NCF Nation: Adolphus Washington
By the time training camp and the start of the season rolled around, a couple new bodies were added into the rotation, and Ohio State was starting to show signs that what was thought to be a potential problem was about to be solved.
But even with all the information they’ve compiled -- dating to the end of last season and through an impressive start outside of Big Ten play -- all No. 4 Ohio State really has at this point is a hypothesis. The true test is coming Saturday, with No. 23 Wisconsin and its powerful rushing game visiting Ohio Stadium to provide a more concrete answer about just how good the Buckeyes are up front.
“They have not received the challenge yet like this one,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “This will be the biggest challenge to this point, maybe the rest of the year, for our defensive front seven.
“I know we’ve had conversations about this outfit before, because the run game is real. You can get embarrassed real fast if you're not gap-sound and handling your business.”
The Buckeyes went about their nonconference business with ruthless efficiency and relative ease, relaxing some of the concerns about filling the void left by three graduated seniors and a junior who left early for the NFL draft. But given the level of competition a largely inexperienced unit has faced compared to what it will encounter in the trenches against the Badgers, it’s difficult to reach much of a conclusion until after this weekend’s prime-time matchup.
Ohio State hasn’t been at full strength on the line yet either, with Adolphus Washington missing two games due to a groin injury that has kept him from forming what appears to be a terrific tandem with fellow sophomore Noah Spence. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett was held out of last week’s blowout over Florida A&M, and Ohio State has yet to get a snap out of Tommy Schutt at the position this season due to a preseason foot injury. Those issues have pressed a true freshman into an expanded role at end, where Joey Bosa has shined, and it also forced Meyer to move offensive lineman Chase Farris back over to defense to provide more depth and talent on the interior alongside veteran Joel Hale.
But even with those limitations, the way the Buckeyes have played might give them a bit of extra credit, considering they still rank No. 9 in the nation against the rush and No. 13 in total defense, which also represents marked improvement from some early struggles a year ago in Meyer’s first season with the program. But those numbers haven’t come against teams that can block as physically or run as dangerously as the Badgers, and the nation’s third-ranked rushing attack is the measuring stick that counts for a defense looking to live up to the proud tradition of the Silver Bullets.
“I know people are going to say that it's going to come down to making tackles and stopping big plays and things like that,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. “But if we do a great job up front, we'll be in good shape. If we don't do a great job up front, we'll have a tough time.
“That doesn't mean the back seven don't have to play well. The linebackers and [secondary] are every bit a part of stopping and fitting that run and being a part of that effort as the front seven. But those guys up front are where the game is won and lost.”
Testing a hypothesis doesn’t get much easier than that.
We're in the process of projecting the Big Ten's statistical leaders for the 2013 season. We've already covered our choices for the league's top rusher, top passer and top receiver. We don't want to forget the defense in this exercise, however. So today's Take Two topic is: Who will lead the Big Ten in sacks this year?
Take 1: Brian Bennett
There's a good chance that some younger guys will lead the way this season. Ohio State's Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence look like superstars in the making. Penn State's Deion Barnes was the league's freshman of the year last season and could easily improve on his six-sack total from 2012. Junior college transfer Randy Gregory could wreak some havoc for Nebraska.
But I'll go with a safer choice in a proven veteran: Northwestern's Tyler Scott. After all, the senior did tie for the conference lead last year with nine quarterback takedowns, showing excellent improvement from his sophomore to junior years. He is one of the strongest players in the Big Ten and a weight room warrior, and I'm sure he's working his butt off this summer to be an even better player. The Wildcats' defense should be pretty solid up front, and they will play some teams like Cal, Syracuse, Michigan State and Illinois that should offer opportunities for Scott to get into the offensive backfield. I say he does that a lot on his way to a league-best 11 sacks in 2013.
Take 2: Adam Rittenberg
Scott is a strong choice, BB. He's an extremely hard worker who placed a major emphasis on the pass rush after the 2011 season, when he recorded only two sacks. Although Northwestern's overall pass pressure improved, Scott certainly stood out in the group. I expect a solid senior season from him, but I think the sacks will be spread around a little more in 2013 as Northwestern boasts better depth, experience and speed at the end spot with Dean Lowry, Deonte Gibson and Ifeadi Odenigbo.
That's why I'm going with Penn State's Barnes as the Big Ten's sacks leader. He was an easy pick for the league's freshman of the year award and should only get better with another offseason with elite line coach Larry Johnson. Barnes already has the body of an upperclassmen and a skill set that projects extremely well to the NFL. His challenge this season is two-fold: He's no longer an unknown and will be at the top of every opponent's scouting report, and he no longer has All-Big Ten defensive tackle Jordan Hill to attract some of the attention. Barnes will have to defeat double-teams and get some help from DaQuan Jones and others to have a big sophomore season. But I think he gets it done and puts up 11 or 12 sacks to lead the conference.
To mark the occasion, we're pulling out a checklist today of things that Big Ten teams need to accomplish between now and the start of the season. It's not quite "The Final Countdown" (cue GOB Bluth), but we are inching ever so close to kickoff. Here's what needs to happen in the next 100 days:
1. Identify a starting quarterback at Iowa, Indiana, Michigan State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin: It seems as if there are an unusually high number of Big Ten teams who don't know for sure who their starting quarterbacks will be in the fall. (You could also add Illinois and Minnesota to this list, though it appears likely that Nathan Scheelhaase and Philip Nelson, respectively, would have to lose the job in the summer.) Iowa had a three-man race this spring that will probably come down to Jake Rudock and Cody Sokol in training camp. There's very little separation between Cameron Coffman, Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at Indiana. Connor Cook continues to breathe down the neck of incumbent Andrew Maxwell at Michigan State. Tyler Ferguson claimed the starting job at Penn State during the spring, prompting Steven Bench to transfer, but highly touted recruit Christian Hackenberg will push for immediate time. Purdue will likely decide between senior Rob Henry and true freshman Danny Etling. Joel Stave and Curt Phillips separated themselves from the Wisconsin QB derby this spring, while incoming junior college transfer Tanner McEvoy could expand the race this summer. All these situations should work themselves out in August, but no team wants to be dealing with an unsettled quarterback competition once the season starts.
