NCF Nation: Kurt Coleman

Michigan State is conducting an internal review of a possible sportslike conduct violation by defensive end William Gholston in Saturday's win against Michigan.

Athletic director Mark Hollis released a statement Tuesday saying the Big Ten has notified Michigan State of a possible violation. The school is in the process of conducting its own review, which, according to the Big Ten Handbook, but be completed by Wednesday.
"We are thoroughly reviewing the entire game and utilizing all of the available resources: coaches' video from midfield and end zone cameras, TV copy as well as still photographs," Hollis' statement reads. "Once the internal review is completed, we will forward a written report on to the Big Ten."

If Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany doesn't agree with Michigan State's findings or potential penalties, he has three business days to reply to the school with a decision. While the process could go beyond Saturday's game between Michigan State-Wisconsin, it would be very surprising if Delany doesn't act quickly.

The Big Ten in 2009 imposed three one-game suspensions for sportslike conduct violations, typically on the Friday before games. Two of these suspensions -- Michigan LB Jonas Mouton and Purdue OL Zach Reckman -- stemmed from incidents after a play, while the other was imposed for a helmet-to-helmet hit by Ohio State S Kurt Coleman.

Earlier this month, Illinois suspended LB Jonathan Brown for a game for striking a Northwestern player in the groin. The Big Ten supported the decision.

Gholston is listed as a starter on Michigan State's depth chart for the Wisconsin game. Coach Mark Dantonio declined to comment on Gholston, citing the ongoing review by the school and the Big Ten. Dantonio said his team doesn't play dirty football.

Although Hollis didn't name Gholston in his statement or indicate how Michigan State will act, he did state, "This is an isolated incident and Coach D and his staff will continue to emphasize the importance of maintaining one's composure during the heat of the moment."

Rarely do these incidents result in no discipline, so it's likely there will be some action taken by Michigan State or the Big Ten. While the process could carry on for a few more days, we'll probably have a resolution before the Wisconsin game.

One thing for MSU to consider: while the Wisconsin game is big, next week's game at Nebraska is arguably bigger as it takes place within the Legends division and on the road. You can make a case that if Gholston is to be suspended, Michigan State would benefit more from having him against the Huskers.
Jermale Hines laughs when told that he's the old man among Ohio State's safeties.

"Something like that," he said.

Hines is a little old by college football standards -- he turns 23 next month -- but he also boasts by far the most experience of any Buckeyes safety. He's one of Ohio State's most valuable players because if there's a spot on the depth chart that looks a little, well, young, it's safety.

[+] EnlargeJermale Hines
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJermale Hines has helped lead an Ohio State secondary that ranks 13th nationally in pass defense.
After the 2010 Rose Bowl, the Buckeyes said farewell to veteran safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell, with Coleman being the team's only consensus first-team All-Big Ten selection. Tyler Moeller returned from a head injury to start at the "star" position -- a safety-linebacker hybrid used in Ohio State's nickel package -- but he's now out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle. Promising sophomore C.J. Barnett also won't return following a knee injury, and junior Nate Oliver has been banged up.

Ohio State's two-deep for Saturday night's showdown at No. 18 Wisconsin lists Hines as the starting free safety, sophomore Orhian Johnson, a first-year starter, at strong safety, and true freshman Christian Bryant at the "star" position.

There's little doubt as to who leads the group.

"It's been an experience trying to tell guys what to do and where to be, just helping them out as much as I can," Hines said. "Somebody came along and did it to me, Kurt and Anderson and those guys, so I'm just looking to give back and do the same thing."

The 6-foot-1, 216-pound Hines knows he needs to show some patience as a leader. After all, he wasn't always the easiest pupil for Coleman and Russell.

"There were times where I didn't want to follow them, but they made me," said Hines, who moved past Russell on the depth chart in 2009 and recorded 57 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. "Just basically going to seek me out, talking to me, making me listen, telling the coaches and things like that. Or putting me on the spot. They showed me the ropes, the little things to be successful. And that's what I’m trying to do with these guys."

Hines has led by example on Saturdays.

He recorded an interception in Ohio State's Big Ten opener at Illinois and ranks third on the team with 26 tackles. The Cleveland native attributes his progress to a better understanding of Ohio State's defense and how opposing offenses want to attack the Buckeyes.

Along with cornerback Chimdi Chekwa and others, Hines has helped Ohio State lead the Big Ten and rank 13th nationally in pass defense (158.3 ypg). The Buckeyes have surrendered only four pass touchdowns through the first six games (only Miami, San Diego State and Missouri have allowed fewer).

Hines' personal project has been Bryant, who took over for the injured Moeller against Illinois and made his first career start last week against Indiana, recording one tackle.

"I'm definitely his big brother," Hines said. "Any time I can be, on the field, off the field, just making sure he understands things, checks and things like that, just making sure his head is right."

Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said Hines could play the "star" spot if need be, a move Hines wouldn't oppose. But if Hines' tutelage works, he can stay put and Ohio State likely will be better off for it.

"Anywhere I can help the team win," Hines said. "We've all got one goal, and I'm a part of it."

A big part.
The position rankings march on as I take a look at the top five secondary units in the Big Ten this fall.

1. Iowa: Playmaker extraordinaire Tyler Sash leads a group that boasts good experience but must fill a major void following the departure of All-Big Ten cornerback Amari Spievey. Sash has recorded 11 interceptions in his first two seasons and already holds the team record with 350 interception return yards. His heroics overshadow the very solid play of fellow safety Brett Greenwood, who has started for two and a half seasons and owns seven interceptions and 18 pass breakups in his career. Shaun Prater is a returning starter at corner, and Iowa also has Jordan Bernstine, Micah Hyde, William Lowe and others.

