Big Ten: Tim Tebow
Carlos Hyde had the wrong idea about Urban Meyer's offense when Meyer came to Ohio State.
Like many others, Hyde couldn't get past the S-word -- spread. He envisioned five-wide formations, a hastened pace and a system tailored to track stars, not bruising ball-carriers north of 220 pounds like himself.
Hyde soon found out that he would have a home in Meyer's offense, as long as he earned the right to carry the ball. The scheme didn't simply tolerate his talents; it celebrated them.
Ohio State's offense isn't Oregon's or Baylor's or Arizona's or Auburn's. Aesthetically, the Buckeyes might be a spread team. But at their core, they're all about power.
"People see me back there and they see our offensive line back there, and they’re like, 'These are some big dudes, they've got a big running back,'" Hyde said. "This is not really a spread. It's more like a power team."
Need evidence? Study the second halves of Ohio State's past two wins against Northwestern and Iowa. After some sloppiness in the first 30 minutes of both contests, Ohio State methodically chipped away at the Wildcats and Hawkeyes. The Buckeyes racked up 142 rush yards and three touchdowns in the second half against Northwestern and 194 rush yards and two touchdowns in the second half against Iowa.
An offense with a knack for big plays -- Ohio State has 34 plays of 20 yards or longer this season -- had just one chunk play in each second half. Instead, the Buckeyes mounted long, sustained drives, swinging away with the Big Ten's best offensive line and a 235-pound hammer in Hyde. After running a meager 25 first-half plays against Iowa, Ohio State opened the second half with touchdown drives of 13, 11, 10 and 11 plays. Hyde's 1-yard scoring run early in the third quarter marked the first rushing touchdown Iowa had allowed all season. He tacked on a 19-yard scoring dash in the fourth quarter.
"Offensive linemen in general, after they look up at the scoreboard and see that you've won the game, the first question out of their mouths is how many yards did we rush for?" Buckeyes offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner said. "Then it's, how many sacks did we give up? And then, where do we eat?"
The Buckeyes are feasting on opposing defenses to the tune of 279.6 rush yards per game, ahead of last year's pace (242.3 ypg), which ranked 10th nationally. Their run focus has helped older players recruited by the previous coaching staff transition to the current regime.From Woody Hayes to John Cooper to Jim Tressel, Ohio State's identity has been closely tied to the power run game. It remains that way under Meyer, despite his ties to the spread.
"That's Ohio State," Hyde said. "When Beanie Wells, Eddie George, Archie Griffin and all the great running backs who came through here, that's what Ohio State has been: traditional, a power I offense. That's basically what this spread offense still is, it’s power.
"That’s pretty cool that the tradition is still going."
The only prerequisites for a spread offense, according to Warinner, are at least three detached wide receivers and the shotgun formation. Other than that, the canvas is blank. Some teams will spread out five receivers and throw 80 passes per game; others will run the ball 60 times.
"A lot like the West Coast offense, there’s many different versions," Meyer said. "I have our version of the spread offense, which is a very physical, power run offense. And it's always really been that way. At Utah, we had the bigger backs. At Florida, the biggest back we had was Tim [Tebow], and Tim became our power guy to offset and complement the speed that we had in the backfield. Here, our speed guy is really our quarterback [Braxton Miller] and some other skilled athletes, and we've got the big, power backs."
When Meyer coached Utah to an undefeated season in 2004, he leaned on two bigger backs in Marty Johnson and Quinton Ganther. The 6-3, 235-pound Tebow rushed for 2,478 yards and 49 touchdowns in his final three seasons as Florida's starting quarterback.
Despite his track record in the power run, Meyer never has produced a 1,000-yard rusher, a fact often used against him on the recruiting trail.
"You hear it, but you just have to be armed and ready to go," he said. "And then they see the yards per carry, they see the opportunities you get."
Hyde feels fully prepared for the NFL, not only as a runner but as a pass blocker. Warinner notes that Ohio State's top three run plays are often called on Sundays, and that Meyer's system has produced plenty of pro linemen.
Four of Meyer's linemen at Florida were selected the 2010 or 2011 NFL drafts, including first-rounders in the Pouncey brothers (Maurkice and Mike). Ohio State has had a surprisingly low number of linemen drafted the past five years but produced a seventh-rounder this past April in tackle Reid Fragel, a converted tight end. Warinner expects all four returning starters from last year's line to be drafted.
"We feel that our offense is as close to a pro spread as can be," Warinner said. "So when you watch people play on Sundays, how they run the ball and how they protect, those things have a lot of carryover to what we do. Most players at this level want to play at that level. Their learning curve is very small leaving Oho State with what we do.
"We sell that pretty hard in recruiting, and it's factual. Plus, it wins games."
Ohio State has won 19 straight, the nation's longest win streak. If the power surge continues, the Buckeyes could be playing for a crystal football Jan. 7 in Pasadena.
Scheelhaase has started 36 games, passed for 5,296 yards and 34 touchdowns, helped the Illini to two bowl victories, struggled during a disastrous 2-10 campaign last fall, and played for two head coaches and four offensive coordinators. He has had great games, like the blowout bowl win against a Baylor team quarterbacked by some guy named Griffin in 2010. He also has had low points, especially in 2012, when he led an offense that finished 119th out of 120 FBS teams in yards and points.
But if you want to know who Nathan Scheelhaase is, look beyond the numbers or the games. Look beyond the Block I on his helmet or the often-butchered name (pronounced SHEEL-house) on the back of his jersey. If you really want to know him, spend a Sunday at Stone Creek Church in Urbana, Ill., about two miles southeast of Memorial Stadium.
Go during the fall, smack in the middle of football season. He'll be there.
Former Illini assistant Reggie Mitchell, who recruited Scheelhaase, brought the quarterback to Stone Creek the first Sunday after Scheelhaase's arrival. It turned out to be the first phase of Scheelhaase's spiritual awakening.
Faith trumps football for the Illini senior, and his religious devotion has helped him navigate the challenging terrain in Champaign. Scheelhaase is prideful and public about his beliefs, from the eye-black crosses he wears on game days to the scripture passages he used to post on his Twitter page. He has drawn some criticism for sharing so much, but anything else would be like living in the dark.
"It's not the what that makes me different, it’s the who that makes me different, and that is God," he said. "If I didn't have God, I couldn't imagine what it would be like going through difficulties like there have been. That’s exactly what I rely on."
Scheelhaase grew up attending church but wasn't nearly as strong in his faith as he is now. He attended an all-boys Jesuit High School (Rockhurst) in Kansas City, Mo., and played for a coach (Tony Severino) who valued religion. After his senior season, he began dating Morgan Miller, an "amazing Christian," LouAnn said.
But it wasn't until Illinois that Scheelhaase turned a corner. He grew close to Marcellus Casey, Illinois' team chaplain at the time, and became a leader for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Scheelhaase bonded with teammates Steve Hull, Miles Osei, Ryan Lankford and Reilly O'Toole, who shared his devotion.
