Big Ten: Kurt Coleman

Michigan State is conducting an internal review of a possible sportslike conduct violation by defensive end William Gholston in Saturday's win against Michigan.

Athletic director Mark Hollis released a statement Tuesday saying the Big Ten has notified Michigan State of a possible violation. The school is in the process of conducting its own review, which, according to the Big Ten Handbook, but be completed by Wednesday.
"We are thoroughly reviewing the entire game and utilizing all of the available resources: coaches' video from midfield and end zone cameras, TV copy as well as still photographs," Hollis' statement reads. "Once the internal review is completed, we will forward a written report on to the Big Ten."

If Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany doesn't agree with Michigan State's findings or potential penalties, he has three business days to reply to the school with a decision. While the process could go beyond Saturday's game between Michigan State-Wisconsin, it would be very surprising if Delany doesn't act quickly.

The Big Ten in 2009 imposed three one-game suspensions for sportslike conduct violations, typically on the Friday before games. Two of these suspensions -- Michigan LB Jonas Mouton and Purdue OL Zach Reckman -- stemmed from incidents after a play, while the other was imposed for a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ohio State S Kurt Coleman.

Earlier this month, Illinois suspended LB Jonathan Brown for a game for striking a Northwestern player in the groin. The Big Ten supported the decision.

Gholston is listed as a starter on Michigan State's depth chart for the Wisconsin game. Coach Mark Dantonio declined to comment on Gholston, citing the ongoing review by the school and the Big Ten. Dantonio said his team doesn't play dirty football.

Although Hollis didn't name Gholston in his statement or indicate how Michigan State will act, he did state, "This is an isolated incident and Coach D and his staff will continue to emphasize the importance of maintaining one's composure during the heat of the moment."

Rarely do these incidents result in no discipline, so it's likely there will be some action taken by Michigan State or the Big Ten. While the process could carry on for a few more days, we'll probably have a resolution before the Wisconsin game.

One thing for MSU to consider: while the Wisconsin game is big, next week's game at Nebraska is arguably bigger as it takes place within the Legends division and on the road. You can make a case that if Gholston is to be suspended, Michigan State would benefit more from having him against the Huskers.
Jermale Hines laughs when told that he's the old man among Ohio State's safeties.

"Something like that," he said.

Hines is a little old by college football standards -- he turns 23 next month -- but he also boasts by far the most experience of any Buckeyes safety. He's one of Ohio State's most valuable players because if there's a spot on the depth chart that looks a little, well, young, it's safety.

[+] EnlargeJermale Hines
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJermale Hines has helped lead an Ohio State secondary that ranks 13th nationally in pass defense.
After the 2010 Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes said farewell to veteran safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell, with Coleman being the team's only consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection. Tyler Moeller returned from a head injury to start at the "star" position -- a safety-linebacker hybrid used in Ohio State's nickel package -- but he's now out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Promising sophomore C.J. Barnett also won't return following a knee injury, and junior Nate Oliver has been banged up.

Ohio State's two-deep for Saturday night's showdown at No. 18 Wisconsin lists Hines as the starting free safety, sophomore Orhian Johnson, a first-year starter, at strong safety, and true freshman Christian Bryant at the "star" position.

There's little doubt as to who leads the group.

"It's been an experience trying to tell guys what to do and where to be, just helping them out as much as I can," Hines said. "Somebody came along and did it to me, Kurt and Anderson and those guys, so I'm just looking to give back and do the same thing."

The 6-foot-1, 216-pound Hines knows he needs to show some patience as a leader. After all, he wasn't always the easiest pupil for Coleman and Russell.

"There were times where I didn't want to follow them, but they made me," said Hines, who moved past Russell on the depth chart in 2009 and recorded 57 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. "Just basically going to seek me out, talking to me, making me listen, telling the coaches and things like that. Or putting me on the spot. They showed me the ropes, the little things to be successful. And that's what I’m trying to do with these guys."

Hines has led by example on Saturdays.

He recorded an interception in Ohio State's Big Ten opener at Illinois and ranks third on the team with 26 tackles. The Cleveland native attributes his progress to a better understanding of Ohio State's defense and how opposing offenses want to attack the Buckeyes.

Along with cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and others, Hines has helped Ohio State lead the Big Ten and rank 13th nationally in pass defense (158.3 ypg). The Buckeyes have surrendered only four pass touchdowns through the first six games (only Miami, San Diego State and Missouri have allowed fewer).

Hines' personal project has been Bryant, who took over for the injured Moeller against Illinois and made his first career start last week against Indiana, recording one tackle.

"I'm definitely his big brother," Hines said. "Any time I can be, on the field, off the field, just making sure he understands things, checks and things like that, just making sure his head is right."

Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said Hines could play the "star" spot if need be, a move Hines wouldn't oppose. But if Hines' tutelage works, he can stay put and Ohio State likely will be better off for it.

"Anywhere I can help the team win," Hines said. "We've all got one goal, and I'm a part of it."

A big part.

Big Ten mailblog

September, 14, 2010
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Sarah from Gahanna, Ohio, writes: Adam, how much effect will losing C.J. Barnett be on the Buckeyes? He was making his second start, but it looked like he was making plays back there. Is it actually good Ohio State has two more/less practice games to break-in the new starter at safety?

Adam Rittenberg: It's certainly a blow, Sarah, especially with how Barnett looked in the first two games. He was all over the field last week against Miami before the injury, and he seemed to be gaining more and more confidence out there. Seeing the No. 4 jersey making plays at safety definitely reminded me a bit of Kurt Coleman. While Ohio State doesn't have a ton of depth at safety, Orhian Johnson was the projected starter before being slowed by a calf injury. Although Johnson lacks game experience, he has made a good impression on teammates like linebacker Brian Rolle, who told me in August, "We have the two biggest, most physical safeties in the country in Jermale Hines and Orhian Johnson. I just can't wait to see those guys roam the deep half, the deep third, like missiles back there." We'll get to see a lot more of Johnson now.

