NCF Nation: Josh Gaines

In the past, offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski never had to bring a compass to Penn State practice.

Veteran leaders like Daryll Clark, Sean Lee, A.Q. Shipley and Josh Gaines drove the bus, and everyone knew the direction in which the Nittany Lions were headed. Wisniewski merely had to hop on board.

It's not that simple in Happy Valley this season.

Penn State knows where it wants to go and what it wants to be, but there are fewer certainties. Starting quarterback Rob Bolden has been a college player for less than two months. The offensive line is still settling in after an offseason shuffle. Several of the key contributors on defense are new.

[+] EnlargeRoyster
Rob Christy/US PresswireEvan Royster has struggled to get on track in the early part of the season.
Where is Penn State headed this fall? It's still to be determined.

"It's a little different," Wisniewski said. "It takes a little bit a longer to see what you got when you have some younger guys. We know they're very talented, but it takes getting into a season to see how well they're going to develop."

A Week 2 trip to No. 1 Alabama showed Penn State how far it needs to go. The Lions responded last week against Kent State, blanking the Golden Flashes 24-0, though the win left some lingering doubts about the offense.

Penn State faces another huge test Oct. 2 at No. 18 Iowa in the Big Ten opener, but first it takes on an undefeated Temple team brimming with confidence and seeking a historic upset Saturday at Beaver Stadium (Big Ten Network, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Despite a mid-game offensive lull against Kent State, Wisniewski and his linemates gained confidence from the way they started and finished. The offensive line had been a question mark entering the season, but Penn State is the only FBS team yet to allow a quarterback sack through the first three games.

The Lions also received a second-half boost from backup running back Stephfon Green, who rushed for 59 yards on only 11 carries.

"Offensively, we saw signs that we can have a very balanced attack, and that can create problems for people," Wisniewski said. "We’re starting to do well picking up some of the more complex blitzes and things defenses are throwing at us. You can see it in that we haven't given up a sack here in three games, which is excellent, given how many different [position] changes we had."

Penn State's biggest question mark on offense remains one of the unit's few guarantees entering the season -- senior running back Evan Royster. The first-team All-Big Ten selection from 2009 has yet to eclipse 40 rushing yards in the first three games.

Royster reached the end zone for the first time against Kent State but also fumbled in the third quarter and saw his duties limited. The senior returned to Penn State in part to be a featured back this fall, but he has had to share carries with Green, a veteran reserve, and emerging freshman Silas Redd. Left tackle Quinn Barham told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that "we're worried" about Royster's struggles.

"I’m sure he'd like to get the ball a little bit more, but he’s handling it well," Wisniewski said. "He knows that the heart of our season is still to come."

Wisniewski shot down the notion that Royster might be pushed for his starting spot.

"He doesn't need to earn the job," Wisniewski said. "It’s his job. He's got 3,000 yards rushing. That's not something he needs to worry about."

Coach Joe Paterno doesn't sound as concerned as he did leading up to the season. There are the typical JoePa lines -- "I couldn't tell you there's one area where I'm completely satisfied," he said Tuesday -- but aside from being more competitive at Alabama, the team has developed on schedule.

Paterno identified consistency in the run game and forcing more turnovers as two things Penn State must achieve in the coming weeks.

"I've been optimistic that one of these days, we're going to be a pretty good football team," Paterno said. "We’re not there yet. We're a little better now than we were to start with. ... Hopefully, we'll have a good week and play a little better against Temple than we've played so far this year, and I think we'll have to, to win it.

"We've done about as well as I could expect."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Jared Odrick had kept his cool through the first few weeks of spring ball, but during team drills last Monday, he lost it.

Penn State's offensive line was practicing a protection scheme where the center immediately moved over to help a guard double team a defensive tackle, in this case, Odrick. The center normally makes a check at the line before helping the guard, but not this time.

Odrick didn't see the double team coming, and subsequently paid the price on several plays.

He then turned into Mt. Odrick, a 6-foot-5, 306-pound volcano. 

