NCF Nation: Kellen Lewis

Indiana has been down this road before.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just dreadful.

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

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

Here are a few suggestions:

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

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

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

Offense sells these days. I get that. But Indiana might be wise to hire a guy who knows a thing or two about defense.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 13

November, 27, 2010
11/27/10
9:00
PM ET
It's time to recognize the best and the brightest from Week 13 in Big Ten play.

Indiana QB Ben Chappell: Chappell delivered a heroic performance in Indiana's overtime win against Purdue, completing 31 of 50 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He broke Kellen Lewis' single-season passing yards record and helped Indiana stop its 12-game Big Ten road losing streak with its first win at Ross-Ade Stadium since 1996.

Wisconsin's cast of stars: I could do a separate set of helmet stickers just for the Badgers after their 70-23 win against Northwestern. Instead, I'll consolidate all the performances here. The sticker is to be shared by defensive end J.J. Watt (3 tackles for loss, 2 forced fumbles, 1 sack, 3 quarterback hurries, 1 blocked kick), running back Montee Ball (174 rush yards, 4 TDs), running back James White (138 rush yards, TD), quarterback Scott Tolzien (15-for-19 passing, 231 yards, 4 TDs) and safety Aaron Henry (50-yard interception return for a touchdown, 1 fumble recovery).

Ohio State RB Dan Herron: After finishing the first half with one yard on three carries, Herron exploded for 174 rushing yards and a touchdown in the final two quarters. He had a 31-yard touchdown run and tied a team record for longest run from scrimmage with an 89-yard burst that should have been a 98-yard touchdown if not for a bogus holding call. Herron shares the sticker with defensive end Nathan Williams (2.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 2 pass breakups, 1 fumble recovery).

Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins and RB Edwin Baker: The Spartans' backfield tandem came up big in helping Michigan State win a share of its first Big Ten title since 1990. Baker racked up 118 rush yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, while Cousins, playing hurt, completed 17 of 22 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns.

Minnesota CB Troy Stoudermire: Stoudermire earns a sticker in both of Minnesota's Big Ten victories. He came up big against Iowa by forcing two fumbles, recovering one and recording a pass breakup. Stoudermire's second forced fumble allowed Minnesota to take over with 4:14 left and run out the clock to secure a 27-24 win.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


One of the things Jake Christensen likes about playing football at Eastern Illinois is the appreciation Panthers players have toward the game.

"The guys care more about football at this level, honestly," Christensen said Monday on a conference call with reporters. "It’s easy to care about football when you’re playing in front of 100,000 people every weekend and you’re a superstar in town."
 
 Stephen Mally/Icon SMI
 Jake Christensen returns to Penn State Saturday, this time as Eastern Illinois' quarterback.


EIU players will get a taste of the limelight Saturday (ESPN Classic, noon ET) when they face Penn State at Beaver Stadium (capacity: 107,282). The atmosphere will be unlike any the Panthers experience in the Ohio Valley Conference.

Christensen expects many of his teammates to be "awestruck at first," but he won't be. The former Iowa quarterback will be making his second trip to Happy Valley as a player after facing Penn State in 2007. Christensen endured a rough day in a rough season, as Iowa lost 27-7 and he was sacked five teams as the Hawkeyes recorded only eight first downs.

His lasting impression from Beaver Stadium?

"Real loud," he said. "They're going to be bigger than we are and probably faster than we are at every position, but it’s been done before and there’s no reason why we can’t do it. We’re not scared, we're not intimidated. We're ready to play football."

Christensen, who transferred to EIU this summer, would rather not look back at his time in Iowa City, but his connection to the Hawkeyes does work in his favor Saturday. After all, Iowa has won seven of its last eight games against Penn State, including a 21-10 triumph on Sept. 26.

"I don’t know, man," he said when asked to explain Iowa's success in the series. "They get some breaks against that team that I’ve never seen before in my life."

That wasn't the only jab he took at his former team. When asked if left-handers get picked on by their coaches, Christensen, a southpaw, said with a laugh, "Well, apparently Iowa's coaches didn't like me very much."

Christensen has done well at Eastern Illinois, completing 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,090 yards and 11 touchdowns with three interceptions in five games.

