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NCF Nation: Terry Hawthorne

Travis FrederickMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesAs the 31st pick, Travis Frederick was the first Big Ten player to be drafted.
The gap between the Big Ten and the SEC not only is widening on the field, but on the NFL draft boards.

While the SEC produced a record 63 picks in the 2013 NFL draft -- eight more than any conference in any draft in the modern era and 32 more than the next-best conference (ACC) in this year's draft -- the Big Ten endured a mostly forgettable three days at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Before going any further, this post isn't meant to knock the Big Ten players who heard their names called Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They worked years for this moment and deserve to celebrate their accomplishments. Congrats to all.

But for the Big Ten as a whole, this draft was a total dud. Was it the league's worst draft ever? If it isn't, it's certainly in the conversation.

The Big Ten produced only 22 draft picks, its lowest total since 1994, when it had 21 (and 11 teams, not 12). In 1994, the Big Ten had the No. 1 overall pick (Ohio State DT Dan Wilkinson), four first-round selections and eight selections in the first three rounds.

You have to wonder how much the Big Ten's damaged national reputation is impacting its draft hopefuls. The SEC's rise has made that conference the first place NFL general managers and player personnel directors look for talent. Although Big Ten players might be comparable to their SEC counterparts in many ways, their competition level might be looked at as a drawback in the final evaluations.

This year, the Big Ten tied with the Big 12 for fourth among leagues in producing picks, but the Big Ten produced fewer selections in the first three rounds (7) than any of the power conferences. Last year, the Big Ten finished with 41 draft picks, just one behind the SEC for the top spot.

Other items of note (tip of the cap to ESPN Stats & Information and the Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises for several of these):

  • [+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
    Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State's Le'Veon Bell was the second running back taken in the draft.
    Although the Big Ten's national reputation has been an issue for some time, it didn't dramatically impact the draft until this year. The Big Ten has produced at least 27 draft picks every year since the 21-player output in 1994.
  • The Big Ten's four biggest brand-name programs -- Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska -- combined to produce just two picks in the first three rounds (Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Penn State DT Jordan Hill).
  • Nebraska endured its longest drought without a selection since 1970, as running back Rex Burkhead waited until the sixth round to hear Cincinnati call his name with the 190th overall pick. The Huskers didn't have a selection in the first four rounds for the third time in the past six seasons. With just two draftees -- Burkhead and safety Daimion Stafford, who went in the seventh round -- Nebraska had its weakest output since 1969.
  • Michigan went without a draftee in the first four rounds for the first time since 1968 and without one in the first three rounds for just the fifth time since 1970 (1976, 1989, 2006 and 2009 were the others). The Wolverines have had just five players drafted in the past two seasons.
  • Ohio State had just three players -- Hankins, defensive lineman John Simon and offensive tackle Reid Fragel -- drafted from a team that went 12-0 in 2012. Fragel's selection in the seventh round helped Ohio State avoid its smallest draft class since 1968.
  • An Illinois team that went 2-10 last season and 0-8 in Big Ten play led the league with four players drafted. It continues a mystifying trend for the Illini, who have had four players selected in each of the past four NFL drafts, even though the team has endured losing seasons in three of the past five years. Illinois has produced 10 players selected in the first three rounds since 2010, the most of any Big Ten team.
  • As expected, three Big Ten teams -- Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana -- had no players drafted. Northwestern went 10-3 last season.

Perhaps the best draft news for the Big Ten is that future member Rutgers had seven players selected, tied for the sixth highest total.

(Read full post)

Big Ten combine results: DB

February, 27, 2013
2/27/13
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The 2013 NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis wrapped up Tuesday with the defensive backs. Five Big Ten defensive backs participated in some or all of the events and drills.

Let's see how they did ...
  • Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne ran the 40-yard dash in 4.44 seconds, tying him for 13th best among all defensive backs. Other 40 times include Michigan State CB Johnny Adams (4.48), Iowa CB Micah Hyde (4.56), Purdue CB Josh Johnson (4.65) Nebraska S Daimion Stafford (4.69).
  • Stafford ranked sixth among defensive backs in bench press repetitions with 21. Adams and Johnson both had 16, Hawthorne had 13 and Hyde had 12.
  • No Big Ten defensive backs were among the top performers in vertical jump. Hawthorne led the Big Ten crew at 35.5 inches, followed by Johnson (35 inches), Hyde (33) and Stafford (30.5). Adams didn't participate in this event.
  • The Big Ten had no top performers in the broad jump, but Iowa's Hyde led the group at 121 inches.
  • Hyde tied for 12th among all defensive backs in the three-cone drill at 6.78 seconds. Johnson (6.99) and Stafford (7.06) also participated.
  • Hyde (4.2 seconds) and Johnson (4.25 seconds) were the only defensive backs to post times in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Johnson tied for fourth among all defensive backs in the 60-yard shuttle (11.51 seconds).

In case you missed the results for the other Big Ten players at the combine, check them out here and here.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten entering Week 12:

1. Ballin' for history: Thirteen years after Ron Dayne broke the NCAA career rushing record, another Wisconsin running back is on the doorstep of a major milestone. Badgers senior Montee Ball, who, unlike Dayne, spent a year and a half as a reserve, needs one more touchdown Saturday against Ohio State to tie the NCAA career mark of 78 held by former Miami (Ohio) star Travis Prentice. Ball has scored 13 touchdowns in his past six games and is averaging 179.1 yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games. A big performance against the unbeaten Buckeyes will once again put Ball on the radar for top national honors. Ball's next rushing touchdown will mark his 72nd, moving him past Dayne for the Big Ten career record.

2. Holding serve in the Legends: Nebraska and Michigan are tied atop the Legends Division at 5-1, and on paper, they should stay that way after Week 12. Both teams are favored to take care of Minnesota and Iowa, respectively, on senior day in Lincoln and Ann Arbor. Nebraska's magic number (wins and Michigan losses) to punch its ticket to Indianapolis is 2. A Huskers loss and a Michigan win puts the Wolverines in control of their own fate in the division. One senior day subplot is whether face-of-the-program stars like Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will play after missing time with injuries. Burkhead (knee) returned to practice this week and seems closer to a return, while Robinson (elbow) remains day-to-day.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireLe'Veon Bell and the Spartans plan to finish strong against Northwestern on Saturday.
3. Finishing school: Northwestern and Michigan State easily could be playing for a Legends Division title Saturday. Instead, both teams' inability to finish against the likes of Nebraska and Michigan has left them looking for a full 60-minute performance. Michigan State's four Big Ten losses have come by a combined 10 points. Northwestern held double-digit second-half leads in all three of its Big Ten losses. Something's gotta give Saturday as the teams meet at Spartan Stadium. "Their problem, just like ours, has been closing out games," Spartans linebacker Chris Norman told ESPN.com this week. "... It's going to come down to who can finish the best. Saturday is going to be interesting."

4. Hope and a prayer: There's growing talk that Purdue will make a head-coaching change after the regular season no matter what happens in the final two games. But can fourth-year boss Danny Hope save himself with a three-game win streak to become bowl-eligible? It's reason enough to tune in for an otherwise off-the-radar game between Purdue and slumping Illinois on Saturday. A loss to the Illini would prevent Purdue from getting bowl-eligible and likely seal Hope's fate, while a Purdue win adds intrigue to next week's Bucket game against Indiana. The Boilers' offense got on track last week behind quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden, while defensive tackle Kawann Short had his best game of the season at Iowa.

5. Rivalry renewed: Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium won't decide which Leaders Division team goes to the Big Ten title game, as Wisconsin already punched its ticket last week. But Ohio State can lock up the Leaders Division championship -- the only title it can win this season -- while Wisconsin can legitimize its trip to Indy by handing Urban Meyer's Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Looking ahead, the Ohio State-Wisconsin game likely will be the signature contest in the division for years to come. Illinois is a mess, Purdue has backslid this season, Indiana is still building and Penn State still has three more years of postseason bans. "I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan," Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown said this week. While Meyer and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema say their post-signing day spat is a thing of a past, it could bubble up Saturday depending on how the game goes.

