Big Ten: Malcolm Jenkins

Preseason watch list season is in full swing, and the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back, is next on the list.

Only four Big Ten players made the 35-man watch list released Friday.

Here they are:
Now to be fair, the Thorpe Award spreads the love among conferences, as eight leagues have at least three players on the list. The SEC leads the way with five selections, followed by four from the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, MAC and Conference USA.

That said, I think there are several snubs here. Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde is a dynamic playmaker who might be on my preseason All-Big Ten team. Michigan safety Jordan Kovacs comes off of an excellent junior season and will lead the way on defense this fall. Two other Michigan defensive backs, corners Blake Countess and J.T. Floyd, along with Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby also deserve consideration. The biggest snub in my view: Kovacs.

The list will be narrowed to three finalists, and the winner will be announced Dec. 6 during the Home Depot College Football Awards. Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins is the last Big Ten player to win the Thorpe Award (2008).
The best Big Ten defenses often boast standout tandems, as we've seen in recent years.

In 2008, Ohio State had linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. In 2009, Iowa had defensive end Adrian Clayborn and linebacker Pat Angerer, while Penn State countered with defensive tackle Jared Odrick and linebacker NaVorro Bowman. In 2011, Nebraska had the league's top linebacker (Lavonte David) and the league's top defensive back (cornerback Alfonzo Dennard). Last season also featured standout tandems at Illinois, Wisconsin and other spots.

SportsNation

What will be the Big Ten's top defensive tandem in 2012?

  •  
    25%
  •  
    6%
  •  
    3%
  •  
    24%
  •  
    42%

Discuss (Total votes: 4,442)

Who will be the Big Ten's top 1-2 punch on defense during the 2012 season?

There's no shortage of choices. Wisconsin returns the Home Improvement tandem of Tim Mike Taylor and Al Chris Borland, who combined for 293 tackles, four interceptions and eight forced fumbles in 2011. Michigan State's defense is led by end William Gholston and cornerback Johnny Adams, both of whom could be first-round draft picks in April. Penn State brings back first-team All-Big Ten linebacker Gerald Hodges and Jordan Hill, one of the league's top interior linemen. Purdue has the league's top defensive tackle back in the fold (Kawann Short), along with an experienced playmaking cornerback (Ricardo Allen). Illinois has a nice track record of producing defensive stars, and linebacker Jonathan Brown and end Michael Buchanan could be next in line.

The poll only affords us five options, so several potentially good tandems (Iowa's James Morris and Christian Kirksey) didn't make the cut. Some teams have one proven defensive standout (i.e. Ohio State's John Simon) but need a second to step forward. Still, the list is filled with familiar names who earned significant accolades in 2011.

Here's your chance to vote. Should be an interesting result.

You'd have to be pretty na´ve to think memorabilia sales at Ohio State were tied to Terrelle Pryor and his crew.

This has been a problem for years, not only at Ohio State but at other big-time programs around the country. You can buy championship rings and other memorabilia on websites such as this one.

Former Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small provided more evidence in an illuminating interview with The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper. Small, always one for colorful quotes during his turbulent Buckeyes career, continued to generate buzz by saying he sold memorabilia for cash and received car deals while at Ohio State. And according to Small, "everyone was doing it."

Some tidbits from Small in The Lantern:
  • "I had sold my things but it was just for the money. At that time in college, you're kind of struggling."
  • "We had four Big Ten rings. There was enough to go around."
  • "It was definitely the deals on the cars. I don't see why it's a big deal," said Small, who identified Jack Maxton Chevrolet as the players' main resource.
  • "If you go in and try to get a tattoo, and somebody is like 'Do you want 50 percent off this tattoo?' You're going to say, 'Heck yeah.'"
  • "They have a lot [of dirt] on everybody, 'cause everybody was doing it."

What about the NCAA rules? Weren't players aware?
"They explain the rules to you, but as a kid you're not really listening to all of them rules," Small said. "You go out and you just, people show you so much love, you don't even think about the rules. You're just like 'Ah man, it's cool.' You take it, and next thing you know the NCAA is down your back."

