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Growing up in Naples, Fla., Carlos Hyde didn't need a tutorial on Urban Meyer's offense.

He knew plenty about Meyer and the spread from Meyer's time as Florida's coach. Hyde also knew he wanted no part of it, even though he said Florida offered him a scholarship to play in Gainesville.

"When I saw this offense, it was little running backs," Hyde told ESPN.com. "Little scat backs running around, Percy Harvin-type dudes, Jeff Demps-type people. I wasn't sure I'd be able to fit in."

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Pat Lovell/US PresswireCarlos Hyde has made the most of his opportunities this season.
At 6-foot and 232 pounds, Hyde can be described as a lot of things. Little isn't one of them. He's a power back in the truest sense, so he chose to go where power backs go: Ohio State.

There was only one problem: Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, who had featured power backs like Chris Wells and Maurice Clarett in his offense, resigned in the spring after Hyde's freshman season. Although Ohio State kept a similar offense in 2011, the school changed coaches and brought in Meyer.

"I was excited," Hyde said. "I knew Coach Meyer, his track record. He's won big games. He's won some national championships. I knew when he was coming here, I was like, 'I'm going to have a huge chance to get to play in the national championship before I leave college.'"

But his excitement was tempered by the same anxiety about whether he could fit into the spread as a bigger back.

"I never played in a spread offense, so I really didn't have a feel," Hyde said. "I wasn't sure. I never really saw a big back in the spread."

Meyer put Hyde at ease, pointing out that while he runs the spread and has had success with smaller, faster runners like Harvin and Demps, the system, at its core, is about power. Although Meyer on Monday said "there's no selling going on," he never told Hyde to become something he isn't.

"Coach Meyer just wanted me to be that power back," Hyde said. "I'm not trying to be no scat back. That's not my strength. Just be who I am, a power back and a hard-nosed runner."

It's exactly who he has been the past three weeks. After top running back Jordan Hall suffered a knee injury Sept. 29 against Michigan State, Hyde, coming off of a knee sprain, took over and rushed for 27 yards in the fourth quarter, including the final 5 yards to seal a 17-16 victory.

Hall's injury moved Hyde into the starting job, and the junior has made the most of his opportunity, recording back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances in wins against Nebraska and Indiana. Hyde and star quarterback Braxton Miller are the first Ohio State tandem to both eclipse 100 rush yards in consecutive games. Although Hall is on the mend and should return in the coming weeks, Meyer made it clear Monday: "Carlos won't be removed from tailback."

Hall emerged as Ohio State's top running back in the spring, but Hyde entered the season knowing he'd have opportunities to play.

He performed well at times in 2011, racking up 100-yard performances against both Nebraska and Indiana midway through the season, but he only received a handful of carries in other games. After logging just three carries against Illinois, a game where Ohio State attempted only four passes, Hyde tweeted, "Guess I'm not good enough. Take myself elsewhere," setting off a brief panic among Buckeyes fans. He later deleted the tweet and confirmed his commitment to Ohio State, but his frustration was evident.

"I had my ups," Hyde said, "then I had my downs. Last year was definitely like a roller-coaster."

Aside from the knee sprain in Week 2, Hyde's 2012 season has been on a steady incline. After a slow start Saturday against Indiana, Hyde came alive in the final three quarters and finished with a team-high 156 rush yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, highlighted by a 21-yard burst on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Hyde also had two catches for 27 yards and a touchdown. He has eight touchdowns on the season, celebrating each one, by team rule, with the offensive line. ("That's the reason you got in the end zone," Hyde explains.)

"He didn't start strong [against Indiana]," Meyer said. "And he's finally to the point in his career where I can have grown-man conversations with him. It was great, he admitted that. ... He got real strong. By the end of the game, he was a man."

Hyde recorded career bests in carries (28), rushing yards (140) and touchdowns (four) against Nebraska, tying Eddie George's single-game team rush touchdowns record as Ohio State won 63-38.

"That was definitely a great experience in my career," he said. "... Eddie George was a big-time guy, and to tie his record, it's pretty sweet. But I still have plenty more games to go, so maybe I can beat his record."

George was a very big back who won the Heisman Trophy at Ohio State in an offense suited to his game. After some initial concerns, Hyde feels the same way about Meyer's spread.

"He's played really well," Meyer said. "His post-contact yardage is making us a really good offense."
As you'd expect, Twitter is buzzing with reaction to the resignation of Jim Tressel as Ohio State's coach earlier Monday.

Ohio State held a team meeting Monday morning to announce the change, but several current and former players have tweeted about Tressel's departure. Most of the reaction is very positive.

Here's a look at some of the comments:
There are also these notable tweets:
  • Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin: The head of the scarlet and grey Demon has been cut off!
  • Michigan cornerback Troy Woolfolk: Tressel resigned, well I guess it got too hot in the kitchen. Lol
  • Former Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga: @OfficialAJHawk are you going to help select the new coach at OSU. I am sure they will be askig for your professional opinion.
  • Former Michigan running back Mike Hart: Great day for America! Sad day 4 Big 10, Hate OSU but tressel was a great coach! Would rather beat them when he's the coach than some1 else
  • Former Ohio State receiver Ray Small: Lol what y'all gone do 2 me that man resigned his self if u don't like me [bleep] u!!

