Penn State Nittany Lions: Derrick Green
Josh Moyer: Hmmm ... it's a bit tricky this week since only three of 14 games don't feature huge double-digit favorites (Rutgers-Washington State, UCF-Penn State, Wisconsin-LSU). Out of those three, though, I like Wisconsin the most as an upset pick. LSU has a new quarterback and running back and its run defense shows a few cracks. The Tigers ranked 94th in the nation last season in stopping ball carriers behind the line and were No. 35 in run defense. And you know what happens when Melvin Gordon finds room on the outside (hint: touchdown). Wisconsin has fared well against better run defenses, so they should be able to keep the ball moving Saturday. We'll see if that's enough.
@ESPNJoshMoyer upset alert week 1 in the big ten?— Matt Finnigan (@Finnarious) August 26, 2014
Josh Moyer: After a sub-par freshman campaign, it sure looks as if Derrick Green is on pace to be Michigan's feature back. Brady Hoke named him the starter, although he added that De'Veon Smith will be "1A." But if you look at how Doug Nussmeier and Brady Hoke have approached running backs since 2010, the top guy has always received at least twice as many carries as the backup. (One exception: Alabama's Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon split carries in 2012 but combined for 66.5 percent of team carries.) Green had 27 percent body fat last year and naturally looked sluggish; he's at 9 percent right now. He'll be better. As for Jabrill Peppers, count me among the believers. Devin Gardner said recently that Peppers and Devin Funchess are the best athletes on the team. That's big praise. So sure, Peppers has generated a lot of hype -- but I think he'll live up to it.
Josh Moyer: In our season predictions this morning, I was the only Big Ten reporter to pick Minnesota to win fewer than six games. Everyone else said six or seven. I'll admit I waffled slightly between choosing five and six wins, but the Minnesota passing game -- or lack thereof -- really concerns me. The Gophers ranked No. 105 in the nation last season in total offense and, without a playmaker like Ra'Shede Hageman on defense, I'm not yet sold on the defense being as good as last year. In some ways, last season's 8-5 record was a best-case scenario -- especially with surprising wins against Penn State and Nebraska, and close wins against Norhtwestern and Indiana. When I look at this season's schedule, I see seven losses: at TCU, at Michigan, Northwestern, Iowa, Ohio State, at Nebraska, and at Wisconsin. Northwestern was the toss-up for me but, as it stands, I see the Wildcats winning a close one.
@ESPNJoshMoyer why so down on the Gophers? 5-7 (2-6) seems low. Not saying they are winning 9+, but no bowl? Really?— Darren Michael (@HaloKitty343) August 27, 2014
Josh Moyer: It's the biggest question mark on the team, and I think it's going to be the determining factor in whether Penn State finds success. I picked the Nittany Lions to win seven games and, honestly, I think that's even slightly optimistic with this line. (Two players who were defensive tackles in February are now starting inside as offensive guards, and absent is basically any quality depth.) This offense has for which to be excited: Christian Hackenberg, two terrific running backs, my pick for B1G tight end of the year and a plethora of talented young wideouts. The only thing that's missing is a solid O-line -- and all the talent in the world doesn't mean anything if Hackenberg and Co. can't find time. If last season's O-line returned, I might even pick Penn State to win 10 games. The potential is there, but the offensive line is going to act as the cap.
@ESPNJoshMoyer How big of a concern is the Penn State O-line?— Sean Banks (@seanbanks3) August 27, 2014
Marty from Orland Park, Ill., writes: My question is regarding the news that Northwestern players won their petition to unionize. I have read that this ruling would only have an impact on private colleges and universities if it is upheld. Does it also only relate to football players and not any other sport? Also, does it only apply to scholarship athletes, not walk-on athletes?
Adam Rittenberg: Marty, the specific ruling impacts only Northwestern players but could be used for groups from other private institutions. It applies only to Northwestern scholarship football players, as NLRB regional office director Peter Sung Ohr ruled that walk-ons constitute a separate category and wouldn't be part of a union. But if other Northwestern scholarship athletes sought to unionize, they could use this case in their favor.
Adam Rittenberg: Why should I buy in, M.A.? What has Michigan shown to make me believe it will have a top offense? It could happen. I like Devin Gardner more than most, Derrick Green is in his second year, and the offensive line should -- should, not will -- be improved. But Ohio State is simply a safer bet right now, even with a new-look offensive line. Urban Meyer is one of the best offensive coaches in the country and it's hard not to give Ohio State's staff an edge, especially with Ed Warinner coaching the line. Braxton Miller is a proven playmaker. Devin Smith and Jeff Heuerman provide some threats in the passing game. Michigan has big question marks at receiver aside from Devin Funchess. We see units improve all the time, and Michigan could make big strides this fall. But on paper, Ohio State is better.
