NCF Nation: Zach Boren

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.

(Read full post)


If Urban Meyer had placed a banner with the words "The Chase" in Ohio State's indoor practice facility last spring, he might have been asked, "For what?"

Sure, football players are always chasing something, as Meyer noted Tuesday when asked about the big, bold banner now hanging at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. That "something" can be localized: a starting job, a bigger role in the offense or defense, a scholarship, a coach's approval.

But Ohio State couldn't chase many tangible team goals last spring. The Buckeyes couldn't chase a Big Ten championship or a national championship because of NCAA sanctions. They only found out in September that they could chase a Leaders Division title. Undoubtedly their greatest attribute was an ability to chase the grandest goal they could -- a perfect 12-0 regular season, capped by a win against archrival Michigan -- and achieve it.

The banner makes much more sense now. Ohio State has emerged from the shadow of postseason probation and can chase whatever it wants, including the crystal football that has eluded the Scarlet and Gray -- and the rest of the Big Ten -- for more than a decade.

[+] EnlargeOhio State: The Chase
Photo/Ohio State Athletics Communications The above banner is prominently displayed in Ohio State's indoor practice facility.
"Some guys are chasing starting positions," Meyer said, "some guys are chasing a bowl game, some guys an NFL contract. ... It means more, but that's where we're going to stop."

Meyer and his players can stop there for now. They should, as it's only spring practice. But "The Chase" will be a theme throughout Ohio State's offseason as bigger, broader goals are back on the table.

"Everybody’s got big dreams," Meyer said, "and we as a football team have some dreams."

Ohio State can dream big primarily because of an offense that transformed in 2012, rising from 81st nationally in scoring to 21st and from 107th in total yards to 47th. Quarterback Braxton Miller blossomed in Meyer's system, racking up a team-record 3,310 yards of offense, earning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year honors and finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Miller, who spent part of his winter break working with noted quarterback instructor George Whitfield in California, leads a unit that returns nine starters, including four linemen. Ohio State also regains the services of versatile running back Jordan Hall, who missed most of last season because of injury and turned heads during Tuesday's practice.

After delivering scathing -- and accurate -- critiques of Miller, the receivers and the entire offense last spring, Meyer has a much rosier outlook these days. Tuesday, he called Miller's footwork "outstanding" and praised Hall and several other skill players.

"Last year, who knew what as going to happen," the coach said. "I think the appropriate term was 'clown show' at this time. I don't feel like [it's] a clown show."

If Miller makes strides as a passer, Ohio State should have its most potent offense since the 2006 season, when the Buckeyes played for the national championship (coincidentally against Meyer's Florida Gators). The key to the spring -- and to the season, really -- is whether Ohio State produces a typical Ohio State defense. Otherwise, Meyer says, any discussion about "those two words that we don’t use very often" is pointless.

The spring spotlight shines brightest on the defensive front seven. Ohio State lost all four starting linemen from 2012, including Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year John Simon and massive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a possible first-round draft pick. Talented young linemen such as Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence got a taste last fall, and Meyer's staff has recruited extremely well up front, but others must emerge to fill out the rotation. Meyer on Tuesday challenged players such as Steve Miller and Chris Carter to do so.

All-Big Ten selection Ryan Shazier returns at linebacker, but depth remains a major concern for a group that needed fullback Zach Boren to fill a starting role midway through the 2012 season.

"If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we'll have a good team," Meyer said. "If not, we won’t. It's pretty simple."

There's also a leadership void to fill this spring. Players such as Simon and Boren made sure the Buckeyes kept up the chase in 2012. Meyer expressed concern last spring at how the team would handle its first brush with failure. Thanks to the seniors, it never happened as Ohio State recorded only the sixth unbeaten, untied season in team history.

The torch has passed to players like Miller, a quiet kid from a quiet family whose voice must be heard more in 2013.

"He needs to be a better leader," offensive coordinator Tom Herman told reporters last month.

Other likely leaders include Shazier and dynamic cornerback Bradley Roby, a big talker who almost always backs it up on the field. Their challenge differs from that of their predecessors, who kept the team focused in spite of the bowl ban, yet did so under measured expectations.