Again, much more to come on Tressel's resignation.

Here's the ironic part about Ohio State's first five games this season: The Buckeyes figure to play a ton of Tressel-Ball without Jim Tressel.

While Tressel serves his suspension, the Buckeyes likely will employ the strategy that has brought them tremendous success during the coach's tenure. You know the core principles: stout defense, field position, conservative offensive play calls, polished special teams and, most important, fewer mistakes than the opponent.

Ohio State often plays Tressel-Ball with a full complement of starters, so it's hardly a stretch to suggest the Buckeyes will turn to the scheme as they try to survive the first five games without top quarterback Terrelle Pryor and four others.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bauserman
AP Photo/Terry GilliamJoe Bauserman is the most likely candidate to start in the absence of Terrelle Pryor.
If Tressel-Ball is in the forecast for Ohio State, Joe Bauserman most likely will be, too.

The Buckeyes need a replacement for Pryor, and Bauserman appears to be the safest choice. He has significantly more game experience than any of the other quarterbacks vying to replace Pryor. He has been in the system for four seasons.

But he didn't really separate himself this spring, leaving the door open for Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham and the most talked-about candidate, Braxton Miller. A true freshman who enrolled early, Miller had Buckeyes fans buzzing after a strong performance in the spring game, albeit against defenders several notches down the depth chart.

The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon encapsulates the QB question in a recent story:
The debate seems to come down to Bauserman, Mr. Safe and Steady, versus Miller, Mr. Clueless but Flashy. Quarterbacks coach Nick Siciliano did not shy away from that comparison.
"The best comparison I can make is when Trent Dilfer was the caretaker of the Baltimore Ravens, and he led them to a Super Bowl victory [in 2001]," Siciliano said. "He wasn't expected to go out and put up phenomenal numbers. He was supposed to take care of the ball, and they relied on their defense. I don't know throughout the course of time if we haven't ever had a different opinion. That's still what we want our quarterbacks to do."

If Bauserman can be Ohio State's Dilfer, the Buckeyes should be in good shape until Pryor's return.

But what if Ohio State needs its quarterback to win games, rather than not lose them? There are legit questions about the Buckeyes' supporting cast. Because of the suspensions, they have no proven receivers and a hole at left tackle. While folks are excited about the running backs group, Ohio State certainly would be better off if it had Dan Herron as an option. And while the Buckeyes' track record on defense suggests they'll be fine, they still must replace a lot of production.

This could be a reason to take a chance with Miller, but it also might strengthen Bauserman's case to start. In 2008, when Pryor replaced veteran Todd Boeckman at quarterback, he was surrounded by an excellent supporting cast (running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, the nation's No. 6 scoring defense).

With question marks elsewhere, I'd expect Ohio State to go with the safe choice at quarterback when the season kicks off Sept. 3.
Although the NCAA's Notice of Allegations to Ohio State last month brought more bad publicity for coach Jim Tressel and the program, it didn't contain much that the school didn't already know.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Greg Bartram/US PresswireTerrelle Pryor is among the dozens of Ohio State players who have purchased used cars at two Columbus-area dealerships.
Ohio State's big fear throughout this process is that something else would come to light, another layer that could bring more trouble.

It might have just arrived.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Saturday that Ohio State will investigate used-car purchases made by dozens of Buckeyes players at two Columbus-area dealerships. According to the newspaper, the school investigation will examine at least 50 sales to both Ohio State players and their relatives to see if any improper benefits were provided.

Ohio State compliance director Doug Archie told The Dispatch, "I have nothing to believe a violation has occurred." Archie also said that he was aware of all the players' car purchases but not those made by their relatives.
NCAA rules don't prohibit athletes from shopping at the same stores, eating at the same restaurants or buying cars at the same dealerships. The rules prohibit athletes and their relatives from receiving discounts that are not offered to the general public.

Some nuggets from the story:

  • Both dealerships call Ohio State's compliance office when athletes are buying cars and provide purchase prices and loan information. Ohio State will occasionally check purchase prices against the Kelley Blue Book values.
  • Public records show that in 2009, a 2-year-old Chrysler 300 with less than 20,000 miles was titled to then-sophomore linebacker Thaddeus Gibson. Documents show the purchase price as $0. ... Gibson said he was unaware the title on his car showed zero as the sales price. "I paid for the car, and I'm still paying for it," he said, declining to answer further questions.
  • A salesman who worked at both dealerships, Aaron Kniffin, and one of the dealership owners, Jason Goss, attended seven football games as guests of players, including the 2007 BCS National Championship game and the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. After the 2008 season, Archie removed Kniffin from the players' guest list because Ohio State doesn't allow those who do business with the players to be on the list.
  • Two former NCAA enforcement officials, who spoke to The Dispatch on the condition of anonymity, said there's cause for concern. The two collectively have decades of NCAA compliance experience. Neither had ever heard of so many athletes buying cars from the same salesman.
  • Officials at two national car-valuation companies -- National Automobile Dealers Association and Kelley Blue Book -- were asked by The Dispatch to estimate the value of the cars at the time of purchase. The values they estimated were higher than the price paid in nearly half of the transactions. However, they said it's difficult to accurately evaluate the sales without seeing the vehicles to assess condition and options.
  • Among the players who bought cars from the dealerships are quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, Buckeyes basketball player William Buford and former running back Chris Wells. Cars also have been sold to Pryor's mother and brother and Herron's father, and Pryor also received loaner cars from Kniffin.
  • Kniffin told The Dispatch that the sales prices for the cars were much higher than what is listed on state motor-vehicle records. Goss disputed that claim.
  • Kniffin, who said he is not an OSU fan, has had financial problems since 2006. He now owes more than $130,000 to the IRS, and his $570,000 Delaware County home is in foreclosure.

