NCF Nation: Camp Randall Stadium
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Love and hate are the themes of the day around these parts, so I figured I'd chime in about the Big Ten. There are many reasons why I love covering football in this conference, and a few things I'm not so crazy about.
Let's begin with five good things.Big stadiums -- Size matters in the Big Ten, which boasts three of the nation's four largest stadiums at Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. Ohio Stadium, Beaver Stadium and Camp Randall Stadium are on the short list of toughest places to play, and other Big Ten venues (Kinnick Stadium, Spartan Stadium) add their own charm. The game-day experience is truly captured where Big Ten teams call home.
The Game (and other rivalries) -- The Big Ten lays claim to quite possibly the greatest rivalry in all of sports, between Ohio State and Michigan. No series has produced more colorful figures and memorable moments. The league also features exciting annual matchups like Michigan-Michigan State, Penn State-Ohio State and Minnesota-Wisconsin. At stake are coveted items like a bronzed pig, a giant ax, a brown jug and an ancient bucket.
Regent Street and the Beaver Stadium grounds -- They are two of the nation's prime tailgating spots, and they both belong to the Big Ten. Tailgating at Wisconsin or Penn State is an experience every college football fan should enjoy. You get beer and brats in Madison, and elaborate set-ups and daylong debauchery in State College. As a college football fan, you can't go wrong at either place.
Legendary coaches -- The Big Ten has produced legendary coaches through the decades. From Fielding Yost and Bob Zuppke to Bernie Bierman and Fritz Crisler to Woody and Bo to Hayden Fry and Duffy Daugherty to Barry Alvarez and Jim Tressel, the Big Ten has been at the top of the coaching ranks. The arrival of Penn State's Joe Paterno in 1993 has only added to the league's rich coaching tradition.
Night games in Columbus, Madison and State College -- Noon kickoffs are generally the norm in the Big Ten, which sort of blows but makes the rare night game all the more special. Ohio State will host only the ninth night game in team history this fall against USC, and the atmosphere will undoubtedly be electric. Same goes for any game under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium -- there were two last year -- and at Penn State, which thankfully welcomes night football more than any other Big Ten team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Week 7 had a bit of everything: surprise, shock, disappointment and domination. Here are five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.
1. Penn State should be in the national title discussion -- Their starting quarterback has been questioned. Their defensive depth has been questioned. Their road toughness has been questioned. But all the Nittany Lions do is continue to provide answers. They recorded a benchmark blowout of Wisconsin on Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium, handing the Badgers their worst loss since 1989. Head coach Joe Paterno spent his second consecutive game in the press box and watched his team destroy the Badgers with aggressive offensive play-calling, hard-hitting defense and polished special teams. Few FBS teams have been as consistently dominant as Penn State, which validated itself as a national championship contender.
2. The Gophers are back -- A year after going 1-11 and setting team records for futility on defense, Minnesota became bowl eligible on Oct. 11. The impressive about-face was capped by a signature road win against Illinois, the alma mater of Gophers coach Tim Brewster. Behind first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof, Minnesota forced three Illini turnovers, including a Juice Williams fumble that Simoni Lawrence returned to the end zone for the decisive touchdown. Senior defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg turned in a dominating performance as the Gophers locked up their first Big Ten road win since 2006.
3. Misery at Michigan -- Coach Rich Rodriguez's attempt to challenge his players by calling their previous performance "soft" clearly didn't work, as a team loaded with inexperience and the wrong type of personnel suffered one of the worst losses in program history. Michigan's sputtering spread offense imploded against 1-4 Toledo, and the Wolverines suffered their first defeat to a Mid-American Conference team in 25 tries. At 2-4, Michigan needs a miracle to avoid its first losing season since 1967. This is beginning to look a lot like Notre Dame of 2007.
4. Michigan State has turned a corner in October -- College football's biggest tease has found a new identity behind second-year coach Mark Dantonio. A Spartans team prone to September surges and October collapses turned in a near-spotless performance against mistake-prone Northwestern, winning its sixth straight and setting up a huge matchup Saturday against Ohio State. Dantonio has instilled greater discipline on both sides of the ball, and Michigan State is cashing in on its opponents' errors instead of the other way around.
5. Big Ten title could be decided in the next two weeks -- Minnesota could continue to surprise everyone, but it seems as though the league's top three teams (Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State) have separated themselves from the pack. The next two Saturdays should reveal a lot, as Ohio State visits East Lansing after an unimpressive showing against Purdue. Penn State then visits Columbus, where it has never won as a Big Ten member. Should both the Spartans and Nittany Lions survive, the championship could come down to their meeting Nov. 22 in Happy Valley.
It should be another revealing week of Big Ten football, particularly in Madison and Evanston. Here are 10 things to track as you watch the action Saturday.
Quarterbacks are popular on this week's rundown.
1. Quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and C.J. Bacher -- The man who plays better likely will determine the winner of the Michigan State-Northwestern game. Both players share backfields with capable running backs (Heisman Trophy candidate Javon Ringer and Tyrell Sutton), but both signal-callers have struggled with consistency this season. Bacher has dominated the Spartans in two meetings but faces a much-improved defense. Hoyer is starting to hit his stride but still owns an unsightly completion percentage (47.7).
2. Joe Paterno's whereabouts -- With questions looming about the 81-year-old's coaching future beyond this season, Paterno could end up in the press box for the second consecutive week because of a right leg injury. He also might tough it out on the Camp Randall Stadium field, where he suffered a broken left leg in 2006. Penn State has continued to win no matter where Paterno ends up, but the Nittany Lions face a big test against the browbeaten Badgers.
3. Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge -- Evridge remains the Badgers' starter, but head coach Bret Bielema hardly gave him a ringing endorsement this week. The fifth-year senior needs to improve his accuracy and limit mistakes. All-American Travis Beckum had six receptions last week against Ohio State, and Wisconsin could get talented tight end Garrett Graham back in the mix. Aaron Maybin and Penn State's talented defensive line likely will pressure Evridge, who needs to keep his poise.
4. Eric Decker vs. Vontae Davis -- The nation's leading wide receiver goes up against one of the top cover corners in FBS. Decker and Minnesota have a great chance to validate a surprising start against Illinois, which comes off its best game of the year last week at Michigan. Ohio State and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins held Decker in check two weeks ago, and the talented Davis will try to do the same.
5. Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter -- After being replaced in the fourth quarter of last week's loss to Penn State, Painter gets the start against No. 12 Ohio State. Coach Joe Tiller wondered this week whether Painter has been trying too hard after seeing his completion percentage drop (57.6) and his touchdown-to-interception ratio balance out (5-5). Painter's career stats are impressive, but he struggles in big games and needs a strong showing against the Buckeyes.
6. Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe -- Head coach Kirk Ferentz has defended O'Keefe and shielded him from the media, but another poor offensive performance against Indiana will turn up the heat on both men. Fans are concerned that Iowa has fallen behind the times with its offensive structure and play calling. O'Keefe can quiet the critics -- momentarily, at least -- if the Hawkeyes capitalize on a Jekyll-and-Hyde Hoosiers defense and end a three-game slide.
7. Michigan's defense -- When Wolverines head coach Rich Rodriguez ripped his team for playing "soft" against Illinois, he was speaking directly to a veteran defense that had answered the bell before last week. Top pass rusher Brandon Graham (leg infection) could be sidelined, but Michigan needs to regain its defensive edge against Toledo, which has scored just 16 points the last two weeks after a 54-point effort against Fresno State.
8. Minnesota coach Tim Brewster -- He didn't play up his return to his alma mater, but you can bet Brewster would like nothing more than to beat Illinois. Illini players said Brewster wanted the Illinois head-coaching job that went to Ron Zook, and they expect a fired-up Golden Gophers squad on Saturday. Zook asked Illini fans to turn out in force this week -- and to bring their "Zook Zone" towels -- to cheer on a team that played its last two games in two tough environments (Michigan Stadium and Beaver Stadium).
9. Northwestern's coaching staff -- Pat Fitzgerald and his assistants have had two weeks to prepare for one of the more anticipated games in recent program history. The extra time should help veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz figure out a way to contain Ringer, but Fitzgerald's ability to keep his players grounded will be the biggest key. Fitzgerald knows what it's like to play with expectations at Northwestern, something the team has struggled with since 2000.
10. Offensive play calling at Camp Randall -- Penn State fans hope the Lions offense went conservative in last week's unstylish win at Purdue and will open things up again against Wisconsin. Galen Hall and Jay Paterno likely will expand the playbook, particularly with top wideout Jordan Norwood back, but quarterback Daryll Clark must continue to play smart on the road. Wisconsin reserve running back John Clay has provided a lift in each of the team's last two losses. Clay has to touch the ball more for the Badgers to have a chance at an upset.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Five takeaways from the week that was.
1. Terrelle Pryor can get it done under pressure -- As Ohio State prepared for its first trip to Camp Randall Stadium in five years, questions loomed about freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his ability to handle a hostile environment. Pryor found all the answers in the fourth quarter, masterfully leading the Buckeyes on the game-winning 80-yard scoring drive, which he capped off with an 11-yard touchdown run. This isn't your typical freshman, and along with Chris "Beanie" Wells, Pryor has breathed new life into a stale offense.
2. Juice Williams is the Big Ten's best quarterback -- It's been an odd year for Big Ten signal callers, but Williams has clearly moved to the top of the list. His historic performance at Michigan -- he set a Michigan Stadium record with 431 yards of total offense -- reconfirmed his reliability on the road and versatility in the pocket. The Illinois junior ranks eighth nationally in total offense (323.8 ypg), 28th in pass efficiency (146.03 rating) and 55th in rushing (80.8 ypg). Through the first six weeks, he's the clear choice for Big Ten Offensive MVP.
