Big Ten: Carson Palmer
USC had a lot to do with it, as a squad loaded with NFL talent (Carson Palmer, Justin Fargas) thumped the Hawkeyes 38-17. But Iowa didn't help itself, either. The Hawkeyes were uncharacteristically undisciplined, committing 13 penalties and two turnovers in the loss.
"It was more where we were at as a program, more than anything else," Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz told me Saturday morning. "The year before, we broke the ice, we went to our first bowl, it was my third year there. And we just got off the track in that month of December in 2002. It wasn't like our plan was that much different, but we were just a little distracted.
"We had had a quote-unquote storybook season. I really liken it a lot to 1981, where we broke the ice of 19 straight losing seasons. We just didn't handle it well. We didn't handle prosperity well. It's not that we were bad, but we just didn't have the focus you need to beat a good team."
Many would call 2009 a storybook season for Iowa, which won its first nine games, eight in come-from-behind fashion, and produced several of the more exciting finishes of the college football season. But that's where the similarities with the 2002 squad end.
Ferentz has taken a different team to Miami to play No. 9 Georgia Tech on Tuesday night in the Orange Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m. ET). It's a group that has tasted success before and handled the ups and downs well throughout the fall.
"We won nine games last year, we were nationally ranked," Ferentz said. "The majority of the guys that are doing the heavy lifting for us this year were in the Outback Bowl, a January game, and we played a very worthy SEC opponent and handled it well. I just think we're in a different place than we were, certainly, in 2002."
Iowa's focus rarely if ever wavered this fall, in large part because the team was constantly underestimated and faced several bouts with adversity. Though individual players earned regional and national recognition, there was no Brad Banks on this team.
And since every Saturday brought a major battle for Iowa, overconfidence simply was not an option.
"I don't think there's anybody on our team that's overly impressed with what we've done this year. We're happy about the season, we're proud of it, but nobody's patting each other on the back. We all realize we've got a very tough game in front of us."
The eighth installment in a series examining the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten squad.
Terrelle Pryor puts it all together, the defense fills the gaps and the Buckeyes head back to Pasadena, but not for the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State fans provide a warm welcome for Navy, but the Mids' entrance is the only memorable moment in an easy Buckeyes' win. USC visits Columbus the next week and Pryor steals the show, throwing for three touchdowns and bulldozing Taylor Mays in a 28-17 win. Buckeyes defensive end Thaddeus Gibson makes Matt Barkley's road debut a living hell, and Carson Palmer leaves The Shoe with his head down. The win vaults Ohio State to No. 3 in the nation.
A week later, Ohio State heads to Cleveland and pounds Toledo, as Cleveland native Ray Small redeems himself by returning two punts for touchdowns. Cognizant of what happened the last time Juice Williams visited Columbus, Ohio State's defensive line puts Williams on his back throughout a Sept. 26 game, as the Buckeyes improve to 5-0. Four easy wins follow, and the run game starts to gain steam with Dan Herron and Brandon Saine.
Pryor returns to his home state and delivers a masterpiece at Beaver Stadium, dissecting the Nitttany Lions secondary for 310 pass yards. He finds DeVier Posey for the game-winning touchdown with four seconds left as Ohio State escapes with a 21-20 victory. The Buckeyes clear another hurdle the next week against Iowa to clinch at least a share of their fifth consecutive league title.
A trip to Ann Arbor follows, and Ohio State continues its dominance of the archrival Wolverines. Buckeyes left guard Justin Boren, a Michigan transfer, manhandles the Wolverines defensive tackles as Herron and Saine combine for 300 rush yards. Rich Rodriguez is left shaking his head and wondering what might have been as Pryor dazzles again.
The Buckeyes ascend to No. 2 nationally and head to Pasadena for the first time since January 1997 -- but not for the Rose Bowl. They face a heavily favored Florida team in BCS title game. As was the case in 2007, the underdog prevails as Jim Tressel wins his second national title at Ohio State. Pryor finishes third in Heisman voting and enters 2010 as the frontrunner. The defensive front mirrors the 2002 version and leads the Big Ten in sacks. Safety Kurt Coleman wins the Thorpe Award.
The offense sputters again, the defense takes a step back, Ohio State's big-game blues continue and the Buckeyes give up their Big Ten crown.
Pryor remains a one-dimensional quarterback, and the offensive line doesn't give him much time to throw. Ohio State struggles for a half against Navy, and much like last year's game against Ohio, no one leaves The Shoe feeling good about the team's chances against USC. Another big-game flop follows, as Barkley outplays Pryor on the national stage, Mays records three interceptions and the Trojans roll 31-14. Palmer gloats on the sideline and fans file out early. Small enters Tressel's dog house again.
