Big Ten: Etienne Sabino

Ohio State Buckeyes spring wrap

May, 3, 2013
5/03/13
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2012 record: 12-0

2012 conference record: 8-0 (first, Leaders Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Philly Brown, LT Jack Mewhort, C Corey Linsley, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LB Ryan Shazier

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

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Miller* (1,271 yards, 13 TDs)

Passing: Miller* (2,039 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Brown* (60 catches, 669 yards, 3 TDs)

Tackles: Shazier* (115)

Sacks: Simon (9)

Interceptions: Howard (4)

Spring answers:

1. End game: The Buckeyes have to replace all four starters up front, and while the defensive line isn't quite as deep and is far from a finished product, the future looks pretty bright on the edge. Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were among the top prizes in Urban Meyer's first recruiting class with the Buckeyes, and that talent is already starting to shine through as they slide into first-team roles heading into the fall. Spence is a dynamic force with his ability to use speed to get to the quarterback, and Washington isn't exactly sluggish despite all the strength in his 293-pound frame. The two combined for seven sacks in the spring game, and the Buckeyes are expecting similar performances when it actually counts.

2. Air it out: Miller has proven what he can do with his legs, and Ohio State didn't really need to see him show them off in the spring. The emphasis was on continuing to develop the junior quarterback as a passer, which meant a heavy dose of play calls forcing him to put the ball in the air and a quick whistle if he tried to scramble. The results for Meyer were encouraging. His efficient, 16-for-25, 217-yard performance in the spring game showed a much more accurate delivery and better decision-making that hints at bigger things from the fifth-place finisher in last year's Heisman Trophy race.

3. Backfield stable: One thing that might keep Hyde from giving Meyer a 1,000-yard running back this season is all the teammates fighting to snag a few of his carries. The rising senior is the clear cut No. 1 to partner with Miller in the backfield, and Hyde didn't have to earn that job in the spring after piling up touchdowns last fall and finally tapping into his enormous potential as a rusher. But while he was watching some reps, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball all showed their upside this spring, which has the Buckeyes even toying with a diamond formation that gets three tailbacks on the field at the same time.

Fall questions

1. Filling out the front seven: Shazier is certainly a fine place for any defense to start, but the Buckeyes would obviously prefer if there were at least one other returning starter joining him in the front seven. There are high hopes again for junior Curtis Grant at middle linebacker, but he's been tabbed as a first-team guy before coming out of spring only to fizzle in the fall. Ohio State will need Grant and sophomore Joshua Perry to help lead the charge as it tries to add depth and talent at linebacker to stabilize a defense that will feature a lot of new faces.

2. Fresh blood: There wasn't a great option to fill Meyer's vaunted H-back position last fall, so the Buckeyes effectively had to put the hybrid spot, made famous by Percy Harvin at Florida, on the shelf. Jordan Hall's return from injury makes him a candidate to diversify the offense, but a handful of recruits the Buckeyes landed in Meyer's second class would could really take the spread to another level. Speed-burners such as Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall will be watched closely in August as they could become factors for the Buckeyes as early as September.

3. Something special: If the Buckeyes score as easily and often as it appears they might, maybe it won't matter who handles the kicking game. But Meyer has always taken pride in his special teams, and at this point there is still some uncertainty as Drew Basil is pressed into action as both a kicker and a punter. In the big picture, the changes on defense are far more critical -- but close games usually pop up along the way for teams trying to win a championship, and Basil might need to pass some tests for the Buckeyes.
Only 22 Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2013 NFL draft, the league's lowest total in nearly two decades (it had 21 draftees in 1994).

But as soon as the draft ended Saturday, the free-agent signings began. And there were plenty around the Big Ten from all 12 squads.

Here's our first look list of free-agent signings or team tryouts from the conference. As a reminder, this is not a final list, and we'll have updates later on either here on the blog or on Twitter.

Here we go ...

ILLINOIS

C Graham Pocic, Houston Texans
DE Justin Staples, Cleveland Browns
DE Glenn Foster, New Orleans Saints

INDIANA

C Will Matte, Kansas City Chiefs (tryout)
DE Larry Black Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
DT Adam Replogle, Atlanta Falcons

IOWA

WR Keenan Davis, Cleveland Browns
OL Matt Tobin, Philadelphia Eagles
QB James Vandenberg, Minnesota Vikings

MICHIGAN

WR Roy Roundtree, Cincinnati Bengals
S Jordan Kovacs, Miami Dolphins
LB Kenny Demens, Arizona Cardinals
DE Craig Roh, Carolina Panthers
OL Elliott Mealer, New Orleans Saints
OL Patrick Omameh, San Francisco 49ers
OL Ricky Barnum, Washington Redskins
LB Brandin Hawthorne, St. Louis Rams
(WR Darryl Stonum, dismissed before the 2012 season, signed with the Kansas City Chiefs)

MICHIGAN STATE

CB Johnny Adams, Houston Texans
DT Anthony Rashad White, Pittsburgh Steelers
OL Chris McDonald, New England Patriots

MINNESOTA

CB Troy Stoudermire, Cincinnati Bengals
TE MarQueis Gray, San Francisco 49ers
CB Michael Carter, Minnesota Vikings

NEBRASKA

DE Eric Martin, New Orleans Saints
LB Will Compton, Washington Redskins
TE Ben Cotton, San Diego Chargers
TE/FB Kyler Reed, Jacksonville Jaguars
K Brett Maher, New York Jets
DE Cameron Meredith, Oakland Raiders

