Big Ten hit hard by injury bug as conference play heats up
The Big Ten's 2016 revival could be threatened by injuries.
The injury bug bit the Big Ten hard during the first month of the season. No team is hurting more than Penn State, where four linebackers - three of them starters - could be missing when the Nittany Lions host Minnesota on Saturday.
Coach James Franklin can't explain why his team has been decimated at one position. But he said it might be connected to the sanctions imposed on the program in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal.
Franklin expects linebackers Brandon Bell (leg) and Jason Cabinda (hand) to return at some point, but Nyeem Warman-White (knee) sustained a season-ending injury for the second straight year. A knee injury also has ended backup Jan Johnson's season.
''It could go into our set of circumstances over the last three to four years having a reduced roster and guys taking a lot more reps than they would in a traditional situation,'' Franklin said. ''Does that factor into it? Is it nutrition? Is it sleep? Is it sport science? A lot of factors. Is it just a streak of bad luck?''
A lot of Big Ten teams are asking those same types of questions.
No. 8 Wisconsin will enter Saturday's showdown at No. 4 Michigan with concerns about some of its top players. The Badgers, already without linebacker Chris Orr for the rest of 2016 with a knee injury, aren't entirely sure what they'll get from star running back Corey Clement (ankle), who had just 54 yards on 23 carries in last week's win at Michigan State.
Rafael Gaglianone (back) missed the game against the Spartans and is out for the season after surgery.
Michigan State will head to Indiana without linebacker Jon Reschke (ankle sprain). But fellow Riley Bullough could return this week after missing the loss to Wisconsin with what coach Mark D'Antonio said was an undisclosed but ongoing issue. Andrew Dowell, who started for Reschke in the opening-game win over LSU, will step into the starting lineup on a more permanent basis.
''He's a guy that can go play after play after play 100 miles an hour. One of those types of guys. Tremendous conditioned athlete,'' D'Antonio said.
Iowa's hopes for a second straight West division title took a blow on Monday when senior receiver Matt VandeBerg injured his right foot.
VandeBerg, by far quarterback C.J. Beathard's favorite target, is out indefinitely.
''When those things happen, I don't want to call it a crisis situation, but that's a time when you've got a little work to do. This is just we've got to close ranks here and keep pushing forward,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
No. 15 Nebraska will likely open its home league schedule without receiver Alonzo Moore, who is nursing a shoulder injury.
Minnesota will be without cornerback Coney Durr because of an undisclosed injury, and neither KiAnte Hardin nor Ray Buford, who've been suspended for violating team rules, are listed on this week's depth chart.
''In the secondary, we're about as thin as we can be without getting into problems,'' Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said.
No. 2 Ohio State will be well rested after a bye last week, although it's unclear if linebacker Dante Booker will play Saturday because of an MCL sprain.
But the Buckeyes' opponent, Rutgers, will head to Columbus without star running back Janarion Grant. He injured his right ankle at the end of a 76-yard catch and run in last week's 14-7 loss to Iowa and is done for the season.
Quanzell Lambert, a senior defensive lineman, is also out for the season after injuring his right knee against the Hawkeyes.
''Both starters meant a lot to the team and there wasn't any one more important than another. They are both really important,'' Rutgers coach Chris Ash said. ''We'll move on, the next guy will step up and we'll go out and play productive football for us and we're excited to see who that is.''
AP College Football Writer Eric Olson contributed to this report from Lincoln, Nebraska.