NCF Nation: Greg Garmon

Did you think AIRBHG would rest during the holiday season? Not a chance.

Unfortunately for Iowa, the running back exits continue as freshman Greg Garmon has decided to transfer from the team. There's nothing official from Iowa, but Garmon told multiple media outlets that he asked for and received his release from head coach Kirk Ferentz on Wednesday.

Garmon said Iowa wasn't a good fit for him, and Ferentz agreed.

A heralded recruit from Erie, Pa., Garmon saw the field a bit this fall and had 38 carries for 122 yards to go along with eight receptions for 57 yards. His playing time decreased following the emergence of Mark Weisman and the return of Damon Bullock from injury.

Iowa's running back depth -- knock on wood -- looks good for 2013 as Weisman, Bullock, Jordan Canzeri and Barkley Hill all return. But Garmon would have been a nice part of the mix, and his departure continues a frustrating trend for Iowa, which now has lost four running backs -- Garmon, Marcus Coker, Mika'il McCall and DeAndre Johnson -- in the past year. Garmon is the seventh Iowa running back to transfer in the past three seasons.

There's not much left to say about Iowa's unusual attrition at running back. Garmon's departure isn't as damaging because the team has others in line, but it raises more questions about why the Hawkeyes can't keep talented ball-carriers.

It's game day at Kinnick Stadium

October, 20, 2012
10/20/12
6:20
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IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Week 8 in the Big Ten wraps up under the lights at Kinnick Stadium, where Penn State and Iowa meet in a matchup of two somewhat surprising unbeaten teams in Big Ten play.

Despite 2-2 marks in non-league play, both Penn State and Iowa have made strides in Big Ten games. Penn State scored 22 points to rally past Northwestern in its last game two weeks ago, while Iowa comes off of a road upset against Michigan State in two overtimes. Iowa has won four straight against Penn State at Kinnick, while Penn State won last year's meeting in State College.

Expect a truly electric atmosphere, as Iowa fans, like many in the Big Ten, love their night games. The tailgating scene around Kinnick looks fabulous, and I spotted a dude dressed like Waldo on my drive in.

Penn State is the healthier team following an open week and should have running back Bill Belton, hobbled by an ankle sprain for most of the season, in a bigger role. Iowa running back Mark Weisman, who has recorded four consecutive 100-yard games since claiming the featured role, is cleared to play with an ankle sprain and should be in there. How much? That's the key. The Hawkeyes will lean on true freshman Greg Garmon and junior Jordan Canzeri, who has made an incredible recovery from a torn ACL sustained in spring practice. Still, without much from Weisman, you have to wonder how Iowa will score against a solid Penn State defense led by All-America candidate Michael Mauti at linebacker.

Although Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin predicted a shootout this week, expect a low-scoring, physical game. Field position will be huge, and one key difference could be the kickers. Iowa's Mike Meyer has been fabulous, converting his last 13 field-goal attempts, including four in last week's win. Penn State, meanwhile, has little confidence in sophomore Sam Ficken.

Follow us on Twitter and keep it here for coverage of Penn State-Iowa throughout the night.

Big Ten predictions: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
9:00
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We're past the midway point and headed for the home stretch of the 2012 season. Brian Bennett cut into Adam Rittenberg's lead in Week 7, although Rittenberg maintains a three-game edge in the season standings. At stake: a steak -- and other delicacies -- at St. Elmo's in Indianapolis before the Big Ten championship game.

Week 8 brings us six matchups, five league games and the final nonleague contest (Indiana at Navy) of the regular season. Both of us are searching for our first perfect week of predictions for the season.

Let's do this ...

PURDUE at OHIO STATE

Brian Bennett: The Boilermakers might have beaten the Buckeyes last year, but this is a different Ohio State team. And Purdue hasn't looked like it can beat anyone the past couple of weeks. Expect Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde to shred a suddenly weak run defense to the tune of 250 combined yards, and Ohio State gets to 8-0. ... Ohio State 38, Purdue 17

Adam Rittenberg: I saw all I needed to see from Purdue the past two weeks. Miller, Hyde, Rod Smith and the Buckeyes run all over the Boilers, piling up 300 yards on the ground. Miller and Hyde combine for four touchdowns and Luke Fickell's defense buckles down in the second half, holding Purdue to 315 total yards. ... Ohio State 42, Purdue 17

MINNESOTA at WISCONSIN

Adam Rittenberg: If the Gophers were healthy, they'd keep this close and have a chance to pull off the upset. But too many key injuries, combined with a Wisconsin team that has regained its mojo, lead to another fairly easy win for Bret Bielema's crew. Montee Ball goes for 150 yards and two touchdowns, and James White and Melvin Gordon each add a rushing score. Minnesota hangs around for the first half, but Wisconsin surges early in the third quarter. ... Wisconsin 38, Minnesota 20

Brian Bennett: Minnesota has had trouble stopping the run the past two games, and that's not a good sign going against a Badgers offensive line that is getting back to form. Ball drops the axe on the Gophers with three scores, and an underrated Wisconsin defense keeps Max Shortell & Co. at bay. ... Wisconsin 34, Minnesota 17

NEBRASKA at NORTHWESTERN

Brian Bennett: On the road, against a spread offense and a running quarterback? Reads like a horror story for Nebraska. But the Huskers have had two weeks to lick their wounds and figure out something defensively. More important, Northwestern's young defense is going to have trouble slowing down Taylor Martinez, Ameer Abdullah and all those Big Red weapons. Huskers in a shootout. ... Nebraska 38, Northwestern 31

