Big Ten: Ohio Bobcats


In Mark Schlabach's Upset Special of the Week, he picks Ohio to defeat Penn State.
Every football game triggers emotion for 18- to 22-year-old players who work year-round for a dozen guaranteed days in the spotlight.

Every season opener heightens the adrenaline after eight months of toil. Factor in what Penn State players have been through over the past eight months, and their emotional roller-coaster will reach its apex shortly after noon Saturday at Beaver Stadium.

[+] EnlargeMichael Mauti
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarLinebacker Michael Mauti expects Saturday to be very emotional for the Nittany Lions.
Among the key events since the Lions last left the game field Jan. 2 at the TicketCity Bowl in Dallas ...

  • Jan. 6: The hiring of new coach Bill O'Brien, the program's first new leader since 1966
  • Jan. 22: The death of former coach Joe Paterno
  • June: The trial and conviction of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky
  • July 12: The release of the university-commissioned Freeh report, which detailed a cover-up at the highest levels of leadership at the school
  • July 23: The NCAA leveling historically severe sanctions against the program, including a four-year postseason ban beginning this fall
  • Late July-early August: The transfers of nine players, including star running back Silas Redd

The scrutiny has been there for months, and all Penn State players have wanted to do is play football. They finally return to the game field Saturday against Ohio University in a season opener unlike any other in the history of the school -- or the sport.

"It's going to be an exciting and very emotional day," Lions senior quarterback Matthew McGloin said last week. "We've been getting pretty anxious. You can't help but think what that's going to be like coming out of the tunnel."

Added senior linebacker Michael Mauti: "It’s going to be very emotional, not only for me but for everybody in the stadium."

Even O'Brien, whose last game was Super Bowl XLVI, admitted he'll have butterflies before kickoff Saturday.

"I'd be crazy to tell you otherwise," he said. "I mean, this is my first football game as a head football coach."

The challenge for Penn State players -- and, to a lesser extent, the coaches -- on Saturday is harnessing their emotions without becoming overwhelmed or reckless. Saturday marks the Lions' first opportunity to "punch back," as O'Brien said in July.

But if the Lions take things too far, they'll be in trouble against a talented Ohio team that comes to town with little to lose.

"It's going to be our job really to handle that and to control that," Mauti said. "After all the things that have gone on this offseason, to finally get back to doing what we love to do, and that's play football on Saturday, it's going to be really exciting. ... Every football game's going to be emotional, it's going to be exciting, but at the end of the day, you've got to read your keys, get off blocks, as a defender you've got to make tackles. You've got to play football.

"So as excited as we get, that's our job to control that."

O'Brien plays a big role as well, despite the opener being his first game as a head coach. He and his staff will emphasize focus and composure throughout the week.

They'll keep players busy Friday with meetings and a walk-through where game situations and special teams will be among the emphasis points.

"These are college guys," O'Brien said, "so when they run out there for the opening kickoff or the opening play on offense or defense, they're going to be excited. We just have to make sure that they understand once the ball is snapped, now we're playing football."
video Editor's note: Ivan Maisel has the latest from Penn State as the Nittany Lions prepare for their season opener versus Ohio.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- It took nearly the entire two-hour practice for the Penn State offense to get on head coach Bill O'Brien's good side Tuesday.

Midway through the practice, O'Brien huddled up the entire team and said, "No. 1 is we got to pick this up, especially on offense. We've got to pick this practice up."

He never got to No. 2. He sent them back out on the field.

O'Brien bellowed. He yelled. He demanded. "I'm not talking about wanting to be good! I'm talking about doing something!" he said.

He made the offense repeat a practice period, and only at the end, when fifth-year starter Matt McGloin moved the starters smartly down the field, did O'Brien see what he wanted to see.

Just like that, practice ended.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Fisher
Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher writes out playcards.
"If you want to be good," he told his team, "you have to shut up and practice, practice like you did at the end right there. You've got to string drives together. String plays together."

Tuesdays are often the ugliest day of a football week. Game plans are installed. Players are trying to transfer what they saw on video and heard in the meeting room onto the football field. On Tuesday morning, quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher printed screen grabs off video of the Ohio defense to prepare his quarterbacks.

"In the pros, you can take these pictures during the game and look at them on the sideline," Fisher said. "In colleges, you can't take a picture. I'm trying to give them a visual."

He also "wrote play cards," coachspeak for the X's-and-O's diagrams that players have studied in three-ring playbooks since the dawn of college football time. Fisher drew the offense in with a blue Sharpie, then handed it to graduate assistant Bartley Webb, who diagrammed the defensive look with a black Sharpie.

"I wish I had a dime for every card I've drawn," said Fisher, a coach for 31 years. "You keep everything. Coaches are like pack rats. We're afraid to throw away anything: playbooks, notes, game plans from 1995."

After practice, after the cold pool and the hot tub, ice pack in place, McGloin said, "All that stuff Coach Fisher does, the pictures he gives us, some tips he writes down after every practice, but just going back to the basics and watching film. That's the main thing. You've got to watch as much film as you possibly can to see what they're doing on third-and-5, what they do the most on first-and-10."

McGloin said the offense will be prepared for Saturday, Tuesday's tumult notwithstanding. Penn State will start seven seniors on defense. McGloin is one of four fifth-year seniors on offense. After them, the experience level drops pretty fast.

