NCF Nation: Steven Bench

Setting up the spring in the American Athletic Conference:

CINCINNATI

Spring start: Feb. 27

Spring game: April 5

What to watch:
  • Gunner Kiel: Attention has followed the former high school sensation for years, from Indiana to LSU to Notre Dame and now to Cincinnati. He enters his redshirt sophomore season having never taken a college snap. With sixth-year senior Munchie Legaux still recovering from last year's leg injury, the show is Kiel's to run this spring.
  • Hank Hughes' defense: The former Cincinnati defensive coordinator returns after coaching last season at UConn. There, he orchestrated a rushing defense that finished 23rd nationally despite a 3-9 campaign. He will keep a 4-3 base but loses three all-conference performers from last season: Greg Blair, Jordan Stepp and Deven Drane.
  • RDA IV: Ralph David Abernathy IV has been a playmaker out of the backfield for the Bearcats in recent seasons, but he has moved to the slot this spring. He will probably still line up in the backfield at times, but seeing what the 5-foot-7, 161-pounder can do in space is definitely worth keeping an eye on, especially if the man throwing him the ball, Kiel, lives up to the hype at quarterback.
EAST CAROLINA

Spring start: March 21

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Carden's ascent: Shane Carden could be a dark-horse Heisman Trophy candidate in 2014. He enters his fifth year in the program coming off a season in which he completed better than 70 percent of his throws for more than 4,000 yards, totaling 43 combined touchdowns between passing and rushing. Similar numbers in a new league will get him much more attention.
  • Replacing Jeremy Grove: The redshirt senior linebacker recently announced that he was hanging up his cleats after several shoulder injuries. The former freshman All-American led the Pirates in tackles for two years running before being limited last season. Expect bigger roles for Zeek Bigger and Brandon Williams, who together last season totaled 10 tackles for loss and three forced turnovers.
  • Filling the backfield void: East Carolina says goodbye to Vintavious Cooper, who turned in consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. While signee Anthony Scott looks like a player who could contribute right away upon his summer arrival, the burden for now falls on the shoulders of three backs who totaled 548 yards on the ground last season.
HOUSTON

Spring start: March 3

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:
  • O'Korn looks to take next step: John O'Korn started 11 games last season at quarterback, proving to be efficient through the air and on the ground while taking the Cougars to a bowl game in their first season in the American. Now he's running an offense that, including him, returns eight starters. He set the bar pretty high as league rookie of the year, but incremental improvement could mean big things for Houston in 2014.
  • CB battles: Zach McMillian and Thomas Bates have graduated, taking their combined 10 forced turnovers from last season out the door with them. Two transfers could find themselves in the mix, as Lee Hightower (Boise State) and Tyler White (Utah) look to battle for starting spots on a defense seeking help in the secondary.
  • Trevon Randle: The former LSU linebacker and three-star recruit now finds himself in more of a pass-rushing role after sitting out the 2013 season for undisclosed reasons. The move is interesting for the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Randle, but the talent is certainly there for Randle to become a playmaker, wherever he ends up playing on the field.
MEMPHIS

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 11

What to watch:
  • Paxton Lynch's growth: Lynch made a name for himself by unseating Jacob Karam as the starting quarterback during fall camp last season. He followed with an up-and-down season for the 3-9 Tigers, showing flashes of playmaking ability and a penchant for turning it over. He is now the hunted, not the hunter, with redshirt freshman Brayden Scott now in the role Lynch played last season in hoping to steal the No. 1 job.
  • Hayes' return: The biggest coup of the offseason was the NCAA granting Brandon Hayes a sixth year of eligibility. The former walk-on was the team's MVP and leading rusher last season, and he will help take plenty of pressure off of whoever emerges as the starting quarterback.
  • Defensive growth: The Tigers were ranked 39th last season in total defense, and eight starters return. The unit gave the offense chances to win last season against league heavyweights Louisville and UCF before falling by a 24-17 margin in both games, and the Tigers welcome two new coaches in Ricky Hunley (line) and Ryan Walters (corners).
SMU

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 5 (no spring game)

What to watch:
  • Replacing Gilbert: SMU opened practice Tuesday with five men in the mix to become its starting quarterback, with Neal Burcham carrying the front-runner status after starting the final two games last season in place of Garrett Gilbert (knee), who totaled nearly 3,800 yards rushing and passing last season, accounting for 27 scores.
  • Receiver depth: The Mustangs are relatively thin at the position following the graduation of two of its top three receivers from last season, as Jeremy Johnson and Keenan Holman each tallied more than 1,000 yards in 2013. Deion Sanders Jr., meanwhile, will miss spring practice because of a shoulder injury.
  • The next Acker: Cornerback Kenneth Acker starred with the Mustangs, earning second-team all-conference distinction after finishing second in the league in passes defended (16) and tallying a team-best three interceptions on the season. Jay Scott, who forced three turnovers himself last season, is also gone. Talented safety Shakiel Randolph could see his role increased after showing plenty of promise in his first two seasons, including a 37-tackle campaign last season.
TEMPLE

Spring start: March 24

Spring game: April 26

What to watch:
  • Receiver help: Temple will open spring practice without Robbie Anderson, the Owls' top receiver from last season, who is no longer with the team. Both Anderson and the graduated Ryan Alderman combined for more than 1,300 yards last season, so the pressure will be on Jalen Fitzpatrick and John Christopher to carry bigger workloads going into 2014. They'll have a familiar Philly face coaching them, with former QB Adam DiMichele now the Owls' receivers coach.
  • Aerial attack: One silver lining from a 2-10 campaign last season? P.J. Walker, who rebounded after losing the preseason quarterback battle and ended up starting the season's final seven games, threw for 2,084 yards. He was part of a group that passed for the most yards ever (2,996) by a Temple team, a promising sign moving forward for the second-year player (and his second-year coach, Matt Rhule).
  • Tyler Matakevich: The kid just keeps on getting better, as the linebacker followed up his impressive rookie season by tallying 137 total tackles — including 11.5 for loss — picking off one pass, recovering two fumbles and forcing three more. He wears a single-digit jersey, No. 8, to signify his toughness, and he is a great central piece for the defense to build around. Temple was ranked 109th overall in yards allowed last season.
TULANE

Spring start: Feb. 7

Spring game: Feb. 26 (no spring game)

