Michigan Wolverines: Devin Funchess

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.

Video: Michigan's Devin Funchess

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
3:00
PM ET
video Michigan's Devin Funchess talks about the Wolverines' receivers and his role in the team's new offense.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

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

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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:
No league has more longstanding historic rivalries than the Big Ten, but several of these series are becoming one-sided of late. We're taking a closer look at these games and whether things will change or remain the same in 2014.

We've already looked at the two Paul Bunyan trophy games: Wisconsin-Minnesota and Michigan-Michigan State. Has anyone seen the Little Brown Jug? It has been in Michigan's possession for quite a while.

Series: First meeting in 1892. Michigan leads 73-34-3. Little Brown Jug was introduced in 1909.

Last meeting: Michigan thumped Minnesota 42-13 on Oct. 5, 2013, at Michigan Stadium.

The streak: Michigan has won six consecutive matchups, 22 of the past 23 and 38 of the past 41. Minnesota's last win came in 2005 at Michigan Stadium.

Next meeting: Sept. 27 at Michigan Stadium

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Will Minnesota beat Michigan this season?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,535)

The skinny: The history always will be there with this series, but the rivalry factor has waned as Minnesota's struggles against Michigan coincide with its lengthy Big Ten title drought (no Big Ten titles since 1967, only three wins against Michigan). Minnesota had excellent opportunities to beat Michigan in 2008 and 2012 but fell short both times. The Gophers now will try to end the streak at the Big House, where they've dropped their past three meetings by a combined score of 134-23.

Both teams are looking for more on offense, and both want to base their identity around the power game. Minnesota achieved it to a degree in 2013 and should have plenty of options at running back, including Berkley Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan star wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Michigan finished 102nd nationally in rushing last year and looks for a spark with new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier and sophomore backs Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith. Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner has had two strong performances against Minnesota, connecting with tight end Devin Funchess for 151 yards and a touchdown last year. A Gophers defense led by Damien Wilson, Eric Murray and Theiren Cockran must contain the Devins.

The (very early) prediction: Minnesota will keep it closer than its last three games at Michigan Stadium, but the Wolverines have more offensive firepower and home field on their side. Gardner has been at his best against the Gophers and fires two touchdown passes in a seven-point win.
There’s quite a bit we’ve already learned about Michigan through the spring, and the scrimmage will reveal even more. However, these few weeks are a launching point for what happens next season, and it’s important to keep that in mind. So to looking ahead to the fall, here are five predictions for Michigan football in 2014.

No. 5: TE Devin Funchess will be the Wolverines’ leading receiver

[+] EnlargeDevin Funchess
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesDevin Funchess will get his chance to be Michigan's main passing threat this fall.
Why: Expect Funchess to become a Jeremy Gallon-like security blanket for quarterback Devin Gardner. Gallon accounted for 1,373 yards and 89 receptions last season, and his production will need to be filled by someone. It won’t be filled only by Funchess, but expect a lot of those passes, especially jump-ball throws, to be sent in Funchess’ direction in 2014.

It would be somewhat surprising if Funchess hits the 1,000-yard receiving mark as a junior (however, he has the best shot among all of Michigan’s receivers). But as a sophomore, he showed that he could put up big numbers. Whether he can do that consistently remains to be seen and will be the next step in his personal development.

However, it’s also important to remember that Funchess was productive last season because Gallon was so good, and Gallon was highly productive because Funchess was such a threat. Funchess didn’t tear defenses apart in every game, but the fact that defensive coordinators thought he was capable of doing so was enough to draw attention.

This season, without Gallon -- or any returning, consistent threat -- Funchess will need someone else to step up if he wants to play up to his potential. Amara Darboh could be that player. He had a terrific spring in 2013 before his injury, and at 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, he’s big enough to catch those jump balls. His size, coupled with his track speed, could make him dangerous. If he shows his talent early on, defensive coordinators will need to make sure they know when he’s on the field, which could clear some things up for Funchess.

It’s also likely that Funchess will be the Wolverines' leading receiver because he and Gardner have the most-established chemistry of anyone on the roster. Last season, if Gardner got through his reads and all things were equal between Gallon and a second receiver, the ball was almost always going Gallon’s way. Gardner and Gallon had the benefit of four years of working together. But Funchess was only targeted in the pass game starting last season so Gardner and Funchess only have about a year of experience heading into the fall. The fact Gardner missed so much of winter workouts doesn't help from a chemistry standpoint.

Funchess probably won’t be a 1,000-yard receiver in 2014, (unless he has huge numbers against nonconference opponents), but he will likely be the Wolverines’ top go-to guy in the passing game.

