Big Ten: Dontre Wilson

Let's get this Queen song queued up -- and, for Adam Rittenberg's team, we'll have another ready -- because it's down to just Austin Ward and me in the final week.

Ward needs to beat me by 57 points to win our championship, so the odds are against him. But it's not over just yet; I've been outscored by that much twice this season.

It's been a see-saw year but, ultimately, it's no coincidence the top two teams just happen to have the top two fantasy players. Melvin Gordon has earned me an average of 34.8 fantasy points per week, while J.T. Barrett has gotten Ward 33.4 points a game. Rittenberg was in the driver's seat early on with Ameer Abdullah (24.9 ppg), but the MCL injury hurt The Trombone Shorties as much as it did the Nebraska Cornhuskers.

We'll know our champion for sure by Saturday night. In the meantime, here's a look at the scoring, waiver-wire moves and final rosters.

Your results this week:

Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 137
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 124
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 89
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 75
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 57

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,597
Massive Attack: 1,541
The Trombone Shorties: 1,416
Legendary Leaders: 1,239
Sherman Tanks: 1,105

Waiver wire: Only seven moves were made in our final week, and none were all that significant. Rittenberg was forced to find a replacement for Trevor Siemian, but most of us just picked up players based on their matchups this weekend. Sherman didn't even make a move.

Bennett adds Northwestern WR Kyle Prater and drops Michigan WR Devin Funchess

Rittenberg adds Indiana WR Shane Wynn and drops Nebraska WR Kenny Bell

Ward adds Michigan kickers and drops Penn State kickers

Moyer adds Maryland defense and drops Penn State defense

Rittenberg adds Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole and drops Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian

Moyer adds Maryland WR Deon Long and drops Maryland QB C.J. Brown

Rittenberg adds Northwestern defense and drops Michigan defense

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Maryland WR Deon Long
Wisconsin kickers
Maryland defense
Bench: Michigan WR Amara Darboh (at Ohio State)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Illinois RB Josh Ferguson
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Michigan kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Minnesota RB David Cobb (at Wisconsin)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Maryland kickers
Northwestern defense
Bench: Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson (vs. Michigan)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Northwestern WR Kyle Prater
Illinois WR Mike Dudek
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Illinois QB Wes Lunt (at Northwestern)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Michigan RB De'Veon Smith
Purdue RB Akeem Hunt
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa WR Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Corey Clement (vs. Minnesota)
Just like the West Division, our league's race is starting to clear up.

Thanks to huge days by Melvin Gordon (64 fantasy points) and J.T. Barrett (44 fantasy points), it now appears as if it's just a two-team race between the Coal Crackers and Massive Attack. Who will come out on top these last two weeks?

Stay tuned ...

Your results this week:

Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 186
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 156
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 107
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 76
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 63

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,460
Massive Attack: 1,417
The Trombone Shorties: 1,327
Legendary Leaders: 1,164
Sherman Tanks: 1,048

Waiver wire: Rittenberg trails by 133 points after a down week and, as a result, he is trying to make up for some lost ground. He accounted for exactly half of our league's six moves this week. But, overall, last week's starting rosters are mostly intact.

Sherman adds Michigan RB De'Veon Smith and drops Nebraska RB Imani Cross

Bennett adds Michigan WR Devin Funchess and drops Penn State TE Jesse James

Rittenberg adds Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian and drops Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy

Moyer adds Michigan WR Amara Darboh and drops Illinois WR Geronimo Allison

Rittenberg adds the Michigan defense and drops the Rutgers defense

Rittenberg adds the Maryland kickers and drops the Minnesota kickers

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Michigan WR Amara Darboh
Wisconsin kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Maryland QB C.J. Brown (at Michigan)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Penn State kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Illinois RB Josh Ferguson (vs. Penn State)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Maryland kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson (vs. Indiana)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Illinois WR Mike Dudek
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave (at Iowa)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Michigan RB De'Veon Smith
Purdue RB Akeem Hunt
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Corey Clement (at Iowa)
It's been a crazy season so far.

As the weeks have progressed, our championship picture has only become more muddled. Just 23 points now separate the top three teams, and only three weekends remain. Can The Trombone Shorties bounce back? Will J.T. Barrett lead Massive Attack to victory? Can the Coal Crackers hang on?

Stay tuned ...

Your results this week:

Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 130
Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 114
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 98
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 78
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 27

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,274
Massive Attack: 1,261
The Trombone Shorties: 1,251
Legendary Leaders: 1,057
Sherman Tanks: 985

Waiver wire: Thankfully, the bye weeks are just about over -- so there wasn't as much movement. Half of the pickups simply involved Nebraska and Illinois players, who had the last week off. The most interesting addition was probably Sherman's Imani Cross; that could be a boom-or-bust pick.

Sherman adds Rutgers QB Gary Nova and drops Michigan QB Devin Gardner

Bennett adds Illinois WR Mike Dudek and drops Indiana WR Shane Wynn

Rittenberg adds Nebraska WR Kenny Bell and drops Michigan WR Devin Funchess

Ward adds Michigan State defense and drops Minnesota defense

Moyer adds Illinois WR Geronimo Allison and drops Iowa WR Tevaun Smith

Sherman adds Nebraska RB Imani Cross and drops Michigan RB Drake Johnson

Rittenberg adds Rutgers defense and drops Michigan defense

Moyer adds C.J. Brown and drops Michigan WR Amara Darboh

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Maryland QB C.J. Brown
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Illinois WR Geronimo Allison
Wisconsin kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Purdue QB Austin Appleby (on bye)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Penn State kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Illinois RB Josh Ferguson (vs. Iowa)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Minnesota kickers
Rutgers defense
Bench: Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson (at Minnesota)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Penn State TE Jesse James
Illinois WR Mike Dudek
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Wisconsin QB Joel Stave (vs. Nebraska)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
Nebraska RB Imani Cross
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Purdue RB Akeem Hunt (on bye)
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There were offers on the table elsewhere to let Jalin Marshall throw every pass on offense. All Ohio State coach Urban Meyer needed to tell him was he might get to toss a few every once in a while.

