Penn State Nittany Lions: Tanner McEvoy
- Michigan's new offensive coordinator might be "insane" according to Devin Gardner, but Doug Nussmeier's might be just what the program needs.
- Michigan State backup quarterback Tyler O'Connor has no plans to transfer, even with Connor Cook ahead of him on the depth chart.
- Penn State moved a pair of defensive tackles to the offensive line, a sign of confidence in the players already on hand in the defensive trenches.
- The Ohio State offensive line has a bunch of new faces, but the guy leading the unit remains the same. Ed Warinner's presence continues to give the Buckeyes confidence they can reload up front.
- After a year away from football, Maryland receiver Marcus Leak has returned humbled, more mature and looking to make an impact.
- Brandon Scherff has always been known for his ability to look ahead, and that trait is a big part of the reason the star left tackle elected to stay at Iowa for another season.
- The tackles at Purdue are under intense scrutiny this spring, but the program has been pleasantly surprised with the play of sophomore J.J. Prince so far.
- Vincent Valentine had his body right ahead of spring practice, but the Nebraska defensive tackle realized quickly he needed to make some technical improvements to have a big sophomore season.
- Tanner McEvoy has played well elsewhere, but the Wisconsin junior made clear he'd prefer to stick around at quarterback.
- The latest twist in the drama unfolding at Northwestern: Trevor Siemian opposes forming a union, and the quarterback indicated "a lot" of teammates feel the same way.
That was the scenario in both the Ohio State-Michigan and Alabama-Auburn games. You know what happened. Brady Hoke went for the two-point conversion and didn't get it. Auburn chose to kick the extra point for the tie and won on a heaven-sent final play.
Ultimately, I had no problem with Hoke's call, though the two-point play itself was uninspiring. Sometimes it's not the decision but how it unfolds.
Consider that in the biggest play calls for both Penn State and Northwestern on Saturday, both coaches went with a run up the middle on third down. The Nittany Lions' surprise draw play on third-and-9 from their 19 resulted in a 61-yard gain by Zach Zwinak that put Wisconsin away. Northwestern went with a basic running play on third-and-6 at Illinois and got 11 yards from Treyvon Green, allowing the Wildcats to then run out the clock.
Had those runs been stuffed, both coaches would have been criticized for being too conservative and playing not to lose. It's a tough world, coaching. Unless you are blessed with Guz Malzahn's luck.
Take that and rewind it back ...
Team of the week: Penn State. Absolutely no one saw the Nittany Lions' 31-24 win at Wisconsin coming, especially because PSU had played so poorly on the road in Big Ten play. But coach Bill O'Brien led his team to another victory in a season finale, and recording two straight winning seasons under heavy NCAA sanctions is wildly impressive.
Worst hangover: BCS for Wisconsin? Yes, if that stands for Badgers Caught Sleepwalking. Instead of earning a possible Orange Bowl bid, the Badgers laid a giant egg. A tremendously successful large senior class somehow went out on the worst possible note at Camp Randall Stadium.
Big Men on Campus (offense): It has been a tough year for Northwestern, but the Wildcats finally got a Big Ten win at Illinois. And quarterback Trevor Siemian and receiver Christian Jones were big reasons why. Siemian threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns, while Jones had two of those scores during a 13-catch, 182-yard career day.
Big Man on Campus (defense): Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey was named Walter Camp national defensive player of the week after recording 11 tackles, including three for loss, plus a sack and a forced fumble against Nebraska. Really, you could just as easily single out fellow linebackers James Morris and Anthony Hitchens, who also had great games to cap tremendous seasons by all three. The Hawkeyes will really miss all three seniors next year.
Strangest moment: Penn State's hurry-up offense clearly confused Wisconsin's defense several times. The most obvious moment came early in the third quarter, when the Badgers had only nine men on defense when the Nittany Lions ran a play. Somehow, Wisconsin got out of that power-play situation when Tanner McEvoy broke up an underthrown deep ball.