Stats to know: For each of the predictions, we’ll break down a stat (or multiple stats) that will be crucial in whether predictions comes true. The most basic fact to look at will be how teams did against the pass last season. Teams gain and lose the players from season to season and schedules do differ, but it’s a baseline to at least consider.

  • Appalachian State: 180 passing yards per game
  • Notre Dame: 198 passing yards per game
  • Miami (Ohio): 261 passing yards per game
  • Utah: 267 passing yards per game
  • Minnesota: 215 passing yards per game
  • Rutgers: 312 passing yards per game
  • Penn State: 237 passing yards per game
  • Michigan State: 166 passing yards per game
  • Indiana: 290 passing yards per game
  • Northwestern: 256 passing yards per game
  • Maryland: 225 passing yards per game
  • Ohio State: 268 passing yards per game

New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier will experiment with Funchess a lot, but it’s obviously an advantage to put him in situations where he’s up against smaller defensive backs. That would allow him to go up and over those players. And now that Gallon is gone, he might be the most athletic player on the team.

And in that regard, it's important to look at opposing defenses and know which teams allow the most passes of 10 yards or more. For example, in 2013, Rutgers and Indiana both allowed 51 percent of their opponents' completions to go for at least 10 yards. That means they surrendered some deep passes, or they struggled against the run after the catch was made. In either situation, Funchess is better than average so he should be well-equipped to handle those situations.

But that could be deceiving because teams may have given up fewer yards and completions in the pass because opponents were able to run the ball well on every down. It’s also important to look at how teams did against the pass on a typical passing down like third-and-long.

It should come as no surprise that Michigan State will be the best third-down passing defense the Wolverines face in 2014. Last season, the Spartans allowed completions on just 30.6 percent of passes on third downs. Teams like Minnesota (34.3 percent) and Notre Dame (35.1 percent) weren’t too far behind, while Indiana (41 percent) and Penn State (41.9 percent) struggled heavily in that regard.
Michigan’s spring game is in less than a month, so we’re going to try our best to look into the future and make five predictions for the next few weeks and what we may or may not see in the scrimmage.

Prediction No. 4: Devin Funchess will put his hand down on fewer than 15 percent of his snaps.

[+] EnlargeDevin Funchess
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesDevin Funchess is more valuable to U-M as a receiver than a blocking tight end.
As last season progressed it became clear that Funchess was a tight end like a square is a rectangle -- in definition, yes, but in real life, not really. He blocked, but at the end of the day his hands were more valuable when it came to catching passes.

Michigan is severely lacking in experienced receivers as it lost Jeremy Gallon (89 catches, 1,373 yards) and Drew Dileo (15 catches, 221 yards) to graduation. Amara Darboh, who showed great promise last spring, should be back healthy by the fall. And Jehu Chesson and Da'Mario Jones could be guys who step up. But the fact that some fans are legitimately thinking Devin Gardner should be moved back to wide receiver means that someone needs to make up the ground on receiving yardage. So, let’s call it as it is. It would be much easier to move Funchess from tight end to purely wide receiver than it would be to move Gardner from quarterback to receiver.

Funchess is the reigning Big Ten tight end of the year, but he was also the Wolverines’ second leading receiver on the team. And when it comes down to it, Funchess is more valuable to the Wolverines through the air than he is as a blocker. Depending on how strong Darboh comes back, Funchess could be the Wolverines’ best bet as a 1,000-yard receiver next season so it would make the most sense to put as many eggs in that basket as possible.

However, taking even a few tight end snaps away from Funchess obviously has a ripple effect on the Wolverines. Further compounding matters are Jake Butt's ACL injury and the fact that the other blocking tight ends aren’t nearly at the same level he was before the injury. However, Funchess was never really a very naturally talented blocker (seriously, Chesson blocked better than Funchess, who has 35 pounds on him).

But between A.J. Williams and converted defensive end Keith Heitzman, the Wolverines should be able to pick it up. Williams played a bit last season and Heitzman, at 271 pounds, will likely be able to bowl over linebackers with ease. Those two players should be able to make up for what the Wolverines lack with Funchess taking more TE snaps, and then they’ll just need to hope that Butt can make a Ryan-like recovery and be back midseason next year.

Other predictions:
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. The wide receivers and tight ends are up next.

Illinois: The Illini are looking for more from this group after losing top target Steve Hull, who exploded late in the season to finish just shy of 1,000 receiving yards. While running back Josh Ferguson (50 catches in 2013) will continue to contribute, Illinois could use a boost from Martize Barr, who arrived with high expectations but only had 26 receptions last fall. Another junior-college transfer, Geronimo Allison, could make an impact beginning this spring, but there's some mystery at wideout. Illinois looks more solid at tight end with seniors Jon Davis and Matt LaCosse.

