Big Ten: Jake Stoneburner

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
Travis FrederickMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesAs the 31st pick, Travis Frederick was the first Big Ten player to be drafted.
The gap between the Big Ten and the SEC not only is widening on the field, but on the NFL draft boards.

While the SEC produced a record 63 picks in the 2013 NFL draft -- eight more than any conference in any draft in the modern era and 32 more than the next-best conference (ACC) in this year's draft -- the Big Ten endured a mostly forgettable three days at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Before going any further, this post isn't meant to knock the Big Ten players who heard their names called Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They worked years for this moment and deserve to celebrate their accomplishments. Congrats to all.

But for the Big Ten as a whole, this draft was a total dud. Was it the league's worst draft ever? If it isn't, it's certainly in the conversation.

The Big Ten produced only 22 draft picks, its lowest total since 1994, when it had 21 (and 11 teams, not 12). In 1994, the Big Ten had the No. 1 overall pick (Ohio State DT Dan Wilkinson), four first-round selections and eight selections in the first three rounds.

You have to wonder how much the Big Ten's damaged national reputation is impacting its draft hopefuls. The SEC's rise has made that conference the first place NFL general managers and player personnel directors look for talent. Although Big Ten players might be comparable to their SEC counterparts in many ways, their competition level might be looked at as a drawback in the final evaluations.

This year, the Big Ten tied with the Big 12 for fourth among leagues in producing picks, but the Big Ten produced fewer selections in the first three rounds (7) than any of the power conferences. Last year, the Big Ten finished with 41 draft picks, just one behind the SEC for the top spot.

Other items of note (tip of the cap to ESPN Stats & Information and the Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises for several of these):

  • [+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
    Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State's Le'Veon Bell was the second running back taken in the draft.
    Although the Big Ten's national reputation has been an issue for some time, it didn't dramatically impact the draft until this year. The Big Ten has produced at least 27 draft picks every year since the 21-player output in 1994.
  • The Big Ten's four biggest brand-name programs -- Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska -- combined to produce just two picks in the first three rounds (Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Penn State DT Jordan Hill).
  • Nebraska endured its longest drought without a selection since 1970, as running back Rex Burkhead waited until the sixth round to hear Cincinnati call his name with the 190th overall pick. The Huskers didn't have a selection in the first four rounds for the third time in the past six seasons. With just two draftees -- Burkhead and safety Daimion Stafford, who went in the seventh round -- Nebraska had its weakest output since 1969.
  • Michigan went without a draftee in the first four rounds for the first time since 1968 and without one in the first three rounds for just the fifth time since 1970 (1976, 1989, 2006 and 2009 were the others). The Wolverines have had just five players drafted in the past two seasons.
  • Ohio State had just three players -- Hankins, defensive lineman John Simon and offensive tackle Reid Fragel -- drafted from a team that went 12-0 in 2012. Fragel's selection in the seventh round helped Ohio State avoid its smallest draft class since 1968.
  • An Illinois team that went 2-10 last season and 0-8 in Big Ten play led the league with four players drafted. It continues a mystifying trend for the Illini, who have had four players selected in each of the past four NFL drafts, even though the team has endured losing seasons in three of the past five years. Illinois has produced 10 players selected in the first three rounds since 2010, the most of any Big Ten team.
  • As expected, three Big Ten teams -- Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana -- had no players drafted. Northwestern went 10-3 last season.

Perhaps the best draft news for the Big Ten is that future member Rutgers had seven players selected, tied for the sixth highest total.

(Read full post)

The spectacle known as the NFL draft kicks off tonight in New York with the first round. As Brian pointed out late last week, the Big Ten is in danger of going without a first-round selection for the first time since the NFL-AFL merger.

Mel Kiper Jr.'s final Big Board Insider doesn't include a Big Ten player, and both Kiper's Insider and Todd McShay's Insider final mock first rounds have no Big Ten players.

Lets look beyond the first round, as ESPN Scouts Inc. has put together a complete seven-round mock draft Insider.

How did the Big Ten contingent fare? If Scouts Inc., is correct, 42 selections will be made before a Big Ten player hears his name called. Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short is the first Big Ten player on the board at No. 43, going to Tampa Bay in the second round. Only one other Big Ten player, Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, is pegged as a second-round pick.

Here's the rest of the Scouts Inc. Big Ten forecast (in order of predicted selection)...

Round 3: Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell, Wisconsin C Travis Frederick, Ohio State DE John Simon, Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins, Illinois DT Akeem Spence

Round 4: Michigan State DE William Gholston, Illinois DE Michael Buchanan, Illinois G Hugh Thornton, Ohio State T Reid Fragel

Round 5: Michigan State TE Dion Sims, Penn State DT Jordan Hill, Wisconsin T Ricky Wagner

Round 6: Michigan QB Denard Robinson (will play WR), Iowa CB Micah Hyde, Ohio State TE Jake Stoneburner, Penn State LB Gerald Hodges, Michigan State CB Johnny Adams, Purdue CB Josh Johnson

Round 7: Nebraska S Daimion Stafford, Illinois CB Terry Hawthorne, Penn State LB Michael Mauti, Ohio State DE Nathan Williams (listed at OLB)

