Penn State Nittany Lions: Curt Phillips

Big Ten lunch links

September, 2, 2013
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I labored to put these links together. Get it? Get it? Enjoy the holiday.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 21, 2013
8/21/13
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My dog tried to play with a skunk this week. I think we're all getting stir crazy waiting for the football season.

Big Ten lunch links

August, 13, 2013
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"College Football Live" and its Summer Tour stops in Columbus today. Joe Tessitore and Brian Griese will be at Ohio State checking in on Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller and Co. Catch them throughout the day on "SportsCenter" and on CFB Live at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

To the links ...

Big Ten Monday mailbag

August, 12, 2013
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Can we hop in the DeLorean and travel ahead to Aug. 29? No? OK, then, let's just answer some emails.

Justin from Baltimore writes: Hi, Brian. Which of the following outcomes would be most beneficial in boosting the BIG's national rep? 1. Win all nine of the top nonconference games (ND at Michigan, UCLA at Nebraska, MSU at ND, Wisconsin at ASU, OSU at Cal, PSU vs. Syracuse, BYU at Wisconsin, NW at Cal, and Iowa at ISU ... I think it would actually be in the BIG's interest for ND to beat Purdue in game No. 10 as to not totally devalue the other victories against the Irish). 2. Win the Rose Bowl. 3. Place a team in the BCS championship game and lose in a close, competitive game that really could have gone either way?

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Sam RicheOhio State and Braxton Miller have their eyes on the big prize this season.
Brian Bennett: I think we can quickly rule out No. 1. The Big Ten just doesn't have many high-profile nonconference games. If Notre Dame loses to both Michigan schools, that probably means the Irish won't have a great season, and beating teams like Cal, UCLA and Arizona State simply doesn't carry that much weight. A Rose Bowl win would be great, but we don't know who the opponent would be. Is it a highly-ranked Pac-12 champion? Even then, I think the No. 3 item in your scenario is the most important. Winning championships is obvious the most beneficial accomplishment for a league's perception. The second-best way to do that might be playing for a championship and coming really close. Especially if a Big Ten team were to take an SEC champ to the wire, that could go a long way toward improving perception.

Nick from Bay Area, Calif., writes: Suppose the following situation plays out: In the Legends Division, Nebraska finishes 11-1 with its only loss at Michigan. Michigan loses a close one to the Buckeyes and drops another on the road (take your pick, @PSU, @NW, @MSU) to finish 10-2. In the Leaders, Ohio State finishes 12-0 and Wisconsin loses close ones at OSU and Arizona State to finish 10-2. Ohio State destroys Nebraska in the B1G CG. If the Buckeyes go to the NCG, is there a shot that the Badgers could end up in the Rose Bowl again?

Brian Bennett: I see it's a hypothetical day. Yep, we all need some real football around here to talk about. Anyway, it's an interesting question. Of course, there are scenarios where the Rose Bowl could take a non-Big Ten team if it lost the league champion to the BCS title game, but I doubt the game would want to do that in the final season before the playoff and certainly not in its 100th edition. Let's assume all three Big Ten teams you mentioned finished in the top 14 of the BCS standings but not in the top four. The Rose would be free to take its pick of those teams. I actually think Nebraska or Michigan would be more likely to go to Pasadena, both because they'd have stronger nonconference wins in your scenarios (Notre Dame for the Wolverines, UCLA for the Huskers) than Wisconsin, and because the Rose Bowl might have a bit of Badgers fatigue (and vice versa).

Glenn from Leesburg, Fla., writes: Brian, why all the hype over OSU? Realistically, what more do they have than teams like UM, PSU, Wisconsin, and Nebraska? They have Braxton Miller, but except for PSU, there's some pretty good QBs starting for the other three schools. OSU appears to have a good secondary, so does PSU. OSU lacks depth at LB and DL. They have a good OL, so does PSU and UM. OSU has Urban Meyer, PSU has last season's Coach of the Year, UM has Brady Hoke. OSU has a questionable backfield to support Miller, especially the first few games. OSU had a great recruiting year, so did UM which was ranked ahead of the Bucks in that category. Last fall's undefeated season for OSU has nothing to do with this year's upcoming season. So, why all the hype? You and Adam make it sound like we might as well skip the BIG season and send OSU right to the BCS championship game. Biased much?

