Tag Archives: Jim Tressel

Ohio State football recruiting continues to spread nationwide, but Ohio not being left behind

Ohio State picked up a pair of verbal commitments Wednesday morning, first four-star linebacker Justin Hilliard of Cincinnati St. Xavier then four-star defensive end Jashon Cornell of St. Paul (Minn.) Cretin-Derham. 

While Hilliard’s hop on board highlights one issue of interest in regards to recent recruiting (Ohio State in Cincinnati), Cornell’s commitment has its own significance.  The 6-3.5, 270-pounder is in line to be the first player from Minnesota to pick Ohio State since Willie Mobley in 2008 and only the third since 1988 (but probably much longer). When eventual All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis signed with Ohio State in 2005, he was believed to be the first scholarship Buckeye football player from the Land of 1,000 Lakes since the great Sid Gillman in the early 1930s. Relationships Lead Cornell to Buckeyes - recruiting - Scout

But we’re getting at a larger trend here.

Continue reading

Meyer mines Cincinnati for top linebacker prospect for Ohio State

Justin Hilliard of Cincinnati St. Xavier is the 11th verbal commitment for Ohio State’s 2015 recruiting class and the second linebacker, joining Nick Connor of Dublin Scioto.

Buckeyes Land Hilliard - ohiostate - Scout

He is the seventh recruit from southwestern Ohio in Urban Meyer’s three-plus years as head coach of the Buckeyes and the third from Cincinnati, joining Adolphus Washington (Taft) and Sam Hubbard (Moeller). That makes a pair of Greater Catholic League pickups for Meyer in as many years with Hubbard having been the top-rated player in the state last year.  Continue reading

Ohio State Football: When 24-0 becomes 24-1

So nearly a week has passed since Ohio State lost 34-24 to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game. The end of football season always comes about suddenly – like ejecting from a plane, it brings a floating feeling before landing somewhere that never feels quite as familiar as it should upon returning to ground level. Even though it was predestined to happen this week if not sooner, it still brings a shock to the system. 

I like to give life a few days to get back to normal, but then again sometimes I wonder if football season is the norm and the rest is just passing time.
What we learned last week: How hollow 24-0 can be, at least when it becomes 24-1.

Forgive me if this seems overly negative, but it is a hard conclusion to avoid when stepping back to assess the situation. 20131213-093830.jpg

The Buckeyes won all their games for two regular seasons, but they have no national championships or even Big Ten championships to show for it.

Yes, they can claim two of the three Leaders Division titles of all time (I think there’s even a trophy for that), but has anyone ever considered those anything more than consolation prizes?

The past two seasons weren’t all for naught, of course.

When Urban Meyer officially took over in January 2012, Ohio State had lost four consecutive games, after all, and the Buckeyes’ reputation was in a state of disrepair.

Many felt it wouldn’t take a miracle to fix the program, but there was certainly work to do.

Continue reading

On Jason Whitlock, Brady Hoke and Michigan football

This column from Jason Whitlock about the present and future of the Michigan football program is really interesting.

The Ohio State band performs Script Ohio at Michigan Stadium
The Ohio State band performs Script Ohio at Michigan Stadium

Maybe I shouldn’t have led with “Jason Whitlock” because I’m sure he is a divisive figure to some, but he often has an interesting perspective on a variety of sports topics whether you or I agree with him much. This piece on the Wolverines is unique because while Whitlock repeats something he’s never tried to hide – he loves Hoke and they have a personal relationship – he then proceeds to rip apart the state of the current Michigan team.

I agree with his observations about what is wrong with these Wolverines, though you probably won’t be surprised to learn I am far more skeptical about his ability to turn the program around than Whitlock. The author’s main justification is, “He’s Hoke,” which I guess could turn out to be all it takes but isn’t really based on what I’d call facts. Continue reading

Ohio State Football Week 4: Paying The Cost To Be The Boss

B.B. King brings us the inspiration this week as we examine the state of the Buckeyes following a 35-28 defeat of California last Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

What we learned last week: This Ohio State team is talented, but it is not so good it can relax too often.

This is a lesson that has been building for three weeks, if not longer. The Buckeyes kicked around the Big Ten for the better half of a decade by overwhelming the opposition with talent more than anything else. Yes, discipline and strategy played significant roles, but the overall domination of the league was mostly tied to having better players than the rest of the conference. That was especially true in the “down” years when the talent level probably remained about the same but the majority of the lineup was young and so what the team could do was more limited.