2. Solidify the defensive front sevens at Nebraska and Ohio State: The Huskers and Buckeyes stand out as two of the top Big Ten contenders in 2013, but both have serious questions at defensive line and linebacker. The issue is more dire at Nebraska, which struggled there last year and is replacing all but one starter from 2012. Summer arrivals, including junior college star Randy Gregory, could make an immediate impact, and players coming back from injury such as linebacker Zaire Anderson and defensive tackle Thad Randle will need to play up to potential. Ohio State is less concerned about its defense after the spring performance of defensive ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, but linebacker Ryan Shazier is still the only returning starter in the front seven. Curtis Grant must finally live up to his talent to provide help to Shazier, and someone must assume John Simon's leadership role.
3. Locate the next great receivers: A few Big Ten teams, such as Nebraska, Penn State and Indiana, don't have to worry too much about who will catch the ball this year. But just about everybody else needs to find playmakers in the passing game. The top of that list includes Iowa, which couldn't generate a downfield passing attack last year; Illinois, which needs receivers to make new coordinator Bill Cubit's spread system work; Michigan State, whose young wideouts must improve on last year's shaky performance; Minnesota, which doesn't have many proven weapons to surround Nelson; and Wisconsin, which still must find a complement to Jared Abbrederis. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is hoping some incoming freshmen augment a very thin receiver group, while Michigan needs to replace the production of Roy Roundtree. Purdue and Northwestern have lots of speedy options but could use the emergence of a true No. 1 target. Receiver was a weak spot as a whole in the Big Ten in 2012, and hopefully some players will improve through offseason voluntary passing drills.
4. Strengthen the running game at Michigan, Michigan State, Indiana and elsewhere: It's a cliché to say that you have to run the ball to win, but in the case of the Big Ten, that's always been true. That's why it's so vital for the Wolverines and Spartans -- who both expect to contend in the Legends Division -- to find answers in their rushing attacks. Michigan is replacing its entire starting interior offensive line after struggling to get a running game going outside of Denard Robinson last year. Fitz Toussaint is hoping to bounce back from a disappointing season and a leg injury, while hotshot freshman Derrick Green could get lots of carries right away. Michigan State's efforts to replace workhorse extraordinaire Le'Veon Bell this spring ended up with converted linebacker Riley Bullough emerging as the top back in a mediocre field. Three incoming freshmen will compete for time right away this summer. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson put a heavy emphasis on the running game this spring, hoping for more balance after his team led the league in passing and finished last in rushing last season. Iowa has depth for once at running back but needs to stay healthy there, as the ground game is the key to the Hawkeyes' entire offensive philosophy. Nebraska also can't afford injuries, as Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross are the lone backs with any experience. Illinois averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a team last year, a number that must improve. And while Purdue loved what it saw from Akeem Hunt this spring, he still must prove he can be an every-down back after attempting only 42 carries last season.
5. Mesh with new coaches: Wisconsin's Gary Andersen and Purdue's Darrell Hazell are the fresh faces among head coaches in the league, and while they did a great job of connecting with their players this spring, they still need to get their new systems fully in place. The Badgers will be using some new, 3-4 looks on defense, while Hazell wants a more physical and disciplined team than we've seen from the Boilermakers of late. Michigan State has a new offensive playcaller in Dave Warner, while Cubit was one of many staff changes at Illinois. Penn State's John Butler takes over from Ted Roof as the Lions' defensive coordinator. With only 15 spring practices so far to implement their styles, those new coaches have had to rely on a lot of classroom time and players learning on their own. That will have to continue this summer during voluntary workouts and then will intensify when preseason practice begins. For new coaches, it's a race against the calendar -- and the calendar says there are only 100 days until kickoff.
Of course, the Ohio State quarterback couldn't help but think about how his team had beaten both Big Ten title game participants.
"I got kind of upset watching it, because it was a different type of game than what I was expecting," Miller told ESPN.com. "I thought it would have been a different type of story if we were there."
Linebacker Ryan Shazier, like a lot of other Buckeyes, had similar feelings as he watched the BCS championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama about a month later.
"To be honest, I was feeling sick," Shazier said. "Because I felt like we had a great team and we should have been in the game. I feel like if everybody who had to watch that game can keep that in their head this year, it's going to push us to another level."
Of course, the Buckeyes couldn't play for a Big Ten championship or go to a bowl because of NCAA probation. And they say that's a big reason why they're not dwelling on their accomplishments but rather looking forward this offseason.
"Yeah, we went 12-0, but it didn't really mean much," receiver Corey "Philly" Brown said. "It's not like we won anything. I feel like none of our team got a taste of what it feels like to be playing for a national championship. That makes us more hungry to get there."
Along with the reminders of last year, head coach Urban Meyer had another banner put up in the football complex this spring with the slogan "The Chase." That was his not-so subtle message to the players to keep striving toward new goals. But Meyer said he hasn't noticed any sense of complacency with this group.
"I've watched for that," he said. "I've had our strength coach [Mickey Marotti] watch for that. I don't feel it. If I did, I'd jump in the middle of it."
Meyer's biggest concern this spring has been identifying new leaders. Outside of left tackle Jack Mewhort, he wasn't sure which players would fill the shoes of seniors like John Simon and Zach Boren from last year. He has brought in weekly guest speakers to talk to the team this spring about leadership, and he's hoping guys like Miller, Shazier, Brown and defensive backs C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant and Bradley Roby take on those roles. Of course, Meyer had similar worries about last year's team at this time, and it ended up having what he calls one of the best group of leaders he's ever coached. So that figures to work itself out.
The young front seven on defense also presents question marks, as Shazier is the only returning starter among the defensive line and linebacker units. But sophomores Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence showed with their combined seven sacks in the spring game that Ohio State is blessed with talented options up front, even if there might be a learning curve at work.
"We're going to have to live with some mistakes," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "But our job as coaches is to say, 'Hey, what can they handle?'"
Will these Buckeyes be able to handle the increased expectations and pressure in 2013? Last year, they began the year ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll and weren't eligible to receive votes in the coaches' rankings. Even as they continued to win, they mostly operated outside of the limelight because of their absence from the national title hunt. This year, the spotlight will be on them from Day 1, as they should open the season in the top 5.
