NCF Nation: Doran Grant

Big Ten all-bowl team

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

KR: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska: In his final game with the Huskers, Abdullah returned three kicks for 120 yards, including a 49-yarder, in Nebraska's 45-42 National University Holiday Bowl loss to USC.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A dynasty may have been born while the confetti was raining down on Urban Meyer.

The trophy his Ohio State Buckeyes were chasing had been tracked down. Now they might just run away and hide with it.

If the Buckeyes truly were a year ahead of schedule not only to compete for a crown but to claim it in such impressive fashion Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T, that doesn't exactly bode well for any team looking to knock them off their newfound perch.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesThe return of Ezekiel Elliott (15) will provide a lift for the Buckeyes.
With so many young players returning, one of the most decorated coaches in the history of the game on the sideline and no signs of a recruiting pipeline loaded with talent slowing down, the 42-20 victory over No. 2 Oregon might be just the beginning.

"The chase is complete," Meyer said. "It's done. It's over. They accepted their final mission, their final assignment, their final directive, and it was a job well done.

"We're going to enjoy this one, but they're going to get a new mission assignment here pretty soon: Let's get back here again next year."

Defending a title is never easy, and the rush to proclaim a new superpower typically fails more often than not. But with all the pieces Meyer has returning to accept the next mission, it's hard not to look at the Buckeyes and see a team built for the future.

There are going to be notable losses, particularly on defense where both the leadership and production of defensive tackle Michael Bennett, linebacker Curtis Grant and cornerback Doran Grant will be missed. There's also going to be an opening on the offensive line with Darryl Baldwin graduating, and big-play wideout Devin Smith is out of eligibility as well. But that's pretty much all the Buckeyes will be worried about replacing, and they are locked and loaded with the majority of their standout contributors returning and another influx of talent on the way.

After his epic postseason tear, Ezekiel Elliott appears to be getting better heading into his junior season, and he will have Curtis Samuel as his sidekick in the backfield again.

The linchpins of the dramatic improvement in the secondary, safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell, will both be back for another season as starters. Joey Bosa, already one of the most feared pass-rushers in the nation, will spend at least another year with the Buckeyes, and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington has indicated he will stick around as well.

There will be four experienced starters on the offensive line. Despite losing Smith, Ohio State will have six of its top seven options in terms of receptions back in the fold. Even in spots where the Buckeyes are losing people, like at middle linebacker or offensive coordinator with Tom Herman heading to take over Houston, there are ready-made replacements who have proved capable of handling a larger role such as rising sophomore Raekwon McMillan or co-coordinator Ed Warinner, a criminally undervalued assistant who was integral in the title run this season.

That doesn't even dive into the most important position on the field, where the Buckeyes still expect to have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal. Assuming nobody changes his mind and decides to transfer or turn pro, Ohio State could have a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year in Braxton Miller, the reigning Big Ten Quarterback of the Year in J.T. Barrett and yet another option who came off the bench to win all three postseason games in Cardale Jones.

That potential battle for the starting job behind center is almost absurd given the accolades and talent each of those guys brings to the table, but it also gives an indication of just how much depth and ability the Buckeyes have been stockpiling as Meyer eyed a run in 2015. Just because they reached the summit a bit earlier than expected, that doesn't mean the directive moving forward will change.

"We've just got to stay a hungry team," Elliott said. "We're losing some great seniors, but we have a lot of great young players that will step up, and this year was just a great year to learn a lot of things.

"I think we'll be the same team next year. As long as we stay humble, we grind hard in the offseason, don't let our heads get too big, I think we'll be here next year."

The difference is that the Buckeyes are no longer chasing something they don't have. The rest of the country is coming after them and that shiny trophy, but a budding dynasty isn't going to make it easy to catch them.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- As a reporter read Ohio State’s defensive third-down numbers to Darron Lee, the Buckeyes linebacker immediately lost his boyish smile. The sight of his pearly white teeth were quickly replaced with a loud, disapproving moan followed by a couple of seconds of booing.

To Lee, who just stepped off a black-and-gold, confetti-soaked field inside AT&T Stadium after No. 4 Ohio State’s commanding 42-20 win over No. 2 Oregon on Monday, the numbers just weren’t good enough. Not after holding mighty Alabama to 2-of-13 on third downs a week prior in a College Football Playoff semifinal.

No, the freshman linebacker, who finished with eight tackles Monday, momentarily wanted better than the Ducks' going 2-of-12 on third-down conversions.

[+] EnlargeDarron Lee
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsDarron Lee and the Ohio State defense stymied Oregon's uptempo offense for much of Monday night's game.
After a second to process the fact that Oregon -- which entered the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T converting 51.6 percent of its third downs -- couldn’t convert even 20 percent of its third downs, Lee’s smile returned with a snicker attached to it.

“That’s great,” Lee conceded, “especially with the tempo they were going. They tried to go hurry-up on third down. That’s just fundamentally sound ball for everybody on defense across the board.”

On the most important down, Ohio State’s defense flexed its scarlet muscles. The Ducks converted just 2 of 8 third downs in the first half and went 0-for-4 in the second half.

There were a couple of major third-down drops in the first half -- none worse than receiver Dwayne Stanford’s blunder on a beautiful Marcus Mariota heave that could have put the Ducks in scoring position -- that really put Oregon’s offense in a bind. But the play of Ohio State’s defense crippled the Ducks even more.

“We thrive on third down,” cornerback Doran Grant said. “We call it 'money down,' and won. The defense collided and we won.

“It’s nothing special -- no secret socks, nothing. It’s go out there and play, play for the man next to you.”