Adam Rittenberg: Kenny, I wouldn't write off the 2014 season before it starts, even though Penn State faces some obstacles. If the Lions can keep their starting 22 relatively healthy, they'll have a chance to do some damage. But it's important to be realistic about all the changes that the players have gone through, as well as the depth challenges that remain in key spots such as the offensive line. Penn State will be an underdog in several games, but it gets both MSU and OSU at home. You can do a lot with a good quarterback and a good coaching staff, and Penn State appears to have both.
Adam Rittenberg: Mike, while I can see why you would make that connection, that's not the intent. The two state senators want to upgrade another state school to provide a second landing spot for strong Illinois high school students who don't get into the University of Illinois. They want a model like Michigan, Indiana and Iowa, which have two options with strong academics and big-time sports. What the senators and many others don't fully grasp is how difficult it would be to place another team in the Big Ten. The league has to want to expand, and most of its presidents and chancellors would have to approve a school like Northern Illinois. It's highly unlikely. Northwestern is a founding member of the league, and I don't anticipate the school's Big Ten status changing.
Adam Rittenberg: I definitely do, Bob. Purdue had to start from scratch last season and spent so much time on simple things, such as how to line up. The teaching process, which I wrote about earlier today, is much more evolved and interactive this spring. There has been improvement in areas such as the offensive line, and more leaders are emerging. Will it translate to a winning season? The nonleague schedule is much easier, but the West Division looks solid and Purdue has crossovers against Michigan State (home) and Indiana (road). But progress is being made in West Lafayette.
SJL from State of Rutgers writes: You are right in labeling Tyler Kroft a "solid option at tight end". I expect big things from him this year. However, in your "Triple Threat Combinations" post you list Nova-James-Kroft as Rutgers' triple threat combination. I'm surprised you overlooked Leonte Carroo. I have to assume the only reason he isn't listed is the uncertainty at quarterback. I guess he won't be much of a threat if the QB play is as poor as it was last year.
Adam Rittenberg: Glad you brought up Carroo, who I could have and probably should have included on the list. If he stays healthy, he'll do some damage for Rutgers this fall. He averaged 17.1 yards per catch and had more than twice as many touchdown catches (nine) as any other Scarlet Knight. I'm interested to see how new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen uses Carroo this fall.
Now let's turn our attention to the East Division and rank the triple-threat combinations. The division is strong at quarterback but lacking elite wide receivers.
QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Tevin Coleman, WR Shane Wynn
The Hoosiers featured the league's No. 2 offense in 2013 and top this list even though top receiver Cody Latimer bolted for the NFL draft. They have two options at quarterback, but Sudfeld, who had nearly 1,400 more passing yards than teammate Tre Roberson, gets the nod here. Coleman brings explosiveness to the backfield after rushing for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns in only nine games. Wynn finished near the top of the league in receiving touchdowns (11) and had 46 receptions for 633 yards.
2. Ohio State
QB Braxton Miller, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Devin Smith
You would think a team with the back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year at quarterback would be rated higher, but the Buckeyes lose a huge piece at running back in Carlos Hyde, as well as top receiver Corey Brown. Elliott, who had 262 rushing yards last season, is competing for the starting position this spring. Smith has been Miller's big-play target throughout his career and had eight touchdown catches and averaged 15 yards per reception last fall. Tight end Jeff Heuerman provides another weapon in the pass game.
3. Michigan State
QB Connor Cook, RB Jeremy Langford, WR Tony Lippett
The skinny: A year ago, Michigan State's offense looked like a mess. Cook began the season as the backup but emerged to lead the Spartans to nine Big Ten wins, all by double digits, and a Rose Bowl championship. Langford answered Michigan State's running back questions with 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. There's no true No. 1 receiver on the roster, and while Macgarrett Kings (513 receiving yards in 2013) could claim the role, Lippett gets the nod after leading the team in receptions (44) and finishing second in receiving yards (613) last year.
QB Christian Hackenberg, RB Zach Zwinak, TE Jesse James
The Lions have the Big Ten's top pocket passer in Hackenberg, the league's freshman of the year in 2013. But Hackenberg loses his favorite target in Allen Robinson, and wide receiver is a major question entering the fall. The tight end position looks much stronger with James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman. Penn State also has options at running back, but Zwinak has led the team in rushing in each of the past two years, finishing with 989 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall.
