NCF Nation: Ohio Stadium

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Love and hate are the themes of the day around these parts, so I figured I'd chime in about the Big Ten. There are many reasons why I love covering football in this conference, and a few things I'm not so crazy about.

Let's begin with five good things. 

Big stadiums -- Size matters in the Big Ten, which boasts three of the nation's four largest stadiums at Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State. Ohio Stadium, Beaver Stadium and Camp Randall Stadium are on the short list of toughest places to play, and other Big Ten venues (Kinnick Stadium, Spartan Stadium) add their own charm. The game-day experience is truly captured where Big Ten teams call home.

The Game (and other rivalries) -- The Big Ten lays claim to quite possibly the greatest rivalry in all of sports, between Ohio State and Michigan. No series has produced more colorful figures and memorable moments. The league also features exciting annual matchups like Michigan-Michigan State, Penn State-Ohio State and Minnesota-Wisconsin. At stake are coveted items like a bronzed pig, a giant ax, a brown jug and an ancient bucket.

Regent Street and the Beaver Stadium grounds -- They are two of the nation's prime tailgating spots, and they both belong to the Big Ten. Tailgating at Wisconsin or Penn State is an experience every college football fan should enjoy. You get beer and brats in Madison, and elaborate set-ups and daylong debauchery in State College. As a college football fan, you can't go wrong at either place. 

Legendary coaches -- The Big Ten has produced legendary coaches through the decades. From Fielding Yost and Bob Zuppke to Bernie Bierman and Fritz Crisler to Woody and Bo to Hayden Fry and Duffy Daugherty to Barry Alvarez and Jim Tressel, the Big Ten has been at the top of the coaching ranks. The arrival of Penn State's Joe Paterno in 1993 has only added to the league's rich coaching tradition. 

Night games in Columbus, Madison and State College -- Noon kickoffs are generally the norm in the Big Ten, which sort of blows but makes the rare night game all the more special. Ohio State will host only the ninth night game in team history this fall against USC, and the atmosphere will undoubtedly be electric. Same goes for any game under the lights at Camp Randall Stadium -- there were two last year -- and at Penn State, which thankfully welcomes night football more than any other Big Ten team. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After relocating a little closer to The Shoe, it's time to take a look at the Ohio State Buckeyes, the back-to-back Big Ten champs and, as they're better known around the country, the back-to-back national runner-ups.

Before getting to the questions, I must say it was a bit odd to drive past a huge Time Warner Cable building about a mile and a half south of Ohio Stadium. From my vantage point, there wasn't a mass protest going on outside, though it can't be a popular spot among Buckeyes fans after what's happened with the Big Ten Network. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises recently wrote that both sides are still at fault for no agreement being reached, and the left-in-the-dark Buckeyes fans should respond to Gene Smith's letter with one addressed to all parties involved. Hard to argue with that. 

 
 AP Photo/Terry Gilliam
 All of Buckeye Nation is looking forward to Terrelle Pryor's debut.

Moving on, here are three questions facing the Buckeyes this fall.

1. How will the team use freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor?

It's the biggest preseason debate for a team with few position battles and a ton of experience returning on both sides. Senior Todd Boeckman is the starter and Joe Bauserman the likely backup, but all eyes will be on Pryor when the season opens Aug. 30. Some Buckeye backers don't think offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and his staff are creative enough to effectively use Pryor, but Pryor might be making it easier for them. The common belief was that he would be used in special situations (goal line, etc.), much like Florida used Tim Tebow as a freshman. But Pryor's progress as a passer in training camp should expand his role. The first two games provide Pryor with opportunities to acclimate to the college game, but the coaches would be wise to save any custom packages and super-secret plays for USC in Week 3. 

2. Can Boeckman take the next step?

He shares a backfield with a Heisman candidate (Beanie Wells) and shares a position with the program's future poster boy (Pryor), but the senior has a chance to elevate his own profile this fall. Boeckman turned in a solid first season as the starter, completing 63.8 percent his passes with 25 touchdown strikes. Interceptions were his bugaboo, as he threw multiple picks in four games, including the BCS national championship. Boeckman had the third-highest interception total among Big Ten starters (14) despite having the third-fewest number of pass attempts (299). Expect the first number to drop this fall as Boeckman builds on last season with the Brians (Robiskie and Hartline) back at wide receiver. 

3. Will the defense force more turnovers?

Ohio State returns nine starters from a unit that led the nation in both total defense (233 ypg) and scoring defense (12.77 ppg) last season. But a stingy unit wasn't exactly an opportunistic one, as the Buckeyes tied for 93rd nationally in takeaways with 19. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins has four interceptions in each of the last two years, but the Buckeyes could use more takeaways from standout linebacker Marcus Freeman and safeties Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman, neither of whom recorded an interception last fall. It might sound nitpicky to knock this defense, but turnovers decide games more than any other statistic and the Buckeyes need more of them. Given who's back, it shouldn't be a problem.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Northwestern media day has come and gone, and I learned that at least one Big Ten coach (Pat Fitzgerald) has read the blog. Only 10 more to go.

The schedule is shaping up a bit for next week. I'll be spending Wednesday at Camp Rantoul with the Illinois Fighting Illini, before heading over to Purdue for media day on Thursday. There could also be some surprises along the way.

Here's your daily diet of links:

  • If you're just waking up, Ohio State defensive backs Donald Washington and Jamario O'Neal have been suspended for the first two games of the season. Not a major blow, given that they'll be back for USC, but it could shake up the dynamic in the secondary.
  • Oh, and some guy named Terrelle Pryor spoke with reporters at Ohio State media day. He was a pretty popular man, Paul Schofield writes in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Items of note: Pryor rooms with starting quarterback Todd Boeckman, gets a lot of reps in practice and likes hanging out with the older players.
  • More on Ohio State media day from The Columbus Dispatch's Buckeye Blog. Left tackle Alex Boone knows how to roundup the linemen -- "If you're big and fat, let's go" -- a group that includes Michigan transfer Justin Boren. 
  • Wisconsin star tight end Travis Beckum sat out Thursday's practice with "tightness in his lower body," but it doesn't appear to be too serious, Jim Polzin writes in The Capital Times. Also, defensive lineman Brandon Hoey's career is over after lingering back problems.
  • The Badgers seem pretty solid at outside linebacker, but the middle is a concern. Enter Jaevery McFadden, who could unseat incumbent Elijah Hodge for the job, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Jeff Potrykus writes in the Badgers Blog.
  • Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis practiced with the third-team offense on Thursday, The Hoosier Scoop blog reports. Wow. He's really going to have to earn his way back.
  • Apparently Akron doesn't like its chances to upset Wisconsin on Aug. 30. The school gave back some of its allotted tickets, so get 'em while they're available.
  • Strong defense is a given at Penn State, but a strong season hinges on whether the offense can make up ground, Jeff Rice writes in the Centre Daily Times.
"Penn State has scored a total of six points in its last two trips to Camp Randall Stadium, where it faces Wisconsin on Oct. 11. It has scored a total of 23 points in its last three visits to Ohio Stadium, where it will face the Buckeyes on Oct. 25."

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