NCF Nation: Evan Spencer



COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always trying to find new ways to motivate his players.

Last spring, he had a banner put up in the Ohio State field house reading “The Chase …” in reference to the Buckeyes’ championship pursuits. Meyer said he thought about changing the display for the 2014 offseason. In the end, though, he stuck with the same one.

“We didn’t accomplish it,” Meyer told ESPN.com. “We chased it but didn’t catch it. So the chase is still on.”

Ohio State, of course, nearly made it to its desired finish line. After going 12-0 for the second straight season under Meyer, the Buckeyes just needed to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game to clinch a date with Florida State for the BCS national title. Instead, they fell 34-24 to the Spartans and closed the year on a two-game losing streak with a 40-35 setback against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

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AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer says Ohio State is still trying to finish "The Chase."
So the chase continues, albeit with a much different-looking team in the 2014 starting gate. Gone is four-fifths of the offensive line that formed the backbone of the Big Ten’s top-scoring offense the past two seasons. Also gone are reigning Big Ten running back of the year Carlos Hyde and top receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, as well as the two biggest stars on defense -- linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby -- who opted to enter the NFL draft.

Experience is lacking in many key areas, but Meyer is ready to let some talented youngsters loose, including true freshmen. In retrospect, he wishes he had done so last year, when defensive end Joey Bosa and receiver Dontre Wilson were the only first-year players to make a big impact until safety Vonn Bell started in the Orange Bowl.

“We redshirted too many last year, and that was our fault,” he said. “There was a misunderstanding, and we just didn’t do a good job, especially on defense. When they show up on campus, we need to get them ready to play.”

This spring, early enrollees Raekwon McMillan (linebacker), Curtis Samuel (tailback) and Johnnie Dixon (receiver) were all heavily involved and have secured roles in the fall. Redshirt freshman are also at or near the top of the depth chart at strongside linebacker (Darron Lee and Chris Worley) and cornerback (Gareon Conley and Eli Apple), while true sophomores like safety Cam Burrows and tailback Ezekiel Elliott could force their way into the starting lineup.

“When you talk about inexperience, that’s a good thing right now,” said Chris Ash, who was hired from Arkansas as co-defensive coordinator to help fix Ohio State’s pass defense. “There aren’t a lot of habits that we have to change to fit what we’re trying to do. We don’t have older guys that are comfortable with where they’re at in their careers.”

An already young offense became even greener this spring because of injuries to three senior leaders: tight end Jeff Heuerman, receiver Evan Spencer and quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will no doubt look a lot different when Miller returns from shoulder surgery. During the 15 spring practices, the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year often stood behind the offense and wore a camera on his head so coaches could go over what he was seeing on the field.

“We're exhausting every avenue and even inventing different avenues to make sure he's engaged and getting mental reps,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “We're doing the best we can with a bad situation. He has embraced it and is working his tail off, making sure he’s getting the most out of it.”

Herman says the Buckeyes should be more explosive on the perimeter this season, with guys like Wilson, Dixon, junior college transfer Corey Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas and freshman Jalin Marshall at receiver and a stable of athletic tailbacks. The safeties are longer and quicker than they have been in the past, and the defensive line -- which could be one of the nation’s best -- will have four starters who all used to be defensive ends.

The objective is clear: more speed. To that end, Meyer has hammered a new mantra in the players' heads: “4 to 6, A to B.” That means play hard for four to six seconds and get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. It's hard to interview an Ohio State player these days without hearing the phrase.

“That’s all he’s been preaching this spring.” defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. “He said he’s not really worried about technique and all that stuff. It’s just about playing hard, because if you play hard, effort makes up for mistakes.”

Washington said the defense was greatly simplified this spring, with only about four or five different calls to learn. Aggressiveness trumped scheme.

“The culture of Ohio State is to go hard, not trick you,” Meyer said. “I just felt like there was too much stuff last year, instead of just going hard.”

By moving faster and playing harder, the Buckeyes hope to overcome their youth and track down what they've been hunting. They have been tantalizingly close.

“We’re still on a chase,” Washington said. “We’ve just got to finish it.”

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It says a lot about the place Ohio State finds itself that a 25-point conference road victory, in which it scored 60 points, provides fodder for critics and detractors.

But that's the nature of college football in late November for an undefeated team. Politicking and nit-picking all play into a sport that chooses its championship game largely by way of popular opinion, creating a week-to-week beauty pageant.

Urban Meyer admitted after Saturday's 60-35 victory at Illinois that he and his team got a little too caught up in all the national title talk recently. Following a performance filled with warts, if not outright worry, Meyer wants the No. 3 Buckeyes to hop off that carousel.

"We need to make sure our focus is on just getting better each week instead of all the national stuff," Meyer said. "I think I'm learning a lesson. Just shut your mouth and quit worrying about this, quit worrying about that."

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Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsOhio State's Carlos Hyde crosses the goal line for the first of five touchdowns he scored Saturday at Illinois.
Meyer even suggested that he will restrict media access to his players in the next few weeks. Issues such as style points and schedule strength have dominated the discussion in recent weeks for Ohio State, and wide receiver Evan Spencer made waves last week by saying, albeit somewhat jokingly, that his team would "wipe the floor" with Alabama and Florida State. Linebacker Ryan Shazier said Saturday that "everybody was up in our heads" about the national title race during the Buckeyes' bye week.