QB C.J. Brown, RB Brandon Ross, WR Stefon Diggs
Don't be surprised if Maryland finishes higher on the postseason triple-threats list as long as their top players stay healthy, which is hardly a guarantee after the past two seasons. Brown is a veteran dual-threat player who had 2,242 passing yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Ross leads a potentially deep group of running backs after leading the team with 776 rushing yards. Although Levern Jacobs led Maryland in receiving last year and returns, Diggs is the team's top threat after averaging 17.3 yards per catch before a season-ending injury in October.
QB Devin Gardner, RB Derrick Green, TE/WR Devin Funchess
Gardner is capable of putting up some big numbers, as he showed last year, but he loses top target Jeremy Gallon. The run game is a major question mark for new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, although hopes are high for Green, a heralded recruit who had 270 rushing yards as a freshman. At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Funchess is a tight end who plays like a wide receiver. He finished second on the team in receptions (49), receiving yards (748) and touchdowns (6).
QB Gary Nova, RB Paul James, TE Tyler Kroft
New coordinator Ralph Friedgen tries to spark an offense that finished 77th nationally in scoring and 95th in yards last season. Nova is competing this spring to retain the starting job, which he has held since the middle of the 2011 season. James averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season and can be very effective when healthy. Rutgers is scrambling at bit at the wide receiver position but returns a solid option at tight end in Kroft, who led the team in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last fall.
We've already discussed the quarterbacks -- and will have much more on the way -- so the series begins with the running backs.
Illinois: The Illini are in a bit better shape here than they were the past two springs, as veterans Josh Ferguson and Donovonn Young both return. Ferguson averaged 5.5 yards per carry and added 50 receptions for 535 yards as the primary playmaker for Illinois' revamped offense. Young added 376 yards on 93 carries. The Illini are looking for others behind the top two, and Dami Ayoola is back with the team after being dismissed in September for a rules violation.
Indiana: Tevin Coleman quietly put together a superb sophomore season and leads the Hoosiers' running backs in 2014. Coleman provides big-play ability after averaging 7.3 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns on only 131 attempts in 2013. Indiana loses Stephen Houston but brings back veteran D'Angelo Roberts, who will play behind Coleman. Younger players such as sophomore Laray Smith could get a look here.
Iowa: Not only did the Hawkeyes toss AIRBHG to the side and get through the season without any major injurie, but they bring back everyone for 2014. Senior Mark Weisman leads the contingent after rushing for 975 yards and eight touchdowns last fall. Jordan Canzeri came on strong late in the season and is showing no effects from his ACL tear in 2012. Veteran Damon Bullock also returns to the mix, and Iowa has talented younger backs such as LeShun Daniels Jr. at its disposal. Good situation here.
Maryland: The Terrapins wide receivers tend to get more attention, but the team also returns its top three running backs from 2013 in Brandon Ross, Albert Reid and Jacquille Veii. Maryland also regains the services of Wes Brown, who finished second on the team in rushing as a freshman in 2012 before being suspended for all of last season. Joe Riddle is back in the fold as well. The group brings different strengths, from power (Brown) to speed (Veii) to a mixture of both (Ross, Reid).
Michigan: Sophomore Derrick Green enters the spring as the frontrunner to be Michigan's lead back, although coach Brady Hoke wants to ramp up competition everywhere. The Wolverines struggled to consistently run between the tackles, but the 240-pound Green could change things. Hoke also is excited about another sophomore, De'Veon Smith. Michigan moved Ross Douglas from cornerback to running back, and Justice Hayes and Wyatt Shallman also are in the mix. "We've got more depth," Hoke said.
Michigan State: Things look much more promising than they did last spring, when the Spartans ended the session with a linebacker (Riley Bullough) as their top back. Jeremy Langford emerged as a very solid option during the season, rushing for 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. He's back as the clear-cut starter, and Nick Hill also returns. It will be interesting to see if Gerald Holmes makes a push, or whether Delton Williams remains on offense.
Minnesota: Here's another team that finds itself in very good shape at running back entering the spring. David Cobb leads the group after rushing for 1,202 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore. Veterans Donnell Kirkwood and Rodrick Williams Jr. are still around, and highly touted redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards will take the field after missing last fall because of knee and ankle injuries. Perhaps the best news will come in the summer as decorated recruit Jeff Jones arrives.
Nebraska: Notice a theme here? Nebraska is yet another Big Ten squad that can feel very good about its running backs entering the spring. Ameer Abdullah elected to bypass the NFL draft for one final season at Nebraska, where he led the Big Ten with 1,690 yards on 281 carries as a junior. Abdullah will contend for national awards in the fall. Imani Cross, who rushed for 10 touchdowns last year, is one of the nation's top backups. Terrell Newby and others add depth behind the top two.
