NCF Nation: James Laurinaitis

Big Ten all-BCS-era team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
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The BCS is dead. RIP. As we memorialize the BCS era throughout ESPN.com today, we're selecting All-BCS teams from each conference. As a reminder, the BCS era lasted from the 1998 season through the recently completed 2013 season. To narrow our selections a bit, players had to play at least two seasons in the BCS era to be eligible. Nebraska players are part of our list even though the Huskers played in the Big 12 until 2011.

Here's our Big Ten All-BCS team.

Coach: Jim Tressel, Ohio State -- Tressel led Ohio State to the 2002 national title, the Big Ten's only championship in the BCS era, as well as seven Big Ten titles (one vacated).

OFFENSE

QB: Drew Brees, Purdue (1997-2000) -- He led Purdue to the 2000 Big Ten championship and finished his career with league records for passing yards (11,792), touchdown passes (90), total offensive yards (12,693), completions (1,026), and attempts (1,678). Brees won the Maxwell Award in 2000.

RB: Ron Dayne, Wisconsin (1996-99) -- The 1999 Heisman Trophy winner set the NCAA's career rushing record with 6,397 yards (not including bowl games). He won all the major national individual awards in 1999 and became the first player to repeat as Rose Bowl MVP.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMontee Ball had 39 TDs for Wisconsin in 2011.
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin (2009-2012) -- The man nicknamed "MoneyBall" tied Barry Sanders' NCAA single-season touchdowns record with 39 in 2011 and set the mark for career touchdowns with 83. He won the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back in 2012.

WR: Braylon Edwards, Michigan (2001-04) -- The Big Ten's most recent Biletnikoff Award winner holds the league record for career touchdown receptions (39) and ranks fourth in career receiving yards (3,541). He's the only Big Ten receiver to record 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons.

WR: Lee Evans, Wisconsin (2000-03) -- Evans twice led the Big Ten in receiving yards, eclipsing 1,500 yards in 2001 before rebounding from an ACL tear to record 1,213 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2003.

TE: Dallas Clark, Iowa (1999-2002) -- Clark earned the John Mackey Award in 2002 after recording 43 receptions for 742 yards as Iowa went undefeated in the Big Ten.

OL: Greg Eslinger, Minnesota (2002-05) -- One of the more decorated Big Ten linemen in the BCS era, Eslinger won the Outland Trophy in 2005. He was a two-time first-team All-America selection and a three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection for one of the nation's top rushing offenses.

OL: Joe Thomas, Wisconsin (2003-06) -- Another Outland Trophy winner (2006), Thomas earned unanimous consensus All-America honors that year. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in each of his final two seasons and was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft.

OL: Dominic Raiola, Nebraska (1998-2000) -- In 1998, Raiola became the first Nebraska freshman offensive lineman to start a game in seven years. He went on to earn the Rimington Trophy as the nation's top center, first-team All-Big 12 honors in his final two seasons and consensus first-team All-America honors in 2000.

OL: Robert Gallery, Iowa (1999-2003) -- Gallery claimed the Outland Trophy in 2003 as well as first-team All-America honors. He twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as the anchor of a nationally elite offensive line.

OL: Jake Long, Michigan (2003-07) -- Although Long didn't win the Outland, he twice earned consensus first-team All-America honors (unanimous selection in 2007) and twice earned Big Ten offensive lineman of the year honors (beating out Thomas in 2006). Long was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 NFL draft.

DEFENSE

DE: LaMarr Woodley, Michigan (2003-06) -- Woodley claimed the Rotary Lombardi Award in 2006 as the nation's top lineman. A first-team All-American that season, he finished his career with 10 forced fumbles, tied for seventh on the Big Ten's career list.

DE: Ryan Kerrigan, Purdue (2007-10) -- Unlike most of the men on this list, Kerrigan never played for any BCS bowl teams at Purdue but still had a remarkable career that ended with unanimous consensus first-team All-America honors in 2010. The Big Ten defensive player of the year tied the NCAA record for forced fumbles (14) and recorded 33.5 sacks and 57 tackles for loss.

DT: Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska (2005-09) -- The most dominant defender in recent years finished fourth in Heisman voting in 2009 (should have been higher) and earned several awards, including the Bednarik, Nagurski and Outland. Suh finished his career with 24 sacks, 57 tackles for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and 41 quarterback hurries.

