Big Ten spring recap

Originally Published: May 2, 2005
By Brett Edgerton | Special to

Those prophesying the demise of the Big Ten might want to turn and look the other way this fall. If this league is half as good as it looks on paper, it should be quite a ride in 2005. Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa are legitimate national title contenders, while Purdue and Minnesota aren't as far removed from that trio as you might think. And none of those teams want to face the Michigan State offense or the Penn State defense.

Illinois Fighting Illini
2005 Schedule
9/3 Rutgers
9/10 San Jose State
9/17 at California
9/24 Michigan State
10/1 at Iowa
10/8 at Indiana
10/22 Penn State
10/29 Wisconsin
11/5 at Ohio State
11/12 at Purdue
11/19 Northwestern

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Pierre Thomas* (893 yds)
Passing: Jon Beutjer (1,082 yds)
Receiving: Kendrick Jones* (687 yds)
Tackles: Matt Sinclair (87)
Sacks: Sinclair (4)
Interceptions: Kelvin Hayden (4)

Spring Answers: The running game is unquestionably a strength. Thomas and E.B. Halsey form a potent top two, but it goes beyond that. Marcus Mason is often overlooked and a good-looking freshman, Rashard Mendenhall, enrolled early and adapted well to the offense. Even at fullback, a position new coach Ron Zook hasn't always embraced in the past, Jason Davis has been impressive enough that Zook is prepared to give him some carries. ... Speaking of good impressions, junior TE Melvin Bryant was the breakout player of the spring. He's got the perfect body type for that position and he'll be utilized plenty in the passing game this fall. ... After spending much of his career in the doghouse of the old coaching staff, Cyrus Garrett looks like a new man. He's moved to defensive end permanently now and was a stud in the spring game. He'll challenge for a starting spot in August. ... Junior CB Alan Ball and sophomore Charles Bailey Jr., have been nicked up in the past, but both were fine this offseason and look to lead a potentially strong secondary. On a defense with plenty of questions, the backfield is relatively set.

Fall Questions: Zook is adamant the quarterback race is far from over, but it seems clear junior Tim Brasic, who was mobile and showed a good arm, is the definitive favorite over redshirt frosh Kisan Flakes. What's not clear is how quickly Brasic – he of the one career pass attempt – can pick up on Zook's no-huddle, five-receiver scheme. It's not like young phenom Chris Leak picked it up right away at Florida. And although Brasic claims he ran the same exact offense in high school, here's guessing the Big Ten defenses might provide a slight step up. ... And where exactly are all these receivers coming from? Even Zook admits he doesn't have all the horses yet to install the offense of his liking. Jones is fine, but everyone else is either injury-prone and/or unproven. Highly touted frosh Derrick McPhearson will certainly get a shot in the preseason. ... The front seven has much to prove – and not just that they can actually tackle this year (although that would be nice). The D-line recorded a grand total of four sacks last season, which is basically inexcusable. The situation is not much better at linebacker, where youthfulness is rampant and speed is not. All three positions are wide-open.

Indiana Hoosiers
2005 Schedule
11/2 at Central Michigan
11/10 Nicholls State
11/17 Kentucky
10/1 at Wisconsin
10/8 Illinois
10/15 at Iowa
10/22 Ohio State
10/29 at Michigan State
11/5 Minnesota
11/12 at Michigan
11/19 Purdue

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners) Rushing: Matt LoVecchio (1,951 yds)
Passing: BenJarvus Green-Ellis (794 yds)
Receiving: Courtney Roby (810 yds)
Tackles: Herana-Daze Jones (110)
Sacks: Kenny Kendal* (5.5)
Interceptions: Tracy Porter* (3)

Spring Answers: Like Illinois, the Hoosiers have question marks at quarterback and receiver. Also like the Illini, IU looks solid in the run game. RB Chris Taylor is the leader of the pack, but there is depth. Continued solid play from Ken Burns, Yamar Washington and converted FB Josiah Sears could open up the pass in the team's new spread attack. ... Coach Terry Hoeppner said he thinks the secondary, led by senior CB Buster Larkins, is one of the team's strongest areas in terms of talent and depth. ... It's been awhile since Indiana could line up a true run-stuffing defensive tackle. Well, the Hoosiers might have found one in Greg Brown, who was the talk of spring. The redshirt freshman is tough to move, but he's also quick for his size. ... The decision to move senior John Pannozzo from fullback to middle linebacker – thus allowing Kyle Killion to move to his natural spot outside – is sure looking like a wise one. Fifteen practices and coaches are already calling Pannozzo the quarterback of the defense. Not bad for a guy who hasn't played on that side of the ball since his high school days in Brooklyn.

