NCF Nation: Mark Dell

Earlier today, Brian ranked the groups of wide receivers and tight ends in the Big Ten. Now it's time to look at the individuals. We'll break these into two sections: wide receivers are below, and tight ends will be posted Thursday.

The Big Ten is loaded with No. 1 receivers, so sorting them out for this list wasn't easy. Unlike the running backs or quarterbacks, there isn't a huge gap between No. 1 and No. 10 in the wide receiver rankings. And since many of the league's top wideouts have strong track records, these rankings lean heavily on past performance and also consider potential for 2011.

There are quite a few good receivers who don't appear on this list.

Here are the top 10:

[+] EnlargeJeremy Ebert
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastJeremy Ebert is Dan Persa's favorite target; Ebert caught three TD passes last week in Persa's return to the lineup.
1. Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern, senior: Ebert is as solid as they come, having earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the media in 2010. He led the league in receiving yards (953) as a junior and showed the ability to stretch the field, averaging 15.4 yards a catch. Ebert hauled in eight touchdowns as quarterback Dan Persa's top target. He headlines one of the league's deepest receiver groups this fall.

2. Derek Moye, Penn State, senior: It took a while for Penn State's offense to get on track last season, but Moye made the most of somewhat limited opportunities. He had 53 receptions but averaged 16.7 yards per catch with eight touchdowns and 68.1 receiving yards per game. The 6-foot-5 Moye can stretch the field and out-jump opposing defenders. If Penn State's quarterbacks indeed take the next step in their development, Moye will have a very big senior season.

3. Marvin McNutt, Iowa, senior: After starting his college career as a quarterback, McNutt has found his natural position at receiver. He averaged 16.2 yards per reception and scored eight touchdowns in 2010, and he could have an even bigger year as Iowa's clear-cut No. 1 option in the passing game. Boasting size, speed and athleticism, McNutt is on the NFL radar and could emerge as the league's top pro prospect and receiver following the 2011 season.

4. Roy Roundtree, Michigan, junior: Roundtree definitely has the potential to move up this list if he can build on a solid 2010 season (72 catches, 935 receiving yards, seven TDs). His big challenge is eliminating drops that plagued him at times last fall. Michigan's new offensive scheme could mean even bigger things for the receivers, and if Darryl Stonum remains suspended, Roundtree might take on a bigger role in the offense. He boasts big-play ability and ended the 2010 season with several good performances.

5. Damarlo Belcher, Indiana, senior: Some folks might forget that Belcher led the Big Ten in receptions (78), recording six or more catches in eight of 12 games. He needs to find the end zone more after scoring only four touchdowns in 2010, but he's one of the league's most experienced receivers on a team loaded with talent at the position. Belcher slimmed down a bit this winter, which should help his speed and durability. Look for Indiana's new quarterback to look for No. 88 a lot this fall.

6. Da'Jon McKnight, Minnesota, senior: Like several players on this list, McKnight has a chance to put himself on the NFL draft radar with a strong senior season. He finished tied for second in the Big Ten in touchdown receptions with 10 last season and averaged 15.6 yards per catch. After splitting catches with MarQueis Gray in 2010, McKnight now will be receiving passes from Gray, the Gophers' projected starter at quarterback. Minnesota lacks much proven depth at receiver, so Gray will be looking for McKnight quite a bit.

7. B.J. Cunningham, Michigan State, senior: Cunningham has been somewhat overlooked during his career, but things should change this fall. Expect the senior to build on his 2010 performance (50 receptions, 611 receiving yards, nine TDs) as he moves into a No. 1 role following Mark Dell's departure. Cunningham has good size (6-2, 223) and will be entering his fourth season as the starter. He's got plenty of help at receiver with Keshawn Martin, Keith Nichol and Bennie Fowler.

8. DeVier Posey, Ohio State, senior: Of the four Ohio State players suspended for the first five games, Posey might be missed the most. He has started the past two seasons and represents the only proven wide receiver on the 2011 roster. Although Posey didn't turn in a breakout year in 2010 like many had expected, he still put up some good numbers (53 catches, 848 receiving yards, eight TDs). The pro potential is there, and he can help himself with a more consistent year. His early-season absence creates opportunities for other receivers to emerge, but he'll almost certainly reclaim the No. 1 receiver spot upon his return.

9. Nick Toon, Wisconsin, senior: Toon had a bit of a disappointing season in 2010, as he dealt with injuries and some inconsistent play. But I expect him to bounce back and reclaim the form he showed in 2009, when he had 54 receptions and 805 receiving yards. As Lance Kendricks departs, Toon becomes the No. 1 option in Wisconsin's passing game. He could play a big role in easing the transition for the Badgers' new starting quarterback.

10. A.J. Jenkins, Illinois, senior: After nearly leaving the program in December 2009, Jenkins reaffirmed his commitment to the Illini and turned in a solid junior season. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is making strides as a passer and Jenkins should benefit after recording 56 receptions for 746 yards and seven touchdowns in 2010. Illinois is looking for greater depth at receiver, but Jenkins provides a good No. 1 option.

Others to watch: Nebraska's Brandon Kinnie, Michigan State's Keshawn Martin, Purdue's Justin Siller and Antavian Edison, Michigan's Junior Hemingway and Darryl Stonum (if suspension lifted), Indiana's Duwyce Wilson and Kofi Hughes.
I've already taken a look at the Big Ten's 1,000-yard rushing candidates and likely sack masters in 2011. Now it's time to put the spotlight on the quarterbacks.

