Big Ten: Jermale Hines

Buckeyes defense must tighten up

September, 10, 2011
9/10/11
2:22
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Ohio State knew it would be an adventure on offense early this season.

After all, the Buckeyes lost starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor and had three starters suspended for the first five games.

The Ohio State defense, despite losing seven starters of its own, was supposed to be the pillar on which the offense could lean. Ohio State had proven time and again it could reload on defense, and this year didn't appear to be any different, especially after the Buckeyes blanked Akron in the season opener.

But Toledo is making Ohio State look mortal on defense, and the Rockets have reclaimed the lead 22-21 in the third quarter. Coach Tim Beckman has been fearless with two fourth-down calls in the second half, both of which Toledo converted. Beckman is going for it today, and who can blame the former Ohio State assistant?

This marks the first time Ohio State has allowed more than 20 points to an in-state foe since 1999.

While the Buckeyes remain stout against the run, their personnel losses in the secondary -- Jermale Hines, Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence -- seem to be hurting, as Toledo's passing attack has clicked for 213 yards.

No matter how this one turns out, Ohio State has to be a bit concerned about its defense before next week's trip to Miami.
Tyler Moeller could be called the resident historian of Ohio State's defense.

No Buckeyes defender has been on the roster longer than Moeller, who enters his sixth season this fall.

[+] EnlargeTyler Moeller
Greg Bartram/US PresswireRecovered from a chest injury, linebacker Tyler Moeller is excited about Ohio State's defense.
Since his arrival in 2006, Moeller has been part of units that have ranked 12th, first, 14th, fifth and fourth nationally in yards allowed. He has seen Ohio State finish fifth, first, sixth, fifth and fifth nationally in points allowed.

On paper, the 2011 version of the Buckeyes' D might have a tough time continuing such an impressive run. The unit says goodbye to seven starters, including first-round pick Cameron Heyward and four other players selected in April's draft (Chimdi Chekwa, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan and Jermale Hines). Ohio State's defense must fill gaps in all three levels.

But Moeller isn't concerned about the unit's outlook. Just the opposite.

"I'm more excited about this defense than any defense since I've been here," he said. "The guys we're bringing back, the guys that are stepping up, even the people who you don't see in the first lineup, they're great."

Moeller rattles off names like lineman John Simon, linebacker Etienne Sabino, cornerback Dominic Clarke and safety Christian Bryant.

"We have a lot of playmakers," Moeller said. "At any position, anyone can make a turnover or a big play at any time."

One of the biggest reasons for optimism is Moeller himself. He returns to action after missing the final eight games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Limited both in the weight room and on the field this spring, Moeller has been cleared for full participation. Unable to bench press for years because of the pectoral muscle, which began to tear before the 2008 season, Moeller is boosting his bench press and his body in preparation for camp next month.

"Compared to last year, I feel like I'm 10 times better," he said. "I was 200, 205 last season going in after my head injury, and I'm 219 today. I definitely got some mass back, my strength feels great, I feel almost 100 percent right now and we still have three, four more weeks until camp starts."

Although Moeller has played in only five games since 2008 -- he missed the entire 2009 season with a head injury after being assaulted in a Florida restaurant -- he showed good promise in limited action. He recorded two forced fumbles, an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss last season, despite an injury that kept getting worse until it tore.

Moeller played the "star" position, a safety in Ohio State's oft-used nickel package, last season. He could see time this fall at star or as an outside linebacker, a position he played in the first part of his Buckeyes career. He recently spent time watching film with new Buckeyes linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, who "gives a whole new perspective of what to look at," Moeller said.

Moeller doesn't care where he lines up.

"They’re really the same thing," he said. "Hopefully, the coaches will put me in a position where I can go out there and be the type of player I am."

Ranking the Big Ten safeties

July, 13, 2011
7/13/11
1:30
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We wrap up our preseason look at Big Ten secondaries with a look at the safeties.

Safety isn't quite as stacked as cornerback, and the Big Ten loses some solid players like Iowa's Tyler Sash and Ohio State's Jermale Hines. There are fewer elite prospects at safety, but several teams have potential playmakers.

Here are the top 10 entering 2011:

[+] EnlargeTrenton Robinson
Rick Osentoski/US PresswireSafety Trenton Robinson is entering his third season as a starter for Michigan State.
1. Trenton Robinson, Michigan State, senior: Robinson played a big role in Michigan State's improvement as a secondary in 2010. He led the Spartans with four interceptions and tied for the team lead in passes defended with eight. Robinson, who enters his third season as a starter, had 76 tackles last season and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches.

2. Aaron Henry, Wisconsin, senior: After emerging as a playmaker in 2010, Henry should be primed for even bigger things in his second season at safety. The former cornerback made the switch and recorded two interceptions, seven pass breakups, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries last season. Like Robinson, he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches.

3. Tyler Moeller, Ohio State, senior: Moeller will provide a huge boost for a new-look Ohio State defense as he returns from a torn pectoral muscle that shortened his 2010 season. He can play either safety or linebacker and showed impressive playmaking skills early last fall, recording two forced fumbles, an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss in just five games. If Moeller stays healthy, he'll be in the mix for All-Big Ten honors.

4. Brian Peters, Northwestern, senior: Peters boasts a lot of experience, appearing in every game the past three seasons. He also shows a knack for the football, recording three interceptions in each of the past two seasons. A second-team All-Big Ten selection in 2010 after recording 107 tackles, Peters must get a bit more consistent in coverage but looks ready to lead the defense.

