Michigan Wolverines: Dontre Wilson

Few preseason prognosticators create as much excitement around their summer picks as Phil Steele.

The college football guru packs a tremendous amount of information and research into his preseason magazines. And Steele has released his choices for the 2014 All-Big Ten team, which you can find here.

[+] EnlargeStefon Diggs
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsMaryland receiver Stefon Diggs could make an immediate impact in the Big Ten.
Some thoughts on the selections:

Steele sees newcomers Maryland and Rutgers bringing some talent into the league quickly, as he has two Terrapins (wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Deon Long) and two Scarlet Knights (guard Kaleb Johnson and linebacker Steve Longa) on the first team. ... A mild surprise on the first team is Michigan State linebacker Taiwan Jones, who will attempt to take over the middle spot from Max Bullough this year. ... The first-team defensive line is absolutely loaded, with Nebraska's Randy Gregory, Michigan State's Shilique Calhoun, and Ohio State's Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa. Iowa's Carl Davis and Minnesota's Theiren Cockran were relegated to second-team status. ... Speaking of the second team, Steele puts Northwestern wide receiver Kyle Prater there, apparently expecting big things at long last from the former USC transfer. ... Steele also has Ohio State's Dontre Wilson and Devin Smith breaking out as second-team All-Big Ten receivers. ... Penn State fans might be a bit miffed to see Christian Hackenberg as only the third-team quarterback. Michigan State's Connor Cook is Steele's choice for second-team QB, with Braxton Miller obviously No. 1. ... Michigan State leads the way with five players on Steele's first-team offense and defense. Ohio State has four, while Wisconsin, Nebraska and Michigan each have three.

Steele also has released his preseason All-America team, which includes some familiar Big Ten names. Here's a quick rundown:

First team:

Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon

Ohio State DT Michael Bennett

Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun

Second team:

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah

Iowa OT Brandon Scherff

Nebraska DE Randy Gregory

Ohio State DE Joey Bosa

Iowa PR Kevonte Martin-Manley

Third team:

Ohio State QB Braxton Miller

Maryland WR Stefon Diggs

Michigan WR Devin Funchess

Iowa DT Carl Davis

Michigan LB Jake Ryan

Michigan State CB Trae Waynes

Michigan State S Kurtis Drummond

Illinois PR V'Angelo Bentley

Indiana LS Matt Dooley

Fourth team:

Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford

Ohio State TE Jeff Heuerman

Wisconsin OT Rob Havenstein

Northwestern RB/KR Venric Mark

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
12:00
PM ET
Warning: Brackets are once again prone to be being busted.
  • Ohio State is auditioning students to see if anybody on campus can beat a speedster like Dontre Wilson in a race.
  • Michigan reshuffled its defensive coaching staff to get its line more hands-on attention, but that doesn't mean Brady Hoke will be staying away completely.
  • Taiwan Jones has the first crack at filling the vacant role at middle linebacker for Michigan State this spring, and the senior is embracing the move.
  • James Franklin is dialing up the intensity of workouts for Penn State, including reps in the Oklahoma Drill for just about everybody on the roster.
  • Rutgers is flip-flopping roles for two returning linebackers, trying to squeeze more production from the unit after a disastrous defensive season a year ago.
  • Wisconsin is looking to expand its recruiting footprint in the areas opened up by Big Ten expansion, and new recruiting coordinator Chris Beatty will lead the charge.
  • Randy Edsall is concerned about the kind of impact recruiting is having on kids these days, and he has a detailed plan to help take some pressure off and fix what he views as a broken system.
  • Replacing three senior linebackers is at the top of the priority list for Kirk Ferentz as spring practice gets rolling at Iowa.
  • A pair of notable injuries have opened up opportunities at wide receiver for Purdue, and Dan Monteroso is trying to make the most of his chance in the slot.
  • Ground will be broken this year on a sparkling new indoor practice facility at Minnesota, which is expected to come with a price tag of $70 million.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. The series wraps up with the specialists.

Illinois:The Illini might not be exceptional in the kicking game, but they're in better shape than they were when coach Tim Beckman arrived. Punter Justin DuVernois returns after a solid junior season, while Taylor Zalewski looks for a bit more consistency in his second full season as the placekicker. Zalewski made 12 of 17 field-goal attempts last fall. The return game is the real plus, as V'Angelo Bentley provides a major threat, especially on punt returns.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana brings back a dynamic returner in Shane Wynn, who averaged 14 yards on punt run-backs despite limited work. Punter Erich Toth also is back for his third season as the starter. Toth placed 18 of 52 attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. IU suffers a big loss at kicker as Mitch Ewald, the team's career field goals and field-goal percentage leader, departs. Aaron Del Grosso and Griffin Oakes will compete at kicker, and Jake Shake (shake and bake!) could enter the mix this summer.

Iowa: Here's another Big Ten team that looks very strong on returns, as Iowa boasts the Big Ten's most dynamic tandem in Kevonte Martin-Manley (punts) and Jordan Cotton (kickoffs). Martin-Manley had two punt-return touchdowns in 2013. Punter Connor Kornbrath ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in average, but placed 27 of 65 attempts inside the opponent's 20. Iowa loses kicker Mike Meyer, a four-year starter. Junior Marshall Koehn seems likely to step up, but could be pushed by incoming freshman Mick Ellis and others.

Maryland: Notice a theme so far? Most Big Ten teams are strong in the return game, and Maryland is no exception. If Stefon Diggs returns at full strength from his leg injury, he'll be a dangerous man with punts and kickoffs in his hands. Will Likely performed extremely well in Diggs' spot, averaging 26 yards on kickoff returns and 12.8 yards on punt returns. Maryland brings back an excellent kicker in Brad Craddock (21-for-25 on field goals last year), and punter Nathan Renfro enters his third season as the starter.

Michigan: Matt Wile has done a bit of everything for Michigan, but could settle into the starting placekicker role this fall. Wile handled kicking duties late last season and also served as Michigan's punter after Will Hagerup was suspended for the season. Hagerup, the Big Ten's punter of the year in 2012, will reclaim the role if he can avoid off-field problems that have surfaced throughout his career. Wile then could focus on kicking, as Kenny Allen is the only other option there. Michigan is still waiting for big things from kick returner Dennis Norfleet and must find someone to handle punts. Top recruit Jabrill Peppers could help.

Michigan State: Special teams once again should be a strength for MSU, which returns All-Big Ten punter Mike Sadler, a Ray Guy award semifinalist who will contend for All-America honors in 2014. Kicker Michael Geiger also is back after connecting on 15 of 16 field-goal attempts as a true freshman. Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Andre Sims Jr. both put up good numbers on punt returns. Michigan State had by far the fewest kick returns (18) in the Big Ten last year and will look for a boost from R.J. Shelton and others.

Minnesota: After an above-average year on special teams in 2013, Minnesota again should be good in the third phase. Punter Peter Mortell didn't get as many accolades as Sadler or Purdue's Cody Webster, but he had an excellent sophomore season, averaging 43.3 yards per attempt with 15 of 50 yards or longer. Marcus Jones is a major threat on returns after bringing back both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns last fall. Redshirt freshman kickers Ryan Santoso and Andrew Harte will compete as the Gophers lose Chris Hawthorne.

Nebraska: The Huskers are looking for some upgrades on special teams, particularly on punt returns, as Nebraska ranked 123rd in the FBS last fall. Primary returner Jordan Westerkamp is back, but he'll face some competition. Nebraska brings back punter Sam Foltz, who had a solid freshman season, averaging 41.6 yards per boot. Mauro Bondi is set to step in at kicker as Pat Smith departs. If Bondi struggles, incoming freshman Kris Brown could get a look this summer. Kenny Bell, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (26.5 yards per return), is back.

Northwestern: The Wildcats lose a huge piece in Jeff Budzien, named the Big Ten's top kicker in each of his final two seasons. Hunter Niswander can handle both kickoffs and punts but seems likely to slide into Budzien's spot. Northwestern's punting was a mess in 2013, ranking 118th nationally in net average (33.2 ypp). Brandon Williams departs and Chris Gradone or Niswander will take over. The big news is Northwestern brings back Venric Mark , an All-America punt returner in 2012. Primary kick returner Matt Harris is back after a solid freshman season.

Ohio State: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Indeed, the Aussie is back at punter as Cameron Johnston returns after an excellent debut season (I refuse to call a 21-year-old a freshman). Ohio State hopes for similar results from another first-year specialist in kicker Sean Nuernberger, an early enrollee expected to step in for the departing Drew Basil. Sophomore Dontre Wilson will continue to have a big role on returns after handling kickoffs last year. Ohio State must replace Corey Brown on punt returns and could look to redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall or true freshmen Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon.

