NCF Nation: Jack Tatum

Grab a pencil and a notepad. There will be a short test.

Five questions. Open answer. And no cheating. Ready? OK, who is the best linebacker in college football history? How about defensive tackle? Defensive end? Cornerback? Safety?

Time’s up. (I told you it was short.) Take a look at your list, and chances are the Big Ten boasts the most selections. Realistically, it’s the only conference that can stake a claim at each position. No other conference can say the same -- especially without repeating teams.

Don't believe me? Let’s take a look through the answer key of the NCAA's best ever, and in honor of The Season -- which looked at the greatest individual season from a player at every FBS school -- we will take a look at the top season by a player at each position:

  • Linebacker: Dick Butkus, Illinois, 1964: Did you really rate another linebacker over Butkus? Because that will cost you a few points. Butkus has become the standard by which to judge all other linebacking greats, and it’s not even close. He finished third in the Heisman voting in 1964, but the AFCA still named him the player of the year. He was one of the most-feared tacklers in the game and carried that reputation over to the NFL. There were other great college 'backers -- Alabama’s Derrick Thomas, Texas’ Tommy Nobis, Penn’s Chuck Bednarik -- but none greater than the man who said his time at Illinois was “eat, sleep and drink football.”
  • [+] EnlargeBronko Nagurski
    AP PhotoFormer Minnesota Golden Gophers great Bronislaw "Bronko" Nagurski.
  • Defensive tackle: Bronko Nagurski, Minnesota, 1929: If you went with someone else -- Nebraska’s Rich Glover? Oklahoma’s Lee Roy Selmon? Penn State’s Mike Reid? -- there is obviously a chance the team is in the Big Ten now. Regardless, there are definitely a lot of good defensive tackles to pick here. But can you really pick against the guy whose trophy now goes to the best defensive player in the NCAA? Is there really anyone tougher? One unsubstantiated legend explains how Minnesota’s head coach stopped near a field to ask a man for directions, when the man -- Nagurski -- lifted up his iron plow with one hand to point. Then there was Nagurski's reaction when he leveled several players and smashed into a brick wall: "That last guy hit me awful hard." Nagurski is a college legend; he led the nation in rushing in 1929 as a fullback. But the lore of his toughness on defense still carries on.
  • Defensive end: Bubba Smith, Michigan State, 1966: You know you’re good when the popular fan chant is, "Kill, Bubba, Kill!" Smith belongs in the top two here, for sure, but you couldn’t be at all blamed for choosing Pitt’s Hugh Green. Smith’s numbers weren’t nearly as impressive as Green’s 53 career sacks, but it is possible nobody affected the flow of a game more than Smith. Teams constantly double- or triple-teamed him, or simply avoided his side altogether when it came to calling run plays. That kind of respect meant the Spartans allowed just 51.4 rushing yards a game when Smith was a senior. He helped them finish undefeated (9-0-1) that season and win part of the national title. He was taken No. 1 overall in the NFL draft a few months later.
  • Cornerback: Charles Woodson, Michigan, 1997: You want to go with Florida State’s Deion Sanders just to be contrary, don’t you? Well, that is not a bad pick. But it’s also hard to go against the only defensive player to win the Heisman -- especially considering he cruised past runner-up Peyton Manning in the vote. He gets definite bonus points for that. Woodson had eight interceptions that season and even grabbed one from Washington State’s Ryan Leaf in the Rose Bowl. Michigan went 12-0 and split the national title with Nebraska that season. There was no more versatile athlete in college football in 1997, and there wasn’t a more dangerous defensive back, either.
  • Safety: Jack Tatum, Ohio State, 1970: Move over, Ronnie Lott. Not only does Tatum belong in the conversation as one of college football’s greatest defensive backs, but he also should get some extra credit for his hard hits and "Assassin" nickname. He finished seventh in the 1970 Heisman voting, and his reputation for vicious hits once caused a writer to liken his bearing down on receivers to "the way a tractor-trailer might bear down on a squirrel on a rural highway." He was named the national defensive player of the year in 1970, and Jim Tressel, when he was the coach, even later termed the Buckeyes' hit of the week the "Jack Tatum Hit of the Week." His College Football Hall of Fame bio also reads "best remembered as one of the hardest hitters in all of football history." You can’t get much more official than that.

The Big Ten hasn’t dominated every decade with the top defensive players. But it does have a richer history and deeper tradition on its side, one that started more than a century ago when Michigan’s Adolph Schulz dropped back from the defensive line and gave birth to the idea of a "roving center," or linebacker. It has continued with countless Hall of Fame nominations, a conference-high four No. 1 overall defensive NFL draft picks and some of the best defensive names to ever play the game.

This isn’t just one man’s opinion. More than half of the starting defense on Sports Illustrated’s All-Century Team -- six of 11 players -- consisted of Big Ten athletes and no, that’s not including Nebraska's Glover. The Walter Camp Foundation’s All-Century Team also featured a Big Ten player at every defensive position. Even ABC’s list of the "25 Greatest Players in College Football" had more defensive players from the Big Ten than any other conference.