Pointing the thumb or the finger? Coaches always talk a good game about accountability, and Bo Pelini usually is one to take blame for a poor performance by his team. But the Nebraska coach looked everywhere but in the mirror on his 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Iowa. Pelini said the call was chicken manure -- I'm paraphrasing -- and even brought Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz's own sideline demeanor into the conversation.
But where was the personal responsibility for Pelini nearly hitting an official in the face with his hat? In what other sport -- or walk of life -- would that be acceptable? Even Prop Joe and Avon Barksdale ("The Wire" nerd alert) knew better than to accost the ref in their annual basketball game. Pelini is lucky to still be employed by Nebraska after Friday's meltdowns.
A Bucket load of offense: Indiana took out a little offensive frustration on Purdue. After being bottled up on offense by Wisconsin and Ohio State, the Hoosiers unleashed a school record 692 yards and 42 first downs to win the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time in three years. Tre Roberson, D'Angelo Roberts and Stephen Houston all rushed for more than 100 yards for Indiana, the first time in school history the team produced a trio of 100-yard rushers in the same game.
Zero sum game: Minnesota failed to score an offensive touchdown in its final 10 quarters of the regular season. The lack of an explosive/entertaining offense could hurt the Gophers come bowl selection time. Meanwhile, Michigan State has held six opponents without an offensive TD and pitched shutouts in six of its eight Big Ten games.
Fun with numbers: Because the debate is about to take over our lives, some key comparisons between Ohio State and Auburn:
- Scoring margin: Plus-27.9 per game for Ohio State, plus-16.1 for Auburn
- Rushing yardage: 321.3 per game for Ohio State, 318.3 for Auburn
- Total yards: 530.5 per game for Ohio State, 491 for Auburn
- Team adjusted QBR: 83.8 for Ohio State, 81.0 for Auburn
- Yards allowed per game: 355.8 for Ohio State, 414.3 for Auburn
- Sagarin strength of schedule rating: 61st for Ohio State, 26th for Auburn
- Wins over ranked teams: One for Ohio State (Wisconsin), three for Auburn (Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M)
2. Wisconsin's defense deserves more notice: Indiana came into Saturday's game averaging 43.1 points and 527 yards. Whatever you think of the Hoosiers, their offense is legitimately explosive. Wisconsin completely defused that attack in a 51-3 win, shutting out Indiana in the first half while allowing 224 yards and a lone third-quarter field goal. The Hoosiers had scored in every quarter but three this year and hadn't been blanked in a half since September of last season. The point is that the Badgers' defense is outstanding, yet like the team as a whole, remains underrated. Everyone will notice how Wisconsin ran all over IU for 554 yards, second most in school history, but that pretty much happens every year in the Indiana game. The Badgers D is led by experienced players up front like Chris Borland, Beau Allen and Brendan Kelly and is getting terrific play from less experienced guys like Sojourn Shelton and Tanner McEvoy on the back end. Don't forget that Ohio State turned in its lowest point total of the season (31) against Dave Aranda's defense. This is a complete team, even if the the voters in the major polls still somehow fail to recognize it.
3. Don't tell Michigan this season is over: We could have understood if Michigan would have mailed in the end of Saturday's Northwestern game. The Wolverines have been beaten up by opponents and piled on by fans and critics for their lackluster offensive performances. Their Big Ten title hopes are dead, and in coach Brady Hoke's own view, that means the season is a failure already. In the rain in Evanston, they found themselves down 9-6 in the closing moments of an ugly game. But Michigan pulled off a truly incredible effort to set up Brendan Gibbons' field goal at the very end of regulation, then ground its way through a triple-overtime win. Quarterback Devin Gardner, who has been battered and bruised countless times, appropriately scored the winning touchdown and two-point conversion. The Wolverines looked in serious danger of losing out for a 6-6 campaign before Saturday's gritty comeback. While wins at Iowa and against Ohio State the next two weeks won't be easy to come by, Michigan proved that it will not fold up shop. As for Northwestern, you can't fault the effort. But the Wildcats have now lost in just about every terrible way imaginable, including twice in overtime and on a Hail Mary. It's just one of those years for coach Pat Fitzgerald's crew.
