NCF Nation: Brad Herman

Michigan State-Iowa pregame

November, 12, 2011
11/12/11
11:40
AM ET
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A few pregame notes before kickoff between No. 17 Michigan State and Iowa at Kinnick Stadium.
  • Michigan State linebacker Chris Norman (shoulder) worked with the first-team defense during warm-ups and didn't appear to be limited. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (concussion) also warmed up without limitations. The only uncertainty for the Spartans is linebacker Steve Gardiner (neck).
  • Iowa defensive end Lebron Daniel returns to the starting lineup today in place of Dominic Alvis, who tore his ACL in last week's win against Michigan. There shouldn't be any other lineup changes for the Hawkeyes.
  • Iowa tight end Brad Herman has his hand wrapped. Not sure if it will limit him. Herman has moved to the second team in favor of C.J. Fiedorowicz.
  • The winds were kicking up when I shot my pregame video. It seems to be more of a swirling wind right now.
As promised, it's time to rank the Big Ten's top tight ends entering the 2011 season.

Unlike wide receiver, a position loaded with clear-cut No. 1 options, the tight end group has a few more question marks. Standout players like Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks, Michigan State's Charlie Gantt and Iowa's Allen Reisner have departed. While the wide receivers list was based heavily on past performance, this one leans more on potential for the upcoming season.

Here's your top 10 for '11 (Update: Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner has been included in the rankings. Apologies for the oversight):

[+] EnlargeKyler Reed
John S. Peterson/Icon SMIKyler Reed had 22 catches for 395 yards and eight TDs last season.
1. Kyler Reed, Nebraska, junior: Here's a name Big Ten fans need to know. Why? He might terrorize your team's defense when it goes up against Nebraska this fall. Reed is a gifted pass-catching tight end who averaged 18 yards per reception and scored eight touchdowns in 2010. The Huskers lack proven depth at receiver, so Reed should be a focal point of the passing game in Tim Beck's offense.

2. Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern, senior: If Dunsmore can stay healthy, he'll contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. He didn't have the monster season some expected in 2010, although he still recorded 40 receptions for 381 yards and five touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall wants to feature Dunsmore as much as possible, so if the senior avoids the injury bug, he'll have a chance to put up big numbers.

3. Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State, junior: Stoneburner has been discussed as a potential breakout player for some time, and this could finally be his season to shine. Ohio State enters the season with no proven depth at receiver, while Stoneburner has been in the system for a while and recorded 21 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns in 2010. The Buckeyes have seemed hesitant to feature the tight end in the passing game, but Stoneburner could be the man to change things this fall.

4. Ted Bolser, Indiana, sophomore: Bolser quietly turned in one of the best seasons among Big Ten freshmen in 2010. He started seven games and averaged 15.1 yards per reception, recording 27 catches and five touchdowns. Indiana has enough depth at receiver to occupy opposing defensive backs, so Bolser should find some openings to make plays. He boasts excellent size at 6-foot-6, 240.

5. Eric Lair, Minnesota, senior: After recording just one reception in his first two years, Lair had somewhat of a breakout season in 2010. He ranked among the Big Ten's most productive tight ends with 39 receptions for 526 yards, an average of 13.5 yards per catch. The Gophers need more pass-catching options alongside Da'Jon McKnight, and Lair could see an even bigger role this fall.

6. Brian Linthicum, Michigan State, senior: As Gantt departs, Linthicum is the obvious candidate to move into the No. 1 role for an offense that doesn't ignore the tight end position. Linthicum started five games in 2010, recording 18 receptions for 230 yards. He has 19 career starts for two AQ teams (Clemson and Michigan State), so he's no stranger to the spotlight. But Linthicum can't afford a drop-off as talented sophomore Dion Sims rejoins the team.

7. Kevin Koger, Michigan, senior: Experience isn't an issue for Koger, who has started 19 games in his first three seasons. He didn't quite meet expectations in 2010, as his numbers fell a bit even though Michigan's offense made significant strides. The good news is Koger should see an increased role in Al Borges' offense. Borges said this spring Koger can catch at least 30 passes this fall. If so, he'll be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors.

8. Brad Herman, Iowa, senior: Herman has only 10 career catches, but several factors suggest bigger things are ahead. Iowa always seems to produce one of the Big Ten's best tight ends, and the program's recent track record of sending tight ends to the NFL speaks for itself. Herman knows he's the next in line, and he showed big-play ability in 2010, averaging 15.7 yards per catch. Like Linthicum, he faces pressure to perform as a dynamic young player (C.J. Fiedorowicz) is right behind him.

9. Jake Byrne, Wisconsin, senior: Byrne's selection is similar to Herman's. Like Herman, Byrne lacks impressive numbers (only five receptions in 2010), but he also plays for a program that loves to feature its tight ends. Plus, Byrne was one of the most impressive players I saw this spring in my tour around the league. Known for his blocking, Byrne showed this spring he can get open in the middle of the field. Wisconsin lacks depth at receiver, so Byrne should be a big part of the passing attack.

T-10. Evan Wilson, Illinois, sophomore: Like several tight ends on this list, Wilson could benefit from his team's lack of depth at wide receiver. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has made strides as a passer and needs other options to emerge alongside A.J. Jenkins. Wilson started 11 games as a true freshman and made 10 catches, two for touchdowns. He's a good blocker who should get better and better in the passing game.

T-10. C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa, sophomore: Maybe I'm buying into the hype, but Fiedorowicz has a chance to claim a significant role in Iowa's passing attack this fall. Herman doesn't have an extensive track record, and Marvin McNutt is the Hawkeyes' only proven receiver. The 6-foot-7, 250-pound Fiedorowicz is big and athletic, and he boasts the skills to become a true pass-catching threat. This is a total projection pick, but I think Fiedorowicz does big things this fall.
We've been ranking each position group in the Big Ten, and so far we've looked at running backs and quarterbacks. Today, let's finish off the offensive skill positions with receivers and tight ends.

