Michigan Wolverines: Derrick Green

Spring game recap: Michigan

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
10:15
AM ET
Spring (practice) has officially sprung for Michigan, which became the first Big Ten team to hold its spring game on Saturday at the Big House.

An estimated crowd of 15,000 took in the festivities, which included a non-scoring scrimmage. You can find coverage of the game here, here and here. And here's a brief recap:

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Devin Gardner threw two interceptions and completed just two passes in the Wolverines' spring game.
Star of the game: Cornerback Jourdan Lewis had two interceptions on the day, though he was also whistled for two pass interference penalties.

How it went down: It was just a spring game, and as most teams are wont to do, the Wolverines kept things very vanilla for their first public practice session of the year.

Still, fans had hoped to see some inklings of progress, especially from the new offense led by coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who was hired away from Alabama in the winter. Players had talked about making more big plays in practice in Nussmeier's scheme.

There wasn't much evidence of that on Saturday. On the very first snap of the scrimmage, Devin Gardner was intercepted by Lewis in his own territory. Gardner -- still not 100 percent on his healing foot -- would finish just 2-for-10 for 53 yards, though he's in no danger of losing the job. Backup Shane Morris went 5-for-11 for 73 yards, and his final throw was also picked off by Lewis, who started at corner and made a nice impression in that competition. (He'll need to keep doing that this summer, since Jabrill Peppers is on the way).

"I definitely think we're going to be tighter on offenses this year," Lewis said afterward. "We are playing more man-to-man and we'll be closer to those guys to break it up or intercept it."

The one big play was a 44-yard strike from Gardner to Freddy Canteen, the early enrollee who has been the talk of the spring in Ann Arbor. He looks like the real deal and will likely earn a starting job at receiver.

The running game produced mixed results. De'Veon Smith got the most reps with the first unit, running nine times for 21 yards. Derrick Green added 16 yards on six carries, while Justice Hayes had six attempts for 33 yards. The offensive line, which included early enrollee Mason Cole as the first-team left tackle, struggled to open up holes and get a push up front. The defense registered five sacks, including one each from defensive linemen Frank Clark, Brennen Beyer and Willie Henry.

"Inconsistent" is how coach Brady Hoke described the offensive performance.

"I think there were a couple good runs in there that they did a pretty good job with," he said. "We needed to be a little more consistent in the protection game. Through the course of the 15 practices, I think there has been some real improvements made."

Hoke has maintained all along that a team depending on many freshmen and sophomores will need some time to come together. On Saturday, they showed that in several key areas.

"There's no question," Hoke said, "we need a lot of improvement."
The first Big Ten spring game of 2014 arrives on Saturday at the Big House. Here's a quick preview of what to expect from Michigan's spring fling.

When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

Where: Michigan Stadium, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Admission: Free, though fans are encouraged to make donations to Mott Children's Hospital. Michigan Stadium gates open at 11 a.m., with an alumni flag football game scheduled to begin at noon. The men's lacrosse team will play Fairfield at 5 p.m.

TV: Big Ten Network (live)

Weather forecast: Partly sunny, with a high near 47. Winds 13 to 17 mph, with gusts as high as 28 mph.

What to watch for: Coach Brady Hoke said the Wolverines will hold about a 45- to 50-minute scrimmage after "a lot of individual grind work." Hoke said his team, which has only 12 seniors, still needs to work on its fundamentals in its 15th and final practice.

One position full of youth that will have a lot of eyeballs on it Saturday is the offensive line. It's a group full of freshmen and sophomores, but Hoke said he has seen improvement there. An encouraging performance by that unit in the spring game, even with as little as that means, could scale back some of the intense scrutiny and criticism.

Receiver is another spot with a lot of new faces, as Devin Funchess is the only proven returning player. True freshman Freddy Canteen has turned a lot of heads this spring in the slot, and fans will get their first look at him in a Michigan uniform. Fans will be curious to see the offense in general under new coordinator Doug Nussmeier. Hoke said about 80 to 85 percent of Nussmeier's offense has been installed this spring, and he said there were a lot of explosive plays in last weekend's scrimmage. The offense should include much more north-south running, and a slimmed-down Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith should lead the way.

On defense, the public gets its first view of the new linebacker arrangement, with Jake Ryan moving into the middle and James Ross III at the strongside spot. Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison has talked about a more aggressive approach that will feature more blitzing, but don't expect to see much more than the usual vanilla spring schemes.

Devin Gardner seems to have answered any questions about whether he'd retain the starting quarterback job by going through the spring on a foot that isn't 100 percent healed from the Ohio State game. Shane Morris and Wilton Speight should get plenty of reps on Saturday as well.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 28, 2014
Mar 28
4:30
PM ET
Happy hoopin' (and spring footballin').

Twitter!

Inbox!

Marty from Orland Park, Ill., writes: My question is regarding the news that Northwestern players won their petition to unionize. I have read that this ruling would only have an impact on private colleges and universities if it is upheld. Does it also only relate to football players and not any other sport? Also, does it only apply to scholarship athletes, not walk-on athletes?

Adam Rittenberg: Marty, the specific ruling impacts only Northwestern players but could be used for groups from other private institutions. It applies only to Northwestern scholarship football players, as NLRB regional office director Peter Sung Ohr ruled that walk-ons constitute a separate category and wouldn't be part of a union. But if other Northwestern scholarship athletes sought to unionize, they could use this case in their favor.


M.A. Reed from Hamilton, Ohio, writes: Really? Miller and one returning starter ranked No. 3, behind a O-line that graduated---everyone? The Ohio"'lean" is more than obvious, but this is ridiculous. Michigan seven? With 9 starters back who are NOT 18 anymore. I could ID several other points, but it should be obvious. Still not buying in? Really?

Adam Rittenberg: Why should I buy in, M.A.? What has Michigan shown to make me believe it will have a top offense? It could happen. I like Devin Gardner more than most, Derrick Green is in his second year, and the offensive line should -- should, not will -- be improved. But Ohio State is simply a safer bet right now, even with a new-look offensive line. Urban Meyer is one of the best offensive coaches in the country and it's hard not to give Ohio State's staff an edge, especially with Ed Warinner coaching the line. Braxton Miller is a proven playmaker. Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman provide some threats in the passing game. Michigan has big question marks at receiver aside from Devin Funchess. We see units improve all the time, and Michigan could make big strides this fall. But on paper, Ohio State is better.


Kenny from Cincy writes: Adam, I have been sensing good vibes out of Penn State with James Franklin and a weak schedule next year. It's nice to see it turning around, but can we be real about it? They aren't going to beat Michigan State and had a 60-spot put on that "tough" defense last year by the Buckeyes. They are also going to inevitably lose a game they shouldn't have, as they have done the past several years, and we are looking at a middle-of-the-pack, three- or four-loss season. And that's best-case scenario. Lots of false hope and unrealistic expectations. Rinse and repeat for next season. Am I wrong?

Adam Rittenberg: Kenny, I wouldn't write off the 2014 season before it starts, even though Penn State faces some obstacles. If the Lions can keep their starting 22 relatively healthy, they'll have a chance to do some damage. But it's important to be realistic about all the changes that the players have gone through, as well as the depth challenges that remain in key spots such as the offensive line. Penn State will be an underdog in several games, but it gets both MSU and OSU at home. You can do a lot with a good quarterback and a good coaching staff, and Penn State appears to have both.


