NCF Nation: Graham Zug

Recognizing the best and the brightest from Week 3 in the Big Ten:
  • Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: Seems like it's Miller Time every Saturday in Columbus as the Ohio State sophomore quarterback continues to dazzle in Urban Meyer's offense. Miller accounted for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) as the Buckeyes held off Cal 35-28. He passed for 249 yards and added 75 on the ground. Miller has accounted for 12 of Ohio State's 16 touchdowns this season. Miller had help in getting the sticker from wideout Devin Smith, who racked up 145 receiving yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner.
  • Iowa RB Mark Weisman: Weisman for Heisman? Let's start the campaign! Weisman looked like the last guy to help Iowa end its touchdown drought, but after injuries to top backs Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon, the Hawkeyes turned to Weisman, and he stepped up. The walk-on had 24 carries for 113 yards and, yes, three touchdowns as Iowa beat Northern Iowa 27-16.
  • Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: No Rex Burkhead? No problem for the Huskers, who might have the Big Ten's best 1-2 punch at running back. Abdullah turned in another big day with 167 rush yards and two touchdowns on 30 carries in a 42-13 win over Arkansas State. He added two receptions for 39 yards. Quarterback Taylor Martinez (13-for-14 passing) and wideout Kenny Bell (two TD receptions) also deserve mention.
  • Minnesota QB Max Shortell: The sophomore stepped in for injured starter MarQueis Gray and delivered immediately, leading two touchdown drives after Western Michigan had reclaimed the lead. Shortell passed for 188 yards and three touchdowns as the Gophers beat Western Michigan 28-23, improving to 3-0. He shares part of the sticker with wide receiver A.J. Barker, who recorded three touchdown catches and 101 receiving yards.
  • Penn State WR Allen Robinson: The Big Ten is searching for star receivers, and Robinson looks ready to fill the void. The league's top receiver through the first two weeks had his best performance Saturday against Navy, hauling in five passes for 136 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-7 victory. He became the first Penn State player to record three scoring receptions since Graham Zug against Michigan in 2009.

Big Ten Week 4 rewind/Week 5 preview

September, 27, 2010
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Let's take a look back at Week 4 before sneaking a peek at the first group of conference games, which take place Saturday.

Team of the week: The scoreboard operators around the Big Ten. These folks had a very busy Saturday as two Big Ten teams (Ohio State and Wisconsin) eclipsed 70 points and another (Michigan) surpassed the 60-point mark. The Big Ten combined for 428 points, 55 touchdowns and 5,212 total yards. According to Big Ten Network stats guru Chris Antonacci, the 42.8 points-per-game average is the highest for a week in nonconference play since at least 1996. No Big Ten squad scored fewer than 20 points, and only three teams -- Purdue, Penn State and Minnesota -- failed to record 30 points or more.

Best game: Temple at Penn State. Al Golden brought a good Owls team to his alma mater and surged out to a 13-6 lead. Penn State led by only two points entering the fourth quarter and gave Temple several chances to pull off a historic upset. But Tom Bradley's stifling defense shut down a one-dimensional Owls offense, and freshman quarterback Rob Bolden led an impressive 12-play, 96 yard touchdown drive that sealed the victory and allowed Nittany Nation to exhale.

[+] EnlargeRob Bolden
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State quarterback Rob Bolden delivered big plays in the second half against Temple.
Biggest play: We go back to State College. On third-and-6 from the Penn State 8-yard line, Bolden showed off his arm strength with a tough throw to a diving Graham Zug along the sideline for a 19-yard gain. If the pass falls incomplete, Temple regains possession and likely has excellent field position, needing only a field goal to take the lead. Instead, Penn State drove downfield and finally got into the end zone. The most electrifying play from Saturday came from -- who else? -- Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who took a going-nowhere run play and cut back across the field for a 47-yard touchdown against Bowling Green.

Specialist spotlight: Senior kicker Collin Wagner has been Penn State's most valuable offensive weapon so far this season. He tied a team record with five field goals Saturday against Temple, converting attempts from 45, 42, 32, 32 and 21 yards. Wagner had a chance to set the record, but missed from 32 yards out in the fourth quarter. Wagner is tied for the national lead with 10 field goals this season and ties for second nationally in field goals per game (2.5). Northwestern defensive tackle Jack DiNardo merits a mention after blocking a PAT attempt and a field-goal attempt in a 30-25 win against Central Michigan.

Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):

  • Indiana QB Ben Chappell: The senior signal caller has been nothing short of spectacular this season. He put up huge numbers for the third consecutive game, completing 23 of 33 passes for 342 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-20 win against Akron. Chappell leads the Big Ten in passing average (296.7 ypg), boasts nine touchdown passes and no interceptions and ranks sixth nationally in pass efficiency (179.04 rating). He'll share the ball with receiver Terrance Turner (6 receptions, 121 yards, 1 TD).
  • Iowa DL Mike Daniels: Daniels likely would start on any other defensive line in the country, and he showed why Saturday against Ball State. The junior recorded four tackles for loss, including a sack, as Iowa blanked Ball State and held the Cardinals to 112 total yards. Iowa loses three starting defensive linemen after the season, but there's hope as Daniels and Broderick Binns both return.
  • Northwestern QB Dan Persa: He made his first mistake of the season -- an interception in the red zone -- but was spotless the rest of the game against Central Michigan. Persa completed 23 of 30 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns. The junior leads the nation in completion percentage (80.2) and ranks third in pass efficiency (186.3 rating).
  • Penn State S Nick Sukay and LB Nate Stupar: Both men stepped up for a Penn State defense that totally shut down Temple in the second half Saturday. Sukay recorded two interceptions, bringing his season total to three, and Stupar recorded an interception and a sack, part of his seven tackles on the day.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: It was important for Michigan State to continue to show offensive balance Saturday, and Cousins answered the challenge. He completed 16 of 20 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 14.5 yards per completion against Northern Colorado.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: Like Cousins, Tolzien faced weak competition Saturday, but any time a quarterback completes 15 of 17 passes for 217 yards and three touchdowns, it's worth noting. After a few hiccups in the first two games, Tolzien has settled down nicely, completing 34 of 42 passes for 463 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in the past two games. Tolzien shares this with tight end Lance Kendricks (6 receptions 103 yards, 1 TD).
  • Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher: I mentioned No. 12 in helmet stickers, but he deserves a game ball of his own after hauling in four touchdown passes from Terrelle Pryor. Sanzenbacher had nine catches for 108 yards in the rout of Eastern Michigan. The senior leads the Big Ten in touchdown receptions (5) and ranks fourth in the league in both receptions (5 rpg) and receiving yards (79 ypg).
  • Michigan WR Roy Roundtree: Roundtree is starting to distinguish himself as a reliable weapon for the Michigan offense. He recorded nine receptions for 118 yards, including a 36-yarder against Bowling Green.

OK, enough on Week 4. Let's look ahead to the start of Big Ten play Saturday!

No. 2 Ohio State (4-0) at Illinois (2-1): The Buckeyes hit the road for the first time this season and face an Illinois team that will be healthier following a bye week. Two improved units clash as Pryor and the nation's No. 8 offense go up against an Illinois defense that has made strides under new coordinator Vic Koenning.

Northwestern (4-0) at Minnesota (1-3): Standout quarterback Dan Persa and the Wildcats aim for their third road win of the season, which would make a 6-0 start very realistic. Minnesota is in desperation mode after dropping three consecutive home games. Coach Tim Brewster is under fire, and he needs to get things turned around fast against a team the Gophers beat last year.

No. 19 Michigan (4-0) at Indiana (4-0): I'm not a betting man, but I'd take the over in this matchup. Both offenses rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring, and both defenses have struggled to stop people this season. Michigan's Robinson should be fine following his knee injury Saturday, and he'll try to outshine Indiana senior signal caller Chappell, the Big Ten's leading passer (296.7 ypg).

No. 11 Wisconsin (4-0) at No. 24 Michigan State (4-0): This is the most fascinating matchup of the day in the Big Ten. You've got two potentially explosive offenses and two defenses with some individual talents (J.J. Watt, Greg Jones) and some question marks. I can't wait for the matchup between Jones and Badgers running back John Clay, who needs a big game to boost his Heisman hopes. And we still don't know whether or not Mark Dantonio will return to the Spartans' sideline.

No. 22 Penn State (3-1) at No. 17 Iowa (3-1): In each of the past two years, an unranked Iowa team has stunned a Penn State squad ranked in the top 5 nationally. The roles reverse on Saturday night at Kinnick Stadium, as Penn State will be the underdog against the Hawkeyes, who have looked very impressive aside from the first half at Arizona. Can the Lions pull off the upset, or will Adrian Clayborn and Iowa's defensive line gobble up freshman quarterback Bolden?

Bye: Purdue (2-2)
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.

