Big Ten: Tyler Moeller

It's time to recognize the best and the brightest from Week 7 in Big Ten play.
  • Penn State LB Nate Stupar: The veteran recorded two interceptions against Purdue and added seven tackles and a pass breakup as Penn State improved to 6-1 off a 23-18 win. Stupar's second interception helped the Nittany Lions run out the clock. Linebacker Gerald Hodges (3 tackles for loss) also merits a mention.
  • Ohio State's defense: The Buckeyes need their defense to play at an elite level to win Big Ten games, and the unit delivered against No. 16 Illinois in a 17-7 victory. Individual standouts included linemen John Simon (4 tackles for loss, 2 sacks) and Johnathan Hankins (team-high 9 tackles, 2 tackles for loss), safety Tyler Moeller (forced fumble, pass breakup) and linebacker Storm Klein (forced fumble, fumble recovery, tackle for loss). But the collective effort lifted Ohio State, which was physical, fundamentally sound and opportunistic (3 takeaways).
  • Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: For the second consecutive year Baker shredded the Michigan defense as Michigan State beat its archrival at Spartan Stadium 28-14. The junior racked up 167 rush yards and a touchdown on 26 carries. He eclipsed 100 rush yards for the first time this season and now has 314 rush yards in two games against Michigan.
  • Wisconsin RB Montee Ball: All the man does is score touchdowns -- and, now, pass for them. Ball had 14 carries for 142 rush yards and three touchdowns, including a 54-yarder late in the third quarter, in the Badgers' 59-7 win over the Hoosiers. He also showed off his throwing arm on a 25-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Russell Wilson.
  • Iowa RB Marcus Coker: The Hawkeyes' bruising back was far too much for the Northwestern defense, especially in the second half. Coker carried 22 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns in the 41-31 win.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Ohio State players know many of you have been enjoying this.

After a decade of dominance in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes' backslide both on and off the field in recent months has brought delight to folks around the country. The suspensions, the departures, the NCAA issues and, most recently, the losses have created one giant Scarlet and Gray snowball, rolling down the mountain.

"A lot of people," cornerback Travis Howard said, "are waiting for us to fold."

They're still waiting.

Ohio State reached a crossroads Saturday at Memorial Stadium. After collapsing the week before at Nebraska, the Buckeyes were in danger of slipping to 0-3 in the Big Ten and below the .500 mark for the first time since 1999 (and this late in the year for the first time since 1988). Coach Luke Fickell took heat during the week. Backup quarterback Joe Bauserman took even more heat.

A loss to No. 16 Illinois might be the breaking point for Ohio State.

Instead, it could turn out to be the turning point.

Ohio State silenced Illinois in a 17-7 victory and, in the process, sent a loud-and-clear message to the rest of the Big Ten.

"Ohio State is going to be here," Howard said. "This is Ohio State football. This is what we do, and we're going to continue to keep fighting."

The Buckeyes' unconventional method for victory suited what has been an unconventional season in Columbus. Their three scoring drives totaled 79 yards.

They completed one pass -- one! -- and attempted just four. It marked the first time since a 1976 loss to Missouri that Ohio State finished with just one pass completion.

Ohio State's coach that day? Woody Hayes. He would have loved this one. The current coach, a former Buckeyes defensive lineman and defensive assistant, didn't mind it, either.

"The game plan was to win," Fickell said. "That was the ultimate, most important thing, and however we had to do it, we were ready to to do it."

[+] EnlargeDan Herron
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesIn his first game this season, Dan Herron rushed for 114 yards and one touchdown.
The Buckeyes won with physical strength at the line of scrimmage, hard-hitting defense, opportunistic play and running -- lots of it, 51 carries for 211 yards.

Running back Dan "Boom" Herron, one of the infamous Tat-5, made his season debut after serving a six-game suspension and looked like the freshest player on the field. He repeatedly evaded an aggressive Illini defense, racking up 114 rush yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.

Herron had spent the first six games watching at home, often with teammate DeVier Posey, who remains suspended until Nov. 19. Both men were suspended for multiple NCAA rules violations.

"I learned a lot," Herron said. "Just thinking twice before making decisions. It really made me grow up as a man. I'm just not taking anything for granted."

An Ohio State team that seemingly could take great seasons for granted no longer has that luxury. The suspensions of quarterback Terrelle Pryor, Herron, Posey and left tackle Mike Adams left the offense in a bind.

