Big Ten: Vince Young

If you’re a Big Ten fan, then you’ve been looking forward to a certain Week 2 matchup all offseason: No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 8 Michigan State.

It’s offense vs. defense, Marcus Mariota vs. Shilique Calhoun, unstoppable force vs. immovable object. There’s a lot to be excited about, even on a national scale. Since 2005, only nine games have featured two top-10 teams duking it out this early. There’s a reason "College GameDay" has decided to descend upon Eugene, Oregon, after all.

Can the underdog Spartans pull it off? Will Oregon’s offense run rampant? Those answers won’t come for another few days, so we decided to take a closer look at those other nine games. Historically, how have games of this magnitude gone down, how often does the underdog win -- and how often do these teams move on to success?

Take a look:

No. 5 Georgia at No. 8 Clemson -- Aug. 31, 2013

The favorite: Georgia by 2.5 points

The outcome: Clemson 38-35. This lived up to its hype of being a closely fought shootout. Clemson QB Tajh Boyd proved to be the difference-maker. He threw for three TDs, rushed for two more and totaled 312 yards.

End of season ranking (Clemson): No. 8 (11-2, 7-1 ACC). Beat Ohio State in Orange Bowl, 40-35.

End of season ranking (Georgia): unranked (8-5, 5-3 SEC). Lost to Nebraska in Gator Bowl, 24-19.




No. 2 Alabama vs. No. 8 Michigan (Arlington, Texas) -- Sept. 1, 2012

The favorite: Alabama by 11

The outcome: Alabama 41-14. The Crimson Tide opened the game on a 31-0 run, and Michigan never really stood a chance. The Wolverines’ first six possessions ended with four punts and two interceptions. They moved the ball 24 yards on those drives.

End of season ranking (Alabama): No. 1 (13-1, 7-1 SEC). Won the SEC championship and beat Notre Dame for the national championship, 42-14.

End of season ranking (Michigan): No. 24 (8-5, 6-2 Big Ten). Lost to South Carolina in Outback Bowl, 33-28.




No. 3 Oregon vs. No. 4 LSU (Arlington, Texas) -- Sept. 3, 2011

The favorite: Oregon by 3.5

The outcome: LSU 40-27. This was billed as a top defense (LSU was No. 12 in total D the year before) vs. a top offense. But the game came apart for the Ducks when De'Anthony Thomas fumbled on consecutive drives deep in his own territory. LSU scored touchdowns on both possessions.

End of season ranking (LSU): No. 2 (13-1, 8-0 SEC). Won the SEC championship but lost to Alabama in the national championship, 21-0.

End of season ranking (Oregon): No. 4 (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12). Won the Pac-12 championship and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl, 45-38.




No. 3 Boise State vs. No. 10 Virginia Tech (Landover, Maryland) -- Sept. 3, 2010

The favorite: Boise State by 1.5

The outcome: Boise State 33-30. This one could’ve gone either way. With 1:47 left, Boise State QB Kellen Moore engineered a five-play, 56-yard touchdown drive to give the Broncos the advantage. Virginia Tech turned the ball over on downs on its next possession.

End of season ranking (Boise State): No. 9 (12-1, 7-1 WAC). Lone blemish was a 34-31 overtime loss to Nevada. Beat Utah in Maaco Bowl, 26-3.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 16 (11-3, 8-0 ACC). Won ACC championship but lost to Stanford in Orange Bowl, 40-12.




No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 7 Virginia Tech (Atlanta) -- Sept. 5, 2009

The favorite: Alabama by 6.5

The outcome: Alabama 34-24. The Hokies led 17-16 after three quarters, but the fourth quarter was all Alabama. The Tide outscored Virginia Tech 18-7 in the final 15 minutes. A fumble on a kick return didn’t help matters for Tech.

End of season ranking (Alabama): No. 1 (14-0, 8-0 SEC). Won the SEC championship and beat Texas in the national championship, 37-21.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 10 (10-3, 6-2 ACC). Beat Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, 37-14.




No. 3 USC at No. 8 Ohio State -- Sept. 12, 2009

The favorite: USC by 6.5

The outcome: USC 18-15. With 7:29 left in the game, Matt Barkley drove the Trojans downfield for a touchdown and two-point conversion. They ate up 6:10 on the drive, and Ohio State responded with a turnover on downs.

End of season ranking (USC): No. 22 (9-4, 5-4 Pac-10). Beat Boston College in the Emerald Bowl, 24-13.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 5 (11-2, 7-1 Big Ten). Won the Big Ten and defeated Oregon in the Rose Bowl, 26-17.




No. 9 Virginia Tech at No. 2 LSU -- Sept. 8, 2007

The favorite: LSU by 11

The outcome: LSU 48-7. LSU racked up 598 yards of offense, and this was a snoozer from the beginning. LSU found itself up 14-0 just 10 minutes into the game, and the Hokies converted just two third downs the entire game.

End of season ranking (LSU): No. 1 (12-2, 6-2 SEC). Won SEC championship and beat Ohio State in national championship, 38-24.

End of season ranking (Virginia Tech): No. 9 (11-3, 7-1 ACC). Won ACC championship but lost to Kansas in Orange Bowl, 24-21.




No. 1 Ohio State at No. 2 Texas -- Sept. 9, 2006

The favorite: Texas by 3

The outcome: Ohio State 24-7. It was the first regular-season No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup in a decade, and the Buckeyes never trailed in this game. Troy Smith threw for 269 yards and two TDs, while the defense held Texas to less than 20 points for the first time in 21 games.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 2 (12-1, 8-0 Big Ten). Won the Big Ten championship but lost to Florida in the national championship, 41-14.

End of season ranking (Texas): No. 13 (10-3, 6-2 Big 12). Beat Iowa in Alamo Bowl, 26-24.




No. 2 Texas at No. 4 Ohio State -- Sept. 10, 2005

The favorite: Texas by 1.5

The outcome: Texas 25-22. With 2:37 left in the game, Longhorns QB Vince Young found Limas Sweed for the go-ahead 24-yard TD. It was a back-and-forth affair; Texas jumped out to a 10-0 lead but the Buckeyes led at halftime 16-13.

End of season ranking (Texas): No. 1 (13-0, 8-0 Big 12). Won the Big 12 championship and beat USC in the national championship, 41-38.

End of season ranking (Ohio State): No. 4 (10-2, 7-1 Big Ten). Won part of the Big Ten championship and beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, 34-20.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 9

October, 25, 2012
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Ten items to track around the Big Ten in Week 9 ...

