NCF Nation: Brandon Minor

Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Big Ten, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, Jerel Worthy, Mitchell Evans, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Louis Nzegwu, Lance Kendricks, Stefen Wisniewski, Robert Marve, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, A.J. Edds, Michael Shaw, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Kyle Jefferson, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jacob Charest, Dan Herron, Jammie Kirlew, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Juice Williams, Daryll Clark, Sherrick McManis, Nick Toon, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Bani Gbadyu, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Dan Persa, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Julian Vandervelde, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, J.J. Watt, Anderson Russell, Randy Walker, Navorro Bowman, Paul Jones, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Garrett Graham, Sean Lee, Martez Wilson, Tim Brewster, Evan Watkins, Rich Rodriguez, Pat Fitzgerald, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Pat Angerer, Brandon Graham, Josh Hull, Niles Brinkley, Jared Odrick, Devin Gardner, Nathan Scheelhaase, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Tate Forcier, Jay Valai, Kurt Coleman, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Mike Kafka, J Leman, Greg Jones, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, Tim Davis, O'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Arby Fields, Ian Thomas, Nate Stupar, Riley Reiff, Shaun Prater, Clay Nurse, Paul Petrino, Jeff Horton, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, 2010 spring what to watch, Albert Evans, Charlton, Darius Johnson, David Gilbert, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Gary Emanuel, Jeff Tarpinian, Joe Palcic, Jordan Hall, Josh McKinley, Mike Trumpy, Scott Concannon, Terrance Thomas, Tyler Nielsen

It's game day at Michigan Stadium

November, 21, 2009
11/21/09
10:35
AM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- College football's greatest rivalry resumes today as No. 10 Ohio State and Michigan meet for the 106th time at Michigan Stadium.

What it means: Ohio State already has locked up the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth, but the Buckeyes can win the league title outright for the third time in four seasons with a win today. The Buckeyes also can extend their win streak against Michigan to six games. Michigan needs a win to avoid missing the postseason for the second consecutive season. There's a lot of heat on second-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, so a win today would be huge. You shouldn't need to get excited for this game, but just in case, check this out.

Weather: The forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, light winds and temperatures in the upper 40s and lower 50s.

Injuries: Michigan's official injury report can be found here. The Wolverines will be without leading rusher Brandon Minor (shoulder) and most likely starting safety Mike Williams (ankle). Minor's absence could really sting against Ohio State's stout defense. The Buckeyes are as healthy as they've been in a while. Jim Cordle and J.B. Shugarts are expected to start at left tackle and right tackle.

THREE KEYS FOR OHIO STATE

1. Block Brandon Graham -- Sounds pretty straightforward, but few teams have been able to successfully keep the Michigan star defensive end out of the backfield. Ohio State must keep Graham away from quarterback Terrelle Pryor and find running room elsewhere. The Buckeyes' offensive line is coming off of its best game.

2. Throw downfield a few times -- This isn't exactly the Iowa secondary, which leads the Big Ten in interceptions. Michigan's back four have really struggled this season, and head coach Jim Tressel should let Pryor take some shots downfield with big-play wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Ohio State shouldn't and won't get away from its bread-and-butter rushing attack. Michigan can't stop the run, either.

3. Keep Tate Forcier in the pocket -- The Michigan freshman quarterback creates big plays with his feet but can struggle when kept between the tackles. Ohio State's defensive ends and linebackers must keep contain on Foricer and make him complete passes within the pocket.

THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN

1. Force Pryor into mistakes -- Pryor has been very careful with the football since his four-turnover disaster against Purdue, but Michigan needs to force errors from the Buckeyes' sophomore. The Wolverines have to win the turnover battle and put pressure on Pryor with Graham and their other linemen.

2. Play 60 minutes -- Michigan's problems have come after halftime in recent weeks, as the Wolverines couldn't hold leads against Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin. Ohio State has outscored teams 83-31 in the third quarter this season, so Michigan can't stumble out of the locker room after the break.