The expectations are back to Tressel-era levels, and perhaps even higher because of the perfect season and Meyer's recruiting success. Anything less than a celebration Dec. 7 in Indianapolis -- and perhaps another Jan. 6 in Pasadena -- will be considered disappointing.

"The chase," Meyer said, "is on."
The NFL scouting combine is in the books and pro days at all the Big Ten schools will take place in the coming weeks. There's still time for the Big Ten's NFL draft hopefuls to boost their stock before the selections are made April 25-27.

But at the very top of the draft -- the first round, in particular -- things are looking rather bleak for the Big Ten, according to ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr.

Kiper's post-combine Big Board Insider features zero Big Ten players among the list of 25. Several Big Ten players have been included on previous Big Boards, including Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins and Purdue DT Kawann Short. If Michigan LT Taylor Lewan had skipped his final college season and entered the draft, he likely would be in Kiper's top 15.

Few would be surprised to see Hankins drafted in the first round, but his combine performance didn't exactly jump out. Short is another intriguing prospect, and Wisconsin center Travis Frederick also could sneak into the first round.

But if Kiper's forecast plays out, the Big Ten once again could be waiting a while before one of its players is drafted in April. The league didn't have a player selected in the 2012 draft until the Detroit Lions selected Iowa offensive tackle Riley Reiff with the No. 23 overall pick. The Big Ten hasn't produced a top 10 draft pick since Michigan offensive tackle Jake Long went No. 1 overall in the 2008 draft (Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the No. 2 overall pick in 2010, played his entire career in the Big 12).

Here's a look at the Big Ten's recent highest draft picks:

2012: No. 23, Iowa LT Riley Reiff (Detroit)
2011: No. 11, Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt (Houston)
2010: No. 13, Michigan DE Brandon Graham (Philadelphia)
2009: No. 11, Penn State DE Aaron Maybin (Buffalo)
2008: No. 1, Michigan LT Jake Long (Miami)
2007: No. 3, Wisconsin LT Joe Thomas (Cleveland)
2006: No. 5, Ohio State LB A.J. Hawk (Green Bay)
2005: No. 3, Michigan WR Braylon Edwards (Cleveland)
2004: No. 2, Iowa LT Robert Gallery (Oakland)
2003: No. 2, Michigan State WR Charles Rogers (Detroit)
2002: No. 12, Wisconsin DT Wendell Bryant (Arizona)

So after six straight years of top-5 picks (2003-2008), the Big Ten likely will go five straight years without a top 10 pick. Not good.

Several Big Ten players appear on Kiper's latest top-5 lists by position. Insider
  • Wisconsin's Montee Ball is the No. 2 running back
  • Ohio State's Zach Boren is the No. 3 fullback
  • Wisconsin's Frederick is the No. 1 center
  • Nebraska's Brett Maher is the No. 4 kicker
Neither Hankins nor Short appear among the top five defensive tackles.

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:

Quarterbacks

  • 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.
Receivers

  • 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.
Montee Ball's decision to return to Wisconsin for his senior season raised an eyebrow or two after the running back turned in a record-setting junior season in 2011. Ball returned in large part because he received a third-round grade from the NFL draft advisory committee.

If ESPN's Mel Kiper turns out to be right, Ball's decision will be labeled a wise one.

Kiper came out with his first mock draft for 2013 Insider on Wednesday, and Ball is listed as a first-round pick, going No. 21 overall to the Cincinnati Bengals. Ball didn't appear on Kiper's Big Board this season, but made a strong push late in Big Ten play. Kiper writes that Ball would be an excellent fit for the Bengals' system.

Ohio State defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is the only other Big Ten player in the mock draft, going at No. 15 to the New Orleans Saints. Kiper likes Hankins' ability to beat interior blockers to the backfield and eat up double teams.

It would have been interesting to see where Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan would have ended up on Kiper's list if he decided to skip his final season with the Wolverines. Purdue defensive tackle Kawann Short, a projected first-rounder for much of the season, reportedly just missed the cut.

The deadline for early entries to the NFL draft has come and gone, and Kiper has issued his top 5 prospects at each position Insider.

