Penn State Nittany Lions: Kawann Short

Big Ten Friday mailblog

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
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I'm off next week, so the next mailblog comes at you June 24. Have a great weekend.

Follow us on Twitter and send us questions there.

Michael from New York writes: Regarding the Penn State/Georgia State camp; If the SEC relaxes their rules on this issue, do you foresee a series of tit-for-tat battles ensuing? For example, UG retaliates by scheduling something with East Stroudsburg U. in Pennsylvania. And to play this situation out, would small schools in Pennsylvania resist overtures such as the one above for fear of antagonizing big brother PSU?

Adam Rittenberg: I absolutely think the SEC coaches would start guest-coaching in other regions, and they should. Setting up something with James Franklin's alma mater would be a pretty bold move, but why should those small schools shy away from having these big-time coaches at their camps? Georgia State and Stetson welcomed Franklin and his staff, and I'd expect Northern schools to do the same if SEC coaches expressed interest.


John from Plainfield, Ill., writes: I can't believe the only questions you get about the Illini are about Tim Beckman's job security but that seems to be the only thing you print about the beloved. How about a real football question: Will the Illini offense be so good with Wes Lunt and it being the second year of Bill Cubit, that we'll flat outscore a lot of teams on our schedule? I think it will be but we'll run into trouble against the top teams in the league and finish at 8-4.

Adam Rittenberg: Love the optimism, John! I print what I get and I don't hear nearly enough from Illinois fans. Illinois' defense should be better than last year, but the team undoubtedly will rely on the offense, which made major strides and retains some good pieces, namely a line featuring four returning starters.

I saw Lunt practice in Chicago and he has a big arm that should allow Illinois to stretch the field. How does Illinois get to 8-4? It starts by winning at home, as the schedule at Memorial Stadium is pretty manageable. Illinois' road slate -- Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern -- is very tough.


Brian from Brighton, Mich., writes: I'm a Michigan State alumnus and believe that MSU could have beaten any team in the country last season. If the playoff system had been in place last year, do you think Michigan State would have been included over Stanford, or would they have been left out because the Pac-12 was perceived to be a stronger conference and Alabama lost late after being No. 1 all year?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, it's hard to know for sure, but I think Michigan State would have been the fourth team in the playoff, behind Florida State, Auburn and Alabama. The Pac-12 had a stronger national perception than the Big Ten, and Stanford had a very good team, but the Cardinal lost to a mediocre Utah team and a USC squad that lingered on the fringes of the Top 25. The Big Ten might have been down, but Michigan State won all nine of its league contests by double digits. Its only loss came at Notre Dame in a game with some controversial calls. Bottom line: the Spartans deserved to make the playoff ahead of a two-loss Pac-12 champion.


Ken from Fishers, Ind., writes: In order to have game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, your team has to be in position to allow that to happen. I don't see Maryland or Indiana being in enough games at that point this year for that to happen for them. I do not see Iowa as likely, either. That leaves Michigan State and Penn State. Both schools are likely to be in positions where they are down by less than a score with time ticking off the clock throughout the year. Of the two, I'm going with the QB who has the largest upside between the two -- Christian Hackenberg.

Adam Rittenberg: Hackenberg is a good choice, although I worry about Penn State's protection issues with so little proven depth on the offensive line. I disagree with you about Iowa. The Hawkeyes' track record shows a ton of close games and quite a few come-from-behind wins late in those contests. The opportunities will be there for Jake Rudock to be the hero.


Sons of Jack Mollenkopf from Empty Ross-Ade Stadium writes: Purdue football has not been the same since Kyle Orton fumbled a totally unnecessary head-first bootleg vs. Wisconsin in 2004. There has been marginal success for a few games vs. ND, Michigan and Ohio State, but for the last 10 years it has proven to be not only disappointing football, but other teams from the bottom of the Big Ten, 12, 14 or whatever we are calling ourselves have clearly outpaced the Boilers. What are three things Purdue can do to re-claim some footing and begin to compete again? We can't seem to attract top talent, we have trouble attracting fans, we haven't been to a BCS game, and we seem to striving for mediocrity. Am I missing something that is right around the corner?

Adam Rittenberg: As ESPN2 play-by-play man Mark Jones said of Scott Starks' fumble return, "What a turnaround! A cataclysmic turn of events!" Unfortunately for Purdue, those words proved true as the program hasn't found that level of success again. There have been very good players in the program -- Ryan Kerrigan, Kawann Short, Anthony Spencer -- but the team has struggled to turn a corner and compete for league titles. Purdue is a tough job, and the fan apathy has made it tougher. What Joe Tiller did there is still pretty remarkable.

How can Purdue regain its footing? It starts with recruiting and finding certain pipelines, like the one Tiller had to Texas, and Darrell Hazell and his staff are working hard to do that. Purdue has a great quarterback tradition that must be maximized. The recent QB recruiting has been very strong. Another step is line play, especially on the offensive side. Purdue needs to get stronger, more athletic linemen to be able to do more with the offense.

