NCF Nation: Robert Bolden

Big Ten helmet stickers for Week 1

September, 5, 2010
9/05/10
2:30
AM ET
It's time to recognize the best and the brightest from the first weekend of games in the Big Ten. There were 11 games and many more outstanding performances, so getting the list down to five (or six) wasn't easy. Honorable mentions certainly go to Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor and Wisconsin's John Clay, but those guys get enough love for their accomplishments.

Michigan QB Denard Robinson: "Shoelace" was amazing in his first career start, a 30-10 victory over Connecticut, predictably with his feet and surprisingly with his arm. Robinson broke Michigan's record for single-season quarterback rushing with 197 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries, eclipsing Steve Smith's mark in the third quarter. He was just as brilliant as a passer, completing 19 of 22 attempts for 186 yards and a touchdown with several big third-down conversions.

Penn State QB Rob Bolden: Bolden looked like he belonged Saturday in his first career start (and game), continuing his rapid rise at the college level. How many freshmen don't enroll early and still win a starting quarterback job, much less at a big-time program? After some early jitters, Bolden completed 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards with two touchdowns in a 44-14 win over Youngstown State. He also had an interception that wasn't really his fault. He'll have some ups and downs in the coming weeks, but Bolden appears to be the answer for the Lions.

Minnesota FB Jon Hoese: Hoese almost didn't make the trip to Middle Tennessee on Thursday after his father suffered a severe stroke six days earlier. He decided to play and ended up rushing for a career-high three touchdowns, including the game-winner, as Minnesota rallied for a 24-17 win. Hoese also recovered a Middle Tennessee fumble on a kickoff to seal the win. Just a tremendous performance amid adversity.

Michigan State RBs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker: The Spartans rediscovered their run game in a big way during Saturday's 38-14 win over Western Michigan, as Bell and Baker combined for 258 rush yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries. As projected starter Larry Caper sat out with a hand injury, Baker set the tone and Bell sparkled in his first college game with a 75-yard run. Bell's 141 yards mark the most ever by a Michigan State freshman in his first college game.

Northwestern QB Dan Persa: Persa likely saved Northwestern from what would have been a crushing loss to SEC bottom-feeder Vanderbilt. Despite getting no help from an anemic rushing attack, Persa completed 19 of 21 passes for 222 yards and three touchdowns, all to different targets in the 23-21 victory. He added 82 rushing yards in a performance that mirrored what Mike Kafka did for NU in 2009.

Big Ten predictions: Week 1

September, 2, 2010
9/02/10
9:32
AM ET
Let's get picky.

My Year 2 record dipped a little -- 69-26 (.726) -- but I vow to do better this fall. Every Thursday during the season, I'll identify a Game of the Week and explain my selection in a video blog post later in the day.

All 11 Big Ten teams make their season debuts this week, and here's how I see things shaking out.

THURSDAY

Minnesota 26, Middle Tennessee 20: My pick changed when Middle Tennessee star quarterback Dwight Dasher was ruled out for the game. Dasher made MTSU a lot more dangerous. The Gophers get a boost from Duane Bennett in the run game and keep their new-look defense off of the field just long enough to escape Murfreesboro with a big win.

Ohio State 37, Marshall 7: Terrelle Pryor and the Buckeyes' offense deliver an efficient performance in the opener, jumping out to a 24-0 lead. Marshall struggles to move the ball against the Buckeyes' stout defense, which gets big performances from linebacker Brian Rolle and defensive lineman John Simon.

Indiana 31, Towson 14: Even without All-Big Ten selection Tandon Doss, Indiana flexes its muscles in the passing game against an FCS foe. Quarterback Ben Chappell and receiver Damarlo Belcher hook up for two touchdown passes as the Hoosiers roll.

SATURDAY

Michigan State 41, Western Michigan 17: There will be no MAC disaster this year in East Lansing. Quarterback Kirk Cousins lights up Western Michigan and finds Keshawn Martin for several big plays as the Spartans roll to an impressive opening victory.

Penn State 30, Youngstown State 6: Evan Royster and the Penn State run game take the pressure off of true freshman quarterback Robert Bolden, who wows the crowd on several throws in his first career game (and start). Penn State plays all three quarterbacks and gets solid play from Devon Still and the defensive front seven in a win.

Iowa 34, Eastern Illinois 9: The Hawkeyes learn from last season and refuse to let an opponent hang around. Ricky Stanzi turns in a clean performance and tosses a pair of touchdown passes, one to Marvin McNutt. Adrian Clayborn and the Iowa defense make it a rough day for the visiting Panthers.

Missouri 35, Illinois 23: It's tough to beat Missouri with a healthy secondary, much less one as banged up as the Illini's. Illinois holds its own for two and a half quarters, but Blaine Gabbert proves to be too much and fires three touchdown passes. Redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase shows some promise in his first career start, but it's not enough.

