Michigan Wolverines: Kenny Bell

Big Ten lunch links

March, 10, 2014
Mar 10
12:00
PM ET
How 'bout Nebrasketball? Impressed with what's happening in Lincoln.
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

Now that the 2013 college football season is officially in the books (thank you, Florida State, for ending our SEC nightmare), it's natural to take an early look toward 2014.

Much will change between now and August. Heck, much will change between now and spring practice. But for right now, the 2014 Big Ten season is shaping up as one that possibly lacks a clear-cut, slam-dunk favorite in either of the new East or West divisions.

In colleague Mark Schlabach's way-too-early Top 25 for next season, Michigan State tops all league teams by checking in at No. 6. Makes plenty of sense, as the Spartans went 13-1, won the Rose Bowl over Stanford and return the vast majority of their offense, along with a solid core on that outstanding defense.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Clemons
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesBrandon Clemons and the Spartans are a likely favorite in the Big Ten East in 2014.
But Michigan State does lose several defensive stars, including Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis. The Spartans also will have to play in the same division, the East, as Ohio State. The Buckeyes check in at No. 9 in Schlabach's rankings, and colleague Travis Haney goes so far as to predict that Urban Meyer's team will make the College Football Playoff next year.

"I have held all along that the Buckeyes, close as they were in 2013, were built for '14," Haney writes. "The talented 2013 freshman class that Urban Meyer brought in [ranked third in the nation according to ESPN's RecruitingNation] had bright spots, such as Joey Bosa at defensive end, but it'll really start to have an impact next season. The defense could quickly go from liability to strength, with young players such as Bosa, safety Vonn Bell and end Noah Spence becoming bigger pieces."

I think there's a lot of truth to that about the defense, which started six freshmen or sophomores against Clemson in the Orange Bowl loss. But Ohio State also loses Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby from a defense that struggled down the stretch, and the offense must replace 80 percent of the offensive line, leading rusher Carlos Hyde and leading receiver Philly Brown. Plus, the Buckeyes have to play at Michigan State.

Those two will headline the new East, and it's up to teams like Michigan and Penn State to get better and make that more than a two-team race. The West Division looks even more wide open.

Schlabach ranks Wisconsin No. 15, which comes as a bit of a surprise considering all of the valuable seniors the Badgers lose on defense, plus receiver Jared Abbrederis. The Badgers also have to open the season against LSU, though the schedule is much more favorable after that with no Michigan, Michigan State or Ohio State on the docket.

Iowa checks in at No. 21 in Schlabach's rankings and has to be considered a West contender after going 8-4 in the regular season. The Hawkeyes' offense could make strides in 2014 with most of the key pieces returning, but replacing those three senior starting linebackers won't be easy.

Schlabach does not rank Nebraska, which surprises me. The Huskers finished 9-4, which apparently is an annual federal requirement under Bo Pelini, and bring back just about everybody on defense, plus Ameer Abdullah, Tommy Armstrong Jr., Kenny Bell and several other key players on offense. If forced to choose right now, I'd make Nebraska the West favorite, even though the Huskers have to go to Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan State in the fall.

Northwestern figures to bounce back from an incredibly unlucky 2013, and Minnesota won eight games with a lot of young players in major roles this year. Neither can be counted out in the division.

The East looks stronger at the top in 2014 than the West, at least for now. But unlike the 2013 season, when Ohio State was the clear favorite after going 12-0 the previous year, there's no slam-dunk, clear-cut favorite in either division.
The Big Ten released its all-conference teams as selected by coaches and the media earlier this month. We didn't have a vote for the media teams, and we don't pretend to know as much about football as the league's coaches.

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

Offense

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

Defense

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

Specialists

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

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

Big Ten predictions: Week 13

November, 21, 2013
11/21/13
9:00
AM ET
The predictions race is all square, and Week 13 brings a full slate of Big Ten action, as every team will be on the field Saturday afternoon.

Will Brian Bennett inch back in front, or will Adam Rittenberg gain the edge entering the final week? Loser buys dinner in Indy.