Who will pass for 3,000 yards this season?

[+] EnlargeDan Persa
Jerry Lai/US PresswireNorthwestern's Dan Persa has the weapons and experience to reach 3,000 passing yards this season.
Only two Big Ten quarterbacks, Indiana's Ben Chappell (3,295 pass yards) and Iowa's Ricky Stanzi (3,004), eclipsed 3,000 pass yards in 2010. Northwestern's Dan Persa was on pace to do so before rupturing his Achilles tendon in mid November. Three Big Ten signal callers -- Northwestern's Mike Kafka, Penn State's Daryll Clark and Purdue's Joey Elliott -- reached the milestone in 2009.

Let's look at who has the best chance to become Mr. 3,000 this fall. Several Big Ten signal callers operate in systems that don't emphasize the pass enough, while Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor would be on the list if not for his five-game suspension.

1. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: As stated above, Persa would have eclipsed 3,000 pass yards last fall if not for his injury. If he stays healthy for the entire 2010 season, he should reach the milestone. Northwestern is loaded at wide receiver/tight end and has an offensive line that seems to fare a lot better in pass protection than in run blocking. Although the Wildcats will try to spark their struggling ground game, the pass remains their top option and Persa's accuracy and precision should fuel the offense.

2. Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Although new offensive coordinator Dan Roushar wants to emphasize the run, Cousins' experience combined with a deep group of wideouts and tight ends should make the pass a big part of the plan. Cousins racked up 2,825 pass yards in 2010 and operates in an offense that can stretch the field with players like Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham, Bennie Fowler and spring sensation Tony Lippett.

3. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Robinson's record-setting season as a ball-carrier attracted the most attention, but he also racked up 2,570 pass yards in an offense that mostly emphasizes the run. The junior now enters a system where he likely will be passing the ball more. Plus, he'll be working with a talented receiving corps led by Roy Roundtree, Darryl Stonum and Junior Hemingway. Although Robinson has some work to do between now and Sept. 3, he certainly could reach 3,000 pass yards this season.

4. Iowa QB James Vandenberg: The Hawkeyes want to establish the run with Marcus Coker and take some pressure off of their first-year starting quarterback. But with limited depth at running back, Vandenberg might need to take to the air. He'll be working behind one of the league's best offensive lines and boasts a good No. 1 target in receiver Marvin McNutt. If others can emerge at receiver/tight end -- Keenan Davis, Brad Herman, C.J. Fiedorowicz -- Vandenberg could challenge the 3,000 mark.

5. Penn State's starting QB: If Penn State sticks with one quarterback for the entire 2011 season, he could become a 3,000-yard passer. Either Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden would have to become more accurate, but Penn State averaged 12.7 yards per completion and returns some talented receivers, led by All-Big Ten candidate Derek Moye. If the run game can't get going, Penn State will be forced to pass more.

Also keep an eye on these potential 3,000-yard passers from the Big Ten:
I'll continue the series Wednesday with a look at the Big Ten's top interceptors (4 or more).

Big Ten predictions: Week 13

November, 24, 2010
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

By Week 13, you are what you are. And I'm not Mr. Perfect (my wife reminds of this daily).

I've accepted the fact that I'll never have another spotless week of predictions. Came close again in Week 13, but whiffed on the Wrigley Game. Figures, given the curses that live in that building.

Three of the predictions this week are no-brainers, while the other two took some time to decide.

I spent most of my time on Michigan State-Penn State. For weeks, I've projected Penn State to knock off the Spartans, but I'm switching it up now. After several days of deliberations, I think Michigan State had its major scare against Purdue and will play better in Happy Valley. And while the environment will be tough, a noon ET kickoff and no drama regarding coach Joe Paterno's future works in Michigan State's favor.

Yes, I know this doesn't fall in line with my bowl projections for Penn State and Iowa, but I'll fix that on Sunday if things go as forecasted.

Without further ado ...

Ohio State 38, Michigan 20: Not even the magical powers of Greg Robinson's stuffed animal can get Michigan's defense to a place where it can knock off the Buckeyes. Denard Robinson keeps the Wolverines in this one for a while, but Ohio State takes over just before halftime and never looks back. Expect a big game for Dan "Boom" Herron on the ground, and wideout DeVier Posey bounces back with a touchdown grab.

Michigan State 28, Penn State 24: I'm buying in, Spartans fans. This is your year. Kirk Cousins is banged up and the Spartans haven't won in Happy Valley since the year before Paterno became Penn State head coach, but they get it done this year. Penn State lacks the pass rush to truly rattle Cousins, who will attack the Lions secondary with receivers Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham. Michigan State rallies for the win and claims its first league title since 1990.

Purdue 31, Indiana 27: I'll break down the Bucket game in a video post later Wednesday. Check it out this afternoon.

Iowa 34, Minnesota 17: The Gophers end their scoreless streak against Iowa and even take an early lead in this one. But Iowa has too much pride and too much skill to fall apart, especially against a vulnerable Minnesota defense. Ricky Stanzi gets it in gear and tosses touchdown passes to Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt as Iowa retains the Floyd of Rosedale.

Wisconsin 48, Northwestern 14: There's too much going for Wisconsin right now, and not enough going for Northwestern. This one turns into a rout as Montee Ball and James White run all over an inconsistent Northwestern defense. Badgers defensive end J.J. Watt records a pair of sacks and Wisconsin turns it on in the third quarter to essentially lock up its first Rose Bowl berth in 11 years.