3. Make Ohio State defense chase -- Forcier has freelanced his way into good situations this fall, and Michigan boasts a decent number of big-play threats. Without power back Brandon Minor, Michigan must force Ohio State to play in space and hope to gash the Buckeyes for big plays.

Big Ten picks: Week 11

November, 12, 2009
11/12/09
9:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Thanks to a 2-4 performance last week, I'm now south of 70 percent for the season, which is sort of like hitting below the Mendoza line. I'm sure my colleague Chris Low, who's doing better than 80 percent on picks, is laughing at me from his home in Knoxville. Last year's success seems like eons ago. And to top it off, two games this week are among the toughest picks of the season.

Here's a stab at better results.

Penn State 34, Indiana 17: The Nittany Lions start slow after last week's letdown and Indiana takes an early lead on a touchdown pass to standout wide receiver Tandon Doss. But with a BCS at-large berth still a decent possibility, Penn State turns it on in the second and third quarters as quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster put up big numbers against the IU defense.

Wisconsin 31, Michigan 20: Some are calling for a blowout and I could see it that way, but Michigan has moved the football on most teams and will find running room with Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor. But Wisconsin running back John Clay and the powerful Badgers offensive line will once again take control in the second half and wear down Michigan's weak defense. Defensive ends Brandon Graham (Michigan) and O'Brien Schofield (Wisconsin) both have their moments.

Minnesota 24, South Dakota State 21: I'm a little worried about the Gophers after last week's lackluster first half. South Dakota State boasts a strong defense and a win against mighty Northern Iowa, and Minnesota's offense will struggle early. But the Gophers find a way on Senior Day and win their sixth game to get bowl eligible. Backup quarterback MarQueis Gray makes a big play or two, and tight end Nick Tow-Arnett hauls in two touchdowns from Adam Weber.

Michigan State 27, Purdue 26: I'll be honest, this game drove me nuts all week. Both quarterbacks are hot, and both defenses are inconsistent but boast star players. Michigan State has been pretty bad on the road, but the Spartans play well in November under Mark Dantonio. Purdue is playing very well in Big Ten play and boasts a lot of playmakers. This reminds me of 2007, when Michigan State needed a win at Ross-Ade and got one. The Spartans win on a Brett Swenson field goal.

Northwestern 24, Illinois 20: The Illini are playing looser and with more confidence, and they could certainly continue their win streak Saturday. But Northwestern almost always wins as a slight road underdog, and the Wildcats seem to be jelling on defense. Illinois quarterback Jacob Charest throws two touchdown passes, but a critical interception leads to Northwestern's game-winning drive. Quarterback Mike Kafka is now two weeks removed from a hamstring injury and will be more effective.

Ohio State 21, Iowa 10: The Hawkeyes keep this one close for a while as their opportunistic defense generates a turnover or two to set up the offense in good field position. But Ohio State's dominating defense proves to be the difference as Iowa redshirt freshman quarterback James Vandenberg struggles to move the ball in his first career start. Terrelle Pryor scores two second-half rushing touchdowns as the Buckeyes win to reach their first Rose Bowl since 1997.

Week 10 record: 2-4

Season record: 51-23 (.689)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ten things you don't want to miss Saturday in the Big Ten.

1. Vandenberg vs. Silver Bullets: Ohio State's defense has been the single most dominating unit in the Big Ten this season, boasting three shutouts and nearly notching a fourth last week against Penn State. The Buckeyes pose a major challenge for a seasoned quarterback, much less a signal caller making his first career start like Iowa redshirt freshman James Vandenberg will on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Vandenberg had some expected struggles last week against Northwestern, and he'll need a heroic performance and plenty of help against the Buckeyes. If he pulls it off, he'll go down as a hero as Iowa will be heading to the Rose Bowl.

