NCF Nation: Jack Mewhort

The biggest non-game on the American sporting calendar is all done, as the 2014 NFL draft wrapped up Saturday afternoon in New York. After arguably its worst draft in the modern era in 2013, the Big Ten performed better this year with 30 picks. Still, the league finished fourth among conferences in selections, trailing the SEC (49), ACC (42) and Pac-12 (34).

After a big Friday night with six second-round selections -- including four in a row -- and six third-round selections, the Big Ten's momentum slowed a bit Saturday in the final four rounds. The league had only one sixth-round pick and only four in the seventh round.

Let's start the breakdown by listing Big Ten draftees by round (with comments below). Maryland and Rutgers players aren't included here because neither group competed in the Big Ten (Terrapins CB Dexter McDougle went in the third round; Rutgers had no players drafted).

FIRST ROUND (4)
[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyTaylor Lewan was the first Big Ten player selected, going 11th overall to the Tennessee Titans.
Analysis: Click here for my first-round thoughts

SECOND ROUND (6)
Analysis: Hageman ends up in a really good spot with the Falcons. Although Latimer had an excellent pre-draft performance, it wasn't surprising to see him end up in the middle of the second round. Hyde waited longer than many anticipated, but he enters a great situation with a team that loves to play power football. Robinson joins a new-look Jaguars passing attack featuring quarterback Blake Bortles and wideout Marqise Lee.

THIRD ROUND (6)
Analysis: Everyone had Southward going before Borland, right? Borland, the 2013 Big Ten defensive player of the year, had an exceptional college career, but concerns about his height and perhaps his injury history moved him down the draft boards. The Iowa Effect shows up here as both Fiedorowicz and Kirksey were swept up by teams that respect what the Hawkeyes do. What does it say that Michigan's offensive line struggled mightily in 2013 but had two tackles drafted in the first three rounds? Those young Wolverines linemen had better step up this fall.

FOURTH ROUND (4)
Analysis: Some really good pickups in this round, especially White, who will fit in very well with New England's offense. Although James Morris received the most accolades among Iowa's linebackers at the college level, both Kirksey and Hitchens were mid-round selections, while Morris went undrafted and signed with New England as a free agent. As a Chicago Bears fan, I love the Vereen pick. He's a smart, athletic versatile player who knows from his older brother what it takes to succeed in the NFL.

FIFTH ROUND (5)
[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsJared Abbrederis isn't venturing far from Madison as he was drafted by the Green Bay Packers.
Analysis: Like his teammate Borland, Abbrederis had a much longer wait than expected but lands in a very familiar spot with Green Bay. I think he's a steal and will surprise people with his ability to make plays despite less-than-ideal measurables. Pamphile had a fairly quiet college career but is seen as a project and could develop into a better pro. Urschel is another player who lacks the ideal physical traits sought in the NFL, but could make up for it with exceptional intelligence.

SIXTH ROUND (1)
Analysis: Enunwa complemented his superb blocking skills with big-play ability in the pass game as a senior. He's a good value for a Jets team that needs to boost the league's 31st-ranked pass offense.

SEVENTH ROUND (4)
Analysis: All four players could be very good values. Bolser is an athletic tight end who had 15 career touchdown catches. Allen showed versatility as a senior, transitioning to a 3-4 scheme. Gallon heads to a Patriots team that has had success with smaller, productive receivers. Bryant likely would have been selected higher if not for major leg and ankle injuries last season.

Here are the draft picks per B1G team:

Ohio State: 6
Wisconsin: 5
Michigan: 3
Penn State: 3
Nebraska: 3
Iowa: 3
Purdue: 2
Minnesota: 2
Indiana: 2
Michigan State: 1

The big surprise is a Michigan State team that dominated Big Ten play and won the Rose Bowl had just one player selected, as standout linebackers Max Bullough and Denicos Allen didn't have their names called. Only four teams -- LSU, Alabama, Notre Dame and Florida State -- had more selections than Ohio State. Illinois, which led the Big Ten in draft picks last season (4) and had 18 picks between 2009-13, had no selections. Northwestern also went without a draft pick for the second straight year.

Curious about the Big Ten's undrafted free-agent signings? Check back in a bit as we take a look.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Immediately following the loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer and several of his assistants hit the road to recruit.

Recruiting is as much salesmanship as anything, so the coaches had to act like they were in a good mood around the prospects they visited. It wasn't easy to do.

"You had to go walk in with a smile, and it was the phoniest smile you've probably ever seen," Meyer said Thursday. "And then you get back, and you see the players you care about and see the pain on their face."

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesUrban Meyer admits losing in the Big Ten title game hurt, but he says the Buckeyes have moved on from that disappointment.
We've seen this before. A team falls just short of reaching the national championship game, as the Buckeyes did that night in Indianapolis, and proceeds to sleepwalk through its consolation bowl game. So it's natural to wonder about the motivation for Ohio State in tonight's Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson when it came so close to playing for the national title on Monday night.

Buckeyes players and coaches won't pretend they weren't crushed by that loss to the Spartans. But they also say they're plenty driven to win this BCS game, both for themselves and, to a lesser extent, the Big Ten.

Meyer called a team meeting after he got back from that recruiting trip. For the first time in 25 games as Ohio State's coach, he had to address the players after a loss.

"We had a real emotional meeting," he said. "Well, I don't know if emotional is the right word, but it was just like you would with any type of family members going through a hard time. From that point forward, they've been fine."

The carrot of a national title might have vanished, but other potential rewards remain. Ohio State has not won a postseason game since the 2011 Sugar Bowl (which would later be vacated), meaning the majority of the team has not tasted a bowl victory. The older players suffered through a 6-7 season in 2011, including a Gator Bowl loss, and dealt with probation last year.

"With coach [Jim] Tressel my freshman year, we won a Rose Bowl and then a Sugar Bowl, and then it kind of went down," fifth-year senior offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. "So to show that we pulled ourselves back out of it and got back on top would be real important to us older guys. I don't think it's in our nature as competitors to be sulking or to be held down by something that has happened."

Meyer has traveled this road before. In 2009, his Florida Gators lost to Alabama in the SEC title game with a BCS Championship berth on the line. A not-so-sexy matchup with Cincinnati in the Sugar Bowl awaited. Even through some serious distractions -- Meyer said he planned to step down before the bowl game then changed his mind -- the Gators ripped the Bearcats for an impressive 51-24 win.

Meyer takes detailed notes during each week of the season and said he reviewed the notes from that Sugar Bowl preparation to see how he handled the disappointment. He chatted about it with former Florida star Mike Pouncey at practice earlier this week.

