NCF Nation: Josh Johnson

Big Ten combine results: DB

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
10:10
AM ET
The 2013 NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis wrapped up Tuesday with the defensive backs. Five Big Ten defensive backs participated in some or all of the events and drills.

Let's see how they did ...
  • Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, tying him for 13th best among all defensive backs. Other 40 times include Michigan State CB Johnny Adams (4.48), Iowa CB Micah Hyde (4.56), Purdue CB Josh Johnson (4.65) Nebraska S Daimion Stafford (4.69).
  • Stafford ranked sixth among defensive backs in bench press repetitions with 21. Adams and Johnson both had 16, Hawthorne had 13 and Hyde had 12.
  • No Big Ten defensive backs were among the top performers in vertical jump. Hawthorne led the Big Ten crew at 35.5 inches, followed by Johnson (35 inches), Hyde (33) and Stafford (30.5). Adams didn't participate in this event.
  • The Big Ten had no top performers in the broad jump, but Iowa's Hyde led the group at 121 inches.
  • Hyde tied for 12th among all defensive backs in the three-cone drill at 6.78 seconds. Johnson (6.99) and Stafford (7.06) also participated.
  • Hyde (4.2 seconds) and Johnson (4.25 seconds) were the only defensive backs to post times in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Johnson tied for fourth among all defensive backs in the 60-yard shuttle (11.51 seconds).

In case you missed the results for the other Big Ten players at the combine, check them out here and here.

Pregame: Heart of Dallas Bowl

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
11:00
AM ET
Oklahoma State (7-5, 5-4 Big 12) vs. Purdue (6-6, 3-5 Big Ten)

WHO TO WATCH: Oklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart may be the most underrated player in the Big 12. He caught 96 passes for 1,154 yards to notch his first 1,000-yard season as a sophomore, despite the Cowboys starting three different quarterbacks throughout the season because of injuries. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Denton, Texas, native had a huge encore after a strong freshman season as Justin Blackmon's protege, and has at least 147 receiving yards in three of his past four games.

WHAT TO WATCH: To get the answer to two questions: Can Oklahoma State prove it wants to be in this game, and can Purdue overcome one of the biggest Vegas lines of the bowl season, at well over two touchdowns? With an 11-point lead in Bedlam, the 7-3 Cowboys had somewhat of a shot to crash the BCS. The Pokes blew that lead to rival Oklahoma and lost to Baylor a week later, tumbling all the way down to the Big 12's No. 8 bowl tie-in -- muddled at 7-5 with four other Big 12 teams. Meanwhile, Purdue had to win its final three games of the season just to reach a bowl, though all three wins came against non-bowl teams with a combined four Big Ten wins. Purdue's got the edge in the "Want To Be Here" rating, but the Pokes are the better team on paper. Can they prove it on the field?

WHY TO WATCH: Hey, you have to watch. It's the Big 12's only New Year's Day Game, even though the Big Ten has five bowl games the same day. You've always got to be careful with big underdogs in bowl games. They love to play fast and loose in the last game of the year with nothing to lose. Purdue might make this entertaining, and teams with interim coaches (Patrick Higgins steps in for the fired Danny Hope at Purdue) have done OK this bowl season. Ask Cincinnati, San Jose State and Utah State about that trend.

PREDICTION: Oklahoma State 37, Purdue 17. Upset potential aside, I'm going with the safe bet for the Pokes here, who will win this game with another solid game from Clint Chelf and open up a really interesting spring quarterback derby in Stillwater. Purdue's Robert Marve finished the season in style, despite playing on a torn ACL, but that ends against Oklahoma State, who finally gets an interception from one of the starting corners, Justin Gilbert or Brodrick Brown.

Bonus predictions from Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett!

Brian Bennett: There's a reason why the Boilers were the biggest underdog on the board in bowl season. They've got an interim coach in Patrick Higgins and have been exposed by some of the better offenses on their schedule, which is a frightening prospect against the high-flying Cowboys. I believe a healthier defensive line will give Purdue a chance in this one, and Oklahoma State is not going to be really pumped up to be in this game a year after playing in a BCS bowl. Robert Marve tosses a couple of scores and Akeem Shavers runs for 135 yards. But in the end, the Pokes -- led by 175 receiving yards from Josh Stewart -- have a little too much for Purdue in a wild one. ...Oklahoma State 31, Purdue 27

Adam Rittenberg: Again, the Big Ten team might be more motivated than the Big 12 squad, but can Purdue keep up on the scoreboard? I don't think so. Although cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen give the Boilers' a chance against the pass-happy Pokes, Purdue isn't consistent enough or dangerous enough on offense to pace Oklahoma State. I agree Marve has a nice performance in his final college game and Antavian Edison scores twice, but Purdue will be playing catch up after a rough first half and falls short. ... Oklahoma State 38, Purdue 28

Big Ten predictions: Bowl picks

December, 27, 2012
12/27/12
10:00
AM ET
Big Ten bowl season officially arrives tomorrow night when Minnesota kicks off the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas against Texas Tech.

Heavens knows I need a new season to begin after a horrible showing in the regular season, when I finished a full five games behind Rittenberg. My pride suffered, and so did my bank account when I was forced to pick up his steak at St. Elmo's in Indy.

But bowl season offers a chance at redemption, not just for me but for the Big Ten as a whole after the league took some beatings in the fall. Here are our picks for the seven bowl games involving conference teams:

Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas

MINNESOTA vs. TEXAS TECH (Dec. 28)

Brian Bennett: The Red Raiders have an interim coach, and Minnesota has had a month to heal the many injuries that ravaged its offense late in the season, both of which are positives for the Gophers. I think Matt Limegrover will find some creative ways to use MarQueis Gray. Still, Minnesota lacks the weapons to go up and down the field against a high-scoring Big 12 team. Michael Carter and the Gophers secondary will make some plays but not enough to stop Texas Tech, which pulls away after a close first two-and-half quarters. ... Texas Tech 31, Minnesota 17.

Adam Rittenberg: The Gophers' defense is much improved in Year 2 under Tracy Claeys, but you need a decent amount of offensive firepower to keep pace with Texas Tech. Like you, my concern is the lack of playmakers surrounding Philip Nelson and Gray. Both men will see time at quarterback and help the Gophers take a first-half lead, but a Minnesota turnover changes the game and Texas Tech strikes for two fourth-quarter passing touchdowns to win. ... Texas Tech 34, Minnesota 21

Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl

TCU vs. MICHIGAN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: This figures to be a close, low-scoring game that likely comes down to how much progress Michigan State's offense has made in the past month or so. TCU is loaded with young talent and could contend for the Big 12 title next year, but I saw the Frogs' regular-season finale against Oklahoma and wasn't overly impressed. A heavy dose of Le'Veon Bell combined with a fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Andrew Maxwell to Dion Sims gives Michigan State just enough, as the Spartans' defense rises to the occasion once more. ... Michigan State 21, TCU 17


Brian Bennett: I've been wrong about Michigan State most of the year, so what's one more? The extra 15 practices must have helped the Spartans' sluggish passing game at least a little bit, and TCU will have to adapt to a more physical style of play than it saw in the Big 12. Johnny Adams' turf toe injury worries me, but I like Bell to rush for 150 yards in probably his final college game, while Maxwell provides optimism for 2013 with 200 yards passing. Max Bullough makes a defensive stop at the end of the game to seal it. ... Michigan State 20, TCU 16


Heart of Dallas Bowl

PURDUE vs. OKLAHOMA STATE (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: There's a reason why the Boilers were the biggest underdog on the board in bowl season. They've got an interim coach in Patrick Higgins and have been exposed by some of the better offenses on their schedule, which is a frightening prospect against the high-flying Cowboys. I believe a healthier defensive line will give Purdue a chance in this one, and Oklahoma State is not going to be really pumped up to be in this game a year after playing in a BCS bowl. Robert Marve tosses a couple of scores and Akeem Shavers runs for 135 yards. But in the end, the Pokes -- led by 175 receiving yards from Josh Stewart -- have a little too much for Purdue in a wild one. ... Oklahoma State 31, Purdue 27


Adam Rittenberg: Again, the Big Ten team might be more motivated than the Big 12 squad, but can Purdue keep up on the scoreboard? I don't think so. Although cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen give the Boilers' a chance against the pass-happy Pokes, Purdue isn't consistent enough or dangerous enough on offense to pace Oklahoma State. I agree Marve has a nice performance in his final college game and Antavian Edison scores twice, but Purdue will be playing catch up after a rough first half and falls short. ... Oklahoma State 38, Purdue 28


TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl

MISSISSIPPI STATE vs. No. 20 NORTHWESTERN (Jan. 1)

Adam Rittenberg: Is this the year Northwestern ends the bowl losing streak? I think it is for several reasons. Northwestern has its most complete team under coach Pat Fitzgerald. The Wildcats can run the ball effectively and perform well for the most part on special teams. Plus, they ended the season playing better than Mississippi State. Northwestern never makes it easy and will have some tense moments in this one, but Venric Mark and Kain Colter will find room, combining for 175 rush yards and two scores. Backup quarterback Trevor Siemian comes in to throw a third-quarter touchdown and linebacker Chi Chi Ariguzo seals the win with an interception. ... Northwestern 27, Mississippi State 24


Brian Bennett: No more monkeying around. Northwestern finally has a more manageable bowl matchup, though it's certainly still not an easy assignment. The month off should help refresh the legs of Colter and Mark, who work their option magic against a mediocre Mississippi State run defense. Mark scores twice on the ground and also returns a punt for a touchdown. The Bulldogs' Tyler Russell shreds the Northwestern defense for 300 passing yards, but Jeff Budzien hits a game-winning field goal with no time left. Fitzgerald and his players party like it's 1949. ... Northwestern 28, Mississippi State 27


Outback Bowl

No. 10 SOUTH CAROLINA vs. No. 18 MICHIGAN (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: I like this matchup a lot and think Michigan can get some things done on offense with a month to prep the Devin Gardner/Denard Robinson combo. But South Carolina's fearsome defense has shut down better attacks in wins against Clemson and Georgia this season and will soon enough figure out Al Borges' bag of tricks. Michigan jumps ahead early on a long Robinson run and a Gardner touchdown pass. Jadeveon Clowney & Co. lock things down in the second half, and Connor Shaw runs for a pair of scores for the Gamecocks. ... South Carolina 24, Michigan 17


Adam Rittenberg: It'll be a lot of fun to watch Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan match up against Clowney. Two potential first-round draft picks going at it. I agree Borges will get really creative in this one, but Michigan's offensive line won't be able to stop the Gamecocks for four quarters. The Wolverines make a nice rally in the third quarter as Gardner finds Robinson on a touchdown strike, but South Carolina controls the ball and the clock in the fourth. ... South Carolina 21, Michigan 16


Capital One Bowl

No. 7 GEORGIA vs. No. 16 NEBRASKA (Jan. 1)

Adam Rittenberg: It's hard to have much faith in Nebraska after what we witnessed in Indianapolis. Great teams don't let down on defense like the Huskers did. Great teams don't play such a chaotic brand of football with so many turnovers. Maybe the Huskers face a napping Bulldogs team, jump ahead behind their dynamic offense and hold on for the win. But I don't see it. Georgia will be sluggish early, but I get the sense Aaron Murray wants to make a statement after the way the SEC championship game ended. Murray and the Bulldogs light up the Huskers in the second half, while Taylor Martinez commits two costly turnovers. ... Georgia 38, Nebraska 23

Brian Bennett: Does either team want to be here? Can either defense stop the other? Those are the main questions leading into this game. I'm not too worried about the disappointment angle but am concerned about Nebraska's ability to slow down Murray, Todd Gurley and a well-balanced Bulldogs offense. The Huskers and Taylor Martinez absolutely must hang onto the football in this one, but I see Jarvis Jones forcing a couple of costly turnovers. Nebraska will do a good job against the pass but will give up too much in the running game, as Gurley goes for 150 and a pair of scores. Martinez compiles 300 total yards but is pressured more often than he's used to and forces a couple of bad throws. Georgia owns the fourth quarter. ... Georgia 35, Nebraska 24.


Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO

WISCONSIN vs. No. 6 STANFORD (Jan. 1)

Brian Bennett: These two teams share a lot of similar traits, as Stanford is the most Big Ten-like Pac-12 team imaginable. The line of scrimmage will be for grown men only. I'd like Wisconsin's chances a lot better if the team didn't have to deal with the distraction of the coaching turmoil. No matter what the Badgers say, that had to hurt their preparation at least a little bit. Plus, the Cardinal seem a little better equipped to throw the ball if the rushing game gets stuffed, while Wisconsin is a little more one-dimensional and will face one of the best run defenses in America. Never count out Barry Alvarez in Pasadena, but I think Montee Ball will have to work a little too hard for his yards in this one. Stanford beats the Badgers at their own game, running the clock out late with a physical rushing attack as Wisconsin goes 0-for-Pasathreena. ... Stanford 24, Wisconsin 21.


Adam Rittenberg: We can't agree on every pick, can we? Nah. Barry's back and I'm a believer. Stanford's defense is as good as advertised, but the Badgers' offense is confident after the Big Ten title game and once again will empty the playbook. The Badgers score early on some razzle-dazzle, and receive a strong performance from Ball (150 rush yards, 2 TDs) in his final collegiate game. Stanford's pressure forces a turnover in the third quarter that changes momentum, but Wisconsin's underrated defense will be the difference, as Chris Borland forces a Stepfan Taylor fumble in crunch time. Alvarez improves to 4-0 in the Rose. ... Wisconsin 24, Stanford 23


Season records

Adam Rittenberg: 76-21 (.784)
Brian Bennett: 71-26 (.732)

Big Ten power rankings: Week 15

December, 5, 2012
12/05/12
10:15
AM ET
Only one Big Ten game took place since the last edition of the power rankings, but the surprising result left quite a conundrum.

How should we rank teams 2 through 6 after Wisconsin smashed Nebraska by 39 points in the Big Ten championship game? Wisconsin had a truly great night in Indy and looked like a different team than we've seen all season, but the Badgers still have more losses than Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan and Penn State.

Oh, the decisions. In the end, this version of the power rankings takes into account the totality of the season. It's a little different from the weekly ones in that sense. Plus, we want to remain consistent with how we voted in the ESPN.com power rankings. As a result, Wisconsin stays at 6 (commence hate mail).

Let's get to it ...

1. Ohio State (12-0, last week: 1): Get used to the Buckeyes occupying the top spot under coach Urban Meyer, who guided Ohio State to its sixth unbeaten and untied season in team history. The big keys entering the offseason are addressing depth issues on the defensive side, finding more consistent playmakers to surround quarterback Braxton Miller and maintaining the standard set this season on the offensive line.

2. Michigan (8-4, last week: 3): Jadeveon Clowney and the South Carolina Gamecocks await Michigan at the Outback Bowl, giving the Wolverines one final chance at a signature victory. Clowney and Wolverines tackle Taylor Lewan face off in a battle of future NFLers. Michigan should benefit from bowl practices as it continues to adjust to having both Devin Gardner and Denard Robinson in the backfield.

3. Penn State (8-4, last week: 4): Penn State won't soon forget the 2012 season or the 2012 senior class, but it's now time to look ahead to an uncertain future. Bill O'Brien and his assistants must be extremely selective with the 2013 recruiting class and future classes, as they can ill afford to miss on more than a few prospects. Penn State loses a lot of star power on defense but has a nice piece to build around at defensive end in Big Ten Freshman of the Year Deion Barnes.

4. Nebraska (10-3, last week: 2): On the cusp of its first league title since 1999, Nebraska tumbled down the mountain yet again. Saturday's loss was an all-time stinker, the worst in team history, according to veteran columnist Tom Shatel. The defense allowed more rushing yards (539) than it ever has, and the offense turned over the ball and didn't find a rhythm until it was far too late. Nebraska will try to rebound against Georgia in the Capital One Bowl.

5. Northwestern (9-3, last week: 5): Will Northwestern finally get the bowl monkey off of its back this year? Pat Fitzgerald's crew has a potentially favorable matchup against slumping Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl. A young Wildcats squad should benefit from bowl practices, as players such as cornerback Nick VanHoose can fully heal. Northwestern's formidable rushing attack faces a Bulldogs defense ranked 70th nationally against the run.

6. Wisconsin (8-5, last week: 6): Yes, we saw what you saw Saturday night. The Badgers were brilliant. And if they follow it up against Stanford in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio, they'll make a serious move up the power rankings. Still, this has been an inconsistent team that now must deal with the stunning departure of coach Bret Bielema to Arkansas. After dealing with so much adversity this season, can the Badgers rally again?