Here's a look at how several quarterback transfers from the Big Ten are faring with their new teams.
  • Jake Christensen (Iowa), Eastern Illinois: 89 of 136 passing for 1,090 yards, 11 TDs, 3 INTs, 218 ypg, 155.04 rating, 4-1 record
  • Kellen Lewis (Indiana), Valdosta State: 93 of 142 passing for 934 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs, 123.5 rating, 233.5 ypg, 4 rush TDs, 2-2 record
  • Pat Devlin (Penn State), Delaware: 100 of 155 passing for 1,252 yards, 7 TDs, 2 INTs, 144.7 rating, 4 rush TDs, 3-2 record
  • Clint Brewster (Minnesota), Tennessee Tech: No pass attempts this season.
  • Steven Threet (Michigan): sitting out the season at Arizona State, per NCAA transfer rules.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ever since the Big Ten extended its BCS bowl losing streak to six games in January, I've predicted that the league will produce only one BCS selection from the 2009 season. I'm sticking with the prediction now, but I'm not nearly as sure of it.

As much as the Big Ten has slipped in the eyes of the nation, its teams remain extremely attractive to bowl committees. With enormous and passionate fan bases that are willing to travel, Big Ten teams could get the nod over higher-rated squads from, say, the Pac-10. It'd be awfully hard to turn down a 10-2 team from Penn State or Ohio State.

Here's how I see things shaking out this fall:

OHIO STATE

Bowl bound? Count on it

Best case: A more polished Terrelle Pryor leads Ohio State past USC on Sept. 12 and dominates the Big Ten schedule to earn a spot in the national title game as an undefeated team.

Worst case: If the offense stalls and the defense can't replace several stars, Ohio State will drop three games and fall to the Outback Bowl.

Prediction: Rose Bowl

PENN STATE

Bowl bound? Count on it.

Best case: The Lions fill their holes in the secondary and along the offensive line and capitalize on a favorable schedule to run the table, earning them a spot in the BCS title game.

Worst case: If Penn State can't reload and suffers a key injury or two, especially to star quarterback Daryll Clark, it could lose 4-5 games and fall to the Alamo Bowl.

Prediction: Capital One

IOWA

Bowl bound? Count on it.

Best case: Jewel Hampton makes people forget about Shonn Greene and the Hawkeyes begin a rough road slate by beating Penn State in Happy Valley. Iowa won't go unscathed on the road but ends up sharing the Big Ten title and earning an at-large BCS berth.

Worst case: If Iowa can't overcome the losses of Greene and defensive tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, it could finish 7-5 and slip to the Champs Sports or Insight bowls.

Prediction: Alamo

MICHIGAN STATE

Bowl bound? Count on it.

Best case: The Spartans reload in the offensive backfield and capitalize on a schedule that doesn't include Ohio State to win 10 games.

Worst case: If the offense stalls and Michigan State struggles at the line of scrimmage, the team could backslide to six or seven wins.

Prediction: Outback

NORTHWESTERN

Bowl bound? Count on it

Best case: Mike Kafka becomes a complete quarterback and the Wildcats reload at running back and wide receiver, taking advantage of a favorable schedule to win 9-10 games.

Worst case: If Kafka falters and the defense takes a step back, Northwestern could finish right around the .500 mark.

Prediction: At-large bowl berth (Texas Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Eagle Bank Bowl)

WISCONSIN

Bowl bound: Count on it

Best case: The quarterback issues sort themselves out and running back John Clay plows through defenders as Wisconsin capitalizes on a soft schedule to win nine games.

Worst case: If the problems under center continue and the Badgers can't fill holes on defense, they could be fighting for their bowl lives again.

Prediction: Champs Sports

ILLINOIS

Bowl bound? Possibly

Best base: Juice Williams and Arrelious Benn lead the Big Ten's most dynamic offense, while linebacker Martez Wilson becomes a star as Illinois notches several signature wins and reaches a January bowl game.

Worst case: If the defense doesn't improve and the team chemistry problems linger, Illinois could miss a bowl again.

Prediction: Insight

MICHIGAN

Bowl bound: Possibly

Best case: Freshman Tate Forcier takes his first step toward stardom and Michigan's defense clicks in Greg Robinson's system, as the Wolverines start 4-0 and finish with eight wins.

Worst case: If the offense falls apart again, Michigan could miss a bowl for the second straight season.

Prediction: Motor City

MINNESOTA

Bowl bound: Possibly

Best case: The Big Ten's most experienced team transitions seamlessly to a new offense, upsets Cal at home on Sept. 20 and becomes the league's surprise team, winning 9-10 games.

Worst case:  If the offensive line doesn't come together and the defense struggles against the run, Minnesota won't go bowling.

Prediction: At-large bowl berth (Texas Bowl, Hawaii Bowl, Eagle Bank Bowl)

PURDUE

Bowl bound: Forget about it

Best case: A strong stable of running backs lead the way on offense and Purdue fills in the gaps on defense to win seven games and head to Detroit.