NORTHWESTERN

OL Patrick Ward, Miami Dolphins
DL Brian Arnfelt, Pittsburgh Steelers
LB David Nwabuisi, Carolina Panthers (tryout)
WR Demetrius Fields, Chicago Bears (tryout)

OHIO STATE

CB Travis Howard, Houston Texans
S Orhian Johnson, Houston Texans
FB Zach Boren, Houston Texans
TE Jake Stoneburner, Green Bay Packers
DE Nathan Williams, Minnesota Vikings
DL Garrett Goebel, St. Louis Rams
LB Etienne Sabino, New York Giants

PENN STATE

OL Mike Farrell, Pittsburgh Steelers
CB Stephon Morris, New England Patriots
OL Matt Stankiewitch, New England Patriots
FB Michael Zordich, Carolina Panthers

PURDUE

CB Josh Johnson, San Diego Chargers
QB Robert Marve, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
RB Akeem Shavers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

WISCONSIN

CB Marcus Cromartie, San Diego Chargers
CB Devin Smith, Dallas Cowboys
S Shelton Johnson, Oakland Raiders

Big Ten lunch links

April, 25, 2013
4/25/13
12:00
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The links are on the clock ...

B1G combine results: LB and DL

February, 26, 2013
2/26/13
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We've already told you how the Big Ten players from the offensive position groups fared at the NFL combine. On Monday, defensive linemen and linebackers had their day in the spotlight. (Defensive backs will wrap up the combine today).

Here is how Big Ten products fared in those two position groups during their job auditions in Indianapolis:

Defensive line
  • Illinois' Akeem Spence remains third among all combine performers with his 37 reps on the 225-pound bench press.
  • Former Illini teammate Michael Buchanan was ninth among defensive linemen in the 40-yard dash at 4.78 seconds. Buchanan also tied for 11th in vertical jump at 33 inches.
  • Ohio State's Nathan Williams ran a 4.88 in the 40. Michigan State's William Gholston posted a 4.96, while Illinois' Spence was at 5.15 and Penn State's Jordan Hill had a 5.23. Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins ran a 5.31.
  • Williams ranked sixth in vertical leap at 35 inches.
  • Hill did 28 reps on the bench press, while Williams finished 24, Gholston 23 and Buchanan 22. Gholston, who left Michigan State after his junior year, did not test among the leaders in any category.
  • Purdue's Kawann Short (hamstring) and Ohio State's John Simon (shoulder) did not work out.
Linebackers
  • Penn State's Michael Mauti only did the bench press because of his knee injury, but he impressed there with 28 reps at 225 pounds. That was good for third among all linebackers. Ohio State's Etienne Sabino was next best among Big Ten linebackers with 24. Penn State's Gerald Hodges did 22.
  • Sabino also ran the best 40-yard dash time of any Big Ten linebacker, posting a 4.75 time that was tied for 14th in his position group. Hodges was right behind him at 4.78, and both were faster than Notre Dame's Manti Te'o (4.82).
  • Hodges was also seventh in the long jump at 119 inches.
  • Wisconsin's Mike Taylor (sports hernia) did not work out.

B1G postseason position rankings: LB

February, 19, 2013
2/19/13
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It's time for another installment of our postseason position rankings, and today we're looking at one of the strongest groups in the Big Ten in 2012: the linebackers.

Just about every team boasted one standout linebacker last season, and many had multiple ones. That makes this list one of the tougher ones to date, and there's not a whole lot of separation between teams, especially in the middle. Star power matters, but depth is also important.

You can see how we ranked the linebackers entering the season here. Here's how we see things now:

1. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 2): We ranked the Nittany Lions second in the preseason, not knowing for sure how Michael Mauti would bounce back from his latest knee injury. Well, we picked him as our Big Ten defensive player of the year. Gerald Hodges was his usual brilliant self, especially when he switched into beast mode during league play. And the guy nobody talks about, Glenn Carson, also had a very solid season. Linebacker U., indeed.

2. Wisconsin (Preseason: 3): Mike Taylor and Chris Borland were so good and so consistent that we may have begun to take them for granted. Taylor collected 123 tackles, while Borland had 104, and the two combined for 25 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. The unsung member of the trio, Ethan Armstrong, added 93 stops. Once again, the linebackers were the strength of a very good Badgers defense.

3. Michigan State (Preseason: 1): Max Bullough was a first-team All-Big Ten performer who led the Spartans with 111 tackles. Denicos Allen didn't match his 2011 numbers but still managed 10 tackles for loss and three sacks. Sophomore Taiwan Jones surpassed Chris Norman late in the year to give the unit even more depth. This group may have lacked the truly huge, game-changing plays, but it's hard to ask for much more than what it provided all season.

4. Michigan (Preseason: 5): The Wolverines linebacking crew became the backbone of the defense in 2012. Jake Ryan turned into a star with his flair for the big play; he piled up 16 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles. Kenny Demens and Desmond Morgan were both solid, underrated players, and freshmen James Ross III and Joe Bolden helped give this group outstanding depth.

5. Northwestern (Preseason: 11): The Wildcats made the biggest jump from the preseason rankings, as all three starters (Damien Proby, David Nwabuisi and Chi Chi Ariguzo) collected at least 91 tackles. Ariguzo developed into a big-time playmaker, with 10.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions and four fumble recoveries. Proby and Nwabuisi were almost criminally underrated.

