NCF Nation: Mike Brewster

Offensive lineman Brian Bobek, who announced earlier this month that he would transfer from Ohio State, is headed to play for Minnesota.

Bobek on Saturday released a statement to several media outlets, including ESPN.com, confirming his move to the Gophers. Because of Big Ten rules about transferring between conference members, Bobek will lose a season of eligibility in 2012 as he sits out because of NCAA transfer rules. He will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2013. Bobek will pay his own way this fall because Minnesota is at its scholarship maximum (85). He will be on scholarship with the Gophers beginning in January 2013.

Bobek says in his statement that Minnesota was one of the first schools to contact him when he announced his intention to transfer. Head coach Jerry Kill and offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover reached out after receiving permission from Ohio State.
"Coaches Kill and Limegrover are exceptional coaches, and I am confident they and the rest of the staff are on the way to restoring the winning tradition of the Minnesota football program," Bobek's statement reads. "I look forward to making a contribution to Minnesota football and, once eligible, having an opportunity to achieve my personal goals as a football player. The University of Minnesota offers a quality education, and I hope to take advantage of the many opportunities of going to school in a great city like Minneapolis. Also, my family and I are happy for me to have the chance to continue to compete in the Big Ten, one of the best football conferences in the country.
"I once again want to thank the athletic department and football program at The Ohio State University for their consideration and assistance in easing my transition to the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Golden Gopher football program."

Bobek played a bit as a freshman last season for the Buckeyes. A highly touted recruit, he had been projected as the successor to four-year starter Michael Brewster at center, but he slipped to No. 3 on the depth chart this spring.

The 6-foot-2, 275-pound Bobek is a good pickup for Minnesota, which is looking to upgrade depth on the offensive line and restore its reputation in the trenches.
Everyone knows Terrelle Pryor headlined Ohio State's nationally acclaimed recruiting class in 2008.

But who can name the Buckeye's No. 2 rated player in the class, according to ESPN Recruiting? Hint 1: It wasn't Mike Adams, Mike Brewster, J.B. Shugarts or DeVier Posey. Hint 2: He's still in Columbus.

It might surprise some to know Etienne Sabino came to Ohio State with as much hype as the others, besides Pryor. ESPN Recruiting ranked him as the nation's top inside linebacker and No. 18 player overall. Sabino, who had an excellent size-speed combo coming out of Miami's Dr. Krop High School, received similar accolades from other recruiting services.

[+] EnlargeEtienne Sabino
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesEtienne Sabino, right, is looking to end his career at Ohio State the right way in 2012.
Yet unlike Pryor, Brewster and the others, Sabino didn't make an impact right away. He played mostly special teams as a freshman, recording six tackles. He had virtually the same results as a reserve in 2009 (13 games played, six tackles made).

Pegged as a starter in the spring of 2010, Sabino had high hopes entering fall camp. Linebackers coach Luke Fickell said of Sabino that spring, "He's the guy. ... This has been his best spring so far." But a great spring didn't translate into fall camp, as Andrew Sweat beat out Sabino for the third starting linebacker spot alongside Ross Homan and Brian Rolle. Sweat had been another decorated recruit in 2008, although not as heralded as Sabino.

Sabino and the coaches agreed he should redshirt the season, and while a rash of injuries midway through the season nearly forced him onto the field, he was able to sit out.

His wait for a bigger role finally ended in 2011, as he started five games and recorded 62 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and two sacks. It was a step, although not a huge one. Ask most Ohio State fans what they're excited about at linebacker entering 2012, and the name Ryan Shazier likely will be brought up before Sabino's.

"Coming in from high school, you want everything to happen right away," Sabino told ESPN.com. "You want to jump in, you want to contribute to the team, you want to be a superstar. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen that way. As of right now, I think my career, would I want it to be a little better at this point? Yes. But I feel like it’s getting better in the past year or so, and I'm looking to build on that.

"I just feel ready. I felt ready before, but I have such a good grasp of what we're doing and what's expected."

As one of just eight members of the 2008 class still with the Buckeyes, the 6-foot-3, 237-pound Sabino is embracing a greater leadership role. He called the most recent spring practice "the most comfortable I’ve felt since I've been here." He has embraced the scheme under Fickell, the team's defensive coordinator, and his role as an outside linebacker after getting a look at the middle earlier in his career.

Ohio State's defense took a step back in 2011, and the linebacker play was below program standards. While the Buckeyes have depth questions at linebacker outside of Sabino, Shazier and Storm Klein, Sabino has high hopes for the group.

"We pride ourselves on being Linebacker U," Sabino said. "There might be a little bit of a controversy everywhere else, but we truly feel this is Linebacker University and we're trying to uphold that tradition here."

Fickell, who like many had such high hopes for Sabino coming out of spring practice in 2010, has seen the fifth-year senior embrace the urgency before his final season in Scarlet and Gray.

"He is an unbelievable example to a lot of guys because he was one of those highly, highly recruited guys," Fickell told ESPN.com. "Things didn't happen for him really fast, and he's had a true up-and-down college career from what people might have thought or he might have thought when he came out. It just doesn’t always happen for everybody really fast.

"We always try to tell them, 'It’s not about where you start, it's where you finish.' He's on that route to really be able to finish very, very well."

Sabino still has time to make Ohio State fans remember his name.
Going into this offseason, Ohio State needed to find a replacement for four-year starting center Mike Brewster. Many people thought Brian Bobek, Brewster's backup from last season, had the inside track. Few would have predicted that Corey Linsley would grab the job and make it his own.

It's not that Linsley lacked talent. It's just that he hadn't shown a lot in his first three seasons. Last season, he was suspended for two games and didn't get a lot of playing time as a backup guard.

[+] EnlargeCorey Linsley
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteOhio State's Urban Meyer, left, has been pleased with the progress of Corey Linsley this spring.
"I really didn't see myself as accomplishing too much," Linsley told ESPN.com about his career. "I wasn't putting in all the time to be a great player. I was just doing enough to get by, and thought that was good enough. Obviously, last year showed that it wasn't."

That's why Linsley felt like he had approached a crossroads this winter. He had a clean slate with new head coach Urban Meyer. But he also had to push himself harder than ever when new strength coach Mickey Marotti began the team's challenging early morning workouts. Linsley called it "do or die" time for him as a college player.

"We had a series of 5 a.m. workouts right when Coach Meyer started, and that's when it kind of clicked for me," he said. "I had to make a decision: Am I going to sit back and relax, or am I going to take the initiative to get better, to become a better player and a better person?

"It was probably the hardest thing I've ever done. But every day I told myself, 'If I got through this, I can get through the next workout. And not only get through it, but get better while I was doing it.'"

Few players have transformed as much under the new Buckeyes regime. Linsley went from what Meyer called "a journeyman" to being anointed as the most improved player of the spring on offense by his coach. Linsley barely played in the Ohio State spring game because the staff was confident in and comfortable with what he could do.

“He was a pleasant surprise," Meyer told reporters last month. "He has the potential to be a very good player. His commitment to excellence right now is real strong.”