7. Michigan State (6-6, last week: 7): The good news for both the Spartans and their Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl opponent, TCU, is that their upcoming matchup is at a neutral site. Both squads failed to win a conference home game this season. Both squads are also very good on defense and inconsistent on offense. It'll be interesting to see Mark Dantonio and Gary Patterson match wits, and how Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell performs against a stout Frogs defense.

8. Purdue (6-6, last week: 8): The Boilers have a new head coach in Darrell Hazell, but his impact won't be felt until 2013. An extremely tough matchup against Oklahoma State awaits Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. Cornerbacks Josh Johnson and Ricardo Allen will be tested early and often, and quarterback Robert Marve and the offense will need to put up big numbers for the Boilers to have a chance against the heavily favored Pokes.

9. Minnesota (6-6, last week: 9): Like Purdue, Minnesota heads to Texas for a bowl matchup in which it is a sizable underdog. And like the Boilers, Minnesota needs its cornerbacks (Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire) to step up against a very good passing offense in Texas Tech (second nationally). The Red Raiders allowed 111 points in their final two games, but Minnesota's offense has been banged up and struggling and must get healthy this month.

10. Indiana (4-8, last week: 10): It's all about improving the defense in Bloomington, and Indiana has upgraded its recruiting, most recently adding a commitment Insider from defensive tackle Darius Latham, an ESPN 300 prospect who had originally pledged to Wisconsin. The Hoosiers need more depth and more talent on defense to complement what will be a very explosive offense in 2013.

11. Iowa (4-8, last week: 11): Offensive coordinator Greg Davis is staying, and he'll be tasked to upgrade an offense that took a significant step back in his first season. Jake Rudock is expected to step in at quarterback, and Iowa should have good depth at running back (famous last words, I know). The defense returns most of its key pieces and showed the ability to take the ball away this season (23).

12. Illinois (2-10, last week: 12): As expected, coach Tim Beckman will get at least another season to get things right after a miserable first go-round. Staff changes probably are coming as Illinois tries to get back on its feet before spring practice. The Illini lose several NFL-caliber defensive players, but the bigger concerns are with an offense that finished 119th nationally this season.

Heart of Dallas Bowl

December, 2, 2012
12/02/12
10:44
PM ET
Purdue Boilermakers (6-6) vs. Oklahoma State Cowboys (7-5)

Jan. 1, 12 p.m. ET, Dallas (ESPNU)

Purdue take from Big Ten blogger Brian Bennett: Purdue will be playing in its second straight postseason when it kicks off the Heart of Dallas Bowl, but that wasn't enough to save head coach Danny Hope's job. Hope was fired on Nov. 25 after a 6-6 season, and assistant Patrick Higgins will serve as interim coach for this game.

Hope was confident this would be his best team at Purdue, and the Boilers got off to a decent 3-1 start that included a close loss at Notre Dame. But with an excellent opportunity to make noise in a probation-ravaged Big Ten Leaders Division, the Boilermakers lost their first five conference games, including multi-touchdown losses to Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Penn State.

The team did rally to win its final three games to salvage a bowl trip, sparked by Robert Marve returning as the starting quarterback. Fans had been calling for that move for weeks, and Marve delivered despite tearing his ACL in the second week of the season and eschewing surgery.

Hope did make some inroads in increasing the overall team speed, and the offense boasts some exciting playmakers such as running backs Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt and receiver Antavian Edison. Defensive tackle Kawann Short is a potential first-round NFL pick, and Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson form one of the Big Ten's top cornerback tandems -- and they will be needed against Oklahoma State's high-powered passing game.

This team was talented enough to push Ohio State to the absolute brink in Columbus yet unfocused enough to fall behind 44-7 at Minnesota. How the Boilermakers respond and play against the Cowboys without their head coach is anyone's guess.




Oklahoma State take from SoonerNation's Brandon Chatmon: OSU coach Mike Gundy has done one of the best coaching jobs of his career as the Cowboys made Big 12 history with three quarterbacks throwing for 1,000 yards or more. Wes Lunt, J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf each had their moments this season as the starting quarterback for the Pokes and each signal-caller led OSU to a double-digit win over a Big 12 opponent.

The constant in the Cowboys’ offensive attack is running back Joseph Randle, the Big 12’s leading rusher with 1,351 rushing yards. His toughness, versatility and playmaking set the tone for OSU’s offense. It could be the final game for the junior, who may elect to leave early for the NFL after three seasons as a key member of OSU’s offense.

OSU’s defense had an up-and-down season, holding four Big 12 opponents to 21 points or fewer before allowing more than 600 yards of total offense to Oklahoma and Baylor in its final two games. Defensive tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman have been the tone-setters for the Cowboys' defense. When they play well, OSU’s defense is noticeably better.

Keep an eye on the Cowboys' defense on third down. In the losses to OU and Baylor, the Cowboys allowed more than 50 percent of third downs to be converted.
The 2012 All-Big Ten teams and individual award winners will be revealed at 7 p.m. ET tonight on the Big Ten Network. We'll post the full lists shortly thereafter as well as reaction.

The four major awards -- Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year -- will be revealed Tuesday night. We will have our official blog endorsements for each of these throughout Tuesday, so be sure to check in.

To clarify, we don't have official votes for All-Big Ten (not like we cover the league closer than anyone year-round or anything, but we're not bitter), but we will reveal our own all-conference team at a later date.

For now, we're going to give our opinions on some of the key debates surrounding this year's all-conference team.

1. The Big Ten has three elite running backs -- Wisconsin's Montee Ball, Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Northwestern's Venric Mark -- and only two spots on the first-team All-Big Ten team. Who makes it and who doesn't?

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell, Etienne Sabino
Mike Carter/US PRESSWIRELe'Veon Bell was the workhorse for the Michigan State offense this season.
Brian Bennett: This is an extremely difficult decision. I was prepared to go with Ball and Mark before Bell put up his huge, 266-yard performance against Minnesota last week. Someone very deserving is going to get left off this list, and in my book that is Mark. It's hard to ignore Bell, who's leading the Big Ten and is No. 3 nationally in rushing while carrying it a ridiculous 29 times per game. The Spartans might have only won a couple of games without him. And Ball turned it up big time in conference play, leading his team to the Big Ten title game. So I'll take those two guys, with sincere apologies to Mark, who had a wonderful season in his own right.

Adam Rittenberg: All three of these players were so valuable to their respective offenses. Ball struggled early but came on strong during Big Ten play and set the NCAA's all-time touchdowns mark. Bell is arguably the nation's top workhorse back, racking up an insane 350 carries. And yet neither impacted games quite as much as Mark, who broke off more long runs and also was brilliant on returns. He transformed a Northwestern offense that had been reliant on the pass for years and had no dynamic run threat. It's really a shame the All-Big Ten team doesn't have a return specialist, as that would be a way to get all three men on the first team. I have no issue with Ball and Bell, but it's a little hard to ignore the running back for the best team of the three. While it's tough not to have Bell on the first team, I'm going to go with Ball and Mark here.

2. Arguably no Big Ten position has more elite players than linebacker. The first-team All-Big Ten squad includes only three selections. Who makes the cut?

Adam Rittenberg: While I'd love to officially vote for All-Big Ten, this position group would drive me nuts because there are so many good choices. Penn State's Michael Mauti and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier have to be there. They're the two leading candidates for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Mauti triggered Penn State's effort on defense, while Shazier put up insane numbers in Big Ten games (15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 1 interception, 8 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles). The big decision is the third linebacker -- we'll likely have four LBs on our All-Big Ten squad. It's between Michigan's Jake Ryan and Wisconsin's Mike Taylor for me, and I'm going to go with Ryan, who made a few more impact plays during the Big Ten season (5 forced fumbles, 13 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks). Taylor, Michigan State's Max Bullough and Penn State's Gerald Hodges also were terrific, but I'm happy with these three.

Brian Bennett: I'm in agreement here. No two defensive players were more valuable to their teams than Mauti and Shazier. In addition to their great performances, Shazier held a thin linebacking corps together, while Mauti helped an entire program stay together. And Ryan simply made more impact plays at crucial times than the other outstanding linebackers who are All-Big Ten candidates. It seemed like every time you looked up during a Michigan game, the guy with the flowing blond locks was creating havoc. Linebacker was a major strength in the league, and even picking a second team here between Taylor, Bullough, Hodges and Chris Borland is no easy task.