For the Buckeyes to succeed this fall, the defense would have to perform at a championship level. After falling apart at Nebraska, showing uncharacteristically poor tackling and an inability to stop big plays, Ohio State re-established its identity.

"We wanted to go out and prove something," said safety C.J. Barnett, who delivered several jarring hits. "We were kind of pissed off. ... Being at Ohio State, the people that came before us, they established a tradition of excellence. With the losses, we weren't really living up to that."

Ohio State received standout performances from linemen Johnathan Hankins and John Simon, the team's top two tacklers, who combined for six tackles for loss. Safety Tyler Moeller (5 tackles, forced fumble) and linebacker Storm Klein (forced fumble, fumble recovery, tackle for loss) helped the effort along with Howard and cornerback Bradley Roby, both of whom recorded interceptions.

With the offense struggling, the defense set up short fields with its first two takeaways, both of which led to touchdowns. Although Ohio State listed better tackling and limiting big plays as its top two priorities, the takeways proved to be huge.

"This is a game of momentum," Fickell said. "The one thing we've lacked on defense is making some plays."

Illinois had made plenty of play in its first six games, storming out to its best start since 1951. But Ohio State flustered quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and prevented star receiver A.J. Jenkins from going off again.

Although the Illini received a strong performance from their defense, the offense didn't show up until the closing minutes.

"You can't scrap the season," coach Ron Zook said. "We have a chance to be pretty good."

The Buckeyes think they do, too, although they haven't looked the part for much of the year. While Saturday's win was anything but pretty, Ohio State improved to 1-0 in Leaders division play. Remember, the Buckeyes face division leaders Wisconsin and Penn State at Ohio Stadium.

They now enter a much-needed bye week before Russell Wilson and the Badgers come to town.

As players and coaches ran to the southeast corner of the stadium to celebrate with their fans and sing "Carmen Ohio," a jubilant Herron shouted, "We're back!"

Maybe not all the way back, but they're not dead, either.

Far from it.

"We got momentum," Fickell said. "It's so huge, that feeling is so huge. That's what drives you to do this. Those guys haven't had that in a while."

Final: Ohio State 17, Illinois 7

October, 15, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Ohio State isn't dead yet.

After months of disappointment on and off the field, the Buckeyes earned the right to lift their arms in victory. Behind a suffocating defense and the triumphant return of top running back Dan Herron, Ohio State beat No. 16 Illinois 17-7 for its first Big Ten win. The Illini lost for the first time this season after living on the edge for several weeks.

Ohio State coach Luke Fickell deserves a lot of credit for keeping the team focused and united after the collapse at Nebraska. Fickell undoubtedly will be thrilled with his defense, which bounced back with an impressive performance against Nathan Scheelhaase, A.J. Jenkins and one of the Big Ten's most dangerous offenses. The win wasn't pretty to many, but Fickell, as a longtime defense coach, had to be loving it.

Behind several defensive standouts -- DT Johnathan Hankins, DL John Simon, S Tyler Moeller, CB Bradley Roby, CB Travis Howard -- Ohio State kept Illinois off the scoreboard for more than 53 minutes. The Buckeyes forced three second-half takeaways, converting the first two into touchdowns.

Quarterback Braxton Miller didn't complete a pass until the fourth quarter -- he connected for a 17-yard touchdown on his first attempt -- but Ohio State limited mistakes on offense and received a terrific performance from Herron.

Now the Buckeyes head into a much-needed bye before their showdown against Wisconsin.

I'll have much more from Memorial Stadium, so don't go anywhere ...

Big Ten lunch links

September, 16, 2011
One day away ...
Luke FickellAP Photo/Jay LaPreteLuke Fickell's Buckeyes have played shorthanded and will face a tough test in Miami on Saturday.
Ohio State has played two MAC teams thus far this season. But the Buckeyes feel like they've been taking on more than just that this season. They feel like most of the public is against them, as well.

"I think people kind of want to see us fail," defensive back Tyler Moeller said.

That us-versus-the-world sentiment is understandable, as Ohio State has lived through months of off-the-field scrutiny brought on by NCAA investigations and suspensions. Some critics will only be happy when the Buckeyes lose. They almost got their wish last week.

Toledo very nearly sprung an historic upset, driving all the way to the Ohio State 16 in the waning moments before falling 27-22. It seemed the perfect fodder for all those who had predicted the program's demise this preseason.

