CHICAGO -- Big Ten media days story, with focus on Ohio State.
During a break between interviews, Ohio State Head Coach Jim Tressel pointed his large-bodied players in the direction of lunch. It was mid-morning at the Big Ten media days, and Kirk Barton, Marcus Freeman and Vernon Gholston — a combined 812 pounds of suits and ties — were hungry ... again.
They’ve been that way since walking off the field Jan. 8 after the national championship game.
Florida embarrassed then-No. 1-ranked Ohio State 41-14 in the BCS title game.
“Whenever you don’t do as well as you’re capable, there’s no denying that creates hunger,” Tressel said. “There are young guys with opportunities. That creates hunger because they’ve never eaten before.
“I think all of our people — our coaches, players, everyone that was a part of preparing for, then coming up short, in a big opportunity — will use that often. It’s a great reminder when you don’t do as well as you can.”
Tressel finds himself with a vastly different team than he had a year ago. There isn’t a Heisman Trophy favorite. There is less — not more — experience on offense. He lost his quarterback, running back and top two receivers.
Troy Smith, Antonio Pittman, Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez are in the NFL now. They led OSU to an unbeaten regular season last year and a third straight win over rival Michigan.
Buckeyes Picked Third
It should come as no surprise the Buckeyes weren’t picked to win the conference. Or even finish second. Ohio State was picked third by a vote of media attending these meetings.
“I don’t know if we’re worthy of being third, or if we should be better than third. We’ll find out,” Tressel said. “I think it shows respect for our program that we lost that many guys and we’re stilling getting picked at that level. I think the Big Ten is going to be a better Big Ten than it was a year ago. It remains to be seen if Ohio State is as good as it was.”
OSU did walk away with a parting gift. Linebacker James Laurinaitis, the Nagurski Ward winner last season, was selected as the top preseason defensive player.
Which is all fine and dandy, but Tressel hasn’t picked a quarterback yet. That process will begin in earnest Sunday, when players report for camp. The first practice is Monday.
Todd Boeckman, Rob Schoenhoft and Antonio Henton are the candidates to take over for Smith. Boeckman has a slight edge. Previously Tressel said Boeckman would start if a game were tomorrow. Asked if Boeckman was the front-runner, Tressel shrugged.
“What’s that?” he said. “It’s going to be a good battle. ... We have 29 more practices before we play a game, and we have some games before we play a conference game. We’ll probably have this similar scenario for a couple more months with the same question.”
Michigan is Favorite
What Ohio State lost, Michigan returns. Quarterback Chad Henne will start a fourth season. Running back Mike Hart, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards, is back. He was selected as the preseason’s top offensive player. Leading receiver Mario Manningham returns, too.
But the Wolverines have underachieved at times.
They’ve ended each of the last three seasons with losses to Ohio State and then in the bowl game. That has brought some pressure on Head Coach Lloyd Carr, who won a national title 10 years ago. Carr dismissed reports that his health would lead to his retirement.
“To the best of my knowledge, I’m healthy,” he said. “At some point, we’re all going to retire, and there’s always an appropriate time to speak to that issue.”
Bret Bielema, at 37 one of the youngest coaches in Division I-A football, won’t have to worry about retirement anytime soon as long as Wisconsin lives up to expectations this season. The Badgers were the media’s preseason No. 2.
Wisconsin returns 18 starters, only Illinois and Purdue, each with 20, returns more. The Badgers finished 12-1 and beat Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl.
But Wisconsin doesn’t have an easy road. It plays Ohio State and Michigan in consecutive weeks near the end of the season.
“A year ago, we didn’t have the opportunity to play Ohio State, and it was kind of the way it all panned out, but I would love to see the computer that spit out that we play Ohio State and Michigan back-to-back,” Bielema said. “That’s a nice random, blind draw.”
Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or firstname.lastname@example.org.