NCF Nation: Jeff Cumberland

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There are some positions on the depth chart that make Big Ten coaches cringe. There are other spots that make them smile and nod their heads.

Let's take a look at several fully loaded positions in the Big Ten.

Ohio State's defensive line: There is talk the Buckeyes' front four could be the best since the 2002 national championship squad. Ohio State is stacked at defensive end with All-Big Ten candidate Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Wilson, who can be effective if healthy. Tackle Doug Worthington brings a ton of experience to the interior line, and Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger add depth there.

Iowa's offensive line: This group is well on its way to restoring the tradition established during the early part of coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. Iowa boasts the league's top tackles tandem in Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, and there are a host of experienced interior linemen. Julian Vandervelde developed nicely in 2008, and Andy Kuempel, Rafael Eubanks and Dan Doering all are solid options at guard. The emergence of oft-injured Dace Richardson this spring adds another body to the mix. Aside from the center spot, Iowa looks extremely solid up front.

Michigan State's secondary: Despite losing All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley, Michigan State should be even stronger in the back half. Three starters return in the secondary, including corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver. Michigan State boasts depth with corners Jeremy Ware and Johnny Adams and safeties Kendell Davis-Clark and Marcus Hyde. And the breakout performance of the spring came from another safety, Trenton Robinson, who certainly will see playing time this season.

Penn State's linebackers: Linebacker U. is back in 2009. Penn State boasts one of the nation's top linebacker tandems in Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, both of whom will contend for All-America honors. And it doesn't stop there, as sophomore Michael Mauti is poised for a big year on the outside. Penn State also boasts veteran depth with Josh Hull, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu.

Illinois' wide receivers: Juice Williams will have no shortage of options in the passing game this fall. All-America candidate Arrelious Benn leads the Big Ten's deepest receiving corps, which features Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt, A.J. Jenkins, Cordale Scott and Jack Ramsey. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson worked his way into a starting spot this spring and will draw opposing defenders away from Benn.

Michigan's running backs: Whoever wins the starting quarterback job in Ann Arbor will have plenty of help in the backfield. Hopes are extremely high for senior Brandon Minor, who finished strong last season despite battling several injuries, including one to his right (ball-carrying) wrist. Backing up Minor will be Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw, both of whom will be more accustomed to Rich Rodriguez's offense. Bite-size back Vincent Smith emerged this spring to provide another option with breakaway speed.

Northwestern's secondary: One of the league's weakest units a few years ago has transformed into a major strength for the Wildcats. All four starters return from 2008, and safety Brad Phillips and cornerback Sherrick McManis are strong candidates for All-Big Ten honors. Safety Brendan Smith and cornerback Jordan Mabin both are natural playmakers, and Northwestern boasts depth in players like Brian Peters, Justan Vaughn and David Arnold.

Wisconsin's H-backs/tight ends: Travis Beckum's star-crossed senior season opened opportunities for other players in 2008, and the result is a multitude of options at tight end for 2009. Mackey Award candidate Garrett Graham leads the way at the H-back spot, and senior Mickey Turner and junior Lance Kendricks provide reliable options in the passing game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Juice Williams enters 2009 as one of the Big Ten's most recognizable players, a proven quarterback in a league starved for them.

 
  Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMI
  Juice Williams was a second-team All-Big Ten selection last fall.

Williams has experienced just about everything at Illinois: A 10-loss season as a raw, yet talented freshman, a thrilling Rose Bowl run as a sophomore and a very disappointing campaign as a junior last fall. Illinois led the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense but struggled to a 5-7 finish. Williams, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last fall, wants to end his college career on a good note, and perhaps for the first time he has truly taken ownership of the team.

Earlier this week, Williams discussed his up-and-down 2008 season, his outlook for the future and his legacy at Illinois.

What's been the mood for you and the guys during offseason workouts after things didn't go the way you wanted them to last fall?

Juice Williams: The attitude of this year's team is completely different from what we had last year at this time. Obviously, we didn't end up the way we should have or what we thought we should have. But that's affected this team in such a positive way. [The struggles] may be one of the best things to happen to this team.

Guys now are realizing that if we don't come to play every week, we're not going to be successful. And in order to come out there and play like that, we have to train and prepare our bodies to play 12 games to the maximum potential. Guys have really taken on that role, and I think we'll be ready by the time the season comes around.

Do you think guys were taking things for granted a little bit last year, especially coming off a Rose Bowl run?

JW: I think it had some type of affect on it. Guys kind of slacked off a little bit. We didn't really have the same intensity in the offseason as we should have. But like I said, I think it was probably the best thing that happened to us, not going to a bowl game. Us bringing back so many seniors and so much experience for this year, it's going to really prepare this team in the right direction.

(Read full post)

Big Ten internal affairs

October, 8, 2008
10/08/08
11:49
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time for our weekly look inside five Big Ten teams.

