NCF Nation: Jim Cordle
But Pryor isn't the only member of Ohio State's decorated 2008 recruiting class to reach halftime in Columbus.
As Pryor delayed his college decision on national signing day in 2008, much of the buzz at Ohio State swirled around three decorated offensive line prospects: Michael Brewster, Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts. All three players were ESPNU 150 selections. ESPN recruiting ranked Brewster and Shugarts as the nation's No. 2 and No. 3 offensive tackle prospects, while Adams ranked No. 8.
All three are now preparing for their junior seasons at Ohio State.
"They're at the midpoint of their careers, not unlike Terrelle," head coach Jim Tressel said. "You'd like to think that they can be real good leaders and good veterans."
Pryor's development in the second half of his career likely will determine whether Ohio State wins a national title for the first time since 2002, but equally as important, if not more so, is the progression of his classmates on the offensive line.
"Adams, Brewster and Shugarts have now all gotten their feet more than wet now for a couple years," offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman said. "Going into their third year, now it's time for them to really start kicking it in."
Brewster certainly has done so, having started the last 23 games at center for the Buckeyes. The 6-5, 293-pound junior from Orlando will contend for the Rimington Trophy this fall and serve as one of the line's leaders along with guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning.
Shugarts also saw the field as a true freshman but missed six games with a shoulder injury that required surgery. He earned the starting right tackle spot in 2009 and will start at either right tackle or left tackle this season.
Adams has battled injuries and spotty play his first two seasons, but enters the summer with a decent to strong chance of landing the starting left tackle spot.
"Those guys work extremely hard, those three," Browning said. "They've got kind of a brotherhood. You see those guys in the weight room together, watching extra film together, and I feel like they're close on and off the field. They're doing anything they can to be great offensive linemen."
Since Brewster is a proven player at center and Shugarts took a step in that direction last fall, Adams found himself in the spotlight this spring. Adams failed to grab the starting left tackle spot last year, forcing Ohio State to shift versatile veteran Jim Cordle to protect Pryor's blind side.
The Dublin, Ohio, native has been an enigma early in his college career. One look at the 6-8, 300-pound Adams reveals the obvious physical gifts he possesses, but entering spring practice, he had yet to produce consistent results on the field. Adams missed Ohio State's first two games last year -- sources said he was suspended for a violation of team rules, though Tressel never confirmed it -- and didn't see much action during Big Ten Play.
"There's competition at his position right now," Browning said, "but he's working hard, doing whatever it takes so he can get a chance to get out there."
This spring, the Buckeyes opened the competition at left tackle, as Adams, Andrew Miller, Marcus Hall and Shugarts all saw time. Adams seemed to make strides toward the end of the session and drew praise for his performance in Saturday's spring game.
Ohio State star defensive lineman Cameron Heyward is doing all he can to help linemen like Adams, Shugarts and Brewster take the next step.
"It's a work in progress, it's not going to happen right away," Heyward said. "They'll have good days, and they'll also have bad days. And our guys are pushing them. We're not just going to let them sit back and enjoy it because it's going to be a rough battle.
"They were highly touted offensive linemen coming in, and they really want to step up and be great this year."
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."
Here are some notable nuggets from what they had to say:
- LeGarrette Blount remains Oregon's third-string running back entering the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET), slotted behind starting LaMichael James and backup Kenjon Barber. Blount, who requested not to meet with the media this week, saw his first action since the season opener against Oregon State on Dec. 3, carrying nine times for 51 yards and a touchdown. Kelly said he doesn't have anything scripted for Blount, who will get more opportunities if James gets banged-up. "We've ridden No. 21 [James] for the whole season, and we're going to continue to do that," Kelly said. "But you'll see LG [Blount]."
- Ohio State enters the game as healthy as it's been all season, particularly on offense. Tressel said quarterback Terrelle Pryor (knee) is fine -- the coach didn't sound thrilled about Pryor's injury revelation Monday -- and the offensive line has gotten some continuity down the stretch. Ohio State will stick to its same starting lineup for the line: LT Jim Cordle, LG Justin Boren, C Michael Brewster, RG Bryant Browning, RT J.B. Shugarts. Marcus Hall and Mike Adams will be the first subs at right tackle and left tackle, respectively. Andrew Moses would be Ohio State's eighth lineman if they need him.