The Big Ten is blessed with plenty of standout wide receivers, but remember these rankings heavily account for overall depth at the position, not just isolated star power. We're also including the tight ends in this group while acknowledging that the best ones aren't necessarily big-time pass-catchers.

Here's how we rank them:

[+] EnlargeB.J. Cunningham
Andrew Weber/US PresswireB.J. Cunningham had the best numbers last season among a deep group of receivers and tight ends.
1. Michigan State: The Spartans may lack a true superstar, though senior B.J. Cunningham (50 catches for 611 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010) is pretty darn good. What Mark Dantonio can really count on is depth. Cunningham has good size at 6-foot-2, while Keshawn Martin is a speed-burner. Keith Nichol and Bennie Fowler fill out a solid cast of receivers, and when you throw in Brian Linthicum and Dion Sims at tight end, this group deserves the top spot.

2. Michigan: If Darryl Stonum weren't suspended indefinitely, this group might be No. 1. It's still pretty good as things stand now. Roy Roundtree leads the way after catching 72 passes for 935 yards and seven touchdowns last year, and Junior Hemingway is a strong secondary option for Denard Robinson. Tight end Kevin Koger is a third-year starter who can occasionally make big plays in the passing game.

3. Northwestern: Senior Jeremy Ebert (62 catches for 935 yards and eight touchdowns last season) was a first-team All-Big Ten performer as voted by the media. Demetrius Fields had 25 receptions last year, and the Wildcats are counting on big improvements from sophomores Rashad Lawrence, Tony Jones and Venric Mark. Northwestern uses its superback position as a tight end, and Drake Dunsmore had 40 catches from that spot last year.

4. Indiana: The Hoosiers languish at the bottom of many of these rankings, but receiver/tight end is a point of pride. Senior Damarlo Belcher led the Big Ten with 78 catches last year on his way to 832 yards. Even with the loss of Tandon Doss and Terrance Turner, who each had more than 60 catches in '10, new coach Kevin Wilson has a solid corps behind Belcher with Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes, among others. And Ted Bolser is a highly productive tight end who had 27 catches for 407 yards and five scores a year ago.

5. Penn State: Three of the top four receivers from last year return, including No. 1 target Derek Moye (his 16.7 yards per catch average was second in the Big Ten a year ago). Justin Brown and Devon Smith need to continue moving forward. Will the Nittany Lions get anything out of Curtis Drake, who's trying to return from his second broken leg? Penn State hopes to get something out of the tight end position, where Andrew Szczerba and Garry Gilliam dealt with season-ending injuries last year.

6. Wisconsin: Once we reach the middle of these rankings, the units start to become interchangeable and a little indistinguishable. Wisconsin doesn't have to throw it too much because of its stellar running game, but the Badgers have some solid choices when they do go to the air. Senior Nick Toon has the talent to record more than the 36 catches and 459 yards he produced a year ago. Jared Abbrederis should continue to come along after a nice freshman campaign. There's potential but not much experience among the rest of the receivers. Star tight end Lance Kendricks will be tough to replace, but Jake Byrne is an outstanding blocker and Jacob Pedersen caught two touchdowns last year.

7. Nebraska: Brandon Kinnie is the leader here, and the 6-foot-3 senior isn't afraid to make the big catch. Freshmen Jamal Turner and Kenny Bell had nice springs and could add some playmaking skills to a largely unproven crew around Kinnie. Kyler Reed might be the most dangerous pass-catching tight end in the Big Ten, if not the country, after hauling in eight touchdowns and 18 yards per reception a year ago.

[+] EnlargeMarvin McNutt
Scott Boehm/Getty Images Marvin McNutt will be expected to be the No.1 wideout for the Hawkeyes this season.
8. Iowa: Senior Marvin McNutt is the go-to option after recording 861 yards and eight touchdowns last season. The Hawkeyes will look to junior Keenan Davis to improve and become the No. 2 target. Just about everyone else is green. Tight end is usually a strength for Kirk Ferentz and should be again with senior Brad Herman and a group of talented backups behind him.

9. Ohio State: Seems like we write this a lot, but the Buckeyes would be ranked higher if their star player in this group were available an entire season. But DeVier Posey's five-game suspension means this is an awfully young corps, and that inexperience showed with some inconsistent play this spring. Ohio State will need talented sophomore Corey "Philly" Brown to take a big leap forward and youngsters like Chris Fields, T.Y. Williams and James Louis to contribute in Posey's absence. Tight end Jake Stoneburner might have to become a bigger presence in the passing game.

10. Purdue: The Boilermakers have some decent depth but no proven stars. Antavian Edison is the leading returning receiver with just 314 yards last year, though the junior does have good speed. Justin Siller is talented but has had trouble staying healthy. Purdue lost two solid veterans at tight end in Kyle Adams and Jeff Lindsay and added a couple of potential replacements, including former basketball player Patrick Bade, this summer.

11. Minnesota: Da'Jon McKnight tied for second in the Big Ten last year with 10 receiving touchdowns. But the Gophers' second-leading receiver last season was MarQueis Gray, who's now their starting quarterback. Brandon Green could help after an injury-plagued season. Tight end Eric Lair can grab a few passes, as he did 39 times in 2010.

12. Illinois: The good news: A.J. Jenkins is a reliable weapon who had 746 yards and seven touchdowns last season. The bad news: There's not much experience behind him. Perhaps Ryan Lankford, who starred in the spring while Jenkins was out with an injury, will emerge as a star his sophomore year. Evan Wilson is back at tight end after starting 11 games as a freshman.
Being one of the top-rated recruits in the country is a double-edged sword. You get all the attention and hype you'd ever want coming out of high school. But there is also more pressure on you to succeed once you step foot on campus. And there's more pressure on coaches and programs to get the most out of their big-time prospects. As the old saying goes, potential will get you fired.

