Big Ten: Ray Small
- Ohio State landed the third linebacker in its 2014 class in Akron's Dante Booker. Former Buckeye Ray Small apologized for his missteps.
- Brady Hoke doesn't know where Michigan's "Not in Ohio" footballs came from. Dave Brandon is not a fan of parity-based scheduling. Fitz Toussaint is fired up to regain his starting tailback job.
- Mark Hollis recalls the process of hiring Mark Dantonio at Michigan State. The son of former Spartans star Jim Morrissey is becoming a big-time prospect. Le'Veon Bell is drawing some rave reviews with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
- Bill O'Brien is comfortable with John Butler as his defensive coordinator. Eugene Lewis should help Penn State at receiver and in the return game. Adam Breneman won a national honor for his charity work.
- Eric Crouch expresses regrets about how he handled his NFL experience. A future Husker is trying to finish strong in his high school track career.
- A pair of twins who signed with Pitt could transfer to Purdue. A Q&A with Boilers offensive coordinator John Shoop.
- Landing Wes Lunt would be a boost for Tim Beckman and Illinois. Paul Myerberg previews the Illini, whom he ranks No. 110 in the country.
- Choosing the best Iowa players of the Kirk Ferentz era. How Big Ten division re-alignment will affect the pocketbooks of Hawkeyes' fans.
- Northwestern freshman running back Warren Long has West Coast roots, a talent for the guitar and an interest in becoming a barber.
- Wisconsin has a schedule built for success.
- Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman is getting some national notice.
Don't worry, Buckeyes fans, Small isn't sharing more stories of selling memorabilia and getting sweetheart deals from local car dealerships, as he did in an interview with The Lantern in May 2011, days before Jim Tressel resigned as Ohio State's head coach. Instead, the troubled former Buckeye, who had off-field issues throughout his career from 2006-09, decided to apologize to his former coaches and fans through a YouTube video.
Small begins by saying the video is "for the people that I didn't do too well with" and other young athletes from tough backgrounds who struggle with the status that comes with their success. He says he "elevated as a man from this bottom level to the top level, and I'm kind of back at that bottom level."
In the video, Small apologies to his high school coach in Cleveland, Ted Ginn Sr., as well as Tressel and Darrell Hazell, the Buckeyes wide receivers coach during his career.
"I truly am sorry for my actions," Small said. "... Coach Hazell was like my favorite guy because he always kept it strictly real with me. I want to apologize to Coach Tressel because he told me, he tried, he gave me many, many chances. I'm just here today to speak up on my behalf, saying that I'm a man and I understand the things that I did wrong."
Small wasn't among the so-called Tat-5 but told The Lantern he sold his Big Ten championship rings and received special deals on cars and tattoos. Small later backtracked, telling Outside the Lines' Tom Farrey that the newspaper had twisted his words.
Small was arrested in February 2012 for allegedly possessing more than 200 suspected Oxycontin tablets, suspected heroin and a loaded gun. He mentions in the video that he'll stand trial July 22 "for some things that I did," which could explain the timing of the mea culpa.
In the video, Small admits to making poor decisions and "not having the willpower to transition from football to real life." He apologies to his former teammates ("I treated them like it was nothing") and to Ohio State fans.
"I'm a Buckeye for life," Small said, "regardless of how people like it. And I kind of got exed out from being a Buckeye. That hurt my heart."
Small rambles quite a bit, but his intent seems pretty clear.
Here's hoping Small is sincere about wanting to turn his life around. I'm interested to learn how Ohio State fans feel after seeing the video. Terrelle Pryor is the ultimate Buckeye non grata in Columbus, but Small is in the picture.
Wonder if Pryor ever shoots a video like this one.
- It's hard to predict how new offensive coordinator Greg Davis will fare at Iowa, Mike Hlas writes. Davis can adapt, but he's also prone to predictable play calls, Marc Morehouse writes.
