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NCF Nation: Blair White

More than once during Michigan State's 8-0 start, coach Mark Dantonio has said this year's team possesses an edge.

It sounds pretty cool. You start thinking of Spartan warriors butchering their enemies with the sharpened edges of their spears.

But what exactly does Dantonio mean by an edge?

"Your leadership's your edge, your enthusiasm's your edge," the coach explained. "All the positive intangibles that can go along with a person become ... your edge."

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
Jerry Lai/US PresswireMark Dantonio's Spartans put their undefeated record on the line Saturday at Iowa.
Michigan State junior quarterback Kirk Cousins takes it one step further.

"One of the reasons we've been able to win some of the close games," Cousins said, "is because we have had that deep, deep fire, that edge, that has helped us push through some setbacks, whether it be a fumble or an interception, or a touchdown we let up. When you have an edge, it doesn't get you down.

"It enables you to just keep pushing and keep pushing until you're able to get the win."

The Spartans' edge has propelled them to their best start since 1966, a No. 5 ranking in the BCS standings and a place at the head table for national championship contenders. It has helped them overcome deficits in all four of their Big Ten games, including a 17-0 second-quarter hole last Saturday at Northwestern.

It has helped them execute two of the most memorable plays in recent program history -- a fake field goal in overtime against Notre Dame and a fake punt in the fourth quarter against Northwestern -- and add the terms "Little Giants" and "Mousetrap" to this year's college football lexicon.

"Having an edge means having a confidence when things get tough, when things don't go your way," linebacker Greg Jones said. "When they’re completing balls on third down and it's harder and harder to get off the field, it's having the confidence to … never give up."

Michigan State's edge didn't spawn from winning. Just the opposite, in fact.

The Spartans lost five games by eight points or fewer in 2009. Of the 17 games Dantonio lost in his first three seasons as Michigan State's coach, 12 were by eight points or fewer.

Before this season, no one would describe Michigan State as a team that had an edge.

"Looking back on last year, the way it worked out was we did lose a lot of close games," Cousins said, "and right now, we’re winning a lot of close games. I do think there is a correlation between those two. Taking some of the lumps we took last year has enabled us to be successful the second time around."

Michigan State's most painful moment of 2009 came on an October night against Iowa, which brought a 7-0 record to Spartan Stadium. A defensive struggle throughout, Michigan State took a 13-9 lead after a hook-and-ladder play set up a Cousins touchdown strike to Blair White with 1:37 left.

But an Iowa team that certainly possessed an edge, repeatedly rallying for wins, moved the ball down the field, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi found Marvin McNutt in the end zone with no time left.

The Spartans had a front-row seat for the magic show. This year, they're the ones performing it.

"I don’t know if they’ve had as many close games as we had," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It seemed like every one of our games was really close. But they're certainly on a great roll."

Like Michigan State, Iowa went through a stretch of close losses in 2006, 2007 and the first half of 2008 before changing its fortunes with a come-from-behind win against Penn State. Both programs also had to endure off-field problems: Iowa had a wave of player arrests in 2007-08, while Michigan State had the November residence hall incident that involved a major chunk of the roster.

Both programs found ways to rebound.

Iowa now stands in Michigan State's way as the Spartans visit Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.

"The fact of the matter is they had a very, very special year last year, and we're having a similar type of season," Cousins said. "We just need to keep going and our next challenge is the Iowa Hawkeyes."

Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
9:00
AM ET
The 2010 NFL draft is in the books, so let's take a look at the 34 Big Ten players who heard their names called in New York. When the full list of undrafted free agents comes out, I'll post it later in the week.

ROUND 1

ROUND 2

ROUND 3

ROUND 4

ROUND 5

ROUND 6

  • No Big Ten players selected
ROUND 7


Here are the selections according to Big Ten team:

Illinois: 3
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 6
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 1
Minnesota: 2
Northwestern: 3
Ohio State: 4
Penn State: 6
Purdue: 1
Wisconsin: 2

Quick thoughts:

  • Three of the biggest draft steals from the Big Ten were pass-catchers in 2009: Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. Benn had first-round skills but a fourth-round college résumé. Decker most often was compared to former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, and if healthy, he could do big things in Denver. If Moeaki stays healthy, the Chiefs might have found the next Tony Gonzalez. Kirk Ferentz puts Moeaki right up there with Dallas Clark in Iowa's top tight ends.
  • Love the Colts' pick of Angerer, who could be a very good pro in a great situation in Indy. With Angerer and Indiana's Fisher going to Indianapolis, the Colts now have drafted 26 Big Ten players under Bill Polian.
  • Northwestern's Kafka also goes to a very good situation in Philly, as the Eagles love to pass the ball and will run some shotgun.
  • Penn State's Lee, Purdue's Neal, Wisconsin's Schofield and Northwestern's McManis could all be steals for their teams. Health has been an issue for Lee, Schofield and McManis, so they need to find ways to get on the field and stay there.
  • It was interesting how one Big Ten left tackle, Indiana's Saffold, rose up the draft boards late in the process, while another, Iowa's Bulaga, dropped.
  • Ohio State had four players drafted, but this has to be the Buckeyes' weakest draft class in recent memory. I thought Gibson would go in the second or third round, but Worthington, Coleman and Spitler barely made the cut. Did Jim Tressel deserve Big Ten Coach of the Year over Ferentz? The case looks stronger now.
  • Draft snubs included Michigan State wide receiver Blair White, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott. Warren was the only Big Ten junior not to get drafted, though it was tough to fault his decision at the time. All four players have reportedly signed free-agent deals.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Last spring, all eyes were on the quarterback position at Michigan State, with an occasional glance toward the running backs.

Both backfield positions are pretty much settled this year, as Kirk Cousins is the clear No. 1 quarterback and sophomores Larry Caper and Edwin Baker will share carries at running back. The Spartans are also well stocked at both wide receiver and tight end, losing only one major contributor in Blair White and gaining a potential star wideout in converted quarterback Keith Nichol.

[+] EnlargeDantonio
Brett Davis/US PresswireMark Dantonio knows he has some holes to fill on his offensive line.
So where's the drama for Michigan State's offense in spring ball? Look no further than the offensive line.

The Spartans lose three linemen with significant starting experience -- center Joel Nitchman, tackle Rocco Cironi and guard Brendon Moss -- from a front five that allowed the fewest sacks (14) in the Big Ten last fall. Head coach Mark Dantonio will lean on left guard Joel Foreman and left tackle D.J. Young, and center John Stipek started three games while Nitchman was out with an injury.

But other than those three, the Spartans have plenty of question marks up front, which means plenty of competition this spring.

"You'd like to have your two-deep solidified coming out of [spring practice]," Dantonio said Tuesday. "We have enough people. Guys have made strides. But the key is, have they been playing? Have they been coached? Have they actively been doing this?"

The right side of the Spartans' line is wide open, as a large group of players competes at both spots, including Jared McGhaha, Chris McDonald, J'Michael Deane, John Deyo and Antonio Jeremiah, a converted defensive lineman. Several redshirt freshmen also are in the mix, including tackles Henry Conway and David Barrent.

"There's some youth in there that we're trying to polish up," offensive coordinator Don Treadwell said.

Dantonio said McGaha is "making a move" at tackle this spring, while McDonald is working as the team's starting right guard right now. Redshirt freshman Nate Klatt is pushing Stipek for the starting center spot.

Both Dantonio and Treadwell singled out Klatt for his play this spring.

Michigan State finished second in the Big Ten in passing last fall, while the run game slipped to 73rd nationally. Don't expect those trends to continue, as the Spartans want to re-establish the run behind Caper, Baker and, hopefully, a solid line.

"We didn't run it as well as we needed to run it, that's the bottom line," Dantonio said. "We've got numbers [at offensive line] and they've all improved, and you see the result of that."
There was no watershed moment for Keith Nichol and the Michigan State coaches.

Nichol's transition from quarterback to wide receiver was gradual, and spawned out of necessity.

[+] EnlargeKeith Nichol
AP Photo/Al GoldisKeith Nichol has had to transition from playing quarterback to receiver.
The November residence hall assault left Michigan State without six wide receivers, including key contributors Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham, for the Alamo Bowl. Nichol, who had competed for playing time with Kirk Cousins at quarterback but looked more and more like a backup, began working with the wideouts in bowl practice.

"We didn’t really have a huge meeting about it," Nichol said. "It was just unspoken, like, ‘Hey, if you’re doing well at this, we’re going to keep you there. If we don’t see you progressing or anything, we're going to put you back at QB permanently.'"

Nichol made progress at wide receiver, just like everyone knew he would. Almost every team has a player that simply needs to get on the field, regardless of position, because of his natural skills and athleticism. Nichol always seemed to be that player for Michigan State.

It's a role that can lead to mixed emotions. Being told that you're too good to sit on the bench is somewhat of a backhanded compliment: You're more than good enough to play, just not at the position where you'd like.

Nichol, after all, had transferred to Michigan State from Oklahoma with an eye on the starting quarterback position. He was buried behind some Bradford guy at OU.

But as a future at wide receiver came more and more into focus, Nichol never blinked.

"I’ve always told coach [Mark] Dantonio I’m a football player first and a quarterback second," Nichol said. "I just want to be on the field and help this team win, whether that's special teams, wideout, QB, defense, it doesn’t even matter to me. It can be hard, if you don’t feel like you have a key role, sometimes you can feel unmotivated. But I never really felt that.