Penn State: The kicking game continues to be an area of concern.Sam Ficken owns the team record for consecutive field goals (15) and started strong last season but ended with just 15 of 23 conversions, including four misses inside 40 yards. Penn State needs a new punter after losing Alex Butterworth, and will turn to Chris Gulla. Jesse Della Valle did a good job on punt returns, but Penn State needs a boost on kickoffs after finishing last in the league (19.1 yards per return). The Lions could stick with Geno Lewis or look for a newcomer such as De'Andre Thompkins to emerge. PSU also must shore up its coverage units.

Purdue: As if the Boilers didn't have enough to address on offense and defense, the kicking game needs attention. Punter Cody Webster finished his spectacular career with All-America honors, and the Boilers finished second nationally in net punting (41.7 yards per punt). Incoming freshman Austin McGehee will take over for Webster. Paul Griggs and Thomas Meadows continue to work at kicker, as Griggs made only 50 percent of his attempts (6 of 12) last season. The kick return game is strong with Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, but Purdue must replace punt returner Ricardo Allen. B.J. Knauf could be a good fit there.

Rutgers: The kicking game historically is a strength for Rutgers, which has a knack for blocking kicks and pulling off fakes. Rutgers loses a productive piece in punter Nick Marsh, who also handled kickoffs. The Scarlet Knights will turn to Joseph Roth as their replacement. Kicker Kyle Federico finished the season well, particularly in the Pinstripe Bowl, and returns for his junior season. Rutgers has a major weapon on returns in Janarion Grant, who brought back both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown during his freshman season.

Wisconsin: The kicking game has held back Wisconsin in the past, so it's definitely an area to watch during the offseason. Kicker Jack Russell converted 9 of 13 field-goal attempts after taking over for Kyle French. He'll try to hold off incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone. Andrew Endicott, who handled kickoffs last fall, also returns. Wisconsin is looking for more from punter Drew Meyer, who averaged just 38.6 yards per attempt in 2013. Top returner Kenzel Doe is back and should handle both punts and kickoffs, although Wisconsin could look to others for help, such as newcomers Serge Trezy and Natrell Jamerson.

More position breakdowns
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.
Tags:

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 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.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
5:00
PM ET
How many of you will be milling around downtown Indianapolis this weekend? Maybe we'll see you there. For now, let's correspond via email:

Alex from Denver, N.C., writes: Please tell me how the two OSU players can avoid being suspended for an entire game, while Will Gholston in 2011 is suspended for what he did in the Michigan game. Watching the OSU player exit the stadium was ridiculous and the OSU community should be ashamed of that behavior. The Big Ten should be ashamed of condoning that behavior. If you don't discipline it, then you allow it.

Brian Bennett: The argument from the Big Ten is that Marcus Hall and Dontre Wilson were ejected from the Michigan game, and that satisfied the requirement of revoked playing time. William Gholston was not ejected from the game against Michigan in 2011 but was suspended by the league for the following game. There is some logic to that argument, especially as it applies to Wilson. As for Hall, I believe some additional punishment was warranted for his double-bird salute as he walked off the field (Urban Meyer said he has handed out internal discipline to Wilson and Hall and another player). And there were other players involved in the scrum who could have faced suspensions.

My big problem with the ruling is that the fight was an ugly scene in the league's most high-profile game, and it looks as if the Big Ten is protecting its two marquee teams and its championship game. Handing down even a smaller suspension like one quarter would have carried some symbolic weight. Instead, the completely meaningless "public reprimand" comes off looking extremely weak and does nothing to curb incidents like that in the future.

Victor from Columbus, OH, writes: Is it just me or does this Ohio State team have that underdog destiny feeling about them? This team reminds me a lot of the 2002 national championship team. OSU isn't dominating opponents, many people nationally aren't giving them a shot, but most importantly, this team refuses to lose! Even with a decisive win (if OSU wins) this coming Saturday, I believe OSU would still be a relatively large underdog in the BCS championship game. Last time that happened OSU won the national championship and shocked the country. Do you feel the destiny or is it just us OSU fans being over optimistic?

Brian Bennett: Ohio State as underdog? That's something you don't hear much. It's hard to say a team coached by Meyer coming off an undefeated season is in any way an underdog; remember that the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 in some preseason polls. The 2002 team was coming off a 7-5 campaign and was not ranked in the Top 10 to start the year, and those Buckeyes had a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Ohio State does, however, figure to be an underdog in a potential BCS matchup with Florida State. But it won't be anything like that scenario against Miami and its roster full of future pros in the Buckeyes' last national championship game win. Things have broken right for Meyer's team this year in that other contenders like Alabama, Oregon, Baylor and Stanford have all lost. And it goes without saying that Florida State has a possible major issue on its hands. So in that sense, perhaps the Buckeyes are a team of destiny.

Justin A. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: First of all I'd like to say that as a Michigan fan living in Columbus, Ohio life can be rough. Attending The Game this past Saturday, felt like a dream that was ended by a rude awakening. It was a heartbreaking loss and I am proud of my team yet I am sure I will hear plenty of smack talk at work on Monday. As for my question, what does more for the Big Ten's perception: Michigan State beating Ohio State in the B1G CG and MSU playing Stanford in the Rose Bowl and OSU getting matched up with Missouri or Alabama and then both B1G teams beat those teams in their bowl games, or OSU winning the national championship against a Florida State team and hearing about how the SEC didn't have a chance to defend its title streak? I think both scenarios would greatly boost the Big Ten's image, yet I can't decide which scenario would boost it more.

Brian Bennett: I feel for you Justin, and for Michigan fans everywhere. I can imagine it's not too fun to see your two biggest rivals play for the Big Ten championship on Saturday. As for your question, I'll go with the national championship. Sure, there would be some griping from the SEC that Ohio State lucked its way to a title, and even more so nationally if Jameis Winston weren't available for Florida State. Still, when people talk about SEC dominance, do they bring up BCS bowl wins? No, they brag about national titles. That's the ultimate prize, and it's been 12 years since a Big Ten team held the crystal football. People would forget in time the circumstances around the championship, but -- as they say -- flags fly forever. A national title from the Big Ten would also give the league a nice boost heading into the playoff era.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: I understand the annual awards are individual based, but how can a Michigan offensive lineman POSSIBLY win a conference award? Again, I understand this is an individual award, and Taylor Lewan won the award last year, but let's look at some of the stats that directly relate to the offensive line. Team Sacks allowed -- 3rd worst in B1G. Rushing yards per game -- 2nd worst. So the offensive line couldn't pass protect very well (even with a very mobile QB) and couldn't open up running lanes (again includes yards Gardner earned when protection broke down). What exactly did Lewan do to earn this award?

Brian Bennett: Michigan would tell you that Lewan graded out higher this year than he did a season ago when he was a first-team All-American and the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year for the first time. They'll also say that he didn't give up a sack this year. I feel for Lewan, and offensive line is one area where every single player has to be in sync or the whole thing breaks down. The Wolverines' well-documented blocking woes weren't Lewan's fault. Still, I think some of that lack of team success has to be factored in, and I saw Lewan lose his composure in the Michigan State game. My pick for offensive lineman of the year in 2013 would have been Ohio State's Jack Mewhort.

Brutus from The Ninth Circle writes: Hey, Brian, not sure how to read the Penn State win against Wisconsin this past weekend. Do you think BO'B squad exceeded their potential, or did they finally just live up to it? I'm thinking it's the latter, in that the talent was there all season but just hadn't been working together at the same time. Seems like they may have a a brighter future than some predicted.

Brian Bennett: Keeping in mind the obvious depth and talent issues that Bill O'Brien faced, there were definitely times that Penn State underachieved this season. The Nittany Lions lost by 20 to Indiana, probably should have lost to Illinois at home and got smoked by 49 points at Ohio State. The defense was a major problem, as was inconsistency on offense. Don't forget that the Lions played with a true freshman quarterback. I saw Penn State as team with some very good players that was capable of putting together strong performances at time. It just happened that its best performance came at the end.

Kevin from Evanston writes: With Northwestern being a Top-5 APR school can't they go bowling at 5-7? If they were to go to the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit, plenty of fans would travel.

Brian Bennett: There is a way that Northwestern could get into a bowl. I wrote about this last year when the NCAA approved a new bowl waiver. Basically, if there aren't enough 6-6 teams to fill all the postseason slots, the bowls can pick other teams in this order:
  • Teams that finish 6-6 with wins against two FCS opponents;
  • Teams that finish 6-7 by losing in their conference title game;
  • Teams that finish 6-7 but normally play 13 games (so, basically, Hawaii);
  • FCS teams in transition to the FBS that are at least 6-6
  • FBS teams that finish 5-7, but finish in the Top 5 of the NCAA's academic progress rate

Northwestern ranked No. 1 in the APR so would be eligible under that fifth clause. But it's not going to happen this year. There are 35 bowl games, and more than 70 teams are already at least 6-6 with more possibilities to come this weekend. So the Wildcats will be staying home.

