NCF Nation: O\Brien Schofield

Big Ten pre-spring power rankings

February, 10, 2010
It's that time again.

Four weeks have passed since the year-end installment of the power rankings, and while no games were played during the span, there has been some news. We know who's coming back (Greg Jones, Evan Royster, Cameron Heyward) and who's not (Thaddeus Gibson, Navorro Bowman, Amari Spievey). We also can size up the recruiting classes for each Big Ten team.

Spring practice in the Big Ten officially kicks off March 13 at Wisconsin, so let's take a look at how the teams stack up heading into the spring. Please remember that the power rankings can -- and will -- change several times before the season begins Sept. 2.

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes will be a consensus top 5 team and a legit national title contender entering the fall. Heyward's decision to return is huge for a talented defensive front. If quarterback Terrelle Pryor builds off of his Rose Bowl performance and Ohio State solidifies things at left tackle, safety and possibly running back, this team will be scary good.

2. Iowa: The NFL draft stung the Hawkeyes a bit, as both Spievey and left tackle Bryan Bulaga opted to turn pro. But All-America candidate Adrian Clayborn returns, and Iowa will be stacked at both running back and wide receiver in 2010. Rebuilding the offensive line will be Iowa's top priority as it aims for a Big Ten championship this fall.

3. Wisconsin: The mojo is back in Mad-town as Wisconsin returns the core players from a team that went 10-3 and finished 16th in the final AP Poll. Heisman Trophy candidate John Clay leads a balanced and efficient offense, while the defense boasts a lot of young talent but must replace star pass rusher O'Brien Schofield.

4. Penn State: No Big Ten team lost more standout players than the Nittany Lions, but Penn State has shown an ability to reload, particularly in the defensive front seven. Royster's decision to return is huge for Penn State, which will rely on the rushing attack and an improved offensive line in 2010. A crucial quarterback competition begins this spring, as Kevin Newsome tries to hold off several young challengers.

5. Michigan State: I'm a bit leery to put Michigan State this high after 2009, but Jones' decision to return eased some concerns about the defense. The Spartans must get better on both lines and in the secondary, and quarterback Kirk Cousins needs to rebound after a rough finish to his sophomore season. Recruits William Gholston and Max Bullough should help the defense right away.

6. Northwestern: The Wildcats proved in 2009 that they could overcome the losses of several offensive standouts. They'll need to do it again as All-Big Ten quarterback Mike Kafka departs and junior Dan Persa steps in. Northwestern must revive its rushing attack this spring behind an offensive line that returns fully intact. The secondary also is a concern as three starters graduate.

T-7. Michigan: The offense will put up points again, but Michigan's big concerns rest with a defense that loses standouts Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren. A recruiting class headlined by safety Demar Dorsey certainly should help matters, as Michigan needs immediate contributions from its young players. The Wolverines need a strong spring from their early enrollees as they prepare for a critical 2010 season.

T-7. Purdue: It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Purdue finishes in the top half of the Big Ten in 2010, but a few key questions remain. The biggest one comes at quarterback, where Miami transfer Robert Marve and sophomore Caleb TerBush will compete for the top job. Purdue also must reload in the secondary and improve a run defense that has ranked last in the Big Ten in each of the last two seasons.

9. Minnesota: Spring practice will be critical for a Gophers team trying to establish an identity on offense and reload on defense. The starting quarterback job is up for grabs as incumbent Adam Weber tries to hold off MarQueis Gray and impress new coordinator Jeff Horton. Minnesota must replace all three starting linebackers, both starting defensive tackles and both starting cornerbacks.

10. Indiana: The Hoosiers should be very dynamic on offense in 2010, but they must address their chronic defensive woes as soon as possible to rebound this fall. Head coach Bill Lynch is moving several offensive players to defense this spring, and IU's ability to identify impact players likely will determine whether it can rise up the rankings.

11. Illinois: Things have been anything but quiet around Champaign the last eight weeks, as head coach Ron Zook shuffled his coaching staff, bringing in two new coordinators and four new position coaches. Illinois doesn't have time for growing pains, and the new assistants will need to implement the scheme and get the most out of a roster filled with question marks. One way or another, Illinois will be a fascinating team to watch between now and the season opener.
Georgia Tech defensive end Derrick Morgan likely will be a top 10 pick in April's NFL draft.

