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Entries in Big Ten (15)


Will Thin Bench Be OSU's Undoing ... Again?

Picture of Jared Sullinger

One Great Season

A common refrain among college basketball observers this year has been some variation of "it's not often you lose the national Player of the Year and actually get better the next season."

Experts have been saying that the last eight weeks about Ohio State, which lost Evan Turner to the NBA after his junior season ended in a slightly surprising Sweet 16 loss to Tennessee in last year's NCAA Tournament.

But incoming freshman Jared Sullinger has been the best first-year player in America, and in the opinions of some, the best player in the country period. Exhibit A? Check the tape of his 27-point, 16-rebound effort in a nationally televised win at Illinois Saturday.

Steady seniors like David Lighty and Jon Diebler have another year of experience under their belts, as do William Buford and Dallas Lauderdale. Freshmen Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas have been splendid additions as well.

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Rest Easy, SEC Fans; Your Conference Will Be OK

Picture Of Terrelle Pryor

One Great Season

Don't look now, but that Ohio State team that can't win on the big stage just won its second straight BCS bowl game.

The Buckeyes held on to beat SEC West runner-up Arkansas in a thrilling Sugar Bowl Tuesday night in New Orleans, 31-26.

OSU, long a target of SEC bloggers and that hurtful-words forum known as Twitter, raced to a 28-7 lead over the high-octane Razorbacks, then held on despite a Helter Skelter finish.

SEC fans will spin it this way: Ohio State almost choked the game away, the Buckeyes suited up a bunch of NCAA violators, they got lucky because Arkansas' receivers kept dropping passes, the Big Ten still sucks.

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Legends, Leaders Are The Two New Big Ten Division Names

New Big Ten Logo

One Great Season

The only things more disappointing than the Big Ten's new logo released Monday were the names of the league's two new divisions, announced moments later.

Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska and Northwestern will comprise the Legends Division.

Illinois, Indiana, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin will compete in the Leaders Division.

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Advice To The Big Ten: Play The SEC

Picture Of Terrance Toliver

One Great Season

Though it's been a while since the Big Ten has been one of the top two conferences in college football, for some reason the hate that comes from the South is directed at the Big Ten more than any other league.

Which is odd because the PAC 10 and Big 12 have been better than the Big Ten during the SEC's current run of dominance the last four or five years.

The league owned by Ohio State during this stretch is really only the fourth-best league in college football.

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Big 10 Preview: Ohio State Wins It Again

Picture Of Terrelle Pryor

One Great Season

There's been plenty of offseason talk about the Big Ten's strong showing during last winter's bowl season and how it might be a harbinger for the league's fortunes in 2010.

It was indeed a noteworthy change to see Ohio State and Iowa win BCS bowls, as well as to see Wisconsin surprise Miami and Penn State top LSU from the almighty SEC.

But those games were a long time ago. By the time these squads take the field for their season openers this week, eight months will have passed. By now, no one cares what you did for Christmas.

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Tournament Takeaways: What Day 2 Taught Us

Evan Turner

One Great Season

For fans of Cinderella, underdogs and buzzer-beaters, the second day of the NCAA Tournament didn't deliver the dramatics that day one did, but we still saw some quality basketball on Friday.

Saturday brings us the first day of the second round, and there are some good matchups on deck this weekend. But let's review the highs and lows from the second-best day in American sports:

+ Ohio State's Evan Turner is the best player in the country, but he's far from perfect. His poor night from the field isn't what should concern OSU fans, but his sometimes lazy and sloppy ballhandling should. I've actually thought this for a few weeks, particularly in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal against Illinois. Turner is dangerous on the bounce during transition or when he has a path to the basket, but sometimes when he tries to attack the lane in the half-court, he forgets to protect the basketball. Being 6-foot-7 and not a natural point guard, I'm sure he's used to being vertical, but as the Buckeyes advance, he'll need to protect the rock against smaller guards who've lately been able to knock the ball from him with regularity.

+ Nice to see the Big East bounce back with three wins in four tries Friday, after Thursday's disastrous 1-3 effort. West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Syracuse coasted to fairly easy wins. But Louisville got embarrassed by Cal, giving what was supposed to be a weak PAC 10 two wins in two games against the alleged top league in the country.

