NCF Nation: Xavier Fulton
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to look inside five Big Ten teams.
Penn State -- Despite Navorro Bowman's emergence, there has been some concern about linebacker play this year, and the picture only got cloudier last Saturday. After Michigan's run game started strong, the Nittany Lions called for reinforcements and put freshman Michael Mauti and sophomore Bani Gbadyu in the game. The two young players stepped up, combining for 10 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Both Mauti and Gbadyu could once again see increased playing time in place of Tyrell Sales and possibly Josh Hull against No. 9 Ohio State (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Mauti's speed on the edge should help against Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
Wisconsin -- A week after saying the 2009 season had no impact on his starting quarterback decision, Badgers head coach Bret Bielema certainly appears to be looking toward the future at that position. Junior quarterback Dustin Sherer will make his second consecutive start Saturday against Illinois, and sophomore Scott Tolzien will take more snaps this week in practice with the second-team offense. Fifth-year senior Allan Evridge, who started Wisconsin's first six games, has effectively been moved to third string. Sherer and Tolzien will compete for the starting job next season with Curt Phillips and James Stallons.
Illinois -- Freshman offensive tackle Corey Lewis could see increased playing time against Wisconsin after performing well in his debut against Indiana. Lewis can play either tackle spot and spelled left tackle Xavier Fulton for several series last week. Sophomore Ryan Palmer will remain sidelined for some time with a foot stress fracture, and Lewis likely will be needed against the Badgers. Lewis also can play on the defensive line. "I wanted to get Corey in there," head coach Ron Zook said. "We kind of joked about that when we told him we were going to play him because he's 18 now and old enough. He's excited about it and I noticed a little different intensity out of him."
Purdue -- Head coach Joe Tiller admitted this week that Purdue's offense has become too basic and needs to diversify after four straight losses. In previous years, the Boilermakers entered every game with two "deceptives" in the offensive plan. This season, the outside-the-box, high-risk, high-reward plays have not been included. That will change Saturday against Minnesota (ESPN Classic, noon ET). "From this point forward I want to see, when the game plan is presented later in the week, two deceptives," Tiller said. "Now, I'm not guaranteeing you they're going to get called, but we're going to have 'em as a possibility anyway, which we haven't had." Purdue ranks ninth in the league in scoring offense (22.3 ppg).
Michigan -- Despite a third consecutive loss, the Wolverines might have found their featured running back last Saturday at Penn State. Junior Brandon Minor had 117 rush yards and two touchdowns against the Big Ten's No. 2 rush defense (103.9 ypg). Minor's emergence allows head coach Rich Rodriguez to take pressure off of true freshman Sam McGuffie and, to a lesser extent, true freshman Michael Shaw. McGuffie has carried the load for much of the season but needs more time to grow into a top role. Minor's ability to run inside and grind out yards will benefit Michigan down the stretch. The junior claimed the top spot on this week's depth chart.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It's time to predict the Big Ten all-conference team for 2008. Some of the names you'll recognize. Others might be a little hazy at this point, but not for long.
QB: Curtis Painter, Purdue, Sr., 6-4, 230
RB: Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State, Jr., 6-1, 237
RB: Javon Ringer, Michigan State, Sr., 5-9, 202
WR: Arrelious "Regus" Benn, Illinois, So., 6-2, 214
WR: Brian Robiskie, Ohio State, Sr., 6-3, 199
TE: Travis Beckum, Wisconsin, Sr., 6-4, 236
LT: Alex Boone, Ohio State, Sr., 6-8, 312
LG: Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin, Sr., 6-6, 332
C: A.Q. Shipley, Penn State, Sr., 6-1, 297
RG: Rich Ohrnberger, Penn State, Sr. 6-2, 291
RT: Xavier Fulton, Illinois, Sr., 6-5, 300
DE: Maurice Evans, Penn State, Jr., 6-2, 264
DT: Mitch King, Iowa, Sr., 6-3, 280
DT: Terrance Taylor, Michigan, Sr., 6-0, 319
DE: Greg Middleton, Indiana, Jr., 6-3, 279
LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, Sr., 6-3, 240
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State, So., 6-1, 222
LB: Marcus Freeman, Ohio State, Sr., 6-1, 239
CB: Vontae Davis, Illinois, Jr., 6-0, 204
CB: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State, Sr., 6-1, 201
S: Anthony Scirrotto, Penn State, Sr., 6-0, 192
S: Anderson Russell, Ohio State, Jr. 6-0, 205
PK: Austin Starr, Indiana, Sr., 6-3, 198
P: Jeremy Boone, Penn State, Jr., 5-9, 194
KR: Marcus Thigpen, Indiana, Sr., 5-9, 193
PR: David Gilreath, Wisconsin, So., 5-11, 165
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here are a few items I found while waiting for player interviews to start at Indiana.