Bye: Illinois

Last week: 4-1

Season record: 68-14 (.829)
Let's take a look back at Week 12 before looking ahead to rivalry week.

Team(s) of the Week: Wisconsin and Illinois. Both teams get the nod for different reasons. The Badgers overcame their Michigan misery and won in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1994. After Wisconsin's red-hot offense surged out to a 24-0 lead, the Badgers survived a mini scare in the third quarter before steamrolling Michigan with 28 consecutive designed run plays. Running backs James White and Montee Ball combined for 354 rush yards and six touchdowns in the win. Speaking of the ground game, no back in America had a bigger day than Illinois' Mikel Leshoure, who racked up a team-record 330 rushing yards against Northwestern. Behind Leshoure's brilliance, Illinois piled up 519 rush yards and claimed a must-win game against Northwestern at Wrigley Field to become bowl eligible.

[+] EnlargeOhio State Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor
Reese Strickland/US PresswireOhio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor overcame a pair of interceptions to lead the Buckeyes to a win.
Game of the Week: Ohio State at Iowa. The game featured three lead changes and an exciting fourth quarter defined by big plays on both sides of the ball. Both defenses came to play, and only one touchdown was scored in the first half. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor overcame two interceptions to lead a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives. After Buckeyes receiver DeVier Posey dropped a wide-open touchdown pass in the end zone with the Buckeyes down 17-13, Pryor saved the day with a 14-yard scramble on fourth-and-10. Ohio State scored the go-ahead touchdown moments later and its defensive line stepped up down the stretch. Iowa's season of heartbreak continued, while Ohio State kept its streak of Big Ten titles intact.

Biggest play: Three immediately come to mind. Pryor's scramble on fourth-and-10 likely saved Ohio State's season. Michigan State's Denicos Allen blocked a Purdue punt late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown as the Spartans rallied from a 28-13 deficit. And Penn State's Andrew Dailey and James Van Fleet teamed up for a punt block and a touchdown return that broke a 24-24 tie against Indiana at FedEx Field.

Specialist spotlight: The two punt blocks by Michigan State and Penn State loomed large in both teams' victories. Michigan State punter Aaron Bates had another big game, averaging 43.4 yards per punt and placing three inside the Purdue 20-yard line. After not attempting a punt the week before against Indiana, Wisconsin's Brad Nortman made the most out of his only chance against Michigan, pinning the Wolverines at their 1-yard line. Ohio State's Devin Barclay kicked a clutch field goal against Iowa for the second straight year, this time a 48-yarder in the fourth quarter. Both punters looked comfortable at Wrigley, as Illinois' Anthony Santella averaged 53.5 yards per punt and Northwestern's Brandon Williams had a 45.2-yard average. Northwestern's Venric Mark had a 58-yard punt return that set up a Wildcats touchdown against Illinois.

Best sign: The Big Ten's last-minute decision to primarily use one end zone at Wrigley Field became the top story in college football heading into Saturday. But just in case players from Northwestern and Illinois didn't hear about the rule changes, a fan sitting behind the dreaded East end zone provided a reminder. He held up a sign that read: "Wrong Way!" Nice.

Game balls (given to players on winning or losing teams who didn't receive helmet stickers)

  • Penn State QB Matt McGloin: The sophomore racked up a career-high 315 pass yards and two touchdowns against Indiana, completing 22 of 31 attempts in the win. His 315 pass yards tie for the 10th most in team history.
  • Illinois LB Martez Wilson: The Chicago native sparkled in his hometown Saturday, recording three tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in the win against Northwestern.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: He completed his first 13 pass attempts against Michigan and showed good toughness, absorbing several hits before releasing the ball. Tolzien finished the game 14-for-15 for 201 yards and an interception.
  • [+] EnlargePenn State quarterback Matt McGloin
    AP Photo/Nick WassPenn State quarterback Matt McGloin had a career day in a win over Indiana.
    Michigan State WR Mark Dell: Dell made Senior Day a memorable one by recording eight receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. The senior receiver hauled in scoring passes of 24 yards and nine yards to match a career high for touchdowns.
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: He started slowly against Wisconsin but came on strong in the second half. Robinson racked up 121 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, breaking the FBS single-season record for quarterback rushing. He also had 239 pass yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
  • Purdue CB Ricardo Allen: Any postseason awards list of top freshmen should include Allen, who recorded his second pick-six in as many weeks against Michigan State. He tied Mike Rose's single-season record for interceptions returned for touchdowns. Allen now leads Purdue with three interceptions this season.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: The junior played through pain and overcame an early miscue to record four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) and 276 pass yards. Cousins completed passes to 10 different receivers in the come-from-behind win against Purdue.
  • Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: It's not how you start in football, and Pryor finished extremely strong against Iowa. He led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, racked up 78 rush yards against a stout Iowa defense and passed for 195 yards.
  • Indiana WR Tandon Doss: The dynamic junior led Indiana in both receiving yards (90) and rushing yards (61) against Penn State. Doss had seven receptions and five rushes on the day. He also shined as a return man and finished the game with 293 all-purpose yards, tied for the seventh-best effort in team history.

Now let's look ahead to rivalry week.

Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) at No. 8 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1): If the Buckeyes win, they will tie a Big Ten record with their sixth consecutive league title (won or shared). They also aim for their seventh consecutive win against their archrival. Michigan can spoil it all for Ohio State and take the heat off of third-year coach Rich Rodriguez, but a Wolverines win would qualify as a major upset. Pryor takes aim at a Wolverines defense that ranks 99th nationally in points allowed (33.6 ppg).