What made things worse for the Ducks, who were without two top receiving options in Devon Allen (knee) and Darren Carrington (suspension), was the fact that Ohio State was forcing back-breaking third-and-longs all night.

Of the Ducks’ 12 third-down plays, eight of them came with 5 or more yards to get the first down.

“We knew that was going to be a crucial part of our game, and that’s something that we’ve been improving on this year,” cornerback Eli Apple said. “We knew coming in that if we could win first down and get them in third-and-longs, that we could take advantage of them and win.”

The Buckeyes insist they didn’t change their defensive approach for the Ducks, but they did try to mix things up to confuse and frustrate Oregon’s offensive staff and Mariota, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. They went from man coverage to Cover 2 to Cover 3 on third downs. Sometimes they brought pressure, and other times they dialed it back to cover more ground.

After forcing zero third downs on the opening drive of the game -- a drive in which Oregon emphatically marched 75 yards to the end zone in 11 plays -- the Buckeyes made third down their down, forcing Oregon to play tight and limiting what it could do with that expansive playbook.

“I know we had a plan,” defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "When you do a lot of those different things, your guys have a lot on their shoulders. We knew they could handle it, and they did a great job.

“We really could say tonight we won the game because of third downs.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer noticed the stat recently and mentioned it to his players this week. Seven players from last year's Ohio State team that went 12-2 and lost in the Orange Bowl were starters in the NFL this season.

"I don't know if that's ever been done before," Meyer said Tuesday. "In the history of college football, I'd like to know if that's ever been done. That tells you how good that team was last year."

The loss of so many talented players from the 2013 team -- including underclassmen Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby --is a big reason Meyer thought the Buckeyes might need until the 2015 season to compete seriously for a national title. Yet here they are now, playing Oregon on Monday night for the College Football Playoff National Championship presented by AT&T.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonSophomore Ezekiel Elliott leads a bounty of underclassmen who play major roles for the Buckeyes.
And that raises the question: If Ohio State can make it to the brink of a title a year ahead of schedule,then what does the future hold for the Buckeyes? This is, remember, an incredibly young group anchored by freshmen and sophomores, who make up half of the two-deep.

"It is," said redshirt freshman linebacker Darron Lee, who was the Allstate Sugar Bowl defensive MVP. "But I can sit here and tell you that there's other guys you haven't even seen yet that are going to be really, really good football players. Guys from the '14 [recruiting class] especially. You haven't really even seen anything yet."

That's a sobering proposition for the rest of the Big Ten, and the nation at large. Ohio State will lose a handful of valuable seniors, such as defensive tackle Michael Bennett, wide receiver Devin Smith and cornerback Doran Grant. But top draft-eligible juniors Adolphus Washington and Taylor Decker have said they are returning, and the core of this team is made up of first- and second-year guys. Ohio State is churning out star quarterbacks like they're on an assembly line and managed to get this far despite using its third-stringer in two postseason games.

So even though Meyer is 37-3 in three years at Ohio State, this could be just the start of a serious run in Columbus. One Buckeyes player, sophomore H-back Dontre Wilson, already has thrown out the word "dynasty." Freshman defensive back Eli Apple told that "if we don't win two or more championships, we didn't get our jobs done."

"If everybody buys into the coaches' way like they are doing and people get a little bit more mature and smarter about the game, then, yeah, I could see it happening," safety Tyvis Powell said. "The coaches have a great plan and it works. If everybody just follows the plan, it could be a dynasty."

Saying it and actually accomplishing it are two different matters, of course. Parity has never been greater in college football, and the arrival of the playoff has made winning the national title that much more difficult even as it has increased access to the championship (the Buckeyes would never have been in this position this season, of course, under the old BCS system). Alabama could claim a dynasty after winning three national titles since 2009, but the Crimson Tide got bounced by Ohio State in the semifinal round. Florida State won 27 games in a row before getting crushed by Oregon.

Ohio State's path to the playoff should get more difficult in an improved Big Ten, especially in the East Division where Michigan State still looms, Michigan should grow much more competitive under Jim Harbaugh, and Penn State figures to bounce back. Meyer also had things rolling at Florida and won two titles in three years before burning himself out. He says he's much healthier now, though, and if his relaxed, joking manner at Tuesday's media day news conference in Columbus was any indication, he's not driving himself toward another early retirement.

There's still the not-so-small matter of beating Oregon on Monday at Jerry World, and the Buckeyes are underdogs in that game. But if they can win this title, a year ahead of schedule, then the future could have a decided scarlet and gray tint.

"Being a young team, we can make a statement by winning a national championship and going to next year," redshirt freshman receiver Jalin Marshall said. "We've only just reached the top of the mountain. It's not over yet."
NEW ORLEANS -- Getting Ohio State players to say anything nice about Michigan is like asking a salmon to befriend a bear. Like talking a Hatfield into tango-dancing with a McCoy. You get the idea.

But as news of Jim Harbaugh's hiring in Ann Arbor filtered down to the Buckeyes, who are in New Orleans for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, a funny thing happened. Some of them actually started dishing out compliments about the new coach of the team they dare not name.

"It's real good," Ohio State junior linebacker Joshua Perry said. "Think he'll be a great coach, and the people who say he's not, I think, are a little bit nuts. He's had a lot of success everywhere he's gone. I like the thought of the team up north becoming back to the level it's been before, where they are a really strong team year in and year out."

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsOhio State has beaten Michigan in 10 of the last 11 meetings.
Added Buckeyes cornerback Doran Grant: "I think it will be a good move for the Big Ten to hire a good coach like that. I'm pretty sure he'll get that team ready to play."

What's going on here? Has the rivalry softened? Not at all. But the Ohio State-Michigan game hasn't been nationally important since the 2006 contest, when the Buckeyes and Wolverines were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. Even the Buckeyes players would like to see The Game regain that kind of meaning and intensity.