Mike from Lincoln, Neb., writes: I have a question regarding two recent events in the B1G that tie together. Do you think the Illinois State Legislature foresaw the ruling in the Northwestern case and are trying to make a case to replace Northwestern? I remember reading that the former Northwestern president saying they might have to drop football if the players won the case. Could this be the way for the Illinois State legislature to replace the B1G's closest Chicago team with someone like Northern Illinois?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, while I can see why you would make that connection, that's not the intent. The two state senators want to upgrade another state school to provide a second landing spot for strong Illinois high school students who don't get into the University of Illinois. They want a model like Michigan, Indiana and Iowa, which have two options with strong academics and big-time sports. What the senators and many others don't fully grasp is how difficult it would be to place another team in the Big Ten. The league has to want to expand, and most of its presidents and chancellors would have to approve a school like Northern Illinois. It's highly unlikely. Northwestern is a founding member of the league, and I don't anticipate the school's Big Ten status changing.


Bob from Houston writes: While I suspect my Boilermakers will struggle mightily again this year, I have to ask if you see a difference in player/team attitude and mental toughness this spring as opposed to last year.

Adam Rittenberg: I definitely do, Bob. Purdue had to start from scratch last season and spent so much time on simple things, such as how to line up. The teaching process, which I wrote about earlier today, is much more evolved and interactive this spring. There has been improvement in areas such as the offensive line, and more leaders are emerging. Will it translate to a winning season? The nonleague schedule is much easier, but the West Division looks solid and Purdue has crossovers against Michigan State (home) and Indiana (road). But progress is being made in West Lafayette.



SJL from State of Rutgers writes: You are right in labeling Tyler Kroft a "solid option at tight end". I expect big things from him this year. However, in your "Triple Threat Combinations" post you list Nova-James-Kroft as Rutgers' triple threat combination. I'm surprised you overlooked Leonte Carroo. I have to assume the only reason he isn't listed is the uncertainty at quarterback. I guess he won't be much of a threat if the QB play is as poor as it was last year.

Adam Rittenberg: Glad you brought up Carroo, who I could have and probably should have included on the list. If he stays healthy, he'll do some damage for Rutgers this fall. He averaged 17.1 yards per catch and had more than twice as many touchdown catches (nine) as any other Scarlet Knight. I'm interested to see how new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen uses Carroo this fall.
The best offenses can threaten defenses at the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions. Brian Bennett on Tuesday examined the triple-threat combinations from the Big Ten's new West Division.

Now let's turn our attention to the East Division and rank the triple-threat combinations. The division is strong at quarterback but lacking elite wide receivers.

1. Indiana

QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Tevin Coleman, WR Shane Wynn

The Hoosiers featured the league's No. 2 offense in 2013 and top this list even though top receiver Cody Latimer bolted for the NFL draft. They have two options at quarterback, but Sudfeld, who had nearly 1,400 more passing yards than teammate Tre Roberson, gets the nod here. Coleman brings explosiveness to the backfield after rushing for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns in only nine games. Wynn finished near the top of the league in receiving touchdowns (11) and had 46 receptions for 633 yards.

2. Ohio State

QB Braxton Miller, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Devin Smith

You would think a team with the back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year at quarterback would be rated higher, but the Buckeyes lose a huge piece at running back in Carlos Hyde, as well as top receiver Corey Brown. Elliott, who had 262 rushing yards last season, is competing for the starting position this spring. Smith has been Miller's big-play target throughout his career and had eight touchdown catches and averaged 15 yards per reception last fall. Tight end Jeff Heuerman provides another weapon in the pass game.

3. Michigan State

QB Connor Cook, RB Jeremy Langford, WR Tony Lippett

The skinny: A year ago, Michigan State's offense looked like a mess. Cook began the season as the backup but emerged to lead the Spartans to nine Big Ten wins, all by double digits, and a Rose Bowl championship. Langford answered Michigan State's running back questions with 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. There's no true No. 1 receiver on the roster, and while Macgarrett Kings (513 receiving yards in 2013) could claim the role, Lippett gets the nod after leading the team in receptions (44) and finishing second in receiving yards (613) last year.
4. Penn State

QB Christian Hackenberg, RB Zach Zwinak, TE Jesse James

The Lions have the Big Ten's top pocket passer in Hackenberg, the league's freshman of the year in 2013. But Hackenberg loses his favorite target in Allen Robinson, and wide receiver is a major question entering the fall. The tight end position looks much stronger with James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman. Penn State also has options at running back, but Zwinak has led the team in rushing in each of the past two years, finishing with 989 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall.

5. Maryland

QB C.J. Brown, RB Brandon Ross, WR Stefon Diggs

Don't be surprised if Maryland finishes higher on the postseason triple-threats list as long as their top players stay healthy, which is hardly a guarantee after the past two seasons. Brown is a veteran dual-threat player who had 2,242 passing yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Ross leads a potentially deep group of running backs after leading the team with 776 rushing yards. Although Levern Jacobs led Maryland in receiving last year and returns, Diggs is the team's top threat after averaging 17.3 yards per catch before a season-ending injury in October.

6. Michigan

QB Devin Gardner, RB Derrick Green, TE/WR Devin Funchess

Gardner is capable of putting up some big numbers, as he showed last year, but he loses top target Jeremy Gallon. The run game is a major question mark for new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, although hopes are high for Green, a heralded recruit who had 270 rushing yards as a freshman. At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Funchess is a tight end who plays like a wide receiver. He finished second on the team in receptions (49), receiving yards (748) and touchdowns (6).

7. Rutgers

QB Gary Nova, RB Paul James, TE Tyler Kroft

New coordinator Ralph Friedgen tries to spark an offense that finished 77th nationally in scoring and 95th in yards last season. Nova is competing this spring to retain the starting job, which he has held since the middle of the 2011 season. James averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season and can be very effective when healthy. Rutgers is scrambling at bit at the wide receiver position but returns a solid option at tight end in Kroft, who led the team in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last fall.

There’s quite a bit we’ve already learned about Michigan through this 2014 spring season, and the April 5 scrimmage will reveal even more. However, this spring really only matters because it’s a launching point for what happens next season, and it’s important to keep that in mind with everything that’s talked about this spring. So, to look forward to the fall, here are five predictions for Michigan football in 2014.

No. 1: Michigan will win handily at Notre Dame.

[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsMichigan quarterback Devin Gardner should find some areas to attack in his last shot at Notre Dame.
Why: It will be Sept. 6, just the second week of the season, but Michigan will be looking to make a statement … and where better than in the final scheduled matchup between these old rivals? A victory over Appalachian State in the opener would ease the minds of many Michigan fans, but a solid and convincing win in South Bend, Ind., is what the Wolverines will need early in the season to help people start getting over the disappointments of 2013.

That kind of emotion would be huge for a team that will have a lot of veterans (who have experienced a lot of ups and downs) in 2014. Quarterback Devin Gardner will be leading the way and, as he showed last season, you can expect him to put up a good performance in a rivalry game. For the most part, with the exception of the Michigan State game in 2013, he has exceeded expectations in rivalry games.

Stats to know: This could be all about the matchups. This early in the season, the offenses should be further along than the defenses, and when you look at the areas in which Michigan is replacing players and the areas in which Notre Dame is replacing players, that’s a very good thing for the Wolverines.

