NCF Nation: Kyle Adams
This was the toughest position to whittle down to five (actually, six), but here goes ...
2. Indiana: The Hoosiers return two of the Big Ten's top five receivers in Tandon Doss, a first-team all-conference selection, and Damarlo Belcher. They also add experience with Terrance Turner and exciting young players like Duwyce Wilson and Dre Muhammad. Overall depth is a bit of a question mark, but both Doss and Belcher will get the attention of opposing defensive backs after combining for 1,732 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns last fall. Max Dedmond returns at tight end after recording 18 receptions in 2009.
3. Wisconsin: I'm not completely sold on this entire group, although receiver Nick Toon and tight end Lance Kendricks should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. Isaac Anderson and David Gilreath both boast a ton of experience, but must take the next step in their development. Wisconsin could use a rebound season from Kyle Jefferson, and walk-on Jared Abbrederis continues to make plays in practice and should be a contributor this fall.
4. Purdue: Surprised by my choices so far? You won't be when the season starts. Like Michigan State, Purdue's depth will reveal itself this fall. The Boilers are led by Keith Smith, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 and the league's top returning receiver (1,100 yards). He's joined by two veterans in receiver Cortez Smith and tight end Kyle Adams. But the real boost could come from young players like Antavian Edison and Gary Bush, as well as Justin Siller, the team's former starting quarterback who brings size and big-play ability to the perimeter.
T-5: Penn State: I'm tempted to rank the Lions a little higher but want to see how the entire group performs this season, provided they get the ball thrown to them. Derek Moye has all the tools to be an All-Big Ten receiver after recording 48 receptions for 765 yards and six touchdowns last season. Graham Zug is a very solid target who reached the end zone seven times in 2009. Although Chaz Powell moves to defense, Penn State boasts several exciting young wideouts like Devon Smith. Tight end is a big question mark after the departures of Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
T-5. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast the league's top big-play tandem at receiver in Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. DJK is on track to become the team's all-time leading receiver this fall, and McNutt averaged 19.8 yards per catch and scored eight touchdowns in 2009. I like the potential of guys like Keenan Davis and Paul Chaney Jr., who returns from a knee injury. Tony Moeaki is a major loss at tight end, but Allen Reisner returns and talented freshman C.J. Fiedorowicz enters the fold.
Just missed the cut: Ohio State, Michigan
Up next: Quarterbacks
More rankings ...
Hope's first season at the helm of the Boilermakers' program won't make it to the wall. There's no bowl championship trophy, no pictures of players and coaches wearing T-shirts and shades in the dead of winter. Hope's players don't tote any bowl swag, because they didn't get any.
A 5-7 season doesn't produce any tangible rewards. But it left Hope feeling very optimistic about the future.
After a 1-5 start filled with turnovers and near misses, Purdue rallied to go .500 in Big Ten play. The Boilers stunned then-No. 7 Ohio State, snapping a 19-game slide against ranked opponents. They also notched their first win at Michigan Stadium since 1966.
So, what exactly did Purdue accomplish in 2009?
"We made some noise," Hope said. "We've got a lot of work to do, and we haven't arrived yet, but we made some noise on the field the second half of the season. We weren't that far off, and everybody could see that. We kept swinging away, and we kept getting better as a team.
"When it was all over, we had some special moments in 2009."
The next steps are obvious for Purdue. Find ways to win close games, avoid the 10-minute disaster stretches that cropped up throughout last season, improve ball security, run defense and special teams, and, most importantly, get back to the postseason.
Simply making a lower-tier bowl isn't enough for first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Keith Smith.
"We want to go to a January bowl game," he said. "That's our goal."
Purdue might have the personnel to get there. Despite losing 20 seniors, including quarterback Joey Elliott, safety Torri Williams and defensive tackle Mike Neal, the Boilers should be a deeper team in 2010.
Wide receiver was a major question mark for Purdue entering last season, but Smith emerged as the team's latest top option with a league-leading 1,100 receiving yards on 91 catches. He'll lead a group of wideouts and tight ends that also features Kyle Adams, Keith Carlos, Antavian Edison, Cortez Smith and others.
Ralph Bolden came out of nowhere to finish third in the Big Ten in rushing (77.9 ypg) and second in scoring (5.5 ppg), and the speedy junior expects big things this fall, especially if Purdue can reload along an offensive line that loses three starters. Al-Terek McBurse is a promising No. 2 option, and fullback Dan Dierking also returns.
"From a skill standpoint, we could have as much skill as Purdue has had on offense in many, many years," Hope said. "We're very promising at running back, we have all our tight ends back, we have Keith Smith back.
"There's some firepower there. We have to develop it."
Many eyes will be on the quarterback competition this spring, specifically Miami transfer Robert Marve. Marve, who will compete with Caleb TerBush for the top job, gets a fresh start after a tumultuous two years at Miami that got ugly at the end.
Purdue coaches and players say Marve has matured a lot in the last 10 months, and Marve's ability as a former blue-chip recruit has never been in doubt.
