Defensive Standouts Ready To Dominate
CHICAGO -- Iowa's Adrian Clayborn and Ohio State's Cameron Heyward weren't invited to New York for last year's Heisman Trophy presentation.
Former Nebraska star Ndamukong Suh was the only defensive player among the Heisman Trophy finalists in 2009.
But Clayborn and Heyward might be the most likely defensive linemen to make a Suh-like impact this coming season.
Both Big Ten stars passed up entering last spring's NFL draft to return to college for their senior seasons. Each might have been a first-round pick in the draft.
"My mom told me how much of a business the NFL is," said Heyward, the son of late NFL fullback Craig "Ironhead" Heyward, who played for the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. "She told me, 'You're only in college once. You better enjoy it.'"
Heyward, from Suwanee, Ga., said it's humbling to be compared to Suh, who was one of the sport's most dominant defensive players during his three seasons with the Cornhuskers.
But Heyward said he's hoping to make even more of an impact than Suh did.
"You can't be known as a player who was just as good as Suh," Heyward said. "You want to be remembered as a guy who was better than Suh."
Last season, Heyward had 46 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 6½ sacks and 20 quarterback hurries while helping lead the Buckeyes to another Big Ten championship.
Heyward said he came back to Ohio State to lead the Buckeyes to a BCS national championship.
"A lot of guys want it," Heyward said. "It's never guaranteed to anyone. I think we're hungry and up to the challenge."
Clayborn, a senior from St. Louis, was just as productive as Suh a year ago. Clayborn, a defensive end, had 70 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 11½ sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and nine quarterback hurries.
"I feel like Suh did his thing and made a name for himself," Clayborn said. "Let his name shine. I don't see the comparisons. We play two different positions."
Royster Running Toward Record
CHICAGO -- Last week, Evan Royster found himself sitting on the steps of Penn State's student bookstore in State College as a photographer snapped pictures.
"It was pretty ridiculous," the Nittany Lions senior running back said. "They've got steps that have all the rushing leaders. I think I'm the seventh or eighth guy down."
Eighth, to be exact. Royster has 2,918 career rushing yards entering his senior season at Penn State, but he needs only 481 more to pass Curt Warner for the all-time record.
Barring a snag, Royster will reach the top step before he hangs up his white helmet and black shoes. In anticipation of a more featured role, he added about 15 pounds during the offseason and expects to play at 218 or 219 this fall.
Royster is growing tired of all the talk about his pursuit of the record, but he fully grasps what it'll mean.
"It's brought up so much now that I can't stop thinking about it," he said. "I'm not going to lie and say I don't think about it and don't want it, 'cause I want it. It's something that any person in my position would be setting their goals for."
Royster nearly took himself out of the running by turning pro after the 2009 season. He sent his paperwork to the NFL draft advisory board on time but never received a draft evaluation, even after several follow-up requests.
Eventually, Royster returned to Penn State, where he can gain something more valuable than a paycheck.
"If I get that record, I think that will take me further than any NFL career will," he said. "I'll cherish that way more than playing a couple years in the NFL."
Healthy Clay Primed For Big Season
CHICAGO -- Few running backs were more productive last season than Wisconsin's John Clay, who ran for 1,517 yards with 18 touchdowns.
But Badgers coach Bret Bielema says Clay might be even better this coming season, after Clay underwent surgery to clean up bone chips in both his ankles.
"He's healthy," Bielema said. "He's as healthy as he's ever been. He made a huge leap from Year 1 to Year 2."
Clay didn't participate in spring practice, but will be ready to go when the Badgers open preseason camp later this week. Clay said he gained 10 pounds after surgery, but lost the weight and tipped the scales at 255 pounds last week. He hopes to lose at least five more pounds.
"John's a big guy," Bielema said. "You can't change who he is. He's a large individual."
But Clay said he'd like to change a couple of things about his game in 2010. He hopes to become a more consistent runner and rid himself of the fumbling problems of the past.
"I need to play big in the big games," Clay said. "I need to stay away from not running hard. I feel good about our team. We have all the ingredients to be a special team."
Royston Aims To Wield Ax For Gophers
CHICAGO -- Kim Royston lifted Paul Bunyan's Axe with the rest of his Wisconsin teammates in 2006 and 2007. Now he wants to get his hands on the trophy again.