+ I'd read a bunch about Cornell the last three months but never once saw the Big Red on television until Friday. If the way they played is how they always play, then that was no upset. An excellent team beat Temple, and handily. It was pretty impressive when, after a few trips, CBS would show tight shots of Cornell players getting back on defense after a make. Sorry for the cliche, but you really could see a good, positive, laser-focus in the eyes of those players. They'll give Wisconsin a tough game Sunday. Or will Wisconsin give Cornell a tough game?

+ Glad to see Purdue get a gritty win over a game Siena team. The Saints might be a Gonzaga East in the making, as they've pulled off upsets the last two years and were subsequently a fashionable first-round upset pick for many. But even without Robbie Hummel, the Boilermakers showed they can win some games when their star is down. Chris Kramer was hardly the hero of the game for the winners, but if you're teaching your son how to play good, solid, fundamental basketball with a high motor, Kramer is Exhibit A.

+ And speaking of the Big Ten, a 4-1 start isn't too shabby. In addition to OSU and Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State hung tough to avoid upsets. Minnesota couldn't complete the skunking, however, as the Gophers fell to a very well-prepared Xavier team. XU coaches turn over every few years, but whomever is at the helm, the Muskies never disappoint come tournament time.

+ No. 10-seed Georgia Tech and No. 7 Oklahoma State squared off to settle an ACC-Big 12 dispute. Wake Forest beat Texas on Thursday, and early Friday, Missouri bounced Clemson. The Yellow Jackets won the rubber match, advancing to a very winnable game against Ohio State in Milwaukee on Sunday.

+ Friday's best Tweet came from KySportsRadio, who said after Louisville's horrendous start against California, "If this keeps up, Rick Pitino is only going to be able to get women in an Olive Garden."

+ And kudos to CBS' Seth Davis for breaking down the end of the New Mexico State-Michigan State game. Davis said on Twitter he'd spoken to the NCAA coordinator of officials by telephone and that both of them dissected the replay of what was thought by many to be a questionable lane-violation call. But Davis showed viewers at about 12:45 a.m. ET that it was the right call. However, Davis also showed the officials did screw up moments later when a ball was batted out of bounds with 0.7 seconds left in the game. By the time the operator stopped the clock, it read 0.3, but the officials didn't add the extra time, which could have been significant to New Mexico State.

+ For those who love Gus Johnson, here's an excellent soundboard of some of his great calls.


ET Phones Home With Buzzer-Beater To Beat Michigan

Evan Turner

One Great Season

I just spent the last, very frustrating hour on the telephone with US Airways. But as the call was wrapping up and I was nearing a resolution, it was Evan Turner who took flight and led the Ohio State Buckeyes to a first-class win over Michigan in a Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal in Indianapolis Friday afternoon.

When I called Thursday night, the fine customer service operator gave my would-be reservation a courtesy hold. A one-way flight to San Francisco in two weeks would cost me 25,000 miles, the same as a round-trip ticket. That's pretty steep, but hey, for this broke dude who hasn't worked since July, it's better than actual dollars.

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I'd found a cheap flight back from SFO a few days later, so I was just finalizing the outbound trip with US Airways this afternoon. But the gal had me on the line for more than a half hour before she told me there would be $135 in fees, down from the original $180 she'd previously quoted me. I demanded to speak to her supervisor, who broke down the charges this way:

+ $75 - expedited reservation fee (less than 14 days advance purchase)
+ $30 - reservation service fee
+ $25 - processing fee
+ $5 - security fee

What is the difference between a reservation fee and a processing fee? And with what's available and possible with technology these days, is either necessary? Are processing and reservation servicing two acts that require significant manpower?

Funny how I thought I'd be able to just make this call during the under-16 timeout.

So there I was, confirming the reservation and telling my long story to a supervisor, just minutes after telling my long story to her subordinate. I got what I wanted: an Ohio State victory.

I mean, I got $35 taken off the total fees, but along the way, shades of Ron Lewis popped into my head as the Buckeyes were about to inbound the ball after a timeout. They trailed by two with just 2.2 seconds left, and I thought it was odd that Michigan would lay back and not contest the pass to Evan Turner.

