Big Ten: Thaddeus Gibson

Maybe somewhere, Jim Tressel is spending some time alone with the NCAA rules manual.

But the disgraced former Ohio State coach opted not to attend a rules-compliance seminar in Tampa, Fla., last week that was supposed to be a part of his school-imposed punishment for lying about his knowledge of NCAA violations, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Of course, now that he has resigned from his position as Buckeyes coach, Tressel didn't need to be at the seminar. While it may have helped his cause to show up at the seminar if he wants to land another college job in the future, the attention and potential media frenzy that would have followed him there probably didn't make it worthwhile for anyone. Interestingly enough, former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez did attend the seminar.

Dennis Talbott
ESPNDennis Talbott reportedly bragged about paying rent for a wide receiver on the 2003 championship team.
Perhaps someone from Ohio State should have forced Dennis Talbott to attend a rules seminar. Colleague Mike Fish has an investigative piece on looking at the Columbus businessman/photographer and his relationship with Buckeyes players, including Terrelle Pryor. Among the story's more interesting findings:

  • Talbott brought Pryor and another Buckeyes player to his son's birthday party two years in a row. (Linebacker Thaddeus Gibson was there the first year, while receiver DeVier Posey came the other time.) "We all thought it was crazy," one partygoer told Fish. "It was a Saturday night, and I remember sitting there watching them watch the SEC championship game [on TV]."

  • Talbott drove around town in a Buckeyes-themed van with the vanity license plate "TPRYOR."

  • Talbott's relatives told Fish that he wore the national championship ring of a Buckeyes running back and openly bragged about paying rent for a wide receiver on the 2003 championship team.

  • Talbott owes more than $278,000 to the IRS and nearly $75,000 in unpaid Ohio taxes.

ESPN has reported that the owner of a private golf club warned Ohio State that Talbott was bringing Buckeyes including Pryor to play expensive rounds at the club. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that Tressel was sent an email in 2007 warning of memorabilia sales by Talbott. The fact that Talbott was still given a media credential and access to the field during Buckeyes games is something that may very well come back to haunt the program when the NCAA sinks its teeth into this whole mess.

If nothing else, the Talbott situation might make an illustrative example at the next NCAA rules seminar.
While Ohio State's compliance department continues to review used-car sales involving athletes and their relatives, concerns about one talked-about transaction can be put to rest.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Tuesday that former Ohio State defensive end/linebacker Thaddeus Gibson did, in fact, pay for a car he purchased in 2007. An older title on the vehicle shows Gibson paid $13,700 for a 2007 Chrysler 300C that he bought from salesman Aaron Kniffin at the Jack Maxton dealership. The current title on the car shows the purchase price at $0, as originally reported, but Gibson told the newspaper that he's still making payments on the car and the new report verifies it.

Although Ohio State isn't out of the woods, the truth about Gibson's situation certainly is a good sign. Having been on several radio shows to discuss the Ohio State situation since the initial Dispatch report came out, I can say the Gibson car sale was brought up more than once.

Another tidbit in Tuesday's Dispatch report is that Kniffin didn't sell a car to the mother of former Ohio State running back Maurice Wells. The car, registered to Wells' mother and step-father, was used as a trade-in when Maurice Wells bought a car from Kniffin in 2006.
Although the NCAA's Notice of Allegations to Ohio State last month brought more bad publicity for coach Jim Tressel and the program, it didn't contain much that the school didn't already know.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Greg Bartram/US PresswireTerrelle Pryor is among the dozens of Ohio State players who have purchased used cars at two Columbus-area dealerships.
Ohio State's big fear throughout this process is that something else would come to light, another layer that could bring more trouble.

It might have just arrived.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Saturday that Ohio State will investigate used-car purchases made by dozens of Buckeyes players at two Columbus-area dealerships. According to the newspaper, the school investigation will examine at least 50 sales to both Ohio State players and their relatives to see if any improper benefits were provided.

Ohio State compliance director Doug Archie told The Dispatch, "I have nothing to believe a violation has occurred." Archie also said that he was aware of all the players' car purchases but not those made by their relatives.
NCAA rules don't prohibit athletes from shopping at the same stores, eating at the same restaurants or buying cars at the same dealerships. The rules prohibit athletes and their relatives from receiving discounts that are not offered to the general public.

