More Springtime Observations, Opinions

My mother always told me that you can learn a lot by keeping your mouth shut and your ears open. She proved to be right yet again as I watched Thursday’s version of Ohio State spring practice.

Standing alongside former All-American Jim Lachey, I got a crash course on what the OSU offensive lineman are doing right and what they are doing wrong this spring.

“It’s all about footwork,” Lachey said. “Where my feet are dictates where I’m going to be able to move. If you keep your feet square to your opponent, you can go wherever he goes. But if you drop that back foot, he’ll abuse you. Worse yet, he’ll abuse your quarterback.”

Lachey knows what he’s talking about. After all, he was a first-team All-American for the Buckeyes in 1984, a first-round NFL draft choice and a three-time Pro Bowler and first-team All-Pro.

So who does Lachey like this spring?

“Justin Boren,” he said. “Look at the guy. He looks like he wants to eat defensive linemen for breakfast. He’s got good technique and a mean steak. That’s a pretty good combination.”

Lachey also likes what he has seen so far from Bryant Browning and Andrew Miller.

Browning has evidently found a home at right guard after struggling last season at right tackle. “That’s not too hard to figure out,” Lachey said. “As a guard, you’ve only got about a 4-foot box to worry about. When you’re a tackle, your responsibility is all the way to the edge.”

As for Miller, Lachey said, “There’s a lot to like there. A lot of raw talent and he looks like he’s taken to heart what the coaches are trying to tell him. He’s still young and still learning but he looks like he’s making progress.”

Miller spent most of Thursday afternoon’s practice as the left tackle on the first-string offense. That meant Mike Adams – the source of much consternation after Tuesday’s practice – spent his day as the second-team left tackle and third-team right tackle. According to Lachey, the struggles Adams has had so far this spring can be traced to two main things.

“First and foremost, it’s his footwork,” Lachey said. “He’s turning his (back) foot out, and whenever you do that, it’s almost impossible to keep the other guy in front of you. I used to do a drill where I walked around my house backward, concentrating on keeping my feet parallel to one another. The good thing is that (Adams) has plenty of time to work on his feet.”

Lachey’s second criticism of Adams was that “he plays too tall and he needs to show a little more fire. He needs to bend his knees more and fire off the line and he needs to be a little meaner. I saw him play in high school, so I know he’s got the talent. His head is probably a little full of everything they’re trying to teach him and he’s a little overwhelmed. I think when the game begins to slow down for him – and it will – he’ll be fine.”

Here are some more observations and opinions from Thursday’s practice sessions:

** Brandon Saine had a much better afternoon than the mistake-filled one he spent on Tuesday. He appeared to run with much more authority, perhaps due to the fact the Buckeyes were outside rather than inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. One on particular play, Saine had an excellent run off-tackle to his left, breaking two tackles near the line of scrimmage.

** I’m getting more and more impressed with Boom Herron. I still don’t know if he can be an every-down back in the Big Ten, but there is no questioning his talent. Herron is rapidly proving that he can run between the tackles, and he also has one of the qualities that separate the great backs from the merely good ones. Herron appears to have excellent vision and reads his blocking very well. He seems patient enough to allow his blockers to run interference rather than running up their backs or outrunning his interference.

** Freshman linebacker Storm Klein continues to catch the eye of the coaching staff despite toiling (for now) with the third-team unit. He still makes rookie mistakes, but Klein always makes his share of plays. Also, no one seems more eager.

** Jake Stoneburner appears to have the ability to catch anything in his area. On Tuesday, he made a couple of nice grabs in traffic while yesterday he leapt high to snag a pass out of the air. Best of all, he wasn’t simply satisfied to make the catch. You know how some Ohio State receivers in recent years have made a reception and then fallen to the turf? Stoneburner looks like one of those guys who like to pile up the YAC – yards after catch. Hopefully, the Buckeyes will utilize his pass-catching skills and not be content to use him only as a blocking tight end.

** If you read my blog entry about Tuesday’s practice, you will remember what I said about the long, slow delivery of walk-on quarterback Justin Siems. That deliberate windup came back to bite Siems yesterday as he tried to flip a medium-range pass into the boundary. Freshman cornerback C.J. Barnett jumped the route and made an easy interception, returning the pick for what would have been a touchdown.

** That turnover was one of several created by the OSU defensive units as they turned up the heat a notch. In addition to Oliver’s pick, linebacker Brian Rolle took advantage of a botched snap between Michael Brewster and Terrelle Pryor, scooping up the loose football and heading for the opposite end zone. Saine, however, chased Rolle down from behind before the defender could cross the goal line.