I couldn't stop thinking about Lewis, who drilled a three at the buzzer in a second-round game against in-state rival Xavier in 2007. After Lewis' heroic shot sent the game into overtime, the Buckeyes took over and ran away with the win, ultimately earning a spot in the national championsip game two weeks later.

And Friday, I had a funny feeling that Turner would take two or three dribbles and pull up just after the midcourt line and for some reason I knew that thing was going in. About 10 seconds after it did, I asked the woman to repeat herself.


College Basketball Awaits Super Saturday

John Wall

One Great Season

If you think this week has offered up a weak menu of heavyweight tilts, don't worry. This weekend will be a completely different story.

Saturday is full of huge hardwood matchups, and just when you're done shaking off the hoops hangover the next day, a potential Big Ten title game stares you right in the face on Sunday afternoon.

Kentucky and Tennessee get things started at noon (CBS) Saturday. The Vols are looking to avenge a loss in Lexington two weeks ago, and they just might pull it off this time.

UK has shown it can blow out good teams but can also win the tight games, even on the road. The Wildcats eeked out a narrow victory Saturday at Vanderbilt, as John Wall saved the day with a defensive gem late in Nashville.

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But what can often trip up a good team this time of year is scheduling, and Kentucky is due for a battle tonight at home against South Carolina. The 9 p.m. start is a tad late, and the Wildcats will be asked to squeeze in a light workout Friday before tipping off at noon on Saturday in Knoxville. If Tennessee is looking for another resume win to bolster its tournament seeding, there will be no better opportunity.

The Big 12 then takes center stage Saturday afternoon with three big games throughout the day. Texas visits Texas A&M at 2 p.m. (ESPN), Oklahoma State welcomes top-ranked Kansas at 4 p.m. (CBS) and Missouri travels to No. 6 Kansas State for an 8 p.m. tipoff (ESPNU).

Since the Big East turned into a super-conference a few years back, folks seem to assume it's the best league in basketball every year. But this season might be different. The Big 12 is stacked, and just as capable of sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament -- and maybe two to the Final Four -- as the Big East.

That Texas-Texas A&M tilt is sure to be a good one. It will be interesting to see how the Longhorns, at one point ranked No. 1 this season, will respond without starting point guard Dogus Balbay. He was ruled out for the season after hurting it last week, and the Longhorns were able to beat Oklahoma State without him Wednesday night. A&M (19-8, 8-5), meanwhile, runs a guard-heavy attack, so we'll see if its backcourt can set the pace and lead the home team to what would be a huge resume win.

Sherron Collins

Bebubbled Oklahoma State could practically lock up an NCAA bid with an upset of the top-ranked Jayhawks. In late January, the Cowboys won three straight games, then lost three in a row, then won three more. After Wednesday's loss at Texas, OSU fans are hoping this is not the beginning of yet another trend. If today was Selection Sunday, the Pokes would probably get in, but beating the No. 1 team in the country certainly wouldn't hurt their case. Expect a loud one at Gallagher-Iba Arena Saturday.

The best Big 12 game of the day might take place at Kansas State, where the Wildcats entertain Missouri, a very surprising third-place team that's racked up 21 wins this year. KSU got some nice early season hype before losing two games in late January, and all of a sudden people stopped talking about the Wildcats. But they've rattled off six straight wins and are perhaps the quietest No. 6 team in recent memory. KSU's backcourt tandem of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente averages a combined 35 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game.

But Missouri has its own loaded backcourt, and although the Tigers aren't great away from home, this could possibly turn into a track meet in Manhattan. At least it will be fun to watch.

The Big East regular season title could come down to Saturday's game at Syracuse, where the Orange (26-2, 13-2) welcome Villanova (23-4, 12-3) to the Carrier Dome (9 p.m., ESPN).

Scottie Reynolds

This is the only meeting between the teams this year, so the winner will own the league tiebreaker. A Syracuse victory gives the Orange the conference crown; a Villanova win puts both teams at 13-3, but the Wildcats would have a slightly tougher remaining schedule that includes a season finale against West Virginia.

Villanova is more perimeter-oriented, although darkhorse Player of the Year candidate Scottie Reynolds is among the best penetrating guards in the country. Syracuse enjoys better balance and its 2-3 zone defense can be troublesome for a cold-shooting team.