6. Taking a pass: The Big Ten might not be flush with elite quarterbacks and high-powered offenses this season, but a few of its teams can sling the ball a bit, and two of them meet at Beaver Stadium. Indiana and Penn State are the Big Ten's top two pass offenses, ranking 26th and 40th nationally, respectively. They'll share the field Saturday as they try to rebound from different types of losses. Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman struggled with his accuracy (25-for-46) in last week's loss to Wisconsin and looks for a sharper afternoon. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin wasn't a happy guy after the Nebraska loss and will try to take it out on IU. The game features two of the Big Ten's top receivers in Penn State's Allen Robinson and Indiana's Cody Latimer.

7. Hawkeye hex: Iowa has been in a funk for much of the season and particularly in the past month, dropping four consecutive Big Ten contests. Perhaps a date with Michigan can put the Hawkeyes back on track. See, Iowa has won three straight against Michigan for the first time in team history and five of its past eight against the Wolverines. Michigan's seniors are anxious to finally get over the hump against Iowa, one of two Big Ten teams (Penn State the other) they have yet to beat. But maybe it works the other way and Iowa finally shows a spark on offense and stiffens its defense. If not, the Hawkeyes won't be going bowling for the first time since the 2006 season, and it'll be a very long winter for Kirk Ferentz. "It doesn't hurt, obviously," Ferentz said of his team's Michigan win streak, "but it doesn't guarantee us anything."

8. Backs of different sizes: Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is the biggest featured running back in the Big Ten, checking in at 6-2 and 244 pounds. Northwestern's Venric Mark is the smallest, checking in at 5-8 and 175 pounds. But both have been extremely effective this season with the ball in their hands. Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,249), while Mark ranks third in rushing yards (1,181) and first in all-purpose yards (1,917). Each has been the MVP of his respective offense, and it'll be interesting to see them on the same field at Spartan Stadium. Both Michigan State and Northwestern defend the run well, too, both ranking in the top 25 nationally.

9. Illini look for a spark: Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total offense, and lingers near the bottom of the FBS in all the significant categories. The Illini need some sort of boost on offense or a 2-10 season is a virtual certainty. Head coach Tim Beckman, whose background is defense but who had a high-powered offense at Toledo the past few years, took a more active role with the offense this week in an effort to get things going. Beckman also noted that co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales call plays on different downs. Hmmm. Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne took more reps with the wide receivers this week and could see an increased role against Purdue. Illinois aims to win on senior day for the first time since 2007.

10. Bowl picture taking shape: We learned a little more about the Big Ten bowl contingent last week as Minnesota became bowl-eligible, Purdue took a big step toward the postseason and both Iowa and Indiana took a step toward a winter at home. There should be some more answers in Week 12. Michigan State aims for its sixth win to go bowling for the sixth consecutive season under coach Mark Dantonio. Purdue must keep its bowl hopes alive at Illinois, while both Iowa and Indiana must win on the road to avoid loss No. 7. It won't be easy for the Hawkeyes or Hoosiers. Indiana never has won at Beaver Stadium in 15 previous meetings with Penn State. Iowa never has won consecutive games at Michigan Stadium.

You might look at the final score of Wisconsin's win over Illinois, 31-14, and conclude the Badgers are back.

That's not really true. The Badgers' offense still isn't quite where it once was. Yet the way things are going in the Leaders Division, it might be enough to play in the Big Ten championship game.

The Badgers weren't exactly impressive most of the way against Illinois at home, scoring just seven points in the first half. But the struggling Illini had even fewer answers, and Wisconsin was able to pull away late.

There were still some major red flags for the Badgers, not the least of which was their continued inability to run the ball with the power and ease we've grown accustomed to seeing. Well into the fourth quarter, they had just 94 rushing yards on 24 carries as a team, an average of fewer than 4 yards per carry. A strong finish against a tiring Illinois offense made the final stats look much better, and Montee Ball -- who had only 12 yards at halftime and 36 early in the fourth quarter --- finished with 116 yards and two touchdowns.

Two big plays -- which were really a rarity for most of this slog of a game -- made the difference.

Late in the first half, offensive coordinator Matt Canada dialed up a screen pass at the perfect time against the Illinois blitz. James White made the catch and darted 62 yards for a touchdown to make it a 7-7 game.

In the fourth quarter, Joel Stave found Jared Abbrederis for a 59-yard touchdown that really broke the game open. Stave threw for 254 yards, but he had several receivers open down the field that he couldn't connect with earlier in the game. Even with the running game not doing that much for three quarters, the play-action pass created lots of opportunities for Wisconsin. If Stave can hit some of those, that could really open some things up for this offense.

Illinois has been searching for an identity on offense all season and got a spark from a healthy Nathan Scheelhaase. The junior quarterback looked as spry as he's been since suffering an ankle injury in Week 1. That allowed him to use his feet to extend plays and pick up yardage. Scheelhaase led the team in rushing with 84 yards and threw for 178 yards and a touchdown.

But the search for more playmakers continues for first-year coach Tim Beckman. Illinois had only 22 rushing yards outside of Scheelhaase, and too often he was scrambling because there weren't any receivers open. Credit the Wisconsin defense for a solid game, but Illinois is really having trouble finding ways to score. And it will probably have trouble finding many wins the rest of the way, though at least the team brought a lot of energy to the start of this one.

The scariest moment of the game came when cornerback Terry Hawthorne was taken off the field in an ambulance after he collided with Wisconsin fullback Derek Watt. Hawthorne was motionless on his back for a while, but reports after the game indicated that Hawthorne had movement in all his extremities.

All in all, Wisconsin can't complain too much about a 17-point conference victory. With Purdue falling flat against Michigan today, the Badgers still look like the team to beat for the Leaders Division berth in Indianapolis. Next week's game in West Lafayette could well determine things, because if the Badgers win they will have a virtual two-game lead over both Purdue and Illinois.

They might not be back, per se, but they could easily get back to Indy with the way things are going.
It's time for the second half of our Big Ten personnel roundup entering season-opening weekend. In case you missed Part I, which featured most of the Week 1 depth charts, be sure and check it out.

Michigan State released its depth chart, so we'll start there. Minnesota and Nebraska will release theirs later this week.

MICHIGAN STATE

Depth chart
  • There are two unsettled positions on defense as Michigan State lists co-starters at defensive tackle (Micajah Reynolds and Tyler Hoover) and at free safety (Jairus Jones and Kurtis Drummond). Head coach Mark Dantonio called the Reynolds-Hoover competition "a flip of the coin" and praised Reynolds' progress during fall camp. Reynolds has a 33-inch vertical leap and bench-presses more than 400 pounds. Hoover, a converted defensive end, missed all but one game last season with a fractured rib.
  • Linebacker Darien Harris and defensive end Lawrence Thomas both don't appear on the depth chart because of injuries but will be contributors this season. Harris could see the field early Friday night against Boise State. Sophomore Skyler Burkland is listed as the backup left tackle but likely won't play because of a hand injury.
  • Junior Bennie Fowler and sophomores Keith Mumphery and Tony Lippett are listed as Michigan State's top receivers. Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett, who had 24 receptions last season for the Vols, appears as Fowler's backup.

Here are some other personnel notes from around the league ...

IOWA

Running back is the big question mark for the Hawkeyes after another summer of attrition. Iowa enters Saturday's opener with three primary backs -- Damon Bullock, Greg Garmon and Michael Malloy -- as well as two fullbacks in Brad Rogers and Mark Weisman.

Bullock, who had 10 carries for 20 yards, likely will get the start against Northern Illinois, although Garmon, a heralded true freshman, should get plenty of work as well. Rogers is a familiar name, and coach Kirk Ferentz praised Weisman's progress during camp.

"You play the cards that are dealt," Ferentz said. "The running back position is one where we’ve had a lot of players playing. The good news is they've performed pretty well."

Sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who suffered a torn ACL in spring practice, has returned to practice, but Ferentz said it's "weeks or months before we talk about him entering contact or anything live at all." Iowa has been cautious about live tackling involving its running backs in practice, particularly those who have game experience.

PURDUE

Boilers coach Danny Hope didn't sound too concerned about playing without top middle linebacker Dwayne Beckford, indefinitely suspended Monday following his latest arrest. Purdue practiced without Beckford during spring ball -- he was working his way back from another legal issue -- and rotated several players at middle linebacker. Senior Antwon Higgs appears to be the next man in, and converted quarterback Sean Robinson is behind him.

Sophomore Joe Gilliam, who recorded seven tackles last year and made one start, should be a bigger part of the plan as well.

"I thought in the recruiting process he was one of the top players in our state," Hope said of Gilliam. "I thought Joe was probably the next guy in line [behind the starters]."