DT: Devon Still, Penn State (2008-11) -- Penn State produced a string of outstanding defensive tackles including Still, the Big Ten's defensive player of the year in 2011. Still earned consensus first-team All-America honors after recording 17 tackles for loss.

LB: James Laurinaitis, Ohio State (2005-08) -- Laurinaitis won major national awards in each of his final three seasons, including the Nagurski Trophy in 2006. The two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year became just the third Ohio State player to earn consensus All-America honors in three seasons.

LB: Paul Posluszny, Penn State (2003-06) -- Posluszny is one of only two players (Pat Fitzgerald) to twice win the Bednarik Award as the nation's top defender. He became the first Penn State linebacker to twice earn AP All-America honors.

LB: LaVar Arrington, Penn State (1997-99) -- A freakishly athletic linebacker at Linebacker U., Arrington twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and won the Bednarik and Butkus Awards as a junior in 1999. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft.

CB: Jamar Fletcher, Wisconsin (1998-2000) -- Fletcher claimed the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back in 2000, won Big Ten defensive player of the year honors that year and was a three-time first-team all-conference selection. He's tied for fourth in league history with 21 career interceptions and holds the league record for interception return yards (459).

CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (2010-13) -- Dennard also claimed the Thorpe Award as he helped Michigan State to its first outright Big Ten title in 26 years and a Rose Bowl victory against Stanford. The two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection recorded 10 career interceptions and led the "No Fly Zone" Spartans secondary.

S: Tyrone Carter, Minnesota (1996-99) -- The only Big Ten safety to win the Thorpe Award, Carter also twice earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and earned unanimous All-America honors in 1999. He set the FBS record for career tackles by a defensive back with 528.

S: Mike Doss, Ohio State (1999-2002) -- A three-time first-team All-Big Ten selection, Doss earned unanimous consensus All-America honors in 2002 as Ohio State won the national title.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Mike Nugent, Ohio State (2001-04) -- Nugent won the Lou Groza Award as the nation's top kicker in 2004 and claimed consensus All-America honors in both 2002 and 2004. He holds the Big Ten record for consecutive made field goals with 24.

P: Brandon Fields, Michigan State (2003-06) -- His name is on the Big Ten's punter of the year award for a reason. Fields earned consensus All-America honors in 2004, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors three times and twice led the league in punting, tying for third in career average (45 ypp).

Returns: Ted Ginn, Ohio State (2004-06) and Steve Breaston, Michigan (2003-06) -- Ginn holds the Big Ten single-season records for kick return average (25.6 ypr) and career punt return touchdowns (6), while Breaston claims the league mark for career punt return yards (1,599) and is tied for third in punt return touchdowns (4).

It's tough enough putting together these teams for one season, much less 16 seasons. You can't please everyone, and many exceptional players didn't make the cut.

We decided to go with five offensive linemen rather than a center, two guards and two tackles, in order to recognize the best overall players in the trenches.

There was some debate for a second receiver alongside Michigan's Edwards, as the Big Ten hasn't exactly mass-produced superstars at the position. Several players had great seasons like Michigan State's Charles Rogers in 2002, but we put more stock into overall career output and went with Wisconsin's Evans, who led the league in receiving in 2001 and 2003.

Cornerback created some debate among Fletcher, Dennard and Ohio State's Malcolm Jenkins, also a Jim Thorpe Award winner. We faced another tough decision at safety between Ohio State's Doss and Iowa's Bob Sanders.

Surprisingly, the defensive tackle spot produced few bona-fide superstars. Nebraska's Suh, who played his entire career in the Big 12, was an obvious choice but a second choice proved to be tough.

Arguably the toughest choice came at kicker between Nugent and Iowa's Nate Kaeding. Both won Lou Groza Awards and set numerous records. We gave the nod to Nugent, but not by much.
Michigan State senior linebacker Greg Jones has been named a semifinalist for the Butkus Award, given to the nation's top linebacker.

Jones is the only Big Ten representative among the 15 semifinalists, and he's one of three repeat semifinalists from 2009. The Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2009 is on pace for another All-America type season, recording 60 tackles, three forced fumbles, two interceptions, five tackles for loss, five quarterback hurries and a sack.

Butkus Award finalists will be named Nov. 23, and the winner will be announced Dec. 8. Ohio State's James Laurinaitis was the last Big Ten recipient, in 2007.
If Eric Gordon played for any other team, he'd probably be a household name.