Whatever happens, it will happen in front of a record crowd. More than 34,000 tickets were sold out a month ago, setting up what will be the largest on-campus crowd to watch a college basketball game.

Make sure you get the laundry and grocery store out of the way early Sunday, because a huge Big Ten tilt tips off at 4 p.m. (CBS) in West Lafayette, In.

Michigan State limps into its game at Purdue having lost four of its last six. But Tom Izzo and his Spartans have played the role of the wounded dog before, and this could very well be a moment of truth for this year's squad. A team only gets a few opportunities each season to prove itself, and I could see MSU reversing its trend of losing to the Big Ten's top teams this year. Sparty is 2-4 against Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin.

But Purdue is waiting to learn more about the knee injury that do-everything star Robbie Hummel suffered in Wednesday's win at Minnesota. His presence -- 100 percent or not -- obviously would be key for a Purdue win, but the Boilermakers can be balanced if they need to be. And in what promises to be a dogfight with the gritty Spartans, balance will be necessary. This will be a great game for sure.


Is Evan Turner The Best Player In The Country?

Evan Turner

One Great Season

Evan Turner wasn't necessarily a highlight reel Sunday, but his overall play was instrumental yet again in Ohio State's most recent triumph.

The visiting Buckeyes blasted a pretty good Illinois team riding a five-game winning streak, including a pair of victories over Big Ten heavies Michigan State and Wisconsin.

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But OSU, enjoying its own five-game trend heading into the game, got splendid perimeter play from juniors Jon Diebler and David Lighty, and Turner was more than comfortable setting them up.

The trio combined for 51 points, including ET's 16, part of a near-triple double that also included 11 rebounds and eight assists.

Outside of maybe Kansas' Sherron Collins, no player is more valuable to his team than Turner. For some reason, OSU's huge game against Purdue on Wednesday is not scheduled to be televised, but if you watch the Bucks play at Michigan State -- another large conference clash -- on Sunday (Noon, CBS), you'll see he does everything for his team. Not only leading the offense and sharing the basketball, but also energizing an increasingly active defense. Illinois had absolutely no answers for OSU's zone on Sunday.

Turner and the Buckeyes kind of remind me of Francisco Garcia and the 2005 Louisville Cardinals, who started to peak in February and rode a balanced offense all the way to the Final Four. Garcia was clearly the most dangerous weapon on that team, but his supporting cast was more than capable, and his unselfishness only made them better.

Further proof of Turner's value to his team comes next season, when he'll probably be playing in the NBA and the Buckeyes, who bring back every other starter, likely will struggle without him.

BIG UPSETS IN BIG EAST: Speaking of Louisville, the Cardinals got a huge resume win at Syracuse Sunday, and now with two winnable games up next, Rick Pitino's bunch appears headed for an NCAA bid.

As hard as Louisville tried to give the game away -- the Cards missed five free throws and turned the ball over in the final 1:41 -- the visitors held on to beat the Orange for the fifth straight time. The teams meet again in the season finale for both in Louisville on March 6.

And although Rutgers isn't headed to the NCAA Tournament, the Scarlet Knights earned a nice win over visiting Georgetown on Sunday. A Jekyll-and-Hyde stretch that includes wins over Duke and Villanova has seen the Hoyas drop three of their last six games. Georgetown has Syracuse and West Virginia on its remaining schedule, so the Hoyas will still be able to bolster their resume for a favorable NCAA seed.

FINAL FOUR PICKS: It seems like more teams are playing themselves out of top seeds than into them. Kansas and Kentucky could be a delicious championship game, but Syracuse, a team I've liked all season, struggled at home to beat a weak Connecticut squad before losing at home to Louisville. Just a February bump or a sign of something bigger?

+ EAST: Villanova (Duke)
+ SOUTH: Kentucky (West Virginia)
+ MIDWEST: Kansas (Michigan State)
+ WEST: Syracuse (Gonzaga)
+ SLEEPER: Siena

DePAUL OFFERS SCHOLARSHIP TO 14-YEAR-OLD: DePaul has offered a basketball scholarship to 14-year-old Jahlil Okafor, and that doesn't sit well with ESPN analyst Bob Knight.

