Big Ten: Andrew Norwell

Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

ILLINOIS
  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

INDIANA
  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

IOWA
  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
MARYLAND
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
MICHIGAN
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.


MICHIGAN STATE
  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

MINNESOTA
  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
NEBRASKA
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

NORTHWESTERN
  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
OHIO STATE
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
PENN STATE
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

PURDUE
  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

RUTGERS
  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

WISCONSIN
  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The change in Ohio State's offensive line is impossible to ignore this spring, even in regard to the only returning starter.

For one thing, he’s now lining up at left tackle, swapping sides after a breakout sophomore season on the right for one of the best offensive lines in the nation.

And then there’s the haircut, as Taylor Decker trimmed off his long locks as part of a job shadow program, trying to give himself a more “professional” appearance.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker is the only returning starter on Ohio State's offensive line, but even he'll be at a new position this season.
Both developments help drive home the completely new look up front for Ohio State, where even the lone holdover has a new position as part of a makeover of a unit that lost four starters, a group that's arguably been the strongest in Urban Meyer's tenure with the Buckeyes.

“It’s definitely a different feeling, but I think our focus needs to be not worrying about who lost, but on who we have,” Decker said. “We have really talented guys; they just need to develop confidence in themselves. They can do everything. They just need to realize they can go out and do it play after play after play and be consistent.

“We’ve got a lot of talented guys. Our only issue is inexperience.”

That certainly wasn’t a problem for the Buckeyes a year ago when Decker was the only fresh face in the lineup. Now the only projected first-teamer on the roster with starting experience is guard Pat Elflein, who filled in for a suspended Marcus Hall in the Big Ten championship game after admirably replacing Hall after he was thrown out of the Michigan game.

That leaves plenty for the Buckeyes to sort through this spring, and the process of nailing down full-time replacements for tackle Jack Mewhort, guards Hall and Andrew Norwell and center Corey Linsley might well spill into August. But offensive line coach Ed Warinner isn’t low on options, and the young guys trying to step into those big shoes aren’t short on confidence, either.

“For us, I think it motivates us a unit,” center Jacoby Boren said. “There is no doubt, those guys were freaking awesome, great guys, great players. But we have a lot of good guys here competing, and we’re working hard.

“We’re not working to be like them. We’re going to work to be the best that we are and keep building on that.”

Their predecessors obviously set the bar pretty high during the last couple seasons, setting the tone for an offense that led the Big Ten in scoring and was fifth in the nation in rushing, averaging more than 300 yards per game on the ground.

The Buckeyes started preparations for replacing them last season, occasionally cutting back on practice reps for the first unit in favor of the backups in an effort to speed through the learning curve and getting them as much game action as possible. Prospective right tackle Darryl Baldwin, Elflein and Boren figure to benefit from that taste of experience, and Antonio Underwood's return from knee surgery has gone smoothly enough that he opened camp as the starter at left guard. Behind that starting group, Ohio State has recruited well and could conceivably have players such as converted defensive lineman Joel Hale or Kyle Dodson make pushes for playing time.

And with all those candidates on hand ready to take over, Warinner isn’t losing much sleep, even though he’s looking at a totally different line.

“I’m pretty confident, yeah,” Warinner said. “Because everything that you want to see at this point, we’re seeing. Great work ethic, tough guys, very well-conditioned, guys who want to learn, guys who come and watch film and work the game. Guys who do extra, guys that are very coachable; they’re sponges. Guys who come with energy to practice.

“You’ve got all these things. The only thing they lack is experience.”

Now there’s nobody in their way to keep them from getting it.

B1G players invited to NFL combine

February, 7, 2014
2/07/14
9:00
AM ET
The official invite list for the 2014 NFL combine is out, and 36 Big Ten players will try to impress pro scouts during workouts in Indianapolis from Feb. 22-25. In case you were wondering, that's fourth most among conferences behind the SEC (71 invitees), the ACC (48) and the Pac-12 (45).

Here are the Big Ten players who were invited, broken down by position:

Quarterbacks (0)

Running backs (2)

Wide receivers (8)

Tight ends (2)

Offensive linemen (8)

Defensive linemen (2)

Linebackers (7)

Defensive backs (7)

Specialists (0)

Breakdown
It's a strong list of players, but were there any snubs. Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez, Michigan State linebacker Denicos Allen and Iowa cornerback B.J. Lowery jump out right away as missing, though Martinez has injury (and position) concerns, while Allen's small frame means he'll have to prove to scouts he can play at the next level.

I'm also a bit surprised not to see Indiana's Ted Bolser on this list; he's not a traditional blocking tight end, but his receiving skills would seem to translate to the NFL. Only nine kickers and punters were invited to Indy, yet it's a little disappointing that Purdue's Cody Webster and Northwestern's Jeff Budzien weren't included in the specialists.

Others who could have gotten an invite include Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston, Ohio State guard Andrew Norwell and Nebraska defensive back Ciante Evans.

That doesn't mean those guys won't play in the NFL. But their path to the league might be a little more winding.
Officially, we only do a first-team All-Big Ten here at the ol' blog. But there were tough decisions and plenty of players deserving of recognition in the 2013 season. So if we had to do a second team, here's what it would look like:

Offense

QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State
RB: Jeremy Langford, Michigan State
RB: James White, Wisconsin
WR: Jeremy Gallon, Michigan
WR: Cody Latimer, Indiana
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State
OL: John Urschel, Penn State
OL: Blake Treadwell, Michigan State
OL: Rob Havenstein, Wisconsin
OL: Andrew Norwell, Ohio State

Defense

DL: Michael Bennett, Ohio State
DL: DaQuan Jones, Penn State
DL: Theiren Cockran, Minnesota
DL: Carl Davis, Iowa
LB: Denicos Allen, Michigan State
LB: Anthony Hitchens, Iowa
LB: Jonathan Brown, Illinois
DB: Blake Countess, Michigan
DB: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nebraska
DB: Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
DB: B.J. Lowery, Iowa

Specialists

K: Pat Smith, Nebraska
P: Cody Webster, Purdue
KR: Akeem Hunt, Purdue

Some tough calls here, including the quarterback. Illinois' Nathan Scheelhaase has a strong case. But ultimately we went with the guy who was 9-0 in the Big Ten as a starter and won a league title with a 20-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. ... Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon couldn't crack our first two teams despite running for 1,466 yards. We thought White and Langford were better in the key parts of the season than Gordon, who did most of his best work in the first six games. ... We had three tackles on our first team, so the interior linemen get their due with four spots on the second team. ... Several of our defensive players here were difficult omissions from the first team, including Allen, Countess, Jean-Baptiste, Lewis and Lowery. ... We chose Smith as the kicker in a close call over Michigan State's Michael Geiger, whom we honored on our all-freshman team.