3. Ohio State's Braxton Miller is a likely Heisman Trophy finalist and the leading candidate for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. It would be a surprise if he isn't the first-team All-Big Ten quarterback. Who should be the second-team QB, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez or Penn State's Matt McGloin?

Brian Bennett: Take nothing away from McGloin, who led the Big Ten with 3,271 passing yards and 24 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Just an amazing year for the fifth-year senior, who would win the most improved player award if the league had such a thing. The choice here, though, is Martinez. Yes, he still gets a little careless with the ball sometimes. But he was in complete command of the Big Ten's best offense, carrying it after star running back Rex Burkhead went down. He improved greatly as a passer, completing 63.3 percent of his throws while compiling nearly 2,500 passing yards and 21 touchdowns. He also averaged 5.4 yards per carry in conference play and finished No. 1 in the league in total offense. His ability to lead Nebraska on wild comebacks and get the Cornhuskers into the Big Ten title game can't be overlooked.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Martinez
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesTaylor Martinez led Nebraska to the Big Ten title game.
Adam Rittenberg: Yep, agree with you on this one. Both players are vastly improved from 2011 -- McGloin more so than Martinez -- but Martinez's running ability really sets him apart in my mind. He had 833 rush yards and eight touchdowns, spurring a ground attack that didn't have Burkhead for most of the season. Like his Nebraska team, Martinez got sloppy at times and played really poorly in the loss to Ohio State. But you can't discount what he did in all of those comebacks, which turned out to be Nebraska's hallmark in reaching the Big Ten championship game. I absolutely love what McGloin did this season in Bill O'Brien's NFL-style offense, leading the league in pass yards and pass touchdowns and setting team records in the process. There'd be no major outcry here if he appears on the second-team All-Big Ten squad ahead of Martinez. But if I had to choose, I'd go with Martinez.

4. Cornerback has been a bit of a pleasant surprise this year in the Big Ten. The All-Big Ten team only designates four "defensive backs," so conceivably four corners could make it. Which Big Ten corners deserve to be on the first team this season?

Brian Bennett: Ohio State's Bradley Roby is the no-brainer here. The redshirt sophomore developed into arguably the best cover corner in the league this year and is a lock for one of the first-team All-Big Ten spots. My second choice would be Nebraska's Ciante Evans. Though Evans plays nickel, the Huskers ask a lot out of nickelbacks in their scheme, and Evans was their best coverage guy for the nation's No. 2-ranked pass defense. I'd prefer to have two corners and two safeties on the team, but if we went with three cornerbacks, I'd probably turn next to Purdue's Josh Johnson, who eclipsed Ricardo Allen as his team's best defensive back this year.

Adam Rittenberg: There's no doubt cornerback is a stronger group than safety this season. I'm going to go with three first-team All-Big Ten corners, starting with Ohio State's Roby. The sophomore has been the best defensive back in the league this season, tying for second nationally in passes defended with 19, recording two interceptions and scoring three touchdowns. The play he made at Wisconsin covering two different players in the end zone was one of the best I've seen in recent years. I also like Evans as a first-team selection, as he made a bunch of plays for the league's top pass defense. My third choice comes down to Johnson and Minnesota's Michael Carter. I love what Johnson did, but Carter was more noticeable during Big Ten play and seemed to blossom at the end of his career. I'd go with Johnson and Northwestern's Nick VanHoose on the second team.

5. All of the position awards will be passed out tonight. Let's dissect two of them: the Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year and the Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year. Who wins?

Adam Rittenberg: Ah, two goodies. The tight end award comes down to two players who missed portions of the season with injuries: Penn State's Kyle Carter and Michigan State's Dion Sims. Both produced at a high rate, with Carter recording 36 receptions for 453 yards and two touchdowns, while Sims, Michigan's only reliable pass-catching threat, recorded 33 receptions for 451 yards and two scores. Man, that's close, but Carter gets the nod from me. He gave Penn State such a boost on offense. The defensive lineman award comes down to Ohio State defensive end John Simon and Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill. Both are sure-fire first-team All-Big Ten selections, but I'm going with Simon, who led the Big Ten in sacks (9) and ranked third in tackles for loss (14.5). He would have had a big final game, like Hill did, had he been healthy.

Brian Bennett: Can I combine all the Penn State tight ends into one? Call them Kyle James Lehman, and then you'd really have something. It is another razor-thin call, but I'll take Michigan State's Sims. He played two fewer games than Carter, but remember that Sims played through injuries at times this year and wasn't always 100 percent. When he was healthy, he was the best big-play threat at tight end in the league and the Spartans' only real go-to guy in the passing game. He's a physical specimen unlike any other Big Ten tight end. As for defensive linemen, you named the probable two leading contenders. I'd also throw Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins in there, as he was a dominant run-stuffer. But I'm with you on Simon. He not only put up some great stats, but he played through a lot of pain this year and was unquestionably the emotional leader for the 12-0 Buckeyes.
Robert Marve never could have predicted his football career to play out the way it has. No one could.

Here's the synopsis: nationally decorated recruit, signs with Miami, breaks his arm in car accident before freshman year, redshirts the 2007 season, starts most of the 2008 season, clashes with coach Randy Shannon, transfers to Purdue, tears his ACL, sits out the 2009 season as per NCAA rules, starts at quarterback to open the 2010 season, tears his ACL again in Week 4, misses the rest of the season, backs up Caleb TerBush in 2011, receives sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, starts the 2012 opener after TerBush is suspended, tears his ACL in Week 2 against Notre Dame, amazingly returns to the field four weeks later despite the ligament tear, claims the starting job four weeks later and leads Purdue to a 2-1 mark since.

Got all that?

"It's definitely been interesting," Marve told ESPN.com this week. "It's been a roller-coaster, but I wouldn't want to change it for anything. It's made me a better person. It's matured me and gotten me to a place on and off the field where I'm definitely happy with myself.

[+] EnlargeRobert Marve
Sandra Dukes/US PresswirePurdue QB Robert Marve has had a made-for-TV movie kind of career.
"It'd be a great ending to go to the bowl game and get that W."

Marve and his Purdue teammates must beat rival Indiana on Saturday in the Bucket game at Ross-Ade Stadium to reach the 6-win mark and head to a bowl for the second straight season. It isn't the situation they envisioned back in August, when many saw the Boilers as a potential sleeper team in the wide-open Leaders division, and coach Danny Hope touted the squad as his best at Purdue.

A five-game losing streak to start Big Ten play -- including four losses by 16 points or more -- derailed the Boilers, but they've rebounded a bit with consecutive wins. Although Purdue lacks a signature victory, no team tested the nation's two unbeatens -- No. 1 Notre Dame and Ohio State -- more than the Boilers, who fell 20-17 in South Bend and were a play away from beating the Buckeyes in Columbus before losing in overtime.

An odd season, to say the least.

"It wasn't exactly what we had in mind," Marve said.

"There was some real rough sledding in the middle of the season at a focal point in time in our season," Hope said. "But hats off to our players for being resilient."

No Purdue player has shown more resiliency than Marve. Out of eligibility beyond this season, he vowed to return following his latest ACL tear. Hope had his doubts but Marve made steady progress in practice.

He has completed 72.9 percent of his passes with three touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games.

"Everyone is rallying around Robert," Hope said. "He's inspirational to us all, coaches and players alike. I really admire him playing the game at the level he's playing at with the injury that he has. Very unusual … to see a guy playing Big Ten football at the quarterback position with a torn ACL."

Other Purdue players have elevated their play after the disappointing start to the Big Ten campaign. Senior cornerback Josh Johnson ranks second in the Big Ten and in the top 10 nationally in passes defended with 17.

Johnson has five pass breakups and two forced fumbles in Purdue's last two games. He has multiple passes defended in five games this season and has three forced fumbles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery, including a pick-six against Marshall.

"My whole concept of every series is get a turnover or make a big play," Johnson told ESPN.com. "Right now, it's been working very well for me."

Johnson notes that Purdue found itself in the same situation a year ago, needing to beat Indiana to reach 6-6 and secure a bowl spot. The Boilers got it done and then won the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl against Western Michigan.

"We know what it takes," Johnson said.

Another subplot Saturday is whether a win saves Hope's job. The fourth-year coach has been under fire this season, and many fans are voicing their opinion by not showing up for games.

Purdue has lost its three Big Ten home games by an average of 26.7 points. Hope wants more time to get his master plan in place, but whether he gets another year remains to be seen.