"If I were a parent, I wouldn't want anybody talking to my son about going to college until he's on his way toward finishing high school," he said on SportsCenter on Monday morning. Didn't Knight do just about the same thing with Damon Bailey 25 years ago?

TUBE TIME: I still can't get over the Purdue-Ohio State game not being televised, but there are a few good ones coming up later this week:

+ Thursday: Syracuse at Georgetown, 7 p.m., ESPN2
+ Saturday: Illinois at Purdue, 4 p.m., ESPN
+ Saturday: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, 6 p.m., ESPN


Thursday Hoops Notebook: Duke, Syracuse Survive Scares

Syracuse Beats Connecticut

One Great Season

On the surface, two Top 10 teams won a pair of high-profile games against conference rivals on national television Wednesday night.

On talk radio and in the blogosphere, however, Syracuse and Duke are looking like a couple of teams who won't get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

My dad used to tell me you're only as good as your last game, and I've always agreed with that to an extent. But a team's body of work throughout a season also merits equal consideration.

And that's why two narrow victories over inferior teams five weeks before the tournament even starts shouldn't worry fans of Syracuse or Duke. Teams play more than 30 games every season. What doesn't kill you in one will make you stronger in the next, right? And these are wins we're talking about!

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Bloggers are always looking for an angle they think hasn't been considered -- or at least published -- often times abandoning clear logic for the sake of uniqueness. Being original gets you noticed, but sometimes for the wrong reason.

What gets lost in all the analysis and doom and gloom are these facts: both squads are on top of their leagues, they're riding nice conference winning streaks and have top NCAA tournament seeds well within their grasp. A team couldn't possibly ask for more than that heading down the stretch.

SYRACUSE SIDESTEPS UCONN: The Orange held off a game Connecticut team Wednesday at the Carrier Dome, beating its Big East rival to remain on top of the conference.

Syracuse got balanced scoring en route to the 72-67 win that stretched its best start in school history to 24-1. The Orange are 12-1 in the Big East, a half game ahead of Villanova.

While Syracuse certainly didn't play its best game of the season, at this point, when players are trying to avoid the wall that often approaches in February, even a home win over a struggling UConnn team is a feather in the Orange fedora.

I still think 'Cuse -- with offensive balance; a late-game, go-to guy; a perimeter marksmen; blue-collar interior guys; a cool-under-pressure freshman playing beyond his years and of course that outstanding zone defense -- is a Final Four team.

Duke Beats North Carolina

DEVILS STEP ON HEELS: Neither North Carolina nor Duke did much outstanding, but Dick Vitale described it accurately maybe 10 or 12 minutes in when he said on the ESPN broadcast, "nobody's shooting all that well, but the effort is certainly there."

That was true in the second half of Duke's 64-54 win as well. North Carolina hit some big shots, like Connecticut, to keep it close late in a game with a superior rival, but in the end, it was the more experienced, more poised team that finished.

Just because Duke struggled to beat one team that clearly has many, many shortcomings, that hardly means it's time to hit the panic button. If they're hitting their shots, the Devils are once again a dangerous team for anyone who can't play an up-tempo style.

But since Duke wasn't hitting shots, it was stuck on the 49-point mark with six minutes left in the game. That was probably the biggest surprise to me. I thought the Devils would approach 100, but the low-scoring win was good enough to keep Duke (20-4, 8-2) atop the ACC, a full game ahead of Maryland, which visits Duke on Saturday. That's when we'll get a better idea whether the Devils are a threat to make a deep run in March.

THROW OUT THE CLICHES: It's 2 a.m. ET Thursday and the SportsCenter repeat just began on ESPN.

"You know what they say ... Throw out the record books when Duke and North Carolina get together," is how the anchorman opened the show.
Does anyone really say that? It seems these days that the only people who say that are broadcasters who claim that everyone else says it. But no one I know ever says that in seriousness. They only say that others say it.

BIG TEN, BIG FUN: Since the league's expansion a few years ago, the Big East race seems to be by default the best in the sport.

But I'm really intrigued by what's happening in the Big Ten. Michigan State has lost its three-game grip on first place in the last nine days. The Spartans went from 9-0 in the league to 9-3, and will play with a gimpy Kalin Lucas for the rest of the season. I'm no doctor, but I'm pretty sure Lucas' ankle will not heal by playing on it.