Big Ten position rankings: WR/TE

August, 23, 2010
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The position rankings move on to the wide receivers and tight ends, who will be grouped together. The Big Ten remains a defense-first conference, but I really like the depth at receiver and, to a lesser extent, tight end throughout the league. Although star power was considered, I put a very strong emphasis on overall depth and 2010 potential here.

This was the toughest position to whittle down to five (actually, six), but here goes ...

[+] EnlargeCunningham/Dell
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesMark Dell (left) and B.J. Cunningham headline an experienced group of receivers for Michigan State.
1. Michigan State: Sure, there's a lack of star power entering the season, but trust me, that will change. There's not a deeper group of receivers and tight ends in the Big Ten than this one. Veterans B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell anchor the receiving corps, and dangerous speedster Keshawn Martin will play a much bigger role in the offense this season. Converted quarterback Keith Nichol also joins the mix there. Michigan State also boasts three talented tight ends, including Mackey Award watch list members Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum.

2. Indiana: The Hoosiers return two of the Big Ten's top five receivers in Tandon Doss, a first-team all-conference selection, and Damarlo Belcher. They also add experience with Terrance Turner and exciting young players like Duwyce Wilson and Dre Muhammad. Overall depth is a bit of a question mark, but both Doss and Belcher will get the attention of opposing defensive backs after combining for 1,732 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. Max Dedmond returns at tight end after recording 18 receptions in 2009.

3. Wisconsin: I'm not completely sold on this entire group, although receiver Nick Toon and tight end Lance Kendricks should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath both boast a ton of experience, but must take the next step in their development. Wisconsin could use a rebound season from Kyle Jefferson, and walk-on Jared Abbrederis continues to make plays in practice and should be a contributor this fall.

4. Purdue: Surprised by my choices so far? You won't be when the season starts. Like Michigan State, Purdue's depth will reveal itself this fall. The Boilers are led by Keith Smith, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 and the league's top returning receiver (1,100 yards). He's joined by two veterans in receiver Cortez Smith and tight end Kyle Adams. But the real boost could come from young players like Antavian Edison and Gary Bush, as well as Justin Siller, the team's former starting quarterback who brings size and big-play ability to the perimeter.

T-5: Penn State: I'm tempted to rank the Lions a little higher but want to see how the entire group performs this season, provided they get the ball thrown to them. Derek Moye has all the tools to be an All-Big Ten receiver after recording 48 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns last season. Graham Zug is a very solid target who reached the end zone seven times in 2009. Although Chaz Powell moves to defense, Penn State boasts several exciting young wideouts like Devon Smith. Tight end is a big question mark after the departures of Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.

T-5. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast the league's top big-play tandem at receiver in Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. DJK is on track to become the team's all-time leading receiver this fall, and McNutt averaged 19.8 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns in 2009. I like the potential of guys like Keenan Davis and Paul Chaney Jr., who returns from a knee injury. Tony Moeaki is a major loss at tight end, but Allen Reisner returns and talented freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz enters the fold.

Just missed the cut: Ohio State, Michigan

Up next: Quarterbacks

More rankings ...
By almost any measure, the Big Ten has been a defense-oriented league the past few seasons, and the trend likely will continue in 2010.

If I had to list the league's strongest overall position groups, defensive line would be No. 1 and linebacker wouldn't be too far behind. But Big Ten offenses shouldn't be overlooked, and the wide receiver position is the biggest reason.

[+] EnlargeKeith Smith
Sandra Dukes/Icon SMIKeith Smith caught 91 passes for 1,100 yards and six touchdowns last season.
Phil Steele underscored my point earlier this week with his preseason All-Big Ten teams, but the conference appears loaded at wide receiver for 2010. Seven of the league's top 10 receivers return this fall, and most teams should have improved depth at receiver. Teams like Michigan State lost their top receivers from 2009 but should be even stronger as a group this season. Teams like Indiana, Iowa and Ohio State boast receiver tandems that should keep defensive coordinators busy. There's at least one receiver on every team who I really like.

Here's a rundown of the top returning receivers ...

Purdue's Keith Smith: Smith quietly led the Big Ten with 1,100 receiving yards in 2009, continuing Purdue's tradition of producing extremely productive receivers. He'll provide a lot of help to a new starting quarterback -- Robert Marve or Caleb TerBush -- in an offense that has never shied away from passing the ball.