6. Ohio State (Preseason: 4): The Buckeyes had the most interesting stories at linebacker. Ryan Shazier emerged as a destructive force of nature, especially in the second half of the season. Zach Boren switched from fullback to linebacker midseason and made a surprisingly smooth transition. Etienne Sabino broke his leg but came back to finish the year. Storm Klein returned from a suspension to contribute a little. There were some weak spots and shaky moments here, but Shazier's sheer strength helped hold this group together.

7. Iowa (Preseason: 8): Stats alone would tell you that the Hawkeyes had one of the best linebacking corps around. First-year starter Anthony Hitchens was one of the top tacklers in the nation with 124 stops, while James Morris (113) and Christian Kirksey (95) also ranked among the league leaders in that category. But tackle numbers alone don't tell the whole story, and Iowa lacked the kind of high-impact plays from its linebackers that teams above it on this list produced.

8. Nebraska (Preseason: 7): The Huskers had their issues on defense, but it was hard to fault the play of Will Compton, who led the team with 110 tackles and three fumble recoveries. Alonzo Whaley, Sean Fisher and David Santos ably filled out the rest of the group, but Nebraska had trouble finding the right combination of speed and experience at linebacker.

9. Minnesota: (Preseason: 10): The Gophers were young in a lot of spots but not at linebacker, where experienced veterans like Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper led the way. Aaron Hill rounded out what was a solid, if unspectacular, corps that helped Minnesota make great strides on defense.

10. Illinois (Preseason: 6): Injuries were one reason why Jonathan Brown didn't blossom into the superstar we expected to see. He had 9.5 tackles for loss but played in only nine games. It says something about both the Illini linebackers and the defense as a whole that true freshman Mason Monheim led the team with 86 tackles. He and fellow first-year player Mike Svetina at least give Illinois some reason for optimism.

11. Purdue (Preseason: 9): Dwayne Beckford was kicked off the team in August, and things didn't get a whole lot better from there. Will Lucas led the group with 66 tackles, but it was a sign of Purdue's problems at linebacker that converted quarterback Sean Robinson started here. Improving the linebacker play should be a top priority for new head coach Darrell Hazell.

12. Indiana (Preseason: 12): Junior-college import David Cooper stepped right in and made an immediate impact, recording 86 tackles and nine behind the line of scrimmage. But the Hoosiers struggled to find consistent play elsewhere at the position. It's no coincidence that Kevin Wilson's latest recruiting class includes several potential linebackers.

Big Ten players on NFL combine list

February, 7, 2013
2/07/13
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The official list of players invited to the NFL combine is out.

These are the guys the pro scouts most want to see, and they'll be poked, prodded and interviewed in Indianapolis from Feb. 23-26. Here are the 32 players from the Big Ten who've been invited (Note: Position listed is the one each player will be working out as):

Johnny Adams, DB, Michigan State
Montee Ball, RB, Wisconsin
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
Zach Boren, RB, Ohio State
Michael Buchanan, DL, Illinois
Rex Burkhead, RB, Nebraska
Reid Fragel, OL, Ohio State
Travis Frederick, OL, Wisconsin
William Gholston, DL, Michigan State
MarQueis Gray, QB, Minnesota
Johnathan Hankins, DL, Ohio State
Terry Hawthorne, DB, Illinois
Jordan Hill, DL, Penn State
Gerald Hodges, LB, Penn State
Micah Hyde, DB, Iowa
Josh Johnson, DB, Purdue
Brett Maher, PK, Nebraska
Michael Mauti, LB, Penn State
Denard Robinson, WR, Michigan
Etienne Sabino, LB, Ohio State
Kawann Short, DL, Purdue
John Simon, DL, Ohio State
Dion Sims, TE, Michigan State
Akeem Spence, DL, Illinois
Daimion Stafford, DB, Nebraska
Matt Stankiewitch, OL, Penn State
Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State
Mike Taylor, LB, Wisconsin
Hugh Thornton, OL, Illinois
James Vandenberg, QB, Iowa
Ricky Wagner, OL, Wisconsin
Nathan Williams, DL, Ohio State

Finally, here is the schedule of workouts, which will be broadcast on NFL Network:

Feb. 23: Tight ends, offensive linemen, special teams
Feb. 24: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers
Feb. 25: Defensive linemen, linebackers
Feb. 26: Defensive backs

Buckeyes set foundation for future

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
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Ohio StateKirk Irwin/Getty ImagesCoach Urban Meyer and his undefeated 2012 Buckeyes could have an even brighter future ahead.
I ventured out to a couple of places in Columbus on Saturday night to watch the USC-Notre Dame game. Plenty of Ohio State fans were cheering for the Trojans, hoping that their Buckeyes would end up as the only undefeated team in the country. After the Irish won, one well-lubricated fan kept yelling, "Congratulations on being the second-best team in the country."

Ohio State and its backers are relegated to just watching other teams from here on out and hoping to get recognized. The good news is, they shouldn't have to worry about that this time next year.

While the Buckeyes' 12-0 season won't end with a BCS national title shot, it does set up next year's team for a run at the crystal football. Urban Meyer's first year couldn't have gone any better, and Ohio State will almost certainly start next season in the Top 5 and possibly the Top 3.

