NCF Nation: Doug Worthington
Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg hasn't forgotten the third-down sack he took against Ohio State in 2009. The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes were playing for the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl, Iowa's first since 1991. Vandenberg, then a redshirt freshman, was making his first career start in place of the injured Ricky Stanzi. He had handled himself well in the glare of Ohio Stadium, leading Iowa on an 8-play, 70-yard drive to tie the score at 24-24 with 2:42 to play.
"That sack on third down, I remember that thing vividly," Vandenberg told ESPN.com. "The ball needed to come out. It would have been a long field goal, but we could have tried. Instead, we had to take a shot for the end zone, and you can't expect that to [work]."
Vandenberg views the Ohio State game as a "great stepping stone" in his career. He returned to a reserve role in 2010 before taking over for Stanzi last season, passing for 3,022 yards with 25 touchdown strikes and seven interceptions.
He enters his senior season as the Big Ten's most prolific passing quarterback.
"It was an experience you can't really replace," he said of that Ohio State game. "I know that experience helped me last season and before that. Being thrown in the moment, you can't really prepare for it. And it's an opportunity that I lost to [win] a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl."
Vandenberg finished the game 20-for-33 passing for 222 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Asked if he's still motivated by the Ohio State loss, Vandenberg replied, "Absolutely."
That night in Columbus, Vandenberg showed he doesn't back away from challenges. He proved it again in May by killing a 300-pound black bear in Saskatchewan with a bow and arrow.
Asked Thursday if the bear kill is his claim to fame among Big Ten quarterbacks, Vandenberg replied, "I'd rather win some more games."
He can start this fall in leading an Iowa offense featuring some question marks, namely at running back.
Although few forecast Iowa to win a treacherous Legends division, Vandenberg still has one last shot to finish what he couldn't in Columbus.
"That was a tough circumstance he was playing in," Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz said, "to all of a sudden be our starter, and to go into one of the toughest, if not the toughest, environments in our conference. Basically, it ended up being the championship game for that year. He may have taken a sack, but we had some drops, too, that may have changed the game. I thought he really played admirably."
Ferentz recalled the way Vandenberg prepared for his first start, spending late nights at the football complex with Stanzi and offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe.
"The manner in which he played and conducted himself, to me, that was really a signature moment for him," Ferentz said. "It's one of the reasons I'm so optimistic he'll play well this year. He's got the right stuff."
No intelligent fan base should be celebrating, "We're No. 6!" Truth: your team's unit is probably a lot closer to No. 11 than No. 1. If a certain position group is stacked at the top, I'm open to including multiple teams tied for the No. 5 spot.
The criteria: past performance, 2010 potential, game-changing players and overall depth.
Let's get it started with the defensive line.
1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes' front four is not only the best in the Big Ten, but quite possibly the country (Rivals.com thinks so). Everyone knows about beastly defensive end Adrian Clayborn, but Broderick Binns can be just as effective on the other edge. Veterans Karl Klug and Christian Ballard solidify the middle. This group can flat out dominate games, as it showed last season against Penn State and Georgia Tech, and should be even better in 2010. My lone concern: depth.
2. Ohio State: You know a position group will be fine when three key contributors (Thaddeus Gibson, Doug Worthington, Todd Denlinger) depart and there's talk of even better days ahead. Cameron Heyward could be the Big Ten's most disruptive defensive player, as USC and Penn State learned last season, and there's a lot of optimism about young players like John Simon, Melvin Fellows and Garrett Goebel. Dexter Larimore brings experience to the interior line.
3. Penn State: Like Ohio State, Penn State can lose key players like Jared Odrick up front and not miss a beat. We should know better than to doubt veteran line coach Larry Johnson, who recruits and develops players better than just about anyone. Penn State has high hopes for defensive end Jack Crawford, and veteran tackle Ollie Ogbu also returns. Odrick leaves a major void in the middle, but the Lions expect big things from Devon Still if he can stay healthy.
4. Purdue: I'm taking a little leap of faith here, as Purdue has to get a lot better against the run. But the Boilers have a bona fide star in end Ryan Kerrigan, some experience with Gerald Gooden and Kawann Short, and they should benefit from coach Gary Emanuel's return to West Lafayette. Purdue is thin at defensive tackle after Mike Neal's departure to the NFL, but Kerrigan leads what should be a formidable pass rush after finishing third nationally in sacks in 2009.