A quarterback in high school, Marshall had to put any plans of being a full-timer at that position on the shelf if he wanted to fulfill his bigger dreams of playing at Ohio State and eventually moving on to the NFL.

But with all that experience at the position and enough talent left in his arm, the No. 8 Buckeyes aren’t letting it go to waste. And for a high-powered attack already seemingly overflowing with weapons, Marshall is blossoming into one of the most lethal because he’s capable of lining up anywhere -- and doing just about anything.

[+] EnlargeJalin Marshall
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesJalin Marshall's role seems likely to expand after Dontre Wilson's foot injury.
“I mean, coach Meyer said as the years go on, we want to expand your role as a player,” Marshall said. “I had to trust him in that, and I did have to come out and work hard to show him that I could do that, that I could make plays as a quarterback or a Wildcat quarterback. I feel like that’s coming into its own.

“I don’t think the chance to throw was a deal-breaker, but that did kind of make me smile a little bit.”

Marshall has given the Buckeyes plenty of reasons to grin recently as well, developing into the multipurpose threat Meyer craves in his offense and opening up all sorts of possibilities for a coaching staff not short on creativity.

Ohio State can throw it to Marshall, and he’s averaging 10 yards per reception and has scored twice on receptions. He can keep it on the ground, where he’s picked up 6 more yards per touch and added another score. He can go back and field punts or take kickoffs, where his explosive speed and juking ability make him a handful for defenders to tackle.

Now the Buckeyes are putting even more on his plate as a Wildcat quarterback who can do more than just take snaps and take off with the football. And that was exactly what Meyer had in mind when he hit the recruiting trail and saw what Marshall could do running the show in high school.

“We put the APB out every year for the multidimensional athlete on offense,” Meyer said. “ ... Over the years that position has evolved. You like moving those checkers around when you can have guys that can take direct snaps.

“So, Jalin Marshall played quarterback in high school. That's right where he should have played. He was the best player on that team. So the APB is always been out for those kind of athletes that can do multiple things.”

Marshall isn’t the only one currently on the roster, and the Buckeyes have shown both more willingness and flexibility with their personnel this season as Meyer starts incorporating the talented young skill players he’s been accumulating. But Ohio State will be without one of its staples for at least the rest of the regular season with H-back Dontre Wilson out following surgery for a broken foot. That could mean more playing time, and more roles, for Marshall.

The hard part for defenses will be figuring out exactly what he’ll do with those touches, particularly since it’s already on film that Ohio State trusts him to air it out. And while his only attempt so far was off the mark against Illinois, there could be more opportunities coming his way soon to boost a completion percentage that a former quarterback doesn't want to be associated with.

“Oh no, not at all, not at all,” Marshall joked. “There’s a couple passes that will be put in each week, just to try to disrupt the defense. I feel like if those plays are called, we can make a play.

“If the play does come, next time I’ll try to make that one up.”

The chances obviously don’t come as frequently as a part-timer. But Marshall is still a college quarterback after all, and the Buckeyes aren’t afraid to turn him loose.

Big Ten morning links

November, 13, 2014
Nov 13
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Another week, another huge game in the Big Ten. Maybe it would have been better not to save all the excitement up for November, but it's hard to complain right now.

1. B1G and not bad: Those early-season debacles outside of the league were supposed to be the death knell for the Big Ten, and they certainly generated a lot of punchlines. But in case anybody hasn’t noticed, the conference is actually a lot more highly thought of by the selection committee than it might be getting credit for, with only the SEC boasting more teams in the current Top 25 than the Big Ten’s five. There are some caveats that must be mentioned, starting with the number of teams still blocking the path of No. 8 Ohio State to the four-team field. And Minnesota might not be long for its spot at No. 25 if it can’t beat the Buckeyes on Saturday. But it’s worth noting that the Big Ten schedule might not actually be a drag on a potential one-loss league champ, because as it stands right now the résumés of Ohio State and Nebraska would both be boosted down the stretch by multiple matchups with ranked opponents in a league that seems to have overcome its rough start.

2. Under-the-radar matchup: The schedule this weekend is well stocked with intrigue, which should probably be enjoyed because Nov. 22 is looking pretty barren. But before worrying about that, Saturday presents a clear heavyweight battle in the West between Nebraska and Wisconsin, with a solid undercard between Ohio State and Minnesota. But while those games are stealing the spotlight, Michigan State’s visit to Maryland should be worth monitoring as well and could be meaningful in sorting out the final pecking order in the East and when bowl bids are handed out. The Terrapins have had some ups and downs in their first season in the Big Ten, but if they can overcome the fired-up, frustrated Spartans on Saturday, they could actually pull ahead into second place in the division with a head-to-head tiebreaker. Maybe that doesn’t mean all that much in the grand scheme of things, but it could be a useful recruiting tool for Randy Edsall down the line.

3. Michigan meltdown: If nothing else, the Wolverines can claim the national lead in public apologies this season. And the mess at Michigan this season isn’t just limited to on-field issues or even the athletic department, with president Mark Schlissel the latest to stick his foot in his mouth and seek forgiveness. Given everything that has gone wrong with the Wolverines this season, it’s getting to the point where nothing can really come as a surprise anymore and missteps barely even cause people to bat an eye. But that’s still pretty remarkable considering the history, tradition and reputation of that university on the field and in the classroom, and it’s fair to wonder if perhaps that might have an impact on the likely coaching search the program will be starting after the season. The problems don’t seem to be limited to just the football team, and maybe that will give a high-profile candidate a reason to pause if the Wolverines come calling.