Here's who made it from the Big Ten:
  • Wisconsin's Ball is the No. 2 running back
  • Ohio State's Zach Boren is the No. 3 fullback
  • Michigan State's Dion Sims, who will skip his senior season, is the No. 4 tight end
  • Wisconsin's Travis Frederick, who will skip his senior season, is the No. 1 center
  • Hankins is the No. 3 defensive tackle
  • Nebraska's Brett Maher is the No. 4 kicker

Buckeyes set foundation for future

November, 26, 2012
11/26/12
2:30
PM ET
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.
Recognizing the best and the brightest from around the Big Ten in Week 13:
  • Ohio State's defense: After some early hiccups, Ohio State slammed the door on Michigan in the second half to secure a 12-0 season. The Buckeyes shut out Michigan in the final 30 minutes, allowing just eight yards in the fourth quarter and 60 in the second half (four first downs). Standouts included senior linebacker Zach Boren (9 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack, 1 fumble recovery), linebacker Ryan Shazier (2.5 TFLs, one sack), space-eating defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and safety Christian Bryant (one forced fumble, two pass breakups). Offense might have carried Ohio State early this season, but the Silver Bullets showed up when it counted.
  • Nebraska DE Eric Martin: If you hadn't noticed the Huskers senior before Friday, you likely know the name now. Martin was dominant in Nebraska's defense-driven win against Iowa, racking up seven tackles, three tackles for loss (one sack), a forced fumble and two quarterback hurries. His numbers don't fully illustrate how much he impacted the game, but he locked up a spot on the All-Big Ten team and possibly will be a first-team selection.
  • Northwestern QB Kain Colter: Like Indiana and Iowa, Illinois had no answer for the elusive Wildcats signal caller, who capped an excellent regular season with 88 rush yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Colter threw only 11 passes but completed nine of them, three for touchdowns to three different receivers (Tony Jones, Tyris Jones and Paul Jorgensen). Colter's backfield mate Venric Mark also merits a mention (18 carries, 127 yards, TD).
  • Michigan State RB Le'Veon Bell: He's the mean, green wrecking machine of Michigan State's offense, which would be even more anemic without him. Bell once again showed Saturday why he's one of the nation's best running backs, racking up a career-high 266 yards and a touchdown on 35 carries. He routinely carried Minnesota defenders for extra yards. The junior is one of only three FBS players -- and the only one in a major conference -- to record three 200-yard rushing performances this season.
  • Penn State DT Jordan Hill: From Jared Odrick to Devon Still and now to Hill, Penn State's tradition of elite defensive tackles has continued. Hill, a sure-fire first-team All-Big Ten selection, finished his career with a flourish, recording 12 tackles, including three tackles for loss and two sacks, as Penn State beat Wisconsin in overtime. Despite battling a bum knee, Hill helped shut down Montee Ball and the Wisconsin offense after the first quarter. On a day when linebacker Michael Mauti couldn't play, Hill stepped up in a big way.
  • Purdue RB Akeem Shavers: He wasn't the only Purdue player to gash Indiana's defense in the Bucket game, but he was the most effective from start to finish. The senior stepped up in a big way, racking up 126 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries to go along with 99 receiving yards and two touchdowns. He scored three touchdowns in a span of 4:26 in the fourth quarter, starting with a 73-yard scoring reception. He's now responsible for Purdue's two longest pass receptions of the season.

Buckeyes' win bittersweet, still tasty

November, 24, 2012
11/24/12
7:35
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- First there was a Gatorade bath to survive.

Then came a massive bear hug from senior fullback-turned-linebacker Zach Boren, who gave so much more than Ohio State ever could have asked for during his final season with the program.

A mass of humanity ready to celebrate the simultaneous capture of a perfect season and rivalry bragging rights pressed in after that, making finding family members for the next hugs a tall order.

After knocking those steps out and belting out a few more celebratory songs in the south end zone over a wild, raucous few minutes on the field at Ohio Stadium, Urban Meyer finally emerged from the crowd and had a moment to himself.

