Big Ten: Solomon Thomas

As we approach signing day, there are plenty of big targets left on the board for Big Ten teams.

Here is a look at some of the most important prospects left for each program.

DL Daniel Cage (Cincinnati, Ohio/Winton Woods)
6-foot-3, 290 pounds
Cage is a bit of a long shot for Illinois, but he would be a big get if the Illini can get him. Louisville was very much in the picture for Cage, but with coach Charlie Strong taking the Texas job, there might be opportunity to move in. Illinois will have to fight off Michigan State for the defensive tackle.

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Ohio State lost a 40-35 shootout to Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl. The Buckeyes only had two losses on the season, but one prevented them from playing in the national championship game.

There are plenty of players leaving after this season, but Ohio State’s recruiting class will help fill a few holes.

Key losses: OL Jack Mewhort, OL Andrew Norwell, OL Corey Linsley, OL Marcus Hall, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Jordan Hall, WR Philly Brown, DB Corey Brown, DB C.J. Barnett, DB Bradley Roby, K Drew Basil.

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Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

December, 23, 2013
There was plenty of recruiting action over the past week for the Big Ten Conference. With new offers, commitments and more, here is a look at the latest news.

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Big Ten signing day storylines 

December, 17, 2013
Signing day is only 50 days away and there are plenty of questions surrounding the big day. Big Ten programs still have a ton of top prospects on the board, which means there could be some impactful decisions coming in the near future.

Here is a look at some of the top storylines in the conference leading up to signing day.

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It's never too early to talk about signing day, especially with so many questions currently unanswered on the recruiting trail. Big unknowns remain for the Big Ten conference, so here are 10 questions leading up to signing day.

1. Last year, Ohio State finished with the No. 3 class in the nation. Can it happen again?

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From big visits to Big Ten schools building a solid base for the future, the conference wasn’t devoid of good storylines. Here’s a look at the week that was:

Boilermakers hope Drue finds ‘Tranquill’ setting

Purdue will get one last chance to impress three-star pledge Drue Tranquill (Fort Wayne, Ind./Carroll) this weekend and it will come against the hottest team in the nation when the Boilermakers play Ohio State, which has won 20 games in a row. Tranquill has been a soft commit to Purdue since Notre Dame offered him a scholarship on Aug. 2. He’s visited both campuses several times since then and wants to make a choice after this visit.

Buckeyes’ big news after big recruiting weekend

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The Big Ten always has plenty of recruiting storylines worthy of following.

From key commitments to intriguing attempts to flip prospects committed elsewhere, here’s what went down in a very busy week on the trail for the conference.

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Big Ten Thursday mailbag

December, 22, 2011
Only three more shopping days to get your favorite blogger a Christmas present. Here is my early gift to you: a mailbag.

Benjamin P. from Westerville, Ohio, writes: While I think the OSU penalties are about right, it always seems that the ones left to suffer are those who choose to stay with a program...too bad. I also believe that when everyting at PSU & Syracuse finally plays out, those left to suffer will be the players.

Brian Bennett: Unfortunately, Benjamin, that's the way it works with the NCAA. Now, Jim Tressel did suffer by losing his job and getting a show-cause penalty that essentially makes him unemployable by a college the next five years. I also find it strange that some of the seniors who were involved with the tattoo and/or Robert DiGeronimo violations like DeVier Posey, Dan Herron, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas all get to play in a bowl game this year, while the team will be banned from the postseason next year after they've left. Justice?

Allen from Ohio writes: As a Buckeye fan, I'm not thrilled with the bowl ban, but I accept it as reasonable even if it's on the harsh end of similar cases.What I am struggling with is the timing of everything. Why couldn't the NCAA have released these sanctions 3 weeks ago and let Ohio State serve the ban this season? I have a hard time understanding how they needed so much time to come up with this.

Brian Bennett: Adam and I hit on this in our podcast this week. The timing really hurt Ohio State. Remember that the NCAA sent another notice of allegations in early November, and the school responded about a week later. The Buckeyes had requested a teleconference with the infractions committee the week of the 28th, which was the same week Urban Meyer was hired. But the NCAA works on its own timetable and almost always takes a few weeks after a school responds or after a hearing to issue a ruling. It would have been better off if all the charges had been heard in the Aug. 12 hearing so the Buckeyes could have gotten a ruling by November. But the additional allegations involving DiGeronimo seem to be what led to the bowl ban.

