NCF Nation: Tandon Doss

It's not Cody Latimer's fault that a sports hernia cut short his promising freshman season at Indiana.

Good luck trying to convince him of that.

"I feel like I let them down," Latimer told ESPN.com, referring to his Hoosiers teammates. "I felt like I missed out on a lot because of my injury. I really didn't pick up the offense that well, so this year, I felt like I needed to master the offense as best as I can so I could play faster and make big plays for my team.

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
AJ Mast/Icon SMICody Latimer already has 223 yards on 14 catches after three games this season.
"I feel like I owed 'em."

Latimer, a wide receiver for the Hoosiers, is making up for lost time this season. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound sophomore leads Indiana in both receiving yards (223) and yards per reception (15.9), while ranking second behind Shane Wynn in both receptions (14) and touchdowns (2).

Indiana is emphasizing the pass game more this year with new offensive coordinator Seth Littrell, a Mike Leach disciple. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in passing average (326 ypg) and have more pass yards (978) than all but one Big Ten team despite playing one fewer game than all but one league squad.

Often the team's featured outside receiver, Latimer is a big part of Indiana's plans this season and beyond.

"Disappointed the injury kind of slowed him last year," head coach Kevin Wilson said, "but [with] the emphasis on passing and throwing the football this year, his maturity, his development, he's in position to have a solid season for us. He's a good young player with a lot of potential."

One of 16 true freshmen to see the field for Indiana in 2011, Latimer appeared in eight games, starting two, and had 12 receptions for 141 yards and two touchdowns, before being shut down with the hernia in early November. An offseason spent on film study and route refining has helped Latimer -- and many of his teammates -- get a better handle on the offense.

"It's way easier, and we're going full speed at it," he said. "Most people have mastered it and know what we're doing now. There are no questions out there, so we're just going."

Latimer, a native of Dayton, Ohio, received scholarship offers on both sides of the ball coming out of Jefferson Township High School. Michigan State recruited him as a safety, Ball State as a linebacker and Connecticut as a receiver. His decision came down to one factor -- "I want to score touchdowns," he said -- and he picked Indiana, which had a strong tradition at the position.

Latimer committed to Indiana in October 2010, while Bill Lynch was still the Hoosiers' coach. He had built friendships with Hoosiers' receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.

"I knew they were always throwing them the ball," he said. "And then when the coaching change happened [to Wilson], I know they were really going to throw the ball with the Oklahoma offense. I'm a receiver, and I want to get the ball, so I've got to go here."

Latimer grew up admiring Randy Moss, noting that they have similar size and look to make game-changing plays on the perimeter.

"He's got a really good skill set," Wilson said. "Very strong, good hands, he’s learning every day, getting better. He's got a lot of qualities you're looking for. ... He's got a long way to go, but he's off to a good start."
Kofi Hughes doesn't hesitate when asked what element he brings to Indiana's receiving corps.

"My breakaway speed," the sophomore recently told ESPN.com. "When I get the ball, I'm not running for the first down or the extra yard. I'm running to score every time."

Hughes' speed could come in handy for the Hoosiers, who once again look well stocked at the receiver position but need more touchdowns from the group. Indiana lost top touchdown scorer Tandon Doss (7 TDs in 2010) to the NFL draft, and while No. 1 returnee Damarlo Belcher led the Big Ten with 78 receptions in 2010, only four went for touchdowns.

[+] EnlargeKofi Hughes
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesKofi Hughes wants to be next in the line of All-Big Ten wideouts from Indiana.
Belcher is expected to anchor IU's passing attack this year along with Duwyce Wilson, who started four games as a redshirt freshman last fall and recorded 32 receptions for 488 yards. Hughes, one of two true freshmen to play in 2010, provides another exciting option.

"My role’s just as important as Damarlo's or Duwyce's or anybody else who's out there on the field," said Hughes, who recorded seven catches last fall and blossomed during spring practice. "When it's my time to get the ball, I need to be a playmaker. I've always seen myself as a playmaker."

Hughes made plenty of plays as a quarterback for Cathedral High School in Indianapolis. As a senior in 2009, he accounted for 42 touchdowns -- 19 passing, 22 rushing, 1 receiving -- and was named Gatorade Player of the Year in the state.

While he loved calling signals, Hughes knew his future would be at receiver. He credits Doss for working with him on route running and other areas last year.

"I was his little project," Hughes said.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Hughes thinks he still must improve the way he practices and polish his game at what is still a relatively new position. With an unproven quarterback moving into a starting role -- Dusty Kiel, Edward Wright-Baker and Tre Roberson continue to compete -- Indiana needs its receivers to once again be a strength.

The Hoosiers have produced first-team All-Big Ten wideouts in three of the past four seasons with Doss (2009, 2010) and James Hardy (2007).

"We get down to business," Hughes said. "The receivers at Indiana have spoken for themselves in the past five years or so. Being a receiver at IU, there's a lot that comes with that."

Hughes is ready to embrace it and continue the tradition this season.
After the 2010 season wrapped up, Damarlo Belcher had Indiana's video staff compile cutups of all his catches and drops from the previous 12 games.

The catches far outnumbered the drops. Belcher had 78 receptions last fall, tops among Big Ten players. He ranked 19th nationally in receptions per game (6.5) and finished fourth in the league in receiving yards per game (69.3 rpg). The 6-foot-5, 214-pound Belcher emerged as the most consistent pass-catcher on the league's top passing offense.

[+] EnlargeDamarlo Belcher
AP Photo/Darron CummingsDamarlo Belcher led the Big Ten in receptions last fall, but is motivated by his drop against Iowa.
Belcher reviewed every play, but he spent more time on the drops. Specifically, he watched The Drop.

Indiana fans don't need further explanation. Anyone who watched the end of the Hoosiers' Nov. 6 game against then-No. 15 Iowa understands.

