NCF Nation: Archie Griffin

On Monday, ESPN revealed its choices for the greatest individual seasons in college football history.

We voted on several of these, including the best Big Ten seasons. As you can imagine, there were some difficult calls to make, especially at schools stuffed with rich traditions and legendary players. We didn't always agree.

Our Big Ten reporting crew offers thoughts on which decisions were the toughest for league schools.

SportsNation

Which school presents the toughest call on best individual seasons?

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    22%
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Discuss (Total votes: 5,151)

Brian Bennett: There were lots of tricky calls once you narrowed it down to two candidates for a certain school. For example, does the best season at Illinois belong to Red Grange or Dick Butkus? (You try telling Butkus it was Grange). Lorenzo White or Bubba Smith at Michigan State? Archie Griffin or Eddie George at Ohio State? We had to not only compare the numbers but also take into account the different eras.

For me, the hardest decision on an individual season involved Wisconsin. The consensus ended up being Ron Dayne's 1999 season in which he won the Heisman Trophy. But you could make a robust argument that Dayne's own 1996 campaign was better, as he ran for more yards and more touchdowns and had a higher yards-per-carry average as a freshman than he did as a senior. I've always thought the comparisons between Dayne and Montee Ball's 2011 season are fascinating. One day, I believe, people will look back on Ball's '11 season and wonder how a guy who tied the NCAA record with 39 touchdowns -- while running for 1,923 yards and averaging more yards per carry than Dayne did in 1999 -- not only failed to gain traction in the Heisman race but somehow didn't claim the Doak Walker Award (a grievous error that was thankfully remedied in 2012). Throw in Alan Ameche, who won the Heisman in 1954, and Pat Richter's 1962 season, and you have enough material to create decades of debate.

Mitch Sherman: My toughest call involved Nebraska, the school I've watched most closely for the past 20 years. Mike Rozier made the top 16 nationally, as selected by ESPN.com writers and editors, for his 1983 Heisman campaign. Rozier's statistics earn him a clear victory among all-time Huskers in the eyes of most. But not me. I saw in 1995 what stats cannot tell us about Tommie Frazier's senior season. He rushed for 604 yards and threw for 1,362 -- pedestrian numbers compared to many on this list, though he still finished second in the Heisman voting. Sure, he was surrounded by greatness, offensively and defensively, but perhaps only Tim Tebow since that 1995 season has matched Frazier's presence and overall impact on a team. Frazier was a field general in every sense imaginable. He inspired the players alongside him in the huddle. He founds reserves of determination for the biggest games, earning recognition often among the greatest quarterbacks to play the college game. I went with Rozier because his dominance was impossible to ignore, picking against Frazier -- an act that those 13 games in 1995 taught me was most unwise.

Austin Ward: The trump card is almost always up Archie Griffin's sleeve when it comes to debates about the greatest player in Ohio State history, but at least this once it didn't work. In a conversation about the top individual season a program has ever seen, being the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner finally wasn't a deal breaker -- and the Buckeyes have plenty of incredible performances to give Griffin a run for his money. Orlando Pace made people take notice of line play and count up pancakes, and it was tough for him to even crack the honorable-mention list. It's actually Eddie George who holds Ohio State's single-season rushing record with a staggering 1,927-yard campaign that included 24 touchdowns and a stiff-arm trophy of his own. David Boston's breakout seasons in 1997 and '98 are even more remarkable in hindsight, with the wide receiver rewriting the record books with a pair of seasons that are both nearly 300 yards better than anybody else in school history. On top of that, Ohio State has four other Heisman winners to consider along with three-time All-America Chic Harley. In the end, Griffin's seasons can't be fully measured by his statistics alone, since for starters he was sharing time in a loaded backfield. But his talent was undeniable when the football was in his hands, and even without his normal trump card Griffin still walked away a deserving winner.

Josh Moyer: For me, I might have spent the most time waffling back and forth with Michigan. Sure, Charles Woodson’s 1997 campaign was one for the ages. But could we really ignore a rich history that included Fielding Yost’s point-a-minute teams and severely underrated running back Willie Heston (1904)? Or Mr. Do-Everything in Tom Harmon (1940)? Or how about a quarterback (Bennie Friedman, 1925 or 1926) and wide receiver (Bennie Oosterbaan) who helped change the face of the game? Or, if we want to get a bit more recent, how’s Desmond Howard (1991) sound?

You could make a case for any of these players and, really, not be wrong. But I think the two who give Woodson the strongest push are Harmon and Heston. Harmon not only won the Heisman in 1940, but he was also the AP Male Athlete of the Year – meaning he had a better season than the likes of MLB’s Hank Greenberg (41 homers, 150 RBI). It didn’t hurt that Harmon could rush, pass, kick, punt and tackle. But my personal vote as the best Michigan season went to Heston. The NCAA could piece stats together from just 17 of his 36 career games and, just during that 1904 season, Heston averaged 12.7 yards per carry while rushing for 21 TDs. (And he was good at defense.) Knute Rockne once said Heston was a better runner than Red Grange. Plus, Michigan went 10-0 that season and outscored its opponents 567-22. So Michigan has a lot of quality players and great seasons -- which didn’t make this an easy task -- but after a lot of thinking I personally voted for Heston in 1904. Truthfully, though, you could’ve gone with a half-dozen others.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern's rise from national doormat to national darling to consistent winner is impossible to deny, even for farsighted skeptics who still discuss the program as if it were 1983, not 2013.