5. Wisconsin: Here's a case where I feel great about one line position and nervous about another. Emerging star J.J. Watt leads a talented group of defensive ends -- ends, not tackles!-- that also features Louis Nzegwu and David Gilbert. The situation at tackle is a bit shakier because Wisconsin lost both starters from 2009, but Patrick Butrym boasts experience, and hopes are high for Jordan Kohout.
Up next: Linebackers
He came of age in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi, delivering a complete performance as both a passer and a runner. Pryor accounted for 338 total yards; Oregon had 260.
RB John Clay, Wisconsin
Clay gave Miami a taste of Big Ten football by bulldozing the Hurricanes for 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries in the Champs Sports Bowl.
RB Brandon Wegher, Iowa
It seemed like no running back could stay healthy for Iowa this year, but Wegher came up huge in the FedEx Orange Bowl. The true freshman had 113 rush yards on 16 carries, including the clinching 32-yard touchdown run with 1:16 left.
WR DeVier Posey, Ohio State
I saw a future NFL receiver when I watched Posey in the Rose Bowl. He had eight receptions for 101 yards, including a leaping 17-yard touchdown that all but sealed Ohio State's victory.
WR Andrew Brewer, Northwestern
Brewer saved his best game for last, hauling in eight receptions for 133 yards and scoring on receptions of 35 and 39 yards in the Outback Bowl.
TE Drake Dunsmore, Northwestern and Lance Kendricks, Wisconsin
Dunsmore had nine receptions for 120 yards, including an electrifying 66-yard touchdown dash through the Auburn defense. Garrett Graham might be the first-team All-Big Ten selection, but Kendricks stole the show in the Champs Sports Bowl with seven receptions for 128 yards.
C John Moffitt, Wisconsin
Moffitt moved back to center because of a teammate's injury and helped the Badgers overpower Miami in the Champs Sports Bowl. Wisconsin racked up 430 total yards and held the ball for 39:15.
G Justin Boren, Ohio State
Boren led a big and nasty Buckeyes line that generated push for the run game and helped Pryor attempt a career high 37 passes in the win against Oregon.
G Joel Foreman, Michigan State
The Spartans' offensive line stepped up nicely in the Valero Alamo Bowl, helping to generate 148 rush yards and allowing only one sack against a Texas Tech team that rushes the passer extremely well. Foreman, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, deserves some props.
OT Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
Bulaga showed why he's jumping to the NFL draft with a terrific performance against Georgia Tech star defensive end Derrick Morgan in the FedEx Orange Bowl.
OT Dennis Landolt, Penn State
Landolt and his linemates did a good job against LSU's blitz and protected Daryll Clark on a muddy field in Orlando. Penn State allowed only one sack and rushed for 124 yards.
DL Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
Clayborn was an absolute beast in the Orange Bowl, recording nine tackles (all solo) and two sacks as he disrupted Georgia Tech's triple option attack.
DL J.J. Watt, Wisconsin
Watt led an aggressive Badgers defensive front with a sack, two tackles for loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a fumble recovery against Miami.
DL O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
Schofield was disruptive all season and showed it in the bowl game, recording two sacks and forcing a fumble that led to a crucial field goal in the fourth quarter.
DL Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State
The Buckeyes defensive front made life miserable for Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and Gibson stepped up with two tackles for loss in what proved to be his final collegiate game.
LB Navorro Bowman, Penn State
Bowman had a game-high nine tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and forced LSU into a critical penalty in the final minute as the Lions preserved a Capital One Bowl win.
LB Ross Homan, Ohio State
Homan ended the season as one of the Big Ten's top linebackers and turned in a terrific performance in Pasadena with 12 tackles and an interception that set up a field goal just before halftime.
LB Pat Angerer, Iowa
The triple option will test a middle linebacker, but Angerer stepped up for Iowa with a game-high 10 tackles, including one for loss, against Georgia Tech.
DB Kyle Theret, Minnesota
Theret was the Gophers' MVP in the Insight Bowl, recording seven tackles (all solo), two interceptions, a tackle for loss and a 40-yard reception on a fake punt that set up the team's first touchdown.