Northwestern: Top back Venric Mark (ankle) will miss spring practice following surgery, and reserve Stephen Buckley (knee) also is rehabbing, but Northwestern has no reason to panic. Treyvon Green, who filled in well for Mark last season with 736 rushing yards, will get much of the work. Warren Long also is in the mix after appearing in seven games as a true freshman. Northwestern also loaded up at running back in recruiting to solidify the position for years to come.
Ohio State: This will be a position to watch in the spring as Ohio State must replace Carlos Hyde, who was nearly unstoppable during Big Ten play last fall. Veteran Jordan Hall also departs, and Rod Smith will be the veteran of the group despite only 83 career carries. The Buckeyes have some talented young backs, from Dontre Wilson, who saw significant playing time last fall, to Bri'onte Dunn, Ezekiel Elliott and Warren Ball. Keep an eye on Elliott, who averaged 8.7 yards per carry in limited work last season but could emerge this spring.
Penn State: If it feels like Zach Zwinak and Bill Belton have been competing for carries forever at Penn State, it's because they have. Zwinak and Belton have been part of Penn State's running back rotation for the past two seasons and enter another competition this spring with talented sophomore Akeel Lynch, who rushed for 358 yards on only 60 carries last season. It will be interesting to see how much Lynch can push Zwinak and Belton in the team's first spring under a new coaching staff. Penn State has depth issues at several positions, but running back isn't one of them.
Purdue: The Boilers finished 122nd nationally in rushing offense last season, so the fact all of their running backs return might not spark mass celebration. Senior Akeem Hunt leads the group after recording 123 of the team's 319 rushing attempts in 2013. Other veteransBrandon Cottom and Raheem Mostert also are back, along with younger ball-carries such as Dayln Dawkins and three backs -- Keyante Green, David Yancey and Keith Byars II -- who redshirted last fall and could have much bigger roles.
Rutgers: Here's yet another team that returns basically its entire stable of running backs for spring ball. Paul James is the name to watch, as he rushed for 573 yards in the first four games last season before suffering a leg injury. James' health is a concern for Rutgers, which could also turn to Justin Goodwin, who showed some flashes following James' injury. Savon Huggins, who entered last season as the starter before losing ground, is in the mix as he looks to re-establish himself on the depth chart.
Wisconsin: How many teams can lose a 1,400-yard rusher and still claim to have the best running back group in the Big Ten? James White is gone, but Wisconsin remains in very good shape in the backfield. Melvin Gordon bypassed the NFL draft for another year in Madison after rushing for 1,609 yards and 12 touchdowns on only 206 carries. Gordon should move into more of a featured role beginning this spring, although he'll be pushed by Corey Clement, who had 547 yards and seven touchdowns on only 67 carries. Jeff Lewis provides another option behind the top two.
Options are plentiful, but we are limiting ourselves to five on each side of the ball. We're looking for players who will take that next step into greatness, like Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Minnesota's David Cobb did in 2013. As such, players who earned first- or second-team All-Big Ten honors from either the coaches or the media were not eligible for this list. We're focusing instead on those who can make a big leap.
Let's kick it off, while going in alphabetical order:
Adam Breneman, TE, Penn State: ESPN rated Breneman the No. 1 tight end coming out of high school last year, so the talent is obviously there. The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder got off to a slow start in 2013 after recovering from a knee injury, but he finished strong with touchdown catches in each of Penn State's last three games. The tight end group will be crowded again in State College, but Breneman should give Christian Hackenberg a prime target.
Corey Clement, RB, Wisconsin: When trying to find new stars, it's always smart to look toward the Badgers backfield. Clement made a strong impression as a true freshman, running for 547 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Most of his work came in garbage time, as he was behind James White and Melvin Gordon. Now that White is graduating, Clement should see a much bigger role alongside Gordon, and Wisconsin has shown it has plenty of carries to hand to two backs.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State: Someone has to replace Carlos Hyde's production in the Ohio State running game, and Elliott seems like a logical choice. He ran for 262 yards as a freshman, including a 162-yard game vs. Florida A&M. The Buckeyes also have Dontre Wilson, Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Brionte Dunn, but Wilson might be too small to be an every-down back, and Elliott got more carries than the other three combined in 2013.
