Ohio State Buckeyes: urban meyer

Helmet stickers: Week 14

December, 1, 2014
Dec 1
8:30
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Honoring the best and brightest from No. 6 Ohio State's 42-28 win over rival Michigan to clinch another perfect regular season in the Big Ten under coach Urban Meyer.

QB J.T. Barrett
  • The redshirt freshman tacked on three more touchdowns to add to his record-setting season and then may have added to the legend of his first year at the helm by proving his toughness by hanging around the Horseshoe after breaking his ankle, but this will be the final helmet sticker for Barrett this year. The job he did in replacing Braxton Miller on short notice before the season with no prior experience leading the offense was simply remarkable, and it's a tribute to Barrett that the shoes Cardale Jones now has to fill in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin are so big when there was little reason to expect the Buckeyes could simply replace one Heisman Trophy candidate with another at the most important position on the field. It's a shame for Barrett that he won't get to play a role in the postseason after guiding the Buckeyes through the turbulence and to an 11-1 record.
RB Ezekiel Elliott
  • The workhorse rusher should expect a heavier workload next weekend, and he proved with one explosive run on fourth-and-1 with Jones already on the field at quarterback that he may be ready to take over as the focal point of the attack. Elliott's 44-yard burst was the knockout blow to Michigan's upset bid, the second consecutive touchdown for the sophomore after that game had been tied again midway through the third quarter. He finished with 121 yards on the ground and added a 7-yard reception in another productive outing in the backfield, and Elliott certainly figures to touch the ball more than 18 times against the Badgers.
LB Darron Lee
  • Comparisons to Ryan Shazier are still probably a bit premature, but Lee did a pretty decent impression of the first-round NFL draft pick by flying all over the field and making plays in a variety of different ways to impact the outcome from his spot at linebacker. Lee finished with a team-high nine tackles, including two for a loss and a sack, but it was his 33-yard fumble return for a touchdown that iced the win over the Wolverines and offered yet another glimpse at his uncanny ability to find the football. He also provided a nice bookend for his first year as a starter, dashing to the end zone in the final week of the regular season to help produce a win just like he did in Week 1 against Navy to announce his presence for the Ohio State defense.

Picks to click: Week 13

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
4:30
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A closer look at Ohio State players in position for big outings as the No. 6 Buckeyes try to clinch another division title on Saturday against Indiana.

RB Ezekiel Elliott
  • The Buckeyes figure to be able to score any way they want against a defense that is allowing more than 33 points per game, and it's a safe bet J.T. Barrett is going to throw for a few touchdowns. But Ohio State will probably lean more heavily on its ground game against the Hoosiers, and Elliott will be the direct beneficiary of a game plan that could keep the clock rolling along while still lighting up the scoreboard just in case Urban Meyer thinks he needs some style points to impress the selection committee. Expect Elliott to get the 46 yards he needs to top 1,000 for the season by the end of the first quarter as the Buckeyes play it relatively safe and conservative while feeding the sophomore rusher carries.
  • DB Tyvis Powell
  • The Hoosiers have been a mess throwing the football since losing Nate Sudfeld to injury, and they weren't even all that dangerous through the air even with their starting quarterback healthy. No Big Ten team has more interceptions than Ohio State's 16, and it will no doubt be looking to add to that total this weekend -- and there might not be a player with more motivation to make a big play than Powell after a bit of an inconsistent outing against Minnesota. Powell's contributions have perhaps been a bit overlooked this season considering he's tied for second on the team with 54 tackles and he's picked off a pair of passes, but he could be in the spotlight against the Hoosiers for all the right reasons.
  • QB Barrett
  • Maybe he's a safe choice, and perhaps he will only be needed to play a half, like in his last home outing, against Illinois. But with the way the redshirt freshman is rolling, no list would be complete for Ohio State right now without his name on it. Backup Cardale Jones actually did some impressive work in relief of Barrett against the Illini, and Jalin Marshall has chipped in admirably as a Wildcat threat, so potentially the quarterback position in general could shine and not just Barrett. But with a Heisman campaign in full swing, Barrett probably won't leave the game until he's added to his already bursting resume.

Helmet stickers: Week 12

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Honoring the best and brightest from No. 8 Ohio State's 31-24 road victory over No. 25 Minnesota on Saturday.