Jim Tressel’s ballclubs were always opportunistic, and while his “win the surest way” strategy grated on some fans, it was undeniably effective when all was said and done.

Things started to catch up with the Buckeyes last season, however, and they have not been much different to start 2012 despite a mostly new coaching staff being in place. This team is still young, and it is learning a completely new scheme on one side of the ball while a combination of new coaches and familiar faces in new roles learn how to operate together on the other.

The early returns have been uneven, but the team is 3-0. Again this has a lot to do with raw talent first and foremost. The Buckeyes were much, much better than Miami (Ohio) and held enough advantages against UCF and California to make enough big plays to hold off their advances.

So Ohio State won, in many respects, in spite of itself. All three of their so-far vanquished foes could still find themselves playing in bowls when the season is over, but none are going to be confused with national title contenders.

Perhaps this is holding the Buckeyes to too high of a standard, but that is the world in which they live as members of a perennial powerhouse program. The fans hold this standard – at times more realistic than others – and to a certain extent, so do the coaches. Ohio State hired a national championship winning coach to do just that again in Columbus, and that is what Urban Meyer no doubt envisioned when he accepted the job.

They are not going to beat every unranked team they play 42-0, but at the same time there is no denying that Ohio State mistakes have had more to do with opponents’ successes so far this season than have outstanding efforts from the visitors.

What we can expect to learn this week: Well, I think this is pretty obvious, but it’s how the Buckeyes evolved after seven more days in Meyer’s football laboratory. Sometimes there is not much more to it than that, especially at the conclusion of four straight home games against inferior competition to start the season.

The upshot of attributing problems to mistakes is they can be fixed. While working to uphold a standard such as the one established through the years in Columbus can be difficult, it has to beat going out on that field and realizing the players just aren’t there to win the game.

We sometimes forget that while having great players is prerequisite for winning, teaching them how to harness their gifts is almost as important. Getting caught up in semantics is easy here, but what we sometimes forget is being physically gifted and being a productive-to-great football player are not mutually exclusive.

There is a small window – only four or five years – in which college coaches get to apply their methods to the talented young men they convince to play for them, and rarely do we truly see a college player fully blossom while he is still a member of the world of academia.

Many of the best stars – particularly those with the higher levels of talent, the ones most highly recruited who will go on to NFL careers of some note – often pass through without doing more than flash some of their gifts in college. The unique challenge is to get enough of them to channel their energy and still-budding knowledge consistently enough to win more games than everyone else.

The balancing act never ends, and sometimes its success is still determined by a fortunate bounce here or there.

Woody Hayes said luck is often the result of hard work, and that rings as true now as it did when he was stalking the Ohio Stadium sidelines more than three decades ago. But Woody had better players than just about everyone else, too. He didn’t have them learning as many ways to do things on the field as this coaching staff did, and that turned out to be both for better and for worse. The limited strategies Hayes put in place made for great efficiency and did not allow for many errors, but they also limited his team’s successes when they went west for the Rose Bowl. We will never know if his basic approach had a greater impact on the every-day success or the postseason struggles (and I tend to think it was the former), but I know there are some who feel Hayes’ hall of fame career could have been even better if he had branched out more from his off-tackle power offense. (He did evolve over the years, adding the I-formation to his beloved T, but at its heart the Buckeyes always more ground and pound than anything else.)

Tressel faced many of the same questions, but the world of college football is much different in the 21st century. The talent is more evenly distributed even though a clear distinction remains between the haves and the have-nots. The former group is not quite so strong – certainly not as deep – and the latter are peppered with a few more dangerous weapons, so there is more parity and less margin for error. The margin still exists, though. Tressel often lived in the margin, and for the past two weeks one could argue Urban Meyer has, too.

Tressel and his staff never lacked ideas, but they struggled in their application at times. Now we are seeing early in the Meyer era the challenge of applying a different set of plans aimed at achieving mostly the same goals, but beyond that the greater question is whether or not a great enough percentage of this team will grow up enough to do what the coaches ask without so many lapses in concentration and judgement along the way.

The next chance to fine-tune the attack on both sides of the ball comes this week against what will surely be an overmatched bunch of Blazers from UAB. Then it is time for the conference slate to begin, at which point the fallout from mistakes figures to grow much larger.