Donovahn Jones, WR, Minnesota: The Gophers desperately need some playmakers to emerge on offense, and perhaps Jones will be that guy. The Georgia native turned down SEC offers to come to Minnesota, where he was promised a chance to play quarterback. Instead, he moved to receiver as a true freshman and showed flashes of his athleticism. He still needs to learn the finer points of the position, but at 6-foot-3 with good speed, he has all the tools the Gophers need
MacGarrett Kings Jr., WR, Michigan State: The Spartans' wide receivers took a big leap forward as a group in 2013, and with Connor Cook and the passing game coming on strong, it might be time for one of them to become a star. Kings is a strong candidate after catching 43 balls for 513 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore. He can also make things happen on punt returns.
- Longtime NFL insider Gil Brandt isn't very impressed with the Big Ten and says Baylor would thump Ohio State.
- Jerry Kill and Gary Andersen took similar small-time roads to get to a big-time college coaching job. Minnesota could be very thin at receiver against Wisconsin.
- Michigan State's defense can't have an off day like it did against Nebraska if it hopes to beat Ohio State.
- The Nebraska turnover plague has reared its ugly head again.
- Darrell Hazell is trying to focus on long-term success at Purdue as the losses pile up in his first year.
- A winning season would be a nice accomplishment for Penn State -- and proof that the NCAA sanctions didn't wreck the program.
- Iowa is going with whatever works at running back.
- The Purdue game is a must-win for Tim Beckman, Loren Tate writes.
- Michigan freshman running back Derrick Green is starting to show the potential that made him a superstar recruit.
- Teddy Greenstein breaks down the top candidates for the Chicago Tribune's Silver Football award.
- The team-first approach is working wonders for Northwestern as it prepares for the biggest game on its campus in years. Wildcats receiver Tony Jones is ready to measure himself against All-American cornerback Bradley Roby.
- Ohio State is putting on an aerial show early in the season, and the spread offense is well ahead of pace to shatter school records. History seems to be repeating itself as the Buckeyes try to manage their depth at running back, keeping both Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall involved in the attack.
- The ground game could help take pressure off Devin Gardner, and Michigan is ready to get Derrick Green involved to help do it. As for Gardner, he understands the public criticism that comes with the position and is just ready to play another game.
- Positive reviews are rolling in for the Michigan State offensive line, which might be playing its best football in years just as it's needed most in time for a physical battle with Iowa. The chance to play defense helped Jamal Lyles pick between the Spartans and the Hawkeyes, but now he's embracing a role at tight end.
- Jerry Kill isn't keeping his plan at quarterback a secret, but it's at least a possibility that Minnesota might play two of them at Michigan. Ra'Shede Hageman is finding other ways to evaluate his performance beyond just making sacks for the Gophers.
- Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat have faced some adversity at Iowa, but the defense is better off with the defensive tackles around doing some heavy lifting in the trenches. The Hawkeyes have cut down on their penalties, becoming the more disciplined team they had set out to be.
- Both father and son are grinders, though Donovonn Young gets to do his work on the football field carrying the football for Illinois. Working with one coordinator this season appears to be paying off for Nathan Scheelhaase.
- Both Penn State and Indiana can put the pedal to the metal offensively, and the Nittany Lions know how critical shoring up their tackling will be this weekend. Controversial cut blocks are catching the attention of DaQuan Jones as he watches film of the Hoosiers.
- Robby Howard wonders when "we don't leave" will be true for Indiana football fans. Cornerback Michael Hunter flashed on the scene then disappeared, but now he's back bigger and stronger for the Hoosiers (subscription required).
- Nebraska offensive coordinator Tim Beck goes way back with the coordinator calling the plays for Illinois this week, with mutual respect with Bill Cubit forged under hard-nosed coach Lou Saban. Randy Gregory is still waiting for a black shirt to show up in his locker.
- Danny Etling is now the guy for Purdue at quarterback, and he's got one goal with his name on top of the depth chart. The two arrested Boilermakers are facing suspensions from coach Darrell Hazell.
- Just midway through his junior season in high school, Wisconsin commitment Austin Kafentzis is already drawing comparisons to Johnny Manziel and Russell Wilson.
- Canada native Akeel Lynch struggled with the death of his father at age 7, adjusted to the American lifestyle and is now a Penn State tailback brimming with potential. Who's the next PSU alum who should have his jersey retired? Mike Poorman weighs in and mentions the likes of W.T. Dunn and Wally Triplett.
- Teddy Greenstein looks into whether top jobs at Texas or USC could tempt Pat Fitzgerald into leaving Northwestern. Previewing the Western Michigan-Northwestern contest really comes down to the Wildcats' opponent just not being that good.
- Michigan wants to give Derrick Green more carries, but Fitz Toussaint is getting the job done. Here are four things to watch in the Akron-UM game Saturday.