"Even growing up in a Christian school, I don't think it became real to him until his time at the university," said Justin Neally, an area representative for the local FCA chapter who serves as Illinois' team chaplain. "He was just going through the motions in high school. His faith might have been good luck charm at that time. It became his identity in college."
Neally recalls Scheelhaase telling him about his collegiate debut against Missouri at St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome in 2010. He completed just 9 of 23 passes and committed four turnovers in a 23-13 loss.
"The normal kid would feel a lot of pressure, but he stood with his faith and identity being secure," Neally said. "He said it wasn’t the greatest day for him statistically. He threw a couple picks, had a fumble, but he told me he never experienced so much joy."
Scheelhaase went on to lead Illinois to its first bowl win in 11 years. He soon recognized the public platform he occupied and decided to use it to display his faith.
He first sported the eye-black crosses for a 2011 home game against Michigan.
"I get kids that’ll come up to me, tell me my stats and say, 'I saw you on the sideline talking to such-and-such,'" Scheelhaase said. "I'm like, 'Man, these guys watch the game that closely. I might as well give them something even better to talk about.' That's exactly why I do it."
Scheelhaase would like to open spiritual doors, but those who know him say he doesn't force his beliefs on others.
His approach has sparked some backlash, and he and Neally often talk about former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who displayed Bible verses on his eye black, made Tebowing a national fad and became a polarizing cultural figure.
"This is something that's transformed Nathan's life," Neally said. "In no way he feels like it's mission to save people."
Added Scheelhaase: "There’s always going to be persecution of your beliefs when you're strong about them. It’s worth making someone ask a question or seek something out versus being hush-hush about it."
Hull, who roomed with Scheelhaase during their freshman year, has seen Scheelhaase's faith "pull him through his low moments." After a record-setting freshman season and a strong start to 2011, Illinois' offense flat-lined down the stretch, leading to the firing of coach Ron Zook.
The free-fall continued last season under new coach Tim Beckman.
"When you deal with some struggles, you learn a lot about yourself," Scheelhaase said. "Leadership is easy when things are going well. Character is shaped not when times are good and things are easy, but when you're dealing with tough times. It's a crazy thing to say you can take joy in struggles, but it's so true."
Recent months have brought happier times for Scheelhaase. In February, he flew to Texas, where Miller was attending school at TCU, and surprised her with a proposal. They were married July 6 back home in Kansas City.
"Seeing that ring on his finger is so different," said Hull, who along with O'Toole, Lankford and Osei served as Scheelhaase's groomsmen at the wedding. "When the engagement happened, we started hearing Nate talk about life and his plans and career path.
"It was weird because we started realizing we’re about to become real adults in the real world."
Scheelhaase's post-football future could include a career in religion. When Nathan and LouAnn returned last June to LouAnn's hometown of Moville, Iowa, he asked to speak at the local church, making his grandmother Norma "pretty darn proud."
"He lives right, he walks right, he does his thing, he’s a man," LouAnn said. "He’s been through emotional turmoil, physical and injury turmoil, the coaching changes, the ups and downs. He's still going to find his joy in everything.
"I don't know what this next chapter for him holds. I just know he’s well prepared for whatever he does."
You guys are combative today. Like it.
Jerry from Eugene, Ore., writes: Adam, the cases are very different. The Penn State punishment was a total fiasco, and somebody should have found a way to stop Emmert on that one. The USC penalty was also way out of proportion. However, I thought the Ohio State penalty was fair because the coach knew about the infractions (which involved players cheating) and ignored it, then tried to cover it up. In other words he lied! Kelly was not aware of what Lyles was doing. He never lied to anybody, but cooperated fully with the investigation. Also, the rules he broke were very poorly defined, and he was doing what most other big schools were doing, probably the B1G schools too, and he just happened to be the one made the example. You are misrepresenting to compare Oregon's misdeed to what OSU did, and perhaps PSU, too.
Adam Rittenberg: Jerry, I made it clear in the Take Two that all three cases are very different and that Penn State's is unlike anything we've seen before. The Ohio State and Oregon cases both involved head coaches who ultimately received show-cause penalties from the NCAA. While Tressel lying certainly is worse, Ohio State did take action by getting rid of him. You could argue that was enough punishment for the football program, losing its head coach in late May. But Ohio State was hit with much harsher program penalties than Oregon, which got off basically unscathed. Sure, Ohio State had players committing violations while Oregon did not, but I think once Tressel was dismissed, both cases are in the same ballpark in terms of severity. Again, the NCAA is incredibly inconsistent with its penalties, but Ohio State didn't help itself when the second wave of violations involving former booster Bobby DiGeronimo came to light in the fall of 2011.
Kevin from Chicago writes: Read the article on Northwestern becoming a Big Ten and national force that you posted posted on the lunchtime links. After reading it, you realize that even though they are a top 20 recruiting class, they're exactly where they want to be and it really cant get better. Sure, you can say they can get in the top 10 but they preach on finding players who "fit" the system and can commit academically to Northwestern. Not being judgmental but a lot of these top athletes wouldn't be able to fit into the academic environment at Northwestern or the team game Fitzgerald preaches e.g. 2-QB system. What I'm trying to say is that top 15 recruiting class is like Alabama, OSU, or Michigan taking the top recruiting spot and Northwestern is close. Its excellent for the athletes Northwestern is trying to find. It can and will get better as the facilities upgrades start to happen. I really do a feel like they're the next big thing not just for the B1G but college football as a whole.
Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, I hear you on the potential ceiling for Northwestern in recruiting and potentially on the field, but Stanford has shown that an academically elite private school can compete at the highest level of college football. Northwestern lacks the location or tradition Stanford enjoys, but it has moved a little bit closer to the Cardinal on the field and on the recruiting trail. I agree Northwestern won't have top 10 recruiting classes because of the academic standards and, perhaps, because of the need to find a "fit" rather than just the most talented players available. It'll be very interesting to see how the facilities upgrade impacts recruiting because Northwestern always has been so far behind in that department. You're right, there's probably a ceiling for Northwestern in recruiting rankings, but Stanford has shown that programs like this can compete on the field at a very high level.
Douglas from Akron, Ohio, writes: "If Herman called a pass, Miller believed he had to throw one, even when the window wasn't there." Adam, either you are thoroughly confused or you didn't watch enough highlights of last year's games before writing this silly statement. The opposite it true: if Herman called a pass, typically Braxton would see 1 or 2 options that 'weren't open' and he would get happy feet. He would turn a designed pass into an improvised QB run. The problem was that he 1) did not look for enough checks in his progression, 2) bailed on the play too soon, and 3) hesitated as to which lane he wanted to use for scrambling. Next time, consult people who know better before you make statements that may be the exact opposite of the truth. Just some friendly advice that you should take to heart.
