NCF Nation: Trevor Anderson

Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

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

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

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

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

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

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


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Michigan State defensive end Trevor Anderson is the team's resident historian on defensive line play.

He's a YouTube junkie and often watches clips of his favorite NFL pass-rushers, trying to pick up things for his own game. He nearly went to Chuck Smith's training center for defensive linemen and linebackers this summer after researching the program on the Web. Anderson also is a sponge when it comes to advice, like the tip he received last summer from former Michigan State defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo, who now plays for the San Diego Chargers.
 
 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
 Trevor Anderson and the Michigan State defense have turned up the heat the past two games.


"He told me, 'Defeat the hands, defeat the man,'" Anderson said. "I tried to remember that."

The pointer has helped Anderson and his fellow lineman during their midseason renaissance. The Spartans have recorded 10 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in their previous two games, eclipsing their totals (8 sacks, 17 TFLs) from the previous four contests.

It's hardly a mystery why Michigan State has posted back-to-back wins after starting the season 1-3.

No one will confuse the Spartans' defensive line with the Minnesota Vikings' front, and there's no Williams Wall in East Lansing. Michigan State's four starters average 273.5 pounds; they're not petite, but they're not behemoths either.

Anderson is generously listed at 260 pounds, while fellow end Colin Neely checks in at 248.

"We're not the biggest defensive line," Anderson said, "so we've got to excel at rushing the passer. Being able to stop the run, that's a bonus, and we've been doing a pretty decent job there, but rushing the passer is where we've got to excel. We've got to give our [defensive backs] time to cover."

(Read full post)

Big Ten helmet stickers

October, 3, 2009
10/03/09
10:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


It's time to recognize the best and the brightest from Week 5 in the Big Ten:

Wisconsin RB John Clay -- Stop the running back rotation. Clay proved against Minnesota why he should be Wisconsin's featured back. The sophomore had 32 carries for 184 yards and three touchdowns as Wisconsin overpowered the Gophers to retain Paul Bunyan's Axe.

Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield -- The senior co-captain has played at an All-Big Ten level throughout the season, and he turned in another huge performance against Minnesota. Schofield recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a forced fumble on Gophers quarterback Adam Weber that sealed the Badgers' 31-28 victory.

Penn State's offensive line -- It deserved the blame last week, and it deserves the credit this week. I could give stickers to quarterback Daryll Clark or running backs Stephfon Green and Evan Royster, but the line did the dirty work and Penn State racked up a whopping 338 rushing yards against Illinois. It seems like the new-look line is finally starting to jell.

Northwestern's special-teams units -- I've given this group a lot of heat over the years, but it really stepped up in the win at Purdue. Kicker Stefan Demos went 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, and safeties Brian Peters and David Arnold both forced fumbles on kickoff returns that led to Wildcats points.

Michigan State LBs Eric Gordon and Greg Jones -- The Spartans' front seven shut down the Big Ten's top scoring offense, and Gordon and Jones led the way. They combined for 16 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. Michigan State held Michigan to only 28 rushing yards in its huge home victory.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- It was probably a good thing that neither Kirk Cousins nor Keith Nichol attended Wednesday's spring game draft at the Skandalaris Football Center.

The two Spartans quarterbacks would have felt a bit like Brady Quinn and Aaron Rodgers. They would have been waiting a while.

Michigan State's senior class divided into two teams and made the selections for the Green and White squads. They filled 16 different position groups before coming to the quarterbacks. Even the long snappers were scooped up before Cousins and Nichol.

The Green team finally relented and picked Cousins, the sophomore who backed up Brian Hoyer last season. That meant Nichol went to the White team, which seemed happy to have him.

"It was interesting how the guys who may be the MVP, the quarterbacks, they're some of the last ones picked," said head coach Mark Dantonio, who officiated the draft inside the team meeting room. "It's because everybody feels they're both very, very good players and they both can lead and they both can make plays. That's a positive thing."

This year's draft wasn't nearly as entertaining as its predecessor, in large part because Dantonio was the only coach in the room. Last year, quarterback Brian Hoyer and Pat Narduzzi got into it regarding the drafting of offensive lineman Joel Nitchman.

"We've kept coach Narduzzi out of there this year," Dantonio told the players with a smile.

It was fun to watch the normally all-business Dantonio oversee the proceedings. He split up the entire football staff between the two squads, all the way down to the trainers, operations staff, film coordinators and turf management staff.