Indiana's Tandon Doss: Never heard of him? Remember the name, folks. Doss has all the skills to become one of the nation's elite wide receivers. He had 77 receptions for 962 receiving yards last fall, and should be a bigger factor near the goal line as Indiana tries to upgrade its red zone offense.

Ohio State's DeVier Posey: Being close friends with the starting quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) helps, but Posey is primed for a big season this fall. He hauled in eight touchdowns and recorded 828 receiving yards in 2009, finishing with a big performance in the Rose Bowl.

Wisconsin's Nick Toon: I've been a Toon fan ever since I saw him in spring ball back in 2008. He established himself as Wisconsin's No. 1 wideout last fall and could be ready to explode in 2010. Wisconsin has other weapons defenses must account for, leaving room for Toon to make plays down the field.

Iowa's Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt: I just couldn't separate these two, especially after they helped Iowa become a more vertical offense last fall. Iowa isn't afraid to throw the ball downfield, and both DJK and McNutt are capable of stretching the field. They combined for 1,424 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last year.

Derek Moye, Penn State: Moye provides a very big target (6-foot-5, 198) for Penn State's new starting quarterback. He averaged a league-best 16.4 yards a catch last fall and should see his receptions total rise as he moves into a truly featured role.

Damarlo Belcher, Indiana: Like Doss, Belcher flew under the radar last fall but turned in a very impressive sophomore season, recording 61 receptions for 770 yards and five touchdowns. Belcher's 6-5, 215-pound frame really helps him create space to receive passes.

Here are some other names to watch, in no particular order:
As you can see, there's a lot to like.
Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will have their first chance to win over the masses Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

Penn State's Blue-White Game (ESPN2, 2 p.m. ET) marks the first public look at the Nittany Lions' quarterback competition, a race that players say remains very tight. A decision on Daryll Clark's successor won't be made until sometime in preseason camp, but Saturday's stadium scrimmage serves as an important platform for both Newsome and McGloin.

"They’re still young," wide receiver Graham Zug said. "They’ve hardly taken any snaps in a game, so it’s going to take a little time for them to get that experience. That’s why this Blue-White game will be important for them to get used to the crowd and everything."

Newsome backed up Clark last year, appearing in 10 games and completing 8 of 11 passes for 66 yards. McGloin, a former walk-on, played in two contests and went 0-for-2 on pass attempts.

Translation: both quarterbacks are totally unproven. But their teammates are seeing positive signs this spring, whether it's McGloin trusting his strong arm and making tough throws through small windows, or Newsome improving his timing with receivers and remaining a constant threat to take off and run.

"Kevin and Matt are kind of tied right now for the starting role," senior guard Stefen Wisniewski said. "Matt is really calm and confident in the pocket, he'll sit back there and deliver the ball. Newsome's been developing as well with his footwork and he can really make things happen with his feet."

Wisniewski acknowledged that it's different not hearing Clark's voice in the huddle. Clark not only set passing records at Penn State but served as a co-captain and commanded respect.

For Newsome and McGloin, owning the huddle has been a process. But they know they're not going it alone.

"That’s one thing we as receivers are working on with them," Zug said, "making them be leaders in the huddle even though they’re new quarterbacks. When they’re in the huddle, all the attention is on them. ... So if somebody is talking in the huddle when the quarterback is calling the play, we stop the play and command they pay attention to the quarterback. And we tell [the quarterbacks], 'Hey this is your huddle. You have to be the leader.'"

It has been a process, but the new quarterbacks aren't slowing down the pace this spring. Neither Newsome nor McGloin has been made available to reporters, but Zug said both quarterbacks are running the same plays and making the same reads that Clark did the last two seasons.

"Both of them are working on things a starting quarterback has to do," wideout Brett Brackett said. "To be honest, we haven’t really needed to show too much patience."

Although true freshman Paul Jones is also practicing this spring, Newsome and McGloin appear to be in a two-man race. The candidates differ in style, background and personality.

Newsome was a U.S. Army All-American who enrolled early last spring and served as Clark's protégé. He brings tremendous athleticism to the table but has worked on his passing and his mental approach this spring.

"This spring, he's done a great job shaking that young, silly attitude that he had and has done a good job commanding the huddle," Brackett said. "He's still a very silly guy, likes to joke around a little bit, but he's done a good job with getting that on-the-field seriousness."

McGloin, meanwhile, is all business, which Brackett attributes in part to McGloin's hometown of Scranton, Pa. Unlike Newsome, McGloin came to Penn State with little fanfare and only earned a scholarship before the 2009 season.