Thoughts on the rest of the Big Ten: I didn’t think it would come this early in the season, but it’s time to give up the league for dead in 2012. There should be better days ahead, but exhibition season is on in the Midwest.

So far the main culprit is a lack of quality production in the trenches. Michigan State and Wisconsin (of all programs) can’t block anyone right now while Michigan is soft inside on defense, and they have all paid the price already.

Nebraska has not been bad up front on offense, but the Cornhuskers depend more on scheme and guile than pure ability there. Talent in the back seven on defense is the biggest question for the league’s newest member, which is a little bit interesting given some of the criticism the Big Ten has faced in the past decade or so about its speed or lack thereof.

The conference race starts next week, and it has all the makings of a wild one despite the hits that have come on the national stage.

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Ohio State Football Week 1: Bring It On Home

The weekly “Cus Words” column returns with a Zeppelin song to kick things off as the Buckeyes look toward facing Miami University in Urban Meyer’s first game as head coach of his home state’s flagship university.

What we learned last week:Change has a way of highlighting all kinds of good and bad things about a situation. It also changes the perception, swinging some things from one category to the other.

Ohio Stadium from the Buckeye Grove south of the stadium

The offseason was certainly the most fascinating I have been a part of covering college football as the new Ohio State staff learned what to make of their new faces and put the players through their paces.

I could try to sum up the last eight months in a tidy little package, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Besides, I’m sure you’re as ready to look forward to an actual game sason as I am, so let’s just get on with it, shall we?

What we can expect to learn this week: How someone else constructs a game plan, and how Urban Meyer adjusts to his personnel.

As I wrote last week, the spread offense has arrived at Ohio State in an advanced form, and Buckeye fans should realize that and be grateful.

One thing that often struck me when studying and reading/hearing people talk about various types of spread over the years was that many of the “early adopters” of the offense were pretty much predisposed to think they couldn’t win at the line of scrimmage so there was no point in even trying.

That is definitely not the point of view of Meyer and co-offensive coordinators Tom Herman and Ed Warinner, although I think they are completely against doing anything when outnumbered. When in doubt, they would rather have space to work with than anything else. That’s why they are always in the spread instead of switching back and forth like the old staff here.

Some spreads don’t give you any more to think about at one time than does a double-tight I team, but that is not the case with Meyer.

Jim Tressel, Jim Bollman, et al were very clear they saw the pros and cons of spread and “tight” football, and they had a playbook that had enough stuff in it to give teams a lot to think about and prepare for, but they weren’t very good at balancing those things from week to week. The result was their plans could be read pretty easily.

The way defenses generally align against each look, tight formations can actually produce more big plays, but spreads tend to be able to create more consistent short and medium gains. It’s not always bad to face a loaded box if you have the ability to take advantage of it.

If the I-formation were a person, I would kind of feel bad for it based on the way Tressel and his staff sometimes treated it. I can’t blame anyone who came to the conclusion it was a dinosaur of a formation because they often only used it in prehistoric ways. If they were in the I, it was going to be a power run, an iso handoff, or a drop-back pass. Sprintouts and bootlegs were mysteriously rare, even with athletic quarterbacks such as Troy Smith and Terrelle Pryor.

Other Big Ten teams like Iowa and Penn State were often more creative within the realm of the I-formation and its close cousins because they lived more exclusively in that world.

Ohio State, on the other hand, would flip flop between the I and shotgun sets with three (rarely more) wide receivers in both passing situations and when it wanted to free up some room for the quarterback to run.

I always found that a bit curious because Dick Tressel himself said once that a quarterback can be more dangerous as a runner if he begins the play under center. Why? The defense is generally more mindful of him keeping the ball if he is in the shotgun. They never really used that to their advantage despite that stated opinion.

Their version of the shotgun was not really tricked out, either, but it was a little more versatile than their pro sets.

All in all, the entire deal was just strange because they would show off just about every play anybody involved with football ever dreamed up (not only in practice but also in games), yet there rarely was much cohesion with how everything was used. (I did not intend to go off on a long screed about the past decade at Ohio State, but it doesn’t hurt to relive some parts of it as we look toward the future.)

