NCF Nation: Ray Small

Ohio State players, coaches and administrators remained silent a day after Jim Tressel announced his resignation as head coach.

No formal news conferences have been scheduled, and interim head coach Luke Fickell might only speak publicly next week. The day was not without an update on the Terrelle Pryor/car situation, including the release of a sworn affidavit by car salesman Aaron Kniffin.
"The deals that I did for Ohio State student-athletes were no different than any of the other 10,000-plus deals that I've done for all my other customers," Aaron Kniffin said in the statement. "... OSU student-athletes weren't given any enticements to buy the car at my dealership. At no time did memorabilia come into play when it came time to negotiate a deal or buy a car. I was never given any memorabilia from a student-athlete in exchange for a car deal."

Colleague Pat Forde was in Columbus on Tuesday, and captures the mood on and around campus the day after Tressel's resignation.

Some tidbits from Forde's column:
  • Often using the past tense, Ohio State fans celebrated the good civic deeds and great football accomplishments of Jim Tressel, while lamenting a resignation they saw as inevitable.
  • Although some students question some of the rules, they don't blame the NCAA for enforcing them. Although they question some of the coverage, they don't blame the media for investigating. They do, however, energetically blame quarterback Terrelle Pryor. One item not selling this week at College Traditions: authentic No. 2 jerseys ($150) in both red and white. That's the number Pryor wears. On previous fall Saturdays, there were thousands of fans wearing them in the stands at Ohio Stadium. Don't expect that to be the case this fall.
  • Several [students] said they'd heard about the tattoo scam, and several mentioned the late-model cars they've seen football players drive. "I'm driving a 2000 Isuzu Rodeo," laughed senior Jeff Whaley. "And I work. You see the nice watch, nice earrings. You see the cars and wonder." In reality, the students do more than just wonder. They know. So do the older fans who pay the big money for tickets and buy those jerseys. They know, but they don't want to know. This is the same everywhere. They want to believe there is a perfectly good reason the star player is driving an expensive car, or why his family has moved to town, or why he has $250 earphones around his neck.

Colleague Gene Wojciechowski also writes about Ohio State student reporter Zack Meisel and the backlash he has received since The Lantern reported its illuminating interview with former Ohio State receiver Ray Small.

Colleague Bruce Feldman also weighs in with a look at what Ohio State can learn from the USC situation (Insider).
I had a conversation this morning with a buddy who said he thinks the heavy sanctions would scare a lot of these candidates away from pursuing the OSU job. I disagree. Even if the sanctions are along the lines of what USC got -- loss of several scholarships and a multiyear postseason ban -- I still believe a lot of big names will be attracted to the position.

I agree. Ohio State football remains an elite brand in college football with the resources to compete for national championships. There will be enough interest from top candidates.
As you'd expect, Twitter is buzzing with reaction to the resignation of Jim Tressel as Ohio State's coach earlier Monday.

Ohio State held a team meeting Monday morning to announce the change, but several current and former players have tweeted about Tressel's departure. Most of the reaction is very positive.

Here's a look at some of the comments:
There are also these notable tweets:
  • Michigan defensive tackle Mike Martin: The head of the scarlet and grey Demon has been cut off!
  • Michigan cornerback Troy Woolfolk: Tressel resigned, well I guess it got too hot in the kitchen. Lol
  • Former Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga: @OfficialAJHawk are you going to help select the new coach at OSU. I am sure they will be askig for your professional opinion.
  • Former Michigan running back Mike Hart: Great day for America! Sad day 4 Big 10, Hate OSU but tressel was a great coach! Would rather beat them when he's the coach than some1 else
  • Former Ohio State receiver Ray Small: Lol what y'all gone do 2 me that man resigned his self if u don't like me [bleep] u!!

Again, much more to come on Tressel's resignation.

Video: Ex-OSU player claims special deals

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James Oldham and Zack Meisel discuss their interview with former Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small.

You'd have to be pretty naïve to think memorabilia sales at Ohio State were tied to Terrelle Pryor and his crew.

This has been a problem for years, not only at Ohio State but at other big-time programs around the country. You can buy championship rings and other memorabilia items on the Web at sites such as this one.