Worst case: Too many young players and too much transition could keep the Boilers out of the postseason for the second straight year.

Prediction: Home for the holidays

INDIANA

Bowl bound: Forget about it

Best case: A veteran defense finally steps up and lets the offense find its rhythm without Kellen Lewis, as Indiana scratches out 6-7 wins.

Worst case: If Indiana can't stop the run and endures another swell of
injuries, it will be lucky to win five games this fall.

Prediction: Home for the holidays

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

All 11 Big Ten camps will open by the end of the day, and it's time for your latest installment of the power rankings. There have been a few key transfers since the last rundown in May, but not much to really shake things up.

I've made a few changes to the league's midsection and bottom, but the top four remain in place. The hardest section was undoubtedly Nos. 7-9. Those teams look fairly interchangeable.

1. Ohio State -- As long as quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the offensive line continue to build off of a very solid spring, Ohio State's offense will be fine after a difficult 2008 season. Defensive ends Thaddeus Gibson, Lawrence Wilson and Cameron Heyward lead the league's best line, which anchors a defense that has ranked among the top 15 nationally in five of the last six seasons.

2. Penn State -- This is the year for Penn State to truly establish itself as the third Big Ten powerhouse. To do so, the Lions must show they can reload at wide receiver, offensive line and defensive back. Penn State has the star players and a favorable schedule with both Iowa and Ohio State at home. Quarterback Daryll Clark could lead the Lions back to Pasadena.

3. Iowa -- It's a close call between Iowa and Michigan State for No. 3, but the Hawkeyes get the nod as they return their starting quarterback and the league's best offensive line. Most will eliminate Iowa from the Big Ten title race because of a treacherous conference road schedule, but Kirk Ferentz's team can make a major statement by winning Sept. 26 in Happy Valley.

4. Michigan State -- Michigan State reminds me a lot of Penn State in 2008. The more I look at the Spartans' depth chart, the more I like their chances this fall. Big Ten preseason Player of the Year Greg Jones leads a defense that looks stacked in the secondary but a bit shaky up front. The big questions here are obvious, and if Michigan State solidifies its offensive backfield, look out.

5. Northwestern -- Another close call here between Northwestern and Illinois. The Wildcats should have their best defense in recent memory and loads of questions at the skill positions on offense. The Illini bring back arguably the Big Ten's most electric offense but look shaky at best on defense. In the end, the better defense wins out as All-America candidate Corey Wootton tries to lead Northwestern to another bowl game.

6. Illinois -- There's a lot to like on the offensive side, from the league's most experienced quarterback (Juice Williams) to arguably the league's best wide receiver (Arrelious Benn). The addition of Florida transfer Jarred Fayson should only improve a dynamic pass attack. Illinois must address its pass rush and its pass coverage on defense, and this needs to be the year linebacker Martez Wilson becomes a star.

7. Wisconsin -- The quarterback position once again could drive Badgers fans nuts this fall, but teams with solid line play usually do well in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's offensive line will create room for bruising sophomore running back John Clay, and the defensive line, which adds Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt, had a terrific offseason. There are still some uncertainties in Madison, but a favorable schedule leads me to believe the record will improve.

8. Minnesota -- Can the Big Ten's most experienced team adjust to a host of offseason changes? If so, Minnesota will climb up the list and possibly make a major statement in the Big Ten. But this could easily be a better team that finishes with a worse record because of another set of new systems and a tough schedule. You've got to like the passing combo of quarterback Adam Weber and wideout Eric Decker.

9. Michigan -- Before you send the hate mail, hear me out. Until I see Michigan in a game, showing tangible improvement on offense and especially at quarterback, I can't put the Wolverines any higher. This is still a team that likely will be playing a true freshman quarterback and returns only five starters to a defense that has its third coordinator in as many seasons. Michigan should improve, but let's wait and see.

10. Purdue -- It could be a rough first season for head coach Danny Hope, but Purdue moves up a spot based on a solid group of running backs and a defense poised to make improvement from 2008. The Boilers have the right idea to emphasize the run game on offense, and if quarterback Joey Elliott elevates his play, this could be a decent team. The linebacker position concerns me, and Purdue's young defensive linemen need to grow up fast alongside standouts Mike Neal and Ryan Kerrigan.

