NCF Nation: Brandon Saine

Big Ten weekend combine recap

February, 28, 2011
All eyes were on Indianapolis this weekend as dozens of NFL prospects, including a large contingent from the Big Ten, went through the scouting combine.

My ESPN colleagues are all over the happenings in Naptown, so check out the combine blog and the latest Scouts Inc. combine notebook.

There's more testing and timing Monday with the defensive linemen and linebackers, but some results are in, so let's take a look. I'm breaking these down into top performers by position. I'll put together an overall top performers post once the combine is finished.

Wide receivers

  • Nebraska's Niles Paul finished second in bench-press reps (225 pounds) with 24
  • Paul tied for 14th in the 40-yard dash at 4.51 seconds
  • Indiana's Terrance Turner tied for second in vertical jump at 41 inches
  • Turner finished seventh in broad jump at 10 feet, 8 inches
  • Ohio State's Dane Sanzenbacher finished second in 3-cone drill at 6.46 seconds; Turner tied for 14th at 6.77 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished third in the 20-yard shuttle at 3.97 seconds; Paul finished 12th at 4.14 seconds; Turner finished tied for 13th at 4.15 seconds
  • Sanzenbacher finished second in the 60-yard shuttle at 10.94 seconds; Turner tied for ninth at 11.21 seconds
  • Iowa's Ricky Stanzi and Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien tied for 13th in the 40-yard dash at 4.93 seconds
  • Stanzi finished ninth in the vertical jump at 32.5 inches; Tolzien tied for 12th at 29.5 inches
  • Tolzien tied for seventh in the broad jump at 9 feet, 8 inches; Stanzi finished 12th at 9 feet, 2 inches
  • Tolzien tied for third in the 3-cone drill at 6.84 seconds; Stanzi finished 12th at 6.95 seconds
Running backs
  • Nebraska's Roy Helu Jr. finished sixth in the 40-yard dash at 4.42 seconds; Ohio State's Brandon Saine finished seventh at 4.43 seconds;
  • Illinois' Mikel Leshoure tied for third in the vertical jump at 38 inches; Helu tied for eighth at 36.5 inches
  • Leshoure tied for fourth in the broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Helu finished 10th at 9 feet, 11 inches
  • Helu finished second in the 3-cone drill at 6.67 seconds; Leshoure finished sixth at 6.82 seconds
  • Helu finished first in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.01 seconds; Penn State's Evan Royster tied for eighth at 4.18 seconds
  • Helu finished first in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.07 seconds
Tight ends
  • Wisconsin's Lance Kendricks finished eighth in the 40-yard dash at 4.75 seconds; Michigan State's Charlie Gantt finished 11th at 4.93 seconds; Iowa's Allen Reisner finished 12th at 4.95 seconds
  • Gantt tied for first in bench-press reps with 27; Kendricks tied for third with 25
  • Kendricks finished sixth in vertical jump at 34.5 inches; Gantt finished 13th at 30.5 inches
  • Kendricks finished second in broad jump at 10 feet, 2 inches; Gantt finished ninth at 9 feet, 4 inches; Reisner tied for 12th at 9 feet
  • Kendricks finished sixth in the 3-cone drill at 6.94 seconds; Gantt finished 11th at 7.15 seconds
  • Kendricks tied for second in 20-yard shuttle at 4.15 seconds; Gantt tied for eighth at 4.4 seconds
  • Kendricks tied for sixth in 60-yard shuttle at 11.9 seconds; Gantt and Reisner tied for 11th at 12.12 seconds
Defensive linemen
  • Wisconsin's J.J. Watt tied for fourth in bench-press reps with 34; Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan tied for sixth with 31
  • Ohio State linebacker Ross Homan finished first in bench-press reps with 32; Ohio State's Brian Rolle finished fourth with 28; Illinois' Martez Wilson tied for ninth with 23
Offensive linemen
  • Iowa's Julian Vandervelde tied for 10th in the 40-yard dash at 5.21 seconds; Indiana's James Brewer and Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi tied for 14th at 5.27 seconds
  • Michigan's Stephen Schilling and Penn State's Stefen Wisniewski tied for sixth in bench-press reps with 30; Carimi tied for ninth with 29; Ohio State's Justin Boren tied for 14th with 28
  • Carimi finished fifth in vertical jump at 31.5 inches; Vandervelde tied for sixth at 31 inches; Wisconsin's John Moffitt tied for eighth at 30.5 inches
  • Carimi finished fifth in broad jump at 9 feet, 1 inch; Vandervelde finished tied for 13th at 8 feet, 8 inches
  • Vandervelde finished seventh in 3-cone drill at 7.46 seconds; Wisniewski finished eighth at 7.51 seconds; Boren finished 11th at 7.57 seconds
  • Moffitt finished sixth in 20-yard shuttle at 4.53 seconds; Vandervelde tied for seventh at 4.59 seconds; Schilling tied for ninth at 4.62 seconds;
The first set of Big Ten games are in the books, and here are my quick thoughts:

