NCF Nation: Quentin Davie
With the draft set to begin Thursday night, I thought this would be a good time to look at some Big Ten players who might benefit teams in the middle or later rounds, or even as free-agent pickups.
Here's one potential bargain from each Big Ten squad (heights and weights according to ESPN's Scouts Inc.).
Randall Hunt, G, 6-6, 318
The skinny: Hunt anchored a formidable Illinois offensive line that helped Mikel Leshoure and others run wild in 2010. He shut down Baylor's Phil Taylor in the Texas Bowl and brings a sturdy frame to the interior line. Hunt wouldn't be a bad choice in the later rounds.
James Brewer, T, 6-6, 323
The skinny: I'm hesitant to call Brewer a bargain because he could be off the board early in the draft. Indiana had another tackle, Rodger Saffold, taken with the first pick of the second round in 2010. Brewer has the size to be good at the next level, and if he's still available on the third day, he'd be a nice pick.
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, WR, 5-11, 202
The skinny: The character questions are there, but DJK was an extremely productive player at Iowa and could be a nice late-round addition for a team. He's a strong route runner with good speed and good hands, and he can stretch defenses. If a team is willing to take a bit of a risk, it could be rewarded.
Stephen Schilling, G, 6-4, 308
The skinny: Schilling played a ton of football at Michigan and helped the Wolverines to a record-setting offensive performance in 2010. His measurables might not blow teams away, but he's a smart, solid lineman who could be a nice addition in the middle to later rounds.
Eric Gordon, LB/S, 5-11, 224
The skinny: Overshadowed by fellow linebacker Greg Jones for much of his career, Gordon quietly produced at an extremely high rate for Michigan State. You could argue he was the Spartans' best linebacker during the second half of the 2010 season. Gordon turned in an impressive performance on pro day and would be a nice pickup late in the draft or as a free agent.
Adam Weber, QB, 6-3, 221
The skinny: Some Gophers fans might scoff at this, but I always felt Weber got a raw deal during his college career. He played for three different offensive coordinators, never complained about it and still set a bunch of team records. While his junior season was a disappointment, Weber did some good things last fall and drew respect around the Big Ten. Not a bad pick in the later rounds.
Eric Hagg, S, 6-1, 209
The skinny: Hagg is a playmaker, as he showed with a team-high five interceptions plus a school-record 95-yard punt return for a touchdown against Texas. He also brings versatility to the table, having played a safety-linebacker hybrid role last fall for the Blackshirts. Hagg has played on an elite college defense and would be a good get in the middle to late rounds.
Quentin Davie, LB, 6-4, 238
The skinny: Davie entered the 2010 season as a solid NFL prospect and started off strong but disappeared at times down the stretch. He made big plays throughout his career and boasts good size as an outside linebacker. Davie could help a team as a late-round or free-agent addition if he gets back to his 2009 form.
Dane Sanzenbacher, WR, 5-11, 182
The skinny: If I were an NFL general manager, I wouldn't hesitate to draft Sanzenbacher. He lacks ideal measurables but makes up for it with football intelligence and a fearless approach to the game. Sanzenbacher has great hands and became Ohio State's top threat in the red zone this season. He stood out at the Senior Bowl and would be an excellent pick in the middle rounds.
Evan Royster, RB, 5-11, 212
The skinny: Royster is a patient runner with good vision who could thrive in the right situation at the pro level. His slow start to the 2010 season is a concern, but he picked things up down the stretch and boasts a productive college résumé. If a team needs a running back in the late rounds, Royster would be a nice choice.
Keith Smith, WR, 6-2, 224
The skinny: There's risk here as Smith comes off of tears in two knee ligaments, but a team could get a major steal if the Boilers receiver can stay healthy. He has the size to excel at the pro level and might have been the Big Ten's top receiver had he stayed on the field last season. Smith is a class act who has a chance to be a solid NFL receiver.
Scott Tolzien, QB, 6-2, 209
The skinny: He might never be a full-time starter in the NFL, but teams certainly can benefit from having Tolzien on the roster. He's an extremely smart player who makes up for mediocre measurables with superb intangibles. Tolzien is accurate and efficient, and he'll prepare harder than anyone. If a team needs a quarterback in the later rounds, Tolzien would be a great pick.
QB: Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
Pryor won MVP honors in a BCS bowl for the second consecutive season as he led Ohio State to a victory in the Sugar Bowl. The junior maintained his focus after the suspension controversy and recorded 222 pass yards and two touchdowns to go along with 115 rush yards on 15 carries. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase merits a mention after a strong effort in the Texas Bowl.
RB: Marcus Coker, Iowa
The true freshman rushed for an Iowa bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns as the Hawkeyes beat Missouri in the Insight Bowl. Coker was the team's only proven option at running back for the bowl, and he stepped up in a big way, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.
The Big Ten's best running back ended his season -- and, as it turned out, his college career -- in typical fashion, rushing for 184 yards and three touchdowns as Illinois blew out Baylor. Leshoure broke five team records and tied a sixth with his bowl performance, most notably breaking Rashard Mendenhall's single-season Illinois rushing record with 1,697 yards.
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
Sanzenbacher caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl, but his biggest contribution came on the game's opening drive. After Pryor fumbled the ball near the goal line, Sanzenbacher swooped in for the recovery and his first career "rushing" touchdown. The Great Dane showed why he was voted Ohio State's team MVP.
WR: Derek Moye, Penn State
His quarterback threw too many passes to Florida defenders, but Moye did his part for Penn State with five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. He nearly had a second touchdown following a 44-yard reception but the ball was placed at the 1-yard line. Penn State scored on the next play to tie the score at 14-14.
TE: Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
Ohio State featured its tight ends in a 28-point first half at the Sugar Bowl, and Stoneburner benefited with three receptions for 39 yards. Fellow tight end Reid Fragel added a 42-yard reception. Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks, Iowa's Allen Reisner and Michigan's Kevin Koger all merit mentions here.
OL: Josh Koeppel, Iowa
Koeppel and fellow linemen James Ferentz and Markus Zusevics got Coker going early by creating a huge hole for the freshman early in the second quarter. Coker zipped through it for a 62-yard touchdown as Iowa surged out to a 14-3 lead.
OL: Jeff Allen, Illinois
Allen helped the Illini rack up 38 points and 291 offensive yards in the rout of Baylor. He also protected Scheelhaase, who completed his first 13 pass attempts and finished the game 18-for-23 passing.
