NCF Nation: Brion Carnes

LINCOLN, Neb. -- After the way Taylor Martinez introduced himself to the college football world in 2010, footwork would seem like the last thing he'd need to significantly upgrade.

The Nebraska quarterback has little trouble moving forward or sideways, consistently wrong-footing defenders or simply outrunning them with his superb speed. Some signal-callers might offer their non-throwing arms to replicate what T-Magic does in the open field.

It's moving backward, however, when Martinez gets into trouble. Most people cite an awkward, shot-put-like throwing motion as his biggest problem, but his mechanical issues begin with his first step toward the pocket.

So while many of his teammates spent spring break doing the things normal college students do, Martinez returned to his native California and worked with noted quarterbacks guru Steve Calhoun. Their sole mission: footwork.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireTaylor Martinez hopes improved footwork will make him a better passer.
"At first, if I took the left foot back, my body would lean back," Martinez told ESPN.com. "That's what caused me to maybe throw an awkward way. Now if I take my right foot back, my shoulders are more even, the way they're supposed to be.

"I feel a lot different. A lot more balanced."

Martinez might finally be striking a balance at Nebraska after two seasons of extremes.

He burst onto the national radar as a redshirt freshman in 2010 before toe and ankle injuries slowed his progress and production. Six weeks after a national coming-out party at Kansas State, Martinez endured a night at Texas A&M that he, coach Bo Pelini and all who love Nebraska football would just as soon forget.

He rode the roller coaster again in 2011, bouncing back from a three-interception disaster at Wisconsin to lead the biggest comeback in team history two weeks later against Ohio State. He had a solid stretch midway through the season but backslid against Michigan and in the Capital One Bowl. Martinez completed just 56.3 percent of his passes for the season, tossing 13 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

No player triggers more debate in this football-obsessed state than Martinez, whose play on the field and words off it, no matter how few of them, are constantly scrutinized. He once went months without talking to reporters, during which his father shot down transfer talk, and although he's gradually warming up to the spotlight, he remains guarded. In a bizarre news conference after the win over Ohio State, Pelini came to his defense, lashing out at a columnist who had criticized the quarterback. Although it has been a quiet spring for Martinez, he made waves by saying anything shy of a national championship would be a disappointment for Nebraska in 2012.

Martinez, by the way, is only halfway through his Huskers career.

"It seems like he's been around five years," Pelini said. "He's still a young guy. He's still got two years left, so he's got a lot of football left to play."

A lot of potentially great football, according to Pelini. Beginning this season.

"He's a better football player," Pelini said. "He's a lot more comfortable. His technique's better, his fundamentals are better. And if that continues, he has a chance to really make big strides. "

After the bowl game, offensive coordinator Tim Beck and Martinez identified five or six areas Martinez needed to improve during the offseason. Footwork topped the list, and on advice of his father, Casey, Martinez went to Calhoun's Armed & Dangerous camp last month.

They worked on dropping back with his right foot rather than his left and squaring his shoulders on throws. Martinez compared Calhoun's tips with what he heard from Nebraska’s coaches, and was relieved to see they were "on the same path."

"There were some things techniquewise we identified and tried to fix," Beck said. "It's like a golf swing. You open your stance or loosen your grip, whatever, to offset your deficiency. This year, we've had the opportunity through spring to fix it. Footwork was one of the biggest issues with him."

It's not the only reason to believe Martinez will be improved this season. For the first time in his college or high school career, he will play in the same offense in back-to-back seasons.

Martinez attended three high schools, playing primarily quarterback at the final two. After playing under coordinator Shawn Watson at Nebraska in 2010, he had to absorb Beck's system last season, which also marked Nebraska's first in the Big Ten.

"That's going to be a big advantage for him," Pelini said. "He's been so caught up in what to do, but he hasn't necessarily been able to address some of the fine points that are going to make him a better football player -- the how and the why."

Martinez has seen a "huge difference" since the bowl game, whether it's reading blitzes, checking out of certain plays and into better ones or knowing where his weapons will be in an offense that gives route-runners additional flexibility. It doesn't hurt that Nebraska returns eight starters on offense, including seven of its top eight pass-catchers from 2011.

"You can just tell," running back Rex Burkhead said. "When he drops back to pass, he's not really missing that many reads. He's not looking around or rethinking a play. He knows exactly what to do before the play even starts."

Nebraska has had a top-15 rushing attack in each of the past two seasons and looks very strong in the backfield with Burkhead leading the way. Martinez, who had more rush yards as a freshman (965) than a sophomore (874), also could see an increased role as a ball carrier.

Beck admittedly took a cautious approach with Martinez last season, but he has more confidence in backup Brion Carnes. And while Martinez didn't miss any time in 2011, he said he hasn't felt this healthy since the 2010 game against Missouri, when he first injured his ankle.

"I think they'll be running me a little bit more this year," he said. "I'm really excited for that."

Although Martinez might be on the move more, Nebraska won't be going back to its 2010 offense.

Beck wants to push the pass more with a seemingly more confident Martinez and a more mature crop of receivers. Nebraska has finished 104th, 113th and 101st nationally in passing the past three seasons.

"We still believe in running the football to control the game," Beck said, "but I still think to win them, you've got to be able to throw it. So we've put more emphasis there."

Huskers coaches and players also have seen growth in Martinez as a leader. Pelini said being Nebraska's starting quarterback is impossible to prepare for until you've lived it. And for the past two years, through the ups and downs, Martinez has lived the life.