** Another miscue came late in the practice session during a field goal attempt. Jake McQuaide’s high snap went through the hands of holder Jon Thoma, and backup defensive back Rocco Pentello took the fumble to the house. An additional problem with the bad snap – an exposed Thoma was absolutely blown by a hard-charging defender, and although he escaped injury, the Buckeyes can ill-afford to lose their No. 1 punter because of that kind of mistake.

** Speaking of Thoma, it seems he is ready if the Buckeyes ever want to call for a fake punt. At one juncture of the afternoon, he rolled to his right and heaved an on-target pass about 40 yards.

** The battle to replace A.J. Trapasso at punter is between Thoma and redshirt freshman Ben Buchanan, but you may want to remember this name: Derek Erwin. During Thursday’s drills when the punters were off to themselves on the auxiliary practice field, it appeared to me that Erwin, a walk-on from Buckeye Central in New Washington, Ohio, was the most consistent punter on the field.

** Cornerback Andre Amos looked like he had a fumble recovery after the defense stripped tailback Marcus Williams of the ball after Williams was stacked up at the line of scrimmage. An official – yes, they have officials working spring ball – ruled, however, that Williams’ forward progress had been stopped. That raised the ire of the entire defense, including co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, who offered to exchange whistles with the official.

** Redshirt freshman Andrew Sweat probably had the big hit of the day, shooting a gap to blow up Williams in the backfield for what would have been a big loss. Second place would go to Austin Spitler, who stopped Ray Small in his tracks after a catch over the middle.

** A gusty crosswind played havoc with some of the passes although most drills concentrated on medium-range throws. Pryor did get off one heave intended for DeVier Posey that traveled 60 yards in the air. The attempt had too much air under it, though, and Devon Torrence was able to leap with Posey and break up the pass.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Two former Buckeyes celebrate birthdays today: former OSU linebacker Eric Kumerow turns 44 while former tight end John Frank is 47.

Eric Palmer Kumerow was born April 17, 1965, in Chicago, and was a prep All-American quarterback at River Forest (Ill.) High School. A short time after arriving at Ohio State, the Buckeyes moved the 6-6, 250-pounder to defense and a star was born. He began a regular at outside linebacker midway through his freshman season in 1984 and earned All-Big Ten honors in 1986 and ’87. During his senior year in ’87, Kumerow led the Buckeyes with 15 tackles for loss, and he finished his career as the team’s all-time lead in sacks with 23. He still ranks fourth in that category behind Mike Vrabel (36, 1993-96), Jason Simmons (27½, 1990-93) and Matt Finkes (25, 1993-96). Miami made Kumerow the 16th overall pick in the first round of the 1988 NFL draft, and he played three seasons for the Dolphins mostly as a backup. He played in 42 games from 1988-90, registering five sacks and one interception. The Dolphins traded him to Chicago after the 1990 season but the Bears later released him. After his NFL career ended, Kumerow settled in his hometown and routinely refuses interview requests to reminisce about his playing days.

John E. Frank was born April 17, 1962, in Pittsburgh and became the finest pass-catching tight end in Ohio State history. Frank was a high school star at Mount Lebanon (Pa.) High School and flourished with the Buckeyes, catching 121 passes for 1,418 yards during his career from 1980 to ’83. Both totals are the highest in OSU history for a tight end, and the 121 career receptions still ranks ninth all-time while the yardage is 15th. Frank became the second-round selection of the San Francisco 49ers in the 1984 NFL draft, and played five seasons with the Niners, winning a Super Bowl ring in 1988. For his career, Frank played in 65 games and had 66 receptions for 662 yards and 10 TDs. He retired following the ’88 season and enrolled in medical school. Frank had a successful plastic surgery practice in California for several years and more recently has relocated the practice to New York. He is also a member of the Israeli national bobsled team.

Among the worldwide celebrities observing birthdays this 17th day of April: music impresario Don Kirshner is 75; Grammy winning composer Jan Hammer (“Theme from Miami Vice”) is 61; semi-retired pro wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (born Roderick George Toombs) is 55; former Cincinnati Bengals quarterback-turned-announcer Norman “Boomer” Esiason is 48; former MLB outfielder Marquis Grissom is 42; singer/songwriter Liz Phair is 42; former NFL offensive lineman-turned-announced Tony Boseli is 37; actress Jennifer Garner is 37; and singer/model/actress/serial pouter Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham is 35.