- Xavier Fulton turned around his career at Illinois by hopping across the line, Terry Bannon writes.
- Iowa's young linebackers are ready to take on greater roles this fall. The Quad City Times' Eric Page takes a look at Iowa's pivotal position group, the offensive line.
- Cornerback Morgan Trent is no longer the weak link in Michigan's secondary, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News. Rich Rodriguez pulled a fast one on his players, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Michigan State's camp is winding down, and coach Mark Dantonio has Cal in his thoughts, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News. Also, standout linebacker Greg Jones could play either in the middle or outside.
- Minnesota's freshmen wide receivers are generating plenty of buzz, but don't forget about returnees like Ralph Spry and Ben Kuznia, Kent Youngblood writes.
- Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald sounds off about how the spread offense has changed the Big Ten since his playing days in the mid-1990s, Jon Spencer writes.
- Linebacker is only a temporary home for many Ohio State players, and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins might stay on the field in nickel packages, Ken Gordon writes. Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel is quoting Barack Obama, Doug Lesmerises writes. Does that mean Obama will carry Ohio in November?
- If you didn't know already, Penn State's defensive line is stacked. Jerome Hayes looks forward to rejoining the mix after a knee injury, Joe Miegoc writes.
- Purdue running back Jaycen Taylor is trying to stay positive following his season-ending knee injury, Tom Kubat writes.
- With Jonathan Casillas nursing an ankle injury, Wisconsin's Blake Sorensen could play a greater role at multiple linebacker spots this fall, Jeff Potrykus writes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'm off to Rantoul, Ill., to spend the day with the Illinois Fighting Illini, one of two Big Ten teams to hold preseason practice off campus [Northwestern is the other]. I'll catch up with coach Ron Zook, offensive coordinator Mike Locksley and several players, so check back later for your Illini fill.
Onto the links:
- Arrelious Benn can take hits again in practice, and the Illinois star loves it, Bob Asmussen writes in The [Champaign, Ill.] News-Gazette. Benn will be in the backfield more as Illinois tries to replace Rashard Mendenhall. Also, tackle Xavier Fulton returned to practice.
- After taking plenty of hard knocks last season, Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen is ready to counter this fall, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Christensen and the offense impressed in Tuesday's scrimmage.
- Indiana coach Bill Lynch addressed Mitchell Evans' move from quarterback to wide receiver and other topics at media day, Jared Poertner writes in The Hoosier Scoop.
- Nick Sheridan might be inching ahead of Steven Threet in Michigan's quarterback competition, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News. The intensity was noticeable at Wolverines practice Tuesday, and young players like Michael Shaw and Martavious Odoms continue to impress, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. Shaw and fellow running back Sam McGuffie are among the freshmen who will play this fall, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Michigan State standout Greg Jones might not stay at middle linebacker after practicing there this spring. Adam Decker is getting his chance in the middle, the Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode writes in his blog. Spartans freshman wideout Fred Smith came in with all the hype, but classmate Keshawn Martin continues to impress, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press [second note].
- Minnesota brought in a ton of junior-college talent, but don't forget about the Gophers' seniors, who are finally healthy, Marcus Fuller writes in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Knee injuries are dogging the Gophers' offensive linemen, Kent Youngblood writes in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune.
- Northwestern's offensive backfield has seen plenty of production but seeks more wins this fall, Mark Stewart writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Ohio State defensive end Lawrence Wilson caught a bad break in the 2007 opener, but a talk with former Buckeyes punter Tyson Gentry put things in perspective. The Columbus Dispatch's Tim May wonders whether Ohio State would be ranked No. 1 if preseason polls were taken midway through training camp, after teams like Georgia and USC suffered significant injuries. Buckeyes incoming freshman defensive lineman Willie Mobley will miss the season with a shoulder injury that could have lingered from high school, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Fans aren't the only ones anxious to see Penn State's warp-speed redshirt freshman Stephfon Green at running back this fall, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror. Penn State's receiving corps is stacked with seniors, but don't count out redshirt freshman Derek Moye, who is finally healthy, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- Purdue fans are anxious to see Joe Tiller's final season, as season-ticket sales are on pace to increase, Tom Kubat writes in The [Lafayette, Ind.] Journal and Courier.
- Chris Maragos' college journey has taken him from Western Michigan to Wisconsin and from wide receiver to safety. Now he's in the mix as the Badgers' top nickel back, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A torn ACL was the least of Aaron Henry's worries in the last few months, as the Wisconsin cornerback dealt with the loss of three friends, including former Central Florida football player Ereck Plancher, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Two-a-days are in full swing, and I'm beat.
