NCF Nation: Indiana Hoosiers

Early 2015 Big Ten Heisman hopefuls

December, 15, 2014
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Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon came up one spot short of snapping the Big Ten’s eight-year streak without a Heisman Trophy winner this weekend. The last Big Ten player to win the award was Ohio State’s Troy Smith in 2006. With all three of this year’s finalists likely shipping off to the NFL, let’s take a look at who could end the Big Ten drought next fall.

[+] EnlargeTevin Coleman
AP Photo/John Sommers IIHeisman pose for 2015? Indiana's Tevin Coleman topped the 2,000-yard mark this season but could leave early for the NFL.
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman: Coleman is expected to make a decision about turning pro this week. If he makes the unlikely choice to return, he will be the Big Ten’s best returning back. The junior ran for 2,036 yards this year while being largely overshadowed by Gordon, who had a better supporting cast.

Ohio State’s starting quarterback: The name might not be filled in until August, but reserve one spot on this list for whoever is leading the Buckeyes’ offense next year. Will it be J.T. Barrett, who might have earned a trip to New York this year if not for a season-ending injury in Ohio State’s final regular-season game? Will it be two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Braxton Miller? Or perhaps current starter Cardale Jones? The winner of that job will get a cache of playmakers and a team that will be favored to repeat as conference champs.

Wisconsin RB Corey Clement: Gordon’s understudy this season ran for 844 yards and nine touchdowns. He has averaged nearly 7 yards per carry in his two seasons with the Badgers. The offensive line that paved the way for Clement and Gordon is losing three starters, which could hurt his chances. Wisconsin, though, has historically had no problem replacing talent in the trenches.

Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He has one more season to lead the Spartans’ evolving offense. Cook loses his top target (Tony Lippett) and top runner (Jeremy Langford) to graduation, but Michigan State is a consistent winner. Leading a team to the playoff with an offense that averages 40-plus points would put Cook in contention for the school’s first Heisman Trophy.
After memorable regular seasons, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Indiana's Tevin Coleman all find themselves in Orlando for Thursday night's Home Depot College Football Awards (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). It's the first time in the 25-year history of the Doak Walker Award -- given out to the nation's top running back -- that all three finalists are from the same conference.

On the eve of the awards show, ESPN.com sat down with all three Big Ten stars to discuss what makes this group so special.

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Big Ten viewer's guide: Week 6

October, 4, 2014
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Three teams take a break this weekend as we approach the midway point of the 2014 season. There are still plenty of intriguing narratives to follow in the five Big Ten showdowns Saturday. The conference expansion teams get a chance to prove themselves against traditional league powers. The early leader for the Big Ten’s best playoff contender also will be made clear by the end of the night.

It’s time to find out how much wheat lies among the chaff this season (all times Eastern).

Noon games

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCan Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes get a road win against Big Ten newcomer Maryland?
No. 20 Ohio State (3-1) at Maryland (4-1), ABC: The Buckeyes make their second trip to the Old Line State this season, this time to open conference play against newcomer Maryland. The Terps have one of the league's most explosive offenses and have proved they can bring more than just the metro-area television audience to the Big Ten. Ohio State and its freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett will be their toughest test to date.

Purdue (2-3) at Illinois (3-2), ESPN2: Illini quarterback Wes Lunt has 11 touchdown passes and only three interceptions through five games with his new team. Lunt & Co. probably need a win against the struggling Boilermakers on Saturday to feel good about their chances of reaching a bowl game at the end of the season.

Afternoon games

North Texas (2-2) at Indiana (2-2), 2:30, BTN: The Mean Green visit an Indiana team that had an up-and-down September. They wedged a major upset against Missouri between disappointing losses to Bowling Green and Maryland. The Hoosiers' defense needs to find more consistency, but shouldn't have too much of an issue with a North Texas team that ranks 115th in total offense.

No. 17 Wisconsin (3-1) at Northwestern (2-2), 3:30, ESPN2: Pat Fitzgerald successfully installed some grit in his lineup last week, holding Penn State out of the end zone on the road. Can Northwestern hang with the more powerful Wisconsin offense in Evanston? Badgers running back Melvin Gordon had his way with opposing defenses in the team's past two victories.

Night games

Michigan (2-3) at Rutgers (4-1), 7:00, BTN: Playing football should be a welcome reprieve for Brady Hoke and his Michigan team after the week they had in Ann Arbor. Devin Gardner returns to quarterback for a Wolverines offense riddled with problems. Rutgers freshman defensive end Kemoko Turay should have a good opportunity to build on his one-sack-per-game average this season. Gardner will have to solve his turnover issues to get out of New Jersey with a win and help stop the bleeding.

No. 19 Nebraska (5-0) at No. 10 Michigan State (3-1), 8:00, ABC: In what could be the most important Big Ten game of the season, conference title and national playoff implications are at stake in East Lansing on Saturday night. The Spartans have won 18 of their past 20, and most of those have been double-digit victories. Nebraska, led by Heisman candidate Ameer Abdullah, is the league's last chance for a perfect record. If the Huskers can get past Michigan State, an undefeated season becomes a much more realistic possibility.

Required reading
There will be familiar faces around weight rooms and in front of overhead projectors in football complexes this summer: coaches’ faces.

Big deal.

Except it is a big deal, at least to the coaches who can now occupy strength and conditioning sessions and hold film study with their players.

The NCAA partially adopted a rule from the hardwood in October allowing a maximum of eight hours of mandatory workouts for players for eight weeks of the summer. What football coaches really care about, however, is the ability to watch those conditioning sessions and meet with their players for up to two hours each week. Any on-the-field work with footballs is still prohibited.