It didn't last long as the Buckeyes coach sneaked under the scarlet awning and up the ramp to the locker room, flanked by three security guards who had watched him cap a perfect season with a 26-21 victory over Michigan on Saturday. But for about 30 seconds, Meyer was alone with his thoughts before a fan wearing a Braxton Miller jersey spoiled it with an unwelcome sprint into what was supposed to be a private tunnel, and that almost certainly wasn't enough time to process what has happened in his first year with the Buckeyes.

"The nut-job students won't let you find anybody," Meyer joked during his 12th victorious news conference of the season. "But to be out on that field was something special.

"Very emotional time, and obviously this is the state I grew up in, the state that I made comment in last November that our objective was to make the great state of Ohio proud. I imagine tonight there are a lot of people in this great state very proud of their football team. ... But to be 12-0, it really hasn't sunk in yet."

Story continues in BuckeyeNation.

Perfection within reach for Ohio State

November, 14, 2012
11/14/12
10:00
AM ET
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 ESPN.com. "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 ESPN.com. "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."

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Ohio State staged another shootout.

It still has the better weapons.

The Buckeyes kept their record perfect behind another explosive offensive performance, riding Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde on the ground and getting a couple touchdown receptions from Devin Smith to hold off feisty Indiana in a 52-49 decision on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium.

It was over when: During a brief interruption of the Braxton Miller Show, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton came off the bench to finish off a touchdown drive and effectively put away the Hoosiers. After a late hit briefly sidelined Miller, Guiton rolled to his right and flipped a shovel pass to Carlos Hyde that opened up a two-score margin for the Buckeyes in a game that had tightened back up in the second half. The Hoosiers made it interesting late, but the lead the Buckeyes had built was ultimately too big.

Game ball goes to: Braxton Miller didn’t have his best stuff throughout the game, but the sophomore quarterback was on enough to again bust loose for a long, 67-yard touchdown run on the way to another 100-yard performance on the ground. He also complemented it with a gorgeous, 60-yard scoring strike to Devin Smith and an efficient outing through the air to keep the Buckeyes unbeaten.

Stat of the game: Smith put a couple throws his way on the ground, but both times he was able to hang on to the football he found himself in the end zone. All the sophomore needed were two catches to rack up 106 yards through the air and give the Buckeyes a couple critical touchdowns.

How the game was won: The Hoosiers had an aggressive scheme against the spread option and tackled well on the perimeter, but they had no answer for the Buckeyes between the tackles. Miller’s 67-yard score came up the middle, and running back Carlos Hyde was a force on the inside, regularly breaking tackles, moving the pile and making life difficult for Indiana.

What it means: Ohio State still has some flaws, but it also has a perfect record. Injuries took a toll on the Buckeyes defensively, so much so that fullback Zach Boren spent the game playing linebacker trying to help a unit that continues to give up big plays and miss critical tackles.

But the Hoosiers still have much more pressing concerns than the Buckeyes, and their futility in the series continued despite jumping out to an early lead and having chances to swing momentum against a team at less than full strength.
Urban Meyer and Bill O'BrienUS PresswireUrban Meyer and Bill O'Brien will be tasked with rebuilding tradition-filled programs.

Less than a year and a half ago, if you were putting together a Mount Rushmore of modern Big Ten coaches, Joe Paterno and Jim Tressel would have had strong cases for inclusion.

Fans at Penn State and Ohio State didn't just wonder about who would eventually replace their iconic coaches. They wondered who could handle following a legend.

Circumstances, of course, intervened. Tressel was forced to resign at Ohio State, while Paterno was unceremoniously fired, both leaving their posts under varying degrees of disgrace. Suddenly, it's not about how their successors escape enormous shadows; it's about how they remake and rebuild their programs in a better image.

It's why new Penn State coach Bill O'Brien can say "I'm not even thinking about succeeding anybody" and not be laughed out of State College. He's got too much work to do.

Urban Meyer was never going to be easily eclipsed, not after having won two national titles at Florida, including one BCS title-game victory over Tressel. But he inherited a team very much used to the buttoned-down Tressel style, and things didn't change too much last year under interim coach and former Tressel assistant Luke Fickell.

But Meyer wasted no time in letting players know that things were going to change once he was hired last November.