"We love Coach Hope," Johnson said. "We're doing whatever it takes to have him stay here."

Big Ten predictions: Week 13

November, 21, 2012
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After a historic week off the field, the Big Ten steps between the lines Friday and Saturday for the final time in this regular season. All 12 teams are in action, and several rivalry games are on tap, highlighted by The Game between Michigan and Ohio State.

As for the blogger predictions race, Brian Bennett is sort of like his old league, the Big East. On life support. He's six games behind Adam Rittenberg with only one week to go.

Let's get to the predictions ...

Friday

No. 14 NEBRASKA at IOWA

Brian Bennett: Iowa needs a hero and will be holding out for one until the end of the night. Not happening. Nebraska is on a roll right now, and will push around a Hawkeyes team that has little to play for and no ability to keep up with the Huskers on the scoreboard. Taylor Martinez puts up one last argument for Big Ten offensive player of the year honors with 100 yards rushing and 200 yards passing as Nebraska punches its ticket to Indy. ... Nebraska 38, Iowa 17

Adam Rittenberg: As you wrote last week, there's no stopping the Huskers now. Bo Pelini's team knows what it needs to do, and everyone has taken care of business against Iowa's flat-lining defense in recent weeks. Martinez continues his major awards push with four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing), and RB Ameer Abdullah adds a long scoring run as Nebraska leads throughout and earns the right to represent the Legends Division at the championship game. ... Nebraska 35, Iowa 10

Saturday

No. 19 MICHIGAN at OHIO STATE

Adam Rittenberg: The Game has become a lot more interesting for two reasons -- Devin Gardner's emergence at QB for Michigan, and Ohio State's progress on the defensive side. Gardner will make some plays and get Michigan out to an early lead on a scoring pass to Roy Roundtree, but Ohio State will respond behind RB Carlos Hyde, who will get the ball more (as Urban Meyer said he would) and finish with 120 rushing yards and two scores. The Game lives up to its billing and goes down to the wire. Braxton Miller scores the game-winning touchdown with 25 seconds left. ... Ohio State 24, Michigan 21

Brian Bennett: Meyer said Tuesday he would open up the offense after getting conservative at Wisconsin. Combine that with Gardner and Denard Robinson on the other side, and I think we're in for a shootout. I could see either side winning, but after 11 straight wins, how can you pick against the Buckeyes? Miller wills them to another victory, finishing with 375 total yards and four touchdowns. ... Ohio State 35, Michigan 31

ILLINOIS at NORTHWESTERN

Brian Bennett: Both schools want to be known as Chicago's team. Unfortunately for Illinois, it has become the Cubs of the Big Ten. The Illini have given us no reason to think they will win a Big Ten game since the middle of last season, and that's not going to change in the finale against Northwestern. The Wildcats' defense steals the show here, holding Illinois without a touchdown in a low-scoring win. ... Northwestern 21, Illinois 9

Adam Rittenberg: Tim Beckman's squad will fight hard for a quarter or so, but if Northwestern's backfield of QB Kain Colter and RB Venric Mark is healthy, the Illini are in trouble. Mark breaks free for a long scoring run, and Northwestern pulls away early in the third quarter. The Wildcats record another defensive touchdown and end their mini slide against the Illini, who finish 2-10. ... Northwestern 27, Illinois 13

INDIANA at PURDUE

Adam Rittenberg: Purdue clearly has more to play for, but I kind of like Indiana to play Boiler Spoiler. Cameron Coffman rallies the Hoosiers with three second-half touchdown passes, and while Purdue gets good performances from QB Robert Marve and WR Antavian Edison, a fourth-quarter turnover allows the Hoosiers to win The Bucket in Ross-Ade Stadium and end Purdue's season. ... Indiana 31, Purdue 28

Brian Bennett: I agree this one will be close, but I think Purdue is hungry to get back to a bowl and atone for a terrible 0-5 start to Big Ten play. The Boilers have found a spark since Marve became the starting QB, and their defense has gotten healthier. Marve throws three TDs, and Josh Johnson picks off two passes as the Boilers hold on. ... Purdue 28, Indiana 27

MICHIGAN STATE at MINNESOTA

Brian Bennett: Really tempted to pick Minnesota here, but the Gophers are banged up on both sides of the ball. Assuming Michigan State comes to play, the Spartans' physical style will take its toll. Minnesota jumps ahead early, but the Spartans mount a comeback in the second half and go ahead for good on an Andrew Maxwell TD pass to Dion Sims. Michigan State -- finally -- wins a close game to go bowling. ... Michigan State 24, Minnesota 17

Adam Rittenberg: Like you, it wouldn't shock me to see Minnesota win, but the injuries combined with a young quarterback facing a ferocious defense prove to be too much. The Spartans have their typical red zone stalls in the first half but come alive following a pick-six by CB Darqueze Dennard. Michigan State takes a second-half lead, and holds on behind Le'Veon Bell and the run game to squeak into a bowl. ... Michigan State 20, Minnesota 16

WISCONSIN at PENN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: Penn State will have the emotional edge on senior day, but how well has that worked out for the Lions this season? It didn't help against Ohio in the opener or Ohio State under the lights in an electric atmosphere. Even an emotionally charged game at Nebraska didn't go the Lions' way (thanks in part to the replay crew). Penn State takes its customary early lead, but Wisconsin chips away behind two touchdowns from Montee Ball and moves ahead in the fourth quarter. However, the Lions have one final push, and senior QB Matt McGloin sneaks into the end zone with 10 seconds left and does the discount double check move as Penn State prevails. ... Penn State 21, Wisconsin 20

Brian Bennett: It should be an emotional day for Penn State's seniors, who will be remembered by Nittany Lions fans for a long time. I don't see how Wisconsin, coming off an overtime loss to Ohio State and knowing the Big Ten title game is next week, can possibly match Penn State's energy. The Badgers come out flat against the hot-starting home team and never catch up. Ball gets the touchdowns record, but it's not enough as McGloin and Allen Robinson continue their assault on the Penn State record books. ... Penn State 24, Wisconsin 14

Season records

Adam Rittenberg: 71-19 (.789)

Brian Bennett: 65-25 (.722)

Wisconsin-Purdue pregame ponderables

October, 13, 2012
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Greetings from Ross-Ade Stadium, where it's about 50 degrees and a little overcast. But the rain appears to be holding off.

How big is today's game between Wisconsin and Purdue? Boilermakers receiver O.J. Ross said on the Purdue pregame show that his team is approaching this as if it's "a championship game." And it basically is, in the Leaders Division. With Penn State and Ohio State ineligible for the Big Ten title game and Indiana and Illinois struggling, whoever wins this one will have a huge leg up on getting to Indianapolis in the first week of December.

So it's really a matter of which team shows up, for both teams. Will Wisconsin continue its slow but steady offensive progress and look like the team that has dominated the Boilers the past few years? (The Badgers have won six straight in this series). Or will Bret Bielema's offensive line struggle against a good Purdue defensive front, forcing redshirt freshman Joel Stave to make plays down the field? If that's the case and Montee Ball is not running wild, Purdue will like its chances. Jared Abbrederis is one of the best receivers in the Big Ten, but the Boilers' cornerback tandem of Ricardo Allen and Josh Johnson is as good as it gets in this league. That should be a fun matchup to watch.

And which Purdue will we see? The one that took Notre Dame to the wire in South Bend, or the one that looked like an FCS team against Michigan last week in a 44-13 loss here? Players and coaches all said this week that their spirits were still high despite the disappointing showing last week, and the word around the team is that this week's practices were crisp. But this remains an outfit under Danny Hope that has struggled with consistency and discipline in big spots.

The Boilermakers will have to unleash their varied offense, utilizing running backs Akeem Hunt and Akeem Shavers -- and Ralph Bolden. The senior is expected to make his season debut today after recovering from another torn ACL that he suffered in last year's season finale. How effective he will be remains to be seen. Maybe we'll see Bolden and quarterback Robert Marve in the same backfield, which we could call the ACL festival. Caleb TerBush should start again at quarterback, but Hope won't hesitate to pull the trigger on fan favorite Marve early if TerBush has trouble.

Wisconsin's defense is an underrated crew that's playing pretty well, though Nebraska's spread and speed gave it major problems in Lincoln. Purdue could follow a similar blueprint.