[+] EnlargeKevin Wilson
AP Photo/Andy ManisIndiana coach Kevin Wilson is one of many coaches that can visit with players in the summer rather than relying on "spies" to get information on offseason workouts.
“You don’t need secret spies anymore,” Indiana coach Kevin Wilson told ESPN.com. “You can just watch your football team now. ... It’s common sense that if I’m in control and if I want to walk in the weight room and watch them lift weights then I can watch them lift weights.”

It is uncharted territories for most coaches, who are used to relying on third-party word of mouth from the program’s strength coach and upperclassmen on how summer workouts are progressing and whether freshmen are adjusting. Some coaches began mapping out how they would use their eight hours when the rule was passed, while others will take the pulse of the team and adjust accordingly. For some, they’ll protect the details of those hour splits as if it were the playbook.

“We have to carve out [player meetings] with our strength coach, time that we can take away from his hours because you’re not adding extra time,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “There is this model that I’m not interested in giving up to anybody, that we think gives us a balance.”

Notre Dame is still debating between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire as its starting quarterback, so Kelly can spend part of the summer mentally preparing both for the upcoming competition. He will institute a “spring ball installation” of the core offensive plays and defensive structure, “something we’ve never been able to do in June.” He’ll also show his quarterbacks all of their mistakes in previous settings in hopes of limiting them once the season begins.

The vast majority, if not all, are in favor of the rule, although to varying degrees. Indiana’s Wilson has walk-on players who could eventually earn a scholarship, so those players feel a need to attend summer workouts. He knows that means some will take out additional loans for summer school.

For the coaches, with summers now filled with prospect camps and recruiting visits, there are fewer hours to break away from the football facility. Wilson will take advantage of the change, but he wonders whether coaches will suffer from the burnout a 365-day coaching calendar lends itself to. The NCAA implemented a two-week summer dead period to combat the evolving recruiting calendar, but Wilson knows some coaches will stick around to watch tape with players.

“It’s a little ironic they added a rule that for two weeks a recruit can’t come in but added a rule so you can spend that time with your players,” first-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson told ESPN.com.

Added Wilson: “How do we find the balance? It’s nice we can work with them, but it’s finding a balance where your coaches can find sanity. It’s nice we can talk legally but … I think you can overcoach.

“It will be interesting after year one, whether coaches will say they want to do more or do less.”

No school returns fewer starters in 2014 than Utah State, so coach Matt Wells is tasked with making sure those players who will be asked to step up this fall are physically and mentally able. He is also cognizant that his staff spending too much time with the team this summer could produce undesired results.

[+] EnlargeDave Clawson
Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP ImagesThe new NCAA rules are a boon to first-year coaches such as Wake Forest's Dave Clawson, who get a chance to get acclimated with their new players.
In the early portion of the summer, Wells will meet with his team more often than he might in July. He will bring the program’s newcomers up to speed with scheme and terminology in meetings, but he also doesn’t want to overload them. With the upperclassmen, he believes it will become counterproductive to have extended and repetitive classroom sessions.

“We’re going to still lean on player-led meetings, voluntary meetings the coaches aren’t in because it builds leadership in your team and in position groups,” Wells told ESPN.com. “We’ve benefitted from that the last three summers from an increased leadership role, and I think it’s important for the players to have a break from the coaches.”

For first-year coaches such as Clawson, the new rule will narrow the learning curve this fall as his players continue to adjust to his offensive and defensive ideologies. Clawson is seemingly like most coaches, though, in that he does not favor using the full two hours for Football 101 seminars. Wake Forest’s new coach is not deviating much from the old summer status quo.

When he and his staff assessed the Demon Deacons following the spring, he felt strength and conditioning was lacking most. So when mandatory summer workouts kicked off, he decided he’d only spend 30 minutes to an hour each week meetings with players.

“It didn’t make sense to take two hours away from that,” he said.

That could change in the coming weeks, though. While some schools already have their entire incoming freshman class on campus, Clawson won’t see all of his until July. He said the previous rule preventing coaches from working with freshmen lacked common sense.

“It used to be awful, the first time a freshman’s ever on campus and you can’t be around them,” Clawson said. “When these guys first get here, you need to have some involvement. Part of recruiting is parents trusting you with their son, and first time they drop them off, to not be allowed around them was very hard.”

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson talks with ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg about the outlook for the Hoosiers in 2013.
Last Wednesday's announcements that Connecticut had agreed to a home-and-home series with Boise State and that Cincinnati would be heading to the Big House in 2017 were the latest in a trend that has seen BCS-conference schools boost their nonconference schedule strength.

While the soon-to-be-former Big East is entering its last season as a BCS school, before the four-team college football playoff takes into effect in the 2014-15 season, aggressive scheduling is one way to keep the league on the national radar.

The slates will provide several opportunities for big national upsets in the coming years, so here's a look at some of the notable future opponents for each current conference school.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats host Purdue this season and will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., in 2016. They go to Illinois this year as well, a return trip from the schools' 2009 game at Nippert Stadium. In addition to going to Michigan in 2017, Cincinnati goes to Ohio State in 2014 and 2016 and has a home-and-home with BYU set for 2015 and 2016 (at BYU, at Cincinnati).

Connecticut: The Huskies host Michigan and Maryland this year, the second parts of home-and-homes from 2010 and 2012, respectively. In addition to the Boise State home-and-home set for 2014 and 2018 (at UConn, at Boise), UConn has a home-and-home with BYU in 2014 and 2015 (at UConn, at BYU), a home-and-home with Tennessee set for 2015 and 2016 (at UConn, at Tennessee) and a home-and-home with Virginia scheduled for 2016 and 2017 (at UConn, at Virginia).

Houston: The Cougars host BYU this year and head to Provo, Utah next year.

Louisville: The Kentucky series is the only one the Cardinals currently have scheduled with a BCS-conference opponent through 2016, going to Lexington this season and in 2015, with the Wildcats visiting in 2014 and 2016. Perhaps that will change when the Cardinals begin ACC play in the 2014 campaign.