Illinois -- Judging solely by his size -- 6-foot-5, 250 pounds -- Jeff Cumberland should be a tight end. But after seeing the junior struggle with blocking and other trench duties in 2007, Illinois coach Ron Zook moved Cumberland to wide receiver. The switch worked last week as Cumberland, who missed time earlier this season with a foot stress fracture, had a 77-yard touchdown on his first reception of the fall. "He just wasn't doing the job down in the briar patch like we wanted him to do in terms of blocking and so forth," Zook said. "He's a very athletic guy that we knew we needed to get on the field so we talked to him about moving to the outside."

Iowa -- Redshirt freshman quarterback Marvin McNutt is auditioning at wide receiver, a spot where his athleticism could be better utilized this year. McNutt wasn't a major factor in the quarterback competition ultimately won by Ricky Stanzi, but he continues to take some snaps should an emergency arise. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the 6-foot-4, 210-pound McNutt welcomed the change but has taken time to adjust. "His legs are trying to catch up a little bit," Ferentz said. "He's been through two years of inactivity as a quarterback, so he's got sore feet, sore knees, sore everything else right now."

Michigan State -- The Spartans likely will be without starting cornerback Chris L. Rucker against Northwestern, but their secondary gets a big boost with the return of cornerback/safety Kendell Davis-Clark. Boasting 15 career starts, Davis-Clark has been out of action since sustaining a shoulder injury in the season opener at Cal. A major key Saturday will be the health of safety Otis Wiley, the Spartans' defensive catalyst who left last week's game against Iowa with a lower leg injury. Wiley leads the Big Ten in both interceptions (4) and passes defended (11) and ranks second in punt return average (11.9).

Northwestern -- The bye week gave the Wildcats a chance to get healthy, particularly on the offensive line. Right tackle Kurt Mattes will return from a knee injury, and guard Keegan Grant also could return from an ankle injury. Both players were projected starters heading into the season, and offensive line coach Bret Ingalls will have some playing-time decisions to make for Saturday's game against Michigan State (ESPN2, 3:30 p.m. ET). Junior Desmond Taylor has played well at both right tackle and right guard, and Northwestern is tied for fifth nationally in fewest sacks allowed (two in five games). Then again, the Wildcats aren't running the ball like they'd like to and could benefit from a greater rotation of linemen.

Penn State -- Head coach Joe Paterno hoped to play speedy junior A.J. Wallace at both cornerback and as a reserve wide receiver before the season, but a hamstring injury before the opener changed the script. For Wallace, the setback might have been a blessing in disguise, as he started at right cornerback last week at Purdue and has been elevated to a co-starter with Lydell Sargeant on this week's depth chart. "Sargeant, [Wallace] and [Tony] Davis, they're three good corners and they all should play, keep them fresh," Paterno said. "Nowadays, when you have to be ready for a lot of spread, you need that extra defensive back."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Mike Locksley is a major reason why Illinois can no longer be branded a basketball school, but the Illini offensive coordinator delves into his hoops glossary when coaching his gridiron skill players.

During film study, Locksley often uses the term "lay-up" to identify big-play opportunities for the offense to convert.

 
 AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
 Illinois quarterback Juice Williams stepped up his play on Saturday against Michigan.

"It's no different than a big-time basketball player who gets the ball in his hands for the game-winner," Locksley said. "He's going to have to take the shot and make a few of them. In football, it obviously takes more than one guy and everything has to work in sync.

"But when you have the opportunity to hit a big play, whether it's through a throw or a running back making the right read or a receiver reading the coverage correctly and running a correct route, we've got to be able to do it and take advantage of it."

Illinois is starting to capitalize in a big way. Last week the Illini had eight plays of 15 yards or longer and five plays of 37 yards or longer in a 45-20 rout of Michigan.

Running back Daniel Dufrene scored on a 57-yard screen pass and Juice Williams found big target Jeff Cumberland for a 77-yard touchdown. Williams also added a 50-yard run en route to a Michigan Stadium-record 431 yards of total offense. Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Arrelious "Rejus" Benn had receptions of 46 and 37 yards.

The Illini rank second in the Big Ten in yards per play (6.2) and 18th nationally in total offense (455.8 ypg). Four of Illinois' top six receivers average more than 14 yards per reception.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A light news day around the league. More answers will come later today.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Tom Dahlin/Getty Images
 Juice Williams is prepared for the added leadership role he must assume this season.

Shared misfortune brought Illinois teammates and roommates Juice Williams and Chris James together on the Edward Jones Dome sideline Sept. 1. Their conversation wasn't pleasant, but memorable.

James, a potential starter at wide receiver, already knew he wouldn't be playing that day against Missouri after tearing his ACL in training camp. Williams started the game at quarterback, determined to muzzle his doubters after an erratic freshman season, but left in the second quarter after taking a blow to the head from Missouri's Hardy Ricks on a 4-yard run.