With that in mind, today we're taking a look back at the top Big Ten recruits from the 2010 class and seeing where they stand. It's not fair to judge these guys until the end of their college careers, and in several cases these players haven't even gotten on the field yet. But it's never too early to take stock.

We're going to use the ESPNU150 list from 2010 as our guide. The Big Ten had 14 players make that elite list. We'll divide the players into three categories: those who've made the biggest impact so far, those who have played but for whom the jury is still out and those who haven't played yet. (One interesting thing to note: None of the 14 made Adam's 2010 Big Ten All-Freshman team):

Away we go ...

Biggest impact

Rob Bolden, QB, Penn State (No. 112 overall, No. 4 position rank)

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, FileRob Bolden made a big impact as a freshman, but his future remains up in the air.
You all know the Bolden story. He started the first seven games as a true freshmen and eight games overall, throwing for 1,360 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions. Then he lost his job to walk-on Matt McGloin after suffering a concussion against Minnesota, and there was a heated quarterback battle this spring. The last we heard, Bolden hadn't decided whether he'll stay at Penn State or transfer before the 2011 season.

Corey Brown, WR, Ohio State (No. 137 overall, No. 20 position rank)

"Philly," as he's called, played in all 13 games last season and saw time on the kick and punt return teams as well as at receiver. He caught eight balls for 105 yards and a touchdown, which came in the win over Purdue. He won the outstanding first-year player award from the coaching staff. But he also had trouble with drops this spring. With the Buckeyes' lone returning starter at receiver, DeVier Posey, out for the first five games, Brown will need to become a consistent force.

Khairi Fortt, LB, Penn State (No. 66 overall, No. 2 position rank): Will Fortt be one of the next great players at Linebacker U.? He saw action in nine games last year, including a start against Illinois in which he recorded 11 tackles. Penn State is loaded at linebacker, but Fortt saw a lot of time with the first-team defense this spring and will be hard to keep out of the lineup this fall.

William Gholston, DE, Michigan State (No. 42 overall, No. 3 position rank)

The Big Ten's highest-rated recruit in 2010 served as the Spartans' backup left end and played in 10 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury against Minnesota. He collected 13 tackles and a half-sack as a true freshman and had five stops and an assisted tackle for loss against Iowa. The 6-foot-7, 265-pounder should slide into a starting role in 2011.

Jury's still out

C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa (No. 82 overall, No. 6 position rank)

Fiedorowicz saw action in all 13 games but did not record a catch as a true freshman as he saw most of his time on special teams. The 6-foot-7 sophomore is expected to back up starter Brad Herman this season but could see time when the Hawkeyes use two tight ends.

Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan (No. 128 overall, No. 5 position rank)

Gardner got to play in three games as a true freshman. He threw for 85 yards and a touchdown against Bowling Green and also ran for a score in that game. Then he hurt his back and missed the rest of the season, and Michigan is hoping to get a medical redshirt year for him. Of course, his opportunities were limited anyway and figure to be the same for the foreseeable future because he's stuck behind another pretty good quarterback. Fella named Denard. You might have heard of him.

Andrew Rodriguez, OG, Nebraska (No. 147 overall, No. 7 position rank)

The 6-foot-6 Rodriguez got his feet wet with five appearances in 2010, becoming the first true freshman to play on the offensive line for Nebraska since 2006. With starting guards Ricky Henry and Keith Williams now departed, there's a good chance Rodriguez fills one of those spots in 2011.

Look out for

Darryl Baldwin, DE, Ohio State (No. 131 overall, No. 13 position rank)

Baldwin took a redshirt year in 2010 and should see some snaps this year, albeit most likely in a backup role.

Miles Dieffenbach, C, Penn State (No. 118 overall, No. 1 position rank)

Dieffenbach redshirted in 2010 as senior Doug Klopacz held down the center spot. Dieffenbach is expected to back up junior Matt Stankiewitch in 2011.

Evan Hailes, DT, Penn State (No. 88 overall, No. 9 position rank)

It may be a while before we know anything about Hailes. He redshirted in 2010, and Joe Paterno said after the spring game that Hailes could miss the entire 2011 season with an undisclosed illness.

James Louis, WR, Ohio State (No. 80 overall, No. 12 position rank)

Louis redshirted in 2010 and was inconsistent this spring, like most of the Buckeyes' young receivers. At least the opportunity for playing time is there.

C.J. Olaniyan, DE, Penn State (No. 148 overall, No. 16 position rank)

Olaniyan redshirted last season and got some first-team reps this spring with starters Jack Crawford and Eric Latimore slowed by injuries. Those two will start when they get healthy, but Olaniyan should see time in the rotation along the defensive front.

Dakota Royer, LB, Penn State (No. 70 overall, No. 7 position rank)

A defensive end in high school, Royer is battling for playing time at the crowded linebacker position with the Nittany Lions. He redshirted in 2010 and will have to fight to get on the field behind an experienced crew this season.

Rod Smith, RB, Ohio State (No. 56 overall, No. 7 position rank)

Smith reported late to preseason camp last year while he worked on some academics and ended up redshirting. Now he's part of a group of tailbacks battling for carries while starter Dan Herron is out for the first five games. The 6-3, 230-pound bruiser impressed during bowl practice last year, had seven carries for 36 yards in the spring game and could become the featured back in Herron's absence. But the running back competition figures to continue into fall camp.
I've already taken a look at the Big Ten's 1,000-yard rushing candidates and likely sack masters in 2011. Now it's time to put the spotlight on the quarterbacks.

Who will pass for 3,000 yards this season?