Any distractions that might have caused didn't surface until well into Saturday's game. Ohio State, as it does just about every week, seized immediate control of the game, racing out to a 28-0 lead with 10:20 left in the first half. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 63-0 in the first quarter in their past three games.

But the Illini -- who now own the nation's longest conference losing streak at 20 games, the second-worst streak in Big Ten history -- found a hole in the Buckeyes' most airtight unit this season: punt coverage. V'Angelo Bentley scored on a 67-yard punt return in the second quarter to give his team some life. Led by a gutsy effort from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois sliced the lead to 14 early in the second half and trailed by only 12 with less than five minutes to play.

"When we got up big, everybody just kind of mellowed," Ohio State receiver Corey "Philly" Brown said. "We thought they would give up and they didn't. ...

"It was a big-time wake-up call."

Unlike the previous two games, the Buckeyes had to play their starters the whole way. Meyer had hoped to rest left tackle Jack Mewhort, who tweaked his knee in practice Wednesday, but he was forced to put Mewhort back in during the second half.

Ohio State couldn't exhale until Carlos Hyde ripped off two 50-yard-plus touchdown runs in the final 4:03, and on a windy day that made passing a challenge, Meyer rode the running skills of quarterback Braxton Miller harder than he had all season. Miller finished with 184 yards on 16 carries.

But it was the defensive effort that proponents of teams such as Baylor and Stanford will harp on, as Ohio State gave up 420 yards and its highest point total of the season. Few will give the Buckeyes a pass for missing starting linebackers Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant or for losing starting defensive lineman Joey Bosa to a neck injury after he had rung up 2.5 sacks. Meyer called the defensive performance simply "not good enough."

"That is unacceptable from us," safety C.J. Barnett said. "Illinois is a good team with some great athletes, but at the same time, we expect more from ourselves."

Only in college football would a team that secured its 22nd consecutive victory with a 25-point road win be scrutinized and criticized. And make no mistake: The Buckeyes were not satisfied with their showing. The truth is that they're not going to the BCS title game unless Alabama or Florida State lose, and their best argument remains the long winning streak.

Just don't expect to hear much about that subject from the Ohio State camp in the coming days.

"There will be a lot more focus on Indiana this week," Barnett said, "instead of worrying about the big picture or what's in the future. We need to worry about the right here and now."

OSU starting to hit campaign season

November, 11, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The preference would be to avoid politicking completely.

But if Urban Meyer needs to stump for his team, the Ohio State coach isn’t afraid to do it.

Corey Linsley is all for sportsmanship and isn’t necessarily a fan of style points.

But the OSU center has done some research on the BCS formula, and his analysis makes it clear to him that the Buckeyes can’t afford to take their foot off the pedal down the stretch.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY SportsIt's getting to the point in the season where Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes might have to start campaigning to get a shot at the title.
Despite repeated requests for Ohio State to compare itself to Alabama throughout the offseason and into the past few weeks since the BCS standings were unveiled, Buckeyes players have consistently steered the conversation back to the next opponent.

But Ohio State receiver Evan Spencer finally slipped up on Monday, becoming the first player to come out and publicly declare that the Buckeyes could “wipe the field” with the likes of Alabama or Florida State.

After spending the first two months of the season focusing solely on what they could control and expressing confidence that everything else would work out just fine, the Buckeyes are starting to show signs that they are aware their destiny isn’t entirely in their hands. And with just three games left before a potential appearance in the Big Ten championship to enhance their résumé, it appears the Buckeyes are now more willing to hit the campaign trail as they sit at No. 3 in the BCS standings -- just on the outside looking in at a chance to play for the national title.

“It’s awful, but I work for our players,” Meyer said last week. “I’ve been there before a couple times where some things had to happen right. For us to waste energy on that, it’s not fair to the players we coach.

“But at the end of the day, I’m working for the families of our coaching staff and the families of our players. That’s who we work for.”

The most important job remains keeping Ohio State unbeaten, because it will have no argument whatsoever if it trips up down the stretch given the crowded field at the top of the BCS standings and the weak perception of its schedule this season.

Oregon's losing to Stanford was a step in the right direction for the Buckeyes, and they were certainly pulling for an upset last week as they kicked their feet up on the couch during their second and final off week. But without another loss from a team ahead of them, the Buckeyes are not likely to climb any higher than where they’re at right now, and Stanford and Baylor are nipping at them from behind.

So while taking care of their own business remains the priority, it actually wouldn’t seem to hurt at all for the Buckeyes to call a little attention to themselves any way they can.

“We have to do everything in our power to not let anybody from behind jump us, and we’re absolutely interested in it because it’s no longer a case of us just playing our best,” Linsley said. “We also have to have somebody else not play their best. And if we beat Penn State 13-10 [instead of 63-14], we’re not in this conversation. Baylor jumps us or Stanford jumps us or whatever.

“But we did put up points, and we have to put up points and stop teams on defense. Call it what it is. We’re not facing the No. 5 team in the nation [Saturday at Illinois] or from then on out. ... Call it unsportsmanlike, call it running up the score, we’re trying to accomplish something that nobody else in our conference is trying to accomplish at this point.”