Fall Questions: Because no one has stood out among the others, there remains a logjam at quarterback. It's more or less down to Graeme McFarland and Blake Powers, who has the slight edge going into August. How much experience do these two bring? McFarland started one time two years ago and Powers was inserted for mop-up duty once last year. ... Regardless of the situation under center, just who are the receivers going to be in this spread offense? Jahkeen Gilmore is the only one with an ounce of experience. Redshirt freshmen James Hardy and the ultra-fast Marcus Thigpen are intriguing, but still have a lot to prove before this position is taken off the worry list. ... The problem with the Hoosier O-line is not so much experience, as it is experience together. With a myriad of injuries in recent years, this unit – even with four starters back – is hardly what you call a cohesive one. That's not an ideal scenario with so many young quarterbacks competing behind them. ... Although fan excitement over the launch of the Hoeppner era has been greater than expected, not everyone got the memo. Green-Ellis, the team's leading rusher, transferred to Ole Miss, while LB Paul Sczcesny, the third-leading tackler, packed his bags for Arizona State.

Iowa Hawkeyes
2005 Schedule
9/3 Ball State
9/10 at Iowa State
9/17 Northern Iowa
9/24 at Ohio State
10/1 Illinois
10/8 at Purdue
10/15 Indiana
10/22 Michigan
11/5 at Northwestern
11/12 at Wisconsin
11/19 Minnesota

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Sam Brownlee* (227 yds)
Passing: Drew Tate* (2,786 yds)
Receiving: Clint Solomon* (905 yds)
Tackles: Abdul Hodge* (116)
Sacks: Chad Greenway* (3)
Interceptions: Jovon Johnson and Antwan Allen (4 each)

Spring Answers: First it was Ed Hinkel and Clinton Solomon moving from high school quarterback to wide receiver successfully. Now it appears it might be Eric McCollum's turn. Now committed to the position, it looks like the sophomore will give Tate plenty of options, along with fellow soph and spring surprise Herb Grigsby. ... The season-ending loss of LT Lee Gray (knee) is only the latest setback on an O-line that has plenty of experience with the injury bug. But as coach Kirk Ferentz noted, a loss like that can be survived this year. Most of the starters return, and unlike last season, a decent amount of experience does exist. If everyone else stays healthy, this star-less group is versatile, deep and should be significantly improved. ... While the defensive front four could use some work, the back seven is fine. In fact, the linebackers are more than fine. If he had come out early, Greenway could've been a top-10 pick in this year's NFL draft. All Hodge did was record 116 tackles last season. And the man with the constant motor, junior Edmond Miles, might have been the team's most improved player of the spring.

Fall Questions: One by one they went – an Iowa running back going down for the season in each of the first three home games. Another one injured a few weeks later. Average rush in Big Ten games garners fewer than two yards. Walk-on Sam Brownlee leads the team with 227 yards. It can't get any worse, can it? Unlikely, but that's still a mystery. Nebraska transfer Marques Simmons was OK this spring, but nothing can be determined until the injured Marcus Schnoor and Albert Young return in August. For a team hyped by so many, this is worth keeping an eye on. ... And what about replacing the entire defensive line? Tackle Matt Kroul and end Ken Iwebema were decent, but by the final spring practice, the first unit was lining up two walk-ons at the other two spots. Among the projected starters, there's nine career tackles. Ferentz claims there could be up to 15 players competing on the defensive line in August. If the Hawks don't generate a pass rush, will the secondary perform as well as it did last year?. ... Neither Andy Fenstermaker nor John Gallery took the punting job by storm this spring. This one might last well into fall drills.

