Big Ten: Bobby Carpenter
Let's kick things off with Ohio State, which will pit the offense against the defense in the Jesse Owens Spring Game.
The vitals: 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Ohio Stadium, tickets are $7 in advance and $15 on the day of the game, parking is free.
More details: Fans can attend Ohio State's lacrosse game at 11 a.m. ET, and the FanFest starts at 10:30 a.m. outside St. John Arena. You can find out more information here.
Three things to watch
1. The quarterbacks: Terrelle Pryor remains sidelined as he recovers from offseason foot surgery, and Ohio State must identify who will replace the three-year starter during his five-game suspension to begin the season. Fans can get a glimpse of the four candidates -- Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham and Braxton Miller -- on Saturday at The Shoe. Bauserman has backed up Pryor the past two seasons, and Guiton has a bit of game experience, but Graham has drawn favorable reviews this spring and Miller, an early enrollee, likely is the most talented of the bunch. Ohio State likely won't name a "starter" until preseason camp, but the spring game provides a showcase opportunity for all four players.
2. The running backs: While the quarterback situation understandably makes some Buckeyes fans nervous, the running back group gets them excited, and for good reason. Although senior Dan "Boom" Herron will miss the first five games, Ohio State boasts talent and depth behind him. Sophomore Jaamal Berry and freshman Rod Smith stood out in the first spring scrimmage, and Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde also are in the mix. The Buckeyes have variety at the position and likely will need multiple backs early in the season, given the lack of depth at receiver. This is a very healthy competition and it will be interesting to see how the carries are dispersed Saturday and who steps up.
3. New faces on defense: OK, not exactly new faces, but several players will be stepping into more featured roles as Ohio State must replace seven starters on defense. It's the most production the Buckeyes have lost on defense since A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter and others departed after the 2005 season. Who fills in for standouts like Cameron Heyward, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan, Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines? Andrew Sweat and Etienne Sabino look like the leaders at linebacker. Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke have worked as the first-team cornerbacks this spring, but Bradley Roby and Dionte Allen also are in the mix. C.J. Barnett is in line to fill Hines' starting spot. Johnathan Hankins should help the situation up front. I'll be watching these players to see how they perform in a game setting.
Head coaches get most of the credit -- and, to be fair, most of the blame -- but strength coaches spend more time with players than anyone else on campus. They play major roles in developing personnel for the season.
So who are these guys? Here's a quick look at the Big Ten strength coaches.
Name: Lou Hernandez
At Illinois since: 2005
The skinny: Hernandez made the transition from Florida to Illinois with Fighting Illini head coach Ron Zook, for whom he has worked since 2003. A native Texan, Hernandez received both his bachelor's and master's from the University of Houston, where he worked from 1992-2001 as both an assistant strength coach and the head man. Hernandez spent 2002 as the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the New York Jets. Despite being just 5-foot-8, Hernandez was a competitive power lifter who could bench 507 pounds and squat 720 in his heyday. He also consults Illinois players on nutrition and helped defensive end Will Davis add to his frame in 2008.
Name: Mark Wateska
At Indiana since: 2002
The skinny: Wateska has spent nearly a quarter century as a strength and conditioning coach, including the last eight seasons with the Hoosiers football program. He played football at Penn State and was part of the 1986 national championship team. Wateska received both his bachelor's degree and his master's degree in exercise and sports science from Penn State and started his career there. He eventually left for Boston College, where he served as an assistant strength coach for four years before he took his first head job at Maine. Before Indiana, Wateska spent seven years as Stanford's head strength and conditioning coach. After his first year at The Farm, Wateksa was named Pac-10 Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA).
Name: Chris Doyle
At Iowa since: 1999
The skinny: Doyle has been in Iowa City for every step of the program's resurgence under Kirk Ferentz. He made his mark right away, earning Big Ten Strength Coach of the Year honors from the NCSA in 1999. Doyle has helped 149 players who have reached the professional ranks in the NFL, NHL and NBA, including 24 Iowa players selected in the last six NFL drafts. A native of Quincy, Mass., who earned two degrees at Boston University, Doyle came to Iowa after a year at Utah but was no stranger to the Big Ten. He served as Wisconsin's assistant strength and conditioning coach from 1996-98. Doyle worked both the football and hockey teams in Madison.