The list of programs around the nation capable of competing for that crystal football is starting to dwindle, and chances to stand out from the crowd are starting to get scarce.

That’s particularly true for the Buckeyes, who don’t play anybody in the Top 25 to close the regular season but could have a marquee showcase waiting for them in the Big Ten championship game if No. 16 Michigan State can close out the season without another loss and keep climbing in the BCS standings.

But if for some reason the Buckeyes don’t get any additional help, style points don’t have any impact or Meyer voting his team No. 2 in the coaches' poll doesn't change anything, maybe there’s a slim chance they can talk their way into a matchup with the Crimson Tide or Seminoles.

“I’m a little biased,” Spencer told reporters on Monday. “I think we’d wipe the field with both of them.”

At this point, there’s really nothing to lose by speaking their minds.
On occasion Saturday night, Ohio State lined up with quarterback Braxton Miller in the shotgun, flanked by running back Carlos Hyde and receiver Dontre Wilson.

If you're a defensive coordinator, that might qualify as a special kind of torture. Think of all the possibilities with that trio. There's Hyde, the 235-pound power back who at times couldn't be tackled by Wisconsin. There's Wilson, still just a freshman but already one of the fastest players in the Big Ten who's fulfilling the Percy Harvin role for Urban Meyer's offense. Then of course there's Miller, who can beat you with his arms or his legs.

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Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Hyde's full-time return added another dimension to an already diverse Ohio State offense.
That particular offensive grouping didn't create a ton of damage in the Buckeyes' 31-24 victory. But it showed that, like sideline observer LeBron James, Ohio State now can do a little bit of everything now when it has the ball.

In fact, Meyer's biggest lament about the offense after Saturday's game was that he couldn't find playing time for Jordan Hall and Kenny Guiton. Hall, who leads the team with 427 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, got one carry against the Badgers. Guiton -- who leads the Big Ten in passing touchdowns with 13 -- never saw the field.

Miller quickly showed why the "debate" over whether he or Guiton should start was always silly, because he simply can do so many more things. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said Monday that Miller still made some mental mistakes and needs to do a better job scrambling straight up the field. But Herman praised Miller's back-shoulder throw to Devin Smith for a touchdown, and Ohio State has now incorporated a vertical passing game to go along with its strong rushing attack. Receivers Smith, Corey "Philly" Brown and Evan Spencer are drawing praise not scorn from Meyer these days, and the trio has combined for 13 touchdown catches.

"They use their weapons well at every position," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday. "They can get the ball to anybody, and they can score on any given play."

Fitzgerald should know exactly what that looks like, because he has built the same thing with his team. In fact, when Northwestern hosts Ohio State on Saturday night in Evanston, we will see arguably the two most versatile offenses in the Big Ten.

The Wildcats, of course, employ a two-quarterback system with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, the former excelling as a runner and the latter serving as something like a designated passer. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall can use the option game with Colter or spread the field with Siemian and a deep group of wide receivers. The two quarterbacks are completing 69.8 percent of their passes.

In fact, Northwestern is fourth in the Big Ten in both passing and rushing yards, the only team to rank in the top four in each of those categories. The Wildcats have accomplished that almost entirely without star tailback Venric Mark, who has dealt with an unspecified lower body injury all season. But Mark, who ran for 1,371 and was an All-American punt returner last season, is listed as a co-starter on the team's depth chart this week.

Fitzgerald said Monday that if Mark gets through practice without issue, "we will have him in some capacity" on Saturday. Treyvon Green (404 rushing yards, five touchdowns) has filled in nicely for Mark and brings a bit more power, but Northwestern's offense takes on a different dimension with Mark's speed, especially when paired with Colter.

Northwestern will likely need every available weapon against Ohio State, which managed to shut down Wisconsin's running game on Saturday while allowing some big plays through the air.

All coaches talk about being "multiple" on offense, but the Wildcats and Buckeyes truly embody that this season. Nebraska can also do just about everything, though the Huskers' offense sputtered against UCLA, while Penn State can keep defenses guessing with many formations and plays. Just about everybody else in the league is looking for a consistent passing game (Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin), a dependable running attack (Indiana, Illinois) or both (Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue).

Ohio State and Northwestern both have inexhaustible options on offense. The trick will be finding which ones work best on Saturday night.


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Contrived or not, there’s officially no controversy now.

The conversation about whether Kenny Guiton had done enough to take over as Ohio State’s starting quarterback had drawn on with Braxton Miller defenseless, unable to make his case while recovering from a sprained knee.

Finally able to play again, Miller made it abundantly clear that he’s not only the best option for the Buckeyes, he’s among the most dangerous players in the entire country.

In case anybody had forgotten how lethal he is with his legs or improved he is with his arm, Miller provided a refresher course in a 31-24 win over No. 23 Wisconsin and its stout defense that should silence any remaining skeptics over who should be taking Ohio State’s snaps.

“I don’t really look into how the media deals with that,” Miller said. “It doesn’t bother me at all.

“I was proud of Kenny and the way he led the team while I was out, and I look at him as a big brother. So, no controversy with that.”

There was never really any to begin with inside the program, and despite the bracketing of his top two quarterbacks on Urban Meyer’s depth chart earlier in the week, the Buckeyes coach made it clear again after knocking off the Badgers that Miller solidly remains his first choice.

