Big Ten: Purdue Boilermakers
To the links ...
- Brady Hoke says sophomore Shane Morris isn't ready to be Michigan's QB -- not yet, at least. Hoke expects injured TE Jake Butt to return by Week 3 or Week 4.
- Wisconsin freshman Michael Deiter is working as the starting center right now because of injuries. Devin Gaulden enters the Badgers' CB mix after recovering from a knee injury.
- Unheralded Nebraska recruit LeRoy Alexander is in the mix for a starting safety spot this spring.
- A timetable for construction on Northwestern's lakefront facility is finally set. Pat Fitzgerald discusses the first half of Northwestern's spring.
- Minnesota's latest early enrollee QB, Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, is adjusting well so far.
- Purdue's Robert Gregory seems to have found a home at safety.
- Penn State must build more depth at offensive tackle this spring.
- Despite declining donations, Rutgers' athletic department hopes to become fully self-sufficient by 2022.
- A look at Iowa's tight ends and fullbacks headed into spring practice. Former Hawkeyes QB Cody Sokol lands at Louisiana Tech.
- Don't believe the rumors about Aaron Craft suiting up for Ohio State's football team.
- Departing Michigan State QB Andrew Maxwell prepares for the next level.
- Braxton Miller aims to get better in the meeting room.
- Fitz Toussaint and Thomas Gordon ran well at Michigan’s pro day. New offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier is connecting with recruits.
- Nebraska linebacker Trevor Roach is re-emerging as a leader, while senior guard Jake Cotton steps into a new role on the offensive line.
- Darqueze Dennard is out to be Michigan State’s first first-rounder in more than a decade:
- What to expect from the first spring practice of the James Franklin era at Penn State. Keys for a successful spring.
- Rutgers offers fans an opportunity to buy tickets in three-game mini-plans for its inaugural season in the Big Ten.
- A first look at Maryland uniforms that include the Big Ten logo. More trouble for Terps running back Wes Brown.
- Offensive tackle J.J. Prince learned from his first year as a contributor at Purdue.
- True freshman Michael Deiter is working with the No. 1 offensive line in his first semester at Wisconsin.
- Minnesota's battle at right tackle heats up with the emergence of Jonah Pirsig.
- Illinois gets creative with its offseason competitions.
- A breakdown of the Iowa wide receivers.
@JeffHurdaCow via Twitter writes: Do you think that the Big Ten will get a team into the playoff, and who is more likely?
But I think it's going to be tough. The SEC is all but guaranteed at least one spot in the field, and Florida State is a good bet to get back as well. A Big Ten team is likely going to have to finish undefeated or with just one loss against a strong schedule to get into the four-team mix. Not making the playoff in a year when the Rose Bowl is a semifinal would be a bitter pill for the league to swallow.
Brian Bennett: I like your optimism. The SEC lost an astonishing amount of talent at quarterback with guys like Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron, Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw leaving. But while the Big Ten brings some good experience back at quarterback, including Ohio State's Braxton Miller, Penn State's Christian Hackenberg and Michigan's Devin Gardner, the overall level of play at quarterback in the league has been lacking for a couple of years, in my opinion. It's great seeing talented young quarterbacks at places like Purdue, Indiana and Nebraska, but they all need to take steps forward. I think the Pac-12 has far and away the best group of returning QBs in 2014.
Brian Bennett: I like Penn State's staff a lot. Not only are they energetic and big-time recruiters, they proved a lot by winning nine games in back-to-back seasons at Vanderbilt, which many people thought was impossible. That's really all I need to know. Yes, the Commodores were a more defensive-oriented team under James Franklin, but they also played against some stout SEC defenses. And I don't think he ever had a player nearly as talented as Hackenberg. I'm really interested to see what the Nittany Lions offense looks like under Franklin and offensive coordinator John Donovan. There are some concerns at offensive line and wide receiver, but I have confidence in this staff to figure things out.
Brian Bennett: I certainly think you could make a case for the Hawkeyes' line being the best in the league in 2014. Brandon Scherff is the only returning lineman in the league who made first-team or second-team All-Big Ten, and he's the early leading candidate to win the Rimington-Pace offensive lineman of the year award. Iowa does have to replace tackle Brett Van Sloten and guard Conor Boffeli, but has plenty of in-house candidates and a great history of success with the position group. I'd like to see the Hawkeyes get a better push up front with those big guys in 2014: Iowa finished just sixth in team rushing in the Big Ten last year, averaging 4.2 yards per carry. But with Ohio State rebuilding its line, the title of best O-line in the league is up for grabs this year (though Wisconsin will also have a lot to say about that).
Brian Bennett: You always want position groups, like both lines, to get lots of reps together in the spring and build chemistry, especially if there are several new starters there. But as long as the injuries aren't serious or lingering, I don't think it's always a huge deal. Players still work out a lot together in the summer and then again through two-a-days and preseason practices, so there is plenty of time to jell. There have been lots of examples of players missing all or large parts of spring ball and having a strong season. The absolute worst thing that can come out of spring practice is a long-term injury, so having some players miss that extra contact isn't always a bad thing.
