Posted on: September 6, 2011 5:25 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
Yesterday, my colleague Bryan Fischer posted the last time each of the SEC teams had made a trip to Big Ten country for a road game. The results, while not surprising, were still pretty brutal: six had never faced a Big Ten team as an active member of the SEC, and of the three programs that had made the trip in the last 30 years, two are perennial doormats Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and the last is LSU -- a 36-33 loser to Ohio State in 1988. Not a good look for the mighty SEC powerhouses, but such is their strategy, and it's hard to argue with results: avoiding the Big Ten hasn't stopped the SEC from winning championship after championship, so who's the real sucker here?
Still, some fans wanted to know the other side of the story, namely, whether the Big Ten was also filled with scaredy-cats who are afraid to face the SEC on its own turf. Clearly, this hypothesis is false, as the Big Ten plays multiple bowl games a year against the SEC in the SEC footprint, and has done so for decades. On the other hand, the SEC does not go to any bowl games within the Big Ten footprint, though I've lived in the Midwest for 30 winters now, and I do not blame the SEC for staying down there come December and January. It sucks up here.
However, there is still the question of regular season scheduling and whether the Big Ten does any of that, since we're talking about true road games in the regular season. So here's the breakdown, and while it's more ambitious than the SEC's m.o., that's not saying a whole lot.
at Florida, September 23, 1967, lost 14-0
at Kentucky, September 18, 2004, lost 32-51
Never played at an SEC school.
Never played at an SEC school (did play at Kentucky, Vanderbilt and South Carolina prior to each's SEC affiliation).
at Kentucky, November 2, 1946, lost 14-39 (Michigan State did not join the Big Ten until 1953)
Never played at an SEC school.
at Auburn, October 2, 1982, won 41-7 (Nebraska did not join the Big Ten until this year, obviously)
at Vanderbilt, September 4, 2010, won 23-21
at LSU, September 26, 1987, tied 13-13
at Alabama, September 11, 2010, lost 3-24
at Vanderbilt, October 3, 1942, lost 26-0
at LSU, September 30, 1972, lost 27-7
Obviously Iowa and Minnesota have some 'splainin' to do, but by and large we see a somewhat greater -- or at least more recent -- willingness from the Big Ten to travel down south for a non-conference game. The average year of the SEC's last games at Big Ten schools is 1963 (not including Tennessee), while the Big Ten's is 1980 (again, not including nonparticipants Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota). That's still an average layoff of 31 years, which is way too long -- or at least it would be without the several bowl games between the two conferences -- but the SEC is the clear conference of wimps and shrinking violets when it comes to scheduling.
But again, that all said, it doesn't matter. the SEC doesn't need road games with the Big Ten to win championships; if anything, the elite of the conference have figured out that it's not worth their time to risk early losses in the non-conference schedule. Voters don't really care about strength of schedule next to good old wins and losses -- if they did, LSU wouldn't still be ranked behind Alabama (victors over Kent State) and Oklahoma (who really took it to Tulsa, which, yeah) even after pantsing Oregon as badly as it did. See? Huge win, barely made a difference. Win go up, lose go down. That's all polling boils down to, the SEC knows it, and the SEC gets its wins however it can. They know the system. You can't blame them for that.
Of course, it's nothing to be really proud of either, you wimps, but as long as the SEC keeps winning championships, the means are secondary to the ends.
Posted on: September 5, 2011 7:09 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 7:25 pm
Posted by Bryan Fischer
The SEC has, perhaps rightfully so, taken flak over the years for their non-conference scheduling philosophy. Yes, the league is tough but there are only so many directional schools a team can play. That's what makes this week's match up between Penn State and Alabama so rare. Two power conference teams playing each other and, perhaps most notably, the SEC team traveling to Big Ten country.
This will be the 15th meeting between the two schools but the first time ever the Crimson Tide will travel to Happy Valley when Penn State is a member of the Big Ten conference, previous trips north were when the Nittany Lions were a football independent. Even more interesting due is the fact that this is the first time Alabama has played at a Big Ten team while a member of the SEC. Yes, the first time ever.
That got me to thinking (and researching), when was the last time the rest of the SEC teams played at a Big Ten opponent? Turns out, only Kentucky and Vanderbilt have been willing to play up north during the regular season. The pair are actually the only SEC teams to play at a Big Ten school in the last 23 years until the Tide take the field on Saturday.