After Iowa scored a late touchdown to take an 18-13 lead, Indiana responded with a drive to the Hawkeyes' 18-yard line. After three incompletions, quarterback Ben Chappell lofted a pass to the end zone on fourth-and-10. Belcher leaped above the defenders to grab it for the game-winner.

But the ball bounced off of his hands. Iowa ran out the clock, and another chance for Indiana to turn a corner had disappeared.

Belcher hasn't forgotten what happened that day.

“I can't," he said. "But it won't happen again, I'll tell you that. That’s the one I watch the most."

Belcher felt understandably sick after the drop, but his coaches and teammates rallied around him. Indiana's leadership council unanimously voted him a game captain the next week against Wisconsin.

Belcher finished the season with an eight-catch, 83-yard performance as Indiana knocked off Purdue in overtime to reclaim the Old Oaken Bucket. But Indiana fell a win shy of bowl eligibility, and the school fired coach Bill Lynch the day after the Bucket game.

The Drop has lingered in Belcher's mind throughout the winter and spring.

"I think about it every day," he said. "Whenever I'm in the weight room or out at practice, I think about it. It gives me an extra effort or motivation to just go hard."

Belcher will be Indiana's clear-cut No. 1 receiver this fall after teammate Tandon Doss declared early for the NFL draft. Belcher also considered bolting after the coaching change.

Indiana's hiring of offensive guru Kevin Wilson helped keep Belcher in Bloomington.

"That was a big part of the reason why I stayed," Belcher said. "Coming from where he came from, I couldn't do anything but stay."

Wilson has talked to Belcher about former Oklahoma star tight end Jermaine Gresham and other standout pass-catchers he coached in Norman. Belcher has responded well to the new staff this spring.

"He's the oldest guy in the group, the most experienced, and he's been great to work with," co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Kevin Johns said. "For someone who led the Big Ten in receptions, who made All-Big Ten recognition, he's very hungry to learn. He comes into meetings with wide eyes, not a guy who feels, 'I already know everything.'"

Belcher's hunger stems in part from the drop against Iowa. He can't wait for the season and a chance for redemption.

"If it can be close, man, I want it, I want the ball in my hands," he said. "That's how much it affected me. Whenever it's crunch time, I'll be ready."
There's little doubt that the first Big Ten player drafted in April will be a defensive lineman.

(Not including Nebraska cornerback Prince Amukamara, who played his entire career in the Big 12.)

Who will hear his name called first? Wisconsin's J.J. Watt? Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan? Illinois' Corey Liuget? Iowa's Adrian Clayborn? Ohio State's Cameron Heyward?

I'll have more on the hopefuls as we get closer to draft night, but colleagues Todd McShay and Mel Kiper are always dissecting the draft and have come out with their latest three-round mock selections.

Here's McShay's mock draft and where the Big Ten players fall:

First round
  • Illinois DT Corey Liuget, No. 14 overall to St. Louis
  • Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan, No. 16 overall to Jacksonville
  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt, No. 17 overall to New England
  • Wisconsin T Gabe Carimi, No. 21 overall to Kansas City
  • Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn, No. 24 overall to New Orleans
  • Ohio State DE Cameron Heyward, No. 32 overall to Green Bay
Second round
Third round

Here's a look at Kiper's mock draft and where the Big Ten prospects fall:

First round
  • Watt, No. 10 overall to Washington
  • Liuget, No. 14 overall to St. Louis
  • Kerrigan, No. 20 overall to Tampa Bay
  • Carimi, No. 23 overall to Philadelphia
  • Clayborn, No. 27 overall to Atlanta
  • Heyward, No. 30 overall to New York Jets
Second round
  • Wilson, No. 34 overall to Buffalo
  • Leshoure, No. 53 overall to Indianapolis
  • Doss, No. 64 overall to Green Bay
Third round
  • Ballard, No. 67 overall to Denver
  • Kendricks, No. 68 overall to Buffalo
  • Moffitt, No. 77 overall to Tennessee
  • Ohio State CB Chimdi Chekwa, No. 81 overall to Oakland
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan, No. 85 overall to Philadelphia
  • Penn State G Stefen Wisniewski, No. 93 to Chicago

Some interesting stuff here. Both McShay and Kiper think the Colts' Big Ten pipeline will continue, and both also like Buffalo to draft Big Ten players. Kiper includes three players McShay leaves out -- Chekwa, Homan and Wisniewski -- while McShay includes one player (Brewer) who Kiper leaves out. It also stands out how teams like Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin have more high-level draft prospects this year than Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska.

Amukamara is the only Nebraska player included in both mock drafts. Both McShay and Kiper have Amukamara going 13th overall to Detroit, where he'll reunite with former Huskers' teammate Ndamukong Suh.
The good news: Indiana has hired an outstanding receivers coach in Kevin Johns, who moves to IU from Northwestern.

[+] EnlargeTandon Doss
AP Photo/Darron CummingsIndiana receiver Tandon Doss will bypass his senior year to enter the 2011 NFL draft.
The not-so-good-but-not-shocking news: Johns won't get to coach Tandon Doss with the Hoosiers.

Doss is declaring for the NFL draft and will bypass his senior season with the Hoosiers.

After earning back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten honors, Doss received a strong evaluation from the draft advisory board and saw the move as an opportunity to help his family. He also had some concerns about playing in a new system at IU.

Doss' departure doesn't come as a major surprise. He led the Big Ten and ranked fourth nationally in all-purpose yards (175.8 ypg), while ranking second in the Big Ten in receptions. An outstanding return man and receiver, Doss has all the ingredients to do big things at the next level.
"While my experience at Indiana was great, my decision came down to the fact that I could not pass up the opportunity to start my professional career," Doss said in a prepared statement. "Entering the NFL Draft was the best decision for myself, and most importantly, my family. My experience at IU was great and helped lay the foundation for my future. I can assure you that I will work hard and represent Indiana University in a first-class manner. I would like to thank coach [Bill] Lynch, coach Billy Lynch, all my coaches, the training staff and the support staff. I also wish coach [Kevin] Wilson and his staff the best of luck. I know they will do a great job. Lastly, I want to thank all the Indiana fans for their support. I hope all of you will continue to follow me as I move on to the NFL.”

