NCF Nation: Alex Boone

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Former Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill was arrested during the weekend on a drunken driving charge after allegedly leading police on a chase before crashing his car in Madison, Wis.

Hill, who decided to forgo his senior season at Wisconsin to enter the NFL draft, faces tentative charges of drunken driving, fleeing police, second-degree reckless endangerment, driving without headlights and reckless driving. He spent two nights in jail after his arrest early Saturday and will formally be charged in the next few weeks.

Hill, ranked No. 3 on Wisconsin's all-time rushing list, surprised some by not running the 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine. This latest arrest can't help his already shaky draft stock.

"Hill also has charges pending against him in Scottsdale, Ariz., including drunken driving, unreasonable speed and making unsafe lane changes, Arizona court records indicate. He is due back in court in Arizona on Thursday.

Hill said earlier this month that he had been training in Arizona to improve his draft prospects."

Meanwhile, the Big Ten might want to send out a memo to its future NFL draft hopefuls after both Hill and former Ohio State tackle Alex Boone were arrested during the highly scrutinized pre-draft period.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

"For Threet, who was literally born a Wolverines fan, to decide to transfer for the second time in three years after declaring a month ago he had no such intentions, it had to be painfully obvious to him that his career at UM was all but finished."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Here's your final in-season edition of links. Enjoy. 

"You look at it and ask: Did the players play hard, and were they prepared?" Delany asked. "Yes and yes. You know what? SC's a better football team. In all of the [bowl] games I've watched, I'm seeing us get beat by better teams. Then you say: Why is that? I don't have a great answer other than to say that these things tend to be cyclical."
  • After an up-and-down season, Ohio State left tackle Alex Boone enters the spotlight one last time tonight as he tries to keep All-American Brian Orakpo from digesting Terrelle Pryor, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.  
  • Both Ohio State and Texas have something to prove tonight, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch. 
  • His argument seems a bit extreme, but the Detroit Free Press' Drew Sharp recaps the Big Ten's bowl struggles and squashes the lame excuse about the location of postseason games.
"Everybody's grown tired of the standard Big Ten lament that its 24-37 bowl record this decade is reflective of an unfair travel disadvantage."
I know I have.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl preview

January, 5, 2009

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Here's a quick look at tonight's Tostitos Fiesta Bowl matchup between No. 3 Texas (11-1) and No. 10 Ohio State (10-2).

WHO TO WATCH: Ohio State's 28 seniors finish a truly unique career tonight, but the spotlight will be on junior running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, who likely plays his final collegiate game. If Wells finds running room against Texas, Ohio State will control the clock and keep the high-powered Longhorns offense off the field. These are the types of games that bring out the best in Wells, but he'll need his offensive line to play its top game of the season. If tonight's contest looks anything like Ohio State's Oct. 25 loss to Penn State, in which Wells rushed for only 55 yards, the Buckeyes will get blown out.

WHAT TO WATCH: The game will be won at the line of scrimmage, particularly when Ohio State's offense and Texas' defense are on the field. Longhorns All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo goes up against Ohio State standout left tackle Alex Boone in one of the game's key matchups. Sacks have been a problem at times for Ohio State this season, and Texas leads the country in that category (3.67 per game). On the other side, Ohio State's improved defensive line must put pressure on Texas star quarterback Colt McCoy, who completes 77.6 percent of his passes.

WHY TO WATCH: Both teams have something to prove, and that's rare in bowl games. Texas is fueled by getting snubbed from the BCS title game and could help its cause for a split national championship with a convincing win against Ohio State. Should the Longhorns roll and Oklahoma scrapes past Florida, there might be a split. Ohio State tries to restore its damaged national reputation after back-to-back blowout losses in the championship game. The Buckeyes unfairly take most of the blame for the Big Ten's downfall -- Michigan has a lot to do with it, too -- but they can help themselves and the league with an upset victory.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel understands why quarterback Terrelle Pryor tried to bounce outside on a quarterback sneak in the fourth quarter against Penn State, but the coach doesn't condone the freshman's decision.

 AP Photo/Kevin Fitzsimons
 How will Terrelle Pryor react to his first loss as Ohio State's starting quarterback?

Pryor's fumble proved costly in a 13-6 Buckeyes loss.