At 6-4 and a chiseled 272 pounds, Morgan has all the measurables that make pro scouts salivate. He earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading the league with 12.5 sacks. He finished the regular season with 18 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has Morgan at No. 8 on his draft board.

So, should Iowa be afraid of Morgan on Tuesday night in the FedEx Orange Bowl? Not a chance.

The Hawkeyes haven't seen an offense that as talent and tricky as Georgia Tech's triple option, but they've seen defensive ends like Morgan.

Pretty much every week in the Big Ten.

No league in the country had a deeper group of standout pass rushers than the Big Ten. Iowa faced stars like Michigan's Brandon Graham (nation-leading 26 tackles for loss), Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield (No. 2 nationally with 24.5 TFLs), Penn State's Navorro Bowman, Indiana's Jammie Kirlew and Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward. The Hawkeyes also lined up against future NFL draft picks like Penn State defensive tackle Jared Odrick and Northwestern defensive end Corey Wootton.

Plus, Iowa's offensive linemen practice against All-Big Ten players like defensive end Adrian Clayborn every day.

"We've played a lot of good ends here, the last two years," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We have a lot of them in our conference, Graham, Penn State's guys were good. You can go right down the list. ... Certainly Morgan's an excellent football player. All the accolades that he's received, he's earned. He didn't just stumble into them. All that being said, we're not a big team for putting four guys on one guy."

Tuesday night will be an excellent chance for Iowa's offensive linemen, and particularly left tackle Bryan Bulaga, to shut down one of the game's premier defensive ends.
Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Ten things you don't want to miss Saturday in the Big Ten.

1. Vandenberg vs. Silver Bullets: Ohio State's defense has been the single most dominating unit in the Big Ten this season, boasting three shutouts and nearly notching a fourth last week against Penn State. The Buckeyes pose a major challenge for a seasoned quarterback, much less a signal caller making his first career start like Iowa redshirt freshman James Vandenberg will on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Vandenberg had some expected struggles last week against Northwestern, and he'll need a heroic performance and plenty of help against the Buckeyes. If he pulls it off, he'll go down as a hero as Iowa will be heading to the Rose Bowl.

2. Bowling at Ross-Ade: The Michigan State-Purdue contest could serve as a bowl play-in game as both teams are trying to squeak into the postseason after battling inconsistency. Purdue must beat the Spartans and archrival Indiana to reach six wins, which would be an incredible accomplishment after a 1-5 start. Michigan State needs to gain at least a split in its last two games, but the Spartans finish against No. 18 Penn State, so they likely need a win Saturday. MSU is trying to reach three consecutive bowl games for the first time since 1995-97, while Purdue tries to avoid consecutive bowl-less seasons for the first time since 1995-96.

3. Michigan needs a Madison miracle: OK, that might be a bit extreme, but a Wolverines win against No. 20 Wisconsin in Madison would certainly qualify as a major upset. Michigan has dropped six consecutive Big Ten games and doesn't want to face Ohio State needing a win to become bowl eligible. The Wolverines' defense fares better against the run than the pass, but it faces a difficult test in Wisconsin sophomore running back John Clay, the Big Ten's leading rusher (108.1 ypg). Michigan has dropped its last two meetings at Camp Randall Stadium.

4. Quarterback questions in Champaign: Both Northwestern and Illinois enter Saturday's game (ESPN Classic, noon ET) with some uncertainty under center. Wildcats senior Mike Kafka will get the start, but his pulled hamstring remains a concern after his mobility was limited last week at Iowa. Backup Dan Persa played most of the snaps against the Hawkeyes, but he's still dealing with a hand injury suffered in Iowa City. Illinois starter Juice Williams sustained a sprained ankle last week against Minnesota and is listed as doubtful. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest likely will make his first career start. So it could be survival of the fittest at Memorial Stadium.

5. Penn State still in BCS at-large mix: The Nittany Lions lost their two biggest games of the season, but they still could squeak into the BCS mix based on their national name, their legendary head coach (Joe Paterno) and their sizable fan base. But they need to finish with two impressive victories against Indiana and Michigan State. Daryll Clark and the Spread HD offense must regain its swagger against the league's worst defense, and a secondary that struggled at times last week must keep pace with talented Hoosiers sophomore Tandon Doss. Penn State might not deserve a BCS bowl berth, but it can still get one.