QB J.T. Barrett

  • Just when it seems like the redshirt freshman can't possibly do more, he unveils yet another aspect of his game that turns heads and makes the Buckeyes even more dangerous on offense. Ohio State hasn't been shy about using Barrett as a rusher, but it hadn't really seen the ability to run away from defenders that he put on display while rambling 86 yards for a touchdown on the way to 189 yardsoverall on the ground in the victory. That scoring run was the longest in school history by a quarterback, and it was the longest by any Ohio State player since Eddie George in 1995. George, of course, went on to win the Heisman Trophy -- and the way Barrett is rolling, he could easily find himself at that ceremony next month.
[+] EnlargeDoran Grant
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioDoran Grant has three interceptions and is a willing tackler on Ohio State's improved secondary.
CB Doran Grant

  • The veteran defensive back hasn't been mentioned much among the best in the Big Ten in coverage, but he's quietly building a case as guy quarterbacks don't want to mess with in the passing game. Grant took over the team lead for Ohio State's ball-hawking secondary with his third interception of the year, and he could have had another one along with a touchdown if not for an iffy pass-interference call earlier in the game. Perhaps just as important for the Buckeyes, Grant was a willing tackler and finished with seven hits against the Gophers in the snowy conditions, offering another reminder of his importance to a vastly improved unit.
WR Jalin Marshall

  • The redshirt freshman made a couple mistakes, and they proved pretty costly in terms of style points in a matchup that wasn't as competitive as the final score indicated. But even with his fumble at the goal line and a muffed punt, the Buckeyes might not have been nearly as explosive on offense without the versatile Marshall at their disposal -- particularly with Dontre Wilson on the shelf with a broken foot. Marshall grabbed five receptions for 95 yards with a touchdown and also had a 12-yard rush, and if nothing else, coach Urban Meyer will have a teaching point for the youngster in terms of ball security, in addition to some fresh evidence about how useful the hybrid athlete can be in his spread attack.

Picks to click: Week 10

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
4:30
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A few players to keep an eye on as No. 16 Ohio State opens up the stretch run in the Big Ten with a primetime matchup against Illinois.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott figures to play a prominent role against Illinois.
RB Ezekiel Elliott: The touchdown vulture is gone now that Rod Smith is no longer with the program, so the sophomore tailback should see more action in the red zone and a chance to add a few scores to his resume. Elliott has looked increasingly dangerous as the season has progressed thanks to his growing confidence and extra experience, and after racking up 109 yards against Penn State's stout rush defense, he should run wild against the worst total defense in the Big Ten on Saturday night. With J.T. Barrett nursing a knee sprain, Elliott figures to have a heavy workload -- and Smith is no longer around to poach a few of his touchdowns.

DT Adolphus Washington: The junior was a force up front a week ago, turning in one of the finest performances of his career as he continues to thrive on the interior. He has embraced a role taking on blockers and helping open up playmaking opportunities for teammates, but Washington still has used his strength and speed to bust into the backfield and disrupt offenses on his own on occasion. He has 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks to his credit despite doing a lot of dirty work in the trenches, and Illinois will have to account for Washington if it hopes to generate much with the football.

WR Michael Thomas: Barrett is expected to play, and coach Urban Meyer has stressed all week that there's no concern about the knee injury impacting the passing game. And since the knee sprain could limit Barrett's mobility, that should mean the ball will be coming out of his hands quickly and a bit more often than it did a week ago. The most likely beneficiary of that tweak to the attack should be Thomas, who has been a handful for defensive backs this season after building himself into a more complete receiver during his surprising redshirt year as a sophomore. Thomas already leads the Buckeyes with 22 catches and five touchdowns, and he figures to add to both totals against the Illini.

Helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20
8:30
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Honoring the standout performances from another Big Ten blowout for Ohio State, a 56-17 thrashing of Rutgers on Saturday night at the Horseshoe.