"I think for sure the best decision would have been to stay focused in on what we needed at the moment," Tressel said. "I think he felt when all of a sudden they dropped a bunch of people into the A gap and crouched in on the B gap there, he felt like he could do a little bit better going wider. And you can see on the film why he felt that way.

"But staying focused on what we really needed at that moment, which was a first down, obviously would have been the best decision."

Pryor took the loss especially hard, remaining on the bench for several minutes after the game. The toughest challenge for the talented freshman could be bouncing back from a feeling that's foreign to him.

Ohio State players were off Sunday and Monday and are expected to resume practicing Wednesday. Tressel hasn't spent any extra time with Pryor but expects the freshman to respond.

"He hasn't lost a football game for, gosh, a couple seasons, and hasn't lost more than a basketball game or two out of 30-something," Tressel said. "So whenever you put your heart and soul into something and you come up a little short, it's tough.

"But he'll move forward."

One area with the Buckeyes that continues to draw a lot of criticism -- and deservedly so -- is the offensive line.

Despite four returning starters, the line has struggled to protect Pryor and consistently make holes for Chris "Beanie" Wells and the other running backs. Ohio State ranks 99th nationally in sacks allowed (2.44 per game), 95th in total offense (318.3 yards per game) and 67th in scoring (24.6 points per game).

Tressel praised the play of left tackle Alex Boone and center Mike Brewster, whom he called "a pleasant surprise," but injuries and poor performance have plagued the group.

"The consistency of the offense has not progressed," Tressel said. "We haven't been able to really find out who we are, what we're going to do best -- we're going to do this and it doesn't matter that you know we're going to do it. We haven't gotten to that point."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Greetings from the banks of the Olentangy, where the stadium JumboTron is showing Ohio State's national championship win over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Craig Krenzel was a beast in that game.

This has been the first true carnival-like atmosphere I've seen this season. Ohio State fans followed Jim Tressel's advice and wore scarlet to the game. The parking lots surrounding the stadium are filled with scarlet and some blue-and-white. Several members of the Cleveland Glenville High School football team, which produced Ted Ginn Jr. and other Buckeyes standouts, were milling about one of the parking lots. Brutus the Buckeye also was making the rounds. And for the second time this season, I was recognized outside a stadium, this time by a Penn State fan who said he reads the blog daily.

OK, onto the game.

First, the all-important weather report. The forecast calls for chilly temperatures (45-53 degrees) throughout the game, but thankfully no rain. Most of the wet stuff cleared out of here last night, though it wasn't a fun flight from Chicago.

Penn State enters the game 8-0 and ranked No. 3 in the BCS standings. The Nittany Lions have won all eight games by 14 points or more and rank among the top 25 nationally in rushing offense, total offense, scoring offense, rushing defense, total defense, scoring defense, pass defense, turnover margin and kickoff returns. In other words, this might be the most complete team in the country. We'll find out tonight.

Ohio State comes in at 7-1 and ranked No. 9 in the BCS standings. The Buckeyes have won five straight since their disastrous loss at USC and played by far their best game of the season last week at Michigan State. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor hasn't lost as the starter, and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells seems to be getting stronger after missing three games with a right foot/toe injury. The defense also has stiffened in the last two games, rising to 12th nationally in points allowed and 10th in yards allowed.

And finally, here are some things I'll be watching tonight:

Quarterback play and pressure: Both Pryor and Penn State's Daryll Clark haven't looked like first-year starters so far. Neither has lost a game and both engineered big wins on the road. Pryor seems to welcome pressure, whether it was the be-a-man challenge from Wells before the decisive drive at Wisconsin or teammates speculating about a two-quarterback system last week. The freshman's ability to limit mistakes and keep his cool will loom large tonight. Clark has brought a swagger to the huddle and answered questions about his passing ability (152.7 quarterback rating). But Ohio State is the best defense he's seen this season, and his poise on the road will be tested.

Special teams: This is a truly fascinating component of tonight's game. Tressel coaches special teams better than arguably any coach in the country, and the Buckeyes are always solid in the third phase. But it's hard not to give Penn State the edge with senior return man Derrick Williams, who ranks fifth nationally in kick return average (32.2 ypr). The Lions also boast one of the nation's top kickers in senior Kevin Kelly. The team that prevails in special teams likely will be the one walking away with a W.