This is also a huge game for Hope, whose support among the Purdue fan base would dwindle if his team falls flat in this one. With a trip to Ohio State looming next week, the Boilers can't afford another Big Ten loss. This is a must-win situation, and Purdue needs to come out firing as if it is indeed a championship game. Because, in all reality, it is.

Boilermakers run away with easy win

September, 15, 2012
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Purdue's quarterback situation might frustrate and confuse its fans at times, but the Boilers are pretty good elsewhere.

In fact, they might be the best team in the Leaders Division.

Purdue rode its run game and its defense to a 54-16 win against Eastern Michigan, improving to 2-1 before a bye week. The Boilers forced three turnovers and didn't allow an offensive touchdown, until the fourth quarter following up their effort at Notre Dame with another stout defensive performance.

Facing an Eastern Michigan team that entered the game ranked 118th nationally in rush defense, Purdue took full advantage with its group of ball carriers and racked up 384 rush yards in the victory. Starting running back Akeem Shavers set the tone with a 40-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter. Brandon Cottom later broke free for an 87-yard scoring dash. The Boilers finished with 184 rush yards and three touchdowns on 19 carries in the first half (9.7 ypc), surging to a 33-9 lead. Although Akeem Hunt's 51-yard touchdown midway through the second quarter was technically a reception, he did almost all of the work with his legs. Hunt (5 touches, 156 yards, 2 TDs) had a huge day, showing why he's such a big-play threat for Purdue.

Starting quarterback Caleb TerBush recovered from a shaky start that included a pick-six to complete 16-of-25 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns, both to senior Antavian Edison. With Robert Marve (knee) sidelined at least for a while, the Boilers will lean on TerBush, who has to limit his turnovers when Big Ten play kicks off.

The run game did what it was supposed to against a bad defense, but Purdue's most encouraging element was the play of its own D. The line is one of the Big Ten's best, and several playmakers stepped up in the secondary, including Frankie Williams and Josh Johnson, who both had interceptions.

Purdue wraps up non-league play Sept. 29 against Marshall before beginning a season-defining stretch -- Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio State -- to open Big Ten play. This much is known: the Boilers are serious contenders in a very winnable Leaders Division.
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- On Thursday, Notre Dame launched its Take a StaND campaign, an initiative geared toward getting the crowd more involved in the game. Coach Brian Kelly had his team practice inside Notre Dame Stadium that day in order to take away some of the awe factor that comes with entering a building just seven times a year.

Music was piped in throughout Saturday's home opener against Purdue, with Irish defensive players regularly imploring the crowd to add to the noise on key third-down plays. Then, at the 2:12 mark in the fourth quarter of a tied game, the stadium's public address announcer offered a familiar phrase:

"Tommy Rees now at quarterback for Notre Dame."

Either out of disgust with another possible quarterback controversy or frustration from seeing a man who turned the ball over 19 times last year enter the game on its most crucial drive, a number of fans from the student section started booing the former starting signal-caller.

Whether Rees can ever regain his No. 1 throne remains to be seen, but he made as strong a case as he possibly could in his return from suspension, directing Notre Dame on a 12-play, 55-yard drive in just over two minutes, setting up Kyle Brindza for a 27-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining to beat Purdue 20-17.

"The story finishes with Tommy Rees coming in for [Everett] Golson and leading us on a two-minute drive to win the game," Kelly said. "I'm good to go. A good day for Notre Dame football."

But, Kelly said, the Irish do not have a quarterback controversy.

[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Matt Cashore/US PresswireThe Irish turned to Tommy Rees to lead the game-winning drive, but coach Brian Kelly insists there's no QB controversy in South Bend.
"Everett Golson is our starter," the third-year Irish coach said. "He will start against Michigan State. But we know that we've got assets at that position with Andrew Hendrix and Tommy Rees."

Maybe even better ones than they thought. Rees entered 2012 as the only one of the team's four scholarship quarterbacks with any starting experience, going 12-4 the past two years. He severely handicapped his chances at remaining the starter when he was arrested this spring at an off-campus party, forcing him to watch last week's tilt in Dublin from home.

But when Notre Dame needed someone to engineer a scoring drive after Purdue converted a fourth-down scoring chance to even things up, the Irish turned to their veteran.

Golson, who was given much more freedom in career start No. 2, was having a strong game before his final drive, completing 21 of 31 passes for 289 yards, one touchdown and zero interceptions. He was sacked five times and hit countless others, bouncing back each time. But on what would be his last play of the game, the redshirt freshman had the ball pried loose by Purdue's Josh Johnson, setting the Boilermakers up at the Irish 15 with less than four minutes to go.

Kelly said Golson had trouble gripping the ball and probably could have played, but the coach felt more comfortable with the experienced Rees in the two-minute drill, a move few saw coming.

With zero timeouts at his disposal, Rees tossed three completions for 35 yards, including a huge 10-yard strike to John Goodman on third-and-6. He took the Irish to the 8, spiking it twice and taking a knee before setting up Brindza's game-winning kick.

Coaches and players raved about Rees' demeanor throughout camp, the aspiring coach doing everything he can to help his competitors while knowing his opportunity was dwindling. Rees backed up those claims Saturday, absorbing the boos from his fellow students after entering and some more after his first misfire.

Rees, along with everyone other than Zack Martin and Manti Te'o, was not made available to speak after the game.

"I don't agree with that at all," Martin said of the booing. "A guy like Tommy, it just fuels his fire. He's been through a lot. I'm so proud of him and so happy for him that he was able to answer the bell today and lead us down the field."

"Everett didn't get, like, booted from the game," Martin later added. "He played a great game. I think it was just situation, two-minute drill. Tommy's more of a pocket passer. So I think it's kind of one of those things. Everyone has a 100 percent confidence in Everett and what he does on the field. We're ready to go with him next week."

So here come the Irish, riding a 2-0 start for the first time in four years, marching into East Lansing with a chance to pull off their first upset. Michigan State has a defensive line every bit as lethal as Purdue's, and all the Boilermakers did was hold the Irish to 52 rushing yards one week after Notre Dame racked up 293 against Navy.

And here comes Golson, whose last play under center was his worst, going into his third game still holding the title of starting quarterback.

The competition gets tougher from Week 3 on, but the drama may already be ahead of schedule for the Irish.
Purdue is getting a little bit of a buzz as a sleeper team for 2012 after breaking through with a bowl game (and win) in 2011. The Boilermakers opened spring practice last week and went for a couple of days straight before taking off for spring break. I had a chance to catch up with Purdue head coach Danny Hope to talk about how things are going in his program and the areas of concentration this spring.

Did you sense any different attitude this offseason after getting to that bowl game last year?

[+] EnlargeDanny Hope
Andrew Weber/US PresswireCoach Danny Hope said the momentum from boilermakers' bowl win last season has carried over into the spring.
Danny Hope: I think we ended the season on a high note and with some momentum, and I think it carried over into the offseason. I think we're really hitting on all cylinders with our new director of sports performance, whom we hired last year about this time. It's the first time since I've been the head coach at Purdue that we're going into spring with a quarterback that's healthy that's played any football. Caleb TerBush wasn't penciled in as the No. 1 [quarterback], but he became No. 1 about a week before the opener. He had to get his feet wet and learn throughout the course of the season, but by the end of the season he was playing pretty good. That momentum carried right over into the bowl preparation and the win carried right into the weight training offseason and that carried into spring practices. And having experienced quarterbacks is important. It's the first time since I've been here we've been able to do something as simple as getting signals in early in spring. It's a little different tempo out there right now as a result. We've got some good players back and we've got some confidence as a football team.

You have quite a few experienced quarterbacks now, in fact. How are you splitting up the reps for them this spring?

DH: Well, Sean Robinson is playing on defense right now. It's hard to get four quarterbacks ready in spring ball, and he wasn't going to get as many reps as he needed to. So we're going to try him some at the linebacker position. That leaves TerBush and Robert Marve, who's finally healthy. I think Robert did some good things last year, but I think he's in position to take some big steps in his development because this is the first time since he's been here that he's been able to get a lot of reps without concern about an injury or an eligibility situation. Then Rob Henry is back. He's a little bit limited right now because he's coming off knee surgery, but I'm really pleased with where his recovery is, and most of the time when he's out there right now you can't tell much of a difference. But you have to limit his reps a little just because you don't want to overdo it and create a swelling issue. So the numbers are kind of taking care of themselves in some ways. We went into the spring with TerBush as No. 1 and all those other guys are competing.