Michigan 28, Connecticut 27: The first game in the renovated Big House should be a great one. This certainly could go either way, but Michigan wins the game at the line of scrimmage with its size and athleticism. An improved offensive line creates enough room for its talented ball-carriers to make plays. Denard Robinson leads the winning touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter.

Notre Dame 31, Purdue 27: This is my Game of the Week. Check the blog later for a video breaking down my selection.

Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 17: It'll be tough for Pat Fitzgerald's crew, but the defense comes up big against a Vanderbilt team that won't have star Warren Norman at 100 percent even if he plays. Northwestern's run game doesn't do much, but new starting quarterback Dan Persa earns his stripes in the second half to secure win No. 1.

Wisconsin 41, UNLV 17: I could see the Rebels starting fast as they open the Bobby Hauck era, but Wisconsin is simply too strong and too balanced on offense. The Badgers mix in Montee Ball and James White with starting running back John Clay and wear down UNLV in the second and third quarters. Defensive end J.J. Watt has a big night for Wiscy.
Tonight, it begins.

The wait is over and we finally get to see Big Ten teams play games that count. As opening weekend begins a little early with three games tonight, here are 10 things to watch around the league.

1. Quarterback questions at Michigan, Penn State: Two of the league's traditional powers likely will be evaluating multiple quarterbacks in their openers. True freshman Robert Bolden was named a surprise starter for the Nittany Lions, but sophomores Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome also are likely to get some work. Denard Robinson could be poised to take control at Michigan, but head coach Rich Rodriguez expects to play more than one signal caller, so sophomore Tate Forcier and true freshman Devin Gardner likely will take some snaps in the spotlight. Penn State has to see what it has under center before a Week 2 trip to defending national champ Alabama.

[+] EnlargeRobert Marve
Doug Benc/Getty ImagesFormer Miami quarterback Robert Marve and his new team have a tough test in South Bend.
2. Opportunity knocks for Marve, Boilers: No team in the Big Ten has a better opportunity to make a national statement than Purdue. All eyes will be on South Bend -- really, when aren't they? -- as Notre Dame kicks off the Brian Kelly era, but Purdue can ruin the fun by upsetting the Fighting Irish. Quarterback Robert Marve has done all the right things in West Lafayette since transferring from Miami, and he boasts a big arm and plenty of weapons to attack a suspect Notre Dame secondary. Marve should flourish in the spread offense, so expect a strong debut. It might not matter, though, if Purdue can't upgrade its run defense and protect a new-look secondary from Dayne Crist and Michael Floyd.

3. Heisman push begins for Pryor, Clay: When we last saw Terrelle Pryor in a game, the Ohio State quarterback was at his best, winning Offensive MVP honors at the Rose Bowl. By all accounts, Pryor made strides during the offseason and said he has a greater grasp of the offense and what it takes to be a leader on the big stage. His accolades heading into the season -- Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year, Heisman Trophy candidate -- are based largely on hype and potential, but Pryor finally gets a chance to produce some hard evidence against Marshall. Wisconsin running back John Clay has been largely overlooked in the preseason, but he also could help his Heisman candidacy with a strong debut at UNLV, which ranked 112th nationally in rush defense a year ago.

4. Mystery team makes debut in St. Louis: Who's the Big Ten's mystery team this season? Illinois. The Illini have new offensive and defensive schemes, a new starting quarterback in Nathan Scheelhaase and plenty of unknowns on both sides of the ball. Missouri typically brings out the worst in Ron Zook's squad, and Illinois will need to show some resiliency in the Edward Jones Dome. Scheelhaase is young but skilled and athletic, and it'll be interesting to see how he handles the spotlight in an NFL stadium. Illinois' secondary faces Blaine Gabbert and Missouri's high-powered passing attack without two starters (safety Supo Sanni, cornerback Terry Hawthorne), so linebacker Martez Wilson and others need to step up.

5. Iowa's new-look offensive line: The Hawkeyes shouldn't have much trouble beating Eastern Illinois, although after last year's roller-coaster ride, you never know. The opener should give a new-look offensive line time to get comfortable and create holes for running back Adam Robinson. Iowa will start three new players up front -- right tackle Markus Zusevics, right guard Adam Gettis and center James Ferentz -- and needs to get comfortable before bigger tests the next two weeks against Iowa State and Arizona. Running back Jewel Hampton sits out because of a suspension, but Iowa really needs to get the run game going with Robinson and adequately protect quarterback Ricky Stanzi.

6. Spartans' secondary in spotlight: Most point to the secondary as Michigan State's biggest weakness in 2009, and for good reason. The Spartans ranked last in the Big Ten in pass yards allowed (267.6 ypg), allowed 11 more passing touchdowns (32 total) than any other Big Ten squad and recorded only six interceptions, the second-lowest total in the league. Several underperforming players are gone, and Michigan State hopes to be younger but better in the back four this fall. Cornerback Johnny Adams returns to the mix, and hopes are high for Trenton Robinson, Chris L. Rucker and others. The secondary needs to step up Saturday against Western Michigan, which loses standout quarterback Tim Hiller but returns top wideouts Robert Arnheim and Jordan White.