5. Micah Hyde, Iowa, junior: After starting all 13 games last season at cornerback, Hyde likely will move to safety as the Hawkeyes lose two multiyear starters in Sash and Brett Greenwood. Hyde showed last fall that he's a tremendous playmaker, recording four interceptions, including the pick-six that won the Insight Bowl against Missouri. He led the team with 11 passes defended, finished second with 82 tackles and had a forced fumble.

7. Nick Sukay, Penn State, senior: Like Moeller, Sukay was doing big things in 2010 before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Sukay recorded three interceptions, a forced fumble and 29 tackles in just six games. He's a natural playmaker who finished third in the Big Ten in passes defended with 13 in 2009. His return makes a very good Lions secondary even better.

8. Trulon Henry, Illinois, senior: An honorable mention All-Big Ten selection in 2010, Henry will help anchor an Illini secondary that could do some big things this fall. Henry led Illinois with three interceptions and two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, three pass breakups and 64 tackles. He should be helped by the return of Supo Sanni from injury.

8. Logan Link, Purdue, senior: Link quietly turned in a solid 2010 season, finishing eighth in the Big Ten in tackles with 91. He's a solid tackler who added an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. The former walk-on has emerged as a really nice contributor for the Boilers' defense.

9. Drew Astorino, Penn State, senior: Astorino has been the iron man in Penn State's secondary, starting each of the past two seasons as well as three games as a redshirt freshman in 2008. He has played through injuries, including a shoulder problem that impacted him last fall, when he recorded 70 tackles, an interception and five pass breakups. If Astorino stays healthy, he could blossom in his final season.

10. Courtney Osborne, Nebraska, junior: This is a bit of a projection pick, but Osborne should be able to help fill Nebraska's gaps at safety this fall. He appeared in every game last season, starting four, and recorded 41 tackles, an interception, a sack and five tackles for loss. Osborne did some nice things down the stretch and seems primed for bigger things in a bigger role.

Also considered: Minnesota's Kim Royston, Ohio State's Orhian Johnson, Michigan's Jordan Kovacs, Indiana's Greg Heban

Big Ten NFL draft wrap-up

May, 2, 2011
5/02/11
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The 2011 NFL draft is in the books, and it's time to take a look back at how the Big Ten fared in the selections. In case you missed it, check out my breakdown of the six Big Ten players who heard their names called in the first round.

All in all, 29 Big Ten players were drafted this year. New Big Ten member Nebraska had seven selections.

Let's start off with a rundown of the picks. I'll have some quick thoughts after each round.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin defensive lineman J.J. Watt was the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft this year.
First round

Quick thoughts: The Big Ten had its largest first-round output since 2007, and several players look like good fits for their teams. Chicago had to be thrilled Carimi was still available, and San Diego felt the same about Liuget, projected by many as a top-15 pick. Kerrigan likely needs to contribute immediately for the Redskins, while Clayborn and Heyward enter situations where they can ease into the transition.

Second round

Quick thoughts: Mouton's selection was a surprise for many folks, but it's a testament to a good player who impressed the scouts despite playing for a lousy defense in 2010. Wisniewski enters a good fit in Oakland, where his uncle, Steve, is an assistant offensive line coach. I really like Leshoure in Detroit, where he'll enter a competitive situation at running back.

Third round

Quick thoughts: Wilson, who entered the draft after his junior season, might have been a bit disappointed to fall to the third round. But he enters a good situation in New Orleans and should have some time to develop.

Fourth round
Quick thoughts: Ballard reportedly tested positive for marijuana use and likely paid a price as he dropped down at least a round. Still, the Iowa standout should help the Vikings early in his career. I really like the Doss fit in Baltimore, which can use more playmakers at receiver. It'll be interesting to see how quickly Chekwa sees the field in Oakland.

Fifth round
Quick thoughts: What a round for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Although Stanzi waited a little longer than expected, he joins a team in Kansas City that has a lot of connections to the New England Patriots, the squad many thought would draft the Iowa quarterback. Klug is a solid player who can play either line position. I'll be interested to see how he fares with the Titans.

Sixth round

  • Penn State RB Evan Royster, Washington, No. 177 overall
  • Michigan State LB Greg Jones, New York Giants, No. 185 overall
  • Michigan State CB Chris L. Rucker, Indianapolis, No. 188 overall
  • Ohio State LB Brian Rolle, Philadelphia, No. 193 overall
  • Iowa S Tyler Sash, New York Giants, No. 198 overall
  • Ohio State LB Ross Homan, Minnesota, No. 200 overall
  • Michigan G Stephen Schilling, San Diego, No. 201 overall
Quick thoughts: This marked the Big Ten's biggest round as seven players heard their names called. Jones, the former Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, went a little later than expected, and Sash also dropped down a bit after entering the draft after his junior season. Homan, who missed some time last season with a foot injury, could end up being an excellent addition for the Vikings. Really like that pick.

Seventh round

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey, New Orleans, No. 243 overall
  • Wisconsin G/C Bill Nagy, Dallas, No. 252 overall
Quick thoughts: While I was surprised several other Big Ten players didn't get drafted, both Bussey and Nagy are deserving. Both players played integral roles in their teams' success last fall, and both were overshadowed by other draftees (Liuget and Wilson for Bussey, Carimi and Moffitt for Nagy).

NEBRASKA'S DRAFTEES

Husker fans, I didn't forget you or your team. Nebraska actually had more draft picks (7) than any Big Ten team, and here they are.