"I think it's exciting," sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa said. "What's a rivalry if both teams aren't doing well? And he obviously will turn that place around, in less than a year. [It's] the greatest rivalry in sports, and you need something like that."

Said Perry: "That helps the Big Ten, obviously, but that's what the rivalry is all about. You want to go in there and play when Ohio State is ranked really high and the team up north is ranked really high. Everybody gets that much more fired up."

Ohio State has gone 25-1 against Big Ten teams since Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus. The only league team that has really challenged the Buckeyes has been Michigan State. Expect Harbaugh to change that.

"What it can do on a daily basis is create some more competitive nature, some of those competitive situations in recruiting," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "That’s going to create that 365 days a year. Competition, challenge."

As one would imagine, though, the Buckeyes aren't conceding any ground.

"I know Coach Meyer is going to do everything that he can to beat 'em up, pretty much, as bad as we can every time we play them," wide receiver Evan Spencer said. "It will definitely be a good football game every time we play them. But I like our guys."

One thing seems clear: The Game has changed.

"I'm looking forward to what's going to happen," Perry said. "Sooner rather than later."
NEW ORLEANS -- Alabama safety Nick Perry has squared off against Amari Cooper on an almost daily basis in practice. Here is his best advice on how to stop the Heisman Trophy finalist.

"Uh, pray," Perry said.

Hopefully, Ohio State has a little bit more of a plan than that on Thursday night at the Allstate Sugar Bowl, or else the Buckeyes likely won't have much of a prayer of advancing in the College Football Playoff. Yet it may take something close to divine intervention to slow down the best receiver in college football.

"The ideal way to defend him," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said, "is a pouring rainstorm, winds of 30 or 40 miles an hour. But I don’t think that’s going to happen in a dome."

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Butch DillStar Alabama receiver Amari Cooper had at least 130 receiving yards in seven games this season.
Cooper caught 115 balls for 1,658 yards and 15 touchdowns this season on his way to winning the Biletnikoff Award and finishing third in the Heisman voting. He had at least 130 yards receiving in seven games this year.

How good is Cooper? Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims said on Monday that "he's open on every play." And while Sims said he resists the urge to throw to Cooper every time he drops back to pass, Cooper has 100 more targets and 78 more receptions than any other Alabama player. That's the largest gap between a team's No. 1 and No. 2 receiver in the FBS, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

So covering Cooper is an enormous key to beating Alabama.

"If he has a big day," Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash said, "it’s going to be a long night for us."

The Buckeyes know too well what it's like to get burned by an elite receiver on a big bowl stage. In last year's loss to Clemson at the Orange Bowl, they were pretty helpless against Sammy Watkins, who ended up with 16 catches, 227 yards and two touchdowns.

Of course, that was nearly a full calendar year ago, and comparisons between then and now hold little weight. The Ohio State secondary was in tatters by the time it got to Miami last December. Star cornerback Bradley Roby missed the game with a knee injury and true freshman Vonn Bell made his first start, with predictably rocky results. The Buckeyes revamped their pass defense this offseason by hiring Ash from Arkansas and unleashing some athletic young safeties. The Buckeyes are No. 5 in the FBS in pass efficiency defense.

Better talent or better scheme?

"It's definitely both," senior cornerback Doran Grant said.

While it's true that the Big Ten lacked many star wideouts this year, Ohio State did face the three most productive receivers in the league and fared well against them. Michigan State's Tony Lippett, who led the conference with 1,124 receiving yards, had just five catches for 64 yards. Rutgers' Leonte Caroo had five catches for 100 yards, but 40 percent of that came on one play in a 56-17 Buckeyes blowout. Illinois' Mikey Dudek mustered just 68 yards on three grabs.

"Without a doubt, every time you go into a game you talk about what are your keys to victory, and one of those keys to victory is that you can’t let their best players beat you," Ash said. "I think we’ve done a pretty good job of that throughout the course of the season."

Cooper has heard opponents talk all year long about how they plan to stop him. It hasn't much mattered.

"I hear about it a lot throughout the week," he said. "But it's different when the game actually starts because of how the game plays out. If we're running the ball good, then things have to change because they have to make sure our running backs don't go off. So, I really don't pay too much attention."

Cooper said he has been impressed with what he's seen on film from Grant, who has developed into Ohio State's lockdown cover guy and who will likely try to shadow Cooper for most of Thursday's game.

"He's always on his man," Cooper said. "The receiver never gets a lot of separation."

But Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has found effective ways to move Cooper all over the field, sometimes lining him up in the slot or even having him come out of the backfield. That means it will take a team approach to keep tabs on him.

"What's unique about him is not that he can just take an 80-yard post, but he can take a screen 80 yards," Fickell said. "On the next snap, he’s going to be running a jet sweep where he’s not getting the ball. The next one, he’s going to be cracking the safety to spring [T.J.] Yeldon free. His completeness is not just the ability to catch the ball, but to come out of the backfield, the ability to take a swing pass, his ability to catch the deep ball, the ability to break tackles. Those are the things that make him special."

Senior Jeff Greene, who's 6-foot-5, is impersonating Cooper on the scout team for Ohio State. But there's no real way to copy the real thing because of the 6-foot-1 Cooper's size, speed, smarts and hands.

"He's unstoppable, man," Perry said. "That's a scary guy when you get him out there on that island."

If all else fails for Ohio State, at least prayer remains an option.
Earlier today, we presented our All-Big Ten team. As you can imagine, there was a lot of debate between the six of us over who should make the team and who should get left off. Let's discuss some of our toughest choices and omissions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

If Ron Burgundy coached college football -- the San Diego Border Terriers, perhaps? -- he would only need to learn two lines to survive spring practice.