Eric from Lansing, Mich., writes: Adam, i have a confession. as a spartan fan i wish the ND game was on at noon. It seems to me, while there haven't been many, that Coach D has not done well in night games or even games that kickoff in late afternoon. and all spartan fans remember the last time we had a night game against ND, added a player to the ring of fame (Bubba Smith in 06) if it rains i might not be able to watch. are any of my fellow spartans airing these same concerns to you??

Adam Rittenberg: Eric, having witnessed the Notre Dame-Michigan State game in 2006 from the press box, I understand your feelings here. I think your bigger question is whether Michigan State can truly handle the national spotlight, because that's what this game means. Sure, Notre Dame is 1-1, but the Irish always attract national attention when they play. For Michigan State, this is one of two chances every season -- the Michigan game being the other -- to truly be on the national stage. Eventually, Mark Dantonio's teams need to step up and win these games, and I think this squad will be up for the challenge. Keep in mind Dantonio is 2-1 against ND. But your feelings are totally understandable. The good news: the current forecast for Saturday night calls for partly cloudy skies and only 20 percent chance of rain.

Steven Clow from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam,Just curious as to why you do not have Iowa RB Adam Robinson on your Heisman update or Heisman horizon? I have noticed that you believe that John Clay is in the running, but yet no love for Robinson? Let?s compare their statistics so far from this season. Clay has rushed for 260 yards and is averaging 6.5 per carry with 4 touchdowns, while Robinson has rushed for 265 yards averaging 7.0 per carry with 4 touchdowns as well. When compared side to side, Robinson has outperformed Clay, even after splitting carries with Jewel Hampton last week at the Iowa State game...Where is the love?

Adam Rittenberg: Steven, first of all, props to you for having a cool last name. I know one of my colleagues would be jealous. Here's the deal with the Heisman: it's not just about statistics. Far from it. You need some degree of name recognition to be considered, since voting takes place around the country. Right now, no one outside of the Midwest knows who Adam Robinson is. If he goes out and blasts Arizona for 200 yards on Saturday night, a lot more folks will know the name. John Clay, while putting up some very good numbers as well, already has name recognition nationally after winning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors. Denard Robinson wasn't on the radar before the season but has put up great numbers for a very recognizable program (Michigan). This is why I listed Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi on my "Heisman Horizon" rather than Robinson. People know who Stanzi is. I know it sounds a little unfair given the numbers, but to ignore the name-recognition factor would make these weekly updates pointless.

Justin from Tipton, Ind., writes: Did I read that right? Did you really say that Indiana is part of the schedule that gives Michigan's secondary time to mature? The same Indiana who has the best receiver in the conference. The same Indiana who has a James Hardy clone as their 2nd guy. The same Indiana who has a 3rd year starter at QB will pick them apart if they blow coverages. The same Indiana who loses no one in the receiving corps, but adds two redshirt freshmen who could be future first-team all-Big Ten selections (Bolser at TE and Wilson at WR). Sure, the Hoosiers have plenty of questions on D. And it remains to be seen how well the OL will open holes for Willis and the rest of the running backs. But those questions don't extend to the receiving corps, and Michigan's secondary will have anything but time to mature on October 2nd.

Adam Rittenberg: Justin, these are all good points, and I should have omitted Indiana from Michigan's maturation process. I'll admit it when I'm wrong. The Indiana receiving corps -- Tandon Doss, Damarlo Belcher, Terrance Turner and co., for those unfamiliar -- is outstanding and will test Michigan's young secondary. Indiana certainly moved the ball well against the Wolverines last year. My main concern for IU is how well the nonconference schedule prepares the Hoosiers for anything they'll face in Big Ten play. The Hoosiers should face Michigan at 3-0, but we won't know much about this team. You face Towson, Western Kentucky and Akron, and then you've got to try and stop Denard Robinson? Good luck.

Kevin from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: Easier to believe Michigan this time? Are you serious? The offense is a little better than last year with Robinson but the defense is worse. They are a lot closer to 0 and 2 than you want to believe. Oh, and thanks for proving that you are in fact and Michigan homer. Just wait until the Big Ten season starts. They have no chance against Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State. A slim chance against Michigan State and will likely drop another game somewhere. That one trick pony is about to die a slow death once the conference season starts in a couple of weeks because they are no better than the eighth best team in the league. Look for them to finish no better than 7 and 5.

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, you're lucky I don't print your address in Ann Arbor, pal. But thanks for writing. At least this can show the Michigan fans who think I hate the Wolverines that not everyone believes that's the case. Why don't you go back and re-read the post? Actually, I'll help you out: "We could end up seeing a 2009 re-run, which likely would spell the end for Rodriguez. Robinson's health is a HUGE concern going forward. And if Michigan falls apart, I'll be the first to say I was wrong. But this team looks different. Will Michigan win 10 games? Probably not. But I don't see another collapse, either." I never said Michigan will win 10 games, and Big Ten play could be tough for the Maize and Blue. But I also think Michigan will win two of its games against Iowa, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and Ohio State.

Drew from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam,Anything the big 10 can learn from Penn State's loss in the event it plays 'Bama for the national title? Penn State managed to put a few drives together a probably deserved more than 3 points for it.

Adam Rittenberg: Drew, you already touched on it here, but you have to finish drives against Alabama and execute better in plus territory. You also can't be tentative against a team like the Tide, a problem Joe Paterno acknowledged Tuesday. "We played the first half down in Alabama just about the way I was afraid we'd play it: very tentative," Paterno said. "We weren't aggressive." It's the same thing against any elite team: maximize your opportunities, take some calculated risks and don't commit turnovers. Alabama is an extremely well-coached squad, but the Tide aren't unstoppable.
The position rankings march on as I take a look at the top five secondary units in the Big Ten this fall.