Indiana: Despite the somewhat surprising early departure of All-Big Ten selection Cody Latimer, Indiana should be fine here. Shane Wynn is the veteran of the group after recording 633 receiving yards on 46 catches last season. Kofi Hughes and Duwyce Wilson also depart, so Indiana will be leaning more on Nick Stoner and Isaiah Roundtree. The Hoosiers have high hopes for early enrollee Dominique Booth, a decorated recruit who could fill Latimer's spot on the outside. Productive tight end Ted Bolser departs and several players will compete, including early enrollee Jordan Fuchs.

Iowa: Almost all the wide receivers are back from a group in which none eclipsed more than 400 receiving yards in 2013. Balance is nice, but separation could be nicer for the Hawkeyes this spring. Kevonte Martin-Manley is the most experienced wideout and has 122 career receptions. Tevaun Smith also returns, and Iowa fans are excited about big-play threat Damond Powell, who averaged 24.2 yards on only 12 receptions last season. Iowa loses its top red-zone target in tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and will need Jake Duzey to deliver more Ohio State-like performances.

Maryland: When the Terrapins get healthy, they might have the Big Ten's best wide receiving corps. Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, both of whom sustained broken legs against Wake Forest last season, have the ability to stretch the field as both averaged more than 15 yards per reception before the injuries struck. Leading receiver Levern Jacobs also returns, alongside junior Nigel King and sophomore Amba Etta-Tawo, who averaged more than 16 yards per catch in 2013. Marcus Leak, who started seven games in 2012, rejoins the team after a year away. The Terps are unproven at tight end after losing Dave Stinebaugh.

Michigan: There's a reason why some Michigan fans want Devin Gardner to return to wide receiver for his final season. The Wolverines are thin on the perimeter after losing Jeremy Gallon and Drew Dileo. Redshirt sophomores Jehu Chesson and Amara Darboh are both candidates to start, and Dennis Norfleet could be the answer in the slot. But there's plenty of opportunity for younger players like Drake Harris, an early enrollee. Michigan's best pass-catching option, Devin Funchess, is listed as a tight end but plays more like a receiver. The Wolverines will be without their second-string tight end, Jake Butt, who suffered an ACL tear in winter conditioning.

Michigan State: Remember all the justified angst about this group a year ago? It has pretty much gone away as the Spartans wideouts rebounded nicely in 2013. Bennie Fowler departs, but MSU brings back its top two receivers in Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings, who showed explosiveness down the stretch last fall. Aaron Burbridge had a bit of a sophomore slump but provides another option alongside veteran Keith Mumphery, who averaged 16.6 yards per catch in 2013. Josiah Price leads the tight end group after a solid freshman season.

Minnesota: Here's a group to watch during spring practice, particularly the wide receivers. Minnesota has proven it can run the ball and defend under Jerry Kill, but the passing game was putrid in 2013, ranking last in the Big Ten and 115th nationally. Youth is partly to blame, and while the Gophers still lack experience, they can expect more from promising players like Drew Wolitarsky and Donovahn Jones. Senior Isaac Fruechte provides a veteran presence. Minnesota looks solid at tight end with sophomore Maxx Williams, the team's receiving yards leader (417) in 2013.

Nebraska: The Huskers lose a significant piece in Quincy Enunwa, who led the team in receiving yards (753) and had three times as many receiving touchdowns (12) as anyone else in 2013. Kenny Bell is set to recapture the No. 1 receiver role, which he had in 2012, and comes off of a 52-catch season as a junior. Nebraska must build around Bell this spring with players like the mustachioed Jordan Westerkamp, who had 20 catches as a freshman, including a rather memorable one to beat Northwestern. Will Jamal Turner turn the corner this offseason? Juniors Sam Burtch and Taariq Allen also return. Cethan Carter started six games at tight end last fall and should take over the top spot there as Jake Long departs.

Northwestern: The passing game fell short of expectations in 2013, but there's reason for optimism as Northwestern returns its top three pass-catchers in Tony Jones, Christian Jones and Dan Vitale. The two Joneses (no relation), who combined for 109 catches in 2013, lead the receiving corps along with junior Cameron Dickerson. Speedy Rutgers transfer Miles Shuler provides a playmaking spark, possibly at slot receiver. Vitale, who had a somewhat disappointing sophomore season, has All-Big Ten potential at the superback (tight end) spot. Although Northwestern rarely plays true freshmen, superback Garrett Dickerson, Cameron's brother, could see the field right away.