  • CB Prince Amukamara, New York Giants, No. 19 overall (first round)
  • RB Roy Helu Jr., Washington, No. 104 overall (fourth round)
  • K Alex Henery, Philadelphia, No. 120 overall (fourth round)
  • DB Dejon Gomes, Washington, No. 146 overall (fifth round)
  • WR Niles Paul, Washington, No. 155 overall (fifth round)
  • OT Keith Williams, Pittsburgh, No. 196 overall (sixth round)
  • DB Eric Hagg, Cleveland, No. 248 overall (seventh round)
Quick thoughts: Think there might be a few "Husker Power!" chants at Redskins games this season? The Mike Shanahan-Bo Pelini connection likely played a role in the three Nebraska players heading to the nation's capital. Henery soon will succeed David Akers in Philadelphia, and the Giants had to thrilled that Amukamara still was on the board at No. 19.

Big Ten picks by team

  • Nebraska: 7 (players competed in the Big 12)
  • Iowa: 6
  • Ohio State: 5
  • Wisconsin: 5 (four picks in first three rounds)
  • Illinois: 4
  • Michigan State: 2
  • Indiana: 2
  • Michigan: 2
  • Penn State: 2
  • Purdue: 1
  • Northwestern: 0
  • Minnesota: 0
By position (excluding Nebraska)

  • DL: 7
  • OL: 7
  • LB: 6
  • DB: 4
  • RB: 2
  • WR: 1
  • TE: 1
  • QB: 1

Nebraska had three defensive backs, a running back, an offensive lineman, a wide receiver and a kicker drafted.

Draft snubs

Quite a few Big Ten players didn't hear their names called during the weekend, and they'll enter the shaky world of free agency. I was absolutely stunned no one drafted Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher. He was the Big Ten's top receiver last fall and brings a combination of football IQ and toughness that should appeal to football people not overly obsessed with measurables.

Wisconsin running back John Clay was the Big Ten's only non-senior who entered the draft but didn't get selected. Clay struggles with weight and his ankle problems might have contributed to him slipping through the draft.

Other Big Ten draft snubs include: Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Ohio State guard Justin Boren, Iowa tight end Allen Reisner and Purdue receiver Keith Smith. Nebraska's Pierre Allen and Ricky Henry also will go the free-agent route.
Four more Big Ten spring games are on tap Saturday, and I'll be previewing all of them throughout the day.

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.

Big Ten NFL combine wrap-up

March, 2, 2011
3/02/11
10:30
AM ET
The NFL scouting combine wrapped up Tuesday with the defensive backs going through drills.

Let's check out the Big Ten's top performers:

CORNERBACKS
  • Ohio State's Chimdi Chekwa tied for third in the 40-yard dash at 4.4 seconds; Nebraska's Prince Amukamara tied for fifth at 4.43 seconds;
  • Ohio State's Jermale Hines (listed as a cornerback for the combine) tied for 10th in bench-press reps with 19
  • Amukamara tied for fifth in the vertical jump at 38 inches
  • Amukamara tied for second in the broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches; Chekwa tied for sixth at 10 feet, 6 inches
  • Nebraska's Eric Hagg finished 10th in the 3-cone drill at 6.73 seconds
SAFETIES
  • Iowa's Tyler Sash tied for fourth in the 40-yard dash at 4.62 seconds
  • Sash tied for fifth in the vertical jump at 33 inches
  • Sash tied for second in the 3-cone drill at 6.9 seconds

Now that the combine is finished, let's see which Big Ten players ranked in overall top performance.

BIG TEN TOP COMBINE PERFORMANCES (all positions)
  • Chekwa tied for eighth in the 40-yard dash at 4.4 seconds; Nebraska running back Roy Helu Jr. finished 13th at 4.42 seconds; Amukamara finished 14th at 4.43 seconds
  • Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan tied for 10th with 32; Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan tied for 12th with 31
  • Indiana receiver Terrance Turner tied for fifth in vertical jump at 41 inches
  • Amukamara and Turner tied for ninth in broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches
  • Ohio State receiver Dane Sanzenbacher finished third in the 3-cone drill at 6.46 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished sixth in the 20-yard shuttle at 3.97 seconds; Helu tied for 11th at 4.01 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished fourth in the 60-yard shuttle at 10.94 seconds; Helu tied for ninth at 11.07 seconds
The NFL scouting combine wraps up on Tuesday with defensive backs, but more test results are in for defensive linemen and linebackers.

Defensive line once again is the Big Ten's highest-rated group entering the 2011 draft, as up to six players -- Wisconsin's J.J. Watt, Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Illinois' Corey Liuget, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard, and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward -- could be selected in the first round.