East Division
  • Michigan has not ruled out a possible return this season for running back Derrick Green.
  • Michigan State was "handled" up front and not consistent enough on its defensive line last weekend, and it's aiming to get that cleaned up against Maryland.
  • Rutgers right tackle Taj Alexander has seen the value of being part of a rotation as a younger player, so he can't complain about being in one again as a veteran.
  • The "blackout" at Maryland will extend to the uniforms for the prime-time matchup with Michigan State.
  • Ohio State H-back Dontre Wilson could be back in time for a bowl game.
  • The future of Penn State's depth chart at quarterback.
  • The conversations about Indiana all revolve around quarterbacks.
West Division

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
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Our latest afternoon and evening of football was billed nationally as Separation Saturday, with six games between ranked teams set to reshape the College Football Playoff picture, including, of course, Ohio State-Michigan State in the Big Ten.

After the Buckeyes' 49-37 victory -- their league-record 21st straight in regular-season conference play -- the Saturday moniker appears to apply more so in the Big Ten than any place elsewhere on the Power 5 landscape.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesJ.T. Barrett accounted for five touchdowns in Ohio State's win over Michigan State.
Boosted by freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett, Ohio State has separated itself atop the Big Ten, according to the many pundits who watched OSU punish the Spartans en route to 568 yards of total offense.

But three weeks of play remain. An opponent from the West, presumably to face Ohio State, must be determined for the Big Ten championship game.

It's not over in the Big Ten. Really, it's not.

Also on Saturday, Wisconsin pushed forward with a 34-16 win at Purdue. Iowa provided its fans with reason to give up on this year, losing 51-14 at Minnesota. Great rebound, by the way, for the Gophers.

The other two games were not worth revisiting. But read on, and we'll get there:

Team of the week: Ohio State. The Buckeyes, if you stopped watching after Week 2, have outscored their past seven opponents 214-59 in the first half. They've also won 12 straight games on the road, the longest streak among FBS teams, and last lost at Spartan Stadium in 1999. Ohio State simply bullied its way to victory over the Spartans. Defensively, the Buckeyes blitzed Connor Cook effectively, holding the junior quarterback without a completion on six first-half attempts against five or more pass rushers. On offense, Ohio State gained 284 yards on designed rushes and became the first team to run for four touchdowns against Michigan State since Alabama in 2011 Capital One Bowl.

Biggest play: Ohio State trailed 21-14 when Barrett found Michael Thomas on a slant. Thomas slipped past cornerback Darian Hicks and outraced safety Kurtis Drummond to the end zone for a 79-yard reception. The Buckeyes never trailed from there. Adding to the impact of Thomas' big catch, it followed a 39-yard missed field goal by Michael Geiger after a holding penalty wiped out Jeremy Langford's touchdown run. And that came on the heels of a fumble by Ohio State receiver Dontre Wilson on a kickoff return. So to assess, a dramatic reversal of momentum that propelled Ohio State to a halftime lead.

Big Man on Campus (offense): Who do you think? Barrett finished with 300 yards on 16-of-26 passing with three touchdowns. He also rushed for 86 yards and two scores. That's five touchdowns, giving him 34 for the season -- two from tying Braxton Miller's school record set last year. And despite another 205 rushing yards from Melvin Gordon, it's hard now not to consider Barrett as the frontrunner for Big Ten offensive player of the year.

Big Man on Campus (defense): Michigan defensive end Frank Clark teamed with linebacker Jake Ryan to smother Northwestern in the Wolverines' 10-9 win. Clark gets the nod for his impact on the defining play of the game. After the Wildcats scored on a Tony Jones reception with three seconds to play, Clark chased Trevor Siemian on the two-point conversion as the Northwestern QB slipped to the ground. Credit Pat Fitzgerald with a gutsy call to go for the win. But credit Clark more for his readiness to make a crucial stop.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): Purdue kicker Paul Griggs connected on three field goals. His conversions from 53 and 52 yards with the wind at his back made him the first ever at Purdue to hit two field goals in the same game of 50 yards or longer.

Biggest faceplant: Take your pick among the offensive units in Michigan-Northwestern and Penn State's 13-7 win at Indiana. Only Penn State, among the foursome, made it to 300 yards. In Evanston, it was scoreless until De'Veon Smith's 3-yard touchdown run with 6:49 to play in the third quarter. On a particularly ugly sequence in the third quarter for Michigan, a snap from center Jack Miller hit Devin Funchess as the receiver ran in motion, leading to a turnover; when Michigan regained possession, QB Devin Gardner tripped and fell for a 7-yard loss.

Fun with numbers: Minnesota's 37-point margin of victory was its largest in a Big Ten game under coach fourth-year coach Jerry Kill. Minnesota tight end Maxx Williams caught three touchdown pass and set a season position record at the school with seven. ... The Gophers are 6-0 at home for the first time since 1977. ... Barrett has thrown 22 touchdowns with three interceptions in Ohio State's past seven games. ... The Buckeyes are 20-0 when Devin Smith catches a touchdown. ... Urban Meyer is 36-3 in November since 2003. ... Eight Wisconsin receivers caught at least one pass against Purdue. ... The Boilermakers rushed for 26 yards on 26 carries, the third straight and sixth of nine Wisconsin foes to rush for fewer than 100 yards. ... Gordon accumulated 249 yards of total offense. He has scored multiple touchdowns in six of the Badgers' past seven games. ... Wisconsin QB Joel Stave threw for a season-high 219 yards.

Big Ten morning links

November, 10, 2014
Nov 10
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Good morning, and welcome to the Big Ten's new world order ...

There were many highlights from Urban Meyer's first two years at Ohio State. The Buckeyes went undefeated while on probation in his first season in Columbus, then started 12-0 in 2013 before losing the final two.

Yet there was a gnawing sense of unfinished business that had to do with the lack of a bowl game in 2012 and the losses in the Big Ten title game and the Orange Bowl a year ago. Meyer had the Buckeyes buzzing, but they hadn't really beaten anyone of note. The Week 2 loss to Virginia Tech at home this year, as the team looked to replace the injured Braxton Miller, seemed to further delay the timetable toward true greatness.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsSophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott is one of several emerging stars on the Ohio State offense.
That's why Saturday's 49-37 win at No. 8 Michigan State could be the start of something really special for Ohio State under Meyer. The offense on display in East Lansing is now more powerful and diverse than anything the Buckeyes had in the previous two seasons, thanks to J.T. Barrett and a growing arsenal of skill players. And the defense is no longer a sieve in the back end.