1. Iowa: Playmaker extraordinaire Tyler Sash leads a group that boasts good experience but must fill a major void following the departure of All-Big Ten cornerback Amari Spievey. Sash has recorded 11 interceptions in his first two seasons and already holds the team record with 350 interception return yards. His heroics overshadow the very solid play of fellow safety Brett Greenwood, who has started for two and a half seasons and owns seven interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his career. Shaun Prater is a returning starter at corner, and Iowa also has Jordan Bernstine, Micah Hyde, William Lowe and others.

[+] EnlargeTyler Sash
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Tyler Sash will be one of the leaders of the Big Ten's No. 1 secondary.
2. Penn State: The Lions are always solid in the front seven, but the secondary might lead the unit in 2010. Starting safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay both return, and cornerback D'Anton Lynn takes on an enhanced leadership role after recording five pass breakups last fall. Penn State also has high hopes for cornerback Stephon Morris, who recorded 30 tackles and an interception as a freshman in 2009. Converted receiver Chaz Powell should add depth at the corner spot. Opponents completed just 54.1 percent of their passes against Penn State last fall.

3. Ohio State: There are some question marks here after the departures of All-Big Ten standout Kurt Coleman and veteran safety Anderson Russell, but Ohio State almost always finds a way to survive in the back four. The return of Tyler Moeller definitely helps, and safety Jermale Hines could have a big year after recording two interceptions in 2009. Is Chimdi Chekwa ready to be a shut-down corner in the Big Ten? We'll find out. Also keep an eye on athletic corner Devon Torrence and safety Orhian Johnson.

4. Wisconsin: This isn't a shut-down secondary -- evidence: 55th in pass defense in 2009 (217.5 ypg) -- but there are playmakers and hard-hitters, specifically veteran safety Jay Valai, among the group. There's good depth at cornerback with returning starter Devin Smith, Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Marcus Cromartie, who has stood out in camp so far. Chris Maragos is a significant loss at safety, and it remains to be seen whether Aaron Henry can regain his pre-injury form as he moves from cornerback to safety.

5. Minnesota: I'm taking a little leap of faith here again, but if safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret are on the field together, good things will happen. The two combined for 159 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2009, and finished with an outstanding performance in the Insight Bowl. I also like talented young cornerback Michael Carter, while Ryan Collado brings experience to the other corner spot. Minnesota expects juco transfer Christyn Lewis and redshirt freshman Kenny Watkins to add depth at safety.

Up next: Offensive line

More rankings ...

Big Ten mailblog

August, 10, 2010
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Adam from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Just read your Camp Preview for Ohio State. Not sure how you see David Durham making an instant impact. You do realize they are going to start him out at LB, arguably the deepest position on OSU's roster. Not sure how he is going to beat out the likes of Dorian Bell, Andrew Sweat, Storm Klein, Jonathon Newsome, and Jordan Whiting? Christian Bryant making an immediate impact as well? Do you even look at the depth chart and/or roster? The defensive secondary is possibly the second deepest position on the team. Do you think guys like Donnie Evege, Nate Oliver, Corey Brown, Travis Howard, Dominic Clarke, and Zach Domicone are all going to quit? How about doing some research before making statements and predictions that have no chance of proving true.

Adam Rittenberg: Adam, you're right, none of the Buckeyes freshmen will many any impact this year. No chance. We're talking about a category in a training camp preview, not a proclamation that guys definitely will see the field. It might happen, it might not. You're right about the depth at linebacker, but the secondary is definitely not the second-deepest group on the team. Ohio State has more proven depth at offensive line, running back and linebacker, and I like the defensive line group better than the secondary. Sure, several defensive backs return, but Ohio State loses Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell at safety. Chimdi Chekwa and Jermale Hines are nice pieces, but I don't see anyone back there who you can say is a sure-fire all-conference player.

Greg from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: "Geography shouldn't be a deciding factor," you wrote regarding Big Ten football divisions. "Not that many fans travel to road games as you think."That may be true for some teams, but not Iowa. Away game tickets can be very hard to get, even for many season ticket holders who are donors. And Hawkeye fans have been known to outnumber the home team's fans at Minnesota and Northwestern.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I'm well aware of Iowa fans' fondness for traveling, but on the whole, road travel among Big Ten fans is down. And while the league wants to accommodate its fans, it also must look at the bigger picture, specifically television appeal. My problem with divisions based on geography is that when (not if) Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan all are good in the same year, no one nationally will care about the other division. That's not a knock against what Wisconsin and Iowa do on the field, but those are excellent regional programs that don't appeal nationally as much as Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan and Nebraska do. That's my concern.

Rakesh from Memphis writes: Hey Adam,Everyone talks about Zook getting canned but can they even afford it? And if they buy out his contract then how are they going to pay a quality coach for the next round?

Adam Rittenberg: Rakesh, these are very relevant questions. After spending so much money on new coordinators Paul Petrino and Vic Koenning, Illinois might have to consider whether or not to take another financial hit if it comes down to that. I can't see how you push forward after another three- or four-win season, especially after all the pressure from boosters and others to make a change. But AD Ron Guenther seems willing to let this situation run its course. Your second question is a good one, too. If you buy out the remainder of Ron Zook's contact, can you spend enough to get a solid replacement? It won't be easy, especially given the budgetary struggles in the state right now. At least Illinois has some stability at the top with a new president.

Scott from Knoxville, Tenn., writes: Adam, nice blog. If the BT moved OSU and UofM into different divisions, the game would need to be earlier in the season, why not opening BT game, and then a week off for each team as their bye week-end. The players that I have talked to, say that they would need a week off just to get over the physcial play that their body had to endure in that game. That would book end the season and really move the needle. Also the loser would have the season to make up for the loss. What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: Wow, an Ohio State-Michigan Big Ten opener? That would seem pretty strange. It also would be tough to have a permanent bye week for those two teams while rotating the bye weeks for the other 10 Big Ten squads (Nebraska included). If they move The Game, and I'm not sold on moving it, I'd rather see it played in mid to late October. There's enough of a gap before the end of the regular season, and it could shape the league title race in certain years.