Some outsiders didn't consider McGloin a serious candidate for the top job, but he has made a good case this spring.

"He absolutely is right in there," Wisniewski said. "Our coaches don't care if he was a walk-on or scholarship [player] or whatever. If the kid can play, we'll put him in there."

Asked to identify areas for improvement, Zug said McGloin must continue to be smart but aggressive with his throws, trusting his arm to thread the needle. Newsome, meanwhile, needs to maintain his confidence through inevitable mistakes.

But even though there's youth at quarterback, Penn State hasn't adjusted its expectations on offense.

"This offense can be up there with how our offense has been the last few years, if not better," Brackett said. "We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of potential. Right now, we’re making strides."

Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

October, 26, 2009
10/26/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There’s clear separation at the top after Saturday’s games. Wisconsin and Michigan State are solid in the four and five spots. After that, it gets pretty messy until the bottom, as evidenced by a three-way tie at No. 7.

1. Iowa (8-0, 4-0): Kirk Ferentz would love a 20-point win right about now, but he’ll certainly take what he’s getting from his incredibly resilient team. It looked like Michigan State’s hook-and-lateral play would end Iowa’s perfect season, but junior quarterback Ricky Stanzi responded with a 70-yard drive, capped by a scoring pass to Marvin McNutt with no time left on the clock. What magic does Iowa have in store down the stretch as it chases perfection?

2. Penn State (7-1, 3-1): The Lions are a very dangerous team right now, and they gained a huge confidence boost by winning at Michigan Stadium for the first time since 1996. Senior quarterback Daryll Clark has been masterful since the Iowa loss, and weapons are emerging around him in Graham Zug, Andrew Quarless and others. A win this week against Northwestern sets up a huge game against Ohio State on Nov. 7.

3. Ohio State (6-2, 4-1): There was plenty of angst at halftime Saturday against Minnesota, but Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes totally dominated the final 30 minutes. Pryor turned in arguably his best half of the season, and wide receiver DeVier Posey is looking more and more like a star. Thaddeus Gibson (three sacks) led another ferocious defensive effort. Ohio State must continue to build confidence on offense this week before heading to Happy Valley.

4. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-2): The Badgers were idle on Saturday but move up a spot in the rankings. After back-to-back losses before the bye, Bret Bielema’s crew needs to get back on track at home against surging Purdue. Quarterback Scott Tolzien has thrown five interceptions and no touchdowns in his last two games and must be careful against a Boilers defense that has started to force turnovers.

5. Michigan State (4-4, 3-2): One play can make a huge difference in a season, and Michigan State once again found itself on the wrong end Saturday night. The Spartans defense was suffocating until the final 1:37 and left the inside route open for McNutt on the game’s decisive play. I still think this program will do big things in the future, but losses like Saturday’s reinforce that Michigan State hasn’t arrived.

6. Minnesota (4-4, 2-3): It’s very hard to know where to slot the Golden Gophers at this point. They’ve made some strides on defense this year but remain mistake-prone and offensively challenged. Life without wide receiver Eric Decker (ankle) could be downright miserable if Minnesota doesn’t shake things up on offense. It might be time for MarQueis Gray at quarterback. Minnesota needs to get things turned around at home, where it plays its next three games.

T-7 Northwestern (5-3, 2-2): If every game started with Northwestern down 18 to 25 points, the Wildcats might be undefeated right now. Throughout the season they’ve played their best in seemingly desperate situations. This team clearly has a lot of flaws, but heart isn’t one of them. A banged-up defense has made strides since the Minnesota loss on Sept. 26, and if a running game emerges, Northwestern could win a few more games.

T-7 Michigan (5-3, 1-3): The Penn State game confirmed Michigan isn’t ready for prime time yet, as the Wolverines looked sloppy on both sides of the ball. Youth and depth were Rich Rodriguez’s big concerns entering the year, and both factors are hurting the team right now. Rodriguez needs to get quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson back on track. Perhaps more importantly, the defense needs to avoid major breakdowns.

T-7 Purdue (3-5, 2-2): Call them the Boiler Spoilers from here on out, as Purdue tries to take down higher-rated teams in the next three weeks. Purdue followed up its upset win against Ohio State with its cleanest performance of the season, a turnover-free win against Illinois. If the run game of Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor can complement Joey Elliott, Purdue's offense will be dangerous, as long as it limits turnovers. The defense seems to be getting better each week.

