NCF Nation: Daryll Clark

Ten items to track around the Big Ten in Week 11.

1. Leaders of the pack: How nutty is the Leaders Division? There could be only one bowl-eligible team (Wisconsin). Indiana could represent the division at the league title game with a 5-7 record. Oh, yeah, and Wisconsin and Indiana are playing an incredibly significant game on the second Saturday of November. Pretty sure no one predicted that. Wisconsin can secure a spot in the Big Ten title game with a victory in Bloomington, where the Badgers have won six of their past seven games. Indiana, meanwhile, plays arguably its biggest home game in decades. A win puts the Hoosiers in the driver's seat to represent the Leaders Division in Indy with two games to play. But Kevin Wilson and his players aren't getting wrapped up in the hype. "We're 4-5 and 2-3 in the league," Wilson said. "We always play in bad TV slots and we don't get much coverage, so we're going to just keep plugging along and getting better. ... We are a long way from being a good football team."

2. The M&M QBs matchup: Arguably no two Big Ten players have improved more from the 2011 season than Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin and Nebraska signal-caller Taylor Martinez. McGloin leads the Big Ten in passing (270.7 yards per game), while Martinez is second (215.7). They rank second (Martinez, 289.7) and fourth (McGloin, 271.2) in total offense, and they're tied for the Big Ten lead in touchdown passes with 18. The two men share the field Saturday at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, where Martinez has been very good. Martinez needs just 190 passing yards to become Nebraska's all-time leader, and he just needs four more passing touchdowns to tie Zac Taylor's team mark. McGloin needs four touchdown strikes to pass Daryll Clark for Penn State's career record.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireMatt McGloin and Penn State are looking to go 4-0 on the road in Big Ten play this year.
3. Quarterback questions: While both Nebraska and Penn State know who will be leading their offenses Saturday, other Big Ten teams have questions at the most important position on the field. Coach Bret Bielema has made a decision on a starter for the Indiana game, and while he's not revealing it publicly, Curt Phillips reportedly will finally get his shot to lead the offense after years of battling injuries. Michigan coach Brady Hoke also isn't saying much about the availability of top quarterback Denard Robinson (elbow), who sat out last week. Both Robinson and backup Devin Gardner took reps in practice this week. Indiana and Northwestern, meanwhile, have had ups and downs with their respective quarterback rotations this season. Indiana's Cameron Coffman and Northwestern's Kain Colter both stepped up big in their most recent performances. Will the coaches stick with them on Saturday?

4. Gophers' one win away: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill always talks about the time it takes to build a program, and he's right. But the Gophers can take a significant step Saturday when they visit slumping Illinois. A victory makes Minnesota bowl eligible and likely ensures the Gophers go somewhere warm for the holidays for the first time since the 2009 season. After wasting several opportunities last week against Michigan, Minnesota must capitalize in Champaign or run the risk of a late-season slide. The Gophers finish with Nebraska on the road and Michigan State at home, so they really need this one. Minnesota has won its past three road games against Illinois, last falling at Memorial Stadium in 2001. The Gophers are 0-2 on the road this season.

5. Boilers, Hawkeyes on the ropes: Once-promising seasons for both Purdue and Iowa have spiraled out of control in recent weeks. The Boilers have been blown out in four of five Big Ten games and must win their final three contests to go bowling. Fourth-year coach Danny Hope is under fire -- Purdue reportedly is putting feelers out for a new coach -- but maintaining his eternally optimistic view, saying this week, "I'm not going to let a disgruntled fan or any one person take my spirit away or take away from what it is that we're here to do, and that's to coach football and have fun and to win." Purdue needs a win as it travels to Iowa, where head coach Kirk Ferentz is also feeling the heat (although he has no chance of being fired). Iowa hopes to avoid its first four-game losing streak since the 2007 season.

6. November reign: Every Big Ten team is hoping to make it a November to remember, and several Big Ten coaches have done their best work in the season's pivotal month. Wisconsin's Bielema is 17-3 in November games during his six previous seasons as Badgers boss, including a 9-3 mark in November road contests. Nebraska's Bo Pelini boasts a 13-4 mark in November games, although he went 2-2 in his first November in the Big Ten. Pelini has lost to only one unranked team in November at Nebraska (Northwestern last season). Speaking of the Wildcats, they are 10-5 in November in the past four seasons. Pat Fitzgerald is 13-8 overall in November games at Northwestern, which squares off against a Michigan team that went 3-1 in November in Brady Hoke's first season as coach. There's more of this coming next week, as Ohio State's Urban Meyer (33-7 in November) and Michigan State's Mark Dantonio (13-4 in November) return to the field.

7. Road warriors: Missed field goals cost Penn State in its first road game at Virginia, but since then, the Lions have been dominant away from Happy Valley, winning their three Big Ten road games by a combined score of 107-30. Penn State aims to sweep its Big Ten road schedule for just the third time (previously done in 2009, 1994) in its 20-year history as a member of the league. Bill O'Brien is one of only five first-year Big Ten coaches (Meyer being another) to win his first three league road games. Former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce is the only Big Ten coach since 1950 to win his first four conference games on the road, accomplishing the feat in 1979. Nebraska provides by far the toughest road test for Penn State, which makes its first trip to Lincoln since 2003.

