NCF Nation: Jake Stoneburner

Travis FrederickMike McGinnis/Getty ImagesAs the 31st pick, Travis Frederick was the first Big Ten player to be drafted.
The gap between the Big Ten and the SEC not only is widening on the field, but on the NFL draft boards.

While the SEC produced a record 63 picks in the 2013 NFL draft -- eight more than any conference in any draft in the modern era and 32 more than the next-best conference (ACC) in this year's draft -- the Big Ten endured a mostly forgettable three days at New York's Radio City Music Hall. Before going any further, this post isn't meant to knock the Big Ten players who heard their names called Thursday, Friday and Saturday. They worked years for this moment and deserve to celebrate their accomplishments. Congrats to all.

But for the Big Ten as a whole, this draft was a total dud. Was it the league's worst draft ever? If it isn't, it's certainly in the conversation.

The Big Ten produced only 22 draft picks, its lowest total since 1994, when it had 21 (and 11 teams, not 12). In 1994, the Big Ten had the No. 1 overall pick (Ohio State DT Dan Wilkinson), four first-round selections and eight selections in the first three rounds.

You have to wonder how much the Big Ten's damaged national reputation is impacting its draft hopefuls. The SEC's rise has made that conference the first place NFL general managers and player personnel directors look for talent. Although Big Ten players might be comparable to their SEC counterparts in many ways, their competition level might be looked at as a drawback in the final evaluations.

This year, the Big Ten tied with the Big 12 for fourth among leagues in producing picks, but the Big Ten produced fewer selections in the first three rounds (7) than any of the power conferences. Last year, the Big Ten finished with 41 draft picks, just one behind the SEC for the top spot.

Other items of note (tip of the cap to ESPN Stats & Information and the Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises for several of these):

  • [+] EnlargeLe'Veon Bell
    Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesMichigan State's Le'Veon Bell was the second running back taken in the draft.
    Although the Big Ten's national reputation has been an issue for some time, it didn't dramatically impact the draft until this year. The Big Ten has produced at least 27 draft picks every year since the 21-player output in 1994.
  • The Big Ten's four biggest brand-name programs -- Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Nebraska -- combined to produce just two picks in the first three rounds (Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Penn State DT Jordan Hill).
  • Nebraska endured its longest drought without a selection since 1970, as running back Rex Burkhead waited until the sixth round to hear Cincinnati call his name with the 190th overall pick. The Huskers didn't have a selection in the first four rounds for the third time in the past six seasons. With just two draftees -- Burkhead and safety Daimion Stafford, who went in the seventh round -- Nebraska had its weakest output since 1969.
  • Michigan went without a draftee in the first four rounds for the first time since 1968 and without one in the first three rounds for just the fifth time since 1970 (1976, 1989, 2006 and 2009 were the others). The Wolverines have had just five players drafted in the past two seasons.
  • Ohio State had just three players -- Hankins, defensive lineman John Simon and offensive tackle Reid Fragel -- drafted from a team that went 12-0 in 2012. Fragel's selection in the seventh round helped Ohio State avoid its smallest draft class since 1968.
  • An Illinois team that went 2-10 last season and 0-8 in Big Ten play led the league with four players drafted. It continues a mystifying trend for the Illini, who have had four players selected in each of the past four NFL drafts, even though the team has endured losing seasons in three of the past five years. Illinois has produced 10 players selected in the first three rounds since 2010, the most of any Big Ten team.
  • As expected, three Big Ten teams -- Northwestern, Minnesota and Indiana -- had no players drafted. Northwestern went 10-3 last season.

Perhaps the best draft news for the Big Ten is that future member Rutgers had seven players selected, tied for the sixth highest total.

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Denard RobinsonAP Photo/Dave MartinMichigan's Denard Robinson impressed with his speed at the combine.

Michigan's Denard Robinson boasted last year that he could beat Usain Bolt in the 40-yard dash.

If that's true, than the Olympic sprint champion wouldn't be one of the fastest 10 men in this year's NFL draft. While Robinson's claim might have been too bold, he still put up a predictably fast time in the 40 during NFL combine workouts on Sunday. The former Wolverine ran an official 4.43-second 40 in Indianapolis, tying him for ninth among all players who have worked out so far. Bolt might need to worry more about Texas receiver Marquise Goodwin, who ran a 4.27.

There are always some interesting finds in the combine numbers. Who would have guessed, for instance, that the creator of the Le'Veon Leap, Michigan State running back Le'Veon Bell, would record the same number on the vertical jump (31.5 inches) as Wisconsin offensive tackle Ricky Wagner? The same Wagner who was listed at 317 pounds this season for the Badgers. Strange but true.

The quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, offensive linemen and specialists have all had their turn under the microscope at the combine. Defensive linemen and linebackers will work out today, with defensive backs wrapping things up on Tuesday.

Let's take a look at how Big Ten players rank among the top overall performers so far:

  • Nebraska's Rex Burkhead, not surprisingly, tested well in several areas. The Huskers running back was fifth overall in the vertical leap at 39 inches, tied for 8th in the broad jump at 10 feet, five inches, was 10th in the 20-yard shuttle at 4.09 seconds, 14th in the three-cone drill at 6.85 seconds and 14th in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.51 seconds.
  • In addition to his 40 time, Robinson tied for 13th in vertical jump at 36.5 inches.
  • Illinois defensive tackle Akeem Spence is third in the bench press so far at 37 reps at 225 pounds.
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Reid Fragel is ninth in the bench press with 33 reps.
  • Michigan State's Bell is ninth in the three-cone drill at 6.75 seconds. Bell, by the way, weighed in at 230 pounds.
  • Ohio State tight end Jake Stoneburner tied for 12th in the 60-yard shuttle at 11.5 seconds.

Now let's examine the position groups and see how Big Ten players stacked among their peers at their positions:


  • Iowa's James Vandenberg was third among quarterbacks in the vertical jump at 32 inches, second in the three-cone drill, fourth in the broad jump at 116 inches, seventh with a 4.92 in the 40-yard dash, and tied for 10th in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Minnesota's MarQueis Gray was fourth with a 4.73-second 40-yard dash, seventh in vertical jump at 30 inches, tied for in the ninth broad jump (111 inches ), 10th in three-cone drill and tied for fourth in the 20-yard shuttle.
Running backs

  • Who was the fastest among big-time Big Ten backs? Bell ran a 4.60, just ahead of Wisconsin's Montee Ball at 4.66, while Burkhead posted a 4.73.
  • Bell was also ninth in the 225-pound bench press at 24 reps, third in the three-cone drill and 10th in the 20-yard shuttle.
  • Burkhead was behind only Texas A&M's Christine Michael in vertical jump, tied for second in broad jump, placed fourth in the three-cone drill, second in the 20-yard shuttle and fifth in the 60-yard shuttle. He tied for 13th with 22 reps on the bench press.
  • Ball talked last week about not being known for doing any one thing great. His combine numbers were a reflection of that. His 40 time was 19th among running backs, and his only Top 15 finish in any workout was his seventh-place showing in the three-cone drill.
  • Ohio State fullback Zach Boren tied for seventh in bench press at 25 reps.

