Big Ten: Michael Bennett

Big Ten morning links

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
Miss college football? Bowl games begin this weekend. Giddy up.

1. Wisconsin can't officially offer its vacant head coaching job to anyone until Wednesday, but all signs still point to Paul Chryst being the guy despite chatter about him being interested in staying at Pitt and athletic director Barry Alvarez talking to Greg Schiano.

The focus now is on hiring assistants, and Jeff Potrykus writes that keeping defensive coordinator Dave Aranda is a possibility. If so, that would be a major coup, as Aranda is one of the brightest young defensive minds in the game and is loyal to Gary Andersen. Potrykus also reports that former Wisconsin assistant Joe Rudolph could return to Madison along with Chryst.

2. The Michigan search continues, and the longer this goes on the more you have to think the Wolverines must believe they have a shot at Jim Harbaugh. There's a potential interesting twist to this saga, however, as there are reports the Miami Dolphins could fire coach Joe Philbin and take a run at Harbaugh.

Of course, the Dolphins are owned by Stephen Ross, who is arguably Michigan's most well-known booster. He would naturally be involved in putting together a lucrative package to bring Harbaugh to Ann Arbor. I can't imagine Ross would trap door his alma mater in order to bring Harbaugh to Miami, so if there's more to this pursuit than it indicates that Harbaugh truly is interested in leaving the NFL ranks right now.

3. The Columbus Dispatch's Bill Rabinowitz reports that the Ohio State parents association has written a letter to the Big Ten asking for financial assistance to travel to the Buckeyes' semifinal game against Alabama in New Orleans.

Each family can be reimbursed $800 out of the school's student-assistance fund, but that's still not enough to cover all the travel costs. And things only get more expensive if Ohio State wins and moves on to the national title game in Texas.

Star defensive tackle Michael Bennett's mother, Connie, called it "reprehensible" that players' families aren't helped more when it comes to traveling to watch their sons play.

"They're making hand-over-fist dollars on our guys, the guys take all of the risk for the entertainment dollars and they ignore their families altogether," she said, according to Dispatch story.

The playoff is a great thing for the sport, but how fans and especially families were going to be able to get to those games has always been a major unanswered question. Neither the Big Ten nor NCAA can change that right now, but given the new autonomy measures the Power 5 conferences have been granted, this needs to become a priority. The playoff will generate an enormous pile of money, and a small part of that should go toward making sure participating players' parents are in the stands.

West Division
East Division
Earlier today, we presented our 2014 All-Big Ten team. We took a stab at a preseason All-Big Ten team back in August, based largely on players' previous track records.

So how'd we do?

Of our 26 preseason selections, only eight made it to our final All-Big Ten team. But we weren't far off with some of those we missed, such as Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah and Randy Gregory, Michigan State's Connor Cook and Kurtis Drummond and Ohio State's Michael Bennett. All of those guys would be on our second team if we did one, and several had good arguments to be included on the first team.

Our biggest misses were at receiver, where we pegged Indiana's Shane Wynn, Maryland's Stefon Diggs and Michigan's Devin Funchess as our preseason picks (using Funchess as a third receiver/tight end type). All are very talented players but didn't quite live up to expectations for various reasons -- Wynn because of the Hoosiers' quarterback situation, Diggs because of an injury and Funchess because of perhaps the general malaise of the Maize and Blue offense.

We got three of the five offensive linemen right, and a fourth -- Wisconsin right tackle Rob Havenstein -- just missed our postseason team. None of us saw Ohio State's J.T. Barrett earning the quarterback spot with his outstanding play. Of course, neither did anyone else.

Speaking of Barrett, the Braxton Miller injury that elevated him to starting quarterback for the Buckeyes was the single biggest reason that none of us picked Ohio State to win the Big Ten in the preseason. All five of us at the time (Dan Murphy hadn't come aboard yet -- lucky him) went with Michigan State, though Mitch Sherman, Austin Ward and myself did correctly forecast the Buckeyes to go 11-1 in the regular season. We just had them losing in East Lansing. Whoops.

Austin, Mitch and I were also correct in picking Wisconsin to win the West Division, while Josh Moyer went with Nebraska and Adam Rittenberg cast his lot with Iowa. The teams we were most wrong on? Rutgers (7-5), which none of us predicted for more than four wins, and Michigan (5-7), whom we all saw with at least a winning record (and two of us picked to go 9-3).

Our fearless predictions weren't much better. I did say Minnesota would win back either the Little Brown Jug or the Paul Bunyan Axe, and the Gophers did beat Michigan. Adam came close on his call of Tevin Coleman leading the league in rushing. Let's not talk about the others.

I'm pretty proud of the fact that I was the only one to correctly predict Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon and Ohio State's Joey Bosa would win Big Ten offensive and defensive players of the year. But given the state of the rest of our predictions (and the fact that I picked the Badgers to win in Indy last week) I'm not going to crow too loudly. Preseason picks are fun, but there's a reason they play the season.
Earlier today, we presented our All-Big Ten team. As you can imagine, there was a lot of debate between the six of us over who should make the team and who should get left off. Let's discuss some of our toughest choices and omissions:

Austin Ward: Thanks in large part to all the dirty work he was doing at the start of the year, Michael Bennett didn’t pile up the type of numbers that build a rock-solid case as an all-conference performer. But when it mattered most over the final month of the season, there probably wasn’t a defensive player in the league having a greater impact than the Ohio State senior as he made life miserable in the trenches in the most important games of the season for the Big Ten champs. Dating back to the road trip to Michigan State on Nov. 8, Bennett closed the season with 5 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles down the stretch, looking every bit the All-American he was expected to be in the preseason.