1. "I like my team."

2. "I'm glad we don't have a game tomorrow."

[+] EnlargePat Fitzgerald
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesPat Fitzgerald's Wildcats had to deal with a lot off the field this spring.
College coaches have recited those phrases in spring ball for decades. The 14 men leading Big Ten programs are no exceptions. But the standard spring sentiments apply to the league more this year than most.

There are reasons to believe the Big Ten will be better this fall, but the work is far from over on most campuses. This isn't a league of finished products, and the coming months take on added importance before the 2014 season kicks off in late August.

"I don't think we're that far behind; it's just painfully obvious that we're not there," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "This next phase will be the most important phase of this team's life. It's always important, but with a lot of things we've gone though, we've got to come together."

Northwestern went through a lot in the spring, mostly away from the field, as the campaign for a player union gained national media attention, especially after players were declared employees of the school in March. The team held a historic vote Friday, after Fitzgerald had expressed his opposition to unionizing. Some players expressed concern that the vote could split the team.

It will be months before we know if the union plan goes through, but the Wildcats continue preparing for a pivotal season. They found their quarterback this spring in senior Trevor Siemian and an offensive identity based around the passing game. But questions along both lines remain.

The spring also produced quarterback answers at Iowa (Jake Rudock) and Minnesota (Mitch Leidner). Michigan's Devin Gardner had a rough spring game but still seems likely to retain his job. Another senior signal-caller, Rutgers' Gary Nova, is a good bet to remain atop the depth chart. Although Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong lacks Nova's or Gardner's experience, he exited spring just as he entered it: as the Huskers' top quarterback.

Indiana's platoon system of Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson frustrates some, but not coach Kevin Wilson, who has given every indication that he'll continue to use both for another season.

Other quarterback races have been reduced but not resolved. Illinois will pick between Wes Lunt, the Oklahoma State transfer who impressed for much of the spring, and veteran backup Reilly O'Toole. Coach Tim Beckman wants a resolution before two-a-day practices in August.

Purdue's Danny Etling, who started the final seven games of his freshman season, appeared to have a slight lead coming out of the spring, but coach Darrell Hazell isn't ready to declare a starter. So Austin Appleby and David Blough remain alive.

Wisconsin reduced its candidate pool from four to two as Joel Stave, who boasts 19 career starts but also a nagging throwing shoulder injury, will compete with dual-threat Tanner McEvoy in camp.

"It will be a fight," coach Gary Andersen said.

Quarterback is just one spot where Wisconsin has questions. The Badgers went through much of the spring with only four healthy wide receivers. They've also revamped their defensive front seven, which returns only one starter from 2013.

[+] EnlargeRaekwon McMillan
Miller Safrit/ESPNEarly enrollee Raekwon McMillan could make an immediate impact for Ohio State's defense this fall.
Ohio State didn't have star quarterback Braxton Miller for spring ball because of shoulder surgery, but the Buckeyes focused on bolstering a defense that struggled last fall. Freshman Raekwon McMillan, an early enrollee, is pushing for the starting middle linebacker spot, and competition will continue at the cornerback spot opposite Doran Grant. Chris Ash, the Buckeyes' new co-defensive coordinator, worked to simplify the scheme this spring.

"We only have about six defensive calls," safety Tyvis Powell said after the spring game. "We had too many last year."

Offensive line remains Michigan's focal point coming out of the spring. A sloppy spring game didn't ease fears about the Wolverines' front five, although coach Brady Hoke saw positive signs in earlier practices. A critical summer awaits new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, tasked with resurrecting Michigan's run game.

At Penn State, new coach James Franklin continues to energize both players and fans. But he's also realistic about the depth challenge his team faces, particularly along the offensive line.

"When you don't have a two-deep of scholarship players, you've got issues that you're going to have to overcome," Franklin said. "We don't."

Like Rutgers, Maryland began its Big Ten transition this spring and welcomed running back Wes Brown and wideout Marcus Leak after absences from the team. If the Terrapins finally stay healthy, they could be worth watching in a loaded East Division.

Sitting atop the division is defending Big Ten champ Michigan State. The Spartans had a relatively stress-free spring, but they must fill key spots on defense, especially at linebacker and cornerback, where players like Taiwan Jones and Darian Hicks step in.

The returning pieces for teams like Michigan State, Ohio State, Iowa, Nebraska and Wisconsin fuel optimism around the league. But in spring, optimism is always tempered by what lies ahead.

"We're improving," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday, "but we're hardly ready to play."

They won't have to for 132 days.

Until then, stay classy, Big Ten fans.

Talented Buckeyes kept under wraps

April, 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trick was knowing where to look.

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

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

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

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer hired Chris Ash away from Arkansas primarily to fix Ohio State's problems in its pass defense.

What Ash found is that the biggest area of need might have been from the shoulder pads up rather than any scheme or philosophy.

"You talk about Ohio State and the history, and there have been some really good defenses and some really good defensive backs," the Buckeyes' first-year co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach told "You knew what you were going to get when you lined up against Ohio State -- you were going to get hit in the mouth.

[+] EnlargeChris Ash
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsChris Ash says instilling a new attitude in the secondary is as important as any scheme he is bringing to Ohio State.
"From my observations, some of that confidence and swagger has been lost in the last couple of years. And that mental psyche is probably as big as anything for us to regain."

It's understandable why the secondary might have felt shell-shocked by the way last season ended. The last three games of the season saw Ohio State surrender 451 passing yards to Michigan in a one-point win, allow Michigan State's Connor Cook to register his first career 300-yard passing day in a Big Ten championship game loss and serve up five passing touchdowns to Clemson in the Orange Bowl defeat. That led to withering criticism from fans and media about the pass defense.

