Big Ten: Thad Gibson
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
They're baaaaack. Many of you who checked out colleague Heather Dinich's ACC position rankings asked when I'd be doing the same for the Big Ten. Well, Big Ten media days are done and we have a bit of a break before the first preseason practice begins Aug. 6 at Illinois. This seems like the perfect time to rank the positions heading into the season.
Defensive line is up first. There's only one elite group on paper, but no truly bad units, either. Really not much difference between Nos. 4-11.
1. Ohio State -- The group has drawn comparisons to the 2002 line that helped Ohio State win a national title. Ohio State looks loaded at defensive end with Cameron Heyward, Thaddeus Gibson and Lawrence Wilson, a one-time starter who comes off of two major leg injuries. Gibson should have a big year after coming on strong late last fall. The tackles have been a bit iffy in recent years, but Doug Worthington boasts a ton of experience and should shore up the middle with Todd Denlinger, Dexter Larimore and Garrett Goebel.
2. Penn State -- Larry Johnson's body of work is simply too powerful to overlook, even though Penn State loses a lot from a group that led the Big Ten and ranked eighth nationally against the run (93.2 ypg). Jared Odrick is the Big Ten's most dominant interior defensive lineman, and he'll lead a group of promising young players. Hopes are extremely high for sophomore end Jack Crawford, and juniors Kevion Latham and Eric Latimore hold down the other end spot. Depth is a bit of a question, but Penn State should get a boost from a healthy Jerome Hayes.
3. Iowa -- The Hawkeyes are another team dealing with major personnel losses as four-year starting tackles Mitch King and Matt Kroul depart. But what Iowa loses inside, it makes up for on the edges with ends Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard. Clayborn recorded eight tackles for loss last year and should contend for All-Big Ten honors. It'll be interesting to see how Karl Klug and Mike Daniels adjust to playing more on the inside.
4. Northwestern -- A lot depends on Corey Wootton's durability after the senior defensive end tore his ACL in December. Wootton is probably the Big Ten's most versatile lineman, applying pressure to quarterbacks and also clogging pass lanes with his 6-foot-7 frame. Sophomore Vince Browne is primed for a big season at the other end spot. Replacing standout tackle John Gill won't be easy, but the Wildcats have veterans in Corbin Bryant, Marshall Thomas and Adam Hahn.
5. Wisconsin -- I'm taking a bit of a chance here, seeing how the Badgers lose three multiyear starters up front. But the line dominated Wisconsin's offseason program and boasts several exciting pieces, including Central Michigan transfer J.J. Watt, who can play either end or tackle. O'Brien Schofield is a solid leader at defensive end, and young linemen Brendan Kelly and Louis Nzegwu should blossom.
6. Illinois -- The Illini lose their top four sacks leaders from last year, but they should be much better against the run, an area that really hurt the defense in 2008. With Josh Brent back in the fold, Illinois boasts arguably more depth at defensive tackle than any Big Ten team. Corey Liguet showed a lot of potential as a true freshman, and senior Sirod Williams returns from a torn ACL. There are some questions at end aside from Doug Pilcher.
7. Michigan -- Senior end Brandon Graham should be the Big Ten's most dominant pass-rusher this fall, and if he gets some help from his teammates, he'll be even better. Michigan is very young elsewhere on the line but boasts a good deal of talent. Sophomores Ryan Van Bergen and Mike Martin showed promising signs in the spring, and it'll be interesting to see how much true freshman William Campbell gets on the field.
8. Michigan State -- This is the only area of Michigan State's defense that doesn't wow me, but senior end Trevor Anderson leads a decent group. Anderson should build off of a nice junior season (8 sacks, 10.5 TFLs), but the Spartans need a second pass-rusher to emerge. Brandon Long and Justin Kershaw will be missed, and it'll be up to Colin Neely, Oren Wilson and others to fill the void.
9. Minnesota -- The Gophers tied for the league lead in sacks last fall (34) but lose standout end Willie VanDeSteeg, who accounted for 10.5 of those sacks. Minnesota's strength is inside with senior tackles Garrett Brown and Eric Small. If Cedric McKinley or someone else develops into a reliable pass-rusher, Minnesota should finish the year higher on the list.
10. Purdue -- It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Purdue finished the year much higher on the list, but there are quite a few questions entering the fall. The Boilers know what they have in end Ryan Kerrigan and tackle Mike Neal, but the other two spots are mysteries. There are high hopes for Kawann Short and Gerald Gooden, but I need to see more evidence in games before bumping up the Boilers.
11. Indiana -- We all know the Hoosiers can rush the passer with standout ends Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton. But can Indiana stop the run? There are some major question marks at defensive tackle entering preseason camp, and Bill Lynch needs a bona fide run-stopper to emerge. Junior tackle Deonte Mack needs to step up after missing spring ball with a hip injury.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Like many of you, I'll be watching the All-Star Game tonight in St. Louis, and I thought it'd be fun to do a Big Ten football version on today's blog.