Let's check out the top combine performers from both groups:

Defensive linemen
  • Kerrigan tied for seventh in the 40-yard dash at 4.71 seconds; Ballard finished 12th at 4.8 seconds; Clayborn finished 13th at 4.83 seconds; Watt finished 14th at 4.84 seconds
  • Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Kerrigan tied for sixth with 31
  • Watt finished second in vertical jump at 37 inches; Kerrigan tied for ninth at 33.5 inches; Clayborn finished 11th at 33 inches; Ballard finished 14th at 31.5 inches
  • Kerrigan finished second in the broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Watt finished third at 10 feet
  • Watt tied for second in the 3-cone drill at 6.88 seconds; Kerrigan finished 15th at 7.18 seconds
  • Clayborn finished first in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.13 seconds; Watt finished second at 4.21 seconds
Linebackers
  • Ohio State's Ross Homan finished first in bench-press reps with 32; Ohio State's Brian Rolle finished fourth with 28; Illinois' Martez Wilson tied for ninth with 23
  • Wilson finished first in the 40-yard dash at 4.49 seconds; Rolle finished third at 4.56 seconds; Homan finished seventh at 4.68 seconds
  • Wilson tied for sixth in the vertical jump at 36 inches; Homan finished eighth at 35.5 inches; Rolle finished 12th at 33 inches
  • Wilson finished third in the broad jump at 10 feet, 4 inches; Michigan State's Greg Jones finished ninth at 9 feet, 9 inches; Iowa's Jeremiha Hunter tied for 10th at 9 feet, 8 inches; Michigan's Jonas Mouton and Rolle tied for 12th at 9 feet, 7 inches
  • Rolle tied for third in the 3-cone drill at 6.89 seconds; Wilson finished ninth at 7.04 seconds; Mouton finished 11th at 7.08 seconds; Homan finished 15th at 7.21 seconds
  • Rolle finished eighth at 4.26 seconds; Jones finished ninth at 4.27 seconds; Wilson tied for 10th at 4.28 seconds; Homan and Mouton tied for 14th at 4.34 seconds
  • Homan tied for ninth in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.76 seconds; Jones tied for 13th at 11.84 seconds

The defensive backs go through full testing Tuesday, but they did the bench-press Monday. Ohio State's Jermale Hines tied for 10th in bench-press reps among cornerbacks with 19 (Hines played safety at Ohio State but isn't classified as one for the combine).
Spring practice is creeping closer, and Purdue will hit the field in less than two weeks (March 1 to be exact) for the first of its 15 workouts.

Here's a snapshot of what to expect in the Leaders Division this spring.

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 29
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • New look at linebacker: Illinois loses first-team All-Big Ten selection Martez Wilson as well as playmaker Nate Bussey. They combined for 195 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. The Illini need a middle linebacker and could turn to productive senior Ian Thomas or promising sophomore Jonathan Brown. Illinois also is replacing linebackers coach Dan Disch.
  • Ford tough: All-American running back Mikel Leshoure departs, turning the spotlight to Jason Ford. At 235 pounds, Ford is a true power back who will give the Illinois offense a slightly different look in 2011. The Illini also want to build depth at running back with players like Troy Pollard.
  • Replacing Liuget: Illinois begins the difficult task of replacing the Big Ten's most disruptive interior defensive lineman in Corey Liuget, a likely first-round draft pick in April. Akeem Spence had a very solid redshirt freshman season and will take on a larger role, but Illinois must build around him with Glenn Foster and others. This is a major priority for defensive coordinator Vic Koenning and line coach Keith Gilmore this spring.
INDIANA

Start of spring practice: March 8
Spring game: April 16
End of spring practice: April 19

What to watch:
  • Culture change: Kevin Wilson has talked extensively about changing the culture around the Indiana program, and the process begins in full force this spring. Players will have to adjust to the demands of Wilson and his staff, which still isn't in place but soon will be. There will be plenty of teaching and learning, as players must absorb Wilson's offense and a 4-3 defensive scheme (IU operated out of the 3-4 for part of last season).
  • Quarterback competition: Three-year starter Ben Chappell departs, and there's no clear-cut successor entering spring practice. Both Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker played sparingly in five games last season, and they bring different skills to the table. It'll be interesting to see who emerges under center this spring before acclaimed recruit Tre Roberson arrives for fall camp.
  • Identify defensive contributors: Indiana can't expect to get over the hump until it upgrades the defense, and co-coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory begin a crucial evaluation process this spring. The Hoosiers need to build depth and identify Big Ten-ready players throughout the defense, particularly in the back seven after losing standout linebacker Tyler Replogle and others.
OHIO STATE

Start of spring practice: March 31
Spring game: April 23
  • Suspension preparation: Ohio State knows it will be without four offensive starters and a key defensive reserve for the first chunk of the 2011 season. This spring, the Buckeyes start the process of evaluating who will step in, especially at the quarterback spot for Terrelle Pryor. Joe Bauserman holds an edge in experience (though little has come in games), and he'll compete with Kenny Guiton and heralded incoming freshman Braxton Miller.
  • Receiving orders for Drayton: Stan Drayton left Florida for Ohio State primarily to expand his coaching repertoire and oversee a new position group. The career running backs coach will work with a mostly unproven group of Ohio State wide receivers this spring. Ohio State must replace All-Big Ten standout Dane Sanzenbacher, and DeVier Posey is among those suspended for the first part of the season. Says Drayton of his receivers, "Personnel wise, they're in competition with the whole offensive unit."
  • Up-the-middle defensive replacements: Excuse the baseball reference, but Ohio State loses several standout players in the core of its defense: linemen Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore, linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, and safety Jermale Hines. Although the Buckeyes always find ways to reload on defense, it will be interesting to see who emerges this spring, especially at linebacker.
PENN STATE

