Michigan Wolverines: Silas Redd

Big Ten Friday mailblog

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
4:00
PM ET
Finishing out the week before an exciting slate of Big Ten games. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, especially on Saturdays.

Let's get to that mail ...

Mikey from Seattle writes: Great piece on B1G football revenue not translating to championships. I don't disagree with Dave Brandon's comment that football success is driven by things like tradition, culture, momentum, luck, recruiting, and consistency. However, if you look at all BCS National Champs, all but one (Oklahoma in 2000) come from traditional high school "hotbeds" -- Southeast, Texas, California, Ohio. (Note: most of the losing teams come from these areas, too.) So why doesn't the B1G use its significant revenue and resources to develop THE best youth/HS football programs in the country? While B1G can't influence demographic trends, it seems like it would be in their best long-term interests, increase athletic revenues, decrease escalating recruiting expenses, elevate conference perception to invest in their cash cow while giving back to their communities.

Adam Rittenberg: Some interesting thoughts, Mikey. Keep in mind that the Big Ten distributes almost all of its revenue to the schools, which all would have to be on board with such a program to make it work. Most of these schools have athletic departments that are losing money or receiving subsidies, so it would be hard for them to part with revenue just for the off chance that it boosts one sport (football). I also wonder how much a college athletic conference could affect the way high school/youth programs do things in an entire region of the country. Would we see more spring football programs? More 7-on-7 football like there is in Texas and Florida? I think the better investment is for recruiting the South and Southeast. Big Ten schools must devote more of their recruiting budget toward those areas of the country and hire and pay assistants who can pluck some good players from states such as Georgia, Texas and Florida year after year.


Jim from New Jersey writes: I do not say this is the only difference between the Big Ten and the SEC, but someone needs to be brave enough to say it in the press and no one does! The quality and type of kid that goes to an SEC school is not the same quality of a Big Ten kid academically. Bottom line. The SEC schools have much looser admission programs and standards and the kids are not the same. Bottom line, the Big Ten chooses to not take the same type of player. If the Big Ten wants a crystal ball, they need to lower admission standards.

Adam Rittenberg: Jim, I've alluded to this before, and I agree that on the whole, Big Ten schools have tougher admissions standards for football players than SEC schools. But there are enough elite athletes with strong academic profiles to win at the national level. Look at what Stanford has done and continues to do. A lot of the SEC's top players had Big Ten offers, so they would have been admitted to Big Ten schools but chose to go elsewhere. Big Ten fans often cite admission standards and oversigning as two big differences between the Big Ten and the SEC. I agree they're factors, but the Big Ten's larger issue, in my view, is more strategic. Big Ten schools must continually examine where they're investing time and energy in recruiting and how they're branding themselves to recruits.


Megan from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hi Adam, love the work that you and Brian do! You have helped me discover what I want to do when I go to college. Anyway, I was wondering if you think Braxton Miller will be coming back for his senior year or not? Since his injury has him out of the Heisman talk (for now), do you think that will play a part of his decision?

Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Megan. Is it too late to talk you out of it? Kidding, kidding. I expect Miller to return next season and continue to develop his game. Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman told me this summer that Miller likely won't reach his full potential until the 2014 season, as he continues to evolve as a passer and as a decision-maker. He's not considered a top NFL draft prospect at quarterback right now, but he could become one depending on how he improves. Unless you're a clear first-round pick or play a position like running back with a short shelf-life because of injury risk, you probably should stay in school. I believe Miller will.


Ryan from Crooksville, Ohio, writes: All right, of all the things people could criticize the last few weeks about Michigan, why is it that the worst criticisms are about the defense? I mean, honestly, if our quarterback wasn't giving away seven points a game (and that's just the points the other teams got directly from him) and setting the opponents up in great field position a lot, Michigan's points allowed would conceivably be a lot less than they are. I honestly don't understand why the defense is taking as much heat as some people are giving it. They make key stops when they need to and they seem to play better red-zone defense than any other team I've seen this year. And as a Wolverines fan living in Buckeye country, I have to hear it more than most. Hoping to get your thoughts on it.

Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, I guess we've been reading/hearing different things about Michigan, because Devin Gardner's turnover issues have been the top story line about the Wolverines the past two weeks. Every radio show I've been on has asked what's wrong with No. 7/98 and whether he can reclaim the form he showed against Notre Dame. Michigan's defense has been OK -- not great, but adequate -- and hardly the team's biggest issue. I'm a little concerned about the lack of star power on the Wolverines' defense. Who will be the reliable playmakers game in and game out? Linebacker Jake Ryan could be that guy when he returns from injury later this month.


Doc from Phoenix writes: Adam, as an unapologetic Huskers fan and forever the optimist, I am curious about your current best-case scenario for Nebraska the rest of the way out. I see the best case for the Huskers as running the regular season table (despite some shaky defensive performances) and losing to OSU in the Big Ten championship. If that scenario plays out, do you see Nebraska getting an at-large bid to a BCS bowl? Whether or not OSU makes the National Championship game, Nebraska would be 11-2 with their only losses being to Ohio State and UCLA (a potential top-10 team). I could see the Rose Bowl reaching for Nebraska if Ohio State made the National Championship game to keep the Big Ten presence in the game, but I have doubt if other BCS bowl would feel the same way with the national perception of the Nebraska program being down of late. Given the reaching "best-case scenario," where would you put the Huskers come December/January?

Adam Rittenberg: Doc, while I could see Nebraska running the table, I highly doubt it. The Huskers crumbled against the only really good team they've faced so far, and their November schedule features Northwestern, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and a clearly improved Iowa team on Black Friday. While I expect Nebraska to beat Illinois on Saturday, Purdue next week and Minnesota on Oct. 26, the Huskers will have to elevate their play consistently in November for one of the more brutal stretches any Big Ten team will face. Can they win out? Sure. But I don't see it. If the scenario plays out as you present it, a lot would depend on if there are other Big Ten teams eligible for BCS at-large selection. We've seen in the past that the league title game loser often is in a worse sport for at-large selection than a team that finishes the season, say, 10-2 on a roll.


Rob from Morristown, N.J., writes: Adam, is Michigan State's defense REALLY as good as you and Brian make them out to be on a weekly basis (in every one one of your blog posts that mentions MSU, you talk about their stellar defense). Is it possible that their very good defensive numbers are due to the fact that they have played an FCS team, two of the worst offensive FBS teams in the country in USF and Western Michigan (ranked Nos. 121 and 122 in scoring offense, respectively) and a ND team starting a senior QB who lost the starting job to a freshman last season and lost their top two rushers off last year's BCS team? Maybe the "hype" is based off of last year's squad and is not necessarily indicative of this year's defense? I admit I have not watched much MSU football, but I think there is a good chance we realize the MSU defense isn't actually THAT good once they start playing some of the better offensive B1G teams. Your witness...

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, you make a lot of fair points here. Michigan State has faced some of the weaker offensive teams in the country. But to this point, the Spartans can only be evaluated on who they face, and they're showing the suffocating play we've grown accustomed to from that unit. If this defense hadn't been among the nation's elite the past two seasons, we're probably not having this discussion. So yes, past performance plays a role because Michigan State has established a culture of elite defense that appears, albeit against weak competition, to be continuing this season. Context is important here, but I also should be careful not to overvalue Michigan State's defense until it faces better offense. But I really like the personnel and the coaching the Spartans have on that side of the ball. We'll certainly learn more in the coming weeks.


Chris from Middleton, Wis., writes: Adam, which do you believe in when it comes to Wisconsin losing close games and their continued battle to go from good to great? 1) It shows how difficult it is to compete with the likes of Michigan and Ohio State's established programs. 2) Wisconsin is more closely scrutinized for penalties thus their success is handcuffed. 3) The gods are critical of football in general at Wisconsin. 4) Wisconsin players are overachievers that have reached their own personal mountain top. 5) If Wisconsin played ASU and Ohio State at home this year, they would be headed for the national championship game.