7. Line dance in the Volunteer State for Gophers, Wildcats: Both Minnesota and Northwestern boast veteran offensive lines that need to upgrade their run-blocking ability this fall. Minnesota ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing for the second straight year in 2009, while Northwestern finished eighth and had no big plays in the ground game. It'll be very interesting to see how both lines perform in what likely will be balmy weather in Tennessee. Minnesota opens Thursday night at Middle Tennessee, while Northwestern visits Vanderbilt in Nashville 48 hours later. Both squads have multiple backs competing for carries, but the performance of the two lines will go a long way toward showing what the upcoming season will hold.

8. Brock Mealer leads Michigan out of the tunnel: Doctors told Brock Mealer he'd never walk again after being paralyzed from the waist down in a car accident that killed his father and the girlfriend of his brother, Elliott, an offensive lineman for Michigan. But Brock never gave up hope and worked with Michigan strength and conditioning coaches Mike Barwis and Parker Whiteman to work his way out of a wheelchair. Saturday, he'll be walking out of the tunnel at Michigan Stadium as he leads the Wolverines onto the field for their opener against Connecticut. "He's that one percent," Wolverines defensive tackle Mike Martin told me. "People said he'd never walk again, and he's proving people wrong right there. We’ve got to come out right behind him and show what we've got."

9. Indiana's new-look defense: The Hoosiers' season likely hinges on whether a historically porous defense can improve. IU will use the 3-4 alignment more this season, but the coaches also are excited about defensive ends Darius Johnson and Fred Jones. Tyler Replogle provides excellent leadership at linebacker, but Indiana needs three junior college transfers -- linebacker Jeff Thomas and defensive backs Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles -- to make an immediate impact. A strong debut against Towson is key.

10. Quarterback-turned-receivers: There was a time when Michigan State's Keith Nichol, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray and Purdue's Justin Siller looked like the potential answers for their teams at quarterback. All three players now will play prominent roles at wide receivers on opening weekend. All three received strong reviews in training camp as receivers, and all three could start on Saturday. Gray is the likeliest to be called upon as a quarterback, as he remains Adam Weber's backup for the Gophers. Siller makes his first appearance since 2008 after being suspended from school for the 2009-10 academic year.
Joe Paterno is a freaking genius.

That was the first thought that came to mind when I saw Penn State's news release naming true freshman Robert Bolden as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback for the opener Saturday against Youngstown State. The announcement came down about three minutes before the Big Ten officially announced its new divisions and future schedules.

What better way to take the spotlight off a true freshman? Again, JoePa=genius.

I'm stunned by Penn State tabbing Bolden as its top quarterback. No one gave him a shot after spring ball, considering he hadn't even arrived on campus. Sure, Bolden had a great camp and caught on faster than everyone expected, but Paterno hates playing freshmen, much less at the quarterback spot.

Clearly, the 6-4, 208-pound Bolden made a strong impression on the legendary coach. That, or Penn State didn't see nearly enough development from sophomores Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome. Probably a bit of both.

Paterno reiterated in the news release that he expects to play multiple quarterbacks early in the season. He considers Bolden, McGloin and Newsome as 1a, 1b and 1c on the depth chart.

"Based on what we have seen to this point, Bolden has a slight edge right now, but we are confident all three quarterbacks are ready to go and hope to give them an opportunity to play until we settle on the one that gives us the best chance to win," Paterno said in a statement.

Bolden looked impressive in the Big Ten Network's preview show at Penn State, and he brings excellent size and athleticism to the huddle. Like any freshman, he'll make some mistakes, but if the Penn State coaches think he's the best option now, he'll likely only get better with experience.

What a day. The Big Ten has divisions, Michigan and Ohio State are on opposite sides and Penn State is starting a true freshman at quarterback.

Times have changed.
Joe Paterno expects to make a decision on Penn State's starting quarterback later today or Wednesday.

"We've got to make up our minds here," Paterno said on the Big Ten coaches' teleconference.

But regardless of who walks out there first for Penn State on Saturday -- Matt McGloin, Kevin Newsome or Robert Bolden -- the Nittany Lions likely will play more than one quarterback in their opener against Youngstown State. That's the way it goes when a team has virtually no experience returning at the most important position on the field.

True freshman Paul Jones is out of the race for 2010, as academic issues have prompted him to redshirt. Sophomores McGloin and Newsome and true freshman Bolden have paced each other throughout camp.

"We'll play more than one quarterback," Paterno said. "We'll play two or maybe three until we're settled, until one is the leader. ... None of them have played. One of the kids [Newsome] has played about 30 plays, so it's difficult for me to tell you just how good some of them are going to be."

Newsome entered camp with a slight edge after backing up Daryll Clark last year, but McGloin has played well and gained confidence. Bolden only arrived at Penn State this summer but has generated a lot of buzz with his performance in camp.

