2014 Big Ten football picks

I think this will be one of the better Big Tens we’ve seen in the past decade or so, but I’m not sure there is an elite team in the league. There should be depth, and that could set things up for a strong 2015, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Ohio State is rebuilding on defense, but that unit could hardly be worse than it was when the ’13 season concluded, so it’s hard to count that as a negative. Michigan State’s offense was a sore spot early last season but finished on a high and returns almost everyone of consequence. They’ll have some new faces on the offensive line, but that unit wasn’t great anyway so they can probably get by with an average front again this season all things considered. Teams may play them differently now that Connor Cook is a known commodity, though. How he responds to that will tell a large part of the tale this season. Recent conference history is littered with quarterbacks who looked good early in their career but plateaued. Big Ten logo

Michigan State is, pardon the pun, green in some spots on defense, and it is unlikely the Spartans will be as tough there regardless of how good coaches Mark Dantonio and Pat Narduzzi have proven to be on that side of the ball. The same can be said of Ohio State’s offensive line, though, so it all could be a wash when the teams play Nov. 8. Continue reading

Johnny Manziel on Braxton Miller

Johnny Manziel has only been a Cleveland Brown since May, but he seems to be doing a good job of getting in good with the stars of some of the state’s other teams in relatively short order.

First there was LeBron James (even before he returned to the Cavaliers), now it is Braxton Miller. Continue reading

Ohio State football: The Song Remains The Same

The first game week of the season brings with it the first 2014 edition of my “Cus Words” column at BuckeyeSports.com.

After an eventful offseason that took a surprising turn toward the end, where do the Buckeyes stand heading into the Navy game?

I am curious to see the effects of Urban Meyer’s intense efforts to remake the culture of the program. Although he took responsibility, I think at least some of it is residue from the Jim Tressel era. That’s not to say it is from something Tressel was doing wrong but rather that these two coaches were not necessarily looking for the same attitude in a recruit.

Cus Words: The Song Remains The Same – Ohiostate – Scout.

Ohio State football 2014: Potential pitfalls

I wrote for FOXSports.com after the Braxton Miller news became official that his absence need not mean all of Ohio State’s hopes for the season go down the drain, and I do believe that. But it would be foolish to ignore the fact that plenty of the questions facing this team, both before and after Miller got hurt, could go either way. That was true with or without him.

Ohio State Marching Band closes its famous video game show during halftime against Nebraska
Ohio State could be in trouble if a few things break wrong.

So, what could go wrong?

Well, the offensive line might not be able to protect new starter J.T. Barrett. Right tackle in particular is a question mark until we see Darryl Baldwin in action.

Running back is well-stocked with a variety of body types and talents, but will anyone be able to create as many yards as Carlos Hyde did after contact? And, by the way, the new starter at running back is likely to face contact sooner than Hyde did, so this issue becomes even greater.

Will the receivers step up as expected? That’s another big if considering Devin Smith has had a tendency to drift in and out of games and fellow senior Evan Spencer is coming off a nasty injury in the Orange Bowl. We’ve seen glimpses of what Dontre Wilson can do, but he will certainly need to be more dynamic than he was in games last season to be a major factor this year, especially if defenses pay any extra attention to stopping him. Everyone else, for all their potential, has never done anything in a college game.  Continue reading

Previous Ohio State surprise starters have performed pretty well

So, Ohio State is going to play the 2014 season with a new starting quarterback despite starting an underclassman the previous season. This might seem unusual, but it has happened for the Buckeyes what seems like a rather remarkable five times in the past 50 years. The reasons have varied but don’t include the previous season’s starter going pro (at least not for positive reasons). Miller meets media

Braxton Miller is the first one to be replaced because of injury. He ended up being the starter in 2011 after Terrelle Pryor left school in June amid questions about additional NCAA violations (he was already facing a five-game suspension for violations previously admitted). Like Miller, Pryor became a surprise true freshman starter in 2008 after senior Todd Boeckman struggled early in the season.

You might have already known about those circumstances, but what about the three that came before?  Continue reading

Overheard at Ohio State football Aug. 18

Cleaning out the reporter’s notebook from another day on the Ohio State football beat… 

The always interesting Tom Herman, Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, told us quarterback Braxton Miller did not throw in the morning practice but ran the offense as they concentrated on the running game.

He agreed with a questioner who asked if the reps have been good for backup quarterbacks J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones and added that the mental reps have been good for Miller too even though they would prefer not to be doing things this way. Live reps have been great for the young guys.

Ohio Stadium from the Buckeye Grove south of the stadium

Barrett has moved ahead of Jones for the No. 2 quarterback job because the offense moves better when he is running it. He probably would have better stats, too, if you broke it all down, but that’s really the bottom line. Continue reading

Buckeye defense hoping for 1996 redux

On the second day of Ohio State’s 2014 preseason football camp, Luke Fickell said this was the first offseason since he returned to his alma mater as a coach in 2002 that there was reason to feel bad about how the defense had finished the season.

That got me thinking about another season that ended with national title hopes going up in smoke in large part because of a defensive letdown — 1995.  Fickell practice headshot

Now the Ohio State defensive coordinator, Fickell was a junior in this third year as the starting nose guard for the Buckeyes that season, and Ohio State rose to No. 2 in the national polls in November, the highest ranking for the program in over a decade.

Most of that success was on the back of a national top 10 offense that featured the best running back (Eddie George), wide receiver (Terry Glenn) and offensive lineman (Orlando Pace) in the country as well as first-team All-Big Ten players at quarterback (Bobby Hoying) and tight end (Rickey Dudley).

The Ohio State defense boasted All-Big Ten players at defensive end (Mike Vrabel and Matt Finkes) and cornerback (Shawn Springs) and finished 12th in the nation in points allowed (16.7 per game), but it wasn’t on the same level as the scoring unit. That much was proven on the final day of the regular season as the Buckeyes traveled to Ann Arbor and saw their perfect season ruined by 12th-ranked Michigan, which got a record 313 yards rushing from Tim Biakabutuka en route to a 31-23 upset. Continue reading

On the O’Bannon decision and NCAA autonomy

The NCAA does itself no favors by continuing to keep up the PR front that it is all about preserving amateurism because that word has lost whatever power it ever had, but maybe U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken did the organization a favor by weeding out such arguments up  front.  Continue reading

Ohio State football: Preseason Day 2 highlights

Ohio State did not allow media to watch any part of day two of preseason football practice, but the school published a YouTube video of highlights.

Because this is the Internet and pixels cost little compared to ink and paper, here are about 30 seconds worth of takeaways from two minutes of clips:

  • Braxton Miller can still throw, and Devin Smith can still make one-handed catches.
  • Cardale Jones can throw interceptions. Related: fellow Cleveland Glenville alum Marshon Lattimore can catch interceptions. Lattimore is a youngster to keep an eye on defensively.
  • Also making an appearance: Super talented redshirt freshman Jalin Marshall, a receiver who had his first season wiped out by injury and could be a big-time player for an offense that figures to be somewhat retooled.
  • Cornerback Gareon Conley, another redshirt freshman the Buckeyes probably could have used something from last season, makes a diving interception on an out pass by Miller.
  • And in what can only be read as a nod toward Jim Tressel, the video concludes with a punt.

So there you go for now. We’ll be allowed in Wednesday afternoon for day three, so be sure to check back for details here, on Twitter and at BuckeyeSports.com.