- As they posed behind the Rose Bowl trophy, Kelly and Tressel briefly discussed their common roots in the FCS. Just three years ago, Kelly served as the offensive coordinator at New Hampshire, his alma mater. Tressel built his reputation as a head coach at Youngstown State, where he won four national championships. "We were laughing over there that we didn't have that many flashbulbs when we played in the I-AA playoffs," Tressel said. Kelly stressed that "the big time is where you're at" and that it's important to enjoy coaching at any level. But he doesn't take his meteoric rise for granted. "I had absolutely no idea three years ago that I'd be sitting in front of a press conference at the Rose Bowl," he said.
- Two of Ohio State's last three losses -- Sept. 12 against USC and the 2009 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against Texas -- came in games where the defense allowed a late score and lost a lead. Fatigue likely played a role in both games, as USC ran 17 more plays than Ohio State (72-55) and Texas ran 23 more plays (87-64). Ohio State should win the time-of-possession battle against Oregon, but the Ducks' offensive pace could be tough to match. "When you leave your defense on the field that long against good football teams, there is going to be a wearing factor," Tressel said. "I know this: chasing Oregon around will make them tired, too, so it's going to be a great challenge."
- Asked if Oregon is the nation's best comeback story after its disastrous opener against Boise State, Kelly took the opportunity to defend his players and trumpet Boise State's success. "Mark Twain once said, 'The news of my death was greatly exaggerated,'" Kelly said. "We lost 19-8 to the No. 6 team in the country, which hasn't lost a game in a long time. Chris Petersen and Boise State is an outstanding football team. The one thing about that night that bothers me is they got slighted."
- And, finally, some words from each coach on the stakes on Friday.
Kelly: "I want our players to savor the moment. That's what it's all about. They've earned this opportunity, and they're going to create memories. ... We have fun. Our staff has fun. This is what it's all about. It's not worrying about what's next. There is no next. This is it."
Tressel: "Our seniors know that this is the last time out. But how deeply do you know that? Maybe not until that clock ticks to zero does it become very real. ... That's the beauty of the game of football. It's really what happens that day, not what you're capable of or what you could have done, what happens that day."
The 6-6, 287-pound Heyward often looked like the best player on the field, even though he didn't receive first-team All-Big Ten honors. It's hardly unusual for elite interior linemen to fly under the radar, but Suh changed the game a bit this fall.
"Suh is a great player," Heyward said Wednesday. "Hopefully, one day I can be in the same position. Maybe next year."
Those last two words will bring smiles to Ohio State fans. Heyward might be Ohio State's most NFL-ready player, but he expects to return to Columbus for his senior season.
Of course, he has some immediate business Friday against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).
"I look forward to coming back," he said. "Right now, I'm enjoying time with my [teammates]. I'm leaning toward staying because these guys are my brothers."
Heyward's teammates will be thrilled to have him back in 2010, even though they see his obvious potential to turn pro.
"Some of the guys told him to go [pro] after the great season he had," left tackle Jim Cordle said. "But you could tell he was never going to leave. He wants to stay, wants to get his degree, wants to be a senior. It's only going to make him that much better.
"After next year, he could be a top 5 pick."
Cordle should know. He gets to face Heyward every day in practice, which isn't always fun.
Though Cordle would occasionally get the upper hand on technique issues, Heyward's brute strength was hard to contain. At least opposing offensive linemen didn't fare much better, as Heyward recorded nine tackles for loss and a team-leading 5.5 sacks this fall.
"He's a big, big kid," Cordle said. "When he puts that head into you, you go backwards. It was just fun to watch him dominate great O-linemen all year. It made me feel a little bit better about myself in practice."
Perhaps the most encouraging thing about Heyward is he doesn't claim to be a finished product. And if things go right next fall, he could end up in New York in early December.
"Cam is going to be a very good player," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "He is right now. If he gets a year bigger and stronger, that type of thing, he'll be a guy people will take notice of for sure."
- There are a ton of Ohio State fans here, certainly more than normal. It looks like a good number of Michigan fans sold their tickets to the enemy and made some cash.
