Big Ten: Curtis Grant

B1G awards watch list roundup

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
College football preseason awards watch lists are, at best, little more than a summertime curiosity these days and, at worst, an easy punchline.

For one, there are far too many awards -- only country music likes to give itself as many trophies as this sport. There are often way too many players on these lists -- the Rimington Trophy list, for example, includes 64 players, or basically half the starting centers in the FBS, and 10 from the Big Ten alone. And, of course, eventual winners of these awards sometimes come out of nowhere, making the preseason lists even more meaningless.

We relegated almost all the watch list releases to tweets, but if you're interested, we thought we'd compile all the Big Ten players who were nominated in one place. If nothing else, you can come back to this page in December and perhaps have a good chuckle. Here you go:

Maxwell Award (Player of the Year)
Walter Camp (Player of the Year)
  • Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
  • Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
  • Shilique Calhoun, DE Michigan State
  • Stefon Diggs,WR, Maryland
  • Devin Funchess, WR, Michigan
  • Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State
Bednarik Award (Defensive Player of the Year)
Bronko Nagurski Trophy (Defensive Player)
  • Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
  • Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
  • Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
  • Frank Clark, DE, Michigan
  • Blake Countess, DB, Michigan
  • Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
  • Kurtis Drummond, S, Michigan State
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
  • Trae Waynes, CB, Michigan State
Outland Trophy (Interior lineman)
Davey O’Brien Award (Quarterback):
  • Connor Cook, Michigan State
  • Devin Gardner, Michigan
  • Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
  • Braxton Miller, Ohio State
  • Joel Stave, Wisconsin
Doak Walker Award (Running back)
Butkus Award (Linebacker)
Rotary Lombardi Award (Lineman/Linebacker)
  • Chi Chi Ariguzo, LB, Northwestern
  • Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State
  • Austin Blythe, C, Iowa
  • Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
  • Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
  • Carl Davis, DT, Iowa
  • Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
  • Ron Havenstein, T, Wisconsin
  • Kaleb Johnson, G, Rutgers
  • Jake Ryan, LB, Michigan
  • Brandon Scherff, T, Iowa
Biletnikoff Award (Wide receiver)
Jim Thorpe Award (Defensive back)
  • Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern
  • Blake Countess, Michigan
  • Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
  • Jordan Lucas, Penn State
  • Trae Waynes, Michigan State
Mackey Award (Tight end)
Rimington Trophy (Center) Lou Groza Award (Kicker)
Ray Guy Award (Punter)

Finally, watch this list of my preseason awards watch list, uh, awards:

Most nominated: Thanks to his inclusion on multiple defensive award lists as well as one player of the year recognition, Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory leads the way with four nods.

Biggest "snubs:" We use the word "snub" very, very lightly here. Still, it was a mild surprise not to see Venric Mark on the Doak Walker list (he was, after all, nominated for the Maxwell) or for Maryland defensive lineman Andre Monroe to not show up anywhere. Apparently, Monroe's 9.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last year weren't good enough to get him on the same list as dozens of other less productive players.

Weirdest list: The Butkus Award folks, bless them, either know something we don't or really swung and missed this year. Neither Maryland's Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil nor Ohio State's Curtis Grant were on anybody's radar for a major award, and you could make a very strong argument that neither is even the best linebacker on his own team (the Terps' Matt Robinson and the Buckeyes' Joshua Perry would have made more sense here). And then there's the omission of Rutgers' Steve Longa, who had 123 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss. Just plain odd all around.

Just happy to be nominated: Northwestern's Chi Chi Ariguzo and Michigan's Devin Funchess are both outstanding players who should be in strong contention for all-conference and quite possibly All-America honors this season. But they have about as good a chance of winning a national player of the year award (which almost always goes to quarterbacks or running backs, anyway) as I do. Funchess was nominated for both the Maxwell and Walter Camp award, which means he has a great public relations man. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's Joel Stave isn't even guaranteed to start at quarterback this season for the Badgers, yet he found himself on the Davey O'Brien watch list. As usual, it doesn't hurt to cover all the bases when compiling a preseason watch list.

Preseason position review: LB

July, 21, 2014
Jul 21
Linebacker was arguably the deepest and most talented position in the Big Ten last year. This season, the position takes on a new look, as stars like Wisconsin's Chris Borland, Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, Michigan State's Denicos Allen and Max Bullough and Iowa's trio of James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens have all moved on.

Who's in the best and worst shape at the linebacker spot? Let's take a look as we continue our preseason position series:

Best of the best: Michigan State
Say what? The team that lost Bullough and Allen is still ranked first here? No, we haven't completely lost our minds. We just believe in the talent on hand -- and especially defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi's ability to mold it into something special. Taiwan Jones probably would have started for most other college teams the past couple of years and looks poised to break out as Bullough's replacement in the middle. Darien Harris played well while helping fill in for Bullough during the Rose Bowl and will have an outside spot locked down. Ed Davis is a great athlete who was a third-down specialist last year; he can make up for Allen's absence as a blitzer. Backups like Riley Bullough and Jon Reschke will push the starters. This is not a sure thing, as the group has some questions to answer. But it's a safe bet that the Spartans' linebackers will come through.

Next up: Michigan
The Wolverines return all three starters to a crew that should be their best position group on defense. Jake Ryan might well be the best linebacker in the Big Ten, especially if he returns to his playmaking ways after dealing with his ACL tear recovery last fall. He moves to the middle this year, pushing James Ross III to the strong side. Ross is a little undersized for that spot but could overcome it with athleticism and instincts. Desmond Morgan has been rock solid the past couple of years. We'd like to see a few more big plays out of this group, but Ryan should be able to provide that. Nebraska and Penn State are also contenders for having the best linebacker position this season.

Sleeper: Ohio State
Outside of Shazier, the Buckeyes struggled to find standout players at linebacker the past couple of years. So his jump to the NFL stings. Still, the coaching staff is optimistic about the direction of this group. Joshua Perry started coming on late last year, including a strong Orange Bowl performance, and could step in Shazier's shoes as the leader here. Darron Lee is an excellent athlete who made waves this spring. Can senior Curtis Grant finally live up to his potential? If not, true freshman Raekwon McMillan could step into his place in the middle. The talent level here is getting back to vintage Silver Bullets days.

Problem for a contender: Iowa
Not a big problem, per se, as the Hawkeyes like what they have in former top backups Quinton Alston and Travis Perry, along with talented true sophomore Reggie Spearman. Still, any time you lose the experience and production that Iowa did -- the trio of Kirksey, Morris and Hitchens combined for 985 career tackles and 105 starts -- the transition to a new era may not always be smooth. The good news is the Hawkeyes' defensive line remains strong, allowing the linebackers more freedom to simply make plays. Don't expect this to be much of a problem for long, if at all.
Now that spring practice is officially in the books, we're taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall.

