Ohio State Buckeyes: Jesse Della Valle

We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
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Ohio State Buckeyes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana Hoosiers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins, Big Ten Conference, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Vonn Bell, cam burrows, Armani Reeves, Blake Countess, Doran Grant, Jarrod Wilson, Darian Hicks, Gareon Conley, sojourn shelton, Jabrill Peppers, Nick VanHoose, Chris Ash, Eli Apple, Rashard Fant, Godwin Igwebuike, Tyvis Powell, Darius Hillary, Mark Murphy, Michael Caputo, Peniel Jean, Dymonte thomas, Ron Tanner, Landon Feichter, Dezmen Southward, Adrian Amos, Daniel Jones, Ibraheim Campbell, Kurtis Drummond, V'Angelo Bentley, Dwight White, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Tim Bennett, Matt Harris, Taylor Richards, Antonio Allen, B.J. Lowery, Ryan Keiser, Derrick Wells, Nate Hammon, Austin Hudson, Jesse Della Valle, Michael Hunter, Trae Waynes, Eaton Spence, Jaylen Dunlap, Raymon Taylor, Zane Petty, Cedric Thompson, John Lowdermilk, Josh Mitchell, Charlton Warren, B1G spring positions 14, A.J. Hendy, Alvin Hill, Andrew Green, Anthony Cioffi, Anthony Gair, Anthony Nixon, Antoine Lewis, Antonio Johnson, Arjen Colquhoun, Charles Jackson, Corey Cooper, Daniel Davie, Darius Mosely, Delon Stephenson, Demetrious Cox, Dexter McDougle, Eric Murray, Ezra Robinson, Frankie Williams, Gareef Glashen, Grayson Levine, Harvey Jackson, Ian Thomas, Jeremiah Johnson, Jermaine Edmonson, Jevaris Little, Johnathan Aiken, Jonathan Rose, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Leo Musso, Leroy Clark, Lorenzo Waters, Malik Golden, Nadir Barnwell, Nico Law, RJ Williamson, Sean Davis, Sean Draper, Serge Trezy, Tanner Miller, Taylor Barton, Tejay Johnson, Traveon Henry, Trevor Williams, Will Likely, Zach Dancel

Big Ten Week 6: Did you know?

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
10:00
AM ET
Some parents play classical music to their children when they’re in utero. You should probably read them Big Ten football facts, too. It’s always good to have a well-rounded child.


  • Braxton Miller is a very good quarterback. Everyone knows that. In 2012, he was one of five players in the country to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000. But he has also gotten better every year. As a freshman he completed just 53.5 percent of his passes inside the pocket, averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. In 2012 those numbers improved to 59.8 percent and 8.3 yards per attempt. And this season, he’s completing 69.2 percent of his passes inside the pocket and averaging 8.7 yards per attempt. Those improvements come from his training in the offseason, but he has also stayed inside the pocket more this season. Eighty percent of his passes this year have come inside the pocket as opposed to last season when just 67 percent of his passes were thrown from inside the pocket.
  • Northwestern has the only offense in the Big Ten that averages more than 225 yards per game both rushing and passing and a big reason is because of its two-quarterback system. Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian are both talented, but have different skill sets. Colter has been in on 140 snaps this season while Siemian has been in for 141. When Colter is in, the Wildcats will execute a rushing play 75 percent of the time and on those plays, they average 6.5 yards per play. When Siemian is in, Northwestern rushes 50 percent of the time, and on those plays the Wildcats gain 7.1 yards per play on average.
  • When Penn State and Indiana take the field this weekend, history will be on the side of the Nittany Lions. PSU holds a 16-0 record (included NCAA vacated wins) over Indiana since 1993 -- Penn State’s first season in the Big Ten. The closest game between the two teams came on Oct. 28, 2000, when Penn State came away with a three-point victory. The largest margin of victory for the Nittany Lions was on Nov. 15, 2003, when Penn State ran away with a 45-point win (52-7).
  • Indiana has a battle of the classes this season. With just 10 seniors on its roster the Hoosiers account for the fourth fewest seniors on a team in college football. But already eight true freshmen have seen playing time for the Hoosiers.
  • Michigan was given a gift of sorts with a bye week last weekend after lackluster performances against Akron and Connecticut. And it bodes well for the Wolverines, who have come away with wins in nine of their last 10 games following a bye. The lone loss was in 2010 when the Wolverines traveled to State College to face the Nittany Lions after a bye week. Penn State came away with a 41-31 win behind a huge offensive performance from former QB Matt McGloin (250 passing yards, 2-of-2 on fourth downs and 0 turnovers).
  • Last season when Michigan State and Iowa met, the Hawkeyes came away with a three-point victory in double overtime. Unfortunately for the Spartans, they were accustomed to those kinds of tight losses. Excluding Michigan State’s 20-3 loss to Notre Dame in week three of 2012, the Spartans lost their other five games by a combined 13 points (2.6 points per game).
  • Junior wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley leads the Big Ten with 25.78 yards per punt return. Those numbers were heavily aided by his two punt returns for touchdowns (83 yards, 63 yards) against Western Michigan. Without those returns, he would average just 12.29 yards per return, which would put him at fifth in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Corey Brown (61.1), Illinois’ V’Angelo Bentley (15.8), Minnesota’s Marcus Jones (13.1) and Penn State’s Jesse Della Valle (12.7).
  • Saturday will mark the first time Nebraska and Illinois meet on the field in a Big Ten game. The last time these two teams played was in 1986 (Nebraska won 59-14), which means none of Nebraska’s current players were born yet to see it. Bo Pelini may or may not have seen it. He would’ve been a senior in high school at the time.
  • Minnesota coach Jerry Kill has the most tenured football staff in the nation. Not only is Minnesota one of just 18 schools to retain all assistants from 2012-13, but also his staff (between his nine assistants and strength and conditioning staff) accounts for 124 years served under Kill. Strength coach Eric Klein has been with Kill the longest (20 years), while linebackers coach Bill Miller is the baby on the staff (three years with Kill).

Big Ten lunchtime links

October, 2, 2013
10/02/13
12:00
PM ET
We're driving Cadillacs in our dreams.

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