Here's the truly scary thing for the rest of the Big Ten: the Buckeyes' two-deep for the Michigan State game listed 19 freshmen or sophomores, including guys like Barrett, Ezekiel Elliott, Michael Thomas, Dontre Wilson and Curtis Samuel on offense. Ohio State is in line to bring back as many as 15 starters next year, not counting whatever happens with Miller.

All that speed and talent Meyer has recruited is blossoming now, and his 24-0 run may have only been the prelude. Maybe the Buckeyes won't get to the playoff because that Virginia Tech loss is such an albatross. But they look like they're ready to return toward dominating the Big Ten.

Meyer has Ohio State back where it belongs, Dan Wetzel writes. Here come the Buckeyes, and they're here to stay, Michael Rosenberg says. A hidden program resurfaced, Chuck Culpepper writes. Beating the Spartans was Ohio State's best regular-season win since 2006.

More links ...

East Division
West Division
It has been a seesaw battle for that top spot and, once again, we have a new leader.

It's my first time all season at No. 1 -- but that might be short-lived. Only 29 points separate first place from the second runner-up, so today's top team can just as easily be tomorrow's No. 3. It should be an interesting next few weeks.

Also, on a side note, you'll notice a few tweaks to the overall scores this week due to unreflected roster changes. They didn't impact the standings and basically just gave Mitch Sherman a nice boost.

Your results this week:

Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 106
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 93
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 84
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 77
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 50

And the overall standings:

Coal Crackers: 1,160
The Trombone Shorties: 1,153
Massive Attack: 1,131
Legendary Leaders: 979
Sherman Tanks: 958

Waiver wire: Some of the B1G's top players were reshuffled this week. With a combination of byes and some players -- such as Illinois QB Wes Lunt -- returning from injury, that made for some interesting changes to the league. Ezekiel Elliott, Leonte Carroo and Lunt all found new homes.

Sherman adds Michigan RB Drake Johnson and drops Illinois WR Geronimo Allison

Bennett adds Penn State TE Jesse James and drops Nebraska WR Kenny Bell

Ward adds Minnesota defense and drops Nebraska defense

Rittenberg adds Ohio State WR Devin Smith and drops Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo

Moyer adds Michigan WR Amara Darboh and drops Maryland WR Stefon Diggs

Sherman adds Michigan State kickers and drops Nebraska kickers

Bennett adds Illinois QB Wes Lunt and drops Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott

Ward adds Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott and drops Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson

Rittenberg adds Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson and drops Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole

Moyer adds Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo and drops Michigan QB Devin Gardner

Sherman adds Michigan QB Devin Gardner and drops Maryland QB C.J. Brown

Ward adds Penn State kickers and drops Rutgers kickers

Moyer adds Iowa WR Tevaun Smith and drops Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp

Rittenberg adds Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy and drops Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian

Rittenberg adds Minnesota kickers and drops Maryland kickers

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Michigan WR Amara Darboh
Iowa WR Tevaun Smith
Wisconsin kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo (on bye)

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Minnesota kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah (on bye)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Minnesota RB David Cobb
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Penn State kickers
Minnesota defense
Bench: Illinois RB Josh Ferguson (on bye)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Penn State TE Jesse James
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Illinois QB Wes Lunt (on bye)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
Michigan RB Drake Johnson
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Iowa Kevonte Martin-Manley
Michigan State kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Purdue RB Akeem Hunt (vs. Wisconsin)
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offensive coaching staff is the same, and the philosophy that shapes its approach hasn’t changed at all.

The system is still producing eye-popping numbers, racking up huge yardage and setting scoring records just like it has during the last two seasons.

But there have been some notable differences about the way Ohio State runs its offense since the last time it met Michigan State's vaunted defense, starting with the fact that so many new faces are on the field operating the attack.

“I think we’re having to manufacture our yards in different ways,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “But the core beliefs, spreading the field horizontally and vertically and playing most of the game in 11 personnel with one tight end and tailback, I think that’s always going to be the case around here.

“I think we’re certainly capable of scoring the points and making the yards that we need to, it’s just different.”

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott, Adrian Amos, Marcus Allen
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarSophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott is one of several options the Buckeyes can use to move the chains against Michigan State.
Not all of the differences have necessarily been positive for the Buckeyes. And if there truly are still some weaknesses, the Spartans are more than capable of exposing them.

But a closer look through eight games so far this season reveals some key areas with a new look since Michigan State knocked off Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, and they figure to be crucial on Saturday night in an unofficial division championship in the East.

Passing the torch

The most obvious change is at the center of the entire operation, with two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller no longer at quarterback for the Buckeyes thanks to a season-ending shoulder surgery. But his absence and the elevation of backup J.T. Barrett into the starting lineup might actually be providing more of the balance coach Urban Meyer was looking for, and it’s certainly provided a lift to the passing attack.

Barrett is averaging 57 more yards per game through the air than Miller did a year ago, and his accuracy and decision-making have also led to Ohio State throwing five more passes per game this season. And while the redshirt freshman isn’t quite as dynamic on the ground as Miller, the threat of the quarterback run remains a staple of the offense, with Barrett only averaging one less carry per game than his predecessor.

“The one thing that he does well, even better than Braxton, is when something is not there, he puts his foot in the ground and gets us to second-and-4, second-and-5,” Meyer said. “Someone blitzes, someone flashes, someone misses a block ... he puts his foot in the ground.”

Mostly, though, Barrett is relying on his arm. And it has taken the Ohio State passing attack to a much higher level.

More diversity

The number of guys regularly touching the football either as targets or on the ground is up slightly from a year ago as well, as Ohio State continues to incorporate young, talented skill players and trust them to move the chains.

But it’s not just the depth of options the Buckeyes are employing, with 10 players grabbing at least 1 reception per game or six players averaging at least two rushing attempts, that seems to have improved, it’s the variety of ways Herman and Meyer are using them.