Some nuggets from the story:

  • Both dealerships call Ohio State's compliance office when athletes are buying cars and provide purchase prices and loan information. Ohio State will occasionally check purchase prices against the Kelley Blue Book values.
  • Public records show that in 2009, a 2-year-old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles was titled to then-sophomore linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Documents show the purchase price as $0. ... Gibson said he was unaware the title on his car showed zero as the sales price. "I paid for the car, and I'm still paying for it," he said, declining to answer further questions.
  • A salesman who worked at both dealerships, Aaron Kniffin, and one of the dealership owners, Jason Goss, attended seven football games as guests of players, including the 2007 BCS National Championship game and the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. After the 2008 season, Archie removed Kniffin from the players' guest list because Ohio State doesn't allow those who do business with the players to be on the list.
  • Two former NCAA enforcement officials, who spoke to The Dispatch on the condition of anonymity, said there's cause for concern. The two collectively have decades of NCAA compliance experience. Neither had ever heard of so many athletes buying cars from the same salesman.
  • Officials at two national car-valuation companies -- National Automobile Dealers Association and Kelley Blue Book -- were asked by The Dispatch to estimate the value of the cars at the time of purchase. The values they estimated were higher than the price paid in nearly half of the transactions. However, they said it's difficult to accurately evaluate the sales without seeing the vehicles to assess condition and options.
  • Among the players who bought cars from the dealerships are quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, Buckeyes basketball player William Buford and former running back Chris Wells. Cars also have been sold to Pryor's mother and brother and Herron's father, and Pryor also received loaner cars from Kniffin.
  • Kniffin told The Dispatch that the sales prices for the cars were much higher than what is listed on state motor-vehicle records. Goss disputed that claim.
  • Kniffin, who said he is not an OSU fan, has had financial problems since 2006. He now owes more than $130,000 to the IRS, and his $570,000 Delaware County home is in foreclosure.

  • Kniffin told The Dispatch that he has sold cars to at least four dozen OSU athletes and their relatives, that the OSU compliance staff directed them to him, and that university officials reviewed all documents before sales were final. Archie said that he has spoken to Kniffin only once, never reviews sales documents and has not directed players to any dealerships.

There's a lot of smoke here for Ohio State at a very bad time. Archie plans to look at the transactions and work with the Big Ten during the investigation. But this could once again open things up to the NCAA, which recently has spent a lot of time in Columbus.

Some folks close to the Buckeyes program told me in March that players' cars could be the next issue, especially if the NCAA began digging. The Dispatch report has to be on the radar in Indianapolis, and it'll be interesting to see how this process unfolds.

Tressel isn't mentioned in The Dispatch report, but there will be questions asked about what he or other Buckeyes coaches knew of these transactions.

Sept. 3 feels like a long way off for the Scarlet and Gray.
I won't be making it out to many preseason practices this year. Fortunately, the Big Ten Network is giving all of us a peek at every Big Ten squad during its Football Preview Tour. My pal Dave Revsine and analysts Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith are more than halfway through the tour, but the first two episodes aired earlier this week: Indiana and Ohio State.

I'll be watching all 11 preview shows and posting my thoughts right here.

Up first, Indiana and Ohio State.

  • The Hoosiers practiced in shoulder pads and shorts, and head coach Bill Lynch is intentionally reducing the amount of hitting in this preseason (to keep his team fresher for the season), so the workout wasn't as revealing as most of the others should be.
  • Wide receiver Damarlo Belcher is a huge target and made several routine catches in space. Indiana also seemed to be swinging the ball a lot to the running backs, including Trea Burgess and Zach Davis-Walker. "Against the nonconference opponents, they can win those games with this pass game," DiNardo said. Starting quarterback Ben Chappell was a bit shaky on some throws, but I'm not worried about him.
  • The running backs didn't seem to have much room on the inside throughout the practice. A few backs did a nice job of bouncing to the outside. Freshman Matt Perez had a very nice run in team drills.
  • Defensive tackle Tony Carter did a nice job of crowding the middle on one play, and linebacker Tyler Replogle had a nice hit against Darius Willis.
  • I liked what I saw from Indiana's three junior college transfers on defense: linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerbacks Andre Kates and Lenyatta Kiles. Kates has extremely fast feet, and Thomas brings good size to the table.
  • Despite the losses of left tackle Rodger Saffold and veteran guard Pete Saxon, Griffith said Indiana's offensive line looked the best it has in years.
  • Quarterback Edward Wright-Baker reportedly has fallen behind Dusty Kiel on the depth chart, but he looked good passing the ball in this practice.
  • DiNardo brought up a good point about the need for Ohio State to have a dominant running back again, and how it will keep defenses guessing against quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
  • Pryor definitely seemed different to me, both in his interview with the BTN crew and in the practice. He showed patience and footwork under pressure and fired a good pass to Dane Sanzenbacher in team drills. I also liked the way he yanked defensive lineman Garrett Goebel off the pile to help running back Dan Herron get out. Pryor seemed to be running hard during conditioning and talked about his new attitude toward meetings as he hopes to increase his leadership.
  • Pryor had one big mistake, though, as safety Jermale Hines stepped in front of a pass to Jake Stoneburner and made the interception. Just a perfect read by Hines.
  • Cameron Heyward just looks bigger than everyone else on the field (probably because he is). I particularly enjoyed watching Heyward go against All-Big Ten guard Justin Boren. Two All-America candidates right there. Everyone keeps calling Heyward a defensive end, but I saw him lining up inside several times during the practice. I'll keep going with the very vague "defensive lineman."
  • The running backs and linebackers went against each other during a goal-line drill, and both sides had their moments. Herron absolutely trucked Dan Bain on one play, living up to his "Boom" nickname. Jaamal Berry scooted by his man, while Scott McVey made a nice stop against Carlos Hyde, who boasts good size and had mixed results in the drill.
  • Running back Jordan Hall had some nice moments, including a burst up the middle in team drills.
  • Some of the reserve wide receivers stood out. Sophomore James Jackson made a nice catch along the sideline, and senior Grant Schwartz showed the ability to create vertical separation.
  • Defensive end Nathan Williams, currently sidelined with a knee injury, was in a stand-up position on one play, while the other three first-team linemen -- Heyward, John Simon and Dexter Larimore -- were down in a stance. You figure Ohio State will use Williams like it did Thaddeus Gibson in 2009.
  • Berry had a good blitz pickup on one play, nearly leading to a big completion from Joe Bauserman to Taurian Washington.
  • Linebackers Andrew Sweat and Dorian Bell showed good hitting and tackling skills.
Up next: Penn State
As we move closer to the season, I'll be ranking the Big Ten, position by position. After some deliberation, I've decided to change things up and rank only the top 5 units from around the league. While I know you love to rag on the lower-ranked teams and send me spirited e-mails if your team comes in at No. 11, I don't really see much difference between the units ranked in the bottom half of the league.