Northwestern has confirmed Johns' hiring by Indiana, which will be announced Tuesday.

Johns, who also will serve as Indiana's pass game coordinator alongside new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, did an outstanding job with the Wildcats' wideouts the last few years. He helped mold players like Zeke Markshausen and Jeremy Ebert into All-Big Ten receivers. He's ready to move into a bigger role and will get one at IU, which returns a good group of receivers led by Damarlo Belcher (as long as he stays for his senior year).

I've been impressed with Wilson's assistant hires so far. He's putting together a very solid staff with the Hoosiers.
The game resembled so many others for Indiana, but this time, the Hoosiers found a way to end up on top.

After tying the score late in regulation, Indiana outlasted Purdue 34-31 in overtime behind the bionic arm of quarterback Ben Chappell. The senior passed for 330 yards and three touchdowns to break Indiana's single-season passing record of 3,043 yards held by Kellen Lewis. Chappell spread the ball around well as three receivers recorded eight or more catches, including three touchdown grabs by star Tandon Doss.

Indiana won in West Lafayette for the first time since 1996 and ended a 12-game Big Ten road losing streak.

The big question: Will today's win be enough to save coach Bill Lynch?

Today certainly was a great moment for Lynch, who has come close to leading Indiana to so many more Big Ten wins. The Hoosiers finish the season just one win shy of their second bowl appearance in four years. If Damarlo Belcher comes down with the ball against Iowa on Nov. 6, you never know how things turn out.

On the flip side, Lynch's record in Big Ten play remains very poor, and Indiana loses Chappell and several other key players. While Indiana is off to a fast start on 2011 recruiting, this wouldn't be the worst time to make a change.

It's a tough call for AD Fred Glass. But today is one to raise the Old Oaken Bucket and celebrate.

Purdue finishes a hard-luck season at 4-8 after blowing fourth quarter leads in consecutive games. Quarterback Rob Henry made strides late in the season but the Boilers couldn't stop Chappell when it mattered.

The injuries this season certainly are a valid excuse, but Danny Hope needs better results in 2011.
Let's take a look back at Week 12 before looking ahead to rivalry week.

Team(s) of the Week: Wisconsin and Illinois. Both teams get the nod for different reasons. The Badgers overcame their Michigan misery and won in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1994. After Wisconsin's red-hot offense surged out to a 24-0 lead, the Badgers survived a mini scare in the third quarter before steamrolling Michigan with 28 consecutive designed run plays. Running backs James White and Montee Ball combined for 354 rush yards and six touchdowns in the win. Speaking of the ground game, no back in America had a bigger day than Illinois' Mikel Leshoure, who racked up a team-record 330 rushing yards against Northwestern. Behind Leshoure's brilliance, Illinois piled up 519 rush yards and claimed a must-win game against Northwestern at Wrigley Field to become bowl eligible.

[+] EnlargeOhio State Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor
Reese Strickland/US PresswireOhio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor overcame a pair of interceptions to lead the Buckeyes to a win.
Game of the Week: Ohio State at Iowa. The game featured three lead changes and an exciting fourth quarter defined by big plays on both sides of the ball. Both defenses came to play, and only one touchdown was scored in the first half. Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor overcame two interceptions to lead a pair of fourth-quarter scoring drives. After Buckeyes receiver DeVier Posey dropped a wide-open touchdown pass in the end zone with the Buckeyes down 17-13, Pryor saved the day with a 14-yard scramble on fourth-and-10. Ohio State scored the go-ahead touchdown moments later and its defensive line stepped up down the stretch. Iowa's season of heartbreak continued, while Ohio State kept its streak of Big Ten titles intact.

Biggest play: Three immediately come to mind. Pryor's scramble on fourth-and-10 likely saved Ohio State's season. Michigan State's Denicos Allen blocked a Purdue punt late in the fourth quarter to set up the game-winning touchdown as the Spartans rallied from a 28-13 deficit. And Penn State's Andrew Dailey and James Van Fleet teamed up for a punt block and a touchdown return that broke a 24-24 tie against Indiana at FedEx Field.

Specialist spotlight: The two punt blocks by Michigan State and Penn State loomed large in both teams' victories. Michigan State punter Aaron Bates had another big game, averaging 43.4 yards per punt and placing three inside the Purdue 20-yard line. After not attempting a punt the week before against Indiana, Wisconsin's Brad Nortman made the most out of his only chance against Michigan, pinning the Wolverines at their 1-yard line. Ohio State's Devin Barclay kicked a clutch field goal against Iowa for the second straight year, this time a 48-yarder in the fourth quarter. Both punters looked comfortable at Wrigley, as Illinois' Anthony Santella averaged 53.5 yards per punt and Northwestern's Brandon Williams had a 45.2-yard average. Northwestern's Venric Mark had a 58-yard punt return that set up a Wildcats touchdown against Illinois.

Best sign: The Big Ten's last-minute decision to primarily use one end zone at Wrigley Field became the top story in college football heading into Saturday. But just in case players from Northwestern and Illinois didn't hear about the rule changes, a fan sitting behind the dreaded East end zone provided a reminder. He held up a sign that read: "Wrong Way!" Nice.

