Penn State Nittany Lions: Alex Kenney
Robinson was a consensus two-star prospect in high school. He caught three passes as a college freshman. And, before his sophomore season, the media focused on players such as Alex Kenney and Shawney Kersey as possible stars.
Robinson hears all the chatter; it just doesn’t bother him. He has been here before.
“My whole life has been sitting around waiting,” he said after Penn State’s Tuesday pro day. “So whatever round I go in, it is what it is. But at the same time, when I get to my team, I’m going to grind and earn my spot.”
The Michigan native, who caught high school passes from four-star recruit Rob Bolden, knows some have criticized his breakaway speed, or lack thereof. (NFL.com’s profile of him lists that as his main weakness.) The concern is he’s too slow to be a productive NFL wideout, that he’s a solid college wideout whose NFL stock dropped considerably since running a 4.6-second 40.
That’s not news to Robinson, but he has made a career out of proving doubters wrong. He centered a lot of his training around improving that 40-yard dash in time for Tuesday’s pro day. And, according to Robinson, scouts approached him afterward and told him he clocked a sub-4.5.
He also finished with a 42-inch vertical, a three-cone time of 6.53 seconds and a broad jump of 10 feet, 11 inches. All of those numbers were improvements from the NFL combine numbers.
“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in myself,” Robinson said. “I feel like I made the best decision I could’ve made [declaring early], and I’m comfortable with that.”
Robinson doesn’t know where he’ll go in the draft. Maybe he’ll surprise the analysts and be picked in the second round, or maybe even the first. But, wherever he goes, he said he wouldn’t be disappointed. And wherever he goes, no one is counting him out this time around.
“Everyone’s dream is to go in the first round, but I can’t control that,” he said. “So wherever I end up going, God has blessed me with being picked by a team. All I can do is stay prepared and ready and, once my name is called, show those guys what I can do and earn my spot on the field.”
Not stressing out: Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones might be the first Penn State player taken in next month’s NFL draft, but he’s trying not to think about that.
“You really don’t know until the draft so, right now, I’m not really stressing about it,” said Jones, who has been projected to go as early as the second round. “All I can do now is take care of my body.”
Jones weighed in at 324 pounds, a six-pound gain since the start of last season, and stood at 6-foot-3. He said teams have approached him as both a 3-4 and 4-3 defensive tackle, and he’s fine with either.
“Everyone’s going to multiple defenses,” he said, “so you’re going to play either/or no matter where you go.”
High risk … high reward?: Tight end-turned-offensive tackle Garry Gilliam was present for pro day, and it’s a good thing he was. A lot of NFL scouts didn’t even know he declared.
“They actually said they didn’t know I was coming out,” said Gilliam, who had one year of eligibility remaining and declared late. “So it was huge to come out here.”
Gilliam probably could have benefited from another season at Penn State. He played only one season as an offensive tackle after bulking up last offseason. But, at 23 years old and with two degrees already, Gilliam felt it was time to move on.
He came in Tuesday at 6-6, 306 pounds and ran a sub-5-second 40. But his upper body strength has teams worried, as he did between 19 and 20 reps on the bench press.
“I think they know I’m a raw player and they need to develop me,” he said, “but I think they’ll take a shot to do it.”
Disrespected: Middle linebacker Glenn Carson didn’t receive an invitation to last month’s NFL combine. And he doesn’t plan to forget that snub anytime soon.
“I definitely came in today with a chip on my shoulder,” he said. “I felt as if I should’ve gotten a combine invite, and that’s why I had to go out there and impress people today.
“I felt like I was a little underappreciated, but all you have to do is put your head down and work. And that’s what I did for these past three months.”
Carson could wind up as a priority free agent, but he’s not expected to be drafted. Still, he felt as if he improved his stock on Tuesday and said several scouts complimented his performance and how he played “smooth.”
“It would be awesome to get drafted,” Carson said.
Here's a look at each player, what he has meant to the team and who will be taking his place next season:
DT Kyle Baublitz, 6-foot-5, 281 pounds
Season stats: Started seven out of 10 games. 17 tackles, two sacks, one blocked kick.
