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Five Points

September 01, 2006|ROBYN NORWOOD

* Ohio State is No. 1 -- at least until the Buckeyes play at Texas on Sept. 9. The Longhorns won the early-season showdown last season, 25-22, and went on to win the national championship over USC. Texas doesn't have Vince Young anymore, but Ohio State doesn't have the same defense. The Buckeyes lost all but two defensive starters. The offense is loaded, with Troy Smith at quarterback, Ted Ginn Jr. at receiver and Antonio Pittman and talented recruit Chris Wells at running back.

* Fire-the-coach websites have become a cliche of college athletics, but yes, there's for Michigan fans. Lloyd Carr has won a national championship and five Big Ten titles in 11 seasons, but a 7-5 mark that ended with a loss to Ohio State followed by a loss to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl is hard for Michigan fans to stomach, especially with the goings-on in Columbus. There were also those three -- three! -- losses at Michigan Stadium. Carr, under plenty of scrutiny, shook up his coaching staff and has two new coordinators. But the challenges ahead include road games at Notre Dame, Penn State ... and Ohio State.

* Joe Pa's backers were right. He wasn't finished. If Joe Paterno were so inclined, he could have gone out in a blaze of glory after Penn State's 11-1 season ended with an Orange Bowl victory over Florida State's Bobby Bowden. Instead, he is back again and will turn 80 on Dec. 21. The Nittany Lions have plenty of talent, but with quarterback Michael Robinson being replaced by Anthony Morelli and the team adjusting to heavy losses on the offensive line and in the secondary, it's hard to believe they'll return to last season's level.

* Look who's back: Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny was headed for the NFL until a knee injury in the Orange Bowl ended those plans. Now teams have to face the consensus first-team All-American -- and the winner of the Bednarik and Butkus awards -- for one more year than they planned.

* For many, memories of coach Randy Walker will be a poignant part of Northwestern's season. Walker, who died of a heart attack in June at age 52, was replaced by Pat Fitzgerald, 31, an assistant who starred at linebacker on the 1995 Northwestern team that played in the Rose Bowl, though Fitzgerald sat out that game because of a broken leg. Among Fitzgerald's first rules: The "Do Not Erase" note that Walker wrote on a message board alongside a list of priorities for the Northwestern program will stay, along with Walker's plan. -- ROBYN NORWOOD



Quick Facts

* AP preseason top 25: Ohio State No. 1; Michigan No. 14; Iowa No. 16; Penn State No. 19.

* AP final 2005 ranking: Penn State (11-1) No. 3; Ohio State (10-2) No. 4; Wisconsin (10-3) No. 15.

* 2005 bowl record: 3-4.

* 2006 favorite: Ohio State.

* Top newcomers: Larry Grant, Jr., OLB, Ohio State -- National junior college player of the year from City College of San Francisco will help reload a linebacking corps that had three drafted last spring; Akim Millington, OT, Jr., Illinois -- Trinidad native earned starting nod at Oklahoma last summer before leaving the program because of family concerns; Chris Wells, Fr., RB, Ohio State -- The best freshman in the conference will play behind Antonio Pittman.

* Top returning players: Ted Ginn Jr., Jr., WR, Ohio State -- 51 catches last year and is electric on kickoff returns; Leon Hall, Sr. CB, Michigan -- Emerged last year as one of the best cover corners in the nation; Paul Posluszny, Sr. LB, Penn State -- Reigning winner of Butkus and Bednarik awards led Nittany Lions with 116 tackles; Troy Smith, Sr., QB, Ohio State -- Passed for 2,282 yards and 16 touchdowns with only four interceptions as a junior; Joe Thomas, Sr., OT, Wisconsin -- A 6-8, 306-pound preseason All-American choice.

-- Eric Maddy

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