"We're definitely going to be a huge target," running back Carlos Hyde said. "We're back to where Ohio State usually is, which is the No. 1 team on the schedule that teams want to beat. It lets us know that we just can't come out and roll our helmets out and expect to beat a team."
The target is larger, but so too is the goal. The shackles of probation are off, and if Ohio State can pull off a repeat undefeated season, odds are its players won't be watching the national championship game from afar next January. Roby, the team's All-American cornerback, is confident that will happen. He says that "last year was the commercial, and this year is the movie."
"We've got the talent, and I'm not going to say the schedule is easier, but we don't play Nebraska and we don't play Michigan State," he said. "It's set up in our favor. All we have to do is go out there and keep grinding."
You can find full coverage of the Buckeyes game here, here, here and here.
Star of the game: Quarterback Braxton Miller was 16-of-25 for 217 yards, with two passing touchdowns and a rushing score. Adolphus Washington was credited with four sacks.
How it went down: The Scarlet team was pretty loaded on offense, and it showed in a 31-14 win over the Gray. Of course, whichever team had Miller was going to have the advantage, and the Scarlet enjoyed a solid day from the Heisman Trophy candidate as the Buckeyes focused on the passing game.
"It was a pass-heavy game, an area that we weren’t very good at last year, an area that we have to get better in," head coach Urban Meyer said. "I thought at times that Braxton Miller and a couple of the wideouts, Philly Brown in particular, did very well. It’s been a continuation of what started all spring and Philly Brown is turning into a legitimate All-Big Ten candidate at wide receiver for us, which we need.”
Brown had five catches for 25 yards and a touchdown, while spring hero Michael Thomas had seven receptions for 79 yards and a score. In two spring games, Thomas has 19 catches for 210 yards. In 12 actual games, he has three receptions for 22 yards.
The running game didn't do much, as the two Ohio State teams combined for just 122 yards on 45 carries. Still, Meyer was mostly pleased with the offense.
"I would be disappointed if we’re not the best offense in the Big Ten," he said.
The one major concern on that side of the ball remains the right tackle spot, which is unsettled after the spring game. The defense, even with four new starters on the line, exploited that to the tune of 11 "sacks" (the quarterbacks were not live). Sophomores Washington and Noah Spence combined for seven of those. The defense as a whole gained some confidence, even with stars Bradley Roby and Ryan Shazier sitting out because of injuries.
“I think we made great strides this spring," safety C.J. Barnett said. "There were a lot of questions coming into this season, especially on the defense with guys like John Simon graduating. It was important to see guys like Adolphus Washington step up and make some plays.”
Miller, who has worked on becoming a better passer, showed off some improved mechanics even as he did not get a chance to display his running skills.
"Fundamentally, he's pretty good,” Urban Meyer said. “But when it breaks down, that's when it starts to go. And I thought today that was pretty good. He had a couple situations where it didn't look very good, he went back to the old days and started running instead of keeping your eyes downfield. But he's much improved.”
There weren't many surprises in the Ohio State spring game -- everybody knows, for instance, that Miller is good. But the Buckeyes showed that they have some impressive young talent on the defensive line and an offense that is going to create problems for opponents once again in 2013.
Asked to identify his top goal during spring practice, Washington made sure to give a nod to the man who showed him the way in 2012.
"To fill the shoes of John Simon," Washington told ESPN.com. "I know those are some big shoes to fill. I'm just working my hardest to try and do that."
But Simon maximized every ounce of talent he had during an exceptional Buckeyes career, earning respect from teammates, fans and coaches, including Urban Meyer, who put Simon in a select category of players he has coached (he hangs Simon's and Tim Tebow's jerseys in his office at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center). He attacked the weight room and practices the same way he did the game field on fall Saturdays, and everyone took notice, including a young defensive lineman from Cincinnati.
"His competitive spirit, that's the biggest thing," Washington said. "I'm pretty athletic, and I've got a lot of things God blessed me with to play football, but his competitive spirit is what I take away the most."
Washington is part of a new-look Buckeyes defensive line that must replace Simon and three other starters (tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel, and end Nathan Williams). As a true freshman, Washington appeared in 10 games, logging 156 plays and recording three sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.
He recorded two of the sacks in Ohio State's final three games.
"My first game when I went out there, things were just lightning fast," Washington said. "But as the year went on, it kind of slowed down. Now I'm just out there playing, out there competing."
Washington has the size and skills to play both line spots but has been practicing this spring at defensive end. He'll likely start opposite fellow true sophomore Noah Spence, who logged 237 plays last season, the most among the Buckeyes' returning linemen.
"He's learning how to do some other things, like moving down inside at times and things that aren't as natural to him," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell told colleague Brian Bennett. "He's very athletic out on the edge, and he's getting a lot better in different situations and things we've asked him to do, like being one of the inside fit guys."
Spence and Washington headlined Meyer's first recruiting class at Ohio State, which included arguably the best defensive line haul in the country. They live in the same dorm as freshmen and have talked about getting a place together off campus for the next academic year. Washington said Spence will "probably be one of my best friends for life."
The two typically are mentioned in the same sentence when it comes to football, and they form the foundation for Ohio State's future along the D-line.
"Noah brings the athleticism and the speed," Washington said, "and I can bring the speed and the power. But Noah also has power. Noah's a lot stronger than he looks. We bring the same things."
Spence has drawn rave reviews for his play throughout the spring, and Washington seems to be making strides in recent weeks. Meyer, who describes Washington as a "wonderful person," said the lineman always grades high in terms of attitude and effort but lacked a chip on his shoulder.
"He's not an angry player," Meyer said. "The position he plays, you have to play angry. You can see that starting to come out these last three or four practices."
Ohio State's spring game has added meaning for Washington, who returns to his hometown and will take the field Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. The defensive line will be in the spotlight as many are interested to see how the replacement project is going.
"We get reminded about it every day," Washington said. "We just go out there and try to show the guys returning on defense, Coach Meyer, Coach Fickell, that we can fill the shoes and be just like they were."
Washington already has a believer on the offense in a guy he often faces in practice.
"He's obviously got all the physical tools, he's blessed," Buckeyes left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "I see him coming along every day. That chip on his shoulder, people may have not have seen that before, but I can definitely see that more as spring ball goes.
"If he keeps going in the right direction, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with in this conference."