Brian Bennett: Well, let me tackle the "biased much" question first, since it is so ridiculous. Our job here involves giving informed opinions and predictions at times, and we have both said Ohio State is the league favorite. This is not an absurd opinion, since the Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 in the preseason coaches' poll and have been picked to win the Big Ten by just about every major publication, writer, etc. Last year, we both picked Michigan State to win the Big Ten. Did that make us biased toward the Spartans? Come on, Glenn.

Anyway, as a guy from Florida, you should know part of the answer here: Urban Meyer. Yes, he's not the only great coach in the league. But he is the only one with national title rings. And in his first season in the conference, he went 12-0. The Buckeyes have had an abundance of talent most years, and they're loaded again in 2013. The offensive line is excellent, Miller finished fifth in the Heisman voting last year, and the skill players are improving, especially with the rave reviews freshman Dontre Wilson has garnered thus far. There are questions on defense, but there are also All-America type players on that side like Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby, plus stars-in-the-making like Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence. I've said I think it will be hard for the Buckeyes to go undefeated again, and let's not forget that they had several close calls last season. But if you're going to predict a 2013 Big Ten champ, Ohio State is the obvious pick right now.

Brian M. from Oregon, Ohio, writes: Brian, I must take exception to your response to Brian from Atlanta. You can't look at it as 25 games in a row. You have to look at it one game at a time. The Buckeyes aren't playing 25 straight games. They're playing one opponent, and then preparing for the next. When you look at it on a game-by-game basis, you're hard pressed to think that Ohio State won't finish undefeated. Further, what happened last season is already in the past. It has no bearing on this season. From here, it's 14 games to go, not 25 (or 26 as it were). Additionally, Brian from Atlanta mentioned some of the close games Ohio State had last year. This seems to be a common misapprehension amongst Buckeye doubters. The Buckeye team that beat that school up north in November, was far better than the one that took the field against Miami (OH) (IO) in September. Certainly other teams have improved as well, but consider the giant leap forward Urban Meyer-coached teams traditionally take in Year 2 of his system. Other teams will have improved, but Ohio State has improved more, and they are better to begin with. Once again, it seems far more likely that Ohio State will finish undefeated than not.

Brian Bennett: While it's true that this season's Ohio State team is different, and it won't have to win 25 games in a row this season, my point was that it's really, really hard to go undefeated in any given year, much less do it two years in a row. You make a good point about Meyer's second-year track record, but also recall that he had only one undefeated season under his belt before last year, and that was at Utah. You also make it sound like Ohio State didn't have close games late in the season, but the Buckeyes won an overtime game in the penultimate game at Wisconsin, as well as that miracle comeback against Purdue on Oct. 20. And remember that they only beat Michigan by five points, at home. Yes, Meyer's team should be favored in at least 11 games this season, but we are saying that based mostly on what those opponents did last year, not the teams that they will become this season. I won't be surprised if the Buckeyes run the table, but I'd give better odds that they slip up somewhere.

Josh from Madison, Wisc., writes: Who ultimately starts for the Badgers this season, Joel Stave or Tanner McEvoy?

Brian Bennett: You're giving short shrift to Curt Phillips, who might not have the arm strength of Stave or the athleticism (post injuries) of McEvoy but has a combination of both and serious veteran moxie. It's nearly impossible right now to tell whom Gary Andersen and Andy Ludwig will choose as their starter. McEvoy is at a disadvantage because he didn't arrive on campus until the summer, and his experience at playing quarterback on any level is limited. I'd probably put my money on Stave, just because he has the best chance to help the offense stretch the field with his downfield passing ability, and he played well last season before getting hurt. But I also think McEvoy will play at some point this fall, and I still wouldn't count out Phillips being the last man standing.

Early look at the Wisconsin Badgers 

August, 2, 2013
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Every day this week, NittanyNation took a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacked up for PSU. Today is the final day of the series, but you can read all the other previews right here. Up today: Wisconsin.

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.

100-days checklist: Big Ten

May, 21, 2013
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Good news: We are just 100 days away from the start of college football.