"It’s been everywhere about how bad our back end was," senior cornerback Doran Grant said.

Ash said he hasn't looked much at the past and doesn't really care about it. But he does want the defensive backfield to play with an attitude and confidence, a task that's not made easier by the loss of three starters from last season.

One way Ash has tried to instill those traits is by showing his players clips from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks' secondary. Seattle's hard-hitting, long cornerbacks and safeties set a tone for its entire defense.

"We made lot of cutups of them and said, 'Guys, this is how the best in the business play the game of football,’'' Ash said. "Are we going to be that? No, but we can be in our own way, and this is the way we need to play."

Ash wants his players showing energy and excitement on the field. So whenever a defensive back gives a great effort or celebrate a big play in practice this spring, you'll hear Ohio State coaches say, "Locker it." That's jargon for saving the video clip, which Ash will later show to his players in meetings.

Ohio State needed more change than just the mental side of the game, of course. Ash will help give the Buckeyes a more consistent and aggressive approach in its pass coverage, utilizing the Cover 4, or quarters, scheme. That will also feature some man-to-man, press coverage at times. It's kind of a combination of what Ash ran at Wisconsin, mixed in with some principals that Michigan State has had so much success with.

"We're taking the same approach that we take to stopping the run and putting it in the back end," Meyer said. "The feeling around here was as long as we stop the run and give up some passing yards, that’s OK. That’s not the case anymore. There are too many good throwing teams out there."

Grant is by far the most experienced player in the secondary and looks to take over the role of No. 1 cornerback after Bradley Roby's departure to the NFL. Working opposite him are junior Armani Reeves and redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple. The latter two were both big-time recruits, and Ash said Apple is probably the defense's most improved player over the latter half of spring ball.

Sophomore Vonn Bell, who made his first career start at safety in the Orange Bowl, tore his MCL early in spring practice. In his absence, the 6-foot-3 Tyvis Powell and the 6-foot Cam Burrows are taking first-team reps at safety. Both are former cornerbacks and are what Ash calls "the model of what we want to recruit here" at safety because of their speed and size.

They've got a long way to go to match the Seahawks, but the Buckeyes have very promising, if somewhat raw, athletes to work with. They hope that leads to a much better and more confident secondary this season.

"It’s not about the size or anything like that," Grant said. "It’s about going hard and being coachable. [The Seahawks are] a high standard, but Ohio State, we’re also a high standard."

A record number of underclassmen elected to take the NFL plunge this year, but the Big Ten barely made a splash. Only four Big Ten juniors are entering the draft, continuing a recent downturn after just six left early a year ago. Several stars certainly could have entered the draft, so this is good news for fans who enjoy seeing the league's top players stay for a fourth year. But it also underscores a lack of top talent, especially when compared to the SEC and Pac-12.

Despite a small contingent of early entries, Big Ten teams have some significant holes to fill. As spring ball approaches, here's a look at who's gone and who might replace them.

Leaving: Indiana WR Cody Latimer

[+] EnlargeShane Wynn
AJ Mast/Icon SMIShane Wynn averaged 13.8 ypc this season and scored 11 TDs. His stock and those numbers should soar higher as he takes on a bigger role next season.
The replacement: Shane Wynn

Wynn and Latimer obviously have different body frames, but both produce at a high level, particularly when it comes to touchdowns. Latimer led Indiana by wide margins in both receptions (72, next highest: 47) and receiving yards (1,096, next highest total: 739), but Wynn had more touchdowns with 11 (Latimer at nine). The departures of Latimer, Kofi Hughes and tight end Ted Bolser make Wynn the team's only returning receiver with more than 15 receptions in 2013.

Indiana certainly could use a bigger receiver to play on the outside where Latimer roamed, and perhaps Nick Stoner or incoming recruit Dominique Booth fills that role. But the Hoosiers undoubtedly will rely more on Wynn, a 5-foot-7 dynamo who averaged 13.8 yards per reception last season. Of the Big Ten's early entries, Latimer is the most surprising, given the strength in the draft at wide receiver, but Indiana has had little trouble developing strong pass-catchers.

Leaving: Penn State WR Allen Robinson

The replacement: Geno Lewis

Latimer's departure raised a few eyebrows, but Robinson's had been expected for some time, especially after coach Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the NFL's Houston Texans. Robinson earned the Big Ten's Richter-Howard Receiver of the Year award in both 2012 and 2013 after recording back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons to lead the league each year. The Penn State standout had 97 catches for 1,432 yards last season, topping the Big Ten charts in both categories despite not playing in the postseason.

Lewis likely will move into the No. 1 spot, in part because Penn State doesn't much experience at receiver. In addition to Robinson, the Lions lose No. 2 wideout Brandon Felder. Although Penn State returns a wealth of talent at tight end, Lewis is the leading returning wide receiver with 18 catches for 234 yards and three touchdowns in 2013. Lewis showed potential during his redshirt freshman season, especially with a 91-yard performance in the finale at Wisconsin. After struggling midway through the fall, Lewis' strong finish sets him up well to be quarterback Christian Hackenberg's top option in 2014.

Leaving: Ohio State CB Bradley Roby

The replacement: Doran Grant. Grant played opposite Roby throughout last season and recorded 58 tackles, 3 interceptions, 10 pass breakups, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He endured some ups and downs in a secondary that struggled for much of the season, especially after losing safety Christian Bryant to injury, but the experience should prove valuable going forward. Not surprisingly, Grant was challenged more than Roby, but as these numbers show, he held his own despite some mistakes here and there.