Offensive line play: Several pundits have targeted Penn State's offensive line as a potential weakness. I just don't see it. The Lions rank sixth nationally in sacks allowed, and their primary running back (Evan Royster) averages 7.7 yards per carry and 111.6 yards per game. Ohio State's front seven will provide a stern challenge, but Penn State's veteran line should be up for it. The Buckeyes offensive line certainly stepped up last week, but this group has underperformed most of the season. Lions defensive Aaron Maybin will be tough to contain, and the Buckeyes need big games from tackles Alex Boone and Bryant Browning.

Intangibles: The stat has been stated throughout the week, and its bears repeating: Penn State has never won at Ohio State as a member of the Big Ten. These current players have nothing to do with that streak, but it could play a role. Ohio State hasn't played a home night game since 2005, when it fell to Texas. But the Buckeyes are 6-1 in home night games since 1959.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Read these links and magically get smarter. 

Bielema described the quarterback situation this way:

"We made a directional move today and told our kids why we had to do it."

  • Iowa's offensive line includes a poet, a married guy and ... a Beanie Baby collector? The Iowa Press-Citizen's Andy Hamilton examines a motley crew.
  • Could Hawkeyes running back Shonn Greene be a decoy? If he helps the play-action pass, then absolutely, Eric Page writes in the Quad City Times.
  • The Big Ten Network's Dave Revsine thinks Ohio State should go back to Todd Boeckman at quarterback. 
  • Former Michigan coach Lloyd Carr isn't commenting on the sorry state of the Wolverines, but he has plenty of praise for longtime colleague Joe Paterno, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Penn State's stellar season could let Paterno go out in style, Chris Dufresne writes in the Los Angeles Times. 
  • Ohio State tight end Rory Nicol certainly has a lot to say, and he recently called out the offensive line for their poor play, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch. 
"He said, 'I didn't get to play [the past two weeks because of an ankle sprain], but I'm still [mad]. You guys, you look like a bunch of girls out there, and that's the truth,' " senior left tackle Alex Boone recalled.
  • Tailgaters, listen up. Northwestern defensive end Kevin Mims and his father started a company that can turn your vehicle into a tailgating paradise on Saturdays without losing its primary function the rest of the week, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Penn State has plenty of reasons to pile it on Saturday against Michigan, Bernard Fernandez writes in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to go inside five Big Ten teams preparing for the second round of league games.

Illinois: Head coach Ron Zook will increase his rotation on defense after the Illini dropped to last place in the Big Ten in points allowed (32 ppg). LinebackersRussell Ellington and Sam Carson and safety Donsay Hardeman all are expected to see more plays Saturday at Michigan (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET). Zook has some versatility with Travon Bellamy , who can play both safety and cornerback. The coach attributed Illinois' run-stopping struggles (182.5 ypg allowed) to the back half as the team tries to overcome the losses of All-American middle linebacker J Leman and talented safetiesKevin Mitchell and Justin Harrison. "I don't foresee starting lineup changes," Zook said, "but I do see guys that are going to be held accountable. ... We're going to play more guys and our job is to make sure we fix it."

Michigan State: Defensive back Kendell Davis-Clark could be back soon after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury. Davis-Clark's return presents some interesting decisions for head coach Mark Dantonio, who originally shifted Davis-Clark from cornerback to safety afterRoderick Jenrette was asked to take a leave of absence from the team. Danny Fortener replaced Davis-Clark in the season opener at Cal and has performed well, ranking second on the team in tackles (29) with three pass break-ups and an interception. Davis-Clark, who started 11 games at cornerback last season, is listed behind Fortener on the depth chart for Saturday's game against Iowa (ESPN2, noon ET).

Minnesota: The Gophers continue to list three players as possible starters at running back on this week's depth chart, but head coach Tim Brewster acknowledged that freshman DeLeon Eskridge has taken the lead. Eskridge racked up a team-high 131 all-purpose yards in Minnesota's league-opening loss to Ohio State last week. With five touchdowns, he's already halfway to reaching Minnesota's freshman record of 10 set by Laurence Maroney in 2003. Another freshman, Shady Salamon, and junior Jay Thomas also remain in the mix for playing time. "If you had to say one of three guys stepped out, you'd say DeLeon Eskridge," Brewster said. "The other two guys will definitely continue to play some."