INDIANA
  • Not surprisingly, Tre Roberson has emerged as Indiana's starting quarterback after taking over the top spot as a true freshman in 2011. Roberson beat out junior college arrival Cam Coffman and freshman Nate Sudfeld for the job. Coffman will serve as Roberson's backup. Although Roberson struggled in Tuesday's morning workout, coach Kevin Wilson has been pleased with the sophomore. "He's embraced the challenge," Wilson said. "He definitely can make some plays as a bit of a dual-threat guy. He's embraced the competition. He has been by far our most consistent quarterback."
  • Roberson will be passing the ball more in 2012, and he'll have a deeper group of wide receivers at his disposal. How deep? Wilson said that veterans Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson enter the season as the team's No. 5 and No. 6 receivers (Hughes is suspended for the opener against Indiana State). Kevin Wilson had high praise for sophomore Cody Latimer, limited by a sports hernia injury last season. Speedster Nick Stoner also should be a bigger part of the mix at receiver. "It's not because they've [Hughes and Duwyce Wilson] fallen off but because we've got some good players," the coach said. "We've got some competition, we've got some depth, we've got some young speed and I just think we're close to having a more complete unit there. We're not great at receiver, but we do have more playmakers."
ILLINOIS
  • Illinois' secondary isn't anywhere near full strength as it prepares to face Western Michigan and talented quarterback Alex Carder. The team's top two safeties, Steve Hull and Supo Sanni, both are nursing injuries and didn't appear on Monday's depth chart. Also, top cornerback Terry Hawthorne has a sprained ankle that will limit him only to defense for the first few games. Illinois wanted to use the athletic Hawthorne as another option at receiver, a position with little proven depth. The bigger question is how much the ankle will limit the senior with his primary cornerback responsibilities.
  • Although the Illini will rotate plenty at running back, receiver and tight end on Saturday, they won't employ a two-quarterback system, which had been rumored during camp. Co-offensive coordinator Chris Beatty said Tuesday that he's not a big believer in rotating quarterbacks, so junior Nathan Scheelhaase will take most or all of the snaps.
OHIO STATE
  • Urban Meyer expects "six seconds of great effort" from Ohio State's freshmen in Saturday's opener against Miami (Ohio). Asked which freshman he was most curious to see, Meyer identified defensive back Devan Bogard as well as freshman linebacker David Perkins, who "really exploded the last couple of days."
  • Meyer said freshman Bri'onte Dunn and sophomore Rod Smith are "very close" for the No. 2 running back spot behind Carlos Hyde. Dunn has been a bit more consistent in camp and has a slight edge.
  • Meyer said Storm Klein's role going forward is yet to be determined and that recently reinstated linebacker is still "making up a bunch of stuff" after missing almost all of fall camp. Meyer based his decision to reinstate Klein on a domestic violence charge being dismissed against the senior, who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
NORTHWESTERN

Coach Pat Fitzgerald acknowledged that it has been easier to go through the preseason this year as opposed to 2011, when talk of quarterback Dan Persa's health dominated fall camp. Although Northwestern knew all along that Persa wouldn't play in the first few games and Kain Colter would start, it has been easier for Colter this time around.

"Unfortunately, Danny had to go through that tough offseason," Fitzgerald said. "That was not fun. Kain handled the opportunity really well a year ago. ... You could definitely tell it was his first start in college football Now he's settled down, he's settled into the role."
Tim Beckman's first pivotal recruiting venture at Illinois didn't take place in a living room or at a camp for prep players.

It happened at a California hotel in late December. His targets already wore the Orange and Blue. The group gathered before the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl to meet with a man who, at that point, was their head coach only by title.

"They didn't know me, and I didn't know them very well," said Beckman, hired Dec. 9 as Illinois' coach. "I had met with them because I met with everybody on the football team. I had watched practices. But it wasn’t my job to interfere with them for their bowl game.

"It was kind of a scary situation because I wanted all of them to stay."

[+] EnlargeMichael Buchanan
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIllinois will look to senior Michael Buchanan to be a leader on defense.
They were Illinois juniors who had the potential to enter the NFL draft after the bowl game. The group included defensive end Michael Buchanan, cornerback Terry Hawthorne, defensive tackle Akeem Spence and center Graham Pocic. Buchanan earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2011, while Hawthorne earned honorable mention honors and Spence displayed next-level ability.

All-America defensive end Whitney Mercilus, pegged as a potential first-round pick, also met with Beckman.

The meeting was part information session, part recruiting session. Beckman wanted to give each player an idea of his draft prospects. He fast-tracked the paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board and received the evaluations as soon as he could. Beckman leaned on his father, Dave, who had worked in the front office with the Cleveland Browns and San Diego Chargers, and other contacts to speed up the process.

"I tried to formulate as much information as I possibly could so they could make an educated decision, from Whitney to all of them," Beckman said. "I wanted all of them to stay. I wanted all of them to be able to say they played their senior year at the University of Illinois and had the opportunity to be a champion."

Despite that desire, Beckman didn't come on too strong.

"Not as much as you'd expect a coach to," Pocic said. "He showed us what kind of person he was and just talked about the opportunity we had if we came back."

Mercilus entered the draft after the bowl game, surprising no one, but the other four players opted to stay. They're now building blocks for Illinois as Beckman and his staff hope to make a transition without losing any ground.

What did Illinois retain?

  • Spence has started every game the past two seasons, while Buchanan has started 20 of 26 contests. Although Mercilus made the big splash in 2011 with insane numbers, Buchanan quietly racked up 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Spence recorded 69 tackles and a forced fumble and clogged the interior for the nation's No. 7 defense.
  • Hawthorne has made starts in each of the past three seasons, including 11 last fall. He led the team in both interceptions (three) and passes defended (11) in 2011, and finished sixth in tackles (60). On a team that has some issues at safety, Hawthorne's presence as a potential shutdown corner looms large.
  • Pocic has started Illinois' past 24 games at center and provides leadership for a youngish line that loses mainstay Jeff Allen at left tackle. Having a veteran center to help make line calls during the transition to a new offense is a luxury for the Illini.

After Beckman told the players of their NFL grades, he gave them the floor.

"It was funny," Spence said of the December meeting with Beckman. "Me, Terry, Mike and Graham, we were sitting there scared to ask the first question. But we had to because this is our future. I was trying to find out what the deal was going to be, what type of defense, his plans for us and the team."

Spence eventually asked Beckman if the team's defense would suit his game like the previous scheme had. Although Beckman hadn't hired his defensive coordinator, he had announced that defensive line coach Keith Gilmore would be retained.

After the meeting, Spence remembers talking with Buchanan and Hawthorne about their decisions.

"We all wanted to come back and be leaders," Buchanan said.

Beckman doesn't downplay the significance of their decisions.

"It's huge," he said. "To look out there and see No. 1 [Hawthorne] running around, and 99 [Buchanan] and 94 [Spence] and 76 [Pocic], those are guys who have played, who have been involved in two bowl games and understands a little bit of what it takes to be successful."
Tim Beckman's recruiting efforts the past two months haven't attracted as much attention as those of his former boss, Urban Meyer, but the new Illinois coach has taken some important steps for the future.

Beckman, whose reputation as a recruiter helped him land the Illini job in December, is focusing recruiting efforts on areas within a five-hour radius from Champaign, which includes markets such as Chicago, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Louisville and, for those lead-footed drivers, Memphis. While Beckman had limited time to finalize the 2012 recruiting class, he and his staff have been working on the 2013 crop, trying to get as many juniors on campus as possible. Illinois held its junior day on Sunday and had a strong turnout.

[+] EnlargeTim Beckman
AP Photo/The News-Gazette, Darrell HoemannTim Beckman has focused Illinois' recruiting efforts on areas within a five-hour driving radius from school.
Another junior day is scheduled for March 10.

"We've had so many different weekends where we've tried to get people in," Beckman told ESPN.com. "This last weekend, we had an official junior day. The weeks prior to that, it has been people who have come in during the week or during the weekend. So exact number-wise, no idea right now, but I would say 300 to 400."

The state of Illinois is loaded with top prospects in the 2013 class, and Beckman and his staff have attended clinics around the state. Illinois' 2012 class received average to low marks, making 2013 even more important for the new regime.

Illinois on Tuesday landed its first verbal commitment for 2013 in cornerback Dillan Cazley from Charleston, Ill.