Here's the full list of when every current SEC team last played at a Big Ten team during the regular season:
at Wisconsin, Nov. 3, 1928, lost 15-0. (Alabama did not join the SEC until 1932)
at Iowa, Oct. 3, 1925, lost 28-0. (Arkansas did not join the SEC until 1991)
at Wisconsin, Oct. 10, 1931, tied 7-7. (Auburn did not join the SEC until 1932)
at Northwestern, Sep. 18, 1965, won 24-14.
at Michigan, Oct. 2, 1965, won 15-7.
at Indiana, Sep. 19, 2005, lost 38-14.
at Ohio State, Sep. 24, 1988, lost 36-33.
at Minnesota, Nov. 5, 1932, lost 26-0. (Ole Miss did not join the SEC until 1932)
at Illinois, Oct. 4, 1980, won 28-21.
at Michigan, Sep. 27, 1980, won 17-4 (South Carolina did not join the SEC until 1991)
Never played at a Big Ten school.
at Michigan, Sep. 2, 2006, lost 27-7.
Posted on: September 3, 2011 11:37 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. Ohio State isn't back, because they never went anywhere to begin with. Let's get one thing out of the way: Ohio State was only playing Akron. Beating Akron proves nothing. The Buckeyes probably aren't going to be the last team to beat Akron by 42 points this season. And yet, that sure looked like Jim Tressel's Ohio State, didn't it?
It makes sense that OSU still looks mostly the same, to an extent; Luke Fickell is a Jim Tressel disciple, and the rest of the Tressel staff is still in place. Further, the vast majority of OSU's superior talent is back. Terrelle Pryor is gone, obviously, and there are a handful of starters who are suspended for the early going. But OSU's real strength didn't lie in its starters' talent, it was having second- and third-stringers who could start for pretty much any other team, and those guys are all still around. So Fickell's got some institutional advantages in place.
But keeping those players focused in the middle of what's arguably OSU's largest scandal is much easier said than done, and Fickell deserves a ton of credit for maintaining control of the program when it looked like all hell would break loose. Nobody's talking about Terrelle Pryor in Columbus today, they're talking about the Buckeyes. That's the way it ought to be.
2. It's like thunder! And lightning! On its face, it seems silly to discuss non-catastrophic weather in a column called "what I learned"; everyone's got that sort of thing figured out by, oh, third grade. But I did learn that even in the legendary, leaderish Big Ten, they will flat-out cancel the rest of a football game on account of lightning if it persists long enough.
That's precisely what happened Saturday, when Michigan and Western Michigan officials decided to call off a 34-10 contest with over a full quarter remaining in the game. The weather report looked grim at that point, and it was unlikely that the game could be finished before at least 10:00. Still, even though it's admirable that there are rules with the protection of fans and players in mind like this, it also seems decidedly un-football to do so. Oh, if it weren't for that pesky liability. Alas.
3. The Leaders Division is Wisconsin's to lose right now. Sure, Wisconsin's defense struggled at times with the UNLV rushing attack, but not disastrously so, and the second unit of the Badger offense was pretty pedestrian. That's all true. What Wisconsin showed on offense on Thursday rendered that all moot. Russell Wilson made the best reads of anybody in the Big Ten in Week 1, and he's only been in Madison for a few months. He also showed the best rushing acumen of any Big Ten quarterback not named Taylor Martinez or Denard Robinson. And oh yes, the Wisconsin rushing attack is as mansome as ever. The Badgers don't have a bruiser anymore, and mountain man Gabe Carimi is off starting in the NFL, but the mashing will continue apace for another year as long as James White and Montee Ball are healthy.
If Wisconsin had a decent second quarterback (or if presumptive backup Jon Budmayr's arm were healthy), or if this game were in November, it might have hung 70 or 80 on UNLV. The offense scored touchdowns on seven of its first eight possessions, and the only reason it didn't get eight was because it got the ball in its own territory with only 47 seconds left (that ended up being a field goal). It was 51-3 early in the second half. Yes, it's only UNLV, but the Badgers are probably going to score at least 31 points in every game in the Big Ten. Do you really see any team that's going to outscore them?
4. Being a running back at Iowa is still a catastrophic idea. Iowa tailback Marcus Coker was expected to be the workhorse of the Iowa offense in 2011, so it was jarring to say the least to see him put two fumbles on the turf early in the first quarter of Iowa's opener against Tennessee Tech. In came true freshman Mika'il McCall, who wowed fans with 61 yards on nine carries in the first quarter. For a backfield that's short on experience, that kind of firepower would be crucial over the course of the Big Ten season.
So naturally, McCall suffered a broken ankle on his ninth carry, and he is gone for the year, according to Kirk Ferentz. McCall is just the latest in a series of Iowa runing backs who have been stricken with serious injuries, missed seasons, or other early exits over the last few years, a list that includes former starters Jewel Hampton (ACLs, transfer), Adam Robinson (concussions, dismissal), Brandon Wegher (personal issues, transfer), Paki O'Meara (concussions), and even in a sense Shonn Greene (academics, early NFL entry). Former starting fullback Brad Rogers is also sidelined with a heart issue, although he's still working to rejoin the Hawkeyes at some point. It's a legacy of disaster that some have semi-jokingly blamed on the "Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God." The evidence seems to be overwhelmingly in the favor of such a god existing. At any rate, here's hoping McCall recovers well from his broken ankle and the Big Ten sees him again in 2012.