OL: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
The Badgers didn't have the dominant offensive performance they envisioned against TCU, but they still rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Carimi, the 2010 Outland Trophy winner, did his part in his final collegiate game.
OL: Randall Hunt, Illinois
Hunt and Allen earned the highest grades from the Illini coaches after the team dominated Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Illinois mounted seven drives of 53 yards or longer, including two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that overpowered the Bears and put away the game.
C: Mike Brewster, Ohio State
Ohio State physically dominated Arkansas up front in the first half, and Brewster led the way from the center position. He helped clear the way for Herron's walk-in 9-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Ohio State racked up 28 points and 338 yards in the first half and finished with 225 rush yards against Arkansas.
DL: Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
Heyward delivered the best performance of his college career in his final game as a Buckeye. The senior racked up 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. He also caused a critical holding penalty by Arkansas midway through the fourth quarter.
DL: Corey Liuget, Illlinois
Liuget showed Baylor why he was the Big Ten's most disruptive defensive tackle this season. The junior recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack and caused a ton of trouble in the Bears' backfield.
DL: Dexter Larimore, Ohio State
Heyward drew most of the praise in the Sugar Bowl, but Larimore caused almost as many problems for the Arkansas offensive line. The senior recorded six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble as Ohio State held Arkansas' offense in check for a good portion of the game.
DL: Devon Still, Penn State
Still set a career high with 3.5 tackles for loss in Penn State's Outback Bowl loss to Florida. He tied for second on the team with seven tackles as Penn State prevented Florida from mounting long scoring drives.
LB: James Morris, Iowa
Like Coker, Morris raised hope for the Hawkeyes' future with a strong performance in the Insight Bowl. He recorded seven tackles, including one stop for loss, and showed more aggressiveness than some of his older teammates.
LB: Quentin Davie, Northwestern
The TicketCity Bowl wasn't a banner day for Northwestern's defense, but Davie did his part with 15 tackles, including two tackles for loss. His tackles total marked a career high in his final collegiate game with the Wildcats.
LB: Martez Wilson, Illinois
Wilson was a noticeable presence in what turned out to be his final game in an Illini uniform. Tez recorded seven tackles including one for loss in the win against Baylor.
DB: Micah Hyde, Iowa
Hyde made the biggest play of the Big Ten bowl season, picking off a Blaine Gabbert pass and returning the ball 72 yards for the game-winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Iowa appeared headed toward another second-half collapse before Hyde made Gabbert pay for his only bad decision of the game.
DB: D'Anton Lynn, Penn State
Lynn made a huge impact at the start of the Outback Bowl, recording an interception and recovering a fumble in the Penn State end zone in the first 10 minutes of the game. He finished the season tied with Nick Sukay for the team lead in interceptions with three.
DB: Terry Hawthorne, Illinois
The sophomore cornerback set career highs in both tackles (9) and tackles for loss (1.5) in the win against Baylor. Hawthorne made his first start of the season after battling a foot injury for much of the fall.
DB: Devon Torrence, Ohio State
The Buckeyes' secondary once again needed a boost after losing a standout player to injury, and Torrence provided it. After All-Big Ten corner Chimdi Chekwa went out with a wrist injury, Torrence picked up the slack and recorded eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
K: Derek Dimke, Illinois
Dimke showed why he's known as the Big Ten's steadiest kicker in the Texas Bowl, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts from 28, 38 and 43 yards out. He became the first Illinois player to make more than one field goal in a bowl game and connected on multiple kicks for the ninth time in the 2010 season.
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Bates provided the lone bright spot for the Spartans in the Capital One Bowl, averaging 43.4 yards on seven attempts with a long of 55 yards and two punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Honorable mentions go to Illinois' Anthony Santella, Wisconsin's Brad Nortman and Iowa's Ryan Donahue.
KR: Martavious Odoms, Michigan
The fact that Odoms played in the Gator Bowl following a broken foot was pretty incredible, and unfortunately for Michigan, he got plenty of work on returns. Odoms racked up 163 kick return yards on seven attempts with a long runback of 43 yards. Honorable mentions go to Michigan State's Bennie Fowler, Iowa's Paul Chaney Jr. and Northwestern's Venric Mark.
Here are some quick thoughts at halftime around the league:
Bowling Green-Michigan: Denard Robinson was off to another brilliant start before suffering an apparent left knee injury near the sideline in the first quarter. Robinson's injury doesn't appear to be too severe, but backups Devin Gardner and Tate Forcier likely will lead the offense the rest of the way. Forcier got his first action of the season late in the first half and led Michigan on an impressive 69-yard touchdown drive, going 6-for-6 on his pass attempts. Gardner also has a touchdown pass, and receiver Roy Roundtree continues to look impressive. The Michigan defense still seems shaky, allowing an explosion play midway through the second quarter.
Toledo-Purdue: You have to feel for Danny Hope. The Purdue coach has lost his best running back (Ralph Bolden), his best receiver (Keith Smith) and now his best quarterback (Robert Marve) to injury. Marve suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and isn't expected to return. Backup Rob Henry is running the ball well, but he still looks shaky as a passer. Toledo is passing the ball extremely well and could be on its way to a shocking blowout victory. This isn't the same Rockets team I saw against Arizona in the season opener, but this isn't the same Purdue team, either.
Austin Peay-Wisconsin: This one's over, Guvna. Wisconsin is just toying with Austin Peay today, as quarterback Scott Tolzien has been nearly perfect (13-for-14 passing, 196 yards, 2 TDs) and freshman running back James White continues to impress with two touchdown runs, including a 66-yarder. As expected, Austin Peay looks totally overmatched against the Badgers' offensive line, and Wisconsin has dominated every offensive category so far. You'll see a lot of the second and third string after halftime.
Ball State-Iowa: Adam Robinson might be Iowa's only healthy proven running back, but he's a pretty good one. The sophomore already has eclipsed 100 rushing yards. I wouldn't expect Iowa to keep feeding Robinson as much in the second half, especially as Ricky Stanzi continues to throw the ball well. Tight end Allen Reisner is having another big day, and the Hawkeyes defense has rebounded nicely from the Arizona loss by shutting down the Ball State offense and forcing two turnovers.