Steve from State College, Pa., writes: Adam,Love the blog and it keeps me goin throughout the day. My question is about Penn State's linebackers. Obviously they won't be as good as Lee, Bowman and Hull but no one expects them to be. People expect them to carry on "Linebacker-U". I feel Stupar, Mauti and Gbadyu can keep that tradition going. But what about the other guys? Hodges, Colasanti, and Yancich. Hodges is a converted safety and if he was still at safety he would kill people. Whats your take on that position for Penn State?

Adam Rittenberg: Gerald Hodges is a guy I'm really looking forward to seeing on the field this fall. He played sparingly in 11 games in 2009 and recorded three tackles, but he should be a much bigger presence in 2010. Chris Colasanti may or may not start, but he boasts a lot of experience as a reserve the past three years. He'd start on several Big Ten teams this fall. The reports on Michael Yancich are very favorable, and he should see the field a good amount this fall. So you're right: the linebackers won't be as decorated as Navorro Bowman, Sean Lee and Josh Hull were in 2009, but the overall depth should help Penn State continue the Linebacker U. tradition.

Dirk from Cincinnati writes: Are you Jared from the Subway commercials?

Adam Rittenberg: I wish. I'd be A LOT richer.

Kyle from Fort Worth, Texas, writes: Hey Adam,A future Big Ten member here, and I read your article about splitting up Michigan and OSU, and I think that is a terrible idea. Coming from the Big 12 I can tell you that will destroy the rivalry the same way it did with Nebaska and Oklahoma. The final game of the regular season in each division needs to be OSU vs Michigan in one and Nebraska vs PSU/Iowa/Wisconsin in the other. That way the OSU-MU rivalry still potentially decides the Big Ten Champion the same way it has for many years.

Adam Rittenberg: Kyle, thanks very much for the perspective. It's a real shame how the Big 12 destroyed Nebraska-Oklahoma, and the Big Ten certainly should learn from what happened. Now, the Big Ten never will let the Ohio State-Michigan game go off the schedule in any season, but it must preserve the integrity of the rivalry. I'd love to see the Big Ten have a second blockbuster matchup to go up against Ohio State-Michigan on the final Saturday of the regular season, whether it be Nebraska-Penn State, Nebraska-Iowa or Nebraska-Wisconsin. All three of those games would get some play nationally, especially Nebraska-Penn State.

Nick from Madison, Wis., writes: Wisconsin's offensive line is looking to be one of the best in the nation. What would be a good name for this squad? Moffits marauders? the big red blockade? I'm sure you/the blogosphere can do better.

Adam Rittenberg: I'll open this one up to the group. Suggestions? Here's one option: The Thick Red Line. Here's another: The Madison Block Party.

Opening camp: Ohio State

August, 6, 2010
Schedule: Ohio State's first preseason practice takes place today in Columbus.

What's new: Not that much. Jim Tressel's staff remains intact, and Ohio State returns 16 starters, including 10 on offense. The only spot that sees a decent amount of turnover is safety, as the Buckeyes lose both Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell. They also will have a new look along the defensive line, although Cameron Heyward is a familiar face, one opposing offensive linemen won't be happy to see.

Sidelined: Ohio State is healthy entering camp, although the Buckeyes are down a running back as Jermil Martin will transfer. The Scarlet and Gray will have incoming freshman running back Rod Smith on the field after Smith met his academic requirements.

Key battle: Let's start at kicker, a position that always means a lot to a Tressel-coached team. Aaron Pettrey departs, and Devin Barclay needs to rebound after struggling at times this spring. Punter Ben Buchanan and freshman Drew Basil are possibilities if Barclay can't hold down the top job. The other key battle takes place at left tackle, as junior Mike Adams tries to lock up a starting spot ahead of Andrew Miller and others.

New on the scene: Ohio State isn't deep at wide receiver and could find room for James Louis and Corey Brown. Defensive back Christian Bryant will have a chance in the secondary, and linebacker David Durham also might make an early impact. Carlos Hyde could work his way into a crowded mix at running back after enrolling a year later than expected. Basil will be a factor on special teams.

Back in the fold: Tyler Moeller is cleared for full contact after suffering a head injury last summer as an assault victim. Moeller played linebacker early in his career, but was on track for a possible starting job at safety in the spring of 2009. As Ohio State looks to replace Coleman, Moeller might be the answer.

Breaking out: Everyone is raving about sophomore defensive lineman John Simon, a weight-room superstar who saw some action last season. There also was some buzz this spring about linebacker Etienne Sabino, who should join Ross Homan and Brian Rolle in the starting lineup. Ohio State needs a No. 3 wide receiver, and watch out for redshirt freshman Chris Fields.

Quotable: "We're a very capable team. I think we should be a team that's being targeted. I know we'll be a team that's being targeted. And we'll always get everyone's best shot. And with that in mind, we better make sure our best shot's ready each Saturday. But it's just part of the deal." -- head coach Jim Tressel

Big Ten Friday mailblog

July, 30, 2010
You should already know this, but Big Ten media days begin Monday. The top three teams and preseason players of the year are announced Monday morning, so check the blog early and often. It'll be worth it.

As always, contact me here and follow me on Twitter.

Kurt from Chesapeake, Va., writes: Adam,You mentioned that one of the issues that will be discussed at the Big Ten Meetings will be the possibility of going to a nine-game conference schedule. Why would the Big Ten do this? To me, I see nothing but downfalls to this, including: 1. Big Ten teams will play an un-even number of home and road games, a trend that would be reversed every season. 2. Big Ten teams will have more potential losses, which could and would hurt bowl selections. 3. In the season that a Big Ten team would have five conference away games, there is less likelihood that the team will schedule tough non-conference games, and it would be almost guaranteed that if the Big Ten team does schedule an "A" level opponent, it would have to be at home. 4. Having nine conference games, then that would possibly cut into revenue from eliminating a non-conference game. 5. Adding another conference game would take away from the "prep" non-conference schedule where a team is able to "prepare themselves" for the conference slate. What do you think about this?