Start of spring practice: March 18
Spring game: April 16

What to watch:
  • The quarterbacks, especially Rob Bolden: Penn State's quarterback competition should be wide open this spring, and it might be the most fascinating race in the Big Ten. You've got sophomore Rob Bolden, who asked for his release after the Gator Bowl but didn't get it from Joe Paterno, and has returned to compete for a job he thought he never should have lost. Junior Matt McGloin tries to redeem himself after the bowl disaster, and Paul Jones and Kevin Newsome also are in the mix.
  • Line play on both sides: The Lions boast enough at the skill positions on both sides of the ball to be a much improved team in 2011. But they have to get better and more consistent on both lines. The offensive line must replace standout Stefen Wisniewski and find the form it displayed in 2008. The defensive line tries to regain its swagger after backsliding in 2010, and identify a pass-rushing threat or two.
  • Kicking it: Collin Wagner was Penn State's top offensive weapon for much of the 2010 season, but the standout kicker departs the program, leaving a void. Punter Anthony Fera likely will handle the bulk of the kicking duties this spring until incoming freshman Sam Ficken arrives.
PURDUE

Start of spring practice: March 2
Spring game: April 9

What to watch:
  • Replacing Superman: Purdue returns nine defensive starters, but the Boilers lose Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Ryan Kerrigan. The Boilers were the league's top pass-rushing team in 2010, but Kerrigan's production and presence played huge roles in the overall sacks and tackles for loss totals. The entire defensive line took a step forward last fall, and will need to do so again without No. 94.
  • The quarterbacks: Robert Marve is still recovering from his second ACL tear, so Rob Henry, Caleb TerBush and Sean Robinson will be in the spotlight this spring. Henry showed promise when healthy in 2010, and TerBush had a strong spring a year ago before being ruled academically ineligible for the season. The quarterback race won't be decided until the summer, but all the candidates can help themselves in spring ball.
  • The offensive identity: A wave of injuries forced Purdue to overhaul its plan on offense in 2010. Although several key players will be out or limited this spring, the Boilers can start to reshape their plan on offense. Coach Danny Hope is optimistic Marve and the others return at full strength, but he doesn't want to take anything for granted. This is a huge spring for players a notch or two down the depth chart to get noticed.
WISCONSIN

Start of spring practice: March 22
Spring game: April 23

What to watch:
  • Finding Tolzien's successor: After a one-year respite, Wisconsin's annual spring quarterback competition resumes. Sort of. Jon Budmayr will have every opportunity to establish himself as the Badgers' top option before Curt Phillips (knee) returns to full strength. Budmayr turned heads with his performance two springs ago, but played sparingly last season behind Scott Tolzien.
  • New leadership on defense: Charlie Partridge and Chris Ash are familiar faces who step into new roles this spring. Partridge and Ash were promoted to co-defensive coordinators following Dave Doeren's departure, and they'll get their first opportunity to shape the defensive vision this spring.
  • Reloading on the lines: Wisconsin loses three All-American linemen from 2010: Gabe Carimi and John Moffitt on the offensive side, and J.J. Watt at defensive end. Although the Badgers must replace more bodies on the offensive front, they boast excellent depth there and should be able to fill the gaps. Watt leaves a bigger void, and Wisconsin needs strong springs from players like Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert.

ESPN.com's 2010 All-Senior Big Ten team

January, 24, 2011
1/24/11
5:00
PM ET
As we gear up for the Senior Bowl, I wanted to piggyback off of an excellent post by colleague Chris Low from last week.

It's time to identify an All-Big Ten team comprised only of seniors. There were easy picks like Wisconsin offensive tackle Gabe Carimi and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones, but several positions created some tough choices.

Reminder: This team includes only fourth-year or fifth-year seniors, not redshirt juniors.

Bowl performance is included in this rundown, if applicable.

In case you forgot, my All-Big Ten team included only 12 seniors, all of whom will appear below. I also selected 14 underclassmen.

Without further ado ...

OFFENSE

QB: Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
RB: Dan Dierking, Purdue
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
WR: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa
TE: Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
C: Bill Nagy, Wisconsin
T: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
T: D.J. Young, Michigan State
G: John Moffitt, Wisconsin
G: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State

DEFENSE

DL: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
[+] EnlargeEric Gordon
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesEric Gordon narrowly edged out Ross Homan for a spot on the All-Senior Big Ten team.
DL: Cameron Heyward, Ohio State
DL: Karl Klug, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Brian Rolle, Ohio State
LB: Eric Gordon, Michigan State
CB: Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
CB: Chris L. Rucker, Michigan State
S: Jermale Hines, Ohio State
S: Brett Greenwood, Iowa

SPECIALISTS

K: Collin Wagner, Penn State
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
Returns: David Gilreath, Wisconsin

Some thoughts:

  • I really struggled with the quarterback spot. Tolzien ultimately made fewer mistakes than Iowa's Ricky Stanzi, who had superior statistics and had fewer weapons surrounding him. You can make a good case for Stanzi or Indiana's Ben Chappell, but Tolzien gets a slight edge.
  • No disrespect to Royster or Dierking, but the Big Ten really struggled to produce many decent senior running backs this season. Perhaps that's a promising sign for the future, but typically there are more experienced ball-carrying options. Royster was the only senior ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 rushers. I thought about Ohio State's Brandon Saine, but Dierking did more as a ball carrier.
  • The No. 3 linebacker was a really tough call between Gordon and Ohio State's Ross Homan. Ultimately, Homan missing time with a foot injury and Gordon displaying remarkable consistency alongside Greg Jones made Gordo the pick.
  • Another tough call was DJK ahead of Indiana's Terrance Turner, who had 21 more receptions but fewer yards and seven fewer touchdown catches.
  • The deepest position among Big Ten seniors (by far): offensive guard. I went with Moffitt and Carimi, but players like Ohio State's Justin Boren, Michigan's Stephen Schilling, Iowa's Julian Vandervelde and Illinois' Randall Hunt all were good options.
  • Five teams didn't produce selections: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Northwestern. Is that a good omen or a bad one for 2011?
Selections by team: Wisconsin (6), Ohio State (5), Michigan State (5), Iowa (4), Penn State (3), Purdue (2)
NEW ORLEANS -- Solomon Thomas' bowl-clinching interception marked a fitting end to the season for Ohio State's defense.