Former Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins also talked with The Lantern and said players were informed about what they could and could not do.
"What the players go out and do on their own time and make their own decisions is on them," Jenkins said. "I know [the compliance department] puts things in place to give us knowledge of the rules, give us education on how to deal with those situations, but what the players do with that is another story."

Jenkins brings up a good point. Ohio State can't have compliance staffers following players around 24/7. The culture of entitlement exists in Columbus -- not unlike many places immersed in college sports -- and Ohio State players are treated as royalty. It's tough for young men to turn down benefits, especially men struggling to get by financially.

But it's clear Ohio State didn't get a handle on this issue until it was too late. Now the NCAA is involved and coach Jim Tressel, as well as the compliance department, seems to be in the crosshairs. Tressel will go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Aug. 12, and investigations into the used-car transactions are still ongoing.

In December, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had this to say: "There are no other NCAA violations around this case. We’re very fortunate that we do not have a systemic problem in our program. This is isolated to these young men, and isolated to this particular instance."

Well?

Some might point to Small's credibility as an issue here. He was in Tressel's doghouse for much of his career and struggled to stay on track academically. But aside from publicity, what incentive does Small have to lie?

Small's comments are noteworthy, but they're not surprising after what we heard from Antonio Pittman and others after the tattoo story broke. It's just another layer to a story that just isn't going away.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- I had a chance to watch about 30 minutes of Ohio State's full-pads workout indoors Tuesday. Despite the limited media viewing period, there was a lot to observe in an extremely physical Buckeyes practice.
  • Kenny Guiton stood out to me among the quarterbacks. He put some nice zip on the ball in both individual and team drills, and he showed good mobility. Before team drills, Guiton worked in a group with Braxton Miller and Taylor Graham. Terrelle Pryor, wearing a yellow no-contact jersey, threw a few passes with a separate group. Pryor didn't do much with his footwork as he's recovering from clean-up surgery on his foot Monday.
  • Miller definitely has mobility and created extra room for himself on a check down to Adam Homan. He followed it up with a nice throw to receiver Ryan Ross.
  • Expect Ohio State's running backs to be more involved in the pass game this year. During one period, the offense lined up solely with running backs or tight ends out wide, and several backs looked good catching the ball. Rod Smith, who generated hype during bowl practice, beat linebacker Andrew Sweat for a catch during a goal line drill. Carlos Hyde delivered a nice hit on a defender after a reception. There's some really nice versatility in both size and style among the Buckeyes' backs. I don't think they'll miss Dan Herron too much during the first five games, but we'll see.
  • Jim Tressel was very involved in the practice during the media viewing period. The coach lined up as a cornerback during some passing drills and gave pointers to the quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends.
  • Former Buckeyes defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins, now of the New Orleans Saints, and Donald Washington, now of the Kansas City Chiefs, attended Tuesday's practice.
  • There were several nice defensive plays: second-team cornerback Dionte Allen, a transfer from Florida State, had a diving interception of a Graham pass; linebacker Etienne Sabino "sacked" Guiton; linebacker Dan Bain broke up a pass to Carlos Hyde during goal line; and Adam Bellamy tipped a Guiton pass at the line of scrimmage. Allen could help Ohio State's secondary depth this fall.
  • For those depth chart aficionados ... DeVier Posey and Corey Brown worked as the first-team wide receivers ... Christian Bryant and Orhian Johnson worked as the first-team safeties ... Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke worked as the first-team cornerbacks ... the first-team defensive line consisted of Nathan Williams and John Simon on the outside and Garrett Goebel and Johnathan Hankins on the inside.
  • The wide receivers had some ups and downs. Chris Fields had a nice hit on two defenders after making a catch, and T.Y. Williams caught my eye with his impressive physique (6-5, 228).

Overall, I liked the tempo and the hitting. Tuesday marked only Ohio State's second practice in pads, but the players weren't holding much back.
Ohio State senior cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and Iowa junior safety Tyler Sash are among the 10 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back.

Chekwa is tied for the Big Ten lead with three interceptions and tied for second in both forced fumbles (2) and passes defended (8). He has 28 tackles on the season, including four for loss and a sack.