Roby's early departure is the least surprising of the group, as he announced before the season that it would be his last at Ohio State. His presence will be missed, especially on special teams, but Grant could develop into a top corner. Ohio State certainly has bigger problems to address in the back four as it welcomes in new coordinator/secondary coach Chris Ash from Arkansas.

Leaving: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

The replacement: Trey Johnson. Ohio State returns starters at the other two linebacker spots in Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry, and it's possible Perry could slide over into the role where Shazier excelled. But Johnson served as Shazier's backup in 2013 and boasts the athleticism to step in and perform. Johnson played sparingly last fall, recording 11 tackles in six games, but his role undoubtedly will expand with Shazier moving onto the NFL.

There should be plenty of competition at linebacker, a spot where depth has been a concern for head coach Urban Meyer. Like Johnson, Mike Mitchell came to Ohio State as an extremely decorated recruit and should push for playing time this spring after a redshirt season. Camren Williams and converted safety Devan Bogard also are possibilities, although Bogard will be coming off of a second ACL tear.

Buckeyes face repair job in 2014

January, 6, 2014

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Ohio State has no reason to apologize for its 12-2 season, even if the Buckeyes did fall short of their goals by losing in the Big Ten title game and in Friday’s Discover Orange Bowl to Clemson.

Still, the Buckeyes are a program that expects to win championships.

“This would be an unbelievable season for some people,” center Corey Linsley said after the 40-35 loss to Clemson. “They would be building statues about it at other universities. This is just another year gone by for us.”

Ohio State should enter next season in or near the top 10, especially with Braxton Miller expected to return for his senior season at quarterback. But as Urban Meyer’s team found out after winning 24 straight games and then losing its final two, that last step toward winning a championship is often the hardest. And significant challenges await in 2014.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer's Buckeyes will need to replace some key players on both sides of the ball in 2014.
The offseason focus will center around fixing a defense that was dreadful in its final three games of the season. That job won’t include the services of star linebacker Ryan Shazier, who announced on Saturday that he’ll be leaving for the NFL, or cornerback Bradley Roby, who is also bolting Columbus for the pros.

Meyer has given every indication that he intends to keep Luke Fickell on as defensive coordinator, but the departure of co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers opens the possibility of bringing in a veteran defensive coach who can offer strong input at the very least.

“We’ve just got to go out and recruit out tails off,” Meyer said. “Got to develop players and work real hard with scheme. We’ll get there.”

The Orange Bowl offered an early look at the future, especially with Roby sidelined by a knee injury. The Buckeyes started six freshmen or sophomores on defense versus the Tigers. While the overall numbers weren’t good, there were encouraging signs of potential.

Sophomore Jamal Marcus got his first career start in place of the suspended Noah Spence and was very active, finishing with six tackles. With Spence also sitting out the first two games of 2014, Marcus could play early next season and, at the very least, create some excellent depth along a still-young defensive line.

“I’m really proud of what Jamal did stepping in for Noah,” fellow defensive end Joey Bosa said. “He had a great week of practice, we had a lot of confidence in him, and he went in there and played his heart out.”

The same could be said of Bosa, who turned in a terrific true freshman campaign and showed loads of toughness in the Orange Bowl despite a sprained ankle. Limping noticeably in the second half, he remained in the game and finished with a sack and a forced safety. He has super stardom written all over him.

“It was rough,” he said of the injury. “It was really hard to plant off it. I was just doing what I could do.”

Meyer called sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry one of the most improved players on the team during bowl practice, and if he can continue to develop, it could lessen the loss of Shazier. But Ohio State’s linebacker play needs to get better.

The secondary was depleted by the end of the season but has some promising prospects. True freshman Vonn Bell made his first start at nickel, and though he got burned early on a difficult one-on-one matchup against Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, he also made a one-handed interception near his own end zone that should be the first of many highlight plays for him. Sophomore Tyvis Powell also made his first start at safety, while sophomore Armani Reeves filled in for Roby.

“We’ve got a lot to build on,” cornerback Doran Grant said. “We’ve got some guys who can really play. I’m excited to see them play next season and see what they’ve got in the spring.”

The offense has its own question marks even with Miller back in the fold. Start with the offensive line, which was the engine of the Buckeyes' attack. It loses four senior starters, with only sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker returning. Senior Carlos Hyde, who ran for more than 1,500 yards in just 11 games, also will be gone. Same goes for the team’s leading receiver, Philly Brown.

The schedule finally toughens up, with nonconference games against Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati and the new East Division that will include reigning Big Ten champion Michigan State. The Spartans, who play host to Ohio State on Nov. 8, may begin the fall as favorites to win the division.

Meyer has talked repeatedly about wanting to field an angry and hungry team. The master motivator shouldn’t need many slogans this spring to push a team that suffered two crushing losses on its biggest stages.

“I hope there’s hunger,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman. “I hope that the guys who are coming back feel the knot in their stomach that I do right now and want to fix the things we need to fix to make sure we don’t feel like this again.”

Ohio State will still have plenty of talent in 2014 and a coach who knows how to use it. The Buckeyes weren’t far off from winning a championship this season and expect to be in position again next fall. This isn't a rebuilding job by any sense. But some repairs are needed.

“I think we’re extremely close,” Linsley said. “Everybody will say the O-line is down, that if Shazier is gone, if Roby is gone, those guys are going to slack [on defense]. But I’m telling you, some of these guys haven't gone through an offseason here before. I’m excited to see what these guys will do next year."

MIAMI -- Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner huddled with his position group in a corner of the team's locker room following a 40-35 loss to Clemson in Friday's Discover Orange Bowl.

