NCF Nation: Colin Sandeman
In compiling these lists, I tried to look at positions that have depth issues for 2011 and/or 2012.
Let's start off with the Legends division.
Running back: Marcus Coker's breakout performance in the Insight Bowl got Iowa fans excited for the future, but there's still a significant depth issue here. If Adam Robinson can't get reinstated, the Hawkeyes will be looking for No. 2 and No. 3 options behind Coker. As we've seen the past two seasons, freshmen backs will see the field at Iowa.
Linebacker: Iowa felt the losses of Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds this season, and it must continue to rebuild the depth at the three linebacker spots. Multiyear starter Jeremiha Hunter departs along with players like Jeff Tarpinian and Troy Johnson. Iowa needs to build around rising star James Morris.
Wide receiver/tight end: Iowa loses Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Allen Reisner and Colin Sandeman this year. Also, receiver Marvin McNutt and tight end Brad Herman depart after the 2011 season. Although the Hawkeyes boast young talent at both positions, they need to build depth with this class.
Secondary: The Wolverines couldn't find many answers here in 2010, and though the return of players like cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd will help, there are opportunities for freshmen to make an immediate impact. Michigan simply needs more options at both secondary spots in 2011.
Defensive line: It's crucial for coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to begin building depth up front. Future NFL player Mike Martin departs after 2011 along with Ryan Van Bergen, so Michigan needs to solidify both line positions.
Kicker: Field goals were an adventure in 2010, and Michigan simply can't have so much uncertainty at kicker going forward. The Wolverines need a reliable leg here ASAP.
Linebacker: I like some of the young linebackers the Spartans bring back in 2011, but you can't overlook the losses of multiyear starters Greg Jones and Eric Gordon, not to mention reserve Jon Misch. Michigan State should have a decent group of first-string 'backers, but wants to build depth in the defensive midsection.
Offensive line: Not only do the Spartans lose three starters from the 2010 line, but they're still not where they need to be depth-wise up front to become a consistent top-tier Big Ten program. Michigan State wants to become like Iowa and Wisconsin. The big step is to keep fortifying both lines, especially on the offensive side.
Pass rusher: Minnesota finished last in the Big Ten in sacks last season (9) and hasn't had an intimidating pass rusher since Willie VanDeSteeg in 2008. The recent departure of defensive tackle Jewhan Edwards, who led the team in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009, underscores this need.
Offensive line: The Gophers lose three starters up front, and while they boast some promising young linemen like tackle Ed Olson, the depth just isn't there yet. Minnesota's best teams had powerful offensive lines, and new coach Jerry Kill must continue to create competition up front.
Running back: The Huskers lose standout Roy Helu Jr., and while Rex Burkhead quickly will become one of my favorite Big Ten players, he might not be an every-down back for Nebraska going forward. You always want options in the backfield, and Nebraska must continue to address its run game with the 2011 class.
Wide receiver: Nebraska loses Niles Paul and wants to identify playmakers to surround Taylor Martinez or whomever starts at quarterback. Brandon Kinnie departs after the 2011 season, and while Burkhead helps in the receiving department, Nebraska needs others to emerge.
Running back: Although Mike Trumpy and Adonis Smith emerged as possible answers late in the 2010 season, Northwestern needs to create real competition here. The Wildcats have lacked a dominant back during the Pat Fitzgerald era and need a dangerous rushing option to complement Dan Persa.
Defensive line: The Wildcats lose only one starter (Corbin Bryant) from the 2010 squad, but four more rotation players (Vince Browne, Jack DiNardo, Kevin Watt and Niko Mafuli) depart after 2011. Fortifying the pass rush is a major priority going forward.
They had won 20 games the previous two years and helped Iowa claim back-to-back bowl championships (Outback, Orange). Iowa entered this season ranked in the top 10 nationally primarily because of its large and decorated senior class led by national awards candidate Adrian Clayborn.
"No one's happy with the record," Reisner said. "We worked hard and we didn’t want to be where we’re at right now. We’ve just got to keep working."
The beauty of the bowl season is it provides one final opportunity to get things right. Iowa's seniors still can end their careers on a strong note Tuesday night with a win against Missouri in the Insight Bowl.
The Hawkeyes can win three consecutive bowl games for the first time in team history (they have won two straight five times).
"It's definitely big for us," Reisner said. "You want to win every game, but we really want to win this one for three straight [bowls]."