Paterno's stance on playing freshmen is well known: he hates it, much less at the quarterback position. But the 6-foot-4, 208-pound Bolden might be too good to leave on the sideline.

"We've got to use a younger player and we've got to do the best we can to get him ready to be effective," Paterno said. "We're fortunate that we have more than one kid who has the physical ability, but it's just a question right now of who's going to be the guy in the huddle who says, 'Let's get this thing going.'

"We've got a play a young one. I don't like it, but we've got to play him."

One more Penn State nugget:
  • Despite being listed as a starting cornerback on the Week 1 depth chart, Chaz Powell has been moved back to offense, Paterno said. Penn State is hurting a bit on offense with receiver Curtis Drake and tight end Andrew Szczerba both out and No. 2 running back Stephfon Green battling a neck injury. "We moved [Powell] because we got some people bumped up," Paterno said. "Green's hurt. Kid from Philly, Drake, he's banged-up. We needed somebody over there to do some of the things those guys could do, not only be running backs, good receivers, guys that could maybe make something happen." Powell ranked fourth on the team with 28 receptions last year before moving to corner. The good news is cornerback Stephon Morris appears to be healthy now.
Welcome to National Depth Chart Day. No day on the college football calendar inspires more curiosity about depth charts than the Monday before the season, when most teams release their Week 1 two-deeps.

(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:

INDIANA
  • 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.
IOWA
  • 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.
MICHIGAN
  • 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.
NORTHWESTERN
  • 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.
OHIO STATE
  • 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.
PENN STATE
  • 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.
WISCONSIN
  • 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.
You've already sampled the standard fare for Big Ten predictions this fall. Now it's time for the fun part.

Here are 10 fearless predictions in the Big Ten, which kicks off the 2010 season Thursday night!

1. The Big Ten faces Nebraska in a BCS bowl: Ohio State will get back to the national title game for the first time in three years. Because of the new Rose Bowl rule, a non-AQ team heads to Pasadena, but the Big Ten gets an at-large BCS berth for the sixth consecutive season. Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State or Michigan State heads to the Fiesta Bowl to face Big 12 champion and soon-to-be Big Ten member Nebraska on New Year's Day.

2. The Game changes dates: I really hope I'm wrong on this one, but too many signs point to the Ohio State-Michigan game moving up on the schedule beginning in 2011. Perhaps the Big Ten bigwigs listen to their fans, but the potential for an Ohio State-Michigan clash in the Big Ten championship game could be too valuable ($$$) to pass up. My bet is on the Buckeyes and Wolverines ending up in different divisions when the alignment comes out.

[+] EnlargeJoe Paterno
AP Photo/M. Spencer GreenJoe Paterno's 400th win will come against Michigan.
3. Joe Paterno secures career win No. 400 against Michigan: I don't see Penn State beating Alabama or Iowa on the road, but the Lions take a 5-2 mark into the Michigan game on Oct. 30 and beat the Wolverines for the third consecutive season. Another possibility is the Oct. 23 game at Minnesota. Paterno enters the fall with a record 394 career victories.

4. Michigan and Penn State both play three quarterbacks: Not an overly fearless pick here, but I expect two gifted true freshmen, Penn State's Robert Bolden and Michigan's Devin Gardner, to see the field this fall. Penn State will want to evaluate more than one quarterback in a game setting, and it's rare when a quarterback playing in a spread offense like Rich Rodriguez's lasts the entire season without injury. Denard Robinson likely starts the opener, but Gardner and Tate Forcier also will play at some point.

5. Michigan State's Greg Jones records two interceptions: Jones has done everything but intercept a pass in his first three seasons at Michigan State. Things change this fall, as the linebacker becomes a bigger factor in coverage and records a pair of picks to earn consensus All-America honors for the second consecutive year.

6. MarQueis Gray leads Minnesota in receiving: After competing with Adam Weber for the Gophers' starting quarterback job this spring, Gray becomes Weber's top target in the passing game. He catches on quickly at receiver and uses his size and good hands to become a reliable possession option.

7. Bill Lynch chucks his chewing gum against Michigan again: Once again, a bad call in the Michigan game on Oct. 2 will bring Howard Beale out of the normally subdued Lynch. Maybe it's a touchdown called back on a phantom holding penalty, or a fumble that never was, but Lynch's gum surely will take flight.

8. The Big Ten has at least one forced and one unforced coaching change: Several Big Ten coaches enter the season on the hot seat, including Michigan's Rodriguez, Illinois' Ron Zook, Minnesota's Tim Brewster and, to a lesser extent, Indiana's Lynch. Someone gets pink-slipped in November or December. Will this be Paterno's final season at Penn State? A lot of people think it will be. Also, if Ohio State wins a national title, it wouldn't be totally shocking to see Jim Tressel move on.