[+] EnlargeKurtis Drummond
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsThree cornerbacks made's All-Big Ten team, which meant a deserving player in Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond didn't make the cut.
Brian Bennett: The toughest single position to choose was at defensive back. You may have noticed our team did not include Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond, who was named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. That's no slight against Drummond, who's an outstanding player, but we felt like we had to go with three cornerbacks, given the play of Maryland's Will Likely, Minnesota's Briean Boddy-Calhoun and Drummond's own teammate, Trae Waynes. In fact, Ohio State's Doran Grant had a strong case for inclusion as well, and we wanted to recognize what Wisconsin's Michael Caputo contributed to the league's best defense, statistically, during the regular season. Defensive back was a loaded position, and there wouldn't be much difference between the first- and second-team selections there.

Adam Rittenberg: I don't have a major beef with our selections this year, although it would have been nice to find a place for Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah on the offense. Melvin Gordon told me Wednesday that if Abdullah hadn't sustained a knee injury in early November, he also would have reached the 2,000-yard plateau. Imagine if the Big Ten had three 2,000-yard rushers in the same season. Safety wasn't the strongest position in the league this year, while cornerback turned out to be surprisingly good.

Dan Murphy: It's too bad we can't field an entire offense out of running backs because the Big Ten had almost enough of them worthy of filling out an all-conference roster. Minnesota teammates and cousins David Cobb (running back) and Damien Wilson (middle linebacker) both were left of the list after great years for a surprising Gophers team. Cobb would have made the team in most other years, and Wilson was a narrow miss. Freshman receiver Mike Dudek also deserves some recognition, but there's a good chance his name will pop up here in the next few years.

Josh Moyer: Cornerback was relatively strong this season, so we decided to go with three corners and one safety on our team. As a result, Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond was the odd man out, and he’s a player who definitely deserves some recognition. He struggled a few times this season -- missing open-field tackles against Purdue and not faring well against Ohio State -- but he was still named the Big Ten defensive back of the year. We thought Wisconsin's Michael Caputo played better, but Drummond was still solid and was a first-team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media. He helped keep Michigan State’s No-Fly Zone together, while leading the team in tackles (65), interceptions (4), pass breakups (11) and pass deflections (15). He just missed the cut.

Mitch Sherman: I'm not sure we picked the right defensive lineman from Iowa. Louis Trinca-Pasat enjoyed an outstanding year, outperforming fellow tackle Carl Davis, who was more highly regarded before the season. But what about Drew Ott, the disruptive end who collected eight sacks, 12 tackles behind the line, scored a touchdown against Nebraska, forced a fumble and picked off a pass? Ott is just as deserving as Michigan State's Calhoun, though I doubt there's room for two linemen from an Iowa defense that ranked firmly in the middle of the Big Ten. So with the variety of defensive looks employed around the league, I'd take three ends and one tackle, like the coaches and media teams, inserting Ott in place of Trinca-Pasat.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The debate will continue until the College Football Playoff selection committee reveals its picks for the four-team field, and the controversy surely won't stop then.

Does No. 5 Ohio State belong in the playoff over Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor? Good luck to the committee figuring that out. But as far as closing arguments go, the Buckeyes couldn't have made a stronger case.

In a stunningly easy 59-0 victory over No. 13 Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State came as close to playing a perfect game as you'll likely see. Despite a new starting quarterback, the Buckeyes eviscerated a Badgers defense that came into the game ranked No. 2 in the FBS. They turned Heisman Trophy candidate Melvin Gordon into a plodder and held him to just 76 yards on 26 carries. They piled up 558 yards and did not commit a turnover. Even Cameron Johnston's punting was spectacular.

"If that wasn't one of the four best football teams tonight," Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said amid the celebratory postgame confetti, "then I don't know what you're looking for."

What made the performance all the more remarkable was how Ohio State overcame some potentially crippling adversity to get it done.

Starting quarterback J.T. Barrett broke his ankle last week against Michigan and watched the game from a wheeled cart on the sideline. Yet the Buckeyes just kept rolling with first-time starter Cardale Jones.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesFirst-time starter Cardale Jones led Ohio State to the Big Ten title. He completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards and three scores and was named the game's MVP.
Jones finished 12-of-17 for 257 yards and three touchdowns and was named the game's MVP. Jones said he didn't feel nervous going into the game, despite debuting with a championship and possible playoff spot on the line.

"He's just Cardale -- he's always just a happy, fun, silly guy," left tackle Taylor Decker said. "We knew we had to raise our level of play around him, and it ended up he played an amazing game. I don't know how he managed all that, but he did."

Ohio State has somehow managed to replace two star quarterbacks on the fly this season. At this point, you have to believe fourth-string quarterback Stephen Collier would be a Heisman candidate if he were thrust into action.

"It's the culture," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "I think Cardale understands that he had a responsibility to not just the team in general but that [quarterback] room. He had two guys in that room that had done amazing things at this position for this university, and he took that responsibility very, very seriously. He prepared as hard as I've seen a quarterback prepare this week."

Meanwhile, the Buckeyes defense -- which had struggled against top Big Ten running backs this season -- managed to check Gordon and not allow much in the passing game, either. The defensive effort came just days after the team attended the funeral of walk-on defensive lineman Kosta Karageorge, who was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett, who was a pallbearer at the funeral, wore Karageorge's No. 53 for the game and had one of the best games of his career.

"I felt like we had a guardian angel out there," defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. "Kosta was our guide. We went out there and did it for him."