Warinner's voice started to crack as he told the players what they'd meant to him and what they'd accomplished. Warinner wrapped it up by saying, "You all are champions in my heart."

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they'll have to settle for those kinds of fond memories from their supporters. They've won 24 games the past two seasons, but it's the "And-2" that will haunt them. As in, 24-2.

Those two losses came at the worst possible times, first in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State with a BCS title-game berth at stake, and then on the wrong end of a wild South Florida shootout. A program that went 12-0 the past two regular seasons managed to end up feeling disappointed at the end an otherwise magical run.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyBraxton Miller was on his back as much as he was on his feet at times, but his gutty performance almost got Ohio State a win Friday.
"It's bittersweet," linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "We had a great year, and the year before was great. But at the end of day, the last two seasons we haven’t won anything."

It's not hard to pinpoint why Ohio State fell short of earning a championship: a defense that literally limped to the finish line and a still-too-inconsistent passing game.

All of the pregame fears about Clemson's passing attack shredding the Buckeyes proved valid as the Tigers tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins abused a makeshift secondary. With star cornerback Bradley Roby sidelined by a knee injury and two players starting at their defensive backfield positions for the first time, Ohio State surrendered 378 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air, while Watkins set Orange Bowl records with 16 catches for 227 yards.

Even when they applied solid coverage, the Buckeyes' corners and safeties found themselves almost helpless against the best receivers they'd faced in three years. At one point, Armani Reeves was called for pass interference and tipped the ball out of the hands of the 6-foot-5 Martavis Bryant in the end zone. Bryant still caught the ball for a touchdown.

"I can’t get any closer than that," Reeves said. "That’s what happens when you play great players."

Then again, Ohio State's defense made a lot of people look great down the stretch this season, giving up averages of 38.3 points and 539 total yards (Clemson piled up 576) in its final three games. If there's any optimism to be found there, it's that six players who were either freshman or sophomores started on defense Friday, and the future for guys such as Joey Bosa, Jamal Marcus and Vonn Bell looks bright.

Despite the defensive problems, the Buckeyes still had plenty of chances to win the game. They somehow led at halftime even after yielding 362 yards in the first two quarters. They were up 29-20 and were getting the ball back late in the third quarter when Philly Brown muffed a punt return to give the Tigers new life. That would be the first of four second-half turnovers that would ultimately doom Ohio State, the next three coughed up by quarterback Braxton Miller.

No one could fault Miller's effort. He accounted for four touchdowns while absorbing a severe beating most of the night. He injured his shoulder early in the game. He lay on the turf for a few minutes after taking a late hit on a touchdown pass to Carlos Hyde. Miller said he probably had a cracked rib to go along with his throbbing shoulder.

"That's probably one of the toughest games I’ve played in, as far as being hit-wise and being banged up," Miller said. "Probably the toughest one all year."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer rightly called Miller "a warrior" for his performance. But Miller also turned the ball over twice in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds and didn't see linebacker Stephone Anthony slide underneath a post route on the game-sealing interception near midfield. Miller was non-committal after the game about whether he'd go to the NFL or return to Columbus. Friday's game made it clear he still has a lot to work on in college as a quarterback, though he might want to save his body from more punishment with a nearly brand-new offensive line next season.

Miller had come through at the end of big games so many times before in his career that it was shocking to see him not do so against Michigan State and Clemson. Same goes for Meyer. Ohio State had made a habit out of choking out opponents in the fourth quarter in his tenure, and before Friday he was 4-0 in BCS games.

"That's what we train for," center Corey Linsley said. "We train to finish. It's definitely disappointing, because that was our M.O."

Ohio State was not far away from its championship goals this season. Another play or two against Michigan State, and maybe the Buckeyes are in Pasadena, Calif., right now getting ready to play Florida State, an admittedly frightening prospect given the tattered state of their defense. Friday's game went back and forth and could have ended differently if not for the untimely turnovers.

But a team's record tells the story. Ohio State won its first 12 games again this season. Then came the "And-2."

"Those were championship games," cornerback Doran Grant said. "And we didn’t win 'em. Plain and simple."

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- For all the accomplishments, there was a hole on Braxton Miller’s résumé that he had to address.

A Big Ten player of the year trophy sits on the shelf at his parents’ house. The Ohio State quarterback was productive enough last season to finish fifth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy. And he is the starter for a team that hasn’t dropped a game in its last 21 tries.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCarlos Hyde racked up another 100-yard rushing performance in Ohio State's win over Purdue.
But he came up short in a wild overtime loss the last time the Buckeyes hit the road to take on Purdue. Miller was injured in the second half of last season’s game as Ohio State ultimately needed another extra session to win while he was being examined at the hospital.

So for all those accolades, Miller still really didn’t have a win of his own to point to against Purdue, an omission he quickly addressed in a 56-0 rout for No. 4 Ohio State on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium.

“Absolutely, this was self-comfort,” Miller said. “Two years ago was a hard-fought game with a crazy ending. Last year, just crazy how I got knocked out with my collarbone and things like that.

“After the last two years with this team ... you just have to come back the next year stronger with a chip on your shoulder.”

Collectively, the Buckeyes played as if there was a boulder on their shoulders as they once again made quick work of a Big Ten opponent while doing everything they can to stay in the national title conversation by stacking up style points.

Ohio State still can’t do it all on its own at this point, but Miller & Co. are certainly building a more compelling argument for themselves.

