NCF Nation: Jewel Hampton

Iowa has little trouble producing quality running backs. Keeping them on the team is an entirely different story.

Marcus Coker on Tuesday became the latest promising Iowa ball-carrier to depart the program. The team announced Coker asked for a release from his scholarship, which was granted. The sophomore also didn't enroll for the spring semester at Iowa.

Of all the Hawkeyes' running back departures -- Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher, Jewel Hampton, Mika'il McCall -- Coker's is the most mysterious and potentially the most damaging. Head coach Kirk Ferentz still hasn't specified why Coker was suspended for the Insight Bowl -- the team called it a violation of university policy and the student-athlete code of conduct. While McCall seemed likely to return after his suspension, Coker's situation seemed different. Athletic director Gary Barta said last month that Coker had an invitation to return to the team.

But it didn't pan out and Iowa once again will be scrambling at running back heading into the 2012 season.

Coker isn't just good -- he finished second in the Big Ten and 15th nationally in rushing average (115.3 ypg) -- but he's also durable and productive, logging 23.4 carries per game, tops among Big Ten backs. As a big back with two more years to mature, Coker could have been a special player at Iowa.

The Hawkeyes will tun to Jordan Canzeri, who provided a nice spark at times in the Insight Bowl, and others at running back in the 2012 season. But Ferentz and his staff need to address what has become a revolving-door position. Why are so many promising running backs on the field struggling so much off of it? The team now has had five running backs depart in the past year and a half.

Not good at all.
"I wish I could explain it," Ferentz told me last month. "There's no conspiracy theory or anything like that. We've just had some situations. You have to evaluate each one on an individual basis. We have had our share of transactions and transition. We'll get it settled down again."

They had better.
Iowa is no stranger to facing adversity in a bowl game.

In the 2001 Alamo Bowl, the Hawkeyes' first postseason appearance under head coach Kirk Ferentz, running back Ladell Betts couldn't play with a hamstring injury, leaving Iowa without a four-year starter. Iowa turned to Aaron Greving, who racked up 115 rush yards and earned offensive MVP honors in a win against Texas Tech.

[+] EnlargeIowa coach Kirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallKirk Ferentz says he can't explain all of the backfield issues Iowa has faced, but the Hawkeyes have to forge on in their bowl game against OU.
The Betts-Greving situation hardly compared to the crisis Iowa faced before the 2010 Insight Bowl. Top running back Adam Robinson had been suspended and subsequently arrested. Top receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos had been arrested on drug charges, leading to an odd news conference where Iowa admitted to finding problems with its drug-testing program for student-athletes. The team also announced that two reserve running backs, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher, were transferring.

And yet Iowa still won the game, rallying to upset Missouri 27-24.

Another Insight Bowl matchup is on tap Friday night against Oklahoma, and Iowa once again is dealing with some adversity. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker, the team's most productive offensive weapon, is suspended for an undisclosed violation of team policy. There are other potential personnel issues, which Ferentz deflected Tuesday, but replacing Coker's 281 carries and 1,354 rush yards is the big one.

"It's football," Ferentz told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "If our running back had sprained his ankle, he wouldn't play then, either. So you don't surrender and forfeit the game. You keep playing. It happens all year long. Players are in and out. Somebody has to be ready to step in, and everybody else has to help those guys out."

Coker was that guy for Iowa last December, rushing for a team-bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri. But his loss leaves the Hawkeyes with a stable of unproven backs.

Ferentz said Jason White, who he describes as "steady" and "dependable," and Brad Rogers, who has mostly played fullback for Iowa, likely will be the team's top two ball-carrying options Friday against Oklahoma. Freshmen Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock are the next two in line.

"We'll basically use everybody we have," Ferentz said. "I don't know if I foresee us getting 200 yards like a year ago, and if we did, it will probably be three, four, five guys contributing to that yardage, not one. We'll do it by committee and just see how it goes."

Iowa's passing attack has been very effective at times, especially early in the season when the Hawkeyes employed some no-huddle. Oklahoma ranks just 83rd nationally against the pass.

But the Hawkeyes won't abandon their run game Friday night. Because they can't.

"We have to at least attempt it," Ferentz said. "We're not built to throw it 70 times a game. It's just not our mode of operation. If we get in a situation like that, it's not good. But the group's capable. They've been practicing well and they'll step up and do a good job."

The suspensions of both Coker and freshman Mika'il McCall have once again placed the spotlight on Iowa's running back position, which has seen an extraordinary amount of turmoil since the departure of Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene after the 2008 season. Five promising backs have dealt with off-field issues since Greene's departure.

"I wish I could explain it," Ferentz said. "There's no conspiracy theory or anything like that. We've just had some situations. You have to evaluate each one on an individual basis. We have had our share of transactions and transition. We'll get it settled down again."

When bowl games kick off, Iowa usually finds a way.

Iowa running back curse continues

December, 20, 2011
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In 2008, Iowa caught a big break at the running back position when Shonn Greene went from furniture warehouse employee to Doak Walker Award winner.

Since then, the Hawkeyes haven't had much good fortune with their running backs. Whether it's injuries or off-field problems, Iowa's running back depth has taken hit after hit since Greene's magical season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Coker
Byron Hetzler-US PRESSWIREStar RB Marcus Coker will not be allowed to play in the Hawkeyes' bowl game against Oklahoma.
The latest blow came Tuesday as the team announced starting running back Marcus Coker has been suspended for the Insight Bowl for disciplinary reasons. Iowa didn't elaborate on the suspension, saying only that Coker violated the school's student-athlete code of conduct. The sophomore will not travel with the team to Arizona later this week.

It marks the second consecutive year Iowa will play the Insight Bowl without its top back. Adam Robinson was suspended for the game last year for failing to comply with team policies. Iowa announced Robinson's suspension on the same day it confirmed running back Jewel Hampton, the team's second-leading rusher in 2008, would be transferring. Hampton dealt with injuries and off-field issues. Another promising running back, Brandon Wegher, announced late last season that he would also be transferring (he took a leave of absence from the team in August 2010). Weeks after Iowa announced Robinson's suspension, Robinson was arrested for marijuana possession.

Coker ended up rescuing Iowa in the 2010 Insight Bowl, rushing for a team bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Missouri.

He has been a huge part of Iowa's offense this season, accounting for 80.7 percent of the team's rushing yards (1,384), 15 of the team's 18 rush touchdowns and 281 of the team's 417 carries. Coker leads the Big Ten in carries and ranks second in rushing average (115.3 ypg).

Who will Iowa turn to at running back? Promising freshman Mika'il McCall was suspended for the regular-season finale against Nebraska, and his status for the bowl game is very much in doubt.