Defensive line coach Ted Gill will serve as head coach of the White team, with linebackers coach Mike Tressel as his defensive coordinator and tight ends coach Mark Staten as the offensive coordinator. Offensive line coach Dan Roushar will be the head man for the Green squad, with quarterbacks coach Dave Warner as offensive coordinator and secondary coach Harlon Barnett as the defensive coordinator.

The national runner-up Spartans men's basketball team also will play a key role in the Green-White game. Outgoing seniors Travis Walton and Idong Ibok attended the draft and will serve as two of the honorary captains for the Green team, while the hoops assistant coaches will do the same for the White squad.

Walton, ever the team captain, seemed to be running the Green team's draft, while defensive end Trevor Anderson was the point man for the White squad. Each team received two minutes between selections.

Some highlights:

  • For the second straight year, All-Big Ten linebacker Greg Jones was the first player drafted, going to the Green team, which won a coin flip. Safety Trenton Robinson's stellar spring rubbed off on the White team, which selected Robinson with its first pick.
  • There was a bit of strategy involved, especially since the seniors had been drafted to the two teams by the coaches earlier in the day. Dantonio said Gill chose Anderson with the top pick among seniors.
  • A bit of a surprise as Caulton Ray, not Ashton Leggett or Andre Anderson, was the first running back drafted, by the Green team. The White team then picked Leggett and Anderson went Green.
  • Despite cornerback Jeremy Ware's desire to draft Mark Dell, the White team went with sophomore Keshawn Martin as the first wideout taken. The Green team scooped up Dell, while the White took B.J. Cunningham. Walk-on wideout Milton Colbert was picked before Fred Smith, a heralded 2008 recruit.
  • After the Green team picked Charlie Gantt as the first tight end, the White squad went with Clemson transfer Brian Linthicum instead of Garrett Celek, who played a decent amount last year.
  • The White team has the edge in special teams with starting kicker Brett Swenson and starting punter Aaron Bates.
  • The Green team ended up with most of the first-string offensive line (tackle J'Michael Deane, right guard Jared McGaha, center Joel Nitchman), while the White team will counter with several starters on the D-line (Anderson, defensive tackles Jerel Worthy and Oren Wilson). After the draft, the White squad proposed a trade that would swap Cunningham for Deane, but got shot down. "Alright, we're good to go," Anderson said, before high-fiving his teammates.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Michigan State had the lead at halftime, but the Spartans didn't have the momentum they needed in the Capital One Bowl against No. 15 Georgia.

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 The Georgia defense never allowed Javon Ringer to get on track.

A more talented but seemingly disinterested Georgia team gave No. 18 Michigan State numerous opportunities to take control of the game. The Spartans ran 26 plays in Bulldogs territory in the opening half but produced only six points. That's nowhere near good enough. Michigan State easily could have been ahead by double digits.

The missed opportunities wound up costing the Spartans in a 24-12 loss.

Credit Georgia's much-maligned defense for shutting down Spartans star Javon Ringer (47 yards) and putting quarterback Brian Hoyer under constant duress. The game was won at the line of scrimmage, and Georgia's speed in the defensive front proved to be the difference. Michigan State (9-4) needed a strong performance from its offensive line to spring Ringer, and it didn't get one.

In many ways, the Capital One Bowl mirrored another near miss by a Big Ten team. Like Michigan State, Northwestern dominated the first half against Missouri in the Alamo Bowl but found itself tied at the break because of a few miscues. The Wildcats went on to lose.

Put bluntly, this year's bowl matchups were terrible for the Big Ten, but both Michigan State and Northwestern had opportunities for upsets and neither team could convert.

Credit Michigan State coordinator Pat Narduzzi and a defense that came to play today. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford looked bewildered during the first half, and the Spartans frustrated Bulldogs star Knowshon Moreno.

Georgia Vs. Big Ten in Bowls
BowlOpponentResult
2009 Capital One Michigan St. W, 24-12
2004 Outback Wisconsin W, 24-21
2003 Capital One Purdue W, 34-27
1999 Outback Purdue W, 28-25
1997 Outback Wisconsin W, 33-6
1992 Citrus Ohio St. W, 21-14
1988 Gator Michigan St. W, 34-27
Note: Georgia is 1-2 vs. Big Ten teams in regular-season games.

With a bigger lead entering the third quarter, Michigan State's defense might have continued to surge. But Stafford got things together and made several brilliant throws to rally his team. By the time Michigan State got in the end zone, Georgia's talent-stocked offense was rolling along.

