Our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament is attempting to answer that question, and we're down to our final four candidates. Our first semifinal opened yesterday with No. 3 seed Nebraska's Tom Osborne taking on No. 2 seed Michigan's Bo Schembechler.
Now it's time to take a look at our other Final Four showdown ...
No. 4 Penn State's Joe Paterno vs. No. 1 Ohio State's Woody Hayes
- Hayes: He's the No. 1 seed in the tournament for a reason. Hayes won 205 games, the most of any coach while a member of the Big Ten, and a record 152 league games. He also captured 13 Big Ten championships, tying him for the most all time, and five national titles (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968 and 1970). He was irascible, unyielding and one of a kind, and some of those qualities led to his downfall. But he is virtually synonymous with Ohio State and the Big Ten.
Which coach moves on to the title game? Voting will be open through the weekend, and make sure to drop us a note saying why you voted the way you did. The best responses will run in our results posts.
- Jerry Kill's assistants are getting new deals, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and the contracts are expected to be finalized next week. Both coordinators reportedly agreed to three-year deals.
- Two players raised in SEC country will compete for one of Nebraska's starting cornerback spots.
- Recruiting coordinator Curtis Blackwell played an integral role in finally getting Malik McDowell in a Spartans' uniform.
- In an effort to improve last year's struggling secondary, Ohio State is now having the safeties and cornerbacks meet together -- and has adopted a more aggressive philosophy.
- DE Brad Bars missed last season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, but Penn State's fifth-year senior is expecting to bounce back in a big way.
- Randy Edsall says this is his best Maryland team yet in a Q&A with the Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart.
- Michigan's running backs have taken big strides this spring, and Brady Hoke has been pleased with their progress.
- Wisconsin's quarterback is a projected No. 1 NFL draft pick ... in the upcoming Kevin Costner movie "Draft Day." The film will use game footage of former signal-caller Tyler Donovan.
- Rutgers TE Nick Arcidiacono is aiming to become a more well-rounded player, and he's hoping for a significant role opposite Tyler Kroft.
- Iowa QB Jake Rudock says he's hoping to improve his decision-making in this Q&A with the Des Moines Register.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A former Ohio State player previously caught up in the school's memorabilia scandal has been sentenced to four years in prison after pleading guilty to drug trafficking.
The sentence issued Thursday in Franklin County for 27-year-old Ray Small is expected to run concurrent with a shorter sentence he received in a drug case in Meigs County.
The Columbus Dispatch reports that Small apologized in court and told the judge he takes responsibility for what he did.
Small was charged after police found heroin and prescription pain and anti-anxiety pills while searching his apartment last year.
He was a wide receiver at Ohio State from 2006 to 2009. He was among the players involved in the memorabilia scandal that led to the forced resignation of coach Jim Tressel.
- Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner joined in the tradition of poking fun at a rival during a fundraising event with fans. Should anybody be offended by his canned jokes?
- Michigan coach Brady Hoke responded to Warinner's comments with a bit of humor of his own.
- Mark Dantonio doesn't usually hold press conferences to talk about one player, but the recruitment of Malik McDowell called for some discussion of how it all went down for Michigan State.
- Penn State tight end Adam Breneman will be on the shelf for the rest of spring practice thanks to a bone bruise in his knee.
- Nebraska wide receiver Sam Burtch is a no-nonsense guy, and his businesslike approach could be a boost for the offense this fall.
- Mark Weisman saw plenty of room to grow after reviewing every carry from last season, and the Iowa running back might need to improve to keep getting most of the carries in a crowded backfield.
- Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert's speed isn't up for debate based on his times on the track. The next thing he has to do is prove he can be physical on the football field.
- Illinois is looking for more team speed on defense, and the early returns from spring practice suggest the unit might be getting faster.
- Yet another Big Ten tight end is currently stuck on the sideline during spring practice, and like the others, Tyler Kroft is trying to make the most of it.
- Deon Long is now "90 percent" healthy, but he's well on the way to getting back and helping Maryland at wide receiver.
Was it a clutch touchdown grab that tipped the scales in a close game down the stretch? Devin Smith probably caught it.
Maybe it was a jaw-dropping, head-turning display of aerial athleticism, probably resulting in points for the Buckeyes? No doubt, Smith is again popping into mind.
Perhaps no player short of Braxton Miller has done more than Smith to stock the highlight reel for the Buckeyes since the spread offense arrived and the passing game started its rapid evolution out of the Stone Age. And even if he never has another chance to reach up to snag another one-handed reception against tight coverage, Smith has already supplied enough memories to fill several hype videos or decorate the walls of the practice facility with photos of his scoring exploits.