Iowa likely will turn to DeAndre Johnson, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock and Jason White at running back. Johnson leads the crew with just 18 carries this season.

Gulp.

It's hard not to see Iowa becoming pretty one-dimensional against Oklahoma. The good news is the Sooners struggle against the pass, ranking 83rd nationally.

The bigger issue is why Iowa can't keep running backs on the field. The Hawkeyes seem to have little trouble developing running backs, but the lack of depth has become a major problem.
Marcus Coker envisioned following in Shonn Greene's footsteps when he signed on to play running back at Iowa. Another type of star system also led him to the Hawkeyes.

Since his mother bought him a telescope at age 7, Coker has been fascinated by the stars in the sky. One of the reasons he chose Iowa out of DeMatha Catholic High School in Maryland, he said, was the school's department of physics and astronomy. Coker is pursuing a double major in both fields and says his dream is to some day work for NASA.

A Hawkeye in space?

"Nah," he says. "I want to stay on the ground."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Coker
David Purdy/Getty ImagesMarcus Coker hopes to build on a strong finish to his 2010 season.
That looks like a pretty good plan for Iowa this season as well, thanks to the promising sophomore tailback. Coker might have been eclipsed at the beginning of last season, but by the end he looked like a supernova.

His jaw-dropping Insight Bowl performance has fans salivating at his future potential. Stepping in for the suspended Adam Robinson, Coker shattered school bowl records with 219 rushing yards on 33 attempts in the 27-24 win over Missouri.

Coker didn't even figure to crack the depth chart initially as a freshman, with fellow backs Robinson, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher all ahead of him. Coker was further set back by a broken collarbone in preseason camp.

"There was no way to get physical reps after that, so I just tried to get mental reps and more than anything learn the offense," he said. "I really didn't think I would play much. That was my goal, but I didn't have any expectations."

But then Hampton and Wegher transferred, and Robinson was sidelined by both academic and legal issues. Coker was playing a big role by the end of the season, rushing for 129 yards against Indiana and scoring his first touchdown versus Ohio State. With Robinson gone and little experience behind him, Coker is the unquestioned leader in the backfield now. He's trying to keep the same attitude he had last summer.

"I look at myself as if I'm last on the depth chart, and I want to be first," he said. "[The bowl] game just brings a lot of expectations, so I'm trying to push myself hard and live up to all those expectations."

Expectations may be unreasonably high after a 219-yard bowl performance, but Coker says, "All I know is I'm going to go out and try to rush for more than that every game. If it happens, it happens."

He's not unfamiliar with huge games. In high school, he gained national attention by rushing for a school record 392 yards and five touchdowns to lead DeMatha to a victory over rival Gilman.

Coker is a load at 6-foot, 230 pounds. He said he's been working this offseason on improving his quickness and agility, but he knows the most important thing is to keep his pads low.

"When you have that much weight behind you, it's kind of hard not to run over some corners and safeties," he said.

There's a softer side to him too, though. Coker was recognized in high school for performing more than 1,000 community-service hours, donating his time to working with the mentally challenged and volunteering at animal shelters.

"I get that from my mom," he said. "She has worked with mentally challenged people since I was born. She's always giving to other people, and I want to give back."

That's the kind of attitude that could make Marcus Coker a true star.
I guess this is what they mean by getting out in front of the story.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and athletic director Gary Barta held a news conference Tuesday morning where they revealed very little actual news. Despite rampant rumors about a wave of drug-related suspensions, Iowa announced no additional personnel updates other than what was released Monday night.

To recap: Top running back Adam Robinson has been suspended until January at the earliest for unspecified reasons, while running backs Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher are transferring. Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos won't play for Iowa again after his arrest last week on several drug charges.

That's it.

"We don't anticipate any more announcements on our roster," Ferentz said.

You can breathe a little easier now, Iowa fans. The roster won't be depleted for the Insight Bowl matchup against Missouri on Dec. 28.

The only real news from Iowa City today is that the school reviewed its drug-testing program following the DJK mess last week and found "some flaws and inconsistencies," Barta said. The school didn't find any specific acts of cheating or any cover-up attempts by those performing the tests, but Barta has "strong evidence" to believe that student-athletes likely have found ways to get around the testing program.

He didn't go into specifics.

"We have not caught anybody getting around the system,” Barta said. “Unfortunately, there’s enough evidence in our protocol to say we have to tighten up. It’s pretty likely that someone -- I don’t know if it’s 1 or 21 -- someone has gotten around this process.

"And if it’s only one, it makes you doubt all testing.”

All Iowa student-athletes are randomly tested at least once a year by the school, including all 92 football players this year, coach Kirk Ferentz said. The Big Ten and the NCAA also conduct separate drug testing. An Iowa student-athlete automatically misses athletic competition with a first positive drug test. Those who refuse testing count as having tested positive.

A few nuggets:
  • Robinson remains eligible and Ferentz hinted that his suspension is for academic reasons, stretching back to Robinson sitting out the start of the Ohio State game on Nov. 20. "It's my anticipation that he'll be back in January," Ferentz said. Hampton's decision to transfer was mutual, Ferentz said.
  • The coach didn't want Robinson and Hampton to be grouped in with Johnson-Koulianos, the only Iowa player facing legal action at this time. Unfortunately, holding a news conference like this allows folks to draw those conclusions.
  • Asked if other players knew about DJK's problems, Ferentz said: "My guess is some did, and if that’s the case, it’s unfortunate that nobody came forward."
  • Iowa City police gave Ferentz a head's up about the DJK situation last Tuesday while the arrest was taking place.
  • Ferentz on player conduct: "My guess is the behaviors of this year's team off the field aren't much different [from last season]. We had a lot of the same parties on the team last year. When you win 11 games, everything's fine, and when you win seven, it's a little different."
  • Ferentz on DJK: "Shock's a strong word. I think I got over that about 20 years ago. Disappointment is obviously a big part of the equation."
  • Drug testing for Iowa student-athletes continued last week, although it wasn't out of the ordinary, Barta said.
  • Barta on the state of the program: "The state of the program is in great hands. We're dealing with some important and challenging issues, but I have great confidence in Kirk's handling of them."

Anyway, an odd day in Iowa City, but not a catastrophic one for the program as it prepares for the Insight Bowl.