  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  Jared Odrick is back to anchor the Penn State defensive line in 2009.

"I'm pointing the finger down at the ground and I'm yelling because I feel I could have done something more," Odrick said. "You could say on the field, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I'm very vocal about my play and whether I'm doing good or not.

"That's one thing I'm adamant about, being able to contribute all the time."

Odrick knows he has to limit such outbursts. He's a senior now, a national award candidate, the leader of Penn State's always-reloading defensive line.

He's no longer the fragile freshman who he says was "messing up left and right," but a veteran who knows what to do, and who usually does it extremely well.

Then again, Odrick wouldn't be the player he was without the fire inside. 

"Tough guy," Penn State safety Drew Astorino said. "He wants it a lot more than most people do."

Odrick's drive helped him earn first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches last fall, as Penn State won a share of the league title and reached the Rose Bowl. He recorded 41 tackles, 9.5 for loss and 4.5 sacks, including a safety against Michigan that gave Penn State the lead for good and earned Odrick the Pontiac Game Changing Performance for the week. 

While linemates Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft, Odrick chose to return for his senior season. He'll enter the fall as a candidate for the Lombardi Award and possibly the Outland Trophy.

"Odrick's a top-notch football player," Lions head coach Joe Paterno said. "He's one of the top players at that position, I don't know about the country, but in the league."  

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

As players filter in and out of football programs, certain position groups become grizzled or green. As the St. Patrick's Day series marches on, it's time to look at the greenest, or least experienced, units on every Big Ten squad heading into 2009.

Illinois' defensive line -- Mainstays Will Davis, Derek Walker and David Lindquist depart, and with Josh Brent's status up in the air, Illinois looks unproven up front.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Leading receiver Ray Fisher switched to cornerback and Andrew Means bolted early for the NFL draft, leaving sophomores and juniors to handle the pass-catching duties this fall.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- Mitch King and Matt Kroul locked down the starting interior line spots for the last four years, and their backups didn't have many opportunities to develop in games.

Michigan's quarterbacks -- Nick Sheridan started four games last fall, but once again the most important position on the field will be one of the greenest for Michigan, as two true freshmen (Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson) vie for the starting job.

Michigan State's running backs -- National carries leader Javon Ringer is gone, and it's likely that a redshirt sophomore (Andre Anderson, Ashton Leggett) or a true freshman (Edwin Baker, Larry Caper) will take his place in the backfield.

Minnesota's running backs -- The Gophers return practically everyone but remain young and unproven after finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing offense (103.8 ypg) last fall.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters graduate and junior Andrew Brewer hasn't quite settled in at wideout after switching from quarterback, so there are some legit questions here.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Don't be shocked if Ohio State enters 2009 with three sophomores (Mike Brewster, Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts) and a transfer (Justin Boren) on its starting line.

Penn State's defensive ends -- Jerome Hayes should be back from another knee injury, but Penn State will be on the lookout for a proven pass rusher after losing Aaron Maybin, Maurice Evans and Josh Gaines.

Purdue's wide receivers -- New coach Danny Hope made wide receiver a peak priority in his first recruiting class after losing Greg Orton and Desmond Tardy, who combined for 136 receptions and 1,596 yards last year.

Wisconsin's defensive line -- The Badgers lose three multiyear starters (Matt Shaughnessy, Mike Newkirk and Jason Chapman) and don't return many proven players aside from ends O'Brien Schofield and Dan Moore.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin needs a quarterback. So do Michigan and Michigan State. Ohio State is looking to replace star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells. The Spartans? They need a back, too, after the graduation of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer.

Every Big Ten team has some holes to fill, and the process begins in spring ball as position competitions kick off throughout the league. Here are five key spots to watch when practices get under way.

Team: Michigan

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Steven Threet (eight games), Nick Sheridan (four games)

Candidates: Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, David Cone

The skinny: Threet's recent decision to transfer from Michigan shook up the competition before spring practice. Sheridan has the edge in college game experience, starting the final three games last fall, but Forcier enters practice as the front-runner. The true freshman, who enrolled in January, has the skill set that suits Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Robinson also will be a factor when he arrives this summer, but Forcier has an opportunity to gain a head start this spring.