Memphis: The Tigers host Duke this season after visiting the Blue Devils in 2012. They have a home-and-home with UCLA for 2014 and 2017 (at UCLA, at Memphis), a home-and-home with Kansas for 2015 and 2016 (at Kansas, at Memphis), a home-and-home with Missouri for 2015 and 2016 (at Memphis, at Missouri) and a four-game home-and-home with Ole Miss from 2014-17, beginning in Oxford, Miss.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights host Arkansas this season after traveling to Fayetteville, Ark., in 2012. They will host future Big East member Tulane in 2014, each's first season in its new conference, after playing the Green Wave in Piscataway, N.J., in 2010 and in New Orleans last season. Miami (FL) visits Rutgers in 2018 and hosts it in 2019, and the Scarlet Knights have future home-and-homes with UCLA (2016 at Rutgers, 2017 in L.A.) and Kansas (2015 at Rutgers, 2018 in Lawrence, Kan.) To Rutgers' credit, it had also originally scheduled home-and-homes with Maryland and Penn State before it had announced that it was moving to the Big Ten.

SMU: The Mustangs have quite the in-state home-and-home lineup. They canceled this season's home game with Baylor, and while it is unknown if the 2013 game will be made up or bought-out completely, the schools still have a home-and-home scheduled through 2019. The Battlle for the Iron Skillet with TCU will continue through 2017, with the Horned Frogs playing host this season. SMU will go to Texas A&M this year and host the Aggies in 2014, closing out a four-year home-and-home. They begin this season with a Friday night home contest against Texas Tech.

Temple: The Owls begin the Matt Rhule era at Notre Dame this season, a place they will re-visit in 2017. The Irish will visit Philadelphia in 2014. The two-for-one Penn State series continues from 2014-16, with the Nittany Lions visiting Philly in 2015. Temple will host Maryland in 2014 and travel to College Park at a future date to be determined, after a home-and-home in 2011 and 2012 that saw the visiting team win each time (Temple, then Maryland).

UCF: The Knights aren't backing down as they move up a level of play. They go to Penn State this season and will host the Lions in either 2014 or 2015. They host South Carolina this season and visit the Gamecocks in 2015. They go to Missouri in 2014 after hosting the Tigers this past season. They host BYU in 2014 after visiting the Cougars in 2011. And they go to Maryland in 2016 before hosting the Terps the following season. UCF has a 2017 date at Texas, too, as part of an agreement that saw the Longhorns visit the Knights in 2007 for UCF's first game in its new stadium before hosting them in 2009.

USF: The Bulls host Michigan State this season as part of a two-game home-and-home that will be returned in 2017. They will play the final game of a five-game series with the Miami (FL) this fall at home as well. USF will host North Carolina State in 2014, have a two-game home-and-home with Indiana in 2015 and 2016 (at USF, at Indiana) and play at Florida sometime in the future.
1. In the 15-year life of the BCS, only three schools from AQ conferences have never appeared in the standings: Duke, Indiana and Vanderbilt (Iowa State broke its schneid last fall). It’s a quirky thing. For the BCS’ first five years, the ratings stopped at No. 15. And, of course, the ratings don’t appear until midseason. All three teams are improving. Vandy, in fact, is No. 25 in Mark Schlabach’s most recent way-too-early rankings. The Commodores -- and the others -- have one more year to break through.

2. Zach Lee, the No. 3 quarterback recruit in 2010, left LSU right before classes began to sign a $5.25 million deal to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers. In his last six starts at Class AA Chattanooga last season, Lee went 4-0 with a 1.50 ERA and a 0.917 WHIP, so he’s not coming back soon. No one knows if Lee would have overtaken Jordan Jefferson, Jarrett Lee or Zach Mettenberger. But LSU’s quarterbacking has yet to return to the level where Matt Flynn played in taking the Tigers to the 2007 BCS title.

3. There will be 14 Saturdays between Labor Day weekend and Thanksgiving weekend, which we haven’t had since 2008. That eased the task of assembling an ACC schedule that includes new members Pittsburgh and Syracuse. The Orange will close the season at home against the Panthers and Boston College. The Eagles last went to the Carrier Dome a decade ago, in the same week that Boston College announced it would leave for the ACC. With Syracuse fans mocking the Eagles by chanting “A-C-C!”, Syracuse grabbed an emotional 39-14 victory.

4-star LB Jaylon Smith commits to Irish

June, 2, 2012
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ANGOLA, Ind. -- Long rumored to be a heavy Notre Dame lean, four-star outside linebacker Jaylon Smith (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Luers) ended all speculation with a pledge to the Fighting Irish on Saturday at the inaugural R.A.S Football Camp hosted by Dallas Cowboys linebacker Anthony Spencer at Trine University.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Smith is ranked No. 46 in the ESPN 150 and is the top prospect in Indiana. He reported offers from Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Purdue, Tennessee, Texas A&M and USC.

"Every (Notre Dame) coach has the same stand character-wise," Smith said. "Other coaches tell you what you want to hear, and I saw that with my brother." Rod Smith, a running back, is entering his sophomore season at Ohio State.

Smith is Notre Dame's top 2013 commit, its third commit in the ESPN 150 and its 13th overall.
The Big Ten has released its complete prime-time schedule for the 2012 season, with 14 total games under the lights this fall. That includes six games on the ABC/ESPN family of networks and eight on the Big Ten Network.