- As expected, Michigan fans were all over Buckeyes guard Justin Boren when he came out for warm-ups. The former Wolverine heard taunts of, "Watch your knees!" and some unprintable comments about his conditioning. Boren, to his credit, seemed extremely fired up and was animated as he talked to the other linemen.
- Michigan's Troy Woolfolk is working as a safety today after switching to cornerback midway through the season. J.T. Floyd worked with the first-team defense at corner. Mike Williams, the team's normal starting safety, is out.
- I don't mind Ohio State's throwback jerseys. The helmets take a little while to get used to, but the socks are awesome and the jerseys don't bother me. Several Ohio State offensive linemen are wearing their regular cleats instead of the new ones from Nike. Tackle Jim Cordle voiced some concerns about the new cleats earlier this week. Cordle and J.B. Shugarts worked as the first-team offensive tackles.
What it means: Ohio State already has locked up the Big Ten's automatic BCS bowl berth, but the Buckeyes can win the league title outright for the third time in four seasons with a win today. The Buckeyes also can extend their win streak against Michigan to six games. Michigan needs a win to avoid missing the postseason for the second consecutive season. There's a lot of heat on second-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, so a win today would be huge. You shouldn't need to get excited for this game, but just in case, check this out.
Weather: The forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies, light winds and temperatures in the upper 40s and lower 50s.
Injuries: Michigan's official injury report can be found here. The Wolverines will be without leading rusher Brandon Minor (shoulder) and most likely starting safety Mike Williams (ankle). Minor's absence could really sting against Ohio State's stout defense. The Buckeyes are as healthy as they've been in a while. Jim Cordle and J.B. Shugarts are expected to start at left tackle and right tackle.
THREE KEYS FOR OHIO STATE
1. Block Brandon Graham -- Sounds pretty straightforward, but few teams have been able to successfully keep the Michigan star defensive end out of the backfield. Ohio State must keep Graham away from quarterback Terrelle Pryor and find running room elsewhere. The Buckeyes' offensive line is coming off of its best game.
2. Throw downfield a few times -- This isn't exactly the Iowa secondary, which leads the Big Ten in interceptions. Michigan's back four have really struggled this season, and head coach Jim Tressel should let Pryor take some shots downfield with big-play wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. Ohio State shouldn't and won't get away from its bread-and-butter rushing attack. Michigan can't stop the run, either.
3. Keep Tate Forcier in the pocket -- The Michigan freshman quarterback creates big plays with his feet but can struggle when kept between the tackles. Ohio State's defensive ends and linebackers must keep contain on Foricer and make him complete passes within the pocket.
THREE KEYS FOR MICHIGAN
1. Force Pryor into mistakes -- Pryor has been very careful with the football since his four-turnover disaster against Purdue, but Michigan needs to force errors from the Buckeyes' sophomore. The Wolverines have to win the turnover battle and put pressure on Pryor with Graham and their other linemen.
2. Play 60 minutes -- Michigan's problems have come after halftime in recent weeks, as the Wolverines couldn't hold leads against Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin. Ohio State has outscored teams 83-31 in the third quarter this season, so Michigan can't stumble out of the locker room after the break.
3. Make Ohio State defense chase -- Forcier has freelanced his way into good situations this fall, and Michigan boasts a decent number of big-play threats. Without power back Brandon Minor, Michigan must force Ohio State to play in space and hope to gash the Buckeyes for big plays.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
There will be many more starts and other big stages for Terrelle Pryor, who's expected to spend at least another season and possibly two at the helm of the Ohio State offense.
But make no mistake: Pryor's long-term legacy as Ohio State's quarterback will be shaped by what he does Saturday night against No. 3 USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).
|Jamie Sabau/Getty Images|
|Saturday's showdown with USC could prove to be a defining game for QB Terrelle Pryor.|
There are no guarantees, especially with a loss to the Trojans, that Pryor will face another team of USC's caliber in his Buckeyes career. Sure, Ohio State's dominance of the Big Ten could continue, but Penn State seems to be catching up quickly in the conference. The Buckeyes begin a two-game series against Miami next season, but the U. isn't USC.
Let's not underplay what's on the line for Ohio State in this game. The Buckeyes need to change the perception that they can no longer win big games. They need to change the perception that they're just the best of a bad bunch in the Big Ten. They need to prove that a Big Ten team can compete with the squad that has done more to ruin the league's national reputation than any other.