Few units in the Big Ten endured more challenges with personnel than the Buckeyes' defense, and each time, someone answered the bell.

Ohio State remained a top-10 pass defense despite losing several players, including nickel safety Tyler Moeller, to season ending-injuries. The Buckeyes didn't miss a step after losing senior linebacker Ross Homan to a foot injury for several weeks in the middle of the season.

More challenges arrived Tuesday night against Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

All-Big Ten cornerback Chimdi Chekwa left the field late in the first quarter with a serious elbow injury sustained after a gorgeous pass breakup. Ohio State also lost No. 3 cornerback Travis Howard (cramps) and All-Big Ten safety Jermale Hines (toe) for stretches. Freshman defensive back Christian Bryant saw his first action since Oct. 16, while No. 5 cornerback Dominic Clarke recorded three tackles in the win.

And then there was Thomas, a reserve in Ohio State's defensive line rotation who recorded his first interception at any level to seal the 31-26 victory.

"We had a ton of guys out of there," defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "It was nice to get the win and some of those young guys had to play. Dominic Clarke had to play. It was good."

Safety Orhian Johnson told me Sunday that Ohio State lives by a simply philosophy on defense: When you're in the game, you're considered a starter.

The Buckeyes' reserves performed like starters all season, and the team's defensive depth is quite possibly the biggest reason it won 12 games.
The Big Ten's final chance at redemption arrives in the Big Easy, as Ohio State takes on Arkansas in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.

Let's take a quick look at the matchup.

WHO TO WATCH: Ohio State's five suspended players who will participate in the bowl, particularly starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, starting running back Dan Herron, starting left tackle Mike Adams and starting receiver DeVier Posey. They created a major distraction for the program, and all have vowed to make things right not only in the bowl game but by returning for their senior seasons. It will be interesting to see the mental states of players like Pryor, no stranger to scrutiny and a guy who stepped up in the 2010 Rose Bowl. Ohio State needs a strong showing from its offense, and Pryor and his teammates will be in the spotlight.

WHAT TO WATCH: Ohio State's secondary vs. Arkansas' pass-catchers. Despite several season-ending injuries, the Buckeyes' defensive backs have more than held their own, helping Ohio State rank sixth nationally in pass defense (156.3 ypg allowed). But the Buckeyes' secondary faces its toughest challenge of the season with Arkansas, which boasts five players with 500 receiving yards or more and four with 600 receiving yards or more. First-team All-Big Ten selections Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines need strong performances against Ryan Mallett and his many targets.

WHY TO WATCH: The Buckeyes' suspension and the controversy surrounding the penalties certainly adds interest to this game. Will Ohio State have a united locker room as it tries to beat an SEC foe in a bowl game for the first time in 10 tries? The Buckeyes' decorated senior class needs to bring the team together for a critical game before the program enters an uncertain 2011 season. If you like exciting offense and polished defense, this is the game for you as expert playcaller Bobby Petrino tries to find holes in Ohio State's D. The Big Ten's disastrous New Year's Day performance also adds intrigue, as Ohio State tries to redeem its league a bit.

PREDICTION: Ohio State 24, Arkansas 21. It certainly could go the other way, but I expect Ohio State's seniors to bring the team together and go out with a victory despite all of the controversy. Pryor makes enough plays when it counts and Herron provides a lift in the run game. Mallett moves Arkansas between the 20s but Ohio State limits the Hogs' scoring opportunities. Expect a big game from Cameron Heyward as Ohio State ends its bowl slide against the SEC.
It's going to be a rough Christmas in Columbus.

After several days of rumors and speculation, Ohio State announced Thursday that the NCAA has suspended five football players for the first five games of the 2011 season for selling items and accepting improper benefits. A sixth football player will miss the 2011 season opener for receiving discounted services, a violation of NCAA rules.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteTerrelle Pryor must repay $2,500 for selling his 2008 Big Ten championship ring, a 2009 Fiesta Bowl sportsmanship award and his 2008 Gold Pants, a gift from the university.
These aren't just any players. The list included four starters -- quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan "Boom" Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and left tackle Mike Adams -- as well as reserve defensive lineman Solomon Thomas. Linebacker Jordan Whiting, a redshirt freshman, is the player who will miss only the first game next fall.

Wow. Huge news indeed.

The twist is that all the players will be eligible for the upcoming Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup against Arkansas. According to Kevin Lennon, the NCAA's vice president of academic and membership affairs, the players are allowed to participate in the Sugar Bowl based on several factors, which include "the acknowledgment the student-athletes did not receive adequate rules education during the time period the violations occurred."

From Ohio State's news release:
NCAA policy allows suspending withholding penalties for a championship or bowl game if it was reasonable at the time the student-athletes were not aware they were committing violations, along with considering the specific circumstances of each situation. In addition, there must not be any competitive advantage related to the violations, and the student-athletes must have eligibility remaining.
The policy for suspending withholding conditions for bowl games or NCAA championship competition recognizes the unique opportunity these events provide at the end of a season, and they are evaluated differently from a withholding perspective. In this instance, the facts are consistent with the established policy, Lennon said.