3. Penn State can play four quarters and find different ways to win -- Head coach Joe Paterno was in the press box, the offense was struggling to find the end zone and the starters were on the field the entire game. It wasn't a typical Penn State win, but the Lions found a way to prevail on the road, something they've struggled to do since 2000. Quarterback Daryll Clark continued to limit mistakes and an underrated defense led by embattled linebacker Josh Hull (11 tackles, all solo, 2 for loss) held Purdue to 241 yards and flustered record-setting signal caller Curtis Painter.
4. Michigan was a mirage last week -- The Wolverines' historic comeback against Wisconsin inflated opinions about a team that still has a long way to go. Illinois' explosive offense led by Williams and wide receiver Arrelious Benn exposed a Michigan defense that had done wonders through the first four games but still has some speed issues. Michigan consistently puts together a nice quarter here or there, but its inability to sustain consistency for an entire game shows the growing pains of a transitioning team.
5. Big Ten title picture coming into focus -- Ohio State's road win against struggling Wisconsin puts it firmly in the mix for a third consecutive outright Big Ten title, but the next three weeks will reveal a lot. The winner of next week's Michigan State-Northwestern game has to be in the discussion, and Penn State can confirm itself as the frontrunner by beating Wisconsin in Camp Randall Stadium. If Michigan State beats Northwestern, it hosts Ohio State on Oct. 18 in a showcase contest, though the Oct. 25 matchup between Ohio State and Penn State in Columbus looks to be the game of the year. It should be a lot of fun to watch.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Time for some quick observations from the Big Ten's early games.
Quarterback Daryll Clark and the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions survived their first road test of the season, which turned out to be tougher than expected. Big Ten road games have been a bugaboo for Penn State, which had been 12-20 since 2000 entering today, so any win is good. The offense showed some weaknesses in the red zone and in short-yardage situations, but the defense stood tall. Keep an eye on defensive end Aaron Maybin, a rising star in this league.
Purdue deserved better after executing its game plan -- to control the clock with the run game and the short pass. The Boilers defense continued to make plays in the red zone, but Curtis Painter just can't get over the hump against a good team. It will be interesting to see what happens with Painter, a multiple record holder who was pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of Joey Elliott, who led the team's only touchdown drive. So much for the Heisman campaign. The kicking game also is a major concern for Joe Tiller.
Big Ten purists had to love this game. It featured great running backs, powerful line play and strong defense. Michigan State survived thanks to a fourth-and-1 stop by linebacker Adam Decker , who raced unblocked through the Iowa line and dropped Greene for a loss. Greene had a big day (158 rush yards) and usually doesn't go down on the first hit, so kudos to Decker. The Spartans likely will be ranked heading into next week's matchup with undefeated Northwestern. Javon Ringer couldn't do much against Iowa's talented defensive line, but quarterback Brian Hoyer took an important step in the first half.
Iowa is a young team that simply doesn't know how to win. The Hawkeyes missed opportunities for the second straight week, failing to execute in Michigan State territory. With Greene and a tough defense, Iowa isn't a team you want to face later in the season. The key for the embattled Ferentz will be keeping the confidence high after a third straight loss by five points or fewer. I don't fault Ferentz for the fourth-and-1 call, especially with Greene in the backfield, but Iowa can't leave a linebacker unblocked.
On this week's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, Indiana coach Bill Lynch was asked if he expected an offensive shootout against Minnesota. "I've gotten to the point where any time you expect something like that, the exact opposite happens," he said. Lynch was right, and today's meeting at the Metrodome turned into a defensive struggle. Neither team could run the ball, and Minnesota's defense did a nice job containing Hoosiers do-it-all quarterback Kellen Lewis (18 rush yards).
Minnesota got over the hump in the Big Ten, and quarterback Adam Weber continued to limit mistakes. Indiana finally got a decent performance from its defense, which was on the field for more than 37 minutes. But when the offense and defense don't play well simultaneously, a team is stuck at 2-3 with a three-game slide.
I'll check back in later from Camp Randall Stadium.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's a beautiful day here in Wisconsin, and Camp Randall Stadium should be cranked up tonight, even without the Wisconsin marching band. Before settling in for an interesting three-pack of early games, here's a quick look around the Big Ten.
- A great piece by the Chicago Sun-Times' Herb Gould on Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn and his older brother, who is turning his life around after serving time in prison.
- Is Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis overrated? The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises and Bill Livingston debate the Buckeyes star.
- Running backs Javon Ringer and Shonn Greene carry the load for Michigan State and Iowa this season, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Ohio State's music mix at Thursday practices -- to prepare for Saturday crowd noise -- doesn't include any country tracks, much to the dismay of wideout Brian Hartline, Teddy Greenstein writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Minnesota's DeLeon Eskridge was born to run, and his mother had a tough time keeping up with him at an early age, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- Penn State coach Joe Paterno could be in the press box again today with a sore leg, The Altoona Mirror's Cory Giger reports from Ross-Ade Stadium.
