CHICAGO — Holding a 10-point lead, the Michigan State football team was seven minutes away from snapping a seven-game losing streak against arch-rival Michigan last year.
But the Wolverines came back to win 28-24, leaving the Spartans heartbroken yet again. Then senior Michigan running back Mike Hart piled on, comparing the Spartans to his little brother. The two teams play again Oct. 25, and Hart’s comments are still fresh in some Michigan State players’ minds.
“I think you kind of do have to take it personally because, obviously, he’s not back,” Michigan State quarterback Brian Hoyer said. “I mean, it’s good for him. He can make those comments because he was leaving. There was no need for him to say something like that, so you have to take it personally.
“I wouldn’t say something like that if I was going to have to play those guys next year because you don’t want people gunning for you.”
Hoyer said he wouldn’t be thinking about the comments during the game, but would use them as motivation beforehand in practices and workouts.
Before Hart’s comments, Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio installed a countdown clock in the Spartans’ facility, a move that drew a lot of attention. But he said he thought the attention was misplaced. He said it didn’t always count down to just the Michigan game. Sometimes it counted down to other key dates. He plans to use it in a similar manner again this year.
“It’ll be a Michigan thing at times,” Dantonio said.
— Dan Feldman
Defending the spread: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel sent one or two of his assistants to talk to South Florida’s staff about defending spread offenses. The Bulls held West Virginia to an average of 16 points in two wins in the last two years.
“Probably half of it was with Michigan in mind because they are certainly going to conceptually change,” Tressel said. “But the other half of it was because we’re going to have six teams on our schedule that do such a variety of different spread things that we just wanted to get out and learn a little bit more.”
Rodriguez’s spread offense adds a new wrinkle to the rivalry, in which the Buckeyes have won four straight.
“We don’t necessarily know what to expect,” Ohio State senior cornerback Malcolm Jenkins said. “Everything most likely will be a little new — whereas last year, we could prepare for Michigan by throwing on some 97 tapes, and they kind of run the same kind of offense.”
— Dan Feldman
Todd who?: This was supposed to be Todd Boeckman’s glory year.
Instead, the Ohio State fifth-year senior quarterback spent much of his time during Friday’s interviews at Big Ten Media Days answering questions about freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor.
After finally working his way to the starting spot last year, Boeckman led the Buckeyes to their second-straight championship game, completing 63.9 percent of his passes and throwing for 2,379 yards.
And now he’s facing the possibility of being part of a two-quarterback rotation with last year’s most-talked-about high school football player.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen in the history of mankind the hype that Terrelle Pryor received,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said. “I almost feel bad for the guy because can he live up to it? He has to win like three national titles and two Heismans to live up to this hype.”
Sitting at his table during the middle of the two-hour one-on-one interview session, Boeckman was approached by a reporter who launched several quick questions about Pryor. Does Boeckman really, truly know how good Pryor is? Do the two hang out outside of practice? Has he seen Pryor’s freak-of-nature YouTube highlight videos?
Boeckman smiled and gave mostly generic answers. Yes, Pryor is good. Yes, Pryor wants to learn, and yes, he’s trying to help Pryor the best he can. No, he hasn’t’ seen the videos.
Satisfied, the reporter got up from the table. He didn’t ask a single question about Boeckman or Ohio State as a team.
Are you tired of talking about Pryor yet?
“I knew it was going to happen, so,” Boeckman said trailing off and laughing. “It’s not a big deal.”
— Courtney Ratkowiak
It’s good to be a loser: Much has been made of Michigan’s radical, speed-oriented strength and conditioning program.
And Hoyer detailed Friday how the Spartans’ off-season workouts have been different, mostly due to speed training with assistant track coach Randy Gillon, who works with sprinters and hurdlers.
But when Illinois linebacker Brit Miller was asked what was different this year about his team’s off-season regimen, he responded by describing his team’s version of the reality show “The Biggest Loser.”
In the race to get to 240 pounds, Miller and his competitors, including running back Rahkeem Smith and linebacker Sam Carson, welcomed a tactic that was a relief from the rest of the grueling off-season. They measured their progress with daily weigh-ins.
“We’d always try to get each other to go out and eat, and nobody would do it, like, ‘No, I’m not going out to eat with you,’ ” Miller said. “And there were guys trying to exercise at times where nobody would be in there, you’d catch guys just doing weird stuff.”
When asked who won the competition, Miller was visibly excited.
“It’s this guy right here, dude, the biggest loser, heck yeah,” he said, pointing at himself.
— Courtney Ratkowiak
Ever-burning snake oil: Michigan signed two incoming freshman in February who had orally committed to another Big Ten school. Wide receiver and running back Michael Shaw and wide receiver Roy Roundtree, both from Trotwood-Madison High School in Ohio, had committed to Penn State and Purdue, respectively.
“If we had an early signing date, you wouldn’t have another outfit with a guy in a wizard hat selling snake oil get a guy at the last minute, but that’s what happened,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller told the Indianapolis Star on signing day.
Rodriguez referenced the comment in his opening statement Thursday.
“Only thing, I can’t wait to see Joe, because I’ve been working all summer on my new snake oil concoction that I want to give Joe,” Rodriguez said.
Penn State coach Joe Paterno called Shaw at 10 the night before signing day because he had heard other schools were still in contact with him. Paterno talked to Shaw’s father, who confirmed Shaw would sign at 8 a.m. the next day, but never talked to Shaw himself.
Paterno said he understood Tiller had a similar experience with Roundtree. Still, Paterno doesn’t harbor any resenment toward Rodriguez.
“Hey, it’s a tough job,” Paterno said.
— Dan Feldman