Q&A: Ohio State tackle Jack Mewhort

November, 15, 2013
11/15/13
2:00
PM ET
Much has been made about quarterback Braxton Miller's transformation under coach Urban Meyer at Ohio State, but another group of Buckeyes is enjoying an extreme makeover. After underachieving for years, Ohio State's offense line is now a force in the Big Ten, creating plenty of room for Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and others to operate. Senior left tackle Jack Mewhort has witnessed the evolution of the line. He has started at three different positions -- left guard, right guard and now left tackle -- and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2012. Elected a team captain before this season, Mewhort has received plenty of praise from Meyer, who called the Toledo, Ohio, native "one of the best leaders I've ever been around."

Mewhort and the third-ranked Buckeyes continue their push for a national title Saturday at Illinois. ESPN.com caught up with Mewhort earlier this week.

[+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
AP Photo/Michael ConroySenior captain Jack Mewhort has anchored a much-improved offensive line for the Buckeyes.
How have you evolved as a leader during your career?

Jack Mewhort: I've had the good fortune of seeing a lot of leaders come through here and who did a great job at Ohio State, guys like Cam Heyward, Jake Ballard, Jimmy Cordle, the list goes on. I did a good job when I was younger observing and making sure I picked up things from those guys that if I was ever in a position to be a leader, I could apply. Somehow, I got myself in a position where people think I'm a leader, so I can apply those things now. I was very lucky.

What was the moment like when you found out you would be a captain?

JM: It was a big honor. You're happy for a second, and then you think about the responsibility that goes with it. I just got real serious about it. Being a captain at Ohio State is a pretty prestigious thing. I don't want to fail my team or the coaching staff, so I've tried to be a good example and do things the right way, set the tone for this team and make sure guys are doing things right.

When did you realize you had to take things up a notch from a maturity standpoint?

JM: In 2011, [Mike] Brewster and Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts, it was their last year, and I got a lot of good playing experience and general life experience. When they left, Corey [Linsley] and Andrew [Norwell] and Marcus Hall all realized at the same time that we were the oldest guys in the O-line room, and we were going to be in position to lead the team. There was a moment a few years ago where I thought to myself, "I'm going to have to be a guy around here now."

You guys are talked about as being the strongest unit on the team. When did that come to fruition that the line was taking it to another level after not living up to expectations earlier?

JM: When Coach Meyer got here, there was a chip on our shoulders. He came in and he made no secret that he was not impressed with the offensive line at Ohio State the last few years, especially the 2011 team, calling it the worst O-line he's seen play in a long time. We really took that to heart and believed we had a special opportunity in front of us with Coach Meyer and his staff coming in. We had a bowl ban last year, but the reason you come to Ohio State is to be in the discussion we're in right now. We knew if we wanted to leave a legacy at Ohio State, we were going to have to start moving forward. We all took that to heart, worked really hard on our minds and our bodies and started heading in the right direction together. The chemistry we've shown together on the field, it's been a lot of fun, a great ride.

How much of it was physical and how much was mental for you guys as a group?

JM: Mentally, it wasn't as hard as it was physically, just because we were all friends. We hadn't all been playing at the same time together, but we all knew each other. That wasn't a big problem because there was a mutual respect. But physically, it was a huge part of it. We credit Coach Mickey Marotti for that. He came in and changed our bodies for the better. We were not physically impressive when they got here, so they did a great job of motivating us in the right way and helping us eat right and establish a mindset to get mentally and physically tougher.

Everyone sees you as big guys, but what specifically did you have to change physically to meet the coaches' expectations?

JM: We just didn't have the right template maybe before. Not to take anything away from the program that Coach [Jim] Tressel ran, because obviously he was a winner, but when Coach Marotti came in, he just took it up another notch. I don't know the exact numbers, but as an offensive line, we lost hundreds of pounds of fat and gained a lot of muscle at the same time. It was just a matter putting applicable strength on our bodies that we could use our flexibility. Speed to power is a big thing around here. We're well-oiled machines now. It's always a work in progress when you're an O-lineman, eating right and stuff like that. But they definitely helped us.

And how have those changes contributed to your success?

JM: It shows every week on the field. [Offensive coordinator Tom Herman] always says we made a commitment to our tempo on Day 1, and that's something we pride ourselves on, wearing defenses out and being in the no-huddle and getting right back on the ball after each play. Some O-linemen can't really handle the pace or do it all the time. We really pride ourselves on being that team. We love running no-huddle, we love getting right back on the ball, because there's a certain point where you can look across the ball and see a D-lineman tap out. As an offensive lineman, there's no better feeling than that.

What has been the one thing that has surprised you most about playing in this offense versus your perception of it when Coach Meyer came in?

JM: People talk about Coach Meyer and his offense and say it's the spread, we're not really blocking anybody, we're reading guys. We've showed in the last couple years that he likes to run the ball between the tackles and run power and inside zone as much as anybody. We obviously have our schemes, we know how to get the ball on the edge and Braxton's throwing the ball really well right now. But at the end of the day, Coach Meyer says we're a power running team, and that's been evident the last couple years here.

You guys are clearly in the national championship mix. What do you need to do to convince people that you're a team that should be in one of those top two spots?

JM: We just need to handle our business and do it convincingly, just to show people we are legit and we mean business. Obviously, it's a big discussion that we're in, and we're not ignorant. We know what's going on nationally, but you've got to take it day by day and focus on right now beating Illinois. When you start looking too far ahead, that's when you let the little things slip, and all of a sudden you're looking back and saying, "What could I have done differently?" If we just keep playing the way we've been playing and get better every day, we'll be all right and everything will work itself out at the end.

Do you look at what Florida State and Alabama and Baylor and Stanford have done, and look at their résumés and where you stack up with them?

JM: I don't do a lot of comparisons. Obviously, all those teams are great. We have a lot of respect for all of them. As far as résumés go, there's a lot of talk about how our schedule's weak or whatever, but we've beat every team lined up in front of us. We have a great winning streak, and that's something we want to continue. At the end of the day, if we win all our games, we're hopefully where we want to be. If we're not, winning a lot of games is good, too.

You guys would be guaranteed a spot in the Rose Bowl if you don't make the title game. How do you view that possibility?

JM: I don't really know how our attitude would be toward that. I don't really want to talk about that just because I don't want to look ahead. But the Rose Bowl is a great bowl game. I was in it in 2009. It would be an honor to play in a BCS bowl, especially the Rose Bowl. It's the 100th anniversary also, so that's a very prestigious place. There's nothing wrong with playing in the Rose Bowl when you're an Ohio State Buckeye.

What would you like your legacy to be at Ohio State?

