Big Ten: Lamaar Thomas
- Kicker: Second-team All-Big Ten selection Stefan Demos returns after connecting on 18 of 25 field goal attempts in 2009.
- Punter: Demos also has handled the punting duties for Northwestern the last two seasons, although it's not his strong suit.
- Kick return: Primary return men Stephen Simmons and Jeravin Matthews both are back. Northwestern ranked ninth in the league last year (20.6 ypr).
- Punt return: Brendan Smith and Andrew Brewer both depart.
- Quick thoughts: Special teams have cost Northwestern key games in recent years and continue to be a priority for head coach Pat Fitzgerald. Despite Demos' Outback Bowl struggles, he remains a very solid option on field goals. Northwestern would be well served by identifying a punter to lighten Demos' load, and redshirt freshman Brandon Williams is an option. Simmons provides a good threat on kick returns when healthy, but NU must identify a few options for punt returns. Incoming freshman Venric Mark could be a factor there. The punt and kickoff coverage teams were average in 2009 and could use a boost.
- Kicker: Aaron Pettrey departs, but Devin Barclay, whose kick against Iowa sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl, will be back.
- Punter: Jon Thoma departs after finishing 10th in the league in average (37.9 ypp) last fall. Sophomore Ben Buchanan has a big leg and will step in.
- Kick return: Primary return men Lamaar Thomas and Ray Small both depart. Ohio State ranked sixth in the league last fall (22.3 ypr).
- Punt return: Small leaves a pretty big void here after averaging 8.3 yards on a league-high 33 attempts last season.
- Quick thoughts: Jim Tressel's teams always will be strong in the kicking game, although there are some key spots to fill in 2010. Barclay did a really nice job in relief of Pettrey last fall, but whether he can provide the same long-range threat as Pettrey remains to be seen. Small is a big loss on both return teams, and it will be interesting to see who steps into his spot. Running back Brandon Saine and wideout DeVier Posey both are possibilities. Ohio State covered punts well last fall but finished a surprising 51st nationally in kickoff coverage (21.2 ypr) with a touchdown allowed against Iowa.
- Kicker: Collin Wagner is back after an excellent Capital One Bowl performance. He connected on 15 of 22 field goal attempts last fall.
- Punter: Second-team All-Big Ten selection Jeremy Boone departs after averaging 43.3 yards per punt in 2009. Ryan Breen's decision to leave the team creates some uncertainty here.
- Kick return: Chaz Powell, Devon Smith and Stephfon Green all are back for 2010. Powell averaged 23.2 yards per runback in 2009.
- Punt return: Graham Zug, Justin Brown, Evan Royster and Drew Astorino shared duties in 2009, and all are back.
- Quick thoughts: Penn State was surprisingly mediocre on special teams in 2009, and the kicking game should be a focal point this spring. Boone's graduation and Breen's departure leaves no true punter on the roster. The Lions finished 10th in the league in punt returns (5 ypr) last fall and need a true starter to emerge there. Punt coverage was a mess in 2009, as Penn State finished 117th nationally (15.4 ypr) out of 120 FBS teams. With several key personnel losses on both sides of the ball, Penn State can't afford to have the kicking game be a liability this fall.
- Kicker: Carson Wiggs has the strongest leg in the Big Ten and connected on 14 of 21 field goal attempts last fall. He's back for 2010.
- Punter: Chris Summers departs after averaging 39.5 yards per punt last fall. Wiggs had four punts in 2009, averaging 36.5 yards.
- Kick return: Al-Terek McBurse is back after averaging an impressive 24.6 yards per runback as a true freshman. Purdue must find a No. 2 option because Aaron Valentin departs.
- Punt return: Valentin was the primary return man, but wideout Waynelle Gravesande recorded 11 attempts last fall.
- Quick thoughts: Purdue made plenty of special-teams blunders in 2009, and for the Boilers to take the next step this fall, their kicking game must get better. Wiggs can boom field goals from anywhere on the field, giving Danny Hope a valuable weapon. McBurse could be a weapon on kick returns, although Purdue must address the punt return team. Kickoff coverage was miserable in 2009, as the Boilers ranked 112th nationally (24.7 ypr). The Boilers also must address their punter position.
- Kicker: Philip Welch is back after connecting on 17 of 24 field goal attempts as a sophomore.