DB Ross Weaver, Michigan State
The Spartans' secondary struggled against Texas Tech, but Weaver recorded a team-high seven solo tackles and had a forced fumble and an interception that led to 10 Michigan State points in the second half.
DB Kim Royston, Minnesota
Royston recorded a career-high 15 tackles, tying the Insight Bowl record, including 14 solo stops against Iowa State. He also forced a fumble that turned into a Minnesota field goal.
DB Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
McManis made plays throughout his career and finished it in typical fashion with an interception and a fumble recovery, both occurring in Northwestern's end of the field.
K Collin Wagner, Penn State
The horrible field conditions didn't bother Wagner, who went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts and drilled the game winner with 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
P Blake Haudan, Minnesota
Haudan averaged 49.6 yards on five punts and completed a 40-yard pass to Theret on a well-timed fake in the third quarter.
Returner Keshawn Martin, Michigan State
Martin blossomed as the Big Ten's most dangerous kick return man this fall and averaged 24.8 yards per runback with a long of 36 against Texas Tech.
Honorable mention -- WISCONSIN: QB Scott Tolzien, RB Montee Ball, P Brad Nortman, LB Chris Borland, TE Garrett Graham, starting offensive line. MINNESOTA: WR Da'Jon McKnight, LB Lee Campbell. NORTHWESTERN: QB Mike Kafka, WR Zeke Markshausen, WR Sidney Stewart, CB Jordan Mabin, LB Quentin Davie. PENN STATE: QB Daryll Clark, RB Stephfon Green, TE Andrew Quarless, LB Sean Lee, DT Jared Odrick, CB A.J. Wallace, starting offensive line. OHIO STATE: DE Cameron Heyward, DT Doug Worthington, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, K Devin Barclay, K Aaron Pettrey, P Jon Thoma, starting offensive line. MICHIGAN STATE: RB Edwin Baker, WR Blair White, P Aaron Bates, LB Greg Jones, starting offensive line. IOWA: QB Ricky Stanzi, TE Tony Moeaki, P Ryan Donahue, DT Karl Klug, LB A.J. Edds, DE Broderick Binns, starting offensive line.
Buckeye fans can breathe easy tonight as both Heyward and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa announced they will return to Ohio State for their senior seasons. It means a defense that shut down Oregon's high-powered offense in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi will return most of its core players for a possible national title run in 2010.
Heyward's return is huge for Ohio State, as he'll anchor the defensive front next fall. As left tackle Jim Cordle told me last week, Heyward could be a top 5 pick in the 2011 draft.
“I learned a lot from seniors like Doug [Worthington] and Kurt [Coleman] and all they were able to accomplish during their senior year," Heyward said in a statement issued through Ohio State. "I would love to be a part of Buckeye tradition like that. I think the upside is very positive. I want to help our team achieve the goals of winning another Big Ten title and possibly accomplishing a national championship. If I could win some recognition, that would be great as well. I think I can be a leader for our team, and I know another season will help me become a better player."
Heyward said last week in California that he expected to return in 2010. He'll be an All-America candidate and a contender for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Chekwa, who recorded an interception and eight passes defended this fall, said he wasn't ready to leave Ohio State.
"I will graduate next fall, and I am looking forward to being a leader on what can be a very special defense for the Buckeyes," Chekwa said in a statement. "After the Rose Bowl win, we are working toward accomplishing more great things, including another Big Ten title and a run at the national championship."
Barring a surprise from safety Jermale Hines or another player, Gibson looks like Ohio State's only early entry into the draft. Coming off of a Rose Bowl championship, that's a very good thing.
A 43-8 record. Four Big Ten championships (three outright, one shared). Four wins against archrival Michigan. Four trips to BCS bowl games, including two national title games.
But without a bowl victory, Ohio State's seniors had an incomplete legacy.
Ohio State's 19 seniors went out as winners following Friday's 26-17 win against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi. They helped to end the Buckeyes' three-game losing streak in BCS bowls and the Big Ten's six-game losing streak at the Rose.
The Buckeyes' seniors end their careers with 44 wins, one more than the previous high for a class set by three groups (1995-98, 2002-05, 2005-08).
"It makes up for a lot of misfortune and shortcomings," tight end Jake Ballard said.