"The reception's been awesome," Beckman said. "We've got a lot of great contacts in this five-hour radius with our coaching staff. ... It still comes down to building relationships and trying to build the relationships with the kids throughout the Illini Nation. So if it's Facebooking, if it's following each other through the different social medias, it's still very, very important to showcase what you have here at Illinois."

Beckman has tried to build a culture of competition with the current players, starting with the winter conditioning program. He also has instituted some new policies. Players must sit in the first two rows of every class. They also must log six hours of community service per year, four in the offseason and two during the season. Beckman has tweeted about the team attending a dinner at a local Boys and Girls Club and visiting elementary schools.

Some of Beckman's most important recruiting work has been retaining current players like defensive tackle Akeem Spence, defensive end Michael Buchanan and cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who could have jumped to the NFL draft but will return for their senior seasons.

"All the players have bought into the competitive nature that we do here," he said. "I've been proud of the way we've responded to the image we want to portray as a football team. There's things of course we can always get better at, the little things that can make this program a consistent championship-caliber football program."

That process begins Wednesday.
The postseason position rankings are hitting the home stretch, and today we take a look at the Big Ten secondaries. It's a little tricky to evaluate secondary play from 2011. While seven Big Ten teams ranked in the top 18 nationally in pass defense, only two squads ranked in the top 29 in pass efficiency defense.

Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard was the lone Big Ten defensive back to appear on both the coaches' and media's first-team all-conference squad, so there was some disagreement.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Lewis
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioIsaiah Lewis' interception against Michigan helped the Spartans beat their in-state rival and propel Michigan State's secondary to elite status in the Big Ten.
The top seven units are solid, while the bottom three are among the worst in the FBS.

Michigan State once again tops a defensive chart, but the top four or five squads here were all strong in the secondary. Be sure and check out our preseason secondary rankings.

Let's get to the rundown:

1. Michigan State: The Spartans had three of four starting defensive backs — safety Trenton Robinson, cornerback Johnny Adams and safety Isaiah Lewis — selected first-team or second-team All-Big Ten, illustrating the depth coach Mark Dantonio has built in recent years. Michigan State's secondary also continued to be a playmaking unit, recording a league-best 18 interceptions, returning four for touchdowns. The Spartans had five defensive backs record two or more interceptions. Adams will enter the 2012 season pegged as the league's top cornerback.

2. Penn State: Like the other defensive units, Penn State's secondary shouldered a heavy burden because the team's offense struggled for so much of the season. The Lions had veteran leadership with D'Anton Lynn, Nick Sukay and Drew Astorino, and they led the Big Ten and ranked sixth nationally in pass efficiency defense (107.2 rating). Penn State finished third in the league in interceptions (14) and tied with Michigan for the fewest passing touchdowns allowed (12). Sukay earned second-team All-Big Ten honors.

3. Illinois: Although Illinois' strength on defense could be found in the front seven, the secondary held its own as well. The Illini ranked third nationally in pass defense (162.3 ypg), and opposing teams completed just 54.9 percent of their passes against the Orange and Blue. Illinois finished 30th nationally in pass efficiency defense. Although the safety play looked spotty at times, Illinois boasted a strong cornerback tandem in Terry Hawthorne and Tavon Wilson.

4. Michigan: Arguably no single position group in the Big Ten made more dramatic strides than Michigan's secondary, a lightning rod for criticism the previous three seasons. The Wolverines finished 16th nationally in pass defense and 36th in pass efficiency defense. Although they didn't record many interceptions, they tied for the league low in passing touchdowns allowed (12). Safety Jordan Kovacs emerged as an effective blitzer and playmaker and cornerback J.T. Floyd blossomed with two interceptions, eight pass breakups and a forced fumble. Corner Blake Countess is an exciting young talent.

5. Nebraska: The Huskers had the Big Ten's best defensive back in Dennard, who shut down arguably the league's top two receivers (Marvin McNutt, B.J. Cunningham) in Nebraska victories. But the group's overall performance was a bit underwhelming, as opposing teams attacked the deep middle and caused some personnel shuffling. Opposing teams completed just 53.2 percent of their passes against Nebraska, the lowest number in the Big Ten. Hard-hitting safety Daimion Stafford emerged for a group that loses Dennard and veteran safety Austin Cassidy.

6. Wisconsin: For the second straight season Wisconsin displayed good playmaking ability in the secondary, finishing second in the Big Ten with 16 interceptions. Safety Aaron Henry (coaches) and cornerback Antonio Fenelus (media) both received first-team All-Big Ten recognition. The Badgers also played most of the season without one of their starting cornerbacks, Devin Smith. But the unit also had some high-profile lapses at the end of games. Speed also became an issue in the Big Ten title game against Michigan State and in the Rose Bowl against Oregon.

7. Ohio State: The numbers aren't bad -- Ohio State ranked 14th in pass defense and 53rd in pass efficiency defense -- but the Buckeyes seemed to be missing something in the secondary, and throughout their entire defense, for that matter. There were some bright spots, like freshman cornerback Bradley Roby, and some hard hits delivered by safety C.J. Barnett and others. But Ohio State finished just eighth in the league (53rd nationally) in pass efficiency defense, as opposing teams completed more than 60 percent of their pass attempts against the Scarlet and Gray.

8. Purdue: We had high hopes for a group that returned all four starters, headlined by All-Big Ten candidate Ricardo Allen at cornerback. At times, Purdue's secondary looked solid, but the unit's overall performance fell in line with the team's average theme for 2011. Allen struggled to contain some elite wideouts but still finished the season with 81 tackles (62 solo), three interceptions, four pass breakups, a blocked kick and a forced fumble. He and Josh Johnson form an exciting cornerback tandem entering the 2012 campaign.

9. Iowa: Much like Ohio State, Iowa didn't have a typical season on defense, and the secondary had its share of struggles. Iowa had average numbers (58th in pass yards allowed, 72nd in efficiency), and allowed opposing teams to complete 62 percent of their passes. The Hawkeyes saw a big drop-off in playmaking, as they recorded only 10 interceptions and allowed 21 touchdown passes. Safety Micah Hyde earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the media, while cornerback Shaun Prater didn't have the huge senior season some expected.

10. Northwestern: The Wildcats would finish last in some leagues, but they're the best of a bad bunch at the bottom of the rankings. Despite an All-Big Ten safety (Brian Peters) and a four-year starter at cornerback (Jordan Mabin), Northwestern suffered breakdowns in both scheme and execution. The Wildcats endured a particularly bad stretch to begin Big Ten play, as they couldn't stop Illinois receiver A.J. Jenkins, admittedly got confused against Iowa and let Penn State quarterback Matthew McGloin go off. The secondary has to be a huge priority for Pat Fitzgerald and his staff during the offseason.

11. Minnesota: It's a close call for the last spot, but Minnesota avoids the basement, thanks in large part to safety Kim Royston, who made the most of his sixth season with a team-high 123 tackles. But Royston was the lone bright spot for Minnesota's secondary, which stung from the loss of cornerback Troy Stoudermire to a broken arm. The Gophers recorded the fewest interceptions in the Big Ten (4), and allowed opponents to complete 67.7 percent of their passes, the highest total in the league. Minnesota finished 107th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers' historic struggles in the secondary continued in 2011, as they surrendered a league-high 26 passing touchdowns and finished 116th out of 120 FBS teams in pass efficiency defense. Opponents averaged 8.5 yards per completion against an Indiana team that played more freshmen than any squad in the FBS. There's some hope with players like safety-linebacker Mark Murphy and cornerback Greg Heban, and Indiana brings in two junior college defensive backs for 2012.
Let's put a final bow on bowl season with our choices for the 2011 Big Ten All-Bowl team. As usual, some positions had more than enough worthy selections, such as defensive line, while other positions -- safety, offensive line -- left us scrambling a bit.

Despite a 4-6 bowl performance by the Big Ten, the league had some nice individual performances.

Here's the bowl squad ...

OFFENSE

QB: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin: Though he threw a costly interception late, Wilson completed 19 of 25 passes for 296 yards and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl loss to Oregon. That performance was good enough for him to finish the season with the NCAA record for pass efficiency.