Tom C. from Marysville, Ohio, writes: It appears that Gene Smith gambled and lost. Why wouldn't he impose the no bowl game appearance this season with a 6-6 team with players that violated the rules? He should have been smart enough to not take this risk. Seems like a hefty price for the juniors on this team for next year and for new head coach Urban Meyer. I blame Gene Smith for making a poor decision.

Brian Bennett: Tom, there's no question that Smith gambled and lost. The reason he and school officials didn't impose a bowl ban for this season was because they never expected to get a bowl ban. Smith said as late as the day Meyer was hired that there was no precedent for a postseason ban in this type of case, and he and Meyer proceeded as if that were not on the table. Clearly, that was a miscalculation, and Smith deserves some criticism for that misstep. Staying home this year would have been much more palatable than next year, when the Buckeyes could have been strong Leaders Division contenders, if not the favorites.

Kyle from Saginaw, Texas, writes: Hey, love the blog, man! Do you think the sanctions handed out by the NCAA to tOSU are a little weak? Look at this: USC had ONE PLAYER on the football team convicted of taking extra benefits and they received two-year post season ban, lost 30 scholarships over a three year period, vacations of all wins with that player on their team, 4 years of probation, and had to dissociate themselves from Reggie Bush. tOSU had FIVE PLAYERS receiving benefits (some in the form of cash) and is receiving 1 year post season play ban, losing 9 scholarships, and getting just 1 year of probation. Doesn't seem like there was equal punishment.

Brian Bennett: It's all in how you look at it, Kyle. I thought the punishment was fair, given all the different issues in the case, Jim Tressel's lies and coverup, the amount of players involved and the lack of oversight over clearly a rogue booster. It seems harsh if you believed the company line Ohio State served up for the past year. It seems incredibly light compared to USC, which definitely got a raw deal from the NCAA. The biggest thing in the Buckeyes' favor was that the school cooperated all along with the NCAA and admitted guilt, while USC was seen as uncooperative. The NCAA seems to be more interested in a school's attitude toward these things than the actual facts of the case. And the fact that the infractions committee doesn't follow precedent and hands out wildly inconsistent punishments is something that needs to be fixed in the current NCAA reform movement.

OK, on to non-Ohio State questions ...

Steve C. from Reno, Nev., writes: Who do you believe at this point will be Penn State's next Head Coach?

Brian Bennett: Steve, I'd probably have a better chance of telling you who's going to win the 2022 national title right now than picking the next Nittany Lions coach. There doesn't seem to be any clear favorite at this point, and I don't know that the search committee has any idea who they're going to hire yet. Many coaches don't want to take on that task, and the school absolutely has to make sure it gets the right person to handle this difficult transition. The fact that Baylor assistant Brian Norwood -- whom nobody in the world would have pegged as Joe Paterno's successor -- was prominently mentioned as a candidate this week shows you just how unpredictable this search has become.

Max from Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich., writes: I enjoyed your analysis of the rivalry between MSU and Wisconsin. My concern is the way that the Big Ten treats MSU as second-class citizens. A protected rivalry with Indiana -- come on. It seems that the Big Ten is making decisions that will minimize MSU's accomplishments. Look at the 2013 and 2014 schedules I can just hear it now. MSU wins the Big Ten but didn't play anybody. The schedule which we do not control will be used against us. Any comments?

Brian Bennett: I agree that Michigan State should have a better protected rival, but who would that be? Ohio State has to play Michigan. Wisconsin and Minnesota have a storied rivalry. Illinois has Northwestern. Penn State obviously makes sense, but Nebraska needs somebody, too. Purdue won't get Spartans fans excited. I hope the league continues to schedule Wisconsin-Michigan State as much as possible as a cross-division game. But why complain, Max? Having a guaranteed game against Indiana is actually a big advantage for Michigan State, and if the Spartans can keep winning division titles, who cares how you get there?

