Big Ten: Colt McCoy

Taylor Martinez/Montee BallUS PresswireNebraska's Taylor Martinez and Wisconsin's Montee Ball both have experience playing in title games.
After the different -- but equally painful -- ways in which Nebraska lost Big 12 title games in 2009 and 2010, you wouldn't have blamed the Huskers for clamming up this week.

Their league championship memories aren't exactly rosy ones.

"We've kind of seen everything but a victory," senior tight end Ben Cotton told ESPN.com.

But Cotton and other Huskers veterans have been more than willing to rehash the past in recent days. They use their failings as fuel as they prepare for the third league title game in their careers Saturday night, when they face Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship.

Nebraska players don't need to be reminded of the last time their storied program captured a conference title. And they hope to party like it's 1999 on Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

"Me and [fellow tight end] Kyler Reed, we were talking, and in our opinion, we should have one or two rings on our hand already, and we let 'em slip away," Cotton said. "As a senior group, as the leaders of this team and as a team as a whole, we're going to do everything that we can to scratch and claw our way to that victory on Saturday."

They'll have to claw past a Wisconsin team that also is no stranger to the title game stage. Although the Big Ten championship is in just its second year, Wisconsin played in the inaugural event last December, outlasting Michigan State 42-39.

Michigan State outplayed Wisconsin for much of the game, but the Badgers did enough to win and earn their second straight trip to the Rose Bowl.

"I remember it being a lot of fun, being down there in Indy, but the game itself was a dogfight," Badgers center Travis Frederick recalled.

While Frederick downplays Wisconsin's previous title game experience, his teammates see benefits.

"It's important," Badgers junior linebacker Chris Borland said. "It'll calm guys' nerves a little bit, understanding we’ve been there before. It's almost like a bowl game atmosphere in a lot of ways. So guys will be able to deal with it well, and the older guys will help the younger guys who weren't there last year, who didn't contribute last year.

"Last year's experience is going to a long way to help us be comfortable come game time."

Although this year's title game isn't generating as much attention as its predecessor -- in large part because Wisconsin didn't win its division and has five losses -- the stakes haven't changed. The winning team punches its ticket to Pasadena.

"The environment was incredible -- the whole lights and cameras and just the fans screaming," said Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, who had 137 rushing yards and three touchdowns, plus a receiving touchdown, in the 2011 championship game. "It was something that was very special. Just the energy we had on our sideline was great, and I'm really hoping that the same thing happens this weekend."

While Ball and the Badgers happily recall their title game appearance, the burn remains for Big Red. In 2009, the Huskers seemingly had No. 3 Texas beaten in the 2009 title game, thanks to one of the most dominant performances by a defender (Huskers defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh) in recent college football history.

Nebraska appeared to secure a 12-10 win when the clock ran out following a Colt McCoy incompletion. But officials put one second back on the clock and Hunter Lawrence nailed a 46-yard field goal to give Texas the 13-12 victory.

"We tasted what it was like to win a championship for a few seconds there," Nebraska senior linebacker Will Compton said.

Cotton added that Nebraska "could've, should've, would've had that game."

The heartbreaking loss spurred the Huskers in a dominant performance in the Holiday Bowl and throughout the offseason, according to Cotton. It's what made the second title game loss even tougher to deal with.

Nebraska built a 17-0 lead against Oklahoma but watched it vanish in a flurry of mistakes as the Sooners rallied for a 23-20 victory.

"That one was a little more emotional for me because we got up on them and we just weren’t able to finish," Cotton said.

Nebraska has finished games much better this season, four times rallying from double-digit deficits in the second half to win. Since 1996, only one team (NC State in 2000) has recorded more double-digit second-half rallies in a season.

Junior quarterback Taylor Martinez was instrumental in this season's comebacks. He's looking to atone for a rough performance in the 2010 Big 12 title game, where he threw an interception in the end zone, lost a fumble and was sacked seven times.

"It's very motivating for our team and for the whole state of Nebraska," Martinez said this week. "They haven't had a conference championship since 1999, and we're really excited to go out there and play for a third one in the past four years. ...

"Hopefully, we can bring this one home."
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg has been brushing up on Greg Davis' history, both recent and ancient.