Brian Bennett: Ah, expansion questions. How I missed thee. Or something. Anyway, perhaps I'm being naive, but I think the expansion merry-go-round has stopped for a while, thanks to the grant-of-rights deals. I believe we'll see some stability for at least the next few years, and there aren't any schools that would fit the Big Ten profile who appear able to or interested in moving. Of course, it only takes one big domino to change everything. The league seems pretty intent on opening new markets and finding areas of population growth, so if there were going to be another expansion push, I would think the conference would try to look to the East and South. But let's hope we don't have to worry about that again for a while.
Former Boilermakers coach Danny Hope made changes to the defensive coordinator position after the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. After Hope's ouster, another new defensive play-caller, Greg Hudson, arrived with Darrell Hazell last season.
The changes don't excuse a defense that last fall finished 111th in points allowed, 104th in yards allowed, 114th against the run, 101st in pass efficiency and 120th in red zone defense. Purdue's offense might have been historically bad, but the defense wasn't far off.
"It's the first spring these older guys have gone into where they're speaking the same language," Hudson told ESPN.com. "Now you're able to have football conversations with them. They're starting to retain it."
Hudson sees it in the increased numbers of players at Mollenkopf Center on their own time. He sees it in their willingness to learn and in the questions that they ask.
"It's very, very important that the players build equity in the defense," he said. "The more equity, the more ownership."
Purdue's seniors, in particular, have to take ownership of the defense. Hudson has applied the necessary pressure -- "If they don't play well, we're not going to be very good," he said -- while also making it clear that the coaches will go with younger players if they're deserving. Seniors such as end Ryan Russell, safety Landon Feichter and linebacker Sean Robinson all have plenty of snaps under their belts.
None are guaranteed to start when Purdue kicks off the season Aug. 30 against Western Michigan. Russell looked like Purdue's next elite pass rusher after the 2011 season, but his production the past two years has been spotty.
"It's do or die for him," Hudson said. "He's running out of reps. The ability's there. He's got to be at 100 miles an hour instead of 75. I just told him it's like driving. You need to break the speed limit every time the ball's snapped."
Hudson needs his seniors to elevate their play, but he's also optimistic about several younger players, including ends Evan Panfil and Jake Replogle, both of whom saw the field as true freshmen last fall. Replogle is working with the first-team defense in spring, while Panfil is backing up Russell.
Last spring, Purdue coaches stressed the need for players to become "Big Ten strong." It didn't show up in the fall, as the Boilers dropped all but one of their Big Ten games by 14 points or more and six league contests by 20 points or more.
Is Purdue any closer?
"We've taken another step," Hudson said. "There's another level out there that we need to get to. There's a fine line between building athletes and building football players. We have to find that fine line. They still have to play the game in this league at a very powerful level. I don't want to recruit a bunch of guys at Gold's Gym, but we've moved forward."
Hudson's two main goals for the spring are comprehension of the scheme and relentless play. The first is helped by greater familiarity for players; the second by constant competition.
"There's not very many guys that can separate themselves from the guy behind them," he said. "Their names are written in pencil."
Well, now it's time to look at the Big Ten's most significant assistant coach addition, and Johnson, the only coach to move within the conference this past offseason, is among the candidates.
Here's the full list (in alphabetical order):
Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator, Rutgers: Friedgen was Maryland's head coach from 2001-10, guiding the Terrapins to seven bowl games (five victories) and an ACC title in 2001, when he won national coach of the year honors. He also has been an offensive coordinator for 21 seasons at either the college or NFL level, helping Georgia Tech to a co-national title in 1990 and winning the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant in 1999.
Larry Johnson, defensive line, Ohio State: Johnson spent the past 18 seasons at Penn State -- the past 14 as the Lions' defensive line coach -- and developed a reputation as both an elite coach and an elite recruiter. He mentored seven first-team All-Americans at Penn State, including Courtney Brown and Tamba Hali, and six of his players were named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year or Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.
Taver Johnson, defensive backs, Purdue: Taver Johnson's hiring didn't get as much publicity as the others on this list, but he could turn out to be just as valuable to his new team. Like Ash, Johnson escaped Arkansas and returns to the Big Ten, where he enjoyed success as Ohio State's cornerbacks coach. He mentored Malcolm Jenkins, the 2008 Jim Thorpe Award winner, and had three Buckeyes corners earn first-team All-Big Ten honors.
Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator, Michigan: Nussmeier brings impressive credentials to Ann Arbor, including a national championship ring he won as Alabama's offensive coordinator in 2012, when the Crimson Tide set records for both scoring and total offense. He has mentored quarterbacks such as Alabama's AJ McCarron, Washington's Keith Price and Jake Locker and the St. Louis Rams' Marc Bulger. Nussmeier also has Big Ten experience as Michigan State's quarterbacks coach from 2003-05.