- Punter: Brad Nortman returns after finishing fourth in the Big Ten in punting average last fall (42 ypp).
- Kick return: David Gilreath has been the man on returns for Wisconsin, and he's back. Isaac Anderson also could be an option here.
- Punt return: Gilreath averaged 5.6 yards and had a 68-yard touchdown as the primary punt returner.
- Quick thoughts: Welch and Nortman boast plenty of experience as the primary specialists. It'll be interesting to see if Wisconsin sticks with Gilreath as its top return man or opens things up to other players this spring. Bret Bielema likely will spend much more time worrying about the kickoff coverage team, which ranked 119th nationally out of 120 FBS teams last fall (26.4 ypr). Punt coverage was decent, but you can bet Wisconsin will spend a lot of time on special teams in spring ball.
Recruits: 18 (16 high school seniors, two prep school players, one player enrolled already)
Top prospects: Defensive back Christian Bryant should see the field early. Running back Roderick Smith could be a factor as the starting job remains a bit unsettled. Linemen Darryl Baldwin and Andrew Norwell and wide receivers James Louis and Corey Brown also come in with plenty of accolades.
Sleepers: Speedy Bradley Roby is a late signee who only gained major attention in recruiting after switching from wide receiver to cornerback as a senior. Quarterback Taylor Graham struggled with injuries in high school but has a good pedigree as the son of former NFL QB Kent Graham. Defensive tackle Johnathon Hankins is a big body on the interior.
Needs met: Ohio State addressed a mini need in the secondary with Bryant and Roby. The Buckeyes would have liked one more offensive lineman -- Seantrel Henderson or Matt James -- but they added depth at both wide receiver and running back.
Analysis: Ohio State might not have hit a home run with this class, and the Buckeyes lost a few key in-state products to other teams, namely Jordan Hicks. But Jim Tressel and his staff brought in plenty of speed and versatility, and added several key wide receivers who could contribute early following graduation losses and Lamaar Thomas' transfer. Unless Henderson dumps USC in the coming weeks, Ohio State will need to add more offensive linemen in the 2011 class.
Scouts Inc. grade: B
What Jim Tressel said:
- "If you asked coach [Jim] Bollman how many offensive linemen he would have liked, we had pigeonholed two. He probably would have liked three or four, but we could afford two within our budget. So we'll see how we end up there."
- "With the way the game has changed, you need so many guys who can play out in space. In this class, we have a lot of guys with skills and speed."
Here's a look:
Offensive line: The line hasn't been great the last two seasons, and Illinois loses standout Jon Asamoah and center Eric Block. Illinois looks strong at running back in 2010, but someone needs to create rushing lanes.
Safety: The Illini defense hasn't been the same since the departures of safeties Kevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison following the 2007 season. Ron Zook could really use a safety or two who could step in and contribute right away against the run and in coverage.
Defensive end: The Hoosiers lose two multiyear starters at end: Jammie Kirlew, a two-time All-Big Ten selection, and Greg Middleton, who led the nation in sacks in 2007. Indiana's pass rush will suffer unless it builds depth at end and throughout the line.
Secondary: Indiana loses starting safeties Austin Thomas and Nick Polk as well as its top cornerback, Ray Fisher. Expect the Hoosiers to go very heavy with defensive back recruits as they try to shore up an area that has been problematic during the last decade.
Offensive line: The situation on the line certainly is better than it was a year ago, but the departure of talented left tackle Rodger Saffold creates a void. Indiana is the type of team that always could use more depth up front so the drop-off between starters and backups isn't so dramatic.
Offensive line: Iowa loses four linemen who started most or all of its games last year, including All-Big Ten performers Bryan Bulaga and Dace Richardson. The Hawkeyes can't expect freshmen to come in and start right away up front, but they need some insurance if injuries crop up.
Linebacker: Standouts Pat Angerer and A.J. Edds depart, and while Iowa has some guys ready to step in, it can always use depth in the defensive midsection. The Hawkeyes defensive line should sizzle in 2010, but they need sure tacklers at linebacker, too.
Secondary: There's no mystery here, as the Wolverines really struggled with breakdowns in the back four and lose standout cornerback Donovan Warren to the NFL draft. Michigan needs to bolster its talent level at both cornerback and safety to have improved results in 2010.