Adam Rittenberg: Is there an option 6? If so, I would go with Wisconsin being a team not built to play from behind. The Badgers are a methodical, power-driven offense focused on the run game. They bleed clock and their opponents' will by pounding away with huge offensive linemen and talented ball carriers. But they're not a team that runs the two-minute drill well. They don't have enough at receiver -- a problem for several years. The Arizona State game was an odd and unfortunate case because the officials totally botched the call at the end. The football gods aren't out to get Wisconsin, and the Badgers have shown they can win big games. But they're a team better off grabbing the lead and holding on than mounting a late comeback.


Andrew from Hilldale, Mich., writes: Recently there was an ESPN video posted on the blog suggesting that Ohio State's rep has been hurt by weak conference competition. One of the analysts also argued that OSU has beaten up the B1G only to get "slaughtered" in big games against faster nonconference opponents. Is that really a fair argument considering that the last two big bowl games they played -- the Rose Bowl against a very fast Oregon and forfeited Sugar Bowl against the SEC's very own Arkansas -- were solid wins on the field. It seems to me that, since the 2011 Sugar Bowl, they haven't really played any big nonconference games, and certainly none that would count as slaughters.

Adam Rittenberg: Unfortunately, Ohio State still gets painted as a bad big-game team because of the losses to Florida and LSU in the 2007 and 2008 BCS championship games. It's a lazy argument, quite frankly, because those games occurred more than half a decade ago, which is an eternity in college football. If you want to argue that Ohio State won't get into the national title game because the Big Ten is so weak, that's fine. The Big Ten has done little to change its national perception this season. But don't blame it on games that happened so long ago, just because you weren't entertained for the national championship. Vacated wins or not, Ohio State has won its past two big games, as you point out. And I expect the Buckeyes to be a better team than they are now when early January rolls around. Whether they make it to Pasadena for the big one remains to be seen.


Joe from Central PA writes: Hi, Adam. I'm a big PSU fan and although I didn't blame Silas Redd one bit for the decision he made to transfer, you have to wonder if he's second-guessing that now. If he was looking for a pro football career, I would think B'OB was more the coach to help him with that. It's a shame ... all of it really because I believe Silas is a nice/good kid. I really do hope he makes it to the NFL if that is what he wants to do.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I couldn't agree more about Silas being a really nice guy, and I still expect him to go on and have a good NFL career. But you have to wonder whether he'd be better off at Penn State, working in O'Brien's pro-style offense. Look at what Penn State has done with a running back like Zach Zwinak, who isn't as naturally gifted as Redd. From a coaching standpoint, he definitely took a step back by leaving Penn State for USC. Then again, it's hard to blame a guy for going to a team that entered the 2012 season with national title aspirations.


John from New York writes: Do you think that the reason that Venric Mark has been out these last three weeks relates solely to his injury? Pat Fitzgerald has seemed a little shifty when discussing Mark's status, including an assertion that Mark was "day-to-day" about one hour before the kickoff against Maine. I can see Fitzgerald wanting to spring Mark on OSU, depriving them of video of Mark from this season.

Adam Rittenberg: John, Mark never was going to play against Maine, although he probably could have. Northwestern wanted to get his hamstring issue as close to 100 percent as possible before the Big Ten season kicked off against Ohio State. Once the Wildcats got through the Syracuse game, they really didn't need Mark to go 4-0, although it would have been nice for him and Kain Colter to get some more game reps together. It will be interesting to see how much the Colter-Mark zone read game can boost Northwestern's offense against the Buckeyes.
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