- Purdue enters a season-defining stretch and needs its defense to rise to the occasion, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
- Michigan would like quarterback Steven Threet to find his inner juice, as in Juice Williams, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman is proud of his heritage (African-American and Korean), but it wasn't always that way, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The closer it gets to Saturday, the more excited I get about this five pack of games. A lot of good stuff going on around the league this weekend.
Here are 10 items to track.
1. Chris Wells vs. P.J. Hill -- Two of the league's biggest and most established ball-carriers meet at Camp Randall Stadium (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Wells still thinks he has a shot at the Heisman but needs a huge game against Wisconsin to back it up. Hill missed last year's game against Ohio State with injury and got stuffed in the second half last week at Michigan. The 236-pound junior will be pumped for a strong performance at home.
2. Shonn Greene vs. Javon Ringer -- Two of the nation's top six rushers will share the field at Spartan Stadium, as they try to carry their respective teams to a crucial win. Iowa can't afford a third consecutive loss and needs a big game from Greene, who has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all five games this season. Ringer continues his Heisman push against the best defensive front he has faced this season.
3. Pryor leads road show -- Ohio State freshman Terrelle Pryor has backed up the buzz so far in claiming the starting quarterback job faster than anyone thought he would. Though Pryor displayed good poise in a reserve role Sept. 13 at USC, he makes his first career road start in arguably the Big Ten's roughest environment -- Camp Randall Stadium at night. Communication will be a challenge for Pryor, and his ability to stay calm will determine whether Ohio State ends Wisconsin's 16-game home win streak.
4. Michigan's defensive front seven -- This group has been fabulous so far, keeping opposing offenses in check while the Wolverines' own offense endures tortuous performances in the first half of games. A tougher challenge arrives Saturday in Illinois quarterback Juice Williams, who will test Michigan's speed on the edges (ends Tim Jamison, Brandon Graham). Limiting Illinois' big-play ability will be critical for Michigan to carry over the momentum it generated last week.
5. Daryll Clark hits the road -- Penn State's first-year starting quarterback has exceeded expectations early on, but he has done almost all of his damage within the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. Purdue's banged-up defense shouldn't provide too much of a test, but the Boilers held Oregon in check nicely and can force turnovers. If Clark and running backs Evan Royster and Stephfon Green attack a shorthanded linebacking corps, Penn State should be fine.
6. Indiana doubles up at QB -- Minnesota had a hard-enough time defending Kellen Lewis last year, as the Indiana quarterback racked up 310 total yards (235 pass, 75 rush) in a 40-20 victory. The Gophers now have to worry about Lewis catching passes as a wide receiver. Indiana likely will continue to use Lewis and fellow quarterback Ben Chappell on the field together in an effort to spark its offense after back-to-back losses.
7. Illinois' beleaguered defense -- Head coach Ron Zook called this group out this week, saying he would make changes and increase the rotation of personnel at several spots. It's easy to see why, as the Illini allow a league-worst 32 points a game and rank next to last in rushing defense (182.5 ypg). Michigan has been very vulnerable in the first half but boasts some talented running backs (Sam McGuffie, Brandon Minor, Michael Shaw) who will challenge Illinois.
8. Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber -- The sophomore called the Indiana game the biggest of Minnesota's season, and he could be right. The Gophers must prove to themselves that they can win in league play, and a home matchup with slumping Indiana provides a great opportunity. Indiana's secondary remains banged up, so Weber and star wideout Eric Decker will have opportunities to stretch the field in what is shaping up to be a shootout.
9. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz -- The 10th-year Hawkeyes coach and his coordinators are under fire after back-to-back losses. He was cleared of any cover-up in the alleged sexual assault case involving two former players, but his ultimate fate will be determined on the field. A win at Michigan State would keep the bloodhounds at bay and boost confidence for a team with a strong running back (Greene), an emerging quarterback (Ricky Stanzi) and a solid defense.
10. Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter -- The senior will move into second place on Purdue's all-time career passing list Saturday, but he's still searching for a signature win. Beating No. 6 Penn State would certainly qualify. If the Nittany Lions have a weakness, it's the back half of their defense, and Painter is building a nice rhythm with wideouts Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy. Purdue needs its captain to step up.
|AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato|
|How will Terrelle Pryor react to the deafening noise at Camp Randall Stadium?|
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Terrelle Pryor's natural gifts make him stand out from most college freshmen, but the Ohio State quarterback will only have four of his senses working Saturday night at Camp Randall Stadium.
"You can't hear," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said of being the visiting team against Wisconsin. "The big thing is the ability to communicate and make sure all communications coming to him and going from him are clearly advanced. Sometimes if you're not quite sure what you heard or saw or whatever, that can lead to some negative things happening.
"If his communication can be clear, he gets energized by the situation."