[+] EnlargeTyler Sash
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallIowa's Tyler Sash will be one of the leaders of the Big Ten's No. 1 secondary.
2. Penn State: The Lions are always solid in the front seven, but the secondary might lead the unit in 2010. Starting safeties Drew Astorino and Nick Sukay both return, and cornerback D'Anton Lynn takes on an enhanced leadership role after recording five pass breakups last fall. Penn State also has high hopes for cornerback Stephon Morris, who recorded 30 tackles and an interception as a freshman in 2009. Converted receiver Chaz Powell should add depth at the corner spot. Opponents completed just 54.1 percent of their passes against Penn State last fall.

3. Ohio State: There are some question marks here after the departures of All-Big Ten standout Kurt Coleman and veteran safety Anderson Russell, but Ohio State almost always finds a way to survive in the back four. The return of Tyler Moeller definitely helps, and safety Jermale Hines could have a big year after recording two interceptions in 2009. Is Chimdi Chekwa ready to be a shut-down corner in the Big Ten? We'll find out. Also keep an eye on athletic corner Devon Torrence and safety Orhian Johnson.

4. Wisconsin: This isn't a shut-down secondary -- evidence: 55th in pass defense in 2009 (217.5 ypg) -- but there are playmakers and hard-hitters, specifically veteran safety Jay Valai, among the group. There's good depth at cornerback with returning starter Devin Smith, Niles Brinkley, Antonio Fenelus and Marcus Cromartie, who has stood out in camp so far. Chris Maragos is a significant loss at safety, and it remains to be seen whether Aaron Henry can regain his pre-injury form as he moves from cornerback to safety.

5. Minnesota: I'm taking a little leap of faith here again, but if safeties Kim Royston and Kyle Theret are on the field together, good things will happen. The two combined for 159 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2009, and finished with an outstanding performance in the Insight Bowl. I also like talented young cornerback Michael Carter, while Ryan Collado brings experience to the other corner spot. Minnesota expects juco transfer Christyn Lewis and redshirt freshman Kenny Watkins to add depth at safety.

Up next: Offensive line

More rankings ...
Let's take a look at three issues facing each Big Ten team heading into spring practice:

ILLINOIS

Spring practice starts: March 30

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The quarterback competition. Four-year starter Juice Williams departs, and a host of young players (and one older one) are in the mix to replace him. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino wants to shape his system around the starting signal-caller, so he'll be looking for some separation this spring. Jacob Charest got valuable playing time behind Williams in 2009, and Eddie McGee, a part-time wide receiver, has extensive playing experience at quarterback. They'll compete with redshirt freshman Nathan Scheelhaase and true freshman Chandler Whitmer, an early enrollee.
  • Fixing the defense. New defensive coordinator Vic Koenning brings an impressive résumé to Champaign, but he'll be challenged to fix a unit that hasn't been right since J Leman and Co. left following the Rose Bowl run in 2007. Koenning wants to identify leaders on defense this spring and will look to players like end Clay Nurse and linebackers Ian Thomas and Martez Wilson. Illinois' most pressing needs likely come in the secondary after the team finished 100th nationally against the pass in 2009.
  • Line dance. Illinois needs to get tougher and better on both lines to turn things around in 2010. The Illini tied for eighth in the Big Ten in sacks allowed last fall, and while the run game got going late, top lineman Jon Asamoah departs. Perhaps a bigger priority is finding a pass rush on defense after finishing last in the league in both sacks and tackles for loss in 2009.
INDIANA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Rebuilding the back seven on D. Indiana loses three starters in the secondary and two linebackers, including blog favorite Matt Mayberry. The Hoosiers brought in three junior college defenders, two of whom, linebacker Jeff Thomas and cornerback Lenyatta Kiles, will participate in spring practice. Needless to say, jobs are open everywhere, and coordinators Brian George and Joe Palcic will be looking for playmakers to step up. Several players are moving from offense to defense, including wideout Mitchell Evans to safety.
  • End game. Indiana loses a lot of pass-rushing production as multiyear starters Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton depart. Both starting jobs at defensive end are open this spring, and IU will look to Darius Johnson, Terrance Thomas and others to step up and make plays.
  • Willis watch. Indiana hopes 2010 is the year when running back Darius Willis becomes a superstar. Getting him through spring practice healthy will be a key first step. Willis has been impressive on the field, but he has struggled with injuries for much of his career. IU's passing attack should be very strong in 2010, and if Willis can elevate the run game, the Hoosiers should put up a ton of points.
IOWA

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The offensive line. Rebuilding the offensive line is far and away Iowa's top priority heading into the 2010 season. The Hawkeyes are stacked at running back and boast a strong passing attack, but they'll struggle if things aren't solidified up front. Tackle/guard Riley Reiff blossomed last season and guard Julian Vandervelde also returns, but Iowa will look to fill three starting spots this spring.
  • Refilling at linebacker and cornerback. Iowa's defense has been one of the nation's most opportunistic units the last two seasons, and players like Pat Angerer, A.J. Edds and Amari Spievey were three big reasons why. All three depart, so Iowa needs to reload at linebacker and find a shut-down corner (Shaun Prater?). The spotlight will be on guys like Prater, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian this spring.
  • Sorting out the running back spot. Iowa is absolutely loaded at running back, but there's only one ball to be carried on a given play. The Hawkeyes likely will use a rotation in 2010, but who will be the featured back? Jewel Hampton will try to reclaim the top spot, which he lost because of a knee injury last summer. Adam Robinson filled in extremely well for Hampton in the lead role, and Brandon Wegher was one of the heroes of the Orange Bowl win.
MICHIGAN