He'd likely have a few more awards listed below his mug shot in the media guide. Who knows, he might even have his own promotional Web site, like this one.

Gordon easily could be the Greg Jones of another team. But he's much happier being Jones' teammate at Michigan State, which is ranked No. 7 in the BCS standings and off to its first 7-0 start since 1966.

[+] EnlargeEric Gordon
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesEric Gordon's 285 career tackles is second in the conference among active players.
"Greg deserves everything he's gotten," Gordon said. "He's a great player and he makes awesome plays and flies around. I guess you could say I do wish I would be in his position, but I love the position I'm in. I’ve been doing the best I possibly can and he's doing the same. He just gets a few more tackles than me."

When told that Jones gets a few more tackles than just about everyone in college football, Gordon laughs and says, "Yeah, just a few more."

Gordon is the latest Big Ten linebacker to flourish a role previously occupied by players like Ohio State's Marcus Freeman and Penn State's Brandon Short. Both Freeman and Short were outstanding linebackers who played in the shadows of more decorated teammates: James Laurinaitis in Freeman's case, LaVar Arrington in Short's. Neither Freeman nor Short fully got the credit they deserved, but their accomplishments didn't go unnoticed.

The same holds true for Gordon, who has started 43 of his 45 career games for the Spartans, including each of the past 34 contests, a streak that ties him with Jones for the longest on the team. "Gordo," as he's known on the team, ranks 18th among active FBS players with 285 career tackles and has recorded 26 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and 8 pass breakups.

"He’s been around a long time," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said of the 6-foot, 232-pound fifth-year senior. "He's been an extremely productive player for us. He has great speed and great power and great ball skills."

Gordon's career tackles total ranks second among active Big Ten players.

Take a wild guess at who ranks first.

No one has had a better view for Jones' evolution than Gordon, who has played next to No. 53 for three plus seasons. Gordon considers Jones one of his best friends, and they both know how far they've come from the 2007 season.

"We always laugh whenever we see film of us," Gordon said. "We weren’t the smartest guys on the field. We just kind of lined up. We watch it and we ask each other, ‘What the hell we were doing?’"

It's certainly not the case any more, as Jones and Gordon are two of the more assignment-sound linebackers in college football. Jones gets most of the accolades -- consensus All-America honors, 2009 Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year, 2009 and 2010 Big Ten preseason Defensive Player of the Year -- but Gordon is right by his side.

"He's so consistent, he's instinctual and physical, he can run sideline to sideline," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "He's been such a good player because of how consistent he's been."

Fitzgerald was the Greg Jones of Northwestern in the mid-1990s, although he'll never admit it. "Comparing my athleticism to Greg Jones is an insult to Greg," Fitzgerald said Monday. As a two-time National Defensive Player of the year, Fitzgerald garnered most of the attention, while Northwestern's other good linebackers like Danny Sutter -- "One heck of a player for us," Fitzgerald said -- were overlooked.

"[Jones] gets talked about a lot and he should because he’s a great player, but I enjoy watching Eric Gordon, too," Fitzgerald said. "He's one heck of a football player. Those two guys have been side by side now for a number of years, and they just do a tremendous job of playing the position."

Dantonio sees Gordon as the perfect complement to Jones, both as a blitzer and as another sure tackler in space.

"We've been together since Day 1 of actually playing," Gordon said. "He's always been next to me. Our communication is great. We understand each other and I just think we work together great. It's been an honor.

"I've learned so much from him. I hope he's learned a little from me."
Most coaches would take one look at Brian Rolle and think strong safety or running back.

A 5-foot-11, 218-pound middle linebacker? Maybe in the Sun Belt, but never at Ohio State, a program rich in linebacker tradition that can hand pick the players to put in the center of its defense.

This is the team that produced Chris Spielman, Andy Katzenmoyer, James Laurinaitis and other prototype middle linebackers. Why would the Buckeyes settle for less?

[+] EnlargeBrian Rolle
AP Photo/Terry GilliamWhile not a prototypical linebacker, Brian Rolle is the undeniable leader of Ohio State's defense.
Because Rolle isn't less.

"I suppose if you plug him into the computer, Brian Rolle doesn't fit," Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel said. "But he sure can play football."