It's that time again. Cast your vote.
- Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman hosted a meeting of some top offensive minds last week in Columbus. A pro day recap from Ohio State.
- Maryland RB Wes Brown had a reality check last fall when he lost the chance to play football.
- Tom Mulhern shares his thoughts on the first week of Wisconsin's spring practice.
- Nebraska WR Kenny Bell forms a strong connection with QB Tommy Armstrong.
- Illinois coach Tim Beckman is open to weeknight games. Former Illini RB Rashard Mendenhall on why he's retiring at 26.
- Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison thinks the experience among younger players will pay off this season.
- Penn State dished out more than $2.5 million in football severance payments in 2012 and 2013.
- Andy Graham debates whether Indiana should name a starting quarterback before the end of the spring (subscription required).
- Spring Q&As with Purdue defensive coordinator Greg Hudson and offensive coordinator John Shoop.
- Athlon picks the top Big Ten defensive backs of the BCS era.
- Former Michigan State LBs Max Bullough and Kyler Elsworth, who signed autographs together Sunday, will always be linked in Spartans lore.
The end of the coaching carousel for 2014.
This post always includes a reminder that additional coaching changes still can happen, even though most of the Big Ten has started spring practice. It's the nature of the business.
Despite two new teams in the Big Ten, the number of overall changes in the league dropped for the second consecutive year, going from 32 in 2013 to 27 this year. There was only one complete staff overhaul, at Penn State, and four programs -- Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern -- kept all of their coaches from last season. After replacing more than half of his staff in the last offseason, Illinois' Tim Beckman hopes continuity pays off in what likely will be a make-or-break 2014 campaign. Iowa is back to its stable self after two years of coaching flux, while Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hasn't made a staff change since after the 2010 season. Michigan State made a major commitment to Mark Dantonio and his assistants after the Spartans' Rose Bowl win, but it's still impressive that Dantonio retained the entire staff after such a great season.
Both Rutgers and Maryland have some new faces on staff before their inaugural season of Big Ten play. Rutgers has two new coordinators (one outside hire, one promotion), while Maryland has new assistants overseeing both lines.
For the most part, the coaches leaving Big Ten programs did so voluntarily and for potentially better positions. Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien took the same role with the Houston Texans, while two assistants -- Ohio State's Everett Withers and Maryland's Greg Gattuso -- left to become FCS head coaches at James Madison and Albany, respectively. The Big Ten lost several assistants to the NFL, as O'Brien brought four assistants with him from Penn State (John Butler, Stan Hixon, Charles London and Anthony Midget) and swiped another from Ohio State's staff (Mike Vrabel). Wisconsin also lost running backs coach Thomas Hammock to the Baltimore Ravens.
Arguably the most interesting move took place within the league, as longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson replaced Vrabel at Ohio State.
OK, let's get to it already.
Here's the rundown of coaching changes (head coach and full-time assistants only; number of new coaches in parentheses):
Doug Mallory, defensive coordinator/safeties
Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator/QBs
Jon Fabris, defensive line
Brian Knorr, defensive coordinator/defensive ends/outside linebackers
Larry McDaniel, defensive line
Noah Joseph, safeties
Promoted Kevin Johns to main offensive coordinator. Johns also now coaches quarterbacks in addition to wide receivers.
Moved James Patton from assistant defensive line/special teams to tight ends and fullbacks
Tom Brattan, offensive line
Lee Hull, wide receivers
Greg Gattuso, defensive line
Greg Studwara, offensive line
Keenan McCardell, wide receivers
Chad Wilt, defensive line
Al Borges, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is overseeing linebackers instead of defensive linemen
Mark Smith moves from linebackers to defensive line
Roy Manning moves from outside linebackers to cornerbacks
Curt Mallory will coach only safeties rather than the entire secondary
Bill Miller, linebackers/assistant head coach
Mike Sherels, linebackers (promoted from recruiting staff)
Pat Poore moves from wide receivers to running backs
Brian Anderson moves from running backs to wide receivers
Terry Joseph, secondary
Charlton Warren, secondary
OHIO STATE (2)
Everett Withers, co-defensive coordinator/safeties
Mike Vrabel, defensive line
Chris Ash, co-defensive coordinator/safeties
Larry Johnson, defensive line/assistant head coach
PENN STATE (10)
Bill O'Brien, head coach/offensive playcaller
John Butler, defensive coordinator/cornerbacks
Charlie Fisher, quarterbacks
Stan Hixon, wide receivers/assistant head coach
Larry Johnson, defensive line
Charles London, running backs
Mac McWhorter, offensive line
Ron Vanderlinden, linebackers
John Strollo, tight ends
Anthony Midget, safeties
James Franklin, head coach
John Donovan, offensive coordinator/tight ends
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator/safeties
Charles Huff, running backs/special teams
Brett Pry, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Josh Gattis, wide receivers/assistant special teams
Herb Hand, offensive line
Ricky Rahne, quarterbacks
Sean Spencer, defensive line
Terry Smith, cornerbacks
Jon Heacock, defensive backs
Taver Johnson, defensive backs
Dave Cohen, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Ron Prince, offensive coordinator
Rob Spence, quarterbacks
Damian Wroblewski, offensive line
Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Bob Fraser, linebackers/special teams
Mitch Browning, offensive line
Ben McDaniels, wide receivers
Promoted special teams coordinator Joe Rossi to defensive coordinator
Anthony Campanile is coaching only tight ends after overseeing both tight ends and wide receivers
Thomas Hammock, running backs/assistant head coach
Thomas Brown, running backs
To the inbox ...