For Pryor, this is a chance to prove himself as a complete quarterback and an effective field leader. He boasts the unique combination of size and skills that, if used correctly, could give the Trojans defense some major headaches.
"If he comes out and plays well, it could throw his name right in the middle of the Heisman race," Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey said. "It could definitely be a defining game for him, and hopefully he comes out and takes control of it."
Pryor saw the field against USC last year, but he couldn't do much to change the outcome. He was used in spots throughout the first half and showed good poise as a true freshman playing in a rough environment. But by the time he ran a full series late in the third quarter, Ohio State found itself in a 35-3 hole.
He took over the starting job the following week and endured ups and downs leading a veteran offense that had some strong loyalties to his predecessor, Todd Boeckman. After a strong offseason in which he improved his passing footwork and fundamentals, Pryor now leads a unit featuring many of his peers. Though Ohio State didn't name a season captain from the offense, the general sentiment suggests that this is Pryor's team.
"He's definitely taken ownership; that’s the role of the quarterback," senior right tackle Jim Cordle said. "He's more comfortable and obviously knows that all of us on the offense trust him and are more confident in him. There's a comfort level for him in that role."
Pryor created a stir last week when he paid tribute to childhood idol Michael Vick by writing Vick's name on one of his eyeblack stickers. The sophomore, who has been shielded from the media this week and throughout most of his college career, also took heat for some of his postgame comments.
Though the criticism seems excessive, Pryor is the type of polarizing player who will always find his way into the spotlight. He's talented and brash, saying in April, "There's some teams out there that are waiting for us, and there's teams that we owe some stuff to. We're just going to bring it."
Pryor no doubt included USC in his thoughts. Saturday night, he has the chance to back it up.
"He looks like he wants to win the game for us this week," Cordle said. "If he can beat USC, that’s obviously pretty defining."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Fifteen spring practices still don't mask all the warts a team has, and every head coach has a position group that keeps him awake at night. After looking at where each Big Ten team got help this spring, here's a look at the positions that still look a little shaky around the league.
Illinois' offensive line -- The Illini boast arguably more offensive firepower than any Big Ten team, but they'll struggle without improvement up front. There's youth throughout the front five, and while players like Jeff Allen boast loads of potential, there are a few unknowns heading into the fall. The line allowed five sacks and 16 tackles for loss in the spring game.
Indiana's wide receivers -- Kellen Lewis' dismissal from the program after spring practice creates a major void at receiver. Lewis was pegged to be Ben Chappell's top target, and with Ray Fisher moving from wideout to cornerback, the Hoosiers need big things from young players like Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.
Iowa's defensive tackles -- This position will be a question mark for the Hawkeyes right up until the season opener, and most likely beyond. Iowa must find a way to replace mainstays Mitch King and Matt Kroul, and it lacks much experience besides Karl Klug. The team needs continued development from guys like Mike Daniels and Cody Hundertmark.
Michigan's defensive line -- Brandon Graham should be one of the nation's top pass-rushers this fall, but he needs some help up front. Michigan likes what it has in young linemen like Ryan Van Bergen, Mike Martin and incoming freshman Craig Roh. Those players will need to grow up fast so the defense can generate consistent pressure.
Michigan State's running backs -- Few players meant more to an offense than Javon Ringer did to Michigan State last fall, and the search for a replacement remains a bit murky. Aside from a brief surge by Ashton Leggett, the running back room remains very crowded as Caulton Ray entered the mix this spring. Two heralded freshmen arrive during the summer in Edwin Baker and Larry Caper.
Minnesota's offensive line -- The Gophers have the bodies up front, but they've still got a long way to go in picking up the new offensive system/philosophy. It's a fairly dramatic change for returning starters like Dom Alford and Ned Tavale, so growing pains are expected. But a talented Gophers team can't take another step forward if its offensive line doesn't come together.
Northwestern's wide receivers -- Three starters are gone at receiver, and no one really wowed during spring practice. Northwestern should get better here as Jeremy Ebert returns from hip surgery, but it's time for experienced players like Andrew Brewer and Sidney Stewart to step up as primary targets for new starting quarterback Mike Kafka.