Martinez still has to win over a large portion of Huskers fans, but those inside the Osborne Athletic Complex have found reasons to believe.

"A lot of people agree, a lot of people disagree with the things he does or he says, but Taylor has always been good at blocking all the distractions out, whether it be good or bad," tight end Ben Cotton said. "He's obviously a quiet guy; people can see that. But he's done a great job of being a more positive vocal leader, not only for this offense but for this entire team.

"To see where he has come from, he's definitely grown up quite a bit."

A more balanced Martinez, in mind and in body, could help Nebraska take the next step in 2012.

Spring previews: Legends Division

February, 17, 2012
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The 2012 Big Ten season doesn't kick off for six-and-a-half months, but spring football is just around the corner. All 12 Big Ten squads will hit the field next month for the first of 15 spring practices. There are plenty of new faces, as the winter months brought an unprecedented number of coaching changes to the Big Ten. Should be a fun and exciting spring around the conference.

Let's take a quick look at the Leaders Division:

IOWA

Spring practice start date: March 24
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • New coaching flavor: For the first time in the Kirk Ferentz era, Iowa will welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball. Phil Parker isn't exactly new, having served as Iowa's defensive backs coach throughout Ferentz's tenure, but he now takes charge of the defense for the first time. Will he continue running Norm Parker's scheme or shake things up? Iowa also will have a new offensive coordinator (yet to be named) and several new position coaches, including Reese Morgan, who moves from offensive line to defensive line.
  • Running back auditions: Iowa once again needs to identify a featured back after Marcus Coker transferred to Stony Brook in January. Coker basically was the team's rushing attack in 2011, accounting for 77.3 percent of the rushing yards and 61.9 percent of the carries. Jordan Canzeri and Jason White will compete with several other unproven players this spring. The good news is Iowa has had little trouble developing backs. Keeping them is another story.
  • Reloading the defensive line: The running backs might get more attention, but defensive line is Iowa's most pressing need entering the spring. The Hawkeyes lose three starters from last season's squad, including NFL prospect Mike Daniels at defensive tackle. While D-line historically has been a strength for Iowa, the Hawkeyes haven't had so much uncertainty in quite some time. Morgan, who hasn't coached on the defensive side, has his work cut out this spring.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice start date: March 17
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Defensive line rotation: It's a good thing coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison focus so much on the defensive line. The unit needs some extra attention this spring after losing standouts Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen. The defensive tackle spot will be particularly interesting. A lot of eyes will be on Will Campbell to see if the big man can finally blossom. Quinton Washington and others are in the mix.
  • Receiving orders: Michigan needs to develop more options in the passing game this spring. The team loses top wideout Junior Hemingway, and Darryl Stonum was dismissed from the squad in January following another legal issue. Roy Roundtree needs a big spring as he looks to re-establish himself as the team's No. 1 wideout after a production drop-off last season. Tight end Kevin Koger also departs, creating an opportunity for others.
  • Al Borges' offense, Take 2: The new offense had some highs and lows in Year 1, and Michigan will be looking to establish greater consistency this season. It'll be interesting to see how a full year in the system impacts quarterback Denard Robinson. Robinson must cut down on his interceptions after tossing 15 last season. The Wolverines also are looking for an offensive line anchor following the departure of All-American center David Molk.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice start date: March 27
Spring game: April 28

What to watch:
  • Take it to the Max: Andrew Maxwell's time has arrived as he steps in for three-year starter and three-time captain Kirk Cousins at quarterback. It's a tall order, but Maxwell has been groomed for this moment and has shown good potential in practices. He'll be working with a new set of leading receivers, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who hopes to be cleared to play for the upcoming season. Maxwell must establish himself as a team leader this spring.
  • We're not Worthy: All-American Jerel Worthy is gone, and Michigan State needs a replacement for the standout defensive tackle. While Anthony Rashad White returns at the other D-tackle spot, the Spartans don't have much overall depth at the position. It'll be interesting to see what the coaches do with Micajah Reynolds, who has bounced between defensive line and offensive line during his career. It's a big spring for Vanderbilt transfer James Kittredge and a host of players who redshirted last season, including Damon Knox.
  • Receiving orders: Arnett seemingly would be Michigan State's No. 1 receiver if he's ruled eligible by the NCAA, but there are no guarantees and the Spartans must identify other options this spring. Bennie Fowler showed promise in 2010 before being slowed by a foot injury last season. He needs a strong spring. Michigan State also is moving Tony Lippett back to receiver from cornerback, where he started several games last season. Lippett is an excellent athlete who can provide a boost on the edge. The Spartans also will be looking for more from tight end Dion Sims.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice start date: March 22
Spring game: April 21

What to watch:
  • The search for a pass rush: Minnesota should be improved on offense in Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era, but the team could sink or swim depending on the defense. It starts up front with a defensive line that hasn't generated much pressure for several years. Coordinator Tracy Claeys wants to be aggressive, but can he find difference-makers? The Gophers haven't had an elite pass-rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008.
  • Supporting cast on offense: Although quarterback Marqueis Gray had his ups and downs last season, he accounted for most of Minnesota's offense, leading the team with 966 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns. Gray needs more help if the Gophers intend to take the next step this season. Minnesota will be looking for a featured running back this spring, as Donnell Kirkwood and others are in the mix. The Gophers also need more options at receiver after losing Da'Jon McKnight.
  • Troy Stoudermire: Stoudermire turned heads last spring with some big hits from the cornerback spot. After receiving an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA in January, he'll look to deliver more punishment. Minnesota desperately needs leaders and playmakers to emerge in the secondary, and Stoudermire's return could be huge after he missed most last season with a broken bone in his forearm.
NEBRASKA