Let's begin …

MICHIGAN STATE at NORTHWESTERN

Bennett: Let's see … in which heartbreaking manner can Northwestern lose this week? The Wildcats can't be counted out here, as they've come close to knocking off several teams in recent weeks, and it is senior day in Evanston, Ill. But Northwestern doesn't have enough offensive versatility to counter Michigan State's defense. Jeremy Langford goes over 100 yards again, and the Spartans clinch their Big Ten championship berth … Michigan State 20, Northwestern 10


Rittenberg: The Spartans can taste a trip to the Big Ten championship game and will get there, though not without a fight from Northwestern, which has continued to play hard during a nightmarish stretch. Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook starts slowly but gets hot in the third and finishes with two touchdown passes. Kain Colter makes some plays on senior day but Northwestern once again can't find the end zone enough and drops another one in single digits. Sparty on to Indy. … Michigan State 23, Northwestern 16

MICHIGAN at IOWA

Rittenberg: Michigan will actually need touchdowns in regulation to win this week and faces a better defensive line in Iowa. Neither offense does much in the first two and a half quarters before Iowa's run game starts to stir behind Jordan Canzeri and Mark Weisman, both of whom reach the end zone. The Hawkeyes break a tie early in the fourth quarter and seal the win on a B.J. Lowery interception of Devin Gardner. … Iowa 20, Michigan 13

Bennett: A very cold, potentially windy day in Iowa City favors the team that can run the ball, and Michigan is not that team. It won't be pretty, but the Hawkeyes' offensive line and Mike Meyer (three field goals) get the job done. … Iowa 16, Michigan 13


ILLINOIS at PURDUE

Bennett: The Streak is dead. Illinois snaps the 20-game Big Ten losing skid against a Purdue team that is bad enough to build its own lamentable streak. At least we know the Illini can score. I'm still not sure what the Boilers are good at. Nathan Scheelhaase throws for four scores. … Illinois 35, Purdue 21


Rittenberg: This game features two bad defenses, one improving, but still weak, offense and one potent offense. Illinois breaks The Streak behind Scheelhaase, who piles up 350 pass yards and three touchdowns. Josh Ferguson adds a rushing touchdown as Illinois holds off Purdue, which receives a good performance (220 pass yards, two TDs) from Danny Etling. … Illinois 34, Purdue 24

WISCONSIN at MINNESOTA

Rittenberg: Minnesota is looking a lot more like Wisconsin these days, which is a good thing, but the Badgers still are the superior version. The Gophers jump ahead early behind a David Cobb touchdown run, but Wisconsin's defense buckles down and James White and Melvin Gordon get rolling, combining for three touchdowns. Minnesota hangs tight, but Wisconsin retains the axe for a 10th consecutive season. … Wisconsin 28, Minnesota 20

Bennett: The Minnesota mojo makes it tempting to pick the home team. But as well as the Gophers are playing, Wisconsin is on even more of a roll. The Wisconsin run game will take its toll and help the Badgers break through with a pair of touchdown runs by White in the fourth quarter, chopping down the Gophers. … Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 17


INDIANA at OHIO STATE

Bennett: Indiana has played Ohio State tough the past two seasons, but pair the Hoosiers' terrible defensive efforts with this hyper-explosive Buckeyes offense and the potential for a rout is high. IU can't stop the run, so Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde will enjoy the open lanes for a combined 350 yards and five touchdowns before sitting out the fourth quarter. A mad Ohio State defense records a pair of interceptions, including a pick-six. … Ohio State 59, Indiana 17

Rittenberg: Shield your eyes, Hoosiers fans, as this one will get ugly early. Ohio State builds a 28-7 lead at the end of the first quarter as Hyde eclipses 1,000 yards for the season on a touchdown run and finishes with 210 yards and three scores. Indiana's offense shows up and wideout Cody Latimer records two long scoring passes, but Ohio State gets contributions from everyone against the overmatched Hoosiers defense. … Ohio State 63, Indiana 24

NEBRASKA at PENN STATE

Rittenberg: Both teams are flawed, and, while Penn State is much better on its home field, Nebraska's run game and improving defense will be the difference. Ameer Abdullah rushes for 140 yards and a touchdown, and Tommy Armstrong Jr. bounces back. Penn State gets some production from Zach Zwinak (120 yards, two TDs) and its run game as well, but Nebraska mounts a game-winning drive in the closing seconds for the victory. … Nebraska 31, Penn State 28

Bennett: Don't count out Penn State on what should be an emotional senior day. But Nebraska just has more athletes right now. Kenny Bell and Quincy Enunwa exploit a shoddy Nittany Lions pass defense for a couple of touchdown catches, while Randy Gregory makes life miserable for Christian Hackenberg. … Nebraska 24, Penn State 17

You've seen our predictions. Now it's time to hear from one of you. As a reminder, throughout the season, we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please), hometown and a brief description of why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

This week's guest is Ali Tomek from Evanston, Ill. Ali, take it away …
I should be the guest picker for this week because I love the blog and B1G football! I grew up in Omaha and have attended nearly every home game at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium since I was in elementary school. I'm definitely one of those football-obsessed Husker fans: I still feel bitter about that 13-12 loss to Texas in the 2009 B12 Championship. I've also attended games in five B1G stadiums: Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan, Iowa and Penn State. OH, AND I'm an undergrad at Northwestern! Unfortunately for the Wildcats, though, my true loyalties will always lie with the Cornhuskers. Go Big Red!