A team once best known for owning college football's longest losing streak can point to Big Ten titles in 1995, 1996 and 2000, five consecutive bowl appearances, and, finally, a bowl victory this past Jan. 1. But there's a scarlet and gray asterisk next to Northwestern's name. Of all the hurdles -- real or perceived -- the Wildcats have cleared since 1995, one opponent consistently trips them up and leaves them lying flat on their faces.

Ohio State hasn't merely dominated the all-time series against Northwestern, holding a 59-14-1 edge, including wins in the past four meetings and 28 of the past 29. Most of the matchups haven't even been competitive, beginning with the first, a 58-0 Buckeyes win a century ago.

Since a 60-0 win in 1973 at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes own 13 victories against Northwestern by 40 points or more and 21 victories by 20 points or more. Single-digit losses to Ohio State are almost as uncommon as wins for Northwestern. Even the Wildcats' championship seasons in 1995, 1996 and 2000 occurred without Ohio State on the schedule.

The dark days are over at Northwestern. No reasonable person could dispute that. But Ohio State remains a dark cloud hovering around the program. Saturday night, the fourth-ranked Buckeyes storm into Ryan Field for the most-anticipated regular-season Northwestern game in recent memory. The forecast, by the way, calls for showers.

[+] EnlargeKain Colter
John Gress/Getty ImagesKain Colter and the Wildcats hope to end Ohio State's dominance with a win Saturday night.
Will Northwestern's big-stage appearance be a washout, or will the purple reign?

"It's going to be a big measuring stick for us, to see where we’re at," Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said Monday.

Nine years earlier, Noah Herron sat in the same room as Colter, discussing Northwestern's upcoming home game against an Ohio State team ranked No. 7 nationally. Herron, the Wildcats' running back at the time, and several of his teammates made comments that were true then and are true to this day but that still created a stir in Buckeye Country. Wide receiver Mark Philmore described the Buckeyes as "kids just like you out there."

"It was along the lines of, 'They're just Ohio State. They're the same guys that we are, playing for their school. They're no different than us,'" Herron recalled in a phone interview with ESPN.com this week. "It became poster-board stuff for their locker room, which is not what it was intended to be, but it was supposed to look at it from our approach. We're not playing their tradition, we're playing them. We're playing the current roster for 2004, not Archie Griffin and all these other great names that they've had."

Brett Basanez, the Wildcats' quarterback at the time, had a similar feeling. Despite playing with a separated throwing shoulder suffered the previous week, Basanez passed for 278 yards and two touchdowns and added 53 rushing yards, including a 21-yard dash to set up Herron's eventual winning TD.

Basanez had watched Ohio State's game against NC State and saw similarities between NC State's offense and Northwestern's.

"You're not playing Eddie George," Basanez said. "You're playing normal guys. Just play your game and win. We knew if we came out and played, we could score with them, we could score more than them. And that came to fruition as the game started."

Herron might have violated Big Ten etiquette by not paying homage to the Buckeyes. Ohio State came to Ryan Field eager to put Northwestern in its place.

Instead, the Wildcats won 33-27 in overtime. Herron scored the winning touchdown in what one Northwestern fan website calls the "33 game" -- Herron wore No. 33, scored the team's 33rd point on his 33rd carry and helped snap a 33-year losing streak to the Buckeyes.

"We weren't intimidated by them from the very beginning," Herron said. "Offense, defense, special teams, everybody played with that same kind of swagger, that, 'Hey, we're playing this team right now, nobody else.' Sometimes you catch a little heat for saying some things, but nevertheless they're true and they prove to be true. They're college kids just like us.

"Just because they’re Ohio State, they don't get a free pass."

The current Northwestern players had nothing inflammatory to say this week about Ohio State. Colter praised the Buckeyes' coaches and said Ohio State has "athletes all over the board."

But the Wildcats also aren't in awe of Ohio State, which might have been a problem for Northwestern teams of the past.

"If you grow up watching college football, you hear about tradition, you hear about the successes that programs have had," Herron said. "You can be enamored by it. You can even be intimidated by it."

Herron acknowledges that, from top to bottom, Ohio State had more talent than Northwestern in 2004 and still does today. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald agrees, saying Monday, "I think there's a talent gap between anybody in the top five and everybody else, including us. ... But we're pretty darn talented."

The talent gap has narrowed for Northwestern, as recruiting is on the rise under Fitzgerald. The are-you-kidding-me losses that used to plague Northwestern, particularly in nonleague play, have gone away. The Wildcats actually can stay ranked for more than a week.

But there are steps to legitimizing a program, and beating the Big Ten's most talented and visible program is one Northwestern eventually has to take, especially if it intends to return to the Rose Bowl.

Saturday night's opportunity, Basanez said, is more about Northwestern's future than its past.

"If you're judging your football program in the Big Ten, especially with [Buckeyes coach] Urban Meyer, with the tradition that [Jim] Tressel and other guys have had there, yeah, that's a measuring stick," he said. "It's very important to beat Ohio State because they're a Big Ten foe, but it's just as important to beat Michigan or Iowa. Everyone just thinks of Ohio State, but you beat them, arguably right now you're the best in the Big Ten."

Herron, who played five NFL seasons with four teams, calls the touchdown run in overtime against Ohio State his best moment on a football field. Personal achievement played a small role, as the win resonated for a team and a school still trying to escape its putrid past on the gridiron. The Ohio State win turned out to be the high point for the 2004 Wildcats, who went 6-6 and missed a bowl, thanks to a 1-3 mark in nonleague play.

The program since has been elevated. So have the stakes Saturday night.

"It is a measuring stick because it's the main stage, and it's seemingly been a team that Northwestern has had a hard time beating," Herron said. "Two ranked teams, game of the week, 'GameDay' is going to be there.

"What more can you ask for, not only for that team but for the program?"