Spring practice starts: March 14

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Defense, defense, defense. Head coach Rich Rodriguez always will be known for his spread offense, but he won't be around much longer at Michigan if the defense doesn't significantly improve. A unit that ranked 82nd nationally last season loses its two best players (Brandon Graham and Donovan Warren) and must find contributors at linebacker, safety and cornerback. Help is on the way from the 2010 recruiting class, but Michigan can't afford a bad spring on defense.
  • Devin Gardner. The heralded quarterback recruit enrolled early and will enter the mix this spring. Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson are the front-runners at quarterback, but Gardner might be the ultimate answer for the Wolverines. His ability to pick up the system and push Forcier and Robinson this spring will determine whether he sees the field in the fall or takes a redshirt.
  • Running back. Carlos Brown and Brandon Minor depart, but Michigan once again should be good at the running back spot. Vincent Smith will miss spring ball as he recovers from knee surgery, but several others, including Michael Shaw and Fitzgerald Toussaint, will be competing throughout the 15 workouts. Shaw, who scored two touchdowns on 42 carries in 2009, could create a bit of separation with a good spring.
MICHIGAN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Team morale. The residence hall incident and the subsequent fallout really rocked the Michigan State program. Head coach Mark Dantonio has yet to address the status of several suspended players, and the final outcome could impact the depth chart, particularly at wide receiver. It's important for Michigan State's team leaders -- Greg Jones, Kirk Cousins and others -- to unite the locker room in the spring and do all they can to prevent further problems.
  • Line dance. Michigan State needs to improve on both the offensive and defensive lines in 2010, and it all starts this spring. The Spartans must replace left tackle Rocco Cironi and center Joel Nitchman, and they also lose top pass-rusher Trevor Anderson at defensive end. As strong as the Spartans should be at the skill positions, they need to start building around linemen like Joel Foreman and Jerel Worthy.
  • Keith Nichol. The versatile junior could be moved to wide receiver, but he'll get a chance to push Cousins at quarterback this spring. Nichol's skills are too valuable to waste on the sideline, particularly if Michigan State has a pressing need at receiver, but he still could be a factor at quarterback if his improves his accuracy. The speedy Nichol could run the Wildcat in addition to serving as a wide receiver, if MSU chooses to go that route.
MINNESOTA

Spring practice starts: March 23

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • The coordinator and the quarterbacks. Minnesota will welcome its third offensive coordinator in as many seasons, though Jeff Horton doesn't plan to overhaul the system like Jedd Fisch did a year ago. Horton's primary task will be developing quarterbacks Adam Weber and MarQueis Gray, who both struggled last fall in the pro-style system. Weber has the edge in experience, but he needs to regain the form his showed in his first two seasons as the starter. Gray brings tremendous athleticism to the table but must prove he can succeed in a pro-style offense.
  • The offensive line. Head coach Tim Brewster has insisted that when Minnesota gets the offensive line on track, things really will get rolling. The Gophers need better players and arguably tougher players up front, and the line should benefit in Year 2 under assistant Tim Davis. The group should be motivated by finishing last in the Big Ten in rushing in each of the past two seasons.
  • Young defenders. Minnesota loses most of its starting defense from 2009, but fans are more excited about the young talent returning on that side of the ball. Spring ball could be huge for players like Michael Carter, D.L. Wilhite and Keanon Cooper as they transition into leading roles. The Gophers' biggest losses come at linebacker, as all three starters depart.
NORTHWESTERN

Spring practice starts: March 29

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Identify a running back. The Wildcats produced an impressive string of standout running backs under former coach Randy Walker and at the beginning of Pat Fitzgerald’s tenure, but they struggled in the backfield in 2009. Northwestern returns the Big Ten’s most experienced offensive line, so identifying a primary ball carrier or two this spring is vital. Arby Fields and Scott Concannon showed a few flashes last year but must get more consistent, while Mike Trumpy will be an interesting addition to the mix.
  • Polishing Persa. Dan Persa steps in at quarterback for second-team All-Big Ten selection Mike Kafka, and he’ll try to walk a similar career path. Kafka transformed himself in the offseason a year ago to become an extremely consistent passer, and Persa will need to do the same. Persa could be the best running quarterback Northwestern has had since Zak Kustok, but his size and the nature of the offense suggests he’ll need to make strides with his arm. NU also needs to see progress from backup Evan Watkins, as it lacks overall depth at quarterback.
  • Reload in the secondary. Northwestern loses three starters in the secondary, including all-conference selections Sherrick McManis and Brad Phillips. Fitzgerald will lean heavily on cornerback Jordan Mabin and safety Brian Peters to lead the group, but he needs a few more players to emerge this spring. Defensive backs like Justan Vaughn have experience and must transition into featured roles.
OHIO STATE

Spring practice starts: April 1

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Running back competition resumes. Brandon Saine and Dan Herron finished strong in 2009, but they can’t get too comfortable. Several young running backs, including Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry, Jermil Martin and Carlos Hyde, will be competing for carries this spring. Saine likely has the best chance to lock down a featured role at running back, but if the hype about Berry pans out, it’ll be a dogfight.
  • Pryor’s evolution. After Ohio State’s victory in the Rose Bowl, both Terrelle Pryor and Jim Tressel talked about the game being a key juncture in Pryor’s development. The junior quarterback must build on his performance this spring, especially from a passing standpoint. Ohio State can be a more balanced and more effective offense in 2010, but Pryor needs to keep making strides.
  • Safety squeeze. The Buckeyes didn’t lose much from the 2009 team, but the safety spot took a hit as first-team All-Big Ten selection Kurt Coleman as well as key contributor Anderson Russell depart. Jermale Hines looks like the answer at one spot, and he’ll enter the spring with high expectations. Ohio State needs to build around Hines and identify playmakers for an increasingly opportunistic unit.
PENN STATE