It's rare when a defensive line coach steps on the practice field and doesn't see a single starter from the previous season. How rare? According to Ohio State's athletics communications staff, the Buckeyes haven't had a complete overhaul of their starting defensive line since the 1985 season, when all three top spots had to be filled. Although Ohio State ended up starting four new linemen in 1998, it had a returning starter from 1997 (end Matt LaVrar) on the roster.
All four starters from the 2012 team -- ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, and tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel -- have moved on. The effort to replace them is arguably Ohio State's top offseason story line, as the Buckeyes could be a defensive line away from contending for a national title in 2013.
Vrabel is stressing three areas for the linemen this spring -- attitude, effort and toughness. If all three are achieved, Vrabel thinks the players can "let their God-given ability to take over."
The Buckeyes' linemen boast plenty of ability. Ohio State had arguably the nation's top defensive-line haul in the 2012 recruiting class, signing four ESPN 150 defensive linemen, three of whom -- Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt -- saw the field as true freshmen. More help is on the way from the 2013 class with standouts like tackle Joey Bosa, an ESPN 150 selection. Two incoming line recruits, Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle, enrolled early and are participating in spring ball.
But the group has only nine combined career starts, five from junior end J.T. Moore. Its career tackles leader, junior tackle Michael Bennett, has a whopping 28 stops in 21 games.
"The guys we've got have a little bit of experience with Adolphus and Noah and Tommy," Vrabel said. "Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, Steve Miller, those guys have been here, contributing and giving us some leadership. And Tracy and Tyquan are just trying to figure their way through this thing.
"We're learning every day."
Although Ohio State's defensive line undoubtedly will be younger, Vrabel also thinks it will be faster with players like Spence and Washington, who finished third on the team with three sacks in 2012. Again, talent isn't a problem, but the line needs leadership after losing two-time captain John Simon.
Head coach Urban Meyer challenged several of the older linemen at the start of the spring, saying, "Steve Miller's been here for a while. It's time to go play. Chris Carter, how long has he been here? At some point you can't redshirt anymore." At the very least, Ohio State needs the veterans to fill out the line rotation.
Ideally, they can take the reins.
"No one's going to replace what John Simon provided for this program," Vrabel said. "We can only hope that we find guys who are willing to lead, be the same person every day, be competitive, play with some toughness and play with some effort. We'll have guys step up."
Vrabel should get an accurate gauge on his group this spring because of the men they'll be lining up against. What the Buckeyes lack in defensive-line experience, they make up for on their offensive line, which returns four starters with 81 combined career starts.
"If we can compete against them," Vrabel said, "we feel like we're going to be OK."
Spence evidently has been competing well, impressing Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner with his edge-rushing speed.
Vrabel's return to his alma mater in 2011 generated tremendous excitement, and he made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail. But his coaching skills will be under the microscope as he works with a group that, for now, is Ohio State's biggest question mark.
"I'm a young coach, I'm new to this, so every day is a challenge," he said. "I enjoy it, I embrace the challenge and try to do my best."
But some NFL draft decisions are made for you. And when you're a virtual lock in the top 15 of the draft, you make the jump, no questions asked.
Hankins surprised no one Monday in announcing he'll forgo his senior season and enter the 2013 NFL draft. The Ohio State junior defensive tackle boosted his stock this season, eating up space and ball-carriers in the middle of the Buckeyes' defensive line. Many NFL draft prognosticators, including our own Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, have Hankins as the first Big Ten player off the board in April.
Hankins won't help Ohio State try to win a national title in 2013, but he undoubtedly made the right call.
"I will always be grateful for the family I have gained here at Ohio State," Hankins said in a prepared statement. "I want to thank coach [Urban] Meyer, coach [Mike] Vrabel and strength coach [Mickey] Marotti for bringing the best out of me as a football player and person, and for their constant support. I also want to thank coach [Jim] Tressel and coach [Jim] Heacock for recruiting me and giving me an opportunity to be a part of this great school and great program."
Hankins added that he intends to finish his degree at Ohio State, which is great to hear. He started every game the past two seasons and finishes his career with 138 tackles (58 solo, 80 assists), including 16.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.
Although Ohio State expected Hankins to leave, his departure underscores some potential depth issues the team will have up front in 2013. Defensive end John Simon, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, moves on along with nose tackle Garrett Goebel and defensive end Nathan Williams.
The good news is Urban Meyer has recruited very well at defensive line, securing blue chippers Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington in his first class (both played this fall). Linemen like Michael Bennett, Steve Miller, Tommy Schutt and Joel Hale all should see increased roles in 2013. Ohio State also is bringing in several standout D-line recruits like ESPN 300 selections Joey Bosa and Michael Hill.
Ohio State has a lot of young talent along the defensive line, but the Buckeyes need those players to grow up in a hurry if they want to take another step forward on defense.
Nick from GoBlueBABY writes: Unlike most of the Michigan faithful I'm not going to be naive and think Michigan is positioned for a repeat of last year. Obviously there are some big question marks about the strength and depth of the O and D line, but I think people are hitting the panic button a little early for Big Blue. I'm a numbers guy and if you look at Michigan's first two games this year compared to last year it's not that different. They allowed 848 yards and 66 points so far this year compared to 792 yards and 41 points last year. However if you look at the turnover margin they were +5 last year compared to -3 this year so there is a need for the defense to step it up and create turnovers and take some pressure off the offense. At this point last year Michigan was unranked and nobody expected them to beat Ohio, get a BCS bowl bid and win, make it to 11 wins, and finish as a top 10 team. Last year's start wasn't pretty but it turned out pretty darn good so isn't it a little early for everyone to be jumping ship?
Brian Bennett: You make some solid points. Michigan's defense was not nearly as good in the first two weeks last year as it would become. Anyone remember the Notre Dame game last year? It really seemed like things started to click last year in the fourth game against San Diego State. I guess the big difference, besides the competition level this year, is that last season was the first under a new coaching staff. Even with new starters, there was an assumption that the Wolverines would be able to pick up where they left off. It's far too soon to write off Michigan, however. This team should be in the thick of the Big Ten race all year long.