What to Watch, Week 4

September, 24, 2010
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We’ve got big games from coast to coast in Week 4, so let’s check out the top 10 storylines to watch heading into Saturday:

[+] EnlargeRyan Mallett
Kim Klement/US PresswireCan Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett lead his team to a win over the No. 1 team in the nation?
1. Does Arkansas have what it takes to beat Alabama? Certainly the Razorbacks are much improved on defense, and Ryan Mallett has lived up to his Heisman Trophy billing. But does this team have a killer instinct? This is a team that had a 7-0 halftime lead over ULM, then blew a 24-10 fourth-quarter lead against Georgia last week before rallying for 31-24 the victory. Alabama will try to confuse Mallett the way it did last season. Offensively, there are so many options for the Tide, the Razorbacks are going to have to prove just how good they have become on defense.

2. Does Oregon State have a chance to beat Boise State? Absolutely the Beavers have a chance. Is it going to happen? That is another question. Some keys to watch: Oregon State might not be able to run into the heart of that Boise State defensive line. Do the Beavers try to run sweeps to the outside with their speedy receivers to loosen them up? The Rodgers brothers, James and Jacquizz, are always a threat to take it the distance. The Boise State secondary has been vulnerable at times, so if Ryan Katz has time to throw, he could connect for some big plays.

3. Can Notre Dame close out a win? So far 2010 has looked a lot like 2009 for the Fighting Irish, what with losing games in the closing seconds to Michigan and Michigan State. They could just as easily be 3-0 with a few more plays going their way. Instead, they are staring at the prospect of a 1-3 start, given the way Stanford has played going into the game. This could be a national statement game for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who has 674 yards passing with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.

4. Can the Big East represent in big nonconference games? Pittsburgh, one of the popular preseason picks to win the Big East, fell flat on its face Thursday night in a 31-3 loss to Miami. That leaves Cincinnati and West Virginia this weekend in huge national profile games. Oklahoma visits the Bearcats, who have fallen on hard times just one season removed from an undefeated regular season. They hardly resemble the outfit that made it to the Sugar Bowl last season, having already lost to Fresno State and NC State. West Virginia, meanwhile, travels to LSU. The Mountaineers might be the best hope to win the Big East, but then again they nearly lost to Marshall.

5. How does Michigan State respond without coach Mark Dantonio? Luckily, the Spartans play Northern Colorado, not exactly the toughest challenge. Dantonio suffered a heart attack in the hours after the Spartans’ overtime win over Notre Dame, and offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will lead the team in his absence. A big game looms next week at home against Wisconsin. The bigger question is whether Dantonio will be back in time for that one.

6. Does South Carolina need to prove that it is for real even after beating Georgia? Some believe the answer is yes. Well here it is, perhaps an even bigger test because the Gamecocks must play a better Auburn team on the road. Last week, Auburn struggled to stop Clemson running back Andre Ellington, who had 140 yards and a touchdown. This week, the Tigers face a bigger, more physical back in freshman stud Marcus Lattimore. The key for the Tigers: shutting him down to force Stephen Garcia into trying to win the game. South Carolina has the defense to be able to slow down Cam Newton.

7. How does Iowa respond after its heartbreaking loss to Arizona? The Hawkeyes get an easier challenge this week against Ball State, but they are beginning life once again without Jewel Hampton, out for the season with a torn ACL. This game serves as an excellent tune-up headed into next Saturday’s big game against Penn State. Iowa has to figure out how to get its offensive line going, perhaps the most glaring weakness on the team, which was completely exposed against the Wildcats.

8. How does Arizona respond after its big win over Iowa? We can ask the question both ways. The Wildcats are up to No. 14 in the polls after that win, and now all of a sudden are a team everyone believes is right there in the mix for the Pac-10 title. They play a California team that lost to Nevada last week. What was striking in that game was the way Nevada dominated on both lines. That doesn’t bode well going into this game, considering how strong Arizona looked on the offensive and defensive lines against the Hawkeyes.

9. Can Virginia Tech win at Boston College without Ryan Williams? This is a crucial game for the Hokies, who could drop to 1-3 with a loss. Without Williams, Darren Evans and David Wilson will carry the load. But Evans has lost two fumbles in two weeks, and the Hokies traditionally struggle running the ball against the Eagles. That was until last season, when they had 235 yards on the ground. They are going to need another performance like that to win, but it’s going to be much harder without their top runner.

10. Can Oregon keep up its scoring pace? Hard to imagine the Ducks will be able to hang half a hundred on Arizona State, a team that came thisclose to beating Wisconsin on the road last week. Oregon has averaged over a point a minute in its three games this season, but the Sun Devils are no New Mexico and are certainly no Tennessee. Still, Arizona State has to be better in the red zone to have any shot at the upset.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 4

September, 23, 2010
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The Big Ten slate is a major snoozer this week, but there always are some intriguing story lines when league teams take the field.

Here are 10 of them.

1. Running back roulette: The Evan Royster situation at Penn State will continue to be a major issue until No. 22 starts looking like the running back we saw in each of the last two seasons. Stephfon Green seems to be gaining on Royster, although Penn State guard Stefen Wisniewski tells me Royster doesn't have to worry about his starting job. It'll be interesting to see how the run game fares against unbeaten Temple.

[+] EnlargeMark Dantonio
AP Photo/Al GoldisThe Spartans will be without coach Mark Dantonio when they take the field Saturday.
2. Missing their Mark: Michigan State will play its first game without head coach Mark Dantonio, who has returned home from the hospital after suffering a minor heart attack and undergoing surgery Sunday. Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell handles the head-coaching duties Saturday against Northern Colorado. Treadwell still will call the offensive plays, but he'll be on the field rather than in the coaches' booth. It'll be interesting to see how the Spartans handle the emotions and unfamiliarity of not having Dantonio leading them.

3. Must win for Minnesota: It's still September, but Minnesota can't come out of the month 1-3 and have a realistic expectation to reach a third consecutive bowl game. In fact, most of Minnesota's recent bowl appearances have been fueled by strong nonconference performances. The Gophers made some strides last week against USC but couldn't finish. They have to put it all together against a Northern Illinois team that will test the defense with quarterback Chandler Harnish.

4. Wolverines on the defensive: After letting UMass pile up 37 points and 439 yards last week, Michigan's defense had better buckle down Saturday against Bowling Green. The Wolverines are struggling to sack the quarterback (two sacks in three games) or stop the run (169.7 ypg allowed). Bowling Green will be without starting quarterback Matt Schilz (shoulder), so Michigan should have an opportunity to improve before Big Ten play begins.

5. Men down: Both Iowa and Wisconsin received some bad news this week, as the teams announced that Hawkeyes running back Jewel Hampton (knee) and Badgers linebacker Chris Borland (shoulder) both will miss the rest of the season with injuries. Iowa has only one healthy proven running back in Adam Robinson, and it'll be interesting to see how the offense changes, if at all, Saturday against Ball State. The Badgers shouldn't struggle too much with Austin Peay, but the game provides the opportunity to evaluate linebackers like Blake Sorensen, Kevin Claxton, Kevin Rouse, A.J. Fenton and others as they likely take on enhanced roles.