Michigan Wolverines
2005 Schedule
9/3 Northern Illinois
9/10 Notre Dame
9/17 Eastern Michigan
9/24 at Wisconsin
10/1 at Michigan State
10/8 Minnesota
10/15 Penn State
10/22 at Iowa
10/29 at Northwestern
11/12 Indiana
11/19 Ohio State

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Michael Hart* (1,455 yds)
Passing: Chad Henne* (2,743 yds)
Receiving: Braylon Edwards (1,330 yds)
Tackles: Ernest Shazor (84)
Sacks: Pat Massey* (5)
Interceptions: Markus Curry (3)

Spring Answers: Coach Lloyd Carr was thrilled with his tailbacks. Hart is only getting better and fellow sophomore Max Martin is heading in the same direction. And if that wasn't enough, everyone has fallen in love with Kevin Grady, the true freshman who is already enrolled in school. ... Until the Rose Bowl, nagging injuries held WR Steve Breaston from showing his full potential last season. If healthy, he'll unleash it on the Big Ten this year. When Breaston catches the ball, trouble ensues for opponents. ... QB Matt Guttierez, who lost his job due to a shoulder injury suffered right before last year's opener, recovered from surgery much quicker than anyone anticipated and was able to participate in some seven-on-seven drills this spring. He might not be able to wrestle the job away from Henne in August, but he would make one heck of a backup plan. ... Carr thinks junior Leon Hall could be one of the better corners he's ever had. ... With the loss of LBs Roy Manning and Lawrence Reid, who abruptly had to quit football due to atypical bone structure in his spinal cord, some perceived this as a possible trouble spot for UM. But Young and quick players like Chris Graham and Shawn Cable have eased the coaching staff's worries a great deal.

Fall Questions: The loss of first-team All-American center David Baas presents a huge hole in the middle of the O-line. The situation won't be settled until Reuben Riley returns fully healthy this summer. ... Senior nose guard Gabe Watson is already a good one. But can he become great? When, and only when, the 333-pounder conditions better and reaches his potential, Carr thinks he'll be the best nose guard in the country. ... While we're on the subject of the line, though, a few more sacks this year would be nice. ... The secondary is far from set. At one cornerback spot, junior Darnell Hood and fifth-year senior Grant Mason are battling it out, while Shazor's replacement at strong safety is between Brandent Englemon and Jamar Adams. ... Longtime punter Adam Finley was effective enough that no one behind him ever got a chance. So the Wolverines are now left with a senior (Mark Spencer) and a freshman (Zoltan Mesko) without any experience.

Michigan State Spartans
2005 Schedule
9/3 Kent State
9/10 Hawaii
9/17 at Notre Dame
9/24 at Illinois
10/1 Michigan
10/15 at Ohio State
10/22 Northwestern
10/29 Indiana
11/5 at Purdue
11/12 at Minnesota
11/19 Penn State

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 5, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: DeAndra Cobb (728 yds)
Passing: Drew Stanton* (1,601 yds)
Receiving: Jerramy Scott* (444 yds)
Tackles: Ronald Stanley (104)
Sacks: Kevin Vickerson (4.5)
Interceptions: Jason Harmon (3)

Spring Answers: Coach John L. Smith loved the effort and performance of senior WR Kyle Brown and said he wants the other receivers to emulate him. Brown put up some huge numbers in the Spartans' scrimmages. ... Offseason position changes are nothing new to Smith and he was back at it this spring. In an effort to shake up a defense that needs some shaking, he made three moves that ended up with generally positive reviews: two-year starter Eric Smith from strong safety to bandit, Irving Campbell from wide receiver to cornerback and Greg Cooper at both strong safety and his natural position of cornerback. ... While he might not start right away, redshirt freshman DE Justin Kershaw has opened some eyes this spring and provides much-needed depth on a thin front line. Fellow end Clifton Ryan, who looks like he's heading for a monster season himself, guaranteed Kershaw will be an All-Big Ten player before graduating.

Fall Questions: It appears the Spartans will go with tailback-by-committee again. But while burly sophomore Jehuu Caulcrick is a bruiser and senior Jason Teague is a decent enough back, it's clear there is no breakaway threat after the graduation of Cobb. ... With Stanton a bit fragile, the so-so play of backups Stephen Reaves, Brian Hoyer and true freshman Domenic Natale didn't exactly make anyone sleep easier. Stanton needs to stay healthy – and the inexperienced right side of the line needs to develop quickly to help ensure that happens. ... Besides depth problems, the questions on offense are somewhat picky. The questions on defense are not. MSU gave up way too many big plays in 2004. Issues remain in all three areas and Smith wasn't shy about expressing his disappointment, especially toward the secondary. Freshmen and JC transfers like CB Demond Williams will be prominently involved in August. East Lansing, get ready for some more shootouts. ... A plethora of penalties and mental errors plagued the Spartans late in the spring. It wasn't a positive sign for a team that lost so many close games last year due to what Smith said was a lack of mental toughness.