No intelligent fan base should be celebrating, "We're No. 6!" Truth: your team's unit is probably a lot closer to No. 11 than No. 1. If a certain position group is stacked at the top, I'm open to including multiple teams tied for the No. 5 spot.

The criteria: past performance, 2010 potential, game-changing players and overall depth.

Let's get it started with the defensive line.

1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes' front four is not only the best in the Big Ten, but quite possibly the country ( thinks so). Everyone knows about beastly defensive end Adrian Clayborn, but Broderick Binns can be just as effective on the other edge. Veterans Karl Klug and Christian Ballard solidify the middle. This group can flat out dominate games, as it showed last season against Penn State and Georgia Tech, and should be even better in 2010. My lone concern: depth.

2. Ohio State: You know a position group will be fine when three key contributors (Thaddeus Gibson, Doug Worthington, Todd Denlinger) depart and there's talk of even better days ahead. Cameron Heyward could be the Big Ten's most disruptive defensive player, as USC and Penn State learned last season, and there's a lot of optimism about young players like John Simon, Melvin Fellows and Garrett Goebel. Dexter Larimore brings experience to the interior line.

3. Penn State: Like Ohio State, Penn State can lose key players like Jared Odrick up front and not miss a beat. We should know better than to doubt veteran line coach Larry Johnson, who recruits and develops players better than just about anyone. Penn State has high hopes for defensive end Jack Crawford, and veteran tackle Ollie Ogbu also returns. Odrick leaves a major void in the middle, but the Lions expect big things from Devon Still if he can stay healthy.

4. Purdue: I'm taking a little leap of faith here, as Purdue has to get a lot better against the run. But the Boilers have a bona fide star in end Ryan Kerrigan, some experience with Gerald Gooden and Kawann Short, and they should benefit from coach Gary Emanuel's return to West Lafayette. Purdue is thin at defensive tackle after Mike Neal's departure to the NFL, but Kerrigan leads what should be a formidable pass rush after finishing third nationally in sacks in 2009.

5. Wisconsin: Here's a case where I feel great about one line position and nervous about another. Emerging star J.J. Watt leads a talented group of defensive ends -- ends, not tackles!-- that also features Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert. The situation at tackle is a bit shakier because Wisconsin lost both starters from 2009, but Patrick Butrym boasts experience, and hopes are high for Jordan Kohout.

Up next: Linebackers
Sixth in a series examining key players departing, staying and arriving at Big Ten schools.

Going ...

Kurt Coleman, S: Coleman was the heart and soul of the nation's fifth-ranked defense in 2009, providing not only tremendous leadership in the secondary but tons of playmaking ability. He tied for the team lead with five interceptions and led Ohio State with three fumble recoveries to go along with 68 tackles. A co-captain, Coleman was Ohio State's only consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection last season.

Thaddeus Gibson, DE: Gibson opted to skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft, a decision that looked a bit questionable after he slipped to the fourth round. A rush end who will play outside linebacker at the next level, Gibson led Ohio State with 13 tackles for loss, including four sacks. He was a consensus second-team All-Big Ten selection.

Staying ...

Justin Boren, G: Boren brought the nasty back to Ohio State's offensive line in 2009, and expectations are even higher for the group this season after a strong finish. A first-team All-Big Ten selection by the media, Boren is a strong contender for Big Ten Offensive Lineman of the Year honors. He's not the most athletic lineman on the roster, but he sets an example with his play and his approach to the game.

Cameron Heyward, DT/DE: Ohio State had good reason to be thrilled when Heyward passed up NFL millions for another year in Columbus. He dominated games against USC and Penn State last year and is taking steps to be more consistent in 2010. Heyward led Ohio State with 6.5 sacks and creates headaches for every opposing offensive line coach in the Big Ten.

Coming ...