Linsley embraced those early morning workouts and started showing up before they began to get in extra snaps with quarterback Braxton Miller. He later realized how much that offseason conditioning paid off when offensive coordinator Tom Herman introduced the high-tempo offense this spring.

"I knew I had to be in shape after probably the first week [of spring practice]," Linsley said. "I've got to be the first O-lineman up to the line, the guy making the calls, and then make sure everybody is relaying that call further down the line. If you're not in tip-top shape, you can do it, but your mental aspects are really going to deteriorate over the course of the game."

The 6-foot-3, 292-pound Linsley has all the physical tools to make a great center. Teammates say he has bench-pressed more than 500 pounds this spring. What he's trying to do now is play with the fundamentals and technique that Brewster showed during his standout career.

"Mike has unbelievable knee bend and uses his hands the way you're supposed to use them," Linsley said. "I don't have the flexibility that Mike does, but I'm probably a little stronger. So I'm trying to take the strength I have and play with the technique he does."

Once a player who did just enough to get by, Linsley is taking to heart Meyer's challenge for the team to have the best offseason in Ohio State history. For him, that means not just doing the scheduled lifts and runs, but to always add on some extra film work or position drills. He says he's also making a point to try and lead the younger linemen and backups, making sure to pull them along to additional workouts.

That's not the Corey Linsley anybody knew before this winter. But that's why he could be known as the next great Buckeyes center.
The NFL draft begins Thursday night. You probably weren't aware of that, because the draft, like most things associated with the National Football League, gets very little media coverage. Ahem.

Luckily, Big Ten bloggers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett are stepping into this void to talk about the draft, and specifically the Big Ten prospects hoping to hear their name called over the long weekend.

Brian Bennett: Adam, we usually leave draft talk to people with better hair than us, like Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. But let's give it a shot. You know the NFL is a different game when Iowa's Riley Reiff is widely expected to be the top player taken from the Big Ten. Reiff is an excellent player and terrific pro prospect, no doubt. But if you would have asked league fans to pick a most valuable player from the conference this season, Reiff probably wouldn't have cracked the Top 10.

Speaking of the Top 10, the Big Ten hasn't had a player selected in that range for the past three years and is likely to make it four this year. What, if anything, does that say about the talent the league has been producing? And is Reiff the first guy you would take from the conference if you had an NFL team? (I'll resist from making wisecracks about your Big Ten fantasy team management last year).

Adam Rittenberg: Hey now, Year 2 will be different, my friend. The Shorties are coming for you. The Big Ten's Top 10 drought is certainly noteworthy, and I think it stems in part from the league producing fewer elite pro-caliber quarterbacks and cornerbacks in recent years. It does surprise me that the Big Ten hasn't had a defensive lineman in the top 10 recently, as the league has been very strong at both line spots. I think that will change in 2013. As for Reiff, he was about as under-the-radar as an elite player could get during his time at Iowa. He certainly performed well, but you didn't hear much about him, even compared to previous Hawkeyes standout linemen like Bryan Bulaga. Reiff is a masher, though, and while some say he's not the most dominant tackle, he should be able to help an NFL team this coming season.

I'd want to start my team with a potential difference-maker on the defensive line. The Big Ten has plenty of options, but Illinois' Whitney Mercilus is a natural pass-rusher who can put up big numbers. Have Merci? Yes, please. What's your view of the Big Ten's defensive line crop entering the draft?

BB: We both agreed that the defensive line, especially on the interior, is where the league's true strength lay in 2011. I'm a bit surprised that some mock drafts don't have Michigan State's Jerel Worthy, who has the chance to be a major presence on defense, in the first round and that Penn State's Devon Still, who was wildly productive last season, is being projected as a second-rounder at best. I'd rather take one of those guys than roll the dice on Memphis' Dontari Poe, a combine wonder who did next to nothing in college. And though Michigan's Mike Martin is a little short by NFL standards, I have little doubt he'll be a productive pro.

[+] EnlargeIowa's Riley Reiff
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/US PRESSWIREIowa's Riley Reiff could be the first Big Ten player selected in the NFL draft.
I'm also interested in seeing how the centers get drafted. Wisconsin's Peter Konz, Michigan's David Molk and Ohio State's Michael Brewster were arguably the top three centers in the nation last year. Molk, of course, publicly said he's the best of the three, and he did win the Rimington Trophy. Konz likely will go first, but I will be fascinated to see who ends up having the best career.

You mentioned quarterbacks. What do you think about Michigan State's Kirk Cousins and Wisconsin's Russell Wilson as potential NFL players? And will Dan Persa get a shot somewhere?

AR: Cousins should be the first Big Ten quarterback off the board, and many projections have him going in the second round. He clearly improved his stock during the predraft process. While everyone raves about the character of both Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin -- and for good reasons -- Cousins, as we both know, certainly fits into the same category as those two. He's not the fastest or most athletic guy, but he's extremely smart and played in a pro-style system at Michigan State. He could end up being a solid pro quarterback.

The issue for both Wilson and Persa is size, Persa more so than Wilson. While Wilson boasts tremendous arm strength and athleticism, his height scares teams. He does a tremendous job of extending plays and can make all of the throws, but he'll have to prove himself as a consistent pocket passer in a league where everyone is really big and really fast. Looks like a midround selection. Whether or not Persa gets drafted at all will be interesting. The guy obviously has a ton of heart and tremendous leadership skills, but he's small and suffered a major injury at Northwestern. I think Todd McShay summed up the sentiment about Persa when he told the Chicago Tribune, "I want to like Persa, but as an NFL prospect, he is limited." Persa will find his way onto a roster, but he'll have a lot to prove.

We've read a lot of draft evaluations in recent weeks. Which Big Ten player could be a real steal for a team this weekend?

BB: The guy whom I think is really undervalued is Iowa's Marvin McNutt. I've seen him going as late as the fifth or sixth round, which seems (Mc)nuts to me. Sure, it's a deep draft for receivers, and McNutt might not have blazing speed. But we saw him make some absolutely spectacular catches last season, and he closed his career as the Hawkeyes' all-time leader in receiving touchdowns. He has good size and produced 1,300 receiving yards in what was clearly not a gimmicky, pass-happy offense. If I were a GM and he was sitting there in Round 4 or later, I'd happily grab him.

Two other guys I think can be big bargains for teams are Nebraska's Lavonte David and Ohio State's Mike Adams. Both are being projected as second-rounders for different reasons (David because of size, Adams for off-the-field issues in college), but I think both will have long and stellar careers. They'll bring first-round value without the price.

Who do you see as underrated, or possibly overrated, from the Big Ten in this draft?

AR: I would have put Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler in the underrated category, but it seems like teams have caught on to how good he can be. He'll likely be a late first-round pick. Same with Konz and maybe Adams. It baffles me why Devon Still isn't projected higher in the draft. Two others I'd put in the underrated category are Michigan's Martin and Iowa's Mike Daniels. You don't have to be Vince Wilfork to be an effective NFL defensive tackle. Both Martin and Daniels are smaller defensive tackles, but they're both extremely strong physical and play with sound fundamentals. Both men have been tutored by excellent defensive coaches, and the teams that select them will be inheriting very hard workers.