"This sets the standard pretty high," senior tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner said. "I don't think anyone really expected coach Meyer to come in and turn it around like he did. But for anyone who wants to be a Buckeye or is a Buckeye right now, there's no better place to be."

Ohio State went from a team that Meyer said repeatedly had a lot of holes during the first half of the season to one that had no holes in its résumé. That should frighten the rest of the Big Ten, as Meyer inherited a 6-7 team full of guys he didn't recruit, many of whom didn't really fit his offensive system, and he was still able to go undefeated. What will he do once he starts bringing in game-breaking receivers and running backs who can go the distance?

Even though Meyer said Monday that this team's passing game "is not even in the same hemisphere as what we want," the Buckeyes still led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game. And that offense loses only two starters, Stoneburner and right tackle Reid Fragel, while hoping senior running back Jordan Hall gets a medical redshirt. Meyer said after Saturday's win over Michigan that Carlos Hyde has progressed into one of the top running backs in the country. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller is a possible Heisman Trophy finalist who still needs to make tremendous strides in his passing accuracy and pocket awareness.

"I don't see the ceiling yet," Meyer said. "He's got that much further to go."

The 2013 Buckeyes will be the heavy Big Ten favorites and their schedule is once again very manageable. They play Buffalo, San Diego State and Florida A&M at home, with only California on the road in the nonconference slate. In league play, they trade Nebraska and Michigan State for Northwestern and Iowa as non-protected crossover opponents from the Legends Division.

That doesn't mean next year's team doesn't have some major areas of concern. The defense could lose its entire front four if junior tackle Johnathan Hankins leaves early for the NFL as expected. Cornerback Bradley Roby, a redshirt sophomore, will have a decision to make on his future. If he goes pro, that would mean both starting corners are gone, since Travis Howard is a senior. And three of the team's top four linebackers -- Etienne Sabino, Zach Boren and Storm Klein -- have used up their eligibility.

"The linebackers, we've got to get that right," Meyer said. "That's the weakest area of our team right now."

Ohio State will be starting a bunch of young players on defense and will need its offensive line to stay healthy again because there is not much depth. But intangibles, not talent, might be the biggest question mark.

Meyer said he wasn't sure the senior class was entirely on board with him until an emotional meeting before the Sept. 29 Michigan State game. He raves about that group's "complete selflessness" which he said might be the best of any team he's been around. He pointed to defensive end John Simon playing through severe shoulder pain, Boren switching from fullback to linebacker midseason and Sabino rushing back from a broken leg to contribute as key examples. Meyer said he will have a wall in the team's training facility dedicated to this year's team, complete with video highlights that feature the team's unselfish nature.

There's no guarantee that next year's team will repeat that. Meyer also worries about the complacency that success can bring. He said he'll try to find ways to motivate the players in the offseason, including using the fact that a bowl game was taken away from them in 2012.

"We've got to make sure that doesn't take place," he said. "We need an angry team next year. If we have to manufacture that, we will. We're going to try to push the right buttons to get an angry team. If they're not angry, [if they're] complacent this team's as good as dirt, just like any team."

This year's team was good enough to go undefeated, something Meyer never accomplished at Florida despite winning two national titles there. It's scary to think how good the Buckeyes can be in the future after the first year he had in Columbus. Buckeyes fans might not have to concern themselves too much with what other teams are doing in late November.

Perfection hard to beat for Buckeyes

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State won't have a chance to play for a national title and won't get to prove itself a 13th time this season because of NCAA sanctions.

But in a way, the Buckeyes earned something just as lasting as any crystal football. By finishing off a 12-0 campaign with Saturday's 26-21 win over archrival Michigan, they will remain perfect in memory and ideal in their fans' imagination.

If -- as several Ohio State players like Carlos Hyde and Ryan Shazier did Saturday afternoon -- this team wants to say it deserves the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press poll, how can you convincingly tell the players they're wrong? A Notre Dame loss would leave the Buckeyes as the only undefeated team in the country, and we'll never know for sure how they would stack up against the other national powers.

"You can say what you want, but we're 12-0," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "People can talk what they want and say a bunch of what-ifs now, but I know we took care of what we had to do. At the beginning of the year we set out to win every single game, and that's what we did. It wasn't pretty, but it happened."

Ohio State fans sure didn't seem to care much about bowl bans. They poured onto the field in droves when the win was secured and stayed there long after the game had ended, taking photos and singing with the school band.

In between the first and second quarter, former coach Jim Tressel was honored along with other members of the 2002 national championship team. Those former players picked Tressel up and carried him off the field on their shoulders as the crowd roared. Of course, Tressel's deception of his bosses and the NCAA directly led to the sanctions that will keep this year's team home. But the irony of choosing the day when the current team would finish 12-0 to honor Tressel appeared lost on a forgiving fan base.

Time may heal all wounds, but going undefeated helps wipe out even the memory of those pains. Instead, fans can now remember this team as one of six unbeaten squads in school history, yet the first since 1944 to do so without going to a bowl.

"It kind of stinks," said tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner. "We wish we were playing in a bowl game. But, shoot, I'll take 12-0 any day of the week."

A postseason game would bring the potential of a loss that could tarnish this team's legacy. Instead, it will be revered for turning last year's 6-7 disaster into the best possible building block for the future under first-year coach Urban Meyer.