Spring practice starts: March 26

Spring game: April 24

What to watch:

  • Quarterback, quarterback, quarterback. No surprise here, as Penn State’s quarterback competition will be one of the Big Ten’s top storylines until September. Two-year starter Daryll Clark departs, leaving a major void under center. Sophomore Kevin Newsome played a bit last fall and has been in the system for a full season. He’ll enter the spring with a slight edge, but Matt McGloin and early enrollee Paul Jones also will be in the mix before Robert Bolden arrives this summer.
  • Getting better up front. All-America candidate Stefen Wisniewski leads an offensive line that will have more experience and needs to make strides this spring. The line struggled against elite defensive fronts last year (Iowa, Ohio State) but should have more cohesion after another offseason together. The tackle spots will be interesting to watch, as Dennis Landolt departs. Penn State’s defensive line needs to shore up the middle after losing Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Year Jared Odrick.
  • Linebacker U. put to the test. Penn State has a proven track record of reloading in the defensive front seven, but it loses a lot of production, especially at linebacker. All three starting spots are open this spring, and the spotlight will turn to players like Nate Stupar, Bani Gbadyu, Chris Colasanti and others to fill the production and leadership gaps left by Sean Lee, Navorro Bowman and Josh Hull.
PURDUE

Spring practice starts: March 24

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • Marve watch begins. The starting quarterback job is open, and all eyes will be on Miami transfer Robert Marve. One of the nation's most decorated recruits in 2007, Marve started for the Hurricanes in 2008 but ran into problems and transferred. Slowed by an ACL injury last summer and fall, Marve will have every chance to establish himself this spring as he competes with Caleb TerBush.
  • Wide-open secondary. All four starters depart in the secondary, creating plenty of competition back there this spring. Players like safety Albert Evans and cornerback Charlton Williams will be in the spotlight as they try to nail down jobs. Purdue should be better in the front seven in 2010, but you can bet opposing quarterbacks will attack an unproven secondary.
  • The run defense. It's a huge priority for Purdue to improve against the run after finishing last in the Big Ten in rush defense in each of the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Werner's return for a sixth year is huge, and Purdue boasts one of the Big Ten's top D-linemen in Ryan Kerrigan. Those two must provide leadership and foster more cohesion from the younger players around them. New D-line coach Gary Emanuel will be instrumental in the process this spring.
WISCONSIN

Spring practice starts: March 13 (break from March 29-April 2)

Spring game: April 17

What to watch:

  • The secondary. Wisconsin looks pretty solid on the defensive line and at linebacker, so getting the secondary up to par will be key this spring. Safety Jay Valai is a vicious hitter, but can he become an All-Big Ten-caliber safety? Aaron Henry joins Valai at safety after struggling at cornerback in 2009. Wisconsin also will look for continued progress from corners Devin Smith and Niles Brinkley.
  • Replacing Schofield. Bret Bielema told me earlier this week that the competition at defensive line is once again heating up this offseason. Wisconsin must replace first-team All-Big Ten end O'Brien Schofield, who ranked second nationally in tackles for loss (24.5) in 2009. J.J. Watt has superstar written all over him, but Wisconsin will look for more pass-rush ability from David Gilbert and Louis Nzegwu.
  • The wide receivers/tight ends. Wisconsin showed at times last fall that its passing attack could be dynamic, and it will look for big things from several players this spring. Wideout Nick Toon certainly has what it takes to be a star in the Big Ten, and Lance Kendricks showed in the Champs Sports Bowl that he's a capable successor for Garrett Graham at tight end. The Badgers will look to David Gilreath, Isaac Anderson and Kyle Jefferson to fill the No. 2 wideout spot.
Tags:

Big Ten, Jewel Hampton, Jermil Martin, Jerel Worthy, Mitchell Evans, Ryan Kerrigan, Justan Vaughn, Louis Nzegwu, Lance Kendricks, Stefen Wisniewski, Robert Marve, Brian Peters, Brandon Wegher, Devin Smith, Jason Werner, Michael Carter, Michael Shaw, Chandler Whitmer, Jermale Hines, Kyle Jefferson, Zak Kustok, Kirk Cousins, Jacob Charest, Dan Herron, Jammie Kirlew, Jim Tressel, Keanon Cooper, Juice Williams, Daryll Clark, Sherrick McManis, Isaac Anderson, D.L. Wilhite, Bani Gbadyu, Brad Phillips, Kevin Newsome, Mark Dantonio, Adam Weber, Jaamal Berry, Eddie McGee, Brandon Saine, Donovan Warren, David Gilreath, Carlos Brown, Julian Vandervelde, Keith Nichol, Terrelle Pryor, Anderson Russell, Randy Walker, Navorro Bowman, Paul Jones, Jon Asamoah, Joel Nitchman, Chris Colasanti, Garrett Graham, Martez Wilson, Tim Brewster, Evan Watkins, Rich Rodriguez, Pat Fitzgerald, Robert Bolden, Matt Mayberry, Jordan Mabin, Dennis Landolt, Carlos Hyde, Caleb TerBush, Denard Robinson, Bret Bielema, Rocco Cironi, Pat Angerer, Brandon Graham, Niles Brinkley, Jared Odrick, Devin Gardner, Nathan Scheelhaase, Matt McGloin, Brandon Minor, Aaron Henry, Darius Willis, Tate Forcier, Kurt Coleman, Amari Spievey, Brian George, Mike Kafka, Greg Jones, Joel Foreman, Greg Middleton, Trevor Anderson, O'Brien Schofield, Adam Robinson, Arby Fields, Ian Thomas, Nate Stupar, Riley Reiff, Shaun Prater, Clay Nurse, Paul Petrino, Jeff Horton, Jeff Thomas, Lenyatta Kiles, 2010 spring what to watch, Albert Evans, Darius Johnson, David Gilbert, Fitzgerald Toussaint, Gary Emanuel, Jeff Tarpinian, Joe Palcic, Jordan Hall, Josh McKinley, Mike Trumpy, Scott Concannon, Terrance Thomas, Tyler Nielsen