To prepare Pryor for the raucous environment at Wisconsin (ABC, 8 p.m.), Ohio State will crank up the noise during Thursday's practice. The Buckeyes actually conduct sound simulations every Thursday during the season because, as Tressel notes, "You can't hear in our stadium even when we're the home team."
Pryor displayed good poise in his first road appearance Sept. 13 against USC, completing seven of nine passes for 52 yards and no interceptions to go along with 40 rushing yards. But Saturday will mark his first career road start, and he'll face a Badgers team that has never lost at Camp Randall Stadium under coach Bret Bielema.
"It comes down to being even more focused when one of your senses is dulled," Tressel said. "The rest of your senses have to be a little sharper."
Minnesota coach Tim Brewster got a close-up view of Pryor's ability last Saturday, as the freshman piled up 167 total yards and accounted for three scores against the Gophers. Brewster, who recruited a big-game quarterback named Vince Young to Texas, has noticed some similarities already with Pryor.
"He's a tremendous threat," Brewster said. "I don't think he's going to be overwhelmed at all by the environment up at Wisconsin."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten lacks the compelling cannibalism of the SEC or the elite quarterback play of the Big 12, but the league more than makes up for it with a motley crew of championship contenders.
|AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar|
|Daryll Clark has the Nittany Lions atop the Big Ten standings.|
After the first four laps -- three for some teams -- it's time to take a closer look at the field.
The temptation is to pick the flashiest and fastest car, the one with the 10-cylinder engine and the cool name. Don't be fooled by the octogenarian at the wheel. This thing can flat-out move. But it will have to avoid a meltdown on foreign courses. Penn State certainly looks like the class of the Big Ten, but the high-powered Lions have yet to play a meaningful road game and travel to both Wisconsin and Ohio State.
Many people are sick of seeing this next car in the race, but they can't deny its track record against familiar opposition. Ohio State has dominated Big Ten play the last three seasons, going 22-2 with two outright titles. The senior-laden Buckeyes have underperformed to date, imploding against USC and struggling against Ohio and Troy. But star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is healthy again and forms an exciting backfield tandem with freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Like Penn State, the schedule doesn't favor Ohio State, which must visit Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois.
Wisconsin is the Volvo station wagon of this race: sturdy, steady, but not something to get too excited about. The Badgers grinded out a win at Fresno State and were in great position to begin their unprecedented Big Ten opening stretch -- Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State -- on a good note, but a punch-less second half led to a crushing loss. Their league title hopes rest on doing what they do best, winning at home. Wisconsin hosts Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois at Camp Randall Stadium, where it has never lost under coach Bret Bielema.
Michigan State has backed up its preseason hype with a 4-1 start and boasts the Big Ten MVP to date in senior running back Javon Ringer. The Spartans still need a little more from quarterback Brian Hoyer and an improved defense, but the schedule sets up well. A defensive makeover has spurred Northwestern to its first 5-0 start since 1962, and if the Wildcats negotiate a manageable upcoming four-game stretch, they could be a surprising entrant for the home stretch.
Despite a shaky start, Illinois has too much talent to be counted out. And Big Ten teams shouldn't sleep on the refurbished car toward the back of the pack. You know, the one with maize streaks lining its body.
Michigan still could have a say in this thing before the checkered flag.
|AP Photo/Tony Ding|
|Michigan's Rich Rodriguez is one of the new faces in the Big Ten.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As the Big Ten season kicks off Saturday afternoon -- or morning, depending on the time zone -- here are 25 things I can't wait to see this fall.
1. Terrelle Pryor lead an offensive drive -- He might be a Tim Tebow-like weapon near the goal line, but I'm more interested in how the Ohio State freshman quarterback handles a real offensive series. Pryor's athleticism is undeniable, but it will be important to monitor his passing accuracy and the way he leads older teammates.
2. Michigan's quarterbacks -- Rich Rodriguez has ushered in a new era in Ann Arbor and will turn to unproven players like Steven Threet, Nick Sheridan and possibly Justin Feagin to lead his spread offense. There will undoubtedly be growing pains, but if one of those three takes control, the Wolverines will surge.
3. Jump Around at night -- Camp Randall Stadium is intimidating enough during daylight hours, but the electricity will reach new levels this fall with back-to-back night games against Ohio State and Penn State. The Badgers haven't lost at home under coach Bret Bielema, and they should have a tremendous home-field edge this fall.
4. The Spread HD -- Penn State's new offense remains somewhat of a mystery, but the Lions will try to utilize their many weapons at wide receiver, running back and quarterback. "Hopefully HD will stand for high def, highly diverse," quarterback Daryll Clark said, "and hopefully it doesn't turn out to be huge dud."
5. Jim Tressel vs. Pete Carroll -- Two of the sport's elite coaches couldn't be more different in personality or style (can't exactly picture Carroll in a sweater vest), but they will match wits when Ohio State visits USC in Week 3.