No. 10 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) at Penn State (7-4, 4-3): A special season for the Spartans comes down to this, the biggest game in recent team history. Michigan State can record a team record for wins if it beats Penn State, and a victory ensures the Spartans of at least a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990. McGloin and the Nittany Lions look to spoil the party and end the regular season with wins in five of their final six games.

Indiana (4-7, 0-7) at Purdue (4-7, 2-5): For the second straight year, the Bucket game will be played with just pride and bragging rights on the line. Neither Indiana nor Purdue will be going bowling this season, but both teams want to end 2010 on a good note. It could be a pivotal game for Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch, who has recorded just two Big Ten wins since his Hoosiers beat Purdue in 2007 to clinch a bowl berth.

No. 24 Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at Minnesota (2-9, 1-6): Iowa has shut out Minnesota in each of the last two seasons, and the Hawkeyes will come in angry after dropping back-to-back games. The Golden Gophers, meanwhile, come off of an open week after an uplifting win against Illinois and look for their first home victory of the season. It'll be the last game for quarterback Adam Weber, the other Minnesota seniors and probably most of the coaching staff. Iowa has won eight of the teams' last nine meetings.

Northwestern (7-4, 3-4) at Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1): The Badgers are playing for a share of their first Big Ten title since 1999 and most likely their first Rose Bowl appearance since that year. Barring an Ohio State loss, a Badgers win likely punches their ticket to Pasadena. Wisconsin's offense has been sensational as of late, and starting running back John Clay should be back in the fold. It likely spells bad news for Northwestern, which had no answer for Illinois' rushing attack at Wrigley.

Bye: Illinois (6-5, 4-4)

Michigan State-Iowa pregame

October, 30, 2010
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- We're about 30 minutes away from kickoff here at Kinnick Stadium and both teams are on the field going through warm-ups.

Michigan State cornerback Chris L. Rucker went through warm-ups and looks ready to play. Wide receiver Keshawn Martin is in uniform, but will only play in emergency situations. Bennie Fowler and Mark Dell will handle punt returns.

Iowa linebackers Jeff Tarpinian and Jeremiha Hunter also went through warm-ups, although it's likely that true freshman James Morris will get the nod at one of the linebacker spots.

Much more to come from Kinnick Stadium, so keep it right here.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Maybe it's fate.

Michigan State took its first lead of the game with two minutes left following an 11-play, 88-yard drive that personified clutch. Kirk Cousins made big play after big play, while Northwestern couldn't get the stop it needed.

Credit receiver Keith Nichol and Mark Dell for making some huge catches, none bigger than Dell's 9-yard grab in the end zone after Northwestern safety Brian Peters tipped the ball. This Spartans team is clutch, converting a third-and-15 and a second-and-20.

Can Dan Persa answer after a tremendous game?
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State really needed that.

The Spartans are beginning to execute on offense in the second quarter. After getting nothing on their first possession, the Spartans looked very good on a 68-yard touchdown march that ended with a 7-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Mark Dell.

The big key there was MSU's run game finally showing up. Northwestern had done a tremendous job limiting the Spartans' backs on the outside, but Le'Veon Bell got free for an 11-yard dash, and Cousins made several big throws.

It's important for Northwestern to avoid any major mistakes before half, as MSU has regained some of the momentum now.
It's time to look back at Saturday's action before peeking ahead at Week 7 in the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeNathan Scheelhaase
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicNathan Scheelhaase played well in Happy Valley as Illinois made history.
Team of the week: Illinois. The Fighting Illini made history in more than one way Saturday at Penn State. They recorded their first win in Happy Valley and handed Penn State its worst Homecoming loss (33-13) in Joe Paterno's 45 years as head coach. After giving Ohio State a scare in Week 5, Illinois continued to deliver on defense, stuffing Penn State in the red zone and getting a huge lift from Nate Bussey's pick-six. Vic Koenning's defense held Penn State to season lows in first downs (7), total yards (235), third-down conversions (2-for-14) and time of possession (21:48). Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase showed impressive growth in his first road Big Ten start and capitalized on a banged-up Penn State defense. Michigan State and Purdue merit mentions for road wins.

Best game: Purdue at Northwestern. Not many choices here as four of the five Big Ten games were decided by 17 points or more. At least the Boilers and Wildcats provided some fourth-quarter drama. Down 17-13, Purdue mounted a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive that featured two third-down conversions and a fourth-down touchdown run by Dan Dierking to give his team the lead with 3:54 left. Northwestern quickly moved the ball into Purdue territory and appeared set up for the game-winning touchdown when Jacob Schmidt dashed inside the 5-yard line on third-and-5. But a holding penalty negated the run and Northwestern had to settle for a potential game-tying field-goal attempt, which senior Stefan Demos missed badly. The banged-up Boilers left Evanston with a confidence-boosting win.

Biggest play: Not a clear choice this week. Purdue made several big plays to win its Big Ten opener, including Dierking's 7-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches and Kawann Short's field-goal block early in the fourth quarter. Bussey's pick-six against Penn State was huge for Illinois, and Michigan State set the tone for a big second half at Michigan with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Mark Dell early in the third quarter. Cousins got the ball away just before absorbing a hit and made a perfect throw to Dell for the score.

Specialist spotlight: Illinois kicker Derek Dimke gets the nod this week after going 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts at Penn State, connecting from 50, 41, 37 and 31 yards away. His 50-yarder put Illinois up 17-10 in the second quarter, and he closed the half with a 31-yarder. Dimke became the first Illinois kicker to make four field goals in a game since 2006. Several Big Ten punters had good days Saturday, including Michigan State's Aaron Bates (45-yard average, two punts inside the 20), Penn State's Anthony Fera (6 points, 44-yard average) and Purdue's Cody Webster (6 punts, 47.7-yard average).