RB: Akeem Shavers, Purdue: With leading rusher Ralph Bolden injured, the Boilermakers needed another back to step up. Shavers responded with a career high 149 yards on 22 carries in the Boilermakers' 37-32 Little Caesars Bowl victory over Western Michigan.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Montee Ball
Kelvin Kuo/US PRESSWIREMontee Ball racked up 164 yards on the ground and scored his 39th TD of the season in the Rose Bowl.
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin: Ball carried 32 times for 164 yards against Oregon, and his touchdown gave him 39 on the season, tying Barry Sanders' Football Bowl Subdivision record. Ball was quieted late as the Ducks' defense made adjustments against the running game.

WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin: Like Wilson, Abbrederis had a costly second-half turnover, but his overall performance stood out in the Rose Bowl. The sophomore had four receptions for a team-high 119 yards and a touchdown and also had 227 return yards in the game, including a 60-yard kickoff runback.

WR: Junior Hemingway, Michigan: He only had two catches in the Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Virginia Tech, but both went for touchdowns. He caught the first one in traffic then juked his way toward a 45-yard score. He made a leaping grab near the back of the end zone for the second one.

TE: Brian Linthicum, Michigan State: The senior picked a good time to have a career day, coming up with seven catches for 115 yards against Georgia plus a catch on a two-point conversion. He took a tight end screen pass 50 yards during the fourth quarter for the longest play of his career.

OL: Peter Konz, Wisconsin: Konz made his first appearance since Nov. 13 and didn't look rusty after rehabbing a dislocated ankle. The All-Big Ten selection keyed a Badgers offense that racked up 212 rush yards, 23 first downs and 508 total yards against Oregon. Konz performed well in what turned out to be his final game as a Badger.

OL: Dennis Kelly, Purdue: The Boilers' offensive line overpowered Western Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, and Kelly, a mainstay at left tackle during his career, helped lead the charge. Purdue racked up 265 rush yards on 56 attempts and steamrolled the Broncos despite not having top running back Bolden (knee).

OL: David Molk, Michigan: A foot injury in warmups wasn't going to keep Molk from playing his final game with the Wolverines. The Rimington Trophy winner, who some thought wouldn't return to the field, missed only one series and did his part for the Michigan offense in its win against Virginia Tech.

OL: Jeff Allen, Illinois: Allen keyed an Illinois offense that showed some life in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl after fading down the stretch of the regular season. He helped the Illini rush for 178 yards, while UCLA had only one sack in the game.

OL: Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin: Like Konz, Zeitler delivered a typical performance in Pasadena and helped Ball and the ground game get going. Wisconsin's physical play along the offensive line gave Oregon problems for most of the game.

DEFENSE

[+] EnlargeWilliam Gholston and Aaron Murray
J. Meric/Getty ImagesWilliam Gholston seemed unstoppable in Michigan State's win over Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
DL: William Gholston, Michigan State: The sophomore announced himself as a likely breakout star in 2012 with a huge performance against Georgia in the Outback Bowl. Gholston had five tackles for loss, including two sacks, plus a fumble recovery in the Spartans' victory.

DL: Whitney Mercilus, Illinois: The nation's sacks leader went out with a bang before declaring for the NFL draft. Mercilus registered 1.5 sacks in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win over UCLA, tying him with Simeon Rice for the school single-season record of 16. He finished with three tackles for loss and gave the Bruins offense fits.

DL: Mike Martin, Michigan: The Wolverines repeatedly stuffed Virginia Tech in the red zone, and Martin was a big reason why. The senior had 10 tackles and 0.5 sacks while helping control the interior of the defensive line.

DL Mike Daniels, Iowa: The Hawkeyes defense showed up in the Insight Bowl, and Daniels led the way with five tackles, including three tackles for loss and two sacks. Oklahoma came into the game having allowed just nine sacks all season, but Daniels had two in the first half.

LB: Lavonte David, Nebraska: Though the Huskers lost to South Carolina, David had his usual brilliant game. He finished with 11 tackles and two sacks in the losing effort to cap a terrific career.

LB: Joe Holland, Purdue: The senior delivered in his final game as a Boiler, recording team highs for tackles (9), tackles for loss (2) and pass breakups (3) against Western Michigan. Holland was always around the ball and spurred a play-making Purdue defense in Detroit.

LB: Ian Thomas, Illinois: Like Holland, Thomas had a big performance in his final collegiate game as Illinois held UCLA to seven points through the first 59 minutes. Thomas finished with seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack, as well as a pass breakup against the Bruins.

CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State: He got burned on a long pass in the first half but made up for it with two second-half interceptions, including one he returned 38 yards for a touchdown, in the win against Georgia. Dennard tied the Michigan State bowl record with the two picks.

CB: Terry Hawthorne, Illinois: Hawthorne's 39-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter gave Illinois its first lead against UCLA. It marked the second pick-six of Hawthorne's career and the first since 2009. He also had five tackles, including 1.5 for loss.

S: Jordan Kovacs, Michigan: Kovacs capped a breakthrough season in the Allstate Sugar Bowl with a a team-high 11 tackles in the win against Virginia Tech. He helped limit the Hokies to just one touchdown on six red zone possessions and finished the season with 75 total tackles.

S: Brian Peters, Northwestern: Peters made a nifty interception against Texas A&M, his Big Ten-leading fifth pick of the season, and added seven tackles against the Aggies. He finished his career with 12 interceptions, the third-highest total in team history.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Brendan Gibbons, Michigan: Gibbons nailed all three of his field goal attempts, including the 37-yarder in overtime to win the game for the Wolverines.

P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State: Sadler was big in the field position battle against Georgia. He averaged 50.1 yards on eight punts, placing four of them inside the 20-yard line.

KR: Raheem Mostert, Purdue: Mostert returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the win over Western Michigan. It marked the longest kick return in Purdue bowl history and helped Mostert finish the season as the nation's leading return man (33.5 ypr).

PR: Venric Mark, Northwestern: Not too many choices around the Big Ten, but Mark broke off a 47-yard return in the Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas. He also had a two-yard rushing touchdown in the game.

Instant analysis: Illinois 20, UCLA 14

December, 31, 2011
12/31/11
7:13
PM ET

UCLA needed a special NCAA waiver just to get into a bowl game. Illinois lost its final six games and had assistants threatening to boycott this game. Is it any wonder that the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl was, shall we say, a little ragged?

How the game was won: The Illinois offense disappeared over the second half of the season and didn't do a whole lot in this one, either. But the team's defense remained stout throughout the season and was inspired to play hard for interim coach Vic Koenning, their former defensive coordinator. The Illini defense came up with a score, sacked UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince five times and allowed just 220 total yards. The Bruins' only points came when they got a short field in the first half and when they connected on a bomb with 29 seconds left and Illinois already starting to celebrate. Defense wins minor bowl championships.

Turning point: UCLA led 7-3 and the Illinois offense was completely stagnant late in the third quarter. That's when the Bruins provided a gift. Prince's sideline pass was picked off by cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who had nothing but open field in front of him as he ran it in for the 39-yard touchdown. Hawthorne never took his eyes off the quarterback, and Prince misread the coverage. That pick-six sapped the spirits of the Bruins and loosened things up for the Illini.

Player of the game: Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase. His passing numbers weren't terribly impressive (18-for-30, 189 yards, one touchdown) and he struggled early on. But Scheelhaase took on the brunt of the running game with leading rusher Jason Ford suspended for this game, finishing with 110 yards on 22 carries. He also had a nine-yard catch, giving him more total yards than UCLA's entire offense.

Stat of the game: Thanks in large part to the sacks, Illinois outrushed UCLA 179-18.

Record performance: Illinois defensive end Whitney Mercilus was credited with 1.5 sacks, giving him a nation-best 16 this season. That tied the school record set by Simeon Rice. He got in on his second sack despite being held on the play. Mercilus was one of the most improved players in the nation this season and will almost certainly skip his senior year to enter the NFL draft.

Strangest stat: UCLA finishes the season with eight losses, yet the Bruins played in a bowl game. It might be a while before we see that happen again.

Unsung hero: Illinois' Ryan Lankford. He averaged 45.6 yards on five punts, with two downed inside the 20. He also had three catches for 24 yards. Now that's versatility.

Best call: Midway through the fourth quarter, UCLA came after Scheelhaase on a blitz. But Illinois had the exact right call on: a slant pass to A.J. Jenkins. The one guy the Bruins couldn't leave open caught a short strike from Scheelhaase and glided in untouched for a 60-yard touchdown. The score became crucial when UCLA tacked on that touchdown in the final minute.