QB J.T. Barrett
  • The redshirt freshman has only been a starter or half of a season, so there is still plenty of time for him to improve. But how much more could the Buckeyes really need from Barrett? After his rough outing in September against Virginia Tech, Barrett has played himself into contention for major awards and dragged the Buckeyes back into the College Football Playoff discussion with an accurate arm, underrated athleticism as a rusher and the leadership skills of a veteran. Against the Scarlet Knights, he threw for 261 yards, ran for 107 and accounted for five touchdowns -- and still apparently left Urban Meyer wanting a little more.
CB Doran Grant
  • Ohio State was already in control on the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the first half, but it obviously didn't want to give Rutgers any reason for optimism heading into the locker room or let the game get any tighter. After a costly penalty extended the drive deep into Ohio State territory, Grant snuffed it out with an interception in the end zone that might as well have been the nail in the coffin for the Scarlet Knights. The Ohio State cornerback also tied for the team lead with seven tackles in his finest outing of the season.
TE Nick Vannett
  • There still haven't been all that many opportunities for the tight ends to get their hands on the ball with so many skill players fighting for touches, but Vannett made the most of his opportunities against the Scarlet Knights. The junior turned both of his catches into touchdowns for the Buckeyes, opening the scoring quickly on the opening drive with a 12-yard grab and tacking on a 26-yarder for good measure in the second quarter. He and Jeff Heuerman may have to keep doing dirty work as blockers most of the time, but they are both more than capable of adding an extra dimension to the vaunted Ohio State attack.

Helmet stickers: Week 6

October, 6, 2014
Oct 6
9:00
AM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A closer look at the standouts in Ohio State's dominant 52-24 road win over Maryland Saturday.

QB J.T. Barrett
  • The redshirt freshman continues to rewrite the record books and rack up individual honors as his rapid development continues for the Buckeyes. Barrett was staggeringly efficient as a passer, completing 18 of his 23 attempts for 267 yards and four more touchdowns while spreading the ball around to nine different receivers in that famed "distributor" role Urban Meyer has been touting behind center. And Barrett is proving he's no slouch on the ground either, adding 71 yards rushing and another score to keep the Terrapins off balance and spark a blowout that has the Buckeyes again looking like a legitimate contender in the Big Ten.
LB Raekwon McMillan
  • The Buckeyes have eased him into the rotation behind starter Curtis Grant, but the takeover at middle linebacker is well underway as the true freshman is already starting to live up to the advance billing about his freakish ability. McMillan's interception and 19-yard return for a touchdown will only take the hype to another level, but he was also sure in his tackling with four hits and proved he doesn't give up on plays with a critical fumble recovery after teammate Darron Lee had the ball popped loose following an interception just before halftime. Ohio State had nothing to complain about with Grant, but the future is sneaking up on him.
DE Joey Bosa
  • The case is building every week that the sophomore might be the nation's most lethal weapon at defensive end. Bosa added another sack to his credit and had 1.5 tackles for loss on top of that, making a living in the offensive backfield and looking downright unstoppable up front in what was actually a better defensive outing for the Buckeyes than the scoreboard might suggest. Bosa isn't even halfway through his second season with the program and he appears to already be the best defensive player in the Big Ten. What else does he have in store this season after Ohio State returns from its bye next weekend?

B1G media days: Best of Day 1

July, 28, 2014
Jul 28
6:00
PM ET
CHICAGO -- The season has unofficially started in the Big Ten.

Coaches are talking about the importance of taking it one game at a time while chasing a conference title. Players have busted out their finest suits and are raving about how difficult the offseason conditioning program was at their schools. And the media grabbed some free food between interviews.

There is one more day to go before the circus leaves Chicago, but before we get to that, the Big Ten blog is handing out some awards to put a bow on the opening day.

Best-dressed player: Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond. The honors could just as easily have gone to teammates Shilique Calhoun or Connor Cook, the former for his bow tie and the latter for his accessorizing with his enormous championship ring. But Drummond stole the show as the sharpest of the Spartans, who clearly looked the part of returning conference champs.

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Most fun-loving players: The bright spotlight and huge crowd around him might have kept Ohio State coach Urban Meyer a bit guarded, but his players certainly welcomed the attention and weren't afraid of being playful with the media. Tight end Jeff Heuerman loosened things up by locking quarterback Braxton Miller in a headlock, and after that, both decided to moonlight as media members by sneaking over to ask Meyer a few questions toward the end of a session -- a rare glimpse at the personalities off the field of two of the league's best talents on it.

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Biggest missed opportunity: The Wisconsin-LSU matchup to open the season is appealing enough at a neutral site. But the Badgers and Tigers could have taken the intrigue to another level by hosting those games at two of the loudest, most hostile stadiums in the country -- if only Gary Andersen had been around a couple of years earlier. The Badgers' coach said he "would have said yes" to a home-and-home series at Camp Randall and in Death Valley, a tantalizing what-might-have-been if the Tigers might have been as willing as Andersen.