Since the Hawkeyes hired Davis as offensive coordinator, Vandenberg has watched numerous clips of former Texas quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Davis' last coaching stop took place in Austin, where he helped mold both Young and McCoy into elite college signal callers. As Vandenberg acclimates himself with Davis, he wants to get a sense of the system Davis has run and the quarterbacks he has coached.

But Vandenberg also is keenly aware he's not Young or McCoy. He's a different player with different skills. Will that be a problem for Davis? Hardly.

[+] EnlargeJames Vandenberg
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallJames Vandenberg passed for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2011.
That's where the ancient history comes in.

"The one thing I always think of is he coached Gary Kubiak, who's the coach for the [Houston] Texans," Vandenberg told ESPN.com. "[Davis] was his college coach when [Davis] was only 28 years old. So he's been in the business for a long time and really knows the ins and outs and has done it with a lot of different people and systems."

Vandenberg is excited to be the next man in line. Before this offseason, Iowa hadn't made any coordinator changes -- offensive or defensive -- during head coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure.

While Vandenberg enjoyed working with former coordinator Ken O'Keefe, he echoes the seemingly program-wide excitement about having new voices in the football building and on the practice field this spring.

"It's some fresh blood," Vandenberg said. "That's what has everybody excited. There was nothing wrong with the old system, and we had a great coach. But the excitement comes with learning a new offense and hearing plays called from a new play-caller. There's a lot yet to be seen, but all these unknowns and knowing the success he's had is what has us all excited right now."

Davis' tenure at Texas ended on a down note in 2010, but his most recent success took place with McCoy and Young. The Longhorns had a top 25 offense every year between 2003-08. They led the FBS in scoring behind Young in 2005 en route to a national title and finished fifth in scoring behind McCoy in 2008.

Under Davis, Texas averaged 39 points per game between 2000-09, which ranked second nationally and first among teams from BCS automatic-qualifying leagues. While the numbers are notable, Davis' versatility has stood out to Vandenberg on tape.

"He knows how to play to his personnel," Vandenberg said. "When he had Ricky Williams there, he knew he was going to get 30 carries a game. When he had Vince Young, there was a lot of zone-read stuff. With Colt McCoy, there was a lot of empty stuff. He's adjusted to the guys he had and been successful in every aspect of offense, from power football to spread football.

"We're all excited to see what his wrinkle is for us."

Vandenberg, who racked up 3,022 pass yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first year as Iowa's starter in 2011, said he's familiar with most of the plays Davis wants to run, but needs to absorb new terminology and some different reads. Davis stresses the need to complete passes and get the ball out quickly, two areas Vandenberg feels are strengths of his.

Accuracy is a focal point this spring for Vandenberg, who completed just 58.7 percent of his attempts in 2011. His goal: 65 percent or better. He also wants to play smarter in games. To do so, he'll have to absorb Davis' system better than anyone else on the field.

"I'm able to bring guys along right now," he said. "I've had a little more time studying it. These practices are vital, just being to make sure we're all on the same page with all these new plays and all these new situations."

My Heisman Trophy ballot has changed every week for the last couple of months.

I'm not surprised there are more than three players going to the trophy presentation.

Five players were invited to New York for Saturday night's Heisman Trophy presentation -- quarterbacks Andrew Luck of Stanford and Robert Griffin III of Baylor, tailbacks Montee Ball of Wisconsin and Trent Richardson of Alabama and cornerback Tyrann Mathieu of LSU.

It's a shame the Heisman Trust didn't have room for three more quarterbacks because Houston's Case Keenum, USC's Matt Barkley and Boise State's Kellen Moore were just as deserving.

With five finalists going to New York, it figures to be one of the closer votes in recent Heisman Trophy history.

The closest vote in Heisman Trophy history came just two years ago, when Alabama tailback Mark Ingram edged Stanford's Toby Gerhart by only 28 points. Ingram received 227 first-place votes, Gerhart got 222 and Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, the second runner-up, received 203.

Given the number of finalists and their geographical regions, we could have another really close finish on Saturday night.

Luck, the runner-up to Auburn's Cam Newton last season, entered the 2011 season as the Heisman Trophy favorite. His performance didn't slip much this season, as he completed 70 percent of his passes for 3,170 yards with 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

I still feel Luck might be the most valuable player on any team in the country. Without him, there's no way the Cardinal is ranked No. 4 in the country and playing No. 3 Oklahoma State in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl. Luck has done more with less, as Stanford lacks the game-changing playmakers that other teams have.