- Illinois defensive end Will Davis shined in Monday night's scrimmage, and tackle Xavier Fulton hurt his leg but should be fine, Bob Asmussen writs in The [Champaign] News-Gazette. The Decatur Herald-Review's Mark Tupper thinks theIllini receiving corps is much more than just Rejus Benn.
- Former quarterback Mitchell Evans practiced at wide receiver during Indiana's practice Monday, and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Dan Rutigliano quit the team, the Bloomington Herald Times' Doug Wilson writes in his blog.
- Some good stories here from former Iowa athletic director Bump Elliott, courtesy of the Des Moines Register.
- Obi Ezeh can help Michigan at linebacker this fall. It's just a matter of which spot he occupies, Chris Burke writes in The Diag. Wolverines running backs Brandon Minor and Carlos Brown are big fans of the new offense, Jim Carty writes in The Ann Arbor News.
- The defense is usually ahead of the offense in preseason practice, but not at Michigan State, where quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Kirk Cousins led the way in a scrimmage win, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal. Freshmen wideouts Keshawn Martin and Fred Smith continue to draw high praise, Shannon Shelton writes in The Detroit Free Press.
- Minnesota defensive back Kyle Theret has heard the criticisms of the Gophers and wants to "shut everyone up" this fall, Kent Youngblood writes in the [Minneapolis] Star Tribune. The Gophers' young receivers might take time to click, but when they do, look out.
- Northwestern's new coordinators are stressing broad concepts in hopes of getting specific results this fall, Skip Myslenski writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Terrelle Pryor's passing has been a pleasant surprise for Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, but the freshman still has a lot to learn, George Thomas writes in the Akron Beacon Journal. Transferring from Ohio State doesn't automatically equal a starting job, as former Buckeyes quarterbacks Antonio Henton and Rob Schoenhoft are finding out, The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises writes in his blog.
- Quarterback Pat Devlin could be the quiet front man Penn State sorely needs, Jeff McLane writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Offensive linemen Stefan Wisniewski is continuing the family tradition at Penn State, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports in the Redshirt Diaries blog.
- Purdue's Brandon King is moving back to cornerback from safety, Tom Kubat writes in The [Lafayette, Ind.] Journal and Courier.
- Wisconsin's Peter Konz is on the move to offensive line, while third-string running back John Clay sat out Monday's practice with a sprained ankle, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.The Badgers are getting used to bowl games in central Florida, and they wouldn't mind a more choice destination like Pasadena, Dave Curtis writes in The Sporting News.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The e-mails are flowing in, and it's obvious that Big Ten fans are geared up for the 2008 season.
Let's see what's on your mind:
Shadd, from Toledo, Ohio, writes: Adam, Do you see Ohio State using Terrelle Pryor in a "read option" type of offense when he comes into the game, or do you see the OSU coaches having him execute the same dropback style gameplan that Boeckman plays? Seems like Jim Bollman can be thick headed sometimes when it comes to play packages with different personnel.
Adam Rittenberg: Pryor's skills definitely translate for a read option system, much like the one Illinois uses at times with Juice Williams. It's the reason Michigan wanted Pryor so badly for its new offense. Though he will be used in those situations, I think Ohio State also will have Pryor operate in a more traditional system as he progresses. The first two games, Youngstown State and Ohio, provide excellent opportunities for Pryor to get playing time and run the team's standard offense. If he shows he can pass effectively against college defenses, the Buckeyes should gradually increase his workload. His transition as a runner and a playmaker will be easier than as a drop-back passer, but he's got to learn sometime.
Andrew from Pittsburgh writes: First off, the 2005 field goal kicking meltdown occurred at MSU, not at Michigan. I was at that game, and at the Ohio State game a week later, and I can personally say that the OSU match-up was infinitely more heartbreaking. However, those two losses pale in comparison to the agony of Notre Dame, 2006. I vaguely remember the feeling of happiness while building a lead, but otherwise the entire evening is nothing but a cold, dark, and lonely sinkhole of a memory that haunts me to this day.
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks to Andrew and several other e-mailers for pointing out that the 2005 Michigan-Michigan State game did take place in East Lansing, not Ann Arbor. Like Minnesota, Michigan State has had too many traumatic losses in recent years. I covered the Notre Dame game in 2006, and it was a total collapse for the Spartans. The game began under clear skies, but the rain came at halftime and gradually increased. Michigan State led 37-21 with 10 minutes to play, but then went ultra-conservative on offense down the stretch as Notre Dame rallied. Drew Stanton didn't throw a pass in the fourth quarter until three minutes remained, and ND cornerback Terrail Lambert intercepted it and scored the game-winning touchdown. The loss spelled the end for coach John L. Smith and sparked one of the greatest radio rants I've ever heard.