It's still early February, but signing day is over and you can officially start looking forward to the 2010 season. But before we look at who's back in the Big Ten, let's look at who will be missed the most when the teams return to the practice field this spring.

Here are five players who leave big shoes to fill around the league:

Penn State QB Daryll Clark: Clark finished his career as one of the best quarterbacks in Penn State history, setting team records for career passing touchdowns, single-season passing touchdowns, single-season passing yards and single-season total offense. He was even more valuable as a leader both on and off the field, and few players invested as much as the two-year starter. His presence certainly will be missed.

Northwestern QB Mike Kafka: Kafka basically became the entire NU offense in 2009 as the run game struggled. He developed into a precision passer and ended up as one of the most valuable players in the Big Ten. The second-team All-Big Ten selection led the league in both passing (3,430) and total offense (3,729). Although backup Dan Persa got some playing time after Kafka was banged up against Penn State, he'll have a tough time replacing the senior.

Michigan DE Brandon Graham: The Wolverines defense struggled mightily with Graham on the field, and it's scary to think where the unit would have been without his nation-leading 26 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks. Graham was arguably the most disruptive defensive lineman in the country in 2009, and he leaves a major void on the edge. Michigan will need several players to step up to fill the production void left by Graham's departure.

Iowa CB Amari Spievey: Some will argue with this one, but of all the players Iowa loses from the 2009 team, Spievey could be the most valuable. He took away one side of the field, forcing opposing quarterbacks to look elsewhere and freeing up playmaking opportunities for safety Tyler Sash and others. Iowa has some decent corners coming back, but none with the shutdown capabilities of Spievey, who recorded two interceptions and 10 passes defended.

Penn State DT Jared Odrick: Penn State has little trouble reloading in the defensive front seven, but the Lions will be hard-pressed to find another Odrick in the middle of the defensive line. Odrick consistently commanded double- and triple-teams, opening up lanes for teammates to reach the backfield. Big Ten coaches named him Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Lineman of the Year, high honors given the league's depth along the D-line. Odrick was the biggest reason why Penn State finished sixth nationally in rushing defense (89.9 ypg).

Five more who will be missed: Purdue QB Joey Elliott, Iowa LB Pat Angerer, Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, Wisconsin DE O'Brien Schofield, Ohio State S Kurt Coleman.
Ohio State will be sorry to see Thad Gibson depart, but the real big loss on the defensive line would have been Cameron Heyward.

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.

Ohio State seniors go out on top

January, 1, 2010
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[+] EnlargeJake Ballard
Jeff Gross/Getty Images Tight end Jake Ballard's senior class finishes with 44 wins and four Big Ten championships.
PASADENA, Calif. -- They form one of the most decorated classes in Ohio State history, but their accomplishments always seemed to come with an asterisk.

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.

Problem solved.

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."
LOS ANGELES -- Two common assumptions are proved wrong by one Oregon player.
  1. Oregon, like other Pac-10 teams, thrives on finesse and isn't known for being physical.
  2. Quarterbacks generally shy away from contact, leaving the messy stuff to running backs and linemen.

Now meet Jeremiah Masoli. He's the starting quarterback for Oregon. And he loves contact.


Steve Dykes/US PresswireOregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli doesn't shy away from contact.
When Masoli takes off with the football, only one correct assumption can be made.

"He ain't gonna slide," Ducks running back LaMichael James said.

Opposing defenders wouldn't mind if Masoli did. Instead, they have to deal with his 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame.

Usually, the results aren't pretty. Just ask UCLA safety Bret Lockett. Or Oklahoma State safety Quinton Moore. Or Oregon State safety Lance Mitchell.

All three defenders got trucked by Masoli, who has a YouTube library of steamrolling runs. It's fitting that Oregon clinched a Rose Bowl berth Dec. 3 when Masoli trucked Mitchell on a fourth-and-3 play, before running out the clock in the Civil War.

"That's how I've grown up, been doing it since I was a little kid, playing like that in Pop Warner," Masoli said. "It's something I've never lost."

Oregon fans haven't forgotten Masoli's fourth-and-3 run through Mitchell and past the first-down marker.

"That's a big one," he said. "A lot of fans, a lot of people, always come up to me and talk to me about that."

Masoli's teammates are used to seeing the junior quarterback flatten defenders, but his style of play rubs off on them.

"It gets the team juiced," James said. "It gets everyone going. When the quarterback runs a guy over, everything just goes [crazy] on the sideline."

Masoli on Friday faces an Ohio State defense known for its physical play and sound tackling. Safety Kurt Coleman, who likely will encounter Masoli in the open field, is as fundamentally sound as they come.