Meyer said he would make sure the 2012 team would get some sort of permanent recognition around the team's facilities. He joked about erecting 19 bronze statues for each of this year's seniors.

[+] EnlargeOhio State Buckeyes
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWith his defense much improved, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he feels his team can now compete with the nation's elite.
As for whether this team deserves a No. 1 ranking, Meyer was too media savvy to take that bait. But unlike earlier in the year, he was happy to heap plenty of praise on the Buckeyes.

"I'd say at this point in time, Ohio State could go play with anybody in America," he said.

Meyer wouldn't have put his own team in such company back in mid-October. But the improvement of his defense from a poor-tackling, easily exploitable bunch to a true strength has changed his perception.

In fact, Saturday's game was a perfect encapsulation of the Buckeyes' season. In the first half, they needed some great work by quarterback Braxton Miller to keep them in the game as Michigan rolled up 21 points and several explosive plays, like a 75-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree and Denard Robinson's 67-yard touchdown sprint.

But just like in the season as a whole, the defense took over in the second half. Keying on Robinson as a runner and aided by some bizarre Michigan play calling, the Silver Bullets (yes, they've earned back that nickname) didn't let the Wolverines cross midfield after halftime. They allowed only 60 total yards and no points in the second half and forced three turnovers. Robinson and Devin Gardner were hemmed in as Michigan ran only 21 offensive plays in the second half.

"We just had to limit the big plays," linebacker Shazier said. "We were missing way too many tackles at the beginning of the game. We settled down on that and settled down on the big plays in the second half."

This wouldn't have been the 2012 Buckeyes without some adversity and drama. The defense played without star defensive end John Simon, who experienced swelling in his knee after last week's Wisconsin game. And even with the second-half defensive domination, Ohio State kept frittering away excellent scoring chances and settled for just two field goals to keep Michigan in the thick of it.

In the end, that's the signature of these Buckeyes. They never made things easy, but they never lost.

"We have so much confidence because we've been in so many close games like this," Sabino said. "We know how to come out with the win."

Now all they can do is watch football until the spring. Several players said they planned to watch next week's Big Ten championship game between Wisconsin and Nebraska, two teams they beat earlier this season.

They will do so believing someone else will get a trophy they earned.

"I feel like we're the true Big Ten champions," Shazier said. "We won every game and did exactly what we're supposed to do and finished out strong. We showed it today."

The Buckeyes can do nothing more to prove themselves. But no one can ever definitively tell them they weren't the best team in the country, either. They'd love a shot at the national title. They'll settle for perfection.

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin running back Montee Ball's highlight tape of touchdowns might as well be a full-length feature. He entered Saturday with 77, one shy of the FBS all-time record.

Unfortunately for Ball, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier watched most of the movie in the week leading up to Saturday's game.

"He scores plenty of touchdowns," Shazier said. "I watched film on him, and I saw when he gets around the [1- or 2-yard line], he likes to jump. So once he jumped, I jumped, and I punched the ball out."

Shazier's forced fumble against Ball late in the fourth quarter -- just the second lost fumble in Ball's record-setting career -- ended up not meaning much. Wisconsin scored on its next possession to tie the game before Ohio State went on to win 21-14 in overtime.

But Shazier's play epitomized Ohio State's victory, one fueled by defense with a sprinkle of special teams, thanks to Corey "Philly" Brown.

Braxton Miller won't be on "SportsCenter" tonight, but Shazier should be. So should defensive end John Simon, who tied a career high with four sacks. So should cornerback Bradley Roby, who had to cover two players after a teammate blew an assignment and batted down a sure-fire touchdown catch by Derek Watt.

The silver bullets stood tall at Camp Randall Stadium, helping Ohio State secure a Leaders Division title, maintain a perfect 11-0 record and set up a chance for perfection in The Game next week against Michigan.

"Our offense kind of struggled a little bit, but at the same time, it's a team sport, so the defense, we needed to go out and do our thing," said Roby, who wore a Leaders Division championship T-shirt. "Defense wins championships. We thrive on that."

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
AP Photo/Andy Manis)Ryan Shazier and the Ohio State defense wrapped up Montee Ball when it counted.
Added defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins: "Being here at Ohio State, the defense always carries this team."

Wisconsin (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) moved the ball better than Ohio State, outgaining the Buckeyes 360-236. The Badgers reached Buckeyes territory on four drives and started two others in plus territory. Ball had 191 rushing yards on 39 carries, while quarterback Curt Phillips passed the ball much more than he did the previous week with some success (14-for-25 passing).

But Ohio State allowed just 14 points.

"That's where it hurts the most," Ball said. "We're driving the football down the field, driving down the field, and we still fall short."

Ball tied Travis Prentice's Football Bowl Subdivision record midway through the second quarter and appeared ready to break it as Wisconsin reached the Buckeyes' 3-yard line with 3:44 remaining. Thanks to Shazier, Ball remains stuck on 77.

"We knew that he needed two to break the record, and we were not going to allow him to break it on us," Shazier said.

First-year coach Urban Meyer often tells his players, a team that refuses to be beat won't be beat. Ohio State at times has looked like a team that would be beat. It looked that way for stretches of the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. It looked that way for much of an Oct. 20 game against Purdue before surviving in overtime without Miller.

It even looked that way after Wisconsin forced overtime when Phillips found Jacob Pedersen in the end zone with eight seconds left in regulation.