Rolle's résumé speaks for itself. After two seasons as a special-teams standout, Rolle stepped into a starting role in 2009 and recorded 94 tackles, seven for loss, with an interception, a fumble recovery and a rare defensive PAT after picking off a pass on a two-point conversion attempt and racing 98 yards to the end zone.

He opened his senior season with a bang Thursday night, recording his first career pick-six, a 30-yard interception return to the end zone in a 45-7 rout of Marshall.

Rolle might lack ideal middle-linebacker size, but he has all the other tools to excel at the position.

Let's start with his voice, which can be heard just about any time on the practice field or during a game.

"Most people think I'm talkative, but it's just if I have something to say to somebody, I'll say it," said Rolle, one of six co-captains for the Buckeyes this fall. "I’m the quarterback of the defense, so I feel like I'm obligated to make all the calls and tell guys where they need to be and where they line up.

'There's more weight on my shoulders to do things right, and as a senior, I know I'm going to have guys looking up to me even more."

Rolle's loquacious personality stands in stark contrast to the man flanking him on most plays. Ohio State standout outside linebacker Ross Homan is more of a silent assassin, and Rolle jokes that those who don't know Homan well "would think he was a mute or something."

Added Rolle: "The only thing I really hear him say during the game is, 'B-Rolle, what's the call?'"

Despite their differences, Rolle and Homan mesh well together. Both were preseason All-Big Ten selections by most media outlets.

And after playing behind Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman for several years, Rolle and Homan have a vision for their own legacy.

"We saw how great James and Marcus worked together," Rolle said. "I was thinking, me and Ross, if we continue to do what we're doing and we go in with our heads on right and lead like seniors are supposed to, in the years to come, the coaches will be able to talk to the young guys about how great we were our senior year in leading this team hopefully to a national championship."

The next step toward that goal arrives Saturday, as No. 2 Ohio State hosts No. 12 Miami (ESPN, 3:40 p.m. ET).

For Rolle, this one's "personal."

He grew up in Immokalee, Fla., a football hotbed in South Florida. His cousin Antrel Rolle was an All-American cornerback for Miami who played in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.

Needless to say, Brian Rolle was all about the U.

"Growing up, that was the only thing that mattered in college football," he said. "Being from South Florida, you either were a Gator fan or a Cane fan, and I was a Cane fan. Miami was my first love."

As Rolle moved up through the high school ranks, he pictured himself wearing a Miami jersey.

"There was no doubt in my mind," he said. "My sophomore to senior year, I just knew I was going to play at Miami. But I didn't get that offer I wanted."

Miami went through a coaching transition during Rolle's senior year. Despite numerous overtures to the program, Rolle never got a chance to be a Cane.

"I took a lot of unofficial visits there, went up to a bunch of games, talked to a bunch of coaches," he said. "In the end, I was sad about it, but now I'm at Ohio State, it's my senior season, and I feel blessed to be here now."

The Buckeyes feel blessed to have Rolle directing their defense -- all 5-11, 218 pounds of him.

"Brian is unique," Tressel said. "He's probably not as big as some of the guys we've had, but he's got tremendous instincts and fabulous leadership skills. He's an excellent tackler, he plays the pass very well, loves the game, loves to prepare for the game.

"Glad he's on our side."
William Gholston and Max Bullough aren't typical freshmen, so Michigan State sees no point in treating them that way.

While a large portion of Spartans freshman can be penciled in as redshirts for 2010, head coach Mark Dantonio has made it clear that neither Gholston nor Bullough will sit out this fall. Michigan State boasts excellent depth at linebacker, led by All-American Greg Jones, but barring a snag between now and Sept. 4, both Bullough and Gholston will be part of the mix.

William Gholston
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIWilliam Gholston is the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit.
"We want to make sure that we put them into situations where they can contribute on a consistent basis because you don't want to just take away a guy's year [of eligibility]," Dantonio said after a scrimmage earlier this week. "Those guys can play and have an impact."

Dantonio's words resonate with the two freshmen.

"It's an indescribable feeling to know that I have the opportunity to play as a freshman," Gholston told me Wednesday. "That's very seldom. It was rare for a freshman to play five, six years ago, so to have an opportunity, it’s great."

Why are the expectations so high for these two?