8. Stayin' alive in Ann Arbor: Although Michigan is tied with Nebraska atop the Legends Division and Northwestern is just a game back, both the Wolverines and the Wildcats would lose head-to-head tiebreakers with the Huskers, making their margin for error razor-thin. The loser of Saturday's Northwestern-Michigan game at Michigan Stadium could completely drop out of the race, especially if Nebraska defends its home turf against Penn State. Northwestern is 16-9 in true road games since the start of the 2008 season, including a win at the Big House in 2008, but Michigan has been perfect (12-0) at home under Hoke, averaging 37.8 points and 465 yards per game this season.

9. Unlucky 13: The one number Minnesota wants to avoid Saturday -- unless it's signifying a victory -- is 13. The unlucky number has been exactly that for the Gophers this season, as they've scored 13 points in all four of their Big Ten losses (against Iowa, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan). Minnesota has moved the ball decently at times, but has struggled to translate yards into points and has repeatedly stubbed its toe in the red zone. The Gophers have scored touchdowns on only 16 of 30 red zone opportunities this season and on only 6 of 13 opportunities during conference games. Illinois actually ranks in the top half of the Big Ten in red zone defense, so Minnesota will have to be more polished in Saturday's game, especially if top wide receiver A.J. Barker (ankle) can't play. The Gophers likely won't need many points to win -- Illinois has scored 24 or fewer in eight of nine games -- but another 13-point performance could spell trouble.

10. Veterans Day tributes: Several Big Ten teams honor the nation's military veterans Saturday, including Iowa, which will don special uniforms for its game against Purdue. The Hawkeyes are expected to wear silver pants, black shoes and silver helmets, and the nameplates on the backs of their jerseys will list a branch of the armed services -- chosen by each player. Illinois will have several veterans tributes for its game against Minnesota, including the coaching staff wearing camouflage hats and American flags being passed out to the first 10,000 fans at the game.
If Penn State fans are disappointed with the list of candidates for the school's head-coaching vacancy, they should check out another list: the school's recent quarterbacks.

This exercise isn't meant to further depress Nittany Lions supporters. It actually should get them excited about the team's future under new coach Bill O'Brien.

Bear with me here.

[+] EnlargePenn State's Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarMatt McGloin (11), Rob Bolden (1) and all quarterbacks who follow could be the biggest beneficiaries of new coach Bill O'Brien.
One of the biggest knocks on Penn State during the Joe Paterno era was the team's inability to produce viable NFL quarterbacks. Unless Kerry Collins returns to an NFL team in 2012, Penn State will have no former quarterbacks playing quarterback at the next level (Michael Robinson is a running back for the Seattle Seahawks). The San Francisco 49ers in 2006 drafted Robinson as a running back, meaning that Penn State hasn't had a quarterback selected in the NFL draft since 1997, when the Baltimore Ravens selected Wally Richardson in the seventh round.

That's a stunning drought for a program considered a traditional power. In the Big Ten, only Minnesota and Nebraska have gone longer without having a quarterback selected.

Penn State has had only two other quarterbacks drafted -- Collins, a first-round pick in 1995, and Tony Sacca, a second-round pick in 1992 -- since Todd Blackledge in 1983. Sacca played only two games in his pro career. Blackledge played six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, throwing 29 touchdowns and 38 interceptions in his career.

While Penn State has produced some solid college quarterbacks -- most recently Daryll Clark, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year -- the program has been lacking at the position.

O'Brien could provide a boost at quarterback and for an offense that ranked 93rd nationally this season and that has finished in the top 30 nationally just twice (2002, 2008) since the 2000 season. One of the common complaints I've heard from Penn State fans, particularly the past two seasons, is that the team's offense is stuck in the past.

O'Brien has worked with one of the best quarterbacks to ever play -- Tom Brady -- the past few years with the New England Patriots. While his track record as an offensive coordinator in college isn't overly impressive, he was part of a Maryland staff that produced the nation's No. 28 offense in 2003. Georgia Tech finished 15th nationally in total offense in 2000, while O'Brien served as the team's running backs coach and recruiting coordinator.

If nothing else, O'Brien has seen what good offense and good quarterback play looks like. The Patriots rank second in the NFL in both total offense (428 ypg) and pass offense (317.8), and third in scoring (32.1 ppg).

That doesn't mean O'Brien's arrival automatically makes Penn State one of the Big Ten's top offenses in 2012. But if he hires the right staff and can develop players effectively, things will be looking up for the Lions attack. Penn State needs much more out of the quarterback position than it received this year, as Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden shared time and neither had much success.

Maybe O'Brien gets the most out of McGloin. Maybe O'Brien fosters the development not seen from Bolden. Maybe another quarterback emerges this fall under O'Brien's tutelage.

O'Brien clearly has more important things on his plate as he transitions into a job he's never held before.