11. Indiana -- Head coach Bill Lynch has seen positive changes from a team that backslid in 2008, and he believes experience and improved depth will help overcome the loss of Kellen Lewis. Lynch's confidence in quarterback Ben Chappell is admirable, but I need to see more from the junior and Indiana's young wideouts. If the Hoosiers don't make strides on defense this year, it probably will never happen. The personnel is there for an upgrade, but Indiana has a very troubling track record on that side of the ball.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A team is often only as good as its backup quarterback, a fact that held true throughout the Big Ten in 2008.

Pat Devlin scored arguably the biggest touchdown of Penn State's season at Ohio State as the Nittany Lions rallied for a 13-6 win. Mike Kafka's record-setting rushing performance against Minnesota helped Northwestern to a huge win after injuries had hit several important positions. Several Big Ten squads also had backups emerge into starters, such as Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi.

Several Big Ten backups haven't played a down in a college game, so it's tough to pass judgment on them. But here's my stab at ranking the league's backup signal callers coming out of spring ball.

1. Michigan State -- The competition for the starting job between Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol remains too close to call, and that's not a bad thing. Both players performed very well during spring ball and particularly during the spring game. Whoever doesn't win the top job provides head coach Mark Dantonio with a solid No. 2 option. Cousins already held the role last fall and performed well.

2. Minnesota -- Head coach Tim Brewster reiterated throughout the spring that Adam Weber is his starter, but he also acknowledged that talented freshman MarQueis Gray will get on the field a lot this fall. Gray lived up to the hype in spring ball, and the Gophers likely will use a special package of plays to feature him in games. Should Weber go down, Minnesota should be fine with Gray.

3. Illinois -- The Illini boast the Big Ten's most experienced signal caller in Juice Williams, and they also have the league's most seasoned backup in Eddie McGee. McGee appeared in 12 games in 2007 and came up big against Missouri, Wisconsin and Penn State. The coaches have even used McGee on a series or two when Williams gets into trouble. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest provides another solid option.

4. Ohio State -- Overall depth at quarterback is the only reason the Buckeyes aren't higher on the list. The coaches have confidence that Joe Bauserman can step in if Terrelle Pryor goes down with an injury. Bauserman boasts a strong arm and good knowledge of the scheme. It remains to be seen what Ohio State gets out of third-stringer Kenny Guiton, a late signee in February.

5. Wisconsin -- The starting job is not set in stone, though senior Dustin Sherer remains the frontrunner heading into the summer. Curt Phillips' push toward the end of spring should ease offensive coordinator Paul Chryst's concerns about the position. Phillips brings speed and athleticism to the backfield, and junior Scott Tolzien is a smart player who has been in the system for some time.

6. Michigan -- True freshman Tate Forcier emerged from a solid spring as the frontrunner at quarterback, though he'll still be pushed by Nick Sheridan and Denard Robinson in August. Sheridan has been in the fire and showed some good signs during spring ball before breaking his leg. But he might not be as strong of a fit as Robinson, who boasts track-star speed and, like Forcier, provides the improvisation skills needed to run this offense.

7. Northwestern -- Pat Fitzgerald and his staff are fully prepared to play a second quarterback at times this season. The nature of Northwestern's spread offense elevates the injury risk for quarterbacks, and Dan Persa likely will see the field, much like Kafka did in 2008. Persa's size (6-1, 200) is a bit of a concern, though he brings above-average mobility to the pocket. Incoming freshman Evan Watkins likely will redshirt this fall, but he's considered the team's quarterback of the future.

8. Purdue -- The Boilers would have been much better off with Justin Siller still in the fold, but the coaches liked what they saw from redshirt freshman Caleb TerBush this spring. Career backup Joey Elliott will get the first shot under center this fall, but TerBush is a big kid (6-5, 222) who can step in if things go south. The problem here is depth, as Purdue can't play Robert Marve until 2010.

9. Penn State -- Devlin's decision to transfer really stings Penn State, which can't afford to lose Daryll Clark and keep its Big Ten title hopes afloat. True freshman Kevin Newsome did some nice things this spring, but he's got a long way to go before leading the Spread HD offense in a Big Ten game. Matt McGloin provides the Nittany Lions with another option under center, but Penn State should take every precaution to keep Clark healthy.

10. Indiana -- The coaches' decision to move Kellen Lewis to wide receiver not only reaffirmed their faith in starter Ben Chappell, but also the men behind him. Teddy Schell came to Indiana as a decorated high school quarterback in Illinois and should finally get a chance to showcase himself. But Schell is unproven on the college level, and the same goes for promising redshirt freshman Adam Follett.

