NCF Nation: Shonn Greene

Red GrangeAP PhotoRed Grange (Illinois) had one of the Big Ten's four signature seasons that took place before 1940.
What constitutes a signature season in the Big Ten? We're not talking about good or very good or even great. These are the single best individual seasons in college football history.

And in the Big Ten, perhaps more so than in any other league, history matters.

My colleagues and I recently embarked on the virtually impossible task of identifying the greatest individual season for each FBS program. The project, appropriately called The Season, debuted today. Be sure and check it out all week.

The selection process involved several factors -- time period, statistical milestones, clutch plays/games and position, to name just a few -- and a heavy dose of subjectivity. But I would add "conference" to the list. Picking a defining season for a Big Ten team is different than one for a Pac-12 or ACC team.

The greatest individual Big Ten seasons, like leather or fine wine, seem to improve with age. In fact, I'd argue that age is a requirement in selecting signature seasons for Big Ten teams.

None of the Big Ten's signature seasons occurred in the past decade. Former Purdue quarterback Drew Brees and former Northwestern running back Damien Anderson provide the most recent selections, both in 2000.

The full list:

Illinois: Red Grange, 1924
Indiana: Anthony Thompson, 1989
Iowa: Nile Kinnick, 1939
Maryland: Randy White, 1974
Michigan: Charles Woodson, 1997
Michigan State: Lorenzo White, 1985
Minnesota: Bronko Nagurski, 1929
Nebraska: Mike Rozier, 1983
Northwestern: Damien Anderson, 2000
Ohio State: Archie Griffin, 1974
Penn State: Lydell Mitchell, 1971
Purdue: Drew Brees, 2000
Rutgers: Paul Robeson, 1917
Wisconsin: Ron Dayne, 1999

The selections from other conferences show a different picture. Five of the SEC's signature seasons occurred between 2007 and '13. The Pac-12 had five selections between 2002 and '12, the Big 12 had four between 2003 and '11, and the ACC had five between 2001 and '09.

Is it just a coincidence that the Big Ten's signature seasons occurred so long ago? Perhaps it's because the league overall has struggled in the past decade and failed to win a national title since 2002. Although we evaluated individual performances, certain players gained credibility for helping their teams win championships.

Nebraska has a limited Big Ten history (three seasons), while Rutgers and Maryland have no history in the league. But I'd argue that Nebraska's storied tradition puts it in the same category as several Big Ten programs when you're trying to identify superlatives. There's just more to consider with programs like Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State.

Does a Big Ten season need some age on it to truly represent a program? There is so much history in the league, and to minimize or gloss over the distant past in an exercise like this is wrong.

The longevity factor doesn't seem to be as strong in other leagues. The Big 12 includes only one signature season before 1963 (TCU's Davey O'Brien in 1938). The SEC includes no signature seasons before LSU's Billy Cannon in 1959, and the Pac-12 features none before Oregon State's Terry Baker in 1962.

The Big Ten, meanwhile, has four signature seasons that took place before 1940. Even most of the runner-up seasons in the Big Ten illustrate the historical differences: Only five occurred in the past decade, and two stem from newcomer Rutgers (Ray Rice in 2007, Kenny Britt in 2008).

I'd like to think a great season is a great season, whether it occurred last year or eight decades ago. I feel the same way about Baseball Hall of Fame votes. If a player merits the Hall on the first vote, he should get in. If he doesn't deserve it, why should he get in on the 10th ballot?

The fear here is that we're short-changing certain seasons because they occurred not long ago. Brian Bennett and I have written extensively about how Montee Ball's 2011 season at Wisconsin might not truly be appreciated for many years. Ball led the nation with 1,923 rushing yards, added 306 receiving yards and scored 39 touchdowns, which tied Barry Sanders' single-season NCAA record. Although he had 111 fewer rushing yards than Dayne in 1999, the season we selected, he also had 30 fewer carries and scored 19 more touchdowns.

But Dayne won the Heisman Trophy in 1999, while Ball finished fourth in the voting in 2011.

Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2009, despite putting together what many consider the most dominant season for a defensive player in recent college football history. Suh's ridiculous statistics -- 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks, 10 pass breakups, 26 quarterback hurries -- don't fully illustrate how he controlled games.

And yet we went with 1983 Heisman Trophy winner Rozier instead. Nothing against Rozier's season, but would Suh have earned the top spot if his big year occurred in, say, 1969 or 1979? Will we view Suh's 2009 differently in 2024, when more time has passed?

It's hard to argue with our pick for Iowa: Heisman Trophy winner Kinnick in 1939. But quarterback Brad Banks had an unforgettable season in 2002 (AP Player of the Year, second in Heisman voting) and Shonn Greene was the nation's most dominant running back in 2008.

Even our Rutgers pick went way back, nearly a century, to Robeson, a fine player in his time. But Rutgers' renaissance under Greg Schiano (the Scarlet Knights' coach from 2001 to 2011) is much fresher in our minds, and performances from Rice (2,012 rush yards, 25 touchdowns in 2007) and Britt (87 receptions for 1,371 receiving yards in 2008) made it possible.

The Big Ten returns plenty of star power in 2014, and players like Melvin Gordon, Braxton Miller, Ameer Abdullah, Randy Gregory and Shilique Calhoun could produce special seasons this fall.

But to be recognized for signature seasons, the ones that represent historic programs in a historic conference, they will likely have to wait a while.