Game balls (given to players on winning or losing teams who didn't receive helmet stickers)

  • Penn State QB Matt McGloin: The sophomore racked up a career-high 315 pass yards and two touchdowns against Indiana, completing 22 of 31 attempts in the win. His 315 pass yards tie for the 10th most in team history.
  • Illinois LB Martez Wilson: The Chicago native sparkled in his hometown Saturday, recording three tackles for loss, two sacks, two quarterback hurries and a forced fumble in the win against Northwestern.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: He completed his first 13 pass attempts against Michigan and showed good toughness, absorbing several hits before releasing the ball. Tolzien finished the game 14-for-15 for 201 yards and an interception.
  • [+] EnlargePenn State quarterback Matt McGloin
    AP Photo/Nick WassPenn State quarterback Matt McGloin had a career day in a win over Indiana.
    Michigan State WR Mark Dell: Dell made Senior Day a memorable one by recording eight receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns against Purdue. The senior receiver hauled in scoring passes of 24 yards and nine yards to match a career high for touchdowns.
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: He started slowly against Wisconsin but came on strong in the second half. Robinson racked up 121 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, breaking the FBS single-season record for quarterback rushing. He also had 239 pass yards and two touchdowns with an interception.
  • Purdue CB Ricardo Allen: Any postseason awards list of top freshmen should include Allen, who recorded his second pick-six in as many weeks against Michigan State. He tied Mike Rose's single-season record for interceptions returned for touchdowns. Allen now leads Purdue with three interceptions this season.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: The junior played through pain and overcame an early miscue to record four touchdowns (3 pass, 1 rush) and 276 pass yards. Cousins completed passes to 10 different receivers in the come-from-behind win against Purdue.
  • Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: It's not how you start in football, and Pryor finished extremely strong against Iowa. He led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, racked up 78 rush yards against a stout Iowa defense and passed for 195 yards.
  • Indiana WR Tandon Doss: The dynamic junior led Indiana in both receiving yards (90) and rushing yards (61) against Penn State. Doss had seven receptions and five rushes on the day. He also shined as a return man and finished the game with 293 all-purpose yards, tied for the seventh-best effort in team history.

Now let's look ahead to rivalry week.

Michigan (7-4, 3-4 Big Ten) at No. 8 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1): If the Buckeyes win, they will tie a Big Ten record with their sixth consecutive league title (won or shared). They also aim for their seventh consecutive win against their archrival. Michigan can spoil it all for Ohio State and take the heat off of third-year coach Rich Rodriguez, but a Wolverines win would qualify as a major upset. Pryor takes aim at a Wolverines defense that ranks 99th nationally in points allowed (33.6 ppg).

No. 10 Michigan State (10-1, 6-1) at Penn State (7-4, 4-3): A special season for the Spartans comes down to this, the biggest game in recent team history. Michigan State can record a team record for wins if it beats Penn State, and a victory ensures the Spartans of at least a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1990. McGloin and the Nittany Lions look to spoil the party and end the regular season with wins in five of their final six games.

Indiana (4-7, 0-7) at Purdue (4-7, 2-5): For the second straight year, the Bucket game will be played with just pride and bragging rights on the line. Neither Indiana nor Purdue will be going bowling this season, but both teams want to end 2010 on a good note. It could be a pivotal game for Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch, who has recorded just two Big Ten wins since his Hoosiers beat Purdue in 2007 to clinch a bowl berth.

No. 24 Iowa (7-4, 4-3) at Minnesota (2-9, 1-6): Iowa has shut out Minnesota in each of the last two seasons, and the Hawkeyes will come in angry after dropping back-to-back games. The Golden Gophers, meanwhile, come off of an open week after an uplifting win against Illinois and look for their first home victory of the season. It'll be the last game for quarterback Adam Weber, the other Minnesota seniors and probably most of the coaching staff. Iowa has won eight of the teams' last nine meetings.

Northwestern (7-4, 3-4) at Wisconsin (10-1, 6-1): The Badgers are playing for a share of their first Big Ten title since 1999 and most likely their first Rose Bowl appearance since that year. Barring an Ohio State loss, a Badgers win likely punches their ticket to Pasadena. Wisconsin's offense has been sensational as of late, and starting running back John Clay should be back in the fold. It likely spells bad news for Northwestern, which had no answer for Illinois' rushing attack at Wrigley.

Bye: Illinois (6-5, 4-4)

Big Ten predictions: Week 9

October, 28, 2010
10/28/10
9:04
AM ET
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Bucky Badger got me again.

For the second straight week, I picked against Wisconsin. And for the second straight week, I fell short of a perfect record.

My apologies to Bret Bielema and his crew. Don't worry, my faith has been restored, and it will show up in the November predictions.

At least Wisconsin won't get me this week, as the Badgers get a well-deserved bye.

Here's how I see things shaking out Saturday:

Illinois 30, Purdue 13: Vic Koenning's Fighting Illini defense is performing at an extremely high level, and the Purdue offense might be without starting quarterback Rob Henry, a game-time decision because of a laceration on his throwing hand. Not a good combination for the Boilers, who will have a hard time putting up points. The big key is whether Purdue's defense can rebound after getting steamrolled in Columbus. If not, this one will get ugly.

Northwestern 34, Indiana 33: I went back and forth all week on this game. Neither defense is very good, and both quarterbacks are capable of putting up huge numbers. The recent series is filled with close games, and we'll see another at Memorial Stadium. Expect big days for Dan Persa and Ben Chappell, as well as their top targets Jeremy Ebert and Tandon Doss. It could go either way, but I'm going with a Northwestern team that plays well on the road under Pat Fitzgerald.

Iowa 27, Michigan State 24: The Spartans have that magic quality Iowa possessed in 2009, and Mark Dantonio's squad is more than capable of beating the Hawkeyes on Saturday. But Iowa knows it can't afford another loss, and the Hawkeyes match up well in several areas, namely the defensive line versus Michigan State's run game and the downfield passing game versus Michigan State's secondary. Ricky Stanzi stretches the field for two long touchdown passes and Iowa generates enough pressure on Kirk Cousins to secure a must-win game.

Ohio State 41, Minnesota 14: Jim Tressel's squad hasn't been great on the road this season, but the trend ends Saturday night at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota's defense can't stop anyone, and Ohio State will light up the Gophers secondary with Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey. Adam Weber tests the Buckeyes' banged-up secondary and fires two touchdown passes, but Ohio State pulls away before halftime and never looks back.

