Big Ten: Pat Elflein

Blocking for the nation’s best group of running backs, Big Ten offensive lines fared well last season. Will 2015 serve as a reality check around the league?

As spring practice opens in Ann Arbor and Evanston this week, we’re comparing position groups around the Big Ten. Offensive line is next on the list. For others in the series, click here:

Best of the best: Michigan State

The linchpins are back in rising junior left tackle Jack Conklin and senior center Jack Allen, both of whom will land on preseason All-America teams. The pair of Jacks spearheaded the line last year as the Spartans allowed a Big Ten-low 11 sacks, converted 49.7 percent on third down (second to Ohio State) and operated more efficiently in the red zone and in goal-to-go situations than any other Big Ten team. Donavon Clark also returns at tackle. The Spartans lose left guard Travis Jackson, a second-team all-conference pick, and versatile mainstay Connor Kruse. Brian Allen, Kodi Kieler and Miguel Machado appear ready to compete. And these guys will look even better with Connor Cook in command of the offense.

Next up: Ohio State and Wisconsin

A temptation exists to rank every OSU unit as the Big Ten’s best, and the Buckeyes aren’t far off on the offensive line. They lose only right tackle Darryl Baldwin from a group that turned dominant late last season en route to clearing a path to the national title for Ezekiel Elliott and Cardale Jones. Left tackle Taylor Decker, the lone returning starter last year, ranks among the nation’s best at his position, and right guard Pat Elflein earned all-conference honors. Center Jacoby Boren and left guard Billy Price are also back as starters.

At Wisconsin, the cupboard is considerably more empty with the departure of right guard Kyle Costigan, right tackle Rob Havenstein, both All-Big Ten picks, and left guard Dallas Lewallen. Alongside the brilliance of Melvin Gordon, this was the league’s best unit last year. Center Dan Voltz and left tackle Tyler Marz return to anchor the line in 2015. Michael Deiter is ready to go as a redshirt freshman, and the Badgers will find two more starters among a promising group of youngsters.

Sleeper: Michigan

The Wolverines weren’t bad on the line last year. Seriously. OK, at least, it was an improvement over 2013, and all five starters are back to go with, presumably, a much more well designed offensive system. With left tackle Mason Cole, who played as a true freshman, guards Graham Glasgow and Kyle Kalis, center Jack Miller and right tackle Ben Braden, Michigan looks the part. New offensive coordinator and O-line coach Tim Drevno has plenty of tools with which to work. Reserves Erik Magnuson, Logan Tuley-Tillman, Blake Bars and Patrick Kugler give Michigan a chance to develop solid depth this spring. The Wolverines should be better at running back with the addition of Ty Isaac. A breakthrough season across the front isn’t out of the question.

Problem for a contender: Penn State

It was flat-out ugly last year as the Nittany Lions allowed 44 sacks, last in the Big Ten and 121st nationally, and averaged 2.94 yards per rush – 122nd nationally. PSU lost left tackle Donovan Smith early to the NFL and left guard Miles Dieffenbach. Center Angelo Mangiro and tackle Andrew Nelson lead the group of returnees, and Penn added a pair of potential difference-makers in January in freshman Sterling Jenkins and juco transfer Paris Palmer. Four freshmen redshirted last year. Really, there’s nowhere to go but up, but Penn State needs fast improvement from its line to allow QB Christian Hackenberg time to operate. If growth here is slow, so will be Penn State’s offensive progress.

Big Ten all-bowl team

January, 16, 2015
Jan 16
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The Big Ten played in 10 bowl games -- 11 if you count the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. We've come up with our list of the league's best postseason performers. The strategy here was as follows: When in doubt, choose a Buckeye. There is lots of scarlet and gray on our Big Ten all-bowl team, as you'd expect. Here it is:

Offense

QB: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State: Bouncing back from an at times rough sophomore season, Hackenberg reminded everyone of his talent in his team's 31-30 New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over Boston College. He threw for 371 yards and a season-high four touchdowns with no interceptions.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Ezekiel Elliott left defenders grasping at air this postseason.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Ohio State: The offensive MVP of both the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the national championship game, Elliott blossomed into a superstar this postseason. He ran for 476 yards and six touchdowns in the two playoff wins, including a four-touchdown night against Oregon.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: The Badgers star capped his career in style, by running for 251 yards and three touchdowns in Wisconsin's Outback Bowl win over Auburn. Gordon finished the season with 2,587 rushing yards, the second most in FBS history.

WR: Devin Smith, Ohio State: The Buckeyes' big-play threat became even more dangerous with Cardale Jones slinging it to him in the postseason. He had two catches for 87 yards and a score against Alabama and one for 45 yards against Oregon, but defenses always had to account for Smith.

WR: Chris Godwin, Penn State: The Nittany Lions freshman had 198 total receiving yards on the season before he caught seven balls for 140 yards and a touchdown in the win over Boston College.

TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: Williams had seven receptions for 98 yards and a score in his team's Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl loss to Missouri. His hurdle over a Tigers defensive back en route to a 54-yard score was one of the best plays of bowl season.

OL: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: The Buckeyes dominated the line of scrimmage against Alabama and Oregon, and their junior left tackle was a huge reason for that.

OL: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: Elflein was terrific from his guard position, as the Buckeyes were able to run the ball extremely well in both playoff games.

OL: Kodi Kieler, Michigan State: Thrust into the starting lineup at right tackle due to an injury, Kieler graded out as the Spartans' top offensive linemen in their 42-41 Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic win over Baylor. His hustle on a Baylor interception drew a penalty that might have saved the game.

OL: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The center and leader of the Spartans' line helped pave room for 552 yards and 29 first downs against Baylor.

OL: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: The Badgers ran for 400 yards against Auburn, and Costigan helped lead the way.

Defense

DL: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DL: Michael Bennett, Ohio State
DL: Adolphus Washington, Ohio State

Yep, we've got three Buckeyes here (and you could make a case for Steve Miller, who had a pick-six versus Alabama). The Ohio State defensive line was great in both playoff games at both holding up against the run and generating pressure on the quarterback, and the starters proved to be iron men in both games.

DL: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: Zettel had a pair of tackles for loss against Boston College to finish his spectacular season at defensive tackle for the Nittany Lions.