Clowney tops first Heisman Watch

August, 15, 2013
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South Carolina junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who turned in the play of the year last season in college football, enters the 2013 season atop the inaugural Heisman Watch as potentially the top player in college football.

The Heisman Watch is a poll comprised of 16 analysts and writers at ESPN, and Clowney was the runaway choice for the No. 1 spot. He garnered 55 votes, including seven first-place votes. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller was No. 2 with 40 votes overall.

There were three SEC players in the top five. Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, was No. 3 with 36 votes, while Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron was No. 4 with 26 votes. Rounding out the top 5 was Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota with 23 votes.

Three other SEC players received votes. Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon picked up one third-place vote and one fifth-place vote. Georgia running back Todd Gurley got one fourth-place vote, and Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray got two fifth-place votes.

If Clowney were to win the Heisman, he would be the first true defensive player to take home college football's most prized individual honor. Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson won it in 1997, but Woodson also returned punts and played some at receiver.

Of the SEC players, Murray might be the one who could make the biggest jump based on where he is right now on the Heisman Watch list. He's passed for more than 3,000 yards and at least 35 touchdowns each of the last two seasons. If he puts up those kind of numbers for a third straight season and Georgia again finds itself in the national championship equation come late November, Murray will definitely be somebody to watch.

It's a little surprising to see Manziel only third on the list after the way he carved apart defenses last season as a redshirt freshman. The big question with Manziel is what's going to happen with the whole NCAA investigation and what kind of impact his tumultuous offseason will have on him once he does step back onto the field. Even without all the stuff going on off the field, history was going to be against Manziel winning the Heisman for a second year in row. Only one other player has done it -- Ohio State's Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.

Some love for Salaam's 1994 season

June, 13, 2012
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"College Football Live" made of list of the greatest individual seasons in college football history this month, and it left off a great season from Colorado's 1994 Heisman Trophy winning running back Rashaan Salaam.

At least one reader pleaded for some consideration of Salaam, and not without justification. In 1994 he was just the fourth player to rush for more than 2,000 yards (2,055) in a season. This was before bowl games counted, which has served to inflate recent numbers.

Salaam, who won the Heisman over Penn State great Ki-Jana Carter and an impressive list of other players, led the nation in rushing, scoring (24 touchdowns) and all-purpose yards (213.8). He played for a team that finished 11-1 and ranked No. 3 in the final polls. But it wasn't just about his numbers or his team's success. It was about quality opposition.

Colorado played six ranked teams -- three top-10 teams -- during the first eight weeks of the season. Through eight games, Salaam had rushed for 1,390 yards; 1,041 against ranked teams. That's 173.5 yards per game against ranked foes.

That crew of Buffs, by the way, was a heck of a collection of players, particularly on offense. Early in the season, it wasn't easy to figure who the team's top Heisman candidate was: Salaam, quarterback Kordell Stewart or receiver Michael Westbrook. Westbrook made "The Catch" at Michigan that season, one of the all-time great college football stunners. By the way, Salaam had 141 yards in the Big House, more than any visiting back since Ohio State's Archie Griffin in 1973.

The next weekend at Texas, Salaam rushed for 317 yards, with a school record 362 all-purpose yards.

The only time he was held to fewer than 100 yards was against Wisconsin. Of course, he did score four touchdowns against the Badgers.

Salaam hit 2,000 yards in game 11. How? With 1,988 yards entering the fourth quarter, he took a pitch against Iowa State and raced 67 yards for a touchdown.

Here's the game-by-game for Salaam's 1994 season, with his carries, yards and touchdowns.

Our daunting assignment for Monday was to identify the top five individual seasons by a Big Ten player in the past 50 years. It was not in any way easy.

There have been so many great players and great performances in this league that it seemed almost unfair to limit this list to just five. It's impossible not to omit some very, very worthy individual efforts.

But that was our task, and we did the best we could while trying to pick out the most memorable seasons and weighing team success into the formula as well. Please remember a couple key notes about this list. This is limited to the past 50 years, so legends such as Red Grange and Nile Kinnick were not eligible. We are including Nebraska, even though the Cornhuskers have only spent one year as a Big Ten members. Blame conference realignment and feel free to complain, but the Huskers are part of the family now and are going to be included in these kinds of historic lists. Deal with it.

OK, here we go, and we'll do this chronological order:

[+] EnlargeDick Butkus
AP PhotoDick Butkus (50) made 145 tackles and caused 10 fumbles in 1963, leading the Illini to a Big Ten title.
Dick Butkus, LB, Illinois, 1963: In many ways, Butkus is synonymous with the hard-nosed defensive style that has become the Big Ten's calling card. If you want a symbol for toughness, you couldn't do much better than him. He was named the player of the year in 1964 and finished third in the Heisman voting that year. But we're going with his 1963 season, in which he recorded a whopping 145 tackles, won Big Ten MVP honors and led the Illini to a Rose Bowl win over Washington. Little wonder that the award for the nation's best linebacker is named after him.

Archie Griffin, RB, Ohio State, 1974: Griffin remains the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, and his first statue-worthy season was his best as a collegian. He ran for 1,620 yards and 12 touchdowns while averaging an eye-popping 6.9 yards per carry in an era of less offense. As he broke tackles left and right that season, Griffin earned the high praise of legend Woody Hayes, who called him the best football player he'd ever coached.

Mike Rozier, RB, Nebraska, 1983: The Cornhuskers' ground game was an unstoppable machine in '83, and Rozier was its engine. He averaged an amazing 7.8 yards per carry, a NCAA record for players with at least 214 attempts, and finished with 2,148 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. He ran for more than 200 yards in each of his last four regular-season games. Would Nebraska have beaten Miami in the Orange Bowl had Rozier not injured his ankle in the second half? We'll never know, but we do know this was one of the top seasons of all time.