Illinois 33, Penn State 13: Wow. I'll admit I didn't have the guts to pick Illinois today, even though I thought the Illini were capable of knocking off Penn State in Happy Valley for the first time in team history. But few could see something like this going down in JoePa's town. Illinois is undoubtedly better than we thought entering the season, and Penn State is undoubtedly worse. Ron Zook's team executed extremely well on both sides of the ball and overcame two special-teams turnovers that Penn State couldn't convert into touchdowns. Freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase picked apart a banged-up Nittany Lions defense, completing 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards and a score, and running back Mikel Leshoure continued his strong season with 119 rush yards. Penn State had too many injuries on defense to overcome, but the offense continues to be a total mess for Joe Paterno. Freshman Rob Bolden seems to be regressing, and an underachieving offensive line couldn't generate any room for the running backs. I worried that Penn State had a leadership issue entering the season, and it's showing up. The Lions are a rudder-less ship right now.

Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 23: The Badgers needed a strong response after a poor performance in East Lansing, and aside from the second quarter, they delivered it. Wisconsin produced a complete offensive performance as Scott Tolzien displayed tremendous accuracy in the pocket (17-of-23), tight end Lance Kendricks continued to look like the John Mackey Award winner and running backs John Clay and James White both eclipsed 100 rushing yards. There's no reason the Badgers can't be dominant on offense all the time, and they have to feel better about themselves heading into next week's showdown with No. 2 Ohio State. Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber threw three touchdown passes in his final chance to hoist Paul Bunyan's Axe, but he got little help from a defense that surrendered 30 first downs and 473 total yards. The run game never got going after showing a spark last week against Northwestern. It'll be a long bus ride home for Tim Brewster's crew, and at 1-5, the final six weeks of the season could resemble a slow death march.

Ohio State 38, Indiana 10: Jim Tressel called off the dogs and Indiana scored a garbage-time touchdown, but make no mistake: This was an extremely impressive performance for a Buckeyes team needing style points after last week. While Ohio State's 24-13 win against Illinois looks a lot better today after what the Illini did in Happy Valley, the Buckeyes helped themselves by torching Ben Chappell and Indiana. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor dissected the Hoosiers' secondary, tossing touchdown passes to Dane Sanzenbacher, DeVier Posey and Brandon Saine, who looks more and more like a weapon at receiver instead of running back. Ohio State ran the ball decently, but it didn't need to with all of the holes in IU's pass defense. Indiana couldn't afford turnovers and Chappell had two of them, as Buckeyes linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle teamed up on an interception. The Hoosiers missed running back Darius Willis (groin) and became one-dimensional, but their problems on defense didn't give them a chance.

Strong starts for Buckeyes, Badgers

October, 9, 2010
After unimpressive showings to open Big Ten play, Ohio State and Wisconsin have come out firing today.

Buckeyes players and coaches clearly read this blog because they're not only beating Indiana, but doing it impressively. Running back Dan Herron carried over his strong finish against Illinois and broke off a 39-yard touchdown run in the opening minutes. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor looks very good so far, completing 11 of 15 passes for 183 yards with a 60-yard scoring strike to Brandon Saine and yet another touchdown pass to Dane Sanzenbacher.

As good as the offense has been, I've been equally impressed with a Buckeyes defense holding Ben Chappell and the Indiana offense.

Wisconsin has bounced back from last week's loss to Michigan State with two touchdowns in the first 13 minutes. Quarterback Scott Tolzien (4-for-6 passing, 1 TD) and running back John Clay (52 rush yards, TD) both are performing well. Minnesota is sporting all-white unis, but these look like the same old Gophers.
Ten items to track as you watch the second Saturday of Big Ten games.

1. Slowing down Shoelace: No one this season has slowed down Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who leads the nation in rushing (181 ypg) with 27 runs of 12 yards or more. Michigan State All-American linebacker Greg Jones plans to change things Saturday in Ann Arbor. Jones is by far the best defensive player Robinson has faced this season and was all over the field last week against Wisconsin. Jones vs. Robinson is a fascinating subplot to the most anticipated game in the rivalry in recent memory.

[+] EnlargeJones
AP Photo/Dale G. YoungMichigan State's Greg Jones and the Spartans defense against Denard Robinson and Michigan will be one of the more intriguing matchup of the weekend.
2. Pass the Buck(eyes): Excuse the bad pun, but Indiana brings the Big Ten's top pass offense (348.2 ypg) to Columbus, where it faces an Ohio State Buckeyes team that leads the Big Ten in defending the pass (161.8 ypg allowed). Something's got to give as Indiana quarterback Ben Chappell and his talented wide receivers and tight ends go up against Chimdi Chekwa, Jermale Hines and a speedy Ohio State secondary. Chappell (480 pass yards) and receiver Tandon Doss (15 rec., 221 yards) come off of huge games, while Ohio State plays its first full contest without Tyler Moeller.

3. Gophers gunning for the Axe: If Minnesota plans to turn around its season, there's no better place to start than Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday. The Gophers love their trophy games, but their trophy case in Minneapolis has been empty for some time. No trophy and no game means more to Minnesota than the annual clash with Wisconsin for Paul Bunyan's Axe. Minnesota seniors like quarterback Adam Weber don't want to go through their entire careers without hoisting the coolest rivalry trophy in college sports. An upset victory would provide a huge boost, while a loss would virtually shut the door on postseason play and possibly Tim Brewster's future as Gophers head coach.