6. Little brother in the Big House -- The Michigan-Michigan State rivalry is growing, thanks to Mark Dantonio, but the Spartans need to win one of these games sooner or later. After six straight losses, Sparty heads to Ann Arbor on Oct. 25 determined to show they're nobody's little brother.
7. New quarterbacks -- Three teams will start new quarterbacks this fall, and Iowa's situation under center is far from settled. Wisconsin needs Allan Evridge to effectively manage games, while a greater load will be placed on Penn State's Clark and Michigan's new signal callers.
8. Beanie vs. P.J. -- Forget about the spread offense when Wisconsin and Ohio State meet Oct. 4 in Madison. The Big Ten's rushing roots will be on display as Heisman contender Beanie Wells goes up against P.J. Hill and the Badgers.
9. Juice in the pocket -- Juice Williams came on strong at the end of last season, and the Illinois quarterback continued to make strides in the spring and summer. He takes over an offense without Rashard Mendenhall and looks to pass more this fall.
10. Ferentz under fire -- Iowa's Kirk Ferentz still might be one of the league's top coaches, but he has to prove it this fall. With his reputation suffering on and off the field, Ferentz needs a strong season from a squad that has major questions on offense.
11. Tiller's farewell tour -- Joe Tiller revolutionized offense in the country's premier cold-weather conference, and the Purdue coach should be celebrated as he goes through his final season. The regular-season finale against Indiana will surely be emotional for Tiller and the Boilers fans.
12. Rejus Benn in the backfield -- The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year is fully healthy following shoulder surgery, and that means more touches this fall. Defensive coordinators will shudder at the thought of Juice Williams and Benn running the option in the same backfield.
13. Grande Dos -- That's the self-appointed nickname of Illinois linebacker Martez Wilson, who was named to the Butkus Award watch list despite no career starts in college. Wilson will get every opportunity this fall to show why he could be the next Simeon Rice.
14. RichRod vs. Charlie Weis -- Both have been lauded as offensive innovators, though Weis' honeymoon ended when Notre Dame went 3-9 last year. Michigan is dealing with some eerily similar personnel losses, and Rodriguez's coaching ability will be tested when the Wolverines visit South Bend on Sept. 13.
15. Brian Hoyer in crunch time -- The Michigan State quarterback has taken heat for his fourth-quarter shortcomings, but he'll have plenty of chances to redeem himself this fall. Hoyer's poise under pressure will largely determine whether the Spartans back up their preseason hype.
16. Stephfon Green in the open field -- The Penn State running back enters the fall with tons of hype despite never playing a collegiate game. If the reports prove true, Green will torch defenses if he gets any room to run.
17. The renovated Memorial Stadium -- Illinois is bringing in so many great players for its reopening of Memorial Stadium on Sept. 6 that I expect Red Grange to miraculously turn up. The 1923 relic has been spruced up big time, and it should give coach Ron Zook another recruiting tool.
18. Lewis and the no-huddle -- Indiana coaches had Kellen Lewis in mind when they installed the no-huddle offense in the offseason. Lewis got a late start with the system after being suspended for spring ball, but the junior quarterback should catch up fast.
19. Painter's pursuit -- Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter is on pace to set a bevy of Big Ten career passing records this fall. The underrated Painter has a new group of receivers to
work with but consistently puts up big numbers.
20. Gilreath on the move -- Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath is quickly developing into the league's most dangerous return man. He might not merit the Devin Hester treatment quite yet, but expect Gilreath to break some electrifying runs this fall.
21. Mike Hankwitz's impact -- Northwestern hasn't fielded a decent defense since adopting the spread offense in 2000. Hankwitz, the league's most experienced coordinator, steps in this fall and tries to change the script in Evanston.
22. Michigan Stadium makeover -- The team on the field isn't the only thing getting overhauled in Ann Arbor this season. Fans will enter a construction site every Saturday at Michigan Stadium, setting up an unusual game day experience.
23. Ringer returning kickoffs -- Michigan State star running back Javon Ringer will showcase his speed on kickoff returns this fall. How long the arrangement lasts isn't known -- I'm not sure how wise it is to put your best player on such a dangerous play -- but Ringer is sure to produce a highlight or two.
24. Minnesota's JUCOs -- Gophers coach Tim Brewster needed some immediate help on defense and got it with junior-college transfers like Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons, Cedric McKinley and Rex Sharpe. How quickly those players blend in will determine whether Minnesota makes a jump this fall.
25. Finch on the field -- Indiana's Jerimy Finch has been cleared to play this fall, and the Florida transfer gives a big boost to the secondary. Considered arguably the nation's top safety coming out of high school, Finch will make his presence known right away.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As I've stated before, the first month of the season provides the Big Ten several prime opportunities to change its national image, but the league schedule also shouldn't be overlooked. Here are 10 games, mostly conference contests, which you don't want to miss this fall.