To start, Notre Dame's weaknesses are aligned pretty closely with Michigan’s strengths. The Fighting Irish are thin on the defensive line and at linebacker. With the Wolverines returning running backs Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith, the young duo should be able to find holes in a struggling Notre Dame defense and Gardner, who passed for 294 yards and rushed for 82 yards in 2013, can be expected to be even better prepared for the matchup this season. And considering he won’t be running at Stephon Tuitt, this could be a 100-yard rushing game for Gardner.

The Fighting Irish allowed 168 rushing yards per game and 4.2 yards per rush last season. Between Green, Smith and Gardner returning and the Fighting Irish losing talent on the first two levels of their defense, Michigan should be able to account for more than 200 rushing yards and at least 4.5 yards per rush.

Another weakness in Notre Dame -- and it’s a weakness in experience, not talent -- is at wide receiver. The Michigan secondary certainly isn’t a brick wall of any sorts, but against young talent early in the season, the scale will tip toward a Blake Countess-led secondary.

Then, looking at the Fighting Irish’s strengths, they also happen to line up well with Michigan strengths. Notre Dame should be good at quarterback with Everett Golson, and look for sophomore running backs Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant to break out, but unlike Michigan’s young running backs and talented quarterback, Notre Dame’s group will have to run against one of the stoutest linebacker groups in the conference, as well as Frank Clark on the defensive line.

The Wolverines allowed 140.2 rushing yards per game as well as 3.8 yards per rush, but with much of the front seven returning and the shift in defensive coaching, those numbers are expected to improve.

One place to watch will be the secondary, where Notre Dame returns talent. Michigan lost its top receiver in Jeremy Gallon, and though Devin Funchess should be able to create some mismatches against Irish linebackers or smaller defensive backs, he won’t be able to do it alone. However, if Smith, Gardner and Green can open up the passing lanes by stuffing the ball down Notre Dame’s throat, some good things could happen and Notre Dame secondary’s advantage might not be quite as obvious.

Other fall predictions:
There’s quite a bit we’ve already learned about Michigan through this 2014 spring season and the scrimmage will reveal even more. However, this spring really only matters because it’s a launching point for what happens next season.. So, to look forward to next fall, here are five predictions for Michigan football in 2014.

No. 4: Derrick Green and De’Veon Smith will account for at least 150 yards in eight games in 2014.

Why: Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier believes in a running back by committee game plan, which was a huge change from the featured back days of Al Borges.

Nussmeier said that he likes to spread the carries around so that it’s not just one guy taking the pounding on every down, which means he intends for his running backs to run. That wasn’t always the case last season. Likely, the two backs carrying the most load will be Green and Smith.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhDerrick Green is expected to share the rushing load with De'Veon Smith this season.
Both showed promise last season and with another year under their belts of training and conditioning, they should be able to come into the fall more prepared for the daily grind. Green had 83 carries for 270 yards (3.3 yards) while Smith had 26 carries for 117 yards (4.5 yards).

What’s impressive about those numbers is how little negative yardage the two had as freshmen. Green accounted for a loss of 20 yards, which means he accounted for one loss of a yard for every 13.5 yards he gained. Smith accounted for a loss of 2 yards, which means he accounted for a loss for every 58.5 yards gained. Fitzgerald Toussaint, the Wolverines’ featured back last season, accounted for a loss of 78 yards while gaining just 648 yards meaning he accounted for one yard of loss for every 8.3 yards he gained.

Toussaint carried the ball so much more frequently than either Green or Smith. But it does show that when given the opportunity, both Green and Smith were more productive -- in limited action -- than Toussaint.

But, like last season, that won’t matter quite as much as the offensive line. If 2013 taught Michigan fans anything it was that a subpar O-line can railroad a team that has weapons. The Wolverines had two great tackles, but the interior of the line was in constant state of change and because of that the offensive didn’t really get going until November.

Because of injuries, there’s a decent chance the Wolverines won’t actually be able to put their best five offensive linemen on the field together until fall camp. But even if they manage to do that, they’ll be ahead of where they were last year. If and when the O-line pulls it together, Green and Smith can get to work.

Stats to know: Looking at how many rushing yards opponents allowed is a good gauge, but it’s all on a sliding scale. If a team allowed 250 passing yards a game then teams might not have rushed against them as much because there was little reason. However, a team might’ve been stout in the secondary and porous on the defensive line.

So with that in mind, here are the rushing yards per game as well as the yards per rush (which give a better idea of exactly how well teams defended the run). But again, since opponents differ, Miami (Ohio) giving up 5.1 yards per rush last year -- mostly to MAC teams -- is quite different that Indiana giving up 5.4 yards per rush mostly in the Big Ten.

  • Appalachian State: 220 rushing yards per game | 4.9 yards per rush
  • Notre Dame: 168 rushing yards per game | 4.2 yards per rush
  • Miami (Ohio): 223 rushing yards per game | 5.1 yards per rush
  • Utah: 130 rushing yards per game | 3.5 yards per rush
  • Minnesota: 158 rushing yards per game | 4.5 yards per rush
  • Rutgers: 101 rushing yards per game | 3.1 yards per rush
  • Penn State: 144 rushing yards per game | 3.9 yards per rush
  • Michigan State: 86 rushing yards per game | 2.8 yards per rush
  • Indiana: 238 rushing yards per game | 5.4 yards per rush
  • Northwestern: 167 rushing yards per game | 4.2 yards per rush
  • Maryland: 149 rushing yards per game | 3.7 yards per rush
  • Ohio State: 109 rushing yards per game | 3.3 yards per rush
Just by looking at those numbers, it’s pretty obvious that Smith and Green will have a harder time against Utah, Michigan State and Ohio State. There’s a greater chance that the duo won’t hit 150 in those games and since they are young, it’s likely that there’ll be another game where they miss that mark as well .

Another important number to consider when looking at rushing stats is how many times defenses held offenses to no gain or negative rushes. Again, no surprise here that Michigan State leads the Wolverines’ 2014 opponents in that category.

In 2013, the Spartans stopped opposing offenses at the line of scrimmage, or behind it, 131 times. What some people might find surprising is that Maryland did the same. The Terrapin defense accounted for 131 stops like that. Teams like Indiana (101), Northwestern (106) and Notre Dame (107) weren’t as strong in that category.

By looking at yards per rush as well as how often defenses stopped offenses at the line of scrimmage, there’s a pretty good indicator of the games when Smith and Green could go off for major yardage -- Indiana, Miami (Ohio), Northwestern.

The countdown:
Derrick Green's quest to do bigger things on the field for Michigan required the running back to get smaller away from the gridiron.

Even during spring break.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMichigan tailback Derrick Green says he has "a lot more energy and stamina" after trimming down.
Green showed up for spring football in late February at 227 pounds, a vast improvement from his check-in weight at 2013 preseason camp -- approximately 240 pounds -- but still heavier than he wanted to be. Michigan went through two limited-contact practices before players embarked on spring break the first week of March.

College students do a lot of things on spring break. Losing weight, at least voluntarily, isn't one of them. But Green went home to Virginia and shed seven pounds before returning to Michigan for practice this week.

"I have a personal trainer at home, so I was working out twice a day," Green told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "Obviously [I was] on a strict diet and watching what I ate. I feel great at this weight, better than I ever felt before."