James Louis, WR: Ohio State boasts a nice 1-2 punch at wide receiver with DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, but after that things get a little hazy. Wide receiver depth is one area that can certainly be upgraded, and Louis might be a solution. The Florida native brings top-end speed, makes defenders look silly and can go up and get the ball. If Taurian Washington, Chris Fields or Duron Carter don't fill the No. 3 receiver spot, look out for Louis.

Christian Bryant, DB: The secondary is one of the biggest question marks for Ohio State this fall, and Bryant could be a name to watch. He's a bit of a tweener, but might be able to fill a need at safety after the departures of Coleman and Anderson Russell.

More revolving door ...
Last week's NFL draft rekindled a hot topic on this blog -- the 2009 Big Ten Coach of the Year race between Iowa's Kirk Ferentz and Ohio State's Jim Tressel.

As we all know, Ferentz won the award, his third after claiming the honor in both 2002 and 2004. Tressel amazingly has never won the award despite leading Ohio State to six Big Ten titles, a national title, seven BCS bowl appearances and a 59-13 mark in conference games since he took over as head coach in 2001.

Let the record show that I endorsed Ferentz for the 2009 award, though I wouldn't have made a fuss if it had gone to Tressel. I cited Iowa's ability to overcome a brutal road schedule and several key injuries as primary reasons why the award should go to Ferentz. Plus, Ferentz and his assistants regularly take average recruits and turn them into All-Big Ten performers.

"Ferentz had so many things working against him this season, namely a brutal road schedule and several unfortunate injuries. ... Ferentz readily admits Iowa isn't the most talented or deepest team in the Big Ten, but he and his assistants got the most out of the Hawkeyes this fall. ... Tressel deserves to win this award one of these seasons, and he did a great job turning things around after Purdue and worked his November magic yet again. I'd be happy for Tressel if he got the nod tonight, but the honor should go to Ferentz."

So how does the NFL draft change this, if at all?

Well, Iowa had six players drafted, including a first-round pick in left tackle Bryan Bulaga, a second-round pick in linebacker Pat Angerer, two third-round picks in cornerback Amari Spievey and tight end Tony Moeaki, and a fourth-round pick in linebacker A.J. Edds.

Ohio State, meanwhile, had its weakest draft in recent memory. The Buckeyes had no players drafted in the first three rounds and only one, outside linebacker Thaddeus Gibson, drafted before the seventh round.

The draft also mirrored the 2009 All-Big Ten selections, which included only two first-team selections from Ohio State (safety Kurt Coleman and guard Justin Boren) and five first-team selections from Iowa (Bulaga, Spievey, Angerer, defensive end Adrian Clayborn and safety Tyler Sash).

Despite having a weak senior class, at least according to NFL potential, and one of his least decorated teams at Ohio State, Tressel won another Big Ten title, not to mention a Rose Bowl championship.

Did he deserve the Coach of the Year Award over Ferentz?

I've heard plenty from both fan bases on this topic, and I'll attempt to summarize the viewpoints.

Ohio State fan argument: It's ridiculous Tressel has never won the award despite dominating the Big Ten since his arrival. Why should he get penalized for Ohio State recruiting well and being the preseason favorite all the time? Look at the 2009 season. Iowa had more than twice as many first-team All-Big Ten selections, and a much stronger NFL draft class. And Ohio State still beat the Hawkeyes head-to-head to win the Big Ten championship and then the Rose Bowl. This was one of Tressel's best coaching jobs, and if he can't win the award in a year like this one, he'll never get it. O-H!

Iowa fan argument: It's ridiculous that Tressel has never won Big Ten Coach of the Year, but Ferentz deserved the award in 2009, just like he did in 2002 and 2004. Look at where Iowa's recruiting classes rank next to Ohio State's year after year. Ferentz consistently does more with less talent, while Tressel wins the league because he has the most gifted recruits. It goes back to recruiting and player development, and a coach should be judged by what he does with players after they come under his watch.

Both sides bring up great points, and both coaches certainly did enough to deserve the award last fall.

I took a look at who was winning Coach of the Year in other conferences. Specifically, I wanted to see how often the award went to the coach from the dominant team, or the team that recruited the best.

  • Pete Carroll won Pac-10 Coach of the Year honors three times during his dominant USC tenure. He claimed the award outright in 2006 and shared it with Washington State's Bill Doba in 2003 and UCLA's Karl Dorrell in 2005.
  • Oklahoma's Bob Stoops has won Big 12 Coach of the Year four times, while Texas' Mack Brown won his second award last season. The Sooners and Longhorns have dominated the league in the last decade.
  • Florida's Urban Meyer has never won SEC Coach of the Year, making him the closest parallel to Tressel. Nick Saban has won or shared the award three times, once with LSU and twice with Alabama.
  • Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer won back-to-back ACC Coach of the Year awards in 2004 and 2005. Beamer and the Hokies have been the league's dominant team since moving over from the Big East.

This shows that dominant head coaches can win Coach of the Year awards in their leagues, although Tressel and Meyer both have been passed over.