Tags: Adam Jacobi, Adam Robinson, AIRBHG, Akron, Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, Big Ten, Brad Rogers, Brandon Wegher, Denard Robinson, Gabe Carimi, Iowa, James White, Jewel Hampton, Jim Tressel, Jon Budmayr, Luke Fickell, MAC, Marcus Coker, Michigan, Mika'il McCall, Montee Ball, Mountain West, Non-BCS, Ohio State, Paki O'Meara, Russell Wilson, Shonn Greene, Taylor Martinez, Tennessee Tech, Tennessee Tech, Terrelle Pryor, UNLV, Week 1, Western Michigan, What I Learned, Wisconsin
Posted on: September 3, 2011 5:42 pm
Edited on: September 3, 2011 6:35 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
In early Saturday action, lightning strikes forced a prolonged delay in Iowa's game against Tennessee Tech. That game ended up being delayed for about an hour and a half as the inclement weather passed through before Iowa finished its 34-7 victory.
The state of Iowa's not the only place with stormy weather in the Midwest today, and separate storms are forcing delays at two other storied stadiums. At approximately 5:20 ET, lightning forced a delay in South Bend as Notre Dame and South Florida were at halftime. South Florida led that game 16-0 at the break. A few minutes later, in Ann Arbor, officials suspended the Western Michigan-Michigan game as well, with Michigan ahead 20-7 at the half.
Action resumed at Michigan after the mandated 30 minutes, but that game would be suspended again after less than half an hour, when stronger storms moved into the area, and lightning began striking again. Officially, the Michigan game was re-suspended at 6:19, and it might not resume until well after 7:00.
Meanwhile, Notre Dame continues to be suspended, and that delay may be the longest of the day. At 6:10 local time, Notre Dame RapidReporter Mike Hutton reported that a stronger storm was due to hit the area in 15-30 minutes, and that a determination about the future of the game would be made during the storm. In other words, calling the game for the rest of the day is on the table, though obviously game officials want to avoid that fate at all reasonable costs. The Notre Dame delay should be considered indefinite.
Down in Knoxville, there's bad weather there too; Tennessee was set to face Montana at 7:07 eastern (6:07 local), but as of 6:24, there were storms with high winds and lightning in the area, and Neyland is currently under evacuation. There's no determination yet as to when that game will start, but "on time" is not an option here.
NCAA rules mandate that such suspensions last for half an hour after the last observed lightning strike in the area, so the time of a delay can rack up pretty quickly if the storms aren't moving fast or if multiple cells hit the area within a half-hour of each other.
All in all, that's four weather delays in four different states -- two of which (Iowa, Tennessee) don't even touch any of the other three states. Also, none of the delays are related to Tropical Storm Lee, which is making landfall in Louisiana today. Quite a day of weather.
Posted on: August 23, 2011 4:05 pm
Edited on: August 23, 2011 4:09 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
The voice of football fans in the state of Iowa has been heard, and as a result, the new Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Trophy (seen at right) is no more. Four days after the trophy's unveiling -- to nearly universal derision -- officials from the University of Iowa, Iowa State University, and Iowa Corn held a press conference on Tuesday to announce that the trophy will not be used for the Iowa-ISU game on September 10 or any games thereafter.
The officials announced that future ideas for the trophy would be solicited from the public, and that the public would be part of the selection process as well. That's obviously a lengthy process -- not one that can be expected to be fully implemented in the 18 days between today's press conference and the September 10 game. At the same time, fans don't want the trophy on the sidelines even once, and this current trophy is clearly not an option.
The solution: an interim trophy, to be used once in next month's game while the permanent trophy is being made. Yes, an interim rivalry trophy. This is what college football has come to, we suppose.
As for the design of the new permanent trophy, we'll reiterate our support for a giant, half-open ear of corn where it's a football on the inside of a husk. Footballs pretending to be food are always entertaining. It's scientific fact.
Posted on: August 19, 2011 3:31 pm
Edited on: August 19, 2011 3:42 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
The Iowa-Iowa State rivalry is not one of college football's greatest. Despite being intrastate rivals, the two teams have met on the gridiron just 55 times, including a scant 36 games in the last 90 years. Still, the rivalry's been going strong with annual games since the late '70s, and despite rarely having national significance, it's a point of great pride and contention in the state of Iowa.
The one thing the rivalry didn't have was a cool trophy; here's a look at the previous iteration, called the Cy-Hawk Trophy. Not that great. Little artistic merit. It doesn't show, it tells. It looks like a reclamation project from a high school shop class.