UW's Montee Ball deserving of Doak

December, 7, 2012
The Big Ten once again had a quiet night at the Home Depot College Football awards -- with one notable exception.

Wisconsin senior Montee Ball took home the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. Ball finished seventh nationally in rushing average (133.1 ypg) with 21 touchdowns, and he eclipsed 100 rush yards in seven of his final eight games (three 200-yard performances). He became the NCAA's all-time touchdowns king by breaking Travis Prentice's mark of 78 and set several other records along the way. Ball holds the NCAA records for total touchdowns (82) and rushing touchdowns (76).

Oregon's Kenjon Barner and UCLA's Johnathan Franklin were the other two finalists for the Doak.

Ball's season didn't quite measure up to 2011, when he was a Heisman Trophy finalist but didn't win the Doak Walker Award (it went to Alabama's Trent Richardson). He faced some adversity after being attacked by a group of men in the preseason and suffering a concussion during non-league play. But no FBS back finished the season better than Ball, who had 702 rush yards and eight touchdowns in his final four games. He turned in a signature performance in the Big Ten championship game, and we endorsed him as the nation's top running back in Sunday's lessons.

Ball, who might have won best dressed Thursday if such an award were given, is the second Big Ten player to win the Doak Walker Award as former Badgers star Ron Dayne took home the hardware in 1999. He's the sixth Big Ten back to win it, the first since Iowa's Shonn Greene in 2008.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller also was up for the Davey O'Brien award (nation's top quarterback), which went to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel. Penn State's Matt Stankiewitch was a finalist for the Rimington Trophy (nation's top center), which went to Alabama's Barrett Jones.
AIRBHG has reared his ugly head.

AIRBHG? You don't know him? Unfortunately, Iowa fans know him all too well. He's the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, and he has taken another victim.

Hawkeyes sophomore running back Jordan Canzeri has torn an ACL in his knee and likely will miss the 2012 season, according to multiple reports. Canzeri, listed as Iowa's top running back on the pre-spring depth chart, injured his knee in practice Wednesday, and an MRI performed Thursday revealed the tear. first reported the news and talked with Canzeri's father, Brian.
"Dr. [Ned] Amendola said it was the ACL but the good news is that the rest of the knee is solid," Brian Canzeri said. "He's going to have surgery next week and hopes to get back into practice in September."
Brian Canzeri said that he expects his son to ease into things when he's cleared to practice and will most likely redshirt for the 2012 season.

Sources tell The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette that Canzeri, who has a redshirt available, won't play this fall.

The team has yet to confirm Canzeri's injury.

The loss of Canzeri isn't as devastating as Marcus Coker's departure in January, it continues a baffling string of setbacks for Iowa's running backs. Although AIRBHG has been around since 2001, he has been particularly cruel since Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene departed following the 2008 season. Since Greene declared for the NFL draft, Iowa has had six running backs leave the program, culminating with Coker, who ranked second in the Big Ten with 1,384 yards in 2011.

Canzeri started in place of the suspended Coker for the 2011 Insight Bowl, and he would have been in the mix to start this coming season. He's a smaller back, and Iowa likely will use a rotation rather than identify a bell cow like Coker was in 2011.

Canzeri's injury leaves Damon Bullock and De'Andre Johnson as Iowa's primary running backs in spring practice. Fullback Brad Rogers could see some carries at running back, but the big hope is that incoming freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill can contribute. Garmon in particular drew high marks as a high school standout.

As The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Marc Morehouse points out, Iowa has used a true freshman at running back in each of the past five seasons.
"Both of them are a little bit bigger backs," Hawkeyes running backs coach Lester Erb told reporters Wednesday, before Canzeri injured his knee. "Greg is more of a slasher. but he shows he can get downhill and run tough. Very good speed. Then Barkley just had a tremendous high school career up there at Cedar Falls and we are excited to get him in here. Both guys have a passion for football and both guys are going to have a chance to come in here and compete."

Iowa wants to run the ball and have balance in its offense, but the running back position has been so unstable that the Hawkeyes might have to once again trend toward the pass in 2012. It would really help if Garmon and/or Hill can contribute immediately this fall.
Iowa is no stranger to facing adversity in a bowl game.

In the 2001 Alamo Bowl, the Hawkeyes' first postseason appearance under head coach Kirk Ferentz, running back Ladell Betts couldn't play with a hamstring injury, leaving Iowa without a four-year starter. Iowa turned to Aaron Greving, who racked up 115 rush yards and earned offensive MVP honors in a win against Texas Tech.

[+] EnlargeIowa coach Kirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallKirk Ferentz says he can't explain all of the backfield issues Iowa has faced, but the Hawkeyes have to forge on in their bowl game against OU.
The Betts-Greving situation hardly compared to the crisis Iowa faced before the 2010 Insight Bowl. Top running back Adam Robinson had been suspended and subsequently arrested. Top receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos had been arrested on drug charges, leading to an odd news conference where Iowa admitted to finding problems with its drug-testing program for student-athletes. The team also announced that two reserve running backs, Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher, were transferring.

And yet Iowa still won the game, rallying to upset Missouri 27-24.

Another Insight Bowl matchup is on tap Friday night against Oklahoma, and Iowa once again is dealing with some adversity. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker, the team's most productive offensive weapon, is suspended for an undisclosed violation of team policy. There are other potential personnel issues, which Ferentz deflected Tuesday, but replacing Coker's 281 carries and 1,354 rush yards is the big one.