"I would anticipate, from everything I've seen with this team, the competitive spirit is there," Meyer said. "I've also been in situations where I didn't feel the competitive spirit, and that's where you've got [to use] the secret Tshirt or the secret handshake to get guys to play hard. I don't feel that."

It doesn't hurt that the Orange Bowl means 80-degree temperatures, South Beach excursions and an escape from the winter in Ohio. The Buckeyes also have several players from Florida.

"We're having a great time," said tight end and Naples, Fla., native Jeff Heuerman, who, it should be noted, said this before he caught the stomach bug that plagued the Buckeyes this week. "South Beach is a ton of fun. But we're trying not to do anything differently than any other game week, and we've been super successful with what we've done."

If Ohio State needs any further motivation, then the chance to salvage some Big Ten pride could provide it.

The league is guaranteed a losing record in the postseason after going 2-4 in its first six games. But Michigan State gave the conference a BCS win by beating Stanford in the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes can add another one if they get by Clemson. Two BCS wins and a victory over an SEC team (Nebraska beat Georgia in the Gator Bowl) would mean a highly successful bowl season for the Big Ten.

"Playing in the Big Ten, people sometimes have been down on us the last couple of years," Mewhort said. "That kind of lights a little fire under you that makes you want to go out and represent your conference well. I think that would be great for us and the Big Ten."

Meyer said he watched the end of the Rose Bowl and found himself rooting hard for the team that handed him his only loss as Ohio State coach.

"Any time a member of your conference does well in a big game like that, I do think it's important," he said. "Because the truth is the upper-level Big Ten teams are excellent football teams. The conference is getting better. Guys are working extremely hard to close the gap on the SEC."

The Buckeyes' main concern is finding a way to beat an ACC power tonight. They might not get that done, but it shouldn't be because of a lack of interest in the proceedings.
The Big Ten released its all-conference teams as selected by coaches and the media earlier this month. We didn't have a vote for the media teams, and we don't pretend to know as much about football as the league's coaches.

But we can also say with confidence that we watched more Big Ten football here at the blog than anyone else. So here are our picks for the 2013 ESPN.com All-Big Ten team:

Offense

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller is one of six Buckeyes on ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team.
QB: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB: Carlos Hyde, Ohio State
RB: Ameer Abdullah, Nebraska
WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
TE: Devin Funchess, Michigan
OL: Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
OL: Brandon Scherff, Iowa
OL: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OL: Corey Linsley, Ohio State
OL: Ryan Groy, Wisconsin

Defense

DE: Shilique Calhoun, Michigan State
DT: Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota
DE: Randy Gregory, Nebraska
LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB: Max Bullough, Michigan State
LB: James Morris, Iowa
DB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB: Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
DB: Bradley Roby, Ohio State
DB: Brock Vereen, Minnesota

Specialists

K: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR: Kenny Bell, Nebraska
PR: Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa

OK, so we cheated just a bit on positions, going with three tackles on our offensive line and a 3-4 defense. But considering the coaches had six defensive backs and two punters on their first team, we don't feel too bad about it. ... We wanted to include Scherff, Lewan and Mewhort on the first team, because we thought they were the three best linemen in the league. If we had to field an actual team with these guys, we're sure we could figure it out. It was a tough call between Groy and Penn State's John Urschel, whom we love for his on- and off-the-field accomplishments. We just felt Wisconsin had the better overall season as an offensive line, so we went with Groy. ... We went with the 3-4 because linebacker was such a deep position in this league -- so deep that we had to leave off some deserving players, like Michigan State's Denicos Allen -- while defensive line wasn't nearly as strong. ... The defensive backfield was a tough call (no wonder the coaches had an, ahem, pick six there). Dennard was a lock, and we felt that Drummond was the league's best safety in a year when that position was a bit weak conference-wide. We like what Vereen did in providing versatility and leadership for the Gophers, and Roby overcame a slow start to do his usual fine work. We had to leave off very good cornerbacks like Michigan's Blake Countess, Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Iowa's B.J. Lowery -- but that's what a second team is for. Stay tuned. ... Ohio State leads the way with six selections, followed by Michigan State with five. It's almost as if those were the two best teams in the league or something.

2013 AT&T ESPN All-America Team

December, 14, 2013
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Offense
QB: Jameis Winston, Florida State
RB: Ka’Deem Carey, Arizona, Andre Williams, Boston College
WR: Mike Evans, Texas A&M, Brandin Cooks, Oregon State
TE: Eric Ebron, North Carolina
OT: Jake Matthews, Texas A&M, Jack Mewhort, Ohio State
OG: Cyril Richardson, Baylor; David Yankey, Stanford
C: Bryan Stork, Florida State

Defense
DE: Michael Sam, Missouri; Leonard Williams, USC
DT: Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh; Timmy Jernigan, Florida State
LB: C.J. Mosley, Alabama; Ryan Shazier, Ohio State, Trent Murphy, Stanford
CB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State, Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Oregon
FS: Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
SS: Lamarcus Joyner, Florida State
K: Nate Freese, Boston College
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
KR: Ryan Switzer, North Carolina

Big Ten helmet stickers: Week 15

December, 8, 2013
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Recognizing the best and the brightest from the Big Ten championship game:

Michigan State QB Connor Cook: He was the MVP of the title game, and his role can't possibly be understated. When the running game sputtered early, he was there to pick up the offense. And when the Spartans trailed in the second half, he was there once again. Cook finished 24-of-40 for a career-high 304 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. It was the best game of his career, and it couldn't have come at a better time for MSU.

Ohio State's offensive line: The running game took off for the Buckeyes, something which doesn't happen too often against Michigan State. Jack Mewhort and Co. outplayed MSU in the trenches for much of the game, as Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde combined for 260 yards on 39 carries. The Spartans entered Saturday allowing fewer than 65 rushing yards per game, but that seemed to be the only thing that really worked for OSU. Despite the loss, this offensive line deserves some recognition.

Michigan State RB Jeremy Langford: The Buckeyes hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, but Langford ran harder as the game wore on and finished with 128 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. His 26-yard touchdown scamper late in the fourth quarter gave Michigan State a double-digit lead and put a damper on any OSU comeback hopes. He even added five catches for 21 yards.

Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard: The Spartans' secondary limited Miller to 101 pass yards on 8 of 21 attempts, and Dennard was a big reason why. He recorded two pass breakups and a forced fumble and consistently blanketed Ohio State receivers, showing why he's one of the best cover corners in college football.

OSU has reason to celebrate, work to do

November, 23, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The conversation about polls and rankings might be getting annoying.

The wait for some help might be getting tedious as it stays frozen out of a potential spot in the national championship game.

The apparent need to defend the longest winning streak in school history and the perceived weakness of its conference could be wearing out Ohio State during the week.