“Maybe a little bit more short and intermediate pass game on first and second down,” Herman said. “A little more perimeter runs.”

The plays on the edge have added another element of danger to defenses this season, and lately Ohio State is getting there thanks to a handful of new packages and plays that weren’t really seen over the last two seasons.

The Buckeyes have incorporated the Wildcat into the offense with both Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall, the latter getting a chance to throw the ball last week in a rout over Illinois. The pop pass and the jet sweep have both been prevalent, and those plays can both be used as well to pull defenses closer to the line of scrimmage and set up play-action passes.

Short-yardage troubles

The Buckeyes had a chance late in the game to convert a short-yardage situation on fourth down to extend a drive and potentially reclaim the lead over the Spartans, and they haven’t needed any reminders of how costly coming up short can be.

Miller getting stuffed short of the first down effectively snuffed out Ohio State’s national-title dreams, but that was actually out of character for an offense that had converted 14 fourth downs and was frightening in the red zone thanks to an 84-percent touchdown rate.

Without bruising tailback Carlos Hyde in the backfield this season, though, the Buckeyes have taken a step back in both short-yardage and red-zone efficiency, which could be a major factor against a defense that has already proven successful in shutting them down. Most notably, Ohio State’s touchdown rate inside the 20-yard line has dropped to 69 percent, a number that needs to improve -- particularly for a game in which points could be at a premium.

“That's certainly an area that we're going to take a look at and obviously we had one last year we didn't convert on a fourth down,” Meyer said. “So that's a big part of the game now.

“Teams also give us some pretty tough looks to run into and I think we've got to be [better]. We've tried to do a little throwing in certain situations.”

That, of course, is another change for the Buckeyes. The next thing they’re looking for against the Spartans is a different outcome.
We're coming off our closest-scoring week.

Only 19 points separated the highest-scoring team from the lowest-scoring team last weekend, so the overall results changed very little. That puts an increased emphasis on this week, since only five games remain.

Your results this week:

Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 104
The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 103
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 102
Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 95
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 85

And the overall standings:

The Trombone Shorties: 1,089
Massive Attack: 1,038
Coal Crackers: 1,026
Legendary Leaders: 881
Sherman Tanks: 746

Waiver wire: Luckily, there were few moves again this week. Sherman faced the most difficult decision since we have only one bench spot -- and he had two good Michigan State players on bye, Jeremy Langford and Tony Lippett. Did he make the right decision? We'll have to see ...

Sherman adds Iowa WR Kevonte Martin-Manley and drops Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford

Bennett adds Indiana WR Shane Wynn and drops Rutgers RB Desmon Peoples

Moyer adds Purdue QB Austin Appleby and drops Michigan State RB Nick Hill

Ward adds Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson and drops Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy

Rittenberg adds Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian and drops Maryland RB Wes Brown

Sherman adds Purdue RB Akeem Hunt and drops Rutgers QB Gary Nova

Bennett adds Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford and drops Ohio State WR Devin Smith

Moyer adds Penn State defense and drops Michigan State defense

Rittenberg adds Michigan defense and drops Minnesota defense

Moyer adds Wisconsin kickers and drops Michigan State kickers

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Illinois QB Reilly O'Toole
Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Justin Jackson
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Maryland kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Michigan State QB Connor Cook (on bye)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Iowa QB Jake Rudock
Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Illinois RB Josh Ferguson
Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson
Ohio State WR Michael Thomas
Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton
Rutgers kickers
Nebraska defense
Bench: Minnesota RB David Cobb (on bye)

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Purdue QB Austin Appleby
Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Maryland WR Stefon Diggs
Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp
Wisconsin kickers
Penn State defense
Bench: Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner (on bye)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong
Wisconsin QB Joel Stave
Iowa RB Mark Weisman
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford (on bye)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Maryland QB C.J. Brown
Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg
Wisconsin RB Corey Clement
Purdue RB Akeem Hunt
Illinois WR Geronimo Allison
Iowa Kevonte Martin-Manley
Nebraska kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Michigan State WR Tony Lippett (on bye)
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The first Ohio State game plan of the season was light on offensive variety.

It didn’t include many changes in personnel. There weren’t a lot of adjustments that could be made as the Buckeyes focused largely on doing just a few things well instead of risking the possibility of spreading themselves too thin.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY SportsLed by quarterback J.T. Barrett, Ohio State has scored 50 or more points in four straight games.
They were inexperienced at quarterback, starting what amounted to be an entirely rebuilt offensive line and counting on a handful of skill players who had barely been used in meaningful action.

Fast forward half a season and nearly every part of that formula has changed dramatically, most notably starting with the playbook the Buckeyes now have at their disposal that is making it seemingly more difficult to prepare for them every week.

“Just look at the play sheet against Navy compared to now,” coach Urban Meyer said. “There’s 70 percent more there than what it was.

“I think the quarterback, offensive line, the receivers have all opened up the playbook because they're much more mature. They’ve grown up fast.”

That has challenged the coaches to keep pace with the rapid development. And they’ve responded by continually adding new wrinkles, expanding the personnel rotation and then watching as the young Buckeyes soak it all up and wring out an offensive deluge on helpless opponents, scoring 50 points or more in four straight games.

A first-time starter in that disjointed win over Navy and a subsequent loss to Virginia Tech, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett is now brushing elbows statistically with the top quarterbacks in the nation. Perhaps most impressively, he’s rewriting the record books that have Braxton Miller’s name all over them and arguably playing at an even higher level than the injured two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year thanks to an accurate arm, good decision-making and underrated athleticism as a rusher.

The offensive line that moved its only returning starter to a new position while breaking in four first-time contributors has now established chemistry and is once again blowing open holes for the spread attack. And behind those blockers, Ohio State is cutting loose a host of speedy threats at running back and wide receiver, trusting them with both the football and new assignments just about every game -- like the sparkling new Wildcat package that Dontre Wilson unveiled in another blowout last weekend against Rutgers.