Michigan 31, Penn State 27: This is my prediction of the week. Check back this afternoon for a video post that explains my selection in greater detail.

Bye: Wisconsin

Last week: 4-1

Season record: 53-9 (.855)
Let's take a look back at a pivotal weekend in the Big Ten before peeking ahead to Week 8.

[+] EnlargeWhite
AP Photo/Andy ManisRunning back James White and Wisconsin overpowered previously unbeaten Ohio State.
Team of the Week: Wisconsin. Through the first six weeks, Wisconsin provided little evidence to suggest it could knock off the nation's No. 1 team. But the Badgers put it all together in impressive fashion Saturday night against Ohio State. For the first time in recent memory, Ohio State's defense got humbled by a Big Ten opponent as Wisconsin's offensive line steamrolled the Buckeyes, creating huge running lanes for both John Clay and James White. Although the Buckeyes rallied in the third quarter and the early fourth, Wisconsin was too powerful on offense and received enough stops from J.J. Watt and the defense to keep Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State attack in check. Wisconsin overcame its big-game bugaboo and now hits the road for a huge rivalry game against No. 15 Iowa.

Best game: Ohio State at Wisconsin. The atmosphere at Camp Randall Stadium was absolutely electric, and the game began with a bang as Wisconsin's David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Wisconsin and Ohio State were mirror images in the first and third quarters, as each team dominated play and put together extensive touchdown drives (19 plays, 89 yards for Wisconsin; 19 plays, 94 yards for Ohio State). The Buckeyes had all the momentum as they closed to within three points early in the fourth quarter, but Wisconsin answered with the defining drive of its season, marching 73 yards in 10 plays and mixing up the play calls perfectly. The Iowa-Michigan game also brought some drama as Michigan rallied behind Tate Forcier, and Indiana-Arkansas State turned into a shootout.

Biggest play: We go back to Madison, as Wisconsin faced third-and-3 from its own 34-yard line early in the fourth quarter after Ohio State had rallied to within three points. Rather than pound away with the run game, Wisconsin took to the air and Scott Tolzien fired a bullet to receiver Nick Toon near the east sideline for a 20-yard gain. The Badgers didn't face another third down on the drive and went on to score a touchdown. "Huge catch in a crucial point of the game," Toon said. "But that's my job." Iowa faced a similar situation against Michigan, up 35-28 in the fourth quarter but facing third-and-9 from its own 41. Ricky Stanzi found Marvin McNutt for 17 yards, and the Hawkeyes went on to score.

Specialist spotlight: Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy really is starting to blossom as the successor to superstar Brett Swenson. Conroy went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts against Illinois, connecting from 37, 34, 32 and 18 yards. The Spartans really needed him on a day when the offense struggled for stretches. Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald also had an impressive performance in relief of the injured Nick Freeland. Ewald went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter. Gilreath doesn't technically qualify as a specialist, but his return against Ohio State is notable. It marked Wisconsin's first kick return touchdown since Lee Evans in 2000, and the team's longest since Aaron Stecker's 100-yarder against Minnesota in 1995.

Most futile call: Making my way through the Camp Randall Stadium concourse to Wisconsin's media room Saturday night, I kept hearing the public-address announcer pleading with the Wisconsin students and other Badgers fans not to rush the field. Um, good luck with that one. I understand the safety issue and the past problems at Camp Randall, but you're just not going to keep people off the field when their team has just defeated No. 1.

Game balls:

  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Watt tormented Ohio State's offensive line all night and recorded three tackles for loss and two sacks of Pryor. It felt like he had four or five sacks with all the trouble he caused. Watt also was credited with a quarterback hurry and has a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss this year.
  • Indiana WRs Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss: The Hoosiers' star tandem combined for 14 receptions, 224 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Arkansas State. Belcher and Doss became the first Indiana wideouts to both eclipse 100 yards in a game since Ray Fisher and James Hardy in 2007.
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones: The senior is well on his way to another All-America type season for Michigan State. He recorded a season-high 14 tackles to go along with a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in Saturday's win against Illinois. Jones has led MSU in tackles in 27 of the past 33 games.
  • Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher: If there's a tougher wide receiver in America, feel free to send me his name because Sanzenbacher is my pick, hands down. Sanzenbacher never shies away from contact and making gutsy catches. He had six of them for 94 yards against Wisconsin. Sanzenbacher is playing like a first-team All-Big Ten receiver.
  • Iowa WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos: DJK became Iowa's all-time leading receiver Saturday after recording four receptions for 70 yards and three touchdowns. He now has seven touchdown receptions this season. DJK, who added a 40-yard kick return against Michigan, should share the game ball with quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who continues to put up Heisman-caliber numbers (17-for-24 passing, 248 pass yards, 3 TDs).
  • Purdue QB Rob Henry: The young fella looks like a winner, folks. Henry accounted for four touchdowns (3 rush, 1 pass) against Minnesota and completed more than twice as many passes (13) on just two more attempts (20) than he did the previous week at Northwestern.
  • Illinois DL Corey Liuget: It's always notable when a defensive lineman leads the team in tackles, and Liuget had another big performance Saturday at Michigan State. The junior recorded 11 tackles, one for loss, and two quarterback hurries as Illinois limited the Spartans' rushing attack.

OK, enough with Week 7. Let's take a quick look at Week 8.

No. 7 Michigan State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (5-1, 1-1): The Spartans are 7-0 for the first time since 1966, but they have yet to win a game outside the state of Michigan. They head to Evanston and face a Northwestern team coming off of a bye week. Michigan State's playmaking defense has recorded 12 interceptions this fall; Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has thrown only two in 177 pass attempts.

Penn State (3-3, 0-2) at Minnesota (1-6, 0-3): Interim coach Jeff Horton leads Minnesota for the first time against a Penn State team coming off of a much-needed bye week. It will be interesting to see if Penn State can regroup a bit and get its offense going against a Gophers defense that allows a Big Ten-high 31.7 points a game. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber takes aim at a Penn State defense missing several starters because of injury.