As the 17th-ranked Buckeyes travel to Miami, a team that knows all about controversy and suspensions itself, they know they have to drastically improve in order to prevent the haters from being right.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesToledo limited the Buckeyes to just 112 yards on the ground -- most of which came on Carlos Hyde's 36-yard carry.
"We know Toledo is a good team, but we also know some people thought we should have blown them out," tight end Reid Fragel said. "I think we have a lot to prove this week. We're all kind of anxious to go down to Miami and prove something else. We have a lot of business to take care of down there."

The Toledo game exposed some serious flaws. Ohio State scored only six points in the second half and managed just 301 total yards for the game. The running game produced a paltry 3.3 yards per carry, and that included Carlos Hyde's 36-yard touchdown. That kind of offensive production against a MAC team does not bode well with Miami's fast, athletic defense up next.

If not for a punt-return touchdown, the Buckeyes might not have held on last week. But even the special teams, a hallmark of TresselBall, had their share of problems. A blocked punt led to a Toledo touchdown, and place-kicker Drew Basil missed his only field goal attempt for the second straight week. Remember Miami scored twice on special teams in last year's 36-24 loss in Columbus.

At least the Ohio State defense has been solid, but head coach Luke Fickell would like to see more than just two turnovers forced through two games.

Some struggles, though, had to be expected given how shorthanded the team has been. Against Toledo, nine key contributors were missing, including six guys who would have started if they were available. The Buckeyes have known since last year that the "Tattoo Four" wouldn't play the first five games, but the suspensions of running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Travis Howard and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown were announced just before the opener against Akron, and the team learned those three couldn't play again last week less than 48 hours before kickoff.

"We're going through a lot of adversity right now," center Mike Brewster told reporters after the Toledo game. "Look around, there's nine, 10 dudes that should be starting and they're not."

Hall, Howard and Brown will return this week for Miami, helping bolster the numbers a bit -- "It's a feeling of reloading, in a way," Fragel said.

Still, this team remains young in many key spots. The Toledo game featured 12 first-year starters, not to mention all the younger players who have moved into backup roles. Two of the youngest positions are cornerback and receiver, the latter of which suffered another setback when the most experienced wideout, Corey "Philly" Brown, hurt his ankle last week.

And even though he's a 26-year-old, fifth-year senior, quarterback Joe Bauserman had never started before this year. After a standout opener against Akron, Bauserman misfired on several throws against Toledo, finishing 16-for-30 for 189 yards and a touchdown. Many Buckeyes fans want to see freshman Braxton Miller, who played in the opener but never made into last week's game.

"We know there's things we are going to have to do moving forward, but I think Joe did a lot of the things we asked him to do," Fickell said. "He was careful with the football."

Fickell said last week's close call taught him a lot about his younger players.

"You just can see how guys really react and respond to pressure," he said.

The pressure has been on the Buckeyes to keep winning despite all the adversity they've faced this year. They haven't failed yet, but the tests are about to get more challenging.
Joe Bauserman or Braxton Miller? That's been the main question most of the past month for Ohio State.

And the Buckeyes' official depth chart for Saturday's opener against Akron has it listed exactly that way at quarterback: Joe Bauserman or Braxton Miller. Both Bauserman, a senior, and Miller, the true freshman, will play against the Zips, and the Buckeyes traditionally try to play two quarterbacks early in the season. But we still don't know who will start, though the smart money remains on the veteran Bauserman getting the first snap.

That wasn't the only interesting thing about the depth chart.

Jordan Hall is listed as the starting tailback, with Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith sharing backup duties. Conspicuously absent is Jaamal Berry, who was dealing with some hamstring issues in preseason camp.

Redshirt freshman Verlon Reed has claimed a starting spot at the 'X' receiver position ahead of Chris Fields, who is backing up Corey "Philly" Brown at the 'Y' position.

The biggest surprise, if you want to call it that, is redshirt freshman Bradley Roby listed as the starter at right cornerback. Talk about a young two-deep there. His backup is true freshman Doran Grant. If you're Akron, don't you have to test those young guys early?

The depth chart illustrates how young Ohio State is at some key positions. Nine starters are either freshmen or sophomores (10, if you count Miller). Four of the top backups on the offensive line are freshmen, while the other is sophomore guard Ivon Blackman. That's a group that can't afford many injuries. Of the 22 players on the defensive two-deep, only six are seniors, and only three of those (Tyler Moeller, Andrew Sweat and Nathan Williams) are starters.