JM: Personally, I want people to remember me as a good teammate, as a guy who did things the right way. I was serious about my business. I want to be remembered as a good teammate and a good leader. This winning streak we’re on now, I’m glad to be a part of that, and when people look back at the 2012, 2013 Buckeyes, when it’s all said and done, and if we do the things we want to do, it’s going to be an honor just to be in the conversation with some of these guys who are around here.
Penn State will travel to The Horseshoe on Saturday for its 29th meeting against Ohio State. So, in preparation of the game, Penn State beat writer Josh Moyer and Ohio State beat writer Austin Ward sat down to discuss four key questions surrounding the contest.

What's the X-factor for the Penn State-Ohio State game?

Moyer: The crowd. Listen, you can say that almost any week -- but it especially holds true Saturday. The Nittany Lions have just 12 seniors on their roster, and they've already played a dozen true freshmen this season. Both redshirt and true freshmen comprise 53 percent (59 of 111) of the roster. Fifty-three percent! So most of these players on this roster haven't competed in front of a truly hostile crowd, and Christian Hackenberg's biggest road test to date has been in front of a half-empty Memorial Stadium at Indiana, a game Penn State lost. Penn State is blaring the music a bit louder at practice this week -- but that can only prepare players so much. Penn State can't afford to make mistakes, and some burned timeouts and false starts could be in the Lions' future.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller and Ohio State are on a roll offensively.
Ward: The Buckeyes are hitting on all cylinders on offense, and they’re going to score points with Braxton Miller healthy and playing at a high level on offense and Carlos Hyde blowing through defenders to pace the rushing attack. But the real key for Ohio State will be if its improving front seven is able to collapse the pocket and force Hackenberg to make mistakes the secondary can feast on for a couple turnovers. Hackenberg has played beyond his years early in the season, but he hasn’t played anywhere nearly as hostile as Ohio Stadium and the Buckeyes could add to the difficulty by dialing up their aggression early and often, coming off a couple slow starts that can at least partially be attributed to somewhat conservative schemes.

Which player is the most important?

Moyer: Hackenberg. Miller is obviously a tempting choice, but he's going to score. You can't totally stop Miller. Hackenberg is the wild card. We've seen 50-plus yard throws fall right into the receivers' hands, we've seen him stand in the pocket and deliver tight spirals across his body. But we've also seen him make head-scratching decisions, stare at one receiver and hold on to the ball way too long. He's exceeded expectations and, overall, has done a remarkable job this season. But you just don't know what quarterback you're going to get on Saturday. Will he play the way he did in the final three quarters against Kent State, when he went 6 of 25? Will he rally his team for a comeback the way he did against Michigan in the final minute? If he plays well, Penn State has a chance. If he doesn't, Penn State has no chance. It's that simple.

Ward: The entire offense centers around Miller’s versatility, and the Buckeyes are operating at a different level now that the junior quarterback has become a more polished passer. His ability to move the chains and create explosive gains on the ground is unquestioned, but a year ago, teams like Penn State were able to slow down the Buckeyes at times late in the season because they could load the box without too much fear of getting beat through the air. That approach doesn’t work as well now, and with Miller coming off perhaps the most efficient outing of his career, the Nittany Lions will have to honor the threat of Philly Brown or Devin Smith down the field. That, in turn, opens up holes for Hyde. All of that revolves around the special talent taking the snaps.

What's the matchup to watch?

Moyer: WR Allen Robinson vs. CB Bradley Roby. A-Rob is one of the top receivers in the nation who could leave early for the NFL; Roby is the returning All-American corner who's trying to make amends for an awful game against Jared Abbrederis to show he's still a high draft pick. What's not to love about this matchup? Robinson has a 37-inch vertical leap and the best route-running ability on the team; Roby boasts great closing speed, a penchant for picking up on routes and, Bill O'Brien said, is "one of the top defensive backs in the country." It's no secret that Robinson is the biggest weapon on this Penn State offense, and this game will go a long way in developing Roby's reputation. Another bad game for Roby and the chatter will undoubtedly pick up. On the flip side, if Robinson succeeds, he could watch his draft stock soar a few notches. It should be the most entertaining matchup in the conference Saturday.

Ward: The elite head-to-head battle on the perimeter between Roby and Robinson will be worth the price of admission. But when the Buckeyes are on offense, there could be perhaps an even more intriguing chess match as the Nittany Lions try to get defensive tackle DaQuan Jones in favorable situations. The Big Ten’s leader in tackles for a loss is facing perhaps the best overall group of blockers in the league, and center Corey Linsley and guards Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell are well aware of how important it will be to win up front and keep Jones out of the backfield.

Which team has the advantage?

Moyer: Ohio State. No question about it -- even the most die-hard Penn State fans have to admit the Buckeyes have the clear advantage here. Ohio State is more experienced, has a deeper roster, has the home-field advantage, a more well-rounded offense, a better front-seven, etc. PSU is about a two-touchdown underdog in this one, and it lost to OSU by double-digits last season with a lot more going for it. If Penn State is going to keep this one close, its offense has to score points -- a lot of points -- to stand a chance. It's difficult to discount Penn State in any game, but it'd be foolish to even hint that these two teams are evenly matched. They're not. Ohio State has the advantage.

Ward: The Buckeyes have more firepower than just about any team in the country on offense, and even after a couple sloppy starts on defense over the last couple weeks, they still rank No. 15 in the nation in total defense. That’s a perfect formula for winning a lot of games, and the Buckeyes have done that every single time they’ve taken the field under Urban Meyer. Ohio State is somewhat uniquely equipped to handle different scenarios depending on what it wants to accomplish, either speeding up the tempo if it feels the need to put up a bunch of points or leaning on its ground game to work on the clock and grind out a victory if it needs to. That ability to adapt has been invaluable during the 19-game winning streak, and along with what appears to be a more talented roster on paper, it should help provide an edge once again for the Buckeyes.

Wins are Ohio State's best statement

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
2:35
AM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Earlier in the week, Urban Meyer called Wisconsin the "king of the Big Ten." After yet another Ohio State victory on Saturday night, no questions remained about the real league royalty: the team with King James on its sideline.

Yet this was hardly a coronation. The No. 4 Buckeyes had to fight until the final minute to hold off the No. 23 Badgers 31-24 in front the third-largest crowd in the history of the Horseshoe. Plenty of people probably checked in on this prime-time game to find out just how good Ohio State truly was after it had cruised against soft competition for the first four weeks.

They might have come away still unsure.

"I don't know if we made a statement," safety C.J. Barnett said. "We know we had our doubters. Hopefully, we proved them wrong. But if not, it doesn't matter. We're just going to keep working."