Despite the loss, Michigan State made major strides this season and head coach Mark Dantonio got everything out of his players. The program is on the upswing.

The Spartans must make upgrades throughout their offense -- quarterback, wide receiver, line -- and find a way to replace Ringer's production. They really could have used a game-changer like Devin Thomas today. The defense loses only three starters and should be much stronger in 2009 behind Greg Jones and Trevor Anderson.

The Big Ten falls to 1-4 in bowl games and remains on pace for the worst postseason in its history. Iowa looked dominant and both Michigan State and Northwestern had bright spots in defeat, but the Big Ten desperately needs a BCS win from Penn State or Ohio State.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The final 2008 edition of What to Watch examines the four remaining Big Ten bowl games: Outback, Capital One, Rose and Fiesta. The Big Ten is winless so far in the bowl season and is favored in only one bowl (Iowa, Outback).

Here are some subplots to watch as you watch the games (in order of kickoff time).

1. Iowa running back Shonn Greene -- Big Ten fans should be somewhat familiar with Greene, but most of the country will get its first glimpse of the Hawkeyes' superstar on Thursday against South Carolina. The Doak Walker Award winner has eclipsed 100 rushing yards in all 12 regular-season games but faces a stout South Carolina defense. This likely will be Greene's final collegiate game, so get a good look while you can.

2. The Hawkeyes' back seven vs. Stephen Garcia -- Garcia gets the start at quarterback for South Carolina and hopes to provide some stability under center. The redshirt freshman has six touchdown passes and five interceptions on the season, and he'll need to limit mistakes against an Iowa defense that forces plenty of them. Iowa led the Big Ten with 20 interceptions, with five players collecting multiple picks.

3. Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer -- His last bowl appearance was a disaster, as he committed five turnovers (4 INTs, fumble) in a loss to Boston College. Georgia undoubtedly will load up to stop Javon Ringer and make Hoyer win the game for Michigan State. Though Hoyer's numbers this season won't blow anyone away, he has made clutch throws and found ways to win games. If he can stretch the field with Blair White, rushing lanes should open for Ringer.

4. Michigan State's defensive line vs. Georgia's offensive line -- If the Spartans manage to slow down Georgia, it has to start up front. Michigan State's defensive line has more experience and must find ways to exploit Georgia's front five. Rush end Trevor Anderson finished the year with eight sacks andBrandon Long and Justin Kershaw combined for seven more. If Matthew Stafford has time in the pocket, Michigan State will be in big trouble.

5. Joe Paterno's whereabouts -- It doesn't really matter where Paterno watches the Rose Bowl, but his potential return to the sideline after seven consecutive games in the press box might give Penn State an emotional lift. Paterno admits he sees the field better from up top, but the 82-year-old is itching to get back to where he belongs. His location likely will be a game-time decision, and the officiating crew better be on its toes if JoePa returns to the sideline.

6. Quarterback Daryll Clark and Penn State's offensive strategy -- Clark got his swagger back in the regular-season finale against Michigan State and enters the Rose Bowl stocked with confidence. But he goes up against quite possibly the best defense in recent college history. Though Clark has been smart and efficient all season (four interceptions in 285 pass attempts), Penn State likely needs to challenge USC down the field. A passive approach simply won't work in this game, and play-callers Galen Hall and Jay Paterno need to go right at USC's strength.

7. Penn State's special teams -- These two defenses could easily cancel one another out -- Penn State can play some 'D', too -- and the Rose Bowl might come down to special teams. Penn State senior return man Derrick Williams has been outstanding this season and needs another huge performance against USC. If Williams can give Penn State short fields and Kevin Kelly converts his field goal attempts, the Lions could outlast the Trojans. Punter Jeremy Boone also could play a big role in this one, and Penn State must contain the Johnsons (Ronald and Stafon) on USC's returns.

8. Ohio State's Pryor-Wells backfield combo -- If the Buckeyes' much-maligned offensive line steps up to create rushing lanes and time in the pocket, Terrelle Pryor and Chris "Beanie" Wells should do some damage in the Fiesta Bowl. Pryor has shown beyond-his-years poise this season, but the national spotlight gets brighter for the true freshman quarterback Jan. 5. The game likely will be Wells' last in a Buckeyes' uniform, and he'll want to go out with a huge performance after a season that began with Heisman Trophy hopes.

