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Tag:Illinois
Posted on: September 5, 2011 7:09 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 7:25 pm
 

An SEC team in Big 10 country is pretty rare

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:

Alabama

at Wisconsin, Nov. 3, 1928, lost 15-0. (Alabama did not join the SEC until 1932)

Arkansas

at Iowa, Oct. 3, 1925, lost 28-0. (Arkansas did not join the SEC until 1991)

Auburn

at Wisconsin, Oct. 10, 1931, tied 7-7.  (Auburn did not join the SEC until 1932)

Florida

at Northwestern, Sep. 18, 1965, won 24-14.

Georgia

at Michigan, Oct. 2, 1965, won 15-7.

Kentucky

at Indiana, Sep. 19, 2005, lost 38-14.

LSU

at Ohio State, Sep. 24, 1988, lost 36-33.

Ole Miss

at Minnesota, Nov. 5, 1932, lost 26-0. (Ole Miss did not join the SEC until 1932)

Mississippi State

at Illinois, Oct. 4, 1980, won 28-21.

South Carolina

at Michigan, Sep. 27, 1980, won 17-4 (South Carolina did not join the SEC until 1991)

Tennessee

Never played at a Big Ten school.

Vanderbilt

at Michigan, Sep. 2, 2006, lost 27-7.



Posted on: August 12, 2011 3:54 pm
Edited on: August 12, 2011 4:57 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big Ten team

Posted by Adam Jacobi

As part of the CBSSports.com season preview, here are one writer's choices for the preseason All-Big Ten team. 

Offense

QUARTERBACK

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.

RUNNING BACK

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.

WIDE RECEIVER

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.  

TIGHT END

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.

OFFENSIVE LINE

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.  

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

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.

LINEBACKER

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.

SECONDARY

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Senior, Nebraska

With 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.

Specialists

KICKER

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.

PUNTER

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.

Posted on: August 12, 2011 3:54 pm
Edited on: August 12, 2011 4:57 pm
 

CBSSports.com Preseason All-Big Ten team

Posted by Adam Jacobi

As part of the CBSSports.com season preview, here are one writer's choices for the preseason All-Big Ten team. 

Offense

QUARTERBACK

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.

RUNNING BACK

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.

WIDE RECEIVER

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.  

TIGHT END

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.

OFFENSIVE LINE

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.  

Defense

DEFENSIVE LINE

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.

LINEBACKER

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.

SECONDARY

Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, Senior, Nebraska

With 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.

Specialists

KICKER

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.

PUNTER

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.

Posted on: August 10, 2011 7:43 pm
 

Who called Indiana the dirtiest team in Big Ten?

Posted by Adam Jacobi

At Big Ten Media Days, one enterprising reporter for AnnArbor.com conducted an informal survey of 10 football players who were present for interviews. The players were anonymous, so as to ensure honesty in the answers. The entire survey is worth reading, and there are some entertaining points -- especially when one unnamed player said of embattled Illinois coach Ron Zook, "I've heard he's just kind of funny, and not in a good way."

One question stuck out, however: the dirtiest team of all the Legends and Leaders.

Which is the dirtiest team in the Big Ten?

Indiana - 3 “I was out that game, but I saw what went on and our guys were saying it was bad out there.” Ohio State - 3 Wisconsin - 1 N/A 3

That's not really great news for Indiana or Ohio State, although the fact that three players didn't think there was a dirty team in the conference means we're probably not dealing with an epidemic of unsportsmanlike conduct on the Big Ten gridirons or anything. Moreover, both OSU and the Hoosiers have new head coaches this year, neither of whom should be asked to answer for accusations of dirty play under coaches past. That wouldn't be fair. However, the reporter might have given up a little too much information with that quote.

Out of the 36 players there, nine were on teams that didn't play Indiana last year, and three more were from Indiana. Of the remaining 24 players, only two -- Iowa LB Tyler Nielsen and Penn State LB Michael Mauti -- were out of action in their games against Indiana. Nielsen had just suffered a broken neck (a relatively mild one, obviously; his spinal cord was fine and he's back atop the depth chart), and Mauti was dealing with an injured shoulder from the previous week's contest against Ohio State.

We're not going to press the respective athletic departments about who said what or demand any more definitive answers than this; the survey was anonymous for a reason, and we'll respect that. However, we would like to hear from Iowa and Penn State fans as to whether the Indiana games last year seemed especially dirty. Did knees get wrenched, eyes gouged, hits enlatened? Help us solve the mystery once and for all.

(For the record, the jersey-pulling depicted above is considered legal.) 

Posted on: August 10, 2011 4:59 pm
Edited on: August 10, 2011 5:05 pm
 

Illinois to hire Mike Thomas as new AD

Posted by Tom Fornelli

On Wednesday afternoon the Illinois athletic department tweeted that it would be making an announcement about its new athletic director. Well, you no longer need to wait for that announcement to find out what it is, as The News-Gazette is reporting that Illinois will be naming Cincinnati athletic director Mike Thomas to replace Ron Guenther in Champaign.

Thomas has been the athletic director at Cincinnati since 2005, and in that time he's seen a marked improvement to the school's football program. At the time Cincinnati was considered a basketball school thanks to the success the men's program had under Bob Huggins, but after Thomas brought in current Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, the football program took off.

