Tag:Marcus Coker
Posted on: November 7, 2011 12:02 pm
Edited on: November 14, 2011 2:36 pm

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 10

Posted by Bryan Fischer

Well then.

A little over halfway through Saturday's showdown in Tuscaloosa it became clear, this wasn't the game of the century it had been built up to be. While that superlatives will be saved for another big game down the road, what transpired at Bryant-Denny Stadium was something else: the slugfest of the century.

For some, the defense being played was marvelous. Morris Claiborne solidified himself as one of the top corners in the country with an interception and Eric Reid showed what it takes to win a game of this magnitude by wrestling for, and eventually coming down with, a pick near the goal line after the Tide tried a trick play to tight end Michael Williams.

The defense was so good on both sides that the MVP in a losing effort for Alabama had to be the offensive line, which was great at handling the pressure from LSU's front for four quarters - they seemed to fall apart a little in overtime.

LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis, a longtime assistant in the SEC, said after the game that this was "the most physical, hard-fought game he's ever been involved with."

With a fifth of the televisions in use on Saturday tuned to CBS for the game, I was quite surprised at how many lambasted the game afterward. Sure, there was a lack of crossing the goal line and way too many field goals for most people but that was the result of the defenses being so good. Both teams were able to move the ball, the defenses just tightened once they moved closer to the red zone.

As my colleague Tom Fornelli said to me, this game was all about deciding what fans liked college football and what fans just like touchdowns. Some compared it to a great pitchers duel in baseball but that would be unfair. The beauty of playing defense might have been lost by some but the battles in the trenches and in the secondary said Saturday was a masterpiece.

The Crimson Tide finished with 295 yards, the Tigers ended up winning with just 239. Alabama came into the game 23rd in the country in offense at 457 yards/game and had the best running back in the country in Trent Richardson. Despite not moving the ball well on offense, LSU came in 15th in scoring offense. That's just how good both teams were on the side of the ball - defense - that ultimately decided the game.

It would be interesting to see how much Miles' strategy would have changed had Alabama hit just one of their three missed field goals. Would we have seen one of his famous trick plays? I wouldn't exactly say 'The Hat' Les Miles out-coached Nick Saban since both adjusted conservatively but there's no question that Miles made decisions more inline with how the game was going, such as running Jordan Jefferson more than what the game plan likely called for.

Despite all the 'what ifs' that will be dissected over the coming days (and weeks and months and years), we're left with just one fact: LSU was better than Alabama Saturday night. If they were to play again for the BCS championship, what happened between the two teams would invalidate the very crutch - every week is a playoff - BCS supporters use to support their cartel of a system. If we just saw a playoff game, the Tide need to be thinking about a trip to a bowl game and not the title game.

In post game interviews, Miles was inviting of a rematch - perhaps knowing that knocking off Saban and the Tide another time on their way to picking of the crystal football would mean this LSU team could be considered among the greatest to play the game. The players too, were living in the moment and inviting LSU-Alabama II in New Orleans.

"That game should've been on pay-per-view," Tigers defensive end Sam Montgomery said. "I think the world wants a rematch, honestly. It would be lovely to play such a great team out there again."

My colleague Bruce Feldman, who was in Tuscaloosa, discussed the rematch issue in The Big Picture, as did BCS guru Jerry Palm.

As we sit here on week 10 trying to digest what happened on Saturday, it good to lay down what we do know in the race for the national title.

1. There is A LOT of football remaining. LSU plays a top 10 team in Arkansas to end the season as well as the SEC championship game in Atlanta. Alabama has the Iron Bowl against Auburn. Oklahoma State ends with Bedlam against Oklahoma. Stanford plays Oregon and Boise State takes on TCU this week. We don't have a great system in the BCS but it was it is so "the race" is going to chance course several times between now and mid-December.

2. If Stanford beats Oregon, they'll move past Alabama in the BCS standings. If Oklahoma State wins out, they'll play in the championship game. Boise State needs help in droves.

3. Though Houston has moved as high as 11th in the rankings but are still a long shot at playing in a BCS bowl because Boise State is the highest ranked non-AQ school. It's doubtful the Bowls would pick the Cougars as an at-large team with fan bases such as Oklahoma likely qualifying.

4. The bowl tie-ins are ACC-Orange Bowl, Big Ten/Pac-12-Rose Bowl, Big 12-Fiesta Bowl, SEC-Sugar Bowl. The Bowl that loses the #1 team will have first pick of the replacements, followed by the bowl that loses the #2 team. The order after that is Fiesta, Sugar, Orange. There's a chance we could see some juicy match ups as a result (Oklahoma-Boise State rematch anyone?).

5. Want pure chaos? Arkansas beats LSU and Georgia pulls off an upset in Atlanta, forcing Alabama or LSU to miss a BCS game. Oregon beats Stanford, only to lose to USC and Oklahoma beats Oklahoma State to leave just Boise State and Houston as the lone undefeated teams. It's all unlikely but stranger things have happened. It also might be the only chance the men from the blue turf have to play for a title in New Orleans.

6. The game of the century did not occur last Saturday in Tuscaloosa but it was still a fantastic regular season game. A rematch would devalue the game, forcing LSU to beat Alabama twice for a national title while the Tide only needs to win once (in New Orleans). If we could have best two out of three, that'd be great but we're stuck with our current predicament.  

Buckle up and get ready, it's going to a fun and bumpy road to New Orleans.

Stat of the week

To say the Big 12, and the state of Kansas in particular, is not very good at defense might be an understatement. To say they like offense in the state of Oklahoma, likewise, might be an understatement. Consider this: of the 10 best games rushing this season (net yards gained), three have come against a Big 12 team. Strip out non-BCS opponents and it becomes three of the top five, including Kansas giving up the most a game this season on the ground when Georgia Tech rushed for 604 yards. Of the top 10 passing games (net yards gained), four of the top 10 have come against a Big 12 defense, including four of the top five. Kansas and Kansas State find themselves on the two lists a grand total of five times, one reason why the Jayhawks are dead last in defense.