Sash, a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award last season, is tied for 23rd in the league in tackles average (6 tpg). He has 1.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions, including a pick and a lateral Saturday against Michigan State that resulted in a Hawkeyes touchdown.

Two pretty good choices here for the Thorpe Award. The Big Ten doesn't have many superstar defensive backs this season, but there are solid players throughout the league.

The Thorpe Award winner will be announced Dec. 9 during the ESPNU College Football Awards on ESPN.

Former Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins is the most recent Big Ten winner of the Thorpe Award, taking it home in 2008.
The secondary isn't the Big Ten's strongest position group entering the season, although things could be different come November.

Several outstanding defensive backs depart the league, but three Big Ten players have been named to the preseason watch list for the Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back.

The Big Ten contingent:
  • Iowa safety Tyler Sash
  • Ohio State safety Jermale Hines
  • Ohio State cornerback Chimdi Chekwa

Sash is a slam-dunk choice, and both Hines and Chekwa had their moments last season. Wisconsin safety Jay Valai and Minnesota safety Kim Royston also would have been strong choices.

According to a news release, the Thorpe Award watch list is "determined by analysis of the preseason All-American teams listed in at least six preseason college football annual magazines. Four points are awarded for first team, three points for second team, two points for third and one point for honorable mentions. This procedure determines approximately 30-40 players on the pre-season watch list."

The field will be narrowed to 10-12 semifinalists in November, and three finalists will be announced later that month. Former Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins was the last Big Ten recipient of the Thorpe Award, taking home the hardware in 2008.
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
About a month after Iowa cemented a strong Big Ten bowl performance at Miami's Sun Life Stadium, the Big Ten once again stood out on the same field in a huge game.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelFormer Purdue signal-caller Drew Brees took home Super Bowl XLIV MVP honors.
Former Big Ten players had major roles for the New Orleans Saints in a 31-17 win against Indianapolis on Sunday in Super Bowl XLIV.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees took home MVP honors after completing 32 of 39 passes for 288 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. Brees, a standout at Purdue, became the fourth former Big Ten player in the last nine seasons to earn Super Bowl MVP honors, joining former Michigan quarterback Tom Brady (2002, 2004) and former Ohio State wide receiver Santonio Holmes (2009).

Brees was brilliant Sunday, but the game's biggest play came from former Indiana cornerback Tracy Porter, who intercepted a Peyton Manning pass and raced 74 yards to the end zone with 3:12 left. Porter finished the game with four tackles.

Former Illinois running back Pierre Thomas recorded six receptions for 55 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown that gave the Saints their first lead early in the third quarter. Thomas also had 30 rush yards on nine carries.

Former Iowa tight end Dallas Clark recorded a game-high 86 receiving yards on seven receptions for the Colts.

And who can forget former Wisconsin linebacker Jonathan Casillas, who recovered the onside kick for New Orleans at the start of the second half.

Other Big Ten notables:

  • Former Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins recorded five tackles for the Saints, including one for loss, and had a key pass breakup.
  • Former Illinois cornerback Kelvin Hayden recorded six tackles (five solo) for the Colts.
  • Former Indiana wideout Courtney Roby stood out on special teams for New Orleans with four kick returns for 102 yards and a great tackle on punt coverage. He also downed a punt at the Indianapolis 4-yard line in the first quarter.
  • Former Ohio State defensive end Will Smith recorded a tackle for the Saints.
  • Former Michigan running back Mike Hart had two carries for four yards for the Colts.

In case you missed it, here's the full list of former Big Ten players and coaches who participated in the game.
It's Super Bowl week, and here in Chicago, we're celebrating the hiring of Mike Martz as Bears offensive coordinator after a month-long search. Hope Jay Cutler has a life insurance policy.

OK, moving on to less depressing topics, like the Big Ten and Super Bowl XLIV.

Once again, the Big Ten has plenty of connections to the game, including 20 former players on the two teams, more than any other conference.