6. Wildcats aim for rare sweep: Between 1964-2007, Northwestern suffered at least one nonconference loss in every season. The Wildcats can sweep through non-league play for the second time in the last three years if they beat Central Michigan on Saturday. Despite road trips to Vanderbilt and Rice, Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald calls the Chippewas "our stiffest test of the year, no question." Northwestern has been solid in Big Ten play for the last decade, but it needs to get over it annual hiccups in non-league play.

7. Et tu, Brute?: There should be plenty of Ohio State highlights Saturday against Eastern Michigan, though it shouldn't be very competitive on the field. The real intrigue lies with Brutus Buckeye, who returns to the field after being ambushed by Ohio University's mascot last week. Eastern Michigan's mascot, Swoop the Eagle, looks friendly enough, but Brutus had better beware.

8. MAC attack: Eight Big Ten schools take on opponents from the Mid-American Conference on Saturday. Although most Big Ten fan bases aren't too worried about this, the MAC recorded four wins against its big brother league in 2008 and two in 2009. Temple, Toledo and Central Michigan all bring winning records into Big Ten stadiums Saturday. Don't be shocked if the MAC secures at least one win Saturday.

9. Show some ID, please: Several Big Ten offenses are still searching for their identities as league play beckons. Purdue is trying to overcome a rash of injuries and figure out what works best in the Robert Marve era before a bye week. Penn State boasts tremendous talent at wide receiver but has lacked consistency in the run game. Minnesota and Michigan State have been run-first teams so far this season, but both squads also boast some weapons in the passing game, as they showed last week. We should get a better idea of what these units are all about after Saturday.

10. Hoosiers on the ground: Indiana needs to improve both its rushing offense and rushing defense before Big Ten play kicks off next week against Michigan. The Hoosiers rank last in the league in both categories, making Saturday's game against winless Akron all the more critical. As good as Ben Chappell can be this season, he needs some help from Darius Willis and the running backs. And IU's defense has to lock it down better against the run before Denard Robinson comes to town.
A new Rose Bowl access rule could prevent the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup Jan. 1 in Pasadena, but at least the two leagues will get to know one another very well on Saturday. Three Big Ten-Pac-10 games are on the slate, as No. 18 USC visits Minnesota (ESPN, 3:30 p.m. ET), Arizona State visits Wisconsin (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) and No. 9 Iowa visits No. 24 Arizona (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET).

Bloggers Ted Miller (Pac-10) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down the three matchups.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireCan Arizona State's defense stand up to Wisconsin running back John Clay?
Adam Rittenberg: Ted, it's been too long, my friend. The Rose Bowl seems like decades ago, although they're still celebrating in Columbus. Given the likelihood of Boise State or TCU crashing the party in Pasadena this year, it's nice to have some Pac-10-Big Ten flavor this Saturday. Let's start off with Arizona State-Wisconsin. The name Steven Threet still makes people shudder in Madison after he led Michigan to a historic comeback against Wisconsin in 2008, triggering the beginning of the end for the Badgers that year. It also turned out to be the beginning of the end for Threet in a winged helmet. He seems to be settling in very nicely so far in Tempe. What should Wisconsin expect from Threet and the Sun Devils on Saturday?

Ted Miller: An offense with extraordinary firepower! See an average of more than 500 yards and 47.5 ppg. Oh, wait. The Sun Devils played not one but two FCS foes. Hmm. And according to this box score, they rushed for just 56 yards on 29 carries against the hearty Lumberjacks of Northern Arizona. Double-hmm. Still, the early returns are fairly positive on Threet and new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone's spread attack. The Sun Devils' offense was so bad last year that merely being mediocre would be a huge improvement. A bigger issue than Threet: the offensive line. It wasn't consistent against FCS foes, so you'd think the Badgers front-seven might pose a problem. But, to me, the more interesting matchup is a fast Sun Devils defense versus an experienced, physical Badgers offense. What's your take?

Rittenberg: Totally agree that the game likely will come down to Arizona State's dynamic defense and Wisconsin's power run game, led by John Clay. He's the Big Ten's version of Toby Gerhart, except bigger. Clay has looked great this year, but Wisconsin needs to clean up some sloppy play on offense against the Sun Devils. The Badgers already failed on three red-zone scoring chances, matching their total from all of the previous season (53-for-56), and they've committed three turnovers inside the red zone. They have little trouble moving the ball and boast what I believe to be one of the nation's most balanced offenses, but they're not good enough to survive these mistakes much longer. Arizona State will have its hands full with Clay and a mammoth offensive line, but if the Sun Devils can use their speed and force turnovers, they'll have a shot in this one.

Let's move on to the other afternoon affair, USC at Minnesota. The Trojans haven't exactly been dominant this year, but at least they haven't lost to South Dakota. At home. Giving up 41 points and 444 yards. Yeesh. Your thoughts?

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Eugene TannerMatt Barkley will try to exploit a Minnesota defense that gave up 258 yards to South Dakota
Miller: Here are two teams that are muddling along, though the Trojans surely feel better about 2-0 -- no matter the way they got there -- than the Gophers do with 1-1, including the loss to a team from the Dakotas. Adam, I have no idea about the Trojans. They still look great getting off the bus. They still have NFL prospects at every position. In Week 1 at Hawaii, the offense looked great, the defense terrible. In Week 2 at home versus Virginia, it was mostly the opposite. Is it a question of fire and focus in the face of NCAA sanctions? I think we won't really be able to answer that question until the Pac-10 schedule starts. As for this one, I think the Trojans are going to roll. But I wrote that the previous two weeks and ended up being wrong. So what do I know?

What's your take?

Rittenberg: This is an odd matchup. In some ways, USC is just asking to get beat. But how can Minnesota take down Troy if it can't keep South Dakota to fewer than 40 points? The Gophers defense obviously is a major question mark, and I fully expect Matt Barkley to attack downfield a lot on Saturday. Minnesota gets a boost as safety Kyle Theret returns from suspension, giving the defense one returning starter from 2009. The other thing here is if things go back for Minnesota at the start, any sort of home-field edge will disappear. They're not too pleased with coach Tim Brewster right now in the Twin Cities. Minnesota's only chance is to control the clock with Duane Bennett and its power run game, and keep Barkley and Dillon Baxter off the field. A huge challenge.