Two of the more intriguing Big Ten prospects are Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey and Nebraska defensive tackle Jared Crick. Posey, who I chatted with briefly last week in Columbus, played only three games last fall because of suspensions stemming from NCAA violations. He's clearly a gifted guy, but it'll be interesting to see how much the off-field issues and lack of playing time impact his draft position. Crick entered 2011 as an All-America candidate but missed most of the season with injury. He definitely can help an NFL team, but like with Posey, there are question marks.

OK, time to wrap up this draft discussion. What do you think the major story line regarding the Big Ten will be coming out of this weekend's festivities?

BB: I'll go out on a limb and say Reiff is not the first Big Ten player drafted, as someone reaches for Mercilus, Worthy or Konz first. And I think the other big stories will be with the quarterbacks, as Cousins is drafted in the second round and Wilson is picked higher than people expect. What are your predictions?

AR: I wouldn't mind if that someone landing Reiff or Mercilus is my Chicago Bears, but that's another debate. Worthy's selection will be fascinating, as his stock has been pretty volatile throughout the process. I think both Martin and Daniels go earlier than expect, while Wilson has to wait a while. It'll be fascinating to see where Molk ends up. No matter where he's selected, he'll feel overlooked. As a short guy myself, I'm definitely rooting for the vertically challenged (Molk, Wilson, Persa, Martin, Daniels etc.). Another story line: Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, whose draft stock already had dropped before his arrest over the weekend.

Should be a fun weekend.

Michigan's Molk blasts Konz, Brewster

February, 29, 2012
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Michigan's David Molk believes he is the best center in the NFL draft, and he's not afraid to say it.

In an interview with AnnArbor.com, the Rimington Trophy winner says it's "pretty stupid" to think any other center should be drafted ahead of him, including Wisconsin's Peter Konz and Ohio State's Mike Brewster.

Molk
Molk had an impressive showing at the NFL combine, doing 41 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press. That was the second-best performance of all players at the event.

Konz, who some have projected as a first-round pick, did only 18 reps. That's one reason Molk says he is better.
"I have skills he doesn’t have. Obviously, my strength is far better, I’m faster, I would say I’m smarter. Obviously, he’s an intelligent person, I’ve talked to him, but I just think I have a technique that’s unmatched [by him]."

Molk also said that he was angry that Konz was named an AFCA first-team All-American after the season. Molk was a first-team All-America selection by the Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America and other organizations.
"Well, maybe [the coaches] should have checked in to who was All-Big Ten and the lineman of the year in the ... Big Ten before they did some stupid [stuff] like that," he said.

Molk also doesn't believe that Ohio State's Brewster, a four-year starter and 2010 All-American, should be drafted higher than him.
"He is nowhere near me as a player," he said of Brewster.

Brewster fired back on Twitter this morning, saying "If they are talking, then you are doing something right," then adding, "And Molk, keep my name out of your mouth...."

It looks like some Big Ten rivalries will continue into the NFL.

B1G combine contingent gets to work

February, 22, 2012
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The NFL scouting combine kicks off today in Indianapolis, and 45 Big Ten players will be part of the most scrutinized job interview in sports.

Here's the full schedule of events. The first set of interviews take place Wednesday, and position group workouts take place from Friday-Tuesday.

Here are some of the Big Ten storylines at the combine:

    [+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
    Chuck Cook/US PresswireRussell Wilson needs to convince teams that his less-than-ideal height won't hold him back at the next level.
  • The quarterbacks are always a story in Indy, and Wisconsin's Russell Wilson and Michigan State's Kirk Cousins will be representing the Big Ten. Wilson's biggest obstacle is his height, and he'll have to show he can throw over the top of massive linemen and make all the throws. He won't lack for motivation. Cousins had a strong showing during Senior Bowl week. He wants to put himself in that second group of quarterbacks behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. A strong combine performance could be the difference between being a third-round pick and a fifth-rounder.
  • Can Michigan State defensive tackle Jerel Worthy solidify himself in the first round? Worthy has moved around the mock drafts quite a bit during the past few months. There are obvious pluses to his game, namely his brute strength and ability to clog rushing lanes and drop quarterbacks. But some have questioned his motor and whether he takes too many plays off. He'll be under the microscope in Indy, especially from a conditioning standpoint.
  • The combine will be huge for Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who saw his stock drop during Senior Bowl week and missed the game because of a hip injury. Huskers coach Bo Pelini has called Dennard the nation's best cornerback, and he showed shutdown skills at times last season. But he has some work to do to get back in the first-round picture.
  • Remember Jared Crick? I ranked him as the Big Ten's No. 1 player entering the season, but he played in only five games before being sidelined with a torn pectoral muscle. Crick needs to show he's healthy and that he can thrive when not playing alongside Ndamukong Suh.
  • It will be interesting to see which Big Ten offensive linemen can boost their stock in Indy. Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff doesn't have much to prove and should be the league's first player drafted in April, but it'll be interesting to see how Wisconsin center Peter Konz, Ohio State center Mike Brewster, Wisconsin tackle Josh Oglesby, Illinois tackle Jeff Allen, Ohio State tackle Mike Adams and others perform. Konz certainly could be the first center drafted, while many project Adams in the first round. Oglesby is among the players trying to prove they can hold up after dealing with several knee injuries with the Badgers. Brewster's stock dropped at the Senior Bowl, and he finished the season as the Big Ten's No. 3 center after entering the fall as a preseason All-American.
  • Michigan State running back Edwin Baker surprised some by declaring for the draft. His production dropped off significantly in 2011, although Michigan State had some issues along the offensive line. Still, Baker needs a big performance in Indy to impress the talent evaluators.
  • Ohio State receiver DeVier Posey appeared in only three games as a senior because of suspension. He has the physical gifts to be an effective pro wideout, but he'll need a strong week before the scouts in Indy. Evaluators also will be trying to assess his character after some off-field missteps at Ohio State.
  • The combine is all about numbers, and Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin might post some huge ones this week. Martin, one of the strongest players in college football, is bench pressing 505 pounds and squatting more than 700. Stephen Paea's combine record of 49 reps of 225 pounds could be in jeopardy. Martin should finish among the leaders in his position group in several categories.
The folks at ESPN Recruiting stepped into the rewind machine Wednesday and looked back at the ESPNU 150 from 2008 Insider to see which heralded recruits panned out and which did not.

From a Big Ten slant, this exercise is essentially a referendum on Ohio State's class, which ranked sixth nationally that year Insider and featured eight ESPNU 150 prospects, headlined by quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Several other Big Ten squads had prospects in the 150 as well.

Overall, the results are mixed. Some players matched their hype, like Ohio State center Mike Brewster and, when healthy, Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti. Others did not or have not, once again proving that recruiting rankings should be viewed with caution.

Here's a look.

Prospects ranked from 1-25 Insider

No. 4: Terrelle Pryor, QB, Ohio State -- Helped Buckeyes win three Big Ten championships and two BCS bowls before departing in June because of multiple NCAA rules violations.