Synopsis: Baublitz announced Saturday he decided to move on with his life and will perform student-teaching next year at State College Area High School instead of starting along the PSU interior. He will be missed immensely, as he was expected to start alongside Austin Johnson in 2014 as the clear No. 1. His departure leaves PSU in a very difficult spot with DaQuan Jones graduating. PSU clearly doesn't feel very good at this position because it continues to go after juco defensive tackles -- and it wouldn't be out of the question for a first-year player to make an impact next year either.
Taking over: No returning defensive tackles have a lot of experience (i.e. -- Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia), so the smart money would be on defensive end Anthony Zettel moving inside. Zettel said several weeks ago he feels confident he can make an impact along the interior, and PSU could certainly use him. PSU likes to use at least three players on a rotation, so expect Zettel-Johnson to start inside with another guy -- possibly a first-year player -- also seeing a good amount of time.
RT Garry Gilliam, 6-6, 303
Seasons stats: Played in nine games and started four. Helped PSU average 4.2 ypc.
Synopsis: Gilliam is easily the most surprising of the bunch. He moved from tight end to offensive tackle in the offseason, and he has done a tremendous job at transitioning. He has battled Adam Gress for the starting spot all season and, if he returned next year, he'd almost certainly be the starter opposite LT Donovan Smith -- especially considering the other competition, Gress and Eric Shrive, are set to graduate. There's not a lot of options at offensive tackle with Gilliam leaving.
Taking over: O'Brien has been high on freshman Andrew Nelson all season, and he could be the heir apparent. There really aren't too many other options. Anthony Alosi can play both guard and tackle -- but he'll be the only other returning player who's listed as a tackle on the roster. PSU needs to replace two inside linemen, too, so moving a guard to the outside will require quite a bit of forward thinking.
WR Alex Kenney, 6-0, 195.
Season stats: Played in six games with zero starts. Has three catches for 25 yards.
Synopsis: He's the least-surprising player to graduate early. He came in to Penn State as a four-star recruit, but he never really made an impact. He always seemed to be a track athlete in a football uniform. He was supplanted this season by freshman Richy Anderson, and he hasn't caught a pass since Week 3. Even with PSU's top-two receivers likely leaving after this season, Kenney still wouldn't have seen time next season.
Taking over: Anderson has already taken over for Kenney, so it's not much of a stretch to think he'll stay at his slot position. Anderson has 11 catches for 95 yards so far.
And away we go:
2. Zach Zwinak's fumble concerns are still not behind him. He's big, he's strong, and he wears defenses down. But -- and this is a big 'but' -- he still has problems holding onto the pigskin. That was the main knock on the 240-pound back last season, and it would appear he's still not over those issues. Zwinak committed a costly fumble in the fourth quarter that also killed PSU's comeback hopes. He fumbled five times last season and still hasn't lived down that reputation.
3. The sanctions are catching up with Penn State. Butler conceded as much, and he's right. The defensive coordinator explained that PSU has been forced to limit tackling in practice out of the fear of injuries. And, if you limit tackling, missed tackles are going to happen. It's a product of that depth. Fewer scholarships mean fewer options on defense. The bad news for Penn State? Injuries tend to progress along with the season -- so it's only going to get worse.
4. Mike Hull is not at 100 percent. He just didn't seem like the same linebacker against Central Florida, and his participation was limited. Bill O'Brien was asked about where Hull was, injury-wise, after the game and the head coach responded, "He's a tough kid, and I think he is giving us everything he's got." He didn't elaborate but said he'd watch the tape and offer more information Tuesday. Safety-turned-linebacker Stephen Obeng-Agyapong replaced Hull when he couldn't go, and linebacker is obviously a huge concern for PSU moving forward. Hull is important to this defense, and it greatly impacts this defense when he's not 100 percent. And he clearly was not 100 percent.
5. True freshmen are really stepping up. It's not just the obvious here in Christian Hackenberg, who has exceeded very lofty expectations already. It's a lot of other true freshmen. Tight end Adam Breneman finished second in catches Saturday with four (for 22 yards), and Richy Anderson finished third in catches with two (for 21 yards). Anderson seems to have supplanted redshirt junior Alex Kenney as the slot receiver. And run-on Von Walker has also seen a lot of time as a returner and on other special teams. This is a special class and should offer fans hope for the future.