"We needed to come out and win for these seniors," sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor said.
Ballard made the biggest catch of his career in his final game, a leaping 24-yarder on third-and-13 that set up Ohio State's decisive touchdown.
The Buckeyes also received contributions from seniors like kicker Aaron Pettrey (45-yard field goal), defensive tackle Doug Worthington (tackle for loss, tipped pass that led to interception), punter Jon Thoma (43.7-yard average), left tackle Jim Cordle and safeties Anderson Russell (six tackles) and Kurt Coleman (four tackles).
"Every loss that we've had at the end of every bowl has been a learning experience," said Coleman, who turned down the NFL draft after his junior season in large part to win a bowl game. "Last year [against Texas], we were so close to winning, and that was one of our biggest motivation factors going into the offseason.
"We put in the hard work, and it paid off."
They're fully aware their program is best known for its Nike connection, its superior facilities, its ever-changing uniforms and its dynamic offense. When it comes to comparing team tradition with Rose Bowl opponent Ohio State, the Ducks plead no contest.
"One of the jokes our O-line's always had is our tradition is no tradition," Ducks left tackle Bo Thran said. "We're always changing things up, new uniforms. I don't know really what that means. It doesn't mean we're less of a program.
"We want to make our own [tradition]. Coach [Chip] Kelly's preached that the season is the 2009-2010 chapter, and we're writing it."
And where would a Rose Bowl victory fit into Oregon's story?
"It's huge," Thran said. "It's how you tie up the whole chapter."
Ohio State finds itself in a totally different position when it comes to tradition.
The Buckeyes own 34 Big Ten titles (outright or shared) and 13 national championships. Though they haven't been to the Rose Bowl since 1997, they've won in Pasadena six times. While Oregon players talked uniform combos Tuesday, Ohio State defensive tackle Doug Worthington name-dropped team legends when asked about the Buckeye tradition.
Worthington also respects where Oregon players are coming from.
"Everybody has to start their tradition," Worthington said. "[At Ohio State] there was [Howard] Hopalong Cassady, Archie Griffin, Eddie George laid this foundation. Who's to say that [Jeremiah] Masoli and [LaMichael] James and [LeGarrette] Blount are not going to be the guys who make Oregon's program skyrocket? Those guys want to be the first to etch [their names] in stone. Those guys are writing their tradition right now.
"Their tradition is in the making."
Players on both sides grasp the differences in tradition, which shows up during the recruiting process.
"We do attract a lot of young recruits by seeing our facilities," Masoli said. "We're just showing them the truth, where we train and the jerseys we wear. That's why we get a lot of recruits. Ohio State gets their recruits because their kids like the tradition and what kind of school they have."
At Ohio State, football tradition has been molded for decades. And after three consecutive BCS bowl losses, these Buckeyes know they need to restore it Friday.
So while Ohio State players admire Oregon's wardrobe, the fun atmosphere that surrounds the Ducks program and the tremendous athletes Oregon has, they're serious about the task at hand.
"We're young adults," Worthington said. "We see Oregon and we like their jerseys, we like what they do over there and we respect it. But we understand the guys before us are setting this foundation, and what we need to uphold for our fans.
"This is bigger than us. This is The Ohio State University, and we're very proud to wear that Scarlet and Gray."
No offense in college football tests a defense's conditioning level quite like the Ducks, who operate in a no-huddle, spread attack that stresses speed both before and after the ball is snapped. Oregon's pace makes it hard for defenders to communicate the correct play, make substitutions or simply line up in the right place.
Ohio State's operating system on defense will be put to the ultimate test Friday in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).
"[Ohio State is] going to shuttle in and out a lot of big guys up front, and we want to make sure those guys have to stay in the game a little longer than they want to."
The Buckeyes have heard the speed argument for years, and some will question their stamina going against a team like Oregon. Players say they're up for the challenge.
"That's what their offense does; it tries to rattle you," Buckeyes safety Kurt Coleman said. "It's about being poised and being conditioned. If you're conditioned, you can think clearly. Being out of condition, I don't see that happening. It's just about getting the right calls in."
Conditioning will be especially important for Ohio State's defensive line, the team's deepest and most disruptive group. Ohio State consistently clogs lanes and generates pocket pressure with players like Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson.