Let's hope Ali's professors don't read this note before final exams. Ouch.

Here are her picks:

Michigan State 27, Northwestern 10
Michigan 17, Iowa 13
Illinois 35, Purdue 17
Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 17
Ohio State 56, Indiana 14
Nebraska 24, Penn State 17

SEASON RECORDS

Brian Bennett: 68-14
Adam Rittenberg: 68-14
Guest pickers: 65-19
You could learn just about everything you need to know about the state of the Big Ten's receivers just by following the Twitter feeds of Nebraska's Kenny Bell and Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis. A sample:

 

 

Yes, it's fair to say that Big Ten receivers are noticing what others at the position are doing. These days, it's becoming harder and harder not to notice.

Last season, Penn State's Allen Robinson was the only league player to finish in the Top 71 in the FBS in receiving yards per game -- prompting me to ask where all the Big Ten star receivers had gone. A year later, we have our answer.

Three Big Ten receivers -- Michigan's Jeremy Gallon, Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Robinson -- rank in the top 20 nationally in receiving yards, with Indiana's Cody Latimer checking in at No. 27. Meanwhile, Nebraska's Quincy Enunwa is tied for ninth in the country with seven touchdown receptions.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
AP Photo/Lon HorwedelJeremy Gallon's record-setting performance against Indiana had fellow B1G receivers buzzing.
"There are some awfully good guys who can stretch the field vertically, or guys who have great strength battling for the football," Michigan coach Brady Hoke said. "I think you saw that the other day when we played."

We sure did. Indiana's outstanding group of pass-catchers allowed the Hoosiers to throw for 410 yards in the Big House. But the Wolverines' Gallon nearly matched that himself with a Big Ten record receiving 369 yards in the 63-47 shootout. You'd better believe that other wideouts noticed that.

"That's just ridiculous," Abbrederis told ESPN.com. "That's crazy. That was almost half my season [total] last year. That's a day that wide receivers dream of."

Abbrederis had his own standout game earlier this year when he recorded 10 catches for 207 yards at Ohio State while being defended by All-America cornerback Bradley Roby. But he joked "mine was kind of small" compared to Gallon's day.

Penn State's Robinson has had his own stat-stuffing days, including a 12-catch, 172-yard, two-touchdown showing in a loss at Indiana. He watched some of Gallon's performance during Penn State's bye week and thinks that he could match the 369-yard performance if the conditions were right.

"He was able to go out there and beat the defensive backs pretty much all game and get open for his team," Robinson told ESPN.com. "So I would say that's something other receivers could do if they got the opportunity."

Robinson easily won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award as the league's only 1,000-yard producer last year, but he's got company this season. Gallon, Abbrederis and Latimer are all on pace to eclipse 1,000 yards right now.

Is Robinson eager to retain his trophy?

"That's out of my control as far as awards," he said. "Each and every game and in the offseason, I continue to try to be best player I can be, and whatever comes with that is fine. I don't try to stress myself over it too much or lose sleep too much. We have a talented group of receivers in this league."

This group, in fact, includes some of the best in school history.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsJared Abbrederis is tied for second in the Big Ten in receptions and is third in receiving yards per game.
Abbrederis, a senior, is just 113 yards away from becoming the No. 2 all-time receiver at Wisconsin and needs 657 in his last six games to surpass Lee Evans for the career record. Robinson, a junior, is already fifth in career touchdown catches (16), seventh in career receptions (123) and 11th in career receiving yards (1,747) at Penn State. Gallon should finish in the Top 5 of Michigan career receiving yards.

They're the big three in the league right now, but there are plenty of others excelling at the position. Nebraska's Bell hasn't put up big receiving numbers yet but is still capable of jaw-dropping plays like this one. Like Enunwa, he's also a physical blocker for the Huskers running game. And the junior ranks fourth all-time in Nebraska career receiving yards and needs less than 900 to become the school's all-time leader.

Indiana's Latimer has great size (he's 6-foot-3) and hands and is joined by Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn to form a three-headed receiving monster. Ohio State's Philly Brown has developed into a go-to weapon. Michigan's Devin Funchess is a receiver hiding in a tight end's body.

"I saw the game [Robinson] had against our rivals, and he was fantastic," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He's a very fast and talented guy who goes up and high points the ball. I nominated Abbrederis for a bunch of the postseason awards when I got to see him live and in color. He's a tremendous player. So I think those are NFL players we're getting to face almost every week."