It's a good sign for Green, who headlined Michigan's decorated 2013 recruiting class but never fully got on track last season. He showed up significantly overweight and then suffered an ankle injury in camp that slowed his development. Green, who ranked as the nation's No. 5 running back in the 2013 class, recorded 270 yards and two touchdowns on 83 carries for the Wolverines.

Michigan's run game fell well short of expectations, finishing 102nd nationally (125.7 ypg). The Wolverines averaged less than 100 rush yards in Big Ten games (only Purdue produced less).

Green had some moments later in the season, including a 79-yard performance in an overtime win at Northwestern, and made his first start in The Game, rushing for 47 yards on 12 carries. But his impact was marginal.

"It was an OK season," Green said. "I could have done a lot better."

Michigan hired offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to, among other things, shape up a rushing attack that hasn't consistently met coach Brady Hoke's vision. Hoke wants Michigan to overpower teams between the tackles, like it used to, but the Wolverines' rushing production has dropped in each of the past two seasons.

This spring, Green and the other backs are learning Nussmeier's system, which thus far has them focusing less on carrying the ball.

"With this offense, it's real fundamental with the pass protection," Green said. "Last year, it wasn't as strict. They're trying to have pass protection first and run the ball second."

It makes sense after Michigan allowed 36 sacks in 13 games, tying for 105th nationally. The Wolverines recorded the worst net rush total in team history (minus-48) in a loss at Michigan State, and the following week at minus-21 against Nebraska. The offensive line received most of the blame, but the coaches are demanding more from the running backs to keep Devin Gardner, Shane Morris and the other quarterbacks upright this fall.

Green also noted that Nussmeier wants a "1-2 punch" at running back, a departure from his predecessor, Al Borges, who preferred one featured back. After Michigan's poor showing in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl against Kansas State, Green said that he and fellow back De'Veon Smith would return this year and "get it done."

Before the spring, Hoke called Smith and Green, who had 26 carries last season, "two guys we're excited about." Although several other backs are competing, the two sophomores with similar builds and running styles could have the inside track to top the depth chart this fall.

"On and off the field, we're brothers," Green said.

Green might be a leaner runner these days, but his objective hasn't changed. He still wants to be the guy who bulldozed his way to 41 touchdowns during his final two high school seasons.

"The power ain't going nowhere," he said with a laugh. "I definitely have a lot more energy and stamina. Faster, stronger, more explosive, I just feel great."
After four weeks of scouring the nation -- and, in Brian's case, the world -- for top games, our ultimate Big Ten road trip has reached the start of league play, at least for most teams. We'll likely be spending more time in our cars the next few months, but we don't mind.

For those just joining in, we're each selecting one Big Ten game to attend each week during the 2014 season. We aren't tied down by a travel budget or nagging editors. If we want to attend a game -- depending on matchup, location, culinary offerings or any other factors -- we can go.

Here are the Week 5 offerings around the league, as all 14 teams are in action:

Sept. 27

Maryland at Indiana
Minnesota at Michigan
Wyoming at Michigan State
Cincinnati at Ohio State
Northwestern at Penn State
Tulane at Rutgers
Illinois at Nebraska
Iowa at Purdue
South Florida at Wisconsin

Adam Rittenberg's pick: Minnesota at Michigan

For a week where every team is in action, Week 5 is a bit underwhelming. Of the five league games, I'm choosing between Minnesota-Michigan and Northwestern-Penn State, but the Jug game gets my vote. Sure, this series hasn't been very competitive, as Michigan has won six straight against Minnesota and 22 of the past 23 meetings. Michigan has been particularly dominant at the Big House. After Minnesota pulled off an upset in 2005, Michigan has claimed the past three meetings in Ann Arbor by a combined score of 134-23.

So why head to Michigan? Minnesota is an improving program under Jerry Kill that made significant strides after last season's loss at Michigan, winning four of its final six league contests. The next step for the Gophers is to perform better in rivalry games like this one. I'm interested to see if Mitch Leidner is a different quarterback, if he's getting more help from his receivers and if incoming freshman Jeff Jones is contributing at running back alongside David Cobb. Speaking of young running backs, will this be a breakout year for Michigan's Derrick Green? The sophomore will need help from a besieged offensive line that must develop during the spring and summer.

Both defenses are going through a bit of a makeover. Michigan has much of the same personnel but shuffled its linebacker responsibilities, as senior Jake Ryan moves to the middle. Minnesota has been a very solid defense under Tracy Claeys but must replace its biggest piece up front (Ra'Shede Hageman) and in the secondary (Brock Vereen). Perhaps this turns into another easy win for Michigan, which needs a good start to Big Ten play, but I'm interested to see if Minnesota will keep moving in the right direction under Kill. Plus, I haven't seen the Gophers in person since the 2009 season.

Brian Bennett's pick: Cincinnati at Ohio State

It seems odd in a week with several Big Ten games to pick a nonconference matchup. But after logging a whole lot of mileage in the first four weeks, I'm happy to stay a bit closer to home. And this is also a good time to get a look at the Buckeyes, whom I've passed over so far despite a couple of interesting early tilts (Navy in Baltimore in Week 1, Virginia Tech in Week 2).

Also, I'm a sucker for these kinds of in-state games. Cincinnati has always lived in Ohio State's shadow, and Urban Meyer's alma mater would love nothing more than to pull off its first win over the Buckeyes since 1897. The Bearcats' program has been very solid for several years now, and it returns most of the production from a nine-win season in 2013. The offseason focus will be at quarterback, where Notre Dame transfer and one-time Indiana commit Gunner Kiel could start. (And choosing this game gives me an excuse to mention Munchie Legaux, who is battling back from a gruesome leg injury.)

But mostly, this game is about taking the temperature of the Buckeyes, who will be challenged much more in the nonconference schedule this fall than they were in the past two seasons combined. We should learn a lot from the Virginia Tech game, and I'm curious to see how the defense bounces back from a rough finish to '13 without stars Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby. How will the revamped offensive line perform, and can anyone match Carlos Hyde's impact in the running game? Plus, if I get a chance to watch Braxton Miller play, I'm usually going to take it. Ohio State could be hovering in or near the top five if it is undefeated going into this game, and that demands an in-person visit.

Road trip itinerary

Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)
Week 2: Adam at Michigan-Notre Dame; Brian at Michigan State-Oregon
Week 3: Brian at Minnesota-TCU; Adam at Penn State-Rutgers
Week 4: Adam at Miami-Nebraska; Brian at Miami-Nebraska

Spring position breakdown: RBs

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
1:00
PM ET
Spring practice is off and running in the Big Ten, as Michigan took the field Tuesday and Northwestern followed on Wednesday. We're taking snapshots of where each team stands at each position group.

We've already discussed the quarterbacks -- and will have much more on the way -- so the series begins with the running backs.

Illinois: The Illini are in a bit better shape here than they were the past two springs, as veterans Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young both return. Ferguson averaged 5.5 yards per carry and added 50 receptions for 535 yards as the primary playmaker for Illinois' revamped offense. Young added 376 yards on 93 carries. The Illini are looking for others behind the top two, and Dami Ayoola is back with the team after being dismissed in September for a rules violation.

Indiana: Tevin Coleman quietly put together a superb sophomore season and leads the Hoosiers' running backs in 2014. Coleman provides big-play ability after averaging 7.3 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns on only 131 attempts in 2013. Indiana loses Stephen Houston but brings back veteran D'Angelo Roberts, who will play behind Coleman. Younger players such as sophomore Laray Smith could get a look here.