Adam Rittenberg: Nebraska certainly has a lot of firepower, and Northwestern never seems to win games like this, when its program is in the spotlight. Kain Colter will give Nebraska trouble again, and he and Venric Mark combine for four touchdowns. But I haven't loved Northwestern's offensive game plan recently, and the Wildcats, while good at stopping the run, will need to put up points to win Saturday. Ultimately, Rex Burkhead refuses to let Nebraska lose and the Huskers prevail with a big fourth quarter. ... Nebraska 34, Northwestern 28

MICHIGAN STATE at MICHIGAN

Adam Rittenberg: The Spartans' season is on the brink and Mark Dantonio always gets his guys up for the Michigan game. Michigan State takes an early lead behind its salty defense, but Michigan and senior quarterback Denard Robinson won't be denied this time. Robinson breaks off a long touchdown run late in the first half and finishes with 120 rushing yards and two scores. Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell also records 100 rushing yards, but Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs records a second-half takeaway as the Wolverines end their losing streak in the series. ... Michigan 24, Michigan State 16

Brian Bennett: I see a major slugfest coming. The Spartans know how to slow down Robinson, who doesn't have a lot of help right now with Fitz Toussaint struggling. Meanwhile, Michigan State would have trouble scoring on air, much less Michigan's improving defense. Michigan State's defense comes up with a couple of turnovers but can't do much with them. The hero of this game? Wolverines kicker Brendan Gibbons, who makes three big field goals. ... Michigan 16, Michigan State 9

INDIANA at NAVY

Brian Bennett: Going to Navy and facing that option attack in the middle of the season is a scary proposition. The Midshipmen will make Indiana's defense look foolish at times. But the Hoosiers have shown great firepower and are getting closer and closer to notching a respectable win. Their passing attack is too much for Navy, as Shane Wynn breaks off two long touchdown catches. ... Indiana 24, Navy 21

Adam Rittenberg: Only 45 total points? Give me the over, Bennett. I'm definitely impressed with Indiana and what Kevin Wilson is doing with the offense, but the Hoosiers can't defend the run (109th nationally), which spells trouble against Navy. The Mids have righted the ship (bad puns galore!) the past two weeks and have home field on their side. Receivers Cody Latimer and Wynn will give Navy problems, but the triple option gives Indiana more, especially in the second half. ... Navy 38, Indiana 35

PENN STATE at IOWA

Adam Rittenberg: History is working against Penn State, which doesn't play well at Kinnick Stadium. But this is a new team with a new offense, and the Lions will get over the hump in Iowa City behind Matt McGloin and his receiving corps. Iowa will have a hard time running on Penn State, with or without Mark Weisman, and I haven't seen enough from the Hawkeyes' passing game to suggest they'll attack the Lions enough. McGloin fires two touchdown passes and linebacker Michael Mauti has another big night as Penn State wins its fifth straight -- and its first in Kinnick since 1999. ... Penn State 21, Iowa 17

Brian Bennett: How does Iowa win this game without a healthy Weisman? I'm not sure. But I'm also not entirely sure how the Hawkeyes are tied for first place in the Legends Division. I do know that Iowa is the best defense that Penn State has faced, and the Lions will pay for not being able to run the ball effectively. Kirk Ferentz continues his mastery of Penn State, a new running back hero emerges (Greg Garmon, anyone?) and James Vandenberg actually throws a TD pass in the Hawkeyes' win. ... Iowa 19, Penn State 17

Season records

Adam Rittenberg: 48-14 (.774)

Brian Bennett: 45-17 (.726)
If there's any team used to adjusting to the loss of a starting tailback, it's Iowa. And now it looks like the Hawkeyes might have to dig into their bag of tricks again.

Surprising star Mark Weisman is not listed on Iowa's depth chart that was released Monday for this weekend's Penn State game. Weisman suffered a right ankle injury that forced him out of Saturday's overtime win at Michigan State late in the game. He was wearing a walking boot on the foot after the game.

Iowa has not made any official comments on Weisman's availability for this week, and coach Kirk Ferentz will not address the media until Tuesday. But his absence from the depth chart is not promising, to say the least, especially with Penn State's stout defense coming to Iowa City in a battle of teams with unbeaten Big Ten records.

Weisman has rushed for 631 yards and eight touchdowns, with virtually all of that production coming in the past four games. Damon Bullock, who started the season at tailback before suffering a head injury, did not return as expected last week and isn't listed on the depth chart this week.

True freshman Greg Garmon, who missed some time with an arm injury, and Jordan Canzeri, who tore his ACL in spring practice, are listed as the top two running backs on the depth chart.

This looks like a challenging situation for a team that has been unable to generate many points at all out of the passing game. But if any team knows how to adjust from running back setbacks, it's Iowa.

Previewing the Big Ten noon games

September, 22, 2012
9/22/12
10:30
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Here’s a quick look at the three-pack of Big Ten games kicking off at noon ET ...

UAB (0-2) at No. 16 Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes aim for their 400th win at Ohio Stadium as they conclude a relatively easy four-game home stretch to open the season. Tackling has been an emphasis point this week for an Ohio State defense that ranks 66th nationally in total yards allowed and 101st nationally in pass yards allowed. The defense has produced its share of highlights, but head coach Urban Meyer and his staff are looking for greater consistency and fewer breakdowns. Quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Jordan Hall and others face a Blazers defense that ranks 109th nationally against the run.

UTEP (1-2) at Wisconsin (2-1): A week after switching offensive line coaches, Wisconsin has switched quarterbacks as redshirt freshman Joel Stave gets his first career start Saturday. Stave replaced the turnover-prone Danny O'Brien for the second half of last week's win against Utah State and made his collegiate debut. He'll benefit from the return of top receiver Jared Abbrederis, who has been the team's only downfield threat this season. Wisconsin ranks 116th nationally in total offense and 113th in scoring. The Badgers have won 18 consecutive home games and 25 consecutive non-league home games stretching back to 2003. UTEP paced Oklahoma for three quarters in the season opener Sept. 1 before being outscored 14-0 in the fourth.