Purdue (4-2, 2-0) at No. 10 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1): Purdue is one of those teams that always plays Ohio State tough, but the Buckeyes might have steam coming out of their ears for this one. Ohio State won't overlook Purdue again after last year's loss in West Lafayette, and the Buckeyes are doubly mad after stumbling last week at Wisconsin. Henry is 2-0 as Purdue's starter, but he'll be tested at The Shoe.

Indiana (4-2, 0-2) at Illinois (3-3, 1-2): Illinois has gotten through the toughest stretch of its season, but it still needs three more wins to become bowl eligible. Indiana notched its only Big Ten victory against the Illini last year and has really struggled to get over the hump in league play. Ben Chappell and Indiana's high-powered pass attack goes up against an improved Illinois defense.

No. 13 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) at No. 15 Iowa (5-1, 2-0): Two rivals with a lot of similarities meet in a showcase game at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema recorded the signature win he needed against Ohio State, but he also must show he can beat elite teams away from Camp Randall Stadium. Bielema heads back to his alma mater and faces an Iowa team that begins a stretch of marquee matchups on its home field.

Bye: Michigan (5-2, 1-2)

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 7

October, 17, 2010
10/17/10
12:58
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It's time to recognize the best and the brightest around the Big Ten in Week 7.

Michigan State's secondary: Much maligned a year ago for allowing too many big plays and making too few of their own, the Spartans defensive backs really have stepped up lately. They factored into all four takeaways in a 26-6 win against Illinois, as Marcus Hyde, Trenton Robinson and Johnny Adams all recorded interceptions. Freshman cornerback Darqueze Dennard forced and recovered a fumble in his first start in place of the suspended Chris L. Rucker.

Iowa RB Adam Robinson: He's the only healthy proven running back on a team that lives by a run-first philosophy. Robinson isn't merely holding up under constant pounding, but he's thriving as Iowa's featured back. The sophomore rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries, a Herculean performance during 38-28 win in Ann Arbor. Also meriting mentions are quarterback Ricky Stanzi and wideout Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who had three touchdown catches and became Iowa's all-time leading receiver.

Wisconsin's offensive line: Teams simply don't push Ohio State around, and that's exactly what Wisconsin's front five did Saturday night during a 31-18 win at Camp Randall Stadium. They set the tone on the Badgers' first possession, creating huge holes for John Clay on a 6-play, 58-yard drive. Wisconsin racked up 184 rush yards and three touchdowns; Ohio State had allowed three rushing scores all season entering the game. Clay became the first player to eclipse 100 rush yards against the Buckeyes in 29 games. On this night, Wisconsin looked like the best offensive line in the country.

Purdue RB Dan Dierking: Sure, quarterback Rob Henry deserves some love as well after accounting for four touchdowns against Minnesota, but the always-overlooked Dierking was fabulous on Saturday during a 28-17 win over Minnesota. The senior rushed for 126 yards on only 12 carries, breaking free for a 42-yard burst in the first quarter. Purdue is 2-0 in Big Ten play, and the Boilers have found their running back.

Indiana QB Ben Chappell: The senior took a beating in the first half, and then handed out one in the final 30 minutes. Chappell passed for 297 yards and three touchdowns after halftime to help Indiana rally past pesky Arkansas State, 36-34. He finished with 382 pass yards and four touchdowns and once again got plenty of help from receivers Damarlo Belcher (121 receiving yards, 1 TD) and Tandon Doss (103 receiving yards, 1 TD). Given Indiana's continued struggles on defense, arguably no Big Ten player means more to his team than Chappell.
If you enjoy points and passing offense, you'll like watching the Indiana Hoosiers in 2010.

Indiana swept its cushy nonconference slate with another high-scoring shootout win, rallying in the second half to beat Arkansas State 36-34 in Bloomington. Bill Lynch's squad now only needs two Big Ten wins to become bowl eligible.

Where would Indiana be without Ben Chappell? The senior quarterback rebounded from a rough day at Ohio State to pass for 382 yards and four touchdowns today.

He got a ton of help from talented receivers Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss, both of whom eclipsed 100 receiving yards. And perhaps the most encouraging sign for Indiana's offense was the play of running back Trea Burgess, who rushed for 96 yards on 19 carries in place of the injured Darius Willis. The big question is whether Burgess can be the answer against Big Ten defenses, and he faces a good one next week at Illinois.

Speaking of defense, Indiana's still worries me. Aside from two first-half interceptions, Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin threw the ball very well (33-for-44, 275 pass yards) against the Hoosiers. IU stopped the run well, but it's still too easy for teams to pass against its secondary.

I really think Indiana needs to win one of its next two contests, at Illinois and against Northwestern in Bloomington, to get to six wins. It likely needs to play a lot better on defense to do so.

We'll learn a lot about the Hoosiers before the end of the month.video

Indiana passes its way into lead

October, 16, 2010
10/16/10
2:53
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Although Indiana is getting a nice lift from running back Trea Burgess today, the Hoosiers remain a pass-first, pass-second offense.

Senior quarterback Ben Chappell appears headed for another 300-yard passing performance, as he has completed 22 of 36 passes for 267 yards and two scores. Senior wideout Terrance Turner has a touchdown grab, and Tandon Doss is having another big day.

The problem: Indiana's defense continues to struggle. Arkansas State just drove for a touchdown and trails by only two points with plenty of time left.

Ryan Aplin and the Red Wolves aren't going away.

Big Ten predictions: Week 7

October, 14, 2010
10/14/10
9:02
AM ET
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

I'm a coward.

I really thought Illinois had what it took to knock off Penn State last week, but I just couldn't pull the trigger. And like a quarterback who hesitates before making a bad pass, I got picked off.

I'll fully admit I didn't see Purdue beating Northwestern on the road, so kudos to the Boilers for that win. Anyway, a 3-2 week doesn't sit well.