"He just wants to see us practicing fast," McGloin said of O'Brien, "doing the right thing, me making the right checks, running the routes right, lining up right. It's the little things that irritate him. If you throw an interception, throw a bad ball, he's not going to get mad. He's going to get mad if you make a wrong read or you don't check to this play or that play. We ended on a good note. Hopefully it will carry over to tomorrow. We're trying to do some new stuff out there."

Once upon a time, linebackers coach Ron Vanderlinden said, "We used to call it Bloody Tuesday." Wednesdays are for correcting mistakes -- cleaning up the blood -- and Thursdays are for polishing. If you're still correcting mistakes on Friday, you're going to keep making make them on Saturday.
video

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Any team that has USC on the horizon wants to be at or near its peak.

For the second straight year, Ohio State is falling short of the mark.

Watching the Buckeyes struggle to separate from Navy, I can't help but remember being in Columbus last year for Ohio State's very tight affair against Ohio the week before it traveled to USC. The Buckeyes struggled to shake the Bobcats, and we all know what happened next at the L.A. Coliseum. Despite superior size and talent on both sides of the ball, Ohio State once again enters the fourth quarter with the game somewhat in doubt.

Navy has moved the ball surprisingly well against the Buckeyes' defensive front, mounting a 99-yard scoring drive late in the third quarter, chewing up eight minutes of clock in the process. Mids quarterback Ricky Dobbs has done some nice things, and Ohio State's offense hasn't been able to pull away. I do like the way Terrelle Pryor is throwing the ball and Brandon Saine could be the answer at running back.

Ohio State will win the game, but it would have been nice to see the Buckeyes run away with this one before taking on the Trojans.

Sutton '100 percent' for Iowa game

September, 24, 2008
9/24/08
12:54
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern senior running back Tyrell Sutton showed no ill effects of a left leg injury during practice Wednesday morning.

Sutton sat out the second half of last week's win against Ohio after sustaining the injury but expects to be fine for Saturday's Big Ten opener against Iowa (ESPN Classic, noon ET).

"I've gotten better since the game," he said. "It was something that initially, it was really bothering me, but I'm out here working every day to try and get back, let my teammates know I'm here for them. Like I always say, if it's not broken and I can walk, I'm going to play."

Sutton will try to block out any pain during Saturday's game. He was upset he couldn't return after halftime against Ohio but said the trainers ruled him out as soon as he went down, fearing further injury.

Sutton has 63 rushes for 387 yards (6.1 ypc) and five touchdowns this season.

Asked to place a percentage on his health, Sutton replied, "100. I'm always 100 percent. If I'm out there, it's always full-tilt."

Wildcats starting quarterback C.J. Bacher also practiced for the second straight day without his throwing hand wrapped. Bacher sprained some fingers on his throwing hand against Ohio and threw a career-high four interceptions.

A look back at the Week 4 picks

September, 22, 2008
9/22/08
10:16
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Much like the Big Ten itself, the picks continue to avoid a bad week. The score predictions were way off once again, but with a 7-1 record and the lone blemish a 1-point decision, I'll take it. The Big Ten is turning into a defense-oriented league -- at least outside of State College, where Penn State continues to roll -- so expect some lower scores this week as conference play begins.

Time to review the picks:

OHIO-NORTHWESTERN

  • My pick: Northwestern 30, Ohio 24
  • Game result: Northwestern 16, Ohio 8
  • 20-20 hindsight: I've come to accept bizarre games from the Wildcats, but this one set a new standard. Suddenly the defense is dominant and the offense stinks? That was certainly the case against Ohio. Quarterback Boo Jackson didn't provide the test I thought he would, as Northwestern forced him into repeated mistakes and generated four takeaways. The Wildcats' superb defensive effort rescued quarterback C.J. Bacher, who threw four interceptions.
FLORIDA ATLANTIC-MINNESOTA
  • My pick: Minnesota 42, Florida Atlantic 39
  • Game result: Minnesota 37, Florida Atlantic 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: I thought I'd have some fun and pick Minnesota to win by the same score in which it lost last year's meeting against FAU. Guess the Gophers didn't see the humor. They absolutely destroyed the defending Sun Belt champs, as a much-improved defense forced turnovers and quarterback Adam Weber continued to surge. After committing seven giveaways last year, Minnesota won the turnover margin, 4-1. My apologies to Gopher Nation for underestimating your team.

TROY-OHIO STATE

  • My pick: Ohio State 42, Troy 10
  • Game result: Ohio State 28, Troy 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: This ended up being one of the closer score predictions, though Ohio State's ability to underwhelm still seems stunning. Credit freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor for a very impressive debut, but Ohio State entered the fourth quarter leading by just four points. I'm sure most will predict a lopsided result when Ohio State opens Big Ten play against Minnesota, but I've learned my lesson.
TEMPLE-PENN STATE
  • My pick: Penn State 41, Temple 17
  • Game result: Penn State 45, Temple 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: I keep waiting for Penn State's defense to falter, but it keeps coming up big. Linebacker Navorro Bowman (5 TFLs, 3 sacks) led the charge in his first career start as the Lions defense picked up an offense that started a bit slow. It was Stephfon Green, not Derrick Williams, who had the big offensive day for Penn State, and Temple QB Adam DiMichele ended up being knocked out of the game in the first quarter.
IOWA-PITT
  • My pick: Iowa 24, Pitt 20
  • Game result: Pitt 21, Iowa 20
  • 20-20 hindsight: The closest pick of the week turned out to be my only misdiagnosis, as Pitt outlasted Iowa at Heinz Field. Panthers running back LeSean McCoy got the best of Iowa's defense when it mattered most with a 27-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. But the Hawkeyes still aren't getting enough production from their quarterback position, and it might be time to scrap the rotation and settle on a leader.