Former Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small provided more evidence in an illuminating interview with The Lantern, Ohio State's student newspaper. Small, always one for colorful quotes during his turbulent Buckeyes career, continued to generate buzz by saying he sold memorabilia items for cash and received car deals while at Ohio State. And according to Small, "everyone was doing it."

Some tidbits from Small in The Lantern:
  • "I had sold my things but it was just for the money. At that time in college, you're kind of struggling."
  • "We had four Big Ten rings. There was enough to go around."
  • "It was definitely the deals on the cars. I don't see why it's a big deal," said Small, who identified Jack Maxton Chevrolet as the players' main resource.
  • "If you go in and try to get a tattoo, and somebody is like 'Do you want 50 percent off this tattoo?' You're going to say, 'Heck yeah.'"
  • "They have a lot [of dirt] on everybody, 'cause everybody was doing it."

What about the NCAA rules? Weren't players aware?
"They explain the rules to you, but as a kid you're not really listening to all of them rules," Small said. "You go out and you just, people show you so much love, you don't even think about the rules. You're just like 'Ah man, it's cool.' You take it, and next thing you know the NCAA is down your back."

Former Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins also talked with The Lantern and said players were informed about what they could and could not do.
"What the players go out and do on their own time and make their own decisions is on them," Jenkins said. "I know [the compliance department] puts things in place to give us knowledge of the rules, give us education on how to deal with those situations, but what the players do with that is another story."

Jenkins brings up a good point. Ohio State can't have compliance staffers following players around 24-7. The culture of entitlement exists in Columbus -- not unlike many places immersed in college sports -- and Ohio State players are treated as royalty. It's tough for young men to turn down benefits, especially men struggling to get by financially.

But it's clear Ohio State didn't get a handle on this issue until it was too late. Now the NCAA is involved and coach Jim Tressel, as well as the compliance department, seem to be in the crosshairs. Tressel will go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Aug. 12, and investigations into the used-car transactions are still ongoing.

In December, Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith had this to say: "There are no other NCAA violations around this case. We’re very fortunate that we do not have a systemic problem in our program. This is isolated to these young men, and isolated to this particular instance."

Well?

Some might point to Small's credibility as an issue here. He was in Tressel's doghouse for much of his career and struggled to stay on track academically. But aside from publicity, what incentive does Small have to lie?

Small's comments are noteworthy, but they're not surprising after what we heard from Antonio Pittman and others after the tattoo story broke. It's just another layer to a story that just isn't going away.
The position rankings finish with the special-teams units. For this list, I examine kickers, punters, return men and coverage units and look at each team's overall picture in the all-important third phase. The Big Ten loses several elite specialists, including punter Zoltan Mesko and kicker Brett Swenson. It's a little odd not to see Ohio State near the top, but if there's a hole on Jim Tressel's team this year, it might be on special teams.

Here are my top five:

[+] EnlargeDerrell Johnson-Koulianos
Aaron Josefczyk/Icon SMIDerrell Johnson-Koulianos ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009.
1. Iowa: The Hawkeyes boast one of the league's top punters in Ryan Donahue, who has averaged more than 40 yards per punt in each of his first three seasons. Iowa also brings back Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who ranked second in the Big Ten in kick return average (31.5 ypr) in 2009. There's competition at kicker (big surprise), but Daniel Murray and Trent Mossbrucker both boast experience. Colin Sandeman quietly ranked second in the league in punt return average last year.

2. Michigan State: Swenson is undoubtedly a major loss, but Michigan State should improve in the other phases of special teams. Punter Aaron Bates was extremely solid in 2009, averaging 41.6 yards despite a league-high 63 attempts. Look out for Keshawn Martin, who averaged 28.9 yards on kick returns last fall. Martin could be the league's top return man by season's end. The Spartans need to upgrade their kickoff coverage unit.

3. Ohio State: Despite question marks at both specialist spots, Ohio State's history as an elite special-teams squad under Tressel can't be overlooked. Hopes are high for Ben Buchanan at punter, and Devin Barclay has a very big kick on his résumé against Iowa last year. The Buckeyes must replace return man Ray Small, but there's enough talent there. The coverage teams are always good in Columbus.