"They've always found ways to get me on the field and everything, and I've instilled my trust in them."

The trust is mutual, as Nichol has been listed as one of Michigan State's starting wide receivers on the spring depth chart. Dell and Cunningham both were reinstated for spring ball and are listed as backups, but the coaches clearly have big plans for Nichol.

The junior remains as the team's backup quarterback but will spend 70-80 percent of his time this spring at wideout.

"He's an outstanding athlete, big body, can run, quick change of direction, can jump, is tough," Dantonio said. "So he needs to get on the football field for us."

Nichol had two receptions for 11 yards in the Alamo Bowl, and he spent the winter months adjusting his body to the wide receiver position. He had always focused on leaning out and reducing his body fat, but the process accelerated after the switch.

He added 5-7 pounds of muscle, and reduced his body fat from around nine percent to around seven percent. Nichol checks in this spring at 6-2 and 220 pounds.

“I feel the biggest, the strongest and the fastest as I’ve ever felt," he said. "I tested the best I have ever. My shuttle [run] time was sub 4 [seconds], 3.96. My vertical went up, broad jump went up, everything. I feel great, I feel healthy, I feel fast and strong.

"I feel like the best athlete I’ve ever been right now."

Nichol is already being compared to Spartans wideout Blair White, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 who ranked second in the league with 990 receiving yards. Nichol, a close friend of White's, knows he has huge shoes to fill but said the comparisons are encouraging.

With both Dell and Cunningham back, and Keshawn Martin poised for a huge 2010 season, Michigan State could boast the Big Ten's deepest wide receiving corps. Nichol's transition should be eased by his knowledge of the quarterback spot and his familiarity with Cousins, as the two worked together throughout 2009.

"I understand where I’m supposed to be and why," he said. "I understand the concepts of what I’m doing. If I’m running a corner, I’m clearing out for somebody else if the ball’s not coming to me. I understand what a quarterback appreciates and what might make the offense run better.

"Certainly by talking and communicating, and by me being in the position [Cousins] was in, it helps out a lot."
It seemed only fitting that Saturday's East-West Shrine Game was decided on a touchdown connection between two Big Ten players.

The Big Ten contingent represented extremely well in Orlando, particularly in crunch time.

Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka capped an impressive two-minute drill by finding Penn State tight end Andrew Quarless for a 2-yard touchdown with six seconds left in the game. The score lifted the East team to a 13-10 victory.

Kafka and Quarless were two of several Big Ten NFL hopefuls who played big roles in the win. Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield, a defensive end-turned linebacker, had an interception in the first half and Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark led two scoring drives for the East team.

Quarless, Clark and Penn State punter Jeremy Boone won at Orlando's Citrus Bowl Stadium for the second time in three weeks. Thankfully for all of the players in the Shrine Game, the field conditions were a lot better this time around.

Kafka, who earned Offensive MVP honors, completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 150 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. Clark was extremely efficient as a passer, completing 7 of 10 attempts for 75 yards.

Michigan State's Blair White recorded game highs in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (93), while Quarless had three receptions for 20-yards, including an exceptional one-handed grab on the final drive. Boone averaged 46 yards on five punts, placing one inside the 20-yard line.

ESPN's Scouts Inc. singled out Kafka and Indiana offensive lineman Rodger Saffold for their strong performances in the game.

Needless to say, several players improved their draft stock on Saturday. It'll be interesting to see if the Big Ten can keep its postseason momentum going this week at the Senior Bowl.

Big Ten all-bowl team

January, 12, 2010
1/12/10
11:00
AM ET
A strong Big Ten bowl season leaves me with some tough choices for the All-Bowl team. We can certainly debate some of these, but here are my selections.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Harry How/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor acccounted for more Rose Bowl yards than Oregon's team did.
QB Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.

RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.

RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.

WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.

WR Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.

TE Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.

C John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.

G Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.

G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.

OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.

OT Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.

DEFENSE

DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.

DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.

DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.

DL Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.

LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.

LB Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.

LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.

DB Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.

DB Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.

DB Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.

DB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.

SPECIALISTS

K Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

P Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.

Returner Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.

Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.

Valero Alamo Bowl preview

January, 1, 2010
1/01/10
9:01
AM ET
It's time for a quick look at arguably the most bizarre bowl game of the year, as Michigan State (6-6) takes on Texas Tech (8-4) on Saturday night in San Antonio (ESPN, 9 p.m. ET).

WHO TO WATCH: Blair White and Keshawn Martin. Michigan State's wave of suspensions hit the wide receivers harder than any other position group. The Spartans will be without their No. 2 and No. 3 wideouts in B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell, who combined for 74 receptions and five touchdowns this season. White and Martin need to pick up the slack for the Big Ten's top passing offense in a game where Michigan State likely needs to score 28 points or more. Quarterback Kirk Cousins can rely on White, a first-team All-Big Ten selection who has a knack for finding the end zone. Martin also emerged as a difference maker down the stretch, especially on special teams. The Spartans need Martin to break off some nice returns to win the field-position edge.