While Oregon could neutralize the Buckeyes' pass rush a bit, the down lineman are ready to run all afternoon Friday, after doing so throughout practice the past few weeks.
"We're out there running, making sure we get to the ball on every play," defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "We can see exactly what all that running, the run for the roses as we call it, how that stands out and what it's for. I can feel it now. I feel my wind better than it's ever been.
"It's going to be a great testament to the strength coaches and all the things they've put in place to help us get better."
Oregon players and coaches will watch opposing defenders to see who shows signs of fatigue. Then the Ducks gear plays toward the weary.
"At the end of the day, I know when that ball snaps, as long as [Ohio State defenders are] 100 percent, that's all that matters," Worthington said. "Put your hands on your knees right before they snap it, and then put your hand on the ground and go out and compete and do what you have to do.
"Guys are ready, and the conditioning aspect is going to be huge."
How the game was won: Ohio State's defense clamped down in overtime, pushing Iowa out of field goal range with a Doug Worthington sack and a tackle for loss. The offense didn't need to do much and really didn't, but backup kicker Devin Barclay drilled a 39-yard field goal to win it.
What it means: Ohio State will almost certainly be going to the Rose Bowl for the first time since 1997. The Buckeyes also clinched at least a share of their fifth consecutive Big Ten championship. Iowa might have played its way into a BCS at-large berth with an impressive performance under very tough circumstances.
Player of the game: Ohio State junior running back Brandon Saine stepped up big with his second 100-yard rushing performance of the season. Saine's 49-yard scoring burst gave the Buckeyes a 14-point, fourth-quarter cushion.
Second guessing: Both head coaches played it extremely conservative in the closing minutes, and it cost Iowa's Kirk Ferentz. Iowa had possession at its own 33-yard line with 52 seconds left in regulation and one timeout. Quarterback James Vandenberg had thrown the ball well, but Iowa didn't attempt one pass and ran out the clock. Ferentz played not to lose, and he lost.
What Iowa learned: Its backup quarterback is pretty darn good. Vandenberg made only one major mistake in his first career start and showed tremendous poise. He didn't get a ton of help from the wide receivers until the second half. Iowa also learned that when you have a chance to win on the road, you have to play it bold.
What Ohio State learned: When the game is on the line, the defense will step up. The Silver Bullets did just that in overtime and allowed the offense to play conservatively. The Buckeyes also learned that the offensive line can have a dominant performance and Saine and Dan Herron aren't too shabby.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
By any objective measure, Ohio Stadium remains one of college football's least hospitable venues for visiting teams.
Ohio State is 39-4 on its home field since 2003, the fourth best winning percentage in the country and easily the best in the Big Ten. Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel owns a 24-1 record against nonconference games at home. More than 105,000 fans routinely flock to the banks of the Olentangy River, providing Ohio State one of the best home-field advantages in all of college sports.
|Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE|
| Jim Tressel's Buckeyes need to figure out their big game woes before USC comes to town.
But as No. 3 USC prepares to visit Columbus on Saturday night (ESPN, 8 p.m.), The Shoe could use a little polish. So could Ohio State's performance in big nonconference games.
Ohio State has stumbled at home in three of the last four years, and three of its four home losses since 2003 have come against top 15 opponents (Wisconsin, Texas, Penn State). Beginning with the 2006 BCS title game, Ohio State has dropped five consecutive games against top 5 teams, including three by 14 points or more.
"We talked about it to a certain extent," senior defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "We lost a couple big bowl games and the game against [USC] last year, so it’s in our minds about these huge games.
"But it's a new year."
A new year has been the rallying cry for both Ohio State and the Big Ten, which needs to repair a damaged national reputation. Since Penn State might not play a ranked team until November, Ohio State's performance against USC will shape Big Ten perception for much of the fall.
While pundits belabor the Buckeyes' big-game struggles, head coach Jim Tressel isn't planning to bring up the subject this week because, quite frankly, most of his players can't relate.
"We’ve got so many guys who haven’t played in those games," Tressel said. "That’s not a vantage point that resonates with them. We focus primarily on, ‘Here’s who we are and here’s the things that we have to do within the confines of our offense and defense and special teams and so forth. If we can do those successfully, we’ll have a chance to be victorious.'