The thing that has concerned me ever since the spring is the lack of depth on the lines and what would happen if there were injuries. The Wolverines already appear to be hit harder by injuries this year than they were last season. A lot of freshmen are playing, and it's tough to win the Big Ten with so much youth in key spots.
Adam from Ann Arbor writes: I hate to remind people of last weekend, but I have a question about the B1G playing on the West Coast. I saw an article on NPR today about NFL teams from the East playing on the West coast at night - - turns out over the past 25 years West Coast teams that play east coast teams at night win 70% of the time due, in part, to our natural body clocks. I know this is starting to sound like another excuse, and I'm not excusing the B1G's horrific play, but I was curious if anyone has bothered to conduct a similar study in college sports. College kids keep strange schedules and the effect might be better or worse on them. If there is a similar effect, shouldn't the B1G at least try to schedule day (3:30) games when they go out West (not that it would have helped Wisconsin)?
Brian Bennett: Anyone who has traveled across several time zones can tell you that it takes a while for your body to adjust. It would be naive to think the time change plays no role. But Big Ten teams played at several different times last week out West -- Wisconsin played at 3 p.m. Central time, Nebraska at 6:30 and Illinois at 9:30. And of course all three lost, with the Illini looking the most listless. College students should have more energy than pro players in their 30s, and charter flights make the trips more manageable. I'm not sure how much of an excuse the Big Ten can make for that showing last week. Oh, and Cal will be at a potentially bigger disadvantage this week at Ohio State, playing at 9 a.m. Pacific time.
Nathan from Denver writes: I can understand the reactions to the B1G losses this weekend. And maybe this is the weakest the conference has been in several years. My concern is for the Spartans, who no one seems to be taking very seriously. Will the bad view of the B1G, in general, effect MSUs chances of playing the title game if they end the year undeafeated? I truly believe if Maxwell can line things up with the unproven WRs on this team, they will be nearly impossible to beat.
Brian Bennett: While it's too early to be thinking about undefeated seasons, that's an interesting question to ponder. A 13-0 Michigan State team might well suffer from the Big Ten reputation if there are more than two undefeated, major conference contenders out there. If it's a choice between, say, Michigan State, a 13-0 Alabama and a 13-0 USC, then the Spartans wouldn't get the benefit of the doubt (and they started way behind both in the polls). If there is only one undefeated team, a 13-0 Michigan State team would likely make the title game, though you can already imagine the howling and crying if there's a 12-1 SEC champion out there. The Spartans need to root for Boise State and Notre Dame to have strong seasons to bolster their reputation.
Hankins is an imposing physical presence at 6-foot-3, 322 pounds, and he brings good athleticism to the position. He's a big reason why the Buckeyes have one of the top defensive lines in the country. I recently caught up with the rising star known as "Big Hank" for our Friday Q&A segment:
How do you think the defense played in the opener against Miami (Ohio)?
Jonathan Hankins: We played pretty well. We kind of executed what we needed to do against a five-wide offense. It was kind of surprising that they went five-wide the whole game. We did as much as we could to keep pressure on the quarterback and keep him frustrated. I felt like we could have gotten a little bit more pressure, but the scheme they played made it kind of hard to get there at times. I think we did the best we could.
What challenges does this week's opponent, UCF, bring?
JH: This is going to be a good challenge for us. They're one of those teams that does run the ball. They're not shying away from that. They have a good running back and a good offensive line. I feel like this is our type of game, and I'm really excited for this Saturday. We're expecting to see some power and zone reads, and whatever they show us, we just have to adjust and prepare for the next play.
JH: I feel like I prepared pretty well. The first game, I felt like I was kind of getting the rust off, but I felt I did pretty good getting some pressure and, when they did run, at stopping the run and holding my ground. I feel like this game [against UCF] will be a good opening for me because they run the ball. And getting after the quarterback, because they're going to run play action and hold the ball a little longer.
As a defensive tackle, do you really like playing against running teams the most?
JH: Yeah, that's what I love to do, play the running game. And this year, I'm starting to get better as a pass-rusher. It's what I tried to improve upon this offseason, so I'm going to see how that goes with my pass rush. Hopefully, I'll accomplish what I want.
Some of the freshmen defensive linemen, like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, made their debuts last week. What do you see out of those young guys?
JH: I feel like they're very athletic, and right now they're knowing our game plan very well. It's just going out and getting the feel of the game and not being so big-eyed and shy when there's 110,000 people out there watching them. I feel like they'll do well and definitely be a good fit for us this year.
How good was it to see Nathan Williams back in action?
JH: It was amazing to have him back in there. It's been a year, and just having him back gives me more confidence and relaxation. I know that everybody on the line can do their job, and with him being the playmaker that he is, it gives us even more confidence.
You still have Michael Bennett coming back at some point, too. Just how good and deep can this D-line be?
JH: I can't really explain how it's going to be. We've got so many guys -- with Nate, Michael, the freshmen -- it's kind of unique to see. Once everybody gets healthy and knows what to do, it's going to be a big edge for us.
Mike Vrabel is coaching the defensive line this year. What has he brought to you guys?
JH: He definitely brings a lot of energy to our defensive line and always preaches going hard and relentless effort. I feel we're learning more techniques now and more about game formations and things like that. By him playing in the league, we can always relate to everything he has provided.
How many times has he mentioned his Super Bowl rings?
JH: Every once in a while, when he wants to make a point.
You're from the Detroit area. How did you end up at Ohio State instead of Michigan?
JH: It's kind of crazy, but Ohio State was one of the first teams that was interested in me. Michigan was one of those schools that was kind of in but not in on me. Once I took my visit here, I felt like the family atmosphere and all the coaches were a good fit for me. And I kind of wanted to be a little far from home but not too far.
Were you a Michigan fan growing up?
JH: I was pretty much a Michigan fan until I got older, but then I started liking the Florida Gators. Michigan and Florida were my top schools.
So you rooted for the Gators when Urban Meyer was there?
JH: Yeah. I took a visit there and thought about going there. And now that he's coaching here, it's kind of a funny situation. Everyone was thrilled when he got here. I knew when he came in that the offense would be amazing, and from what I've seen so far, I feel like it's pretty good. In the future, I think we'll probably be one of the best teams in the country.
You're a big guy. Did you always play football, and were you always put on the lines?