Projected starters: Allen Robinson (2012 stats: 1,013 yards, 77 catches, 11 touchdowns) and Brandon Moseby-Felder (437 yards, 31 catches, one touchdown)
Key losses: None
Next in line: Redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis was close to playing last year but, as a former high school quarterback, he needed an extra year to learn the receiver position. He's a fast, exciting playmaker who should add another wrinkle to this offense.
Matt Zanellato also will see an increased workload this season and said he's been practicing at all the receiver positions. He's versatile, so Zanellato should help catch some defenses off-guard. In the slot, Alex Kenney is the top guy -- with true freshman Richy Anderson backing him up.
What to expect: This group is clearly better than last year, and with Lewis' addition to the lineup, the quarterback here shouldn't have to just turn to A-Rob and the tight ends for targets. Moseby-Felder and Lewis have good speed, and this position is definitely in good shape. It's deeper, more experienced and more talented than in 2012.
Robinson was the best wideout in the Big Ten last season -- and he only has gotten better. That should be a scary thought for opposing defenses. Outside of Robinson last year, the Nittany Lions really didn't have a No. 2 wideout the first few games of the season -- Moseby-Felder had a lingering injury -- but that's not a problem this year.
A lot of the receivers have the ability to play at different spots, and that should keep defenses guessing. The statistics might not match last year's, but this is one of the most-improved units on the team.
Recruiting trail: The Nittany Lions didn't need to grab three receiver commits in the 2014 class, but it's hard to say no to some of the top guys on your recruiting board. PSU received verbals from ESPN 300 wideouts in De'Andre Thompkins (Swansboro, N.C./Swansboro) and Chris Godwin (Middletown, Del./Middletown), in addition to three-star WR Troy Apke (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon).
The Lions have arguably the best group of receiver commits in the country, and it's very safe to say PSU is done at this position for this class. Looking ahead to 2015, it seems as if PSU would take either one wideout or none. It already has offered Van Jefferson (Brentwood, Tenn./Ravenwood).
Best-case scenario: Robinson earns All-America honors, grabs a bunch of jump balls and breaks his own single-season record. Debates begin as to whether he is PSU's best receiver ever. Meanwhile, Lewis has a breakout season, while Moseby-Felder builds off last year and Zanellato plays well when called upon.
Worst-case scenario: Robinson is better than last year, but it doesn't show. With a struggling quarterback, teams shadow Robinson and he is unable to make the same impact he did in 2012. Lewis gets confused on some routes, and Moseby-Felder doesn't improve enough to take some of the pressure off of Robinson. This group is good, better than last year, but it's difficult to see.
Top position question: Will Robinson declare early for the NFL draft? Obviously, this question is a bit premature -- but it's one every Penn State fan wants to ask. He has the ability to play in the NFL, and it really wouldn't be that surprising for him to at least inquire about his draft grade.
We recently asked Robinson's father, also named Allen, about declaring early for the NFL. Here's what he had to say:
"What I would really like him to do is play his senior season," Robinson's father said. "Allen is young. I think he can get much better. I think he can put on some more weight, and I think he can get faster before he goes to the next level. But that's just my own thoughts.
"We'll see how things turn out."
Here's a look at five lessons learned from a day spent talking to coaches and players:
1. Tyler Ferguson currently boasts the early edge at quarterback. That wasn't a huge surprise, considering Christian Hackenberg enrolled over the summer while Ferguson started school in January. But Hackenberg has picked up things quickly, and there's no telling where the race might be in another week or two.
But, as luck would have it, that's exactly when Bill O'Brien hopes -- hopes -- to name the starter. The head coach isn't a fan of waiting until the night before the season opener because he wants the starter to get more reps with the first team. At this juncture, most of the media believes Hackenberg will start ... but O'Brien said that Ferguson holds the slight lead right now.
2. Linebacker is the biggest concern when it comes to depth. Penn State might be known as Linebacker U, but it's not very big on quantity this season. When asked about depth on defense -- since the DTs don't have the greatest numbers either -- O'Brien didn't hesitate in expressing his concern over the linebacker unit.