"In [offseason workouts], he's taking control," Bolden said. "He pretty much knows our offense. I don't know how, but he just jumped in and knew it, telling people to run this, changing routes and everything. He pretty much knows what he's doing, so I'm just following his lead."
Big Ten sacks leader Ryan Kerrigan leads a defense that must get tougher against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons. The Boilers are helped by greater depth up front and the return of standout linebacker Jason Werner, who received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA last month.
Hope and his assistants will spend much of the spring evaluating the secondary, which must replace all four starters.
"Obviously, the bar has been raised," Hope said. "The record that we had last year, even though we had some signature wins, was not good enough. We didn't make postseason play.
"The standard is set, and the expectation level is always high at Purdue."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Study up. These links will be on the test.
- Michigan and Michigan State are competing for recruits, this time in the state of Ohio, Matt Dorsey writes in the Detroit Free Press.
"The Buckeyes have just 14 seniors on their roster, so Ohio State is not expected to sign a large class in 2010. That means that more high-level prospects will be looking out of state if they want to play in the Big Ten."
- Linebacker Jason Werner and tight end Kyle Adams will be healthy and ready when Purdue opens spring practice, The Journal and Courier's Mike Carmin writes in his blog.
- The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Marc Morehouse has an interesting examination of Iowa's offensive line, including the possibility of coach Kirk Ferentz's son starting at center in 2009.
- Defensive end Jack Crawford and safety D'Anton Lynn are among the players to watch at Penn State this spring, Bob Flounders writes in The Patriot-News. Defensive end Maurice Evans won't be with the Lions this spring, as the book closes on a once-promising college career, Rich Scarcella writes in the Reading Eagle.
- Yes, there are college football teams that still feature the tight end position, and Wisconsin should be solid there in 2009, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times.
- After enduring a wave of injuries last fall, Michigan running back Brandon Minor should be a major factor this season, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Improved depth could get the Big Ten back on track, writes Newsday's Mike Rose.
"We all know how deep the SEC and Big 12 go in terms of quality teams. Outside of Ohio State and Penn State, the Big Ten has lacked a group of consistent winners since 2005. But the conference's depth is getting better. Michigan State, Iowa, and Northwestern are all on the rise. Wisconsin is a strong program that had a bad 2008 season. Michigan, Illinois and Purdue will come back."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams preparing for the second round of league games.
Illinois: Head coach Ron Zook will increase his rotation on defense after the Illini dropped to last place in the Big Ten in points allowed (32 ppg). LinebackersRussell Ellington and Sam Carson and safety Donsay Hardeman all are expected to see more plays Saturday at Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Zook has some versatility with Travon Bellamy , who can play both safety and cornerback. The coach attributed Illinois' run-stopping struggles (182.5 ypg allowed) to the back half as the team tries to overcome the losses of All-American middle linebacker J Leman and talented safetiesKevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison. "I don't foresee starting lineup changes," Zook said, "but I do see guys that are going to be held accountable. ... We're going to play more guys and our job is to make sure we fix it."
Michigan State: Defensive back Kendell Davis-Clark could be back soon after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Davis-Clark's return presents some interesting decisions for head coach Mark Dantonio, who originally shifted Davis-Clark from cornerback to safety afterRoderick Jenrette was asked to take a leave of absence from the team. Danny Fortener replaced Davis-Clark in the season opener at Cal and has performed well, ranking second on the team in tackles (29) with three pass break-ups and an interception. Davis-Clark, who started 11 games at cornerback last season, is listed behind Fortener on the depth chart for Saturday's game against Iowa (ESPN2, noon ET).
Minnesota: The Gophers continue to list three players as possible starters at running back on this week's depth chart, but head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged that freshman DeLeon Eskridge has taken the lead. Eskridge racked up a team-high 131 all-purpose yards in Minnesota's league-opening loss to Ohio State last week. With five touchdowns, he's already halfway to reaching Minnesota's freshman record of 10 set by Laurence Maroney in 2003. Another freshman, Shady Salamon, and junior Jay Thomas also remain in the mix for playing time. "If you had to say one of three guys stepped out, you'd say DeLeon Eskridge," Brewster said. "The other two guys will definitely continue to play some."
Ohio State: Aside from left tackle Alex Boone, none of the spots on Ohio State's offensive line are set in stone. True freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center, but Jim Cordle could move back over from guard if necessary. Cordle and a healthy Steve Rehring are listed as co-starters at left guard. Right tackle Bryant Browning also can play a guard spot, and Rehring is a possibility at tackle. Freshmen tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams also could be the mix at some point as much-needed competition increases up front.
Purdue: The Boilers' spread offense is at its best with a large rotation of receivers, and they're starting to see more playmakers emerge. Senior Desmond Tardy is listed as a starter on this week's depth chart ahead of junior Keith Smith after catching 10 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown last week against Notre Dame. Purdue also has seen encouraging moments from junior college transfer Aaron Valentin. Head coach Joe Tiller wants to see more from his other juco wideout, Arsenio Curry, who brings excellent size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) but has yet to catch a pass. Tight end remains a question mark, as starter Kyle Adams is doubtful for Saturday's game against Penn State. Adams hasn't played since he hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the season opener.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State