Team: Ohio State

Position: Running back

2008 starter: Chris "Beanie" Wells

Candidates: Dan Herron, Brandon Saine, Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde

The skinny: Wells' foot injury last fall gave Ohio State an idea of what life will be like without the 237-pound power back. Herron, who served as Wells' primary backup in 2008, has the inside track to claim the job but needs a good spring performance. He's deceptively strong despite a smallish frame (5-foot-10, 193), but Ohio State might go with more of a committee system this fall. Saine could be a factor if he stays healthy, and heralded recruits Berry and Hyde will compete when they arrive this summer.

Team: Wisconsin

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Allan Evridge (six games) and Dustin Sherer (seven games)

Candidates: Sherer, Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips, Jon Budmayr, James Stallons

The skinny: The quarterback position really hurt Wisconsin last year, and the Badgers once again enter the spring with major questions under center. The competition last spring didn't provide much clarity, so offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be looking for any type of separation this time around. Sherer had mixed results last year, helping Wisconsin to four wins but struggling in the bowl game. Tolzien is a heady player who could be a factor this spring, but the spotlight will really be on the two young quarterbacks, Phillips and Budmayr. Both were heralded recruits, particularly Phillips, and Wisconsin might be looking for a multiyear starter to emerge after the last few years.

Team: Michigan State

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Brian Hoyer

Candidates: Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol

The skinny: This will be a fascinating story to watch, as the promising Cousins goes up against Nichol, a transfer from Oklahoma who grew up an hour from the Michigan State campus. Cousins is the favorite after a solid performance as Hoyer's backup last year, completing 32 of 43 passes (74.4 percent) for 310 yards. But Nichol didn't come to Michigan State to ride the bench and has a year in the system after running the scout team last fall. Without Ringer, Michigan State will look to upgrade its passing attack, so the quarterbacks will take center stage this spring.

Team: Penn State

Position: Defensive end

2008 starters: Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines

Candidates: Jerome Hayes, Jack Crawford, Kevion Latham, Eric Latimore

The skinny: The Lions also have holes at wide receiver and along the offensive line, but defensive end became a surprise area of need after Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft as underclassmen. Hayes has torn the ACLs in both knees the last two seasons, so he's far from a reliable bet to step in as a starter. Crawford, who grew up mostly in England, is still fairly new to football but has good ability and could emerge this spring. Latimore had a sack in nine games last year, and Latham recorded three tackles in eight contests. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson seemingly produces star pass-rushers every year, but this could be his toughest challenge yet.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

A year ago, Penn State's defensive line meeting room was packed with players, and Aaron Maybin could hang out in the back. 

 Randy Litzinger/Icon SMI
 Aaron Maybin produced 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss this season.

Maybin had a role, but not a key one. He contributed four sacks as a redshirt freshman and had carved a niche as a rush end who could provide a boost every now and then.

Maybin's role figured to remain more or less the same for the 2008 season. Anything he gave Penn State would be gravy, but the defensive line would be solid without him. 

Then Chris Baker and Phil Taylor were dismissed from the team, Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma were suspended and Devon Still and Jerome Hayes sustained major injuries. 

A few games into the season, the meeting room had nearly cleared out, and Maybin sat down with line coach Larry Johnson. 

"He really let me know it was time to turn up the heat," Maybin said. "Because there was nobody else."

Maybin followed orders, and the temperature rose in opponents' backfields. The redshirt sophomore made his first career start in Week 3 at Syracuse and started nine of the final 10 games for the Lions. 

He emerged as the Big Ten's top pass rusher, racking up 12 sacks and 19 tackles for loss to go along with three forced fumbles. A first-team AP All-American, Maybin anchored a Penn State defensive line that survived all the personnel losses and ranked ninth nationally against the run (95.9 ypg). 

"Obviously, it was a tough situation to deal with," Maybin said. "Being as close as I am with my whole D-line, it was tough to see some guys go down and some guys be removed from the equation because of situations that are out of my control.