What to watch:
  • Injuries: The situation is a little different here with Tulane, which is already finished with its spring season, allowing us to instead look back. And the Green Wave even ended up finishing earlier than anticipated, as coach Curtis Johnson ended it after Feb. 26, cutting the final two practices because of injuries. Among the walking wounded throughout last month: Linebacker Nico Marley, running back Sherman Badie and linebackers Sergio Medina and Edward Williams, who both missed all of spring because of pre-existing injuries.
  • QB battle: Tanner Lee is seemingly the front-runner to start in 2014 after redshirting as a freshman this past fall. A local prospect from Jesuit High, he passed for nearly 4,000 yards in high school while tallying 39 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, and he received a much heavier workload this spring after the Green Wave struggled with consistency in the passing game in 2013.
  • Filling the backfield void: Orleans Darkwa is gone after totaling 920 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Tulane might be turning to another redshirt freshman, with Badie getting plenty of attention this spring before suffering a concussion down the stretch. Senior Rob Kelley (420 yards in 2013) and three other backfield contributors from last season return to give this unit a bit of depth.
TULSA

Spring start: March 11

Spring game: April 19

What to watch:
  • Defensive stability: No one in the program is happy following a 3-9 campaign last fall, but the Golden Hurricane bring back plenty of experience from last season as they move into Year 1 in the American. Ten starters are back on defense. Despite finishing just 102nd in yards allowed last season, that gives the program a nice foundation as it welcomes in a tougher slate of opponents.
  • Josh Blankenship and the offense: Head coach Bill Blankenship's newest hire is his son, Josh, who was brought in to coach quarterbacks and rework an offense that finished 100th overall last season. The former Muskogee High head coach is part of a restructured offensive staff after coordinator Greg Peterson left the program and Bill Blankenship gave up coaching the QBs.
  • Backfield holes: Trey Watts and Ja'Terian Douglas are gone after totaling nearly 1,700 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Reinforcements are on the way in three running back signees from this recruiting cycle, with one of them, juco transfer Tavarreon Dickerson, enrolling early and looking to make an impact after averaging 8.5 yards per carry last season at Trinity Valley.
UCF

Spring start: March 12

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • Like after Bortles: Blake Bortles will be examined and re-examined in the public eye daily before the NFL draft, and his replacement back at UCF has some major shoes to fill. His backup last season, Justin Holman, is the most experienced of a three-man group that includes early enrollee and former SMU commit Tyler Harris.
  • Replacing Storm Johnson: Johnson is gone after rushing for 1,139 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and Will Stanback will likely have to prepare for a much bigger role in his sophomore year after getting 105 carries in his rookie campaign of 2013. There are plenty of other bodies back there, but none managed the workload Stanback carried last season as a freshman.
  • Offensive line depth: Brent Key is now the assistant head coach of the offense, and he will serve as offensive line coach as well. The spring will be very important in helping to sort out the chaos up front, and one player worth keeping an eye will be Chester Brown, who saw limited action last season after switching from the defensive line in fall camp.
UCONN

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch:
  • New leader: Bob Diaco had an introductory news conference like few others. The former Notre Dame defensive coordinator is filled with energy, and he certainly brings a new approach atop the program following the Paul Pasqualoni and Randy Edsall eras. He already has made some cosmetic changes in the training facility, but bringing immediate change on the field is a bigger challenge in 2014.
  • Casey Cochran. The Huskies won their final three games last season, putting up 28 or more points in all three contests. Cochran passed for a school-record 461 yards in the finale, and seeing how he and the rest of the quarterbacks develop under this new staff will go a long way toward determining what UConn can do next season.
  • Defensive replenishments. For all of their struggles in recent years, the Huskies haven't lacked for talent or effort on the defensive side of the ball. That shouldn't change under Diaco, who won the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant coach as Notre Dame's defensive coordinator in 2012. But replacing standouts such as Shamar Stephen and Yawin Smallwood won't be easy.
USF

Spring start: Feb. 26

Spring game: March 29

What to watch:
  • QB battle: Penn State transfer Steven Bench was named the starter at midseason in 2013, but he found himself behind freshman Mike White after an injury. Both quarterbacks turned the ball over way too much last season, and increased production from that position is crucial if Willie Taggart wants to get this program turned around in his second season as head coach.
  • Running backs: The battle to replace Marcus Shaw is on after his 765-yard season in 2013. Mike Pierre, Willie Davis and Darius Tice are the men being counted on now in the backfield, but no player from that trio carried the ball more than 41 times or topped 141 rushing yards for the season.
  • Jamie Byrd: Byrd enrolled at USF this January following a stint at Iowa Western Community College, and he has two years of eligibility remaining. He had 53 tackles, two interceptions, seven passes defended and a fumble recovery last season, and the hard-hitting speedster could make an early impact with the Bulls in the secondary.

South Florida season preview

August, 15, 2013
8/15/13
10:15
AM ET
South Florida Bulls

Coach: Willie Taggart

2012 record: (16-20 career)

Key losses: QB B.J. Daniels, RB Demetri Murray, LB Sam Barrington

Key returnees: LB DeDe Lattimore, WR Andre Davis, DT Luke Sager

Newcomer to watch: TE Sean Price

Biggest games in 2013: at Michigan State (Sept. 7), Miami (Sept. 28)

[+] EnlargeWillie Taggart
AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Daniel WallaceOne of the top priorities for first-year USF coach Willie Taggart: finding the right fit at quarterback heading into the season opener.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: South Florida is the only American Athletic team that doesn’t return its quarterback from last season. Under Taggart’s new reign, the Bulls will look to Bobby Eveld, Matt Floyd, incoming freshman Mike White or Steven Bench -- a Penn State transfer. Taggart has been mum on who’s leading the quarterback race thus far, telling the quarterbacks he won’t make his decision until later in training camp. Having lost the three top rushers from last season, the Bulls are looking for an identity on offense under Taggart and the quarterback that will lead the young unit.

Forecast: While many teams in the American Athletic boast a powerful offense with a rebuilding defense, South Florida has the opposite. In Taggart’s first year, the Bulls have two senior defensive ends with Ryne Giddins and Aaron Lynch. Lattimore was third on the team last year with 76 tackles and is on the preseason watch list for the Butkus Award, and USF returns both of its starting safeties. In contrast, the Bulls have just three returning offensive players who started at least half of USF’s games last year. Taggart will set the tone offensively, having four quarterbacks to choose from for the starting role. The most established player will be Davis, who tallied six touchdowns on 534 receiving yards.

With some of USF’s players on their third coach with Taggart, he said one of the challenges has been getting players to buy into his training regimen and his system. With a schedule that has the Bulls traveling to Michigan State in the second week of the season, then hosting the Hurricanes in the same month of September, USF needs to find its chemistry sooner rather than later if it wants to capitalize on its challenging schedule.