But as Masoli's foes have found, it usually takes a group effort to bring down the powerful Ducks quarterback.

"Knowing that when Jeremiah runs, he's not looking to go down or run out of bounds, he's looking to run over you," Oregon wide receiver D.J. Davis said. "It's a good thing. He sometimes gives us a hard time about why we get tackled by one person. But he's a big boy, he's my quarterback, and I love him to death."
LOS ANGELES -- The run for the roses has taken on a whole new meaning for Ohio State as it prepares for Friday's matchup against No. 7 Oregon.

No offense in college football tests a defense's conditioning level quite like the Ducks, who operate in a no-huddle, spread attack that stresses speed both before and after the ball is snapped. Oregon's pace makes it hard for defenders to communicate the correct play, make substitutions or simply line up in the right place.

Ohio State's operating system on defense will be put to the ultimate test Friday in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET).

[+] EnlargeJeremiah Masoli
Liam Foley/Icon SMIQuarterback Jeremiah Masoli directs Oregon's spread offense.
"We'll look at the body language of the other team, we'll look at our tempo," Oregon offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said. "We don't want a defense to be set. We want a false step at the snap, and hopefully that's created by playing fast and creating a moment of indecision for those guys.

"[Ohio State is] going to shuttle in and out a lot of big guys up front, and we want to make sure those guys have to stay in the game a little longer than they want to."

The Buckeyes have heard the speed argument for years, and some will question their stamina going against a team like Oregon. Players say they're up for the challenge.

"That's what their offense does; it tries to rattle you," Buckeyes safety Kurt Coleman said. "It's about being poised and being conditioned. If you're conditioned, you can think clearly. Being out of condition, I don't see that happening. It's just about getting the right calls in."

Conditioning will be especially important for Ohio State's defensive line, the team's deepest and most disruptive group. Ohio State consistently clogs lanes and generates pocket pressure with players like Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson.

While Oregon could neutralize the Buckeyes' pass rush a bit, the down lineman are ready to run all afternoon Friday, after doing so throughout practice the past few weeks.

"We're out there running, making sure we get to the ball on every play," defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "We can see exactly what all that running, the run for the roses as we call it, how that stands out and what it's for. I can feel it now. I feel my wind better than it's ever been.

"It's going to be a great testament to the strength coaches and all the things they've put in place to help us get better."

Oregon players and coaches will watch opposing defenders to see who shows signs of fatigue. Then the Ducks gear plays toward the weary.

"At the end of the day, I know when that ball snaps, as long as [Ohio State defenders are] 100 percent, that's all that matters," Worthington said. "Put your hands on your knees right before they snap it, and then put your hand on the ground and go out and compete and do what you have to do.

"Guys are ready, and the conditioning aspect is going to be huge."
In a college football season that largely went according to plan, the Big Ten campaign followed a familiar script.

Ohio State once again emerged as the conference champion, a title it has owned six times this decade. Not far behind the Buckeyes are Iowa and Penn State, two teams also projected to challenge for the title. The Big Ten stuck to its roots and played ferocious defense, boasting the nation's finest collection of down linemen. On the flip side, the quarterback position continued to plague the conference.

The truth is, not a lot changed in the Big Ten this year.

Michigan struggled again, and Illinois continued its post-Rose Bowl nosedive. Iowa and Northwestern built on momentum generated last season, while Wisconsin reclaimed its place among the league's better squads. Ohio State won the league despite just two first-team all-conference players, while Penn State pounded inferior teams but struggled in its two showcase games.

The league once again took its lumps in nonconference play, going 5-9 against BCS conference teams and Notre Dame. But the Big Ten boasts three top 15 teams and will send two squads to BCS bowls for the fifth consecutive season.

Despite the status quo feeling of the season, there were plenty of exciting moments.

Iowa mounted the best start in team history, winning its first nine games, eight in come-from-behind fashion. Michigan and Notre Dame provided an entertaining shootout, which elevated hopes before both traditional powerhouses went kaput. Purdue ended long slides against ranked teams and at Michigan Stadium, while Indiana showed some improvement despite all-too-familiar results. Michigan State found itself in several of the league's most thrilling games (Michigan, Notre Dame, Iowa, Minnesota), but the Spartans struggled to overcome inconsistent play.

All of this brings the Big Ten to a familiar place, needing to prove itself in the bowls to regain national respect. The league flopped last year, going 1-6 in postseason play, and extended its losing streak in BCS bowls to six.

The bowl lineup looks more manageable this year, but coaches and players around the Big Ten understand the urgency to get results in the coming weeks.

Offensive MVP -- Wisconsin RB John Clay

There weren't many viable candidates in a defense-driven league, but Clay rose to the top with his punishing running style. After a hiccup against Wofford, the sophomore embraced a featured role and eclipsed 100 rushing yards in seven of his final nine games, including each of the last five. Clay ranks 14th nationally in rushing (116.3) and was the lone Big Ten back to average more than 100 rush yards per game.
Brad Schloss/Icon SMIMichigan State linebacker Greg Jones led the Big Ten with 141 tackles.

Defensive MVP -- Michigan State LB Greg Jones

A much tougher call here, as you could make a case for 10 defensive standouts. Jones gets the nod because of his ability to find the football on seemingly every play. He led the Big Ten and ranked third nationally with 141 tackles and also led Big Ten linebackers with nine sacks, which ranked fifth overall in the conference. Honorable mentions go to Michigan's Brandon Graham, Penn State's Navorro Bowman and Jared Odrick, Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Pat Angerer, Wisconsin's O'Brien Schofield, and Ohio State's Kurt Coleman.