Here you go, night owls (all kickoffs listed in ET):

Aug. 31

Boise State at Michigan State, 8 p.m., ESPN

Sept. 1

Indiana State at Indiana, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network

Sept. 8

Vanderbilt at Northwestern, 8 p.m., BTN

Sept. 15


Notre Dame at Michigan State, 8 p.m., ABC
Utah State at Wisconsin, 8 p.m., BTN
Ball State at Indiana, 8 p.m., BTN

Sept. 22

Syracuse at Minnesota, 8 p.m., BTN
Louisiana Tech at Illinois, 8 p.m., BTN

Sept. 29

Wisconsin at Nebraska, 8 p.m., ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2

Oct. 6

Nebraska at Ohio State, 8 p.m., ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2

Oct. 13


Ohio State at Indiana, 8 p.m., BTN

Oct. 20
Penn State at Iowa, 8 p.m., BTN

Oct. 27

Ohio State at Penn State, 6 p.m., ESPN or ESPN2
Michigan at Nebraska, 8 p.m., ABC, ESPN, or ESPN2

Thoughts:
  • Every Big Ten team except Purdue will have at least one night game this season. The Boilermakers have to be a little disappointed after getting to a bowl game last year and bringing back a talented roster. Nebraska and Ohio State will each play three league games under the lights.
  • If you were planning on going to a Halloween party on Oct. 27, better make sure you have access to a TV -- or TVs. Not only will the Ohio State-Penn State and Michigan-Nebraska games be on in prime time, that's also the same day Wisconsin and Michigan State meet up at Camp Randall Stadium. It's a little hard to believe that game, which is a rematch of two epic duels from last season, won't be in prime time. But the two chosen for night slots are also big and feature four enormous fan bases. Wisconsin-Michigan State likely will get the 3:30 p.m. ET time slot in what is shaping up to be the biggest day of the season in the Big Ten.
  • Ohio State will play three of its four October games at night, including Nebraska's visit to the Horseshoe. It's no surprise, given the Buckeyes' following and the presence of Urban Meyer. Even without the ability to play in the postseason, the Buckeyes figure to be an attractive team for TV ratings purposes this year. The atmosphere in Columbus when Big Red comes to town should be absolutely electric.
  • Speaking of Nebraska, three of the Huskers' biggest games of the season will all be in prime time. Bo Pelini's team will get a chance to atone for blowout losses to Wisconsin and Michigan under the lights at Memorial Stadium. That place got crazy for last year's huge comeback win against Ohio State at night and should be similarly fired up for the Badgers and Wolverines.
  • Penn State will have back-to-back prime-time games, and neither will be easy. The Nittany Lions must travel to Kinnick Stadium, which is usually a great atmosphere at night. It's the third time in four years those two teams have played at night. Penn State will also play the following week after dark versus Ohio State, which should provide an advantage for the Nittany Lions. There was no night game at Beaver Stadium last year, which didn't sit too well with the Penn State faithful. They've got a perfect white-out opportunity with Meyer and the Buckeyes coming to State College.
  • Adam and I had Michigan State No. 1 in our pre-spring power rankings and may very well keep the Spartans there through the summer. But Michigan State will not get any prime-time exposure during conference season. The night games against Boise State (on a Friday) and Notre Dame were no-brainers, and with both at home the Spartans will need good showings to impress the rest of the country.
  • Northwestern had three straight night games last season but gets only one all season this year, in the academic bowl against Vanderbilt. Assuming both student bodies aren't studying, that could be a fun game.
  • Wisconsin won't get the benefit of playing at Camp Randall at night this year, except against Utah State. And the Badgers didn't figure to need much help in that game.
  • The night kickoff could also help Minnesota in an interesting nonconference game against Syracuse. The Gophers had only one night game a year ago and lost in embarrassing fashion to North Dakota State.
  • Indiana gets three prime-time exposure opportunities, all of them at home. Perhaps that can improve the game-day environment in Bloomington, though Ohio State often has almost as many fans as the Hoosiers when it comes to Memorial Stadium.
  • Michigan's first-ever night game last season against Notre Dame was a smashing success, but the Wolverines will not go under the lights again this year in the Big House, as had been reported. But they will get their share of high-profile prime-time matchups, having to play Notre Dame and Nebraska on the road at night. The opener against Alabama in Arlington, Texas, is also expected to be a night kickoff. The schedule offers few breaks for Brady Hoke's team in 2012.
  • Overall, I think it's a very strong prime-time schedule. I count five weeks with at least one really appetizing matchup, with the potential for much more. I'm already planning on not sleeping the night of Oct. 27.

What are your thoughts on the prime-time schedule?
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Tre Roberson's throwing arm was sore during Thursday morning's passing drills. And as far as Indiana is concerned, that's not a bad thing.

Roberson made a promising debut last season as a true freshman, starting the Hoosiers' final five games and showing off a strong mix of athleticism and poise. Now in his first college spring practice, Roberson is working on his passing. A lot.

"He's throwing it a ton," first-year Indiana offensive coordinator Seth Littrell said. "He's not fully used to it. He's always been a spread, run type of quarterback."

[+] EnlargeTre Roberson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIndiana's Tre Roberson has shown that he can run. Now he aims to be a more efficient QB.
The Hoosiers know that Roberson can take off and run, but that's not the only thing they want out of a quarterback. Littrell and head coach Kevin Wilson come from the Mike Leach/Oklahoma offensive system, where high-percentage passing makes everything go.

Wilson said the two easiest ways for IU to improve on its 1-11 record this season is to become a high-efficient passing team and to get more physical overall. Roberson completed 57 percent of his throws during his rookie campaign, which needs to go up. The good news is, the talent -- and the pedigree -- is there.

"I do think he has a skill set where I'll be very disappointed if he doesn't become a complete quarterback," Wilson said. "He throws it well, his mechanics are clean and I think he plays like a quarterback.

"It's nice that he has good feet and can make some plays on the run and you can design a quarterback run or run the option once in a while. ... But I don't think we can be an elite team running zone read or pulling it all the time."

At the beginning of last season, Roberson's path to playing time appeared uncertain. He was third on the depth chart behind Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel. Hotshot recruit Gunner Kiel, Dusty's brother, had committed to Indiana in the summer.