Nyeem Wartman will start as a redshirt freshman and the top backup, Ben Kline, is still coming off a shoulder injury and didn't participate in Thursday's practice. One more injury at this spot could spell doom for this defense. Safeties such as Adrian Amos and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong could come in relief of Wartman on passing downs, but there's only so many tweaks this staff can make to shore up the depth here.
3. Special teams are a point of focus. The Nittany Lions finished among the bottom of the country in just about every special teams category last season -- No. 103 in net punting, No. 90 in punt returns, No. 112 in kick returns, etc. O'Brien said the team is working hard on improving those numbers.
Sam Ficken remains the starting kicker, but he should be pushed by preferred walk-on Chris Gulla. That true freshman has also practiced punting a lot, so he should also compete with Alex Butterworth. And, as far as kick returners, those duties remain between eight candidates -- including Richy Anderson, Alex Kenney, Bill Belton, Trevor Williams, Akeel Lynch and Eugene Lewis.
4. Newest injuries don't affect depth that much. True freshman wideout DaeSean Hamilton, a four-star wideout from Virginia, is out for the season with a wrist injury suffered from high school. But Hamilton was a redshirt candidate before the announcement, and the corps there is pretty deep. PSU shouldn't miss a beat at wideout.
Redshirt freshman Brent Wilkerson also suffered a back injury and is "out for a while," although O'Brien declined to elaborate. Regardless, tight end is the deepest position on the roster -- and there are at least four other tight ends who could see time here. Kyle Carter and Jesse James remain the starters, but Matt Lehman is a solid backup and Adam Breneman could see time as a true freshman.
5. WR Allen Robinson is just getting started. Robinson broke the longstanding school-record for receptions last season, but assistant coach Stan Hixon said Robinson has just scratched the surface of his potential. The All-Big Ten wideout improved his strength, speed and hounded teammates over the summer for some extra 7-on-7 drills.
Robinson acknowledged he might not top last year's numbers -- 77 catches, 1,013 yards, 11 TDs -- but that doesn't mean he's not a better wideout. He has been timed at 4.6 seconds in the 40-yard dash, and he has worked hard on winning more one-on-one battles this offseason. He's a good basketball player with a strong vertical leap, and he could be the big-play threat this offense desperately needs. He's the best player on this offense -- and he has gotten better. Much better.
Remember everything we wrote about Nebraska yesterday? About how it boasts a great offense, a decent secondary and a terrible front seven?
Well, reverse that completely -- and then you'll get Wisconsin.
The Badgers are the bizzaro Huskers, a team that will have to rely on defense to win and won't threaten with its passing attack. James White and Jared Abbrederis will spearhead the offense, but there's still no telling who the quarterback might be.
“[W]e may jog out there the first play of the game with two quarterbacks on the field and see what happens from there,” new head coach Gary Andersen said. “So who knows? It will be interesting.”
Andersen has big shoes -- and a big mouth -- to fill after Bret Bielema's surprise departure. Wisconsin earned three straight invitations to the Rose Bowl under Bielema. Granted, the Badgers lost every one -- but that's still an impressive streak that will likely be broken in 2013 because of offensive question marks.
Wisconsin will be a good team in 2013, easily the No. 2 or No. 3 team in the Leaders Division. But like Nebraska, it's far from perfect.
Here's a closer look at some of the notable changes:
1. Lots of movement in the secondary.
Stephen Obeng-Agyapong, who started last season, is listed as Amos' backup. The other starter isn't yet decided, as Bill O'Brien put the "OR" next to Malcolm Willis' name, meaning a competition is still under way between him and walk-on-turned-scholarship athlete Ryan Keiser.
At cornerback, which saw Amos and the graduated Stephon Morris as the 2012 starters, there are two new names to watch. Sophomore Jordan Lucas grabbed one starting spot, while wideout-turned-corner Trevor Williams is listed at the other. Da'Quan Davis is Lucas' backup.
2. TE-turned-OT Garry Gilliam is now up to 305 pounds.
That's a huge turnaround in less than a year. He played the role of blocking TE last year and started the season at 262 pounds. So, in about 10 months, he's gained 43 pounds. That says quite a bit about PSU's strength and conditioning program. He's currently listed as Dononvan Smith's backup at left tackle.
