Buckeyes favored in Big Ten race

Published 2:30 am Tuesday, July 28, 2009

COLUMBUS — Ohio State is the team to beat in this year’s Big Ten football race.

The Buckeyes were picked to win it all by voters at the conference’s football media day. The results were announced Monday. Penn State was the runner-up, followed by Michigan State.

‘‘Almost every day when you walk into our building you’re reminded of the tradition Ohio State has — what you’re trying to live up to,’’ coach Jim Tressel said. ‘‘Then you lose 28 seniors and three juniors (who left early). All of a sudden you come back in and your preseason ranked again.’’

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Tressel said the prediction would serve as incentive for his team.

‘‘I guess it’s just another reminder: That’s what’s expected of Ohio State,’’ he said. ‘‘We have a lot of work to do to live up to that.’’

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor was selected as the preseason offensive player of the year and Michigan State linebacker Greg Jones was singled out on defense.

Pryor is set to lead the Buckeyes following a season in which he was named the conference’s freshman of the year. He led the Big Ten with a pass-efficiency rating of 151.3 in conference games, making him the first freshman to top the Big Ten in the category since the stat was introduced in 1980. Pryor produced an 8-1 record as a starter and became the first Ohio State true freshman since 1978 to start at quarterback.

The Buckeyes are pursuing their fifth-straight Big Ten title after going 10-3 a year ago and tying Penn State for the title with a 7-1 mark. Twelve starters will be returning for Ohio State.

Tressel became just the fourth coach in Big Ten history to win five or more titles in his first eight years with a conference team.

Penn State ended last season with an 11-2 overall record. Last year’s Big Ten title marked the program’s second in the last four years and the school’s third overall in football. At the helm once again for the Nittany Lions is Joe Paterno, the winningest coach in the Football Bowl Subdivision (Division I-A). Penn State welcomes back nine starters from last year’s squad.

Michigan State went 9-4 overall with a 6-2 mark in conference play a year ago. MSU is led by third-year head coach Mark Dantonio, who has guided his team to back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1997. The Spartans return 15 starters, including eight on defense, led by Jones.

Jones was third in the Big Ten with 127 tackles in 2008 while earning first-team All-Big Ten and ranking among the conference’s top 10 with 14 tackles for a loss.

The 114th season of Big Ten football kicks off on Sept. 3 when Indiana hosts Eastern Kentucky. The conferences other 10 teams open two days later.