But his presence in State College could be just what Penn State needs to upgrade the most important position on the field.
In the past, offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski never had to bring a compass to Penn State practice.

Veteran leaders like Daryll Clark, Sean Lee, A.Q. Shipley and Josh Gaines drove the bus, and everyone knew the direction in which the Nittany Lions were headed. Wisniewski merely had to hop on board.

It's not that simple in Happy Valley this season.

Penn State knows where it wants to go and what it wants to be, but there are fewer certainties. Starting quarterback Rob Bolden has been a college player for less than two months. The offensive line is still settling in after an offseason shuffle. Several of the key contributors on defense are new.

[+] EnlargeRoyster
Rob Christy/US PresswireEvan Royster has struggled to get on track in the early part of the season.
Where is Penn State headed this fall? It's still to be determined.

"It's a little different," Wisniewski said. "It takes a little bit a longer to see what you got when you have some younger guys. We know they're very talented, but it takes getting into a season to see how well they're going to develop."

A Week 2 trip to No. 1 Alabama showed Penn State how far it needs to go. The Lions responded last week against Kent State, blanking the Golden Flashes 24-0, though the win left some lingering doubts about the offense.

Penn State faces another huge test Oct. 2 at No. 18 Iowa in the Big Ten opener, but first it takes on an undefeated Temple team brimming with confidence and seeking a historic upset Saturday at Beaver Stadium (Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Despite a mid-game offensive lull against Kent State, Wisniewski and his linemates gained confidence from the way they started and finished. The offensive line had been a question mark entering the season, but Penn State is the only FBS team yet to allow a quarterback sack through the first three games.

The Lions also received a second-half boost from backup running back Stephfon Green, who rushed for 59 yards on only 11 carries.

"Offensively, we saw signs that we can have a very balanced attack, and that can create problems for people," Wisniewski said. "We’re starting to do well picking up some of the more complex blitzes and things defenses are throwing at us. You can see it in that we haven't given up a sack here in three games, which is excellent, given how many different [position] changes we had."

Penn State's biggest question mark on offense remains one of the unit's few guarantees entering the season -- senior running back Evan Royster. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from 2009 has yet to eclipse 40 rushing yards in the first three games.

Royster reached the end zone for the first time against Kent State but also fumbled in the third quarter and saw his duties limited. The senior returned to Penn State in part to be a featured back this fall, but he has had to share carries with Green, a veteran reserve, and emerging freshman Silas Redd. Left tackle Quinn Barham told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "we're worried" about Royster's struggles.

"I’m sure he'd like to get the ball a little bit more, but he’s handling it well," Wisniewski said. "He knows that the heart of our season is still to come."

Wisniewski shot down the notion that Royster might be pushed for his starting spot.

"He doesn't need to earn the job," Wisniewski said. "It’s his job. He's got 3,000 yards rushing. That's not something he needs to worry about."

Coach Joe Paterno doesn't sound as concerned as he did leading up to the season. There are the typical JoePa lines -- "I couldn't tell you there's one area where I'm completely satisfied," he said Tuesday -- but aside from being more competitive at Alabama, the team has developed on schedule.

Paterno identified consistency in the run game and forcing more turnovers as two things Penn State must achieve in the coming weeks.

"I've been optimistic that one of these days, we're going to be a pretty good football team," Paterno said. "We’re not there yet. We're a little better now than we were to start with. ... Hopefully, we'll have a good week and play a little better against Temple than we've played so far this year, and I think we'll have to, to win it.

"We've done about as well as I could expect."
Daryll Clark is still making great reads for Penn State.

[+] EnlargeRobert Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarRobert Bolden is the first freshman QB to start a season opener for Penn State in 100 years.
Before training camp kicked off in State College, Clark was talking to Nittany Lions receiver Graham Zug about incoming freshman quarterback Rob Bolden. Clark, the record-setting signal caller at Penn State from 2006-09, had spent some time with Bolden at the Elite 11 quarterback camp last summer in California.

"[Bolden is] going to come in and he's going to be able to make his reads. He's a good quarterback, and he's further ahead than [I've] seen in a lot of high school quarterbacks," Clark told Zug.

"After that," Zug said, "I kind of knew this guy's for real."

More evidence arrived in camp, as Bolden immediately put himself in the mix to replace Clark as Penn State's starter. Although Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin were sophomores and freshman Paul Jones had gone through spring ball, Bolden, the last man to enter the race, quickly joined the lead pack.

When the dust settled last Thursday, coach Joe Paterno and his staff made a historic decision and named Bolden as the team's starter. Two days later, Bolden became the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener for Penn State in 100 years.

He more than held his own against Youngstown State, completing 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns with an interception that wasn't all his fault (receiver Derek Moye tripped). The 6-4, 208-pound Bolden looked like a freshman for a quarter and a half before settling into a nice rhythm.

"He wasn't nervous at all, didn't have those jitters or anything," Zug said. "He was comfortable, cool and calm."

Paterno adhered to his long-standing policy with true freshmen and didn't make Bolden available to reporters after the game or this week. But other than the media blackout, Paterno isn't treating Bolden like a newbie.