But the No. 3 Buckeyes clearly aren’t getting tired of winning on Saturdays, and they treated a 42-14 win over Indiana at snowy Ohio Stadium just like they had each of the 22 games that had come before it.

They will keep facing questions about how impressive their résumé is and where they rank among the top contenders. They'll hear plenty about the need for style points. But as long as they don’t lose, the Buckeyes don’t seem to care about how the job gets done on the weekend.

“I mean, I think if you win a game and you’re on a streak like us, why wouldn’t you celebrate?” senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “We’re on the longest win streak in Ohio State history, and we’re going to have some fun when we do stuff like that.”

[+] EnlargeJason Mowry/Icon SMI
Jason Mowry/Icon SMIBraxton Miller has rushed for 328 yards and three TDs in the past two games.
The Buckeyes again were all smiles after yet another victory, and they clearly were enjoying themselves as they steamrolled on the way to it against the overmatched Hoosiers.

Braxton Miller capped a pair of athletic runs with acrobatic dives into the end zone, one seemingly for show as he executed a front flip by choice after breezing 37 yards through the Indiana defense and another out of necessity as he leaped over a defender at the goal line and toppled in for his second rushing touchdown.

With the outcome well in hand in the second half, the coaching staff erupted off the sideline after a fourth-down stop in the red zone kept a shutout intact for the moment, with defensive line coach Mike Vrabel running all the way down to the 15-yard line to join in the party.

When it was all over, the record broken, a berth in the Big Ten title game assured, another perfect regular season one game closer to becoming a reality, Urban Meyer had a couple of quick seconds by himself on the way to the south end zone to join his team in a postgame sing-along with the band. And if the Buckeyes coach is getting tired of all the winning, he hid it well as he repeatedly pumped his fist on the quick jog over from midfield.

“I know one thing, and that’s this team is playing at a very, very high level,” Meyer said. “They’re focused each week, and that’s our job to maintain that focus each week.

“On a national level, we have enough to work on, so this week you’re going to hear some very generic answers about everything. I’m not being a jerk to you guys, but our focus is on beating that rival team and that’s it.”

The Buckeyes have had plenty of distractions tugging at them lately, which won’t change ahead of The Game at Michigan, but the risk of losing their focus has gone up with every successive win as the scrutiny and pressure continue to ramp up around the program.

The division wasn’t clinched yet heading into the final home game of the season. The seniors had the emotions of their last trip through the tunnel to deal with. The BCS lead over Baylor was trimmed to a razor-thin margin last week, adding another element to a conversation about how the Buckeyes fit in the title picture behind Alabama and Florida State.

But none of those things did anything to slow down Ohio State as it raced to a 42-point lead and coasted to the finish line, and they certainly haven’t put a damper on the enthusiasm after a game goes final.

“No, no,” Meyer said when asked if the winning was getting old. “There’s Victory Meal tomorrow night.

“It’s the 23rd Victory Meal in a row.”

The food still tastes plenty sweet for the Buckeyes, regardless of what anybody else thinks about the dinner spread.

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."

[+] EnlargeOhio State Touchdown
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."
On Wednesday, the head coach and one player from each Big Ten Legends Division team participated in a spring football teleconference with the media. On Thursday, it was the Leaders Division's turn. Here are some notes and updates from the call:

Illinois
  • Head coach Tim Beckman said the junior college players he brought in helped with depth and age issues on his young team. "We have 40 football players that have never been in our spring football until this year," he said. Of the juco imports, Beckman said wide receiver Martize Barr has quick hands and good playmaking skills, both in the passing game and on kick returns; Eric Finney has earned a starting job at the Star linebacker position; Abe Cajuste is adding depth by playing both defensive tackle and defensive end; and Dallas Hinkhouse is making an impact at offensive tackle.
  • Beckman sung the praises of offensive lineman Corey Lewis, a sixth-year senior who has battled back from five knee surgeries and has become a team leader. "Corey Lewis comes to my office probably four or five times a week, just to talk," he said. "To me, he is what college football is all about." Beckman said that Lewis has "had a special spring" and hinted that he has earned a starting job.
  • Quarterbacks Nathan Scheelhaase and Reilly O'Toole will take most of the snaps in Friday's spring game so they can get more experience in the new offense. Beckman said Scheelhaase has "got a step in front" because of his experience, but the competition continues.
  • Scheelhaase on reasons for optimism in 2013: "Establishing an identity. That's something I don't know that we necessarily had last year, on offense or defense or as a team in general.
Indiana
  • Like many of you, head coach Kevin Wilson would like to know the new Big Ten division alignment. The reason? It's harder to recruit without being able to tell a prospect where he'll be playing his freshman season. Wilson added that if the league does indeed go to an East/West split, he'd like to see the Hoosiers placed in the East since they're located in the Eastern Time Zone.
  • Wilson said run defense and takeaways are two huge priorities for the Hoosiers' defense during the offseason. He noted that the Big Ten doesn't boast a large group of elite pass offenses, so IU must prepare better for run-driven attacks. Indiana finished last in the Big Ten in both run defense (231.3 ypg) and takeaways (13). Cornerback Greg Heban said the defense is working on takeaways every day in practice. "Every time the ball touches the ground, the defense is scooping it and scoring it," Heban said, "trying to give us a feel of what it's like."
  • Both Wilson and Heban praised the play of junior cornerback Tim Bennett this spring. Other spring standouts include linebacker T.J. Simmons, a freshman early enrollee, and Steven Funderburk, a junior-college transfer.
  • Heban called this "easily the best spring I've been around." He has seen more physical play and better effort on both sides of the ball, and the team also is having more fun than in past springs.
Ohio State
  • Head coach Urban Meyer said running back Rod Smith won't play in Saturday's spring game because he recently suffered a concussion. Before that, Meyer said Smith was one of the five most improved players on offense this spring. Meyer listed Carlos Hyde and Smith as the team's top two running backs, while Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball are even for the No. 3 spot.
  • Although the receivers have been better this spring -- especially Corey Brown and Chris Fields -- the depth is still nowhere near where it needs to be for Meyer's spread offense. "We’re way behind on quality of depth at that position," Meyer said. "That's a major, major concern." Moving Jordan Hall to H-back should help, and Meyer noted that the Buckeyes boast two good tight ends in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett.
  • Buckeyes offensive tackle Jack Mewhort paid close attention to the way John Simon and others led in 2012. He's ready to take on a greater load this season. "I welcome that," he said. "I see that as an honor, being compared to a guy like John Simon. I also see it as a challenge. I feel the pressure to step up and get guys going in the right direction." Mewhort also has seen quarterback Braxton Miller recognize his leadership responsibilities more this spring and get after teammates when he needs to.
  • Meyer said he puts more emphasis on spring practice and the spring game than most coaches. He has told his players that there will be a depth chart after spring ends, and while changes are possible in the summer, they're not likely. "In spring ball, you're trying to win a spot," he said. "During the fall, we're trying to win games."
Penn State
  • Quarterbacks Steven Bench and Tyler Ferguson are receiving equal reps during practice and, not surprisingly, have endured some ups and downs. Head coach Bill O'Brien praised both players' intelligence, noting that they aren't making mental errors during workouts. "These guys have had productive practices," O'Brien said. "Has every play been great? No. But the word patience is a very important word here. Coming from pro football, I definitely have to learn more patience with all these young players. I think I have, but I can do a lot better." Senior guard John Urschel, who was highly entertaining during the teleconference, said he's the wrong person to ask about quarterbacks but praised Bench and Ferguson for picking up the system and showing leadership.
  • Urschel said the first-team offensive line right now consists of himself and Miles Dieffenbach at guard, Ty Howle at center and Donovan Smith and Adam Gress at the tackle spots. Of Howle, he said, "I could talk about Ty all day. If you ask me, he's one of the most underrated players on our team. ... Honestly, when I got here, I thought Ty was the best offensive linemen in our year, of the seven of us." Urschel also said Dieffenbach "started a lot for us last year but really is starting to take his game to the next level."
  • O'Brien said Zach Zwinak would get the start at running back if the season opened now, but all three backs -- Zwinak, Bill Belton and Akeel Lynch -- have had good springs. Lynch, a redshirt freshman, has "improved every single day of spring practice."
  • O'Brien is excited about Penn State's starting linebackers -- Glenn Carson, Mike Hull and Nyeem Wartman -- but admits the lack of depth at the position is "something I think about 24-7." He said it's vital to get Carson, Hull and Wartman through the rest of the offseason healthy, and hope for contributions from others like Ben Kline and incoming freshman Brandon Bell. Penn State won't shift players to linebackers because "there’s really nobody to move" and will instead closely monitor reps the rest of the spring and in preseason camp.
Purdue
  • Head coach Darrell Hazell said the Boilermakers have made major improvements in the last three and a half weeks. "Anytime you put in three different schemes, there's a little bit of a learning curve for the first couple weeks," he said. "You could see guys start to really get comfortable the last five or six practices."
  • Hazell said he has "three capable guys" right now at quarterback with Rob Henry, Danny Etling and Austin Appleby. He reiterated that he would keep the competition open until two weeks before the opener at Cincinnati. Of Etling, a freshman early enrollee, Hazell said: "For a young guy, a guy that should be at his prom, I think he's got tremendous poise. He's smart and really studies the game."
  • Hazell said backup tight end Justin Sinz and center Robert Kugler are two guys that have really caught his eye this spring. He called Kugler a "very much a leader on the offensive line."
  • Cornerback Ricardo Allen said Hazell has instilled an "all is one" mentality. "If one person does something, we all have to do it. We all wear black socks. We all wear the same uniform. We all tuck our shirts in. I feel like we're becoming closer as a team, and it's helping us build."
Wisconsin
  • Head coach Gary Andersen confirmed Curt Phillips and Joel Stave have separated themselves in the quarterback competition. It's a "mixed bag" of who takes snaps with the first-team offense, but both will continue to rotate through the rest of the spring and into fall camp. "The way they've separated themselves is simply production," Andersen said. "They know exactly where they sit and so does the rest of the team. … If they put all their friendships aside, their depth chart would look exactly like our depth chart."
  • Andersen praised the offensive line for tackling another transition, as the group works with its fourth position coach (T.J. Woods) since the 2012 Rose Bowl. The line has seen varying looks from the defense in practice and had players move around to different positions, in part because of injuries. Wisconsin had only seven healthy linemen a week ago, but Andersen is hopeful the number will rise to nine or 10 by next week's spring game. "Those kids have grinded through it every single day," Andersen said. "They're a tough-minded group."
  • Badgers senior linebacker Chris Borland said losing defensive end David Gilbert to recurring foot problems is a blow but the team has others to step in like Tyler Dippel, Brendan Kelly and Jesse Hayes, a redshirt sophomore who has stood out this spring.
  • Much like his old boss Urban Meyer, Andersen believes in constant competition and declares winners and losers in each practice. Andersen also mixes in some fun with a dance-off and throwing footballs into trash cans. "Some of them are a little bit quirky, but through the years establish some things we like," he said.
  • Borland said the strength program has brought the biggest changes in the transition to Andersen's staff. Cardiovascular work is stressed more, as is preventative care. Head strength and conditioning coach Evan Simon operates at a faster pace and uses more of an instructional approach than Ben Herbert, who stressed motivation.
Adolphus Washington is a huge part of Ohio State's future on defense, but he hasn't forgotten the Buckeyes' recent past.

Asked to identify his top goal during spring practice, Washington made sure to give a nod to the man who showed him the way in 2012.

"To fill the shoes of John Simon," Washington told ESPN.com. "I know those are some big shoes to fill. I'm just working my hardest to try and do that."

[+] EnlargeAdolphus Washington
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesAdolphus Washington knows he has some big shoes to fill as he replaces John Simon at defensive end.
Many would say Washington, a 6-foot-3, 292-pound defensive end, boasts more natural ability than Simon, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He undoubtedly came to Columbus as a more decorated recruit, rated as the nation's 65th-best player and No. 7 defensive end in the 2012 class, according RecruitingNation. (Simon had no national ranking when he arrived in 2009.)

But Simon maximized every ounce of talent he had during an exceptional Buckeyes career, earning respect from teammates, fans and coaches, including Urban Meyer, who put Simon in a select category of players he has coached (he hangs Simon's and Tim Tebow's jerseys in his office at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center). He attacked the weight room and practices the same way he did the game field on fall Saturdays, and everyone took notice, including a young defensive lineman from Cincinnati.

"His competitive spirit, that's the biggest thing," Washington said. "I'm pretty athletic, and I've got a lot of things God blessed me with to play football, but his competitive spirit is what I take away the most."

Washington is part of a new-look Buckeyes defensive line that must replace Simon and three other starters (tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel, and end Nathan Williams). As a true freshman, Washington appeared in 10 games, logging 156 plays and recording three sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

He recorded two of the sacks in Ohio State's final three games.

"My first game when I went out there, things were just lightning fast," Washington said. "But as the year went on, it kind of slowed down. Now I'm just out there playing, out there competing."

Washington has the size and skills to play both line spots but has been practicing this spring at defensive end. He'll likely start opposite fellow true sophomore Noah Spence, who logged 237 plays last season, the most among the Buckeyes' returning linemen.

"He's learning how to do some other things, like moving down inside at times and things that aren't as natural to him," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell told colleague Brian Bennett. "He's very athletic out on the edge, and he's getting a lot better in different situations and things we've asked him to do, like being one of the inside fit guys."