10. Indiana (4-4, 1-3): The Hoosiers' resolve will be tested after blowing a 28-3 lead against Northwestern. Head coach Bill Lynch made several questionable decisions down the stretch, and Indiana's offense couldn't convert three second-half interceptions into any points. Indiana will need to pull off an upset against Iowa, Wisconsin or Penn State to have any chance at a bowl.

11. Illinois (1-6, 0-5): Ron Zook is coming back for another season, but this one continues to slip down the drain. Illinois shuffled quarterbacks in its loss to Purdue, struggled to stop the run and dropped its sixth game by double digits. Zook keeps trying new things to spark his team, but nothing has worked this season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Penn State wide receivers Derek Moye and Chaz Powell were relaxing in their room Tuesday night when the subject came up again.

The feeling of disrespect tends to fester, and despite three victories this season, both Moye and Powell still sense it.

"Last year, the year before, we were just sitting on the sideline watching these games," Moye said. "Now we're going to be in the spotlight. All eyes are going to be on us and we're happy to be in this position. We're going to go out and show everybody what we can do."
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
Penn State wide receiver Derek Moye intends to prove the doubters wrong.

Penn State had turnover at several positions following its Rose Bowl run in 2008, and no spot lost more production than wide receiver. Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood all started for most of their careers and combined for 132 receptions, 1,932 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns last year.

Throw in Williams' production as a rusher and a return man, and it was obvious that Penn State had a major void to fill. Receivers like Moye, Powell, Graham Zug and Brett Brackett had appeared in plenty of games, but their numbers paled in comparison to the big three.

So how have the Rodney Dangerfields of Happy Valley fared so far? Pretty well. Penn State has been forced to throw the ball a lot in its first three games, and Moye, Powell and Zug all have reached double-digits in receptions. They have combined for 37 catches, 474 receiving yards and five touchdowns.

But doubts still linger. Penn State hasn't played anyone so far, and the wideouts are still unproven on the big stage, which arrives Saturday night against Iowa (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

"There's always people who say the competition wasn't there," Moye said. "But this week and in weeks to come, we'll prove what we did the first few weeks wasn't a fluke."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Listening to Joe Paterno, you'd think Penn State would be lucky to go .500 this season.

The defending Big Ten co-champs lose a sizable senior class, including the entire starting secondary and entire starting wide receiving corps. Penn State brings back national award candidates such as linebacker Navorro Bowman, defensive tackle Jared Odrick and running back Evan Royster, but all the turnover has taken a toll this spring.

"I don't think we've had a very great spring," Paterno said Wednesday. "We had a great winter program. The kids started out well. We've had a problem with the weather. ... And we've got some areas that we're not even adequate. That's the offensive line right now, the secondary has got a long way to go, and we've got to improve.

"Some of the good things are we've got kids that are working hard."

Paterno is feeling 100 percent physically following hip-replacement surgery in November, but his team's health hasn't been as promising. The Lions have had "more injuries this spring than I can remember in a long time," Paterno said, and they've been spread across the board.

The injured include linebacker/defensive end Jerome Hayes (knee), cornerback A.J. Wallace (hamstring), center Doug Klopacz (knee) and tackle Nerraw McCormack (knee).

There have been several bright spots, namely the play of Royster, quarterback Daryll Clark, a new-look wide receiving corps and the defensive line, led by Odrick. But for a team that still lists national titles and Big Ten championships as its goals, there's a ton to do in the final six spring workouts and the summer.

"Our running back situation's good, our tight end situation's good, our quarterback situation's good, we've got a chance to have a couple pretty good wideouts," Paterno said. "We're very, very shallow at the offensive line, not even close to being good enough. Same way with our secondary. The linebacker's are good, I think our kicking game will be good.

"That should cover everything."

Almost.

I didn't sit down with Paterno in person today -- some obligations kept him at home until practice, which was closed -- but we discussed several other topics over the phone.