Illinois and Ohio State, meanwhile, we're two of four teams tied for second place last week, and now they're the two teams tied with Michigan State for first place. The Illini pulled off a rare win at Wisconsin Tuesday, and will welcome Ohio State to Assembly Hall on Sunday.

That large game begins a huge stretch for Ohio State, which follows its Illinois visit with a home date against Purdue on Wednesday, then travels to Michigan State on Feb. 20.

Meanwhile, those Boilermakers are lurking just a half game back at 8-3 and Wisconsin is 8-4. One game separates five teams. That will be fun to watch.

Are you following me on Twitter? @onegreatseason | @johnpwise


Pryor Meets Clark In Test Of Wills

Terrelle Pryor

Special to One Great Season

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The image is indelible.

Then-freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor sitting with his Ohio State helmet still on, unable to look across the field at the team he just did battle with. His head in his hands.

A year ago against Penn State, Pryor was a broken man. His fumble led to a game-winning touchdown drive for the Nittany Lions.

His desperation heave to the end zone in the Columbus night fell into the arms of Penn State cornerback Lydell Sargeant. It's the kind of moment that should Pryor never defeat the Nittany Lions, blue and white fans will point to that as the genesis for why.

Should he extract revenge, say, this Saturday before 110,000 rabid, whited-out fans at Beaver Stadium, that lingering moment also will be a genesis for what transpires.

Pryor and No. 16 Ohio State find themselves squarely with the Big Ten destiny in their collective scarlet-and-gray-gloved hands. A win over Penn State and next week against Iowa, and the Buckeyes will share the conference crown with Iowa, but the Buckeyes would go to the Rose Bowl.

It's the redemption Pryor and Ohio State need; it's redemption a beleaguered conference has been seeking for sometime now.

Pryor, who wasn't made available to Penn State media members this week, spoke to and expressed his desire to deliver.

"I haven't led us to a big win yet," Pryor told the site on Wednesday night. "That's what a quarterback needs to do, lead, and I haven't led us to a win in a big game yet."

It seems his every move has been scrutinized.

Jim Tressel

Does Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel use him properly? Can he develop into a pure quarterback? Can he, as Pryor himself suggests, win a big game?

By early Saturday evening some of those questions may be answered. But what we know now is that opposite of Pryor is a quarterback on the Penn State sideline who puts as much pressure on himself as the sophomore does. Clark wants to win just as badly, and, just like Pryor, is still in search of a signature win that will define his legacy.

For the 2009 season you could put Daryll Clark's numbers up against those of any quarterback in America. He's been better than Tim Tebow, he means just as much to his team as Colt McCoy and his ability to throw darts and rally his team may only be matched by Jimmy Clausen.

What Saturday's game comes down to might be a will to win. Can Pryor be patient and withstand a low-scoring game like he had to last year? Or will he grow antsy and look for the big play, which has been there at times this season, but not often enough that Ohio State's passing game lights up the stat sheet.

On the other side, can Clark control his emotions? He didn't finish last year's game in Columbus.

Joe Paterno

If Pryor wins he gets his marquee victory. If Clark is impressive in a Penn State win, he'll improve a potential Heisman candidacy.

"I think Daryll Clark has been an outstanding performer for us," Penn State coach Joe Paterno said this week. "It's hard to compare. I don't see all the other guys that people are talking about all the time. Every week it's a new list, from what I hear. I don't know. You turn on the tube, to get some sleep, and there are a couple of guys up there talking about, 'Let's hear your Heisman Trophy list,' and whose list is this and that. Daryll Clark is one heck of a football player."

But he still bears the weight of losses to Iowa the past two seasons. Right or wrong, his fault or not. What stands more important is that the winner of this game could strengthen a potential at-large BCS bid, as representatives from the Orange and Sugar bowls will be seated in the warmth of the Beaver Stadium press box.

And then you have the crowd factor.

So much adds up against Pyror -- the crowd, a red-hot opposing defense and his own offensive line which has left a lot to be desired. But good, bad or indifferent, that's just how he wants it.

Pryor and Tressel portray the image that they thrive on the pressure. That may be the case, but go back to last year's game where Paterno out-Tresseled Tressel.