LB: Darron Lee, Ohio State: The defensive MVP of the Sugar Bowl became a household name this January. Only a redshirt freshman, Lee could terrorize Big Ten offenses for a long time.

LB: Curtis Grant, Ohio State: Yet another Buckeyes defender. Grant led the team in tackles in the Sugar Bowl and was strong from his middle linebacker position when it mattered most.

LB: Joe Schobert, Wisconsin: Schobert collected three tackles for loss in Wisconsin's win over Auburn.

CB: Doran Grant, Ohio State: He corralled Alabama stud receiver Amari Cooper in the Sugar Bowl and held Cooper to his second-lowest yardage total against an FBS team this season.

CB: Jordan Lucas, Penn State: Boston College passed for only 97 yards on 20 attempts versus the Nittany Lions. Lucas also added seven tackles and a sack in the victory.

S: Vonn Bell, Ohio State: Hey, look, another Buckeye. Bell added to Ohio State's outstanding defensive effort from his safety position by grabbing an interception against Alabama and collecting 14 tackles in the two playoff games.

S: Lorenzo Waters, Rutgers: He was a busy man in his team's 40-21 Quick Lane Bowl win over North Carolina, with 14 tackles, two fumble recoveries and a blocked field goal.

Specialists

K: Rafael Gaglianone, Wisconsin: The Brazilian freshman kicked a 29-yard field goal with seven seconds left to send the game against Auburn into overtime, and he won it with a 25-yarder in the first extra period.

P: Cameron Johnston, Ohio State: He averaged 46.5 yards on six punts against Alabama and 42 yards on three attempts against Oregon.

KR: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: In his final game with the Huskers, Abdullah returned three kicks for 120 yards, including a 49-yarder, in Nebraska's 45-42 National University Holiday Bowl loss to USC.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Taylor Decker heard the doubters after Ohio State's offensive line couldn't block Virginia Tech in a Week 2 loss.

"A lot of people were against us after that loss," the junior left tackle said. "A lot of people said we couldn't play at this level, that we weren't good enough."

The group entered the 2014 season as a major question mark after losing four starters, and the Virginia Tech game seemed to solidify those concerns. The Buckeyes gave up seven sacks and rushed for just 108 yards on 40 carries against the Hokies' aggressive scheme.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Boren
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsCenter Jacoby Boren (50) hasn't let being undersized stop him from being a force. "He plays mad," teammate Taylor Decker said.
But Ohio State is playing for the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T on Monday night versus Oregon in large part because its offensive line has developed into one of the best in the nation. That was obvious in last week's 42-35 semifinal win over Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, even though skeptics said the Buckeyes couldn't run up the middle against the Crimson Tide's massive defensive front.

"Everybody kept saying that," center Jacoby Boren said. "But ultimately, we knew that's something we take pride in, and we had confidence in knowing we would be able to do it."

Ohio State ran for 281 yards versus Alabama, which led the FBS in rushing defense during the regular season. The Crimson Tide hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season until Ezekiel Elliott set a Sugar Bowl record with 230 yards. Elliott rumbled for 220 yards in his previous game against Wisconsin, another team that had one of the country's best rush defenses before getting bulldozed by the Buckeyes.

"The offensive line is opening up big holes for me," Elliott said.

The nature of Urban Meyer's offense is a power run game based out of a spread set, and it all starts with a strong effort up front. It took a while for this year's unit to jell because of youth and inexperience, but it is now operating at peak efficiency.

"No question, this is as well as they have played," Meyer said Tuesday.

This group was a bit more of a project than Meyer's first two O-lines in Columbus. It includes a fifth-year senior in right tackle Darryl Baldwin, who began his career on the defensive line and had never started before this year. There's a redshirt freshman in Billy Price at left guard and a sophomore in right guard Pat Elflein, who proved himself in an emergency start in last year's Big Ten title game.

The line is perhaps personified by Boren, an undersized junior who Meyer thought might project as a fullback when he first saw him. Ohio State brought in Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay this summer as its potential starting center, but Boren just worked even harder to beat him out. That was nothing new for him. Boren is such a grinder that he helped plow snow all night for his family's business last winter, showing up for 6 a.m. workouts on little or no sleep.

"Yeah, maybe he's not as tall or as heavy as you want him to be," Decker said. "But you can't teach that scrappiness, that edge he has to him. He plays mad. I think that's probably just a product of people telling him he can't do things. Without him, our offensive line wouldn't play as well as where we're at."

Decker is the star of the group, a 6-foot-7 road grader who was the only returning starter from 2013. Yet even he had to make adjustments this year as he moved from right to left tackle. Decker is an outgoing animal sciences major who interned at the Columbus Zoo last year and aspires to wrangle big cats one day when his playing days are done. For now, he's taming opposing pass-rushers.

"I would take him over any tackle in college football," Boren said. "I think he's done a great job out there."

The season didn't start out great for the offensive line, but Decker said the players never listened to critics or lost confidence. That's because they believed in position coach Ed Warriner. And rightly so. Warriner is a big reason three starters from last year's line -- Jack Mewhort, Andrew Norwell and Corey Linsley -- started in the NFL as rookies. Meyer will likely promote Warriner to offensive coordinator to replace Tom Herman after the national title game.

Just as Ohio State keeps pumping out successful quarterbacks, there also is now a tradition for "The Slobs," as Norwell nicknamed the offensive line last year.

"We always talk about theory and testimony," Meyer said, "and when Ed Warriner teaches an offensive lineman, that's the way it's supposed to be, it's not theory anymore."

The last challenge for this O-line comes against Oregon, which presents different obstacles than Alabama did. The Ducks show a lot of odd-man fronts, and while their front doesn't have the bulk of the Crimson Tide, they have speed and length -- especially with defensive ends Arik Armstead (6-8) and DeForest Buckner (6-7).

"We can't get a lot of double-teams, and that's kind of our strength as an offensive line," Decker said. "If people line up and play four down, we're going to kill them.

"So that makes it hard, because there are a lot of one-on-one base blocks, and they have long athletes pretty much across the board. They extend off blocks well, they use their hands well and they shed blockers well. They're going to be flying all over the field. But without a doubt, I think we'll be able to move the ball and score on them."