Also on this day in history: American icon Benjamin Franklin died in Philadelphia in 1790 at the age of 84; financier J.P. Morgan was born in Hartford, Conn., in 1837; Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and the Louis B. Mayer Co. merged in 1924 to become MGM Studios; Ford introduced the Mustang at the New York World’s Fair in 1964; and the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft returned safely to Earth in 1970.

AND FINALLY

** It’s less than five months until Ohio State kicks off its 2009 schedule against the U.S. Naval Academy. Everyone believes the Buckeyes will roll over the Midshipmen, but it’s worth noting that Navy did have the nation’s No. 1 running offense a year ago. (In fact, they’ve had the top running team in the nation four years in a row.) The Middies will be led by quarterback Ricky Dobbs, who ran for 224 yards and four TDs last season in a spot start against SMU.

** The simple fact that Rich Rodriguez would have serious discussions with a kid who hasn’t played quarterback since high school tells me that a Michigan resurrection is still a long way off.

** Which happens first: Charlie Weis leaves (or is asked to leave) Notre Dame or Rodriguez leaves (or is asked to leave) Michigan?

** Longtime NBC and ABC broadcaster Merle Harmon died Wednesday at the age of 82. During a career that began in the 1950s, Harmon called games for a number of NFL and Major League Baseball teams including the Kansas City Chiefs, New York Jets, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers.

** Isiah Thomas won an NCAA championship at Indiana, an NBA championship in Detroit and had one of the most newsworthy stints (mostly for the wrong reason) of any head coach in New York Knicks history. Still, Thomas got something of a strange welcome Wednesday when he was named new head coach at Florida International. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia introduced him as Isiah “Thompson.”

** Disgraced NFL quarterback Michael Vick is reportedly shopping the idea of his own reality TV series. The show would begin July 20 – the day Vick is scheduled to be released from prison.

** When 46-year-old Philadelphia Phillies lefthander Jamie Moyer made his first start of the 2009 season April 7, he became the oldest lefty ever to start a game in major league history. Tommy John is the only other 46-year-old lefthander to start an MLB game, and he did that in May 1989. By the way, Moyer has no intention of retiring anytime soon. He signed a two-year contract extension in the offseason.

**Once again, thanks to all of you for your kindness during the recent passing of my mother. Your cards, letters, thoughts and prayers mean more to me than I can ever express.

Springtime Observations, Opinions

Wanting to take full advantage of Jim Tressel’s new open-door policy toward spring practice, I attended Tuesday’s drills ostensibly to concentrate on watching Terrelle Pryor. Instead, I found myself unable to take my eyes off offensive lineman Mike Adams.

I’m sure that you are aware by now there are two separate schools of thought regarding Adams’ performance so far this spring. Some believe he has been oftentimes overmatched by members of the Ohio State defensive line and that he is rapidly losing his grip on the starting left tackle position that is his to lose. I must admit that was my initial reaction after watching Adams repeatedly get schooled Tuesday by Cameron Heyward and Thad Gibson.

Then this thought occurred to me. I remembered one of Tressel’s favorite mantras – “To whom much is given, much is expected” – and immediately thought of Adams. I wonder if the coaching staff is throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the 6-8, 322-pound sophomore this spring because they think he can handle it.

Heyward got the best of Adams on several occasions Tuesday, including a pair of plays that resulted in brief fracases between the two. The second was particularly heated as Heyward ripped Adams’ helmet off before Adams threw a couple of swings at his defensive teammate and peppered them with F-bombs. Players on both sides of the ball separated Adams and Heyward each time but the coaching staff didn’t seem too concerned about the show of emotion. In fact, I may have detected a small grin on Jim Bollman’s face.

Later during the practice session, Adams continued work at left tackle with the first-team line and at right tackle with the third string. While he was on the left side, Tressel and Bollman tested him repeatedly by lining up Heyward and Gibson on Adams’ side and providing him with no tight end help. The drill was designed to make Adams make split-second decisions on which rusher to block. Sometimes he made the right choice, other times the decision didn’t work so well.

But he was learning as he went. On one play, Heyward had Adams beat on a swim move and the offensive tackle had no choice but to grab the defender as Pryor motored past on the inside. That would have been holding in any league. On the next play, Adams tried to go low on Heyward, who simply leaped over the offensive tackle. However, a couple of plays later, when Gibson tried to make a move to Adams’ outside shoulder, the sophomore tackle resisted the urge to hold and instead got just enough of the defender to push him away to the outside as Pryor slid by on the inside.