Jones won the MVP trophy, but the honor could have just as easily gone to several Buckeyes, including receiver Devin Smith (four catches, 137 yards, three touchdowns), tailback Ezekiel Elliott (220 rushing yards, two scores) or any number of defensive standouts. Everyone played an All-American. That's how complete a performance it was.

The question remains: Was it enough? Head coach Urban Meyer said the selection committee has a tough job ahead of it.

"All I can speak to is, I've been around teams that have competed for and won national championships," Meyer said. "This team -- the way it's playing right now -- is one of the top teams in America."

Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith was a little more forceful in his comments and said the Buckeyes absolutely ought to be in the playoff. Asked what separates them from TCU and Baylor, Smith answered, "We're better."

"The football people on that committee, who watched that game through football eyes, know that they saw a championship team that deserves to be in," Smith said.

During the fourth quarter, Ohio State fans began chanting "We want 'Bama!'" After the game, Jones and a handful of players celebrated with roses atop their ears; the only way the Buckeyes are going to the Rose Bowl is if they play Oregon. If the selection committee keeps them at No. 5, they're likely headed to the Cotton Bowl.

The destination didn't matter so much in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's game. Ohio State had won a championship -- its first Big Ten title under Meyer -- while avenging last year's crushing loss here to Michigan State.

"I really can't explain that feeling," Jones said. "I want that feeling again. Me and my teammates, we would do anything for that feeling again."

The Buckeyes might or might not get their chance to win another championship this season. But they sure presented an airtight closing argument.
We already knew all of the Ohio State players were going to wear No. 53 helmet decals during Saturday's Big Ten championship in honor of their late teammate Kosta Karageorge, who passed away last week.

Now senior captain Michael Bennett, who was a pallbearer during Wednesday's funeral, is taking it a step further. The star defensive lineman will be shedding his normal No. 63 during the title game against Wisconsin and will instead wear Karageorge's No. 53.

Michael Bennett will wear #53 tonight. @theohiostatefootball #btnjourney

A photo posted by btnjourney (@btnjourney) on

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The lineup was so deep, somebody was going to crack this rushing defense no matter how sturdy it might be.

Just try to escape unscathed against Jeremy Langford at Michigan State on the road, in the snow against Minnesota’s David Cobb and then once again the next week against Indiana and Tevin Coleman.

[+] EnlargeJoshua Perry
AP Photo/Paul VernonJoshua Perry, left, and Michael Bennett will attempt to put the clamps on Melvin Gordon on Saturday.
The problem for No. 5 Ohio State isn’t so much that it got gashed by one of the top tailbacks in the Big Ten’s seemingly endless supply of elite rushers, it’s that all of them took a turn racking up yardage and touchdowns against its otherwise vastly improved defense. And with the league’s kingpin waiting Saturday in Indianapolis in the Big Ten title game against No. 13 Wisconsin, those previous struggles could be a significant issue with Melvin Gordon set for his at-bat against the Buckeyes.

“I mean we’ve seen a lot of good backs this year,” Ohio State linebacker Joshua Perry said. “Obviously [Gordon] is a Heisman front-runner, so he’s on a level of his own. But you can’t say that we haven’t been tested already with some of the running backs, some of the offensive lines we’ve seen this year.

“We’ve been really close to being a really, really sound, stout, smothering defense. It’s just those few bad plays.”

For the most part, the Buckeyes have had success at slowing down opponents on the ground, no matter how much talent is lining up in the backfield. But it hasn’t been able to do it for an entire game, and it only takes a couple breakdowns for guys like Langford, Cobb or Coleman to turn a pedestrian performance into an explosive one.

That has been a painful lesson for Ohio State at times this year. Langford extended his string of 100-yard games and gashed the Buckeyes for three touchdowns. Cobb followed up a week later with three scores of his own on the way to 145 yards. And after bottling up Coleman for a half against the Hoosiers, the Big Ten’s second-leading rusher exploded for touchdowns that covered 90 and 52 yards while piling up 228 on the ground -- and, of course, three total touchdowns.

Aside from the scores, the other common denominator in those games was the outcome. Ohio State won each of those meetings against the Big Ten’s best tailbacks, and it was aided in all of those victories by a passing defense that underwent a dramatic overhaul in the offseason and has produced more interceptions than any other team in the league this year.

In some ways, the Buckeyes may have lost just a bit up front stopping the rush in its commitment to improving the secondary this season, and against a suspect Wisconsin passing attack, it may be able to devote more attention to containing Gordon. But either way, Ohio State already has plenty of examples it can point to from the last month of how dangerous it can be to let down its guard even for a second.

“This is about to sound stupid -- we shut down the run, but [Coleman] is a really good back and he made some big plays,” defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “That last play, he had that 90-yarder, I don’t even know what happened there.

“I mean, I really feel like people aren’t going to understand this, but I feel like our defense is a complete defense. The only thing that kills us are these big plays and mental mistakes.”

Even with those slip-ups factored in, Ohio State still ranks No. 5 in the Big Ten in rushing defense. And in allowing an even 4 yards per carry, far more often than not the Buckeyes are making tailbacks grind to move the football.

But the only test that really matters is coming up against the most dangerous rusher in the nation with a conference crown on the line this weekend. And Gordon won’t hesitate to punish a defense that makes even just a couple mental errors over the course of a game.

“For years we’ve played very good run defense,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “When you do devote so much time to pass defense and actually think from the back end first, at times you’ll give up some rush yards. What we want to do is be flexible enough to do both. But this is as good of a rushing team as there is in the country, so we have to devote some more personnel to stopping the run.

“We have faced very good backs and given up some yards. But for the most part I have not been disappointed.”