Chalk up the relative lack of experience as another challenge this season for Luke Fickell.
Ohio State's world turned upside down when Jim Tressel resigned under pressure on Memorial Day. But if you hadn't known any of that and just showed up Labor Day weekend to watch the Buckeyes play, you'd swear there was a sweater-vested coach still on the sidelines.

Tressel is long gone from Columbus, but "Tressel Ball" lives on. The conservative approach that relies on strong defense, running the ball, special teams dictating field position and limiting turnovers has been synonymous with the program over the past decade. Given that Tressel was the only coach to leave the staff and how Ohio State's active roster is constituted, expect to see some reruns this fall.

[+] EnlargeOhio State coach Luke Fickell
AP Photo/Terry GilliamDon't expect Ohio State to change much under Luke Fickell. "Coach Tressel's face isn't here, but his spirit is still there," running back Carlos Hyde said.
"I feel like everything is still the same," running back Carlos Hyde said. "Coach Tressel's face isn't here, but his spirit is still there. You can still feel his vibe."

It's not accurate to say Ohio State just grinded things out and played field position under Tressel. Last year's team, for instance, finished second in the Big Ten in scoring at 38.8 points per game.

But offensively, at least, the Buckeyes might go a little more conservative route this season than in previous years. Terrelle Pryor's departure opens the door for a new starting quarterback, and the choice appears to be down to fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller. The situation brings back memories of 2008, when Todd Boeckman -- another senior who had redshirted and waited his turn -- got the starting nod to open the season before eventually giving way to the more athletic Pryor.

Neither guy has ever started a game, and experience at some key positions around them is lacking with top receiver DeVier Posey, left tackle Mike Adams and tailback Dan Herron all suspended for the first five games. So Jim Bollman, who's entering his 11th year as offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes, may have to keep things close to vest early on this seasons as everyone adjusts.

"You certainly can't put too much in with certain guys," Bollman said. "You just hope you can get enough in so you can play a game against a really good football team and compete."

Tressel had heavy input into the offensive game plan and play calling. Bollman doesn't plan to reinvent the wheel with his old boss gone.

"The general philosophy is not going to change," he said. "We won't be coming out and going empty on every snap."

Defensively, there's little reason to believe anything has changed, either. New head coach Luke Fickell was the co-defensive coordinator last season along with Jim Heacock, who's coached at Ohio State since 1996. Since Tressel often concentrated more on the offensive side of the ball, the schemes and ideas that have made the Silver Bullets successful should remain in place, even with some new players plugged in at defensive end and linebacker.

"It's going to be the same way we've always been," safety Tyler Moeller promised.

And why not? Though Tressel Ball may not always be the most fun to watch, it's certainly effective. The Buckeyes won a national championship and seven Big Ten titles, including the past six straight using that philosophy. That's why, when Bollman was asked whether or not this Ohio State team would look similar to those in the recent past, he answered, "I hope so."

Maybe they'll eventually change the name to Fickell Ball or something else. But for now, it looks like the spirit of the sweater vest lives on in Columbus.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

July, 15, 2011
Keepin' it real.

Next mailblog: Tuesday. Send 'em in.

Eric S. from St. Paul, Minn., writes: I have to disagree with your team secondary rankings in regards to your number two ranked, Ohio State, pick. OSU loses three starters and you place them above such teams as Nebraska and Wisconsin. Last year, Nebraska had a higher ranked pass defense than OSU, return more starting experience not to mention the number one ranked cornerback on your 2011 board while Wisconsin has more secondary players ranked in your top ten (3) than OSU (2). I understand OSU has some highly-touted young(er) players but proven experience should always rank higher than hype. In my opinion, your ranking is a traditional "safe" pick, which at least you admit with your "this is a group the Buckeyes rarely have to worry about, even after losing three starters" comment. This year is not like any other year for the Buckeyes on many levels.

Adam Rittenberg: We'll have to see, Eric. While the NCAA situation certainly is unique for Ohio State, the Buckeyes have dealt with significant personnel losses before, including those in the secondary, and still produced an elite defense. Keep in mind Ohio State gets several key defensive backs returning from injuries: Tyler Moeller, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. I think it's very close between Ohio State and Nebraska for the No. 2 spot, and you can make a good case for the Huskers to be higher. Wisconsin, meanwhile, must show the shut-down ability both Ohio State and Nebraska typically display. I like the Badgers' individual pieces, but I worry about what happens if they don't force a bunch of turnovers.

