NCF Nation: Kyle Calloway
Ohio State, Iowa and Wisconsin all return a large core of players from bowl championship squads. Penn State loses a bit more than the others, but running back Evan Royster's return solidifies the run game for 2010.
So how rosy is the Big Ten's outlook for the 2010 season? Colleague Mark Schlabach likes what he sees.
Schlabach lists three Big Ten teams in the top 10 of his way-too-early Top 25. The Big 12 is the only other league with multiple top 20 teams (Texas and Nebraska).
Rose Bowl champion Ohio State comes in at No. 2, one spot behind reigning national champ Alabama. Don't be surprised if the two teams who won bowl games in Pasadena meet for the national title in Glendale, Ariz., next year.
Iowa comes in at No. 9 in Schlabach's poll, as nine starters return on defense. Wisconsin surges to a No. 10 ranking and will return 10 starters on offense, including running back John Clay, the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year.
Penn State rounds out the Big Ten contingent at No. 19.
Here's what Schlabach wrote about each Big Ten squad:
Ohio State: "Terrelle Pryor finally looked like the quarterback everyone thought he would be, and coach Jim Tressel might finally be ready to open his playbook in 2010, Pryor's third season."
Iowa: "Iowa will have back six starters on offense, but the line must be rebuilt with center Rafael Eubanks, right guard Dace Richardson, left tackle Bryan Bulaga and right tackle Kyle Calloway leaving. Nine starters should return to a very stingy defense."
Wisconsin: "With tailback John Clay coming back, and quarterback Scott Tolzien making big strides at season's end, the Badgers should be very good on offense in 2010."
Penn State: "Penn State coach Joe Paterno needs six more wins to reach 400 career victories, but he'll have to rebuild his team's defense to match this season's 11-2 record."
- Riley Reiff is moving from left guard to right tackle.
- Kyle Calloway is moving from right tackle to right guard.
- Julian Vandervelde is moving from right guard to left guard.
- Richardson will rotate some with Vandervelde at left guard.
Trick or treat.
1. Iowa in search of style points: After rising to No. 4 in the BCS standings, Iowa can help its cause and possibly win over more pollsters with a convincing win against Indiana (ESPN, noon ET). The Hawkeyes have fallen behind in seven of their eight wins and own only one victory by more than 11 points this fall. Indiana isn't a pushover this season, but the Hoosiers are vulnerable in the secondary. Iowa is banged up entering the game, as freshman running back Brandon Wegher makes his first career start in place of the injured Adam Robinson. The Hawkeyes also could use true freshman backs Brad Rogers and Josh Brown.
2. Bowl play-in game at TCF Bank Stadium: Minnesota and Michigan State both sit at 4-4 entering Saturday night's clash (Big Ten Network, 8 p.m. ET). Much like last week's Indiana-Northwestern game, this contest could determine a postseason berth. Michigan State is clearly the hotter team but must bounce back from a heartbreaking loss to Iowa. Linebacker Greg Jones leads a rapidly improving Spartans defense against a Gophers offense that has produced just seven points in its last two games. Minnesota can't afford a late-season collapse for the second straight season, especially with so much experience on the roster.
3. Joey Elliott vs. Scott Tolzien: One quarterback struggled with turnovers early in the season but has turned things around; the other started fast but has thrown five interceptions in his last two games. Elliott really seems to be hitting his stride, and he leads a confident Purdue team into Camp Randall Stadium, where it won in 2003. Wisconsin has dropped consecutive games and needs Tolzien to limit mistakes against an opportunistic Boilermakers defense. The Badgers' banged-up offensive line should be well rested coming off a bye week and needs to keep Big Ten sacks leader Ryan Kerrigan away from Tolzien.
4. Lions try to avoid Cat trap: Penn State snapped its losing streak at Michigan Stadium in convincing fashion last week. Now the Nittany Lions head to Northwestern's Ryan Field (ESPN, 4:30 p.m. ET), which hasn't been the easiest place to notch big wins. Since joining the Big Ten, Penn State is 4-2 in Evanston, but three of the victories have come by five points or fewer. The Lions rallied for a dramatic win in 2005 to spark their Big Ten title season. Penn State comes in hot, while Northwestern is banged up but revived after the biggest comeback in team history.
5. Quarterback questions in Champaign: Big Ten play hasn't been kind to Michigan freshman quarterback Tate Forcier, who has completed just 38 of 81 attempts with two touchdowns and three interceptions in losses to Michigan State, Iowa and Penn State. Forcier and classmate Denard Robinson need to redeem themselves against Illinois, which ranks last in the Big Ten in both total defense and rush defense. Illinois' starting quarterback once again remains a mystery, as senior Juice Williams and freshman Jacob Charest both will see action.
6. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor: The Buckeyes don't have much to gain from Saturday's game against New Mexico State, which owns the nation's worst offense and will have a rough time putting up points. But it does provide Pryor another opportunity to make strides before next week's huge trip to No. 12 Penn State. Ohio State needs to decide how it wants to use Pryor the rest of the way. My plan? He runs the ball 17-22 times a game and throws deep when the opportunity presents itself.
7. Gophers begin life without Eric Decker: Minnesota's star senior wide receiver is out for the rest of the regular season after straining his foot in Saturday's loss to Ohio State. Decker has been the Gophers' only consistent weapon on offense this season. Minnesota needs a better performance from junior quarterback Adam Weber and an offensive line that has endured inconsistency throughout the season.
8. Indiana's ends vs. Iowa's tackles: For Indiana to have any shot at an upset in Iowa City, defensive ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton must apply steady pressure to Hawkeyes quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Iowa entered the year with the Big Ten's top tackles tandem in Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, though the Hawkeyes rank eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed (17). Kirlew ranks fourth in the league in both sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (13.5), so keeping him away from Stanzi will be key.
9. Zook's reception at home: Illinois athletic director Ron Guenther says Ron Zook will be back in 2010, a decision that didn't sit well with much of Illini Nation. It will be interesting to see if the team can show some sign of progress on its home field against a sputtering Michigan team. If it's more of the same, you can bet the boo birds will be out for Zook, whose team is headed to a last-place finish for the third time in his five seasons in Champaign.
10. Penn State vs. Northwestern on money downs: Tom Bradley's defense leads the Big Ten in preventing conversions on both third down (30.4 percent) and fourth down (25 percent). Northwestern has attempted and converted more third downs (51.1 percent) and fourth downs (58.3 percent) than any other league team this season. If the Wildcats' offense can control the clock and stay on the field, it might hang around for a while. If Penn State holds its ground on the money downs, it should pull away.
It has been nine years since rivals Penn State and Pitt last played, and the debate about the discontinued series still rages in the Keystone State. When will they meet again? Not in the regular season any time soon. But there's a new subplot in the discussion this fall, as the Nittany Lions and Panthers are separated by just three spots in the BCS standings.
Both teams are playing their best football right now and remain alive in their respective conference title races. And maybe, just maybe, the 12th-ranked Lions and 15th-ranked Panthers will meet in a BCS bowl down the road. The big question: Which has the better team?
Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Big East blogger Brian Bennett break it all down.
|Eric Bronson/Icon SMI|
|Pennsylvania football fans would like to see Daryll Clark and the Nittany Lions play Pittsburgh in the future.|
Brian Bennett: It's certainly possible that both teams get into the BCS. But I see the chances of them meeting in a bowl as slim. Penn State would have to be an at-large pick, since there's no way Pitt is going to the Rose Bowl, and the options are limited elsewhere. Plus, the game wouldn't generate a whole lot of interest outside of Pennsylvania, where it would be enormous.
The bigger question I have is, why aren't these two teams still playing in the regular season? All indications are that Pitt would welcome the resumption of the series. Panthers fans blame Joe Paterno for killing the rivalry. How much truth do you think there is to that?
Rittenberg: Paterno wasn't pleased when Pitt joined the Big East, which prevented him from forming a new conference with Eastern schools. Penn State also must play at least seven home games a year. That's non-negotiable. The Lions can't afford to lose revenue from cramming their enormous stadium and continue to play other attractive nonconference opponents (i.e. Alabama) unless Pitt agreed to a 2-for-1 with two games in State College. I know the fans don't like to hear it, but the two schools are in different financial positions, and Pitt plays one more non-league game (5) than Penn State.
We could talk about this all day, but let's get to the teams. How do you think Pitt matches up against Penn State?
|Justin K. Aller/Icon SMI|
|Pittsburgh quarterback Bill Stull is leading an improved Panthers offense.|
Defensively, Pitt has one of the top defensive front lines anywhere, with sack specialists Greg Romeus and Jabaal Sheard on the outside and bullrushing tackle Mick Williams on the inside. The Panthers have been exploited, however, in the passing game against the outside linebackers and the defensive backs, which is where I would think the Nittany Lions would attack with Daryll Clark.
But Penn State's offense hasn't been overly impressive this year. Has the Spread HD gone low def?
Rittenberg: Offense, offense, offense. That's all I hear from you, Bennett. Before getting to the Spread HD, which looks pretty good to me, let's talk a little D (you like my rhymes?).
Penn State's defense is simply dominant this season. I won't bore you with stats, but Penn State ranks in the top 10 nationally in seven major statistical categories, including No. 1 in points allowed (8.88 ppg). The defensive line is ferocious, led by tackles Jared Odrick and Ollie Ogbu and budding star Jack Crawford at defensive end. Linebacker U. is back as Navorro Bowman and The 'Stache (Josh Hull) have been fabulous and Sean Lee is getting healthier each week. They would digest Lewis.