What it means: Not much of anything. Both programs will wake up on New Year's Day with new head coaches -- Jim Mora Jr. for UCLA, Tim Beckman for Illinois. So both teams will mostly have a blank slate, and they'd rather forget most of the 2011 season, anyway. Beckman will drastically change the offense to a spread, and he has to be happy to see Scheelhaase turn in a confidence-building bowl performance. Beckman will need to keep the defense playing at this level without Koenning. Mora needs to improve the overall toughness of the underachieving Bruins and change the attitude around the program.
Here's a buy-or-sell proposition for you.

Team X won its bowl game convincingly in December, capping a season that surprised many so-called experts. Team X boasts an exciting young dual-threat quarterback who has complemented his athleticism with better passing. Team X typically ranks among the nation's top-20 teams in rushing, returns a veteran line and a nice backfield mix. Despite losing three defenders to the NFL draft, Team X has several seasoned defensive backs and linebackers. Team X has won its first two games by a combined score of 89-18. Team X plays eight home games, including each of the first five and six of the first seven.

So, are you buying or selling?

Oh, you want to know the team's name? The head coach's name, too?

OK, understood. Let me know if you change your mind.

This is the perception the Illinois Fighting Illini and their coach Ron Zook are up against as they try to regain a place on the national college football radar. For every reason to buy into Illinois, there are other reasons to stay away from the Orange and Blue.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Jenkins
AP Photo/Seth PerlmanA.J. Jenkins knows Saturday night's game gives Illinois the chance to show the country what kind of team it is.
Illinois has been the ultimate tease in the Big Ten, twice reaching BCS bowls in the past decade, only to backslide. Zook has teased us with talent, bringing elite recruits to Champaign but not getting consistent results (30-45 in six-plus seasons).

While Illinois has the look of a team to watch in the Big Ten, there's a hesitancy from the outside to buy in, and players know it.

Check out receiver A.J. Jenkins' response to a seemingly neutral question: How big of an opportunity is Saturday night's game with No. 22 Arizona State?

"It's a really big opportunity for us," Jenkins said. "Both undefeated teams, playing a night game in prime time. It's going to be a good thing because we'll finally have the respect we deserve.

"We believe we can be a ranked, Top-25 team. This is the time for us to show the world that doesn't believe, that we're capable."

The Arizona State game comes at a perfect time for Illinois.

The Sun Devils come in ranked in both major polls (No. 22 AP; No. 18 coaches). They put themselves on the national radar with a dramatic overtime victory last Friday against Missouri. They boast one of the nation's most recognizable defenders in linebacker Vontaze Burfict and one of the nation's most recognizable quarterbacks in the 6-foot-8 Brock Osweiler.

Arizona State will be the main attraction nationally Saturday night, but if Illinois wins, attention will come its way. Maybe even respect.

"Our guys understand if we're going to be involved in the Big Ten [race], have something to do with that, this is a game where we're going to have to show up and play the way we're capable of playing," Zook said. "I don't think there's any question these guys are fired up about it."

The game pits an explosive Illinois offense against an Arizona State defense that ranked 16th nationally against the run in 2010. Illinois set a team scoring record last fall (423 points) and leads the Big Ten in scoring, total yards and rushing yards through the first two weeks.

Sophomore quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase is off to a quick start, but Burfict, whose reputation for administering ferocious hits and drawing personal fouls is well known, will be gunning for No. 2.

"The emotional part is the thing that really stands out with Vontaze," Zook said. "He's going to make sure you know he's around."

Osweiler also is tough to miss, and not just because of his unusual size. The junior was brilliant against Missouri, completing 24 of 32 passes for 353 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

Illinois needs its veteran linebackers and defensive backs like Ian Thomas, Trulon Henry, Tavon Wilson and Terry Hawthorne to step up.

"You can't get in his line of sight," Illini defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said of Osweiler. "They run the big split stuff where they get him throwing lanes. He's a big ol' quarterback and he's not unathletic. We're just going to do the best we can.

"This will be a fantastic challenge for us."

Illinois hasn't beaten a ranked opponent since stunning then-No. 1 Ohio State in Columbus in 2007. The victory spurred the Illini to the Rose Bowl.

Although beating Arizona State wouldn't make the same impact, it could springboard the Illini to bigger things when Big Ten play begins.

"For people who don't believe we can beat teams that are ranked, it's time to come out and see what we can do," Jenkins said. "This game might spark our season.

"I wouldn't say it's a must-win, but if we want the respect that we deserve, this is a win we need."
Let's delve a bit deeper into the Big Ten secondaries by breaking down the league's top cornerbacks entering 2011.

This group could be one of the league's best, as it features a nice mix of established veterans and budding young players. Only two Big Ten cornerbacks -- Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard and Wisconsin's Antonio Fenelus -- made the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, but I expect several more players to make their way onto the radar in the coming months.

Here's the rundown ...

1. Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska, senior: He's the final member of Nebraska’s triumvirate on defense along with tackle Jared Crick and linebacker Lavonte David. Dennard earned second-team All-Big 12 honors in 2010 after recording 30 tackles, four interceptions and seven passes defended. After working alongside All-American Prince Amukamara, Denard is ready to take center stage.

[+] EnlargeRicardo Allen
Andrew Weber/US PresswirePurdue's Ricardo Allen, 21, shown returning an interception for a TD last season against Michigan State, is one of the Big Ten's top cornerbacks.
2. Ricardo Allen, Purdue, sophomore: Get to know this name, Big Ten fans. Allen is one of the nation’s most dynamic young defensive backs. He recorded three interceptions in 2010, returning two for touchdowns, and finished fourth on the team with 73 tackles. Just 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds, Allen uses an aggressive style that's a lot of fun to watch.

3. Shaun Prater, Iowa, senior: Prater considered a jump to the NFL before returning to Iowa, where he'll lead a new-look secondary in 2011. He earned consensus first-team All-Big Ten honors in 2010 after recording four interceptions, 10 passes defended, a fumble recovery and 68 tackles. After losing two multiyear starters at safety, Iowa needs Prater to shut down one half of the field this fall.

4. Antonio Fenelus, Wisconsin, senior: Fenelus played an integral role in the Badgers' overall improvement as a playmaking secondary in 2010. He led the team in both interceptions (4) and passes defended (11) and finished second in fumbles recovered (2). The media rewarded Fenelus by selecting him first-team All-Big Ten. He forms a solid cornerback tandem with Devin Smith.

5. D'Anton Lynn, Penn State, senior: Lynn took a significant step forward in 2010 and should contend for All-Big Ten honors this fall. He emerged in the second half of the season and finished with 75 tackles, three interceptions, seven passes defended and a fumble recovery. Penn State's secondary will be a strength this fall, and Lynn will showcase his talents against the Big Ten's top receivers.

6. Johnny Adams, Michigan State, junior: Here's another player who appears to be on the verge of big things in 2011. Adams surged throughout spring practice and was the first player selected in Michigan State's spring game draft. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches last season after recording three interceptions and 10 passes defended. Adams also had a forced fumble and recovered a blocked punt that helped cap Michigan State's come-from-behind win against Purdue.

7. Jordan Mabin, Northwestern, senior: Mabin is the Big Ten's most experienced cornerback, as he enters his fourth season as a starter and boasts 37 career starts. After a so-so-sophomore season in 2009, Mabin earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last season, as he led the Big Ten and tied for 12th nationally in passes defended with 15 (1.15 per game). He capped his season with a pick-six in the TicketCity Bowl and should be in the mix for All-Conference honors this season.

8. Travis Howard, Ohio State, junior: This is a projection pick, as Howard moves into a featured role this fall after playing behind Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence. He showed some promise in 2010 with two interceptions, four passes defended and a fumble recovery in limited action. There's a lot of buzz about Howard entering the fall as Ohio State looks for its next shutdown corner.

9. Tavon Wilson, Illinois, senior: A rash of injuries forced Wilson to move to safety in 2010, but he's back at his preferred position entering the fall. He recorded 74 tackles, an interception and seven pass breakups at cornerback in 2009 and continued to make plays at safety last season, leading the team in passes defended (9) and adding an interception and two fumble recoveries. Wilson brings versatility to a secondary that might take a big step forward this season.