Thanks to playing the Oklahoma schools in back-to-back weeks, Kansas State has dropped from 29th in total defense to 78th. Half of the Big 12 is in the top 10 in the country in total offense and Texas Tech is 11th. Needless to say, it's not fun being a defensive coordinator in the conference.

Stats of the week

- Stanford remains perfect in the red zone this season, getting points out of all 52 trips. They've scored a touchdown all but 11 times and there's only one team that has been inside the 20 more often (Oklahoma State). LSU is second in red zone efficiency, scoring on 41 of 42 trips. The Cardinal are also third in the country in red zone defense, allowing a score 16 times out of 24 attempts.

- Oklahoma is tied with Stanford for fewest sacks given up with just four all year. Of course, the Sooners have dropped back 128 more times.

- The top three active career leaders for rushing touchdowns are all juniors.  Temple's Bernard Pierce has 45, Oregon's LaMichael James has 44 and Wisconsin's Montee Ball has 43. The NCAA FBS record is 73.

- Both Florida kicker Caleb Sturgis and Idaho kicker Trey Farquhar hit 55-yard field goals right before halftime this week, which tie for the second longest of the season.

- Ball State quarterback Keith Wenning's pass to Torieal Gibson resulted in a 94 yard touchdown against Eastern Michigan, the longest pass play of the year. There have been four runs longer than that this season.

- Matt Barkley passed for a school-record six touchdowns in his game against Colorado on Friday. He also moved into 10th on the FBS active career list for touchdowns thrown with 69.

- Alabama still has yet to trail this season in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th quarter. LSU has trailed at the end of just two quarters all year.

- Since building a 31-7 lead on Oklahoma in the 3rd quarter, Texas Tech has been outscored 124-37.

- This was the first time Texas has rushed for five touchdowns in back-to-back games since 2005.

- Weird quirk from Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times, Washington's tight ends had three catches for -5 yards and a touchdown against Oregon.


- It didn't have the hype but the most thrilling game Saturday night was in Stillwater. Brandon Weeden threw a school-record 502 yards and had an answer for every late Kansas State score to escape with a 52-45 win. The defense, who seems to take shots from just about everybody in the game and outside it, held on with a goal line stand to prevent the tying score. Kansas State has taken some lumps in back-to-back weeks by stopping three straight passes with seconds left on the clock. It will get overshadowed given the loss but you have to be impressed with the play of KSU quarterback Collin Klein this season. He's been solid in the passing game and is as tough of a runner as you'll find at the position.  

- Hats off to Rick Neuheisel and UCLA for fighting and clawing their way (as some Bruins said) to an upset of Arizona State at the Rose Bowl to, gasp, control their own fate in the Pac-12 South. Thanks to a "here's what we're made of" five minute drive to score a go ahead touchdown, it almost looked like the Bruins defense were going to allow the Sun Devils to get a decent field goal shot off. Alex Garoutte's 46-yarder fell short though and an exuberant sideline of powder blues jumped for joy. A lot of people have counted Neuheisel out, especially after the debacle at Arizona, but he still put his team in a position to win and they finally seized it. The loss was the latest in a line of head scratchers for Dennis Erickson, who seems to lose this type of game every year at ASU. Without a decent South team this year, it's looking very much like a two team league.

- There was another top 10 match up in the SEC that seemed to be the third wheel Saturday night as Arkansas beat South Carolina 44-28. It was surprising to see the Razorbacks put together a solid first half, something they really hadn't done against a decent opponent this season, before pulling away late thanks in part to special teams and  defense. South Carolina had just 49 yards heading into the locker room but Connor Shaw led a late comeback in the third quarter until being knocked out with a concussion. The Gamecocks have a good defense and for Bobby Petrino's squad to hang 44 on them is certainly a statement that you can't forget about the Hogs at the end of the season when they play LSU.

- After dropping a game to lowly Minnesota, hardly anybody but the most hopeful Hawkeye faithful gave Iowa a chance against Michigan. Yet the defense was vintage, bottling up Denard Robinson all day, and Marcus Coker looked like a man on a mission while rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. The Wolverines had a chance to force overtime from the 3-yard line but four straight passes couldn't be snagged and Iowa ran off the field in celebration. "They showed a lot of heart," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. Given who they lost to the previous week, it's difficult to tell what Iowa football is this season outside of being a big of Jekyll and Hyde. For Brady Hoke and Michigan, it appears the tougher schedule and move to a pro-style offense is finally catching up. The difference between passing in Rich Rodriguez' system and passing in Al Borges' cannot be understated. Robinson has been conditioned with certain timing for years and now is being asked to change it to match the current system. If you're looking for the reason why the junior is having problems (53% passing, 13-12 TD-INT ratio this season), look no further than a round (quarterback) being in a square hole (system).

- Bryan Harsin came into Austin with designs of transforming Texas' offense and it appears he is doing so, surprisingly, on the ground. In the past two seasons the Longhorns had just five games where they rushed for more than 200 yards; Saturday's win over Texas Tech was the fifth time they topped the mark this season. In a 52-20 win, Texas' 439 yards rushing against Texas Tech were the 4th-most against a BCS opponent this season. They've racked up 880 yards on the ground the past two games against sub-par defenses but it will be interesting to see if they can keep running the ball consistently the rest of the season. Given their youth on both sides of the ball - they've play 18 true freshmen - it's a good bet that they'll try and keep it up. Either way, there's a new coordinator and a new way of doing business on the 40 acres.

- Charlie Strong has one of the youngest teams in the Big East but they're rounding into form and it paid off with a huge upset of West Virginia that was extra personal given that the school was largely seen to be invited by the Big 12 over Louisville. Frosh QB Teddy Bridgewater threw a touchdown and special teams came up huge with a blocked field goal that was returned for a touchdown. It was a complete and satisfying victory for the Cardinals. "I was not surprised at all to come into this venue and for us to go and play well," said Strong. "We knew we had to play well. We didn't come here to lose or to play it tight. We came in here to win." After the win, Strong ended up crowd surfing among his players in the locker room and the team, taking an added jab at the loser, sang John Denver's "Country Roads."