9. Purdue, Michigan State and Northwestern all pull off upsets: Michigan State should be an improved team and has three opportunities for upsets against Wisconsin (Oct. 2 at home), Iowa (Oct. 30 on the road) and Penn State (Nov. 27). The Spartans win at least one of those games. Purdue could be a dangerous team by the time Wisconsin visits on Nov. 6. Northwestern pulls off an upset every season and could get Iowa again (Nov. 13) or Penn State (Oct. 30).

10. Evan Royster and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos will set team records against ... Royster, the Penn State senior running back, gets a steady diet of carries early in the season and breaks Curt Warner's team career rushing record against Illinois on Oct. 9. Johnson-Koulianos, the Iowa senior receiver, needs 401 yards for the Iowa receiving record and gets it Oct. 30 against Michigan State.

Big Ten season predictions

August, 30, 2010
8/30/10
9:04
AM ET
After a historic summer in the Big Ten, it's finally time to get down to business. The season kicks off in 82 hours as Indiana, Minnesota and Ohio State all hit the field Thursday for their openers. On the heels of an outstanding bowl performance, the Big Ten is looking to take the next step.

It's prediction time, and while I'm certain most of these will look terrible by mid October, here we go ...

Conference champion: Ohio State

It's not just the history of winning or sharing the last five league championships. Ohio State simply has fewer holes than Iowa and Wisconsin. Yes, the Buckeyes must travel to Madison and Iowa City, but they've been flat-out dominant on the road in conference play, winning 16 straight Big Ten road contests before the loss to Purdue last season.

Offensive MVP: Wisconsin running back John Clay

Someone needs to stand up for Clay. He's being completely overlooked in the Heisman Trophy race, and he was snubbed for Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year in favor of Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor. In case you forgot, Clay is the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, and he'll play behind the nation's best offensive line this fall. He should be more durable following offseason ankle surgeries. I expect big things from big No. 32 this fall.

Defensive MVP: Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn

This might be one of the nation's most competitive award races, as Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, Ohio State defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan also are in the mix. But Clayborn makes more impact plays than any defender in the Big Ten, and he'll continue to have opportunities because of the overall strength of Iowa's defensive line.

Surprise team: Purdue

The Boilermakers' injury situation leaves me a bit concerned about this selection, but I still really like the potential in West Lafayette. Robert Marve is a perfect fit for the spread offense, and will distribute the ball to a talented group of receivers. Kerrigan leads a veteran defensive front seven that should be better against the run. And the schedule is back-loaded, allowing Purdue to find its identity in the first six games before things get really tough. Indiana and Michigan are also possibilities here.

Team most likely to disappoint: Penn State

There isn't an obvious choice here, but preseason No. 19 Penn State enters the fall with two major obstacles: virtually no experience at quarterback, and arguably the nation's toughest road schedule. Trips to Tuscaloosa, Iowa City and Columbus look daunting, and while Tom Bradley's defense should be solid once again, it won't be easy for this team to win 11 games for the third straight season. Iowa, Northwestern and Michigan also are possibilities here.

Surprise player: Michigan State receiver Keshawn Martin

We could see a Devin Thomas redux this fall, which would bring smiles to Spartans fans. Martin seemed to be hitting his stride toward the end of last season, and after averaging 18.1 yards per touch in 2009, he'll get the ball a lot more this season. Other potential surprise players include Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa, Ohio State defensive lineman John Simon and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson.

Newcomer of the year: Purdue quarterback Robert Marve

Talent has never been the problem for Marve, and he's finally in the right situation to become a star. The Miami transfer owns a big-time arm in an offense that will feature it, and he has grown up a lot since his time at Miami. If Purdue's new-look offensive line can protect Marve, the offense will put up big numbers. Three junior college transfers in the secondary -- Indiana's Andre Kates, Minnesota's Christyn Lewis and Illinois safety Trulon Henry -- are also newcomers to watch.

Freshman of the Year: Penn State quarterback Robert Bolden

He might not start the opener against Youngstown State, but I expect Bolden to enter the mix in a big way for the Nittany Lions. He has impressive size and arm strength, and his ability to quickly pick up the offense and remain in the race throughout preseason camp tells a lot about his potential. Other candidates include Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and Michigan State defenders Max Bullough and William Gholston.

Coach of the Year: Ohio State's Jim Tressel

It's time. Tressel has dominated the league like few coaches in history, and yet he has never won the Coach of the Year Award. The odds are once again against Tressel because of Ohio State's status as Big Ten preseason favorite, but I have a feeling he finally gets what he deserves. Other potential winners include Michigan State's Mark Dantonio, Purdue's Danny Hope and, yes, Michigan's Rich Rodriguez.

Can't-miss game: Ohio State at Iowa, Nov. 20

For the second consecutive year, this game likely will decide the Big Ten championship, as both teams enter the fall in the top 10. Iowa gave Ohio State all it could handle in 2009 despite playing without starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi. Ohio State has dominated the series with Iowa, but this game could be special. Other can't-miss contests include Ohio State at Wisconsin (Oct. 16), Wisconsin at Iowa (Oct. 23) and whenever Penn State's Joe Paterno goes for win No. 400.
Penn State's quarterback derby has been reduced to three.