One way or another, the Buckeyes have survived against the rest of the Big Ten batting order. All that’s left is to find a way to sit down the cleanup hitter.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The enthusiasm before practice even started was infectious, bursting out of Kosta Karageorge two words at a time at the highest possible volume.

During practice, there was no rep that the walk-on defensive lineman would turn down, doing everything he could to maximize the look the starting offense would see up front while working on his own skills after years focusing solely on the wrestling mat.

And after the workout was over, when Karageorge wasn’t looking for extra coaching with the assistants, he would show off his appetite and rave about all the free food members of the football team get at the training table.

Those obviously weren’t the only hours where Karageorge made an impact around Ohio State. But his time around the Woody Hayes Athletic Center and the energy he brought to the practice field after joining the No. 6 Buckeyes in August after his wrestling career came to an end revealed plenty about his character.

His teammates left no doubt that he’ll be missed. Karageorge was tragically found dead in a dumpster Sunday from an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“Right before we’d go out before practice, he’d just start yelling, ‘Yeah, baby!’” senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “He’d be pumped up, and it would make everybody else excited for practice, even when you just thought, you know, ‘I could be doing something better.’

“He made every day enjoyable. I haven’t met a lot of people who go to football practice every single day and are just thankful for the grind. He loved the grind, he loved to work, he loved any extra thing we had to do. If we had to run an extra sprint, he was the guy who was like, ‘Man, I needed that extra sprint.’ If we had to do an extra rep, he’d be so excited to do it because he knew it would make him better, knew it would make him stronger.”

In turn, it helped sharpen up the Buckeyes as well, perhaps most notably a young offensive line that almost certainly benefited from the presence of a 6-foot-3, 273-pounder with heavyweight wrestling experience and a deep understanding of how to use his leverage.

Ohio State couldn’t take those reps for granted against a player who was widely praised for his work ethic, strength and willingness to do some thankless work on the practice field. It never ultimately allowed Karageorge to get on the field to play in a game this season for the Buckeyes. But in a small way, his contributions might still be showing up for a team in the College Football Playoff chase thanks to an offensive line that has overcome a slow start and developed into one of the best in the conference ahead of Saturday’s Big Ten championship game.

“He was a good player -- big, strong, had leverage from his wrestling background and knew how to control his body, control other people,” right guard Pat Elflein said. “He gave a great look [at nose guard], getting me ready to go against guys from different teams. The kid was a grinder.

“He was just so passionate about what he did for this team, for this university. It’s just amazing. What he put into everything, it was just kind of the model of what we want. Effort, toughness, being passionate and loyal, that’s who he was. That’s what everyone tries to be.”

Karageorge only needed three months to leave that impression on the Buckeyes, and it’s clear that it won’t be forgotten.

He may not be around to do battle in the trenches against the starting offensive line anymore. There might be a little more food left over at the training table. And somebody else may be needed to bark out "Yeah, baby" when Ohio State hits the field.

But the Buckeyes are rallying together as a family, and they will be no doubt be carrying on with their fallen brother in mind this week.

“We get closer, we lean on each other in hard times like this,” Elflein said. “We’re really going to come together, you know, and win this one for him.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A public endorsement as a Heisman Trophy candidate is one thing, and when it’s earned, Urban Meyer has no problem offering it.

But a private conversation about an individual award is something else entirely, and the Ohio State coach doesn’t have plans for one of those with J.T. Barrett any time soon.

The redshirt freshman quarterback and blossoming national star is certainly attracting more attention, and he is steadily shooting up the polls as a candidate for the game’s most prestigious honor. Though Meyer has some experience dealing with the hoopla that accompanies a Heisman campaign and could counsel his young star if need be, at this point there appears be no need for a State of the Stiff-arm the way he might otherwise address his team’s playoff chances.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesJ.T. Barrett is part of the Heisman conversation, but has not changed his work habits or attitude.
"That’s real, you start having that [exposure], but this kid is so grounded," Meyer said. "Once again, that’s a credit to his family.

"But if I saw it [being a distraction], certainly I’d jump in the middle of that. But I haven’t even given it two thoughts."

Barrett seems to be giving it little consideration as well, though he is clearly aware that he is now part of the conversation as the season hits the closing stretch with the No. 6 Buckeyes gaining steam thanks to his 38 total touchdowns.

His emergence has been well-documented since taking over during training camp following an injury to Braxton Miller, who was supposed to be staging his own run for the Heisman as a senior after finishing in the top 10 each of the past two seasons. But Barrett has now gone well beyond being simply a caretaker for the spread attack in Miller’s absence, shattering records on a weekly basis and helping the Buckeyes expand the playbook thanks his accuracy as a passer, underrated athleticism and an uncanny ability to make the right decision -- both through the air and on the ground.

His success has done more than draw the spotlight to him as a potential candidate for individual awards, prompting additional speculation now about whether Barrett has so far exceeded Miller’s decorated tenure that the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year should be his backup next season, or even switch positions once his surgically repaired shoulder heals. But if all that extra attention or scrutiny is changing Barrett, it certainly doesn’t seem to be inflating his ego or impacting his preparation.

"I hope it doesn’t change me," Barrett said. "I hope I stay the same. I try hard to be the same. Working hard, being here on a Wednesday night, I probably won’t leave until like 9 o’clock, you know, grinding, getting right and everything like that.

"I hope it doesn’t change me, I’m going to do my best to make sure it doesn’t. I have people around here to keep me grounded, so it’s really unlikely for that to happen."

Meyer has made it clear he would be among the first to bring Barrett back to earth if necessary, though so far he hasn’t needed to lean on the expertise acquired while guiding Alex Smith or Tim Tebow through the Heisman circus.