Your leading rusher, Ralph Bolden, tore his ACL again, but you have two pretty good running backs in Akeem Shavers and Akeem Hunt. How do you feel about the depth at running back this spring?

DH: We had a real strong running attack last year. We were fifth in the Big Ten in rushing. The past couple of years, we've been able to establish a strong running game. I like the progress that we've made and having good running backs is a big part of that, and any more, having a couple of running backs you can play is a big part of it. We had a lot of different guys rush for us last year, probably 10 different guys who were utilized as ball carriers. We really like Akeem Shavers. He's a fast, physical back who finishes runs. Akeem Hunt is an excellent sprinter who's a member of our track team and was a state champion track performer in Georgia. So he's a class sprinter in a lot of ways for a football player.

We've also got a kid we redshirted last year in Doug Gentry, and he's a skilled player. We have Gavin Roberts, who has good size but was injured last year. He's a big back we can utilize in the backfield. Then we've got a couple fullbacks in Derek Jackson, who weighs about 240 pounds, and Kurt Freytag. So we've got some guys still in the stable even though Ralph is out. And we've utilized Antavian Edison and Raheem Mostert some as ball carriers out of their slot position, and both those guys are really skilled players. So we've got some athletes who can tote the mail, and we spread the wealth out around here.

Were you upset about the new kickoff rules because you have such a weapon at kick returner in Raheem Mostert?

DH: Well, we all play by the same rules. You'll have to make decisions about bringing some out, so the return man is going to have to be a good decision-maker. From a kickoff standpoint it might change some things. You can kick them all deep and try to force the touchback if you want to, but you're going to be giving the opponent the ball at the 25. Or you can kick the ball high and deep and try to pin them down and do a great job covering. So there's going to be some game planning and schemes involved. I think it will all even out. ... I don't think it's going to shut down all kick returns, but I think there will be about 25 percent less, is my guess.

(Read full post)

The postseason position rankings are hitting the home stretch, and today we take a look at the Big Ten secondaries. It's a little tricky to evaluate secondary play from 2011. While seven Big Ten teams ranked in the top 18 nationally in pass defense, only two squads ranked in the top 29 in pass efficiency defense.

Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was the lone Big Ten defensive back to appear on both the coaches' and media's first-team all-conference squad, so there was some disagreement.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Lewis
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioIsaiah Lewis' interception against Michigan helped the Spartans beat their in-state rival and propel Michigan State's secondary to elite status in the Big Ten.
The top seven units are solid, while the bottom three are among the worst in the FBS.

Michigan State once again tops a defensive chart, but the top four or five squads here were all strong in the secondary. Be sure and check out our preseason secondary rankings.

Let's get to the rundown:

1. Michigan State: The Spartans had three of four starting defensive backs — safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Johnny Adams and safety Isaiah Lewis — selected first-team or second-team All-Big Ten, illustrating the depth coach Mark Dantonio has built in recent years. Michigan State's secondary also continued to be a playmaking unit, recording a league-best 18 interceptions, returning four for touchdowns. The Spartans had five defensive backs record two or more interceptions. Adams will enter the 2012 season pegged as the league's top cornerback.

2. Penn State: Like the other defensive units, Penn State's secondary shouldered a heavy burden because the team's offense struggled for so much of the season. The Lions had veteran leadership with D'Anton Lynn, Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, and they led the Big Ten and ranked sixth nationally in pass efficiency defense (107.2 rating). Penn State finished third in the league in interceptions (14) and tied with Michigan for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed (12). Sukay earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

3. Illinois: Although Illinois' strength on defense could be found in the front seven, the secondary held its own as well. The Illini ranked third nationally in pass defense (162.3 ypg), and opposing teams completed just 54.9 percent of their passes against the Orange and Blue. Illinois finished 30th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Although the safety play looked spotty at times, Illinois boasted a strong cornerback tandem in Terry Hawthorne and Tavon Wilson.

4. Michigan: Arguably no single position group in the Big Ten made more dramatic strides than Michigan's secondary, a lightning rod for criticism the previous three seasons. The Wolverines finished 16th nationally in pass defense and 36th in pass efficiency defense. Although they didn't record many interceptions, they tied for the league low in passing touchdowns allowed (12). Safety Jordan Kovacs emerged as an effective blitzer and playmaker and cornerback J.T. Floyd blossomed with two interceptions, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble. Corner Blake Countess is an exciting young talent.

5. Nebraska: The Huskers had the Big Ten's best defensive back in Dennard, who shut down arguably the league's top two receivers (Marvin McNutt, B.J. Cunningham) in Nebraska victories. But the group's overall performance was a bit underwhelming, as opposing teams attacked the deep middle and caused some personnel shuffling. Opposing teams completed just 53.2 percent of their passes against Nebraska, the lowest number in the Big Ten. Hard-hitting safety Daimion Stafford emerged for a group that loses Dennard and veteran safety Austin Cassidy.

6. Wisconsin: For the second straight season Wisconsin displayed good playmaking ability in the secondary, finishing second in the Big Ten with 16 interceptions. Safety Aaron Henry (coaches) and cornerback Antonio Fenelus (media) both received first-team All-Big Ten recognition. The Badgers also played most of the season without one of their starting cornerbacks, Devin Smith. But the unit also had some high-profile lapses at the end of games. Speed also became an issue in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State and in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

7. Ohio State: The numbers aren't bad -- Ohio State ranked 14th in pass defense and 53rd in pass efficiency defense -- but the Buckeyes seemed to be missing something in the secondary, and throughout their entire defense, for that matter. There were some bright spots, like freshman cornerback Bradley Roby, and some hard hits delivered by safety C.J. Barnett and others. But Ohio State finished just eighth in the league (53rd nationally) in pass efficiency defense, as opposing teams completed more than 60 percent of their pass attempts against the Scarlet and Gray.

8. Purdue: We had high hopes for a group that returned all four starters, headlined by All-Big Ten candidate Ricardo Allen at cornerback. At times, Purdue's secondary looked solid, but the unit's overall performance fell in line with the team's average theme for 2011. Allen struggled to contain some elite wideouts but still finished the season with 81 tackles (62 solo), three interceptions, four pass breakups, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. He and Josh Johnson form an exciting cornerback tandem entering the 2012 campaign.

9. Iowa: Much like Ohio State, Iowa didn't have a typical season on defense, and the secondary had its share of struggles. Iowa had average numbers (58th in pass yards allowed, 72nd in efficiency), and allowed opposing teams to complete 62 percent of their passes. The Hawkeyes saw a big drop-off in playmaking, as they recorded only 10 interceptions and allowed 21 touchdown passes. Safety Micah Hyde earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media, while cornerback Shaun Prater didn't have the huge senior season some expected.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats would finish last in some leagues, but they're the best of a bad bunch at the bottom of the rankings. Despite an All-Big Ten safety (Brian Peters) and a four-year starter at cornerback (Jordan Mabin), Northwestern suffered breakdowns in both scheme and execution. The Wildcats endured a particularly bad stretch to begin Big Ten play, as they couldn't stop Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins, admittedly got confused against Iowa and let Penn State quarterback Matthew McGloin go off. The secondary has to be a huge priority for Pat Fitzgerald and his staff during the offseason.

11. Minnesota: It's a close call for the last spot, but Minnesota avoids the basement, thanks in large part to safety Kim Royston, who made the most of his sixth season with a team-high 123 tackles. But Royston was the lone bright spot for Minnesota's secondary, which stung from the loss of cornerback Troy Stoudermire to a broken arm. The Gophers recorded the fewest interceptions in the Big Ten (4), and allowed opponents to complete 67.7 percent of their passes, the highest total in the league. Minnesota finished 107th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers' historic struggles in the secondary continued in 2011, as they surrendered a league-high 26 passing touchdowns and finished 116th out of 120 FBS teams in pass efficiency defense. Opponents averaged 8.5 yards per completion against an Indiana team that played more freshmen than any squad in the FBS. There's some hope with players like safety-linebacker Mark Murphy and cornerback Greg Heban, and Indiana brings in two junior college defensive backs for 2012.
National Signing Day is barely a week away, and Big Ten teams will be stockpiling for the future (and, in some cases, the present). Today we'll take a look at the recruiting needs of each Big Ten team, starting with those in the Leaders division. These needs are based on current rosters and anticipated departures in the near future. And to save you some email time, we do realize teams have already addressed needs in compiling their 2012 classes.