Jim from Albuquerque, N.M., writes: I think Bo Pelini is right. You take all the media hype about whether or not he is on the hot seat, and it's not right. I am glad he stood his ground. The media is not into "equal harassment." As for the refs, they made a bad call on a block NU's wide receiver made on a PSU defender. I would have been angry as a head coach too. That was a reasonable block; and the receiver's head was in front of the defender. The media is ruthless and should be censured for damage they can inflict on a football program's image. And there should be legal implications.

Brian Bennett: Sure, Jim. It's the media's fault that Nebraska gave up 70 points in the Big Ten championship game last year and had a whole bunch of fans ready to make a change. It's the media's fault that Pelini has lost four games every year. It's the media's fault that Pelini hasn't delivered a conference championship or a BCS bowl. It's the media's fault that Nebraska continually shoots itself in the foot with turnovers and has the same volatile personality as its head coach. It's the media's fault that Pelini nearly hit an official with his hat and then cursed in his postgame press conference that was broadcast live, just the latest in a long line of examples of Pelini failing to control his anger.

Yep, all of that is on reporters, because certainly no one else had ever talked about or considered that Pelini might get fired. To borrow another man's words, If you want to arrest me, go ahead and arrest me.
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The Big Ten finally has a championship game that rivals the SEC's in national significance.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten is following the SEC's lead in another area: handing out discipline.

A league that considers itself a cut above in every area, including player conduct, had an opportunity to make a statement in the wake of Saturday's fight in the Ohio State-Michigan game. Instead, the league went soft, ensuring that its championship game, and Ohio State's national title hopes, would be unaffected by the ugly and embarrassing incident.

Here's what we learned from the Big Ten's ridiculous response Monday night: Fighting doesn't have long-term consequences. Twisting a helmet? Go right ahead. Just conduct yourself like a gentleman afterward.

After spending two days reviewing the officials' report from the game and the video of the fracas, the Big Ten decided to hand down no additional discipline to the Ohio State and Michigan players involved. The league merely issued a public reprimand -- the wussiest punishment possible -- for Ohio State offensive lineman Marcus Hall and the Buckeyes' coaching staff after Hall gave the crowd a double-bird salute following his ejection from the game. No other players were named by the league, which praised both coaching staffs for defusing the fight.

Ohio State's Dontre Wilson and Michigan's Royce Jenkins-Stone also were ejected Saturday, but they and others -- like Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas and Michigan defensive back Delano Hill -- were spared any blowback from the conference.

The Big Ten is falling back on the NCAA's fighting policy, which calls for players ejected in the first half of a game to miss only the remainder of that game. Although the league has issued suspensions before for throwing punches, they have come for players who weren't ejected during the game.

The league had an opportunity to do more and show that behavior like Saturday's, even in a bitter rivalry game, is unacceptable and has long-term consequences. Monday's wimpy response will be seen as an effort to protect the league's title game and one of its biggest brands in Ohio State.

Criticize Ohio State coach Urban Meyer if you want for not tacking on additional playing-time penalties for Hall and Wilson. Honestly, I don't know many coaches who would have. They're trying to win championships and can impose some internal discipline. Michigan State didn't suspend William Gholston for his actions in the 2011 Michigan game, so the Big Ten stepped in with a suspension. The league should have done the same in this case.

Even a half-game suspension, which the SEC probably has trademarked, would have shown some teeth here. Instead, the Big Ten protects its championship game from being affected, and its biggest brand from being impacted in its quest to reach the national title game.

Monday's response will add to the widely held belief by many Big Ten fan bases that the league goes all out to protect Ohio State and Michigan. The response will bring more heat for league commissioner Jim Delany, who still gets ripped for going to bat for Ohio State's "Tat-5" to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

The championship game is a national showcase opportunity for the Big Ten, a chance to display its best product and the values it holds so dear. You'll hear a lot about honoring legends and building leaders, and big lives and big stages.

Then Wilson might return the opening kickoff, and Hall will take the field with Ohio State's starting offensive line. Are those the images the Big Ten wants to present?

"As bad as it was, we're fortunate the incident did not escalate any further," the Big Ten's SECtatement reads. "More can, and should, be done by both coaching staffs in the future to prevent similar incidents."

The Big Ten could have and should have done more, but chose to do the bare minimum.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Ohio State Buckeyes were losing it: the game, their composure and possibly their perfect season.

They admittedly became too wrapped up in the emotion of The Game. They started by yapping at Michigan players before and after the whistle. Things quickly got much uglier. A brawl following a Buckeyes kickoff return early in the second quarter resulted in two Ohio State players (starting right guard Marcus Hall and H-back/returner Dontre Wilson) and one Michigan player (linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone) being ejected for throwing punches.

"Disappointed with that; I don't know where that came from," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "That's unacceptable."

[+] EnlargeFight
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioDontre Wilson was one of two Ohio State players ejected after this second-quarter brawl at Michigan.
Hall exited the field with both middle fingers raised to the crowd. No, he wasn't making the "H" in O-H-I-O. The image quickly made its way around Twitter.

It could have been the lasting image from Ohio State's first loss under Meyer, one that would have ended the Buckeyes' quest for the crystal football.

Instead, No. 3 Ohio State provided some other snapshots not soon to be forgotten in one of the most memorable editions of The Game in its storied history, one Meyer called an instant classic. The Buckeyes will remember running back Carlos Hyde, responding from his fourth-quarter fumble, triggering an overpowering six-play, 65-yard drive that he capped with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2 minutes, 20 seconds to play. Hyde finished with more rushing yards (226) than any Buckeyes player has ever had against Michigan.

They'll also remember redshirt freshman nickelback Tyvis Powell stepping in front of a slant pass to Drew Dileo on the game's decisive two-point play to record the clinching interception. Linebacker Ryan Shazier said the Buckeyes had prepared for two conversion plays from Michigan and the Wolverines ran one of them.

Most of all, they'll remember a 42-41 victory against a Michigan team that gave its best effort in months.

"That was our season on the line," Powell said. "We had 12-0, Gold Pants, chances for the national championship. It just hit me, like, 'Wow, I kind of just saved the season.'"

Quarterback Braxton Miller, who had 153 rushing yards and three touchdowns to go along with two passing touchdowns, noted that every game doesn't go perfectly and teams must handle adversity. But Ohio State hadn't faced any real adversity in weeks, not since an Oct. 19 home game against Iowa, which led at halftime and tied the game entering the fourth quarter. That day, the Buckeyes turned to Miller, Hyde and the Big Ten's best offensive line to mount long, sustained drives.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller rushed for three touchdowns and threw for two at Michigan.
It was a similar formula Saturday as Ohio State's defense had no answers for quarterback Devin Gardner and a suddenly dynamic Michigan offense, which stirred from its month-long slumber with a brilliant game plan that produced 603 yards and 31 first downs. The Wolverines gained just 158 yards the previous week at Iowa; they had 208 in the first quarter Saturday.

"They kind of looked like a different team," said Shazier, who added 14 more tackles to his swelling season total. "But we knew that would happen. ... It's called a rivalry."

It's a rivalry Ohio State continues to dominate, winning nine of the teams' past 10 meetings. There was little talk afterward of Michigan State and the upcoming Big Ten title game, or the lack of style points in beating an unranked opponent, or where the Buckeyes would wind up in Sunday night's BCS standings.

The road ahead, at least for now, didn't matter much to Meyer or his players.

"We're living in the moment right now," tight end Jeff Heuerman said. "It was such a crazy ending. Everyone's head is still spinning. A win's a win, and we'll take it however we can get it. What's 12 times two? Twenty-four straight wins.

"I'm an econ major. I shouldn't have said that out loud."

Ohio State's overall stock likely fell Saturday, particularly a defense that "didn't execute very well," Meyer said. But it's easy to invest in an offense that has looked unstoppable during Big Ten play, averaging 46 points and 531.3 yards in eight league contests.

The Buckeyes answered three Michigan touchdowns Saturday with touchdowns of their own.

"They matched score for score, and that's tough to do on the road," Meyer said.

Hyde has 1,249 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in league play, telling ESPN.com that he runs "angry" because of his three-game suspension to begin the season. While Meyer knew his defense needed a breather before the two-point play, the Buckeyes offense was ready for overtime, if needed.

"[Michigan] went for two because they didn't want to go to overtime," Hyde said. "They knew what was going to happen. We would have scored; I have no doubt. We were having success all day."

The days ahead will bring bigger challenges for the Buckeyes, starting with the potential fallout from the fight. The Big Ten is reviewing the officials' report from Saturday's game, as well as video from the fight, to determine if additional discipline is warranted.