Charles Woodson, CB/WR/PR, Michigan, 1997: Woodson became the first primarily defensive player ever to win the Heisman Trophy with his extraordinary performance for the Wolverines, who won a share of the national title that season. He had eight interceptions even though teams steadfastly avoided throwing the ball to his side of the field. He also compiled 500 yards and three touchdowns as a receiver and punt returner, including his memorable score against Ohio State. Woodson had to be special to beat out Peyton Manning for the Heisman that year, and he sure was.

Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin, 2011: This may be controversial, since it happened so recently. But we firmly believe that when historians and fans look back on Ball's 2011 season, they will be astounded that he didn't win the Heisman or get more attention for what he accomplished. Ball led the nation in rushing yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry, matching the best mark that Heisman winner Ron Dayne ever put up during his Badgers career. He also scored 39 touchdowns, tying Barry Sanders FBS record. While a lot of people like to point out that Sanders played in fewer games, they conveniently neglect to mention that Ball had 37 fewer carries in 2011 than Sanders did in 1988. It was truly a historic season for Ball, and one of the best in Big Ten history.

Who's on your list for the top five seasons of the past 50 years in the Big Ten?
Secondary NCAA violations happen with every FBS program on a semi-regular basis, but at Ohio State, after the past year, every error is magnified.

The [Cleveland] Plain Dealer recently obtained a list of all Ohio State's NCAA violations since May 30, 2011, the day Jim Tressel resigned as football coach in the wake of the tattoo/memorabilia scandal. According to the Plain Dealer, Ohio State reported 46 violations in 21 sports during the span, including secondary NCAA violations committed by new football coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith.

Meyer admits to saying "good luck" to defensive line recruit Noah Spence during a Dec. 16 game, which violates NCAA rules prohibiting direct contact with a prospect during a competition. Spence, who originally was leaning toward Penn State before the child sex abuse scandal broke, ended up committing to Ohio State days after the game while on an official visit, and he signed with the Buckeyes in February. He's the nation's No. 4 recruit according to ESPN Recruiting and the highest-rated recruit in the Big Ten this year.

From the Plain Dealer:
Ohio State learned of the matter after seeing a newspaper photo that appeared to show Meyer saying something to Spence. Meyer also told Ohio State about the incident two days after the game.
"I went to say hello and good luck to his coach and as I was walking off the field Noah said, 'Hello,' and I said 'Good luck,' before the game," Meyer wrote in a text message to The Plain Dealer on Thursday. "Nothing more. Nothing to hide. All good."

The violations included nothing about Meyer and recruit Kyle Dodson, who signed with Ohio State in February. The Sporting News reported that Wisconsin had accused Meyer of impermissible contact with Dodson, who originally committed to Wisconsin before switching.

Smith and Archie Griffin, the former Ohio State star running back and current CEO of the school's alumni association, admitted to recording a personalized video for recruit Ezekiel Elliott before his official visit to campus March 31. Such videos are prohibited. Elliott committed to Ohio State during his visit.

Other football secondary violations range from the truly ridiculous -- assistant coach Mike Vrabel used smokeless tobacco on the sidelines during games, which violates NCAA rules prohibiting tobacco use during games or practices -- to the extremely common (assistant Stan Drayton accidentally sending a recruit a text message rather than an email last summer).

The only major violations included are the ones involving players being overpaid for work by former booster Bobby DiGeronimo. Those violations, combined with the violations from the tattoo/merchandise scandal, resulted in Ohio State losing scholarships and receiving a one-year postseason ban from the NCAA for the 2012 season.

There are a few ways to view the report, none of which are off base.
  • The NCAA rulebook is pretty silly.
  • Meyer and Smith have to be more careful, especially after what happened. Smith's violation is a bit puzzling. You would think he would have some hesitation about recording a personalized video for a recruit.
  • Ohio State's compliance department, panned during the tattoo/merchandise scandal, is improving in monitoring and reporting issues.

"So many lessons learned throughout that entire challenge," Smith told ESPN.com last month. "You have to constantly look at, 'OK, what could we have done better?' What procedures do we put in place as we move forward? Be as transparent as we can. The biggest thing for us is identify, report and move on. That's what we’ve always done. There's some things we changed to make sure we don’t end up in that situation again."
Here's the second half of my interview with Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany on the league's new football division names, logo and football trophies. Check out Part I as well.

With the logo, I see the connection to the past. What parts of it connect you to the present and to the future?

Jim Delany: I think the smaller usage is very adaptable to new media, and it's a smaller mark [logo]. Just like ESPN was not always ESPN, that's very adaptable. And the stacked and the horizontal give you a lot of ways to use it. We're big, strong, classical. I think the lettering on the old mark was powerful. This lettering is maybe a little less powerful because it's rounded and not nearly as chiseled. Maybe we didn't go from Hummer to convertible. Maybe we went from Hummer to a Prius, I don't know.

So the adaptability, is that what you like most about it?

JD: I think so. It's very adaptable. It's connected to the past. I'm not suggesting it's the Swoosh because it's not. But all of these marks, I remember when we did the first one 20 years ago, people looked at it and they weren't enamored by it right away. They said, 'How could you do Big Ten with 11,' and so forth. But I don't expect people to fall in love or embrace it [immediately] because I don't think that's what marks do. I think marks grow and take on meaning, based on memories and emotions over time. And then it becomes more familiar. And then it becomes yours.

Were you going into this with the idea of having so many new trophies?