"Sometimes, if you start talking about history, those that can’t feel it, I’m not sure you’re gaining much with that.”
The Big Ten's recent history against USC can be felt from State College to Champaign. And it doesn't feel good.
USC owns a nine-game win streak against the Big Ten, stretching back to 1996. Eight of those losses have come by 14 points or more, including each of the last seven.
The good news for Ohio State is the league's last eight losses to USC took place on the road or at neutral sites. USC hasn't won on Big Ten soil since crushing Illinois 55-3 in 1996. Then again, the Trojans aren't afraid of the road.
Could 105,000 plus decked out in scarlet change USC's road fortunes?
"The fans are going to be there; they’re going to be loud and [they'll] be behind us," Ohio State running back Dan Herron said. "But this game is going to be extremely crazy. People want to see us beat USC and we’re going to do all we can.”
Tressel expects an electric atmosphere Saturday night, but he knows Ohio State's 12th man can only be a factor if the 11 on the field are doing their jobs.
"If we start counting on the crowd to make a difference for us, we’re looking at the wrong things," he said. "What’s going to be most important is how well we block and tackle and throw and catch and defend. But there’s something special about playing at home. There’s something special about playing on the national stage. Every one of us is excited to do that."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There are some positions on the depth chart that make Big Ten coaches cringe. There are other spots that make them smile and nod their heads.
Let's take a look at several fully loaded positions in the Big Ten.
Ohio State's defensive line: There is talk the Buckeyes' front four could be the best since the 2002 national championship squad. Ohio State is stacked at defensive end with All-Big Ten candidate Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward and Lawrence Wilson, who can be effective if healthy. Tackle Doug Worthington brings a ton of experience to the interior line, and Dexter Larimore and Todd Denlinger add depth there.
Iowa's offensive line: This group is well on its way to restoring the tradition established during the early part of coach Kirk Ferentz's tenure. Iowa boasts the league's top tackles tandem in Bryan Bulaga and Kyle Calloway, and there are a host of experienced interior linemen. Julian Vandervelde developed nicely in 2008, and Andy Kuempel, Rafael Eubanks and Dan Doering all are solid options at guard. The emergence of oft-injured Dace Richardson this spring adds another body to the mix. Aside from the center spot, Iowa looks extremely solid up front.
Michigan State's secondary: Despite losing All-Big Ten safety Otis Wiley, Michigan State should be even stronger in the back half. Three starters return in the secondary, including corners Chris L. Rucker and Ross Weaver. Michigan State boasts depth with corners Jeremy Ware and Johnny Adams and safeties Kendell Davis-Clark and Marcus Hyde. And the breakout performance of the spring came from another safety, Trenton Robinson, who certainly will see playing time this season.
Penn State's linebackers: Linebacker U. is back in 2009. Penn State boasts one of the nation's top linebacker tandems in Sean Lee and Navorro Bowman, both of whom will contend for All-America honors. And it doesn't stop there, as sophomore Michael Mauti is poised for a big year on the outside. Penn State also boasts veteran depth with Josh Hull, Chris Colasanti and Bani Gbadyu.
Illinois' wide receivers: Juice Williams will have no shortage of options in the passing game this fall. All-America candidate Arrelious Benn leads the Big Ten's deepest receiving corps, which features Jeff Cumberland, Chris Duvalt, A.J. Jenkins, Cordale Scott and Jack Ramsey. Florida transfer Jarred Fayson worked his way into a starting spot this spring and will draw opposing defenders away from Benn.
Michigan's running backs: Whoever wins the starting quarterback job in Ann Arbor will have plenty of help in the backfield. Hopes are extremely high for senior Brandon Minor, who finished strong last season despite battling several injuries, including one to his right (ball-carrying) wrist. Backing up Minor will be Carlos Brown and Michael Shaw, both of whom will be more accustomed to Rich Rodriguez's offense. Bite-size back Vincent Smith emerged this spring to provide another option with breakaway speed.
Northwestern's secondary: One of the league's weakest units a few years ago has transformed into a major strength for the Wildcats. All four starters return from 2008, and safety Brad Phillips and cornerback Sherrick McManis are strong candidates for All-Big Ten honors. Safety Brendan Smith and cornerback Jordan Mabin both are natural playmakers, and Northwestern boasts depth in players like Brian Peters, Justan Vaughn and David Arnold.