4. Seeing red in Happy Valley: Penn State has failed to reach the end zone twice in five games this season, and the Lions have slipped into a tie for 114th nationally in red-zone efficiency, converting just two-thirds of their opportunities into points. Illinois ranks fourth in the league in red-zone defense (75 percent conversions), but coordinator Vic Koenning tells me that depth problems have prevented him from employing a true goal-line package. Penn State coach Joe Paterno says opening up the playbook in the red zone isn't the answer, but the Lions had better try something against an improved Illini defense.

5. Henry leads banged-up Boilers: No team in America has been hit with more significant injuries than Purdue, which mercifully received a bye last week to regroup a bit. After losing quarterback Robert Marve to a season-ending ACL tear, the Boilers now turn to redshirt freshman Rob Henry to guide their offense. Henry is an exceptional athlete with good potential as a quarterback, and Danny Hope doesn't plan to shrink the playbook Saturday at Northwestern. But Henry will be tested in his first career start -- a Big Ten road game at night, no less.

6. Mark Dantonio returns for rivalry: Mark Dantonio has placed a premium on the Michigan State-Michigan rivalry ever since he became Spartans head coach. It would take more than a blood clot to make him miss Saturday's game in Ann Arbor. Dantonio, released from the hospital Monday, opened his news conference Tuesday by saying, "Can't keep me down Michigan week." The plan calls for him to spend the game in the coaches' booth. Michigan State is 2-0 during Dantonio's recovery from a mild heart attack, but his presence should provide a lift in a hostile environment.

7. Wisconsin's running back rotation: John Clay might be the reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, but he's being pushed for carries by dynamic freshman James White. After White had another big day last week at Michigan State, Badgers running backs coach John Settle said, "We're going to put the competition out there and open it up." Clay continues to put up solid numbers, but he hasn't shown home-run ability like White this season. The burly junior has responded well to challenges before and on Saturday faces a vulnerable Minnesota defense that has allowed a league-high 10 rushing touchdowns.

8. Northwestern aims for historic start: There have been some bumps along the way, but the Wildcats sit at 5-0 for the second time in two years. A win Saturday night against Purdue would give Northwestern its first 6-0 start since 1962, the last time the program was ranked No. 1 nationally. The Wildcats are favored to do so, but they can't expect to keep overcoming penalties and turnovers, especially in Big Ten play. A polished performance against Purdue would put Northwestern in both national polls when No. 17 Michigan State visits on Oct. 23.

9. Sorting out the Buckeyes' backfield: Quarterback Terrelle Pryor (strained quad) should be ready for Saturday's game, but he still needs some help from his backfield mates. Ohio State's situation at running back has been the hot-button topic among Buckeye Nation, which wants to see either more production from Dan Herron and Brandon Saine or more opportunities for Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall. If the Buckeyes can't spark their ground game against an Indiana defense ranked 108th nationally against the run (207 ypg allowed), they should start to get worried.

10. Cousins takes aim at shaky Michigan D: As incredible as Denard Robinson has been for Michigan, there's a growing sense that the Wolverines will see their fortunes turn soon if Greg Robinson's defense doesn't show some improvement. Indiana's Chappell had his way with Michigan's secondary last week, and while Michigan State brings a more balanced offense to Ann Arbor, Spartans quarterback Kirk Cousins is playing with a lot of confidence. If Michigan can't pressure the pocket, Cousins will pick apart the Wolverines' secondary with his talented receivers and tight ends.
Terrelle Pryor to Dane Sanzenbacher.

The connection has boosted Ohio State's offense throughout the first four games, and the two hooked up again for a huge play just before halftime at Illinois. Pryor continues to be Ohio State's only viable rushing threat -- paging Brandon Saine or Dan Herron? -- and he found a wide open Sanzenbacher for the senior's league-leading sixth touchdown catch of the year. The Buckeyes lead the Illini 14-10 at the break.

Pryor has completed only six of his first 12 passes with an ugly interception that led to an Illinois score, but I don't think the Illini can catch him today. He already has 92 rushing yards, including bursts of 66 yards and 35 yards.

Illinois is winning the time of possession battle, which will be huge going forward. Ron Zook's team also must continue to limit turnovers. But I expect the Buckeyes to pull away in the third quarter.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 5

September, 30, 2010
Conference play finally kicks off this week, and here are 10 things to track on Saturday.