  • Robinson was the only Big Ten player to be invited as a receiver. In addition to his numbers mentioned earlier, Robinson tied for 10th among wideouts in the broad jump at 123 inches and tied for 12th in the 20-yard shuttle.
Tight ends

  • Michigan State's Dion Sims tied for third among tight ends in the bench press at 22 reps, was third in the vertical leap (35 inches) and finished second in both the three-cone and 60-yard shuttle drills. He was 12th in the 40-yard dash at 4.75 seconds and 12th in broad jump at 112 inches.
  • Ohio State's Stoneburner was third among tight ends in the 40-yard dash at 4.6 seconds. He was fifth in vertical leap (34.5 inches), tied for fourth in the broad jump (116 inches) and sixth in the three-cone drill. He placed ninth in bench at 18 reps.
Offensive line

  • Ohio State's Fragel was fourth among offensive linemen with 33 reps on the 225-pound bench press. He was fifth in vertical leap at 30 inches and third in the broad jump at 113 inches.
  • Wisconsin tackle Ricky Wagner was third in the vertical jump at 31.5 inches. He did 20 reps on the bench press and ran a 5.17 40-yard time.
  • Badgers center Travis Frederick ran a 5.58 40-yard time and did 21 reps on the bench press.
  • Illinois' Hugh Thornton was 10th in the 20-yard shuttle drill. His 40 time was 5.11 seconds, and he did 27 reps on the bench.
  • Penn State center Matt Stankiewitch did 27 reps on the bench and ran a ran a 5.43 in the 40.

Buckeyes set foundation for future

November, 26, 2012
Ohio StateKirk Irwin/Getty ImagesCoach Urban Meyer and his undefeated 2012 Buckeyes could have an even brighter future ahead.
I ventured out to a couple of places in Columbus on Saturday night to watch the USC-Notre Dame game. Plenty of Ohio State fans were cheering for the Trojans, hoping that their Buckeyes would end up as the only undefeated team in the country. After the Irish won, one well-lubricated fan kept yelling, "Congratulations on being the second-best team in the country."

Ohio State and its backers are relegated to just watching other teams from here on out and hoping to get recognized. The good news is, they shouldn't have to worry about that this time next year.

While the Buckeyes' 12-0 season won't end with a BCS national title shot, it does set up next year's team for a run at the crystal football. Urban Meyer's first year couldn't have gone any better, and Ohio State will almost certainly start next season in the Top 5 and possibly the Top 3.

"This sets the standard pretty high," senior tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner said. "I don't think anyone really expected coach Meyer to come in and turn it around like he did. But for anyone who wants to be a Buckeye or is a Buckeye right now, there's no better place to be."

Ohio State went from a team that Meyer said repeatedly had a lot of holes during the first half of the season to one that had no holes in its résumé. That should frighten the rest of the Big Ten, as Meyer inherited a 6-7 team full of guys he didn't recruit, many of whom didn't really fit his offensive system, and he was still able to go undefeated. What will he do once he starts bringing in game-breaking receivers and running backs who can go the distance?

Even though Meyer said Monday that this team's passing game "is not even in the same hemisphere as what we want," the Buckeyes still led the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points per game. And that offense loses only two starters, Stoneburner and right tackle Reid Fragel, while hoping senior running back Jordan Hall gets a medical redshirt. Meyer said after Saturday's win over Michigan that Carlos Hyde has progressed into one of the top running backs in the country. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller is a possible Heisman Trophy finalist who still needs to make tremendous strides in his passing accuracy and pocket awareness.

"I don't see the ceiling yet," Meyer said. "He's got that much further to go."

The 2013 Buckeyes will be the heavy Big Ten favorites and their schedule is once again very manageable. They play Buffalo, San Diego State and Florida A&M at home, with only California on the road in the nonconference slate. In league play, they trade Nebraska and Michigan State for Northwestern and Iowa as non-protected crossover opponents from the Legends Division.

That doesn't mean next year's team doesn't have some major areas of concern. The defense could lose its entire front four if junior tackle Johnathan Hankins leaves early for the NFL as expected. Cornerback Bradley Roby, a redshirt sophomore, will have a decision to make on his future. If he goes pro, that would mean both starting corners are gone, since Travis Howard is a senior. And three of the team's top four linebackers -- Etienne Sabino, Zach Boren and Storm Klein -- have used up their eligibility.

"The linebackers, we've got to get that right," Meyer said. "That's the weakest area of our team right now."

Ohio State will be starting a bunch of young players on defense and will need its offensive line to stay healthy again because there is not much depth. But intangibles, not talent, might be the biggest question mark.

Meyer said he wasn't sure the senior class was entirely on board with him until an emotional meeting before the Sept. 29 Michigan State game. He raves about that group's "complete selflessness" which he said might be the best of any team he's been around. He pointed to defensive end John Simon playing through severe shoulder pain, Boren switching from fullback to linebacker midseason and Sabino rushing back from a broken leg to contribute as key examples. Meyer said he will have a wall in the team's training facility dedicated to this year's team, complete with video highlights that feature the team's unselfish nature.

There's no guarantee that next year's team will repeat that. Meyer also worries about the complacency that success can bring. He said he'll try to find ways to motivate the players in the offseason, including using the fact that a bowl game was taken away from them in 2012.

"We've got to make sure that doesn't take place," he said. "We need an angry team next year. If we have to manufacture that, we will. We're going to try to push the right buttons to get an angry team. If they're not angry, [if they're] complacent this team's as good as dirt, just like any team."

This year's team was good enough to go undefeated, something Meyer never accomplished at Florida despite winning two national titles there. It's scary to think how good the Buckeyes can be in the future after the first year he had in Columbus. Buckeyes fans might not have to concern themselves too much with what other teams are doing in late November.

Perfection hard to beat for Buckeyes

November, 24, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State won't have a chance to play for a national title and won't get to prove itself a 13th time this season because of NCAA sanctions.

But in a way, the Buckeyes earned something just as lasting as any crystal football. By finishing off a 12-0 campaign with Saturday's 26-21 win over archrival Michigan, they will remain perfect in memory and ideal in their fans' imagination.

If -- as several Ohio State players like Carlos Hyde and Ryan Shazier did Saturday afternoon -- this team wants to say it deserves the No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press poll, how can you convincingly tell the players they're wrong? A Notre Dame loss would leave the Buckeyes as the only undefeated team in the country, and we'll never know for sure how they would stack up against the other national powers.