When it comes to quantity, maybe other conferences have the Big Ten beat on defense. But when it comes to quality and history? The Big Ten is still tops.

Big Ten predictions: Week 3

September, 16, 2010
9/16/10
9:09
AM ET
South Dakota ended my quest for perfection (or was it Minnesota?). Either way, I'll try to start a new streak this week.

Michigan 43, Massachusetts 14: Denard Robinson does his thing for two and a half quarters before the real drama begins. Does Devin Gardner get the first call after Shoelace, or will it be Tate Forcier? Both reserve quarterbacks end up playing well as Michigan improves to 3-0.

Ohio State 41, Ohio 6: The Buckeyes receive an efficient performance from Terrelle Pryor, and receiver DeVier Posey beats his big brother Julian for two touchdowns. No special teams meltdowns this week, and the defense keeps the Bobcats out of the end zone.

Penn State 35, Kent State 10: After two quiet weeks, Evan Royster arrives in a big way against Kent State. The senior running back goes for 140 yards and three touchdowns against a good run defense, and quarterback Rob Bolden bounces back nicely from the Alabama loss.

Illinois 26, Northern Illinois 14: I'm buying into Illinois' defensive improvement under Vic Koenning, and the Illini receive another solid performance from Ian Thomas, Tavon Wilson and crew. Northern Illinois seems to be struggling to put it all together, and the Illini need this game more.

Purdue 34, Ball State 17: Receivers Justin Siller and Antavian Edison emerge as Purdue begins life without star wideout Keith Smith. The Boilers start slowly for the second consecutive week but get it going in the second quarter, as Dan Dierking eclipses 100 rushing yards for the second consecutive week.

USC 35, Minnesota 23: I've got a strange feeling about this one. Minnesota isn't as bad as it looked against South Dakota, and USC seems to be just skating by on its talent right now. I can't pick the Gophers to win, not with their issues on defense, but they'll come out energized after the Dakota Debacle. Minnesota takes an early lead, but Matt Barkley and his receivers prove to be too much in the second half.

Wisconsin 30, Arizona State 20: This is my Pick of the Week. Check the blog later as I'll have a video explaining my prediction in greater detail.

Indiana 45, Western Kentucky 21: The Hoosiers' offense shows no rust from the 16-day layoff, as Ben Chappell, Darius Willis and Tandon Doss all have big days against a woeful Western Kentucky defense. Indiana's defense struggles against Bobby Rainey, raising some concerns as Big Ten play beckons.

Northwestern 27, Rice 21: Another tricky road game for Pat Fitzgerald's crew against a Rice team that did some good things against Texas in the opener. The Owls jump ahead early and former Michigan running back Sam McGuffie reaches the end zone, but the Wildcats control play in the second half behind quarterback Dan Persa and receiver Jeremy Ebert.

Michigan State 33, Notre Dame 31: A very tough call here. Expect an entertaining shootout in East Lansing, as both offenses find their groove. I'm not sold on the Spartans' defense, and Notre Dame takes advantage as Michael Floyd has a big night. But Michigan State's balanced attack also steps up as Kirk Cousins rallies the team in the fourth quarter and Dan Conroy kicks a 42-yard field goal as time expires.

Iowa 26, Arizona 21: Arizona feeds off an electric atmosphere and jumps ahead behind Nic Grigsby, but Iowa duplicates what it did all last year and rallies on the road behind quarterback Ricky Stanzi. The senior signal caller overcomes an early interception and leads the game-winning touchdown drive, hitting Derrell Johnson-Koulianos for the decisive touchdown.

Last week: 9-1

Season record: 20-1 (.952)

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

There's enough hero worship in college football these days. Let's talk about the villains.

Which player, coach or opponent haunts your favorite Big Ten team like none other? Some Penn State fans might still have Richard Nixon dartboards in their homes. Jim Tressel has become a modern-day villain for Michigan fans, but who holds the all-time title?

Here are my picks for Big Ten villains, current and all-time. But as always, I want to hear from you as well. Send me your top villains, current and all-time, and I'll have a post Tuesday with the responses.

ILLINOIS FIGHTING ILLINI

Current villain: Iowa. Until last year, the Hawkeyes had won five straight against the Illini, and even though Iowa is off the schedule until 2011, Illinois star wideout Arrelious Benn still hates the black and gold.

All-time villain: Missouri. The rivalry might be bigger in hoops, but Missouri accounted for Illinois' only regular-season loss in 1983. Illinois began its 2007 Rose Bowl run with a loss to Mizzou and has dropped 10 of the last 13 meetings.

INDIANA HOOSIERS

Current villain: Purdue. The hate for the Boilers always runs deep, and Indiana still seethes from the 62-10 loss at Ross-Ade Stadium that ended the 2008 season and the coaching career of Purdue's Joe Tiller, who went 10-2 against IU.

All-time villain: Basketball. The sport is king in the state and especially in Bloomington, thanks to Bob Knight. Football always will play second fiddle to hoops, which makes things tough to compete in the Big Ten.

IOWA HAWKEYES

Current villain: Bret Bielema. The former Iowa defensive lineman now coaches at rival Wisconsin, despite still having a Hawkeye logo tattooed on his leg. Bielema has won two of his first three games against his alma mater.