But for all those unforgettable moments, there have also been a few games where it’s hard to even remember Smith was on the field at all. And rather than duplicate all the dizzying highs heading into his senior season, the emphasis now is instead on eliminating the lows.
“I look back at some of the plays I’ve made, I have made some plays that people will remember forever,” Smith said. “But inside me, I still feel like there’s more that I need to give.”
The Buckeyes are more than willing to take whatever else Smith has to offer, particularly with leading receiver Philly Brown no longer in the picture and coach Urban Meyer still stressing the importance of balancing his high-powered rushing attack with more contributions from the passing game.
Smith is the logical choice to lead that effort on the heels of a 44-catch, 660-yard, eight-touchdown season in 2013, another campaign that featured go-ahead scores, game-changing strikes from long distance and impressive catches while simultaneously fighting off gravity and cornerbacks. But what the Buckeyes need now is the kind of consistency and reliability Brown provided by making multiple receptions in every outing but two, something Smith struggled to offer late in the season a year ago while catching just 6 balls in the final five games.
“Obviously with some game plans, there are times when it’s going away from me, putting the ball in Philly’s hands or keeping it with Braxton and Carlos [Hyde], things like that,” Smith said. “But I think one thing that kind of hurt me a little bit was towards the end I was banged up a little bit and not making as many plays in practice, and that held me back from getting plays in a game.
“I’m just making sure I take care of my body every single day and make plays that I can, act like practice is a game. If I do that here and perfect that, I think it will carry over to the season.”
Part of that process during the spring involves challenging Smith as if he were in the middle of the season, putting him in different scenarios designed to take him out of his comfort zone and forcing him to overcome a few hurdles.
Notably, the Buckeyes have moved him all over the formation as part of the ongoing development of his game, having him spend one full day away from his starting "X" position while working at "Z," then lining him up at other times in the slot to continue keeping him on his toes and finding a way to tap into his potential more regularly.
“The biggest thing we’ve had to do is present adversity to him, moving positions and moving him around, creating those hard situations because he’s great when things are great,” receivers coach Zach Smith said. “When things are hard, that’s when he needs to shine. He’s been inconsistent in that.
“But so far, so good.”
That, of course, is as true for Smith’s career as a whole as it is his development this spring. But he isn’t done with either quite yet.
- Northwestern players returned to practice and faced questions about the possible formation of a union.
- Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman is out for the rest of the spring after a foot injury. Joey Bosa is going to be a marked man this year.
- Michigan punter Will Hagerup worked his way back from a suspension after a year away, which included time working at a steel plant.
- Michigan State's Lawrence Thomas is motivated to prove that he's healthy and that he can have an impact on the Spartans' defense.
- Nebraska is going with a youth movement on its offensive line.
- A crowded group of running backs is vying to jostling for the No. 1 spot at Purdue.
- Iowa overspent its budget on the Outback Bowl trip.
- Wisconsin's receiving corps, already wildly unproven, is down to four healthy players right now.
- The offensive line could be a major problem for Penn State this season.
- Rutgers cornerback Nadir Barnwell has grown after a difficult freshman campaign.
- Indiana's Shane Wynn is working as an outside receiver despite his 5-foot-7 frame.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State Buckeyes senior tight end Jeff Heuerman's spring camp is over after suffering a mid-foot injury which required surgery and is expected to sideline him from workouts until early June.
Heuerman, a respected team leader and one of Ohio State's top returning threats in the passing game, will need to spend the next six weeks in a cast and walking boot before being cleared to resume physical activities.
His spring-ending injury is the third for the Buckeyes since practice opened last month and the second to a projected starter, joining safety Vonn Bell and backup receiver Jalin Marshall on the injured list heading into the final two weeks of camp for the program.
All three are expected to be full participants in time for summer workouts.
"Jeff didn't need as many reps, but we lost Jalin and we lost Vonn Bell, but the positive is they'll all be back fairly early," Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said after practice Tuesday. "Sometimes you lose that summer training, which is terrible.
"Jeff is going to be fine. I think it's been right about the normal number of injuries." The Buckeyes were stretched a bit thin at safety after losing Bell early in March, but there is some depth at tight end capable of filling in for the productive Heuerman during the closing stretch of practices.
Heuerman finished his junior season with 26 catches for 466 yards and four touchdowns and was also a physical presence as a run blocker for one of the nation's best rushing attacks.
For now, Chris Ash is only focused on how the Buckeyes go about their business, regardless of the schemes the new co-defensive coordinator might install to fix a unit in need of repairs.