“If we're going to be big time like I say we are, we got to play big-time people,” Taggart said. “And we have great opportunities this year to do it.”

In the preseason media poll, the Bulls were picked to finish fifth in the conference, just behind in-state rival UCF. Taggart took Western Kentucky from a 20-game losing streak to the school’s first bowl appearance, and he wants to build the program at USF in similar fashion.

“We're a program that really hadn't lived up to our potential,” Taggart said. “But it's on us. And a big reason why I'm the head coach there now is to try to get our guys to live up to the potential.”
Former Penn State quarterback Steven Bench is heading back to the South. South Florida, that is.

Bench announced Thursday that he's transferring to South Florida, selecting the Bulls ahead of Mississippi State. He will be eligible to play immediately because of the loosened transfer policies the NCAA gave Penn State players after imposing major sanctions against the program last summer.

After backing up Matt McGloin in 2012, Bench competed in spring practice with junior-college transfer Tyler Ferguson. Bench and Ferguson shared snaps in Penn State's spring game, but days later Bench announced he would leave the program after head coach Bill O'Brien told him that he had slipped behind Ferguson on the depth chart. Ferguson instead will compete for the starting job with heralded incoming recruit Christian Hackenberg.

Bench tweeted Thursday morning: "I’ve decided to attend the University of South Florida and become a bull!! #DoSomething."

A native of Bainbridge, Ga., Bench will return to a Big Ten stadium this fall with South Florida, which visits Michigan State on Sept. 7.

 
In a stunning bit of spring news, Penn State announced Wednesday that sophomore quarterback Steven Bench is transferring.

It's a shocking development since Bench was competing for the starting job and entered spring practice with the upper hand on the position as the Nittany Lions' only returning scholarship quarterback. No reason was given for Bench's decision.

Soon after the announcement, Bench tweeted: "I've decided to leave Penn State and go to a school that will give me the opportunity to compete for the QB spot and reach my full potential."

"I have been meeting with all the players this week with my evaluation of where they are at related to football and academics and to discuss what they need to work on this summer," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said in a statement released by the school. "After meeting with Steven, he informed me he wants to play elsewhere. We want what is best for Steven. I want to thank him for his contributions to the program. We wish Steven the best in the future and will assist him anyway we can."

O'Brien had said that Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson were even in the quarterback competition after spring practice concluded last week. Both players had similar stats in Penn State's spring game.

"I think both guys did some really good things," O'Brien said after the game. "I've said that all spring. I'd say, no, I'm not any closer as I sit here right now. Eventually, I'll have to make a decision.”

So what changed for Bench, who appeared in two games last year as Matt McGloin's backup? Was it clear to him that he'd fallen behind in the quarterback race? Or was he nudged out the door for some reason? (For what it's worth, Bench tweeted, "What did I do to deserve this?" earlier on Wednesday, though we've seen with college athletes and Twitter that it's often dangerous to read too much -- or anything -- into a single tweet.) A team spokesman said the move was not related to academics and was Bench's decision.

We'll wait for answers as to why Bench is leaving State College. For now, we know that Ferguson is the starting quarterback, and that the possibility of redshirting incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg has grown much slimmer. O'Brien might not have choice but to play Hackenberg right away, as the only other quarterbacks on the depth chart are walk-ons D.J. Crook and Austin Whipple. But it's going to be tough for any young quarterback to master O'Brien's system in such a short period of time.

Ferguson will be given every chance now to prove he can handle the job. Bench, meanwhile, will join Rob Bolden and Paul Jones as once-promising quarterbacks who have left Penn State in the past year.

UPDATE: It appears Bench decided to transfer after learning that Ferguson had won the job. While he told NittanyNation's Josh Moer that the decision wasn't totally based on falling to No. 2 on the depth chart, he also said the following about his meeting with O'Brien:

"It's out of my control, but I wasn't happy with it," he said. "I'm a competitor, so I'm not going to agree with that decision. But, at the same time, it's his decision and it's out of my control. I feel that it kind of left me no choice. I don't want to back anyone up. I want to play. I came here to play football."
On Wednesday, the head coach and one player from each Big Ten Legends Division team participated in a spring football teleconference with the media. On Thursday, it was the Leaders Division's turn. Here are some notes and updates from the call:

Illinois
  • Head coach Tim Beckman said the junior college players he brought in helped with depth and age issues on his young team. "We have 40 football players that have never been in our spring football until this year," he said. Of the juco imports, Beckman said wide receiver Martize Barr has quick hands and good playmaking skills, both in the passing game and on kick returns; Eric Finney has earned a starting job at the Star linebacker position; Abe Cajuste is adding depth by playing both defensive tackle and defensive end; and Dallas Hinkhouse is making an impact at offensive tackle.
  • Beckman sung the praises of offensive lineman Corey Lewis, a sixth-year senior who has battled back from five knee surgeries and has become a team leader. "Corey Lewis comes to my office probably four or five times a week, just to talk," he said. "To me, he is what college football is all about." Beckman said that Lewis has "had a special spring" and hinted that he has earned a starting job.
  • Quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole will take most of the snaps in Friday's spring game so they can get more experience in the new offense. Beckman said Scheelhaase has "got a step in front" because of his experience, but the competition continues.
  • Scheelhaase on reasons for optimism in 2013: "Establishing an identity. That's something I don't know that we necessarily had last year, on offense or defense or as a team in general.
Indiana
  • Like many of you, head coach Kevin Wilson would like to know the new Big Ten division alignment. The reason? It's harder to recruit without being able to tell a prospect where he'll be playing his freshman season. Wilson added that if the league does indeed go to an East/West split, he'd like to see the Hoosiers placed in the East since they're located in the Eastern Time Zone.
  • Wilson said run defense and takeaways are two huge priorities for the Hoosiers' defense during the offseason. He noted that the Big Ten doesn't boast a large group of elite pass offenses, so IU must prepare better for run-driven attacks. Indiana finished last in the Big Ten in both run defense (231.3 ypg) and takeaways (13). Cornerback Greg Heban said the defense is working on takeaways every day in practice. "Every time the ball touches the ground, the defense is scooping it and scoring it," Heban said, "trying to give us a feel of what it's like."
  • Both Wilson and Heban praised the play of junior cornerback Tim Bennett this spring. Other spring standouts include linebacker T.J. Simmons, a freshman early enrollee, and Steven Funderburk, a junior-college transfer.
  • Heban called this "easily the best spring I've been around." He has seen more physical play and better effort on both sides of the ball, and the team also is having more fun than in past springs.
Ohio State
  • Head coach Urban Meyer said running back Rod Smith won't play in Saturday's spring game because he recently suffered a concussion. Before that, Meyer said Smith was one of the five most improved players on offense this spring. Meyer listed Carlos Hyde and Smith as the team's top two running backs, while Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball are even for the No. 3 spot.
  • Although the receivers have been better this spring -- especially Corey Brown and Chris Fields -- the depth is still nowhere near where it needs to be for Meyer's spread offense. "We’re way behind on quality of depth at that position," Meyer said. "That's a major, major concern." Moving Jordan Hall to H-back should help, and Meyer noted that the Buckeyes boast two good tight ends in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett.
  • Buckeyes offensive tackle Jack Mewhort paid close attention to the way John Simon and others led in 2012. He's ready to take on a greater load this season. "I welcome that," he said. "I see that as an honor, being compared to a guy like John Simon. I also see it as a challenge. I feel the pressure to step up and get guys going in the right direction." Mewhort also has seen quarterback Braxton Miller recognize his leadership responsibilities more this spring and get after teammates when he needs to.
  • Meyer said he puts more emphasis on spring practice and the spring game than most coaches. He has told his players that there will be a depth chart after spring ends, and while changes are possible in the summer, they're not likely. "In spring ball, you're trying to win a spot," he said. "During the fall, we're trying to win games."
Penn State
  • Quarterbacks Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson are receiving equal reps during practice and, not surprisingly, have endured some ups and downs. Head coach Bill O'Brien praised both players' intelligence, noting that they aren't making mental errors during workouts. "These guys have had productive practices," O'Brien said. "Has every play been great? No. But the word patience is a very important word here. Coming from pro football, I definitely have to learn more patience with all these young players. I think I have, but I can do a lot better." Senior guard John Urschel, who was highly entertaining during the teleconference, said he's the wrong person to ask about quarterbacks but praised Bench and Ferguson for picking up the system and showing leadership.
  • Urschel said the first-team offensive line right now consists of himself and Miles Dieffenbach at guard, Ty Howle at center and Donovan Smith and Adam Gress at the tackle spots. Of Howle, he said, "I could talk about Ty all day. If you ask me, he's one of the most underrated players on our team. ... Honestly, when I got here, I thought Ty was the best offensive linemen in our year, of the seven of us." Urschel also said Dieffenbach "started a lot for us last year but really is starting to take his game to the next level."
  • O'Brien said Zach Zwinak would get the start at running back if the season opened now, but all three backs -- Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch -- have had good springs. Lynch, a redshirt freshman, has "improved every single day of spring practice."
  • O'Brien is excited about Penn State's starting linebackers -- Glenn Carson, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman -- but admits the lack of depth at the position is "something I think about 24-7." He said it's vital to get Carson, Hull and Wartman through the rest of the offseason healthy, and hope for contributions from others like Ben Kline and incoming freshman Brandon Bell. Penn State won't shift players to linebackers because "there’s really nobody to move" and will instead closely monitor reps the rest of the spring and in preseason camp.
Purdue
  • Head coach Darrell Hazell said the Boilermakers have made major improvements in the last three and a half weeks. "Anytime you put in three different schemes, there's a little bit of a learning curve for the first couple weeks," he said. "You could see guys start to really get comfortable the last five or six practices."
  • Hazell said he has "three capable guys" right now at quarterback with Rob Henry, Danny Etling and Austin Appleby. He reiterated that he would keep the competition open until two weeks before the opener at Cincinnati. Of Etling, a freshman early enrollee, Hazell said: "For a young guy, a guy that should be at his prom, I think he's got tremendous poise. He's smart and really studies the game."
  • Hazell said backup tight end Justin Sinz and center Robert Kugler are two guys that have really caught his eye this spring. He called Kugler a "very much a leader on the offensive line."
  • Cornerback Ricardo Allen said Hazell has instilled an "all is one" mentality. "If one person does something, we all have to do it. We all wear black socks. We all wear the same uniform. We all tuck our shirts in. I feel like we're becoming closer as a team, and it's helping us build."
Wisconsin
  • Head coach Gary Andersen confirmed Curt Phillips and Joel Stave have separated themselves in the quarterback competition. It's a "mixed bag" of who takes snaps with the first-team offense, but both will continue to rotate through the rest of the spring and into fall camp. "The way they've separated themselves is simply production," Andersen said. "They know exactly where they sit and so does the rest of the team. … If they put all their friendships aside, their depth chart would look exactly like our depth chart."
  • Andersen praised the offensive line for tackling another transition, as the group works with its fourth position coach (T.J. Woods) since the 2012 Rose Bowl. The line has seen varying looks from the defense in practice and had players move around to different positions, in part because of injuries. Wisconsin had only seven healthy linemen a week ago, but Andersen is hopeful the number will rise to nine or 10 by next week's spring game. "Those kids have grinded through it every single day," Andersen said. "They're a tough-minded group."
  • Badgers senior linebacker Chris Borland said losing defensive end David Gilbert to recurring foot problems is a blow but the team has others to step in like Tyler Dippel, Brendan Kelly and Jesse Hayes, a redshirt sophomore who has stood out this spring.
  • Much like his old boss Urban Meyer, Andersen believes in constant competition and declares winners and losers in each practice. Andersen also mixes in some fun with a dance-off and throwing footballs into trash cans. "Some of them are a little bit quirky, but through the years establish some things we like," he said.
  • Borland said the strength program has brought the biggest changes in the transition to Andersen's staff. Cardiovascular work is stressed more, as is preventative care. Head strength and conditioning coach Evan Simon operates at a faster pace and uses more of an instructional approach than Ben Herbert, who stressed motivation.
Bill O'BrienRandy Litzinger/Icon SMIBill O'Brien is excited about his team as he heads into his second season at Penn State.
The last time we saw Penn State, the Lions were celebrating a surprisingly strong finish to the 2012 season and saying farewell to a special senior class. Penn State since has turned the page and will begin spring practice Monday with a mix of familiarity and uncertainty. Bill O'Brien is not the "new coach" in Happy Valley anymore, and players have acclimated to O'Brien and his staff. But the Lions are looking for a starting quarterback for the second consecutive spring. They also must replace several outstanding defenders and fill holes on both lines. But the depth crisis many of us envisioned for the Lions when the NCAA sanctions came down last summer simply isn't there in State College.

ESPN.com caught up with O'Brien late last week to discuss spring ball.

What are some of the main objectives you're looking for when you get on the field again?