[+] EnlargeDan Persa
Jerry Lai/US PresswireNorthwestern's Dan Persa has the weapons and experience to reach 3,000 passing yards this season.
Only two Big Ten quarterbacks, Indiana's Ben Chappell (3,295 pass yards) and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi (3,004), eclipsed 3,000 pass yards in 2010. Northwestern's Dan Persa was on pace to do so before rupturing his Achilles tendon in mid November. Three Big Ten signal callers -- Northwestern's Mike Kafka, Penn State's Daryll Clark and Purdue's Joey Elliott -- reached the milestone in 2009.

Let's look at who has the best chance to become Mr. 3,000 this fall. Several Big Ten signal callers operate in systems that don't emphasize the pass enough, while Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor would be on the list if not for his five-game suspension.

1. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: As stated above, Persa would have eclipsed 3,000 pass yards last fall if not for his injury. If he stays healthy for the entire 2010 season, he should reach the milestone. Northwestern is loaded at wide receiver/tight end and has an offensive line that seems to fare a lot better in pass protection than in run blocking. Although the Wildcats will try to spark their struggling ground game, the pass remains their top option and Persa's accuracy and precision should fuel the offense.

2. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Although new offensive coordinator Dan Roushar wants to emphasize the run, Cousins' experience combined with a deep group of wideouts and tight ends should make the pass a big part of the plan. Cousins racked up 2,825 pass yards in 2010 and operates in an offense that can stretch the field with players like Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham, Bennie Fowler and spring sensation Tony Lippett.

3. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Robinson's record-setting season as a ball-carrier attracted the most attention, but he also racked up 2,570 pass yards in an offense that mostly emphasizes the run. The junior now enters a system where he likely will be passing the ball more. Plus, he'll be working with a talented receiving corps led by Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway. Although Robinson has some work to do between now and Sept. 3, he certainly could reach 3,000 pass yards this season.

4. Iowa QB James Vandenberg: The Hawkeyes want to establish the run with Marcus Coker and take some pressure off of their first-year starting quarterback. But with limited depth at running back, Vandenberg might need to take to the air. He'll be working behind one of the league's best offensive lines and boasts a good No. 1 target in receiver Marvin McNutt. If others can emerge at receiver/tight end -- Keenan Davis, Brad Herman, C.J. Fiedorowicz -- Vandenberg could challenge the 3,000 mark.

5. Penn State's starting QB: If Penn State sticks with one quarterback for the entire 2011 season, he could become a 3,000-yard passer. Either Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden would have to become more accurate, but Penn State averaged 12.7 yards per completion and returns some talented receivers, led by All-Big Ten candidate Derek Moye. If the run game can't get going, Penn State will be forced to pass more.

Also keep an eye on these potential 3,000-yard passers from the Big Ten:
I'll continue the series Wednesday with a look at the Big Ten's top interceptors (4 or more).
Since many of you have asked, I won't be attending any spring games this weekend (or next, for that matter). It's a little tough to explain to non-media folks, but I get a lot more out of visiting campuses midweek than for spring games, when things are chaotic. The good news: I'll recap every spring game Monday.

Now it's time to preview the six Big Ten spring games on tap Saturday (in reverse alphabetical order) ...

PENN STATE

The vitals: Blue-White Game presented by AAA kicks off at 2 p.m. ET Saturday at Beaver Stadium; admission and parking are free

More details: Penn State has a pregame autograph session and a ton of events planned for the weekend. All the information can be found here.

Three things to watch

1. The quarterbacks: The race for the starting job has been the top story at Penn State this spring, and all four candidates will be on the field Saturday. Most eyes will be on sophomore Rob Bolden and junior Matt McGloin, who split the starts in 2010 and have paced one another throughout the spring. Both players have impressed the coaches, who likely won't name a starter until the summer. Saturday marks the final chance for Bolden and McGloin to showcase their abilities for the coaches and fans before spring ball concludes.

2. Line play: Penn State has to upgrade both lines if it wants to contend in the Leaders division this season. The Lions have very little depth at defensive end because of injuries, but fans should keep an eye on defensive tackles Devon Still, Jordan Hill and Brandon Ware, all of whom have drawn praise from the coaches this spring. Penn State needs a big year from its interior linemen. The offensive line boasts four seniors and should be solid at the tackle spots, but it'll be interesting to see how the guards and centers perform as Penn State must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski.

3. Running backs: Injuries will keep several Penn State playmakers on the sideline Saturday, but fans should get a clear read on the running backs. There's a lot of hype for Silas Redd after a solid freshman season, but he's being pushed by Stephfon Green and Brandon Beachum, who has stood out this spring after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Green and Redd both have breakaway ability, while Beachum could be the power back Penn State has missed in recent years.

NORTHWESTERN

The vitals: The spring football "exhibition," which will be more of a situational scrimmage, kicks off at noon CT (1 p.m. ET) at Ryan Field; admission and parking are free but fans are encouraged to bring nonperishable canned-food items for a food drive.

More details: Northwestern is holding a youth football clinic and several other events. All the info can be found here.

Three things to watch

1. The race for backup QB: All-Big Ten selection Dan Persa is on track to return by late May or early June, but he won't be taking any snaps Saturday. Northwestern will divide the reps evenly between three signal-callers -- sophomore Kain Colter, junior Evan Watkins and redshirt freshman Trevor Siemian -- vying to play behind Persa this season. Colter is the most intriguing candidate after a breakout performance against Texas Tech in the TicketCity Bowl, but all three players have endured some ups and downs this spring.

2. New faces on defense: The coaches feel they've upgraded the athleticism on defense with recent recruiting, especially at spots like linebacker and defensive back. Northwestern's defense looked slow and overmatched at times last season, and quite a few jobs are open this spring. Keep an eye on players such as linebackers David Nwabuisi and Damian Proby and redshirt freshman safety Ibraheim Campbell, a player coach Pat Fitzgerald has praised multiple times this spring.