Let's see if I can do better in Week 7.

Indiana 35, Arkansas State 24: You have two great quarterbacks (Ben Chappell and Ryan Aplin) and two shaky defenses. The result will be a pass-happy shootout won by Chappell and the Hoosiers, as receiver Tandon Doss has two touchdown catches. Indiana finishes off a very favorable nonconference slate at 4-0 before making a huge trip to Illinois next week.

Purdue 23, Minnesota 21: The Boilers come in with a ton of confidence on both sides of the ball, and quarterback Rob Henry will be able to run the ball on a Gophers team that ranks 100th nationally in rush yards allowed (196.3 ypg). Minnesota also will move the ball in this one, as Adam Weber does a better job of attacking Purdue's secondary than Northwestern did. Still, I can't see the Gophers putting it all together as Purdue moves to 2-0 in league play.

Michigan State 26, Illinois 20: This is a trap game for the Spartans, but they shouldn't overlook Illinois after what the Illini did to Penn State last week. I like the matchup of Michigan State linebackers Greg Jones and Eric Gordon against Illinois' run-heavy scheme. The first team to beat Michigan State will need to do it through the air. Illinois hangs tight for the entire game, but Michigan State is too tough as quarterback Kirk Cousins turns in another efficient performance.

Iowa 30, Michigan 24: This is my prediction of the week. Check back later for a video post breaking down my selection.

Ohio State 27, Wisconsin 23: This is certainly one that could go either way, and if Wisconsin can reduce Ohio State to a one-dimensional offense, the Badgers have a very good shot. But what has Wisconsin shown this year to indicate it's capable of knocking off the nation's No. 1 team? The Badgers come in fired up and take an early lead, but Terrelle Pryor, still a bit limited by his quad injury, has a big second half attacking the middle of Wisconsin's defense. Ohio State's opportunistic defense forces two turnovers and escapes Madison with a W.

Bye: Northwestern, Penn State

Last week: 3-2

Season record: 45-7 (.865)
Ten items to track as you watch the second Saturday of Big Ten games.

1. Slowing down Shoelace: No one this season has slowed down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who leads the nation in rushing (181 ypg) with 27 runs of 12 yards or more. Michigan State All-American linebacker Greg Jones plans to change things Saturday in Ann Arbor. Jones is by far the best defensive player Robinson has faced this season and was all over the field last week against Wisconsin. Jones vs. Robinson is a fascinating subplot to the most anticipated game in the rivalry in recent memory.

[+] EnlargeJones
AP Photo/Dale G. YoungMichigan State's Greg Jones and the Spartans defense against Denard Robinson and Michigan will be one of the more intriguing matchup of the weekend.
2. Pass the Buck(eyes): Excuse the bad pun, but Indiana brings the Big Ten's top pass offense (348.2 ypg) to Columbus, where it faces an Ohio State Buckeyes team that leads the Big Ten in defending the pass (161.8 ypg allowed). Something's got to give as Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell and his talented wide receivers and tight ends go up against Chimdi Chekwa, Jermale Hines and a speedy Ohio State secondary. Chappell (480 pass yards) and receiver Tandon Doss (15 rec., 221 yards) come off of huge games, while Ohio State plays its first full contest without Tyler Moeller.

3. Gophers gunning for the Axe: If Minnesota plans to turn around its season, there's no better place to start than Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. The Gophers love their trophy games, but their trophy case in Minneapolis has been empty for some time. No trophy and no game means more to Minnesota than the annual clash with Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Minnesota seniors like quarterback Adam Weber don't want to go through their entire careers without hoisting the coolest rivalry trophy in college sports. An upset victory would provide a huge boost, while a loss would virtually shut the door on postseason play and possibly Tim Brewster's future as Gophers head coach.

4. Seeing red in Happy Valley: Penn State has failed to reach the end zone twice in five games this season, and the Lions have slipped into a tie for 114th nationally in red-zone efficiency, converting just two-thirds of their opportunities into points. Illinois ranks fourth in the league in red-zone defense (75 percent conversions), but coordinator Vic Koenning tells me that depth problems have prevented him from employing a true goal-line package. Penn State coach Joe Paterno says opening up the playbook in the red zone isn't the answer, but the Lions had better try something against an improved Illini defense.

5. Henry leads banged-up Boilers: No team in America has been hit with more significant injuries than Purdue, which mercifully received a bye last week to regroup a bit. After losing quarterback Robert Marve to a season-ending ACL tear, the Boilers now turn to redshirt freshman Rob Henry to guide their offense. Henry is an exceptional athlete with good potential as a quarterback, and Danny Hope doesn't plan to shrink the playbook Saturday at Northwestern. But Henry will be tested in his first career start -- a Big Ten road game at night, no less.

6. Mark Dantonio returns for rivalry: Mark Dantonio has placed a premium on the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry ever since he became Spartans head coach. It would take more than a blood clot to make him miss Saturday's game in Ann Arbor. Dantonio, released from the hospital Monday, opened his news conference Tuesday by saying, "Can't keep me down Michigan week." The plan calls for him to spend the game in the coaches' booth. Michigan State is 2-0 during Dantonio's recovery from a mild heart attack, but his presence should provide a lift in a hostile environment.

7. Wisconsin's running back rotation: John Clay might be the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, but he's being pushed for carries by dynamic freshman James White. After White had another big day last week at Michigan State, Badgers running backs coach John Settle said, "We're going to put the competition out there and open it up." Clay continues to put up solid numbers, but he hasn't shown home-run ability like White this season. The burly junior has responded well to challenges before and on Saturday faces a vulnerable Minnesota defense that has allowed a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns.

8. Northwestern aims for historic start: There have been some bumps along the way, but the Wildcats sit at 5-0 for the second time in two years. A win Saturday night against Purdue would give Northwestern its first 6-0 start since 1962, the last time the program was ranked No. 1 nationally. The Wildcats are favored to do so, but they can't expect to keep overcoming penalties and turnovers, especially in Big Ten play. A polished performance against Purdue would put Northwestern in both national polls when No. 17 Michigan State visits on Oct. 23.