To mark the occasion, we're pulling out a checklist today of things that Big Ten teams need to accomplish between now and the start of the season. It's not quite "The Final Countdown" (cue GOB Bluth), but we are inching ever so close to kickoff. Here's what needs to happen in the next 100 days:

1. Identify a starting quarterback at Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin: It seems as if there are an unusually high number of Big Ten teams who don't know for sure who their starting quarterbacks will be in the fall. (You could also add Illinois and Minnesota to this list, though it appears likely that Nathan Scheelhaase and Philip Nelson, respectively, would have to lose the job in the summer.) Iowa had a three-man race this spring that will probably come down to Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol in training camp. There's very little separation between Cameron Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at Indiana. Connor Cook continues to breathe down the neck of incumbent Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State. Tyler Ferguson claimed the starting job at Penn State during the spring, prompting Steven Bench to transfer, but highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg will push for immediate time. Purdue will likely decide between senior Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips separated themselves from the Wisconsin QB derby this spring, while incoming junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy could expand the race this summer. All these situations should work themselves out in August, but no team wants to be dealing with an unsettled quarterback competition once the season starts.

2. Solidify the defensive front sevens at Nebraska and Ohio State: The Huskers and Buckeyes stand out as two of the top Big Ten contenders in 2013, but both have serious questions at defensive line and linebacker. The issue is more dire at Nebraska, which struggled there last year and is replacing all but one starter from 2012. Summer arrivals, including junior college star Randy Gregory, could make an immediate impact, and players coming back from injury such as linebacker Zaire Anderson and defensive tackle Thad Randle will need to play up to potential. Ohio State is less concerned about its defense after the spring performance of defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, but linebacker Ryan Shazier is still the only returning starter in the front seven. Curtis Grant must finally live up to his talent to provide help to Shazier, and someone must assume John Simon's leadership role.

3. Locate the next great receivers: A few Big Ten teams, such as Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana, don't have to worry too much about who will catch the ball this year. But just about everybody else needs to find playmakers in the passing game. The top of that list includes Iowa, which couldn't generate a downfield passing attack last year; Illinois, which needs receivers to make new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system work; Michigan State, whose young wideouts must improve on last year's shaky performance; Minnesota, which doesn't have many proven weapons to surround Nelson; and Wisconsin, which still must find a complement to Jared Abbrederis. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is hoping some incoming freshmen augment a very thin receiver group, while Michigan needs to replace the production of Junior Hemingway and Roy Roundtree. Purdue and Northwestern have lots of speedy options but could use the emergence of a true No. 1 target. Receiver was a weak spot as a whole in the Big Ten in 2012, and hopefully some players will improve through offseason voluntary passing drills.

4. Strengthen the running game at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and elsewhere: It's a cliché to say that you have to run the ball to win, but in the case of the Big Ten, that's always been true. That's why it's so vital for the Wolverines and Spartans -- who both expect to contend in the Legends Division -- to find answers in their rushing attacks. Michigan is replacing its entire starting interior offensive line after struggling to get a running game going outside of Denard Robinson last year. Fitz Toussaint is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season and a leg injury, while hotshot freshman Derrick Green could get lots of carries right away. Michigan State's efforts to replace workhorse extraordinaire Le'Veon Bell this spring ended up with converted linebacker Riley Bullough emerging as the top back in a mediocre field. Three incoming freshmen will compete for time right away this summer. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson put a heavy emphasis on the running game this spring, hoping for more balance after his team led the league in passing and finished last in rushing last season. Iowa has depth for once at running back but needs to stay healthy there, as the ground game is the key to the Hawkeyes' entire offensive philosophy. Nebraska also can't afford injuries, as Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross are the lone backs with any experience. Illinois averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team last year, a number that must improve. And while Purdue loved what it saw from Akeem Hunt this spring, he still must prove he can be an every-down back after attempting only 42 carries last season.

5. Mesh with new coaches: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell are the fresh faces among head coaches in the league, and while they did a great job of connecting with their players this spring, they still need to get their new systems fully in place. The Badgers will be using some new, 3-4 looks on defense, while Hazell wants a more physical and disciplined team than we've seen from the Boilermakers of late. Michigan State has a new offensive playcaller in Dave Warner, while Cubit was one of many staff changes at Illinois. Penn State's John Butler takes over from Ted Roof as the Lions' defensive coordinator. With only 15 spring practices so far to implement their styles, those new coaches have had to rely on a lot of classroom time and players learning on their own. That will have to continue this summer during voluntary workouts and then will intensify when preseason practice begins. For new coaches, it's a race against the calendar -- and the calendar says there are only 100 days until kickoff.
Way back in the heady days of the 2012 preseason, we ranked every Big Ten position group from No. 1 through 12. We had to base our thoughts on previous performance and a lot of projections in August.