Early look at Purdue Boilermakers 

July, 31, 2013
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Every day this week, NittanyNation will continue taking a closer look at a different game this season and how the matchup stacks up for PSU. Up today: Purdue.

Darrell Hazell finished last season with one of the nation's most impressive coaching performances, leading Kent State to an 11-win season and coming within a heartbeat of an Orange Bowl berth.

Purdue's new head coach will need another one of the country's best performances just to get the Boilermakers into a bowl.

Hazell will need to break in a new quarterback and a new stable of receivers. Purdue will need to replace its best defensive player in DT Kawann Short. And it will need to fight past a tough non-conference slate that includes Cincinnati and Notre Dame.

Hazell's up for the challenge, but make no mistake about it: This is a rebuilding season for the Boilermakers. Hazell turned around a struggling Kent State squad from 5-7 in his debut season to 11-3 in Year 2. This will probably be a similar first season for Hazell record-wise, and there'll be plenty of bumps along the way.

It's awards season in Hollywood, as the film industry lines up to congratulate itself again and again until we're all sick of it before the Oscars.

But, hey, some performances do need recognition. With that in mind, we're listing the Top 10 individual performances by Big Ten players from the 2012 season today. Degree of difficulty is a factor here, so we'll reward those players who shined against tough opponents over those who piled up stats vs. cupcakes. And, ideally, the performance came in a victory for the player's team.

Enough with the intro. A drum roll, please, for our Top 10:

10. Penn State's Michael Mauti vs. Illinois: Mauti was very vocal with his displeasure at Illinois' attempt to poach Nittany Lions players last summer. The senior linebacker backed up his words with six tackles and a pair of interceptions, including a 99-yard return to end the first half. He came up inches short of a touchdown on that pick but definitely proved his point.

9. Ohio State's John Simon vs. Wisconsin: In what would turn out to be his final college game, the Buckeyes defensive end went out with a bang against the Badgers in Madison. He had four sacks, which set a school record and were the most by a Big Ten player since Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan registered four vs. Michigan in 2010.

8. Ohio State's Braxton Miller vs. Michigan State: Miller had better statistical days than the one he turned in against the Spartans, but none were grittier. Hit over and over again, he somehow kept answering the bell and finished with 136 hard-earned rushing yards and 179 passing yards in Ohio State's 17-16 road win. Teammates said after the game that their quarterback was in a tremendous amount of pain, but he earned he even more respect from them.

7. Northwestern's Kain Colter vs. Indiana: Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald sprung a surprise on the Hoosiers by repeatedly lining Colter up at receiver. Colter caught nine passes for 131 yards and also ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns on just 14 carries.

6. Penn State's Matt McGloin and Allen Robinson vs. Indiana: We're cheating a bit here by including both players, but it's hard to separate the two from this record-setting performance. McGloin shredded the Hoosiers' defense for 395 passing yards and four touchdowns, while Robinson was as usual the main recipient of his throws. The sophomore grabbed 10 catches for 197 yards and three scores in the best day for a Big Ten receiver in 2012.

5. Michigan's Denard Robinson vs. Air Force: How's this for an individual feat: Robinson accounted for more than 100 percent of his team's offense vs. the Falcons, a statistical oddity we may not see again any time soon. He totaled 426 yards -- 218 rushing, 208 passing -- while a couple of late kneel downs left Michigan's team total for the day at 422. Robinson also scored four touchdowns in the 31-25 win.

4. Michigan's Devin Gardner vs. Iowa: In just his second start at quarterback, Gardner wrote his name in the Michigan record books. He accounted for six touchdowns -- three passing, three rushing -- in becoming the first Wolverines quarterback to do that since Steve Smith in 1983. He also threw for 314 yards and let everyone know Robinson wasn't getting his old job back.

3. Wisconsin's Montee Ball vs. Purdue: Ball finished his career with all sorts of NCAA and school records, but he never had as many rushing yards as he did in West Lafayette this fall. He ran for 247 yards on 29 carries and and scored three times to establish himself as the Big Ten's all-time leader in touchdowns.

2. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez vs. Northwestern: Martinez's best statistical showing came in the opener against Southern Miss (354 passing yards, five TDs), but that was against a team that finished 0-12. His signature performance was in the comeback win at Northwestern. He threw for 342 yards and three scores and ran for another touchdown while leading two 75-plus yard scoring drives in the final six minutes. Of course, he also threw two passes in the fourth quarter that should have been intercepted, but that's just part of the ride with Martinez.

1. Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell vs. Boise State: In just the second game of the season featuring a Big Ten team, Bell set a bar that could not be cleared. He was Superman against the Broncos, rushing for 210 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries and catching six passes for 55 yards. The unbelievable 50 touches in the opener was both a testament to Bell's strength and a flashing red warning sign of Michigan State's dearth of playmakers.

