Big Ten's lunch links

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
12:00
PM ET
Warning: Brackets are once again prone to be being busted.
  • Ohio State is auditioning students to see if anybody on campus can beat a speedster like Dontre Wilson in a race.
  • Michigan reshuffled its defensive coaching staff to get its line more hands-on attention, but that doesn't mean Brady Hoke will be staying away completely.
  • Taiwan Jones has the first crack at filling the vacant role at middle linebacker for Michigan State this spring, and the senior is embracing the move.
  • James Franklin is dialing up the intensity of workouts for Penn State, including reps in the Oklahoma Drill for just about everybody on the roster.
  • Rutgers is flip-flopping roles for two returning linebackers, trying to squeeze more production from the unit after a disastrous defensive season a year ago.
  • Wisconsin is looking to expand its recruiting footprint in the areas opened up by Big Ten expansion, and new recruiting coordinator Chris Beatty will lead the charge.
  • Randy Edsall is concerned about the kind of impact recruiting is having on kids these days, and he has a detailed plan to help take some pressure off and fix what he views as a broken system.
  • Replacing three senior linebackers is at the top of the priority list for Kirk Ferentz as spring practice gets rolling at Iowa.
  • A pair of notable injuries have opened up opportunities at wide receiver for Purdue, and Dan Monteroso is trying to make the most of his chance in the slot.
  • Ground will be broken this year on a sparkling new indoor practice facility at Minnesota, which is expected to come with a price tag of $70 million.
Stron/SarkisianGetty ImagesBoth Charlie Strong and Steve Sarkisian have much to accomplish this spring.
Put mildly, spring ball can sometimes become a labor of love for coaches.

“We got them back from spring break and tried to work the ‘fun’ out of them, gassers and squats,” one SEC assistant told me last week. “But that night was St. Patrick’s Day. Tuesday was like starting all over again. They were worthless.”

But there is value in the practices. For some, this particular spring is more important than it is elsewhere. At Texas and USC, for instance, new coaches are bringing their styles and systems to high-profile, visible college football hubs.

The Longhorns and Trojans lead our discussion of the five programs for which spring 2014 is the most critical (along with a handful of other programs facing critical springs).

1. Texas Longhorns, 2. USC Trojans

These two are inseparable because they’re both big-name programs with new hires, ones that will be heavily analyzed and scrutinized in the coming months (and years). Though they share similarities, they are ultimately different cases.

Getting to know Taj Griffin 

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
9:00
AM ET
video
ROSWELL, Ga. -- When listing the most explosive prospects in the Class of 2015, it does not take long to call on Taj Griffin.

The 5-foot-10, 174-pound, versatile running back was one of the standouts at last weekend's Atlanta Nike Nike Football Training Camp and SPARQ combine, earning an invitation to the The Opening in early July.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nothing has changed.

But to Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, that might actually be a sign of progress.

With the top quarterback on the shelf and their veteran, reliable backup no longer with the program, the Buckeyes have had plenty of time and attention to devote to the battle to replace Kenny Guiton behind entrenched starter Braxton Miller. And with Cardale Jones in the same spot with the first-string offense after six practices that he occupied when spring camp opened, the lack of news Herman has had to report is actually good news for Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCardale Jones is getting valuable experience with the first team during spring with Braxton Miller sidelined.
“I think it’s telling that through six practices Cardale Jones is still getting the majority of reps with the ones,” Herman said after practice on Tuesday. “To say that he’s head and shoulders [ahead] or taking a step forward, I don’t know that it would be accurate. But he hasn’t done anything to not deserve to take those reps.

“He’s playing like a quarterback at Ohio State should.”

There’s still no question who the starting quarterback at Ohio State will be in the fall, but Miller’s shoulder surgery and subsequent rehabilitation during March and April has come with a silver lining as the coaching staff evaluates candidates for the crucial relief role Guiton filled so admirably over the last two seasons.

For all his considerable talent and eye-popping production, Miller has been forced to the sideline in a handful of games with minor health issues during his career and also missed three weeks due to a knee injury last fall, with Guiton seamlessly taking the reins every time he was needed. But regardless of how much Jones or J.T. Barrett might be called upon in the fall, the Buckeyes are taking full advantage of the extra work both are getting now to try to get them ready for more than a backup role down the road with Miller heading into his final season.

“I tell those two guys a lot of the time, just be you,” Herman said. “Their strengths are so different. I tell J.T., you get paid a scholarship to make great decisions, to get the ball out of your hands and be accurate. You’re not going to grow, your arm, this year, is not going to get a whole lot stronger. ... So be on time, be accurate and be right with what you do with the football.

“Cardale, your strengths are different as well. Cardale is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and can throw it through that wall. Use some of that, use the talents that you have and then while we develop the portions of your game that need to be developed, we’ll do that.”