WHAT TO WATCH: Michigan State's secondary. Head coach Mark Dantonio talked up this group in the preseason, but the secondary has fallen well short of expectations. Quarterbacks like Dan LeFevour, Jimmy Clausen, Scott Tolzien and Adam Weber had their way with Michigan State's defensive backs, who face arguably their biggest challenge in Taylor Potts and the nation's No. 2 pass offense (380.7 ypg). The Spartans will be without starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker (suspension), so they need big performances from defensive backs Danny Fortener, Jeremy Ware, Trenton Robinson and others.

WHY TO WATCH: Do you really need an explanation here? You've got one team (Michigan State) missing 14 scholarship players because of one very troubling stretch on Nov. 22. You've got another team (Texas Tech) that learned Wednesday that its head coach had been fired after wide receiver Adam James filed a complaint. I'm about to make a prediction on this game, but who really knows what will happen? One team will come out of the game looking extremely resilient amid adversity. The other could end up looking like a train wreck.

PREDICTION: Mike Leach's shocking dismissal will impact Texas Tech early, as Michigan State takes a lead. But I don't have enough confidence in the Spartans' secondary to think they'll keep the Red Raiders in check for 60 minutes. Potts gets hot late and Texas Tech rallies to win, 31-27.
Michigan State will have quite a few open seats on the team plane as it takes off for San Antonio on Sunday morning.

White
Jason Miller/US PresswireBlair White provides one reliable option for the Spartans at wideout.
And when offensive coordinator Don Treadwell assembles the Spartans' wide receivers to begin final preparations for the Valero Alamo Bowl, the meeting room might feel a little empty. Fourteen Spartans players aren't making the trip to the bowl game, as 12 have been suspended and two, running back Glenn Winston and safety Roderick Jenrette, have been dismissed from the team.

The wide receiver group has been hit especially hard as four suspended players -- B.J. Cunningham, Mark Dell, Chris D. Rucker and Myles White -- play the position. Cunningham and Dell rank second and third on the team in receiving, having combined for 1,090 receiving yards, 74 receptions and five touchdowns.

Cunningham started nine games, while Dell started the final three regular-season contests. Their presence will be missed Jan. 2 against Texas Tech in a game where Michigan State likely needs to throw the ball a lot and put up points.

"We've talked about all season how at a lot of positions, we feel one of the strengths of our team is depth," Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins said. "We have lost some guys, and it's going to test our depth. There are guys who haven't had opportunities yet to play in games, who we know work very hard year-round behind closed doors when no one else is really watching.

"They're guys we know we can count on, come the bowl game."

Cousins knows what he's got in Blair White, a first-team All-Big Ten receiver who leads Michigan State and ranks third in the league in receiving average (73 ypg). The Spartans also can turn to sophomore Keshawn Martin, who, in addition to becoming a threat on returns, has 14 receptions for 325 yards (23.2 ypr) and four touchdowns.

After those two, though, it's slim pickings. Michigan State can turn to tight ends Charlie Gantt, Brian Linthicum and Dion Sims, but it needs more production from the wide receiver position.

So who steps up? Cousins thinks sophomore walk-on Brad Sonntag could emerge.

"He's got a lot of upside," Cousins said.

Sonntag and redshirt freshman Milton Colbert are listed as the backups to White and Martin on Michigan State's pre-bowl depth chart. Neither Sonntag nor Colbert has caught a pass this season.

"We're still tinkering with all that," Cousins said. "We don't have a set plan yet, and we're still figuring out what would be the best matchups to use. And we're a team that likes to use our tight ends, so we always want to get them the football, too."

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
3:10
PM ET
Loyal blog readers out there know where I'm headed with several of these picks, though I had some tough decisions in the end. It's not easy to condense so many defensive standouts into 11 slots, while there's certainly more wiggle room on the offensive side.

For your reference, my preseason All-Big Ten team and the Big Ten's official all-conference squads.

OFFENSE

QB: Daryll Clark, Penn State
RB: John Clay, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
WR: Keith Smith, Purdue
WR: Blair White, Michigan State
TE: Garrett Graham, Wisconsin
C: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
OL: Justin Boren, Ohio State
OL: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
OL: Dace Richardson, Iowa
OL: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

DEFENSE

DL: Brandon Graham, Michigan
DL: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DL: O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Pat Angerer, Iowa
LB: Navorro Bowman, Penn State
CB: Donovan Warren, Michigan
CB: Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
S: Kurt Coleman, Ohio State
S: Tyler Sash, Iowa

SPECIALISTS

P: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
K: Brett Swenson, Michigan State
KR: Ray Fisher, Indiana
PR: Ray Small, Ohio State

All-Big Ten selections by team: Penn State (5), Iowa (5), Wisconsin (4), Ohio State (3), Michigan State (3), Michigan (3), Northwestern (1), Purdue (1), Indiana (1)

There were 16 selections who also made the preseason All-Big Ten squad: Clark, Royster, Clay, Bulaga, Wisniewski, Boren, Garrett Graham, Brandon Graham, Odrick, Jones, Bowman, Angerer, Coleman, Mesko, Swenson and Small.