Jason from Dallas writes: I'm curious, you never answer questions about Purdue. Am I the only one that asks questions about them, or does nobody else care? Would like to get a little more coverage, but I suppose nobody cares about average. PS, Hope needs to go.

Brian Bennett: There just aren't many Purdue questions in the queue, Jason. In fact, you didn't even really ask a question about the Boilers. Let's see what Danny Hope does in the bowl game. That team needs to build a little momentum, and losing to Western Michigan is not the way to do that.

Justin from Kearney, Neb., writes: Happy Holidays, Brian! I am a Huskers fan getting tired of hearing Bo Pelini's name come up for head coaching jobs. I would like your take on this last one about Penn State. Could you ever see Pelini leaving Nebraska for Penn State? This has to hurt recruiting for Nebraska as well. If I was a recruit and kept hearing the head coaches name coming up for other opening I would be reluctant to commit.

Brian Bennett: I don't think Pelini would go to Penn State, though it would have been very interesting had the Ohio State search zeroed in on him. Pelini has denied any interest in either job, but usually there's at least a tiny bit of a flame when there's this much smoke. The pressures of the Nebraska job can really wear on someone, especially when they're criticized for going 9-3. But the bottom line is this: if your coach isn't being mentioned or desired by other programs, he's probably not that good of a coach.

Eli from Wichita Falls, Texas, writes: SEC defenses are tough and fast, no doubt. South Carolina fits that mold pretty well, you even reference the fact that they have already faced an option team in Navy and should cause problems for Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl. I do not completely disagree, but it should be noted that Navy amassed 274 yards on the ground at nearly 6 yards a pop. Using the same logic you have used, one could devise that Nebraska would be stronger and faster up front than Navy, and it should also be noted that Neb and Navy do not run even remotely similar offences. Navy or course, runs a spread triple option attack, Nebraska runs more speed option and zone read out of the shot gun, or speed option under center.

Brian Bennett: I heaped a lot of praise on South Carolina's defense, and the Gamecocks do have some great athletes there. Perhaps I was a little too enthused about their rush defense, however, as that ranks only 44th in the FBS. I believe South Carolina's speed will make running on the perimeter difficult, but I might be buying into the whole "SEC speed" thing too much. Can't wait to find out, as I think this game is one of the most intriguing non-BCS matchups.

Chad from Minneapolis writes: I could see Michigan running the table next year if they can get past Alabama in the first game. Even if they lose to Alabama the first game, depending on how close the game is and how Alabama ends up, I think they have a serious shot at a National Championship next year. They lose Molk on the offensive side of the ball, and along with Hemingway and Odoms at WR, we should be able to reload, especially with Stonum coming back (he was the top reciever heading into 11). With all that being said, I think another year under our D coordinator and another year for D Rob to develop and staying healthy all year, I would say we have as good a chance as any to play in the National Championship game. If we get past Alabama in the 1st game, do you feel Michigan has a shot? They should start in the top 15 and that is usually a good place to start the year when chasing the championship!

Brian Bennett: It sounds overly optimistic, but if the Wolverines are good enough to beat Alabama then maybe they'll have a chance. The road schedule is going to be more difficult, with trips to Nebraska and Ohio State, especially since that will be the Buckeyes' bowl game. I'd be very surprised if the Wolverines ran the table, and I think the loss of Mike Martin up front on defense hurts. But if Michigan wins the Allstate Sugar Bowl, I could see the team starting out ranked in the top 10 to begin next season.

Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: I have read that Minnesota coach Jerry Kill is going after Junior College players. Does he have any history of success with this type of recruit?

Brian Bennett: Kill said before the season that teams have to be cautious when going after junior college players, but the Gophers have signed five so far. He has little choice, with an unbalanced roster and several holes to fill. It can work out great, like with Nebraska linebacker Lavonte David or what Kansas State has done under Bill Snyder. But if you start relying too heavily on two-year transfers, that can hurt in building a long-term program.

John from Richmond, Va., writes: Who is your early favorites to get to the Big Ten Championship Game next season?