Linebacker: The Wolverines linebackers struggled in 2009, and there are opportunities for young players to step in here and contribute. Obi Ezeh and Jonas Mouton are back, but it's obvious this is another area Michigan must upgrade this coming season.
Specialists: Michigan loses both of its starting specialists, including All-Big Ten punter Zoltan Mesko, a Ray Guy Award finalist. This is always an area where a strong true freshman can step in and contribute immediately.
Trenches: Line play was a weakness for the Spartans in 2009, and they'll be looking to upgrade on both sides of the ball. They lose top pass rusher Trevor Anderson as well as left tackle Rocco Cironi, center Joel Nitchman and guard Brendon Moss on the offensive line.
Secondary: This unit turned out to be a major disappointment, considering the preseason expectations. Michigan State loses safety Danny Fortener and corners Ross Weaver and Jeremy Ware, and there should be ample opportunities for freshmen to step in and play.
Linebacker: Probably not a critical need, but Michigan State needs to start preparing for life after Greg Jones. The Spartans also lose Adam Decker and Brandon Denson from the 2009 team, and Eric Gordon will depart with Jones after 2010.
Cornerback: The Gophers lose both of their starters, Traye Simmons and Marcus Sherels, and will be looking to build depth behind Michael Carter in 2010. I'm very excited about what Minnesota returns at safety, but the situation at corner seems a bit unsettled.
Offensive line: Minnesota will stick with the pro-style offense no matter who becomes its next coordinator, but for the system to truly click, the Gophers really need to upgrade their line. The team returns quite a few linemen for 2010, but it'll look for improved depth up front.
Running back: After finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing each of the last two seasons, Minnesota certainly will look to get better here. Kevin Whaley's departure creates a spot for a newcomer to compete with Duane Bennett and DeLeon Eskridge for carries.
Secondary: The Wildcats lose three multiyear starters in the secondary, including All-Big Ten honorees Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. They'll need to build depth around safety Brian Peters and corner Jordan Mabin to avoid a major drop-off.
Defensive line: Corey Wootton's departure leaves NU without a proven pass rusher who can command double teams. The Wildcats also will look to build depth at defensive tackle after losing Adam Hahn and Marshall Thomas.
Safety: This is one of few spots where Ohio State loses two long-time contributors in Kurt Coleman, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and Anderson Russell. Though Jermale Hines played a lot in 2009, the Buckeyes want to build depth around him.
Wide receiver: If the Buckeyes' offense builds off of its Rose Bowl performance, the wideouts figure to be more involved. Ohio State should be fine for 2010 with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but it could lose both after the season and needs to start grooming replacements. These recruits also could help the return game, where Ohio State loses Ray Small and Lamaar Thomas.
Quarterback: Two-year starter Daryll Clark is gone and Pat Devlin transferred following the 2008 season, creating a wide open competition at quarterback heading into 2010. Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin will compete, but Penn State always wants others in the mix there.
Linebacker: Penn State rarely has trouble reloading here, but it loses all three starters, including back-to-back first-team All-Big Ten selection Navorro Bowman. The Lions will look to build depth and identify an early contributor or two for the 2010 season.
Tight end/wideout: The Lions lose both Andrew Quarless and Mickey Shuler, so expect them to add a tight end or two in the incoming class. Quarless was a major part of the passing attack and Shuler hauled in two touchdowns, so Penn State won't neglect this position.
Secondary: A no-brainer here, as Purdue loses all four starters in the secondary, which has ranked in the upper half of the league against the pass. The Boilers likely need a newcomer or two to contribute right away in 2010.
Linebacker: Jason Werner hopes to return for a sixth year, but Purdue can't take any chances with a position that has struggled a bit the last two seasons. Danny Hope likes his young linebackers (Antwon Higgs, Dwayne Beckford), but he's looking for more.
Wide receiver/tight end: Purdue can never have enough pass receivers, and Hope will look to build around All-Big Ten performer Keith Smith in 2010. The Boilers lose No. 2 wideout Aaron Valentin, and Smith and tight end Kyle Adams depart after 2010.
Defensive line: All-Big Ten defensive end O'Brien Schofield departs, and the Badgers will be pretty young up front in 2010. It's important that Wisconsin builds depth behind players like J.J. Watt and Jordan Kohout.