- Corey Raymond talks about his change of heart in leaving Nebraska for LSU. The Huskers could bring in former star Mike Minter as Raymond's replacement, Steve Sipple writes. Bo Pelini goes back to his high school for decorated recruit Marcus McWilson.
- Another Q&A with Penn State quarterbacks coach Charlie Fisher. Penn State reportedly cuts ties with football marketing chief Guido D'Elia.
- Michigan continues to roll on the recruiting trail for 2013. Wolverines DT Mike Martin shines at the NFL combine.
- Good news for Wisconsin as running backs coach Thomas Hammock is staying for 2012. The Badgers' first commit for 2013 can't find a single negative about his college choice.
- Colleague KC Joyner lists Big Ten linebackers Denicos Allen (Michigan State) and Jonathan Brown (Illinois) as potential breakout defenders in 2012.
- Minnesota's staff recently visited Baylor for tips on quarterback play (smart move). The Gophers pick up their first commitment for 2013.
- Purdue quarterback recruit Austin Appleby is prepared for success.
- The troubles have continued for former Ohio State receiver Ray Small. Ohio State's director of high school relations discusses the team's breakneck recruiting pace.
- It's all about the benjamins in big-time college football.
- A look at Northwestern's walk-on tradition, which includes running back Jacob Schmidt.
Ohio State players, coaches and administrators remained silent a day after Jim Tressel announced his resignation as head coach.
No formal news conferences have been scheduled, and interim head coach Luke Fickell might only speak publicly next week. The day was not without an update on the Terrelle Pryor/car situation, including the release of a sworn affidavit by car salesman Aaron Kniffin.
"The deals that I did for Ohio State student-athletes were no different than any of the other 10,000-plus deals that I've done for all my other customers," Aaron Kniffin said in the statement. "... OSU student-athletes weren't given any enticements to buy the car at my dealership. At no time did memorabilia come into play when it came time to negotiate a deal or buy a car. I was never given any memorabilia from a student-athlete in exchange for a car deal."
Colleague Pat Forde was in Columbus on Tuesday, and captures the mood on and around campus the day after Tressel's resignation.
Some tidbits from Forde's column:
- Often using the past tense, Ohio State fans celebrated the good civic deeds and great football accomplishments of Jim Tressel, while lamenting a resignation they saw as inevitable.
- Although some students question some of the rules, they don't blame the NCAA for enforcing them. Although they question some of the coverage, they don't blame the media for investigating. They do, however, energetically blame quarterback Terrelle Pryor. One item not selling this week at College Traditions: authentic No. 2 jerseys ($150) in both red and white. That's the number Pryor wears. On previous fall Saturdays, there were thousands of fans wearing them in the stands at Ohio Stadium. Don't expect that to be the case this fall.
- Several [students] said they'd heard about the tattoo scam, and several mentioned the late-model cars they've seen football players drive. "I'm driving a 2000 Isuzu Rodeo," laughed senior Jeff Whaley. "And I work. You see the nice watch, nice earrings. You see the cars and wonder." In reality, the students do more than just wonder. They know. So do the older fans who pay the big money for tickets and buy those jerseys. They know, but they don't want to know. This is the same everywhere. They want to believe there is a perfectly good reason the star player is driving an expensive car, or why his family has moved to town, or why he has $250 earphones around his neck.
Colleague Gene Wojciechowski also writes about Ohio State student reporter Zack Meisel and the backlash he has received since The Lantern reported its illuminating interview with former Ohio State receiver Ray Small.
Colleague Bruce Feldman also weighs in with a look at what Ohio State can learn from the USC situation (Insider).
I had a conversation this morning with a buddy who said he thinks the heavy sanctions would scare a lot of these candidates away from pursuing the OSU job. I disagree. Even if the sanctions are along the lines of what USC got -- loss of several scholarships and a multiyear postseason ban -- I still believe a lot of big names will be attracted to the position.