But Luck might still be the second-best quarterback in New York. Griffin, who is widely known as RG3, completed 72.4 percent of his passes for 3,998 yards with 36 touchdowns and six interceptions. He also ran for 644 yards with nine touchdowns.

Without him, the Bears wouldn't have beaten TCU, Oklahoma and Texas. Griffin's one drawback: He had a late interception that sealed the Bears' fate in a 36-35 loss at Kansas State on Oct. 1 and threw two picks in a 59-24 loss at Oklahoma State on Oct. 29. But with everything else RG3 has done this season, it's easy to give him a mulligan for the miscues.

LSU defense
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesRunning back Trent Richardson has been at his best in Alabama's biggest games.
I still believe Richardson is the best player in the country. He looked like the best player on the field in No. 2 Alabama's 9-6 loss in overtime to No. 1 LSU on Nov. 5. He had 89 rushing yards and 80 receiving yards in a game where every yard mattered. He finished the season with 1,583 yards with 20 touchdown runs and three touchdown catches. He's also Mr. Dependable, not losing a fumble in his past 520 touches and only once in 614 career touches.

Ball has been a scoring machine for the No. 10 Badgers this season, running for 1,759 yards with 32 touchdown runs and six touchdown receptions. His 38 total touchdowns are one shy of matching former Oklahoma State running back Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season record of 39 set in 11 games in 1988. Ball's production helped lead the Badgers to a Jan. 2 date against Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by VIZIO.

Mathieu fell off my ballot after he was suspended from playing in the Tigers' 45-10 victory over Auburn on Oct. 22 for smoking synthetic marijuana. But his big plays helped the Tigers overcome deficits in each of their last two victories, over Arkansas and Georgia in the SEC championship game.

Mathieu -- aka the "Honey Badger" -- is the best player on the top-ranked team. He leads the Tigers with 70 tackles and has forced six fumbles and recovered five. He also is the most dynamic punt returner I've seen since Florida State's Deion Sanders. Mathieu has scored four touchdowns -- two on fumble returns and two on punt returns.

To penalize Mathieu for one foolish mistake wouldn't have been right. After all, Newton was briefly ruled ineligible at Auburn last season and 2010 Heisman Trophy finalist LaMichael James of Oregon was suspended from playing in last season's opener.

Big Ten lunch links

April, 30, 2010
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Can you survive until Sept. 2?
Just a few lessons to take away from Week 13.

1. The Big Ten should once again send multiple teams to BCS bowls: Oklahoma State represented the Big Ten's biggest obstacle in the at-large race, and the Cowboys are out of the running after a disastrous performance at Oklahoma. While Nebraska could shock Texas in the Big 12 championship game, I wouldn't bet against Colt McCoy and the Longhorns at Jerry World. It would be hard to see the BCS bowls passing up Iowa or Penn State at this point, which would give the Big Ten multiple BCS teams for the fifth consecutive season. Those demanding a Big Ten championship should take notice of the streak, because the more money that comes the league's way, the less it will be pushed to expand.

2. Juice Williams can still light it up: Williams' senior season has been a major struggle, but the Illinois quarterback had a strong performance against No. 5 Cincinnati. He became the sixth player in Big Ten history to eclipse 10,000 career yards as he threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns and added 67 rush yards and a score. Williams could have done even more damage but missed a few big-play opportunities. The senior spread the ball well to his receivers and displayed plenty of toughness as his ankle didn't look fully healed. If he got any help from Illinois' defense or special teams, Williams might have notched another win against a top 5 team.

3. Illinois has a lot to fix in the offseason: Ron Zook is still expected back for a sixth season as Illinois head coach, but he'll face some major challenges in the offseason. The Cincinnati game exposed many of the problems that have dogged Illinois all season long, from poor special teams play to missed assignments on defense to a lack of discipline in avoiding the yellow flag. Illinois also lost a key commit (C.J. Fiedorowicz) to Iowa this week, so Zook will need to once again work his magic on the recruiting trail, where he has done his best work. This program is certainly at a crossroads again, and Zook needs to get things right by next fall.