10. Josh Johnson, Purdue, junior: Allen garnered much of the attention in 2010, but Johnson forms a nice complement on the other side. He tied for second in the league with three forced fumbles and added an interception, seven passes defended, a fumble recovery and 53 tackles. Johnson's playmaking ability should come in handy, especially if opposing teams start throwing away from Allen.

Just missed the cut: Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire, Michigan's Troy Woolfolk, Illinois' Terry Hawthorne, Wisconsin's Devin Smith.
Illinois' safeties will have an ally on the field this season.

Tavon Wilson is excited to be once again playing his natural position of cornerback, but he isn't forgetting his roots.

[+] EnlargeTavon Wilson
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMIIllinois' Tavon Wilson has started at cornerback and safety.
"I help my safeties a lot more because I know how hard it is back there, to cover each half of the field all by yourself," Wilson said. "If we're in Cover 2, I make sure I get my hands on [the receiver]. In Cover 3, I protect the front side when they're going to the middle.

"I've got a little more respect for the safeties now after playing the position."

Wilson moved from cornerback to safety before the 2010 season because a series of injuries hit Illinois' defensive backfield. The big loss was Supo Sanni, a projected starter at safety who ruptured his Achilles tendon in camp and had to miss the season.

After a productive sophomore season at cornerback, where he led the team with seven passes defended, Wilson made the shift to safety and once again led the team in passes defended (9) to go along with 48 tackles. Illinois' improved depth in the secondary has allowed Wilson to return to cornerback, although he practiced as a nickel safety this spring.

Wilson's versatility should help a secondary that likely will be the strength of the defense in 2011.

"Safety and corner are two totally different positions," Wilson said. "It's a different mind-set. At first, I tried to go out there and play like a corner, but I had to learn the game from a safety standpoint. It's a totally different aspect of football."

Wilson admits he "probably played a little smarter" as a safety, knowing that any risk could backfire and result in a touchdown for the opposing team.

"At corner, I know I'm a lot more aggressive and more of a hitter," he said. "I take more chances just because I know I've got some help over the top."

He won't take that help for granted.

Sanni is on track to return at safety alongside Trulon Henry, a starter last season who led the team with three interceptions. Wilson, Terry Hawthorne and Justin Green give Illinois a very nice complement of cornerbacks, and the secondary also brings back Patrick Nixon-Youman, Steve Hull and Miami Thomas, the talented corner who has battled injuries for much of his career.

"I definitely feel like we're going to have a chance to be the leaders of the defense, just because of the confidence we have in each other and the confidence everybody else has in us," Wilson said. "A lot of us have played a lot of football around here, so when things are going wrong, people on the defense expect me or one of my guys back there to make a play. We've been doing that this spring.”

2010 Big Ten All-Bowl team

January, 14, 2011
1/14/11
11:29
AM ET
Let's put a bow on this year's Big Ten postseason by taking a look at the league's All-Bowl team.

OFFENSE

QB: Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State
Pryor won MVP honors in a BCS bowl for the second consecutive season as he led Ohio State to a victory in the Sugar Bowl. The junior maintained his focus after the suspension controversy and recorded 222 pass yards and two touchdowns to go along with 115 rush yards on 15 carries. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase merits a mention after a strong effort in the Texas Bowl.

RB: Marcus Coker, Iowa
The true freshman rushed for an Iowa bowl record 219 yards and two touchdowns as the Hawkeyes beat Missouri in the Insight Bowl. Coker was the team's only proven option at running back for the bowl, and he stepped up in a big way, averaging 6.6 yards per carry.

[+] EnlargeMikel Leshoure
AP Photo/Dave EinselMikel Leshoure earned MVP honors in the Texas Bowl.
RB: Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
The Big Ten's best running back ended his season -- and, as it turned out, his college career -- in typical fashion, rushing for 184 yards and three touchdowns as Illinois blew out Baylor. Leshoure broke five team records and tied a sixth with his bowl performance, most notably breaking Rashard Mendenhall's single-season Illinois rushing record with 1,697 yards.

WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
Sanzenbacher caught three passes for 59 yards and a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl, but his biggest contribution came on the game's opening drive. After Pryor fumbled the ball near the goal line, Sanzenbacher swooped in for the recovery and his first career "rushing" touchdown. The Great Dane showed why he was voted Ohio State's team MVP.

WR: Derek Moye, Penn State
His quarterback threw too many passes to Florida defenders, but Moye did his part for Penn State with five receptions for 79 yards and a touchdown. He nearly had a second touchdown following a 44-yard reception but the ball was placed at the 1-yard line. Penn State scored on the next play to tie the score at 14-14.

TE: Jake Stoneburner, Ohio State
Ohio State featured its tight ends in a 28-point first half at the Sugar Bowl, and Stoneburner benefited with three receptions for 39 yards. Fellow tight end Reid Fragel added a 42-yard reception. Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks, Iowa's Allen Reisner and Michigan's Kevin Koger all merit mentions here.

OL: Josh Koeppel, Iowa
Koeppel and fellow linemen James Ferentz and Markus Zusevics got Coker going early by creating a huge hole for the freshman early in the second quarter. Coker zipped through it for a 62-yard touchdown as Iowa surged out to a 14-3 lead.

OL: Jeff Allen, Illinois
Allen helped the Illini rack up 38 points and 291 offensive yards in the rout of Baylor. He also protected Scheelhaase, who completed his first 13 pass attempts and finished the game 18-for-23 passing.

OL: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
The Badgers didn't have the dominant offensive performance they envisioned against TCU, but they still rushed for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Carimi, the 2010 Outland Trophy winner, did his part in his final collegiate game.

OL: Randall Hunt, Illinois
Hunt and Allen earned the highest grades from the Illini coaches after the team dominated Baylor in the Texas Bowl. Illinois mounted seven drives of 53 yards or longer, including two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that overpowered the Bears and put away the game.

C: Mike Brewster, Ohio State
Ohio State physically dominated Arkansas up front in the first half, and Brewster led the way from the center position. He helped clear the way for Herron's walk-in 9-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. Ohio State racked up 28 points and 338 yards in the first half and finished with 225 rush yards against Arkansas.

DEFENSE

DL: Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
Heyward delivered the best performance of his college career in his final game as a Buckeye. The senior racked up 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, two quarterback hurries and a pass breakup. He also caused a critical holding penalty by Arkansas midway through the fourth quarter.

DL: Corey Liuget, Illlinois
Liuget showed Baylor why he was the Big Ten's most disruptive defensive tackle this season. The junior recorded 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack and caused a ton of trouble in the Bears' backfield.

DL: Dexter Larimore, Ohio State
Heyward drew most of the praise in the Sugar Bowl, but Larimore caused almost as many problems for the Arkansas offensive line. The senior recorded six tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble as Ohio State held Arkansas' offense in check for a good portion of the game.

DL: Devon Still, Penn State
Still set a career high with 3.5 tackles for loss in Penn State's Outback Bowl loss to Florida. He tied for second on the team with seven tackles as Penn State prevented Florida from mounting long scoring drives.

LB: James Morris, Iowa
Like Coker, Morris raised hope for the Hawkeyes' future with a strong performance in the Insight Bowl. He recorded seven tackles, including one stop for loss, and showed more aggressiveness than some of his older teammates.

LB: Quentin Davie, Northwestern
The TicketCity Bowl wasn't a banner day for Northwestern's defense, but Davie did his part with 15 tackles, including two tackles for loss. His tackles total marked a career high in his final collegiate game with the Wildcats.

LB: Martez Wilson, Illinois
Wilson was a noticeable presence in what turned out to be his final game in an Illini uniform. Tez recorded seven tackles including one for loss in the win against Baylor.

DB: Micah Hyde, Iowa
Hyde made the biggest play of the Big Ten bowl season, picking off a Blaine Gabbert pass and returning the ball 72 yards for the game-winning touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. Iowa appeared headed toward another second-half collapse before Hyde made Gabbert pay for his only bad decision of the game.

DB: D'Anton Lynn, Penn State
Lynn made a huge impact at the start of the Outback Bowl, recording an interception and recovering a fumble in the Penn State end zone in the first 10 minutes of the game. He finished the season tied with Nick Sukay for the team lead in interceptions with three.

DB: Terry Hawthorne, Illinois
The sophomore cornerback set career highs in both tackles (9) and tackles for loss (1.5) in the win against Baylor. Hawthorne made his first start of the season after battling a foot injury for much of the fall.