We're going back now and issuing a final, postseason ranking for each position group, and these will be far less subjective now because we have an actual full season's worth of data on hand.

Quarterbacks, naturally, are up first. (Those guys hog all the glory). You can take a look back and see how we ranked this group in the preseason here. Depth is an important factor in these position rankings, but having a standout main guy under center (or in the shotgun) is the most overriding concern with this group.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThanks to consistent play by QB Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes finished the 2012 season unbeaten.
1. Ohio State (Preseason rank: 5): We figured Braxton Miller would improve greatly in his second year of starting and in Urban Meyer's system. We didn't know he'd become the Big Ten offensive player of the year or finish fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. While he didn't always throw the ball with precision, Miller made all the big plays and led his team to a 12-0 record. The biggest preseason worry was what would happen if he got hurt. Kenny Guiton answered that in the Purdue comeback.

2. Penn State (Preseason: 12): The Nittany Lions were dead last in our preseason rankings, and with good reason considering their past performances at the position. But I did write at the time: "Call me an optimist, but I believe Matt McGloin will be more effective at quarterback now that he's got a more modern offensive system and peace of mind that he's the starter." Uh, yeah. McGloin led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,266) and passing touchdowns (24) while throwing only five interceptions. And he stayed healthy, keeping Penn State's youthful backups from getting exposed.

3. Nebraska (Preseason: 3): Taylor Martinez led the Big Ten in total offense and completed a career-best 62 percent of his passes. When he was good, he was as good as there was in the league. But he still struggled with turnovers in key games, including 12 interceptions and numerous fumbles. If he can eliminate the mistakes, the sky's the limit.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 2): The Wolverines are a hard to team to peg in these rankings. Do we rank them based on Denard Robinson's poor showings in big games against Alabama and Notre Dame? Do we rank them based on Devin Gardner's strong finish to the season, when he was as productive as any Big Ten QB? How much do we factor in the team's lack of a solid backup plan in the Nebraska loss when Robinson got hurt early? You have to weigh the good with the bad, which makes this spot feel about right.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 9): Starting quarterback Kain Colter threw for 872 yards, which was nearly 450 yards less than nominal backup Trevor Siemian. But Colter also rushed for 894 yards and kept defenses off balance with his versatility. Meanwhile, the Wildcats could use Siemian when they needed to stretch the field. The next step for Northwestern is developing a more consistent downfield passing attack.

6. Indiana (Preseason: 11): Who would have guessed in the preseason that the Hoosiers would actually exhibit the best depth at quarterback? After starter Tre Roberson went down in Week 2, Indiana was able to plug in juco transfer Cameron Coffman and true freshman Nate Sudfeld to sustain the league's top passing offense. The three combined to throw for more than 3,700 yards. Coffman got the bulk of the work but needed a better touchdown-to-interception ration than his 15-to-11 mark.

7. Purdue (Preseason: 1): We overrated the Boilermakers' depth in the preseason. It turned out that only one of the trio of former starters performed at a high level, and Robert Marve didn't play enough because of a torn ACL and Danny Hope's misguided insistence on sticking with Caleb TerBush. Purdue actually led the Big Ten in passing touchdowns (30) and finished third in passing yards, but much of that was because the team often had to throw the ball a lot after falling way behind. This ranking could have been higher with a full season of Marve.

8. Wisconsin (Preseason: 8): Danny O'Brien quickly showed that he was not the next Russell Wilson, but luckily the Badgers had some depth. Redshirt freshman Joel Stave showed major promise before his season was derailed by a broken collarbone, and Curt Phillips turned in a nice comeback story by managing the team well down the stretch. Still, Wisconsin ranked last in the Big Ten in passing yards.

9. Michigan State (Preseason: 10): It was not exactly a season to remember for first-year starter Andrew Maxwell, who was benched late in the Spartans' bowl game. But for all his struggles, Maxwell still finished No. 4 in the league in passing and had some nice games in the middle of the year.

10. Minnesota (Preseason: 6): What could MarQueis Gray have done if he hadn't hurt his ankle, prompting an eventual move to receiver? True freshman Philip Nelson took over the reins midseason and broke out with a huge first half against Purdue. However, he failed to throw for more than 80 yards in the team's final three regular season games. Nelson led the team with just 873 passing yards on the season, and the Gophers threw 15 interceptions.