"You can say what you want, but we're 12-0," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "People can talk what they want and say a bunch of what-ifs now, but I know we took care of what we had to do. At the beginning of the year we set out to win every single game, and that's what we did. It wasn't pretty, but it happened."

Ohio State fans sure didn't seem to care much about bowl bans. They poured onto the field in droves when the win was secured and stayed there long after the game had ended, taking photos and singing with the school band.

In between the first and second quarter, former coach Jim Tressel was honored along with other members of the 2002 national championship team. Those former players picked Tressel up and carried him off the field on their shoulders as the crowd roared. Of course, Tressel's deception of his bosses and the NCAA directly led to the sanctions that will keep this year's team home. But the irony of choosing the day when the current team would finish 12-0 to honor Tressel appeared lost on a forgiving fan base.

Time may heal all wounds, but going undefeated helps wipe out even the memory of those pains. Instead, fans can now remember this team as one of six unbeaten squads in school history, yet the first since 1944 to do so without going to a bowl.

"It kind of stinks," said tight end/receiver Jake Stoneburner. "We wish we were playing in a bowl game. But, shoot, I'll take 12-0 any day of the week."

A postseason game would bring the potential of a loss that could tarnish this team's legacy. Instead, it will be revered for turning last year's 6-7 disaster into the best possible building block for the future under first-year coach Urban Meyer.

Meyer said he would make sure the 2012 team would get some sort of permanent recognition around the team's facilities. He joked about erecting 19 bronze statues for each of this year's seniors.

[+] EnlargeOhio State Buckeyes
Andrew Weber/US PresswireWith his defense much improved, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said he feels his team can now compete with the nation's elite.
As for whether this team deserves a No. 1 ranking, Meyer was too media savvy to take that bait. But unlike earlier in the year, he was happy to heap plenty of praise on the Buckeyes.

"I'd say at this point in time, Ohio State could go play with anybody in America," he said.

Meyer wouldn't have put his own team in such company back in mid-October. But the improvement of his defense from a poor-tackling, easily exploitable bunch to a true strength has changed his perception.

In fact, Saturday's game was a perfect encapsulation of the Buckeyes' season. In the first half, they needed some great work by quarterback Braxton Miller to keep them in the game as Michigan rolled up 21 points and several explosive plays, like a 75-yard touchdown pass to Roy Roundtree and Denard Robinson's 67-yard touchdown sprint.

But just like in the season as a whole, the defense took over in the second half. Keying on Robinson as a runner and aided by some bizarre Michigan play calling, the Silver Bullets (yes, they've earned back that nickname) didn't let the Wolverines cross midfield after halftime. They allowed only 39 total yards and no points in the second half and forced three turnovers. Robinson and Devin Gardner were hemmed in as Michigan ran only 21 offensive plays in the second half.

"We just had to limit the big plays," linebacker Shazier said. "We were missing way too many tackles at the beginning of the game. We settled down on that and settled down on the big plays in the second half."

This wouldn't have been the 2012 Buckeyes without some adversity and drama. The defense played without star defensive end John Simon, who experienced swelling in his knee after last week's Wisconsin game. And even with the second-half defensive domination, Ohio State kept frittering away excellent scoring chances and settled for just two field goals to keep Michigan in the thick of it.

In the end, that's the signature of these Buckeyes. They never made things easy, but they never lost.

"We have so much confidence because we've been in so many close games like this," Sabino said. "We know how to come out with the win."

Now all they can do is watch football until the spring. Several players said they planned to watch next week's Big Ten championship game between Wisconsin and Nebraska, two teams they beat earlier this season.

They will do so believing someone else will get a trophy they earned.

"I feel like we're the true Big Ten champions," Shazier said. "We won every game and did exactly what we're supposed to do and finished out strong. We showed it today."

The Buckeyes can do nothing more to prove themselves. But no one can ever definitively tell them they weren't the best team in the country, either. They'd love a shot at the national title. They'll settle for perfection.

Perfection within reach for Ohio State

November, 14, 2012
At Ohio State, historic seasons are recorded in three ways.

1. Big Ten championships: the Buckeyes have won or shared 34

2. Rose Bowl championships: the Buckeyes have 7

3. National championships: the Buckeyes have 13 (including all selections), most recently the BCS national title in 2002

At a traditional power like Ohio State, if no championship is won, the season is pretty much forgotten.

Ohio State's seniors entered their final season with the sobering knowledge that they couldn't achieve any of these goals. A postseason ban for NCAA violations deprived them of competing in the Big Ten title game or any bowl game. The only championship they could win was the Leaders Division.

Their only chance to truly make history was to do something that often has proven harder than winning the Big Ten, the Rose Bowl or even the national title. They had to be perfect. Only 10 previous Ohio State teams have recorded undefeated, untied regular seasons. Only five previous Ohio State teams -- 1916, 1944, 1954, 1968 and 2002 -- finished the postseason without a loss or a tie. Only two previous Buckeye squads, the 2002 and 2006 versions, started a season 12-0.

Add in the fact Ohio State had a new coach (Urban Meyer), a partially new staff and a mostly young team coming off of the program's first 7-loss season since 1897, and the idea of perfection seemed more fantasy than reality.

It's real now.

Urban Meyer
Pat Lovell/US PresswireUrban Meyer and the Buckeyes could accomplish a rare 12-0 season at Ohio State, despite being on probation.
"It's right in front of us," Buckeyes senior tight end Jake Stoneburner told "Not that we didn't have anything to play for, but the two things we had to play for were win every game and beat Michigan. So both goals are hopefully going to be able to happen at the same time. We can win our side of the conference, but there's no Big Ten championship or anything like that, so all you can play for is win every game and go undefeated.

"So far, we've done a pretty good job of that."

Ohio State sits at 10-0 for the first time since 2007. The Buckeyes are one of just four undefeated teams in the FBS (No. 1 Kansas State, No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Notre Dame are the others). They have quite possibly their two toughest games left, a trip Saturday to Wisconsin followed by The Game against archrival Michigan on Nov. 24 at Ohio Stadium.

The focus inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center this week is Wisconsin, just like it had been Illinois, Penn State and Purdue in previous weeks. But Ohio State's quest for perfection is in the home stretch.

"It'll be one of those things where, after the Michigan game, if we are 12-0, we'll look back and be like, 'Wow, we really did it. We really went 12-0,'" Buckeyes linebacker (formerly fullback) Zach Boren told "But we still have two huge weeks ahead of us."