4. Minnesota: The Gophers' strengths are their return teams, led by Troy Stoudermire and Bryant Allen. Minnesota led the Big Ten in punt return average, although it had only nine runbacks all year, and finished fifth in kick return average. Eric Ellestad was perfect on PATs and had a decent year on field goals. The Gophers need Dan Orseske to step in at punter for Blake Haudan.

5. Wisconsin: There are some concerns about the Badgers' special-teams units, but everyone is back and should be better. Punter Brad Nortman averaged 42 yards per punt last year, and while kicker Philip Welch took a mini step back, he still booted 17 field goals. David Gilreath is one of the league's most experienced return men, and linebacker Chris Borland proved to be a difference-maker on special teams last year.

More rankings ...

The Rose Bowl shed new light on Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offense -- a glow that Buckeyes fans hope doesn't go anywhere.

[+] Enlarge
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images Pryor completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards with two touchdowns in Ohio State's win over Oregon.
Ohio State's offense was mediocre at best during the regular season, and Pryor hadn't shown enough consistency in the passing game to complement his unique athletic talent. But in Pasadena, Pryor and his teammates put forth the balanced, efficient and effective product everyone had been waiting for.

The game marked a potential turning point for Pryor and the offense, a place where the Buckeyes could build. Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman certainly hopes so.

But Bollman also knows it's not that easy.

"You're not going to walk on the field [Thursday] and all of a sudden, be at that point," Bollman said. "How hard we all have to work, how focused we have to be to get back to that point, that's what's in front of us. That's the challenge, that's how you try to improve.

"You're not working toward an unseen performance level. We've been to that point. But everybody's got to understand what it takes."

Getting back to that point -- and beyond it -- is the challenge for Ohio State's offense, which begins spring practice Thursday afternoon. Bollman said Pryor won't be limited after offseason knee surgery, and the hope is that the third-year quarterback takes another step after his giant leap between the 2009 regular-season finale and the Rose Bowl.

So can Ohio State open up the playbook, particularly with the pass, for Pryor?

"If we show [progress] along those lines, certainly that would be a logical way for us to head in," Bollman said. "Plus, having the weapon of him being able to run, should we choose to do those kinds of things. But for him in the realm of the passing game, that's got to be a full team deal. Our protection has got to improve. His own performance has to be more consistent. We've got to get more of those outs going to the tight ends and the running backs.

"All of that has got to come together, and that's going to be a fun part of this spring."

Ohio State returns nine starters on offense, including four of five linemen and two capable receivers in DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher. But to truly spark the passing attack, the Buckeyes must identify more options this spring.

They need a No. 3 wideout, as Ray Small departs and no returning players besides Posey and Sanzenbacher recorded more than 20 receptions last fall. Running back Brandon Saine, who had 17 catches for 224 yards last year, should help a bit, but Ohio State wants more depth at receiver.

Bollman said Taurian Washington has the best chance to step in, but the senior had no catches last year and boasts only three in his college career. Duron Carter also returns, and Bollman thinks Chris Fields and James Jackson, as well as some incoming recruits, could factor into the mix.

"Washington's probably the leading candidate," Bollman said. "He really finished up the year strong, did a good job coming through in the bowl game. He'd be a guy that we're counting on to give us a hand in there."

A bigger boost could come from the tight end position, which Ohio State typically uses for run blocking. Former Buckeyes tight end Rory Nicol used to joke about how little the tight ends were used in the passing attack, and while Jake Ballard made a memorable catch in the Rose Bowl, he finished the season with only 14 receptions.

Things could change with Jake Stoneburner stepping into a featured role. The 6-5, 245-pound Stoneburner had only two receptions as a freshman last year, but his production should increase.

"His speed certainly can have more of an effect on the game than some other guys we've had in the past," Bollman said. "That's going to cause openings for someone, if not him. That can have a different effect on things, for sure."
LOS ANGELES -- Anyone with a cursory knowledge of Jim Tressel's career knows how important special teams means to the Ohio State head coach.

The kicking game has played an enormous role in Tressel's success, and it's no surprise that Ohio State clinched a Rose Bowl berth on a 39-yard field goal by backup kicker Devin Barclay in overtime against Iowa.