Adam Rittenberg: Well, Douglas, I actually consulted someone who knows a lot about this topic: Ohio State offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman. Pretty good source, I think. Here's a direct quote from Herman to me about Braxton Miller's scrambling skills or lack thereof: "When he escapes the pocket and we've called a pass, it’s almost like he thinks the ball has got to be thrown. No, it doesn't. You’re the best athlete on the field, you've got the ball in your hands, you've got open space, go take off and run. We've done a better job as a staff of making him aware of why we want him to do that. It doesn’t make him less of a quarterback because he scrambles." Herman also told me that of Miller's 1,271 rush yards last year, only about 200 came on scrambles. Both Herman and Urban Meyer say Miller has been a bad scrambler. Sure, he needs to improve in going through his progressions, and consistent footwork, as Herman told me, is a big part of that.
But thanks for the friendly advice.
Alden from Chicago writes: Adam, I'm not a fan of running two quarterbacks in a season. I think Dantonio should make a decision before the season starts and go with it. I think it adds undue pressure to the position by making the QB stress over mistakes, thinking he'll get the hook if he screws up, which can then breed mistakes. What are your thoughts? Has there been a successful team that ran a 2-QB system?? By successful I mean a team that won a BCS game. Thanks.
Adam Rittenberg: Alden, while Florida didn't run a complete two-quarterback system in 2006 with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow, both men contributed to the Gators' national title. There are also Big Ten examples like Northwestern, which rode quarterbacks Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian to a 10-3 season last fall. But in most cases, you're right that a two-quarterback system brings more problems than positives. Michigan State is in a tough spot because Andrew Maxwell has had every opportunity to establish himself as The Guy, and he can't quite do it. Maybe he will in preseason camp and carry that over to the season, but the coaches can't assume Maxwell will separate himself and ignore the other players on the roster.
Connor Cook certainly has some potential along with Tyler O'Connor, and incoming recruit Damion Terry brings explosive athleticism to the quarterback position, which Michigan State hasn't had there since Drew Stanton. Unless Maxwell has a really good camp, I think it's a bad idea for Michigan State to completely hitch its wagon to him. If there's some uncertainty, I'd be OK if the Spartans experimented a bit at the QB spot in the first three games before settling on a guy for the Week 4 trip to Notre Dame.
Matt C. from Springfield, Ill., writes: Your article about the B1G just accepting always being at a disadvantage during bowl season overlooks one big point. B1G fans travel. If the B1G was smart, they would ONLY schedule outdoor bowls in northern stadiums, and just play whoever will show up. The SEC and every other league will eventually realize it's worth their time and money to show up.
Adam Rittenberg: This is why fans shouldn't run bowl games. These are businesses, Matt, and your model is, well, flawed. Bowl games hinge on people spending money -- at hotels, at restaurants, at the game itself and also at events surrounding the game. The problem here is Big Ten fans would come to the game for sure, but they wouldn't spend a week leading up to the game in a city they can easily access for game day itself. Play whoever will show up? What if lower-level MAC teams and Conference USA teams are the only ones that do? What if no one shows up? If you think the SEC will suddenly see the light and migrate to the Midwest icebox around the holidays, you're going to be waiting a very long time. The other element you're ignoring is recruiting. By playing bowls in fertile recruiting states like Florida, California and Texas, Big Ten programs can showcase their product to some of the nation's best players about a month before national signing day.
Brian from Washington D.C., writes: Please explain to me you logic for ranking Rutgers #10 in your future power ranking? Given their recruiting success, string of bowl appearances, and outstanding player development, how can you justify entrenching Rutgers deep in the bottom half of the B1G? Is this just a way to mess with Rutgers fans, or are you serious? If you are serious, you have likely lost your grip on reality. There are three possible explanations: (1) you greatly undervalue Rutgers; (2) you greatly overvalue the teams in the B1G; or (3) a combination of (1) and (2). Under any of the above scenarios, your blogger card should be temporarily suspended for negligent/reckless behavior.
Adam Rittenberg: Best email of the week, Brian. There's a blogger card? Who knew! I should get one. Maybe my boss can revoke it and suspend me, temporarily of course. Rutgers is a solid program that has developed players very well over the years and upgraded its recruiting. The last NFL draft certainly reflected this. Greg Schiano did a masterful job building that program. Perhaps I'm overvaluing the Big Ten a bit, but I think you're grossly undervaluing the move Rutgers will make from the Big East to the Big Ten. You're going to be in the same division as Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State. Do you think Syracuse, Connecticut, Pitt and Temple are on the same level? If you do, good luck to you.
Nebraska has had an adjustment period to its new league, and the Huskers were coming off of back-to-back Big 12 North championships before they moved over. Rutgers and Maryland will hit similar speed bumps in my view, especially in the East division. The Big Ten, despite its struggles in recent years, is a superior league to the Big East, especially with the resources available to its programs. Maybe Rutgers proves us wrong, but I'm hesitant to put the Scarlet Knights in the upper half of their new league.
Kevin from Fairfax writes: I for one am pumped up that the Big Ten is moving away from bowl games located in the southeast and signing contracts with games on the West Coast. While I largely agree with your reasons for not having bowl games in Big Ten country, I do feel the Big Ten needs to push and push hard to hold the national championship game in its boundaries more frequently than other regions. And the Big Ten, which has the largest, most affluent alumni base in the country could certainly do more than they are. It's not like people are going to stop going to national championship games just because they are in a northern city.
Adam Rittenberg: Now this is an argument I can completely get behind. The Big Ten absolutely should push for the national championship game to be held outside of the traditional bowl sites in future years. Originally, the conference commissioners talked about the title game being bid out nationally, where all bowl groups or city groups could make a push. I would like to see this happen to give that game a truly national feel. Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis would be an excellent spot, and I could see indoor venues in Detroit, Minneapolis or St. Louis also bidding on the game. It's also important for more of the early season blockbuster neutral-site games to take place in Big Ten country instead of only at JerryWorld in Texas. It's encouraging that Wisconsin would get a "return" game of sorts with LSU at Lambeau Field. Weather isn't a factor in the Big Ten in early September, so it makes sense to have neutral-site games in the league footprint.
Remember this? And this? And this?
But it's what Miller didn't do that builds his case to be the nation's best quarterback in the 2013 season.
Take his scrambling skills, for example.
"Awful," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "Just awful."
We'll come back later to how a quarterback who rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last season can be such an awful scrambler.
For now, let's move onto Miller's grasp of the Buckeyes' offense.
"We went 12-0 last year, he finished fifth in the Heisman [voting] and he couldn't draw you where all 11 guys were going to be," Herman said.
Scrambling and system knowledge are just two of the areas Miller will set out to improve in his junior season in Columbus. He led Ohio State to just the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history, won Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and Silver Football (league MVP) honors, recorded a team-record 3,310 yards of total offense and had 26 runs of 20 yards or longer.
But he hasn't come close to reaching his potential as a college player. And that, more than any other reason, is why you should believe in Braxton. Herman does.