Minnesota Golden Gophers
2005 Schedule
9/1 at Tulsa
9/10 Colorado State
9/17 Florida Atlantic
9/24 Purdue
10/1 at Penn State
10/8 at Michigan
10/15 Wisconsin
10/29 Ohio State
11/5 at Indiana
11/12 Michigan State
11/19 at Iowa

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 8, Defense: 7, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Laurence Maroney* (1,348 yds)
Passing: Bryan Cupito* (2,097 yds)
Receiving: Ernie Wheelwright* (654 yds)
Tackles: Kyle McKenzie* (79)
Sacks: Darrell Reid (7.5)
Interceptions: Ukee Dozier (3)

Spring Answers: It might not match last year's two-headed machine at tailback, but the Gophers sure feel a lot better about their depth behind Maroney after both the shifty Amir Pinnix and the bullish Gary Russell rushed for over 100 yards in the spring game. Russell, especially, provides a nice change of pace from Maroney, who is destined for a gigantic season. ... Coaches fell in love with QB Mike Maciejowski, a redshirt freshman who was the surprise of the offseason. He likely jumped into the No. 2 spot behind Cupito. ... Coach Glen Mason said his linebacking trio – Mike Sherels, John Shevlin and Kyle McKenzie – is playing as well as any he's ever had at Minnesota. The Gophers were the only D-I program to show interest in Shevlin, a walk-on and onetime fullback who was pummeling his offensive teammates this spring. ... Although you could argue it wouldn't take much, the defense under new coordinator David Lockwood is more physical and does appear to swarm and tackle much better. In fact, one observer thought they were the most physical Gopher practices in years – spring or fall. ... Redshirt freshman William VanDeSteeg is still listed as a backup at defensive end, but the guy was all over the field and the coaches were constantly pointing him out. Don't be shocked if he beats out Eric Clark for a starting spot.

Fall Questions: There are plenty of people who believe Cupito was unfairly given a bad rap last season. Yes, he completed fewer than half his throws, but that was partly due to the Gophers' emphasis on lower-percentage passes downfield. Another hit to that completion rate was the alarming number of dropped passes by the team's receivers (Wheelwright's two in the end zone during the bowl game come to mind). As far as senior Jared Ellerson, he needs to play more like he did as a sophomore than he did as junior. ... And what about that 109th ranked pass defense? Coaches, who say it was a confidence problem and that the players were thinking too much, are hoping the Brandon Owens move back to safety from linebacker will pay off. The cornerback situation still looks shaky, though. Sophomores Jamal Harris and Desi Steib are battling at one spot and junior Trumaine Banks is apparently still working out the kinks as he enters his third year at starter. This problem is far from being solved. ... Don't underestimate the loss of quirky Rhys Lloyd, who handled both the punting and place-kicking and never met a pressure situation he didn't like. Into his place step a pair of redshirt freshmen: K Jason Giannini and P Justin Kucek. Oh by the way, the Gophers play back-to-back games in front of over 100,000 a month into the season.

Northwestern Wildcats
2005 Schedule
9/3 Ohio
9/10 Northern Illinois
9/17 at Arizona State
9/24 Penn State
10/8 Wisconsin
10/15 at Purdue
10/22 at Michigan State
10/29 Michigan
11/5 Iowa
11/12 at Ohio State
11/19 at Illinois

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 6, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Noah Herron (1,381 yds)
Passing: Brett Basanez* (2,838 yds)
Receiving: Mark Philmore* (633 yds)
Tackles: Tim McGarigle* (151)
Sacks: Nick Roach* (5)
Interceptions: Marvin Ward (3)

Spring Answers: Basanez has started 28 straight games under center, but the best season to date was his first. Maybe he was just saving the best for last. Coaches are saying he's never looked better than he does right now. We already knew Basanez was tough. He recovered from a broken leg two years ago and gutted it out with a dislocated shoulder last fall. He's healthy now and should be able to run more, which is always important in the Wildcat offense. ... And if Basanez does happen to get hurt again, coaches were thrilled with the progress of redshirt freshman C.J. Bacher this spring. ... A hamstring injury to expected starter RB Terrell Jordan gave Brandon Roberson a chance to shine. It might be tough for Jordan to regain the momentum the speedy Roberson has claimed. In addition, coaches love incoming freshmen Omar Conteh and Ohio "Mr. Football" Tyrell Sutton. ... They're also expecting a big contribution from senior Barry Cofield, who moved from end to tackle to replace Luis Castillo. In fact, coach Randy Walker said he believes Cofield might become one of the country's best defensive lineman in 2005.