All 11 member schools will be represented by a player and/or coach participating in the game. Michigan has the highest number of former players (four), followed by Ohio State (three) and then six teams -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Northwestern, Purdue and Wisconsin -- each with two former players. Penn State and Minnesota will have former coaches on the sideline Sunday.

Both head coaches have Big Ten roots, as the Colts' Jim Caldwell played at Iowa and served as an assistant at Iowa, Northwestern and Penn State. The Saints' Sean Payton had a one-year stint as an Illinois assistant in 1996.

Here's the full lineup of Big Ten links to Super Bowl XLIV, courtesy of the league office:

INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

Players

Kelvin Hayden, DB, Illinois
Dallas Clark, TE, Iowa
Bob Sanders*, DB, Iowa
Mike Hart, RB, Michigan
Marlin Jackson*, DB, Michigan
Ervin Baldwin, DE, Michigan State
John Gill, DL, Northwestern
Anthony Gonzalez*, WR, Ohio State
Curtis Painter, QB, Purdue
Jim Sorgi*, QB, Wisconsin

Coaches

Jim Caldwell, Head Coach (Played at Iowa from 1973-76; Assistant at Iowa in 1977, Northwestern in 1981 and Penn State from 1986-92)
Larry Coyer, Defensive Coordinator (Assistant at Iowa from 1974-77 and Ohio State from 1991-92)
Gene Huey, Running Backs (Assistant at Ohio State from 1988-91)
Tom Moore, Offensive Coordinator (Played at Iowa from 1957-60; Assistant at Iowa from 1961-62 and Minnesota from 1972-73 and 1975-76)
Ray Rychleski, Special Teams (Assistant at Penn State in 1991)
Bill Teerlinck, Defensive Assistant (Assistant at Indiana from 2003-04)
John Teerlinck, Defensive Line (Assistant at Illinois from 1980-82)

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

Players

Pierre Thomas, RB, Illinois
Tracy Porter, CB, Indiana
Courtney Roby, WR, Indiana
Adrian Arrington, WR, Michigan
Jonathan Goodwin, C, Michigan
Zach Strief, OT, Northwestern
Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Will Smith, DE, Ohio State
Drew Brees, QB, Purdue
Jonathan Casillas, LB, Wisconsin

Coaches

Sean Payton, Head Coach (Assistant at Illinois in 1996)
Greg McMahon, Special Teams (Assistant at Minnesota from 1983-84 and Illinois from 1992-2004)
Bret Ingalls, Running Backs (Assistant at Northwestern from 2006-08)
Aaron Kromer, Offensive Line/Running Game (Assistant at Northwestern from 1999-2000)
Mike Mallory, Assistant Special Teams (Played at Michigan from 1982-85; Assistant at Indiana from 1986-87 and Illinois from 2001-05)
Terry Malone, Tight Ends (Assistant at Michigan from 1997-2005)

*-Injured reserve

PSU, OSU time-tested on defense

January, 28, 2010
1/28/10
5:00
PM ET
It's no secret that the Big Ten is typically a defense-oriented league, a theme that starts at the top and trickles down.

Penn State's sports information department took a look at defensive statistics from 2004 to 2009 and found that only two teams rank among the top 5 nationally in rushing defense, scoring defense and total defense (cumulative averages). The teams? Ohio State and Penn State, which have combined for seven Big Ten championships since 2004.

Both teams have boasted outstanding defensive players during the span, including national award winners like Paul Posluszny, James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Malcolm Jenkins and Dan Connor. Both teams also are always solid up front, no matter if they generate a lot of sacks or not.

The continuity of coordinators and position coaches like Tom Bradley (Penn State), Larry Johnson (Penn State) and Jim Heacock (Ohio State) also plays a major role.

Big Ten all-decade team

January, 22, 2010
1/22/10
1:30
PM ET
I hope you enjoyed the decade recap series. We had a lot of fun researching and putting it together. Not surprisingly, my top players list generated a ton of feedback -- mostly negative, but that's cool -- from the Big Ten faithful.

Because there were so many deserving players left off the list, I decided to put together an all-decade team to recognize some of the other standouts in the Big Ten from 2000-09. I made the offensive line a bit more general to acknowledge the best players there.

