the best recruiters in the country, but he had a strong bond with quarterback Juice Williams, wide receiver Arrelious Benn and other key members of the Illinois offense. Despite a very disappointing 5-7 season, Illinois still led the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense. Schultz comes from a program (TCU) known for defense, but his system produced several standout quarterbacks and running backs. He needs to gain Williams' trust right away and maintain the explosiveness Illinois featured at times last season. There also will be pressure for Schultz to bring in top high school players from Texas and other areas.
Big shoes: Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins
The replacement: Sophomore Chimdi Chekwa
Some will point to the oft-injured Wells or hyped linebacker James Laurinaitis as Ohio State's biggest losses, but Jenkins was the team's most consistent performer the last two seasons. Shutdown corners don't come around very often, and Jenkins' play-making skills helped him win the Thorpe Award last year. Chekwa beat out Donald Washington for a starting job in 2008 but will take on a greater load this fall as he'll be assigned to mark top opposing wideouts. He had an interception and four pass breakups last year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Welcome to the first edition of internal affairs, which will take an inside look at five key developments around the Big Ten every Wednesday during the season.
Penn State -- Josh Gaines moved from defensive end to defensive tackle on several plays against Coastal Carolina and could continue to do so the rest of the season. It freed up Aaron Maybin (two sacks) for more pass-rushing opportunities, though Jerome Hayes got most of the playing time at Gaines' usual end spot. The Lions are a bit thin at tackle after the summer dismissals of Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, and the broken leg suffered by Devon Still. Gaines, the team's most experienced defensive lineman, collected four solo tackles in the opener.
Iowa -- Junior A.J. Edds is without a doubt Iowa's best linebacker, but his coaches are resisting the temptation to move him to the middle spot, where most top backers play. Edds says he can play all three linebacker positions but feels most comfortable on the strong side, where he can showcase his playmaking skills. "My natural home is the outside backer spot," said Edds, who recorded a safety and deflected a pass that led to an interception against Maine. "It's kind of a hybrid, playing on the D-line over a tight end a lot of the time, but you're also playing out there in coverage over some of the wide receivers. If the coaches didn't have faith in the other backers, I'm sure they would put me in the middle."
Indiana -- Mitchell Evans' days as a nomad appear over as the sophomore has found a home at wide receiver. Kellen Lewis' return from suspension and the decision to move Evans from quarterback to wideout is paying off already. As top receiver Ray Fisher battles a shoulder injury, Evans, a former safety, can step in and contribute. His size (6-3) and excellent hands give Indiana another option in the passing game. Also keep an eye on freshman Damarlo Belcher, who Lewis likens to a young James Hardy.
Michigan State -- The Spartans' depth on the defensive line and in the secondary helped produce lofty preseason expectations, but they're struggling to find capable bodies at running back and along the offensive line. Coach Mark Dantonio will use Javon Ringer as much as possible, but A.J. Jimmerson was held out of the Cal game and Ashton Leggett didn't touch the ball. Ringer is a horse, but he'll wear down fast if the Spartans don't find another back. The Spartans can't afford attrition up front, where Mike Bacon is listed as a possible starter at two positions (center and left guard).
Northwestern -- Don't be surprised to see junior offensive lineman Desmond Taylor in the starting lineup Saturday against Duke. Taylor has earned rave reviews throughout preseason camp and performed well in place of injured right tackle Kurt Mattes against Syracuse. Now Taylor could take Mattes' job or the one belonging to guard Joel Belding. Though Mattes and Belding are Northwestern's only two returning starters on the line, Taylor has plenty of experience and will see significant time at tackle or guard.