We're talking about guys who maybe haven't had big roles yet but displayed enough during the 15 spring practices -- and not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.

The series rolls along with a look at Ohio State and its rebuilding defense.

Spring breakout player: LB Darron Lee

Filling the void left behind by one of the most productive linebackers in the nation isn’t likely going to be a job Ryan Shazier’s replacement in the lineup can do alone, and technically Lee isn’t going to be playing exactly the same position in Ohio State’s retooled defense.

But with Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant both returning as starters, the spotlight all spring was on the final piece of the puzzle and the fresh face working with the unit. There wasn’t much buzz about the former high school quarterback and defensive back heading into camp, but Lee impressed the staff with his work in the offseason program and was plugged into the first-team role at strongside linebacker on the opening day of practice -- and he never did anything to relinquish the job when all the work on the field was done in the middle of April.

Lee is obviously unproven after appearing in just two games as a true freshman, and he’s still not guaranteed anything heading into training camp with redshirt freshman Chris Worley pushing for playing time as well. But Lee’s ability to stay at the top of the depth chart while the Buckeyes were closely monitoring the position and trying to restore the proud tradition of their linebackers speaks volumes about the potential he has shown on the field as a tackler and in the weight room as he has built his 6-foot-1 frame up to 225 pounds.

The Buckeyes may still not be fully reloaded in terms of depth and experience at linebacker quite yet. But Lee at least appeared to give Ohio State a viable candidate to replace Shazier and fill out the first-team defense, which made the spring a success for both parties.
We're taking snapshots of each position group with each Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the linebackers.

Illinois: The Illini lose an All-Big Ten player in Jonathan Brown but still have decent overall depth at linebacker. Mason Monheim started every game at middle linebacker in 2013, and Mike Svetina started all but one game at the star position. Both players return as juniors. Svetina will move into Brown's spot on the weak side, while the other position could be filled by T.J. Neal, who recorded 38 tackles last season. Ralph Cooper has logged significant reps as a reserve, and Eric Finney gives Illinois some flexibility after playing the star position (safety/outside linebacker).

Indiana: This becomes a more significant position under coordinator Brian Knorr, who plans to use a 3-4 alignment. Indiana should have enough depth to make the transition as it returns two full-time starters from 2013 -- David Cooper and T.J. Simmons -- as well as two part-time starters in Forisse Hardin and Clyde Newton, who started the final four games of his freshman season. Like Simmons and Newton, Marcus Oliver played a lot as a freshman and provides some depth. The key here will be converting all the experience into sharper, more consistent play.

Iowa: If you're of the mindset that Iowa always reloads at linebacker, you can rest easy this spring. If not, keep a very close eye on what happens as the Hawkeyes begin replacing one of the more productive linebacker groups in team history: James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens. There are high hopes for sophomore Reggie Spearman, who played in 10 games as a freshman last fall. Spearman, junior Travis Perry and senior Quinton Alston enter the spring as the front-runners to take over the top spots. The biggest challenge could be building depth behind them with Cole Fisher and others.

Maryland: The good news is the Terrapins return three productive starters from 2013 in Cole Farrand, L.A. Goree and Matt Robinson, who combined for 233 tackles, including 19 for loss. The bad news is Maryland loses its top playmaker at the position in Marcus Whitfield, who recorded nine sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss last season. But the overall picture is favorable, and the depth should be strong when Alex Twine and Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil return from their injuries. Young players such as Abner Logan (37 tackles in 2013) will push for more time.

Michigan: There are a lot of familiar faces in new positions as Michigan not only has shuffled the roles of its defensive assistant coaches, but also its top linebackers. Standout Jake Ryan moves from strong-side linebacker to the middle, while junior James Ross III moves from the weak side to the strong side and Desmond Morgan shifts from the middle to the weak side. Joe Bolden, who had 54 tackles last season, can play both outside and inside, and players such as Ben Gedeon, Royce Jenkins-Stone and Allen Gant add depth. The talent is there for a big year if the position switches pan out.

Michigan State: It won't be easy to replace the Big Ten's top linebacker tandem in Max Bullough and Denicos Allen, not to mention Rose Bowl hero Kyler Elsworth, but Michigan State has some promising options. Ed Davis appears ready to step in for Allen after recording four sacks as a sophomore. Junior Darien Harris and two redshirt freshmen, Shane Jones and Jon Reschke, will compete at middle linebacker. Returning starter Taiwan Jones is back at the star position, and Mylan Hicks should be in the rotation. Depth is a bit of a question mark here entering the spring.

Minnesota: The Gophers lose key pieces in all three areas of the defense, and linebacker is no exception as two starters (Aaron Hill and James Manuel) depart. Minnesota will lean on Damien Wilson, who started in 12 games at middle linebacker in his first season with the Gophers and recorded 78 tackles. Junior De'Vondre Campbell seems ready to claim a starting spot after backing up Manuel last season. There will be plenty of competition at the strong-side linebacker spot, as Nick Rallis, De'Niro Laster and others are in the mix. Jack Lynn is backing up Wilson at middle linebacker but could work his way into a starting spot on the outside with a good spring.

Nebraska: Optimism is building for the Blackshirts in 2014, thanks in large part to the returning linebackers. The three players who finished last season as the starters -- David Santos, Michael Rose and Zaire Anderson -- all are back, as Rose will lead the way in the middle. Josh Banderas and Nathan Gerry also have starting experience and return for 2014. If younger players such as Marcus Newby develop this spring, Nebraska could have the Big Ten's deepest group of linebackers, a dramatic departure from the Huskers' first few years in the conference. Good things are happening here.

Northwestern: The top two playmakers return here in Chi Chi Ariguzo and Collin Ellis, who combined for seven interceptions and 11.5 tackles for loss in 2014. Northwestern's challenge is replacing the leadership Damien Proby provided in the middle. Ellis has shifted from the strong side to the middle, and Northwestern has moved safety Jimmy Hall from safety to strong-side linebacker. Drew Smith and Hall will compete for the third starting spot throughout the offseason. Sophomores Jaylen Prater and Joseph Jones should provide some depth.

Ohio State: Coach Urban Meyer has made it clear that Ohio State needs more from the linebackers, so it's a huge offseason for this crew, which loses superstar Ryan Shazier. The Buckeyes return starters at the outside spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, although competition will continue throughout the spring and summer. Redshirt freshman Darron Lee surprisingly opened spring practice Tuesday working with Grant and Perry on the first-team defense. Camren Williams appeared in all 13 games as a reserve and will be part of the rotation, along with Trey Johnson. Meyer said last month that the incoming linebacker recruits won't redshirt, which means an opportunity for mid-year enrollee Raekwon McMillan.