The point is that if Adams is going to be the Buckeyes’ left tackle moving forward, he will be forced to make those kinds of decisions in every game. Might as well get him used to recognizing now which is the correct one.

Here are some other observations and opinions gleaned from Tuesday’s practice:

** If the regular season began tomorrow, the starting offensive line would apparently be Adams at left tackle, Justin Boren at left guard, Michael Brewster at center, Bryant Browning at right guard and Jim Cordle at right tackle. Second on the depth chart at those positions, moving left to right, would be Andrew Miller, Connor Smith, Andrew Moses, Evan Blankenship and Josh Kerr.

** Miller appears to have made tremendous improvement, and during one particular drill more than held his own as Gibson tried (and failed) to get past him. The effort earned Miller a helmet slap of appreciation from Gibson.

** Meanwhile, Browning appears much more comfortable at guard. For a guy who is 6-4 and 312 pounds, he seems very mobile and pulls to his left with ease. Browning needs to work on making those pulls too quickly, though. On at least two occasions, he was too far out in front of his running backs, allowing backside pursuit to move in behind him and stuff the play.

** While contact drills were going on, J.B. Shugarts was doing shoulder strengthening exercises under the watchful eye of weight and conditioning coach Eric Lichter. Although the coaching staff is taking things slow with him, Shugarts appears to ready for contact. If he is truly 298 pounds, it’s the leanest 298 pounds I’ve ever seen.

** Speaking of lean, one of the interesting spectators Tuesday was former OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis. He was in street clothes, but several other ex-Buckeyes were in workout gear and disappeared into the weight room at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. They included Donald Washington, Nick Patterson, Ben Person and Beanie Wells.

** On the other side of the lean scale was former Tennessee head coach Phil Fulmer, who was in attendance at Tuesday’s practice as spent some time chatting with Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith. Before anyone gets any ideas, however, Fulmer isn’t in the market for a job. He barely watched practice before disappearing into the locker room at the WHAC. Most of the men in the coaching fraternity are friendly adversaries, more than willing to share ideas. That is especially so for guys like Fulmer, who are now on the outside of the profession looking in. During his 17 seasons as head coach of the Volunteers, he guided some fairly effective offensive attacks and tutored some pretty good quarterbacks including Peyton Manning. It seems to me any free piece of advice Fulmer could give to Pryor would be a good thing.

** With Wells headed to the NFL, Ohio State may want to make the passing game more of an emphasis this season. As a result, receivers coach Darrell Hazell has his players practicing making one-handed catches. The point of the drill is concentration – the player has to look the ball into his hand and then focus on making the catch. Hazell did the throwing himself, dropping spirals in anywhere from 15 to 30 yards. Sixteen receivers in all performed the drill and each of the 16 – including tight ends Nic DiLillo, Jake Stoneburner, Jake Ballard – made the one-handed stab.

** Speaking of the running game, there is no doubt that Boom Herron is the No. 1 tailback. The backup role is a little more murky, however, as veteran walk-on Marcus Williams would appear to be mounting a serious challenge to Brandon Saine. Williams proved to be a hard-nosed participant as the Buckeyes ran their familiar off-tackle plays. He also earned audible kudos for a pad-popping blitz pickup of cornerback Devon Torrence.

** Herron appeared to run effortlessly throughout the drills, and also proved resilient as he seeks to silence critics who believe his 5-10, 193-pound frame may not be able to withstand the constant pounding of a Big Ten season. Herron ran consistently between the tackles and seems to absorb hits rather than being stung by them. He also did his best Beanie impression, squirting to the outside on one play and keeping defensive back Nate Oliver at bay with a nifty stiffarm.

** Running backs were also showcased in a short-yardage passing drill. Pitted against a linebacker, each running back would sprint out to the boundary and receive a swing pass as a safety valve receiver. It was then up to the running back to elude the pursuing linebacker, and the results were about even between offensive and defensive players. Herron managed to beat Austin Spitler to the corner on one play and Etienne Sabino on another. Spitler, however, made a nice comeback and stopped Saine after what would have been no gain. It was not the best of drills for Saine, who mishandled one of the passes and was also stopped by Tyler Moeller on another. Meanwhile, Williams got the better of Brian Rolle, but freshman Storm Klein wrapped up Williams later to stop the running back on a short gain.

** Perhaps the biggest hit of the day came late in the practice sessions when linebacker Brian Rolle stood up Saine after a short gain and cornerback Chimdi Chekwa swooped in to clean things up. The pop earned the requisite “Ooh!” from players and spectators alike. It was even more impressive when you remember Saine is 6-1 and 217 pounds while Rolle and Chekwa are generously listed at 6-0, 188 and 5-11, 221, respectively.