1. Battle of the banned: The harsh reality of no bowl trip hasn't slowed down Ohio State or Penn State this season. New coaches Urban Meyer and Bill O'Brien have revolutionized the offenses in both Columbus, Ohio, and State College, Pa., and have their teams on long win streaks entering Saturday night's clash at Beaver Stadium. Expect an electric atmosphere in Happy Valley as Nittanyville has been packed all week and Penn State fans are viewing the game as by far the biggest of the season. Although neither team will play in the postseason, Saturday night's winner likely will have the label of the Big Ten's best team and will put itself in the driver's seat for the Leaders Division championship.

2. Legends of the fall: While Penn State and Ohio State compete for symbolic titles and a division crown, Michigan and Nebraska are aiming much higher -- for a spot in the Big Ten title game Dec. 1. The Wolverines and Huskers meet Saturday night in Lincoln for the right to sit atop the Legends Division before the final month of the regular season. Although both teams have remaining tests, Saturday's winner gets the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker and a confidence boost for the stretch run. Michigan makes its first trip to Lincoln in 101 years, and Saturday marks the first conference game in NCAA history to feature two programs with at least 850 all-time victories. Nebraska is 27-6 at home under coach Bo Pelini.

[+] EnlargePenn State
Andrew Weber/US PresswireBill O'Brien's Nittany Lions have opened games strong this season, outscoring opponents 66-0 in the first quarter.
3. Ball vs. Bell: The Big Ten's top two running backs -- Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell and Wisconsin's Montee Ball -- will share the field Saturday at Camp Randall Stadium in a reunion of two teams that last year gave us two thrillers, including one in the inaugural league title game. Ball, back to Mon-tee, has looked like a different player in Big Ten games, averaging a league-best 155.5 rush yards with 10 touchdowns. The Wisconsin senior has averaged three touchdowns per game in his past 17 contests, and needs five touchdowns -- of any kind -- to break Travis Prentice's all-time NCAA record. Bell was limited to just 68 rush yards on 26 carries last week, but still comes in ranked second in the Big Ten and 11th nationally in rushing average (123 ypg), just ahead of Ball (122.8 ypg). If Michigan State has any chance to record the upset and possibly turn around its season, it needs a big performance from No. 24.

4. Possible bowl elimination game: Both Minnesota and Purdue have some work left to get bowl eligible, and the loser of Saturday's game at TCF Bank Stadium will have its back to the wall. Both teams started the season strong, but have fallen off in Big Ten play, going a combined 0-6. Both teams have had quarterback issues and some trouble stopping the run on defense. Minnesota, needing two wins to become bowl eligible, has turned the keys of its offense over to true freshman Philip Nelson, who makes his first home start at quarterback. It'll be interesting to see how the former prep player of the year in the state performs in front of the home faithful. Purdue, meanwhile, comes off of a heartbreaking loss at Ohio State, a game it dominated most of the way. Inconsistency and big mistakes continue to haunt Purdue, which faces yet another pivotal game in the Danny Hope era.

5. Offenses in the crosshairs: Iowa and Northwestern combined for 72 points, 46 first downs and 874 yards in last year's game at Kinnick Stadium, a 41-31 Hawkeyes victory. If another shootout takes place Saturday in Evanston, it will come as a bit of a surprise. Iowa's offense has been a mess most of the season, aside from the surprising play of running back Mark Weisman. Many Hawkeyes fans are calling for a change at quarterback after senior James Vandenberg committed three turnovers in last week's blowout loss to Penn State. Coach Kirk Ferentz is sticking with Vandenberg, who might be able to capitalize on a Northwestern secondary banged up at the cornerback spot. Northwestern, meanwhile, is still searching for an identity on offense after enduring 20 three-and-outs in its past three games, including 10 against Nebraska. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall needs to figure out his quarterback rotation (read: give Kain Colter more opportunities) in a hurry.

6. Win or perish: Illinois coach Tim Beckman took a page from Jim Tressel's book during the off week and told his team to "burn the boats." The phrase, told to Beckman by Tressel, stems from the story of conquistador Hernando Cortes, who ordered his men to burn the ships that brought them to Mexico in the 1500s. "There was no turning back," Beckman said. "Win or perish. I have challenged this team to change." After four blowout losses, Illinois needs a lot of things to change as it hosts Indiana on Saturday. The Illini have a fairly favorable schedule the rest of the way, but they haven't been competitive against an FBS opponent since the season opener. Indiana, meanwhile, continues to find ways to lose and searches for its first Big Ten victory under Kevin Wilson. The Hoosiers have either led or been within one score of their opponents in all five of their losses. They seek their first win in Champaign, Ill., since 2006.

7. Miller's time: Last we saw Braxton Miller, the Ohio State quarterback was leaving Ohio Stadium in an ambulance after being slammed to the ground. Miller fortunately emerged with only a sore neck, and returned to practice this week. Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said the team is preparing two quarterbacks for Penn State -- Miller and backup Kenny Guiton, who led last week's dramatic comeback against Purdue. Ohio State will use Miller as much as it can, but how he responds from the first real injury scare of his career remains to be seen. Penn State's defense has been stellar, but the Lions haven't seen a quarterback as dynamic as Miller since Ohio's Tyler Tettleton in the opener (a PSU loss). Given Ohio State's lack of depth on defense and Penn State's surging offense, the Buckeyes likely will need a boost from Miller in a tough environment to remain perfect on the season.

8. Martinez, Robinson on center stage: Michigan and Nebraska are contrasting teams in many ways, but they both have similar, dynamic dual-threat quarterbacks in the Huskers' Taylor Martinez and Michigan's Denard Robinson. Martinez was brilliant in leading Nebraska to a come-from-behind win against Northwestern, and he has been very good at Memorial Stadium throughout his career. But he'll face the best defense he has seen all season in Michigan. Robinson performed well in his last road game at Purdue, but still needs to distance himself from his early-season struggles away from Ann Arbor against Notre Dame and Alabama. For just the second time in college football history, two quarterbacks with more than 5,000 career pass yards and more than 2,000 career rush yards will square off (the other: Texas' Vince Young and Missouri's Brad Smith in 2005). Robinson leads all active FBS quarterbacks in career rushing (4,129 yards, 351 yards shy of the all-time record for career QB rushing), while Martinez is third (2,242 yards).