"But obviously, I had to step up and contribute a lot of things to this defense. Throughout the course of the season, I've been able to do that."

(Read full post)

Big Ten internal affairs: Week 13

November, 19, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Iowa -- Kicker continues to be a question mark for the Hawkeyes with the re-emergence of junior Daniel Murray in recent weeks. Murray, who made the game-winning field goal against Penn State, connected on a 45-yard attempt last week against Purdue. Starter Trent Mossbrucker missed two extra-point attempts against the Boilers, and head coach Kirk Ferentz said the freshman needs a strong week of practice to reclaim a spot on the field Saturday at Minnesota. Mossbrucker had performed well entering the Penn State game, but Ferentz went with the more experienced Murray in the clutch. "He's been kicking a long time," Ferentz said of Mossbrucker. "He knows a lot more about it than I do or anybody here does. Yeah, just get back to what's made you a successful player. He'll be fine."

Michigan -- It will be interesting to see how head coach Rich Rodriguez uses his running backs Saturday at No. 10 Ohio State (ABC, noon ET). Junior Brandon Minor, the Wolverines' most productive back during the second half of the season, expects to return from a multitude of injuries against the Buckeyes. But junior Carlos Brown comes off his best performance, a 115-yard effort against Northwestern, and freshman Michael Shaw also is in the mix. Brown and Shaw likely will get the first opportunities against the Buckeyes, but Minor will be a factor. Michigan has racked up 170 rushing yards or more in five of its last six games.

Penn State -- Derrick Williams is playing his best football at the end of his career, and the Nittany Lions are doing all they can to get the ball to the talented senior. Two weeks ago, Williams took snaps at quarterback as Penn State used a Wildcat-like formation at Iowa. Last week against Indiana, he racked up 164 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, getting eight touches on offense to go with three returns. If quarterback Daryll Clark continues to struggle early against Michigan State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET), don't be surprised to see Williams with the ball in his hands. Also, defensive end Josh Gaines (ankle) practiced Monday and is expected to play against the Spartans.

Illinois -- The days of removing Juice Williams from games to let him regroup appeared over after the Illini junior quarterback had a scorching start to the 2008 season. But after committing two turnovers last Saturday against Ohio State, the coaches replaced Williams with backup Eddie McGee. Williams has committed nine turnovers (8 interceptions, 1 fumble) in Illinois' last four games. He leads the Big Ten in both touchdown passes (22) and interceptions (15) this season. Still, head coach Ron Zook maintains confidence in Williams heading into the regular-season finale at Northwestern. "A lot of times he gets a lot of the blame that isn't necessarily his fault," Zook said. "That's part of it as well and it gets exaggerated when things aren't going right, particularly with a football team that was expected to play a little bit better and be a little bit more productive than we have been."

Indiana -- After dealing with a multitude of injuries all season, the Hoosiers appear to be getting healthy right at the end. Tackle Rodger Saffold returned to action against Penn State, and the other starting offensive linemen are all fine for Saturday's season finale at Purdue (ESPN2, noon ET). Head coach Bill Lynch isn't sure if backup running back Bryan Payton (ankle) will play, though Payton did more in practice Monday than he has in previous weeks. Running back Marcus Thigpen and wideout Mitchell Evans should be fine, and Indiana actually will have the option of playing either Kellen Lewis or Ben Chappell at quarterback. The Hoosiers previously had been forced to rotate the two because both have been banged up.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Despite the dominant victories, the emerging stars and the climb up the national rankings, No. 3 Penn State continued to generate a mixture of doubt and curiosity.

 Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
 Penn State improved to 9-0 by knocking off the Buckeyes Saturday night.

How would the Nittany Lions respond to adversity? Not first-half adversity against a significantly inferior Michigan team. Real adversity. The kind that comes on the road against a quality opponent with the clock winding down.

Head coach Joe Paterno was the most curious. He liked his team and its potential. But he couldn't get a true gauge on how good the squad could be until it was placed under extreme pressure.