According to multiple media reports Wednesday, Penn State has informed freshman quarterback Paul Jones that he will redshirt this fall. Jones, an early enrollee who tossed two touchdown passes in the Blue-White Game in April, reportedly had been receiving fewer reps than the other three candidates in practice.

Sophomores Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin continue to compete for the starting job alongside true freshman Robert Bolden, who has been generating a ton of buzz with his play in camp. Unlike Jones, Bolden didn't go through spring practice with the Lions, but he's making up for it in camp and remains a serious contender in the race.

Bolden is a decorated recruit with plenty of physical gifts and a big frame at 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds.

This is very interesting news, indeed.

There are some who contend that Joe Paterno won't start a true freshman at quarterback, even though neither Newsome nor McGloin can be characterized as grizzled vets. But if the talented Bolden is not only matching Newsome and McGloin, but outshining them in practice, don't you have to pull the trigger?

I haven't had a chance to review Penn State's practice on the Big Ten Network but will do so later. Check back for a full report this afternoon.

Ranking the Big Ten quarterbacks

August, 13, 2010
8/13/10
11:03
AM ET
As you might have noticed, we're all about quarterbacks today at ESPN.com, and it's time to rank the Big Ten signal callers.

This hasn't been a Big Ten strength in recent years, but things could change this fall. Quarterbacks like Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor, Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien all have proven they can win at a high level, and Ben Chappell (Indiana) and Kirk Cousins (Michigan State) put up some strong numbers last fall.

The criteria are the same I used for the top 25 preseason rankings: past performance and 2010 potential. You can gripe all you want about the top four choices, but you shouldn't be surprised because all four quarterbacks were ranked in the exact same order in June/July. The Big Ten blogger is not a hypocrite. One final note: These are individual player rankings, but I consolidated the quarterback candidates at Michigan and Penn State to make it easier.

I fully expect this list to be different in early January, but here goes:

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Terry GilliamTerrelle Pryor's performance in the Rose Bowl solidified his rank as the Big Ten's best quarterback.
1. Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State: How can I rank Pryor at No. 1 based on one great performance? For starters, it took place in a huge game, the Rose Bowl, against a top 10 opponent in Oregon. Plus, I think Pryor will go forward rather than backward and become a more complete quarterback this fall. He has more natural ability than anyone else on this list, and while he'll never be a model passer, he only needs to improve a little to become a lot more dangerous.

2. Ricky Stanzi, Iowa: It's very close between Stanzi and Tolzien, but Stanzi's 18-4 mark as Iowa's starting quarterback sets him apart. Yes, you can point to the mistakes, and there were a lot of them, but no quarterback in the country made more big plays in the fourth quarter than No. 12. I expect a smarter and more efficient Stanzi in 2010. Plus, he's a damn fine American.

3. Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin: Simply stated, he's the perfect quarterback for Wisconsin. Tolzien is smart, extremely efficient and totally aware of his role in the offense. He executes the play-action well and can thread the needle when he needs to. Tolzien still needs to prove himself against the Big Ten's best defenses, but I expect a very strong senior season from him.

4. Kirk Cousins, Michigan State: Take away a few late-game mistakes and a poor second half against Penn State, and Cousins turned in a very strong season as a first-year starter. His touchdown-to-interception ratio is strong (19-9), and he'll only get better with more experience. Plus, he has an excellent group of receivers and tight ends at his disposal this fall.

5. Ben Chappell, Indiana: Chappell is the Big Ten's leading returning passer (2,941 yards in 2009), and he ranks second in completion percentage (62.6) among returning starters. He needs to cut down on his interceptions and make better throws in the red zone, but all that should come this fall. Chappell has some great receivers to work with, namely Tandon Doss, but would really benefit from a consistent run game.

6. Adam Weber, Minnesota: Some Gophers fans have given up on Weber after a poor junior season, but I still have faith in No. 8, who happens to be a record holder at the U. It hasn't been easy with three offensive coordinators in as many seasons, and the system last year would have been tough for any quarterback to run. Weber still has a ton of talent, but he needs to regain the confidence we saw for most of 2008, when he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors. He also needs to prove himself without star receiver Eric Decker.

7. Robert Marve, Purdue: Marve clearly doesn't grade high in past performance after struggling at Miami in 2008, but his potential this fall is very high. He'll benefit from working in Purdue's spread offense, and he'll have no shortage of targets in Keith Smith, Justin Siller, Cortez Smith and others. The ability always has been there with Marve, and we'll start to see results this fall.

8. Tate Forcier/Denard Robinson, Michigan: No starter has been named, and while head coach Rich Rodriguez has a bit of evidence from 2009, he'll be selecting a No. 1 quarterback based on who he believes has greater potential in 2010. Both players can run, although Robinson is more explosive on the move. Forcier was far and away the better passer in 2009, but he struggled to make plays when he wasn't freelancing. Robinson should be a better passer this fall.