No one should be skeptical of this offensive line's ability anymore.

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 12, 2014
12/12/14
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The Big Ten unveiled its official all-league teams last week, but we have our own thoughts and choices. Here is the ESPN.com All-Big Ten team for 2014:

Offense

QB: J.T. Barrett, Ohio State: Barrett broke the Big Ten single-season record for touchdowns produced with 45. He would have added to that total if not for a broken ankle in the regular-season finale vs. Michigan.

RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin: All he did was lead the FBS in rushing, break the Big Ten single-season rushing record and earn the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year honors.

RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana: Coleman joined Gordon as the only other player in the country to top 2,000 yards; he would have been a serious Heisman contender in another year or on a more successful team.

WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State: The Big Ten’s receiver of the year led the league with 1,124 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.

WR: Leonte Carroo, Rutgers: Carroo joined Lippett at over 1,000 yards and averaged 19.7 yards per catch.

TE: Maxx Williams, Minnesota: A John Mackey Award finalist, Williams was the Golden Gophers’ top receiver and crucial cog in their run game.

OT: Taylor Decker, Ohio State: Anchored a Buckeyes offensive line that developed into one of the league’s best over the course of the season.

OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa: He was named the Big Ten offensive lineman of the year and is a surefire NFL first-round draft pick.

C: Jack Allen, Michigan State: The Spartans gave up fewer sacks (10) than any Big Ten club and had one of the league’s top offenses with Allen at the point of attack.

G: Kyle Costigan, Wisconsin: An ESPN All-American, Costigan helped pave the way for Gordon’s record-breaking runs.

G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State: He was a sturdy performer all season on the Buckeyes’ line as the offense scored at a rapid pace.

Defense

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State: The Big Ten defensive player of the year led the league in sacks (13.5) and tackles for loss (20) and tied for the lead with four forced fumbles.

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State: After a quiet start, Calhoun got back to his dominating ways and finished with 6.5 sacks.

DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State: With eight sacks and 15 tackles for loss from the defensive tackle position, Zettel was the most disruptive interior lineman in the conference.

DT: Louis Trinca-Pasat, Iowa: LTP was a pleasant surprise for the Hawkeyes, leading the team with 11 tackles for loss and adding 6.5 sacks.

LB: Mike Hull, Penn State: Hull was the Big Ten linebacker of the year and led the league with 134 tackles.

LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan: Ryan turned in a strong senior season with 112 tackles and 14 tackles for loss.

LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin: Any one of the Badgers’ four “Chevy Bad Boys” linebackers could have made the first team, but Landisch led the team with nine sacks and 16 tackles for loss.

DB: William Likely, Maryland: A big-play machine, Likely grabbed six interceptions and scored touchdowns on two of them.

DB: Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Minnesota: Like Likely, he was always in the middle of the action with four picks and a key strip late to seal the Nebraska win.

DB: Trae Waynes, Michigan State: Probably the best pure cover guy in the league, Waynes is asked to do a whole lot as the point man in the Spartans' "No Fly Zone."

DB: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin: Caputo was the leader from his safety spot for a defense that was the best in the league during the regular season; he finished with 99 tackles.

Specialists

K: Brad Craddock, Maryland: The Big Ten kicker of the year made his first 18 field goals this season, including a 57-yarder and a game-winner at Penn State.

P: Peter Mortell, Minnesota: Mortell was a field-position weapon for the Gophers, leading the league with a 45.5-yard average per attempt

PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska: The freshman scored three touchdowns on punt returns and had a preposterous 17.8 yard average for the season.

All-purpose: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: We had to find a spot for Abdullah on the team, and since he returned kicks and was extremely versatile as a running back, this seemed like a good spot.

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 -- Practice ends and dinner begins at just the right time to get in front of a television on Tuesday nights, and Ohio State doesn't make any point to change the channel when the broadcast starts and the selection committee unveils its latest rankings.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesJ.T. Barrett and the 9-1 Buckeyes have two more regular-season games to get through before even contemplating how the postseason plays out.
The Buckeyes are finding out exactly where they stand every week, which they will again tonight. They will know which teams are currently in their way, and they are aware of the conversations comparing resumes and the expert projections heading into the final few games of the season before the field ultimately becomes official.

But if the rankings are anything more than just some entertainment while they refuel after a workout, the No. 8 Buckeyes are hiding it well. There's been no public campaigning or complaining at this point, and they're wearing out one of the oldest cliches in sports.

"You know, the only thing we can control is winning every game that we can, win the Big Ten," offensive guard Pat Elflein said. "I see the rankings, and it's like, you want to be in the top four, but you have to control what you can control and the rest is up to whoever decides that.

"It doesn't really affect me that much because I'm so focused on what we've got to do to put ourselves in the best situation for postseason play."

Whatever Ohio State's comments might lack in creativity lately, they might actually make up for it in truthfulness. This is college football, after all, and if nothing else there's plenty of historical evidence that suggests there's more chaos coming as the season hits the homestretch.

While the target has expanded from the top-two spots to four this season, the Buckeyes actually have firsthand experience from a virtually identical situation a year ago when it seemed like there were too many dominoes that needed to fall or they had to rack up too many ever-mysterious style points to make up ground in the polls. Eventually they found themselves in position to play for the national championship before they were taught the very reason the cliche exists when they lost in the Big Ten title game to Michigan State to drop out of contention after everything else had fallen into place.

So there's no reason for Urban Meyer to spend time debating the format or appealing to the selection committee, which he politely refused to do on Monday. There's no incentive to push his team to run up the score against Indiana on Saturday, with margin of victory something that "is not even going to be addressed." The only message he delivered as Ohio State began preparing for a game it will be favored to win handily is that a chance to clinch the East Division is on the line, and without that victory, there actually might be a reason to watch something else during the team meal next Tuesday.

"We wake up every day to compete for championships in November," Meyer said. "It's at the doorstep now.

"We are lightsout a much better football team than we were at the beginning of the season, and that's a credit to the players and the assistant coaches for getting them there. But those kind of conversations [about the playoff] I think take place in [the media]. They certainly don't take place within locker rooms, not that I'm aware of."

They are, though, at least watched and heard in the Ohio State dining room.