- The upset of the week comes courtesy of an NU on NU crime. With designs of making it to Indianapolis for the title game, Nebraska was upset by Northwestern despite Dan Persa standing on the sidelines. The Wildcats have not been great this season but they just kept coming through on defense, hanging on 28-25 for their first top 10 win in some time. "A great program win for us," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "To come on the road and put together our most complete game of the year. ... Not perfect. Not a work of art. There are some things we can correct."

- Not sure anybody has raised his NFL stock more than USC quarterback Matt Barkley? He played well in his showdown against Andrew Luck and then followed it up with a school-record six touchdown passes against Colorado despite a few drops from his wide outs. No, the Buffs aren't that good but thanks in large part to the through and through California kid Barkley, USC is a solid top 20 team. The defense is still the link week but outside of a trip to Eugene, it's likely they'll win out - especially if they can get healthier. Colorado, meanwhile, is so bad they're a double-digit favorite at home to a 2-7 team that lost their head coach.

- Small story that went way under the radar Saturday but kudos for Paul Pasqualoni for knocking off Syracuse to give UConn their fifth straight victory in the series. It meant a little more for Pasqualoni than others, who was head coach of the Orange for 14 years before being fired after winning four Big East titles and nine bowl trips. The Huskies defense played a big part, forcing several turnovers and holding despite the offense's own issues. Despite much talent at all, Pasqualoni has kept hopes alive for another winning season in Storrs.

- Kellen Moore is now 46-2 as a starter, more wins than any other FBS quarterback and an amazing accomplishment for a guy that no one outside of Idaho would even think is a major college quarterback if he was walking down the street. The Broncos saw a few different looks they weren't expecting from UNLV and led by just seven at halftime before pulling away late in the 4th quarter. As it stands now, Moore has an impressive 128 touchdowns against just 24 interceptions.

- As good of a slate as this week was, it was definitely a week filled with MACtion. Tuesday's Toledo-Northern Illinois game was 7-on-7 in pads it seemed like, with NIU prevailing in an entertaining 63-60 win that included 1,121 total yards (and back-to-back kick returns by the Huskies' Tommylee Lewis (great name) to open the game). One of the most underrated players in the country, Toledo's Eric Page also caught five touchdowns and had to be screaming when coach Tim Beckham didn't call any of his timeouts as NIU drove for the game winning touchdown pass. Then there was Ohio's 35-31 win over Temple to take control of the MAC East after a touchdown to win with less than two minutes on the clock. Thursday's Miami of Ohio romp over Akron wasn't anything to write home about but Central Michigan missed a final play field goal from 28 yards out to allow Kent State to win on Friday. Finally, on Saturday, Steven Schott hit a 44-yard field goal to put Ball State ahead of Eastern Michigan 33-31 with seconds left on the clock. MACtion indeed.

- Remarkable stat from Bruce Feldman, Lamar Miller became Miami's first 1,000-yard back since 2002 (Willis McGahee), a stretch of five different offensive coordinators. Although the 5-4 Hurricanes has dealt with a lot on and off the field, you have to give credit to OC Jedd Fisch and Al Golden. Much maligned quarterback Jacory Harris has been playing as well as he has at any point in his career and probably better than that. The senior is remarkably sixth in the country in passing efficiency, right behind Andrew Luck, with an impressive 18-4 touchdown-interception ratio. Miami has been in every game they've played with the four losses coming by 22 points. Saturday's 49-14 thrashing of Duke put them one win away from bowl eligibility ahead of this week's rivalry game at Florida State.

- It's always fun to catch the late night WAC games involving Hawaii, after a long day of watching college football it always seems to be an interesting way to cap it off. Utah State managed to beat the Warriors 35-31 thanks to a last minute drive. Hilariously, one of the keys to the game that the third-rate announcers brought up at the end was the late Andy Rooney (to play, they said, 60 minutes). Can't make that up.

Tweet of the week

"So Fox Sports MW is electing to show California HS football instead of Kansas-Iowa State."

- Bill Connelly, writer for SB Nation and Football Outsiders.

Fisch's Finest

Note: Last week was the fourth in a row that my 10th ranked team lost (sorry Nebraska fans), perhaps that will give Georgia Tech some hope on Thursday at home.

1. LSU

2. Oklahoma State

3. Stanford

4. Alabama

5. Boise State

6. Oklahoma

7. Oregon

8. Arkansas

9. Clemson

10. Virginia Tech

Where we'll be this week

Senior writer Dennis Dodd and I will be in Palo Alto to catch the Pac-12 showdown between Oregon and Stanford. Mr. College Football Tony Barnhart will be between the hedges to catch Auburn at Georgia. Brett McMurphy will head to State College to see Nebraska at Penn State.

Leaning this way

TCU at Boise State

Before the season, people were circling this game as perhaps the Broncos toughest test. There was the added issue of the game being moved by the Mountain West from Ft. Worth to Boise as a parting gift for the Horned Frogs. At 7-2 with issues on both sides of the ball, TCU is solid this season but it's not the team we've seen the past couple of years. Boise State, meanwhile, has gotten off to some slow starts and will still need to take care of business. This could be closer than most people think but expect the home team to come out victoriously.

Auburn at Georgia

The Bulldogs put up an impressive 42 points in one quarter against the lowly New Mexico State Aggies but the competition will pick up a bit this week with Auburn rolling into town. Aaron Murray continues to come along at quarterback and Georgia should be at full strength after dealing with a few suspensions. It will be tough for Auburn to pull of the upset in this one as Georgia continues their march for Atlanta.

Oregon at Stanford

The Game of the Century, West of the Rockies Edition can be found in Palo Alto, with two top-six ranked teams squaring off. Stanford gave Oregon a scare last year before faltering in the second half and, given the injuries on both sides of the ball, it wouldn't be shocking to see the same thing happen again this year. The Ducks aren't quite as sharp as they were last season but they're capable of knocking off Andrew Luck and company.