CENTRAL MICHIGAN-PURDUE

  • My pick: Purdue 45, Central Michigan 41
  • Game result: Purdue 32, Central Michigan 25
  • 20-20 hindsight: It wasn't the offensive surge I predicted, but the game still provided plenty of entertainment value. Purdue's secondary is better than many forecasted, and the Boilers finally came through in the clutch after Central Michigan appeared poised to steal a road win. Curtis Painter had a solid performance, but the Chippewas' seemingly vulnerable defense limited Purdue to just 16 first downs and 344 yards of offense.

NOTRE DAME-MICHIGAN STATE

  • My pick: Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 28
  • Game result: Michigan State 23, Notre Dame 7
  • 20-20 hindsight: It was wishful thinking to call this "the best game of the day," as Michigan State grinded out a win behind a physical defense and superstar running back Javon Ringer. The Spartans' defense held Jimmy Clausen and Notre Dame's long-range passing attack in check for most of the game, keeping the Fighting Irish off the scoreboard for three quarters. Once again, Ringer was fabulous, becoming the first Spartans player to record back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances.

BALL STATE-INDIANA

  • My pick: Ball State 45, Indiana 42 (OT)
  • Game result: Ball State 42, Indiana 20
  • 20-20 hindsight: Indiana came into the game untested, and it showed. The Ball State offense tore through Indiana's defense despite losing star wideout Dante Love to a tragic and terrifying injury in the first quarter. The Hoosiers didn't hold up their end of the bargain, as quarterback Kellen Lewis threw two inte
    rceptions and the offense shut down in the fourth quarter.

Byes: Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois

Season record: 35-4

Big Ten: What to watch in Week 4

September, 19, 2008
9/19/08
10:14
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Only eight games on the slate this week, but there's no shortage of subplots, especially on the defensive side.

Let's take a look:

1. Ringer vs. the world: Notre Dame will do all it can to stop Michigan State's Javon Ringer on Saturday (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Ringer likely can expect to see eight or nine men in the box, as the Fighting Irish dare Brian Hoyer to beat them. The overloading still might not be enough, as Ringer has racked up 417 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his last two games.

2. Pryor's coronation in Columbus: Terrelle Pryor and Todd Boeckman will split snaps for Ohio State against Troy, but this game is a chance for the freshman to take control of the offense. If Pryor continues to show good poise and playmaking ability, he'll continue to be featured when the Buckeyes enter Big Ten play. Boeckman will get his opportunities as well, but with the top goal off the table for the Buckeyes, they have to look toward the future.

3. Iowa D takes on real McCoy: The Hawkeyes have already collected eight takeaways without allowing a touchdown this season, but they face their first major test in Pitt running back LeSean McCoy. Expect McCoy to run away from Iowa star tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul, which will put pressure on less proven players to step up.

4. Indiana on the defensive: I've already heard from several furious Hoosiers fans about my upset pick of Ball State against their unproven team. Let's see if an improved Hoosiers defense proves me a fool when it faces dynamic quarterback Nate Davis and FBS receiving leader Dante Love. There's no doubt Kellen Lewis will make plays for Indiana, but the team's fate, as usual, rests with the defense.

5. Northwestern chases history: Nonconference losses have been Northwestern's biggest bugaboo, even during the program's renaissance in the mid-1990s. The Wildcats can sweep their nonleague slate for the first time since 1963 by beating Ohio at home. It won't be easy, as the Bobcats are much better than their record indicates and athletic quarterback Boo Jackson spells trouble for an improved Northwestern defense.

6. Tiller gets record: Joe Tiller already should be Purdue's all-time winningest coach, but his team lost another winnable big game last Saturday against Oregon. Tiller sets the record this week as Curtis Painter and the Boilermakers pick apart a Central Michigan defense that looks overmatched against BCS foes. Dan LeFevour makes the game interesting for a while, but Purdue beats the Chippewas for the third straight time.

7. Gophers secondary tested: No one would mistake Minnesota's nonleague schedule for, say, Washington's, but the Gophers deserve a ton of credit if they go 4-0 after winning one game all of last season. Standing in their path is Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith, who will perform much better than he did in the rain last week in East Lansing. Minnesota's new-look secondary of Tramaine Brock, Traye Simmons, Marcus Sherels and Kyle Theret have shown good playmaking skills so far and need continued progress against the Owls.

8. Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen: Coach Kirk Ferentz seems to be telling Christensen, "Take the job already, will ya?" The junior gets a great chance to do so on the road against a desperate Pitt team already knocked off its preseason perch. Christensen steadied the offense in the clutch last week against Iowa State but will need to make more pressure plays against the Panthers.

9. Penn State's defensive line: Coach Joe Paterno admits his team hasn't faced any adversity so far this season, at least on the field. Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele should be a good challenge for Penn State's defensive linemen, who have held together nicely despite injuries, dismissals and suspensions. Paterno also should address the status of linemen Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma after the game.