Meyer noted after the game that since the fight occurred in the first half, any suspension might not carry over. But the Big Ten typically has added a full game to any player ejected for throwing punches.

"Am I concerned? We're going to enjoy this win, get on the bus and go home," Meyer said, before adding, "I'm concerned about everything."

The fight still could end up costing the Buckeyes, but it didn't on Saturday. They regained their composure just in time, made just enough plays to beat a rival and preserved perfection for another week.

Next stop: Indianapolis.

OSU graphicESPN Stats & Information No Ohio State player has ever rushed for more yards against Michigan than Carlos Hyde did Saturday.

Big Ten ESPN 300 analysis 

October, 29, 2013
10/29/13
8:00
PM ET

The ESPN 300 list has been updated and with 24 ESPN 300 commitments in the Big Ten, it's no surprise that there are some changes to the conference.

Here is a look at how the Big Ten was impacted by the recent changes.

Who is rising:

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
5:00
PM ET
It's mail time. I'll warn you in advance, it's going to get weird at the end.

Jason from Columbus writes: Brian, Iowa is the only FBS team in the country that has not allowed a rushing touchdown in the country this season. Ohio State is 12th in the country with 17 rushing touchdowns in only 6 games. Who comes out on top this weekend, Iowa's rush defense or Carlos Hyde, Dontre Wilson, Jordan Hall, and the rest of the Buckeyes who can run through a defense?

Brian Bennett: Good question. Urban Meyer is so impressed with Iowa's front seven that he mentioned them in the same sentence as Alabama this week. Not sure I'd go that far, but the improvement of the Hawkeyes' defense up front has been one of the pleasant surprises this season. However, as you mentioned, Ohio State has a great running game. And that all starts with what has been the best offensive line in the Big Ten for the past two years. The Buckeyes' blockers are big, physical and smart, and they pave the way for the speed of Hall, Wilson and Braxton Miller as well as the power of Hyde. That's going to be tough for any defense to stop, including one playing as well against the run as Iowa.

The bigger concern I'd have if I were Kirk Ferentz and Phil Parker is Miller taking shots down the field. Ohio State is not a consistently good passing team but does connect at times on the deep ball, and the Hawkeyes are more vulnerable on the back end.

David K. from Oxnard, Calif., writes: First off, I'm biased: I've been a Badger football fan since November 1962, when I attended the UW-Minnesota game, which the Badgers won with a great comeback, led by Ron Vanderkelen and Pat Richter. And I attended the UW, off and on, from 1966 to 1974. Biases admitted, why the heck isn't Melvin Gordon even being mentioned in the discussions regarding the 2013 Heisman Trophy? He's the 3rd-leading rusher in the BCS division with a 9.7 YPC average. Every time he touches the football, everybody holds their breath. I mean, c'mon, guys, what does he have to do? Leap tall buildings in a single bound?

Brian Bennett: I love watching Gordon, and we named him our midseason offensive player of the year as well as an ESPN.com first half All-American. So he's on the radar for the Heisman, but there are a few things really working against him. One is that Wisconsin has two losses. For better or worse, the Heisman usually goes to players on national title contenders, although Robert Griffin III and Tim Tebow both won it on teams with multiple losses. Another problem is that in the Badgers' signature game, at Ohio State in primetime, Gordon has his lowest output of the season and got injured to boot. Wisconsin simply doesn't have any marquee games left on the schedule, so he won't get the opportunity to make up for it. Gordon would have to put up insane numbers to get back in the conversation. He is, of course, capable of doing just that.

Alex H. from Bloomington, Ill., writes: Watching that Michigan-PSU game was a bummer, I will not lie. Can we not act like the sky is falling for a moment? The defense played opportunistic despite that last-minute 4th quarter drive, and even on those throws coverage wasn't bad. I was impressed with Gardner's 2nd half. The biggest concern is Lewan out, the run game stalling. This loss doesn't hinder there Big Ten championship goals as they still play Neb, NU, MSU in November. I'd still put them near the top of the Legends, am I being too optimistic in thinking Indy?

Brian Bennett: Michigan certainly can still win the Legends Division. But the Wolverines are going to have to fix some major problems first. You mentioned the running game, and it is abysmal. It's going to be hard to win those big games in November if Michigan cannot effectively run the ball. The turnovers by Gardner are of course another massive problem. The defense, meanwhile, has been decent but not overpowering, though Jake Ryan's return should help. As I've written and asked, what exactly is the strength of this Michigan team? I can't seem to find one. And so it's hard to envision a team like putting together a long winning streak, especially once the schedule toughens up in November.

John K. from Austin, Texas, writes: You and Adam noted that Brady Hoke "played for the safe field goal instead of going for the touchdown in overtime" as if that is a bad thing. Now, I can understand if he was just going for the tie, but each time it was for the win. He has a good kick (or at least at that point no reason not to believe that). With a good kicker and 42 yards for the win... I'm taking that every day of the week!

Brian Bennett: To be clear, I'm not saying Hoke should have been going for it on fourth down when all he needed was a field goal to win. I have a major problem with the playcalling on first and second down, when Michigan gained two total yards after Sam Ficken missed a field goal in the first overtime. I know Brendan Gibbons has been a very good kicker, but a 40-yard field goal on the road in overtime is by no means a sure bet for most college kickers. And then you run the risk of having it blocked, which is exactly what happened.

It's only fair to also point out that Michigan did throw a pass in the third overtime after Allen Robinson's fumble, and it gained nine yards. But then on third and one, I hated the call to have Fitzgerald Toussaint run it when Michigan's running game had been terrible all game.

We saw the same thing late in the fourth quarter, when Michigan had the ball at Penn State's 28-yard line with 3:10 left, leading by seven. The next three plays were Toussaint runs, which ended up losing two yards, plus a delay of game penalty, to take the Wolverines out of field-goal range.

I understand playing it safe with the lead on the road, but Toussaint had 27 rushes for 27 yards in last week's game. Why would you go to that well 27 times when it clearly isn't working, especially when the game is on the line? You might as well just kneel. And how many times over the years have we seen teams stop being aggressive and then lose?

Sam from East Lansing writes: First time, long time. Brian, as we progress through the season and my Spartan offense has appeared to return to average (very, very average), I have a scenario question for you. If a Legend' team plays an undefeated Ohio State team in the B1G Championship and loses, possibly putting the Buckeyes in the National Championship, does that mean the loser of B1G Championship game is put in the Rose Bowl automatically or would the bowl committee go back and look at win-loss records, including the B1G Championship lose? Should Legends contender teams who miss Ohio State on the schedule (ie. Michigan State, Nebraska) be rooting for Ohio State to go undefeated? Thoughts of Michigan 2012 Sugar Bowl mishap are dancing in my head. Please calm them.

Brian Bennett: Not sure you'll like my answer, Sam. If Ohio State goes to the BCS title game, then the Rose Bowl is free to choose any team that qualifies in the BCS standings as its replacement pick. That means the Rose could go outside the Big Ten for its choice, but with this being the 100th edition of the game and the last one before the playoff could disrupt things, I think the Rose Bowl will make every attempt to stage a classic Big Ten-Pac-12 matchup.

The problem is that, historically, losers of conference championship games don't get selected for at-large spots. Bowls prefer teams who are riding winning streaks rather than ones coming off a loss. And Michigan State's issue could be a lack of signature wins. A team like Wisconsin, should it go 10-2, or a Legends runner-up like Nebraska or Michigan could leapfrog the Big Ten runner-up in such a scenario.

As an aside, I know Michigan State is dying to get back to the Rose Bowl. If the Spartans lost to Ohio State in the championship game but still got picked for the Rose, would it feel ... earned? Or does just getting to the Rose Bowl any way possible enough?

Glenn from Florida writes: Brian, aside from your's, Adam's, and all of ESPN's love for OSU, how can you justify the PSU-Michigan game as not the best and biggest game?

Brian Bennett: I guess you're talking about our choice of Ohio State-Northwestern as the top game of the first half. You know, just because games go to multiple overtimes does not mean they're great. Michigan-Penn State was very sloppy, and some of the continued failures in overtime was ugly to watch. Northwestern-Ohio State was a far better game aesthetically, in my opinion.

Barry M. from Sheboygan, Wis., writes: I'm guessing we will not see any Purdue players on [your fantasy teams] this season. You could make it interesting and add a rule that you must take a player from each team for at least one week during the season.

Brian Bennett: It's nothing personal, Barry, it's just that I want to beat Adam much more than I want to have every school represented on my fantasy team. This isn't the baseball all-star game. Purdue does not have a player in the top 10 in rushing or passing and is starting a true freshman quarterback. There's just not much to choose from. But I'll make you this promise, Barry. If I have either wrapped up the championship or am out of it in the final week, I will pick up a Boilermaker for my team. Even if it's just the kickers.