They remain very collegial while still in college.

Abbrederis says he started following Bell closely after Wisconsin played Nebraska twice last year. Bell told the Omaha World-Herald that he and Enunwa watch tape of Abbredris every week because "that guy's a stud.” Robinson is tight with Iowa's Kevonte Martin-Manley and sends him the occasional text or tweet during the season.

"I'm obviously not going to play directly against them, so it's not bad to have a relationship," Abbrederis said. "It's good to see guys doing some good things in this league."

It's getting harder and harder not to notice all those good things.

"We had a Heisman Trophy winner at receiver in the Big Ten with Desmond Howard," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. "So there have always been a lot of good receivers in this league, and there are definitely some good ones right now."

Big Ten picks rewind: Week 6

October, 8, 2013
10/08/13
10:00
AM ET
The halfway point of the season is nearly here, and the predictions race is all even after Brian claimed Week 6 with a 4-1 mark. Adam avoided a losing mark after Ohio State rallied in Evanston. Let's look at how things stand.

WEEK 6/SEASON RECORD

Adam Rittenberg: 3-2, 47-8
Brian Bennett: 4-1, 47-8

Here's one last look at the Week 6 predictions made by us and our guest picker, Brandon Poturica, who is stationed at Morón Air Base in Spain.

It's rewind time ...

Penn State at Indiana
  • Brian Bennett's pick: Penn State 42, Indiana 34
  • Adam Rittenberg's pick: Penn State 38, Indiana 27
  • Actual score: Indiana 44, Penn State 24
  • 20-20 hindsight: We start off with a big swing and a miss. Other than my prediction of two Christian Hackenberg-Allen Robinson touchdown connections, we were way off as Indiana surged in the second half. Indiana emerged with more clarity than controversy at quarterback as Nate Sudfeld (321 pass yards, 2 TDs) performed well, and Brian's prediction of three Zach Zwinak touchdowns fizzled as Zwinak failed to reach the end zone.
Illinois at Nebraska
  • Bennett's pick: Nebraska 38, Illinois 28
  • Rittenberg's pick: Nebraska 38, Illinois 31
  • Actual score: Nebraska 39, Illinois 19
  • 20-20 hindsight: We both nearly nailed Nebraska's score, and Huskers RB Ameer Abdullah (225 rush yards, 2 TDs) and WR Kenny Bell (65 receiving yards, 1 TD) both had strong performances, like we thought they would. The early lead I had predicted from Illinois never transpired, as Nebraska stormed out to a 30-5 advantage, and Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase threw zero touchdown passes, not the three Brian had predicted.
Michigan State at Iowa

  • Bennett's pick: Michigan State 13, Iowa 10
  • Rittenberg's pick: Iowa 20, Michigan State 17
  • Actual score: Michigan State 26, Iowa 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: Bennett finally benefited from picking against Iowa, and he correctly pegged Michigan State to shut down Hawkeyes RB Mark Weisman (seven carries, nine yards). The open week allowed the Spartans to open up the playbook and stretch the field a little more, as Brian thought they would. I was off base here, as Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard, not Iowa LB James Morris, ended up sealing a win with a fourth-quarter interception.
Minnesota at Michigan

  • Bennett's pick: Michigan 28, Minnesota 14
  • Rittenberg's pick: Michigan 31, Minnesota 14
  • Actual score: Michigan 42, Minnesota 13
  • 20-20 hindsight: This one went about as expected, and our score predictions would have been closer if Michigan hadn't tacked on two touchdowns in the final three minutes. Wolverines QB Devin Gardner made better decisions and took fewer risks, as we both predicted he would, although he accounted for only two touchdowns, not the four in Brian's forecast. Michigan RB Fitz Toussaint (78 rush yards, 2 TDs) came up 52 rush yards shy of my prediction.
Ohio State at Northwestern

  • Bennett's pick: Ohio State 36, Northwestern 27
  • Rittenberg's pick: Ohio State 34, Northwestern 31
  • Actual score: Ohio State 40, Northwestern 30
  • 20-20 hindsight: If not for a Buckeye touchdown on the final play -- craziest backdoor cover ever? -- this would have been my best prediction of the week, as Ohio State led 34-30 with seconds to play. Venric Mark had no touchdowns but performed effectively in his return, and Northwestern had success against an undermanned Ohio State secondary. Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller (203 pass yards, 68 rush yards, three turnovers) didn't have his best game, as Brian predicted, but RB Carlos Hyde certainly did (168 rush yards, 3 TDs).

You've seen how we performed. Now it's time to check on our guest picker, Brandon.