Iowa must lean on its seniors Tuesday after the rough finish to the regular season and the off-field problems that surfaced earlier this month. The team will play without record-setting receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, arrested Dec. 7 on several drug charges, and starting running back Adam Robinson, suspended until January for undisclosed reasons.
Despite the turmoil, Reisner saw no need for the team to regroup before the bowl. The players are already moving forward.
"Those guys are gone," he said. "We're worried about the guys that are here now."
Robinson's suspension leaves Iowa with only one quasi-proven back in true freshman Marcus Coker. DJK's departure puts more pressure on receiver Marvin McNutt and tight ends Reisner and Brad Herman to step up in the passing game.
The good news: Iowa faced a similar situation in the 2010 Orange Bowl. Johnson-Koulianos missed most of the game with an injury, but Colin Sandeman filled in with four receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Brandon Wegher led the way on the ground with 113 rush yards and a touchdown.
"We've been there before," Reisner said. "Derrell wasn’t here in the last bowl game, he was hurt and Colin stepped up and had to play a huge game. We had a freshman running back last year have 100 yards rushing, and we're working for that again this year.
"Both tight ends, Brad and I, are going to have to step up big. We’re going to have to make big plays, we’re going to have to get involved, we’re going to have to get open."
Iowa will be tested by an improved Missouri defense that ranks sixth nationally in points allowed (15.2 ppg) and 41st nationally in yards allowed. Led by speedy edge rushers Aldon Smith and Jacquies Smith, the Tigers' defense reminds Reisner of Arizona's, which racked up six sacks against Iowa in a 34-27 win on Sept. 18.
The Hawkeyes hope their return to the desert brings better results Tuesday night.
"We don't want to lose four straight as seniors," Reisner said. "We’ve had a pretty good record in the four or five years we’ve all been here, and we want to keep that going."
Here are my top five:
2. Michigan State: Swenson is undoubtedly a major loss, but Michigan State should improve in the other phases of special teams. Punter Aaron Bates was extremely solid in 2009, averaging 41.6 yards despite a league-high 63 attempts. Look out for Keshawn Martin, who averaged 28.9 yards on kick returns last fall. Martin could be the league's top return man by season's end. The Spartans need to upgrade their kickoff coverage unit.
3. Ohio State: Despite question marks at both specialist spots, Ohio State's history as an elite special-teams squad under Tressel can't be overlooked. Hopes are high for Ben Buchanan at punter, and Devin Barclay has a very big kick on his résumé against Iowa last year. The Buckeyes must replace return man Ray Small, but there's enough talent there. The coverage teams are always good in Columbus.
4. Minnesota: The Gophers' strengths are their return teams, led by Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average, although it had only nine runbacks all year, and finished fifth in kick return average. Eric Ellestad was perfect on PATs and had a decent year on field goals. The Gophers need Dan Orseske to step in at punter for Blake Haudan.
5. Wisconsin: There are some concerns about the Badgers' special-teams units, but everyone is back and should be better. Punter Brad Nortman averaged 42 yards per punt last year, and while kicker Philip Welch took a mini step back, he still booted 17 field goals. David Gilreath is one of the league's most experienced return men, and linebacker Chris Borland proved to be a difference-maker on special teams last year.
More rankings ...
Greetings from The Shoe, where No. 10 Iowa and No. 11 Ohio State meet with the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth, almost certainly the Rose Bowl, at stake.
The Buckeyes come in as heavy favorites following their big win last week against Penn State, while Iowa tries to bounce back without quarterback Ricky Stanzi and win its first game in Columbus since 1991. Ohio State is 31-4-1 against Iowa since 1962. Put simply, this is the prime opportunity for Iowa to quiet its doubters and shock the Big Ten by going 4-0 in conference road games.
The weather is gorgeous with sunny skies, temperatures in the low- to mid-60s and light winds. It's unseasonably warm, and I'll definitely take it.
Injuries: Everyone knows about Stanzi, who will miss today's game and most likely next week's regular-season finale with a severely sprained right ankle. Redshirt freshman James Vandenberg makes his first career start at quarterback. Iowa hopes to get safety Brett Greenwood (neck) and wide receiver Colin Sandeman (head) back for the game, while there's a chance running back Adam Robinson (ankle) could play. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is battling an ankle injury and sat out portions of practice this week. Defensive tackle Dexter Larimore should be a bigger factor today as he works back from a sprained knee. Ohio State's offensive line is probably the healthiest it has been all season, as tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams should be available today.