Iowa: Not only did the Hawkeyes toss AIRBHG to the side and get through the season without any major injurie, but they bring back everyone for 2014. Senior Mark Weisman leads the contingent after rushing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. Jordan Canzeri came on strong late in the season and is showing no effects from his ACL tear in 2012. Veteran Damon Bullock also returns to the mix, and Iowa has talented younger backs such as LeShun Daniels Jr. at its disposal. Good situation here.

Maryland: The Terrapins wide receivers tend to get more attention, but the team also returns its top three running backs from 2013 in Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii. Maryland also regains the services of Wes Brown, who finished second on the team in rushing as a freshman in 2012 before being suspended for all of last season. Joe Riddle is back in the fold as well. The group brings different strengths, from power (Brown) to speed (Veii) to a mixture of both (Ross, Reid).

Michigan: Sophomore Derrick Green enters the spring as the frontrunner to be Michigan's lead back, although coach Brady Hoke wants to ramp up competition everywhere. The Wolverines struggled to consistently run between the tackles, but the 240-pound Green could change things. Hoke also is excited about another sophomore, De'Veon Smith. Michigan moved Ross Douglas from cornerback to running back, and Justice Hayes and Wyatt Shallman also are in the mix. "We've got more depth," Hoke said.

Michigan State: Things look much more promising than they did last spring, when the Spartans ended the session with a linebacker (Riley Bullough) as their top back. Jeremy Langford emerged as a very solid option during the season, rushing for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's back as the clear-cut starter, and Nick Hill also returns. It will be interesting to see if Gerald Holmes makes a push, or whether Delton Williams remains on offense.

Minnesota: Here's another team that finds itself in very good shape at running back entering the spring. David Cobb leads the group after rushing for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. Veterans Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. are still around, and highly touted redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards will take the field after missing last fall because of knee and ankle injuries. Perhaps the best news will come in the summer as decorated recruit Jeff Jones arrives.

Nebraska: Notice a theme here? Nebraska is yet another Big Ten squad that can feel very good about its running backs entering the spring. Ameer Abdullah elected to bypass the NFL draft for one final season at Nebraska, where he led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards on 281 carries as a junior. Abdullah will contend for national awards in the fall. Imani Cross, who rushed for 10 touchdowns last year, is one of the nation's top backups. Terrell Newby and others add depth behind the top two.

Northwestern: Top back Venric Mark (ankle) will miss spring practice following surgery, and reserve Stephen Buckley (knee) also is rehabbing, but Northwestern has no reason to panic. Treyvon Green, who filled in well for Mark last season with 736 rushing yards, will get much of the work. Warren Long also is in the mix after appearing in seven games as a true freshman. Northwestern also loaded up at running back in recruiting to solidify the position for years to come.

Ohio State: This will be a position to watch in the spring as Ohio State must replace Carlos Hyde, who was nearly unstoppable during Big Ten play last fall. Veteran Jordan Hall also departs, and Rod Smith will be the veteran of the group despite only 83 career carries. The Buckeyes have some talented young backs, from Dontre Wilson, who saw significant playing time last fall, to Bri'onte Dunn, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball. Keep an eye on Elliott, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry in limited work last season but could emerge this spring.

Penn State: If it feels like Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have been competing for carries forever at Penn State, it's because they have. Zwinak and Belton have been part of Penn State's running back rotation for the past two seasons and enter another competition this spring with talented sophomore Akeel Lynch, who rushed for 358 yards on only 60 carries last season. It will be interesting to see how much Lynch can push Zwinak and Belton in the team's first spring under a new coaching staff. Penn State has depth issues at several positions, but running back isn't one of them.

Purdue: The Boilers finished 122nd nationally in rushing offense last season, so the fact all of their running backs return might not spark mass celebration. Senior Akeem Hunt leads the group after recording 123 of the team's 319 rushing attempts in 2013. Other veteransBrandon Cottom and Raheem Mostert also are back, along with younger ball-carries such as Dayln Dawkins and three backs -- Keyante Green, David Yancey and Keith Byars II -- who redshirted last fall and could have much bigger roles.

Rutgers: Here's yet another team that returns basically its entire stable of running backs for spring ball. Paul James is the name to watch, as he rushed for 573 yards in the first four games last season before suffering a leg injury. James' health is a concern for Rutgers, which could also turn to Justin Goodwin, who showed some flashes following James' injury. Savon Huggins, who entered last season as the starter before losing ground, is in the mix as he looks to re-establish himself on the depth chart.

Wisconsin: How many teams can lose a 1,400-yard rusher and still claim to have the best running back group in the Big Ten? James White is gone, but Wisconsin remains in very good shape in the backfield. Melvin Gordon bypassed the NFL draft for another year in Madison after rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 206 carries. Gordon should move into more of a featured role beginning this spring, although he'll be pushed by Corey Clement, who had 547 yards and seven touchdowns on only 67 carries. Jeff Lewis provides another option behind the top two.
Spring football starts Tuesday for the Wolverines, so the competition for positions officially begins under the watchful eyes of Brady Hoke and his staff. This week, we’re counting down the five position battles you should also keep an eye on during the next month.

No. 4: Running back

Who’s in the mix: Derrick Green, De'Veon Smith

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioDerrick Green could provide Michigan the big, powerful runner Fitzgerald Toussaint could not because of his size.
What to watch: Green has kind of overshadowed Smith since the two arrived on campus together. Green came in as the highest-rated recruit in Michigan's 2013 class, but when he got to campus, he wasn’t in shape. So he was that much further behind Fitzgerald Toussaint. Now, Toussaint is gone and the running back spot is open. The Wolverines only recorded 65 rushing yards in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, but Smith received the most chances and carried the ball four times (for 7 yards) while Green only carried it once (for 5 yards). On the season, Green averaged 3.3 yards per carry (270 yards and two TDs on 83 carries) and Smith averaged 4.5 yards per carry (117 yards and zero TDs on 26 carries).

Obviously, last season is only going to play into this spring so much. The offensive line should start to jell this spring as it finds its starting five (which the Wolverines didn’t do last season until November), and the faster the offensive line is figured out, the faster the Michigan run game can get going. Smith showed bursts and Green displayed the ability to barrel over people and fall forward on nearly every carry (something Toussaint was just never able to do because of his size). With Green and Smith, offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will really have a chance to decide who will be the better featured back in the Michigan offense. And even though Green was the front-runner early, Smith definitely has played himself into the equation.

Previous posts:
For the most part, Brady Hoke really doesn’t like recruiting surprises. The majority of his commitments at Michigan have come early in the recruiting cycle, and by the time signing day rolls around, there aren’t many spots left in Ann Arbor.

That’s largely the case again this season. Michigan had six early enrollees, so only 10 will sign Wednesday. The Wolverines are really waiting on only one possible signee -- in-state defensive lineman Malik McDowell. The 6-foot-6, 260-pound prospect out of Southfield, Mich,. will decide among Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Florida State.

Most later commits for the Wolverines have happened because Michigan offered a scholarship late in the process. However, the Wolverines have been in on McDowell for years. And on Wednesday, McDowell could join the very short list of Hoke’s signing day surprises. Here’s a look at those players from his first three classes.