11. Iowa -- Nothing against James Vandenberg or John Wienke, but the college canvas is pretty blank on both redshirt freshmen right now. Despite all the Jake Christensen hatred, many level-headed Hawkeyes fans wouldn't mind having him around this season to back up Ricky Stanzi. An injury to Stanzi could derail Iowa's Big Ten title hopes, particularly with four very difficult conference road games (Penn State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State).

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Fifteen spring practices still don't mask all the warts a team has, and every head coach has a position group that keeps him awake at night. After looking at where each Big Ten team got help this spring, here's a look at the positions that still look a little shaky around the league.

Illinois' offensive line -- The Illini boast arguably more offensive firepower than any Big Ten team, but they'll struggle without improvement up front. There's youth throughout the front five, and while players like Jeff Allen boast loads of potential, there are a few unknowns heading into the fall. The line allowed five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in the spring game.

Indiana's wide receivers -- Kellen Lewis' dismissal from the program after spring practice creates a major void at receiver. Lewis was pegged to be Ben Chappell's top target, and with Ray Fisher moving from wideout to cornerback, the Hoosiers need big things from young players like Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.

Iowa's defensive tackles -- This position will be a question mark for the Hawkeyes right up until the season opener, and most likely beyond. Iowa must find a way to replace mainstays Mitch King and Matt Kroul, and it lacks much experience besides Karl Klug. The team needs continued development from guys like Mike Daniels and Cody Hundertmark.

Michigan's defensive line -- Brandon Graham should be one of the nation's top pass-rushers this fall, but he needs some help up front. Michigan likes what it has in young linemen like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and incoming freshman Craig Roh. Those players will need to grow up fast so the defense can generate consistent pressure.

Michigan State's running backs -- Few players meant more to an offense than Javon Ringer did to Michigan State last fall, and the search for a replacement remains a bit murky. Aside from a brief surge by Ashton Leggett, the running back room remains very crowded as Caulton Ray entered the mix this spring. Two heralded freshmen arrive during the summer in Edwin Baker and Larry Caper.

Minnesota's offensive line -- The Gophers have the bodies up front, but they've still got a long way to go in picking up the new offensive system/philosophy. It's a fairly dramatic change for returning starters like Dom Alford and Ned Tavale, so growing pains are expected. But a talented Gophers team can't take another step forward if its offensive line doesn't come together.

Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters are gone at receiver, and no one really wowed during spring practice. Northwestern should get better here as Jeremy Ebert returns from hip surgery, but it's time for experienced players like Andrew Brewer and Sidney Stewart to step up as primary targets for new starting quarterback Mike Kafka.

Ohio State's offensive line -- Michigan transfer Justin Boren undoubtedly had a positive effect on the offensive line this spring, but questions remain about a group that underachieved for most of 2008. Can Mike Adams complement his physical gifts with a toughness needed to play left tackle in the Big Ten? How will Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning adjust to new positions when the games begin? Stay tuned.

Penn State's secondary -- Head coach Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern for this group, which lost all four starters from 2008. Breakdowns in the secondary doomed Penn State in its only two losses last fall. Safety Drew Astorino should be ready for big things, but cornerback A.J. Wallace must find a way to stay healthy and become a legit shutdown guy on the outside.

Purdue's quarterbacks -- Joey Elliott boasts the knowledge to be an effective Big Ten starter, but does he have the skills to get it done? He has spent a lot of time on the sideline during his college career, and Purdue would benefit from having another viable option at quarterback. Justin Siller's dismissal really stings, and the development of backup Caleb TerBush looms large this summer.

Wisconsin's linebackers -- The Badgers lose a lot of production in DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, and they don't have much proven depth at linebacker. They can ill afford an injury to Jaevery McFadden or Culmer St. Jean, and it's imperative to develop more linebackers during preseason camp.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Spring practice provided more clues about the Big Ten in 2009, but not enough to cause a major shake-up of the power rankings. The league should improve at the quarterback spot, reload at running back and boast several top 50 defenses, but few position battles were definitively settled and a handful of teams lost key personnel.

 
  AP Photo/Seth Perlman
  Quarterback Terrelle Pryor showed signs of improvement during Ohio State's spring practices.

You won't see many changes from my last set of power rankings, though I do see more defined tiers developing in the league. I feel confident about Nos. 1-4 and the bottom two teams, while the middle remains muddled.

1. Ohio State -- Terrelle Pryor's emergence and the addition of Michigan transfer Justin Boren on the offensive line highlighted a successful spring that ended before more than 95,000 fans at Ohio Stadium. Pryor showed improved footwork and passing mechanics, and running backs Dan Herron and Brandon Saine both emerged as viable options. Add in one of the better defensive lines around, and the Buckeyes enter the summer in good shape. Several Big Ten squads lose sizable senior classes, but no one in the league reloads like the Buckeyes.