Thoughts: Overall, it's a pretty gloomy draft forecast for the Big Ten. Denard Robinson in the sixth round? That's lower than many have predicted. Ohio State's Hankins, once considered a likely first-round selection, wouldn't be pleased to slip to No. 89 overall. The Scouts Inc. forecast also excludes Nebraska RB Rex Burkhead, plagued by knee injuries during his senior season. Other players not showing up include Minnesota QB MarQueis Gray (will play TE in the NFL), Iowa QB James Vandenberg, Penn State C Matt Stankiewitch, Wisconsin LB Mike Taylor and Michigan S Jordan Kovacs. Once again, Illinois is pegged to be one of the Big Ten's top NFL draft producers despite poor results on the field. Penn State's standout trio on defense will be waiting a while, although I wouldn't be surprised if a guy like Hill goes earlier than Round 5. Three Big Ten teams -- Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern -- are pegged to be shut out of the draft. Future Big Ten member Rutgers is pegged to have six draft picks, led by defenders Khaseem Greene and Logan Ryan in the third round, while Maryland is pegged to have just one (TE Matt Furstenburg).

We'll have draft-related posts on the Big Ten both Friday morning and Monday after all the selections are made.
Denard RobinsonAP Photo/Dave MartinMichigan's Denard Robinson impressed with his speed at the combine.

Michigan's Denard Robinson boasted last year that he could beat Usain Bolt in the 40-yard dash.

If that's true, than the Olympic sprint champion wouldn't be one of the fastest 10 men in this year's NFL draft. While Robinson's claim might have been too bold, he still put up a predictably fast time in the 40 during NFL combine workouts on Sunday. The former Wolverine ran an official 4.43-second 40 in Indianapolis, tying him for ninth among all players who have worked out so far. Bolt might need to worry more about Texas receiver Marquise Goodwin, who ran a 4.27.

There are always some interesting finds in the combine numbers. Who would have guessed, for instance, that the creator of the Le'Veon Leap, Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell, would record the same number on the vertical jump (31.5 inches) as Wisconsin offensive tackle Ricky Wagner? The same Wagner who was listed at 317 pounds this season for the Badgers. Strange but true.

The quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, offensive linemen and specialists have all had their turn under the microscope at the combine. Defensive linemen and linebackers will work out today, with defensive backs wrapping things up on Tuesday.

Let's take a look at how Big Ten players rank among the top overall performers so far:

  • Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, not surprisingly, tested well in several areas. The Huskers running back was fifth overall in the vertical leap at 39 inches, tied for 8th in the broad jump at 10 feet, five inches, was 10th in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.09 seconds, 14th in the three-cone drill at 6.85 seconds and 14th in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.51 seconds.
  • In addition to his 40 time, Robinson tied for 13th in vertical jump at 36.5 inches.
  • Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence is third in the bench press so far at 37 reps at 225 pounds.
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Reid Fragel is ninth in the bench press with 33 reps.
  • Michigan State's Bell is ninth in the three-cone drill at 6.75 seconds. Bell, by the way, weighed in at 230 pounds.
  • Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner tied for 12th in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.5 seconds.

Now let's examine the position groups and see how Big Ten players stacked among their peers at their positions:

Quarterbacks

  • Iowa's James Vandenberg was third among quarterbacks in the vertical jump at 32 inches, second in the three-cone drill, fourth in the broad jump at 116 inches, seventh with a 4.92 in the 40-yard dash, and tied for 10th in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Minnesota's MarQueis Gray was fourth with a 4.73-second 40-yard dash, seventh in vertical jump at 30 inches, tied for in the ninth broad jump (111 inches ), 10th in three-cone drill and tied for fourth in the 20-yard shuttle.
Running backs

  • Who was the fastest among big-time Big Ten backs? Bell ran a 4.60, just ahead of Wisconsin's Montee Ball at 4.66, while Burkhead posted a 4.73.
  • Bell was also ninth in the 225-pound bench press at 24 reps, third in the three-cone drill and 10th in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Burkhead was behind only Texas A&M's Christine Michael in vertical jump, tied for second in broad jump, placed fourth in the three-cone drill, second in the 20-yard shuttle and fifth in the 60-yard shuttle. He tied for 13th with 22 reps on the bench press.
  • Ball talked last week about not being known for doing any one thing great. His combine numbers were a reflection of that. His 40 time was 19th among running backs, and his only Top 15 finish in any workout was his seventh-place showing in the three-cone drill.
  • Ohio State fullback Zach Boren tied for seventh in bench press at 25 reps.
Receivers

  • Robinson was the only Big Ten player to be invited as a receiver. In addition to his numbers mentioned earlier, Robinson tied for 10th among wideouts in the broad jump at 123 inches and tied for 12th in the 20-yard shuttle.
Tight ends

  • Michigan State's Dion Sims tied for third among tight ends in the bench press at 22 reps, was third in the vertical leap (35 inches) and finished second in both the three-cone and 60-yard shuttle drills. He was 12th in the 40-yard dash at 4.75 seconds and 12th in broad jump at 112 inches.
  • Ohio State's Stoneburner was third among tight ends in the 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds. He was fifth in vertical leap (34.5 inches), tied for fourth in the broad jump (116 inches) and sixth in the three-cone drill. He placed ninth in bench at 18 reps.
Offensive line

  • Ohio State's Fragel was fourth among offensive linemen with 33 reps on the 225-pound bench press. He was fifth in vertical leap at 30 inches and third in the broad jump at 113 inches.
  • Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner was third in the vertical jump at 31.5 inches. He did 20 reps on the bench press and ran a 5.17 40-yard time.
  • Badgers center Travis Frederick ran a 5.58 40-yard time and did 21 reps on the bench press.
  • Illinois' Hugh Thornton was 10th in the 20-yard shuttle drill. His 40 time was 5.11 seconds, and he did 27 reps on the bench.
  • Penn State center Matt Stankiewitch did 27 reps on the bench and ran a ran a 5.43 in the 40.