Wisconsin's H-backs/tight ends: Travis Beckum's star-crossed senior season opened opportunities for other players in 2008, and the result is a multitude of options at tight end for 2009. Mackey Award candidate Garrett Graham leads the way at the H-back spot, and senior Mickey Turner and junior Lance Kendricks provide reliable options in the passing game.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
- Michigan solidified its safety spot for the future with 2010 commit Marvin Robinson, Josh Helmholdt writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Ohio State starting defensive tackle Doug Worthington has been fined for a DUI last July. Buckeyes offensive lineman Jim Cordle fills in wherever he's needed, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- The crew from Dallas' Skyline High School looks to boost Minnesota's fortunes this fall, Marcus Fuller writes in the Pioneer Press.
- Former Iowa defensive tackle Mitch King is waiting for the call on draft day, Andy Hamilton writes in the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
- With questions looming, Purdue's linebackers stepped up this spring, Mike Carmin writes in The Journal and Courier.
- After some academic speed bumps, Jack Ramsey adds another capable target to Illinois' receiving corps, GateHouse News Service's John Supinie writes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Lots of tasty links today. Recruiting season must be upon us.
- Michigan addressed several position needs in its 2009 class, which could be bolstered by a second quarterback (Denard Robinson), Josh Helmholdt writes in the Detroit Free Press.
- Quarterback depth has become a concern for Ohio State after Tajh Boyd chose Clemson over the Buckeyes, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Prep quarterbacks from Illinois don't usually pan out for Wisconsin, but the Badgers hope Jon Budmayr will be different, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times.
"Over a span of 12 recruiting classes from 1995-2006, nine quarterbacks from the state of Illinois pledged their allegiance to UW. The only one who developed into a star was [Owen] Daniels -- and it was only after he moved to tight end."
- A touching piece by The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette's Marc Morehouse about Ted "Rock" Knapp, a die-hard Iowa fan stricken with terminal cancer who hopes his son, Nile Kinnick (yes, you read it right), gets recruited by the Hawkeyes.
"It's just a matter of whether they [Iowa coaches] think he's got the ability and whether they think he'll fit their system," Ted Knapp said. "I certainly hope so. He loves the Hawkeyes. There are very few kids in America, I think, who want to play more for the Hawkeyes than Nile does."
- Ohio State defensive tackle Doug Worthington pleaded guilty to DUI and likely will pay a fine and attend an alcohol intervention class, Bruce Cadwallader and Ken Gordon write in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Illinois quarterback Juice Williams expects a pass-heavy approach with new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz, GateHouse news service's John Supinie writes.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Ohio State survived the dreaded second quarter without major damage, but the Buckeyes should be ahead by more than three points.
Jim Tressel's team has executed its game plan against a favored Texas squad boasting the nation's fourth-highest scoring offense (43.9 points per game). Ohio State has dominated possession time (17:19 vs. 12:14), established a run game with Chris "Beanie" Wells (96 rushing yards) and Terrelle Pryor (42 rushing yards) and put consistent pressure on Colt McCoy.
But will it be enough?
Despite a heroic performance by the defense, Ohio State managed only two field goals. Five penalties and lack of execution -- dropped passes, Pryor running out of bounds too soon -- have prevented the Buckeyes from reaching the end zone. An offense that at times relied solely on big plays can't seem to hit the home run against Texas. Ohio State has run 22 plays in Longhorns territory and scored only six points. Not good enough.
But Pryor has been able to find room around the edges, and Ohio State should emphasize outside runs in the second half.
Texas simply needs to run the ball. The Longhorns finished the first half with minus-9 rushing yards and only 10 net yards by running backs Chris Ogbonnaya and Cody Johnson. McCoy has been efficient (20 of 27 passing) but threw an interception near the goal line with three seconds left, preventing a game-tying field-goal attempt.
Both defensive lines are getting pressure, but Ohio State's front has been more impressive. Thad Gibson and Doug Worthington both have sacks, and McCoy is constantly under duress. But Quad Cosby and the Texas wideouts are making plays, and it's only a matter of time before the Longhorns find the end zone.On the health front, Ohio State lost special teams standout Shaun Lane to an apparent shoulder injury on kickoff coverage with 5:34 left. There's no update on Lane yet, but it's safe to say he won't be back tonight after being carted off.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Should get a Chris "Beanie" Wells update from Ohio State coach Jim Tressel in a little bit, so check back later.