1. John Clay vs. Greg Jones: The Big Ten's top running back (Clay) goes up against the league's top linebacker (Jones) in a matchup football purists will love. Clay has rushed for 253 yards and two touchdowns in two career games against Michigan State, while Jones has recorded 27 tackles in those matchups. After limiting Clay's carries a bit during nonconference play, Wisconsin likely will feed him a lot at Spartan Stadium, particularly in the second half. If Jones and the Spartans defense keep Clay in check, they'll have a good chance to win.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin's John Clay has rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns this season.
2. Roles reverse for Hawkeyes, Lions: Iowa's recent dominance against Penn State is well known, as the Hawkeyes have claimed seven of the teams' last eight meetings. Unranked Iowa teams have knocked off top 5 Penn State squads in each of the last two seasons. This time, Penn State is the acknowledged underdog heading to Kinnick Stadium. Iowa has the senior quarterback (Ricky Stanzi) and the more accomplished team, but it also has the pressure to win. Penn State certainly boasts the talent to shock the Hawkeyes.

3. Fireworks in Bloomington: Expect a ton of points in the Michigan-Indiana game, as quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Ben Chappell lead potent offenses against shaky defenses at Memorial Stadium. Robinson will play after suffering a bruised left knee against Bowling Green, and he faces an Indiana defense that ranks 10th in the league against the run (177 ypg). Chappell leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th nationally in passing (296.7 ypg). He and his talented receiving corps face the Big Ten's worst pass defense in Michigan (264.8 ypg allowed). This could easily become a basketball score.

4. Improved Illini defense tested: All the early signs point to some genuine improvement with an Illinois defense that finished last in the league in both points allowed and yards allowed in 2009. But as coach Ron Zook said this week, "This will be the first major, major test." Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor leads the nation's No. 8 offense into Champaign on Saturday, and Illinois will be challenged to slow down the Heisman Trophy candidate, who accounted for six touchdowns (4 pass, 1 rush, 1 receiving) last week. To have any shot, the Illini need continued playmaking from defensive backs Travon Bellamy, Tavon Wilson and Justin Green.

5. Gophers on life support: There's little joy in Minneapolis about the Golden Gophers after a 1-3 start that includes three consecutive home losses. Despite coach Tim Brewster's perpetual positivity, players are aware of the gloom on the outside. Minnesota really needs something good to happen early in Saturday's Big Ten opener against Northwestern. If things start to go bad, the boos likely will rain down and it's hard to imagine the team turning things around. Minnesota really could use some big plays to lift the mood in TCF Bank Stadium.

6. Clayborn digs in: Penn State hasn't forgotten what Adrian Clayborn did last September at Beaver Stadium. Lions left tackle Quinn Barham put a picture of Clayborn on his cell phone as a reminder of what he'd face this fall. But Clayborn has been relatively quiet this season, as constant double teams have limited him to 15 tackles and no sacks through the first four games. Clayborn is due for a big night and he'll set his sights on Penn State freshman quarterback Rob Bolden. Penn State has protected Bolden well, allowing only one sack, but the Lions are shorthanded after losing right tackle Lou Eliades to a season-ending torn ACL.

7. Dantonio begins his return: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio will be in the coaches' booth Saturday at Spartan Stadium less than two weeks after suffering a mild heart attack and undergoing surgery. Dantonio said Tuesday that offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will continue to handle head-coaching duties as needed, as Dantonio eases into his full-time role again. "Guys are really excited to see him around," Greg Jones told me. "You feel like the tempo's picking up even more. Guys are going to really, really feel his presence more than they did last week."

8. Northwestern turns to Trumpy: Northwestern has been looking for an answer at running back for a year and a half. As good as quarterback Dan Persa has been, the Wildcats need a legit ground game to join the Big Ten's elite this fall. After Arby Fields' early struggles, Northwestern will turn to redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy, who provided a boost with 53 second-half rush yards last week against Central Michigan. Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt were elevated to co-starters on the depth chart, as Northwestern faces a Minnesota team that allowed Northern Illinois' Chad Spann to run wild (223 yards) last wek.

9. Cousins, Tolzien in crunch time: Both Michigan State and Wisconsin are run-first teams boasting a multitude of capable backs, but I really believe Saturday's game comes down to which quarterback makes plays in the fourth quarter. Both Kirk Cousins and Scott Tolzien have played well the last two weeks, combining for 998 pass yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception. Cousins needs to prove himself in the clutch, while Tolzien looks for a signature road win in a place where Wisconsin has struggled. He'll get top receiver Nick Toon back from a toe injury.

10. Buckeyes need answers at RB: Perhaps Buckeyes fans are nitpicking, or maybe they have a point about Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. Either way, Ohio State fans want to see more production out of the veteran running backs, or increased opportunities for dynamic redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry, who has 15 carries for 177 rush yards (11.8 ypc) this season. Coach Jim Tressel is loyal to his veteran players, and it will be interesting to watch what he does if Saine and Herron start slow against Illinois.

The Heisman Trophy mix is a little more crowded after Mark Ingram's performance at Arkansas, but Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor made sure he remains among the lead pack.

Pryor accounted for six touchdowns -- four passing, one rushing and one receiving -- in a monster performance as Ohio State's offense pummeled Eastern Michigan 73-20. The Buckeyes eclipsed 70 points for the first time since 1996 against Pittsburgh, and they racked up 645 yards. They'll remain No. 2 in the polls after Alabama rallied past Arkansas.