More man coverage and a new package of aggressive blitzes were part of the promises that accompanied Urban Meyer’s hiring of Ash in the offseason. But at least through the first half of spring camp, there has been no deep dive into the playbook. At this point, Ash has largely stayed on the first few pages, keeping the approach as simple as possible in the first phase of the rebuilding job, focusing on effort above everything else.
“It doesn’t matter what we do schematically,” Ash said. “We’re going to have a philosophy; we’re going to have a system, an identity for what we’re doing. But really, it’s about how hard we play and how consistent we are doing it.
Ash might not have any baseline with which to compare Ohio State’s practices this spring compared to the last couple of seasons, but the returning players certainly do. And the differences have not gone unnoticed at the midway point of spring practice.
The coaching staff has kept a running tally of loafs in practice, pointing out when players are coasting or failing to meet the oft-repeated standard of giving “4 to 6 seconds” of relentless effort from “Point A to Point B.” The Buckeyes are picking up every loose ball and trying to duplicate “scoop-and-score” scenarios. Every interception is supposed to be returned at least 10 yards at full speed, though safety Tyvis Powell has taken it upon himself to double that when the football comes his way, trying to build his case as a potential leader for the revamped secondary.
That type of gesture and work ethic won’t go unnoticed by Ash, mostly because it’s exactly what he’s looking for before adding wrinkles to a pass defense that finished last season ranked No. 110 in the nation.
“There’s really not much [that’s difficult to learn] because it’s all that simple right now,” Powell said. “They’re not overloading us with plays or different schemes right now; everything is really kind of basic. They’re not trying to put in too many plays. They’re just making sure that we master what they’re already giving us.
“Basically the biggest difference right now is just flying around. ... Practice was kind of relaxed, but it’s getting back to high energy now. They demand effort out of us right now, so that’s the best thing about it.”
In some respects, that’s about the only demand the Buckeyes are making on defense.
They’re allowed to give up big plays if mistakes happen, as long as those gains don't come as a result of lackadaisical effort. If an assignment is missed, that can be excused if a player does everything possible to make up for it by chasing down the football. Even if the fundamentals aren’t perfect, there’s still plenty of time to address that later as well.
“We have some talented players here, and if they can be consistently in the right spots and executing and going with maximum effort, we’re going to do pretty well,” Ash said. “The first thing I want to make sure they’re doing is coming out here and living the culture of Ohio State football that coach Meyer has -- that’s going 4-to-6, A-to-B and playing with extreme effort. As long as we can do that, we’ll fix anything else that we have wrong.”
Those changes are coming, too. For now, Ash’s top priority is as simple to understand as the scheme.
HOOVER, Ala. -- When ESPN Junior 300 star Jauan Jennings visited Auburn this past weekend, he had the opportunity to take in the Tigers’ first scrimmage of the spring and watch quarterback Nick Marshall, a player not so different from himself.
Marshall played quarterback in high school but signed with Georgia as a defensive back. After committing a violation of team rules, he was dismissed from the team and ended up in junior college. One positive that came from the incident was that it gave Marshall an opportunity to return to the position he loves, and now he’s one of the top returning signal-callers in the SEC.
“He came from not playing quarterback at first,” Jennings said. “He was a defensive back. He did a lot of things I want to be able to do. A lot of coaches don’t feel I can play quarterback. A lot of fans don’t feel I can play quarterback. I want to say, ‘I told you so.’”
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On Monday, we announced that Penn State's Joe Paterno and Nebraska's Tom Osborne both advanced to the semifinals. Now it's time to find out the rest of our field.
Our seventh game pitted No. 2 seed Michigan's Bo Schembechler against No. 10 seed Barry Alvarez of Wisconsin. Alvarez made this closer than expected for a while, but Schembechler finished as the victor, earning 61 percent of your vote to 39 percent for the Badgers' Hall of Famer.
Game 8 was an all-Buckeyes affair between No. 1 overall seed Woody Hayes and No. 9 seed Jim Tressel. Hayes won that one going away, by a count of 82 percent to 18.
So our Final Four matchups will look like this:
No. 4 Joe Paterno vs. No. 1 Woody Hayes
No. 3 Tom Osborne vs. No. 2 Bo Schembechler
We'll open up the voting for these semifinals on Thursday. This should be a lot of fun.