"I think he put his stamp on the program the day he walked in," senior running back Zach Boren said. "He set an attitude from the beginning. Right when he came in, we knew he meant business."

The Buckeyes might have been loaded with four- and five-star recruits, but Meyer told them they weren't good enough. He had the clout to do so. And he minced no words when speaking publicly about his players, calling some "nonfunctional" or not up to Ohio State standards. Precious few were spared.

"He holds you very accountable," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said. "If he doesn't like something, he's going to tell you. For some guys, it works. For others, it doesn't. But everything is very crystal clear. He eliminates any gray area."

"In the past, it was just a known thing, that you were supposed to act a certain way and do this and do that," Boren said. "Coach Meyer is much more blunt about it. He's very vocal."

Say this about Meyer's methods: They appear to have worked. The players enthusiastically went through new strength coach Mickey Marotti's grueling offseason workouts. There is nothing but excitement for Meyer's hurry-up, spread offense, a sight that would have confounded Tressel or Woody Hayes.

The transition to Meyer is not all that abrupt. He's an Ohioan born and bred, a former Earle Bruce assistant just as Tressel had been.

O'Brien had no such ties to Penn State. He's never even been a head coach, though his time as New England Patriots offensive coordinator carries some cachet. He's not the guy any Nittany Lions fan would have predicted as their first new head coach in 47 years.

Yet, in some odd ways the public dismantling of Paterno's reputation has removed some pressure for O'Brien. That's not to say he has it easy; dealing with the crippling NCAA sanctions and the enduring legacy of the scandal might make his job harder than that of any other coach at a major program.

But O'Brien won't constantly be compared to Paterno nor feel forced to do everything the way his predecessor did. When Penn State announced this summer that it would add player names to the back of its iconically understated uniforms, it created a stir, but not the earthquake it might have if all things JoePa-related were still held in reverence.

"I'm very respectful of the traditions here," O'Brien said. "Very respectful. But it's a new era of Penn State football in many ways."

O'Brien has referenced that "new era" often since taking over the job. A more intense offseason conditioning regimen and a far more modern offensive scheme are the immediate signs of change in State College. But the culture will not flip upside down overnight.

When asked whether Penn State had now taken on O'Brien's personality, redshirt freshman defensive end Deion Barnes answered, "Somewhat. He's got to take it day by day."

Yet Barnes and other players can't help but love the steadfast way O'Brien has handled the extremely difficult circumstances he inherited. He has confronted the situation honestly and directly and has not wilted under the pressure. Whatever Penn State does on the field this year may not impress people as much as how O'Brien has handled himself off the field.

"I would run through a burning house to save that dude," senior linebacker Michael Mauti told OnwardState.com earlier this month.

For better or worse, Penn State is likely to be remade in O'Brien's image. He has an eight-year contract, and it makes little sense to fire him if the Nittany Lions don't win big, given the heavy restrictions under which they'll operate. O'Brien has promised other, subtle changes to the team's traditions, which could include having the head coach exit first off the blue buses that bring the team to Beaver Stadium.

"I might be driving the bus," O'Brien joked.

O'Brien and Meyer are now steering two of the Big Ten's most prominent programs. The odd circumstances that put them behind the wheel mean they won't be run over by the legends who got there first.
CHICAGO -- Big Ten football media days are in the books, and the 2012 college football season is officially here.

Here's a look back at some of the top items from the past two days ...

Best dressed: Montee Ball. If you want be called Mon-Tay, as Ball now goes by, you had better back it up. The Wisconsin star dressed to impress both days, sporting a suit with a purple vest and bowtie Thursday, followed by a suit with a black vest and a red tie Friday. Guessing that Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema preferred the red tie. Honorable mention goes to Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen for his three-piece beige suit. Very sleek.

Most heartfelt moments: It's a tie between Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti, who reflected on an emotion-charged week for the program, and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who made a touching and revealing speech at the Big Ten kickoff luncheon, discussing his humble roots, the loss of his brother and his responsibility as a high-profile athlete.

Best line from Robinson: "I met the President of the United States, and I met LeBron James, and they both knew who I was."