2. Bowling at Ross-Ade: The Michigan State-Purdue contest could serve as a bowl play-in game as both teams are trying to squeak into the postseason after battling inconsistency. Purdue must beat the Spartans and archrival Indiana to reach six wins, which would be an incredible accomplishment after a 1-5 start. Michigan State needs to gain at least a split in its last two games, but the Spartans finish against No. 18 Penn State, so they likely need a win Saturday. MSU is trying to reach three consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1995-97, while Purdue tries to avoid consecutive bowl-less seasons for the first time since 1995-96.

3. Michigan needs a Madison miracle: OK, that might be a bit extreme, but a Wolverines win against No. 20 Wisconsin in Madison would certainly qualify as a major upset. Michigan has dropped six consecutive Big Ten games and doesn't want to face Ohio State needing a win to become bowl eligible. The Wolverines' defense fares better against the run than the pass, but it faces a difficult test in Wisconsin sophomore running back John Clay, the Big Ten's leading rusher (108.1 ypg). Michigan has dropped its last two meetings at Camp Randall Stadium.

4. Quarterback questions in Champaign: Both Northwestern and Illinois enter Saturday's game (ESPN Classic, noon ET) with some uncertainty under center. Wildcats senior Mike Kafka will get the start, but his pulled hamstring remains a concern after his mobility was limited last week at Iowa. Backup Dan Persa played most of the snaps against the Hawkeyes, but he's still dealing with a hand injury suffered in Iowa City. Illinois starter Juice Williams sustained a sprained ankle last week against Minnesota and is listed as doubtful. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest likely will make his first career start. So it could be survival of the fittest at Memorial Stadium.

5. Penn State still in BCS at-large mix: The Nittany Lions lost their two biggest games of the season, but they still could squeak into the BCS mix based on their national name, their legendary head coach (Joe Paterno) and their sizable fan base. But they need to finish with two impressive victories against Indiana and Michigan State. Daryll Clark and the Spread HD offense must regain its swagger against the league's worst defense, and a secondary that struggled at times last week must keep pace with talented Hoosiers sophomore Tandon Doss. Penn State might not deserve a BCS bowl berth, but it can still get one.

6. Minnesota faces must-win vs. SDSU: After a pathetic first-half performance against Illinois, Minnesota better come out with a purpose against South Dakota State. The Gophers should not look past the Jackrabbits, who are 7-2 this season and own a 10-point win against the great Northern Iowa Panthers. Most of Minnesota's players were on the field in 2007 when another FCS team, North Dakota State, beat them in the Metrodome. A win makes the Gophers bowl eligible for the second straight season heading into a rivalry game against banged-up Iowa on Nov. 21.

7. Iowa's opportunistic defense: No Big Ten team forces turnovers better than Iowa, which leads the league in takeaways with 26 and is tied for the national lead with 19 interceptions. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been more turnover prone this season, throwing nine interceptions in 10 games, five more than he had all of last fall. Iowa's defensive front seven needs to force Pryor into obvious passing situations, which could give sophomore safety Tyler Sash, the Big Ten's interceptions leader, more chances to make plays.

8. Clay vs. Minor: I really hope Brandon Minor gets healthy before Saturday because we'd get to see the Big Ten's two most dominant running backs on the same field. Wisconsin's Clay is a serious candidate for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year after his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season last week against Indiana. Clay should be recovered from a head injury and faces a Michigan defense that has allowed 4.3 yards per carry this fall. Minor looks like an NFL back when he's carrying the ball.

9. Defensive POY race heats up: I touched on this in Tuesday's video post, but it will be interesting to see who distinguishes himself in the crowded race for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, the frontrunner at this point, needs to lead an inconsistent Spartans defense to just its second road victory. Two of the league's top defensive ends -- Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield and Michigan's Brandon Graham -- square off at Camp Randall Stadium. Iowa needs big things from defensive stars Sash, Adrian Clayborn and Pat Angerer as it faces safety Kurt Coleman and the Buckeyes. Purdue end Ryan Kerrigan and Indiana end Jammie Kirlew also are looking for big performances.