** I did have some time to watch the quarterbacks in action. Walk-on Justin Siems has a good, live arm but he is going to need some work on his throwing motion. Way too much of a windup. Meanwhile, Joe Bauserman probably has the strongest arm in the group and definitely has the quickest release. Unfortunately, Bauserman’s throw come more from his shoulder than over the top.

** Pryor has the easiest motion of the trio and I saw no ill effects of tendonitis or whatever other affliction was bothering him during early spring drills. (He did have the third and fourth fingers on his left hand taped together, but that is not unusual for quarterbacks who want to avoid stoving those fingers during repeated snap drills.) He threw effortless swing passes to his right to Saine and Williams, then switched to his left and seemed equally at ease with receptions to fullback James Georgiades, Saine and Herron. Pryor later stretched things out to about 15-20 yards, throwing most balls with zip. If there was any criticism, it could be that the nose of the football is moving on a slightly downward path on some of his shorter passes. Other that that, he made every medium-range throw, including one he threw back across his body as he was rolling right. That threaded the needle between two defenders and found Stoneburner, who made a nice catch in traffic.

** On that same play, safety Kurt Coleman put a big hit on the 6-5, 230-pound Stoneburner. It was one of several pops during the 7-on-7 drills that featured no tackling but plenty of contact.

** While the offense and defense tried to one-up one another, the specialists in the kicking game were off to themselves in their own world. Jake McQuaide has returned for another year as the long snapper and he was working exclusively with Jon Thoma, who appears to be the holder for both Aaron Pettrey and Ben Buchanan. Thoma worked on his own version of the one-handed drill, practicing taking snaps from McQuaide and setting the ball down with only his left hand. However, most of the drills were simple timing drills as McQuaide tried to center the ball to Thoma in the exact same place every time. In that vein, they will need some more work on consistency. On 10 snaps, only eight were true. One was high – which Thoma managed to snag and get down – while another went through the holder’s hands.

**You could have found some of these same observations Tuesday night on my Twitter page. I invite you to follow my Tweets on spring football and a myriad of other subjects.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Two former Buckeyes celebrate birthdays today: former OSU fullback Nicky Sualua turns 34 and ex-men’s basketball coach Randy Ayers turns 53.

Nicky Sualua was born April 16, 1975, in Santa Ana, Calif., and became a star running back at powerful Mater Dei High School. The 5-11, 240-pound bruiser, who once scored six touchdowns in a single game, rushed for 563 yards and six TDs as a senior despite missing parts of six games with an ankle injury. Sualua signed with Ohio State in 1993 and became a two-year starting fullback for the Buckeyes in 1994 and ’95. Unfortunately, academic problems dogged him throughout his college career – he sat out the 1993 season after failing to meet minimum freshman eligibility requirements and was ruled academically ineligible for his senior season in 1996. He played two seasons in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, and signed a free agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in 1999 but a litany of injuries ended his football career.

Randall Duane Ayers was born April 16, 1956 in Springfield, Ohio, and later became a basketball star at South High School and Miami University. After his college career, Ayers was a third-round selection by the Chicago Bulls in the 1978 NBA draft. Released on the final cut before the 1978-79 season, he played semipro ball for a year before returning to Miami to work on his master’s degree and begin a coaching career. He served as an assistant for the Redskins (they weren’t the RedHawks yet) as well as Army before joining Eldon Miller’s staff at Ohio State in 1983. Ayers remained on staff when Gary Williams replaced Miller, and he took over the program as head coach beginning with the 1989-90 season. In eight seasons with the Buckeyes, Ayers compiled a record of 124-108 that included back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1991 and ’92. He was dismissed following a 9-18 season in 1997, but later emerged as an NBA assistant and even served as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers at the end of the 2003-04 season. Since 2007, Ayers has been an assistant with the Washington Wizards.

Among the worldwide celebrities observing birthdays this 16th day of April: actress Joan Alexander is 91 (she played Lois Lane on the original “Adventures of Superman” radio broadcasts in the 1940s); Pope Benedict XVI (born Joseph Alois Ratzinger) is 82; pop singer Bobby Vinton is 74; former MLB pitcher Jim Lonborg is 67; Basketball Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is 62; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is 57; Midnight Oil lead singer and Australian politician Peter Garrett is 56; actress Ellen Barkin (cougar Abigail Sponder is “Ocean’s Thirteen”) is 55; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy is 54; actor Jon Cryer (Alan Harper on “Two and a Half Men”) is 44; actor and comedian Martin Lawrence is 44; actor Peter Billingsley (blond-haired, BB gun-obsessed Ralphie in “A Christmas Story”) is 38; singer/songwriter Akon (born Aliaune Thiam) is 32; New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is 27; and Chicago Bulls forward Luol Deng is 24.