Meyer's team looked ready to provide a resounding impression at various points in the game. Quarterback Braxton Miller returned from his 11-quarter injury absence and immediately led the offense on a touchdown drive in just four plays. The Buckeyes went end to end as fast as LeBron James, who cheered on his home state school from the 20-yard line during the first half.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller threw for 198 yards and rushed for 83 in his first game since injuring his knee Sept. 7.
Miller, reunited with running back Carlos Hyde for the first time this season, threw four touchdown passes and put his team up 31-14 with his final one late in the third quarter. Take that, Oregon and Clemson and other teams jockeying for BCS title game position.

But Wisconsin, which hasn't lost a game by more than seven points since 2010, refused to buckle. The hard-luck Badgers outgained the Buckeyes (399-390) and cost themselves a better chance at the upset because of a missed field goal, several costly penalties and a defensive breakdown at the end of the first half. Saturday's game was billed as the de facto Leaders Division title game. It might well have just pitted the two best teams in the entire Big Ten.

"They did exactly what we thought they were going to do," Ohio State receiver Philly Brown said. "We knew it going into this game that it was going to be a brawl."

Just not exactly the type many expected. The young Buckeyes defensive front seven accomplished the nearly impossible by shutting down Wisconsin's running game and its star tailbacks, Melvin Gordon and James White. The Badgers finished with just 104 rushing yards on 27 carries, while Gordon -- the leading rusher in the FBS heading into Saturday -- was limited to 74 yards on 15 attempts before a leg injury ended his night early.

The longest Wisconsin rush of the night was White's 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Mostly, however, White and Gordon found little space to maneuver and plenty of defenders in their area.

"I really think we showed to the country that we can stop the run and that we're not anybody to be messing around with," Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "They have a great offensive line, and I feel like our D-line is going to be great also."

Yet the Badgers countered with a surprisingly effective passing game. Quarterback Joel Stave threw for 295 yards, 207 of them going to receiver Jared Abbrederis. Despite everyone in the stadium knowing whom Stave would target, Abbrederis repeatedly found ways to get open while burning Ohio State's all-America cornerback Bradley Roby several times.

"He's got my vote for All-Big Ten," Meyer said. "He did an incredible job."

The bad news in the secondary got much worse late in the game when senior safety Christian Bryant suffered a broken ankle trying to make an interception. Bryant is one of the top leaders on the defense, and Meyer was so upset about the season-ending injury that he slapped the podium in his postgame news conference and said, "Doggone it. Hard part of the game, boy."

Bryant's on-field absence could be felt next week at Northwestern. As far as off the field, it could last even longer.

"I'm not worried about the playing [aspect]," Barnett said. "I'm worried about the leadership aspect. It's going to take all of our leaders to do more. I've got to do more."

The injury hurts, but the Buckeyes still boast an enviable position. They hold a virtual two-game lead over Wisconsin in the Leaders race by owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. After Saturday's "GameDay" showdown at No. 17 Northwestern, the Buckeyes should have smooth sailing until the season-ender at Michigan, which might or might not have fixed its troubling flaws by then.

Critics might harp on Saturday's narrow margin of victory, but they would underrate Wisconsin if so.

"It's a Big Ten win," offensive lineman Andrew Norwell said. "To beat a Big Ten team, that says something, especially a ranked team. This was a big win for us."

Not, however, a dominant one. The Buckeyes might need those while trying to convince pollsters and Big Ten skeptics that they belong in the national championship picture. Saturday's game was more reminiscent of last year's team, which eked out several close victories on its way to 12-0.

Still, the wins keep piling up. Meyer has never known an unhappy postgame "Carmen Ohio" sing-along as a head coach, having produced 17 straight victories. When you can bring LeBron James in for a pregame speech with scores of recruits watching, that bodes well for the future.

"I don't know," Meyer said when asked about the impact of James' presence Saturday. "I just know that I love athletes that handle their business."

The Buckeyes keep doing that every week. Until someone can dethrone them, that's the only statement that matters.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There may be no replacing the real thing.

But Kenny Guiton does more than a passable impression of Braxton Miller, and now it looks like he can even do it for an extended period of time when Ohio State needs a stand-in at quarterback.

There’s never been any question about how seamlessly Guiton can transition to the lineup in a pinch for a handful of plays or perhaps a couple drives, and the Buckeyes have consistently expressed their confidence in having the best backup in the country. Finally needing to prove it for a complete game on Saturday against San Diego State at Ohio Stadium, Guiton provided some evidence that he could handle the stage for more than a cameo and Ohio State turned in yet another prolific scoring performance at less than full strength in a 42-7 romp without its leading man.

[+] EnlargeKenny Guiton
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteIn place of Braxton Miller, senior signal-caller Kenny Guiton finished 19 of 28 passing for 152 yards in the Buckeyes' win over San Diego State.
“He played a full game today, you saw it,” Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said. “The old right-hander steps in again and does a nice job.

“He’s too slow, not enough arm strength, but all he does is lead and manage and distribute and has an incredible knowledge of the game.”

Meyer’s scouting report might not have been entirely truthful, but by comparison it’s obvious that Miller brings far more to the table with his electrifying rushing ability, a vastly improved arm and an ability to keep defenses guessing thanks to the combination of the two.

But Guiton can do all of the same things Miller does, and after the Heisman Trophy candidate left on the opening drive of the game with an injury to his left knee that required evaluation in the locker room and kept him from ever returning, at times it was if nothing on offense changed.

Guiton was accurate in the passing game, twice dropping in long-range strikes to Philly Brown for touchdowns on the way to an efficient outing with 19 completions in 28 attempts with 152 yards and an interception.

The senior managed the tempo and the option rushing attack without any issues of significance, helping Jordan Hall and Dontre Wilson combine for 126 yards and a pair of scores.

Guiton even channeled Miller as a runner, dashing up the middle on a draw for a 44-yard touchdown on the way to a team-high 83 yards on the ground as he put together the kind of all-around performance that the starter has produced with regularity since Meyer took over last season.

“When he comes in, we don’t miss a beat,” left guard Andrew Norwell said. “It means a lot to us, because we can always count on Kenny, everybody loves him in the locker room.

“When he comes in, we’re still playing. Nothing [negative] really crosses our mind when he comes in.”

Given his importance in the hunt for a national title, Miller was certainly still on the minds of the coaching staff after he was carted to the locker room and fitted for a knee brace. Had the game been more competitive, they might have also given more serious thought about putting the junior back behind center.

Instead, Miller left his scarlet baseball cap on for the duration of the second half, watching the offense operate without him from a spot just a couple feet off the field. The Buckeyes kept on moving the first-down chains and racking up points without him, and there was no need to rush Miller back against a defense that was probably overmatched no matter who was taking the snaps.

Meyer didn’t speculate too much on Miller’s status for next week’s trip to take on Cal, only going as far as indicating “there’s a chance he’ll be ready.” It appears to be a safe bet that Miller will be healthy and available given the resiliency he has shown throughout his career with the program.

But if he’s not, the same old security blanket is still there for the Buckeyes.