  • Kniffin told The Dispatch that he has sold cars to at least four dozen OSU athletes and their relatives, that the OSU compliance staff directed them to him, and that university officials reviewed all documents before sales were final. Archie said that he has spoken to Kniffin only once, never reviews sales documents and has not directed players to any dealerships.

There's a lot of smoke here for Ohio State at a very bad time. Archie plans to look at the transactions and work with the Big Ten during the investigation. But this could once again open things up to the NCAA, which recently has spent a lot of time in Columbus.

Some folks close to the Buckeyes program told me in March that players' cars could be the next issue, especially if the NCAA began digging. The Dispatch report has to be on the radar in Indianapolis, and it'll be interesting to see how this process unfolds.

Tressel isn't mentioned in The Dispatch report, but there will be questions asked about what he or other Buckeyes coaches knew of these transactions.

Sept. 3 feels like a long way off for the Scarlet and Gray.
LOS ANGELES -- Ohio State's greatest teams this decade are usually remembered for having a featured back.

In 2002, Maurice Clarett rushed for 1,237 yards and 16 touchdowns as Ohio State went on to a national championship.

Brandon Saine and Dan Herron
Getty ImagesBrandon Saine and Dan Herron have accounted for about 53 percent of the Buckeyes' rushing attempts this season.
In 2005 and 2006, Antonio Pittman carried the load for the Buckeyes, combining for 2,564 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns.

Pittman turned things over to Chris Wells in 2007 and 2008, and "Beanie" combined for 2,806 rush yards and 23 scores.

Those ball carriers had support, whether it was another running back like Lydell Ross or Wells (for Pittman) or a quarterback like Troy Smith (for Pittman) or Terrelle Pryor (for Wells). But Ohio State usually boasts a clear-cut bell cow in its backfield.

The 2009 Buckeyes won't be remembered for a featured back, but they could be remembered for a tandem that helped to end the school's BCS bowl slump.

Junior Brandon Saine and sophomore Dan Herron shared the rushing load this fall along with Pryor, who leads Ohio State with 142 attempts and 707 yards. Pryor accounts for 27.7 percent of Ohio State's rushing attempts, while both Saine (131 attempts, 25.6 percent) and Herron (139 percent (27.1 percent) have similar pieces of the carries pie.

Saine and Herron played huge roles in Ohio State's November surge to the Big Ten title. They combined for 200 rush yards and three touchdowns in Ohio State's 27-24 overtime win against Iowa, which clinched the league championship. One week later, the two backs combined for 180 rush yards and a score against Michigan.

"As the season went on, we got better together," Saine said. "We know we have a huge role in these games, so we really work together."

Herron played a more prominent role last year after Wells missed three games with a toe injury, and he started the first four games of this season. Saine, who battled injuries throughout his first two seasons, took on a lead role after Herron had ankle problems early in Big Ten play.

But throughout the fall, the two backs kept the communication lines open and helped each other prepare for a critical November push.

"It's helped me just to have a guy who's out there just like you are, who sees things when he's not in and I'm in," Herron said. "We fed off each other, telling what we can get better, picking up blocks, whatever it is. At the beginning of the season we had a little slow start. We both had a couple injuries we went through.

"The last couple games, things really picked up for us."

Though Saine is bigger (6-foot-1, 217), he's more of a big-play threat on the edges, as he showed with touchdown runs of 49 and 29 yards against Iowa and Michigan, respectively. He has the nickname "Zoom" for his breakaway speed.

The 5-foot-10, 193-pound Herron is a hard-charging, low-to-the-ground, between-the-tackles runner, and goes by the childhood nickname "Boom" for obvious reasons.

"He's got a quick first step and a burst," Saine said of Herron. "That works well for him. He can get through the hole before the defenders are ready."

Herron never senses any jealousy between him and Saine, and when one back succeeds on the field, he motivates the other to do the same.

"To have a good team, you need to have a couple good guys ready to carry the mail, and those are two good ones," head coach Jim Tressel said. "They don't care how many carries they get, they don't care who gets called upon when, they just want to do what they can to help the team, and we're fortunate to have two kids like that."
As they do every season, Ohio State fans had plenty of burning questions about a Buckeyes running back this fall.

Jaamal Berry.

[+] EnlargeDan Herron
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesDaniel Herron had a heavy workload against Iowa, carrying the ball 32 times.
They wondered when Berry would see the field, how his injured hamstring was progressing and whether head coach Jim Tressel would end up redshirting the highly touted freshman from Miami. These questions peppered Tressel at his weekly news conference and filled up my inbox.