JD: No, those two things are connected, the Legends/Leaders and building on the people. Those two concepts are connected.

What do you think about having some active coaches in the trophy names and quite a few people who are still alive?

JD: I don't feel restricted by some etiquette. I think we've got some unbelievable people who are active, Archie [Griffin] and Joe Paterno and Fitz [Pat Fitzgerald]. I don't think there's any reason to ignore them. I think there's a reason to embrace them and who they are and what they do. It makes it living. We've got some people who have been dead for 50 years and we've got people who are still participating. I think it shows continuity.

Overall, when will it be appropriate to judge these new elements?

JD: I don't think anything that deals with art or branding or names, you can judge it. I think time will tell. The question is whether it's sustainable, whether it's enduring and whether we're able to bring it to life. It's not a contest to see how quickly you can gain approval in the first hour of the unveiling. Would love to have it, but I think this stuff is judged as sort of how it works over time.video
The Big Ten finally revealed the new names for its football divisions, along with a new logo and 18 (count 'em) new trophies for football.

Sadly, my two suggestions for division names -- Delany and Delaney, and Adam and Rittenberg -- did not make the cut.

I'll get to my reaction for each part below. Overall, I feel like many of you do: The league could have done better and didn't help its national perception, at least in the short term. But unlike many folks, I care a lot more about who is in the divisions than what they are called. The amount of attention this topic generated really surprised me.

Overall, the reaction from fans and media members hasn't been positive.

"Any time you have something new, whether it’s a mark or trophies, it takes some time to get used to," league commissioner Jim Delany said on a teleconference.

That might be wishful thinking.

DIVISION NAMES

Meh.

After months of taking suggestions and brainstorming possibilities, the Big Ten ended up with Legends and Leaders. Here's the breakdown:

Legends Division: Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Nebraska

Leaders Division: Ohio State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Illinois, Purdue and Indiana

While the league's intentions here are understandable -- to honor its rich history and long lineup of legendary figures -- the Big Ten got too caught up in avoiding specific names. Make no mistake: The Big Ten was never going to name the divisions Woody and Bo. Way too exclusive. But there are former commissioners who could have been honored or historical figures who represent this area of the country.

The league also wanted to avoid geography in the division names. While I completely agreed that geography shouldn't have been the deciding factor in determining how teams were assigned to divisions, I didn't have nearly as big of an issue with geographical distinctions for division names. Lakes and Plains would have been just fine with me.

The Big Ten also couldn't have gone wrong with names that sounded patriotic: Liberty and Freedom or Stars and Stripes (suggested by the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein) would work.

"People suggested Schembechler and Hayes," Delany said. "Any time you looked at it, it seemed to be too exclusive and not inclusive enough. ... As we looked at ourselves, we believed at the core of who we are are our traditions and heritage. And those traditions are largely people, legendary people."

The Big Ten recognized plenty of those people in the new trophies. But Legends and Leaders is too generic, a little too arrogant and too Little League for me. Another good point raised by Greenstein: Two divisions that start with the letter "L" have a negative connotation in sports.

LOGO

As my wife often reminds me, I don't have a great eye for design. Aside from being named "Most Improved" in a middle school art class, my skills in this department are limited.

The Big Ten's new logo has its flaws, but I can live with it. The mark, created by Pentagram Design, certainly comes off a bit retro and looks more like something that would have been done when Delany first became commissioner in 1990 than now.

There's no hidden "12" in the logo like there is with "11" in the current Big Ten logo.

"A lot of people thought we would use negative space to [use] 12," Delany said. "Pretty much everybody in the design world said, 'No, don't do that.' "

What the league tried to do was create a link back to its pre-Penn State logo with the B-I-G 1-0, substituting the "I" in Big as the No. 1. Asked about the "G" looking like the No. 6, which feeds into the conspiracy theory that the Big Ten eventually will expand to 16 teams, Delany said, "We were thinking 10, not 16."

TROPHIES

Of the three new elements, the Big Ten definitely did best here. While 18 trophies is extremely excessive, the league was able to honor some of its great players and coaches.

The big additions are the Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy given to the winner of the Big Ten football title game, which beings next year. The trophy honors former University of Chicago coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and current Penn State coach Joe Paterno. The MVP of the title game receives the Grange-Griffin Trophy, which recognizes former Illinois star Red Grange and former Ohio State star Archie Griffin, the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy.

The complaint some have raised with these trophies is that they honor current Big Ten coaches like Paterno and Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, whose name appears on the Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year award.

I don't have a problem with this. We don't need to wait for Paterno to die or stop coaching to recognize what he means to the Big Ten and to college football. While he hasn't been in the Big Ten for most of his career, his presence in this league is felt.

Many of the league's greats are still alive, so why not recognize them?

"A lot of people say you can't honor somebody who was alive, you can’t honor somebody who was active," Delany said. "I don’t subscribe to those rules. We were trying to get a good blend of great people, deceased and alive, who stand for great athletic contributions."

I also like that none of the Big Ten's trophies will be connected with corporate sponsorships.