But this time, he plans to do so as a Minnesota Golden Gopher.
Royston, a safety who transferred from Wisconsin to Minnesota following the 2007 season, already has a unique perspective on college football's oldest rivalry. He plans to make history Oct. 9 in Madison, Wis.
"It would mean the world to me," Royston said. "Not only knowing how much that ax means to Minnesota and the Minnesota fans, but also my predicament. I came from [Wisconsin], I broke my leg [this spring], I've been through a lot to get this point.
"When we win that game and I'm the first one running across the field to grab that ax, it's going to be so surreal. I think about it almost every day."
There's only one problem with Royston's plan.
"I'll clothesline him before he gets there," Wisconsin safety Jay Valai said with a wicked grin.
Royston and Valai are actually great friends to this day and used to call themselves the "Bashing Brothers" in Madison.
"We used to come in for second-team defense and see how many people we could hurt," said Valai, recalling a vicious hit Royston put on offensive lineman Josh Oglesby. "It's good seeing him here."
Royston had a chance to reunite with his former Wisconsin teammates this week at Big Ten media days. He went out for deep-dish pizza Monday with Valai, Wisconsin quarterback Scott Tolzien, Wisconsin running back John Clay and Minnesota defensive tackle Brandon Kirksey.
"It was a little awkward seeing [Wisconsin] coach [Bret] Bielema at first, but he wished me good luck," Royston said. "We definitely have no hard feelings right now -- until we get out there at Camp Randall and I'm running across the field to get that ax."
Jones Seeking Wins, Interception
CHICAGO -- Few defenders in college football have a more complete résumé than Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones.
There's really only one thing missing: an interception.
"I'm very disappointed I don't have any in my career," said Jones, who has been named back-to-back preseason Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. "I was close a few times. When you watch those plays, it's like two feet here or if I dove here."
Jones has made pass coverage a priority in his senior season. The only problem? He's also Michigan State's best blitzer and led Big Ten linebackers in sacks with nine last season (fifth overall in the league).
Defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi doesn't want to lose Jones' presence on blitzes. Then again, Michigan State's transition to a 3-4 set should help the All-American be a bigger factor in coverage since the outside linebackers can rush the passer.
"I want to drop back a little bit more, it would help me out a little bit," he said. "But I want to win. If I have to drop back more, if I have to blitz more, or if I have to do a little bit of both, whatever it takes to win."
Cup Of JoePa
One Good Thing
Illinois: Ron Zook and his players struggled to pinpoint what happened to them between the time they left training camp in Rantoul, Ill., and when they hit the field at the Edward Jones Dome against Missouri last September. But this much is clear: it won't happen again. "This year, we've already seen the coaches step back a little bit and let the players dictate to each other what we expect from each other," senior defensive end Clay Nurse said. "They're the general commanders of the team, but you need your captains and lieutenants out there when you're playing."
Indiana: After finishing 10th in the league in both points allowed and yards allowed in 2009, Indiana is shaking things up, switching to a 3-4 alignment. Although Indiana loses two accomplished ends in Jammie Kirlew and Greg Middleton, the new defensive set could spark the pass rush. The Hoosiers finished eighth in the league in sacks last fall (25). "Sometimes when you run a 4-3, it's so basic up front," inside linebacker Tyler Replogle said. "Now we can send some blitzers at linebacker, at D-end. It gives the guys up front some different angles to make some sacks."
Iowa: Defensive end Adrian Clayborn's recent comment that Iowa is the "only team in the state" ruffled some feathers, but the star senior said he meant no disrespect to Iowa State or any other other squad. Coach Kirk Ferentz discussed the situation with Clayborn and knew what the player meant, especially after going through the recruiting process. "We talk to recruits all the time about, 'We're the only game in town,' meaning college football," Ferentz said. "That's all he was relaying. We're all kind of programmed to say that. My career record against Iowa State is nothing to write home about, so to think we would look down our nose at them, that's ludicrous."
Michigan: Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez said if sophomore Denard Robinson isn't named his team's starting quarterback, don't be surprised if you see him playing running back, wide receiver or even both. Robinson will battle sophomore Tate Forcier for the starting job during preseason camp. "He'll be playing quarterback," Rodriguez said. "But he'll be learning all of the above."
