Maurice Clarett, the USA Today High School Offensive Player of the Year in 2001, has been the hit of the spring in Columbus. The 6-foot, 230-pound Clarett rushed for 2,194 yards and 38 touchdowns at Harding High in Warren, Ohio, last fall. He enrolled at Ohio State in January, and at spring camp he proved to Buckeyes coaches that he's both a fast and powerful runner and an aggressive blocker. "If you asked me who would be our best pass protector [among tailbacks], it would be Clarett," says Tressel.
Sophomore Lydell Ross, who rushed for 419 yards and six touchdowns last season, had been the favorite to win the starting tailback job outright. But during spring drills he was hampered by a strained right hamstring, giving Clarett, sophomore Maurice Hall and redshirt freshman JaJa Riley a chance to shine. Tressel plans to use all four of his runners this fall; to that end he has installed a splitback set that employs two tailbacks at a time.
"It's not like a tailback, if he starts, is going to have the job after the third play of the game," Tressel says. "They're all going to have to battle for carries, which is great"
Washington State's Goals
Fix the Defense, Rule the Pac-10
When Washington State coach Mike Price handed out the 2001 Sun Bowl rings to his players after practice last week, the recipients were pleased but not overwhelmed. "It's a nice little ring," said junior defensive end Isaac Brown, trying to sound polite. Brown and his teammates have already moved on to loftier goals: improving on last year's performance and becoming only the third Cougars team since 1960 to produce consecutive winning records. "We're aware that we went to the  Rose Bowl and the next year we were 3-8," says Brown. 'We're trying to set a standard. We're going to follow up our 10-2 season with a 10-2 season or better. That's our mindset."
Washington State, the preseason Pac-10 favorite, has a good shot at reaching its goals, which also include a conference title. Quarterback Jason Gesser (199 of 375 for 3,010 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2001), wide receiver Mike Bush (46 receptions, 20.8 yards per catch) and four starters on the line return to an offense that last season averaged 35 points per game. 'With our offense, if we hold opponents to 30 points, we're all right, right?" jokes Cougars defensive coordinator Bill Doba.
Washington State's defense was hardly a joke last season: The Cougars forced 45 turnovers, fourth in Division I-A, and had 40 sacks. (Returning players had 31 of them.) Doba is concerned, however, that this fall his unit will be vulnerable in the secondary, where only five players with any significant experience will return. Junior cornerback Erik Coleman, a physical tackier, successfully moved this spring to free safety, a switch made possible by the development of sophomore corner Karl Paymah, who grabbed an interception in last Saturday's Crimson-Gray game. The secondary won't jell, however, unless junior cornerback Jason David returns to the field. David, who had 36 tackles and three interceptions in 2001, didn't practice this spring so that he could shore up his academics. "We're working like crazy to get Jason back," Doba says.
"Nobody expects Washington State to do much," says Brown. Most years, that would be true-but not this one.