Big Ten lunchtime links

February, 22, 2013
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Close only counts in horse grenades. It's a saying. 'Cause if you're playing horseshoes and then you throw a grenade at a horse, it doesn't have to be that close and you can still blow the horse's legs off. It's from the movie "Seabiscuit."
After a brief break for signing day, the postseason position rankings return with the wide receivers and tight ends. The Big Ten had only one team (Indiana) rank in the top 30 nationally in pass offense, and the league's overall depth at receiver and tight end wasn't good at all, but a few groups of pass-catchers stood out.

As a reminder, these rankings are based solely on performance during the 2012 season and factor in both star power and depth. Here's a look at our preseason rundown.

There's clear separation with the top three groups, while the bottom four could be rearranged just about any way you want (if you enjoy that sort of thing).

Now let's get started ...

[+] EnlargeCody Latimer
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsReceiver Cody Latimer should have a productive season in Indiana's pass-oriented system.
1. Indiana (Preseason ranking: 8): The Hoosiers attempted 58 more passes than any other Big Ten team, but they had plenty of reasons to do so and merit top billing here. Speedster Shane Wynn led the squad in receptions with 68, but Cody Latimer emerged into the star of the group, recording 51 receptions for 806 yards and six touchdowns. Like Latimer, Kofi Hughes stretched the field and averaged nearly 15 yards per reception. Tight end Ted Bolser also made nice contributions (41 catches, 445 yards). IU had five receivers or tight ends finish with at least 23 receptions.

2. Nebraska (Preseason ranking: 2): The Huskers' multitude of big-play threats nearly put them in the top spot, as they helped Nebraska finish with the Big Ten's top offense (460.8 ypg). Wideout Kenny Bell led the way with 863 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 50 receptions (17.3-yard average). Receiver Jamal Turner and tight ends Kyler Reed and Ben Cotton all averaged at least 13 yards per reception. Quincy Enunwa became a nice No. 2 target with 42 receptions for 470 yards.

3. Penn State (Preseason ranking: 7): Few saw this coming before the season, and our preseason capsule about the Nittany Lions began with, "Justin Brown gives the Nittany Lions a solid top option." Whoops. Even though Brown transferred in the wake of the NCAA sanctions, Penn State found surprise stars in wide receiver Allen Robinson and tight end Kyle Carter. Robinson won the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year Award after leading the league in receptions (77), receiving yards (1,013) and touchdown catches (11). Carter (36 catches for 453 yards) might have been the league's top tight end, a position where Penn State had unparalleled depth. Players like wideout Brandon Moseby-Felder and tight end Matt Lehman emerged later in the season.

4. Purdue (Preseason ranking: 5): There's definitely a drop-off after the top three groups, but Purdue had a nice crop of receivers who likely would have put up bigger numbers if quarterback Robert Marve had stayed healthy all season. Wideouts O.J. Ross (56 receptions, 454 yards) and Antavian Edison (58 receptions, 682 yards) both finished in the league's top five in receptions, while Gary Bush also eclipsed the 40-catch mark. Young wideout Dolapo Macarthy showed promise, and tight ends Gabe Holmes and Crosby Wright combined for 47 receptions.

5. Michigan (Preseason ranking: 6): No offense to Denard Robinson, but Michigan's receiving corps truly got its chance to shine once Devin Gardner took control at quarterback. Michigan became a much more pass-oriented offense and stretched the field with several players. Jeremy Gallon turned in a very solid junior season with 49 receptions for 829 yards and four touchdowns (16.9-yard average). Roy Roundtree came on strong late in the season and made the catch of the year in the league against Northwestern to force overtime. Michigan received nice contributions from wideout Drew Dileo and young tight end Devin Funchess (five touchdowns), and Gardner himself made some plays early on before switching permanently to QB.

6. Ohio State (Preseason ranking: 9): Coach Urban Meyer is looking for much more from Ohio State's perimeter players, but in a pass-challenged league like the Big Ten, Ohio State's receivers and tight ends finish in the middle of the pack. Corey Brown quietly produced a 60-catch season, finishing fourth in the league in receptions (5 rpg). Devin Smith had half as many receptions as Brown but finished with nearly the same yardage total (669-618) as he became Braxton Miller's top deep threat. Jake Stoneburner had four touchdown catches, while sophomore tight end Jeff Heuerman showed some promise.