10. Michigan State safety Otis Wiley: Wiley once again looks like the guy who led the team in tackles (94) and pass breakups (10) as a sophomore in 2006. The Spartans need him at his peak against Notre Dame because of lingering personnel issues in the secondary. Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen will look to stretch the field with Golden Tate, and it's up to Wiley to limit the damage.

Big Ten picks for Week 4

September, 18, 2008
9/18/08
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Things are about to get tough. The cupcake games (read: easy picks) are evaporating, so it's time to get serious. I'm coming off a solid week record-wise but need to do a bit better with the scores. Fortunately, Saturday's weather forecast looks good in Big Ten territory, so the offenses should be back to normal.

A lot of nail-biters this week.

Northwestern 30, Ohio 24 -- This has the makings of a trap game for the Wildcats, who haven't swept their nonconference games since 1963 and face a winless Ohio team that could easily be 2-1. Elusive quarterback Boo Jackson will test an improved Northwestern defense, but he'll make some mistakes down the stretch. Northwestern might start slow on offense and fall behind, but C.J. Bacher is at his best with his back to the wall and makes enough plays to win.

Minnesota 42, Florida Atlantic 39 -- Those who watched last year's game will understand the significance of the score. Don't expect the same Florida Atlantic team that got shut out in the rain last week at Michigan State. Quarterback Rusty Smith and the Owls surge in the Metrodome. But this is a different Minnesota team, one that deserves a little more faith from me. Adam Weber and Eric Decker hook up for a touchdown in the final minute as the Gophers go 4-0.

Ohio State 42, Troy 10 -- Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells will be limited if he plays at all, and the Buckeyes' offense could start slowly. All eyes will be on the quarterbacks as Todd Boeckman and Terrelle Pryor split snaps for the second straight game. Both quarterbacks will make some plays and the competition will continue into Big Ten play. Troy's athletic quarterback Jamie Hampton could provide some initial trouble for the Buckeyes defense before it locks down.

Penn State 41, Temple 17 -- Joe Paterno is talking up Temple, and the Owls could make Penn State's starters work a little longer than a quarter or two this week. But there's no way Temple can contain all of Penn State's weapons. Wideout Derrick Williams takes his turn at putting up big numbers as the Spread HD offense ignites in the third quarter. Temple quarterback Adam DiMichele will be a good test for a patchwork Lions defensive line.

Iowa 24, Pitt 20 -- I made the mistake of putting Pitt in my preseason Top 25 poll, so I'm not going to let Wanny burn me again. This one could go either way, as Iowa really hasn't been tested yet. The key matchup features Panthers star running back LeSean McCoy against Iowa's defensive line, led by tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul. Iowa could use two quarterbacks again, but junior Jake Christensen makes a big play late to secure the win.

Purdue 45, Central Michigan 41 -- The teams' third meeting in just over a year will be just as entertaining as the previous matchup at the 2007 Motor City Bowl. Purdue still doesn't know how to win big games and could have a hangover from last week's missed opportunity against Oregon, but Central Michigan really struggles to stop BCS teams. The Chippewas have allowed an average of 51.4 points in their last seven games against BCS foes. That bodes well for Curtis Painter.

Michigan State 31, Notre Dame 28 -- This could be the best game of the day, and I hope it is since I'll be there. Michigan State tries to control the clock with running back Javon Ringer and puts pressure on a questionable Notre Dame defensive line. Fighting Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen counters by stretching the field against a suspect Spartans defense. The slight edge goes to Michigan State, which becomes the first team to win at home in the series since 2000.

Ball State 45, Indiana 42 (OT) -- The Cardinals will be pumped for this one, and star quarterback Nate Davis and FBS receiving leader Dante Love fluster a Hoosiers secondary that could be without standout safety Austin Thomas. No Big Ten team has been tested less than Indiana so far, and though Kellen Lewis will move the ball against Ball State, a late-game miscue will prove costly.

Byes: Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois

Season record: 28-3

A look ahead at Week 4

September, 16, 2008
9/16/08
10:46
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Conference play kicks off next week with several exciting matchups, but five Big Ten teams are trying to round out the non-league slate on a good note. For the second straight year the league is shaping up to have more bowl-eligible teams that available slots, so winning these early games is paramount for squads like Northwestern, Indiana and Minnesota. The Hoosiers get back into action after a week off, and Ohio State returns to the field, hoping to turn the page on the USC flop.

Here's a look at what's on tap Saturday.

Ohio at Northwestern (noon ET)

Don't be fooled by Ohio's 0-3 record. The Bobcats built leads against Ohio State and Central Michigan the last two weeks and could be Northwestern's toughest non-league test. The Wildcats are fighting some history, as they haven't had a perfect nonconference season since 1963. Non-league stumbles kept Northwestern out of bowl games in 2004 and 2007, so a win here would be huge. The Wildcats' improved defense will have to contain Bobcats quarterback Boo Jackson, who set a school record with 413 total yards last week.

Florida Atlantic at Minnesota (noon ET)

The Gophers should have plenty of motivation in this one after losing to the Owls last fall in Miami. After going 1-11 in 2007, Minnesota would be two-thirds of the way to bowl eligibility with a victory. But it won't be easy, and the Gophers shouldn't expect to see the same Rusty Smith who completed just 8 of 34 passes in a downpour last week at Michigan State. Smith will challenge a Gophers defense that missed tackles against Montana State and allowed 463 passing yards in last year's contest with the Owls.