Central Michigan-Northwestern: Very bizarre game so far in Evanston. There have been a ton of flags, two blocked PAT attempts, three turnovers and some decent ball movement by both teams. Northwestern appeared poised to take a two-score lead midway through the second quarter, but quarterback Dan Persa made his first mistake of the season, throwing an interception in the red zone. Persa's pick turned the game and Central Michigan mounted an impressive drive to tie the game. Northwestern linebacker Quentin Davie and defensive tackle Jack DiNardo both are playing well so far, but it's been too sloppy for the Wildcats with all the penalties.
Northern Colorado-Michigan State: The Spartans honored ailing Mark Dantonio by wearing a "D" on their helmets, and so far they're making the coach proud. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is dissecting the Bears defense so far, completing 12 of 15 passes for 235 yards and two passing touchdowns. After three plus years with no interceptions, Michigan State star linebacker Greg Jones already has two in the first half. The run game has been decent so far, but Michigan State really seems to be emphasizing the pass game.
Scott Tolzien: After a bit of shakiness in Wisconsin's first two games, Tolzien looked very sharp against Arizona State despite not having two of his top receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath). The senior quarterback completed 19 of 25 passes for 246 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.
Anthony Santella: Special teams play hasn't been a Big Ten strength so far this season, but Santella is a bright spot. The Illinois senior leads the nation in punting with a 48.9-yard average. Santella has improved from 50th nationally in punting in 2009 and 75th in 2008.
Northwestern's defensive line: The loss of third-round draft pick Corey Wootton hasn't fazed the Wildcats, who are receiving excellent play up front from defensive tackles Jack DiNardo and Corbin Bryant and end Vince Browne. The three combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass breakup against Rice.
Penn State's third-down efficiency: The Lions have been excellent on third down on both sides of the ball. They rank 12th nationally in third-down conversions at 53.7 percent, a testament to an offensive line that has yet to allow a sack. Penn State leads the Big Ten and ranks 12th nationally in third-down defense at just 25 percent conversions.
Greg Robinson: His Michigan defense showed some shakiness in the first two games but made up for it by forcing turnovers. There was nothing to sugarcoat the struggles Saturday against Massachusetts, which rolled up 36 points and 439 yards, keeping things very interesting until the end.
Iowa's offensive line: After holding up well the first two weeks, Iowa's inexperience up front showed against Arizona. The Hawkeyes surrendered six sacks, including three on the final four offensive plays. Though senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi needed to get rid of the ball, he didn't have much chance to do so.
Special teams: Major breakdowns are becoming an epidemic around the Big Ten. You saw it Saturday with Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State. The mistakes need to be fixed ASAP.
Now it's time to check in on the league award races.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: OFFENSE
(Player, Week 3 performance)
1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: 10-for-14 passing, 241 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 17 rushes, 104 yards, 1 TD.
2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 22-of-29 passing, 235 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs; rushing TD; had school-record 16 consecutive completions in first half.
3. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 24-for-32 passing, 307 yards, 1 TD; 34 rush yards, 1 TD.
4. Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: 14 carries, 90 yards, 1 TD.
5. Wisconsin RB John Clay: 22 carries, 123 yards, 1 TD.
6. Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure: 24 carries, 180 yards, 1 TD.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: DEFENSE
1. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: Recorded five tackles, two for loss and a sack. Leads Big ten with 8.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 more than any other player.
2. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: Recorded nine tackles, including a sack and had a quarterback hurry. Leads the Big Ten with 29 tackles.
3. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Played through pain against Arizona State to record a pass breakup and three quarterback hurries.
4. Ohio State S Tyler Moeller: Recorded a forced fumble, an interception and 1.5 tackles for loss. Ties for league lead in forced fumbles with two.
5. Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: Recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and had an interception returned for a touchdown. Leads the Big Ten in both interceptions (3) and passes defended (5).
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR RACE
1. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: 17 rushes, 114 yards, 1 TD.
2. Wisconsin RB James White: 6 rushes, 40 yards, 4 kick returns for 93 yards.
3. Penn State QB Rob Bolden: 17-of- 27 passing, 217 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT; 4 carries, 33 rush yards, 1 TD.
4. Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase: 16 carries, 115 yards, 1 TD; 8-of-16 passing, 70 yards.
Davie played quarterback, tight end and linebacker for Cardinal Ritter College Prep in St. Louis, where he also earned letters in basketball and track. Long and lean at 6-4 and 200 pounds, Davie drew interest from some colleges that wanted him to play wide receiver. He settled on Northwestern, which planned to use him at his desired position: linebacker.
But the shuffling didn't stop in college. Davie's unique size and skill set prompted Northwestern's coaches to play him at both outside linebacker spots.
"When the NFL scouts come by," Fitzgerald said, "I'm not trying to make an excuse for Q, but we've had him play two positions for multiple years.
"I can only imagine how good of a player he could be and will be if he only had to play one position."
After recording the first pick-six of his career in Saturday's win at Rice, Davie earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors. But he's far from satisfied.
"It's an accomplishment," he said Monday. "Obviously, I want to keep getting better and be consistent throughout the season. It'd be great if I could get [Big Ten] Defensive Player of the Year. That'd be a better honor."
Davie has put himself in the mix with the quick start.
He made plays as an effective blitzer throughout his first three seasons, recording 22.5 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. But he had only one interception entering his senior year.
Davie spent much of the offseason working on his drops in pass coverage with linebackers coach Randy Bates. His interceptions have been relatively easy, in part because he's consistently in the passing lanes.
"Last year, there were some times [Bates] pointed out to me where I didn't drop at all and they just threw the ball over my head," Davie said. "I knew I was hurting my DBs by not dropping, so to help them out, I worked on that and tried to get deeper drops. It goes with being older and getting more patient to know you're not going to go get the quarterback all the time, so you have to get back."
Davie could have had another interception at Rice but dropped the ball, a fact Fitzgerald doesn't hesitate to point out.
"I make fun of him when he drops one because I only had two and I dropped about 12 in my career," said Fitzgerald, a Hall of Fame linebacker at Northwestern. "I can't forget those drops."
Davie showed flashes as a young player but truly blossomed in 2009 after transforming his body in the prior offseason. He went from 215 pounds in 2007-08 to 225 in 2009 and has since bulked up to 230.
Despite his height, adding the weight was a challenge. He became a Chipotle regular.
"Every offseason, I'd hear smack from coach Fitz, like, 'Go eat a sandwich,'" Davie said. "That was his favorite phrase. It wasn't easy. At first, I thought I had tapeworm or something.
"But we have a great nutritionist and I got up to the weight I needed to be, 230."