Honorable mention: Bell vs. Minnesota and TCU; Miller vs. California; Ball and James White vs. Nebraska in the Big Ten title game; Robinson vs. Purdue; Ohio State's Ryan Shazier vs. Penn State; Ohio State's Carlos Hyde vs. Nebraska; Indiana's Cody Latimer vs. Iowa; Penn State's Jordan Hill vs. Wisconsin; Northwestern's Venric Mark vs. Minnesota; Michigan's Jeremy Gallon vs. South Carolina; Iowa's Mark Weisman vs. Central Michigan; Minnesota's Michael Carter vs. Purdue and Texas Tech; Purdue's Kawann Short vs. Notre Dame.

Next man up: Replacing Stankiewitch

January, 3, 2013
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Heading into next season, NittanyNation takes a closer look at holes left by departing Penn State players and the candidates who might fill them.

[+] EnlargeMatt Stankiewitch
Rich Barnes/US PresswireLions center Matt Stankiewitch will be tough to replace.
CENTER

  • Who: Matt Stankiewitch was a finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation's top center, and he's a road-grader who anchored the offensive line. He was a two-year starter who saw action for four seasons, and he played at guard as an underclassman. He was a leader who made few mistakes.

  • By the numbers: Penn State had the No. 82 rushing offense in the country. That number might not be all that impressive, but Stankiewitch still helped Zach Zwinak reach 1,000 yards and average 4.7 yards a carry. Zwinak's strength was running up the middle -- and the middle was this line's strength, too, thanks to Stankiewitch.

  • Job description: Stankiewitch was able to neutralize some of the Big Ten's best defensive tackles, such as Purdue's dominating pair of Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston, two players who didn't grab a single tackle in the backfield. His replacement will have to be a run-blocking specialist, a strong player who can read the blitz well. Taking over for Stankiewitch won't be an easy task.

  • Top candidates: Rising redshirt senior Ty Howle and rising redshirt sophomore Angelo Mangiro. Howle overcame a torn pectoral muscle and returned by Week 4, where he rotated between guard and center and provided a much-needed rest to the starters. He saw a lot of time, but so did Mangiro, who was almost like the Mike Hull of the offensive line. Offensive guard Miles Dieffenbach is also a candidate to slide over to center, but Howle and Mangiro will then compete for his spot.

  • One to watch: Howle. When OG John Urschel was asked late in the season who impressed him the most, Howle was the first name that came to mind. Howle stands at just 6-foot, but the offensive line didn't really skip a beat when he came on the field in relief. He's a bigger lineman than Mangiro (298 pounds to 291) and has more experience at center. Mangiro might be the better guard, but Howle appears to have the edge at center.

Position review: Offensive line 

November, 30, 2012
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Every day during the next two weeks, NittanyNation will take a closer look at each position and how Penn State fared over the course of the season.

Up today: Offensive line

Zach Zwinak
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThe Penn State offensive line saved its best for last, helping Zach Zwinak run wild on the Wisconsin defense.
There were some early growing pains, especially when Donovan Smith's injury forced Adam Gress and Mike Farrell to play musical chairs. But, by the end of the season, this unit evolved into a team strength -- one of Penn State's deepest positions that capitalized off the new strength program.

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What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 12

November, 15, 2012
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten entering Week 12:

1. Ballin' for history: Thirteen years after Ron Dayne broke the NCAA career rushing record, another Wisconsin running back is on the doorstep of a major milestone. Badgers senior Montee Ball, who, unlike Dayne, spent a year and a half as a reserve, needs one more touchdown Saturday against Ohio State to tie the NCAA career mark of 78 held by former Miami (Ohio) star Travis Prentice. Ball has scored 13 touchdowns in his past six games and is averaging 179.1 yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games. A big performance against the unbeaten Buckeyes will once again put Ball on the radar for top national honors. Ball's next rushing touchdown will mark his 72nd, moving him past Dayne for the Big Ten career record.

2. Holding serve in the Legends: Nebraska and Michigan are tied atop the Legends Division at 5-1, and on paper, they should stay that way after Week 12. Both teams are favored to take care of Minnesota and Iowa, respectively, on senior day in Lincoln and Ann Arbor. Nebraska's magic number (wins and Michigan losses) to punch its ticket to Indianapolis is 2. A Huskers loss and a Michigan win puts the Wolverines in control of their own fate in the division. One senior day subplot is whether face-of-the-program stars like Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will play after missing time with injuries. Burkhead (knee) returned to practice this week and seems closer to a return, while Robinson (elbow) remains day-to-day.