ONE OTHER BUCKEYE BIRTHDAY

Today also marks the 112th anniversary of the birth of former Ohio State football star Cyril “Truck” Myers.

Born April 16, 1897, in Bucyrus, Ohio, Cyril Edward Myers was a high school star in football and basketball before deciding to attend Ohio State.

Myers was a three-year letterman for the Buckeyes from 1919-21 and was a teammate of some of the program’s legendary players including Chic Harley and Gaylord “Pete” Stinchcomb. Myers helped OSU to the Western Conference championship as a junior 1920 and played a major role in a decisive win over defending champion Illinois. While most teams like the Illini concentrated on a triple option attack, the Buckeyes employed the forward pass and Myers was on the receiving end of a touchdown pass on the final play of the game, giving Ohio State a 7-0 win.

Myers earned All-Big Ten and All-America honors as a senior in 1921, the Buckeyes’ final season at Ohio Field. They posted a 5-2 record that year despite giving up only 14 points all season – their only two blemishes were a 7-6 defeat against Oberlin and a 7-0 loss to Illinois in the season finale.

After leaving Ohio State, Myers dabbled in professional football, playing for three different Ohio teams in the fledgling NFL. He played nine games for the Toledo Maroons in 1922, five contests for the Cleveland Indians in 1923 and two games for the Cleveland Bulldogs in 1925.

AND FINALLY

** After playing for many years during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the Alamo Bowl recently announced that it was moving its 2010 kickoff to Jan. 2. This will likely create but a ripple in the ocean of college bowl games, but I’m here to tell you that something a little more sinister is afoot. One of these days – not too long from now – the BCS National Championship Game is going to be moved back to late January and be played on the weekend before the Super Bowl. I know most fans will probably like it, but for a college football season that already begins in late August, extending the postseason is not a good thing. And it’s certainly no way to go about getting a Division I-A playoff.

** The Big Ten will extend its football schedule past Thanksgiving beginning in 2010 but Ron Zook can’t wait. Illinois has pushed this year’s home game against Fresno State back two weeks – from Nov. 21 to Dec. 5. The rationale for the schedule stretching is to prevent Big Ten teams from going stale between the end of their regular seasons and bowl games. Of course, the Illini would probably be better served simply concentrating on qualifying for the postseason, something they have done only once over the past seven seasons.

** Just so you know, the Big Ten hasn’t posted a winning record in the postseason since going 5-2 after the 2002 season. Since then, the conference has a 15-28 bowl record, including last year’s dismal 1-6 showing.

** There is good news and bad news for the Big Ten if it wants to improve upon that postseason record (not to mention the national perception of being old-fashioned, slow and boring). The good news? The six top-rated quarterbacks from 2008 return this coming fall. The bad news? Four of those six ranked 31st or lower nationally in quarterback efficiency. Contrast that to the Big 12, which landed five QBs in the nation’s top 10 last season. Maybe that’s why the Big 12 has posted a winning bowl record in four of the past five seasons, going 21-17 during that stretch including 4-3 last year.

** Mike Belotti evidently doesn’t like to stand idle. The former Oregon head coach is also the athletic director-in-waiting in Eugene, but he’s not content to take it easy even for a little while. Belotti has been named the Ducks’ interim quarterbacks coach until a replacement can be found for old offensive coordinator and QBs coach Chip Kelly … who was elevated to head coach when Belotti resigned in March.

** The measuring stick for success has obviously changed at Nebraska. After his first season netted a 9-4 record, Bo Pelini received a $715,000 raise from the Cornhuskers. Remember when Frank Solich’s 9-3 record in 2003 got him a one-way ticket out of the Lincoln?

** Cleveland Indians fans were no doubt thrilled to hear that Manny Ramirez wants to finish his career with the Tribe, the team for which he hit 231 homers from 1993-2000 before leaving for the free-agent riches of Boston and Los Angeles. Manny supposed has talked with fellow ex-Tribesman Jim Thome, who also has expressed a desire to finish his career in Cleveland. While we’re on the subject, I wonder if anyone has contacted Bob Feller about making a comeback? After all, he’s only 90.

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