Senior wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher continued his strong season by catching all four of Pryor's touchdown tosses. Fellow receiver DeVier Posey gets more attention as a potential NFL prospect, but Sanzenbacher is a very talented player in his own right. Ohio State's primary running backs Dan Herron and Brandon Saine didn't have great games, but redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry racked up 74 rushing yards and a touchdown on only four carries. I've been a Saine/Herron guy for a while, but it might be time to give Berry a closer look.

Ohio State's defense won't be happy about the 20 points it allowed, especially after shutting down Marshall and Ohio. Jim Heacock's crew will need to be a bit sharper as Big Ten play begins and momentum builds toward the Oct. 16 clash at

Big Ten predictions: Week 4

September, 23, 2010
Predictions: ACC | Big 12 | Big East | Big Ten | Pac-10 | SEC | Non-AQ

Came this close to another perfect week of picks last Saturday. If only Iowa had completed its comeback. Oh, well.

Here's another stab at perfection:

Michigan 41, Bowling Green 26: I just can't imagine Michigan's defense playing as poorly as it did last week against UMass, and the Falcons will be without their starting quarterback. Denard Robinson gets a much needed rest in the fourth quarter as the Wolverines pull away thanks to a big first half.

Michigan State 45, Northern Colorado 20: The Spartans' offense continues to show good balance as backs Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell both eclipse 120 rush yards. Northern Colorado can score -- the Bears come in averaging 45.3 points -- and start quick before the Spartans take control in their first game without head coach Mark Dantonio.

Northwestern 34, Central Michigan 28: This should be one of the better games on a mostly uninspiring slate around the Big Ten. Central Michigan jumps ahead early as Northwestern's offense starts slow for the second straight week. But quarterback Dan Persa turns in another dominating second half and finds Jeremy Ebert for three touchdowns as the Wildcats survive.

Wisconsin 48, Austin Peay 10: The Badgers surge out to a quick lead behind the running of John Clay and James White. Quarterback Scott Tolzien gets some rest in the second half as Bret Bielema gets a good look at his linebacking corps without star Chris Borland.

Iowa 40, Ball State 10: Iowa comes out throwing the ball downfield to conserve its only healthy proven running back, Adam Robinson. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi has a big first half connecting with Marvin McNutt, and the defense holds Ball State to one offensive touchdown in an easy win.

Purdue 27, Toledo 17: Toledo has looked a lot better since the opener, and the Rockets jump ahead in this one. Quarterback Robert Marve takes a little while to get comfortable, but he'll be helped by a healthier Dan Dierking in the backfield as the Boilers' offense surges in the third quarter to take control.

Ohio State 45, Eastern Michigan 3: Terrelle Pryor passes for a couple of touchdowns but takes a backseat as the running game gets going behind Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. Just like last week, Ohio State surges out to a big lead but doesn't run up the score like some of the other teams in the top 10.

Penn State 23, Temple 13: Penn State fans are awfully chesty about this matchup, and given the series history, I guess they should be. But Al Golden brings his best Temple team to State College and the Owls hang around for a while as the Nittany Lions' offense struggles early. Ultimately, Penn State's defense will be too strong for Temple.

Indiana 38, Akron 17: Coach Bill Lynch receives a more balanced offensive performance as running back Darius Willis rebounds nicely from a subpar performance last week. Still, Indiana leaves too many questions on defense heading into next week's Big Ten opener against Robinson and Michigan.

Minnesota 26, Northern Illinois 24: This is my Pick of the Week. Check back later for a video post breaking down my selection.

Bye: Illinois

Last week: 10-1

Season record: 30-2 (.938)

Pryor answers as Buckeyes tie it up

September, 11, 2010
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Those who question Terrelle Pryor's passing ability might want to look at his last two throws.

Pryor displayed perfect touch on passes to DeVier Posey and Brandon Saine, the latter on an 18-yard touchdown that has tied this game at 10-10. Saine made a terrific catch on the touchdown -- another example of his excellent receiving skills -- but the real story was the first throw, a 62-yarder to Posey.

Ohio State anticipated a Miami blitz and Pryor put the ball where only Posey could catch it, hitting his good friend right in stride. Those are the throws we didn't see from No. 2 the last two seasons.

It'll be interesting to see if the drive gives Pryor and the offense a confidence boost after a shaky first quarter.

Big Ten predictions: Week 2

September, 9, 2010
Nobody beats Mr. Perfect ... Nobody!

I achieved perfection in Week 1, which can mean only one thing: a rough week ahead. The competition gets tougher around the Big Ten on Saturday, which makes the games tougher to predict.

Let's see if I can keep the streak alive.

Wisconsin 45, San Jose State 10: The Badgers put forth a much cleaner performance in their home opener, as quarterback Scott Tolzien completes 75 percent of his passes and fires touchdowns to Lance Kendricks and Isaac Anderson. Running back John Clay once again eclipses 100 rushing yards as Wisconsin rolls to 2-0.

Michigan State 31, Florida Atlantic 20: Don't be fooled by those white jerseys, as Michigan State will feel right at home in Ford Field despite technically being the road team Saturday (ESPNU, noon ET). I don't see a rout as Florida Atlantic is a decent team that won at UAB last week. The Owls make some noise early before Spartans backs Edwin Baker, Larry Caper and Le'Veon Bell take over in the second half.