Tight end: Lance Kendricks certainly eased concerns about this spot in the Champs Sports Bowl, but Wisconsin still loses All-Big Ten selection Garrett Graham as well as reserve Mickey Turner. No team in the Big Ten features the tight end spot as much as Wisconsin, so it'll be important to find a few recruits.
- Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany reflects on a solid postseason for his league, annarbor.com's Michael Rothstein writes. The Big Ten's best showed up when it mattered, David Jones writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.
- Believe it or not, there's plenty of speed in the Big Ten, too, Israel Gutierrez writes in The Miami Herald.
- Bryan Bulaga's decision to leave Iowa for the NFL shouldn't come as a surprise, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Kirk Ferentz might have done his best coaching job this fall, Matt Hinton writes at Yahoo! Sports.
- Michigan State has a big recruiting weekend coming up, Matt Dorsey writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- More head coaches should adopt Jim Tressel's philosophy about players leaving school early, The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon writes in his blog. Lamaar Thomas is transferring from Ohio State and wants to play both running back and wide receiver at his next stop (North Carolina is a possibility), Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Penn State center Stefen Wisnieski is pumped that top tailback Evan Royster will be back in 2010, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
- A good roundup of Northwestern records set this season from the blog Lake the Posts.
- My apologies for posting this a bit late, but Penn State defensive end Jerome Hayes, who battled injuries for much of his career, won't petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. Hayes will look toward the NFL after recording 18 tackles and a sack this season. The highly recruited Hayes suffered injuries to a foot and both knees at Penn State, though the Nittany Lions coaches were hoping he'd give it one more go-round.
- Ohio State wide receiver Lamaar Thomas has confirmed he will seek a transfer. Thomas, used on returns but sparingly as a receiver, wants to play both running back and wideout at another school, according to The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises.
"I look forward to being a senior leader, and helping try and lead our team to the Big Ten title and national championship," Homan said in a statement. "I know this upcoming year will help me improve as a player and also help our team. I believe we can even outwork ourselves from what we did this past season. Winning the Rose Bowl was a dream come true for me. I remember watching the 1997 game as a little kid; to get to play in the Rose Bowl and win it was something special. I believe we can have that kind of success again in 2010."
Notice that "national championship" has appeared in several statements from players coming back to Ohio State. The bar has been set for the loaded Buckeyes in 2010.
Homan was one of the Big Ten's best and most underrated linebackers this fall. A second-team All-Big Ten selection, Homan led Ohio State with 108 tackles and recorded five interceptions, including one in the Rose Bowl against Oregon. He added two sacks and two fumble recoveries.
He's a strong candidate to be a team captain next fall and will contend for first-team All-Big Ten honors along with fellow 'backer Brian Rolle.
While Homan is back, reserve wide receiver Lamaar Thomas could be gone. ESPN affiliate Web site Bucknuts.com reports Wednesday that Thomas is transferring from Ohio State (subscription required). Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner posted "Bye Bye #7" on his Twitter page today. Thomas and safety Jermale Hines both wear No. 7 for the Buckeyes.
There's no official word from the team, but Thomas' departure wouldn't be a surprise. He likely would be behind DeVier Posey, Dane Sanzenbacher and Duron Carter on the depth chart next year if he's back.
The kicking game has played an enormous role in Tressel's success, and it's no surprise that Ohio State clinched a Rose Bowl berth on a 39-yard field goal by backup kicker Devin Barclay in overtime against Iowa.
Sound special teams are a given at Ohio State, but the team has more question marks than usual in the third phase heading into its matchup against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET). There's some haziness at place-kicker as well as on punt and kickoff returns.
The Buckeyes' kicker situation actually is a decent problem to have.
Starter Aaron Pettrey suffered a torn MCL in his right (kicking) leg on kickoff coverage Oct. 31 against New Mexico State. Pettrey underwent surgery and had a wire inserted in his knee to hold the ligament in place. Barclay handled the kicking duties in November, but Pettrey has made an incredible recovery and will be available against Oregon.
During bowl practice, he has drilled 50-yard field goals with room to spare and converted a 63-yard attempt in Tuesday's practice.