10. Bowl eligibility at stake: All 11 teams remain alive for bowl bids, but three teams (Illinois, Indiana and Purdue) face must-win situations Saturday. If Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan fall short this week, all three teams will need to beat ranked opponents (Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State) on Nov. 21 to become bowl eligible. The bottom half of the league's bowl picture could change dramatically depending on what takes place on the field.

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)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Quick analysis at halftime from Michigan Stadium, where No. 13 Penn State leads Michigan 19-10.

Turning point: Trailing by only three points, Michigan botched a sequence near its goal line midway through the second quarter. The Wolverines committed three penalties inside the 10-yard line and then took a safety when David Moosman snapped the ball through the end zone when quarterback Tate Forcier wasn't ready for it. Penn State received great field position on the ensuing free kick, and Daryll Clark hit Andrew Quarless for a 60-yard touchdown on the next play to give the Lions a 19-7 lead.

Best player in the half: Penn State's Clark is continuing his superb play since the Iowa loss on Sept. 26. The senior has picked apart a bad Wolverines secondary and completed 10 of 15 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions.

What Penn State needs to do: Continue to pound away with running back Evan Royster and take Michigan star defensive end Brandon Graham out of the equation. The Lions have struggled to stop Michigan running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown and need to make the Wolverines' young quarterbacks win this game.

What Michigan needs to do: Things really look chaotic for Michigan's offense, and sequences like the one near the goal line just can't happen against a team like Penn State. The Wolverines are having success moving the ball, and Minor has really come to play today. On defense, Michigan can't afford major breakdowns, which have happened way too often this season.

Penn State-Michigan pregame

October, 24, 2009
10/24/09
3:31
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- There's a light drizzle falling at the Big House, but the stands are packed and we're almost ready to go.

Michigan running back Brandon Minor looked good in warmups, and he should be fine after missing last week's game with an ankle/foot injury. Penn State linebacker Sean Lee warmed up in a knee brace. It will be interesting to see how many snaps Lee plays.

The start should be key, especially when Michigan's offense goes against Penn State's defense, ranked second nationally in scoring.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Greetings from Michigan Stadium, where in a few hours No. 13 Penn State will face Michigan in what figures to be a very exciting game.

Both teams have plenty to prove in today's contest.

Penn State needs to show it can win here, something it hasn't done since 1996, and confirm itself as a legitimate contender for the Big Ten title or possibly an at-large BCS bowl. The Lions snapped a nine-game losing streak to Michigan last year in Happy Valley, but the Wolverines hold a 10-4 edge in the all-time series, which marks Penn State's worst record against an opponent (minimum 10 meetings).

Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez is still searching for his first signature Big Ten victory. A win today combined with an Iowa loss to Michigan State could open the door for Michigan to vault back into the league title race with games against both Ohio State and Wisconsin still left on the schedule.

The weather could be a factor, as light rain is likely this afternoon with winds around 15 miles an hour.

Injuries: Penn State will be without backup running back Stephfon Green, who didn't make the trip because of an ankle injury. Lions linebacker Sean Lee tweaked his sprained knee last Saturday against Minnesota but practiced this week and expects to play. Michigan running backs Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor and center David Molk are all probable for the game. Molk has been out since Sept. 19 with a broken bone in his foot.

One other personnel note: Michigan cornerback Boubacar Cissoko is eligible for the game after being suspended the last two contests. Cissoko won't start but could play.

THREE KEYS FOR PENN STATE

1. Don't lose contain on QBs: Michigan quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson both are best on the move, and it's important for Penn State's defensive front seven to keep them in the pocket. The defensive line has played very well in recent weeks, particularly tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu, but they'll be tested by Michigan's overall speed.

2. Stop Brandon Minor: Minor was limited in practice this week because of a lingering ankle injury, but he should be ready for the game. The senior rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns last year against Penn State, and he gashed Iowa's talented defense in the third quarter on Oct. 10.

