NCF Nation: Edward Wright-Baker

Big Ten Leaders Division notebook

August, 30, 2011
8/30/11
5:30
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The first Big Ten coaches teleconference of the season was held Tuesday, while several teams also held their first game week news conferences. Here are some news and nuggets from each of the Leaders Division coaches:

Illinois
  • Ron Zook praised quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase for his development. "He seems to be picking up more and more of the offense," Zooks said. "And the more he learns, the quicker he is. He's taken another step not only with his play but with the way he's led this team as well."
  • Despite the loss of Mikel Leshoure to the NFL draft, Zook expects the Illini running game to keep on trucking and had positive words for starting tailback Jason Ford. "He had a great offseason and got his weight down to where he was as a freshman," Zook said. Zook also likes what he sees out of freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson at the position. "One thing in the Big Ten is, you'd better have more than one running back," he said. "We feel very fortunate that we've got a few guys who should help us maintain what we've done in terms of rushing."
  • Junior linebacker Ashante Williams, who was suspended following a DUI arrest, is back practicing with the team and working on the scout unit. Zook said he wants Williams, who is a semester away from graduation, to earn his degree. He hasn't made a decision on when or if Williams might play for the Illini.
Indiana
  • Ticket sales have not exactly been robust so far, but Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson says playing the opener against Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis should help both teams. "I'm interested to see if the fan bases come out to support both programs," he said. "Is it an advantage? I don't know. [But] I think it's a great opportunity for both teams to energize their teams."
  • With less than a week before the opener, Wilson said the staff still hasn't decided on a starting quarterback between Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker. "Really, down the stretch, we're trying to decide which young man we think will manage the game, keep us out of turnovers and keep us in positive situations." He added that he's "really intrigued" by true freshman Tre Roberson. "He's very athletic, but at the same time he's a little overwhelmed," Wilson said. "I do think he can add to the mix as we go through the season."
Ohio State
  • The Buckeyes won't have permanent captains this year. Instead, they will name game captains each week. Center Mike Brewster, right tackle J.B. Shugarts and defensive tackle John Simon will be captains for this week's Akron game. Luke Fickell said he decided to do it this way to show his senior leaders that "we need every single one of them."
  • Fickell confirmed that offensive lineman Corey Linsley has been suspended for the first game and said Linsley may also miss Week 2 against Miami. Starting linebacker Etienne Sabino is expected to play despite breaking his left hand during training camp.
Penn State
  • While quarterback gets the most attention, the Nittany Lions haven't named a starter yet at right guard, either. John Urschel and Johnnie Troutman are still battling it out and Joe Paterno said he doesn't know who will get the call. Paterno called offensive line depth one of his main concerns, much more so than the quarterback situation.
  • Paterno confirmed that punter/kicker Anthony Fera is suspended for an alcohol-related arrest earlier this month, but he didn't divulge how long the suspension would last.
  • Paterno was asked about his former assistant, Al Golden, and the task that now faces him at scandal-ridden Miami. "Al's got a tough job on his hands right now," Paterno said. "I'm sure when everything settles down at Miami and he gets a hold of the problems and starts to resolve them and cure them, that he'll do well. But it's going to take a little while, if what people are saying is true. If it can be done, Al will get it done."
Purdue
  • Head coach Danny Hope has named Caleb TerBush his starting quarterback for the Middle Tennessee game in the wake of Rob Henry's torn ACL. Hope says the team is confident in TerBush, a junior who has played in only one career game. "He's far along," Hope said. "He's tall, he puts a lot of velocity on the ball, he's accurate and he's competitive." Though TerBush is 6-foot-6, Hope said he can run the ball and could even mix in some option plays.
  • Robert Marve still isn't practicing as he recovers from last year's knee surgery, but Hope said Marve should be ready in the next couple of weeks. "We're optimistic he can help our football team sometime soon this season," Hope said.
  • In some much-needed good injury news, the Boilermakers are happy with the way running back Ralph Bolden has returned from two knee surgeries. "It's been a real blessing," Hope said. "I didn't know what to expect, really. ... It doesn't look like he's lost anything to me. He's very fast, very sharp, very sudden. He's making people miss, is very confident on his cuts and is finishing runs." Hope said Bolden consistently punched the ball into the end zone during some goal line drills against the No. 1 defense this month. " He looks like one of the best players on our team again right now," he said.
Wisconsin
  • Redshirt freshman Kyle French will be pressed into field-goal duties on Thursday against UNLV, as regular kicker Philip Welch hasn't healed from a quadriceps injury. Head coach Bret Bielema said French is a "no-nonsense kid" who should be able to handle the situation. Bielema said he would rely on holder Brad Nortman to find out what French can do. "I usually lean on my holder," he said. "We'll come up with a number we feel he's good to kick from and hopefully just move forward."
  • Bielema said he's never sensed this much hype around the Badgers during his time with the program. Wisconsin is ranked No. 10 in the coaches poll and is a favorite to win the Big Ten. He said he noticed it during training camp, when media requests for interviews poured in from around the country. "It's fun and I think it's a sign of respect," he said. "I tried to emphasize to our players that right now the story about Wisconsin is a good thing. There's not a lot of negativity around our program. A lot of things going around college football have stayed out of Madison. I like the character and the kids we have. Hopefully, it doesn't go to their heads."
  • The series with UNLV comes to an end this year, but Bielema said the Badgers are interested in signing another deal with the Rebels. "Wisconsin people always need an excuse to run to Vegas," he said. "I think they love doing it."
Luke Fickell/Brady Hoke/Jerry KillUS Presswire/AP Photo/US PresswireLuke Fickell, Brady Hoke and Jerry Kill will make their debuts as Big Ten head coaches Saturday.