Central Michigan (1-1) at Iowa (2-1): Walk-on fullback Mark Weisman put himself on the map and took Iowa back to the end zone last week against Northern Iowa. Weisman now makes his first start for the Hawkeyes, who likely will be without top backs Damon Bullock (head) and Greg Garmon (elbow), although Jordan Canzeri could return to the mix following a speedy recovery from an ACL tear this spring. Although Weisman-mania is in full swing in Iowa City, it's important for Iowa to spark the passing game in its final non-league tune-up. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg has yet to throw a touchdown pass this year. Central Michigan nearly got shut out in its last game, a 41-7 loss to Michigan State on Sept. 8. Chippewas quarterback Ryan Radcliff ranked 19th nationally in passing last season but has just one touchdown pass and three interceptions in his first two games this fall.
Perhaps we've been looking at this Iowa running back "curse" thing all wrong.

It's true that the long list of calamities that have befallen Hawkeyes players at that position zoomed past the point of absurd a while ago (for a refresher, click here). AIRHBG, a term first coined by fan blog Black Heart Gold Pants that stands for Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, has become such an accepted acronym that it now has its own web page, Twitter account and entry in the Urban Dictionary.

Superstitious types would be wise not to get on an elevator or cross a rickety bridge with the current starting Iowa tailback. Yet how can a position truly be cursed when the Hawkeyes keep finding ways to succeed there despite ridiculous obstacles?

So Adam Robinson gets kicked off the team in 2010. Freshman Marcus Coker steps in and rumbles for 219 yards in a bowl game. So Coker leaves the team after last season, and other options are sidelined in the offseason. Little-used Damon Bullock steps in and runs for 150 yards and the game-winning score against Northern Illinois in the opener.

[+] EnlargeIowa's Mark Weisman
David Purdy/US PRESSWIREWalk-on fullback Mark Weisman rushed for 113 yards and three touchdowns against Northern Iowa.
So Bullock suffers a concussion in the first half last week against Northern Iowa, while backup Greg Garmon hurts his elbow. Well, this one really gets crazy. Iowa turns to walk-on fullback Mark Weisman, and he responds with 24 carries for 113 yards and three touchdowns.

The question isn't really why the running backs are cursed in Iowa City. It's more like, how do the Hawkeyes keep finding these guys?

"First of all, you have to give credit to the players; they're the ones doing all the work," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That part is where it all starts. Then [running backs coach] Lester [Erb] has done a great job with our backs in coaching and instructing them. So that's a credit to him."

Iowa would like to take credit for Weisman, but he all but fell into their laps from the sky. Or the Air Force, to be more precise.

The Buffalo Grove, Ill., product was very lightly recruited out of high school and primarily as a blocking fullback. But he still wanted to carry the ball, so that's why he decided to play at Air Force.

"They run the fullback a lot, and not many schools do that any more," he told reporters this week.

But Weisman wasn't quite prepared for the other differences at Air Force.

"He was tired of having guys bounce quarters off his bed," Ferentz said. "I don't know if just a story or a legend now at this point, but he got tired of sleeping on the floor. He figured out if he made his bed perfectly one time, he wouldn't have to go through that aggravation again if he slept on the floor."

Weisman left Air Force after just one semester and decided to walk-on at Iowa -- "I knew the tradition here," he said this week, apparently not in reference to AIRBHG.

Ironically, though, he picked a program that didn't run the fullback much. Ferentz said that his fullbacks have traditionally been "frustrated middle linebackers" or "a glorified guard position, really." The coaches didn't pay too close attention to Weisman last year as he sat out under NCAA transfer rules, but Ferentz said he stood out during spring practice this year and then had "an exceptional" August.

Still, the staff didn't start looking at Weisman as a main ball carrier until last week in practice. Then he became the main guy when Bullock and Garmon went down, a 6-foot, 225-pound wrecking ball that teammates have jokingly nicknamed "Juggernaut."

"Mark's kind of, hit the hole, and he's not really going to try to make a move," center James Ferentz told reporters. "He's going to try to run over guys."

With Garmon questionable and Bullock doubtful this week, Weisman should get his first start at running back. Backing him up is another walk-on, true freshman Michael Malloy, with junior fullback Brad Rogers behind them. Jordan Canzeri, who suffered a torn ACL this spring, but has been medically cleared to resume playing, may or not be ready yet.

Can Weisman keep this up?

"Would he be our go-to guy, our predominant back? I don't know," Ferentz said. "Only time will tell. But I think certainly he showed that he can do some things out there competitively and he brings a different tempo running the football, than everybody else. ... We are hardly out of the woods yet."

No one can ever feel too safe about the status of Iowa's running backs. But given how the Hawkeyes keep filling the position successfully, perhaps we should start considering it blessed, not cursed.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 4

September, 20, 2012
9/20/12
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten as Week 4 kicks off Saturday.

1. Notre Dame's nightmare: Few college players have tormented a rival like Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has tormented Notre Dame the past two years. After a record-setting performance in South Bend in 2010 -- 502 yards of total offense -- Robinson led an incredible comeback last season as Michigan stunned the Irish in the first night game ever played at the Big House. Robinson returns to South Bend on Saturday, and Michigan likely needs another special effort from its senior to knock off No. 11 Notre Dame. The Irish come off of a stifling defensive effort against Michigan State, and their offense should test a young Michigan defense. Notre Dame looks like the more complete team in this contest, but if the game is close and Robinson has a chance for fourth-quarter magic, the Irish should start to worry.