As the wait for Berry continued, it was clear that many Buckeye fans had seen enough of running backs Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. Chris "Beanie" Wells was sorely missed, and for the first time since 2004, when Lydell Ross and Antonio Pittman shared the carries load, Ohio State lacked a dominant runner.

Could the Buckeyes win the Big Ten without a bell cow in the backfield? The answer arrived last Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

Saine and Herron turned in their best performances of the season in the biggest game of the season. The two backs combined for 200 rush yards and three touchdowns against a stout Iowa defense as Ohio State rode a run-heavy offense to a 27-24 overtime victory.

"Those are two tough kids and the seniors mean a lot to those two," Tressel said after the game. "They were not going to let those seniors down."

Ohio State didn't hide its intentions on offense from the get-go. Tressel didn't want to throw downfield against an Iowa defense that ranks second nationally in interceptions (19).

So the Buckeyes ran the ball a season-high 51 times, with 43 attempts going to either Saine or Herron. Ohio State's offensive line, which, like Saine and Herron, has drawn plenty of criticism this season, imposed its will against the Iowa defensive front.

"Boom [Herron] and Brandon were running the ball," quarterback Terrelle Pryor told reporters. "We really didn't need to pass."

The two backs accounted for almost all of Ohio State's big plays on offense.

Saine gave the Buckeyes their first lead with a 22-yard scoring burst late in the second quarter. After Iowa tied the score at 10-10, Herron sprinted 11 yards to the end zone out of the Wildcat formation. Moments later, following a Ross Homan interception, Saine scooted down the sideline for a 49-yard score.

"We were really just having fun out there and stepping up and doing what we knew how to do," Saine said. "We weren't trying to overthink anything. We were trying to be in the moment the whole time."

It has been a mixed bag this year for both Saine and Herron. Both have had decent performances -- Saine against Indiana and Illinois, Herron against Illinois and New Mexico State -- and both have battled injuries (concussion for Saine, ankle for Herron).

But when Ohio State needed to lean on the run game, both backs stepped up.

"They both learned their way as they backed up Beanie over the years," Tressel said. "They waited their turn and kept trying to improve along the way, and they're playing good football."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Time to put a bow on Week 2 in the Big Ten with five lessons learned.

1. Michigan is back -- The Wolverines are young and not very deep at several spots, but they're extremely resilient and clearly on the right track under second-year head coach Rich Rodriguez. True freshman Tate Forcier delivered a performance to remember against a good Notre Dame team, completing 6 of 7 passes for 56 yards and a touchdown on the game's decisive drive. Rodriguez's offense has returned to form behind Forcier, running back Brandon Minor and a much improved line. Michigan has closed the book on last season's 3-9 disaster and could make a serious push for the Big Ten title.

2. Ohio State's offense needs a spark -- When you start four possessions inside the opponent's territory, even if the opponent is USC, you need to get more than two field goals. Buckeyes running back Brandon Saine said after Saturday's game that "we always talk about ending each drive with a kick." But too often since 2007, those kicks have been field goal attempts, not extra point attempts. Whether it's Jim Tressel's play-calling or Terrelle Pryor's inconsistency or an unproven supporting cast around Pryor, something just isn't clicking for the Buckeyes on offense and it cost them a huge win against the Trojans.

3. The Big Ten isn't that bad -- After being ripped all week and most of Saturday afternoon, the Big Ten held its own in the key games. Michigan upset Notre Dame and Ohio State dominated USC for most of the way. Purdue paced Oregon at Autzen Stadium, Iowa rebounded strong at Iowa State and both Minnesota and Wisconsin notched nice wins against Air Force and Fresno State. The Big Ten might not be at the SEC's level, but it hasn't suffered multiple embarrassments like the ACC or the Big 12. Though the USC loss stings, having Michigan back on the national scene really helps the league's overall perception.

4. A new group of running backs emerges -- The Big Ten no longer has Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer or Chris "Beanie" Wells, but the league is once again reloading at the running back spot. Purdue's Ralph Bolden looks like a star in two games, while Wisconsin's John Clay delivered a bounce-back performance and Indiana's Demetrius McCray sparked a dormant rushing attack. Michigan's Minor and Illinois' Jason Ford were superb in their returns from injuries. Iowa turned to a true freshman (Brandon Wegher) and a redshirt freshman (Adam Robinson) to ease its rushing woes. Junior Stephen Simmons has emerged as Northwestern's top back after a very nice performance Saturday.

5. League race could be a lot more interesting -- The Big Ten has been pegged as a two-team league, but several other squads could work their way into a wide-open race. Michigan has looked more impressive than any Big Ten team so far, and Iowa made a strong statement in Ames after an extremely shaky start against Northern Iowa. Ohio State clearly has some issues on offense, and Penn State's run game struggled against Syracuse at home. Everything still could come down to Penn State-Ohio State on Nov. 7 in Happy Valley, but a few more matchups will shape the league race.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


The most significant number during Ohio State's preseason wasn't 2 (Terrelle Pryor's jersey), 3 (consecutive BCS bowl losses), 4 (consecutive Big Ten titles) or 5 (consecutive wins against Michigan).

It was 37.