Aaron from Minneapolis writes: Gophers fans, by and large, are nothing short of in love with Jerry Kill right now, and understandably so. And yet, a significant raise, contract extension, and renewed university commitment to football facilities seems to have raised the bar for Kill and his staff, and I doubt everyone will remain happy if Minnesota just floats around .500 for the next five years. So, as a less biased observer, what do you think should be the new expectation for the Gophers over the next 3-5 years under Kill?
Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Aaron. I always go back to the Glen Mason situation. Minnesota decided that seasons with six to eight wins weren't good enough and parted ways. The program paid the price in the following years until Kill stabilized things. There needs to be a certain level of realism at Minnesota, as the Golden Gophers aren't going to win 10 games every year. But Minnesota also should expect breakthrough seasons every now and then, especially in the seemingly weaker West Division.
Getting to the Big Ten championship game is a reasonable expectation for Kill in the next 4-5 years. At some point, Minnesota must end its Big Ten title drought. But the general expectation should be bowl games every year and winning at least seven games in most years. Fans should always expect big things, but you run into trouble when you think you're something that you're not.
Adam Rittenberg: Erik, you're not the only person who has brought up the challenge of mobilizing fan bases for weekday games. I agree it's an important factor for certain programs, especially those not located in or near cities like Penn State. But most of the programs that could benefit most from these games -- Northwestern, Minnesota, Maryland, Rutgers -- are located in metropolitan areas. Indiana has some transportation issues and so does Purdue, but they have to weigh those against the exposure they'd receive from being in the weekday TV windows.
Ohio State doesn't need the midweek exposure, but I still think Ohio Stadium would be packed for a Thursday night game, in part because of its metro location. Clemson doesn't need midweek games, either, largely because of its location. Attendance is an increasing concern in college football. We've written extensively about that. But a lot of Big Ten teams are irrelevant on Saturdays because of other games going on.
Adam Rittenberg: Here's the problem with that approach, Aaron. When the Big Ten moves to nine league games, beginning in 2016, most teams will play only one major-conference, non-league opponent per year. These series are home-and-homes or would happen at neutral sites. The problem is lack of variety. If Nebraska plays Missouri every year, it never can branch out to play Oregon (as it will in 2016-17) or Oklahoma, a team with which the Huskers have a stronger historical rivalry. I'd rather see variety, especially as Nebraska positions itself for the College Football Playoff. Facing Missouri every now and then is great. An annual series? No, thanks.
Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, it depends on how you define depth. To me, experience and depth often go together, unless you have immensely talented players who can't get on the field because the guys in front of them are consistently better. That might be the case at Michigan State, but the bottom line is the Spartans lose two linebackers -- Max Bullough and Denicos Allen -- who combined for 80 career starts. They also lose a top reserve in Kyler Elsworth. The cupboard is hardly empty as I love Ed Davis' potential, and Darien Harris could be the answer at one starting spot. I should have mentioned Riley Bullough as well, as he moves back to linebacker. But in terms of experienced depth, MSU is lacking because Bullough and Allen were so good for so long.
Adam Rittenberg: Eric, you can't mention every player in these posts, although I noticed Knauf last year and agree he could help Purdue's offense this fall. He had only 14 receptions in eight games, but showed promise as a rusher and a return man. I don't know if I'd call him Purdue's best playmaker at this point, as DeAngelo Yancey was much more productive. But Knauf has a great opportunity to work his way into the rotation this year.
Illinois:The Illini might not be exceptional in the kicking game, but they're in better shape than they were when coach Tim Beckman arrived. Punter Justin DuVernois returns after a solid junior season, while Taylor Zalewski looks for a bit more consistency in his second full season as the placekicker. Zalewski made 12 of 17 field-goal attempts last fall. The return game is the real plus, as V'Angelo Bentley provides a major threat, especially on punt returns.
Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana brings back a dynamic returner in Shane Wynn, who averaged 14 yards on punt run-backs despite limited work. Punter Erich Toth also is back for his third season as the starter. Toth placed 18 of 52 attempts inside the opponent's 20-yard line. IU suffers a big loss at kicker as Mitch Ewald, the team's career field goals and field-goal percentage leader, departs. Aaron Del Grosso and Griffin Oakes will compete at kicker, and Jake Shake (shake and bake!) could enter the mix this summer.
