NCF Nation: James Hardy

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
9:02
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It's time to recognize the best and brightest around the Big Ten in Week 6.

Here w e go ...
  • Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde: On a night where quarterback Braxton Miller nearly was benched for shaky play, Hyde stepped up in the second half as Ohio State rallied for its 18th consecutive win. Hyde had a career-high 168 rush yards and three touchdowns, all in the second half. He also had a career-high 38 receiving yards on four receptions as the Buckeyes survived in Evanston.
  • Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah: Freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. looked good against Illinois, but he had plenty of help from his veteran backfield mate. Abdullah had a career-high 225 rush yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, the highest rushing total for a Nebraska player since the 2010 season.
  • Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard: The sticker could go to the entire Spartan Dawgs defense, as Michigan State shut down Mark Weisman and Iowa's run game and blanked the Hawkeyes in the second half at Kinnick Stadium. But Dennard showed why he's one of the nation's best cornerbacks with two interceptions and a team-high eight tackles. It marked Dennard's third multi-interception game of his career.
  • Indiana WR Cody Latimer: After a slow start to the season, Latimer is emerging for the high-powered Hoosiers offense. He had career highs in both receptions (9) and receiving yards (140), and recorded his third consecutive 100-yard receiving performance, the first Indiana player to do so since James Hardy in 2005. Latimer also made a mark on special teams, recovering a fumble in the win against Penn State.
  • Michigan TE Devin Funchess: The sophomore tight end had a breakout performance against Minnesota, recording career highs in both receptions (7) and receiving yards (151). He also hauled in a touchdown catch and recorded the second 100-yard receiving performance of his career.
Kofi Hughes doesn't hesitate when asked what element he brings to Indiana's receiving corps.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I was his little project," Hughes said.

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

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

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

Hughes is ready to embrace it and continue the tradition this season.
Indiana has been down this road before.

The school is no stranger to hiring offensive-minded coaches.

Cam Cameron came to Indiana in 1997 after coaching quarterbacks at Michigan and then with the Washington Redskins. He was succeeded in 2002 by Gerry DiNardo, who won a national title as Colorado's offensive coordinator before becoming a head coach at Vanderbilt and LSU. Indiana broke the mold in 2005 with Terry Hoeppner, a longtime defensive assistant at Miami (Ohio) before taking the top job in Oxford. But when Hoeppner died tragically in 2007, Indiana handed the head-coaching duties to Bill Lynch, the team's offensive coordinator.

After firing Lynch on Sunday, Indiana once again is looking for a coach to lead its football program.

It might be time for the Hoosiers to look to the other side of the ball.

Indiana's defense has dragged down the program for more than a decade. The Hoosiers have scored points and produced offensive standouts like Antwaan Randle El, Kellen Lewis, James Hardy and Ben Chappell, but their repeated inability to field adequate defenses has kept them out of bowl games. It still baffles me how IU couldn't make a single bowl game during Randle El's four years as the starting quarterback.

Defense was a large part of Lynch's downfall. His offenses fared well, but Indiana couldn't stop the opposition on a consistent basis.

Here's where Indiana's defense has ranked nationally in the 11 years:

2010: 89th (410.2 ypg)
2009: 88th (401 ypg)
2008: 107th (432.2 ypg)
2007: 71st (403.4 ypg)
2006: 109th (402.3 ypg)
2005: 93rd (417.7 ypg)
2004: 110th (453.2 ypg)
2003: 94th (429.7 ypg)
2002: 101st (428.4 ypg)
2001: 72nd (393.8 ypg)
2000: 112th (457.3 ypg)

Just dreadful.

I've been told most of the candidates for the Indiana job come from the offensive side, guys like Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson, Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell, Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill and former Minnesota coach Glen Mason.

Not saying these guys wouldn't work well at IU, but given the deficiencies on defense in Bloomington, the Hoosiers might be better off with a defense-oriented head coach.

Here are a few suggestions:

Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Doeren: Doeren has the charisma, the recruiting skills and the track record to succeed as a head coach. His defense ranks in the top four of the Big Ten in all the key categories, including second in takeaways and third in yards allowed, despite losing star linebacker Chris Borland in September. Doeren has helped mold standout players like Borland, defensive end J.J. Watt and defensive end O'Brien Schofield.

San Diego State coach Brady Hoke: I doubt Indiana could lure Hoke away from the West Coast, but he would qualify as a very good hire for the Hoosiers. He knows the area as the former Ball State coach, and he has a background in defense as the former defensive line coach at Michigan, among other spots. Hoke coached three All-American defensive linemen at Michigan.

Toledo coach Tim Beckman: Beckman led Toledo to an 8-4 mark in his second season at the school. He previously served as defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, cornerbacks coach at Ohio State and defensive coordinator at Bowling Green. Beckman coached six All-Big Ten defensive backs in Columbus, including Donte Whitner.