“[Guiton] does have a strong enough arm, he is fast enough,” Meyer said. “He’s just got to come in with more confidence, because when he does, it’s fun to watch.”

Maybe it’s not exactly the same as watching Miller. But once more, there were no complaints about the entertainment value with the next best thing.

Ohio State season preview

August, 12, 2013
8/12/13
10:30
AM ET
Let's take a look at Ohio State as it tries to build off an undefeated season and compete for titles now that its postseason ban has expired.

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Coach: Urban Meyer (116-23, 11 seasons; 12-0 at Ohio State)

2012 record: 12-0, Leaders Division champions (ineligible for postseason)

Key losses: DE John Simon, DT Johnathan Hankins, RT Reid Fragel, WR/TE Jake Stoneburner, LB/FB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Al BehrmanUrban Meyer has an experienced QB in Braxton Miller and depth at running back entering his second season at Ohio State.
Key returnees: QB Braxton Miller, WR Philly Brown, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley, RG Marcus Hall, RB Carlos Hyde, LB Ryan Shazier

Newcomer to watch: Meyer was never able to find somebody to play his hybrid H-back position last year, so the Buckeyes simply didn’t use it. Now the program has two options on hand who appear to fit the mold, and freshman speedster Dontre Wilson could make an instant impact in that role thanks to his wheels and elusiveness. Wilson has quickly made a splash during training camp, and he has the ability to be a factor in both the rushing and receiving game.

Biggest games in 2013: The last week of the regular season is always a cut above the rest, and Ohio State’s trip up north to take on rival Michigan on Nov. 30 could have enormous stakes for a team eying a national title this year. A visit to Northwestern on Oct. 5 will also be a test, and home games against Wisconsin (Sept. 28) and Penn State (Oct. 26) will be critical in the divisional race.

Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Almost the entire front seven has undergone a face-lift since last season as six starters have moved on from the program, but there isn’t that much concern about the defensive line because sophomore sensations Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are poised for breakout campaigns.

There is some hand-wringing going on at linebacker, though, and the depth issues that forced Ohio State to move Boren from fullback to lend a hand on defense last season haven’t yet been corrected. Newcomers Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell may need to develop quickly to fill out the rotation, because otherwise an injury or two to Shazier, middle linebacker Curtis Grant or sophomore Joshua Perry could create significant problems at the second level for coordinator Luke Fickell.

Forecast: While there might be some uncertainty about a younger, more inexperienced defense, there is absolutely nothing but booming confidence on the other side of the ball for the Buckeyes.

Braxton Miller returns for his third season as the starting quarterback, fresh off a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race and an offseason of improvement as a passer. A deeper stable of rushers joins him in the backfield to add even more versatility to a ground game that was among the nation’s best last year. Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball give Meyer enough talent to tinker with the idea of putting three of them on the field at the same time. Somewhat shorthanded at receiver a year ago, the Buckeyes also have more targets at their disposal in the passing attack and a pair of tight ends who can create major mismatches for opposing defenses. It obviously doesn’t hurt to have four senior starters paving the way up front and offering some protection for Miller.

That personnel, of course, is coached by Meyer, who has a proven track record of success in his second season with a program, boasting a combined record of 34-4 in his three previous Year 2s -- not to mention an undefeated record at Utah and a national title at Florida.

It all adds up to an offense that might be the most explosive Ohio State has ever had, which should allow the rebuilding front seven on defense some time to develop as the program hunts its first crystal football since 2002.
I'm sure it was a long, lonely weekend for you without any more college football preseason watch lists. But rejoice! We're back with more today, as the Butkus and the Rotary Lombardi awards have announced their watch lists.

The Butkus Award, naturally, goes to the nation's top linebacker. The Lombardi trophy has my favorite list of qualifications for any award: it goes to "a down lineman, end-to-end, either on offense or defense, setting up no farther than 10 yards to the left or right of the ball at the time of snap" or "a linebacker on defense, setting up no farther than five yards deep from the line of scrimmage." I like to picture the Lombardi folks watching film and using a small to-scale ruler trying to make sure each candidate is the precise required distance. Anyway, I digress.

The Big Ten players who were named to both lists:

Butkus
Lombardi

I have to wonder when the Lombardi committee gathered its names, because Ryan is injured and likely won't be back until at least November, while the list also included David Gilbert and lists him as a Wisconsin player. Gilbert announced in the spring that he would retire from football before his surprise decision to transfer to Miami last month. So that tells you -- again -- to take these lists with more than a few shakers of salt. Still, there are worse ways to kill time before the season starts.
Have you caught preseason watch list fever yet? If so, please see a doctor. If not, well, be careful because we've got two more coming at you.

The most recent watch lists involve two big awards: the Outland and the Bronco Nagurski trophies. The Outland honors the top interior lineman on either side of the ball, and the Nagurski goes to the best defender.

The Big Ten has good representation on both lists, with 10 Outland honorees and 13 on the Nagurski scroll . Take a look:

Outland
Nagurski

As I said, good representation here. The Big Ten would normally have more on the Outland side, but the league lacks proven defensive tackles going into the season. Lewan should be a threat to win the Outland, and Long was an All-American last year. You can never count out Wisconsin linemen when it comes to awards, so watch out for Groy. Tons of great players and potential All-Americans on the Nagurski list. Can any of them beat out Jadeveon Clowney?
Is it preseason All-America team season already? You bet it is.

Phil Steele has issued his 2013 preseason All-America teams, and a total of 15 players from the Big Ten made the four squads.

Let's take a look:

First team
Second team
Third team
Fourth team

Some notes and thoughts:
  • Lewan is an obvious choice for the first team, while Steele clearly sees the potential in Shazier and Roby after breakout seasons for the 12-0 Buckeyes in 2012. I don't see much separating Bullough from Shazier and Dennard from Roby, and wouldn't be surprised to see either Spartans defender moving up a team on the postseason All-America list.
  • Ohio State's Miller is listed behind only Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and ahead of Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Louisville's Teddy Bridgewater. It's clear Miller will enter the season very much on the Heisman radar. Nebraska's Taylor Martinez didn't make the top four signal callers, but can't be too far behind.
  • Wisconsin's Pedersen is a solid player, but Penn State's Kyle Carter has the higher ceiling among Big Ten tight ends, in my view. Carter had 453 receiving yards in just nine games in 2012. He'll be a big help for Penn State's new starting quarterback, and could work his way onto the postseason All-America list.
  • It's not a huge snub, but Northwestern's Mark should be better than a fourth-team all-purpose player. He earned first-team All-America honors in 2012, and also was a second-team All-Big Ten selection as a running back. Mark could have worked his way onto the list as a running back. Instead, Steele went with former Penn State star Silas Redd as a fourth-teamer despite a so-so first season at USC. Mark's teammate Jeff Budzien also was snubbed from the kickers list after a near-perfect junior season.
  • Michigan linebacker Jake Ryan didn't make the preseason list despite an excellent 2012 season. Ryan suffered a torn ACL this spring, but is expected back before the end of October. It'll be interesting to see if other Wolverines players besides Lewan put themselves in contention for postseason All-America honors.
  • It's nice to see Steele recognize Wisconsin's Abbrederis, who might still be the Big Ten's top receiver. Like Pedersen, Abbrederis' numbers suffered in 2012 as Wisconsin sputtered on offense, and especially in the passing game. Abbrederis is an excellent route runner, a big-play threat, and a good return man.
  • I'm interested to see which Big Ten linemen work their way onto Steele's postseason All-America teams. Keep an eye on guys like Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman, Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes, Wisconsin offensive lineman Ryan Groy, Northwestern defensive end Tyler Scott, Penn State guard John Urschel, and Ohio State's dynamic young pairing of defensive linemen Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.
The NFL draft starts tonight after endless months of hype. Here at the Big Ten blog, we thought, "Why should the NFL guys get to have all the fun of making mock drafts?"