Every college football season brings new faces and new storylines, but the Big Ten hasn't had a makeover like this before.

The conference will feature a new member (Nebraska), new divisions (Legends and Leaders) and a new championship game, the first in its history. Five new coaches join the league, and at least six teams will start new quarterbacks. Not surprisingly, the league race appears wide open.

As the Big Ten season kicks off Thursday night in Madison, let's take a look at all the newness around the conference.

NEW TEAM

Nearly 15 months after being admitted to the Big Ten, Nebraska will play its first game as a member of the league. The Huskers have enjoyed a honeymoon of sorts as the rest of the league familiarizes itself with the program's history, the school and a talented team projected to be in the mix for the Big Ten championship.

There will be much more hype surrounding Nebraska's first Big Ten game -- Oct. 1 at Wisconsin -- and rightfully so, and Saturday's opener against FCS Chattanooga won't be the best barometer for Bo Pelini's squad. The game will, however, provide a look at Nebraska's new offense under coordinator Tim Beck. Quarterback Taylor Martinez is healthy and supposedly more mature, while running back Rex Burkhead has received high marks throughout the offseason. Who steps up among Nebraska's talented young offensive skill players?

Those of us who haven't watched Big Red regularly also will get a sense of the defense and the complex scheme defensive tackle Jared Crick, coordinator Carl Pelini and others have cited. Don't expect Nebraska to reveal too much against Chattanooga, but after discussing the Huskers ad nauseum, it'll be nice to see them on the field.

NEW COACHES

Four Big Ten coaches will make their debuts with new teams Saturday, while Nebraska's Pelini works his first game as a Big Ten member.

Luke Fickell's job interview at Ohio State begins Saturday against Akron, as the former Buckeyes defensive lineman and longtime assistant makes his head-coaching debut for his alma mater. Fickell's in-game decisions, sideline demeanor and perhaps even his game-day attire (vest? no vest?) will be closely examined. Ohio State shouldn't have trouble with Akron, and anything less than a strong opening statement after a tough offseason will elicit some grumbling.

Another highly anticipated debut takes place in Ann Arbor as Brady Hoke leads Michigan out of the tunnel. Hoke has made few missteps since his hiring in January, and his approval rating among Michigan fans has soared. But things can change on game day, and a team going through quite a bit of transition must deliver a strong performance against Western Michigan.

Jerry Kill also has energized a fan base in Minnesota, and he begins another turnaround project with the Gophers after successfully rehabilitating programs at lower levels. Kill has been realistic about his team's prospects this season, and an opener at USC provides a huge challenge for Minnesota.

After years as one of the nation's top assistants, Kevin Wilson begins his head-coaching career Saturday as Indiana takes on Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium, site of the Big Ten championship game. Wilson's personality and coaching style differ sharply from his predecessor, Bill Lynch, and Indiana fans hope the on-field results do, too. A new attitude certainly is taking root in Bloomington.

NEW QUARTERBACKS

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
AP Photo/The News & Observer,Ethan HymanRussell Wilson will make his highly anticipated debut under center for the Badgers on Thursday.
At least half the Big Ten will be starting new quarterbacks in Week 1: Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin. Penn State could play two quarterbacks with previous starting experience (Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin), while Northwestern might have to play multiple signal-callers because of Dan Persa's lingering injury issues.

Terrelle Pryor's departure from Ohio State in June leaves the Buckeyes with virtually no proven experience under center. Senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller emerged in camp, and both men could see significant time against Akron.

The Big Ten's most anticipated player debut takes place Thursday in Madison as Russell Wilson leads the Wisconsin offense against UNLV. Wilson, who started the past three season at NC State, has seamlessly transitioned to a new team and performed well in preseason practices.

Familiar names step into leading roles at Minnesota and Iowa. MarQueis Gray, the Gophers' No. 2 wide receiver in 2010, will start at quarterback, while James Vandenberg, who nearly led Iowa to a Big Ten championship in 2009 after Ricky Stanzi went down, leads the Hawkeyes offense against Tennessee Tech.

Purdue didn't expect to be in this category again, but Rob Henry's knee injury last week marked the latest blow for a star-crossed team. With Robert Marve still hobbled, Caleb TerBush will start the opener, making his first appearance since 2009.

Indiana's quarterback competition has been wide open throughout camp, as Dusty Kiel, Ed Wright-Baker and Tre Roberson try to separate themselves.

The season also brings some new challenges for returning quarterbacks. Michigan's Denard Robinson will have to adjust to a new offense after flourishing in the spread, while Northwestern's Persa might have to reinvent himself as a pocket passer because of limited mobility. Nebraska's Martinez aims for greater consistency in Beck's offense after mixed results in 2010.

As you can see, new is the norm for the Big Ten in 2011. Enjoy the ride.
Kofi Hughes doesn't hesitate when asked what element he brings to Indiana's receiving corps.

"My breakaway speed," the sophomore recently told ESPN.com. "When I get the ball, I'm not running for the first down or the extra yard. I'm running to score every time."

Hughes' speed could come in handy for the Hoosiers, who once again look well stocked at the receiver position but need more touchdowns from the group. Indiana lost top touchdown scorer Tandon Doss (7 TDs in 2010) to the NFL draft, and while No. 1 returnee Damarlo Belcher led the Big Ten with 78 receptions in 2010, only four went for touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeKofi Hughes
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesKofi Hughes wants to be next in the line of All-Big Ten wideouts from Indiana.
Belcher is expected to anchor IU's passing attack this year along with Duwyce Wilson, who started four games as a redshirt freshman last fall and recorded 32 receptions for 488 yards. Hughes, one of two true freshmen to play in 2010, provides another exciting option.