"(Terrelle's) been under fire in his own mind since he got here," Tressel said. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself because he has high expectations for what he can do, and most importantly what he can do for the good of the team.

"If we are successful on a Saturday he feels as if it probably had his contribution and if we're not successful many times he feels as if he was the problem. That's the way competitors are."

Two competitors, on the Big Ten's biggest stage, battling in what should be another four quarters of physically grueling football, trying to answer one question.

Who has the stronger will to win?

Thomas writes for Blue White Illustrated.


The Superior Conference Conversation, Take 7,843

One Great Season

NEW YORK -- As you know, I'm not a big fan of the cheap and easy insults that fly around the blogosphere. Many, but not all, bloggers clamor for access to pro and college teams with little success, and while I'm a new member of the community, I feel like a 15-year news career means I'm qualified enough to assert that the mean-spirited nature of the genre doesn't help their cause.

Trash talking behind the safety of your laptop with somebody who you'll never see face to face is not a good look this fall.

An intelligent, or at least open-minded discourse is what I prefer, but then I have to remind myself that we're talking about college football. Fans of this particular entertainment form are not reasonable people. I'm not saying that to be cute; I really think fans of all sports can be idiots.

I once wore my Cleveland Indians cap to an interleague game at tradition-steeped Cinergy Field, Astroturf and all, against the Cincinnati Reds. It was sometime around 2000. It was a little later in the season, and I think the Indians were contending for a playoff spot. I watched a great battle between lefties Denny Neagle and Chuck Finley. Another lefty, Russell Branyan, came to bat with a man on first, two outs, and his Indians trailing, 2-1, in the top of the ninth.

Branyan lined a shot into the left-field corner that was an easy double. The Indians' third-base coach waved his guy home, but the left-fielder grabbed it cleanly, rifled a frozen walnut to Barry Larkin, who relayed home for the game-ending out at the plate. My squad lost, but more importantly, I'd just watched a great baseball game on a gorgeous Friday night in a playoff atmosphere at an otherwise boring ballpark.

And when trash talkers busted me for the logo they saw on my hat, it just sounded, felt and looked so juvenile. Does anyone's life truly get better or worse because a sports team full of people you'll never meet won or lost?

My point is this: root for your squad, for sure, but relax for a second and accept that you have nothing to do with your favorite team's success or the failure of its rivals.

I bring this up because although I've quickly become a fan of, the Comments section after a Big Ten preview post has devolved into that oh-so-tiresome-my-conference-is-better-than-yours shouting match.

When will people start to accept the cyclical nature of things? All things come full circle. Do we not remember that elites like USC, Oklahoma and Penn State, for example, were down for a spell before a recent resurgence in the last decade?

I'm all for a hearty and spirited debate, but don't change the rules after it's started. If you want to blast Ohio State for losing four or five big games in the last three or four seasons, or the Big Ten overall for its inability to win bowl games, go ahead and do it. But if someone fires a shot at your squad for its own shortcomings in recent years, don't talk about all-time winning percentages, because that's a conversation for which Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State will all be glad to pull up a chair.

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BCS Tweak Still Doesn't Get It Right

One Great Season

NEW YORK -- After driving down the field toward what would hopefully be a much-needed score, NCAA suits fumbled away an opportunity to take a key first step to fixing the postseason mess.

The BCS people have turned the Rose Bowl into the Stepdaddy Of 'Em All by announcing it will take a team from a non-BCS conference under certain scenarios from the 2010 season through the 2013 season.

Since 1947 until the late 1990s, the game was contracted to pair up the Big Ten and PAC 10 champions. And with the emergence of the BCS in 1998, the leagues have still sent their champions to that game unless one earns a spot in the national championship game.

Now, in such a case where the league champ plays for the BCS crown and misses the Rose Bowl, a team from a non-BCS league will fill that vacancy, according to The Associated Press.

I fully appreciate the move to include a team from a non-BCS school. I really do. I just don't get why the Rose Bowl is the guinea pig for the experiment. Non-BCS outfits from Hawaii and Utah earned spots in the Sugar Bowl each of the last two years, and Boise State won an exciting Fiesta Bowl over Oklahoma after the 2006 season.