"I'm just happy to be back," Pettrey said. "The doctor told my parents after the surgery that there's no way I'd be back for the game. [Pettrey's parents] never told me that until last week, so I feel great."
Barclay will handle kickoff duties Friday rather than Pettrey, mainly because of the torque it puts on the knee and the need to have a capable 11th tackler on the coverage unit. But the two likely will share field goal duties against Oregon.
Pettrey converted 13 of 19 attempts before his injury, while Barclay is 4-of-7 with the big 39-yarder against Iowa.
"Devin's still been with the [first team], I'm with the 2s," Pettrey said. "Devin's been kicking all year, and I've taken a month and a half off. I've only had like a week to get ready. If I'm back, I'm back, and right now, I feel close, 90-95 percent."
Ohio State gets deeper at kicker but thinner on returns because wide receiver Ray Small, the team's primary punt returner and No. 2 kick returner, is suspended after a repeat violation of team rules. Wideout Duron Carter, another return option, also is unavailable because of academics.
Tressel said Thursday that wide receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher will handle punt returns Friday, with running back Jordan Hall as the third option. Posey and Sanzenbacher have combined for three returns this year.
Lamaar Thomas remains Ohio State's top option on kick returns, and one of the team's top running backs, Brandon Saine or Dan Herron, will occupy the second spot. Saine has three kick returns for 67 yards (22.3 ypr) this season.
"I'm not excited about the way I've been given this opportunity," said Thomas, who could also be a bigger factor as a receiver Friday. "I'm truly going to miss those guys, Ray and Duron, but it is going to be an opportunity that I'll be able to showcase some things. I'm excited about that."
Multiple media outlets had reported the three players were suspended for the game, but only Carter had officially been ruled out by the team. Tressel didn't provide specifics for the suspensions, but a source told me that Carter is academically ineligible, while both Small and Rose violated team rules. For Small, it was a repeat violation.
Small is probably the most significant loss, as he serves as Ohio State's No. 3 wide receiver and starting punt returner. The Cleveland product can be very dangerous on the field, but his troubles off the field have ended his college career early. Rose is also through at Ohio State.
With both Small and Carter sidelined, a Buckeyes passing attack that ranks last in the Big Ten and 106th nationally won't have two of its top four receivers. Tressel expects junior Taurian Washington and sophomore Lamaar Thomas, as well as freshman tight end Jake Stoneburner, to take on larger roles in the passing game.
"It certainly gives us less depth, without question," Tressel told WBNS radio in Columbus. "Guys like Taurian Washington and Lamaar Thomas are gonna have to step up in those areas from a depth standpoint."
Rose proved valuable at times in the defensive line rotation, but he's not a major loss. Top wide receivers DeVier Posey or Dane Sanzenbacher could handle the punt return duties against Oregon.
The Ducks aren't without their issues, either, as reserve wide receiver Jamere Holland is academically ineligible for the game.
The Buckeyes also could be down three more players when they face No. 7 Oregon in Pasadena on Jan. 1 (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).
The Columbus Dispatch and other outlets are reporting that wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small, defensive end Rob Rose and running back Bo DeLande likely won't be with the team for the Rose Bowl.
A source close to the team told me Saturday night that Small had violated team rules and wasn't practicing. Rose had academic troubles last week that he appeared to figure out, but the senior reportedly erred again. The source tells me Small's violation is a repeat offense.
Now it's very important to remember that the status of players can change, especially at Ohio State. Rose's academic turnaround last week is proof of this. Two years ago, Buckeyes cornerback Donald Washington was allowed to play in the national title game after being suspended for a repeat violation of team rules. Bottom line: things can change.
But given how both Small and Rose have been given multiple second chances, there's a decent bet neither player will be in Pasadena for the game. Small is the big loss as he ranks fourth in the Big Ten in both punt returns and kickoff returns. The senior also ranks third on the team in receptions with 15.
If Small and Carter both miss the game, expect Lamaar Thomas to take on a bigger role as a receiver and a return man.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
The competition at left tackle has been one of the top preseason storylines at Ohio State, which loses Alex Boone from an offensive front that needs better results this season.