Brian Bennett: I was ready to anoint Ohio State as the Leaders Division favorites before the NCAA ruling kept them from playing in Indianapolis. Penn State figures to have some major issues in 2012, and Illinois has a new coaching staff. That makes Wisconsin, even without an experienced quarterback and likely missing Montee Ball, as an overwhelming favorite to repeat. I'd put the Badgers' odds at 3-5 right now and think they could win the division by going 8-4. The Legends race is far more interesting. Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska are all going to contend. I'd make the Wolverines a slight favorite right now, only because we don't yet know how the Spartans will replace Kirk Cousins or how the Huskers make up for the loss of David and Alfonzo Dennard. But it should be a very fun race.

Timeline of Ohio State's NCAA case

December, 20, 2011
Ohio State's infractions case with the NCAA came to an end today after the events leading up to it had played out -- at least publicly -- for almost exactly one year. Here is a timeline of the Buckeyes' trying times:

April 2, 2010: Then-Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel gets his first email from Columbus lawyer Chris Cicero informing him that quarterback Terrelle Pryor and other players were trading their team memorabilia to local tattoo-parlor owner Edward Rife in exchange for tattoos. Tressel does not inform any of his superiors about this.

Dec. 7, 2010: The U.S. attorney’s office discovers Ohio State football memorabilia in a raid of Rife's business.

Dec. 23, 2010: Ohio State announces that Pryor, running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas would be suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for trading their memorabilia. All five players are allowed to play in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, thanks to some lobbying by the Big Ten. The Buckeyes would go on to defeat Arkansas in the game.

Jan. 13, 2011: Ohio State unearths Tressel’s emails with Cicero, igniting an investigation.

Feb. 19: A group of Buckeyes players are paid $200 by booster Robert DiGeronimo for attending a charity event in Cleveland.

March 8: The school announces that Tressel will be suspended for the first two games of the 2011 season and will be fined $250,000. His bosses voice their support of Tressel, with school president E. Gordon Gee infamously saying, "I'm just hopeful the coach doesn't dismiss me."

March 17: Tressel’s suspension is extended to the first five games of the season.

May 30: Athletic director Gene Smith forces Tressel to resign. Luke Fickell is named interim coach.

July 8: Ohio State announces it has vacated all wins from the 2010 season and is self-imposing two years' probation stemming from the Tressel/tattoo controversy. The school later also says it will return its proceeds from the Sugar Bowl.

Aug. 12: Ohio State goes before the NCAA Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis.

Sept. 1: Less than 48 hours before the season opener against Akron, running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Travis Howard and Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown are suspended two games each for accepting cash from DiGeronimo at the charity event.

Sept. 20: Ohio State publicly disassociates itself with DiGeronimo, who had given more than $70,000 to the athletic department in the previous 25 years.

Oct. 7: Posey is suspended an additional five games, while Herron and linemen Marcus Hall and Melvin Fellows are suspended one game for being overpaid for summer jobs at a company owned by DiGeronimo.

Nov. 3: The NCAA sends another notice of allegations to Ohio State concerning the DiGeronimo accusations. The NCAA says the Buckeyes will face a "failure to monitor" charge. The Buckeyes respond by stripping themselves of five total scholarships over a three-year period.

Nov. 28: Ohio State hires Urban Meyer as its new head coach. Meyer and Smith both say they are not worried about any serious NCAA penalties. Smith says there is no precedent for receiving a bowl ban in cases similar to this one.

Dec. 20: The NCAA doles out its punishment to Ohio State: a 2012 postseason ban, the loss of four scholarships on top of the school's own reduction, an extra year of probation and a five-year show-cause penalty for Tressel.
Saturday is Senior Day at Ohio State. This year will likely bring some mixed emotions to the event.

The Buckeyes have a small senior class of contributors -- of the 24 players who will be honored before the Penn State game, only nine have ever started a game in their careers. And of those nine, four of them have been mired in controversy this year. Offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas sat out the first five games as part of their suspension for the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal. Running back Dan Herron served that suspension and an extra game for another violation. And receiver DeVier Posey will be playing for the first time Saturday after sitting out 10 games for both the tattoo case and a summer job that the NCAA has alleged paid him for work he didn't perform.