Unlike the top 10, I was a bit more lenient about players who had only one outstanding season during this decade.

Enjoy.

OFFENSE

QB: Troy Smith, Ohio State
RB: Mike Hart, Michigan
RB: Larry Johnson, Penn State
WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan
WR: Charles Rogers, Michigan State
TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa
C: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota
OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin
OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa
OL: Jake Long, Michigan
OL: Eric Steinbach, Iowa

DEFENSE

DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan
DT: Wendell Bryant, Wisconsin
DT: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DE: Tamba Hali, Penn State
LB: Paul Posluzsny, Penn State
LB: A.J. Hawk, Ohio Sate
LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State
CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin
CB: Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State
S: Bob Sanders, Iowa
S: Mike Doss, Ohio State

SPECIALISTS

K: Mike Nugent, Ohio State
P: Travis Dorsch, Purdue
Returners: Ted Ginn Jr., Ohio State and Steve Breaston, Michigan
This is supposed to be a big night for the Big Ten.

While the Heisman Trophy presentation doesn't take place until Saturday (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), nine of college football's top individual honors get passed out tonight during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards in Orlando. This was the same night that recent Big Ten stars like Malcolm Jenkins, Shonn Greene, Dan Connor and Troy Smith took home coveted awards like the Thorpe, Doak Walker, Bednarik and Davey O'Brien.

This year, the hopes of Big Ten Nation rest with ... Zoltan Mesko?

No offense to Mesko, who is a fabulous punter for Michigan. The senior should win the Ray Guy Award tonight as the nation's top punter.

But what does it say about a league when its only finalist for nine major awards is a punter?

At least Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will be there, as he tweeted earlier today: "En route to Orlando to present an award at the ESPN College Football Awards tonight!"

Now there are reasons for the Big Ten's lack of representation. Several standout players, namely Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham and Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, played for sub-.500 teams. There were certainly a few snubs, like Michigan State kicker Brett Swenson not being a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. Other players, like Minnesota star wide receiver Eric Decker, had their national award campaigns derailed by injury.

But the lack of star power is revealing, especially on offense. Where are all the offensive stars in the Big Ten? The league's problems at quarterback have been well documented here, and it's imperative that the Big Ten improves under center for 2010 and beyond.

Here's hoping Mesko takes home the Ray Guy Award tonight. But my bigger wish is for the Big Ten to have a greater presence in Orlando at this time next year.

Ohio State Buckeyes season recap

December, 9, 2009
12/09/09
11:00
AM ET
Ohio State won the Big Ten this year, which is nothing new. The Buckeyes have won or shared six league championships since 2002, cementing themselves as the team of the decade in the Big Ten.

But in some ways, this year's title run might be the most satisfying for Jim Tressel and his players.

It was a true team effort, as evidenced by only one consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection (safety Kurt Coleman). Plus, the Buckeyes seemed like an afterthought following an Oct. 17 loss to Purdue, only to produce yet another spotless November. They'll be rewarded with their first trip to Pasadena since Jan. 1, 1997, as they'll face No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).

Ohio State's defense was the Big Ten's best unit this fall despite losing national award winners James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins from last year's squad. The Buckeyes posted three shutouts and nearly had two more, as the no-name defense translated into no points. A front-seven led by Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson, Ross Homan and Brian Rolle helped Ohio State rank fifth nationally against the run (83.4 yards per game), while Coleman anchored the secondary.

Quarterback Terrelle Pryor struggled early but effectively ran a conservative scheme down the stretch, limiting his mistakes after a four-turnover disaster against Purdue. The much maligned offensive line made strides and running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron stepped up as well, giving Ohio State some momentum heading into the Rose Bowl.

Offensive MVP: DeVier Posey. The sophomore developed into a legitimate No. 1 wide receiver this fall, leading Ohio State with 727 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. Posey ranked among the Big Ten's top 10 wideouts in both receptions and receiving yards, and his rapport with Pryor certainly shows. Honorable mentions go to Pryor, Saine and Herron.