Bart from Waverly, Neb., writes: I see how you and Adam both voted Wisconsin in the 17-18 spot. My question is, how do you justify ranking them that high when they have two losses? Granted, one was to OSU, but the other was to a (currently) unranked ASU. I am just curious as the Huskers have had their defensive troubles, but our single loss was to a top-10 team in UCLA, and only Adam was generous enough to include Big Red in his rankings.

Brian Bennett: I've heard from a few Huskers fans who are miffed that I didn't rank Nebraska, and many of them try to use the loss to UCLA as some sort of justification. Sorry, but you don't get credit just for playing a highly-ranked team, especially if you lose to said team by 20 points at home while looking terrible in the second half. Nebraska just hasn't beaten anyone with a pulse. I won't rank the Huskers until they do, and if that happens, they'll climb up my ballot quickly.

It's a much different story for Wisconsin, whose two losses were on the road to very good teams, and one of those defeats was a direct result of some of the worst officiating incompetency I've ever seen. The Badgers played Ohio State, clearly the best team in the league, to within a touchdown on the road and smashed what was a Top 20 Northwestern team. There's no doubt in my mind that Wisconsin deserves a Top 20 ranking.

Tim P. from Port Washington, Wis., writes: It is maddening to me to keep hearing about Michigan's "winged" helmets. The markings on a wolverine are the alleged "wings" on its head and stripes down the rest of its body. The Michigan helmet is thus simply a representation of the markings on the wolverine animal. Of course, the Michigan athletic department gets away with calling these helmets "winged" because few, if any, Michiganders have ever actually seen a wolverine. Wolverines are not indigenous to Michigan as their habitat is prmarily alpine tundra and mountain forests; environments which are found only in North America in Canada and the Western U.S. It is estimated there are only 250 to 300 wolverines still living and they are found in Western Montana, Idaho and Eastern Washington and Oregon. So I don't know who started this myth that the Michigan helmets are "winged" but I am sick and tired of hearing about it.

Brian Bennett: OK, then. It appears we've reached the bizarre part of the mailbag. Proceed with caution...

SSG Smith, Justin from Ft Campbell Ky writes: Hey Brian, I am not by any means the most knowledgeable NCAA Football fan out there. I say this to humble my self before I ask this question. Were you bullied by a Nebraska fan as a child (or young adult)? ... How do you give so many teams the advantage over Nebraska. Your Biased is unprofessional and your over all hate for the Huskers is blinding. Why do you blog for the Big Ten without being biased?

Brian Bennett: Ho, boy. Yep, I hate Nebraska so much that I picked the Huskers to win the Legends Division in the preseason. And I picked them to win the Big Ten title game last year. What a hater! Justin also included in his email the records of the teams Nebraska has beaten this year, as if that somehow helped his case. But he did admit right up front that he wasn't knowledgeable, so I can forgive.

John F. from Mansfield, Ohio, writes: IF you represent the BIG, you should parlay this into BIG votes, I constantly watch "How You VOTED" and ALL I see is YOUR votes for the SEC not the BIG ... YOU cannot say you are BIG representatives, and continue to give other conferences your votes....... this makes you 2-faced and opinionated as well, that's great for people who choose to pencil whip a conference for being the best in the nation... It is press writers who have a vote that are destroying the BIG .......... NOT THE PLAYERS

Brian Bennett: I only included about half of John's email, which if there were any justice would have been cobbled together by random letters from magazines. I guess the ESPN.com power rankings ballots that Adam and I submit each week are what's holding the Big Ten back. Sure, makes sense. Also, covering a league as a reporter and "representing" a conference are two very different things. Until the Big Ten starts signing my checks, I'll report, write and vote with my conscience, thanks.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
5:00
PM ET
Mail time ...

Mark H. from Columbus, Ohio, writes: My comment/question is in regards to Ohio State. If it were not for the bowl ban last year, Ohio State probably would have received more votes and more "love" in regards to the polls. They probably would have been in the BCS title game, and with the way Notre Dame played and the way the OSU defense came together, they could have won the national title. If OSU runs the table this year, that would be 25 consecutive victories. The last time that was accomplished was the USC dynasties of 2003-2005. I agree their schedule is not the greatest (however some of that is out of their control due to when games are scheduled) in regards to quality of opponents. However, it is difficult to win 25 games in a row in any sport. When will OSU start getting the credit that they deserve? It seems ridiculous that a team could win 25 straight and not play for a national title. Yes, the schedule is not extremely tough, but not all of our games are against FCS opponents. When will OSU get their shot and the past stop hurting them?

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesOhio State quarterback Braxton Miller tries to recover his own fumble against Northwestern on Saturday.
Brian Bennett: I'm not in any way convinced that Ohio State was BCS title caliber last year, but if the Buckeyes had gotten in against Notre Dame, there was a good shot they would have won it (And SEC fans would never have stopped complaining about it). Yet I don't think any past Ohio State performances or history is hurting this team as much as the schedule and the perceived weakness of the Big Ten. Right or wrong, people just don't think the Buckeyes have played strong-enough competition, and though their wins over Wisconsin and Northwestern were terrific, they were in a dogfight at the end of those games.

Urban Meyer's team is actually in a good position in the USA Today coaches' poll at No. 3 (the AP poll makes no difference in the BCS formula). Yet it's not so simple as saying a loss by Alabama or Oregon will get Ohio State into the top two. The Florida State-Clemson winner is likely to leapfrog the Buckeyes, and Stanford could do the same if it beats Oregon. If you're an Ohio State fan, you've got to root for the Pac-12 and ACC champions to each have one loss. If that happens, then the Buckeyes should get a shot if they run the table, which is becoming an increasingly likely scenario.

The problem is, as I wrote Sunday, that the top teams just aren't losing much this year. That could change in the second half. A few key games to keep an eye on in regards to Ohio State's chances:

  • Saturday: Oregon at Washington. The Huskies gave Stanford all they could handle last weekend. Beating Oregon will be tough, but the game's at home for U-Dub.
  • Oct. 19: Stanford vs. UCLA: If the Bruins can win in Palo Alto, the Cardinal would already have one loss heading into its Nov. 7 showdown against Oregon.
  • Nov. 30: Clemson at South Carolina. Say the Tigers beat Florida State (the game is in Death Valley). Then the Gamecocks could knock the ACC out of BCS title contention here.
  • Nov. 30: Florida State at Florida. Same deal as above for the Seminoles. (Yes, Ohio State fans might have to root for the SEC). The Noles also play Miami on Nov. 2.

Ohio State is going to need some help somewhere. But it must also actually win its next seven games first.




John from Fort Lauderdale writes: Don't know about you but I love this Ohio State team. Just got done playing a physical Wisconsin team and played on the road at Northwestern, with the Wildcats having a week off to prepare, and they still won! I have to give credit where credit is due, OSU didn't play their best game by any means, and I think Northwestern played with more passion and played as best they could.

Brian Bennett: What's interesting to me about these Buckeyes is that Meyer has kind of the rock-star persona, at least in college football land, and there's lots of buzz about Ohio State's speed and athletes. But, really, the 18-game winning streak has been more about grinding it out. For me, the offensive line has been the biggest key to everything. It's the best line in the Big Ten, and the Buckeyes can wear teams down at the end of game by simply lining it up and running. They've done that ever since the win at Michigan State last year and did it again in the second half in Evanston. Speaking of which ...




Confused Fan from Somewhere, Ohio writes: All spring and summer building up to the season, Urban Meyer stressed how last year Ohio State didn't exactly run the spread offense he wanted, and it was more of a pro style. Then he'd talk about how the real spread offense was going to be run this year. The first few games we saw a little bit of the H-Back with Jordan Hall/Dontre Wilson but it was very little. Now that we have Carlos Hyde back it seems like they've got right back to the offense we ran last year. This last week against Northwestern, Hall didn't even play, and Wilson had zero carries or receptions and the H-back was nonexistent. When will we see the REAL spread offense if at all?!?!?

Brian Bennett: We saw it a bit more against Wisconsin, when Wilson was used quite a bit. But Meyer went old school Big Ten against Northwestern. I think he and Tom Herman recognized that Ohio State had the advantage up front and that was the best way to beat the Wildcats, who to their credit have increased their speed on the perimeter in recent years under Pat Fitzgerald. But Northwestern isn't the biggest team physically at a lot of positions. Hey, you do what you have to do to win games, and the combination of speed and power is what makes the Buckeyes tough to spot. They did score 40 in Evanston, though two of those came on non-offensive touchdowns (and the last one made a lot of people in Las Vegas mad. Or giddy).




Mike from Macungie, Pa., writes: I'm sure you're getting a lot of grief from the Penn State fans for your Indiana article, but I did want to say it was very well written. It was a tough game to watch, and an even tougher loss to swallow, but Indiana played REALLY well and we did not. Anyway, as always keep up the good work, and hopefully you can write about Penn State's one-week turnaround against Michigan!