Pretty much everyone agrees that Tressel deserves this award, but unless Ohio State takes a nosedive on the field or in recruiting, his drought likely will continue.

Big Ten mailblog

April, 27, 2010
Bring it.

Tim from Happy Valley, Pa., writes: Adam,After the Blue and White game this past weekend many questions still remain at quarterback and along the offensive line. While Matt McGloin and Kevin Newsome seem to be the front runners for the job they were very shaky at the game and it seemed to me Paul Jones gave the best performance. I know it wasn't against the first team defense but i don't understand why it seems Jay and Joe Paterno have written this kid off from starting next year. He seems to already posses the physical tools to perform at the next level and if its experience that is worrisome McGloin has never started a game plus Newsome has only played in garbage time. With three away games against top ten opponents i don't think we are making a run at a national championship this year, would it really be that bad if we started a freshman?

Adam Ritenberg: Jay Paterno sounded open to the idea of playing Jones after the Blue-White Game, and certainly Penn State can't close the door on any of its quarterbacks right now. I would give the coaches the benefit of the doubt. They've seen these guys every day in practice, Jay has charted every pass thrown and graded them out. Jones played well in the spring game, but how did he perform in the other 14 practices? While most of the players who spoke to reporters last week only talked about Newsome and McGloin, the opportunity for Jones seems to be there. True freshmen start at quarterback these days in the Big Ten, and I would hope Penn State coaches wouldn't be naïve to what's happening around them.

Ian from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Overall, I like MSU's new digs. The bronze is a little much and the fonts are overstyled, but really the changes aren't as dramatic as they could be. Football aside, I'm really disappointed that the basketball jerseys say "Spartans" and not "State." MSU basketball owns that tittle. New fonts, new colors aside, the basketball team deserves to be known nationwide as "State."

Adam Rittenberg: I agree, Ian. Things certainly could have been worse, and some of the changes provide a better look. I definitely agree with Michigan State's mission to get uniformity with its brand for athletics. The school can't please everyone with the changes, but overall, it did a good job. But I'm with you about the basketball jerseys. The "State" on the front was so recognizable and brought prestige with it.

Joe from Toledo writes: Hey Adam, what do you think of Donovan Warren not getting drafted? And now he signed with the Jets who have Revis Island, picked up Cromartie, and just drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round, will he make the team or even see the field??

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I was surprised that Warren went undrafted, and I feel bad for him. He got some poor advice along the way, but on the other hand, he seemed ready to move on. Of the six Big Ten underclassmen in the draft -- Bryan Bulaga, Amari Spievey, Arrelious Benn, Navorro Bowman and Thaddeus Gibson -- only Warren didn't hear his name called in New York. The five others went in the fourth round or higher. There was talk Warren could be a second-round selection at one stage, but his stock clearly dropped as the draft approached. It's never easy for undrafted free agents to make a team, particularly one stacked at cornerback like the Jets, but Warren has some ability and got plenty of good experience at Michigan going against top wideouts from the Big Ten.

Greg from Austin, Texas, writes: Does the absence of any Buckeyes drafted in the first three rounds finally put to rest any idea that Tressell wins the Big Ten mainly because he has more talent? Are some voters finally going to wake up and give him a richly deserved Big Ten Coach of the Year award? After all, both Iowa and PSU had more players drafted and I believe eight different Big Ten teams had a player drafted before the Buckeyes, yet the Buckeyes won another Big Ten title. Sounds like good coaching to me.

Adam Rittenberg: Greg, I have to agree with you that Ohio State's poor draft showing definitely strengthens the case that Jim Tressel should have been 2009 Big Ten Coach of the Year rather than Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. The problem for Tressel is he should have plenty of first-team, All-Big Ten players as well as first-round draft picks on the 2010 team, which will be the Big Ten preseason favorite. Could he finally win COY as a lifetime achievement award this fall? He deserves to, but I'd bet if a team like Michigan State or Purdue or even Penn State challenges for the Big Ten title, the award will go elsewhere again.

Bit Guru from Washington D.C. writes: One way to solve all the expansion problems and get the BTN into several lucrative TV markets is to simply merge the Big Ten and the Pac Ten. (Could even ruthlessly eject Northwestern, Stanford, and say Minnesota to yield two 9-team divisions for round-robin football perfection.) Sure it will never happen, but hypothetically what do you think?Seriously, one of the stories you linked to a while back made a good case for Colorado. Good enough that I was pretty much convinced. But is Colorado now off the expansion radar?

Adam Rittenberg: Uh, no. Not happening. The Pac-10 has much bigger problems than the Big Ten as far as marketing its teams on a national level and raising its overall profile. USC is a big deal, but how many folks who live East of the Rockies see Oregon, Cal, Oregon State or Arizona play much? I grew up a Pac-10/Cal fan, and I have to stay up until 2 a.m. to see the Bears finish night games. The Big Ten has no need to share its success with the Pac-10, which brings on more risks than potential rewards. And the idea of ejecting teams like Northwestern, Stanford and Minnesota is silly for both leagues. Colorado would be a good addition for the Pac-10, but I highly doubt the Big Ten would look to the Buffs for expansion.