Ohio State: Aside from left tackle Alex Boone, none of the spots on Ohio State's offensive line are set in stone. True freshman Michael Brewster remains the starter at center, but Jim Cordle could move back over from guard if necessary. Cordle and a healthy Steve Rehring are listed as co-starters at left guard. Right tackle Bryant Browning also can play a guard spot, and Rehring is a possibility at tackle. Freshmen tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams also could be the mix at some point as much-needed competition increases up front.

Purdue: The Boilers' spread offense is at its best with a large rotation of receivers, and they're starting to see more playmakers emerge. Senior Desmond Tardy is listed as a starter on this week's depth chart ahead of junior Keith Smith after catching 10 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown last week against Notre Dame. Purdue also has seen encouraging moments from junior college transfer Aaron Valentin. Head coach Joe Tiller wants to see more from his other juco wideout, Arsenio Curry, who brings excellent size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) but has yet to catch a pass. Tight end remains a question mark, as starter Kyle Adams is doubtful for Saturday's game against Penn State. Adams hasn't played since he hurt his knee on the opening kickoff of the season opener.

Checking in with ... Alex Boone

September, 24, 2008

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

When Ohio State selected its four captains last month, left tackle Alex Boone didn't seem too disappointed to not be among them. Boone pointed out that he joked around too much to sit at the captain's table. The 6-foot-8, 312-pound senior is definitely entertaining, but he's also brutally honest, making him a media favorite. Boone didn't hold back Tuesday, ripping Ohio State fans for booing quarterback Todd Boeckman last Saturday against Troy.

 Matthew Emmons/USPresswire
 Alex Boone knows the Buckeyes still have a lot to play for.

I spoke to Boone later that night and he sounded off on several topics, including Terrelle Pryor's rapid rise, Ohio State's subpar offensive line play, the USC aftermath, the possible return of running back Chris "Beanie" Wells and whether he regrets passing up NFL millions to stay another year in Columbus.

Terrelle's been named the starter now. What has been the reaction on the line? I know a lot of you guys are close to Todd. Has it been easy to embrace Terrelle so far?

Alex Boone: Absolutely. We would never not embrace him. He's our quarterback. Whoever's back there, we'll take care of them. That's our thing. We've got to protect, and that's one thing we need to work on and do a little bit better, protecting. Him back there, he's another quarterback, he's a great person and we'll follow him.

Was it obvious to you right away that there wouldn't be a rift in the locker room? Sometimes people side with one quarterback over the other.

AB: A lot of the guys were more surprised to see [Terrelle start] last week. But coach [Jim Tressel], whatever he wants, he does, and we'll block for whoever's back there.

You mentioned the protection issues up front. As a line, how would you grade yourselves at this point in the season as a group.

AB: I'm going to be completely honest right now. I'm going to say this and I'll probably get in trouble, but we would probably get an 'F' if I were to grade myself and the line. We need to step up and we really need to start straining and holding that line of scrimmage and start giving guys time. We have great wide receivers, but they don't have time to get open. We have a great quarterback, and he doesn't have time to throw it. So we really have to push ourselves to hold for another second.

Is there any explanation for that? You're veteran linemen, you know each other, you've played next to each other for a while.

AB: It would probably be sometimes our technique is off or sometimes we're not off the ball right away. A lot of times it's just being lazy. And that's so terrible to say because it's a football game and you should always be up for it, but sometimes it just doesn't happen like that. So I think we really need to get a fire under our rear and kick it into high gear and start blocking.

Do you think it was maybe that you had done it so long, that you look to your experience maybe too much, you don't have the same fire you had as a freshman?

AB: Oh, absolutely. Sometimes you sit back there and you're like, 'Oh, I can muscle this guy. I can manhandle this guy. This is my fourth year. I can do whatever I want.' But that's not the case. There's guys out there. They're young, they're excited, they're strong, they're fast. You always have to show discipline and respect for the other player and you've got to play fast.

(Read full post)

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten is at the quarter pole, and the favorite has fallen back in the pack. After the first truly revealing weekend of the season, let's see what's happening around the league. 