Brian Bennett: I haven't gotten any grief, and I actually went to Bloomington figuring I'd pick up a feature story on Penn State heading into Michigan week. Then Indiana pulled the upset, and it turned into a bigger and much different story than I anticipated. And apparently more than Indiana fans expected, because the stands were sadly about half empty.




Terry from Newport News, Va., writes: With the obvious decline of the product PSU can put on the field; will Bill O'Brien's NFL stock fall? Should he have bolted after last season? I'd hate to see him leave but It looks like a couple .500 or less seasons in our future.

Brian Bennett: O'Brien would not want to work for any NFL franchise that somehow sees this as an indictment of his coaching ability. While O'Brien didn't have his best day in Bloomington -- I thought he should have played for points early, and I didn't like how he went away from the run against the Big Ten's worst rush defense -- a decline by Penn State would have so much more to do with the roster and scholarship issues than the head coach. The Nittany Lions are playing a true freshman quarterback and have, for them, a shocking lack of big-time playmakers on defense. Former college head coaches like Greg Schiano and Chip Kelly aren't exactly setting the NFL world on fire. But O'Brien's background as the highly successful former New England Patriots offensive coordinator ensures he will remain a hot commodity at the next level.




Andrew from Bloomington writes: After reading several posts about the IU/PSU game, the vast majority of bloggers say it was an awful loss for the Lions and rarely credit the Hoosiers for a BIG (pun intended) victory. They especially like to blame Zwinak/Lynch/Belton instead of actually crediting IU for having SOME semblance of a run defense (WHAT?!?). I understand BO'B is working under the circumstance of reduced scholarships, but shouldn't people be giving more credit to Indiana for a win they needed for bowl eligibility?

Brian Bennett: I got the sense, from talking to Kevin Wilson and some players afterward, that Indiana wasn't surprised by that performance. In fact, they felt like that's how they should have been playing. If you'll recall, the Hoosiers put up a lot of yards on teams last season, but they didn't always translate that to points. They were able to do that in the second half on Saturday, and it was clear that their receiving corps, led by Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes, was too much for Penn State's secondary. Wilson has also been adding young talent to the defense, and while it's far from a great or even good unit, it finally made some plays in key moments. It helped that Penn State didn't have a lot of options outside of Allen Robinson in the passing game, and that O'Brien didn't stick with the run. I think Zach Zwinak could have had a really big day if he'd gotten 25-to-30 carries instead of only 17.




Brian from Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., writes: Do you think Ameer Abdullah's beastly game against Illinois was: A) A one-time, supernatural occurence, B) A product of a leaky Illinois front 7, or C) A sign that Ameer has finally found his running style and rhythm?

Brian Bennett: I'd go with a combination of B and C. Abdullah has had big games before, though nothing quite as large as 225-yard effort on Saturday. He's always had the talent to be a great back in the Big Ten. I do think Abdullah has asserted himself and become a leader on the Nebraska offense, especially with Taylor Martinez out. And Illinois' defense is probably going to struggle against the better offenses in this league. Add in the fact that it was a windy day in Lincoln best suited for running the ball, and the conditions were ripe for an Abdullah explosion. Wish I'd had him on my Big Ten fantasy team, though I still crushed Rittenberg last week.




Pat from Madison, Wis., writes: Brian, I think J.J. Watt's and Russell Wilson's respective success in the NFL does more for Wisconsin's perception among recruits than either wins, or TV exposure. Now that practically every program can be seen on TV, traditional programs lose that carrot for recruits. As the NFL is the dream for the very best prospects, they'll want to know if there is a track record of success at the next level. What do you think?

Brian Bennett: I was just thinking about this the other day. Wisconsin can lay claim to two of the biggest stars in the NFL right now, and it's something they need to capitalize on. Gary Andersen knows this, and on Monday he talked about how he sent out care packages full of Badgers gear to former players. I'm sure he wouldn't mind seeing Wilson and Watt wearing a Wisconsin hat or sweatshirt while doing national interviews. As Andersen and the Badgers look to improve their national recruiting presence, they should emphasize how playing in Madison can lead to greatness at the next level.




Nick from Big Ten Country, USA: I need you to look deep into your crystal ball for me. No lotto numbers or anything silly like that, just important stuff like Michigan's future this season. When the season's finished what will the Wolverines' identity be as a team? Will we be able to look back on the success/failure of the team and point to how Devin Gardner overcame his turnover issues or will he let it define him? Will we be able to hang our hats on a solid defense that keeps us in games and makes stops when they're absolutely necessary? Will we focus on a young Michigan team that grew up in a hurry or showed their youth? Will it be another successful failure in which we find ourselves in some combination of 10+ wins, a win over Ohio, or a BCS bowl but no BIG Championship?

Brian Bennett: The crystal ball may work better after this weekend, because I'd like to see if Michigan can go get it done in State College. We know the Wolverines are awfully good at home, but the road has been a different story. And though Penn State has some issues, it also probably has the best offense Michigan's defense has faced. Like all Legends Division contenders, November will define the season for Brady Hoke's team. Michigan plays on the road against Michigan State, Iowa and Northwestern and has Nebraska and Ohio State at home that month. Rigorous.

Before the season, I picked Michigan to miss out on the Legends title because I thought the team was a bit too young. The schedule was viewed as highly advantageous, but I'm not so sure about those November road games, much less this weekend. This is a team that should improve, especially if Jake Ryan comes back mostly healthy. But I think we will eventually view this year as one of transition for Hoke's program, with something like a 9-3 record and Capital One Bowl appearance. That's what my crystal ball says for now. But check back later.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
4:00
PM ET
Every Big Ten team has already completed one-quarter of its regular-season schedule, and after this weekend, everybody but idle Illinois will have finished off a third of its regular season. (Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger).

With a little bit of data to crunch, it's time to bring back the weekly awards race tracker, where I attempt to gauge the temperature for some of the Big Ten's top individual honors. Please note that there's a long way to go, and performance in conference play looms large, so these will fluctuate wildly. But for now, here's how I see these races stacking up:

Graham–George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Penn State WR Allen Robinson: Receivers have a tough time winning these kinds of awards because they're so dependent on others. But I'd argue Robinson stands farther above his Big Ten peers at his position than any running back or quarterback right now. He ranks fourth in the FBS in receiving yards with 405 through three games, and that's with missing the first half of the opener because of a suspension. He's on pace for a 1,600-yard season.

2. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon: He's leading the Big Ten in rushing with 477 yards while averaging a ludicrous 12.9 yards per carry.

3. Michigan QB Devin Gardner: He would have been the frontrunner after Week 2, but his turnover binge against Akron really hurt. Still, he's leading the league in total offense.

4. Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld: He's tops in the conference in passing (917 yards) and passing touchdowns (10) while ranking seventh nationally in pass efficiency.

5. Iowa RB Mark Weisman: He's been Superman for the Hawkeyes so far, carrying the ball 85 times in three games and averaging 141.7 yards per game. The big news is that neither Braxton Miller, the reigning champ, nor Taylor Martinez appear in our initial Graham-George tracker. Miller simply hasn't played enough, while Martinez hasn't put up the rushing numbers we expected. But it's early.

Waiting room: Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase; Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon; Ohio State RB Jordan Hall

Nagurski–Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun: The Spartans sophomore gets the early nod in a wide-open race thanks to his scoring heroics (three defensive touchdowns so far) and being one of the faces of the league's best defense by a large margin.

2. Wisconsin LB Chris Borland: The Badgers statistically have the Big Ten's second-best defense, though that's propped up by two early cupcake opponents. Still, Borland has been his usual brilliant self, leading his team with 24 tackles.

3. Penn State DT DaQuan Jones: He was dominant in the Nittany Lions' first two games, not so much in the UCF shredding last week. Yet Jones' numbers -- 23 tackles, two sacks, five tackles for loss -- are very impressive.

4. Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman: Hageman is having the big senior season we expected from him. He has collected 4.5 tackles for loss, and his push inside has helped free teammate Theiren Cockran, who's leading the league in sacks (three).

5. Northwestern S Ibraheim Campbell: All he does is catch the other team's passes. Campbell has three interceptions so far and one in each of his past five games.

Waiting room: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier, Michigan State LB Max Bullough, Illinois LB Jonathan Brown, Iowa LB Christian Kirksey

Thompson–Randle El Freshman of the Year

1. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg: Keep reminding yourself that he's only 18 years old, but Hackenberg has been every bit as good as advertised, and quite possibly better. He has completed 71.7 percent of his passes for 851 yards and four touchdowns, though he does have three interceptions.