But injuries and ineffectiveness by Wright-Baker and the elder Kiel allowed Roberson to become the first true freshman ever to start for the Hoosiers. In his first career start, on the road against Iowa, he completed 16-of-24 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown and ran for 84 yards.

"I just wanted to bring fun to the huddle," he said. "We weren't having a lot of fun last year. So I was just coming in and smiling and saying, 'Let's go. We can do this.'"

Football is in his genes. His grandfather, Larry Highbaugh, played defensive back at Indiana and later in the Canadian Football League, where he won six Grey Cups. Highbaugh was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame. Roberson said he used to see CFL trophies all over his grandfather's house growing up. But he really remembers watching his father, Gajuan, play semi-pro football on Friday nights.

Tre led Lawrence Central High School to the state championship game and won Indiana Mr. Football honors. Roberson always knew he wanted to go to Indiana, where two of his grandparents and a couple of cousins had attended. He committed when Bill Lynch was still the coach and kept his word even through the coaching change. The Hoosiers' less-than-stellar tradition never deterred him.

"I just felt like, if I came here I'd have the ability to help it change," he said.

Now he's the center of that effort to change things. Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel both transferred in the offseason, and Gunner Kiel wound up at Notre Dame. Tre Roberson looks like the future at Indiana. His arm better get ready for lots of work.
We continue our postseason position rankings today as we move on to the linebackers.

Not surprisingly, Linebacker U takes the top spot, though it was a very close call. Depth helped the top two teams on this list, while star power marked spots Nos. 3 through 5. After that, it's a bit of a dropoff.

Away we go ...

[+] EnlargeGerald Hodges
Rob Christy/US PresswireGerald Hodges led a deep group of Penn State linebackers this past season.
1. Penn State: We thought this group could be the deepest linebacking corps in the league this past season, and that depth proved both true and invaluable when starter Michael Mauti went out in the fourth game of the season. Even without him, the Nittany Lions' linebackers played great, led by first team All-Big Ten performer Gerald Hodges, who had a breakout campaign. Nate Stupar filled in nicely for Mauti, and Glenn Carson was solid in his first year as a starter in the middle.

2. Michigan State: We wondered in the preseason how the Spartans would replace stars Greg Jones and Eric Gordon. The answer: very nicely, thank you. Sophomores Denicos Allen and Max Bullough emerged as fierce playmakers, especially on the blitz, and Chris Norman provided steady play on the weak side. All three return in 2012 to give Penn State a run for its money as the best group in the league.

3. Wisconsin: Mike Taylor and Chris Borland were finally healthy in the same season, and what a difference that made. They were a terrific pair, combining for 293 tackles and becoming the only Big Ten duo to average more than 10 tackles per game each. Taylor in particular made great strides. Kevin Claxton was overshadowed a bit as the third Badgers linebacker, but that's understandable given the amount of plays Borland and Taylor made.

4. Illinois: The emergence of Jonathan Brown (108 tackles, 19.5 for loss) as fire-breathing pass-rusher made this unit better than we projected in the preseason. Ian Thomas also had a good season at the position with 85 tackles, and Trulon Henry rounded out a strong crew before he missed time late following a shooting incident. The Illini defense stayed consistent throughout the team's struggles.

5. Nebraska: Depth was not a strong suit for the Huskers by any means, but there was no better linebacker in the league and few better in the nation than All-American Lavonte David. He had 133 tackles and countless big plays. Will Compton came on as the season wore along to provide a good complement to David. Finding consistent play elsewhere at the position was a challenge for Nebraska.

6. Ohio State: We pegged the Buckeyes at No. 3 in our preseason linebacker rankings, but it wasn't a vintage year for a group that struggled down the stretch drive. Andrew Sweat led the way with 72 tackles despite missing two games because of injury, and Etienne Sabino had a decent season (62 tackles, 6.5 for loss) if not the breakout season many had predicted. Freshman Ryan Shazier announced himself late in the year as a potential star in the making.

7. Michigan: The Wolverines' defense surprised everyone in 2011, though the defensive line was clearly the vanguard on that side of the ball. Kenny Demens led the team with 94 tackles, while freshmen Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan made an immediate impact as starters. This wasn't an overwhelming group, but it was one that mostly did its job.

8. Iowa: The Hawkeyes had a hard time keeping everybody healthy and consistent, but this spot might have been the best part of their defense. James Morris and Christian Kirksey tied for the team lead with 110 tackles each, while Tyler Nielsen added 73 stops while battling some nagging injuries. The Iowa defense overall was disappointing, however.

9. Purdue: Danny Hope usually knew what to expect from week to week out of his linebackers: solid, consistent play. Joe Holland, Dwayne Beckford and Will Lucas each had between 82 and 94 stops as the top three tacklers on the team. Lucas and Holland also recorded double-digit tackles for loss. The chief complaint here is that the Boilermakers gave up some big point totals during the season.

10. Minnesota: The Gophers struggled up front and in the secondary, but linebacker was their most experienced and reliable defensive position, as expected. Veterans Gary Tinsley, Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper played in every game, and were among the most consistent players on the team. Tinsley led the way with four sacks. Florida transfer Brendan Beal was expected to make an impact, but missed the season with a knee injury.

11. Northwestern: It wasn't a very good year overall for the Wildcats' defense, and linebacker was no exception. David Nwabuisi ranked third on the team with 84 tackles, while Bryce McNaul was right behind with 76. But Northwestern's starting trio combined for just 2.5 sacks and didn't come up with enough difference-making plays throughout the season.

12. Indiana: The good news for the Hoosiers was that Jeff Thomas was the best player on defense in 2011, finishing with 80 tackles, including 10.5 for loss. The bad news is that he was a senior. Besides Thomas, Indiana was forced to go young at the position, playing freshmen Chase Hoobler, Mike Replogle and Mark Murphy, a safety/linebacker hybrid, at times during the season. Kevin Wilson hopes the experience makes them better in '12, but this is yet another position that needs vast improvement going forward.