And the quarterback wasn’t the only player or position group erasing a few résumé gaps in the blowout.
  • Tight ends: The Buckeyes always intend to involve their tight ends in the offense, but it usually amounts to little more than lip service. They certainly mean it this season. Purdue had no answer for Jeff Heuerman on Saturday as he was consistently left alone in the secondary and racked up 116 yards on five catches with a touchdown. The junior was the first Ohio State tight end to post 100 receiving yards since 1996. Backup Nick Vannett tacked on 21 yards and a score in the rout.
  • Defensive backs: The secondary rarely lived up to its billing as the strength of the defense during the first half of the season, but since being publicly challenged by coach Urban Meyer, it has bounced back and, despite the loss of senior safety Christian Bryant to a season-ending injury, asserted itself as perhaps the best unit in the Big Ten. Doran Grant jumped a throw on the second snap of the game for an interception he returned for a touchdown to set an early tone, and the Buckeyes never let up in coverage as they combined with a tenacious pass rush up front to hold Purdue to 89 passing yards.
  • Kenny Guiton: Purdue’s old nemesis continued to add to his credentials as one of the nation’s best backup quarterbacks. Guiton was given almost a full half of work, and even lined up in the same formation with Miller for the second consecutive week, and again the offense never missed a beat. The senior captain completed 8 of his 11 throws for 59 yards and a touchdown, and he was explosive as a rusher in accounting for 98 yards and two more scores.

The Buckeyes could point to more feats if they wanted to, like how Meyer’s 21-game winning streak to start his tenure is the longest in college football since Larry Coker debuted with 24 straight wins at Miami in 2001-02. Or for another historical perspective, the Buckeyes have scored 50 points or more in consecutive games three times under Meyer -- and had done so only four times in 122 seasons before he arrived.

All that really mattered, though, was beating the next opponent and staying unbeaten, since that will ultimately be the only thing that determines their fate. But the Buckeyes had plenty of icing on the cake along the way.

Big Ten stock report: Week 5

September, 26, 2012
Ring the bell. The stock market is open.

Stock up

Penn State starts: Bill O'Brien's early game plans must be working. The Nittany Lions are outscoring their opponents 35-0 in the first quarter of games this year and 55-9 in the first half. "It's tough to put a finger on that," O'Brien said. "I know that we stress trying to get off to a fast start. We've done a decent job of that. On the flip side of that now, when we go in at halftime we've got to come out and do a better job in the second half, especially getting off to another fast start."

Doran Grant: The sophomore cornerback for Ohio State made his first career start Saturday against UAB with Bradley Roby nursing a sore shoulder. Grant responded with an interception, a fumble recovery, a sack and seven tackles. While Roby isn't losing his starting job, Grant earned himself a lot more playing time with that performance.

[+] EnlargeWisconsin's Melvin Gordon
Jeff Hanisch/US PRESSWIREWisconsin's Melvin Gordon rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown against UTEP.
Melvin Gordon: Wisconsin coaches have been saying the redshirt freshman has star potential. After Montee Ball left the game with a head injury against UTEP, Gordon got to show it. He had ran for 112 yards on only eight carries, both career highs, and scored on a 26-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. If Ball is not 100 percent this week, expect Gordon to get some more looks at Nebraska.

Imani Cross: Gordon wasn't the only freshman running back to shine on Saturday. The 225-pound true freshman ran for exactly 100 yards on 12 carries, with a 20-yard touchdown run. Granted, it came against Idaho State, but Cross gave a glimpse of his immense potential in the crowded Nebraska backfield.

Minnesota's turnover margin: Last year, the Gophers were last in the Big Ten in turnover margin at minus-8. Through four games this year, they're tied for the league lead at plus-5. A big reason: Minnesota has already gained more turnovers this season (10, tied for ninth in the FBS) than they had in all of 2011 (an FBS-worst nine). "I think we have some players that are playing aggressively and making some plays," head coach Jerry Kill said. "Our young safeties have made some big plays. Got push up front. It's just been a good team effort."

Stock down

Iowa's starts: The Hawkeyes have trailed at halftime of all three of their games against FBS opponents. Last week against Central Michigan was the first of those in which Iowa managed a first-half touchdown, but it still trailed 23-14 at the break. The Hawkeyes are outscoring opponents 42-19 in the second half but are digging themselves too many early holes.

Ohio State's special teams: It was a blunder-filled day for the Buckeyes' specialists against UAB. The Blazers blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown. Ohio State also had a running into the punter penalty to keep a UAB drive alive, misplayed a kickoff return and let the Blazers recover a pop-up kick to start the second half. Urban Meyer takes special teams very seriously. All of the Buckeyes had better do the same this week against Michigan State.

Penn State's attendance: Saturday's game against Temple drew only 93,680 fans to Beaver Stadium, the lowest total since the stadium was expanded in 2001. The first two home games, against Ohio and Navy attracted 97,186 and 98,792, respectively, which is still far below the stadium capacity of 107,000. Is this an aftereffect of the Sandusky scandal? A reflection of the home schedule? The economy? Penn State's crowds are still larger than most, but not as big as they have been in recent years.

Denard Robinson's passing: All indications this offseason were that Robinson had improved his footwork and decision-making in the passing game, and that a second year in the offensive system would lead to much better numbers. Not so much so far. Robinson already has eight interceptions, putting him on pace to shatter last year's Big Ten-worst 15. His completion percentage of 54.5 is worse than last year's 55.0. He has played two outstanding defenses in Alabama and Notre Dame, but Robinson's lack of progress is still disappointing.

William Gholston: The immensely talented Michigan State defensive end isn't dominating the way most people thought he would this season. The junior has only 14 tackles through four games, including three for loss and just one sack, though he has been credited with four quarterback sacks. Gholston did not play in the first half against Eastern Michigan for reasons Mark Dantonio declined to explain. The Spartans need more from Gholston, and this week's game against Ohio State might good be a good place for him to start.