Penn State: Linebacker U is looking for more bodies at the position after struggling with depth issues throughout 2013. The Lions lose leading tackler Glenn Carson but bring back two players, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman, who started most of the season. The new coaching staff is counting on Hull to become a star as a senior. Brandon Bell, who appeared in nine games and recorded 24 tackles as a freshman, will compete for a starting spot along with Gary Wooten. Penn State hopes Ben Kline can stay healthy as he provides some experience, and incoming freshman Troy Reeder could enter the rotation right away.

Purdue: Expect plenty of competition here as Purdue loses leading tackler Will Lucas and must get more consistent play from the group. Joe Gilliam started for most of the 2013 season and should occupy a top spot this fall. Sean Robinson also brings experience to the field, and Ryan Russell could fill more of a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role this season. Redshirt freshman Danny Ezechukwu is an intriguing prospect to watch this spring as he aims for a bigger role. Ezechukwu is just one of several younger players, including decorated incoming recruit Gelen Robinson, who have opportunities to make a splash.

Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights return a good deal of production here with Steve Longa and Kevin Snyder, who combined for 219 tackles, including 15 tackles for loss and five sacks. Quentin Gause also is back after racking up 53 tackles (8.5 for loss) in a mostly reserve role last season. Gause likely will claim the starting strong-side linebacker spot as Jamal Merrell departs. The starting spots are seemingly set, so Rutgers will look to build depth with Davon Jacobs, who had 30 tackles as a reserve last season, and L.J. Liston, both sophomores.

Wisconsin: Do-it-all linebacker Chris Borland is gone, along with Ethan Armstrong and Conor O'Neill, so Wisconsin must replace three of its top four tacklers from 2013. Derek Landisch and Joe Schobert can be penciled in as starters, along with Michael Caputo, who played mostly safety last season but should slide into one of the outside spots. Marcus Trotter brings experience to the rotation. The spotlight will be on younger linebackers such as Vince Biegel, who had 25 tackles last season, as well as dynamic sophomore Leon Jacobs and Alec James, a decorated recruit who redshirted in 2013.

Purdue Boilermakers, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Big Ten Conference, Michigan State Spartans, Northwestern Wildcats, Indiana Hoosiers, Illinois Fighting Illini, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Iowa Hawkeyes, Big Ten, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Maryland Terrapins, Damien Proby, Collin Ellis, Michael Trotter, Max Bullough, Jonathan Brown, Chi Chi Ariguzo, Mylan Hicks, Mike Hull, Jake Ryan, Ryan Russell, Joshua Perry, Derek Landisch, Jimmy Hall, Denicos Allen, Ralph Cooper, Curtis Grant, Darien Harris, Quinton Alston, Marcus Trotter, Joe Bolden, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Michael Rose, Joseph Jones, Camren Williams, Vince Biegel, Cole Fisher, Jack Lynn, Nyeem Wartman, Allen Gant, T.J. Neal, David Santos, Zaire Anderson, Joe Gilliam, David Cooper, Jon Reschke, Taiwan Jones, Ben Gedeon, Shane Jones, Brandon Bell, Nathan Gerry, Marcus Newby, Forisse Hardin, Mason Monheim, Mike Svetina, Eric Finney, Trey Johnson, Leon Jacobs, Reggie Spearman, Alec James, De'Vondre Campbell, De'Niro Laster, Damien Wilson, Josh Banderas, T.J. Simmons, Clyde Newton, Marcus Oliver, Ben Kline, Drew Smith, Nick Rallis, Troy Reeder, James Ross III, Joe Schobert, Raekwon McMillan, Gelen Robinson, Gary Wooten, Ed Davis, Travis Perry, Brian Knorr, Cole Farrand, Matt Robinson, Marcus Whitfield, Jaylen Prater, B1G spring positions 14, Darron Lee, L.A. Goree, Alex Twine, Yannik Cudjoe-Virgil, Abner Logan, Danny Ezechukwu, Steve Longa, Kevin Snyder, Quentin Gause, Jamal Merrell, Davon Jacobs, L.J. Liston

Believe it or not, spring football in the Big Ten is just around the corner. Several teams moved up their spring practice dates, and three of them -- Maryland, Michigan and Northwestern -- will take the field next week.

Spring ball is all about development, and some position groups need to make significant strides before the summer.

Here are five ...

Illinois' defensive line: Coach Tim Beckman kept his defensive staff in place for what should be a make-or-break season in Champaign. Coordinator Bill Cubit's presence should stabilize the offense despite the loss of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, so the season likely hinges on whether the defense improves. There are some nice returning pieces at linebacker, but the line needs a boost after Illinois finished last in the Big Ten and 116th nationally against the run. Lineman Paul James, who originally signed with Illinois in 2013 but delayed his enrollment until January, is among those who will take the field this spring. There's plenty of competition throughout the line, and while help arrives this summer with Jihad Ward and others, Illinois needs some linemen to emerge right away.

Michigan's offensive line: Despite a first-round draft pick at left tackle (Taylor Lewan), Michigan's front five struggled mightily during the 2013 season, as young players didn't blossom quickly enough and the team couldn't consistently run the ball between the tackles. Coordinator Al Borges took the fall, but line coach Darrell Funk and his group will be under the microscope when the Wolverines begin spring practice Feb. 25. Michigan started nine different linemen in 2013 and used five lineup combinations. As tackles Lewan and Michael Schofield both depart, every position is up for grabs this spring. It will also be interesting to see how new coordinator Doug Nussmeier makes an impact on the line.

[+] EnlargeNebraska vs Minnesota
Jesse Johnson/USA TODAY SportsMitch Leidner is the only quarterback with college game experience on the Minnesota roster.
Minnesota's quarterbacks: At least nine Big Ten teams will have true quarterback competitions this spring, but arguably none has as much mystery as Minnesota. Philip Nelson's transfer following the season creates a wide-open race between Mitch Leidner, Chris Streveler, Conor Rhoda and Dimonic Roden-McKinzy, a dynamic, dual-threat quarterback who enrolled mid-year and will participate in spring practice. Leidner is the only quarterback with college game experience, appearing in 10 games last fall and recording 1,026 yards (619 passing, 403 rushing). Perhaps Leidner separates himself, but no matter what, Minnesota wants a clearer picture coming out of the spring.