'Whole new world' springs upon Big Ten

February, 17, 2012
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Urban MeyerJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer is one of six new head coaches hired by Big Ten schools in the past two seasons.
When the Big Ten football coaches gathered in Chicago for a meeting earlier this month, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald looked over to Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and joked, "Which one of us is the old man now?"

Fitzgerald was struck by the notion that at age 37, heading into his seventh year as the Wildcats' head man, he is now the second-longest-tenured coach in the league. That shows how much change the conference has experienced the past two years -- and illustrates why this spring looms as an important time for many of its teams.

Three schools -- Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois -- hired new permanent head coaches this offseason, following the three that did so last year (Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota). Add in Nebraska, and seven of the 12 Big Ten teams have coaches either in their first or second year of competing in the conference.

"That's unprecedented," said Big Ten associate commissioner Mark Rudner, who has worked for the league since 1979 and currently serves as the football coaches' liaison to the conference. "It's a whole new world."

The Big Ten used to be known as a collection of icons, the league of Woody and Bo and larger-than-life coaches. No school is less familiar with change than Penn State, which will begin a season without Joe Paterno as head coach for the first time since 1966.

All the new personalities lead some to wonder if the Big Ten will maintain its identity and culture. Already, new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has made waves with some aggressive recruiting tactics, leading Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema to criticize Meyer and caution that the Big Ten does not want to become a northern version of the SEC.

Meyer and Bielema met to hash out their differences in that coaches' meeting earlier this month. Rudner took it as a positive sign that 11 of the 12 coaches attended what was a voluntary gathering just two days after signing day. The only coach who didn't attend, Penn State's Bill O'Brien, was preparing to coach in the Super Bowl.

"Everybody seems willing to throw in with everybody else, so hopefully that will make for a lot smoother transition," Rudner said.

[+] EnlargeNorthwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhAt just 37, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald is the second-longest-tenured coach in the Big Ten.
Transition will be the main buzzword thrown around most campuses when spring practice begins in early March.

Meyer will install the offensive system that helped the Florida Gators win two national titles as the Buckeyes begin their quest to regain Big Ten supremacy -- after the 2012 bowl ban expires, of course. Illinois is switching to a full-fledged spread attack under new coach Tim Beckman, himself a former Meyer assistant.

Jerry Kill at Minnesota and Kevin Wilson at Indiana will seek better things after disappointing first seasons, and each has brought in some junior college players to try to fill holes on the roster. Michigan won the Sugar Bowl in Brady Hoke's first year but still wants to move toward more of a pro-style offense, as long as it doesn't restrict the talents of QB Denard Robinson. Nebraska had its share of successes and setbacks in its first season of Big Ten play and now has a better idea of what it takes to compete in the league. The Huskers need to get stronger on defense but will have to do so without departed stars Lavonte David, Alfonzo Dennard and Jared Crick.

Even some of the most stable programs weren't immune to change. Wisconsin, which has gone to back-to-back Rose Bowls, lost most of its offensive staff when coordinator Paul Chryst went to Pitt and took several assistants with him. Purdue coach Danny Hope wasn't satisfied with making the program's first bowl since 2007 and reorganized his defensive staff. And as Big Ten dean Ferentz enters his 14th season at Iowa, he'll do so for the first time without defensive coordinator Norm Parker (who retired) or offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe (who left for the Miami Dolphins).

"We probably cheated time here a little bit," Ferentz said.

Some veteran staffs stayed intact, such as Northwestern and Michigan State. The Spartans figure to make another run at a Legends Division title if they can adequately replace QB Kirk Cousins, All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy and their top three receivers.

"Players just want to have consistency in vision and consistency in expectations," Fitzgerald said. "When you've had a position coach for four straight years, you know what to expect, and there's something to be said for that.

"At the same time, when there's change, there's a newfound sense of urgency. Our big challenge is making sure our guys don't feel like we're Charlie Brown's teacher going, 'Wah-wah-wah-wah,' and start getting bored."

There's nothing boring about the transition at Penn State. Paterno's reign came crashing down in shocking, controversial fashion before he passed away in January. For the first time in decades, the Nittany Lions will have several new assistant coaches, not to mention a new style of offense and leadership under O'Brien. Players can already see the differences in winter conditioning.

"There's a lot of excitement around here right now," linebacker Michael Mauti said. "It's just a whole new way of doing things."

They'll be saying that on a lot of Big Ten campuses this spring.

Indiana announces class of 25

February, 1, 2012
2/01/12
12:45
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Let the official announcements begin!

Indiana is first in the clubhouse, as the Hoosiers have officially announced their 25-man class of 2012. The run-down:

Jacarri Alexander, LB
Jacob Bailey, OL
Dimitric Camiel, OL
Cameron Coffman, QB
Tevin Coleman, RB
David Cooper, LB
Caleb Cornett, WR
Kevin Davis, WR
Dan Feeney, OL
Dawson Fletcher, DB
Ralphael Green, DL
Shawn Heffern, DL
Ricky Jones, ATH
Tanner Kearns, TE
Adam Kranda, DL
Nick Mangieri, DL
Antonio Marshall, DB
Justin Rayside, DL
Wes Rogers, OL
Jason Spriggs, TE
Nathan Sudfeld, QB
Ryan Thompson, DB
Alex Todd, DL
Jordan Wallace, LB
Tregg Waters, DB

“We addressed our needs in a very positive manner,” head coach Kevin Wilson said. “We were very aggressive in our sell and our approach with not only the player we were looking for, but also the individual and the student."