The 83-year-old typically puts true freshmen one rung above the water boys, but Bolden is different.

"He's very poised, he's all business, he's a very likable kid, he's coachable, he's a hard worker," Paterno said. "He's everything you're looking for."

Bolden's rapid rise has been one of the Big Ten's surprise story lines so far in 2010. Now the freshman has the chance to shock the college football world.

He makes his first career road start Saturday against No. 1 Alabama, the defending national champion (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Few freshmen in college football history have had tougher assignments in their first away games than Bolden will have at a sold-out Bryant-Denny Stadium.

"We kind of had to put the Rosetta Stone program together to help him learn the language," Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno told reporters after the Youngstown State game. "He learned Spanish. Next week he's got to know Mandarin Chinese -- on the road, be fluent in it, under pressure. So we'll see."

Bolden's teammates have realistic expectations for Saturday night.

"There's probably going to be some bumps along the way," said receiver Brett Brackett, who caught two touchdown passes from Bolden against Youngstown. "How he reacts to those bumps will tell how he does as a whole. ... He hasn’t played in that type of environment. There aren't many like it. But I'd like to think the way he handles himself and the way he handles the huddle will help him down there."

Penn State's offensive players already are noticing changes in Bolden this week. His voice is stronger in the huddle -- not quite up to Clark's timbre, but getting there. He's also grasping the importance of leading with a swagger.

"He’s taking control, making sure everybody knows it’s his huddle," Zug said. "I expected him to be nervous in the last game, but he wasn't nervous at all. I think he'll be the same way this game."

The odds are against Bolden to beat 'Bama.

But as he has proven in the last month, the odds don't mean much to him.
Joe Paterno expects to make a decision on Penn State's starting quarterback later today or Wednesday.

"We've got to make up our minds here," Paterno said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference.

But regardless of who walks out there first for Penn State on Saturday -- Matt McGloin, Kevin Newsome or Robert Bolden -- the Nittany Lions likely will play more than one quarterback in their opener against Youngstown State. That's the way it goes when a team has virtually no experience returning at the most important position on the field.

True freshman Paul Jones is out of the race for 2010, as academic issues have prompted him to redshirt. Sophomores McGloin and Newsome and true freshman Bolden have paced each other throughout camp.

"We'll play more than one quarterback," Paterno said. "We'll play two or maybe three until we're settled, until one is the leader. ... None of them have played. One of the kids [Newsome] has played about 30 plays, so it's difficult for me to tell you just how good some of them are going to be."

Newsome entered camp with a slight edge after backing up Daryll Clark last year, but McGloin has played well and gained confidence. Bolden only arrived at Penn State this summer but has generated a lot of buzz with his performance in camp.

Paterno's stance on playing freshmen is well known: he hates it, much less at the quarterback position. But the 6-foot-4, 208-pound Bolden might be too good to leave on the sideline.

"We've got to use a younger player and we've got to do the best we can to get him ready to be effective," Paterno said. "We're fortunate that we have more than one kid who has the physical ability, but it's just a question right now of who's going to be the guy in the huddle who says, 'Let's get this thing going.'

"We've got a play a young one. I don't like it, but we've got to play him."

One more Penn State nugget:
  • Despite being listed as a starting cornerback on the Week 1 depth chart, Chaz Powell has been moved back to offense, Paterno said. Penn State is hurting a bit on offense with receiver Curtis Drake and tight end Andrew Szczerba both out and No. 2 running back Stephfon Green battling a neck injury. "We moved [Powell] because we got some people bumped up," Paterno said. "Green's hurt. Kid from Philly, Drake, he's banged-up. We needed somebody over there to do some of the things those guys could do, not only be running backs, good receivers, guys that could maybe make something happen." Powell ranked fourth on the team with 28 receptions last year before moving to corner. The good news is cornerback Stephon Morris appears to be healthy now.
Stephfon Green knew what his role would be in the 2010 season before anyone else did.

When fellow Penn State running back Evan Royster decided in January to return for his senior season, Green got the news directly from the source.

[+] EnlargeGreen
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireStephfon Green carried the ball 71 times as Evan Royster's backup last season.
“He told me first, before he told anybody,” Green said, “so I wasn’t surprised.”

Royster’s message meant that Green, in all likelihood, would be handling backup duties for Penn State for the third consecutive season.

Royster has been Penn State’s featured back since 2008, rushing for 2,405 yards and 18 touchdowns during the span. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from last season is on pace to break Curt Warner’s team rushing record this fall.

Bottom line: barring injury, Royster will carry the rock for Penn State in 2010, and Green will spend more time waiting his turn.

“I can’t control what happens,” Green said. “I just try to prepare myself so if anything was to happen [to Royster], I could step in and play that starting role. I don’t have any animosity toward it, I’m not mad or anything like that.

“We just have a real good running back sitting in the backfield this year. It’s good for our team.”

Here’s why Green shouldn’t be too upset about another year as the second-stringer.