"He hasn’t fought me any step of the way," Herman said. "The kid, he wants to be the best in the country, so I need to give him as many tools as I can to allow that to happen."
Miller's evolution as a quarterback starts, somewhat surprisingly, with his feet. He has worked throughout the offseason to be more consistent with his footwork on passes, both in the pocket and on the run.
Herman also wants Miller to remember his feet while going through his reads.
"It's more pocket presence, pocket awareness, getting from read to read, resetting your feet," Herman said. "He's had really good footwork, he's always shown glimpses of it, but [he needs] to be much more consistent with it."
Miller completed just 58.3 percent of his passes in 2012, a number Herman wants to see between 67-70 percent this season. Herman admits he needs to do a better job calling high-percentage passes for Miller, who will have a deeper group of pass-catchers at his disposal, not to mention the Big Ten's best offensive line.
The coaches condensed the passing playbook this spring so Miller could get more comfortable with Ohio State's core routes.
"He did a very good job of figuring out where all the pieces of this puzzle are going to be," Herman said. "The thing with Braxton is you could probably quiz him right now in a sterile environment, and he'd tell you all the right answers. Last year, he couldn't even do that. Now it’s getting out there with all the chaos and conflict, for him to be able to snap the answers right back to you."
Miller also is getting more comfortable as a leader. Although the introverted Buckeye differs from Tim Tebow, Urban Meyer's last Heisman-winning quarterback -- "We're maximizing as much vocalism as he’s got," Herman said -- he has taken greater initiative this summer, calling teammates to gather for workouts and making every rep count.
"You have to see it from when he was a freshman to now," slotback Jordan Hall said. "It's just crazy how he grew over the years."
Part of that growth is learning when to scramble. Herman estimates that of Miller's 1,271 rushing yards in 2012, only about 200 came on scrambles. If Herman called a pass, Miller believed he had to throw one, even when the window wasn't there.
Herman would like to call fewer designed runs for Miller, and more passes that Miller could turn into big gains on the ground if the opportunities are there.
"You're the best athlete on the field, you've got the ball in your hands, you've got open space, go take off and run," Herman said. "We've done a better job as a staff of making him aware of why we want him to do that. It doesn't make him less of a quarterback because he scrambles."
Miller's offseason to-do list is long, but his ceiling as a college quarterback also is very high. He won't reach that ceiling during the 2013 season, according to Herman, but he still could hoist the Heisman in December and the crystal football in January.
"It will be really hard, because of some of the rudimentary and remedial things we still had to work on, for him to reach his full potential this season," Herman said. "But I think he can be the best in the country, which is scary to say that not at his best, he can still be the best in the country.
"That's a legitimate goal."
- Tim Tebow is an Ohio State fan now, and he discusses Braxton Miller and other topics with Doug Lesmerises. Ohio State focuses on its "special" problems.
- Denard Robinson (elbow) is expected to start at quarterback for Michigan at Minnesota. The Wolverines have always bounced back from losses under Brady Hoke. Michigan's kicking game, which used to be terrible, is now a strength.
- A look at where Taylor Martinez ranks among Nebraska's top quarterbacks. Nebraska linebacker David Santos is starting to show off his potential. Huskers fullback Mike Marrow is sidelined with a knee injury.
- The Big Ten's collective struggles will cost the league come bowl-payout time.
- Minnesota cornerback Michael Carter says his famous cousin, Tyrone, saved his career with the Gophers. Troy Stoudermire's success on defense is hurting Stoudermire's chase of the NCAA kick return yards record.
- Michigan State coaches want their top running back to get downhill faster. Two Spartans safeties are questionable for Saturday's game against Nebraska.
- Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz faces the music again, and has to defend his offensive coordinator. Randy Peterson answers five Hawkeyes football questions.
- Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin is making the most of his senior season. The Lions' special teams units are being scrutinized.
- In case you missed it, former Penn State president Graham Spanier has been charged with perjury and obstruction of justice. Jerry Sandusky, by the way, is in jail with the worst of the worst.
- Purdue's struggles after Joe Tiller underscore the magic Tiller did in West Lafayette. The Boilers hope a versatile weapon can spark their offense against PSU.
- Illinois' defensive struggles have come as a surprise this season.
- Wisconsin's defense is seeing red in the red zone.
- Northwestern still has plenty of work to do in the open week.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer made it clear Monday: he's not going to change Braxton Miller.
"You let him be him," Meyer said.
It could result in more moments like the one late in the third quarter Saturday against Purdue, when Miller writhed in pain on the turf after being slammed on his neck. While no one hopes it results in another trip to the hospital, the quarterback's style of play as a runner keeps the ambulance team on alert.
Miller has taken fans' breath away with his dynamic running skills in Meyer's spread offense this season. He also has had Buckeye Nation holding its breath a few times.
It's hard to have one without the other, especially as Ohio State tries to develop more reliable offensive weapons around its best player. Meyer noted Monday that if other offensive players step up, Miller will have to do less, thereby reducing his injury risk. Interestingly enough, Ohio State got several out-of-nowhere contributions -- notably from wide receiver Chris Fields -- after Miller left Ohio Stadium in an ambulance.
"We are trying to balance it," Meyer said. "We don't go crazy with him running the ball. At some point, though, you have to try to move the ball a little bit. We're very cognizant of that."
Meyer is still "very concerned" about Miller taking big shots, as the quarterback has in games against Michigan State, Nebraska and Purdue to name a few. Asked if the trend is symptomatic for quarterbacks in his offense, Meyer noted that former Florida star Tim Tebow took some shots, while Chris Leak, Alex Smith and Josh Harris did a better job of staying out of harm's way.
"He doesn't go down very easily, and he's a competitive guy," Meyer said of Miller. "The good thing is, he usually bounces right back up. This one was a tough one. … He just is a dynamic athlete. He's more difficult to bring down."
The Ohio State coaches can tell Miller to keep his well-being in mind -- to run out of bounds after getting a first down, maybe even to slide once in a while. They can limit him to 12-15 carries rather than 18-20. But it's not in Miller's nature to go down easily. Miller's natural ability to break tackles and find running room when none seems to be available also leads to fewer safe plays.
Asked if Miller's injury issues will have any impact on his play calling against Penn State, offensive coordinator Tom Herman said, "None. We've got to win the game. ... That won't factor into any of our decisions."
This is Ohio State's reality in 2012 as it tries to build scoring threats around Miller. For long stretches, he has been the Buckeyes' offense.
If that's the case going forward, there will be more breathtaking runs -- and more breath-holding hits. Bring your oxygen.
It's why the commissioner puts together unquestionably the nation's toughest bowl lineup each year. It's why he spearheaded the short-lived scheduling alliance with the Pac-12.
Even as the Big Ten's losses in nationally significant games pile up and its last national title in football gets smaller in the rear-view mirror, Delany wants teams to measure themselves against the best.
Michigan has gotten the message, loud and clear.