Ohio State's offensive line -- Michigan transfer Justin Boren undoubtedly had a positive effect on the offensive line this spring, but questions remain about a group that underachieved for most of 2008. Can Mike Adams complement his physical gifts with a toughness needed to play left tackle in the Big Ten? How will Jim Cordle and Bryant Browning adjust to new positions when the games begin? Stay tuned.
Penn State's secondary -- Head coach Joe Paterno didn't hide his concern for this group, which lost all four starters from 2008. Breakdowns in the secondary doomed Penn State in its only two losses last fall. Safety Drew Astorino should be ready for big things, but cornerback A.J. Wallace must find a way to stay healthy and become a legit shutdown guy on the outside.
Purdue's quarterbacks -- Joey Elliott boasts the knowledge to be an effective Big Ten starter, but does he have the skills to get it done? He has spent a lot of time on the sideline during his college career, and Purdue would benefit from having another viable option at quarterback. Justin Siller's dismissal really stings, and the development of backup Caleb TerBush looms large this summer.
Wisconsin's linebackers -- The Badgers lose a lot of production in DeAndre Levy and Jonathan Casillas, and they don't have much proven depth at linebacker. They can ill afford an injury to Jaevery McFadden or Culmer St. Jean, and it's imperative to develop more linebackers during preseason camp.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Here's what's happening in your neck of the woods.
- It was a sad ending to Kellen Lewis' career at Indiana, but at least it didn't happen during the season, The Indianapolis Star's Terry Hutchens writes in his blog.
- Michigan's highly rated 2005 recruiting class fell short of expectations, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. If the Wolverines play UMass in 2010, it won't be in the season opener, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Former Wisconsin wide receiver Luke Swan will be part of Michael Irvin's new reality TV show, Mike Lucas writes in The Capital Times.
- Ohio State's Jim Cordle would prefer to play center but is willing to stay at right tackle, while J.B. Shugarts could contend for the starting left tackle spot, Doug Lesmerises writes in The Cleveland Plain Dealer.
- Buckeyes walk-on running back Bo DeLande faces a DUI charge, The Columbus Dispatch's Ken Gordon writes in his blog.
- Purdue coach Danny Hope is used to following legends, Al Lesar writes in the South Bend Tribune.
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
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.|
"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
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- University of Phoenix Stadium is just as cavernous as it looks on TV, and it will serve as an appropriate setting as two college football giants clash tonight in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (FOX, 8 p.m.).
Media members received a police escort from our resort to the stadium, which was pretty cool until we hit traffic in downtown Phoenix and the cops didn't help much. It was pretty funny to see the reactions from fans, who thought the buses carried Ohio State and Texas players rather than out-of-shape reporters. Sorry to disappoint.
I didn't get much of a chance to walk around, but the parking lots around the stadium are already buzzing with fans of both teams. The highlight was seeing a massive one-piece Jim Cordle jersey worn by four young women, presumably Cordle's friends or family members. If Cordle and his fellow linemen look that big on the field tonight, Texas could be in trouble.
No. 3 Texas enters its first Fiesta Bowl at 11-1, looking to restate its case as a national title contender after getting snubbed from the championship game last month. The Longhorns were a play away from reaching Miami and should be keyed up for this one. No. 10 Ohio State also has plenty to prove after flopping in the last two BCS title games. The Buckeyes are no strangers to Arizona, having won the Fiesta Bowl in 2003, 2004 and 2006. Their last trip inside this stadium ended in defeat, however, as they fell to Florida in the 2007 championship game.
On the health front, Texas has no reported injuries. Ohio State likely will be without third-string running back Brandon Saine, and reserve offensive tackle J.B. Shugarts won't play much if at all. Buckeyes starting wide receiver Brian Hartline might miss a series or two after reportedly committing a team rules violation last week.
Tonight's officiating crew is from the Big East Conference.
Here are three keys for each team heading into tonight's matchup.
- Get Colt McCoy on the move to establish an early offensive rhythm. Ohio State's defensive line has improved in the second half of the season, but the Buckeyes haven't seen a quarterback as dangerous as McCoy. If he performs anything like he did during the regular season, Texas shouldn't have trouble putting up points.