OK, we've saved the best for last: Iowa at Arizona. Both teams look great so far. Iowa won last year's game, but trips out West haven't been kind to the Hawkeyes lately. What happens in Tucson?

Miller: First off, it's a great offense-defense matchup, with Nick Foles and an experienced UA offense taking on one of the best defenses in the nation. The cautionary tale for Wildcats fans is that also seemed like the case heading into the Holiday Bowl versus Nebraska, which became a complete disaster. Foles has a good offensive line, but the Hawkeyes have an NFL defensive front. If the Wildcats can get any sort of running game -- and Nic Grigsby is an explosive guy who can make a big play out of a small crack -- then things will be far easier for Foles and a quick-hit passing game. Foles is extremely accurate and he has a deep receiving corps. Yet to me the game turns on the Wildcats' rebuilt front seven. The unit replaced both tackles and all three linebackers and has played better than expected, but Iowa is a different sort of beast. If the Hawkeyes can run power effectively, then the Wildcats will be in trouble. If Iowa has to throw, I like the Wildcats secondary's chances versus Ricky Stanzi, who as you well know, Adam, hasn't always been the manzi.

What do you see from this one?

[+] EnlargeAdrian Clayborn
Icon SMICan Arizona's offensive line contain Adrian Clayborn?
Rittenberg: Should be a great one in the desert. Iowa knows Arizona has come a long way since last year's meeting in Iowa City, when Foles hadn't yet emerged as the starter. The game could come down to whether Arizona can get Grigsby going and protect Foles against the Hawkeyes, who boast arguably the nation's best defensive line. Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn has been a bit quiet so far this season, but he usually plays his best in big games. Arizona typically has some outstanding defensive backs, but don't underestimate The Manzi, who has yet to throw an interception this year. So love it or leave it, pal! Iowa can stretch the field with receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, and the run game has looked good so far with Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton. The Hawkeyes won in State College, Madison and East Lansing last year, but they haven't fared well historically in these trips out West. Arizona definitely has some built-in advantages.

OK, prediction time. Who wins in the three Pac-10-Big Ten matchups?

Miller: Somehow I knew you were going to ask that.

I think USC will handle Minnesota fairly easily: Trojans 41, Gophers 20.

I think Arizona State will be competitive at Wisconsin but the Sun Devils will struggle to score -- and possess the ball -- and the defense will wear down: Wisconsin 27, Arizona State 17.

As for Arizona-Iowa: I go back and forth, but I'm going to risk the ire of the Wildcats faithful and pick Iowa 28, Arizona 24. I just don't think the Arizona defense will be able to hold up all night, and that will allow the Hawkeyes to take a lead at some point in the second half and then play keep-away with the run game.

So, for what REALLY is going to happen... Ladies and gentlemen, Adam Rittenberg.

Rittenberg: Why thank you, good sir.

The Gophers save face a bit against USC and hang around for a while before Barkley and his receivers prove too much for a young defense. Trojans win 35-23.

Wisconsin controls the clock as always and cleans up some of its mistakes in the red zone. Threet leads two first-half scoring drives before the Badgers take control and win 30-20.

Iowa-Arizona should be a great one. The elements will be tough for the Hawkeyes, and they'll fall behind early. But I've got to go with the better defense and the more battle-tested team. Iowa wins 26-21.

So we agree. We'll have to fight over the Rose Bowl pick this year. I've got Boise State!

Adam Robinson is Iowa's quiet storm

September, 15, 2010
9/15/10
1:11
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Iowa running back Adam Robinson has no trouble blending in.

"He has a very quiet demeanor, doesn't say much," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You hardly even know he's around or in the building."

In meetings, Robinson rarely talks and lets more garrulous teammates like fellow running back Jewel Hampton fill the air. During practices, Robinson puts himself in listen-only mode, absorbing feedback from the coaches on how he can improve.

But there's one place where Robinson can't hide: the playing field. When you're the nation's ninth-leading rusher, it's hard not to get noticed.

[+] EnlargeAdam Robinson
Stephen/Icon SMIAdam Robinson has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of Iowa's first two games this season.
After being thrust into a starting role prematurely last season, Robinson has already found his comfort zone this fall, racking up 265 yards and four touchdowns on only 38 carries through Iowa's first two games.

"Last year, it was kind of a shocker," Robinson said. "It was like, 'Am I really playing football for the Iowa Hawkeyes?' Now it's like, ‘I'm here, I'm settled in and I'm really happy with the way things are going.'"

So are the rest of the Hawkeyes, who visit No. 24 Arizona on Saturday night (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET) in the premier game of Week 3.

After redshirting in 2008, the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Robinson had moderate expectations for 2009: contribute on special teams and "maybe get some work in at running back," he said. Hampton was the acknowledged successor to Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene after setting a team freshman record with seven rushing touchdowns in 2008.

But knee problems in July and August ended Hampton's season before it started. By Week 2, Robinson had climbed to the top of the depth chart.

"I didn’t really expect to play early that season," he said.

Robinson started 10 games for Iowa and set a team freshman rushing record with 834 yards. Although Iowa ranked 10th in the league in rushing (114.2 ypg), Robinson got stronger as the season progressed, finishing third in the Big Ten in rushing average for conference games (74 ypg).

He hit his stride on the road against Michigan State, racking up 109 yards on 27 carries. But late in the fourth quarter, Robinson went down with an injury.

The diagnosis: high-ankle sprain.

"All my trainers said, 'This is a pretty severe injury. It’s going to take a while to heal. You'll probably miss the rest of the season, so we'll try to get you back in time for the bowl game,'" Robinson recalled.

Robinson listened to their words, like he always does. But his actions once again spoke louder.

He was running on the ankle a week later. And just three weeks after the injury, Robinson returned to the field at Ohio State as Iowa played for a Rose Bowl berth.

For those unfamiliar with high-ankle sprains and running backs, Robinson's quick return is practically unheard of.

"It really hurt a lot," said Robinson, who had 74 rushing yards on 20 carries against the Buckeyes. "I was only about 80 percent going into Ohio State, but I just tried to tough it out and do what I could on the field. Toughness is a value I have. I embrace it, and if I can go, then I'm going to go despite injuries or things like that."

Hampton is back in the mix for Iowa, and after a strong preseason, he has been pegged by many to take over the starting job. But Robinson is making it difficult right now.

"You hope from Year 1, whenever they do get to the field, to Year 2, they improve, and that’s basically been the case," Ferentz said. "[Robinson] really finishes runs. He's a guy that you have to tackle. He runs with great determination, and we're hopeful he can go on and have a great year."

Make no mistake: Iowa doesn't have a running back controversy. Robinson called it "a relief" to have Hampton available last week against Iowa State after he carried the ball 24 times in the opener (Hampton was suspended).