9. Dan Persa, Northwestern: This isn't a knock against Persa, who has done everything right to prepare himself for this moment. I just need to see more from him in game situations, especially if Northwestern relies on him as much as it did Mike Kafka in 2009. Persa very well could be the most ideal fit for Northwestern's spread offense since Zak Kustok.

10. Kevin Newsome/Matt McGloin/Paul Jones/Robert Bolden, Penn State: The competition remains wide open, and the group has virtually no game experience aside from Newsome. Talent shouldn't be a problem, as Newsome, Jones and Bolden all were highly-touted recruits, while McGloin, a former walk-on, has made significant strides in State College. Who can handle the pressure of quarterbacking in the Big Ten? We'll find out soon.

11. Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois: Again, not a knock against Scheelhaase, but his past performance is confined to practices and scrimmages. He's one of the most mature redshirt freshmen I've covered, but he's obviously got to prove himself in the game spotlight. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino sees shades of Stefan LeFors in Scheelhaase. If that's the case, he'll soar up this list.
Anyone who played alongside Daryll Clark, rooted for him or covered him in the media knows how much Penn State football means to the quarterback. Some NFL-bound players never look back after playing their last collegiate game, but Clark has a vested interest in what happens in Happy Valley.

Clark has exhausted his eligibility with the Nittany Lions, and his old job will be in the spotlight all the way until Sept. 4 as four young players -- Kevin Newsome, Matt McGloin, Paul Jones and Robert Bolden -- compete for the starting spot. Last year, Clark spent time mentoring Newsome, who enrolled early and served as the backup quarterback as a true freshman.

And even as Clark prepares for a potential NFL career, he's keeping close tabs on what happening at Penn State. Very close tabs, in fact, as I found out after talking with Lions quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno this week.

"He's actually living in my basement right now while he's working out," Paterno said with a laugh. "So he's around quite a bit right now."

Clark, who participated in Penn State's pro day last week, was a fixture during Penn State's winter workouts. Spring practice starts Friday, and he's almost as excited as Paterno to watch the Nittany Lions' young signal-callers.

Knowing Clark, he'll probably pass along a few tips during workouts.

Paterno said Clark moved in before Penn State's pro day and will stay "until he finds out what happens on draft day."

"I haven't made him babysit yet," said Paterno, a father of five, "but that may happen."
Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Big Ten, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, Jerel Worthy, Mitchell Evans, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Louis Nzegwu, Lance Kendricks, Stefen Wisniewski, Robert Marve, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, A.J. Edds, Michael Shaw, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Kyle Jefferson, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jacob Charest, Dan Herron, Jammie Kirlew, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Juice Williams, Daryll Clark, Sherrick McManis, Nick Toon, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Bani Gbadyu, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Dan Persa, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Julian Vandervelde, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, J.J. Watt, Anderson Russell, Randy Walker, Navorro Bowman, Paul Jones, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Garrett Graham, Sean Lee, Martez Wilson, Tim Brewster, Evan Watkins, Rich Rodriguez, Pat Fitzgerald, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Pat Angerer, Brandon Graham, Josh Hull, Niles Brinkley, Jared Odrick, Devin Gardner, Nathan Scheelhaase, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Tate Forcier, Jay Valai, Kurt Coleman, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Mike Kafka, J Leman, Greg Jones, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, Tim Davis, O'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Arby Fields, Ian Thomas, Nate Stupar, Riley Reiff, Shaun Prater, Clay Nurse, Paul Petrino, Jeff Horton, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, 2010 spring what to watch, Albert Evans, Charlton, Darius Johnson, David Gilbert, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Gary Emanuel, Jeff Tarpinian, Joe Palcic, Jordan Hall, Josh McKinley, Mike Trumpy, Scott Concannon, Terrance Thomas, Tyler Nielsen

College football coaches love competition, and spring practice serves as a proving ground for it. Starting jobs are usually not awarded until the summer, but players can separate themselves during spring ball. We'll know a lot more about several Big Ten teams following the 15 practices this spring.

Here are five position battles to watch when the teams return to the field:

1. Penn State quarterback: Record-setting signal caller Daryll Clark departs after two years as the starter, and Penn State's ability to find a capable replacement will determine the course for its season. Sophomore Kevin Newsome backed up Clark last season and enters the spring as a slight frontrunner, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones will challenge him. Heralded quarterback recruit Robert Bolden joins the mix this summer.

2. Iowa running back: Can a team ever have too many running backs? Iowa will let us know this year. Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher stepped up big time in 2009, but they'll have to hold off Jewel Hampton, who returns from a knee injury that cost him all of last season. Don't forget Hampton had been pegged as Shonn Greene's successor before his injury. Jeff Brinson also returns from an ankle injury, and several others also will compete for carries.