"It's football," Ferentz told on Tuesday. "If our running back had sprained his ankle, he wouldn't play then, either. So you don't surrender and forfeit the game. You keep playing. It happens all year long. Players are in and out. Somebody has to be ready to step in, and everybody else has to help those guys out."

Coker was that guy for Iowa last December, rushing for a team-bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns against Missouri. But his loss leaves the Hawkeyes with a stable of unproven backs.

Ferentz said Jason White, who he describes as "steady" and "dependable," and Brad Rogers, who has mostly played fullback for Iowa, likely will be the team's top two ball-carrying options Friday against Oklahoma. Freshmen Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock are the next two in line.

"We'll basically use everybody we have," Ferentz said. "I don't know if I foresee us getting 200 yards like a year ago, and if we did, it will probably be three, four, five guys contributing to that yardage, not one. We'll do it by committee and just see how it goes."

Iowa's passing attack has been very effective at times, especially early in the season when the Hawkeyes employed some no-huddle. Oklahoma ranks just 83rd nationally against the pass.

But the Hawkeyes won't abandon their run game Friday night. Because they can't.

"We have to at least attempt it," Ferentz said. "We're not built to throw it 70 times a game. It's just not our mode of operation. If we get in a situation like that, it's not good. But the group's capable. They've been practicing well and they'll step up and do a good job."

The suspensions of both Coker and freshman Mika'il McCall have once again placed the spotlight on Iowa's running back position, which has seen an extraordinary amount of turmoil since the departure of Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene after the 2008 season. Five promising backs have dealt with off-field issues since Greene's departure.

"I wish I could explain it," Ferentz said. "There's no conspiracy theory or anything like that. We've just had some situations. You have to evaluate each one on an individual basis. We have had our share of transactions and transition. We'll get it settled down again."

When bowl games kick off, Iowa usually finds a way.

Iowa running back curse continues

December, 20, 2011
In 2008, Iowa caught a big break at the running back position when Shonn Greene went from furniture warehouse employee to Doak Walker Award winner.

Since then, the Hawkeyes haven't had much good fortune with their running backs. Whether it's injuries or off-field problems, Iowa's running back depth has taken hit after hit since Greene's magical season.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Coker
Byron Hetzler-US PRESSWIREStar RB Marcus Coker will not be allowed to play in the Hawkeyes' bowl game against Oklahoma.
The latest blow came Tuesday as the team announced starting running back Marcus Coker has been suspended for the Insight Bowl for disciplinary reasons. Iowa didn't elaborate on the suspension, saying only that Coker violated the school's student-athlete code of conduct. The sophomore will not travel with the team to Arizona later this week.

It marks the second consecutive year Iowa will play the Insight Bowl without its top back. Adam Robinson was suspended for the game last year for failing to comply with team policies. Iowa announced Robinson's suspension on the same day it confirmed running back Jewel Hampton, the team's second-leading rusher in 2008, would be transferring. Hampton dealt with injuries and off-field issues. Another promising running back, Brandon Wegher, announced late last season that he would also be transferring (he took a leave of absence from the team in August 2010). Weeks after Iowa announced Robinson's suspension, Robinson was arrested for marijuana possession.

Coker ended up rescuing Iowa in the 2010 Insight Bowl, rushing for a team bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns in a win against Missouri.

He has been a huge part of Iowa's offense this season, accounting for 80.7 percent of the team's rushing yards (1,384), 15 of the team's 18 rush touchdowns and 281 of the team's 417 carries. Coker leads the Big Ten in carries and ranks second in rushing average (115.3 ypg).

Who will Iowa turn to at running back? Promising freshman Mika'il McCall was suspended for the regular-season finale against Nebraska, and his status for the bowl game is very much in doubt.

Iowa likely will turn to DeAndre Johnson, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock and Jason White at running back. Johnson leads the crew with just 18 carries this season.


It's hard not to see Iowa becoming pretty one-dimensional against Oklahoma. The good news is the Sooners struggle against the pass, ranking 83rd nationally.

The bigger issue is why Iowa can't keep running backs on the field. The Hawkeyes seem to have little trouble developing running backs, but the lack of depth has become a major problem.

Iowa tries to overcome NU nemesis

November, 11, 2010
Some trends in the Big Ten seem to defy explanation, and Iowa finds itself on opposite sides of two of them.

The Hawkeyes have won eight of their last nine meetings against Penn State, including each of the past three contests. Iowa derailed Penn State's national title hopes in 2008, reshuffled the Big Ten race with a win in Happy Valley last fall and held Penn State without a touchdown in a dominating win Oct. 2.

Joe Paterno has lost more games to Iowa (11) than any other team in his head-coaching career except for Ohio State (13).

Kirk Ferentz
Stephen Mally/Icon SMIIowa is 4-5 against Northwestern with Kirk Ferentz as the head coach.
But it has been a very different story for Iowa against Northwestern. The Wildcats have won four of the teams' past five meetings, including three at Kinnick Stadium, where Iowa is 49-10 since 2002. Northwestern ended Iowa's perfect season in 2009 with a 17-10 come-from-behind win at Kinnick. Kirk Ferentz is just 4-5 against Northwestern as Iowa's coach.

"I really couldn't tell you why we've had so much success against Penn State and not so much against Northwestern," Iowa senior guard Julian Vandervelde said this week. "I really do think it comes down to the little details, the mistakes, the fundamentals and the basics. Year in and year out, we're able to execute against Penn State and not so much against Northwestern."