For Jones, that process appears largely focused on the redshirt sophomore's accuracy, particularly after scattering throws off target during parts of a scrimmage on Saturday.

But his combination of speed and size makes him an intriguing option as a rusher at quarterback, though certainly in a different way than the elusive, electric Miller. And there’s no question about his arm strength, which has previously been on display during open practices and has produced a handful of explosive plays down the field thanks to his ability to deliver the deep ball.

So, after throwing out maybe one rocky performance among six thus far, those positives outweigh any negatives and leave Jones in the same solid position to contribute to the Buckeyes that he was in when camp opened.

“That was just a ‘this is my first scrimmage on a winner-loser day as the quarterback with the first offense at the Ohio State University and I’m nervous as hell’ thing,” Herman said. “What he showed me on Saturday was not indicative of the previous four practices or [Tuesday’s] practice. So we’ve got to make sure they don’t get so worked up on a Saturday scrimmage because it’s winner-loser day and all their fundamentals and technique and knowledge go out the window.

“Cardale has done a great job. He has done nothing to deserve less reps with the ones right now.”

A healthy Miller would change that equation, of course. But for now, Herman has nothing new to report and seemingly no reason to complain.
The best offenses can threaten defenses at the quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions. Brian Bennett on Tuesday examined the triple-threat combinations from the Big Ten's new West Division.

Now let's turn our attention to the East Division and rank the triple-threat combinations. The division is strong at quarterback but lacking elite wide receivers.

1. Indiana

QB Nate Sudfeld, RB Tevin Coleman, WR Shane Wynn

The Hoosiers featured the league's No. 2 offense in 2013 and top this list even though top receiver Cody Latimer bolted for the NFL draft. They have two options at quarterback, but Sudfeld, who had nearly 1,400 more passing yards than teammate Tre Roberson, gets the nod here. Coleman brings explosiveness to the backfield after rushing for 958 yards and 12 touchdowns in only nine games. Wynn finished near the top of the league in receiving touchdowns (11) and had 46 receptions for 633 yards.

2. Ohio State

QB Braxton Miller, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Devin Smith

You would think a team with the back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the year at quarterback would be rated higher, but the Buckeyes lose a huge piece at running back in Carlos Hyde, as well as top receiver Corey Brown. Elliott, who had 262 rushing yards last season, is competing for the starting position this spring. Smith has been Miller's big-play target throughout his career and had eight touchdown catches and averaged 15 yards per reception last fall. Tight end Jeff Heuerman provides another weapon in the pass game.

3. Michigan State

QB Connor Cook, RB Jeremy Langford, WR Tony Lippett

The skinny: A year ago, Michigan State's offense looked like a mess. Cook began the season as the backup but emerged to lead the Spartans to nine Big Ten wins, all by double digits, and a Rose Bowl championship. Langford answered Michigan State's running back questions with 1,422 yards and 18 touchdowns. There's no true No. 1 receiver on the roster, and while Macgarrett Kings (513 receiving yards in 2013) could claim the role, Lippett gets the nod after leading the team in receptions (44) and finishing second in receiving yards (613) last year.
4. Penn State

QB Christian Hackenberg, RB Zach Zwinak, TE Jesse James

The Lions have the Big Ten's top pocket passer in Hackenberg, the league's freshman of the year in 2013. But Hackenberg loses his favorite target in Allen Robinson, and wide receiver is a major question entering the fall. The tight end position looks much stronger with James, Kyle Carter and Adam Breneman. Penn State also has options at running back, but Zwinak has led the team in rushing in each of the past two years, finishing with 989 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall.

5. Maryland

QB C.J. Brown, RB Brandon Ross, WR Stefon Diggs

Don't be surprised if Maryland finishes higher on the postseason triple-threats list as long as their top players stay healthy, which is hardly a guarantee after the past two seasons. Brown is a veteran dual-threat player who had 2,242 passing yards and 13 touchdowns last year. Ross leads a potentially deep group of running backs after leading the team with 776 rushing yards. Although Levern Jacobs led Maryland in receiving last year and returns, Diggs is the team's top threat after averaging 17.3 yards per catch before a season-ending injury in October.

6. Michigan

QB Devin Gardner, RB Derrick Green, TE/WR Devin Funchess

Gardner is capable of putting up some big numbers, as he showed last year, but he loses top target Jeremy Gallon. The run game is a major question mark for new coordinator Doug Nussmeier, although hopes are high for Green, a heralded recruit who had 270 rushing yards as a freshman. At 6-5 and 230 pounds, Funchess is a tight end who plays like a wide receiver. He finished second on the team in receptions (49), receiving yards (748) and touchdowns (6).

