Posted on: March 2, 2012 11:58 am
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Nebraska.
Spring Practice Starts: Sunday, March 4
Spring Game: Saturday, April 14
Returning Starters: Seven on offense, seven on defense, both specialists.
Three Things To Watch For:
1. Finding replacements on defense. The Cornhuskers may have seven starters returning on the defensive side of the ball, but there are also four pretty big departures that need to be replaced. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, linebacker Lavonte David and defensive tackle Jared Crick are all gone. That's one key player on each level of the defense and none will be easy to replace. Though having Cameron Meredith on the defensive line will make the loss of Crick easier to absorb. That being said, Dennard and David were two of the best defenders in the Big Ten last season. It's not easy to just plug in new playmakers of that caliber, and as if the job wasn't hard enough, Nebraska will also be breaking in a new defensive coordinator this season. John Papuchis was promoted to defensive coordinator after Carl Pelini left to take the head coaching job at Florida Atlantic.
2. Rediscovering the T-Magic. Taylor Martinez's first two seasons as Nebraska's quarterback have been a bit of a roller coaster. He was able to stay healthy last year, but he also completed only 56% of his passes, which was actually lower than the 59% he completed as a freshman. Martinez's yards per attempt went down over a full yard as well. Some of this was likely due to it being Martinez's first year in Tim Beck's system, and Nebraska is hoping Martinez will improve in his second season under Beck. In fact, if Nebraska wants to make a serious run at a Big Ten championship in 2011, they'll need him to. So it's important for Martinez to have a strong spring and make sure that the Cornhuskers head into the summer with a clear cut leader at the quarterback position.
3. Giving Burkhead a breather. Rex Burkhead had a great season for Nebraska in 2011, rushing for 1,357 yards and 15 touchdowns en route to making the All-Conference team. While there's no reason to believe Burkhead won't have another solid season in 2012, Nebraska would be better served to find a bit more depth at running back to keep Burkhead fresh. In Nebraska's first 8 games, Burkhead averaged 110.25 yards per game, but that number dropped to 95 yards per game over Nebraska's final five contests. The Huskers went 2-3 in those games. So if backs like Ameer Abdullah and Aaron Green can show that they're capable of taking some carries this spring, it could go a long way in the fall.
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Posted on: December 6, 2011 12:08 pm
Edited on: December 6, 2011 12:35 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
On Tuesday the AFCA (American Football Coaches Association) released it's 2011 All-America Team. Which means that these are the best players in the country as chosen by the men who coach for and against them every week. There are five members on this team from Alabama, which is the second most players ever selected from one school in any given season. The most belongs to the 2003 Oklahoma Sooners who had six members on the team.
QB - Andrew Luck, Stanford
RB - Trent Richardson, Alabama
RB - Montee Ball, Wisconsin
WR - Justin Blackmon, Oklahoma State
WR - Jordan White, Western Michigan
TE - Orson Charles, Georgia
OL - Kevin Zeitler, Wisconsin
OL - Barrett Jones, Alabama
C - Peter Konz, Wisconsin
OL - David DeCastro, Stanford
OL - Levy Adcock, Oklahoma State
DL - Jerel Worthy, Michigan State
DL - Alex Okafor, Texas
DL - Whitney Mercilus, Illinois
DL - Melvin Ingram, South Carolina
LB - Dont'a Hightower, Alabama
LB - Jarvis Jones, Georgia
LB - Lavonte David, Nebraska
DB - Mark Barron, Alabama
DB - Morris Claiborne, LSU
DB - Markelle Martin, Oklahoma State
DB - DeQuan Menzie, Alabama
PK - Randy Bullock, Texas A&M
P - Shawn Powell, Florida State
AP - LaMichael James, Oregon
Justin Blackmon and LaMichael James are the only players on the team who were selected last season.