2. Ohio State WR Dontre Wilson: Speed kills, and Wilson is an assassin. He is averaging 9.3 yards per carry, has caught seven passes for 72 yards and has a 51-yard kickoff return. Expect his role to grow throughout the season. For now, this is a two-man race.

Waiting room: Michigan OL Kyle Kalis; Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner; Nebraska LB Josh Banderas, DE Avery Moss and DT Vincent Valentine; Indiana S Antonio Allen and LB T.J. Simmons; Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
From official visits past and future to a commitment, the Big Ten was buzzing with headlines this week.

Here’s a look at a few programs that highlight a busy week in this week’s Big Ten storylines.

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Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
5:00
PM ET
It's Wednesday. Business time. So let's get down to the business of your e-mails:

Adam from D.C. writes: After two weeks down, I have a couple questions/observations. First, Michigan should top the power rankings after putting down Notre Dame. OSU has yet to really impress/dominate their weak scheduled opponents. This was really evident when Baylor hung 70 points and put up 781 yards on the same Buffalo team that OSU only scored 40 on and put up 460 yards. Is Michigan really the B1G team to beat and should they be on top of the power rankings? Secondly, we all know the Nebraska defense is still having issues. But Northwestern has actually given up the most yards of all the B1G teams so far and is second-to-last in points per a game allowed. You could argue they had to play Cal, but then Cal just barely beat Portland State. So who has the worst defense in the B1G?

Brian Bennett: Adam and I had the Michigan-Ohio State power rankings debate on Saturday night. If you go only by what the two teams have on their 2013 résumés, then the Wolverines deserve to be on top. They are, after all, the only Big Ten team to defeat a ranked opponent. However, Ohio State hasn't had the opportunity to do the same, and we were convinced all offseason that the Buckeyes were the best and most talented team in the conference. Are we really going to abandon that notion simply because their wins over Buffalo and San Diego State (by a combined score of 82-27, by the way) weren't otherworldly beatdowns?

The other thing to consider here is that Urban Meyer has yet to play with a full deck. Carlos Hyde remains suspended, Bradley Roby and Rod Smith missed the opener, Braxton Miller missed most of last week's game, Corey Linsley has been recovering from an injury, etc. I still think Ohio State at full strength is the Big Ten's best team, but it sure would be nice to actually see that total lineup go against a strong opponent. Guess we'll have to wait for the Wisconsin game. Also: Two games are in the books. Let's not get too hung up on rankings just yet.

As for Northwestern, the defense hasn't put up terrific stats, but the Wildcats easily have played the toughest schedule in the first two weeks. They are the only team in the league who has opened against a pair of AQ teams, and whatever you want to say about Cal, that team is going to score a whole bunch of points this year. Syracuse really only moved the ball effectively in the second half after Northwestern had built a huge lead and might have been coasting a bit. The loss of cornerback Daniel Jones hurt in the Cal game, and freshman Dwight White needs to make some major improvements before Big Ten play. But I like the playmaking ability of that defense, which has come up with seven interceptions in the first two games.

It's impossible to judge Northwestern's defense statistically against a team like Wisconsin, which has pitched a pair of shutouts against FCS quality teams. The title of worst defense in the Big Ten still belongs to Indiana until proven otherwise.




Quinn from Moline, Ill., writes: Michigan came off a huge win recently, but Notre Dame hadn't completely proven themselves as a really good team, in my opinion. As well, Northwestern just dismantled Syracuse, but Syracuse isn't nearly as good as Notre Dame is. Who has more momentum going into Week 3?

Brian Bennett: Let's not take anything away from Michigan's win. Notre Dame is very, very good, and I believe that will be shown throughout the season. I can't believe how many people want to dismiss the Irish and seem to be completely forgetting that they still have many of the same players as last year's team that played for the BCS title.

Northwestern, to me, has been wildly impressive. You can't overstate how tough it was to start on the road in Pac-12 country, fly across two time zones and back, and then play a physical (if perhaps not offensively gifted) Syracuse team. And the Wildcats won both games by double digits without basically anything from Venric Mark. They deserve accolades right now, and if you don't think this is a legitimate conference contender, you're not paying attention.

As far as momentum? I'm not sure it matters. Both teams might be a little beat up, emotionally and physically, after these early season challenges. And Michigan plays Akron and UConn next, while Northwestern gets Western Michigan and Maine.




Mike from San Diego writes: Brian, I know the Badgers have played inferior competition so far this year, but I have never been more optimistic for a game against OSU. In Week 1, OSU didn't look too sharp against Buffalo (granted they were missing a few players due to alleged criminal activity). I don't expect the Badgers' defense to throw a shutout against the Buckeyes, but Wisconsin did hold them to the fewest amount of points in regulation last year. Let's say a glimpse of last year's defense shows up to the game and Wisconsin running backs run like they are capable. Stave is healthy (he was injured last year), and Miller already has a few bumps and bruises. Under those assumptions how do you like Bucky's chances? Personally, I am more worried about Northwestern the following week.

Brian Bennett: More worried about Northwestern at home than Ohio State on the road? That might be a first. Wisconsin has looked great the first two weeks -- who's had a better early honeymoon than Gary Andersen? -- but the competition was so weak that it's hard to know what that means. Bret Bielema's teams used to steamroll inferior competition at home all the time. The Badgers did play very well defensively against Ohio State last year. Miller might have been a bit banged up, but that Wisconsin defense did a great job of taking away his runs, gumming up the middle of the field and making it a slog. That could happen again, as we don't know yet how healthy Miller will actually be in two weeks with that MCL sprain. On the other hand, the Buckeyes are much better at receiver this year and have more weapons on offense, including Dontre Wilson and a healthy Jordan Hall. Plus, Carlos Hyde will be back that week with presumably fresh legs.

Of course, we also need to see how that young Silver Bullets defense will handle Wisconsin's powerful running game. We'll have a much, much better handle on the Badgers after this week's Arizona State matchup, which I think will tell us a lot more about Wisconsin's chances vs. Ohio State.




Steven from Ann Arbor writes: It has come up regarding Devin Gardner and the Michigan quarterback depth situation a couple times, and I apologize if it has already been addressed, but there is a significant amount of data that suggests running quarterbacks aren't nearly as injury-prone as we all (me included) naturally feel they would be. This link is a quick sample of what I could find off hand, and there is more, but, as unnatural as it seems, every additional Gardner run does not necessarily magnify his injury risk. With the example of Denard fresh in our memories from last year, this gets lost. I'm sure there are several factors, but one would probably be that hits at the end of a QB run are much more well prepared for than a blindside sack. It clearly isn't as simple as "more runs = more hits = more injuries."

Brian Bennett: Steven, we may overrate the injury risk of running quarterbacks, since there are plenty of those in college football and they're not getting hurt every week. Knowing how to slide and avoid contact at the end of a run is huge. But the anecdotal evidence on the other side is pretty strong, too. Just look at Braxton Miller, who had to leave Saturday's game against against San Diego State after spraining his MCL when he got sandwiched at the end of a run. Miller also got hurt last year vs. Purdue after taking a hit on a long run. Northwestern's Kain Colter suffered a concussion on the second play at Cal when he was smacked on a run. Quarterbacks can get hurt staying in the pocket as well -- just ask Wisconsin's Joel Stave, who suffered a broken collarbone when he was sacked last year by Michigan State. But I feel pretty good about Devin Gardner's blind side as long as Taylor Lewan is protecting it. I don't have a problem with Michigan running Gardner, because that's a big weapon and they have to play to his strengths. But I find it hard to believe that there isn't added risk of injury there.




Matt E. from Southern MD writes: Brian, thanks for all the work you and Adam do to entertain us B1G faithful. Why no love for Penn State in "What We Learned in the Big Ten: Week 2" though? We obviously have some growing to do and need to establish some consistency, but I thought there were a number of positives to take away from this past weekend.

Brian Bennett: Matt, the title of that post is "What We Learned in the Big Ten," not "Giving Love to Teams in the Big Ten" or "Here Are Some Positives to Take Away." We're taking a big-picture approach there, trying to assess the big themes and league-wide revelations from each game day. We do only five items per week. With 12 teams in the Big Ten, odds are we're not going to hit on every team in great detail, especially during a nonconference weekend that includes some pretty lopsided games. As for Penn State, what did we really learn about the Nittany Lions? Christian Hackenberg had some highs and lows, the running game looked much better and the defense continues to shine. But it was Eastern Michigan. Penn State should beat Eastern Michigan 45-7. We learned much more about Penn State in Week 1 against Syracuse, a game I covered in person, and we'll likely learn more this week against UCF.




Dave from Kansas City writes: Do you think Kirk Ferentz is in as much danger of losing his job as Mack Brown or Lane Kiffin?

Brian Bennett: It's actually an interesting comparison, because Brown and Kiffin are among the handful of coaches who make as much or more per year as Ferentz. The Kiffin similarities end, however, when you consider he's only under contract until 2015, at a reported $4 million per year. While eating two more years at that price would be painful, USC can afford it.