I’d say pretty much everyone expects an upgrade in the offense with Meyer’s attack in place and Herman calling the plays. Though the I-formation will probably be seen only rarely, if ever, the staff insists there will be no loss of physicality.

The commitment to the shotgun spread (which does nothing more than promise the quarterback won’t be under center and at least three guys won’t be attached to the five offensive linemen) figures to bring with it the opportunity to more easily package plays.

That in and of itself should make the offense a little less predictable, but I also am convinced pretty much every fanbase suffers from the thought that it can tell what is coming from its coaches on a regular basis, so predictability can be a bit overrated at times. (Guess run or pass and you’ve got at least a 50/50 chance of getting it right, yeah?)

Meyer has been susceptible to such claims, too. He had two perfect players for his scheme – Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin – at Florida but fans still mocked him for doing little besides having one of them handle the ball on every play, which I guess tells us a few things.

First, that whole idea about predictability being overrated probably has merit, and even diversified schemes can fall back on safe choices at times.

I have often wondered since Meyer took over here if the unique state of the offensive personnel – several big backs, a quicksilver quarterback and some long-striding wide receivers – could actually serve to force him and his staff to learn more about how their offense works than if he just had a couple of guys to rely on play in and play out.

He clearly wants the latter as he has talked endlessly about looking for another Harvin (of course this is fed by his being asked about it regularly, too) even as he salivates at the possibilities Braxton Miller presents. Meyer also one day acknowledged Harvin-type guys are few and far between, so I wonder how often he’ll ever even have one at all. That would make learning to adjust that much more important.

However it all shakes out, this should be a fascinating year.

Meyer not only brings a new offense but also many new ways to run a program. Regardless of the effectiveness of the old ones – Tressel’s teams almost always got better as the season went on, and I think he really did make an extreme effort to bring in high quality people for his team and staff – Meyer’s ways of cultivating a locker room culture are really interesting. Clearly, they are not for everyone, but I have talked to plenty of people who really respect the ideas he has with treating players like adults while understanding they are kids who make mistakes. It can be a fine line, and there will be those who fail to see the nuances and write him off as playing favorites, but I think overall it’s a good strategy for this day and age.

Tressel was very conscious of dealing with the modern athlete. He commented often about how kids these days are more interested in knowing why they are doing something as opposed to simply following orders. I think that’s a change that has been going on for decades, but he gave the impression he felt things weren’t the same even since he took over at Ohio State. I think ultimately he gambled and lost with who he brought in towards the end, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Meyer is here having gone through his own ups and downs. The scars are there for everyone to see, but now he has a new set of challenges.

Tressel had already reinvented his program a couple of times, as any good coach has to do if he is around for three decades. This is really the first time Meyer has had to do that, and that makes it even more interesting to see how this whole Ohio State experiment works out.

It’s not just a new place. It’s home. It’s where he was forged, where he came from. There are feelings involved that you can’t just find anywhere. He also comes from a scary place not that long ago, something that surely colors his approach to this redux.

When we have talked to him in preparation for this season, he definitely looks like someone ready to get back to football.

I know I am, too.

How about you?

Ohio State Football: Why Cincinnati matters

By now, the discussion about Ohio State football’s place in the hearts of Cincinnati sports fans is tired and lame.

There are plenty of Buckeye fans in and around the Queen City, but people in the rest of the state don’t get why there aren’t more, and some of them are bitter about it. As far as that goes, to each his own.

But there is a tangible reason why Ohio State’s influence matters in Cincinnati, and it relates to football recruiting. 

In that realm, there can be no debate that Cincinnati takes a backseat to Cleveland when it comes to producing future Buckeyes, at least in the past 10 or so years.

Jim Tressel is a native of the Cleveland area with extensive ties throughout northeastern Ohio (although he was an assistant at Miami University for two years), and he leaned heavily on those while recruiting at Ohio State.

From 2002 (his first full year on the recruiting trail) through 2011 (his last), he offered roughly as many players from one school in Cleveland (Glenville) as he did the entire greater Cincinnati area. Continue reading

A shameless plug: Assessing Jim Tressel’s Legacy

Interested in reading the story?

Subscribers to Buckeye Sports Bulletin can access it here. If you’re not a subscriber, email me at mhartman [at] buckeyesports.com to find out how you can get a copy or try the paper.