- Clog the middle and force Terrelle Pryor to win the game. The pre-game talk has centered on Longhorns All-American defensive end Brian Orakpo, but defensive tackle Roy Miller could be a more important player tonight. Ohio State wants to establish the power run game with Chris "Beanie" Wells. It's up to Miller and his linemates to slow him down.
- Guard against the big play. Ohio State has been too reliant on big plays this season, but Pryor and his receivers are capable of stretching the field at any time. Texas' secondary is vulnerable, but if the Longhorns keep the wide receivers in front of them, they should be OK.
- Establish Wells and the run game right away. Wells needs to have a huge night for Ohio State to keep pace with Texas. Though the junior thrives in big games, Texas defends the run well and Ohio State's offensive line has underperformed for most of the season. If Wells can wear down the Texas defensive front, Pryor will have opportunities to get creative.
- Don't be afraid to test the Texas secondary. If there's a weakness for the Longhorns, it's the back four, and while the Buckeyes want to run the ball, they can't shy away from passing on first down. There's been some buzz about using Pryor and fellow quarterback Todd Boeckman on the field together. Sounds like a good idea for an offense that gets stale at times.
- Defensive stars have to make plays. Linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins will graduate as two of the most decorated Ohio State defenders in team history. As they take the field for their final collegiate game, both men must be major factors in trying to disrupt McCoy and the Longhorns offense.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Happy hump day to all. Bowl season is right around the corner -- the first Big Ten bowl doesn't arrive until Dec. 27 -- and several teams are conducting media days this week. Exciting times.
Let's see what's happening around the league.
- The Tostitos Fiesta Bowl likely will be Chris "Beanie" Wells' final game in an Ohio State uniform, while six other Buckeyes juniors are checking in with the NFL to gauge their draft status, Ken Gordon writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
"[Jim] Tressel said that six underclassmen had filed paperwork with the NFL to get a report of their likely draft status. The list: receiver Brian Hartline, safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell, tight end Jake Ballard, guard Jim Cordle and cornerback Donald Washington.
'Beanie didn't need to fill out the paperwork,' Tressel said. 'I told him to save the transcript, save the paper.'"
- Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton practiced Tuesday for the first time since dislocating his wrist on Oct. 25 and hopes to return for the Valero Alamo Bowl, Shannon Ryan writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Joe Paterno's new contract takes him through 2011, but the coaching legend will be at Penn State for as long as he likes, Phil Sheridan writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"The bottom line is that Joe Paterno was Penn State football, Joe Paterno is Penn State football and Joe Paterno will be Penn State football until he gets tired of it."
- Scott Shafer took the fall for Michigan's struggles on defense this season, but Rich Rodriguez and the offense shouldn't be absolved of blame, Krista Jahnke blogs in the Detroit Free Press.
- Ohio State defensive end Nathan Williams pleaded not guilty to shoplifting after telling reporters he took the blame for a friend with previous legal trouble. If convicted, Williams could face up to six months in jail.
- Michigan State draws motivation from being the underdog heading into its Capital One Bowl matchup with the Bulldogs of Georgia, Shannon Shelton writes in the Detroit Free Press.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
|Mark Cunningham/Getty Images|
|Javon Ringer is putting up big numbers for Michigan State.|
Running back enthusiasts circled the Ohio State-Michigan State game long before the season, but few would have pegged Javon Ringer to be the man of the hour.
Ringer entered the season under the radar. He had bad fantasy stats -- a lot of yards but few touchdowns -- and played on a Michigan State team that always seemed to be on the verge of a breakthrough. Those who had seen Ringer play recognized his potential for this season, especially with touchdown-taker Jehuu Caulcrick out of the way.
But when it came to Big Ten running backs, only one name stood out.
This was supposed to be Chris "Beanie" Wells' year. He was the bona fide Heisman contender on the flashy team, the NFL prototype coming off a 1,600-yard sophomore season. When Ohio State marched into Spartan Stadium, Wells would be the main attraction and Ringer the side act.
But a toe injury in the third quarter of the season opener changed the script, sidelining Wells for three games. By the time he returned, Ringer had put himself in the Heisman mix, producing big-time numbers with a big-time workload.
The two backs will share the spotlight Saturday at Spartan Stadium (ABC, 3:30 p.m.), though most eyes will be on Ringer to see if he keeps pace in the Heisman race.
"He's a difference maker," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said.