Wilson said his staff got an assist from the school's basketball team, which helped during official visits with prospects. Indiana needs a serious talent upgrade after going 1-11 in Wilson's first year, and six junior-college transfers could add some immediate help. The Hoosiers also got some nice late pickups in this class in Sudfeld, a highly-rated quarterback, and Camiel, a 6-foot-7 lineman from Texas.
Before the season began, we ranked every Big Ten position group from No. 1 through 12. That was based on projections and assumptions, but now we have a full season's worth of data.

So it's time to go back and assign a final 2011 ranking to each position in the league. We'll start, as usual, with the quarterbacks. You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth will matter more at other positions, but for this one, we're mostly concerned how the main guy fared this past season.

Let's kick it:

Russell Wilson
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireDespite losing in the Rose Bowl, Russell Wilson transformed the Badgers' offense this season.
1. Wisconsin: When we did this list in June, we didn't know yet if Russell Wilson would transfer to the Badgers. That's why we ranked Wisconsin No. 11 at the time. That seems ludicrous now. Wilson broke the NCAA single-season record for pass efficiency (191.8), finishing ahead of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. He completed 72.8 percent of his passes for 3,175 yards and had 33 touchdowns and only four interceptions. If that's not enough to qualify for the top spot, I don't know what is.

2. Michigan State: I'm not sure if Kirk Cousins' 2011 season was properly appreciated nationally. Cousins led the Big Ten in passing yards with 3,316 while completing 63.7 percent of his passes and throwing 25 touchdowns. He was especially good down the stretch as the Spartans' offense took off and remained one of the best leaders in college football. And Cousins didn't get nearly the same amount of support from the running game that Wilson did.

3. Michigan: Denard Robinson's numbers declined in several key areas from 2010, including his rushing yardage, passing yardage and completion percentage. Meanwhile, his interceptions went up and there was little doubt he struggled at times. Yet Robinson also had two of the most spectacular individual efforts of the season in wins against Notre Dame and Ohio State, and he still led the Big Ten in total offense per game. And in the end, it's pretty hard to argue against an 11-2 record and Sugar Bowl title.

4. Northwestern: A lingering Achilles' tendon injury and an awful defense helped obscure the fact that Dan Persa had another outstanding year when healthy. He completed 73.4 percent of his throws and actually averaged more passing yards per game (237.6) than any other Big Ten quarterback. Persa's mobility, however, was limited and that made him much less of a running threat. Kain Colter fulfilled that role and did a nice job stepping in for Persa, including his heroics in an upset win at Nebraska.

5. Nebraska: Taylor Martinez's improvement wasn't easy to measure in statistics. His completion percentage dipped to 56.3 in 2011, and he had far less of an impact running the ball over the last half of the season — he failed to run for more than 56 yards and did not have a rushing touchdown in the final seven games. But Martinez got better as a game manager and leader and remained a dual threat defenses had to account for. And he learned to protect the ball better, throwing just three interceptions in his final eight games.

6. Iowa: James Vandenberg put up some good numbers in his first year as a full-time starter, throwing for 3,022 yards and 25 touchdowns. But he compiled a lot of his stats against bad defenses like Pitt, Louisiana-Monroe, Indiana and Northwestern. He wasn't nearly as good in losses to Nebraska, Michigan State and Penn State. Vandenberg has the potential to be the best pure passer in the Big Ten, but he needs to become more consistent.

7. Ohio State: The Buckeyes would have ranked at or near the bottom of this list after the first half of the season, after initial starter Joe Bauserman was benched and freshman Braxton Miller went through some early growing pains. While Miller's passing was often reigned in, he was extremely effective as a runner, rushing for for at least 90 yards five times. Miller showed the whole package in an impressive performance against Michigan to end the regular season. With Urban Meyer's tutelage, Miller could put the Buckeyes at the top of this list in the near future.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers' quarterback situation looked bleak to start the year, as projected starter Rob Henry went down with an ACL injury and backup Robert Marve was slow to recover from his own knee problems. But while Purdue wasn't flashy at the position, it got decent production from Caleb TerBush and from Marve later in the year. Combined, they passed for over 2,500 yards and 17 touchdowns, and TerBush was the team's fourth leading rusher.

9. Illinois: Nathan Scheelhaase looked like he'd claim a spot as one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks with a solid start to the season, including a 426-yard, four-touchdown showing in a win over Northwestern. But like the rest of the Illini offense, his production fell off a cliff in the second half of the season, and the sophomore appeared to lose his confidence along the way. Freshman Reilly O'Toole came in for certain situations and looked close to usurping the starting job. Scheelhaase bounced back with a nice second half in the bowl win against UCLA. Now he'll have to adjust to new coach Tim Beckman's spread offense.

10. Minnesota: Early in the season, it was hard to tell if MarQueis Gray or freshman Max Shortell would win coach Jerry Kill's favor and seize control of the offense. Neither was particularly effective. But Gray, who made the transition from wide receiver, started to find a groove late in the year. He led the upset against Iowa and ran for 327 yards in the final two games. The 6-foot-4, 240-pounder is hard to stop when he takes off running, but he must improve on his 50-percent completion rate.

11. Indiana: The Hoosiers played quarterback roulette for the first half of the season, rotating between Ed Wright-Baker and Dusty Kiel. But when they finally settled on freshman Tre Roberson, they found their signal-caller of the present and future. Roberson is still a bit raw but has tremendous athleticism and instincts. He ran for 121 yards and threw for 169 against Northwestern, showing that he could be yet another dangerous dual threat quarterback in this league going forward.

12. Penn State: The Nittany Lions' handling of the quarterback situation was baffling and counterproductive in 2011. Penn State continued to trot out Rob Bolden as the starter for much of the year even though Matt McGloin was clearly the better option. McGloin did the heavy lifting off the bench, but he was not exactly a world-beater either, completing just 54 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and five interceptions. The Nittany Lions beat Ohio State mostly because they put a couple of receivers in the Wildcat formation, and when McGloin couldn't play in the TicketCity Bowl, Bolden struggled. New coach Bill O'Brien will quickly learn that Tom Brady isn't walking through that door in 2012.
The offseason is here, and while teams are focused on recruiting right now, they will soon turn their attention to fixing problem areas and gearing up for 2012.