3. The running backs: Persa carried the run game in 2010 but admits he took too many shots and will try to limit the damage this fall. He could use more help from a run game that has suffered since Tyrell Sutton graduated. Mike Trumpy provided a spark late last year and has had a good spring, and Adonis Smith has a year under his belt. Keep an eye on Tyris Jones, a physical runner who has stepped up this spring as a running back/H-back.

(Read full post)


IOWA CITY, Iowa -- When the preseason polls come out in August, the Iowa Hawkeyes likely won't be included.

That's not a bad thing.

Iowa didn't receive a single vote in the preseason AP Poll in 2002. The Hawkeyes went on to win 11 games and reach the Orange Bowl.

After winning 31 games and two Big Ten titles between 2002-04, Iowa entered the 2005 season ranked No. 11 nationally. It went 7-5 that year.

Despite a strong finish to the 2008 season, the Hawkeyes squeaked into the preseason rankings (No. 22 AP, No. 21 Coaches'). They were nationally relevant but hardly overhyped. And after a major scare against FCS Northern Iowa in Week 1, Iowa slipped out of the polls. It responded with a team-record 9-0 start and finished the season ranked seventh in both polls after winning the Orange Bowl.

The respect Iowa and its rabid fans crave arrived last summer as the Hawkeyes debuted in the Top 10 in both polls. Some even listed Iowa as a fringe national title contender. The team stumbled to 7-5 before a dramatic win in the Insight Bowl.

"When we start kind of off the radar, not in the Top 25, we always seem to raise expectations, within the program, especially," senior tight end Brad Herman said. "It's very easy to slip into the hype, people always patting you on the back and then you lose one or two games and all of a sudden the sky is falling. History shows that's the case."

Hawkeyes' veterans like Herman and defensive tackle Mike Daniels know what it's like to be both hyped and somewhat forgotten. There's no doubt how they'd rather be viewed.

"Iowa guys, we love to play with a chip on our shoulder," Daniels said, "and being under the radar just makes that chip even larger."

[+] EnlargeMike Daniels
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireDefensive lineman Mike Daniels says the Hawkeyes are at their best when they have a chip on their shoulder.
It's also a familiar realm for Iowa players.

Most of them weren't decorated recruits. They play for a program that would much rather list the number of walk-ons it has sent to the NFL than brag about the number of five-star prospects it signs each February.

Iowa players aren't used to hearing how great they are, and Kirk Ferentz and his assistants make sure it stays that way. Although Hawkeye football is the biggest show in the state, the team sometimes goes out of its way to avoid the media spotlight.

The underdog mentality is ingrained in the culture here, and it has helped on fall Saturdays.

"That's the tradition," defensive end Broderick Binns said. "Coach Ferentz looks for guys who are willing to work hard, have good character, who aren't going to be [jerks]. It's not tradition for coach Ferentz to bring in a guy that's four or five stars, who's all glamorous. Iowa's not about that. We're all about, 'Put your feet in the ground and go to work.'"

Iowa will go to work this fall without the potential distractions/pressure brought on by preseason accolades. The Hawkeyes' star power is gone, and the team must fill gaps at nearly every position.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi, a three-year starter and a local cult hero, has departed for the NFL. Iowa loses three multiyear starters along the defensive line, including a likely first-round pick (Adrian Clayborn) and a likely second-rounder (Christian Ballard). Both starting safeties depart (Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood) along with receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, tight end Allen Reisner and standout punter Ryan Donahue. Iowa returns only five starters on both sides of the ball.

It'll be an uphill climb for respect, but the Hawkeyes don't mind.

"We all have a goal: the Big Ten championship," Herman said. "That's something we state at the beginning of every single season. Being under the radar kind of relieves the pressure a little bit. We aren't really being talked about right now, and that's fine. Nothing changes around here."

If nothing changes this fall, Iowa will find itself in plenty of tightly contested contests. Drama has been the norm for Iowa the past few seasons.

In 2008, the team dropped four of its first nine games by five points or fewer and faced No. 3 Penn State as an underdog. A 24-23 victory against the Nittany Lions transformed Iowa into a clutch team. The Hawkeyes won their next five games decided by five points or fewer and rallied for wins in eight of their first nine games in 2009.

But Iowa's fortunes turned last fall. All five of its losses came by seven points or fewer, including three straight to end the regular season. A team that prides itself on finishing strong repeatedly crumbled in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes responded in the bowl game against Missouri, rallying for a 27-24 win, but players and coaches agreed the season was a disappointment.

"We're sitting there at 7-2 and lost three games by 10 points, so what can we do to do better in those situations?" Ferentz said. "That's what we're focused on. It comes down to a lot of little details and giving ourselves a chance. ... The reality is we were pretty good from October 2008 to November 2010. I look at it more that way. I'm not a peak-and-valley person. You can't afford to be if you're a coach."

Iowa appeared to go through some valleys in the offseason as several off-field issues cropped up followed by 13 players being hospitalized in January with rhabdomylosis. The team's celebrated strength program came under fire, but an internal investigation found no specific cause for the hospitalizations and Iowa has moved forward.

"We handled the rhabdo situation very well," Herman said. "Everybody was more pulled together as [the criticism] was coming down on us. It's going to benefit us in the fall for sure."

Iowa has its share of uncertainty entering the fall. Can quarterback James Vandenberg steady the ship after a gutsy performance in relief of Stanzi in 2009? Can Daniels and Binns help the defensive line reload? Who fills the gaps at safety, linebacker and wide receiver?

To these questions, the Hawkeyes say ask away. They'll have answers when September rolls around.

"You've got 11 guys on the field who are just mad at the world," Daniels said. "That's the way we would like to play."
It's unfair to say James Vandenberg won Iowa's starting quarterback job on Nov. 14, 2009.