6. Minnesota faces must-win vs. SDSU: After a pathetic first-half performance against Illinois, Minnesota better come out with a purpose against South Dakota State. The Gophers should not look past the Jackrabbits, who are 7-2 this season and own a 10-point win against the great Northern Iowa Panthers. Most of Minnesota's players were on the field in 2007 when another FCS team, North Dakota State, beat them in the Metrodome. A win makes the Gophers bowl eligible for the second straight season heading into a rivalry game against banged-up Iowa on Nov. 21.

7. Iowa's opportunistic defense: No Big Ten team forces turnovers better than Iowa, which leads the league in takeaways with 26 and is tied for the national lead with 19 interceptions. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been more turnover prone this season, throwing nine interceptions in 10 games, five more than he had all of last fall. Iowa's defensive front seven needs to force Pryor into obvious passing situations, which could give sophomore safety Tyler Sash, the Big Ten's interceptions leader, more chances to make plays.

8. Clay vs. Minor: I really hope Brandon Minor gets healthy before Saturday because we'd get to see the Big Ten's two most dominant running backs on the same field. Wisconsin's Clay is a serious candidate for Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year after his fifth 100-yard rushing performance of the season last week against Indiana. Clay should be recovered from a head injury and faces a Michigan defense that has allowed 4.3 yards per carry this fall. Minor looks like an NFL back when he's carrying the ball.

9. Defensive POY race heats up: I touched on this in Tuesday's video post, but it will be interesting to see who distinguishes himself in the crowded race for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, the frontrunner at this point, needs to lead an inconsistent Spartans defense to just its second road victory. Two of the league's top defensive ends -- Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield and Michigan's Brandon Graham -- square off at Camp Randall Stadium. Iowa needs big things from defensive stars Sash, Adrian Clayborn and Pat Angerer as it faces safety Kurt Coleman and the Buckeyes. Purdue end Ryan Kerrigan and Indiana end Jammie Kirlew also are looking for big performances.

10. Bowl eligibility at stake: All 11 teams remain alive for bowl bids, but three teams (Illinois, Indiana and Purdue) face must-win situations Saturday. If Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan fall short this week, all three teams will need to beat ranked opponents (Penn State, Iowa and Ohio State) on Nov. 21 to become bowl eligible. The bottom half of the league's bowl picture could change dramatically depending on what takes place on the field.

Big Ten picks: Week 7

October, 15, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

I went 6-1 last week but don't expect such favorable results this time around. A lot of tough games to pick on Saturday's slate.

Here's hoping for good games and exciting finishes.

Wisconsin 24, Iowa 23 -- The Hawkeyes have won two of their last three games in Madison, but I've gotten in too much trouble picking against the Badgers at home. Iowa has lived on the edge for much of the season, and a costly turnover or two gives the Badgers an opportunity at the end. Best matchup: Iowa left tackle Bryan Bulaga vs. Wisconsin defensive end O'Brien Schofield.

Michigan State 28, Northwestern 23 -- This is the type of game that Northwestern often wins, and the Wildcats should make things close with their precision passing attack. But Michigan State seems to have found its mojo, and quarterback Kirk Cousins tosses three touchdown passes in his return. Larry Caper adds a fourth-quarter rushing touchdown as the Spartans get back on the right side of the .500 mark.

Ohio State 30, Purdue 10 -- For some reason, Terrelle Pryor seems to play better away from Ohio Stadium. He only needs to play decently against a Purdue team that consistently beats itself. Defensive end Thad Gibson and linebacker Brian Rolle turn in big performances from the Buckeyes defense as Purdue drops its sixth straight contest.

Michigan 41, Delaware State 7 -- Whether it's Tate Forcier or Denard Robinson at the helm, Michigan's offense will have a big day against the overmatched Hornets. Michigan's Brandon Minor rushes for two touchdowns and Robinson adds two more. The Wolverines defense finally plays a complete game against a Delaware State team that averages just 14.3 points a game.

Penn State 28, Minnesota 16 -- Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker will be a load for Penn State's secondary, but the Nittany Lions defensive front produces a big performance in this one. The Gophers hang tight for a while before Daryll Clark and Chaz Powell break things open with a long touchdown connection in the third quarter. Lions' linebacker Navorro Bowman stifles Minnesota's run game.

Illinois 27, Indiana 26 -- I understand Illinois has been downright miserable, failing to score a first-half touchdown in four games against FBS opponents. But I can't get two images out of my head: the Illini shredding Indiana's secondary last year and Indiana failing to show up on defense last week. This one is a total toss up, but Juice Williams starts at quarterback and makes enough plays to lead the Illini to an ugly win. Wideout Arrelious Benn breaks his scoring drought with two touchdown grabs.