But the Buckeyes know there's really only one response off the field, and it's the same one that probably will put it where it needs to be if it can follow through on it this time.

"Really we just have to control what we can control," Elflein said. "Just got to keep winning."

Maybe there's a chance things won't go Ohio State's way, but at this point losing is the only way it can really be counted out.

ESPN's midseason All-Big Ten team

October, 14, 2014
10/14/14
11:00
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The regular season is at its halfway point, so we're presenting our selections for the midseason All-Big Ten team.

Offense

QB: Connor Cook, Michigan State
RB: Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
RB: Tevin Coleman, Indiana
WR: Tony Lippett, Michigan State
WR: DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
OT: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OT: Jack Conklin, Michigan State
C: Jack Allen, Michigan State
G: Zac Epping, Minnesota
G: Pat Elflein, Ohio State

Defense

DE: Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DE: Marcus Rush, Michigan State
DT: Anthony Zettel, Penn State
DT: Carl Davis, Iowa
LB: Mike Hull, Penn State
LB: Damien Wilson, Minnesota
LB: Derek Landisch, Wisconsin
CB: Desmond King, Iowa
CB: Eric Murray, Minnesota
S: Frankie Williams, Purdue
S: Michael Caputo, Wisconsin

Special teams
PK: Brad Craddock, Maryland
P: Justin DuVernois, Illinois
KR: Stefon Diggs, Maryland
PR: De'Mornay Pierson-El, Nebraska

Thoughts: The first thing you probably notice is an unconventional offense featuring three running backs and no tight ends. Sure, it's a little bit of a cheat, but how do you leave any of those three tailbacks off? Coleman, Gordon and Abdullah rank 1, 2 and 4 nationally in rushing yards. Though there are some excellent tight ends in the league -- Minnesota's Maxx Williams and Penn State's Jesse James come to mind -- we would rather reward the outstanding tailbacks. Heck, we probably could have gone four or five deep at that position, given how loaded it is right now. ... The toughest call came at cornerback, where you might be surprised by our choices. We love King's shutdown ability for the Hawkeyes, and Murray gets the slight nod over teammate Briean Boddy-Calhoun for the Gophers' excellent secondary. Michigan State's Trae Waynes might be the best player at the position in the league, but he has given up some big plays this season. Same goes for Maryland's Will Likely, who has been explosive at times and torched (see: West Virginia and Ohio State) at others. It's only midseason, remember; these choices could change by the end of the season. ... Speaking of surprised, the steady Rush makes the team over more heralded position mate Shilique Calhoun. It's a close call, but Rush has been consistently terrific so far this season. ... Some pretty fresh names at linebacker, especially after so many stars at the position departed after last season. Michigan's Jake Ryan just missed there. ... Two freshmen made the team in Hamilton and Pierson-El. Ohio State's J.T. Barrett is also pushing Cook for No. 1 status at quarterback.

The breakdown by team:

Michigan State: 5
Iowa: 3
Minnesota: 3
Penn State: 3
Wisconsin: 3
Maryland: 2
Nebraska: 2
Ohio State: 2
Illinois: 1
Indiana: 1
Purdue: 1
Michigan: 0
Northwestern: 0
Rutgers: 0
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The math seemed simple enough, and from behind a podium in the Ohio State meeting room, Urban Meyer was effectively urging anybody within earshot not to overthink it.

Replacing a quarterback, even one as decorated and talented as Braxton Miller, is just one cog in the machine. There were four parts missing on the offensive line from last year’s well-oiled attack, and swapping out each of those pieces is every bit as important in keeping the engine running smoothly.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyOhio State wasn't just breaking in a new starter at quarterback in Week 1. The Buckeyes also had to replace four offensive linemen from last season.
Maybe the formula isn’t balanced enough to suggest that replacing four offensive linemen is four times as challenging as finding a replacement at the most important position on the field. But the Buckeyes have made it abundantly clear after just one game without Miller which side of the equation is the bigger concern for a fresh-faced offense on a team that still has playoff aspirations.

“We went into it very vanilla last week,” Meyer said. “I think [quarterback J.T.] Barrett is part of it, but the offensive line is the other big part of it.

“What can those guys do and what can they do well? We’re expecting them in the next couple of weeks to be able to do it all well. It’s not just J.T. When we say expand the playbook, it’s for J.T. and it’s for the offensive line.”

The Buckeyes had almost no game experience to draw on with either position group last weekend against Navy, and that uncertainty was obvious during a first half that didn’t include an offensive touchdown and put them on upset alert. The natural reaction was to point to Miller’s absence, but Meyer had never hesitated in the past to shift the attention to the role his four senior starters up front played while the star quarterback was winning consecutive Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year awards.

Heading into the opener against the Midshipmen, Meyer still hadn’t officially settled on replacements at two of those vacant spots on the line, leaving battles at guard and center that had started back in March unsettled nearly all the way up to kickoff. It also didn’t help that Ohio State no longer had Carlos Hyde to handle the workload at running back and top receiver Philly Brown had graduated as well, which in some ways made it likely all along that it would take some time for the spread attack to resume the record-setting onslaught Meyer had led over the last two seasons with the program.

Much of the scrutiny was focused on Barrett and the redshirt freshman’s ability to pick up where Miller left off before injuring his shoulder for the second time this year. But with new evidence thanks to a debut for Barrett that included 12 completions in 15 attempts for 226 yards and two touchdowns now available to help make his case, Meyer’s basic math should be even easier to understand as the Buckeyes try to figure out the best way forward with so many new starters in the lineup -- not just the one at quarterback.

“Yeah, you know, we’re not the same offense as we were last year,” left guard Pat Elflein said. “We had different guys. We’re still trying to figure out who we are and just play as hard as we can, and then we’ll go from there.

“We had a bunch of guys who hadn’t started before out there. So just getting the first game out of the way, they’ll be more comfortable there and I think we’ll play a lot better. I’m not worried about it all.”

The concerns haven’t entirely disappeared for Ohio State after one week, and Meyer stressed the importance of getting “much better fast” up front with a significant test coming Saturday at home against Virginia Tech.

But the Buckeyes don’t necessarily just have to rely on the old coaching formula that calls for exponential improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 at the start of a season. With three touchdown drives after intermission following that rocky first half against Navy, all of those new cogs seemed to at least be on the way to fitting into the Ohio State machine.