Barrett also has the benefit of sharing a locker room with a couple teammates who are dealing with similar attention, albeit on slightly smaller scales. Joey Bosa is a finalist for the Lombardi Award, Michael Bennett was a preseason All-America still pushing for individual honors, and a handful of skill players on both sides of the ball are in the mix for all-conference accolades.

For all of them, starting with Barrett and his high-profile campaign, one thing above all else is driving the conversation. And worrying about individual awards instead of team victories would be getting it all completely backwards.

"I'm having a lot of fun coaching this team," Meyer said. "J.T. is a Heisman candidate that knows that he could have played much better Saturday, and that's the best thing about coaching these guys right now. I hope it doesn't change.

"That's something we're watching very closely with guys that are starting to get some notoriety. You know, [Ezekiel Elliott] has a chance to get 1,000 yards, and the minute he becomes something other than Zeke Elliott, that's a problem, and same with J.T., same with Joey Bosa. I've just got to make sure they don't change."

For now that means it’s fine to publicly talk about awards or tout Buckeyes as candidates. But Meyer doesn’t expect to have any other conversations after that.
Winter came early to Big Ten country, as arctic conditions turned last week's Ohio State-Minnesota and Nebraska-Wisconsin games into freezing snow bowls.

And admit it: It was glorious.

OK, maybe not everyone who was bundled up under multiple layers in the stands loved the weather. But how cool did those games look in high-definition TV, as the Buckeyes and Gophers battled through the flurries and as the snowflakes started falling as Melvin Gordon was finishing off his record-breaking day?

Football and snow are a fantastic combination. It's also true that those kinds of conditions -- it was 15 degrees at kickoff in Minneapolis, 26 at Camp Randall -- can change the way a game is played. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said the cold temperatures and precipitation affected his team's ability to pass the ball effectively. The Buckeyes only beat Minnesota by seven points, but Meyer said the environment had to be taken into account.

"I challenge any team in the country that wants to schedule this one in November against a very good team: Have at it," he said.

What Meyer didn't say but what many Big Ten fans were thinking on Saturday was this: Wouldn't it be great if an SEC team or any warm-weather club had to travel to the upper Midwest and play in the cold and snow? Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett thought the same thing.

Big Ten teams, after all, almost never play opponents from other leagues under those conditions. Most every bowl game is in a sunny locale in the South or West. Nonconference games mostly take place in September, when the mercury is still high, and even then, southern teams rarely travel north. LSU is coming to Lambeau Field in two years to play Wisconsin, but the tundra will hardly be frozen on Labor Day weekend 2016.

None of that will change any time soon. Teams aren't likely to schedule nonconference games out of their region in November, which is the heat of league play. (Or, if you're the SEC, FCS cupcake time. Ahem.) Aside from the occasional Pinstripe Bowl, few postseason games will be played outdoors north of the Mason-Dixon Line. And while Minneapolis is bidding on a future national championship game, the city would host it in the new indoor Minnesota Vikings stadium.

But there is one way the Big Ten could force teams from other leagues to at least occasionally come into the cold: by pushing for home playoff sites.

I was disappointed when conference leaders decided to ditch the idea of using campus sites for the College Football Playoff back in 2012, opting instead to stay attached at the hip to the bowl structure for the semifinal round. Protecting the Rose Bowl tie-in was obviously a big part of this.

In so doing, the league gave up its one potentially big advantage in the playoff: the weather. Of course, the Big Ten hasn't seemed too interested in staging postseason games in the cold, as its own conference championship game is held indoors in Indianapolis. That's a shame.

But if you believe, like I do, that the playoff will eventually expand to eight teams, then home sites should and will be back on the table. There's no way the sport can ask fans to potentially travel to three different playoff sites. And besides, the historic stadiums and campus atmospheres are one of the very best things about college football. What seems like a better place for an all-important game: legendary settings like the Horseshoe, Camp Randall, Beaver Stadium, Memorial Stadium and the Big House or some nondescript stadium in Orlando, Jacksonville or Atlanta?

Like this guy, the Big Ten should embrace the cold. Use the weather as a benefit. Make those teams from warm climates feel the bone-stinging chill and see if they can handle it. A little snow isn't suddenly going to allow, say, Purdue to beat Alabama. Big Ten teams still need to improve their level of talent and play to hang with their southern and western peers. But it sure would be cool to see those other teams try to deal with Big Ten conditions instead of the other way around, wouldn't it?

Urban Meyer guards against letdown

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Something meaningful had been accomplished, and Ohio State wasn’t going to let the moment pass without taking the time to enjoy it.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteAfter a big win against Michigan State, Urban Meyer's Buckeyes face another test at Minnesota on Saturday.
 The smiles on the faces on the Buckeyes, the fist pumps on the sideline from Urban Meyer and the sense of pride that was evident after taking out a measure of revenge on the road against the reigning Big Ten champions in a matchup that served as a de facto East Division title game all made it clear how much the victory meant to them.

Unlike the week before against Illinois, Meyer wasn’t in any hurry to cut short the 24-hour celebration rule this time or immediately shift the attention to the next opponent. But the clock has expired by now, and since the Buckeyes are coming off a victory, they shouldn’t expect Meyer or the rest of the coaching staff to ease off the gas any with another stiff test looming Saturday at Minnesota.

“There’s something that Lou Holtz would always say, and this is where I think coaches make a lot of mistakes,” Meyer said. “You don't just go blow the whole thing up when you lose a game. That's fragile. You coach them really hard when you win.