Let's get started ...

ILLINOIS

Wide receiver: The Illini lose A.J. Jenkins, who accounted for 90 of the team's 226 receptions in 2011. No other Illinois player had more than 26 catches, so there certainly are opportunities for young players to emerge and make an immediate impact for the new coaching staff.

Linemen: Illinois loses two starters from an offensive line that struggled down the stretch of the regular season. It's important to build depth there going forward. Despite Whitney Mercilus' early departure to the NFL draft, the defensive line returns some talented players. Still, defensive end Michael Buchanan is entering his senior year, and defensive tackle Akeem Spence is a bona fide NFL prospect who could enter the draft with a strong 2012 campaign.

Safety: The Illini defense didn't have many weaknesses in 2011, but safety was a liability at times. The team returns experience for 2012, but will lose some key players after the season. An impact defensive back or two in the 2012 class would really help.

INDIANA

Defensive back: This has been a primary recruiting need for the past few seasons, and it remains a pressing concern after Indiana surrendered a league-worst 8.5 yards per pass and a league-high 26 passing touchdowns in 2011. Indiana needs impact players and depth among the back four to be able to limit Big Ten offenses.

Defensive front seven: Sense a theme here? Indiana needs defenders in the worst way, and the front seven is a huge piece to the puzzle. The Hoosiers return some experience at defensive tackle, but lose top linebackers Jeff Thomas and Leon Beckum. The coaches showed in 2011 that they're not afraid to play young players, and they need more contributors on the defensive side.

Quarterback: Starter Tre Roberson returns, but Indiana needs bodies here after Dusty Kiel and Ed Wright-Baker both opted to transfer earlier this month.

OHIO STATE

Offensive line: Three multiyear starters depart at center, left tackle and right tackle, so Ohio State's offensive line will have a very different look in 2012. The Buckeyes could use some immediate-impact linemen, like center Mike Brewster in 2008, and they'll look to build depth here.

Defensive end: Ohio State appears loaded at defensive tackle for 2012 and beyond, but the team needs some more pure pass-rushers on the edge. John Simon, who had four more sacks than anyone on the squad in 2011, will be a senior this coming season.

Wide receiver: The Buckeyes lacked reliable receiver options in 2011 and had their best wideout, DeVier Posey, for only three games because of suspension. Posey departs and Ohio State needs to build depth and increase competition in what should be a more wide-open offense under Urban Meyer.

PENN STATE

Quarterback: New coach Bill O'Brien might be the quarterback whisperer Penn State has waited for, but he also needs to upgrade the talent on the roster. Matthew McGloin and Rob Bolden both must make significant strides, and while Paul Jones is an intriguing player, we've yet to see him in a game. Penn State needs more options here.

Wide receiver: Top target Derek Moye departs, and Penn State returns only two players with decent but not great production in Justin Brown and Devon Smith. Brown looks like a potential impact player in 2012, but Penn State needs more options in the passing game.

Defensive back: Penn State loses all four starters, although returning players like Stephon Morris, Malcolm Willis and Adrian Amos have logged playing time. Still, the Lions need some more players here to build depth and increase competition.

PURDUE

Offensive line: This is one of few areas where Purdue loses a decent amount of production from 2011, as tackle Dennis Kelly and Nick Mondek both depart. Two more starters exit after the 2012 season, and Purdue wants to be a run-based offense. It's important to build some depth up front with the 2012 class.

Kicker: Purdue loses the bionic-legged Carson Wiggs, who did more than make field goals from ridiculous distances. He also kicked off and served as a backup punter, attempting 45 punts over the past two seasons. The versatile Wiggs leaves a major void, and Purdue must address the specialist spot.

Defensive back: The Boilers say goodbye to both of their starting safeties from the 2011 team. They also will lose starting cornerback Josh Johnson after the 2012 season, while Ricardo Allen might be an early entry candidate with a big junior year. While this isn't a pressing need right now, it could soon become one.

WISCONSIN

Quarterback: Russell Wilson saved Wisconsin in more than one way in 2011, and his departure is significant. The team's most experienced signal callers, Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips, both are coming off of major injuries. Wisconsin typically doesn't play younger quarterbacks, but needs more options after a season where Wilson showed what the offense could be.

Wide receiver: The Badgers typically get by with 1-2 good wideouts and an excellent tight end or two, but they could use more depth at the receiver position. Top target Nick Toon departs, and Wisconsin is pretty thin at receiver aside from Jared Abbrederis.

Defensive speed: Oregon makes a lot of teams look slow, but the Rose Bowl spelled out what the Badgers must do to take the next step as a program. Wisconsin needs to upgrade its speed at all three levels of the defense, particularly the back seven, to prevent explosion plays. Michigan State also exposed Wisconsin's defense, so the need for speed certainly is there.

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

November, 28, 2011
11/28/11
1:00
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For the final time in the 2011 regular season, let's press the rewind button:

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
Mary Langenfeld/US PresswireRussell Wilson's one season at Wisconsin was surely something to smile about.
Team of the week: Wisconsin. The Badgers had an uphill climb after losing back-to-back games against Michigan State and Ohio State to end October. But they battled back to win their final four games in impressive fashion, including Saturday's 45-7 blowout of Penn State in Madison. Now they're just one win away from their second straight Rose Bowl appearance.

Game of the week: Michigan 40, Ohio State 34. Five lead changes, more than 800 yards of offense, a duel between two super-athletic quarterbacks and a game that came down to the final two minutes in a huge rivalry. Yep, this one was a no-doubter this week. Best edition of The Game since 2006.

Biggest play: Josh Johnson's interception of Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson late in the fourth quarter. The Hoosiers had moved the ball well all day and only trailed Purdue by eight points as they started their final drive. Johnson and receiver Nick Stoner caught Roberson's pass simultaneously, but Johnson ripped the ball away when they hit the turf. That allowed the Boilermakers to run out the clock, get back the Old Oaken Bucket, clinch bowl eligibility and quite possibly save Danny Hope's job. Good thing for them the play was not reviewable by rule.

Best call: Nebraska's decision to let Rex Burkhead break the school record for carries with a kneel down for No. 38 against Iowa. Burkhead, who hadn't played for several minutes after scoring a touchdown on his 37th carry, was typically humble when asked to go in for the record, telling his teammates he didn't want to get it that way. But offensive lineman Marcel Jones convinced him to do it for the seniors. Burkhead wasn't anywhere near 100 percent for last week's game but has been one of the biggest warriors in the Big Ten all season. He deserves as many places in the Nebraska record book as he can get.

Big Men on Campus (Offense): Michigan's Denard Robinson and Wisconsin's Montee Ball. These two share the award for a second straight week, and with good cause. Robinson accounted for five touchdowns and more than 330 yards of total offense, becoming just the fourth player in NCAA history to gain 2,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season twice in his career. He ran for 170 yards in the 40-34 win over Ohio State. Ball just keeps on piling up the touchdowns, adding four more in the win over Penn State. He ran for 156 yards on 25 carries and set the NCAA record with multiple touchdowns in 12 straight games. He has 34 touchdowns on the season, second-most of any FBS player in history and just five short of Barry Sanders' record of 39.

Big Men on Campus (Defense): Minnesota's Kim Royston and Nebraska's Lavonte David. Royston had 13 tackles against Illinois, the eighth time this season he finished a game with 10 or more stops. He also had his first sack of the season and a pass breakup while finishing the season with 123 tackles, the most by a Gopher since 2001. David capped his spectacular regular season with eight tackles and a sack, along with two pass break-ups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, as the Huskers nearly shut out Iowa.

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Purdue's Carson Wiggs. He made four field goals -- from 48, 43, 29 and 22 yards -- in the Boilers' bowl-clinching 33-25 win over Indiana.

Best moment: It wasn't quite "Rudy," but it was close at Camp Randall on Saturday.

Wisconsin senior defensive end Greg Russo served two tours in Iraq before walking on to the Badgers last spring. For almost the entire season, he'd been waiting for the NCAA to clear him to appear in a game.

He finally got on the field for the first time with about a minute left in the win over Penn State. He didn't record a tackle like Rudy, but he didn't care.

"We stand on the field every day for practice," Russo told the Wisconsin State Journal. "But tonight, standing in the middle of the field and looking around and seeing the fans there and knowing I was a part of something that big, a part of being the Leaders Division champs, it was a totally different feeling, like I was on a completely different field and I was in a completely different place."

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