[+] EnlargeIowa QBs
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswireIowa quarterbacks, from left, A.J. Derby, John Wienke and James Vandenberg are competing for the starting job vacated by Ricky Stanzi.
To earn the title, Vandenberg still must perform well this spring and distance himself from fellow Hawkeyes signal callers John Wienke and A.J. Derby. A non-factor for most of the 2010 season, Vandenberg, who completed 5 of 8 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown in three games last fall, must keep the pedal down in spring ball.

But his impressive performance a year and a half ago at Ohio Stadium still resonates with his teammates. Vandenberg, then a redshirt freshman, made his first career start in relief of the injured Ricky Stanzi and nearly led Iowa to an upset of Ohio State in what was essentially the Big Ten championship game.

"To go into Ohio State and do what he did as a redshirt freshman is nothing short of exceptional," Hawkeyes senior tight end Brad Herman told me Wednesday. "Right now, everybody sees him as being the guy."

Before Iowa kicked off spring practice, coach Kirk Ferentz singled out Vandenberg for his work, particularly during practices before the Insight Bowl. But Ferentz added, "He’s going to get good competition. John Wienke has improved a lot, A.J. Derby is set on winning the job, too. That will make all three of the guys better."

Herman has seen good things from both Wienke and Derby this spring, but there's no doubt about who should take the first snaps this fall.

"I'm just glad Vandenberg's our guy," Herman said. "So many times you see teams struggle, and it's because they don't have stability at quarterback. I'm just relieved that Vandenberg is that No. 1 quarterback. I'm confident in his ability to perform at a high level."

A quarterback has to win over the locker room, and Vandenberg took the first step toward doing so against Ohio State in The Shoe.

"It built confidence in him," Herman said. "Especially when you're a quarterback, when you have the confidence of your teammates and they trust that you know what's going on back there and you know what you're doing, that's huge for an offense."
National Signing Day is just about a week away, so let's take a look at the recruiting needs for each Big Ten team.

In compiling these lists, I tried to look at positions that have depth issues for 2011 and/or 2012.

Let's start off with the Legends division.

IOWA

Running back: Marcus Coker's breakout performance in the Insight Bowl got Iowa fans excited for the future, but there's still a significant depth issue here. If Adam Robinson can't get reinstated, the Hawkeyes will be looking for No. 2 and No. 3 options behind Coker. As we've seen the past two seasons, freshmen backs will see the field at Iowa.

Linebacker: Iowa felt the losses of Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds this season, and it must continue to rebuild the depth at the three linebacker spots. Multiyear starter Jeremiha Hunter departs along with players like Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson. Iowa needs to build around rising star James Morris.

Wide receiver/tight end: Iowa loses Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Allen Reisner and Colin Sandeman this year. Also, receiver Marvin McNutt and tight end Brad Herman depart after the 2011 season. Although the Hawkeyes boast young talent at both positions, they need to build depth with this class.

MICHIGAN

Secondary: The Wolverines couldn't find many answers here in 2010, and though the return of players like cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd will help, there are opportunities for freshmen to make an immediate impact. Michigan simply needs more options at both secondary spots in 2011.

Defensive line: It's crucial for coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to begin building depth up front. Future NFL player Mike Martin departs after 2011 along with Ryan Van Bergen, so Michigan needs to solidify both line positions.

Kicker: Field goals were an adventure in 2010, and Michigan simply can't have so much uncertainty at kicker going forward. The Wolverines need a reliable leg here ASAP.

MICHIGAN STATE

Linebacker: I like some of the young linebackers the Spartans bring back in 2011, but you can't overlook the losses of multiyear starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, not to mention reserve Jon Misch. Michigan State should have a decent group of first-string 'backers, but wants to build depth in the defensive midsection.

Offensive line: Not only do the Spartans lose three starters from the 2010 line, but they're still not where they need to be depth-wise up front to become a consistent top-tier Big Ten program. Michigan State wants to become like Iowa and Wisconsin. The big step is to keep fortifying both lines, especially on the offensive side.

MINNESOTA

Pass rusher: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in sacks last season (9) and hasn't had an intimidating pass rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008. The recent departure of defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards, who led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009, underscores this need.

Offensive line: The Gophers lose three starters up front, and while they boast some promising young linemen like tackle Ed Olson, the depth just isn't there yet. Minnesota's best teams had powerful offensive lines, and new coach Jerry Kill must continue to create competition up front.

NEBRASKA

Running back: The Huskers lose standout Roy Helu Jr., and while Rex Burkhead quickly will become one of my favorite Big Ten players, he might not be an every-down back for Nebraska going forward. You always want options in the backfield, and Nebraska must continue to address its run game with the 2011 class.

Wide receiver: Nebraska loses Niles Paul and wants to identify playmakers to surround Taylor Martinez or whomever starts at quarterback. Brandon Kinnie departs after the 2011 season, and while Burkhead helps in the receiving department, Nebraska needs others to emerge.

NORTHWESTERN

Running back: Although Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith emerged as possible answers late in the 2010 season, Northwestern needs to create real competition here. The Wildcats have lacked a dominant back during the Pat Fitzgerald era and need a dangerous rushing option to complement Dan Persa.

Defensive line: The Wildcats lose only one starter (Corbin Bryant) from the 2010 squad, but four more rotation players (Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo, Kevin Watt and Niko Mafuli) depart after 2011. Fortifying the pass rush is a major priority going forward.

Iowa seniors aim for a strong finish

December, 27, 2010
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Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and his classmates envisioned a very different path to their senior season.

They had won 20 games the previous two years and helped Iowa claim back-to-back bowl championships (Outback, Orange). Iowa entered this season ranked in the top 10 nationally primarily because of its large and decorated senior class led by national awards candidate Adrian Clayborn.