- The Indianapolis Star's Bob Kravitz is unimpressed with the Big Ten.
- Illinois coach Ron Zook has been tough on his team after an unimpressive first three games, John Supinie writes.
- Indiana's defense is more than just Greg Middleton, but the improved unit faces a huge test in Ball State, Tim Ethridge writes in the Evansville Courier & Press. Coach Bill Lynch notes that the Hoosiers' gaudy rushing numbers are a bit misleading, LaMond Pope writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette.
- Iowa's depth on defense has fueled a strong start, Marc Morehouse writes in The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. University officials expressed concerns about the response to allegations of sexual assault against two former football players, the Iowa City Press-Citizen reports. The Board of Regents reveal their findings of an investigation into the response later today.
- Former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson tries to salvage his NFL career with the Lions, Jeff Arnold writes in The Ann Arbor News. At least one Wolverines player is having a solid season -- punter Zoltan Mesko.
- Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer doesn't mind being overshadowed by Javon Ringer and the run game, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press. The Spartans defense has got to like Notre Dame's poor third-down conversion percentage, Michael Rothstein writes in The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. The Spartans haven't forgotten the disaster that happened the last time Notre Dame came to town, Eric Lacy writes in The Detroit News.
- Minnesota tries to become the first team to sack Florida Atlantic's Rusty Smith, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune. Gophers linebacker Sam Maresh updated the media on his progress after undergoing heart surgery this summer. The Gophers running back competition remains open, the Pioneer Press' Marcus Fuller writes in his blog.
- Northwestern's depth has increased competition and shuffled the depth chart early on, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune. Special teams tilt in Northwestern's favor against winless Ohio, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.
- Ohio State defensive coordinator Jim Heacock took the heat Wednesday after his defense provided none against USC, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. Defensive tackle Doug Worthington tries to atone after his DUI arrest this summer, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski could be the best Wisniewski ever to play at Penn State, Ron Musselman writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Joe Paterno could be waiting for Penn State's Office of Judicial Affairs to discipline Maurice Evans and Abe Koroma before leveling his own penalty, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McLane writes in his blog. Paterno is hobbled by a sore right leg, Cory Giger writes in The Altoona Mirror.
- Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter is quiet and collected despite the ups and downs, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
- Allowing key players time to heal tops Wisconsin's bye week to-do list, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Offensive coordinator Paul Chryst wants more from his unit when Big Ten play begins, Tom Mulhern writes in the Wisconsin State Journal.
TOP 25 SCOREBOARD
2:00 PM ET Washington State Colorado State 3:30 PM ET 20 Fresno State 25 USC 5:30 PM ET Buffalo San Diego State 9:00 PM ET Tulane Louisiana-Lafayette
6:00 PM ET Pittsburgh Bowling Green 9:30 PM ET Utah State 23 Northern Illinois
2:30 PM ET Marshall Maryland 6:00 PM ET Syracuse Minnesota 9:30 PM ET Brigham Young Washington
12:00 PM ET Rutgers Notre Dame 3:20 PM ET Cincinnati North Carolina 6:45 PM ET Miami (FL) 18 Louisville 10:15 PM ET Michigan Kansas State
11:45 AM ET Middle Tennessee Navy 3:15 PM ET Ole Miss Georgia Tech 6:45 PM ET 10 Oregon Texas 10:15 PM ET 14 Arizona State Texas Tech
12:30 PM ET Arizona Boston College 2:00 PM ET Virginia Tech 17 UCLA 4:00 PM ET Rice Mississippi State 8:00 PM ET 24 Duke 21 Texas A&M
12:00 PM ET Nebraska 22 Georgia 12:00 PM ET UNLV North Texas 1:00 PM ET Iowa 16 LSU 1:00 PM ET 19 Wisconsin 9 South Carolina 5:00 PM ET 5 Stanford 4 Michigan State 8:30 PM ET 15 UCF 6 Baylor
7:30 PM ET 13 Oklahoma State 8 Missouri 8:30 PM ET 12 Clemson 7 Ohio State