Category: NCAAF
Tags: Aaron Murray, ACC, Akron, Al Borges, Al Golden, Alabama, Alex Garoutte, Andrew Luck, Andy Rooney, Arizona, Arizona State, Arkansas, Auburn, Auburn, Ball State, Ball State, BCS, Bedlam, Bernard Pierce, Big 12, Big Ten, bill Connelly, Bob Condotta, Bobby Petrino, Boise State, Brady Hoke, Brandon Weeden, Brett McMurphy, Bruce Feldman, Bryan Fischer, Bryan Harsin, Bryant-Denny Stadium, Caleb Sturgis, Central Michigan, Charlie Strong, Clemson, Collin Klein, Colorado, Connor Shaw, Dan Persa, Denard Robinson, Dennis Dodd, Dennis Erickson, Duke, Eastern Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Eric Page, Eric Reid, Fiesta Bowl, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Hawaii, Houston, Idaho, Iowa, Iron Bowl, Jacory Harris, Jedd Fisch, Jerry Palm, John Chavis, John Denver, Kansas, Kansas State, Keith Wenning, Kellen Moore, Kent State, Kirk Ferentz, Lamar Miller, LaMichael James, Les Miles, Louisville, LSU, Marcus Coker, Matt Barkley, Miami, Miami of Ohio, Michael Williams, Michigan, Minnesota, Montee Ball, Morris Claiborne, Mountain West, Nebraska, New Mexico State, Nick Saban, Non-BCS, Northern Illinois, Northwestern, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Orange Bowl, Oregon, Pac-12, Pat Fitzgerald, Paul Pasqualoni, Rich Rodriguez, Rick Neuheisel, Rose Bowl, Sam Montgomery, SEC, South Carolina, Stanford, Steven Schott, Sugar Bowl, Surveying the Field, Syracuse, TCU, Teddy Bridgewater, Temple, Texas, Texas Tech, Tim Beckham, Toledo, Tom Fornelli, Tommylee Lewis, Tony Barnhart, Torieal Gibson, Trent Richardson, Trey Farquhar, UCLA, UConn, UNLV, USC, Utah State, Virginia Tech, WAC, Washington, West Virginia, Willis McGahee, Wisconsin
Posted on: November 6, 2011 4:15 am
Edited on: November 6, 2011 12:04 pm

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 10

Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.


How much wilder is the Big Ten after this 10th week of play than before? Consider, now, that four of the six Legends Division teams are still in plausible contention for that crown, or that Penn State could still find itself at 6-2 (or worse) in the conference, setting off a similar scramble in the Leaders Division. This year, Minnesota has beaten Iowa, Purdue has beaten Illinois, and now Northwestern has beaten Nebraska in Lincoln. Did you see that one coming? Yes? Liar.

Sure, some might note that the ACC already tried having everybody in the conference go 6-2 or worse, and the result is a shambolic title race -- and a sham BCS bowl participant. And yes, generally, it's better to have a conference champion in the BCS' Top 12, where they'd be eligible to participate in a BCS bowl even without the conference title, but still: a little madness never hurt anybody, and what better way to demonstrate to the Big Ten faithful how much drama a division race can add to a season?

LOSER: Penn State

This was supposed to be a peaceful week off for Joe Paterno and Penn State, who would be watching gleefully as losses by Nebraska and Michigan would leave PSU as the only one-loss team in the conference. Instead, nobody in State College is talking football today; instead, it's the litany of serious crimes facing Jerry Sandusky -- and what role PSU brass may have played in keeping Sandusky's alleged crimes under wraps.

We're not going to comment on Sandusky's charges; we trust our readers to form their own opinions at this point. We'll just say that it's beyond depressing that Penn State is 8-1 (5-0), Joe Paterno is the Division I's winningest coach of all time, and the Penn State president still needs to be issuing statements assuring people that his athletic director and treasurer didn't try to cover up a serial child molester in violation of Pennsylvania state law. But alas: here it is, and here we are. Ugh; back to football.

WINNER: Michigan State's division title hopes

On its face, Michigan State's performance today was, if anything, lackluster; the Spartans let lowly Minnesota take a lead into the fourth quarter in a game in East Lansing, and MSU only won by 7 points after letting Minnesota drive into Spartan territory in the game's final seconds. And yet, Michigan State still won, and that gives the Spartans sole possession of first place in the Legends Division after Michigan and Nebraska both dropped contests Saturday. Unlike every other contender in the conference, MSU has no games against ranked opponents left; there are, however, road tests at Iowa and Northwestern looming, so it's not exactly time to start booking hotel rooms in Pasadena quite yet. Still, this is as commanding a position as anybody's held in this division thus far. 

LOSER: Michigan's division title hopes

It's getting to be difficult to imagine a scenario in which Michigan plays for the Big Ten Championship in Indianapolis this December. The Wolverines dropped to 3-2 in the league, and while that's still just a game off the lead with three games yet to play, it's to whom Michigan has lost that should prove most problematic for the Wolverines. Iowa and Michigan State both hold head-to-head tiebreakers over Michigan and a non-division loss, so really, the only way Michigan takes this division is by winning it outright. There is a plausible path to that: MSU loses to Iowa and Northwestern, Iowa loses to Nebraska, and Nebraska loses to Michigan. But that's about it.

WINNER: Iowa's offensive stars

Iowa's numbers on offense weren't spectacular in the Hawkeyes' 24-16 win over Michigan; 302 total yards and 15 first downs were all the Hawkeyes managed in 56 offensive plays. Not bad, no, but not spectacular. Nonetheless, there were some very familiar faces responsible for the lion's share of that production -- Marcus Coker had 132 yards and two scores, James Vandenberg was 14-21 for 171 yards and a score, and Marvin McNutt (seen at right, divorcing J.T. Floyd from his helmet) caught nine passes, a career high, for 101 yards. Overall, that's a pattern that has put several Hawkeyes among the league leaders with three games left in the regular season.