Both were decorated high school prospects with advanced physical skills and good family history. Bullough's father and two uncles played for Michigan State, and his grandfather, Hank, played for the Spartans and later served as the teams defensive coordinator. His other grandfather and another uncle played for Notre Dame. Gholston's cousin is New York Jets defensive end Vernon Gholston, the former Ohio State star who visited him this summer and provided a pass-rushing tutorial.

Gholston arrives at Michigan State as the Big Ten's highest-rated recruit, according to ESPN Recruiting, which listed him as the nation's No. 3 defensive end in the 2010 class.

A unique physical specimen who can play both end and linebacker, Gholston stands 6-foot-7 and has increased his weight to around 255 pounds in camp. He even got above 260 for a portion of practice, a major change after being listed at 237 on National Signing Day.

"I was at 265, didn’t know it and I ran like an ox," Gholston said, laughing.

The 6-3, 235-pound Bullough also drew strong reviews in high school -- ESPN Recruiting rated him as the nation's No. 4 inside linebacker in 2010 -- and helped himself by enrolling this spring and going through practice.

"In the spring, everything comes faster because it's mostly veterans out there," Bullough said. "Every day, I'd be thinking, 'What do I do here? What do I do on this play?' Now everything comes second nature to me. I'm trying to learn to play fast, play more aggressive, play meaner."

The mean part shouldn't be a problem, as classmate Tony Lippett found out in a recent practice.

Gholston didn't practice this spring, but he was a fixture at the football complex, attending almost all of the team's 15 workouts. The many trips from Detroit to East Lansing helped him absorb the defense, which will incorporate more 3-4 elements this fall.

"It's fun having Will out here finally," Bullough said. "I feel like I've been here forever, waiting for Will to get here. We're trying to work together and teach each other."

Added Gholston: "Most of the learning, I grasp that part. It’s just applying what I learned. I've got little spurts where I do the right thing. I need to do the right thing every single time."

Although they're in the same class, Bullough is doing most of the teaching so far.

"Max is a very smart player, very physical and very tough," Gholston said. "I've never seen a freshman, a football player the same age as me, have so much knowledge about the game and be so consistent in everything he does."

The Big Ten has had its share of outstanding linebacker tandems in recent years: Ohio State's James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, Penn State's Paul Posluszny and Dan Connor and Iowa's Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge, to name a few.

Michigan State hopes Gholston and Bullough mold a similar legacy together. The first steps begin this fall.

Bullough isn't taking the opportunity for granted.

"It is nice to hear," he said. "It’s all based on assuming -- I can only speak for myself -- I keep getting better each and every day. It's on my shoulders right now."

Big Ten players of the decade

January, 19, 2010
1/19/10
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Our decade recap continues with a look at the top players in the Big Ten from 2000-09. The league produced just one Heisman Trophy winner, Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith in 2006, but many other national award recipients on both sides of the ball.

We saw outstanding one-year performances from players like Brad Banks (2002), Larry Johnson (2002), James Hardy (2007) and Shonn Greene (2008), and impressive four-year career efforts from Paul Posluszny, James Laurinaitis, Mike Hart, Javon Ringer, Taylor Stubblefield and others.

[+] EnlargeTroy Smith
Jason Parkhurst/US PresswireOhio State's Troy Smith was the runaway winner of the Heisman Trophy in 2006.
The league produced solid linemen and linebackers the entire decade, while star quarterbacks and running backs were sprinkled throughout.

Believe me, it wasn't easy to get this list down to 10 players, but here goes.

I put more weight on players who had multiple outstanding seasons. Also, players who had most of their production in the 1990s didn't make the cut.

1. Troy Smith, QB, Ohio State: The league's lone Heisman Trophy winner tops the list. Smith took home the Heisman, the Walter Camp and the Big Ten MVP awards in 2006. He also led Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl championship following the 2005 season.

2. Braylon Edwards, WR, Michigan: The 2004 Biletnikoff Award winner earned consensus All-America honors that year, completing a terrific four-year run in Ann Arbor. Edwards still holds the Big Ten record for career touchdown receptions with 39, two more than fellow Wolverine Anthony Carter.

3. A.J. Hawk, LB, Ohio State: Hawk was the face of a ferocious Buckeyes defense during the mid part of the decade. The two-time All-American (unanimous in 2005) won the Rotary Lombardi Award and helped Ohio State to a Fiesta Bowl victory.

