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Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Ginn, Breaston have chance to exceed expectations

By Bruce Hooley
Special to ESPN.com

The irony that accompanies the one uncommon talent they have in common is as cruel as it is indisputable.

Although Ohio State's Ted Ginn Jr. and Michigan's Steve Breaston have been blessed with speed that is at once audacious, bodacious and outrageous, the simple truth is this:

Neither of them has ever been able to outrun expectations.

Oh, sure, each enters the mammoth Saturday matchup (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET) of Ginn's No. 1 Buckeyes vs. Breaston's No. 2 Wolverines with an extensive résumé and a bulging highlight reel.

Ted Ginn Jr.
Jim Tressel thinks Ginn has become a complete receiver this season.

But for both of them, the close of their final college season (yes, Ginn is a junior, but he is gone to the NFL as sure as the sunrise) could be about leaving a final indelible impression that will at last satisfy those previously left wanting more.

That's what happens when you can cover ground like Breaston and Ginn do. No amount of touchdown catches or return wizardry is ever enough because, well, if you can do it once, why not all the time?

So even though both players rank among the leaders in assorted Big Ten categories, there's the lingering opinion that neither has quite maximized his respectively ridiculous abilities to leave opponents breathing exhaust.

"He's had a great year," Michigan coach Lloyd Carr said of Breaston, who scored twice in Michigan's 34-3 victory over Indiana on Saturday. "He does a lot of things that are maybe unappreciated."

Ginn, too, gets the praise of his head coach.

"I think Teddy has become a complete receiver this year," OSU's Jim Tressel said. "He's worked hard to make himself better at all aspects of his position. He blocks, he runs good routes and he catches the ball well. What else is there?"

Well, lots more, if you listen to the starstruck who can't go from zero to see-you-later in an eyeblink, as Ginn and Breaston have both shown they can.

The Heisman Trophy that likely will go to quarterback Troy Smith was supposed to be Ginn's as early as last season, and certainly by this season, given the way he rocketed to prominence as a freshman.

Four punt-return touchdowns that season and eight scores on 55 total touches -- an otherworldly ratio of one TD per seven snaps to come his way -- raised the bar to a level Ginn couldn't approach again.

That has caused his development as a receiver to get lost, but Ginn is tied for third in the league in receptions (51), is sixth in receiving yards per game (61.5) and is tied for third in touchdown catches (8).

Ginn is also eighth in kickoff returns (20.2) and second in punt returns (12.1), having taken the sixth of his career back for a score earlier this season.

Breaston registered his fourth career punt-return TD at Indiana, where he also caught three passes for 103 yards and one touchdown.

Steve Breaston
Breaston set the bar high after a fast start four years ago.

That was, however, Breaston's first 100-yard receiving performance in 43 games, dating to a six-catch, 109-yard, two-score day at Oregon as a freshman in 2003.

Play that well that early in your career and the appetites are whetted for more than 146 career catches for 1,563 yards and nine scores.

Clearly, Breaston has been consistent, ranking just six catches out of Michigan's career top five. He just hasn't been consistently spectacular, which is what's demanded when you rack up 223 return yards in the Rose Bowl as a sophomore.

Never mind that Breason has caught at least one pass in 26 consecutive games and in 42 of his past 43 games, he's been in the shadow of first Braylon Edwards and now Mario Manningham.

As for Ginn, he has caught at least one pass in 29 consecutive games and had multiple catches in 27 straight.

He already has thrown for one score, run for two more, returned six punts for touchdowns, brought back a kickoff for a TD and caught 13 touchdown passes in his career.

Which is great, but, you know, Ted, if you can do all that occasionally, why not always?

Saturday affords Ginn and Breaston a chance to leave a legacy reserved only for those who deliver on the biggest stage ever afforded this storied rivalry.

With punters Zoltan Mesko of Michigan and A.J. Trapasso of Ohio State in a dead heat at 41.2 yards per attempt, and with kickers Aaron Pettrey of the Buckeyes (8-of-11) and Garrett Rivas of the Wolverines (15-of-18) similarly solid on field goals, the 103rd installment could hinge on whether Ginn or Breaston can get into the end zone, as receivers, as rushers or on special teams.

Both have done so once before in the series, both in their freshman seasons.

It was Ginn's 82-yard punt return that broke open OSU's 37-21 upset of the Wolverines in 2004 that denied Michigan an outright Big Ten championship.

The season before that, it was Breaston's surprise 3-yard run as a quarterback that started Michigan toward a 35-21 triumph that denied the Buckeyes in their bid to wrest the conference title away.

So who races off with the laurels this time?

Ready?

Set?

Go.

Bruce Hooley covered the Big Ten for 19 years and now is host of a daily talk show on WBNS-AM 1460 in Columbus, Ohio.