Best bold statement: First-year Ohio State coach Urban Meyer is setting the bar high for his quarterback, Braxton Miller. How high? "Braxton Miller has a lot of skills that Tim [Tebow] didn't have," Meyer said. "Braxton Miller is dynamic, he's the most dynamic athlete I've ever coached at quarterback. What I just said, people should go, 'Whoa.' He is, really by far. That's how good of an athlete he is." Fullback Zach Boren agrees, telling ESPN.com, "One or two Heisman Trophies are in his future." No pressure, Braxton.

Best newlywed moment: Bielema, who got married in March, was asked which ring feels better, his wedding band or his Big Ten championship ring (he wore both Friday). "It depends on who's asking," he said.

Best physical assessment: Michigan junior left tackle Taylor Lewan, on teammate Craig Roh's claim that he's husky. "Call me husky all you want. Feel these hips if you want, too. I'm 310 pounds. There's got to be a little love, right?"

Best recruiting comment: Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, asked about plucking heralded linebacker recruit Ifeadi Odenigbo from Centerville, Ohio. "Urban can't take 'em all," he said, referring to Ohio State's Meyer. "But they offer 50, we get one, hooray for the 'Cats."

Best media day debut: Andrew Maxwell hasn't started a game at quarterback for Michigan State, but the junior handled himself well in the spotlight this week. "I've organized the 7-on-7s, get guys in the meeting room, get guys in the film room, texting them, saying, 'What time are you free? What time do you have class today?' " he said. "You really start to see how that's working when guys are texting and calling you, saying, 'Hey, can we get in the film room today.' When it's a two-way street, that's when you're most effective."

Best social media comment: Although several of Kirk Ferentz's Iowa assistants are on Twitter, including his son, Brian, the team's offensive line coach, Ferentz hasn't warmed up to social media for his players. "We're really not big on Twitter," he said. "I told them they can Twitter their lives away as soon as they've played their last game. If they want to Twitter the next 60 years, have at it. Facebook, Myspace, your space, my book, your book, it's probably not fair to try to rein that one in, but we just try to encourage that it's going to be part of their DNA. Whatever they post, they're responsible for."video
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State fans had to figure their football team would look different under first-year coach Urban Meyer this coming season.

But Meyer said Wednesday that the Buckeyes will run a no-huddle, hurry-up offense in 2012. Quarterback Braxton Miller said Meyer wants the Ohio State offense to take 80 to 85 snaps per game and play at a much faster pace than the Buckeyes did under former coach Jim Tressel.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Eric Francis/Getty Images"It's very fast," Ohio State's Braxton Miller said of the offense. "The defense gets really tired. ... I'd compare it to Oregon."
Think Oregon Ducks-like fast.

"All you've got to do is look at Oregon," Meyer said. "We're committed to it. We're still going to pop a huddle once in a while, but we're committed to it."

The Buckeyes bring back seven offensive starters from a team that finished 6-7 under interim coach Luke Fickell in 2011. Fickell, who took over when Tressel was forced to resign on May 30 for witholding information from NCAA investigators and OSU officials about NCAA rules violations, was retained by Meyer and will work as the Buckeyes' defensive coordinator and linebackers coach.

"It's fun," OSU fullback Zach Boren said. "It's all up-tempo stuff and stuff we're not used to doing here."

Miller, a sophomore from Huber Heights, Ohio, ran a spread offense in high school. He said he's comfortable running Meyer's system, after leading the Buckeyes in rushing (715 yards with seven touchdowns) and passing (1,159 yards with 13 touchdowns) as a freshman last season.

"It's very fast," Miller said. "The defense gets really tired. They're always complaining after practice, saying we need to slow it down. I'd compare it to Oregon."

Last season, after losing starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who entered the NFL's supplemental draft, the Buckeyes averaged 107th nationally in total offense (318.1 yards per game), 115th in passing (127 yards) and 81st in scoring (24.4 points). Meyer said he has also installed some triple-option plays for Miller, who can also pass out of the formations.