Let's attempt to put into context what a 12-0 season would mean for Ohio State and Meyer, with help from the fine crew at ESPN Stats & Info:

  • Ohio State would be the fourth team on postseason probation to record an undefeated season. Auburn was most recent to do it in 1993 (11-0). Oklahoma also recorded back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1973 (10-0-1) and 1974 (11-0), winning the AP national title in 1974.
  • Few undefeated teams from major conferences suffered as many losses the previous season as Ohio State's seven in 2011. You have to go back quite a few years for some of the better comparisons. Purdue went from 1-8 in 1942 to 9-0 in 1943. Stanford went from 1-7-1 in 1939 to 10-0 in 1940. Ohio State went from 3-5 in 1943 to 9-0 the following year.
  • Meyer would tie Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema for the most wins in his first season in the Big Ten. He's already the third Ohio State coach to start his career at 10-0 -- Earle Bruce (1979) and Carroll Widdoes (1944) are the others.
  • Widdoes (12-0) and former Michigan coach Fielding Yost (29-0) are the only Big Ten coaches to start their careers with 12 or more wins.
  • Meyer would become just the second coach to go 12-0 or better in his first season at a school. Larry Coker went 12-0 at Miami in 2001, winning a national title, and Chris Petersen went 13-0 at Boise State in 2006. Terry Bowden might be the best comparison to Meyer, as he went 11-0 with probation-laden Auburn in 1993.

The potential historical significance isn't lost on the Buckeyes, especially the seniors.

"That's how I want to go out," Stoneburner said. "It'd be nice to go 12-0 and get an opportunity to play for a national championship or play for a Rose Bowl, but we were able to play for a Rose Bowl [three seasons ago], we were able to play for a Sugar Bowl [two seasons ago, later vacated] and a Fiesta Bowl [four seasons ago]. The one thing we can't say is that we went undefeated throughout a season.

"For this class and what we've gone through, for us to be able to go 12-0, that'd be probably my biggest accomplishment since I've been in school. We're going to make sure we do everything to make that happen."

Boren credits Meyer and the staff for keeping the focus on the immediate. The team doesn't shout "12-0!" at the end of practice or have any signs about going undefeated. Instead, the signs around the complex point to the next win total. There were a lot of 10s displayed before the last game against Illinois, and there are a lot of 11s displayed this week.

Meyer said Tuesday he considered selling the Wisconsin game as Ohio State's Big Ten championship and the Michigan game as the Buckeyes' bowl. But the team doesn't need that.

"I don't think we’re going to have to make any special T-shirts or talk about bowl games or championships," he said. "... There's no issue with us getting ready for this game."

The Buckeye seniors also understand that this season is a starting point.

"We wanted to make sure we had a good first year under Coach Meyer and a good last year for us," Boren said. "This program's just going to take off, and we wanted to help any way possible. We knew if we could set the tone this year and have a good season, even when nothing really counted, that the younger guys will learn how to win."

The three championships will be back on the table in 2013. Ohio State likely will be favored to win the Big Ten and possibly the Rose Bowl, and the Buckeyes will be mentioned as a potential national title contender. They'll attempt to record a season to remember.

Just like they're doing now.

"Any time you can go undefeated and finish strong, especially with this senior class, you'll definitely leave a legacy," Boren said. "Even in a season where we can't go to the Big Ten championship game or a bowl game, you can still have a season that you will always remember."

Ohio State has the look of perfection

October, 27, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- This was supposed to be Penn State's return to the big time.

Nearly a year to the day from Joe Paterno's last game, the Nittany Lions geared up to show the world that they were back from 12 months of turmoil. A soldout Beaver Stadium roared on its red-hot team, just like the old days.

But Ohio State ruined the celebration. The Buckeyes, in fact, might just be the nation's most unwanted party crasher.

After their 35-23 victory in the Ineligi-Bowl, it's time to start planning for the inevitable. This team is now on a collision course with a 12-0 season after acing its toughest road challenge of the year.

You can quibble with the Buckeyes' schedule -- which includes no wins over current Top 25 teams -- or their various shortcomings. You can't argue with the record.

"Let's focus on the positive," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said after the game, objecting to a question about his team's flawed performances. "We're 9-0. It's good to be 9-0. Maybe you can help me, but how many other teams are 9-0?"

The answer is none. Which might also be the answer to the question: Who can beat this team the rest of the way?

The Buckeyes play 2-6 Illinois next week in a virtual bye week, then get a real week off to heal up. Then comes a trip to Wisconsin, which just lost at home to Michigan State and lost its starting quarterback. They end the year, of course, with the showdown against Michigan. That game, as you probably know, is in Columbus. Perfection could be on the line.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Jake Stoneburner
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarOhio State receiver Jake Stoneburner scored a 72-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach.
And then what? Though the Buckeyes are not eligible for the postseason or the BCS standings, Associated Press voters are free to put them as high as their hearts desire.

"We think we're definitely a top team in the country," receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner said. "People underestimate us. But there's something about this team."

Ohio State has had some shaky wins, like last week's overtime great escape against Purdue. But every time it needs to make a play, that play gets made.

"It was the same thing with the [2002] national championship team," defensive end Nathan Williams said. "They seemed to [find a] way to win the game at the very end, whether it be the last play or the last drive. I think we have a great chemistry as a team going on right now, and we're just going to continue to feed off it."

Nobody, not even Williams, is suggesting that this Ohio State club is as good as that 2002 team. But it does have a similar knack for winning.

On Saturday that winning effort started, surprisingly, on defense. A unit that had been battered and bruised most of the season held Penn State without an offensive touchdown until the final 10 minutes and allowed only 32 rushing yards. The game plan called for more blitzing than the Buckeyes normally do in order to fluster Nittany Lions quarterback Matt McGloin. Ohio State sacked him four times.

In maybe the key sequence of the game, linebacker Ryan Shazier dashed through the middle untouched to tackle McGloin early in the third quarter. Then he picked McGloin off for a 17-yard interception return touchdown on the very next play.

Shazier has struggled with missed tackles most of the year, but played inspired on Saturday while wearing a new jersey number, 48, in honor of his deceased high school friend Gary Curtis.

"It almost felt like a dream," Shazier said. "I was thinking about him the whole game. I felt like he was playing there with me."

Quarterback Braxton Miller was lying in a hospital room last Saturday after suffering a neck injury against Purdue. Early in the game, in the words of Stoneburner, Miller looked "a little bit jittery." Miller completed just six of his first 18 passes and overthrew a sure touchdown to Corey Brown.

But as he has done so often, Miller turned up his game when it mattered most. He threaded a perfect pass to Stoneburner on third down for a 72-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter, after Penn State had cut the lead to 28-16. And even though Miller used more caution while running in deference to his body, he still managed to control the game with 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The Nittany Lions' defense was visibly gassed trying to chase Miller in the second half after Ohio State went to its hurry-up offense. And Miller turned in maybe the prettiest 1-yard run in history for his first touchdown run, avoiding two tacklers and somehow adjusting his body mid-leap to slide past safety Malcolm Willis into the end zone.

"We have a drill where you make seven people miss," Meyer joked. "I was on the sideline, so I didn't really see it. But the conversation on the headset was, 'Oh, my god.'"

The Buckeyes are probably making a lot of people say that these days. Just wait until they win three more games.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Ineligi-Bowl turned into an indelible moment for Ohio State.