“The second half we played pretty good,” Meyer said. “But pretty good is not what we expect. You play pretty good this week, you won't win that game.

“But once those groups come together, we’ll continue to expand [the playbook]. I'm expecting that to happen rather quickly -- it better or we won't win this game.”

There’s nothing too complicated about that message, either.
Certain position groups define certain leagues, and in the Big Ten, offensive line always will be one of those groups. The big uglies are typically a beautiful sight for many Big Ten fan bases, so we figured we would kick off our preseason position previews with the offensive line. Taking a page from our friends on the ACC blog, we are changing up the preview format so it's not so exhaustive (no more 14-team lists).

Let's get started, shall we?

Best of the best: Wisconsin

It's close between rivals Wisconsin and Iowa for the top spot, and though the Hawkeyes boast the league's best individual lineman in left tackle Brandon Scherff, the Badgers get the nod for their overall group. If healthy, Wisconsin's 2014 line should start resembling the more dominant units for which the program is famous. There should be better depth than in recent years as five players with at least five starts are back, led by veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein. Kyle Costigan, Dallas Lewallen and Tyler Marz add experience, and Wisconsin has two talented young centers in sophomore Dan Voltz and freshman Michael Deiter.

Next up: Iowa

There is no minimizing Scherff's return as he would have been a top 20 pick in the NFL draft, according to coach Kirk Ferentz, if he elected to skip his senior season. The freakishly strong senior anchors Iowa's line, which returns two other starters in center Austin Blythe and guard Jordan Walsh. Right tackle Andrew Donnal has plenty of experience as a reserve. The other guard spot remains competitive, although Sean Welsh emerged from the spring as the starter. Iowa's overall depth is a bit shaky, but if the top line holds up, it should have little trouble pounding the ball with Mark Weisman and co., and protecting quarterback Jake Rudock.

Possible sleeper: Indiana

If you read the blog regularly, and especially this post, you won't be surprised by this selection. I strongly considered the Hoosiers for one of the top two spots, but want to see how guard Dan Feeney looks after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Feeney, a freshman All-American in 2012, rejoins a group that includes veterans Jason Spriggs, Bernard Taylor and Collin Rahrig, a former walk-on who now has 24 starts at center and guard. After an injury-plagued 2013 season, Indiana's line could take another big step and possibly become the Big Ten's most complete unit.

Problem for a contender: Ohio State

The bad news is Ohio State loses four starters from the Big Ten's best line in 2013. The good news is Ohio State typically reloads up front and boasts one of the nation's top line coaches in Ed Warinner. No matter your outlook, the Buckeyes' line will be a position to watch when camp kicks off. Ohio State can't afford to lose senior quarterback Braxton Miller, who has taken a beating at times the past two years. Junior Taylor Decker moves from right tackle to the left side and will lead the group. Guard Pat Eflein showed promise filling in for Marcus Hall late last season and will occupy a starting spot. Darryl Baldwin and Antonio Underwood have been with the program longer than any other linemen, but are only now positioned to start. The Buckeyes helped their depth by adding Alabama graduate transfer Chad Lindsay at center.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

June, 11, 2014
6/11/14
5:00
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It's mailbag time once again. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, and you can ask us mailbag questions there.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Brian, this whole scheduling FCS teams issue REALLY makes me upset as a fan and a season ticket holder. I think it's really quite ridiculous that the Power 5 conferences want to play by their own set of rules, but also schedule games against teams that are already at a competitive disadvantage. Why is it that no one in the media is questioning the logic behind, as you said in your most recent article "with power teams needing seven home games to make budget", how does this make sense when schools are bringing in tens of millions of dollars more in media contracts now than they were 10 years ago? It seems the Power 5 conferences want to play by their own rules and act autonomously, but yet refuse to work together on scheduling partnerships to ease the process for nonconference scheduling. I'm also sick of the excuse that the B1G needs to consider scheduling FCS schools to maximize potential to get into the new "Playoff." I think the selection committee should ignore any game played against an FCS school when identifying the best teams for the playoff.

Brian Bennett: Some very good points, Rob, and you and I appear to be in total agreement that these FCS games should be eliminated. I didn't even mention ticket prices in my post, but the rising costs of attending games is yet another reason why these games are abhorrent. And I also agree that the seven home games argument is a bit odd given the massive amount of money flowing into Power 5 conference teams. It has been projected that the Big Ten could distribute $45 million to each of its member schools after the league's new TV contract is negotiated. Surely some of this can help make up for a lack of a seventh home game in some seasons, no? Or do schools need to continue to raise coaches' salaries and build even more spectacular facilities with that cash?

I also love your last point about the selection committee ignoring wins over FCS opponents. So if, say, an ACC team is 11-1 but has a win over an FCS team, it should be considered 10-1. That might make a big difference when comparing it to an 11-1 team from another conference that has 11 wins over actual FBS teams. I think that would change some schools' willingness to schedule FCS opponents very quickly.


Dave from Minneapolis writes: Honestly, I love the no-FCS mandate, as well as the nine-game B1G schedule for entertainment, but it is not the best move for getting into the playoff. While the schedule will be considered, it certainly won't be enough to counter a loss to a lower-level FBS (former) team. If an 11-2 B1G team is up against a 12-1 ACC/SEC team for playoff selection, the B1G team won't get selected. Sure, it may help when 12-1 against 12-1, but seems the extra risk might not be worth the reward ... for those concerned with the "playoff." All the more reason why it should be an eight-team playoff, with each major conference champ gaining entrance.

Brian Bennett: Dave, while I agree with you on an eight-team playoff, which in my view would be the perfect setup, we need to be happy that we at long last have some sort of a playoff system. And it will eventually expand, I believe. I also don't think the FCS mandate will have much impact on the Playoff in terms of wins or losses. Let's face it: Any team that loses to an FCS or lower-level FBS team is not going to make the four-team Playoff field anyway. What not scheduling FCS opponents does for the Big Ten is raise its overall strength-of-schedule component, which could be key for selection purposes.