Valero Alamo Bowl

December, 6, 2009
12/06/09
10:08
PM ET
Texas Tech (8-4) vs. Michigan State (6-6)
Jan. 2, 9 p.m. (ESPN)


Texas Tech take by Big 12 blogger Tim Griffin: Mike Leach’s season was marked with several up-and-down performances. Leach’s offense never found any real continuity under one quarterback as injuries resulted in the use of three different starters over the course of the season. The Red Raiders looked like world beaters in a blowout home victory over Oklahoma and a strong road performance in a loss at Texas. But they also struggled in an embarrassing home loss to Texas A&M and were lucky to beat Baylor in their regular-season finale.

Leach has alternated between Taylor Potts and Steven Sheffield at quarterback. Potts started and finished the season after Sheffield underwent foot surgery. It’s a typically high-powered Texas Tech offense that ranks second nationally in scoring, seventh in total offense and ninth in scoring. But the biggest surprise has been the emergence of a strong defense keyed by Brandon Carter, who notched a school-record 15 sacks this season to rank second nationally. They will be facing a Michigan State program that has already been ravaged by controversy after two players were kicked off the team and eight others were placed on suspension. The Spartans look like an appealing opponent for the Red Raiders, considering they rank 96th in pass efficiency defense and 103rd in pass defense. Michigan State will counter with All-American linebacker Greg Jones and leading receiver Blair White, but the Spartans have lost two of their top receivers to suspension and likely won’t have the firepower to match Tech in a shootout.


Michigan State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg:This could go one of two ways for Michigan State.

1. Things completely fall apart in San Antonio, as an undermanned Spartans squad gutted by suspensions and dismissals gets steamrolled by a Texas Tech team led by the nation's No. 2 passing offense (380.7 ypg). Taylor Potts becomes the latest quarterback to shred Michigan State's secondary, and fans raise some serious doubts about head coach Mark Dantonio just a year after the team reached the Capital One Bowl.

2. The Alamo Bowl becomes Michigan State's finest hour, as the team shows its newfound resolve in the wake of a "crisis," as Dantonio is calling it. Spartans receivers fill in for Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham, and the secondary makes up for the loss of suspended cornerback Chris L. Rucker.

For the second scenario to take place, Dantonio will have to do his finest coaching in the coming weeks, as more suspensions could be on the way. Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones needs a huge performance Jan. 2 in the Alamodome, and Michigan State's defensive backs will have to be at their best against Potts and his wideouts.

The Spartans offense also must step up in a game that should feature plenty of points. Quarterback Kirk Cousins and wideout Blair White must find gaps in the Red Raiders' defense.

The teams meet for the first time, and Michigan State makes its first trip to the Alamo Bowl since 2003.

Big Ten picks: Week 10

November, 5, 2009
11/05/09
9:10
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Who's going to win? Keep reading.

Iowa 27, Northwestern 17: Both teams tend to start slow, so expect a close game for most of the way. Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka plays and does some good things in the second and third quarters, but Iowa once again takes control in the fourth, when it has dominated and Northwestern has struggled this season. Both defenses are improved and the Wildcats always save their best for Iowa, but the Hawkeyes prevail behind Ricky Stanzi and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.

Wisconsin 28, Indiana 16: I don't know how much the Hoosiers have left in the tank after back-to-back crushing defeats. Plus, Wisconsin has totally dominated Indiana under head coach Bret Bielema and seems to be getting better on defense as the season goes along. The Hoosiers' standout wide receivers make plays early, but running back John Clay and the Wisconsin defense led by O'Brien Schofield and Chris Borland blossom in the second half.

Michigan State 31, Western Michigan 10: It's an absolute must-win for Mark Dantonio's team, and they will be prepared to play. Quarterback Kirk Cousins picks apart the Broncos secondary as wide receiver Blair White and Keshawn Martin turn in big performances. Michigan State's defense keeps Tim Hiller in check and keeps its bowl hopes alive heading into a crucial game at Purdue.

Minnesota 30, Illinois 24: Both offenses got some much needed confidence last week and will continue to make plays early in this one. Adam Weber turns in another good performance and finds tight end Nick Tow-Arnett for two touchdown passes. Illinois runs the ball well with backs Mikel LeShoure and Jason Ford, but Minnesota's defense clamps down in the red zone as the Gophers become bowl-eligible.