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Stuck in the Middle with You

Ohio State hit the midway point of the season with an audible thud. Where do the Buckeyes go from here? It’s really up to them. This week we find inspiration from Stealer’s Wheel as we look back at what was a 34-27 loss at Nebraska and ahead to what the rest of the season might hold.  

What we learned last week: That we probably won’t know what this team is all about until the last down has been played.

Nebraska has some flaws, but the Buckeyes’ domination of them for about 35 minutes should not be brushed aside. Luke Fickell’s players reminded us they do have a lot of talent even if there are holes in the roster we’re not used to seeing. They have the raw ability to play with a lot of teams, certainly to be worthy of a top 25 ranking, but their mental state has not let them exhibit it enough times it was necessary, and so they sit here at the halfway point with a well-deserved 3-3 record.

When you cut right down to the heart of the matter, not a whole lot should be surprising about this team. Everyone knows it is young, and youth brings with it emotional ups and downs.

Joe Bauserman’s flaws have been evident throughout his career as a backup. After briefly looking in control during training camp and the season opener, water found its natural level.  Miller has looked exactly like what he is: A very talented, very raw prospect. He has not had the same early success as Terrelle Pryor, but their situations are very different. Miller has already been asked to do more difficult things with less help than Pryor did for the majority of his freshman campaign (but let’s not get sidetracked there today…), and the results have shown that.  The wide receivers looked bad in the spring, slightly better in the fall and have mostly struggled come game time.  The inconsistency of the offensive line is something of a surprise, but they have not been helped much by the scheme or the players around them. Some of the players they have struggled against are very good, too.  The running backs have been good overall, as expected.

Defensively, the young secondary has been inconsistent, looking a lot like a unit replacing three multiyear starters.  The linebacker unit consists of one senior who has played well when healthy, one junior who is limited physically and had his growth stunted by health issues last season and this spring and another junior who has left little doubt why he lost a battle for a starting spot in 2009 and 2010. Behind them, two highly rated guys who could have at least added depth are gone and the next players in line are true freshmen. I can’t image installing a first-year coach with no experience working with college kids on a daily basis is helping that group’s development, either. The defensive line has been pretty good overall despite being pretty young, too, and missing its oldest, most explosive player since week one. Of course, the best coach on the staff is leading them, too.

From a schematic standpoint, I think the defense has been somewhat vanilla, but that is the M.O. of this staff when it is that young. I am perplexed about taking the guy who might be the team’s best playmaker – Tyler Moeller – and not giving him many chances to attack the line of scrimmage. The unit has played well overall but fallen short at some critical moments, too. Long term, they will be good, but they haven’t been as good as the team needs so far this season. That standard may be impossibly high, but it is what it is.

Then there’s the offense… It has looked like a unit missing the two coaches regarded as having the most to do with its success the past few seasons.

That’s what we know so far…

What can we expect to learn this week: Bottom line? I thought before the season this team would be 3-3 at this point, but I don’t feel very confident about my prediction at that time for a 6-0 finish.

I think I gauged a fair amount of things correctly on this team with the exception of Miller’s readiness to play and the staff’s ability to design a simple yet effective game plan for him. Those things of course go hand in hand. They have had the biggest impact on the team so far and will continue to as it keeps getting colder outside.

Looking back again at last week for a second, I really like the overall composition of the Nebraska offense. It is truly imaginative in the way it mixes and matches various concepts, but I think that also brings about some complications. Like Ohio State’s offense during the Tressel era, it looks like sometimes they have so much to use they aren’t sure what to go to first. The first half game plan by Nebraska was perplexing because it did not include enough of the option. Perhaps they were surprised Ohio State played so much zone and thought they would need to throw to loosen things up, but that would represent an odd miscalculation on the part of the Pelinis. No matter, they showed in the second half they have some weapons and an offense that can be explosive if schemed up correctly.

Basically, the Cornhuskers gave Ohio State chances to blow it in the second half and the Buckeyes did just that.

This OSU team is talented – not supremely so, but enough to make a January bowl game – but young and mercurial. I think the mix of a young team and a young coach has not been a good one. We haven’t seen these types of mood swings in an Ohio State team since 2001 when Jim Tressel was working hard to rein in John Cooper’s talented but eccentric bunch left behind.

I think Luke Fickell is grinding, but it’s just tough to learn on the job, especially when there are very few people in the locker room who have ever been leaned on before and seem ready to assume that type of role.