A fourth-quarter deficit at Ohio Stadium certainly qualified, not to mention having starting quarterback Daryll Clark standing on the sidelines with a head injury.

"We've got a good football team," Paterno said definitively after Saturday night's 13-6 win against No. 9 Ohio State.

Defensive end Josh Gaines knew the truth about Penn State before the season began. And though the Lions didn't face adversity on the field until Saturday night, they had faced plenty off of it.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 David Stluka/Getty Images
 Wisconsin quarterback Allan Evridge spent much of Saturday's game being chased by Penn State's linemen.

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin's offensive line is an imposing group of super-sized men -- average weight: 322 pounds -- but the Badgers' behemoths didn't intimidate Penn State's Aaron Maybin on Saturday night.

Maybin might not have seen a bigger group this season, but the defensive end certainly sees a meaner one every week in practice.

"We have the meanest offensive line that I've gone against," Maybin said. "I haven't really played against an offensive line that I feel is better than ours."

"You can't really teach being mean. That's just something that everybody on our offensive line has in 'em."

Maybin and the rest of the Lions defensive linemen aren't exactly nice guys. Just ask the Wisconsin ball-carriers who paid the price throughout Saturday night's game at Camp Randall Stadium. Penn State's ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball resulted in total domination, a 48-7 win that put the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions in the national championship discussion.

Maybin, who had 3.5 tackles for loss, led a defense that shut out Wisconsin in the second half, forced a quarterback change and held bruising backs P.J. Hill and John Clay in check. A veteran-laden Lions offensive line kept Daryll Clark clean -- no sacks allowed for the third time this season -- and provided the quarterback plenty of time to find his open receivers.

Wisconsin's experienced defensive front was a non-factor. Left tackle Gerald Cadogan and his teammates had faced a bigger test earlier in the week.

"I'm well prepared for anybody else," Cadogan said. "I don't think there's anybody that can match Maybin's speed here in the Big Ten. Going against that, whether it's Josh Gaines or Maurice Evans, they're great defensive ends."

"It's a constant battle in practice, doing 1-on-1's and 9-on-7's and different drills that we [do] throughout the week."

Maybin has been one of the defense's bigger surprises. He entered Saturday night's game leading the Big Ten in sacks (7) and ranking third in tackles for loss (9). The sophomore turned in another ferocious performance that included two forced fumbles, a sack, a quarterback hurry and a pass breakup. His only problem might be his size (6-4, 245 pounds).

"He's doing really well," head coach Joe Paterno said. "I just wish I could put a little weight on him. The guy doesn't eat. He's so quick and he's an aggressive player. You can see that."

Maybin and the rest of the Lions' linemen remain hungry for a Big Ten title -- and a shot at the national title.

"We don't practice for nothing and go through the motions," Cadogan said. "We're definitely out there to establish Penn State."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Ned Dishman/Getty Images
 Josh Gaines and the Penn State defense have overcome injuries to start the season 6-0.

Josh Gaines feels like a survivor.

Back in the spring, Penn State's defensive line meeting room included 17 men, the majority of whom had starting experience or played significant minutes in 2007. Gaines, a senior defensive end, anchored a Nittany Lions defense led by Sean Lee, the next great linebacker at Linebacker U.

Then one by one, Penn State's depth began to diminish.

  • Lee tore his ACL in spring drills.
  • Defensive tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor, who combined for 11 starts last season, were dismissed from the team in the summer.
  • Promising defensive tackle Devon Still broke his leg in a preseason scrimmage.
  • Prior to a Week 2 matchup with Oregon State, first-team All-Big Ten defensive end Maurice Evans and starting defensive tackle Abe Koroma were suspended after police found marijuana in their apartment. They missed three games.
  • Reserve end Jerome Hayes tore his ACL in the Oregon State game.

The personnel purge would be enough to deplete most defenses, but not Penn State's. All the Nittany Lions have done is lead the Big Ten in both rushing defense (80.2 ypg) and total defense (250.3 ypg).