Week 6 record: 6-1

Season record: 37-14 (.725)

Big Ten power rankings: Week 7

October, 12, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The top four spots remain unchanged after a week that featured no upsets in conference play. There's somewhat of a drop-off after No. 4, and there's not much separation between Nos. 5-8. No one should question the three teams at the bottom.

1. Ohio State (5-1, 3-0) -- The Buckeyes won a weird game against Wisconsin, proving that big plays can overcome very inconsistent offense. I don't see a more complete unit in the league than Ohio State's defense, and with the offenses struggling around the Big Ten, it's tough to see any team scoring many points against the Scarlet and Gray. Ohio State will need Terrelle Pryor to win a conference game or two at some point, but the Buckeyes remain the team to beat.

2. Iowa (6-0, 2-0) -- Some were surprised that Iowa didn't beat Michigan by more, but the Hawkeyes once again showed their resiliency by rallying from an early deficit and making big plays down the stretch. Defense and special teams have carried Iowa this season, and those units need to be sharp for upcoming road games against Wisconsin and Michigan State.

3. Penn State (5-1, 1-1) -- A pathetic nonconference slate is finally complete, and we'll finally learn more about Penn State in the coming weeks. Quarterback Daryll Clark has turned in back-to-back strong performances, and the defense is getting production from its standout players (Navorro Bowman, Jared Odrick). Penn State now must elevate its play another level against better competition.

4. Wisconsin (5-1, 2-1) -- Sure, the Badgers lost by 18 points at Ohio Stadium, but they showed why their 5-0 start wasn't a fluke. If Wisconsin can clean up the major mistakes, it should go on to a strong season. The Badgers need to get running back John Clay back on track, but they have to love what they're getting from senior defensive end O'Brien Schofield right now.

5. Minnesota (4-2, 2-1) -- With upcoming trips to both Penn State and Ohio State, Minnesota desperately needed to beat Purdue and the Gophers came through. Plus, they rediscovered their rushing attack thanks to Kevin Whaley and others. It's tough to see Minnesota winning these next two, but the Gophers still should be set up for a strong finish toward a bowl berth.

T-6. Michigan State (3-3, 2-1) -- The Spartans' defense delivered its second consecutive strong performance against Illinois, and the offense did some nice things before being hampered by injuries. Michigan State's margin for error remains slim after the slow start, and it needs to continue the momentum this week against Northwestern before Iowa visits Spartan Stadium.

T-6. Michigan (4-2, 1-2) -- Despite a 1-2 Big Ten mark, Michigan remains a dangerous team because of its talent level and ability to hang around in games. The Wolverines have some obvious flaws, including a lack of depth and way too many defensive breakdowns, but they should continue to make progress throughout the season. Head coach Rich Rodriguez needs to effectively manage quarterbacks Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson this week against Delaware State.

8. Northwestern (4-2, 1-1) -- The résumé still looks extremely weak for Northwestern, which has beaten three FBS teams that own a combined record of 1-16. It didn't help that the Wildcats struggled to put away a bad Miami (Ohio) team on Saturday. The defense appears to be coming around, but an offense without a consistent run game or many big-play threats needs to find a better rhythm Saturday against Michigan State.

9. Indiana (3-3, 0-2) -- What the heck happened to the Hoosiers in Charlottesville? Players and coaches undoubtedly are wondering the same thing after an embarrassing performance against Virginia. The 3-0 start seems like a distant memory, and Indiana must get back on track at home against Illinois this week. The Hoosiers' veteran-laden defense needs to bounce back fast.

10. Purdue (1-5, 0-2) -- The Boilers aren't really this bad, right? A team that outplayed Oregon on its home field and nearly knocked off Notre Dame? Well, the beauty of football is you tend to get what you deserve, and Purdue deserves a four-game losing streak after committing 20 turnovers this season. Major mistakes are cropping up in every game, and Danny Hope needs to get things fixed fast. Things don't get any easier with No. 7 Ohio State visiting Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday.

11. Illinois (1-4, 0-3) -- There's obviously a preparation problem for Illinois, which has yet to score a first-half touchdown against a BCS opponent. Quarterback Juice Williams clearly isn't the problem with the offense, which continues to waste talent at wide receiver. It's simply stating the obvious, but Illinois must beat Indiana on Saturday to have any chance of salvaging the season.