9. Buckeyes senior stars vs. Colt McCoy -- Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will go down as two of the best ever to play their positions at Ohio State. They don't want to finish their careers with a third consecutive postseason loss, one that would only ramp up criticism of the Ohio State program. Texas quarterback Colt McCoy provides a formidable final challenge, but Ohio State's defense played its best football in the second half of the season. The Buckeyes need their senior stars to make game-changing plays, and Laurinaitis and Jenkins need a win to cement their legacy outside of Columbus and the Big Ten.

10. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel -- He's about as far away from the hot seat as a FBS head coach can get, but Tressel and his program really could use a win in the desert. Ohio State hasn't won a national showcase game outside of the Big Ten since 2006 (Texas), and despite the team's obvious improvement in November, the USC disaster remains the lasting image of the Buckeyes' season. Tressel has drawn criticism for what some feel is a stale offense. If he pulls the right strings with some more creative play calling, Ohio State could pull off the upset.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There are no games on tap for a while, and most of the bowl-bound Big Ten teams are off this week. So news might be a little scarce around here. Or maybe not.

Here are some interesting nuggets from around the Big Ten realm. 

  • Penn State players agree with most of you out and would rather not see a rematch against Oregon State in the Rose Bowl, Bernard Fernandez writes in the Philadelphia Daily News. 
"It still is remotely possible that the dominoes could fall just so and Penn State can make it to the Jan. 8 BCS National Championship Game in Miami. [Joe] Paterno and his players apparently have resigned themselves to the realization that that longshot won't come in, but it would be all right if they are afforded a chance to certify their status as an elite team, and that of the Big Ten as a top-tier conference, against the very best of the Pac-10. And that means USC."
  • There were some anxious moments at times, but Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor blossomed this fall and, barring a major surprise, will be named Big Ten Freshman of the Year tonight, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. 
  • With a dreadful season behind him, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez needs to evaluate his coaches, assess the attrition among players and start the process of turning things around, Michael Rosenberg writes in the Detroit Free Press. Another Wolverines player has left the team, as safety Artis Chambers is gone
  • Mark Dantonio admits Michigan State isn't an elite team yet, but a Jan. 1 bowl win could help the Spartans take the crucial next step, Andrew Mouranie writes in the Lansing State Journal.

    "I'll be damned if we get beat by another 40 points again, I know that," defensive end Trevor Anderson said. "From a player's point of view, we will take about a month off and we'll prepare for whoever we play. We'll watch the film or whatever, get cussed out and go on from there."
  • Some tough criticism for Wisconsin after it barely survived against FCS-member Cal Poly, courtesy of the Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Oates.  
  • Ron Zook insists that Illinois hasn't backslid. The statistics suggest otherwise after a very disappointing season, Stu Durando writes in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll be wrapped up with Michigan-Ohio State for much of Saturday, so I wanted to take a closer look at the Big Ten's biggest matchup, No. 15 Michigan State at No. 8 Penn State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Here are three keys for each team as they pursue a share of the Big Ten title and a potential trip to the Rose Bowl.

THREE KEYS FOR PENN STATE
Stack the box and make Brian Hoyer beat you: Running back Javon Ringer has an insatiable appetite for carries, and Michigan State will feed him the rock until someone decides to stop him. Penn State's defensive front seven has been strong for most of the season, and it wouldn't be surprising to see eight or even nine men in the box Saturday. The Lions will look for big things from linebacker Navorro Bowman. Hoyer has performed well against Penn State, but the Lions need to challenge the Spartans senior quarterback.

Follow the script in the first quarter: Like most teams, Penn State scripts its first 10-12 plays, but the offense has struggled to stay on cue in the first quarter recently. Michigan State hasn't lost a game in which it scores first this season, so it's imperative for Daryll Clark and the Lions to execute well on the first two or three possessions.

Get the ball to Derrick Williams: The how really doesn't matter here. Williams is playing his best football in the final games of his career, and Penn State needs to do whatever possible to get the ball in his hands. Whether it's the Wildcat formation, end-arounds, designed runs or attacking the Michigan State secondary through the passing game, Williams needs to get at least 10 touches.

THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN STATE
Put pressure on Daryll Clark: Penn State's quarterback said this week that his swagger is coming back, but he admits he's had some confidence issues after sustaining a concussion Oct. 25 at Ohio State. If Trevor Anderson and his fellow Spartans defenders register an early sack or two, Clark could get rattled. Both Anderson and fellow end Brandon Long need big games against the Big Ten's best offensive line.