The Buckeyes came into a frenzied Beaver Stadium and sliced up a red-hot Penn State team 35-23, leaving no doubt which team is the best in the Leaders Division and the entire Big Ten. Ohio State improved to 9-0 and inched one step closer to its goal of a perfect 12-0 season under first-year coach Urban Meyer.

Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Braxton Miller squeezed a third-down pass into the hands of Jake Stoneburner, who had nothing but daylight in front of him for a 72-yard touchdown catch with 6:11 remaining. That made it 35-16 and extinguished any hope of a Penn State comeback.

Game ball goes to: The Ohio State defense. Penn State's offense came into the night on a roll, but the Buckeyes applied pressure to quarterback Matt McGloin all night and didn't allow an offensive touchdown by the Nittany Lions until there was 9:49 left in the game.

Stat of the game: Ohio State had 233 rushing yards to just 32 for Penn State. Miller piled up 134 of those, along with two scores. He was able to dominate the game in the second half despite completing just 7-of-19 passes.

Second-guessing: Bill O'Brien's gambles have mostly paid off this season. But one backfired on fourth-and-nine from the Ohio State 43 in the third quarter. Penn State went for the fake punt, and Alex Butterworth's pass was broken up on a nice play by the Buckeyes' Adam Griffin (son of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin). Penn State's defense had been playing really well, and the flipping of field position helped Ohio State drive in for a touchdown to make it 21-10.

What it means: It was an odd meeting of two good teams who can't play in a bowl game, so no result was going to have any postseason implications. But both teams are eligible to win the Leaders Division title, and now Ohio State has a virtual two-game lead in that race with three games left. Hey, it's something.

More importantly, it continued the Buckeyes' impressive march through the Big Ten in Meyer's first year. If Ohio State keeps on winning, Associated Press voters are going to have an interesting time figuring out to do with this team, which hasn't lost but also hasn't beaten a team currently ranked in the Top 25.

For Penn State, the loss halted some serious momentum as the team had won five straight coming into Saturday. The Nittany Lions had hoped for a dominating performance to impress recruits, more than 100 of whom attended the game. This was as close to a bowl game as Penn State is going to play over the next few years. Still, one loss doesn't erase what this team is accomplishing this year.

Ohio State aims for diversity versus MSU

September, 28, 2012
Ohio State receiver Corey "Philly" Brown didn't play in last year's game against Michigan State because of an injury. But he suffered along from the sidelines during the 10-7 loss.

"It was really frustrating," Brown recalled to "Our offense just couldn't get anything going on."

[+] EnlargeCorey Brown
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteBuckeyes junior wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown has already surpassed his totals from last season.
Offensive struggles were common for last year's Ohio State team, but never more so in that loss to the Spartans in which they were sacked nine times and nearly got shut out at home. Flash-forward a year, and many things have changed for the Buckeyes. Under Urban Meyer, they're averaging 37.8 points per game. Braxton Miller is a much more confident and explosive player at quarterback than he was as a wide-eyed freshman against Michigan State last season.

Still, beneath some good stats lie some concerns for Ohio State as it prepares to take on the Spartans' stout defense again. The offense has a tendency to go dormant for long stretches. The passing game remains inconsistent. And the team is heavily reliant on Miller's individual gifts.

Asked this week how close his offense is to being the diverse attack he wants, Meyer answered, "I don't think it's very close yet. At times, we've shown glimpses, but we've got to have more confidence to spread the ball around a little bit."

At least the receivers have made progress from the offseason, when Meyer criticized their past production and practice performance. Brown (20 catches for 223 yards) and Devin Smith (17 for 272) have already exceeded their reception totals for last year. Smith has become the big-play target, while Brown is a reliable possession guy.

"We've come a long way from the spring until now, and you can see a big difference in the way we have played," Smith said. "We got tired of the way people were talking about us and saying we were not good. We had to make a quick change, and now the whole world sees that Ohio State has receivers who can make plays."

Receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner has had his moments, with two touchdown catches against California two weeks ago and a big role in the blocking scheme last week versus UAB.

"I think they're still trying to figure out how to use me," Stoneburner said. "But I think it's working out pretty well so far."

Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing at 229 yards per game but really hasn't had a full deck to work with because of injuries, first to Jordan Hall (foot) and then to Carlos Hyde (knee). Hyde is expected back this weekend, giving the Buckeyes both running backs for the first time this season. Hyde is a force inside the tackles, while Hall can stretch the defense on the edges.

But Michigan State has one of the top rushing defenses in the country. Meyer says the Buckeyes will have to make plays downfield in the passing game this week and going forward, since opponents have started loading the box to try to slow down Miller. That puts even more pressure on the receivers to come through.

"We've got a lot of guys in our [receivers] room that can stretch the field, go up and make the big play," Brown said. "I feel like if we take our shots, any of our wideouts can make the play."

They will have to do so against arguably the best secondary in the conference, led by corners Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. And Miller, for all his heroics this year, will need to have his best day throwing the ball into tight quarters. Maybe most importantly, the Buckeyes will have to avoid backing themselves up with penalties and other mistakes that have kept this offense from truly taking off so far.

"It seems like every week we're fixing stuff here but then making some mistakes there," center Corey Linsley said. "If we can just put it all together ..."

They might just have to do so Saturday to avoid more frustration against Michigan State.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Braxton Miller wore a T-shirt bearing the likeness of Wile E. Coyote and the words "Super Genius" to his postgame Ohio State interview session.

That didn't seem quite right. While Miller's brilliance for the Buckeyes this season can't really be questioned, he's more like their Road Runner, able to escape out of seemingly impossible jams.

The sophomore went "beep beep" again on Saturday, leading No. 12 Ohio State off the cliff against a California team poised to pull the upset in Ohio Stadium. But Miller's heroics -- which included the game-winning 72-yard pass to Devin Smith with 3:26 remaining -- left the Golden Bears grasping at air in the Buckeyes' 35-28 victory.

"When you need someone to make a play, Braxton's the guy," tight end/wide receiver Jake Stoneburner said. "He's been doing it since he's been here. In the clutch, you've got to give it to Number 5. He'll do something with the ball."

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Greg Bartram/US PresswireBraxton Miller was at his finest this season late in games as he led Ohio State to a 12-0 mark.
Miller's five total touchdowns will put him squarely in the Heisman Trophy discussion. But his highlight film might distract you from some other important news: despite its ranking and its pedigreed coach, Ohio State is still a long way from being one of the nation's best teams.

The Buckeyes (3-0) were frankly lucky to beat a mediocre Cal team that lost at home to Nevada in Week 1. In fact, if not for three missed field goals by the visitors, they might have suffered their first loss under Urban Meyer. They certainly can't expect to play like this in the Big Ten opener two weeks from now at Michigan State and enjoy similar results.