A dynamic new offense stocked with rushing threats gets most of the credit for Penn State's 6-0 start, but Gaines and his group shouldn't be overlooked. The line has held its ground, and despite some lingering questions at linebacker, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull have elevated their play in recent weeks.

"Coming in, we were [picked] third or fourth in the Big Ten, and now we're in the top 10," Gaines said. "That's great and all, but it still feels like we're surviving. We've still got a long road ahead of us."

(Read full post)

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 10, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Injuries are cropping up around the league, and coaches are shuffling pieces to try to find the right fit. Here's a look at five key issues in the Big Ten.

Minnesota -- Just when the Golden Gophers found a viable running threat, they received news that Duane Bennett tore his ACL against Bowling Green and will miss the rest of the season. Coach Tim Brewster will audition three players -- junior Jay Thomas and freshmen Shady Salamon and DeLeon Eskridge -- at the running back spot in hopes of identifying a featured back. The Gophers need more than one capable runner, but Brewster doesn't want a rotation there. Though Thomas has by far the most experience, Eskridge and Salamon are listed behind Bennett on this week's depth chart.

Michigan State -- The Spartans apparently no longer have cornerbacks or safeties, just general defensive backs. Before the season, coach Mark Dantonio moved starting corner Kendell Davis-Clark to safety after projected starter Roderick Jenrette took a leave of absence. Dantonio now is considering switching another starting cornerback, Ross Weaver, to safety after Davis-Clark sustained a shoulder injury against Cal and missed last week's matchup against Eastern Michigan. Davis-Clark is listed as day-to-day but didn't appear on this week's depth chart for Florida Atlantic.

Ohio State -- Cornerback Donald Washington returns from a two-game suspension Saturday against USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET), but the two-year starter might not retain his job. Ohio State likely will platoon Washington and sophomore Chimdi Chekwa, who has started the first two games. Coach Jim Tressel also seems intent on keeping Jermale Hines in the mix, possibly at nickel back. Hines should get decent playing time Saturday because the Buckeyes don't know whether linebacker/safety Tyler Moeller will be able to play after suffering an injury.

Michigan -- Redshirt sophomore Perry Dorrestein likely will make his season debut as the Wolverines' starting left tackle Saturday at Notre Dame after Mark Ortmann dislocated his elbow last week. Dorrestein previously had backed up Stephen Schilling at left tackle. Michigan already is without two guards who went down with injuries before the season. Coach Rich Rodriguez expects Bryant Nowicki and true freshman Patrick Omameh to fill in behind Dorrestein on the left flank.

Penn State -- The still-unresolved suspensions of starting defensive linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma and the season-ending injury to Jerome Hayes leave the Nittany Lions in a bit of a bind. Both the end and tackle positions have depth issues, and end might be a greater concern as Penn State doesn't have much behind Josh Gaines and Aaron Maybin. One possibility would be moving true freshman Jack Crawford from tackle to end, though Paterno is leery about Crawford's inexperience. If Crawford switches, it puts more pressure on keeping Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu and Tom McEowen healthy.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State and Ohio State will be without All-Big Ten players Saturday, but for very different reasons. And while Beanie Wells' health beyond this week is a concern, the bigger problems are in Happy Valley.

Week 2 is just around the corner, and here's what's happening around the league.

Big Ten internal affairs

September, 3, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

A few Big Ten items before the drive home: 