Jared from Minnesota writes: Your recent article about B1G needing to stay the course and ultimately refrain from scheduling FCS opponents is definitely legitimate. However, I recall a mailbag post a little bit ago where (I'm not sure if it was you or Rittenberg) argued the point that some schools -- Indiana, for example -- might benefit from scheduling an FCS team in order to help their program to move to the next level, in the Hoosiers' case, become bowl eligible. Would you agree (or still agree if that was your stance) that there is still some stock to that scenario?

Brian Bennett: I don't believe I ever said that schools like Indiana should schedule FCS schools. However, I do believe a team like the Hoosiers should dumb down its schedule if it needs to get over the hump and into a bowl game. Last year, Indiana played Navy, Missouri and Bowling Green in the nonconference schedule, which seemed to me a bit too ambitious for a program looking for its second bowl appearance since 1993 and first in six years. There are plenty of easier games against lower-level FBS schools to be had, even if it means a home-and-home series to reduce costs.


Josh from NYC writes: When do you think Michigan becomes a national, or at least regional, power again? Other programs have faced or are facing similar paths, Bama between Bryant and Saban, Oklahoma and Texas now, and it'll happen again. However the school is just built for success and I don't see anything shy of the death sentence keeping this program down. Not that I'm not enjoying MSU's recent success, but it's fun to see some brotherly competition.

Brian Bennett: Great question, Josh, and it's something that needs to happen, not just for Michigan but to strengthen the entire Big Ten. Michigan has every possible resource you would need, including the nation's largest stadium and huge revenue streams. Brady Hoke's staff has recruited highly ranked classes. So there's really nothing that should be keeping this program down. Either Hoke will get it there in the next couple of years, or someone else will get a chance to try.


JK from NoVA writes: Brian, have you actually looked at Ohio State's offensive line? That was a rhetorical question because if you did, you wouldn't post this rubbish. Ohio State's talent level up front is shameful. They will likely duke it out with Michigan for the worst offensive line in the Big Ten. They have next to no experience, very little talent, and they make Penn State's depth situation look positively good (it is actually far better than most think).

Brian Bennett: Shameful? Really? I have "actually looked" at the Buckeyes' line and have seen them in practice. That line includes left tackle Taylor Decker, who started last year and who Urban Meyer said was playing as well as any Ohio State lineman at the end of 2013. It includes Chad Lindsay, who transferred from Alabama after starting several games there at center. It also includes Pat Elflein, who filled in for Marcus Hall very well last year. Fourth-year junior Antonio Underwood and fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin ran with the first team most of the spring. There are a lot of younger players behind them pushing for time.

Meyer wasn't satisfied with his line play this spring, but to say the group lacks talent is disingenuous. Remember there were many questions about the line before 2012, and Ed Warriner quickly shaped that group into one of the country's strongest units. Warriner is one of the best in the business, and while this year's O-line likely won't be as good as the 2013 version, he'll get it figured out.

Arrival date set for Chad Lindsay

April, 29, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Help is now officially on the way for Ohio State at center.

The anticipated transfer of a former starter at Alabama with instant eligibility -- thanks to his status as a graduate -- is all set, with Chad Lindsay confirming via email that he will be on campus in time for summer workouts and ready to compete right away for a position that was something of a trouble spot during spring practice for the Buckeyes.

“I will always be a proud graduate of the University of Alabama and I will always be appreciative to the coaching staff for the privilege of playing for the Crimson Tide,” Lindsay wrote in a statement to ESPN.com. “I was fortunate to have had great teammates and to have been a part of an incredible four-year run of success.

[+] EnlargeChad Lindsay
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesChad Lindsay should figure into the mix at center immediately for the Buckeyes.
“And now I am looking forward to enrolling at The Ohio State University in June to play for the Buckeyes and to pursue a master’s degree. My goals are to compete hard, to be a productive member of the team and to do whatever I can to help Ohio State win championships.”

If the Buckeyes are going to compete for championships again this season, finding replacements almost entirely across the offensive line has been at the top of the priority list for coach Urban Meyer since losing four starters to graduation off last year’s wildly productive unit.

After naming just two OL starters after the spring game and without much experience to choose from between Jacoby Boren and Billy Price at center, a veteran option somewhat unexpectedly materialized in Lindsay.

Lindsay spent two seasons in a reserve role before moving into the starting lineup in the middle of his final campaign with the Crimson Tide, starting three games in a row and also running with the first string in the regular-season finale against Auburn. That game experience and his time competing on the practice field with a team that won a pair of national championships could be invaluable for the Buckeyes as they retool the offensive line, and it figures to give Lindsay an edge over Boren and Price when practice resumes in August.

That doesn’t completely solve the puzzle for the Buckeyes as they head into the offseason conditioning program with just tackle Taylor Decker and guard Pat Elflein currently tabbed for starting jobs. But if nothing else, the addition of another experienced blocker and a product of a program that has been the most successful in the country over the last five years will certainly provide more depth and competition at a crucial spot.

“Coach Meyer likes to have the depth chart set leaving spring, but if it’s not there, it’s not there,” Decker said after the spring game. “That battle will just continue through camp. There’s good and bad to it, but I’d say there’s more good to it.

“It’s good because there’s that competition there, so there’s going to be a sense of urgency. You’re not going to have guys taking days off, taking plays off in practice because you still have to earn that spot.”

Another guy is on the way to fight for one.
When I visited Ohio State late in its spring practice session, coach Urban Meyer cited the offensive line "as a very big concern."

That was no surprise, since the Buckeyes lost four starters off a group that had been the best offensive line in the Big Ten for the past two seasons. But Meyer said he was "a little disappointed" with how the line had developed to that point in the spring. At the same time, he mentioned his confidence in position coach Ed Warriner and that "we've got some good players coming in."

Meyer may or may not have known at the time that the O-line was about to get a boost via transfer. Former Alabama center Chad Lindsay is transferring to Ohio State in a move first reported by CBSSports.com and later confirmed by ESPN.com. Lindsay, who started four games for the Crimson Tide, is a graduate transfer who will be immediately eligible this fall in Columbus.

Redshirt freshman Billy Price and sophomore Jacoby Boren had been splitting first-team reps at center this spring for the Buckeyes, but there's a good chance Lindsay steps in and becomes the primary snapper for quarterback Braxton Miller. He didn't play a lot at Alabama after coming in as a highly rated recruit, but it was understandably tough to break into the Tide's star-studded O-line. He spent the first few years of his career behind former Outland Trophy winner Barrett Jones.