Troy at No. 13 Ohio State (noon ET)

It will be an interesting day along the banks of the Olentangy River. How will Ohio State be received after crumbling at the L.A. Coliseum? Will there be a hangover or a new fire with this team? The Buckeyes might take out their frustration on Troy, a solid Sun Belt team that is 2-0 despite losing its star quarterback (Omar Haugabook) and its star offensive coordinator (Tony Franklin). Regardless of who plays running back, it's important for the offensive line and quarterback Todd Boeckman to settle into a good rhythm. Terrelle Pryor likely will continue to see more playing time as Ohio State tries to build momentum before league play.

Temple at No. 16 Penn State (noon ET)

It's been a tough two weeks for Temple, which lost on a Hail Mary against Buffalo and an overtime touchdown against Connecticut. The Owls won't get much sympathy from a Penn State team that has won three games by an average of 43 points. At least the Lions should be tested by a solid Temple offense led by quarterback Adam DiMichele, who leads the team in both passing (204.7 ypg) and rushing (39 ppg). Former Penn State captain Al Golden will make his first appearance at Beaver Stadium as Temple's coach.

Iowa at Pitt (ESPN2, noon ET)

The Hawkeyes have looked fabulous at home, particularly on defense. Their first voyage away from Kinnick Stadium brings new challenges, namely a Pitt team that desperately needs a win to avoid being branded a bust and putting coach Dave Wannstedt on the hot seat. The game's key matchup pairs Pitt star running back LeSean McCoy against an Iowa defensive line anchored by four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The Hawkeyes remain unsettled at quarterback and should get some answers -- good or bad -- at that position against the Panthers.

Central Michigan at Purdue (noon ET)

These teams have to be sick of one another. Saturday marks their third meeting since Sept. 15, 2007, with Purdue winning both previous contests. The Boilers' big-game blues continued last week against Oregon, but another matchup with a quality team provides a chance for redemption. Central Michigan's defense struggles against BCS foes, so Curtis Painter should be able to get on track. The key will be whether Purdue's defense continues to make plays in the red zone against Dan LeFevour. A victory makes Joe Tiller Purdue's all-time winningest coach.

Notre Dame at Michigan State (ABC, 3:30 ET)

The Spartans look like the better team, but in this series it rarely matters. The road team has won the last seven meetings, stretching back to 2001, and Michigan State must only remember its 2006 collapse in the rain to recognize that anything can happen. Notre Dame's improved offense will challenge the Spartans, who shut out Florida Atlantic but will need a strong performance from a patchwork secondary to stop Fighting Irish deep threat Golden Tate. Expect another big game from Spartans running back Javon Ringer, but quarterback Brian Hoyer will have to make a few big plays as well.

Ball State at Indiana (7 p.m. ET)

This should be one of the day's most exciting games, as Indiana gets tested for the first time this season. Ball State quarterback Nate Davis ranks sixth nationally in passer rating (189.4) and will look for Dante Love, the nation's leading receiver (144.3 ypg). Indiana counters with Kellen Lewis, who has been terrific so far, averaging 248 yards of total offense per game. Add in the subplot of Hoosiers coach Bill Lynch facing the team that fired him in 2002, and this is a game you don't want to miss.

Byes: Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois

Buckeyes need to get creative now

September, 11, 2008
9/11/08
2:11
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Jim Tressel might have seen this coming.

When asked about the health of running back Chris "Beanie" Wells during the last two weeks, the ever-cautious Tressel made sure to emphasize that Wells' response to practicing on the injured toe would ultimately determine his availability for USC. Even Tuesday, when he confirmed that Wells would play against the Trojans, Tressel said much would depend on how Wells felt after Wednesday's practice. Well, he practiced and didn't feel good today.

The extent of Wells' next-day soreness might have surprised his coaches, who listed him at 75 percent after Wednesday's workout. But they had to be planning for this outcome.

And that plan had better be creative. It needs to be better than the vanilla offense we saw last Saturday against Ohio U.

Implications of the Wells injury:

  • Terrelle Pryor needs to play more than perhaps originally envisioned. Whether he's ready or not, he brings an explosive element to the Ohio State running game that they might not have with Daniel Herron, Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine. USC hasn't seen much of Pryor, and his size and speed are tough to plan for.
  • An offense often comes together around something like this and performs better than expected. Quarterback Todd Boeckman and wideouts Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie admitted their timing was off last week. My guess is they'll be on the same page Saturday, especially if Chris Wells can't play. The offensive line also knows it needs a better effort without Wells.
  • Saine needs to play more against the Trojans. He was limited during the preseason and had only five carries against Ohio, but the sophomore brings speed and versatility to the offense. Herron will get the first shot if Chris Wells doesn't play, but Saine should play a much greater role.

ESPN's Robert Smith offers his take on the Wells injury situation.

The debate over Pryor's playing time

September, 10, 2008
9/10/08
5:37
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
 How big of a role will Terrelle Pryor play against USC?

I'm back home after my second trip to Columbus in a five-day span. All you Buckeyes out there will be glad to know I can drive I-670 in my sleep and finally learned the correct pronunciation for Olentangy (OH lehn TANGE ee).

One topic surfaced quite a bit among the reporters covering Ohio State, and no, it wasn't whether Pete Carroll owns a sweater vest.

Buckeyes freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor remains somewhat of a mystery man entering Saturday's matchup at top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). I've gone back and forth on how much Pryor will play, and maybe that's coach Jim Tressel's intent with all of this.