Coker leads all Big Ten rushers with 1101 yards on the season; Montee Ball is a close second with 1076. In receiving, McNutt trails only A.J. Jenkins (1030 yards) with 959 yards, and his nine receiving touchdowns lead the league. Meanwhile, Vandenberg is third in the Big Ten in passing efficiency, with a 154.83 rating and 18 touchdowns to only four interceptions. Officially, Vandenberg is second only to I-A leader Russell Wilson in the NCAA's eyes, as Dan Persa hasn't played in 75% of Northwestern's games yet, but that doesn't seem totally fair to Persa, who meets the other qualification of 15 pass attempts per game even counting the games he missed. We see you, Dan.

LOSER: Any notion of Rex Burkhead as a Heisman candidate

For a little while, Rex Burkhead was starting to gain steam as a potential darkhorse candidate -- not a potential winner, but certainly someone that might at least score a free trip to New York in December. Nebraska would have to win out as a one-loss Big Ten champion, though, and Burkhead would have to keep coming up as big as he has all season long. Do all that, and it might be good enough to get some major national attention.

Well, that clearly didn't happen. Nebraska's rushing attack was bottled up by Northwestern, of all defenses; the Wildcats had been ranked 95th nationwide coming into Saturday's contest, ceding 194 rushing yards per game. And yet, Nebraska managed only 122 yards on the ground in the 28-25 loss, and Burkhead was particularly ineffective: 22 rushes, 69 yards, one score, and one costly fumble inside Northwestern's 5-yard line. Worse, only three of those 22 rushes gained first downs, while Burkhead converted for a score or first down on only two of six rushes on 3rd and 4th down. That? That's not good.

WINNER: Kain Colter

Say this about Pat Fitzgerald: he doesn't much care for traditional labels on players. How else to explain Kain Colter, who for the last four weeks has averaged 55 yards rushing, 55 yards passing, and 71 yards receiving per game in a QB/WR hybrid role in support of Dan Persa? This week, Colter's versatility was especially useful, as Persa would leave the game at the half after sustaining a shoulder injury; Colter responded by scoring three touchdowns in the second half of Northwestern's upset victory.

Colter and Persa had seen their roles increasingly specialized coming into this week's action, with Persa taking the lion's share of the passing duties and Colter rushing far more often. Indeed, even though he only played a half, Persa threw 14 passes in this week's game; Colter, meanwhile, threw six. So there still isn't a ton of trust from Pat Fitzgerald in Colter's throwing ability yet. At the same time, this platoon seems awfully similar to 2009, when Persa was primarily a rushing threat in relief of Mike Kafka. That clearly didn't hamper Persa's prospects as a thrower down the road, and the current setup shouldn't be construed as a permanent indictment of Colter's passing ability.

LOSER: Denard Robinson's legs 

Last year, in the Gator Bowl blowout that would seal Rich Rodriguez's fate with Michigan, the Wolverines tried to go for it on five fourth downs. In each one, a pass play was called for Denard Robinson; in each one, Michigan failed to convert, as the pass fell harmlessly incomplete on each attempt. This week, Robinson had led Michigan to Iowa's 3-yard line with under 20 seconds to play and a first and goal. This time around, Brady Hoke called four straight passes for Robinson; in each one, Michigan failed to score, as the pass fell harmlessly incomplete on each attempt.

This is not to argue that Robinson should never pass or anything of that sort. It's just that Robinson is at his most dangerous on the move, and when a drive or a game's on the line, by and large, it's not smart to have him stand still and look to pass. Junior Hemingway came awfully close to making a great catch on 2nd down and Roy Roundtree may have had a legitimate gripe for pass interference on 4th down (though it was far less obvious in real time), but still: Denard Robinson is the most dynamic runner in the Big Ten; why not try a run-pass option? With deep apologies to ZZ Top, Robinson has legs, and he knows how to use them. Give him a chance to do that!

Posted on: November 1, 2011 4:07 pm

Keys to the Game: Michigan at Iowa

Posted by Adam Jacobi

MICHIGAN WILL WIN IF: It takes away the deep pass. The most efficient passer in the Big Ten, obviously, is Wisconsin's Russell Wilson; Wilson actually leads the nation with a ridiculous 196.95 rating. Second? That would be Iowa's James Vandenberg. Seriously. Vandenberg's got 17 touchdown passes and only four picks on the year, and his efficiency numbers are buoyed by 10 of those touchdowns coming from over 20 yards out. Last week, Minnesota bottled up the Iowa passing offense and taking away those deep passes (often at great expense to the rushing defense, which ceded over 250 yards to Marcus Coker), but at the end of the day Iowa only had 21 points and a loss to show for its efforts.

IOWA WILL WIN IF: It leaves the bad defense on the road. Iowa has historically been known for a stout defense, especially under DC Norm Parker since he and Kirk Ferentz arrived in Iowa City in 1999. This year, though, Iowa has struggled mightily -- especially in road games. Away from Kinnick, Iowa is 0-3, with losses to Iowa State, Penn State, and Minnesota -- and the defense has faltered late in all three games. Moreover, none of those three teams have a quarterback who even approximates the skill that Denard Robinson brings to the table, and Iowa's going to have a nightmare of a time forcing Robinson out of his comfort zone, which is "breaking long runs and incinerating all who oppose him." Certainly, Iowa doesn't have the defensive athleticism to keep up with Robinson. It must, however, bring the defensive scheming and intensity to at least limit Robinson's damage. 