"My role’s just as important as Damarlo's or Duwyce's or anybody else who's out there on the field," said Hughes, who recorded seven catches last fall and blossomed during spring practice. "When it's my time to get the ball, I need to be a playmaker. I've always seen myself as a playmaker."

Hughes made plenty of plays as a quarterback for Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. As a senior in 2009, he accounted for 42 touchdowns -- 19 passing, 22 rushing, 1 receiving -- and was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state.

While he loved calling signals, Hughes knew his future would be at receiver. He credits Doss for working with him on route running and other areas last year.

"I was his little project," Hughes said.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hughes thinks he still must improve the way he practices and polish his game at what is still a relatively new position. With an unproven quarterback moving into a starting role -- Dusty Kiel, Edward Wright-Baker and Tre Roberson continue to compete -- Indiana needs its receivers to once again be a strength.

The Hoosiers have produced first-team All-Big Ten wideouts in three of the past four seasons with Doss (2009, 2010) and James Hardy (2007).

"We get down to business," Hughes said. "The receivers at Indiana have spoken for themselves in the past five years or so. Being a receiver at IU, there's a lot that comes with that."

Hughes is ready to embrace it and continue the tradition this season.
For nearly half the teams in the Big Ten, one of the biggest questions looming over fall practice is the quarterback situation. Several schools have legitimate and seemingly wide-open battles for the most important position on the field. Here's a look at the battles to watch leading up to the opening kickoff:

Indiana: Sophomores Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker will try to impress new coach Kevin Wilson, whose specialty is developing top-flight signal callers. Wilson -- who didn't name Sam Bradford his starter at Oklahoma until 10 days before the first game -- has said he expects the battle to continue on well into camp. One question: With Kiel's younger brother -- top quarterback prospect Gunner Kiel -- now committed to the Hoosiers, will Wilson feel obligated to play Dusty so that commitment holds? Kiel is favored to win the job anyway.

Ohio State: The Buckeyes knew they were going to have to replace Terrelle Pryor for the first five games. Then Pryor quit the team, making the quarterback battle even more important this fall camp. Four players -- senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and true freshman Braxton Miller -- all saw reps this spring. The battle appears to be between Bauserman, Pryor's former backup and a 25-year-old former minor league baseball player, and the electric Miller. The youngster will likely have to show much maturity and improvement this month to keep Ohio State from going with the safer veteran to start the year.

Penn State: No subject has dominated the conversation around the Nittany Lions quite like the quarterback situation. Rob Bolden started the 2010 season as a freshman, but former walk-on Matt McGloin ended the season after Bolden was hurt and ineffective. McGloin then threw five interceptions in the Outback Bowl, and Bolden openly pondered leaving the team after spring, only heightening the drama. Bolden is more gifted athletically but needs to mature. Will he even stick around if McGloin wins the job in fall camp? And is McGloin good enough to lead Penn State back to the top of the Big Ten?

Purdue: Head coach Danny Hope had planned to use Rob Henry as a change of pace to starter Robert Marve last season, but Marve got hurt early on and Henry was thrust into the full-time starter's role. Henry led the team in rushing but had only eight touchdowns vs. seven interceptions while completing just 53.1 percent of his throws. He's more of a runner while Marve, the former Miami transfer, is more of a pocket passer. Hope said at Big Ten media days that he still would like to find a way to use both quarterbacks at times.

Wisconsin: This might be a quarterback battle in name only, but coach Bret Bielema insists that nothing has been promised to NC State transfer Russell Wilson. Still, it's hard to believe that Wilson will sit on the bench after starring in the ACC for three seasons. Sophomore Jon Budmayr had won the starting job out of the spring and will be given every chance this fall to compete with Wilson. Given his lack of game experience, Budmayr is starting the race from behind. But at least he knows the system and his teammates far better than Wilson will this August.
It's time to hop back into our preseason position rankings, and today brings a look at the most visible position on the field: quarterback.

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

The envelope please ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. Indiana: Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker competed for the starting job this spring, but no clear winner emerged. Between them, they've thrown 29 career passes. New coach Kevin Wilson knows how to teach the quarterback position, and this offense will be friendly for passing stats. But the Hoosiers still have a long way to go.
I've already taken a look at the Big Ten's 1,000-yard rushing candidates and likely sack masters in 2011. Now it's time to put the spotlight on the quarterbacks.

Who will pass for 3,000 yards this season?

[+] EnlargeDan Persa
Jerry Lai/US PresswireNorthwestern's Dan Persa has the weapons and experience to reach 3,000 passing yards this season.
Only two Big Ten quarterbacks, Indiana's Ben Chappell (3,295 pass yards) and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi (3,004), eclipsed 3,000 pass yards in 2010. Northwestern's Dan Persa was on pace to do so before rupturing his Achilles tendon in mid November. Three Big Ten signal callers -- Northwestern's Mike Kafka, Penn State's Daryll Clark and Purdue's Joey Elliott -- reached the milestone in 2009.

Let's look at who has the best chance to become Mr. 3,000 this fall. Several Big Ten signal callers operate in systems that don't emphasize the pass enough, while Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor would be on the list if not for his five-game suspension.

1. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: As stated above, Persa would have eclipsed 3,000 pass yards last fall if not for his injury. If he stays healthy for the entire 2010 season, he should reach the milestone. Northwestern is loaded at wide receiver/tight end and has an offensive line that seems to fare a lot better in pass protection than in run blocking. Although the Wildcats will try to spark their struggling ground game, the pass remains their top option and Persa's accuracy and precision should fuel the offense.

2. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Although new offensive coordinator Dan Roushar wants to emphasize the run, Cousins' experience combined with a deep group of wideouts and tight ends should make the pass a big part of the plan. Cousins racked up 2,825 pass yards in 2010 and operates in an offense that can stretch the field with players like Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham, Bennie Fowler and spring sensation Tony Lippett.

3. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Robinson's record-setting season as a ball-carrier attracted the most attention, but he also racked up 2,570 pass yards in an offense that mostly emphasizes the run. The junior now enters a system where he likely will be passing the ball more. Plus, he'll be working with a talented receiving corps led by Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway. Although Robinson has some work to do between now and Sept. 3, he certainly could reach 3,000 pass yards this season.

4. Iowa QB James Vandenberg: The Hawkeyes want to establish the run with Marcus Coker and take some pressure off of their first-year starting quarterback. But with limited depth at running back, Vandenberg might need to take to the air. He'll be working behind one of the league's best offensive lines and boasts a good No. 1 target in receiver Marvin McNutt. If others can emerge at receiver/tight end -- Keenan Davis, Brad Herman, C.J. Fiedorowicz -- Vandenberg could challenge the 3,000 mark.

5. Penn State's starting QB: If Penn State sticks with one quarterback for the entire 2011 season, he could become a 3,000-yard passer. Either Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden would have to become more accurate, but Penn State averaged 12.7 yards per completion and returns some talented receivers, led by All-Big Ten candidate Derek Moye. If the run game can't get going, Penn State will be forced to pass more.

Also keep an eye on these potential 3,000-yard passers from the Big Ten:
I'll continue the series Wednesday with a look at the Big Ten's top interceptors (4 or more).
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)

Indiana's new coaches aren't handling their quarterbacks with kid gloves.

There has been no hand-holding in spring practice as Dusty Kiel, Edward Wright-Baker and the other Hoosiers' triggermen learn a new offensive scheme.

"They’re telling us every mistake we make," Wright-Baker told me this week. "You’re really not looking for a pat on the back from one of these guys because they're not going to give it to us."

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AP Photo/Darron CummingsKevin Wilson's offenses typically rely on a quick tempo that defenses have difficulty keeping up with.
Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rod Smith has delivered a loud-and-clear message to the quarterbacks this spring.

"They’re going to coach us hard," Kiel recalled, "so have thick skin."

The primary challenge for Indiana's quarterbacks is learning a new system that emphasizes tempo and eschews huddling. Coach Kevin Wilson's offenses at Oklahoma were not only productive and potent, but extremely fast.

Under Wilson the Sooners regularly marched downfield and scored before opposing defenses could get set. After OU routed Florida State 47-17 last year, Wilson told The Oklahoman: "Some of the best things we did was when we were doing some of our simple stuff where we just go fast and they're not lined up. Our tempo helped us a lot because I don't think they were ready sometimes."

The philosophy is sinking in at Indiana. If mistakes are to be made -- and there are plenty -- the coaches would rather have them made at top speed than by being hesitant.

"Fast. That’s how I can describe it," Wright-Baker said. "We're going to try and wear you down, not let you wear us down. We're going to be in [better] shape than the competition we're playing. That's his [Wilson's] motto.

"We want to be perfect for him. We want to run it the way he ran it. He perfected it at Oklahoma; we’re trying to do the same thing here."

The staff ramped up Indiana's winter conditioning, and Wright-Baker already sees a difference in how players look. Still, growing pains are inevitable, especially in the first practice after a significant scheme installation.

Wright-Baker and Kiel, the top candidates in a wide-open quarterback competition, must not only keep a positive attitude among their teammates, but among themselves.

"It’s what we need," Wright-Baker said. "It’s going to change this program around and make everybody better. You want to get better. You want somebody to coach you up. You don’t want to get pats on the back every day."

Kiel doesn't mind the approach.

"It’s good," he said. "I feel like I can handle a ripping.”
Spring practice is creeping closer, and Purdue will hit the field in less than two weeks (March 1 to be exact) for the first of its 15 workouts.

Here's a snapshot of what to expect in the Leaders Division this spring.

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • New look at linebacker: Illinois loses first-team All-Big Ten selection Martez Wilson as well as playmaker Nate Bussey. They combined for 195 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The Illini need a middle linebacker and could turn to productive senior Ian Thomas or promising sophomore Jonathan Brown. Illinois also is replacing linebackers coach Dan Disch.
  • Ford tough: All-American running back Mikel Leshoure departs, turning the spotlight to Jason Ford. At 235 pounds, Ford is a true power back who will give the Illinois offense a slightly different look in 2011. The Illini also want to build depth at running back with players like Troy Pollard.
  • Replacing Liuget: Illinois begins the difficult task of replacing the Big Ten's most disruptive interior defensive lineman in Corey Liuget, a likely first-round draft pick in April. Akeem Spence had a very solid redshirt freshman season and will take on a larger role, but Illinois must build around him with Glenn Foster and others. This is a major priority for defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and line coach Keith Gilmore this spring.
INDIANA

Start of spring practice: March 8
Spring game: April 16
End of spring practice: April 19

What to watch:
  • Culture change: Kevin Wilson has talked extensively about changing the culture around the Indiana program, and the process begins in full force this spring. Players will have to adjust to the demands of Wilson and his staff, which still isn't in place but soon will be. There will be plenty of teaching and learning, as players must absorb Wilson's offense and a 4-3 defensive scheme (IU operated out of the 3-4 for part of last season).
  • Quarterback competition: Three-year starter Ben Chappell departs, and there's no clear-cut successor entering spring practice. Both Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker played sparingly in five games last season, and they bring different skills to the table. It'll be interesting to see who emerges under center this spring before acclaimed recruit Tre Roberson arrives for fall camp.
  • Identify defensive contributors: Indiana can't expect to get over the hump until it upgrades the defense, and co-coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory begin a crucial evaluation process this spring. The Hoosiers need to build depth and identify Big Ten-ready players throughout the defense, particularly in the back seven after losing standout linebacker Tyler Replogle and others.
OHIO STATE