Robinson carried 14 times against the Cyclones for 156 yards and a touchdown, while Hampton had 20 rushes for 84 yards and a score.

"Both of us are capable of starting and both of us are capable of playing, so whoever starts, whoever comes in next, it doesn’t really matter," Robinson said. "We're both going to contribute and provide a spark for the team."

Right now, No. 32 is doing just that.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 2

September, 11, 2010
9/11/10
11:13
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It's time to recognize the best and the brightest around the Big Ten in Week 2.

I'm limited to five choices, which weren't easy given all the great performances around the league.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson: What else is left to say? Robinson has been the most dynamic player in college football through the first two weeks. After a tremendous Week 1 performance, he outdid himself at Notre Dame with 502 yards of total offense in a 28-24 win. His broke his own team record for quarterback rushing set a week ago and put up the fifth-highest rushing total (258 yards) for any Michigan player. Oh, yeah, and he scored the game-winning touchdown with 27 ticks left. I'm leaving my shoes untied. How about you?

Iowa RB Adam Robinson: Robinson might have heard the footsteps behind him as Jewel Hampton returned to the field for the first time since 2008. So how did A-Rob react? He ran away from Hampton and Iowa State defenders en route to another huge performance (career-high 156 rushing yards, 1 TD) and a 35-7 win. Hampton might eventually become Iowa's top back, but Robinson is showing no signs of relinquishing the starting spot.

Ohio State CB Chimdi Chekwa: Jacory Harris will have nightmares about Chekwa after the senior cornerback recorded two interceptions in Saturday's 36-24 victory at Ohio Stadium. Chekwa, who had only one pick all of last season, added six tackles, including one for loss.

Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: Like Adam Robinson, Baker is making an excellent case to be his team's starting running back. He followed a strong season debut with a 15-carry, 183-yard performance Saturday in a 30-17 win over Florida Atlantic that included an 80-yard touchdown scamper. Baker deserves the sticker, but he should let kicker Dan Conroy pose with it after Conroy kicked three field goals of longer than 40 yards.

Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: After committing four turnovers in his collegiate debut, Scheelhaase responded in a big way Saturday night in a 35-3 win over Southern Illinois. He was extremely efficient, completing 14 of 18 passes for 229 yards and two touchdowns. Most important, he had no interceptions. Scheelhaase shares the sticker with running back Mikel LeShoure (115 rush yards, 2 TDs) and receiver A.J. Jenkins (114 receiving yards, TD).
Forget the roller-coaster ride. Iowa is just coastin' right now.

After a series of scares in 2009, the Hawkeyes have opened the 2010 season with two impressive victories, the latest a 35-7 beat down of Iowa State. Iowa completely outclassed a supposedly improved Iowa State team today, dominating the Cyclones on both sides of the ball.

Whether or not Iowa star defensive end Adrian Clayborn meant to dis Iowa State with his "only team in the state" comment this summer, he and his fellow defenders went out there and backed it up. At least Iowa State finally ended its streak of no touchdowns against Iowa, reaching the end zone in garbage time.

Iowa will be sorry to see Cyclones quarterback Austen Arnaud graduate. Arnaud has thrown seven interceptions against Iowa in the past two years. Two of his picks today came deep inside Iowa territory.

Quarterback Ricky Stanzi had another impressive performance (11-for-18 passing, 204 yards, 2 TDs) and tight end Allen Reisner continues to be a factor in the passing game. But the real story is Adam Robinson, who refuses to relinquish the starting running back job.

Robinson piled up 156 rush yards and a touchdown on only 14 carries. Jewel Hampton also did some good things in his first game since 2008, but right now, Robinson is the man to beat.

Iowa heads into a very tough game at Arizona with a ton of confidence.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 2

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
10:21
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Ten items to track in a jam-packed Week 2 in the Big Ten.

1. Pryor vs. Harris: Two Heisman Trophy contenders will share the field in Columbus as Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor goes up against his Miami counterpart Jacory Harris. Both Pryor and Harris looked good in their debuts a week ago, but the heat will be turned up at Ohio Stadium (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET). Pryor likely will have to mix in the run more against an athletic Miami defense while still spreading the ball to multiple targets as he has in his last two games. Harris really struggled against a Big Ten defense (Wisconsin) in the Champs Sports Bowl. He'll need a much better performance against an opportunistic Buckeyes defense that recorded a pick-six last week.

2. Bolden vs. rising Tide: Rob Bolden made history last week when he became the first true freshman quarterback to start the season opener for Penn State in a century. Bolden now tries to shock the world and lead No. 18 Penn State to an upset road win against top-ranked Alabama (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). His presence adds a fresh twist (pun intended) to a matchup pairing two traditional powerhouses. The 6-4, 208-pound Bolden showed good poise and made strong decisions at Youngstown State, but he'll likely fall victim to some mistakes in Tuscaloosa. How he responds could determine Penn State's chances against the Tide.

[+] EnlargeRobert Bolden
Rob Christy/US PresswireTrue freshman Rob Bolden completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards, a touchdown and an interception in Week 1, but he'll face a much stiffer test at No. 1 Alabama.
3. Shoelace fits in South Bend: Denard Robinson delivered in a big way in his first career start, rushing for 197 yards and adding 186 pass yards against Connecticut. The Michigan sophomore quarterback aims for an encore Saturday against a Notre Dame defense that did a nice job holding Purdue in check. Robinson's speed will test Manti Te'o and the Irish linebackers, but his ability to make accurate throws and good decisions in the passing game could be the difference. The two teams combined for 72 points last year, and Tate Forcier ended up as the hero for Michigan. If the man nicknamed "Shoelace" unties the Irish defense, Michigan will be 2-0 and likely ranked in next week's polls.

4. Cyclone warning: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn didn't mean to dis Iowa State with his "only team in the state" comment this summer, but the Cyclones certainly are using his words as motivation as they head to Kinnick Stadium on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Clayborn has his own motivation after Iowa's D-line looked "like a bunch of tired dogs" last year against the Cyclones. Iowa State has made strides since the 2009 meeting, and Alexander Robinson is the first of several outstanding running backs the Hawkeyes will face this fall. Iowa should prevail Saturday, but this series hasn't been easy for Kirk Ferentz's crew. Should be interesting to watch.

5. Backs in action: Michigan State and Iowa had no trouble running the ball in Week 1, and both teams get a boost Saturday. Jewel Hampton returns to the Hawkeyes backfield for the first time since 2008 after missing all of last season with a knee injury and then serving a suspension last week. Adam Robinson made a good case to be the starter in the opener (109 rush yards, 3 TDs), but Hampton will push him for carries after an excellent preseason. Projected starter Larry Caper is back for the Spartans after missing the opener with a hand injury. He'll share time with sophomore Edwin Baker and freshman Le'Veon Bell, who combined for 258 rush yards and four touchdowns last week.