4. Joe Thomas, T, Wisconsin: The Thomas-Jake Long debate is a good one, but I'm giving the edge to Thomas, the 2006 Outland Trophy winner. Thomas anchored several powerful Wisconsin offensive lines, earned consensus All-America honors in 2006 and twice made the All-Big Ten squad.

5. Paul Posluszny, LB, Penn State: Posluszny is one of only two Big Ten players to win the Bednarik Award two times. He also took home the Butkus Award in 2005 and helped restore Penn State after the program had slipped from 2000-04.

6. James Laurinaitis, LB, Ohio State: Laurinaitis was quite possibly the most decorated Big Ten player of the decade on either side of the ball. He joined select company at Ohio State in earning All-America honors three times (unanimous in 2007). Laurinaitis won the Butkus and Nagurski awards and twice earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors.

7. Greg Eslinger, C, Minnesota: Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III shared the rushing load, but Eslinger was the mainstay who created rushing lanes no matter who had the ball. The 2005 Rimington Trophy winner was Minnesota's only three-time All-Big Ten selection this decade.

8. Bob Sanders, S, Iowa: No player meant more to Iowa's renaissance this decade than Sanders, the team's only three-time All-Big Ten selection in the aughts. Nicknamed "The Hitman," Sanders epitomized a program that got the most from its players for the majority of the decade.

9. Mike Hart, RB, Michigan: We witnessed lot of great one-year performances from Big Ten running backs, but Hart was one of the league's few mainstays this decade. Despite being plagued by injuries as a sophomore, Hart finished fourth on the Big Ten's all-time rushing list (5,040 yards) and had 28 career 100-yard rushing games.

10. Antwaan Randle El, QB, Indiana: Randle El brought a new brand of football to the Big Ten and had a record-setting career despite never reaching a bowl game. The dual-threat star won Big Ten MVP honors in 2001 and ranks fourth on the league's career total offense list with 11,364 yards.

Also considered: Michigan T Jake Long, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers, Michigan State RB Javon Ringer, Iowa QB Brad Banks, Iowa T Robert Gallery, Purdue WR Taylor Stubblefield, Ohio State WR Ted Ginn Jr., Michigan DE LaMarr Woodley, Illinois RB Rashard Mendenhall, Penn State QB Michael Robinson, Penn State RB Larry Johnson, Purdue WR Dorien Bryant, Purdue WR John Standeford, Ohio State S Mike Doss, Wisconsin DE Erasmus James, Iowa RB Shonn Greene, Northwestern QB Brett Basanez, Illinois LB J Leman, Penn State LB Dan Connor.

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

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Midway through an interview Thursday, Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel received a text message from former Buckeyes star James Laurinaitis.

 
  Leon Halip/US Presswire
  Ohio State coach Jim Tressel knows it's not the name that wins championships.
Laurinaitis, a standout hockey player in high school growing up in Minnesota, was looking for tickets to a Columbus Blue Jackets NHL playoff game next week. Tressel and Laurinaitis were supposed to attend a Jackets' game together several weeks ago, but Laurinaitis backed out at the last minute to attend a family function in Dayton.

"He threw me under the bus," Tressel joked. "Now they're in the playoffs, so now he wants to go. I'm going to ignore him for a couple hours."

Laurinaitis had to suffer for a while, but he'll probably get his wish from Tressel. After everything he gave to Ohio State during the last five seasons, the linebacker deserves it.

Tressel's current players don't share the same sense of entitlement as Laurinaitis.

Ohio State got a lot younger during the offseason, and the spring depth chart is filled with underclassmen. Though the Buckeyes have won or shared the last four Big Ten titles and maintain the same expectation for 2009, championships don't just magically appear by wearing scarlet and gray.

"If we've got a room full of guys that think, 'Well, that's what you do. You come to Ohio State and you're Big Ten champs,' if that's the reality in their mind, then we're going to have a problem," Tressel said. "Because it is hard. People that know just how hard it is are gone. Because they're the ones that traversed that mountain.

"It's our job to get guys to understand how difficult it's been. It's not, 'Wish upon a star and I'm entitled to that.' That's the fun of raising kids up, helping them understand that goals are wonderful, but the plan and the action taken toward those goals it what it's all about."

Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock has never seen a problem with work ethic during his tenure at Ohio State. But to hammer home the importance of going to work every year for a goal, he tells the defenders to simply look around.