Ohio State's linebackers: Coach Urban Meyer has made it very clear that Ohio State's linebacker play has fallen short of program standards. Meyer singled out the linebacker position in the 2014 recruiting class, saying on national signing day, "Far too many mistakes have been made in either lack of development or whatever, and it's just not where we need to be." Ohio State loses by far its best linebacker in Ryan Shazier, so there's pressure on returnees such as Curtis Grant, Joshua Perry and Camren Williams, as well as newcomers such as five-star prospect Raekwon McMillan, a mid-year enrollee who will be on the field this spring. Meyer said there are no redshirt plans for McMillan or the other three linebackers in the 2014 class.

Wisconsin's wide receivers: The Badgers' quarterback competition likely will garner more attention, but whoever emerges under center will need more options in the passing game. Jared Abbrederis has been Wisconsin's wide receiving corps for the past two season, and he'll be playing in the NFL this fall. You can only get by so much with pass-catching tight ends and running backs, so receivers coach Chris Beatty and his group need a strong spring session. Jordan Fredrick, Kenzel Doe and Alex Erickson lead the returnees, but Wisconsin needs young players such as speedster Robert Wheelwright to emerge. Help is on the way this summer as several promising recruits arrive, but Wisconsin can't pin its hopes exclusively on incoming freshmen.

A record number of underclassmen elected to take the NFL plunge this year, but the Big Ten barely made a splash. Only four Big Ten juniors are entering the draft, continuing a recent downturn after just six left early a year ago. Several stars certainly could have entered the draft, so this is good news for fans who enjoy seeing the league's top players stay for a fourth year. But it also underscores a lack of top talent, especially when compared to the SEC and Pac-12.

Despite a small contingent of early entries, Big Ten teams have some significant holes to fill. As spring ball approaches, here's a look at who's gone and who might replace them.

Leaving: Indiana WR Cody Latimer

[+] EnlargeShane Wynn
AJ Mast/Icon SMIShane Wynn averaged 13.8 ypc this season and scored 11 TDs. His stock and those numbers should soar higher as he takes on a bigger role next season.
The replacement: Shane Wynn

Wynn and Latimer obviously have different body frames, but both produce at a high level, particularly when it comes to touchdowns. Latimer led Indiana by wide margins in both receptions (72, next highest: 47) and receiving yards (1,096, next highest total: 739), but Wynn had more touchdowns with 11 (Latimer at nine). The departures of Latimer, Kofi Hughes and tight end Ted Bolser make Wynn the team's only returning receiver with more than 15 receptions in 2013.

Indiana certainly could use a bigger receiver to play on the outside where Latimer roamed, and perhaps Nick Stoner or incoming recruit Dominique Booth fills that role. But the Hoosiers undoubtedly will rely more on Wynn, a 5-foot-7 dynamo who averaged 13.8 yards per reception last season. Of the Big Ten's early entries, Latimer is the most surprising, given the strength in the draft at wide receiver, but Indiana has had little trouble developing strong pass-catchers.

Leaving: Penn State WR Allen Robinson

The replacement: Geno Lewis

Latimer's departure raised a few eyebrows, but Robinson's had been expected for some time, especially after coach Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the NFL's Houston Texans. Robinson earned the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award in both 2012 and 2013 after recording back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to lead the league each year. The Penn State standout had 97 catches for 1,432 yards last season, topping the Big Ten charts in both categories despite not playing in the postseason.

Lewis likely will move into the No. 1 spot, in part because Penn State doesn't much experience at receiver. In addition to Robinson, the Lions lose No. 2 wideout Brandon Felder. Although Penn State returns a wealth of talent at tight end, Lewis is the leading returning wide receiver with 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. Lewis showed potential during his redshirt freshman season, especially with a 91-yard performance in the finale at Wisconsin. After struggling midway through the fall, Lewis' strong finish sets him up well to be quarterback Christian Hackenberg's top option in 2014.

Leaving: Ohio State CB Bradley Roby

The replacement: Doran Grant. Grant played opposite Roby throughout last season and recorded 58 tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He endured some ups and downs in a secondary that struggled for much of the season, especially after losing safety Christian Bryant to injury, but the experience should prove valuable going forward. Not surprisingly, Grant was challenged more than Roby, but as these numbers show, he held his own despite some mistakes here and there.

Roby's early departure is the least surprising of the group, as he announced before the season that it would be his last at Ohio State. His presence will be missed, especially on special teams, but Grant could develop into a top corner. Ohio State certainly has bigger problems to address in the back four as it welcomes in new coordinator/secondary coach Chris Ash from Arkansas.

Leaving: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

The replacement: Trey Johnson. Ohio State returns starters at the other two linebacker spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, and it's possible Perry could slide over into the role where Shazier excelled. But Johnson served as Shazier's backup in 2013 and boasts the athleticism to step in and perform. Johnson played sparingly last fall, recording 11 tackles in six games, but his role undoubtedly will expand with Shazier moving onto the NFL.

There should be plenty of competition at linebacker, a spot where depth has been a concern for head coach Urban Meyer. Like Johnson, Mike Mitchell came to Ohio State as an extremely decorated recruit and should push for playing time this spring after a redshirt season. Camren Williams and converted safety Devan Bogard also are possibilities, although Bogard will be coming off of a second ACL tear.

OSU's Shazier weighing possible return

December, 13, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The process of gathering information has essentially just started, and Ryan Shazier isn't going to rush to a decision about his NFL future.

But if the junior had to make a decision right now, Ohio State might be retaining the services of the All-American linebacker for one more season.

His decision-making process begins with discussions with his family and the coaching staff and includes a look at how much school he has left before graduating and, of course, projections of where he might land in the draft in April.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteThe Steelers' selection of Ohio State's Ryan Shazier took everyone by surprise -- including the hard-hitting linebacker.
Shazier made it clear he has plenty to think about before deciding to either skip his final year of eligibility or come back to the No. 7 Buckeyes. And while the positives and negatives on both sides made that decision difficult, Shazier did offer a narrow nod to sticking around as of Friday afternoon.

"Right now, I’m dead flat in the middle," Shazier said. "I don’t know what I’m going to do. If I would say anything, I’m probably leaning toward staying, but I don’t know what I’m doing right now. I’m just really focusing on this game [the Discover Orange Bowl vs. Clemson] right now.

"I’m just going to talk it over with my family and the coaches and just try to get the best analysis that I can, so when I do make a decision, it will be the best decision for me."

His choice will have a significant impact on the Buckeyes either way. Replacing Shazier will be no small task if he elects to turn pro after another wildly productive season at outside linebacker.

The dynamic athleticism and uncanny instincts that make Shazier an appealing option for NFL scouts makes him just as valuable to an Ohio State program that will again have national championship aspirations next season after coming up a game short in 2013.