7. Northwestern (Preseason ranking: 1): Thanks to the emergence of Venric Mark, Northwestern became a much more run-driven offense than we anticipated before the season, although the receiving corps underachieved a bit. The Wildcats had no true stars, although they boasted some nice balance as four players recorded at least 29 receptions. The big bright spot late in the season came from freshman tight end Dan Vitale, who recorded 28 receptions for 288 yards and two touchdowns. USC transfer Kyle Prater wasn't much of a factor (10 catches, 54 yards). Quarterback Kain Colter might have provided the best performance from a Northwestern receiver when he moved there against Indiana and recorded career highs for both receptions (9) and receiving yards (131).

8. Michigan State (Preseason ranking: 11): It says something about the Big Ten when Michigan State's receivers, who received heavy criticism for much of the season, finish in the top two-thirds of the rankings. But the Spartans simply produced a lot more than the groups below them. They had arguably the league's top tight end in Dion Sims, who recorded 36 receptions for 475 yards before opting to skip his senior year and enter the NFL draft. Freshman Aaron Burbridge emerged at receiver during Big Ten play (29 receptions, 364), and the Spartans had three receivers record at least 36 receptions and two -- Keith Mumphery and Bennie Fowler -- with more than 500 receiving yards.

9. Wisconsin (Preseason ranking: 3): Wisconsin had a major shortage of depth, which hurt during a season where three different players started at quarterback. The Badgers had one of the league's best wide receivers in Jared Abbrederis (49 receptions, 837 yards, 5 TDs), and Jacob Pedersen won the Big Ten's Kwalick-Clark Tight End of the Year award, albeit in surprising fashion. But no other players recorded 20 receptions and Wisconsin ended up finishing last in the Big Ten and 111th nationally in passing.

10. Iowa (Preseason rank: 4): The Hawkeyes struggled to consistently pass the ball, and getting into the end zone proved to be nearly impossible as they finished with just seven receiving touchdowns. Kevonte Martin-Manley, the group's bright spot with 52 catches for 571 yards, was the lone Hawkeye with multiple scoring receptions in 2012. Keenan Davis fell short of expectations and while C.J. Fiedorowicz put up nice numbers for a tight end (45 receptions, 433 yards), many expected more from him as well. Like several Big Ten squads, Iowa struggled with depth at receiver.

11. Illinois (Preseason ranking: 10): We had concerns about Illinois' skill-position talent and depth before the season, and it proved true. Although the Illini had four players record at least 25 receptions, two of them -- receptions leader Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson -- play running back. Ryan Lankford was the team's top wideout with 469 receiving yards and five touchdowns, while Darius Millines once again struggled to stay healthy. Spencer Harris contributed 21 catches for 252 yards and two scores, but Illinois needed much more to spark the league's worst offense.

12. Minnesota (Preseason ranking: 12): Like many of their Big Ten brethren, the Gophers lacked playmakers on the edge to provide balance on offense. Their best threat, A.J. Barker, left the program in not-so-quiet fashion after a spat with head coach Jerry Kill. Barker appeared in only eight games but still had 11 more receptions than any other Minnesota player. Receivers like Isaac Fruechte, Derrick Engel and Devin Crawford-Tufts showed flashes, and tight end John Rabe had four touchdown grabs, but Minnesota needs a lot more from this group going forward.

Big Ten players on NFL combine list

February, 7, 2013
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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
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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
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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.

Perfection within reach for Ohio State

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
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At Ohio State, historic seasons are recorded in three ways.

1. Big Ten championships: the Buckeyes have won or shared 34

2. Rose Bowl championships: the Buckeyes have 7

3. National championships: the Buckeyes have 13 (including all selections), most recently the BCS national title in 2002

At a traditional power like Ohio State, if no championship is won, the season is pretty much forgotten.

Ohio State's seniors entered their final season with the sobering knowledge that they couldn't achieve any of these goals. A postseason ban for NCAA violations deprived them of competing in the Big Ten title game or any bowl game. The only championship they could win was the Leaders Division.

Their only chance to truly make history was to do something that often has proven harder than winning the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl or even the national title. They had to be perfect. Only 10 previous Ohio State teams have recorded undefeated, untied regular seasons. Only five previous Ohio State teams -- 1916, 1944, 1954, 1968 and 2002 -- finished the postseason without a loss or a tie. Only two previous Buckeye squads, the 2002 and 2006 versions, started a season 12-0.

Add in the fact Ohio State had a new coach (Urban Meyer), a partially new staff and a mostly young team coming off of the program's first 7-loss season since 1897, and the idea of perfection seemed more fantasy than reality.

It's real now.

Urban Meyer
Pat Lovell/US PresswireUrban Meyer and the Buckeyes could accomplish a rare 12-0 season at Ohio State, despite being on probation.
"It's right in front of us," Buckeyes senior tight end Jake Stoneburner told ESPN.com. "Not that we didn't have anything to play for, but the two things we had to play for were win every game and beat Michigan. So both goals are hopefully going to be able to happen at the same time. We can win our side of the conference, but there's no Big Ten championship or anything like that, so all you can play for is win every game and go undefeated.

"So far, we've done a pretty good job of that."

Ohio State sits at 10-0 for the first time since 2007. The Buckeyes are one of just four undefeated teams in the FBS (No. 1 Kansas State, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Notre Dame are the others). They have quite possibly their two toughest games left, a trip Saturday to Wisconsin followed by The Game against archrival Michigan on Nov. 24 at Ohio Stadium.