"We had 37 guys that are new to the team," senior safety and co-captain Kurt Coleman said. "There's a lot of things that we didn't know what to expect heading into camp, but during camp, we definitely jelled and we've gone after it. The younger guys are definitely ready to step up and make big plays."

Ohio State lost 12 starters from last year's team, including national award winners like linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, as well as offensive skill threats like Chris "Beanie" Wells and Brian Robiskie. Head coach Jim Tressel's Week 1 depth chart features 21 freshmen or sophomores in starting or backup roles.

Several true freshmen could see the field in Saturday's season opener against Navy (ESPN, noon ET), including wide receiver Duron Carter, fullbacks Zach Boren and Adam Homan, and offensive linemen Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley.

"This preseason was a little bit different than perhaps a year ago, when we had a lot of veterans," Tressel said. "We had a lot of kids coming back who knew why we did things and how we did and who could teach the group coming in. We didn't have quite the number of veterans in our camp [this year].

"So it certainly was a newer group."

As a result, the Buckeyes intensified their preparation for the season. The small group of seniors scheduled a Team Week (most called it Hell Week) midway through camp where all electronic devices -- cell phones, TVs, laptops -- were confiscated for a week as players spent all of their off-field time hanging out together and bonding.

There also were differences when the team hit the practice field.

"We definitely hit a lot more," Coleman said, "which is good. Usually we go into a season, and we're not really fully prepared for that first game. This year, we're definitely prepared for what we're about to go through. You go into the first week, you don't understand the game speed, you don't understand the real hitting of someone going live.

"Us hitting almost every day, it really conditions your body and conditions your mind."

Ohio State can't afford many growing pains from its young players this fall, especially with No. 4 USC looming in Week 2. Last year, the Buckeyes struggled through their pre-USC tune-up against Ohio, and didn't look much better the next week against the mighty Trojans.

A strong effort against Navy will be crucial, and Coleman expects a smooth transition from the team's underclassmen.

"I'm going to say this: The guys that play, they're ready," Coleman said. "I would think they were at least a year into the program, the way they play and the way their bodies are. It's amazing the way they came into camp ready to go."

This spring, Tressel discussed the importance of preventing a sense of entitlement from taking over the team. No players in the program have lost to Michigan or been on a team that failed to win at least a share of the league championship. Freshmen like Carter are joining a program used to dominating the Big Ten.

But Coleman and his fellow captains have ensured that the young players don't think success is automatic.

"We've told them several times that, this isn't easy," Coleman said. "This is going to be a long road and we're going to face a lot of adversity throughout this trip. We told them, 'What we've done in the past doesn't matter. That's not going to help us win.'

"It's tough helping them understand the troubles and the problems that we'll go through this season."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Big Ten media days are in the books, and the start of preseason camp is just around the corner. Who will win quarterback competitions at Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State? Can teams replace standouts like Chris "Beanie" Wells, Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, Aaron Maybin and James Laurinaitis? How will Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan and Illinois adjust to new coordinators? Get out your calendars and mark down these dates as teams return to the practice field.

  • Illinois, Aug. 6 (Champaign) and Aug. 10 (Rantoul)
  • Indiana, Aug. 7
  • Iowa, Aug. 7
  • Michigan, Aug. 10
  • Michigan State, Aug. 10
  • Minnesota, Aug. 10
  • Northwestern, Aug. 10 (Evanston) and Aug. 17 (Kenosha)
  • Ohio State, Aug. 10
  • Penn State, Aug. 10
  • Purdue, Aug. 8
  • Wisconsin, Aug. 10

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Penn State dominated the recent Big Ten player rankings, boasting six players in the top 30, two more than any other team in the league. The Nittany Lions had four players in the top seven and five in the top 12, while no other Big Ten team had more than one.

But when it comes to preseason predictions, Penn State gives way to another team. Ohio State has been ranked ahead of the Lions in almost every preseason poll and publication, including my latest power rankings. Colleague Mark Schlabach had Ohio State three spots ahead of Penn State in his way-too-early Top 25.

What gives? How could a team so stocked with star power not get the nod as the league's preseason favorite?

After all, Penn State and Ohio State shared the league title last year -- the Lions won the head-to-head meeting Oct. 25 in Columbus -- and both teams lost sizable senior classes that included national award winners (A.Q. Shipley, Malcolm Jenkins). The fact Penn State returns more proven stars but sits behind Ohio State in the 2009 forecast seems a bit incongruous, as many of you have pointed out.

Edwin from Dayton, Ohio, writes: I find it interesting that you have (as do most experts) Ohio State a better team and the chosen team to win whe Big Ten even with an away game at Happy Valley. But when I look at your player rankings you have 6 Penn State players you your top 30, and 4 in the top 12. This would lead me to believe that Penn State is the better team. (Although I know this is not the case) how do you justify them having the perenial players in the big ten and them not being the best? Are you just playing devils adovocate to the lion share of people that think The Ohio State is the best Big Ten team?

This points to the fundamental matchup of the 2009 Big Ten season -- Penn State's star power vs. Ohio State's depth.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Wisconsin needs a quarterback. So do Michigan and Michigan State. Ohio State is looking to replace star running back Chris "Beanie" Wells. The Spartans? They need a back, too, after the graduation of Doak Walker Award finalist Javon Ringer.