2. Penn State protects its house: NCAA sanctions have limited Penn State's goals this season, but a few remain on the table. The Lions can still win a Leaders Division title. They also want to keep their winning streak against Temple alive, particularly at Beaver Stadium, where the Owls have never won. Penn State hasn't lost to Temple since 1941 (seven PSU victories between 2003-2011 were vacated). Although Temple clearly has improved in recent years, Nittany Lions seniors like linebacker Michael Mauti don't want to be the ones who let the win streak end. Penn State finally got a chance to celebrate last week against Navy and looked strong on both sides of the ball. It's important to keep the momentum going before Big Ten play kicks off with a spicy matchup at Illinois.

[+] EnlargeMax Shortell
Marilyn Indahl/US PresswireReserve QB Max Shortell has made a solid impact to help Minnesota to a 3-0 start.
3. Minnesota takes it to the Max: Life is good in Gopher Country, as Minnesota sits at 3-0 with a chance to sweep its nonconference slate Saturday night against Syracuse at TCF Bank Stadium. Backup quarterback Max Shortell stepped up in a big way last week after starter MarQueis Gray suffered a high ankle sprain. Now Shortell makes his first start of the season -- third of his career -- against a Syracuse team that has performed better than its record (1-2) would indicate. Shortell and his pass-catchers take aim at a Syracuse defense that hasn't been efficient against the pass (97th nationally, 145.1 rating). He'd be helped by a boost from Donnell Kirkwood and the run game, but Minnesota likely will need to put up points as Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib will challenge the Gophers' defense.

4. Badgers' offense looks for leadership: Wisconsin's offensive downturn has been the most surprising story in the Big Ten through the first few weeks. Line play was in the spotlight after Week 2 as Bret Bielema dumped assistant Mike Markuson, and now the attention shifts to quarterback. Wisconsin benched Danny O'Brien in favor of Joel Stave in the second half of last Saturday's win against Utah State, and both men are listed as co-starters on this week's depth chart. Bielema has made his decision on the starter, but he isn't revealing it publicly. Stave, the former walk-on, reportedly took most of the first-team reps this week in practice. Ranked 116th nationally in total offense, the Badgers need to iron out a lot of things, including their quarterback situation, before Big Ten play begins next week at Nebraska.

5. Comm studies in Champaign: Illinois attributed some of its defensive struggles at Arizona State to poor communication against the Sun Devils' fast-paced offense. Despite allowing 45 points and 510 yards to ASU, Illinois isn't losing its swagger, and linebacker Jonathan Brown declared last week, "We've got the best front seven in the country. I firmly believe that." Brown and his teammates can back up that claim Saturday night in a tricky game against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs rank third nationally in scoring (56 ppg), fifth in total offense (603.5 ypg), ninth in rushing (289 ypg) and 17th in passing (314.5 ypg). They provide a very tough challenge for an Illinois team that says it has sorted out its communication issues. The Illini offense is banged up and still finding its identity, so Brown and the defense need a big effort Saturday night.

6. Buckeyes get back to basics: Ohio State has had quite a few highlights on defense through the first three games, but the Buckeyes' fundamentals aren't up to their typical standards. Missed tackles nearly cost Ohio State last week against Cal, and while the Buckeyes shouldn't have too much trouble with UAB on Saturday, Urban Meyer and his staff are looking for a more polished performance from the silver bullets. Meyer calls Ohio State's tackling woes "not acceptable," and he planned to double the amount of time his players spent on tackling this week in practice. As good as quarterback Braxton Miller has been, the Buckeyes need to tighten up on defense before Big Ten play begins.

7. Weisman for Heisman: Despite an inexplicable run of personnel problems at running back, Iowa always seems to find someone to step up and carry the rock. The latest back to emerge might be the most surprising: Mark Weisman, a walk-on fullback who transferred from Air Force and recorded 113 rush yards and three touchdowns in Iowa's much-needed win against Northern Iowa last week. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz quipped that Weisman "must have not liked having guys bounce quarters off his bed" at Air Force and left for Iowa, where he got the staff's attention in the spring and really stood out during fall camp. Iowa likely won't have top backs Damon Bullock (head) and Greg Garmon (elbow) for Saturday's game against Central Michigan, and Weisman is expected to get his first career start. Weisman is quickly earning cult hero status at Iowa, and it'll be interesting to see if he can follow up last week's performance with another big one.

8. Northwestern's quarterback rotation: If there's such thing as a functional quarterback rotation, Northwestern seems to have found it with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, neither of whom has thrown an interception this season. After Siemian led fourth-quarter drives in the Wildcats' first two wins, Colter was at the helm last week as the Wildcats put away Boston College. Coach Pat Fitzgerald seems content to stick with the rotation, go with the hotter hand when necessary and use matchups to his advantage. But in most of these cases, some separation occurs. Colter is a top-shelf athlete who extends drives with his feet but misses key throws at times. Siemian has better field vision and pure passing skills but isn't the natural playmaker Colter can be. Both men will play Saturday against South Dakota, and we could get some more clues about who will be leading the offense more as Big Ten play beckons. Despite a 3-0 start, Northwestern needs to start finishing more drives with touchdowns. The quarterback who does it best likely will be in a bigger role going forward.

9. MSU receivers look for green light: Mark Dantonio said Michigan State's staff would face some "tough decisions" after the team failed to score a touchdown or stretch the field in last week's loss to Notre Dame. Although the Spartans' depth chart for Eastern Michigan shows no adjustments at the wide receiver spots, Dantonio planned to evaluate the wideouts throughout the practice week and make no public announcements about changes. He noted that wide receiver is one of several positions where Michigan State has youth and equal ability level. If that's the case, we might see some new players in bigger roles Saturday, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who has barely played, and possibly freshmen Andre Sims Jr., Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Aaron Burbridge. Dantonio hinted that a lower-pressure game could help the young receiving corps. "We'll have to go through some of those growing pains," he said. "I think we have a lot of talent at that position, and it will show itself before the season is over. That talent will show itself."