Offense sells these days. I get that. But Indiana might be wise to hire a guy who knows a thing or two about defense.
Let's take a look back at a pivotal weekend in the Big Ten before peeking ahead to Week 8.

[+] EnlargeWhite
AP Photo/Andy ManisRunning back James White and Wisconsin overpowered previously unbeaten Ohio State.
Team of the Week: Wisconsin. Through the first six weeks, Wisconsin provided little evidence to suggest it could knock off the nation's No. 1 team. But the Badgers put it all together in impressive fashion Saturday night against Ohio State. For the first time in recent memory, Ohio State's defense got humbled by a Big Ten opponent as Wisconsin's offensive line steamrolled the Buckeyes, creating huge running lanes for both John Clay and James White. Although the Buckeyes rallied in the third quarter and the early fourth, Wisconsin was too powerful on offense and received enough stops from J.J. Watt and the defense to keep Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State attack in check. Wisconsin overcame its big-game bugaboo and now hits the road for a huge rivalry game against No. 15 Iowa.

Best game: Ohio State at Wisconsin. The atmosphere at Camp Randall Stadium was absolutely electric, and the game began with a bang as Wisconsin's David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Wisconsin and Ohio State were mirror images in the first and third quarters, as each team dominated play and put together extensive touchdown drives (19 plays, 89 yards for Wisconsin; 19 plays, 94 yards for Ohio State). The Buckeyes had all the momentum as they closed to within three points early in the fourth quarter, but Wisconsin answered with the defining drive of its season, marching 73 yards in 10 plays and mixing up the play calls perfectly. The Iowa-Michigan game also brought some drama as Michigan rallied behind Tate Forcier, and Indiana-Arkansas State turned into a shootout.

Biggest play: We go back to Madison, as Wisconsin faced third-and-3 from its own 34-yard line early in the fourth quarter after Ohio State had rallied to within three points. Rather than pound away with the run game, Wisconsin took to the air and Scott Tolzien fired a bullet to receiver Nick Toon near the east sideline for a 20-yard gain. The Badgers didn't face another third down on the drive and went on to score a touchdown. "Huge catch in a crucial point of the game," Toon said. "But that's my job." Iowa faced a similar situation against Michigan, up 35-28 in the fourth quarter but facing third-and-9 from its own 41. Ricky Stanzi found Marvin McNutt for 17 yards, and the Hawkeyes went on to score.

Specialist spotlight: Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy really is starting to blossom as the successor to superstar Brett Swenson. Conroy went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts against Illinois, connecting from 37, 34, 32 and 18 yards. The Spartans really needed him on a day when the offense struggled for stretches. Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald also had an impressive performance in relief of the injured Nick Freeland. Ewald went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter. Gilreath doesn't technically qualify as a specialist, but his return against Ohio State is notable. It marked Wisconsin's first kick return touchdown since Lee Evans in 2000, and the team's longest since Aaron Stecker's 100-yarder against Minnesota in 1995.

Most futile call: Making my way through the Camp Randall Stadium concourse to Wisconsin's media room Saturday night, I kept hearing the public-address announcer pleading with the Wisconsin students and other Badgers fans not to rush the field. Um, good luck with that one. I understand the safety issue and the past problems at Camp Randall, but you're just not going to keep people off the field when their team has just defeated No. 1.

Game balls:

  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Watt tormented Ohio State's offensive line all night and recorded three tackles for loss and two sacks of Pryor. It felt like he had four or five sacks with all the trouble he caused. Watt also was credited with a quarterback hurry and has a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss this year.
  • Indiana WRs Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss: The Hoosiers' star tandem combined for 14 receptions, 224 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Arkansas State. Belcher and Doss became the first Indiana wideouts to both eclipse 100 yards in a game since Ray Fisher and James Hardy in 2007.
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones: The senior is well on his way to another All-America type season for Michigan State. He recorded a season-high 14 tackles to go along with a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in Saturday's win against Illinois. Jones has led MSU in tackles in 27 of the past 33 games.
  • Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher: If there's a tougher wide receiver in America, feel free to send me his name because Sanzenbacher is my pick, hands down. Sanzenbacher never shies away from contact and making gutsy catches. He had six of them for 94 yards against Wisconsin. Sanzenbacher is playing like a first-team All-Big Ten receiver.
  • Iowa WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos: DJK became Iowa's all-time leading receiver Saturday after recording four receptions for 70 yards and three touchdowns. He now has seven touchdown receptions this season. DJK, who added a 40-yard kick return against Michigan, should share the game ball with quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who continues to put up Heisman-caliber numbers (17-for-24 passing, 248 pass yards, 3 TDs).
  • Purdue QB Rob Henry: The young fella looks like a winner, folks. Henry accounted for four touchdowns (3 rush, 1 pass) against Minnesota and completed more than twice as many passes (13) on just two more attempts (20) than he did the previous week at Northwestern.
  • Illinois DL Corey Liuget: It's always notable when a defensive lineman leads the team in tackles, and Liuget had another big performance Saturday at Michigan State. The junior recorded 11 tackles, one for loss, and two quarterback hurries as Illinois limited the Spartans' rushing attack.