So wisely, the trophy was shelved permanently during the offseason when the sponsor was ceded from grocery chain Hy-Vee to the Iowa Corn lobby. On Friday, the new trophy commissioned by Iowa Corn was unveiled, and via Hawkeye Nation, it's... oh no.
Yes, that's a guy with a basket of corn that he's showing to his wife and two kids. It's a corn farmer and his family. And their corn. That's the football trophy. This is a literal thing that is happening.
I would say that this is the inherent danger of letting a local agriculture lobby have free reign to brand a football game -- the whole "look at how wonderful and wholesome we are" schtick -- but that's hardly an industry-wide problem. Aside from Iowa and corn, the only other state with an identity so closely tied to a local farm product is Idaho and potatoes, and look at what unfettered genius the Idaho Potato Bowl brought to the proverbial table last month:
That is not only a baked potato football, it is a baked potato football decorated with sour cream and chives! And lest you think that kind of brilliance can't make its way to the confluence of corn and football, as one Iowa writer's wife pointed out, why not have the football peeled open at the top with a corn cob under it? That would be thousands of times better than holding up a trophy of a family and their basket of corn (which, frankly, is less than you can grow in a typical Iowan front yard). Footballs need to be made of food more often! This is a perfect opportunity and they just blew it! Argh argh argh argh argh
Between the Legends, Leaders, Heroes Game, and now the Iowa Corn Trophy, it seems an awful lot like the Big Ten is distancing itself from what football is all about -- namely football players, football teams, and the football itself. Let's see a little more of that and a lot less of this effort to turn the conference into a bad Norman Rockwell painting.
Posted on: August 17, 2011 4:50 pm
Edited on: August 17, 2011 5:38 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Despite the best efforts of the Worst ... Offseason ... Ever, it appears the 2011 college football season really is on the verge of getting underway. Your latest evidence? The Sports Illustrated season preview is on its way to newsstands, featuring five regional covers that look something like this:
That's the South Carolina/Alshon Jeffery version, but also available will be covers featuring (left to right), Stanford's Andrew Luck, Alabama's Trent Richardson, Nebraska's Jared Crick and Oklahoma's Landry Jones.
Much of the initial Internet reaction has focused on Jeffery looking, ahem, not quite as svelte as Gamecock fans might like, but the much bigger issue (no pun intended) is that Jeffery's on the cover at all. SI has been producing their multi-pronged regional covers since 2005, and in those six years the fortunes of the teams that have appeared there have been up-and-down, to put it politely. You might even say that these regional covers seem to be ... you know ... cursed.
But don't just take my word for it. Here's the year-by-year breakdown, with a tally of how many teams finished their cover season happy with how it played out:
2010: Boy, did SI pick the wrong year to spotlight defense in its preview coverage; Auburn and Oregon faced off for the national championship with the two most statistically generous defenses in BCS title game history. SI didn't do so hot picking out the right teams to feature, either; Alabama finished fourth in their own division, Boise State saw its most talented team yet finish the year in the Las Vegas Bowl, and Texas, of course, collapsed in a 5-7 heap. We'll be generous and give SI the benefit of the doubt on Ohio State, thanks to the Buckeyes' Sugar Bowl victory. Happy tally: 1 of 4
2009: This year, SI picked out four "party crashers" who would "shake up the BCS." Oops: this was the season the Longhorns and the SEC champion (be it Alabama or No. 1 Florida) seemed destined for their eventual title tilt by the end of September. Double oops: of the four teams picked, only Pac-10 champion Oregon earned a BCS berth at all. Ole Miss and Oklahoma State met in the Cotton Bowl after losing a combined seven games and finishing outside the top 20; Penn State finished a distant third in the Big Ten, having been blown out by both Iowa and the Buckeyes. Happy tally: 1 of 4
2008: SI did have the good sense to spend their final cover of five on Tim Tebow's Gators, the eventual national champions. But three of their other four were duds: preseason No. 1 Georgia lost three games, including routs at the hands of the Tide and Gators; Missouri plummeted from No. 3 to No. 25 after losing three in the regular season and getting drilled by 41 in the Big 12 championship game; and Ohio State was blasted out of the national title race via a 35-3 beatdown from USC, then lost the Big Ten title at home to the Nittany Lions. The Trojans' 12-1 Rose Bowl season wasn't half-bad, though. Happy tally: 2 of 5
2007: We're not sure curse evidence gets more compelling than SI putting Michigan's Mike Hart on one of its covers, then having the Wolverines lose to Appalachian State right out of the gate. But there's still USC losing to Stanford as a 41-point favorite, five-loss Arkansas finishing the season unranked (and with Houston Nutt fired), and Oklahoma laying a pair of colossal eggs against Colorado and West Virginia. In fact, it's only that Fiesta Bowl victory over the Sooners that keeps the Mountaineers -- themselves one stunning loss to Pitt away from the national title game -- out of the unhappy tally themselves. Happy tally: 1 of 5