Most talked-about call: Bret Bielema's decision to attempt a two-point conversion with Wisconsin leading Minnesota 41-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Bielema claimed he was following the coaches' guide on when to go for two, but Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and many others saw it as an attempt to run up the score. Brewster might not get a chance for revenge in the rivalry, but you can bet Minnesota's underclassmen will remember what happened.

Game balls:

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey: Bussey made an athletic play to record a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown against Penn State and tied his career high with eight tackles in the victory.
  • Purdue's defense: Hard to give this to only one player, so the Boilers' defenders will have to share after an outstanding effort at Northwestern. Some notables include linebacker Joe Holland (12 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack), tackle Kawann Short (8 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 blocked kick, 1 pass breakup) and safety Logan Link (6 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup). Ryan Kerrigan had a sack and created a ton of problems for Northwestern.
  • Michigan State S Trenton Robinson: Robinson came up big on the opening drive against Michigan, recording a touchdown-saving tackle on Michael Shaw and then intercepting a Denard Robinson pass in the end zone. The much-hyped Spartans junior finished with seven tackles and a pass breakup in the win.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Cousins has been brilliant in his last six quarters of football and dissected Michigan for 284 pass yards on 18 of 25 attempts with a touchdown and no interceptions.
  • Ohio State WR DeVier Posey: Somewhat overshadowed by fellow receiver Dane Sanzenbacher this year, Posey led Ohio State in both receptions (8) and receiving yards (103) in Saturday's blowout win against Indiana. He hauled in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor in the second quarter.
  • Wisconsin LB Mike Taylor: Taylor recorded a career-high three tackles for loss against Minnesota and finished with seven stops in the game.

OK, now let's take a quick look at Week 7.

Illinois (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at No. 13 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0): In most years, this would be a classic trap game for Michigan State, which comes off of two emotion-charged victories against ranked opponents. This Spartans team seems much more grounded and mentally tough. Still, Illinois' improved defense and strong running game provides a good test. Two the Big Ten's best running backs match up with Michigan State's Edwin Baker and Illinois' Mikel Leshoure.

Minnesota (1-5, 0-2) at Purdue (3-2, 1-0): What looked like the Basement Bowl before Saturday night suddenly becomes an opportunity for Purdue to start 2-0 in league play. Freshman quarterback Rob Henry tries to gash a Minnesota defense that allows 196.3 rush yards a game, last in the Big Ten. Minnesota has won back-to-back games in the series and needs a victory in the worst way Saturday.

Arkansas State (2-4) at Indiana (3-2): After back-to-back losses, Indiana should get well against an Arkansas State team that ranks 88th nationally against the pass (237.7 ypg). That said, the Hoosiers shouldn't overlook a Red Wolves team that can throw the ball with talented sophomore Ryan Aplin and has been in every game since a season-opening 26-point loss to Auburn. Indiana needs to get its defense in order before resuming Big Ten play at Illinois.

No. 15 Iowa (4-1, 1-0) at Michigan (5-1, 1-1): Extra prep time usually translates to Iowa success, and the Hawkeyes have had two weeks to prepare for Denard Robinson after shutting down Penn State. Robinson ran for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Hawkeyes last year, and he'll provide a good test for Adrian Clayborn and the defense. Look for Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi to attack Michigan's shaky secondary down the field with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.

No. 1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at No. 18 Wisconsin (5-1, 1-1): All eyes will be on Madison as Ohio State tries to take a big step toward the national championship game against a Wisconsin team that is 40-4 at home since the start of the 2004 season. Wisconsin's home dominance is offset by Ohio State's brilliant play in Big Ten road games under Jim Tressel. Ohio State boasts the more accomplished defense, but Wisconsin can be the Big Ten's best offense when hitting on all cylinders.

Bye: Northwestern (5-1, 1-1), Penn State (3-3, 0-2)
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The image will ring a bell for Michigan State fans: a triumphant running back bringing his entire offensive line into the interview room after a huge performance against an archrival.

In 2008, Javon Ringer did it after gashing Notre Dame for 201 yards and two touchdowns on 39 carries in a suffocating 23-7 victory at Spartan Stadium. Standing in front of his top five trailblazers, Ringer declared, "I can do nothing without these guys paving the way for me. ... I told y'all they should be doing the interviews instead of me."

As you might remember, Ringer went on to earn All-America honors and the Spartans made their strongest push for a Big Ten title since 1999. Michigan State embodied the "pound green pound" philosophy Mark Dantonio espoused after becoming the team's coach, as Ringer led the nation in carries (390) and scoring (10.2 points per game).

Fast forward to late Saturday afternoon, moments after No. 17 Michigan State finished off a 34-17 win against No. 18 Michigan.

[+] EnlargeEdwin Baker
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesMichigan State's Edwin Baker rushed for 147 yards and a touchdown against Michigan.
The door opened to the visitors' interview room at Michigan Stadium, and Spartans running back Edwin Baker entered, followed by the team's starting offensive line. Baker racked up 147 rushing yards and a touchdown.

What was the plan on offense?

"Pound green pound," Baker said. "Today we showcased to everybody in the world that we're going to run the ball. We're going to be Big Ten champions."

Bold words from Baker, but after Michigan State pounded Michigan into submission Saturday, he might be onto something.