X-FACTOR: The Kinnick Stadium crowd. The Hawkeye corner of the Internet is a dark and lonely place right now after Iowa left Floyd of Rosedale in Minneapolis for the second year in a row. If that lack of enthusiasm bleeds through to gameday and Robinson finds a muted crowd to greet him -- or shuts the fans up himself with an early long touchdown or two -- the likelihood of Michigan's offense sputtering and making mistakes lessens greatly. If, however, the fans have a short memory and try to disrupt the Michigan offense, Iowa may stand a good chance of keeping pace with the Wolverines -- especially if the Hawkeye offense does its part early too.
Posted on: October 30, 2011 3:35 pm

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 9

Posted by Adam Jacobi

A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Beavis and Burkhead - It's impossible to discuss either Taylor Martinez or Rex Burkhead without mentioning the effect they've had on each other and Nebraska's success. They're like a buddy comedy, bringing out the best in each other while highlighting their differences; Martinez is often erratic through the air but almost always hits Burkhead in stride, while the slower Burkhead can be an effective decoy on options to spring Martinez for big gains on keepers. They work in tandem, and it would be jarring to see either of them try to replicate their success this year alone.

This week, Nebraska managed just 270 yards against Michigan State, but 233 of those yards (and all three touchdowns) came from either Martinez or Burkhead. Against the statistically best defense in the Big Ten, that's no small task. If the Huskers intend to continue toward the Big Ten Championship, it will be on the backs of their maddening quarterback and devastating tailback, ever inseparable.

LOSER: Michigan State's rushing game, again - Coming into Saturday's action, Michigan State was ranked dead last in the Big Ten in rushing yardage per game. Now, afterwards, nothing has changed. Facing a middling Nebraska defense that continues to miss All-American DT Jared Crick, the Spartans as a team managed only 101 yards on 30 carries. The passing game was even worse (11-27, 86 yards), but still: this was supposed to be a rushing attack that could take over games -- or at the very least reliably keep the chains moving. Instead, thanks to some lackluster blocking, these guys aren't even able to solve a defense with seven men in the box. If this serial failure to rush the ball effectively continues, MSU's not going to hold onto its claim for the division title.

WINNER: Braxton Miller - Yes, Ohio State is running the ball almost exclusively. But that offensive approach isn't possible if Joe Bauserman is the starter, because a diet of nothing but rushes is easy for a defense to figure out if there's only one potential ball-carrier in the backfield. That's not the case with Braxton Miller running the show, though; if Miller drops back in the pocket, he's got the opportunity to look for rushing lanes as well as open receivers. That's extremely stressful for defenders who have to decide whether to stay in coverage or crash the line once Miller takes off. That's what got Devin Smith so wide open for the game-winning score on Saturday, and it's exactly how other mobile quarterbacks like Terrelle Pryor and Denard Robinson find guys free in the secondary so often. 

LOSER: The Big Ten bandwagon - Anyone still feel like Wisconsin is a Rose Bowl-quality team? Anyone? With Wisconsin on a two-game slide and the defense looking like a liability (which it always was, it just didn't matter when the Badgers were scoring at will), the Big Ten now looks like it has zero elite teams, not one. Whoever goes to the Rose Bowl -- probably Michigan State, Michigan, or Penn State -- is due for a shellacking at the hands of whoever the Pac-12 puts forth (Stanford and Oregon being the key contenders here).  

WINNER: Whoever's starting at quarterback against Iowa - Consider the list of Indiana's Tre Roberson, Iowa State's Steele Jantz, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray, Northwestern's Dan Persa, and Penn State's Matt McGloin. What do they all have in common? They've all spent extensive time this season not being their team's starting quarterback, usually splitting time if not outright benched for poor play. They've all also lit the Iowa defense up, combining for a 149.95 passer rating and a 69.3% completion rate, numbers far higher than each QB's season rates. These are quarterbacks that a good defense feasts on; instead, Iowa lets them run wild.

The news gets worse for the Hawkeyes, as Kirk Cousins and Denard Robinson are both looming in the upcoming schedule. If Iowa can make the since-benched Steele Jantz look like a one-week Heisman candidate, imagine the devastation Robinson will rain down upon the Hawkeye defense.

LOSER: The 3:30 slate of games and anyone unlucky enough to witness them - In the strongest evidence yet that close games are not automatically good games, Illinois-Penn State and Iowa-Minnesota were decided by a grand total of four points, featured lead changes in the last three minutes, and were enough to set college football back decades. Illinois-PSU was scoreless through the first 41 minutes of play, and featured as many punts as points (17) -- a stat made even more horrifying when combined with the seven turnovers the game also featured.

Meanwhile, in Iowa's 22-21 loss, the Hawkeyes drove into Minnesota territory on their first four possessions and got a grand total of zero points on those drives; they would add a lost fumble inside Minnesota's 30 in the third quarter. Minnesota, meanwhile, was incinerated by Marcus Coker on the ground, giving up over 250 yards and eight yards a pop to the Iowa sophomore -- and Minnesota won. It was just a bad, shoddily-executed game all around, and nobody needs to see that unless they've got a vested rooting interest. 

WINNER: Quietly, Michigan's title hopes - During the Michigan State-Nebraska game, ESPN erroneously showed a graphic of Iowa at 6-1 (2-1) on the year, presupposing that the Hawkeyes' 44-41 loss to Iowa State didn't happen. This gaffe went unnoticed in the booth, as Urban Meyer twice made mention of Iowa being a "quiet 6-1" and a challenger for the Legends Division crown.

We bring that up not to nitpick ESPN, but to point out that if even Iowa was getting division title mention as of Saturday morning (NOTE: all that talk is obviously done now), then Michigan's gone straight past "darkhorse" and into "invisihorse" territory, even though the Wolverines are still a one-loss team. Yes, MSU still holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Michigan, but if all it takes is another loss out of the team that just got worked by Nebraska for Michigan to be in the driver's seat here, that's not exactly asking much.

LOSER: For once, not Ron Zook - No, we're clearly not declaring Ron Zook a winner this week, not when his players just dropped their third straight game and are on the brink of pure freefall after a 6-0 start. No no, he is no winner. But at the very least, this week, Illinois did not look outcoached -- just outplayed. Gone were the howlers of game management and terrible playcalls, although that's scant consolation when the alternative is four turnovers and two missed field goals. At the very least, though, those are execution problems (it's not as if Zook called "the fumble play"), and even with those problems Illinois wins this game if it weren't for PSU's 80-yard touchdown drive on its last possession of the game. So chins up, Illinois fans: your coach didn't blow this one.