1. The Ineligibles overachieved under great coaches: We won't see Ohio State or Penn State until next fall, but both teams went out on positive notes to end seasons in which they overachieved. Aside from die-hard Buckeyes believers, who expected Ohio State to go 12-0 and record just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history? Even fewer people expected Penn State to go 8-4 after a tumultuous offseason that featured the exodus of running back Silas Redd and other key players. And when the Lions started 0-2, most folks wrote them off. But Bill O'Brien and his team never lost faith and surged through most of the Big Ten season. It was fitting that kicker Sam Ficken, whose struggles at Virginia led to Penn State's loss, had the game-winning field goal Saturday as the Lions beat Wisconsin in overtime. O'Brien exceeded all expectations in his first season as a head coach, recording the most wins ever by a first-year Lions boss. Will he be Big Ten Coach of the Year? The only other worthy candidate is Urban Meyer, who took a seven-loss Buckeyes team with significant depth issues and transformed it into one of the nation's best.

[+] EnlargeBill O'Brien
Evan Habeeb/US PresswireBill O'Brien faced tough questions from prospective recruits, but the Penn State coach and his staff kept a top-25 recruiting class together.
2. Michigan isn't really back: Sure, the Wolverines have dug themselves out from the Rich Rodriguez-created crater, and they had a charmed season end in a Sugar Bowl title last season. But in terms of beating really good teams, the ones that signify Michigan once again has a place among the nation's elite, Brady Hoke's crew is still looking for a breakthrough. Michigan won a respectable eight games, but its four losses in the regular season -- Alabama, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Ohio State -- came against the best four teams it played. The Wolverines were extremely fortunate to beat a good Northwestern team and a mediocre Michigan State squad on their home field. While it was nice to end the losing streak against Ohio State last season, Michigan beat the worst Buckeyes team we've seen in more than a decade. The offense still seems hamstrung in some ways by the Denard Robinson era, though the emergence of Devin Gardner is promising for the future. There are signs Michigan is close, and the renaissance on defense under Hoke and Greg Mattison can't be denied. But it'll take a bit longer for Michigan to truly claim it is back, although a Jan. 1 bowl victory against an SEC foe would help.

3. Rex Burkhead still can make an impact: This hasn't been the season the Nebraska senior running back envisioned, but he can still play a major role in how it turns out for Big Red. Burkhead returned to the field in the second half Friday against Iowa after Nebraska's offense stumbled and fell behind 7-3. In his first appearance since Oct. 20, Burkhead racked up 69 yards and Nebraska's only touchdown on 16 carries. He might not be 100 percent, but he showed the skills that make him beloved in the Cornhusker State, particularly on a grinding 9-yard run to pick up a first down after Nebraska was pinned inside its own 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Nebraska had hoped to get through the Iowa game without Burkhead, but when the team needed him, he delivered. He likely will play a bigger role this week against Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game. Burkhead had 86 rush yards against the Badgers in the Big Ten opener, the only full game he has played this season. He could be the boost Nebraska needs to win its first league title since 1999 and possibly win the Rose Bowl, too.

4. Danny Hope's players didn't quit on him: Many Purdue fans have seen enough of fourth-year coach Danny Hope, but Hope has plenty of allies in his locker room. The Boilers easily could have quit after dropping their first five Big Ten games -- four blowouts (three at home) plus the heartbreaker at Ohio State. Some teams projected to do much more would have gone in the tank. But Purdue rallied behind Hope and gutsy quarterback Robert Marve, who played despite a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and won its final three games to secure a bowl berth. The product rarely looked pretty, and even Saturday's Bucket game against Indiana featured some bang-your-head-against-the-wall moments. But Purdue's players never stopped fighting and will head somewhere warm for the holidays. Whether Hope joins them remains to be seen, but he deserves some credit for keeping the team afloat during such a difficult stretch.

