Big Ten: L.A. Coliseum

Big Ten: What to watch in Week 3

September, 12, 2008
9/12/08
9:00
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

A great weekend of Big Ten games is on tap, and not just the big one at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). I expect all of you to gain a few pounds sitting on your couches throughout Saturday and into Sunday morning. Anything less will be unacceptable. I get a rare Friday night at home -- fiancee is happy -- before hitting the road early Saturday to watch Purdue and No. 16 Oregon go at it (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

A quick disclaimer about this post because I've gotten a lot of nasty e-mails. These are the best 10 things to watch on a given Saturday, not the best thing to watch for each team. There often will be two items for a marquee game -- like the one in L.A. -- and multiple teams won't make the rundown, especially those playing weak competition. That's how it works.

Here are 10 things you don't want to miss:

1. Beanie watch ends: Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is listed as doubtful for the matchup against top-ranked USC, but nothing will be settled until kickoff. Coach Jim Tressel doesn't want to risk further injury to Wells in September, but if the Heisman Trophy candidate can contribute, the Buckeyes will use him. If not, get ready for a guy (Dan Herron) nicknamed "Boom." Unfortunately, that's also the sound Rey Maualuga makes when he connects with ball carriers.

2. Pryor restraint: Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor will play a role against the Trojans. How significant a role largely depends on Beanie Wells' availability. If the offense stalls like it did last week without Wells, Pryor could get extended time in an effort to throw off the USC defense. The 6-foot-6, 235-pound freshman is a special talent, but can he handle the spotlight of such a marquee game?

3. Badgers hit the road: Wisconsin has survived slow starts against inferior opposition, but it can't afford to drag against Fresno State. Keep your eyes on Badgers quarterback Allan Evridge, who makes his first road start since 2005. Coach Bret Bielema gets two big pieces -- tight end Travis Beckum and linebacker Jonathan Casillas -- back on the field following injuries, but both players could be a bit rusty.

4. 'Hell' with the victors: Michigan players saw Charlie Weis' words around their training room this week. The Wolverines head to South Bend hoping to hand Weis and Notre Dame a third humiliating loss in the last three years. Quarterback Steven Threet gets the start and needs to show greater consistency, but he'll get help from a veteran defensive line that swarmed Jimmy Clausen last year.

5. Track meet at Ross-Ade -- Purdue has marveled at Oregon's team speed all week, and the Boilers have to find a way to keep pace Saturday afternoon. This will be the first of several defining games for Purdue senior quarterback Curtis Painter, who will set plenty of records but needs signature wins to complete his resume. The Boilermakers' back seven has improved but will play without speedy linebacker Jason Werner. Oregon's Jeremiah Johnson could capitalize.

6. Backer bonanza: NFL scouts will be drooling as arguably the nation's best linebacker tandems take the field at the L.A. Coliseum. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman hope to continue their takeaway trend against Mark Sanchez, while the "scary" Maualuga and Brian Cushing bring the pain to the Buckeyes offense.

7. State pride on the line: This is more than a rivalry game for Iowa. Iowa State provides the first significant test for the Hawkeyes, who have looked dominant against shoddy competition. Sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi has a grasp on the starting job and the support of Iowa fans, but he'll need to continue to make progress against the Cyclones. The home team has won the last four Cy-Hawk trophies, a good sign for Iowa.

8. Rush hour in East Lansing: Michigan State's defensive line has yet to break out, and Saturday would be a fine time to do so. Sun Belt champ Florida Atlantic and standout quarterback Rusty Smith come to town, and the Spartans need to apply pressure to avoid problems. With uncertainty in the secondary, Michigan State needs big things from end Trevor Anderson and tackle Justin Kershaw.

9. Illini D-line under the gun -- Illinois ranks 101st nationally in rush defense (201 ypg), a troubling sign as Louisiana-Lafayette's dynamic quarterback Michael Desormeaux comes to town. Can veterans like Will Davis, Derek Walker, Doug Pilcher and David Lindquist shore up the defensive front? This would be a perfect time as Illinois inches closer to a tough opening stretch in league play.

10. Orange could be feeling blue: What was once a great rivalry could get ugly Saturday at the Carrier Dome as Penn State's high-powered offense faces the worst BCS team in the country. Syracuse should be pumped for the game: coach Greg Robinson desperately needs a positive showing: but Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and the 17th-ranked Nittany Lions should put up some ridiculous numbers in this one.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nothing about Saturday's game at the L.A. Coliseum screams ordinary. Not the teams, not the players, not the coaches, not the fans, not the rankings, not the implications for both the winner and loser.

But after falling short in several showcase opportunities, Ohio State's defense is focused on keeping it simple.

"You make the plays that come to you," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said Tuesday night. "One of our coaches said it best. He said, 'Don't try to do something extraordinary. Just do the things that are ordinary great.' ... You don't have to try to force plays."

When Jenkins watched film of Ohio State's losses in the last two BCS title games, he saw defenders caught up in the hype, trying to make plays outside of their job descriptions and, as a result, whiffing on their assignments. By the time the Buckeyes settled down in the second half of both those games, it was far too late.

Jenkins and fellow co-captain James Laurinaitis have repeated the same three words all week: Do your job.