2. Penn State -- There's not much separating the Nittany Lions from Ohio State, but Penn State lost just a little bit more and seemed to struggle this spring in the secondary and along the offensive line. Penn State has more national award candidates than any Big Ten team, and if it fills a few gaps, it should be right back in the league title mix. The defensive front seven will be ferocious -- as long as linebacker Navorro Bowman doesn't face major penalties -- and the home schedule favors Joe Paterno's team.

3. Iowa -- It was a fairly quiet spring for the Hawkeyes, though quarterback Ricky Stanzi looks ready to take the next step in his development. Injuries prevented Iowa from settling on a successor to Shonn Greene, but Jewel Hampton remains the frontrunner. A defense led by linebacker Pat Angerer, cornerback Amari Spievey and end Adrian Clayborn should be among the nation's best, as long as the defensive tackle spots are filled.

4. Michigan State -- The Spartans are a much more solid No. 4 than they were at the beginning of the spring. Quarterback candidates Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol both came along nicely in practice, and Michigan State likely would be fine with either one taking snaps Sept. 5. There are still some questions at running back and offensive line, but linebacker Greg Jones leads a defense that should be the team's strength this fall.

5. Illinois -- The Illini move up a spot thanks in large part to a dynamic offense that seems to be getting better. Quarterback Juice Williams will have the Big Ten's best receiving corps at his disposal, as Florida transfer Jarred Fayson joins a group led by All-America candidate Arrelious Benn. More importantly, the Illini should have better run-pass balance as sophomore backs Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure both improved physically in their first full offseason. It's a dangerous bet to buy into Illinois' talent after last year, but this should be an improved team in 2009.

6. Northwestern -- Uneventful best describes Northwestern's spring, as the team practiced without its two best defenders (Corey Wootton and Brad Phillips) and remains unsettled at some of the skill positions. Projected starting quarterback Mike Kafka was so-so this spring and needs to prove himself more as a passer this summer. There were bright spots like running back Jeravin Matthews, linebacker Ben Johnson and an improved offensive line, but it was tough to get a great read on the Wildcats.

7. Minnesota -- Tim Brewster wanted more playmakers on offense and he found them this spring. Quarterback MarQueis Gray looks like the real deal and will earn some time behind Adam Weber, while Troy Stoudermire distinguished himself in the spring game. But there still are a lot of questions about the offensive line and the new offensive system, and Minnesota's secondary has a few question marks. This is a talented team that many see as a sleeper.

8. Wisconsin -- There were no answers at quarterback as Dustin Sherer and Curt Phillips will compete into the summer, but whoever takes snaps should have better weapons around him. Wide receiver Nick Toon had a stellar spring and provides a legitimate target alongside Mackey Award candidate Garrett Graham. There are questions with all three areas on defense, particularly linebacker. The competition in the secondary should be interesting to watch in preseason camp.

9. Michigan -- I'm tempted to move up the Wolverines after what appeared to be a solid spring, but until the games begin there are simply too many question marks. Can quarterback Tate Forcier maintain the composure he showed this spring in a game situation? How much has the offensive line improved? Will the defense settle in immediately with Greg Robinson's vision? The potential is certainly there to climb up the rankings, but there needs to be more evidence.

10. Indiana -- The post-spring departure of Kellen Lewis certainly stings, but I liked what I saw and heard from the Hoosiers this spring. Linebacker Matt Mayberry and defensive ends Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew seem to have brought a better attitude to a bottom-feeding defense, and Ben Chappell no longer has to look over his shoulder at quarterback. There are problems, without a doubt, namely trying to replace Lewis' playmaking ability. But Indiana might stay out of the cellar.

11. Purdue -- The Boilers had their bright spot
s in spring ball, more specifically the emergence of running back Ralph Bolden and improved play on both lines. But you can't underestimate Justin Siller's departure at quarterback. Purdue needed someone to really push Joey Elliott, and while Caleb TerBush might become that guy this summer, he's still learning the college game. There are too many unknowns right now to see Purdue reaching the middle of the league in Danny Hope's first season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Spring practice has wrapped up in the Big Ten, and it's time to look back at some of the superlatives from the last eight weeks.

Best spring game performance -- The quarterbacks made this a tough choice, but I've got to go with Michigan State tandem Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Both players passed for 357 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in the Green-White Game. Honorable mentions to go Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Illinois defensive end Jerry Brown and Wisconsin quarterback Curt Phillips.