5. Bowl practices will be crucial for Big Ten teams: We don't know the bowl matchups yet, but they will be daunting for the Big Ten, which will be without two of its best teams (Ohio State and Penn State) in the postseason. For the league to avoid another bad bowl performance, several teams must take significant steps during bowl practices. Michigan State has the defense and the running back (Le'Veon Bell) to win its bowl game, but it needs quarterback Andrew Maxwell and a young receiving corps to develop. Coach Mark Dantonio hinted this week that his offense needed an update to keep up with the times. Maybe that can start next month in earnest. Minnesota has to get healthy and re-establish its offensive identity behind true freshman quarterback Philip Nelson, who will benefit from the 15 practices. Wisconsin also will have a chance to iron out its offensive issues, while a young Northwestern team that made major strides this fall must make another before facing what should be a heavily favored SEC foe in Florida. Michigan also gets some extra time to figure out its vision on offense with Gardner and Robinson.

Big Ten media days preview

July, 16, 2012
7/16/12
11:00
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You know the season is right around the corner when media days approach. The Big Ten will hold its annual media days and preseason kickoff luncheon next week. Here's a quick preview of the event:

Dates: July 26 and 27

Location: Hyatt Regency McCormick Place and McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago

Big names in attendance: Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin; Denard Robinson, QB, Michigan; Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska; James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa; John Simon, DE, Ohio State; Silas Redd, RB, Penn State; Kawann Short, DT, Purdue.

Big names not in attendance: Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State; Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State; Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska; William Gholston, DE, Michigan State; Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin.

What to expect: Here are some of what we think will be the most popular subjects of conversation in Chicago:
  • Playoff talk. The four-team playoff is still a couple of years away, but it figures to be a huge topic of conversation for every conference on the media days circuit this summer. Players and coaches will be asked for their opinion on the subject, and Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany likely will field plenty of questions about how the league has fared thus far in the postseason negotiations. The idea of a selection committee and who should serve on it will be a major discussion point.
  • Penn State fallout. You almost feel bad for the three Penn State players (Redd, Jordan Hill and John Urschel) who are attending, along with head coach Bill O'Brien. Though none of them had anything to do with the Sandusky scandal, they will have to answer repeated questions about Joe Paterno and the controversy that has enveloped their campus. So far throughout this trying time, current players and coaches have handled the situation with grace and tact. Also, expect Delany to be grilled about potential Big Ten punishment for the Nittany Lions.
  • Urban Meyer. Few first-year coaches have ever gotten as much attention as Meyer has since he was hired by Ohio State, and understandably so. This is Meyer's first Big Ten showcase event, and there will likely be a buzz in the room when he takes the podium. Also, look for lots of talk about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry heating up (if it's possible for that to get hotter). And if you don't think Wisconsin's Bret Bielema will be asked at least one question about Meyer, you haven't been paying attention.
  • Heisman hopefuls. The player contingent does not lack for star power this year. Ball was a Heisman finalist last year and will draw a crowd. Same goes for Michigan's Robinson, who will speak on behalf of the players at the kickoff luncheon on Friday. Burkhead is also an outside Heisman candidate, along with Redd.
  • Big Ten/Pac-12 series cancellation. The two leagues announced on Friday their scheduling partnership had dissolved before it ever began. Delany will have to answer questions about what happened to the promising series as well as address how the league plans to address future scheduling. Is a nine-game conference schedule officially back on the table?
  • New coaches. Meyer will be the main attraction, but Penn State's O'Brien and Illinois' Tim Beckman are also making their Big Ten media days debut. There will be much interest in how they will build their programs, particularly for O'Brien.
  • National title potential. The Big Ten is working on a long national championship drought, and none of the league's teams will be among the preseason favorites to win it all. Michigan likely will enter the year as the highest ranked team, and Brady Hoke will be asked about the season opener against Alabama. Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska could all be preseason Top 20 teams. Are any of them BCS title caliber, and what's it going to take for the Big Ten to get back there?
The college football season is officially over. So it's time to break out the crystal ball and offer our projections for the preposterously-too-early 2012 Big Ten power rankings.