Every Big Ten team has some holes to fill, and the process begins in spring ball as position competitions kick off throughout the league. Here are five key spots to watch when practices get under way.

Team: Michigan

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Steven Threet (eight games), Nick Sheridan (four games)

Candidates: Nick Sheridan, Tate Forcier, Denard Robinson, David Cone

The skinny: Threet's recent decision to transfer from Michigan shook up the competition before spring practice. Sheridan has the edge in college game experience, starting the final three games last fall, but Forcier enters practice as the front-runner. The true freshman, who enrolled in January, has the skill set that suits Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Robinson also will be a factor when he arrives this summer, but Forcier has an opportunity to gain a head start this spring.

Team: Ohio State

Position: Running back

2008 starter: Chris "Beanie" Wells

Candidates: Dan Herron, Brandon Saine, Jaamal Berry, Carlos Hyde

The skinny: Wells' foot injury last fall gave Ohio State an idea of what life will be like without the 237-pound power back. Herron, who served as Wells' primary backup in 2008, has the inside track to claim the job but needs a good spring performance. He's deceptively strong despite a smallish frame (5-foot-10, 193), but Ohio State might go with more of a committee system this fall. Saine could be a factor if he stays healthy, and heralded recruits Berry and Hyde will compete when they arrive this summer.

Team: Wisconsin

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Allan Evridge (six games) and Dustin Sherer (seven games)

Candidates: Sherer, Scott Tolzien, Curt Phillips, Jon Budmayr, James Stallons

The skinny: The quarterback position really hurt Wisconsin last year, and the Badgers once again enter the spring with major questions under center. The competition last spring didn't provide much clarity, so offensive coordinator Paul Chryst will be looking for any type of separation this time around. Sherer had mixed results last year, helping Wisconsin to four wins but struggling in the bowl game. Tolzien is a heady player who could be a factor this spring, but the spotlight will really be on the two young quarterbacks, Phillips and Budmayr. Both were heralded recruits, particularly Phillips, and Wisconsin might be looking for a multiyear starter to emerge after the last few years.

Team: Michigan State

Position: Quarterback

2008 starter: Brian Hoyer

Candidates: Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol

The skinny: This will be a fascinating story to watch, as the promising Cousins goes up against Nichol, a transfer from Oklahoma who grew up an hour from the Michigan State campus. Cousins is the favorite after a solid performance as Hoyer's backup last year, completing 32 of 43 passes (74.4 percent) for 310 yards. But Nichol didn't come to Michigan State to ride the bench and has a year in the system after running the scout team last fall. Without Ringer, Michigan State will look to upgrade its passing attack, so the quarterbacks will take center stage this spring.

Team: Penn State

Position: Defensive end

2008 starters: Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines

Candidates: Jerome Hayes, Jack Crawford, Kevion Latham, Eric Latimore

The skinny: The Lions also have holes at wide receiver and along the offensive line, but defensive end became a surprise area of need after Maybin and Maurice Evans declared for the NFL draft as underclassmen. Hayes has torn the ACLs in both knees the last two seasons, so he's far from a reliable bet to step in as a starter. Crawford, who grew up mostly in England, is still fairly new to football but has good ability and could emerge this spring. Latimore had a sack in nine games last year, and Latham recorded three tackles in eight contests. Defensive line coach Larry Johnson seemingly produces star pass-rushers every year, but this could be his toughest challenge yet.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
  Scott A. Miller/US Presswire
  Iowa running back Shonn Greene's production will not be easy to replace.

As we continue to preview Big Ten spring football, which begins March 14 at Michigan, it's time to look at five key replacements around the conference.

The Big Ten took the biggest hit at running back with the departures of Shonn Greene, Javon Ringer, Chris "Beanie" Wells, P.J. Hill, Tyrell Sutton and Kory Sheets, among others. There also were key losses on both lines (Mitch King, A.Q. Shipley, Aaron Maybin, Willie VanDeSteeg) and in the secondary (Malcolm Jenkins, Vontae Davis, Otis Wiley), though the quarterback crop returns mostly intact.

The league's lone head-coaching change was pre-planned, as Danny Hope takes over for Joe Tiller at Purdue. But several key assistants depart the league, creating some holes to fill.

Here's a look at five sets of shoes to fill before Sept. 5.

Big shoes: Iowa running back Shonn Greene

The replacement: Sophomore Jewel Hampton

All Greene did last fall was win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top back, set Iowa's single-season rushing record (1,850 yards) and eclipse 100 yards in all 13 games. As the team switched quarterbacks, identified playmakers at wide receiver and jelled up front, Greene was the constant. Hampton earned high marks as Greene's backup, rushing for 463 yards and seven touchdowns as a true freshman, but he'll take on a much bigger load this fall. The 5-9, 200-pound Hampton lacks Greene's brute strength and size, but he provides a different look for an Iowa offense that will always be based around the run game.