No. 18: Etienne Sabino, LB, Ohio State: -- Started the 2011 season after redshirting in 2010. Hasn't been a difference-maker for Buckeyes, but ended with a strong performance in the Gator Bowl and could be a key player in 2012.

Prospects ranked from 26-50 Insider

No. 42: Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State -- Four-year starter undoubtedly paid off for Ohio State. Brewster earned All-Big Ten honors and was an All-America candidate his final two seasons.

No. 48: Andrew Sweat, LB, Ohio State -- Sweat had a solid but unspectacular career for Ohio State. He was the team's top linebacker in 2011, and Ohio State missed him late in the season.

Prospects ranked between 51-75 Insider

No. 56: J.B. Shugarts, T, Ohio State -- Started the final three seasons at right tackle but never earned All-Big Ten honors.

No. 58: Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State -- Plagued by knee problems, but very effective when healthy. He turned in a strong 2010 season and entered 2011 as an All-America candidate before tearing his ACL in September. He'll be back in 2012.

No. 69: Dann O'Neill, T, Michigan -- Redshirted as a freshman before transferring to Western Michigan, saying Michigan wasn't the right fit. He earned third-team All-MAC honors in 2011.

No. 71: Darryl Stonum, WR, Michigan -- Turned in a nice year in 2010, but found himself in off-field troubles throughout his Michigan career. Wolverines coach Brady Hoke on Tuesday dismissed Stonum after his latest infraction that resulted in jail time.

Prospects ranked 76-100 Insider

No. 88: Mike Adams, T, Ohio State -- One of the Big Ten's top offensive linemen during his final two seasons, earning first-team all-conference honors in 2010 and second-team honors in 2011 despite playing in only seven games. He had some off-field issues with the Buckeyes and was part of the Tat-5 with Pryor.

Prospects ranked 101-125 Insider

No. 107: Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State -- An excellent weapon when used in the Ohio State offense. He recorded a team-high seven touchdown receptions in 2011, but had only 14 overall receptions. He returns in 2012 and should have a bigger role in a more wide-open offense.

No. 115: Brandon Moore, TE, Michigan -- Moore has two receptions in three years as a reserve tight end for the Wolverines. He could see a bigger role in 2012 as Kevin Koger departs.

No. 119 Baker Steinkuhler, DT, Nebraska -- Started the past two seasons on the Huskers' defensive line and recorded 40 tackles, including five for loss and two sacks, during the 2011 season. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors and will be called upon to take a leading role for Big Red in 2012.

Prospects ranked 126-150 Insider

No. 128: Patrick Nixon-Youman, CB, Illinois -- Hip surgery a few years ago slowed Nixon-Youman's progression, but he appeared in 11 games in each of the past two seasons in a reserve role. He could play a bigger role in 2012.

No. 130: Keanon Cooper, LB, Minnesota -- Started in 2011 for Minnesota and recorded 77 tackles, including six for loss, as well as two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. He enters his third season as a starter in 2012 and will need to be a big contributor for the Gophers' defense.

No. 135: Travis Howard, CB, Ohio State -- Took on a bigger role in 2011 and recorded 44 tackles, two interceptions, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups for the Buckeyes. He'll enter the 2012 season as a projected starter and could end his career with a flourish.

No. 141: J.B. Fitzgerald, LB, Michigan -- Started only three games in his career, but appeared in 50 contests and was a valuable reserve and special teams performer for Michigan in 2011.

No. 148: Tyler Westphal, DE, Wisconsin -- Had a serious shoulder injury following his redshirt year in Madison and eventually transferred to North Dakota State.

Minnesota linebacker Brendan Beal, who has yet to play for the Gophers after transferring from Florida, is No. 133 in the rankings.
Saturday is Senior Day at Ohio State. This year will likely bring some mixed emotions to the event.

The Buckeyes have a small senior class of contributors -- of the 24 players who will be honored before the Penn State game, only nine have ever started a game in their careers. And of those nine, four of them have been mired in controversy this year. Offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas sat out the first five games as part of their suspension for the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal. Running back Dan Herron served that suspension and an extra game for another violation. And receiver DeVier Posey will be playing for the first time Saturday after sitting out 10 games for both the tattoo case and a summer job that the NCAA has alleged paid him for work he didn't perform.

[+] EnlargeLuke Fickell
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCoach Luke Fickell said Ohio State's seniors who were suspended should be shown the same respect as the other seniors.
The seniors also won three Big Ten championships and played in three BCS games, winning two of them (though one of them, like the entire 2010 season, was officially vacated). So how exactly will fans view this class? Will it be all cheers on Saturday? Or some grumbling as well?

"I'm not sure how they will react," Herron said. "That's really not something we can worry about. If fans give us a good response, we'll be happy. If they don't, we've got to keep moving on."

Head coach Luke Fickell says the seniors who were suspended should be shown the same respect as others.

"They've made a mistake," he said. "They've served their penance. They've shown what they can do in the way that they've handled themselves ....

"To me, these guys have battled through a lot. I've got the utmost respect for them for how they've handled the situations. The way they've been in the locker room, I couldn't ask for anything truly more in the last six months than the way they've handled themselves, the way they've accepted me, and our coaching staff, and the things we thought were important for these six months."

Posey might be the most interesting case study of them all. Surely, the Buckeyes' woeful passing offense could have used him this season. He's a central figure in not one but two situations that resulted in a notice of allegations from the NCAA. He's also paid the price by sitting out 10 games his senior year and trying to stay in shape and focused on when his opportunity would come.

Adams and Herron, who were starters before their suspensions, stepped right back into their roles when they came back. Fickell praised the way Posey has handled himself through the situation but didn't commit to Posey starting this week. The Buckeyes may need him against a stout Penn State defense.

"I'm so excited to see him out there and playing," said Herron, a close friend of Posey's. "When you miss 10 games, it's tough on someone, especially when it's your dream to play college football. He's been working tremendously hard and hopefully he'll show that on Saturday."

It's also important to note that many of the seniors never got into any NCAA turmoil. Guys such as All-Big Ten center Mike Brewster, who will be starting his 47th consecutive game this week. Brewster said he'll choose to remember the BCS bowls, and that the NCAA can't vacate last year's Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas out of his mind. This year, though Ohio State is 6-4, he said he'll remember helping to mentor young players such as Braxton Miller and hopefully setting the stage for the future.

It remains to be seen how the rest of the senior class will be remembered.

"I hope we have a great legacy," Herron said. "We've been through a lot, but we don't make that as an excuse. We've shown that you can go through anything and that anything is possible. We're going to fight to the end."

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- About the only thing more surprising than Braxton Miller's on-the-run, nearly-past-the-line-of-scrimmage, 40-yard touchdown heave with 20 seconds left on the clock was what he had done moments earlier.

Ohio State's rocky season was on the brink. A Buckeyes team that had controlled play against No. 15 Wisconsin and dominated stretches of the second half found itself trailing 29-26 with 1:10 left. A defense that had stifled Wisconsin's high-powered offense had suffered a breakdown at the worst possible time, leading to the Badgers' go-ahead score.