9. Roushar's play calling: Michigan State fans are understandably upset about their team's 4-4 start, and they've centered their critiques on offensive coordinator Dan Roushar. The Spartans have had a championship-level defense for much of the season, but the offense simply hasn't held up its end of the bargain. Head coach Mark Dantonio came to Roushar's defense this week, saying, "If they want to criticize, tell them to criticize me a little bit, because I'm in charge." But Dantonio also added, "We’ve got to get more points." Roushar's play calling looked pretty good in the two games last season against Wisconsin -- remember Rocket? -- but he'll have to find a way to move the ball against a solid, but not impregnable Wisconsin defense. The Spartans rank 107th nationally in scoring (19.6 ppg), averaging nearly 12 points per game fewer than they did in 2011. Michigan State should get more from tight end Dion Sims, who returned to the field last week at Michigan and can give struggling quarterback Andrew Maxwell a big target.

10. The start in State College: If season-long patterns hold for Ohio State and Penn State, the Buckeyes will be in trouble early on Saturday night. Penn State has outscored its opponents 66-0 in the first quarter and 100-23 in the first half this season. The Lions have scored in the first quarter in all seven of their games, and have scored at least one first-quarter touchdown in five contests. Ohio State, meanwhile, has been a slow-starting team in most of its games, being outscored 56-51 in the first quarter this season. The Buckeyes have been trailing at the end of the first quarter four times this season. The good news is they came out fast in their first road game against Michigan State, scoring on their first possession. Given how much confidence Penn State has and what will be a huge home-field advantage, Ohio State simply can't stumble out of the gate Saturday night. The good news is if the Buckeyes survive the first half, they should be in decent shape against a Penn State team that struggles in the third quarter.
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg has been brushing up on Greg Davis' history, both recent and ancient.

Since the Hawkeyes hired Davis as offensive coordinator, Vandenberg has watched numerous clips of former Texas quarterbacks Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Davis' last coaching stop took place in Austin, where he helped mold both Young and McCoy into elite college signal callers. As Vandenberg acclimates himself with Davis, he wants to get a sense of the system Davis has run and the quarterbacks he has coached.

But Vandenberg also is keenly aware he's not Young or McCoy. He's a different player with different skills. Will that be a problem for Davis? Hardly.

[+] EnlargeJames Vandenberg
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallJames Vandenberg passed for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2011.
That's where the ancient history comes in.

"The one thing I always think of is he coached Gary Kubiak, who's the coach for the [Houston] Texans," Vandenberg told ESPN.com. "[Davis] was his college coach when [Davis] was only 28 years old. So he's been in the business for a long time and really knows the ins and outs and has done it with a lot of different people and systems."

Vandenberg is excited to be the next man in line. Before this offseason, Iowa hadn't made any coordinator changes -- offensive or defensive -- during head coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure.

While Vandenberg enjoyed working with former coordinator Ken O'Keefe, he echoes the seemingly program-wide excitement about having new voices in the football building and on the practice field this spring.

"It's some fresh blood," Vandenberg said. "That's what has everybody excited. There was nothing wrong with the old system, and we had a great coach. But the excitement comes with learning a new offense and hearing plays called from a new play-caller. There's a lot yet to be seen, but all these unknowns and knowing the success he's had is what has us all excited right now."

Davis' tenure at Texas ended on a down note in 2010, but his most recent success took place with McCoy and Young. The Longhorns had a top 25 offense every year between 2003-08. They led the FBS in scoring behind Young in 2005 en route to a national title and finished fifth in scoring behind McCoy in 2008.

Under Davis, Texas averaged 39 points per game between 2000-09, which ranked second nationally and first among teams from BCS automatic-qualifying leagues. While the numbers are notable, Davis' versatility has stood out to Vandenberg on tape.

"He knows how to play to his personnel," Vandenberg said. "When he had Ricky Williams there, he knew he was going to get 30 carries a game. When he had Vince Young, there was a lot of zone-read stuff. With Colt McCoy, there was a lot of empty stuff. He's adjusted to the guys he had and been successful in every aspect of offense, from power football to spread football.

"We're all excited to see what his wrinkle is for us."

Vandenberg, who racked up 3,022 pass yards with 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his first year as Iowa's starter in 2011, said he's familiar with most of the plays Davis wants to run, but needs to absorb new terminology and some different reads. Davis stresses the need to complete passes and get the ball out quickly, two areas Vandenberg feels are strengths of his.

Accuracy is a focal point this spring for Vandenberg, who completed just 58.7 percent of his attempts in 2011. His goal: 65 percent or better. He also wants to play smarter in games. To do so, he'll have to absorb Davis' system better than anyone else on the field.

"I'm able to bring guys along right now," he said. "I've had a little more time studying it. These practices are vital, just being to make sure we're all on the same page with all these new plays and all these new situations."

Q&A: Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz

March, 23, 2012
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Change is in the air this spring at Iowa. The Hawkeyes have two new coordinators for the first time in Kirk Ferentz's tenure, one from the outside (OC Greg Davis) and one from within the program (DC Phil Parker). Ferentz also hired two new assistants, offensive line coach Brian Ferentz and linebackers coach LeVar Woods, and moved offensive line coach Reese Morgan to defensive line. For an Iowa staff built on continuity, this represents a a major shakeup. The coaches also will be working with a very young roster, as evidenced by the pre-spring depth chart issued this week. It all should make for an interesting spring in Hawkeye Country.

[+] EnlargeIowa coach Kirk Ferentz
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallCoach Kirk Ferentz and his Iowa Hawkeyes will enter the season with a revamped coaching staff.
The Hawkeyes opened practice Wednesday, and ESPN.com caught up with Ferentz on Thursday.

Here are his thoughts.

What is the atmosphere like this spring being on the field with this group after all the changes?

Kirk Ferentz: Certainly we have a lot of learning to do for two reasons. Number one, our youth and inexperience, and secondly, with some of the staff changes. We have a lot of different elements involved. It's certainly different than when we finished up in December. It's a lot of positions, and some of it's schematically and that type of thing. We're all on edge a little bit, and that's good.

You made some of your hires fairly recently. How do you feel about where the offensive and defense schemes are at this point?

KF: We're pretty well down the road that we need to be on. We've had some really good meetings over the last several weeks. A little bit more intensive on the offensive side with Greg being hired at the end of February, but I think we've had good meetings. He certainly has a good grasp of what he likes to do and what he's comfortable with. We've been able to blend and mesh things. I think we're pretty much on the same page right now. It's been fun actually, just invigorating to re-examine some things. And the players, they always pick it up faster than the older guys.