Considering the lack of depth the Buckeyes showed at linebacker late in the season as injuries took a toll, continuing to rebuild with one of the nation's best defenders would clearly be beneficial in 2014. After replacing every other member of the front seven -- aside from Shazier -- a year ago, the Buckeyes would have starters back at every position around him next fall if he elects to return, including fellow linebackers Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry and a defensive line that developed into a strength this season.

On the other hand, Shazier could be a first-round pick in the draft and might not have all that much room to boost his stock while risking injury in another season with the Buckeyes.

And while he's weighing those pros and cons, one thing Shazier apparently won't be factoring in is the disappointment he's feeling after the Buckeyes' loss in the Big Ten title game last weekend.

"To be honest, this season is not really playing much of a role for coming back," Shazier said. "That last game is not going to be decision-maker for what I’m going to do.

"I’m just going to look at all the evaluations and whatever we feel is the best decision, how much school I have left, what is the best circumstance -- I’m going to look at everything before I make a decision. ... To be honest, I really don’t even know right now."

Notes from Urban Meyer in Indy

December, 6, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- Ohio State coach Urban Meyer dropped the newsiest item of the Big Ten championship game coaches' press conferences when he told the media that offensive lineman Marcus Hall would not start Saturday night's game.

The Buckeyes' second-year coach also had some other interesting things to say on the eve of the title game. Here are some highlights from Meyer's session:

• Middle linebacker Curtis Grant played sparingly against Michigan and missed the previous two games because of ankle and back injuries. Meyer said Grant "still has a little bit of a wobble" but that he practiced all week and should play Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY SportsUrban Meyer said Friday he was impressed with his defense's response to its performance vs. Michigan.
• Wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown has a small stress fracture in his leg, which has contributed to him recording only two catches for six yards the past two games. Meyer said Brown is not 100 percent but should be close to it for Michigan State. Earlier this week, Brown tweeted a response to the Spartans' "No-Fly Zone" nickname for their secondary, saying, "We fly whenever we please."

• Meyer said he didn't see any ill aftereffects for his defense following the performance at Michigan in which the Buckeyes gave up 41 points and 603 total yards. Sunday, he said, was tough when players had to watch the film from that game. But he said nobody hung their head during the week, and "I saw a team that went to work. ... I was impressed with how our defense responded."

• For the first time in two years under Meyer, Ohio State is actually in position to play for the national title since the Buckeyes are ranked No. 2 in the BCS this week. Win Saturday, and there's a great chance they will be in the championship game. But Meyer said "there has not been one peep" from his team about the BCS title implications.

"You wish you could get your guys, like raising your children, put them away on a desert island until they're ready to make the right decisions and focus," he said. "On top of that, it's been finals week at Ohio State. A lot of things going on. I like the maturity of our team. You lean on the coaches and the leaders on your team to stay focused. We'll see how we play. "

• How's this for respect: Meyer said Michigan State's defense is among the top three he's ever faced, including his time in the SEC.

Meyer said he and his coaching staff spent time studying the film of last year's 17-16 win in East Lansing even though it happened way back in September 2012. That was the fewest points the Buckeyes have scored in two years under Meyer. "We did not play great," he said. "We had two good drives. Other than that, it was not a very good performance by the Ohio State offense. "

• A reporter began his question noting that Meyer, who is 24-0 at Ohio State, would have to lose a game eventually. Meyer smiled and said, "[I] appreciate that."

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It says a lot about the place Ohio State finds itself that a 25-point conference road victory, in which it scored 60 points, provides fodder for critics and detractors.

But that's the nature of college football in late November for an undefeated team. Politicking and nit-picking all play into a sport that chooses its championship game largely by way of popular opinion, creating a week-to-week beauty pageant.

Urban Meyer admitted after Saturday's 60-35 victory at Illinois that he and his team got a little too caught up in all the national title talk recently. Following a performance filled with warts, if not outright worry, Meyer wants the No. 3 Buckeyes to hop off that carousel.

"We need to make sure our focus is on just getting better each week instead of all the national stuff," Meyer said. "I think I'm learning a lesson. Just shut your mouth and quit worrying about this, quit worrying about that."

[+] EnlargeOhio State Touchdown
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsOhio State's Carlos Hyde crosses the goal line for the first of five touchdowns he scored Saturday at Illinois.
Meyer even suggested that he will restrict media access to his players in the next few weeks. Issues such as style points and schedule strength have dominated the discussion in recent weeks for Ohio State, and wide receiver Evan Spencer made waves last week by saying, albeit somewhat jokingly, that his team would "wipe the floor" with Alabama and Florida State. Linebacker Ryan Shazier said Saturday that "everybody was up in our heads" about the national title race during the Buckeyes' bye week.

Any distractions that might have caused didn't surface until well into Saturday's game. Ohio State, as it does just about every week, seized immediate control of the game, racing out to a 28-0 lead with 10:20 left in the first half. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 63-0 in the first quarter in their past three games.

But the Illini -- who now own the nation's longest conference losing streak at 20 games, the second-worst streak in Big Ten history -- found a hole in the Buckeyes' most airtight unit this season: punt coverage. V'Angelo Bentley scored on a 67-yard punt return in the second quarter to give his team some life. Led by a gutsy effort from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois sliced the lead to 14 early in the second half and trailed by only 12 with less than five minutes to play.

"When we got up big, everybody just kind of mellowed," Ohio State receiver Corey "Philly" Brown said. "We thought they would give up and they didn't. ...

"It was a big-time wake-up call."

Unlike the previous two games, the Buckeyes had to play their starters the whole way. Meyer had hoped to rest left tackle Jack Mewhort, who tweaked his knee in practice Wednesday, but he was forced to put Mewhort back in during the second half.

Ohio State couldn't exhale until Carlos Hyde ripped off two 50-yard-plus touchdown runs in the final 4:03, and on a windy day that made passing a challenge, Meyer rode the running skills of quarterback Braxton Miller harder than he had all season. Miller finished with 184 yards on 16 carries.

But it was the defensive effort that proponents of teams such as Baylor and Stanford will harp on, as Ohio State gave up 420 yards and its highest point total of the season. Few will give the Buckeyes a pass for missing starting linebackers Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant or for losing starting defensive lineman Joey Bosa to a neck injury after he had rung up 2.5 sacks. Meyer called the defensive performance simply "not good enough."

"That is unacceptable from us," safety C.J. Barnett said. "Illinois is a good team with some great athletes, but at the same time, we expect more from ourselves."