When you look at the situation at Illinois right now, it's very similar to what was taking place at Cincinnati at the time of Thomas' hiring. It's a basketball school that has had some success from time to time in football, but nothing sustainable. It could be that Illinois would like to see some improvement in the football program, as it has put money into renovating Memorial Stadium recently.

It may also mean that the seat head coach Ron Zook sits on may be hotter than it already has been for much of his time in Champaign, as Thomas may be on the hunt for his next Brian Kelly.
Posted on: August 4, 2011 3:52 pm
 

Big Ten moving to nine conference games in 2017

Posted by Adam Jacobi

The Big Ten conference season is going to be getting longer in a few years. Jim Delany announced Thursday that in 2017, the Big Ten is moving to a nine-game conference schedule. Yes, that means some teams get five home conference games a year, but fear not: the conference has a plan:

Three teams each from the Legends Division and Leaders Division will feature five conference home games during odd-numbered years, while the other three schools from each division will host five conference contests during even-numbered years. The 2017 schedule will include five conference home outings for Iowa, Michigan State and Nebraska from the Legends Division and Illinois, Indiana and Ohio State from the Leaders Division. The 2018 schedule will feature five Big Ten home games for Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern of the Legends Division and Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin of the Leaders Division. 

The upshot of this is that unless there's a 13th regular season game about to be added (which seems unlikely right now), Big Ten teams are going to be left with three non-conference games to be filled. And being that college football programs still covet home games and bowl bids above all other things, those three non-conference games are probably going to be almost exclusively home dates against cupcakes. Those programs with regular non-conference rivalries (namely Iowa-Iowa State and Michigan-Notre Dame) are going to have to coordinate the schedules so that the road games don't come in years with the extra in-conference road game, otherwise that's only six games at home for the season -- a Big Ten athletic director's worst nightmare.

That all said, nine conference games is still nine conference games, and it's going to make the conference even more fiercely competitive. Say what you will about the Big Ten not being the SEC, but there really aren't that many cupcakes to be found. Between the regular season and the conference title game, whoever the Big Ten champion is will have had to face 10 Big Ten opponents to get there, and at least seven of them will have been teams other than Minnesota, Indiana, or Illinois. That's pretty rough. 

All in all, it's a bold move for the Big Ten. and if there's one thing I would change, it's the distribution of home and away games. While it evens out over time, the division races are going to be unfairly tilted toward the three teams given five home games. Penn State probably can't expect to win many division titles in odd-numbered years when it has five road games and Ohio State's over there with five home games. I'd rather see it alternate between entire divisions (Legends host the protected inter-divisional rivalry game in even-numbered years, Leaders host it in the odds), so at the very least divisional crowns are decided on more equal footing.

Posted on: August 1, 2011 12:38 pm
Edited on: August 1, 2011 12:39 pm
 

Northwestern making its Persa push

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Chicago is somewhat of an odd town as far as college football is concerned. Having lived here just about my entire life, I've noticed that while there are plenty of college football fans, most of them root for schools that aren't in the area. Notre Dame gets a lot of love here, as do Big Ten schools, but the Big Ten schools are places like Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois.

Meanwhile, Northwestern, which is located just a few miles north of the city's borders, doesn't get that much attention. Something the school has tried to change in recent years with Pat Fitzgerald and the school's most recent "Chicago's Big Ten football team" ad campaign. Well it seems that Northwestern is taking another step in trying to get more eyes in Chicago on the local school.

Beginning next week on the city's Kennedy Expressway, millions of Chicagoans stuck in traffic will be staring at a billboard of quarterback Dan Persa as the school makes a Heisman push for him. It's actually one of two billboards the school is putting up, as another is planned to go up in Bristol, Connecticut. Home of a certain network.

Of course, while Persa is a good quarterback and was having a very good season for Northwestern in 2010 before he injured his achilles, I'm not sure Northwestern thinks he can actually win the Heisman barring some type of transcendent season in which the Wildcats wind up in the Rose Bowl again. I have to feel that the Chicago billboard is just another way of the school saying "Hey, Chicago, we're here you know."
Posted on: July 30, 2011 12:08 pm
Edited on: July 30, 2011 12:08 pm
 

Big Ten could play conference games earlier

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Big Ten has always been big on tradition, but now that the league has added a twelfth school in Nebraska and a championship game, the conference seems to be moving in a more "modern" direction. Further changes for the league could be on the horizon, and according to Teddy Greenstein in the Chicago Tribune, one of those changes could be the league holding conference games earlier in the season.

Currently the Big Ten does not begin conference play until after the first four weeks of the season, but there are at least three coaches in the conference who wouldn't be opposed to seeing that change. Wisconsin's Bret Bielema thinks it would be a good move for the conference to schedule one conference game a week for the first four weeks, saying it would be "a great way to showcase those schools."

Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and Illinois' Ron Zook are also in favor of the idea.

While I haven't asked every single one of them, I'd have to think that Big Ten fans might enjoy it too. Considering the beginning of the Big Ten schedule is normally filled with games like Penn State versus Indiana State, any conference game would be more appealing. You have to think that the television networks that broadcast the Big Ten games would be in favor of such a move as well.

It's something that the SEC has been doing for years, and this year the SEC will have two conference games in the second week of the season. In the ACC both Miami and Maryland will start their seasons against each other as well.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com