Fall Questions: Although OT Zach Strief and C Trevor Rees are well-established, the O-line does need to be re-tooled after the loss of three starters. One interesting August battle will be at left guard, where junior Joe Tripodi and Austin Matthews are basically dead-even. ... On a defensive line with some serious depth issues, the coaches were a bit disappointed no one stepped into the vacant spot at defensive end this spring. One of the young guys, sophomore David Ngene or redshirt freshman Kevin Mims, needs to assume that position in fall drills. ... When Bryan Heinz moved from free safety to strong safety this offseason, it created an opening at his old position. It's an opening that still exists. When Herschel Henderson returns from an injury, he'll compete with Reggie McPherson. ... Can the Wildcats survive this brutal schedule? A winning record would not only be impressive, but historic as well. The Northwestern program hasn't posted three consecutive six-win seasons since the Herbert Hoover administration. Yes, the last time was 1929-31.

Ohio State Buckeyes
2005 Schedule
9/3 Miami (Ohio)
9/10 Texas
9/17 San Diego State
9/24 Iowa
10/8 at Penn State
10/15 Michigan State
10/22 at Indiana
10/29 at Minnesota
11/5 Illinois
11/12 Northwestern
11/19 at Michigan

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 0

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Lydell Ross (475 yds)
Passing: Justin Zwick* (1,209 yds)
Receiving: Santonio Holmes* (769 yds)
Tackles: A.J. Hawk* (141)
Sacks: Anthony Schlegel* (3.5)
Interceptions: Ashton Youboty* (4)

Spring Answers: The Bucks have only three running backs on scholarship and none is exactly the "three yards and a cloud of dust" type. Ask anyone in Columbus if they care. Sophomore Antonio Pittman and redshirt frosh Erik Haw can fly. Incoming freshman Maurice Wells can, too. After taking a year and a half off, the running game showed some momentum in wins over Michigan and Oklahoma State. That momentum continued this spring. ... No matter who's throwing the ball or who's running the ball, they'll certainly be protected well by an offensive line that returns nine of its top 10 guys – and even adds highly touted recruit Alex Boone in the fall. ... After religiously studying film with Hawk and Bobby Carpenter, LB Marcus Freeman went out and had one of the team's best springs, topping it off with a game-high 7.5 tackles in the Scarlet-Gray game. Add seniors Anthony Schlegel and Mike D'Andrea to that trio and you've got a linebacking corps that's almost beyond belief. One OSU official who's watched over three decades of Buckeye football said he's never seen the program so stacked at that position. ... After years of waiting in the wings behind kicker-supreme Mike Nugent, Josh Huston wasted no time dusting off the competition. The senior is no Nugent (who could be?), but he's pretty accurate and has a strong leg, even hitting a 57-yarder in practice last year.

Fall Questions: Will the QB platoon – an old favorite of former coach John Cooper – return to Columbus? Probably not, but coach Jim Tressel said he wouldn't rule it out once Troy Smith returns from his one-game suspension. Most people feel the elusive Smith did enough this spring to earn the No. 1 spot, though. In fact, if Zwick drops down after the season opener, he might even have a backup competition on his hands with Todd Boeckman. ... Is Ginn Jr., really going to fill the CB spot vacated by Dustin Fox? The answer is (mostly) no. He'll be used in some goal-line situations, but it'll still be the same exciting show at flanker, returner and occasionally even quarterback. ... As for the cornerback spot opposite Youboty, it'll likely be Tyler Everett, who's started some games at strong safety in the past. He'll have to prove he's fully back from a knee injury, though, because Sirjo Welch played well in the spring and is a viable option. ... In all honestly, this team is loaded. How it handles all the hype might be the biggest question. Yes, this is Columbus. Yes, these players are used to playing in front of 100,000. If you listen to the locals, though, this team is clearly more talented than the 2002 national title winners. In other words, don't enter the Michigan game with any losses – and don't leave with any, either.