Start of spring practice: March 31
Spring game: April 23
  • Suspension preparation: Ohio State knows it will be without four offensive starters and a key defensive reserve for the first chunk of the 2011 season. This spring, the Buckeyes start the process of evaluating who will step in, especially at the quarterback spot for Terrelle Pryor. Joe Bauserman holds an edge in experience (though little has come in games), and he'll compete with Kenny Guiton and heralded incoming freshman Braxton Miller.
  • Receiving orders for Drayton: Stan Drayton left Florida for Ohio State primarily to expand his coaching repertoire and oversee a new position group. The career running backs coach will work with a mostly unproven group of Ohio State wide receivers this spring. Ohio State must replace All-Big Ten standout Dane Sanzenbacher, and DeVier Posey is among those suspended for the first part of the season. Says Drayton of his receivers, "Personnel wise, they're in competition with the whole offensive unit."
  • Up-the-middle defensive replacements: Excuse the baseball reference, but Ohio State loses several standout players in the core of its defense: linemen Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore, linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, and safety Jermale Hines. Although the Buckeyes always find ways to reload on defense, it will be interesting to see who emerges this spring, especially at linebacker.
PENN STATE

Start of spring practice: March 18
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks, especially Rob Bolden: Penn State's quarterback competition should be wide open this spring, and it might be the most fascinating race in the Big Ten. You've got sophomore Rob Bolden, who asked for his release after the Gator Bowl but didn't get it from Joe Paterno, and has returned to compete for a job he thought he never should have lost. Junior Matt McGloin tries to redeem himself after the bowl disaster, and Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome also are in the mix.
  • Line play on both sides: The Lions boast enough at the skill positions on both sides of the ball to be a much improved team in 2011. But they have to get better and more consistent on both lines. The offensive line must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski and find the form it displayed in 2008. The defensive line tries to regain its swagger after backsliding in 2010, and identify a pass-rushing threat or two.
  • Kicking it: Collin Wagner was Penn State's top offensive weapon for much of the 2010 season, but the standout kicker departs the program, leaving a void. Punter Anthony Fera likely will handle the bulk of the kicking duties this spring until incoming freshman Sam Ficken arrives.
PURDUE

Start of spring practice: March 2
Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Replacing Superman: Purdue returns nine defensive starters, but the Boilers lose Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kerrigan. The Boilers were the league's top pass-rushing team in 2010, but Kerrigan's production and presence played huge roles in the overall sacks and tackles for loss totals. The entire defensive line took a step forward last fall, and will need to do so again without No. 94.
  • The quarterbacks: Robert Marve is still recovering from his second ACL tear, so Rob Henry, Caleb TerBush and Sean Robinson will be in the spotlight this spring. Henry showed promise when healthy in 2010, and TerBush had a strong spring a year ago before being ruled academically ineligible for the season. The quarterback race won't be decided until the summer, but all the candidates can help themselves in spring ball.
  • The offensive identity: A wave of injuries forced Purdue to overhaul its plan on offense in 2010. Although several key players will be out or limited this spring, the Boilers can start to reshape their plan on offense. Coach Danny Hope is optimistic Marve and the others return at full strength, but he doesn't want to take anything for granted. This is a huge spring for players a notch or two down the depth chart to get noticed.
WISCONSIN

Start of spring practice: March 22
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Finding Tolzien's successor: After a one-year respite, Wisconsin's annual spring quarterback competition resumes. Sort of. Jon Budmayr will have every opportunity to establish himself as the Badgers' top option before Curt Phillips (knee) returns to full strength. Budmayr turned heads with his performance two springs ago, but played sparingly last season behind Scott Tolzien.
  • New leadership on defense: Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash are familiar faces who step into new roles this spring. Partridge and Ash were promoted to co-defensive coordinators following Dave Doeren's departure, and they'll get their first opportunity to shape the defensive vision this spring.
  • Reloading on the lines: Wisconsin loses three All-American linemen from 2010: Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt on the offensive side, and J.J. Watt at defensive end. Although the Badgers must replace more bodies on the offensive front, they boast excellent depth there and should be able to fill the gaps. Watt leaves a bigger void, and Wisconsin needs strong springs from players like Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert.
Kevin Wilson hasn't recorded his first victory as Indiana coach, but he's putting together a winning staff.

Wilson on Thursday announced the additions of three more assistants, including two from the staff of recently fired Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Rod Smith and Greg Frey, who worked under Rodriguez at Michigan, come to Indiana along with Jerry Montgomery.

Smith, who helped mold Denard Robinson into the 2010 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, will serve as co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. He'll share coordinator duties with receivers coach Kevin Johns.

Frey will coach Indiana's offensive line after doing a good job with Michigan's front this season.
“I’ve had previous relationships with Rod Smith and Greg Frey having built some of our past offenses with coach [Rich] Rodriguez and having continued to visit and study with those guys," Wilson said in a statement. "It is going to be a natural transition for both of them. They are well-versed in the no-huddle style and know how to coach it."

Montgomery, a former defensive tackle at Iowa who spent the past two seasons coaching at Wyoming, will work with Indiana's defensive tackles. Mark Hagen will work with the defensive ends and serve as special teams coordinator.

So here is Wilson's updated staff:

DEFENSE

Doug Mallory: Assistant Head Coach/Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties
Mike Ekeler: Co-Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
Mark Hagen: Defensive Ends/Special Teams Coordinator
Jerry Montgomery: Defensive Tackles
Corey Raymond: Cornerbacks

OFFENSE

Kevin Johns: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Wide Receivers
Rod Smith: Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks
Greg Frey: Offensive Line

Wilson's ninth and final assistant -- still to be hired -- will coach running backs and serve as recruiting coordinator.