THREE KEYS FOR IOWA
1. Force turnovers from Pryor -- Iowa leads the Big Ten in takeaways (26) and ties for the national lead in interceptions (19). The Hawkeyes defense must help out Vandenberg by forcing turnovers against Pryor, who has been more turnover prone this season.
2. Put Vandenberg in situations to succeed -- As good as Stanzi was in the fourth quarter, he put the defense in tough situations with interceptions. Iowa shouldn't throw too much at the young quarterback but take a few calculated risks and stretch the field with wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. Vandenberg has the arm strength to make the throws, but he'll need time from the offensive line.
3. Win the battle at the line of scrimmage -- Iowa's defensive line essentially won the Penn State game. It needs a repeat performance against Pryor and the Buckeyes' offense. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes' offensive line must play its best game of the season against one of the nation's elite defensive fronts, led by Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson.
THREE KEYS FOR OHIO STATE
1. Turn up the heat on Vandenberg -- The Buckeyes have made life miserable for veteran quarterbacks and should be licking their chops against a guy making his first career start. Iowa's offensive line has underachieved a bit, and the Buckeyes will win this game if they consistently harass Vandenberg.
2. Run Pryor around the edges -- Iowa is the only Big Ten team yet to face Pryor, and the Hawkeyes really haven't seen a comparable quarterback. Pryor has run the ball well since the Purdue game and should test Iowa's speed around the edges. Despite Pryor's bad ankle, Ohio State can't be afraid to turn him loose.
3. Don't get overconfident -- The entire complexion of this game changed last Saturday, and Ohio State comes in as a huge favorite. The Buckeyes usually don't let outside factors affect their play, but they need to respect Iowa and not let the Hawkeyes hang around in this game.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- I'm back at Kinnick Stadium today to see if No. 4 Iowa can continue its perfect season and remain in the national title discussion as it takes on Northwestern.
To be perfectly honest, if you told me before the season that I'd be anywhere but State College today, I wouldn't have believed you. But Iowa has become the Big Ten's top team and one of the top national storylines, and given the Hawkeyes' knack for drama, I couldn't be anywhere else. Northwestern has won three of the last four in this series, including the last two right here at Kinnick.
The weather is gorgeous and unseasonably warm, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-60s for most of the game. It might even reach 70. The winds are calm and shouldn't be a major factor like last week, much to the delight of Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi.
Injuries: Northwestern's official injury report can be found here. Quarterback Mike Kafka (hamstring) isn't on it, which bodes well for the Wildcats. Kafka is expected to play, but his mobility likely will be limited. Northwestern also will use backup Dan Persa at quarterback. Cornerback Sherrick McManis (leg) also is expected back, though safety Brendan Smith (thumb) is out. Iowa starting safety Brett Greenwood (neck) is questionable, and reserve wide receiver Colin Sandeman (head) likely won't play.
THREE KEYS FOR NORTHWESTERN
1. Protect the pocket: Kafka won't be moving as well as he normally does, and Iowa's defensive linemen are extremely good at getting into the backfield. Northwestern's offensive line, which has underachieved this season, must have its best game to protect both Kafka and Persa.
2. Make Iowa earn its points: Indiana failed to do so last week and squandered two double-digit leads. Northwestern must make Iowa march downfield and limit big pass plays from Stanzi to wideouts Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and tight end Tony Moeaki. The Wildcats did an excellent job on defense last year in beating Iowa.
3. Take care of the football: Iowa's secondary feasts on turnovers, but Kafka has thrown only seven interceptions this season, three of which came in one game. Kafka and Persa need to be precise with their short throws and very careful when they attack downfield, as Iowa safety Tyler Sash will be waiting.
THREE KEYS FOR IOWA
1. Avoid a slow start: I know slow starts are Iowa's M.O. this season, but Northwestern doesn't exactly sprint out of the gate, either. The Wildcats have been outscored 55-47 in the first quarter. Iowa will have a chance to take control early and perhaps avoid a comeback for once. Then again, the Hawkeyes own the fourth quarter.