5. Freshmen making strides at Penn State, Purdue: If you didn't watch Penn State's win over Purdue, we don't blame you. Neither team is going anywhere this season. But the game did provide some hope for the future, thanks to the play of true freshmen on both sides. Purdue quarterback Danny Etling took a step forward with the best start of his career, throwing for 223 yards and a touchdown. Both he and Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg finished with similar stat lines. And their first-year targets fared pretty well, too. DeAngelo Yancey was Purdue's leading receiver, with four catches for 83 yards, and Nittany Lions tight end Adam Breneman caught the first TD pass of his career. Both teams are looking forward for different reasons, and the play of their youngsters gave them some reasons for hope.
- Al Borges doesn't want to run Devin Gardner a lot because of injury concerns, but the Michigan offensive coordinator may not have a choice, given how his running backs have played.
- Just what Michigan State's opponents want to hear: The Spartans' defense should soon get some help with the return of Lawrence Thomas on the defensive line.
- Tanner McEvoy has made an impressive transition from junior-college quarterback to starting safety for Wisconsin.
- Five questions about the Purdue offense as the Boilers head into the second half of the season.
- Illinois is raising the bar for receiver Martize Barr, whose progress had "plateaued."
- Tracy Claeys is operating at a lower volume than Jerry Kill as Minnesota's acting head coach.
- Mark Weisman and the Iowa running game have a lot to prove this week at Ohio State.
- Penn State should give Bill O'Brien a raise now, Michael Bradley writes.
- "Trigger and tackle" are the buzzwords for the Ohio State defense heading into the second half.
- A midseason report card on Indiana.
- Braxton Miller will "probably start" for Ohio State after missing the last two games and almost all of a third. Bradley Roby took some exception to all the praise about Wisconsin as Big Ten royalty. The absence of Bret Bielema has softened some of the hatred in a competitive series, Kyle Rowland writes.
- Chris Borland is looking to make an impression in his home state. Badgers defensive coordinator Dave Aranda sought out some help to prepare for the Buckeyes. Wisconsin is trying to find a role for Tanner McEvoy, and it might just come on defense this week at Ohio State.
- Penn State players are pleased about the positive developments for the future of the program, but right now the focus is on the present. So, how long will Bill O'Brien stick around with the program now, Bob Flounders asks.
- Minnesota quarterback Philip Nelson is improving, but his status is still uncertain for the team's Big Ten opener against Iowa. Ben Lauer has grown two more inches since the Gophers started recruiting the left tackle, but it still might be hard to believe he was ever overlooked at his size.
- Iowa is finding big plays in a variety of different areas, sparking a much more entertaining start to the season. Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes can relate to what Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is going through.
- An American board the International Space Station played football at Illinois and finished his career as a captain. The Monheim family is tough to miss at Illinois games, and Mason Monheim is making an impression on the field as well.
- Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter weighs in on the "All Players United" movement, and Pat Fitzgerald doesn't appear to be a fan. Taking stock of the Wildcats during the bye week.
- Michigan is going to give Fitzgerald Toussaint some rest this week and work in a few younger backs to the rotation during the bye. Brady Hoke is stressing the need for Devin Gardner to stop trying to be "Superman."
- Connor Cook has a chance to prove he can be resilient at quarterback for Michigan State. After no shortage of success with quarterbacks, how did the Spartans get in their current situation?
- Most of the Purdue coaching staff is familiar with Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois after taking him on last season at Kent State. The Huskies can return the favor by noting some similarities between Kent State and Purdue.
- Nebraska has gone back to basics on defense, and Bo Pelini is seeing improvement during the bye week. Those who have been around quarterback Tommy Armstrong aren't surprised with his quick success.
- Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald is making a run at a significant school record.