Most appropriate Twitter handle: Nebraska’s Kenny Bell (@AFRO_THUNDER80). The 6-foot-1 receiver was probably the easiest player to pick out of a crowd, as his puffy afro towered over opposing players. Bell’s play didn’t earn him an award last season -- he was honorable mention on the All-Big Ten team -- but we just couldn’t go one more day without recognizing that 'fro.

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Best-dressed coach: Penn State’s James Franklin. Every day, the head coach spends 22 minutes to shave his head in every direction and trim that goatee ... so it seems slightly surprising that he is probably the coach who spends the most time on his head, considering he’s bald. But, hey, it takes time to pull that look off -- and he was also looking dapper with that Penn State lapel, blue tie and matching pocket square. Franklin often jokes that he doesn’t need to sleep, so maybe he uses some of that extra time to pick out the right clothes.

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Quote of the day: Penn State linebacker Mike Hull has learned under three head coaches -- Joe Paterno, Bill O'Brien and Franklin -- during his career, and their personalities really couldn’t have been any different. Hull laughed while providing their takes on social media as an example.

“Yeah, I’ve seen the whole evolution,” he said. “Joe didn’t know what Facebook was, O’Brien called Facebook ‘Spacebook’ and, now, Coach Franklin probably has every social media there is to have. It’s crazy.”

Most Big Ten quote: “How are you going to approach the Rose Bowl?” -- Michigan coach Brady Hoke, lamenting some aspects of the College Football Playoff in years, like this season, when the Granddaddy of Them All is to serve as a national semifinal game. Hoke suggested that some of the pageantry associated with the game -- for instance, the Beef Bowl team competition at Lawry’s, a prime rib restaurant in Beverly Hills -- will be eliminated because of the high stakes and need for a regular game-week regimen. Of the traditional Rose Bowl, Hoke added: “It’s the greatest experience in America for kids.”

Most Iowa quote (maybe ever): “Sometimes, old school is a good school.” -- Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz on his program’s resistance to some of the offensive innovation that has swept college football.

Best quote about a player not in attendance: “I don’t like standing too close to him because it seems like the wind is always blowing through his hair. When he smiles, this little thing comes off his tooth like in the toothpaste commercial.” -- Penn State coach James Franklin on sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

July, 2, 2014
Jul 2
5:00
PM ET
You know it, you love it, you can't live without it. It's Wednesday mailbag time.

@GeoffreyMarshal via Twitter writes: What do Wednesday's commitments say, if anything, about B1G recruiting? Is B1G recruiting too top-heavy?

Brian Bennett: Ohio State's additions of a pair of top 20 players in linebacker Justin Hilliard and defensive end Jashon Cornell is huge news for the Buckeyes, but not all that surprising. Urban Meyer and his staff have killed it on the recruiting front since they arrived in Columbus. We also know that James Franklin is going bonkers at Penn State, with ESPN's No. 4 nationally ranked class right now. And don't forget about Brady Hoke. While Michigan hasn't wrapped up as many commitments this summer as it has in years past, the Wolverines are still sitting on a top 25 class with room to improve.

But did we learn anything? Those three schools have long been at the forefront of recruiting in the Big Ten. If anything, the aggressive tactics of Meyer and Franklin might pull the rest of the league forward, because they risk getting left behind if not.

Then again, look at the last three Big Ten champions: Michigan State and Wisconsin (twice -- one impacted, of course, by Ohio State's probation). Neither of those programs usually finds itself among the elite in the recruiting rankings but instead both do a great job of scouting and developing talent. So just collecting star prospects guarantees nothing, though it is a nice place to start.

 




 

@hicksoldier via Twitter writes: What in your opinion is the reason that MSU keeps missing out on top recruits, especially on defense? And what can they change?

Brian Bennett: It's a stretch to say the Spartans keep missing out. Remember Malik McDowell, a top defensive tackle recruit Michigan State landed earlier this year after much drama? But I see your point. Michigan State made Cornell's final top five, but he ended up choosing Columbus. One would think, given Mark Dantonio's success in developing players -- especially on defense -- coupled with the team's rise toward the national elite would help the Spartans land a few more studs. But a school like Ohio State is always going to have some advantages in recruiting. The good news is Dantonio's staff does a tremendous job figuring out which players will fit the team's system and then polishing them into stars. And if Michigan State can continue to win big on the field and churn out pros, higher-caliber recruits should look toward East Lansing.