After the Ohio game, I was fairly convinced that Pryor wouldn't play as big a role as many envisioned against USC. He only took eight snaps in the game. Tressel and offensive coordinator Jim Bollman had a fairly revealing exchange during the Ohio game, where, according to Tressel, Bollman expressed reservations about putting Pryor in a pressure situation.

My thought was, if he isn't ready for the heat against Ohio U. in The Shoe, how could he possibly stand it against USC at the L.A. Coliseum? There's no doubt Pryor would take the field against the Trojans, but the fact he barely played against Ohio suggested that in crunch time, he would be holding a clipboard.

But two factors now lead me to believe Pryor could play a slightly more significant role Saturday night.

1. Tressel loves the kid

Like many coaches of his generation and background, Tressel favors experience and lauds his seniors. He's in no rush to play freshmen if there's an older player just as capable of getting the job done. But from talking to folks in C-Bus, Pryor is different. Tressel sees a readiness that goes beyond the obvious physical gifts. The coach even seems a bit surprised by that readiness. Here's what he said Tuesday:

"The only thing that holds back a freshman from playing, in my mind, is if they don't understand what we're doing and, therefore, their physical abilities can't take over, and the thing I've been impressed with with Terrelle is he understands what we're doing."

Plus, it was Tressel who pushed to get Pryor in Saturday's game, asking Bollman, "When would you like his first pressure to be?" I doubt Tressel will be asking questions on Saturday. He'll be demanding Pryor play at certain points.

2. Offense looking shaky

Starting quarterback Todd Boeckman and several of his teammates admitted the offense has yet to hit its stride, which is surprising given all the experience Ohio State returns. Saturday could be the turning point for the unit, but if Boeckman's timing with wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline continues to be a problem, you could see a change.

Nothing against Boeckman, who is a solid quarterback who can beat defenses down the field. But I just don't get the best vibe about him heading into this game. I asked Robiskie if Boeckman had said anything to the offense after the Ohio game to make sure the results are different against USC.

"He didn't really come out and say anything. A lot of us know what we have to do. We all watched the film and we weren't happy with it. Everybody that had a chance to play Saturday and break down the film, they know what they have to do."

That's true with veteran players, but it always helps to have the leader of the offense speak up. It's hard to see the Buckeyes going away from Boeckman with the game on the line, but they have to try everything and everyone they can to throw off USC's defense, especially if Chris Wells is limited by a toe injury.

 
 AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato
 The Buckeyes expect Chris "Beanie" Wells to be in action Saturday against USC.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As Chris "Beanie" Wells watched from the sideline last Saturday, his value to Ohio State's offense rose with every stalled drive and stuffed rushing attempt.

Wells undoubtedly would have provided a lift for the Buckeyes against Ohio. Ultimately, they didn't need him to win the game.

Saturday's matchup against top-ranked USC (ABC, 8 p.m. ET) is a different deal. Wells adds credibility to the Buckeyes' offense whenever he steps on the field, but his worth in big games is especially noteworthy.

Wells finished the 2007 season by playing his best at the most critical points. After Michigan State rallied to make things interesting last year in Columbus, Wells took over in the second half and finished with 221 yards. He had three second-half rushing touchdowns as Ohio State rallied against Wisconsin, and he saved his top performance for archrival Michigan, racking up a career-high 222 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

"He's a fierce competitor," cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "Whenever the competition goes up, his game plan goes up. He's somebody who's not going to let his team fall down or give up."

The BCS national championship wasn't a shining moment for many Ohio State players, but Wells still finished with 146 rushing yards, including a 65-yard touchdown scamper, against an LSU defense that ranked ninth nationally against the run.

"He's such a great player," Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman said. "He can do so many things for you. He's got speed, he's powerful, he's strong, he can catch the ball out of the backfield. It just helps us out so much."

Wells will play Saturday night at the L.A. Coliseum. His effectiveness remains a question after a right foot/toe injury, but his big-game track record heightens hopes for the Buckeyes.

"He's a great leader," tackle Bryant Browning said. "When he thinks the offense is down, he gets after us. ... Him playing is going to be a real big help. He's a great player, as everybody knows. He makes big plays. Just having him around really helps the team."

But what if Wells can only help in a limited role? Unlike USC, famous and feared for its annual stable of running backs, Ohio State drops off a bit after Wells.

Redshirt freshman Dan "Boom" Herron likely will get the first shot behind Wells on Saturday after taking the bulk of the carries against Ohio. Senior Maurice Wells is the most experienced reserve but hasn't shown the ability to take over. Expect a greater role for sophomore Brandon Saine, who had only five carries last week and missed most of the preseason with a hamstring injury.

"I don't think you can diminish the effect of missing 20-plus practices in the preseason that has slowed Brandon a little bit," head coach Jim Tressel said. "That was good to get him back in there, plus the practice time, he picked up this past week and this particular week."

Chris Wells told Tressel on Monday that he wanted 45 carries against the Trojans. That's wishful thinking coming off an injury, and Ohio State has faith in its other runners.

"Danny Herron is an extremely tough kid," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "We have other guys that can carry the load."