Davie's physical development is only one step in his maturation process.
In May, he proposed to his longtime girlfriend Alexandra Richardson underneath the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Davie had planned a Mother's Day dinner for both his family and Richardson's, and gathered everyone by the Arch. He told his brother to take pictures.
When Davie dropped to a knee, everyone was surprised, including his brother.
"He only got one picture," Davie said.
No date has been set for the wedding, as Davie's focus remains primarily on football. He already achieved one of his senior-year goals to be a co-captain. Another goal is to be All-Big Ten.
Davie also finds himself on the NFL radar.
"I'm looking forward to [the NFL] a lot," he said, "but when I get in this football facility, I have to erase all those thoughts and think about this season and how I can help this team reach the goals that we set and that I set for myself."
Team of the Week: Michigan State. After suffering a series of close losses in the past three years, Michigan State finally turned the tables -- against one of its top rivals, no less. A seesaw game featured some offensive fireworks on both sides, and for certain stretches, Michigan State achieved the type of offensive balance that could make it very dangerous when Big Ten play rolls around. But the Spartans once again seemed to wilt in the clutch as quarterback Kirk Cousins took some costly sacks. Notre Dame regained the momentum late in regulation and in overtime, but Michigan State changed everything with a gutsy fake field goal call that resulted in the game-winning 29-yard touchdown pass. Although coach Mark Dantonio's health setback put the celebration on pause, Michigan State has an opportunity to build off this win.
Biggest play: Isn't it obvious by now? No one expected the fake field goal, especially from a typically conservative coach like Dantonio. It was the right call at the right time and Bates, a former high school quarterback, deserves credit for going to his second read after Le'Veon Bell was covered. If Michigan State goes on to have a big season, we'll all point to this play. Wisconsin also received two huge special-teams plays from safeties Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai. Johnson tripped up Arizona State kick returner Kyle Middlebrooks at the 1-yard line as the second quarter clock expired, saving six points and a huge momentum swing going into halftime. The 5-foot-9 Valai showed off his hops by blocking the potential game-tying PAT attempt with 4:09 left as Wisconsin won 20-19.
Specialist spotlight: Bates had a huge night against Notre Dame, and his game-winning pass to Gantt overshadowed his prowess as a punter, as he averaged 45.4 yards on eight punts. Illinois punter Anthony Santella leads the nation in punting average (48.9 ypg) after averaging 48.7 yards per boot on Saturday against Northern Illinois. Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos went 3-for-3 on field goal attempts against Rice, and Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman averaged 43 yards on four punts and had one downed inside the 5-yard line against Arizona State.
Game balls (given to players from winning teams not selected for helmet stickers):
- Wisconsin TE Lance Kendricks: Kendricks knew he'd have to step up Saturday as Wisconsin played without two of its top receivers (Nick Toon and David Gilreath). The senior tight end looked like a wide receiver again as he hauled in seven receptions for 131 yards and a touchdown, even though he was interfered with in the end zone. He shares the game ball with quarterback Scott Tolzien (19-25 passing, 246 yards, 1 TD).
- Michigan RB Michael Shaw: Denard Robinson didn't have to do it all against UMass as Shaw racked up career highs in both rushing yards (126) and touchdowns (3) on only 12 carries. He shares the game ball with Robinson, who had another big day, and receiver Darryl Stonum (3 receptions, 121 yards, 2 TDs).
- Ohio State LB Ross Homan: Homan has carried over his stellar play from 2009 and continues to become one of the league's top defensive playmakers. The senior had seven solo tackles, a forced fumble and an interception against Ohio. Kudos also go to fellow Buckeyes defender Tyler Moeller, who recorded his first career interception, a forced fumble and 1.5 tackles for loss.
- Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: Bell is the early leader for Big Ten Freshman of the Year after recording his second 100-yard rushing performance in his first three collegiate games. The big man rumbled for 114 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Notre Dame. He shares the game ball with receiver B.J. Cunningham (7 receptions, 101 yards, TD) and fellow back Edwin Baker (14 carries, 90 rush yards, TD).
- Northwestern LB Quentin Davie: The senior leads the Big Ten in interceptions after recording his third -- a pick-six, no less -- in Saturday night's blowout win at Rice. Davie recorded a game-high 10 tackles, including 1.5 for loss and a pass breakup. He shares the game ball with defensive linemen Vince Browne, Corbin Bryant and Jack DiNardo, who combined for 7.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
- Purdue WR Cortez Smith: The Boilers need a No. 1 receiver to emerge after losing Keith Smith, and Cortez Smith looks reads to fill the void. He recorded five receptions for 117 yards and two touchdowns against Ball State. He'll share the game ball with defenders Gerald Gooden (5 tackles, forced fumble, pass breakup), Kawann Short (two pass breakups, blocked PAT) and Jason Werner (INT, 1 TFL).
OK, moving on to Week 4. Do we have to? I know it's my job to get your excited for Big Ten football 24-7-365, but this week provides a major challenge, to say the least.
Northern Colorado (2-1) at Michigan State (3-0): Spartans offensive coordinator Don Treadwell takes over the head-coaching duties from Mark Dantonio, who suffered a mild heart attack following the Notre Dame win. The Spartans look for a more complete defensive performance before Wisconsin visits on Oct. 2.
Central Michigan (2-1) at Northwestern (3-0): Northwestern aims for its second perfect nonconference mark in the past three seasons after going 35 years with at least one non-league loss. Central Michigan should test Davie and the Wildcats' defense, which has forced nine turnovers in the first three games.
Bowling Green (1-2) at Michigan (3-0): The Wolverines' sputtering defense likely won't face Falcons starting quarterback Matt Schilz, who isn't expected to play because of a shoulder injury. Michigan's offense will light up the scoreboard, but the D has to get better before Big Ten play.
Austin Peay (2-1) at Wisconsin (3-0): Yawn. If Wisconsin can't dominate the Governors (ello, guvna!), Badgers fans should get worried. This provides a good chance for the Badgers to assess their depth on both sides of the ball.
Ball State (1-2) at Iowa (2-1): Although the Cardinals hung in there at Purdue, Iowa should have no trouble Saturday. The bigger question is whether the Hawkeyes can clean up their play in the kicking game, on the offensive line and in the secondary after the Arizona loss.