2. Attack the secondary: The Hawkeyes might be known for defense and special teams, but they boast some big-play threats in the passing game as well. Northwestern's secondary has been banged up all season, and Stanzi will have opportunities to attack with intermediate and deep passes. Moeaki said this week that opposing defenses have been bracketing him, but that opens up chances for McNutt and Johnson-Koulianos.
3. Don't get comfortable: Northwestern does have one big similarity with Iowa this season: The Wildcats seem to be at their best with their backs against the wall. They have mounted several huge comebacks, so if Iowa does get a sizable lead, the Hawkeyes must keep the pedal down.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Happy Halloween from Kinnick Stadium, where No. 4 Iowa tries to continue its perfect season today against Indiana (ESPN, noon ET).
I dressed up as a sportswriter. How about you?
Iowa leads the all-time series, 39-27-4, though Indiana has won two of the last three meetings.
I'm excited to finally see Indiana in person, as the Hoosiers are the only Big Ten team I haven't seen live since starting this job.
The sun is shining and temperatures will hover in the mid to upper 40s, but the wind likely will be a factor as it's blowing at 15-20 miles an hour. Should be a fun day for the specialists.
Injuries: Indiana's injury report can be found here. Starting outside linebacker Will Patterson is expected to return from a hand injury, while cornerback Donnell Jones also returns to the lineup. Iowa will be playing its first game without leading rusher Adam Robinson, out for the rest of the regular season with an ankle sprain. True freshman Brandon Wegher makes his first career start at running back, and Iowa could be using two more freshman, Brad Rogers and Josh Brown, for the first time this season. Iowa also will replace starting right guard Dace Richardson (broken leg) with Julian Vandervelde. It will also be interesting to see how safety Brett Greenwood and wide receiver Colin Sandeman respond after absorbing big hits in last week's win against Michigan State.
THREE KEYS FOR INDIANA
1. Pressure Ricky Stanzi: Iowa is shorthanded at running back and likely will look to throw often, so Indiana must pressure Stanzi with talented defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. The Hawkeyes' offensive line hasn't been all that great at preventing sacks, and Kirlew, who has 5.5 sacks this season, needs to have a big day.
2. Hit home runs on offense: The Hoosiers can't expect many sustained drives against Iowa, but they have enough big-play ability to test the Hawkeyes' defense. Running back Darius Willis can take it to the house if he gets in the open field, and wideouts Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher can stretch the field.
3. Hang in there: Iowa hasn't blown out anybody at home and will let teams hang around. Indiana must limit turnovers and major mistakes, play field position and force a few miscues from Stanzi. Despite Iowa's clutch play this season, the Hawkeyes can only play with fire for so long.
THREE KEYS FOR IOWA
1. Get the run game going: Everyone wants to know how Iowa will respond without Robinson, so getting Wegher some early confidence will be key. Wegher hasn't taken on a full load of carries this season, but he boasts breakaway ability around the edges.
2. Attack downfield with Moeaki, McNutt and DJK: Indiana's secondary is vulnerable, and Stanzi has been at his best when attacking down the field. Iowa must force Indiana's linebackers to chase tight end Tony Moeaki, and wideouts Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos should be able to create some separation.
3. Put a team away if the opportunity is there: Winning close games on the road are great, but Iowa has failed to pull away from Northern Iowa, Arkansas State and Michigan on its home field. If the Hawkeyes get up early on Indiana, they must put the Hoosiers away. Iowa could really use a fourth quarter without much drama right about now.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Charles LeClaire/Getty Images|
|Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' demotion has sparked speculation about the wide receiver.|
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A depth chart can be quite a powerful piece of paper, as Iowa wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos found out after spring practice.
Johnson-Koulianos, who has led the team in both receptions and receiving yards in each of the last two seasons, dropped to the second string on Iowa's post-spring depth chart. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that Marvin McNutt, a converted quarterback who only started playing wideout in spring ball, moved into the starting job ahead of the man known as DJK.
McNutt remains the starter on Iowa's preseason depth chart, while Johnson-Koulianos and Colin Sandeman are both listed as potential backups.
Johnson-Koulianos' apparent demotion sparked a swell of speculation about the junior wide receiver.
Was he in the dog house? Did he lapse in focus or work ethic? Was it something even worse?
"I get phone calls every day, text messages all day, about, 'What's the deal with the depth chart? What's going on? What are you doing?'" Johnson-Koulianos said Friday. "There's really a lot of rumors circulating, questioning my character and how hard I'm working. It's unfortunate because I understand what it takes to be on this team.