I agree. Ohio State football remains an elite brand in college football with the resources to compete for national championships. There will be enough interest from top candidates.
Ohio State held a team meeting Monday morning to announce the change, but several current and former players have tweeted about Tressel's departure. Most of the reaction is very positive.
Here's a look at some of the comments:
- Center Mike Brewster: Coach Tressel was one of the most honorable men I ever had the chance of being around..he taught me endless life lessons
- Tight end Jake Stoneburner: Tress taught me life lessons and how to become a man. I will forever be grateful that I played for such a great man. He is irreplaceable.
- Left tackle Mike Adams: #coachtress is what young people everywhere should strive to be! What don't break us will make us!
- Linebacker Andrew Sweat: You have done a tremendous amount for us as football players but more importantly developing us as men. Thanks
- Linebacker Etienne Sabino: I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Coach Tressel ..Hate to see this happen
- Running back Jordan Hall: So much love for coach tress. Promise no team wanna play us .#onamission
- Running back Jaamal Berry: Still love you coach Tress were going to win it all for you and #BuckeyeNation
- Wide receiver Chris Fields: This is definitely somethin I did not wanna wake up too!
- Cornerback Travis Howard: This will make us stronger as a team aNd tougher as individuals we gone pull this together and make it happen #beastmode
- Former cornerback Donald Washington: #CoachTress deserves a statue ... I would love to be suiting up for the #bucks with all the bs going on! I gotta feeling the Buckeyes are gon be untamed this fall!
- Former defensive end Cameron Heyward: Sad day to be a buckeye. #coach tressel you will be missed. No one understands what that man has taught me and done for me
- Former tight end Jake Ballard: Jim Tressel is one of the best human beings I have ever met. All he ever did was care and help people. #BuckeyeNation lost a great coach!!
- Former punter Jon Thoma: TRY to find a team who is gonna play harder than the Bucks this year. No mercy. Everybody dies.
- Former running back Chris Wells: say it aint sooo!
There are also these notable tweets:
- Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin: The head of the scarlet and grey Demon has been cut off!
- Michigan cornerback Troy Woolfolk: Tressel resigned, well I guess it got too hot in the kitchen. Lol
- Former Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga: @OfficialAJHawk are you going to help select the new coach at OSU. I am sure they will be askig for your professional opinion.
- Former Michigan running back Mike Hart: Great day for America! Sad day 4 Big 10, Hate OSU but tressel was a great coach! Would rather beat them when he's the coach than some1 else
- Former Ohio State receiver Ray Small: Lol what y'all gone do 2 me that man resigned his self if u don't like me [bleep] u!!
Again, much more to come on Tressel's resignation.
Trebor from Indianapolis writes: Does the NCAA's recent actions with USC, not decreasing their penalties, correlate with what they might do with OSU's allegations? It appears to me that the NCAA will add more penalties to OSU's already self imposed penalties. I was on the fence until I read the NCAA's comments with USC.
Adam Rittenberg: Trebor, the likelihood of the NCAA adding penalties for Jim Tressel/Ohio State seemed high even before the USC ruling. But it's significant that the NCAA upheld the USC penalties. As SI.com's Andy Staples writes, it could be the beginning of several hardline decisions against major programs, including Ohio State. I've always taken a believe-it-when-I-see-it approach with the NCAA, but the more that comes out about Ohio State, the more I think the penalties will be severe.
Steve from Cincinnati writes: You keep asking what incentive does Small have to lie? How about to stick it to Tressel for what I'm sure he thinks was ruining his NFL career?Let me ask you this, what incentive does he have to tell the truth? You are talking about a multiple arrest, multiple suspensions player who needs to get all this off his chest now? Are you kidding me?I am as nervous as any OSU fan about what might get uncovered. You sniff around a big time program long enough, you are bound to find something. And Tressel's actions were inexcusable. But Ray Small's accusations carry no weight with me, won't carry weight with the NCAA, and should carry no weight with the media.