[+] EnlargeLuke Fickell
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCoach Luke Fickell said Ohio State's seniors who were suspended should be shown the same respect as the other seniors.
The seniors also won three Big Ten championships and played in three BCS games, winning two of them (though one of them, like the entire 2010 season, was officially vacated). So how exactly will fans view this class? Will it be all cheers on Saturday? Or some grumbling as well?

"I'm not sure how they will react," Herron said. "That's really not something we can worry about. If fans give us a good response, we'll be happy. If they dont, we've got to keep moving on."

Head coach Luke Fickell says the seniors who were suspended should be shown the same respect as others.

"They've made a mistake," he said. "They've served their penance. They've shown what they can do in the way that they've handled themselves ....

"To me, these guys have battled through a lot. I've got the utmost respect for them for how they've handled the situations. The way they've been in the locker room, I couldn't ask for anything truly more in the last six months than the way they've handled themselves, the way they've accepted me, and our coaching staff, and the things we thought were important for these six months."

Posey might be the most interesting case study of them all. Surely, the Buckeyes' woeful passing offense could have used him this season. He's a central figure in not one but two situations that resulted in a notice of allegations from the NCAA. He's also paid the price by sitting out 10 games his senior year and trying to stay in shape and focused on when his opportunity would come.

Adams and Herron, who were starters before their suspensions, stepped right back into their roles when they came back. Fickell praised the way Posey has handled himself through the situation but didn't commit to Posey starting this week. The Buckeyes may need him against a stout Penn State defense.

"I'm so excited to see him out there and playing," said Herron, a close friend of Posey's. "When you miss 10 games, it's tough on someone, especially when it's your dream to play college football. He's been working tremendously hard and hopefully he'll show that on Saturday."

It's also important to note that many of the seniors never got into any NCAA turmoil. Guys such as All-Big Ten center Mike Brewster, who will be starting his 47th consecutive game this week. Brewster said he'll choose to remember the BCS bowls, and that the NCAA can't vacate last year's Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas out of his mind. This year, though Ohio State is 6-4, he said he'll remember helping to mentor young players such as Braxton Miller and hopefully setting the stage for the future.

It remains to be seen how the rest of the senior class will be remembered.

"I hope we have a great legacy," Herron said. "We've been through a lot, but we don't make that as an excuse. We've shown that you can go through anything and that anything is possible. We're going to fight to the end."
There must have been times this season when Ohio State's starting defensive linemen found games to be easier than their own practices. That's because the Buckeyes had likely the best scout team left tackle in America for the first five weeks.

Mike Adams should have been with the starters, too, during that time. But he was serving his five-game suspension as one of the players involved in the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal. All he could do was try to provide his teammates with a good look on the scout team while he counted down the days until his return.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Mike Adams
Bruce Thorson/US PRESSWIREThe return of 6-foot-8, 320-pound left tackle Mike Adams has made a dramatic difference in the Buckeyes' run game.
"That part of the suspension definitely makes you challenge yourself a little bit," he said. "I'd be sitting on my couch watching the games going, 'Man, I wish I was out there.' But it was nobody's fault but my own."

Adams was the first of the suspended players to return and have an impact, as running back Daniel "Boom" Herron had to serve an extra game, receiver DeVier Posey got five extra games and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas was injured. Adams wasted little time in proving his value.

Stepping right back into the starting lineup, Adams helped rejuvenate the Ohio State running attack. The Buckeyes had only 35 net yards on the ground in the final game of his suspension. In his two games back, they rushed for a season high 243 yards at Nebraska and 211 versus Illinois.

Adams' return allowed younger offensive linemen to slide back into more natural roles and gave the offense a 6-foot-8, 320-pound lead anchor. He was a big reason why Ohio State could line up and run the ball all but four times in a victory at Illinois last time out.

"Eventually we've got to have some more balance," head coach Luke Fickell said. "But we can get away with a lot of things because Mike is a very good football player."

Adams said his work on the scout team, going up against starters like John Simon and Johnathan Hankins, kept him from getting rusty during his time away. And as one of the suspended guys who felt like he let his teammates down, he wanted to make sure he came back with a bang.