2006: No less than six regional covers this season. Among the good calls, LSU finished their season with a dominant Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame and Ohio State rolled to a national title game berth. But the Irish never looked like living up to their preseason No. 2 billing, both Texas and USC blew shots at the BCS championship with inexplicable late-season losses, and though 11-2 wasn't a bad year for West Virginia, a pivotal upset at USF and the Gator Bowl wasn't what they had in mind, either. Since we're nice people, though, we'll give WVU half-credit and USC half-credit after their Rose Bowl spanking of Michigan. Happy tally: 3 of 6
2005: The first year of the regional plan was the best one for SI, as Vince Young and Reggie Bush both lived up to that "unstoppable" tagline on their way to the BCS championship game. Florida's Chris Leak, though, not so much; the Gators limped to third in the SEC East in their first year under Urban Meyer. Happy tally: 2 of 3
FINAL VERDICT: Only 10 teams out of the 27 spotlighted by SI's regional covers went on to have satisfying seasons--meaning a whopping 63 percent finished their cover year disappointed. And it's even worse in recent seasons, since half the happy teams came in the first two years of the regional approach. Since then, the ratio of successful-to-unsuccessful campaigns is just 5-to-13. Only twice in these six years have one of those 27 teams -- 2005 Texas and 2008 Florida -- gone on to win the national title.
There's only one word to accurately sum up those kind of results: cursed. Cardinal? Gamecocks? Sooners? Huskers? Tide? Consider yourselves warned.
Tags: Alabama, Alshon Jeffery, Andrew Luck, Appalachian State, Arkansas, Auburn, Boise State, Chris Leak, Colorado, curses, Fiesta Bowl, Florida, Gator Bowl, Georgia, Houston Nutt, Iowa, Jared Crick, Jerry Hinnen, Landry Jones, Las Vegas Bowl, Michigan, Mike Hart, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Oregon, Pac-10, Penn State, Reggie Bush, Rose Bowl, South Carolina, Stanford, Sugar Bowl, Texas, Tim Tebow, Trent Richardson, Urban Meyer, USC, USF, Vince Young, West Virginia
Posted on: August 12, 2011 3:54 pm
Edited on: August 12, 2011 4:57 pm
Kirk Cousins, Senior, Michigan State
For as many high-level quarterbacks as there are in the Big Ten, it looks as if the stars have aligned the best for Kirk Cousins this year. Cousins returns his stable of running backs, two of his top three wideouts (and experienced senior backups at the third receiver and starting tight end), and his same offense from 2010. Cousins also didn't suffer a catastrophic injury last year. Oh, and Cousins is a very, very good passer. There isn't another quarterback in the conference that can make all of those claims, so while the MSU schedule is just brutal this year, if any losses occur, it's unlikely that a healthy Cousins will be to blame for any of them.
Also watch for: Even without Terrelle Pryor lining up under center, this is a loaded position in the conference. Denard Robinson and Dan Persa can also make legitimate claims as the top quarterback in the conference, and Wisconsin newcomer Russell Wilson might get there by the end of the year. This is a conference where Nathan Scheelhaase and Taylor Martinez are competing to even be mentioned in the top five quarterbacks. Big Ten secondaries, beware.
Edwin Baker, Junior, Michigan State
In a Spartan backfield loaded with depth, Baker is the best of the bunch, rushing for over 1,200 yards and 13 TDs in his sophomore campaign. Baker is a low, powerful rusher with some of the best instincts in the conference, and he’ll be counted on to produce even more -- provided he can keep his talented teammates from stealing even more carries in 2011.
Montee Ball, Junior, Wisconsin
Ball gets the nod here just for being a year ahead of his teammate listed below, but the truth is both are going to be major weapons for the Badgers this year. Ball was a hair away from hitting 1,000 yards rushing last year, but his nose for the end zone is impeccable; he scored 18 rushing touchdowns last year, which is even more ridiculous considering half-man, half-truck John Clay was also a Badger last year and scored 14 TDs of his own. 20 touchdowns is totally in play for Ball this year.
Also watch for: All the true sophomores. There's a lot of them. First of all, both Baker and Bell have superlatively talented teammates in their backfields; Ball's partner in crime is reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White, who racked up 1,057 yards and 14 touchdowns as a true freshman. Meanwhile, the Spartans have true sophomore big back Le'Veon Bell, who rushed for 605 yards at 5.7 yards a carry last year. Iowa boasted its own a true freshman breakout star in Marcus Coker, who scorched Missouri for 219 yards and two scores in the Insight Bowl. Penn State's starting tailback Silas Redd was also a true freshman in 2010, looking impressive as he tallied 437 yards (5.7 yards per carry) in relief of since-departed Evan Royster. Ohio State has a trio of workhorses in its backfield in Rod Smith, Jaamal Berry (8.3 ypc as, yep, a true freshman in 2010), and suspended starter Boom Herron. Meanwhile, junior Rex Burkhead (Nebraska) and senior Jason Ford (Illinois) have been significant contributors in the backfield for years, and both have opportunities to put forward a big year.