One of the biggest -- and most surprising concerns -- for this team right now is its defense. Though blessed with a talented defensive front and veterans in the back end, the Silver Bullets have yet to fully fire. They gave up 512 total yards to the Golden Bears, including 224 on the ground.

Meyer wanted to see a better pass rush, and he got that with six sacks. But Cal did an excellent job at countering that pressure with runs and short throws. Missed tackles, a problem all of last year, were a major issue again Saturday.

"Terrible," Meyer said. "Terrible. I wish I had some magic answer for you. We don't tackle well right now. ... It's time to play Ohio State defense, and that wasn't Ohio State defense at all."

Cal's Brendan Bigelow bounced out of a crowd of Buckeyes defenders in the third quarter to rip off an 81-yard touchdown run, the longest rush ever by an opponent at the Horseshoe. Even worse, after Ohio State regained the lead at 28-21 in the fourth quarter, Bigelow needed only two carries to take his team 75 yards for the tying score.

"I know I had him a couple of times right in my reach," Ohio State defensive lineman Nathan Williams said. "I don't know what happened after that. We pride ourselves on stopping the run around here like always, and to give up a couple of long plays like that, it's a backbreaker."

The Buckeyes looked ready to break the game open early, running out to a 20-7 lead early in the second quarter. But then they went nearly 25 minutes without scoring, gaining only 20 total yards on their next seven possessions.

Cal confused Ohio State with switching defenses and kept loading the box in an effort to stop Miller from taking off and running. It worked beautifully.

Even the return of Jordan Hall, who made his season debut after a summer foot injury, didn't help the offense get moving too much. Hall carried 17 times for 87 yards but was mostly tied up on zone read plays. He looked more like Percy Sledge than Percy Harvin.

"I was a little rusty," he said. "There were some times when I lost my footing when I should have stayed up. There were a lot of runs I could have finished."

Once California took its first lead early in the fourth quarter, Meyer appeared to dip into his old Florida playbook. There was a nice option pitch to Hall. There was the throwback to the tight end. And Miller finished the drive with the famous Tim Tebow jump pass from the goal line to Stoneburner.

"We've been working on that since he's been here," Stoneburner said.

The winning play, though, was a pure Miller creation. The call was intended to be a pass to Corey Brown. But after Miller scrambled to his right, Cal's safety came up to guard against the run, leaving Smith more open than a Berkeley hippie commune. Miller said when he saw Smith a good 10 yards clear of the defense, he thought, "Oh my god."

It was another unbelievable play involving Ohio State's Road Runner. But Meyer knows his team can't rely on that for much longer. The Big Ten season is coming after next week's tune-up against UAB, and defenses like Michigan State's will force Miller to make more conventional plays in the passing game.

"It's kind of turning into that kind of a world for us right now," he said.

Miller might make the Buckeyes look like super geniuses right now, but they've got to figure more things out on both sides of the ball to avoid tripping up soon.

Predictions: Big Ten Week 2

September, 6, 2012
It's prediction time again as we attempt to forecast Week 2 in the Big Ten.

Although opening weekend had more big-ticket games, Week 2 features more potential toss-ups around the league. Seven Big Ten teams hit the road Saturday, including three squads -- No. 13 Wisconsin, No. 16 Nebraska and Illinois -- visiting Pac-12 opponents.

Both of us went 10-2 in Week 1, and we'd probably take that record again Saturday.

Let's get to it ...


Brian Bennett: No repeat of last year's North Dakota State debacle for the Gophers, who improve to 2-0 behind a strong running game, led by Donnell Kirkwood. ... Minnesota 31, New Hampshire 20

Adam Rittenberg: The Gophers can't afford to take any team lightly and have dropped their past two games against FCS teams (North Dakota State and South Dakota). Still, I liked what I saw from Minnesota's defensive front in the opener. The Gophers get enough from Ra'Shede Hageman & Co., and MarQueis Gray rebounds with three touchdowns (2 pass, 1 rush) as the team survives against New Hampshire. ... Minnesota 26, New Hampshire 20


Adam Rittenberg: The Knights provide a much tougher test for Ohio State than Miami (Ohio) did, and the Buckeyes' defense has some early struggles before rebounding. I expect another big performance from Braxton Miller, who gets Jake Stoneburner more involved in the passing attack as Ohio State pulls away in the third quarter. ... Ohio State 34, UCF 17

Brian Bennett: The Buckeyes' offense gets off to a stronger start than last week, and Carlos Hyde goes for 100 yards. That and another big special-teams play help Ohio State break this one open. ... Ohio State 38, UCF 21


Brian Bennett: Call me crazy, but I think the Lions will rebound after their Week 1 loss. I see a much better performance by the Penn State defense, and Matt McGloin hits Allen Robinson for two touchdowns as PSU finally gets some good news. ... Penn State 17, Virginia 14

Adam Rittenberg: It wouldn't surprise me if Penn State's offensive line controlled Virginia and the Lions' defense stepped up, but I don't think the Lions have enough firepower to win on the road against an improving Cavaliers program. McGloin has some early success, but Penn State once again fades down the stretch. ... Virginia 21, Penn State 14


Adam Rittenberg: I'd pick Purdue if the game were in West Lafayette, and I expect Notre Dame to start slowly after the long trip to Ireland. But the Irish have a more dynamic offense than the Boilers, and Purdue's defense will start to show some cracks in the third quarter against Everett Golson. Both Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve see plenty of snaps in this one for the Boilers. ... Notre Dame 27, Purdue 21

Brian Bennett: Every time Notre Dame does something good, it usually backslides. So I see the Irish faltering after their strong performance in Dublin. Purdue is due, and Kawann Short dominates defensively and blocks a field goal for the win. ... Purdue 28, Notre Dame 24


Brian Bennett: Picking Indiana to beat anybody on the road is dicey at this stage. But the Minutemen might not be as good as Indiana State. The Hoosiers fall behind early but rally behind Tre Roberson and knock down a fourth-down pass at the goal line on the final play. ... Indiana 21, UMass 20

Adam Rittenberg: I think Kevin Wilson is starting to trust his team more and should open up the offensive playbook more against the Minutemen. Although Indiana needs a cleaner performance on the road, it gets enough from Roberson, who tosses two touchdown passes, including one to Kofi Hughes in his return from suspension. ... Indiana 27, UMass 21


Adam Rittenberg: Air Force is a team that gets your attention, and that's a good thing for Michigan after the disaster near Dallas. The Wolverines start slowly but block and tackle a lot better in the final three quarters. Denard Robinson plays a clean game with two touchdown passes and no picks, and Fitz Toussaint breaks off a long touchdown run in his return from suspension. ... Michigan 35, Air Force 20

Brian Bennett: Everybody is looking for the upset here, but I don't see it. Brady Hoke has experience coaching against the Falcons, and Michigan simply has too much talent. Robinson bounces back with 350 total yards. ... Michigan 38, Air Force 17