Penn State will turn to a young, unproven quarterback this season following the graduation of standout Daryll Clark. To ease the pressure, Joe Paterno and his offensive staff will turn to the running backs.

While Royster boasts an impressive career yards-per-carry average (6.1), he has only averaged 15.2 carries per game in his two seasons as the starter. He has received 20 or more carries just three times in his career. Green, meanwhile, has recorded 176 carries in the past two seasons and should continue to receive a decent number this fall.

“We’re young at quarterback, and we’re probably going to have to rely on the running game a lot this year,” Green said. “I’m happy with the touches I get.”

The 5-foot-10, 197-pound Green generated buzz during spring practice in 2008 after recording several breakaway runs in scrimmages. His A-plus speed and mesmerizing moves made him a coveted recruit coming out of Kennedy High School in Bronx, N.Y.

Green said his style often draws comparisons to that of a certain NFL back.

"Everybody keeps telling me Thomas Jones," he said. "I try to go for LaDainian Tomlinson, but I haven't quite got there yet."

Some expected Green to challenge for the starting job as a freshman, but Royster established himself as Penn State's No. 1 ball carrier and has never looked back. Green still rushed for 578 yards and four touchdowns on 105 carries (5.5 ypc average), logging 269 plays.

A dislocated ankle in the Rose Bowl against USC slowed Green, who missed spring ball following surgery. He seemed to be hitting his stride last season with strong performances against Illinois and Eastern Illinois before reinjuring the ankle and missing two games. Green didn't feel 100 percent again until the Capital One Bowl, a 19-17 Penn State win against LSU.

The junior spent this spring working on his blocking, specifically picking up blitzes from different angles.

"I'm trying to be a smarter player, be a student of the game," he said. "Seeing things, talking to the linebackers, asking them what their keys are when they're blitzing, things like that. The overall aspect of blocking, I improved on."

Although he's not a big back, Green added a few pounds to his frame and hopes to be more durable. Just in case he moves up a spot on the depth chart.

"Hopefully, my ankle holds up and I can be more durable," he said. "If you really look at it, I haven't had any other problems but my ankle. If that holds up, I can be more of an asset to this team."
Who are the most irreplaceable players in the Big Ten? These aren't necessarily the best players, but the guys who teams really can't afford to lose.

Let's take a team-by-team look at who they are:

Illinois: Offensive tackle Jeff Allen. Illinois already has lost one starting offensive tackle to injury in Corey Lewis (ACL), placing a major burden on Allen to protect a young starting quarterback. Allen has started two seasons and should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. He drew praise from the coaches this spring for absorbing Paul Petrino's new offense, and he'll anchor the line at weak-side tackle. If he goes down, Illinois likely will turn to Craig Wilson, who has played mostly special teams in his career.

[+] EnlargeBen Chappell
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesBen Chappell finished last season with 17 touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards.
Indiana: Quarterback Ben Chappell. History shows that for Indiana to have a chance at a bowl game, it needs to put up a lot of points. The running game has been inconsistent the past few years, but Chappell is poised to have a big senior season through the air. The Big Ten's third-leading passer in 2009 will have a bunch of weapons at his disposal, led by first-team, all-conference wide receiver Tandon Doss. Indiana has virtually no experience behind Chappell and would turn things over to a redshirt freshman (Dusty Kiel or Edward Wright-Baker).

Iowa: Quarterback Ricky Stanzi. This isn't a knock against backup James Vandenberg, who certainly proved himself last fall at Ohio State. But Iowa is simply a different team with Stanzi on the field, drawing confidence from him through his ups and downs. You could see how much Stanzi meant to his teammates on offense after he went down against Northwestern last November. Although offensive tackle Riley Reiff, defensive end Adrian Clayborn or safety Tyler Sash certainly can make their case to be in this spot, Stanzi is the player who shapes Iowa's success more than any other player. He's got the 'it' factor.

Michigan: Cornerback Troy Woolfolk. Woolfolk provides leadership and some experience in a Wolverines secondary that looks pretty shaky even with him on the field. The thought of Woolfolk being out would certainly raise the anxiety level among Michigan fans. Woolfolk had some good moments last fall and has a chance to be a very solid Big Ten cornerback this year. He also can play safety in an emergency. Given Michigan's lack of depth in the defensive backfield, Woolfolk's presence is crucial.

Michigan State: Linebacker Greg Jones. This one is pretty obvious. Not only has Jones led Michigan State in tackles in each of his three seasons on campus, but he's the undisputed leader on defense. Without Jones' tackling and play-making ability in the offensive backfield, an average Michigan State defense would be a lousy one. Although the Spartans boast some depth at linebacker with Chris Norman, Eric Gordon and incoming freshmen William Gholston and Max Bullough, Jones is the one guy the coaches are counting on for a ton of production.

Minnesota: Safety Kyle Theret. There's not an obvious choice for the Gophers, but the team's defense lost some major experience after safety Kim Royston broke his leg this spring. Theret, who was suspended during spring ball but should return, has started 32 games at safety. He ended the 2009 season on a strong note with two interceptions and a tackle for loss in the Insight Bowl. If Royston can't return or is limited, Theret will have to lead a young Gophers' secondary.