"We were sucking our thumbs after that," Meyer said.

But once again, Ohio State made the plays it had to. Running back Carlos Hyde, who had just 13 carries in regulation, broke a tackle and ran 11 yards on the first play of overtime. Three plays later, he scooted easily into the end zone.

The defense then took over. Linebacker Etienne Sabino, playing for the first time since suffering a broken leg in the Big Ten opener against Nebraska, dropped Ball for a loss of 2 yards. Safety Christian Bryant, who recovered Ball's fumble in the fourth quarter, broke up a pass on fourth down to end it.

"We can't be beat," Hankins said. "We're not settling for a loss. We want to go undefeated, and that's our goal."

Shazier called Camp Randall Stadium a "gladiator-type atmosphere," as Wisconsin fans tried boost Ball and the other seniors to a win that would have further validated the Badgers' spot in the Big Ten title game Dec. 1. Instead, the Buckeyes were the bad guys again, sweeping their Big Ten road schedule -- a hallmark of Jim Tressel's best teams and Meyer's first.

"You go into someone else's home, in front of their fans, their moms, their girlfriends, and you just want to dominate them," Roby said. "What's better than that? Going into somebody else's house and taking everything they have. You see that when we play away games. We play way better than we do at home."

Ohio State will have to be good at home to preserve perfection. The season ends next Saturday no matter what for a Buckeyes team that, while flawed, has managed to walk off the field a winner 11 times.

Michigan comes in with an outside chance to reach the Big Ten title game and a definite chance to ruin the Buckeyes' quest for 12-0.

"We can talk about it now," Meyer said.

The Game is here. A chance for Ohio State's sixth-ever undefeated, untied season is at stake.

Buckle up.

"[Wisconsin] is not our rival," Meyer said. "The next one is."
MADISON, Wis. -- Greetings from America's dairyland, where today Ohio State puts its perfect record on the line against Wisconsin.

Coming off of an open week, the Buckeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) can clinch the Leaders Division title with a win. Wisconsin, meanwhile, will represent the division Dec. 1 at the Big Ten championship in Indianapolis. The Badgers can earn a share of the division title by winning out and having Ohio State lose next week to Michigan.

Wisconsin (7-3, 4-2) hasn't dropped consecutive home games since the 2008 season, and had its 21-game win streak at Camp Randall Stadium stopped by Michigan State on Oct. 27. It's senior day, and among those being honored is running back Montee Ball, who needs two touchdowns -- of any kind -- to become the NCAA's all-time leader. Ball needs one rushing touchdown to eclipse former Badgers star Ron Dayne for the Big Ten rushing touchdowns record. Ball has been fabulous at this time of year, averaging nearly 180 rush yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games.

Curt Phillips makes his second start on offense after doing a nice job despite limited passing last week against Indiana. The senior likely will need to put the ball in the air more than seven times today.

Ohio State regains a big piece of its linebacking corps in senior Etienne Sabino, out since suffering a broken leg Oct. 6. Wisconsin, meanwhile, might be without its top defensive playmaker in linebacker Chris Borland (hamstring). Borland will test his hamstring in pregame warm-ups.

Although The Game always will mean more to Ohio State, the Wisconsin rivalry has been growing and could be a more significant game in most seasons because the teams are in the same division. This week, Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown told reporters, "I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan." While coaches Bret Bielema and Urban Meyer downplayed their post-signing day flap, if either man gets the chance to tack on a few points, I think he will.

Weather should be great. Sunny skies, temperatures in the mid to high 40s and winds at 7-10 mph.

Check back for continued coverage of the Badgers and Buckeyes throughout the day.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a good weekend. I'll be here. Fired up.

David from Chicago writes: Adam, are you having long term memory issues? All the articles this week reference the 564 rushing yard by the Badgers but you seem to have forgotten about the 19 rushing yards against MSU the week before that or the 56 rushing yards against Nebraska. But when talking about the Buckeyes Defense your memory seems fine because you reference the Purdue and Indiana games that were a month or longer ago. You feeling OK?

Adam Rittenberg: Ha, I think I'm OK, David, but thanks for checking. Wisconsin's offense has been all over the map this season -- great against Indiana and Purdue, terrible against Michigan State and Oregon State, good in the first half at Nebraska, bad in the second half at Nebraska. Listen, I don't expect Wisconsin to rush for 564 yards against Ohio State, which, as you point out, has improved defensively in recent weeks. If the Buckeyes play like they did at Penn State, they'll keep Wisconsin's one-dimensional offense in check. Getting Etienne Sabino back at linebacker is huge, as you don't want a thin LB corps against Wisconsin, regardless of the Badgers' ups and downs. I actually expect a fairly high-scoring game, as Montee Ball will step up on senior day, but Ohio State has too much firepower and will prevail.


Dave from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., writes: Adam, you picked Zwinak to go for 130 yards and three scores in your predictions, but your fantasy team doesn't reflect your prediction. I think a guy who goes for 130 and 3TD's would be a good pickup for a fantasy team.Lack of confidence in your ability to predict a game I presume? I'm just looking for an explanation. Also- I will LOL if he does actually bust through the Indiana defense for 3 scores and you don't have him this week.