Big shoes: Penn State center A.Q. Shipley

The replacement: Junior Stefen Wisniewski

The defending Big Ten co-champs lose the undisputed leader of the league's best offensive line in Shipley, who won the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center last year. Wisniewski started at guard in 2008, but he's expected to shift to center and replace Shipley in the heart of the Lions' line. Expectations will be high for Wisniewski, a talented junior whose father and uncle both were star offensive linemen for Penn State.

Big shoes: Michigan State running back Javon Ringer

The replacement(s): Senior A.J. Jimmerson, sophomores Andre Anderson and Ashton Leggett, freshmen Edwin Baker and Larry Caper

No running back in the country had a heavier load than Ringer last fall. He led the nation with 390 carries and tied for the national lead with 22 rushing touchdowns. Michigan State benefited from his tremendous durability, but the coaches didn't develop a reliable backup. The competition to replace Ringer features several young players, including two heralded incoming freshmen. The Spartans could use more of a committee system in 2009, blending speed (Anderson, Caper, Baker, Jimmerson) with size (Leggett). The freshmen should help the situation, but head coach Mark Dantonio wouldn't mind if Anderson, Jimmerson or Leggett emerged in spring ball.

Big shoes: Illinois offensive coordinator Mike Locksley

The replacement: Mike Schultz

Not only was Locksley one of the best recruiters in the country, but he had a strong bond with quarterback Juice Williams, wide receiver Arrelious Benn and other key members of the Illinois offense. Despite a very disappointing 5-7 season, Illinois still led the Big Ten in passing and ranked second in total offense. Schultz comes from a program (TCU) known for defense, but his system produced several standout quarterbacks and running backs. He needs to gain Williams' trust right away and maintain the explosiveness Illinois featured at times last season. There also will be pressure for Schultz to bring in top high school players from Texas and other areas.

Big shoes: Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins

The replacement: Sophomore Chimdi Chekwa

Some will point to the oft-injured Wells or hyped linebacker James Laurinaitis as Ohio State's biggest losses, but Jenkins was the team's most consistent performer the last two seasons. Shutdown corners don't come around very often, and Jenkins' play-making skills helped him win the Thorpe Award last year. Chekwa beat out Donald Washington for a starting job in 2008 but will take on a greater load this fall as he'll be assigned to mark top opposing wideouts. He had an interception and four pass breakups last year.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
  AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
  Pat Fitzgerald should probably stick to tackling demonstrations.

There's a reason Pat Fitzgerald got into the College Football Hall of Fame as a Northwestern linebacker and not the Baseball Hall of Fame as a member of his beloved White Sox.

Unfortunately for Fitzgerald, he got a painful reminder of that reason on Thursday. During a demonstration with a JUGS pitching machine, the Northwestern head coach had a baseball hit him right in the mouth. According to ESPN.com senior writer Ivan Maisel, who alerted me to Fitzgerald's mishap, the coach damaged his front teeth and will need some dental work.

Fitzgerald remains in good spirits, telling me in a text message this morning, "I'm all good. Still ugly as ever with a full head of teeth." We agreed that in the future, he should stick to tackling demonstrations.

I tell you this because I was recently asked in a chat which Big Ten coach I'd want backing me up in a bar fight. Well, I think I have my answer.

Before the weekend kicks off, some links for you.

  • The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette's Michael Rothstein has been blogging all day from the NFL combine in Indianapolis and posted some good quotes from Penn State wide receivers Derrick Williams and Deon Butler. Williams gets a little morbid when discussing Lions head coach Joe Paterno.
"The things that spook us out as players is that we think Joe is going to be buried on the field," Williams said. "Everyone is going to come to the stadium and if he does go, it's just going to be a big funeral at the stadium."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The recruiting classes are in, several underclassmen are out (preparing for the NFL draft) and coaching changes have been made. It's time to re-examine the Big Ten power rankings, which project forward to the 2009 season but take into consideration the way a team finished up 2008.

1. Ohio State -- The Buckeyes lost juniors Chris "Beanie" Wells, Brian Hartline and Donald Washington to the NFL draft and said goodbye to a large senior class, but they performed well in the Fiesta Bowl and brought in the league's best recruiting class. The youth movement has begun in Columbus, and Ohio State likely will surround Terrelle Pryor with more dynamic skill players on offense. There are some holes in the defensive two-deep, but Ohio State rarely misses a beat on that side of the ball.

2. Penn State -- The somewhat surprising early departures of defensive ends Aaron Maybin and Maurice Evans create questions in an area where Penn State dominated last season. Linebacker should be a major strength, but Penn State must replenish the secondary and find a stud pass rusher or two. Wide receiver should be the most interesting position to watch during the spring and summer, and if Penn State avoids a drop-off on the offensive line, it should be in good shape for another league title push. A large recruiting class will play a key role in the Lions' quest to repeat.

3. Iowa -- Shonn Greene surprised absolutely no one by declaring for the NFL draft, and the Doak Walker Award winner leaves a major void in production. But backup running back Jewel Hampton showed promise last year, and Iowa has fewer question marks on offense than most Big Ten teams. Arguably the bigger questions come at defensive tackle, where four-year starters Mitch King and Matt Kroul depart. Avoiding a major drop-off in the interior line is crucial, but Iowa returns most of its key players from a 9-4 team.