Iowa: Here's another Big Ten team that looks very strong on returns, as Iowa boasts the Big Ten's most dynamic tandem in Kevonte Martin-Manley (punts) and Jordan Cotton (kickoffs). Martin-Manley had two punt-return touchdowns in 2013. Punter Connor Kornbrath ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in average, but placed 27 of 65 attempts inside the opponent's 20. Iowa loses kicker Mike Meyer, a four-year starter. Junior Marshall Koehn seems likely to step up, but could be pushed by incoming freshman Mick Ellis and others.
Maryland: Notice a theme so far? Most Big Ten teams are strong in the return game, and Maryland is no exception. If Stefon Diggs returns at full strength from his leg injury, he'll be a dangerous man with punts and kickoffs in his hands. Will Likely performed extremely well in Diggs' spot, averaging 26 yards on kickoff returns and 12.8 yards on punt returns. Maryland brings back an excellent kicker in Brad Craddock (21-for-25 on field goals last year), and punter Nathan Renfro enters his third season as the starter.
Michigan: Matt Wile has done a bit of everything for Michigan, but could settle into the starting placekicker role this fall. Wile handled kicking duties late last season and also served as Michigan's punter after Will Hagerup was suspended for the season. Hagerup, the Big Ten's punter of the year in 2012, will reclaim the role if he can avoid off-field problems that have surfaced throughout his career. Wile then could focus on kicking, as Kenny Allen is the only other option there. Michigan is still waiting for big things from kick returner Dennis Norfleet and must find someone to handle punts. Top recruit Jabrill Peppers could help.
Michigan State: Special teams once again should be a strength for MSU, which returns All-Big Ten punter Mike Sadler, a Ray Guy award semifinalist who will contend for All-America honors in 2014. Kicker Michael Geiger also is back after connecting on 15 of 16 field-goal attempts as a true freshman. Macgarrett Kings Jr. and Andre Sims Jr. both put up good numbers on punt returns. Michigan State had by far the fewest kick returns (18) in the Big Ten last year and will look for a boost from R.J. Shelton and others.
Minnesota: After an above-average year on special teams in 2013, Minnesota again should be good in the third phase. Punter Peter Mortell didn't get as many accolades as Sadler or Purdue's Cody Webster, but he had an excellent sophomore season, averaging 43.3 yards per attempt with 15 of 50 yards or longer. Marcus Jones is a major threat on returns after bringing back both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns last fall. Redshirt freshman kickers Ryan Santoso and Andrew Harte will compete as the Gophers lose Chris Hawthorne.
Nebraska: The Huskers are looking for some upgrades on special teams, particularly on punt returns, as Nebraska ranked 123rd in the FBS last fall. Primary returner Jordan Westerkamp is back, but he'll face some competition. Nebraska brings back punter Sam Foltz, who had a solid freshman season, averaging 41.6 yards per boot. Mauro Bondi is set to step in at kicker as Pat Smith departs. If Bondi struggles, incoming freshman Kris Brown could get a look this summer. Kenny Bell, who led the Big Ten in kick return average (26.5 yards per return), is back.
Northwestern: The Wildcats lose a huge piece in Jeff Budzien, named the Big Ten's top kicker in each of his final two seasons. Hunter Niswander can handle both kickoffs and punts but seems likely to slide into Budzien's spot. Northwestern's punting was a mess in 2013, ranking 118th nationally in net average (33.2 ypp). Brandon Williams departs and Chris Gradone or Niswander will take over. The big news is Northwestern brings back Venric Mark , an All-America punt returner in 2012. Primary kick returner Matt Harris is back after a solid freshman season.
Ohio State: Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. Indeed, the Aussie is back at punter as Cameron Johnston returns after an excellent debut season (I refuse to call a 21-year-old a freshman). Ohio State hopes for similar results from another first-year specialist in kicker Sean Nuernberger, an early enrollee expected to step in for the departing Drew Basil. Sophomore Dontre Wilson will continue to have a big role on returns after handling kickoffs last year. Ohio State must replace Corey Brown on punt returns and could look to redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall or true freshmen Curtis Samuel and Johnnie Dixon.
Penn State: The kicking game continues to be an area of concern.Sam Ficken owns the team record for consecutive field goals (15) and started strong last season but ended with just 15 of 23 conversions, including four misses inside 40 yards. Penn State needs a new punter after losing Alex Butterworth, and will turn to Chris Gulla. Jesse Della Valle did a good job on punt returns, but Penn State needs a boost on kickoffs after finishing last in the league (19.1 yards per return). The Lions could stick with Geno Lewis or look for a newcomer such as De'Andre Thompkins to emerge. PSU also must shore up its coverage units.