Let's get to it …
1. Quarterback mysteries solved: We might not get all the answers in Week 1 about the Big Ten's many quarterback competitions, but a few clues should emerge. Three Big Ten teams -- Wisconsin, Penn State and Indiana -- have yet to announce starting quarterbacks heading into the openers. Expect sophomore Joel Stave to lead the Badgers and freshman Christian Hackenberg to take the first snap for Penn State. Indiana's quarterback race has been extremely even, and coach Kevin Wilson isn't afraid to let the starter decision go down to the wire.
2. Coaching debuts: Purdue's Darrell Hazell and Wisconsin's Gary Andersen both have enjoyed honeymoon periods at their respective schools, but they both know the mood can change once the games begin. Hazell faces an uphill climb as Purdue plays the Big Ten's toughest schedule, beginning Saturday on the road against a Cincinnati team that won 10 games last season. Andersen embarks on the unique challenge of blending his philosophy with a veteran team that has won the past three Big Ten championships. Wisconsin will have no trouble with Massachusetts, but keep an eye on how the Badgers' new 3-4 defense performs.
4. Speed trap in Berkeley: Still glowing from a 10-win season in 2012, Northwestern faces several unique challenges in its opener Saturday night at Cal. The Wildcats must contain the "Bear Raid" offense orchestrated by new Cal coach Sonny Dykes. The Bears are a mystery team with a ton of youth led by a freshman quarterback (Jared Goff). Northwestern also must contend with a late kickoff and moved its practices this week from the afternoon to the evening. The Wildcats are even taking naps to prepare.
5. Dontre's inferno: Aside from Christian Hackenberg, no Big Ten incoming freshman has generated more buzz in camp than Ohio State's multipurpose speedster Dontre Wilson. The onetime Oregon commit could be a transformative player for Urban Meyer's offense, filling the so-called Percy position at wide receiver/running back. Wilson should get some opportunities for explosive plays as Ohio State opens the season Saturday against Buffalo.
6. Juco hello: The Big Ten doesn't bring in as many junior college transfers as other leagues, but several juco arrivals could be impact players this season. Nebraska fans are anxious to see if Randy Gregory can be the pass -rushing force they've been waiting for. Wisconsin's Tanner McEvoy fell out of the mix at quarterback but will see time at other positions like wide receiver. Illinois wide receiver Martize Barr provides a much-needed weapon in the pass game for Nathan Scheelhaase. Minnesota linebackers Damien Wilson and De'Vondre Campbell could solidify the defensive midsection. It'll also be interesting whether quarterback Tyler Ferguson logs some field time for Penn State.
7. Oh, Henry: Purdue senior Rob Henry will make his first start at quarterback since the 2010 season (yes, you read that right) on Saturday against Cincinnati. An ACL injury sustained in late August prevented Henry from starting in 2011, and the versatile Boiler wore several hats for the offense in 2012. After beating out Danny Etling and Austin Appleby in camp, Henry guides coordinator John Shoop's pro-style offense into Nippert Stadium, where Purdue aims for a win that would provide "instant gratification," according to Hazell.
8. To the Max: Senior Andrew Maxwell emerged from Michigan State's quarterback morass to claim the starting job, at least for now. But after struggling for much of his first season as the starter, Maxwell needs a strong start Friday night against Western Michigan. Head coach Mark Dantonio is committed to playing multiple quarterbacks early in the season, so Connor Cook should see time against the Broncos. Maxwell must prove he's the top option by showing better command and rhythm with his oft-criticized receiving corps.
9. Let's be Frank: Few Michigan players not named Devin Gardner have generated more positive ink in the offseason than defensive end Frank Clark. The 6-foot-2, 273-pound junior had a strong finish to the 2012 season and could be the pass-rusher Michigan needs to turn a corner defensively this fall. Then again, we've seen certain Michigan defenders hyped up (cough, Will Campbell, cough) and never do much. It'll be interesting to see if Clark sets the tone for a big year Saturday against Central Michigan.
10. APB for playmakers: Other than Penn State and Iowa, the Big Ten actually returns a decent amount of experience at quarterback for the 2013 season. But the league lacks offensive playmakers, especially at wide receiver. Teams like Ohio State, Minnesota, Michigan State and Illinois are hoping to surround their quarterbacks with more options. It will be interesting to see who establishes himself in Week 1 as a go-to option.