Ohio State's Week 1 depth chart (page 7) is out, and it looks like junior Andrew Miller, not heralded sophomores J.B. Shugarts or Mike Adams, will protect Terrelle Pryor's blind side when the team opens the season Saturday against Navy. Miller is listed as the starter opposite senior Jim Cordle at right tackle. Guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning and center Mike Brewster round out the starting five.
Other notable items from the Buckeyes' two deep:
- Ray Small might be the team's No. 2 returning receiver with 18 catches last year, but the senior comes in third on the depth chart at wideout behind starter DeVier Posey and backup Duron Carter, a true freshman. Small still could be in the dog house after academic issues delayed his arrival to camp, but it's hard not to believe he'll play more than your average third-stringer.
- The offense features only two seniors in starting roles (Cordle and tight end Jake Ballard), while five freshmen or sophomores are projected to start. Three true freshmen are listed as backups on offense -- Carter, center Jack Mewhort and left guard Corey Linsley.
- Senior Andre Amos gets the starting nod over junior Devon Torrence at the hotly contested cornerback spot opposite Chimdi Chekwa.
- The defensive line is simply stacked with experience, as players like Lawrence Wilson and Todd Denlinger aren't even listed as starters.
- Small and Posey are listed as the primary punt return men, while the team's top two running backs, Dan Herron and Brandon Saine, will handle kickoff returns along with sophomore wideout Lamaar Thomas.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
For most people, Friday's just the day before the weekend. But after this Friday, the neighborhood'll never be the same.
- Joe Paterno isn't giving up his crusade for Big Ten expansion and a championship game, and he plans to bring up the topic next week at the league meetings in Chicago, Bernard Fernandez writes in the Philadelphia Daily News.
"It hurts our recruiting," Paterno said. "In addition to that, our teams are losing their edge competitively. I think we're hurting ourselves. There's a perception the Big Ten isn't as good a conference as it was, or isn't as good as some of the other conferences, because we don't do as well in bowl games. What do you expect when you start out with one hand tied behind your back? It's not fair to the kids."
- An experienced offensive line usually means good things, and Iowa tops the list in the Big Ten.
- Ohio State's track relay team had a need for speed and called upon football players Chimdi Chekwa and Lamaar Thomas, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- ESPN.com Midwest recruiting expert Bill Kurelic reviews the top 2010 commits in the Big Ten thus far.
- Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez sounds off on several topics during a speech in Washington, including his ugly departure from West Virginia.
"The folks in West Virginia are still pissed at me," he said. "I've said many times I'd have been better off killing a family of five with an ax. Right now, it's kind of hard."
- Three former Michigan State players have completed a 2,000-mile bike ride to raise money for an orphanage in Mexico, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
I'll be off most of Friday, but I didn't want you to miss out on your second helping of questions and answers.
Michael from Akron, Ohio, writes: Adam, after your time in Columbus recently I wanted to get your thoughts on the offense. Lots of players did leave but I think the players returning and coming in are more suited to play the same style of offense where last year you had a major change of pace with beanie in the "I" formation then spread with Pryor down to the types of receivers. I think this years bunch (and next for that matter) will be a more consistant offense that the players will benefit from with a clear cut scheme. Do you agree?
Adam Rittenberg: It could go one of two ways, Michael. By mid-October, you could be marveling at Ohio State's stockpile of playmakers, guys like DeVier Posey, Ray Small, Lamaar Thomas, Dan Herron and Brandon Saine. Or you could miss reliable guys like wideouts Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. I tend to agree with you that these players fit the same style of offense, which would appear to be spread-ish. You're absolutely right that Ohio State spent all of last season experimenting with the scheme and never really found its offensive identity. The Buckeyes should have an easier time figuring out who they are this year. Will it be good enough? Have to wait and see.
Russell from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, I love your stuff. I was wondering if you agree with Andre Ware's B10 picks. 1. Ohio St 2. Minnesota 3. Penn St 4. Illinois 5. Wisconsin Also how could Iowa have a "bad" offensive line if we managed to produce a 1850 yard rusher? Also we did not give up 46 sacks, like he said. I am very optimistic for this Iowa team, even with our road schedule.