The Buckeyes did not play Ohio State style defense in Lincoln. They panicked when the tide started turning against them. They started thinking then over reacting, which is unfortunate because pretty much everything coordinator Jim Heacock preaches about is opposed to playing that way.

Christian Bryant is an interesting representation of what is going on with this entire team. He is a really talented, charismatic and confident guy. I think he can be a big star. Much like a guy who used to wear No. 2 and play safety and Star for the Buckeyes – Mike Doss – he’s still figuring things out on the fly as a youngster. Doss, you may remember, blew a coverage as a sophomore at Purdue that put Drew Brees in the Rose Bowl and sent Ohio State on its ill-fated Outback Bowl trip that cost John Cooper his job.

Bryant is learning how to balance his natural gifts and instincts with playing within the defense, and he hurt the team twice by failing to do what it needed to prevent big plays. First he was caught flat footed looking in the backfield on Taylor Martinez’s touchdown pass over the top, then he got out of control and completely whiffed on Rex Burkhead in the flat on what ended up being the game-tying touchdown.

Bryant will be fine, and ultimately so will Ohio State, although this defense has a deficiency at linebacker that probably won’t be filled until next year at the earliest.

The same is true of the shortcomings of the offense. This staff seems to struggle majorly with changing course in the middle of the game. They came up with intelligent ways to use Braxton Miller, but I’m not sure how they got so carried away with what to do when they had to start calling plays for Joe Bauserman while still maintaining a lead. The game really got away from them at that point. Attacking is important, especially against a sub-par secondary like Nebraska’s, but they let the pendulum swing too far in the other direction.

Not thinking ahead to set up a field goal chance for Drew Basil while still up seven was a mistake. They looked at where they were on the field and apparently did not realize all the options they had. Run the ball on third down, set up a shorter kick and keep the clock moving. Playing for the punt can’t have helped the psyche of a young team that is struggling to find direction.

I think we also saw another case of the type of people Jim Tressel brought into the program. There are very few big personalities on this team. There’s talent, there are hard workers, but there aren’t a lot of take-charge people. That was usually Tressel’s job when he was in charge. Exceptions came with Troy Smith, Craig Krenzel and a variety of defensive players – Doss, James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk, Malcolm Jenkins. Those personalities helped Tressel’s teams get over various humps they faced through the years. Mike Brewster is the type of guy who can do that, but he is one of the only older players who fits the bill, and he can’t do it alone.

At the end of the day, there are enough pieces and enough (just barely, perhaps) ideas to put it together and win more than they lose the rest of the year, and a smart hire could make this nothing more than the one-year drops we’ve seen in a multitude of programs across the country, but there are going to be a lot of hard days in the immediate future.

A lot of people need to look in the mirror and decide what they want this season to be remembered for.

All-Buckeye Beater Nominees: Martinez and Burkhead form quite the two-headed offensive monster for Nebraska. Everyone knew they were a double-barrel threat in the running game, but a lot of people have to be surprised with the damage they did through the air.

Defensively, the Cornhuskers still have some big questions, but we have to give props to Lavonte David, who showed a playmaker’s sense of the game when he stole the ball from Miller to spark the Nebraska comeback. Fellow linebacker Will Compton also payed a hard-nosed game inside, and Stanley Jean-Baptiste has to get a mention for going up to get that interception that further let the wind out of Ohio State’s sails.

This week I’m also going to recognize the opposing kicker. Brett Maher was very impressive getting the Huskers on the board with a 50-yard field goal in the first quarter, and things would have been even more dire for the home team without his performance in the first half.

DVR Directions: Normally this is where I suggest recording Ohio State’s next opponent, but only check in with Wisconsin’s game against visiting Indiana (Noon, ESPN2) if you’re a fan of slasher flicks. That one should be ugly. I suspect the best game of the noon window will be Michigan at Michigan State on ESPN.

Big Ten Picks: Obviously, I expect the Badgers to roll over the Hoosiers, but the other three conference games not involving Ohio State are all intriguing.

Purdue should be feeling good about itself after rolling over hapless Minnesota, but Penn State is coming off a surprising win against Iowa. I’ll go with the Nittany Lions at home. Iowa heads home where it will find its surprising nemesis Northwestern, and I expect the Wildcats to be the ones who bounce back in a battle of teams coming off disappointing losses.