Northwestern 35, Illinois State 17: Former Purdue defensive coordinator Brock Spack has his team prepared, and the Redbirds hang around for a half before Northwestern's offense gets going. Quarterback Dan Persa finds Sidney Stewart for two touchdowns and the Wildcats finally have a breakaway run from scrimmage (not sure who carries the ball).

Minnesota 31, South Dakota 13: The Gophers employ a similar plan to Week 1 and control the line of scrimmage and possession time with their offensive line and running back Duane Bennett. A young defense stays off the field and Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber establishes a good rhythm with receiver Da'Jon McKnight.

Purdue 44, Western Illinois 10: Expect a big game from Robert Marve and the Purdue offense, which stretches the field early and often against Western Illinois. Marve tosses three touchdown passes and no interceptions and the Boilers get a boost from Al-Terek McBurse in the run game.

Iowa 24, Iowa State 13: Last year's final score (35-3) was a bit misleading because Iowa State threw five interceptions and Iowa cruised despite admittedly not playing well up front on defense. Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn answers the bell Saturday with 2.5 sacks, and Iowa pulls away a bit in the third quarter behind running backs Jewel Hampton and Adam Robinson. Both teams play conservatively on offense and keep the score down.

Michigan 31, Notre Dame 30: For the second consecutive year, these two teams provide the most exciting game on the Week 2 slate. Notre Dame attacks Michigan's young secondary early and has success with Michael Floyd, but the Wolverines rally in the second half. The Irish have no answer for Denard Robinson's speed, and Vincent Smith breaks away for a long fourth-quarter touchdown run to put Michigan in front.

Ohio State 27, Miami 20: I expect a better Jacory Harris and a better Miami team than the one Wisconsin totally outclassed in the Champs Sports Bowl. But there are too many reasons to like Ohio State in this one. Terrelle Pryor and Brandon Saine combine for three rushing touchdowns as Ohio State wins the game at the line of scrimmage. Jermale Hines comes up with a fourth-quarter interception to seal it for the Scarlet and Gray.

Alabama 26, Penn State 16: This is my Game of the Week. I'll explain my selection in a video post later today.

Illinois 24, Southern Illinois 20: The Illini are on upset alert against one of the nation's better FCS programs. Expect another slow start from the offense, but quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and running back Mikel LeShoure get it together in the second half. The defense holds off the Salukis long enough, and both Scheelhaase and LeShoure reach the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Bye: Indiana

Last week: 11-0

Season record: 11-0 (1.000)
Miami and Ohio State on Jan. 3, 2003 provided one of the most exciting and talked-about games in recent college football history. Ohio State's double-overtime victory in the Fiesta Bowl secured a national title and marked the beginning of a surge under The Vest (Jim Tressel). It also signaled the end of Miami's amazing run of success. The teams reunite Saturday in Columbus (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET), as Ohio State continues its push for the national title and Miami aims for another signature win to prove that yes, The U is back.

Bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Heather Dinich break down the matchup in Columbus.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio's Terrelle Pryor is a Heisman Trophy candidate this season.
Adam Rittenberg: HD, always a pleasure. Tough first weekend for the so-close league, I mean the ACC. Both Ohio State and Miami looked impressive against weak competition Thursday night. We've got to start this off with the two quarterbacks, Terrelle Pryor and Jacory Harris. Both are Heisman Trophy candidates in my mind, and they're friends off the field who text each other from time to time. What are the big keys for Harris against an always stout Ohio State defense?

Heather Dinich: Ahh, Ritt, the pleasure is all yours. First, he has to get the protection he needs -- something he hasn't always had, but that appeared to improve in the season opener against Florida A&M. Second, Harris has to continue to play mistake-free like he did in the first half last week. Turnovers were a big issue for him last year -- 17 interceptions -- and Cameron Heyward and the rest of the Buckeyes' D are more than capable of getting him flustered. He’s got to stay on his feet and make smart decisions. What about Pryor? Miami's rushing defense is coming off its best performance in three years, with eight sacks against FAMU. Is Ohio State’s front ready to hold off the Canes and make Pryor look worthy of the Heisman Hype?

AR: Pryor looked much more comfortable with the offense in the opener, but he faced virtually no pressure from Marshall and could sit back and wait for wideouts Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey to get open. That should change against the Canes, and it'll be interesting to see how often Pryor takes off and runs -- his old method for dealing with pressure -- or stands in the pocket and makes a tough throw. Ohio State's offensive line finally seems to be coming together after several years of underachieving. It's a group filled with blue-chip recruits that boasts good experience now, especially at the guard spots with Justin Boren and Bryant Browning. A big key will be whether left tackle Mike Adams can protect Pryor's blind side.

Speaking of highly recruited offensive linemen and Ohio State, how is our pal Seantrel Henderson doing? Let's just say Buckeye Nation is waiting. Moreover, how do you see Miami's O-line matching up with Heyward, John Simon and Ohio State's front four?