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Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller made plays with both his arm and his legs and showed why there is no controversy about who is Ohio State's starting QB.
After missing the past two games and nearly all of another one, Miller wasted little time proving why. He rifled bullets all over the field in one of his most efficient passing performances, steadily took on more of a workload as a rusher and showed few signs of rust after the layoff.

He dropped in a 25-yard strike to Evan Spencer on the opening drive of the game. He delivered a gorgeous, driven, back-shoulder throw to Devin Smith for a 26-yard touchdown. Then, after one of his worst tosses of the night, Miller capped the first half with a 40-yard bomb to Philly Brown that sent the Buckeyes into the locker room with all the momentum before going to work on the clock with his legs down the stretch.

In all, Miller completed 17 of his 25 passes for 198 yards and 4 touchdowns and tacked on 83 more yards on the ground, turning in exactly the kind of versatile performance that made him a preseason favorite for the Heisman Trophy and the Buckeyes a threat in the national title race.

“No [doubt about the starter], not if he’s healthy,” Meyer said of Miller. “When I saw Braxton on Thursday, there was no doubt who was going to be our starter.

“The team we played is very good, should be undefeated except for some ridiculous call. ... I think he played very well. Braxton did have a heck of a day.”

Miller has had more than a few like it before, though the fresher memories for the Buckeyes have been of Guiton after a prolific touchdown binge while filling in over the past three games that rewrote the school record books.

Ohio State has brainstormed for ways to get both quarterbacks involved in the offense, either together in one formation or through some sort of rotation. But that never looked to be a realistic option against the Badgers, particularly when Miller started darting all over the field, using his elusiveness and acceleration to escape pressure in the pocket and pick up yardage in a way that few quarterbacks can.

And as long as a left knee that was covered by a thin brace under his pants and long, black socks can hold up, the stage will continue to belong to Miller.

“I’ve been working really hard these last couple weeks because I’ve been hurt,” Miller said. “I felt good, my legs felt good. Energy-wise, I wasn’t out of shape and felt good.

“I’ve been in there [working] all day. I felt like I had a job without getting paid.”

After all that rehab was done, his real job for the Buckeyes was waiting. There was never any question who it belonged to.

OSU offense finally getting whole again

September, 27, 2013
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Braxton Miller & Carlos HydeJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesLast year, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde drove the Buckeyes offense. This week, the duo returns.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The face of the program has spent more time in sweats than pads on game days.

Last year's top rusher and automatic touchdown machine in the red zone has played in only one game, and even then he was barely used.

An offensive line that needed to manage a couple of injuries coming out of training camp has been called on really only once for a full shift as a complete first-team unit.

And yet, as Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman glanced down at a box score to make sure his numbers were right after a wildly prolific performance he was comparing to a similar outing the week before, a smile started creeping across his face.

How much better can the No. 4 Buckeyes get on offense? Until they actually get everybody on the field, they might be only scratching the surface.

"Our offense has been rolling," Heuerman said on the heels of routing Florida A&M 76-0. "We had 603 yards [last week], I think we had 608 [against California], so these last two weeks, our offense has really been clicking.

"But seeing Carlos [Hyde] back out there was good, that's definitely a player who carries a big load with us. And I think getting Braxton [Miller] back this week will spark some things up."

The fire already has been burning pretty steadily for the Buckeyes early in the season, and Urban Meyer's spread attack has been ruthless and close to unstoppable while racking up more than 52 points per game outside of Big Ten play. And while the competition hasn't been all that stiff, Ohio State also has been working without two of its most critical contributors essentially throughout the first four weeks and has barely missed a beat.

There was time to plan for the absence of Hyde in the backfield, because his three-game suspension was handed down far enough in advance to make other arrangements at running back coming off his breakout, 17-touchdown junior campaign. But the knee sprain Miller suffered on the seventh snap of the second game had a chance to significantly disrupt what Meyer wanted to accomplish early in the season as Ohio State tried to build toward Saturday's meeting with No. 23 Wisconsin, particularly given how critical the junior quarterback was to the game plan last year on the way to a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race.

[+] Enlarge Jordan Hall
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsJordan Hall filled in admirably at running back, gaining 422 yards and scoring eight touchdowns.
And while Kenny Guiton has scribbled his name all over the school record books filling in for Miller, and Jordan Hall has emerged as one of the most productive rushers in the country at this point of the season, neither of them were held up as reasons the Buckeyes could contend for a national championship this fall. They both help make a compelling case for how much depth Meyer has at his disposal, but they were expected to play complementary roles for a reason -- and plugging the starters back in could produce some pretty scary things for defensive coordinators to think about.

"The expectation level on offense is real high," Meyer said. "We have some weapons, you know, and I kind of like where we're at.

"The best way to think about it is checkers. There are some pieces on the board, and I like the checkers that we have right now. So, it's just a matter of our staff putting them together at the same time, getting them healthy and making sure they're in great shape."

Putting two pieces with the skills of Miller and Hyde on the board actually might change the game completely as the Buckeyes get healthy and whole again offensively.

There was nothing wrong with checkers. But now they might be able to play some chess.

"I've never heard of having too many weapons being a bad thing," wide receiver Evan Spencer said. "We know as players that pretty much everybody can go in and get the job done.

"The sky is the limit for our offense. We've got so many weapons, and we can do so many different things, I mean, I can't even imagine all the things we can do."