"You want to come back on the foot you left off on, and for me and Boom, that was the Sugar Bowl last year," he said. "Coming back, we didn't want there to be any dropoff. We want to be consistent and help this team get better and keep on winning."

Getting a first-team All-Big Ten left tackle back on the field was certainly going to help. Fickell said it's more than just what Adams brings to Saturdays, though.

"Mike is one of the guys who gives us more confidence," he said. "Just in the huddle, in the locker room, he's a guy who's naturally very confident. He brings us a whole lot of things, not just his game but his attitude and confidence level as well."

Adams admitted it pained him not being able to help earlier this season as Ohio State lost to Miami and Michigan State with a floundering offense. Now that he's returned, he's aiming to get the Buckeyes back to winning big games, starting with this weekend's showdown against Wisconsin.

"We have a little something to prove, as we have the whole season," he said. "We definitely have plans for a strong finish."
An Ohio State offense badly in need of reinforcements could welcome wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown back to the starting lineup Saturday at Nebraska.

Head coach Luke Fickell told reporters Thursday that Brown had been practicing well this week and is in line to possibly start in Lincoln. Brown suffered a high ankle sprain in the Toledo game. He has two catches for 17 yards this season but entered the year as the most experienced available receiver. The Buckeyes' wideout corps is depleted with Verlon Reed out for the year with a torn ACL and DeVier Posey serving at least one more game on suspension.

Fickell also said defensive lineman Nathan Williams (knee) remains out. Solomon Thomas, a defensive lineman who is cleared from his five-game suspension, will travel with the team but may not play as he continues to recover from an offseason broken leg. Freshman defensive lineman Michael Bennett, who was seen on crutches after last week's Michigan State loss, should play this week, Fickell said.
Week 6 is just around the corner, so let's take a look at 10 items to track in the five Big Ten games taking place Saturday.

1. Buckeyes seeing red: Luke Fickell and his team can't catch a break these days. Saturday was supposed to mark the return of four players, including three multiyear offensive starters, from suspension. Turns out, Ohio State will only regain the services of left tackle Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas for the game at Nebraska. The Buckeyes rank 108th nationally in total offense and face a Nebraska defense coming off of an embarrassing performance at Wisconsin. Ohio State is a double-digit underdog in a conference game for the first time in recent memory. Is this the beginning of the end, or the start of a turnaround?

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Luke Fickell
Greg Bartram/US PRESSWIRELuke Fickell and Ohio State rank 108th in total offense this season.
2. Carson, Lions hope to humble Hawkeyes: Penn State linebacker Glenn Carson added some spice to the Penn State-Iowa rivalry this week, jokingly calling Iowa "a wrestling school" and saying of Hawkeyes fans, "They think they have this stranglehold on us. We just have to humble them up a little bit." Simply beating Iowa would be a nice start, as Penn State has lost three straight and eight of its last nine to Kirk Ferentz's squad. Carson and his fellow Lions defenders will need another superb performance if Penn State's offense continues to spin its wheels.

3. Wolverines, Illini finally hit the road: Michigan and Illinois have been the two nicest surprises in the Big Ten so far, as both teams are 5-0 and ranked in the top 20. Both teams also haven't left the comforts of their home stadiums. That changes Saturday as Michigan visits Northwestern and Illinois visits Indiana. Although neither road opponent or road setting seems too daunting, Michigan's improved defense will be challenged against Northwestern senior QB Dan Persa, while Illinois faces an Indiana team that held Penn State to 16 points last week in Bloomington.

4. Mad Martinez anxious to rebound: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez is fed up with the criticism, which increased after his three-interception game against Wisconsin. Martinez had a terse session with reporters this week in Lincoln, and offensive lineman Yoshi Hardwick said, "It finally hit him. He'd been holding in a lot. He said he couldn't take it anymore. ... He told me he's sick of it. These next seven games, he just wants the world to get off his back, so he had to do something about it." He can start the process against Ohio State, which boasts the nation's No. 13 defense.