Sound special teams are a given at Ohio State, but the team has more question marks than usual in the third phase heading into its matchup against No. 7 Oregon in the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi (ABC, 4:30 p.m. ET). There's some haziness at place-kicker as well as on punt and kickoff returns.

The Buckeyes' kicker situation actually is a decent problem to have.

Starter Aaron Pettrey suffered a torn MCL in his right (kicking) leg on kickoff coverage Oct. 31 against New Mexico State. Pettrey underwent surgery and had a wire inserted in his knee to hold the ligament in place. Barclay handled the kicking duties in November, but Pettrey has made an incredible recovery and will be available against Oregon.

During bowl practice, he has drilled 50-yard field goals with room to spare and converted a 63-yard attempt in Tuesday's practice.

"I'm just happy to be back," Pettrey said. "The doctor told my parents after the surgery that there's no way I'd be back for the game. [Pettrey's parents] never told me that until last week, so I feel great."

Barclay will handle kickoff duties Friday rather than Pettrey, mainly because of the torque it puts on the knee and the need to have a capable 11th tackler on the coverage unit. But the two likely will share field goal duties against Oregon.

Pettrey converted 13 of 19 attempts before his injury, while Barclay is 4-of-7 with the big 39-yarder against Iowa.

"Devin's still been with the [first team], I'm with the 2s," Pettrey said. "Devin's been kicking all year, and I've taken a month and a half off. I've only had like a week to get ready. If I'm back, I'm back, and right now, I feel close, 90-95 percent."

Ohio State gets deeper at kicker but thinner on returns because wide receiver Ray Small, the team's primary punt returner and No. 2 kick returner, is suspended after a repeat violation of team rules. Wideout Duron Carter, another return option, also is unavailable because of academics.

Tressel said Thursday that wide receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher will handle punt returns Friday, with running back Jordan Hall as the third option. Posey and Sanzenbacher have combined for three returns this year.

Lamaar Thomas remains Ohio State's top option on kick returns, and one of the team's top running backs, Brandon Saine or Dan Herron, will occupy the second spot. Saine has three kick returns for 67 yards (22.3 ypr) this season.

"I'm not excited about the way I've been given this opportunity," said Thomas, who could also be a bigger factor as a receiver Friday. "I'm truly going to miss those guys, Ray and Duron, but it is going to be an opportunity that I'll be able to showcase some things. I'm excited about that."
Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel confirmed today that wide receivers Ray Small and Duron Carter and defensive end Rob Rose all will miss the Rose Bowl Game presented by Citi.

Multiple media outlets had reported the three players were suspended for the game, but only Carter had officially been ruled out by the team. Tressel didn't provide specifics for the suspensions, but a source told me that Carter is academically ineligible, while both Small and Rose violated team rules. For Small, it was a repeat violation.

Small is probably the most significant loss, as he serves as Ohio State's No. 3 wide receiver and starting punt returner. The Cleveland product can be very dangerous on the field, but his troubles off the field have ended his college career early. Rose is also through at Ohio State.

With both Small and Carter sidelined, a Buckeyes passing attack that ranks last in the Big Ten and 106th nationally won't have two of its top four receivers. Tressel expects junior Taurian Washington and sophomore Lamaar Thomas, as well as freshman tight end Jake Stoneburner, to take on larger roles in the passing game.

"It certainly gives us less depth, without question," Tressel told WBNS radio in Columbus. "Guys like Taurian Washington and Lamaar Thomas are gonna have to step up in those areas from a depth standpoint."

Rose proved valuable at times in the defensive line rotation, but he's not a major loss. Top wide receivers DeVier Posey or Dane Sanzenbacher could handle the punt return duties against Oregon.

The Ducks aren't without their issues, either, as reserve wide receiver Jamere Holland is academically ineligible for the game.

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

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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.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


As Ohio State's defense continues its superb play this season, Buckeyes fans have turned their attention toward Terrelle Pryor and the offense.
 
 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
 Jim Tressel's offense remains a work in progress.