"I've never run the triple-option until this year," Miller said. "It's neat. There are a lot of things that go into it. I can't wait to run it."
Mike Brewster's vision for his senior season at Ohio State included snapping the ball to Terrelle Pryor and receiving guidance from Jim Tressel.

It certainly didn't include games like last Saturday's 24-6 loss at Miami.

Like the other Buckeyes seniors, Brewster isn't accustomed to losing. He certainly isn't used to being blown out by an unranked opponent.

Although Ohio State's offense has had its hiccups during Brewster's first three years as the starting center, the unit never performed as poorly as it did in the Miami game.

[+] EnlargeMike Brewster
James Davidson/Icon SMIThis season has not gotten off to the start Mike Brewster (50) had hoped for.
"I haven't really gone through a game like that here," he told ESPN.com. "I'm definitely being tested right now in a way I didn't think I would ever be."

Ohio State coach Luke Fickell repeatedly talked Tuesday about getting the team's best 11 on the field on both offense and defense. Brewster, a leading Rimington Trophy candidate, certainly is among that best 11.

He's not the problem, but he wants to be part of the solution.

"I can really only help control so much," Brewster said. "What I'm going to do is make sure this line keeps grinding away. It's a great group of guys up front. If we give the backs holes and the quarterbacks time, I think things will go in the right direction."

Despite Fickell's best efforts to deflect criticism from the quarterbacks, it's not hard to isolate Ohio State's primary problem on offense.

The Buckeyes rushed for 174 yards against Miami, and running back Jordan Hall had a nice performance in his season debut. Miami recorded only two tackles for loss.

"I thought we did a great job of giving the quarterbacks time and giving the backs holes," Brewster said.

But the quarterbacks, senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller, combined to complete just 4 of 18 pass attempts for 35 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Bauserman completed just 2 of 14 attempts for 13 yards, while Miller threw the pick and also lost a fumble.

While three key offensive reinforcements -- running back Dan Herron, wideout DeVier Posey and left tackle Mike Adams -- are on the way back for the Oct. 8 game at Nebraska, Ohio State will go forward with what it has under center.

Fickell remains undecided on a starter for this week's game against Colorado, although he seemed to lean a bit more in Miller's direction.

Asked if he saw an overwhelming upside with Miller ahead of Bauserman, Fickell replied, "We could. If he could go out and make some plays on the football, we will."

Fickell on Tuesday stressed the need for more big plays. Ohio State has recorded only 11 offensive plays of 20 yards or longer (nine pass, two rush) through the first three games, and none came against Miami.

"All the running backs are capable of doing that," fullback Zach Boren said. "Even out wide, the young [receivers]. I think we have the fastest team I've ever been a part of here at Ohio State. We definitely have that capability of guys to be able to make big plays, be that playmaker.

"Someone just needs to step up and do it."

Brewster won't be throwing passes or breaking off long runs, but he'll continue his role as the nucleus of the line and enhance his role as a leader as Ohio State prepares for its final nonconference game Saturday against Colorado.

"I know guys are looking to me, and I just have to stay confident," Brewster said. "That's something I learned from coach Tress. When things were going bad or we'd hit a rough spot, he kept his head up and stayed confident.

"There's a lot to play for still. I know people on the outside looking in think it's bad, but I'm pretty confident we'll fix things."
Ohio State fans finally got a look at freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, but it's not one they'll want to remember.

Miller came in for the Buckeyes' third series, which coincided with the start of the second quarter. After he scrambled for a short gain on first down, he had a pass dropped by tight end Reid Fragel and then had to fall on a bad snap on third down.

Joe Bauserman had more success in the first quarter during his two series. The senior went 3-for-3 for 47 yards and scrambled for a 15-yard touchdown, showing more athleticism than fans had given him credit for. Ohio State would have scored on its second series, too, but Rod Smith fumbled inside the 5.

Early impressions: Ohio State is much too good for Akron, especially in the trenches. Fullback Zach Boren has made some excellent blocks to spring the tailbacks. Only a couple of mistakes on offense has kept the Buckeyes from opening up a huge early lead.

One last note: running back Jaamal Berry (hamstring) warmed up with the starters but has yet to play. Doesn't look like he'll be needed today.

SPONSORED HEADLINES