Bill O'Brien: The No. 1 objective offensively is to make sure we come out of this spring practice with improvement from the quarterback position. We won't name a starter coming out of the spring, but at least at the end of 15 practices we'll have a good idea of how well these guys are grasping the system, Tyler Ferguson and Steven Bench. So that's a big deal for us offensively.

And defensively, some new guys will be in there, and seeing how those guys do, whether it's Nyeem Wartman at linebacker or Jordan Lucas at corner or some other guys who are going to be playing a little bit more next year, how much they improve. And then we'll work our special teams every single day, so hopefully we'll find some core special-teams players this spring.

What's your message to Steven and Tyler going into the spring? You're not naming the starter, but what do you want to see out of them?

BO'B: [Thursday] I was talking to them, and I said, 'Look, I just want you guys to put your head down and go to work. Don't worry about what everybody else on the outside of the program thinks about your performance, whether it's in scrimmages or the Blue-White Game or whatever it is. Just try to get better every single day.' These are two really, really good kids. They're smart, they work hard at it, they're grasping it pretty well to this point. We're pretty excited about getting started with them. I don't want them to think about anything other than trying to improve and be as good a leader as they can be.

Will you have to change the offense for one or the other? Do they fit in with what you did last year?

BO'B: We'll definitely be different. We'll be different in many ways. Matt [McGloin] had certain strengths we tried to play to, no question about it. Our system is expansive enough that you can have different parts in there to take advantage of the talents of the quarterbacks who are playing. So we'll be a different offense than we were last year.

Anything specific on what might change with these two quarterbacks or areas you can draw out more?

BO'B: I'd rather not get into all of that, but I can tell you these are two guys who are big, they're strong, they're fast, they look to be accurate passers. We're just looking forward to working with them.

(Read full post)

When the NCAA leveled severe sanctions against Penn State last summer and made it easy for players to transfer, roster depth became an immediate short-term concern.

It almost certainly looked to be a long-term problem. How would Penn State fare with a reduced roster and a limited number of scholarships to pass out for the 2013 recruiting class?

Early indications suggest the Lions will do just fine. After an 8-4 season under first-year coach Bill O'Brien, Penn State will open spring practice Monday in good shape, both depth-wise and health-wise.

Like every team, the Lions have some holes to fill, most notably quarterback, but they return playmakers on both sides of the ball like wide receiver Allen Robinson, defensive end Deion Barnes, cornerback Adrian Amos and three seasoned tight ends (Kyle Carter, Matt Lehman and Jesse James).

"We feel really good about our depth," O'Brien told ESPN.com on Friday. "Is it exactly the way we would want it? No. We were only able to sign a certain amount of guys, but at the same time, we've got a lot of quality, tough [players]. I really enjoy this football team, being around these kids.

"Obviously, these guys have to go out and play well for us, we have to stay healthy. But we feel like we'll field a very competitive football team in the fall."

Sophomore linebacker Ben Kline is the only key player who will miss spring practice after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery. The Lions are looking for bodies at linebacker after losing Michael Mauti and Gerald Hodges. Glenn Carson and Mike Hull are virtually assured of starting spots, and with Kline out, O'Brien sees Nyeem Wartman opening the spring with the first-team defense. Wartman was limited by injuries as a true freshman in 2012.

"We think he's got a bright, bright future," O'Brien said.

Two quick notes:
  • O'Brien reiterated that he won't name a starting quarterback after spring practice. Steven Bench and junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson will compete this spring, and heralded recruit Christian Hackenberg arrives in the summer.
  • Penn State made two offseason position changes: tight end Garry Gilliam moves to offensive tackle, where he can play on either side, O'Brien said. Wide receiver Malik Golden moves to defensive back.
Penn State has signed larger and more decorated recruiting classes than the 2013 version, and brought in more big names. But the program has never faced NCAA sanctions, including scholarship reductions and postseason probation. Under the circumstances, the 17-member recruiting class PSU signed Wednesday might be one of the most impressive in team history. Penn State brought in star power like quarterback Christian Hackenberg and tight end Adam Breneman, retained most of its top recruits and addressed several needs. Head coach Bill O'Brien and his assistants have received a lot of praise for their first recruiting class of the sanction era, and deservedly so.

ESPN.com caught up with O'Brien on Wednesday to discuss the class.

[+] EnlargeO'Brien
Reese Strickland/US PresswireCoach Bill O'Brien says Penn State filled immediate needs with its recruiting class.
How did you guys keep this class together with all the challenges you had?

Bill O'Brien: I think it has a lot to do with two groups of people. Really the assistant coaches here, and then the prospects and their families that we signed. We started early on these guys, and we began to develop relationships with these guys right when I was hired here. And then we just began to keep grinding out those relationships. We never missed a phone call, we never missed an opportunity to talk to somebody that was influential in this young man's life. You have to give a lot of credit to our assistant coaches, and then give a lot of credit to these guys and their families who stuck with us.

Was there ever a point where you started to worry, or did you have faith all along that you'd keep the group together?

BO'B: I was certainly concerned when the sanctions came out. That day in July, I was definitely concerned. What happened was a group of guys who were committed to us, about eight guys, they drove up here to State College and they met with us that weekend, maybe two days after the sanctions came out, and that was a very productive meeting. They reaffirmed their commitment to me and to our football program. So that was when I began to say, 'As long as we work at it and we stay with these guys and we stay committed and they stay committed, we'll be OK.' Right after that, it got a little bit better.

How did the season itself affect keeping guys on board or bringing in interest from other recruits?

BO'B: Winning always helps. Any time you can go out and win eight out of your last 10 games -- we were on TV all the time, or these guys were actually at the game and they saw that atmosphere, that winning locker room and the atmosphere at Beaver Stadium -- that's a very positive thing for any football program.

What's the significance of Christian signing with you guys at the quarterback spot?

BO'B: It's really important. At the end of the day, Christian comes from a great family and he's just a really good person who has got a lot of talent and is going to come in here and make us a better football program. It's important that all these other guys, not just Christian, stayed committed to us. That was such a big, big thing for us. We owe a lot to those guys and their families. We're proud that they stayed with us.

How does he fit what you want to do on offense?

BO'B: He definitely fits what we're looking for. He's a tall guy who's athletic. He's an accurate passer, he's smart, he's competitive, he's made plays in big games, he's run 2-minute drills in high school to win games. So we feel really good about him. We felt good about him right from the start. He was the No. 1 guy we went after, and we were able to get him. It says a lot about him, and it says a lot about us. He fits our system to a T.