A look back at the Week 2 picks

September, 9, 2008
9/09/08
11:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Another decent week of picks, which comes as no surprise given the Big Ten's shoddy competition. I hoped to be a little more accurate, and my lack of faith in an improved Minnesota team prevented perfection. Few foresaw the troubles Ohio U. gave Ohio State, and Penn State continues to exceed early season expectations.

Week 3 provides a much tougher test for Big Ten players, coaches and prognosticators. But first, here's a review of the picks from last week.

OHIO-OHIO STATE

  • My pick: Ohio State 45, Ohio 7
  • Game result: Ohio State 26, Ohio 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: Seriously, who saw this coming? Put your hand down, Frank Solich. The Buckeyes came out flat on offense without star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and could have been in some serious trouble if not for special-teams heroics from Shaun Lane and Ray Small and big plays from star defenders. Ohio's team speed was noted during my pick, but it became a bigger factor than most envisioned.

MARSHALL-WISCONSIN

  • My pick: Wisconsin 40, Marshall 13
  • Game result: Wisconsin 51, Marshall 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: Star tight end Travis Beckum didn't play after Badgers coach Bret Bielema said he would, but quarterback Allan Evridge still got going after a slow start and passed for 308 yards. Evridge hooked up with reserve tight ends Lance Kendricks and Garrett Graham for 167 yards. As expected, Marshall presented some first-half problems for Wisconsin, jumping to a 14-0 lead, but the Badgers' attack countered in a big way.

EASTERN ILLINOIS-ILLINOIS

  • My pick: Illinois 52, Eastern Illinois 3
  • Game result: Illinois 47, Eastern Illinois 21
  • 20-20 hindsight: Ron Zook isn't the only one a little ticked at the Illinois defense, which hasn't consistently stopped the run. The Illini might pay the price in the Week 3 picks. At least Juice Williams had my back with 174 rushing yards and two touchdowns, eclipsing his own school record for rushing yards by a quarterback.

EASTERN MICHIGAN-MICHIGAN STATE

  • My pick: Michigan State 42, Eastern Michigan 14
  • Game result: Michigan State 42, Eastern Michigan 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: The most accurate pick of the week, and probably the easiest to make. Eastern Michigan's defense was no match for Spartans senior running back Javon Ringer, who rushed for five touchdowns in the rout. Quarterback Brian Hoyer had a much better performance (8-of-12 passing), and wideout B.J. Cunningham matched rising star Mark Dell in production.

MIAMI (OHIO)-MICHIGAN

  • My pick: Michigan 27, Miami (Ohio) 6
  • Game result: Michigan 16, Miami (Ohio) 6
  • 20-20 hindsight: The Wolverines' offense didn't perform to expectations behind redshirt freshman quarterback Steven Threet, who retains the starting job this week. Fortunately for Rich Rodriguez, his veteran defense came up with the save and knocked Miami starting quarterback Daniel Raudabaugh out of the game in the fourth quarter. And a Michigan running back did step up as freshman Sam McGuffie had 74 rushing yards.

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL-IOWA

  • My pick: Iowa 44, Florida International 10
  • Game result: Iowa 42, Florida International 0
  • 20-20 hindsight: Iowa's offense continues to surge and evidently the defense deserves a little more love after allowing just three points in the first two games. I was wrong about Jake Christensen locking up the starting quarterback job, as sophomore Ricky Stanzi seems to have staked his claim there. As expected, another big game for Hawkeyes running back Shonn Greene (130 rush yards, TD).

NORTHERN COLORADO-PURDUE

  • My pick: Purdue 41, Northern Colorado 0
  • Game result: Purdue 42, Northern Colorado 10
  • 20-20 hindsight: It sounds nitpicky to harp on a 32-point win, but I expected more from Purdue, and evidently so did coach Joe Tiller. Quarterback Curtis Painter was his normal superb self and senior Desmond Tardy emerged as a potential No. 2 wideout behind Greg Orton. But the defense allowed 22 first downs and didn't force a turnover against a Northern Colorado team picked to finish last in the Big Sky Conference.

OREGON STATE-PENN STATE

  • My pick: Penn State 38, Oregon State 30
  • Game result: Penn State 45, Oregon State 14
  • 20-20 hindsight: Daryll Clark, Evan Royster and the Nittany Lions punished an Oregon State defense that can't stop the run. As forecasted, Clark ran much more this week, racking up 61 yards and a touchdown on just five carries. It's a little surprising Lyle Moevao and the Beavers couldn't do more against a Penn State defense missing two starting linemen, but right now everything is clicking in Happy Valley.

MURRAY STATE-INDIANA

  • My pick: Indiana 45, Murray State 10
  • Game result: Indiana 45, Murray State 3
  • 20-20 hindsight: Marcus Thigpen must be reading the blog. I know fellow Hoosiers running back and blogger Bryan Payton does. Thigpen provided the rushing spark Indiana needed with 100 yards and two scores on just seven carries. Star pass rusher Greg Middleton only picked up one sack, but the defense looked very strong in the blowout.

NORTHWESTERN-DUKE

  • My pick: Northwestern 30, Duke 21
  • Game result: Northwestern 24, Duke 20
  • 20-20 hindsight: This one figured to be close, though Duke dominated the stat sheet and would have won with a clutch play or two. Wildcats running back Tyrell Sutton rushed for two touchdowns but had a much smaller impact than forecasted after experiencing leg cramps in the second half.