OK, enough with Week 7. Let's take a quick look at Week 8.

No. 7 Michigan State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (5-1, 1-1): The Spartans are 7-0 for the first time since 1966, but they have yet to win a game outside the state of Michigan. They head to Evanston and face a Northwestern team coming off of a bye week. Michigan State's playmaking defense has recorded 12 interceptions this fall; Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has thrown only two in 177 pass attempts.

Penn State (3-3, 0-2) at Minnesota (1-6, 0-3): Interim coach Jeff Horton leads Minnesota for the first time against a Penn State team coming off of a much-needed bye week. It will be interesting to see if Penn State can regroup a bit and get its offense going against a Gophers defense that allows a Big Ten-high 31.7 points a game. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber takes aim at a Penn State defense missing several starters because of injury.

Purdue (4-2, 2-0) at No. 10 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1): Purdue is one of those teams that always plays Ohio State tough, but the Buckeyes might have steam coming out of their ears for this one. Ohio State won't overlook Purdue again after last year's loss in West Lafayette, and the Buckeyes are doubly mad after stumbling last week at Wisconsin. Henry is 2-0 as Purdue's starter, but he'll be tested at The Shoe.

Indiana (4-2, 0-2) at Illinois (3-3, 1-2): Illinois has gotten through the toughest stretch of its season, but it still needs three more wins to become bowl eligible. Indiana notched its only Big Ten victory against the Illini last year and has really struggled to get over the hump in league play. Ben Chappell and Indiana's high-powered pass attack goes up against an improved Illinois defense.

No. 13 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) at No. 15 Iowa (5-1, 2-0): Two rivals with a lot of similarities meet in a showcase game at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema recorded the signature win he needed against Ohio State, but he also must show he can beat elite teams away from Camp Randall Stadium. Bielema heads back to his alma mater and faces an Iowa team that begins a stretch of marquee matchups on its home field.

Bye: Michigan (5-2, 1-2)

Big Ten players of the decade

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
9:00
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Our decade recap continues with a look at the top players in the Big Ten from 2000-09. The league produced just one Heisman Trophy winner, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006, but many other national award recipients on both sides of the ball.

We saw outstanding one-year performances from players like Brad Banks (2002), Larry Johnson (2002), James Hardy (2007) and Shonn Greene (2008), and impressive four-year career efforts from Paul Posluszny, James Laurinaitis, Mike Hart, Javon Ringer, Taylor Stubblefield and others.

[+] EnlargeTroy Smith
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireOhio State's Troy Smith was the runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy in 2006.
The league produced solid linemen and linebackers the entire decade, while star quarterbacks and running backs were sprinkled throughout.

Believe me, it wasn't easy to get this list down to 10 players, but here goes.

I put more weight on players who had multiple outstanding seasons. Also, players who had most of their production in the 1990s didn't make the cut.

1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State: The league's lone Heisman Trophy winner tops the list. Smith took home the Heisman, the Walter Camp and the Big Ten MVP awards in 2006. He also led Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl championship following the 2005 season.

2. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan: The 2004 Biletnikoff Award winner earned consensus All-America honors that year, completing a terrific four-year run in Ann Arbor. Edwards still holds the Big Ten record for career touchdown receptions with 39, two more than fellow Wolverine Anthony Carter.

3. A.J. Hawk, LB, Ohio State: Hawk was the face of a ferocious Buckeyes defense during the mid part of the decade. The two-time All-American (unanimous in 2005) won the Rotary Lombardi Award and helped Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl victory.

4. Joe Thomas, T, Wisconsin: The Thomas-Jake Long debate is a good one, but I'm giving the edge to Thomas, the 2006 Outland Trophy winner. Thomas anchored several powerful Wisconsin offensive lines, earned consensus All-America honors in 2006 and twice made the All-Big Ten squad.

5. Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State: Posluszny is one of only two Big Ten players to win the Bednarik Award two times. He also took home the Butkus Award in 2005 and helped restore Penn State after the program had slipped from 2000-04.

6. James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: Laurinaitis was quite possibly the most decorated Big Ten player of the decade on either side of the ball. He joined select company at Ohio State in earning All-America honors three times (unanimous in 2007). Laurinaitis won the Butkus and Nagurski awards and twice earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

7. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota: Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III shared the rushing load, but Eslinger was the mainstay who created rushing lanes no matter who had the ball. The 2005 Rimington Trophy winner was Minnesota's only three-time All-Big Ten selection this decade.

8. Bob Sanders, S, Iowa: No player meant more to Iowa's renaissance this decade than Sanders, the team's only three-time All-Big Ten selection in the aughts. Nicknamed "The Hitman," Sanders epitomized a program that got the most from its players for the majority of the decade.

9. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan: We witnessed lot of great one-year performances from Big Ten running backs, but Hart was one of the league's few mainstays this decade. Despite being plagued by injuries as a sophomore, Hart finished fourth on the Big Ten's all-time rushing list (5,040 yards) and had 28 career 100-yard rushing games.

10. Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana: Randle El brought a new brand of football to the Big Ten and had a record-setting career despite never reaching a bowl game. The dual-threat star won Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and ranks fourth on the league's career total offense list with 11,364 yards.

Also considered: Michigan T Jake Long, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers, Michigan State RB Javon Ringer, Iowa QB Brad Banks, Iowa T Robert Gallery, Purdue WR Taylor Stubblefield, Ohio State WR Ted Ginn Jr., Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley, Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall, Penn State QB Michael Robinson, Penn State RB Larry Johnson, Purdue WR Dorien Bryant, Purdue WR John Standeford, Ohio State S Mike Doss, Wisconsin DE Erasmus James, Iowa RB Shonn Greene, Northwestern QB Brett Basanez, Illinois LB J Leman, Penn State LB Dan Connor.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
  IU Athletics
  Matt Canada is entering his third year as Indiana's offensive coordinator.

Many consider the spread offense to be the great equalizer, and Indiana is living proof. The Hoosiers went 14 years without reaching a bowl game until 2007, when they broke through behind a dynamic offense led by quarterback Kellen Lewis and wide receiver James Hardy. Matt Canada's first season as offensive coordinator brought record-breaking results in Bloomington. Now in his third year as Hoosiers coordinator, Canada recently took some time to discuss the spread and specifically the roles of wide receivers in the scheme.

Do the responsibilities of the wide receivers change in the spread offense versus a more conventional scheme?

Matt Canada: It's probably unique to every offense. They're going to learn their roles, what they're doing week to week. We may have guys who play inside or outside, it just depends on the matchups. I don't know if it's that big a difference. The routes you run and the things you ask them to do are probably different. If you're more on a pro-set, you're going to have more play-action, more down-the-field things. In the spread, it's more of a quick-passing game, you've got more of the screens.

Does it change your recruiting at all, spotting certain guys who are better fits in the spread?

MC: Obviously, we had a lot of success with [James] Hardy, a big-body guy. You're going to want that guy in a traditional pro offense, too. But there's a need for that little bubble [screen] guy or that little guy running the jail-break screen. You're going to try to find that guy, but playmakers are playmakers. We're all competing for the same kids.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

What a wild day in the Big Ten so far. Minnesota is back, Iowa might be on its way, Michigan looks down and out and Illinois can officially be labeled overrated. You've got to love the unpredictability of college football.

I'm about to head over to Camp Randall Stadium, but here are my thoughts on what has transpired in the Big Ten so far Saturday.

MINNESOTA-ILLINOIS

It seemed fitting that Minnesota sealed a defining road win against Illinois with big plays on defense. The Gophers' transformation behind first-year defensive coordinator Ted Roof has been truly stunning, as Illinois found out today. Defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg was draped over Illini quarterback Juice Williams all game long, and Simoni Lawrence scored what turned out to be the decisive touchdown. Illinois took too long to get its big-play offense going, and Williams' tendency to hold the ball in the pocket ended up hurting him on two fourth-quarter turnovers. Kudos to second-year coach Tim Brewster for bringing in the right type of talent to engineer a quick turnaround.

TOLEDO-MICHIGAN

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez has not done well, despite his sparkling track record, in his first season at a new school. The troubling trend has continued, and Michigan suffered the worst loss in recent team history to Toledo, which came into the game at 1-4. Folks, this is worse than Appalachian State. The Wolverines entered the game with a 24-0 record against MAC teams, and Toledo's lone win had come against Eastern Michigan. Michigan's quarterback situation is a complete mess, with neither Steven Threet nor Nick Sheridan having any kind of success against the Rockets. Rodriguez has to stick to the system he believes in, but he should consider playing to his quarterbacks' strengths.

IOWA-INDIANA

Well, the Hawkeyes finally figured it out. This was a much, much better team than its 3-3 record indicated, and Iowa executed in all areas to pound Indiana 45-9. The Hawkeyes now boast a legit two-headed rushing attack, as freshman Jewel Hampton has joined junior Shonn Greene as a backfield threat. Both Hampton and Greene eclipsed 110 rushing yards against a soft Hoosiers defense, and Ricky Stanzi had an efficient, intelligent performance. But this game was won on the defensive side, as Iowa's ferocious front four contained Hawkeye-killer Kellen Lewis. Indiana continues to give away the football and really misses big-play wideout James Hardy.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Bruce Kluckhohn/US Presswire
 Eric Decker is a weapon for the Gophers with and without the ball.

Eric Decker's mom probably doesn't love the line, but among football guys, it's one of the highest compliments a player can receive.

Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster could easily gush about Decker's receiving statistics. The junior leads the nation in receiving yards (696) and ranks second in receptions (50) on a much-improved Golden Gophers team. But Brewster would much rather talk about Decker's blocking ability and willingness to take on contact, two qualities many wide receivers lack, even the best ones.

"The biggest thing is he is one tough hombre, man," Brewster said. "He is a tough sucker."

When informed of Brewster's quote after Tuesday's practice, Decker laughed.

"Especially coming from him, with his mentality and his attitude, definitely a compliment," he said.

Decker might be the nation's best receiver no one's heard about. He ranked fourth in the Big Ten in receiving average last year, behind NFL draft picks Mario Manningham, Devin Thomas and James Hardy, despite playing for a team that finished 1-11.

After missing spring practice to play for Minnesota's baseball team, the 6-foot-2, 215-pound junior has continued to produce at a high rate. He's on pace for 100 receptions this season, making nine or more catches in three of the Gophers' six games this year.

(Read full post)

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 3, 2008
9/03/08
12:36
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Welcome to the first edition of internal affairs, which will take an inside look at five key developments around the Big Ten every Wednesday during the season.

Penn State -- Josh Gaines moved from defensive end to defensive tackle on several plays against Coastal Carolina and could continue to do so the rest of the season. It freed up Aaron Maybin (two sacks) for more pass-rushing opportunities, though Jerome Hayes got most of the playing time at Gaines' usual end spot. The Lions are a bit thin at tackle after the summer dismissals of Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, and the broken leg suffered by Devon Still. Gaines, the team's most experienced defensive lineman, collected four solo tackles in the opener.

Iowa -- Junior A.J. Edds is without a doubt Iowa's best linebacker, but his coaches are resisting the temptation to move him to the middle spot, where most top backers play. Edds says he can play all three linebacker positions but feels most comfortable on the strong side, where he can showcase his playmaking skills. "My natural home is the outside backer spot," said Edds, who recorded a safety and deflected a pass that led to an interception against Maine. "It's kind of a hybrid, playing on the D-line over a tight end a lot of the time, but you're also playing out there in coverage over some of the wide receivers. If the coaches didn't have faith in the other backers, I'm sure they would put me in the middle."

Indiana -- Mitchell Evans' days as a nomad appear over as the sophomore has found a home at wide receiver. Kellen Lewis' return from suspension and the decision to move Evans from quarterback to wideout is paying off already. As top receiver Ray Fisher battles a shoulder injury, Evans, a former safety, can step in and contribute. His size (6-3) and excellent hands give Indiana another option in the passing game. Also keep an eye on freshman Damarlo Belcher, who Lewis likens to a young James Hardy.

Michigan State -- The Spartans' depth on the defensive line and in the secondary helped produce lofty preseason expectations, but they're struggling to find capable bodies at running back and along the offensive line. Coach Mark Dantonio will use Javon Ringer as much as possible, but A.J. Jimmerson was held out of the Cal game and Ashton Leggett didn't touch the ball. Ringer is a horse, but he'll wear down fast if the Spartans don't find another back. The Spartans can't afford attrition up front, where Mike Bacon is listed as a possible starter at two positions (center and left guard).

Northwestern -- Don't be surprised to see junior offensive lineman Desmond Taylor in the starting lineup Saturday against Duke. Taylor has earned rave reviews throughout preseason camp and performed well in place of injured right tackle Kurt Mattes against Syracuse. Now Taylor could take Mattes' job or the one belonging to guard Joel Belding. Though Mattes and Belding are Northwestern's only two returning starters on the line, Taylor has plenty of experience and will see significant time at tackle or guard.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

One week away. 'Nuff said.