Brown's situation is closer to Ferentz, contract wise. Texas has him signed through the 2020 season -- the same length as Ferentz's deal -- with a $5.2 million annual salary and $100,000 raises each year. But, ESPN's Darrell Rovell has reported that Brown's buyout right now is only (maybe I should say "only") $2.75 million. For a school that has more money than Walter White buried in the desert, that's pocket change. Iowa would owe Ferentz around $18 million if it fired him this season, a figure that is still crazy to wrap your head around. And the program isn't nearly as rich as Texas.

Of course, the Hawkeyes are coming off a win, so let's be optimistic here. Iowa really needs to beat Iowa State this week to calm down this talk about Ferentz and to position itself for a potential return to a bowl game this year.




Jesse from Plymouth, Mich., writes: Part of me thinks MSU (and its fan base) should take the patient approach with Damion Terry -- allow him to learn the playbook, create chemistry with his teammates, etc. Besides, if we play him and he ends up finishing it out, you can pretty much guarantee Cook, O'Connor and Maxwell won't be on the roster next year. That's a scary thought knowing we won't have any backup QBs besides true freshmen. However, the other part of me wants to see him on the field badly. Everyone keeps pointing to the fact that he doesn't know the playbook as well and that would hinder the play calling. After seeing pro set, read option, Wildcat, pistol, abracadabra ... maybe that would be a good thing, going back to basics and returning to a more simplified scheme for the time being?

Brian Bennett: Well, first off I can guarantee you that Andrew Maxwell won't be on the roster next year because he's a senior. Let's also acknowledge the mythical, magical qualities that fans associate to the backup quarterback. The thrill of the unknown is always so much better than the guy you've seen on the field struggling. Fact is, almost nobody has actually witnessed Terry perform in a Michigan State uniform in practice besides the coaches and a few media members. I trust Mark Dantonio's coaching staff to know whether he's ready to go.

My take on it has been and remains that if the coaches think Terry is ready, or that there's a better than average chance he could offer an improvement on the other quarterbacks the Spartans have, then he needs to play. Because there is no sense in saving a guy's redshirt when it's possible that he could help you win now. This Michigan State team is built to win this year with its defense and its schedule. You worry about next year next year. Whether Terry is in fact an upgrade, no one really knows. I do know that if the receivers, offensive line and play calling don't all also get better, whoever is playing quarterback for the Spartans will have a difficult time succeeding this year.

Big Ten weekend rewind: Week 2

September, 9, 2013
9/09/13
11:10
AM ET
Week 2 didn't provide a lot of enticing matchups, but it did get us dreaming a little bit.

Michigan's impressive takedown of Notre Dame moved the Wolverines up near the edge of the top 10 in the polls and gave the Big Ten another national title contender alongside Ohio State. But those aren't the only teams looking good right now. If league teams can survive some of their nonconference challenges this weekend, we could have some serious heavyweight showdowns on tap in the coming weeks. Would any of these interest you?

5-0 Michigan at 5-0 Penn State on Oct. 12? It could happen, with the Wolverines playing Akron, UConn and Minnesota next, while the Nittany Lions have UCF, Kent State and Indiana.
5-0 Ohio State at 4-0 Northwestern on Oct. 5? The Wildcats have looked great in beating a pair of AQ teams -- Cal and Syracuse -- by double digits in the first two weeks. They've got Western Michigan and Maine left before gearing up for the Buckeyes. Ohio State, of course, still has to get past Wisconsin on Sept. 28 in what should be another high-stakes duel. But the game against the Badgers is in Columbus.
8-0 Nebraska at 8-0 Michigan on Nov. 9? This is far from guaranteed, as the Huskers have a tough matchup with UCLA this weekend, after which comes some pretty easy sledding until November. Michigan would also have to survive road trips to Penn State and Michigan State. But both teams will likely be favored in each game leading up to Nov. 9.
11-0 Michigan at 11-0 Ohio State on Nov. 30, followed by a rematch the following weekend? Like I said, we're dreaming.

What makes daydreaming about these games even more fun is the realization that none of them should turn into defensive slogs (weather permitting, of course). The five current ranked Big Ten teams can all really score, as each one is averaging at least 41 points per game through two weeks. Sure, the competition has yet to really stiffen, but we know that Nebraska's offense is for real, that Devin Gardner has completely changed Michigan's attack and that Wisconsin can run the ball with the best of them. Northwestern has scored 92 points against a pair of AQ teams and has gotten almost nothing from Venric Mark. Carlos Hyde hasn't played a down for Ohio State, while Braxton Miller has yet to play a full game and Dontre Wilson is still learning.

Throw in Indiana's passing game, Illinois' vastly improved offense, the potential for Penn State and Christian Hackenberg under Bill O'Brien's play calling and even Minnesota's increased playmaking skills, and points could be coming in waves this fall.

Michigan State fans just got sick.

Take that and rewind:

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsJeremy Gallon helped Michigan ring up 41 points on Notre Dame.
Team of the week: With apologies to Illinois, which registered a critic-silencing win over Cincinnati, Michigan grabs the honor this week after its 41-30 win over Notre Dame. The Wolverines got to make all the chicken jokes they desired by shining bright under the Big House lights. And while Irish haters want to use that result solely as an excuse to bash Notre Dame, the fact is Michigan scored 41 points on a defense full of future pros.

Worst hangover: Buzz swirled around Indiana this offseason and grew louder when the Hoosiers rang up 73 points in their opener versus Indiana State. That's why it was so deflating for Kevin Wilson's team to lose 41-35 at home to Navy. The Midshipmen ran for 444 yards on 70 (!) rushing attempts and never once punted. With an underrated Bowling Green squad up next, followed by Missouri, Penn State and the two Michigan schools, the Hoosiers need to get up off the mat quickly.

Fun with numbers (via ESPN Stats & Info): Wisconsin is one of only three teams in the country that has yet to allow a point and the only defense that has done so through two games. This week's opponent, Arizona State, has also yet to give up a point but has played only Sacramento State. The Badgers also lead the FBS in yardage margin, outgaining opponents by 444 yards per game. Playing cupcakes is good for your stats. ... Northwestern, deadly efficient with both quarterbacks versus Syracuse, has the league's highest QBR score and is 14th nationally. Michigan is right behind at No. 15. ... Penn State is dead last in the FBS in third-down conversion percentage (2-for-26) but is 4-for-4 on fourth downs. ... Purdue is in the bottom 10 nationally in yards per game, yards per play, QBR, points per game and red zone efficiency. That looks even worse when you consider that the Boilers' two opponents -- Cincinnati and Indiana State -- served up a combined 118 points in their other, non-Purdue matchups. ... Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase has accounted for 73.5 percent of his team's offense, by far the highest percentage in the Big Ten.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Notre Dame had no solution for Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon. The senior had eight catches for a career-high 182 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 23 yards per reception. “He’s like a little bulldog,” Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner said.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Michigan State defensive end Shilique Calhoun was named the Walter Camp national defensive player of the week after he scored two touchdowns, one on a fumble return and another on a pick-six. Calhoun now has three scores in his first two games. "He's our running back of the defense, I guess," defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. "Just hand it off to him, let him go."

Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Minnesota's Marcus Jones returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown late in the first half to help break open the game against New Mexico State. It was sweet revenge for Jones, who got hammered after signaling for a fair catch earlier in the game. He now has scored on a kickoff return and a punt return in his first two games of the year.

Best play: Purdue pulled this off on the opening kickoff versus Indiana State. That was one of the few highlights for the Boilers, who might have lost without that special-teams strike.

Strangest moment: Week 2 was full of them, from Michigan's quarterback wearing the Old 98, to Eminem's halftime-interview-as-performance-art to Tom Izzo bribing Michigan State students to evacuate Spartan Stadium during a thunderstorm by promising to sit with them later (which he did).

But the best theater of the absurd happened in Las Cruces, N.M., where Minnesota played in front of an announced "crowd" of just over 16,400 at New Mexico State. The game was broadcast by something called Aggie Vision, which conveyed the look and feel of a 1980s high school game tape. Everything about the game was as non-big-time as a Big Ten team could find. Week 2 was supposed to be when Minnesota played at North Carolina, but the Gophers paid $800,000 to get out of that road trip. They chose instead to put themselves in the Area 51 of college football. At least they won.

Looking ahead: It's the best week of the nonconference season for the Big Ten, with three ranked opponents on the schedule: No. 16 UCLA at Nebraska, No. 19 Washington versus Illinois in Chicago, and No. 21 Notre Dame at Purdue. Plus, Wisconsin goes to Arizona State, Ohio State travels out to Cal, Iowa plays rival Iowa State and Penn State faces a dangerous UCF squad.

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