Only in college football would a team that secured its 22nd consecutive victory with a 25-point road win be scrutinized and criticized. And make no mistake: The Buckeyes were not satisfied with their showing. The truth is that they're not going to the BCS title game unless Alabama or Florida State lose, and their best argument remains the long winning streak.

Just don't expect to hear much about that subject from the Ohio State camp in the coming days.

"There will be a lot more focus on Indiana this week," Barnett said, "instead of worrying about the big picture or what's in the future. We need to worry about the right here and now."
Five lessons from four games in Week 5. Got that?

Let's go ...

1. Ohio State's young defense is growing up: Lost amid the Braxton Miller-Kenny Guiton debate this week was the fact a mostly young Ohio State defense with only one returning starter in the front seven would be put to the test by Melvin Gordon, James White and the formidable Wisconsin run game. The young Bucks certainly earned a passing grade after holding Wisconsin to just 104 yards on 27 carries. Gordon's knee injury limited the Badgers, but Ohio State prevented big runs and forced Wisconsin to win the game through the air. Linebacker Ryan Shazier shined, while linebacker Curtis Grant and lineman Michael Bennett both recorded sacks. The loss of safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending ankle injury is a big blow, but Ohio State has enough talent in the secondary to make up for it, as long as they don't run into Jared Abbrederis again soon. Ohio State's offense will win plenty of games, but you know what they say about defenses and championship. These might not be the typical Silver Bullets, but they're developing and can build on Saturday's performance as they face an even another formidable offense in Northwestern next week.

[+] EnlargeMichael Bennett
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJoel Stave and the Badgers hung around, but they were eventually tamed by Michael Bennett and the Buckeyes.
2. Wisconsin is an excellent 56-minute team: Gary Andersen's crew showed plenty of grit Saturday night in Columbus. Quarterback Joel Stave quieted some of his critics -- thanks in large part to a career performance from Abbrederis (10 catches, 207 yards, 1 TD) -- and linebacker Chris Borland was brilliant, as usual. But Wisconsin's inability to finish off halves remains a troubling trend, and it surfaced in the loss to Ohio State. The Badgers trailed by only three points when freshman cornerback Sojourn Shelton dropped an easy interception near the goal line. Miller found Philly Brown for a 40-yard touchdown on the next play, giving Ohio State a huge boost with one second left in the half. Wisconsin struggled to manage the clock down the stretch as its comeback attempt fell short. This isn't a team built to come back in games based on the pass game, and it showed. Coupled with the Arizona State debacle (granted, more officiating than execution), Wisconsin has had a lot of bad things happen at critical moments. That's what could separate the Badgers from a fourth consecutive Big Ten title.

3. Iowa will be a factor in the Legends Division: The Hawkeyes might not be a great team yet, but it's clear they are vastly improved from last season. On Saturday, Iowa went into Minnesota and pushed the Gophers around on their home turf, piling up 464 total yards and allowing only 30 rushing yards in a 23-7 win. The pig will return to Iowa City, but even more importantly, the hogs up front are getting it done in classic Kirk Ferentz fashion. Iowa has rushed for at least 200 yards in every game this season and went for 246 against a Minnesota defense that thought it had made strides in that area. This team has an identity, and it starts with the power running game led by Mark Weisman and a solid offensive line. Quarterback Jake Rudock has shown an ability to extend plays, and Iowa even got an explosive play in the passing game when Damond Powell took a short pass 74 yards to paydirt. The defense is also playing well right now; the Gophers' only score came after a long kickoff return. The Hawkeyes are 4-1 and gets Michigan State at home next week, while Northwestern and Michigan still must come to Kinnick Stadium. The schedule is difficult the rest of the way, but Iowa will have a big say in who wins the Legends.

4. Nathan Scheelhaase is the Big Ten's most improved player: A year ago, Scheelhaase was sputtering at the helm of one of the nation's worst offenses, hardly resembling the player who had shown promise as a freshman and during the first part of his sophomore season. No Big Ten player has made bigger strides in the past season than the Illinois senior quarterback, who threw five first-half touchdown passes Saturday against Miami (Ohio) and finished with 278 pass yards on 19 of 24 attempts. Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten in passing yards and is second in touchdowns (12), tripling his total from last season. He's just five touchdown passes shy of his single-season best and 15 shy of Kurt Kittner's single-season team record. Offensive coordinator Bill Cubit deserves a lot of credit for Scheelhaase's surge -- and that of the entire Illini offense -- but Scheelhaase clearly is back on track after a year and a half in the dark. It will be interesting to see what he does this week against Nebraska's shaky defense.

5. Future starts now for Etling, Purdue: Darrell Hazell stuck with senior quarterback Rob Henry through this season's early offensive struggles, but the Purdue coach realized it was time for a change Saturday against Northern Illinois. The last straw was Henry's second interception of the first half, a terribly thrown floater into the Huskies' end zone. That prompted Hazell to give the reins over to true freshman Danny Etling, the prized former recruit who made his collegiate debut. This was no fairy tale, so Etling didn't lead the Boilermakers to a comeback victory. He threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, and narrowly avoided another one. But Etling (19-for-39, 241 yards) did show good mobility and flashed his strong arm, especially on his first career touchdown pass, a 16-yarder to Cameron Posey. The offense will have more of a chance to stretch the field with him under center. Quarterback is hardly the only problem for Purdue, which got housed 55-24 at home by a MAC team and might have a hard time finding another win this season. But while Boilers fans don't like to see the words "Danny" and "hope" in the same sentence, Etling at least gives them something to look forward to as Hazell tries to work the program out of this mess.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

September, 6, 2013
As you read this, I'll be en route to Ann Arbor. Anything going on tomorrow night?

Remember, Twitter!

To the inbox ...

Alex from Charlottesville, Va., writes: Adam, there is some talk going around saying Michigan needs to replace the Notre Dame game with an annual series against another big-time opponent. Who do you think would be the most ideal candidate(s)? What about the most realistic? I like the idea of a Michigan/ACC matchup (VT, Florida State and Clemson all seem like they could be great rivalries). Living in ACC country there really hasn't been much overlap between the two conferences. I feel like we see the SEC/Pac-12/Big 12 a lot during the bowl season.

Adam Rittenberg: Alex, I'd rather see a variety of opponents for Michigan than just one on an annual basis. The Notre Dame series was unique because of the schools' histories, their proximity and other factors. Wouldn't you rather see Michigan play a home-and-home with Florida State, followed by one with Virginia Tech, and then one with Clemson? The Virginia Tech series is already set for 2020 and 2021. The upside of the Notre Dame hiatus is that Michigan can mix it up with its opponents. I'd like to see the Wolverines play some prominent Pac-12 schools in non-league play (Stanford, UCLA, USC).