With that in mind, we present the offseason to-do lists for every Big Ten club, beginning with the Leaders Division. We're not going to talk about recruiting needs here, as we'll focus on that in the very near future. Instead, we're taking a look at a couple of areas each team needs to repair or restock in the coming months.

Illinois

  • Spread it on: An Illini offense that needed a GPS to find the end zone the last half of the season is in for a jarring change. New head coach Tim Beckman will implement the spread offense and demand a higher tempo. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase must regain his freshman-year form if he is to hold off Reilly O'Toole for the starting job, and Illinois must replace its best receiver in A.J. Jenkins. Finding a reliable running back is high on the priority list as well. This offense will get a total makeover and needs to make the most of the spring and summer to get ready.
  • Locate defensive leaders: We wondered this time last year how Illinois would replace Corey Liuget. Then Whitney Mercilus jumped up with an All-American season. Who will be the next big playmaker now that Mercilus is off to the NFL? Can Michael Buchanan replicate Mercilus's production off the edge? Will Jonathan Brown capitalize on his potential? New defensive coordinator Tim Banks needs to keep up the level of performance this defense had in '11.
Indiana

  • Build toughness on defense: This one is obvious, as the Hoosiers ranked 114th in points allowed (37.3) and 109th in total defense in Kevin Wilson's first season and gave up at least 40 points in five of their eight Big Ten games. Wilson played a ton of youngsters in 2011 and has a promising future leader in rising sophomore Mark Murphy. But Indiana simply must get more physical up front and tackle better to have any hope of making significant strides.
  • Develop Tre Roberson: One of the bright spots in IU's 1-11 season was the emergence of freshman Roberson at quarterback. His athleticism allowed him to make plays in and out of the pocket. With Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker leaving the program, the offense now solely belongs to Roberson, with juco transfer Cameron Coffman his likely backup. Roberson must continue to make progress as a sophomore, or else it could be another long year in Bloomington.
Ohio State

  • Urban renewal: Jim Tressel may have been gone last season, but his influence was still heavily felt as former Tressel assistant Luke Fickell and most of Tressel's staff remained in place. So the Buckeyes players are about to experience a whole new way of doing things under Urban Meyer. Most of the change will come on offense, where there will be a new system and new terminology, and spring practice will prove critical for getting everything installed. Meyer's biggest challenge may be reshaping an offensive line that lost three longtime starters in center Mike Brewster and tackles Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts.
  • Upgrade the passing game: Braxton Miller improved as a passer as the season went on, but the Buckeyes' passing game still left a lot to be desired most of the time. Miller will need to spend as much time as possible with new offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman to improve his throwing, and a group of young Buckeyes receivers like Devin Smith, Corey "Philly" Brown and Chris Fields needs to come of age and turn into reliable playmakers.
Penn State

  • Come together: New coach Bill O'Brien's most daunting task likely will come off the field, where he'll be responsible for repairing a fractured community. He can begin to do so by embracing former players, building bridges to the alumni on the speaking circuit and being more open than his famous predecessor. O'Brien must show recruits that it's OK to come to State College again. Fans will be hungry for football by the spring, and O'Brien should use that optimism to his advantage.
  • Fix the offense: There's little question that a Stone Age offense was holding Penn State back, and O'Brien seems intent on being his own offensive coordinator. He'll need to settle on a quarterback, whether that's Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden or someone else, and ingrain his NFL concepts to a bunch used to a vanilla scheme. O'Brien has a solid building block in star tailback Silas Redd but must replace top receiver Derek Moye and an offensive line gutted by graduation.
Purdue

  • Establish an identity: The Boilermakers were the epitome of a mediocre team in 2011, going 6-6 and never winning back-to-back games in the regular season before edging out a MAC team in a lower-level bowl. What exactly is the defining trait of Danny Hope's team? It's time to create an identity, especially on defense where Purdue was inconsistent last season. Old defensive coordinator Gary Emanuel is out and Tim Tibesar is in from the CFL to take over. Tibesar needs to maximize the talent of budding stars like Kawann Short and Ricardo Allen and put his stamp on that side of the ball.
  • Create a quarterback pecking order: After dealing with crippling quarterback injuries the past two seasons, Hope must be thrilled by the new-found depth at the position. Robert Marve received a sixth year of eligibility and will be back alongside 2011 starter Caleb TerBush. Meanwhile, projected '11 starter Rob Henry makes his way back from a knee injury. Competition should make the position better, but Purdue must figure out who and how it wants to play at quarterback.
Wisconsin

  • Find a quarterback: Russell Wilson leaves large cleats to fill after just one season in Madison, and there is no obvious heir apparent. Will Jon Budmayr's elbow allow him to compete for the job? Will Joe Brennan take the next step in his development? Will hyped incoming freshman Bart Houston be ready? The Badgers went to the Rose Bowl the past two seasons with seasoned, senior quarterbacks. New offensive coordinator Matt Canada won't have that luxury this year and has some work to do in the offseason. At least he can lean on a stout running game led by Montee Ball while the quarterback situation crystallizes.
  • Build staff chemistry: Canada will be one of six new coaches on Bret Bielema's staff in 2012 and will be part of an almost entirely new offensive brain trust. The Badgers have their style of play on that side of the ball down to a science at this point, but it's not easy to blend that many new coaches and personalities into a program all at once. Bielema has to get them all up to speed and on the same page in a hurry, and the new coaches have to establish rapport with the players right away. That might be one of the Badgers' biggest obstacles on the way to a second straight division title.

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