  • If you can't tell already, I'm a big fan of Doug Lesmerises' Ohio State blog on The Cleveland Plain Dealer site. Some more good stuff today, including the endless debate about Terrelle Pryor's playing time, the comedy of left tackle Alex Boone (the next Kirk Barton) and some pictures of tough guys looking tough.
  • A little bit of a surprise here as Ohio State running back Beanie Wells tops's preseason Heisman watch. Wells sounds off on his injuries, his speech before the Michigan game and his iPod selection in a Q&A with Gene Menez. 
  • The two-quarterback system hasn't worked before at Michigan, the Detroit Free Press' Jamie Samuelsen writes in his blog.
  • Running back Nate Guillory didn't have the time to wait his turn at Iowa and had to transfer, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
  • Here's a full transcript from the revealing teleconferences this morning with Penn State quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin, courtesy of The Altoona Mirror's Cory Giger. 
  • Penn State defensive end Josh Gaines thinks the current line is better than the 2005 version that got to the Orange Bowl, The Patriot-News' Bob Flounders writes in his blog.
  • I meant to post this several days ago, but comedian and die-hard Iowa fan Tom Arnold responds to allegations that he's become an Alabama backer after recently attending Crimson Tide practice, The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Mike Hlas writes on his blog, appropriately titled The Hlog. Wonder if the editors will let me call this the Rittenblog. Speaking of editors, Arnold needs one in his e-mail. 
  • The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens was spot on with his 2007 prediction for Indiana football, getting the team's overall record, bowl game and bowl opponent correct. Here's his forecast for this fall.
  • If you missed it yesterday, Indiana defensive end Greg Middleton, the nation's sacks leader in 2007, has been suspended for Saturday's opener along with three reserves.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg 

The e-mails are flowing in, and it's obvious that Big Ten fans are geared up for the 2008 season.

Let's see what's on your mind:

Shadd, from Toledo, Ohio, writes: Adam, Do you see Ohio State using Terrelle Pryor in a "read option" type of offense when he comes into the game, or do you see the OSU coaches having him execute the same dropback style gameplan that Boeckman plays? Seems like Jim Bollman can be thick headed sometimes when it comes to play packages with different personnel.

Adam Rittenberg: Pryor's skills definitely translate for a read option system, much like the one Illinois uses at times with Juice Williams. It's the reason Michigan wanted Pryor so badly for its new offense. Though he will be used in those situations, I think Ohio State also will have Pryor operate in a more traditional system as he progresses. The first two games, Youngstown State and Ohio, provide excellent opportunities for Pryor to get playing time and run the team's standard offense. If he shows he can pass effectively against college defenses, the Buckeyes should gradually increase his workload. His transition as a runner and a playmaker will be easier than as a drop-back passer, but he's got to learn sometime.

Andrew from Pittsburgh writes: First off, the 2005 field goal kicking meltdown occurred at MSU, not at Michigan. I was at that game, and at the Ohio State game a week later, and I can personally say that the OSU match-up was infinitely more heartbreaking. However, those two losses pale in comparison to the agony of Notre Dame, 2006. I vaguely remember the feeling of happiness while building a lead, but otherwise the entire evening is nothing but a cold, dark, and lonely sinkhole of a memory that haunts me to this day.

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks to Andrew and several other e-mailers for pointing out that the 2005 Michigan-Michigan State game did take place in East Lansing, not Ann Arbor. Like Minnesota, Michigan State has had too many traumatic losses in recent years. I covered the Notre Dame game in 2006, and it was a total collapse for the Spartans. The game began under clear skies, but the rain came at halftime and gradually increased. Michigan State led 37-21 with 10 minutes to play, but then went ultra-conservative on offense down the stretch as Notre Dame rallied. Drew Stanton didn't throw a pass in the fourth quarter until three minutes remained, and ND cornerback Terrail Lambert intercepted it and scored the game-winning touchdown. The loss spelled the end for coach John L. Smith and sparked one of the greatest radio rants I've ever heard.

David from Champaign, Ill., writes: Do you believe the matchup this year between Illinois-Indiana at 8pm in Champaign will be one of the more exciting games in the Big ten this year? Everyone around here is really looking forward to it! Also, what are your thoughts on Greg Middleton and rising star LB Matt Mayberry? How can we slow down the two quick defenders this year?

Adam Rittenberg: David, as an Illinois fan, you might want to be a little more concerned about Missouri, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State than the Hoosiers, but that game will definitely be worth watching. I've gotten several e-mails about Mayberry, a junior middle linebacker who made 42 tackles as a reserve last season. It seems like hopes are very high for him to solidify Indiana's defensive midsection. Middleton is a beast, but Xavier Fulton can hold his own at left tackle. Should be a great matchup. I'm also interested to see two of the league's most versatile quarterbacks, Juice Williams and Kellen Lewis.