The Wolverines open the season Saturday night against defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Texas. Alabama has hoisted the crystal football in two of the past three seasons. The Tide boast a 55-12 record under coach Nick Saban and haven't dropped a nonconference game since the 2007 season, Saban's first in Tuscaloosa.
The big blue banner isn't the only one Michigan will carry onto the field Saturday night. The Wolverines are playing for their beleaguered conference, too.
"Saban is probably the coach of the decade, and Alabama's probably the team of the decade with two national championships in the last three years," Delany told ESPN.com on Monday morning. "Michigan's trying to re-establish a program and a team, and Saban has done a fabulous job of returning Alabama to its programmatic height. So for us, it's a big game. I don't think you can minimize it. It's an important game, a big game, a big stage, and those are the kinds of games we want to play."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- John Simon is genuinely flattered by the tribute, even if it pains him to hear it repeated.
When asked about the term "Tebowish," which new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer used to describe Simon during spring practice, Simon expresses his gratitude. Then he steers the conversation away from himself like he steers offensive linemen out of his rushing lanes.
Meyer hasn't coached Simon in a game and won't for another four-plus months, but the coach already places the Buckeyes senior defensive end in an exclusive group that includes Meyer's most successful player, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
"Just to be characterized with someone who has such high integrity, that means a lot to me," Simon recently told ESPN.com. "But really, I'm just coming in here every day and doing the best I can."
Is Simon a Tebow fan?
"Absolutely," he said. "He's a tremendous athlete, tremendous person. So to be compared to someone like that is a great honor. I appreciate what [Meyer] says. But I'm just coming in every day doing what I can to help. It's a team sport."
At times this spring, the coaches had to pull Simon off of the practice field so the offense could get some quality work in without No. 54 blowing up every play. Not surprisingly, Simon barely played in Saturday's spring game because he didn't need to.
"He's revealed himself around here for many years," Meyer said. "This didn't just surface. I'm putting him in a category that, I've only coached one or two like him."
Tebow being one of them.
"I used the term Tebowish," Meyer said. "I've got to be careful not to do that. It should be Simonish. He's a next-level type player: leader, character, toughness, commitment.
"He's elite, elite."
As a freshman, Simon's teammates billed him as a future All-American. He has played both line positions during his career, starting at defensive tackle in 2010 before playing mostly end last season. While Ohio State's defense didn't perform to its traditional standard in 2011, Simon did his part by supplying a a team-leading 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks, more than twice as many as any other Buckeye.
At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, Simon is somewhat of a tweener: small for a defensive tackle and a bit short for a defensive end. His physical measurables might not be ideal, but in almost every other category, he's off the charts. Many talk about his motor, a term often applied to former Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who as a senior went from first-team All-Big Ten to unanimous All-American and NFL first-round draft pick.
"You can't teach a motor, you can't teach intensity," Buckeyes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "You'll have a hard time teaching some of those unique things. He has every single one of those. But John, I think he still has a lot of ability to get better fundamentally and technique-wise. That's what’s so exciting about John. He's only scratched the surface of how good he can get with the tools he has."
Fickell lauded Simon's versatility, saying the senior could play middle linebacker if the team needed him there. While playing multiple positions should help Simon in the NFL evaluation process, Fickell hopes "we can settle him in a little bit more" at defensive end.
Simon sees areas where he can improve every time he watches film. And he watches plenty of it. He also spent the spring tutoring Ohio State's younger defensive linemen, and will do the same this summer, when the Buckeyes welcome heralded D-line recruits like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.
"He'll be here at 6 in the morning, he'll leave late at night," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "He has an unbelievable understanding of the game. He's not very vocal, but he leads by example.
"He's just somebody you can count on."
That's the type of tribute, more than "Tebowish" or "future All-American," that a guy like Simon can appreciate.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer raves about Braxton Miller's competitive spirit these days, but not long ago the Ohio State coach felt differently about his quarterback.
"It was very alarming in the [winter]," Meyer told ESPN.com.
New coaches must wait until the spring to work with players on the practice field, but they keep close tabs during winter conditioning. It's no coincidence the coaches' offices at programs like Nebraska overlook the team's weight room.
When Meyer observed Miller this winter, he became concerned. It wasn't as if Miller slacked off or didn't get his work in with the strength coaches. But he didn't measure up to the starting quarterbacks Meyer had in the past.
"Chris Leak doesn't get enough credit at Florida," Meyer said, referring to the quarterback who helped him win his first national title, against Ohio State. "He was a very hard worker in the weight room, a very competitive guy in the weight room. [Tim] Tebow was off the charts. Alex Smith was extremely competitive in the offseason program. I didn't see that from Braxton."
"He worked hard," Meyer continued. "He was fine. I didn't see him compete at the level he's competing at right now. The lights come on, you get the ball in his hands and he becomes an excellent competitor."
The lights of spring practice are only so bright, even here at Ohio State, but Miller's work on the field has put Meyer's concerns to rest. The sophomore still has a long way to go in absorbing a new offense and improving the technical aspects of his game, but his drive to win isn't in doubt for a coach who knows what he wants in a starting quarterback.
"In the winter, it's just all working out, a little bit of competitive drills going on," Miller told ESPN.com. "But when the pads come on, the lights come on, it's just more natural for me to have fun and compete."
He showed glimpses of it as a freshman last fall, never more so than in the closing moments of Ohio State's 33-29 win against then-No. 15 Wisconsin. The Buckeyes had squandered a 12-point lead with 4:39 to play and trailed 29-26 when Miller rallied the team in the closing seconds. On first down from Wisconsin's 40-yard line, Miller rolled out, spotted teammate Devin Smith slipping behind Wisconsin's secondary, and fired the game-winning touchdown pass with 20 ticks left.
Although he had limited production in a limited role in a limited offense last season, Miller didn't shy away from big moments.
"All my life, when I get the chance to get the ball in my hands, it's exciting," he said.
When spring ball began, Buckeyes offensive coordinator Tom Herman had different concerns than Meyer about Miller. Herman knew he had inherited an athlete -- Miller rushed for 715 yards and seven touchdowns last season -- but he had never seen Miller pass the ball live.
Despite starting 10 games in 2011, Miller only attempted 157 passes, including a laughable four in a win at Illinois.
"I crossed my fingers and held my breath and went out there for the first practice," Herman said. "It was a big sigh of relief, seeing him throw the football. How he throws the football from the shoulders up is actually very mechanically sound. His footwork is probably the biggest thing we're continuing to work on.
"They're not easy fixes, but they're a lot less complex than trying to break a kid's arm mechanics down and build him back up."
Meyer likens Miller to Josh Harris, who played quarterback for Meyer at Bowling Green in 2001-02. But Miller has his "own little niche," Meyer said.
Like Meyer, Herman has seen Miller compete hard in practices, particularly during winner/loser days.
"He wants it to be perfect every time, and especially when he's the one contributing to those mistakes, then it really frustrates him," Herman said. "That's a good thing. If he wasn't frustrated, we'd have problems."