Iowa needs a polished performance Saturday as it visits Northwestern. The 13th-ranked Hawkeyes remain very much in the Big Ten title race, but they can't afford to slip up, especially as next week's home showdown against No. 9 Ohio State looms.

By most accounts, Saturday's game is one Iowa should win. The Hawkeyes are more experienced on both sides of the ball. Iowa's biggest strengths (the play-action pass and a pressuring defensive line) match up well against two of Northwestern's weaknesses (the secondary and the offensive line). Iowa has more at stake and should have no trouble getting motivated after the struggles.

But the Hawkeyes know what should happen and what does happen are two different things, especially in this series.

Many have tried to explain Northwestern's recent success, even pointing to the Hayden Fry-Gary Barnett exchange after the 1994 Iowa beatdown of Northwestern as the start of a shift (Northwestern is 8-5 against Iowa since 1995).

Iowa has dealt with key injuries in the last two losses -- running back Shonn Greene in 2008 and quarterback Ricky Stanzi in 2009 -- but Northwestern also played most of last year's game without star quarterback Mike Kafka. Northwestern running back Adonis Smith was quoted this week as saying coach Pat Fitzgerald "hates Iowa," but does that matter on the field?

The real explanation, according to Ferentz, is pretty simple.

"They have done a good job of playing the way you're supposed to play and we haven't," he said. "I think we have had nine turnovers and they have had two in two years. ... On top of that, we screwed up on special teams, several times, a couple years ago. To me, that's been the story of it. You've got two even teams. One team played clean, played really well and the other team didn't and it's pretty academic who is going to win or lose."

Iowa has looked uncharacteristically sloppy against NU, but Vandervelde says there's no mental block against playing the Wildcats.

"People don't expect them, for some reason, to come out and swing as much as they do and hit as hard as they do," he said. "Sometimes it catches people by surprise, I think. They're smart guys, they're going to watch tape and figure out what you do, so you really can't make mistakes. You have to be ready for everything they're going to bring.

"Having played them for a couple of years now, I'm well versed in their style of play and I won't be surprised by anything, hopefully."
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Nostradamus didn't show up in the bowels of Kinnick Stadium late Saturday afternoon.

Even the great forecaster couldn't take credit for calling this one.

Michigan State and Iowa had produced three of the Big Ten's most exciting matchups the past three years. Iowa won a double-overtime contest in 2007. The Spartans preserved a 16-13 win the next year when Adam Decker stuffed Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene on fourth-and-1. Last year, Iowa won 15-13 on a touchdown pass with no time left on the clock to preserve its undefeated record.

[+] EnlargeAdam Robinson
Andrew Weber/US PresswireAdam Robinson and Iowa ran over Michigan State 37-6 on Saturday. It was the fifth-largest margin of defeat for a Top 25 team since 2000.
A day before Halloween, these two teams seemed destined to deliver another thriller.

Iowa had other ideas.

The 18th-ranked Hawkeyes dominated No. 5 Michigan State, ending the Spartans' quest for perfection in convincing fashion with a 37-6 victory at Kinnick Stadium, the graveyard for Big Ten unbeatens. The 31-point final margin represented the fifth-largest margin of defeat by an AP Top 25 team since 2000.

"I didn't see this coming," Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. "Our guys prepared mentally, emotionally."

Not far away in Iowa's interview room, coach Kirk Ferentz echoed his colleague.

"You never see that coming," Ferentz said, "not against a very good team like this. I never see those coming against anybody."

Ferentz often talks about how Iowa will never be confused with a true college football heavyweight. The Hawkeyes don't have a large margin for error. They don't just show up and dominate.

But Iowa had the potential to deliver a complete performance. Iowa entered the year with lofty expectations, but it hadn't met them.

After two losses that showed just how small the Hawkeyes' margin for error can be, the players responded, jumping ahead to a 37-0 lead and never looking back.

"That's the team you want to be," receiver Marvin McNutt said. "We have talent and the times we execute, we know we can do the right thing."

McNutt felt Iowa didn't execute well in practice leading up to last week's game against Wisconsin. It translated to the field, as the Hawkeyes suffered a 31-30 loss that left plenty of what-ifs.

If Iowa lost its third game Saturday, you could start talking about a season of what-ifs. But the Hawkeyes answered every question.

Ferentz didn't know how his team would respond from the Wisconsin loss.

"Absolutely not," he said. "You hope we practice well. You always hope that. My sense was our guys were preparing the way they were supposed to, watching tape and doing that kind of thing. ... But I also know [the loss] was back in everybody's minds. It was a tough week."

Michigan State, meanwhile, saw no clues of the impending disaster.

Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said the team had "one of the best weeks of practice ... all year." Head coach Mark Dantonio didn't feel the reinstatement of cornerback Chris L. Rucker caused any distraction. The Spartans had built their 8-0 record on resilient play, taking punches and countering and never giving up.

"Did we come unprepared? I don't think so," Dantonio said. "Did things snowball on us? I guess they did."

It's easy to pinpoint the moment the snowball picked up speed.

[+] EnlargeTyler Sash
Andrew Weber/US PresswireTyler Sash's lateral, following an interception of Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins, resulted in a 66-yard return touchdown for Michah Hyde.
Not surprisingly, Iowa delivered the first punch and took a 10-0 lead. But Michigan State was moving the ball and reached midfield before a Kirk Cousins pass to B.J. Cunningham sailed right into the arms of Iowa safety Tyler Sash.