Spring practice start date: March 10
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Star search on defense: No Big Ten defense loses more star power than Nebraska, which must replace linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, the league's top performers at their respective positions. David's departure is especially critical, as Nebraska lacked depth in its defensive midsection last season. Although Nebraska played most of the past season without defensive tackle Jared Crick, it needs some difference-makers to emerge in all three levels of the defense this spring.
  • Papuchis takes over: Like Iowa, Nebraska promoted a position coach to defensive coordinator, as John Papuchis takes control of a unit that fell short of expectations last season. Papuchis is young and energetic, and his rapid rise mirrors that of his boss, Huskers head coach Bo Pelini. Although no system overhaul is expected, it will be interesting to see how Papuchis puts his imprint on the defense this spring.
  • Taylor Martinez's maturation: Despite two years as the starter and the support of his coaches, Martinez enters a pivotal spring. Although Martinez remained healthy last season and showed improved decision-making at times, he also completed just 56.3 percent of his passes and didn't break off as many long runs. A full year in Tim Beck's offense could pay off for Martinez this spring, but he needs to continue to make strides. It will be interesting to see if the coaches even entertain the possibility of a competition, or if backup Brion Carnes gets more reps.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice start date: March 3
Spring game: April 14

What to watch:
  • Colter and the QB race: Northwestern will have a quarterback competition this spring as it looks for Dan Persa's replacement, but the hope among many is for Kain Colter to take control. Colter stepped in for Persa last season and emerged as the team's best all-around offensive weapon. But he needs to improve his arm strength and his accuracy and show he can be a more complete quarterback at this level. Although Colter will be on the field no matter what in the fall, he has the opportunity in spring ball to solidify himself as the starting quarterback.
  • Young defenders: The defense has been a big problem for the past year and a half, and Northwestern needs to identify more playmakers before September. The good news is the Wildcats played a lot of young players last season, particularly late in the season. Northwestern needs its youth to mature, beginning in the spring. Keep an eye on players such as defensive end Tyler Scott, safety Ibraheim Campbell, linebacker Collin Ellis and cornerback Daniel Jones. Northwestern needs several of them to take the next step.
  • Spotlight on the secondary: Few Big Ten units struggled more than Northwestern's secondary did last season. Making matters worse, the Wildcats lose three starters, including All-Big Ten safety Brian Peters and cornerback Jordan Mabin, a four-year starter. If Northwestern ever intends to turn the corner as a program, it needs to build better depth in the secondary, whether it's through recruiting or from moving players from other positions. It'll be interesting to see how the group performs this spring.

Recruiting needs: Legends Division

January, 31, 2012
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Earlier today, we took a look at the recruiting needs of every team in the Big Ten Leaders Division. Now it's time to turn our attention to the Legends Division and see what positions each team needs to restock before next week's signing day:

Iowa

Running backs: Iowa's problems with keeping running backs in school has been well documented, and the Hawkeyes lost leading rusher Marcus Coker and backup Mika'il McCall after off-the-field problems last season. The team really needs some more depth in the backfield, and don't be surprised if incoming freshman Greg Garmon pushes for playing time immediately.

Defensive linemen: Iowa had three defensive linemen drafted off the 2010 team and now loses its top two guys up front in departing seniors Broderick Binns and Mike Daniels. That's an awful lot of talent to replace in a couple of years, and the Hawkeyes can't expect to improve their defense without doing so. Finding some more pass rushers off the edge will be key.

Wide receivers: Marvin McNutt had a wonderful senior season, but the passing game often stalled whenever he couldn't wiggle free. Now he's gone, leaving a void at the position. Kevonte Martin-Manley and Keenan Davis have shown promise, but James Vandenberg could use some more weapons. Iowa has secured commitments from three receivers in this class.

Michigan

Wide receiver: The loss of Darryl Stonum, who was dismissed following another run in with the law, created a void at receiver, especially with top pass-catcher Junior Hemingway out of eligibility. The Wolverines will have to hope Roy Roundtree can bounce back with a big season, because all other wideout options are unproven at this point. Three receivers are committed to Brady Hoke in this class.

Defensive line: Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen were key cogs in Michigan's run to the Sugar Bowl title in 2011, and they have both moved on, along with starter Will Heininger. Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison are defensive line coaches at heart and will want to grab as many difference makers as they can at that key position. Ondre Pipkins, a 325-pound tackle, is the highest rated defensive lineman in the Wolverines' class right now.

Offensive line: While the Wolverines should be fine on the O-line in 2012, even without Rimington Trophy winner David Molk and starting right tackle Mark Huyge, they signed only four offensive linemen total in the past two classes. Since linemen are often slow to develop, they need to refill the cupboard now. Michigan has four offensive linemen committed in this class, including standout Kyle Kalis.

Michigan State

Offensive tackles: Thanks in large part to injuries, Michigan State had to move a defensive lineman (Dan France) to tackle last summer and plug in a junior-college transfer (Fou Fonoti) into the other tackle spot. That the Spartans won the Legends Division title despite that is kind of amazing in retrospect. France will be a junior in 2012 and Fonoti will be in his final year of eligibility. They need more depth at the position, and they've got commitments from two offensive tackles so far in this class.

Wide receivers: Two of the most successful receivers in school history are gone as Keshawn Martin and B.J. Cunningham finished off wildly productive careers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett is seeking a waiver to play immediately and will help the future even if he has to sit out a year. Michigan State is looking to sign three other receivers in this class to fill out the future two-deep.