For the most part, Miller remains even-keeled. Buckeyes offensive tackle Jack Mewhort doesn't expect Miller to become "more rah-rah" in the weight room. Mewhort also doesn't expect Miller to be rattled in big moments.
"He wants the ball in his hands because he knows he can do great things with it," tight end Jake Stoneburner said. "You weren't really able to see that in the winter, because it's all lifting and running, but once you get on the field, some guys change, and he's one of those guys."
Stoneburner has seen significant changes in Miller this spring, acknowledging that a quarterback who was "a little bit intimidated" last season is taking charge more in the huddle. The soft-spoken Miller is trying to be more vocal, whether it's flipping protections with his linemen, or changing the routes for his pass-catchers.
"I grew up a lot," he said.
But he's not where he needs to be.
"He's an average leader right now," Meyer said. "We need to make him a great leader. You have to raise the level of play of those around you. This summer, he has to do it. He hasn't done it to this point. He's been at Ohio State for a little over a year, and his leadership qualities are not where they need to be.
"I think he will get there, because he's sharp, he's smart and he's a competitor."
Especially when the lights come on.
Ryan from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Hey Adam, How much of a true telling of Michigan's season is the Alabama game going to be? The more that I think about it, the more I begin to sense there are too many unknown factors on both teams for people to make automatic judgments for both Michigan and Alabama teams. That being said, do you feel that a Michigan victory would be a solid sign for another 11 or 12 win season?
Adam Rittenberg: Ryan, I agree that the first game doesn't answer every question about a particular team, and both squads undoubtedly will be improved later in the season. But teams can make national statements in Week 1, like LSU did last season against Oregon in the opener. A Michigan win would be absolutely huge for the program and for the Big Ten, which has struggled to beat the SEC's elite. I haven't hid my feelings about Alabama. In my view, it's the best college program in America and boasts the best college coach in Nick Saban. Any victory against the Tide, no matter what year or how many starters they've lost or where the game is played, resonates in my book. While Alabama certainly won't be Michigan's last major test in 2012, a Wolverines victory would be extremely significant.
Michael from Happy Valley, Pa., writes: hi Adam, you may have already answered this but after your visit to PSU these past two days I have a new and refreshing question about none other than the QB race. What do you think the chances are that Paul Jones, with no game-time experience, is named the starter come september 1st? It sounds like a longshot, but from what I've been hearing around campus and other websites, PJ has been on fire in practice and seems like the real deal when it comes to quarterback. Did he stand out to you at the practice you attended moreso than McGloin (bolden's name shouldn't even be thought of in the QB face ever again or I lose faith in humanity)
Adam Rittenberg: Michael, while Jones remains very much in the mix for the starting job, I think Penn State fans should pump the brakes a bit on all the hype surrounding him. From what I saw this week, he still has some strides to make in a very complex offense, although he clearly has some excellent skills. Granted, I only saw one practice, but he didn't stand out above the others. I realize most PSU fans are sick of Bolden, but it would surprise me if he's not in the final two for the starting job after spring ball. He's a confounding player in many respects, as I saw him make some tremendous, NFL-type throws, but also some head-scratching mistakes. Consistency remains the big key, but I wouldn't write him off despite his struggles in games.
Sam from Iowa City, Iowa, writes: Adam, you quoted KF: "Bottom line is we're 4-4 the last two years in conference play," he said. "If that's the best we can do, then that's fine. But we felt like we've left something out there."If thats the best they can do, thats fine? Two questions for you regarding that. First, is than an opinion that permeates the program (from the AD to the players) as far as you can tell from your time in Iowa City. And second, as a professional sports writer, do you think that is a fair of Iowa as a program, with or without KF?
Adam Rittenberg: Sam, I think Kirk's point is that sometimes, a team maxes out at 4-4. Some teams simply aren't better than 5-7. But Iowa has been better than that, in his mind, the past few seasons and has fallen short. When Ferentz first came to Iowa, the team's maximum output was lower than it has been in recent years. Ferentz has built his program on maximizing talent. In some years, the max is 10 or 11 wins. In other years, it's seven or eight wins. I don't think Iowa will have a team, talent wise, that would call a six-win season satisfactory. I also don't think Ferentz's quote means that the team has an attitude that 4-4 is OK. Players and coaches have bigger goals, like reaching the Rose Bowl and winning a Big Ten title. Ferentz's point is that Iowa must max out its ability, which means better than 4-4 in most years.
Chris from Chicago writes: Every year we hear a lot of complimentary things about teams in spring/summer practice -- improved competition, "swagger," guys playing/looking hungry. And then the season starts, and many times this hunger/improvement/swagger is nowhere to be seen. When Adam/Brian visit a spring/summer practice, what do you look for to see if a team is actually looking better than it did the previous year?
Adam Rittenberg: Chris, good point about the optimistic nature of spring ball. I've yet to visit a spring practice where the team lacks confidence or expects to lose nine or 10 games. But I do look at body language, and when I'm allowed to see practices, I look for players who look different and play different than they did the previous season. At Penn State, for example, I wasn't closely studying players like Silas Redd and Gerald Hodges (both of whom looked great, by the way). I know they can play at an All-Big Ten level. I was looking for the up-and-comers, and also which position groups are showing greater depth. I also look to see how fluid a practice is, whether there are big plays on both sides of the ball and how many breakdowns occur. But you can tell a lot from meeting with players and coaches, listening to how they say things and how confident they sound about their team.
Brian from Indianapolis writes: Call me ignorant, but what does "Silverstone the links" mean? Is it an inside joke, or something?
Adam Rittenberg: Wish it were, Brian. No, it refers to how Alicia Silverstone feeds her son. Click the link at your own risk.
Tom from Lakeland, Fla., writes: Going into 2012 it appears that Danny Hope is the only coach on the hot seat. Any thought that Bobby Petrino could end up at Purdue?
Adam Rittenberg: Wow, that didn't take long, did it? I'll say this: Bobby Petrino will have opportunities in 2013. He's too good of a football coach, and there will be those willing to overlook his lying and transgressions because he can win football games. I don't get the sense Purdue would go that route, and AD Morgan Burke remains supportive of Hope, who he tabbed to succeed Joe Tiller. I also don't know if Purdue could pay Petrino what he'd likely demand.
Jake M. from Chicago writes: Hi Adam. What makes you and Brian so sure that Urban Meyer will succeed with Ohio St.? While he was highly successful at Florida, he also had the opportunity to win with arguably one of the best college players ever (Tebow). It just seems as if OSU has already won a national championship with Meyer before he has even coached a game.