(Read full post)

The 2012 college football season is barely on ice and we're already heating up for the 2013 campaign with a way-too-early version of the Big Ten power rankings. This is a snapshot of how the league looks at this point in time, not knowing all the personnel/coaching changes that will be in place for next season. As a reminder, these can and will change during the next eight months.

Ohio State is on top, and quite frankly, the Buckeyes are head and shoulders above the rest of the league. Other teams such as Northwestern, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Michigan certainly belong in the league's lead pack, while Michigan State and Penn State both have talent as well as question marks. We don't see a whole lot separating Nos. 2-6.

Here we go ...

1. Ohio State: The Buckeyes made the most of their sanctioned season, running the table to post just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history. Urban Meyer's crew now takes aim at a Big Ten title and perhaps even a national title, its first since 2002. Junior quarterback Braxton Miller leads a potentially explosive offense, but Ohio State needs its young defenders to grow up in a hurry as there are depth and experience questions on that side of the ball.

2. Northwestern: The Wildcats won 10 games in 2012 with a young team most projected to win no more than seven. Northwestern returns a very strong nucleus, led by running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter, and loses only a few key seniors. Most of the Wildcats' talent can be found in their younger classes. The schedule gets tougher in 2013 -- Northwestern opens Big Ten play with Ohio State and Wisconsin -- but the Wildcats should be a major factor in the Legends Division if they can shore up their offensive line and continue to make strides on defense.

3. Nebraska: There's no doubt Nebraska will have one of the nation’s top offenses in 2013. Fourth-year starter Taylor Martinez returns at quarterback and has the Big Ten's largest arsenal of weapons at his disposal. The big concerns are on defense after Nebraska hemorrhaged points and yards in its four losses this past season and loses a group of seniors. Bo Pelini needs to get his defense back on track and hope the offense can limit turnovers, a huge problem throughout this season.

4. Wisconsin: Gary Andersen hardly inherits a bare cupboard in Madison. His predecessor, Bret Bielema, actually pointed to the 2013 team as potentially his best with the Badgers. The coaching transition could create some speed bumps, but Wisconsin returns two dynamic running backs in James White and Melvin Gordon, multiple quarterbacks with experience and a good defensive front seven led by Chris Borland. There are concerns in the secondary (three starters gone) and at wide receiver (not enough playmakers), but Wisconsin should push Ohio State in the Leaders Division.

5. Michigan: The Denard Robinson era is over and Michigan needs offensive playmakers to replace its record-setting quarterback and surround new signal-caller Devin Gardner. A bigger concern, though, is an offensive line that struggled at times in 2012 and must replace most of its starting lineup. Coach Brady Hoke should see some of his strong early recruiting efforts pay off in Year 3, although Michigan might not have the depth to challenge for a league title until 2014. Linebacker Jake Ryan leads a defense that has improved the past two seasons but must measure up to elite competition.

6. Michigan State: Pat Narduzzi's defense should once again be one of the nation's best, especially with All-Big Ten standout Max Bullough once again leading the unit at middle linebacker. But the NFL departures of Le'Veon Bell and Dion Sims could hamper an offense that had no other consistent weapons in 2012. The schedule definitely favors MSU, but how will the Spartans score points? MSU's quarterback competition between Connor Cook and Andrew Maxwell will be one of the top storylines of spring practice.

7. Penn State: Bill O'Brien had a lot to do with Penn State's success in 2012, but so did a senior class featuring several NFL players on defense who certainly will be missed. O'Brien's next challenge is developing a capable quarterback, whether it's Steven Bench, junior college arrival Tyler Ferguson or, just maybe, heralded incoming freshman Christian Hackenberg. Penn State could feel the sting of the sanctions more from a depth standpoint in 2013, but O'Brien's Lions have defied the odds so far.

8. Minnesota: The Gophers doubled their win total in Jerry Kill’s second season, and Kill's track record at previous stops suggests another boost could be on the way in Year 3. Quarterback Philip Nelson looked good in the bowl game after some late-season struggles, but Minnesota still needs more weapons to develop around him as well as continued progress from the offensive line. Senior defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman leads a unit looking to fill gaps at linebacker and cornerback.

9. Indiana: The arrow is pointed up in Bloomington despite a poor finish to the regular season, and with eight home games on the slate in 2013, Indiana should expect to go bowling. Third-year coach Kevin Wilson has three quarterbacks with experience -- Tre Roberson, Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld -- at his disposal, as well as other weapons such as running back Stephen Houston and receiver Cody Latimer. IU's defense once again is a major question mark, but recruiting efforts have picked up on that side of the ball.

10. Purdue: If the Heart of Dallas Bowl was any indication, new Boilers coach Darrell Hazell has a lot of work ahead in Year 1. Purdue loses its top two quarterbacks (Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush), its top defender in Kawann Short and other key contributors on both sides of the ball. Hazell's predecessor, Danny Hope, signed a bunch of quarterbacks in his recent recruiting classes, and it will be interesting to see who rises to the top. Hazell should be able to clean up some of Purdue's sloppy play, but the Boilers have quite a few question marks after a disappointing 2012 campaign.

11. Iowa: After taking a significant step back in 2012, Iowa might have a tough time turning things around in a loaded Legends Division in 2013. The Hawkeyes welcome in a new quarterback (Jake Rudock) and need playmakers to emerge around him to generate much better results in Year 2 under coordinator Greg Davis. The defensive front seven could be solid as Iowa boasts a strong linebacking corps, but the Hawkeyes must plug a few holes in the secondary and get back to their traditionally stout play on D.

12. Illinois: Coach Tim Beckman needs to show significant signs of progress in Year 2 after a disastrous first season, and he might not have the personnel to do so. The Illini once again lose several defenders to the NFL draft and need to fill holes along the defensive line and in the secondary. Their bigger concerns are on the offensive side, as they had fewer playmakers than any Big Ten team in 2012. Veteran quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase returns, but Illinois needs a much better plan on offense and the personnel to get things done. An influx of junior college players must step up in a make-or-break year for Beckman.

Penn State misses out on juco QB Waters

December, 13, 2012
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Penn State fans were disappointed today when junior college All-America quarterback Jake Waters announced he had committed to Kansas State.

The Nittany Lions were thought to be in the lead for Waters, and he said during his news conference that he was leaning toward Penn State the past few days. In the end, though, he said he went with his gut in picking Kansas State.

Waters threw 39 touchdowns against just three interceptions while leading Iowa Western to a junior college national title this season. His commitment would have been a nice coup for Bill O'Brien, who could have used Waters as a bridge to star incoming high school recruit Christian Hackenberg. Rising sophomore Steven Bench is the only scholarship quarterback on the roster right now.