Hmmm. This seems like a very creative way for the NCAA to defer punishment.

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith contends that the players were only specifically educated on the consequences of selling items in November 2009, after they had committed the violations. Players cannot sell items given to them by the university while still eligible, but they can sell them after their eligibility is up.

"We were not explicit with these young men that you could not resell items that we give you," Smith said. "We began to be more explicit in November 2009."

Ohio State will appeal the NCAA's decision in hopes of getting the number of games reduced for the suspended players. This case sounds very similar to what happened with Georgia receiver A.J. Green, who received a four-game suspension for selling his bowl jersey. I wouldn't be surprised to see the suspensions reduced from five games to four.

There's a lot to discuss, so I'm going to break things up into categories:

SMITH'S ECONOMIC ARGUMENT

Smith said the players sold championship rings and other items to help their families during a rough economic time. While not condoning players' actions, Smith said they went into the decisions "with the right intent, to help their families."

This situation certainly refuels the debate about whether college players should be paid -- Ohio State safety Jermale Hines defended his teammates here and here -- but it's a tough argument for Smith to win. Pryor and his teammates get a lot of perks simply for being Ohio State football players, not the least of which is a free education. And they're certainly not the only people in Columbus dealing with a tough economy.

While a lot of folks are jumping on the tattoo thing, this situation was about money.

"The discount on tattoos is not as big as the other pieces," Smith said. "The cash was relative to family needs. The bigger violation is the cash."

I don't buy the fact that the players didn't know that their actions violated NCAA rules. Smith and the other Ohio State officials can fall on their sword as much as they want, but these guys had to know the consequences.

THE NFL QUESTION

[+] EnlargeDan Herron
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesDan Herron may consider opting for the 2011 NFL draft.
Before Thursday's announcement, Ohio State didn't seem like a team that would be heavily impacted by juniors entering the NFL draft.

That has changed.

Four of the five players receiving the stiffest penalties -- Pryor, Herron, Posey and Adams -- are candidates to go pro after the bowl game. I had heard Herron was the likeliest to do so, but he'll probably have some company. I just can't see all of these players coming back to miss what likely will be at least one third of their senior seasons.

“I’m not sure this would be the most advantageous time to have a job interview," coach Jim Tressel said.

That's true to an extent, but I doubt it's enough to keep players in Columbus, especially if they can finish their careers with a Sugar Bowl championship.

Whether or not there's an exodus, Ohio State will be impacted by these suspensions in 2011. The first five games aren't too severe -- Akron, Toledo, at Miami, Colorado, Michigan State -- but Pryor's absence will loom large, and the same goes for Adams, who really came on strong.

SELLING TRADITION

The worst part of this mess is what the Ohio State players sold to the individual now under federal investigation.

It's one thing to sell a jersey or a pair of cleats. Those are individual things. But selling Big Ten championship rings and Gold Pants (given to Ohio State players for beating archrival Michigan) won't sit well with Buckeyes fans. Pryor, Adams, Posey and Solomon sold their 2008 Big Ten championship rings, while Pryor and Solomon sold their Gold Pants from the 2008 Michigan game.

Those are items won as a team. They're special. They're integral to Ohio State football and what it stands for.

"I suppose the older you are, the more you understand the difficulty of what’s gone into having a chance to earn those things," Tressel said. "I don’t know what's in the minds of a 19-year-old. It might be, 'I'm going to win four more of these, so I’m going to help out at home [by selling] this one.'"

It will be interesting to see how Ohio State fans view the players after finding out what they sold.

WHAT'S NEXT

Ohio State reconvenes as a team Sunday and will fly to New Orleans on Wednesday. Today's announcement certainly could be a distraction, or it could bring the team closer together.

Smith sounded confident this incident is isolated to these players and to the individual under investigation. This isn't a criminal case or one related to agents or boosters. The person under investigation isn't connected with Ohio State.

"There are no other NCAA violations around this case," Smith said. "We do not have a systemic problem in our program.

Tressel said it's good he'll have a few days at home to think about the situation before seeing the players on Sunday.

"These guys feel terrible," Tressel said. "If you said go run 50 miles before you come to practice tomorrow, they would go run 50 miles."

The players likely won't face further disciplinary action from Ohio State. Their focus will turn to the bowl game, in which they're amazingly allowed to participate. The NCAA certainly will take more heat than Ohio State in this case.

What a day in Columbus. Stay tuned for more.

ESPN.com's 2010 All-Big Ten team

December, 8, 2010
12/08/10
10:30
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It's time to reveal my All-Big Ten team. As always, there were some tough decisions, and several deserving players don't appear on the rundown below.

For your reference, the official All-Big Ten teams and my preseason all-conference squad.

OFFENSE

QB: Denard Robinson, Michigan
RB: Mikel Leshoure, Illinois
RB: Edwin Baker, Michigan State
WR: Dane Sanzenbacher, Ohio State
WR: Jeremy Ebert, Northwestern
TE: Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
C: David Molk, Michigan
T: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin
T: Mike Adams, Ohio State
G: John Moffitt, Wisconsin
G: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State

DEFENSE

DL: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue
DL: J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
DT: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
DL: Corey Liuget, Illinois
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Martez Wilson, Illinois
LB: Brian Rolle, Ohio State
DB: Chimdi Chekwa, Ohio State
DB: Tyler Sash, Iowa
DB: Jermale Hines, Ohio State
DB: Ricardo Allen, Purdue

SPECIALISTS

K: Derek Dimke, Illinois
P: Aaron Bates, Michigan State
KR: Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota
PR: Keshawn Martin, Michigan State

Selections by team: Ohio State (5), Wisconsin (4), Michigan State (4), Illinois (4), Michigan (2) Purdue (2), Iowa (2), Northwestern (1), Penn State (1), Minnesota (1)

Five players are repeat selections from 2009: Wisniewski, Carimi, Clayborn, Jones and Sash.