"When we walked in at halftime, nobody was saying anything," tackle Alex Boone said. "I mean, what the [heck], we're Ohio State -- we should be screaming and swearing and saying everything evil you can think of. And guys are hanging their heads, and you don't know what to say to them. You try screaming, and they just put their head down even more. We can't play like that, and if we play like that the rest of the season, we won't be anything."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

A few Big Ten items before the drive home: 

  • If you can't tell already, I'm a big fan of Doug Lesmerises' Ohio State blog on The Cleveland Plain Dealer site. Some more good stuff today, including the endless debate about Terrelle Pryor's playing time, the comedy of left tackle Alex Boone (the next Kirk Barton) and some pictures of tough guys looking tough.
  • A little bit of a surprise here as Ohio State running back Beanie Wells tops's preseason Heisman watch. Wells sounds off on his injuries, his speech before the Michigan game and his iPod selection in a Q&A with Gene Menez. 
  • The two-quarterback system hasn't worked before at Michigan, the Detroit Free Press' Jamie Samuelsen writes in his blog.
  • Running back Nate Guillory didn't have the time to wait his turn at Iowa and had to transfer, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
  • Here's a full transcript from the revealing teleconferences this morning with Penn State quarterbacks Daryll Clark and Pat Devlin, courtesy of The Altoona Mirror's Cory Giger. 
  • Penn State defensive end Josh Gaines thinks the current line is better than the 2005 version that got to the Orange Bowl, The Patriot-News' Bob Flounders writes in his blog.
  • I meant to post this several days ago, but comedian and die-hard Iowa fan Tom Arnold responds to allegations that he's become an Alabama backer after recently attending Crimson Tide practice, The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Mike Hlas writes on his blog, appropriately titled The Hlog. Wonder if the editors will let me call this the Rittenblog. Speaking of editors, Arnold needs one in his e-mail. 
  • The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens was spot on with his 2007 prediction for Indiana football, getting the team's overall record, bowl game and bowl opponent correct. Here's his forecast for this fall.
  • If you missed it yesterday, Indiana defensive end Greg Middleton, the nation's sacks leader in 2007, has been suspended for Saturday's opener along with three reserves.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to predict the Big Ten all-conference team for 2008. Some of the names you'll recognize. Others might be a little hazy at this point, but not for long.


QB: Curtis Painter, Purdue, Sr., 6-4, 230
RB: Chris "Beanie" Wells, Ohio State, Jr., 6-1, 237
Javon Ringer, Michigan State, Sr., 5-9, 202
Arrelious "Regus" Benn, Illinois, So., 6-2, 214
Brian Robiskie, Ohio State, Sr., 6-3, 199
Travis Beckum, Wisconsin, Sr., 6-4, 236
Alex Boone, Ohio State, Sr., 6-8, 312
Kraig Urbik, Wisconsin, Sr., 6-6, 332
A.Q. Shipley, Penn State, Sr., 6-1, 297
Rich Ohrnberger, Penn State, Sr. 6-2, 291
Xavier Fulton, Illinois, Sr., 6-5, 300


DE: Maurice Evans, Penn State, Jr., 6-2, 264
Mitch King, Iowa, Sr., 6-3, 280
Terrance Taylor, Michigan, Sr., 6-0, 319
Greg Middleton, Indiana, Jr., 6-3, 279
James Laurinaitis, Ohio State, Sr., 6-3, 240
Greg Jones, Michigan State, So., 6-1, 222
Marcus Freeman, Ohio State, Sr., 6-1, 239
Vontae Davis, Illinois, Jr., 6-0, 204
Malcolm Jenkins, Ohio State, Sr., 6-1, 201
Anthony Scirrotto, Penn State, Sr., 6-0, 192
Anderson Russell, Ohio State, Jr. 6-0, 205


PK: Austin Starr, Indiana, Sr., 6-3, 198
Jeremy Boone, Penn State, Jr., 5-9, 194
Marcus Thigpen, Indiana, Sr., 5-9, 193
David Gilreath, Wisconsin, So., 5-11, 165

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern media day has come and gone, and I learned that at least one Big Ten coach (Pat Fitzgerald) has read the blog. Only 10 more to go.

The schedule is shaping up a bit for next week. I'll be spending Wednesday at Camp Rantoul with the Illinois Fighting Illini, before heading over to Purdue for media day on Thursday. There could also be some surprises along the way.