Vince from San Diego writes: Do you think Darrel Hazel is kicking himself right about now for taking the Kent State job? He had no way of knowing that Tress would leave, but it seemed like he was pretty close the throne while at OSU.

Adam Rittenberg: Good question, Vince. Hazell had no way of knowing things would turn out like this in Columbus, and while he'll be given multiple years to prove himself as a head coach at Kent State, Luke Fickell must impress a lot of folks this fall, under difficult circumstances. Don't get me wrong, it's a great opportunity for Fickell, as it would have been for Hazell, but there's still a decent chance that Ohio State goes a different direction with its coaching staff after the 2011 season. If that becomes true, Hazell would be better off at Kent State.

Danny from Davenport, Iowa, writes: Adam, I really enjoyed the picks that were made for the legends and leaders all star teams. It was a fun way to mix the two sports and provide interesting off season articles. That being said, I was just curious to see who the both of you would pick to be the head coaches of those teams (assuming it was up to a panel of judges or a voting system.)

Adam Rittenberg: Very interesting question, Danny. I can't speak for Brian, but I'd have a tough time making these choices. If we're going for the most deserving coaches at the moment, I'd go with Mark Dantonio for the Legends and Bret Bielema for the Leaders. Both men led their programs to Big Ten championships last season, ending long droughts (11 years for Wisconsin, 20 years for Michigan State). I know a lot of folks would love to see Joe Paterno coaching the Leaders all-stars, and I'd have no trouble with that. Kirk Ferentz and Pat Fitzgerald also would be interesting options for the Legends. Bo Pelini has done a nice job at Nebraska, but he's new to the Big Ten.

Eli from New York writes: Can you please not rank Penn State this year? You don't seem to expect much of them right now, and I'd like for it to stay that way. I enjoy it much better when nobody is expecting anything out of us (a la 2005).

Adam Rittenberg: Eli, I won't be ranking Penn State in my preseason Top 25, if that's what you mean. Penn State will appear in any Big Ten rankings, obviously. I see the Lions as a team with the potential to make a significant jump this season. Line play is a big question mark entering the fall, as is the quarterback situation. But I really like what Penn State has at receiver, linebacker, defensive back and running back. The key will be starting strong because the closing stretch is flat-out brutal.

Wes from North Bend, Neb., writes: Hi Adam, living just an hour away from Lincoln, Nebraska I get season tickets every year. However over the last few years we have been dividing them up among family members. I saw an article that said the game of Neb Vs. Mich state and Neb Vs. Ohio St. were two of the biggest games to watch this year on the big ten. However That was before the coach got fired and the starters got their punishment. I was just wondering if these two games were still the games to see or if not, what games would be on the watch list. Your response will be a great help so I can claim my tickets.

Adam Rittenberg: You can't go wrong with those two games, Wes. Ohio State still marks Nebraska's Big Ten home opener, and it'll be under the lights in a wild atmosphere. I would also strongly consider attending the regular-season finale against Iowa on Black Friday. Not sure if that conflicts with your Thanksgiving plans, but Nebraska-Iowa should be an excellent matchup and the start of an exciting annual rivalry series. It's tough to toss out any one of those three matchups -- can you attend all three?

Tom from New York writes: Hey Adam, Big MSU fan here and overall fan of colege sports. Anyway, I have a thought concerning the pay-for-play scenario. Has any thought ever been given to deferring payment to players until after they complete thier degree? My thoughts are first and foremost, it would motivate players to receive their degree while allowing players with NFL talent to leave early and leave the money on the table. As far as money while in school the players could borrow against those deferred payments in order supplement their financail needs. In all honesty, I haven't given this too much thought so I'm sure there are several holes in this plan, so that's why I'm turnign it over to you to think about.

Adam Rittenberg: Tom, this is an interesting idea, thanks for sending it in! I'm all for anything that motivates players to get their degrees. I'm a little leery, however, of a system where players who often need money right away have to borrow against deferred loans. Too much can go wrong, and you don't want these guys falling into debt if they fall short of their degrees for whatever reason. Also, I think the deferred payments would have to be significant to provide incentive for the players. Mo' money, mo' problems. The players seem to need these additional funds immediately -- trips home during breaks, etc. -- so I don't know how realistic this plan would be.