10. Wolverines get nasty: If Michigan intends on beating Notre Dame for the fourth straight season, it must have season-best performances from both its offensive and defensive lines. Alabama overwhelmed the Wolverines at the line of scrimmage in the opener, and Michigan looks like a team missing its stars from 2011 (David Molk, Mike Martin, Ryan Van Bergen). Standout left tackle Taylor Lewan challenged the offensive line this week, saying, "You have to be physical, you've got to play angry, play nasty." The line faces a Notre Dame defensive front seven that overwhelmed Michigan State last week and has 11 sacks in the first three games. Coach Brady Hoke admits Michigan's defensive line remains a work in progress and doesn't generate enough push into the opposing backfield. It'll need to Saturday night against a Notre Dame team that Hoke says has superior speed to past Irish squads.
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.
Most Iowa fans expected their team to find the end zone again.

No one in the Hawkeye state expected Mark Weisman to do so three times against Northern Iowa.

After AIRBHG struck again and wiped out two more Hawkeyes running backs -- Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon -- Iowa turned to Weisman, a walk-on, to carry the load. Like many Iowa backs thrust into bigger roles, Weisman stepped up in a big way, rushing for 113 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries as the Hawkeyes beat Northern Iowa 27-16 at Kinnick Stadium.

Iowa had just one offensive touchdown through the first two games -- one of just two FBS teams with that sorry designation. But the Hawkeyes offense came alive early and often, going 60 yards in 10 plays on its opening possession and finishing with a 1-yard run by Weisman. When Bullock left with an undisclosed injury and Garmon banged up his shoulder, Weisman continued to produce.

Weisman for Heisman? Too soon.

Quarterback James Vandenberg played an efficient if unspectacular game, completing 18-of-28 passes for 228 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. He finally got more help from his receivers, especially Kevonte Martin-Manley, who recorded five catches for 101 yards.

The Hawkeyes defense buckled down nicely against the run, surrendering just 94 yards on 24 carries, and safety Tom Donatell recorded a key third-quarter interception.

While Iowa should beat Northern Iowa, there was concern after such anemic offensive performances in the first two games. Although the lack of depth at running back continues to be a big storyline in Iowa City, Iowa can feel a bit better about its performance heading into the final non-league game next week against Central Michigan.

The Hawkeyes will need to be better than this when Big Ten play rolls around, but they definitely took a step today.
It's prediction time!

The 2012 season kicks off Thursday night -- in Big Ten country, it means Minnesota-UNLV in Vegas -- and your fearless forecasters are ready for another season of brilliance (or buffoonery). Brian Bennett looked nothing like a Big Ten neophyte in 2011, claiming the regular-season and postseason titles. But a new season brings a new opportunity and a chance for Adam Rittenberg to rebound.

We're raising the stakes this season. The loser buys the winner dinner at St. Elmo in Indianapolis during Big Ten championship weekend. The loser also will post a poem on the blog encapsulating the winner's awesomeness.

All 12 Big Ten squads are in action this weekend, so let's get to the picks ...

Thursday

MINNESOTA at UNLV

Brian Bennett: The Gophers win on 21 in Vegas. MarQueis Gray throws for two scores and runs for another to get Year 2 of the Jerry Kill era off to a lively start. ... Minnesota 21, UNLV 17

Adam Rittenberg: Minnesota flexes its muscles on offense and eclipses 30 points for the first time in the Kill era. Gray and the Gophers hope what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas. ... Minnesota 31, UNLV 23

Friday

No. 24 BOISE STATE at No. 13 MICHIGAN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: Both defenses show up to play, and the team that makes the fewest mistakes prevails on a big stage. Andrew Maxwell delivers a strong second-half performance, and Johnny Adams records an interception in the closing minutes to seal a big win for the Spartans. ... Michigan State 20, Boise State 16

Brian Bennett: It's an old-fashioned slugfest as two stout defenses battle it out against offenses led by rookie starters at quarterback. The Spartans' D is just a little better, and a late Dan Conroy field goal makes the difference. ... Michigan State 17, Boise State 14

Saturday

NORTHWESTERN at SYRACUSE

Brian Bennett: In one of the most exciting games of the weekend, the Wildcats survive in overtime when Syracuse misses a field goal. Kain Colter throws three touchdown passes. ... Northwestern 33, Syracuse 30 (OT)

Adam Rittenberg: Tough one to predict as Northwestern hasn't lost an opener under Pat Fitzgerald and typically plays well away from home. But it'll take the Wildcats' young secondary some time to get settled, and Ryan Nassib and his receivers will make enough plays to win a shootout. ... Syracuse 35, Northwestern 31

OHIO at PENN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State rides the emotion of a historic opener to an early lead and then relies on its defense, led by Gerald Hodges and Michael Mauti, to stay in front. Ohio quarterback Tyler Tettleton makes some plays in the second half, but the Lions prevail thanks to a fourth-quarter touchdown pass by Matthew McGloin to Allen Robinson. ... Penn State 20, Ohio 13

Brian Bennett: The Nittany Lions trail at halftime, but the defense gets its emotions in check and pitches a shutout in the second half. A late Bill Belton touchdown run seals Bill O'Brien's first victory. ... Penn State 20, Ohio 10

WESTERN MICHIGAN at ILLINOIS

Adam Rittenberg: Illinois' banged-up secondary really concerns me, especially against a good quarterback such as Western Michigan's Alex Carder. But the Illini defensive front seven will do enough to fluster Carder, and running back Josh Ferguson keys a good second-half effort from the offense as Illinois survives. ... Illinois 27, Western Michigan 24

Brian Bennett: Upset special. The Broncos have a star quarterback in Carder and plenty of familiarity with both the Illini -- whom they played tough in Champaign last year -- and former MAC coach Tim Beckman. They spoil Beckman's debut in a shootout. ... Western Michigan 34, Illinois 31