"My heart is in this program. I've been around here for a while now, so I know what's expected."
Johnson-Koulianos even got wind of a rumor that he had gotten in a fight, which was news to him.
"I came here because of the positive energy that I got from the fans and the coaches," he said. "I don't understand why people were questioning those issues with me and how hard I'm working. It's a result of, I'm ranked this on the depth chart, so people assume, 'Obviously there's something going on with him. He's not doing this right.'"
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said "nothing's changed" with Johnson-Koulianos, who has caught 82 passes for 940 yards and five touchdowns the last two seasons. But Ferentz and his assistants have dropped hints that the junior needs to pick things up to remain a starter.
"Nobody can relax in this training camp because everybody wants to play," wide receivers coach Erik Campbell said. "He's a guy who's been maturing and at the same time, being a little bit focused, knowing that he has to compete for his job every day."
Added Ferentz: "It's like everything else, it's in the player's hands. We evaluate everything. Everything they do gets evaluated on the field, off the field."
Johnson-Koulianos denied ever having conversations with the coaches about a need for him to pick things up on the field.
Whether or not the depth chart was intended to send a message, it certainly got DJK's attention.
"Hopefully, I'll be their guy, and if not, obviously they're making the best decision," he said. "Can I start on this team? Yes. Have I started on this team? Have I been productive? Yes. Will I start this year? I'm not sure. That's the coaches' decision. But I'll tell you what. It won't be because of my lack of effort or my lack of desire.
"I'm sure they have their reasons. This is their job. They're professionals. They know what it takes to motivate guys."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The conference room outside Kirk Ferentz's office serves as a shrine to what Iowa football has accomplished in the last decade.
A case holding watches and rings from each of the seven bowl games Iowa has made during Ferentz's tenure as head coach rests on a table. The 2004 Big Ten championship trophy sits in a corner, and pictures from bowl games and Kinnick Stadium line the four walls.
It's an easy place for a coach to nod his head and take stock of what his program has accomplished since 1999.
Ferentz does none of that, and neither do his players.
"Nobody's going to mistake us with Southern Cal," Ferentz said. "So we better have an edge and we better be trying to maximize what we have."
What Ferentz has is a team that returns 16 starters, eight on a defense that finished fifth nationally in scoring (13 points per game), ninth in rushing (94 yards per game) and 10th in takeaways (32) last season. Iowa was the lone Big Ten team to win its bowl game, capturing six of its final seven games overall, and should enter the fall ranked in the top 20.
But there are question marks, and Ferentz recognizes them. Iowa remains young, with only 15 seniors and five three-year lettermen on the 98-man roster. The Hawkeyes lose Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene at running back and defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, both four-year starters.
"You don't take nothing for granted," cornerback Amari Spievey said.
"Absolutely nothing," added linebacker Pat Angerer.
Ferentz likes the attitude he's seen so far this spring.
"So far, so good," he said. "This team has a chance to be a good football team. We've got a lot of work to do in a lot of areas, mentally and physically, but we have a good feel about it thus far."
Other notes from my coversation with Ferentz and several players:
- Ferentz sounds pleased with the development of junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who beat out Jake Christensen for the starting job last year and led Iowa to its strong finish. Ball security will be the primary challenge for Stanzi, who bounced back from mistakes well last year but can't afford to play with fire too much. Ferentz and tight end Tony Moeaki both recognized Stanzi's obvious development as a leader during the offseason.
"Last year, he was just a guy," Ferentz said. "He's just on a natural track of progression. Rick was just trying to play last year. Not that he wasn't a leader, but we've seen that expand, too. We're optimistic that he'll continue on. ... You hope from an experienced quarterback that he's going to be making better decisions with each opportunity, and I think we've seen that."
- The competition to replace Shonn Greene is under way, and Ferentz doesn't want to place unreasonable expectations on the team's next running back. Jewel Hampton, Greene's primary backup last season, missed the first third of spring ball with a mild hamstring strain but is back at practice and taking contact. Redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson missed the second third of the spring with the flu and is now back. Junior Paki O'Meara has participated throughout the spring.
- As for the void at defensive tackle, junior Karl Klug has stepped in well. Ferentz praised the spring performance of Mike Daniels and said Travis Meade has moved from offensive line to defensive tackle. Freshman Steve Bigach also is getting work this spring. Ferentz said starting ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard have taken on the leadership load with the line.