When you sat down and talked with Greg, how close was your offensive philosophy to his?

KF: One of the things that really impressed me so much is his experience with various styles of offense. He's been with a lot of different types of players, quarterbacks, going back to Eric Zeier at Georgia, the guys he worked with at North Carolina, and at Texas, they ran several styles of attack. There was a lot of evolution when they got Vince Young. The thing is, he has a system that's been proficient and that he's comfortable with. It really is very flexible and adaptable. That part has all been good.

Very impressed with Greg, starting with all the recommendations I got, people who I have a lot of respect for in football who spoke so highly of him as a coach and so highly of him as a human being. And after a month of being with him, I can see why all of those things were said. He's really been tremendous. We've been fortunate to have great coaches here. You're always a little nervous when you lose somebody as good as Ken, but Greg has been outstanding.

I read your comments from the other day and wanted to clarify something. Did you expect to make some changes even if you didn't have the coordinators leaving?

KF: Absolutely. I was entertained a bit reading the reports of the press conference. The headlines were a little bit overstated. But that was something Ken and I had talked about, and Norm [Parker] and I had talked about as the year went on last year. You're 13 years into it, and we're all feeling good about being here such a long period of time. The great thing about stability is we all know each other.

But the other point, too, and every year you look back at things, but I remember specifically in Cleveland one year in '94 where we looked back and went through our playbook step by step. Steve Crosby had become our coordinator after the '93 season. We went through everything. The advantage of doing it is if you've been somewhere for a while, you add this one year and then you add that, and things don't always mesh or make as much sense as they should, so there's a cumulative effect there. So it's a good exercise to do, and I think it was time for us to do that regardless. And in the case of getting new coordinators, you have to do that anyway. It's been really healthy, it's been invigorating, and hopefully we'll be a more efficient operating group here moving forward.

You've talked about wanting to see better execution. What can you stress in the spring to help you execute better as a team?

KF: That's always the challenge in football. There were complaints about us. The perception is we're a conservative offense, and we threw the second-most amount of passes we had in 13 years last year, so I said they must have been conservative passes because we didn't get any credit for that. But overall, that's the name of the game, whatever you're doing, offensively, defensively or special teams, the key is how you execute those things. Certainly what you call can affect that, but at the end of the day, it's about the team that executes the best. That's the never-ending battle.

You have some guys out on the defensive line, but it's definitely one of the younger groups you've had there. With Reese Morgan moving over to that side, how do you see that group shaking out in the spring, and how will Reese's experience help there?

KF: It's maybe not identical, but it's similar to what we went through in 2005. We graduated four guys that were all in NFL camps after that season. Three of those guys are still active players -- Jonathan Babineaux, who's done a good job in Atlanta; Matt Roth's had a nice career; Derreck Robinson continues to be rostered; and Tyler Luebke is the other guy, was with the Redskins as a free agent. That's the price you pay when you graduate some good players. The last two years we've had a high number of seniors go out both years, and some NFL players in that group. It's something we anticipated, we knew it was going to be a challenge, but all that being said, we're optimistic.

One of my motivating factors for moving Reese over to that spot is Reese is just a tremendous teacher. That's the No. 1 thing I saw in him when we hired him here. He took Pat Flaherty's spot. He's a real builder, and he's done that with the offensive line. You look at last year, we had Riley Reiff, who people are talking about, but we also had Markus Zusevics and Adam Gettis, who both I think are going to get drafted here. They were both roughly 225, 230 [pounds] when they came out of high school and built themselves into players. Reese was a key component of their development, and that's what he does a great job of. I think we've got the right guy with the right group. We've got a lot of work to do, but at the end of the day, that group will be fine, just like in '05.

What would you like to see out of James [Vandenberg] during the spring?

KF: Just continued improvement. We expect him to play his best football next year and lead even better than he did. He played well last year and he led well, but he's going to have to do better. With a young team like this, it's going to be imperative that our most experienced guys play their best and lead our football team. It sure helps when you're playing better. And he's totally capable. We have confidence in James.

Is Keenan [Davis] another guy who fits into that category, needing to play his best as an older guy?

KF: Most definitely. If you look at the improvement Marvin McNutt made throughout his career, from making a move [from quarterback] in the middle of the '08 season, to the records he set, it didn't happen just by accident or just by him hanging around. He worked hard, he got better each year, and his hard work and effort, certainly in production and yardage, that's what we need from Keenan. Marvin's not here, quite obviously, so Keenan has to be the guy and take a very prominent role as a receiver. And he's certainly capable, so we expect to see that growth from him.

What would you like to see from the running back group by the end of the spring?

KF: Development and maturation. We have three guys that are working at that position who are talented enough. They're all capable, but they're young. Jordan Canzeri missed a significant amount of time last year with a hamstring issue. Damon Bullock, we moved him around enough that it probably rendered him ineffective. We'll let him settle at the running back position. And we think De'Andre Johnson has potential as well, but he's got to mature. He missed his first year because he was coming off an ACL injury from high school, so he's a little bit behind that way. But he's got every opportunity to develop and be a good player. It sure would help our football team.

When you're this young, are you more tempted to play freshmen if they come in and show that ability, or do you have to work with the guys who have some experience?

KF: We'll have a better grip on where we are at the end of spring practice. We're going to need some help at some spots, that's a given. Bottom line is for the most part, the guys that demonstrate they can play and help us, they're going to get that opportunity. We had the case with Allen Reisner. Back in '07, we had to throw him in. He was a true freshman. He wasn't necessarily ready to go, but we ran out of guys, so he had to go in there. We hopefully won't be in that situation. But anybody [who] can help us win next year, if it's special teams or on offense, defense, we'll give them an opportunity.

Greg came in from the outside, while Phil Parker has been there. What's it been like seeing him in this role? Do you see him putting his personality on the defense?

KF: We're early into the process right now. To the casual fan, it's not going to look a lot different, probably, but there will be some subtleties and some things not only Phil, but the entire staff talked about. It's like anything else, you're always trying to evolve and progress, move forward a little bit without losing your identity. That's probably what you'll see from that group. Phil's a veteran coach. He's had several chances to leave here for BCS coordinator positions and has chosen to stay here, so I don't think there's any question he's ready to go. He'll do a great job. He's very detailed and he's a good leader.

From a leadership standpoint, do you have some guys in mind, especially on defense, who you could see moving into those roles this spring?