Derek Moye, Senior, Penn State
Penn State may not have its quarterback situation shored up just yet, but one thing for sure is that whoever steps forward will have the conference's best target to aim at. Moye is 6'5" and fast, and he led the Nittany Lions' receiving corps with 53 catches, 885 yards, and eight TDs -- all team highs last year. Ostensibly, both Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin (PSU's dueling QBs) have an even better rapport with Moye than they did last year, so don't be surprised to see all three of Moye's stats rise in his senior campaign.
Marvin McNutt, Senior, Iowa
McNutt first came onto the scene in 2009, when he was listed ahead of returning starter (and future Iowa record-holder in career receptions and receiving yards) Derrell Johnson-Koulianos on Iowa's depth chart coming out of camp. McNutt and Johnson-Koulianos eventually played their way into starting roles alongside each other, but the more surprising aspect was that McNutt -- recruited as a quarterback out of high school, and the Hawkeyes' 3rd stringer under center the year prior -- could work his way into the starting lineup that easily. McNutt quickly emerged as the surest catcher on the team, and his big play ability has put the Hawkeyes' career touchdown reception record in dire jeopardy (he needs just five scores to match Tim Dwight and Danan Hughes at 21).
Also watch for: Jeremy Ebert of Northwestern has a record of production that's as good as just about anybody else in the conference, and his familiarity with Dan Persa is going to be key as Persa continues to work his way back from a torn Achilles tendon. Ohio State wideout DeVier Posey was a favorite target -- by a pretty wide margin -- of Terrelle Pryor, and it's hardly a stretch to think that whoever OSU's new QB might be will depend on Posey often (once Posey comes back from suspension, anyway). 6'5" Indiana WR Damarlo Belcher would probably be in the NFL today if he had held onto a game-winning 4th down pass against Iowa last season. He didn't, the Hawkeyes won, new Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson convinced Belcher to stay, and here we are. Keshawn Martin and BJ Cunningham should both put up big numbers for Kirk Cousins at MSU.
Drake Dunsmore, Senior, Northwestern
From a purist's standpoint, Dunsmore is not technically a tight end; he's classified by Northwestern as a "superback," which means he can be found all over the place in the Wildcats' different offensive sets. He fits the same role that a tight end usually does, however, mixing a healthy amount of both blocking and receiving. Think of Dunsmore as Northwestern's Frank Wycheck. Also, think of him as Dan Persa's safety valve, being the second-leading receiver returning to the Wildcats and by far the leader among Big Ten tight ends with 40 receptions in 2010.
Also watch for: If Dunsmore's role as "superback" is too much of a departure from tight end for comfort, Nebraska TE Kyler Reed could easily take Dunsmore's place on this list. Reed's athleticism makes him one of the toughest tight ends to cover in the league, and at 18 yards per reception in 2010, he's proven the ability to move chains as well as any end in the conference. His eight touchdowns (tops among Big Ten TEs) don't hurt either.
Center Mike Brewster, Senior, Ohio State
Forget the Big Ten, Mike Brewster might well be the best center in the nation. In a position that usually attracts shorter linemen, Brewster stands tall at 6'5" 305 and still boasts elite technique. The four-year starter has become something of a folk hero in Columbus, and for good reason: he's probably going to be an All-Pro at the next level.
Guard Kevin Zeitler, Senior, Wisconsin
Now that First Team All-Americans Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt are gone to the NFL, the Wisconsin offensive line needs a new anchor, and Zeitler likely fits that bill. Zeitler is the most experienced offensive lineman on the Badgers, with 22 starts to his name, and his senior season should be his best.
Guard Joel Foreman, Senior, Michigan State
Foreman worked his way into the starting lineup early in his redshirt freshman season, and never relinquished the role. 36 starts later, he's the premier guard in the Big Ten, and his ability to get to the second level has been critical to Michigan State's considerable success rushing the ball. Foreman's pass protection skills are also stellar; it's no accident that Kirk Cousins has flourished as a passer over the last few years.
Tackle Mike Adams, Senior, Ohio State
Mike Adams shouldn't be on this list. He should be in the NFL, because he likely would have been a first-round pick last year. His role in the tattoo scandal and subsequent NCAA investigation led Jim Tressel to demand Adams return for his suspension-shortened senior season, and here we are. With the aforementioned Carimi off in the NFL, Adams takes over the mantle as the best tackle in college football, and his return to the Buckeyes' lineup after his five-game suspension is going to be a major factor in the Buckeyes' fight to stay atop the conference.