"Especially against teams like SC, Florida, LSU, these are teams that bank on you making mistakes," Jenkins said. "They'll take advantage of every single one of them. You can get away with it with lesser-talented teams, but in huge games like this, every little mistake counts. One guy misses a gap here or is not in his deep third there, that could result in some big plays."

Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel on Tuesday downplayed the personal foul penalties his team drew against LSU in January, but Laurinaitis is making a point to ensure that his teammates don't lose their composure.

"You've just got to relax and think, 'This is the same stuff at practice,' which, realistically, it's not," Laurinaitis said. "There's a ton of fans out there, a lot of pressure. ... When you know what you're doing and you're comfortable with what you're doing, it allows you to be aggressive."

Five Big Ten lessons from Week 1

August, 31, 2008
8/31/08
1:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The first round of Big Ten games are in the books and the conference landscape hasn't changed much, which could be a bad thing. Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin look like the class of the league, and all three squads rolled in games in which they should.

But the first month of the season provides the Big Ten ample opportunities to boost its deteriorating national reputation, and so far the league has failed to do so. For the second straight year Illinois fell way behind in the first three quarters against Missouri and couldn't recover. Michigan State couldn't keep up with Cal's running backs and fell short in Berkeley. Michigan's offense was generally a mess and the Wolverines couldn't knock off a solid Utah team.

It's time to look back at five revelations from Week 1. This will be a Sunday staple throughout the season.

1. Michigan offense under construction: The offense looked bland and basic in Rich Rodriguez's debut, and the simplistic system still prompted plenty of mistakes. Both quarterbacks had their share of struggles, though redshirt freshman Steven Threet made several plays down the stretch that could earn him the starting nod in Week 2. The quarterbacks will endure their share of growing pains, but Michigan can't afford getting next to nothing from its running backs. The talent is there on both sides of the ball, but the Wolverines won't win many games averaging 1.4 yards a carry.

2. Impact of Beanie Wells' injury: The foot/ankle/toe injury to the star running back overshadowed what otherwise was a brilliant day for Ohio State, which received nice performances from freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor and many others in a 43-0 win against Youngstown State. X-rays were negative, but foot and toe problems can be tricky, especially for a running back who can now be labeled injury prone. The priority is getting Wells ready for a Week 3 matchup at USC, so if he has to sit out next week's game against Ohio, so be it. Given what the Trojans did to Virginia, Ohio State will need all hands -- or feet -- on deck at the L.A. Coliseum.

3. Michigan State still not clutch: Six close losses in 2007 fueled preseason hype for the Spartans. Well, add another near miss to the list. Quarterback Brian Hoyer completed only 20 of 48 passes, and though he found a capable target in Mark Dell (202 yards), the senior signal caller couldn't get his team over the top in a 38-31 loss. More unsettling for Michigan State was a defense that allowed 203 rushing yards. Good teams reflect their head coach, and though the Spartans have started to do so in many areas, a Mark Dantonio team shouldn't be this vulnerable on defense.

4. Running backs impress: For all the talk of pass-happy spread offenses in the Big Ten, the league still has quite a few guys who can run a bit. Led by under-appreciated junior P.J. Hill, Wisconsin unveiled arguably the league's most powerful rushing attack and racked up 404 rushing yards against Akron. Wells had 111 rushing yards on just 13 carries before his injury, and Penn State's two backs (Stephfon Green and Evan Royster) combined for five touchdowns. Iowa's Shonn Greene (109 yards) showed no signs of rust after a year away from football and the Hawkeyes found a Jewel, as in freshman Jewel Hampton (68 yards, 2 TDs). Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton showed why he's still one of the league's top backs, and Minnesota's Duane Bennett came up big when it counted. Quarterback Kellen Lewis continues to be Indiana's best running back, collecting 185 rushing yards Saturday.

5. Illini defense overvalued: I'll be the first to admit I bought into Illinois' defense too much this summer. Any defense that loses its core (two safeties, a middle linebacker and a tackle) will probably struggle at first, and Illinois certainly did against Chase Daniel and Missouri. A line that coach Ron Zook called the team's strength generated only one sack -- end Derek Walker did return an interception for a touchdown -- and Daniel passed for 323 yards. Linebacker Martez Wilson still looks like the real deal, but the Illini need more from others if they want to be considered an elite defense.

Carroll was once a Buckeye

July, 22, 2008
7/22/08
3:12
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg 

College football coaches are nomads with extremely understanding families, and many have been on both sides of matchups between powerhouse programs. USC's Pete Carroll is no different, though many might not know he once stood on the Ohio State sideline.

The blog Eleven Warriors has an interesting story about Carroll's tenure as Ohio State's secondary coach under head man Earl Bruce in 1979. Carroll left his mark on the Buckeyes defensive backs, who came up with several huge plays during the 1979 season, none bigger than safety Todd Bell's blocked punt return for a touchdown that beat Michigan. The play gave Ohio State the Big Ten title and Carroll the first of many trips to the Rose Bowl. Ohio State's opponent? None other than USC, led by mammoth tackle Anthony Munoz. The Trojans won the game -- has anything changed? -- and Carroll left for N.C. State the next year.

Check out the YouTube clip below the story, as Carroll reflects on his first trip to Pasadena. He'll be about 15 miles south of the Rose Bowl on Sept. 13, as Ohio State takes on USC at the L.A. Coliseum.

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