Despite the loss to USC, the Buckeyes are playing like a BCS bowl champion in two of the three phases. But the third phase has been inconsistent for much of the season, as Ohio State ranks last in the Big Ten in passing and 10th in total offense.

What must the offense improve on during the second half of the season? I asked this of head coach Jim Tressel on Tuesday, and he cited two areas.

The first was no surprise, given Tressel's pillars for success. He wants Ohio State to cut down its turnovers. Though the Buckeyes have committed a league-low nine giveaways this year, they're already approaching their total for all of last season (13).

Tressel's second area for improvement was much more intriguing.

"We've got to do a little bit better job of adjusting to whatever it is our opponent's going to [use] that perhaps isn't exactly the way they played it on the film," he said. "Sometimes when you have a younger group and you're trying to train them off the film and then people don't come out and do exactly that, we have to learn on the run a little bit better so that we can have a little bit more consistency."

In other words, adjustments have been a challenge for an offense led by a sophomore quarterback and featuring only one senior starter (tight end Jake Ballard) and only two seniors (Ballard and wideout Ray Small) in the regular rotation.

It's not that Pryor and the offense aren't prepared for what an opponent has done in previous games. But when opponents shake things up, the Buckeyes haven't caught on fast enough.

"One of the sciences of learning how to use your film study is to not get set in your mind that, 'Hey, they're going to play it just this way and the things we've designed are going to be just like they were drawn on the chalk board. In fact, they can come out and play us this way or that way,'" Tressel said. "We've got to do a good job on the sideline in between series, saying, 'OK, here's what they've done so far. That doesn't mean they're going to keep doing it. ... They're allowed to have the next step and the next step as well.'

"It's not simply a quarterback issue. It's an issue for everyone involved."

Tressel's response speaks to the fact that the offense remains a work in progress, and getting the feel for the game isn't always there. But better adjustments from Pryor and the offense need to come quickly.

With this defense, Ohio State could have a special second half. But most teams don't win BCS bowl games without more consistency from the offensive side.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Terrelle Pryor's right arm and legs will go a long way toward determining Ohio State's success or failure against USC on Saturday (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), but the space under the quarterback's left eye continues to draw more attention.

Pryor displayed his support for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick by wearing "Vick" on one of his eyeblack stickers during the season opener against Navy. The sophomore explained later that he has always looked up to Vick and looks past Vick's shortcomings off the field.

"Not everybody is the perfect person in the world," Pryor said of Vick. "Everyone does -- kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me. I just feel that people need to give him a chance."

The tribute and Pryor's comments have drawn some mixed reviews. Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel, who said he wasn't aware of the Vick sticker until told about it after the game, doesn't have a strict policy on eyeblack displays.

"It's a little bit tough in this country to have too much of a policy on personal expression, but it's unfortunate when that distracts from situations that were so extraordinary as the weekend we had," Tressel said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "And I guess you'd have to know Terrelle like I know Terrelle. There's probably not a more compassionate human being in the world than Terrelle."

Tressel recalled how Pryor sent him a text message Monday night saying the team needed to provide a boost for junior wide receiver Taurian Washington, who dropped two passes against Navy. Pryor also sent Tressel a text after Ohio State's loss to LSU in the BCS title game, which read, "Don't worry about it, Coach. We're going to get it done in the future."

Though Pryor's tribute to Vick caused a stir, Tressel is confident the quarterback didn't intend to cause any harm.

"He's one of those guys that he feels terrible about anything that's not just right," Tressel said. "And I know he doesn't feel good that [the tribute] disappointed someone. And his intention would never be to make anyone disappointed about something.

"We all sometimes miss the mark, but as I say, teachable, learnable moment."

A few other notes from Buckeye land:
  • Tressel said wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small looked better after a nasty bout with illness kept him off the field against Navy. An update on Small's status for the USC game will be provided Thursday. Wide receiver DeVier Posey is expected to return to practice in the next day or two after missing the second half of the Navy game with an ankle injury.
  • USC safety Taylor Mays last month referred to Pryor as "the little deuce" and himself as "the big deuce." Both players wear No. 2. Tressel's response? "They're both big deuces if you ask me, man."
  • Tressel called USC's return men "frightening."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The Big Ten lacks an official preseason all-conference team, which would be interesting to see but prevents situations like Tebow-gate. We're a little more bold here at ESPN.com, so here's my All-Big Ten squad. There will be time for debate later. For now, enjoy the names.