Ohio State: A group that drew heavy criticism from coach Urban Meyer two springs ago is stockpiling talent. Devin Smith is the familiar name, a big-play senior who has started each of the past two seasons and boasts 18 career touchdowns. Ohio State must replace top wideout Corey Brown and will look for more from Evan Spencer. Michael Thomas has stood out in practices but must translate his performance to games. This could be a breakout year for H-back Dontre Wilson, who averaged nine yards per touch as a freshman. Buckeyes fans are eager to see redshirt freshmen Jalin Marshall and James Clark, and incoming players like Johnnie Dixon could make a splash right away. Ohio State returns an elite tight end in Jeff Heuerman.

Penn State: The Lions have very different depth situations at receiver and tight end. They're looking for contributors on the perimeter after losing Allen Robinson, the Big Ten's top wide receiver the past two seasons, who accounted for 46 percent of the team's receiving production in 2013. Brandon Felder also departs, leaving Geno Lewis as the likeliest candidate to move into a featured role. Richy Anderson also returns, but there will be plenty of competition/opportunity at receiver, a position new coach James Franklin targeted in recruiting with players like Chris Godwin and Saeed Blacknall. Things are much more stable at tight end as the Lions return three talented players in Jesse James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman.

Purdue: If you're looking for hope at Purdue, these spots aren't bad places to start. There are several promising young players like receiver DeAngelo Yancey, who recorded a team-leading 546 receiving yards as a freshman. Cameron Posey also had a decent freshman year (26 catches, 297 yards), and Danny Anthrop averaged 18.4 yards as a sophomore. A full offseason with quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby should help the group. Tight end also should be a strength as Justin Sinz, who led Purdue with 41 catches last season, is back along with Gabe Holmes, who returns after missing most of 2013 with a wrist injury.

Rutgers: The good news is tight end Tyler Kroft returns after leading Rutgers in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last season. Kroft will immediately contend for All-Big Ten honors. Things are murkier at wide receiver, where top contributors Brandon Coleman and Quron Pratt both depart. Leonte Carroo took a nice step as a sophomore, averaging 17.1 yards per catch and enters the spring as the frontrunner to become the team's No. 1 wideout. Ruhann Peele is another promising young receiver for the Scarlet Knights, who boast size with Carlton Agudosi (6-foot-6) and Andre Patton (6-4).

Wisconsin: The quarterback competition will gain more attention this spring, but Wisconsin's receiver/tight end situation could be more critical. The Badgers lose Jared Abbrederis, their only major threat at receiver the past two seasons, as well as top tight end Jacob Pedersen. Players like Jordan Fredrick and Kenzel Doe must translate their experience into greater production, and Wisconsin will look for more from young receivers like Alex Erickson and Robert Wheelwright. Help is on the way as Wisconsin signed five receivers in the 2014 class, but wideout definitely is a position of concern right now. Sam Arneson is the logical candidate to step in for Pedersen, but there should be competition as the Badgers lose a lot at the position.
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Maryland Terrapins, Michigan Wolverines, Big Ten Conference, Illinois Fighting Illini, Indiana Hoosiers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Ohio State Buckeyes, Penn State Nittany Lions, Purdue Boilermakers, Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan State Spartans, Football Recruiting, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Robert Wheelwright, Jehu Chesson, Jalin Marshall, Adam Breneman, Amara Darboh, Drew Dileo, Stefon Diggs, Jeremy Gallon, Corey Brown, Jon Davis, Kenny Bell, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Tony Lippett, Devin Smith, Devin Funchess, Drake Harris, Dominique Booth, Jared Abbrederis, C.J. Fiedorowicz, Christian Jones, Cody Latimer, Duwyce Wilson, Isaac Fruechte, Jacob Pedersen, Jamal Turner, Keith Mumphery, Kofi Hughes, Michael Thomas, Quincy Enunwa, Shane Wynn, Ted Bolser, Tony Jones, Evan Spencer, james clark, Aaron Burbridge, Josh Ferguson, Kenzel Doe, Allen Robinson, Jesse James, Kyle Carter, Dan Vitale, Danny Etling, Dontre Wilson, Saeed Blacknall, Chris Godwin, Garrett Dickerson, Cameron Dickerson, Danny Anthrop, Johnnie Dixon, Martize Barr, Gabe Holmes, Alex Erickson, Jordan Fredrick, Austin Appleby, Geronimo Allison, Justin Sinz, Nick Stoner, Steve Hull, Cameron Posey, Damond Powell, MacGarrett Kings, Jake Duzey, Maxx Williams, Richy Anderson, Jordan Westerkamp, Sam Burtch, DeAngelo Yancey, Josiah Price, Donovahn Jones, Drew Wolitarsky, Brandon Coleman, Deon Long, B1G spring positions 14, Amba Etta-Tawo, Andre Patton, Brandon Felder, Carlton Agudosi, Cethan Carter, Dave Stinebaugh, Geno Lewis, Isaiah Roundtree, Jordan Fuchs, Leonte Carroo, Levern Jacobs, Marcus Leak, Matt LaCosse, Miles Shuler, Nigel King, Quron Pratt, Ruhann Peele, Sam Arneson, Taariq Allen, Tevaun Smith, Tyler Kroft

Spring ball starts on Feb. 25, and until then we’re taking looks at different players, position groups and parts of the team to keep an eye on as the Wolverines wind through their month of spring practices. We hit the midway point of our countdown today with No. 3.

