COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The distribution skills were on full display, and the football found its way into the hands of just about everybody Ohio State needed to touch it.

The command of the offense, the ability to push the tempo, the poise when plays weren’t going perfectly that had been discussed so much over the last month were all plain to see.

When the showcase was all over, there was also more evidence that the Buckeyes could really keep their offense rolling without a hitch while breaking in a new quarterback and plenty of reasons for the guy now in that position to feel confident he can lead that attack.

[+] EnlargeJ.T. Barrett
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesJ.T. Barrett is gaining confidence each week, and the Buckeyes' offense has seen it pay off.
It was the outing that J.T. Barrett probably needed a couple weeks ago before taking on a fundamentally sound Navy defense or the exotic, aggressive Virginia Tech unit that terrorized him the following week in an upset loss. But no matter the quality of the opponent, and regardless of whether it was the redshirt freshman’s third start or his debut, what the Buckeyes saw last Saturday in a blowout of Kent State was what they were expecting all along.

“I think for the first three games of this season, a lot of it has to do with just learning on the fly,” Barrett said. “I feel like I’m progressing each week.

“That’s just game reps. That’s one thing Braxton [Miller] told me. At first, everything is going to be flying around and you aren’t going to be sure about everything, but as you go, things start slowing down. That’s game experience, and there’s only one way to get it. Being in a game really helps.”

Barrett has been in only three of them since taking the reins from Miller after his season-ending shoulder injury during training camp, and the results have been understandably mixed so far.

The Buckeyes were held without a touchdown during Barrett’s first half as a starter against Navy, but eventually the rushing game found some traction and he delivered a pair of touchdown passes down the stretch to help pull away for a win. He accounted for a couple more scores against the Hokies, but those were overshadowed by his three interceptions and the relentless onslaught he was under while being sacked seven times in a defeat that sent Ohio State spiraling in the polls.

Kent State had nowhere near the talent or ability to execute defensively as those two opponents, and the Buckeyes made easy work of it with Barrett tying a school record with six touchdown passes as he completed 23 of his 30 attempts for 312 yards. But it was still a defense he had never seen before, another opportunity to play in front of a huge crowd, a fresh chance to apply the play calls from offensive coordinator Tom Herman and test his own ability to read coverages and make the right decisions.

“I think what he got out of it was confidence, experience, the fact that he’s seeing plays over and over and over again versus different defenses, versus different blitzes, versus different coverages,” Herman said. “It allows him, not overusing the word, to get the experience necessary to not be surprised when things happen when certain plays are called.

“I thought we accomplished that.”

No matter who exactly was lining up against him, there was value in that mission for the Buckeyes on Saturday that went beyond simply getting a win.

Maybe it would have had even more importance for Ohio State if it could have somehow let him start building his experience against a team like Kent State earlier, but that doesn’t make any difference now. There’s obviously no changing the schedule or the outcomes already in the books, but either way Barrett and the Buckeyes can build off his record-setting performance as they move forward and try to climb back into national contention with so much of the season left in front of them.

“Obviously there was a little talent advantage, but we had to have a game like this,” coach Urban Meyer said. “Normally that’s a first game, especially when you have a young quarterback and a young offensive line, but I’m glad we played like we did.

“Early in the first half, I wanted to throw a lot. I wanted to force him to make plays. ... I thought he played good. There were a couple misses, too, some plays we could have had. But a young quarterback needs to go through that, and we’re still figuring out exactly how we’re going to move the ball as an offense once we start getting into the Big Ten season.”

There’s a bye this week and another nonconference date waiting against Cincinnati before the Buckeyes actually get to dive into league play. But they got a glimpse at what the offense might look like when Barrett gets it clicking, and after gaining a little more experience in the process, he might be one step closer to doing that more often.
video

Adam Rittenberg explains what's wrong with the Big Ten conference and whether or not the conference is doing anything to reverse its downward trajectory.
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ESPN's Heather Dinich and Brad Edwards take a look at the current woes of the Big Ten conference.

Recruits weigh in on the Big Ten 

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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It’s a vicious cycle. You have to win to get the right recruits, and you have to get the right recruits to win. That’s the merry-go-round the Big Ten conference is currently on, and depending on who you ask, recruits have varying opinions on the conference.