Adam Rittenberg: Kurt, do you mind if I copy your photonote and pass it out to the Big Ten coaches on Monday? Because you outline many of the reasons why the coaches might not be excited about the prospect of a nine-game Big Ten schedule. It means six more losses for the league, five conference road games every other year for each team, and most likely fewer bowl appearances. From the coaches' perspective, it's probably not a good idea. But for the athletic directors, it makes sense for a number of other reasons. It eases the burden of nonconference scheduling and likely reduces the number of guarantee games they pay for FCS or lower-tier FBS opponents. More important, it gives the ADs a more attractive home schedule every other year to sell to fans. A schedule with five Big Ten home dates looks a lot more attractive than one including Towson, Eastern Michigan and Arkansas State. Your point about potential lost revenue could be offset by increased revenue from a better schedule. To get the ADs' perspective, check out what Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke told me. Bottom line: a nine-game Big Ten schedule will be discussed next week, and the AD's ultimately have more say here.

Andrew from Madison, Wis., writes: Hey Adam - loving the hope/concern series! Seems like the secondary is a concern for a lot of teams in the Big 10 for this upcoming season. Seems like Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and Illinois are all either coming off poor performances last season or lost some major talents in the off season. Is this just a coincidence for this season or is there a specific reason why this position group seems poised to under perform across the big 10?

Adam Rittenberg: Andrew, that's a great observation. The Big Ten retains some great defensive backs like Iowa's Tyler Sash, but secondary could be a weak spot for the league this season. Among the big losses are Iowa's Amari Spievey, Northwestern's Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips, Michigan's Donovan Warren, Wisconsin's Chris Maragos, Ohio State's Kurt Coleman, Minnesota's Traye Simmons and Purdue's Torri Williams. It'll be very interesting to see how certain groups bounce back. Can Purdue replace all four starters? Will Iowa find a shut-down corner like Spievey? Can Northwestern avoid a relapse? Will Michigan State be younger but better in the back four? We'll find out soon enough.

Dale from San Marcos, Texas, writes: Can I get your personal opinion on RFR running back Jamaal Berry? What are his strengths and how does he measure compared to the other Ohio State backs? For instance when QUIZZ Rodgers arrived at Oregon State, his coach said it took about 3 seconds to know he was a player. Berry didn't even play in the Spring Game for Ohio State after sitting out a year. He's like a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Oh wait that's Russia. I'm perplexed.

Adam Rittenberg: I like the analogy, Dale. As for Berry, Ohio State fans seem to be obsessed with this guy. I've only seen him a few times in practice, and I was neither blown away nor disappointed by him. He was OK. We just have to wait and see if he can make up ground in preseason camp, because right now Brandon Saine and Dan Herron are the bell cows for Jim Tressel. Berry certainly comes in with some impressive credentials, but he's got to stay healthy after nagging hamstring problems last fall and really challenge Saine, Herron and Jordan Hall (don't forget about him) for carries.

Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Welcome back! Two things: When the BT expanded, I thought a championship game was a no brainer. But now I've heard a very intriguing idea - play nine conference games, and schedule the rivalry games on the first Saturday in December. This solves the "out-of-sight, out-of-mind" problem with not playing after Thanksgiving, but also avoids the championship loser out of the BCS problem. Plus, some of the rivalry games could prove more attractive than other conference championship games. What do you think? Thanks!

Adam Rittenberg: Lance, I've heard the same idea from people within the Big Ten. You add two bye weeks to the schedule and finish in early December, much like the Pac-10 does right now. There's certainly a contingent of coaches around the country who don't love league championship games, but there's also a ton of support for these events and lots of money to be made. Can a wealthy league like the Big Ten afford to stiff-arm millions and maybe help its second-place team reach BCS bowls every year? Sure. But I still think you'll see a title game when all is said and done.

Seann from Fort Collins, Colo., writes: Hi Adam. Thanks for the updates on the blog. What do you think about the Spartans' recruiting for the 2010 and 2011 classes? It seems like they are doing a better job competing for some of the top talent. A few years ago if you asked a top recruit if he wanted to go to Michigan or Michigan State he probably would have looked at you weird. Now it seems like state is in the mix. Do you think Mark Dantonio has improved the recruiting at state for the long term?

Adam Rittenberg: I really like what Mark Dantonio and his staff have done with local and regional recruiting. It's the right approach, and they've gone about it in a very effective way. Michigan State is consistently putting itself in the top half of the league in recruiting and, in some years, in the top three. I know the Michigan State/Michigan local recruiting debate makes for good fodder, but the truth is both programs have done pretty well and improved themselves. One potential concern for Michigan State is the departure of Dan Enos to Central Michigan. Enos really spearheaded the team's recruiting efforts in the Detroit area, and the other coaches need to pick up the slack.
First, acknowledge Tyler Moeller's return for what it is: an amazing comeback from a very unfortunate incident.

Doctors have cleared Moeller to return to the football field this fall for Ohio State, barely a year after he underwent surgery to relieve bleeding on his brain. Moeller's football career was in serious jeopardy after he was assaulted in a Florida bar while vacationing with his family. He practiced this spring with the Buckeyes but didn't participate in full contact. After getting the green light from his neurosurgeon and Ohio State's team doctors Wednesday, he's good to go.

It's great to hear Moeller has made a fully recovery, and here's hoping he stays healthy. That's the big picture here.

But we can also acknowledge what Moeller's return could mean for Ohio State's defense. The former reserve linebacker was on track to claim a starting job, most likely as a linebacker/safety hybrid, for the 2009 season. Now he has a chance to help Ohio State at a position of need in 2010.

Ohio State didn't lose a ton from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell both graduated. Coleman was Ohio State's only consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection in 2009, and Russell started three seasons in the secondary and finished his career with 194 tackles, six interceptions and four forced fumbles.