Adam Rittenberg: Jake, there's certainly a group that wonders how Meyer's Florida tenure would have gone had Tebow not been there. And it's fair to wonder whether he's receiving too much praise too early in his Ohio State tenure. My feeling about Ohio State is the program is set up to compete at the highest level and did for most of Jim Tressel's tenure. The damage from the NCAA investigation appears minimal, in part because of what Meyer did on the recruiting trail following his hiring in late December. There's almost a sense that Ohio State is too big to fail. That doesn't mean Meyer and his staff will have it easy this year. They have work to do, particularly with an offense that has underperformed in recent years and needs playmakers to emerge at the wide receiver spot. I like the young defenders returning, and Ohio State should make strides on that side of the ball. It's not as if Ohio State has been far away from winning another national title. Meyer's presence as an elite recruiter, and the more innovative offense he'll bring could be what puts the Buckeyes over the top. But they'll still have to earn it and win what is becoming a deeper Big Ten.
Jason from Dallas writes: Saw your RB and WR video blogs. So are you saying Purdue had no running backs or receivers last year, or have none that will be any good this year? Can't help but notice you mentionied the entire conference, except Purdue.
Adam Rittenberg: Jason, thanks for pointing this out, but I didn't mean to slight Purdue at all. The Boilers lose a very good receiver in Justin Siller and return two strong running backs in Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers. Bolden's recurring knee problems are a major concern, but Shavers looked pretty capable of doing damage in the bowl game. Akeem Hunt is another guy who could bolster Purdue's rushing attack. Sometimes it's hard to hit on every team in a short video, but I like what Purdue brings back at the skill positions in 2012.
John from AuGres, Mich., writes: The reports on Andrew Maxwell were pretty positive the past two years at Michigan State. He is a bit more athletic than Kirk Cousins, and it appears he can "sling it" pretty well. With an experienced offensive line and 3 talented running backs (Bell, Caper, Hill), expect "Air Max" to provide the balance the Spartans will need to compliment a strong defense.
Adam Rittenberg: I'm really excited to see Maxwell this spring and then in game action during the fall. He definitely has had time to prepare for this role, and the reviews on his skills are encouraging. The lack of game experience is the big question mark with Maxwell, and I'm sure there will be some bumps along the way, especially against good competition early in the 2012 season. I also agree that Michigan State can really help out Maxwell by regenerating the rushing attack with Le'Veon Bell. Michigan State won't win many more division titles with the type of rushing attack we saw in 2011. I fully expect it to be a stronger area for the Spartans this coming fall.
Jim from Odebolt, Iowa, writes: Adam, I am going insane here. I have searched the entire web and even made a few phone calls to insiders on the Iowa program. Who is the next defensive coordinator at Iowa? By now, I would have to believe that if was someone inside the program Kirk would have already announced, yet there has been no seeing of Tom Bradly or Ron Aiken or any other possible candidates seen coming or going form the Iowa football offices. What kind of effect does this have on our current recruits or possible recruits, especially on the Dline where we have a few promising young men coming in.
Adam Rittenberg: Jim, you're not the only Hawkeye fan getting antsy about the prolonged defensive coordinator search. I really thought Iowa would have Norm Parker's successor in place by now. I don't think the delay has too much of a negative effect on recruiting, as Iowa will almost certainly keep a similar structure on defense. Kirk Ferentz doesn't like to overhaul things, and Iowa has been successful on defense for a long time with the current structure. There will be some tweaks I'm sure, but I think Iowa is selling defensive recruits on its track record.
Ronald from Lake Zurich, Ill., writes: You had Gerald Hodges of Penn St. at the top of your most improved players of 2011 in the B1G Leaders div. Wouldn't Jonathan Brown of Illinois be more deserving? Brown had 108 tackles to 106 for HodgesBrown had 19.5 tackles for loss to 10 for HodgesBrown had 6 sacks to 4.5 for HodgesBrown was a sophomore in 2011 playing little in 2010
Adam Rittenberg: Ronald, I wasn't trying to slight Brown by not including him, and if we expanded the list, he certainly would have made it. Brown put up some exceptional numbers and has a bright future in Tim Banks' aggressive defense. Both players put up some terrific statistics. I felt Hodges impacted games more consistently than Brown did, although Brown had some huge performances like the one against Arizona State in Week 3. With Ian Thomas departing, Brown will move into a bigger leadership role with the linebackers in 2012. He certainly made a huge jump, as did Hodges.
Tim from Naperville, Ill., writes: I noticed on the list of players from the B1G to participate in the combine, Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz were not included. Can you give any incite as to why certain players are not on the list?
Adam Rittenberg: Tim, as I pointed out in the post, it was an initial list, not a final list. The initial list doesn't include underclassmen who have declared for the draft. Peter Konz obviously will be at the combine along with other Big Ten underclassmen like Illinois' Whitney Mercilus. I was a bit surprised not to see Zeitler on the initial list, but I'd be extremely surprised if he's not in Indy next month. I will post the final combine invite list as soon as it becomes available.
Charlie from Chicago writes: Hey Adam,Can you fill us in a little bit on the situation with Kyle Prater? It sounds like he is leaning towards Northwestern, so my question is how excited should Wildcat fans be about him? I'm just curious about the reasons why he's transferring and how much his past injuries are going to be a problem. Basically would Northwestern be getting the same 5-star WR that USC got a couple years ago? Also he would have to be benched for a year after transferring, right? Thanks.
Adam Rittenberg: Charlie, you're correct that Prater is leaning toward Northwestern, as colleague Scott Powers reported Thursday. His injury history at USC is a bit of a concern for whichever team lands him, but it sounds like he really wanted to play closer to home (Chicago area). While the glitz of L.A. and USC is appealing to top recruits, some players ultimately are homesick and want to be closer to their families. Would Northwestern be gaining an elite receiver? Tough to tell without seeing Prater play significant time at the college level. He'd have to re-prove himself to a certain degree. But the potential certainly is there. I understand a lot of Northwestern fans are excited about Prater because Northwestern rarely lands recruits like him. But he also plays a position where Northwestern is already very strong and should be strong going forward. I think the hubbub would be a bit more justified if Prater played defensive back, a position where Northwestern has struggled for more than a decade.
Kasey from California writes: Really Adam? You write about the B1G possibly looking into coaching behavior because of something IOWA's basketball coach did, but turn it around on Pelini by using the A&M game of all examples? Normally I don't mind what you guys write, but come on. This whole topic started because of McCarffey. Why not put a picture of him and focus your article on him instead of turning it around on Pelini? You media types just always have to go fishing for ways to stir the pot.
Adam Rittenberg: Kasey, since this is a Big Ten football blog, I was pointing out an incident involving a Big Ten basketball coach that will have ramifications for the league's football coaches. Our college basketball blog is there to focus on McCaffery, but I was putting the Fran Slam in a Big Ten football context. All the Big Ten football coaches need to know their sideline conduct is being watched. Pelini isn't the only coach who needs to be aware, as Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald and others also have been very animated during games. Husker fan Mike from Lincoln did some extensive research and found demonstrative pictures of every Big Ten coach to show Pelini isn't the only one. Check out Bret Bielema, Kirk Ferentz, Brady Hoke and Mark Dantonio.
