NCF Nation: Courtney Osborne

Ranking the Big Ten safeties

July, 13, 2011
7/13/11
1:30
PM ET
We wrap up our preseason look at Big Ten secondaries with a look at the safeties.

Safety isn't quite as stacked as cornerback, and the Big Ten loses some solid players like Iowa's Tyler Sash and Ohio State's Jermale Hines. There are fewer elite prospects at safety, but several teams have potential playmakers.

Here are the top 10 entering 2011:

[+] EnlargeTrenton Robinson
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireSafety Trenton Robinson is entering his third season as a starter for Michigan State.
1. Trenton Robinson, Michigan State, senior: Robinson played a big role in Michigan State's improvement as a secondary in 2010. He led the Spartans with four interceptions and tied for the team lead in passes defended with eight. Robinson, who enters his third season as a starter, had 76 tackles last season and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches.

2. Aaron Henry, Wisconsin, senior: After emerging as a playmaker in 2010, Henry should be primed for even bigger things in his second season at safety. The former cornerback made the switch and recorded two interceptions, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries last season. Like Robinson, he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches.

3. Tyler Moeller, Ohio State, senior: Moeller will provide a huge boost for a new-look Ohio State defense as he returns from a torn pectoral muscle that shortened his 2010 season. He can play either safety or linebacker and showed impressive playmaking skills early last fall, recording two forced fumbles, an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss in just five games. If Moeller stays healthy, he'll be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors.

4. Brian Peters, Northwestern, senior: Peters boasts a lot of experience, appearing in every game the past three seasons. He also shows a knack for the football, recording three interceptions in each of the past two seasons. A second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2010 after recording 107 tackles, Peters must get a bit more consistent in coverage but looks ready to lead the defense.

5. Micah Hyde, Iowa, junior: After starting all 13 games last season at cornerback, Hyde likely will move to safety as the Hawkeyes lose two multiyear starters in Sash and Brett Greenwood. Hyde showed last fall that he's a tremendous playmaker, recording four interceptions, including the pick-six that won the Insight Bowl against Missouri. He led the team with 11 passes defended, finished second with 82 tackles and had a forced fumble.

7. Nick Sukay, Penn State, senior: Like Moeller, Sukay was doing big things in 2010 before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Sukay recorded three interceptions, a forced fumble and 29 tackles in just six games. He's a natural playmaker who finished third in the Big Ten in passes defended with 13 in 2009. His return makes a very good Lions secondary even better.

8. Trulon Henry, Illinois, senior: An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2010, Henry will help anchor an Illini secondary that could do some big things this fall. Henry led Illinois with three interceptions and two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, three pass breakups and 64 tackles. He should be helped by the return of Supo Sanni from injury.

8. Logan Link, Purdue, senior: Link quietly turned in a solid 2010 season, finishing eighth in the Big Ten in tackles with 91. He's a solid tackler who added an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The former walk-on has emerged as a really nice contributor for the Boilers' defense.

9. Drew Astorino, Penn State, senior: Astorino has been the iron man in Penn State's secondary, starting each of the past two seasons as well as three games as a redshirt freshman in 2008. He has played through injuries, including a shoulder problem that impacted him last fall, when he recorded 70 tackles, an interception and five pass breakups. If Astorino stays healthy, he could blossom in his final season.

10. Courtney Osborne, Nebraska, junior: This is a bit of a projection pick, but Osborne should be able to help fill Nebraska's gaps at safety this fall. He appeared in every game last season, starting four, and recorded 41 tackles, an interception, a sack and five tackles for loss. Osborne did some nice things down the stretch and seems primed for bigger things in a bigger role.

Also considered: Minnesota's Kim Royston, Michigan's Jordan Kovacs, Indiana's Greg Heban
The Big Ten preseason position rankings have reached the home stretch as we take a look at the secondaries. Although individual positions like center and defensive tackle could boast more star power, the Big Ten's overall strength in the secondary jumps out.

There's a lot to like about the Big Ten cornerbacks as nearly every team boasts experience and/or exciting young players. The Big Ten loses All-Conference safeties Tyler Sash and Jermale Hines but brings back quite a few solid contributors.

There's definite separation after the top four groups, while Nos. 6-9 are extremely close.

Here's the rundown (coming soon: cornerbacks and safeties rankings) ...