Moeller provides a veteran presence alongside Jermale Hines at safety, and he also has the versatility to move a little closer to the line of scrimmage. The Buckeyes coaches have liked what they've seen in practice, and though Moeller will have to readjust to full contact and game speed, he should play a valuable role for Ohio State this fall.
The Big Ten preseason player rankings, based on past performance and 2010 potential, continue with ...

No. 20: Brian Rolle, LB, Ohio State, Sr., 5-11, 218

2009 numbers: Ranked ninth in the Big Ten in total tackles with 94 and finished 13th in the league in tackles per game (7.2); finished fourth on the Buckeyes in tackles for loss (7) and added an interception and a fumble recovery.

Most recent ranking: Unranked in the 2009 postseason player rankings.

Making the case for Rolle: Rolle found himself among a group of overlooked Big Ten linebackers who turned in very solid performances last season. He ranked ninth in the league in tackles with 94 and led Ohio State linebacker with seven tackles for loss. Rolle also recorded an interception, a fumble recovery and two pass deflections. He made a name for himself as a playmaker early in 2009, intercepting a two-point conversion attempt in the season opener against Navy and racing 100 yards to the opposite end zone. All signs point toward Rolle having a huge senior season as he forms arguably the Big Ten's best linebacker tandem with classmate Ross Homan, who you'll see higher in these rankings. Rolle always has something to say, and his vocal leadership should help an Ohio State defense that loses co-captains Kurt Coleman and Doug Worthington.

The rundown
  • No. 25: Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt
  • No. 24: Illinois RB Mikel LeShoure
  • No. 23: Iowa DT Karl Klug
  • No. 22: Northwestern LB Quentin Davie
  • No. 21: Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins
Sixth in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools.

Going ...

Kurt Coleman, S: Coleman was the heart and soul of the nation's fifth-ranked defense in 2009, providing not only tremendous leadership in the secondary but tons of playmaking ability. He tied for the team lead with five interceptions and led Ohio State with three fumble recoveries to go along with 68 tackles. A co-captain, Coleman was Ohio State's only consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection last season.

Thaddeus Gibson, DE: Gibson opted to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft, a decision that looked a bit questionable after he slipped to the fourth round. A rush end who will play outside linebacker at the next level, Gibson led Ohio State with 13 tackles for loss, including four sacks. He was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection.

Staying ...

Justin Boren, G: Boren brought the nasty back to Ohio State's offensive line in 2009, and expectations are even higher for the group this season after a strong finish. A first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media, Boren is a strong contender for Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors. He's not the most athletic lineman on the roster, but he sets an example with his play and his approach to the game.

Cameron Heyward, DT/DE: Ohio State had good reason to be thrilled when Heyward passed up NFL millions for another year in Columbus. He dominated games against USC and Penn State last year and is taking steps to be more consistent in 2010. Heyward led Ohio State with 6.5 sacks and creates headaches for every opposing offensive line coach in the Big Ten.

Coming ...

James Louis, WR: Ohio State boasts a nice 1-2 punch at wide receiver with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but after that things get a little hazy. Wide receiver depth is one area that can certainly be upgraded, and Louis might be a solution. The Florida native brings top-end speed, makes defenders look silly and can go up and get the ball. If Taurian Washington, Chris Fields or Duron Carter don't fill the No. 3 receiver spot, look out for Louis.

Christian Bryant, DB: The secondary is one of the biggest question marks for Ohio State this fall, and Bryant could be a name to watch. He's a bit of a tweener, but might be able to fill a need at safety after the departures of Coleman and Anderson Russell.

More revolving door ...
CHICAGO -- The Big Ten came down hard on player conduct last season, suspending three players in as many weeks for various on-field actions.

  • Michigan linebacker Jonas Mouton was suspended for punching Notre Dame center Eric Olsen following a play in a September game. No penalty was called on the field, but the Big Ten disciplined Mouton after reviewing film of the game.
  • A week later, the league suspended Purdue offensive lineman Zach Reckman for a late hit on a Northern Illinois player at the end of the Boilermakers' loss to the Huskies. Purdue originally suspended Reckman for a quarter, but the league lengthened it to an entire game.
  • Finally, the Big Ten suspended Ohio State safety and co-captain Kurt Coleman for a game following a helmet-to-helmet hit against Illinois' Eddie McGee during a game in Columbus. Coleman was called for a personal foul on the play.

Did the league's hard-line stance on conduct send a message? Big Ten Coordinator of Football Officials Bill Carollo thinks so.

"I'm telling our guys, 'Clean that up,' and we did," Carollo said. "I think the results were very good. I had athletic directors and coaches disappointed in some of the discipline we did take, and they didn't always agree. But I was comfortable that what we were doing is the right thing, and that's what the NCAA wants. It needed to be cleaned up, and [coaches] knew we were going to continue to throw the flag."

Officials throughout college football cracked down on helmet-to-helmet hits last season, and Carollo saw a reduction in the Big Ten. He also tracked unnecessary roughness fouls, both the ones called and the ones missed.

The accuracy of calls also increased, which Carollo attributes to officials' increased awareness as well as coaches being more mindful of what would be called.

"If you don't throw a guy out for throwing a punch, when do you?" Carollo said. "That's pretty clear. I don't like disciplining the players, especially when they're trying to make a play, a football play. When the play's over and it's not a football play, they don't get as much of a break from me. That's control. That's player discipline."

The changing environment for media and technology also factors into how the league handles player conduct. Carollo and his staff aren't the only ones breaking down game film, and even if a flag isn't thrown on game day, they'll eventually find out about any questionable incidents.

"Dick Butkus used to use a clothesline and that was a great play and it makes the highlights," said Carollo, who discussed the league's response with coaches this week at Big Ten spring meetings. "The game is changing from when I played in the 70s, from when the coaches played in the 80s or 90s. The game is evolving and changing, and we need to keep changing with, officials and coaches.