Penn State 38, Indiana 17
Illinois 28, Nebraska 21
Iowa 17, Michigan State 14
Michigan 38, Minnesota 10
Ohio State 56, Northwestern 35

Ouch. A rough week for our guest picker, who went 2-3. The Michigan-Minnesota prediction looks pretty good, but Nebraska and Michigan State exceeded your expectations, as did Indiana, which surprised us with its first ever win against Penn State. Thanks again to Brandon for your service overseas. Be safe and hope to have you stateside again soon.

Who's our next guest picker? Tell us why you should be the choice here and here.

 



Adam has a one-game lead in the standings, and we've got five interesting league contests to forecast this week.

Without further ado, the crystal ball says …

PENN STATE at INDIANA

Brian Bennett: Indiana is 0-for-16 lifetime against Penn State, so you'd have to ignore all historic precedent to pick the Hoosiers. I see IU doing some damage on Penn State's pass defense just as UCF and Blake Bortles did. But the Hoosiers' defense won't have any answers for Christian Hackenberg and Zach Zwinak, the latter of whom scores three times. … Penn State 42, Indiana 34

Adam Rittenberg: The Lions defense isn't as bad as it performed against UCF and not as good as it performed against Kent State. But an average Penn State defense, combined with Hackenberg and a stable of running backs, will be too much for Indiana to overcome. Hackenberg twice connects with Allen Robinson for touchdowns, and Indiana's quarterback situation becomes cloudier. … Penn State 38, Indiana 27

ILLINOIS at NEBRASKA

Adam Rittenberg: Illinois' big-play offense isn't a welcome sight for Nebraska's beleaguered defense, which has been gashed by pretty much everyone so far this season. But Bo Pelini's teams typically perform well after open weeks, and at some point, the defense will start to tighten up. Illinois' Josh Ferguson gives his team an early lead, but Nebraska rallies in the second half behind running backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross, as well as wideout Kenny Bell, who hauls in two touchdown passes. … Nebraska 38, Illinois 31

Brian Bennett: The Illini have a chance here, especially if Taylor Martinez doesn't play or is severely limited. Nathan Scheelhaase will burn the Huskers for three touchdown passes. But Nebraska's running game, led by a 150-yard day from Abdullah, will prove the difference, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste picks off Scheelhaase late to thwart a potential rally. … Nebraska 38, Illinois 28

MICHIGAN STATE at IOWA

Brian Bennett: I've picked against the Hawkeyes three times already and have been wrong twice. (It's nothing personal, Iowa fans, I swear). I really should learn from my mistakes. But I think Michigan State's defense can slow down Mark Weisman and generally make life miserable for Jake Rudock on Saturday. I have little confidence in the Spartans' offense, but a bye week should have given Dave Warner and Jim Bollman a chance to come up with a couple of plays that work. That may be all it takes in a game like this, which is decided on field goals. … Michigan State 13, Iowa 10.

Adam Rittenberg: Tsk, tsk, Brian. Haven't you learned never to doubt Herky in an under-the-radar year? Iowa has the momentum right now, and the Hawkeyes will wear down the Spartans in the second half with Weisman (2 TDs) and Damon Bullock. Michigan State's defense keeps it close as always, but the offensive issues continue as Iowa linebacker James Morris seals the win with his third interception of the season. … Iowa 20, Michigan State 17

MINNESOTA at MICHIGAN

Adam Rittenberg: The open week came at a perfect time for Michigan to clean up its act. Quarterback Devin Gardner limits his risks and makes smarter decisions in this one, firing two second-half touchdown passes to Jeremy Gallon. Michigan rides running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (130 rush yards, 2 TDs) and contains a Minnesota offense that simply doesn't look ready for Big Ten play. Michigan once again teaches Minnesota how to juggy. … Michigan 31, Minnesota 13

Brian Bennett: The Wolverines have issues, but I don't think they are as big as the problems Minnesota has, which include an MIA passing game. Surely two weeks of studying film have made Gardner more cautious with the ball. Michigan just has more weapons, especially at home where they never lose under Brady Hoke. It's not always pretty, but Gardner accounts for four touchdowns behind a revamped offensive line. … Michigan 28, Minnesota 14

OHIO STATE at NORTHWESTERN

Brian Bennett: Northwestern should be able to make some plays on Ohio State's defense, especially with Venric Mark back and some questions in the Buckeyes' secondary. But I think the Wildcats will need turnovers to have a strong chance to win. They'll get two, but it won't be enough as Braxton Miller has his best game of the year, running for 120 yards and passing for 250. Ohio State starts fast again and holds on. … Ohio State 36, Northwestern 27

Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern hasn't handled spotlight games well in the past, although the team seemed to turn a corner last year in ridding itself of its bowl bugaboo. Is Northwestern's Buckeye bugaboo next? I expect the Wildcats' offense to perform well and open up the playbook, especially with Mark back in the fold. Mark twice reaches the end zone and Trevor Siemian attacks a vulnerable Ohio State secondary playing without Christian Bryant. But Ohio State's big-play ability will be a little too much to overcome, as Miller leads a memorable game-winning drive in the final minutes. … Ohio State 34, Northwestern 31

Now it's time for our guest picker. As a reminder, throughout the season we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

This week's guest prognosticator is Brandon Poturica, who's stationed at Morón Air Base in Spain. Take it away, Brandon:
"Adam & Brian: Why you should choose me is simple. I met Urban Meyer in Kuwait during a USO tour in the summer of 2011, only months away from when he took the OSU job. I'm from his hometown of Ashtabula, Ohio, and have been stationed overseas since he took the job (Japan and Spain). The Buckeyes have been undefeated since the last time I stepped on American soil, and I'm a superstitious man, so if that means I don't return home and they keep winning, then I'll just have to cheer from afar. Go Bucks and God Bless the USA."

How could we say no to that? Thanks for your service, Brandon, and save us some sangria and tapas. Here are Brandon's picks:
Penn State 38, Indiana 17
Illinois 28, Nebraska 21
Iowa 17, Michigan State 14
Michigan 38, Minnesota 10
Ohio State 56, Northwestern 35

SEASON RECORDS

Adam Rittenberg: 44-6
Brian Bennett: 43-7
Guest pickers: 40-10

Tracking our B1G fantasy teams: Week 4

September, 19, 2013
9/19/13
5:00
PM ET
My Big Ten fantasy team is The One Who Knocks, not one who will be afraid. So after Adam's team, The Trombone Shorties, delivered a knockout performance in Week 2, the Knockers had to respond. And they did in a big way.

Led by key showings from Michigan's Devin Gardner (33 points), Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon (31) and Penn State's Allen Robinson (20), my team easily outpaced Adam's by a score of 142-107. Gardner continues to be a fantasy stud in a game that for some reason does not penalize quarterbacks for turnovers. Adam got a great weekend from Ohio State's Jordan Hall (36 points), but no one else on his team scored more than 20. His decision to drop Indiana's Nate Sudfeld for Minnesota's Philip Nelson really backfired, as Nelson got hurt early in the game against Western Illinois and Sudfeld racked up 27 points vs. Bowling Green.

So I now have a 2-1 edge in the season standings. The Shorties will get the first pick on the waiver wire as they try to bounce back:

Adam adds Ohio State QB Braxton Miller and drops Minnesota QB Philip Nelson

Rationale: First, it looks like he's playing this week against a weaker opponent. Second, you really think I'm going to pass up Braxton Miller? With all due respect to our guy Kenny G, this was an easy choice.

Brian adds Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld and drops Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase

Rationale: I made the risky move of dropping the injured Miller last week, and Scheelhaase gave me 18 points. But I could have won with Miller giving me nothing, so I may regret that all season. Still, I'm happy to pick up the very productive Sudfeld.

Adam adds Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg and drops Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez

Rationale: I don't expect Nebraska to take many or any chances with Taylor Martinez against South Dakota State, and the Huskers are off next week anyway. Hackenberg has consistently put up nice passing numbers and should have a big day against Kent State.

Adam adds Ohio State's defense and drops Minnesota's defense

Rationale: This is all about matchups as Minnesota will be tested by San Jose State quarterback David Fales in a toss-up game. Ohio State, meanwhile, faces an overmatched Florida A&M squad and should force some turnovers.

Our complete rosters for Week 4:

The Trombone Shorties (Adam)

Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Ohio State RB Jordan Hall
Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis
Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon
Ohio State defense
Northwestern kickers

The One Who Knocks (Brian)

Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Michigan State defense
Nebraska kickers

Diagnosing the Big Ten

September, 18, 2013
9/18/13
10:30
AM ET
The doctor is in. Three weeks into the 2013 season, it's my job to diagnose any ailments in the Big Ten. After last Saturday's results, it's not hard to find some.

Let's begin ...

What's ailing the Big Ten?

[+] EnlargeDeion Barnes
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsBig Ten defenses would get better with pass-rushers like Penn State's Deion Barnes getting more heat on opposing QBs.
Leaky defenses: Defense hasn't been the Big Ten's biggest problem in recent years, but there are some troubling signs this fall. Four teams are allowing more than 400 yards a game against mostly weak competition. Half of the league's teams are surrendering more than 250 passing yards a game. Only one Big Ten team (Michigan State) ranks in the top 40 nationally in sacks, and only one squad (Minnesota) ranks in the top 40 in tackles for loss. Minnesota end Theiren Cockran is the only Big Ten player with at least three sacks.