[+] EnlargeAllen Reisner
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallTight end Allen Reisner said winning three bowls in a row for the first time in school history is important to this senior class.
But things didn't go according to plan, as the Hawkeyes dropped five games, including the final three in November. All five losses came by seven points or fewer and four featured blown leads in the fourth quarter, a surprise for a team that finished games well the previous two seasons.

"No one's happy with the record," Reisner said. "We worked hard and we didn’t want to be where we’re at right now. We’ve just got to keep working."

The beauty of the bowl season is it provides one final opportunity to get things right. Iowa's seniors still can end their careers on a strong note Tuesday night with a win against Missouri in the Insight Bowl.

The Hawkeyes can win three consecutive bowl games for the first time in team history (they have won two straight five times).

"It's definitely big for us," Reisner said. "You want to win every game, but we really want to win this one for three straight [bowls]."

Iowa must lean on its seniors Tuesday after the rough finish to the regular season and the off-field problems that surfaced earlier this month. The team will play without record-setting receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, arrested Dec. 7 on several drug charges, and starting running back Adam Robinson, suspended until January for undisclosed reasons.

Despite the turmoil, Reisner saw no need for the team to regroup before the bowl. The players are already moving forward.

"Those guys are gone," he said. "We're worried about the guys that are here now."

Robinson's suspension leaves Iowa with only one quasi-proven back in true freshman Marcus Coker. DJK's departure puts more pressure on receiver Marvin McNutt and tight ends Reisner and Brad Herman to step up in the passing game.

The good news: Iowa faced a similar situation in the 2010 Orange Bowl. Johnson-Koulianos missed most of the game with an injury, but Colin Sandeman filled in with four receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Brandon Wegher led the way on the ground with 113 rush yards and a touchdown.

"We've been there before," Reisner said. "Derrell wasn’t here in the last bowl game, he was hurt and Colin stepped up and had to play a huge game. We had a freshman running back last year have 100 yards rushing, and we're working for that again this year.

"Both tight ends, Brad and I, are going to have to step up big. We’re going to have to make big plays, we’re going to have to get involved, we’re going to have to get open."

Iowa will be tested by an improved Missouri defense that ranks sixth nationally in points allowed (15.2 ppg) and 41st nationally in yards allowed. Led by speedy edge rushers Aldon Smith and Jacquies Smith, the Tigers' defense reminds Reisner of Arizona's, which racked up six sacks against Iowa in a 34-27 win on Sept. 18.

The Hawkeyes hope their return to the desert brings better results Tuesday night.

"We don't want to lose four straight as seniors," Reisner said. "We’ve had a pretty good record in the four or five years we’ve all been here, and we want to keep that going."

Big Ten stock report: Week 10

November, 3, 2010
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Who's rising? Who's falling?

STOCK UP

Iowa's tight ends: Michigan State focused on stopping deep threats Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, so Iowa simply looked elsewhere for production. Tight ends Allen Reisner and Brad Herman combined for seven receptions and 116 receiving yards, including a 56-yard reception by Herman that set up a second-quarter touchdown run.

Northwestern's defense: Remove a fluky touchdown in the final minute and Northwestern held Indiana's offense to just 10 points. Although the Wildcats still have some issues in the secondary, they allowed only one third-down conversion in the second half and put several big hits on Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell. Indiana generated only 65 rush yards and didn't stretch the field until it was too late.

[+] EnlargeEvan Royster
Ned Dishman/Getty ImagesEvan Royster past Curt Warner to become Penn State's all-time leading rusher.
Penn State RB Evan Royster: The Penn State senior looked like his old self Saturday night against Michigan, running with both patience and aggression and churning out 150 rush yards and two touchdowns. He'll need to be just as good against better defenses down the stretch, but Royster received a nice confidence boost and finally put the all-time rushing record in the rear-view mirror.

Ohio State RB Dan Herron: He'll never win a popularity contest among Buckeye fans, but "Boom" seems to be hitting his stride as the team's No. 1 back. Herron has racked up 279 rush yards and five touchdowns on 52 carries (5.4 yards per carry) in his last three games. He went for 114 rush yards and a touchdown last Saturday at Minnesota.

STOCK DOWN

Minnesota's special teams: Like many Big Ten squads, Minnesota has been plagued by special teams breakdowns this season, and last Saturday's game was no exception. Ohio State blocked a Gophers punt and recovered for a touchdown, and a 70-yard Jordan Hall punt return set up another Buckeyes' score. Eric Ellestad also missed a 35-yard field goal that would have cut Ohio State's lead to 14-10 in the second quarter.

Purdue's first quarters: The Boilers haven't given themselves much of a chance the last two weeks in blowout losses to Illinois and Ohio State. Purdue has been outscored 28-0 in the first quarters of those games, and the Boilers have run a total of only 14 offensive plays (not including punts).

Michigan State's run game: As I recently documented, the Spartans have seen their rushing numbers take a nosedive in the last three games. Michigan State rushed for only 31 yards with a long of 11 yards in last Saturday's 37-6 beat-down at Iowa. Fortunately, the Spartans get a chance to revive things this week against a Minnesota team ranked 107th nationally against the run.

Michigan's discipline: The Wolverines only drew five penalties at Penn State, but they couldn't have come at worse moments. Michigan had a false start on third-and-5 from inside Penn State territory, leading to a punt. There also was a holding penalty on second-and-goal from the Penn State 10-yard line. And the worst came after Michigan had closed to within 38-31, as a personal foul penalty on kickoff coverage allowed Penn State to begin its drive in Wolverines territory. Yes, the personal foul call certainly was debatable, but it still counts.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Nostradamus didn't show up in the bowels of Kinnick Stadium late Saturday afternoon.

Even the great forecaster couldn't take credit for calling this one.