"What was just a great football play before is [now] clearly a foul, and it might be discipline for the following game."
Last week's NFL draft rekindled a hot topic on this blog -- the 2009 Big Ten Coach of the Year race between Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Ohio State's Jim Tressel.

As we all know, Ferentz won the award, his third after claiming the honor in both 2002 and 2004. Tressel amazingly has never won the award despite leading Ohio State to six Big Ten titles, a national title, seven BCS bowl appearances and a 59-13 mark in conference games since he took over as head coach in 2001.

Let the record show that I endorsed Ferentz for the 2009 award, though I wouldn't have made a fuss if it had gone to Tressel. I cited Iowa's ability to overcome a brutal road schedule and several key injuries as primary reasons why the award should go to Ferentz. Plus, Ferentz and his assistants regularly take average recruits and turn them into All-Big Ten performers.

"Ferentz had so many things working against him this season, namely a brutal road schedule and several unfortunate injuries. ... Ferentz readily admits Iowa isn't the most talented or deepest team in the Big Ten, but he and his assistants got the most out of the Hawkeyes this fall. ... Tressel deserves to win this award one of these seasons, and he did a great job turning things around after Purdue and worked his November magic yet again. I'd be happy for Tressel if he got the nod tonight, but the honor should go to Ferentz."

So how does the NFL draft change this, if at all?

Well, Iowa had six players drafted, including a first-round pick in left tackle Bryan Bulaga, a second-round pick in linebacker Pat Angerer, two third-round picks in cornerback Amari Spievey and tight end Tony Moeaki, and a fourth-round pick in linebacker A.J. Edds.

Ohio State, meanwhile, had its weakest draft in recent memory. The Buckeyes had no players drafted in the first three rounds and only one, outside linebacker Thaddeus Gibson, drafted before the seventh round.

The draft also mirrored the 2009 All-Big Ten selections, which included only two first-team selections from Ohio State (safety Kurt Coleman and guard Justin Boren) and five first-team selections from Iowa (Bulaga, Spievey, Angerer, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and safety Tyler Sash).

Despite having a weak senior class, at least according to NFL potential, and one of his least decorated teams at Ohio State, Tressel won another Big Ten title, not to mention a Rose Bowl championship.

Did he deserve the Coach of the Year Award over Ferentz?

I've heard plenty from both fan bases on this topic, and I'll attempt to summarize the viewpoints.

Ohio State fan argument: It's ridiculous Tressel has never won the award despite dominating the Big Ten since his arrival. Why should he get penalized for Ohio State recruiting well and being the preseason favorite all the time? Look at the 2009 season. Iowa had more than twice as many first-team All-Big Ten selections, and a much stronger NFL draft class. And Ohio State still beat the Hawkeyes head-to-head to win the Big Ten championship and then the Rose Bowl. This was one of Tressel's best coaching jobs, and if he can't win the award in a year like this one, he'll never get it. O-H!

Iowa fan argument: It's ridiculous that Tressel has never won Big Ten Coach of the Year, but Ferentz deserved the award in 2009, just like he did in 2002 and 2004. Look at where Iowa's recruiting classes rank next to Ohio State's year after year. Ferentz consistently does more with less talent, while Tressel wins the league because he has the most gifted recruits. It goes back to recruiting and player development, and a coach should be judged by what he does with players after they come under his watch.

Both sides bring up great points, and both coaches certainly did enough to deserve the award last fall.

I took a look at who was winning Coach of the Year in other conferences. Specifically, I wanted to see how often the award went to the coach from the dominant team, or the team that recruited the best.

  • Pete Carroll won Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors three times during his dominant USC tenure. He claimed the award outright in 2006 and shared it with Washington State's Bill Doba in 2003 and UCLA's Karl Dorrell in 2005.
  • Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has won Big 12 Coach of the Year four times, while Texas' Mack Brown won his second award last season. The Sooners and Longhorns have dominated the league in the last decade.
  • Florida's Urban Meyer has never won SEC Coach of the Year, making him the closest parallel to Tressel. Nick Saban has won or shared the award three times, once with LSU and twice with Alabama.
  • Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer won back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year awards in 2004 and 2005. Beamer and the Hokies have been the league's dominant team since moving over from the Big East.

This shows that dominant head coaches can win Coach of the Year awards in their leagues, although Tressel and Meyer both have been passed over.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Tressel deserves this award, but unless Ohio State takes a nosedive on the field or in recruiting, his drought likely will continue.
Here's the second half of my interview with Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock.

You mentioned the safety spot being a critical area. Jermale [Hines] played a lot there last year. Is he a guy you really lean on now to take the next step?

[+] EnlargeHines
D. Jay Talbott/Icon SMIThe Buckeyes are excited about the development of defensive back Jermale Hines.
Jim Heacock: No question. Jermale had a good year last year, maybe underrated a little bit. When you look at the bowl game and what he did, playing out there, I thought he did really well. And he's really had a great offseason, so yes, he's got to step up and be the leader of that safety group. And then Orhian Johnson played some last year. He actually filled in when Kurt [Coleman] didn't play in the Indiana game, and he's had a good offseason. And any chance of getting Tyler Moeller back, which we won't know until the fall, but he's a guy that could help. Coming out of last spring, we felt like he was one of our better safeties, and then, of course, he had the offseason injury and didn't play. So he's another guy that could be a piece for us.

As far as that third linebacker spot, is [Etienne] Sabino the guy you look for there, or are there others competing?

JH: There's some good, talented young guys at that spot. Sabino is a guy who has played a bit; we got him in the mix last year. Andrew Sweat is a guy who was coming on real well last year, and then had to have a little knee surgery and was out at the end of the year. He's been out a while, but he looks like he's coming back strong, so he's going to be a factor. And then we've got four or five of those young guys -- Storm Klein, Jordan Whiting, Dorian Bell -- who we think are going to get in the mix. So it looks like we'll be able to develop some depth there.