2013 | Signing day: Feb. 1

RB Derrick Green | Jan. 26

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsDerrick Green was a big signing for Brady Hoke at Michigan.
He was the last commitment in the 2013 class for the Wolverines and one of the freshmen who contributed the most this season. He chose Michigan over Auburn and Tennessee, who had both just gone through coaching changes. However, there was quite a bit of tension going into his decision day as to whether Hoke would be able to sign a player of Green’s caliber from outside the Midwest.

DB Reon Dawson | Jan. 14

Dawson changed his commitment from Illinois, the in-state school he had been committed to for nearly eight months. Michigan came in with a late offer, not until about a month before he committed to the Wolverines. However, Dawson attended high school with longtime commit Mike McCray, so he said he had heard plenty about Michigan.

OL Dan Samuelson | Jan. 12

Samuelson was a bit of a surprise for a few reasons. He had been committed to Nebraska for eight months (and before that, he had been committed to Pitt for less than a month). However, he decided he wanted to be closer to his Indiana home and Michigan was only three hours away. But the bigger surprise was that most observers believed the Wolverines' offensive line recruiting was pretty much completed, as Hoke had already secured five four-star linemen.

2012 | Signing day: Feb. 2

WR/KR/PR Dennis Norfleet | Feb. 1

He really has been the only game-time decision during Hoke’s tenure. The Wolverines were able to flip Norfleet’s commitment from Cincinnati in the final days. Hoke had offered a scholarship to Norfleet the week before signing day, but he didn’t decommit from Cincinnati until the night before.

DT Willie Henry | Jan. 31

Henry had taken his official visit to Michigan the weekend before signing day and then chose the Wolverines over MAC and Big East schools. Henry was an important late commit for the Wolverines because he kind of stopped the bleeding after several recruiting runner-up finishes for the Wolverines (TE Sam Grant, CB Armani Reeves, OL Alex Kozan, OL Josh Garnett).

2011 | Signing day: Feb. 3

The 2011 class as a whole was kind of a surprise class, as Hoke had less than two months to put it together. So there were a few guys, such as quarterback Russell Bellomy, offensive lineman Chris Bryant and linebacker Antonio Poole, who committed within two weeks of signing day. Today, that would seem like a lot of late commitments for Hoke, but for the 2011 class, it wasn’t that crazy. The Wolverines picked up three commitments in the few days leading up to Hoke’s first signing day at Michigan.

TE Chris Barnett | Feb. 2

Before Barnett got to signing day with Michigan, he attended four different high schools and broke commitments to Arkansas and Oklahoma. He ended up staying in Ann Arbor for only one season.

DE Frank Clark | Feb. 2

Clark was on campus for the first recruiting weekend of Hoke’s tenure. The late add of not only an Ohio kid, but a player from Cleveland Glenville -- an Ohio State pipeline school -- was impressive for Hoke in his first few months on the job.

RB Thomas Rawls | Feb. 1

Rawls had visited only Michigan and Central Michigan, so it wasn’t a huge surprise that he ended up choosing the Wolverines. However, in an interesting turn of events, Rawls was granted his release from Michigan following this season and will play for Central Michigan next season.
The Wolverines are less than a week away from signing day. Michigan still has its top recruit, Jabrill Peppers, in the fold, while the No. 2 and No. 3 commitments -- wide receiver Drake Harris and defensive tackle Bryan Mone -- have already enrolled.

Here’s a look back at Brady Hoke’s top three commits in each of his Michigan recruiting classes and what they’ve done so far in their careers for the maize and blue.

2013 class:

No. 1: RB Derrick Green

The freshman toted the ball 83 times this season, though if Hoke weren’t so loyal to his upperclassmen then Green probably would’ve taken over the job earlier from Fitzgerald Toussaint. Green finished the year averaging 3.3 yards per carry (third best on the team) and will look to be the featured back next season.

[+] EnlargeJourdan Lewis
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsMichigan cornerback Jourdan Lewis just missed on a few big plays during his freshman season but showed promise for the future.
No. 2: CB Jourdan Lewis

Lewis appeared in all 13 games for the Wolverines this season but only tallied 17 tackles and two pass break ups. He picked up more reps as the season came to a close but he (like fellow freshman Channing Stribling) found himself in a lot of “close but not quite there” situations with wide receivers.

No. 3: G David Dawson

Dawson redshirted this season but his name was brought up a few times, specifically during bowl practices. He should be able to compete for reps next season but likely won’t crack the starting lineup.

2012 class:

No. 1: CB Terry Richardson

He didn’t get into a game this season after appearing as a back up cornerback in four games in 2012. He was known for his speed and quickness as a high schooler, but at 5-foot-9 he seemed a little bit on the smaller end for Greg Mattison’s defense.

No. 2: OLB Royce Jenkins-Stone

As a freshman Jenkins-Stone played in 13 games on special teams and once appeared as a backup linebacker. As a sophomore he again played on special teams and one game as a linebacker. In his career he has registered 11 tackles.

No. 3: G Kyle Kalis

He redshirted last season but started eight games this season at right guard. He missed some time because of an ankle injury but showed a ton of promise on a struggling O-line. His return next season should help solidify the interior offensive line and the aid the struggles the Wolverines had.

2011 class:

No. 1: CB Blake Countess

Countess came off his ACL injury and recorded a Big Ten-best six interceptions this season. His 42 total tackles was two shy of his freshman total. He should be the vocal leader of the secondary next season as a fourth-year junior.

No. 2: CB Delonte Hollowell

In 10 games this season Hollowell tallied just two total tackles. In just four of those games Hollowell saw time on defense, as he mainly played special teams.

No. 3: DE Brennen Beyer

Beyer played at SAM linebacker this season until Jake Ryan returned and then moved back to the defensive line, where he played in 2012. He accounted for 27 tackles, four tackles for a loss, two sacks, one interception and five quarterback hurries.
In Doug Nussmeier’s introductory news conference as the offensive coordinator at Michigan, some of the first words out of his mouth were no surprise to anyone who knows the Wolverines' traditional identity.

“Tough, physical, explosive is what we want to be,” Nussmeier said. “We want to be able to run the football. We want to be able to put points on the board. We want to force the defense to defend all different elements of the game.”

The tough, physical, explosive talk is exactly what's expected from an offensive coordinator at Michigan, a school that prides itself on being strong in the trenches and physical with in the running game.

However, the running game was one of the Wolverines’ biggest issues last season. The Wolverines had an FBS-worst 174 rushes for no gain/negative yards, which means that 35 percent of the time Michigan rushed, it went nowhere or backward. And Michigan’s average of 3.28 yards per rush wasn’t much better: No. 113 in the nation. Considering how poor both of those stats were, Michigan still managed to score 27 rushing touchdowns, which ranked 42nd in the country.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsGetting Derrick Green and the Michigan rushing offense going will be one of Doug Nussmeier's priorities.
So there seems to be some hope in the run game, but it lacks consistency. That’s where Nussmeier intends to start his focus.

“As long as the ball is moving forward and we’re ending every series in a kick, we’ll have a chance,” Nussmeier said. “That’s where we want to start from, but that’ll be the key point of emphasis to start.”

Nussmeier has an impressive track record in nurturing a running game. In his past six seasons as an offensive coordinator, he has produced six 1,000-yard rushers.