Penn State Nittany Lions
2005 Schedule
9/3 South Florida
9/10 Cincinnati
9/17 Central Michigan
9/24 at Northwestern
10/1 Minnesota
10/8 Ohio State
10/15 at Michigan
10/22 at Illinois
10/29 Purdue
11/5 Wisconsin
11/19 at Michigan State

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 9, Defense: 9, Kicker/punter: 1

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Tony Hunt* (777 yds)
Passing: Zack Mills (1,722 yds)
Receiving: Michael Robinson* (485 yds)
Tackles: Paul Posluszny* (104)
Sacks: Posluszny* and Matthew Rice* (3 each)
Interceptions: Calvin Lowry* and Anwar Phillips* (4 each)

Spring Answers: After the spring game, coach Joe Paterno said Michael Robinson is a much-improved passer and Anthony Morelli would one day be a great passer. That one day will likely have to wait, though. Now a fifth-year senior who lost weight and no longer has to worry about another position, Robinson played well and appears to be JoePa's man for the time being. ... Last year, opponents shut down the run and forced PSU to pass, which wasn't a good formula for the Lions. Safeties could just play closer to the line of scrimmage because of a lack of speed at wideout. Well, good luck trying that this year. Like much of the Big Ten, Penn State has finally jumped on the speed train. True freshman Derrick Williams and fellow early enrollee Justin King (who will also play plenty at CB) simply have another gear – the kind of burners that can turn a five-yarder into a 50-yarder in a heartbeat. Don't forget about redshirt freshman Deon Butler, either. All three had Happy Valley salivating this spring and should all contribute heavily at an already inexperienced position. ... The D looks as hungry as ever, which is not good news for the rest of the Big Ten. A year after giving up just 15 points a game, this unit has talked amongst itself about being the No. 1 overall defense in the country. ... As if the unit needed any more help, Chris Harrell returned to safety after missing all of last season with a neck injury. He didn't show any hesitation this spring. In fact, his teammates call him "The Assassin" and the area of the field he patrols "The Graveyard."

Fall Questions: Can the offense show signs of life when it counts? As exciting as the young receivers might be, the fact remains this is still a unit that ranked 105th in the nation last year. In the team's first six Big Ten games, the Lions averaged seven points a contest – not once scoring more than 13. That won't win you many football games, no matter how good the defense is. ... One of the questions is at tailback. A bum ankle held Austin Scott back this spring, but a lack of maturity has done the trick in the past. Paterno still says Scott was as good as any player he's ever seen in high school, but also says he needs to grow up – and quickly. This offense needs his talent. ... And this backfield needs an offensive line. It was a problem spot in '04 and it's more of a mystery spot in '05. After a bizarre incident involving arrows shot through a dorm wall, starting center E.Z. Smith won't be allowed on campus this summer and has to meet certain conditions – including academic ones – to be allowed back on the team. If he's not, a fifth-year senior with barely any experience will have the job. Others involved, including the starting right side of the line (G Tyler Reed and T Andrew Richardson) are now buried at the bottom of the depth chart. The uncertainty surrounding this trio isn't exactly helping the goal of a stable, consistent line. ... Others currently in the JoePa doghouse include defensive tackles Scott Paxson (arrows) and Ed Johnson (top secret).

Purdue Boilermakers
2005 Schedule
9/10 Akron
9/17 at Arizona
9/24 at Minnesota
10/1 Notre Dame
10/8 Iowa
10/15 Northwestern
10/22 at Wisconsin
10/29 at Penn State
11/5 Michigan State
11/12 Illinois
11/19 at Indiana

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 7, Defense: 11, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jerod Void* (625 yds)
Passing: Kyle Orton (3,090 yds)
Receiving: Taylor Stubblefield (1,095 yds)
Tackles: Bernard Pollard* (96)
Sacks: Ray Edwards* and Rob Ninkovich* (8 each)
Interceptions: George Hall* (2)

Spring Answers: After battling injuries, senior WR Kevin Noel was back this spring and looks as good as he has his whole career. He'll provide nice depth for a receiving corps that has incredible potential. Stubblefield will be missed, but this group is as athletic as any Purdue has ever had. Sophomore Dorien Bryant went vertical and made a catch in the spring game that simply wasn't possible of a Boilermaker in previous years. ... Purdue had to have an offensive tackle step up in the spring and that's exactly what redshirt freshman Sean Sester did. In fact, he was up against Edwards for much of the spring and Edwards didn't spend a whole lot of time in the backfield. Coach Joe Tiller made a point to single Sester out several times and believes he's got four-year starter written all over him. ... Senior CB Brian Hickman will almost certainly win back his job when he returns from offseason foot surgery in August. But in his place stepped Zach Logan this spring, and coaches were thrilled with the progress he made. The hard-hitting redshirt freshman will see plenty of time. ... With 11 starters back, the defense should be great – and that's exactly what it was this spring. Believe it or not, the unit scored five times in a single scrimmage.