After thumping Toledo, Ohio State nearly drops its second straight home contest to Illinois before surviving in overtime. The Buckeyes quietly win their next five games, none by more than 17 points, and head to Happy Valley needing a much better showing.
It's a defensive struggle for the second straight year, and Ohio State takes a fourth-quarter lead before Sean Lee knocks the ball loose from Pryor on a scramble. Daryll Clark leads the game-winning touchdown drive as Penn State ends Ohio State's Big Ten road win streak at 17 games. Ohio State's run of Big Ten titles ends the next week as Iowa prevails in Columbus.
The team's last meaningful streak gets snapped Nov. 21 at Michigan, as the Wolverines pull the upset to beat their archrival for the first time since 2003. At 8-4, Ohio State misses a BCS bowl for the first time since 2004. The Buckeyes beat Kansas in the Alamo Bowl but leave San Antonio feeling extremely unfulfilled about the season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The two teams that meet next week at the L.A. Coliseum have enjoyed tremendous success with dramatically different philosophies.
Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small pointed out some of those differences after Saturday's too-close-for-comfort 26-14 win against Ohio. Small, like several players in the Ohio State-USC game, visited both schools during the recruiting process.
"As I took my visit to USC, I'm like, 'How are they successful? They're not even serious about the game,'" said Small, who caught five passes and had a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown against Ohio. "Before the game, they're all going crazy. Me and [Buckeyes defensive end] Rob Rose was on the visit and I'm looking like, 'Wow.' And then the coach said, 'You better get out of here. It's 'bout to get hectic.'
"And then I come [to Ohio State] on the visit and before the game, it's all quiet, everybody getting taped, coaches talking. It's the total opposite."
Small can't figure out how two divergent programs achieve such similar results. But he knows he made the right choice with the Buckeyes.
"It's more of a class thing," he said. "We took what [former USC quarterback] Carson Palmer said. I don't think somebody from Ohio State would have ever said that remark."
Palmer, the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback, sounded off in July, telling an L.A. radio station how he "cannot stand the Buckeyes and having to live in Ohio and hear those people talk about their team, it drives me absolutely nuts." He later apologized, saying he does respect the Buckeyes.
"Here at Ohio State, they teach you to be a better man," Small said. "There, it's just all about football."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Big Ten media days begin Thursday with all 11 coaches appearing at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. Joe Tiller will tell fish stories, Joe Paterno will snap off some good one-liners and Tim Brewster will show he has no need for a podium nor a microphone. I'll have a media day primer for you later today, but first here's a look around the league:
- Iowa athletic director Gary Barta issued a statement welcoming a second investigation by the state Board of Regents into the university's handling of an alleged sexual assault involving two former football players and a female student-athlete. Barta said he looks forward to addressing the situation publicly, adding that "most people understand there is more to this story and I look forward to being able to tell it." He did say school officials, including football coach Kirk Ferentz, followed university policy in handling the matter.
- University of Iowa president Sally Mason apologized for not releasing two letters from the mother of the alleged victim to the Board of Regents, but she has found no problems with the way school officials responded to the situation, Gregg Hennigan writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette.
- Will Big Ten media days give Ferentz and his players the chance to focus on football? The Gazette's Marc Morehouse thinks so.
- Ohio State fans still fuming about Carson Palmer's comments should put themselves in his shoes, The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon writes in his blog.
- The Detroit News' Eric Lacy checks in with new Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis, who sees eye-to-eye with football coach Mark Dantonio. Hollis also likens Dantonio's demeanor to that of Ohio State coach Jim Tressel.
- Ohio State has had higher-rated recruiting classes than the 2005 crop, but few groups have become more productive, Chip Minnich writes in Bleacher Report.
- Former Purdue player Kyle Williams had his prison sentence reduced from 31 years to 25 years after being found guilty of attempted rape, battery and criminal confinement in April 2007. A judge Wednesday dismissed one of the criminal confinement charges, citing double jeopardy.
- The buzz for Ohio State-USC already has begun, but there's another marquee nonconference matchup involving a Big Ten team. The Illinois-Missouri game, once the opening act before the two schools' annual basketball clash, sold out Tuesday, soon after tickets went on sale. Illinois also sold out its home game against Ohio State within an hour, and the school is opening five extra rows of seats to accommodate fans for the Iowa and Indiana home games. Man, the Ron Turner era feels like a long time ago.