“So you ask how difficult [is focusing this week]? it's not difficult at all. You lose that game Saturday, it's really difficult. Now you've got problems, now you've got motivation problems.”

The Buckeyes may still have a few issues that Meyer is planning to address, but when he delivers this week’s “mission” on the practice field Tuesday afternoon, keeping his team fired up to play isn’t one he’s anticipating.

But it’s not hard from the outside to find potential reasons for a letdown.

The Gophers obviously don’t figure to get Ohio State’s blood boiling quite like the Spartans. They didn’t knock off the Buckeyes a year ago, they won’t bring a top-10 ranking into the game this weekend, and despite a 7-2 record, there are still some doubts about their legitimacy as conference contenders thanks to a loss to Illinois last month.

Ohio State also seemed to pour everything it had into preparing for the Spartans, from the emotions of seeking a bit of retribution to the extra hours of preparation players did on their own time all the way down to the offensive play-calling that was probably the deepest dive into the playbook of any outing since Meyer took over the program.

And there’s also a new distraction that could soon be hanging over Ohio State’s head. The Buckeyes are now the favorite to win the Big Ten again, and on top of that, they’re firmly back in contention for the College Football Playoff and are likely to hear plenty about that conversation moving forward. That’s nothing the program hasn’t dealt with before, even as recently as last season, but it goes on the list of things that could drag the Buckeyes down if they aren’t careful against a team with the stout defense and power rushing attack to make them pay.

“I remember worrying about that kind of stuff last year, and it would affect the way I played and stuff,” senior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “This year, it’s just focusing on playing hard and focusing on being a good teammate and trying to lead these guys, making sure that other guys have that same mentality. Just focus on what you can do. The playoff system will be the playoff system, and it will work out how it does. I’ve just kind of gotten to the point where I don’t really care anymore, All we can do is just play football and play as hard as we can.

“So [focusing] is no problem at all. Michigan State is behind us, we had a good game, celebrated it, and now it’s time to move on to Minnesota.”

Maybe the Buckeyes turned the page just a bit slower this time. But once they flip over to prepare for the Gophers, they definitely shouldn’t expect any more pats on the back from Meyer.

Planning for success: Ohio State

November, 11, 2014
Nov 11
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Even in its highest form, productive play for an interior defensive lineman can be hard to measure on a stats sheet.

That’s not exactly a problem for Michael Bennett, who doesn’t mind taking on double teams, occupying room in the trenches to free up his Ohio State teammates or collapsing the pocket to maybe set up a sack for somebody else.

And while contributing might be the only thing the senior captain really cares about, there is something a bit more gratifying for Bennett when he has the chance to measure his impact in the box score. As he plans for Minnesota, he’s got some fresh evidence of his role in a crucial win at Michigan State -- where he racked up four solo tackles -- to help back up his reputation as one of the most disruptive forces in the league.

“It obviously is going to feel a lot better when you contribute statistically, especially in a game that big,” Bennett said. “I’m just a little bit happier with my performance and that things turned my way a little bit more.

“But at the same time, the defense didn’t do that well. We have stuff to fix, but we won the game. So it’s just a lot of roller coaster, happy and then kind of disappointed but happy again. You kind of just have to figure out what is worth hanging on to and what’s not.”

Individual attention might be among the first things Bennett scraps -- usually sharing the credit with the defense as a whole. After a breakout game against the Spartans -- where Bennett had a sack and forced fumble -- he seemed more interested in pointing out where the Buckeyes came up short in the win.

Bennett still seems to be growing heading into the stretch run after entering the year as a preseason first-team All-America pick. For the most part, the emergence of defensive end Joey Bosa and the relative lack of personal statistics for Bennett with just 19 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 2 sacks have combined to ease him out of conversations about the best linemen in the nation.

But the job he’s done for the Buckeyes hasn’t gone unappreciated, regardless of the stats.

“Sometimes for those interior defensive linemen to get statistics, it's kind of hard because they're spending a lot of time getting double teamed,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “For him right now, he does provide double teams inside to make cleaner pictures in the run game for the linebackers. He does get after the quarterback and may not get the sacks, but he's in the face of the quarterback. He's a guy that the offensive line or offensive coordinator from an opponent always has to account for.

“He may not have the stats that Joey Bosa has, but he's done an outstanding job for us being disruptive in both the run game and pass game so far this year.”

Whether it was a product of more plays simply coming his way or a more intense mindset, Bennett made the most of his chances against Michigan State. Even if wins are the only thing he likes to count, Bennett is not going to complain when there are tackles to tally up in the process.

“It’s just kind of how the dice fell,” Bennett said. “I think I played a little more aggressively, and the rest of the defense was there to make up for it. If I made a mistake, then I had guys who were able to be in the right place at the right time. And if they made a mistake, I was in the right place at the right time.

“I think I just played more aggressively, and then like usual, we played team defense.”

Maybe Bennett’s responsibilities in that team approach won’t always show up statistically, but that’s not going to be an issue at the moment.
Dantonio/MeyerUSA TODAY SportsMark Dantonio, left, and Urban Meyer have their teams on course for another huge B1G showdown.

In case a reminder was needed after another chaotic weekend on the field, rankings, projections, underdogs and favorites don't usually mean a whole lot to college football. The best laid plans typically don't last long.

But there is one from the preseason that suddenly appears to be back on track. Though there is still more than a month to go until what was presumed to be the biggest battle in the Big Ten actually kicks off on Nov. 8 in East Lansing, Michigan, what is the fun in just sitting around and waiting until then to start talking about it. Now that No. 8 Michigan State and No. 15 Ohio State seem to be on a collision course again, who is in better shape for that matchup and to potentially win a Big Ten crown?