 




 

Glenn from Siesta Key, Fla., writes: Brian, why is it that during this offseason you constantly are mentioning the PSU OL as a weakness and question mark, while it seems OSU is pretty much in the same boat? Yet, all you talk about is how OSU will win its division and could be a playoff contender. Won't Braxton Miller have the same challenge as Christian Hackenberg if his OL doesn't show up?

Brian Bennett: For starters, I haven't said Ohio State will win the East Division. I'm not ready to predict that yet. You make a decent point, as both the Buckeyes and the Nittany Lions likely will be replacing four starters on the offensive line. I have written that the offensive line is a question mark for Ohio State. But the two teams also are coming from different starting points. Ohio State's offensive line was the best in the league the past two years, and the recruiting at that position has been solid. Ed Warriner is one of the best position coaches in the nation.

Penn State's offensive line wasn't as dominant last year as the Buckeyes', and depth is a concern given the scholarship limitations. But I do really like Herb Hand and think he very well could have a Warriner-like impact for the Nittany Lions. We'll see. If Ohio State's line doesn't come together quickly, the Buckeyes could have problems early on against Virginia Tech.

 




 

Chris from Princeton, N.J., writes: I know you guys don't see Rutgers as a bowl team this year but let's say they do manage to get six wins. Where do you see those potential wins coming from?

Brian Bennett: It's not out of the realm of possibility that Rutgers makes a bowl, but the Scarlet Knights will have to win all of their toss-up games for it to become likely, given the schedule. They figure to be heavy underdogs against Michigan and Wisconsin at home and versus Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan State on the road. Going across the country for the opener against Washington State in Seattle looks very difficult as well.

That leaves very little margin for error. You can pencil in wins over Howard and Tulane at home. Beating Navy in Annapolis, while not an easy task, is doable and probably crucial. Conference games against Indiana at home and Maryland on the road could go either way. The Big Ten opener against Penn State should be played in front of a raucous atmosphere, and the Lions were often vulnerable on the road last season. So Rutgers is basically going to have to sweep all of its 50-50 games or pull off a big upset anywhere. Good luck with all that.

 




 

Craig from Braintree, Mass., writes: Brian, do you recall the days of Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney? Could the mix of guys the Gophers have produce two 1,000-yard rushers?

Brian Bennett: I sure do, Craig. Those two guys were loads of fun to watch. I'm not sure which is harder to believe, in retrospect, about the 2004 Gophers: that they finished only 7-5 with that pair in the backfield, or that they beat Alabama in a bowl game. But going back to your question, Minnesota has an awful lot of talent at running back this season. David Cobb somewhat quietly ran for 1,202 yards last season, 12th most in school history. Donnell Kirkwood came close to 1,000 yards in 2012, and Rodrick Williams Jr. is a 247-pound beast who's almost impossible to bring down on first contact. Add in redshirt freshman Berkley Edwards, who might be more talented than all of the, and quarterback Mitch Leidner, who's got great wheels as well. And that's not even considering top 2014 recruit Jeff Jones, who might not be academically eligible.

Can two Gophers get to 1,000 yards? Minnesota almost certainly will be a rush-first team again this year. The hope is that the passing game improves enough so the offense isn't rush-first, rush-second and rush-third as well. I'm not sure there will be enough carries for two players to get to 1,000 yards, and the offense has to stay on the field longer to provide more opportunities. There may not be a Maroney or a Barber in this group, but it still should be fun to watch.

Back in early May, we heard from some concerned Buckeyes fans who were wringing their hands over Ohio State's slow start in the latest recruiting cycle. Back then, their team had only two commitments.

My reaction was simply to chuckle, because I don't see any reason to worry about the job Urban Meyer and his staff do on the recruiting trail. And just two months later, look at the Buckeyes now.

Ohio State landed two monster commitments this morning when defenders Jashon Cornell and Justin Hilliard gave their verbal pledges within minutes of each other. Both are five-star players, according to ESPN Recruiting, with Hilliard ranking as the No. 1 outside linebacker and No. 13 overall prospect in the ESPN 300 and Cornell checking in as the No. 5 defensive end and No. 16 overall prospect. Craig Haubert has a breakdown of how much impact the pair of five-star prospects can make on the Buckeyes' defense.

