2012 Big Ten Spring Football Prospectus
April 5, 2012
The Road to Indy: After a high-scoring, down-to-the-wire finish in the inaugural event, the second annual Big Ten Football Championship Game will once again determine the Big Ten Champion and send one conference representative to play in the Rose Bowl Game or Bowl Championship Series National Championship Game. The 2012 Big Ten Football Championship Game will be broadcast in prime time by FOX Sports on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Going For Three: Wisconsin enters the 2012 season seeking its third consecutive Big Ten Championship. After sharing the Leaders Division title with Penn State last season, the Badgers went on to win the inaugural Big Ten Football Championship Game, taking a 42-39 win over Legends Division Champion Michigan State. Wisconsin also claimed a share of the Big Ten title with the Spartans in 2010. The Badgers have now won 13 Big Ten Championships and are looking to join Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio State as the fourth Big Ten program to win three straight conference titles.
Welcome Back: The 2012 Big Ten campaign will feature 26 All-Conference players from last season, with nine first-team honorees and 17 second-team selections returning to the field this fall. The first-team returnees are comprised of two offensive standouts, six defensive players and one special teams performer honored as both a kicker and punter. The second-team picks include six players on offense, nine on defense and two on special teams. In addition, 29 honorable mention honorees also return to campus. Along with the all-conference honorees returning in 2012, three individual award winners from 2011 will hit the fields again this fall. Wisconsin's Montee Ball was named the Graham-George Offensive Player and the Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year, Ohio State's Braxton Miller earned the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year award and Nebraska's Brett Maher was named the Bakken-Andersen Kicker and Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year.
ALL-CONFERENCE FIRST-TEAM RETURNEES
ALL-CONFERENCE SECOND-TEAM RETURNEES
Familiar Faces Back in the Lineup in 2012: All 12 Big Ten teams will welcome back at least 10 players to their starting lineups in 2012. Purdue's lineup will feature 19 players returning to their starting roles, including nine each on offense and defense. Ohio State welcomes back 18 starters, with seven on offense and nine on defense, while Illinois has 17 players — seven on offense, eight on defense — returning to its starting lineup. Indiana (seven offensive, eight defensive), Michigan (six offensive, seven defensive), Minnesota (seven offensive, six defensive) and Nebraska (eight offensive, seven defensive) each boast 16 returning starters, while Michigan State (five offensive, eight defensive) follows with 15. Northwestern's lineup features 13 returning starters, followed by Iowa with 12, Wisconsin with 11 and Penn State with 10.
Fresh Crop of Coaches: After welcoming four new head coaches to Big Ten play for the 2011 campaign, three more coaches will make their conference debut this season. Iowa's Kirk Ferentz is the Big Ten's longest-tenured mentor, with 13 seasons leading the Hawkeyes. No other Big Ten head coach has spent more than six years on their respective school's sidelines.
New Faces In New Places: The Big Ten will feature three new head coaches roaming the sidelines in 2012. Illinois' Tim Beckman, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Penn State's Bill O'Brien will all enter their first seasons as Big Ten head coaches in 2012. Beckman enters his first season at Illinois after spending three years as the head coach at Toledo. Beckman boasts 24 years of coaching experience heading into this season, including two years as the cornerbacks coach at Ohio State from 2005-06. Meyer begins his tenure at Ohio State after spending 10 seasons as head coach at Bowling Green, Utah, and most recently Florida, where he won two national championships. Meyer began his coaching career with the Buckeyes, serving as a graduate assistant in 1986 and 1987. O'Brien enters his first season at Penn State after spending the last five years as an assistant coach for the New England Patriots. Prior to his four years with New England, O'Brien spent 14 years as an assistant for Georgia Tech, Maryland and Duke.
Ball Return: Wisconsin's Montee Ball returns to the field in 2012 after receiving the Big Ten's Graham-George Offensive Player and Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year awards. The senior running back was a consensus All-American, Heisman Trophy Finalist and winner of the Chicago Tribune Silver Football as the conference's Most Valuable Player. Ball led the country in rushing yards and set Big Ten single-season records with 33 rushing touchdowns, 39 total touchdowns (matching an NCAA record) and 236 points (a new NCAA record). He was the fourth Badger to be named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and the first since John Clay took home the honor in 2009.