Adam Rittenberg: Steve, some good points here. Ray Small's credibility certainly can be questioned, given his past actions. I just have a hard time believing Ohio State's memorabilia sales issue is confined to the so-called "Tat-5." I also think there's at least some truth to what Small told The Lantern. There are too many rings and other items on the market and I have a hard time believing all of them were sold by players after they finished their eligibility. I also have a hard time believing the memorabilia sales only appeared on Ohio State's radar in December.
Jeremy from Belmar, N.J., writes: Can you please comment on Mark Schlabachs story "Which BCS teams are on the rise or fall?" Maybe he screwed up the numbers for some of the teams or something..... He has Penn State ranked lower than a lot of teams that will never sniff a bcs game. If he is only using the 2010 season as a basis for this ranking then I agree, but last time I checked they are still capable of making a BCS game any given year. Obviously they shouldn't be ranked with the Alabamas and Ohio States but they arent too far behind.....Thanks Adam
Adam Rittenberg: Jeremy, I think for this type of story, you have to base it heavily on the past season. It's a lot like my power rankings -- a real-time snapshot of the Big Ten. Momentum can change quickly in college football, and to be fair, Penn State has lost some since the 2008 season. That said, Penn State is capable of turning things around this season. There are questions on both sides of the ball, but Penn State could make a run. I'd probably rate Penn State a 3, but I see the rationale for a 2.
Tyler from Weatherford, Texas, writes: Indiana Snoozer....North Texas? North Texas has just hired a new coach with (my opinion) an excellent resume in Dan McCarney. McCarney always had average teams at Iowa State, while coaching at a team who should be below average, in an excellent conference. Now he is once again coaching a below average team, and the only thing to change is a below average conference. Look for him to make a big "you hired the right guy" mark when playing a below average team from another excellent conference.
Adam Rittenberg: Tyler, thanks for the perspective. Maybe I'm selling North Texas a little short, and the McCarney arrival should be interesting. Honestly, you could pick three of Indiana's nonconference games -- Ball State, South Carolina State and North Texas -- as potential snoozers. But Ball State is the opener and marks Kevin Wilson's debut as Indiana coach, not to mention an in-state game. And South Carolina State is a good FCS team that could surprise IU.
Chris from Hanover, Ind., writes: Hey Adam,Love the blog, read it daily. I was reading about how back in the 60's the Badgers would give out Savage Awards at the end of every game. Each player that would receive it would be able to where an all black helmet for the rest of the season. This seams like it'd be a lot of fun and would help people identify impact players who don't normally watch my beloved Badgers. Why'd they stop doing this? Could they start it up again?
Adam Rittenberg: Chris, thanks for writing and bringing this up. It's a pretty cool story and you can read more about it here and here. Unfortunately, it's not coming back unless the NCAA rules change. According to the 2009-10 NCAA football rulebook, "Players of a team shall wear helmets of the same color and design, and face masks of the same color."
Fred from Annapolis, Md., writes: In re: Re-naming the Big TenAs a Husker -- I certainly would not be happy if the name changed. NEBRASKA JOINED THE BIG TEN. And talk about money and anything else, but Nebraska joined the Big Ten because of the culture and tradition. And I want Nebraska to play in the Big Ten.In retrospect of the experience of the Big 8 becoming the Big 12, I will tell you that a name change may bring more than cosmetic changes. The advent of the Big 12 was the end of the Big 8 and the beginning of a brand-new conference.
Adam Rittenberg: Fred, thanks for this perspective. Good to hear from fans who have gone through a name change before. I think you speak for many Nebraska fans in pointing to the Big Ten's history and tradition as positive elements for the league's newest member. And on the whole, most longtime Big Ten fans wouldn't want a name change.