Big Ten mailblog

November, 13, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Dan from Madison, Wis., writes: Can you explain the media coverage that continues to suggest Penn State has a shot at the BCS while neglecting Wisconsin? Assume both go 10-2, they have the same record with the same losses. Penn State's were objectively worse, both coming at home. Wisconsin had a slightly harder out of conference schedule (Fresno State is a minor bump). They both travel well; remember the 1994 Rose Bowl? 70% Wisconsin fans in Pasadena. Is the only difference Paterno and the ever ambiguous "national reputation" that guides BCS at large bids? If so, time for Senator Herb Kohl to join others in Congress and open an anti-trust investigation.

Adam Rittenberg: Dan, I agree with many of your points, and Wisconsin seems to have a slightly better profile than Penn State. And yes, Badgers fans travel very well. The only difference is the ambiguous national reputation, but bowls see that as a major factor. Same with Joe Paterno. And Penn State has some recent history at the Orange Bowl (2006) and has been a regular at the Fiesta Bowl over the years. Bowl committees want guarantees, and Penn State brings the national name and the legendary coach. Neither of these teams truly deserves a BCS at-large berth, but I would have to give an edge to Penn State at this point. Not saying it's fair, but it's reality.


Jordan from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, quick question for you concerning the Heisman race. I just noticed that Alabama running back Mark Ingram is in first place. My question for you: why didn't Shonn Greene get this kind of attention last year when he had much better stats than Ingram, including more yards and more touchdowns through the same amount games , plus he ran for over 100 yds in every game last season. I guess it just doesn't make any sense to me. Let me know what you think, thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: Greene didn't get the attention for a couple of reasons. The Heisman Trophy race is essentially a quarterback derby, and last year you had three great ones (Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy). This year's race has only opened up to other positions because the marquee quarterbacks haven't backed up their preseason hype (or been injured, in Bradford's case). The other factor is Mark Ingram plays for a national championship contender, while Iowa didn't really enter the national spotlight until the end of last season. Shonn Greene deserved more consideration and he would have gotten it this year with an Iowa team that started 9-0.


Derek from Glen Gardner, N.J., writes: I think you had a major oversight with your rooting interests.You said that Penn State fans should root against Notre Dame. I understand that this slightly improves the Nittany Lions' chances at reaching a BCS bowl game, but that would also mean they are rooting for, *gulp*, Pitt.Sorry Adam, but I will never root for Pitt. Ever.I'll let it slide this time, but don't make this mistake again.

Adam Rittenberg: Touche, Derek. Good call there. Asking Penn State fans to root for Pitt is like asking Michigan fans to root for Notre Dame. That's a game where the rooting interest isn't that significant for the Big Ten either way. The bigger thing is for Cincinnati to keep winning and prevent the Big East from getting two teams into BCS bowls (Pitt and Cincinnati). So go ahead and root for Notre Dame, though I can't imagine that will be too much fun, either.


Matthew from Boise, Idaho, writes: How can the Big Ten as a whole improve their image as a whole? I feel that most of the Big Ten teams have improved this year at the same time there has been some disappointments in some teams. All have at least one loss in conference, shouldn't we accept the fact that this means they are playing well and no one team is in total domination.

Adam Rittenberg: It's been a strange year in the Big Ten, and most would call it disappointing because the bottom half of the league has struggled. Then again, there aren't many truly bad teams in the Big Ten, which is different from last year. The only way to improve the overall reputation is by winning bowl games, particularly against teams with high-powered offenses and lots of speed (i.e., Oregon). These are the types of teams no one thinks the Big Ten can beat any longer, so changing the trend in January will be critical for the league.


Jeff from Cincinnati writes: Adam, as an Illinois grad currently living in Cinci, I started out the season really excited for the matchup between the Illini and Bearcats. As you can imagine, I have since tempered my excitement. But the past couple weeks have me seeing a tiny glimmer of hope - sure they've played 2 good quarters all year, but they've got to be building a little confidence. Am I loony to think the Illini might somehow manage to pull this off? The game is sandwiched between WVU and Pitt, two huge conference games for the Bearcats, and the Illini still have some playmakers. Is there any possible hope or should I just get a head start on hiding my orange and blue in the back of the closet for that weekend?

Adam Rittenberg: A lot depends on this weekend, Jeff. If Illinois beats Northwestern, its bowl hopes remain alive with two weeks to prepare for Cincinnati. If the Illini lose, they're eliminated from bowl contention and can only play the spoiler role on Nov. 27. The timing of the game probably favors Illinois at this point since Cincinnati has much more at stake. But I just don't think Illinois can score with the Bearcats, even though the Illini offense has shown life in recent weeks. Cincinnati just seems to have its way with opposing defenses, and Illinois hasn't consistently stopped people this fall. But it should be an interesting matchup, especially if Illinois wins Saturday.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The field for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm award has been narrowed from 22 to 10, and Penn State senior quarterback Daryll Clark remains in the running.