[+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
Andrew Weber/US PresswireLe'Veon Bell and the Spartans plan to finish strong against Northwestern on Saturday.
3. Finishing school: Northwestern and Michigan State easily could be playing for a Legends Division title Saturday. Instead, both teams' inability to finish against the likes of Nebraska and Michigan has left them looking for a full 60-minute performance. Michigan State's four Big Ten losses have come by a combined 10 points. Northwestern held double-digit second-half leads in all three of its Big Ten losses. Something's gotta give Saturday as the teams meet at Spartan Stadium. "Their problem, just like ours, has been closing out games," Spartans linebacker Chris Norman told ESPN.com this week. "... It's going to come down to who can finish the best. Saturday is going to be interesting."

4. Hope and a prayer: There's growing talk that Purdue will make a head-coaching change after the regular season no matter what happens in the final two games. But can fourth-year boss Danny Hope save himself with a three-game win streak to become bowl-eligible? It's reason enough to tune in for an otherwise off-the-radar game between Purdue and slumping Illinois on Saturday. A loss to the Illini would prevent Purdue from getting bowl-eligible and likely seal Hope's fate, while a Purdue win adds intrigue to next week's Bucket game against Indiana. The Boilers' offense got on track last week behind quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden, while defensive tackle Kawann Short had his best game of the season at Iowa.

5. Rivalry renewed: Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium won't decide which Leaders Division team goes to the Big Ten title game, as Wisconsin already punched its ticket last week. But Ohio State can lock up the Leaders Division championship -- the only title it can win this season -- while Wisconsin can legitimize its trip to Indy by handing Urban Meyer's Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Looking ahead, the Ohio State-Wisconsin game likely will be the signature contest in the division for years to come. Illinois is a mess, Purdue has backslid this season, Indiana is still building and Penn State still has three more years of postseason bans. "I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan," Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown said this week. While Meyer and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema say their post-signing day spat is a thing of a past, it could bubble up Saturday depending on how the game goes.

6. Taking a pass: The Big Ten might not be flush with elite quarterbacks and high-powered offenses this season, but a few of its teams can sling the ball a bit, and two of them meet at Beaver Stadium. Indiana and Penn State are the Big Ten's top two pass offenses, ranking 26th and 40th nationally, respectively. They'll share the field Saturday as they try to rebound from different types of losses. Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman struggled with his accuracy (25-for-46) in last week's loss to Wisconsin and looks for a sharper afternoon. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin wasn't a happy guy after the Nebraska loss and will try to take it out on IU. The game features two of the Big Ten's top receivers in Penn State's Allen Robinson and Indiana's Cody Latimer.

7. Hawkeye hex: Iowa has been in a funk for much of the season and particularly in the past month, dropping four consecutive Big Ten contests. Perhaps a date with Michigan can put the Hawkeyes back on track. See, Iowa has won three straight against Michigan for the first time in team history and five of its past eight against the Wolverines. Michigan's seniors are anxious to finally get over the hump against Iowa, one of two Big Ten teams (Penn State the other) they have yet to beat. But maybe it works the other way and Iowa finally shows a spark on offense and stiffens its defense. If not, the Hawkeyes won't be going bowling for the first time since the 2006 season, and it'll be a very long winter for Kirk Ferentz. "It doesn't hurt, obviously," Ferentz said of his team's Michigan win streak, "but it doesn't guarantee us anything."

8. Backs of different sizes: Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is the biggest featured running back in the Big Ten, checking in at 6-2 and 244 pounds. Northwestern's Venric Mark is the smallest, checking in at 5-8 and 175 pounds. But both have been extremely effective this season with the ball in their hands. Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,249), while Mark ranks third in rushing yards (1,181) and first in all-purpose yards (1,917). Each has been the MVP of his respective offense, and it'll be interesting to see them on the same field at Spartan Stadium. Both Michigan State and Northwestern defend the run well, too, both ranking in the top 25 nationally.

9. Illini look for a spark: Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total offense, and lingers near the bottom of the FBS in all the significant categories. The Illini need some sort of boost on offense or a 2-10 season is a virtual certainty. Head coach Tim Beckman, whose background is defense but who had a high-powered offense at Toledo the past few years, took a more active role with the offense this week in an effort to get things going. Beckman also noted that co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales call plays on different downs. Hmmm. Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne took more reps with the wide receivers this week and could see an increased role against Purdue. Illinois aims to win on senior day for the first time since 2007.

10. Bowl picture taking shape: We learned a little more about the Big Ten bowl contingent last week as Minnesota became bowl-eligible, Purdue took a big step toward the postseason and both Iowa and Indiana took a step toward a winter at home. There should be some more answers in Week 12. Michigan State aims for its sixth win to go bowling for the sixth consecutive season under coach Mark Dantonio. Purdue must keep its bowl hopes alive at Illinois, while both Iowa and Indiana must win on the road to avoid loss No. 7. It won't be easy for the Hawkeyes or Hoosiers. Indiana never has won at Beaver Stadium in 15 previous meetings with Penn State. Iowa never has won consecutive games at Michigan Stadium.