Here are a few notes:

  • Clark has thrown the ball extremely well this spring, and a new-look group of receivers are making plays. Paterno likes the fact that Penn State has some bigger wideouts -- Brett Brackett (6-foot-6), Derek Moye (6-5), A.J. Price (6-4) and Graham Zug (6-2) are bigger targets -- who allow for some different things in the offensive scheme.
The only concern for Paterno is that the wideouts aren't facing the best competition this spring.
"People are going to bang 'em around, and they're going to need some experienced game time," Paterno said. "We're trying to give them as tough situations as we can, but the secondary is not as aggressive as I would like. So I'm not so sure just how good the receivers are. They've worked hard, they catch the ball well and they have ability, but they haven't really been challenged yet."
  • Night games at Beaver Stadium are a Penn State trademark, but the Lions will kick off only one contest under the lights this fall -- the Big Ten opener against Iowa. Last year, Penn State played three prime-time games. In 2007, Penn State had night games at home against Notre Dame and Ohio State.
"It doesn't make a difference, we've got to show up," Paterno said. "But the fans have a lot of fun at night. I don't know why we don't have one more. I guess it's all television."
  • Paterno is a bit worried about the depth on the defensive line, but for the most part, he shares the same opinion as most of his fans -- that assistant Larry Johnson will find a way to succeed with the front four. Odrick anchors the middle of the line, and Jack Crawford, Eric Latimore and Kevion Latham are emerging at defensive end.
"We've got some talent there," Paterno said. "They're all right."
  • Paterno also sees talent along the offensive line, though that group typically takes longer to develop. Stefen Wisniewski has shifted from right guard to center, and right tackle Dennis Landolt is the only other returning starter up front.
"We've just got to get a couple more kids to come forward," Paterno said. "There's some talent there. They're not comfortable, they're not confident, they're not aggressive, they're not sure of themselves. And obviously, that's why you practice. But I think they'll come along."
  • The 82-year-old coach joked that maybe Penn State was better off when his assistants ran most of the practice, but he's clearly feeling a lot better than he did last fall, when he coached the final eight games from the press box and could barely walk. When the Lions take the field Sept. 5 against Akron, Paterno expects to be running out of the tunnel.
"Right now, I'm concerned about this football team," he said. "We're not very good right now, we've got a lot of work ahead of us and we're running out of time. But I'm sure when it's a day or two before [the game], and I start thinking about going back out on the field, I'll be excited."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A year ago, Daryll Clark was an unproven commodity competing for Penn State's starting quarterback spot alongside Pat Devlin. Clark now finds himself at the helm of the Nittany Lions as arguably the best quarterback in the Big Ten.

 
  Paul Spinelli/Getty Images
  Already entrenched as the starter, Daryll Clark hopes to build on what he accomplished in 2008.

He beat out Devlin for the top job and went on to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors, tallying 2,592 passing yards and 19 touchdowns with only six interceptions. Clark added 282 rush yards and 10 touchdowns for the nation's 14th-rated offense. After helping guide Penn State to an 11-2 mark and a Rose Bowl appearance, the 6-foot-2, 233-pound senior steps into a primary leadership position this spring on an offense that returns only five starters.

Here are Clark's thoughts on spring practice, his emergence last fall and the coming challenges for Penn State.

How different has this spring been for you as opposed to last year?

Daryll Clark: Last spring, it was a big decision on who was going to be the quarterback. It was competition. Whereas now, it's a little bit different. With Kevin Newsome being here, he's a freshman, he has a lot to learn. So this is a time for me to critique the mistakes I made from the past season and fine-tune everything I have to, to become a better quarterback and a better asset to this football team. Just become a bigger and better leader. There was a lot of help with all of the seniors we had last year. We have some this year, and our coaches have been calling upon a lot of our young guys to step to the forefront because we're going to need a lot of leadership to step up this year and fill some gaps. There are a lot of positions up in the air this spring. It's been real interesting. The first practice was pretty weird going out there and not seeing those three wideouts that I'm used to seeing [Derrick Williams, Deon Butler and Jordan Norwood].

Have you spent a lot of time watching those position battles at O-line and wide receiver?

DC: It's kind of tough to watch because I'm practicing in the thick of things throughout the entire practice. My reps are not limited. My main thing is just trying to get the timing down with all the wide receivers we have now. And it's going very well. With Derrick, Deon and Jordan, after the [2007] Alamo Bowl game, we started working on timing two weeks after. The same thing happened after the Rose Bowl this year with the younger guys. We have everyone on the same page to what we're trying to get accomplished this year, both offensively and defensively. Things have been pretty much going back and forth each practice, so that's a pretty good thing. Our wideouts are doing a great job of catching the ball, downfield blocking and making runs after the catch. Everything is on the up and up right now.

Who has stood out to you among the young guys?