- Six players are out for the spring following surgeries: Tight end Tony Moeaki, safeties Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood, linebacker A.J. Edds, defensive tackle Cody Hundertmark, and right guard Andy Kuempel. Ferentz said there have been no major injuries this spring aside from players missing a few practices here and there. Moeaki was on crutches when we talked but expects to be back soon.
- Ferentz said Iowa will be playing three night games during Big Ten play: at Penn State (Sept. 26), vs. Michigan (Oct. 10) and at Michigan State (Oct. 24).
- There's some buzz around the program that wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has fallen out of favor a bit after a strong finish last fall. Asked about the wideouts, Ferentz named four players Marvin McNutt, Colin Sandeman, Paul Chaney and Trey Stross -- before getting to Johnson-Koulianos, who led the team in both receptions (44) and receiving yards (639) last fall.
"He's got to improve just like everybody else," Ferentz said of the man known as DJK. "There's a lot of little things that he can do better. With receivers, when they make plays, it's pretty obvious, but there are a lot of things that go on during the game that go unnoticed by the average person watching. That's a challenge for all the guys."
- McNutt, who switched to wide receiver from quarterback, has "been intriguing," Ferentz said. He also praised Chaney and Stross for their performances this spring.
- Ferentz discussed the team's recent off-field problems, which included the arrest of his son, James, a sophomore center. Angerer, who admits he partied too much early in his career, also weighed in on the trend.
"We've all been there," Angerer said. "There's a lot of guys on the team that probably should have gotten in trouble, and I'm one of them. I've done some stupid stuff, I've had my fair share of fun, but it's never been as fun as playing in front of 70,000 people."
- Until this week the offseason has been very positive for Ferentz, who agreed to a new contract in February through the 2015 season. The NFL rumors likely will never go away for Ferentz, but the Big Ten's second-longest tenured coach sounds pretty comfortable in his surroundings.
"I'm 53, so I don't know how many more years I've got," he said with a laugh. "I don't think that far out, I really don't. We'll worry about this year, and then we'll go from there. But my plan is to coach for a long time, and my plan is to be here for a long time."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten preseason has seemed downright boring compared to the rest of the country.
There's no Mark Sanchez or Ben Olson crisis in this league, and though Ohio State has endured a few recent off-the-field incidents, the Buckeyes have nothing on Georgia. None of the four major quarterback competitions -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- are settled, and the one in Ann Arbor could drag on for some time. Wisconsin dismissed running back Lance Smith, but the Badgers remain well-stocked at the position.
If the first two weeks of preseason practice have revealed anything, it's that a position that seemed weak in the league could be much better than forecasted.
The Big Ten lost seven of its top 10 receivers from last season, a group that included three-time league receptions leader Dorien Bryant, big-play dynamo Devin Thomas, Indiana career receiving leader James Hardy and Michigan stars Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Aside from Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern, every Big Ten team entered camp with some degree of uneasiness about the wide receivers.
Michigan State and Indiana lost superstars. Michigan lost almost everybody. So did Purdue. Illinois and Minnesota needed second options. Iowa welcomed back several prominent pass-catchers from injuries. Wisconsin was very young at the position.
The anxiety level has dropped quite a bit.
Illinois, which will stress the pass more this fall, has produced several good candidates to complement Arrelious Benn, including juniors Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt, sophomores Chris James and Alex Reavy and freshmen Jack Ramsey, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott. Highly touted Fred Smith will make an impact this fall at Michigan State, but he's been overshadowed a bit by classmate Keshawn Martin. Michigan's young wideouts impressed first-year coach Rich Rodriguez from the get-go, and the Wolverines will lean on players like Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway come Aug. 30.
I was extremely impressed after watching Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath, a big-play threat with tremendous speed. Though I didn't see Purdue practice after media day, junior-college transfer Arsenio Curry certainly looks like he can contribute alongside Greg Orton. Playmaker Andy Brodell is back in the fold at Iowa, and sophomore Colin Sandeman looks to be pushing incumbent Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the starting job. Ray Fisher and Andrew Means headline a group of Indiana wideouts that also include some promising freshmen.
There has been so much buzz about the spread offense sweeping through the Big Ten. It looks like the league will have the moving parts to make those schemes work this fall.