They certainly haven't shown all they're capable of with the football yet, regardless of what the stats sheet has shown. Once again fully loaded, Heuerman and the Buckeyes might soon have even more reasons to smile.


It’s mostly a light week in Big Ten football, and Wisconsin and Ohio State will kick off Saturday night with no other competition from league games.

That’s perfect. You should watch as this matchup takes center stage. Savor it. This is the rarest of rivalries, one that is simultaneously waxing and waning before our eyes.

Though it’s the Big Ten opener for Ohio State and we haven't yet reached October, this game might just decide the Leaders Division race. That should come as no surprise, as these two teams have played several high-stakes showdowns in recent years.

“All my years that I've been here,” Wisconsin senior running back James White said, “this has been a great game. It has always come down to the wire."

The past three meetings have produced instant classics. The Badgers knocked off then-No. 1 Ohio State 31-18 at home in 2010. In 2011, Braxton Miller’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left lifted the Buckeyes to a 33-29 win at the Horseshoe. Last season, Ohio State won 21-14 in overtime at Camp Randall Stadium.

While Ohio State has won five of the last six against Wisconsin, the Badgers have won or shared the last three Big Ten titles. They’ve also represented the Leaders Division in the first two Big Ten championship games, including last year when Ohio State was ineligible.

That both compete in the same division while Penn State remains on probation has added meaning to this game, which wasn’t always so competitive. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 55-18-5 and beat Wisconsin every year between 1960 and 1980. The Badgers won twice (with one tie) between 1988 and 2000.

“I was here a long time ago, and it was not a rivalry,” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who was a Buckeyes assistant from 1986-87. “You have to give credit to Wisconsin. I think it all started with coach [Barry] Alvarez, and then the following coaches have done a great job. They are one of, if not the best, programs in the Big Ten right now, and because of that, it’s become a very good rivalry.”

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Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesCoach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes take on Wisconsin on Saturday in a battle of Top 25 teams.
The rivalry intensified when Meyer arrived and then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema made some disparaging comments about the new Ohio State boss. While both later insisted publicly they had patched up any potential rift, there was little doubt both badly wanted to beat the other last November. After Bielema left for Arkansas, ex-Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee was caught on tape calling Bielema “a thug.” The wife of Buckeyes assistant coach Mike Vrabel took a shot at Bielema and his wife on Twitter on Saturday after Arkansas lost to Rutgers -- ironically winning some favor with Wisconsin fans in the process.

The intrigue between the teams’ head coaches cooled considerably when the Badgers hired Gary Andersen, who served as Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Utah. When the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Doug Lesmerises asked Meyer this week if he missed Bielema, Meyer chuckled and said, “I’m good with Gary.”

"Not to get too much into things, but obviously Coach Andersen and Coach Meyer have a relationship in the past,” Wisconsin defensive tackle Beau Allen said. “There's a mutual respect between Coach Andersen and that staff over there.”

Allen laughed.

“That may be something that might be a little different this year, without getting too detailed or specific."

Friendship between coaches is not the only reason this rivalry may have already peaked. After this season, Ohio State and Wisconsin will play in separate divisions as the Big Ten expands and splits into East and West branches. The two teams are not scheduled to meet in 2014, 2015 or 2017, though they could still face each other in the conference title game.

That’s particularly a shame for the Badgers, because as their historic rivalry with Minnesota has become one-sided and Iowa went missing off the schedule for a few years, Ohio State has loomed as potentially their biggest game.

"You enjoy going up against great teams like Ohio State,” Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon said. “I mean, it's Ohio State. So it's kind of disappointing, but I'm sure if things go how we want, we'll probably see them again."

Things are a little different from the Buckeyes’ perspective. Wisconsin has become a rival because of division alignment and the Badgers’ contention for Big Ten titles. But Ohio State doesn’t view this game as the one it must win.

"When it comes to rivalries, no,” Buckeyes receiver Evan Spencer said. “I mean, just because The Team Up North, it's hard to place words on that one. Wisconsin is a big game, don't get me wrong. It's one of the biggest ones we have on the schedule.”

The schedule brings few guaranteed rematches between these two teams. So make sure to watch Saturday’s game. Savor it.

“We like playing these guys,” Allen said. “We've had great games, and that's why you play college football. You want to play great teams, you want to play great games, and you want to play great players. That's what we've had between the two of us."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On the day he signed to Ohio State in the spring, coaches were already fighting over who would get the first chance to work with him in their meeting room.

When he reported to campus in the summer, veteran teammates started raving about his physical skills and the impact he was already having in offseason workouts.

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Ohio State AthleticsFormer ESPN 300 recruit Dontre Wilson could make a big impact for the Buckeyes as a freshman.
And by the time training camp for the fall finally arrived and Urban Meyer got his hands on him, it took all of three practices for the Buckeyes coach to join the chorus singing the praises of freshman Dontre Wilson and his ability to instantly upgrade an offense that was plenty dangerous without him.

While the Buckeyes have occasionally tried to temper the buzz that is building exponentially with seemingly every practice, the problem with tapping the brakes on something that moves as fast as Wilson and the hype around him is that it barely slows them down at all.

“Man, I’m going to tell you, that little joker right there is quick,” junior Evan Spencer said. “You’ll see, he’s so explosive, and you never know where he’s going to go or what kind of move he’s going to make.