OFFENSE

QB: Daryll Clark, Penn State
RB: Evan Royster, Penn State
RB: John Clay, Wisconsin
WR: Eric Decker, Minnesota
WR: Arrelious Benn, Illinois
OT: Bryan Bulaga, Iowa
OG: Jon Asamoah, Illinois
C: Stefen Wisniewski, Penn State
OG: Justin Boren, Ohio State
OT: Kyle Calloway, Iowa
TE: Garrett Graham, Wisconsin

DEFENSE

DE: Brandon Graham, Michigan
DT: Jared Odrick, Penn State
DT: Mike Neal, Purdue
DE: Corey Wootton, Northwestern
LB: Greg Jones, Michigan State
LB: Navorro Bowman, Penn State
LB: Pat Angerer, Iowa
CB: Amari Spievey, Iowa
CB: Traye Simmons, Minnesota
S: Kurt Coleman, Ohio State
S: Brad Phillips, Northwestern

SPECIALISTS

P: Zoltan Mesko, Michigan
PK: Brett Swenson, Michigan State
KR: Troy Stoudermire, Minnesota
PR: Ray Small*, Ohio State

*-Currently not with team

Penn State leads the way with five selections, followed by Iowa (4), Ohio State (3), Minnesota (3), Illinois (2), Wisconsin (2), Northwestern (2), Michigan (2), Michigan State (2) and Purdue (1).

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Prognostication guru Phil Steele released his preseason All-Big Ten teams Tuesday, and fans of Penn State and Ohio State undoubtedly will be pleased.

Although both teams lost sizable and decorated senior classes, Penn State put six players on Steele's first team, while Ohio State has four. The big surprise is that Penn State quarterback Daryll Clark, widely considered the league's best signal-caller, slipped to the third team behind Illinois' Juice Williams and Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor.

Steele also released his preseason All-America teams, and here's the breakdown for the Big Ten:

First team -- Illinois WR Arrelious Benn, Michigan P Zoltan Mesko

Second team -- Penn State RB Evan Royster, Iowa LT Bryan Bulaga, Minnesota WR Eric Decker, Penn State LB Sean Lee

Third team -- Michigan DE Brandon Graham, Penn State DT Jared Odrick, Penn State LB Navorro Bowman, Ohio State PR Ray Small

Fourth team -- Ohio State LG Justin Boren, Northwestern DE Corey Wootton, Illinois LB Martez Wilson, Michigan State LB Greg Jones

Getting back to the Big Ten list, which was generally pretty solid but had some interesting notes and surprises:

  • There are clearly two elite wide receivers in the Big Ten in Benn and Decker. After that, it's a crapshoot. Purdue's Keith Smith was the third wideout named to Steele's first team. Unproven players like Minnesota's Hayo Carpenter (second team), Ohio State's DeVier Posey (third team) and Northwestern's Andrew Brewer (fourth team) also earned recognition.
  • I was a little surprised to see Purdue's Jaycen Taylor listed as a second-team running back ahead of Iowa's Jewel Hampton. Taylor comes off an ACL injury and never beat out Kory Sheets for the starting job when he was healthy. Hampton filled in very well behind Shonn Greene last year.
  • Michigan State running back Edwin Baker was the only incoming freshman to make Steele's list as a fourth-teamer.
  • Illinois defensive tackle Josh Brent, who was suspended for spring ball after receiving a DUI in February, is listed on the first team next to Odrick. Brent is a talented player, but Purdue's Mike Neal might have been the safer pick here.
  • The offensive line selections were interesting. Experience beat out potential as Wisconsin's John Moffitt earned the second-team nod over Ohio State's Mike Brewster. I was very surprised not to see Northwestern linemen Al Netter or Ben Burkett on the list. Indiana had two linemen selected (Cody Faulkner and Rodger Saffold) despite really struggling in that area a year ago, and Iowa surprisingly only had tackles Bryan Bulaga (first team) and Kyle Calloway (second team) on the rundown.