As for potential snubs, I'm not going to make too big a deal out of any one position because every year there are a lot of players who deserve the honor that don't make the cut. Though I will point out how Robert Griffin didn't make the team, and many are predicting he's going to win the Heisman Trophy. Then there's Tyrann Mathieu who is another Heisman finalist, yet he didn't make the team while his secondary teammate Morris Claiborne did.
I also have to point out that Brad Wing should be the punter on every postseason team this year, I don't care that he's only a freshman.
Tags: AFCA All America Team, Alabama, Alex Okafor, Andrew Luck, Awards, Barrett Jones, Brad Wing, David DeCastro, DeQuan Menzie, Dont'a Hightower, Florida State, Georgia, Illinois, Jarvis Jones, Jerel Worthy, Jordan White, Justin Blackmon, Kevin Zeitler, LaMichael James, Lavonte David, Levy Adcock, LSU, Mark Barron, Markelle Martin, Melvin Ingram, Michigan State, Montee Ball, Morris Claiborne, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Oregon, Orson Charles, Peter Konz, Randy Bullock, Robert Griffin, Shawn Powell, South Carolina, Stanford, Texas, Texas A&M, Tom Fornelli, Trent Richardson, Tyrann Mathieu, Western Michigan, Whitney Mercilus, Wisconsin
Posted on: November 29, 2011 3:58 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 4:24 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
On Monday evening, the Big Ten announced its full slate of conference award winners -- the first such slate since the Big Ten added the trophies in addition to expanding to 12 teams and two divisions.
Here's a breakdown of all the trophies handed out by the Big Ten:
Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: Russell Wilson, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Wilson's resume this year is undeniably brilliant, and he's going to be in line for some national postseason recognition after finishing first nationally in passer efficiency. Kirk Cousins, meanwhile, shouldered one of the conference's worst rushing attacks and still finished third in the Big Ten in efficiency and emerged as a solid ambassador for the program, conference, and sport. From a strictly on-field standpoint, Wilson deserves this award to himself, but the Big Ten named its divisions "Legends" and "Leaders"; surely it won't turn around and say its trophies should be restricted to strict on-field accomplishments, will it? All of which is to say, I'd rather the conference had thrown Cousins a bone and split this award between Wilson and him. Wilson would have been an even bigger snub than Cousins, but they're both highly deserving of recognition.
Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year: Marvin McNutt, Iowa
ADAM SAYS: McNutt basically rewrote Iowa's receiving record books, and he looked at times like the best player on either side of the ball for the Hawkeyes this year. That he was left off the list of 10 Biletnikoff finalists is a joke. Illinois' A.J. Jenkins was a strong contender here, but his inability to get into the end zone even once during the Illini's six-game slump seals his fate as an also-ran.
Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
ADAM SAYS: Rex Burkhead, Marcus Coker, and Silas Redd all had admirable efforts this year, but c'mon. Could this trophy possibly go to anybody else? With 1,622 rushing yards (1,870 total from scrimmage) and 34 total touchdowns, Ball is third on my list of 2011 Heisman candidates and far and away the best running back in the Big Ten this year.
Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year: Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern
ADAM SAYS: 43 catches for 509 yards and six touchdowns is a great year for a tight end (or superback, as it would be), and to do so in a season with three different quarterbacks seeing significant action is an even better accomplishment. Dunsmore was one of the three or four best TE in the nation this year and a deserving winner of the Kwalick-Clark Trophy.
Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: David Molk, Michigan
ADAM SAYS: If this award were given to entire offensive lines (which I would not mind), it would have to go to Wisconsin. At any rate, though, coming into the season, Ohio State's All-American Mike Brewster was the highest-profile center in the conference. It was Molk, however, who showed the most leadership and mashery over the course of the season. Hopefully, this award translates into All-American attention for Molk; he deserves it for the job Michigan did pushing the line of scrimmage forward on offense this year.
Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Devon Still, Penn State
ADAM SAYS: Illinois' terror at DE, Whitney Mercilus, would be the strongest contender for this award if Illinois hadn't collapsed down the stretch, but even that collapse is hardly on the aptly-named Mercilus; he led the nation in sacks and forced fumbles on the year (if Tyrann Mathieu is the honey badger for his six forced fumbles, what does that make Mercilus with nine? Galactus?). Devon Still was an absolute beast for Penn State, though, and his presence affected opposing game plans all season long. A split between Still and Mercilus would have been ideal.
Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Lavonte David, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Lavonte David's been even better than I thought he'd be this year, and he was my top preseason linebacker in the conference. No-doubter here. Look for Wisconsin's Chris Borland to be the leading candidate for this award next year; the former Big Ten defensive freshman of the year was strong in his return from a torn ACL this season, and he's got two more years of eligibility.
Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Alfonzo Dennard, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Purdue CB Ricardo Allen is the only guy who could make a decent case for being snubbed here, but Dennard turned this defense into an absolute nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. He deserves this award.
Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: The fact that Maher was snubbed for Lou Groza consideration despite missing zero kicks from 50 yards and in this year is an absolute travesty the likes of which we haven't seen since... well, last year, when Nebraska kicker Alex Henery was also snubbed from Groza finalist consideration despite being pretty obviously the best kicker in college football. Maher's bona fides aren't as strong as Henery's, but he's still the best kicker in the Big Ten and should have been named a Groza finalist all the same.
Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Brett Maher, Nebraska
ADAM SAYS: Oh, stop showing off, Nebraska.
Tags: A.J. Jenkins, Adam Jacobi, Alex Henery, Alfonzo Dennard, Bakken-Andersen Trophy, Big Ten, Big Ten Trophies, Brett Maher, Butkus-Fitzgerald Trophy, David Molk, Devon Still, Drake Dunsmore, Eddleman-Fields Trophy, Griese-Brees Trophy, Illinois, Iowa, Kirk Cousins, Kwalick-Clark Trophy, Lavonte David, LSU, Marcus Coker, Marvin McNutt, Michigan, Michigan State, Mike Brewster, Montee Ball, Nebraska, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rex Burkhead, Ricardo Allen, Richter-Howard Trophy, Rimington-Pace Trophy, Russell Wilson, Silas Redd, Smith-Brown Trophy, Tatum-Woodson Trophy, Tyrann Mathieu, Whitney Mercilus, Wisconsin
Posted on: October 26, 2011 12:27 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: The rushing game starts living up to its preseason billing. Coming into the season, the general consensus was that Wisconsin had the best stable of running backs, but Michigan State with Edwin Baker, Le'Veon Bell, and Larry Caper was a close second. Well, we're halfway into the season, and guess who's dead last in the Big Ten in rushing offense? Indeed: Sparty, at a paltry 138 yards a pop. Nebraska's defensive line is still reeling from the loss of Jared Crick, but it's generally good enough to keep blockers off Lavonte David so the dynamic linebacker can make plays. The challenge to MSU's offensive line is clear: blow open holes and let the running backs do their thing.
NEBRASKA WILL WIN IF: It avoids 3rd and long. Taylor Martinez's passing numbers as a whole aren't horrible this season; he's 67th nationwide in passing efficiency, and his interception rate of 3.93% is downright palatable. Still, Martinez struggles mightily when the opponent knows he needs to throw; he's been chided by announcers for his entire career for his unique mix of poor mechanics and bad read progressions. Getting Nebraska to 3rd and long is much easier said than done, however, with both Martinez and Rex Burkhead so adept at moving the chains on the ground.
X-FACTOR: As opposed to most of the Big Ten's top games of the season, this matchup between No. 9 MSU and No. 13 Nebraska won't exactly be under the lights; the two teams are kicking off at 11:00 a.m. local time. Usually, the early games are reserved for non-conference cupcakes and basement dwellers. Will the two teams be able to put forth their best 60 minutes with such an early kickoff? Or will it be a 17-point game one way or the other halfway through the second quarter with an announcer snarkily wondering whether the losing team left its effort on the bus?