Defensive MVP: Cameron Heyward. He lacked the eye-popping statistics of Brandon Graham, O'Brien Schofield and Ryan Kerrigan, but Heyward had the ability to totally dominate a game. The junior gave Penn State fits in a 24-7 Ohio State victory in Happy Valley, recording 11 tackles. Heyward led Ohio State with 5.5 sacks and projects extremely well to the next level if he chooses to enter the NFL draft. Honorable mentions go to both Coleman and Homan.

Turning point: Ohio State changed the Big Ten landscape by crushing Penn State 24-7 on Nov. 7 at Beaver Stadium. The Buckeyes already had some decent wins under their belt, but their dominating performance against Daryll Clark and the Nittany Lions put them in position for another Big Ten title push.

What's next: The Buckeyes get another opportunity to improve their national reputation on a big stage. A win against Oregon would quiet the Buckeye bashing after three consecutive BCS bowl losses. A loss would only make things worse for Tressel, his team and most likely the league they continue to dominate. But regardless of the result Jan. 1, Ohio State likely will enter 2010 as a top 5 team.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Iowa sophomore safety Tyler Sash has been the Big Ten's top playmaker on defense this season, and he's starting to get some national recognition.

Sash was among the 12 semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award, given to the nation's top defensive back. Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins won the award last year, though Sash is the lone Big Ten representative still in the running.

The Hawkeyes safety leads the Big Ten in interceptions for the second consecutive season, but he has proven to be much more than a center fielder this fall. Sash is tied for 15th in the league in tackles (7.1 tpg) and ranks second in passes defended with 11. He also has two forced fumbles and 5.5 tackles for loss, and he made one of the more exciting interceptions you'll ever see last Saturday against Indiana.

The Thorpe Award will name three finalists on Nov. 23, and the winner will be announced Dec. 10 during the Home Depot ESPNU College Football Awards Show.

It was disappointing not to see Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman on the list of semifinalists. Coleman has recorded three forced fumbles, three interceptions, a fumble recovery and 53 tackles for the Buckeyes. He's one of the leaders for the nation's sixth-ranked defense.

Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren also would have been a good selection.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


No James Laurinaitis? No Malcolm Jenkins? No problem for Ohio State's defense, which is showing that it reloads better than any single unit in the Big Ten year in and year out. The Buckeyes bullied USC's heralded offensive line during their Sept. 12 meeting and held the Trojans' offense in check most of the way. Ohio State followed up with a shutout of Toledo, which had scored 85 points in its first two games. Ohio State has risen to 24th nationally in points allowed (15 points per game) and 31st in total defense (288.3 yards per game).

Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMI
Austin Spitler's part of an Ohio State defense that has risen to 31st nationally.
The unit faces a tough test Saturday against Illinois, which has its full complement of weapons back and comes off a bye week. Senior linebacker Austin Spitler checked in to discuss the Buckeyes' progress and the challenges ahead.

Everyone talked about who you guys lost from last year's team. For yourself and other guys who were around and who are now in major roles game after game, are you feeling more comfortable?

Austin Spitler: We knew after last year we were going to lose a lot of big-name guys. Our defensive motto -- the seniors came up with it -- is, "No blame, no names, no worries." We knew coming into it those guys were gone and people had to step up. Guys have really taken off with that.

Is the motto relating to how sometimes star players leave and people want to assign blame if there's a drop-off?

AS: Without a doubt. The seniors sat down with the coaches and decided that fit our thoughts.

What's your take on Illinois so far? They lost Arrelious Benn for their first game, didn't have Juice [Williams] for their second game. Are they hard to scout because they haven't been together yet?

AS: We have a lot of film on them. These guys on their offense have been around for a long time now, so we've played them in the past couple years and we understand they have a lot of talent. They've ran the ball on us the past couple years, so we want to try and make them one-dimensional. We have a huge test this week because of all the athletes they do have on that offense.

Do you even watch tape from the 2007 game?

AS: We watch the '07 tape as well because you've got to think they're going to come back to what worked in '07 when they beat us. That's our thought process.

(Read full post)

SPONSORED HEADLINES