The Lions are getting better each week on offense as a new-look line jells. Clark and running back Evan Royster have been fabulous since the Iowa loss, and the new group of wide receivers has seen different stars emerge each week (Chaz Powell, Derek Moye, Graham Zug). Tight end Andrew Quarless is a major matchup problem, and backup running back Stephfon Green can go the distance on any play.
Penn State might be the most complete team in the Big Ten right now. So what do you think? Who would win if these rivals decided to play this year?
Bennett: This why I'm glad I cover the Big East and not the Big Ten: I enjoy the forward pass and seeing teams score.
I'm with you on Penn State's defense -- it's stacked. That would probably be the difference in the Pennsylvania Bowl. Although I think Pitt could still move the ball, it likely wouldn't come anywhere close to its usual points total against the Nittany Lions, while that improving offense behind Clark would get the job done.
So I give the slight nod to Penn State as remaining the big dog in the state, but the gap is narrowing once again. Now, what can we do to talk these two teams into actually playing one another?
Rittenberg: I agree that Penn State would win the game, especially with the way the Nittany Lions are playing right now. The Big East doesn't have a defense ranked in the top 20 nationally, and the Nittany Lions' size and speed on that side would pose problems. Pitt's defensive line could hurt Penn State, but Clark still would make plays in the pass game. I've been very impressed with Pitt this year, as much as I'm reluctant to buy into Wanny-coached team (sorry, Bears fan here).
How do we get these two together again? I wonder if Pitt would be willing to do a 3-for-2. Otherwise, maybe they could meet at a neutral site and split the revenue. Or we could wait for Paterno to retire. On second thought, that'll never happen.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
An unlikely union took place Saturday night in the north end zone at Kinnick Stadium. Twice.
|Stephen Mally/Icon SMI|
|Tony Moeaki scored twice in Iowa's win over Michigan on Saturday.|
As Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki caught two long touchdown passes in a win against Michigan, offensive lineman Dace Richardson happily watched from the line of scrimmage before joining the celebration. Moeaki was never touched as he raced for scores of 34 and 42 yards, but anyone who knows his story and Richardson's understands that their path through college football has never been easy.
"I tried to be the first one there, but those receivers always beat me [to the end zone]," the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Richardson said after the game. "I was so happy for him. I've known him for a long time. We grew up together and I'm just happy that he's back playing."
Moeaki and Richardson both starred for Wheaton Warrenville South High School in Chicago's west suburbs. Both were four-star recruits in Iowa's heralded 2005 recruiting class, which arrived after the Hawkeyes posted three consecutive seasons of 10 or more victories.
Both players saw the field as true freshmen for the Hawkeyes. But for most of their careers, neither man could stay healthy.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The Big Ten lacks an official preseason all-conference team, which would be interesting to see but prevents situations like Tebow-gate. We're a little more bold here at ESPN.com, so here's my All-Big Ten squad. There will be time for debate later. For now, enjoy the names.
QB: Daryll Clark, Penn State
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
RB: John Clay, Wisconsin
WR: Eric Decker, Minnesota
WR: Arrelious Benn, Illinois
OT: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
OG: Jon Asamoah, Illinois
C: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
OG: Justin Boren, Ohio State
OT: Kyle Calloway, Iowa
TE: Garrett Graham, Wisconsin
DE: Brandon Graham, Michigan
DT: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DT: Mike Neal, Purdue
DE: Corey Wootton, Northwestern
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Navorro Bowman, Penn State
LB: Pat Angerer, Iowa
CB: Amari Spievey, Iowa
CB: Traye Simmons, Minnesota
S: Kurt Coleman, Ohio State
S: Brad Phillips, Northwestern
P: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
PK: Brett Swenson, Michigan State
KR: Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota
PR: Ray Small*, Ohio State
*-Currently not with team
Penn State leads the way with five selections, followed by Iowa (4), Ohio State (3), Minnesota (3), Illinois (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (2), Michigan (2), Michigan State (2) and Purdue (1).
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Prognostication guru Phil Steele released his preseason All-Big Ten teams Tuesday, and fans of Penn State and Ohio State undoubtedly will be pleased.
Although both teams lost sizable and decorated senior classes, Penn State put six players on Steele's first team, while Ohio State has four. The big surprise is that Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, widely considered the league's best signal-caller, slipped to the third team behind Illinois' Juice Williams and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.