3. Daryll Clark in the clutch: Clark has accomplished a lot in his two years as Penn State's starting quarterback, but the senior still needs to prove he can win a close game. He struggled against Iowa the last two seasons and left last year's close win at Ohio State with a concussion. This game figures to come down to the fourth quarter, and Clark will need to make clutch throws.

THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN

1. Give Forcier the chance to create: Forcier has been at his best when freelancing, and most of his big plays come outside the pocket. Michigan's offensive line gets Molk back and gained confidence from the Iowa game, but left tackle Mark Ortmann admitted this week that Penn State's defensive front is more athletic.

2. Attack Penn State's secondary: It's hard to find weaknesses with Penn State's defensive line or linebacking corps, so Michigan should target the secondary as much as possible. Penn State did a great job containing Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker last week, and cornerback A.J. Wallace seems to have hit his stride. But Michigan has more weapons than the Gophers and needs to use them.

3. Stop Evan Royster: The Lions are a bit thin at running back and don't like to run Clark as much as they did last season. They'll want to pound the football with Royster, who is due for a huge game. Michigan's front seven will need to be disciplined and keep Royster from moving the ball and controlling the clock.

Big Ten picks: Week 7

October, 15, 2009
10/15/09
9:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


I went 6-1 last week but don't expect such favorable results this time around. A lot of tough games to pick on Saturday's slate.

Here's hoping for good games and exciting finishes.

Wisconsin 24, Iowa 23 -- The Hawkeyes have won two of their last three games in Madison, but I've gotten in too much trouble picking against the Badgers at home. Iowa has lived on the edge for much of the season, and a costly turnover or two gives the Badgers an opportunity at the end. Best matchup: Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga vs. Wisconsin defensive end O'Brien Schofield.

Michigan State 28, Northwestern 23 -- This is the type of game that Northwestern often wins, and the Wildcats should make things close with their precision passing attack. But Michigan State seems to have found its mojo, and quarterback Kirk Cousins tosses three touchdown passes in his return. Larry Caper adds a fourth-quarter rushing touchdown as the Spartans get back on the right side of the .500 mark.

Ohio State 30, Purdue 10 -- For some reason, Terrelle Pryor seems to play better away from Ohio Stadium. He only needs to play decently against a Purdue team that consistently beats itself. Defensive end Thad Gibson and linebacker Brian Rolle turn in big performances from the Buckeyes defense as Purdue drops its sixth straight contest.

Michigan 41, Delaware State 7 -- Whether it's Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson at the helm, Michigan's offense will have a big day against the overmatched Hornets. Michigan's Brandon Minor rushes for two touchdowns and Robinson adds two more. The Wolverines defense finally plays a complete game against a Delaware State team that averages just 14.3 points a game.

Penn State 28, Minnesota 16 -- Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker will be a load for Penn State's secondary, but the Nittany Lions defensive front produces a big performance in this one. The Gophers hang tight for a while before Daryll Clark and Chaz Powell break things open with a long touchdown connection in the third quarter. Lions' linebacker Navorro Bowman stifles Minnesota's run game.

Illinois 27, Indiana 26 -- I understand Illinois has been downright miserable, failing to score a first-half touchdown in four games against FBS opponents. But I can't get two images out of my head: the Illini shredding Indiana's secondary last year and Indiana failing to show up on defense last week. This one is a total toss up, but Juice Williams starts at quarterback and makes enough plays to lead the Illini to an ugly win. Wideout Arrelious Benn breaks his scoring drought with two touchdown grabs.

Week 6 record: 6-1

Season record: 37-14 (.725)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Greetings from Kinnick Stadium, site of Iowa's homecoming clash tonight against Michigan (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

There were snow flurries this morning, but the sky is clear right now as clouds have moved out of the area. It should be clear for the rest of the night, but extremely cold with temperatures in the high 30s. The wind shouldn't be too big of a factor, unlike last year's Iowa-Penn State game.