Claim the time-of-possession edge: The Spartans need to keep Penn State's offense off the field, and they've been good at putting together methodical, clock-eating drives behind Ringer. Michigan State ranks fourth in the Big Ten and 31st nationally in average time of posssession (31:17). It's vital to get good yards on first down and avoid obvious passing situations where Penn State's Aaron Maybin can digest Hoyer.

Don't get burned in special teams: In other words, keep Derrick Williams out of the end zone. Michigan State boasts all-conference-caliber specialists in kicker Brett Swenson and punter Aaron Bates, but it ranks 79th nationally in kickoff coverage and 61st in punt coverage. For the Spartans to hang around Saturday, they need to win the field-position battle and prevent any explosion plays from the Lions.

Big Ten: What to watch in Week 3

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
10:37
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A great weekend of Big Ten games is on tap, and not just the big one at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). I expect all of you to gain a few pounds sitting on your couches throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning. Anything less will be unacceptable. I get a rare Friday night at home -- fiancee is happy -- before hitting the road early Saturday to watch Purdue and No. 16 Oregon go at it (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

A quick disclaimer about this post because I've gotten a lot of nasty e-mails. These are the best 10 things to watch on a given Saturday, not the best thing to watch for each team. There often will be two items for a marquee game -- like the one in L.A. -- and multiple teams won't make the rundown, especially those playing weak competition. That's how it works.

Here are 10 things you don't want to miss:

1. Beanie watch ends: Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is listed as doubtful for the matchup against top-ranked USC, but nothing will be settled until kickoff. Coach Jim Tressel doesn't want to risk further injury to Wells in September, but if the Heisman Trophy candidate can contribute, the Buckeyes will use him. If not, get ready for a guy (Dan Herron) nicknamed "Boom." Unfortunately, that's also the sound Rey Maualuga makes when he connects with ball carriers.

2. Pryor restraint: Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will play a role against the Trojans. How significant a role largely depends on Beanie Wells' availability. If the offense stalls like it did last week without Wells, Pryor could get extended time in an effort to throw off the USC defense. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound freshman is a special talent, but can he handle the spotlight of such a marquee game?

3. Badgers hit the road: Wisconsin has survived slow starts against inferior opposition, but it can't afford to drag against Fresno State. Keep your eyes on Badgers quarterback Allan Evridge, who makes his first road start since 2005. Coach Bret Bielema gets two big pieces -- tight end Travis Beckum and linebacker Jonathan Casillas -- back on the field following injuries, but both players could be a bit rusty.

4. 'Hell' with the victors: Michigan players saw Charlie Weis' words around their training room this week. The Wolverines head to South Bend hoping to hand Weis and Notre Dame a third humiliating loss in the last three years. Quarterback Steven Threet gets the start and needs to show greater consistency, but he'll get help from a veteran defensive line that swarmed Jimmy Clausen last year.

5. Track meet at Ross-Ade -- Purdue has marveled at Oregon's team speed all week, and the Boilers have to find a way to keep pace Saturday afternoon. This will be the first of several defining games for Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter, who will set plenty of records but needs signature wins to complete his resume. The Boilermakers' back seven has improved but will play without speedy linebacker Jason Werner. Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson could capitalize.

6. Backer bonanza: NFL scouts will be drooling as arguably the nation's best linebacker tandems take the field at the L.A. Coliseum. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman hope to continue their takeaway trend against Mark Sanchez, while the "scary" Maualuga and Brian Cushing bring the pain to the Buckeyes offense.

7. State pride on the line: This is more than a rivalry game for Iowa. Iowa State provides the first significant test for the Hawkeyes, who have looked dominant against shoddy competition. Sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi has a grasp on the starting job and the support of Iowa fans, but he'll need to continue to make progress against the Cyclones. The home team has won the last four Cy-Hawk trophies, a good sign for Iowa.

8. Rush hour in East Lansing: Michigan State's defensive line has yet to break out, and Saturday would be a fine time to do so. Sun Belt champ Florida Atlantic and standout quarterback Rusty Smith come to town, and the Spartans need to apply pressure to avoid problems. With uncertainty in the secondary, Michigan State needs big things from end Trevor Anderson and tackle Justin Kershaw.