Posted on: September 3, 2011 11:37 pm

What I learned from the Big Ten (Sep. 3)

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.

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. 



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, 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.



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.

Posted on: May 26, 2011 2:04 pm
Edited on: June 13, 2011 9:57 am

CBSSports.com College Football 100: 90-81

By the Eye on College Football bloggers

To celebrate the 100 99 days remaining until the first Saturday of the new college football season, this is the CBSSports.com College Football 100: our countdown of the 2011 season's 100 most influential players, coaches, administrators, venues, or any other related
things in college football. It's like that other "most influential" list, but, you know, more important. Also: it's supposed to be fun. Enjoy.

90. T.Y. HILTON, receiver/returner, FIU. Every so often, a player rises up from the lower rungs of college football to make a credible run at the Heisman Trophy: Garrett Wolfe at Northern Illinois, Steve McNair at Alcorn State, Gordie Lockbaum once upon a time at Holy Cross. And if that's happening this year, the smartest bet is on Hilton, the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year and leader in all-purpose yardage.

But if Hilton does make a splash nationally, it won't be for his accolades, statistics, or even team success (though Hilton led his Golden Panthers to their first bowl berth and conference title last season, and could repeat the feat). It'll be for his electric playmaking, on full display in last year's Little Caesar's Bowl, when his 89-yard kickoff return for touchdown and 4th-and-17 conversion keyed a thrilling Panther comeback. Put a few more of those types of plays on SportsCenter (particularly in an early-season Friday night visit to Louisville), and the sky -- or more specifically, New York -- might be the limit. -- JH

89. LOGAN THOMAS, quarterback, Virginia Tech. Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hokies have won four conference championships and four Coastal Division titles. The league's expansion might have expected to highlight Florida State and Miami, but it has been the Hokies who have most often represented the conference on the national stage. But for the last four years of that run, the Hokies were had ACC Player of the Year Tyrod Taylor. Now Taylor is gone, and it's Thomas who's set to take his place.

The redshirt sophomore has already impressed coaches and teammates with his performance in spring practice, and the hopes are high for his first season as the Hokies starter. Standing at 6-foot-6, Thomas often looked like the big brother as Taylor tutored him throughout last season. With quarterbacks coach Mike O'Cain now assuming the play-calling duties, the offense will run through Thomas. Tech has many of the pieces in place to defend their ACC championship, but they'll need Thomas to settle in quickly to get it done. -- CP

88. AT&T PARK, temporary home stadium, Cal. For the first time since 1923, the California Golden Bears will play their home games somewhere other than California Memorial Stadium. As the university enters the final stages of their $321 million retrofit and renovation project, the Bears will play their home games at AT&T Park in San Francisco - home of the Giants. The setup for football won't be entirely foreign for the venue -- it's the home of the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl -- but it will be an inconvenient trip for players, students and fans so used to their home games in Berkeley.

With four critical, winnable home games on their Pac-12 slate (highlighted by visits from USC and Utah), how well the Bears adapt to their new surroundings could well determine the trajectory of Jeff Tedford's Bears tenure. After four seasons with no fewer than four losses and no league finish higher than fourth, Tedford needs a big year to avoid a make-or-break 2012 season, and given the Bears' rigorous road schedule (at Oregon, at Stanford) that simply won't happen if Cal spits the bit at AT&T Park. The stadium could be Tedford's sanctuary; it could prove to be his house of horrors. -- CP

87. VICTOR ANDERSON, running back, Louisville. In 2008, Anderson rushed for 1,047 yards and 8 touchdowns, numbers good enough for him to be named the Big East Rookie of the Year. But nagging injuries over the last two seasons have prevented Anderson from recapturing that freshman form. Now, for the first time since that promising campaign, Anderson is 100 percent healthy.

Just in time, too, for Charlie Strong's second season as Cardinal head coach. With very little chance to prove himself in 2010, some believed that sophomore Jeremy Wright might replace the dominant Bilal Powell as the 'Ville's starting running back. But after one of his best springs since stepping on campus, Anderson has reclaimed the greater share of snaps in the Cardinals' backfield. There will be a lot of pressure for Strong to repeat the success of 2010, and he's already shown his affection for the rushing game. If the Cardinals are going back to the postseason again, they'll need 2008's Anderson (or better) in 2011. -- CP

86. CASE KEENUM'S KNEE, body part, Houston quarterback. The coronation of college football's newest passing king looked to be in serious jeopardy last fall when Keenum, a senior, suffered a season-ending ACL tear during an ill-advised attempt at a tackle against UCLA. Keenum had been on pace to set NCAA records in career yards and touchdowns before the injury, but there's no progress to be made there on the sidelines.

Fortunately for Keenum, he was granted a sixth year of eligibility this January, meaning not only does he have another shot at setting those NCAA records, but he's 636 yards and three touchdowns closer. At this point, the biggest obstancle in Keenum's way is his own health. His rehab's on track so far, and he's going to be doing 7-on-7 drills with his receivers to get that all-important timing down, but how is he going to respond physically and mentally to this setback? Can he still set those records? Will his knee allow him to? -- AJ

85. LSU AT ALABAMA, potential Game of the Year, SEC. In a division where as many as four or five teams can have realistic dreams of a top-10 season and a trip to Atlanta, there's no shortage of "Game of the Year" candidates. Pair off any one of Alabama, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn and Mississippi State -- a group featuring three of the last four national champions, a fourth team coming off a Sugar Bowl berth, and a fifth coached by a man with two national title rings himself -- and you're going to get not only a potential classic, but the game that could decide the outcome of the nation's hands-down strongest division.