- Cal is OSU's marquee nonconference game and, Bob Hunter writes, that means "it might be time to take down the marquee." Five Buckeyes could have their first breakout performances of their careers this weekend.
- DE Shilique Calhoun is a smiling, friendly person now -- but he wasn't always like that. The Michigan State sophomore was shaped by a middle-school bullying tragedy. The Spartans clearly have the overall advantage against Youngstown State, but the Penguins have the edge at a few positions.
- Last season's Nebraska-UCLA matchup was a disaster for the Cornhuskers, and Dick Chatelain reflects and tries to wrap his mind around the nature of missed tackles. Nebraska's freshman linebackers are ready for their first big test this season.
- Minnesota's passing offense hasn't exactly been dynamic these first two weeks, but don't expect a shift from the Gophers' run-first mentality. With the injury to Donnell Kirkwood, Rodrick Williams should see a lot more touches against Western Illinois.
- Wisconsin center Dan Voltz lost his starting job following an injury, but he's still waiting patiently for another chance. Sophomore linebacker Joe Schobert should play a key role against Arizona State's fast-paced offense.
- Here are four key matchups to the Purdue-Notre Dame game. The Boilermakers' defensive line is solid and could pose problems for Notre Dame.
- Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson and Iowa signal-caller Jake Rudock are both Florida natives and will meet in Iowa City on Saturday. The Hawkeyes' and Cyclones' coaches combine to make more than $10 million.
- Former linebacker Dick Butkus said he's gotten "kind of embarrassed" with the way his alma mater has played. A look at the most important players for Illinois this week.
- Indiana knows it has to solve its defensive problems if it wants to beat Bowling Green. Robby Howard thinks it's time to end the quarterback debate and that Nate Sudfeld should be the starter.
- Purdue coach Darrell Hazell says he's encouraged despite his team's opening performance. Rob Henry is eager to make amends for his play at Cincinnati.
- Indiana's Shane Wynn -- who's back at practice after taking a scary hit -- gets his inspiration from doubters. Kevin Wilson is ready to get the Navy game over with (subscription required).
- Minnesota and Philip Nelson found a lot of mistakes from their opener that need to be corrected. A Minnesota native took a long road to play at New Mexico State, the Gophers' opponent this week.
- Wisconsin guard Ryan Groy was a pro at pulling in the opener. Melvin Gordon and James White showed they can run between the tackles. Reviewing the Badgers' defensive showing vs. UMass.
- Some Iowa injury and personnel notes. The Hawkeyes are still looking for their first sack of the season. AIRBHG follows Mika'il McCall to Southern Illinois.
- Bob Flounders discusses the Penn State running game in this mailbag. Defensive tackle DaQuan Jones made a big impact in the opener. Bill O'Brien focuses on the positives from the Week 1 win.
- Illinois dismissed running back Dami Ayoola. The Cincinnati game offers a reunion of sorts for Illini athletic director Mike Thomas. The Illinois running game is stuck in neutral.
- Pat Fitzgerald says he expects quarterback Kain Colter (concussion) to play versus Syracuse. Northwestern has come a long way.
- Freshman linebackers Josh Banderas and Nate Gerry played in crunch time for Nebraska. Footwork drills have paid off for Huskers receivers.
- Michigan got a huge donation from Stephen Ross. Safety Thomas Gordon wants to atone for his one-game suspension this week vs. Notre Dame. Freshman tailback Derrick Green "grew a little bit" in his Week 1 debut. Devin Gardner made a rapid development at quarterback.
- Michigan State's tailback situation is still unsettled. South Florida might be just what the Spartans' offense needs. One week into the season, Mark Dantonio is already shielding players from the media.
- Urban Meyer is putting extra emphasis on Ohio State's special teams play. Jordan Hall remains the Buckeyes' starting running back. Safety Christian Bryant is growing into his role as a leader.
As the 2013 season kicks off this week, we’re making our picks for the four major Big Ten individual awards.
Today’s Take Two topic: Who will win Big Ten freshman of the year honors?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
The options are plentiful, as some very talented true freshmen enter the league, and you can't discount redshirt freshmen. Deion Barnes was a redshirt freshman last year when he won the award at Penn State, and I say the Thompson-Randle El trophy stays in State College -- this time on the offensive side.