Michigan 37, Purdue 31: I'm hesitant to pick the Wolverines, but they're in a must-win game against a Purdue team that totally imploded last week. Plus, running back Brandon Minor is getting healthier, and he can change the game. Both offenses make plays, but Minor and teammate Carlos Brown lead a potent rushing attack that proves to be the difference as the Wolverines get bowl-eligible.

Penn State 21, Ohio State 17: Expect a defensive struggle early as two of the nation's premier units take the field in Happy Valley. The game closely resembles the Iowa-Michigan State clash, as defense rules until the final 10 minutes, when both offenses come alive. Quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Terrelle Pryor both make plays, but Clark's leadership in a more cohesive Nittany Lions offense proves to be the difference.

Week 9 record: 4-2

Season record: 49-19 (.721)

Big Ten picks: Week 9

October, 29, 2009
10/29/09
9:02
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Seven FBS teams continue their quest for perfection on Halloween. After going 5-0 last week, so do I.

Iowa 23, Indiana 10: This is the week the Hawkeyes finally create some distance between themselves and their opponent. Iowa struggles to get the run game going without Adam Robinson, but quarterback Ricky Stanzi and wideout Marvin McNutt connect for two touchdowns. Indiana's talented wide receivers struggle to find openings in the Hawkeyes' secondary as No. 4 Iowa improves to 9-0.

Ohio State 38, New Mexico State 3: A lot of folks are calling for a shutout, and it could happen as the nation's worst offense faces the seventh-ranked scoring defense. The Aggies somehow get a field goal but Ohio State rolls as quarterback Terrelle Pryor once again runs for 100 yards and DeVier Posey catches another touchdown from his good friend. One of Ohio State's running backs also emerges in this one.

Wisconsin 24, Purdue 21: This is a very tough call, and if the game were played in West Lafayette, I'd probably go with the streaking Boilers. Big Ten teams struggled coming off of bye weeks last year, and Wisconsin will start slow before its aggressive defense forces some Purdue miscues. Running back John Clay turns in a nice performance, and quarterback Scott Tolzien limits mistakes.

Michigan 33, Illinois 24: One team looked like a mess last week; the other team has been a mess all season. I could see Illinois keeping this close for a while, but the Illini are so bad at defending the run and Michigan will capitalize with Denard Robinson, Carlos Brown, Tate Forcier and maybe Brandon Minor (if healthy). The Wolverines rarely pass the ball and pull away in the fourth quarter.

Penn State 28, Northwestern 14: This could be a trap game for Penn State, sandwiched between Michigan and Ohio State, but too many matchups favor the Nittany Lions. Quarterback Daryll Clark takes advantage of a banged-up Wildcats secondary and wideout Derek Moye has a big game. Mike Kafka makes some plays for Northwestern, but an underperforming offensive line can't contain Penn State for 60 minutes.

Michigan State 21, Minnesota 13: No Eric Decker plus an improving Michigan State defense equals problems for Minnesota. The Gophers defense will keep this one close, but Kirk Cousins and Blair White connect for a fourth-quarter touchdown as Michigan State bounces back from a heartbreaking loss to Iowa. We'll see a decent amount of MarQueis Gray from Minnesota, but linebacker Greg Jones keeps him in check.

Week 8 record: 5-0

Season record: 45-17 (.726)

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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Iowa has encountered and overcome many different challenges in its perfect season, so it's no surprise the Hawkeyes find a new obstacle in their path this week.

For the first time in 2009, Iowa is officially the team to beat in the Big Ten. The sixth-ranked Hawkeyes can thank Ohio State for their new title. From here on out, Iowa will have a black and gold target on its back.

Being the targeted team elicits different responses from different teams. Teams like Florida and USC tend to embrace it. Teams like Cal and Clemson tend to fall apart.

How will the Hawkeyes respond? Business as usual.

"It’s probably different for other teams, but we come to play every game and every week," defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. "The opponents, they’ll probably play harder against us. But we’re going to come out the same way."

For Clayborn, it means being at the front of the pack coming onto the field. Find any YouTube clip of Iowa's field entrances and you'll see No. 94, front and center.

"I hate being in the locker room," he explained. "I just want to get back on the field."

He gets his chance Saturday night at Spartan Stadium, as the Hawkeyes take on a Michigan State team hoping to knock them off their pedestal (Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET). These aren't simply Sparty spoilers. Michigan State can put itself right in the middle of the Big Ten title race with a victory.

The Spartans are sizzling after winning three straight and have a favorable schedule the rest of the way with no Ohio State and Penn State coming to East Lansing. A win would move Michigan State into a first-place tie in the league standings with as many as three other teams.

"A big-game opportunity," Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said. "This is an opportunity to play in a football game that you should remember and be able to tell your children [about]."