Steele also released his preseason All-America teams, and here's the breakdown for the Big Ten:
First team -- Illinois WR Arrelious Benn, Michigan P Zoltan Mesko
Third team -- Michigan DE Brandon Graham, Penn State DT Jared Odrick, Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, Ohio State PR Ray Small
Fourth team -- Ohio State LG Justin Boren, Northwestern DE Corey Wootton, Illinois LB Martez Wilson, Michigan State LB Greg Jones
Getting back to the Big Ten list, which was generally pretty solid but had some interesting notes and surprises:
- There are clearly two elite wide receivers in the Big Ten in Benn and Decker. After that, it's a crapshoot. Purdue's Keith Smith was the third wideout named to Steele's first team. Unproven players like Minnesota's Hayo Carpenter (second team), Ohio State's DeVier Posey (third team) and Northwestern's Andrew Brewer (fourth team) also earned recognition.
- I was a little surprised to see Purdue's Jaycen Taylor listed as a second-team running back ahead of Iowa's Jewel Hampton. Taylor comes off an ACL injury and never beat out Kory Sheets for the starting job when he was healthy. Hampton filled in very well behind Shonn Greene last year.
- Michigan State running back Edwin Baker was the only incoming freshman to make Steele's list as a fourth-teamer.
- Illinois defensive tackle Josh Brent, who was suspended for spring ball after receiving a DUI in February, is listed on the first team next to Odrick. Brent is a talented player, but Purdue's Mike Neal might have been the safer pick here.
- The offensive line selections were interesting. Experience beat out potential as Wisconsin's John Moffitt earned the second-team nod over Ohio State's Mike Brewster. I was very surprised not to see Northwestern linemen Al Netter or Ben Burkett on the list. Indiana had two linemen selected (Cody Faulkner and Rodger Saffold) despite really struggling in that area a year ago, and Iowa surprisingly only had tackles Bryan Bulaga (first team) and Kyle Calloway (second team) on the rundown.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There are some positions on the depth chart that make Big Ten coaches cringe. There are other spots that make them smile and nod their heads.
Let's take a look at several fully loaded positions in the Big Ten.
Ohio State's defensive line: There is talk the Buckeyes' front four could be the best since the 2002 national championship squad. Ohio State is stacked at defensive end with All-Big Ten candidate Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Wilson, who can be effective if healthy. Tackle Doug Worthington brings a ton of experience to the interior line, and Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger add depth there.
Iowa's offensive line: This group is well on its way to restoring the tradition established during the early part of coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. Iowa boasts the league's top tackles tandem in Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, and there are a host of experienced interior linemen. Julian Vandervelde developed nicely in 2008, and Andy Kuempel, Rafael Eubanks and Dan Doering all are solid options at guard. The emergence of oft-injured Dace Richardson this spring adds another body to the mix. Aside from the center spot, Iowa looks extremely solid up front.
Michigan State's secondary: Despite losing All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley, Michigan State should be even stronger in the back half. Three starters return in the secondary, including corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver. Michigan State boasts depth with corners Jeremy Ware and Johnny Adams and safeties Kendell Davis-Clark and Marcus Hyde. And the breakout performance of the spring came from another safety, Trenton Robinson, who certainly will see playing time this season.
Penn State's linebackers: Linebacker U. is back in 2009. Penn State boasts one of the nation's top linebacker tandems in Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, both of whom will contend for All-America honors. And it doesn't stop there, as sophomore Michael Mauti is poised for a big year on the outside. Penn State also boasts veteran depth with Josh Hull, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu.
Illinois' wide receivers: Juice Williams will have no shortage of options in the passing game this fall. All-America candidate Arrelious Benn leads the Big Ten's deepest receiving corps, which features Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt, A.J. Jenkins, Cordale Scott and Jack Ramsey. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson worked his way into a starting spot this spring and will draw opposing defenders away from Benn.
Michigan's running backs: Whoever wins the starting quarterback job in Ann Arbor will have plenty of help in the backfield. Hopes are extremely high for senior Brandon Minor, who finished strong last season despite battling several injuries, including one to his right (ball-carrying) wrist. Backing up Minor will be Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw, both of whom will be more accustomed to Rich Rodriguez's offense. Bite-size back Vincent Smith emerged this spring to provide another option with breakaway speed.
Northwestern's secondary: One of the league's weakest units a few years ago has transformed into a major strength for the Wildcats. All four starters return from 2008, and safety Brad Phillips and cornerback Sherrick McManis are strong candidates for All-Big Ten honors. Safety Brendan Smith and cornerback Jordan Mabin both are natural playmakers, and Northwestern boasts depth in players like Brian Peters, Justan Vaughn and David Arnold.
Wisconsin's H-backs/tight ends: Travis Beckum's star-crossed senior season opened opportunities for other players in 2008, and the result is a multitude of options at tight end for 2009. Mackey Award candidate Garrett Graham leads the way at the H-back spot, and senior Mickey Turner and junior Lance Kendricks provide reliable options in the passing game.