Prospects from the North tend to believe the conference is still in the upper echelon, while a good amount of Southern recruits would say quite the opposite.

The Big Ten has an overall record of 24-14 with only two undefeated teams left, compared to the SEC with eight undefeated teams. The Big Ten also has the lowest winning percentage (63 percent) this season for any Power 5 conference, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

You could argue that there is a direct correlation to those wins and losses when comparing the number of big-name commitments as well. The SEC currently has 87 ESPN 300 prospects committed where the Big Ten has 27.

An ESPN 300 prospect from the South who wished to remain anonymous believes part of the Big Ten’s problems on the field and recruiting have to do with geography and coaching.

“The recruiting areas from the North and Midwest aren’t really a hotbed for recruiting. Plus, other than Ohio State or maybe Michigan, there’s not really any big cities or things you can sell recruits on outside of the university,” he said. “Like what does a kid from Florida do at some of those places? Plus, getting a well-known coach like Urban Meyer is a big reason why kids down here like Ohio State.

“They know he can turn things around there and they’ll win. They need to get bigger-name coaches where kids can say, 'Yeah, I know him and I know he’ll get me ready for the NFL.'"

That isn’t the sentiment for every prospect, but plenty of other Southern ESPN 300 recruits agreed with this thinking.

The Northern prospects interviewed did believe the conference is top-heavy with a few teams in the national championship conversation every year, but they had different thoughts on the outlook as a whole.

Big Ten morning links

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
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Nebraska-Miami occupies a special place in my heart and mind. Their games of the 1980s and ‘90s symbolized an era of college football. It was power versus speed, stability matched against flash.

The programs' styles stood in perfect contrast. Yet in four Orange Bowl meetings over 11 years, they made for the game's best of unlikely rivalries. Though Nebraska slipped from the top in the midst of that decade, by the end, it had supplanted Miami like the Hurricanes did to Tom Osborne's team after the 1983 season.

The Hurricanes visit Lincoln on Saturday night. The thought of those two helmets together again stirs emotions. It feels big -- bigger, apparently, than it is.

ESPN's matchup-quality metric ranks games on a zero-to-100 scale, based on the team's spots in the Football Power Index and the expected competitiveness. It was jarring this week not to find Nebraska-Miami among the top five matchups in Week 4.

It's Nebraska-Miami, after all. When these two have met historically, it's not just the biggest game of the week; it's the biggest of the year.

But today in college football, Florida-Alabama (91.6 matchup quality), Clemson-Florida State (90.5), Mississippi State-LSU (90.1), Oklahoma-West Virginia (87.2) and Auburn-Kansas State (87.0) earn higher billing than the Huskers and Hurricanes.

I heard an intriguing question this week: What program is better positioned, Nebraska or Miami, to make a run at the top again? I can't say definitively. Nebraska's infrastructure and internal resources favor it; Miami's natural resources are a big advantage.

But until Nebraska-Miami cracks the top five most important games on a September weekend, neither team is in position to join the national conversation.
  • Another interesting question: What Big Ten team on Saturday matched against a Power 5 opponent is most in need of a win this week? Other than Nebraska-Miami, Iowa visits Pittsburgh, Maryland visits Syracuse, Utah plays at Michigan and Indiana visits Missouri. While I'm tempted to pick Iowa, but my answer is Michigan. A loss by the Wolverines against the high-flying Utes, who won at the Big House in 2008, would serve to draw another parallel between this staff and the previous regime. And that's not good for Brady Hoke. Neither are all these turnovers.
  • Columnist Rick Brown of the Des Moines Registers urges Iowa fans upset with Kirk Ferentz to be careful what they wish for. I understand the sentiment and agree that Iowa does more with less better than several Big Ten counterparts. But have you watched the Big Ten lately? Why use Illinois and Minnesota as the measuring stick? It's OK to set the bar high. Fans ought to be upset with the Hawkeyes' offensive play. Don't apologize for reasonable expectations.