Running back: Edwin Baker's early entry to the NFL draft came as a surprise. Michigan State is still in good shape at tailback for 2012 with Le'Veon Bell and Larry Caper. But after not signing a running back in last year's class, Mark Dantonio could use at least one more option in the backfield.

Minnesota

Defensive backs: It was no secret that Minnesota's pass defense was brutal at times in 2011, and top tackler Kim Royston leaves a hole at safety with his graduation. Getting Troy Stoudermire back for an extra year helps, but Jerry Kill needs to upgrade the talent in the secondary. That's why he has signed three junior-college defensive backs and secured commitments from four high school safeties so far.

Defensive tackle: One of the reasons the pass defense was so bad was a lack of pass rush applied by the front four. The Gophers had only 19 sacks this season, a year after registering just nine. Making matters worse, both starting tackles were seniors this season. Kill signed a junior-college defensive tackle and has two prep tackles committed. He needs to find guys who can find their way to the quarterback.

Overall talent and depth: Kill has said there are gaps in the Gophers' classes, and depth issues could plague the team during his rebuilding efforts. Including six junior-college players signed to help right away, Minnesota has a class of 28 right now. Minnesota simply needs more bodies everywhere.

Nebraska

Linebacker: Lavonte David leaves some rather large cleats to fill. Not only was he Nebraska's leading tackler the past two seasons, he was the only linebacker who played at a consistently high level. The Huskers' starters at the other two linebacker spots will be seniors this year, and depth is thin behind them. So it's little wonder why Bo Pelini has used four spots so far in what is expected to be a small class to fill that position, led by four-star prospect Michael Rose.

Tight end: Three of the top four options at tight ends will be seniors in 2012, leaving very little behind them. Sam Cotton, son of offensive line coach Barney Cotton and younger brother of current Huskers tight end Ben, is on his way to help.

Quarterback: Taylor Martinez is entrenched as the starter going into his junior year, and Nebraska never had to worry about playing Brion Carnes in a big spot this year after Bubba Starling opted for baseball. Still, it's dangerous to not have depth at quarterback, and so the Huskers need to add at least one signal caller in this class.

Northwestern

Defensive backs: The Wildcats were burned repeatedly in the passing game in 2011, and their best defensive back (safety Brian Peters) won't be around next season. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald has commitments from three safeties in this class already.

Defensive playmakers: Northwestern was shockingly short on guys who could blow up another team's offensive play in 2011, so Fitzgerald's main mission had to be finding more guys who played like he did in college. That aim got a big boost when stud defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo committed to play in Evanston. That's a good start.

Wide receivers: Highly productive star receiver Jeremy Ebert is gone, along with starter Charles Brown. Venric Mark and Christian Jones have a lot of potential as the next big passing targets, but Northwestern's spread offense feeds off of speed and depth at the receiver position. Four receivers have given the Wildcats their pledge in this class.

Final: Nebraska 41, Minnesota 14

October, 22, 2011
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Only the truly hardcore fans watched the entire second half of this one, and there wasn't a whole lot to see.

Minnesota showed some spirit in the second half and outscored Nebraska 14-7 after trailing 34-0 at halftime. But clearly the Huskers called off the dogs after a certain point. Brion Carnes subbed in for Taylor Martinez and played the entire fourth quarter at quarterback for the Huskers, and Minnesota's final score came late against defensive reserves. Jerry Kill might be able to build something off the decent second half, but it would still count as a major upset if his Gophers won another game the rest of the season.

Rex Burkhead rushed for more than 100 yards for the fourth time this season with 113 yards and a touchdown, while Nebraska compiled more than 500 yards of offense. It was a strong performance by the Huskers' defense in the Blackshirts' first game without star defensive tackle Jared Crick. But Minnesota's offense is so dreadful that you can't read too much into this one.

The Cornhuskers improved to 6-1 and will have an important Legends Division showdown with Michigan State next week in Lincoln. It figures to be much more competitive than this game was.
Bubba Starling had millions of reasons to sign with the Kansas City Royals. He had really only one reason to play football for Nebraska: his love of the game.

Hey, love gets you only so far. Starling is a Royal. Would you turn down $7.5 million, as it has been reported Starling agreed to over three years, for a chance to play quarterback for the Cornhuskers?

Starling's decision isn't the least bit surprising and became even less so when he and his family decided he shouldn't practice with Nebraska before the Aug. 15 deadline to sign with the Royals. Especially with agent Scott Boras leading the charge, Starling was going to get a big contract offer. And although I do believe he really wanted to experience college football, this kind of money ensures the future for him and his family. By staying with the Huskers, he risked injury or poor performance on the baseball field that could have reduced his earning potential.

Besides, football will still be there for him if the baseball thing doesn't work out. We've seen guys such as Chris Weinke, Brandon Weeden and Joe Bauserman come back and play college football after spending time in the minor leagues. Starling is a higher-rated prospect than those guys, but there's no guarantee he can learn to hit a major league cut fastball. Adding some age and experience, along with a nice portfolio, never hurts.

Starling is an amazing athlete, but this might not hurt Nebraska in the short term. Sophomore Taylor Martinez is entrenched as the starter, and Brion Carnes is a redshirt freshman right behind him. While Starling would have added depth and competition and possibly would have beaten out those two guys down the road, the Huskers are well situated for the next few years at that position.