“He’s a real guy -- he can move.”

The Buckeyes already knew that based on the blistering times he posted on the track in high school, and more confirmation arrived when he clocked a 4.33-second time in the 40-yard dash shortly after arriving for the offseason program. They had also seen plenty of evidence of what Wilson could do in pads as he racked up more than 4,400 all-purpose yards and 81 touchdowns at DeSoto High School, testing himself against some of the toughest competition in the country in Texas.

But if Ohio State coaches needed to find out first-hand if that natural athleticism and a versatile set of skills that makes him dangerous as both a rusher and receiver was going to transition smoothly enough to contribute to the nation’s second-ranked team, Wilson didn’t make them wait long to decide.

In one 7-on-7 session during the first week of camp, Wilson grabbed three touchdown catches in short succession with each of them showing off a different aspect of his game. There was a double move that highlighted his acceleration and ability to change direction. He used pure speed to get behind the secondary for another, and later turned a simple out route into a score by cutting up field and darting between two oncoming tacklers on the way to the end zone.

The practice performance and the glowing reviews from teammates and coaches alike have only added to the anticipation for Wilson’s debut against Buffalo on Aug. 31. But if it’s increased the pressure on him, he is certainly hiding it well.

“I’m aware of it, but I don’t really pay it any attention,” Wilson said. “I just come here and play football and do what I love.

“I mean, I’m handling it. ... I think I’ve done pretty good, just have to live up to high expectations because of the way I was recruited and all the hype. I think I’m doing pretty good so far.”

It is still early in camp, there’s still plenty of room to grow for any freshman at this stage and Wilson still hasn’t even played a game yet to allow for a true evaluation of how much he might help as the Buckeyes try to make a push for a national title.

There’s also some uncertainty about where exactly Wilson will fit in the lineup and how often as he splits time with the running backs and receivers, learning responsibilities as both a rusher and an option at the H-back position that Percy Harvin made famous under Meyer at Florida.

Comparing Wilson to perhaps the most dangerous hybrid weapon he’s had, though, is at least one area where Meyer is quick to bring the conversation to a complete stop. But short of that, the Buckeyes are full-steam ahead with their new toy.

“He’s got something that we didn’t have, and that’s just electric speed,” Meyer said. “He also has a unique skill set where he’s extremely dynamic and fast, which we all now what that means in the game of football -- especially in an offense where you try to create space.

“He goes hard. We just have to point him in the right direction now.”

Based on the seasons leading up to it, the Buckeyes are clearly setting the course for something big with Wilson for the winter.
Philly BrownJeff HanischThe Buckeyes are counting on WR Philly Brown to make the offense a more dynamic one in 2013.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Last year, Ohio State led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game. Great, right?

Not in the minds of the Buckeyes, who thought they could have fielded a much better all-around attack.

"I feel like last year we didn't play a complete game as an offense," running back Carlos Hyde said. "Some games it was all running, while others it was just passing."

Head coach Urban Meyer rarely seemed happy with the offensive production last year, outside of the running skills of Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller. He often expressed his dissatisfaction over a lack of speedy playmakers and an inconsistent passing game.

"I'd get frustrated," Meyer told ESPN.com. "But the bottom line is, name an offense that doesn't have guys who make people miss and are dynamic with the ball in their hands, and that's not a great offense. We don't have enough."

The names on offense haven't really changed much this spring. But the hope is that with another year of understanding the system, some improved throwing and catching and maybe some reinforcements from the recruiting class, the Buckeyes will come closer to fulfilling Meyer's vision of a truly great offense.

It all starts, of course, with Miller, whose efforts to become a more accurate passer this offseason have been well documented. Ohio State also needs continued development from its receivers, which is not a very deep group right now. Meyer singled out Corey "Philly" Brown, who led the team with 60 catches for 669 yards, as someone who's becoming one of those dynamic playmakers he's seeking.

"I've tried to work on my open-field running and body control so I could cut faster," Brown said. "It's really paying off for me right now."

Brown is the clear No. 1 receiver, but he needs more help. The team has only six scholarship receivers this spring, and offensive coordinator Tom Herman said he'd only feel comfortable playing four of them for a whole game. Devin Smith made some highlight-reel catches on deep balls early last year but was less effective down the stretch, as he had only 13 receptions in the final eight games.

"People, for lack of a better term, figured him out," Herman said. "He wasn't a very versatile guy. He did a couple of things really well, but the other things that he tried to do, he was very below average. He's starting to improve some of his weaknesses to be a more complete receiver, and he has a lot of physical tools and a great attitude."

Herman said Chris Fields has had a really good spring, and Evan Spencer is a reliable target. Sophomore Michael Thomas, the star of last year's spring game, has shown flashes of his talent but needs to progress in a lot of areas. Herman called the receiver depth "a bit scary right now." But the Buckeyes recruited several receivers in this year's class, including Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Corey Smith. They're hoping at least one or two contributes right away.

"You hate to count on [recruits] because they're usually overrated," Meyer said. "But that's why we went out and recruited them."

"We're not asking them to come in and be Jerry Rice," Herman said. "We just hope they can provide some depth and maybe add some skills that we don't currently have in that room right now."