A third Ohio State loss would essentially eliminate the team from the Big Ten title chase. It would mark another blow for a proud program that had taken so many shots during a miserable eight-month stretch. It would heighten questions about coach Luke Fickell's future and bring back the doom and gloom that enveloped the team during an 0-2 start to Big Ten play.

Unless a quarterback who had completed one pass in Ohio State's previous game against Illinois could work some magic in a likely passing situation, the Buckeyes would go down in defeat.

The Shoe was deflated. Miller wasn't. Before Miller took the field for the decisive drive, he let Fickell know things would be OK.

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith
Greg Bartram/US PresswireWisconsin lost for the second week in a row when Devin Smith caught a 40-yard touchdown pass with 20 seconds left in the game.
He winked.

"I gave him a little, you know, 'We got it, man. Don't worry about nothing,'" a smiling Miller recalled. "I knew we had it."

He might have been the only one. A Wisconsin team that had rallied the week before at Michigan State, only to lose on a Hail Mary, surely wouldn't allow any openings for Ohio State.

But as Miller rolled to his right, he spotted classmate Devin Smith in the end zone and let it fly.

"Once I looked back, I expected him to run because that's usually what he does," Smith said. "And I saw him look directly at me. And I saw him launch the ball. The ball was up there forever and I was like, 'Will it come down?' They all said it looked like a punt."

Best punt of Ohio State's season.

Miller said it was "50-50" whether he ran or passed on the play, and made the decision to throw a split second before crossing the line of scrimmage. He even asked Fickell whether he had crossed the line (officials reviewed the play and correctly ruled it a legal pass).

"I just had to let it go," he said.

Miller didn't wink at center Mike Brewster before the final series. He just told the senior All-America candidate to give him some time on the final drive.

An Ohio State line that spurred the team to 268 rush yards and three touchdowns in the 33-29 victory obliged.

"He just made a play," Brewster said of Miller. "When we needed him to do it, he made something happen. That's what he does best."

Fickell elevated Miller to a starting role in part because Ohio State's anemic offense needed more plays to be made. After a rocky start to Big Ten play against Michigan State (5-for-10 passing, 56 yards, 1 INT), Miller showed a spark the next week against Nebraska before leaving the game with an ankle sprain.

Saturday night, he came of age.

"It's a confidence thing," Fickell said. "I've talked about it all year long or as long as Braxton has been the quarterback. It was about confidence. He's learned to grasp things a lot more.

"And we know he can throw it."

Running back Jordan Hall was on the sideline for the decisive play, shielding his eyes.

"I just looked down," Hall said. "And when I heard the crowd, I was like, 'Must be good news.'"

Turned out to be very good news for Ohio State, which remains alive in the Leaders division race entering November. Both Ohio State and Wisconsin sit 2.5 games behind division leader Penn State, which ends the season with trips to Columbus (Nov. 19) and Madison (Nov. 26).

Although the Buckeyes need help from the Nittany Lions -- and the NCAA's infractions committee, which likely will rule on Ohio State's case next month -- their once-improbable goal of reaching Indianapolis with a chance to continue a streak of Big Ten titles remains on the table.

"This is for this team, this is for this program, this is what we expect," Fickell said. "But it is that same thing. It's about confidence. It's about momentum. And you can learn and learn and learn from all different ways.

"But until you do it, there's no other way to learn it."

Wisconsin learned a tough lesson for the second consecutive week, as the Badgers once again saw a valiant comeback on the road go up in smoke in the final seconds. Considered the class of the Big Ten two weeks ago, Wisconsin now sits at 2-2 in league play, needing a lot of help to reach Indianapolis.

Like last week, the Badgers made uncharacteristic errors, including another blocked punt that led to an Ohio State touchdown. And yet they put themselves in position to win. They simply needed to stop a quarterback who hadn't thrown a 40-yard pass all season.

"It was another heartbreaking loss for us," Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema said. "... Our kids never quit. They're going to be tested in an unbelievable fashion after the last two weeks. I can't describe the feeling of having to face those guys after all they've put in."

The feeling inside the stadium was pure elation, as fans rushed the field to celebrate. The entire student section in the south end spilled onto the field.

Was Buckeye Nation waiting for this moment? After the past eight months, absolutely.

"We've faced so much adversity, whether it's on the field or off the field," said linebacker Andrew Sweat, who sealed the win by pressuring Wisconsin's Russell Wilson on the final play. "We didn't quit, where some people would think we would.

"We've gotten stronger as a team. We've gotten better. And we'll continue to get better."

1Q update: Both defenses dominating

October, 15, 2011
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It has been all about the defenses after 15 minutes of play at Memorial Stadium. Ohio State leads No. 16 Illinois 3-0 after the first quarter.

A few notes and thoughts:
  • Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller is moving around fine, and coordinator Jim Bollman hasn't been afraid to send Miller on the move. Miller ran the option on the first play from scrimmage and leads Ohio State with six rushes. He hasn't attempted a pass, twice running on obvious passing situations, so he looks a little gun-shy so far.

  • Illinois' defense likely has something to do with it. Illini DE Whitney Mercilus continued his spectacular season with a hit on Miller that jarred the ball loose (Ohio State C Mike Brewster recovered). Fellow defensive linemen Michael Buchanan also has been impressive.
  • Ohio State's defense has rebounded nicely from its late-game flop at Nebraska. The Buckeyes are tackling well and preventing Illinois from stretching the field. Illini star WR A.J. Jenkins has only one catch for two yards.
  • Jason Ford has been the bright spot for Illinois' offense, running with good power, as he should with his frame. Ford has three carries for 21 yards and should get the ball more in the second quarter.
  • Dan Herron definitely makes a difference for Ohio State's offense. The senior racked up 27 rush yards and showed some good moves with the ball. The Buckeyes will need a big game from "Boom" today.
Mike Brewster's vision for his senior season at Ohio State included snapping the ball to Terrelle Pryor and receiving guidance from Jim Tressel.

It certainly didn't include games like last Saturday's 24-6 loss at Miami.

Like the other Buckeyes seniors, Brewster isn't accustomed to losing. He certainly isn't used to being blown out by an unranked opponent.

Although Ohio State's offense has had its hiccups during Brewster's first three years as the starting center, the unit never performed as poorly as it did in the Miami game.

[+] EnlargeMike Brewster
James Davidson/Icon SMIThis season has not gotten off to the start Mike Brewster (50) had hoped for.
"I haven't really gone through a game like that here," he told ESPN.com. "I'm definitely being tested right now in a way I didn't think I would ever be."

Ohio State coach Luke Fickell repeatedly talked Tuesday about getting the team's best 11 on the field on both offense and defense. Brewster, a leading Rimington Trophy candidate, certainly is among that best 11.

He's not the problem, but he wants to be part of the solution.

"I can really only help control so much," Brewster said. "What I'm going to do is make sure this line keeps grinding away. It's a great group of guys up front. If we give the backs holes and the quarterbacks time, I think things will go in the right direction."

Despite Fickell's best efforts to deflect criticism from the quarterbacks, it's not hard to isolate Ohio State's primary problem on offense.