Together, they watched as backup quarterback Eddie McGee rallied Illinois to within six points before throwing an interception at the goal line in the final minute.

"He talked to me about not finishing the game," James said of Williams. "He was real sad and upset."

"He took that loss to heart," added Illini linebacker Brit Miller.

Fast-forward to Monday as Williams and James sat in the film room at Memorial Stadium studying Missouri. This time they spoke with a tone of optimism, sensing the opportunity that soon awaited them.

It arrives Saturday as Illinois heads back to St. Louis to face Missouri (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN). The game has added meaning for Williams, who matches up against Heisman Trophy candidate Chase Daniel.

"Even without the injury, it would still be special," Williams said. "The first game of the season, you prepared all offseason to get better as a player, as a leader, as a role model of this team. You're just so thrilled to go out there and show the world what you can do."

A greater burden will be placed on Williams this fall after Illinois lost running back Rashard Mendenhall, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley wants to pass more to exploit a deeper-than-expected receiving corps and a junior quarterback no longer prone to poor decisions and an unsightly completion percentage.

Williams likely will look to air it out immediately against a Missouri defense that ranked 96th nationally against the pass last season (256.9 ypg).

"I'm pretty sure he can't wait to show the world what he can do as far as the passing," star wide receiver Rejus Benn said. "He's labeled as an option quarterback, a runner, but he's a passer and he's going to show that."

Williams spent a week this summer working with Eagles quarterback and fellow Chicagoan Donovan McNabb, who encouraged him to rely on more than just his arm strength to lead the offense. After completing just 39.5 percent of his passes as a freshman and struggling early last season, Williams began to get comfortable and played his best down the stretch, most notably in an upset of then-No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus.

He completed 6 of 9 passes against Missouri and added 11 rushing yards before the injury, which occurred when he started to slide on a scramble.

"I kind of learned my lesson," Williams said. "After that game, the coaches have pretty much been on me to run physical. As the season went on, I started running harder, breaking a bunch of tackles here and there, so it really paid off."

Illini coach Ron Zook doesn't expect Williams to think about the injury Saturday, which speaks to the quarterback's growing maturity.

"He has improved in every area, whether it be the way he talks with the media, the way he practices, all the things," Zook said. "Now it's going to be important that he goes out there and shows what we all think is going to happen, that he is a much-improved player."

Williams should get help from his receivers. In addition to Benn, the reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year, the Illini will start James and junior Chris Duvalt, who had a very strong preseason. Not having the 6-foot-5 Jeff Cumberland (foot) will hurt, but freshmen Fred Sykes, A.J. Jenkins and Cordale Scott all are expected to contribute.

"I can't even imagine the feeling I'll have running onto the field knowing that I'm going to be able to play this year," said James, who started the final four games in 2006. "It's exciting knowing you can get out there and know where you are from the start, going against a top team like Missouri."

Despite the Ohio State win and a run to the Rose Bowl, Illinois enters this fall needing to shed the one-year-wonder tag. What better way to start than against a team that many around the country would have rather seen in a BCS bowl than the Illini.

"Being able to go out there and win a game against a top-notch program would mean a lot for this program," Williams said. "It would hopefully make other guys start to believe in the Illini program, that the Illini guys are back and last year was not a fluke."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Start your clocks. We're two weeks away. Before the scrimmages get going around the league, check out these links:

  • Bad news for Illinois as wide receiver Jeff Cumberland, a projected starter, will miss two to four weeks with a foot injury. The Illini could have used Cumberland's size against Missouri in the season opener. The (Champaign, Ill.) News-Gazette's Bob Asmussen has a revised preseason depth chart with Chris Duvalt moving into Cumberland's spot with the first-team offense.
  • Indiana tight end Max Dedmond models himself after Dallas Clark and even gets called "Dallas" in practice, Terry Hutchens writes in The Indianapolis Star. Also, no word yet on whether Florida transfer Jerimy Finch will be allowed to play this season. 
  • Iowa's offensive linemen hate the number 46 -- last season's sacks allowed total -- and vow to change things this fall, Susan Harman writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. There's also a nice personnel breakdown of the line. The sexual assault trial involving two former Iowa players appears headed for a delay.
  • Missed this from a few days ago, but The Ann Arbor News' Jim Carty answers some Michigan questions. He thinks four players, including running back Carlos Brown, will take snaps this fall.
  • Free safety has become a position of concern at Michigan State. Roderick Jenrette, a projected starter alongside Otis Wiley, has been asked to take an indefinite absence from the team to address a personal matter. Also, Spartans sophomore Enrique Shaw has left the program voluntarily. Junior Dan Fortener could step in for Jenrette. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio is borrowing some baseball sayings to address his team's current position, John Lemon writes in the Arlington Heights (Ill.) Daily Herald.
  • Minnesota has gone live (full tackling) more than most teams this preseason -- after last season, it needed to. Today's scrimmage will mark the end for a while, Kent Youngblood writes in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune.
  • Don't know how Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis would do in the 200-meter butterfly, but he bears a resemblance to that Phelps guy, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog. If you're going to Ohio State's open practice Monday, leave your cameras at home.
  • Penn State wideout Derrick Williams wants to end his career like he started it, with a trip to a BCS bowl.
  • Jaycen Taylor holds a slight edge over Kory Sheets right now, but if history is a guide, both Purdue running backs will play plenty, Tom Kubat writes in The (Lafayette, Ind.) Journal and Courier. Sheets first has to fix his fumbling problems.
  • Wisconsin might go with two kickers this season, but the Badgers definitely will use three running backs this season, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Defensive end Matt Shaughnessy returned to practice Friday after heading home following the death of his older brother.