DC: No one's really stood out. I think everyone is working at an even rate -- at a high rate, actually. To name a few, Chaz Powell, Derek Moye, Brett Brackett, Graham Zug, James McDonald, those guys really know that they're going to play this year, so it's important that they get everything down, get the whole terminology of the offense down and get used to the positions that they're going to play. I really haven't seen any nerves or anything like that because a lot of the guys have been playing, but just didn't get as many reps as our senior receivers from last year. They've played in a couple games already. Now they're going to be moving into a starting role, so I think they'll be ready.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Penn State quarterback Pat Devlin (7) celebrates his fourth quarter touchdown with receiver Brett Brackett (83) in the Nittany Lions 13-6 in over Ohio State Saturday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The disappointment in Pat Devlin's voice was unmistakable.

He had just lost Penn State's quarterback competition to Daryll Clark after a tightly contested race through the spring and summer. The former Pennsylvania high school superstar, who reneged on a commitment to Miami to play for Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions, suddenly faced an uncertain future.

When Devlin joined a conference call with reporters, he knew the questions were coming, the ones about transferring.

"People are going to wonder," Devlin recalled Saturday night. "I don't know how rumors start, but people get these ideas in their heads."

Fortunately for Penn State, the idea of transferring never went through Devlin's head.

"Just because you're disappointed doesn't mean your confidence goes away," Devlin said.

The sophomore displayed that confidence in crunch time Saturday night. He relieved Clark and led Penn State on two scoring drives in the final 10:38, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a sneak behind center A.Q. Shipley.

Devlin didn't complete a pass -- Ohio State was flagged for pass interference on a post route to Derrick Williams -- but he had the touchdown run and picked up a first down on Penn State's final drive to kill more clock. Most important, he avoided a mistake.

"I've said that since Day 1, I have a lot of confidence in Devlin," Paterno said. "Devlin's a good football player. He had a lot of poise and knew what was going on. He milked the clock, he did everything we wanted him to do. "

"[Quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno] and I helped him out, to make sure he knew he was one play away."

Clark sustained an apparent concussion on a 7-yard run late in the third quarter. He remained in the game and finished the drive, which ended with a missed field goal, before being replaced.

"I don't think he knew where he was," quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno said. "It was a medical decision all the way."

Added wideout Deon Butler: "You can tell when someone's zoned out. They're looking somewhere, but they're really not there. He was fighting, but you could tell."

The morning of game day, Jay Paterno showed the offense film of Illinois' game-winning, clock-killing, run-oriented drive at Ohio State last year. He had done a similar thing in 2005 at Northwestern, showing players tape of a perfectly executed two-minute offense.

Penn State rallied to beat Northwestern in the final minutes with the two-minute drill. And on Saturday, the Lions outlasted Ohio State with run plays and good clock management.

"I'm going to try and pick a tape next week that has a blowout on it," Jay Paterno said.

Like his father, Jay always had faith in Devlin's poise, which was only reinforced through the competition with Clark. Devlin had appeared in all but one game entering Saturday night, completing 21 of 41 passes for 367 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

"Knowing Pat, you just know that he's waiting for this opportunity, waiting for a chance to prove himself and show that he can play, too," said wide receiver Graham Zug, Devlin's roommate. "He did that tonight."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There are actually points on the board, so this update might be marginally more interesting than the last one.

I know the Big Ten isn't exactly the Big 12, but this feels more like an SEC game at the half. Several ferocious hits have been dished out on both sides of the ball, and besides two blown coverages, the defenses continue to dominate.

Unless one of these teams finds a running game in the second half, this contest likely will be decided by special teams and field position. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has been a master at both throughout this career, but Penn State is moving the ball a bit better than the Buckeyes. Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells entered tonight with an excellent big-game track record, but he hasn't gotten much going so far (10 carries, 11 yards).

Penn State's swarming front seven has clogged rushing lanes and forced Ohio State to run outside. If there's a troubling trend for Penn State, it's third-down defense. Ohio State has converted three third downs of seven yards or longer, as well as a second-and-19 on the final drive of the half.

Terrelle Pryor has gone 9-for-14 passing, but two of his completions went for 53 and 33 yards. Penn State completely blew its coverage on the 53-yarder to Dane Sanzenbacher (4 catches 76 yards), but the Lions' held from there.

I've been very impressed with Ohio State's defensive line so far. Evan Royster is averaging just three yards per carry, nearly five below his season average. Aside from a blown coverage that allowed Daryll Clark to find Graham Zug for a 49-yard gain, the Buckeyes have looked tough.

Laugh all you want, but the first-half game balls go to the four specialists: punters Jeremy Boone and A.J. Trapasso and kickers Kevin Kelly and Aaron Pettrey. Expect more big plays in the second half, but these four could decide the game.

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