But even taking into account the South Carolina-Georgia-Florida round-robin in the East, the single game most likely to produce the SEC's 2011 champion will be played between the Tide and Tigers on Nov. 5. Both teams will bring wicked defenses, explosive athletes, powerful running games (at least, if we're right about Spencer Ware) ... and potentially shaky quarterback situations that could derail either team's title dreams. It all collides head-on in Tuscaloosa, and whatever the result, the SEC season won't be remotely the same in its aftermath. -- JH

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84. MARCUS COKER, running back, Iowa. The breakout star of the 2010 Insight Bowl was true freshman tailback Marcus Coker, who ran for 219 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries in Iowa's 27-24 win over Missouri. Coker busted out several highlight-reel plays, including a 62-yard touchdown sprint and a 35-yard gain in which Coker plain ran over senior safety Jarrell Harrison at the point of attack.

Coker -- who probably would have redshirted were it not for a slew of injuries in front of him on the depth chart -- is now the unquestioned workhorse in the Iowa backfield after the departures of every other tailback with even one down of experience. He's clearly got the physical gifts to make it work (and a talented, veteran line in front of him), but will Coker's bruising style of play hold up through an entire season in the Big Ten? --AJ

83. DANNY O'BRIEN, quarterback, Maryland. When 2010's ACC Rookie of the Year takes the field for his sophomore campaign this fall, in some ways it will feel as new as last September when the Kernersville, NC native took the conference by storm. After leading the Terrapins within a game of an Atlantic Division title, head coach Ralph Friedgen was fired, and offensive coordinator James Franklin took the head coaching job at Vanderbilt. O'Brien's favorite receiver, junior Torrey Smith, took his 1,055 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns to the NFL.

Now O'Brien returns with expectations to repeat last year's success in College Park. But this go-round he has a new head coach (Randy Edsall) and new offensive coordinator (Gary Crowton). Luckily, neither coach is lacking in experience, and there should be plenty of learning opportunities for the sophomore gunslinger. Now O'Brien must seize control of those opportunities to keep Maryland --as Terps fans expect -- in the Atlantic Division hunt. -- CP

82. DECLAN SULLIVAN, late student videographer, Notre Dame. Though Notre Dame's 2010 campaign finished on a high note on the field, the season had already been irreparably marred by the tragic October death of Declan Sullivan. Sullivan lost his life when the scissor lift he was on while filming an Irish practice toppled over in high winds. (At right, that's a picture of Oregon's D.J. Davis wearing Sullivan's photo on his handwarmer as a tribute.) Notre Dame was fined for the accident and has since taken steps to make sure it never happens again, filming practice by placing cameras at different angles around the field rather than putting students on top of lifts.

It's a practice that a lot of schools would be smart to adapt, and it's one example of how Sullivan's legacy -- we desperately hope -- impacts the 2011 season and beyond. Whether it's discontinuing the use of lifts, using better equipment to reduce the risk of injury, closer supervision of player workouts, even more regular medical check-ups for stressed-out coaches, college football must do a better job of ensuring the safety of those involved with it. The lesson from the Sullivan tragedy is that those in charge must be proactive in making the necessary changes; even if the number of deaths from lift incidents stops, forever, at one, that one is still far, far too many. -- TF

81. WILL LYLES, scouting service director, Houston, Texas. The man who runs Complete Scouting Services has become the face of one of the NCAA's latest, biggest targets: scouting services. These alleged "street agents" associated with different scouting services came under fire earlier this spring when it was revealed that Oregon paid Lyles $24,000 for his services before signing coveted recruit Lache Seatrunk. Since then, the public has slowly learned more and more about the scouting service industry.  

What they have learned is that Oregon is not the only school that uses them.  In fact, many schools pay scouting services for DVD's, measurements, and other information that may help in recruiting.  But the dollar amounts in some cases do not exactly fall in line with "standard prices."  Lyles is currently being investigated by the NCAA for his ties to Seastrunk, LaMichael James (also at Oregon), and Patrick Peterson (formerly of LSU).  If the NCAA decides that Lyles helped lead them to their respective schools, he would become a booster and thus a walking violation of NCAA rules. If (or when) the NCAA crackdown on scouting services takes its next step, it will be because of the spotlight on Lyles. -- CP

Check back tomorrow at Eye on CFB for Nos. 80-71 on the countdown, click here for Nos. 100-91, or follow us on Twitter for the latest updates on the 100 ... and everything else college football.

Posted on: May 18, 2011 8:28 am
Edited on: May 18, 2011 8:28 am

Adam Robinson will seek a transfer from Iowa

Posted by Chip Patterson

After several pump fakes that led many to believe there was a chance for return, Iowa running back Adam Robinson will officially seek a transfer.

"All I can say now is that he's exploring his options," Robinson's mother told the Des Moines Register. "We don't know where he will be enrolling, but he will be someplace, hopefully in time for summer school."

Robinson led the Hawkeyes in rushing last season with 941 yards and 10 touchdowns. Robinson was suspended indefinitely after the regular season finale, then was arrested for marijuana possession on the eve of Iowa's Insight Bowl victory over Missouri. Like many coaches, Kirk Ferentz has been on the booster club trail since the end of spring practice. Last month Ferentz did not rule out the possibility of Robinson returning, as long as he got his academics in order. According to the Robinson family, they have already moved on.

"Hopefully this gets done soon," Sally Robinson said. "Summer school is approaching. We're talking to schools, seeing which one would be a good fit."

If those schools are Division I colleges, Robinson will have to sit out the 2011 season and then return to the field with one year of eligibility in 2012. His only hope to play this fall is to transfer down a division or get a medical waiver from the NCAA. Robinson's mother would not say who the family has been contacting.

For Ferentz and Iowa, moving on had already begun. Sophomore running back Marcus Coker played exceptionally in Robinson's stead last season, capping the year off with a 219 yard, two touchdown performance in the Insight Bowl victory. With James Vandengberg stepping into the starting quarterback role, Coker will be expected to carry some of the load early while the 6-3, 212 pound junior gets comfortable under center.
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