Purdue: As if the Boilers didn't have enough to address on offense and defense, the kicking game needs attention. Punter Cody Webster finished his spectacular career with All-America honors, and the Boilers finished second nationally in net punting (41.7 yards per punt). Incoming freshman Austin McGehee will take over for Webster. Paul Griggs and Thomas Meadows continue to work at kicker, as Griggs made only 50 percent of his attempts (6 of 12) last season. The kick return game is strong with Akeem Hunt and Raheem Mostert, but Purdue must replace punt returner Ricardo Allen. B.J. Knauf could be a good fit there.
Rutgers: The kicking game historically is a strength for Rutgers, which has a knack for blocking kicks and pulling off fakes. Rutgers loses a productive piece in punter Nick Marsh, who also handled kickoffs. The Scarlet Knights will turn to Joseph Roth as their replacement. Kicker Kyle Federico finished the season well, particularly in the Pinstripe Bowl, and returns for his junior season. Rutgers has a major weapon on returns in Janarion Grant, who brought back both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown during his freshman season.
Wisconsin: The kicking game has held back Wisconsin in the past, so it's definitely an area to watch during the offseason. Kicker Jack Russell converted 9 of 13 field-goal attempts after taking over for Kyle French. He'll try to hold off incoming freshman Rafael Gaglianone. Andrew Endicott, who handled kickoffs last fall, also returns. Wisconsin is looking for more from punter Drew Meyer, who averaged just 38.6 yards per attempt in 2013. Top returner Kenzel Doe is back and should handle both punts and kickoffs, although Wisconsin could look to others for help, such as newcomers Serge Trezy and Natrell Jamerson.
More position breakdowns
- QB Connor Cook says Michigan State has more swagger heading into the 2014 season in this in-depth Q&A with CBS Sports.
- Illinois' offensive coordinator Bill Cubit believes his team can be the best offense in the conference and said, "I don't think anybody can stop us."
- In his first interview since the end of the season, OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said he doesn't dwell on job security and is open to change on the defense.
- Two of Minnesota's coaches are flipping duties, as Brian Anderson will take over the receivers with Pat Poore overseeing the running backs.
- Michigan is holding an open quarterback competition, but offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier still believes Devin Gardner has a lot of "unscratched potential."
- James Franklin's staff has remained loyal through thick and thin, and that type of familiarity could breed success.
- Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert is juggling both track and football this offseason, and he'll take part in the national championships next week.
- Taylor Martinez gave both safety and receiver a shot during Nebraska's pro day.
- DB Dezmen Southward "stole the show" at Wisconsin's pro day and clocked his 40-yard dash in the 4.3s.
- Graduation day will be special to Rutgers safety Jeremy Deering, as it happens to fall on the same date as his deceased mother's birthday.
Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.
Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.
Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.
Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.
Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.
Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.
Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.
Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.
Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.
Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.
Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.
Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.
Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.
Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
Selections will be announced in May.
To be eligible, players must have been named a first-team All-American by a major national outlet, played their final season at least 10 years ago, played within the past 50 years and not currently be playing professional football. Coaches must have coached for a minimum of 10 years and 100 games, won at least 60 percent of their games and be retired for at least three years (unless they're older than 70).
Here's the Big Ten contingent for 2014 (in alphabetical order):
- Trev Alberts, LB, Nebraska (1990-93)*
- Larry Burton, SE, Purdue (1973-74)
- Dave Butz, DT, Purdue (1970-72)
- Shane Conlan, LB, Penn State (1983-86)*
- Tom Cousineau, LB, Ohio State (1975-78)
- Eric Crouch, QB, Nebraska (1998-2001)*
- D.J. Dozier, RB, Penn State (1983-86)*
- Tim Dwight, WR/KR, Iowa (1994-97)
- Jumbo Elliott, OT, Michigan (1984-87)
- Kirk Gibson, WR, Michigan State (1975-78)
- Dana Howard, LB, Illinois (1991-94)
- Clinton Jones, RB, Michigan State (1964-66)
- Tim Krumrie, DT, Wisconsin (1979-82)
- Rob Lytle, RB, Michigan (1973-76)
- Mark Messner, DL/LB, Michigan (1985-88)
- Tom Nowatzke, FB, Indiana (1961-64)
- Jim Otis, FB, Ohio State (1967-69)
- Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana (1998-2001)
- Simeon Rice, LB, Illinois (1992-95)
- Lorenzo White, RB, Michigan State (1984-87)
- Steve Wisniewski, G, Penn State, (1985-88)*
- Darryl Rogers, Michigan State, 1976-79 (also coached at Cal-State Hayward, Fresno State, San Jose State and Arizona State)
- Jim Tressel, Ohio State, 2001-10 (also coached at Youngstown State from 1986-2000, listed under divisional coaches on ballot)
Fourteen of the players, as well as Rogers, appeared on last year's ballot, and 13 (as well as Rogers) appeared on the 2012 ballot. The Big Ten newcomers this year are Penn State's Conlan, Iowa's Dwight, Michigan State's Jones, Wisconsin's Krumrie, Michigan's Messner, and Illinois' dynamic linebacker tandem of Rice and Howard.