Double Dip: Wisconsin's Montee Ball enters the 2012 season with the chance to become just the second player to earn Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors in back-to-back seasons, joining former Indiana tailback Anthony Thompson (1988-89). Including Thompson, just four players have successfully defended their Player of the Year award. Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis won consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2007 and 2008, while Northwestern linebacker Pat Fitzgerald earned the same honor in 1996 and 1997. Illinois linebacker Dana Howard was tabbed the conference's top defensive player in 1993 and 1994. Other two-time Big Ten Players of the Year include Michigan State running back Lorenzo White (1985, 1987) and Purdue quarterback Drew Brees (1998, 2000).
Tandem Trying For Two: Wisconsin's Montee Ball and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson each enter the 2012 season seeking their second Offensive Player of the Year award after Ball picked up the honor in 2011 and Robinson received recognition in 2010. This season marks just the fifth time that two conference players enter the year already boasting a Player of the Year award. Ball and Robinson are the first pair since Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones and Wisconsin running back John Clay returned in 2010, and the first tandem on the same side of the ball since running backs Tyrone Wheatley of Michigan and Brent Moss of Wisconsin both returned for the 1994 season. Other Big Ten Player of the Year duos to return to the field were Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington and Purdue quarterback Drew Brees in 1999 and Iowa signal caller Matt Rodgers and Michigan State running back Tico Duckett in 1991.
Nine Signal Callers Return For 2012: The majority of the 12 conference teams will have a familiar face running their offense in 2012, as nine teams welcome back their primary starting quarterbacks from 2011. Four Legends Division teams welcome their signal callers back for the 2012 season in Iowa's James Vandenberg, Michigan's Denard Robinson, Minnesota's MarQueis Gray and Nebraska's Taylor Martinez, while Northwestern's Kain Colter started the first three games last season before helping to throw, catch and run the ball the rest of the year after the return of Dan Persa. Five Leaders Division teams welcome back returning starters under center in Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase, Indiana's Tre Roberson, Ohio State's Braxton Miller and Purdue's Caleb TerBush, while either Matt McGloin or Rob Bolden started at quarterback for Penn State all last season.
Doubly Dangerous: A bevy of dual-threat quarterbacks will take the field for Big Ten teams during the 2012 season, as six field generals return after racking up at least 600 rushing yards a season ago. In the Legends Division, Michigan's Denard Robinson returns after leading the Big Ten in total offense for the second consecutive season. Robinson finished fifth in the conference in rushing with 1,176 yards, while Minnesota's MarQueis Gray followed in sixth with 966. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez finished ninth in the Big Ten with 874 yards on the ground, while Northwestern's Kain Colter picked up 654 rushing yards for the season. In the Leaders Division, Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase and Ohio State's Braxton Miller return under center for their teams after Scheelhaase recorded 624 rushing yards and Miller picked up 715 yards on the ground. Robinson, Gray, Colter, Scheelhaase and Miller each led their teams in rushing last season.
Running Back For Another Year: The Big Ten returns nine of its top 10 rushers from a season ago, including the conference's leading rusher and reigning Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year in Wisconsin's Montee Ball. Ball racked up 1,923 yards and 33 rushing touchdowns en route to the top spot. Joining Ball in the Leaders Division are Penn State's Silas Redd, who finished fourth in the Big Ten with 1,241 rushing yards, and Indiana's Stephen Houston, who finished 10th with 802 yards on the ground. The Legends Division features six returning players who earned top 10 spots, led by Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, who finished third in the conference with 1,357 yards. Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson (fifth, 1,176 yards), Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray (sixth, 966 yards), Michigan running back Fitzgerald Toussaint (seventh, 1,041 yards), Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell (eighth, 948 yards) and Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez (ninth, 874 yards) each finished in the conference's top 10 in rushing last season.
Tackling Machines: Seven of the Big Ten's top-10 tacklers from 2011 return to the field this fall. Wisconsin's Mike Taylor and Chris Borland finished with the top two tackle totals in the conference, as Taylor posted 150 total tackles and Borland racked up 143. Iowa's Christian Kirksey and James Morris each recorded 110 tackles, followed by Illinois' Jonathan Brown with 108, Penn State's Gerald Hodges with 106 and Northwestern's Ibraheim Campbell with 100.