So we're going to out-mock the mockers by creating our own, totally fake Big Ten players' draft. Adam and I are doing our best impressions of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay -- we've both been running our hairdryers for hours now -- to come up with what a first-round of a Big Ten draft might look like.

Here's how this works: All current Big Ten players are eligible to be drafted (not signees, this isn't the NBA draft), and the teams will pick in reverse order of regular-season finish last year, just like the NFL. We're trying to think like the teams involved here and draft not just best player, but also best fit. For example, teams like Iowa and Wisconsin aren't going to draft a spread quarterback for their system. Teams would also want to take eligibility into account. Is a great senior worth more than a promising sophomore? Depends on how close your team is to winning.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireOhio State QB Braxton Miller would be a hot commodity if the Big Ten held an NFL-style draft.
It gets a little messy, because once a player gets drafted by one team, he leaves a hole on his former team (when Braxton Miller inevitably gets taken, for instance, Ohio State suddenly has a hole at quarterback). But it's all part of the fun and gives us more to debate.

Let's get to it ...

Pick No. 1: Illinois

Brian Bennett says the Illini select ... Ohio State QB Braxton Miller

I considered having Tim Beckman take a Penn State player, just for old time's sake. (He and his staff certainly did enough scouting in State College last summer). But Miller is the no-brainer. Illinois needs playmakers, and even if Miller is still evolving as a passer, he can make things happen on his own with his feet. Illinois might let him carry it 50 times per game.

Adam Rittenberg says the Illini select ... Miller

The Illini need a major boost for the nation's 119th-rated offense, and Miller, who has two seasons of eligibility remaining, provides it with his many talents at quarterback. He's an easy choice for a sputtering unit.

Pick No. 2: Iowa

Adam Rittenberg says the Hawkeyes select ... Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Like Illinois, Iowa is trying to repair one of the nation's worst offenses and lacks a quarterback on its roster who has taken a snap in an FBS game. Gardner, who blossomed down the stretch for Michigan last season, fits into a pro-style offense and provides the big-play ability Iowa sorely needs. He also has two years of eligibility left.

Brian Bennett says the Hawkeyes select ... Penn State DE Deion Barnes

This is a tough one, because Iowa could really use a standout wide receiver, an experienced quarterback and some secondary help. But remember that Kirk Ferentz would be making this pick, and I believe Ferentz would stay true to himself and look to the trenches first. Iowa has lacked a dynamic pass-rusher for a couple of years now, and Barnes would provide that. Plus, he's only a sophomore, and the Hawkeyes have some rebuilding to do.

Pick No. 3: Indiana

Brian Bennett says the Hoosiers select ... Ohio State DE Adolphus Washington


Indiana is as set on offense as any Big Ten club, even though Kevin Wilson might be tempted to grab a quarterback or a receiver because he loves the passing game. What the Hoosiers desperately need are high-impact defensive players, especially on the defensive line. Washington is by no means proven, but he had a strong freshman year and looked dominant this spring. He can also play inside at tackle if needed. Wilson also would have three years of Washington to develop, along with the rest of his young team.

Adam Rittenberg says the Hoosiers select ... Penn State's Barnes

Indiana obviously needs defense, and while there are several good options out there, a difference-maker in the pass rush would really help. Barnes, the 2012 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, has three seasons of eligibility left, and would bolster a line with major question marks entering the fall.

Pick No. 4: Minnesota

Adam Rittenberg says the Gophers select ... Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

The Gophers are unsettled at linebacker after losing two starters from last season. Although they could go secondary with this pick, Shazier provides an immediate playmaking presence for the core of the defense. Plus, he has two years of eligibility left.

Brian Bennett says the Gophers select ... Penn State WR Allen Robinson

I could definitely see Jerry Kill picking a linebacker or a lineman as he continues to build his team's toughness. But the Gophers desperately need to improve their downfield passing game, and in Robinson they get the Big Ten's top receiver, who has two years of eligibility left. Philip Nelson just did a backflip in celebration.

Pick No. 5: Purdue

Brian Bennett says the Boilermakers select ... Ohio State's Shazier

Linebacker has been a bit of a black hole for Purdue of late, and Shazier could fix that problem quickly. Darrell Hazell would also get two years out of him.

Adam Rittenberg says the Boilermakers select ... Northwestern LB Chi Chi Ariguzo

Chi Chi Who? Hear me out. Purdue really needs help at linebacker, and one-year players like Chris Borland or Max Bullough only do so much, especially for a coaching staff looking to the future. Michigan's Jake Ryan is a possibility, but he tore his ACL this spring and might bolt to the NFL after the season. Ariguzo has two years left and recorded two interceptions, four fumble recoveries, 10.5 tackles for loss and five pass breakups for Northwestern last season. He's the young playmaker Purdue needs.

Pick No. 6: Michigan State

Adam Rittenberg says the Spartans select ... Penn State's Robinson

The Spartans need a featured running back, but should be able to pick up someone like Iowa's Mark Weisman in the later rounds. Wide receiver remains a pressing need after a season of dropped passes. Robinson, the Big Ten's wide receiver of the year in 2012, gives Michigan State an obvious No. 1 target. Plus, he's only a sophomore.

Brian Bennett says the Spartans select ... Michigan's Gardner

You heard that right. Michigan State needs a quarterback who can lead the team down the field, and Gardner has the kind of arm and scrambling ability that Mark Dantonio needs. Gardner could solidify the Spartans' offense for the next two years. Plus, Dantonio would be weakening his top rival in the process. That's what you call a win-win.