Coach Bo Pelini seemed to take the news in stride in his official statement after the announcement:
"Everyone associated with our football program at Nebraska wishes Bubba nothing but the best in his future with the Kansas City Royals organization. I know this decision has been very difficult for Bubba and his family, as it would be for anyone in his position. In the end, Bubba was in a win-win situation regardless of his choice, and we respect the decision he has made. I personally will root for Bubba in every game except when he plays against the Indians!”
The Bubba Starling watch at Nebraska will become more of a quiet wait and see.

The freshman quarterback who was drafted No. 5 overall by the Kansas City Royals in June did not practice and was not listed on the roster as the Huskers took the practice field for the first time on Saturday. Head coach Bo Pelini said Starling, who arrived in Lincoln last month, won't practice until he decides whether he will sign with the Royals. Kansas City must sign him by Aug. 15.

"He's got a lot at risk," Pelini told reporters. "We communicated with the family and decided this is the best way to go about this. We're on the same page."

Pelini sounded a different tune at Big Ten media days last week, saying Starling's advisers weren't running the program. But it makes sense for both parties. Starling shouldn't risk an injury now with the possibility of signing for millions of dollars on the immediate horizon. And though Nebraska would love to get him acclimated as quickly as possible, it doesn't seem like a great idea to give him important reps in practice if he's going to leave in less than 10 days.

It also means that should Starling stay with the Huskers, he'll be pretty far behind in his development. Though he's not expected to play right away with Taylor Martinez and Brion Carnes ahead of him, he could still provide depth at a position that took a hit in that area when Cody Green transferred.
It's time to hop back into our preseason position rankings, and today brings a look at the most visible position on the field: quarterback.

These are our rankings for the entire position group on each team, so depth is usually very important. With quarterback, it's a little different. There's no substitute for an experienced/accomplished starter. So the teams that have one of those plus some backups who have seen some time will get the highest rankings here, while those with unsettled or untested signal-callers will bring up the rear. Later on, we'll rank the individual quarterbacks in the league.

The envelope please ...

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireDenard Robinson is the most dangerous returning starter in the Big Ten.
1. Michigan: If there were such a thing as a half-season Heisman, Denard Robinson would have won it last year. It will be fascinating to see how he adjusts to a new offensive scheme and whether his running will be reined in, but there's no more electric player in college football than "Shoelace" when he's doing his thing. (And he's an underrated passer.) Tate Forcier left town, but Devin Gardner is talented enough to prevent much of a drop-off if Robinson leaves the game. Both must stay healthy, however.

2. Michigan State: Senior Kirk Cousins enters his third year of starting and ranks first all time among Spartans quarterbacks in passing efficiency and completion percentage. He's as steady as it gets. Andrew Maxwell got his feet wet last year as a redshirt freshman and will back up Cousins again. Joe Boisture retired from football for medical reasons, which hurts the depth. But that looks like more of a problem for next year.

3. Northwestern: Dan Persa was the coaches' first-team All-Big Ten quarterback after completing an FBS-best 73.5 percent of his passes and accounting for more than 3,000 yards of offense. Assuming he comes back healthy from his ruptured Achilles' tendon, he'll again stake a claim to being the Big Ten's best quarterback. Backup Evan Watkins gained valuable experience by starting the final three games, including the TicketCity Bowl vs. Texas Tech. But Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian competed with Watkins this spring, and Colter may have the edge for the No. 2 spot.

4. Nebraska: When healthy, sophomore Taylor Martinez is an exciting dual-threat player with game-breaking speed. He set virtually every Nebraska freshman quarterback record last season despite being hobbled down the stretch. Cody Green's transfer dealt a blow to the Cornhuskers' depth and means that if Martinez goes down, redshirt freshman Brion Carnes will have to take over. But Carnes was impressive at times this spring.

5. Illinois: Depth? Not so much here. But starter Nathan Scheelhaase gives the Illini a great place to start. As a freshman, he compiled 22 touchdowns on the ground and through the air, improving greatly as the season went on and had a huge bowl game against Baylor. Another year in Paul Petrino's system should mean big things in 2011. Illinois would be very green if Scheelhaase gets hurt.

6. Iowa: Junior James Vandenberg takes over for the reliable Ricky Stanzi. Vandenberg threw only eight passes in 2010 but started the final two games for an injured Stanzi in the pressure-packed 2009 season. It looks like this is his time. Backups John Wienke and A.J. Derby lack game experience, however.

7. Purdue: The Boilermakers have two quarterbacks who have each played in plenty of games, with incumbent starter Rob Henry and former Miami transfer Robert Marve, who suffered a torn ACL at the beginning of last season. Both players need to improve and find more consistency, though; Henry completed just 53.1 percent of his passes in 2010. Caleb TerBush is back after being ruled academically ineligible in 2010 and adds depth.

8. Penn State: Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden? That has been the question hanging over the Nittany Lions for a while, and transfer rumors followed Bolden after spring practice. The competition and another year in the system should help both guys, but a potential quarterback controversy could hurt the team. Bolden has more natural talent, but can he harness it?

9. Minnesota: MarQueis Gray takes over as the full-time starter after splitting time as a receiver and quarterback last season. The junior has the potential to be a dangerous dual-threat playmaker. He's learning a new system, but coaches liked what they saw from Gray this spring. There's no experience behind him.

10. Ohio State: The Buckeyes would have ranked much closer to the top of the list with Terrelle Pryor, even for half a season. As it stands, they have a muddled quarterback picture, with four candidates vying to take the reins. Senior Joe Bauserman backed up Pryor the past two years and can give the team a steady if unspectacular hand under center. Or Ohio State could go for potential and talent with true freshman Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes are likely to climb these rankings, but for now there's too much uncertainty at the position.