Spence and Washington headlined Meyer's first recruiting class at Ohio State, which included arguably the best defensive line haul in the country. They live in the same dorm as freshmen and have talked about getting a place together off campus for the next academic year. Washington said Spence will "probably be one of my best friends for life."

The two typically are mentioned in the same sentence when it comes to football, and they form the foundation for Ohio State's future along the D-line.

"Noah brings the athleticism and the speed," Washington said, "and I can bring the speed and the power. But Noah also has power. Noah's a lot stronger than he looks. We bring the same things."

Spence has drawn rave reviews for his play throughout the spring, and Washington seems to be making strides in recent weeks. Meyer, who describes Washington as a "wonderful person," said the lineman always grades high in terms of attitude and effort but lacked a chip on his shoulder.

"He's not an angry player," Meyer said. "The position he plays, you have to play angry. You can see that starting to come out these last three or four practices."

Ohio State's spring game has added meaning for Washington, who returns to his hometown and will take the field Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. The defensive line will be in the spotlight as many are interested to see how the replacement project is going.

"We get reminded about it every day," Washington said. "We just go out there and try to show the guys returning on defense, Coach Meyer, Coach Fickell, that we can fill the shoes and be just like they were."

Washington already has a believer on the offense in a guy he often faces in practice.

"He's obviously got all the physical tools, he's blessed," Buckeyes left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "I see him coming along every day. That chip on his shoulder, people may have not have seen that before, but I can definitely see that more as spring ball goes.

"If he keeps going in the right direction, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with in this conference."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Braxton Miller showed up at the Ohio State football complex on Wednesday with a surprise under his Toronto Raptors cap.

Miller dyed the middle strip of his hair bright blonde while shaving down the sides, creating a "fro hawk" that was reminiscent of former LSU cornerback Tyrann Mathieu's 'do. The Buckeyes quarterback unveiled the look during a spring kickoff luncheon, drawing gasps from the fans in attendance.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller's goal is to complete 70 percent of his passes next season.
The highlighter-yellow color wasn't the only reason for shock. Miller normally isn't one to draw attention to himself, outside of his jaw-dropping moves on the football field. Despite finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting and leading a 12-0 team last season as a sophomore, he still manages to maintain a relatively low profile.

"If you didn't know him and you saw him walking down the street, you would never know that was Braxton Miller," Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort said. "He doesn't talk about all that stuff. It's like he doesn't want the spotlight."

Miller had some posters made up of his recent Sports Illustrated cover, but he hasn't hung them up. He has a Twitter account but uses it mostly to talk to friends. A normal night, he said, involves going home after practice or film work, studying some more football on his iPad and "chilling with the homies at the house." He laughed when I asked him if he'd ever be spotted courtside at an NBA game or posing with celebrities like Texas A&M's Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel.

"I don't go out much," he said. "I'm not out there to get seen or to get talked about. That's not in my blood."

It's hard to hide when you're the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year and a leading 2013 Heisman candidate for a team that should be ranked in the preseason Top 5. But it's unlikely you'll hear Miller stumping for his Heisman chances like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney has done.

"He's one of the greatest kids I've ever been around," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "He's so humble. That's unique for a starting quarterback who has that kind of exposure."

Miller's actions have always spoken louder, anyway. He's already created volumes of highlights in less than two full years as a starter, leaving defenders grasping for air with his open-field -- and sometimes open-air -- moves. But Meyer said Miller -- who ran for 1,271 yards and 13 touchdowns last season -- has thus far gotten by mostly on pure athleticism. The next step is for him to master the fundamentals and become a precise passer.

He completed just 58.3 percent of his passes last season, placing him in the lower half of Big Ten starting quarterbacks in that regard. Meyer said Miller's mechanics often broke down whenever there was pressure or he was scrambling to make a play.

"He's probably the best athlete I've ever coached at that position, which is a great thing but also a hindrance," Meyer said. "He gets away with things lesser athletes don't, and it's gotten him out of so much trouble. That's great, and I don't want to lose that. We just have to coach him through it."

Miller worked with private quarterback coach George Whitfield Jr. this offseason to hone his footwork and throwing motion, a process that has continued under offensive coordinator and quarterback coach Tom Herman. Reviews of his progress this spring have been positive so far.

"He's been working on his mechanics, and his arm looks way better," cornerback Bradley Roby said. "I already see him getting better, and we still have a whole summer. It's going to be scary once he gets it all down."

Miller admits he has more work to do on his fundamentals, and that he has to concentrate on maintaining them when he's on the move, where he's made some of his biggest plays as a Buckeye. His goal is to complete 70 percent of his passes this season, which he thinks is realistic because of the improvement of his receiving corps and a better knowledge of the offensive system.

"The sky's the limit, really," he said. "Last year, the concepts of the plays were so different, but now it's like the back of my hand. I know where everybody is going to be and I know how to get them open. It's going to be fun."

Like it or not, Miller will be one of the most scrutinized players in college football next season. And if he can make great strides as a passer -- to go along with his running ability and knack for clutch plays -- more than just his hair will be shining brightly in Columbus this season.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Several factors usually get mentioned first as reasons for Ohio State's 12-0 season in 2012. Braxton Miller's heroics. Carlos Hyde's emergence. The play of the defense down the stretch, led by John Simon and Ryan Shazier.

But one factor probably doesn't get mentioned enough: the performance of the team's offensive line. A major question mark going into last season, the line shaped up as one of the best in the Big Ten last year under the tutelage of Ed Warriner. And with most of the group back and some better depth, the unit provides a strong reason to believe in the Buckeyes again in 2013.

[+] EnlargeJack Mewhort
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsLeft tackle Jack Mewhort, an all-Big Ten-level talent in 2012, could be the Buckeyes' next great leader.
Warriner turned in one of the better coaching jobs in the league last year, rounding into shape a crew that was previously undistinguished and underwhelming. He turned Reid Fragel, a former tight end, into a standout right tackle who should get drafted later this month. Corey Linsley went from playing guard to one of the conference's top centers, while Jack Mewhort developed into a top-flight left tackle. One of the indelible images of the Buckeyes' season was the line pushing around Michigan State's terrific defense to grind out the victory in East Lansing.

About the only thing Warriner had to worry about last season was health, as there was no experience and precious little depth behind the starters. He doesn't have the same worries this spring.

"It's a nice feeling to know you probably have a backup tackle and a backup guard," he told ESPN.com.

Four starters are back, so the real battle this spring is to replace Fragel at that right-tackle spot. Right now, sophomores Chase Farris and Taylor Decker are splitting a lot of first-team reps there, with Darryl Baldwin also in the mix.