Andrew from Henrico, Va., writes: I know it was published over a month ago, but with ESPN's Pay for Play focus, I think it would be great for a follow-up with Jay Paterno over his Op Ed piece on the NCAA website. Theyre Already Getting a Great Deal) He covers several points of the debate and it would be an interesting read on the Big Ten blog.

Adam Rittenberg: Andrew, not to give too much away, but check the blog late Monday morning. I think you'll like what you see.

Big Ten lunchtime links

July, 14, 2011
Anyone else as excited as I am for the return of "Breaking Bad" this weekend?
  • Some undrafted Indiana Hoosiers are still working out and hoping for a chance (subscription required).
  • Dennis Kelly is preparing for his final season on the Purdue offensive line, but getting a haircut isn't among his plans.
Tyler Moeller could be called the resident historian of Ohio State's defense.

No Buckeyes defender has been on the roster longer than Moeller, who enters his sixth season this fall.

[+] EnlargeTyler Moeller
Greg Bartram/US PresswireRecovered from a chest injury, linebacker Tyler Moeller is excited about Ohio State's defense.
Since his arrival in 2006, Moeller has been part of units that have ranked 12th, first, 14th, fifth and fourth nationally in yards allowed. He has seen Ohio State finish fifth, first, sixth, fifth and fifth nationally in points allowed.

On paper, the 2011 version of the Buckeyes' D might have a tough time continuing such an impressive run. The unit says goodbye to seven starters, including first-round pick Cameron Heyward and four other players selected in April's draft (Chimdi Chekwa, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan and Jermale Hines). Ohio State's defense must fill gaps in all three levels.

But Moeller isn't concerned about the unit's outlook. Just the opposite.

"I'm more excited about this defense than any defense since I've been here," he said. "The guys we're bringing back, the guys that are stepping up, even the people who you don't see in the first lineup, they're great."

Moeller rattles off names like lineman John Simon, linebacker Etienne Sabino, cornerback Dominic Clarke and safety Christian Bryant.

"We have a lot of playmakers," Moeller said. "At any position, anyone can make a turnover or a big play at any time."

One of the biggest reasons for optimism is Moeller himself. He returns to action after missing the final eight games of last season with a torn pectoral muscle.

Limited both in the weight room and on the field this spring, Moeller has been cleared for full participation. Unable to bench press for years because of the pectoral muscle, which began to tear before the 2008 season, Moeller is boosting his bench press and his body in preparation for camp next month.

"Compared to last year, I feel like I'm 10 times better," he said. "I was 200, 205 last season going in after my head injury, and I'm 219 today. I definitely got some mass back, my strength feels great, I feel almost 100 percent right now and we still have three, four more weeks until camp starts."

Although Moeller has played in only five games since 2008 -- he missed the entire 2009 season with a head injury after being assaulted in a Florida restaurant -- he showed good promise in limited action. He recorded two forced fumbles, an interception and 4.5 tackles for loss last season, despite an injury that kept getting worse until it tore.

Moeller played the "star" position, a safety in Ohio State's oft-used nickel package, last season. He could see time this fall at star or as an outside linebacker, a position he played in the first part of his Buckeyes career. He recently spent time watching film with new Buckeyes linebackers coach Mike Vrabel, who "gives a whole new perspective of what to look at," Moeller said.

Moeller doesn't care where he lines up.

"They’re really the same thing," he said. "Hopefully, the coaches will put me in a position where I can go out there and be the type of player I am."

Big Ten lunch links

July, 13, 2011
The links aren't going anywhere, but the Big Ten chat starts right now!
Major League Baseball's All-Star Game takes place tonight in the desert, and we're joining in the fun here in Big Ten land.

You've already seen all-star teams from both the Leaders Division and the Legends Division. Now it's time to vote: Who would win if these squads met on the gridiron?

If you need some help deciding, we're here for you.

Adam Rittenberg's case for the Leaders all-stars: What this squad lacks in superstars it makes up for with dynamic players primed for breakout seasons in 2011. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase is a budding star at quarterback and boasts plenty of weapons around him, including reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White and Derek Moye. Big Ten fans need to know names of defenders like John Simon, Michael Mauti, Ricardo Allen and Tyler Moeller. These guys all should do big things this season. The team looks strong up the middle on both sides with Michael Brewster, the nation's top center, as well as Kawann Short, Devon Still, Mauti and Chris Borland. The secondary is packed with playmakers, and the kicking game will be solid. When this game ends, Leaders will be leading on the scoreboard.