[+] EnlargeDevin Funches
Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsDevin Funchess showed big-play ability for Michigan in 2013, but the Wolverines are hoping he'll make the leap this spring and be a more complete player.
No. 3: Devin Funchess
Height: 6-foot-5
Weight: 235 pounds
2013 stats: 13 games, 9 starts, 748 yards, 6 touchdowns

The Wolverines receiving corps is a huge question mark at this point. From Amara Darboh returning from a foot injury to Jake Butt possibly making a return midway through next season from a torn ACL, to a crop of young freshmen trying to take the next step in contributing, there are a lot of question marks. The closest thing Michigan has to a sure thing next season is Funchess.

His development was going to be of huge importance coming into this spring considering the departure of leading receiver Jeremy Gallon. There were definitely big shoes (and yards and touchdowns) to be filled. But now, with Butt’s ACL tear, he’s going to need to contribute that much more.

With the change in offensive coordinator, Funchess will need to use the spring to learn Doug Nussmeier’s playbook. The more he can learn and get under his belt during this spring, the less he’ll need to do this fall and the more he’ll just be able to help the offense grow.

He’ll also use this spring to gain more chemistry with Devin Gardner and Shane Morris, as he’ll probably be the biggest target the Wolverines have next season. He grew accustomed to tighter coverage the more he established himself in 2013, but he needs to get tougher in the blocking game and work on not dropping as many balls.

Funchess is likely going to be the name and player on this list whose abilities are the most well-known to the Michigan fanbase, but because of circumstances, coaching changes and his own personal growth, he needs to make this spring count. The more he can grow now, the better the offense will be able to function next fall.

The countdown:

The loss of freshman tight end Jake Butt to an ACL injury suffered during winter conditioning is obviously a huge blow to the Wolverines.

It hurts not only from a production standpoint, but it's a big disappointment for a young player who showed such potential in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJake Butt
AP Photo/Tony DingMichigan will look for other options to replace Jake Butt's productivity (20 receptions, 235 yards and two TDs).
Butt’s diagnosis marks the ninth ACL injury during coach Brady Hoke’s tenure at Michigan. The most impressive recovery came from linebacker Jake Ryan, who returned in six months, coming back midway through this past season. Players such as quarterback Russell Bellomy and offensive lineman Joey Burzynski have yet to play in a game after suffering their injuries. But cornerback Blake Countess and defensive lineman Chris Wormley both made solid recoveries as well.

That number (average of three per season under Hoke) seems quite high. Following running back Drake Johnson’s ACL tear, which happened in early September, Hoke said that there would be a self-assessment among the coaching staff. The general thought was that, essentially, sometimes these things just happen. It could be just bad luck.

“You know, I'm sure we'll look at it, but with Drake's -- he gets pushed in the back a little bit, he's busting his butt trying to make a tackle, guy kind of pushed him in the back. I mean, those things -- I don't know what else you can do about it,” Hoke said on Sept. 2. “But we will, because I know our strength coach and I know our training staff. They'll get their heads together on it.”

Outside of the larger issue of ACL injuries under Hoke, the Wolverines will regroup and try to figure out how to address this from a tight end production level.

Devin Funchess is still around and will lead the way at the position. He was the team’s second-leading receiver last season with 49 catches for 748 yards and six touchdowns.

Butt had been the third-leading receiver with 20 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns. However, outside of Funchess and Butt, the only other Michigan tight end to appear on the stat sheet was A.J. Williams (one catch).

So Michigan will dive into its depth now to find players who can block, catch and possibly do both. Williams is more of a blocking tight end, and while Funchess has progressed a bit in that category, he is obviously more talented as a pass-catching TE.

The Wolverines have other options, but are limited in experience.

Redshirt junior Dylan Esterline and redshirt freshman Michael Jocz both appeared in one game last fall. Freshman Khalid Hill redshirted, and redshirt junior Jordan Paskorz was a name that was mentioned during bowl season and during Williams’ one-game suspension. Paskorz played in seven games and recorded one start.

Michigan signed one tight end in the 2014 class, Ian Bunting. He has the height factor at 6-foot-6 and with experience in basketball and volleyball, he should be productive.