All-time villain: Eric Ball. The UCLA freshman rushed for 227 yards and four touchdowns against Iowa in the 1986 Rose Bowl, leading the Bruins to a 45-28 victory and preventing Iowa from a No. 2 finish behind Oklahoma.

MICHIGAN WOLVERINES

Current villain: Jim Tressel. The Vest has dominated Michigan since his arrival as Ohio State coach, going 7-1 and claiming the last five games.

All-time villain: Woody Hayes. The legendary Ohio State coach stoked the rivalry against "That school up North" whenever he could and dominated the series with Michigan in the 1960s, going 7-3.

MICHIGAN STATE SPARTANS

Current villain: Mike Hart. Hart no longer plays for Michigan, but his "little brother" reference after the Wolverines' 2007 win at Michigan State still angers Spartans fans, who point to head coach Mark Dantonio's comeback: "Pride comes before the fall."

All-time villain: Ara Parseghian. The Notre Dame coach went for the tie in the 1966 "Game of the Century," and the Fighting Irish finished ahead of Michigan State in the final polls (the schools shared the national title).

MINNESOTA GOLDEN GOPHERS

Current villain: The Little Brown Jug. Minnesota should implode this thing after losing 39 of its last 42 games against Michigan.

All-time villain: The Metrodome. A former national powerhouse, Minnesota became largely irrelevant after moving inside the dome in 1982. The Gophers won more than eight games just once in 27 years indoors, endured 15 losing seasons, never beat Michigan at the dome and ended things with a 55-0 loss to archrival Iowa.

NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

Current villain: Ohio State. Northwestern has beaten the Buckeyes just once since 1971 and dropped its last four meetings by a combined score of 205-34. Ouch.

All-time villain: The streak. Northwestern's NCAA-record 34-game losing streak still haunts the program as it strives for national respect.

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Current villain: The SEC. Whether it's Urban Meyer, Les Miles or Albert E. Gator, the Buckeyes can't stand anyone or anything associated with the SEC, which handed Ohio State losses in consecutive national title games.

All-time villain: Bo Schembechler. Buckeyes fans have no love lost for Bo, who worked for Hayes at Ohio State and earned his Master's degree in Columbus before coaching archrival Michigan. Schembechler's Wolverines upset Ohio State in 1969, and he held a 5-4-1 edge in the Ten-Year War.

PENN STATE NITTANY LIONS

Current villain: Terrelle Pryor. The nation's No. 1 recruit spurned his home-state school for Ohio State and didn't make many friends in State College by calling it "too country" for him. Penn State won Round 1 against Pryor last year and will face him at least two more times.

All-time villain: Richard Nixon. The president declared Texas the national champion in 1969 before the poll voters had cast their final ballots, depriving an undefeated Penn State team of the crown.

PURDUE BOILERMAKERS

Current villain: The Top 25. Purdue simply can't get over the hump against ranked opponents, failing to beat a Top 25 team since Nov. 8, 2003. Longtime coach Joe Tiller went just 12-38 against ranked teams.

All-time villains: Ted Provost and Jack Tatum. The Ohio State defensive backs starred in a win against No. 1 Purdue in 1968, and the Buckeyes went on to the national title while Purdue didn't make a bowl game with one of its best teams ever.

WISCONSIN BADGERS

Current villain: Michigan. Despite Wisconsin's renaissance since 1990, the Badgers have struggled against the Maize and Blue, dropping 31 of their last 36 meetings. Michigan handed Wisconsin its only loss in 2006 and started the Badgers' four-game losing streak last season with an upset in Ann Arbor.

All-time villain: John Coatta and Don Morton. The former Badgers coaches share the tag after combining to go 9-53-1 as Wisconsin became largely irrelevant from 1967, Coatta's first year, until program savior Barry Alvarez took over.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Ohio State linebacker James Laurinaitis (33) is part of a senior class that never lost to Michigan, including a 42-7 win Saturday.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State's senior class always will be viewed through two different prisms.

Within Buckeye Nation, they will forever remain conquering heroes, a group that dominated the Big Ten Conference and archrival Michigan like none before. Ohio State won outright Big Ten titles (2006, 2007) or shared the championship (2005, 2008) in all four seasons that they played.

Ever since the fifth-year seniors set foot on campus back in 2004, Ohio State hasn't lost to Michigan. The Buckeyes' 42-7 victory against Michigan on Saturday ensured the seniors their own chapter in team history.

"I don't think we really realize it now," senior linebacker and co-captain James Laurinaitis said, "but as we get older, we'll look back on our career and stuff and realize to be a part of the first team to win five times in a row is something that is very special."

Backup quarterback and co-captain Todd Boeckman will always remember Ohio State's dominance of Michigan.

"When you get five pairs of gold pants, that's something you never forget," said Boeckman, referring to players' reward for beating Michigan.

Seen through the first prism, the Buckeyes shine through in all their Scarlet and Gray glory.

But there's another prism, one that takes a broader view of the Ohio State seniors from outside the Buckeye State.

(Read full post)

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