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Happy birthday to me. I'll wish for ... a bunch of links. Here ya go:

  • Projected starting wideout Jeff Cumberland missed Illinois practice with a sore foot, Bob Asmussen writes in The [Champaign, Ill.] News-Gazette. Also, Asmussen takes a look at the defensive tackles, where Josh Brent looks to step into a starting spot after Sirod Williams' season-ending knee injury. Illinois is returning to its roots as a football school, Mark Tupper writes in the Decatur Herald & Review.
  • Indiana kicker Austin Starr fends off the one-and-done perception about the Hoosiers, Mike Lucas writes in The Capital Times. Here's a breakdown of Indiana's defense from The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens.
  • Standout tight end Tony Moeaki is expected to rejoin the mix at Iowa this fall, Susan Harman writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. There's a report he's injured again, which will be clarified on Saturday at the open scrimmage.
  • Here's a look at Michigan Stadium's steel-clad facelift from Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press. The Wolverines go bowling next week to raise money for the paralyzed brother of offensive lineman Elliott Mealer, John Heuser writes in The Ann Arbor News.
  • Oklahoma transfer Keith Nichol could set up an interesting competition at quarterback with Kirk Cousins next year at Michigan State. Here's a look at Nichol's journey, courtesy of Andrew Mouranie in the Lansing State Journal. The Spartans are getting local for the 2010 recruiting class, Matt Dorsey writes in the Detroit Free Press. 
  • If you didn't know already, the Big Ten Network launches on Comcast today, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press. 
  • Former Minnesota star safety Dominic Jones, now serving jail time for sexual assault, will address the team next week, Dennis Brackin writes in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. Jones requested the chance to talk about his experience.
"I think it will be a very positive message, and I know that I'm looking forward to it,'' head coach Tim Brewster said. "The exciting thing for me is that it seems like he's really trying to make something positive out of this. You look at different situations and try to learn from them, because that's all you can do.''
Minnesota's defensive renaissance hinges on better line play, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

We're T-minus two days from the start of Big Ten media days in downtown Chicago. Items sure to be discussed ad nauseam: Joe Paterno's future, Rich Rodriguez's offense and the trouble in Iowa City. I can't imagine Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz is looking forward to his time at the podium Thursday.

Time to take a spin around the league:

  • The Iowa state Board of Regents meets today to discuss how the university handled the sexual assault case involving two former football players and a female athlete last October. If Ferentz erred in his response to the incident, he should go, SportingNews.com's Dave Curtis writes.
  • Former Hawkeye Abe Satterfield joined ex-teammate Cedric Everson in pleading not guilty to the sexual assault charges.
  • Prep quarterback Kevin Newsome is still coming to Michigan, despite rumors that he's reconsidering his commitment. Meanwhile, the Wolverines went into Les Miles' backyard to snag their latest 2009 commit, defensive end DeQuinta Jones.
  • It's impossible to sugarcoat Ohio State's bowl record against the SEC, but here's an interesting explanation about the struggles, courtesy of Bleacher Report.
  • The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises breaks down the Ohio State defense. The big challenge is generating more pressure without top pass rusher Vernon Gholston.
  • In case you missed it, Carson Palmer might live in Ohio, but the former USC quarterback is no fan of the state school.
  • Indiana promoted from within to find its new compliance director. Up next: a new athletic director.
  • Youngstown State, this is your future.
  • Despite a rough stretch off the field and constant speculation about his future, Paterno still envisions a strong season in Happy Valley this fall.
  • Illinois picked up two high school teammates for its 2009 recruiting class.
  • Bleacher Report ranks the top 10 mascots in college football. Bucky the Badger comes in at No. 6, two spots ahead of Sparty the Spartan. No love for Purdue Pete or Brutus Buckeye? Can't wait to see all the mascots Friday at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon.
  • Think Illinois' struggling basketball program could use wide receiver Jeff Cumberland in the post this winter?

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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