Toledo (2-1) at Purdue (2-1): Quarterback Robert Marve's left knee injury doesn't appear to be serious, and the Boilers need to get No. 9 through this game and into the bye week without further setbacks. Arizona shredded Toledo's defense in the season opener, and Purdue should have opportunities to further develop a receiving corps missing star Keith Smith.
Eastern Michigan (0-3) at Ohio State (3-0): The Buckeyes could score 70 in this one. I'm not kidding. Eastern Michigan has surrendered 111 points in its first three games.
Temple (3-0) at Penn State (2-1): This is the most interesting game in the Big Ten. Temple heads to State College with a ton of confidence as coach Al Golden might be auditioning for the Nittany Lions' faithful. Penn State's running back race now is open as slumping senior Evan Royster tries to hold off junior Stephfon Green and dynamic freshman Silas Redd. Should be a good one in Happy Valley.
Akron (0-3) at Indiana (2-0): Ben Chappell and the Hoosiers' offense likely will carve up another bad team Saturday, as Akron has been blown out by Syracuse and Kentucky and lost at home to Gardner-Webb (ouch). The bigger question is whether the Hoosiers' defense can shut down the Zips.
Northern Illinois (1-2) at Minnesota (1-2): It's must-win time for embattled coach Tim Brewster and his Golden Gophers, who performed a lot better Saturday against USC but still couldn't finish off a good team. Northern Illinois will test Minnesota's new-look defense with quarterback Chandler Harnish, and Minnesota needs to reignite the run game despite Duane Bennett's ankle issues.
Bye: Illinois (2-1)
Iowa's loss to Arizona costs the Hawkeyes a spot in the rankings, while I see very little separating Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State right now. All three teams have some strengths but also some obvious problem areas. As a result, they're bunched together.
1. Ohio State (3-0): The nation's most opportunistic defense forced five turnovers Saturday against Ohio, and quarterback Terrelle Pryor completed a school-record 16 consecutive passes in a 43-7 rout. Aside from the occasional special-teams breakdown, I don't see a weakness on this team. Ohio State is a bona fide national title contender.
2. Wisconsin (3-0): We didn't see the dominant play some had expected from the Badgers against Arizona State, but we learned a lot more about Bret Bielema's team. Wisconsin worked through all types of adversity and received two huge special-teams plays from Shelton Johnson and Jay Valai to remain unbeaten and move up a spot.
3. Iowa (2-1): After a second-half comeback that evoked memories of last season's magic, Iowa fell flat in the clutch against Arizona. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi couldn't get out of his own backfield, and the Hawkeyes had some surprising struggles on both defense and special teams. A chance at the national title is all but gone, but Iowa can still regroup and make a push for the Rose Bowl.
T-4. Penn State (2-1): Tom Bradley's defense turned in a dominant performance against Kent State, but questions remain on the offensive side, particularly with Evan Royster and the run attack. The senior star has yet to eclipse 40 rushing yards in a game this season. Quarterback Rob Bolden will continue to get better, but Penn State must identify a capable running back, whether or not his last name is Royster.
T-4. Michigan (3-0): The Denard Robinson Show continues to perform every Saturday, but Michigan has a few more weapons on offense than No. 16 this season. The Wolverines might need every one of them as the defense isn't stopping anyone right now. UMass pretty much had its way with Greg Robinson's crew Saturday, and an upgrade is critical before league play.
T-4. Michigan State (3-0): Like their archrivals from Ann Arbor, Michigan State owns a dramatic, come-from-behind win against a Notre Dame team that is either unlucky or very mediocre. Still, Michigan State showed a lot of promise on offense as quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver B.J. Cunningham complemented the two-pronged rushing attack of Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Coach Mark Dantonio made the Call of the Year in overtime for the win.
7. Northwestern (3-0): No rise in the rankings just yet for Pat Fitzgerald's team, but winning will eventually pay off. Quarterback Dan Persa and his talented receiving corps continue to shine, and linebacker Quentin Davie led a tremendous defensive performance against Rice with a pick-six, his third interception in the past two weeks.
8. Purdue (2-1): I'm keeping the Boilers here for another week, but they need to deliver a more complete performance this week against Toledo. Purdue is still figuring out its identity without two key offensive players (Keith Smith and Ralph Bolden), but the defense delivered a solid effort Saturday against Ball State.
9. Illinois (2-1): Illini coach Ron Zook put it best after the Northern Illinois game, saying, "I'm not so sure we would've won that game a year ago." They probably would not have won, but an improving defense and an offense building a run-first identity behind Mikel LeShoure and Nathan Scheelhaase proved to be enough against NIU. Illinois remains very much a work in progress, but at least there's progress being made now.
10. Indiana (2-0): Kudos to Ben Chappell and his receivers for a huge performance at Western Kentucky, but again, what do we really know about the Hoosiers? They've played two terrible opponents with another (Akron) on the slate for this week. I'll be happy to move Indiana higher in the rankings when the Hoosiers notch a quality win and show some real improvement on defense.
11. Minnesota (1-2): The Gophers did some good things Saturday against USC, but they couldn't finish things off after claiming a third-quarter lead and lost their 16th consecutive game against a ranked opponent. The defense fared much better after getting embarrassed against FCS South Dakota, but a breakdown on special teams turned the game. Minnesota faces a must-win situation this week against Northern Illinois.
Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio: Dantonio made the gutsiest call of the year, and it lifted Michigan State to a huge win against Notre Dame. We can debate the play clock issue all you want, but I never thought Dantonio would call a fake field goal in overtime with the game on the line. He had faith in punter Aaron Bates, who went to his second read and hit tight end Charlie Gantt for a 29-yard touchdown. This could be a major turning point for Dantonio, who has struggled to win the close games at MSU.
Opportunistic defenses (Ohio State, Penn State and Northwestern): All three units delivered dominant performances and forced mistakes from their opponents. The Buckeyes have continued their opportunistic play from 2009, forcing five turnovers Saturday against Ohio and 12 for the season. Northwestern recorded four takeaways in a rout of Rice, including a pick-six by star linebacker Quentin Davie. Penn State forced two Kent State turnovers and held the Golden Flashes to 58 rushing yards and zero points.
Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure: LeShoure is for real, folks, and he showed again today why he's one of the Big Ten's best running backs. The Illini junior had 24 carries for 180 rushing yards and a 29-yard touchdown with one minute and 43 seconds remaining to ice a victory against Northern Illinois. LeShoure has eclipsed 110 rushing yards in each of his first three games this season.