Last season at Alabama, Crimson Tide rushers finished in the top 20 nationally for yards per rush (No. 8 at 5.8 yards), rushes gaining 10 or more yards (No. 18 at 89) and percentage of rushes gaining five or more yards (No. 7 at 47 percent).

With Derrick Green -- a name he mentioned as a player he had recruited for Alabama -- as well as De’Veon Smith, he is going to focus on bringing a tough, strong running game back to Michigan.

Before the Wolverines can produce a run game, he’ll have to address the issues on the offensive line, which struggled all season and must replace All-American left tackle Taylor Lewan and three-year starter Mike Schofield.

The Michigan offensive line allowed 36 sacks this season, 109th in the country.

“We need to run the football, and just briefly, looking at statistically where we’re at, we need to eliminate the sacks. You can’t have lost-yardage plays. We’ve got to go eliminate that. We can’t have undisciplined penalties, pre-snap penalties,” Nussmeier said. “Any time you’re trying to find consistency on offense, you have to start from the basis of, ‘We’re not going to go backwards. We’re not going to have lost-yardage runs. We’re not going to take sacks. We’re not going to have penalties.’ ”

Those aren’t exactly tiny issues to fix, but Nussmeier is confident that even though Michigan will have a lot of young players getting major minutes next season, the group will show improvement.

A big focus will be working on the day-to-day expectations for the players and making sure that they get better on a daily basis. If the team can manage to do that, he believes the offense will be in a good place at this time next year.

“The biggest thing for us, as we sit down as a staff to evaluate where we are, where we want to go, set a clear path every day for these young men in how we’re going to get better and the things we want to achieve on a day-to-day basis,” Nussmeier said. “And as we grow daily, then the end product will evolve.”

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
5:00
PM ET
Hey, everybody, I'm back in my usual Wednesday slot now that the holidays are over. Answering your emails always feels like a holiday, however. Let's get to it:

Pat from Iowa writes: With the new playoff system in place next year, will it help or hurt the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, and I suppose it depends on how you look at things. The BCS was actually pretty good to the Big Ten as far as getting teams into the major bowls. The league had two BCS teams this year as it did for most of the BCS era, thanks in large part to the schools' massive fan bases and attractiveness to bowls.

We're about to experience a sea change, no doubt. I believe that every other game outside of the four-team playoff will lose relevance, with the possible exception of the Rose Bowl. But even the Rose won't be quite as special as it has been to the Big Ten. Say the College Football Playoff were in place this year, the Rose wasn't a semifinal and you were a Michigan State fan. Would you have been as excited to go to Pasadena, knowing your team got squeezed out of playing for the national title? I don't think so.

The flip side of that coin is the playoff will help the Big Ten have a better chance to compete for a national championship, something the league has not done since the 2007 season. The Spartans would have had a great shot at making the four-team field this season, and undefeated or highly-ranked Big Ten champions will always be right in the mix. It's really up to the conference to make sure it consistently places teams in the Playoff, and then to perform well once there. Ridicule will await any of the five major conferences that repeatedly miss out on the four-team event.

Alex from Cincinnati writes: Hey, Bennett, thanks for your good work. Orange Bowl: from what I saw the game could have ended either way, but Clemson happened to be up when the clock expired. Now the B1G narrative for the next 9 months will be vastly different than if Ohio State had pulled out the victory. Do you agree that we're often too quick to either anoint or admonish certain teams and conferences, when in reality there is quite a lot of parity at the top?

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the kind words, Alex, and I agree with you that the margin between winning and losing at the very top level is very small. Just ask Auburn. The Big Ten, save for Michigan, was highly competitive in most of its bowls this year and came close to winning six of the seven.

But for the second straight year, the Big Ten finished 2-5 in bowls. A few teams, like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State, actually entered their games as favorites but failed to deliver. Ultimately, they keep score for a reason, and it has become a trend for the league to end up on the short end of the scoreboard in recent postseasons. I really don't think the gap between the Big Ten and other leagues like the SEC is that large, as shown by the three Jan. 1 bowls in Florida. But it's a tougher argument to make without using victories as evidence.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyQuarterback Braxton Miller, who was banged up with shoulder and rib injuries, and the Buckeyes lost their final two games of the season.
Tom from DC writes: Hey, Brian! Can you explain why Braxton Miller was still in the game? The guy was injured to the point that his play was compromised. During those last few series, I kept yelling at the TV for Kenny Guiton. Miller is great, but he clearly wasn't firing on all cylinders. Despite that, he was still given designed runs and big throws ... WHY? I cringed every time. Despite all the mistakes, the biggest one, I think, was letting a severely injured QB play, while a stellar backup was fresh and ready to roll. Miller is a team player -- he would have understood if he was benched for Guiton due to injuries.

Brian Bennett: That's a fair and understandable question, Tom. I can tell you that offensive coordinator Tom Herman was asked if he ever considered putting Guiton in, and he quickly responded no. Asked if there was ever a conversation about it, Herman said the conversation went like this: If Miller can walk, he can play. So that shows you that Ohio State was firmly tying its sail to Miller just about under any circumstance. It makes sense, as Miller is the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year and a guy who has proven throughout his career that he makes big plays in the clutch.

But I also agree with you that Miller's passing was compromised by his shoulder and rib injuries, and that all those hits might have contributed to the final interception. And I think Ohio State relied too much on Miller in the final two games while forgetting about Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter.

Josh in an empty office building writes: Hey B-ri, do you think the Spartans will struggle with complacency next year? They no longer have to prove themselves, and may be over-confident going into next year's Big Ten schedule.

Brian Bennett: If Michigan State is complacent, then it will be in for a long day in Week 3 at Oregon. I'd be more worried about the offseason practices and whether the Spartans rest on their laurels a bit. But the good thing is this program has always played with a bit of a chip on its shoulders under Mark Dantonio, and the staff has been around these players so long that it should be able to spot and eliminate any complacency right away. It also helps that several jobs will be open on defense, and competition usually fosters intensity. You always wonder how a team will handle a new level of success, but the fact that several players and coaches have already mentioned competing for a national title next year indicates that they are still striving upward.

Nathan from San Antonio, Texas, writes: Can you give us one final rundown of the new bowl tie-ins for the Big Ten next year? I know there were talks to add the Music City Bowl and Car Care Bowl, were those made official and are there still some bowls that could be a Big Ten tie-in next year?

Brian Bennett: Sure thing, Nathan. Let's start at the top. The Rose Bowl remains the main tie-in for the Big Ten, but the Rose will be a semifinal game next year. So unless a Big Ten team makes it to the Playoff, the conference may not have a team in the Rose in 2014. The league also shares a spot in the Orange Bowl with the SEC and Notre Dame; if the 2014 Big Ten champ fails to make the four-team playoff, it could wind up in Miami.

The rest of the lineup goes like this:

Capital One
Outback
Holiday
Music City/Gator*
Kraft Fight Hunger
Pinstripe
Detroit
Heart of Dallas/Armed Forces*

*- Rotating.

Remember, too, that the selection process will be based on tiers of teams, with heavy input from the Big Ten office in order to create fresh and attractive matchups.

Indra from San Antonio, writes: Hey, Brian, even though it's in the past now and what's done is done me and the handful of other UM fans down here in S.A. are really curious why Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith didn't get any carries in the Wings Bowl. I still doubt the outcome would have been different but it would have given them some much needed playing time/experience as it did for Shane Morris. Why do you think Coach Hoke opted to not utilize them?