That may just be the tip of the iceberg on the expanded play sheet, which offensive coordinator Tom Herman isn’t afraid to keep building on as long as the Buckeyes prove they can keep handling it.

“It’s the same offense,” Herman said. “It’s just different adjustments, different usage of personnel and better developed players. We’re better up front, we’re better at quarterback, we’re better at the skill positions. The sign of a good team is continual improvement, and I think we’re on that track right now. To say it’s a different offense, it’s not, but the players are certainly coming into their own.

“We’ll keep growing, obviously. But I think right now we’re in a good place.”

The Buckeyes have certainly come a long way in a hurry since that early loss, and the journey has been so dizzyingly quick, it can be easy to forget that the roster is still young.

That may mean mistakes may inevitably pop back up as the level of competition goes up against better defenses like Penn State’s on Saturday or in the huge showdown at Michigan State on Nov. 8. Of course, it might also suggest that the Buckeyes are only just scratching the surface of what they might be capable of doing offensively.

“As long as you have good checkers, you can keep going and going,” Meyer said. “That's where you just have to keep going.

“The better your checkers, [the options] are endless.”

And that is making the checkerboard increasingly difficult to defend.
Cue Jimmy Eat World, because there is a change in the middle this week -- and it's not time to write anyone off just yet.

Brian Bennett's Legendary Leaders suffered a down week, and that left the door open for your very own Coal Crackers to overtake him in the standings. That is your big change this week, but plenty of season remains.

Your results this week:

The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg): 133
Coal Crackers (Josh Moyer): 118
Massive Attack (Austin Ward): 117
Sherman Tanks (Mitch Sherman): 101
Legendary Leaders (Brian Bennett): 98

And the overall standings:

The Trombone Shorties: 679
Massive Attack: 637
Coal Crackers: 564
Legendary Leaders: 554
Sherman Tanks: 444

Three Big Ten teams have a bye this week, so rosters were forced to re-shuffle. Quarterbacks and running backs were at a premium, and you will notice an interesting addition within the first two selections:

Sherman adds Michigan QB Devin Gardner and drops Iowa QB C.J. Beathard

Bennett adds Illinois WR Geronimo Allison and drops Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp

Moyer adds Purdue RB Akeem Hunt and drops Iowa QB Jake Rudock

Ward adds Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson and drops Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy

Rittenberg adds Maryland RB Brandon Ross and drops Indiana RB D'Angelo Roberts

Sherman adds Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp and drops Penn State WR DaeSean Hamilton

Bennett adds Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy and drops Purdue QB Danny Etling

Ward adds Maryland WR Deon Long and drops Penn State WR Geno Lewis

Rittenberg adds Rutgers defense and drops Minnesota defense

Sherman adds Ohio State kickers and drops Penn State kickers

Bennett adds Michigan defense and drops Penn State defense

Waiver-wire analysis: Did you notice Bennett's big addition? After five weeks in which Allison failed to show up in ESPN's player pool, the Illinois receiver was finally added. Sherman wasn't too happy with the move, as he had no idea Allison was available. Score one for Bennett's scouting efforts. As far as other moves, Rittenberg was none too happy with the running back selection when his turn came around. He tried to take Hunt -- who was already selected -- and was even more displeased when he had to settle for Ross. Overall, outside of Bennett, there were few teams satisfied with the waiver wire this week.

The Trombone Shorties (Rittenberg)

Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong Jr.
Michigan State QB Connor Cook
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Maryland RB Brandon Ross
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo
Michigan WR Devin Funchess
Wisconsin kickers
Rutgers defense
Bench: Penn State TE Jesse James (on bye)

Massive Attack (Ward)

Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett
Indiana QB Nate Sudfeld
Illinois RB Josh Ferguson
Ohio State RB Dontre Wilson
Maryland WR Deon Long
Ohio State WR Devin Smith
Nebraska kickers
Ohio State defense
Bench: Minnesota RB David Cobb (on bye)

Coal Crackers (Moyer)

Illinois QB Wes Lunt
Northwestern QB Trevor Siemian
Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon
Purdue RB Akeem Hunt
Maryland WR Stefon Diggs
Indiana WR Shane Wynn
Michigan State kickers
Michigan State defense
Bench: Iowa Iowa RB Mark Weisman (on bye)

Legendary Leaders (Bennett)

Wisconsin QB Tanner McEvoy
Maryland QB C.J. Brown
Indiana RB Tevin Coleman
Ohio State RB Ezekiel Elliott
Illinois WR Geronimo Allison
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Maryland kickers
Michigan defense
Bench: Wisconsin RB Corey Clement (at Northwestern)

Sherman Tanks (Sherman)

Michigan QB Devin Gardner
Rutgers QB Gary Nova
Michigan RB Derrick Green
Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford
Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp
Michigan State WR Tony Lippett
Ohio State kickers
Wisconsin defense
Bench: Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg (on bye)

B1G fantasy draft: round-by-round analysis

August, 28, 2014
Aug 28
2:00
PM ET
Big Ten football kicks off in just a few hours. So you know what that means – the start of tailgates, packed stadiums and unforgettable upsets. And, of course, the start of another season of our Big Ten fantasy league.

The Trombone Shorties (Adam Rittenberg) and the team formerly known as The One Who Knocks (Brian Bennett) won’t have it easy anymore. The Big Ten fantasy league is no longer just a head-to-head battle. Now, in Year 4 of the league, there are five of us – and the competition and trash talk are intense. (If you want to play college fantasy football, too, you can do so through ESPN’s College Football Challenge.)

We held a live eight-round draft earlier this week, and below you’ll find our draft results – along with a brief analysis by Josh Moyer on each round:

 

Round 1: The No. 2 overall pick is the trickiest in this draft. Melvin Gordon is the easy No. 1 – but where do you go from there? On one hand, running back is deep, but the top four at the position could be gone when the pick comes around again. Rittenberg opted to play it safe by picking Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, widely regarded as the second-best offensive player in the B1G. But he might come to regret the pick if Abdullah can’t find the end zone more often. Abdullah averaged 19.8 fantasy points a game last season, which was behind Tevin Coleman (20.79 points) and just slightly ahead of Jeremy Langford (19.42 points), who really took off in Game 6. … Quarterbacks and wideouts were at a premium, so Ward and Bennett focused on quarterback in the first round. There are no point deductions for turnovers, so the Devin Gardner pick was a smart one.