JH: My freshman year, I played basketball, but once I realized it took up a lot of time, I stuck to football. This is my love and what I love to do. Actually, when I first got to high school, I played middle linebacker. As I got older and a little bit bigger, they moved me to defensive end and D-tackle and then offensive tackle. I was always a little bigger and athletic.
How much did you weigh when you were a freshman playing linebacker?
JH: I'd probably say, 250, maybe 265.
So did you just put the weight on gradually?
JH: Yeah, it was just mom's cooking and playing football. That blew me up.
What's your mom's best dish?
JH: Lasagna. With her bread.
During the ESPN All-Access stuff, fellow defensive lineman Chris Carter complained about being on a restricted diet. Have you ever had to go through that?
JH: I always try to eat healthy, but during camp it's kind of hard because there's always food, and they always want you to eat and hydrate. So it's kind of like a war with what you eat, to make sure you're ready for practice but don't eat too much and not be overweight. Once [new Ohio State team nutritionist Sarah Wick] got here, it made it much easier. She has helped me extremely, and I appreciate her.
Finally, your name popped up on a lot of preseason All-America lists and NFL draft talk. What do you make of all that?
JH: It was good to hear. But I always think the more hard work I do and the more I put on the field, the more good things will happen. I'm just focusing on this year and winning as many games as I can for the seniors and just going out there and paying football. Because that's what I love to do.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- John Simon is genuinely flattered by the tribute, even if it pains him to hear it repeated.
When asked about the term "Tebowish," which new Ohio State coach Urban Meyer used to describe Simon during spring practice, Simon expresses his gratitude. Then he steers the conversation away from himself like he steers offensive linemen out of his rushing lanes.
Meyer hasn't coached Simon in a game and won't for another four-plus months, but the coach already places the Buckeyes senior defensive end in an exclusive group that includes Meyer's most successful player, former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.
"Just to be characterized with someone who has such high integrity, that means a lot to me," Simon recently told ESPN.com. "But really, I'm just coming in here every day and doing the best I can."
Is Simon a Tebow fan?
"Absolutely," he said. "He's a tremendous athlete, tremendous person. So to be compared to someone like that is a great honor. I appreciate what [Meyer] says. But I'm just coming in every day doing what I can to help. It's a team sport."
At times this spring, the coaches had to pull Simon off of the practice field so the offense could get some quality work in without No. 54 blowing up every play. Not surprisingly, Simon barely played in Saturday's spring game because he didn't need to.
"He's revealed himself around here for many years," Meyer said. "This didn't just surface. I'm putting him in a category that, I've only coached one or two like him."
Tebow being one of them.
"I used the term Tebowish," Meyer said. "I've got to be careful not to do that. It should be Simonish. He's a next-level type player: leader, character, toughness, commitment.
"He's elite, elite."
As a freshman, Simon's teammates billed him as a future All-American. He has played both line positions during his career, starting at defensive tackle in 2010 before playing mostly end last season. While Ohio State's defense didn't perform to its traditional standard in 2011, Simon did his part by supplying a a team-leading 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks, more than twice as many as any other Buckeye.
At 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds, Simon is somewhat of a tweener: small for a defensive tackle and a bit short for a defensive end. His physical measurables might not be ideal, but in almost every other category, he's off the charts. Many talk about his motor, a term often applied to former Purdue defensive end Ryan Kerrigan, who as a senior went from first-team All-Big Ten to unanimous All-American and NFL first-round draft pick.
"You can't teach a motor, you can't teach intensity," Buckeyes defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "You'll have a hard time teaching some of those unique things. He has every single one of those. But John, I think he still has a lot of ability to get better fundamentally and technique-wise. That's what’s so exciting about John. He's only scratched the surface of how good he can get with the tools he has."
Fickell lauded Simon's versatility, saying the senior could play middle linebacker if the team needed him there. While playing multiple positions should help Simon in the NFL evaluation process, Fickell hopes "we can settle him in a little bit more" at defensive end.
Simon sees areas where he can improve every time he watches film. And he watches plenty of it. He also spent the spring tutoring Ohio State's younger defensive linemen, and will do the same this summer, when the Buckeyes welcome heralded D-line recruits like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.
"He'll be here at 6 in the morning, he'll leave late at night," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "He has an unbelievable understanding of the game. He's not very vocal, but he leads by example.
"He's just somebody you can count on."
That's the type of tribute, more than "Tebowish" or "future All-American," that a guy like Simon can appreciate.
A new season means new names and faces throughout the league, and this is the time to daydream about unlimited potential. So today we're taking a look at a few of the top newcomers (i.e., those who haven't played a down of Big Ten football before this season) to watch this fall:
DeAnthony Arnett, WR, Michigan State and Kyle Prater, WR, Northwestern: We put these two together because technically neither is yet eligible to play for his respective team in 2012. But the two transfers -- Arnett played at Tennessee last year, while Prater was at USC -- are both appealing to the NCAA for waivers to become immediately eligible, and both schools feel good about their chances of winning those cases. Each player fills a need; Michigan State lost its top three receivers from last year and desperately needs some experienced playmakers at the position, while Prater could step into the No. 1 receiver role that Jeremy Ebert left behind. Both could make a big impact on the season if they are able to see the field.
Noah Spence, DE, Ohio State: The top-rated recruit to sign with a Big Ten team in February, Spence was rated as the No. 4 overall prospect in the 2012 class. It's easy to see why, as he's a 6-foot-4, 245-pound athletic specimen who looks ready to chase after opposing quarterbacks from Day One. Urban Meyer said he doesn't plan to redshirt many freshmen and expects his defensive line recruits to contribute right away. If not Spence, then Se'Von Pittman, Adolphus Washington or Tommy Schutt could all make their presence known up front on defense as true freshmen.
Danny O'Brien, QB, Wisconsin: Let's see. Former ACC starting quarterback graduates and transfers to Wisconsin, where he's immediately eligible. Haven't we heard this story before? True, maybe O'Brien won't play at a superstar level like Russell Wilson did a year ago. But the former Maryland signal caller plugs a huge hole on the Badgers roster, as injuries and inexperience at quarterback threatened to derail an otherwise promising season. O'Brien won't arrive in Madison until later this spring, but he's likely to grab hold of the starting quarterback job right away and perhaps lead Wisconsin back to the Big Ten title game.