- Minnesota is pulling out all the stops to get students in the stands for tomorrow night's game against UNLV. The Gophers have a four-way competition at punter still going. Some injury news on the eve of Minnesota's opener.
- It's bowl or bust for Indiana, Bob Kravitz writes. The Hoosiers are adding more to their gameday experience (subscription required).
- Michigan State's quarterback battle is just beginning, Graham Couch writes. Receivers have to emerge to help Andrew Maxwell. Jeremy Langford will start at running back, but the Spartans expect to play four others there, too.
- Wisconsin's Gary Andersen is looking for ways to get his best athletes on the field, including possibly using Tanner McEvoy on defense. Ryan Groy feels comfortable in his move back to left guard after being asked to play left tackle. The Badgers haven't settled on a starting center or right guard yet.
- Devin Gardner takes the reins with confidence at Michigan. The Wolverines plan to go three deep across the defensive line. Greg Mattison looks for Jarrod Wilson and others to step up with Courtney Avery out. Watch Michigan recruit Jabrill Peppers' unbelievable touchdown run.
- Taylor Martinez has become comfortable with life in the fishbowl. Nebraska is looking to rotate more players in and out of its secondary this season. The Big Red defensive depth chart is clearing up, with Vincent Valentine claiming a starting tackle job thanks to improved conditioning.
- Bill Cubit gives Illinois' offense an identity, but he has a lot of reloading to do. It's all about finding a comfort level for the Illini and Nathan Scheelhaase.
- In a change for Iowa, Kirk Ferentz seems more optimistic about his team than the fans do. Beating Northern Illinois is a must for the Hawkeyes, Rick Brown writes. Jake Rudock views his debut Saturday as "just the beginning."
- Outside perceptions are finally matching Northwestern's own expectations. Some Wildcats practice notes.
- Purdue's offensive line bonded by going canoeing. Both the Boilermakers and Cincinnati present mysteries to one another.
- Ohio State chose eight captains -- does that mean the Buckeyes have a lot of leaders or not enough? Urban Meyer is confident in his young defense, though he says the jury is still out. Breaking down the Buckeyes' depth chart.
- Like Penn State, Syracuse is keeping people guessing about who will start at QB on Saturday. Allen Robinson has been quite a catch for the Nittany Lions. A freshman defensive back left the team.
And if you're not following us on Twitter, get to it. We're going to have a lot of great updates on there throughout the season, especially on game days. More than 86,000 followers can't be wrong.
Now back to the old-school way of communicating -- by email.
Ryan W. from West Michigan writes: With all the talk about the Big Ten's perception, tell me why I should even care? Outside of the new playoff committee starting next year, who cares what other people outside of the B1G think? I mean, if us fans enjoy the product on the field, I couldn't care less what someone in Oregon or Florida thinks about my favorite team and conference.
Brian Bennett: Ryan, if you want to go all Midwest isolationism, have at it. There's something to be said for just following your favorite team and caring primarily about winning the Big Ten. The success of the Big Ten Network validates this. The flip side is, if you want to take that approach, you can't complain about where your team is ranked in the polls, when it is snubbed for a spot in the four-team playoff or when the media incessantly cover the SEC. Perception can also play a large role in recruiting, as some top prospects want to go where they think they have the best chance for a national championship and national exposure. The nature of college football's postseason and the different schedules each team plays has made perception of conferences important in the big picture. But if you like focusing on the small picture, so be it.
Tom from Marion, Iowa, writes: Help me out, fellow Redbird fan. I just don't get it! Well I do get it... the SEC is King. But, in the BCS era, the Big 12 has been in the BCS title game seven times, won two lost five; ACC, Big East, B1G and Pac-12 three times, all with one title; ND o for 1. All I hear is how much the BIG stinks. Where's the hate for the others? Specifically the Big 12; they've lost five out of seven? That's what I don't get.