Head coach Bill O'Brien still hasn't named a starting quarterback for Saturday's game against Syracuse, but I continue to believe that Christian Hackenberg will pilot the Nittany Lions offense for the majority of this season. And the player who was ranked as the No. 1 pro style quarterback in the Class of 2013 will have an outstanding supporting cast around him, with receiver Allen Robinson, a deep group of tight ends, some experienced running backs and a solid offensive line. We shouldn't expect Hackenberg to throw for 3,000 yards like Matt McGloin did last year, but he will put up strong numbers in that offense. Playing such a high-profile position will surely help his candidacy with voters, which is why I see Hackenberg beating out other candidates like Ohio State's Dontre Wilson, Michigan State's Riley Bullough and Michigan's Derrick Green.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
Hackenberg is a good call, Brian, and if he can steady the ship on offense for the Lions, he'll have an excellent chance to win the award. I might have picked Michigan's Green before preseason camp, but senior Fitz Toussaint really took control of the running back spot in recent weeks. Ultimately, the race comes down to Hackenberg and Ohio State's Wilson.
There's no doubt Hackenberg plays a more high-profile position, but I'm going with Wilson because of the "SportsCenter" factor. I expect the Buckeyes' H-back to be a transformative type player, not only for Ohio State but in the Big Ten, piling up highlight-reel touchdowns. Wilson will have three or four jaw-dropping touchdowns that get replayed over and over on ESPN and the Big Ten Network. He'll get noticed very early in the season, and it'll help that he plays for a national championship contender. Wilson is a different player than former Illinois standout Arrelious Benn, the last wide receiver named Big Ten freshman of the year (in 2007). But like Benn, Wilson will contribute in different ways and get the attention he needs to win the award.
More major awards picks
A Herbie Awards primer is out, and several Big Ten players are in the mix for honors. You can vote for who you think deserves the award and then check back to see who Herbstreit picks.
Who's in the mix?
Most Exciting Player: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Do-it-all QB: Ohio State's Miller, Nebraska's Taylor Martinez
Best Kept Secrets: Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon
Throwback: Wisconsin LB Chris Borland
Ahead of the Curve: Wisconsin LB Melvin Gordon
Fresh Faces: Ohio State WR/RB Dontre Wilson, Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, Michigan RB Derrick Green
Taking it to the Next Level: Michigan QB Devin Gardner, Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Backyard Football: Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis
Ankle Breaker: Northwestern RB/PR Venric Mark
Foxhole Player: Michigan State LB Max Bullough, Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier
Lockdown Corner: Ohio State CB Bradley Roby
Top Quarterback: Ohio State's Miller
Top Wide Receiver: Penn State's Allen Robinson
Team on the Rise: Michigan State
Most Intriguing Storyline: Ohio State in Year 2 under Urban Meyer
Herbstreit also has selected his All-Herbie team, which includes three Big Ten players: Michigan LT Taylor Lewan, Northwestern PR Venric Mark and Ohio State CB Bradley Roby. He has Ohio State beating Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and advancing to play Alabama in the BCS national championship before falling there. Wisconsin is his sleeper pick.
Some interesting observations from Herbie, who clearly thinks Michigan State will have a bounce-back year after losing five Big Ten games by a total of 13 points last fall. He's also high on Wisconsin despite the transition from Bret Bielema to Gary Andersen.
He covers most of his bases on the Big Ten nominees, although I would have liked to see Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard up for "Lockdown Corner." It appears to be a good sign that three of the five "Fresh Faces" nominees are from Big Ten teams.
Be sure to tune in tonight at 10 ET.
- A scary incident in 2010 changed Gary Andersen's life. The Wisconsin secondary has made some gains this preseason. Massive Badgers tackle Rob Havenstein is down to 327 pounds and finding out that less is more. There has been no movement on the UW depth chart at receiver.
- Rob Henry was the smart choice at quarterback for Purdue. Boilers receiver Danny Anthrop is out six to eight weeks with a likely MCL injury. Purdue has discovered some depth at receiver.
- Penn State coach Bill O'Brien is building a BCS team with an FCS-sized roster, Mike Poorman writes. O'Brien's call on a starting quarterback could get overanalyzed. Is this the most stacked receiving unit in Nittany Lions history?
- Doug Lesmerises breaks down all the options in the Ohio State offense. Noah Spence is trying to become a leader for the Buckeyes' defensive line. Urban Meyer is following the blueprint he started at Bowling Green.
- Chris Dufresne ranks Northwestern No. 10 to start the year. The Wildcats are looking to build waves of defensive linemen.
- Nebraska's young running backs are paying attention to their elders. The stars are aligned for a career rise by Tim Beck. Bo Pelini sees improved depth on the Huskers. There's youth and a lot of opportunity at tight end for Nebraska.
- Minnesota suspended receiver Andre McDonald for the rest of preseason practice. The Gophers are looking for a big win to build on this year.
- The rise of Tyler O'Connor and Damion Terry means Michigan State's quarterback race is really crowded now. Dave Warner and Jim Bollman look to revive the Spartans' offense. Aaron Burbridge is becoming more of a student of the game.