Wisconsin safeties Jay Valai and Shelton Johnson: It was a rough day on special teams for the Badgers and the rest of the Big Ten, but Valai and Johnson saved seven points in a 20-19 win against Arizona State. Johnson tripped up Sun Devils kick returner Kyle Middlebrooks just shy of the goal line as the second quarter expired, saving a touchdown. Valai blocked a potential game-tying PAT attempt, and Wisconsin ran out the clock.
Indiana QB Ben Chappell: The senior ripped apart Western Kentucky's defense for a career-high 366 pass yards and three touchdowns, completing 32 of 42 attempts with no interceptions. Chappell spread the ball to seven receivers and hooked up with Damarlo Belcher nine times for 118 yards in a 38-21 win.
Northwestern 30, Rice 13: After looking vulnerable in the opener against Vanderbilt, Northwestern's defense has locked it down in a big way. Linebacker Quentin Davie led a dominant performance by the Wildcats' D on the road at Rice, as Northwestern forced four turnovers and kept the Owls out of the end zone until just 14 seconds remained and the starters had been pulled. Davie recorded his third interception in the last two games and returned it 11 yards for a touchdown to give Northwestern a 13-0 lead. Northwestern shut down the Rice run game and limited big pass plays. The Wildcats offense took some time to get going, but quarterback Dan Persa (24-for-32, 307 pass yards, 1 TD, rush TD) came up big once again, especially in the second half. After Rice held its own against Texas, I expected this one to be a lot closer. Northwestern still needs to spark its rushing attack, which doesn't look Big Ten-ready, but it certainly will take a convincing road win.
Ohio State and Iowa have separated themselves so far, while Wisconsin needs to put together a complete performance this Saturday against Arizona State. Michigan makes another mini jump after a dramatic win against Notre Dame, although I still want to see a little more from the Maize and Blue. Penn State gets a pass this week, but there won't be any more. Minnesota pays the price in the rankings after crumbling on defense against South Dakota.
And away we go ...
1. Ohio State (2-0): The Buckeyes once again showed why turnover margin is so important, as they picked off Miami quarterback Jacory Harris four times and committed no major mistakes on offense. The formula helped Jim Tressel's squad overcome two uncharacteristic special-teams meltdowns and some inconsistency from quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Ohio State easily could have beaten Miami by 25 points, but the Buckeyes will take the win and move on.
2. Iowa (2-0): No Big Ten team has looked more dominant in the first two weeks than the Hawkeyes. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi is avoiding mistakes, Adam Robinson is sparking the run game and the defense is performing like we all expected. Iowa gave in-state rival Iowa State no chance Saturday, storming out to a 35-0 lead. Things get much tougher this week at Arizona, but the Hawkeyes appear ready for the challenge.
3. Wisconsin (2-0): The Badgers haven't been in any real danger of losing a game so far this season, but their victories are leaving everyone a little unsettled. Running back John Clay is a bona fide Heisman Trophy candidate in my mind, but there have been too many turnovers on offense, and the Badgers missed several chances for more points against San Jose State. Wisconsin needs to clean things up in a hurry as Arizona State visits this week.
4. Penn State (1-1): There's little shame in losing to top-ranked Alabama on the road, especially with a true freshman quarterback (Rob Bolden) making his first career road start. But Penn State won't be getting any more passes from me. The Lions need to get Evan Royster and the run game going beginning this week against Kent State. Bolden will get better and better, but if Penn State's offensive line can't create room for Royster, the Lions are no better than an eight-win team.
T-5. Michigan (2-0): In Denard they trust. Quarterback Denard Robinson has been nothing short of brilliant for the Wolverines, and he's showing no signs of slowing down. Michigan still has some issues with a young secondary -- the Kyle Rudolph touchdown was a major breakdown -- and the Wolverines must identify more weapons on offense to help Robinson. But two quality wins have lifted spirits in Ann Arbor, and Michigan once again is off to a great start.
T-5. Michigan State (2-0): The Florida Atlantic game raised some red flags on defense, as the Spartans struggled to finish the Owls and get off the field on third down. But the rushing attack, led by sophomore Edwin Baker, has been spectacular so far this season. Spartans backs are finding open space and making big plays. Kicker Dan Conroy and the overall special-teams play also looked good Saturday. The defense needs to step up this week against Notre Dame.
7. Northwestern (2-0): After letting an inferior Vanderbilt team hang around in Week 1, Northwestern left no doubt Saturday against Illinois State. Besides Michigan's Robinson, Wildcats junior Dan Persa has been the Big Ten's most impressive quarterback so far this season, completing 38 of 44 passes (86.4 percent) for 462 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. Linebacker Quentin Davie led a strong defensive effort, while the run game, despite showing signs of life, remains a concern.
8. Purdue (1-1): The Boilers evened their record and might have found an answer at running back in Dan Dierking (102 rush yards, 2 TDs), but the win against Western Illinois came at a cost. Purdue will have to survive without leading receiver Keith Smith, which puts pressure on Cortez Smith, Justin Siller and others to answer the bell. The Boilers also need to shore things up on defense after allowing 406 yards to WIU. I still like how the schedule sets up for Purdue.
9. Illinois (1-1): Nathan Scheelhaase and the Illini learned from their mistakes in Week 1 and delivered an impressive performance against a good FCS opponent (Southern Illinois). Scheelhaase limited mistakes and displayed impressive accuracy (14-for-18 passing) and got help from running back Mikel LeShoure (115 rush yards, 2 TDs) and receiver A.J. Jenkins (114 receiving yards, TD). Illinois' defense also is showing legit improvement from 2009.
10. Indiana (1-0): The Hoosiers were idle Saturday as they have an unusual 16-day break between games. We know less about Indiana than any Big Ten team to this point, and I'm not sure a soft upcoming schedule will reveal much more. All-Big Ten wideout Tandon Doss is expected back this week at Western Kentucky, where Indiana must clean up some things on defense.
11. Minnesota (1-1): You lose to South Dakota at home, you pay a price, especially when your defense allows 41 points and 444 yards. I recognize that Minnesota had to replace nine starters on defense this year, which isn't easy, but to let South Dakota quarterback Dante Warren do what he did was simply unacceptable. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber and running back Duane Bennett did their part, but the defense let them down. Up next: USC.
(And then there's Purdue, which didn't include a depth chart in its game notes for Notre Dame. Ugh.)
I've had the chance to review depth charts from those programs that released them today -- two-deeps from Illinois, Michigan State and Minnesota are coming soon -- and I checked in on several coaches' news conferences.