Clark is the lone Big Ten representative on the list of 10, which includes familiar names like Florida's Tim Tebow and Texas' Colt McCoy. The Unitas Award winner will be announced Dec. 11 at a reception in Baltimore.

Clark leads the Big Ten in pass efficiency (143 rating) and ranks third in both passing average (227.8 yards per game) and total offense (246.3 ypg). He's tied with Purdue's Joey Elliott for the league lead in touchdown passes with 12.

A Big Ten player has never won the Unitas Award.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is the most analyzed and scrutinized player in the Big Ten. The former No. 1 recruit in the nation, who ascended to the starting job as a true freshman after only three games last season, has led the Buckeyes' offense for the past 16 games. Pryor has drawn mixed reviews so far in his career, showcasing his incredible natural talent at times but struggling to find the consistency many had expected. He led the league in pass efficiency last season and was a surprise pick as Big Ten preseason offensive player of the year in July. His numbers have dipped a bit this year, but he's still fairly early in his development.

Buckeyes quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano spends more time with Pryor than anybody else, and like the quarterback, Siciliano has drawn his share of criticism. I caught up with Siciliano last week -- before the Wisconsin game -- to discuss Pryor's progress.
 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is driven to lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title.
Where is Terrelle in terms of where you thought he'd be at this point in the season? Ahead of expectations? Behind them?

Nick Siciliano: We believe he's right where we thought he'd be. Of course, we'd always like him to be playing better. That's obvious. But he takes every week very seriously and he attacks the game plan like nobody I've seen. He wants to be great, and he's trying to do everything he can to help this team.

He relied so much on instincts in high school and it carried him a long way. The college game is a completely different animal. Do you see him display those same instincts? Is he comfortable using that natural ability?

NS: Some of those instincts are innate. He's relying on them when he has to. The good thing is, he hasn't lost them, which would not be such a great thing. He's learning when to and when not to, which is critical.

Is there ever a concern that a guy could lose those instincts because he's so focused on the game plan?

NS: Oh, yeah, that could happen to a guy. I don't think that's happened with Terrelle, but that could definitely happen. Sometimes you get paralysis by analysis.

You've mentioned that his footwork has been a big area of improvement. How do you see that play out in a game?

NS: With knowledge becomes power, and as he learns more, everything else mechanically is going to get better because you don't have to think as much. His footwork is getting better. It's a lot smoother than it was when he got here. In fact, we were watching some tape of the Wisconsin game last year. Just to watch him in practice [last week] and then watch tape of the game last year was incredible. After so many reps, some of the things become a lot easier for you. It's not a fact of he didn't know what he was doing. You just build up muscle memory.

He talked about being frustrated with his interceptions this season. From a mental standpoint, how intense is he in terms of approaching the job?

NS: He's a perfectionist. He doesn't like to make mistakes. He doesn't care if it's a handoff and he's supposed to step at 6 o'clock and he steps at 7. It bothers him not to be perfect on every play.

Do you have to remind him that he's still a young player so he doesn't get too down?

NS: You've got to remind him every day. He's still young. He's a second-year sophomore. He didn't have the ability of Colt McCoy or those guys who were able to sit through a year and learn a little bit more. You've always got to make sure that your trigger guy has got some confidence.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

In 1997, Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson made history as the first primarily defensive player to win the Heisman Trophy. No defender has come close to striking a pose since Woodson edged Tennessee's Peyton Manning for the award, and seeing how the Heisman now serves as a glorified quarterback contest, it's unlikely any defender will follow Woodson.

Two defenders who should gain consideration for college football's top honor this fall are the subjects of an interesting discussion between blog colleagues Chris Low (SEC) and Ted Miller (Pac-10). Low and Miller debate the merits of two standout safeties: Tennessee's Eric Berry and USC's Taylor Mays.

Any college football fan worth his or her salt knows about Berry and Mays, two of the nation's most accomplished defenders and the leading candidates for the Jim Thorpe Award. Both safeties are widely projected as top-10 picks in the 2010 NFL draft. I, for one, can't wait to watch Mays live when USC visits Ohio State on Sept. 12.