Stan in Grand Haven, Mich., writes: OK, I'm a UM fan so I hope you won't write this off before reading it. WR/TE rankings: did you forget about Carson Butler? Injury and his attitude lessened his p.t. a bit last year, but the dude is one of the best in the conference at his position. Also, why factor in the QB when ranking the unit? That makes no sense--it's like discounting a RB because his line isn't that good. Think Barry Sanders. Finally, all you have to ask yourself when ranking units is which one you'd trade for the other. I guarantee if you were Michigan's coach and you traded your receiving unit for that at Northwestern, you'd be fired instantaneously. 'Nuff said.

Adam Rittenberg: Stan, I'll never write you off, but I've got a hard time bumping up the Wolverines because of Carson Butler. He had a nice grab in the Capital One Bowl, but 39 catches in two years? Even with the off-field stuff and the injury, I need to see more from him. These preseason rankings are largely based on what these players have showed in the past, and besides Greg Mathews and Butler, Michigan hasn't shown much. It doesn't mean with additions like Darryl Stonum, Michigan won't have one of the league's top receiving corps in November. But judging the Wolverines against experienced groups, including Northwestern's, it's hard to put them higher right now. Rich Rodriguez shouldn't want to trade any of his players, but I'm sure he'd love more experience at that position.

Brian from New York, N.Y., writes:I'd like to comment on Penn State's returning DL if I may as I truly believe this could prove to be the best Penn State Defensive Line any of us have ever seen. Of course, every CFB fan knows who Maurice Evans is due to the terrific job he did in earning All-Conference honors last year as a true sophomore. But are outsiders aware of the fact PSU actually returns 52 starts from last year across the line? This represents every player from a unit that finished 2nd in the nation in sacks (46) and 7th in rush D, so we're talking about much more than just Mo Evans here. Opposite Evans at DE is Josh Gaines who started all 13 games and racked up 5 sacks while splitting time with situational pass rusher redshirt freshman Aaron Maybin who had 4 1/2 sacks of his own. And the depth inside - fuggadaboutit! Larry Johnson basically has five proven starter quality DTs in his arsenal including: Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, Abe Koroma, BIG Phil Taylor and Chris Baker. The thing to remember with this group is four of the five were merely 2nd year players last fall meaning, redshirt freshmen or true sophomores. Have I mentioned freshmen Devon Still and Chimaeze Okoli yet? Let's just say the word this spring is both freshmen are "impressive". Anyways, just want to mention PSU's returning DL before you and others "lock" Wisconsin or somebody else into the #2 conference finish spot behind OSU in the Big Ten this preseason because last year's youngsters in the Blue and White are certain to be even better in '08.

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, that's a quality breakdown of Penn State's defensive line. The Nittany Lions have the league's best defensive front in my view, just ahead of both Ohio State and Illinois. There's experience and talent throughout the line, and the front four will help Penn State survive the loss of linebacker Sean Lee. I ranked Wisconsin at No. 2, but the Badgers are by no means a lock, particularly with all the injuries they had in spring ball. Penn State could jump into that spot, but a reliable quarterback must be identified in preseason camp.

Steve from Anchorage, Alaska, writes: I think Steve Breaston should have been a special teams addition to the All-Lloyd list in the Free Press. When he was healthy, Breaston was a threat every time he touched the ball. That sick return against Illinois where he watched it bounce toward the sideline, grabbed it just before going out, then made 10 guys miss back and froth acros
s the field before scoring stands out.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, glad to hear Big Ten football is alive and well in Alaska. Breaston would have been a solid addition to the All-Lloyd team. He was the league's most feared return man for several seasons. After seeing your note, I checked out Breaston's highlights on YouTube this afternoon. The Illinois return is third on the rundown. What a play. By the way, any highlight clip with Kool Moe Dee rapping in the background will find its way to this blog.