KF: Most definitely. The guys that we're really counting on, you start with Micah Hyde. He's probably our most experienced player on defense, most proven, so we're counting on that from him. James Morris and Chris Kirksey, they're only third-year students next year, but they've played a lot of football, too, and good football. They're playing a leadership position at linebacker. And up front, I'd say Steve Bigach's a guy we're really counting on to really help set the tempo of the group. He's already been doing that, and I think he'll do a good job.
When a player like Denard Robinson comes along, the natural response is to identify a suitable comparison.

Not surprisingly, the first name mentioned is Pat White, the former West Virginia star who, like Robinson, thrived in Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Rodriguez has acknowledged some links between White and Robinson, although "Shoelace" has a long way to go to catch up with one of the best players in recent college football history.

Others saw Robinson's quick start for Michigan and likened him to Vince Young, college football's ultimate dual-threat superstar. ESPN's Stats & Info crew produced a chart for last week's notes comparing Robinson's first five games to Young's first five at Texas in 2005. Turns out, Robinson had a better completion percentage (69.8-62.4), more rushing yards (905-355), more rushing touchdowns (9-2) and almost as many pass yards (1,008-1,021), although Young had three more pass touchdowns (10-5).

[+] EnlargeAntwaan Randle El
AP Photo/Darron CummingsMichigan's Denard Robinson has been compared to former Big Ten MVP Antwaan Randle El of Indiana.
But Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz might have come up with the best comparison when discussing Robinson last week.

"What he's done is amazing, remarkable," Ferentz said. "The first thought I had was of my early years trying to prepare for guys like [Antwaan] Randle El. ... It brought back some good scar tissue."

Iowa went just 1-3 against Indiana when Randle El quarterbacked the Hoosiers between 1998-2001. The Hawkeyes aim for better results Saturday in their first matchup against Robinson and Michigan at Michigan Stadium.

Randle El preceded the wave of dual-threat quarterbacks in college football and certainly was a novelty in the Big Ten. The Indiana star earned Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 1998, and he still holds league records for quarterback rushing in a career (3,895 yards) and in a season (1,270 yards in 2000).

Robinson already occupies the top two spots on the Big Ten single-game quarterback rushing chart -- he set the record with 258 yards against Notre Dame and tied Mike Kafka's mark with 217 against Indiana. Randle El's name, meanwhile, appears throughout the top performances. He had five rushing performances of 150 yards or more, including bursts of 210 yards and 209 yards during the 2000 season.

"I just remember any time Iowa played Indiana, there was this guy running around," Iowa safety Tyler Sash recalled. "He could run like a running back and throw the ball like a quarterback. If coach Ferentz is comparing [Robinson] to Antwaan Randle El, who is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks the Big Ten's ever had, that speaks highly of Denard and his abilities."

Both Robinson and Randle El wasted no time making an impact as starting quarterbacks.

Robinson piled up 197 rush yards and 187 pass yards in his first career start Sept. 4 against Connecticut. Randle El passed for 385 yards and three touchdowns and added 82 rush yards and three more scores in his collegiate debut against Western Michigan in 1998, breaking Indiana's single-game total offense record with 467 yards.

"They're a little bit different players," Ferentz said, "but they put the same kind of pressure on you and they're the catalysts of a very explosive, high-powered offense. That was true when Randle El was at Indiana. They were a very tough team to defend, and I think Michigan is the same way."

Rodriguez didn't coach in the Big Ten during Randle El's run, but he admired the Indiana star from afar.

"He was such an explosive player," Rodriguez said. "He'd sure be a lot of fun to have in this offense. Denard has some of those same qualities, not only from an athletic, running and throwing standpoint, but also from what I understand from a leadership and a take-charge standpoint.

"Denard's just a young guy, this is his first year starting, but I think he has a lot of those same qualities."

Here's a look at how Robinson's first six starts compare with Randle El's in 1998 (Randle El sat out the 1997 season as a partial qualifier).

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Few folks outside the Marshall locker room actually think Ohio State is in danger of losing tonight's season opener.

The Buckeyes are one of the nation's most complete teams, and their debut at The Shoe is viewed as the first step toward a potential national championship push.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
D. Jay Talbott/Icon SMITerrelle Pryor passed for 2,094 yards last season and rushed for 779 more.
So why should you pay attention to the game? Terrelle Pryor, of course.

Regardless of the final score, Pryor's performance against the Thundering Herd will be heavily scrutinized. Can he build off of his masterful performance in Pasadena against Oregon? How are his decision-making skills? Has he fully earned coach Jim Tressel's trust to operate in an expanded offensive system? Is he a legit Heisman Trophy candidate or just a byproduct of the college football hype machine?

Pryor is always the story at Ohio State, good or bad. He doesn't particularly like it, but he accepts it. He's used to being the center of attention.

"Everyone just praises you and holds you on a pedestal all the time," Pryor recently told ESPN.com. "Sometimes, it’s hard when you're getting more recognition than some of your teammates. I don't like that individually because I feel like everyone really should get the same recognition. But at the same time, that's the life we live in, the game that we play, and people love the quarterbacks and they put some people on different pedestals.

"You have to humble yourself."

Pryor sounds more humble these days, admitting that Ohio State's dominant defense has "bailed me out in a lot of games." The Buckeyes junior certainly has his share of critics, who harp on his passing mechanics and decision-making.

Many view him as overhyped and scoff at his 19-3 record as Ohio State's starting quarterback. Most agree that he has a lot more to prove this season.

"It comes with it," Pryor said of the criticism. "I watch a lot of Vince Young and Michael Vick and guys like that, they’re scrutinized guys and [critics] try to jump on people. I'm in the learning process, and whatever people have to say about me, that's what they've got to say.

"It's not going to bother me, it's not going to stop me from doing what my goals are and what I want to accomplish."

His short-term goals are simple: don't turn the ball over, make his throws in the right place and take checkdowns when necessary. Time will tell if Pryor is a better quarterback, but he sounds like a smarter one after two full years in the program.

"He's made light years [improvement] in his accuracy," wide receivers coach Darrell Hazell told reporters this week. "Understanding coverages, he's light years [ahead]. He'll be fun to watch this year."

Asked about the Heisman race, Pryor delivers the first of many stiff-arms this season.

"To tell you the truth, I just go out and ball, that's it," he said. "Lead the offense, put points on the board. It doesn't matter who we're playing. We do our thing, and we'll go into every game and execute, execute, execute.