Will losing Waters turn out to be a major blow for Penn State? Who knows? It was amusing to see Lions fans (and Kansas State fans, for that matter) get so worked up over a guy they probably had not even heard of until a few weeks ago. He might turn out to be a star, or he could be the next Rob Bolden or Paul Jones. Nobody knows for sure.

O'Brien probably still will want to add a quarterback in this class if at all possible, for depth if nothing else. But for now, Bench will enter the spring as the starter and will have a leg up on Hackenberg after learning O'Brien's system for one year.

3-point stance: Osborne measured up

September, 27, 2012
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1. Tom Osborne had a tough standard to live up to as Nebraska athletic director -- the one he set as the Huskers football coach for 25 years. Not only did Osborne stabilize a football program that had gone shaky under his predecessor, but he shepherded the university from the internecine battles of the Big 12 to the safe and financially secure harbor of the Big Ten. You’d have to say that when Osborne retires in January, he will have met that tough standard.

2. In the first week of the season, Penn State quarterback Paul Jones volunteered to head coach Bill O’Brien to take snaps at tight end and fullback. Jones said it in a joking fashion, but O’Brien didn’t want to hear that from a second-team quarterback who still didn’t have a good grasp of the offense. In fact, O’Brien said that week that if starter Matt McGloin couldn’t play, freshman Steven Bench would go into the game. Jones did move to tight end, and now he’s leaving. Attrition with a new coach is not abnormal. O’Brien’s problem is that the NCAA sanctions won’t allow him to refill the roster.

3. So now Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray is a nerd, as Dawgs wide receiver Tavarres King told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. King meant it as a compliment to Murray’s knowledge. I made the same point last month about Stanford junior Josh Nunes, who won the starting job because head coach David Shaw trusted the offense in Nunes’ hands. Given the split-second reads that quarterbacks make when they break the huddle, not to mention when they take the snap, a big arm these days had better be connected to a big brain.
1. Perhaps Oregon State’s 10-7 upset of No. 13 Wisconsin will quiet the media speculation regarding the warmth of Beavers coach Mike Riley’s seat. Riley is homegrown. He played at Corvallis High. His dad, Bud, who died recently, coached at Oregon State. Riley loves the school and knows how to sell it. Few coaches have succeeded at Oregon State, and Riley not only has won (73-63), he has stuck around. When you talk about coaches who fit, you start with Riley.

2. Redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel of Kerrville, Tex., played a turnover-free game and gained 233 yards of total offense in Texas A&M’s 20-17 loss to Florida. Aggie quarterback coach Kliff Kingsbury (another Texas product) believes the intensity of Texas high school football gets quarterbacks ready quickly. “To be ‘The Man’ at a high school in Texas is a big responsibility,” Kingsbury said, “so once you get here, it’s a lot of the same feeling, just on a larger scale.”

3. Speaking of freshman quarterbacks, when Penn State fifth-year senior Matt McGloin got banged up at Virginia, Nittany Lion coach Bill O’Brien inserted freshman Steven Bench into the game ahead of sophomore Paul Jones. Bench, a coach’s son from south Georgia, impressed the coaches with his knowledge of the offense. Jones has a package of plays that the coaches hope to expand as he gains comfort in the new scheme.

Bill O'Brien has done a good job winning over Penn State fans the past few months.

He could have scored a few more points with the base Friday by announcing Paul Jones as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback for the 2012 season. Jones is a fan favorite for two main reasons:

1. He looks like a talented player.

2. Penn State fans are tired of the other options.

While Jones could be the long-term answer for Penn State, the best thing he had going for him, like many backup quarterbacks, is that the men in front of him have struggled. Penn State fans had seen enough bad decisions and interceptions from Rob Bolden, and they didn't feel a whole lot better about Matthew McGloin. Jones, who has had academic issues the past two seasons, has yet to appear in a game, giving him an air of mystery that gets people excited about his potential.

McGloin's career numbers aren't overly inspiring: 10 starts, 243-for-448 passing (54.2 percent), 22 touchdowns, 14 interceptions. But unlike Jones, he has played a significant amount of football in the Big Ten. And, unlike Bolden, he has performed decently for stretches and not constantly hurt his team with mistakes.

O'Brien was ultimately left to choose between experience (McGloin) and potential (Jones). Factor in the complex, straight-from-the-NFL offense O'Brien intends to run this fall, and McGloin became the best option.

Rather than make a popular decision, O'Brien made a sensible one Friday in announcing McGloin as Penn State's starting quarterback entering the season. Jones will be the backup, while Bolden, the team's opening-day starter the past two seasons, slips to No. 3 on the depth chart. All three men competed for the job this spring.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State coach Bill O'Brien has indicated Matthew McGloin has the best grasp of his complex offense.
McGloin might not have All-Big Ten skills, but he's a smart guy who has been in the fire. He also doesn't lack confidence, and won't get down on himself if he struggles early. Jones could be a very effective quarterback down the line -- perhaps even this season if things go badly for McGloin -- but to trot him out there for the opener in this type of offense is asking for problems.

O'Brien cited McGloin's consistency during spring practice as a primary reason to give him the nod. I thought it was telling what O'Brien told me about his quarterbacks when I visited State College in April.
McGloin: "He's a bright guy who understands our offense right now. He's doing a decent job of operating the huddle and things like this."
Jones: "He's picking it up and shows flashes of being a really good quarterback. When guys ask good questions, which Paul does, Paul asks a lot of good questions, you understand that they are getting it, to a certain degree. They all have good questions."

Translation: McGloin gets it right now better than the others. Jones is taking the right steps toward that point, but he's not there yet. McGloin gives us the best chance to win.

McGloin should operate on a short leash, and O'Brien should try to get Jones in games early this fall. It's imperative that Jones gets opportunities, even if it's a trial-and-error situation.

As for Bolden, rumored to have left the team last month, it will be interesting to see what his future holds. O'Brien said Bolden will continue to work out with the team this summer. The coaches are excited about incoming quarterback recruit Steven Bench, and Penn State has a verbal commitment from standout recruit Christian Hackenberg for 2013. While Bolden gives Penn State another option at quarterback, you have to wonder whether he'd be better served at another position.

O'Brien also announced Friday that cornerback Curtis Drake is no longer with the program and won't return. The coach didn't specify a reason for Drake's departure. Drake, who moved from wide receiver to cornerback this spring, was involved in a locker-room scuffle with McGloin in December that left McGloin concussed and unable to play in the TicketCity Bowl.
Penn State fans were getting a bit antsy about the fact new coach Bill O'Brien hadn't landed a verbal commit for 2013.