Cornell, who hails from St. Paul, Minn., eliminated Minnesota from his final list earlier this year. Michigan State and Iowa were also among his finalists. Hilliard, who's from Cincinnati, also considered Michigan and Iowa in his final five.

That gives the Buckeyes 12 total commitments and four in the ESPN 300. Our latest 2015 class rankings now have Meyer's team at No. 6 nationally, up 17 spots from their previous showing. The only other Big Ten schools in the top 25 are Penn State (No. 4 nationally with 17 total commitments) and Michigan (No. 23, eight commits).

The scary thing for the rest of the league is that Meyer and his staff have been known as great closers in the final weeks leading up to signing day, beating out marquee programs for top undecided prospects late. They're already built a great foundation in July. Hilliard said at his press conference that he and Cornell would try and recruit other elite players to join them in Columbus, including four-star Kentucky running back Damien Harris. He took note of today's news.

Big Ten's lunch links

June, 23, 2014
Jun 23
12:00
PM ET
Back from vacation. Nice to link up again.

Big Ten Friday mailbag

June, 20, 2014
Jun 20
4:30
PM ET
I'm taking your questions for a third time this week, filling in the Friday time slot for the vacationing Rittenberg. I'll be gone myself next week, so this will be the last time I talk to you for a bit.

What do you got?

Doc from Scottsdale, Arizona, writes: What is your best case scenario for the Big Ten brand next season in regards to the Playoff? Assuming just one team gets into the Playoff, does it matter which school is there "representing" for the BIG or should just having a presence in the game be considered a victory for the league?

Brian Bennett: Best-case scenario, naturally, is winning a national title. Nothing enhances your brand quite like that. But the second part of your question is the important one, Doc. I think it's vital for the Big Ten to get a team into the Playoff this season. Conferences that don't take part in the four-team event will basically be irrelevant. I don't even think it matters if a Big Ten representative wins its semifinal as long as it is competitive (nightmare scenario: a blowout loss to the No. 2 SEC team in a semi.) Makes no difference which team from the league gets there, but the conference needs to make sure its champion is involved most years.


JR from Winchester, Virginia, writes: What signs or trends from the first few nonconference games will you be looking for that will telegraph what kind of year Nebraska will have? (Turnovers? Ability to pass the ball? Defensive line play?) Thanks.

Brian Bennett: You picked three good ones there, JR. Nebraska should have little to no trouble with its first two opponents, Florida Atlantic and McNeese State. Fresno State on the road in Week 3 could prove a bit dicier, but the Huskers should still win that game if they are a legitimate Big Ten contender. I want to see dominance, especially in the trenches and on that defensive line, in those first three games. I want to see Tommy Armstrong take care of the ball and show that he can make plays down the field. And mostly, I want to see Nebraska avoid some of the extreme mood swings and fluctuations we've witnessed in the past.

A great nonconference performance doesn't guarantee anything, because an injury or other adversity can strike any time. But it would be nice for the Huskers to avoid drama early on.


@TimShay17 via Twitter writes: The Badgers' passing game is their biggest question mark this season. Which is more of a concern: QB race or the unknowns at WR?

Brian Bennett: Good question, and I say it's the wide receivers. Joel Stave, at the very least, is a known quantity. The team won nine games with him as its starter last season, and an extra year of experience can only help him. If Tanner McEvoy beats out Stave, then it's because McEvoy is playing well in practice and offering an improvement. The receivers are still a giant question mark. It's anyone's guess who will lead this team in receiving this year after Wisconsin relied so heavily on Jared Abbrederis the past two seasons.


PurpleCatResurgence from Northbrook, Illinois, writes: Look I get it, Northwestern was sub-.500 last year, and the team still has some holes to fill, but the Cats are getting NO love in the national publications. This is almost the same team that if they get what, 5-6 plays go their way, they are a 9- or maybe even a 10-win team. They have a tough schedule this season, no doubt, but how many wins do you see this team achieving? In your view, what has to break right for this team to play in Indy this fall? Love the blog- Go Cats!