Pick No. 7: Michigan

Brian Bennett says the Wolverines select ... Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland

The sound you heard was Brady Hoke punching the wall of Michigan's war room once the Spartans drafted Gardner. That leaves Michigan in a real bind at quarterback, but there aren't great options for their system here. Instead, the defensive-minded Hoke will go for Borland, who will provide some insurance for the injured Jake Ryan. Borland is a senior, but with the Wolverines' young talent on the way, they need a veteran for 2013.

Adam Rittenberg says the Wolverines select Nebraska G Spencer Long

The Wolverines obviously need a quarterback after losing Gardner, but there aren't many great pro-style options in the Big Ten right now. By adding Long, Michigan could boast two All-Americans on its offensive line (if it keeps left tackle Taylor Lewan). While both players depart after this season, they'll provide excellent leadership for the Wolverines' talented group of younger linemen.

Pick No. 8: Wisconsin

Adam Rittenberg says the Badgers select ... Nebraska WR Kenny Bell

The Badgers need help in the secondary, but the top options available -- Ohio State CB Bradley Roby, Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard -- are one-year guys. Bell has two years left and plays a position where Wisconsin is undermanned. He'll be an excellent complement for Jared Abbrederis this year, and the No. 1 wideout in 2014. Bell grew up in Boulder, Colo., and will easily adjust to life in Madison.

Brian Bennett says the Badgers select ... Michigan OT Taylor Lewan

I mean, c'mon. This is Wisconsin we're talking about. Don't the Badgers go for the best offensive lineman, even if he's only got one year left? The Badgers are good enough that one player could put them over the top.

Pick No. 9: Penn State

Brian Bennett says the Nittany Lions select ... Ohio State DE Noah Spence

Bill O'Brien takes the long view here, knowing he needs a young player to help him build through the sanctions era. Spence is just a sophomore, and he fills the void left when Barnes was drafted earlier. Spence hasn't done much yet, but looked like a future star this spring. Oh yeah, and he's a Pennsylvania native and former Penn State commit.

Adam Rittenberg says the Nittany Lions select ... Michigan State LB Max Bullough
Penn State could go quarterback here after losing Steven Bench, but the long-term forecast under center looks pretty good. The immediate needs are linebacker and defensive leadership. Bullough provides both. He's a first-team All-Big Ten selection, one of the nation's smartest players and an excellent leader. He'll complement Mike Hull and Glenn Carson very well.

Pick No. 10: Northwestern

Adam Rittenberg says the Wildcats select ... Michigan's Lewan

Offensive line is the one area at Northwestern where graduation took its toll. Although the Wildcats might have a bigger need at guard than at tackle, they can't pass up arguably the nation's best offensive linemen in Lewan. He'll anchor the line, allow Jack Konopka to stay at right tackle and allow other players to slide inside to guard. Although Lewan is a one-year guy, Northwestern can draft to win now.

Brian Bennett says the Wildcats select ... Ohio State CB Bradley Roby

Let's face it: the secondary hasn't exactly been the Wildcats' strong suit over the years. Pat Fitzgerald can draft Roby here and feel confident that he'll shut down one side of the field. You think the Roy Roundtree miracle catch happens with Roby wearing purple? He's headed to the NFL draft after this season, but Roby could be the missing piece for a team that's ready to contend.

Pick No. 11: Nebraska

Brian Bennett says the Cornhuskers select ... Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman

It's no coincidence that Nebraska's defense hasn't been the same since Ndamukong Suh and Jared Crick left town. The Huskers need help the most at defensive tackle, and the very athletic Hageman can provide that. He'll only play one year in Lincoln, but with Nebraska set up to win now with its offense, that's OK with Bo Pelini.

Adam Rittenberg says the Cornhuskers select ... Ohio State DE Noah Spence
This is certainly a projection pick, but Spence looks like a superstar and Nebraska desperately needs one on its defensive line. The Huskers could go with a more experienced option like Hageman, but Spence is just a true sophomore and should be an impact pass-rusher for at least two more years.

Pick No. 12: Ohio State

Adam Rittenberg says the Buckeyes select ... Wisconsin LB Chris Borland

The Buckeyes need a quarterback after losing Miller, but should be able to get a guy like Kain Colter in the later rounds. Ohio State's most pressing need -- the defensive front seven -- remains the same, especially after losing both Shazier and Spence. Borland, an Ohio native, gives the Buckeyes a proven, productive veteran at linebacker who can help in many different ways. Although he's a senior, Ohio State is in win-now mode as it eyes a national title.

Brian Bennett says the Buckeyes select .. Michigan State LB Max Bullough

Ohio State has been decimated more than any other team by this draft. Urban Meyer would have to strongly consider Taylor Martinez here, but he can either get another quarterback later, or roll with Kenny Guiton for a year. Defense is crying out for help after losing Washington, Spence, Shazier and Roby. So the Buckeyes go with the best defensive player on the board and a guy who will bolster the front seven.

And our quick second-round picks:

Adam's second round

Illinois: Hageman
Iowa: Indiana WR Cody Latimer
Indiana: Washington
Minnesota: Abbrederis
Purdue: Penn State OL John Urschel
Michigan State: Weisman
Michigan: Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort
Wisconsin: Roby
Penn State: Northwestern DE Tyler Scott
Northwestern: Ohio State OL Andrew Norwell
Nebraska: Iowa LB James Morris
Ohio State: Michigan State DE Marcus Rush

Brian's second round

Illinois: Northwestern RB Venric Mark
Iowa: Bell
Indiana: Dennard
Minnesota: Purdue DE Ryan Russell
Purdue: Penn State DT DaQuan Jones
Michigan State
: Penn State TE Kyle Carter
Michigan: Mewhort
Wisconsin: Latimer
Penn State: Michigan CB Blake Countess
Northwestern: Long
Nebraska: Scott
Ohio State: Martinez
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Several factors usually get mentioned first as reasons for Ohio State's 12-0 season in 2012. Braxton Miller's heroics. Carlos Hyde's emergence. The play of the defense down the stretch, led by John Simon and Ryan Shazier.

But one factor probably doesn't get mentioned enough: the performance of the team's offensive line. A major question mark going into last season, the line shaped up as one of the best in the Big Ten last year under the tutelage of Ed Warriner. And with most of the group back and some better depth, the unit provides a strong reason to believe in the Buckeyes again in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsLeft tackle Jack Mewhort, an all-Big Ten-level talent in 2012, could be the Buckeyes' next great leader.
Warriner turned in one of the better coaching jobs in the league last year, rounding into shape a crew that was previously undistinguished and underwhelming. He turned Reid Fragel, a former tight end, into a standout right tackle who should get drafted later this month. Corey Linsley went from playing guard to one of the conference's top centers, while Jack Mewhort developed into a top-flight left tackle. One of the indelible images of the Buckeyes' season was the line pushing around Michigan State's terrific defense to grind out the victory in East Lansing.