Curiously, we didn't really get a lot of responses on the Alvarez-Schembechler match. Don't forget to send in your comments (especially you Bo backers). Here are a couple of your thoughts on the Hayes-Tressel showdown:
Matt from Cape Coral, Fla.: I grew up a huge Tress fan and the 2002 national title game is what finally sold me on football as a kid, but when it comes down to it, Woody is Ohio State football and you cannot argue with five national championships. I voted for Woody.
Robert B. from Logan, Ohio: Brian, in 1964, I was 14. We were in Canton for the North-South game. Woody was recruiting the son of my parents' best friends and we were at a local restaurant for lunch. My father had died less than a month before. Now I don't know if Stein, the boy's father, asked him to, or not, but Woody came over to the table and sat down and talked to me for about 15 minutes. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of stories just like mine that prove that Woody Hayes was more of a hero off the field than on. His record speaks for itself, but I am one speaking to his compassion. To me, he was a soft-spoken, kind man. I bleed scarlet and gray, as my father did, my children do, and my grandchildren do. Woody Hayes was a complete person and that's why I vote for him, even over Tressel.
Enjoy some spring football:
- A feel-good story as a group of players from Rutgers continue to use their spring breaks to help rebuild infrastructure in Haiti. A grim outlook for Rutgers in the Big Ten, courtesy of a former long-time New Jersey legislator.
- Penn State’s initial recruiting success under James Franklin is gaining notice nationally and on the local scene.
- Ohio State looks forward to a deeper rotation on the defensive line, which means fewer snaps for Michael Bennett. As for the Buckeyes' offensive line, depth is still a concern.
- The pursuit of defensive tackle Malik McDowell, once a Michigan State pledge, remains unsettled despite the passing of a deadline. The Spartans look for 5:30 a.m. workouts to build mental toughness.
- Meanwhile, Michigan is also in search this spring of that elusive element of toughness, writes Jeremy Fowler. Michigan offensive lineman Ben Braden developed his athletic skills as a hockey player.
- An op-ed from the New York Times on justice being served as Northwestern players bid to unionize. The leader of the newly-formed association is looking forward. But hold off on drawing major conclusions over all the recent union talk.
- Minnesota linebacker Cody Poock reportedly has suffered a torn knee ligament.
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini says offensive tackle Alex Lewis has exceeded expectations and requirements in his transition to Lincoln after a troublesome time last year as he prepared to depart Colorado. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. must be pushed, writes Steve Sipple.
BRADENTON, Fla. -- On a team loaded with talented prospects, do-it-all athlete Jeffery Holland takes a back seat to no one. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound outside linebacker plays multiple positions for Jacksonville (Fla.) Trinity Christian, including running back, tight end, wide receiver and, of course, linebacker -- the position most schools recruiting him want him to play. Holland even lined up at cornerback for a game during the IMG 7v7 Southeast Regional championships in Bradenton, Fla., over the weekend.
The No. 8 player in the country, his athleticism is something that comes naturally, but it doesn’t hurt that he has pretty good bloodlines too. Holland’s uncle, Carey Holland, won an SEC basketball title at Auburn in 1985.
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Iowatvman from Cedar Rapids writes: With the vote to allow players to unionize, how does this affect Title IX at the universities? Now that they have to pay out for football, which pays for many other sports, will women's rowing, wrestling, men's and women's gynmastics, etc. go by the wayside?
Brian Bennett: It's important to note that the ruling by the Chicago district of the National Labor Relations Board applies only to Northwestern football players, and it specifically dealt with issues at a private university. Also, Kain Colter and CAPA have stressed that they didn't push for unionization in order to receive salaries. They have said they're looking for the right to bargain for their practice and living conditions and receive medical care protections, not to get paid.
Still, you'd have to think that eventually any college players' union would get around to asking for a bit more of the financial pie, and even some of the medical benefits the Northwestern effort seeks would cost money. There seems to be little reason why a non-revenue sport at Northwestern or another private school also couldn't petition for a union and use this ruling as a precedent, especially because those athletes also spend so much time working on their sports. And then what happens? It's clear that there are a whole lot more questions than answers right now on this union story, but it is fascinating.
Brian Bennett: Glenn, I can assure you that these types of bonuses -- not just for championships but things like NCAA tournament berths and academic benchmarks -- are commonplace in athletic directors' contracts all across Division I. Smith is by no means alone when it comes to those bonuses, and as the CEO of one of the largest athletic departments in the country at Ohio State, his salary is commensurate with the demands and marketplace. I have absolutely no problem with Smith negotiating the very best deal he could get, just as any of us would do. But at a time when athletes are suing the NCAA over the use of their images for a video game, or when the cost-of-attendance stipend can't get passed, or when players are going so far as to unionize to protect their own rights, that bonus simply doesn't look good.