Adam Rittenberg: I'm sticking with my pre-spring power rankings of Ohio State at No. 1, Penn State at No. 2 and Iowa at No. 3. Minnesota has a good deal of talent, but there have been too many changes in Minneapolis to think the Gophers will finish second in the league. Add in a much harder schedule, and I could see Minnesota right around where it finished last year (8-4 or 7-5). I really, really like Iowa's offensive line and the confidence Ricky Stanzi brings to the huddle, but I'm not sold on the defensive tackles or the wide receivers.
Chris from Chicago writes: I've seen some Illinois scrimiges and from what I saw Illinois has an explosive offense and a fast defense. They return key members from last years offense. But they lose some key players on D. How many wins do you think we(Illinois) will have?
Adam Rittenberg: It really depends on the defense, Chris. Like you, I see a very explosive offense led by the Big Ten's most experienced quarterback in Juice Williams. I see the league's best wide receiving corps and two improved running backs in Jason Ford and Mikel LeShoure. But I'm not sold on the defense, particularly the front seven. If Martez Wilson becomes more consistent at middle linebacker and Illinois identifies a capable pass-rusher or two, it could win eight or nine games. The schedule worries me, though, and the opening Big Ten stretch of Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan State looks tough.
Doug from Ann Arbor, Mich., writes: The Wall Street Journal (believe it or not) had an interesting article about offensive line experience. They site a very short table listing the Top5 programs with the most combined o-line starts. And Michigan comes in at #5 with 75 combined starts. The only bad part about this article is that there is no link offered to any further source of info. I'd like to see what linemen they are counting as starters for this year, and where lots of other programs come in for combined starts. Do you have any recommendation for such a source? I've done by best to search the internets, but haven't had any success! Thanks. Go Blue!
Adam Rittenberg: Doug, I like the idea here and will try to put together a chart for you on next week's blog. But just going down the list of Big Ten teams, I'd say Michigan, Iowa, Purdue, Northwestern and Indiana return the most starting experience on the offensive line. If you count Justin Boren's starting experience at Michigan toward Ohio State's total, the Buckeyes aren't bad, either. Wisconsin boasts excellent experience with center John Moffitt (25 starts) and left tackle Gabe Carimi (23 starts), but there are some holes elsewhere.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Michigan State wasn't the only team to hold a spring game draft Wednesday. Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, who passed on the idea to Spartans head man Mark Dantonio, oversaw the Buckeyes' selections for the spring game on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.
Some notables for each squad.
- Running back Dan "Boom" Herron
- Wide receivers DeVier Posey, Lamaar Thomas and Dane Sanzenbacher
- Quarterback Joe Bauserman
- Safety Anderson Russell
- Linebackers Austin Spitler and Tyler Moeller
- Offensive tackles Jim Cordle and Mike Adams
- Defensive tackle Doug Worthington
- Defensive end Thaddeus Gibson
- Quarterback Terrelle Pryor
- Running back Brandon Saine
- Safety Kurt Coleman
- Linebackers Etienne Sabino and Brian Rolle
- Tight end Jake Stoneburner (Tressel's favorite from the spring) and Jake Ballard
- Brother tandems Justin and Zach Boren and Ross and Adam Homan
- Wide receiver Ray Small
- Defensive end Cameron Heyward
If you're wondering why Tressel wore sunglasses to the draft, Ohio State is hoping to create a beach-day atmosphere at The Shoe on Saturday, with temperatures expected to exceed 80 degrees.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I won't be making it out to Purdue this spring, but I experienced the next best thing Thursday at Ohio State's practice. During each practice, the Buckeyes simulate a Big Ten road environment, and Purdue served as Thursday's theme.
Right before every snap during team drills, an official blared a giant horn that resembled the train signal at Ross-Ade Stadium. It also reminded me of the horn at hockey games (go Blackhawks). Standing about 10 feet from the contraption, I'm sure I sustained some degree of hearing loss.
It was a gorgeous day, and 100-200 people gathered around the two turf practice fields behind the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. For a second, I thought I was at USC. The open practices are a nice touch at normally close-to-the-sweater-vest Ohio State.
Onto the practice observations:
- The first-team offense: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor (who's he?), running backs Brandon Saine and Dan "Boom" Herron (rotated), wide receiver Ray Small, wide receiver DeVier Posey, wide receiver Lamaar Thomas, tight end Jake Ballard, left tackle Andrew Miller, left guard Justin Boren, center Mike Brewster, right guard Bryant Browning, right tackle Jim Cordle.