Brian Bennett: Huge stretch coming up for the birds on the bat. Anyway, I think there are a few things at play here in terms of the Big Ten's reputation. One is the power of the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mentality. The Big Ten hasn't had a team play for the national title since the 2006 season, and that's an eternity in our Instagram society. Also, the last two times the league played on that stage, Ohio State got blown out in consecutive years by SEC teams, beginning the whole SEC-speed-trumps-Big-Ten-narrative. Another problem is that the Buckeyes are the only conference team to play for a title, whereas leagues such as the Big 12 (Texas and Oklahoma) and Pac-12 have (USC and Oregon) have had more than one team in the BCS championship game and others right on the cusp of it (Oklahoma State, Stanford). Finally, the Big Ten has not performed well in the past couple of years against the SEC in bowl games or in its nonconference games in general, and its Rose Bowl record in the past decade-plus is abysmal.
Other conferences, as you mention, have had their own failures, and you could argue that Oklahoma has fared just as poorly, if not worse, on the big stage as Ohio State. Why they have escaped the vitriol seemingly directed at the Big Ten is not entirely clear, but some moves by the league that have been viewed as pompous -- ahem, Legends and Leaders -- surely played a role.
Darrin from Reedsburg, Wis., writes: It appears Tanner McEvoy is going to be third on the QB depth chart at best. Any chance of seeing him at wide receiver this year?
Brian Bennett: Darrin, McEvoy worked out at receiver during practice this week. Though he was rather adamant about not playing receiver when I asked him about it earlier this month, it makes sense for both him and the team. McEvoy is an excellent athlete who is 6-foot-6, and he played receiver in high school until his senior year. Wisconsin is also very thin at wideout beyond Jared Abbrederis. This could be a situation like Devin Gardner at Michigan, where McEvoy sacrifices for the team for a while before eventually working his way back to quarterback.
Brian from Portland, Ore., writes: Hey Brian -- cool name! Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said that he has the two best tight ends in the nation in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett. To which, I would respond, "Uh, who?" Who's your pick for the top TE in the B1G this year? My bet is on someone wearing blue and white.
Brian Bennett: As far as tight end groups go, it's hard to beat Penn State. Bill O'Brien seemingly has about a dozen options there, led by Kyle Carter and Jesse James. I'm also excited to see true freshman Adam Breneman -- the nation's No. 1 tight end recruit last year -- in action this season. The Nittany Lions aren't the only ones blessed with outstanding tight ends, however. Jacob Pedersen is a proven weapon for Wisconsin. Devin Funchess could have a huge year at Michigan. Ted Bolser is a big-time receiving threat for Indiana, and Iowa's's C.J. Fiedorowicz has a boatload of ability. I even left out a few really good ones. Tight end should once again be a position of strength in the Big Ten.
Mike from Macungie, Pa., writes: Someone posed a question about Allen Robinson (I think) being in the running for a Heisman. My question isn't that we do/don't have a Heisman contender, but do you think the sanctions would put a contender from Penn State at a disadvantage? Let's say (and this is a HUGE hypothetical) Allen Robinson has as good of a year, or a better year, than last season. If he's in the top three for the Heisman, do you think the voters would take into account the sanctions against Penn State in possibly not voting for him? Matt Barkley came close two years ago, and you could argue similar circumstances.
Brian Bennett: It's an interesting question. I don't think probation necessarily hurts a Penn State player's chances of winning the Heisman. Sure, some voters might hold it against a Nittany Lions star, but think about what a great story it would be if a player had a tremendous year and led the team to a 12-0 regular season. That narrative would carry a lot of weight. And remember, Heisman voting is done before the bowls. A Penn State player would potentially be hurt by the lack of a conference championship game, as his season would end a week earlier than some other candidates. The bigger question is, of course, whether the Lions will have enough depth to go 11-1 or 12-0, which is likely a requirement for one of their players to get in the mix. And no matter how good Robinson is, receivers have almost no chance of winning the Heisman. If this guy couldn't do it in 2003, or this guy in 2007 with those ridiculous numbers, forget about it.