9. Sorting out the Buckeyes' backfield: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor (strained quad) should be ready for Saturday's game, but he still needs some help from his backfield mates. Ohio State's situation at running back has been the hot-button topic among Buckeye Nation, which wants to see either more production from Dan Herron and Brandon Saine or more opportunities for Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall. If the Buckeyes can't spark their ground game against an Indiana defense ranked 108th nationally against the run (207 ypg allowed), they should start to get worried.

10. Cousins takes aim at shaky Michigan D: As incredible as Denard Robinson has been for Michigan, there's a growing sense that the Wolverines will see their fortunes turn soon if Greg Robinson's defense doesn't show some improvement. Indiana's Chappell had his way with Michigan's secondary last week, and while Michigan State brings a more balanced offense to Ann Arbor, Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins is playing with a lot of confidence. If Michigan can't pressure the pocket, Cousins will pick apart the Wolverines' secondary with his talented receivers and tight ends.

Big Ten stock report: Week 6

October, 6, 2010
10/06/10
1:09
PM ET
Who's rising? Who's falling?

Time to check the market.

STOCK UP

Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Count me among those questioning whether Cousins could get it done in the clutch, but he came through in a big way against Wisconsin. The Spartans junior bounced back from two first-half interceptions to complete 8 of 10 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns in the final two quarters. Cousins was masterful on Michigan State's 15-play, 84-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter, completing two third-down passes and a fourth-down touchdown strike to B.J. Cunningham.

Iowa's defense: The Hawkeyes put it all together defensively against Penn State, despite some injuries at the linebacker spot. Defensive end Adrian Clayborn showed why he'll be a first-round draft pick in April with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack. Cornerback Shaun Prater recorded a pick-six and the Hawkeyes received big performances from Karl Klug, James Morris and Christian Ballard.

[+] EnlargeTandon Doss
AP Photo/Darron CummingsTandon Doss had 15 catches for 221 yards against Michigan, and is averaging 14 yards per catch.
Illinois' defense: The Illini didn't complete the upset against Ohio State but validated their early-season improvement under coordinator Vic Koenning, particularly in the secondary. Safety Trulon Henry became the latest Illinois defensive back to showcase his playmaking skills, recording two interceptions. Linebackers Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey also played well as Illinois held Ohio State's offense in check.

Indiana WR Tandon Doss: A lot of folks who should have known the name do now after Doss set career highs in both receptions (15) and receiving yards (221) against Michigan. Doss added 21 rushing yards and 121 yards in returns to finish with an insane 363 all-purpose yards, the third-highest total in team history. Several weeks removed from a groin injury, Doss is hitting his stride and showing why he's a future NFL receiver.

STOCK DOWN

Wisconsin's offensive line: Tabbed by some as the nation's best O-line before the season, the Badgers haven't looked the part so far. Michigan State recorded two sacks and three quarterback hurries against Wisconsin on Saturday, and the Badgers couldn't keep All-American Greg Jones out of the backfield. The rushing numbers are still good, but Wisconsin's experienced and talent line needs to do better.

Northwestern's defensive line: After several strong performances, the Wildcats got pushed around for much of last Saturday's game at TCF Bank Stadium. Minnesota's offensive front won the line of scrimmage as DeLeon Eskridge went for 119 rush yards and a touchdown. Although Vince Browne continued to make plays, the Wildcats need a better effort going forward to protect a vulnerable secondary.

Penn State's receivers: I still really like the potential of this group, but the receivers didn't help out a young quarterback in a tough situation last Saturday at Iowa. Several dropped passes really hurt the Lions, who didn't reach the end zone for the second time this season. Rob Bolden was under a ton of pressure against an excellent defense, and he could have used some more plays from his targets.

Minnesota's two-minute offense: The Gophers' coaches called a great game for 58 minutes, pounding away at Northwestern with Eskridge and executing nifty play-action passes to the tight ends. But aside from a good bootleg call on fourth-and-3, Minnesota really botched the 2-minute drill when it had two timeouts and only needed a field goal to win. The run call on first-and-10 from the Northwestern 39 in the final minute was a major head-scratcher.


Moving on to the Big Ten awards races. Thanks to a good suggestion by one of you, I'm going to include each player's season statistics rather than the stats from the previous week. It gives a better big-picture view.

The Freshman of the Year award looks like a two-horse race right now.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: OFFENSE

(Player, season statistics)

1. Michigan QB Denard Robinson: 67-for-96 passing, 1,008 pass yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT; 98 rushes, 905 rush yards, 8 TDs.

2. Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor: 80-for-123 passing, 1,015 pass yards, 12 TDs, 3 INTs; 54 rushes, 373 yards, 3 TDs; 1 reception for a 20-yard touchdown

3. Indiana QB Ben Chappell: 116-for-162 passing, 1,370 pass yards, 12 TDs, 1 INT

4. Northwestern QB Dan Persa: 108-for-136 passing, 1,358 pass yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs; 68 rushes, 271 rush yards, 2 TDs

5. Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi: 82-for-121 passing, 1,226 pass yards, 10 TDs, 2 INTs

PLAYER OF THE YEAR RACE: DEFENSE

(Player, season statistics)

1. Michigan State LB Greg Jones: 41 tackles, 5 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles, 2 INTs, 1 sack, 4 quarterback hurries, 3 passes defended

2. Purdue DE Ryan Kerrigan: 34 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery

3. Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: 24 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, 5 pass breakups, 4 quarterback hurries, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 blocked kick

4. Iowa DL Mike Daniels: 19 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

1. Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: 64 carries, 471 rush yards, 7 TDs; 4 receptions, 63 receiving yards

2. Wisconsin RB James White: 44 carries, 367 yards, 6 TDs; 5 receptions, 55 receiving yards, 15 kick returns for 283 yards

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