5. QBs in spotlight at Ross-Ade: Minnesota coach Jerry Kill and Purdue counterpart Danny Hope both announced likely starters for Saturday's game -- Max Shortell for the Gophers, Caleb TerBush for the Boilers -- but said things could change by kickoff. MarQueis Gray practiced this week and could work his way back onto the field for Minnesota after missing the Michigan debacle. Robert Marve, whose critical tweet after the Notre Dame loss didn't upset Hope, should be in the mix alongside TerBush. "If he could stay within the system, he could be a difference maker for us," Hope said of Marve this week. "Caleb manages the offense very well and Robert doesn't manage it as well." This much is known: one of these four quarterbacks will guide their team to its first Big Ten win Saturday.

6. Denard vs. Dan: No two Big Ten players meant more to their teams in 2010 than Michigan QB Denard Robinson and Northwestern QB Dan Persa. The two signal callers meet Saturday night in Evanston in what could be an offensive shootout. Robinson still leads the Big Ten in rushing (120.6 ypg) and rebounded nicely as a passer last week against Minnesota, completing 15 of 19 attempts for 169 yards and two scores. Persa sizzled in his season debut at Illinois, firing a career-high four touchdown passes on only 14 pass attempts. Although Persa left the Illinois game with a right foot injury, he practiced this week and is expected to take the bulk of the snaps against Michigan.

7. Potent Hawkeyes pass attack put to test: Ferentz was joking last week when he said Iowa will "go 100 percent no-huddle" on offense the rest of the season, but the Hawkeyes have found something with their up-tempo passing attack. QB James Vandenberg has racked up 432 pass yards and six touchdowns in his past five quarters of play, and Iowa's receiving corps has been a pleasant surprise as Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley are emerging alongside No. 1 wideout Marvin McNutt. How good is the Hawkeyes' pass attack? Find out Saturday afternoon at Penn State, which ranks sixth nationally in pass defense with only three passing touchdowns allowed this season.

8. Illini livin' on the edge: Illinois is racking up the wins, but not without plenty of drama. The Illini have recorded three consecutive victories by three points, rallying in the fourth quarter for two of those wins (Arizona State and Northwestern). Ron Zook would like to leave the Maalox at home this week and enjoy a complete performance from his 19th-ranked squad at Indiana. Illinois has to cut down on turnovers, limit penalties after committing eight last week and improve its red-zone touchdowns efficiency against an Indiana defense that forced two Penn State turnovers in the red zone last week.

9. JoePa's sideline swagger: Penn State coach Joe Paterno has disposed of his cane and hopes to spend an entire game on the sideline for the first time this season. The 84-year-old has coached the first half on the sideline in each of the last two contests before heading to the coaches' booth after halftime. "I'm going to be swaggering all over the place." Paterno told reporters Tuesday. "Don't get in my way." Although Paterno's prolonged sideline presence should help his team, he remains removed from much of the key decision-making, including offensive play calls, which are handled by assistants Galen Hall and Jay Paterno. "I don't do a lot of play-calling anymore," he said. "I'm a cheerleader."

10. The league's middle class: Monday, I wrote that the Big Ten needs its middle class to rise to improve its national perception and enhance its chances for the bowl season. Top dog Wisconsin is off this week, so Saturday provides a chance to evaluate the rest of the league (aside from Michigan State, which also has a bye). Nebraska, Michigan and Illinois all have opportunities to take steps forward on the field and likely in the polls. The Iowa-Penn State winner will be in good shape to make a push in their division. Northwestern and Ohio State try to avoid 0-2 conference starts and change the mood around their programs.
Fickell/PeliniUS PresswireLuke Fickell's and Bo Pelini's teams aren't where they thought they'd be at this point in the season.
As spring ball reached the home stretch and people began to scan the Big Ten schedule for the coming season, one game practically jumped off of the page.

It pitted two teams many expected to reach the inaugural Big Ten championship game. It marked a historic event for the Big Ten's newest member. It paired two likely top-10 squads -- the league's flagship program against a potential emerging power. It featured a delicious quarterback matchup.

And the unique circumstances surrounding the game made it a must watch.

We're not talking about Nebraska-Wisconsin. Sure, it was a big game and a historic one for Nebraska, but Russell Wilson was still playing minor league baseball at the time.