We are breaking it down Take Two-style.

Austin Ward: Ohio State

Go back through the checklist of reasons the Buckeyes were picked as the top contender in the conference and a potential factor in the College Football Playoff before the season started. Dynamic quarterback, dangerous defensive line, explosive weapons at the skill positions, and a decorated coaching staff that has proven it can get the most out of the talent on hand.

What exactly has changed since then?

Certainly Braxton Miller's injury was a meaningful loss given his experience and the two Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year trophies. But don't look now, after an early hiccup J.T. Barrett is actually on pace to post better passing numbers across the board and looks every bit as suited to run Urban Meyer's spread offense as his predecessor. And all those same talented players at wide receiver, running back and tight end that were supposed to make Miller's life easier are doing precisely that for Barrett, with the only challenge finding a way to get all of them touches.

The defensive line might not be the best in the nation thanks to the indefinite suspension of Noah Spence. But as long as Joey Bosa is around to wreak havoc on the edge and Michael Bennett and Adolphus Washington are still handling their business on the inside, the Buckeyes are still as fearsome up front as anybody in the Big Ten.

And don't forget that Meyer, a two-time national champ, is still on the sideline overseeing the entire operation.

Ohio State has some weaknesses, and anybody who favored the Spartans initially still likely has the same reasons to point to at this stage of the season. The head-to-head meeting is on Michigan State's turf, it won the last matchup on a neutral field and the Buckeyes still look suspect at times in the secondary.

But after putting that early loss to Virginia Tech behind them and moving on from Miller's injury, the Buckeyes are starting to look exactly like a conference contender should. Based on the preseason predictions, nothing has changed.

Josh Moyer: Michigan State

Let’s not overthink this, Austin. The Buckeyes are definitely improving every week, but they have played just two teams with winning records so far -- and they have only won one of those games (Virginia Tech, Maryland). So I think it’s a little premature to start saying Ohio State boasts a better team than the defending Big Ten champion.

I’m not saying the Spartans’ schedule is all that much harder, but they have at least impressed with a good win against Nebraska. Plus, they have played two ranked opponents. No Ohio State opponent is even receiving votes in either poll. And you mentioned Barrett's gaudy numbers, but he has played just one defense -- Virginia Tech -- that is ranked within the top 85. Have the Buckeyes really been tested yet?

Michigan State is the safe pick, the easy choice here. Meyer called his secondary an "Achilles’ Heel"; Michigan State has no glaring weakness. Cincinnati actually posted more passing yards and passing touchdowns against Ohio State than Oregon did against Michigan State.

True, the Spartans’ 2014 defense isn’t as good as 2013. Even head coach Mark Dantonio admitted that. But it’s still forcing turnovers (No. 4 in the country), still limiting yards (No. 11 in the country), still racking up sacks (No. 3 in the country) and still limiting rushing yards (No. 4 in the country.) Ohio State just can’t compare right now.

On top of it all, Michigan State’s offense is clearly better than last season. Connor Cook and Jeremy Langford aren't putting up video game numbers, but they have been solid. And give me Tony Lippett over Devin Smith any day. The Buckeyes are a good team, but the Spartans are the better team right now.

We’ll find out for sure on Nov. 8 but, until then, Michigan State will still remain No. 1 in our Big Ten power rankings, Vegas will still favor MSU over OSU, and voters from Ohio to California will still agree in the polls that the Spartans are the better team. Because they are.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Noah Spence's return might have already been a week too late.

But late certainly seemed better than never.

Scheduled to be back on the field Saturday for the first time after serving a three-game suspension for testing positive for ecstasy, Spence instead will again be on the shelf after failing a drug test. And now the junior defensive end is facing an indefinite absence after breaking school and conference rules for the second time, with his parents confirming to the Columbus Dispatch that drugs are again the issue.

[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMIOhio State's Noah Spence has been suspended indefinitely after again violating school and conference rules.
So much for the Buckeyes getting whole again up front and finally getting a chance to prove they were worthy of the hype as the nation’s best defensive line. That debate is officially over now, and Spence’s college career could easily be over, as well.

Spence might not have had quite the same credentials as injured quarterback Braxton Miller, and he might be more replaceable than the star quarterback, considering all the depth Ohio State has at its disposal on a defensive line that was expected to provide the most ferocious pass rush in the country.

But Spence's athleticism, the incredible burst he showed flying around the edge last season on the way to eight sacks, along with the muscle and improved technique he added during the offseason, was a significant reason for all those high expectations swirling around the Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes could still be much improved on that side of the ball, but it seems a stretch to believe they could reach the sky-high expectations set out for them if Spence’s troubles force a backup permanently into his role or require a potential move back outside for tackle Adolphus Washington.

The College Football Playoff discussion had largely moved on from the Buckeyes already, and this latest setback surely won’t do much to improve the perception of the program as a contender. Miller’s injury had already dealt Ohio State a blow in that regard, leaving them without the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year and inexperienced at seemingly every spot on offense.

But now Ohio State has also lost a game and one of its most talented athletes on defense, and Spence’s absence was clearly an issue last week as the defense struggled to contain Virginia Tech quarterback Michael Brewer and was repeatedly burned on third-down situations.

"I’m sure he could have [helped]," defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "I think the guys we had in there did their jobs well. Everyone makes mistakes, but Noah is a playmaker and you never know what plays he’s going to decide to make.

"I mean, I wouldn’t say, 'No, he wouldn’t have made a difference,' because it is Noah."