Dantonio often talks to his players about "playing up," or beating the Big Ten's best teams. Though the Spartans went 9-3 in the regular season last fall, they lost to league co-champs Penn State and Ohio State by a combined score of 94-25.

Dantonio hasn't stressed playing up as much this year, as the Spartans were more concerned with climbing out of a 1-3 hole, but the theme rings true this week with Iowa in town.

"This is a definite chance for us to play up," star linebacker Greg Jones said. "This is what our season's been all about. This game is going to define us as a team, as individuals, how tough we are and how we compare to Iowa."

Michigan State has won four straight home games against Iowa, including a defense-fueled 16-13 victory last year. The night kickoff should add to the atmosphere, though the Hawkeyes are 2-0 in night games this year.

"This is pretty much the exact same situation as last season," Spartans wide receiver Blair White said. "We're in a game that, if we win, we can be sitting atop the Big Ten standings. Last year, we came out and laid an egg against Ohio State and then again against Penn State. We've got to learn from that.

"We're 4-3, so that might not look as good, but Iowa, being the sixth team in the country, what more could you ask for? You want to play the guys at the top."

And Iowa wants to stay there.

"We’re just trying to keep up the momentum," Hawkeyes safety Brett Greenwood said, "and see where it takes us."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If you need a cavity filled in the state of Michigan a few years from now, don't be surprised to see Blair White pulling up next to the dentist's chair.

 
 Cliff Welch/Icon SMI
 Blair White ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards with 90.7 yards a game.


And rest assured, White has very steady hands. Anyone can see that from watching him catch passes for Michigan State.

The former walk-on emerged midway through the 2008 season and wound up leading the Spartans in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (659). It could have been the end of the line for White, who was admitted to the University of Detroit's School of Dentistry and had a chance to enroll this fall.

But he had one season of eligibility remaining and decided what the heck, might as well stick around. Michigan State is extremely grateful, as White once again has become the team's No. 1 wide receiver.

He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards (90.7 ypg), fifth in receptions (6.43 ypg) and third in scoring (5.1 ppg).

"It's a little different than what I had planned," White said. "It's a blessing and I'm very fortunate."

White entered last season not knowing if he'd see the field much, if at all.

He had only three catches his first two seasons and played primarily on special teams. Michigan State seemed fairly set at wide receiver with Mark Dell, Deon Curry, B.J. Cunningham and heralded freshmen Keshawn Martin and Fred Smith. About the only clue White would play a bigger role was his appearance as a co-backup with Chris L. Rucker on the preseason depth chart.

But injuries and other personnel moves -- Rucker eventually moved full-time to cornerback -- opened the door for White.

"I was able to catch some balls for us," he said. "I figured I could go to dental school any time I want, but I can only play football at Michigan State for one more year. I took advantage of that, and I'd like to think that was a wise choice, not passing that up."

Um, yeah.

White not only has become one of the Big Ten's better receivers, earning co-Offensive Player of the Week honors after recording career highs in both receptions (12) and receiving yards (186) to go along with two touchdowns in last Saturday's win against Northwestern. But he's doing it at a school that means a lot to his family.

White is the 15th person in his family to attend Michigan State. The group includes his three younger siblings, his mother, Vicki, an All-American swimmer for the Spartans, and a cousin, Jessica LeFevre, an All-American softball player.

His strong ties to Michigan State could present a problem in the future. See, White has applied to the School of Dentistry at Michigan and might end up in Ann Arbor a year from now.

White gets chided about attending Michigan "all the time," particularly from former Spartans teammate Brian Hoyer and Spartans running backs coach Dan Enos.

"It's definitely still possible," White said. "They're one of the best dental schools in the country, so I'm not just going to throw them off, even though I bleed green."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The home stretch begins Saturday, and here are 10 things you don't want to miss.

1. Iowa's quest for perfection continues: The Hawkeyes are halfway through one of the nation's toughest road schedules, and it doesn't get much easier Saturday night at Michigan State (Big Ten Network, 7 p.m. ET). Spartan Stadium recently has posed problems for the Hawkeyes, who have dropped four consecutive games there, including a 16-13 decision last year. A win Saturday night will convince any nonbelievers left that Iowa is for real and move the Hawkeyes to at least No. 5 in the BCS standings. Iowa has shown no fear of tough environments and tough situations so far, but the Hawkeyes are now the team to beat in the Big Ten, which can bring unique challenges.