3. Kyle Baublitz will start alongside DaQuan Jones at DT.
Redshirt freshman Austin Johnson received a lot of praise over the spring, and he seemed poised to grab the starting spot. But the more-experienced Baublitz is instead part of the first-string lineup.
Baublitz played in six games last year, and the most recent roster puts him at 286 pounds -- 32 pounds lighter than Jones and 11 pounds lighter than Johnson. He had two tackles and one sack last year.
4. The long-snapper is ... MLB Glenn Carson?
At least for now, it is. Sean Corcoran is an incoming run-on who's expected to compete for the starting snapping jobs, so Carson's name there could be short-lived.
5. Bill Belton remains the No. 2 RB, while Brandon Moseby-Felder will still start opposite WR Allen Robinson.
Neither was a big surprise, but there were questions surrounding both players. Akeel Lynch is the no. 3 RB, while Eugene Lewis-Matt Zanellato are the receiving backups. (Lewis should still see a considerable amount of time on the field, obviously.)
Moseby-Felder nursed a leg injury last season, which slowed him down in the early going, and he could be a nice surprise this season. Early enrollee Richy Anderson might have garnered his share of pats on the back, too, but he's listed as a fourth-stringer. A redshirt could be in his future.
6. Charles Idemudia is the non-scholarship LB to watch.
Yes, the starting lineup is still Mike Hull-Carson-Nyeem Wartman ... but that was never really in doubt. With just five scholarship linebackers on the roster -- six once Brandon Bell gets on campus -- a walk-on was poised to see some time.
PSU's players threw around a couple names, such as Adam Cole and Matthew Baney, but Idemudia is the only non-scholarship LB listed on the depth chart.
7. Kick/punt returners listed.
PSU tried a few different players on special teams last season. But as of now Belton and Alex Kenney are listed as the top-two kick returners, with Jesse Della Valle as the top punt returner. Those three had the most kick/punt returns last season, so it's not a huge shock to see those names again. One interesting change, though? Anderson is the No. 2 PR.
- Who: Allen Robinson is the star on this receiver corps, but the lineup isn't all that clear after placing him at the No. 1 spot. Brandon Moseby-Felder could still be in position to be the No. 2 target, but rising redshirt freshman Eugene Lewis and rising sophomore Trevor Williams will try their best to overtake him. Lewis has the higher ceiling, but Williams is more refined at this point. This group could see quite a bit of shuffling before Week 1 begins.
- Strengths: Penn State might be lacking depth at other positions, but it's absolutely stacked at wide receiver. There'll be at least 10 players at the position next season, which should provide some good competition and some close battles. Most of the wideouts here -- such as Robinson, Lewis and incoming freshman DaeSean Hamilton -- are more athletic than fast. Their leaping ability and hands are all good, and they should be an exciting group to watch.
- Weaknesses: Consistency was definitely something missing last season. Dropped balls plagued the wideouts -- even Robinson at times -- throughout the season. There's also not really a deep threat with top-end speed here. Alex Kenney is incredibly quick, but he seems to be made more in the mold of a track athlete than football player. Moseby-Felder showed flashes last season after overcoming an injury, and he might be Penn State's best bet as a deep threat as long as he stays healthy.
- Player to watch: Lewis is going to be a good one. He didn't play last season because he was unaccustomed to running routes since he played quarterback in high school. After a year of learning, he'll definitely be utilized in 2013 -- and he could end up being the biggest surprise on the offense.
- Overall: The receivers should be much improved from last season. Everyone with significant playing time returns, and it's difficult to see how a drop-off could occur with another offseason under Stan Hixon. Some of the wideouts' numbers might decline with a new quarterback, but the talent at this position will definitely be an improvement over 2012.
Every day during the next two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.
Up today: Wide receivers.
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NittanyNation asked several players for their opinions and also looked at the tape to find Penn State's five most improved players since Week 1:
1. RB Zach Zwinak
He entered Week 1 as a player vying to become the fourth option at tailback: Bill Belton, Derek Day and Michael Zordich were on pace to get more playing time. But as injuries piled up, Zwinak made the most of his limited opportunities and quickly became Penn State's top tailback. He's rushed for at least 90 yards in five of the last seven contests. And in the last two games, he topped 130 yards. He's almost never tackled in the backfield and he even flashed some surprising speed against the Cornhuskers. Zwinak didn't just rise to become the top tailback on this offense. He's one of the team's best players.