[+] EnlargeDrew Astorino and D'Anton Lynn
Maxwell Kruger/US PresswirePenn State has an experienced secondary that includes safety Drew Astorino, right, and cornerback D'Anton Lynn, shown celebrating an Astorino interception last season.
1. Penn State: The Lions' linebackers seem to be generating more preseason buzz, but I really like what Penn State brings back in the defensive backfield. There's plenty of experience with safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris. Penn State needs Sukay to regain the form he showed in the first half of 2010 before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Lynn is a bona fide All-Big Ten candidate. If Malcolm Willis, Chaz Powell and others solidify depth here, Penn State should have an elite secondary.

2. Ohio State: This is a group the Buckeyes rarely have to worry about, even after losing three starters. The good news is several key players return from injuries, including safeties Tyler Moeller, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. Moeller should provide a major boost at the "star" position. The cornerback spots should be fun to watch as Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke fend off some challengers for the starting jobs.

3. Nebraska: Like Ohio State, Nebraska can rely on having an elite pass defense under the Pelini brothers, even after losing several standout players. All-American corner Prince Amukamara will be missed, but Alfonzo Dennard is ready for a starring role. Nebraska needs Ciante Evans to follow what Dennard did in 2010. The Huskers likely will use more linebackers this season, but they'll need to fill holes at safety as Austin Cassidy, Courtney Osborne and others are in the mix.

4. Wisconsin: The Badgers' secondary took a major step forward in Chris Ash's first season on the staff. The key is continued progress, continued playmaking and becoming a truly elite group like Ohio State and Nebraska. Wisconsin seems to have the pieces in place with veteran Aaron Henry at safety, as well as All-Big Ten selection Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith at cornerback. The Badgers must fill the other safety spot, and speedster Shelton Johnson could fill in there.

5. Michigan State: The secondary triggered Michigan State's 2010 turnaround, improving from 112th nationally in pass defense in 2009 to 60th last season. After recording 17 interceptions last season, the Spartans must stick to their MAP motto -- Make A Play -- as they aim for a repeat championship this fall. Safety Trenton Robinson is among the league's most experienced defensive backs, and hopes are high for cornerback Johnny Adams, who had an excellent spring. The unit could hinge on young players like Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis and Tony Lippett.

6. Iowa: The bad news is Iowa loses veteran safeties Sash and Brett Greenwood from a defense that slipped to 84th nationally against the pass in 2010. The good news is All-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater returns along with playmaking junior Micah Hyde. Prater could be a shutdown corner this fall, and Hyde, whose pick-six won the Insight Bowl, could play either corner or safety. Iowa must build depth around them with Jordan Bernstine, Greg Castillo, Tanner Miller and others.

7. Purdue: One of the Boilers' big question marks entering 2010 turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and the secondary could be a big strength this fall. Here's a group that could make a move up these rankings by November. Cornerback Ricardo Allen is a budding superstar who recorded two pick-sixes last season. Safety Logan Link is always around the football, and Josh Johnson could take a significant step as he complements Allen.

8. Illinois: I'm tempted to rank Illinois a few notches higher, and if the Illini address several questions in the secondary, I'll gladly do so after the season. If safety Supo Sanni returns to form and both he and cornerback Terry Hawthorne stay healthy, this could be an excellent group. Tavon Wilson returns to his preferred position of cornerback and could have a big season, while Trulon Henry brings experience to the safety spot.

9. Northwestern: Given the question marks in the front seven, Northwestern needs its veteran secondary to step up. Players like cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters should answer the bell this fall. Both multiyear starters can make plays on the football and change games. There's good competition between David Arnold and Ibraheim Campbell at the other safety spot, while Jeravin Matthews emerged this spring to win the starting corner job opposite Mabin.

10. Michigan: I'll probably take some heat from Wolverines fans, who will point to the return of cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, the emergence of young players like Carvin Johnson and a defensive makeover under Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison. All of that could lead to better results, but Michigan still has fewer certainties in the secondary than do most teams on this list. This unit has been a disaster the past few years, and it'll take a lot of things to go right to get things back on track.

11. Minnesota: Linebacker looks like a strength for the Gophers' defense, but there are questions both up front and in the secondary. The secondary will need more help from a line that generated no pass rush in 2010, but the defensive backs must help themselves, too. Cornerback Troy Stoudermire had a good spring and adds a big hitter to the group. Minnesota really needs big things from safety Kim Royston, who wants to lead the way after receiving a sixth year of eligibility. Building depth around Stoudermire and Royston will be vital in preseason camp.