Sash had seen Michigan State run the same play last year and anticipated it, making the easy pick. He didn't anticipate what came next. After racing 6 yards upfield, Sash lateraled the ball over Cunningham's head to teammate Micah Hyde, who ran the remaining 66 yards to the end zone.

"It's like the point guard that pulls up from 40 feet deep and shoots a 3-pointer," Sash said. "If he makes it, it's alright. But if he misses it, what are you doing?"

Sash, by the way, was a standout basketball player in high school who received Division I interest. He first got on Ferentz's radar screen while playing AAU basketball in fifth grade against Ferentz's son, James.

The playmaking safety showed off his hoops skills with the lateral to Hyde.

"I'll do it again if the same thing happens," Sash said with a smile.

"I liked the outcome," Ferentz said. "He's an older guy, I trust our guys. I don't think we practice that."

Sash's magic propelled the Hawkeyes, but their performance wasn't sleight of hand.

A defense that allowed 59 points the past two weeks kept Michigan State off the scoreboard for three quarters. Three Hawkeyes' defensive backs picked off Cousins, who entered Saturday with just four interceptions in 212 pass attempts this season.

Iowa's offense also surged, as quarterback Ricky Stanzi delivered another near-spotless performance (11-for-15 passing, 190 yards, 3 TDs) and got help from running back Adam Robinson (69 rush yards, TD, 32-yard receiving TD), tight end Brad Herman (3 receptions, 80 yards) and others. The Hawkeyes effectively mixed plays and personnel, and just about everything clicked.

"It's a great football team," Narduzzi said. "We knew emotionally, they'd be fired up, [defensive coordinator] Norm Parker was back in the house. ... We expected them to be a well-coached team and come play their tails off because they're fighting for a piece of the Big Ten championship."

Michigan State is right there, too, but Iowa's win ensures the Hawkeyes remain in the title fight heading into November.

"We weren't hitting on all cylinders in previous weeks," Sash said. "I think we did today."
Iowa and Wisconsin will spend all week dissecting film of one another, trying to find clues that will aid in Saturday's matchup at Kinnick Stadium.

The players and coaches could save a lot of time, though, and simply look in the mirror.

"They're a smash-mouth football program, we're a smash-mouth football program," Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt said.

[+] EnlargeKirk Ferentz
Chris Morrison/US PresswireKirk Ferentz's Hawkeyes have won the last two battles against the Badgers.
"They play our kind of ball," Iowa defensive end Adrian Clayborn said. "It's pretty much like going against our guys in practice every day."

Saturday's game won't be won with sleight of hand or exotic play calling. It's a pretty good bet that the team that blocks and tackles better will claim victory.

This is exactly how No. 15 Iowa and No. 13 Wisconsin like it.

While Michigan has gone to a full-blown spread offense and both Ohio State and Penn State have incorporated spread elements, the Hawkeyes and Badgers run pro-style systems build around the power run and the play-action pass. Boise State against Oregon, this is not.

The two defenses also are similar. Iowa's defense has some baseline rules each player must follow and few elaborate disguises. If each man does his job, the play should be stopped. Wisconsin's system is similar, in large part because Badgers head coach Bret Bielema cut his teeth at Iowa under veteran Hawkyes defensive coordinator Norm Parker.

If you like power defensive ends like Clayborn and Watt and burly running backs like Wisconsin junior John Clay and former Iowa star Shonn Greene, this is the game for you.

"They're just looking to run the ball, and we're looking to stop the run," Iowa defensive tackle Karl Klug said. "We match up pretty well."

The spotlight Saturday afternoon undoubtedly will be on the line of scrimmage. Wisconsin's offensive line comes off of a dominant performance last week against Ohio State, in which it overpowered a formidable Buckeyes defensive front in a 31-18 victory. Iowa's defense ranks sixth nationally in points allowed (13.2 ppg) and seventh against the run (83.8 ypg).

Some have billed the Badgers' front five as the nation's best offensive line. The same has been said about Iowa's defensive line. Two likely first-round draft picks match up Saturday as Clayborn goes against Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi.

"We run similar schemes," Bielema said of his Badgers and the Hawkeyes. "We had a couple of [general managers] in during the course of the week last week, GMs of NFL teams. And they basically [say] 'It's so relieving to watch, come in and watch film and watch you run the football like they want to run it at the next level.'"

[+] EnlargeBret Bielema
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin coach Bret Bielema played for the Hawkeyes and began his coaching career with Iowa.
Bielema is the strongest link between the schools.

He played defensive line for Iowa under Hayden Fry from 1989-92 and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant for the Hawkeyes in 1994. Bielema was elevated to linebackers coach in 1996 and spent six seasons in the role, the last three under current Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

Bielema "thinks the world" of Ferentz and called Parker one of his biggest influences in coaching.

He's also linked to Iowa through body art: a Tiger Hawk tattoo remains on his calf, and Iowa coaches don't hesitate to bring it up during their frequent recruiting battles with Wisconsin.

"Every time [a recruit] goes to visit there, the first thing, I can write it down to a tee, they're going to come back and say, 'Coach, can we see your tattoo?'" Bielema said. "Every Iowa coach says that to him, so I know their routine, and it's nothing surprising."

The schools share other connections as well.

When Ferentz joined Fry's staff as an assistant in 1981, Barry Alvarez served as the team's linebackers coach. Ferentz and Alvarez worked together for six years before Alvarez left for a position at Notre Dame. Three years later, both men took head-coaching jobs, Alvarez at Wisconsin and Ferentz at Maine.