Posted on: October 9, 2011 1:17 am
Posted by Adam Jacobi
NEBRASKA WON. In the biggest comeback in program history, No. 14 Nebraska stormed back from a 27-6 deficit to stun Ohio State, 34-27, in front of a packed Memorial Stadium in Lincoln. The man of the match for the Huskers was oft-maligned QB Taylor Martinez, who overcame a sluggish start to finish with 16/22 passing for 191 yards and two passing touchdowns. Martinez also shined in the ground game, sparking the rally with an 18-yard touchdown and finishing with 102 yards on 17 carries.
WHY NEBRASKA WON: In the second half, Nebraska gave Ohio State a heavy dose of Taylor Martinez and Rex Burkhead, and the Buckeye defense basically caved lated under that relentless rushing attack. Both Martinez and Burkhead finished over 100 yards rushing, and Nebraska outgained OSU 337 yards to 112 in the second half. It's nearly impossible to protect a lead by getting pummeled like that in yardage, and OSU just found that out the hard way this week.
WHEN NEBRASKA WON: In a one-possession game, the win's not secure until there are all zeroes on the clock (or at least the team's in victory formation), but there were really two key plays here that swung the game for Nebraska. The first big play was Lavonte David essentially stealing the ball from Braxton Miller's grasp deep in Buckeye territory when the game was 27-6 midway through the third quarter. Nebraska scored two plays later to get the game within 27-13, and the swing woke up a Husker crowd that had been silent for most of the game.
The second big play happened on Ohio State's next possession, as Miller appeared to twist his ankle while on a rollout. Miller would not return to the game, even after taping his ankle and trying to test it on the sideline, and Joe Bauserman was utterly horrific in relief. Bauerman finished the day 1-10 for 13 yards, and the one long pass he actually kept in the field of play (instead of throwing it into the seats, which happened several times) was intercepted. Nebraska would turn that pick around into the game-winning touchdown drive, and OSU never threatened again.
WHAT NEBRASKA WON: This was an inestimably important victory; Nebraska had looked underwhelming all year long, and when it found itself down three scores to Ohio State, it was easy to wonder if perhaps this wasn't going to be the Huskers' year -- or if Taylor Martinez was even the best option at quarterback. Safe to say, all is well now in Lincoln, at least for the next week or so. At the very least, the season no longer threatens to spiral out of control, and now that the Huskers know they've got a comeback in them, they'll be even tougher for the rest of the Big Ten to handle for 60 minutes at a time.
WHAT OHIO STATE LOST: If Braxton Miller's ankle keeps him out for an extended amount of time, that's awful news for the Buckeyes; Miller was hands-down the better quarterback on Saturday, and Joe Bauserman looked as bad as he's ever been. More than that, though, Ohio State had an opportunity to get its Big Ten season back on track and even keep its division title hopes alive; with this loss pushing the Buckeyes to 0-2 in conference play, that's significantly less likely. There'll need to be some soul-searching on the defensive side of the ball too, as the Buckeye D wilted after Nebraska started to turn things around. That's wildly uncharacteristic for a defense in Columbus, and the OSU coaches will undoubtedly let their players know that.
THAT WAS CRAZY: At the time of Braxton Miller's injury, Ohio State had run 41 plays: 33 rushes and eight passes. It had a 27-13 lead. So with Joe Bauserman coming in cold and a 14-point lead to protect, did OSU stick with a rushing game that was busy netting six yards a carry? No, of course not; Bauserman threw on 10 of his 18 snaps (and was sacked on an 11th), and his interception came on a 2nd and 6 after Carlos Hyde (who finished with 104 yards on only 13 carries) had gained 16 yards on his last two carries. What Bauserman was doing throwing a deep pass in that scenario is baffling.
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.
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