MIAMI (Ohio) at OHIO STATE

Brian Bennett: A dominating defensive performance highlights the first game of the Urban Meyer era. The Buckeyes get a pick-six and a blocked punt to make up for a so-so offensive showing. ... Ohio State 28, Miami (Ohio) 7

Adam Rittenberg: Braxton Miller connects with three receivers for a touchdown, and Johnathan Hankins keys a strong defensive effort as the Buckeyes roll in Meyer's debut. ... Ohio State 34, Miami (Ohio) 10

IOWA vs. NORTHERN ILLINOIS (at Chicago)

Adam Rittenberg: I'm tempted to pick the Huskies, but James Vandenberg will do enough to get Iowa over the hump in an exciting game along the shores of Lake Michigan. Vandenberg eclipses 300 passing yards as the Hawkeyes rally for a win against the defending MAC champs. ... Iowa 31, Northern Illinois 27

Brian Bennett: The Hawkeyes survive a scare at Soldier Field from a game Northern Illinois team. Rookie Greg Garmon has a breakout performance with 80 yards rushing and a long TD, and Iowa needs every bit of it. ... Iowa 23, Northern Illinois 20

EASTERN KENTUCKY at PURDUE

Brian Bennett: Danny Hope's alma mater is no match for his current team as the Boilers cruise past their Football Championship Subdivision foe. Raheem Mostert returns a kickoff for a touchdown to break the game open. ... Purdue 35, Eastern Kentucky 13

Adam Rittenberg: The Boilers' defense comes out strong as Ryan Russell sparks a big day from the defensive line. Akeem Shavers rushes for 150 yards as Purdue cruises in its opener. ... Purdue 31, Eastern Kentucky 9

SOUTHERN MISS at No. 17 NEBRASKA

Adam Rittenberg: A more composed Taylor Martinez delivers an efficient passing performance and breaks off a 60-yard touchdown run to spark the Huskers in the second half. Ciante Evans records an interception as Nebraska starts slowly but finishes well. ... Nebraska 35, Southern Miss 17

Brian Bennett: The Huskers avoid a repeat of 2004 with encouraging outings by both the defense and an improved Martinez. The latter completes 65 percent of his passes, and Rex Burkhead runs for 150 yards to usher in the revamped Memorial Stadium in style. ... Nebraska 31, Southern Miss 14

NORTHERN IOWA at No. 12 WISCONSIN

Brian Bennett: The Badgers don't lose at Camp Randall and won't need to sweat much against the FCS Panthers. Montee Ball scores three touchdowns before sitting most of the second half, and Danny O'Brien throws only three incompletions in his Wisconsin debut. ... Wisconsin 42, Northern Iowa 10

Adam Rittenberg: The FCS Panthers are no pushover, and they take an early lead at Camp Randall before Wisconsin takes control. O'Brien has a few early hiccups but settles down, and running backs Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon combine for five rushing touchdowns. ... Wisconsin 38, Northern Iowa 17

INDIANA STATE at INDIANA

Adam Rittenberg: The Hoosiers display a more balanced offense as Tre Roberson throws for two touchdowns and rushes for another. The defense has a few breakdowns but finds itself in the second half as IU pulls away from the Sycamores. ... Indiana 34, Indiana State 20

Brian Bennett: The Hoosiers' passing game shows improvement as Roberson connects with Ted Bolser on a pair of scores. Indiana wins its first game since last September. ... Indiana 27, Indiana State 17

No. 8 MICHIGAN vs. No. 2 ALABAMA (at Arlington, Texas)

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines score first on a Denard Robinson big play, but it's pretty much all Tide after that as Alabama's superiority in the trenches takes over. ... Alabama 27, Michigan 14

Adam Rittenberg: Michigan can't match Alabama at the line of scrimmage as Tide running back Eddie Lacy has a big day on the ground. Robinson briefly rallies the Wolverines in the second half before an interception turns the momentum and Alabama pulls away. ... Alabama 30, Michigan 17
It's time for the second half of our Big Ten personnel roundup entering season-opening weekend. In case you missed Part I, which featured most of the Week 1 depth charts, be sure and check it out.

Michigan State released its depth chart, so we'll start there. Minnesota and Nebraska will release theirs later this week.

MICHIGAN STATE

Depth chart
  • There are two unsettled positions on defense as Michigan State lists co-starters at defensive tackle (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover) and at free safety (Jairus Jones and Kurtis Drummond). Head coach Mark Dantonio called the Reynolds-Hoover competition "a flip of the coin" and praised Reynolds' progress during fall camp. Reynolds has a 33-inch vertical leap and bench-presses more than 400 pounds. Hoover, a converted defensive end, missed all but one game last season with a fractured rib.
  • Linebacker Darien Harris and defensive end Lawrence Thomas both don't appear on the depth chart because of injuries but will be contributors this season. Harris could see the field early Friday night against Boise State. Sophomore Skyler Burkland is listed as the backup left tackle but likely won't play because of a hand injury.
  • Junior Bennie Fowler and sophomores Keith Mumphery and Tony Lippett are listed as Michigan State's top receivers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who had 24 receptions last season for the Vols, appears as Fowler's backup.

Here are some other personnel notes from around the league ...

IOWA

Running back is the big question mark for the Hawkeyes after another summer of attrition. Iowa enters Saturday's opener with three primary backs -- Damon Bullock, Greg Garmon and Michael Malloy -- as well as two fullbacks in Brad Rogers and Mark Weisman.

Bullock, who had 10 carries for 20 yards, likely will get the start against Northern Illinois, although Garmon, a heralded true freshman, should get plenty of work as well. Rogers is a familiar name, and coach Kirk Ferentz praised Weisman's progress during camp.