Joe Bolden, LB, Michigan: Our recruiting gurus loved Bolden when he signed with the Wolverines, and the early enrollee has already drawn praise from head coach Brady Hoke on the way he's practiced this spring. Don't be surprised to see him get major minutes at linebacker and possibly contribute on special teams.
James Gillum, RB, Minnesota: The junior college transfer ran for over 1,000 yards in each of his two seasons at Mississippi Gulf Coast, and he has the opportunity to start at tailback right away for a Gophers offense in search of more playmakers. The 5-foot-11, 204-pound Gillum already has many of the skills needed for a top-flight Big Ten running back but still must adjust to a higher level of play. If he pans out, he could pair with quarterback MarQueis Gray to form a dangerous Minnesota rushing attack.
ESPN.com has named Buckeyes assistant Mike Vrabel as its 2012 Big Ten recruiter of the year.
"Vrabel moved from linebackers coach to defensive line coach with the hire of Urban Meyer. And in the process the two-year assistant helped secure one of the nation's best defensive line classes. Five-star prospect Noah Spence was the biggest signing in the class, but four-star prospects Adolphus Washington, Se'Von Pittman and Jamal Marcus give the Buckeyes four of the nation's top 16 players at the defensive end position. Vrabel deserves much of the credit for that."
It's an impressive achievement for the former New England Patriots star linebacker, who only became a college coach last summer following his retirement from the NFL. Vrabel should have a lot of fun coaching up the talent on that Ohio State defensive line.
Other recruiters who earned honorable mention in the ESPN.com evaluation were Nebraska's John Garrison, Northwestern's Randy Bates, Michigan's Jeff Hecklinski and Michigan State's Mark Staten.
Though he was only hired in late November, Meyer managed to put together an impressive first recruiting class that ESPN ranked as the sixth-best in the country. Several players in the class were at one time committed to other league schools. The Buckeyes put together one of the best groups of defensive linemen in the country as well.
Did you expect to sign a class this highly rated, given how little time you had to put it all together?
Urban Meyer: I think it exceeded expectations a little, especially on the D-line. If you had told me in December that we would get those four defensive linemen in this class and the two offensive tackles ... that's what separated this class I think, from being pretty good to being really good.
The class is heavy on the defensive and offensive lines. How much of that was need-based and how much of was just that's what you need to build a foundation?
UM: I think anytime you get a premiere guy like Noah Spence, he knows that we need him. That's the way it is nowadays. Kids want to go somewhere where there's a need. The same with the two offensive tackles, Taylor Decker and Kyle Dodson. We just don't have those body types right now in our program, and they know that. We made that real clear. Their opportunity to play is going to be real quick here.
How did you go about evaluating what you needed in recruiting when you hadn't seen the players on the current roster much in person?
UM: Well, that's where Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel and Stan Drayton and when Taver Johnson was here, they were the ones [who helped]. Then when I went out to watch practice, I just walked out on the practice field and just kind of watched for a second, and I could tell our offensive line didn't look the way we needed them to look. I could tell we were short on pass-rushers off the edge. And then linebackers. So those are the three areas that we had to get just to be functional. So we attacked it as hard as we could and it all came together.
What do you like about the three big defensive linemen in this class -- Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Se'Vonn Pittman?
UM: Well, number one is they're competitors. They're very high-character guys. To have three guys like that with high character who are very good people, I hate to say that's hard to come across, but it is. And they're all different body types. You've got Noah Spence, who's the pure speed guy coming off the edge, relentless effort. Then you've got Adolphus Washington, who's very thick, lower body and more power. And then you've got Se'Von Pittman, who's a little bit of both. So they all complement each other.
In your experience, and understanding every player is different, how long does it take players with that talent level to make an impact on the field?
UM: We're going to rotate them right away. We don't redshirt here at Ohio State. We're changing that up. We're going to have the culture out here that there's no redshirting. If you don't play here, it's because you're not good enough. It's not because we're holding you back. We're going to recruit the kind of player where we want them on the field right now. That's the approach we took at Florida, and it's the approach we're going to take here.
Is the same thing true with offensive linemen? People say that's the position where it takes guys longer to develop.
UM: Well, Maurkice Pouncey jumped right into it [at Florida], started every game, and in three years he went to the NFL. So if you're recruiting, you lay it out there for them. Usually, linemen take a little longer, but we've played with some young players before.
You mentioned Wednesday that you're not happy with the speed at the offensive skill positions. You're not necessarily done with this class, but was that just not out there for you this year, or is it more of a priority going forward?
UM: Yeah, we're not happy where we're at with our speed and skill on offense. I don't know what we have. I saw on film and looked at the stats, and you would say from statistical analysis and just evaluation that we're not very good at all. But I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and see what happens in spring practice and evaluate them in the offseason, which starts Monday. But we're not where we need to be, by a long shot.
When you learned about the bowl ban, was there a time when you thought this class wouldn't come together nearly as well as it did?
UM: Oh yeah. Devastated. I would say, panic button in December. Absolutely.
What does it tell you about the players who decided to sign with you anyway?
UM: It tells you about the power of this program, too. I mean, Ohio State is Ohio State. It's the most powerful alumni base in the country. It's one of the great stadiums in the history of college football. A great tradition and a great city. So there are so many strengths about it that obviously overcame the negative hit we took.
Is recruiting in the Midwest and primarily vs. Big Ten schools different than recruiting in the SEC? The SEC has a reputation of being more ruthless.
UM: A little bit, but it's hard for me to articulate that. It was a little bit different, but there is still a lot of intense recruiting that goes on up north, as well.
There were a couple of coaches who criticized you for recruiting players who had committed to their schools. I liked the way you answered that question on Wednesday. Is there ever such a thing as a gentleman's agreement in recruiting, or is that a phony thing?
UM: Actually, Will Muschamp and I talked about that, about if a guy is previously committed. Up here, I was hired, and we covered our state and said to players, "Would you be interested?" We had one or two that said they would be interested, and others recruited us. Se'Von Pittman and Taylor Decker came after us.
Coming in as a new head coach at a program, would you even be doing your job if you didn't check in on those recruits?