Matt from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Adam, Meyer's spread offense might be a turn off to some elite quarterbacks with their eyes set on the pros. If you remember, Tressel's pro-style offense (unfortunately) led Pryor to choose Ohio State. However, do you think the influx of Tebow-Mania and the surprising rise of Alex Smith in the NFL somewhat debunk the non-spread stereotype for elite QB recruits that OSU might go after?
Adam Rittenberg: Good point, Matt. Alex Smith's emergence certainly shows that an Urban Meyer-coached QB can make in the NFL, although Jim Harbaugh has a lot to do with Smith's rise. Tim Tebow still has a long way to go to be a long-term pro quarterback, but I think we've seen that quarterback who play in spread offenses can transition well to the NFL game. Cam Newton's 2011 season is more proof.
- No official word from Purdue on star receiver Keith Smith, but Smith's high school coach says the senior tore his ACL and MCL, Mike Carmin writes in The (Lafayette) Journal and Courier.
- Former Minnesota All-American Bob Stein says the program's current condition is "shameful," Charley Walters writes in the (St. Paul) Pioneer Press.
- Promising Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges is out indefinitely with a leg injury, Bob Flounders writes in The (Harrisburg) Patriot-News.
- Denard Robinson is all over ESPN these days, but the Michigan quarterback doesn't even have cable, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News. In case you missed it, ESPN Stats & Information examines Robinson's historically hot start, and colleague Andrea Adelson compares Robinson's start with Tim Tebow's in 2007. Some good Wolverines notes from annarbor.com's Pete Bigelow.
- Mark Dantonio knows Michigan State's best football is ahead of it, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press. A look back at the late Brad Van Pelt, whose number will be retired Saturday at Spartan Stadium, Joe Rexrode writes in the Lansing State Journal.
- Tim May and Ken Gordon discuss Ohio State's win against Miami and the soft slate ahead in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Coaches keep talking (joking, mostly) about Kirk Ferentz's salary at Iowa, Ryan Suchomel writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- Coach Bret Bielema isn't ruling out Kraig Appleton's return to Wisconsin, though don't hold your breath, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal. Wisconsin players haven't forgotten what Steven Threet did to them in 2008 at the Big House, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Northwestern's trip to Rice will be a homecoming for several Houston natives on the team, Lindsey Willhite writes in the Daily Herald.
- Illinois' Jack Ramsey is back at receiver after a recent switch to defensive back, Bob Asmussen writes in The (Champaign) News-Gazette.
- It has been pretty much status quo at Indiana during an unusually long early season hiatus, Dustin Dopirak writes in The (Bloomington) Herald-Times (subscription required).
"While Tebow was in a system that asked him to run and he liked to run, Young and Pryor don't need to run, but they can run. It's a big distinction. Part of Young's growth and value as an NFL quarterback is his knowledge of his physical skills allowing him to run, but he doesn't have to just to have value. What Pryor will need to prove is that he has footwork, not just good feet, an accurate arm, not just a cannon, and that he can read plays and deliver with anticipation, not just find open receivers."
As I've written before, Pryor likely never will have textbook mechanics. But if he can improve in other areas, namely footwork and decision-making, he can be a heck of a college quarterback, and possibly a great pro quarterback. This spring, I saw improved footwork from Pryor, and if he can make smart decisions -- and anticipate the right throws, as Kiper says -- he should have a great junior season.
Kiper also weighs in on former Penn State quarterback Pat Devlin, now at Delaware, as well as former Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham, the first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles.
I also missed this from last week, but Kiper has come out with his position rankings (top 5) for the 2011 NFL draft . These are seniors only, so draft-eligible juniors like Pryor and Wisconsin's John Clay aren't on the list.
Here are the Big Ten players who made it:
- Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi, No. 2 offensive tackle
- Ohio State's Justin Boren, No. 2 offensive guard
- Michigan's Stephen Schilling, No. 3 offensive guard
- Wisconsin's John Moffitt, No. 5 offensive guard
- Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski, No. 2 center (note: Wisniewski practiced at guard this spring and likely will stay there this season)
- Iowa's Adrian Clayborn, No. 2 defensive end
- Ohio State's Cameron Heyward, No. 4 defensive end
- Michigan State's Greg Jones, No. 3 inside linebacker
- Iowa's Ryan Donahue, No. 1 punter
A solid list of players there. I was a little surprised not to see Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan or Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan, but the others look to be in the right places.
Kiper on Jones: "Jones is one of the purest tacklers you'll see in college football. His stock could rise next season on a potentially underrated Michigan State team, but he'll need to overcome questions about his size. I wouldn't be surprised to see him come into camp with 10 more pounds on that frame, which should help solidify his stock."
Kiper on Clayborn and Heyward: "Heyward came on strong this past season and should be an anchor of a top-five defense next season. Clayborn was a beast down the stretch, and it's huge for coach Kirk Ferentz to get him back as an anchor point for that defense, which loses significant talent elsewhere."
Kiper on Boren and Moffitt: "Moffitt is the only guy to be added to this list; Wisconsin should have an elite line next season with Moffitt and OT Carimi. RB John Clay will enjoy running behind them. Justin Boren isn't No. 1 here yet, but could jump [Rodney] Hudson with a dominant season for a Big Ten power."
But when church groups, youth organizations or high schools ask him to speak at their venues, Cousins has a tough time saying no.
Between Michigan State's bowl game Jan. 2 and April 7, Cousins estimated that he'd done 10 to 15 speaking appearances. On Christmas Eve, he spoke at three separate services at a church in East Lansing, just days before departing to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl. During the one week he has off in May, he'll make four or five speaking appearances in and around his hometown of Holland, Mich.
Though Cousins' schedule during the season or in spring ball can't accommodate as many engagements, he'll do what he can.
"I feel like being a quarterback here at a big university, this is a platform," he said. "It's an opportunity to influence people for the good. I want to take advantage of that."
Cousins, who last year became just the second sophomore to be named a co-captain in Michigan State history, references his religious background in his speeches. His father, Don, is a non-denominational Christian minister, and has helped him in the process.
"It's something that I enjoy doing," he said. "God blessed me with a little bit of talent to do it, and my dad has been able to coach me there, too. I'm not just going out there not knowing how to do it."
Cousins is well aware of the responsibility that comes with his position and the influence he has with others, especially kids. Other quarterbacks from BCS schools have received attention for their off-field work, none more so than former Florida star Tim Tebow.
While Cousins doesn't know Tebow, he has admired him and others from a distance.
"He did things the right way," Cousins said. "What I'm amazed by is the scrutiny he's been under and how closely he's been watched, and he seems to take it all in stride and seems to remain very humble. He's definitely a guy I've learned a lot from. Colt McCoy's another guy, Sam Bradford, they're all guys who seem to be very successful on the field but also off the field.
"Football's not my life. It's not the most important thing in my life. So I'm not afraid to share that and speak out."