What are your ultimate goals for the group coming out of the spring? Would you like to have a rough draft of the depth chart?

JH: I always like to come out of the spring and say you're two deep. You'd like to say you've got 22 players who you feel like you can play with in the fall. And then we can get after it in the offseason. That's a goal. And then you always want to see leadership. There's a new group of seniors in town, and you've got to develop those guys and see how they develop and see how they mature and how they handle a leadership role. You're always looking to see the little things. Are they taking care of business, doing good things off the field? You hope the direction is maturity, and they're gearing up and pointing toward a good fall.

And as far as those leaders, is it the usual suspects?

JH: Yeah, I think so. Cam [Heyward] and Ross [Homan]. Brian Rolle looks like he's going to develop into a good leader. And that's something, as we go through spring, we'll get a little bit better feel for that. They've become seniors, and as they become seniors with Coach [Jim] Tressel, there's a lot of expectations put on our seniors. He expects the seniors to do a great job of leading. That's something that as we go through spring, we'll get a little bit better feel of what kind of leadership we're having.

Will anyone on the defensive side miss spring or be severely limited?

JH: Off hand, I can't think of anybody. We've had some guys who had offseason surgeries and some minor things, but I'm assuming all of them will be back and be practicing.
Ohio State opened spring drills Thursday, and for the Buckeyes' defense, it's business as usual. Though the defense loses six starters, it remains one of the nation's elite units, thanks in large part to coordinator Jim Heacock. Ohio State has ranked among the nation's top-15 defenses in each of Heacock's five seasons as coordinator. The defense has recorded three top-5 finishes during the span, including a fifth-place finish in 2009. Standout defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle lead the 2010 version.

Heacock took some time this week to discuss the outlook for Ohio State's defense entering the spring.

Defensively, you really ended 2009 on a high note, and the 'no names' motto really seemed to work well. Is that still the motto for this unit, even though you have guys like Cam and Ross and Brian, who are more well known?

Jim Heacock: I don't necessarily know for sure. Each defense takes on a little bit of an identity. Last year, those terms really fit our defense. There just wasn't anybody that had the big name. We had lost [James] Laurinaitis and [Malcolm] Jenkins and those guys, so it just seemed like [the motto] came together. This year, I assume that we'll have a different identity. We'll have some guys who have played a little bit more and probably have more guys on the field who played last year. So I'm not sure there will be much carryover on that.

I know building depth is always a goal in spring. Are there areas where you will spend more of your time during these practices?

JH: The depth on the defensive line is going to be a little bit of a factor. We've got some guys that have played quite a bit, but depth-wise, we lost some seniors. That area is a place where we've got to find some guys to step up and fill in the gaps. Losing two safeties [Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell] obviously opens up some holes there. Those two areas are going to be critical. Coming out of spring, you always hope you can identify your top-22 players that you feel like you can go to battle with next year.

Players like [John] Simon up front, are those the kind of guys who you'll be looking to for that next step?

JH: Simon is a guy who proved his worth last year, and played a lot of reps for us, got a lot of downs, made some big plays, made some good strides, had a good bowl game. So he's a guy we're counting on to go in there and play in the fall. Nate Williams is another guy who's been getting a lot of reps. He's backed up Thaddeus Gibson for two years now. He didn't start, but he's gotten an awful lot of reps and made a lot of plays for us, so he's a guy who's got to step up as a starter-type guy. And then we've got a couple guys, Dexter Larimore and Cameron Heyward, that have been around for a while. They've got to be the leaders of the group. And then some young guys have got to come on: Solomon Thomas and Garrett Goebel and Keith Wells. It'll be a fun year for the front, just to get a lot of competition going and see who can step up.

With Cameron, you know what he can do. He talked to me about wanting to be dominant every game. What things does he need to do to get to that point?

JH: You take a guy like Cameron, and you know he can play football, and you know he's got heart, he's tough and he's got all those intangibles you don't need to worry about. He can really improve on technique. He can take his game to another level, just with a lot of technique work, a lot of individual work, a lot of pass-rush techniques, a lot of run-defense techniques, just zeroing in on the little things. Any type of improvement in those little areas is going to help him become a little bit more dominant of a player, the player he wants to be.

How good can he be?

JH: He can be an outstanding player.We've had different types of players, Will Smith, who was a great player, and some guys that could come off the edge that were great players. Cameron is a very physical player. His strength comes from dominating the man across from him and playing a physical brand of football and getting a push on the pocket. From that standpoint, he's pretty good.

In Part II: the competition at safety, expectations for leadership on defense
Ohio State defender Tyler Moeller will be on the field Thursday when spring practice begins, but a decision on his playing status likely won't come until late summer or early fall.

Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Heacock told on Tuesday that Moeller, who suffered a head injury after being assaulted last summer in a Florida bar/restaurant, will go through some running and individual drills this spring. Moeller played linebacker from 2006-08 but could be a factor at safety, a spot where Ohio State loses two multiyear starters (Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell).

"He's going to be running around and involved in 7-on-7 [drills]," Heacock said. "He's not going to get in any contact. We'll give him a chance to heal a little bit more and just make absolute certain that he's cleared and fine before allowing him to get into tackling."

Moeller suffered a subdural hematoma in the attack and underwent a procedure last August to relieve pressure. He sat out the entire 2009 season. The man facing felony battery charges for allegedly attacking Moeller is scheduled to stand trial June 2 in Florida.

Heacock said the 6-foot, 210-pound Moeller emerged from spring practice a year ago as one of Ohio State's top safeties and "could be a piece for us there." Senior Jermale Hines has locked up one starting safety spot, but the other is open, with sophomore Orhian Johnson and others in the mix.

Moeller could be the answer if he returns for games. But right now, it's still a big if.

"From what I understand, it's going to be more of a fall decision," Heacock said. "Let's see how he does, and if he keeps improving like he is now, that's going to be a decision for our doctors to see if he can get the clearance."