Best performance by a freshman -- Early enrollee Tate Forcier left Michigan fans feeling a bit more comfortable about the quarterback position after the spring game. Forcier tossed four touchdown passes and ran for another to complete an encouraging spring in Ann Arbor. He still has a ways to go, but he impressed the coaches this spring with his playmaking ability and willingness to learn the system. Honorable mentions go to Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray and Michigan State safety Trenton Robinson.

Best out-of-the-blue performance -- No one saw Ralph Bolden coming this spring, including Purdue's defenders, evidently. Bolden not only put himself in the mix for the Boilers' starting running back spot, but he might enter the summer as the frontrunner. A virtual unknown before the spring, Bolden rushed for 420 yards and four touchdowns in Purdue's spring scrimmages, including 153 yards and two scores in the Black & Gold Game.

Best position change -- Indiana's Kellen Lewis might have fit here if not for his dismissal days after spring ball ended. The nod goes to another quarterback-turned-receiver, Iowa's Marvin McNutt, who impressed the coaches and shot up the depth chart this spring. McNutt brings excellent size and athleticism to the wide receiver position, and should be one of Ricky Stanzi's top targets this season.

Best spring game atmosphere -- A spring game record crowd of 95,722 filled Ohio Stadium on a sun-splashed Saturday for the spring game. Packing one of the nation's biggest stadiums for a glorified scrimmage definitely adds some atmosphere. Michigan and Penn State also drew impressive crowds for their spring games.

Best story of the spring -- The development of quarterbacks around the league this spring bodes well for the Big Ten come September. Holdovers Daryll Clark and Juice Williams looked polished, while Iowa's Stanzi and Ohio State's Pryor build off strong first seasons as the starters. Teams like Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin can feel better about their depth at quarterback, and Michigan was pleased with Forcier.

Best non-story of the spring -- Greg Paulus' brief flirtation with Michigan generated a ton of buzz, though the possibility of the former Duke point guard joining the Wolverines as a quarterback always seemed remote. The Paulus story has gone away (thankfully), but it kept Michigan in the news and might have helped Paulus generate attention from other schools.

Best quote -- "If we've got a room full of guys that think, 'Well, that's what you do. You come to Ohio State and you're Big Ten champs,' if that's the reality in their mind, then we're going to have a problem," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "Because it is hard. People that know just how hard it is are gone. Because they're the ones that traversed that mountain.

"It's our job to get guys to understand how difficult it's been. It's not, 'Wish upon a star and I'm entitled to that.' That's the fun of raising kids up, helping them understand that goals are wonderful, but the plan and the action taken toward those goals it what it's all about."

Best quote II: "I don't want to have a quarterback controversy, but I also want to provide equal opportunity for everybody involved," Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio. "I don't want it to be, 'He played well one time, so he's the guy.' What we're building for is consistency and performance over the long term."

Big Ten spring wrap

May, 8, 2009
5/08/09
12:23
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Anyone who thinks spring football is simply an SEC pastime didn't attend Ohio State's spring game on April 25.

A spring game record crowd of 95,722 showed up at Ohio Stadium to see Jim Tressel's hideous Hawaiian shirt and a bunch of new starters on both sides of the ball for the Buckeyes. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor didn't let down the fans, showcasing his improved footwork and mechanics.

There was similar intrigue in other Big Ten cities this spring, as Penn State tried to reload, Michigan tried to rebuild and teams like Iowa, Michigan State, Northwestern and Minnesota tried to continue the momentum generated from last fall.

Here are five lessons from this spring:

1. Quarterback play will be better -- It couldn't get much worse, but the development of players like Pryor, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol bodes well for the fall. Penn State's Daryll Clark picked up where he left off after earning first-team all-conference honors in 2008, and Illinois' Juice Williams will be solid. Minnesota and Wisconsin should be deeper at the quarterback position, as freshmen MarQueis Gray and Curt Phillips came on strong toward the end of practice. Although the league lacks elite wide receivers, the Big Ten will pass the ball better this fall.

2. JoePa is back -- He never really left, but the 82-year-old Penn State head coach feels like himself again following hip-replacement surgery in November. Paterno was back on the practice field this spring and fully intends to return to the sideline Sept. 5 against Akron. His assistants deserve most of the credit for last year's championship team, but the lead Lion is back and has plenty on his plate this summer as Penn State tries to replace standouts at offensive line, wide receiver and defensive end.