[+] EnlargePersa
Jerry Lai/US PresswireDan Persa is the only Wildcats quarterback with any game experience.
Northwestern: Quarterback Dan Persa. Persa hasn't even started a game for Northwestern, so how can he be labeled as irreplaceable? First off, no other Wildcats quarterback has game experience, while Persa appeared in 10 contests last fall. Backup Evan Watkins remains a bit raw, and Northwestern will have a true freshman, most likely Trevor Siemian, as its third-stringer this season. Persa already has established himself as a team leader, and he would create problems if he went down.

Ohio State: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Another easy choice, as Pryor has started 22 of Ohio State's past 23 games at quarterback. Although the Buckeyes have won games without major contributions from Pryor, the offense will be shaped around him more this fall. He'll need to build off of what he showed on Jan. 1 in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. Backups Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton lack game experience, and Ohio State would need everyone else to step up around the quarterbacks to survive without Pryor.

Penn State: Running back Evan Royster. An experienced running back can be a young quarterback's best friend, and Royster certainly qualifies as a veteran. He has started the past two seasons for the Nittany Lions, racking up 2,405 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. Penn State needs big things from Royster this fall as an inexperienced signal caller takes over for Daryll Clark. Backup running back Stephfon Green has shown flashes, but he lacks Royster's consistency.

Purdue: Defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. We'll find out if running back Ralph Bolden is replaceable this season, but Purdue doesn't want to see anything happen to Kerrigan. The senior is one of the nation's top pass rushers, and he's the most experienced member of a defensive line that loses standout tackle Mike Neal. Kerrigan led the Big Ten with 13 sacks last fall and will make life easier for those around him. Aside from Gerald Gooden, Purdue looks a little thin at D-end.

Wisconsin: Quarterback Scott Tolzien. If Tolzien's value wasn't known after the 2009 season, it became even clearer during spring ball after backup Curt Phillips tore his ACL. Tolzien led the Big Ten and ranked 22nd nationally in pass efficiency (143) last season, completing 64.3 percent of his passes. He limits major mistakes and spreads the ball around well to his receivers. Redshirt freshman Jon Budmayr has talent but lacks game experience and looked shaky this spring. Wisconsin would much rather let Budmayr have more time to prepare.

For the last three seasons, the Big Ten has paid the price in the preseason conference rankings because of poor bowl performances the previous years.

Has it been a little unfair? Perhaps. Bowl performances don't mean everything, and it's important to examine the personnel lost and the personnel returning for each team.

But if bowl performance is nation's No. 1 factor for evaluating conference, why not use it in the Big Ten's favor? That's exactly what I'm doing by ranking the Big Ten as the nation's second best conference behind the SEC.

The Big Ten went 4-3 in last year's bowls, beating four teams ranked in the top 15 and winning two BCS games (Rose and Orange). Of the four bowl champions, you can make a strong case that three of them -- Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin -- will have even stronger teams in 2010. Ohio State is a bona fide national championship contender, Iowa brings tremendous skill and mental toughness and Wisconsin returns the most starters in the league, including Heisman Trophy candidate John Clay.

All three squads will appear in many preseason top 10 rankings.

Penn State loses six All-Big Ten performers, including quarterback Daryll Clark and Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick, but the Nittany Lions have been consistently strong since 2005. They'll enter the season in the Top 25 and should have little trouble getting back to a bowl game, where they do their best work (27-13-2 all-time record).

The middle of the Big Ten could be stronger as well. Michigan State gets star linebacker Greg Jones back in the fold, and the Spartans are stocked with skill players and have a very favorable schedule. Purdue held its own during Big Ten play last year and should be very explosive on offense. Northwestern has shown for the first time in its history that it can reload, winning 17 games the last two seasons and six or more games in six of the last seven seasons.

If Michigan can get back on track during a pivotal season for head coach Rich Rodriguez, the Big Ten's profile will be further enhanced.

How can the Big Ten become the top conference? Simple. Beat the SEC in the BCS title game. The SEC has won the last four of them, and nothing shapes national perception of conferences more than performance in the BCS championship.

The Big Ten also must hold off challengers for the No. 2 spot, namely the Big 12 and Pac-10. The Big Ten has dropped its last five bowl matchups against the Big 12, a trend that really needs to change this year. The Pac-10 should be very solid top to bottom, but Oregon's messy offseason and some lingering questions around USC keep the league a little behind.

My conference pecking order

1. SEC
2. Big Ten
3. Big 12
4. Pac-10
5. ACC
6. Mountain West
7. Big East
8. WAC
9. The rest ...
Lindy's magazine has published its preseason All-America teams and preseason Top 25 poll for 2010, and the Big Ten is all over it.