MINNESOTA-BOWLING GREEN

  • My pick: Bowling Green 38, Minnesota 34
  • Game result: Minnesota 42, Bowling Green 17
  • 20-20 hindsight: Props to the Gophers for proving me a fool, especially regarding their defense. Minnesota forced five turnovers and capitalized with a huge second half. Quarterback Adam Weber performed as expected, completing 21 of 25 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for a score.

Bye: None

Season record: 19-2

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
 Todd Boeckman and the Buckeyes know they have work to do before Saturday's game at USC.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- USC took the recommended route to Saturday's showdown at the L.A. Coliseum, thumping Virginia in its season opener before enjoying a bye in last Saturday.

The method has worked smashingly for the Trojans in recent years, and their Week 3 opponents usually pay the price. Just ask Nebraska (49-31 losers last year). Or Arkansas (70-17 losers in 2005).

Ohio State's path stretched a little longer but seemingly contained no cracks in the pavement -- only two overmatched teams to steamroll. But the Ohio Bobcats provided quite the detour, putting the Buckeyes in a 14-6 hole before a fourth-quarter rally.

The Trojans' ability to stay on course makes them the popular pick in Saturday's game, but some Ohio State players hope they can benefit from the road less traveled.

"I was kind of happy on Sunday when I got to watch the film," Buckeyes senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "I would have much rather come into this game not playing as well the week before, have goals to bet better, [rather than] blowing a team out and being on cloud nine coming into a game, not necessarily knowing what your weaknesses are, not having faced any adversity.

"Now we have stepping stone to figuring out what we need to improve."

Wideout Brian Robiskie agreed.

"In a game like this where we had to fight from behind a lot of the game and we had to change up some things, it definitely helps," Robiskie said. "Just to go back and look at some things that we might not have necessarily known later in the season."

That's one way of putting it. But the Buckeyes raised concerns about their ability to keep pace with USC, particularly on offense.

Senior quarterback Todd Boeckman admits the unit hasn't hit its stride, even after putting up 43 points in the opener against Youngstown State. The offense generated just 28 yards on 15 plays in the first quarter against Ohio, the type of start that can't happen Saturday against Mark Sanchez and the high-powered USC offense. Ohio State finished with only 272 yards.

"We expected we were going to do a lot better," Boeckman said. "Everybody needs to get better. We all need to watch ourselves. That goes for the O-line, the quarterbacks, the running backs, the wide receivers.

"[The Ohio game] was a little bit of everything. We knew it was going to be tough to watch the film, but we had to do it."

The defensive tape was a bit more pleasing to the eyes.

Ohio State recorded four interceptions for the first time since Oct. 20, 2001. Defensive end Lawrence Wilson had his first career pick and starting safety Anderson Russell notched his first interception in two seasons. For a defense that racked up only 11 interceptions last season, the playmaking surge could spill over to Saturday.

But the Buckeyes had an uncharacteristic amount of missed tackles and struggled to get off the field on third down. Ohio averaged five yards per rush in the first three quarters.

"Guys realize they didn't play to the best of their potential," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "It's more of a situation where you watch the film, you learn from it. You switch your focus really fast."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Relief isn't usually the sentiment that surfaces when a team studies the USC offense.

 
 Geoff Burke/US PRESSWIRE
 USC's Mark Sanchez isn't likely to beat the Buckeyes with his feet.

But when Ohio State begins learning the names and numbers of the Trojans' seemingly endless list of rushing threats, defenders can take some comfort in knowing quarterback Mark Sanchez isn't among them.

Loaded with talent around him and a bionic right arm, Sanchez can pick apart opposing defenses in many ways, but running the ball is rarely his method of choice. He has only 23 career rushing yards on 19 carries, an average of 1.2 yards per rush.

Sanchez still moves around decently in the pocket, but he doesn't fall under the label of mobile quarterback, and that could be a good thing for No. 5 Ohio State heading into this week's matchup at the L.A. Coliseum (ABC, 8 p.m. ET). Several mobile quarterbacks have caused problems for the Buckeyes' otherwise sound defense, which led the nation in fewest points and fewest yards allowed last season.

Trace back to the 2007 BCS national championship, when Florida freshman Tim Tebow did his thing against Ohio State, rushing for a touchdown and setting up others with his feet.

Illinois' Juice Williams flustered Ohio State last November at Ohio Stadium, rushing for 70 yards and throwing four touchdown passes in a 28-21 upset. Williams' running ability particularly stung in the fourth quarter, as he converted a fourth-and-1 and two third downs of seven yards or longer as Illinois drained the final 8:09.

The Buckeyes also struggled to contain Ohio backup quarterback Boo Jackson in Saturday's underwhelming 26-14 victory. Jackson had 55 rushing yards on just seven carries in the game.

On third-and-13 early in the second quarter, he evaded the rush and found Taylor Price for a 30-yard completion. Three plays later, Jackson converted a third-and-7 by scrambling for 10 yards. Jackson later scrambled for 20 yards on third-and-10.

"Those little mistakes we made today, versus USC, we may not win the game," Ohio State defensive end Lawrence Wilson said. "So we have to work on the little things, show some discipline."

Added linebacker James Laurinaitis: "We have somebody in our grasp, we've got to bring him down. If you're containing, you've got to keep containing."

The less-mobile Sanchez provides a new challenge this week.

"Completely different offenses," Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman said, "but at the same time, football is football. You've got to tackle. That's something we didn't do well [Saturday] and we're going to need to improve on for [this] week."

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