Another option would be early enrollee/linebacker Michael Ferns. Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier actually offered Ferns as a tight end at Alabama, so he clearly saw his potential.

Nussmeier should be able to find players to get some reps. And with six-and-a-half months until the season starts, it’s not completely outlandish to say that Butt could return before or during the Big Ten schedule. However, he is eligible for a medical redshirt, and with the ACL issues Michigan has had, it might want to give the young player a longer time to recover and make sure he doesn’t do any long-term damage.

Regardless, spring camp starts in less than two weeks and Nussmeier and Hoke, who already had their work cut out for them with this Michigan offense, were just given another challenge on top of that by losing Butt.

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
4:00
PM ET
As we suffer through winter and the offseason together, we also bond over Big Ten football. Thanks to those who joined me earlier today for the weekly Big Ten chat. We discussed the East-West balance in the Big Ten, recruits flipping, new coaching hires and more.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsAs James Franklin can attest to, flipping recruits is part of the business.
Did you miss out? Not to worry. Here's a full chat transcript, along with some highlights:

Bernard from Columbus: Larry Johnson an upgrade over [Mike] Vrabel in both recruiting and coaching?

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, good question. In coaching, I'd say yes, mainly because Johnson has way more experience than Vrabel and a track record of producing elite defensive linemen. As a recruiter, I'd also give Johnson a slight edge because of his long-term success, but Vrabel had quickly developed himself into an outstanding recruiter.

Rob from Morristown, N.J.: What is your honest take on [James] Franklin flipping recruits from Vandy to PSU? I hear a lot of other teams' fans talking about how we were up in arms when other programs were poaching our players once the sanctions were handed down ... as much as many of us were upset that recruits like Noah Spence and Armani Reeves flipped to Ohio State ... there is no comparison, we were upset that other schools were trying to flip our CURRENTLY enrolled players ... just wanted to get that out there...

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, we both know that no fan base likes it when coaches flip their recruits, but fans also should know by now that it happens all the time and will continue to happen unless there's an early signing period. James Franklin was honest about it when asked: Players do pick coaches, not schools, and will follow coaches if they leave. Is it unfortunate? To a degree. But it's the nature of the business, and Penn State has experienced both sides of it in recent years. I agree that the attempts to flip current players -- looking at you, Tim Beckman -- annoyed PSU fans more than losing recruits to Urban [Meyer].

TB from Champaign, Ill.: What are the odds of me keeping my job with the Illini after 2014 and finishing off my "Fighting Force 2015" recruiting class?

Adam Rittenberg: It could happen, TB, but you need to make a bowl game this season. Few coaches with three bowl-less seasons are going to survive, especially those who have never won over the fan base/boosters. So how do you get to six wins? It's certainly possible with a schedule that includes three likely non-league wins (Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State), and a crossover schedule that doesn't include Michigan State or Michigan. The road schedule is once again brutal (Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern), so your team must play well on its home field.

Rick from Georgia: Adam, with a new OC at Michigan, do you think they may go in the direction of using a two-QB system similar to Northwestern? It would be nice to see [Devin] Gardner line up at wide receiver while also getting snaps at QB.

Adam Rittenberg: Rick, while you can't rule this out because Michigan loses both [Jeremy] Gallon and [Drew] Dileo, the team would like to keep Gardner at quarterback, if at all possible. The Wolverines have some talent at tight end with [Devin] Funchess (essentially a WR) and Jake Butt, but they must develop some other options at receiver this spring. Shane Morris' progress at QB also will be key. Can he really push Gardner, or will a healthy Gardner separate himself in spring ball? Should be really interesting.

Steve from NJ: Adam, really miss chatting with everyone since the turn to Facebook, but oh well. As for the B1G East this year, I have no trouble giving OSU credit for what they did, although you have to admit, many of [its] games could have gone either way. MSU looks very strong. UM hasn't shown much of late. And PSU, even with the sanctions, is still hanging on. My point is, the winner of the East could be any of those four based on how the ball bounces. In the West, I really only see Wisc and Neb, with NW and Iowa having an outside shot.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I guess I wonder why you think Wisconsin and Nebraska are far and away the favorites in the West? Wisconsin loses an enormous senior class and has QB questions. Nebraska lost to Iowa and Minnesota and was a Hail Mary tip from losing to Northwestern. Will the Huskers suddenly eliminate their sloppiness and become dominant in 2014? Maybe, maybe not. I think the West is pretty even with the top 4-5 teams, while the East likely will be a 2- or 3-team race, as I don't think Penn State has enough to keep up.

Thanks again for your questions and participation. Let's do it again soon.
The Michigan-Kansas State match up in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl should be a good one. The Wildcats are coming in with a ton of momentum, having won five of their last six. Meanwhile, the Wolverines have a bit of a chip on their shoulders, having lost five of their last seven.