The focus inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this week is Wisconsin, just like it had been Illinois, Penn State and Purdue in previous weeks. But Ohio State's quest for perfection is in the home stretch.

"It'll be one of those things where, after the Michigan game, if we are 12-0, we'll look back and be like, 'Wow, we really did it. We really went 12-0,'" Buckeyes linebacker (formerly fullback) Zach Boren told ESPN.com. "But we still have two huge weeks ahead of us."

Let's attempt to put into context what a 12-0 season would mean for Ohio State and Meyer, with help from the fine crew at ESPN Stats & Info:

  • Ohio State would be the fourth team on postseason probation to record an undefeated season. Auburn was most recent to do it in 1993 (11-0). Oklahoma also recorded back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1973 (10-0-1) and 1974 (11-0), winning the AP national title in 1974.
  • Few undefeated teams from major conferences suffered as many losses the previous season as Ohio State's seven in 2011. You have to go back quite a few years for some of the better comparisons. Purdue went from 1-8 in 1942 to 9-0 in 1943. Stanford went from 1-7-1 in 1939 to 10-0 in 1940. Ohio State went from 3-5 in 1943 to 9-0 the following year.
  • Meyer would tie Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema for the most wins in his first season in the Big Ten. He's already the third Ohio State coach to start his career at 10-0 -- Earle Bruce (1979) and Carroll Widdoes (1944) are the others.
  • Widdoes (12-0) and former Michigan coach Fielding Yost (29-0) are the only Big Ten coaches to start their careers with 12 or more wins.
  • Meyer would become just the second coach to go 12-0 or better in his first season at a school. Larry Coker went 12-0 at Miami in 2001, winning a national title, and Chris Petersen went 13-0 at Boise State in 2006. Terry Bowden might be the best comparison to Meyer, as he went 11-0 with probation-laden Auburn in 1993.

The potential historical significance isn't lost on the Buckeyes, especially the seniors.

"That's how I want to go out," Stoneburner said. "It'd be nice to go 12-0 and get an opportunity to play for a national championship or play for a Rose Bowl, but we were able to play for a Rose Bowl [three seasons ago], we were able to play for a Sugar Bowl [two seasons ago, later vacated] and a Fiesta Bowl [four seasons ago]. The one thing we can't say is that we went undefeated throughout a season.

"For this class and what we've gone through, for us to be able to go 12-0, that'd be probably my biggest accomplishment since I've been in school. We're going to make sure we do everything to make that happen."

Boren credits Meyer and the staff for keeping the focus on the immediate. The team doesn't shout "12-0!" at the end of practice or have any signs about going undefeated. Instead, the signs around the complex point to the next win total. There were a lot of 10s displayed before the last game against Illinois, and there are a lot of 11s displayed this week.

Meyer said Tuesday he considered selling the Wisconsin game as Ohio State's Big Ten championship and the Michigan game as the Buckeyes' bowl. But the team doesn't need that.

"I don't think we’re going to have to make any special T-shirts or talk about bowl games or championships," he said. "... There's no issue with us getting ready for this game."

The Buckeye seniors also understand that this season is a starting point.

"We wanted to make sure we had a good first year under Coach Meyer and a good last year for us," Boren said. "This program's just going to take off, and we wanted to help any way possible. We knew if we could set the tone this year and have a good season, even when nothing really counted, that the younger guys will learn how to win."

The three championships will be back on the table in 2013. Ohio State likely will be favored to win the Big Ten and possibly the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes will be mentioned as a potential national title contender. They'll attempt to record a season to remember.

Just like they're doing now.

"Any time you can go undefeated and finish strong, especially with this senior class, you'll definitely leave a legacy," Boren said. "Even in a season where we can't go to the Big Ten championship game or a bowl game, you can still have a season that you will always remember."
Last year, our Big Ten fantasy league turned out to be an anti-climactic clobbering in favor of my team, Non-Gingervitis. This year, we should have an exciting race to the finish line.

Rittenberg's Trombone Shorties eked out a 120-109 victory to tie up our season series 5-5 with three weeks left to play. Who will end the year strong and claim the coveted fantasy title?

Adam got two huge performances last week from Nebraska's Taylor Martinez (46 fantasy points) and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell (30 ), plus another 21 from Penn State's Matt McGloin. I got 30 points from Braxton Miller and 31 from his Ohio State teammate Carlos Hyde, and my waiver-wire pickups of Iowa's Damon Bullock (16) and Purdue's Antavian Edison (15) worked out pretty well. But I was killed by Denard Robinson not playing at Minnesota despite Michigan coach Brady Hoke saying all week that Robinson was fine. Even a subpar game from Shoelace would have been enough to put me over the top. Not that I'm bitter. (Hoke!!!!)

My team has some serious decisions to make this week with Ohio State on a bye and Robinson again questionable. Do I gut my roster and go for the win this week but risk losing studs like Miller, Hyde and Robinson on waivers? Or do I ride out the storm and hope to finish with back-to-back wins in Week 12 and 13 for a narrow victory?

Let's find out. I'm up first with this week's pickups:

Brian adds Wisconsin running back Montee Ball and drops Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde

Rationale: Hyde has been terrific the past several weeks, but he can't help me versus Idle. So I'll happily welcome back Ball to my team so we can relive our championship memories from 2011 -- and hopefully create some new ones if he can steamroll Indiana's defense.