2. Penn State enters (Big) House of Horrors: Iowa isn't the only Big Ten team trying to end its struggles in the state of Michigan on Saturday. Penn State can't buy a break in Michigan Stadium, where it has lost five consecutive games stretching back to 1995. Head coach Joe Paterno is still haunted by the 2005 loss in Ann Arbor, the lone blemish on his team's record. The jury remains out on this Penn State team, which has looked very impressive against weak competition and seems to be getting stronger each week. The Lions can validate their record and end a rough run at Stadium and Main with a victory Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

3. Pryor under pressure: Ohio State's offense and sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor are under the gun after a mistake-filled loss to Purdue last week. Critics and fans are questioning the scheme, the coaching and Pryor. Head coach Jim Tressel said this week that no major changes are coming and Pryor's teammates remain in his corner. Pryor handled himself well in responding to his critics this week. Still, the offense must bounce back strong against Minnesota (ESPN, noon ET). The Gophers boast an improved defense led by three excellent linebackers (Lee Campbell, Nate Triplett and Simoni Lawrence) and a playmaking cornerback (Traye Simmons). If Ohio State's offense starts off slowly, it could be a rough afternoon.

4. Postseason implications in Evanston: Northwestern and Indiana bring identical 4-3 records into Saturday's game at Ryan Field, and quite frankly, it's tough to see both squads reaching the postseason. The winner of the game should be in good shape for at least an invitation to the Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, while the loser will have an uphill climb. Northwestern's banged-up yet improving defense faces a confident Indiana offense led by quarterback Ben Chappell and wide receivers Tandon Doss, Damarlo Belcher and Mitchell Evans. The series usually produces plenty of excitement, as the last five meetings all have been decided by seven points or fewer.

5. Desperation at Boiler Station: The Big Ten's bottom two teams meet at Ross-Ade Stadium with very different mindsets. Purdue comes off an energizing upset of Ohio State, its first win against a ranked opponent since 2003. The Boilermakers hope the victory springboards them into a big second half as they try to turn those near misses into wins. Illinois, meanwhile, seems to be falling apart after its fourth consecutive double-digit loss and its fifth this season. The Illini remain undecided at quarterback and might soon need to make a decision about head coach Ron Zook's future at the school unless things turn around fast, beginning Saturday.

6. Jones vs. Sash: Two of the leading contenders for Big Ten defensive player of the year will be on the same field Saturday night in East Lansing. Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones had a monster first half, leading the nation with 85 tackles, including 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He'll try to slow down Iowa's young running backs and put pressure on quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Hawkeyes safety Tyler Sash hopes to build on his Big Ten interceptions lead against Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has thrown only four picks in 156 attempts. Sash leads the most opportunistic secondary in the country, which faces a talented crop of Michigan State tight ends and wide receivers.

7. Wolverines offense vs. Lions defense: Something's got to give as the Big Ten's top scoring offense (37.3 ppg) takes on the nation's No. 2 scoring defense (8.7 ppg). Both units are getting healthier, as Michigan freshman quarterback Tate Forcier has recovered from head and shoulder injuries, while Penn State star outside linebacker Sean Lee should see his reps increase despite tweaking his knee against Minnesota. The Wolverines will use multiple quarterbacks and mix personnel behind an offensive line that gained confidence from the Iowa game. Penn State hasn't faced an FBS offense ranked higher than 79th nationally, but the Lions are receiving excellent play from their front four and linebackers Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.

8. Gophers offense looks for a spark: Pryor isn't the only quarterback feeling the heat in Columbus on Saturday. Minnesota junior Adam Weber has struggled in recent weeks, and some are calling for backup MarQueis Gray to get more playing time. Weber could certainly use some help from his running backs, but it won't be easy against a dominant Ohio State defensive front. The Buckeyes undoubtedly will gear their defense toward Minnesota star wideout Eric Decker, so Weber must find other targets and do a better job of freelancing to make plays. Ohio State already owns two shutouts this season, and the Gophers were blanked last week at Penn State.

9. League title race taking shape: It's pretty easy to size up the Big Ten title race right now, with Iowa as the league's lone unbeaten team and in the driver's seat for the Rose Bowl and possibly more. But if Michigan State knocks off the Hawkeyes, things could really get interesting. You could have four one-loss teams by the end of play Saturday (Iowa, Michigan State, Penn State and Ohio State), and an Iowa loss would open the door for some two-loss teams as well. Michigan State has a favorable schedule down the stretch and could legitimize itself as a league title contender. Losses by Penn State and Ohio State could really turn things around in the standings, given the preseason forecast for the league.

10. Star search on offense: The Big Ten is clearly a defense-oriented league this season, but the lack of stars on offense is really stunning. Things weren't much better in 2008, but at least the league boasted the nation's best group of running backs. As the stretch run begins, who will emerge at quarterback, running back or wide receiver? Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark has played well since the Iowa loss and needs a big performance at Michigan. Forcier, Stanzi, Purdue's Joey Elliott, Northwestern's Mike Kafka and Chappell also have had their good moments. I'm interested to see if the league's unheralded wide receivers (Keith Smith, Zeke Markshausen, Doss, Blair White) can keep up their strong play.

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