  • First, a breakdown of the voting in the Coaches' Poll from Pollspeak.com. Rich Rodriguez retained his vote even though he moved from West Virginia to Michigan, giving the Big Ten seven voters and the Big East only four. The Big Ten has the highest percentage of teams with a coach voting
  • Sophomore Bo Flowers leapfrogged Donsay Hardeman at safety on Bob Asmussen's projected depth chart for Illinois.
  • Indiana freshman wideout DaMarlo Belcher wants to be the next James Hardy, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. Belcher, a Fort Wayne native like Hardy, certainly looked the part in Wednesday's practice. Hutchens also breaks down a good few days for Indiana, which faces decisions at quarterback, cornerback and safety.
  • A comprehensive Iowa preview from the Iowa City Press-Citizen, starting with the team's need to get beyond the last three seasons. There are also items on the Hawkeyes' young defensive ends, highly touted offensive lineman Dan Doering and reporters' picks for the season. Quarterback Jake Christensen, fighting to reclaim his starting job, takes the blame for last season, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times.
  • No official announcement yet, but a deal between the Big Ten Network and Mediacom looks imminent, Randy Peterson writes in the Des Moines Register. Iowans rejoice.
  • Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson, the sole holdover from Lloyd Carr's staff, adapts to a new regime, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News. The Michigan schools will be featured on the Big Ten Network this weekend, reaching an audience that largely didn't have the channel last season, Michael Zuidema writes in The Grand Rapids Press.
  • Michigan State tight end Charlie Gantt won't try to be the next Kellen Davis, but he should be a factor in the passing game following a good preseason, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal.
  • Minnesota wideout Eric Decker is probably the team's best player, even though he might end up playing baseball down the line, Kent Youngblood writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune. Coach Tim Brewster's eternal optimism might not be going over well with every Gopher fan, Patrick Reusse writes in the Star Tribune.
  • Ohio State has its own version of the Four Horsemen in the backfield this fall. In not-so dramatic lore, their names are "Wells and Mo Wells, Boom and Zoom," Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. Linebacker James Laurinaitis joins a select crowd of two-time captains at Ohio State. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises has a good synopsis of the Big Ten Network-Time Warner Cable-Ohio State mess.
  • Whenever Joe Paterno chooses to step down, he wants to leave his successor with something to work with at Penn State, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times. Penn State's offensive line is stacked with experience, but hopes are highest for underclassman Stefen Wisniewski. 
  • Purdue's defense had the edge in Friday's scrimmage, as freshmen Derek Jackson and Tommie Thomas recorded interceptions. But the best sign was wideout Aaron Valentin, a junior college transfer who racked up 100 receiving yards, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
  • Wisconsin's Mike Newkirk is back at his natural position of defensive tackle, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten preseason has seemed downright boring compared to the rest of the country.

There's no Mark Sanchez or Ben Olson crisis in this league, and though Ohio State has endured a few recent off-the-field incidents, the Buckeyes have nothing on Georgia. None of the four major quarterback competitions -- Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- are settled, and the one in Ann Arbor could drag on for some time. Wisconsin dismissed running back Lance Smith, but the Badgers remain well-stocked at the position.

If the first two weeks of preseason practice have revealed anything, it's that a position that seemed weak in the league could be much better than forecasted.

The Big Ten lost seven of its top 10 receivers from last season, a group that included three-time league receptions leader Dorien Bryant, big-play dynamo Devin Thomas, Indiana career receiving leader James Hardy and Michigan stars Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington. Aside from Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern, every Big Ten team entered camp with some degree of uneasiness about the wide receivers.

Michigan State and Indiana lost superstars. Michigan lost almost everybody. So did Purdue. Illinois and Minnesota needed second options. Iowa welcomed back several prominent pass-catchers from injuries. Wisconsin was very young at the position.

The anxiety level has dropped quite a bit.

Illinois, which will stress the pass more this fall, has produced several good candidates to complement Arrelious Benn, including juniors Jeff Cumberland and Chris Duvalt, sophomores Chris James and Alex Reavy and freshmen Jack Ramsey, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott. Highly touted Fred Smith will make an impact this fall at Michigan State, but he's been overshadowed a bit by classmate Keshawn Martin. Michigan's young wideouts impressed first-year coach Rich Rodriguez from the get-go, and the Wolverines will lean on players like Darryl Stonum, Martavious Odoms, Terrance Robinson, Toney Clemons and Junior Hemingway come Aug. 30.

I was extremely impressed after watching Wisconsin sophomore David Gilreath, a big-play threat with tremendous speed. Though I didn't see Purdue practice after media day, junior-college transfer Arsenio Curry certainly looks like he can contribute alongside Greg Orton. Playmaker Andy Brodell is back in the fold at Iowa, and sophomore Colin Sandeman looks to be pushing incumbent Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the starting job. Ray Fisher and Andrew Means headline a group of Indiana wideouts that also include some promising freshmen.

There has been so much buzz about the spread offense sweeping through the Big Ten. It looks like the league will have the moving parts to make those schemes work this fall.