Ross from Hastings, Neb., writes: Hey Adam,Love the blog man! But just wanted to comment on Feldman's 'Should Be' rivalries and was actually disappointed to not see Nebraska and Oklahoma on there. Thats was the premire rivalry in college football for quite a while and now its going to dissapear until the two programs play each other in a bowl game or a National Championship which by the way would be sweet!!!Thanks Adam! Take Care!
Adam Rittenberg: Thanks, Ross. Nebraska-Oklahoma certainly has some terrific history. Not to speak for Bruce, but I think he was looking at matchups that haven't taken place much in history or on a hiatus. Although Nebraska and Oklahoma haven't played as much since the Big 12 formed, the teams did play in the league championship game last year. But you're right: that's a great rivalry.
Small's comments to The Lantern about memorabilia sales, special car deals and a disregard for NCAA rules drew some strong responses on Twitter from his former Ohio State teammates. Several players criticized Small for speaking out against the program and breaching the team bond.
Here are some responses:
Ohio State C Mike Brewster (played with Small in 2008-09)
- @Brewster50: He isn't a part of the sacred brotherhood anymore...never on time, never accountable, never sacrificed for the team. Can you trust his word?
- @Brewster50: Show me a coward and I will show you ray small
- @Brewster50: I made my name by hard work-blood-sweat and tears...he made his name today...by selling lies to the lantern..enough said..workout time!!
- @brianhartline: Stop crying and lieing... Just bc u didn't play as much as u wanted to doesn't mean u can talk now...
- @BeanieWells26: The nerve of some cats!! It's one thing to bite the hand that feeds, but to go and lie about what u were being fed???? Really?!
- @75Ent: Crazy how people change...thanks a lot man! hope you got paid to do that interview
As my pal Nate likes to say, rough chatter.
Small took to Twitter as well on Thursday.
- @SmallyMcfly: Lol Ima snitch now that's the verdict got it up! Snitch on what?
- @SmallyMcfly: The Media is the devil if people really think I said these unruly thing about the teamates that I love... Now I did tell them about myself
I figured the credibility issue would come up with Small, given his struggles at Ohio State and with coach Jim Tressel. He probably spent more time in Tressel's dog house than on the field. Not exactly a model teammate.
So the attacks against Small from ex-teammates aren't a shock. Neither is the talk about him betraying the team.
The claims that Small is lying, meanwhile, are interesting. How do they know? And why would he lie? Just to get attention?
- Former Ohio State player Ray Small adds another layer to the program's problems. Here's the full story from The Lantern's Zack Meisel and James Oldham, as well as my take.
- The Big Ten's plan to restructure scholarships has the athletes in mind, colleague Gene Wojciechowski writes. More on the debate the Big Ten's proposal has sparked from The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises.
- The Wisconsin State Journal's Tom Oates rules on where the Big Ten should host its football championship.
- Ohio State's investigation into the used-car transactions will wait until the state's Bureau of Motor Vehicles conducts its own probe of the dealers, Jill Riepenhoff and Mike Wagner write in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Two Nebraska incoming freshmen still have some academic issues to iron out, Steven M. Sipple writes in the Lincoln Journal Star. The Huskers remain very much in the market for quarterbacks, Samuel McKewon writes in the Omaha World-Herald.
- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz talks recruiting, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Ferentz looks at the ups and downs of 2010 as just another season, Travis Hines writes in the Times-Republican.
- Several Big Ten recruits are mentioned in this piece about the difficulty of translating track speed to football stardom, Ted Schultz writes in The Indianapolis Star.
- Penn State plans to make upgrades to Beaver Stadium, John Beauge writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News. A look at Penn State's October schedule from The Patriot-News' Jared Shanker.
- Northwestern needs to make sure it keeps AD Jim Phillips, who is being pursued by Illinois, Colin Becht writes in The Daily Northwestern.
- Indiana hasn't quite secured its first commitment for 2012 after all, Dustin Dopirak writes in The (Bloomington) Herald-Times.