And what about the Wolverines and Spartans? I am still not buying Michigan, and Michigan State has not only had their number but also is coming off a nice week off after a program win at Ohio State. The Spartans slow down the Wolverine offense again and win comfortably as long as Kirk Cousins does not implode against a still terrible but now opportunistic Michigan defense.

Last week: 2-2. Season record: 6-2

Cus Words Power Poll (last week)

  1. Wisconsin (same)
  2. Michigan State (same)
  3. Illinois (same)
  4. Nebraska (same)
  5. Michigan (7)
  6. Ohio State (8)
  7. Penn State (9)
  8. Northwestern (6)
  9. Iowa (5)
  10. Purdue (10)
  11. Indiana (11)
  12. Minnesota (12)

Ohio State gets a first-hand look at how good Illinois really might be this week in a game that is important for both teams’ reputations. With the Illinois defense looking better than expected and Nebraska’s being worse, I am giving the Fighting Illini the benefit of the doubt at this point. Beyond the Huskers, there are a lot of flaws from 5-9.

Highlights of Ohio State’s response to the NCAA

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Consider this a “cliff notes” version of Ohio State’s response to the NCAA’s Letter of Allegations. These are the parts I found interesting or enlightening (or both, I guess). Check another post for more thoughts on the matter.

An empty Ohio Stadium
I guess this is what we're supposed to remember for all Ohio State's 2010 home games

This seems important:

Also, the enforcement staff requested numerous materials from the institution. These included the provision of rules education materials and monitoring procedures (primarily in the areas of preferential treatment and extra benefits). The additional requests in these areas resulted in no additional allegations against the institution.

AND:

The University believes that little institutional responsibility exists for the preferential treatment violations in Allegation #1. While the University recognizes that the institution must take responsibility for its employee’s actions with respect to Allegation #2, the responsibility is upon Tressel. No other institutional personnel were aware of the preferential treatment violations, and Tressel had an obligation to report the potential violation to the appropriate institutional officials.

They say repeat offender should not apply because the violations are far different plus most of the actual violations were more than 10 years ago.

Mitigating factors include:

The individual (Ed Rife) involved in the provision of preferential treatment was not a representative of the University’s athletics interests and is not a contributor to the University. Rife and two of the student-athletes named in Allegation #1 met at a local nightclub.

However

Regarding Rife’s status as a representative, based upon a strict interpretation of Bylaw 13.02.14, Rife became a representative in April 2010 when Tressel learned that Rife had arranged or provided discounted prices on tattoos. The University does not believe if (or when) Rife became a representative is significant to the overall severity of this case. Rife was not (and continues to not be) affiliated with the University and did not have a relationship with any athletics department staff members. It appears that the nexus of the relationship was a chance meeting between Rife and two student-athletes at a local nightclub. Nevertheless, the institution sent Rife a letter (see Exhibit 1-8) disassociating him indefinitely from any contact with the University and its student-athletes. In December 2010, the compliance staff informed all student-athletes that they could not visit Fine Line Ink nor could they have any contact with Rife and specifically requested them to “defriend” Rife from their Facebook accounts.   

This made me chuckle:

The office plans to partner with an organization titled Experience Columbus to communicate the message that businesses may not provide any benefits/preferential treatment to student-athletes based on their status. The compliance staff also plans to provide brochures with this message to all restaurants, bars, and service businesses (e.g., barbers and tattoo parlors) either located near campus or known by the compliance staff to be frequented by students.

They argued (sensibly so, it would seem) that players would have been ineligible in 2010 for five games are being punished just the same in 2011 after the revelation of what Tressel knew, and the school seems to consider vacating the 2010 season as an additional penalty because Tressel used ineligible players.

In summary, the University believes that the corrective and punitive actions are appropriate and negate any competitive advantage gained by the institution as a result of these violations. The University asks the Committee on Infractions to accept these penalties and take no further action.