Here's your daily diet of links:

  • If you're just waking up, Ohio State defensive backs Donald Washington and Jamario O'Neal have been suspended for the first two games of the season. Not a major blow, given that they'll be back for USC, but it could shake up the dynamic in the secondary.
  • Oh, and some guy named Terrelle Pryor spoke with reporters at Ohio State media day. He was a pretty popular man, Paul Schofield writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Items of note: Pryor rooms with starting quarterback Todd Boeckman, gets a lot of reps in practice and likes hanging out with the older players.
  • More on Ohio State media day from The Columbus Dispatch's Buckeye Blog. Left tackle Alex Boone knows how to roundup the linemen -- "If you're big and fat, let's go" -- a group that includes Michigan transfer Justin Boren. 
  • Wisconsin star tight end Travis Beckum sat out Thursday's practice with "tightness in his lower body," but it doesn't appear to be too serious, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. Also, defensive lineman Brandon Hoey's career is over after lingering back problems.
  • The Badgers seem pretty solid at outside linebacker, but the middle is a concern. Enter Jaevery McFadden, who could unseat incumbent Elijah Hodge for the job, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.
  • Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis practiced with the third-team offense on Thursday, The Hoosier Scoop blog reports. Wow. He's really going to have to earn his way back.
  • Apparently Akron doesn't like its chances to upset Wisconsin on Aug. 30. The school gave back some of its allotted tickets, so get 'em while they're available.
  • Strong defense is a given at Penn State, but a strong season hinges on whether the offense can make up ground, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
"Penn State has scored a total of six points in its last two trips to Camp Randall Stadium, where it faces Wisconsin on Oct. 11. It has scored a total of 23 points in its last three visits to Ohio Stadium, where it will face the Buckeyes on Oct. 25."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Dust off those depth charts, people. Practice is finally here. Every Big Ten team --except Purdue -- lifts the curtain on preseason practice Monday. I'll be at Michigan's first workout at 2:30 p.m. ET, wearing a West Virginia shirt, of course. Relax, I'm joking.

Check back later today for interviews with Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer, as well as other maize and blue-related items. For now, here's a look around the league:

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

 Scott Boehm/Getty Images
 Marcus Freeman wants to finish his senior season on a winning note.

Ohio State linebacker Marcus Freeman knows you don't want to see him on Jan. 8 in Miami. OK, maybe in the stands or outside Dolphin Stadium, but not on the field. Freeman has heard all about how nobody North of Cleveland, South of Cincinnati, East of Steubenville or West of Dayton wants to see the Buckeyes back in the national championship game. Too bad. Freeman and his teammates have every intention of disappointing everyone and crashing the party again.

Despite back-to-back losses in the BCS title game, Ohio State returns a stacked team led by Freeman and a host of others who bypassed the NFL draft for one more shot at college football immortality. I caught up with Freeman earlier this week.

A recent column in the Columbus Dispatch suggested you guys should use all this criticism as a badge of honor. Do you see it that way?

Marcus Freeman: I don't think we use it as a chip on our shoulder. We would be fools to say we don't think about it, the way we finished the last two years. But going into this year, it's going to be a new mindset of starting back at zero. I don't think any team can start where they finished. We can't start off at the national championship game. We've got to get ready for Youngstown State and always remember that feeling we had after these last two title games. We'll never forget that feeling.

For the seniors, it's got to be easy to remember what happened, but how do you make sure the younger guys don't forget?

MF: The guys that were there, they know how it felt. They know how tough it is to walk off that field as losers when you really, really put all your effort into training and getting ready for that game. A lot of young guys, they've seen that game and they hear us talking about it. It isn't something where we tell them, 'Hey, you weren't here but remember that.' They watched it on TV and if you're at Ohio State now, you were a Buckeye fan before. They know how we felt about that game.

You do realize the world will end if you guys get back to the title game, don't you?

MF: (Laughs) You get mad at first and say it's disrespectful, but if you really sit back and think about it, you've got to really respect the way people think. We've had two chances. The first year we were a heavy favorite, and last year you could say we were slight underdogs. But two years we had great chances to win going into the game and the way we performed was very poorly. They have nothing but the right reasons to say that. If I was a sportswriter, I would probably be saying the same thing. But you really can't pay attention. If you come back and say, 'Hey, the only reason we're coming back is because nobody thinks we should be in the title game, we have to get there,' you're focused on the wrong things. You've got to focus on winning every game. I know if we get the chance to go back to the title game, that's going to be the talk of the nation. But we'll have to worry about that when it gets here.