The Rose Bowl is called the Grandaddy Of 'Em All for a reason. Sure the Fiesta Bowl offers the biggest payouts, but there is far more history and tradition in Pasadena than Miami, New Orleans or Glendale. Do we really want to tinker with it just so the TCU Horned Frogs can feel good about themselves one of these years?

Why not use the Sugar, Orange or Fiesta bowls for this project, or at the very least use a rotating system for the four years then re-evaluate after the contract expires?

Or, better yet, just add in the plus-one playoff already.


Are Pryor, Ohio State Really That Surprising?

One Great Season

NEW YORK -- It's amazing what we like to describe as "controversial."

Is it a surprise pick that Big Ten writers picked Ohio State to win the league? And that those same writers gave preseason offensive player of the year honors to OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor? Both are slight surprises I think, but hardly controversial, as some bloggers are suggesting today.

+ YOUR THOUGHTS: Surprised at preseason picks?
+ ALSO: Big Ten Preview

Pryor had a good freshman season. He'll be a better passer in 2009 and will likely transition well from coddled young star to offensive leader. The athletic tools are already in place, and he showed good poise as a rookie last year. That trend will continue and he'll be the best player on what many think will be the best team in the league. It's not any crazier than a wideout from the fourth- or fifth-best team in the league (Arrelious Benn, Illinois) or a decent quarterback who lacks superstar potential -- Penn State's Darryl Clark -- being named.

I laugh when rich, old, white men in suits like to say their sport is for the fans. We all know it's really for the networks, but what are for the fans are silly preseason teams. They mean nothing. What means far more is what happens in the postseason, and I'm pretty sure if you check Google, you just be able to find, oh, maybe one or two or a million online jabs at the Big Ten's postseason track record in recent years.

For each team, a college season often shakes out as a reflection of how well your quarterback plays and how well your team performs on the road. If the slight advantage in the first category goes to Ohio State over Penn State, I think the same-sized cushion goes to the Nittany Lions in the second category, and for just one reason: Ohio State plays at Penn State in November.

We saw it in 2005 when the evenly matched Nittany Lions and Buckeyes played a tough game that Penn State won largely because of its home-field advantage. Both teams finished 7-1 in the conference, but PSU got the league's BCS bid and defeated Florida State in the Orange Bowl. I think Penn State wins the league because Ohio State has to visit Happy Valley this year. It's as simple as that.


Big Ten Preview

By John P. Wise
One Great Season

NEW YORK -- Until just a few years ago, Michigan and Ohio State were always the preseason picks in the Big Ten. The only question was the order in which they would finish, and that was often decided on the third or fourth Saturday in November.

And while the Buckeyes have remained among the national elite, it's Penn State's return to prominence in recent years that has offered the most resistance for OSU. Michigan, meanwhile, is still rebuilding under second-year coach Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines won't be a factor this year but should rejoin the conversation in 2010.

The Nittany Lions have won 40 games the last four seasons, and I expect them to win the Big Ten outright this year, and finish the regular season with a 12-0 record by virtue of an incredibly friendly schedule.

Quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster form one of the nation's more dangerous duos, and will lead a PSU team that plays only four times away from home. The Lions miss Wisconsin and get Ohio State and Iowa at home. If they're nervous in Happy Valley about losing seven defensive starters, Penn State opens with Akron, Syracuse and Temple to get things sorted out while the weather's still warm.

Ohio State, however, will not spend September getting full on cupcakes. Something about a team from Southern California on Sept. 12? It's funny that the Buckeyes often get blasted for scheduling weak sisters before conference play. All coach Jim Tressel has done is sought out home-and-home series with Texas and USC the last few years, and on future ledgers he's arranged dates with Miami, California, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma and Tennessee.

But those games will be then, and this is now. Second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor is now under a high-powered microscope in Columbus. He'll make good progress from last season, but it won't be enough to overcome the losses of Beanie Wells and Brian Robiskie on offense. Too, OSU's defense will have to replace a lot of talent, and while the Buckeyes get nine games to prepare for Penn State, the Lions will be too much in Happy Valley come November.

Iowa, Michigan State and Illinois could throw a wrench into the order of things in yet another unimpressive season in the Big Ten.


Penn State
Ohio State
Michigan State

BEST GAME ON THE SCHEDULE: Ohio State at Penn State, Nov. 7