[+] EnlargeGordon
Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesWisconsin's Melvin Gordon was an easy pick as the No. 1 player in the Big Ten blog's fantasy draft.
Round 2: Let the run on wide receivers begin. If teams didn’t spend one of their first two picks on the position, then it was basically impossible to get an elite player. Rittenberg struck first with Devin Funchess, stealing my pick. I “settled” on Indiana’s Shane Wynn. … Everyone knew Bennett’s pick before he made it, but it was another great one with Coleman. Bennett probably had the best first two rounds out of any of us. … Ward’s pick of Josh Ferguson in the second round was mildly surprising since we don’t get a point per reception, but the running back picture was more muddled after the first four went off the board.

Round 3: I started off the third round with Stefon Diggs – giving me the top overall receiver combo with Wynn-Diggs – but definitely guaranteeing I’ll be in a hole later when it comes to quarterback. Rittenberg didn’t want the same to happen so he opted to take his first quarterback in Connor Cook. … This is when the draft started getting interesting. Sherman took Maryland’s Deon Long as the fourth overall receiver. It could certainly pay off in the end, but it certainly wasn’t a “safe” pick with Diggs as Maryland's top target and with proven commodities such as Ohio State’s Devin Smith still on the board. … Poor Bennett got the short end of the stick when he tried to draft Illinois’ Wes Lunt – but he wasn’t in ESPN’s draft database for some reason. So we decided as a group to exclude him; Bennett took Maryland’s C.J. Brown instead. A fantasy downgrade for sure.

Round 4: Maybe someone should’ve sent Sherman a memo on Penn State’s offensive line because he took Zach Zwinak over some other prime options. But Sherman’s banking on the goal-line value of Zwinak, who scored 12 TDs last season. Zwinak could be like fantasy football’s 2004 version of Jerome Bettis. … With few receivers left, Smith was a solid pick by Ward and definitely his best value of the draft so far.

Round 5: I took my first quarterback in Iowa’s Jake Rudock, as I’m banking on some extra value thanks to his penchant for running close to the goal line. (He had five rush TDs last season.) But, in retrospect, that might not have been the best move. Ward got another good value pick in Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett – and, while Rudock is the safer pick, Barrett certainly has the higher ceiling. Part of me is regretting my choice already. … Bennett’s great draft continued by grabbing the best remaining receiver in Kenny Bell. If he can meet his 2012 touchdown production (8), this could be the best-value receiver pick of the draft. … Rittenberg also made a good move with Rutgers’ running back Paul James, who has a few early games against bad defenses. If he falters when the schedule gets harder, there’s always the waiver wire.

Round 6: Flag on the play, Sherman! The Sherman Tanks initially tried to draft Ohio State’s Dontre Wilson, a hybrid back, as a receiver – but ESPN’s database listed him only as a running back. So Sherman had to pick again and chose Iowa’s Kevonte-Martin Manley. … Ward was not happy with the remaining receiver selection at all. It showed in his pick; Penn State’s Geno Lewis could be third in receiving on Penn State by the time the season ends. … Rittenberg made an interesting move by picking Minnesota’s defense first, over Michigan State’s defense. His reasoning was solid, though. MSU plays Oregon in Week 2 and then has a bye. So he didn’t want to work the waiver wire that early. Me? I took the Spartans’ D with the next pick, and I’ll ride it out.

Rounds 7-8: It was mostly all kickers and defenses in the final two rounds. Rittenberg took Penn State tight end Jesse James to fill his last receiver spot in the sixth round, and it was a good pick for being the 10th receiver/tight end taken. James is 6-foot-7 and could be a nice red-zone target for Christian Hackenberg this season. … The only other non-defense/kicker came from me. I needed a quarterback, so this year’s Mr. Irrelevant is Minnesota’s Mitch Leidner. Quarterback is definitely my weakness. But I don’t care if Leidner throws 40 percent -- as long he scores a rushing TD every game.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

August, 13, 2014
Aug 13
5:00
PM ET
Coming back at you for another hump-day mailbag. Don't forget that you can tweet your questions (and follow all my brilliant thoughts) on Twitter @BennettESPN.

Let's begin:

.

Brian Bennett: I think it would be possible, yes. If Oregon went on to win the Pac-12, then the Big Ten would have a powerful argument for inclusion in the Playoff over the Pac-12 given that its champion beat their champion on the road. Yet it's a little hard to see Ohio State being good enough to win in East Lansing but still losing two other Big Ten games. That could also hurt the Big Ten's overall strength-of-schedule case unless the West Division champ had a great season.

A similar scenario could unfold for Wisconsin. Let's say the Badgers beat LSU in the opener but lose a game in the Big Ten before winning the league title. That should still be enough to get Wisconsin in, assuming LSU has a strong season. The selection committee is going to be looking closely at nonconference games to judge schedule and conference strength, so the Oregon and LSU games are important for everyone in the Big Ten.


Corey from East of Huskerland writes: With the autonomy ruling, and barring the former "Mid Majors" don't overrule the change, how do you think it will impact B1G recruiting deficiencies? For example, since I bleed Husker red, it's widely noted that recruiting kids to Lincoln has it's issues, being so far away from fertile recruiting grounds. Can this change allow teams, like my Huskers, to lessen that gap, lets say, with more abilities to help parents come to the games and so forth? Not only for Nebraska, but for the B1G as a whole.

Brian Bennett: That's a good question, and the answer remains to be seen. One of the items power conference leaders have talked about is covering travel expenses for families to travel to postseason games. But I haven't heard much, if any, talk about paying for families to travel to regular-season contests. That could change, though. A major issue for Nebraska, and many Big Ten teams, is allowing earlier official visits for prospects. Yet as Mitch Sherman noted in this morning's links, other leagues don't necessarily see that in their best interests.