Penn State 10: Week 10 power rankings 

November, 5, 2012
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Welcome to Week 10 of NittanyNation's power rankings, a top-10 list of Penn State players who are surpassing expectations, and who to keep an eye on.

After a win on the road at Purdue, several offensive contributors returned to the list. Some new players also stepped up, and a few made big leaps on the list.

Whose performance left the biggest impression, and whose contributions were the most surprising? This week's top 10:

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Saturday's impact player: Bill Belton 

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
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[+] EnlargeBill Belton
Nabil K. Mark/Centre Daily Times/MCTDon't be surprised if Bill Belton makes a big play Saturday against Purdue.
Forget Matt McGloin and Michael Mauti. Those two could be considered MVPs every week; NittanyNation's venturing outside the box this week.

This week's impact player: Bill Belton, sophomore tailback

The Boilermakers boast a strong 1-2 punch at defensive tackle with Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston, so running up the middle with Zach Zwinak might no longer be the best option. Purdue's defensive strength is between the tackles, so Penn State must be a little creative -- and that's where Belton comes in.

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McGloin confident, not concerned with OL

November, 1, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Matt McGloin stepped up to the interview chair and offered his usual, confident smirk.

The clean-shaven fifth-year senior looked as if he had arrived straight from the barber. He relaxed under the bright lights of the media room, in a chair that causes some to stutter and others to grasp at loose thoughts, and appeared as if he was sitting for a job interview -- as the boss.
[+] EnlargeJohn Simon
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesMatt McGloin was under constant pressure against Ohio State, but says he is better prepared to deal with it against Purdue.

The cocksure quarterback talked about how this Purdue game would be different, how Penn State reflected on its flaws and corrected them. But, when asked how he specifically could respond to another heavy pass rush, that smirk faded slightly.

"Nothing," he said.

"As a quarterback it's not your job to worry about whether or not the defender's closing in on you or who's blocking this guy or who's blocking that guy. ... I definitely believe my linemen are capable of blocking anyone they face. I think we should have some time to throw the ball Saturday."

There was no talk about spending more time in the shotgun, or perhaps leaning heavily on three-step drops. Maybe that's in the game plan, maybe not, but McGloin spoke in an even tone as if he held no doubts the line would improve.

The Buckeyes often brought an extra rusher Saturday, and McGloin seemed to dance in the backfield with scarlet and gray jerseys every other play. Trading Johnathan Hankins and John Simon for Purdue's Kawann Short and Bruce Gaston seems to be a similar challenge -- another where McGloin might be able to do "nothing" -- but McGloin's teammates know their response isn't pinned to the shoulders of their quarterback.

"We have to do a better job of protecting Matt," offensive guard John Urschel acknowledged.

Urschel thought emotions might have gotten to this line, maybe taking their minds off protections or practices. But Bill O'Brien disagreed without elaborating much.

O'Brien said he called upon McGloin and center Matt Stankiewitch earlier in the week, sat them down and emphasized communication. That silent cadence is more detailed this week, O'Brien said, and he's hoping that reinvigorates his passing game.

McGloin just shrugged and reiterated he'll keep doing what O'Brien asks. The new coach has brought the former walk-on a long way, and McGloin isn't worried about other units on this offense. If a receiver drops 10 balls, McGloin said he wouldn't hesitate throwing to him again if he finds a seam. And if the offensive line stumbles, the quarterback refuses to grow fearful of taking another sack.

Whatever problems or plans Penn State possesses, concern was not an emotion painted on McGloin's face. Slight irritation at a few questions? Yes. Confidence? Absolutely.

But there was no sense of panic. McGloin looked back at the press, smiled at most questions, and swore this team's desire to finish strong outweighed any lingering disappointment from last Saturday.

"They were full of some good athletes on that team, but we can't focus too much on Ohio State," McGloin said. "That game's in the past and, like I said, we have four left to keep pushing on here.

"And it starts with Purdue."

5 storylines: Purdue vs. Penn State 

November, 1, 2012
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Every week, NittanyNation takes a look at five storylines that stand out: What should fans keep an eye on? What's the bigger picture? What might be on display Saturday?

Here are NittanyNation's Week 10 storylines:

1. Purdue changing quarterbacks. Caleb TerBush has started the last seven games, but Purdue coach Danny Hope has decided to try something different. The Boilermakers need some kind of spark, so Robert Marve will get the nod Saturday. The move seems obvious; Marve's quarterback rating is 17 points higher than Terbush's and the Boilermakers have dropped four straight. Penn State is preparing for both signal-callers, and the Boilermakers are hoping the switch leads to a change in their fortunes.

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I'm a bit conflicted when it comes to college football awards and all the hollow hype they generate.

Many college football fans love the awards. They enjoy reading preseason watch lists, midseason watch lists, two-thirds-of-the-way-through-the season watch lists, quarterfinalists, semifinalists and the like. It's why we post a decent amount of the lists on the blog. But the selections often make me want to bang my head against the wall. Although some award committees are better than others, it's very easy to see who is paying attention and who isn't.