UM: You've got a responsibility to your home state. Absolutely. There's not a coach in America who's not going to do that, not going to check his own state. You take a job, you're going to check your in-state players to see if they're interested. And if they are, then come on now, let's talk about it. And if they're not ... The young man up at St. Edward [offensive lineman Kyle Kalis, who signed with Michigan] we asked. He said, "I'm solid, I'm good." We said, "Good luck," and we moved on. I didn't call him again.
Could you get a sense of how much just having a coach in place and some stability at Ohio State, as well as your background, helped recruits change their mind?
UM: I think any time there's instability, that causes anxiety for a recruit. So I know with Se'Von Pittman, his comment to me was, "I always wanted to be a Buckeye. I just wanted it to be stable."
There are going to be lingering questions about your health, energy level, etc. Recruiting takes a lot of energy and time. How did you feel out there recruiting again, with all the time and travel it required?
UM: Oh, it was great. Great. No issue at all.
Jamal Marcus was a signing-day addition for you, and you talked about how he blew you away on tape. You really didn't know anything about him before that?
UM: That was one of those Christmas presents I unwrapped when they showed me the highlight video. I mean, he's as good as I've seen on a highlight video. Then you meet the kid and he's a beautiful kid, great family. Everett Withers identified him and brought him up. It's almost a shame to say this, but the first time I shook his hand and even talked to him was when he got on campus. And he blew us away.
He's been listed some places as a linebacker, others as a defensive end ...
UM: Oh, he's a linebacker. Linebacker all the way.
What are the priorities now for you over the next month or so before spring practice begins?
UM: We have a bunch of new coaches, a completely new offensive scheme. So the next month, the priority is to get around our players, get to know them with the new coaches. And No. 2 is to install an offense and defense, and make sure everybody is on the same page, so when we hit March we're up and running.
I talked with offensive coordinator Tom Herman recently, and he said he'd be blending the offense with your philosophies. How is that going on right now?
UM: That's all we're doing. I've hired some very good coaches, very successful coaches. We have a system I have great belief in, but I use the term enhance. If we can enhance our system, we will. And so far we have. It's going very well.
What kind of reports have you gotten from strength coach Mickey Marotti on how offseason workouts are going?
UM: Good. But we haven't really hit it hard yet. We've been kind of introduced to our offseason program. I meet with Mickey nonstop. Constant evaluation. But so far, it's mostly just been indoctrination. On Monday, it starts for real.
How much help has Luke Fickell been in this entire transition process?
UM: Well, there's no agenda with him. He has a true passion and love for Ohio State, and he's a very quality football coach and family man. It's a perfect fit, and his stability and relationships really helped us.
How much are you working on the 2013 class right now?
UM: Oh, we're killing it. We're all over it.
Here's how ESPN Recruiting graded the Big Ten classes .
Let's take a look at how teams filled their big recruiting needs:
The Illini have had a nice run at defensive tackle with 2011 NFL first-round draft pick Corey Liuget and Akeem Spence, who enters 2012 as a legitimate pro prospect. They solidified the interior line for the future with recruits like Teko Powell and Vontrell Williams.
It's no secret Indiana needs to make significant upgrades on defense, and coach Kevin Wilson looked to the junior college ranks for help. Indiana added six juco defenders, including cornerback Tregg Waters and linebacker Jacarri Alexander. These players give the Hoosiers a chance to get better in a hurry.
Running back has again become a pressing need for Iowa with the departures of Marcus Coker and Mika'il McCall. While Iowa has lost running backs at an alarming rate, it also has developed young backs very well in recent years. The coaches hope to work their magic with Greg Garmon, who could be the most significant recruit of the 2012 class.
Arguably no staff in the country makes defensive line a bigger priority than Michigan, which has three coaches, including head man Brady Hoke, focused on the front four. The Wolverines lose standouts Mike Martin and Ryan Van Bergen from the 2011 line, but they addressed the situation in recruiting with pickups like defensive tackle Ondre Pipkins and defensive end Chris Wormley.
Michigan State is creating a nice recruiting pipeline at the wide receiver position. The Spartans lose their top two wideouts from 2011 (B.J. Cunningham and Keshawn Martin) but added several nice receiver pickups in the 2012, including Tennessee transfer DeAnthony Arnett and four-star prospects Monty Madaris and Aaron Burbridge.
Quarterback MarQueis Gray returns, and Minnesota needed to get him some help in the passing game after the departure of Da'Jon McKnight. The Gophers added some excellent pickups at the wide receiver position in Andre McDonald and Jamel Harbison.
The Huskers were thin at linebacker in 2011 and lose standout Lavonte David to graduation. Nebraska coaches also have discussed the need to add more traditional linebackers to face Big Ten offenses. Big Red filled the need in the 2012 recruiting classes with players such as Michael Rose and Jared Afalava.
Defense has been Northwestern's downfall in the past two years, and the Wildcats need more difference-makers on that side of the ball. They likely landed one in end/linebacker Ifeadi Odenigbo, an ESPNU 150 prospect who is Northwestern's most decorated defensive recruit in recent memory. Odenigbo could help immediately as a situational pass-rusher.
No Big Ten team made a bigger impact at one position than Ohio State did along the defensive line. The Buckeyes, who were a bit thin up front in 2011, got a lot better with this class, which is headlined by ESPNU 150 prospects Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Se'Von Pittman and Tommy Schutt.
Skyler Mornhinweg's decommitment stings a bit, as Penn State needs more quarterbacks in the mix, but the Nittany Lions also need more difference-makers at wide receiver and tight end. They helped themselves in the 2012 class with wide receiver Eugene Lewis, ranked as the nation's No. 34 wideout by ESPN Recruiting. Tight end Jesse James is another nice pickup.
Offensive line has been a position of stability for Purdue the past few seasons, but the Boilers lose two starters from the 2011 squad (Dennis Kelly, Nick Mondek) and will say goodbye to several more after 2012. Purdue had to reload up front, and the two highest-rated players in the 2012 class, according to ESPN Recruiting -- Jordan Roos and Cameron Cermin -- all play offensive line.
Quarterback is undoubtedly Wisconsin's top priority as Russell Wilson departs and Jon Budmayr and Curt Phillips battle back from major injuries. The Badgers needed a signal-caller in a small class and landed a decorated one in Bart Houston, a four-star prospect from California powerhouse De La Salle High School.