Brian Bennett: It's a good weekend for the Spartans to work on diversifying their offense. But it's the defense that once again carries the day. William Gholston has two sacks and Darqueze Dennard contributes a pick-six. ... Michigan State 28, Central Michigan 7

Adam Rittenberg: In the long run, quarterback Andrew Maxwell's shaky first start will turn out to be beneficial because he made mistakes without costing his team a crucial win. Expect a much more polished Maxwell in Mount Pleasant, and the Spartans junior tosses a pair of touchdown passes and no interceptions. Le'Veon Bell eclipses 100 yards, but his workload is more manageable in an easy win. ... Michigan State 38, Central Michigan 10


Adam Rittenberg: Similar to last week, I'm tempted to pick against the Hawkeyes, but the game isn't in Ames and although Steele Jantz's presence strikes fear in all who love the Black and Gold, Iowa will contain him enough in this game. Micah Hyde records a pick-six against Jantz and James Vandenberg rebounds with two touchdown passes. Iowa fills one of those empty trophy cases. ... Iowa 24, Iowa State 20

Brian Bennett: Another wild shootout, but this one goes the Hawkeyes' way. Vandenberg throws for 300 yards and Damon Bullock puts together another 100-yard game as Iowa hangs on for the Cy-Hawk Trophy. ... Iowa 35, Iowa State 31


Brian Bennett: Montee Ball shook off some rust in the opener and is ready for a big game. He goes for 175 and three scores, and despite some defensive lapses late, the Badgers prevail in Beavers country. ... Wisconsin 35, Oregon State 23

Adam Rittenberg: Corvallis is a tough place to play, and Big Ten teams really struggle on the road against the Pac-12. But Oregon State isn't a very good team, and Wisconsin should learn some lessons from the opener and keep the pedal down. Danny O'Brien makes a few miscues, but the Badgers' ground game takes over in the second half as Wisconsin prevails. ... Wisconsin 30, Oregon State 20


Adam Rittenberg: UCLA looked good in its opener, but so did Nebraska, and the Huskers appear to be a more complete team in 2012. Despite Rex Burkhead's injury, Nebraska has more than enough firepower as Taylor Martinez returns to his home state and racks up four touchdowns (2 pass, 2 rush). The Bruins give the Blackshirts a few issues, but Nebraska prevails after a big fourth quarter. ... Nebraska 33, UCLA 28

Brian Bennett: The Bruins showed some better offensive weaponry in their opener against Rice and will make this game a high-scoring, Pac-12-like affair. But Nebraska has more options on both sides of the ball, even without Burkhead. It's a big day for Ameer Abdullah, who runs for 100 yards and scores on a kickoff return. ... Nebraska 42, UCLA 31


Brian Bennett: The Cardiac Cats are impossible to predict. Why not the same score as last week? The Wildcats' varied offense gives Vandy much more trouble than South Carolina did in Week 1. Looking forward to the postgame Quiz Bowl. ... Northwestern 42, Vanderbilt 41

Adam Rittenberg: Northwestern looks like the same team we've seen the past two seasons, and although a young defense should eventually get better, this is a tough matchup against an explosive Vanderbilt team. It'll be another shootout, but this time, the Wildcats fall short as Jordan Rodgers takes aim on a woeful secondary. ... Vanderbilt 35, Northwestern 31


Adam Rittenberg: As well as Illinois' defense played in Week 1, I just don't think the Illini have enough to win on the road, especially with top quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase hobbled. No one likes Todd Graham, but the man knows offense and his Sun Devils have enough to survive on their home field. ... Arizona State 21, Illinois 20

Brian Bennett: Assuming Graham hasn't left for another job before kickoff, the Sun Devils have a lot of advantages here, including home field in the desert and Scheelhaase's injury. Illinois' defense is game but wears down as the game stretches past midnight Central time, and the Illini offense can't keep up. ... Arizona State 23, Illinois 17


Bennett: 10-2 (.833)

Rittenberg: 10-2 (.833)
The Big Ten doesn't announce an official preseason all-conference team. But that doesn't mean we can't.

Here are our picks for the 2012 preseason All-Big Ten team:


QB: Denard Robinson, Michigan
RB: Montee Ball, Wisconsin
RB: Rex Burkhead, Nebraska
RB: Le'Veon Bell, Michigan State
WR: Jared Abbrederis, Wisconsin
TE: C.J. Fiedorowicz, Iowa
OT: Taylor Lewan, Michigan
OT: Ricky Wagner, Wisconsin
OG: Spencer Long, Nebraska
OG: Chris McDonald, Michigan State
C: Travis Frederick, Wisconsin


DE: John Simon, Ohio State
DE: William Gholston, Michigan State
DT: Kawann Short, Purdue
DT: Johnathan Hankins, Ohio State
LB: Gerald Hodges, Penn State
LB: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
LB: Jonathan Brown, Illinois
CB: Johnny Adams, Michigan State
CB: Ricardo Allen, Purdue
S: Isaiah Lewis, Michigan State
S: Jordan Kovacs, Michigan


K/P: Brett Maher, Nebraska
KR: Raheem Mostert, Purdue
PR: Abbrederis

Thoughts: The first thing that likely jumps out at you is that we have three running backs and just one receiver on our first-team offense. No, we haven't forgotten the rules of football. It's just that we continue to feel the wide receiver crop is weak this season, and no great candidates for the second spot leap out at us. Perhaps Keenan Davis of Iowa or one of Northwestern's many receivers will have a great season, but no one has proved anything on a consistent basis. We'd rather have Bell -- who we believe is primed for a huge year -- on the team than any of the receiver candidates. Plus, isn't running the ball what Big Ten football is all about? ... Some of the toughest omissions came at linebacker, where Michigan State's duo of Denicos Allen and Max Bullough and Wisconsin's Mike Taylor were among those left out. At least we know we'd have an outstanding second-team unit at that position. ... Fiedorowicz is a bit of a projection pick, but we love the way he finished last season and how he fits into Greg Davis' new scheme. You certainly could make a strong case for Wisconsin's Jacob Pedersen or Ohio State's Jake Stoneburner there as well. ... Some of these players won't live up to expectations, and others will explode on the scene this fall. But for now, we'd feel pretty good about throwing this team on the field.
Some bad news in Buckeye Country as a man matching the description of Ohio State linebacker Storm Klein was arrested Friday and charged with misdemeanor domestic violence and assault, according to court records.
According to the court records, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound man with blonde hair named Storm Klein was arrested Friday and is scheduled for arraignment on Saturday morning. Ohio State officials had not confirmed Klein's identity as of late Friday night, but the descriptions in the report match closely with the senior who left spring practice as the backup at middle linebacker.

An arraignment is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday. No other details are available at this time.