Here's the full list of new trophies:

Championship game trophies
  • Stagg-Paterno Championship Trophy: Honors Amos Alonzo Stagg (University of Chicago) and Joe Paterno (Penn State)
  • Grange-Griffin Championship Game MVP: Honors Harold Edward “Red” Grange (Illinois) and Archie Griffin (Ohio State)
Postgraduate Awards
  • Ford-Kinnick Leadership Award: Honors President Gerald R. Ford (former Michigan player) and Nile Kinnick (Iowa)
  • Dungy-Thompson Humanitarian Award: Honors Tony Dungy (Minnesota) and Anthony Thompson (Indiana)
Annual Awards/Trophies
  • Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year: Otto Graham (Northwestern) and Eddie George (Ohio State)
  • Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year: Bronislau “Bronko” Nagurski (Minnesota) and Charles Woodson (Michigan)
  • Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year: Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes (Ohio State) and Glenn Edward “Bo” Schembechler (Michigan
  • Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year: Darrell Thompson (Minnesota) and Antwaan Randle El (Indiana)
  • Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year: Honors Dave Rimington (Nebraska) and Orlando Pace (Ohio State)
  • Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year: Honors Charles Aaron “Bubba” Smith (Michigan State) and Courtney Brown (Penn State)
  • Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year: Honors Bob Griese (Purdue) and Drew Brees (Purdue)
  • Ameche-Dayne Running Back of the Year: Honors Alan Ameche (Wisconsin) and Ron Dayne (Wisconsin)
  • Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year: Honors Jack Tatum (Ohio State) and Rod Woodson (Purdue)
  • Butkus-Fitzgerald Linebacker of the Year: Honors Dick Butkus (Illinois) and Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)
  • Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year: Honors Pat Richter (Wisconsin) and Desmond Howard (Michigan)
  • Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year: Honors Ted Kwalick (Penn State) and Dallas Clark (Iowa)
  • Bakken-Andersen Kicker of the Year: Honors Jim Bakken (Wisconsin) and Morten Andersen (Michigan State)
  • Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year: Honors Thomas Dwight “Dike” Eddleman (Illinois) and Brandon Fields (Michigan State)

Whew. A lot to digest. I'll have more on the announcement, so stay tuned.
Ohio State doesn't know if it has an Eddie George or an Archie Griffin or a Beanie Wells on the roster.

[+] EnlargeSaine
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesBrandon Saine could play a larger role in the passing game next season.
None of the Buckeyes' current running backs has distinguished himself as a potential featured guy. Then again, several candidates haven't had the chance to do so ... yet.

What Ohio State knows it has at running back is options. Lots of them. More than they've had in recent memory.

"Without question," offensive coordinator Jim Bollman said when asked if this is the most running back depth Ohio State has had during his tenure. "Going into [spring practice], yeah. There's some good depth at tailback, a position where you always need to have it."

Senior Brandon Saine and junior Dan "Boom" Herron entered spring practice atop the depth chart after combining for 1,339 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on 307 carries in 2009. Neither man has established himself as a featured back, but both came on strong late in the season.

Saine had 232 rushing yards on 37 carries (6.27 ypc) in Ohio State's final three games, wins against Iowa, Michigan and Oregon. He had several breakaway runs against the Hawkeyes and Wolverines, and his true versatility showed in the Rose Bowl, as he caught two passes for 59 yards and a score. Herron, primarily a between-the-tackles runner, also had multiple receptions in his final two games last fall, and Bollman hinted that both backs would play larger roles in the passing game this fall, especially since Ohio State is thinner at wide receiver than running back.

"There's a lot of knowledge on what Boom and Brandon can do," Bollman said. "Should we have them carry the ball 50 times a day? I don't know if that accomplishes what we or they need. To help them increase their overall knowledge of the game, blitz pickup, being a bigger part of the passing game, trying to extend those guys that way is one way for us to approach things. And really test some of the younger guys carrying the ball."

Who are the young guys? Get out a pen and a big sheet of paper.

Jordan Hall stepped up nicely as a true freshman last fall, rushing for 248 yards on 48 carries (5.2 yards per rush). Sophomore fullback Jermil Martin brings a big body (5-foot-10, 235) to the backfield and averaged 7.6 yards per carry as a redshirt freshman in 2009.

Then there's redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry, the most talked-about back on the Buckeyes' roster. Fans wanted to see Berry last fall, but a nagging hamstring injury kept him sidelined. The heralded recruit from Miami is now in a position to compete for carries.

"He showed flashes of some things he can do," Bollman said, "but [he's] got to improve, got to become much more consistent, a guy that everybody can trust. Jordan got a lot of game experience, much more than he or us probably would have thought, and did a really good job. He really had an outstanding year last year.

"Those are a couple good guys to be battling for those next couple spots."

Carlos Hyde, another 2009 recruit, also is in the mix after spending last year at Fork Union Military Academy to boost his academics. Ohio State signed two more backs in February: decorated recruit Roderick Smith and Adam Griffin, the son of Archie.

"When you have all those guys, the secret is everybody progressing as a team," Bollman said. "If everybody starts worrying about how many touches they're getting, then it's easy for the whole thing to come apart at the seams. You've got to stay unified and understand roles."

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin


I haven't thought much about the Heisman Trophy race until last week, when I received a spiffy calendar from the Tennessee sports information department extolling Eric Berry as a potential candidate.

It made me think that all of the neat campaigns developed for most candidates are rather pointless -- at least this season. Because the concentration at the top make it seem that we likely know who will be the candidates who will be appearing in New York City in early December for the trophy presentation.

I would be shocked if Florida's Tim Tebow, Texas' Colt McCoy and Oklahoma's Sam Bradford all aren't at the Heisman Trophy presentation. Tebow won the trophy in 2007 and Bradford is the defending Heisman Trophy winner.

The trio accounted for 875 first-place votes and 4,905 points in the Heisman balloting last season. The rest of the top-10 finishers last season produced 27 first-place votes and 440 points.

We've never been treated to such a landmark season when three Heisman Trophy candidates have returned for another season in college football. Usually, the NFL draft is too much of a pull and these players leave college quickly in search of their first professional paycheck.

Fortunately for the college game, all are back and bringing their magical talents for one more season.