"We do that, we'll be fine."
[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesTerrelle Pryor accounted for 338 yards of offense in the Rose Bowl.
During a recent interview with ESPN Radio 1620 in Omaha (they can't get enough of me in Nebraska), I was asked about Terrelle Pryor's progress at Ohio State and whether he can follow Vince Young's path in his junior season with the Buckeyes.

Pryor always has drawn comparisons to Young, even before he arrived at Ohio State as the nation's top recruit in 2008. The two quarterbacks have shown some similarities in the early stages of their college careers, although Young really surged during the second half of his sophomore year. Pryor has been a bit less consistent, while still showing flashes of his immense potential.

One major connection between Pryor and Young is their performances in the final games of their sophomore seasons, the midpoint of most players' college careers. Both quarterbacks shined in Rose Bowl victories, Young against Michigan on Jan. 1, 2005 and Pryor against Oregon nearly seven months ago.

Both players earned Rose Bowl Offensive MVP honors for their efforts in Pasadena.


As we all know, Young built on his Rose Bowl performance with a fantastic junior season, passing for 3,036 yards and 26 touchdowns to go along with 1,050 rush yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. Young won the Manning Award and the Davey O'Brien Trophy and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting as he led Texas to a national title. We're all waiting to see whether Pryor can make a similar jump in 2010.

How high did Young set the bar in 2005?

Here's a look at how he fared in the first half of his junior year:


Some impressive numbers, indeed.

Pryor gets a mulligan like Young had against Rice, but he'll need to establish himself as a consistent passer and a quarterback who gets Ohio State into the end zone with his arm or his legs. It won't be easy, but if Pryor can follow Young's path this fall, the Buckeyes could be lifting the crystal football in January.
ESPN's NFL draft expert Mel Kiper recently addressed a question Insider I get all the time: Where does Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor project for the NFL?

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireTerrelle Pryor's draft stock should soar if improves his footwork and decision-making.
Kiper drops the dreaded name -- Tim Tebow -- but points out an important difference between the former Florida star and quarterbacks like Pryor and Vince Young.
"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 Insider. 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."

Big Ten games of the decade

January, 20, 2010
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The decade recap marches on as it's time to examine the top 10 games involving Big Ten teams from 2000-09. As with all of these categories, the games list easily could include 25-30 items, so getting it down to 10 wasn't easy. Especially with games. I could probably identify 10 great ones just from my two years of Big Ten blogging.

What makes a great game? Good teams, good players, lots at stake and lots of drama, particularly in the closing minutes.

I put a special emphasis on games that helped to decide Big Ten championships, bowl championships and national championships.

Without further ado ...

1. Ohio State vs. Miami, 2003 Fiesta Bowl: When the national championship game goes to two overtimes and a Big Ten team wins, it'll be at the top of the list. Ohio State nearly won in regulation, nearly lost in the first overtime and then finally prevailed 31-24 against a talent-stocked Miami team that had won 34 consecutive games.

2. Michigan at Ohio State, 2006: This game had it all: No. 1 vs. No. 2, the sport's top rivalry, national championship implications, unparalleled buildup, the drama of Bo Schembechler's death a day before the game. Ohio State and Michigan combined for 81 points before the Buckeyes prevailed to reach the title game.

3. Michigan at Northwestern, 2000: As regular-season games go, this is about the best you can find. The teams combined for 105 points and 1,189 yards of offense in a contest that saw tons of plot twists. Star running backs Damien Anderson and Anthony Thomas both committed an error in the closing minutes -- dropped touchdown for Anderson, lost fumble for Thomas -- before Northwestern emerged with a 54-51 win. Both teams went on to share the Big Ten title with Purdue.

4. Texas vs. Michigan, 2005 Rose Bowl: It didn't go the Big Ten's way in the end, but Michigan and Texas certainly gave us a game to remember. The Wolverines received great play from quarterback Chad Henne and wide receivers Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston, but Vince Young proved to be too much as Texas won 38-37 on a field goal as time expired.

5. Iowa at Ohio State, 2009: This game essentially decided the Big Ten championship, as the teams met with a Rose Bowl berth at stake. Iowa came in as a major underdog after losing starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi to injury the previous week against Northwestern. Redshirt freshman James Vandenberg displayed incredible poise in his first career start, but Ohio State eventually prevailed in overtime after a 39-yard field goal from backup kicker Devin Barclay, a 26-year-old former Major League Soccer player.

6. Iowa vs. LSU, 2005 Capital One Bowl: You'll never see a more exciting end to a bowl game, and the first 59 plus minutes weren't bad, either. Iowa built a 24-12 fourth-quarter lead behind quarterback Drew Tate, only to watch it disappear down the stretch. It set the stage for Tate's 56-yard touchdown strike to Warren Halloway as time expired as Iowa won 30-25.

7. Michigan State at Michigan, 2004: Michigan State's losing streak at the Big House appeared over as the Spartans led 27-10 with 8:43 left. But Michigan rallied to tie the game as Braylon Edwards hauled in two touchdowns from Chad Henne. Henne and Edwards hooked up again in the third overtime as Michigan won 45-37 and went on to share the Big Ten title with Iowa.

8. Penn State vs. Florida State, 2006 Orange Bowl: Joe Paterno and Bobby Bowden generated tons of buildup before kickoff, and the game itself didn't disappoint. It was hardly a masterpiece on either side, but the game generated plenty of excitement as the teams went to three overtimes before Penn State won 26-23 on a Kevin Kelly field goal.

9. Michigan at Minnesota, 2003: Michigan's Big Ten title in 2003 could be directly linked to the greatest comeback in team history against Minnesota at the Metrodome. The Wolverines trailed 28-7 in the third quarter before rallying to win 38-35 on a Garrett Rivas field goal in the final minute. Minnesota was 6-0 before the loss.

10. Penn State at Iowa, 2008: Penn State came to Iowa City with national title aspirations and jumped ahead of Iowa 23-14 late in the third quarter. But Ricky Stanzi stepped up in the fourth quarter and led a dramatic comeback that ended with Daniel Murray's field goal. It marked Penn State's only loss, though the Lions still won a Big Ten title and went to the Rose Bowl.

Big Ten Halloween primer

October, 30, 2009
10/30/09
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Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten is known for the Maize and Blue, the Scarlet and Gray, the Blue and White, the Black and Gold and many others, but on Saturday, the only colors that matter are orange and black. It's Halloween around the Big Ten, with six ghoulish games on tap.

Halloween is a huge deal in Madison and other places around the league, so here's what you need to know as you head to the games (preferably in costume).