- The Lansing State Journal's Joe Rexrode gets feedback on the Michigan-Michigan State recruiting race.
- Apparently Michigan's throwback unis for the Notre Dame game won't resemble those published last week. Annarbor.com's Michael Rothstein catches up with former Michigan TE Jerame Tuman.
You'd have to be pretty naïve 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."
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.
"A lot of luck, a lot of luck," Pryor told reporters Wednesday in Columbus, "and I think we executed."
Back in October 2008, No. 14 Ohio State trailed No. 18 Wisconsin 17-13 with 6:26 left in the game when Pryor led the offense onto the field. The Buckeyes needed to drive 80 yards.
It's never easy to beat Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium. Much less at night. Much less with a true freshman calling the signals. Pryor was making just his third career start and his first on the road.
Before Ohio State took the field, senior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells approached Pryor.
"Beanie said, 'You're in a man's world. This is what it is. So are you gonna be a man or a kid?' " Pryor said after the game.
To that point, his night had been a mixed bag: a few good completions, a first-quarter interception and four sacks taken.
The drive began with a dropped pass by receiver Brian Hartline. Moments later, Pryor faced third-and-6 from his own 24-yard line, and he hit Hartline for a 19-yard gain. Then came the fumble, which Pryor fell on at the Ohio State 38.
Pryor responded on the next play with a 27-yard pass to Hartline, who fumbled following a hit by safety Jay Valai. Once again, Ohio State dodged a bullet as receiver Brian Robiskie recovered.
The freshman quarterback once again was challenged following a 4-yard loss. But on second-and-14, he found Ray Small for a 13-yard gain. Three plays later, Wisconsin had a defensive meltdown and Pryor scooted into the end zone on an 11-yard run with 1:08 left for the winning score.
Ohio State prevailed 20-17.
"That was like his first big game as a starter," Buckeyes receiver DeVier Posey said. "I feel like he was sort of born that day."
Barely two years later, Pryor makes his first trip back to Madison, as No. 1 Ohio State faces No. 18 Wisconsin on Saturday. Once again, he'll have to deal with a rowdy road crowd in an October night game that will shape the Big Ten title race.
Pryor is much more aware of what to expect this time around, but he still draws upon what happened in 2008.
"That started my confidence of being a quarterback here, but it also grew and grew," he said after last week's win against Indiana. "Any time you get that win, it's huge. I matured as time [went] by."
Wisconsin defensive end J.J. Watt watched it all unfold, rendered powerless by NCAA transfer rules. Watt had to sit out the 2008 season after transferring to Wisconsin from Central Michigan.
"I was watching on the sidelines in sweatpants, not being able to have any impact on the game," he recalled. "Just watching everything unfold and watching [Pryor] carry their team down the field on that last drive and ultimately score, that hurt.
"That's something that stuck with me for a while, and it's something we need to avenge this week."
Watt calls Pryor "the complete package" now and notes that the Buckeyes quarterback has greater command of the offense this year. After an inconsistent sophomore season, Pryor has been much more polished this fall, completing 68 percent of his passes for 1,349 yards with a league-leading 15 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.
Although he's not running nearly as much this year, he remains a threat on the ground, averaging 6.2 yards a carry with three touchdowns.
Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel has observed a "day-by-day, week-by-week, season-by-season maturation" with Pryor, but the quarterback's first big step took place in Madison on that October night in 2008.
"For a young guy, he certainly didn't seem to be affected by the difficulty of the defense and the difficulty of the crowd and all of those things," Tressel said. "I thought that was a very important moment for him to step up."
Here are my top five:
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIDerrell Johnson-Koulianos ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009.
2. Michigan State: Swenson is undoubtedly a major loss, but Michigan State should improve in the other phases of special teams. Punter Aaron Bates was extremely solid in 2009, averaging 41.6 yards despite a league-high 63 attempts. Look out for Keshawn Martin, who averaged 28.9 yards on kick returns last fall. Martin could be the league's top return man by season's end. The Spartans need to upgrade their kickoff coverage unit.
