|Ohio State eyes another Big 10 title|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 04 August 2008 13:17|
``You spelled my name wrong,'' Laurinaitis interrupted, finding a missing 'a' in his last name.
Quite the perfectionist, that All-American linebacker.
The loaded Buckeyes are favored to win the Big Ten for a fourth straight year. But while conference crowns are nice, Ohio State wouldn't mind erasing the memories of lopsided losses in the last two BCS title games with a national championship.
The perfect ending to a season has been elusive for these Buckeyes.
``I've never gotten complacent,'' he said recently. ``Let's face it, when you're in Columbus, you're the team down there. It's something where you are part of something special.''
Other interesting story lines abound around the Big Ten.
-Joe Paterno's 372 wins are one behind only Florida State's Bobby Bowden for most among major college football coaches. But an age-old question has emerged again at Penn State: Will this be the 81-year-old Paterno's last season on the sideline?
-Michigan is in transition as new coach Rich Rodriguez installs his vaunted spread offense - without a proven quarterback.
-Illinois will try to prove it's no one-year wonder, while Purdue coach Joe Tiller hopes his high-flying offense can nudge its way into the upper end of the standings in his final season before retirement.
Yet all that may take a backseat to another BCS title run by the Buckeyes.
Twenty starters return for coach Jim Tressel, including Laurinaitis and bullish 1,000-yard rusher Chris ``Beanie'' Wells. Tressel also added super-recruit Terrelle Pryor, who could have an all-purpose role on offense while playing understudy to steady starting quarterback Todd Boeckman.
``You hear about them all the time,'' Rodriguez said about the Buckeyes. ``I still have on my desk from the first day I got the job a 'Beat Ohio State' button, so (it's) not like I needed to be reminded about that. But I do think it's fun.''
Still for all their talent, the Buckeyes weren't good enough to beat LSU in the BCS title game last season, or Florida for the 2006 championship.
That has renewed debate by some college football fanatics about the strength of a conference viewed by critics as slow and plodding against the speed of the SEC or elite programs such as Southern California.
The Big Ten went 3-5 last year in bowl games, including 0-2 in the BCS - the other loss being Illinois' 49-17 stinker to USC in the Rose Bowl.
Perhaps no team wants to change the minds of Big Ten naysayers more than the Buckeyes. They'll get their first chance on Sept. 13 at USC.
``Whenever people are telling you, 'You guys aren't going to be any good,''' he said, ``you want to prove everybody wrong.''
A capsule look at the teams in predicted order of finish:
OHIO STATE - Key players: QB Todd Boeckman, Sr.; RB Chris Wells, Jr.; DB Malcolm Jenkins, Sr.; LB James Laurinaitis, Sr. Returning starters: 9 offense, 9 defense.
Notes: The Buckeyes are trying to become the first team in the 113-year history of the Big Ten to win three straight outright titles. Ohio State shared its 2005 crown with Penn State. ... There will be no grace period for Pryor. ``I would think that from day one he'll be a guy that you're going to take notice of,'' Tressel said.
WISCONSIN - Key players: RB P.J. Hill, Jr.; TE Travis Beckum, Sr.; LB Jonathan Casillas, Sr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 9 defense.
Notes: Coach Bret Bielema must break in a new starting QB for the second straight year. Kansas State transfer Allen Evridge is the favorite. ... Wisconsin opens conference play with a tough trifecta: at Michigan before facing Ohio State and Penn State at home.
PENN STATE - Key players: WR Derrick Williams, Sr.; RB Evan Royster, So.; DE Maurice Evans, Jr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 8 defense.
Notes: Off-field issues aside, Paterno will ease in a new starting quarterback behind a veteran offensive line. ... JoePa must replace standout LB Sean Lee (right knee), and depth on the D-line took a hit after tackles Chris Baker and Phil Taylor were kicked off the team last week.
ILLINOIS - Key players: QB Juice Williams, Jr.; WR Arrelious Benn, So.; CB Vontae Davis, Jr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Williams might be relied on more to spark the offense with RB Rashard Mendenhall gone to the NFL. ... Benn, last year's freshman sensation, has recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. ... The defense must replace four of last season's top five tacklers.
MICHIGAN STATE - Key players: QB Brian Hoyer, Sr.; RB Javon Ringer, Sr.; LB Greg Jones, So. Returning starters: 7 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: The Spartans hope to ride the momentum of last year's bowl appearance, their first since 2003. ... Hoyer and Ringer form a good core on offense, though WR Devin Thomas must be replaced after he decided to skip his senior season for the NFL.
MICHIGAN - Key players: WR Greg Mathews, Jr.; DL Terrance Taylor, Sr.; DE Tim Jamison, Sr. Returning starters: 3 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: The Rodriguez era begins with an offensive overhaul. Redshirt freshman Steven Threet, a transfer from Georgia Tech, could take over at QB in the new spread-option offense. ... The D-line should be a strength with four starters back.
IOWA - Key players: QB Jake Christensen, Sr.; DT Mitch King, Sr.; DT Matt Kroul. Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense.
Notes: The university's handling of an alleged sexual assault case in which two former football players have been charged has drawn headlines. ... King and Kroul could be one of the best DT duos in country.
PURDUE - Key players: QB Curtis Painter, Sr.; RB Kory Sheets, Sr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 6 defense.
Notes: Tiller, 83-54 in his 11 seasons as Purdue coach, is two victories shy of becoming Purdue's all-time winningest coach. ... The school is hyping Painter as a Heisman Trophy candidate, complete with the Web site, www.curtispainter12.com.
MINNESOTA - Key players: QB Adam Weber, So.; WR Eric Decker, Jr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: The offense appears to be in good hands with Weber, who passed for a school-record 2,895 yards and 24 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. Still, the Gophers went 0-8 in conference last year.
INDIANA - Key players: QB Kellen Lewis, Jr.; DE Greg Middleton, Jr. Returning starters: 6 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Lewis is back with the Hoosiers after being suspended by coach Bill Lynch for undisclosed reasons. ... Middleton had an NCAA-leading 16 sacks last year.
NORTHWESTERN - Key players: QB C.J. Bacher, Sr.; RB Tyrell Sutton, Sr. Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense.
Notes: Sutton, the Big Ten's leading active career rusher with 2,996 yards, missed five games last season with an ankle injury. He was limited to 522 yards in 2008 - still a team-high.