Wisconsin had gone 9-36 in the four seasons before Alvarez's arrival and were in the midst of a 10-game losing streak and an 18-game winless streak against Iowa.

"When I left here in '89, it’s not that I didn't respect them, but they had really fallen on hard times," Ferentz said. "And as I was leaving here, that’s when Barry was going up there. I get back nine years later and they were clearly one of the best programs in the country.

"They’ve just done a fantastic job there. They’ve been very consistent with their efforts."

The same can be said for Iowa, which rebounded from its own lull (1998-2001) to restore itself among the Big Ten's elite.

How close are the two programs? Iowa leads the all-time series 42-41-2 after claiming the last two matchups. When the Big Ten began determining divisions for 2011 and beyond, it examined data since 1993, the year Penn State joined the league. Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State led the league in Big Ten wins during the span, but Wisconsin (79-54-3) and Iowa (71-64-1) are in the next tier.

"There are four teams in our new conference coming next year that have won national championships," Bielema said, referring to Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska. "And then the next two teams, probably by record, are us and Iowa."

Added Ferentz: "It’s nice to be involved in the party, if you can get in there. But it doesn't just happen."

Iowa and Wisconsin are so close that it contributed to them being placed in opposite divisions to achieve competitive balance. The two teams don't meet in 2011 and 2012, so Saturday's winner gets to keep the Heartland Trophy a little longer, not to mention take a step closer to the Big Ten title.

"There’s a great deal of respect, but we all want the same thing," Bielema said. "That’s what this week will be about, getting the W."

Adam Robinson is Iowa's quiet storm

September, 15, 2010
Iowa running back Adam Robinson has no trouble blending in.

"He has a very quiet demeanor, doesn't say much," Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You hardly even know he's around or in the building."

In meetings, Robinson rarely talks and lets more garrulous teammates like fellow running back Jewel Hampton fill the air. During practices, Robinson puts himself in listen-only mode, absorbing feedback from the coaches on how he can improve.

But there's one place where Robinson can't hide: the playing field. When you're the nation's ninth-leading rusher, it's hard not to get noticed.

[+] EnlargeAdam Robinson
Stephen/Icon SMIAdam Robinson has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of Iowa's first two games this season.
After being thrust into a starting role prematurely last season, Robinson has already found his comfort zone this fall, racking up 265 yards and four touchdowns on only 38 carries through Iowa's first two games.

"Last year, it was kind of a shocker," Robinson said. "It was like, 'Am I really playing football for the Iowa Hawkeyes?' Now it's like, ‘I'm here, I'm settled in and I'm really happy with the way things are going.'"

So are the rest of the Hawkeyes, who visit No. 24 Arizona on Saturday night (ESPN, 10:30 p.m. ET) in the premier game of Week 3.

After redshirting in 2008, the 5-foot-9, 205-pound Robinson had moderate expectations for 2009: contribute on special teams and "maybe get some work in at running back," he said. Hampton was the acknowledged successor to Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene after setting a team freshman record with seven rushing touchdowns in 2008.

But knee problems in July and August ended Hampton's season before it started. By Week 2, Robinson had climbed to the top of the depth chart.

"I didn’t really expect to play early that season," he said.

Robinson started 10 games for Iowa and set a team freshman rushing record with 834 yards. Although Iowa ranked 10th in the league in rushing (114.2 ypg), Robinson got stronger as the season progressed, finishing third in the Big Ten in rushing average for conference games (74 ypg).

He hit his stride on the road against Michigan State, racking up 109 yards on 27 carries. But late in the fourth quarter, Robinson went down with an injury.

The diagnosis: high-ankle sprain.

"All my trainers said, 'This is a pretty severe injury. It’s going to take a while to heal. You'll probably miss the rest of the season, so we'll try to get you back in time for the bowl game,'" Robinson recalled.

Robinson listened to their words, like he always does. But his actions once again spoke louder.

He was running on the ankle a week later. And just three weeks after the injury, Robinson returned to the field at Ohio State as Iowa played for a Rose Bowl berth.

For those unfamiliar with high-ankle sprains and running backs, Robinson's quick return is practically unheard of.

"It really hurt a lot," said Robinson, who had 74 rushing yards on 20 carries against the Buckeyes. "I was only about 80 percent going into Ohio State, but I just tried to tough it out and do what I could on the field. Toughness is a value I have. I embrace it, and if I can go, then I'm going to go despite injuries or things like that."

Hampton is back in the mix for Iowa, and after a strong preseason, he has been pegged by many to take over the starting job. But Robinson is making it difficult right now.

"You hope from Year 1, whenever they do get to the field, to Year 2, they improve, and that’s basically been the case," Ferentz said. "[Robinson] really finishes runs. He's a guy that you have to tackle. He runs with great determination, and we're hopeful he can go on and have a great year."

Make no mistake: Iowa doesn't have a running back controversy. Robinson called it "a relief" to have Hampton available last week against Iowa State after he carried the ball 24 times in the opener (Hampton was suspended).

Robinson carried 14 times against the Cyclones for 156 yards and a touchdown, while Hampton had 20 rushes for 84 yards and a score.

"Both of us are capable of starting and both of us are capable of playing, so whoever starts, whoever comes in next, it doesn’t really matter," Robinson said. "We're both going to contribute and provide a spark for the team."

Right now, No. 32 is doing just that.
Some bad news for the Iowa Hawkeyes early Saturday, as running back Jewel Hampton was arrested following his alleged involvement in a bar fight near campus.