Bill from Marshall: where's all the spring game coverage? Stop slacking off!!There were a bunch of spring games. You should have a TON of material ready. Get off your nerdy backside and do something

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, should I fire on Bill or let you guys handle him for me in the comments section ... tough decision. Bill, you can criticize me for a lot of things, and you'd be correct on some of them. But saying I don't work hard enough, seriously, dude? I've got a little assignment for you. Go back and read this blog. Then go and try to find another one out there with more content year-round. You won't. I'll recap all the spring games eventually, but I don't place nearly as much of an importance on them as the fans do. They're glorified scrimmages that rarely mean anything when the season rolls around.

John from Dominica, West Indies, writes: Love the blog! Nearly as good as the Caribbean weather...until I read your recent post! Does Michigan State have a REAL quarterback?! I just read that Cousins said "Football is not my life" and it irked me, especially since Keith Nichol was quoted as saying he would "rather be on the field than play quarterback" If neither one of them cares THAT much about it, how vulnerable are we at QB?

Adam Rittenberg: John, I think the island air is getting to you. Just kidding. But I do think you're misinterpreting comments from two very upstanding guys in Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol. Cousins meant that football isn't the only thing in his life. He has his faith, his education, his family, etc. The guy gives maximum effort in every area of his life, but he's not going to be a football robot or delusional about life after he's done playing. As for Nichol, he wants to help the team in any way he can, and right now that's at wide receiver. Trust me, he'd play quarterback in a heartbeat and give it everything he had if that's where the coaches wanted him, but he can best serve the team as a wideout. He could complain about it, but instead, he's taking it in stride. Lastly, can you send some of that Caribbean weather my way?

Your Big Ten NFL draft roundup

April, 26, 2010
The 2010 NFL draft is in the books, so let's take a look at the 34 Big Ten players who heard their names called in New York. When the full list of undrafted free agents comes out, I'll post it later in the week.

  • No Big Ten players selected

Here are the selections according to Big Ten team:

Illinois: 3
Indiana: 3
Iowa: 6
Michigan: 3
Michigan State: 1
Minnesota: 2
Northwestern: 3
Ohio State: 4
Penn State: 6
Purdue: 1
Wisconsin: 2

Quick thoughts:
  • Three of the biggest draft steals from the Big Ten were pass-catchers in 2009: Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn, Minnesota wide receiver Eric Decker and Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki. Benn had first-round skills but a fourth-round college résumé. Decker most often was compared to former Broncos wideout Ed McCaffrey, and if healthy, he could do big things in Denver. If Moeaki stays healthy, the Chiefs might have found the next Tony Gonzalez. Kirk Ferentz puts Moeaki right up there with Dallas Clark in Iowa's top tight ends.
  • Love the Colts' pick of Angerer, who could be a very good pro in a great situation in Indy. With Angerer and Indiana's Fisher going to Indianapolis, the Colts now have drafted 26 Big Ten players under Bill Polian.
  • Northwestern's Kafka also goes to a very good situation in Philly, as the Eagles love to pass the ball and will run some shotgun.
  • Penn State's Lee, Purdue's Neal, Wisconsin's Schofield and Northwestern's Wootton and McManis could all be steals for their teams. Health has been an issue for Lee, Schofield, Wootton and McManis, so they need to find ways to get on the field and stay there.
  • It was interesting how one Big Ten left tackle, Indiana's Saffold, rose up the draft boards late in the process, while another, Iowa's Bulaga, dropped.
  • Ohio State had four players drafted, but this has to be the Buckeyes' weakest draft class in recent memory. I thought Gibson would go in the second or third round, but Worthington, Coleman and Spitler barely made the cut. Did Jim Tressel deserve Big Ten Coach of the Year over Ferentz? The case looks stronger now.
  • Draft snubs included Michigan State wide receiver Blair White, Michigan cornerback Donovan Warren, Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark and Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott. Warren was the only Big Ten junior not to get drafted. His decision to leave looked reasonable at the time, but he clearly could have used another year in Ann Arbor. All four players have reportedly signed free-agent deals.
All the talk about potential Big Ten expansion and the final week of spring football in the league has prevented me from weighing in on a little event called the NFL draft.

It's sort of a big deal. Especially around here.

As everyone knows, the draft is moving to prime time, and the first round takes place tonight (ESPN, 7:30 p.m. ET).

What's in it for Big Ten football fans?

Well, you'll almost certainly see three Big Ten players drafted, and possibly more. ESPN experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. each have four Big Ten players going in the first round of their mock drafts.