Tackle Riley Reiff, Junior, Iowa
As Iowa's left tackle, there's no denying Reiff has big shoes to fill; his recent predecessors include former All-Americans (and first-round NFL draft picks) Robert Gallery and Bryan Bulaga. Reiff could soon fit that bill himself; he's a big, mean masher who excels in downfield blocking and at the point of attack. Reiff's pass protection isn't as impressive quite yet, but he's still got two seasons left at Iowa to take that next step. He may not need two before the NFL comes calling.
Also watch for: Michigan center David Molk would probably be first-team in just about any other conference, but with Brewster manning the role for OSU, Molk is relegated to second-team status here. RT J.B. Shugarts is a third senior starter on the line for the Buckeyes, and if his foot injury is healed, he'll likely have a big year. Wisconsin RT Josh Oglesby is back from an injury that robbed him of all but two games in 2010, and he could easily play his way into all-conference consideration.
DE Cameron Meredith, Junior, Nebraska
In Meredith’s first year starting in 2010, he racked up 10 quarterback hurries and 6.5 TFLs. That would be disconcerting enough by itself, but with the bevy of talent in the front seven, most of the help blocking will have to be devoted to other defenders -- meaning Meredith will likely be on an island with his opposing tackles, terrorizing them and opposing quarterbacks all season long. Look for his sack numbers to go way up in 2011.
DE Vince Browne, Senior, Northwestern
One of the most underappreciated players in the Big Ten is probably Vince Browne, who registered seven sacks and 15.5 TFL in relative obscurity last year. The spotlight's on Browne now as a consensus preseason first-team all-Big Ten player, and his production continues to improve, he'll quickly make Wildcats fans forget about former all-conference DE Corey Wootton.
DT Jared Crick, Senior, Nebraska
It's slightly unfair to Crick (pictured above right) that he shared a defensive front with former Heisman candidate DT Ndamukong Suh, because it only invites comparisons between the two rather than letting Crick define his own legacy at Nebraska. On the other hand, earning comparisons to Suh is fantastic news for Nebraska, because it means Crick's incredible. Crick is a likely All-American at DT, with 32 TFLs to his name over the last two seasons and the potential to pass 20 TFLs this year. He's big, strong, and disruptive, which probably means instant double-teams on the majority of snaps in 2011. That still might not be enough to slow Crick down.
DT Mike Martin, Senior, Michigan
Last year, Mike Martin faced the same challenge that former teammate Brandon Graham did in 2009: being the best defensive lineman on a truly terrible defense. At the very least, Martin gets another crack at helping the Wolverines turn their defense around, and with the arrival of Greg Mattison as defensive coordinator, that looks to be a real possibility. Martin wasn't at 100% very often last year, but he's healthy right now, and that plus the move back to a 4-3 lineup (with space eater William Campbell next to him at NT) should be enough to propel Martin and the Wolverines DL to a much-improved season.
Also watch for: Jerel Worthy is a monster on the interior for Michigan State and may supplant Martin as a first-team DT by season's end; Worthy's production needs to improve, though. Iowa DT Mike Daniels is in his second year of starting, and the aggressive senior showed flashes of potential last season. He's going from the "fifth starter" in 2010 to the leader of the retooling Iowa defensive line. Ohio State DE Nathan Williams is in his second year starting for the Buckeyes, and he's expected to put together a solid senior year.
Michael Mauti, Junior, Penn State
When healthy, Mauti is one of the most fearsome linebackers in the Big Ten. It's that health that poses a bit of an issue. Mauti missed all of 2009 with an ACL injury, then struggled through various maladies last season -- including a shoulder injury suffered against Ohio State. Sheer probability suggests Mauti will have better luck with injuries this year, and he's manning the inside linebacker spot in a defense that puts the ILB in the best position to make plays. Tackles will be plentiful for the talented junior this year.
Lavonte David, Senior, Nebraska
It's bad enough for Nebraska's opposing offensive linemen that they have to deal with Jared Crick and Baker Steinkuhler at defensive tackle at the same time. It's worse that behind them lurks All-American candidate MLB Lavonte David. With needing three blockers to engage Crick and Steinkuhler a near-certainty, Davis will be free to get to the edges and and hit the point of attack, both things the speedy linebacker can do extremely well. Look for unholy amounts of production from David in 2011.
Chris Borland, Sophomore, Wisconsin
Wisconsin's defense wasn't spectacular last year, but with an offense scoring over 30 points in all but one Big Ten game, it didn't need to be. That defense is getting a major boost this year as 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Borland returns after taking a medical redshirt last season. Borland is strong and aggressive, and he represents a significant step up from departing MLB Culmer St. Jean. It wasn't exactly easy to run on Wisconsin last year, but it'll be legitimately tough now.