Around the rest of the league:

East Division
West Division

Conference call: Best of the Big Ten

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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Another week, another Big Ten coaches' teleconference. Here are some of the highlights from today's session featuring all 14 league coaches:









Weekend recruiting wrap: Big Ten 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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Penn State picked up some good news from the NCAA, which resulted in more positive news on the recruiting trail this weekend. Ohio State solidified its spot in a top target's list, and a few new offers were extended this week.

Here is a look at the latest happenings on the recruiting trail within the Big Ten.


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Big Ten morning links

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
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Concerns about the new College Football Playoff and its impact on how we watch games have made their way into the national conversation this week. What took so long?

After three weeks of trying to place even the most meaningless wins and losses into the context of how they might affect which four teams will battle for a national championship in January, some are starting to worry that the new system might be sucking the joy out of Saturdays in the fall.

Is the cycle of playoff-centric predictions and analysis stripping the magic away from upsets and heroic moments? Will fans lose interest once they’re told their team no longer has a title shot? Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio felt it necessary to tell his followers that not all hope was lost after a Week 2 defeat in Oregon.

While it’s probably a good thing that the setters of national storylines are treading cautiously around the long-awaited change to the postseason, it’s not time to yearn for the good ole days of the BCS quite yet. Part of the overemphasis on playoff discussion can be blamed on the system still being a new, shiny mystery. No one knows how the 13-person committee will weigh each contender yet. Some of that will fade in future years when the college football court develops a precedent.

Another part of the saturation comes from the heavy slate of inter-conference competition that occurs each September. With only four playoff spots available to five conferences, the battle to establish a positive perception before falling into league play is intense. That posturing is less likely to fade, making the future of college football a more tribal affair. The SEC won’t be the only fanbase chanting for its conference after big wins, and that doesn’t sound like a bad byproduct of the playoff hype.

Even in our unsettled present state, a crowd of red bandana-wearing Boston College students didn’t seem bothered by the fact that they aren’t playoff contenders while storming the field to celebrate their upset of USC Saturday night. Iowa’s last-second loss to in-state rival Iowa State was neither more nor less gut-wrenching than it would have been in the BCS era. Fear not, the magic isn’t gone. There’s still plenty to play for without the hope of a College Football Playoff berth.

And speaking of playing for more than a playoff spot, kudos to Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg and the rest of his Nittany Lions teammates who showed up or stayed in Happy Valley despite having the opportunity to back away penalty-free from a team that wasn’t eligible for any bowl games until a week ago.

That’s when the NCAA decided it wasn’t going to punish current players for the past sins of the program’s coaches and administrators. After leading a fourth-quarter comeback against Rutgers Saturday night, Hackenberg told reporters that the lack of a postseason goal helped bring his team closer together. Now that Penn State is atop the Big Ten East Division and eligible for bowl games, he says the camaraderie they built “is not going to change for a while.”

And now, without further ado, the links:

East Division
West Division

ESPN 300 OL Matt Burrell names a leader 

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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ESPN 300 offensive lineman Matt Burrell Jr. has already taken an official visit to Ohio State, and that trip has resonated with the No. 61 ranked prospect. He still has four more official visits to take, but Burrell says he has his list in order as it stands.


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Big Ten Monday mailbag

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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Let's cut through the pleasantries -- it wasn't really a pleasant weekend for the Big Ten -- and get right to the mailbag questions. As always -- more than ever, in fact -- thanks for your submissions.

Mitch Sherman: Nothing has changed in the East, where Michigan State remains the team to beat. The Spartans look like the best team in the league, and I don't think you will get much of an argument from logical fans of other Big Ten teams. If anything, the results of the past two weeks -- even the Michigan State setback at Oregon -- has solidified MSU atop its division. It's murky in the West, where the schedule says Iowa is the favorite. The Hawkeyes' play does not. Wisconsin also plays a favorable slate, and we will see if the week off has allowed the Badgers to flip momentum. If so, they are a co-favorite with Nebraska, which, despite a near disaster against McNeese State, has produced two of the league's top performances this seasons in wins against Fresno State and Florida Atlantic.