Here's what stood out:
- Even though Indiana will shift to a 3-4 defensive alignment this year, the depth chart lists a 4-3 with Darius Johnson and Fred Jones as the starting ends and Chad Sherer and Tyler Replogle flanking junior college transfer Jeff Thomas at linebacker.
- Interesting to see several veteran offensive linemen like Justin Pagan and Cody Faulkner listed as backups rather than starters. Junior Andrew McDonald steps into some big shoes at left tackle as Rodger Saffold departs to the NFL.
- The backup quarterback job remains open, as Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker are both listed as No. 2 behind Ben Chappell.
- Indiana expects big things from redshirt freshman Duwyce Wilson, listed as a starter at wide receiver, kick returner and punt returner.
- Sophomores Micah Hyde and Greg Castillo are listed as the starting cornerbacks. Shaun Prater doesn't appear on the depth chart after dealing with a leg injury in camp. Prater hasn't been officially ruled out for the Eastern Illinois game, but I wouldn't expect to see much of him on Saturday.
- James Ferentz is listed as the starting center, a spot where Iowa might be a little thin following Josh Koeppel's motorcycle accident Monday morning.
- Starting defensive end Broderick Binns is suspended for the opener, so Christian Ballard is listed as a possible starter at both end and tackle. Mike Daniels and Lebron Daniel are the next options behind Ballard.
- Sophomores Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier and freshman Devin Gardner are listed as co-starters at quarterback. Head coach Rich Rodriguez reiterated Monday that Gardner won't redshirt this fall.
- Vincent Smith and Michael Shaw are listed as co-starters at running back, with Michael Cox behind them.
- True freshman Carvin Johnson is listed as the starter at the spur position (safety/linebacker). Pretty big surprise here, and a testament to Johnson's work in camp.
- Senior James Rogers steps into Troy Woolfolk's starting cornerback spot opposite J.T. Floyd.
- Receivers Martavious Odoms and Kelvin Grady clearly showed enough in camp to be listed as starters or possible starters against Connecticut.
- Sophomore running back Arby Fields returned to practice Monday and wore a no-contact jersey after being sidelined with a shoulder problem. He's listed as a co-starter at running back with Jacob Schmidt and Stephen Simmons. Northwestern wanted a clear No. 1 running back to emerge in camp, but Fields' injury changed the plan.
- Junior Bryce McNaul is listed as the third top linebacker alongside returning starters Quentin Davie and Nate Williams. McNaul won the job in camp.
- Venric Mark is the only true freshman listed on the depth chart, both as a backup wide receiver and a co-starter at punt returner. I'll go out on a huge limb (sarcasm) and predict Mark will be the man on returns for the Wildcats very shortly.
- Junior defensive end Nathan Williams, a projected starter, will miss the Marshall game with a knee injury. He should be back shortly thereafter. Solomon Thomas will start in Williams' spot Thursday night.
- Starting cornerback Chimdi Chekwa (hamstring) is questionable for the Marshall game, but corner Devon Torrence (hamstring) should be fine.
- Sophomore C.J. Barnett's strong performance in camp lifted him ahead of Orhian Johnson on the Week 1 depth chart. Johnson missed a chunk of camp with an injury.
- Start salivating, Buckeyes fans, because running backs Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry likely will handle kickoff returns against Marshall.
- Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin and freshman Robert Bolden are listed as co-starters at quarterback for the Youngstown State game.
- Sophomore Devon Smith's strong camp landed him a starting spot at both receiver and kick returner, and a backup role on punt returns.
- Redshirt freshman Garry Gilliam is listed as the starting tight end, as Andrew Szczerba likely will miss the opener with a back injury. Penn State obviously is thin here after losing Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler.
- Veterans Nate Stupar, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu are listed as the starting linebackers, with promising younger players like Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges right behind them.
- After a very impressive camp, freshman running back James White appears at No. 3 on the depth chart behind both John Clay and Montee Ball. White also is the No. 2 punt returner behind David Gilreath. His emergence likely will result in veteran Zach Brown redshirting the season.
- Senior Blake Sorensen likely will start at outside linebacker, as Mike Taylor continues to rehab after undergoing a second procedure on his knee in camp. Culmer St. Jean and Chris Borland are listed as the other starting linebackers.
- The starting cornerback spots remain open, as Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith will compete in practice this week.
1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes boast two of the Big Ten's top 10 linebackers in Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, and they also have good depth. Homan might have been the league's most underrated defender in 2009 after tying for fourth in the league in interceptions (five) and finishing eighth in tackles (8.3 per game). Rolle makes up for his lack of size with speed and explosiveness. Ohio State's supporting cast includes Etienne Sabino, Andrew Sweat, Dorian Bell and others.
2. Michigan State: Back-to-back Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year Greg Jones enters the season as the frontrunner to win the Butkus Award. But he's not alone on what should be a loaded linebacking corps. All-Big Ten candidate Eric Gordon has played a ton of football alongside Jones, and the coaches were pleased with Chris Norman this spring. Hopes are extremely high for true freshmen William Gholston, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, and Max Bullough. It's clear to see why the Spartans are moving closer to the 3-4.
3. Wisconsin: Health remains a concern, as Mike Taylor's knee problems will linger and Chris Borland comes off of shoulder surgery, but Wisconsin has plenty of talent here. Borland is a rare, do-everything player who won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2009. Taylor likely would have contended for the same award if not for a torn ACL against Iowa. The Badgers also bring back Culmer St. Jean and Blake Sorensen.
4. Northwestern: As a College Football Hall of Fame linebacker, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald loves the look of this group. Senior Quentin Davie is a bona fide NFL prospect who has consistently reached the offensive backfield throughout his career. Middle linebacker Nate Williams enters his third year as the starter, and the coaches have solid options in Bryce McNaul, Ben Johnson and David Nwabuisi. Fitzgerald says this is the most linebacker depth Northwestern has had in his tenure.
5 (tie). Iowa and Penn State: These teams combine to lose five All-Big Ten 'backers from 2009, including first-team selections Pat Angerer (Iowa) and Navorro Bowman (Penn State). But both have historically reloaded at linebacker, and this year should be no different. Iowa's Jeremiha Hunter returns for his third year as a starter, and Jeff Tarpinian and Tyler Nielsen are primed for bigger roles. Troy Johnson and Bruce Davis are two other names to watch, and hopes are high for freshman James Morris. Penn State loses all three starters, but Nate Stupar and Bani Gbadyu have played a lot of football. Michael Mauti's return from an ACL injury and Penn State's strong recruiting at linebacker also elevate hope for the group.