The 6-2, 242-pound Klein started 10 games last season but missed most of spring practice because of injury. Ohio State's coaching staff listed Curtis Grant ahead of Klein at middle linebacker on the post-spring depth chart issued in May.

It will be interesting to see how head coach Urban Meyer responds to the situation. Meyer set the tone for how he'd handle discipline with the Buckeyes in removing senior offensive starters Jake Stoneburner and Jack Mewhort from their scholarships for the summer session after the players were arrested in early June. Although both Stoneburner and Mewhort can return to the team and are expected to be back for the season, Meyer's actions showed he's taking a hard-line stance toward discipline, a topic for which he drew criticism during his time at Florida.

Although Klein's alleged crimes are misdemeanors, they are much more serious than what Stoneburner and Mewhort did and would prompt a stronger punishment, perhaps dismissal from the team.

Stay tuned.
Jordan Hall isn't the most decorated running back in the Big Ten. He's not the sixth most decorated running back in the Big Ten.

But after a spring session where few stars emerged at Ohio State's skill positions, Hall is undoubtedly one of the league's more valuable running backs. Without him, a Buckeyes offense that already has a bunch of question marks looks even shakier.

Ohio State will be without its No. 1 back for the start of the season after he underwent foot surgery Friday. Just how long Hall sits out remains to be seen. Colleague Joe Schad reports that the senior will miss a minimum of two games and possibly more.

A source tells Schad that the Buckeyes are prepared for Hall to take a medical redshirt, if necessary. Hall cut his foot while walking Wednesday. While few details are available on the injury, it must have been a severe cut to require surgery and a lengthy rehab period.

With Hall out and tight end Jake Stoneburner not working out at the team facility this summer because of a May arrest, Ohio State really needs some young skill players to blossom. Backup running back Carlos Hyde will be a critical component for the Buckeyes until Hall returns. Hyde impressed at times last season, although he might not be as good of a fit for the spread as the speedy, smaller Hall.

Ohio State won't suffer much if Hall returns by a Week 3 game against Cal or even if he's back for the Big Ten opener at Michigan State. But a season-long absence provides a challenge for an offense already facing plenty of them.
Ohio State seniors Jake Stoneburner and Jack Mewhort have been indefinitely suspended following their arrest early Saturday, according to a report in The Toledo Blade.

The players' lawyer, Mark Collins, tells The Blade that both Stoneburner and Mewhort learned Sunday they are barred from Ohio State's football facilities and all team activities until their cases are settled. The two players are charged with misdemeanor obstructing official business. Stoneburner is the team's starting tight end, and Mewhort is a starter at left tackle.

Ohio State has yet to officially confirm the suspensions.

From The Blade:
Police in Shawnee Hills, Ohio, a Columbus suburb, spotted the two players and a third man not connected to the football team early Saturday urinating outside a restaurant near Stoneburner's house, located just off the course at Muirfield Village Golf Club. Collins said the men dashed away when they saw a spotlight, unknowing it belonged to police. He said Mewhort and Stoneburner stopped about 40 yards away from the restaurant and did not attempt to hide. ...
"Hopefully we can sit down with the Shawnee Hills police department and the prosecutors and come up with a resolution that everyone can be satisfied with," Collins said.

Stoneburner and Mewhort have a June 11 arraignment date, although Collins hopes to have the charges resolved before then.

This doesn't sound like a very big deal, and as long as the situation is resolved, I wouldn't expect the suspension to last too long. It does show new head coach Urban Meyer will hand down immediate punishment to prominent players. Meyer can't be too pleased that two players pegged to be leaders on offense ended up in this situation, and there likely will be internal discipline for Stoneburner and Mewhort.
Taking a page from our friends at the SEC blog, we're going to look at several Big Ten players who have a lot to prove during the 2012 season.

We'll break this up into divisions, starting with the Leaders.

Here are five players with plenty to prove this fall:

1. Matthew McGloin, QB, Penn State: New Penn State coach Bill O'Brien hasn't officially named his starting quarterback, but the expectation is McGloin will get the nod. McGloin has made 10 starts during the past two seasons but taken the majority of snaps for the Nittany Lions. He'll likely get the first shot to run O'Brien's straight-from-the-NFL offense, which will put a lot of pressure on the signal caller. Most folks have written off Penn State's passing attack after the past two seasons, but McGloin doesn't lack confidence and embraces the opportunity to prove his doubters wrong.

[+] EnlargeMatt McGloin
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarPenn State QB Matthew McGloin will likely get the first shot at running Bill O'Brien's new offense.
2. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State: From the moment Ohio State introduced Urban Meyer as its next head coach in November, the assumption was that Miller would flourish in Meyer's spread scheme. Miller showed his speed and athleticism as a freshman last fall, but he rarely got to throw the ball in an ultra conservative scheme and completed only 54.1 percent of his passes. Although he impressed Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman with his passing skills this spring, he has to show consistency when the games begin this fall. Ohio State's lack of depth at receiver isn't a secret, and while Miller has a few nice weapons (Jake Stoneburner, Jordan Hall, maybe freshman Michael Thomas), he'll need to make things happen for the offense to click in Year 1.

3. Michael Buchanan, DE, Illinois: The Illini have grown accustomed to producing elite defensive linemen, and the hope is that Buchanan will be the next surging star. Buchanan impressed the new coaching staff this spring with his explosiveness from the end spot. Illinois must replace All-American end Whitney Mercilus, who led the nation in sacks (16) and ranked second in tackles for loss (22.5). The Illini likely will be a defense-driven team because there's more continuity on that side of the ball. And while the overall defensive line looks strong, Buchanan can provide a major boost if he takes his game from good to great.

4. Ricky Wagner, OT, Wisconsin: Speaking of teams that mass-produce elite linemen, Wisconsin's success along the offensive front has been unparalleled in the Big Ten in recent years. The Badgers have had multiple All-Americans on the offensive line in each of the past two seasons. Who's the next star? All eyes are on Wagner, who has started 24 games at the tackle position in the past two seasons. He's entering his second year as the starting left tackle and will be protecting the blind side of the team's new starting quarterback. Wagner also will be instrumental in maintaining Wisconsin's rushing success behind Heisman Trophy candidate Montee Ball. Again, here's a guy who needs to take his game to the elite level.

5. Rob Henry, QB, Purdue: The Boilers have a unique quarterback dynamic entering the season -- they have three players who have made multiple starts -- and it's hard to know where Henry fits into the mix. He would have been the starter in 2011 after a strong offseason, but he tore his ACL in late August and missed the year. Henry was limited this spring and needs to catch Caleb TerBush and Robert Marve on the depth chart. There's no doubt Henry is the best athlete of the bunch, but he'll need to convince the coaches he's the best man to lead the offense. Last month, he had to shoot down rumors (via Twitter) that he would be switching positions. This fall, he can reclaim his place at the helm of the offense.