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The term "loose" doesn't seem to fit a guy whose trademark outfit is a sweater vest, but Ohio State's Jim Tressel might be the more relaxed head coach come Monday night.

His Texas counterpart, Mack Brown, thinks so.

 
 Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Jim Tressel says there is something special about this group of Ohio State seniors.

Brown admitted this morning that Texas has more pressure heading into Monday's matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl (Fox, 8 p.m.). The Longhorns are heavy favorites who can strengthen their argument for a national championship with a win against the Buckeyes, a team most are counting out.

"You'll see a loose Jim Tressel who's going to go for it," Brown said.

Tressel sounded fine with that assessment.

"Oh, I'm loose," Tressel said. "I think about the opportunity, especially for our 28 seniors, you do want to let it all hang out. You're not going to hold anything in reserve."

Compared to the charismatic Brown, Tressel was fairly reserved during his pre-bowl news conference. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Buckeyes freshman defensive end Nathan Williams will face some playing-time penalties after being charged with shoplifting last month. Williams pleaded not guilty Dec. 16 and faces a pretrial hearing March 16. Tressel also responded to a question about whether starting wide receiver Brian Hartline would face any discipline for a possible team rules violation during the week in Arizona. "We may have some discussions as we go," Tressel said, "but for the moment, Brian Hartline is going to have a great part of this football game."
  • Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells appeared to leave the door open for a return in 2009, but Tressel, who has said Wells is ready for the NFL, maintained that stance. "He is feeling as if he doesn't want to do anything to distract from this moment, because it's a special moment," Tressel said. "I have felt all along that with his talent and the position he plays and those kinds of thing, that [going pro] may end up being the best thing, that he move along. But we haven't had that discussion." Translation: It would be shocking if Wells stayed in school.
  • Third-string running back Brandon Saine hasn't done much in pre-bowl practice because of an injury and likely won't play against Texas. He will dress for the game. Freshman reserve tackle J.B. Shugarts has practiced and will be available Monday before likely undergoing postseason surgery.
  • Like Brown, Tressel emphasized the importance of special teams in Monday's matchup. Ohio State has been excellent on punt and kickoff coverage and ranks 14th nationally in punt returns (12.9 YPR), while Texas ranks third nationally in net punting and has blocked six kicks, four by freshman cornerback Aaron Williams. Return men Ray Small (Ohio State) and Jordan Shipley (Texas) are both capable of going to the house. "When you have depth like they have on defense, you're going to have great speed in your special units," Tressel said.
  • Tressel doesn't seem concerned that Ohio State's recent big-game losses will place an added burden on his team, but he acknowledges he's more excited about this bowl than he has been in a while. The team's 28 seniors have something to do with it. "Why is this one? Why do I feel that way? There has been something awfully special about this group of kids," Tressel said. "Maybe it is because it is today, I don't know. They have been very unselfish. They have prepared extremely hard. They care about one another. They have fun with one another."

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Coaches always talk about the 5-10 plays that decide a football game. It doesn't take a genius to pick out the ones that decided this contest.

Ohio State's ability to generate big plays on both offense and special teams blew the game open in the third quarter. This hasn't been a game of methodical offense and sustained drives for the Buckeyes. They sputter at times, but when they strike, they strike for big yards.

Michigan appeared to carry over some momentum from the second quarter, notching three first downs before pinning Ohio State at its own 9-yard line. But "Beanie" and "Boom" -- also known as Chris Wells and Dan Herron -- responded with runs of 40-plus yards on back-to-back plays. Wells surged for a 42-yard gain, and Herron followed with a 49-yard touchdown. The most amazing thing? Neither man was touched. So much for that Michigan defensive line.

Though Michigan continues to have some success moving the ball, it can't get into scoring position and has missed several chances to attack the Buckeyes down the field. Special teams continue to haunt the Wolverines, and recently suspended Ohio State wide receiver Ray Small broke off an incredible 80-yard return down the sideline to set up a Terrelle Pryor touchdown pass. Welcome back, Ray.

There was more bad news for Michigan at the end of the quarter, as quarterback Nick Sheridan left the game with a sprained ankle. Freshman Justin Feagin is now taking snaps for Michigan.

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