Tressel also makes his first appearance on the ballot and will be a fascinating candidate to watch, given his success at both Youngstown State and Ohio State and how things ended for him in Columbus.
- As part of his continuing education, Braxton Miller is using new technology to have his progress monitored during Ohio State's camp.
- After competing solely against himself with mixed results a year ago, Michigan is hoping a battle with Shane Morris will bring out the best in Devin Gardner.
- James Franklin is open to playing his former program, so Penn State may look into a game with Vanderbilt "if it makes sense."
- All three quarterbacks in the derby for the starting job at Illinois took reps with the first team as part of offensive coordinator Bill Cubit's effort to make the playing field as level as possible.
- Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst declined to comment on a possible contract extension for Bo Pelini.
- Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave will be limited early in spring practice due to a shoulder injury suffered in the Capital One Bowl.
- Fixing the offensive line is at the top of the priority list as Purdue opens its camp in Darrell Hazell's second season with the program.
- After suffering through a stretch near the end of the season of 13 quarters without an offensive touchdown, Minnesota has no shortage of motivation on the practice field.
- An early look at Northwestern's defensive line and one potential option for beefing up on the interior.
- Coaches around the Big Ten expressed their displeasure with the proposed 10-second rule to slow down offenses, and they won't have to worry about it passing now.
Sophomore quarterback Danny Etling sat down to a plate of grilled chicken and green beans Monday night while he and the rest of Purdue’s quarterbacks chatted about video games, hockey and stats class.
“We’ve never talked about the competition,” Etling told ESPN.com. “Whoever wins the job, there's support behind [him]. There’s no animosity or hostility. I don’t think you’d even be able to tell we’re in a competition by the way we act, but we’re big competitors when we step on the field.”
There’s no room for disagreement on this team because it knows -- just as its T-shirts were emblazoned with the word “Forward” during winter workouts -- that it needs to move on from one of the worst seasons in school history. The Boilermakers finished 1-11, while their offense was last in the Big Ten in scoring, total yards and pass efficiency. Only four teams in the FBS scored fewer points (14.9 ppg) or finished with fewer yards (282.9 ypg).
That’s a big reason for this open competition. As a freshman, Etling started the final seven games and showed flashes of greatness in the last three. But there’s no job security for a team whose only win came on a nail-biter against Indiana State. And there can be no hurt feelings or sense of entitlement among a group of quarterbacks who told ESPN.com that any turnaround has to start with them.
“It’s pretty special how our group of quarterbacks is able to support each other the way that we do,” Appleby said. “But make no mistake; our competition is very, very heated. It’s fierce; it’s nasty. When we’re on the field, it’s go-time. But when we step away from those white lines, we’re our closest supporters.”
This trio of signal-callers, all of whom earned invitations to the Elite 11 while in high school, spend every day together in the film room, at dinner, in dorm rooms and even in class. (Appleby and Etling sit next to one another in a statistics class.) They’ll regularly challenge each other to contests involving push-ups or pull-ups. And even during their off time, they’re either trash talking while playing Madden or strategizing for the next day.
Spring practice starts Thursday and, throughout this week, Purdue’s quarterbacks have taken turns approaching teammates at lunch or exchanging texts to set up times to meet one-on-one to go over the playbook. They’ve pored over film and assignments, hoping the extra work allows quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator John Shoop to do more than just pick up where he left off in November.
“Even Shoop was a bit taken aback by all their work. He grabbed a coffee Tuesday morning and decided to get a head-start in the film room at a “doggone early hour” -- Etling was already there, with his feet kicked up on the chair in front of him. And, Shoop added, such a scene isn’t unusual. Etling arrives early and turns the lights on at the facility; Appleby stays late and turns them off.
We've never talked about the competition. Whoever wins the job, there's support behind [him]. There's no animosity or hostility. I don't think you'd even be able to tell we're in a competition by the way we act, but we're big competitors when we step on the field.” -- Danny Etling on Purdue's QB competition
“I coached 12 years in the NFL,” Shoop said, “and these guys work as hard as any quarterbacks I’ve been around. That’s going to serve them – and us – well. It’s challenging to stimulate them every day because they just always want more.”
That’s not to say it’s all work for Purdue’s quarterbacks. They try to find fun in everything, and they’ve even taken to devising “the milkshake game” to unwind after their daily 3:30 p.m. film session. The game is basically Purdue football’s answer to basketball’s H-O-R-S-E. Each quarterback will call his shot, like hitting a Gatorade bottle from 30 yards away, and the others will try to mimic it. First one to three wins; loser has to bring the other two some milkshakes.