9. Illini D-line under the gun -- Illinois ranks 101st nationally in rush defense (201 ypg), a troubling sign as Louisiana-Lafayette's dynamic quarterback Michael Desormeaux comes to town. Can veterans like Will Davis, Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher and David Lindquist shore up the defensive front? This would be a perfect time as Illinois inches closer to a tough opening stretch in league play.

10. Orange could be feeling blue: What was once a great rivalry could get ugly Saturday at the Carrier Dome as Penn State's high-powered offense faces the worst BCS team in the country. Syracuse should be pumped for the game: coach Greg Robinson desperately needs a positive showing: but Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions should put up some ridiculous numbers in this one.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It was a good day for Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Michigan running back Kevin Grady, both of whom received good news about their future playing days. Ohio State's Beanie Wells missed another day of practice, so his small window of playing Saturday is shrinking fast.

Here's a look around the league:

 
 Icon SMI
 Mark Dantonio and the Spartans have high expectations for the upcoming season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- The best evidence that Michigan State is on the brink of something special this fall might not stem from the games it won last season, but from the ones it lost.

Behind first-year coach Mark Dantonio, the Spartans won seven games and reached a bowl for the first time since 2003. The exciting thing is they could have done so much more.

All six of their losses came by seven points or fewer, including two in overtime. So many near-misses suggests a lack of poise, but Michigan State players and coaches point to another trait, one that has been missing in East Lansing for some time.

"Every game we gave 'em a battle," safety Otis Wiley said. "We're a team of hard workers. We might not have all the stars in the Big Ten, but all the people on the field will play hard."

That hasn't always been true for the Spartans. They've been arguably the biggest tease in college football, a team famous for starting fast and infamous for what happens next.

From 2000-2006, Michigan State went 21-9 in games before Oct. 1 and 17-36 afterward. The on-cue collapses usually started with a heartbreaking loss and then quickly spiraled out of control, casting doubt about Michigan State's leadership and mental toughness. Of those 36 post-Oct. 1 losses, 19 came by 13 points or more.

Last season followed a familiar pattern, as the Spartans started 4-0 before dropping five of their next six games. But they never got blown out. They rallied in the fourth quarter to tie games against Wisconsin, Northwestern and Iowa. They held a 10-point lead against Michigan with 7:40 left.

Their persistence eventually paid off, as Michigan State used a 17-point fourth quarter to beat Purdue on the road. The next week, the Spartans scored two late touchdowns to rally past Penn State and clinch a bowl berth.

"We know, and everybody else knows, that we can play with anybody in our conference," running back Javon Ringer said. "That's the only big difference. None of us are really getting into that whole, 'We could be the surprise team of this year in the Big Ten or the Illinois of [this] year.' Actually, that would be great if we could be like Illinois. Who wouldn't want to go to the Rose Bowl?"

Michigan State is the chic pick to become the Big Ten's surprise team, and its string of close losses last season is a big reason why.

There are other factors, namely an all-senior offensive backfield of Ringer, a second-team All-Big Ten selection, and quarterback Brian Hoyer, who should improve in crunch time. The Spartans' defense has depth up front and in the secondary, and some newcomers, including defensive end Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati, are expected to make an impact.

The forecast looks sunny -- not rosy, yet -- but at Michigan State, everyone is always on the lookout for storm clouds.

"We have to break that curse," Wiley said. "We have to start it now. We're under new leadership, under new coaches. We trust our coaches that they know what it takes."

Dantonio doesn't recoil from talk of Big Ten titles and Rose Bowl appearances, saying it would be a disservice to his team not to discuss those goals. But he also acknowledges the program's history: Michigan State hasn't reached consecutive bowls since 1996-'97 and hasn't produced consecutive winning seasons since 1989-'90.

The opportunity to change the trend is here, and the Spartans must seize it.

"We won seven football games, but could have won nine, 10, whatever it is," Dantonio said. "So again, the difference between winning and losing is like that. If you blink, you may miss it."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Life seemed good for defensive end Trevor Anderson after Cincinnati's spring game in 2007, but things were about to change.

"I was like, 'Man, I did good in the spring game. I killed. Man, I'm about to get ready for a big season,'" said Anderson, who had recorded 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his first two years with the Bearcats. "But God, He has a way of humbling you."

A "personal conversation I had spiritually" told Anderson he needed to leave Cincinnati, which became a difficult process.