Coach of the Year -- Iowa's Kirk Ferentz

Another tough decision between Ferentz and Ohio State's Jim Tressel, who amazingly has never won the award. While Tressel deserves a ton of credit for getting Ohio State back on track after an Oct. 17 loss at Purdue, Ferentz encountered major obstacles seemingly every week. Iowa battled injuries from the preseason until early November, when quarterback Ricky Stanzi went down against Northwestern. The Hawkeyes also had the league's toughest road schedule and nearly went 4-0. For a guy that some wanted out after three mediocre seasons and a wave of off-field problems, Ferentz has restored his place among the nation's elite coaches.

Biggest surprise -- Wisconsin

The outlook in Madison looked pretty gloomy in early August, as Wisconsin had seen its wins total decrease in each of the last two seasons. Throw in another quarterback competition and major questions throughout the defensive front seven, and Wisconsin entered the fall with fairly low expectations. But Bret Bielema's team improved in almost every area. The Badgers boast a balanced offense of Clay's power running and an effective play-action pass attack operated by surprising quarterback Scott Tolzien. The defense got younger but better, as Big Ten Freshman of the Year Chris Borland emerged at linebacker.

Biggest disappointment -- Illinois

Ron Zook's team receives this undesirable distinction for the second straight year after a miserable 3-9 finish. The Illini are 8-16 since their surprise Rose Bowl run in 2007, and while Zook is expected to return next fall, the program is losing momentum on the recruiting trail and at the ticket booth. Things went downhill from the get-go, as Illinois fell flat against Missouri in the opener. Juice Williams and the offense took a long time to get going, and by that point, the defense was a mess. Other disappointments included Michigan, which didn't beat an FBS team in October or November to fall out of bowl contention. Michigan State and Minnesota also fell short of expectations.

Game of the Year -- Ohio State 27, Iowa 24 (OT), Nov. 14

A lackluster end to regulation shouldn't spoil a memorable game, and both Iowa and Ohio State provided plenty of drama at The Shoe. Hawkeyes backup quarterback James Vandenberg nearly became a state hero as he tried to rally Iowa to a Rose Bowl berth in his first career start. Iowa mounted one of its patented rallies, but the Buckeyes prevailed in the end as backup kicker Devin Barclay, a 26-year-old former Major League Soccer player, nailed the game-winning field goal in overtime. Honorable mentions go to Iowa-Michigan State (Oct. 24) and Michigan-Notre Dame (Sept. 12).

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 8, 2009
12/08/09
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Loyal blog readers out there know where I'm headed with several of these picks, though I had some tough decisions in the end. It's not easy to condense so many defensive standouts into 11 slots, while there's certainly more wiggle room on the offensive side.

For your reference, my preseason All-Big Ten team and the Big Ten's official all-conference squads.

OFFENSE

QB: Daryll Clark, Penn State
RB: John Clay, Wisconsin
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
WR: Keith Smith, Purdue
WR: Blair White, Michigan State
TE: Garrett Graham, Wisconsin
C: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
OL: Justin Boren, Ohio State
OL: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
OL: Dace Richardson, Iowa
OL: Gabe Carimi, Wisconsin

DEFENSE

DL: Brandon Graham, Michigan
DL: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DL: O'Brien Schofield, Wisconsin
DL: Adrian Clayborn, Iowa
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Pat Angerer, Iowa
LB: Navorro Bowman, Penn State
CB: Donovan Warren, Michigan
CB: Sherrick McManis, Northwestern
S: Kurt Coleman, Ohio State
S: Tyler Sash, Iowa

SPECIALISTS

P: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
K: Brett Swenson, Michigan State
KR: Ray Fisher, Indiana
PR: Ray Small, Ohio State

All-Big Ten selections by team: Penn State (5), Iowa (5), Wisconsin (4), Ohio State (3), Michigan State (3), Michigan (3), Northwestern (1), Purdue (1), Indiana (1)

There were 16 selections who also made the preseason All-Big Ten squad: Clark, Royster, Clay, Bulaga, Wisniewski, Boren, Garrett Graham, Brandon Graham, Odrick, Jones, Bowman, Angerer, Coleman, Mesko, Swenson and Small.
Five lessons from the final week of Big Ten play.

1. Opportunity knocks for Buckeyes' defense: You can take shots at Jim Tressel's play calling or the fact Terrelle Pryor isn't a Heisman Trophy candidate by now. Or, you can admire what has happened with the Buckeyes' defense this season. A unit that lost several national award winners has gotten even better this fall, and Saturday's five-takeaway triumph against Michigan means Ohio State leads the nation in turnovers forced with 33. Ohio State's offense isn't always a masterpiece, but it's awfully fun to watch Kurt Coleman, Brian Rolle, Ross Homan, Cameron Heyward and the rest of the Buckeyes' defenders.

2. Penn State can play to its potential: It had been a ho-hum season for Penn State -- some would even call the campaign disappointing -- but the Nittany Lions saved their best for the regular-season finale. Penn State made a major statement in East Lansing, throttling Michigan State and executing on both sides of the ball. A secondary that I doubted all year stepped up to shut down Kirk Cousins, and Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark had arguably his best performance of the season. If Penn State gets a BCS at-large berth ahead of Iowa, the Lions will represent well if they play like they did Saturday.

3. Mike Kafka and Joey Elliott should gain All-Big Ten consideration: Both senior quarterbacks have made the most of their only full season as starters. Kafka has been accurate and extremely efficient for a surging Northwestern team, while Elliott turned in another terrific performance in Purdue's 38-21 victory at Indiana. In a year where returning starters struggled at quarterback (Adam Weber, Juice Williams, Pryor), these two signal-callers answered the bell for their teams. Kafka will be rewarded with a bowl trip, and Elliott should get some love on the All-Big Ten ballots.