I hate to make you describe a shower scene, but take me back to after the LSU loss when you and the other juniors talked about coming back for this season.

MF: Just a lot of emotion. Sitting on that bench and thinking, 'Hey, I don't think I'm going to come back and have this feeling again.' But we got in the shower, everybody's disappointed. I forget who was the first person to say something, but it was weird that all of us that had major decisions about coming back were all in the shower at the same time. (Alex) Boone or Malcolm (Jenkins) or someone said, 'Hey, I'm coming back. I'm not leaving college football like this.' And then James (Laurinaitis) said, 'I'm coming back, too,' and I said, 'I'm coming back, too.' We all knew we really had to go home and think about it, but that was the first feeling of, 'Hey, let's come back and do it one more time. Let's go out with a bang our senior year.'

Of those juniors, was there a guy who really surprised you by coming back?

MF: I definitely think both James and Malcolm. Any time you're in a situation to be a top-10 pick and you have the ability that they have, you're pretty certain that these guys are going to the NFL. I was very surprised when both of them said they were coming back, but I think if you really take a second and looked at their character, it's something that wouldn't surprise me. They love to be at Ohio State, they love college football, they love playing for Ohio State.

Hanging around with those guys, watching the NFL draft, is there any looking back or second-guessing?

MF: Any time you watch the NFL draft, you're like, 'Man, that could have been me getting ready for the draft or getting drafted.' But at the same time you're like, 'Man, that could have been me waiting and waiting and not getting picked up.' That's just a part of human nature, thinking about what could have been. But in the long run, thinking about, 'What I could have done,' isn't going to help you. All of us have thought about that and said, 'Hey, now it's time to look forward.' We can't go back.

I know you went back-and-forth with your decision. Is it crazy to think back on that time, all the emotions you were going through?

MF: It's probably the biggest decision you have as a young man. It's a decision -- what's going to be the next step in your life? Do you come back for one more year at Ohio State or do you go on and start the next chapter of your life? It's a huge, huge decision that took a lot of praying, a lot of talking to other people, talking to my parents and then finally, you've got to come up with the decision. You just know that decision is going to affect the rest of your life and you just have to be happy with it.

You've played with James for so long and you're always linked together. Does that ever frustrate you?

MF: That's a friendship that has grown since the first day we met. Me and James will be friends for the rest of our lives, no matter what happens here at Ohio State or in the NFL. I'm always proud of him and he's proud of me. We have a great competition between each other. We're each other's biggest critics. If I see James messing up, I'm gonna tell him and if he sees me messing up, he's gonna tell me. That's what
true friends can do. They can tell you when you're messing up or when you need to pick it up. That's something we both do with each other. Looking over to my right or left, I know I'm going to have the utmost confidence in James to do his job, and I hope he has the same in me. It's not only a friendship, but a great teammate.

How does the defense need to improve?

MF: There are many reasons. The biggest thing we need to improve on is turnovers. That's something we haven't done a great job in the last couple years. We have to get more turnovers, and then we have to be better tacklers. That's something we always need to improve on. The biggest thing is finishing. We're a bit inconsistent sometimes. One game we'll give up negative yards and the next game we'll give up 150 yards rushing. We just need to be even more consistent, create more turnovers and be better tacklers as a team.

How do you force more turnovers?

MF: Not only do we have to work on stripping the ball. You look back, we had a lot of dropped interceptions this year, and that's something we definitely have to improve on. Any time you have a chance to get your hands on the ball as a defense, you've got to make the most of that opportunity.

There's been so much attention on Terrelle Pryor coming in. How has he dealt with everything so far?

MF: I haven't had the chance to be around him a lot, but the chances I've had, he seems like a very humble kid. I couldn't imagine to be in his shoes and to have the amount of pressure he has on him coming into Ohio State. But he's handling it great. He's a very humble kid and the best thing about him is he's eager to work. He wants to get better, he wants to learn the offense, he wants to play against the best players we've got. To be humble when you have that much hype around you, it's going to be great for him.

How about the young guys on defense? Who has impressed you so far?

MF: We've got a lot of young guys. Chimdi Chekwa's stepping in and doing a great job, Ross Homan is doing great. Right now you just look at guys. We're running and we're lifting, but you get the real evaluation in two-a-days when they put the pads on.