One area certainly not lacking in depth is at running back, where Hyde returns after rushing for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Rod Smith is having a good spring, Warren Ball appears to be coming on and if sixth-year senior Jordan Hall can ever stay healthy, he'll provide lots of versatility. There was a buzz last week in practice when the Buckeyes lined up with Hyde, Smith and Ball in the same backfield with Miller in a formation Meyer cribbed from the San Francisco 49ers.

"That can give a bunch of trouble to defenses," Hyde said. "They just see three big backs in the backfield and a quarterback who can also run the ball. They don't know who's getting the ball or who's going where."

Ohio State's offensive players do know where they're going, which is different than last spring. Now in the second year of the system, Herman says he can teach his guys not just what to do but why they're doing it.

"It's not just the memorization of, 'OK, I have to line up on the left here,'" he said. "I could train a monkey to do that. What separates really good offenses from average to below-average offenses is all 11 guys understanding the big picture, the entire concept and scheme we're trying to accomplish. It's been nice to kind of dive into that with all of our players this spring."

Knowing how to change a route against a certain defensive look, for instance, should help the Buckeyes play faster this year. The coaches have challenged the players to be a Top 5 offense in the nation this year. That's a lofty goal, but remember that this team is starting from an already high level despite its flaws.

"I definitely think we can be one of the top offenses in the country if everybody takes care of business and is mistake free," Brown said.
Ohio State's first spring practice on Wednesday was significant for a number of reasons. Not least of which was the official return of Urban Meyer to a sideline for the first time since he retired from Florida.

“I felt great,” Meyer told reporters afterward. “It was great to blow the whistle and watch the guys run. It was great to coach punting, something I love to do, and to just watch the positions.”

Meyer knows he has some major work to do with these Buckeyes, especially at the receiver position. He has talked several times about the need for more playmakers at that position and he didn't see much change there in the first practice.

"At Ohio State, you should walk off the field going, 'Wow, who are those three guys?'" Meyer said. "I haven't done that yet and I still today haven't done that. There's got to be a wow factor, and you should have one, should have two, here you should probably have more than two."

Meyer did have nice things to say about sophomore wideout Devin Smith, calling him "a separator" and "a speed guy." Smith and Evan Spencer worked with the first team on Wednesday, while Corey "Philly" Brown -- the most experienced player at the position -- was on the second team.

A couple other notes:
  • There was a mild surprise at the pecking order at center, where Corey Linsley started with the first unit. Brian Bobek was thought to be the heir apparent to four-year starter Mike Brewster.
  • Curtis Grant, who came in last year as a heavily hyped recruit but struggled on the field, was the first-team middle linebacker. "He had an excellent offseason," Meyer said. "He is a guy that has to develop. ... He has to be a player for us. If he's not, we've got problems."
  • The Buckeyes' offense worked at a high tempo that Meyer said wore the players out. The pace is a product of offensive coordinator Tom Herman's preferences. “We weren’t that way at Florida,” Meyer said.
Ohio State fans have grumbled about the Buckeyes' offense for years. Too conservative. Too run-heavy. Not imaginative enough.

Those days are over as Urban Meyer is coming to Columbus. Meyer's offenses at Utah and Florida ranked in the top 20 nationally all but one year between 2004-09.

Colleague Todd McShay takes an in-depth look at what Meyer looks for with his offense and how the Ohio State roster fits his plan. McShay's conclusion: while it could take a bit of time for Meyer to get all his perfect pieces in place, he's hardly inheriting a bare cupboard.

McShay weighs in on all the position groups. Here are a few:
Quarterback: I think [Braxton] Miller is loaded with talent and he has the ideal physical skill set to excel in Meyer's system. He has a big, sturdy frame and still has room to add muscle. Miller has very good arm strength (check out his 54-yard TD strike against Michigan) and he's a more sudden athlete than former Buckeyes QB Terrelle Pryor.
Tight end: Assuming Jake Stoneburner returns for his senior season (which would be a wise choice, in my opinion), he could provide a good short-term solution at this position. Stoneburner isn't the ideal athlete for this role, but at 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds, he has proved capable of creating mismatches in the passing game and he has reliable hands. He also has solid blocking skills both in-line and in space, which will allow the Buckeyes to get creative with his launching point.
Running back/receiver: The Buckeyes have an obvious need for more speed and athleticism at running back and wide receiver, so expect the Buckeyes' next couple of recruiting classes to have a few highly regarded "athletes" at the top of the priority list. Ohio State does, however, have some intriguing young athletes in house that Meyer and his staff must quickly develop into playmakers. The most intriguing of the group is true freshman WR Evan Spencer, an ESPNU 150 recruit from the 2011 class. He flashed his talent at times during his freshman season but much more will be expected of him moving forward -- and if Spencer is willing to put in the work, he has a chance to become a focal point in Meyer's attack.
Click here to read McShay's entire piece on Meyer and the Ohio State offense.

Big Ten Week 1 rewind

September, 5, 2011
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Week 1 is in the books. Now it's time for a book review.

Be kind, rewind:

[+] EnlargeNorthwestern
AP Photo/Mary SchwalmNorthwestern running back Mike Trumpy, right, celebrates a TD against Boston College.
Team of the week: Northwestern. Missing star quarterback Dan Persa, the Wildcats still went on the road to Boston College and won 24-17. Most impressively, their offensive line pushed around what had been the nation's stingiest rush defense a year ago. If the offensive line can continue to play like that, and Persa can come back (Persa) strong, then Northwestern will be a factor in the Legends Division race.