1. Michigan State: The Spartans must replace a lot of leadership, including quarterback Kirk Cousins, receivers B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin and All-American defensive tackle Jerel Worthy. But nine starters return off the Big Ten's top overall defense, featuring Will Gholston, Denicos Allen and Isaiah Lewis as potential breakout stars. Le'Veon Bell could have a big year as the No. 1 tailback, and if Andrew Maxwell can adequately fill in for Cousins, the offense should be fine, especially if Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett gets his waiver to become immediately eligible at receiver. Plus, the road schedule (at Central Michigan, at Indiana, at Michigan, at Wisconsin, at Minnesota) is far more manageable than what the team navigated in 2011.

2. Michigan: A lot of things went right for the Wolverines in 2011, including a favorable schedule. That slate gets harder in 2012, beginning with Alabama at Cowboys Stadium and including road trips to Nebraska and Ohio State. Still, Denard Robinson and Fitz Toussaint form one of the most dangerous offensive duos in the league, and the second year under Brady Hoke and his staff should mean more familiarity and comfort. Coming off a BCS win, Michigan could start the season in the Top 10.

3. Wisconsin: The Badgers will have to overcome many challenges to reach their third straight Rose Bowl. The biggest concern is at quarterback, where there's no experience to replace Russell Wilson and his record-breaking efficiency level. Bret Bielema will have to remake almost his entire offensive coaching staff after Paul Chryst took several assistants with him to Pittsburgh. Still, Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball returns to keep the Wisconsin running game among the best in the country. And the two Big Ten teams who beat the Badgers in 2011 -- Michigan State and Ohio State -- must come to Madison in '12.

4. Ohio State: The Buckeyes aren't eligible to make the Big Ten title game, but don't be surprised if they put up the best record in the Leaders Division. A transition period can be expected as Urban Meyer takes over as head coach and installs an entirely new offensive system. But Ohio State had a small senior class in 2011 and brings back many talented players, such as defensive lineman John Simon, quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde. A schedule that features eight home games should equal much improvement over this year's 6-7 record.

5. Nebraska: Few teams will be as experienced on offense as Nebraska, which returns seven starters and just about every key skill player on that side of the ball. Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead should be even better with another year in offensive coordinator Tim Beck's system. The questions are on defense, where the Huskers struggled at times in 2011 before losing their top two players in linebacker Lavonte David and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard. Nebraska must get tougher up front defensively to handle the Big Ten grind and has difficult road assignments looming at Ohio State and Michigan State.

6. Penn State: For the first time since 1965, we'll see what a Penn State team looks like that is not coached by Joe Paterno to start the season. New coach Bill O'Brien made a wise decision to retain defensive assistants Larry Johnson and Ron Vanderlinden, and even without All-American lineman Devon Still, that side of the ball should stay stout with standouts like Gerald Hodges, Jordan Hill and hopefully a healthy Michael Mauti. O'Brien's biggest impact should come on offense. The former New England Patriots offensive coordinator will try to bring the Nittany Lions attack into the 21st century with a competent passing game. Tailback Silas Redd provides a nice crutch while that transition occurs.

7. Iowa: After two straight 7-5 regular-season finishes, the Hawkeyes will look to get back into Big Ten contention. But they'll have to overcome the losses of star receiver Marvin McNutt, offensive tackle Riley Reiff, defensive linemen Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns and cornerback Shaun Prater. When he's on, James Vandenberg is as good a dropback passer as there is in the Big Ten, but making up for McNutt's production won't be easy. Assuming Marcus Coker returns from suspension, the running game should be very good. The defense simply has to improve after giving up too many big plays in 2011, and Kirk Ferentz hasn't yet named a successor to veteran defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who retired.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers have a chance to make a move in a Leaders Division that is marked by coaching changes. They return most of the major pieces of their Little Caesars Bowl-winning team, and the return of Rob Henry from his season-ending knee surgery opens up some interesting possibilities at quarterback. Kawann Short should be one of the top defensive linemen in the league if he decides to return for his senior year. We'd still like to see more consistency from Danny Hope's program before we rank Purdue too high, however.