"You play the cards that are dealt," Ferentz said. "The running back position is one where we’ve had a lot of players playing. The good news is they've performed pretty well."

Sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who suffered a torn ACL in spring practice, has returned to practice, but Ferentz said it's "weeks or months before we talk about him entering contact or anything live at all." Iowa has been cautious about live tackling involving its running backs in practice, particularly those who have game experience.

PURDUE

Boilers coach Danny Hope didn't sound too concerned about playing without top middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford, indefinitely suspended Monday following his latest arrest. Purdue practiced without Beckford during spring ball -- he was working his way back from another legal issue -- and rotated several players at middle linebacker. Senior Antwon Higgs appears to be the next man in, and converted quarterback Sean Robinson is behind him.

Sophomore Joe Gilliam, who recorded seven tackles last year and made one start, should be a bigger part of the plan as well.

"I thought in the recruiting process he was one of the top players in our state," Hope said of Gilliam. "I thought Joe was probably the next guy in line [behind the starters]."

INDIANA
  • Not surprisingly, Tre Roberson has emerged as Indiana's starting quarterback after taking over the top spot as a true freshman in 2011. Roberson beat out junior college arrival Cam Coffman and freshman Nate Sudfeld for the job. Coffman will serve as Roberson's backup. Although Roberson struggled in Tuesday's morning workout, coach Kevin Wilson has been pleased with the sophomore. "He's embraced the challenge," Wilson said. "He definitely can make some plays as a bit of a dual-threat guy. He's embraced the competition. He has been by far our most consistent quarterback."
  • Roberson will be passing the ball more in 2012, and he'll have a deeper group of wide receivers at his disposal. How deep? Wilson said that veterans Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson enter the season as the team's No. 5 and No. 6 receivers (Hughes is suspended for the opener against Indiana State). Kevin Wilson had high praise for sophomore Cody Latimer, limited by a sports hernia injury last season. Speedster Nick Stoner also should be a bigger part of the mix at receiver. "It's not because they've [Hughes and Duwyce Wilson] fallen off but because we've got some good players," the coach said. "We've got some competition, we've got some depth, we've got some young speed and I just think we're close to having a more complete unit there. We're not great at receiver, but we do have more playmakers."
ILLINOIS
  • Illinois' secondary isn't anywhere near full strength as it prepares to face Western Michigan and talented quarterback Alex Carder. The team's top two safeties, Steve Hull and Supo Sanni, both are nursing injuries and didn't appear on Monday's depth chart. Also, top cornerback Terry Hawthorne has a sprained ankle that will limit him only to defense for the first few games. Illinois wanted to use the athletic Hawthorne as another option at receiver, a position with little proven depth. The bigger question is how much the ankle will limit the senior with his primary cornerback responsibilities.
  • Although the Illini will rotate plenty at running back, receiver and tight end on Saturday, they won't employ a two-quarterback system, which had been rumored during camp. Co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said Tuesday that he's not a big believer in rotating quarterbacks, so junior Nathan Scheelhaase will take most or all of the snaps.
OHIO STATE
  • Urban Meyer expects "six seconds of great effort" from Ohio State's freshmen in Saturday's opener against Miami (Ohio). Asked which freshman he was most curious to see, Meyer identified defensive back Devan Bogard as well as freshman linebacker David Perkins, who "really exploded the last couple of days."
  • Meyer said freshman Bri'onte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith are "very close" for the No. 2 running back spot behind Carlos Hyde. Dunn has been a bit more consistent in camp and has a slight edge.
  • Meyer said Storm Klein's role going forward is yet to be determined and that recently reinstated linebacker is still "making up a bunch of stuff" after missing almost all of fall camp. Meyer based his decision to reinstate Klein on a domestic violence charge being dismissed against the senior, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
NORTHWESTERN

Coach Pat Fitzgerald acknowledged that it has been easier to go through the preseason this year as opposed to 2011, when talk of quarterback Dan Persa's health dominated fall camp. Although Northwestern knew all along that Persa wouldn't play in the first few games and Kain Colter would start, it has been easier for Colter this time around.

"Unfortunately, Danny had to go through that tough offseason," Fitzgerald said. "That was not fun. Kain handled the opportunity really well a year ago. ... You could definitely tell it was his first start in college football Now he's settled down, he's settled into the role."
Last week in our look at the Best Case/Worst Case for Iowa, I poked fun at the seemingly endless line of problems at running back for the Hawkeyes.

No amount of fiction can match the absurdity of reality, however. Even more bad news involving the Big Ten's most cursed position arrived this afternoon, as Iowa confirmed this weekend's fear: freshman tailback Barkley Hill has torn his ACL and is out for the season.

Simply unreal.

Hill, who hurt the knee in the Hawkeyes' scrimmage on Saturday, was a candidate to start at tailback, along with sophomore Damon Bullock and fellow freshman Greg Garmon. But no one who is playing that position in Iowa City can ever feel safe.

A quick rundown of what has happened to Hawkeyes' ball-carriers just since the end of last season:
  • Marcus Coker, the team's leading rusher and one of the top backs in the Big Ten, transferred to FCS Stony Brook after some off-the-field issues;
  • Mika'il McCall, Coker's backup, left the team after a season in which he missed significant time because of injury and a suspension;
  • Jordan Canzeri tore his ACL in spring practice;
  • De'Andre Johnson has two run-ins with police in a three-day span and is dismissed from the team;
  • Hill's injury.


And that's just in the past 10 months. We haven't even gotten into the history involving Adam Robinson, Jewel Hampton and on and on and on.

I'm not normally one to believe in curses or jinxes. I never thought the Red Sox "Curse of the Bambino" was a real thing and was instead simply a media creation. But it's getting harder and harder not to believe in the AIRHBG ("Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God"), a term coined by the Iowa blog Black Heart Gold Pants.