11. Wisconsin: The Badgers must replace rock solid two-year starter Scott Tolzien, and the leading candidate for now is redshirt sophomore Jon Budmayr. Though slight of stature, Budmayr has a big arm. He has played in only three career games, however. Wisconsin could rocket up this list if former NC State star Russell Wilson decided to transfer to Madison.

12. Indiana: Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker competed for the starting job this spring, but no clear winner emerged. Between them, they've thrown 29 career passes. New coach Kevin Wilson knows how to teach the quarterback position, and this offense will be friendly for passing stats. But the Hoosiers still have a long way to go.
Wow, I didn't see this coming.

Quarterback Cody Green has requested his release from Nebraska and will transfer, colleague Joe Schad and others are reporting. Green appeared in 17 games the past two season, making four starts for the Huskers. He competed for the starting job this spring, but incumbent Taylor Martinez ended spring practice as Nebraska's No. 1 signal caller. Still, Green indicated he would compete for the long haul.

Nebraska has now lost two quarterbacks this week, as Kody Spano announced he's ending his career because of injuries.

Should the Huskers be a bit concerned about their depth at quarterback?

Martinez can be a game-changer, but he has to stay healthy. He was a totally different quarterback after getting banged up midway through the 2010 season.

Brion Carnes, the Huskers' other scholarship quarterback, looked good in the spring game, but he lacks Green's experience. The biggest question mark is incoming recruit Bubba Starling, who likely would have to pass up a major payday in Major League Baseball to play quarterback for Nebraska. Starling says he'll be enrolling for school July 10.

If Martinez holds up, Carnes keeps developing and Starling sticks with football, Nebraska should be fine. But it would have been nice to have Green for insurance, especially after what happened to Martinez last fall.

Green seems to be looking for more playing time, despite reaffirming his commitment this spring. He told the Lincoln Journal Star in late March:
"I've said ever since I got here that tradition was one of the big reasons why I was here," Green said. "It's the tradition, the people, the family. That's what we are, a big family. We're a big family that will die for each other. You don't want to leave that. It's you. That's one of the main reasons I'm here."
The decision this week to leave Nebraska was excruciatingly difficult for Green, according to a source close to the quarterback. However, it should be noted the two coaches who played lead roles in recruiting Green to NU -- offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Shawn Watson and linebackers coach Mike Ekeler -- no longer are with the program. What's more, the Huskers' offense under new coordinator Tim Beck is expected to feature more running situations for the quarterback, which would be better suited for the ultra-fleet Martinez.

It's a good point about the change on offense. If Green felt he couldn't thrive in the system, it's hard to blame him for seeking a transfer.

Some Huskers fans likely will pass this off as no big deal. But insurance at quarterback can make or break a season, and Green's departure leaves Nebraska in a bit of a bind.
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)

Big Ten scrimmage notes

April, 11, 2011
4/11/11
1:30
PM ET
The Big Ten featured only one spring game this weekend, but plenty of teams took to the field for scrimmages. I've compiled some scrimmage highlights from around the league based on reports from official team websites and other media sources. Several teams didn't provide specifics about their scrimmages, but I included what I could find.

ILLINOIS

The Illini scrimmaged for about 90 minutes Saturday, and all players were involved in contact aside from starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.

Notes
  • The offense prevailed in the scrimmage and gashed the defense for several big runs. Troy Pollard took most of the reps at running back as Jason Ford sat out with a sore knee, and Pollard helped his cause with 110 rush yards on 19 carries. Scheelhaase completed 7 of 12 passes for 53 yards and added 58 yards on the ground, while backup Miles Osei had a 63-yards pass to Fred Sykes and finished the day with 165 yards through the air.
  • Coach Ron Zook singled out linebacker Houston Bates for his play in the scrimmage. Bates had a sack and a quarterback hurry. He saw increased playing time after Jonathan Brown was kicked out of the scrimmage after throwing a punch and drawing a personal foul penalty.
INDIANA

The Hoosiers held their second scrimmage of the spring Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Check out coach Kevin Wilson's thoughts as well as some highlights.

Notes
  • The offense got the best of the defense Saturday after the D shined in Indiana's previous scrimmage. Receivers Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes stood out in the highlights Indiana showed on its website, as Hughes had a long touchdown reception and Wilson was forced out just shy of the goal line. Both players have been impressive this spring and should complement top wideout Damarlo Belcher in the fall.
IOWA

No official information from Iowa's scrimmage Saturday, but here's a photo gallery and some recent player interviews from the team's website.

MICHIGAN

No official information from Michigan's scrimmage Saturday, but here are video interviews with defensive tackle Mike Martin and offensive lineman Patrick Omameh. Running backs Vincent Smith, Michael Cox and Stephen Hopkins had some nice runs in the video highlights.

MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans held their first jersey scrimmage Friday and the defense prevailed 55-45 in a modified scoring system. The defense had 18 ways to score points, while the offense had 11 ways to score, including touchdowns and field goals.