The Buckeyes rushed for 174 yards against Miami, and running back Jordan Hall had a nice performance in his season debut. Miami recorded only two tackles for loss.

"I thought we did a great job of giving the quarterbacks time and giving the backs holes," Brewster said.

But the quarterbacks, senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller, combined to complete just 4 of 18 pass attempts for 35 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Bauserman completed just 2 of 14 attempts for 13 yards, while Miller threw the pick and also lost a fumble.

While three key offensive reinforcements -- running back Dan Herron, wideout DeVier Posey and left tackle Mike Adams -- are on the way back for the Oct. 8 game at Nebraska, Ohio State will go forward with what it has under center.

Fickell remains undecided on a starter for this week's game against Colorado, although he seemed to lean a bit more in Miller's direction.

Asked if he saw an overwhelming upside with Miller ahead of Bauserman, Fickell replied, "We could. If he could go out and make some plays on the football, we will."

Fickell on Tuesday stressed the need for more big plays. Ohio State has recorded only 11 offensive plays of 20 yards or longer (nine pass, two rush) through the first three games, and none came against Miami.

"All the running backs are capable of doing that," fullback Zach Boren said. "Even out wide, the young [receivers]. I think we have the fastest team I've ever been a part of here at Ohio State. We definitely have that capability of guys to be able to make big plays, be that playmaker.

"Someone just needs to step up and do it."

Brewster won't be throwing passes or breaking off long runs, but he'll continue his role as the nucleus of the line and enhance his role as a leader as Ohio State prepares for its final nonconference game Saturday against Colorado.

"I know guys are looking to me, and I just have to stay confident," Brewster said. "That's something I learned from coach Tress. When things were going bad or we'd hit a rough spot, he kept his head up and stayed confident.

"There's a lot to play for still. I know people on the outside looking in think it's bad, but I'm pretty confident we'll fix things."
Luke Fickell & Al GoldenUS Presswire, Icon SMIOhio State's Luke Fickell, left, and Miami's Al Golden have had challenging starts to their new jobs.
As college football suffered through an offseason of scandal, two programs found themselves squarely in the crosshairs.

Ohio State made headlines for the wrong reasons throughout much of the spring and summer, especially during an eight-day stretch when coach Jim Tressel resigned and starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor left the program. The notoriety then shifted to Miami after a Yahoo! Sports investigation revealed damaging allegations by former booster Nevin Shapiro.

It brings us to Saturday night, when the Buckeyes and Hurricanes will meet on the field.

Some folks are calling it the Ineligi-Bowl.

Both teams are short-handed -- Ohio State more than Miami -- and both are dealing with change and intense scrutiny. Both are facing potential NCAA penalties and uncertain futures, but first-year coaches Luke Fickell and Al Golden are trying to keep the focus on the field.

Bloggers Heather Dinich (ACC) and Adam Rittenberg (Big Ten) break down a unique matchup at Sun Life Stadium.

Adam Rittenberg: HD, hope you had a better summer than the Canes or Buckeyes. Both programs have dealt with a lot of recent distractions. Miami dropped its opener to Maryland but regains the services of quarterback Jacory Harris and others from suspension. Ohio State still will be without three offensive starters and looked very shaky Saturday against Toledo. Before getting between the lines, let's look between the ears. How do you think these teams are approaching this game from a mental standpoint? Does one squad have an edge?

Heather Dinich: The only edge I see, Ritt, is the fact that Miami had a bye week to move on from its loss to Maryland, while that scare from Toledo is pretty fresh in the Buckeyes’ heads. Then again, it could have been just the wake-up call Ohio State needed. Plus, Miami has to be recharged a bit and excited about getting several of its players back from the opening-game suspension. Miami was without eight players against the Terps, and now five of those players return, including Harris. Most notably, the defense should get a boost up front from the return of linebacker Sean Spence, defensive end Adewale Ojomo, and defensive tackle Marcus Forston. The Canes were beat up front by Maryland, but the return of those guys should give them some more confidence heading into the Ohio State game. What about the Buckeyes? Two wins over teams they should beat. Are they ready for their first real test of the season?

AR: Ohio State's first real test actually came Saturday against Toledo, although few thought the Rockets would challenge the Buckeyes. Toledo found gaps in Ohio State's secondary and held the Buckeyes to just six points in the second half. Ohio State will have to play better in all three phases against Miami, especially in the kicking game, after the Canes recorded two returns for touchdowns last year in Columbus. The first road game always presents challenges, especially for an Ohio State team dealing with significant personnel losses on both sides of the ball. Line play is an area the Buckeyes must lean on Saturday night, as Ohio State has proven veterans on both sides like center Mike Brewster and defensive lineman John Simon. But with so many key players out, the Buckeyes will be challenged.

Speaking of getting key players back, what's your take on the short suspensions for Harris and the others? Ohio State fans are livid that the Tat-4 remains out, while Shapiro's pals are back on the field this week.

HD: Well, fortunately for the sport, there really is no precedent for this, so it seems like the only thing you can really compare in these two cases is the monetary value of their infractions. In Miami's cases, the harshest punishments (six games and four games), were reserved for violations that occurred when Olivier Vernon and Ray-Ray Armstrong were still recruits. Vernon has to repay more than $1,200; Armstrong (four games) and Dyron Dye (four games) were both less than $800. The one-game suspensions correlate to players whose violations all amounted to less than $500. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think the Buckeyes are working on repaying between $1,000-2,500. I think it's safe to say the Buckeyes' violations were more costly in more ways than one, as they should be.

All that aside, though, there's only one thing that will matter Saturday, and that's who wins. Miami hasn't started out 0-2 since 1978. Who, in your opinion, needs this win more?

AR: Yeah, I think the folks in Columbus are more upset that three players who took money at a charity function -- running back Jordan Hall and defensive backs Travis Howard and Corey Brown -- are serving longer suspensions than those who took benefits from Shapiro. But whatever. Both teams really need this win, but I'll make the case for Ohio State. Unlike Golden, who shouldn't have to worry about his job security (whether he wants to stay at Miami is another question), Fickell and his staff have no guarantees beyond this season. While coaches need the players to perform well in the Big Ten no matter what, this is the type of game that can build confidence or reduce it. Any road win boosts a team's morale, but beating Miami without so many key pieces would increase the Buckeyes' belief that they can continue to achieve their top goals despite all the turmoil. I certainly see the urgency for Miami, too.

Let's talk about Jacory Harris. I'll be kind and say he was very bad last year at The Shoe. If not for his interceptions, Miami could have made things very interesting. How do you think Harris fares against an Ohio State defense with a bunch of new starters, particularly in the secondary?