1. Ohio State at USC, Sept. 13 -- It's the nation's premier game of the preseason and quite possibly the regular season as well. From loads of All-Americans and future first-round draft picks to two high-profile coaches to a series history that includes two Rose Bowl meetings, the game has everything a fan could want. Ohio State can hush the haters with a win, while USC can reconfirm its place as the nation's most dominant program.
2. Ohio State at Wisconsin, Oct. 4 -- The Buckeyes haven't visited Madison since 2003, a virtual eternity that only adds flavor to a game that could decide the Big Ten. Wisconsin hasn't lost at Camp Randall Stadium under coach Bret Bielema and will test a star-studded Buckeyes defense with arguably the Big Ten's top rushing attack. Ohio State counters with Beanie Wells, setting up a showdown that goes back to the Big Ten's roots of running football and strong line play.
3. Ohio State at Illinois, Nov. 15 -- Ron Zook's recruiting surge has given Illinois the athletes to match up with Ohio State better than any other Big Ten team. A two-win Illini squad put a scare into the Buckeyes in 2006 and then stunned top-ranked Ohio State at The Shoe last fall. This year's meeting in Champaign should add another great chapter to a growing rivalry in the league.
4. Illinois vs. Missouri (at St. Louis), Aug. 30 -- This annual rivalry is quickly becoming a can't-miss date on the college football calendar. Illinois comes off a Rose Bowl appearance after completing the nation's biggest turnaround, and Missouri is thinking national title following a BCS snub. Illini junior quarterback Juice Williams can make an immediate statement that he'll be fine without Rashard Mendenhall, and his Tigers counterpart Chase Daniel will fuel his Heisman hopes with a strong showing.
5. Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 22 -- A new chapter in the sport's top rivalry begins as Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez makes his debut against the Buckeyes. Michigan's transition year might take something away from the game, but first-year coaches historically fare well in the series, particularly on the Michigan side, and Rodriguez will test the Buckeyes' defense.
6. Michigan State at Michigan, Oct. 25 -- Mark Dantonio's arrival at Michigan State has added spice to a rivalry that will always be more important to the Spartans unless they give Michigan a reason to think otherwise. After six straight losses in the series, Michigan State has a great chance to snap the slide, but Michigan should be on track by this point in the season.
7. Wisconsin at Fresno State, Sept. 13 -- A BCS bowl berth is the next step for the Badgers, who get the benefit of hosting the Big Ten's premier teams (Ohio State, Illinois and Penn State) this fall. But first they'll hit the road and face an experienced Fresno State team that rarely gets BCS teams to come to its backyard. If new quarterback Allan Evridge is the man to help Wisconsin make the jump, he'll need a steady performance here.
8. Ohio State at Michigan State, Oct. 18 -- If the Spartans survive their opener at Cal, they could come in undefeated and set up a matchup that would shape the league title race. The game features the league's two best running backs in Wells and Spartans senior Javon Ringer. If Michigan State's defense forces some early mistakes, this could could come down to the final minutes.
9. Indiana at Purdue, Nov. 22 -- Last year's game featured an unforgettable ending, as Indiana kicked a last-minute field goal to clinch a winning record and fulfill the pledge of late coach Terry Hoeppner to "Play 13." The emotions should just as prevalent this year at Purdue, where Joe Tiller coaches his final home game after transforming the Boilermakers program in the last 11 seasons.
10. Michigan at Penn State, Oct. 18 -- Several Big Ten teams see 2008 as the year to get back at Michigan, and Penn State is certainly one of them. The Lions have dropped nine straight games to the Wolverines, none more heartbreaking than the last-second loss in 2005 at Michigan Stadium. Both teams enter the season with questions at quarterback, but Penn State looks more complete and needs to end the drought with a win at home.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Northwestern media day has come and gone, and I learned that at least one Big Ten coach (Pat Fitzgerald) has read the blog. Only 10 more to go.
The schedule is shaping up a bit for next week. I'll be spending Wednesday at Camp Rantoul with the Illinois Fighting Illini, before heading over to Purdue for media day on Thursday. There could also be some surprises along the way.
Here's your daily diet of links:
- If you're just waking up, Ohio State defensive backs Donald Washington and Jamario O'Neal have been suspended for the first two games of the season. Not a major blow, given that they'll be back for USC, but it could shake up the dynamic in the secondary.
- Oh, and some guy named Terrelle Pryor spoke with reporters at Ohio State media day. He was a pretty popular man, Paul Schofield writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Items of note: Pryor rooms with starting quarterback Todd Boeckman, gets a lot of reps in practice and likes hanging out with the older players.
- More on Ohio State media day from The Columbus Dispatch's Buckeye Blog. Left tackle Alex Boone knows how to roundup the linemen -- "If you're big and fat, let's go" -- a group that includes Michigan transfer Justin Boren.
- Wisconsin star tight end Travis Beckum sat out Thursday's practice with "tightness in his lower body," but it doesn't appear to be too serious, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. Also, defensive lineman Brandon Hoey's career is over after lingering back problems.