[+] EnlargeJacory Harris
Jonathan Brownfield/US PresswireJacory Harris had three touchdowns and 210 yards against Florida A&M.
HD: Miami’s pass protection was pretty good against FAMU, giving up just one sack, and Mount Henderson got some snaps in which he swallowed up some smaller, less athletic players. He's still got a learning curve, though, and the truth is it's too hard to judge that group until it lines up against the Buckeyes. Some might have made too much of the power versus speed plotline in the Champs Sports Bowl against Wisconsin, but I’m wondering if that won’t be a factor with Ohio State’s defensive front in putting the pressure on Harris. The Buckeyes' run defense is solid, but can they stop this deep backfield with or without Graig Cooper?

AR: Heather, I'm glad you brought up the Champs Sports Bowl. I know this is a different and supposedly better Miami team, but I have a hard time forgetting how Wisconsin outclassed the Canes in that game, and would have won by more points if not for a Garrett Graham fumble near the goal line. If Wisconsin's defense makes Harris look like that, I can't imagine what Ohio State's will do to him. You also bring up a good point about Cooper, who missed most of the Wisconsin game. He's a tremendous athlete and could be a big factor on Saturday if he plays. Ohio State running back Brandon Saine is another guy who looks better and better as time goes on and had a great performance in the opener.

OK, you're on the spot. What happens in this one?

HD: Well, one of two things: A.) Miami wins and is an instant surprise contender for the national title, or B.) The Hurricanes lose and ACC fans flip the channel to the Florida State game, clinging to desperation that somebody can represent on the national level. I think Miami is good, but I don’t think they're ready for Ohio State -- especially not in the Shoe. I'm still in believe-it-when-I-see-it mode with these guys when it comes to national relevance. Can they win the ACC? No doubt. But the Canes need to win the Coastal before they're in the same realm as the Buckeyes. Do you see any upset in the making?

AR: Miami certainly has the talent to win this game. The Canes must win the turnover battle, force Pryor into some bad decisions and hold the edge on special teams, which surprisingly might be Ohio State's biggest weakness this year. While I forecast a great game, I don't see the upset. Ohio State is simply too strong up front on both sides of the ball and wins the battle at the line of scrimmage. Ohio State got over its big-game hump in the Rose Bowl against Oregon, and the Buckeyes aren't a slow Big Ten team, as they're often portrayed. The Buckeyes win this one by a touchdown.

What we learned in the Big Ten

September, 5, 2010
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.

[+] EnlargeDenard Robinson
Eric Bronson/Icon SMIDenard Robinson threw for 186 yards and added another 197 on the ground in Michigan's win over Connecticut.
1. Shoelace is the answer in Ann Arbor: So that's what Rich Rodriguez's offense is supposed to look like. Denard Robinson made Rodriguez look like a genius in a critical game against Connecticut, as he dazzled with both his feet and with his arm. Robinson made a decent Connecticut defense look bad throughout a 30-10 win, and his speed will be tough for Big Ten defenses to handle, especially now that he can throw the ball accurately. Michigan needs to be a bit more careful with his touches after he took several big hits Saturday, but if Robinson continues to grow and his offensive line stays healthy, the Wolverines will put up a lot of points.

2. Bolden continues rapid rise: Rob Bolden has been playing college football for less than a month, but he's already making a big impression in Happy Valley. Bolden had an impressive debut Saturday against Youngstown State, completing 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception that wasn't his fault. After some freshman mistakes early on, Bolden settled down nicely and threw two touchdown passes to Brett Brackett on intermediate routes. He'll likely have a rough time next week at defending national champ Alabama, but this kid looks like he'll only get better for the Lions.

3. Ohio State's offense will be fun to watch: Defense and special teams remain hallmarks of Tresselball, but Ohio State's offense gives you another reason to tune in this season. The Buckeyes displayed good balance in their opener but got more players involved, particularly in the passing game. Terrelle Pryor had an impressive debut (17-25 passing, 247 yards, 3 TDs), and he got help from running back Brandon Saine (9 carries, 103 rush yards, 2 TDs) and wide receivers Dane Sanzenbacher (3 receptions, 113 yards, 1 TD) and DeVier Posey (4 catches, 41 yards, 2 TDs). Ohio State displayed perfect balance in the first half -- 16 rushes, 16 passes -- but it just felt the reins had been loosened a bit. Ohio State had nine different players record a reception.

4. Purdue, Illinois still works in progress: The only Big Ten squads to lose Saturday showed why they're still figuring things out. Purdue started slow, made mistakes at the wrong times and couldn't generate much of a run game at Notre Dame. Illinois' offense disappeared after halftime, and a shorthanded defense couldn't hold Missouri's Blaine Gabbert in check. But there were some positives for both squads, as Purdue controlled the clock and received a big performance from defensive end Ryan Kerrigan. Illinois' defense performed better than expected, and freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase showed some promise despite an ugly stat line. Not the ideal start for either squad, but don't be surprised if things turn around soon.