Hampton, 20, was charged with public intoxication and underage presence at a liquor establishment after his arrest at 1:46 a.m. Saturday. He was booked at the Johnson County jail at 2:42 a.m. and released at 3:15 a.m.

Iowa City police officers responded to Vito's, a restaurant and bar in Iowa City, following reports of a large fight at the back of the bar.

"Based on their investigation, officers determined that Mr. Hampton was actively involved in several physical confrontations within the bar," Iowa City police Lt. Bill Campbell told

Another Iowa player, junior cornerback Jordan Bernstine, was also arrested at the bar and charged with public intoxication. Bernstine was booked under his given name, Jordan Morris.

Hampton is in the mix for Iowa's starting job this season after missing all of 2009 with a knee injury. He went through spring ball and did everything but full-contact drills. The Indianapolis native entered last summer as the frontrunner for the starting job before injuring his knee, first in July during voluntary workouts and then again during preseason camp. Hampton backed up Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Shonn Greene in 2008 and rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns.

Hampton is expected to compete with Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher for the top job in 2010.

Bernstine also was a candidate for a starting spot in 2009 before breaking his ankle in August and missing the season.

Iowa had enjoyed a long stretch without off-field incidents after seeing a large group of players make the police blotter between 2006-08. It will be interesting to see how Ferentz handles Hampton's and Bernstine's arrests.

UPDATE: Ferentz issued the following statement regarding Hampton and Bernstine early Saturday afternoon.
“I am aware of the incident involving Jordan Bernstine and Jewel Hampton Friday evening and at this time I am in the process of gathering all the facts concerning the incident. Until I have all the facts, I’ll have no further comment and the incident will be handled internally.”

So that's that.
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.

Big Ten players of the decade

January, 19, 2010
Our decade recap continues with a look at the top players in the Big Ten from 2000-09. The league produced just one Heisman Trophy winner, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006, but many other national award recipients on both sides of the ball.

We saw outstanding one-year performances from players like Brad Banks (2002), Larry Johnson (2002), James Hardy (2007) and Shonn Greene (2008), and impressive four-year career efforts from Paul Posluszny, James Laurinaitis, Mike Hart, Javon Ringer, Taylor Stubblefield and others.

[+] EnlargeTroy Smith
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireOhio State's Troy Smith was the runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy in 2006.
The league produced solid linemen and linebackers the entire decade, while star quarterbacks and running backs were sprinkled throughout.

Believe me, it wasn't easy to get this list down to 10 players, but here goes.

I put more weight on players who had multiple outstanding seasons. Also, players who had most of their production in the 1990s didn't make the cut.

1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State: The league's lone Heisman Trophy winner tops the list. Smith took home the Heisman, the Walter Camp and the Big Ten MVP awards in 2006. He also led Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl championship following the 2005 season.

2. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan: The 2004 Biletnikoff Award winner earned consensus All-America honors that year, completing a terrific four-year run in Ann Arbor. Edwards still holds the Big Ten record for career touchdown receptions with 39, two more than fellow Wolverine Anthony Carter.

3. A.J. Hawk, LB, Ohio State: Hawk was the face of a ferocious Buckeyes defense during the mid part of the decade. The two-time All-American (unanimous in 2005) won the Rotary Lombardi Award and helped Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl victory.

4. Joe Thomas, T, Wisconsin: The Thomas-Jake Long debate is a good one, but I'm giving the edge to Thomas, the 2006 Outland Trophy winner. Thomas anchored several powerful Wisconsin offensive lines, earned consensus All-America honors in 2006 and twice made the All-Big Ten squad.

5. Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State: Posluszny is one of only two Big Ten players to win the Bednarik Award two times. He also took home the Butkus Award in 2005 and helped restore Penn State after the program had slipped from 2000-04.

6. James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: Laurinaitis was quite possibly the most decorated Big Ten player of the decade on either side of the ball. He joined select company at Ohio State in earning All-America honors three times (unanimous in 2007). Laurinaitis won the Butkus and Nagurski awards and twice earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

7. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota: Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III shared the rushing load, but Eslinger was the mainstay who created rushing lanes no matter who had the ball. The 2005 Rimington Trophy winner was Minnesota's only three-time All-Big Ten selection this decade.

8. Bob Sanders, S, Iowa: No player meant more to Iowa's renaissance this decade than Sanders, the team's only three-time All-Big Ten selection in the aughts. Nicknamed "The Hitman," Sanders epitomized a program that got the most from its players for the majority of the decade.

9. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan: We witnessed lot of great one-year performances from Big Ten running backs, but Hart was one of the league's few mainstays this decade. Despite being plagued by injuries as a sophomore, Hart finished fourth on the Big Ten's all-time rushing list (5,040 yards) and had 28 career 100-yard rushing games.

10. Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana: Randle El brought a new brand of football to the Big Ten and had a record-setting career despite never reaching a bowl game. The dual-threat star won Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and ranks fourth on the league's career total offense list with 11,364 yards.

Also considered: Michigan T Jake Long, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers, Michigan State RB Javon Ringer, Iowa QB Brad Banks, Iowa T Robert Gallery, Purdue WR Taylor Stubblefield, Ohio State WR Ted Ginn Jr., Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley, Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall, Penn State QB Michael Robinson, Penn State RB Larry Johnson, Purdue WR Dorien Bryant, Purdue WR John Standeford, Ohio State S Mike Doss, Wisconsin DE Erasmus James, Iowa RB Shonn Greene, Northwestern QB Brett Basanez, Illinois LB J Leman, Penn State LB Dan Connor.
Here's a conversation I've had with several casual college football fans the last few days.