Tressel’s story:

 Regarding the February 8, 2011, interview, Tressel was asked if he was “aware” that violations regarding student-athletes, particularly and, had either occurred or likely occurred, and his response was “yes.” He was asked whether he was aware “that as a result of these violations that the student-athletes likely would be ineligible for participation during the 2010 season,” and he responded that, “No, I really didn’t think of it like that.” Upon further questioning, he acknowledged that he understood that and had been involved in violations before the start of the 2010 season and that they intended to participate during the season. In response to a question on whether he was prepared to go forward with the student-athletes participating even though he knew that NCAA violations had occurred, Tressel responded that he understood that the institution was “going to get as our works deserve” and that “we were going to pay the fiddler.” As he indicated throughout his February interview, Tressel believed there was a “hierarchy” of issues, with the federal criminal investigation having the highest priority. He indicated that the NCAA issues would be resolved once the ramifications of the federal investigation were resolved.

The letter goes on to say (essentially) they tried like hell to tell the players they couldn’t sell their bowl stuff and point out they have repeatedly made public declarations about what constitutes a booster and what those folks can and can’t do (That began after the Clarett fiasco and actually rose to the level of somewhat amusing absurdity when they would post videos defining boosters on the big screen prior to games and put messages in the program. I see why that is necessary, but I always got a bit of a chuckle out of it anyway.)

Is this enough?

 As noted in the response, the institution’s review in December 2010 focused upon the current student-athletes identified in the U.S. Department of Justice letter. After discovering the Tressel e-mails, the institution began its efforts to ensure that no other student-athletes with eligibility remaining had received any free or discounted tattoos or sold memorabilia. On February 4, 2011, the institution distributed a questionnaire to all football student-athletes about their attendance at or purchases from Fine Line Ink and determined that based upon the information provided, there were no additional violations.

Although the famously overhyped and overwritten Sports Illustrated rip job identified other players’ being associated with the tattoo shops, sources have been indicating for quite some time that all but one of those players was cleared by the NCAA in early June.

ALSO:

The University emphasizes the distinction between information available only to Tressel and the knowledge of other institutional officials regarding this matter. As noted in the Introduction Section of this report, upon receiving information about this matter from the Department of Justice in December 2010, University officials acted immediately, declared student-athletes ineligible, and sought reinstatement. In early 2011, after learning of the e-mails, the NCAA was contacted, several interviews were conducted, and the University determined that a NCAA Bylaw 10.1 violation occurred. It subsequently imposed significant corrective and punitive measures upon Tressel and the football program. In both the initial inquiry and in the determination of appropriate corrective and punitive actions, the faculty athletics representative, key attorneys from the Office of Legal Affairs, and the President’s Office became engaged in the inquiry.

SOMEWHAT ODD:

(Cicero) recalled that on Christmas Eve day in 2010, he received a text message from Tressel, who asked if the information that had just recently been released concerning the reinstatement of six student-athletes related to the information (Cicero) had provided Tressel earlier in the year. Cicero said he confirmed with Tressel that it was the same information.

The school’s description of its dealings with Tressel in December leave little room for doubt that it went to reasonable lengths to find out what the coach knew and when he knew it (even if the scope of the investigation of the team still seems questionably small). Previously, it was somewhat unclear if Tressel had “lied” or simply omitted some details, but this indicates he deliberately told them things that weren’t true about what he knew. 

 Also, on December 16, 2010, the six student-athletes whose eligibility was affected were interviewed by institutional representatives. Shortly after the conclusion of the last student-athlete interview, Director of Athletics Gene Smith and Tressel met briefly with those institutional officials who had conducted the interviews to ask about the status of the information and its implications on the anticipated eligibility restoration requests. During that conversation, University officials asked Tressel about his knowledge of the information. More specifically, Senior Associate General Counsel for Athletics Julie Vannatta asked Tressel if he had been contacted by anyone about this matter or if he knew anything about it. Tressel replied that while he had received a tip about general rumors pertaining to certain players, such information was not specific and pertained to the players’ off-field choices. The University interpreted his responses to mean that the tip related to the social decisions/choices being made by certain student-athletes. Tressel also mentioned during this December conversation that he did not recall from whom he received the tip and that he did not know that any items had been seized. Nevertheless, the conversation represented another opportunity when Tressel could have informed the institution of his previous e-mails with Cicero.

Seeing as how roughly a week later Tressel contacted Cicero again, it’s hard to believe he didn’t know who had tipped him about the players’ involvement with Rife. I don’t believe his characterizations of the content of Cicero’s emails are accurate, either.

LASTLY:

Information was reported to the University and the enforcement staff subsequent to the Notice of Allegations that still is being reviewed. This review continues and the University will report any additional violations if necessary in the future.

Read more here.