Best game: Northwestern's win, again. The game was close throughout, and Boston College drove into the red zone in the waning seconds before a Vince Browne sack ended matters.

Biggest play: Purdue's Ricardo Allen blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt by Middle Tennessee's Alan Gendreau on the game's final play, preserving a 27-24 victory. It was sweet redemption for Allen, whose earlier fumble on a punt return set up a Blue Raiders touchdown. And had the Boilermakers lost this game, it could have set a bad tone for their season.

Best call: This one happened on Wednesday of last week, when Michigan State senior guard Joel Foreman approached coach Mark Dantonio and asked if Arthur Ray Jr. could start in his place. Ray is a cancer survivor who had never played in a college game before. Foreman made a selfless decision, stopping his personal 22-start streak. Ray was in tears before the game and played the Spartans' first offensive snap before coming out.

Best meaningless play: The game was wildly out of hand by this point, but Ohio State receiver Evan Spencer made a spectacular, twisting, one-handed catch during the fourth quarter of a 42-0 blowout of Akron. It ultimately meant very little, but Spencer now has his own YouTube moment.

Big Man on Campus (Offense): Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. There was considerable hype accompanying Wilson's debut after his highly publicized transfer from NC State, and Wilson lived up to it. He accumulated 317 total yards, including 255 passing yards and two touchdowns while completing 10 of his 13 attempts. And his sizzling 46-yard touchdown run was something Badgers fans have rarely if ever seen out of the quarterback position.

Big Man on Campus (Defense): Michigan linebacker Brandon Herron. Things might be changing in Ann Arbor when a Wolverines defender is garnering all kinds of recognition. Herron deserves it after scoring two defensive touchdowns, one on a 94-yard interception return and the other on a 29-yard fumble recovery. Raise your hand if you predicted Herron would have two more scores than Denard Robinson in the opener.

Big Man on Campus (Special Teams): Chaz Powell, Penn State. Clearly, you should never kick to Powell to start a season. The Nittany Lions senior returned the opening kickoff against Indiana State 95 yards for a touchdown. That matched his performance from last year, when he took the first kick of the year to the house against Youngstown State.

Worst hangover: Indiana. I remain convinced that Kevin Wilson will eventually do very good things in Bloomington, but Saturday was a very bad start. The Hoosiers lost to Ball State 27-20 at Lucas Oil Stadium, a place in which they're highly unlikely to play in December any time soon. It's hard to use the first-year coach excuse, since Ball State also had a new guy on the sidelines. What's worse, IU got pushed around in the trenches. If that happens against a MAC foe, what will the Hoosiers do against Ohio State, Wisconsin and other Big Ten opponents?

Strangest moment: Mother Nature wins this award in Week 1. Storms and lightning gave us the odd sights of both Kinnick Stadium and the Big House being evacuated -- that's more than 180,000 people who had to be moved out of harm's way. Iowa hadn't experienced an in-game weather delay in the 82-year history of Kinnick Stadium. Things were even crazier in Ann Arbor, where Michigan and Western Michigan agreed to end their game with 1:27 left in the third quarter after a couple of lightning delays. It was the first weather-shortened game in Wolverines history, and who knows what would have happened had the game actually been close at the time.

Week 1 suggests that deciding to play the Big Ten title game indoors might have been the right call.

Ohio State recruiting analysis

February, 3, 2011
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Ohio State Buckeyes

The class

Recruits: 23 (all high school seniors, five players enrolled early)

Top prospects: The Buckeyes bolstered all three areas of their defense with ESPNU 150 prospects such as defensive linemen Steve Miller and Michael Bennett, cornerback Doran Grant and linebackers Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier. Ohio State also addressed a potentially pressing need at quarterback with Braxton Miller, rated as the nation's No. 4 signal-caller by ESPN Recruiting.

Needs met: Miller's addition is big because Ohio State will be without starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor for the first part of the season and needs other options if Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton don't pan out. The Buckeyes also are fairly unproven at receiver and added depth in this class with ESPNU 150 prospect Evan Spencer as well as Devin Smith. Offensive line is the only position that could have used a few more players in this class.

Analysis: After what could be labeled a down recruiting year in 2010 according to its standards, Ohio State rebounded in a big way Wednesday. The Big Ten's best program signed the league's best class, which includes seven ESPNU 150 prospects. Ohio State brought in several players who can contribute early in their careers on both sides of the ball. Braxton Miller could be Ohio State's post-Pryor answer at quarterback, and he'll have some targets to throw to in this class with players like Spencer and Smith. Ohio State did a better job of locking down the top in-state prospects than it did in 2010 and also reached to other regions for players like Curtis Grant and Shazier.

ESPN Recruiting grade: A-
The Big Ten's top-rated recruiting class is official as Ohio State announced the signings of 23 players.

Ohio State's class includes five players already enrolled in school. The class features 13 in-state prospects, 13 defensive players, nine offensive players and one specialist.

Here's the position breakdown:

DL: 5
OL: 3
DB: 4
LB: 4
WR: 2
TE: 2
QB: 2
LS: 1

A few notes:

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