3. Purdue quarterback: Robert Marve hasn't played a meaningful down since November 2008, but the Miami transfer hopes to succeed Joey Elliott as Purdue's top quarterback. Marve tore his ACL last summer and could be a bit rusty on the practice field, but he certainly boasts the talent to lead Purdue. He will compete with Caleb TerBush, who backed up Elliott last year but appeared in only one game, completing 4 of 10 pass attempts for 22 yards.

4. Illinois quarterback: The Illini have a new offensive coordinator and several new faces at quarterback following the departure of four-year starter Juice Williams. Paul Petrino wants to be very multiple with his scheme, but he needs to see who emerges between Jacob Charest, Nathan Scheelhaase, Eddie McGee and early enrollee Chandler Whitmer. Charest started two games in place of Williams late last season, while McGee has extensive field time but played wide receiver for part of 2009.

5. Michigan defense: You can't list only one position with the Wolverines defense, and all the individual competitions will be critical. Aside from a handful of likely starters -- defensive back Troy Woolfolk, defensive tackles Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen -- the competition will be open. Michigan needs consistent contributors who can work in Greg Robinson's scheme, and the coaches won't be afraid to look to young players.
We've already looked at the big shoes to fill throughout the Big Ten in 2010.

So who steps in this fall? Here are five newcomers to watch.

Penn State QB Kevin Newsome: All the candidates for Penn State's starting quarterback job -- Matt McGloin, Robert Bolden, Paul Jones -- could be listed here, but Newsome saw the most action in 2009, appearing in 10 games. Penn State hoped to get Newsome more field time, but he showed good mobility with two rushing touchdowns and completed 8 of 11 pass attempts. His development during the winter and spring will be critical as Penn State looks to replace Daryll Clark.

Purdue QB Robert Marve: The Miami transfer finally gets his chance to compete for the starting job as Purdue must replace the productive Joey Elliott. Marve sat out the 2009 season, though he would have missed most of it with an ACL injury. He hasn't been on the practice field much at Purdue, but he'll be viewed as the front-runner for the top job along with Caleb TerBush.

Ohio State RB Jaamal Berry: Ohio State fans clamoring to see Berry since early last season will finally get their wish. A hamstring injury kept Berry from playing as a true freshman in 2009, but he'll be ready to push Brandon Saine and Dan Herron for the starting job this year. Though both Saine and Herron performed well down the stretch and in the Rose Bowl, Berry comes in with impressive credentials and could have what it takes to become a featured back for the Buckeyes.

Michigan CB/S Demar Dorsey: His signing generated plenty of controversy at Michigan, but there's little doubt Dorsey will be an impact player this fall. Michigan desperately needs to upgrade its secondary, and the heralded Dorsey will compete for immediate time, first at cornerback and possibly at safety down the road. Dorsey brings tremendous athleticism and a willingness to bring big hits on ball carriers.

Michigan State LB/DE William Gholston: The Spartans' defense regressed in 2009, and Gholston will have an immediate opportunity to contribute. Gholston is a unique specimen at 6-foot-7 and 237 pounds, and the heralded recruit should be able to help Michigan State's pass rush from an outside linebacker or rush-end position. It'll be interesting to see how the Spartans coaches use Gholston in 2010, but he'll undoubtedly have a major role for the defense.

Five more to watch: Michigan QB Devin Gardner, Iowa TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase, Indiana CB Andre Kates, Penn State LB Khairi Fortt

Penn State recruiting analysis

February, 4, 2010
2/04/10
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Penn State Nittany Lions

The class

Recruits: 20 (all high school seniors, six players enrolled early)

Top prospects: Khairi Fortt is ranked as the nation's No. 2 inside linebacker by ESPN's Scouts Inc., while defensive linemen Dakota Royer, Evan Hailes and C.J. Olaniyan all were among the ESPNU 150. Penn State also landed the nation's best center in Miles Dieffenbach, as well as a quarterback (Robert Bolden) who can compete for snaps right away.

Sleepers: Late addition Shyquann Pulliam could really help the secondary, an area Penn State must continue to upgrade. Mike Hull adds depth to the linebacking corps after Penn State loses all three starters from the 2009 team. Running back Silas Redd could be a big help if the Lions suffer injuries to one of their top ball carriers.

Needs met: Penn State once again did a fabulous job of reloading in the defensive front seven with players like Fortt, Royer and Hailes. The Nittany Lions needed another quarterback and got a very good one in Bolden. Joe Paterno's staff also thought to the future at both tight end and offensive line and brought in several very solid prospects there.

Analysis: Penn State signed unquestionably the best recruiting class in the Big Ten, and it could have been even better. The Nittany Lions not only brought in elite prospects, but they addressed their needs in the front seven and bolstered the offensive line and some of the skill positions. After losing a lot of decorated players from the 2009 team, Penn State will need this class to contribute in 2010 and 2011. Despite Paterno's age and his uncertain future, Penn State has elevated its profile in recruiting the last two years.

Scouts Inc. grade: A-minus

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