Fall Questions: What about this new offense? Tiller claims it's not radically different, but there's no question it involves more options, rollouts and draws. For the first time in Tiller's tenure, two-back sets and the option will be used frequently. Yes, the Utah trend continues. Although in this case, the system is catered to the team's personnel more than anything. ... That brings us to the quarterback position. It's no secret the new game plan was designed with junior Brandon Kirsch and his running abilities in mind, but the offense was a bit ragged at times and Curtis Painter more than held his own in the scrimmages, especially the spring game. Tiller is claiming publicly this could get interesting in August. The truth? Or a mere motivational ploy? ... Can the running game turn it around? The Boilers averaged less than three yards a carry during the team's 2-5 finish. Redshirt frosh Kory Sheets, who looked sharp and impressed his teammates, might have the big-play ability Purdue has recently lacked at this position. He at least played well enough to put some pressure on Void and Brandon Jones. ... If this team starts taking injuries on the offensive line, it could all start falling apart. Coaches are pleased with the starting five, but what's left behind them is a serious, serious concern.

Wisconsin Badgers
2005 Schedule
9/3 Bowling Green
9/10 TBA
9/17 at North Carolina
9/24 Michigan
10/1 Indiana
10/8 at Northwestern
10/15 at Minnesota
10/22 Purdue
10/29 at Illinois
11/5 at Penn State
11/12 Iowa
11/25 at Hawaii

2004 overall record:
Conference record:

Returning starters
Offense: 5, Defense: 4, Kicker/punter: 2

2004 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Anthony Davis (973 yds)
Passing: John Stocco* (1,999 yds)
Receiving: Brandon Williams * (517 yds)
Tackles: Dontez Sanders* (76)
Sacks: Sanders* (5.5)
Interceptions: Brett Bell* and Jim Leonhard (3 each)

Spring Answers: Even before Booker Stanley's suspension from the team following an arrest last weekend, Brian Calhoun was unquestionably the team's new running back. Not only does the Colorado transfer offer more speed and explosive ability, but his pass-catching skills are tremendous. For an offense that can use all the help it can get, Calhoun is a welcome addition. ... With Darrin Charles gone and Williams out with a stress fracture, one of the pleasant surprises was speedy sophomore WR Jarvis Minton, who can catch balls in traffic as well as anyone on the team. He'll be in the mix this fall. ... On a defensive line that lost everyone, including Anttaj Hawthorne, the young replacements weren't all that bad this spring. While that's not exactly a ringing endorsement, the unheralded group did make significant progress and players such as junior Jamal Cooper did turn some heads. ... So did walk-on Zach Hampton. The defensive back has a long way to go, but his performance this spring did evoke some images of the graduated Leonard, also a walk-on from small-town Wisconsin. If nothing else, Hampton provides nice depth in a secondary that could use it.

Fall Questions: Will incumbent John Stocco hold off sophomore Tyler Donovan at quarterback? Better yet, does anyone want the job? In the spring game, Stocco was 13-of-29 with two picks, while Donovan was a paltry 1-of-8. And before he injured his ankle, Bryan Savage wasn't blowing anybody away. Sounds like quite a horse race, doesn't it? ... Left tackle Joe Thomas is excellent and center is no worry, but that's about the extent of the Badgers' comfort on the offensive line. Spots will have to be won in August. ... UW lost its six best players on defense, four of which were all-conference first-teamers. Perhaps no area is in more fluctuation than linebacker. With the exception of Mark Zalewski on the strong side, it appears nothing else is locked up at this point. ... The situation isn't much better in the secondary, where the only returning starter (CB Brett Bell) is attempting to come back from knee surgery. It might take awhile to fully replace Leonhard and team MVP Scott Starks. ... Coach Barry Alvarez is inviting walk-on kickers to fall camp. Not good news for the inconsistent Taylor Mehlhaff and Adam Schober.

Brett Edgerton is a researcher for ESPN. He can be reached at