Shifty from O'Fallon, Ill., writes: I've seen plenty of references (to include yours in the mailbag Monday), about what Bill O'Brien can do with Christian Hackenberg based on how he transformed Matt McGloin. I think they'll likely be great together, but I think everyone underplays how important McGloin's B1G experience was to his breakout season. It's not like McGloin was a 18-year-old walk-on. Dont you think we need to pump the brakes a little before we decide the only thing between Hack and Todd Blackledge is four weeks with BO'B?
Brian Bennett: Shifty, huh? Remind me not to enter into a real estate deal with you. Anyway, I agree that they hype is probably getting a little out of control for Hackenberg, since he's only a true freshman. But that's what happens when you're the No. 1 quarterback recruit in the nation. I don't think anyone is suggesting that he will put up McGloin's numbers from last year (3,266 yards, 24 touchdowns) right away. McGloin, as you mentioned, had a lot of experience. But as much as I loved watching McGloin's bust out last year, let's not forget that A) he really struggled at times before O'Brien came along; and B) he never had the biggest arm. Hackenberg simply has better physical tools. Does that mean he'll grasp the system and play with McGloin's moxie this year, or ever during his career? Not necessarily. But when you combine his pure skills, O'Brien's quarterback acumen and an offense loaded with receiving targets, the outlook is pretty bright for Hackenberg.
Enrique from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Brian, put yourself in Mark Dantonio's shoes. Damion Terry has performed admirably the first two fall scrimmages. Your other quarterbacks have been lackluster, failing to make big plays. Meanwhile, your exciting true freshman is 14 of 21, for 341 yards in the air, 40 on the ground, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, and much of that has come against the first-team defense. If (yay, hypotheticals!) Terry can continue to perform this well in the fall practices, would you, the head coach, go with the young upstart? You might not get a better chance than this year to make it to the Rose Bowl after a prolonged absence. Or do you redshirt him and prep him for next year?
Brian Bennett: Next question.
Oh, sorry. I got a little too into my Dantonio role-playing. First all, let's acknowledge that Dantonio and his offensive coaches know a heck of a lot more about who's playing well in practice and who understands the system than you and I can glean from some reports and limited practice viewing. And let's not anoint a true freshman based on one glowing scrimmage performance. But I do believe Michigan State should play Terry this season, especially in the first few games, so he could redshirt if he were to get hurt. I'll be surprised if Andrew Maxwell is not the starter vs. Western Michigan next Friday, but I think Dantonio should give Terry snaps in some special packages just to see what the kid can do. He is the future, and the future is now for the Spartans. They have an elite defense and a favorable schedule, so they need to go for it this year. The last thing the team needs is a quarterback who is going to make a bunch of mistakes, and there is a serious risk of that with Terry. But he can likely be very effective in certain situations and in a handful of plays per game, giving Michigan State a much-needed different look on offense.
That's me in Dantonio's shoes, anyway. (So where's the tread?).
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?
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.
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.
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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.
ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the Big Ten conference breakdown .
Bold prediction: Penn State will hang on to a top-25 class, even if just by the slimmest of margins. Bill O'Brien and his staff deserve all the credit in the world for having to originally put together a class after the scandal and then reshaping it after NCAA sanctions were levied in July.
Biggest need: The Illini's offense was arguably the worst in the Big Ten in 2012, and Illinois needs help just about everywhere on offense, especially at the skill positions.
Biggest recruit: Four-star athlete Aaron Bailey is the future at quarterback for Illinois, and the coaches will expect him to be ready to take the reins once Nathan Scheelhaase moves on.
Biggest need: To just put up a fence around Indianapolis and the state of Indiana. Kevin Wilson did that, assuaging defensive line concerns in the process by adding Indianapolis linemen David Kenney III and Darius Latham.
Biggest recruit: The Hoosiers are not accustomed to landing ESPN 150 prospects, but not only did they get Rashard Fant, but they got him all the way out of Georgia.
Biggest need: After having several productive running backs over the past decade, the Hawkeyes are hurting in the backfield due to injuries and off-the-field issues.