The Spartans' offense is rediscovering its identity after a season of new faces in key places. And this year's unit might have both the balance and firepower Michigan State lacked in 2008, enough to take the team one step further.

Want to see balance? Don Treadwell's offense racked up 287 pass yards and 249 rush yards against Michigan.

Want to see power? Simply watch Michigan State's 10-play, 93-yard scoring drive in the third quarter, which featured eight run plays, capped fittingly by a bruising 8-yard scoring run by Larry Caper that pushed Michigan defenders past their own goal line.

"It got to a point where we could impose our will on them," Spartans guard Joel Foreman said. "We were dominating this line of scrimmage, and that's what we wanted to work for."

Last season, Michigan State finished second in the Big Ten in passing (269.4 yards per game) and first in passing touchdowns (28). But the rushing offense ranked a middling sixth in the league and 73rd nationally.

The Spartans had no clear successor for Ringer and tried several young players, namely both Caper and Baker, as their featured backs.

"That was our main goal this season," Baker said, "establish the run game and run hard and get over 100 yards every game. We didn't do that last season."

The Spartans have returned to the run this fall, eclipsing 200 rushing yards in five of their first six games. Baker on Saturday recorded his third 100-yard effort of the season, and true freshman Le'Veon Bell, who had a 41-yard touchdown dash against Michigan, has twice reached triple digits.

The ground swell hasn't diminished Michigan State's pass attack. Far from it.

Junior quarterback Kirk Cousins dissected Michigan's weak secondary for 284 yards, completing 18 of 25 passes and spreading the ball to eight different receivers. Cousins has improved with each game, executing the play-action to perfection and boosting his completion percentage to 68.2 percent.

"That's what makes our offense so deadly, the ability we have to balance," said receiver Mark Dell, who had a 41-yard touchdown grab and 93 receiving yards in the game. "We can come out all day and run, and still execute, and we can come out and pass and execute.

"The variety that we have and the balance that we show makes our offense dangerous."

Arguably no group came out of Saturday more satisfied than the offensive line, a group heavily doubted before the season. After allowing two first-half sacks, the line kept Cousins clean and wore down Michigan's front, the strength of the Wolverines' defense.

"Every game is a statement game for our offensive line," Foreman said.

And even at the end, with the game well in hand, Michigan State continued to pound away. Facing a fourth-and-2, fifth-year senior center John Stipek told the huddle, "Guys, let's get this first down. I want to beat Michigan."

Baker ran up the gut for 5 yards and then the Spartans took a knee.

The statement?

"We are Big Ten contenders," Baker said. "And we're going to showcase that every week."
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Michigan built its 5-0 record on big plays, especially those involving Denard Robinson.

But through the first two-plus quarters today, Michigan State is making all the noise.

All three of the Spartans' touchdowns have stretched longer than 40 yards, the last a 41-yard pass from Kirk Cousins to Mark Dell to put Michigan State up 23-10. The Spartans made a statement on the first drive of the second half, continuing to exploit the holes in Michigan's defense.

Cousins stayed in the pocket nicely despite pressure from Craig Roh and made a beautiful throw to Dell, who beat true freshman Cullen Christian. Christian had entered the game after an injury to James Rogers.

Michigan needs to resurrect its big-play offense before it's too late. The Spartans lead 24-10 early in the third quarter, but Michigan is driving.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Quick thoughts from halftime at Spartan Stadium, where No. 24 Michigan State leads No. 11 Wisconsin 20-10.

Turning point: After Michigan State stuffed John Clay and forced a punt, Keshawn Martin found a seam and raced 74 yards to the end zone to give the Spartans a 13-10 lead. Martin's return was part of 17 unanswered points by the Spartans.

Stat of the half: The Spartans are minus-3 in turnovers with two interceptions and a lost fumble, but lead by 10 points. Martin's return certainly helps, but Michigan State also is outgaining the Badgers 230-118, as Clay has been held in check and quarterback Scott Tolzien has been under constant pressure.

Best call: Michigan State offensive coordinator Don Treadwell rolled the dice on fourth-and-1 from the Wisconsin 47-yard line and made a great decision with a pitch play to Le'Veon Bell that went for 23 yards. Treadwell initially appeared to be trying to draw Wisconsin offside before a replay review, but he had the offense remain on the field and picked up a huge first down, leading to a Kirk Cousins touchdown pass to Mark Dell. Mark Dantonio had to be pleased with Treadwell's decision.

Big Ten position rankings: WR/TE

August, 23, 2010
The position rankings move on to the wide receivers and tight ends, who will be grouped together. The Big Ten remains a defense-first conference, but I really like the depth at receiver and, to a lesser extent, tight end throughout the league. Although star power was considered, I put a very strong emphasis on overall depth and 2010 potential here.

This was the toughest position to whittle down to five (actually, six), but here goes ...

[+] EnlargeCunningham/Dell
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesMark Dell (left) and B.J. Cunningham headline an experienced group of receivers for Michigan State.
1. Michigan State: Sure, there's a lack of star power entering the season, but trust me, that will change. There's not a deeper group of receivers and tight ends in the Big Ten than this one. Veterans B.J. Cunningham and Mark Dell anchor the receiving corps, and dangerous speedster Keshawn Martin will play a much bigger role in the offense this season. Converted quarterback Keith Nichol also joins the mix there. Michigan State also boasts three talented tight ends, including Mackey Award watch list members Charlie Gantt and Brian Linthicum.