Big Ten power rankings

August, 5, 2008
8/05/08
7:54
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten Power Rankings
RankTeamAnalysis
1.Easily the Big Ten's most complete team, the Buckeyes have few position competitions and many more answers than questions in preseason practice. They must figure out how to use freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and identify a third starting linebacker [Ross Homan?] alongside standout tandem James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman.
2.The Badgers' hold on the No. 2 spot is a bit shaky. Lance Smith's dismissal provides one less option out of the backfield, though Wisconsin remains very strong in the run game. The key here is health, particularly along the defensive line and in the secondary. Can Allan Evridge finally separate himself in the quarterback competition? We'll find out soon enough.
3.Depth is a bit of a concern at defensive tackle after coach Joe Paterno dismissed Phil Taylor and Chris Baker, but junior Jared Odrick and sophomore Ollie Ogbu have ample experience there. Penn State has options at the offensive skill positions and, unlike some teams, could benefit from a two-quarterback system as Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin bring different strengths.
4.The defense could be one of the league's sleeper units, as ends Will Davis and Derek Walker fortify the front and NFL prospect Vontae Davis anchors the secondary. Running back remains the biggest question, though junior Daniel Dufrene will have every chance to win the job. A reliable running back and another strong receiver could move Illinois up the list.
5.The freshman offensive skill players impressed coach Rich Rodriguez on Monday and give Michigan more options. There will undoubtedly be growing pains at quarterback, but if the offensive line jells after getting into better shape this spring and summer, the offense could be serviceable by Aug. 30. If a few solid linebackers emerge during the coming weeks, Michigan's defense should be among the league's best.
6.Is this the year Michigan's "little brother" overtakes the Wolverines? Michigan State enters the fall oozing optimism after an encouraging 2007 season. If several receivers emerge and coach Mark Dantonio puts a greater imprint on the defense, Michigan State could back up the preseason hype and cause a stir throughout the Big Ten.
7.The Boilermakers could have a tough time holding their place, as the schedule doesn't do them many favors. Then again, having a senior quarterback with video-game statistics [Curtis Painter] always helps. Purdue needs its veteran offensive linemen healthy when camp opens Sunday and must find a third linebacker to complement Anthony Heygood and Jason Werner.
8.Stocked with offensive skill players, the Wildcats turn their focus to the line in camp. If several capable players emerge by Aug. 30, Northwestern should be potent in the no-huddle spread shaped by new coordinator Mick McCall. Linebacker is the area of concern on defense, though new coordinator Mike Hankwitz must find a way to get more out of a defensive line that has underachieved in recent years.
9.Quarterback Jake Christensen's job appears safe for now, but the spotlight will be on a group of running backs that welcomes back former Hawkeye Shonn Greene. If Greene regains his 2006 form and the offensive line jells, Iowa could easily move up the list. But there are far too many questions in the backfield and at cornerback after the losses of Charles Godfrey and Adam Shada.
10.Once again, here's a team that could move up, especially with quarterback Kellen Lewis back in the fold. The questions here are typical for a team coming off a breakthrough after a lengthy layoff. How will pass rusher Greg Middleton respond to increased attention? Can Ray Fisher and baseball standout Andrew Means fill the void left by James Hardy at wide receiver? Is Matt Mayberry the answer at linebacker? We'll find out soon.
11.New defensive coordinator Ted Roof says there are no quick fixes, but an influx of junior-college transfers gives the Gophers a chance to stop people, something they rarely did last season. Minnesota needs a reliable running back to complement talented quarterback Adam Weber, and a group of incumbents on defense should have added motivation to keep their jobs -- and move up the list.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's less than a week from the start of preseason practice and coaches are hoping for players in good health, in uniform and out of the blotter. Ohio State's Jim Tressel didn't get his wish last weekend.

Let's see what's going on around the league:

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Despite losing seven of the league's top 10 receivers from last season, this group should once again be solid in 2008. Teams like Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Northwestern return groups of receivers that have played together for a season or longer. Minnesota has a budding star in Eric Decker, while Wisconsin lacks a proven wide receiver but boasts arguably the nation's best tight end in Travis Beckum. Purdue is restocking at wide receiver but has history on its side, and Iowa welcomes back several key contributors from injuries.

As with the running backs, these rankings are broken down into two sections:

INDIVIDUALS

 
 AP Photo/Phelan Ebenhack
 Wisconsin's Travis Beckum had 75 receptions for 982 yards last season.

1. Travis Beckum, Sr., TE, Wisconsin -- It's rare that a tight end tops this list, but Beckum transcends his often overlooked position. The All-America candidate had 75 receptions for 982 yards and six touchdowns last season. If Beckum returns at top form following offseason shoulder surgery, he'll continue to flummox defenses with his size and speed.

2. Brian Robiskie, Sr., WR, Ohio State -- He averaged 17 yards a catch and had the third most touchdown catches (11) in the league last season. Now imagine what Robiskie will do without a torn meniscus in his knee that required offseason surgery. A deep threat on a squad with several of them, Robiskie is on the brink of a big season.

3. Arrelious Benn, So., WR, Illinois -- Fully healthy after shoulder surgery, Benn could easily become this season's Devin Thomas and rise to the top of the list. Illinois will get the ball in his hands as much as possible, whether it's in a ramped up passing attack, out of the backfield or on returns. A good route-runner with breakaway speed, Benn might be the league's most dynamic player.

4. Eric Decker, Jr., WR, Minnesota -- After putting up big numbers for a bad team last season, Decker should get more praise from fans and more attention from defenses this fall. A tremendous athlete who also plays baseball for the Golden Gophers, Decker gives quarterback Adam Weber a proven target who can get to the end zone (nine touchdowns in 2007).

5. Deon Butler, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Butler quietly has become one of the league's most reliable receivers. He needs just 36 receptions to become Penn State's all-time career receptions leader and likely will claim several other school records. As the Nittany Lions transition to more of a spread offense this fall, Butler should excel.