It's a nice addition for Ohio State, which Meyer said had only two O-line starters -- left tackle Taylor Decker and guard Pat Elflein -- locked down this spring. And in a double victory for the Buckeyes, it deals a setback to Michigan.

The Wolverines had also been in the running for Lindsay's services and likely have an even bigger need for experience and proven performers on their young offensive line, which struggled everywhere but at the two tackle spots manned by seniors last season. Plus, Lindsay played for Michigan offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, who held the same post at Alabama the previous two seasons, and could have helped with the transition to Nussmeier's system in Ann Arbor.

Instead, he'll be suiting up for Michigan's biggest rival. Some are likely to confuse him with Corey Linsley, who played center for the Buckeyes the past two years, because of their similar names. Ohio State would be very happy if Lindsay plays like Linsley did.

Talented Buckeyes kept under wraps

April, 14, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer seemed to be guarding a secret, and it couldn’t be deciphered by reading between the lines.

The Ohio State coach joked about being a little bored by his spring game, expressed some frustration about the lack of offensive execution and stressed that there was plenty of work to do at a few key positions heading into the offseason.

But the truth about how good his third team at Ohio State might be was tucked away on the sidelines, leaving little to truly evaluate between them as the Gray beat the Scarlet 17-7 on Saturday at the Horseshoe. And based on the number of players he held out of the spring-closing scrimmage, it might be a safe bet that Meyer is actually feeling pretty good about what he has returning in the fall.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe spring game didn't say much about Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. And he seems fine with that.
“There were guys out there who will either never play or they’re not ready to play now,” Meyer said. “Like, [Ohio State sports information director] Jerry [Emig] hands me stats, I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care.

“... We all know what we saw out there. It’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”

Exhibition games rarely provide much of a reliable gauge for how good a team might truly be, and in the case of the Buckeyes, that might have been by design.

Braxton Miller was already on the shelf as he finishes up his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Having the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year and a three-year starter at quarterback out of the equation obviously changes the complexion of the Ohio State offense. Cardale Jones was productive enough throughout camp to win the backup job, but his 14-of-31 passing performance Saturday was yet another reminder of the importance of having a healthy Miller to lead the attack.

Meyer indicated there was some uncertainty about his receiving corps after the spring game, but he had enough faith in Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson that he didn’t feel the need to press either of them into action over the weekend -- aside from a cameo appearance by the latter in a race against students at halftime.

And after watching what could be one of the most talented defensive lines in the country terrorize a rebuilding offensive line throughout camp over the last month, Meyer certainly didn’t need to see any more from Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett or Adolphus Washington to boost his confidence heading into the summer, adding to the list of starters who effectively were allowed to take the day off.

Cornerback Doran Grant was largely an observer as well, though he did make an appearance to win the halftime derby and became the “fastest student” on campus. Projected first-team guard Pat Elflein was a scratch, and presumptive starting running back Ezekiel Elliott only touched the football three times. Tight end Jeff Heuerman was on crutches after foot surgery, but he’ll be back in time for the conditioning program next month.

So while the game itself left little worth remembering aside from what appeared to be marked improvement and depth in the secondary and another handful of mesmerizing catches from Michael Thomas, there were actually clues littered around Ohio Stadium that Meyer is poised to unleash his most talented team since taking over the program in 2012 and rattling off 24 consecutive wins.

The trick was knowing where to look.

“[The spring game] was a chance to see some young guys [who] really haven’t played, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much they will play,” Meyer said. “This is a chance for a lot of guys in our program who work very hard, and to be able to get some guys play or catch a pass in Ohio Stadium or whatever, in the big picture it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s a great thrill for a lot of people.”

The real thrills, of course, don’t come for a few months. And based on the amount of players who didn’t get to actually step between the lines on Saturday, Meyer might not-so-secretly have plenty to be excited about by fall.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The entire roster wasn't on display, leaving some uncertainty about what Ohio State will look like at full strength. But heading into the offseason, there were still some lessons to be learned by the Gray's 17-7 victory over the Scarlet on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

The secondary has improved

  • The offense was short-handed, starting with the absence of a certain two-time defending Big Ten Player of the Year at quarterback and including short or nonexistent workloads for key receivers. But the defensive backs showed the kind of improvement Urban Meyer demanded since last season's unit finished No. 110 in the country against the pass. In holding Cardale Jones to a 14-for-31 performance through the air without a touchdown, even with top returning cornerback Doran Grant on the sideline, the Buckeyes' defensive backs will head into the summer feeling good about their progress. Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley are both solid options at cornerback, with the former making a statement early in the game with a nice breakup on a deep ball down the sideline. And once Grant and injured safety Vonn Bell are back in the mix to play Ohio State's more aggressive man coverage this fall, the statistics should look drastically better.
Braxton Miller is still the key
[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCardale Jones is likely to enter the fall as the backup quarterback for Ohio State.

  • Jones made progress in several areas throughout the spring, and he's earned the right to head into training camp as the second-string quarterback. But Miller remains the most critical component in Ohio State's spread attack, and his absence was a major factor in what was largely a disappointing afternoon for the offense. Miller will be back from his shoulder surgery shortly and is cleared to resume throwing and working out in time for the offseason conditioning program. It is still obvious that the Buckeyes need him on the field if they're going to make a run at a championship this fall. He'll also need some better work from the offensive line than what the Buckeyes put on display in the exhibition, though not having guard Pat Elflein in pads and limiting tackle Taylor Decker's role didn't do the unit any favors Saturday.
Michael Thomas is still a spring star

  • By now it should come as no surprise, but redshirt sophomore Michael Thomas again led the Buckeyes in receptions in the spring game, turned heads with some eye-popping grabs and looked like a future star on the perimeter. That's a familiar story with Thomas, who has dominated the spotlight during spring camp three years running and capped off the latest one with six catches for 64 yards, including a diving reception for a first down and a one-handed snag along the sideline that highlighted his athleticism and ability to haul in even balls thrown off target. The Buckeyes haven't settled on a true pecking order at receiver yet, though Dontre Wilson and Devin Smith are sure bets to take two top spots. One more time, it appears Ohio State should make room for Thomas in the rotation leaving spring, but obviously he'll need to follow it up with more standout work when practice begins again this summer.
Head coaches from the Big Ten East Division, along with a player from each team, addressed the media this afternoon on teleconferences. The West Division players and coaches spoke Wednesday.