- The first-team defense: Safety Anderson Russell, safety Kurt Coleman, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, cornerback Devon Torrence, linebacker Etienne Sabino, linebacker Brian Rolle, linebacker Austin Spitler, defensive end Thaddeus Gibson, defensive end Cameron Heyward, defensive tackle Doug Worthington, defensive tackle Dexter Larimore. Ross Homan, a projected starter at linebacker, is out with a hamstring injury.
- Several of Boren's teammates talked about the nastiness he brings to the offensive line. The Michigan transfer showcased his strength during 1-on-1 drills, manhandling Larimore and Garrett Goebel.
- Thomas worked as first-team wide receiver because of a high ankle sprain sustained by Dane Sanzenbacher. He made several catches on short passes (quick outs, middle screens) and seems to bring explosiveness to the offense.
- Sophomore tackle Mike Adams is freakishly huge, one of the bigger linemen I've seen this spring. But his toughness has been questioned and challenged a bit, and he worked exclusively with the second-team offense Thursday. He has been rotating at first-team left tackle with Miller, a converted tight end.
- Pryor looked decent on short passes, but he underthrew Posey on a deep post and Torrence batted down the pass. He also overthrew Small but hit Thomas, Saine and Ballard on some nice throws. With only three quarterbacks on the roster this spring, Pryor took snaps with both the first- and second-team offenses.
- Head coach Jim Tressel has repeatedly praised the spring progress of backup tight end Jake Stoneburner, a converted wide receiver. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound redshirt freshman certainly passes the eye test and made a nice grab on a hitch route.
- Backup quarterback Joe Bauserman, who played three seasons in minor league baseball, showed off a strong throwing arm during individual drills.
- Saine will be a critical component on the offense this year, and the junior showed some explosiveness at practice. He had a big run up the middle during team drills and caught several screen passes. Health is always the issue for Saine, but he looked good Thursday.
- Defensive back Rocco Pentello had an impressive practice. He forced a Herron fumble that cornerback Donnie Evege recovered, and after a bad snap on a field goal attempt, he returned the ball for a touchdown.
- Spitler and reserve backer Andrew Sweat both delivered huge hits during team drills. Small was able to hang onto a pass despite getting rocked by Spitler.
- One of the day's more exciting plays came on a bad snap to Pryor, as Rolle scooped up the ball and raced down field, only to be caught from behind by Saine. I guess a running back should track down a linebacker, but it was impressive on both ends.
- After watching James Laurinaitis for all these years, it was funny to see a running back wearing No. 33. Fifth-year senior Joe Gantz had a long touchdown run during red zone drills and also got rocked by Dexter Larimore.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Ohio State starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor missed two or three practice periods Friday but should be fine after having what head coach Jim Tressel described as a tired throwing arm.
Tressel said Pryor didn't appear on his medical report Tuesday morning and should be fine for practice Tuesday afternoon. The reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year reportedly had his elbow wrapped at the end of Friday's practice.
"He'd been doing so much throwing," Tressel said on the Big Ten spring coaches' teleconference. "He's one of those guys, he's just an extremely hard worker. He just overdid it a little bit. ... I assume he'll be fine."
Other Buckeyes notes:
- Wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher will miss the next few practices with a sprained ankle but should be fine by next week.
- Tressel likes what he has seen from the Buckeyes' defensive line, which becomes the most experienced part of the defense after losses at linebacker and cornerback.
- Tressel singled out Jermale Hines, Travis Howard, Andre Amos and freshman Garrett Goebel as defenders who have performed well this spring. Linebacker Brian Rolle also has impressed in place of returning starter Ross Homan, who has a hamstring injury.
- Offensive standouts have included wide receiver Jake Stoneburner and and wideout Lamaar Thomas, who Tressel said has "made significant improvement" during the first seven spring practices.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Central Michigan 48 Western Kentucky 49 Final Fresno State 6 Rice 30
Final Nevada 3 Louisiana-Lafayette 16 Final Utah State 21 UTEP 6 Final 22 Utah 45 Colorado State 10 Final Western Michigan 24 Air Force 38 Final South Alabama 28 Bowling Green 33
Final Marshall 52 Northern Illinois 23 Final Navy 17 San Diego State 16
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State