Adam Rittenberg: Dave, you got me on this one a bit. I gave a lot of thought to adding Zwinak on my fantasy team, but I also was looking ahead to next week a bit and didn't want Bennett to pick up Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde, who has put up a lot of points since moving into a featured role. I thought about dropping Northwestern's Venric Mark against a good MSU defense, but Mark leads the league in all-purpose yards and gets points both as a running back and on returns, so I couldn't drop him. The Zwinak move likely would have been a one-week deal just for Indiana. Hey, I might pay the price, as many of my waiver moves haven't been good. But I just felt having Hyde for the last two weeks was more important after Bennett picked up Le'Veon Bell, who I assume he'll keep next week, too.


Caleb from Los Angeles writes: Adam, I find this talk about Hawkeye fans wanting Kirk Ferentz extremely rash. Are the Hawks having a great year? By no means, but there has been a lot of problems all coming to a head for them this year and I think that Kirk has built a reputation to try and fix things. Is he a perfect coach? No, but he is also not the slouch that many seem to think he is now. He's lost 4 close games this year that could have gone another way so it's not like every game they're getting blown out. Brian pointed out in his mailbag how much it would cost the program to get rid of him but even beyond that Hawk fans have to be realistic. This isn't Alabama, or Ohio State, or Oklahoma. We don't have the tradition to justify firing a good coach during a bad year and aim for an exceptional coach like Nick Saban or Urban Meyer. Rather I would see Iowa falling down the same path as Colorado. Look at their history and how unwatchable they are now, it all started when they fire Gary Barnett. So I say to Hawk fans, be patient, let Ferentz do his job and he'll right the ship, the grass is definitely not always greener.

Adam Rittenberg: Caleb, thanks for your perspective. When a team struggles, we tend to only hear the loudest opinions demanding coaching changes, while a portion of folks quietly remain supportive of Ferentz. It's always good to get the other side. The bottom line, as Brian pointed out and as you know, is that Iowa can't get rid of Ferentz because of the buyout and probably shouldn't despite this terrible season. It's always refreshing when fans know what their program truly is -- rather than what they think it should be -- and you seem to have that understanding with Iowa. Here's the thing, though. The one thing that doesn't match what Iowa football is, is Ferentz's high salary. People have a hard time grasping how a program like Iowa pays what it pays for a head coach who wins six to nine games most seasons. Could Iowa be a six- to nine-win program with a coach who makes $2 million a year? Or would Iowa, as you point out, become like Colorado if it parts ways with Ferentz? I think Iowa's program will improve with better facilities, but there are always inherent challenges. Ultimately, you can't be scared of change, and it doesn't make sense to pay so far above market value unless you're consistently winning eight or more games. These are some of the questions Iowa must grapple with going forward. But unless he leaves for the NFL, Ferentz will be back in 2013.


Bopa from Lincoln, Neb., writes: At this point in the season do you think there's any way that Taylor can surpass Braxton as the B1G Offensive Player of the Year?

Adam Rittenberg: Bopa, it would take two strong performances from Taylor Martinez against Minnesota and Iowa, which is extremely possible given how he has been playing. But a bigger factor in my view is how Braxton Miller performs against Wisconsin and Michigan. Aside from maybe Purdue, a game he didn't finish, Miller hasn't had a really bad performance all season. He's a big-game player who could put himself in the Heisman mix with strong efforts against the Badgers and Wolverines, arguably the two best teams Ohio State has seen all season. Keep in mind that Miller outplayed Martinez when Ohio State beat Nebraska, and while I don't vote for Offensive Player of the Year, those who do won't forget that night. So I think it'll take some poor efforts from Miller the next two weeks to give the award to Martinez, as good as he has been recently.


Zane from Chicago writes: My question is about the Rose Bowl selection process. I think I have the underlying restrictions down. If Oregon qualifies for the BCS Championship game, then only a Pac 12 team that finishes in the top 14 in the BCS qualifies for an at large bid to the Rose Bowl. Correct? If so, is the Rose Bowl required to pick this Pac 12 team? If not, what do you think are the chances they do pick this Pac 12 team in the name of tradition rather than picking another team? What if two Pac 12 teams are eligible? Do they have to pick the higher rated one or do they have the choice? Also, assuming it is a KSU/Oregon NC game, who do you think finishes #1 and therefore determines which bowl gets the first at large pick? Do you think Notre Dame gets picked 1st no matter which bowl gets that at large pick? From some discussion it seems that the Fiesta does not have to keep its ties to the Big 12 with OU if it doesn't want to. It seems the Rose Bowl favors tradition more and is more likely to take that Pac 12 at large pick if there is a 2nd team eligible. Thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: If the Rose Bowl loses its Pac-12 champion to the title game, it's not obligated to select another eligible Pac-12 team (top 14). It would be able to select any Pac-12 team in the top 14, and I would be surprised if it didn't select the higher-rated team, although it depends on the circumstances. Regarding Notre Dame, as appealing as the Irish are to any bowl game, I would be shocked if the Rose Bowl picked the Irish ahead of an eligible Pac-12 team. The Rose Bowl is so loyal to the Big Ten and the Pac-12, which have protected it in BCS negotiations during the years. The other bowl games aren't as loyal to their tie-in conferences as the Rose Bowl is to the Big Ten/Pac-12. If the Fiesta gets the first replacement pick for Kansas State, I'd expect Notre Dame to go to Glendale. But if the Rose has a chance and no Pac-12 team is eligible, it will pick ND, no doubt.