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After a rough loss against Ohio State, quite a few offensive contributors fell off the list. But some new players stepped up, and a few made big leaps on the list.
Whose performance left the biggest impression, and whose contributions were the most surprising? This week's top 10:
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But after touring the campus and chatting with the coaches, the longtime Ohio State fan said he could see himself donning the blue and white one day.
"I didn't expect to get as much out of it as I did," said the speedy Campbell, who currently holds no offers. "Just the way the coaches were going through drills and stuff, they seem like good motivators and good coaches -- that's what I got out of it.
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Here's the Nittany Lions' midseason report card:
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Just one week ago, the fifth-year signal-caller said his goal entailed scoring 35 points. Sure enough, Penn State upended Illinois 35-7. But, this week, McGloin sounded as if it was Illinois who had scored the five touchdowns.
"We can do better than that," said McGloin, who ran for two touchdowns and passed for another.
"Anytime we get inside the 25 or 30, we got to put points on the board. We got the ability and plays to do it, so we got to stop making dumb mistakes near the goal line."
McGloin wasn't wrong. Despite its biggest scoring output of the season, the Nittany Lions were just 4-of-7 on their red-zone chances. For the season, Penn State is scoring just 62 percent of the time it enters the red zone -- the 11th-worst rate in the country.
On the flip side, Northwestern's defense has toughened up in that area and has allowed just seven touchdowns in 18 trips.
"I'd like to see myself do better," McGloin added, "and be more consistent at times."
The wide receivers coach told reporters that extra defenders would stalk Allen Robinson throughout the Big Ten season, that they would stick to Matt McGloin's top target better than the names on the back of their jerseys.
"We want to spread it around a little more," Hixon said shortly after Penn State's first win, "because, when we get to Big Ten play, there's going to be some double coverage -- and other guys got to come through."
Enter Alex Kenney, a wideout-turned-cornerback-turned-wideout.
With the departure of Shawney Kersey, McGloin has relied more and more on Kenney as a Plan-B receiver. In the last two games, Kenney has quietly made seven catches to Robinson's eight.
In the non-conference season, Robinson accounted for 40 percent of McGloin's passing yards. But it's clear that won't fly against Big Ten competition. Against Illinois, he reeled in just three catches for 35 yards.
"I don't think you can double-cover one guy on us," McGloin said Wednesday. "We'll just throw to someone else."
Kenney, a redshirt sophomore, wasn’t always the most likely candidate to become that "someone else." He competed mostly at cornerback last season until he was thrust into a receiving role in the TicketCity Bowl.
When Hixon first saw Kenney, he told the speedy wideout he wasn't moving back to defense. Kenney waited to hear those words for two seasons.
"It was frustrating," Kenney said about his previous moves, "and it was tough because you didn't know where you were going to be or what plays to learn because you were constantly getting pushed back and forth.
"I'm really appreciative of having a home with this staff."
In the preseason, his starting job in the slot wasn't guaranteed either. He rotated in and out of the first team with Evan Lewis. Even during Week 1, a dreaded "OR" was listed next to his name on the depth chart -- signifying the job was still open.
But Kenney ended up wrestling the start away from Lewis. Maybe it had something to do with his speed -- he still holds the state's 60-meter record in high school (6.8 seconds) -- or something else the coaches saw. Kenney isn't sure. He just knows he can't take a play off now.
"I'm just trying to make as many plays as possible and catch balls thrown my way," he said matter-of-factly.
The State College native is beginning to emerge as the No. 2 wideout, but he might not be there yet. McGloin hasn't consistently targeted him downfield -- despite being one of the fastest players on the team.
Most of Kenney's catches have come on screens and short routes, but more aggressive targets could be on the way.
"Alex is a great weapon for us," McGloin said. "He's got a lot of speed. We want to get him the ball in space."
Illinois Beats Penn State
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
12:00 PM ET Illinois Northwestern 12:00 PM ET Purdue Indiana 12:00 PM ET Michigan 6 Ohio State 3:30 PM ET 10 Michigan State Penn State 3:30 PM ET 18 Minnesota 14 Wisconsin 3:30 PM ET Rutgers Maryland