The Buckeyes are well aware of what Spence would have brought to the table. He might still wind up in the NFL at this time next year, but there’s a chance the Buckeyes won’t be getting anything else out of Spence before then.

There is nothing official yet, but at this point, never looks far more likely than later.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There were no intentions of trying to rewrite history, and Ohio State also wasn’t trying to make excuses.

But the conclusion was simple enough to reach that there was also no sense in denying what was obvious for the Buckeyes.

Noah Spence was clearly missed on the defensive line, and every scramble, every sack that slipped away and every third-down conversion that was picked up during Virginia Tech’s win last Saturday at Ohio Stadium only reinforced that as he served the final week of his three-game suspension.

“I’m sure he could have [helped],” defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. “I think the guys we had in there did their jobs well, everyone makes mistakes, but Noah is a playmaker and you never know what plays he’s going to decide to make.

“I mean, I wouldn’t say no, he wouldn’t have made a difference because it is Noah.”

The Buckeyes still had Bennett, Joey Bosa and Adolphus Washington on the field chasing around Hokies quarterback Michael Brewer. But without the full complement of starters available through two games, the defensive line hasn’t yet had a chance to prove it’s worthy of the preseason hype that touted the unit as the most lethal in the nation.

Spence has speed, strength and the nose for the quarterback. He displayed all of that while finishing second in the Big Ten with eight sacks last season before he was suspended for testing positive for a small amount of ecstasy ahead of the Discover Orange Bowl.

His contributions surely could have come in handy a week ago.

At a minimum, Spence would have provided an additional body in the rotation, which could have kept the linemen fresher in the fourth quarter after chasing around Brewer seemingly all game long. But given his emergence last season as a sophomore and the additional time he’s had since then to continue building his body, fine-tuning his technique and learning a more aggressive defensive system, it seems highly likely he would have provided more than just a breather for his teammates.

It’s too late, though, to change the outcome against Virginia Tech, and the Buckeyes haven’t been looking for sympathy. Ohio State still has plenty of season left ahead of it, including the entire Big Ten schedule, and it could potentially climb back in the national picture now that it’s whole again up front.

“We saw a lot of strides in the spring from him, and from the time we started until the time we ended in spring practice, he made a lot of improvement,” co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said. “He’s made improvement through training camp also, and I’m excited to see him get out there on game day.

“I think it’s going to be tremendous. Noah is a very talented player, fits well in our scheme, has a tremendous ability to get after the quarterback. I think it’s going to help us a lot.”

Getting a hand from Spence surely would have helped more last week against Virginia Tech than Saturday against Kent State. But either way, he’s back now and perhaps the most talented line in the country can get to work trying to prove it.

Planning for success: Ohio State

September, 2, 2014
Sep 2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The unique scheme, the extra blockers and the lack of chances to unleash the pass rush are in the rear-view mirror.

Now Ohio State just has to go back to basics and remember what it’s like to play against a balanced offensive attack again.

The Buckeyes had spent plenty of extra time in training camp gearing up for Navy and its triple-option ahead of the opener last weekend, and even if they didn’t execute their defensive plan for success perfectly, they were certainly stout enough to escape a difficult matchup with a win. But after spending so much energy last month preparing for that run-heavy style, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has to slightly change the way his team practices this week to help it acclimate back to a more traditional approach with Virginia Tech visiting the Horseshoe on Saturday night.

[+] EnlargeOhio State defense
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyAfter facing Navy's run-heavy offense, Ohio State is gearing for Virginia Tech's more balanced style.
“We have to shift gears,” Meyer said. “Getting ready for that game is tough enough, it’s just now you have to go back to a pass defense that’s brand new.

“We actually started in earnest yesterday on the field. Usually we don’t do much on Sunday, but we did and we’ll see if we have improved our pass defense.”

The Midshipmen hardly provided any chances to gauge that reconfigured unit in the secondary last weekend, relentlessly hammering away with its ground game as it piled up 370 yards on 63 carries while only attempting four passes.

Statistically, the Buckeyes have obviously had far better performances defending the rush. But Navy’s execution, the speed at which it operates a complicated system to defend and the talent it has in the backfield, all made for a tricky matchup for the Buckeyes, largely because their personnel is much better suited for opponents who will actually let them rush the passer more than every once in a while.

Defensive end Joey Bosa rarely had a chance to pin his ears back and flash his athleticism around the edge. Evaluating tackle Michael Bennett’s play in the opener was a challenge because he was constantly battling double-teams and trying to avoid blockers coming low to cut him down. Even while chipping in six tackles and a sack, Adolphus Washington’s impressive season debut didn’t necessarily provide a great glimpse of his role in Ohio State’s new-look defense this season -- though Virginia Tech should certainly help reveal some answers about the entire unit.

“It feels good to get that behind us,” defensive line coach Larry Johnson said. “Play Navy, get it behind us and now go fast forward with a team that runs some things we can adjust to and play a little faster.

“As we got closer in the last week or two we spent more time getting ready for Navy, but we had done some things early on to get ready moving forward. Plus, our offense gave us a good challenge running some zone stuff, so we were not totally away from it. But now it’s going back and relearning everything we taught early in the season.”

That process got underway a bit earlier than normal for the Buckeyes this week. But odds are, there weren’t any complaints as Ohio State turned the page from Navy and started planning for a different sort of defensive success against the Hokies.

“I think we’re ranked pretty high in pass defense,” Meyer joked. “ ... But I just think of our defensive line. Joey Bosa didn’t come to Ohio State to squeeze down blocks and keep people off his ankles, that’s what he had to do last week. He came to rush the quarterback and penetrate.

“There’s some big smiles across our defense now to let them go play.”



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