As far as injuries, Michigan will be without leading rusher Carlos Brown, who didn't make the trip because of a concussion suffered this week in practice. Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki will try to play after missing the last three games with an ankle injury.

THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN

1. Get creative -- Rich Rodriguez needs to push the envelope on offense and try some new tricks against a stingy Iowa defense. Michigan can't simply expect Tate Forcier to bail out the team in the closing minutes. The Wolverines need to establish other weapons, whether it's Brandon Minor, Denard Robinson or someone else.

2. Rattle Ricky Stanzi -- Stanzi has kept Iowa's opponents in games with mistakes, and Michigan needs to disrupt his rhythm early in the game. The Wolverines are far from a finished product on defense, but they do have some playmakers in Brandon Graham and Obi Ezeh.

3. Win the field-position battle -- Punter Zoltan Mesko can be an extremely effective weapon for Michigan in tonight's game. If Michigan's offense can limit mistakes and play most of the game on Iowa's side of the field, the Wolverines should have a good shot.

THREE KEYS FOR IOWA

1. Handle Michigan's speed -- The Wolverines will be the fastest offense Iowa has faced this season, and the Hawkeyes need to be aware of all the playmakers on the field. Iowa is extremely assignment-sound on defense, but it will need to make good open-field tackles in this game.

2. Limit turnovers -- If Stanzi can get through the game without a turnover, Iowa shouldn't lose. Michigan's defense will give up yards and points, but Iowa has let teams hang around because of giveaways.

3. Pressure and contain Tate Forcier -- Without Forcier's late-game heroics, Michigan would be a 2-3 team right now. Iowa needs to pressure the freshmen with Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard but keep him in the pocket as much as possible.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A quick check on the three early Big Ten games, which have all reached halftime. So far, I'm 0-for-3 on picks.

Indiana-Michigan: Kudos to Bill Lynch and the Hoosiers, who don't look intimidated at all in the Big House. After Michigan answered an early Hoosiers touchdown with two quick scores, Indiana came back strong. Michigan's problems on defense, particularly in the secondary, are being exposed in this game. Hoosiers quarterback Ben Chappell looks really good so far. Wolverines running back Carlos Brown has had a big day, and Brandon Minor has resurfaced alongside him.

Michigan State-Wisconsin: The Badgers look legit, folks, while Michigan State looks, well, like Michigan State usually does. Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien and tight end Garrett Graham have capitalized on a Spartans secondary that continues to look shaky. Tolzien is making a ton of clutch throws, as he has most of the season. Things aren't so good for Michigan State quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol, both of whom have thrown interceptions against a Badgers defense that appears to have turned a corner. It looks like I misjudged Wisconsin. I definitely misjudged Michigan State.

Minnesota-Northwestern: The Golden Gophers run game has finally showed life against a Northwestern defense that looks like its pre-2008 form. Eric Decker is having another big game, but Minnesota has gotten help from Duane Bennett (2 touchdown runs). That should really open up the playbook for offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. After taking a big step forward on defense in 2008, Northwestern has backslid. The Wildcats at times seem like they've forgotten how to tackle. Quarterback Mike Kafka has been very good once again, and freshman Arby Fields looks like a Tyrell Sutton clone in a strong first half. Both teams have left some points on the field.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Michigan will be without arguably its best offensive lineman for four to six weeks, as center David Molk sits out with a broken bone in his foot.

Molk, a redshirt sophomore who has started the last 15 games at center, will undergo surgery later today and miss at least a month.

"That’s a tough blow," head coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday. "Not only does he play center, the leader of the line, but David is not just one of our best linemen, he is one of our best football players, period. So we’ll have to adjust a little bit."

The Wolverines did get some good news as senior offensive lineman David Moosman should return from a shoulder injury. Rodriguez expects Moosman to start at center this week against Indiana (Big Ten Network, noon ET). Michigan also might get guard Tim McAvoy (knee) on the field for the first time this year.