Here's how I see the Big Ten's first-round hopefuls:

Locks: Iowa LT Bryan Bulaga, Michigan DE Brandon Graham, Penn State DT Jared Odrick

Near lock: Indiana LT Rodger Saffold

Possibility: Illinois WR Arrelious Benn

Long shots: Penn State LB Sean Lee, Ohio State LB/DE Thaddeus Gibson

Barring a major surprise, Bulaga will be the first Big Ten player selected, followed by Graham. There are too many teams at the bottom of the first round who love Odrick, and one will pull the trigger. Saffold has really improved his stock during the pre-draft session and is a projected first-rounder, according to many outlets. I still think Benn will be an outstanding pro, but he might not have done enough at the college level to warrant a first-round selection. Lee and Gibson also should do well at the next level, but I'd be surprised if they go in the first round. If Gibson isn't picked tonight, it will mark just the fifth time in the last 20 years that Ohio State hasn't produced a first-round selection.

Enjoy draft night, everyone.
Ohio State opened spring drills Thursday, and for the Buckeyes' defense, it's business as usual. Though the defense loses six starters, it remains one of the nation's elite units, thanks in large part to coordinator Jim Heacock. Ohio State has ranked among the nation's top-15 defenses in each of Heacock's five seasons as coordinator. The defense has recorded three top-5 finishes during the span, including a fifth-place finish in 2009. Standout defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle lead the 2010 version.

Heacock took some time this week to discuss the outlook for Ohio State's defense entering the spring.

Defensively, you really ended 2009 on a high note, and the 'no names' motto really seemed to work well. Is that still the motto for this unit, even though you have guys like Cam and Ross and Brian, who are more well known?

Jim Heacock: I don't necessarily know for sure. Each defense takes on a little bit of an identity. Last year, those terms really fit our defense. There just wasn't anybody that had the big name. We had lost [James] Laurinaitis and [Malcolm] Jenkins and those guys, so it just seemed like [the motto] came together. This year, I assume that we'll have a different identity. We'll have some guys who have played a little bit more and probably have more guys on the field who played last year. So I'm not sure there will be much carryover on that.

I know building depth is always a goal in spring. Are there areas where you will spend more of your time during these practices?

JH: The depth on the defensive line is going to be a little bit of a factor. We've got some guys that have played quite a bit, but depth-wise, we lost some seniors. That area is a place where we've got to find some guys to step up and fill in the gaps. Losing two safeties [Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell] obviously opens up some holes there. Those two areas are going to be critical. Coming out of spring, you always hope you can identify your top-22 players that you feel like you can go to battle with next year.

Players like [John] Simon up front, are those the kind of guys who you'll be looking to for that next step?

JH: Simon is a guy who proved his worth last year, and played a lot of reps for us, got a lot of downs, made some big plays, made some good strides, had a good bowl game. So he's a guy we're counting on to go in there and play in the fall. Nate Williams is another guy who's been getting a lot of reps. He's backed up Thaddeus Gibson for two years now. He didn't start, but he's gotten an awful lot of reps and made a lot of plays for us, so he's a guy who's got to step up as a starter-type guy. And then we've got a couple guys, Dexter Larimore and Cameron Heyward, that have been around for a while. They've got to be the leaders of the group. And then some young guys have got to come on: Solomon Thomas and Garrett Goebel and Keith Wells. It'll be a fun year for the front, just to get a lot of competition going and see who can step up.

With Cameron, you know what he can do. He talked to me about wanting to be dominant every game. What things does he need to do to get to that point?

JH: You take a guy like Cameron, and you know he can play football, and you know he's got heart, he's tough and he's got all those intangibles you don't need to worry about. He can really improve on technique. He can take his game to another level, just with a lot of technique work, a lot of individual work, a lot of pass-rush techniques, a lot of run-defense techniques, just zeroing in on the little things. Any type of improvement in those little areas is going to help him become a little bit more dominant of a player, the player he wants to be.

How good can he be?

JH: He can be an outstanding player.We've had different types of players, Will Smith, who was a great player, and some guys that could come off the edge that were great players. Cameron is a very physical player. His strength comes from dominating the man across from him and playing a physical brand of football and getting a push on the pocket. From that standpoint, he's pretty good.

In Part II: the competition at safety, expectations for leadership on defense

Big Ten combine wrap-up

March, 3, 2010
The NFL combine has wrapped up in Indianapolis, and as expected, the former Big Ten standouts drew mixed reviews. Check out the combine's top performers, and you'll see plenty of Big Ten alums.

Here are some final notes and nuggets, first from the Scouts Inc. staff:

  • Steve Muench: "At 6-0 and 180 pounds, Purdue's David Pender is lean but has room on his frame to bulk up without losing too much speed. Pender officially ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds, posted a 39-inch vertical and has 32-inch arms. Don't be surprised to see him move up some draft boards based on his potential."
  • Steve Muench: "Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson looked smooth and comfortable dropping into coverage, which came as little surprise given how often he dropped into coverage in college. However, his footwork was a little sloppy during lateral bag work. Gibson is so explosive that his momentum often carried him past the bag and forced him to gather himself before redirecting. We've seen this on film as well, and Gibson needs to play more under control.
  • Steve Muench: "Lisfranc injuries can be difficult to overcome, and Minnesota WR Eric Decker is now scheduled for a second surgery on his left foot. The March 15 operation does not indicate a setback, however. Its purpose is to remove the plate and screws inserted after the initial injury to the foot, but it will leave him unable to run unrestricted until June. Decker is a big, athletic receiver who built a lot of momentum early in the college season and was one of our fastest-rising prospects before the first injury ended his season. He likely will slide down some draft boards because he has been unable to work out fully for months and other receivers turned in strong performances at the combine, but Decker remains a third-round prospect in our eyes.
  • Steve Muench: "Michigan's Brandon Graham is ranked ahead of Texas' Sergio Kindle and Ohio State's Thaddeus Gibson because he's the better player on film in our opinion. However, the combine is the perfect venue for Kindle and Gibson to showcase their talents because they are better athletes than Graham."
  • Todd McShay: "Penn State's Daryll Clark and Appalachian State's Armanti Edwards could also be headed for position changes. Clark notched 21 reps on the bench press, which is good if he's moving to running back. The problem is he's too bulked up and it affects his overall accuracy as a passer."
  • Todd McShay: "[Illinois wide receiver Arrelious Benn] turned in an unofficial 4.48 in the 40 and a 37-inch vertical, and he showed good strength with 20 reps on the bench press. Benn is a bit tightly wound but he has great quickness for his size and he eats up everything thrown his way. Benn should be high on the priority list for teams in search of wide receiver help in the bottom half of the first round, including the Bengals (No. 21), Ravens (No. 25) and Jets (No. 29)."
  • Bruce Feldman on Brandon Graham: "The former Michigan star isn't tall, but so what? Neither is Dwight Freeney or Elvis Dumervil. Graham has superb first-step quickness and burst. He's also a powerhouse in the weight room, having set the Michigan record in the bench press, hang clean and power clean."
And now for some linkage:

Big Ten lunch links

March, 2, 2010
Less than two weeks away from the start of spring ball in Madison and Ann Arbor.

Big Ten lunch links

March, 1, 2010
Read on ...
After watching Michigan State and Purdue slug it out on the basketball court Sunday, I was tempted to make the short drive down I-65 to Indianapolis for the final few days of the NFL combine.

The combine continues today and Tuesday, but many of the key evaluations have already taken place.

Let's take a look at the Big Ten's top performers in the events through Sunday:

40-Yard Dash

  • Tony Moeaki, Iowa, tied for fourth among tight ends (4.69 seconds)
  • Andrew Quarless, Penn State, tied for fourth among tight ends (4.69 seconds)
Bench Press

  • Daryll Clark, Penn State, first among quarterbacks (21 reps)
  • Arrelious Benn, Illinois, tied for first among wide receivers (20 reps)
  • Blair White, Michigan State, sixth among wide receivers (18 reps)
  • Michael Hoomanawanui, Illinois, third among tight ends (25 reps)
  • Andrew Quarless, Penn State, tied for fifth among tight ends (23 reps)
  • Garrett Graham, Wisconsin, tied for eighth among tight ends (20 reps)
  • Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State, tied for sixth among defensive linemen (32 reps)
  • Brandon Graham, Michigan, tied for 10th among defensive linemen (31 reps)
  • Mike Neal, Purdue, tied for 10th among defensive linemen (31 reps)
Vertical Jump

  • Mike Kafka, Northwestern, tied for seventh among quarterbacks (32 inches)
  • Arrelious Benn, Illinois, tied for eighth among wide receivers (37 inches)
  • Garrett Graham, Wisconsin, sixth among tight ends (34.5 inches)
  • Tony Moeaki, Iowa, tied for seventh among tight ends (34 inches)
  • Rodger Saffold, Indiana, tied for ninth among offensive linemen (29.5 inches)
Broad Jump

  • Mike Kafka, Northwestern, tied for fifth among quarterbacks (9 feet, 2 inches)
  • Tony Moeaki, Iowa, tied for fifth among tight ends (9 feet, 5 inches)
  • Rodger Saffold, Indiana, tied for second among offensive linemen (9 feet, 5 inches)
3-Cone Drill

  • Mike Kafka, Northwestern, third among quarterbacks (6.96 seconds)
  • Blair White, Michigan State, third among wide receivers (6.69 seconds)
  • Rodger Saffold, Indiana, third among offensive linemen (7.42 seconds)
20-Yard Shuttle

  • Blair White, Michigan State, first among wide receivers (4.03 seconds)
  • Garrett Graham, Wisconsin, fourth among tight ends (4.35 seconds)
  • Rodger Saffold, Indiana, eighth among offensive linemen (4.67 seconds)
60-Yard Shuttle

  • Mike Kafka, Northwestern, second among quarterbacks (11.79 seconds)
  • Blair White, Michigan State, second among wide receivers (11.07 seconds)
  • Tony Moeaki, Iowa, third among tight ends (11.86 seconds)
So it's been a good combine for players like Moeaki, Saffold, White, Kafka and Quarless. I'll provide more updates on top performers as the results are posted.