HD: Four turnovers was the reason Miami lost this game last year. I would be surprised if Jacory doesn't play better. I spent some time down at Miami this summer and could sense some genuine confidence in Harris from first-year offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch and from Golden. They backed that up when they named him the starter after the loss to Maryland. I know Stephen Morris is the fan favorite, but Jacory's experience alone will help alleviate some of the mistakes and confusion that came in the loss to the Terps. This is Jacory's last season to go out a winner and redeem himself. I believe he is truly a more confident player, but how that translates in his first start since a dreadful performance in the Sun Bowl last year remains to be seen. He still has a lot to prove. Of the four ACC teams lining up against ranked opponents this weekend, though, I give the Canes the best chance to win. I'll save the score for Thursday's picks, but I'm sticking with the ACC in this one. I'll give you the last word, though, since I know you'll need it to defend the Buckeyes.

AR: Thank you, ma'am. Defending Ohio State after last week's performance isn't easy, but Toledo looks like a pretty solid team, and coach Tim Beckman definitely had the Rockets ready to play. Given the players missing on offense, Ohio State will have to win this game by playing TresselBall -- ironically without Tressel. It'll be all about defense, the run game, controlling field position on special teams and limiting mistakes. The Buckeyes need a much sharper defensive performance and I think they'll get one, especially against Harris, whom I don't trust at all to limit mistakes. The kick and punt coverage teams have to be sharper than they were last year and against Toledo. It will be tough for Fickell's crew, but there are enough leaders on that team who know how to win tough games. I'll also wait to reveal my score Thursday, but I'm going with the Scarlet and Gray.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- At 6-foot-5 and 293 pounds, Ohio State center Mike Brewster doesn't exactly float like a butterfly. But before Saturday's game against Akron, the Buckeyes' All-American might as well have been walking on air.

"I don't think I could feel my feet when I was running out of the tunnel," the senior and four-year starter said. "It's a feeling I haven't had since I've been here. It's always special, but today with starting a new era and everything that has gone on, it was unbelievable to get back out there."

[+] EnlargeLuke Fickell
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteLuke Fickell began his tenure as Ohio State's head coach with a 42-0 victory against Akron.
Ohio State crushed the appropriately-named Zips 42-0 as a team with its talent advantage should do in a season opener at home. The game merited watching because it signaled what the Buckeyes hope was the end to their offseason troubles and the beginning of Luke Fickell's tenure as head coach. As far as new directions go, this one went about as well as could possibly be expected.

The Sweater Vest is gone. The Man in Black now rules the Shoe. Fickell espoused predecessor Jim Tressel's senatorial, sartorial style for a short-sleeve black windbreaker despite temperatures on the field exceeding 100 degrees.

"I'd rather be hot than cold," Fickell said. "Maybe that is the wrestler mentality that I grew up with."

Fickell said he liked the difficult playing conditions and that he even walked up and down the sidelines reminding players about the heat. He wanted to see how everyone dealt with the adversity.

Not like he needed Mother Nature for that. The Buckeyes have been dealing with controversy and scrutiny for months during an NCAA investigation and a rash of player suspensions. They took the field Saturday missing five projected starters and two key reserves. With running back Jaamal Berry also sidelined by a hamstring injury, they had only two healthy running backs available.

Given all that, some slippage seemed inevitable. But Ohio State looked like Ohio State, dominating behind a rebuilt defense. Akron managed just 90 total yards, compared to 517 for the Buckeyes.

"Even though we don't have some big names like in the past, I think we've got some young guys who are fully capable of getting the job done," linebacker Andrew Sweat said.

The opener might have also cleared up the quarterback competition for the foreseeable future.

Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman was expected to split reps with true freshman Braxton Miller, but other than one three-and-out series in the first half, Bauserman ran the offense until the game got out of hand. And he ran it well, completing 12-of-16 passes for 163 yards and three touchdowns. While many fans had clamored for Miller's speed and escapability, Bauserman showed that he's no statue in the pocket. The former minor-league baseball player turned a broken play into a 15-yard touchdown run on the Buckeyes' first drive, and he also made throws on the run and turned potential trouble into positive yardage.

[+] EnlargeJoe Bauserman
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteQuarterback Joe Bauserman rushes for a touchdown in the first quarter. Bauserman also threw for three scores to lead No. 18 Ohio State to a 42-0 win over Akron.
"I tried to lead the best I could," Bauserman said. "You dream about it, and to come out here and play well felt good."

Miller also had his moments late, leading a second-half touchdown drive and finishing 8-of-12 for 130 yards. Fickell said the team needs both quarterbacks and will continue to use them in games, though Bauserman clearly owns the starter's job for now.

Fickell didn't change too many things from the Tressel era. The Buckeyes often lined up in the I-formation or with two tight ends. But the way they used the tight ends was different. For years, they were little more than glorified blockers, all but ignored in the passing game. On Saturday, junior Jake Stoneburner caught three touchdown passes, the first tight end in Ohio State history to pull off that feat.

"I didn't play tight end here, or maybe that would have happened before," Fickell joked. "[Stoneburner] has been an integral part of the offense all through camp. I expected it, to be quite honest."

All lessons learned from the Buckeyes in this opener must be graded on an Akron curve. Second-year Zips head coach Rob Ianello brought only one more career victory than Fickell into Saturday's game. Ohio State has had tougher scrimmages.

Still, Fickell enjoyed an encouraging debut free of the kind of miscommunication breakdowns and sideline confusion that sometimes plague new coaches. For a program that hadn't experience much good news in several months, getting back to winning on the field was like dancing in the clouds.

"It felt good not have to listen to what everyone else was saying about us," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said, "and just show them what we could do."

Big Ten Leaders Division notebook

August, 30, 2011
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The first Big Ten coaches teleconference of the season was held Tuesday, while several teams also held their first game week news conferences. Here are some news and nuggets from each of the Leaders Division coaches:

Illinois
  • Ron Zook praised quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase for his development. "He seems to be picking up more and more of the offense," Zooks said. "And the more he learns, the quicker he is. He's taken another step not only with his play but with the way he's led this team as well."
  • Despite the loss of Mikel Leshoure to the NFL draft, Zook expects the Illini running game to keep on trucking and had positive words for starting tailback Jason Ford. "He had a great offseason and got his weight down to where he was as a freshman," Zook said. Zook also likes what he sees out of freshmen Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson at the position. "One thing in the Big Ten is, you'd better have more than one running back," he said. "We feel very fortunate that we've got a few guys who should help us maintain what we've done in terms of rushing."
  • Junior linebacker Ashante Williams, who was suspended following a DUI arrest, is back practicing with the team and working on the scout unit. Zook said he wants Williams, who is a semester away from graduation, to earn his degree. He hasn't made a decision on when or if Williams might play for the Illini.
Indiana
  • Ticket sales have not exactly been robust so far, but Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson says playing the opener against Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis should help both teams. "I'm interested to see if the fan bases come out to support both programs," he said. "Is it an advantage? I don't know. [But] I think it's a great opportunity for both teams to energize their teams."
  • With less than a week before the opener, Wilson said the staff still hasn't decided on a starting quarterback between Dusty Kiel and Edward Wright-Baker. "Really, down the stretch, we're trying to decide which young man we think will manage the game, keep us out of turnovers and keep us in positive situations." He added that he's "really intrigued" by true freshman Tre Roberson. "He's very athletic, but at the same time he's a little overwhelmed," Wilson said. "I do think he can add to the mix as we go through the season."
Ohio State
  • The Buckeyes won't have permanent captains this year. Instead, they will name game captains each week. Center Mike Brewster, right tackle J.B. Shugarts and defensive tackle John Simon will be captains for this week's Akron game. Luke Fickell said he decided to do it this way to show his senior leaders that "we need every single one of them."
  • Fickell confirmed that offensive lineman Corey Linsley has been suspended for the first game and said Linsley may also miss Week 2 against Miami. Starting linebacker Etienne Sabino is expected to play despite breaking his left hand during training camp.
Penn State
  • While quarterback gets the most attention, the Nittany Lions haven't named a starter yet at right guard, either. John Urschel and Johnnie Troutman are still battling it out and Joe Paterno said he doesn't know who will get the call. Paterno called offensive line depth one of his main concerns, much more so than the quarterback situation.
  • Paterno confirmed that punter/kicker Anthony Fera is suspended for an alcohol-related arrest earlier this month, but he didn't divulge how long the suspension would last.
  • Paterno was asked about his former assistant, Al Golden, and the task that now faces him at scandal-ridden Miami. "Al's got a tough job on his hands right now," Paterno said. "I'm sure when everything settles down at Miami and he gets a hold of the problems and starts to resolve them and cure them, that he'll do well. But it's going to take a little while, if what people are saying is true. If it can be done, Al will get it done."
Purdue
  • Head coach Danny Hope has named Caleb TerBush his starting quarterback for the Middle Tennessee game in the wake of Rob Henry's torn ACL. Hope says the team is confident in TerBush, a junior who has played in only one career game. "He's far along," Hope said. "He's tall, he puts a lot of velocity on the ball, he's accurate and he's competitive." Though TerBush is 6-foot-6, Hope said he can run the ball and could even mix in some option plays.
  • Robert Marve still isn't practicing as he recovers from last year's knee surgery, but Hope said Marve should be ready in the next couple of weeks. "We're optimistic he can help our football team sometime soon this season," Hope said.
  • In some much-needed good injury news, the Boilermakers are happy with the way running back Ralph Bolden has returned from two knee surgeries. "It's been a real blessing," Hope said. "I didn't know what to expect, really. ... It doesn't look like he's lost anything to me. He's very fast, very sharp, very sudden. He's making people miss, is very confident on his cuts and is finishing runs." Hope said Bolden consistently punched the ball into the end zone during some goal line drills against the No. 1 defense this month. " He looks like one of the best players on our team again right now," he said.
Wisconsin
  • Redshirt freshman Kyle French will be pressed into field-goal duties on Thursday against UNLV, as regular kicker Philip Welch hasn't healed from a quadriceps injury. Head coach Bret Bielema said French is a "no-nonsense kid" who should be able to handle the situation. Bielema said he would rely on holder Brad Nortman to find out what French can do. "I usually lean on my holder," he said. "We'll come up with a number we feel he's good to kick from and hopefully just move forward."
  • Bielema said he's never sensed this much hype around the Badgers during his time with the program. Wisconsin is ranked No. 10 in the coaches poll and is a favorite to win the Big Ten. He said he noticed it during training camp, when media requests for interviews poured in from around the country. "It's fun and I think it's a sign of respect," he said. "I tried to emphasize to our players that right now the story about Wisconsin is a good thing. There's not a lot of negativity around our program. A lot of things going around college football have stayed out of Madison. I like the character and the kids we have. Hopefully, it doesn't go to their heads."
  • The series with UNLV comes to an end this year, but Bielema said the Badgers are interested in signing another deal with the Rebels. "Wisconsin people always need an excuse to run to Vegas," he said. "I think they love doing it."
Ohio State center Mike Brewster heard all the talk in the offseason about his program's troubles. He read and listened to comments about how the Buckeyes were doomed for a collapse, that their streak of Big Ten championships would come to an end.

For the most part, Ohio State players and coaches didn't respond to that chatter. But they filed it away.

"We're looking forward to showing people," Brewster said. "We're going to speak on the field."

[+] EnlargeLuke Fickell
Greg Bartram/US PresswireAfter a tumultuous offseason, Luke Fickell is looking forward to the focus returning to Ohio State's on-field performance.
The first chance for a rebuttal arrives this Saturday in the season opener against Akron. Now, let's be honest here. The Zips barely avoided putting up a zilch in the win column last season, finishing 1-11. The Buckeyes haven't lost a home opener since falling to Penn State in 1978. Only the most catastrophic possible version of events contains a scenario where Ohio State fails to win this game.

Yet this remains an important first test for other reasons. For months, the conversation around Columbus has centered around tattoos, memorabilia, car dealerships, NCAA investigators and Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor. Finally, the team has its chance to turn that focus squarely on football and how this year's Buckeyes look. The last thing they want to do is stub their toes and invite more negativity.

"There's been a lot of talk," head coach Luke Fickell said. "But talk is that. Our performance will be what we want to define us. Our actions and the way we perform Saturday afternoon will be, to me, what we want to talk about."

Ohio State isn't immune to some early-season scuffles, after all. In the 2009 opener, it squeaked by Navy 31-27. The year before, a Week 2 game against Ohio ended in an unsatisfying 12-point victory.

Those weren't panic-inducing results because Tressel had a track record. Fickell doesn't have the same luxury.

The last Ohio State coach to lose his debut was Jack Ryder in 1892, and that was 21 coaches ago. But how many of those men were following a legend while lacking any head-coaching experience and doing so on a one-year contract? Every one of Fickell's moves will be dissected and debated in his first game, from how he handles end-of-half clock management to what he does on fourth downs to what he wears on the sidelines. (On that last topic, Fickell said he'd probably choose black so he'd stand out while signaling in defensive plays.)

Fickell says he likes criticism more than compliments, and that's probably a good thing. The radio call-in shows and message boards will roast him the first time the team bungles a two-minute drill. Fickell has never had to make those snap decisions in the heat of a game and said there is no real way to practice them.

"You have to be confident in what you're doing," he said. "There's no exact science. It's usually a feel thing. The best thing I can tell you is that in my eight or nine years here, a lot of those decisions were made collaboratively. On most every one of those decisions, I remember being on the head set and Coach [Tressel] flipping over and saying, 'Defense, what do think about us going for it on fourth down?' Or flipping over to the offense and saying, 'What do you think about that?'

"So you have to rely on your experiences, and it will still be a collaborative issue at times. But ultimately, when the time comes, a decision has to be made."

Since his battlefield promotion after Tressel's Memorial Day forced resignation, Fickell has steadfastly maintained that the program is bigger than him. He says he won't allow himself to think about the job he now has or the company he'll keep in history. Defensive coordinator Jim Heacock tried bringing that up to him early this month at practice; Fickell just shook his head and walked away.

Still, he wants to put his mark on this year's team. When he screens film for the players on Sundays, he said, the first act will always include special-teams play and the fourth quarter. He's looking for correct body language and competitiveness.

"The three things we talk about our effort, turnovers and toughness," Fickell said.

Come Saturday, the Buckeyes hope they're talking more about those issues than anything else that happened the previous eight months.

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