In other health news, Wolverines safety Mike Williams and running back Brandon Minor are both day to day with ankle injuries. Minor had just three carries against Eastern Michigan before the ankle forced him to come out of the game. Expect senior Carlos Brown to start against Indiana after his 187-yard rushing performance against Eastern Michigan.

Rodriguez also said Monday that starting quarterback Tate Forcier was a bit banged up Saturday but should be fine for the Indiana game.
“That’s a tough blow,” head coach Rich Rodriguez said Monday. “Not only does he play center, the leader of the line, but David is not just one of our best linemen, he is one of our best football players, period. So we’ll have to adjust a little bit.”

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 19, 2009
9/19/09
11:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


A lot of good candidates this week, and several very tough calls. The toughest had to be Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka, who completed 35 of 42 passes for 390 yards and three scores. But his fourth-quarter interception proved costly in a loss to Syracuse, so he misses out on a sticker.

Who got them?

Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn -- The Hawkeyes' defense is playing with a swagger, and Clayborn set the tone against Arizona. He forced his first career fumble and registered a career-high three quarterback hurries. Clayborn also had a sack in the Hawkeyes' 27-17 victory.

Michigan RB Carlos Brown -- Brandon Minor has been banged up most of the year, but Michigan doesn't miss a beat with Brown in the game. The senior rushed for a career-high 187 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard scoring scamper, on only 13 carries. On a day when Tate Forcier struggled a bit, Brown stepped up and put himself in the mix for the starting job.

Minnesota WR Eric Decker -- I rarely give stickers to players on losing teams, but Decker blew me away with his play against Cal. The guy takes a vicious hit in the end zone, manages to hang on for a touchdown, gets four to five stitches in his chin and doesn't miss a single play. Decker had eight receptions for 119 yards and two touchdowns, and he accounted for Minnesota's other score with a pass to MarQueis Gray. He cemented himself as the greatest receiver in team history by breaking Ron Johnson's team receptions record.

Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher -- The junior has emerged as the Buckeyes' big-play threat. He had five catches and set career highs in both yards (126) and touchdowns (2) as Ohio State thumped Toledo. Sanzenbacher is averaging 26.7 yards a catch this season. Terrelle Pryor can borrow Sanzenbacher's sticker from time to time after an impressive performance (372 yards of total offense) despite two interceptions.

Penn State RB Evan Royster -- One of several Penn State players battling the flu, Royster revived the Nittany Lions' ground game with 134 rush yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. It was a classic Royster performance (7.1 yards per carry), and it bodes well for Penn State with Iowa looming.

Big Ten picks for Week 3

September, 17, 2009
9/17/09
9:05
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It was an OK, but not great week for the Big Ten, and the same for my picks. I went 8-3, wasn't close on several scores and came close on a few others.

Here's hoping for better results all around on Saturday.

Michigan 34, Eastern Michigan 14 -- A bit a hangover for Michigan after the Notre Dame win, but the run game eventually gets going behind Brandon Minor. Tate Forcier does his thing, and Rich Rodriguez gets Denard Robinson some more reps as Michigan matches its wins total from 2008 only three games into the season.

California 35, Minnesota 23 -- I could see Cal starting slow, but the Bears shouldn't be nearly as flat as they were last year against Maryland. Minnesota has done some nice things on defense, but Cal's offense seems just too powerful. The Gophers haven't found offensive playmakers aside from wide receiver Eric Decker and aren't able to keep up with Cal on the scoreboard.

Penn State 48, Temple 6 -- After a ho-hum win against Syracuse, Penn State shows a greater sense of urgency with Big Ten play looming and thumps Temple. The run game finally gets going as Evan Royster eclipses 100 rushing yards and Stephfon Green adds 75. The Lions defense holds Temple to two field goals as defensive end Jack Crawford has a big day.