- The Rashard Mendenhall-Ron Zook spat is hurting the Steelers running back more than the Illinois coach, Brent Parker writes in Bleacher Report. "Coach Zook is saying all the conclusive things, and Rashard Mendenhall is saying all the 'cryptic' things." Hard to argue with that.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The spotlight remains on Iowa City, where the state Board of Regents held a special meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss the University of Iowa's response to an alleged sexual assault involving two former Hawkeyes football players and a female student-athlete in October. The Regents unanimously voted to reopen their investigation in light of a letter sent by the mother of the alleged victim that was not received during the Board's initial investigation, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reported.
University president Sally Mason apologized for not releasing the letter, expressing "profound and sincere regret." She added that the university would fully cooperate with the new investigation. Regents president David Miles called the school's failure to release the letter a "serious breach of trust." The school might have committed another no-no by not seeking permission from the alleged victim before releasing her mother's letter to the public on Monday. A spokesman said that by releasing the letter to the Press-Citizen last week, the alleged victim's family was comfortable with it going public. Meanwhile, former Hawkeyes star Tim Dwight is bothered by the program's recent rash of off-field problems, but he places blame on the players, not Kirk Ferentz or the coaching staff.
All in all, not a good situation for the Hawkeyes.
- Former USC quarterback Carson Palmer backed off his anti-Ohio State comments, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. He's just fired up about the game. Who isn't?
- ESPN.com's Bruce Feldman lists his top 10 must-see games for 2008. Not surprisingly, Ohio State-USC is No. 1, while Wisconsin's trip to Fresno State comes in at No. 9. I'd include Ohio State at Wisconsin on the list, but I'm Big Ten-biased.
- Missed this one Monday from The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens, who writes that Indiana's days of being at the bottom of the league's recruiting rankings will end in 2009. Also, Hoosiers standout defensive end Greg Middleton has been named to the Ted Hendricks Award watch list.
- Wisconsin added a wide receiver (Jeff Duckworth) for its 2009 recruiting class but might be losing a commitment from tackle Jon Lechner, Mark Stewart writes on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Badgers Blog.
- Jack Bogaczyk of the Charleston (W.Va.) Daily Mail thinks Rich Rodriguez will shake up the Big Ten.
- Ohio State has become the second Big Ten school, along with Penn State, to establish a chapter of Uplifting Athletes. Earlier this month I wrote about Penn State's Lift For Life event, which raises funds and awareness to fight kidney cancer. Ohio State's chapter will hold its first event, a college football video game tournament, on July 27 at Eddie George's Grille 27 in Columbus. The event also will benefit the Kidney Cancer Association. Buckeyes quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels has been battling kidney cancer since 2006.
- The Detroit News' Angelique S. Chengelis lists her five favorite college football uniforms. Both Penn State and Ohio State make the rundown. As a Michigan beat writer, she'll probably take flack for including the Buckeyes, but I like the pick.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
We're T-minus two days from the start of Big Ten media days in downtown Chicago. Items sure to be discussed ad nauseam: Joe Paterno's future, Rich Rodriguez's offense and the trouble in Iowa City. I can't imagine Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz is looking forward to his time at the podium Thursday.
Time to take a spin around the league:
- The Iowa state Board of Regents meets today to discuss how the university handled the sexual assault case involving two former football players and a female athlete last October. If Ferentz erred in his response to the incident, he should go, SportingNews.com's Dave Curtis writes.
- Former Hawkeye Abe Satterfield joined ex-teammate Cedric Everson in pleading not guilty to the sexual assault charges.
- Prep quarterback Kevin Newsome is still coming to Michigan, despite rumors that he's reconsidering his commitment. Meanwhile, the Wolverines went into Les Miles' backyard to snag their latest 2009 commit, defensive end DeQuinta Jones.
- It's impossible to sugarcoat Ohio State's bowl record against the SEC, but here's an interesting explanation about the struggles, courtesy of Bleacher Report.
- The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises breaks down the Ohio State defense. The big challenge is generating more pressure without top pass rusher Vernon Gholston.
- In case you missed it, Carson Palmer might live in Ohio, but the former USC quarterback is no fan of the state school.
- Indiana promoted from within to find its new compliance director. Up next: a new athletic director.
- Youngstown State, this is your future.
- Despite a rough stretch off the field and constant speculation about his future, Paterno still envisions a strong season in Happy Valley this fall.
- Illinois picked up two high school teammates for its 2009 recruiting class.
- Bleacher Report ranks the top 10 mascots in college football. Bucky the Badger comes in at No. 6, two spots ahead of Sparty the Spartan. No love for Purdue Pete or Brutus Buckeye? Can't wait to see all the mascots Friday at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon.
- Think Illinois' struggling basketball program could use wide receiver Jeff Cumberland in the post this winter?