4. Michigan State -- Several key seniors depart, including running back Javon Ringer and safety Otis Wiley, but Michigan State brings back most of its key contributors and adds its best recruiting class in recent memory. The competition at both running back and quarterback will set the course for the 2009 season, but the Spartans should be deeper and better on defense.

5. Northwestern -- Much like Michigan State, Northwestern must replace its starting offensive backfield for the 2009 campaign. Mike Kafka steps in at quarterback after a solid junior season, but there will be plenty of competition at both running back and wide receiver. The offensive line should be much improved, and as long as star defensive end Corey Wootton recovers from knee surgery, the Wildcats will boast one of the Big Ten's best defenses.

6. Illinois -- As expected, cornerback Vontae Davis entered the NFL draft, leaving some questions in an Illini secondary that struggled at the safety spot in 2008. Improving the defense will be Illinois' top priority entering the fall, especially with so much talent back on the offensive side. Ron Zook's recruiting class drew mixed reviews after several committed prospects went elsewhere, but Illinois held onto wide receiver Terry Hawthorne and addressed several of its needs.

7. Minnesota -- The Gophers welcome two new coordinators (Jedd Fisch and Kevin Cosgrove) and a different offensive approach heading into spring practice, but they bring back most of the pieces from a 7-6 team. Tim Brewster continued to improve the defensive secondary with his recent recruiting haul, and both lines return virtually intact. If Minnesota can adjust to the changes in coaching and scheme, it should take another step forward in 2009.

8. Wisconsin -- Underappreciated running back P.J. Hill surprised some by declaring for the NFL draft, and Wisconsin also said goodbye to a large senior class. John Clay looks more than capable of becoming a featured back for the Badgers in 2009, but unless some significant progress is made at the quarterback position, it's hard to see improvement. A very solid recruiting class featuring quarterback Jon Budmayr and wide receiver Kraig Appleton could bolster the passing attack and move Wisconsin up the rankings.

9. Michigan -- Despite a 3-9 season, Michigan landed a top 10 recruiting class that features several players likely to contribute right away. Brandon Graham stayed for his senior year, giving the Wolverines a dominant pass rusher. The Wolverines very well could make a major move up this list, but they first must find a solution at the quarterback spot and fill holes on the defensive line and in the secondary. The recruiting class provides a major boost, but the program remains in a transition phase.

10. Purdue -- The Boilermakers are the Big Ten's mystery team, as they welcome a new head coach (Danny Hope) and most likely a different type of player. Hope landed 14 recruits from Florida in hopes of upgrading Purdue's speed and athleticism, and he also must replace starters at all the offensive skill positions (quarterback, running back, wide receiver). If the defense avoids a drop-off and Hope's recruits contribute immediately like he thinks they will, the Boilers will be a much-improved team.

11. Indiana -- Wide receiver Andrew Means declared for the NFL draft, but Indiana doesn't lose a whole lot from last year's team, which could be good or bad. Head coach Bill Lynch didn't make any staff changes, hoping that continuity and improved health will lead to better results in 2009. Indiana boasts two experienced quarterbacks (Kellen Lewis and Ben Chappell), two proven pass rushers (Greg Middleton and Jammie Kirlew) and some promising young players, but if the defense doesn't improve, it could be another long season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

It's time to recap national signing day for the Big Ten, and let's begin with the recruiting scorecard.

The Big Ten finished seventh nationally among conferences in total commits with 189, likely the result of several smallish classes (Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana) and the scarcity of junior college players. It's interesting to see how few jucos (3) came to the Big Ten compared with some of the other BCS conferences (SEC had 40, Big 12 and Pac-10 both had 29).

As far as ESPNU 150 commits, the Big Ten finished third behind the SEC and ACC with 19 players, with Ohio State and Michigan each landing seven prospects.

Aside from Michigan, the final Scouts Inc. top 25 recruiting rankings weren't kind to the Big Ten.

Ohio State fell five spots to No. 9, the result of cornerback/running back Justin Green switching to Illinois and some questionable lower signees. I would point out, though, that several of Ohio State's recent superstars (James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins) didn't arrive with many accolades.

Michigan moved up four spots to No. 10 after picking up several key players on signing day, namely wide receiver Je'Ron Stokes and quarterback Denard Robinson. Penn State dropped a spot to No. 16 after a mostly quiet signing day highlighted by the addition of wide receiver Justin Brown.

Both Michigan State and Illinois fell out of the rankings after placing Nos. 21 and 22 on Tuesday. Considering the Spartans had no late decommitments and answered several needs, it was a surprise to see them drop out. Illinois had a wild signing day in which it lost wideout Kraig Appleton, held onto wideout Terry Hawthorne and added Green, but Ron Zook's class doesn't quite match up with the last two years.

Scouts Inc. also graded the Big Ten classes, with both Ohio State and Michigan receiving A-minuses for their classes. Wisconsin might have moved past Minnesota by landing Appleton, though the Gophers' late signing of Michael Carter shouldn't be discounted. Michigan State got a good review for its class, while Purdue, Iowa and Indiana rounded out the bottom.

Ohio State running back Jaamal Berry is among the Top 10 instant-impact prospects selected by Scouts Inc. Berry will compete for the starting running back spot vacated by Chris "Beanie" Wells.

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