12. Indiana: Fixing this group is arguably the biggest challenge for new coach Kevin Wilson and co-defensive coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory. Indiana simply hasn't had enough Big Ten-caliber defensive backs in recent years, and the results have been ugly. The Hoosiers surrendered a league-worst 27 touchdown passes in 2010 and finished 114th nationally in pass defense efficiency. Sophomore safety Greg Heban is a nice piece, but Indiana will need a boost from Lawrence Barnett, Lenyatta Kiles and others.
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)

What we learned in the Big 12: Week 12

November, 21, 2010
11/21/10
10:00
AM ET
We'll see Nebraska play angry the rest of its season. Generally, I'm not a fan of dwelling on officiating after a game. It accomplishes very little and wastes plenty of breath, a bit like screaming at a brick wall. An apology is the best you can expect from anyone who'll listen, which is a select few.

I'll make a brief exception here.

[+] EnlargeBo Pelini
Brett Davis/US PresswireBo Pelini was less than pleased with the officiating in Saturday's loss to Texas A&M.
There were a few questionable flags, and the roughing the passer penalty that kept Texas A&M's game-winning drive alive was an indefensible bad call. Courtney Osborne made a clean hit on Ryan Tannehill on time and below the helmet. I know Nebraska fans are also angry about the flag Ben Cotton received, but you're naive if you think that worse doesn't happen under piles every Saturday. I don't blame Cotton for retaliating, but let's not act like he's the first and only player to ever have an opponent's hand in an uncomfortable place. The cameras just caught this one. That said, the flag discrepancy (16-2, in favor of Texas A&M) doesn't tell the whole story. Both pass interference calls and the PI that officials initially flagged on Texas A&M but later waved off were the right calls, and Nebraska was flagged for just one holding penalty, football's most subjective penalty. The vast majority of the Huskers' other penalties were personal fouls, false starts or illegal procedures. Those are mental errors, not conspiring flag-tossers with a mandate from league headquarters in (gasp!) Texas.

Nebraska got the short end of this one, no doubt. It happens. Most of the close calls went the way of the Aggies. The Huskers have a right to be angry. But they also have to realize they didn't play well enough to win; good penalties, bad penalties, injuries or otherwise. All three happen in every game, and Nebraska couldn't overcome them. A mature team puts this loss behind it, and goes out and captures the goals in front of it, big goals like the Big 12 title which is still very much in Nebraska's grasp. We'll find out how mature this team is over the next two weeks (or maybe one, if it loses to Colorado.)

The Huskers were already playing with a bit of an us-against-the-world edge after the suspension of Eric Martin earlier in the year, and that will only intensify now. Also, I got in touch with my buddy over at the Big Ten blog, Adam Rittenberg, and after checking with Jim Delany & Co. at the league office in Chicago, we can report that in almost a century of Big Ten football, no call has ever been missed. So take heed, Huskers. Upon your exit to the Big Ten, you'll finally be out from underneath the tyrannical thumb of human error.

We've still got some interesting division races. Oklahoma won to stay alive, and Nebraska lost to keep Missouri alive, which means both divisions are up for grabs in the season's final weekend. That should be some solid drama. Nebraska will head back home to face a rolling Colorado team brimming with confidence and a new coach. Oklahoma State will host Oklahoma in Stillwater for a Bedlam with the most on the line for both teams in a long time. I'd expect Nebraska and Oklahoma State to hold serve at home, but would it surprise me if either went down? Not entirely.

Oklahoma's road problems don't extend to Waco. The Sooners got it done in a big way against Baylor, notching their first convincing road victory of the season with a 53-24 win. The offensive execution was there, even after an interception on Oklahoma's first drive, which is a good sign of some mental toughness. The defense held long enough for the Sooners to rack up a 53-10 lead before the Bears added a couple fourth-quarter garbage-time scores, and it forced a safety, scored a touchdown and forced three turnovers. That'll get it done. But at the end of the day, Oklahoma isn't going to impress anyone by stretching its record to 20-0 all-time against the Bears. The true test comes Saturday in Stillwater against the Big 12's most consistent team, Oklahoma State, in one of the program's biggest games ever.

Colorado is playing its best football of the season. Where did this come from? Beating Iowa State at home is one thing. Out-powering a physical Kansas State team is another. That's exactly what Colorado did, jumping out to a second-half lead on the back of Rodney Stewart and riding him to the finish line while Carson Coffman and the Wildcats had to sling it to play catch-up. Colorado is putting it all together under Brian Cabral, and now faces a monumental task, heading to Lincoln with bowl eligibility on the line for the Buffs, and the Big 12 North at stake for the Huskers.