Notes
  • The defense dominated the scrimmage, holding the offense without a first down on the first five possessions and without points for the first 13 possessions. Michigan State's D recorded three sacks and two interceptions during the stifling stanza. The only two touchdowns scored came during the goal line and red zone portions of the scrimmage.
  • Defensive ends William Gholston and Tyler Hoover combined for nine tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack and a pass breakup. Sophomore linebacker TyQuan Hammock recorded an interception. "The defense played well -- tackled effectively, pressured the quarterback and came away with some turnovers," coach Mark Dantonio said in a news release.
  • Starting quarterback Kirk Cousins had a rough day (6-for-16 passing, 41 yards, INT), although he didn't get much help from his receivers, who dropped three passes. Backup Andrew Maxwell completed 15 of 26 passes for 116 yards with an interception.
  • The touchdowns came from Edwin Baker (22-yard run) and Le'Veon Bell (6-yard run). Receiver Keith Mumphery caught a 43-yard pass from Maxwell.
MINNESOTA

The Gophers scrimmaged Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium and ran about 120 plays.

Notes
  • Minnesota's defense held the upper hand as the offense struggled to gain a first down early in the scrimmage. The defensive line had a very good day as tackles Brandon Jacobs and Brandon Kirksey both stood out. Jacobs sacked No. 1 quarterback MarQueis Gray and Kirksey recorded a blocked field goal attempt. Ends D.L. Wilhite and Ra'Shede Hageman also made some plays. "The defensive line got up the field a lot more than we have been. [It was] a lot more aggressive," coach Jerry Kill told reporters. "And we need that. We need more push. We had nine sacks last year, and that can't happen."
  • Gray and top receiver Da'Jon McKnight hooked up on receptions of 45 and 20 yards. McKnight also recorded a punt block in the scrimmage.
  • Reserve quarterback Tom Parish threw two interceptions and fumbled a snap. Moses Alipate ran a few series at quarterback and led a scoring drive.
NEBRASKA

The Huskers ran about 150 plays in a scrimmage Saturday in Lincoln. Quarterbacks Brion Carnes, Cody Green and Kody Spano took most of the reps and drew praise from coach Bo Pelini.
  • The coaches limited reps for quarterback Taylor Martinez after the sophomore hurt his toe in a recent workout. Running back Rex Burkhead participated in the scrimmage and "looked great," according to Pelini, although Burkhead's reps were limited as well.
  • Nebraska had two false-start penalties and one fumble during the scrimmage. "That's not bad," Pelini said. "Most of it is with the young guys. It shows me the emphasis is working and there's progress, but one's too many as far I'm concerned."
NORTHWESTERN

The Wildcats scrimmaged Saturday in Evanston in preparation for this week's spring game.

Notes
  • Top running back Mike Trumpy had runs of 33 and 25 yards, while Tyris Jones added a scoring run. Jones has had a really nice spring for the Wildcats, who are looking for more options in the backfield.
  • Trevor Siemian and Evan Watkins took the reps at quarterback as Kain Colter was held out of the scrimmage. Siemian completed 8 of 12 passes for 86 yards with an interception, while Watkins, victimized by dropped passes, completed 8 of 21 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown strike to Charles Brown.
  • Defensive end Tyler Scott picked off Siemian on the second play of the scrimmage. Siemian later responded with a 36-yard pass to Rashad Lawrence. Demetrius Fields led the receivers with five receptions, while walk-on Torin Dupper had three catches for 46 yards.
OHIO STATE

The Buckeyes held a special-teams scrimmage followed by a full jersey scrimmage Saturday in Ohio Stadium. The team went through about 20 possessions and the offense prevailed 56-45.
  • Receiver DeVier Posey recorded two touchdown receptions, a 33-yarder from Joe Bauserman and an 8-yarder from Taylor Graham. Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller had the only other touchdown of the scrimmage on an 11-yard run.
  • Bauserman completed passes of 33 and 16 yards and also threw an interception on a pass tipped by defensive lineman John Simon. Graham completed 10 of 20 passes for 80 yards, while Miller hit on 4 of 6 passes for 43 yards and looked impressive on the touchdown run. Kenny Guiton struggled at quarterback, leading the offense to only one score (field goal) in six possessions.
  • Posey recorded five receptions for 83 yards and two scores, while the other scholarship wideouts combined for only five receptions. Think Ohio State will miss No. 8 in the first five games?
  • Senior running back Dan Herron didn't get much work Saturday, and Jaamal Berry and Rod Smith stood out among the backs with several nice gains.
  • Defensive linemen Adam Bellamy and Melvin Fellows both recorded sacks, while other defensive standouts included cornerback Travis Howard and linebacker Etienne Sabino.
PENN STATE

The Lions scrimmaged Saturday, but there's not much info out there aside from this ($$$).

WISCONSIN

The Badgers held a scrimmage Saturday, running more than 120 snaps, and coach Bret Bielema shares his thoughts here.
  • Sophomore linebacker Conor O'Neill had a big day with interceptions on back-to-back plays, picking off Joe Brennan and Joel Stave. Wisconsin auditioned O'Neill at safety last year, and his experience defending the pass is paying off.
  • Bielema said center Peter Konz will miss the rest of the spring because of ankle and knee injuries. Konz will undergo minor knee surgery and should be fine for fall camp. Versatile sophomore Ryan Groy is seeing time at center and can play all three interior line spots.
  • Remember Zach Brown? The running back is still around in Madison and hopes to enter a crowded backfield this fall. Brown had a 17-yard touchdown reception and an 8-yard scoring run Saturday. "Zach is an angry running back," Bielema told reporters. "Everybody wants to talk about those other guys. People forget he ran for 200 yards [in a game] as a freshman, and he has won some games for us."