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 ...
A few weeks ago, took a look at the nation's top triplets: the best quarterback/running back/wide receiver combos.

In ranking college football's top 15 triplets, Rivals singled out both Ohio State (No. 7) and Wisconsin (No. 9) from the Big Ten. The Badgers' triple threat of quarterback Scott Tolzien, running back John Clay and wide receiver Nick Toon "isn't as flashy as some others on this list but ... get the job done."

For Ohio State, Rivals lists Terrelle Pryor, Dan Herron and DeVier Posey, noting that Pryor could be a Heisman candidate and Posey "has big-time speed and is a top-flight deep threat." Whether Herron or Brandon Saine is the running back, the Buckeyes' offensive combo has the potential to be dangerous.

Both groups are deserving, although I'd probably put Wisconsin's group ahead of Ohio State's, mainly because of Clay.

Who are some other notable three-headed monsters in the Big Ten? I came up with a few.

Note: I only considered teams that had quarterbacks with Big Ten experience and weren't significantly lacking at one of the positions.

[+] EnlargeBen Chappell
AP Photo/Carolyn KasterBen Chappell passed for 2,941 yards and 17 TDs last season.
QB: Ben Chappell
RB: Darius Willis
WR: Tandon Doss
Rationale: I really, really like this group, especially if Willis can stay healthy. Chappell passed for 2,941 yards last season, and Doss averaged 12.5 yards per catch while ranking third in the league in receptions. Willis has home-run ability, as he showed against Michigan, Northwestern and others, and if he can develop some consistency, Indiana's combination should be very dangerous.

Ricky Stanzi
RB: Adam Robinson or Jewel Hampton or Brandon Wegher
WR: Marvin McNutt or Derrell Johnson-Koulianos
Rationale: Stanzi can be criticized for his interceptions, but he also made a ton of big plays for the Hawkeyes last season. Both McNutt and DJK can really stretch the field -- McNutt averaged 19.8 yards a catch, DJK averaged 16.7 yards a catch -- and all three running backs have proven themselves to varying degrees in big games. If pressed to choose a big-play running back and wide receiver, I'd probably go with Hampton and McNutt.

Kirk Cousins
RB: Larry Caper or Edwin Baker
WR: Keshawn Martin or Mark Dell or B.J. Cunningham or Keith Nichol
Rationale: Michigan State might have more overall depth at these three positions than any team in the Big Ten. Cousins passed for 2,680 yards last season, and Martin has the potential to be a major big-play receiver this fall. Both Caper and Baker showed flashes as true freshmen. If pressed to choose a running back and a receiver, I'd go with Caper and Martin.

Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson
RB: Vincent Smith
WR: Roy Roundtree
Rationale: Forcier and Robinson both showcased big-play ability in 2009, the former with his arm and legs and the latter mostly with his legs. Michigan obviously has several running backs competing for playing time, but Smith boasts a lot of potential after averaging 5.8 yards a carry in limited work in 2009. Roundtree averaged 13.6 yards a catch last fall and hauled in a 97-yard touchdown from Robinson in the spring game. If I had to decide a QB, I'd go with Forcier, although both are good big-play options.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- When Mark Dantonio stepped to the podium at Big Ten preseason media day in 2007, he didn't sugarcoat Michigan State's situation or the challenges that lay ahead.

The Spartans had missed bowls in three consecutive seasons. They had wasted strong Septembers and talented players. They had lived up to the "same old Spartans" tag that they hated.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jones
Mark Cunningham/Getty ImagesGreg Jones was among the nation's leaders in tackles last season, but is being called on to be a leader off the field as well.
That day in Chicago, Dantonio's message came through loud and clear.

"We have to earn back the respect of our fans at this point," he said. "It'll be about how we handle adversity."

The Spartans started the process in Dantonio's first two seasons, reaching back-to-back bowls for the first time since 1996-97. They went 9-4 in 2008, challenged for the Big Ten championship and played on New Year's Day for the first time since 2000.

Michigan State entered 2009 with high hopes, as a fringe Top-25 team that could challenge Ohio State, Penn State and Iowa for the league crown. But late-game blunders doomed the Spartans, who backslid to 6-7 and continued to struggle in close contests (five losses by eight points or fewer).

The biggest setback took place off the field. Just hours after the team banquet Nov. 22, a large group of players were involved in an assault at a campus residence hall following a fraternity potluck event. Eleven players pleaded guilty to assault and four were sentenced to jail time. Charges, pleas and sentences dominated Michigan State's offseason, constantly casting the program in a negative light.

As the Spartans look ahead this spring, Dantonio's words from the summer of 2007 apply to his team's current position.

The Spartans want your respect again, but they'll have to earn it in 2010.

"We owe something to the fans, we owe something to the public," running back Edwin Baker said. "We owe something to people around the world that we are the team that we are. We've overcome our adversity, and we'll keep the thing moving."

All the sentences and public apologies have been delivered, and Dantonio wants to move forward from a rough few months. He also knows what happens next will determine Michigan State's ultimate standing.

"I'm sure for some, we've gained respect by how we've handled things," Dantonio said. "For others, maybe we've yet to gain respect back. Other people are dealing strictly with win-loss records. So it's different for everybody, but we're trying to be accountable to each other."

The Spartans are taking several measures to do so. They held five seminars throughout the winter and brought in guest speakers to address the law, decision-making and consequences.

Dantonio also formed a unity council, which consists of 16 players representing all classes who are voted in by their teammates. The council meets weekly with Dantonio to "make sure what's going on with our football team" and ensure the standards for conduct are being upheld.