Trick-or-Treat: Ohio State gets a treat Saturday against New Mexico State, but things get much harder as the Buckeyes close against Penn State, Iowa and archrival Michigan. Wisconsin, meanwhile, gets a few treats down the stretch in Purdue, Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern and Hawaii, though three of those games are away from home.

 
 Jeff Hanisch/US Presswire
 Ricky Stanzi and the Hawkeyes have saved their best for crunch time.
Cursed team: Purdue certainly seemed cursed during a five-game losing streak where four losses came by a total of 18 points. The Boilers couldn't seem to buy a break and committed too many turnovers. They could easily be 5-3 or even 6-2 rather than 3-5 at this point. Illinois feels it belongs in this category as well.

Nightmare on Green Street: Ron Zook and the Illinois Fighting Illini wish they could wake up and realize that this was all a bad dream. The Illini sit at 1-6, without a win against an FBS opponent or a loss by fewer than 10 points. For a group supposedly stocked with talent and enough veterans, Illinois has endured the biggest nightmare of any team in a BCS conference this fall.

Costumes: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel dresses up as Vince Young, hoping to inspire quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez dresses up as Father Time or wears a big clock around his neck, a la Flavor Flav. Purdue coach Danny Hope dresses up as a Quaker Oats box, in tribute to his predecessor and Wilford Brimley lookalike, Joe Tiller. Zook dresses up as a rose, hoping to remind Illini fans of the good ol' days. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany dresses up as Rodney Dangerfield.

Boo (Boo): Minnesota will be without its best player, senior wide receiver Eric Decker, for the rest of the regular season after he strained his foot against Ohio State. Decker was the Golden Gophers' only consistent offensive threat, and his absence creates a major void in production.

Scary movie: Tressel undoubtedly had to avert his eyes numerous times when watching Ohio State's mistake-filled loss to Purdue on Oct. 17. For a guy who hates turnovers, Tressel must have struggled to get through that tape. Michigan State's Mark Dantonio will have a tough time reliving his team's 15-13 loss to Iowa, especially the ending.

Witchcraft: Iowa has had the magic all season long, rallying for seven of its eight victories and winning four games by four points or fewer. Some still wonder when the Hawkeyes' late-game pixie dust will run out, but don't bet against these guys the rest of the way.

Haunted House: There's no obvious choice for Halloween, but Beaver Stadium and Ohio Stadium should be pretty scary the next two weeks for showcase games. Pryor heads back to his home state and undoubtedly will face a rough reception in Happy Valley. A week later, Iowa could be putting its Big Ten and BCS title hopes on the line in Columbus, where it has gotten stomped since 1991. And then on Nov. 21, Ohio State offensive lineman Justin Boren faces his old team at Michigan Stadium.

Graveyard: Illinois will almost certainly miss a bowl game for the second straight year, while both Purdue and Indiana need to pull an upset or two down the stretch. Ohio State's faint national title hopes were buried after the loss to Purdue, while Michigan State likely saw its Big Ten title chances go up in smoke on the final play against Iowa.

Night of the living dead: Purdue has turned things around nicely after a 1-5 start, while Michigan State was one play away from its fourth straight win after stumbling out of the gate to 1-3. Northwestern has flat-lined in several games this season, only to revive itself with big comebacks.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Whether or not you agree with Jim Tressel's decisions in the USC game or the direction he's taking the Ohio State offense, you have to admire the way he handles criticism.

It never seems to get too hot under that sweater vest.

Tressel on Tuesday continued to face questions about Ohio State's 18-15 loss to USC and some of the choices and plays that shaped the game. For possibly the first time in his incredibly successful Ohio State tenure, Tressel is taking some actual heat. And while he acknowledges some second-guessing occurs, he never gets rattled.

"It was a day of what-ifs," he said on the Big Ten coaches teleconference. "The thing we always start with is looking at ourselves as coaches. Are we asking our guys to do the things that they're most proficient at? We start with our design. Is there something we should be doing better? Then we work really hard on trying to develop consistency. ...

"I haven’t had a game yet where I haven’t had a significant number of decisions or thoughts that we didn’t really critique and see if we could do better."

More of Tressel's thoughts from his weekly news conference:

On quarterback Terrelle Pryor's play: "He wanted to be a big reason that we won that game. That's the way he is, that's the way he'll always be, and I'd mentioned to him on Sunday, I said, 'Not that it has any relevance, but keep in mind that at this stage Troy Smith was a kickoff returner and at this stage, Vince Young was getting spot duty going in when things were pretty good with a couple little things to do. At this stage you were lined up against a very good defense with a very young offense and it was tough sledding out there, but we have to grow from it.'"

On getting angry e-mails after losses: "The thing when I read some of them is I feel terrible for them because there's no way they're happy. They've got to be some of the most unhappy people in the world, and I feel bad because we just made them less happy, and I hate to be a part of making someone less happy. I mean, they're already miserable."

On whether he second-guesses plays: "There's a lot of them. There was 150 some plays in that game and if you ask anyone on the offensive side, anytime it was third down and we didn't go or it was third-and-1 and it didn't go, you'd say, 'Well, man, what if we'd have done this?' And someone brought up over at the Quarterback Club [that] we probably should have run a quarterback sneak down in there and, shoot, that's very valid. It was the same guy that said that last year against Penn State we shouldn't have run a quarterback sneak, but, yeah, you know, you always question things."

On whether he'll make major changes on offense: "I'm not sure exactly what a wholesale change would entail. I mean, are we going to go to the Navy triple option? Probably not. Don't know anything about it. If you look at our teams from 2001 on, they haven't been exactly the same because you don't have the same people. But I don't know that we would make a wholesale, 'You know what, this isn't a good idea, this wouldn't work even if we did execute it, because that's the only reason you do it.'"

Blogger debate: USC-Ohio State

September, 10, 2009
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AP Photo
Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller


All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?

Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.

As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?

AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.

Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

MINNEAPOLIS -- There's a noticeable buzz around Minnesota football right now, with a new on-campus stadium opening this fall and plenty on the agenda for spring practice, which began Tuesday. The Gophers welcome new coordinators on both sides of the ball and a new offensive system, which will look more what fans are used to in the Twin Cities.

 
  Jeff Gross/Getty Images
  Minnesota coach Tim Brewster is excited about the depth he has coming back this season.