Brian Bennett: It is funny how quickly things can change. Northwestern was 4-0 and rising toward the top 15 heading into October last season. Then came the loss to Ohio State, the first of seven straight defeats, and now the Wildcats are basically off the national radar. Still, this is a team that won 10 games in 2012 and had been to five straight bowl games. As you said, Northwestern dealt with some serious bad luck in 2013, not only late in games but also with a ridiculous rash of injuries.

So Pat Fitzgerald's team could easily be one of the most improved in the Big Ten in 2014. Venric Mark is healthy again, and the offense has a solid identity behind Trevor Siemian. Plenty of talent returns on defense. The schedule is not easy, as the Wildcats drew Michigan and Penn State from the East Division and play at Notre Dame in November. On the other hand, the West does not appear to have any truly dominant teams. I definitely see the 'Cats getting back to a bowl. For them to truly contend for a division title, the offense needs to rediscover its explosiveness, and Fitzgerald will have to figure out how to get over the hump in some of those close games.


@mort_c15 via Twitter asks: Urban Meyer has said repeatedly that this year's freshmen will play will for OSU and few will redshirt. How many will, in your opinion, RS?

Brian Bennett: Meyer told me this spring, as he said often, that he made a mistake by not playing more true freshmen last season. He plans to avoid that in 2014. At the same time, he's not going to play freshmen just to play them. Barring injuries, it's safe to say that Raekwon McMillan, Johnnie Dixon, Curtis Samuel and Jalyn Holmes will play. Erick Smith could get a look at safety. Guys like Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker could force their way onto the field on special teams, at the very least. The more likely redshirt candidates are offensive linemen, like Kyle Trout and Brady Taylor, and quarterback Stephen Collier. Expect to see a lot of true freshmen on the field for the Buckeyes, but if a whole bunch of them are in key roles, that's probably not the best sign.


Dave from Columbus, Ohio, writes: There seems to be more time travelers here predicting how their favorite team (who has never shown the ability to win out) is going to just absolutely BEAT everyone, go undefeated and win the national championship. Yet you restrain yourself from laughing at them. Is it ever hard to do so?

Brian Bennett: I may have to hold back a chuckle or two. But that's the beauty of the preseason in college football (or any sport, really). Everybody's undefeated, and optimism abounds. Why punish that? The actual season will do that on its own.

Key stretch: Ohio State

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
3:00
PM ET
Fútbol might have the world's focus right now , but we're writing about football. As we continue to count down toward the season, we're taking a look at the key three- or four-game stretch in the schedule for each Big Ten team.

Our series moves on to the Ohio State Buckeyes on Thursday.

Key stretch: at Penn State (Oct. 25), Illinois (Nov. 1), at Michigan State (Nov. 8)

Breakdown: After some potentially tricky nonconference games against Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati, Ohio State opens its Big Ten season against league newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. Then things really get interesting. The Buckeyes go to State College for a night game at Beaver Stadium, which is never an easy place to score a victory. Think Penn State might be foaming at the mouth a bit to avenge last year's 63-14 debacle at the 'Shoe? The Illinois game isn't that intriguing unless you're a big fan of wooden turtles, though the Fighting Illini did pile up points and yards on Luke Fickell's defense last fall. Then comes the biggie, a Nov. 8 trip to East Lansing in a rematch of last year's Big Ten championship game. The East Division title could well be decided that afternoon.

Prediction: Even squinting as much as we can, we don't see Illinois going into Columbus and pulling out a victory. Penn State holds a lot of influence in the East Division race, as both Ohio State and Michigan State have to play the Nittany Lions on the road. The Buckeyes, however, took care of business in State College two years ago and laid that epic smackdown last season at home. While we expect a game effort from PSU, Urban Meyer has yet to lose in that series. Then it comes down to Michigan State, and Spartan Stadium should be whipped into a sufficient frenzy that day (or hopefully night). The edge goes to Sparty here, so make it a 2-1 record in this stretch for Ohio State. If the Buckeyes manage to get through it unscathed, though, they could be looking at a possible third straight undefeated regular season.
The Sound Mind Sound Body camp was full of top prospects from all over the country. The recruits, ranging from the 2015 to 2017 classes, came in for a two-day camp with on-the-field instruction and off-the-field speakers.

College coaches from nearly every Big Ten team, Stanford, Notre Dame and MAC schools were on hand to take in the event, and some were given the opportunity to speak to the prospects.

The coaches took advantage of the face time by spending time with top targets, including defensive end Jashon Cornell, running back Jacques Patrick, wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and others.