Name: Mike Barwis
At Michigan since: 2008
The skinny: Barwis followed Rich Rodriguez to Michigan after spending 14 years at West Virginia, where he worked with the school's Olympic sports programs before taking over strength and conditioning for football in 2003. Rodriguez is extremely loyal to Barwis and gives Barwis a lot of credit for the Mountaineers' rise to national prominence from 2005-07. Barwis has coached 24 NCSA All-Americans since 1999 and received the Bronze Award from the NCSA certification commission in 2004. A former mixed-martial arts fighter, Barwis' workout regimes at West Virginia became legendary, and the Philadelphia native has developed quite a reputation among Michigan players and fans.
Name: Ken Mannie
At Michigan State since: 1994
The skinny: Mannie made the transition with Nick Saban from Toledo to Michigan State in 1994, but while Saban moved on, Mannie remained a fixture in East Lansing. He has received numerous awards and honors during his Michigan State tenure, including being named Master Strength and Conditioning Coach by the NSCA in 2002 and being inducted into the Varsity S Club as an honorary member in 2007. Mannie, who oversees the strength and conditioning programs for all of Michigan State's sports, is a regular contributor to the Scholastic Coach and Athletic Director publication. He first met Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio at Ohio State, where they both served as graduate assistants in 1984.
Name: Mark Hill
At Minnesota since: 2007
The skinny: A 1999 graduate of Tennessee-Chattanooga, Hill already has worked as a high-level strength coach in the Big 12, Pac-10 and Big Ten. He joined Minnesota's staff in head coach Tim Brewster's first season after spending three years as associate director of performance enhancement at Arizona. Hill worked closely with Antoine Cason at Arizona, helping the defensive back win the Thorpe Award. He has mentored six All-Big Ten players at Minnesota and helped coach 13 All-Americans and 28 NFL draft picks as the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Oklahoma from 2000-03. Hill was an All-Southern Conference wide receiver at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
Name: Larry Lilja
At Northwestern since: 1981
The skinny: Lilja is the dean of Big Ten strength coaches and counts current Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald among the many Wildcats players he tutored during his lengthy run in Evanston. He was a three-year starter at Northwestern from 1973-75, serving as a captain in 1974, before returning in 1981 to run the school's strength and conditioning center. Lilja played a major role in helping Northwestern transform its football program by winning Big Ten championships in 1995 and 1996. He earned Big Ten Conference Strength and Conditioning Professional of the Year honors in 1996. The Lilja family has deep roots in the Big Ten, as Larry and his brothers George (Michigan) and Dave (Indiana) are the only siblings in league history to serve as captains for three different teams.
Name: Eric Lichter
At Ohio State since: 2006
The skinny: Lichter built his reputation in the private sector by opening the Speed Strength Athlete Training Center in Euclid, Ohio, where he trained athletes in many sports, including Ohio State NFL draft prospects like Donte Whitner and Bobby Carpenter. He served as a consultant to Ohio State's 2002 national championship team and brought Power Plate technology to the program. Head coach Jim Tressel hired him in 2006 to oversee the strength and conditioning program. Lichter has trained six Top 10 NFL draft picks and has worked with LeBron James, Ron Dayne and others. His mother, Linda Lichter Witter, is Ohio State’s synchronized swimming coach, and Eric served as a consultant for the synchronized swimming team before joining Tressel's staff.
Name: John Thomas
At Penn State since: 1992
The skinny: Like pretty much every member of Joe Paterno's staff, Thomas has been in State College for quite some time, making his mark on the Penn State program. In 2002, Thomas was named a Master of Strength and Conditioning Coach by the NSCA, one of only 27 people to carry the title at the time. He also was named National Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach of the Year in 1997. Thomas is a staunch supporter of the High Intensity Strength Training System (HIT), which early last decade created some discontent that has since subsided. Thomas came to Penn State from Army, where he served as head strength and conditioning coach in 1990-91. He played both offensive and defensive line at Muskingum College.
Name: Jim Lathrop
At Purdue since: 1998 (sixth year as director of strength and conditioning)
The skinny: Lathrop made the trek with Joe Tiller and Danny Hope from Wyoming to Purdue after being named the WAC's strength and conditioning coordinator professional of the year in 1996. He spent seven years as strength and conditioning coordinator before being promoted to oversee strength and conditioning for Purdue's entire athletic program. Lathrop designs specific training programs for football, wrestling, and men's and women's track. A former offensive guard for Northwest Missouri State, Lathrop served as both an assistant and a director of strength and conditioning at Georgia Tech from 1988-92. Georgia Tech won the 1990 national championship during his first year as director.