Nick from Howard, Ohio, writes: Listening to sports radio locally an interesting question came up: of the out-of-conference games Ohio State has, which conference would fans like to see them play annually? I think this could include all B1G teams. Personally, I'd like to see Ohio State play an SEC team every year as one of the first games of the season, as well as all B1G teams. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: I'd love to see it, too, Nick, as the SEC will be the measuring stick for every other conference until someone dethrones it for a national title. Unfortunately, what we'd like to see in scheduling often doesn't match up with reality. Most SEC programs have shown no interest in venturing to Big Ten country for true home-and-homes (Alabama being the lone exception). They'll do neutral-site games, typically those closer to SEC country like at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, but there's not much push to play the Big Ten.

The playoff will help with overall scheduling and we've already seen several good moves, including those with the SEC (Wisconsin opens against LSU in 2014 and 2016, and against Alabama in 2015). One drawback with Ohio State is that athletic director Gene Smith seems lukewarm at best about neutral-site games, which often are the best way to schedule high-profile SEC opponents. I could see the Buckeyes playing a neutral-site game every once in a while, but with the nine-game Big Ten scheduling coming, facing the SEC annually doesn't seem realistic.

Dan from Des Moines, Iowa, writes: Thought I'd write in from over at the Big 12 blog today. Going through the Big 12's future bowl lineup, there are no games against Big 10 teams. Living in Big 10/12 country in Iowa, I look forward to those matchups. Is there some sort of rift between the two conferences that we're unaware of, or is this simply a matter of the Big 12 trying to increase its matchups with the SEC and the Big 10 with the Pac-12/ACC? Thanks.

Adam Rittenberg: It's a shame the Big Ten and Big 12 won't meet in the postseason beginning next year. I thought they would match up in the two Dallas-area bowls (Heart of Dallas, Armed Forces), but it sounds as if they'll actually share those tie-ins but go against other leagues (Conference USA, American). It's the only thing I don't like about the Big Ten's lineup, as I felt a push into California was long overdue and much needed. The problem with the recent Big Ten-Big 12 bowl pairings has been mismatched teams. It always seemed like a mediocre Big Ten team would face a Big 12 squad that entered the season with BCS bowl aspirations. The results have been pretty ugly for the Big Ten. If the two leagues could match up in a higher-tier bowl like the Alamo, it would be great, but the Pac-12 has replaced the Big Ten there. Just an unfortunate situation, but there's no bad blood I'm aware of between the leagues. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is a Big Ten guy (former Iowa athletic director).

Misplaced Gopher from Fargo, N.D., writes: Adam, I need you to explain something to me. Why are so many writers and TV talking heads willing to project improvement for Indiana but not for Minnesota? Why the reluctance to credit the Gophers for improvements in personnel, execution and wins? All summer we've heard encouraging words about Indiana, but Minnesota's future has been downplayed. Now I'm looking at your Week 2 picks (both yours and Brian's) and you're both making their game against NMSU a close affair. Why is it so easy for you to see Indiana getting better, but so hard to perceive any improvement on Minnesota's part? Case in point: Indiana gets gushing praise from all quarters for blowing out a bad FCS team last week, but Minnesota gets criticism or faint praise for a four-touchdown win against a team that took them to triple OT last year. Personally, I think it's a lack of imagination. Not in the dreamy la-la-land sense, but in terms of vision. You commentators have a lot to keep track of, and your job is easier if you can generalize. So you embrace a herd mentality, rarely expressing an opinion different from the consensus, assuming (for the sake of ease) that bad teams have to stay bad, and considering it a surprise if any down program ever improves.What do you think?

Adam Rittenberg: A Minnesota-Indiana hype debate?!?! Bring it on! Seriously, Gopher, I'm surprised you're getting upset by this. Is Indiana really getting that much more praise than Minnesota? Maybe a little, but look where Indiana is coming from (1-11 in 2011), while Minnesota has stabilized under coach Jerry Kill following the Tim Brewster mess. Both programs are viewed as being on the rise, at least by the Big Ten blog. But the truth is neither team deserves a ton of praise for beating lowly UNLV and Indiana State.

The Minnesota score was misleading, as the Gophers sputtered on offense for much of the night and couldn't stop UNLV on fourth downs. Credit Minnesota for making big plays, especially on special teams, and Ra'Shede Hageman looks ready for a huge senior season. But you're deluding yourself if you think there isn't a lot of room for improvement. Indiana looked great on offense, but it should against Indiana State. And the Hoosiers' historically poor defense still allowed some garbage-time points. Do our Minnesota-NM State predictions really bother you? They shouldn't. Neither of these teams deserves any real praise until they go out and beat somebody. For Minnesota, the big game comes on Sept. 21 against San Jose State and standout quarterback David Fales. We'll learn a lot more about the Gophers' trajectory after that contest.

Paul from Grand Rapids, Mich., writes: Ohio State only ran 69 plays Saturday against Buffalo. Is this the "Jet Tempo" pace Meyer has been talking about? When Oregon is running 84 plays a game, 69 is pretty slow if you ask me.

Adam Rittenberg: Ohio State is not Oregon, Paul. The Buckeyes aren't trying to be the Ducks on offense. Urban Meyer has said that the 2012 season was the first time he really used a hurry-up tempo with his offense, and even then, it's not at the core of what they do. Sure, it'll help from time to time, but Ohio State's version of the spread -- based around the power-running game and vertical passes -- differs sharply from Oregon's sped-up version.

Chris from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: My question is in relation to the QB situation at MSU, obviously a popular topic. How many QBs do you project will play on Saturday and which ones? I have been a loyal Spartan fan for about 14 years, and I have never seen MSU struggle so much finding the right QB. Also, considering all of the MSU QBs that went on to play in the NFL, this problem is hard to fathom.

Adam Rittenberg: Chris, you're certainly not alone in your frustration with the situation under center in East Lansing. I expect Michigan State to play three quarterbacks against South Florida: Andrew Maxwell, Connor Cook and Tyler O'Connor. There's a chance the Spartans play only one or two if the starter or backup gets hot, but I think the coaches need to evaluate all three in game situations before the Week 4 trip to Notre Dame Stadium. Maxwell has been unable to take charge of the job, and Cook didn't do much to help his cause last week against Western Michigan. I expect O'Connor to get an extended look against South Florida. It's probably not Damion Terry time just yet, as coach Mark Dantonio seems concerned about hurting the confidence of such a young player. "He just got here," Dantonio said this week. "So you don't want to ruin a person."

Rich from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, help me out with this no-helmet rule. Last week, OSU's Curtis Grant was flagged for continuing to play after his helmet popped off. Is he supposed to just freeze and risk taking a hit that could lead to a serious injury (especially with no helmet on)? I can understand him sitting out on the next play, but a 15-yard penalty?