It’s that kind of chemistry, that kind of relationship, that can’t be faked. And Etling laughed while recalling the most recent result.
“David lost; he’s in milkshake debt,” he said. “He tried to give us ice cream and milk at the training table and I’m like, ‘David, are you kidding me?’ ”
There seems to be no jealousy in West Lafayette, Ind. Appleby said he’s preparing to be the starter, but he plans to help his two friends no matter what the result. Ditto for Etling. Shoop said he knows his quarterbacks and, even though a starter might not be named until the summer, he knows they’re getting along just fine – and that an open competition is just what they need.
“I don’t think they’d have it any other way,” Shoop said.
Added Etling, in a separate interview: “You always have to earn your job; you want the best guy on the field. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J. writes: Brian, you made a very good argument in this morning's Take Two -- much better, I feel, than Adam. But you asked a question at the end of your argument, that while rhetorical, I figure I'd provide an answer. "Why not?" Here is why NOT. While some programs like Rutgers and Maryland are used to playing mid-week games, a majority of their fan bases are within a two-hour commuting distance of the stadium (being from Jersey, I have a decent handle on this). It's easy for most fans to leave work and still make an 8 p.m. weekday kickoff. On the other hand, for schools like Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan, etc, the fan bases are much more scattered, a large portion of the season-ticket-holder base is not within an easy driving distance of the campus, so for a Thursday night game, essentially you are asking someone like me to take a four-day weekend to see a Thursday night football game. I don't think this is plausible AND considering you guys just ran articles talking about stadium attendance being down, I cannot see some of the larger programs accepting a Thursday night game on their schedule.
Brian Bennett: The arguments from both of us were similar, and you echo many of our points, Rob. The programs with super-sized stadiums really don't ever have to think about hosting a weeknight game. (I shudder at the prospect of trying to get to Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or wherever after a Thursday night game in State College, for example.) But for programs such as Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Maryland, Rutgers and Purdue, a weeknight game can provide plenty of good exposure. Their fan bases aren't as spread out, and their stadiums aren't nearly as large. And for some of them, filling the stadium isn't easy on a Saturday, anyway, so why not grab the extra eyeballs and attention a Thursday night game could bring?
Brian Bennett: There is precedent here, as Tanner McEvoy bowed out of the quarterback competition early last year because of an injury and ended up starting at safety. The difference, though, is that McEvoy was a junior college transfer who had already used his redshirt year at South Carolina, so he wanted to get on the field. Gillins is a true freshman, and if he's not ready at quarterback, the coaching staff might want to redshirt him. On the flip side, though, maybe the coaches see him providing value at receiver, especially if the Badgers' young wideouts don't step up this offseason, and maybe Gillins expresses a desire to play early. There are a lot of factors at play here. I'd be really surprised if Gillins makes much of an impact at quarterback this season, simply because he's so young and Wisconsin has other experienced options.
Brian Bennett: It's a little tricky to project, not knowing if you want to include the new playoff system as well. Let's just say for now that the playoff wasn't involved but that the 2014 lineup was somehow superimposed on the 2013 season.
In that case, the top of the order wouldn't look much different. Michigan State would still have gone to the Rose Bowl and Ohio State would still have made a BCS game. Then the next tier would involve the Capital One, Outback and Holiday bowls, with the Big Ten having greater input on matchups. I still think Wisconsin goes to the Cap One and Iowa makes the Outback, based on their records and how they finished the season. The debate would then have come down to whether Michigan or Nebraska should go to the Holiday, much as it did with the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. Whoever didn't get picked there would fall to either the Music City or Gator Bowls, and you wonder if the league would step in to avoid placing Nebraska in that rematch with Georgia and giving the Huskers another trip to Florida.
Minnesota could then have found itself in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, which is in the third tier of picks along with the Pinstripe Bowl. The opponents wouldn't have been much different for the league at the top, but the Big Ten would have played Pac-12 teams in the Holiday and Hunger bowls. Going by 2013, that would have been Arizona State and Washington, respectively, in what would have been two tough matchups for the league.
Brian Bennett: It's not a crazy thought, especially because the linebacker group looks like the deepest and most talent-rich position on the Wolverines defense. Michigan hasn't really been dominant at defensive tackle since Mike Martin left town, and Mattison often ran the 3-4 while with the Baltimore Ravens. However, Michigan has run a 4-3 scheme so far under Brady Hoke, and Big Ten teams have been hesitant to go away from four down linemen very often, though Wisconsin used a 3-4 alignment often last season and had success with it. Defensive coordinators often talk about wanting to be multiple and offer different looks to the offense, so Mattison might want to at least explore the idea this spring and see how it goes. That might be the best way to get Michigan's best players on the field.
Brian Bennett: Maybe it's a budding rivalry. I also think Nebraska and Northwestern are the two most unpredictable teams on a week-to-week basis in the Big Ten, with both capable of wild swings of momentum at any time. So no wonder crazy things happen when the two get together.