Also watch for: Andrew Sweat takes over as the leader of Ohio State's defense now, and the rangy OLB is poised for a big year. Iowa MLB James Morris stepped in as a 215-pound true freshman last year, and now that he's bigger, he may never leave the starting lineup; Iowa coaches are especially high on him. Senior Nate Stupar is versatile and productive, and he'll help bolster the Penn State linebacking corps in a big way.
Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Senior, NebraskaWith former teammate and All-American CB Prince Amukamara off to the NFL, it's Dennard's time to shine as Nebraska's lockdown cornerback. He showed all the necessary potential last year as opposing quarterbacks threw for under 50% all season long (tops among BCS teams), and while the loss of Amukamara might push opposing passer ratings up a bit, throwing at Dennard is still going to be a terrible, terrible idea.
Cornerback Shaun Prater, Senior, Iowa
Prater's interceptions are about to drop precipitously. Not because the returning All-Big Ten cornerback is about to get any worse, but with his accolades and the uncertainty in the rest of the Iowa secondary, there isn't going to be a whole lot of sense in testing Prater anymore.
Safety Aaron Henry, Senior, Wisconsin
Henry, a cornerback for the Badgers until 2010, made a successful transition to safety by registering 58 tackles, seven PBUs, and a pair of interceptions last year. With a year of experience at free safety under his belt and a wealth of athleticism to boot, Henry should be even better in 2011.
Safety Trenton Robinson, Senior, Michigan State
It's hard to argue with results, so it's hard to argue with Trenton Robinson's eight passes broken up and four interceptions; only Northwestern cornerback Jordan Mabin had more passes defended last season, with 14 PBUs and a pick. Robinson is also the leading tackler among returning MSU starters, so look for a big senior year in center field for him.
Also watch for: Iowa CB-turned-safety Micah Hyde might have a case for being on this list after scoring two touchdowns off interceptions last year, but he’ll need to produce at his new position for Iowa before any accolades come his way. True sophomore cornerback Ricardo Allen is a rising star in Purdue’s secondary after two defensive scores of his own; he’ll be getting All-American consideration before his career’s over. Also, as mentioned before, Jordan Mabin led the conference in passes broken up by a pretty substantial margin. That's worth something.
Derek Dimke, Senior, Illinois
Dimke is the returning first-team All-Big Ten kicker, and for good reason; the Lou Groza watch list member was 24-29 on field goals last year, and he's got one of the strongest legs in the conference. Look for another all-conference performance this year.
Brad Nortman, Senior, Wisconsin
Not only is Nortman one of the best (if not often-used) punters in the conference, he also led the Big Ten in rushing average after gaining 17 yards on a fake punt in Wisconsin's 31-30 win over Iowa last year. Sadly, Nortman's one rushing attempt did not qualify him for the official league crown. With the top three punters in the 2010 Big Ten all graduating, Nortman has an opportunity to step up and put together a big senior year.
Tags: Aaron Henry, Adam Jacobi, Alfonzo Dennard, All-Big Ten Team, Andrew Sweat, Baker Steinkuhler, Big Ten, BJ Cunningham, Boom Herron, Brad Nortman., Brandon Graham, Bryan Bulaga, Cameron Meredith, Chris Borland, Corey Wootton, Culmer St. Jean, Damarlo Belcher, Dan Persa, Danan Hughes, David Molk, Denard Robinson, Derek Dimke, Derek Moye, Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, DeVier Posey, DJK, Drake Dunsmore, Edwin Baker, Evan Royster, Frank Wycheck, Gabe Carimi, Illinois, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Jaamal Berry, James Morris, James White, Jared Crick, Jason Ford, JB Shugarts, Jerel Worthy, Jeremy Ebert, Joe Foreman, John Clay, John Moffitt, Jordan Mabin, Josh Oglesby, Keshawn Martin, Kevin Zeitler, Kirk Cousins, Kyler Reed, Lavonte David, Le'Veon Bell, Marcus Coker, Marvin McNutt, Matt McGloin, Micah Hyde, Michael Mauti, Michigan, Michigan State, Mike Adams, Mike Brewster, Mike Daniels, Mike Martin, Montee Ball, Nate Stupar, Nathan Scheelhaase, Nathan Williams, Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Prince Amukamara, Purdue, Rex Burkhead, Ricardo Allen, Riley Reiff, Rob Bolden, Robert Gallery, Rod Smith, Russell Wilson, Shaun Prater, Silas Redd, Taylor Martinez, Terrelle Pryor, Terrelle Pryor, Tim Dwight, Trenton Robinson, Vince Browne, William Campbell, Wisconsin