And Big 12 fans are even more fortunate, considering that the top two finishers are returning. That's never happened in one conference in history before.

The Heisman battle between McCoy and Bradford adds just another element in the simmering Texas-Oklahoma rivalry. They likely will be squaring off this season at the Cotton Bowl Oct. 17 in the rubber match in their titanic rivalry. Both have won a game in the series. I don't think we've ever seen a Texas-Oklahoma quarterback battle quite like this one.

Bradford will be attempting to become the first Heisman winner to repeat since Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.

McCoy, who finished second last season, will be gunning to become the first second-place finisher to win the award the following season since Herschel Walker of Georgia in 1982.

And most preseason polls have Tebow as the slight preseason favorite, mainly because of his team's national championship last season and the Gators' role as heavy preseason favorites coming into the season.

How it plays out will be ascertained over the next several months. The Big 12's upcoming schedule will play a huge part in determining the eventual winner.

It ought to be fun.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The Big 12 and Heisman Trophy winners have gone together like peanut butter and jelly during the conference's history.

The conference has produced more Heisman winners than any other conference during the past 13 seasons, including Sam Bradford's victory last season. And more of the same might be expected as Bradford and 2008 runner-up Colt McCoy both are back for another season.

It would be hard for the Big 12 top its unprecedented Heisman success when it made history last season with four of the final top five finishers when Graham Harrell finished fourth and Michael Crabtree fifth.

Bradford will be bidding to become only the second player in history to win back-to-back Heismans, joining Archie Griffin in 1974-75. He'll also have to beat out 2007 winner Tim Tebow, who placed third last season and then won the national championship after beating the Sooners less than a month after the Heisman presentation in the BCS National Championship Game.

McCoy is coming into the season after a phenomenal junior year and unprecedented excitement in the Longhorns' upcoming season.

But they aren't alone. A case could be made of any of five potential strong Heisman candidates in the Big 12 this season with a big season and a little luck.

Here's how I rank Big 12 players with a legitimate chance to make a trip to the Heisman presentation in New York City this December.

1. Texas QB Colt McCoy: If McCoy posts the huge numbers and leads his team into the BCS championship game, he might become the first Texas quarterback to win the Heisman. He didn't miss by much last season and again should be his team's top passing and rushing threat.

2. Oklahoma QB Sam Bradford: Despite last season's Heisman, Bradford has returned driven for another season after he turned down NFL millions to return for another shot at the national championship. But it might be hard for Bradford to match his monster numbers from last season, considering he'll have four new starting offensive linemen protecting him.

3. Oklahoma State WR Dez Bryant: The nation's returning leader in receiving yards per game can catch the attention of Heisman voters with a huge opener against Georgia. If he sparks the Cowboys' run into BCS contention as a receiver and returner, he might sneak his way into Heisman contention.

4. Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter: The Big 12's leading rusher last season has always had a knack for coming up with his biggest games against his toughest opponents. A big season could enable Hunter to change the growing national notion that the Big 12 is evolving into a pass-only conference.

5. Kansas QB Todd Reesing: The senior quarterback has quietly has become the most statistically proficient quarterback in school history. Leading his team to a Big 12 title might enable him to snatch some of the attention away from McCoy and Bradford with another huge season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

No. 1

Now, we're finally at the top player.

After counting down the Big 12's best over the last 39 days, is there any real question who the conference's ultimate player is?

Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford's career has been memorable over his first two seasons. He's already become the only player in Big 12 history to lead his team to back-to-back championships.

After winning the Heisman Trophy last season, most draft observers thought he would declare for the draft, collect his millions in a pro contract and leave college behind.

The Sooners' disappointing losses in back-to-back BCS losses have stung Bradford and brought him back for more this season.

Whether his draft status will be affected is debatable. He'll be playing behind a green offensive line that will feature four new starters and he'll be throwing to a new group of wide receivers.

It likely will give him a different perspective after his first two seasons.

But if it pays off with a national championship, it will all be worth it for him.

Player: Sam Bradford
Team: Oklahoma
Position: Quarterback
Vitals: 6-foot-4, 218 pounds; Jr.; Oklahoma City, Okla. (Putnam City North)

Why he was picked: Bradford had a superlative season in winning his Heisman last season, leading the nation in touchdown passes (50) and passing efficiency (180.84). He also set the school record for single-game passing yards with 468 against Kansas and set the school career record for touchdown passes (86) Other honors he received last season included the Davey O'Brien Award, the Sammy Baugh Trophy, the Chic Harley Award and the Associated Press and Sporting News' first-team All-American. His numbers bordered on the amazing at times last season as he threw five TD passes in four different games and notched 11 300-yard passing games. But most importantly, he's led the Sooners to Big 12 championships in both of his seasons as a starter.

What 2009 will hold: Bradford unabashedly says his return was influenced by the Sooners' BCS national title game loss to Florida. He'll have a chance to become the first back-to-back Heisman Trophy winner since Archie Griffin in 1974-75. But he'll be doing it with a completely different supporting cast as the Sooners break in two new starting wide receivers and four new offensive linemen. It will give Bradford a chance to expand his leadership roles and perhaps show other facets of his game. He rarely has been pressured in Big 12 games and that will likely change this season behind the rebuilt line. He'll also have a chance to show off his arm in a different way with the new receivers. It wouldn't be a surprise if his statistics fall off a little this season - both because of the flux among his pass catchers and the return of two potent running weapons like DeMarco Murray and Chris Brown. But if the Sooners claim the national title, Bradford won't be complaining.