Here's a closer look at the East:

INDIANA
  • Defense has been a lingering Indiana concern for years, but coach Kevin Wilson believes he's starting to see a change, thanks to new defensive coordinator Brian Knorr. The scheme hasn't changed radically, but the Hoosiers return 10 starters there -- and Wilson's seen a promising spring so far with an added focus on competition and communication: "They've for sure held their own on a daily basis -- and, in some ways, probably even better -- against the offense."
  • Wilson believes teams need to invest scholarships into the kicking game, but he thinks it's also too risky to offer recruits straight out of high school. If you look at the NCAA's top 25 kickers, Wilson estimated at least 15 started out as walk-ons. So he's hoping to find some walk-ons who are willing to work for a scholarship, rather than be granted one right away.
  • At 5-foot-7, Shane Wynn is the Hoosiers' leading returning receiver, and he's transitioning to playing the outside. It's been a little different for Wynn, who said he's had to watch more film as a result. He's reading the corners now, instead of the safeties, as just one example.
MARYLAND
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall is confident in his offense and believes the Terrapins have enough options so that opponents can't focus on just one person. If defenses lock on to wideout Stefon Diggs, then quarterback C.J. Brown can take off running or receiver Deon Long can pick up some slack. "The No. 1 thing I do like," Edsall said, "is we can spread the field."
  • Maryland's staff has already started looking at film of Big Ten teams, so they know what to expect when the conference season begins. Edsall said he wants to at least get a feel for their personnel and what kind of schemes he'll face. He's also confident the Terps will be ready: "We fully expect to be able to compete when we get into the Big Ten this year."
  • Brown said one of the main reasons he committed to Maryland was the coach who recruited him at the time, former Terps assistant and current Penn State coach James Franklin. He's looking forward to squaring off against Franklin this season, and Edsall said there's no question he would like to develop a rivalry with the Nittany Lions.
MICHIGAN
  • The quarterback derby will continue, and Brady Hoke included all three of his options in the discussion heading into the offseason. The Wolverines coach did acknowledge, though, that Devin Gardner “probably would be” the starter if there was a game on the schedule this weekend. There isn’t, so Shane Morris and Wilton Speight will continue to be in the conversation.
  • The first opponent on the schedule will always stir emotions for Michigan fans, but Hoke didn’t attach any revenge or sentimentality to his reasons for wanting to take on Appalachian State in the opener this fall. “We needed a game,” Hoke said. “I thought it would be a good game.” Defensive end Frank Clark was certainly aware of the history between the programs, even though he was still years away from joining Michigan and getting a shot at making up for the upset loss in 2007 -- which he called “shocking” and “shows how hard those guys play.”
MICHIGAN STATE
  • Michigan State is coming off a Rose Bowl victory, but coach Mark Dantonio and quarterback Connor Cook would prefer not to think about that any longer. Dantonio said they've talked a lot these last four months about not growing complacent, and Cook only echoed his coach. "A lot of people keep bringing up the Rose Bowl," Cook said. "But we're past that. We're focusing on the now."
  • The offensive line has made some big strides since January, at least according to Cook. He felt like he had no time in the pocket last spring and said the pass rush was getting to him every time. This spring? He doesn't feel rushed in the pocket, and he thinks that's pretty indicative of how far this line has come.
  • Jeremy Langford earned a lot of praise from Cook, who said the running back has become a much bigger part of the passing attack. "He's improved a lot with catching the ball," Cook said, complimenting Langford's versatility. "He's done so many different things for us."
OHIO STATE
  • There is still work to be done in addressing the most glaring weakness on the team last season, but Urban Meyer called Ohio State’s pass defense “drastically improved” and will be watching closely for more signs of progress in Saturday’s spring game. The Buckeyes will play a traditional game, but the emphasis will be on throwing the football and assessing the skill players on both offense and defense -- giving Meyer a chance to evaluate backup quarterback Cardale Jones in a live setting in addition to checking out the secondary.
  • Arguably the strongest part of last season's team is undergoing a transition without four senior starters, and the offensive line is somewhat of a concern for Meyer heading into the offseason. With guard Pat Elflein the only other player to have earned a first-team slot to play alongside junior Taylor Decker at this point, that competition is likely to spill over into preseason camp in August. Both tackle Darryl Baldwin and guard Antonio Underwood were praised for their work by defensive tackle Michael Bennett, and Billy Price and Jacoby Boren are dueling at center.
PENN STATE
  • Franklin said he knew exactly what he was getting into at Penn State, in terms of the current depth and sanctions. He and former coach Bill O'Brien worked together at Maryland, and he said the two had a lot of honest conversations about the current state of the Nittany Lions. The two have continued to talk since.
  • Derek Dowrey and Brian Gaia are both making transitions from defensive tackle to offensive guard, and Franklin said he has been pleased with their performances so far: "They're doing a good job for us -- and they have to. We're thin at that position."
  • Franklin said he feels especially comfortable with the talent at running back and defensive line. Middle linebacker Mike Hull was more specific about naming the players who impressed him, pointing to backup linebacker Gary Wooten and cornerback Da'Quan Davis. Hull said Wooten is always around the football and that Davis, who missed part of the spring with a hamstring injury, has come up with several interceptions.
RUTGERS
  • Another open competition at the most critical position on the field -- quarterback -- is still playing out at Rutgers, and coach Kyle Flood isn’t ready to declare a winner in what would seem to be a wide-open battle. Flood indicated that Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano are all “really vying for that first-team job.”
  • The change in conference affiliation has been welcomed with open arms by the Scarlet Knights, who can “feel the energy” as theypractice for their first season in the Big Ten. Defensive tackle Darius Hamilton said the team was already buzzing with excitement about the opportunity, and Flood called joining the league a “positive in every way.” The move also presents the opportunity for a rivalry to develop with new divisional neighbor Penn State, with both Flood and Hamilton citing the proximity between the schools as a bonus.

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