- The Badgers seem pretty solid at outside linebacker, but the middle is a concern. Enter Jaevery McFadden, who could unseat incumbent Elijah Hodge for the job, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.
- Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis practiced with the third-team offense on Thursday, The Hoosier Scoop blog reports. Wow. He's really going to have to earn his way back.
- Apparently Akron doesn't like its chances to upset Wisconsin on Aug. 30. The school gave back some of its allotted tickets, so get 'em while they're available.
- Strong defense is a given at Penn State, but a strong season hinges on whether the offense can make up ground, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
"Penn State has scored a total of six points in its last two trips to Camp Randall Stadium, where it faces Wisconsin on Oct. 11. It has scored a total of 23 points in its last three visits to Ohio Stadium, where it will face the Buckeyes on Oct. 25."
- Without star Sean Lee in the mix at linebacker, senior Tyrell Sales needs to step up for Penn State. It looks like he's ready, Sam Ross Jr. writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.
- Missed this one from earlier, but it looks like Rich Rodriguez isn't the only one shelling out benjamins after the legal dispute with West Virginia. But given the final outcome, I doubt the university minds too much.
- Wide receiver Brian Gamble and offensive lineman Mark Jackson are back with their Illinois teammates at Camp Rantoul after missing the first three practices, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette. There's also an item on cornerback Miami Thomas, who is from Chicago.
- Defensive end Cameron Jude and wide receiver Keshawn Martin are among the Michigan State freshmen who have impressed so far, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode writes in his blog.
- Spartans cornerback Ross Weaver hopes to stay healthy after several setbacks, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal.
- Fomer Michigan defensive end Rondell Biggs was arrested this winter for illegal possession of steroids, which surprises Jim Carty of the Ann Arbor News.
- Add Big Ten Network analyst Gerry DiNardo to the growing list of people that envision a turnaround in Iowa City this fall. Sorry, I just don't see it.
- If you didn't figure it out already from my posts yesterday, Northwestern is gunning for a bowl berth -- and a win, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Tim Brewster's incoming recruiting class is all the rage, but only three members from his first crop remain with Minnesota, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.
- Will a healthy and deeper line translate into more sacks at Minnesota? The Gophers have to do better up front, Kent Youngblood writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
By now you know that Ohio State tops the list, but which Big Ten team comes next? Here's a look at the league's most hated to least hated teams and some of the reasons why (or why not). Honestly, after the top two or three, it gets a bit fuzzy. But keep in mind, being on the bottom isn't necessarily a good thing.
1. Ohio State -- Several factors fuel the Buckeye hate, including lots of winning, the Sweater Vest, Maurice Clarett, some riotous fans, the "dotting the i" tradition, an inhospitable home field and the team's recent BCS flops.
2. Michigan -- The Wolverines remain college football's winningest program (869 victories), a source of pride for a fan base often branded as arrogant. The Michigan Man ideal reinforces the perception, and Michigan's constant TV exposure annoys many. Former coach Lloyd Carr was viewed as a complainer and a curmudgeon, and new coach Rich Rodriguez arrives amid some bad p.r.
3. Penn State -- People are sick of the constant attention on Joe Paterno, but there are other reasons for the Penn State hate. As a longtime independent with a national following, the school suffers from a milder case of Notre Dame syndrome. The "We Are, Penn State" chant and the roaring Nittany Lion at Beaver Stadium don't help matters.
4. Iowa -- The program's recent decline had tapered the hate, but all the off-field problems since April 2007 might have triggered it again. Some Iowa fans are seen as obnoxious, and the pink visitors' locker room at Kinnick Stadium still gets attention.
5. Wisconsin -- The team's success after the arrival of Barry Alvarez moved it up the list. Camp Randall Stadium is one of the league's most raucous environments, and some Wisconsin fans aren't overly popular around the league.
6. Illinois -- Ron Zook's arrival and the recent recruiting surge move Illinois up the list. Zook remains somewhat of a lightning rod, and Illinois is quickly forming a rivalry with Ohio State.
7. Michigan State -- Several cocky players and a memorable post-game celebration at Notre Dame in 2005 heightened the hate for Michigan State. But the program's string of traumatic losses has inspired more sympathy than bile.
8. Minnesota --The Gophers have the potential to be higher, with a loud and inhospitable home stadium and fans who have rioted before (2003 Frozen Four). But it's hard to hate a team that hasn't won a Big Ten title since 1967.
9. Purdue -- There's not much to hate other than the pioneering spread offense Joe Tiller implemented in 1997. Boilers fans are generally harmless, and Ross-Ade Stadium isn't overly intimidating.
10. Northwestern -- A snooty fan base and cut-blocking lineman can be irritating, but the team's losing history (pre-1995) and half-full home field doesn't spark much hate.
11. Indiana -- The Hoosiers soon could climb the list after their first bowl appearance since 1993, but the program usually isn't relevant enough to be hated.