Mitch Sherman: Joel Stave, fighting a football version of the yips, returned to team drills in some form last week, though coach Gary Andersen has not declared anything in regard to his senior quarterback. Sounds like it remains an extended process with Stave, who has sought some outside attention in dealing with his throwing issues. It's good to hear that Stave has maintained a healthy approach in practice, though I have concerns about his effectiveness even after he clears the hurdles necessary to get back on the field. What happens when adversity strikes in a game? How will it impact his play to perform in front of tens of thousands of people who know about his struggles? For that reason, expect the Badgers to move slowly with Stave. The schedule is on their side, staying soft through October.

Mitch Sherman: Well, considering that the Boilermakers tanked this year before playing Notre Dame, I don't know if parallels exist to be drawn. It seems that Purdue does a nice job of getting up for the Irish, or maybe it's something about the matchup that works well. Or maybe Notre Dame is disinterested. Regardless, the Boilers have a good shot on Saturday against unbeaten FCS foe Southern Illinois. If it doesn't happen, another one-win season enters the realm of possibility. As bad as the Big Ten looks, I still don't see that as likely. Quarterback Danny Etling showed improvement against Notre Dame, and hey, Northwestern visits Ross-Ade Stadium this year. Realistically, if Purdue can build on the good things from Saturday in Indianapolis, as many as four games in the Big Ten could be competitive.

Mitch Sherman: That question wins the award, Matt, for most intriguing of the day. I'm not sure J.T. Barrett and the Buckeyes would have defeated Kent State 66-0 if it had been the opener. But it would have been an easy victory that could have provided the young quarterback and his offensive line with the confidence it lacked against Navy and Virginia Tech. I'm convinced that by the end of this season, Virginia Tech could not come into the Horseshoe and dominate Ohio State in any way close to what happened in Week 2. By the same token, the Buckeyes might have had even more trouble with Navy if that game came later in the season. But to answer your question, no; Ohio State would have fared better in its bid to escape this nonconference season with a perfect mark intact if the order of games had been arranged differently..

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One week after upsetting Ohio State, Virginia Tech lost at home to East Carolina. Heather Dinich and Danny Kanell look at what this means for the ACC and Ohio State.

Weekend Rewind: Big Ten

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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There they go again.

Just when it looked like it was safe to start kicking around some other leagues, the Big Ten tripped all over itself and bumbled away its handful of chances to claim wins over teams from Power 5 conferences.

Minnesota and Illinois were blown out. Purdue fought hard but was ultimately overmatched. A shootout slipped away from Maryland. It’s probably best not to mention what happened to Iowa at all.

The conference obviously has nobody else it can blame for the lack of respect nationally when it keeps coming up short in its biggest opportunities to earn it around the nation. There may still be a College Football Playoff contender or two at the top of the league, but if there’s a logjam for the third and fourth spots in December, the Big Ten’s best may look back at September games it wasn’t even involved in as the reason it gets left out of the playoff field.

There were a few bright spots Saturday scattered among the wreckage. Reflect on those and start turning the page to Week 4.

Team of the week: Struggling mightily to find the end zone for 58 minutes, Penn State didn’t look much like the program about to pick up the most valuable win of the weekend. But Christian Hackenberg again delivered when it mattered most, calmly leading the game-winning drive in the closing minutes and staking the Nittany Lions to an early lead in the East Division with a rivalry win over Rutgers.

Game of the week: The game tape won’t be sent to the Hall of Fame and the outcome didn’t go the Big Ten’s way, but the battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy was still an entertaining affair -- though certainly not because of the offenses. The emotions were high, the score was close from start to finish and the closing minutes leading up to Iowa State’s go-ahead field goal also provided a seemingly endless amount of opportunities to question the clock-management skills of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. There were high-scoring, competitive games elsewhere, but this was pretty solid theater that will still be worth dissecting all week.

Biggest play: After the Nittany Lions beat their heads against the wall for more than three quarters, Hackenberg had one final shot at a breakthrough as he took a snap with three minutes left on the clock. His strike to Geno Lewis on first down went for 53 yards, instantly flipping the field position and setting the stage for Penn State’s breakthrough. Lewis would also grab another 23-yarder on the drive, but it was the initial hookup that generated the momentum that finally carried the Nittany Lions to the end zone.