Let's start with the All-America teams, which include nine Big Ten players:

First Team
  • Penn State offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski
  • Wisconsin offensive lineman Gabe Carimi
  • Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn
  • Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones
Second Team
  • Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward
  • Wisconsin tight end Lance Kendricks
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren
  • Wisconsin offensive lineman John Moffitt
  • Iowa safety Tyler Sash

A pretty solid group of selections here. Heyward could have been a first-team selection. Wisconsin's John Clay has some tough competition at running back with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram, Pittsburgh's Dion Lewis, Oregon State's Jacquizz Rodgers and West Virginia's Noel Devine. Although I would include Clay on my preseason All-America team, but those aren't bad choices.

Moving on to the Top 25, which includes four Big Ten teams
  • No. 3 Ohio State
  • No. 6 Wisconsin
  • No. 10 Iowa
  • No. 24 Penn State

There seems to be a debate among preseason pollsters regarding Wisconsin and Iowa. We've seen the Hawkeyes ranked higher in some polls, and the Badgers ranked higher in others. Wisconsin returns more starters, but Iowa brings back a lot of key players from a team that achieved at a higher level in 2009. The Hawkeyes have won their last two games against Wisconsin, but Iowa loses more key players than the Badgers. So you can see why people see these things differently. I'm pretty comfortable having Iowa ahead of Wisconsin in my power rankings right now.

This is the lowest I've seen Penn State ranked in a preseason poll. Clearly, the Lions' All-Big Ten loses, including quarterback Daryll Clark, have raised concerns among the Lindy's folks.
1. The Penn State spring game confirmed what the Nittany Lions’ feared as they attempt to patch the hole left by the graduation of quarterback Daryll Clark. Not that anyone puts great stock in spring games, but the fact that freshman Paul Jones outplayed sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin on Saturday is another indication that there’s a lot of work to do. Don’t forget: whoever wins the starting job makes his first FBS start at Alabama.

2. As you tally the list of college football players whose lack of self-discipline cost them big bucks in the NFL draft, don’t forget the first player on the list last season. Oregon back LeGarrette Blount signed a free-agent contract with Tennessee. Like Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, Blount put very little mileage on his body after the first game of the season. You don’t need the results of the NFL draft to know that’s where the similiarity ends.

3. The more I think about the SEC, the more I’m convinced that the power has shifted from the East Division to the West. It’s not just that Alabama is the defending national champion. As we pointed out last week, Florida is a rebuilding favorite and every other East team has big questions. In the West, meanwhile, Arkansas, LSU and Auburn all should be stronger next season.

Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 26, 2010
4/26/10
9:00
AM ET
The 2010 NFL draft is in the books, so let's take a look at the 34 Big Ten players who heard their names called in New York. When the full list of undrafted free agents comes out, I'll post it later in the week.

ROUND 1

ROUND 2

ROUND 3

ROUND 4

ROUND 5

ROUND 6

  • No Big Ten players selected
ROUND 7


Here are the selections according to Big Ten team:

Illinois: 3
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 6
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 1
Minnesota: 2
Northwestern: 3
Ohio State: 4
Penn State: 6
Purdue: 1
Wisconsin: 2

Quick thoughts:

  • Three of the biggest draft steals from the Big Ten were pass-catchers in 2009: Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. Benn had first-round skills but a fourth-round college résumé. Decker most often was compared to former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, and if healthy, he could do big things in Denver. If Moeaki stays healthy, the Chiefs might have found the next Tony Gonzalez. Kirk Ferentz puts Moeaki right up there with Dallas Clark in Iowa's top tight ends.
  • Love the Colts' pick of Angerer, who could be a very good pro in a great situation in Indy. With Angerer and Indiana's Fisher going to Indianapolis, the Colts now have drafted 26 Big Ten players under Bill Polian.
  • Northwestern's Kafka also goes to a very good situation in Philly, as the Eagles love to pass the ball and will run some shotgun.
  • Penn State's Lee, Purdue's Neal, Wisconsin's Schofield and Northwestern's McManis could all be steals for their teams. Health has been an issue for Lee, Schofield and McManis, so they need to find ways to get on the field and stay there.
  • It was interesting how one Big Ten left tackle, Indiana's Saffold, rose up the draft boards late in the process, while another, Iowa's Bulaga, dropped.
  • Ohio State had four players drafted, but this has to be the Buckeyes' weakest draft class in recent memory. I thought Gibson would go in the second or third round, but Worthington, Coleman and Spitler barely made the cut. Did Jim Tressel deserve Big Ten Coach of the Year over Ferentz? The case looks stronger now.
  • Draft snubs included Michigan State wide receiver Blair White, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott. Warren was the only Big Ten junior not to get drafted, though it was tough to fault his decision at the time. All four players have reportedly signed free-agent deals.
Anyone who played alongside Daryll Clark, rooted for him or covered him in the media knows how much Penn State football means to the quarterback. Some NFL-bound players never look back after playing their last collegiate game, but Clark has a vested interest in what happens in Happy Valley.

Clark has exhausted his eligibility with the Nittany Lions, and his old job will be in the spotlight all the way until Sept. 4 as four young players -- Kevin Newsome, Matt McGloin, Paul Jones and Robert Bolden -- compete for the starting spot. Last year, Clark spent time mentoring Newsome, who enrolled early and served as the backup quarterback as a true freshman.