Brian Bennett's case for the Legends all-stars: I don't expect the Leaders to be leading this game, while my squad should become true Legends. Just look at quarterback: No offense to Scheelhaase, who's a good young player, but I doubt he would have cracked the top three of my depth chart under center. I've got power and speed at running back, three standout receivers and the top pass-catching tight end in the league behind a stout offensive line. My defensive front has two of the best interior defensive linemen in the country in Mike Martin and Jared Crick. While I may be a little light at linebacker, I do have an All-American there in Lavonte David, and I've got two shutdown corners in Shaun Prater and Alfonzo Dennard. Legends by a touchdown, at least.

The Big Ten preseason position rankings have reached the home stretch as we take a look at the defensive secondaries. Although individual positions like center and defensive tackle could boast more star power, the Big Ten's overall strength in the secondary jumps out.

There's a lot to like about the Big Ten cornerbacks as nearly every team boasts experience and/or exciting young players. The Big Ten loses All-Conference safeties Tyler Sash and Jermale Hines but brings back quite a few solid contributors.

There's definite separation after the top four groups, while Nos. 5-9 are extremely close.

Here's the rundown (coming soon: cornerbacks and safeties rankings) ...

1. Penn State: The Lions' linebackers seem to be generating more preseason buzz, but I really like what Penn State brings back in the defensive backfield. There's plenty of experience with safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay, and cornerbacks D'Anton Lynn and Stephon Morris. Penn State needs Sukay to regain the form he showed in the first half of 2010 before a torn pectoral muscle ended his season. Lynn is a bona fide All-Big Ten candidate. If Malcolm Willis, Chaz Powell and others solidify depth here, Penn State should have an elite secondary.

2. Ohio State: This is a group the Buckeyes rarely have to worry about, even after losing three starters. The good news is several key players return from injuries, including safeties Tyler Moeller, C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. Moeller should provide a major boost at the "star" position. The cornerback spots should be fun to watch as Travis Howard and Dominic Clarke fend off some challengers for the starting jobs.

3. Nebraska: Like Ohio State, Nebraska can rely on having an elite pass defense under the Pelini brothers, even after losing several standout players. All-American corner Prince Amukamara will be missed, but Alfonzo Dennard is ready for a starring role. Nebraska needs Ciante Evans to follow what Dennard did in 2010. The Huskers likely will use more linebackers this year, but they'll need to fill holes at safety as Austin Cassidy, Courtney Osborne and others are in the mix.

4. Wisconsin: The Badgers' secondary took a major step forward in Chris Ash's first season on the staff. The key is continued progress, continued playmaking and becoming a truly elite group like Ohio State and Nebraska. Wisconsin seems to have the pieces in place with veteran Aaron Henry at safety, as well as All-Big Ten selection Antonio Fenelus and Devin Smith at cornerback. The Badgers must fill the other safety spot, and speedster Shelton Johnson could fill in there.

5. Michigan State: The secondary triggered Michigan State's 2010 turnaround, improving from 112th nationally in pass defense in 2009 to 60th last season. After recording 17 interceptions last year, the Spartans must stick to their MAP motto -- Make A Play -- as they aim for a repeat championship this fall. Safety Trenton Robinson is among the league's most experienced defensive backs, and hopes are high for cornerback Johnny Adams, who had an excellent spring. The unit could hinge on young players like Darqueze Dennard, Isaiah Lewis and Tony Lippett.

6. Iowa: The bad news is Iowa loses veteran safeties Sash and Brett Greenwood from a defense that slipped to 84th nationally against the pass in 2010. The good news is All-Big Ten cornerback Shaun Prater returns along with playmaking junior Micah Hyde. Prater could be a shut-down corner this fall, and Hyde, whose pick-six won the Insight Bowl, could play either corner or safety. Iowa must build depth around them with Jordan Bernstine, Greg Castillo, Tanner Miller and others.

7. Purdue: One of the Boilers' big question marks entering 2010 turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and the secondary could be a big strength this fall. Here's a group that could make a move up these rankings by November. Cornerback Ricardo Allen is a budding superstar who recorded two pick-sixes last year. Safety Logan Link is always around the football, and Josh Johnson could take a significant step as he complements Allen.