What to watch in the Big 12: Week 10

November, 4, 2010
11/04/10
10:18
AM ET
I'll be in Stillwater on Saturday checking out a big South battle between Oklahoma State and Baylor, but I'll have my eye on every game as usual. Here's what I'm watching:

1. The scoreboard at Boone Pickens Stadium. You saw it in my pick this morning, there's going to be a lot of points on the board this Saturday, featuring some of the best skill-position talent in the league. Oklahoma State's triplets -- quarterback Brandon Weeden, running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Justin Blackmon -- go head-to-head with Robert Griffin III, Jay Finley and Kendall Wright.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden and Kendall Hunter
John Rieger/US PresswireOklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (3) and Kendall Hunter (24) -- along with receiver Justin Blackmon -- have been tough to stop this season.
2. Big hits. This should be something to keep an eye on for the rest of the season, really. I had it on last week's what to watch, but I'm interested to see if receivers over the middle go unjacked-up, or if there's any noticeable difference with how defenders hit. Oklahoma safety Quinton Carter, one of the league's hardest hitters, says his style is changing because of the crackdown. Nebraska's defense says it won't change the way it plays after linebacker Eric Martin was suspended. Courtney Osborne's hit on Blaine Gabbert (clean in my book) went unpunished after Missouri's Gary Pinkel sent it to the league for review in hopes of educating his players on which hits were legal and which hits weren’t.

3. Texas' defense. It completely shut down the league's best rushing offense earlier in the season in a marquee 20-13 victory at Nebraska. Now, it takes on the Big 12's No. 2 rushing team, Kansas State, in Manhattan. What's in store for running backs Daniel Thomas and William Powell?

4. Texas Tech's receivers. Jacoby Franks and last year's leader, Alex Torres, are out. They the are Red Raiders' Nos. 3 and 4 targets. Franks is gone for the year, and Torres could be too, but arthroscopic surgery earlier this week provided hope he could return in a few weeks. Those who will be playing, namely seniors Lyle Leong and Detron Lewis, will need to play well to keep up with Missouri's offense. Younger players like Austin Zouzalik and Tramain Swindall have to elevate their play.

5. Blaine Gabbert. Gabbert actually played pretty well for what was available last week, running when he needed to and throwing without any real misses on the rare occasion when a receiver was open. This week should be much easier against a Texas Tech secondary that is the worst in the league and one of the worst in the nation. Is he due for a big week? His targets will be back open, and he won't get hit nearly as much. The Red Raiders gave up 449 yards to Ryan Tannehill, 274 yards to Cody Hawkins and 356 to Brandon Weeden in the past three weeks. Not a sparkling résumé.

6. Oklahoma on the road. Bob Stoops says it's not a real problem. The Sooners' win-loss margin at home is 22.7 points higher than away from Owen Field, by far the highest of any other elite program. This year, the Sooners have a loss to Missouri and a two-point win over Cincinnati, the last-place team in the Big East at 3-5, on their record. Texas A&M is a renewed team with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Is an upset in store?

7. Tannehill's next test. Like we mentioned above, Texas Tech's secondary ranks last in the league, giving up 45 more yards per game through the air than any other team. That ranks 119 out of 120 teams nationally. Oklahoma isn't way, way better (sixth in Big 12, No. 83 nationally), but they'll be tougher than Texas Tech. What does Tannehill have in store for his encore after a school-record 449 yards and four touchdowns in his first start last week?

8. Quarterback controversies. Texas Tech has reopened the competition between Steven Sheffield and Taylor Potts, and hasn't officially announced a starter. Kansas' top two passers may be back this week, but their status is in doubt as No. 3 Quinn Mecham hopes to make his second career start. Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman hasn't explicitly said Tannehill will start on Saturday, but it would be hard to imagine he wouldn't after last week. Keep an eye on how all this shakes out on Saturday.

9. Kansas climbing. The Jayhawks led at halftime last week at Iowa State. Now, they host the next-worst team in the league, Colorado, the Big 12's only other 0-4 team. There's no doubt this is the best chance for either team to get their first -- and maybe only -- conference win of the year.

10. Huskers taking care of the ball. I'm not 100 percent sure, but I think the definition of a football nightmare is finishing a game with more turnovers than points. That's what Nebraska did last year, turning the ball over eight times in a 9-7 home loss to an Iowa State team missing its two best players, running back Alexander Robinson and quarterback Austen Arnaud. They'll face a full-strength Iowa State team in Ames on Saturday for control of the North. The Huskers have an incredible 26 fumbles in eight games, but have lost only nine of them. What are the odds history repeats itself?

SPONSORED HEADLINES