Before getting to the selections, let's get into the always tricky process of dividing the league into two teams. As we all know, the Big Ten doesn't do us any favors with an odd number of teams, and the theories on how to split the league are seemingly endless. For this exercise, let's go with North and South designations. The North squad will be made up of six Big Ten teams, while the South draws from only five squads but can access more players from contending teams.
The geography isn't perfect by a long shot -- yes, I know Ann Arbor is south of East Lansing -- but here's the breakdown:
North: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Northwestern, Purdue, Penn State
South: Iowa, Illinois, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana
Now for the lineups.
QB: Daryll Clark (Penn State), backup is Adam Weber (Minnesota)
RB: Evan Royster (Penn State), John Clay (Wisconsin)
WR: Eric Decker (Minnesota), Keith Smith (Purdue)
TE: Garrett Graham (Wisconsin)
C: Stefen Wisniewski (Penn State)
OL: Stephen Schilling (Michigan), Dennis Landolt (Penn State), Gabe Carimi (Wisconsin), Al Netter (Northwestern)
DE: Brandon Graham (Michigan), Corey Wootton (Northwestern)
DT: Jared Odrick (Penn State), Mike Neal (Purdue)
LB: Navorro Bowman (Penn State), Sean Lee (Penn State), Obi Ezeh (Michigan)
CB: Traye Simmons (Minnesota), Sherrick McManis (Northwestern)
S: Brad Phillips (Northwestern), Torri Williams (Purdue)
K: Phillip Welch (Wisconsin)
P: Zoltan Mesko (Michigan)
Returns: Troy Stoudermire (Minnesota)
QB:Terrelle Pryor (Ohio State), backup is Ricky Stanzi (Iowa)
RB: Brandon Saine (Ohio State), Jewel Hampton (Iowa)
WR: Arrelious Benn (Illinois), Mark Dell (Michigan State)
TE: Michael Hoomanawanui (Illinois)
C: Mike Brewster (Ohio State)
OL: Bryan Bulaga (Iowa), Justin Boren (Ohio State), Kyle Calloway (Iowa), Jeff Allen (Illinois)
DE: Jammie Kirlew (Indiana), Thad Gibson (Ohio State)
DT: Corey Liuget (Illinois), Doug Worthington (Ohio State)
LB: Greg Jones (Michigan State), Pat Angerer (Iowa), Matt Mayberry (Indiana)
CB: Amari Spievey (Iowa), Chris L. Rucker (Michigan State)
S: Kurt Coleman (Ohio State), Anderson Russell (Ohio State)
K: Brett Swenson (Michigan State)
P: Ryan Donahue (Iowa)
Returns: Ray Small (Ohio State)
My thoughts: I like the matchup, and not just because I created it. The North squad has a stronger offensive backfield but more questions along the offensive line. The South team lacks a proven running back but boasts two of the league's most talented skill players in Pryor and Benn. Plus, the South team has a stronger offensive line led by Iowa tackles Bulaga and Calloway. Both defenses boast strong linebackers. The North team gets the edge up front with Wootton, Graham and Odrick, while the South squad boasts a very strong secondary. The special teams are pretty even, although Stoudermire's breakaway ability and Mesko's consistency give the North a slight edge.
Prediction: North wins, 24-21
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ohio State survived the dreaded second quarter without major damage, but the Buckeyes should be ahead by more than three points.
Jim Tressel's team has executed its game plan against a favored Texas squad boasting the nation's fourth-highest scoring offense (43.9 points per game). Ohio State has dominated possession time (17:19 vs. 12:14), established a run game with Chris "Beanie" Wells (96 rushing yards) and Terrelle Pryor (42 rushing yards) and put consistent pressure on Colt McCoy.
But will it be enough?
Despite a heroic performance by the defense, Ohio State managed only two field goals. Five penalties and lack of execution -- dropped passes, Pryor running out of bounds too soon -- have prevented the Buckeyes from reaching the end zone. An offense that at times relied solely on big plays can't seem to hit the home run against Texas. Ohio State has run 22 plays in Longhorns territory and scored only six points. Not good enough.
But Pryor has been able to find room around the edges, and Ohio State should emphasize outside runs in the second half.
Texas simply needs to run the ball. The Longhorns finished the first half with minus-9 rushing yards and only 10 net yards by running backs Chris Ogbonnaya and Cody Johnson. McCoy has been efficient (20 of 27 passing) but threw an interception near the goal line with three seconds left, preventing a game-tying field-goal attempt.
Both defensive lines are getting pressure, but Ohio State's front has been more impressive. Thad Gibson and Doug Worthington both have sacks, and McCoy is constantly under duress. But Quad Cosby and the Texas wideouts are making plays, and it's only a matter of time before the Longhorns find the end zone.On the health front, Ohio State lost special teams standout Shaun Lane to an apparent shoulder injury on kickoff coverage with 5:34 left. There's no update on Lane yet, but it's safe to say he won't be back tonight after being carted off.