Could Mays or Berry follow Woodson's path to Manhattan in December?

It seems like a long shot with quarterbacks Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy all returning, but both of these safeties should be on the radar. Tennessee is touting Berry for the Heisman (turn on your mute button before visiting the Web site), while Mays knows his Heisman campaign needs a statistical boost.

Let's look back at how Woodson won the award in 1997 and where Berry's and Mays' best seasons stack up:

By the Numbers

Woodson (1997) Berry (2008) Mays (2008)
INT 8 7 0
INT returns for TD 0
2
0
PBU 9 6
9
Tackles 47 72 53
Tackles for loss 5 8.5 2
Sacks 1 3 0
Return yards 301 32 n/a
Return TDs 1 0 n/a
Receptions 12 1 n/a
Receiving yards 238 3 n/a
Receiving touchdowns 2 0 n/a

Mays clearly needs
a major boost this fall to match Woodson, but Berry isn't far off in terms of production on defense. The difference is Woodson's versatility as a punt returner and as an offensive threat. For all the great plays Woodson made on defense in 1997, arguably his most memorable play was the 78-yard punt return for a touchdown against Ohio State.

Berry's non-defense production is limited to seven rushes for 32 yards, one reception for three yards and two kickoff returns for 32 yards.

I wish defensive players had a better shot at the Heisman, but as Woodson showed 12 years ago, you need to do more.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The preseason hype machine stirred again Monday with the release of the Davey O'Brien Award watch list, which includes 33 signal-callers and four from the Big Ten.

All of the usual suspects are on the list -- Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Zac Robinson -- and here are your Big Ten nominees.

No major surprises, as both Clark and Williams put up impressive numbers last season and Pryor earned Big Ten preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors. It's nice to see Weber get some love as well as he has performed through a transitional period at Minnesota.

Looking over some of the names on the list -- Jarrett Brown, Aaron Corp, former Michigan quarterback Ryan Mallett -- I half expected to see Iowa's Ricky Stanzi appear. Despite some good moments last season, the Hawkeyes quarterback still has a few things to prove.

Semifinalists for the O'Brien Award will be announced Oct. 26 and finalists named Nov. 23. The winner will be revealed Dec. 10 during the college football awards show.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Three Big Ten quarterbacks are among the 20 candidates for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the nation's top senior quarterback.

The first two come as no surprise -- Penn State's Daryll Clark and Illinois' Juice Williams. Clark was a consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection last year, while Williams earned second-team honors from the league's coaches.

Northwestern's Mike Kafka also is on the list, which definitely qualifies as a bit of a stunner. Nothing against Kafka, who came up huge in the Wildcats' win against Minnesota last year, but he has been a backup for the past two seasons and started just two games in place of the injured C.J. Bacher in 2008. He certainly has the potential for a nice season, but it's a little odd seeing his name next to those of Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Zac Robinson and Dan LeFevour.

Big East blogger Brian Bennett points out how Matt Grothe, South Florida's three-year starter at quarterback, was snubbed from the list. Can't argue with that claim.

Check out the full list of candidates.

The award will be announced in December, and a Big Ten player has never won it.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Anderson Russell reacted like anyone would, burying his helmet in the grass at University of Phoenix Stadium.

Several feet away, Texas offensive lineman Cedric Dockery knelt and raised his arms in triumph.

The image provided all you needed to know about the deciding play of the 2009 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Texas. But it didn't tell the entire story.

 
  Chris Williams/Icon SMI
  Anderson Russell is looking to go out on top in his senior season.

"You've got to move on," Russell said. "If you play DB, that's going to happen to you over the course of your career. You're going to get beat. You win some, lose some."

If ever a player were equipped to handle failure on the football field, Russell would be it.

Most defensive backs hear the you-need-a-short-memory line from a coach or two along the way. Russell heard it from his dad, Kevin, a former defensive back with the Philadelphia Eagles.

From the moment he started playing football, Anderson knew there would be times an opposing receiver would get the best of him. And he knows Texas' Quan Cosby, who scored the game-winning 26-yard touchdown in the Fiesta Bowl with 16 seconds left, won't be the last one.

"What's done is done," he said. "Me and Cosby, we were battling the whole game, going back and forth, because he was on the boundary with me. I almost picked a pass off that last drive."