David from Champaign, Ill., writes: Do you believe the matchup this year between Illinois-Indiana at 8pm in Champaign will be one of the more exciting games in the Big ten this year? Everyone around here is really looking forward to it! Also, what are your thoughts on Greg Middleton and rising star LB Matt Mayberry? How can we slow down the two quick defenders this year?
Adam Rittenberg: David, as an Illinois fan, you might want to be a little more concerned about Missouri, Wisconsin, Penn State and Ohio State than the Hoosiers, but that game will definitely be worth watching. I've gotten several e-mails about Mayberry, a junior middle linebacker who made 42 tackles as a reserve last season. It seems like hopes are very high for him to solidify Indiana's defensive midsection. Middleton is a beast, but Xavier Fulton can hold his own at left tackle. Should be a great matchup. I'm also interested to see two of the league's most versatile quarterbacks, Juice Williams and Kellen Lewis.
Stan in Grand Haven, Mich., writes: OK, I'm a UM fan so I hope you won't write this off before reading it. WR/TE rankings: did you forget about Carson Butler? Injury and his attitude lessened his p.t. a bit last year, but the dude is one of the best in the conference at his position. Also, why factor in the QB when ranking the unit? That makes no sense--it's like discounting a RB because his line isn't that good. Think Barry Sanders. Finally, all you have to ask yourself when ranking units is which one you'd trade for the other. I guarantee if you were Michigan's coach and you traded your receiving unit for that at Northwestern, you'd be fired instantaneously. 'Nuff said.
Adam Rittenberg: Stan, I'll never write you off, but I've got a hard time bumping up the Wolverines because of Carson Butler. He had a nice grab in the Capital One Bowl, but 39 catches in two years? Even with the off-field stuff and the injury, I need to see more from him. These preseason rankings are largely based on what these players have showed in the past, and besides Greg Mathews and Butler, Michigan hasn't shown much. It doesn't mean with additions like Darryl Stonum, Michigan won't have one of the league's top receiving corps in November. But judging the Wolverines against experienced groups, including Northwestern's, it's hard to put them higher right now. Rich Rodriguez shouldn't want to trade any of his players, but I'm sure he'd love more experience at that position.
Brian from New York, N.Y., writes:I'd like to comment on Penn State's returning DL if I may as I truly believe this could prove to be the best Penn State Defensive Line any of us have ever seen. Of course, every CFB fan knows who Maurice Evans is due to the terrific job he did in earning All-Conference honors last year as a true sophomore. But are outsiders aware of the fact PSU actually returns 52 starts from last year across the line? This represents every player from a unit that finished 2nd in the nation in sacks (46) and 7th in rush D, so we're talking about much more than just Mo Evans here. Opposite Evans at DE is Josh Gaines who started all 13 games and racked up 5 sacks while splitting time with situational pass rusher redshirt freshman Aaron Maybin who had 4 1/2 sacks of his own. And the depth inside - fuggadaboutit! Larry Johnson basically has five proven starter quality DTs in his arsenal including: Jared Odrick, Ollie Ogbu, Abe Koroma, BIG Phil Taylor and Chris Baker. The thing to remember with this group is four of the five were merely 2nd year players last fall meaning, redshirt freshmen or true sophomores. Have I mentioned freshmen Devon Still and Chimaeze Okoli yet? Let's just say the word this spring is both freshmen are "impressive". Anyways, just want to mention PSU's returning DL before you and others "lock" Wisconsin or somebody else into the #2 conference finish spot behind OSU in the Big Ten this preseason because last year's youngsters in the Blue and White are certain to be even better in '08.
Adam Rittenberg: Brian, that's a quality breakdown of Penn State's defensive line. The Nittany Lions have the league's best defensive front in my view, just ahead of both Ohio State and Illinois. There's experience and talent throughout the line, and the front four will help Penn State survive the loss of linebacker Sean Lee. I ranked Wisconsin at No. 2, but the Badgers are by no means a lock, particularly with all the injuries they had in spring ball. Penn State could jump into that spot, but a reliable quarterback must be identified in preseason camp.
Steve from Anchorage, Alaska, writes: I think Steve Breaston should have been a special teams addition to the All-Lloyd list in the Free Press. When he was healthy, Breaston was a threat every time he touched the ball. That sick return against Illinois where he watched it bounce toward the sideline, grabbed it just before going out, then made 10 guys miss back and froth acros
s the field before scoring stands out.
Adam Rittenberg: Steve, glad to hear Big Ten football is alive and well in Alaska. Breaston would have been a solid addition to the All-Lloyd team. He was the league's most feared return man for several seasons. After seeing your note, I checked out Breaston's highlights on YouTube this afternoon. The Illinois return is third on the rundown. What a play. By the way, any highlight clip with Kool Moe Dee rapping in the background will find its way to this blog.