Next up: Secondary
More rankings ...
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.
RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.
RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.
WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.
WR Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.
TE Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.
C John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.
G Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.
G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.
OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
OT Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.
DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.
DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.
DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.
DL Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.
LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.
LB Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.
LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.
DB Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.
DB Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.
DB Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.
DB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.
K Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
P Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.
Returner Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.
Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Derrell Johnson-Koulianos had forgotten what it felt like to have someone other than Ricky Stanzi calling signals at the line of scrimmage.
|AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall|
|Ricky Stanzi's injured ankle may keep him out of the rest of Iowa's regular-season games.|
Unfortunately for the Iowa wide receiver, he experienced both sentiments Saturday against Northwestern. And he won't forget either feeling any time soon.
The fourth-ranked Hawkeyes lost their quest for perfection Saturday, unable to summon enough magic without Stanzi as they fell 17-10 to Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium.
"That was always in the back of my mind, something I really wanted for everybody," Johnson-Koulianos said of going undefeated. "It's never been done here. We had the opportunity to do something prestigious.
"Now that dream, in a blink of an eye, is gone."
Iowa lost its undefeated season, its quarterback and possibly the inside track to the Rose Bowl on Saturday. The Hawkeyes saw their 13-game win streak, the second-longest in the nation, snapped before a stunned crowd of 70,585, thousands of whom remained in their seats long after the game ended.
The margin for error had always been slim at Iowa, both on the field and the depth chart. Until Saturday, the Hawkeyes had overcome every challenge, from losing running backs Jewel Hampton and Adam Robinson, to playing several games without left tackle Bryan Bulaga and tight end Tony Moeaki, to facing eight deficits in nine weeks.
But the loss of Stanzi to a right ankle sprain in the second quarter proved too big an obstacle.
"There's no doubt that we're a different team when Rick Stanzi's in there," Johnson-Koulianos said. "We had a gift in Ricky, and there's going to be a huge drop-off [behind him]. His ability to make plays in critical situations, we knew that. We hadn't experienced life without him so far. We didn't know what to expect, and it resulted in a loss."
Life without Stanzi likely will continue for Iowa, as head coach Kirk Ferentz said the quarterback likely will miss Iowa's final two regular-season games. Iowa will put its faith in redshirt freshman quarterback James Vandenberg, who saw his first meaningful action of the season Saturday.
Vandenberg's first pass attempt in a Big Ten game was intercepted by Northwestern's Quentin Davie, leading to the go-ahead touchdown. Vandenberg finished the game just 9-for-27 passing for 82 yards.
"Relief pitcher who hasn't been in the majors long enough," Ferentz said of Vandenberg's arrival. "That's his first time out there, basically. It's a tough circumstance."
Most top-5 teams boast enough lopsided wins to get the backup on the field, but Iowa's season-long edge-of-the-cliff dance kept Vandenberg on the bench for all but one game. Vandenberg felt prepared Saturday and knew he'd be going in as soon as Stanzi went down, but the game brought different challenges.
"It's definitely faster, and the stakes are a lot more painful," he said.
Iowa didn't condense the playbook for Vandenberg, and the offense nearly pulled off several big plays. But Northwestern's defense buckled down, particularly in the fourth quarter, when Iowa never crossed midfield.
"They were giving me great time and the receivers were working really hard, but I made some mistakes that I shouldn't make," Vandenberg said.
He'll have a week to correct those mistakes before facing a top-10 defense next week in Columbus, a place where Iowa hasn't won since 1991. The young quarterback will need help from a Hawkeyes defense that held Northwestern to 10 points Saturday. He'll also need help from a running game that produced only 65 yards Saturday.
Iowa's top goal is off the table, but a Big Ten title remains within reach, and linebacker Pat Angerer tried to keep things in perspective.
"It hurts, but we've got two games left," Angerer said. "Worse things could happen. We're not at war. We live in a good country, we're going to school for free, we're living the American dream. We lost a football game. It's pretty small when you think of the big picture."
And if there's any team that can respond from a setback like this one, it's Iowa.
"This is another challenge we have," safety Joe Conklin said. "We've been down in games and come back, but you know what? This is our first loss. We've got our first taste of defeat. And no one in that locker room likes it."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
As Northwestern endured a maddeningly inconsistent season last fall, the communication gap between players and coaches seemed to widen.
One high-ranking assistant told me toward the end of the season that he had run out of ideas for how to motivate his group. Multi-year starters regressed on defense, while a sink-or-swim offense put too much on the passing game after losing star running back Tyrell Sutton to an ankle injury in Week 2.
When head coach Pat Fitzgerald reviewed a disappointing 6-6 campaign, the 33-year-old elected to relinquish some control while increasing the competition level. Every element of Northwestern's offseason program -- from running to lifting to academics to community service -- had competition built into it. But the players were the ones driving the competition, splitting into 10 groups and electing leaders from every position group and academic class.
By successfully creating what he called "an environment of ownership," Fitzgerald got his players to bond better with one another and with the coaching staff, which included two new coordinators. The results are showing this fall, as Northwestern has started 5-0 for the first time in 46 years.
"There's a lot of things that are going the way we want it because we're taking control of this team," Sutton said. "The coaches are backing off and giving us a lot more control than we have in the past."
Competition remains a focal point, particularly on a defense that has transformed behind new coordinator Mike Hankwitz, ranking fifth nationally in sacks (3.4 per game) and ninth in scoring (12.4 ppg).
A line that boasted more career starts than notable plays has seen improvement from holdovers (Corey Wootton, John Gill) and newcomers (Vince Browne). Linebackers Malcolm Arrington and Quentin Davie are much improved and the secondary isn't a liability for the first time in years.
"Our guys have great confidence in each other," Fitzgerald said. "Through that competition, we've built trust. A lot of guys have stepped up."
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
Final 20 Duke 7 1 Florida State 45 Final 2 Ohio State 24 10 Michigan State 34 Final 5 Missouri 42 3 Auburn 59 Final 17 Oklahoma 33 6 Oklahoma State 24 Final 7 Stanford 38 11 Arizona State 14 Final 25 Texas 10 9 Baylor 30 Final 16 UCF 17 Southern Methodist 13 Final Utah State 17 23 Fresno State 24