3. Wolverines feel great with Tate -- Michigan's quarterback competition is far from over, but Rich Rodriguez can feel a bit better about the position after the way true freshman Tate Forcier developed this spring. Forcier, an early enrollee, had his growing pains but also showcased the mobility and creativity Michigan needs at quarterback and sorely lacked in 2008. The freshman left Michigan fans feeling good after tossing four touchdown passes and running for another score in the spring game.

4. This is still a running back's league -- Despite losing five of its top six rushers, including Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene, the Big Ten once again appears to be loaded at running back entering the fall. In addition to known commodities like Evan Royster and John Clay, several backs developed nicely this spring, including Ohio State's Brandon Saine and Dan Herron, Illinois' Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure, Purdue's Ralph Bolden and Northwestern's Jeravin Matthews. Michigan might have the league's deepest running backs corps after true freshman Vincent Smith blossomed this spring.

5. Indiana schools could be in trouble -- The Hoosier State could have another rough season after both Purdue and Indiana lost major contributors on offense. Purdue sophomore quarterback Justin Siller, who started three games last season and brought tremendous athleticism to the backfield, was dismissed from school for violating academic policy. Indiana said goodbye to former record-setting quarterback Kellen Lewis, who was dismissed for a second violation of team rules. There will be a lot riding on Joey Elliott and Ben Chappell this season as the Boilers and Hoosiers try to climb out of the Big Ten cellar.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 30, 2009
4/30/09
12:09
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Here's what's happening in your neck of the woods. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Check out the Big Ten's spring prospectus, if you haven't already. One item that stood out to me is the fact that the Big Ten returns its six-most efficient quarterbacks from 2008.

Is this a good thing?

The easy answer is yes. Who doesn't want an experienced and efficient quarterback taking snaps for another year?

On the flip side, as stated countless times in this blog, quarterback play is the biggest factor separating the Big Ten from rejoining college football's elite.

Last year was downright miserable for Big Ten quarterbacks, as all-conference candidates like Purdue's Curtis Painter, Ohio State's Todd Boeckman and Indiana's Kellen Lewis really struggled. Northwestern's C.J. Bacher was average, at best, and both Iowa and Wisconsin replaced their opening-day starters.

So as you look at this list, keep in mind that at least five of the six players (Penn State's Daryll Clark is the exception) need to improve on last year's numbers to truly elevate quarterback play around the league.

The Big Ten's Returning Quarterbacks (2008 Statistics)
Quarterback, School Rating Pass yards TD INT
Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State 146.5 1,311 12 4
Daryll Clark, Penn State 143.4 2,592 19 6
Juice Williams, Illinois 138.1 3,173 22 16
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa 134.8 1,956 14 9
Adam Weber, Minnesota 126.9 2,761 15 8
Dustin Sherer, Wisconsin 120.7 1,389 6 5

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A dozen years ago, Joe Tiller changed the landscape of Big Ten football by installing the spread offense at Purdue. Team scoring records immediately began to fall.

As Tiller departs a league filled with adaptations of the spread, another system could be catching on in the heartland.

Indiana is spending much of the spring operating in the pistol offense, the abbreviated shotgun system where the quarterback and running back are staggered in the backfield. Hoosiers coaches recently visited their counterparts at Nevada, home of pistol offense creator Chris Ault.

Nevada first implemented the pistol in 2004 and has finished in the top 30 nationally in total offense in four of the last five seasons, placing fifth nationally last fall (508.5 yards per game).

Indiana hopes the pistol creates a better rhythm with the offense and jump-starts a running game that has been too reliant on quarterback Kellen Lewis the last few years.

"Our plays now, out of the pistol, give us more of an option of where to run," running back Demetrius McCray said. "In the gun, it's hard to see everything, because you're going at an angle. In the pistol you're going straight on, and you have more options."

The Hoosiers aren't the only Big Ten squad exploring the pistol offense. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel undoubtedly will be asked Thursday whether he plans to incorporate more elements of the pistol system when the Buckeyes open spring practice.

Ohio State dabbled with the pistol during preseason camp last summer and used it at times during the 2008 season. And Tressel reportedly is interested in adding the Wildcat offense or more of the Pistol to Ohio State's repertoire to accommodate versatile sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

After finishing 76th nationally in total offense last fall, Ohio State needs to do something different. Same goes for Indiana, which finished 71st in total offense in 2008.

If Indiana and Ohio State see some early success with the pistol this fall, you can bet other Big Ten teams will catch on. Maybe then, a league that still gets branded as being behind the times schematically can catch up in a sport that craves offense more than ever.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 31, 2009
3/31/09
12:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

After today, 10 of 11 Big Ten teams will be on the practice field. Waiting on you, Ohio State. 

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