6. Must-win for Illini: Sure, it's only Week 2, but Illinois can't afford an 0-2 start with upcoming games against Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State, not to mention a Sept. 18 date with a Northern Illinois team picked to win the MAC West. Vic Koenning's defense is down another starter -- suspended end/linebacker Michael Buchanan -- and faces a Southern Illinois team that put up 70 points last week. The bigger story is on offense, where quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tries to rebound from a four-turnover performance in his collegiate debut. Illinois is 11-0 all-time against other public schools in the state, although SIU typically is one of the stronger FCS programs.

7. Cleaning up at Camp Randall: Wisconsin had a pretty convincing win in its opener against UNLV, but the Badgers are looking for a much cleaner performance Saturday against San Jose State at Camp Randall Stadium (ESPN, noon ET). Two Wisconsin turnovers last week led two UNLV touchdowns, and both miscues came from veteran players (quarterback Scott Tolzien and receiver Nick Toon). Wisconsin should win this game easily, but it faces a pretty stout defense next week in Arizona State and needs to work out the kinks on offense.

8. Big Ten feel in Evanston: Northwestern will see quite a few familiar faces Saturday against Illinois State. The Redbirds are coached by former longtime Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack, and their roster features eight former Big Ten players, including former Michigan State running back Ashton Leggett. Spack knows how to defend Northwestern's offense, which had its ups and downs in the opener. Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald says the run game isn't far away from catching fire, but he might be tempted to air it out with quarterback Dan Persa, who completed 19 of 21 attempts for 222 yards and three touchdowns last week.

9. Marve, Weber take aim: Quarterbacks Robert Marve (Purdue) and Adam Weber (Minnesota) both did some good things in Week 1, but they're looking for more on Saturday. Marve completed 31 of 42 passes against Notre Dame but struggled to stretch the field. Expect him to take some shots against Western Illinois. Weber came up big in the fourth quarter at Middle Tennessee, but he's still looking for a go-to receiver. He takes on a South Dakota team that allowed 241 pass yards and two touchdowns last week against Central Florida.

10. JoePa and The Bear: If you love college football history, tune into the Penn State-Alabama game. Joe Paterno heads to Tuscaloosa for the first time since setting the all-time coaching wins record previously held by former Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. Paterno declined to discuss his relationship with Bryant this week, preferring to focus on the game, but their past is well documented. Alabama and Penn State have had several unforgettable games, like the 1979 Sugar Bowl, which decided the national title. Alabama won the game following a goal-line stand and a touchdown-saving tackle by All-America cornerback Don McNeal on Penn State's Scott Fitzkee. Turns out, McNeal is the great uncle to Rob Bolden. Small world.

Big Ten predictions: Week 2

September, 9, 2010
9/09/10
9:09
AM ET
Nobody beats Mr. Perfect ... Nobody!

I achieved perfection in Week 1, which can mean only one thing: a rough week ahead. The competition gets tougher around the Big Ten on Saturday, which makes the games tougher to predict.

Let's see if I can keep the streak alive.

Wisconsin 45, San Jose State 10: The Badgers put forth a much cleaner performance in their home opener, as quarterback Scott Tolzien completes 75 percent of his passes and fires touchdowns to Lance Kendricks and Isaac Anderson. Running back John Clay once again eclipses 100 rushing yards as Wisconsin rolls to 2-0.

Michigan State 31, Florida Atlantic 20: Don't be fooled by those white jerseys, as Michigan State will feel right at home in Ford Field despite technically being the road team Saturday (ESPNU, noon ET). I don't see a rout as Florida Atlantic is a decent team that won at UAB last week. The Owls make some noise early before Spartans backs Edwin Baker, Larry Caper and Le'Veon Bell take over in the second half.

Northwestern 35, Illinois State 17: Former Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack has his team prepared, and the Redbirds hang around for a half before Northwestern's offense gets going. Quarterback Dan Persa finds Sidney Stewart for two touchdowns and the Wildcats finally have a breakaway run from scrimmage (not sure who carries the ball).

Minnesota 31, South Dakota 13: The Gophers employ a similar plan to Week 1 and control the line of scrimmage and possession time with their offensive line and running back Duane Bennett. A young defense stays off the field and Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber establishes a good rhythm with receiver Da'Jon McKnight.

Purdue 44, Western Illinois 10: Expect a big game from Robert Marve and the Purdue offense, which stretches the field early and often against Western Illinois. Marve tosses three touchdown passes and no interceptions and the Boilers get a boost from Al-Terek McBurse in the run game.

Iowa 24, Iowa State 13: Last year's final score (35-3) was a bit misleading because Iowa State threw five interceptions and Iowa cruised despite admittedly not playing well up front on defense. Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn answers the bell Saturday with 2.5 sacks, and Iowa pulls away a bit in the third quarter behind running backs Jewel Hampton and Adam Robinson. Both teams play conservatively on offense and keep the score down.

Michigan 31, Notre Dame 30: For the second consecutive year, these two teams provide the most exciting game on the Week 2 slate. Notre Dame attacks Michigan's young secondary early and has success with Michael Floyd, but the Wolverines rally in the second half. The Irish have no answer for Denard Robinson's speed, and Vincent Smith breaks away for a long fourth-quarter touchdown run to put Michigan in front.

Ohio State 27, Miami 20: I expect a better Jacory Harris and a better Miami team than the one Wisconsin totally outclassed in the Champs Sports Bowl. But there are too many reasons to like Ohio State in this one. Terrelle Pryor and Brandon Saine combine for three rushing touchdowns as Ohio State wins the game at the line of scrimmage. Jermale Hines comes up with a fourth-quarter interception to seal it for the Scarlet and Gray.

Alabama 26, Penn State 16: This is my Game of the Week. I'll explain my selection in a video post later today.

Illinois 24, Southern Illinois 20: The Illini are on upset alert against one of the nation's better FCS programs. Expect another slow start from the offense, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and running back Mikel LeShoure get it together in the second half. The defense holds off the Salukis long enough, and both Scheelhaase and LeShoure reach the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Bye: Indiana

Last week: 11-0

Season record: 11-0 (1.000)
Let's put a bow on Week 1 before looking ahead to a more challenging slate of games in Week 2.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Scott Boehm/Getty ImagesQuarterback Denard Robinson had a record-breaking day in Michigan's opening win.
Team of the Week: Michigan. Many picked the Wolverines to lose its opener against UConn, and almost no one thought the Wolverines would win convincingly. Behind do-it-all quarterback Denard Robinson, a powerful offensive line and an opportunistic defense, Michigan stormed out of the gate and never looked back, beating Connecticut 30-10. The Wolverines still have some issues on defense, but if Robinson stays healthy and keeps this up, the Maize and Blue will be tough to beat.