Brian Bennett: How dare you besmirch the birds on the bat. Vengeance will be swift. Anyway, I'm not quite sure what you mean by whether it's "their year" for the Buckeyes. I'm going to assume you mean a national championship, or at least a a College Football Playoff berth, because a Big Ten title isn't unexpected in Columbus (though it would actually be Urban Meyer's first). Ohio State has a lot of questions, which include four new starters on the offensive line, unproven backs and receivers and a defense that needs to make a major improvement without its two best players from 2013 (Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby). For me, those are too many questions to consider the Buckeyes a legitimate national title contender at this point. But as usual, they will have at least as much overall talent, if not more than everybody in the Big Ten. I trust in Meyer and his coaching staff. And having a great quarterback like Braxton Miller goes a long way. So I'm sure as heck not counting them out.
Brian Bennett: Arik, you make some good points about the academic side of things here. Adding Maryland and Rutgers to the mix only adds to the league's brain power, and administrators from those schools are excited about the new research opportunities. Of course, football and demographics drove the train with this expansion move, or else the Big Ten would have been looking to raid the actual Ivy League, not the Atlantic Coast and American Athletic conferences.
That same versatility, though, also left Adolphus Washington without a spot he could truly claim as his own in his first two seasons at Ohio State.
Instead, they carved out a place the junior can finally call home, a position where he can focus his energy this spring, where he can unleash his immense potential and turn it into the kind of production that has been anticipated since the moment he arrived on campus.
“I’m inside for good,” Washington said. “I think it will definitely help out now that I’m playing just one position.”
Washington expressed a few concerns initially about staking himself to just one spot at the three-technique for the Buckeyes, worrying briefly about the number of double-teams he would face on the interior as opposed to firing off the edge at defensive end.
But those fears quickly were replaced by surging confidence, both a product of another tear through spring practice, splitting those blocking schemes that caused his concern, and the validation that he can still be a disruptive force against the pass in the role new defensive line coach Larry Johnson has tabbed for him.
Washington has already proven capable of inflicting damage on opposing quarterbacks without the benefit of learning and fine-tuning his craft at one position, but the glimpses have largely been fleeting so far. He finished last season with 36 tackles and four tackles for loss, but he tallied only two sacks, and an early injury opened the door for Joey Bosa to replace him in the starting lineup at end -- a gig Washington never got back.
In some ways, that left Washington a bit adrift after leaving spring practice a year ago looking like the player with the highest ceiling on Ohio State’s deep, talented defensive front. But Johnson has brought him in from the cold, identifying all the tools that made Washington such a tantalizing prospect and figuring out the best way to put them to work instead of spreading them around.
“I think, because of his ability to rush the passer, you always want a three-technique who is going to get a lot of one-on-ones, a guy who has the ability to rush the passer,” Johnson said. “He’s 285, 290 [pounds], and that’s big enough to play inside. So you take a skilled guy who has rushed on the edge and then bring him to the inside against a guy at the guard position, it gives you a different edge on the inside.
“That’s why I’m excited about him. He’s got great hips and can rush the passer, so there should be some great things coming from him.”
The Buckeyes have had that expectation for Washington, and even without as much individual production as planned last season, there’s been no reason to lower their hopes.
And now that Washington has gotten over some early fears about settling down, the commitment between him and Ohio State might be trouble for the guys trying to block him.
“Honestly, the double-teams [were a concern], because I used to watch and Michael Bennett used to tell me about them, and you’ve just got to get your pads lower, you’ve got to fire off the ball,” Washington said. “So, I was like, 'Well, I can do that.' If that’s all it takes, I can do that.
“At first I was kind of nervous or scared about [the position], but now I’ve got a hold of it.”
This time, he might actually be able to hang around and get comfortable with it.
The Pro Impact team, led by LSU commit and the No. 3-ranked player in the ESPN Junior 300 Kevin Toliver II and defensive back Derwin James Jr., a Florida State commit, upset River City, which featured FSU quarterback commit De’Andre Johnson and South Carolina commit Sherrod Pittman, 23-14.
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New ESPN 300 Top 10 Revealed
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
TBD California Northwestern TBD Indiana State Indiana TBD Jacksonville State Michigan State TBD Appalachian State Michigan TBD Florida Atlantic Nebraska TBD LSU Wisconsin TBD Youngstown State Illinois TBD Northern Iowa Iowa TBD Ohio State Navy TBD Western Michigan Purdue 8:30 AM ET Penn State UCF