- Michigan's Jake Ryan doesn't even seem injured to his position coach. The Wolverines are hoping for two first-string-worthy units in the front seven. Derrick Green is making a spirited run at a starting job. But Fitz Toussaint ran "awfully well" in a scrimmage over the weekend.
- Mike Hlas ranks Michigan as Iowa's top opponent this year. The Hawkeyes' secondary could have strength in numbers. Former Iowa players say their sons on the team have it easy.
- Kevin Wilson has learned how to juggle the roles of CEO and football guy at Indiana. Strength and conditioning has been the foundation for the Hoosiers (subscription required).
- Illinois seeks some much-needed continuity. Tim Beckman is among some Year 2 coaches looking for better things.
- Nathan Scheelhaase is still the leader of the pack for Illinois. The Illini tight ends are progressing.
- Indiana uses a platoon system to build accountability. The Hoosiers got a visit from Jim Delany (subscription required). Tom Dienhart has some thoughts from IU's practice on Tuesday.
- A closer look at Iowa's offensive line. A former Hawkeye is running for the U.S. Senate.
- Blake Countess is happy to be back from his torn ACL and hoping to start again for Michigan. Taylor Lewan still gets nervous at the start of camp. Cam Gordon is ready for a shot at filling Jake Ryan's shoes. Freshman running back Derrick Green weighed in at 240 pounds.
- Riley Bullough and Nick Hill are earning the most first-team reps at tailback for Michigan State so far. The Spartans' defense is not fat and happy, Pat Narduzzi says. A linebacker position battle is a matter of keeping up with the Joneses.
- Damien Wilson came to Minnesota highly recommended by former NFL coach Ray Perkins, and he looks to fill a hole at linebacker. Lineman Josh Campion kept the faith through a series of obstacles because he badly wanted to be a Gopher.
- Jason Ankrah is embracing a leadership role for Nebraska. Juco import Randy Gregory impressed despite his rustiness. Huskers tight end Jake Long and backup QB Tommy Armstrong will miss some time with injuries.
- Collin Ellis and Drew Smith are waging a battle for one of Northwestern's starting linebacker jobs. The Wildcats' strength and agility training methods are starting to show up.
- Buckeyes lineman Marcus Hall has slimmed down and needs a belt now. Taylor Decker is the final piece of the Ohio State offensive line puzzle.
- Penn State commit Jared Wangler is still considering Michigan. A look at five Nittany Lions who have to stay healthy this year. There are no guarantees in the PSU quarterback race.
- Purdue receiver Danny Anthrop missed the spring but has emerged as one of the team's top receiving options. The Boilers' defense seems to have the upper hand early. Some more Purdue practice notes.
- Wisconsin tight end Brock DeCicco has played for seven head coaches in his career. Derek Watt added 15 pounds and hopes to be a better blocker at fullback. Some more Badgers practice observations.
- CBSSports.com makes its 2013 Big Ten predictions. Jim Delany talks about pay for play and and the use of players' likenesses.
In some ways, Michigan and Penn State are pretty similar. For every question mark, there's a twinge of optimism the answer will wind up involving good news.
Subpar 2012 season for the tailbacks? No problem; true freshman Derrick Green will have an instant impact. Jake Ryan out until November? Plenty of quality depth at linebacker. Jordan Kovacs gone? Well, the secondary boasts more athleticism now. Different defensive line? No worries; it'll be just as good as last season.
There's no certainty the Wolverines will finish within the top two of the Big Ten, but that's what's often being projected -- and there's one big reason for that. OK, two. Brady Hoke and Devin Gardner.
Hoke has historically beefed up the passing game, which is why San Diego State finished with more than 7,000 passing yards in the two seasons Hoke was at the helm. It was more of the same at Ball State and, many believe, Michigan will follow suit with its new pro-style offense.
The Wolverines' success will likely reflect Gardner's performance, and Gardner seems poised to meet high expectations.
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College Football Top Plays Week 4
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Iowa 24 Pittsburgh 20 Final Eastern Michigan 14 11 Michigan State 73 Final Western Illinois 7 Northwestern 24 Final Southern Illinois 13 Purdue 35 Final Bowling Green 17 19 Wisconsin 68 Final Maryland 34 Syracuse 20 Final Utah 26 Michigan 10 Final Rutgers 31 Navy 24 Final Massachusetts 7 Penn State 48 Final San Jose State 7 Minnesota 24 Final Texas State 35 Illinois 42 Final Indiana 31 18 Missouri 27 Final Miami (FL) 31 24 Nebraska 41