Adam adds Northwestern running back Venric Mark and drops Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell

Rationale: Bell is off this week, and while Mark faces a formidable Michigan defense, the Wolverines are better against the pass than the run, and Mark is good for at least one big play a week, either on offense or on special teams. He'll be a factor Saturday.

Brian adds Indiana wide receiver Cody Latimer and drops Ohio State wide receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner

Rationale: My hunch on Stoneburner didn't pay off last week as he failed to score any points, and Ohio State is off this week. So I'll give Latimer a shot after his three-touchdown performance last week versus Iowa.

Adam adds Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah and drops Indiana running back Stephen Houston

Rationale: Maybe I'm a bit too Husker-heavy this week, but Abdullah has done an excellent job filling in for Rex Burkhead, and he has recorded three straight 100-yard rushing performances. With Penn State defensive tackle Jordan Hill banged up, I think Abdullah plays well again Saturday.

Brian adds Iowa's defense and drops Penn State's defense

Rationale: Nothing against the Nittany Lions, but playing on the road against the conference's top offense is not a good fantasy formula. I'll roll the dice with the up-and-down Hawkeyes, who get a badly struggling Purdue team at home.

Adam adds Minnesota's defense and drops Ohio State's defense

Rationale: Ohio State is off this week, and this pickup has a little more to do with Illinois' offensive ineptitude than anything else. Minnesota's defense has been better, though, especially against the pass, and I expect the Gophers to force some takeaways in Champaign, where they've been very good as of late.

Brian adds Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter and drops Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson

Rationale: And there's the risky move. I already have Miller on a bye and refuse to drop the fantasy MVP. I don't like the vibes coming out of Ann Arbor, where Hoke still won't say whether Robinson will play this week. I can't risk not having any quarterbacks this week, so even though I don't love Colter's matchup on the road at Michigan, I've got to make this move.

Adam adds Indiana's kickers and drops Nebraska's kickers

Rationale: Like many of my waiver pickups, this one looked pretty good at the time but hasn't paid many dividends. Indiana has received good production from Mitch Ewald in Big Ten play, and I think he'll be a factor in the game against Wisconsin.

Our complete rosters for Week 11:

The Trombone Shorties

Penn State QB Matt McGloin
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah
Northwestern RB Venric Mark
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Minnesota defense
Nebraska kickers

Non-Gingervitis

Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Northwestern QB Kain Colter
Iowa RB Damon Bullock
Wisconsin RB Montee Ball
Purdue WR Antavian Edison
Indiana WR Cody Latimer
Iowa defense
Iowa kickers
Week 9 of our fantasy Big Ten league turned into a low-scoring slog, which seems appropriate at this time of year during conference season. Fortunately for me, Non-Gingervitis wasn't nearly as points-challenged as Rittenberg's Trombone Shorties.

My team scored 94 points -- our second lowest output of the season -- yet easily outpaced the Shorties, who mustered a mere 67 -- 30 points below Adam's previous season-worst total. I was led by Ohio State's Braxton Miller, who scored 34 fantasy points against Penn State, and Northwestern's Venric Mark (17) and waiver-wire pickup Antavian Edison (11) helped make up for Denard Robinson's early exit at Nebraska.

The return of Penn State's Matt McGloin to the roster helped the Shorties (21 points), but Taylor Martinez (15), Allen Robinson (six) and Montee Ball (four) were all held well below their norms. And Adam's Cubs-like work on the waiver wire reached an all-time comedy high, as his pickup of the Purdue defense yielded him -- wait for it -- minus-7 points against Minnesota. That, folks, is hard to do.

With the win, I took a 5-4 lead in the season series. It's a close race with four weeks to go. Here are this week's waiver-wire moves, as some bye weeks are making things interesting:

Adam adds Indiana RB Stephen Houston and drops Wisconsin RB Montee Ball

Rationale:
Ball and the Badgers are off this week, and I need points. Houston provided them last week with three touchdowns, and I've liked what I've seen from him lately. He faces an Iowa defense that had no answer for the run last week, and Indiana is seeking more balance in its offense.

Brian adds Iowa RB Damon Bullock and drops Northwestern RB Venric Mark

Rationale: Mark has been a gem, but Northwestern has a bye this week. Bullock ran well last week while going for more than 100 yards and should get plenty of opportunities this week with Mark Weisman banged up. Indiana's run defense leaves something to be desired.

Adam adds Ohio State's defense and drops Purdue's defense

Rationale: I know this move will shock everyone, as Tim Tibesar's unit really helped my team last week in yet another Rittenberg special on the waiver wire. Anyway, the Buckeyes looked stout defensively against Penn State, and Illinois' offense, while better last week, still has a lot of problems. What could possibly go wrong with this pickup?

Brian adds Ohio State WR/TE Jake Stoneburner and drops Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis

Rationale: Another move necessitated by the bye week. Stoneburner seems to be picking things up and is becoming a go-to target for Braxton Miller. Loading up on Buckeyes this week against Illinois isn't a bad idea.