Wisconsin 44, Wofford 7 -- The Badgers are healthier and Wofford is not, as leading rusher Eric Breitenstein will be out a month with a knee injury. John Clay puts up 150 rush yards in his first career start and Dave Doeren's defense gets some of its swagger back against the FCS Terriers.

Purdue 35, Northern Illinois 27 -- Something tells me this one won't be easy for Purdue, but the Boilers prevail behind Ralph Bolden and quarterback Joey Elliott, who bounces back from last week's loss with an encouraging performance. Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish tests a banged-up Boilermakers secondary, but Purdue tightens up its play and prevails.

Ohio State 41, Toledo 17 -- This is a good matchup for a struggling Buckeyes offense, which should put up points against a Toledo team that allowed 90 in the first two games. Terrelle Pryor has a big day with his arm and his feet, and the Buckeyes roll. Aaron Opelt could give Ohio State some problems, but the defense I saw last week in Columbus is too solid up front to allow many points.

Notre Dame 28, Michigan State 27 -- By far the toughest game to pick this week, but I'm going with the team that needs it more. Home field really doesn't matter for Notre Dame, which has dropped six straight to Michigan State. But the Irish know a loss here likely torpedoes their season and head coach Charlie Weis. The Spartans secondary struggled mightily last week, and Notre Dame's Golden Tate and Michael Floyd are better than Central Michigan's Antonio Brown and Bryan Anderson. Kirk Cousins plays well, but the Spartans come up just short.

Akron 24, Indiana 20 -- My lack of faith in the Hoosiers hurt me last week, and we'll see what happens this time around. Indiana's defense has performed admirably so far, but the team has made too many mistakes for my liking. Akron quarterback Chris Jacquemain is pretty good, and he attacks the IU secondary with Deryn Bowser. The Hoosiers can't survive mistakes on the road and drop this one.

Iowa 21, Arizona 17 -- It will be a defensive struggle at Kinnick Stadium, as both units are solid. Arizona running back Nic Grigsby makes some plays, but Iowa forces several turnovers, including a key interception in the fourth quarter that proves to be the difference. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi limits mistakes and throws a pair of touchdown passes

Northwestern 26, Syracuse 21 -- The win won't come easily for Northwestern, but you have to think the coaches will expand the playbook on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Mike Kafka finally showcases his mobility against an aggressive Orange defense, and he has another big day in a dome. The Wildcats defense gets a big boost from the return of cornerback Sherrick McManis, who keeps Orange star wideout Mike Williams relatively in check.

Bye -- Illinois

Season record -- 18-4 (.818)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


There are the obvious reasons for Michigan's offensive renaissance this fall, the ones any observer can easily identify.

The Wolverines have mobility at the quarterback position, depth at both running back and wide receiver and experience along the offensive line. They're finally able to establish a tempo, which drives Rich Rodriguez's spread system, after stopping, starting and stalling throughout a miserable 2008 season.
 
 Eric Bronson/Icon SMI
 Brandon Minor is sensing better team chemistry in the early part of the season.


But the biggest difference for Michigan can't be seen from the outside. It's a sentiment among players that the plan will work out.

“We’ve just got more faith," senior running back Brandon Minor said. "Everybody just bought into the system. Last year, I sensed a couple players doubting the system and the scheme we were trying to run. But now, I feel everybody’s all in, committed, doing everything coach is telling them to do. Everything’s working right now.”

After sitting out the season opener with an ankle injury, Minor got his chance to contribute against Notre Dame and cashed in. He rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on only 16 carries as the Wolverines upset the 18th-ranked Irish 38-34. Michigan has eclipsed 30 points in each of its first two games after failing to reach 30 in 11 of 12 games last fall.

Minor felt both stronger and smarter in his 2009 debut. He dealt with injuries both before and during the 2008 campaign, and his strength was never where he wanted it to be because a wrist injury prevented him from lifting weights.

"This summer I got back to the weight room," he said. "Now I can last longer, run through more arm tackles, block people."

(Read full post)

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