"Those two guys have a lot of ability," Warriner said. "The more comfortable they get and the more confidence they get, one of them could take off -- or maybe both will and we'll play by committee. But they have high-level talent and all the traits of really good linemen."

Head coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that redshirt freshman Pat Elflein has been one of the surprises of the spring, and he could add depth at guard or tackle. Warriner also said Jacoby Boren is making strides at center. While the team suffered a setback when reserve Antonio Underwood tore his anterior cruciate ligament late last week, the Buckeyes should still be able to rotate more guys on the offensive line this fall.

"If the next man in can play a certain amount but the level doesn't drop off enough to hurt our team, we might do that just to keep the unit fresh and hopefully be smart throughout the season," Warriner said.

But Ohio State will want its veterans on the field as much as possible. Mewhort, whom ESPN.com voted as a first-team All-Big Ten performer, has been hailed as one of the team's best leaders and anointed by Meyer as a possible replacement for Simon in that regard.

"He's what you want in terms of an attitude, of work ethic, of being a competitor," Warriner said. "When you're a first-year starter at a new position with a new coaching staff, sometimes you just worry about your own business, and that was him to some degree last year. But now, he's taking kind of a bigger role with his leadership on offense and even the team as a whole."

Warriner said guards Andrew Norwell, a first All-Big Ten team honoree by the media last season, and Marcus Hall have made maybe the biggest improvements of anyone on the line this offseason. Along with Linsley, whom Warriner said has "elite-level strength," the Buckeyes have the potential to field four all-conference type linemen.

"We think we possibly could, if they play up to their ability level," he said. "The good thing about the group is, they don't really care about that. If we won the Big Ten and none of them made all-conference, they wouldn't care a bit. That's the kind of unselfish players they are."

Warriner said he has challenged the group to help lead a top-five national offensive attack this season. Ohio State led the Big Ten in scoring last year (37.2 points per game) and finished second in rushing yards per game (242.3). The offensive line led the way, though players like Miller and Hall sure helped.

"We know the quality of our skill guys can erase some things and create some big plays," Warriner said. "If you block it for six, you might get 16. At some places, if you block it for six, that's what they'll get -- six yards."

Everything works in concert. But don't forget the Buckeyes' offensive line when talking about reasons for the team's success.
Urban Meyer went 12-0 in his first year at Ohio State. Now comes maybe even the harder part: Following that up with the burden of expectations.

Many are already projecting the 2013 Buckeyes as a top-5 team and a national title contender, not to mention the Big Ten favorite. Fans are hoping for another undefeated run. Meyer isn't running away from those things.

"People say, 'Would you rather be the underdog or the favorite?'" Meyer said Friday in a news conference. "We'd love to be the favorite all the time. That means we've got a good team. So, no, I don't mind it."

Urban Meyer
Pat Lovell/US PresswireUrban Meyer and Ohio State will enter next season with enormous expectations after a 12-0 finish.
But the coach is also being realistic. He was at the BCS title game between Alabama and Notre Dame as a guest commentator and saw up close what it will take to win a national title. As for talking about getting there next season, Meyer said, "that's like saying we've got to go to the moon. We're nowhere near that conversation."

Meyer knows his second team in Columbus has much room to grow, starting on a defensive line where all four starters depart from the 2012 lineup. He's still looking for "drastic improvement" from the receivers and from his quarterbacks' throwing precision. Meyer said he planned to meet with the team Friday afternoon, and his mantra would be "truth." As in, he would be bluntly honest with the players on what they needed to work on.

"We were very strong in certain areas [in 2012] and some of them were phenomenal," he said. "But quite a few were below average. So if it's strong, enhance it, and if it's weak, fix it."

The challenge for the Buckeyes is to make those gains without the benefit of the 15 extra bowl practices in December. Meyer and his coaches can't do much with the players on the field until spring practice begins. The players have to take more of a responsibility to work on their own.

"If we want to be a very functional football team, there has to be some self-leadership among the groups," Meyer said. "Because it's on the players; the coaches can't force them to do it."

Some other notes from Meyer's media session:

  • Four Ohio State assistants at least had discussions about other jobs this spring, but everyone on the staff stayed. Meyer said he hopes his assistants will get opportunities to move on, but always asks his coaches for two-year commitments.
  • Could Ohio State compete with Alabama? Meyer reiterated his declaration from the season-ending win against Michigan when he said the Buckeyes were a very good team who could play with anybody in the country. But then he added, "to say we can roll in there and beat a team like that, first I'll say I don't want to speculate. And then I'm going to give you an honest answer: Right now, I think we have too many holes to fill."
  • Asked about the apparent talent disparity between the Southeast and the Midwest, Meyer had this to say: "In the Southeast, the quantity is far greater than the quantity of the upper-level Midwestern schools. ... It's up to the Big Ten to change that. The only way to do it is to go out and recruit and get some more depth."
  • Speaking of recruiting, Meyer said there's a huge difference in that area this year as opposed to last year after he took the job in November. Back then, he said, he was just handed lists of the top 20 players at each position, and he would call them to make a sales pitch. Now, he says, "We've been here, we've been in the schools and we know what we're getting."
  • Meyer called the loss of several great senior leaders off last season's team, most notably John Simon, "a huge void." He said offensive tackle Jack Mewhort could take the role of Simon as the team's heart and soul. Other potential leaders he mentioned include running backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, receiver Corey "Philly" Brown and linebacker Ryan Shazier.
After all of our hand-wringing about the official All-Big Ten teams, we hope you took the time to check out our picks on Monday.

It's always fun to look back at where the All-Big Ten selections ranked as recruits coming into their respective schools. Who matched the hype? Who exceeded it? The ESPN Recruiting database gives us a glimpse. Before you start complaining about why other recruiting services aren't used, that's not my call. This is the way we're going on these posts, so deal.

For each All-Big Ten selection, I've listed the scouting grade, which is explained here, along with where they ranked nationally overall (if applicable), by position and within their region. Note: Not all region and state rankings are available, so the Scout Grade and the national position rankings are most significant. I also list quotes from recruiting analysts about the prospects at the time (if available).

The first post takes a look at offense. The second will examine defense and special teams.

OFFENSE

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteBraxton Miller was rated as the nation's No. 4 quarterback coming out of high school.
QB: Braxton Miller, Ohio State, Class of 2011 -- Scout Grade of 81, rated as nation's No. 4 quarterback and 80th best player, Ohio's No. 4 player and the No. 6 player in the Midwest region. Analysis: "This guy has really got some tools and is highly productive as a runner and passer. Miller and Teddy Bridgewater are very similar, only Miller is more fundamentally sound and consistent with his feet and delivery. He possesses adequate height and the frame to add bulk and strength. He is a true dual-threat that is advanced as a passer in comparison to most. He has a big arm and can make every single throw."

RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin, Class of 2009 -- Scout Grade of 77, rated as nation's 74th best running back, 131st best player in Midlands region. Analysis: "At times Ball appears physically superior to his competition on film and could struggle maintaining his current yards after contact at the next level. With that said, you can't argue with his production and he is certainly built to carry the load and wear down a defense in a heavy power-running scheme. Physically ready to make the next step and carry the rock at the college level. He is compact, very thick through his thighs and lower body, and is built low to the ground assisting his in-line running strength."

RB: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State, Class of 2010 -- Scout Grade of 69, rated as nation's 211th best running back. Analysis: "Bell has the size for the running back position at the major level of competition; however his playing speed will be a concern as he lacks the burst and 2nd gear necessary to break out of the pack for long gains. Lines up as a deep back showing adequate quickness and vision approaching the line of scrimmage; more of a straight line runner with an upright style; must learn to run over his pads when in traffic. This is a tough finisher who gets what's there but is always moving forward."

WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State, Class of 2011 -- Scout Grade of 72, rated as nation's 202nd best wide receiver, 265th best player in Midwest region. Analysis: "This a very good athlete with the body control and jumping ability to compete for high throws in a traffic; only on occasion do we see a strong hard release off the line; mostly this prospect demonstrates a short quick stride which enables to him to get in and out of cuts quickly. Does not appear to have the burst or second gear necessary to get on top of defenders and separate when running deep routes. This guy is a smart precise route runner; knows where the sticks are and gets the necessary yardage."

WR: Kenny Bell, Nebraska, Class of 2010 -- Scout Grade of 76, rated as the nation's 108th best athlete. Analysis: "Bell has the height but lacks the bulk we like to see for the running back position at the major level of competition. This is a very exciting multi-skilled athlete who is productive in a variety of ways. Does not possess the playing strength to be an every down inside the tackles runner. Takes the ball from the direct snap in the wildcat formation, as a slot on inside counter plays and can catch over the middle as a receiver; also returns kickoffs, showing a willingness to hit it inside with very good lateral quickness and change of direction."

TE: Kyle Carter, Penn State, Class of 2011 -- Scout Grade of 76, rated as the nation's 58th best tight end, 170th best player in the East region. Analysis: "He possesses good height, but needs to work to add serious bulk to that frame. He displays the ability to be a productive and fairly reliable target in the passing game as he has good hands. Flashes the ability to go up and get the ball. He runs adequate routes. Displays good concentration to make the catch with a defender on him. After the catch will fight for yards, but does not display the ability to make many defenders miss with the ball in his hands."

[+] EnlargeTaylor Lewan
Patrick Green/Icon SMITaylor Lewan was the 12th best offensive tackle in the class of 2009.
OT: Taylor Lewan, Michigan, Class of 2009: Scout Grade of 80, rated as the nation's 12th best offensive tackle and 148th best player. Analysis: "He is an interesting kid who was evaluated as a defensive tackle and that was not a good fit for him. He transferred high schools after his junior season and the move seems to be agreeing with him. He is playing offensive tackle and this looks like a good fit and a promising position for him. He is a tall and lean kid with a good build, but he is lean for an offensive tackle and will need to work to add more bulk to his frame. He is a kid who plays hard and is very productive. He makes good initial contact and will flash the ability to generate power from his hips and when he does that he can drive a defender off the ball."

OG: Spencer Long, Nebraska, Class of 2009: Evaluated as a defensive end and not rated in position, region or state rankings. No recruit analysis is available.

C: Matt Stankiewitch, Penn State, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 78, rated as the nation's No. 5 center. Analysis: "Stankiewitch is a high school offensive tackle. He has good size, but his future in college will be most likely in the interior of the offensive line. He could project to guard or even fit nicely as a center at the college level. He has that Pennsylvania blue-collar feel to his game. He displays the ability to play with leverage. He needs to be more consistent with his pad level, but can get under a defender's pads, generate power from the hips, and knock a defender off the line off scrimmage in the run game."

OG: Brian Mulroe, Northwestern, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 75, rated as the nation's 68th best offensive tackle. Analysis: "Mulroe has a likeable quality as offensive line prospect because he plays the position hard. He has a good motor and blocks with a tenacious attitude. He gets good hand placement and is tough to beat once he gets locked on. He is light in the pants for his frame and will need to add some serious bulk as he develops, but still is able to consistently generate good push off the line scrimmage in the run game. He moves his feet and stays after his blocks and is able to get defenders moving backwards. He needs to be a bit more explosive at times and more quickly roll his hips and derive power from his lower body."

OT: Jack Mewhort, Ohio State, Class of 2008: Scout Grade of 81, rated as nation's No.2 center and 126th best player. Analysis: "Mewhort is exceptionally tall (6-foot-6) for a center, but he's a manhandler. He doesn't have natural leverage, but once he gets his claws into a defender he'll take him for a ride. Has a strong upper body and creates movement despite playing a little high. His good first step allows him to pick up stunting defensive linemen. He's exceptional on the down block, destroying defenders. Works his body into position after throwing his initial punch. Executes the shotgun snap to perfection, and can step as he delivers the ball without losing fluidity."

Thoughts: Our team is full of overachievers as only three players -- Miller, Lewan and Mewhort -- appeared in the ESPN 150 in their respective classes. Bell exceeded all expectations coming out of high school, and so did guys like Long, a walk-on at Nebraska, and Robinson, who wasn't considered an elite receiver. I think Bell's "playing speed" has worked out pretty well for the Spartans, while Ball has put to rest any concerns about getting yards after contact. The Miller-Bridgewater comparison is notable. It's always interesting to look back at these ESPN 150 lists and see names like former Ohio State running back Jaamal Berry, former Penn State quarterback Rob Bolden and former Michigan offensive lineman Dann O'Neill.

ESPN.com's All-Big Ten team

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
9:00
AM ET
As you may have noticed, we weren't exactly big fans of the official All-Big Ten teams that were announced last month.