8. Illinois: I'm tempted to rank Illinois a few notches higher, and if the Illini address several questions in the secondary, I'll gladly do so after the season. If safety Supo Sanni returns to form and both he and cornerback Terry Hawthorne stay healthy, this could be an excellent group. Tavon Wilson returns to his preferred position of cornerback and could have a big year, while Trulon Henry brings experience to the safety spot.

9. Northwestern: Given the question marks in the front seven, Northwestern needs its veteran secondary to step up. Players like cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters should answer the bell this fall. Both multiyear starters can make plays on the football and change games. There's good competition between David Arnold and Ibraheim Campbell at the other safety spot, while Jeravin Matthews emerged this spring to win the starting corner job opposite Mabin.

10. Michigan: I'll probably take some heat from Wolverines fans, who will point to the return of cornerbacks Troy Woolfolk and J.T. Floyd, the emergence of young players like Carvin Johnson and a defensive makeover under Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison. All of that could lead to better results, but Michigan still has fewer certainties in the secondary than do most teams on this list. This unit has been a disaster the past few years, and it'll take a lot of things to go right to get things back on track.

11. Minnesota: Linebacker looks like a strength for the Gophers' defense, but there are questions both up front and in the secondary. The secondary will need more help from a line that generated no pass rush in 2010, but the defensive backs must help themselves, too. Cornerback Troy Stoudermire had a good spring and adds a big hitter to the group. Minnesota really needs big things from safety Kim Royston, who wants to lead the way after receiving a sixth year of eligibility. Building depth around Stoudermire and Royston will be vital in preseason camp.

12. Indiana: Fixing this group is arguably the biggest challenge for new coach Kevin Wilson and co-defensive coordinators Mike Ekeler and Doug Mallory. Indiana simply hasn't had enough Big Ten-caliber defensive backs in recent years, and the results have been ugly. The Hoosiers surrendered a league-worst 27 touchdown passes in 2010 and finished 114th nationally in pass defense efficiency. Sophomore safety Greg Heban is a nice piece, but Indiana will need a boost from Lawrence Barnett, Lenyatta Kiles and others.

Ohio State already had started to prepare for life without Jim Tressel. The Buckeyes learned Tuesday they’ll also go through the 2011 season without Terrelle Pryor.

Coach and quarterback -- gone in a span of eight days.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Braxton Miller
Greg Bartram/US PRESSWIREFreshman quarterback Braxton Miller performed well in the Ohio State spring game.
Pryor’s departure adds to the set of unique challenges Ohio State will face when the season rolls around. The quarterback had been a constant presence in the backfield since the first month of his freshman season. Pryor’s lengthy run as the starter leaves Ohio State with virtually no proven game experience at quarterback.

Ohio State knew it wouldn’t have Pryor for the first five games and prepared accordingly during spring practice. Quarterbacks Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham and Braxton Miller shared snaps in practice and in the spring game, with predictably mixed results. Bauserman, who backed up Pryor the past two seasons, looks like the best bet to open the year at quarterback, but Pryor’s departure might change the scope of the race.

Rather than look for a temporary fill-in, Ohio State must identify a field general for the long haul. All four quarterbacks are very much in play and Miller, a talented true freshman who performed well in the spring game, is the most intriguing prospect. The quarterbacks all must shift their mind-set now: the starting job is there for the taking.

Ohio State also needs to monitor whether Pryor’s departure is the beginning of an exodus. Pryor is close with several of the other suspended players, namely wide receiver DeVier Posey. While the players’ attorney, Larry James, said no decisions have been made about additional departures, Pryor’s exit and the possibility of additional penalties from the NCAA makes anything possible. Posey is the team’s only proven receiver, so his presence following the five-game suspension seems critical. The NCAA is also looking into recent allegations surrounding several other Ohio State players, including a few key contributors.

Interim head coach Luke Fickell probably should write his depth chart in pencil.

The thing that hasn’t changed despite Pryor’s exit is the importance of Ohio State’s team leaders during a very difficult time. The coaching staff will do all it can, but Ohio State must be a player-driven team. Veterans like center Mike Brewster and safety Tyler Moeller will be instrumental in steadying the ship through some very choppy waters.

Ohio State remains a talented team with an impressive track record. These players know what it takes to win in the Big Ten. If they can continue their run of dominance, it will be one of the most impressive feats in recent college football history.

But the Buckeyes have never faced a set of challenges like this before.

Has any team?

Big Ten lunch links

May, 25, 2011
Happy hump day.