Best game: Minnesota-Middle Tennessee. Considering nine of the 11 games were decided by more than one score, there were not many choices here. At least the Gophers brought some drama in Murfreesboro, rallying from a 17-14 second-half deficit to win 24-17. Minnesota also provided the most touching story of the weekend, as fullback Jon Hoese rushed for three touchdowns and recovered a fumble just days after his father suffered a severe stroke. Hoese nearly didn't make the trip.

Biggest play: After a somewhat sloppy first 30 minutes by Penn State, Chaz Powell created some distance on the scoreboard with a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the third quarter. Powell, back at wide receiver after being moved to cornerback this spring, had Penn State's longest kick return since Rich Mauti's 100-yard runback in 1975. Honorable mention goes to Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt, whose forced fumble led to a touchdown early in the third quarter against UNLV after the Badgers led by only three points at halftime.

Best call: Joe Paterno and his staff made a historic call by starting true freshman quarterback Rob Bolden in the opener, and it paid off. Bolden showed impressive skills and poise, completing 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Rich Rodriguez's decision to go with Robinson at quarterback for Michigan also looked good.

Game balls (given to players not selected for helmet stickers)

  • Ohio State S/LB Tyler Moeller: Moeller's return to the field following a year away was memorable enough, but he also played an outstanding game for the Buckeyes' defense. The senior recorded a team-high six tackles, including two for loss with a sack and a forced fumble against Marshall.
  • Iowa RB Adam Robinson: A-Rob made a good case to be Iowa's starting running back, rushing for 109 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. He'll need to hold off Jewel Hampton, who plays his first game since 2008 on Saturday against Iowa State.
  • Penn State WR Brett Brackett: People seemed to forget about Brackett during the preseason, but he clearly formed a bond with his new starting quarterback. Bolden and Brackett connected eight times for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Indiana RB Darius Willis: Willis made the most of his limited action against Towson, rushing 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. If he stays healthy, Indiana should finally have a consistent run game.
  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan and Illinois DT Corey Liuget: Their teams both lost Saturday, but Kerrigan and Liuget did all they could to prevent it. Kerrigan recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, assisting on a safety, and had a sack and a forced fumble. Liuget recorded 2.5 tackles for loss, assisted on a sack, broke up a pass and recorded a quarterback hurry.
  • Minnesota RB Duane Bennett: The Gophers dominated possession time against Middle Tennessee, and Bennett was the reason why. He did everything but score touchdowns, racking up 187 rush yards on 30 carries.
How bizarre: Northwestern's victory at Vanderbilt was sealed on a very questionable penalty call by Big Ten officials. Quarterback Dan Persa appeared to be stopped just short of a first down with less than two minutes left, bringing up fourth-and-1 and a likely punt. But officials called Vandy's Jay Fullam for a helmet-to-helmet hit -- replays showed he led with his shoulder -- and the penalty allowed Northwestern to run out the clock and escape with a 23-21 victory.

Now, let's take a quick look at the Week 2 slate ...

[+] EnlargeJim Tressel
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCoach Jim Tressel and Ohio State face a tough early test against the Hurricanes.
Miami (1-0) at Ohio State (1-0): The nation's top matchup pits Jacory Harris and the Canes against Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET). Miami and Ohio State meet for the first time since the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, which gave the Scarlet and Gray their last national title. Buckle up.

Penn State (1-0) at Alabama (1-0): Joe Paterno heads to the home of the Bear, although this time he'll face Nick Saban and the defending national champs (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Bolden surprised a lot of folks with his play in the opener. Now he'll try to shock the world against the Tide.

Michigan (1-0) at Notre Dame (1-0): Who ever thought this matchup of tradition-rich powerhouses would feature two spread offenses? If Michigan's Robinson pulls off a repeat performance against Manti Te'o and the Irish defense, the Wolverines should be 2-0.

Iowa State (1-0) at Iowa (1-0): Adrian Clayborn didn't mean to tick off Iowa State with his "only team in the state" comment, but you can bet the Cyclones will use it as motivation Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Iowa's Hampton plays his first game since 2008.

Michigan State (1-0) vs. Florida Atlantic (1-0) at Detroit: How weird will it be to see the Spartans wearing their road unis for a game in nearby Detroit? Florida Atlantic is the home team Saturday (ESPNU, noon ET).

San Jose State (0-1) at Wisconsin (1-0): After a few hiccups in the opener, Wisconsin aims for a cleaner performance at home (ESPN, noon ET) against a San Jose State team that lost by 45 to Alabama in Week 1.

Illinois State (1-0) at Northwestern (1-0): The Wildcats try to revive their anemic run game against an Illinois State team filled with Big Ten connections, from head coach Brock Spack, the former Purdue defensive coordinator, to former Michigan State running back Ashton Leggett.

Southern Illinois (1-0) at Illinois (0-1): Can you say must-win? SIU is typically one of the nation's top FCS programs, and the Salukis would love to score an upset against the state's top public school. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tries to bounce back from a rough opener in front of the home crowd.

Western Illinois (1-0) at Purdue (0-1): Something tells me Robert Marve and the Boilers offense figure things out in a big way this week, although Western Illinois blanked Valpo 45-0 in its opener.

South Dakota (0-1) at Minnesota (1-0): The Gophers barely escaped last year against South Dakota State, winning 16-13. They'll shoot for a more convincing win against South Dakota, which got pummeled by Central Florida in its opener.

Bye: Indiana
Quite a few hearts stopped in the state of Iowa when starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi hobbled off the field in the first half of today's opener.

Fortunately for Hawkeye Nation, Stanzi is OK and performing very well, as Iowa leads Eastern Illinois 28-7 at halftime. Stanzi has completed 11 of 13 passes for 134 yards and, most importantly, no interceptions. He missed only a few plays with the injury.

As Jewel Hampton sits out the opener because of a suspension, Adam Robinson is trying to stake his claim to the starting running back job. A-Rob has looked great so far, rushing for 79 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries. Iowa also seems to be handling the loss of standout tight end Tony Moeaki well so far, as Brad Herman and Allen Reisner have already combined for five receptions.

Iowa's defense has been solid aside from one EIU drive.

Looks like we won't see another Week 1 scare for the Hawkeyes.

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