Phil from Minneapolis writes: Adam -Quick question. Per your latest "What to Watch in B1G Ten", Can you clarify Ball's rushing touchdown requirements and the records he'll break? You say he needs 2 on Saturday to break Prentice's record of 77, but only needs 1 to break Ron Dayne's Big Ten Record of 72? Please explain, something's off there

Adam Rittenberg: Sure, Phil, as I know it can be a bit confusing. Ball is two total touchdowns away from breaking Travis Prentice's NCAA record for total touchdowns. Remember that Ball had six receiving touchdowns last season. Ron Dayne's Big Ten record is for rushing touchdowns only. So Ball needs one rushing touchdown to break the Big Ten record and two touchdowns -- rushing or receiving -- to break Prentice's mark. Hope that clears it up.


Harry from East Lansing, Mich., writes: It's entertaining to watch your (and Brian's) score predictions, but sometimes it gets a little absurd. "...and for the second consecutive year he finds Devin Smith for the game-winning touchdown to beat the Badgers". I think any reasonable person would think the chance of this happening is slim, so are you writing this because you seriously think the will happen or just for the sake of entertaining readers? I think it's the latter and I appreciate that as a reader, but at the same time I'm sure a lot of readers would like to know what you guys are really thinking.

Adam Rittenberg: Harry, it's definitely for entertainment value. We try to make the predictions more fun and more entertaining than just a score, and while we try to predict yards and touchdowns for individual players, the Devin Smith thing is just a nod to last year's game. Do I really think it's going to happen? Probably not. But if it does, I'll take full credit as Nostradamenberg!

Big Ten: Who will transform tomorrow?

November, 16, 2012
11/16/12
9:00
AM ET
Each Friday during the season, we'll be taking a look at a Big Ten player to watch when the games kick off Saturday.

This week's selection: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

Saturday assignment: at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2

Shazier failed to win his third consecutive Big Ten player of the week award this week but maybe only because his Buckeyes did not play last Saturday. The sophomore has come on strong in the second half of the season and has been outstanding his last three times out, against Purdue (13 tackles), Penn State (seven tackles, pick six) and Illinois (14 tackles).

Now comes a different type challenge for Shazier against Wisconsin. The Badgers ran for a school record 564 yards last week at Indiana and love to pull their guards and get their running backs into the second level of the defense. It will be imperative that the Ohio State linebackers provide strong run support -- and don't get burned too much on play action.

Shazier took over some leadership responsibilities when senior Etienne Sabino went down with a broken leg in the Oct. 6 Nebraska game. Sabino is back this week to help out, but Shazier needs to remain a big-time playmaker. He's not the biggest guy in the world, but he's a fierce hitter who can chase down plays away from his area.

If Shazier has a big game defensively, that will help the Buckeyes get one step closer to their goal of an undefeated season.

Video: Big Ten Game of the Week

November, 15, 2012
11/15/12
2:00
PM ET

Ohio State puts its perfect record on the line at Wisconsin in the Big Ten's game of the week.

Big Ten lunch links

November, 13, 2012
11/13/12
12:00
PM ET
You were this close to ripping off his mis-buttoned shirt and pulling down his inside-out underpants.

Big Ten Monday personnel roundup

November, 12, 2012
11/12/12
3:30
PM ET
Some personnel news and nuggets from around the league Monday afternoon:

Ohio State

Coach Urban Meyer says he doesn't know what percentage linebacker Etienne Sabino is at right now, but the senior will start at Wisconsin. Sabino broke his leg last month against Nebraska, and his return will be a big boost to the defense for the final two games.

Meyer also said freshman running back Bri'onte Dunn has an MCL sprain that won't require surgery but will keep him out of this week's game. Dunn is questionable to play in the finale against Michigan, too. Dunn had his best game two weeks ago against Illinois, when he ran for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Special teams ace Armani Reeves (ankle) and safety Orhian Johnson (shoulder) will be back this week for the Buckeyes.

Nebraska

Star running back Rex Burkhead plans to test his injured knee in practice today in hopes that he can return for Saturday's senior day game against Minnesota. Burkhead said he's "pretty close" to getting back on the field but that he wants to be smart about the injury so he can play in a potential Big Ten title game and possibly the Rose Bowl. Bo Pelini said the team does not want to play Burkhead until he is 100 percent healthy.

Michigan

Brady Hoke is once again not providing much information on his quarterback situation. Hoke described Denard Robinson (nerve issue in elbow) as "day-to-day" without any further details. Robinson has missed the past two games. Hoke also said there was no update on backup quarterback Russell Bellomy, who has been out with an undisclosed injury. Robinson will not speak to the media this week even though Saturday is senior day and he's had an historic career. Hoke said Robinson's availability to play this week would have "nothing to do" with it being senior day.

Northwestern

Losing cornerback Nick VanHoose (shoulder) has hurt the Wildcats' secondary, maybe never more so than at the end of last week's Michigan game. Will VanHoose play this week? Head coach Pat Fitzgerald said the team "will have to see how he progresses this week" before making that determination. Fitzgerald also said star running back Venric Mark has an undisclosed injury but should play this week against Michigan State.

Illinois

Star linebacker Jonathan Brown (shoulder) has still not been cleared to play after missing the past two games. Head coach Tim Beckman said Brown is no longer using a sling and looks to be improving, however.

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