[+] EnlargeMichael Mauti
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireLinebacker Michael Mauti has sparked Penn State during its four-game win streak.
The recent announcement of the 25 quarterfinalists for the Rotary Lombardi Award -- given to the nation's top lineman or linebacker -- struck a chord. Looking at the list ... Wisconsin LB Chris Borland? Check. ... Purdue DT Kawann Short? Check. Like many of you, I kept searching for Penn State LB Michael Mauti. You know, the National Defensive Player of the Week for Week 5, the two-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week winner, the leader of the nation's 15th-rated scoring defense and a Penn State team that has rebounded from an 0-2 start to win four in a row. When we put together our Big Ten midseason review Monday, Mauti earned Defensive MVP honors.

But he wasn't on the Lombardi list. Less deserving players were, including some from the Big Ten.

"There's a certain amount of ridiculousness that a guy like Mike Mauti or Gerald Hodges or Jordan Hill, those three guys defensively aren't on," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said Tuesday. "... If there's a linebacker, defensive lineman award, whatever the awards are, I would imagine  I can't imagine that there's that many linebackers or defensive linemen in the country better than those guys."

There certainly aren't many FBS linebackers playing better than Mauti right now. Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, Georgia's Jarvis Jones ... that's about it. Hill and Hodges also are performing well and could have been included on the Lombardi quarterfinalists list, but Mauti is the glaring omission.

O'Brien added that he doesn't even know which awards are which and that midseason watch lists don't make much sense.

"Can we not wait till the end of the season?" he said. "I think it would be a shame that we've got some guys here who are playing good football and they don't get recognized."

It would be especially shameful if Mauti and the others aren't recognized because they play for Penn State. If Mauti had the same first half for a team that didn't spend the offseason in the national headlines and didn't get hit with severe NCAA sanctions in July, would he be on the Lombardi list?

It's a fair question to ask, especially given the PR-driven nature of these awards. If the answer is yes, the awards are completely bogus. Punishing Mauti and his teammates for being associated with Penn State -- while disregarding what they're doing on the field this season -- is disgraceful. It's possible to separate the Penn State sex-abuse scandal from this season and these players.

Is the Penn State stigma keeping players out of the awards race?

"I don't believe that at all," O'Brien said, before adding, "I certainly would hope that's not the case."

There's no definitive answer. All we can do is wait and see if deserving Penn State players like Mauti get their due when the postseason awards are handed out.

If not, there's no need to rant and rave. Just don't pay attention. The awards aren't worth your time.

PSU: Mauti should be on Lombardi list

October, 10, 2012
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Michael Mauti passed on the chance Wednesday to talk about his snub on the list of quarter-finalists for the Lombardi Award, but others at Penn State spoke up and expressed surprise at the move.

"If he's not one of the top five linebackers in the country, I'm not sure who is," Penn State coach Bill O'Brien said. "I'm not sure who chooses those things. I have no idea how any of that works, but I'd say, in my opinion, that's a mistake not having him on the Lombardi List. He's having a hell of a year."

The Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation's top lineman or linebacker, named its top 25 players Saturday. Four Big Ten players were included on the list, but Penn State was shut out.

Linebacker Gerald Hodges and defensive tackle Jordan Hill were mentioned on the Lombardi Award's preseason watch list, and Hill said he was surprised his teammate didn't earn some recognition halfway through the season.

"It's disrespectful to how Mauti's been playing all year," Hill said. "He's really been having a great year, and there's not too many guys who have been playing like he is. It's a disappointment but, like I always say, as a football player you use anything as a motivation, and he can use that as motivation."

Mauti, a redshirt senior, was scheduled to address the media Wednesday afternoon but never showed up at the requested time.

His teammates say the soft-spoken linebacker likes to let his play do his talking, and his play has had a lot to say this season. Mauti was twice named Big Ten defensive player of the week, and the Walter Camp Foundation awarded him national defensive player of the week honors after a two-interception performance against Illinois.

Through six games, he boasts a team-high 57 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 4 pass deflections.

The Big Ten players who are on the list over Mauti include Wisconsin LB Chris Borland, Ohio State DL Johnathan Hankins, Purdue DL Kawann Short and Michigan State DL William Gholston.

The Rotary Club of Houston, which hosts the award, did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

Big Ten awards race tracker: Week 6

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
2:30
PM ET
Through five weeks of the season, which players have established themselves as the top candidates for individual Big Ten awards? Glad you asked.

Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: The leader in the clubhouse after September, Miller continues to be the main reason why the Buckeyes are undefeated. He's averaging 115 rushing yards and 186 passing yards per game, though he'll have to cut down on both his turnovers and the big hits he's taken.

2. Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: If Miller hadn't been so valuable the first five weeks, Martinez would be the clear choice so far. He's leading the league in pass efficiency, has an 11-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, and is the engine that drives the Big Ten's top offense.