Michigan State and Iowa had produced three of the Big Ten's most exciting matchups the past three years. Iowa won a double-overtime contest in 2007. The Spartans preserved a 16-13 win the next year when Adam Decker stuffed Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene on fourth-and-1. Last year, Iowa won 15-13 on a touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to preserve its undefeated record.

[+] EnlargeAdam Robinson
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAdam Robinson and Iowa ran over Michigan State 37-6 on Saturday. It was the fifth-largest margin of defeat for a Top 25 team since 2000.
A day before Halloween, these two teams seemed destined to deliver another thriller.

Iowa had other ideas.

The 18th-ranked Hawkeyes dominated No. 5 Michigan State, ending the Spartans' quest for perfection in convincing fashion with a 37-6 victory at Kinnick Stadium, the graveyard for Big Ten unbeatens. The 31-point final margin represented the fifth-largest margin of defeat by an AP Top 25 team since 2000.

"I didn't see this coming," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "Our guys prepared mentally, emotionally."

Not far away in Iowa's interview room, coach Kirk Ferentz echoed his colleague.

"You never see that coming," Ferentz said, "not against a very good team like this. I never see those coming against anybody."

Ferentz often talks about how Iowa will never be confused with a true college football heavyweight. The Hawkeyes don't have a large margin for error. They don't just show up and dominate.

But Iowa had the potential to deliver a complete performance. Iowa entered the year with lofty expectations, but it hadn't met them.

After two losses that showed just how small the Hawkeyes' margin for error can be, the players responded, jumping ahead to a 37-0 lead and never looking back.

"That's the team you want to be," receiver Marvin McNutt said. "We have talent and the times we execute, we know we can do the right thing."

McNutt felt Iowa didn't execute well in practice leading up to last week's game against Wisconsin. It translated to the field, as the Hawkeyes suffered a 31-30 loss that left plenty of what-ifs.

If Iowa lost its third game Saturday, you could start talking about a season of what-ifs. But the Hawkeyes answered every question.

Ferentz didn't know how his team would respond from the Wisconsin loss.

"Absolutely not," he said. "You hope we practice well. You always hope that. My sense was our guys were preparing the way they were supposed to, watching tape and doing that kind of thing. ... But I also know [the loss] was back in everybody's minds. It was a tough week."

Michigan State, meanwhile, saw no clues of the impending disaster.

Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said the team had "one of the best weeks of practice ... all year." Head coach Mark Dantonio didn't feel the reinstatement of cornerback Chris L. Rucker caused any distraction. The Spartans had built their 8-0 record on resilient play, taking punches and countering and never giving up.

"Did we come unprepared? I don't think so," Dantonio said. "Did things snowball on us? I guess they did."

It's easy to pinpoint the moment the snowball picked up speed.

[+] EnlargeTyler Sash
Andrew Weber/US PresswireTyler Sash's lateral, following an interception of Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, resulted in a 66-yard return touchdown for Michah Hyde.
Not surprisingly, Iowa delivered the first punch and took a 10-0 lead. But Michigan State was moving the ball and reached midfield before a Kirk Cousins pass to B.J. Cunningham sailed right into the arms of Iowa safety Tyler Sash.

Sash had seen Michigan State run the same play last year and anticipated it, making the easy pick. He didn't anticipate what came next. After racing 6 yards upfield, Sash lateraled the ball over Cunningham's head to teammate Micah Hyde, who ran the remaining 66 yards to the end zone.

"It's like the point guard that pulls up from 40 feet deep and shoots a 3-pointer," Sash said. "If he makes it, it's alright. But if he misses it, what are you doing?"

Sash, by the way, was a standout basketball player in high school who received Division I interest. He first got on Ferentz's radar screen while playing AAU basketball in fifth grade against Ferentz's son, James.

The playmaking safety showed off his hoops skills with the lateral to Hyde.

"I'll do it again if the same thing happens," Sash said with a smile.

"I liked the outcome," Ferentz said. "He's an older guy, I trust our guys. I don't think we practice that."

Sash's magic propelled the Hawkeyes, but their performance wasn't sleight of hand.

A defense that allowed 59 points the past two weeks kept Michigan State off the scoreboard for three quarters. Three Hawkeyes' defensive backs picked off Cousins, who entered Saturday with just four interceptions in 212 pass attempts this season.

Iowa's offense also surged, as quarterback Ricky Stanzi delivered another near-spotless performance (11-for-15 passing, 190 yards, 3 TDs) and got help from running back Adam Robinson (69 rush yards, TD, 32-yard receiving TD), tight end Brad Herman (3 receptions, 80 yards) and others. The Hawkeyes effectively mixed plays and personnel, and just about everything clicked.

"It's a great football team," Narduzzi said. "We knew emotionally, they'd be fired up, [defensive coordinator] Norm Parker was back in the house. ... We expected them to be a well-coached team and come play their tails off because they're fighting for a piece of the Big Ten championship."

Michigan State is right there, too, but Iowa's win ensures the Hawkeyes remain in the title fight heading into November.

"We weren't hitting on all cylinders in previous weeks," Sash said. "I think we did today."
Quite a few hearts stopped in the state of Iowa when starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi hobbled off the field in the first half of today's opener.

Fortunately for Hawkeye Nation, Stanzi is OK and performing very well, as Iowa leads Eastern Illinois 28-7 at halftime. Stanzi has completed 11 of 13 passes for 134 yards and, most importantly, no interceptions. He missed only a few plays with the injury.

As Jewel Hampton sits out the opener because of a suspension, Adam Robinson is trying to stake his claim to the starting running back job. A-Rob has looked great so far, rushing for 79 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. Iowa also seems to be handling the loss of standout tight end Tony Moeaki well so far, as Brad Herman and Allen Reisner have already combined for five receptions.

Iowa's defense has been solid aside from one EIU drive.

Looks like we won't see another Week 1 scare for the Hawkeyes.

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