Name: Ben Herbert
At Wisconsin since: 2002 (named head strength and conditioning coach in January 2009)
The skinny: Herbert cut his teeth under longtime Wisconsin strength coach John Dettman before working his way into the top football job last winter. A two-year starter on the defensive line for the Badgers, Herbert helped Wisconsin reach back-to-back Rose Bowls in 1998 and 1999. He joined Wisconsin's strength and conditioning staff as an intern in 2002 before being promoted to an assistant the next year. Herbert shook things up after becoming the head strength coach, introducing position group workouts, innovative competitions and some unique motivational props, including a WWE replica belt and two potted plants.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
If dues-paying was an official NCAA statistic, Austin Spitler would be among the national leaders.
Few players have remained on the runway as long as Spitler, waiting for their careers to truly take flight. He redshirted at Ohio State in 2005 and watched as James Laurinaitis stepped into a featured role following two key injuries at linebacker. For the next three years, Spitler backed up Laurinaitis, who became arguably the most decorated linebacker in Ohio State history.
|Jeff Mills/Icon SMI|
|Austin Spitler, right, has been stuck behind James Laurinaitis the past few seasons, but is finally getting his chance to start.|
Laurinaitis won the Nagurski and Butkus awards, twice was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and appeared in all 51 games the last four seasons, starting the final 39.
"Spitler's been around forever," Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "But James never came out."
Laurinaitis has finally moved on to the NFL, and Spitler will take over a starting job this fall, either at middle linebacker or strongside 'backer.
"Of course it's been tough," said Spitler, who has recorded 44 tackles (3 for loss) in his career. "There's been struggles, but then again, you've got to look at the light at the end of the tunnel and just know that your time is coming. Obviously, I always had this year in mind, that whenever James left, hopefully my time was there."
Spitler has logged only 99 minutes of field time in his career, but he'll be looked upon to help lead a Buckeyes linebacking corps that loses both Laurinaitis (993 career minutes) and Marcus Freeman (832 career minutes). The Buckeyes have reloaded at linebacker throughout coach Jim Tressel's tenure -- from Matt Wilhelm and Cie Grant to A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter to Laurinaitis and Freeman -- but there's more uncertainty than usual heading into this season.
Despite his limited action in games, Spitler has seen what it takes to succeed. He worked alongside Hawk, Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel as a true freshman and competed with Laurinaitis and Freeman the last few years. Ohio State's tradition on defense isn't lost on the 6-foot-3, 234-pound fifth-year senior.
"It's not just going to continue by itself," he said. "We have to make it happen. We want to have our own identity. You never want to let those guys down that paved the way for us and made the Ohio State defense what it is today."
Spitler isn't the most vocal player, but he also recognizes the leadership role he inherits entering the fall. Laurinaitis served as a captain in each of the last two seasons, and Spitler would love to follow the same path.
"He's a senior now, and I'm really excited about his progress and his performance," Heacock said. "He's finally getting his shot, and he's taking full advantage of it. He's coming to work every day and doing a good job."
Spitler admits that transferring crossed his mind during the lengthy wait for playing time, but the coaches convinced him to stick it out in Columbus. It's a decision he doesn't regret.
"I never once had a day where I said I wasn't going to work hard because I always wanted to be the best and that's what I strive to be," he said. "There's been difficult times, but just knowing there is light and there are better things to come, it's exciting."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Penn State fans can't wait to weigh in on this, so here's your chance.
Todd McShay, director of college football scouting for ESPN Scouts Inc., recently wrote that from an NFL perspective, USC has replaced Penn State as Linebacker U. McShay contends that in recent years, USC has become a better pipeline for pro linebackers than Penn State.
Though the Nittany Lions have a rich history at linebacker stretching back to Jack Ham and others, they haven't produced stars at the same rate as USC and Miami in recent years.
"While several players have followed in Ham's footsteps at Penn State, none has made the same kind of mark in the NFL. So the title 'Linebacker U' doesn't carry a whole lot of weight in NFL scouting circles."
Before you launch a full-fledged keyboard attack, consider that McShay isn't arguing that Penn State hasn't produced elite college linebackers in recent years. It's hard to knock what guys like Paul Posluszny, Dan Connor and even LaVar Arrington did at the college level.
Ohio State fans probably won't be pleased, either. McShay writes that pro scouts are becoming more cautious about drafting Buckeyes linebackers after high draft picks like Craig Powell and Andy Katzenmoyer never materialized and Bobby Carpenter underperformed.
For what it's worth, Penn State should boast the Big Ten's top linebacking corps this season with Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee, both of whom should project well at the next level.