Given the nature of the camp there was plenty of recruiting news and visit updates from those top recruits.

Patrick takes in Michigan
Michigan is still in pursuit of a top running back after losing Damien Harris to a decommitment earlier in the year. Mike Weber and Jacques Patrick have been two big targets, along with Harris, and Patrick made his annual trip up to Michigan to see the campus and take in the camp.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
5:00
PM ET
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.
Big Ten writers Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett occasionally will give their takes on a burning question facing the league. We'll both have strong opinions, but not necessarily the same view. We'll let you decide which writer is correct.

Cleveland.com recently completed its three-year retrospective on Ohio State's tattoo/merchandise scandal with a story about Terrelle Pryor. The former Buckeyes quarterback, who committed multiple NCAA violations, departed the program in June 2011, a week after coach Jim Tressel resigned under pressure. In July 2011, Ohio State declared Pryor ineligible for the 2011 season and banned the quarterback from any association with the program for five years, citing his unwillingness to cooperate with school and NCAA investigators.

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFormer Buckeyes quarterback Terrelle Pryor wants to reconcile with Ohio State. Does the school want the same?
Pryor would one day like to reconcile with his old school:
"I'd love to, if I'm invited or accepted, I'd love to. I don't want to cause any type of thing. I just want everything to be smooth. Even if I could talk to the guys about not taking things and being smart about the people you deal with, I'd love to do that one day, if the coaches are up to it or the head people at Ohio State are up to it. But that's a couple years away."
Today's Take Two topic: Should Ohio State reopen its doors to Pryor after the five-year ban expires in 2016?

Take 1: Adam Rittenberg

The wound is still fresh for some Buckeyes fans, who regard Pryor a half-step above anyone associated with the University of Michigan. His actions contributed to the program's backslide -- Ohio State hasn't won a Big Ten title or a bowl since Pryor's final game in January 2011 -- but he's hardly the only one at fault. Pryor isn't the reason Tressel had to resign. Tressel made poor decisions that led to his resignation, and while he certainly felt an attachment to Pryor -- he does to this day -- that's not Pryor's fault.

Ohio State received a bowl ban because of its casual approach to the NCAA infractions process, and the second wave of allegations that arrived in the fall of 2011. Pryor was a highly immature, overly entitled player who made some very poor choices during his Buckeyes career. But this scandal went way beyond one person.

Pryor absolutely should be welcomed back to the program after five years. Americans are typically a forgiving lot, and college football fans have forgiven a lot worse characters than Terrelle Pryor. He never committed a violent crime. He never had academic issues and actually was an Academic All-Big Ten selection at Ohio State. He said and did some stupid things at Ohio State, but he also helped the Buckeyes win a lot of games and excelled in BCS bowls, especially the 2010 Rose Bowl.

At some point, Pryor should walk through the doors of the Woody Hayes Athletic Center again. While I wonder about his maturity, his story could be a cautionary tale for the current players who face constant temptation in a city obsessed with Buckeyes football. There's value in a reconciliation, and I hope to see it happen.

Take 2: Brian Bennett

Time heals all wounds. I was at the Michigan game in 2012 when Tressel got a loud, standing ovation from the crowd at the 'Shoe, even though he was the very person most responsible for that being Ohio State's final game and not a possible entry point toward a championship run. Of course, Tressel had built up more goodwill than Pryor, but it showed that Ohio State fans are willing to forgive one of their own.

It also helps that Pryor's mistakes didn't doom the program. Sure, the 2011 season was one of the worst in recent Buckeyes history, but they still went to a bowl and then bounced right back after hiring Urban Meyer by going on a 24-game winning streak. The tattoo scandal seems rather petty in hindsight, especially in light of all the calls for more money and benefits for college athletes that are dominating the landscape right now. Pryor has appeared to be a solid citizen since leaving Ohio State and even has made an impact in the NFL.

His No. 2 is never going to be retired, and maybe Pryor will never receive more than polite applause if he returns to an Ohio State sideline someday. But there's no need for him to be a complete pariah when his disassociation with the program concludes. If you're going to talk about a football program being a family, then you're going to have to accept some family members who have been difficult to love at times. And maybe most importantly, Pryor can offer some life lessons to younger Buckeyes players and hopefully help them avoid some of the same mistakes that stained an otherwise successful career.

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