Back in the spring, the Huskers-Badgers game was merely the undercard. Ohio State-Nebraska was unquestionably the Big Ten's main event.

Now it might as well be called the What-If Bowl.

This spring, you'd have a hard time finding a matchup anywhere in the country that had more storylines and national intrigue than Buckeyes-Huskers.

An Ohio State program that had dominated the headlines throughout a rough offseason was set to welcome back coach Jim Tressel, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four others from suspension. Many thought if the Buckeyes could just survive the first five games with a shorthanded roster and an inexperienced game coach (Luke Fickell), they could once again make a run at a Big Ten title and possibly more.

Love or loathe the Buckeyes, you would have a hard time not tuning in to see how the team responded with Tressel, Pryor and the others back on the field. The reality: Tressel and Pryor are gone and only two of the so-called "Tat-5" will return in Lincoln.

The what-ifs could drive Buckeye Nation batty: What if Tressel were manning the sideline Saturday night? What if Pryor returned to call signals in the type of road setting where he thrived for much of his career? What if DeVier Posey returned to provide some much-needed experience to a green receiving corps? What if Fickell could return to what he does best, coaching the linebackers? What if the Buckeyes had survived the opening stretch at 5-0 instead of 3-2?

The pattern continued Monday as Posey and top running back Dan Herron, two players Ohio State expected to return Saturday, were ruled ineligible for a separate NCAA rules violation. What if Posey and Herron were back?

It's painful to think what Saturday night might have meant for a sputtering Buckeyes offense ranked last in the Big Ten and 108th nationally. Ohio State would regain the services of four multiyear offensive starters: Pryor, Herron and Posey, along with left tackle Mike Adams, who will be on the field in Lincoln. It also would regain Tressel, who had tremendous influence over the quarterbacks and the offense and could provide direction.

Nebraska also can play the what-if game, especially after its humbling loss to Wisconsin last week. What if the defense had played to its potential from the start of the season? What if top cornerback Alfonzo Dennard hadn't gone down with an injury midway though camp and missed the first three games? What if Nebraska continued to run the ball in Madison rather than assume risk with Taylor Martinez and the passing game?

Maybe we'd have two 5-0 teams squaring off in Lincoln in a national showcase game. Instead, the game pits an underachieving 4-1 Nebraska squad against an unranked 3-2 Ohio State team that already has had two of the worst offensive performances in team history.

The game still has some interesting plot lines: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini facing his alma mater, the Huskers' first Big Ten home game, Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas returning for Ohio State, the Buckeyes' response to their latest off-field setback.

Maybe we'll get an instant classic Saturday night.

Most likely, we'll be left wondering what if.
Ohio State's offense has been abysmal, but the Buckeyes at least could look forward to this week when three offensive starters return, including running back Dan Herron and receiver DeVier Posey.

Or can they?

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Herron and Posey may have to sit out at least one more game instead of returning this week for the Nebraska road contest. (Fellow suspended players Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas would still be cleared this week).

From Tim May's story:
"A separate probe by the NCAA into Herron and Posey apparently showed they may have received improper benefits in terms of alleged inflated remuneration while working summer jobs in the Cleveland area. It could mean at least one more game of suspension for Herron, for whom the benefits was said to be in the $200 to $400 range, and perhaps multiple games for Posey, for whom the benefit was said to be about $500.

"Sources said both refuted the charges. Herron, a source said, produced evidence that he thought showed he had received no improper benefit."

The latest potential problems are related to booster Robert “Bobby” DiGeronimo, who admitted to giving $200 each at a charity event to Buckeyes running back Jordan Hall, cornerback Travis Howard and safety Corey Brown. All three were suspended for the first two games of the season.

The Dispatch story says DiGeronimo's company, Independence Excavating, employed Herron and Posey as part-time summer employees in a program many Ohio State athletes have participated in over the years. The story says the NCAA may have found discrepancies between what Herron and Posey were paid and what they should have been paid for their work.

The Buckeyes have called a news conference for 3:30 p.m. this afternoon with athletic director Gene Smith "to discuss developments in Ohio State’s case with the NCAA." We'll keep you posted.