The countdown:

2. Texas QB Colt McCoy
3. Oklahoma State WR-KR Dez Bryant
4. Oklahoma TE Jermaine Gresham
5. Baylor QB Robert Griffin
6. Nebraska DT Ndamukong Suh
7. Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy
8. Oklahoma State RB Kendall Hunter
9. Oklahoma LB Travis Lewis
10. Kansas QB Todd Reesing
11. Oklahoma RB-KR DeMarco Murray
12. Oklahoma State T Russell Okung
13. Texas DE-LB Sergio Kindle
14. Oklahoma T Trent Williams
15. Missouri LB Sean Weatherspoon
16. Baylor LB Joe Pawelek
17. Oklahoma State QB Zac Robinson
18. Texas WR-KR Jordan Shipley
19. Oklahoma RB Chris Brown
20. Nebraska I-back Roy Helu Jr.
21. Texas Tech DT Colby Whitlock
22. Kansas WR-KR Dezmon Briscoe
23. Oklahoma DE Jeremy Beal
24. Kansas S Darrell Stuckey
25. Texas Tech RB Baron Batch
26. Kansas QB-WR Kerry Meier
27. Texas T Adam Ulatoski
28. Oklahoma State LB Andre Sexton
29. Missouri G Kurtis Gregory
30. Missouri RB Derrick Washington
31. Texas Tech LB Brian Duncan
32. Texas S Earl Thomas
33. Kansas State WR-KR Brandon Banks
34. Oklahoma LB Keenan Clayton
35. Baylor S Jordan Lake
36. Oklahoma State CB-KR Perrish Cox
37. Texas C Chris Hall
38. Texas Tech DE-DT McKinner Dixon
39. Kansas State DE Brandon Harold
40. Oklahoma FB Matt Clapp

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

Life has gotten a lot better for Bob Stoops over the last week.

 
  J. Meric/Getty Images
  Sooners quarterback Sam Bradford announced Wednesday he will be returning to Oklahoma for another season.
The gloom of another BCS bowl loss for the Oklahoma coach was brightened considerably Wednesday when Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Sam Bradford and three other key Oklahoma players announced they are returning to school after considering declaring for the NFL draft.

Bradford clearly is the biggest catch, although the returns to school of tackle Trent Williams, tight end Jermaine Gresham and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy all should bolster the Sooners' bid to continue their recent dynasty of three-straight Big 12 championships.

In a way, I'm a little surprised that Bradford will be coming back to college. He was projected to be a first-round selection in the NFL draft and among the first two or three quarterbacks selected.

But he made it clear Wednesday that he's having too much fun to give up on his college career yet.

The Oklahoma announcements suddenly will transform the Sooners into a viable contender for the Big 12 South title. Texas still will be the favorite heading into the season, but Oklahoma will be able to contest the Longhorns.

The Red River Rivalry, already bitter after the Sooners jumped the Longhorns for the Big 12 South championship game berth this season, has just gotten even more interesting.

It should be another exciting season in the Big 12 with eight of the conference's starting quarterbacks returning after the most explosive offensive season in the conference's brief history. Only Kansas State's Josh Freeman, Missouri's Chase Daniel, Nebraska's Joe Ganz and Texas Tech's Graham Harrell will depart among the Big 12's starting quarterbacks.

Bradford will be operating behind a retooled offensive line that will feature four new starters. But he said he relishes the challenge of returning to school for another season.

I've also got to think that Bradford realizes the potential of a third-straight matchup with Colt McCoy in the Red River Rivalry game in October might be a reason to come back. He also will attempt to become the first player since Archie Griffin to claim back-to-back Heismans.

And his chances will only improve with the return of Gresham, who played like the nation's best tight end down the stretch.

Gresham was the Sooners' top receiver late in the season, producing two touchdown grabs against Florida in the BCS National Championship Game among his 14 touchdown receptions for the season. That total led all of the nation's tight ends and tied for sixth nationally.

Bradford's return also should heighten anticipation for next season. The top three finishers in the Heisman Trophy balloting from this season -- Bradford, McCoy and Florida's Tim Tebow -- all will return to college next season. It will mark only the second time in history and the first time since 1946 that all top three Heisman finishers will return to college for another season.

In 1945, Army's Doc Blanchard won the trophy with his teammate Glenn Davis finishing second and Oklahoma A&M's Bob Fenimore third.

All came back the following season. Davis won the trophy with Blanchard finishing fourth and Fenimore not placing among the top five because of injuries.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Ohio State running back Chris "Beanie" Wells is the healthiest he's been all season heading into the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Chris Wells said he felt like he hadn't "done enough at Ohio State."

"I'm actually able to wear regular shoes now," said Wells, referring to the right big toe injury he suffered in the season opener against Youngstown State. "It feels amazing running around in a lot lighter shoe."

By all accounts, Wells could spend next season endorsing his own shoe as an NFL running back. The 6-foot-1, 237-pound junior is a surefire first-round draft pick, possibly the first running back selected, should he choose to forgo his senior season at Ohio State.

According to Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel, Wells doesn't have much of a decision to make. Tressel said Wells likely would be a top-5 pick.

"If it were me [deciding], it wouldn't be tough," Tressel said last month.

Despite the overwhelming evidence suggesting Wells will turn pro, the back didn't sound convinced Thursday morning. In fact, he seemed to leave the door quite open for a return to Columbus.

"I personally feel like I haven't done enough at Ohio State," Wells said, "the things that I wanted to accomplish here to move on to the next level. ... I told [running backs coach Dick] Tressel when I first got here I wanted to be the best to ever come through Ohio State. I've said that in the past in the media before.

"I definitely feel I haven't accomplished that yet."

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'll be driving to Ann Arbor later today to watch some real-life, American football take place at Michigan Stadium. But first, here's what's happening around the league.

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