Big Man on Campus (offense): The opponent clearly didn’t provide much of a challenge, and looking back now, Ohio State surely wishes it could have shuffled around its schedule to get J.T. Barrett a chance to tune up against a team like Kent State instead of throwing him into the fire against Navy and Virginia Tech. Who knows if it would have changed anything, but the redshirt freshman quarterback certainly left Saturday’s blowout with more confidence after tying a school record with six touchdown passes and throwing for more than 300 yards -- two things Braxton Miller has never done with the Buckeyes.

Big Man on Campus (defense): The Nittany Lions might need to split this award up after that impressive second-half shutout and only allowing one touchdown total on the way to their road win. Anthony Zettel was again a fixture in the backfield with three tackles for loss, C.J. Olaniyan forced a fumble and tallied a sack, and four different defenders intercepted Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova. But Trevor Williams doubled down with a pair of picks and finished second on the team with five tackles, giving him the slight nod.

Big Man on Campus (special teams): The Huskers might have finally found the solution for the problem that has been plaguing them over the last couple seasons on special teams. De'Mornay Pierson-El provided a jolt of energy to Nebraska’s punt return unit, dazzling with an 86-yard scamper for a touchdown and following that up with a 51-yarder as an encore shortly after to set up another score in the rout of Fresno State.

Biggest face plant: The Hawkeyes are tempting, but Indiana’s loss at Bowling Green figures to be far more damaging to Kevin Wilson’s club and its bid to get back to a bowl game. The defense is still a weakness that no amount of production from running back Tevin Coleman can consistently overcome, and the Hoosiers will probably be kicking themselves over this loss in November.

Numbers and facts to know: Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah moved up to No. 5 on the school’s all-time rushing list, posting his 19th 100-yard rushing performance to move his career total up to 3,373. ... Officially, Barrett’s 300-yard outing through the air was Ohio State’s first since Troy Smith in 2006. Terrelle Pryor threw for 334 yards against Indiana in 2010, but those statistics were vacated. ... Michigan held Miami (Ohio) to 33 rushing yards, its lowest rushing total allowed since 2010.

Helmet stickers: Week 3

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The opponent certainly wasn't the finest Ohio State will face this season. But coming off an upset loss, the Buckeyes were looking for an outlet for their frustration and some reasons to feel good about themselves as they regroup to try to make a run at a Big Ten title.

With a bye week looming, these three Buckeyes stood out the most and could be ready to take some steps forward down the line.

H-Back Curtis Samuel

The true freshman has drawn rave reviews from coach Urban Meyer for his explosiveness, and he really had a chance to show it off against an overmatched Kent State defense. Samuel looked like the football version of an acrobat, spinning away from tacklers, flying through the air to pick up extra yardage and also sticking one notable landing in the end zone when it looked like he could have easily been stopped short of the goal line. The versatile weapon finished with a pair of touchdowns, complementing his 100 yards rushing and 40 yards on four catches in a performance that will keep Meyer excited about his future.

LB Raekwon McMillan

Breaking into the starting lineup still won't be easy with a steady veteran like Curtis Grant in the way at middle linebacker, but McMillan was another newcomer who took advantage of extra snaps in a lopsided victory. McMillan finished as the leading tackler for Ohio State with seven hits, but it was his three plays behind the line of scrimmage, including two sacks, that offered a glimpse at his athleticism and ability to read plays and react quickly. After spending the past two seasons low on depth at linebacker, the Buckeyes appear to be on their way to restocking the cupboards.

QB J.T. Barrett

Kent State would have been the ideal opponent for Barrett's first career start instead of his third. Maybe then the redshirt freshman and his inexperienced offensive line would have been able to build some confidence before facing an aggressive, physical defense like Virginia Tech's. Obviously it didn't work out that way for the Buckeyes, but Barrett looked to be in complete command and much more comfortable running the show on Saturday, throwing for 312 yards and tying a school record with six touchdown passes. Barrett still has room to grow, and Meyer plans on working him hard during the bye week, but he showed signs of progress with his accuracy and decisions.

Early Offer: Sunderland a key get for OU 

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
10:15
PM ET
Oklahoma landed two high-profile recruits this weekend, but scoring a pledge from ESPN 300 safety Will Sunderland Jr. is about as big as it gets. Plus, Boston College will be able to use its victory over then top-10 USC as a big selling point on the recruiting trail.


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