Adam Rittenberg: The rule states that if a player's helmet pops off, he cannot attempt to make a tackle, continue a block or keep running a pass route. So yes, he has to just freeze because he could risk a serious head injury. The thinking is that the injury risk for a player who freezes isn't as great as the one for a player attempting to make a tackle without a helmet. That, to me, makes sense. The rules are a little weird because the play is whistled dead only if the ball-carrier's helmet flies off, so the rule applying to Grant hurts the defense because he's effectively taken out of the play.

Aaron from Minneapolis writes: So I realize that it is just one week, but did this weekend show that maybe the ban on FCS opponents was a bit off the mark? Sure, most FCS programs are still not up to facing Big Ten competition, but the last few seasons have shown that the top-tier FCS football teams have closed the gap on their FBS counterparts considerably, and teams like North Dakota State and Eastern Washington could probably consider themselves better than a number of non-BCS conferences teams that the Big Ten will continue to schedule. I realize that money and TV ratings play into all this, but I guarantee that an NDSU game against Iowa or Minnesota would garner more attention locally than one against New Mexico State or Ball State.

Adam Rittenberg: Aaron, I wrote about the FCS success in Week 1, and I completely agree that some of the power programs at that level are superior to the bottom rung of the FBS. The tricky thing is how to regulate the scheduling. Do you identify a set of FCS teams (North Dakota State, Eastern Washington, Northern Iowa) that are OK to schedule? Those teams can change from year to year, and teams projected to do well can falter and create unappealing matchups. I think the Big Ten views it as an all-or-nothing deal. The league understands Minnesota-North Dakota State resonates more than Minnesota-New Mexico State, but if it eliminates the really lousy FCS teams from the Big Ten schedule, it's a win in the long run.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 15, 2013
Psst. It's Rittenberg's birthday. We're going to turn out the lights, and when he walks in everybody yell, "Surprise!"

Ohio State season preview

August, 12, 2013
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.


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.
Last week, we took a look at some players who have a lot to prove this fall in the Big Ten, both in the Leaders and the Legends divisions. Now, we're wondering which player you think has the most to prove in 2013.


Which of these players has the most to prove in 2013?


Discuss (Total votes: 5,675)

The candidates:
  • Taylor Martinez, QB, Nebraska: Martinez likely will end his career owning every major Nebraska quarterback record, but he needs to show he can win big games on the road, avoid turnovers and deliver a long-awaited championship to Lincoln if he wants to be remembered as a true Huskers legend.
  • Andrew Maxwell, QB, Michigan State: Not even guaranteed to start in 2013, Maxwell has to hold off Connor Cook for the job this fall and turn around a very shaky Spartans passing game. The team is set up to win with its defense and schedule, but Michigan State needs much better quarterback play than it received in 2012.
  • Fitz Toussaint, RB, Michigan: A disappointing 2012 season saw Toussaint follow up a 1,000-yard year with just 514 rushing yards before he broke his leg in November. Top recruit Derrick Green didn't plan on sitting on the bench when he signed with the Wolverines. And with Denard Robinson gone, the tailbacks need to lead the way in the rushing game.
  • Curtis Grant, LB, Ohio State: One of the top recruits in the Class of 2011, Grant has only 10 carer tackles heading into his junior season and couldn't hold down a starting job last year. The Buckeyes are counting on him this year as their starting middle linebacker, and they'll need him to perform in a very inexperienced front seven on defense.
  • Nathan Scheelhaase, QB, Illinois: Scheelhaase is a three-year starter who has played in 36 games, but he threw for just 1,361 yards and four touchdowns last year, vs. eight interceptions. Now in another new offense, Scheelhaase will be counted on to lead the Illini back from last year's 2-10 disaster as Reilly O'Toole and freshman Aaron Bailey nip at his heels.

Which of these players has the most to prove? Vote now in our poll.
Tireless football previewer/prognosticator Phil Steele has come out with his preseason All-Big Ten teams, and when Steele gives predictions we usually lean forward in our chairs a little.

His eponymous preseason magazine claims to be the most accurate guide in the marketplace, and to his credit Steele did correctly forecast Nebraska and Wisconsin to make the Big Ten title game last season. You can find his preseason all-conference teams -- which go four deep on offense and defense -- on his blog here.

There are the obvious first-team choices, like Ohio State's Braxton Miller at quarterback, Northwestern running back Venric Mark, Penn State receiver Allen Robinson, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Nebraska guard Spencer Long on offense. (Steele goes with 12-man units on both offense and defense, with three receivers and two running backs on offense and four linebackers on defense). He chose Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah for the first team, with Ohio State's Carlos Hyde and Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon as his second-team backs. Incoming Michigan true freshman Derrick Green makes an appearance on the fourth team.

Steele has Taylor Martinez as his second-team quarterback, followed by Michigan's Devin Gardner on the third team. I'm surprised to see Ohio State's Devin Smith at second-team receiver, ahead of teammate Corey Brown, who only made the third team but was more productive than Smith last year and much better this spring. Steele also puts Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen and Iowa's C.J. Fiedorowicz as his first- and second-team tight ends, ahead of Penn State's Kyle Carter. I question that choice.

On defense, there are the no-brainer first-team selections you'd expect: Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough, Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland, Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby and Michigan State corner Darqueze Dennard. Steele's first-team defensive line is Michigan State's Marcus Rush, Northwestern's Tyler Scott, Minnesota's Ra'Shede Hageman and Purdue's Bruce Gaston, while Illinois' Jonathan Brown rounds out the four-man linebacker crew. The first-team defense includes four Michigan State players (safety Isaiah Lewis is the other) and three Buckeyes (safety Christian Bryant joins Shazier and Roby).

Penn State's Deion Barnes -- the reigning Big Ten freshman of the year -- only makes the second team at defensive end. I think I'd rather have him than the steady Rush. Steele also chooses Ohio State defensive end Adolphus Washington for the second team and fellow Buckeyes sophomore Noah Spence for the fourth team, though both have the potential to do more than that. Surprisingly, Steele also has Ohio State's Curtis Grant -- a guy with a lot to prove -- as a second-team linebacker.

Ohio State leads the way with six selections on the first-team offense and defense, followed by Michigan State with those four defenders. Nebraska, Northwestern and Wisconsin have three first-team picks each. Michigan has only two total players on Steele's first two teams, with Jeremy Gallon a second-teamer at receiver. Iowa and Indiana do not have any first-team selections on offense or defense, though the Hawkeyes' Jordan Cotton was named first-team kick returner.