3. Matt McGloin, QB, Penn State: McGloin still leads the Big Ten in passing yards, and his 10 passing touchdowns are second to only Martinez. He's also added four rushing scores. He has had a hand in all but two of Penn State's 16 touchdowns this season.

4. Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State: Bell continues to lead the conference in rushing, but two supbar games in losses to Notre Dame and Ohio State hurt his cause in this race. He can still pile up the stats in the next couple of months, however.

5. Mark Weisman, RB, Iowa: The Hawkeyes' walk-on has an incredible story and has been playing incredibly the past three games, racking up 507 rushing yards and seven touchdowns. Not playing much the first two games put him behind the leaders for individual honors, but if he can keep this up he'll catch them in the end.

Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year

1. Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State: There might not be a better linebacker in the country right now than Mauti, who is the heart and soul of the Nittany Lions' defense. His two-interception performance against Illinois sealed his status as the Big Ten defensive MVP of September.

2. Kawann Short, DT, Purdue: The senior had another sack against Marshall, giving him four this season. But the Boilers' overall defensive effort wasn't very good last week. Purdue will need Short to stand tall against Michigan this week. The next three weeks will be make-or-break time for his candidacy and his team's season.

3. Chris Borland, LB, Wisconsin: Borland was all over the place against Nebraska last week, and is having an outstanding season (43 tackles, three sacks, four pass breakups, one forced fumble).

4. D.L. Wilhite, DE, Minnesota: Wilhite paced the Big Ten in sacks (4.5), but the Gophers' poor overall defensive showing against Iowa last week dented his chances.

5. Will Compton, LB, Nebraska: Compton might have played his best game as a Husker in leading his team's second-half comeback against Wisconsin. He leads Nebraska in tackles (44) and has three sacks, along with two quarterback hurries.

Richter–Howard Receiver of the Year

1. Allen Robinson, Penn State: Robinson has more receiving yards (439) than anyone in the league and is tied for tops in the Big Ten in catches (32) and touchdowns (five). He might also be the league's most improved player after catching three balls as a freshman.

2. Antavian Edison, Purdue: The Boilermakers have a lot of weapons, but Edison is their clear go-to guy in the passing game. He has as many touchdown catches as Robinson in one less game.

3. Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin: Abbrederis' value to the Badgers' offense is immense. He's leading the league in receiving yards per game (99.8) and might be ahead of Robinson had he not missed a game and a half with a chest injury/concussion.

4. Devin Smith, Ohio State: No receiver in the league has more highlights than Smith, who has caught game-winning bombs against Cal and Michigan State. Urban Meyer said after the Michigan State game that Smith is blossoming into a great player right before our eyes.
The Big Ten doesn't announce an official preseason all-conference team. But that doesn't mean we can't.

Here are our picks for the 2012 preseason All-Big Ten team:

Offense

QB: Denard Robinson, Michigan
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB: Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
OT: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OT: Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
OG: Spencer Long, Nebraska
OG: Chris McDonald, Michigan State
C: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin

Defense

DE: John Simon, Ohio State
DE: William Gholston, Michigan State
DT: Kawann Short, Purdue
DT: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
LB: Gerald Hodges, Penn State
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB: Jonathan Brown, Illinois
CB: Johnny Adams, Michigan State
CB: Ricardo Allen, Purdue
S: Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
S: Jordan Kovacs, Michigan

Specialists

K/P: Brett Maher, Nebraska
KR: Raheem Mostert, Purdue
PR: Abbrederis

Thoughts: The first thing that likely jumps out at you is that we have three running backs and just one receiver on our first-team offense. No, we haven't forgotten the rules of football. It's just that we continue to feel the wide receiver crop is weak this season, and no great candidates for the second spot leap out at us. Perhaps Keenan Davis of Iowa or one of Northwestern's many receivers will have a great season, but no one has proved anything on a consistent basis. We'd rather have Bell -- who we believe is primed for a huge year -- on the team than any of the receiver candidates. Plus, isn't running the ball what Big Ten football is all about? ... Some of the toughest omissions came at linebacker, where Michigan State's duo of Denicos Allen and Max Bullough and Wisconsin's Mike Taylor were among those left out. At least we know we'd have an outstanding second-team unit at that position. ... Fiedorowicz is a bit of a projection pick, but we love the way he finished last season and how he fits into Greg Davis' new scheme. You certainly could make a strong case for Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen or Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner there as well. ... Some of these players won't live up to expectations, and others will explode on the scene this fall. But for now, we'd feel pretty good about throwing this team on the field.
Power Rankings: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Game week is here, and not a moment too soon.

Preseason camps have wrapped up around the Big Ten, and teams are now locking in for their openers this coming weekend. The power rankings will appear each Monday throughout the season, and we're getting things kicked off today.

There aren't many changes from our last version, although some offseason news has affected the rundown. The top five teams certainly have separated themselves in our eyes, while there's not much separating the next five on the list.