6. Eric Peterman, Sr., WR, Northwestern -- Just when defenses label Peterman as a standard possession wide receiver, he'll gash them for a big gain. He tied for seventh in the league in receptions last season and will once again be C.J. Bacher's top target in the passing game, particularly on third down.

7. Greg Orton, Sr., WR, Purdue -- After playing behind three-time Big Ten receptions leader Dorien Bryant, Orton takes center stage as a senior. He must stabilize a new-look Boilermakers receiving corps and provide senior quarterback Curtis Painter a reliable first option. Orton has 125 receptions the last two seasons.

8. Andy Brodell, Sr., WR, Iowa --Remember the 2006 Alamo Bowl? Brodell torched Texas for a bowl-record 159 receiving yards, including a 63-yard touchdown. A broken leg cut short his 2007 season, but he's back and ready to restore his place among the Big Ten's top receivers.

9. Brian Hartline, Jr., WR, Ohio State -- Don't forget about Ohio State's other Brian, who collected 52 receptions for 694 yards and six touchdowns last fall. As Robiskie stretches the field, Hartline provides an excellent complement who goes over the middle and absorbs contact. He turned in an excellent spring as Robiskie recovered from injury.

10. Derrick Williams, Sr., WR, Penn State -- Most thought Williams would be higher on this list when he arrived in Happy Valley, but he hasn't matched the hype -- yet. His speed and athleticism remain top notch, and he should do well in a spread offense. A big-play threat who can do damage in the return game, Williams could finish his career with a flourish.

TEAM

1. Ohio State -- Finding a third option remains on Ohio State's to-do list, but few teams boast a better passing tandem than the Brians. After a season to jell with quarterback Todd Boeckman, Robiskie and Hartline will punish defenses worrying about Heisman Trophy candidate Beanie Wells.

2. Penn State -- In terms of continuity at wide receiver, Penn State ranks at the top of the list. But the long-tenured group of Butler, Williams and Jordan Norwood hasn't always met expectations. As seniors, they should shine despite having to work with a new starting quarterback.

3. Illinois -- The league knows all about Benn, who will do even more damage at 100 percent this fall. His supporting cast includes Jeff Cumberland, a 6-5, 247-pound former tight end who can outjump defenders, as well as Chris James, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The Illini will accentuate the passing game more this fall, and this group should step up.

4. Northwestern -- This could be the Wildcats' best group of wideouts sinc
e they installed in the spread offense in 2000. Peterman is good for 6-10 receptions per game. Ross Lane provides Bacher with a red-zone threat, and Andrew Brewer, considered the team's top wideout before suffering a fractured humerus in training camp, rejoins the group.

5. Iowa -- Embattled quarterback Jake Christensen is thrilled to see what's coming back this fall. Brodell returns from a broken leg and gives Iowa a viable deep threat. Promising tight end Tony Moeaki is also back in the fold following an injury. Sophomore Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, the team's top receiver last season, provides depth along with Trey Stross.

6. Wisconsin -- Beckum and understudy Garrett Graham are the only reasons why the Badgers are this high. For them to stay there, several wide receivers must emerge from an unproven group. Kyle Jefferson displayed promise as a freshman and David Gilreath showcased his speed as a returner, but there are more questions than answers here.

7. Purdue -- It's impossible to replace Bryant's production or the mismatch problems Dustin Keller created, but Orton gives Purdue a strong first option with good size. More important, the Boilermakers have a track record of success at wide receiver and a senior quarterback (Curtis Painter) who can help unproven players. Junior-college transfer Aaron Valentin bolsters a group that also includes Desmond Tardy.

8. Minnesota -- I'm tempted to put the Gophers higher because of Decker, but there's not much behind him. Ernie Wheelwright's departure leaves a hole, which could be filled by dynamic freshman Brandon Green, sophomore Ralph Spry or several others. If Minnesota finds a solid second option for Weber, it will climb several spots.

9. Michigan -- Before you flood my inbox, allow an explanation. The Wolverines have no proven quarterbacks, only one semi-proven wide receiver (Greg Mathews) and a dramatically different offense to learn. A drop-off is likely, but not certain. Freshman Darryl Stonum bolsters the new-look corps, and players like Junior Hemingway and Toney Clemons could shine after waiting their turn for playing time.

10. Indiana -- There's no James Hardy on the roster, but juniors Ray Fisher and Andrew Means should stabilize a passing game led by quarterback Kellen Lewis. Tight end Max Dedmond provides another option in the new no-huddle offense, though another target or two needs to emerge.

11. Michigan State -- Javon Ringer told me to expect big things from this group, but I'm not convinced. Thomas and underrated tight end Kellen Davis will be missed, and Ringer had more receptions last season than any of the returnees. Deon Curry, Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Blair White have the chance to step up -- and move up the list.

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