Head coach Tim Brewster saw the team improve its record by six games last fall, but the Gophers ended on a five-game slide, including a 55-0 thrashing at the hands of archrival Iowa. With 10 offensive starters back and several playmakers on the defensive side, Minnesota hopes to take another step forward this fall, but will negotiate what appears to be a much tougher schedule. Here are Brewster's thoughts on the squad as spring ball gets under way.

It seems pretty ambitious what you guys are doing this spring, with the new guys, the scheme tweaks and changes. Is it one of the more ambitious spring practice sessions you've been a part of?

Tim Brewster: I just don't think it's quite as ambitious as you think. We installed quite a bit of the offense before the bowl game. To me, what's exciting about where we're at is we've got some depth, we've got some experienced players, but more importantly, some really talented players coming back. And then when you add to the mix guys like [linebackers] Keanon Cooper, Spencer Reeves and Gary Tinsley, some of these guys particularly on defense, that's really an exciting thing for us.

You said you wouldn't trade [quarterback] Adam [Weber] for anybody in the country. You also think highly of MarQueis Gray. Do you envision MarQueis just sitting and waiting the next two years?

TB: No, no. We're going to incorporate MarQueis into every game. We'll go in with a plan on how we're going to utilize him. I brought [Texas offensive coordinator] Greg Davis up here from Texas, and I talked to Greg about how they incorporated Vince [Young] into the game plan in Vince's redshirt freshman year. He played every game, but what was the real thought process that went into it. We really had some good conversations on how to do that. It's a tough thing because of the flow of the game. You say, 'I want him to play the third series.' Well, something may dictate that the third series, you want to keep Adam in the game. But he'll make a contribution. Heck, MarQueis could play wide receiver. MarQueis could be a running back. There's a lot of different ways to utilize a player of his ability.

Does it help to have that reference point with Vince Young?

TB: Very strong similarities between the two. But the biggest challenge is this: We've been really lucky. Adam Weber's taken every snap. At some point, injuries happen. Is MarQueis Gray ready to step in and drive this car and run this offense? That's the biggest challenge that [new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch] has, making sure MarQueis Gray is ready to be a full-time quarterback. He's the No. 2 quarterback at worst right now, so that's a real challenge.

It seems like line play is going to be a focus on both sides of the ball.

TB: Yes, and I think we're going to be much better up front. It really helped moving [left tackle] Dom Alford inside. Ryan Wynn is a very talented guy who was playing right tackle. He doesn't need to be a right tackle. He'll play at center, possibly at guard. Matt Carufel, also [at guard]. And then you look at the development of [left tackle Matt] Stommes. Stommes' measurables, shoot, the NFL people who have come in here have said, 'Who the heck is that?' It's kind of like the guy's come out of nowhere. And [right tackle Jeff] Wills' development is going to be big. Is he putting himself in a position where he can be a starter?

Some people would look to the secondary and say look what you guys did there last year, but it sounds like you're almost more excited about the D-line and the linebackers.

TB: I really am. The front seven for us has got a chance to be really good. I think we'll be good on the back end, too. We're just a little thin. A kid like [cornerback] Michael Carter coming in, Michael's going to have to play as a freshman. And we've got some other guys. Today it's so hard to find defensive linemen, and particularly the young inside guys, Jewhan Edwards and Brandon Kirksey, they've got a chance to be really good. And then you've got [Eric] Small and [Garrett] Brown. So we've got four inside guys. And then I think we'll be better on the edge. D.L. Wilhite's a kid who redshirted last year and has got really good speed. And with [Cedric] McKinley, [Derek] Onwuachi, we've got some guys there.

The spring gives you a chance to find some playmakers, too, especially with Weber limited and Eric Decker playing baseball.

TB: Eric Decker's going to be ready to play. What I'm concerned about is somebody else being ready. That's how you've got to look at it, a positive thing and not a negative thing.

You mentioned last year's team was significantly improved. Is that the same goal for 2009?

TB: This year, we want to make the same improvement, but it's a tougher step, a much tougher step, particularly with a much tougher schedule.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

When Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster checked into his hotel Tuesday morning in Shreveport, La., the woman working at the front desk spotted the Golden Gophers logo on his shirt and smiled.

"The coach from Michigan just left," she told him.

Both Minneapolis and Ann Arbor, Mich., are located more than 850 miles from Shreveport, making it an odd place for Brewster and one of his Michigan counterparts to cross paths. But these days, Big Ten coaches are just as likely to bump into one another in Shreveport, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and Houston as they are in Chicago, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

When Purdue head coach Danny Hope called ESPN.com on Wednesday afternoon, he was navigating a road near Bay City, Fla. An hour earlier, Wisconsin defensive line coach Charlie Partridge phoned in from the Fort Lauderdale area.

The Big Ten recruiting range is expanding far beyond the Midwest, and coaches are spending much of their time in the fertile states of the south and southeast.

If one incoming recruit symbolizes the recruiting change in the Big Ten, it's a safety expected to sign Wednesday with Wisconsin.

His name: Dezmen Southward.

His hometown: Fort Lauderdale.

"There's certainly great, great players in the Midwest, but just in terms of numbers, all you have to do is look at Division I signing day and the number of kids who play Division I out of this region here," said Partridge, who has recruited the Florida area for Wisconsin, Pitt and Iowa State, among others. "You can come down and get two to three kids who can have an impact on your program.

"People are recognizing the value of recruiting down here."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- More than once after a game this season, Terrelle Pryor noted how college football isn't all that different from the Pennsylvania high school scene he dominated as the nation's No. 1 recruit.

 
 AP Photo/Seth Perlman
 Terrelle Pryor has successfully made the transition from high school to the college game.

After helping Ohio State stomp Michigan State, 45-7, on Oct. 18, Pryor told reporters, "It's just like high school." The line became Pryor's trademark this fall as he won Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors and led Ohio State to another BCS bowl appearance as the starting quarterback.

"Liar," Buckeyes senior tight end Rory Nicol said. "But Terrelle's from PA [Pennsylvania], I'm from PA, too, so I'm allowed to say that. He's a good athlete, man."

Such a good athlete that Pryor's transition from high school to college has been smoother than many had expected, even for a freshman who came to Ohio State with unparalleled hype. Pryor has had his growing pains, but he led the Big Ten in pass efficiency (152.1) and posted an 8-1 mark as the starter.

With small-forward size and a smooth, seemingly effortless running style, Pryor at times looked like the best player on the field, just like he was at Jeannette Senior High School.

Could it really be that easy?

"You can't really argue with him," senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. "He was just in high school last year, so he comes in, he's doing amazing things as a freshman. It kind of is just like high school."

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