New Bearcats coach Brian Kelly initially refused to release Anderson from his scholarship if the defensive end transferred to Michigan State, coached by Kelly's Cincinnati predecessor, Mark Dantonio. Several other possible destinations were approved, including Michigan, but not East Lansing. 

Anderson had to overcome some academic hurdles in transferring his credits from Cincinnati, but he eventually got his wish, to play for Dantonio again and, more importantly, to be closer to his family. After sitting out last season, he returns to the field this fall and is expected to start on a Spartans line looking to replace standout ends Ervin Baldwin and Jonal Saint-Dic.

"Perfect timing," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. 

"He can be looked at and say, 'Hey, here's an example of how to do it,' whether it's this pass rush or this particular stunt," Dantonio said. "That's powerful to have on your football team."  

Anderson was popular Tuesday at Michigan State's media day, as a sizable crowd formed around the man pegged to be the team's most impact addition. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound end seemed anxious to return to the spotlight on Saturdays, especially after a season of watching his new team and hearing about his old team, which went 10-3 and was ranked No. 17 in the final AP Poll. 

"I knew in my heart I did the right thing," Anderson said. "Even when I left and players still Facebooked me or called me, saying, 'Man, if we had you, we're doing good, but we'd be doing [even better],' I told them, 'I wish y'all the best. I wish you win the national championship.' I had no hard feelings toward any of my teammates. I was kind of sour about the way the situation went, but that's the business of college football. Things like that happen and they're going to continue to happen."

Prohibited from playing in games last season, Anderson turned his attention toward reestablishing ties in his hometown of Detroit. Though Spartans defensive line coach Ted Gill said Anderson's dream has always been to play for Michigan State, Anderson remembers wanting to play several times zone away.

He considered UCLA, something that didn't go over well with his mom, Dionne.

"She prayed that I wouldn't get a scholarship more than five hours away," Anderson said. "And where did I end up? Cincinnati. Five hours away." 

When Dantonio left Cincinnati for Michigan State in November 2006, Anderson's mom asked him if he wanted to come home, but at that time he was preparing for the International Bowl and wanted to stay put. Several months later, he changed his mind. 

"I left high school three days after graduation," Anderson said, "so [when I came back] me and my mother reconnected in so many ways. It actually turned out to be a blessing off the field, especially with family. Football's cool, but at the end, your body's going to wear out. I got a lot of close relationships reattached."

Among them were those with Dantonio and assistants like Narduzzi and Gill, who followed the head coach from Cincinnati to Michigan State. 

"He knows us, he knows what's expected within the defense," Gill said. "He knows the breakdowns if he doesn't do certain things and he knows if he does certain things, what it can give us. You're really excited about that."

 
 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 Brian Hoyer returns to lead the Michigan State offense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State media day is under way, so check back for updates later in the morning and this afternoon. For now, here's a look at three major questions facing the Spartans entering what should be a defining 2008 season.

1. Can Brian Hoyer take the next step in his evolution and silence his critics?

Hoyer did a lot of good things last season, but quarterbacks are ultimately judged in the fourth quarter and Michigan State went 2-6 in games decided by seven points or fewer. His play in crunch time will go a long way in determining if the Spartans back up their preseason label as the Big Ten's surprise team. Hoyer can be extremely efficient, as he proved with just seven regular-season interceptions last fall, but the nightmare of his four-interception meltdown in the Champs Sports Bowl lingers with Spartans fans. As a senior, Hoyer should limit his mistakes, and if several capable wide receivers emerge, he'll have a big season.

2. How will Michigan State replace Devin Thomas' playmaking ability?

Thomas' rapid rise as a wide receiver/return man probably can't be duplicated by one player, but the Spartans feel confident in their mostly unproven receiving corps. Both Deon Curry and Mark Dell appeared in all 13 games last season, combining for 44 catches, and redshirt freshman B.J. Cunningham could be the team's top big-play threat. The two Chris Ruckers -- Chris D. and Chris L. -- provide depth and heralded freshman Fred Smith could contribute immediately.

3. Who will anchor the pass rush after the losses of Jonal Saint-Dic and Ervin Baldwin, both of whom ranked among the Big Ten's top seven in sacks?

Expectations are high for end Trevor Anderson, a transfer from Cincinnati and a proven commodity. Anderson recorded 10 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in two seasons playing for Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio at Cincinnati. He might be a bit rusty after a year off but should provide a big boost on the edge. The Spartans also need increased production from seniors Justin Kershaw and Brandon Long, who combined for 3.5 sacks last season.

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