Biggest recruit: The Hawkeyes were after Berkley Edwards for a while, but once that fell through they put the screws to former Boston College running back commit LeShun Daniels. He flipped shortly after an official visit to Iowa.
Biggest need: Brady Hoke is transitioning to a pro-style offense, and he needed a pocket passer and a running back who makes his living in between the tackles.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 150 quarterback Shane Morris is that pro-style quarterback, but he is also the unquestioned leader of Team 134 and helped put together one of the nation’s top classes.
Biggest need: The Spartans will lose their top two rushers from 2012, including Big Ten rushing leader Le’Veon Bell, so running back is a priority. They are bringing in two.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 300 dual-threat quarterback Damion Terry is a capable thrower and runner, and he led his high school to a state title as a senior. Andrew Maxwell did not exactly lock down the starting quarterback job with his performance last season.
Biggest need: Donnell Kirkwood is a promising player at running back, but he struggled against some of the league’s better defenses and wore down late in the season. A complement is sorely needed.
Biggest recruit: Three-star running back Berkley Edwards is the younger brother of former Michigan receiver Braylon Edwards. Berkley is one of the Gophers’ highest-rated commitments, and running back is a position that lends itself to an easy transition.
Biggest need: Nebraska needs to return to its days of the Blackshirts, as the Huskers' defense was gashed on the ground all season. The Huskers need help along the defensive line.
Biggest recruit: Elite 11 finalist Johnny Stanton is a dual-threat quarterback, but he’s a much more polished passer than Taylor Martinez, who has taken his share of lumps since his flashy start in Lincoln.
Biggest need: Now that the Wildcats are a legitimate threat in the Big Ten under Pat Fitzgerald, the next step is to get better athletes to compete with Michigan and Ohio State. Fitzgerald is doing that with Ifeadi Odenigbo in 2012 and Godwin Igwebuike in 2013.
Biggest recruit: ESPN 300 dual-threat quarterback Matt Alviti had offers from some big programs including Notre Dame, but he chose nearby Northwestern. The Wildcats have an unsettled situation at quarterback, and as a local product Alviti could be called for by the fans if the quarterback play does not improve.
Biggest need: Linebacker was the biggest need for the Buckeyes, and after a shaky start Urban Meyer wrapped up a nice haul at the position with ESPN 150 products Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell.
Biggest recruit: It’s a tie between Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, who are separated by just a few spots in the ESPN 150. Both have game-breaking ability as a receiver or out of the backfield.
Biggest need: Despite significantly improved play from Matt McGloin in 2012, the Nittany Lions have not been blessed with quarterbacks the past decade, with the exception of a few good seasons from Michael Robinson and Daryll Clark.
Biggest recruit: While the class did field its share of decommitments, the damage would have been irreparable if No. 1 QB Christian Hackenberg bolted. By staying on, he instilled confidence in several other recruits to stay or join him in State College.
Biggest need: The quarterback situation at Purdue has been unsettled the past few seasons, which is not good when it comes to the most important position on the field.
Biggest recruit: An Elite 11 finalist, Danny Etling stuck with the Boilermakers through the coaching change. He will be looked at as the future of the program.
Biggest need: While the Badgers always have a strong stable of backs, losing Montee Ball is going to hurt, especially in the red zone. Wisconsin addressed it with top commitment Corey Clement.
Biggest recruit: The loss of Russell Wilson left a major void at quarterback, but the Badgers landed quarterback Tanner McEvoy on Monday. McEvoy is ranked No. 44 among juco prospects nationally and the expectation is he will contend for a starting job immediately.
Penn State 2015 Class Debuts At No. 3
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
TBD California Northwestern TBD Indiana State Indiana TBD Jacksonville State Michigan State TBD Appalachian State Michigan TBD Florida Atlantic Nebraska TBD Youngstown State Illinois TBD Northern Iowa Iowa TBD Ohio State Navy TBD Western Michigan Purdue 8:30 AM ET Penn State UCF 9:00 PM ET LSU Wisconsin