We don't claim to know more about football than the league's coaches, not for a second. But after watching every Big Ten game all season long, we found ourselves scratching our heads at some choices that didn't seem to jibe with what we were seeing. Well, it's time to put our money where our mouths are and offer our official ESPN.com picks for the 2012 All-Big Ten team. Now you can argue with our choices, which look like this:

Offense

QB: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
WR: Allen Robinson, Penn State
WR: Kenny Bell, Nebraska
TE: Kyle Carter, Penn State
OT: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OG: Spencer Long, Nebraska
C: Matt Stankiewitch, Penn State
OG: Brian Mulroe, Northwestern
OT: Jack Mewhort, Ohio State

Defense

DL: John Simon, Ohio State
DL: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
DL: Jordan Hill, Penn State
LB: Michael Mauti, Penn State
LB: Ryan Shazier, Ohio State
LB: Jake Ryan, Michigan
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
DB: Bradley Roby, Ohio State
DB: Ciante Evans, Nebraska
DB: Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State
DB: Daimion Stafford, Nebraska

Special teams

PK: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern
P: Mike Sadler, Michigan State
All-purpose: Venric Mark, Northwestern

The first thing you might notice with our team is that we're lining up as a 3-4 defense. We decided to go with only three defensive linemen and four linebackers because linebacker was such a strong position for the league this year. And even with four, we still left off very worthy players such as Wisconsin's Mike Taylor, Penn State's Gerald Hodges and Michigan State's Max Bullough. Going with three down linemen meant we excluded Purdue's Kawann Short, a great player who was slowed by injuries during the heart of the Boilers' schedule. ... One of our toughest calls was at tight end. You can make a great case for either Carter or Michigan State's Dion Sims, and their numbers are incredibly close. ... We chose four defensive backs instead of two corners and two safeties, just as the Big Ten does with its official teams. And we were happy to do so since we thought the safety position was a little lacking this year overall. And since Evans is a nickelback, it kind of works, anyway. ... We went with Michigan State's Bell in a close call over Northwestern's Mark but still got Mark on our team as the all-purpose player, which fits his skills since he is a top-flight punt returner. ... Ohio State leads the way with six selections, followed by Penn State with five and Nebraska with four.
 

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When Urban Meyer met his new team, he talked about goals without restraint.

It's the kind of confident approach a coach can take when he already owns two national championships. At Ohio State, Meyer told his players, anything was possible.

"He told us when he first got here, 'It will happen. We can score 100 points,'" Buckeyes offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said. "He loves it. He's crazy. He would score 100 every game if he could."

Ohio State didn't score 100 on Saturday night. It settled for 63 despite enduring a first quarter Meyer accurately described as a "train wreck" -- zero first downs, 13 plays, 17 total yards.

The Buckeyes' first act was a dud against No. 21 Nebraska. And then they treated a record crowd of 106,102 at Ohio State to a show they won't soon forget. Sparked by do-it-all quarterback Braxton Miller and a surging offensive line, Ohio State scored its first offensive touchdown with 10:49 left in the first half and didn't stop for five more possessions.

Six consecutive touchdowns turned into a 63-38 win, keeping Ohio State perfect under Meyer and leaving no doubt as to who is the Big Ten's top team in 2012. Even with the outcome long sealed, Meyer kept his starters in the game in the end for a final touchdown with 48 seconds left.

"It's cool," Mewhort said. "He's always hungry for more."

The Big Ten will do all it can to market its championship game Dec. 1 in Indianapolis. But it'll be like Bert Parks singing "There she is, Miss America" about the first- and second-runners-up in the pageant. Ohio State is by far the prettiest girl in a league filled with teams that shouldn't see the light of day.

The title game might be the Big Ten's big showcase, but it won't feature the league's main event, which will be watching from home because of NCAA sanctions. Although the division races should provide plenty of entertainment, if you're interested purely in quality and the story lines that go along with it, watch Ohio State chase a perfect season and, who knows, maybe an AP national championship. Watch Miller push for the Heisman Trophy. Watch the Buckeyes offense take aim on Meyer's stated goal of triple digits in points.

"We're just getting better and better," said Buckeyes cornerback Bradley Roby, who got the scoring started with 41-yard interception return, the first of his two picks on the night. "We're young, we're talented, and I can't see us losing a game this year. We're taking it one game at a time, but seriously, we're really trying to take it to everybody we play.

"I feel like this is going to be a good year, and next year will be even crazier."

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Greg Bartram/US PresswireCarlos Hyde bulls through the Nebraska defense for one of his four touchdowns.
Ah, next year. Ohio State will have no bowl ban, another full offseason under Meyer and more Meyer recruits in key roles. Are the Buckeyes on the national championship radar? Time will tell, but look where they are six games into Meyer's tenure.

Ohio State eviscerated a Nebraska team led by a head coach (Bo Pelini) respected for designing and developing defenses. The Buckeyes racked up 56 points, 481 yards and 19 first downs in the final three quarters Saturday night. They completed just seven passes to only four receivers, led by a sophomore tight end (Jeff Heuerman) who made one catch in 2011. They generated 326 rush yards and five touchdowns from two players -- Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, filling in for injured starter Jordan Hall -- plus a 33-yard scoring run from Rod Smith.

Keep in mind, this isn't a Buckeyes team stocked with proven weapons. Ohio State finished 107th nationally in total yards in 2011.

But does anyone want to face Ohio State's offense after what it did to Nebraska?

After some early speed bumps, Ohio State's offense is progressing ahead of schedule.

"You're playing a tight end [Reid Fragel] at right tackle," Meyer said, "playing a bunch of guys who haven't played a lot of football, and, being as honest as I can, they weren't very good. They didn't look the way we wanted them to look in January. ... They're the ones that have really developed. I mean, like really developed. Even early in the season, I didn't feel it.

"I'm starting to feel us change the line of scrimmage."

Although the spread offense is often described as a finesse system, Meyer always has talked about being a power team first. The past two weeks, Ohio State has turned the corner.

The big numbers didn't come against Michigan State, but the line's performance set the table for Saturday night's show.

"The O-line," Miller said, "they stepped it up real big."

Miller did his part, too. The sophomore broke his own team single-game quarterback rushing record with 186 yards despite finishing the first quarter with minus-9. He sparked the unit with a 72-yard dash on Ohio State's first play of the second quarter and continued to fill up his Heisman highlight reel.

With four 100-yard rushing performances in the first six games, Miller ranks second in the Big Ten in rush yards (763) and third in rushing average (127.2 ypg).

"We have a quarterback, obviously, that's kind of ridiculous running the ball," Meyer said.

Hyde wasn't too shabby, either, using his frame to bulldoze the Huskers, particularly near the goal line. He recorded Ohio State's first four-touchdown rushing performance since Eddie George had four against Iowa in 1995.

When Meyer arrived, Hyde envisioned big things for the offense.

"When he was at Florida, those guys would put up crazy numbers," Hyde said. "I know if we could get going like how they were getting going down there, we can do the same."

After the game, Meyer was cautious to get carried away, noting, "We're not there. We have a long way to go." But the talk of an undefeated season will escalate, as Ohio State continues its path through a weak league. The Heisman talk around Miller will escalate. The talk of next year and what the Buckeyes can do also will escalate.

The spotlight will shift to Indianapolis on Dec. 1. Until then, it'll be on the Scarlet and Gray.

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