Me: One of the Big Ten's more exciting offenses will take the field Tuesday night.

Them: Where? Is Michigan holding an impromptu scrimmage with Purdue in Kalamazoo?

Me: No, in Miami. At the FedEx Orange Bowl.

Them: You must be confused. Georgia Tech has the exciting, tricky, where's-the-ball-gonna-go triple option attack with all the NFL prospects. Iowa's offense is like watching paint dry.

Me: Nope. You'll see.

Iowa seems to be fighting several common misperceptions, among them the belief that the Hawkeyes run a boring, ho-hum offense.

It's true that Iowa often wins with defense. It's true that the Hawkeyes offense lacks a bona fide star like running back Shonn Greene was in 2008. And from time to time, the Iowa attack looks a bit stale.

But this offense has the potential to explode. Just ask Indiana, which saw a 24-14 fourth-quarter lead turn into a 42-24 loss as Iowa's offense scored four touchdowns in the final 13:03. The Hawkeyes put up 35 points against Iowa State and 30 against Michigan. Iowa also averaged 11.6 yards per pass against the celebrated Ohio State defense, with a backup quarterback (James Vandenberg) calling signals, no less.

Starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi entered the bowl season leading the Big Ten in passes of 30 yards or longer (18) despite missing the last two and a half games with an ankle injury.

"At times, we can definitely be explosive," Stanzi said. "We've taken more chances downfield this year, and it's proven to help us out and at times, it has kind of hurt us. But the payoff is much greater than the risk when we've taken them, and it's working. That's something new in our offense this year. It's something very crucial to us getting points on the board and stretching the field."

Iowa boasts two excellent deep threats in wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who average 21.8 yards per reception and 16.8 yards per reception, respectively. Wideout Trey Stross (13.5 ypr) and tight ends Tony Moeaki (11.6 ypr) and Allen Reisner (10.2 ypr) also can stretch the field.

“Coming into the season, that was probably a position [wide receiver] we were watching," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "We were relatively young and relatively inexperienced out wide, Trey Stross being our only senior. There's no question, Marvin has improved leaps and bounds from last year during the course of this season. And Derrell has practiced and played with a lot more consistency. He's been productive for us, but he hasn't been consistent, and he really has had a good season. We're happy about that. And our tight ends have played well, too."

Georgia Tech's offense will get most of the attention tonight, and justifiably so, but Iowa's attack isn't small potatoes. With a willingness to take shots and a quarterback who will complete passes (to his teammates and opposing defenders), the Hawkeyes' offense is worth watching, too.
This is supposed to be a big night for the Big Ten.

While the Heisman Trophy presentation doesn't take place until Saturday (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), nine of college football's top individual honors get passed out tonight during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards in Orlando. This was the same night that recent Big Ten stars like Malcolm Jenkins, Shonn Greene, Dan Connor and Troy Smith took home coveted awards like the Thorpe, Doak Walker, Bednarik and Davey O'Brien.

This year, the hopes of Big Ten Nation rest with ... Zoltan Mesko?

No offense to Mesko, who is a fabulous punter for Michigan. The senior should win the Ray Guy Award tonight as the nation's top punter.

But what does it say about a league when its only finalist for nine major awards is a punter?

At least Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will be there, as he tweeted earlier today: "En route to Orlando to present an award at the ESPN College Football Awards tonight!

Now there are reasons for the Big Ten's lack of representation. Several standout players, namely Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham and Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, played for sub-.500 teams. There were certainly a few snubs, like Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson not being a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. Other players, like Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker, had their national award campaigns derailed by injury.

But the lack of star power is revealing, especially on offense. Where are all the offensive stars in the Big Ten? The league's problems at quarterback have been well documented here, and it's imperative that the Big Ten improves under center for 2010 and beyond.

Here's hoping Mesko takes home the Ray Guy Award tonight. But my bigger wish is for the Big Ten to have a greater presence in Orlando at this time next year.

My Heisman Trophy ballot

December, 8, 2009
The Big Ten had no legitimate horse in the Heisman Trophy race this year, so I was forced to look elsewhere for my selections.

And like fellow bloggers Chris Low and Tim Griffin, I struggled with the selections. In the end, my ballot included three guys who play the same position (Hint: It isn't quarterback).

Here's how I voted late Saturday night:

1. Toby Gerhart, RB, Stanford
2. Mark Ingram, RB, Alabama
3. C.J. Spiller, RB, Clemson

Ingram and Spiller sparkled in the spotlight Saturday, and both men have had huge performances all season long. Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh also stepped up in the biggest game of his season, and it was great to see him get an invite to New York City. But in the end, my decision came down to the player who consistently produced week in and week out against top competition.

Gerhart's numbers blew me away, and those who question Stanford's competition should check out the facts. As a guy who grew up in Berkeley, it wasn't easy to vote for a Stanford guy, but Gerhart deserves it.

One thought I had while filling out my ballot: Shonn Greene was a year too early. The Iowa star running back was overshadowed by a quarterback-dominated season in 2008. If he had turned in the same performance this year, he'd be undoubtedly heading to Manhattan with a real chance to win the trophy.

Another thought I had: What if Ingram had stayed closer to home and played for a Big Ten school? The league could use an offensive star like him.

It's time the Heisman goes to a non-quarterback. I hope this is the year.