As for the future, it looks like the Hawkeyes will turn to Bullock and Garmon as their main running backs to start the season. Depth is basically non-existent. And if I'm either guy, I don't walk under any ladders any time soon.

Iowa dismisses De'Andre Johnson

August, 1, 2012
8/01/12
5:37
PM ET
Iowa running back De'Andre Johnson had two minor encounters with police last week that seemed to illustrate poor judgment, but not necessarily major offenses. Yet it was apparently enough for Johnson to get a one-way ticket out of Iowa City.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz announced Wednesday afternoon that the sophomore has been dismissed from the team. This comes after Johnson was A) ticketed for maintaining a disorderly house on Thursday -- a charge Ferentz initially laughed off during Big Ten media days -- and then, in his best Cincinnati Bengal impression, B) got in trouble again Saturday when he allegedly sped his motorcyle through a 25 mph zone and failed to pull over right away for cops. (The lessons here, as always: don't speed, and maintain an orderly house!)

Taken alone, neither amounts to much. Put together, they still don't seem to rise to the level of dismissal. Yet we don't know what other things were going on behind the scenes with Johnson, and Ferentz obviously felt he had seen enough.

Johnson probably wasn't going to be a star at Iowa, but he at least had some experience running the ball for a varsity college team, which is more than just about any other current Hawkeye can say. Meet your new leading returning, healthy ball carrier, Iowa fans: Jason White, who had a whopping seven carries for 32 yards in 2011 (just edging out Damon Bullock, who had 10 attempts for 20 yards last year).

Now, Ferentz has those two guys and incoming freshmen Barkley Hill and Greg Garmon -- and maybe sophomore Jordan Canzeri if he makes a miracle recovery from his torn ACL. There are also rumors that Penn State signee Akeel Lynch is thinking about transferring to the Hawkeyes. Of course, such a development would constitute good news at the running back position for Iowa, so we should be immediately skeptical.

It's overkill at this point to rehash all the problems that Iowa's tailbacks have endured. But let's also point out that it has not been a very good offseason for Big Ten running backs in general.

There was the awful news about Montee Ball today. Michigan's Fitz Toussaint got busted for DUI and was then suspended. Silas Redd left Penn State for USC. Johnson got kicked off Iowa, and Garmon's fate was shaky when he was arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia. Ohio State's Jordan Hall hurt his foot and could miss the start of the season, while Bri'onte Dunn made headlines with a traffic stop. Purdue's Ralph Bolden got arrested for allegedly forcing a kiss on a woman at a bar.

Geez. Can we start practicing already?
Iowa has been busy on the recruiting trail this spring and summer.

The Hawkeyes recently got a flurry of commitments and are up to 15 pledges for the 2013 class already. As of Tuesday afternoon, only eight schools in the country have more commitments than Iowa, which trails only Michigan (22) in the Big Ten.

What's even more noteworthy about this is that it's much different from the Hawkeyes' pattern under Kirk Ferentz. At this time last year, for example, the team had only secured five commitments.

So has Ferentz changed his approach in recruiting? Has the offseason coaching turnover -- which included Eric Johnson being reassigned to the defensive line in part so he could focus more on his role as recruiting coordinator -- made a difference?

Ferentz, who spoke to the Cedar Rapids Gazette's Marc Morehouse, said none of that is the case. He said it's just the new, accelerated nature of recruiting.

“I think everything is moving faster and kids are making their minds up quicker,” he told the paper. “Everything is driven by the recruiting industry right now. The awareness for younger people, it’s continually growing."

Ferentz expects to sign a class of 20 in February.

"I still think there will be more than a handful of good players left in December and January,” Ferentz said. “Things are moving faster, so you have to pick up the pace a little bit.”

With most of his recruiting done, Ferentz said the staff will start to focus on the Class of 2014 prospects while continuing to re-recruit the players who are committed for 2013.

Ferentz was also asked about 2012 signee Greg Garmon, who was arrested earlier this month for marijuana possession. The running back has yet to arrive on Iowa's campus and has a preliminary hearing set for July 18. Ferentz said Garmon -- who was expected to challenge for a starting job -- is still part of the Hawkeyes' plans but wasn't sure when he would get to Iowa City.

“At the end of the day, I don’t know enough,” Ferentz told Morehouse. “When I know really what a judge says the facts are, then I’ll take action. There are two sides to every story. I’ll wait to get that sifted out by someone who knows more than I do.”
Is the Iowa running back curse striking again?

Incoming freshman Greg Garmon, who was scheduled to report this weekend and compete for immediate playing time this fall, was charged with misdemeanor marijuana possession on June 1 in his hometown of Erie, Pa., according to multiple media reports.

It remains unclear what this will do to Garmon's status with the Hawkeyes. Marc Morehouse points out in the Cedar Rapids-Gazette a wrestler named Cayle Byers never made it to Iowa after an incident with police, while running back/wide receiver Michael Malloy lost his scholarship and will walk-on after being arrested in Nebraska on several charges, including drug paraphernalia. But every case is different, so it's too soon to jump to conclusions about Garmon's future.

What we do know is that Iowa can't afford to lose another running back, after Marcus Coker transferred, Mika'il McCall left the team and Jordan Canzeri tore his ACL. Garmon is one of two freshmen tailbacks coming in; the other, Barkley Hill, recently reported to campus. Damon Bullock and De’Andre Johnson are the other options on scholarship.

Garmon rushed for 2,859 yards and 27 touchdowns in high school and is one of the jewels of Iowa's 2012 recruiting class.

We'll wait to see whether this legal trouble will affect his fate with the Hawkeyes, as we also wonder again whether the Iowa running back curse is ever going to end.

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