3. Ohio State: Despite question marks at both specialist spots, Ohio State's history as an elite special-teams squad under Tressel can't be overlooked. Hopes are high for Ben Buchanan at punter, and Devin Barclay has a very big kick on his résumé against Iowa last year. The Buckeyes must replace return man Ray Small, but there's enough talent there. The coverage teams are always good in Columbus.
4. Minnesota: The Gophers' strengths are their return teams, led by Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average, although it had only nine runbacks all year, and finished fifth in kick return average. Eric Ellestad was perfect on PATs and had a decent year on field goals. The Gophers need Dan Orseske to step in at punter for Blake Haudan.
5. Wisconsin: There are some concerns about the Badgers' special-teams units, but everyone is back and should be better. Punter Brad Nortman averaged 42 yards per punt last year, and while kicker Philip Welch took a mini step back, he still booted 17 field goals. David Gilreath is one of the league's most experienced return men, and linebacker Chris Borland proved to be a difference-maker on special teams last year.
More rankings ...
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Pryor completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns in Ohio State's win over Oregon.
The game marked a potential turning point for Pryor and the offense, a place where the Buckeyes could build. Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman certainly hopes so.
But Bollman also knows it's not that easy.
"You're not going to walk on the field [Thursday] and all of a sudden, be at that point," Bollman said. "How hard we all have to work, how focused we have to be to get back to that point, that's what's in front of us. That's the challenge, that's how you try to improve.
"You're not working toward an unseen performance level. We've been to that point. But everybody's got to understand what it takes."
Getting back to that point -- and beyond it -- is the challenge for Ohio State's offense, which begins spring practice Thursday afternoon. Bollman said Pryor won't be limited after offseason knee surgery, and the hope is that the third-year quarterback takes another step after his giant leap between the 2009 regular-season finale and the Rose Bowl.
So can Ohio State open up the playbook, particularly with the pass, for Pryor?
"If we show [progress] along those lines, certainly that would be a logical way for us to head in," Bollman said. "Plus, having the weapon of him being able to run, should we choose to do those kinds of things. But for him in the realm of the passing game, that's got to be a full team deal. Our protection has got to improve. His own performance has to be more consistent. We've got to get more of those outs going to the tight ends and the running backs.
"All of that has got to come together, and that's going to be a fun part of this spring."
Ohio State returns nine starters on offense, including four of five linemen and two capable receivers in DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. But to truly spark the passing attack, the Buckeyes must identify more options this spring.
They need a No. 3 wideout, as Ray Small departs and no returning players besides Posey and Sanzenbacher recorded more than 20 receptions last fall. Running back Brandon Saine, who had 17 catches for 224 yards last year, should help a bit, but Ohio State wants more depth at receiver.
Bollman said Taurian Washington has the best chance to step in, but the senior had no catches last year and boasts only three in his college career. Duron Carter also returns, and Bollman thinks Chris Fields and James Jackson, as well as some incoming recruits, could factor into the mix.
"Washington's probably the leading candidate," Bollman said. "He really finished up the year strong, did a good job coming through in the bowl game. He'd be a guy that we're counting on to give us a hand in there."
A bigger boost could come from the tight end position, which Ohio State typically uses for run blocking. Former Buckeyes tight end Rory Nicol used to joke about how little the tight ends were used in the passing attack, and while Jake Ballard made a memorable catch in the Rose Bowl, he finished the season with only 14 receptions.
Things could change with Jake Stoneburner stepping into a featured role. The 6-5, 245-pound Stoneburner had only two receptions as a freshman last year, but his production should increase.
"His speed certainly can have more of an effect on the game than some other guys we've had in the past," Bollman said. "That's going to cause openings for someone, if not him. That can have a different effect on things, for sure."
- 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.
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.