9. Northwestern: Dan Persa and his record-breaking accuracy are gone, along with top receiver Jeremy Ebert. Yet we're not too concerned about the offense and like the multi-dimensional options that Kain Colter provides with his all-around athleticism. Northwestern's issue is whether it can fix a defense that had trouble stopping anybody. The fact that the Wildcats lose their top three defensive backs from a secondary that was routinely torched does not inspire confidence.

10. Illinois: New coach Tim Beckman has his work cut out for him in Year One. He has to completely revamp an offense that couldn't shoot straight in the back half of 2011 while implementing a new spread style. He has to try to maintain the defense without coordinator Vic Koenning or All-American defensive end Whitney Mercilus. And he faces a schedule that sees the Illini going to Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan, all three of which won in Champaign this past season. There's still talent on defense, led by promising linebacker Jonathan Brown. Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase needs to build on his second-half showing in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

11. Minnesota: After a horrible start, the Gophers showed a lot more fight down the stretch in 2011, beating Iowa and Illinois at home. Jerry Kill knows how to build a program, and the team can't help but be better in 2012, especially if MarQueis Gray continues to develop at quarterback. But Minnesota still has some holes on its roster that can only be fixed through recruiting, and while the Gophers could make a run at bowl eligibility this year, they'll be hard-pressed to make too much noise in a stacked Legends Division.

12. Indiana: The good news for the Hoosiers is that they played a ton of freshmen in 2011, and the growing pains should start to pay off for guys such as Tre Roberson and Mark Murphy in 2012. The second year under Kevin Wilson should also bring progress. Still, this is a team that went 1-11 in 2011 with no wins over FBS teams, so it remains an uphill climb.
The 2011 Heisman Trophy ceremony just took place on Saturday night, and very few people were talking about players like Robert Griffin III or Montee Ball as serious candidates before this season. So it's ridiculously early to be speculating on 2012 candidates. But it is a lot of fun.

Wisconsin's Ball is only a junior, and if he decides to come back for his senior season he'll be one of the preseason Heisman favorites in 2012. Most expect him to make the leap to the NFL, however, and his stock might never be higher.

So we'll assume Ball does not return as we examine some other potential Big Ten Heisman candidates next season:
  • Michigan QB Denard Robinson: Well, of course. Robinson has been in the Heisman conversation in the early part of the past two years, and voters are very familiar with his abilities. A couple of things could be in his favor in 2012: He'll be a senior, and he'll enter his third year as a starter. He'll also be in the second year of Al Borges' offensive system. Robinson will have to cut down on his interceptions, develop into a better passer and compete against the insane numbers he's put up the past two seasons. But he'll definitely be on the radar if Michigan keeps winning under Brady Hoke.
  • Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead: Burkhead blossomed into a star this season, rushing for 1,268 yards and 15 touchdowns, and is expected to come back for his senior season. He might not always be flashy, but few backs run harder. If Nebraska can have a big season, he can get into the mix, along with possibly his backfield mate, quarterback Taylor Martinez.
  • Ohio State QB Braxton Miller: It's probably wildly unfair to put Miller on this list. He'll only be a sophomore and will be learning a new system. But he did show signs of stardom as a rookie, and now he'll be showcased in Urban Meyer's spread system. The '12 season is likely too soon for Miller to make many Heisman waves, but don't be surprised if he's competing for the statue before his career in Columbus is over.
Others to watch: Iowa's James Vandenberg and Marcus Coker; Penn State's Silas Redd; Wisconsin's James White.

Predictions: Big Ten Week 7

October, 13, 2011
10/13/11
9:52
AM ET
Big Ten play has been no match for us so far, as we're 21-for-22 in predictions for league games (Bennett's miss on Iowa-Penn State being the only blemish).

But Week 7 certainly has the potential to trip us up. It's by far the most difficult set of games we've had this season. The teams, the locations, winning/losing streaks, rivalries and other factors all could play into what takes place Saturday afternoon and evening. There are at least three potential toss-up games on the Week 7 slate.