What's the cure?

Develop the pass rush: Certain position groups have gone downhill in the Big Ten in recent years, but the league has had no problems producing elite defensive linemen. More players need to emerge in the coming weeks to put some heat on opposing quarterbacks and help out some young defensive backs. I'm looking at you, Deion Barnes, Tyler Scott, Frank Clark and all of Wisconsin's down linemen (the team has only one sack, from linebacker Chris Borland).

And, now, for Part II ...

What's ailing the Big Ten?

Limited pass games: This is hardly a new problem for the Big Ten, which had only one team (Indiana) finish among the top 30 in pass offense last season. There has been a dearth of elite wide receivers throughout the Big Ten, which has been reflected in recent NFL drafts. While certain pass offenses have improved this fall -- Northwestern, Illinois, Michigan -- the league still has four teams averaging fewer than 200 pass yards per game. Minnesota has only 28 completions in three games.

What's the cure?

Develop No. 2 options at receiver: The No. 1 receivers around the Big Ten are pretty strong, from Penn State's Allen Robinson to Michigan's Jeremy Gallon, Nebraska's Kenny Bell to Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Iowa's Kevonte Martin-Manley. But not enough teams have found second and third options early this season. The ones who have -- Indiana, Northwestern, Illinois -- are seeing good results through the air. It's important for teams like Iowa, Penn State and Wisconsin to find complementary pieces for the pass game.
Adam likes to crow about his narrow victory in our Big Ten fantasy league last season, but order was restored in Week 1 of 2013.

My team, The One Who Knocks, wiped the floor with Adam's Trombone Shorties by a score of 139-93. I had a balanced attack with Devin Gardner (27), Braxton Miller (22) and Melvin Gordon (20) all chipping in with big days. My top scorer, however, was the Michigan State defense, which accounted for a whopping 28 points, thanks to its turnover and sack party versus Western Michigan.

Adam got 25 points from Taylor Martinez and 24 from Jared Abbrederis. But the injuries to Kain Colter and Venric Mark left him with just two total points from the Northwestern duo, and that was too much for him to overcome.

So we move onward to Week 2, with Adam getting the first choice off the waiver wire as he tries to pull even in the standings.

Adam adds Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld and drops Northwestern QB Kain Colter

Rationale: Colter's health remains a big question mark. Sudfeld might not get all the reps against Navy, but he can really stretch the field with Indiana's talented group of receivers.

Brian adds Wisconsin RB James White and drops Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah

Rationale: I still believe in Abdullah, but Imani Cross might continue to siphon some of his touchdowns. Now I have both White and Melvin Gordon, who ran wild against UMass and should do the same thing vs. Tennessee Tech.

Adam adds Ohio State RB Jordan Hall and drops Northwestern RB Venric Mark

Rationale: Does Hall have another big game left in him after shredding Buffalo? I think so. He'll find the end zone several more times against slumping San Diego State.

Adam adds Wisconsin's defense and drops Ohio State's defense

Rationale: This is mainly a move about matchups, as Wisconsin easily could post another shutout against Tennessee Tech at Camp Randall.

Our complete rosters for Week 2:

The Trombone Shorties (Adam)

Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Ohio State RB Jordan Hall
Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis
Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon
Wisconsin defense
Northwestern kickers

The One Who Knocks (Brian)

Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Wisconsin RB James White
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Michigan State defense
Nebraska kickers
Some people might say we live a fantasy life by covering Big Ten football for a living. And they'd have a point. But we also like to dabble in some fantasy football around here, going head to head each week in our own two-man Big Ten-centric league. (If you want to play college fantasy football, you can do so through ESPN's College Football Challenge).

We're entering out third year of this league, and we're tied at one championship apiece. Adam escaped last season by winning seven of the 13 head-to-head showdowns (though I like to point out that my team scored more fantasy points on the season). We start with a clean slate in 2013. I get the top pick in our snake draft that we conducted yesterday. (Note: I changed my team name this year to The One Who Knocks in honor of Heisenberg and one of the greatest TV shows ever).

Here are the results of that draft:

Pick 1: Brian selects Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Sam RicheIs Braxton Miller the top fantasy option in the Big Ten this season?
Rationale: This wasn't as big of a no-brainer as it may appear, as I seriously considered Taylor Martinez here. I worry, for fantasy purposes, that Miller may not run as much as last season. But I still expect Ohio State to score in bunches, and Miller will be heavily involved in the fun. No sense in trying to overthink this one.