The fact that Russell can find positives in his Fiesta Bowl experience bodes well for Ohio State. Because there were positives. Lots of them.

Until the final 30 seconds, Russell had been arguably the team's defensive MVP. He recorded nine tackles in the game with an interception, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.

"We should talk about the last play of the first half," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "It's the same defense, it's the same player, and he gets an interception and he's the hero. But not too many people talk about that."

The focus remains on Cosby's touchdown, which was, in many ways, a cruel irony for Russell and the Buckeyes. For most of the game, Ohio State defenders put on a tackling clinic, repeatedly keeping Texas' receivers in front of them to prevent big plays.

The Buckeyes made Colt McCoy and the high-powered Texas offense have to work on every drive. Perhaps for that reason they stayed in man-to-man coverage on the decisive play, confident the tackle would be made.

But Russell tried to jump Cosby's quick post route, missed the ball and missed Cosby, who raced untouched to the end zone.

"You come back and it's like, 'Man, we were right there. We could have shocked the world,'" Russell said. "Because nobody really gave us a chance going into that game. I was just happy for our team that we put ourselves in a position to be able to win.

"We had done a pretty good job of containing their offense during the course of the game. And then, that last play."

It took a few days for Russell to get over the loss, but he soon moved forward, thanks in part to his teammates.

"Anderson's handled it very, very well," Heacock said. "I don't think there's a guy in this complex or any place around our football program that for one second would say one word or think one thought about it being a one-man game. It's a team game. We had numerous chances that we could have gotten it done, and we didn't."

For that reason, Russell might be the most motivated player in the country heading into 2009.

He seemed to get stronger as the season progressed last fall, recording his best games in Big Ten play against Minnesota (7 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery), Penn State (9 tackles) and Northwestern (9 tackles, 1 fumble recovery).

The Atlanta native enters his third season as a starter alongside Kurt Coleman, a second-team All-Big Ten safety in 2008.

"I love playing with that guy," Russell said. "We can combine to make the best safety tandem in the nation."

Coleman said Russell dealt with "a lot of people trying to give him some grief" after the Fiesta Bowl. But after the initial shock, Russell has been unfazed.

"I really want to go out on top and make it the best year I've ever had," Russell said. "Things started clicking for me toward the end of last year, just understanding the whole entire game. That's probably the most comfortable I've felt playing football. That's going to transfer over."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If former Duke basketball player Greg Paulus somehow ends up in a Michigan football uniform next fall -- I can't believe I just typed that -- he likely won't be coming there to hold a clipboard.

The former high school All-American quarterback wants to pursue a pro career in football, and he contacted Michigan because, well, the Wolverines' quarterback situation is far from settled. But Michigan did spend all spring developing one of its quarterbacks, true freshman Tate Forcier, who doesn't seem concerned about the possibility of Paulus coming to Ann Arbor.

Forcier's older brother Jason, a former Michigan quarterback who transferred to Stanford, spoke with Tate on Tuesday about the surprise visitor at Wolverines practice.

"He mentioned Greg Paulus being at the practice and thought it was pretty funny," Jason Forcier wrote in an e-mail to ESPN.com. "Tate is not worried about it all. Colt McCoy can be transferring into Michigan and it wouldn't faze Tate one bit. He is one of the most competitive kids I know."

There's certainly more to this Paulus story, and who knows, perhaps he could help Michigan. But after Rich Rodriguez and Rod Smith spent all spring developing Forcier and seemingly got decent results from the early enrollee, this just seems like it would be a very strange move.

I guess it can't hurt, but do you really want this guy? Is the situation so dire? I don't think it is.

Forcier and fellow freshman Denard Robinson will make mistakes, but they also have plenty of potential and familiarity with the offense. Rodriguez makes his millions for developing quarterbacks. So develop Forcier, Robinson and Nick Sheridan. Win with those guys, not a one-year mercenary looking to reignite a pro football career.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

If Ohio State had finished off the final 30 seconds of the Fiesta Bowl and knocked off Texas, Kurt Coleman might be preparing for the NFL draft right now.

 
  Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
  Kurt Coleman expects to take on a larger leadership role this season.

The Buckeyes safety "tossed and turned" over his stay-or-go decision before opting to remain in Columbus for his senior season. Earning his degree this fall played an important role, but Coleman also didn't want to go out a loser.