Here we go ...

1. Michigan State: We understand why Michigan is the highest-rated Big Ten team in the polls, but Michigan State gets the top spot in our power rankings because of its defense. A top-10 unit in 2011 could easily become a top-five unit this season, as the Spartans are strong at just about every position. While the concerns at quarterback and receiver are warranted, the offense will be effective enough with the run as Le'Veon Bell and a more seasoned line return.

2. Michigan: The Wolverines endured some injuries and off-field issues this summer and in camp, but they still enter the season with justifiably high hopes. Senior quarterback Denard Robinson has matured during his career and could make a serious push for national awards this fall. Michigan must shore up its lines and hope some young players grow up in a hurry. A relentless schedule is the biggest challenge for Brady Hoke's squad.

3. Wisconsin: The offense might not be as electric as it was the past two seasons and the defense has some question marks (secondary, pass rush), but Wisconsin knows how to win and boasts enough to claim another Big Ten title. Montee Ball is extremely motivated after a rough summer, and while Danny O'Brien isn't Russell Wilson, he gives the offense some stability. A favorable schedule with both Michigan State and Ohio State at home helps the Badgers.

4. Ohio State: It's a close call for the No. 4 spot, but the Buckeyes get the edge based on a defense with the potential to be one of the nation's best. John Simon anchors arguably the league's top defensive line, and almost everyone returns in the secondary. While there will be growing pains on offense, the unit can't possibly be worse than last year's, and Braxton Miller has a chance to make significant strides this season.

5. Nebraska: Fifteen starters return to a Huskers team that should be much more comfortable with the Big Ten in Year 2. But questions remain surrounding quarterback Taylor Martinez, replacing star power on defense and getting over the hump on the road. A signature road victory would go a long way for Bo Pelini's program, which returns 15 starters and has a great chance to climb this list and challenge for the Legends division.

6. Purdue: Danny Hope repeatedly called this his best Boilers team during the offseason, and we can see why. Purdue boasts a formidable defensive front and two bona-fide stars on defense in tackle Kawann Short and cornerback Ricardo Allen. The Boilers also return most of their key weapons on offense. What we still need to see is a team that can avoid the major mistakes and mental lapses that have plagued Purdue throughout Hope's tenure. A challenging start to Big Ten play will tell a lot about the Boilers.

7. Penn State: The Lions will ride emotion and a stout defensive front seven this fall, and they could go further than most think after a brutal offseason. Still, it's hard to figure out how Penn State will score points, and the turmoil is bound to catch up with Bill O'Brien's crew at some point. If O'Brien bolsters an offense featuring mostly unproven personnel, Penn State could make a strong push. The schedule is favorable as the Lions get both Ohio State and Wisconsin at Beaver Stadium.

8. Iowa: Youth will be served this fall in Iowa City as the Hawkeyes turn to unproven players at several spots, namely defensive line and running back. The good news is that Iowa boasts a veteran in senior quarterback James Vandenberg, who could thrive under new coordinator Greg Davis. Iowa must ride Vandenberg's right arm and a talented back seven on defense headlined by cornerback Micah Hyde and linebacker James Morris. Iowa also should benefit from its schedule.

9. Illinois: The Illini and Penn State are nearly mirror images, as both teams have first-year coaches, talented defensive front sevens and question marks on offense. Defense could carry Illinois a long way this fall, as end Michael Buchanan and linebacker Jonathan Brown anchor the unit. A new offensive scheme could spark third-year starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, although he'll need unproven weapons to emerge. Illinois could be a sleeper team this fall, although its Big Ten road schedule is flat-out brutal (Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern).

10. Northwestern: After a drop in wins the past three seasons, can Northwestern get things turned around? The Wildcats once again should be strong on offense as Kain Colter takes over at quarterback, although there are some questions up front. The defense can't be much worse than it was in 2011, and while there will be more youth throughout the unit, there also should be more talent. Northwestern must capitalize on the first chunk of the schedule, which features several toss-up games but isn't overly taxing.

11. Minnesota: The Gophers will be an improved team in Year 2 under Jerry Kill. The problem is they play in a loaded division and face a tricky schedule with no gimme games. Quarterback MarQueis Gray has a chance to do big things as a senior, although his supporting cast remains a mystery. Troy Stoudermire's return should spark the defense, which played better down the stretch in 2011. Like Northwestern, Minnesota needs to get off to a good start and build confidence.

12. Indiana: The Hoosiers won't go 1-11 again, and they could be dangerous on the offensive side as sophomore quarterback Tre Roberson matures and the passing game becomes a bigger part of the plan. Question marks remain throughout the defense, and Indiana hopes an influx of junior-college players helps the situation immediately. Indiana will be older and better than it was in 2011, and the Hoosiers should be more competitive in Big Ten games. But until they prove otherwise, they're at the bottom.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Saturday, 1/10
Monday, 1/12