Michigan State: It's probably a good sign when a team's most heated position competition entering camp takes place at kicker, but Michigan State has a major hole to fill following the departure of first-team All-Big Ten selection Brett Swenson. Sophomore Dan Conroy and redshirt freshman Kevin Muma will compete in training camp, and heralded incoming freshman Mike Sadler also could work his way into the mix. "Muma and Conroy are both really, really talented physically, maybe even more so than Swenson," punter Aaron Bates said. "So it's just how they're going to handle the game situations. We've tried to put them through as many game situations as they can to see how they'll respond."
Minnesota: Senior quarterback Adam Weber will be working with his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons as Jeff Horton takes over this fall. Horton succeeds Jedd Fisch, who left for the Seattle Seahawks after one year. Weber worked under Mike Dunbar in 2007. Some signal-callers would view so much change in a negative light, but not Weber. "I think I'm very fortunate to have been coached by such great coaches," Weber said. "Obviously, you'd like to have one coach for all four years, but that's not how it's worked out. So far with Coach Horton, it's been great. He makes the game fun."
Northwestern: Despite earning a trip to its second straight bowl game last season, Northwestern averaged only 24,190 fans for home games last season, the second-worst average among FBS teams. How will the Cats improve that mark? "Keep winning," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. The Wildcats shouldn't have too much trouble selling tickets to a Nov. 20 date against rival Illinois at Chicago's Wrigley Field. Fitzgerald calls the game a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
Ohio State: Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel said he is satisfied with junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor's development in his first two seasons. Last season, Pryor was named preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and guided the Buckeyes to an outright Big Ten title and Rose Bowl victory over Oregon. "He went from quarterback of the co-Big Ten champions to quarterback of the outright Big Ten champions," Tressel said. "That's all the progression I'm looking for."
Penn State: Coach Joe Paterno joked that he'd like to identify a starting quarterback in the next half-hour, but it's just not going to happen that way. With so much uncertainty under center in State College, Penn State's other position groups know they need to step up. "It definitely affects us as an offensive line," senior guard Stefen Wisniewski said. "We feel if we're protecting a young quarterback and giving him a lot of time, we can really make him look good and look experienced. But if we would have breakdowns and a young quarterback's under pressure, he'll show he doesn't have a lot of experience."
Purdue: Coach Danny Hope is optimistic that defensive tackle Kevin Pamphile, a projected starter, will return before the team's bye week in early October. Pamphile recently underwent surgery after sustaining a stress fracture in his foot. Redshirt freshmen Brandon Taylor and Justin Kitchens and heralded incoming freshman Bruce Gaston will compete for Pamphile's spot during his absence. Gaston has slimmed down to 302 pounds. "He's probably the fastest defensive tackle we have," Hope said of Gaston. "He can really move."
Wisconsin: Safety Jay Valai is a college football junkie who will watch just about any game, but this offseason he spent a lot of time reviewing Ohio State tape. The Buckeyes remain the team to beat in the Big Ten, so Valai has focused on how to beat them. Valai recently watched Ohio State's dramatic win against Purdue in 2002, which propelled the Buckeyes to the national title. "You've got to be more physical, that's first and foremost," Valai said. "I think we out-physicaled them two years ago, but at the end of the game, they got real creative, made some plays and beat us."
Ohio State: Cameron Heyward
Tracking Big Ten Media Days
Iowa: Karl Klug
Best Of Day 2
Best Quote: "I'm asking myself, 'What was I thinking? Dumb play.' I watch it and I'm shaking my head, like, 'What an idiot.' Whatever, you shake it off, laugh about it. At the end of the day, I didn't get shot over it. We're still alive, so it's OK." -- Iowa senior quarterback Ricky Stanzi on his interceptions last season
Best Moment: The football toss by Big Ten quarterbacks at the end of the kickoff luncheon always has plenty of entertainment value. Iowa's Stanzi and Minnesota's Adam Weber struggled with their grip of the football before firing long passes in the ballroom. Purdue's Robert Marve finished things off with a nice throw to a leaping fan.
Best Quote 2: Asked if Iowa's passionate fan base reminds him of Green Bay Packers fans, Pittsburgh Steelers fans and Chicago Cubs fans, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said, "I don't know about the Cubs. I'm going to stay away from that one. How about the Cardinals? I'm more of a [Tony] La Russa guy."