"This year, it's easy," Heacock said. "You lose Malcolm [Jenkins] and you lose James [Laurinaitis] and you lose Marcus [Freeman], big production guys. You lose the key, main names that everybody has been hearing.

"And you end up with a group of guys, you had to use the cliché, no-names, but guys that don't have quite the reputation. This group is a very young group, but boy, they're energetic and they're anxious to learn."

Some other notes from my conversation with Tressel (who wore a pullover fleece, not a sweater vest), Heacock and several Buckeyes players.

  • There has been a lot of buzz about Ohio State overhauling the offense in Year 2 of the Terrelle Pryor era, but Tressel downplays the changes. Though a player like Pryor challenges the coaches to be more flexible, the Buckeyes won't look like a completely different offense in 2009. Running back Dan "Boom" Herron smiled and shook his head when I brought up the Wildcat offense, but he admitted the team continues to run some plays out of the pistol formation, which Ohio State used last fall.
"With Terrelle, you're tempted to say, 'Hey, I wonder if we can do this or that,'" Tressel said. "But you reign it back in and say, 'OK, let's look at the whole group. What are the things the whole group can be best at.' What is it that [Dane] Sanzenbacher does best? What it is that [DeVier] Posey does best? But we haven't gotten crazy."
  • Senior tackle Jim Cordle said the offensive line is ahead of where he thought it would be at this point after a "disappointing" 2008 performance. Cordle, a former center and left guard, is working at both tackle spots this spring but likely will line up on the right side. Former right tackle Bryant Browning moves to right guard, and Michigan transfer Justin Boren has all but locked up the left guard spot. Despite sophomore starting center in Mike Brewster and sophomore Mike Adams working at left tackle, the group is playing with more of an edge.
"Fights will break out and those types of things, but that's just how we compete now," Cordle said.
  • Heacock said Andre Amos is the frontrunner in the competition for the starting cornerback spot opposite Chimdi Chekwa, but Devon Torrence also has had a good spring. Safety Anderson Russell singled out redshirt freshman cornerback Travis Howard and safety Orhian Johnson for their performances this spring.
  • Ohio State has been relatively injury-free this spring. Pryor is fine after overworking his throwing arm, and safety Kurt Coleman returned to practice Tuesday after an ankle problem. Sanzenbacher has a high ankle sprain.
  • Before our interview Heacock was watching film of NFL defenses scoring touchdowns and planned to make a highlight tape for his players. He also has a sign in his office that reads: "No Ohio State team has defeated Michigan 5 times in a row," with the 5 crossed out and replaced by a 6. Interesting.

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.

Big Ten lunch links

February, 20, 2009
2/20/09
12:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I've got Friday on my mind. 

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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State has finalized its 25-member recruiting class, which undoubtedly will rank as the best in the Big Ten and among the top five nationally.

As always, head coach Jim Tressel and his assistants did extremely well locally, luring 14 prospects from the state of Ohio. The Buckeyes also plucked three prospects from both Pennsylvania and Florida, and two from that state up north.

Ohio State's class is heavy on running backs (4), a sign that the competition to replace Chris "Beanie" Wells will be wide open. The Buckeyes also landed four linebackers, four defensive backs, four offensive linemen and three wide receivers.

There was only one Brown on the list, defensive back/wide receiver Corey Brown from Monroeville, Pa. Ohio State hoped to add wide receiver Marlon Brown, the nation's third best wide receiver according to ESPN's Scouts Inc., but the Memphis native ended up choosing Georgia.

The class is led by running backs Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde, linebacker Dorian Bell, wide receiver Duron Carter and cornerback C.J. Barnett. Ohio State appears to have found several defenders who can make an early impact, which is key after the losses of multiyear starters like James Laurinaitis and Malcolm Jenkins. The Buckeyes inked Cris Carter's son and the brothers of two current players, linebacker Zach Boren and running back/linebacker Adam Homan.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

These links committed early. 

"Penn State is an anomaly in the transient world of coaching. Aside from the constant of Paterno, his staff has always been loyal -- sometimes at the expense of climbing the coaching ladder. The Lions have been able to paint a picture of stability for recruits looking for a home away from home.

'It can't be based just on facilities, past records and things like that,' Paterno said. 'I think [a recruit] has to have a comfort level with the kinds of people he's going to be with. I think the contract established the fact that Penn State is committed to a certain type of program, whether it's an old guy leading it or a young guy leading it.'"

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