About the only thing Warriner had to worry about last season was health, as there was no experience and precious little depth behind the starters. He doesn't have the same worries this spring.

"It's a nice feeling to know you probably have a backup tackle and a backup guard," he told ESPN.com.

Four starters are back, so the real battle this spring is to replace Fragel at that right-tackle spot. Right now, sophomores Chase Farris and Taylor Decker are splitting a lot of first-team reps there, with Darryl Baldwin also in the mix.

"Those two guys have a lot of ability," Warriner said. "The more comfortable they get and the more confidence they get, one of them could take off -- or maybe both will and we'll play by committee. But they have high-level talent and all the traits of really good linemen."

Head coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that redshirt freshman Pat Elflein has been one of the surprises of the spring, and he could add depth at guard or tackle. Warriner also said Jacoby Boren is making strides at center. While the team suffered a setback when reserve Antonio Underwood tore his anterior cruciate ligament late last week, the Buckeyes should still be able to rotate more guys on the offensive line this fall.

"If the next man in can play a certain amount but the level doesn't drop off enough to hurt our team, we might do that just to keep the unit fresh and hopefully be smart throughout the season," Warriner said.

But Ohio State will want its veterans on the field as much as possible. Mewhort, whom ESPN.com voted as a first-team All-Big Ten performer, has been hailed as one of the team's best leaders and anointed by Meyer as a possible replacement for Simon in that regard.

"He's what you want in terms of an attitude, of work ethic, of being a competitor," Warriner said. "When you're a first-year starter at a new position with a new coaching staff, sometimes you just worry about your own business, and that was him to some degree last year. But now, he's taking kind of a bigger role with his leadership on offense and even the team as a whole."

Warriner said guards Andrew Norwell, a first All-Big Ten team honoree by the media last season, and Marcus Hall have made maybe the biggest improvements of anyone on the line this offseason. Along with Linsley, whom Warriner said has "elite-level strength," the Buckeyes have the potential to field four all-conference type linemen.

"We think we possibly could, if they play up to their ability level," he said. "The good thing about the group is, they don't really care about that. If we won the Big Ten and none of them made all-conference, they wouldn't care a bit. That's the kind of unselfish players they are."

Warriner said he has challenged the group to help lead a top-five national offensive attack this season. Ohio State led the Big Ten in scoring last year (37.2 points per game) and finished second in rushing yards per game (242.3). The offensive line led the way, though players like Miller and Hall sure helped.

"We know the quality of our skill guys can erase some things and create some big plays," Warriner said. "If you block it for six, you might get 16. At some places, if you block it for six, that's what they'll get -- six yards."

Everything works in concert. But don't forget the Buckeyes' offensive line when talking about reasons for the team's success.
It's time to jump back into our preseason position rankings with a look at the offensive line units.

On Friday, we ranked the top individual players at the position. These unit rankings reflect star power as well as depth. We're heavily weighing these on last year's performance, along with potential for the 2012 season.

Away we go:

1. Wisconsin: Sure, the Badgers lost two All-Americans (Kevin Zeitler and Peter Konz) from last year's line. But they've earned the benefit of the doubt for their ability to reload up front. Left tackle Ricky Wagner is an Outland Trophy candidate, and center Travis Frederick should be one of the best in the Big Ten. The key will be how the new-look right side with Rob Havenstein and likely Robert Burge moving into starting roles.

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Andrew Weber/US Presswire With top tackle Taylor Lewan returning, Michigan fields one of the best offensive lines in the Big Ten.
2. Michigan: The Wolverines might have the top tackle in the league with junior Taylor Lewan, and guard Patrick Omameh is a three-year starter. Senior Ricky Barnum is taking over for David Molk at center. Michael Schofield should be solid at right tackle, though the left guard spot remains a competition. It should be a strong starting group, though depth here is a major concern.

3. Michigan State: This could be the best offensive line Mark Dantonio has had in East Lansing. Six players who started games last year are back, and there will be depth and competition at several spots. Third-year starter Chris McDonald is one of the league's top guards, while tackles Dan France and Fou Fonoti are dependable.

4. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers lost three starters from last year's line, but much like Wisconsin, this is a group that usually reloads. Guards Spencer Long and Seung Hoon Choi provide nice building blocks, with Tyler Moore, Jeremiah Sirles and Andrew Rodriguez solidifying the tackle spots. The big question here is center and who will replace Mike Caputo.

5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes had their problems up front last year and now are implementing a new offensive system. Urban Meyer wasn't happy with the group's work ethic in January but felt much better about them by the end of spring. Jack Mewhort replaces Mike Adams at left tackle, while Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall try to live up their potential at guard. Corey Linsley earned Meyer's praise for his work at center. Keep an eye on the right tackle spot, where former tight end Reid Fragel is now the first-stringer. But true freshman Taylor Decker is pushing him.

6. Purdue: Injuries kept the Boilers from building much cohesion this spring, but this can be a sturdy group when healthy. Three starters are back, with Trevor Foy moving from right to left tackle. This is an experienced bunch, but Danny Hope wants to see more dominance. Senior center Rick Schmeig should be a leader

7. Iowa: The Hawkeyes must replace three starters, including NFL draft picks Reilly Reiff and Adam Gettis. But Iowa usually fields good offensive lines, and hopes are high for this year's edition. The leader is center James Ferentz, who now will be coached by his older brother, Brian Ferentz. Much will depend on how players like Brett Van Sloten and Brandon Scherff develop.

8. Northwestern: The Wildcats lost two valuable starters in tackle Al Netter and Ben Burkett but return three-year starter Brian Mulroe at guard and promising sophomore center Brandon Vitabile. There should be good depth up front, but can the Wildcats generate a consistent rushing attack?

9. Penn State: The good news is that the Nittany Lions played better than expected last year on the offensive line. The bad news is four starters are gone, not to mention some potential transfers in the wake of the NCAA sanctions. There is still talent here, including guard John Urschel and tackle Donovan Smith. But the least experienced line in the league will have to learn a new offensive system.

10. Illinois: There was little excuse for the Illini O-line to play as bad as it did last year with standout players Jeff Allen and Graham Pocic in the mix. Pocic is back this year at center, though he might take some snaps at tackle as well. Young players like sophomore Simon Cvijanovic and redshirt freshman Ted Karras will need to come on. This unit should be improved, but it ranks low based on last year's finish.

11. Minnesota: Jerry Kill shuffled this group last year and played a lot of youngsters. It's still a relatively inexperienced unit, but there is hope for improvement. Junior left tackle Ed Olson has the best chance to be a star.

12. Indiana: Center Will Matte is one of the most experienced linemen in the league. But beyond him are several young players, including three true sophomores who started as freshmen last year. There's nowhere to go but up.

SPONSORED HEADLINES