Pick 2: Adam selects Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez

Rationale: Like Miller, Martinez is a true dual threat who can pile up fantasy points. If he takes another step as a passer, look out for Big Red.

Pick 3: Adam selects Northwestern running back Venric Mark

Rationale: Mark is a big-play threat both as a rusher and as a return man, and he should pile up fantasy points early in the season.

Pick 4: Brian selects Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner

Rationale: I'll take the other one of the "Big Three" QBs to start the year. I'm pegging Gardner for a huge season, and with so much uncertainty at quarterback at other Big Ten schools, I'm making sure to snatch him up now.

Pick 5: Brian selects Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson

Rationale: It may seem unorthodox to take a receiver before I've selected a running back, but I'm confident that there will be plenty of good running backs in this league. Meanwhile, Robinson is easily the Big Ten's top receiver, and he made life miserable for me last fall while on Adam's team.

Pick 6: Adam selects Wisconsin wide receiver Jared Abbrederis

Rationale: No matter who plays quarterback for the Badgers, No. 4 will be the primary target in the passing game. Abbrederis can stretch defenses and should have a big senior season.

Pick 7: Adam selects Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter

Rationale: Colter and Mark are virtually unstoppable in the zone-read game, and I've got 'em both. Although the passing questions linger with Colter, his running ability makes him good for fantasy points.

Pick 8: Brian selects Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah

Rationale: It's time to grab a running back, and Abdullah should run wild alongside Martinez early in the season, especially given Nebraska's not-too-taxing early schedule. He might just throw in a special teams score or two as a bonus.

Pick 9: Brian selects Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon

Rationale: A slight gamble here, as Gordon could take a backseat to teammate James White, especially early on. But there should be plenty of opportunities for both, especially in Week 1. And the talent and potential here is too tantalizing to pass on.

Pick 10: Adam selects Iowa running back Mark Weisman

Rationale: Weisman showed last season he can be dominant when healthy, and he'll play behind one of the Big Ten's better offensive lines. AIRBHG, you had better stay away.

Pick 11: Adam selects Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon

Rationale: Gallon's numbers surged late last season with Gardner at quarterback, and he'll be the clear No. 1 option in the passing game as Michigan employs a more traditional pro-set offense this season.

Pick 12: Brian selects Nebraska wide receiver Kenny Bell

Rationale: I strongly considered Indiana's Cody Latimer here, but the danger is that Kofi Hughes, Shane Wynn and other Hoosiers receivers could all split the numbers. Mr. Afro Thunder is the Huskers' obvious top weapon in the passing game and could have a field day against Wyoming.

Pick 13: Brian selects Michigan State's defense

Rationale: The Spartans' elite defense actually wasn't that great in fantasy last season, as low totals in takeaways and sacks prevented it from matching real-life performance. I'm willing to bet that changes this year and will go with the best defense -- at least on paper -- in the Big Ten.

Pick 14: Adam selects Ohio State's defense

Rationale: Michigan State boasts the Big Ten's best defense, but for fantasy purposes, Ohio State's D receives much higher marks. I'm banking on Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and other young players to step up early and often.

Pick 15: Adam selects Northwestern's kickers

Rationale: Jeff Budzien had only one miss in 2012 -- a 53-yard try at that -- and should be one of the primary contenders for the Lou Groza Award this fall.

Pick 16: Brian selects Nebraska's kickers

Rationale: The Huskers will be breaking in a new placekicker -- Mauro Bondi and Pat Smith are battling it out -- but this program has churned out big-time kickers. And while Big Red might not settle for a lot of field goals on Saturday, I expect to at least get some points on multiple PATs.

Our complete rosters for Week 1:

The Trombone Shorties

Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Northwestern QB Kain Colter
Northwestern RB Venric Mark
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis
Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon
Ohio State defense
Northwestern kickers

The One Who Knocks

Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Michigan State defense
Nebraska kickers

Roundtable: Borrowing, BBQ and surprises 

July, 25, 2013
7/25/13
9:00
AM ET
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Every Thursday our writers sit down and discuss three topics in Michigan sports. Today, they steal football players from other Big Ten teams, ponder this weekend’s barbecue and reflect on the offseason.

1. If you could steal an offensive and defensive player from another Big Ten team before this year's fall camp, who would you pick and why?


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The summer is about to kick off everywhere across the United States -- Memorial Day is this weekend -- which means one thing, of course.

One season until football begins.

As you itch to get on your boats this weekend and out to the beaches if you’re near the water, first take a peek at Michigan’s schedule for the 2013 season, which begins on Aug. 31 against Central Michigan, as we rank each opponent from toughest to weakest.

To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

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