5. Run games revealed: We learned quite a bit about the rushing attacks in the Big Ten in Week 1. Teams like Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State and Indiana that struggled at times on the ground in 2009 received strong opening performances from Duane Bennett, Adam Robinson, Darius Willis, Le'Veon Bell and Edwin Baker. Ohio State, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan continued to do their thing on the ground. On the flip side, Northwestern continued to struggle to generate a rushing attack, and Penn State's offensive line couldn't spark Evan Royster against FCS Youngstown State. Purdue missed Ralph Bolden in its loss to Notre Dame and needs to find an answer in the backfield.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Bring on the U.

Ohio State began its season in dominating fashion, outclassing Marshall in a 45-7 victory Thursday night. The Buckeyes displayed tremendous balance on offense, received strong performances from quarterback Terrelle Pryor and his weapons, and the defense continued its opportunistic ways.

The Buckeyes' quest for a national title continues against the team it beat to win the crown in January 2003. Miami comes to town in nine days for a blockbuster matchup.

Marshall clearly has a long way to go on defense, but Ohio State's offense actually was fun to watch tonight. The Buckeyes mixed plays, formations personnel, and achieved perfect balance in the opening half with 16 rushes and 16 passes. Pryor looked very impressive for the most part, completing 17 of 25 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns, two to close friend DeVier Posey. Pryor's completion percentage should have been even better if not for drops by Posey and Taurian Washington. Running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron both looked good, especially Saine, and receiver Dane Sanzenbacher established himself as the team's deep threat.

It'll be interesting to see if Jim Tressel opens things up this much against Miami. I hope he does.

Ohio State's defense was physical and continued to force turnovers, a hallmark of the unit from last season. Linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan looked especially good.

It was a strange night on special teams, as Ohio State set the tone with a forced fumble on the opening kickoff but also had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown.

All in all, mission accomplished for the Scarlet and Gray. But a much tougher test awaits Sept. 11.

Perfect start for Ohio State

September, 2, 2010
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Could Ohio State have scripted it any better?

A 2010 season many expect to be special for the Buckeyes started with a huge special teams play. After Marshall won the toss and elected to receive (curious move), return man Andre Booker coughed up the ball following a hit from Dorian Bell. Buckeyes' safety Nate Oliver recovered and the offense was in business.

Ohio State's offense has run seven plays so far, and all but one of them, a Terrelle Pryor imcomplete pass, have worked out well. Pryor has looked good on short to intermediate throws so far, although he's seeing no pressure from Marshall and poor coverage from the Herd secondary.

Wide receiver DeVier Posey and running back Brandon Saine are working on big performances. Saine, who I believe becomes Ohio State's featured back, showcased his speed and power on a 40-yard run to set up Ohio State's second touchdown.

It's 14-0 Buckeyes, and Marshall appears to be in for a very long night.
The position rankings march on with one of the Big Ten's strongest units: running backs and fullbacks. I looked not only at featured backs like John Clay and Evan Royster, but also tried to identify teams with more than one solid option in the backfield.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Scott A. Miller/Getty ImagesJohn Clay rushed for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
1. Wisconsin: Everyone knows about Clay, the 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and a fringe Heisman Trophy candidate entering the fall. But the Badgers also boast good depth here with promising sophomore Montee Ball and veteran Zach Brown. Ball had 98 rushing attempts as a freshman, and he and Brown combined for seven touchdown runs.

2. Penn State: I'm tempted to put Penn State at the top, since the Lions' overall depth at running back could surpass Wisconsin's by the end of the season. Royster enters his third year as the starter and will become Penn State's all-time leading rusher barring injury. Junior Stephfon Green is waiting in the wings after rushing for 319 yards in 2009. Brandon Beachum also returns, and Penn State is excited about freshmen backs Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes. Joe Suhey is an experienced fullback.

3. Ohio State: There might not be a true featured back in Columbus yet, but Ohio State boasts more depth at running back than any Big Ten team. Senior Brandon Saine and junior Dan Herron once again top the depth chart, and Saine has a chance to emerge as the team's go-to runner. Behind them is Jordan Hall, who showed some flashes last fall, and heralded recruit Jaamal Berry looks ready after dealing with leg problems in 2009. Freshman Carlos Hyde has looked good in practice, and the Buckeyes have two good fullbacks in Zach Boren and Adam Homan.

4. Illinois: The Illini boast one of the league's best 1-2 punches at running back in juniors Mikel Leshoure and Jason Ford. The coaches maintain that the two likely will share carries, but Leshoure certainly looked like a featured back toward the end of last season. Both Leshoure and Ford averaged more than 6 yards a carry in 2009, and they complement each other well in the offense. Don't forget about Justin Green and Troy Pollard, two solid reserves.

5. Iowa: The Brandon Wegher situation and a clavicle injury to freshman Marcus Coker have raised concerns about the group, but Adam Robinson and Jewel Hampton still provide two solid options. Hampton had an excellent freshman season in 2008 and will be very effective if healthy this fall. Robinson grew up fast in 2009 and showed tremendous toughness in his quick recovery from a high ankle sprain. If Wegher returns to the team, Iowa has three capable ball carriers.

Up next: Wide receiver/tight end

More rankings ...