"I really wanted to leave as a winner," he said. "Last season kind of left it a little open-ended. I haven't won a bowl game yet, and I feel like this team can really make a big impact in the national football scene. This year can be our year to win it all."

College football enthusiasts have heard that line before and might be hesitant to board the Buckeye Bandwagon in 2009. Not only has Ohio State dropped three consecutive BCS bowl games, but it loses a sizable senior class filled with All-Big Ten performers.

The Buckeyes will be much younger this fall, particularly on offense, but they might be more explosive and hungrier. Only the fifth-year seniors have experienced a postseason win, and not many of them occupy top spots on the spring depth chart.

"It's so much motivation," Coleman said. "I see it in the weight room, I see it in everybody's daily routine. I can see it in their eyes that they really want to get out there and get better every day. That burns in our mind."

Coleman admits it feels odd not to see mainstays like James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Freeman lining up with the first-team defense in spring ball. But he's excited about some of the new players in the mix for starting jobs, including safety Jermale Hines and linebackers Etienne Sabino and Austin Spitler.

The leadership load shifts this fall from linebacker to safety, and Coleman, a second-team All-Big Ten selection is 2008, is ready for it. Coleman and fellow returning starter Anderson Russell combined for 145 tackles, six interceptions, four forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries last season.

"It's really fun out there because him and I are always on the same page and we communicate so well," Coleman said of Russell. "It's going to be the secondary leading this team. We operate as one."

If there's a player as motivated as Coleman this spring, it's Russell. The safety had a brilliant Fiesta Bowl, recording nine tackles with a forced fumble and an interception, but people only remember his role on the game's deciding play.

Left alone in the defensive backfield as Ohio State blitzed and stayed in man coverage, Russell tried to swipe at a Colt McCoy pass intended for Quan Cosby. The ball made it through, and Cosby wriggled free of Russell and dashed to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown with 16 seconds left. The irony is that Ohio State's defense had tackled extremely well in the game, keeping Texas' short passing attack in check.

"It was tough that night and the next day, with a lot of people trying to give him some grief," Coleman said. "But I told him, 'Hey, it could have been me, it could have been anybody. Plays like that happen.' He's a tough player, he's out here in spring practice getting after it. I don't think it's really fazed him at all."

Coleman is spending the spring polishing his game, focusing mainly on his pursuit to the ball. Though he led the team with four interceptions last season, he wants to see the total increase.

"As a senior class, it's our team to lead," he said. "It's really our team and our time, and I'm willing to step up to the challenge."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Terrelle Pryor's development will be a popular topic from now until Sept. 5, when Ohio State opens the season against Navy a week before hosting USC in the premier matchup of the nonconference season.

If the immensely gifted Pryor can improve in several areas, particularly his consistency on short and intermediate throws, there's no reason why Ohio State can't overcome personnel losses elsewhere on offense and make another BCS bowl push. Few college quarterbacks can make plays in space like Pryor, who easily could have had 50 more rushing yards in the Fiesta Bowl, but he has to make defenses respect his arm.

The Columbus Dispatch recently chronicled Pryor's rigorous offseason workout regimen and his desire to take greater ownership of the team in 2009. Several things stood out from Tim May's story, including Pryor's size, which according to Roy Hall, is up to 238 pounds. That's pretty scary.

The Fiesta Bowl loss to Texas also lingered with Pryor.

"I got so upset by it; I'll put everything on my shoulders, and I don't want that to happen this year," Pryor said. "I don't want myself thinking I should have or could have done this or that. Hey, go do it.

"That's the way I am thinking right now, why not work out and be the best you can be? You do that last rep on the bench so you can take your team down for that last touchdown, to be the strongest guy, and all that stuff. That's the way I approach things."

For a kid who came to Columbus with some serious concerns about his maturity level, Pryor seems to grasp his responsibility to the team and what it takes to be one of the sport's top players.

Here's another quote sure to bring smiles to Buckeyes fans.

"I just want to be the best," he said. "I want to be better than [2007 Heisman Trophy winner] Tim Tebow; I want to better than [2008 Heisman winner] Sam Bradford; I want to be better than Colt McCoy.

"On that last drive Colt McCoy had to beat us in the Fiesta Bowl, I want to go down there and do that every time I have the chance, not just in one particular game. I don't want to be beaten, and I don't want to let my team down -- we don't want to be beaten."

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