AllState Sugar Bowl

December, 6, 2010
12/06/10
1:42
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Arkansas Razorbacks (10-2) vs. Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1)

Jan. 4, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Arkansas take by SEC blogger Chris Low: Arkansas’ Bobby Petrino joins two of his SEC colleagues (Nick Saban and Urban Meyer) in becoming only the third coach to take two different schools to BCS bowl games. Petrino led Louisville to a victory in the 2007 Orange Bowl.

The Hogs (10-2) charge into their Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup with Ohio State playing their best football of the season. They’ve won their past six games and are averaging 42.5 points in those six contests.

Arkansas’ résumé is equally impressive. The Hogs own four wins over teams ranked in the top 25 of the final BCS standings. They’re the only team in the country with a quarterback (Ryan Mallett) who has passed for 3,000 yards, a running back (Knile Davis) who has rushed for 1,000 yards and five receivers (Greg Childs, Joe Adams, Cobi Hamilton, Jarius Wright and D.J. Williams) who have at least 500 receiving yards.

While known for its explosive offense, Arkansas’ defensive improvement has been the real story to its success. The Hogs were 89th in the country in total defense a year ago, but enter the bowl game ranked 34th nationally this season.

This is a team playing with a lot of confidence right now and a team that showed a lot of resilience after losing a close game at home to Alabama in September and then getting toasted in the fourth quarter by Auburn a month later.


Ohio State take by Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State ended its three-game slide in BCS bowls last January in Pasadena. Now the Buckeyes’ take aim at snapping a more sobering streak.

Most Buckeyes fans know what 0-9 means, and if they don’t, SEC fans will happily remind them. Ohio State is 0-9 against SEC teams in bowl games, including back-to-back losses in the BCS title games in 2007 and 2008 that continue to blotch the Buckeyes’ national reputation. Jim Tressel’s crew will try to overcome its SEC blues in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Arkansas.

Ohio State has been a slow-starting, strong-finishing team, both in games and throughout the season. The Buckeyes’ early stumbles against Wisconsin led to their only loss, but they won their final five regular-season games, all but one contest by 24 points or more.

Aside from the Wisconsin setback, Ohio State’s defense allowed no more than 17 points in a conference game and overcame some key injuries, particularly in the secondary. Containing Mallett is clearly Ohio State’s top priority, and the Buckeyes boast a top 10 pass defense led by cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and safety Jermale Hines.

Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor took a major step forward in the Rose Bowl and looks for another big performance on the big stage. Pryor’s mobility could be key against an Arkansas defense that applies a lot of pressure.

Crowded at the top of the Big Ten

November, 28, 2010
11/28/10
7:08
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A year from now, there will be no debate.

Beginning in 2011, the Big Ten will thankfully dispose of its Little League-ish co-champs title and crown a definitive king in a league championship game. Until then, we're stuck with this: a three-way tie atop the league.

Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all finished the regular season with identical records (11-1 overall, 7-1 Big Ten). Since Ohio State and Michigan State didn't play, the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth goes to the team ranked highest in the final BCS standings.

Judging by the roses hanging from the mouths of the Wisconsin Badgers late Saturday afternoon, it's pretty clear which team that will be.

But which is the Big Ten's best team? The debate is far from over.

Wisconsin is the league's hottest team, having won its final seven regular-season games, including the final four by a combined score of 235-84. Ohio State still can call itself the league's most talented team, boasting elite recruits on both sides of the ball. Michigan State might be the league's most accomplished team, with a 1-0 record among the league leaders and seven wins against bowl-eligible squads, more than both Wisconsin and Ohio State.

But each squad can make a case to be the league's best.

"We are the best team in the Big Ten," Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle said.

Not surprisingly, Rolle isn't the only one who feels this way in central Ohio.

"I would say us," Buckeyes safety Jermale Hines said. "Am I supposed to say somebody else? I feel we're the best in the Big Ten, hands down."

Informed of the Buckeyes' sentiments later Saturday, Wisconsin left tackle Gabe Carimi laughed.

"I guess that's Ohio State for you," said Carimi, whose Badgers beat the Buckeyes 31-18 on Oct. 16. "If Ohio State thinks that, then whatever. I'd only play with my team."

Michigan State has been somewhat forgotten in the debate, and most project the Spartans to miss a BCS bowl. But Spartans coach Mark Dantonio isn't about to back down after his team won a record 11 games.

"We're the only football team that's beaten Wisconsin, and I might add that we did it convincingly," Dantonio said after Michigan State's win at Penn State. "I'll say it twice: we did it convincingly. They're up there at six or seven [in the BCS standings], and we should be right there with them."

All three teams feel deserving of BCS berths, but only two will be rewarded. Wisconsin certainly knows the feeling after being shut out of the BCS bowls despite an 11-1 record in 2006.

Not that the Badgers are taking pity on Michigan State.

"The cards just didn't fall for us that year, kind of it's not going to fall for Michigan State this year," Carimi said. "But I'm a Badger, not a Spartan, so I honestly don't feel for them."

Tough talk at the top.

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