Adam adds Nebraska's kickers and drops Northwestern's kickers

Rationale: The Wildcats are off this week, and while I don't think we'll see a ton of points in East Lansing, Nebraska's Brett Maher should get some opportunities for field goals. I like what I've seen from Maher in recent weeks -- especially last Saturday against Michigan -- and expect another nice performance from the do-it-all senior specialist.

Brian adds Penn State's defense and drops Wisconsin's defense

Rationale: Once again, the Badgers are off in Week 10. I'll happily sub in the Nittany Lions, especially against a Purdue team that seems out of sync in a lot of ways. It's a road game, but this won't exactly be a hostile environment for the visitors.

Our complete rosters for Week 10:

The Trombone Shorties

Penn State QB Matt McGloin
Nebraska QB Taylor Martinez
Indiana RB Stephen Houston
Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell
Penn State WR Allen Robinson
Nebraska WR Kenny Bell
Ohio State defense
Nebraska kickers

Non-Gingervitis

Michigan QB Denard Robinson
Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Iowa RB Damon Bullock
Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde
Ohio State WR Jake Stoneburner
Purdue WR Antavian Edison
Penn State defense
Iowa kickers

Ohio State has the look of perfection

October, 27, 2012
10/27/12
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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- This was supposed to be Penn State's return to the big time.

Nearly a year to the day from Joe Paterno's last game, the Nittany Lions geared up to show the world that they were back from 12 months of turmoil. A soldout Beaver Stadium roared on its red-hot team, just like the old days.

But Ohio State ruined the celebration. The Buckeyes, in fact, might just be the nation's most unwanted party crasher.

After their 35-23 victory in the Ineligi-Bowl, it's time to start planning for the inevitable. This team is now on a collision course with a 12-0 season after acing its toughest road challenge of the year.

You can quibble with the Buckeyes' schedule -- which includes no wins over current Top 25 teams -- or their various shortcomings. You can't argue with the record.

"Let's focus on the positive," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after the game, objecting to a question about his team's flawed performances. "We're 9-0. It's good to be 9-0. Maybe you can help me, but how many other teams are 9-0?"

The answer is none. Which might also be the answer to the question: Who can beat this team the rest of the way?

The Buckeyes play 2-6 Illinois next week in a virtual bye week, then get a real week off to heal up. Then comes a trip to Wisconsin, which just lost at home to Michigan State and lost its starting quarterback. They end the year, of course, with the showdown against Michigan. That game, as you probably know, is in Columbus. Perfection could be on the line.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Jake Stoneburner
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarOhio State receiver Jake Stoneburner scored a 72-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
And then what? Though the Buckeyes are not eligible for the postseason or the BCS standings, Associated Press voters are free to put them as high as their hearts desire.

"We think we're definitely a top team in the country," receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner said. "People underestimate us. But there's something about this team."

Ohio State has had some shaky wins, like last week's overtime great escape against Purdue. But every time it needs to make a play, that play gets made.

"It was the same thing with the [2002] national championship team," defensive end Nathan Williams said. "They seemed to [find a] way to win the game at the very end, whether it be the last play or the last drive. I think we have a great chemistry as a team going on right now, and we're just going to continue to feed off it."

Nobody, not even Williams, is suggesting that this Ohio State club is as good as that 2002 team. But it does have a similar knack for winning.

On Saturday that winning effort started, surprisingly, on defense. A unit that had been battered and bruised most of the season held Penn State without an offensive touchdown until the final 10 minutes and allowed only 32 rushing yards. The game plan called for more blitzing than the Buckeyes normally do in order to fluster Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin. Ohio State sacked him four times.

In maybe the key sequence of the game, linebacker Ryan Shazier dashed through the middle untouched to tackle McGloin early in the third quarter. Then he picked McGloin off for a 17-yard interception return touchdown on the very next play.

Shazier has struggled with missed tackles most of the year, but played inspired on Saturday while wearing a new jersey number, 48, in honor of his deceased high school friend Gary Curtis.

"It almost felt like a dream," Shazier said. "I was thinking about him the whole game. I felt like he was playing there with me."

Quarterback Braxton Miller was lying in a hospital room last Saturday after suffering a neck injury against Purdue. Early in the game, in the words of Stoneburner, Miller looked "a little bit jittery." Miller completed just six of his first 18 passes and overthrew a sure touchdown to Corey Brown.

But as he has done so often, Miller turned up his game when it mattered most. He threaded a perfect pass to Stoneburner on third down for a 72-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, after Penn State had cut the lead to 28-16. And even though Miller used more caution while running in deference to his body, he still managed to control the game with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The Nittany Lions' defense was visibly gassed trying to chase Miller in the second half after Ohio State went to its hurry-up offense. And Miller turned in maybe the prettiest 1-yard run in history for his first touchdown run, avoiding two tacklers and somehow adjusting his body mid-leap to slide past safety Malcolm Willis into the end zone.

"We have a drill where you make seven people miss," Meyer joked. "I was on the sideline, so I didn't really see it. But the conversation on the headset was, 'Oh, my god.'"

The Buckeyes are probably making a lot of people say that these days. Just wait until they win three more games.


STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Ineligi-Bowl turned into an indelible moment for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes came into a frenzied Beaver Stadium and sliced up a red-hot Penn State team 35-23, leaving no doubt which team is the best in the Leaders Division and the entire Big Ten. Ohio State improved to 9-0 and inched one step closer to its goal of a perfect 12-0 season under first-year coach Urban Meyer.

Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Braxton Miller squeezed a third-down pass into the hands of Jake Stoneburner, who had nothing but daylight in front of him for a 72-yard touchdown catch with 6:11 remaining. That made it 35-16 and extinguished any hope of a Penn State comeback.

Game ball goes to: The Ohio State defense. Penn State's offense came into the night on a roll, but the Buckeyes applied pressure to quarterback Matt McGloin all night and didn't allow an offensive touchdown by the Nittany Lions until there was 9:49 left in the game.

Stat of the game: Ohio State had 233 rushing yards to just 32 for Penn State. Miller piled up 134 of those, along with two scores. He was able to dominate the game in the second half despite completing just 7-of-19 passes.

Second-guessing: Bill O'Brien's gambles have mostly paid off this season. But one backfired on fourth-and-nine from the Ohio State 43 in the third quarter. Penn State went for the fake punt, and Alex Butterworth's pass was broken up on a nice play by the Buckeyes' Adam Griffin (son of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin). Penn State's defense had been playing really well, and the flipping of field position helped Ohio State drive in for a touchdown to make it 21-10.

What it means: It was an odd meeting of two good teams who can't play in a bowl game, so no result was going to have any postseason implications. But both teams are eligible to win the Leaders Division title, and now Ohio State has a virtual two-game lead in that race with three games left. Hey, it's something.

More importantly, it continued the Buckeyes' impressive march through the Big Ten in Meyer's first year. If Ohio State keeps on winning, Associated Press voters are going to have an interesting time figuring out to do with this team, which hasn't lost but also hasn't beaten a team currently ranked in the Top 25.

For Penn State, the loss halted some serious momentum as the team had won five straight coming into Saturday. The Nittany Lions had hoped for a dominating performance to impress recruits, more than 100 of whom attended the game. This was as close to a bowl game as Penn State is going to play over the next few years. Still, one loss doesn't erase what this team is accomplishing this year.

Ohio State aims for diversity versus MSU

September, 28, 2012
9/28/12
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Ohio State receiver Corey "Philly" Brown didn't play in last year's game against Michigan State because of an injury. But he suffered along from the sidelines during the 10-7 loss.

"It was really frustrating," Brown recalled to ESPN.com. "Our offense just couldn't get anything going on."

[+] EnlargeCorey Brown
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteBuckeyes junior wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown has already surpassed his totals from last season.
Offensive struggles were common for last year's Ohio State team, but never more so in that loss to the Spartans in which they were sacked nine times and nearly got shut out at home. Flash-forward a year, and many things have changed for the Buckeyes. Under Urban Meyer, they're averaging 37.8 points per game. Braxton Miller is a much more confident and explosive player at quarterback than he was as a wide-eyed freshman against Michigan State last season.

Still, beneath some good stats lie some concerns for Ohio State as it prepares to take on the Spartans' stout defense again. The offense has a tendency to go dormant for long stretches. The passing game remains inconsistent. And the team is heavily reliant on Miller's individual gifts.

Asked this week how close his offense is to being the diverse attack he wants, Meyer answered, "I don't think it's very close yet. At times, we've shown glimpses, but we've got to have more confidence to spread the ball around a little bit."

At least the receivers have made progress from the offseason, when Meyer criticized their past production and practice performance. Brown (20 catches for 223 yards) and Devin Smith (17 for 272) have already exceeded their reception totals for last year. Smith has become the big-play target, while Brown is a reliable possession guy.

"We've come a long way from the spring until now, and you can see a big difference in the way we have played," Smith said. "We got tired of the way people were talking about us and saying we were not good. We had to make a quick change, and now the whole world sees that Ohio State has receivers who can make plays."

Receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner has had his moments, with two touchdown catches against California two weeks ago and a big role in the blocking scheme last week versus UAB.

"I think they're still trying to figure out how to use me," Stoneburner said. "But I think it's working out pretty well so far."

Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing at 229 yards per game but really hasn't had a full deck to work with because of injuries, first to Jordan Hall (foot) and then to Carlos Hyde (knee). Hyde is expected back this weekend, giving the Buckeyes both running backs for the first time this season. Hyde is a force inside the tackles, while Hall can stretch the defense on the edges.

But Michigan State has one of the top rushing defenses in the country. Meyer says the Buckeyes will have to make plays downfield in the passing game this week and going forward, since opponents have started loading the box to try to slow down Miller. That puts even more pressure on the receivers to come through.

"We've got a lot of guys in our [receivers] room that can stretch the field, go up and make the big play," Brown said. "I feel like if we take our shots, any of our wideouts can make the play."

They will have to do so against arguably the best secondary in the conference, led by corners Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. And Miller, for all his heroics this year, will need to have his best day throwing the ball into tight quarters. Maybe most importantly, the Buckeyes will have to avoid backing themselves up with penalties and other mistakes that have kept this offense from truly taking off so far.

"It seems like every week we're fixing stuff here but then making some mistakes there," center Corey Linsley said. "If we can just put it all together ..."

They might just have to do so Saturday to avoid more frustration against Michigan State.

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