Brian Bennett: I admit I was a bit baffled by that game plan, Indra. I thought Green had established himself as Michigan's best running option late in the season, and yet he received one carry -- one! -- for five yards against Kansas State. Smith saw four carries for seven yards. I get that the Wolverines' offensive line was a mess and that their best chance might have been to throw the ball more. But given that it was Morris' first start and that Justice Hayes came out of virtually nowhere to get four touches, I can't say that I have any idea what was going on with Al Borges' plan. It's safe to say that plan needs a thorough review and reworking this offseason.

Dave from Iowa writes: Does Jake Rudock get the starting nod for Iowa? Or would he get a leg up in a QB competition? Seems like C.J. Beathard has a stronger arm. Will Beathard get a shot?

Brian Bennett: Beathard said after the game that it was his understanding that he'll be given a shot to compete for the starting job in the spring. But Rudock is still the guy who beat out Beathard last offseason and started all 13 games for the Hawkeyes this season. Was Rudock great? No, but I thought he played very well at times. He's got a huge experience edge. Beathard will probably have to really outplay Rudock this offseason to actually unseat him, as Kirk Ferentz is not exactly known for making drastic changes.

Drew from Lincoln writes: Love the Big Ten blog, but I'm kind of confused about something. Can we finally put an end to the infatuation with Ohio State and Michigan? I'm not talking about publicity. A large fan base ensures publicity. I get that. I'm talking about the hype. Ohio State let down a lot of people in their last two games, and Michigan habitually underachieves and is way too inconsistent. Yet, Michigan State just finished the most successful season in the Big Ten since 2002, and it seems Wisconsin and Nebraska are just as competitive every year. Despite that, I'm sure Michigan and Ohio State will clean up recruiting again this offseason, and the hype will begin anew.

Brian Bennett: I get where you're coming from Drew, though I think there was less hype from Adam and me about Michigan and Ohio State's supposed "dominance" than there was from other corners. I didn't pick Michigan to win the Legends Division in 2013, for example. It's also true that Ohio State and Michigan remain the Big Ten's two most recognizable brands, for historic, financial and a whole host of other reasons. Because of that, those two teams are always going to receive a lot of attention, and if you're someone who really gets into recruiting -- in other words, someone very unlike me -- then you'll understand all the accolades those two teams will get around signing day.

The "hype," as you put it, is still very much deserved for Ohio State. Sure, the Buckeyes lost their final two games this year, but they went 24-0 before that and are still the gold standard for this conference for what they've done over the years. Michigan is the program that has vastly disappointed and has in many ways hurt the entire Big Ten by not living up to its own expectations. We're always going to talk and write a lot about these two teams because of their importance to the league. That said, if in 2014 you ever catch me writing that those two schools are going to pull away from the rest of the Big Ten, you have permission to flog me.

Jordan M. from Greenville, S.C., writes: I thought you said Ohio State was gonna win the Orange Bowl? Look how that turned out. Go Tigers!

Brian Bennett: Boy, I got a lot of grief from Clemson fans over my "Ten reasons Ohio State will win the Orange Bowl" post. To clarify, I was assigned to write that post, as every blogger was assigned to write one for BCS bowl teams in his or her conference. I tried to have a little fun with it and jabbed the ACC and Clemson a little. What good is sports without a little trash talk? I also said Woody Hayes would reach down from the afterlife and trip a Tigers player, so that tells you how serious I was. Let me remind Clemson fans that I visited your town in November and wrote nice things about you. Met a lot of friendly folks down there. And my official prediction was Clemson 38, Ohio State 35. I'd say that worked out pretty well for me.
Generally, the end of a season brings some kind of closure to the coaches, players and fanbase. However, with Michigan's 31-14 loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl to Kansas State, it seems as though there are twice as many questions as answers about what Team 134 actually was.

Here’s a closer look at those questions that will now become the identity of this team for the next eight months.

Does Shane Morris take over at QB next season?

[+] EnlargeShane Morris
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesShane Morris' performance was a glimmer of hope in a bleak Buffalo Wild Wings bowl performance for Michigan on Saturday.
He definitely surprised quite a few people with how composed he was through the game. Even more surprising was that he was most effective in the first half (15-of-19 passing for 121 yards), when most young quarterbacks would probably be finding their footing. Though he is the prototypical pocket passer, he still displayed his athleticism in the second half when he broke out for a 40-yard run. One more year of Devin Gardner at quarterback means one more year that Brady Hoke and Al Borges don’t begin running the offense that they really want. And if he can use his game experience and grow during the offseason, he could be the best bet for the Wolverines come fall.

Does Morris’ poise and Michigan’s lack of playmakers means Gardner is a WR again?

The Wolverines are clearly in need of wide receivers next season. Devin Funchess (49 catches, 748 yards) and Jake Butt (20 catches, 235 yards) both return, but the only other receiver who tallied more than 10 catches this season that will be back is Jehu Chesson (15 catches, 221 yards). When Gardner played receiver last season he picked up 266 yards on 16 receptions. That kind of production could be huge in the receiver corps next season.

What was with Derrick Green's lack of touches during the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl?

Green saw the field in the first half but didn’t get a carry (his only carry) until the second half. After a season in which he carried the ball 82 times for 265 yards, he only accounted for five yards on one carry against Kansas State. The Wolverines' run game was nearly nonexistent, and yet they didn’t even give Green the chance to turn it into something early on. Hoke said that the Wolverines needed to pass the ball more in the second half since they were down, but that doesn’t explain that lack of Green -- who proved himself as the most talented running back this season -- during the first two quarters.

Did the defense do anything between Ohio State and Kansas State?

The Wolverines defense never picked up any momentum on defense and did nothing to aid an offense that -- all things considered -- looked at least decent. On the first three drives the Wildcats scored without much opposition from Michigan. Kansas State was 7 of 11 on third downs. The scouting report was relatively clear, and the Wolverines just didn’t seem to execute. The first item on that report would’ve been: Tyler Lockett is the go-to receiver. Lockett accounted for three touchdowns on 10 receptions and 116 yards against Michigan.

Second, the defensive line needed to find a way to get pressure on Jake Waters and instead, Michigan only accounted for two sacks and four tackles for a loss. Those aren’t exactly promising stats when the Wolverines really needed rattle Waters in order for the D to get off the field. Third, Michigan needed to play with fundamentals and technique -- their keywords this season-- against a team that they knew would be very well-coached and very disciplined. Instead, it gave up big plays on several occasions because it was out of position.

Why did the problems stay the same all season?

Obvious statement: Over the course of four months teams should improve. However, with Michigan the problems that cropped up in week one and two were the same ones that plagued Michigan on Saturday: the offensive line’s inability to run block, the lack of a running back being able to create anything when the O-line did block, dropped passes, struggling to create a solid four-man rush, a secondary that is either out of position or in the right position but not able to finish on plays consistently. Why couldn’t the Wolverines find answers to these consistently throughout the season? Why couldn’t the coaches correct them? Why couldn’t the players execute? This might be the most troublesome question of all.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Michigan Outlook: 2014
Brian Bennett discusses the outlook for the Michigan Wolverines' football program in 2014.Tags: Michigan Wolverines, Braxton MIller, Brian Bennett, Devin Gardner
VIDEO PLAYLIST video