The wait is over, and Nittany Nation is celebrating.

Quarterback Christian Hackenberg committed to Penn State on Wednesday, becoming the first verbal for an all-important 2013 class. Lions247.com first reported Hackenberg's commitment, and colleague Jamie Newberg confirmed it with Hackenberg's father.

Hackenberg, a member of the ESPNU 150 Watch List, is a 6-foot-3, 210-pound signal-caller for Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. He had received offers from Alabama, Florida, Miami, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia, among others.

This is a big get for Penn State, which needs quarterback help in the 2013 class. Penn State lost out on one-time verbal Skyler Morningweg, and while new quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher loves incoming recruit Steven Bench, the team needs more options. It's also significant for O'Brien, whose background as a quarterback guru should help Penn State upgrade the position. Hackenberg recently cited O'Brien's work with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as a big selling point. Hackenberg's father, Erick, played football at Virginia with Tennessee coach Derek Dooley, so Penn State certainly had some competition for Christian's services.

Two positions where O'Brien could make a major impact are quarterback and tight end, given the Patriots' success last season with tight end Rob Gronkowski. Penn State is in the mix for tight end recruit Adam Breneman, who grew up a Lions fans and recently took an unofficial visit to the school.

Penn State has a long way to go in 2013 recruiting, but Hackenberg's pledge is an excellent start.
The Big Ten recruiting classes are signed and sealed, and although a few more recruits could come aboard, we have a good idea of what the rosters will look like heading into the 2012 season.

That means it's Power Rankings time. Again.

We're taking a post-signing day look at where the league stacks up. There aren't too many changes from our previous rundown, but some teams received a bump from strong recruiting classes.

As they say on Twitter, #legooo.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans' recruiting class didn't crack ESPN's top 25, but it features several strong prospects and is loaded up at wide receiver and defensive back. Mark Dantonio tells us he can't remember recruiting 10 athletes like the ones Michigan State added in the class. Michigan State already is one of the Big Ten's most athletic teams, so this bodes well for the Spartans as they look for another big season.

2. Michigan: Brady Hoke and his staff rode a fast start to 2012 recruiting and finalized a class ranked No. 7 nationally. The Wolverines started three freshmen on defense in 2011 and added several more who can contribute early in their careers, including linebacker Joe Bolden, cornerback Terry Richardson and defensive tackle Ondre "Pee Wee" Pipkins. If Michigan can maintain its momentum on defense after losing several stud linemen, it will be very tough to beat in 2012.

3. Ohio State: Urban Meyer announced himself with a superb recruiting class featuring arguably the nation's best crop of defensive line prospects. Ohio State would have been an improved team in 2012 after its first seven-loss season since 1897, but the recruiting class boosts the Buckeyes even more. The defensive front seven should be a deeper and stronger unit, and players like Noah Spence, the Big Ten's top-rated recruit, have a chance to contribute immediately.

4. Nebraska: The Huskers missed on their top signing day target (offensive lineman Andrus Peat) but still inked a solid class that should help at positions like linebacker, where Big Red lacked size and depth. Linebacker Michael Rose could contribute early in his career. Nebraska also addressed the departure of standout cornerback Alfonzo Dennard with talented juco addition Mohammed Seisay.

5. Wisconsin: Quality not quantity was the theme for Wisconsin, which signed only 12 players, the Big Ten's smallest class by five recruits. The Badgers lost two offensive line commits to other schools but added a decorated quarterback in Bart Houston and some solid players to the defensive back seven, including linebacker Vince Biegel. This is the type of season that will test Wisconsin's ability to reload and provide a true gauge of the program's progress under Bret Bielema.

6. Penn State: New coach Bill O'Brien and his staff had to scramble to keep the class together, and the 2012 recruiting haul didn't quite match what Penn State adds in most seasons. The coaches were able to keep some good prospects and fulfilled a need at wide receiver with Eugene Lewis and others. It'll be interesting to see how quarterback Steven Bench turns out after Penn State lost verbal commit Skyler Mornhinweg to Florida.

7. Purdue: The Boilers added speed in their 2012 class, and they loaded up on quarterback prospects for the future with four signal-callers. But Purdue also beefed up along the offensive line with Jordan Roos and others. With coaching changes and personnel changes throughout the Leaders Division -- not to mention Ohio State's bowl ban -- Purdue has an excellent chance to make some noise in 2012.

8. Iowa: The big story in Iowa City isn't so much the recent recruiting class but the seismic changes going on in one of the nation's more stable programs. After having the same coordinators for the past 13 seasons, Kirk Ferentz must replace both Norm Parker and Ken O'Keefe, who left late last week for a post on the Miami Dolphins' staff. Iowa will have new leadership on both sides of the ball, creating some uncertainty but also some excitement. The Hawkeyes added some nice pieces in the 2012 class, such as running back Greg Garmon and defensive end Faith Ekakitie.

9. Northwestern: Although the Wildcats' class didn't crack the national rankings, it looks like the best haul in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure as head coach. Northwestern picked up a potential difference-maker on defense in defensive end/linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo. Malin Jones could be the team's answer at running back, a spot that has suffered during Fitzgerald's tenure. The Wildcats also added the league's top transfer in former USC receiver Kyle Prater.

10. Illinois: It might take a year for Tim Beckman and his staff to make a big splash on the recruiting scene. Illinois' 2012 haul didn't receive great reviews, but the Illini are pursuing several nationally elite 2013 prospects from within the state. Linebacker recruits Tajarvis Fuller and Tyrone Neal should help Illinois in the defensive back seven. There's enough talent on the squad to get back to a decent bowl, but Beckman and his staff have plenty of work ahead.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers inked a class that drew good reviews from ESPN's analysts. Jerry Kill and his staff retained several top in-state prospects, including offensive lineman Isaac Hayes, wide receiver Andre McDonald and quarterback Philip Nelson. McDonald and fellow wideout Jamel Harbison could be immediate contributors for an offense that needs more options. But defense must be the top offseason focal point for Minnesota, which added several juco defenders.

12. Indiana: Although the Hoosiers remain at the bottom, we liked their recruiting class, which should first and foremost provide immediate help on defense. Junior college defenders like Tregg Waters and Jacarri Alexander likely will step in right away for a struggling unit. Indiana also will increase the competition at quarterback with heralded prep prospect Nate Sudfeld and juco addition Cameron Coffman.

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