DB: Devon Torrence, Ohio State
The Buckeyes' secondary once again needed a boost after losing a standout player to injury, and Torrence provided it. After All-Big Ten corner Chimdi Chekwa went out with a wrist injury, Torrence picked up the slack and recorded eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Derek Dimke, Illinois
Dimke showed why he's known as the Big Ten's steadiest kicker in the Texas Bowl, going 3-for-3 on field goal attempts from 28, 38 and 43 yards out. He became the first Illinois player to make more than one field goal in a bowl game and connected on multiple kicks for the ninth time in the 2010 season.

P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Bates provided the lone bright spot for the Spartans in the Capital One Bowl, averaging 43.4 yards on seven attempts with a long of 55 yards and two punts placed inside the 20-yard line. Honorable mentions go to Illinois' Anthony Santella, Wisconsin's Brad Nortman and Iowa's Ryan Donahue.

KR: Martavious Odoms, Michigan
The fact that Odoms played in the Gator Bowl following a broken foot was pretty incredible, and unfortunately for Michigan, he got plenty of work on returns. Odoms racked up 163 kick return yards on seven attempts with a long runback of 43 yards. Honorable mentions go to Michigan State's Bennie Fowler, Iowa's Paul Chaney Jr. and Northwestern's Venric Mark.
Let's press the rewind button on Week 8 before fast-forwarding into Week 9.

[+] EnlargeScott Tolzien
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallWisconsin's Scott Tolzien made some clutch throws in the fourth quarter at Iowa.
Team of the Week: Wisconsin. The Badgers get the nod for the second consecutive week after their second consecutive signature win, this time on the road against rival Iowa. Bret Bielema's squad had to overcome several key injuries -- running back James White, tight end Lance Kendricks -- and a red-hot Ricky Stanzi, but thanks to a gutsy fake punt call from Bielema, some clutch play by quarterback Scott Tolzien and the emergence of third-string back Montee Ball, Wisconsin rallied for a 31-30 victory. Wisconsin still needs some help to reach a BCS bowl, but it has survived the toughest part of its schedule and will be favored in its final four contests.

Best game: I give a slight edge to Wisconsin-Iowa, but Michigan State-Northwestern also provided plenty of drama. Both games featured fake punts with fun names -- "Mousetrap" and "Chain" -- that led to come-from-behind victories by the road team. We saw tremendous quarterback play in both contests -- Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Northwestern's Dan Persa in Evanston, Iowa's Stanzi and Wisconsin's Tolzien in Iowa City -- and surprising players stepping up in the clutch (Wisconsin's Ball, Michigan State's Bennie Fowler). A ton of good stuff in both games.

Biggest play: The two fake punts are the obvious choices here, especially Wisconsin's on a fourth-and-4 from its own 26-yard line with about six minutes to play. But there were others as well. Tolzien made a huge throw to Ball for a 7-yard completion on fourth-and-5 in the closing minutes, and Michigan State receiver B.J. Cunningham came up huge on the game-winning touchdown, which he caught after Northwestern safety Brian Peters deflected the ball.

Specialist spotlight: Michigan State punter Aaron Bates and his Wisconsin counterpart Brad Nortman have received plenty of credit, and deservedly so, for executing the fake punts Saturday. Illinois continued to shine on special teams as punter Anthony Santella averaged 45.6 yards on five punts, Derek Dimke added two more field goals and Martez Wilson and Nate Bussey both blocked Indiana punts. Penn State punter Anthony Fera was outstanding, averaging 45.2 yards a punt with four placed inside the Minnesota 20-yard line. Purdue punter Cody Webster had another big day (six punts, 46.7-yard average), and Iowa's Ryan Donahue had a 71-yard punt. Northwestern kicker Stefan Demos rebounded with two field goals against Michigan State.

Game balls:

  • Michigan State DE Tyler Hoover: Hoover gave Northwestern's offensive line all sorts of trouble, recording two sacks and a forced fumble and tying Greg Jones for the team lead in tackles with nine. He tied a career high in tackles and set a personal best in sacks as he continues to blossom for the unbeaten Spartans.
  • Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: The junior is making a serious push for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors. He followed up a dominating performance against Ohio State with five tackles, including two for loss and a sack, and a huge blocked extra-point attempt that proved to be the difference in the game.
  • Illinois defenders Corey Liuget, Justin Staples, Terry Hawthorne, Patrick Nixon-Youman and Jonathan Brown: They'll have to share one game ball, but I doubt they'll mind after teaming up to shut down Indiana. Liuget recorded a sack and five quarterback hurries, while Staples had two tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Nixon-Youman and Brown both recorded pick-sixes, and Hawthorne had an interception and a tackle for loss in his first game back from injury.
  • Penn State CB D'Anton Lynn: Lynn stepped up in a big way at Minnesota, recording a game-high 10 tackles and a 58-yard interception return that turned the momentum in the second quarter.
  • Northwestern QB Dan Persa: Anyone who hadn't seen Persa before Saturday gained a ton of respect for the Wildcats' junior quarterback. He repeatedly sacrificed his body and made plays when they seemingly weren't there, recording three rushing touchdowns in the game.
  • Wisconsin QB Scott Tolzien: Despite not having one of his top passing targets in Kendricks, Tolzien led Wisconsin to a huge road victory. He did have an ugly interception, but was otherwise brilliant, completing 20 of 26 passes for 205 yards and a touchdown.
  • Ohio State WRs Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey: One of the nation's top receiving tandems teamed up Saturday for eight receptions, 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Sanzenbacher had a 57-yard reception as he continues to improve his stock for the Biletnikoff Award.
  • Minnesota WR Da'Jon McKnight: The next Gophers coach will inherit a nice piece in McKnight, who continues to evolve as a go-to receiver. McKnight recorded eight receptions for 103 yards and three touchdowns against Penn State.
  • Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi: I put the poor clock management at the end of the game on the coaching staff, not Stanzi, who delivered another tremendous performance. The senior completed 25 of 37 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions against Wisconsin.

Now let's spin it forward for a quick look at Week 9.

Purdue (4-3, 2-1 Big Ten) at Illinois (4-3, 2-2): Purdue might have to start another new quarterback after Rob Henry's hand injury, and the timing doesn't favor the Boilers, as the Illinois defense is on fire. The game features two of the Big Ten's top pass-rushing groups, as Ryan Kerrigan leads Purdue, while Corey Liuget looks to keep his stellar season going. The winner moves one step closer to bowl eligibility.

Northwestern (5-2, 1-2) at Indiana (4-3, 0-3): This matchup features two similar teams dealing with similar senses of urgency. Northwestern aims to stop a two-game slide on the road, where it has been at its best under Pat Fitzgerald. Indiana probably needs to win this one to keep its bowl hopes alive, and the Hoosiers look to bounce back from a mistake-ridden performance at Illinois. The game also pairs two excellent quarterbacks -- Dan Persa and Ben Chappell -- and two vulnerable pass defenses. Expect a lot of points.

No. 5 Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) at No. 18 Iowa (5-2, 2-1): If the Spartans can get out of Iowa City with a victory, they can really start thinking about a run to the national title game. Michigan State certainly has the magic that Iowa had last year but is lacking this year after two fourth-quarter letdowns. Two outstanding quarterbacks meet in the Spartans' Kirk Cousins and the Hawkeyes' Ricky Stanzi, and the game also features defensive stars like Adrian Clayborn and Greg Jones. Iowa can't afford to lose and stay in the Big Ten race.

No. 11 Ohio State (7-1, 3-1) at Minnesota (1-7, 0-4): This one could get ugly. Ohio State's offense has carved up weak defenses all season, and Minnesota ranks 90th nationally in yards allowed (406.4 ypg) and 100th in points allowed (31.9 ppg). Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is licking his chops. Minnesota will need a huge performance from quarterback Adam Weber to keep pace against a banged-up Buckeyes defense that rebounded last week.

Michigan (5-2, 1-2) at Penn State (4-3, 1-2): Simply put, this is the biggest game of Rich Rodriguez's Michigan tenure. Rodriguez and the Wolverines come off of a bye week and need a win to stem talk of a 2009 redux. Penn State got the win it needed at Minnesota, but surrendered 433 yards. The Lions will be tested by Denard Robinson and co., while their quarterback situation remains unsettled after Rob Bolden's apparent concussion.

Bye: No. 10 Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1)

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