It'll be interesting to see how Smith's hiring impacts where Indiana goes with its next quarterback. Edward Wright-Baker seems a little closer to the Denard Robinson mold, but Wilson's offenses at Oklahoma also featured more traditional quarterbacks.

Indiana's Ben Chappell questionable

November, 13, 2010
11/13/10
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Indiana starting quarterback Ben Chappell is questionable to return today after suffering a hip injury in the second quarter against No. 7 Wisconsin, according to a team spokesman.

Chappell, who has played almost every snap in Big Ten play, was relieved by Edward Wright-Baker as Wisconsin pulled away late in the half.
Welcome to National Depth Chart Day. No day on the college football calendar inspires more curiosity about depth charts than the Monday before the season, when most teams release their Week 1 two-deeps.

(And then there's Purdue, which didn't include a depth chart in its game notes for Notre Dame. Ugh.)

I've had the chance to review depth charts from those programs that released them today -- two-deeps from Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota are coming soon -- and I checked in on several coaches' news conferences.

Here's what stood out:

INDIANA
  • Even though Indiana will shift to a 3-4 defensive alignment this year, the depth chart lists a 4-3 with Darius Johnson and Fred Jones as the starting ends and Chad Sherer and Tyler Replogle flanking junior college transfer Jeff Thomas at linebacker.
  • Interesting to see several veteran offensive linemen like Justin Pagan and Cody Faulkner listed as backups rather than starters. Junior Andrew McDonald steps into some big shoes at left tackle as Rodger Saffold departs to the NFL.
  • The backup quarterback job remains open, as Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are both listed as No. 2 behind Ben Chappell.
  • Indiana expects big things from redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson, listed as a starter at wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
IOWA
  • Sophomores Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo are listed as the starting cornerbacks. Shaun Prater doesn't appear on the depth chart after dealing with a leg injury in camp. Prater hasn't been officially ruled out for the Eastern Illinois game, but I wouldn't expect to see much of him on Saturday.
  • James Ferentz is listed as the starting center, a spot where Iowa might be a little thin following Josh Koeppel's motorcycle accident Monday morning.
  • Starting defensive end Broderick Binns is suspended for the opener, so Christian Ballard is listed as a possible starter at both end and tackle. Mike Daniels and Lebron Daniel are the next options behind Ballard.
MICHIGAN
  • Sophomores Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier and freshman Devin Gardner are listed as co-starters at quarterback. Head coach Rich Rodriguez reiterated Monday that Gardner won't redshirt this fall.
  • Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw are listed as co-starters at running back, with Michael Cox behind them.
  • True freshman Carvin Johnson is listed as the starter at the spur position (safety/linebacker). Pretty big surprise here, and a testament to Johnson's work in camp.
  • Senior James Rogers steps into Troy Woolfolk's starting cornerback spot opposite J.T. Floyd.
  • Receivers Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady clearly showed enough in camp to be listed as starters or possible starters against Connecticut.
NORTHWESTERN
  • Sophomore running back Arby Fields returned to practice Monday and wore a no-contact jersey after being sidelined with a shoulder problem. He's listed as a co-starter at running back with Jacob Schmidt and Stephen Simmons. Northwestern wanted a clear No. 1 running back to emerge in camp, but Fields' injury changed the plan.
  • Junior Bryce McNaul is listed as the third top linebacker alongside returning starters Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. McNaul won the job in camp.
  • Venric Mark is the only true freshman listed on the depth chart, both as a backup wide receiver and a co-starter at punt returner. I'll go out on a huge limb (sarcasm) and predict Mark will be the man on returns for the Wildcats very shortly.
OHIO STATE
  • Junior defensive end Nathan Williams, a projected starter, will miss the Marshall game with a knee injury. He should be back shortly thereafter. Solomon Thomas will start in Williams' spot Thursday night.
  • Starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) is questionable for the Marshall game, but corner Devon Torrence (hamstring) should be fine.
  • Sophomore C.J. Barnett's strong performance in camp lifted him ahead of Orhian Johnson on the Week 1 depth chart. Johnson missed a chunk of camp with an injury.
  • Start salivating, Buckeyes fans, because running backs Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry likely will handle kickoff returns against Marshall.
PENN STATE
  • Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin and freshman Robert Bolden are listed as co-starters at quarterback for the Youngstown State game.
  • Sophomore Devon Smith's strong camp landed him a starting spot at both receiver and kick returner, and a backup role on punt returns.
  • Redshirt freshman Garry Gilliam is listed as the starting tight end, as Andrew Szczerba likely will miss the opener with a back injury. Penn State obviously is thin here after losing Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
  • Veterans Nate Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are listed as the starting linebackers, with promising younger players like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges right behind them.
WISCONSIN
  • After a very impressive camp, freshman running back James White appears at No. 3 on the depth chart behind both John Clay and Montee Ball. White also is the No. 2 punt returner behind David Gilreath. His emergence likely will result in veteran Zach Brown redshirting the season.
  • Senior Blake Sorensen likely will start at outside linebacker, as Mike Taylor continues to rehab after undergoing a second procedure on his knee in camp. Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are listed as the other starting linebackers.
  • The starting cornerback spots remain open, as Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith will compete in practice this week.

Recapping the Big Ten scrimmages

August, 23, 2010
8/23/10
9:07
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Scrimmages took center stage around the Big Ten this weekend as teams moved closer to the end of camp and the start of game preparations. I have links and a few thoughts on each scrimmage below, but only on the teams that put out information about what happened or had media in attendance. Those teams are: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin.

I'll do my best with Michigan's scrimmage, which oddly was open to fans but not media.