With these two teams coming from such different places, both with a lot to prove, the game should be very, very good. But the Wolverines will need to execute with consistency, which has been one of their biggest struggles all year. Here are three keys -- offensively and defensively -- that need to happen if Michigan wants to walk away with a win.

Offensive keys:

1. Give Devin Gardner time in the pocket. He has shown this season that he and the offense can be potent when he has enough time to allow to plays to develop. And when those plays haven't developed, he has the speed and athleticism to create by himself. With Gardner (possibly) being healthy enough, those two could provide enough of an offensive spark for Michigan to really get going.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsPlaying in his first bowl game, freshman running back Derrick Green would benefit from early carries.
2. Find Derrick Green early carries. This will be a big moment for the freshman. He got to tote the ball a bit more near the end of the season, but this is his first bowl game and his first time playing on a bigger stage outside of the Big House. If the coaches can allow him to pound a few times in early series, he'll get a feel for the game, and he'll be able to make plays happen.

3. Allow both Devin Funchess and Jeremy Gallon to get involved as quickly as possible. Opponents struggled to guard both of these players this year. The tendency was to focus on one, and the other one would -- by no coincidence -- have a big game. Funchess getting catches only helps Gallon, and vice versa. And both getting catches make the Michigan offense reach its potential. If the Wolverines can strike first and get the Wildcats on their heels defensively, Michigan will be able to get some momentum going.

Defensive keys:

1. Stop the run. This was Michigan's biggest problem against Ohio State (and a lot of the year, too). However, when the Wolverines faced Northwestern earlier this season, they were able to handle Northwestern's two-QB attack pretty well. Michigan allowed only 143 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown. However, that was Northwestern without Venric Mark, and Kansas State's John Hubert -- who has rushed for nearly 1,000 yards this season -- is probably closer to Mark's level than to Mark's backups, Mike Trumpy or Treyvon Green.

2. Communicate. This hurt Michigan at times this year, especially in road games. With everyone, presumably, back at full strength, this defense doesn't have the excuse to not go 100 percent on every single down ... unless there are communication errors and not everyone to knows which page they should be on. If each position group communicates internally and with each other, the Wolverines have a chance to make some big plays. But it only takes one guy being out of position or not knowing exactly where he should be for Kansas State to find leading receiver Tyler Lockett or for Hubert to make something happen. If Michigan can contain the number of big plays in that way, it'll be in a good position.

3. Give Jake Ryan the space to make something happen. We've been waiting for Ryan to have a real breakout game. He has looked solid but not quite where he was last season, and he hasn't had that highlight-reel game that seems more than possible with his athleticism, instincts and skill set. If Mattison can dial up some blitzes and allow Ryan to do what Ryan does best, this could be his best game of the season. And if Ryan can get the defense fired up, then keys No. 1 and No. 2 would seem less difficult.
The Big Ten released its all-conference teams as selected by coaches and the media earlier this month. We didn't have a vote for the media teams, and we don't pretend to know as much about football as the league's coaches.

But we can also say with confidence that we watched more Big Ten football here at the blog than anyone else. So here are our picks for the 2013 ESPN.com All-Big Ten team:

Offense

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller is one of six Buckeyes on ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team.
QB: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
TE: Devin Funchess, Michigan
OL: Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
OL: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OL: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OL: Corey Linsley, Ohio State
OL: Ryan Groy, Wisconsin

Defense

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
DT: Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
DE: Randy Gregory, Nebraska
LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB: James Morris, Iowa
DB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB: Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
DB: Bradley Roby, Ohio State
DB: Brock Vereen, Minnesota

Specialists

K: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR: Kenny Bell, Nebraska
PR: Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa

OK, so we cheated just a bit on positions, going with three tackles on our offensive line and a 3-4 defense. But considering the coaches had six defensive backs and two punters on their first team, we don't feel too bad about it. ... We wanted to include Scherff, Lewan and Mewhort on the first team, because we thought they were the three best linemen in the league. If we had to field an actual team with these guys, we're sure we could figure it out. It was a tough call between Groy and Penn State's John Urschel, whom we love for his on- and off-the-field accomplishments. We just felt Wisconsin had the better overall season as an offensive line, so we went with Groy. ... We went with the 3-4 because linebacker was such a deep position in this league -- so deep that we had to leave off some deserving players, like Michigan State's Denicos Allen -- while defensive line wasn't nearly as strong. ... The defensive backfield was a tough call (no wonder the coaches had an, ahem, pick six there). Dennard was a lock, and we felt that Drummond was the league's best safety in a year when that position was a bit weak conference-wide. We like what Vereen did in providing versatility and leadership for the Gophers, and Roby overcame a slow start to do his usual fine work. We had to leave off very good cornerbacks like Michigan's Blake Countess, Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Iowa's B.J. Lowery -- but that's what a second team is for. Stay tuned. ... Ohio State leads the way with six selections, followed by Michigan State with five. It's almost as if those were the two best teams in the league or something.
You've had a chance to check out the 2013 All-Big Ten teams and individual award winners. The four major award winners -- Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year -- will be unveiled Tuesday.