Passers Beware: The Big Ten welcomes back six of the conference's top 10 in interceptions per game from last season. Wisconsin's Shelton Johnson picked off 0.31 passes per game (four total), good for second in the Big Ten, while Michigan State's Isaiah Lewis posted 0.29 interceptions per game (four) and teammate Darqueze Dennard grabbed 0.25 per game (three) a season ago. Illinois' Terry Hawthorne, Iowa's Tanner Miller and Ohio State's Bradley Roby each picked off 0.23 passes per game (three each) in 2011, tying them for eighth in the conference rankings.
Rewriting The Records: Multiple career records could be rewritten in 2012. Michigan's Denard Robinson has racked up 3,229 rushing yards, good for the second-most of any conference quarterback behind Indiana's Antwaan Randle El with 3,895. Wisconsin's Montee Ball appears among the top 10 in three categories, ranking third with 61 total touchdowns, tied for fourth with 55 rushing scores and slotted sixth with 368 career points. Fellow Badgers running back Ron Dayne holds all three career records with 71 rushing and total touchdowns and 426 careeer points. Minnesota's Troy Stoudermire is the Big Ten's career leader in kick return yards, recording 3,102 for his career, and also holds career top-10 marks in kickoff returns (second at 122) and kick return average (tied for seventh at 25.4). Purdue's Ricardo Allen has taken back three interceptions for touchdowns, which is tied for third in conference history, while Wisconsin's Chris Borland has racked up 10 forced fumbles, which is tied for fifth all-time.
Big Ten, Big Bowls: The Big Ten bowl lineup will once again consist of eight different bowl games in December and January based in the states of Arizona, California, Florida, Michigan and Texas. Conference schools will have the opportunity to take part in the Rose Bowl Game, Capital One Bowl, Outback Bowl, TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Valley of the Sun Bowl, Meineke Car Care Bowl of Texas, TicketCity Bowl and Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. The current Big Ten bowl lineup will run through the 2013 college football season.
Big Ten Takes on Bowl Teams: Eleven Big Ten teams will square off against at least one non-conference team that participated in a bowl game last season. Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska and Penn State will face three non-conference bowl teams in 2012, while Iowa, Michigan State and Purdue will each play two bowl opponents outside the conference schedule, and Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin each have one bowl qualifier on their schedule this fall. The Fighting Illini take on bowl teams in their first two games, hosting Western Michigan (Little Caesars Pizza) to open the season on Sept. 1 before traveling to take on Arizona State (Las Vegas) on Sept. 8. Illinois also hosts Louisiana Tech (Poinsettia) on Sept. 22. The Wolverines begin the 2012 campaign in Arlington, Texas, against reigning BCS National Champion Alabama on Sept. 1, following with a matchup at home against Air Force (Military) on Sept. 8 and a game at Notre Dame (Champs Sports) on Sept. 22. The Huskers open the season with three games against bowl teams, beginning at home against Southern Miss (Hawaii) on Sept. 1. Nebraska travels to UCLA (Kraft Fight Hunger) on Sept. 8 before hosting Arkansas State (GoDaddy.com) on Sept. 15. The Nittany Lions take on Ohio (Famous Idaho Potato) at home to open 2012 on Sept. 1 before playing at Virginia (Chick-Fil-A) on Sept. 8 and hosting Temple (New Mexico) on Sept. 22. Iowa and Michigan State also open their schedules against bowl teams, as the Hawkeyes take on Northern Illinois (GoDaddy.com) in Chicago on Sept. 1 and the Spartans host Boise State (Las Vegas) on Aug. 31. Iowa hosts Iowa State (Pinstripe) on Sept. 8, while Michigan State welcomes Notre Dame on Sept. 15. Purdue also takes on the Fighting Irish as the Boilermakers play at Notre Dame on Sept. 8 before hosting Marshall (St. Petersburg) on Sept. 29. Northwestern hosts Vanderbilt (Liberty) on Sept. 8, while three more teams take on bowl foes on Sept. 15 when Minnesota plays Western Michigan, Ohio State takes on California (Holiday) and Wisconsin squares off against Utah State (Famous Idaho Potato).
No Plays for 2012: Each Big Ten team will not play against three conference teams each season. The "no-plays" for the 2012 season are listed below.
LEGENDS DIVISION -- Does not play
LEADERS DIVISION -- Does not play