"Our players are gravitating toward leadership," Dantonio said. "A lot of times, leaders are born out of crisis situations. I think back to 2007, when we first came in here, we had a great group of leaders. We have to continually train people to move up in that realm of leadership."

Unlike other leadership councils, Michigan State's group faces re-votes after spring ball and again after preseason camp. The council already has changed since its inception, and will continue to do so.

"It's earning respect of your teammates and your peers," said linebacker Greg Jones, a 2009 co-captain and a member of the council. "And it's crucial. Nobody's going to follow somebody who they don't respect. I've never been much of a barking type of guy, but I step in and say something when I can."

Added quarterback Kirk Cousins, another council member: "Your team goes as your leaders go."

Solidifying the leadership is vital, because Michigan State certainly boasts the talent to do better things in 2010.

Cousins is settling in as the starting quarterback after finishing 25th nationally in pass efficiency (142.6) as a sophomore last fall. He'll have plenty of weapons at his disposal, as the Spartans return four tight ends with experience and a wide receiving corps that should feature Keshawn Martin, B.J. Cunningham, Mark Dell and Keith Nichol, a converted quarterback still officially listed as Cousins' backup as well as a starter at receiver.

The Spartans want more balance in the run game and should get it from sophomore backs Baker and Larry Caper.

Michigan State's big questions are along both lines and at kicker, as it must replace four-year starter Brett Swenson. Jones, the 2009 Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year, is back to lead a defense that must improve against the pass, but boasts a lot of young talent in players like safety Trenton Robinson and defensive tackles Jerel Worthy and Blake Treadwell. The defense also should get several incoming freshman on the field, including linebackers William Gholston and Max Bullough.

"We want to gain respect back," Martin said, "and show people that we can do good things if we can just focus and keep our heads on straight."
There was no watershed moment for Keith Nichol and the Michigan State coaches.

Nichol's transition from quarterback to wide receiver was gradual, and spawned out of necessity.

[+] EnlargeKeith Nichol
AP Photo/Al GoldisKeith Nichol has had to transition from playing quarterback to receiver.
The November residence hall assault left Michigan State without six wide receivers, including key contributors Mark Dell and B.J. Cunningham, for the Alamo Bowl. Nichol, who had competed for playing time with Kirk Cousins at quarterback but looked more and more like a backup, began working with the wideouts in bowl practice.

"We didn’t really have a huge meeting about it," Nichol said. "It was just unspoken, like, ‘Hey, if you’re doing well at this, we’re going to keep you there. If we don’t see you progressing or anything, we're going to put you back at QB permanently.'"

Nichol made progress at wide receiver, just like everyone knew he would. Almost every team has a player that simply needs to get on the field, regardless of position, because of his natural skills and athleticism. Nichol always seemed to be that player for Michigan State.

It's a role that can lead to mixed emotions. Being told that you're too good to sit on the bench is somewhat of a backhanded compliment: You're more than good enough to play, just not at the position where you'd like.

Nichol, after all, had transferred to Michigan State from Oklahoma with an eye on the starting quarterback position. He was buried behind some Bradford guy at OU.

But as a future at wide receiver came more and more into focus, Nichol never blinked.

"I’ve always told coach [Mark] Dantonio I’m a football player first and a quarterback second," Nichol said. "I just want to be on the field and help this team win, whether that's special teams, wideout, QB, defense, it doesn’t even matter to me. It can be hard, if you don’t feel like you have a key role, sometimes you can feel unmotivated. But I never really felt that.

"They've always found ways to get me on the field and everything, and I've instilled my trust in them."

The trust is mutual, as Nichol has been listed as one of Michigan State's starting wide receivers on the spring depth chart. Dell and Cunningham both were reinstated for spring ball and are listed as backups, but the coaches clearly have big plans for Nichol.

The junior remains as the team's backup quarterback but will spend 70-80 percent of his time this spring at wideout.

"He's an outstanding athlete, big body, can run, quick change of direction, can jump, is tough," Dantonio said. "So he needs to get on the football field for us."

Nichol had two receptions for 11 yards in the Alamo Bowl, and he spent the winter months adjusting his body to the wide receiver position. He had always focused on leaning out and reducing his body fat, but the process accelerated after the switch.

He added 5-7 pounds of muscle, and reduced his body fat from around nine percent to around seven percent. Nichol checks in this spring at 6-2 and 220 pounds.

“I feel the biggest, the strongest and the fastest as I’ve ever felt," he said. "I tested the best I have ever. My shuttle [run] time was sub 4 [seconds], 3.96. My vertical went up, broad jump went up, everything. I feel great, I feel healthy, I feel fast and strong.

"I feel like the best athlete I’ve ever been right now."

Nichol is already being compared to Spartans wideout Blair White, a first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009 who ranked second in the league with 990 receiving yards. Nichol, a close friend of White's, knows he has huge shoes to fill but said the comparisons are encouraging.

With both Dell and Cunningham back, and Keshawn Martin poised for a huge 2010 season, Michigan State could boast the Big Ten's deepest wide receiving corps. Nichol's transition should be eased by his knowledge of the quarterback spot and his familiarity with Cousins, as the two worked together throughout 2009.

"I understand where I’m supposed to be and why," he said. "I understand the concepts of what I’m doing. If I’m running a corner, I’m clearing out for somebody else if the ball’s not coming to me. I understand what a quarterback appreciates and what might make the offense run better.

"Certainly by talking and communicating, and by me being in the position [Cousins] was in, it helps out a lot."