And even as Clark prepares for a potential NFL career, he's keeping close tabs on what happening at Penn State. Very close tabs, in fact, as I found out after talking with Lions quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno this week.

"He's actually living in my basement right now while he's working out," Paterno said with a laugh. "So he's around quite a bit right now."

Clark, who participated in Penn State's pro day last week, was a fixture during Penn State's winter workouts. Spring practice starts Friday, and he's almost as excited as Paterno to watch the Nittany Lions' young signal-callers.

Knowing Clark, he'll probably pass along a few tips during workouts.

Paterno said Clark moved in before Penn State's pro day and will stay "until he finds out what happens on draft day."

"I haven't made him babysit yet," said Paterno, a father of five, "but that may happen."
Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

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

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

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

College football coaches love competition, and spring practice serves as a proving ground for it. Starting jobs are usually not awarded until the summer, but players can separate themselves during spring ball. We'll know a lot more about several Big Ten teams following the 15 practices this spring.

Here are five position battles to watch when the teams return to the field:

1. Penn State quarterback: Record-setting signal caller Daryll Clark departs after two years as the starter, and Penn State's ability to find a capable replacement will determine the course for its season. Sophomore Kevin Newsome backed up Clark last season and enters the spring as a slight frontrunner, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones will challenge him. Heralded quarterback recruit Robert Bolden joins the mix this summer.

2. Iowa running back: Can a team ever have too many running backs? Iowa will let us know this year. Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher stepped up big time in 2009, but they'll have to hold off Jewel Hampton, who returns from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. Don't forget Hampton had been pegged as Shonn Greene's successor before his injury. Jeff Brinson also returns from an ankle injury, and several others also will compete for carries.

3. Purdue quarterback: Robert Marve hasn't played a meaningful down since November 2008, but the Miami transfer hopes to succeed Joey Elliott as Purdue's top quarterback. Marve tore his ACL last summer and could be a bit rusty on the practice field, but he certainly boasts the talent to lead Purdue. He will compete with Caleb TerBush, who backed up Elliott last year but appeared in only one game, completing 4 of 10 pass attempts for 22 yards.

4. Illinois quarterback: The Illini have a new offensive coordinator and several new faces at quarterback following the departure of four-year starter Juice Williams. Paul Petrino wants to be very multiple with his scheme, but he needs to see who emerges between Jacob Charest, Nathan Scheelhaase, Eddie McGee and early enrollee Chandler Whitmer. Charest started two games in place of Williams late last season, while McGee has extensive field time but played wide receiver for part of 2009.

5. Michigan defense: You can't list only one position with the Wolverines defense, and all the individual competitions will be critical. Aside from a handful of likely starters -- defensive back Troy Woolfolk, defensive tackles Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen -- the competition will be open. Michigan needs consistent contributors who can work in Greg Robinson's scheme, and the coaches won't be afraid to look to young players.
We've already looked at the big shoes to fill throughout the Big Ten in 2010.

So who steps in this fall? Here are five newcomers to watch.

Penn State QB Kevin Newsome: All the candidates for Penn State's starting quarterback job -- Matt McGloin, Robert Bolden, Paul Jones -- could be listed here, but Newsome saw the most action in 2009, appearing in 10 games. Penn State hoped to get Newsome more field time, but he showed good mobility with two rushing touchdowns and completed 8 of 11 pass attempts. His development during the winter and spring will be critical as Penn State looks to replace Daryll Clark.

Purdue QB Robert Marve: The Miami transfer finally gets his chance to compete for the starting job as Purdue must replace the productive Joey Elliott. Marve sat out the 2009 season, though he would have missed most of it with an ACL injury. He hasn't been on the practice field much at Purdue, but he'll be viewed as the front-runner for the top job along with Caleb TerBush.

Ohio State RB Jaamal Berry: Ohio State fans clamoring to see Berry since early last season will finally get their wish. A hamstring injury kept Berry from playing as a true freshman in 2009, but he'll be ready to push Brandon Saine and Dan Herron for the starting job this year. Though both Saine and Herron performed well down the stretch and in the Rose Bowl, Berry comes in with impressive credentials and could have what it takes to become a featured back for the Buckeyes.

Michigan CB/S Demar Dorsey: His signing generated plenty of controversy at Michigan, but there's little doubt Dorsey will be an impact player this fall. Michigan desperately needs to upgrade its secondary, and the heralded Dorsey will compete for immediate time, first at cornerback and possibly at safety down the road. Dorsey brings tremendous athleticism and a willingness to bring big hits on ball carriers.

Michigan State LB/DE William Gholston: The Spartans' defense regressed in 2009, and Gholston will have an immediate opportunity to contribute. Gholston is a unique specimen at 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, and the heralded recruit should be able to help Michigan State's pass rush from an outside linebacker or rush-end position. It'll be interesting to see how the Spartans coaches use Gholston in 2010, but he'll undoubtedly have a major role for the defense.

Five more to watch: Michigan QB Devin Gardner, Iowa TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase, Indiana CB Andre Kates, Penn State LB Khairi Fortt

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