Let's get picky ...

NO. 11 MICHIGAN at NO. 23 MICHIGAN STATE

Brian Bennett: Denard Robinson's mistakes finally catch up to him against a nasty Michigan State defense, which comes up with three turnovers. Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham hook up early and often, and the Spartans make it four Bunyans in a row. ... Michigan State 24, Michigan 20

Adam Rittenberg: Four Bunyans? Sounds nasty. I wrestled with this one all week, as there are so many interesting subplots, all of which could go by the wayside because it's a rivalry game. Although Michigan is undefeated, I think this game has greater significance for Michigan State. The Spartans do enough to slow down Robinson and get enough from running backs Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Michigan State rallies in the fourth quarter and wins on a last-minute field goal. ... Michigan State 23, Michigan 21

PURDUE at PENN STATE

Adam Rittenberg: Purdue will hang around in this one, but the Boilers make too many mistakes (8.6 penalties per game) to win in a place like Beaver Stadium. Penn State's defense bends but doesn't break, and the Lions' offensive line builds on its performance from last week as Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes both reach the end zone. ... Penn State 24, Purdue 13

Brian Bennett: The Lions could have a little letdown after an emotional win over Iowa last week. But Purdue just doesn't have enough playmakers to puncture that Penn State defense. Devon Still introduces himself to Caleb TerBush a couple of times, and the formula of defense and just enough offense gets it done for JoePa again. ... Penn State 20, Purdue 7

INDIANA at NO. 4 WISCONSIN

Brian Bennett: Not quite 83-20, but it's still ugly. A struggling IU team is no match for the Badgers' freight train. Four more touchdowns for Montee Ball in a Wisconsin laugher. ... Wisconsin 58, Indiana 17

Adam Rittenberg: Yeah, I can't see Wisconsin hanging 83 on Indiana again (or the Hoosiers lying down like they did last year). The Badgers won't be sweating this one out, as Ball adds to his touchdowns total and James White reaches the end zone twice. Russell Wilson has a short day, as Wisconsin can start gearing up for the Michigan State showdown. ... Wisconsin 54, Indiana 10

OHIO STATE at NO. 16 ILLINOIS

Adam Rittenberg: Upset special! Yes, Ohio State is fragile and Illinois is rolling. But the Buckeyes are desperate, and Illinois hasn't paid for some of its miscues (turnovers, penalties, forgetting the score). It catches up to the Illini this week. Dan Herron scores two touchdowns in his return, and Ohio State's defense does just enough to slow down Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins. ... Ohio State 21, Illinois 20

Brian Bennett: What? No love for the Zooker, Adam? I agree this will be a tough test for the Illini, but I'm not convinced Braxton Miller will be able to move effectively on his sprained ankle. And if he can't elude Whitney Mercilus, Jonathan Brown and the rest of Vic Koenning's defense, it will be another long day for the Buckeyes' offense. ... Illinois 17, Ohio State 14

NORTHWESTERN at IOWA

Brian Bennett: I went with history with last week's Iowa-Penn State pick and it let me down. But I was a history major in college. So I'll try it again and say Northwestern continues its dominance in this series. The Wildcats look close to breaking through, and Dan Persa tortures the porous Hawkeyes defense in an Iowa City shootout. ... Northwestern 38, Iowa 35

Adam Rittenberg: History was one of my majors, Bennett, but this is the Year of the Opposites -- Penn State beats Iowa, Iowa beats Northwestern, you're amazingly beating me in picks. Both defenses will struggle, but James Vandenberg and his receivers get well against a Northwestern team that can't stop anyone. Iowa feeds off the home crowd and rallies in the fourth quarter for a win. ... Iowa 27, Northwestern 24

BYE: Nebraska, Minnesota

SEASON RECORDS

Bennett: 46-11 (.807)

Rittenberg: 44-13 (.772)

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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
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