ILLINOIS

The Illini broke camp in Rantoul, Ill., and scrimmaged Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Check out what happened here and here and here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Illinois' coaches can talk all they want about running back by committee, but it's clear that junior Mikel Leshoure is the team's top option. As he did throughout the second half of last season, Leshoure showcased his big-play ability Saturday with a 49-yard touchdown run. Leshoure finished with 102 rush yards and two scores on only 12 carries. Jason Ford also had a nice day Saturday, but Leshoure is the guy to watch out for this fall.
  • After struggling in the first camp scrimmage, Illinois' first-team defense rebounded nicely Saturday. According to Mark Tupper, the first-team defense allowed only 59 net yards in 41 plays in the scrimmage. Defensive end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Martez Wilson were among the standouts.
  • Although starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase had a shaky day, Illinois might have found another capable wide receiver in Eddie McGee, the team's former backup quarterback. McGee beat cornerback Miami Thomas on a jump ball in the end zone to record a touchdown and finished with three receptions for 56 yards.
INDIANA

The Hoosiers held a 96-play Saturday at Memorial Stadium, and you can read all about it here, here (subscription required) and here.

Quick hitters
  • Redshirt freshman Dusty Kiel has established himself as the team's backup quarterback in camp. Kiel, who has been competing with Edward Wright-Baker, had an excellent scrimmage, completing 14 of 16 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.
  • Indiana used the scrimmage to assess its offensive line depth and limited the participation for sure-fire starters like center Will Matte and right tackle James Brewer. Coach Bill Lynch wanted to get a better read on his backup center and had Jordan Marquette, Chris Ahlfeld and Steve Fiacable take reps in the scrimmage. Ted Bolser stepped up nicely at tight end with five catches for 46 yards and a touchdown.
  • The Hoosiers' already-shaky secondary suffered a blow as safety Chris Adkins had to be carried off the field because of an ankle injury. The extent of Adkins' injury is unclear at this point.
MICHIGAN

Michigan held a scrimmage Saturday at Michigan Stadium. It was open to some fans but not media, and while I love fan reports, I'm relying mostly on this video from the school's official website.
  • I really like what I've seen from freshman running back Stephen Hopkins, both in Saturday's scrimmage and during the Big Ten Network's tour stop. He gives the Wolverines a different look in the backfield at 6-foot, 227 pounds. Michigan boasts plenty of speed backs, but Hopkins provides the type of downhill, between-the-tackles running you need in the Big Ten.
  • Quarterback Denard Robinson looked pretty smooth in the scrimmage video, both as a passer and a runner. He hit his receivers in stride and broke off a long touchdown run, juking safety Jared Van Slyke before reaching the end zone. All signs continue to point toward Robinson being named the starter, but we'll see.
MICHIGAN STATE

The Spartans held a 130-play controlled scrimmage Saturday at Spartan Stadium, closed to the media. The defense prevailed 45-32 as the team used a modified scoring system. Recaps can be found here and here.

Quick hitters
  • It was a good day for the defense and a great day for the linebackers, who should be Michigan State's strongest unit this fall. Eric Gordon recorded a scrimmage-best nine tackles, while Greg Jones added eight, including two for loss. Jon Misch had 2.5 tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry, and Chris Norman had six tackles and a pass breakup. "The linebackers were very active," coach Mark Dantonio said.
  • Wide receiver B.J. Cunningham is having a very strong camp, and he continued it Saturday with five receptions for 67 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown from Kirk Cousins. Cousins and Cunningham hooked up for two touchdowns in the team's first fall scrimmage. It's a pretty crowded mix at receiver, but Cunningham has put himself in a great position.
MINNESOTA

Minnesota held an open scrimmage Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium, and you can read all about it here, here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Minnesota's first-string offensive line stepped up nicely in the scrimmage, keeping quarterback Adam Weber safe and allowing him to complete 7 of 9 passes for 70 yards and two touchdowns. There was, however, a significant drop-off when the second- and third-team offensive linemen entered the scrimmage. "I didn't feel like some of the [second and third team] took advantage of the opportunity to go play today," coach Tim Brewster told the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
  • Freshman running back Donnell Kirkwood has put himself in the mix for carries this fall alongside Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge. Kirkwood had 19 carries in Saturday's scrimmage with a long run of 14 yards. Offensive coordinator Jeff Horton praised Kirkwood when we talked a few weeks ago.
  • MarQueis Gray is still getting reps as a reserve quarterback, but it's coming clear his primary role this fall will be at wide receiver, as long as Weber stays healthy. Gray seems to be embracing the change, and his big frame could really help the Gophers after the loss of Eric Decker. "I am pretty sure I can find a hole somewhere to catch the ball and get upfield for Weber when he throws it to me," he told the Star Tribune.
NORTHWESTERN

The Wildcats ended their off-campus training in Kenosha, Wis., with an open scrimmage. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald held out a large group of starters on both sides, so second- and third-teamers got most of the work. Recaps can be found here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Freshman receiver Venric Mark will make an immediate impact this fall, especially for Northwestern's middling return teams. Mark had an excellent scrimmage, recording a 28-yard touchdown catch and breaking off several big returns. Generously listed at 5-8 and 165 pounds, Mark also threw a block that helped classmate Adonis Smith reach the end zone.
  • A battle could be brewing at backup quarterback. As starter Dan Persa watched from the sideline, true freshman Trevor Siemian completed 10 of 13 passes for 112 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Siemian could push redshirt freshman Evan Watkins, who completed only four of seven passes.
  • Freshman defensive end Will Hampton could work his way into the rotation this fall. Hampton recorded a tackle for loss in the scrimmage.
OHIO STATE

Ohio State held its jersey scrimmage Saturday at Ohio Stadium, as the offense prevailed 54-48 after 130-140 plays. The scrimmage was open to the media, and you can find recaps here, here and here.