Nebraska recruiting capsule

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
12:02
PM ET
Nebraska Cornhuskers

Total class: 21

ESPN 150: 1

By position: DT 3, DE 3, ATH 2, QB 2, OT 2, CB 2, S 2, RB 1, WR 1, TE 1, OLB 1, G 1

By state: Texas 5, Nebaska 4, Florida 2, Colorado 2, California 2, Missouri 1, Illinois 1, Ohio 1, Minnesota 1, Louisiana 1, Mississippi 1.

Already enrolled in school: 3.

The big ones: Massive 298-pound guard Andrew Rodriguez, the nation's seventh ranked player at his position and the Cornhuskers’ only player on the ESPNU 150, looks like he could develop into a dominant player in the trenches. Safety Corey Cooper, a late decommittment from Illinois and the nation's No. 20 rated safety, arrives at Nebraska’s biggest defensive position of need.

Sleeper: WR/KR/DB Ken Bell, son of former Denver Broncos player Ken Bell, struggled with injuries during his senior season in high school. But he has played well at a variety of positions and has been clocked at 4.29 in the 40-yard dash.

Needs met: With the loss of Ndamukong Suh and Barry Turner to graduation and Pierre Allen entering his senior season, the Cornhuskers filled a gap with six defensive linemen. Corey Cooper and Harvey Jackson should fill the biggest defensive need at safety. But the Cornhuskers still are looking for offensive firepower and added only one wide receiver.

Analysis: The Cornhuskers added a couple of late additions when Cooper and QB Brion Carnes joined on Wednesday. But they missed on the really big recruit when Owamagbe Odighizuwa decided to go to UCLA. Coach Bo Pelini doesn’t agree with the perception that this class is lacking on offensive playmakers. But there's no debate that he addressed most of the Cornhuskers' most pressing needs with a typically wide-ranging class with players attracted from 11 states.

What Bo Pelini said: On recruiting ratings: "I don't pay that much attention to it, other then when I'm down and I really want to get a good laugh." On not attracting Owamagbe Odighizuwa: “It’s his mistake. Honestly, I don’t get all caught up in all that. I don’t get all stressed out about whether they’re going to come. I thought he was a pretty good player. But in my mind, the kids that don’t choose to come here I don’t believe do themselves a service because I believe we’ll develop them better than the other guy. That’s just the confidence I have.”

Scouts Inc. grade/rankings: C-plus, seventh in Big 12.

Cornhuskers lose Odighizuwa to UCLA

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
2:55
PM ET
Nebraska missed out on its biggest potential recruit when Owamagbe Odighizuwa picked UCLA over the Cornhuskers and Oregon State.

In a nationally televised announcement on ESPNU Wednesday afternoon, Odighizuwa chose the Bruins after Nebraska was thought to have a strong chance at the prospect from David Douglas High School in Portland, Ore.

Odighizuwa would have given the Cornhuskers an immediate threat at defensive end as they lose senior Barry Turner and will lose Pierre Allen after next season.

His final choice was a difficult one and something he said he didn't take lightly.

"This decision will affect the next 40 years for me and not four," Odighizuwa said. "It's something I have to be proud about."

And in the end, he said that UCLA was the best place for him to play college football.

"UCLA is the right fit because I felt real comfortable with the coaching staff," Odighizuwa said. "The academics are good. Their football program is on the rise. At the end of the day I felt most comfortable at the school."

Odighizuwa's choice takes a little of the luster from Nebraska's strong start today that included earlier commitments from safety Corey Cooper and quarterback Brion Carnes.

But Odighizuwa would have been the Cornhuskers' biggest recruit. And not getting him hurts Bo Pelini and his program.

Cornhuskers nab second big commitment of day with S Corey Cooper

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
11:23
AM ET
Bo Pelini nabbed his second big recruiting commitment of the morning when touted four-star safety Corey Cooper of Maywood, Ill., accepted Nebraska's scholarship offer.

Cooper chose the Cornhuskers over Notre Dame, Arizona and Illinois.

Cooper, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder, played wide receiver as well as defensive back in high school, but he is committed to playing defense for the Cornhuskers.

“When I visited there and talked with the coaches, I just felt comfortable,” Cooper told the Lincoln Journal Star. "I feel I can go in there and contribute."

With the loss of starters Larry Asante and Matt O'Hanlon, the Cornhuskers need safeties. Cooper might be good enough to contribute immediately.

His decision came on the heels of Brion Carnes' commitment to the Cornhuskers earlier on Wednesday.

It's been a good day for the Cornhuskers with an announcement set early this afternoon with Owamagbe Odighizuwa. If they can get him it would be an unprecedented late recruiting hat trick by Pelini and his staff.

Carnes changes course, opts for Huskers

February, 3, 2010
2/03/10
11:06
AM ET
Touted quarterback Brion Carnes made a last-minute switch Wednesday morning when he committed to Nebraska.

Carnes, a product of Manatee High School in Bradenton, Fla., had been committed to Western Kentucky since a weekend recruiting visit.

Emotions were pulling Carnes in different directions. New Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggert had formerly been a quarterback at Manatee High School earlier in his career. But Carnes is a second cousin of legendary Nebraska quarterback Tommie Frazier.

But Bo Pelini's late push and the Cornhuskers' recent on-the-field improvement were the biggest selling points for Carnes.

"Just the atmosphere," Carnes told the Lincoln Journal Star. "Just the fact this is Nebraska. My goals and dreams are to push for a BCS national championship, try to contend for a Heisman Trophy. I feel I can do that at Nebraska."

Those are some lofty goals, considering that Carnes likely will be battling for playing time with sophomore-to-be Cody Green, among others. But it's still a big get for the Cornhuskers, with several more key recruits announcing their choices later in the day.

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