There might be autonomy, but the new system still requires the following level of agreement to pass legislation: A) a 60 percent of the 80-member voting panel and three of the five power conferences, or B) a simple majority and four of the five power conferences. Can the Big Ten convince enough other schools and at least two other conferences to make those recruiting changes? Will there be some horse-trading going on, as some conferences barter to pass their pet projects? It will be fascinating to see how this all shakes out.

.

Brian Bennett: I don't think it's writing off as much as playing wait and see with the Wolverines. No one is going to pick Michigan to finish ahead of Ohio State and Michigan State in the East Division, not after the Maize and Blue have gone 15-11 the past two seasons. There are still major concerns about the offensive line, and the running game -- outside of the quarterbacks -- has been abysmal of late. Still, as you mentioned, there is plenty of talent on hand, and I expect offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to make a difference. Enough of a difference to be a true Big Ten title contender? I need to see that before I can believe it.


Brian W. from Athens, Ohio, writes: Dontre Wilson was used as a decoy much of last year. with the exit of Philly Brown what do you see as his roll this year?

Brian Bennett: Urban Meyer has said that Dontre Wilson wasn't strong enough last season to block or run between the tackles. "He was a hybrid guy that really wasn't great at anything," Meyer said. So Wilson didn't touch the ball much and was basically a non-factor down the stretch last season for the Buckeyes. And that's OK, because he was a true freshman, after all. Wilson has reportedly put on more than 20 pounds since the end of last season. I think you could see him excel now in that Percy Harvin-type, hybrid-back role where he can do a little bit of everything. Philly Brown is not a great comparison because he developed into a true No. 1 receiver, which Wilson probably never will be. But Wilson could be a very dangerous player if his strength and understanding of the game have now caught up to his elite speed.
Football practice is in full swing, and we're just three weeks away from kickoff. To get you ready, we're looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team in 2014.

Do not view these as predictions in any way, shape or form. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.

Let's continue now with the Ohio State Buckeyes:

Best case

As the confetti rains down at Jerry World, a grinning Urban Meyer glances over at the sideline. Standing next to each other, smiling back at him, are Jim Tressel, Archie Griffin and the ghost of Woody Hayes in a mirror of the "Return of the Jedi" celebration.

The force has been with Meyer and the Buckeyes all season long. They finally have the explosiveness and depth it takes to be a true national title contender, as Meyer's young players develop at warp speed.

Braxton Miller turns in his best season yet en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. He throws for 3,000 yards, runs for 1,200 and piles up 40 total touchdowns. He is energized by weapons around him like a vastly improved Dontre Wilson and young speedster Jalin Marshall. Ed Warriner makes sure the revamped offensive line doesn't miss a beat, and Ezekiel Elliott steps right in for Carlos Hyde.

The defense is paced by the front four, all of whom earn All-Big Ten honors. Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett are All-Americans, and Bosa and Noah Spence both tally double-digit sacks. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan wins the Big Ten freshman of the year trophy. Chris Ash fixes the back end of the defense, with young safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell blossoming into stars. The Silver Bullets are back.

Ohio State terrorizes opponents the entire year, rolling over a punchless Virginia Tech and destroying Meyer's alma mater, Cincinnati, in the nonconference schedule. The Buckeyes average 45 points per game and cruise into to their showdown at Michigan State at 8-0. The Spartans put up a valiant fight, but after Joshua Perry stops a Connor Cook sneak attempt on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter, Ohio State seizes momentum and goes on to win by two touchdowns.

The Game isn't much of one, as Miller scores six touchdowns in a 49-14 rout of Michigan. A third straight 12-0 regular season is in the books. The Wolverines, suffering through a 3-9 season, fire Brady Hoke and then completely botch the search process before settling on Lane Kiffin.

The Big Ten championship game is a coronation, as Ohio State scores the first 28 points and beats Wisconsin handily. The Buckeyes are made the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff, where they open with a victory over defending national champion Florida State in Pasadena, California. Meyer then gets revenge on Nick Saban and leads his team to a one-point win over Alabama in the title game, benefiting from a late pass-interference call in the end zone.

Meyer hoists the new Playoff trophy and promises the start of a championship dynasty in Columbus. Then he joins Tressel, Griffin and Hayes' ghost for the happiest "O-H-I-O" anyone can remember.

Worst case

Meyer slumps in a golf cart in the bowels of the Gator Bowl, inconsolable and barely touching his cold, soggy Papa John's personal pizza. His Buckeyes have just finished what for them was a vastly disappointing season, made all the worse by an ugly loss to Florida -- Meyer's old school -- in rainy Jacksonville.

The season held such promise for a talented young team. But everybody forgot about the young part. Four new starters on the offensive line, new featured performers at running back, receiver and linebacker and an inexperienced secondary all make this a transition year in Columbus.

The first signs of trouble arrive in the opener, as Ohio State needs a fourth-quarter rally to put away pesky Navy. Virginia Tech comes to the 'Shoe and pulls off a stunning upset, blocking three kicks and dedicating its win to Frank Beamer, who announced his impending retirement before the game.

The Buckeyes regroup to reel off six straight wins, barely beating Penn State on the road thanks to a Hail Mary touchdown from Miller to Devin Smith. But reality strikes back as Michigan State uses its physical style to overwhelm a shaky offensive line and batter Miller like a piñata. The Spartans win 24-10.

Even in a diminished state, Meyer's team has enough to get by Minnesota and Indiana. But Michigan ends all hope of a division title when Devin Gardner completes a two-point conversion try in the final minute for a 38-37 Wolverines win. Michigan wins the Big Ten title and goes to the College Football Playoff.

With several players concerned more about their NFL draft status, Ohio State shows up listless in the Gator Bowl. A 9-4 season would still be celebrated by most programs. But Meyer, burned out from the tough year and staring blankly into his small tub of garlic butter, seriously contemplates stepping away. Buckeye Nation nervously awaits his decision.

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