11. Iowa (Preseason: 4): Nobody took a bigger tumble than the Hawkeyes, as James Vandenberg went from a 3,000-yard passer as a junior to often looking lost as a senior. He completed only 57.3 percent of his passes and tossed only seven touchdowns, with eight interceptions, and Iowa showed almost no ability to go vertical. And no other Hawkeye attempted a pass all season.

12. Illinois (Preseason: 7): The Illini had experience at the position with Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole, but they were both part of a wildly dysfunctional offense. Illinois was next-to-last in passing yards in the Big Ten and also had just 11 touchdown passes versus 14 interceptions. In fairness, both QBs were often running for their lives and had very little help.

Penn State 10: Week 13 rankings 

November, 26, 2012
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Zach ZwinakAP Photo/Gene J. PuskarZach Zwinak had a career-high 36 carries for 179 yards against Wisconsin.
This is Week 13 of NittanyNation's power rankings, a top-10 list of Penn State players who surpassed expectations and proved most valuable in a given week.

After an overtime win against Wisconsin, several new players were added to the rankings. Some defensive contributors moved up slightly, 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:

1. DT Jordan Hill

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3 Up, 3 Down: PSU 24, Wisconsin 21 OT 

November, 25, 2012
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The good and the bad from Penn State's 24-21 overtime win against Wisconsin on Saturday:

THREE UP

1. Zach Zwinak controlled the offensive tempo. The redshirt sophomore set career bests in carries (36) and yards (179). He wasn't once tackled in the backfield and averaged five yards a carry. He wore down Wisconsin's defense and was a big reason Penn State trailed only by a touchdown at halftime. He showed Saturday he could be the bell-cow next season if that's what Bill O'Brien needs.

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Big Ten Week 11 preview

November, 5, 2012
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Only three weeks left in the Big Ten regular season, and it's put up or shut up time for several teams. Here's an early look at the Week 11 story lines:

Wisconsin (6-3, 3-2 Big Ten) at Indiana (4-5, 2-3), Noon, ESPN2: It's true. We have an actual large and meaningful Big Ten game in Bloomington. In football. The surprising Hoosiers can pull even with Wisconsin and would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker for the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten title game if they can win their third straight conference game. Let's put that in perspective: Indiana won a total of three Big Ten games from 2008-11. So, yeah, this is all a bit new. The Badgers have had two weeks off to try and figure out their new situation at quarterback (our money is on Curt Phillips). Their defense will be under pressure to stop an IU passing game that has caused everybody fits this year. Wisconsin has won seven straight in this series by an average of 34 points.

Penn State (6-3, 4-1) at No. 18 Nebraska (7-2, 4-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC: The Huskers can't clinch the Legends title yet, but they can take one more giant step toward Indianapolis with a win this week in their toughest remaining game. Penn State can't go to the postseason but will have a huge say in both division races, with this game and remaining ones against both Indiana and Wisconsin. This game features the top two passers in the league in Nebraska's Taylor Martinez and the Nittany Lions' Matt McGloin. If you just woke up from a four-month coma and read that sentence, we forgive you for feeling very disoriented.

Northwestern (7-2, 3-2) at Michigan (6-3, 4-1), Noon, ESPN: Devin or Denard? That will be the big question this week for Michigan, which did just fine with Devin Gardner replacing Denard Robinson at quarterback last week. Northwestern had its own quarterback drama before seemingly settling on Kain Colter as the full-time option. The loser of this game can pretty much kiss its Legends hopes goodbye.

Minnesota (5-4, 1-4) at Illinois (2-7, 0-5), 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network: The Gophers built a little offseason momentum by upsetting Illinois in last year's season finale. Now they need to beat the Illini to gain postseason eligibility for the first time since 2009. Minnesota has won its last three trips to Champaign, while Illinois has lost 11 straight Big Ten games dating back to last season.

Purdue (3-6, 0-5) at Iowa (4-5, 2-3), Noon, BTN: You'd be hard-pressed to find another game this weekend featuring two fan bases less enthusiastic about their teams. The Boilers have been in a five-week tailspin that might well cost Danny Hope his job, while Iowa has lost three straight in disheartening fashion after a promising 2-0 start in league play. The Hawkeyes still have a chance to get to a bowl but must win here and then upset either Michigan on the road or Nebraska at home on Black Friday. The Boilers have Illinois and Indiana left, so a win here would keep their faint postseason hopes flickering.

Byes: Ohio State, Michigan State

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