Quick hitters
  • Quarterback Terrelle Pryor had a so-so day, although he wore a no-contact jersey and couldn't be the running threat he'll be after Sept. 4. Pryor completed only 10 of 24 pass attempts but did fire a 25-yard touchdown strike to Taurian Washington, considered the front-runner for the No. 3 wide receiver spot. He also found tight end Jake Stoneburner for a 25-yard gain and nearly threw an interception in the end zone.
  • Andrew Sweat appears to have a slight edge on Etienne Sabino for the third starting linebacker spot. Sabino entered camp as the favorite to start, but Sweat logged more time with the first-team defense Saturday and recovered a Brandon Saine fumble.
  • Coach Jim Tressel said he hopes to get defensive end Nathan Williams (knee) back by the Sept. 2 opener against Marshall. Meanwhile, several young defensive linemen stood out Saturday. Redshirt freshman Adam Bellamy recorded three sacks and true freshman Johnathan Hankins added one.
WISCONSIN

The Badgers scrimmaged Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium. The session was open to the media, and you can read all about it here and here.
  • Wisconsin's offense moved the ball decently but struggled to finish drives, as Antonio Fenelus picked off a Scott Tolzien pass and safety Aaron Henry broke up a pass in the end zone. It was a theme throughout the scrimmage. There's little doubt Wisconsin can control the clock and keep moving the chains with its balanced attack, but it must execute in the red zone.
  • Freshman running back James White had a good day and could push Zach Brown for the No. 3 spot on the depth chart. White had runs of 29, 26 and 22 yards, the last for a touchdown, in the scrimmage. Starting tailback John Clay, by the way, had 11 carries for 51 yards.
  • Backup quarterback Jon Budmayr had a tough scrimmage, going 0-for-9 passing on his first three series with two near interceptions. He finished 9-for-27 for 107 yards for a touchdown and an interception. Wisconsin really can't lose Tolzien and would get a big boost if Curt Phillips can return from his knee injury early in the season.
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.


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Quarterback health in the Big Ten has been strong through the season's first month, as none of 11 opening-day starters is currently sidelined due to injury. Things haven't been so fortunate at places like Oklahoma, South Florida, USC, Baylor and even Florida, where Heisman frontrunner Tim Tebow sustained a concussion last week against Kentucky. The recent injuries serve as a reminder that every team must be prepared to lose the starter at its most important position on the field.

Here's a snapshot of the backup quarterback landscape in the Big Ten:

READY TO ROLL


Eddie McGee, Illinois -- McGee has replaced starter Juice Williams numerous times during the last three seasons, either because of injury or performance. He helped Illinois to its lone victory Sept. 12 against Illinois State and has appeared in 17 games, completing 52 of 94 pass attempts for 714 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Keith Nichol, Michigan State -- The Spartans are still operating in a two-quarterback system, though Kirk Cousins has started all four games and received most of the work. Nichol brings excellent athleticism to the backfield and improved his pocket presence during the offseason, and while his numbers aren't stellar, he led two late scoring drives against Wisconsin.

Curt Phillips, Wisconsin -- At one point in camp, Phillips looked like the frontrunner for the starting job before giving way to Scott Tolzien. His speed and mobility bring a new element to the Badgers' offense, and he has racked up 128 rush yards on eight carries in two games to go along with four completions on six attempts.

Dan Persa, Northwestern -- Persa's athleticism actually earned him some time on special teams last year as he waited for a shot under center. He has had limited action in three games this year, and while his size is a concern, he boasts a strong arm and good feet.

Joe Bauserman, Ohio State -- The former minor league pitcher in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization has been at Ohio State for two seasons, moving into the backup role this fall. Bauserman doesn't have a ton of game experience (4-for-9 passing this year), but he's not as raw as some of the other quarterbacks in the league.

HAS THE HYPE

Denard Robinson, Michigan -- "Shoelace" was the talk of the preseason and dropped jaws by wrong-footing several defenders for a 43-yard touchdown run on his first collegiate carry. Robinson's speed and moves will get him on the field in some form or another, but he's still unproven as a passer through the first four games.

MarQueis Gray, Minnesota -- A heralded recruit from Indianapolis, Gray can be a versatile weapon for offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. With physical gifts similar to those of Terrelle Pryor, Gray already has a touchdown catch and 50 rush yards on eight carries. But he hasn't attempted a pass, so a few doubts remain there.

WHO KNOWS?

Kevin Newsome, Penn State -- Newsome enrolled early and spent spring ball preparing to back up senior Daryll Clark, who has served as his mentor. Despite Penn State's easy opening stretch, the team's offensive struggles limited playing time for Newsome, who has completed 4 of 6 attempts for 32 yards.

James Vandenberg, Iowa -- One of the greatest passers in Iowa high school history, Vandenberg has only one career appearance, completing 2 of 3 attempts for 38 yards. A multi-sport star in high school, he boasts solid credentials but hasn't had a chance to prove himself yet.

Caleb TerBush, Purdue -- Head coach Danny Hope and offensive coordinator Gary Nord have been impressed with TerBush, but the redshirt freshman has yet to attempt a pass in a college game. TerBush has good size (6-5, 222) and a strong arm, but he needs to see action in a game.

Edward Wright-Baker, Indiana -- Wright-Baker did some impressive things in preseason camp, but Hoosiers head coach Bill Lynch is still deciding whether or not to redshirt the talented true freshman. Though Wright-Baker remains listed as Ben Chappell's backup on the depth chart, Indiana used Adam Follett in garbage time Sept. 19 at Akron.

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