Let's dive into today's selections ...

INDIVIDUAL AWARDS

The overall list isn't bad, although some of the selections certainly are debatable.
  • Ohio State's Carlos Hyde takes home the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year award after bulldozing the competition in Big Ten play (1,249 rush yards, 14 touchdowns). Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah has a strong case for the honor after his consistent success, eclipsing 100 rush yards in 10 of 12 games. But Hyde certainly finished on a stronger note with 226 rush yards against Michigan, the most ever for an Ohio State player in The Game. He was unstoppable in the most important games.
  • Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan claims Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year honors for the second consecutive season. Lewan had a very good season, and a great season, if you believe Wolverines coach Brady Hoke. But he anchored a line that struggled for much of Big Ten play. Ohio State tackle Jack Mewhort probably has a case here, as he led the league's best front five.
  • Wisconsin's Chris Borland gets the nod for Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year, ahead of fellow standouts like Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, Michigan State's Max Bullough and Iowa's James Morris. Borland did it all in his four seasons as a Badger, constantly swarming to the ball and making plays. But he missed some time with a hamstring injury this season, and Shazier's overall numbers are more impressive. It will be interesting to see who wins Defensive Player of the Year honors. There are so many great linebackers in this league.
  • Purdue's Cody Webster won Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year ahead of Michigan State's Mike Sadler, Ohio State's Cameron Johnston and others. Webster is the Big Ten's only finalist for the Ray Guy Award, but Sadler should have been on there as well. It's a really close call between Webster and Sadler, who successfully executed two fakes and played for a much better team.
  • Four players are repeat winners from 2012: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson, Lewan and Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien.
ALL-BIG TEN TEAMS

Overall, these looked a little better than the 2012 version, which contained several glaring problems in our view. The coaches' team continues to surprise us (not in a good way) with six defensive backs and two punters because of ties in the voting, and no Mewhort on the first team is hard to believe. But this was a slight step up.

(By the way, the Big Ten still doesn't have either of us vote for the media team, so direct your blame elsewhere).
  • Lewan, Mewhort and Iowa's Brandon Scherff all are terrific tackles, but we would have gone with Mewhort and Lewan on the first team, which the coaches did not.
  • Although Michigan's Devin Funchess claimed Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year honors, the coaches went with Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz as their first-team tight end. We can debate whether Funchess actually is a tight end or not, but his receiving numbers (47 catches, 727 yards, six touchdowns) are way better than Fiedorowicz's (26 catches, 253 yards, six TDs).
  • The coaches had six first-team defensive backs but didn't find room for Michigan's Blake Countess, who tied for the league lead in interceptions, or Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who had four picks and 11 pass breakups. Maybe only one Michigan State safety (our pick would be Kurtis Drummond) should be there.
  • Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon had some huge performances, but he probably belongs on the second team behind Penn State's Robinson and Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis, who were more consistent as the season went along. The coaches went with Ohio State's Corey Brown as their other second-team wideout, while the media went with Indiana's Cody Latimer. We like Latimer there.
  • One player the coaches and media differed on is Minnesota safety Brock Vereen, a first-team selection by the coaches but just an honorable mention selection by the media. He probably belongs right in between, on the second team, after leading a stout Gophers defense.
  • Another big difference between the coaches and media involved Iowa's B.J. Lowery. The media voted him as a first-team defensive back, while the coaches did not have Lowery among their eight choices on the first and second teams. Lowery is a nice player, but we're scratching our heads a bit as to why he was a first-team pick by the media.
  • Both Wisconsin back, Melvin Gordon and James White, made the second team. It says a lot about the depth at running back this year that Michigan State's Jeremy Langford, who ran for 1,200 yards and 16 touchdowns, couldn't crack the first or second teams.
  • We sure wish the league had a process for breaking ties on the coaches' team. Six defensive backs and two punters? That's just strange, though we'd like to see that two-punter formation in real life.
  • Connor Cook or Nathan Scheelhaase as the second-team quarterback? The coaches and media split on that. Scheelhaase has the better numbers, but Cook won all eight Big Ten starts. No wonder that latter fact probably impressed the coaches more.
  • The major awards -- offensive and defensive players of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year -- will be announced on Tuesday.

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