4. The Iowa-Penn State debate is on: Both the Hawkeyes and the Lions finished the regular season 10-2, and both will be eligible for Big Ten at-large consideration. The league remains in pretty good shape for a second BCS berth, so will it be Iowa or Penn State? Iowa owns the head-to-head victory back on Sept. 26 and a stronger overall schedule, and the Hawkeyes should get starting quarterback Ricky Stanzi back for a bowl game. Penn State looked more impressive Saturday, and the Lions boast a national fan base, a history with both the Orange and Fiesta Bowls and the Joe Paterno factor. It will be very interesting to see which team gets the nod.

5. Four Big Ten coaches will be on the hot seat in 2010: We could still see changes in the coming days, but it's likely that all 11 Big Ten head coaches will be back next fall. But four of them -- Illinois' Ron Zook, Indiana's Bill Lynch, Michigan's Rich Rodriguez and Minnesota's Tim Brewster -- will certainly be feeling the heat. Zook has lost the momentum from the Rose Bowl run in 2007, while Lynch's team can't get over the hump or field a consistent defense. Rodriguez owns a 3-13 record in Big Ten play and has missed bowls in each of his first two years at Michigan. Brewster's change in offensive philosophy looks like a mistake as Weber has regressed and the Gophers were shut out for the second straight time against Iowa on Saturday.

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 22, 2009
11/22/09
9:03
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These guys saved their best for last.

  • Ohio State's defense: I could probably give helmet stickers to five Buckeyes defenders, but I need to spread the wealth a bit. Ohio State's defense forced five turnovers, converting one for a touchdown, in its 21-10 victory against Michigan. Individual standouts included safeties Kurt Coleman and Jermale Hines, cornerback Devon Torrence, defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebackers Brian Rolle, Ross Homan and John Simon.
  • Penn State QB Daryll Clark: After two uncharacteristic performances, Clark stepped up big in Penn State's spanking of Michigan State. The senior completed 19 of 27 passes for 310 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions as he spread the ball to eight different players.
  • Purdue QB Joey Elliott: If Clark doesn't win first-team All-Big Ten quarterback, it should go to Elliott. He made the most of his senior season and finished with a big win against Indiana, completing 21 of 29 passes for 205 yards and four touchdowns in the win.
  • Northwestern QB Mike Kafka and WR Andrew Brewer: Three years ago, they competed for the starting quarterback job and lost out to C.J. Bacher. On Saturday against Wisconsin, they hooked up six times for 102 yards and two touchdowns. Kafka finished 26-of-41 for 325 yards and no interceptions.
  • Iowa's defense: Another team effort from the Hawkeyes, who shut out Minnesota for the second straight year. All four starting defensive linemen recorded tackles for loss, and linebackers Pat Angerer and Troy Johnson stepped up in a big way as Iowa inched closer to a BCS at large berth.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- After losing several national award winners, Ohio State's defense adopted the motto of, "No names, no blame, no worries" for the 2009 season.

The Buckeyes left Michigan Stadium on Saturday with absolutely nothing to worry about, having clinched their sixth consecutive victory against their archrival and their third outright Big Ten title in the last four years. They had Michigan blaming itself for five turnovers and other missed opportunities in plus territory.

Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesOhio State safety Kurt Coleman caught two crucial interceptions in the Buckeyes win over rival Michigan.

And several Ohio State defenders definitely made names for themselves in the process.

The Buckeyes rode big plays on defense to a 21-10 victory, filling up the box score with tackles for loss, pass breakups, interceptions and a forced fumble that started it off in the first quarter. From safety Kurt Coleman to cornerback Devon Torrence to defensive end Cameron Heyward to linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, Ohio State won thanks to its cast of stars on defense.

"Every time we get in the red zone, we've had a higher awareness," said Coleman, who had two interceptions, both in Ohio State territory, to go along with two pass breakups. "We've just been fortunate enough to make the plays when we need it. We've been wanting to get after the ball, and it's showing out on the field."

Last year, Ohio State ranked 14th nationally in total defense and tied for 20th in takeaways with 29. Though the Buckeyes have maintained their overall toughness on D, they've been more opportunistic this season.

They now have 33 takeaways on the season, which might lead the nation after Saturday's games (Ohio State came into the day ranked sixth nationally). Ohio State now has five players with multiple interceptions, led by Coleman (5), and seven players with at least one fumble recovery.

"The first thing we said all week was, 'You can't turn the ball over,'" Michigan offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. "And we turned it over. You can't win like that."

Young quarterbacks had given Ohio State a bit of trouble in a loss to USC (Matt Barkley) and last week's overtime win against Iowa (James Vandenberg). Michigan freshman Tate Forcier moved the ball at times Saturday, but his five turnovers (4 interceptions, 1 fumble) were the difference.

"We just came up with more plays," Coleman said. "Against USC, we just couldn't come up with the plays that we needed to, and this time, we did."
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- If Ohio State's 21-10 lead holds up, I could seriously award helmet stickers to four Buckeyes defenders.

Safety Kurt Coleman just recorded his second interception of the day after a good replay overturn. Linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan both have set up camp in the Michigan backfield, and defensive end Cameron Heyward single-handedly accounted for Ohio State's first touchdowns.

The Buckeyes might lack the offensive firepower of many top-10 teams, but they bring it on defense. They've made more game-changing plays this year on the defensive side, and today's game has been no exception.

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