7. Rutgers

QB Gary Nova, RB Paul James, TE Tyler Kroft

New coordinator Ralph Friedgen tries to spark an offense that finished 77th nationally in scoring and 95th in yards last season. Nova is competing this spring to retain the starting job, which he has held since the middle of the 2011 season. James averaged 5.6 yards per carry last season and can be very effective when healthy. Rutgers is scrambling at bit at the wide receiver position but returns a solid option at tight end in Kroft, who led the team in both receptions (43) and receiving yards (573) last fall.

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
12:00
PM ET
Eyes closed, head first, can't lose.

Joshua Perry building on momentum

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
4:00
PM ET
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Some changes were subtle, some were more obvious for Joshua Perry as he replayed his first season as a full-time starter on video from beginning to end.

Early in the season, the Ohio State linebacker might not have always been as quick to react, didn’t appear to be playing with much confidence and was occasionally prone to missing tackles or assignments, though not all of that is perhaps as clear to anybody else as it is Perry.

[+] EnlargeJoshua Perry
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAfter playing a variety of roles last season, Joshua Perry will now be tasked with filling Ryan Shazier's shoes.
What might be easier to decipher is his shift across the defensive formation, starting on the strong side then picking up a few more responsibilities in the middle as his familiarity with the speed of the game and production both increased. That transformation is still on display and spilling over to the spring. Perry has moved again, this time to the weak side, where he is trying to keep the ball rolling after his solid finish last season by tackling both everything he sees and the challenge of replacing Ryan Shazier, Ohio State’s most prolific defender.

“A lot of times you don’t want to necessarily look back and harp on negative things, but you need to take the negatives and the weaknesses and know what they are so you can make them into strengths,” Perry said. “I’ve taken some time and done that, and overall it’s just the intensity of the game and playing with my fundamentals that has really changed. When I can do that, I gain confidence to be able to go harder every play.

“You know, the sky is the limit for me, I think.”

The Buckeyes are counting heavily on Perry to get closer to his ceiling as a junior, particularly since the defense, as a whole, largely struggled to even get off the ground last season.

Perry played a part in those issues at times, and even when he started to turn the corner individually down the stretch, it wasn’t enough to offset problems elsewhere as Ohio State was gashed for piles of yardage and 115 points during its last three games.

Perry was actually turning in his most productive run of the year over that period with 22 tackles, chipping in a pair of tackles for loss and making his only sack of the season in the loss to Clemson. While the Buckeyes lost two of those three games, Perry’s personal numbers might help provide something of a springboard as he tries to fill the enormous statistical void left by Shazier’s early departure to the NFL.

“Right now, I’m trying to get that comfort level to where I can just see the play and react, be downhill,” Perry said. “If I need to cover, I’m going to go cover, but I want to do everything fast and with reckless abandon.

“That’s the thing, I had that comfort level towards the end of the year to be able to play a little bit faster, know my assignment and just go. ... But it’s all a process. When it clicked [last year] is not necessarily as important as keeping the momentum and the consistency going.”

Perry’s bit of forward progress from the end of the season is an encouraging sign for an Ohio State defense still trying to rebuild a unit of linebackers that has been hit hard by injuries, transfers and lack of development over the last few seasons, but it’s the latter that will be more critical for him if he’s going to deliver like his predecessor.

Shazier’s consistency was unmatched on the Ohio State roster, and few players around the country were able to contribute in the variety of ways he did as a sideline-to-sideline tackler, playmaker in the backfield and vicious hitter capable of forcing four fumbles. But Perry has made it clear he has no problem stepping into those shoes this spring to continue the ongoing transformation that has been documented on the game film, even when it’s not always plain to see.

“I mean, they were pretty big changes, to a certain point,” Perry said. “But there’s definitely still a lot of changes that can be made.

“Last year, I did all right, I got a little momentum heading into the end of the year and I think that’s carried over a little bit. But I can’t stop now.”
We've arrived at the end of the first round of our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament.

Our final opening-round game pitted the most recent coach in our field against someone who started coaching in the Big Ten in 1913: No. 9 seed Ohio State's Jim Tressel vs. No. 8 seed Illinois' Bob Zuppke.

The possible future president of the University of Akron advanced with ease, as Tressel ousted Zuppke by a count of 68 percent to 32 percent in your voting.

And so our elite eight is set, and Tressel will face top overall seed Woody Hayes in an all-Buckeyes showdown. Look for the next two matchups later this week.

But first, let's hear some of your comments on our last first-round game:
Josh from Columbus, Ohio: Age skews my vote. I voted before even reading about the other coach. It would seem he would be more deserving. However, I appreciate what Tressel did for me as a fan. For that, Tressel gets my vote.
A.J. from Hickory, N.C.: I'm picking The Vest. You look at what he did during his time at OSU. He was pretty much forced out because of what happened. Think about what he could have done with more time.
Dukester from San Diego: Even though I'm an Ohio State fan, and I love Jim Tressel, I voted for Bob Zuppke. Four national championships, the long and successful tenure, Red Grange, etc. As great as Tressel was, I've gotta believe that Zuppke accomplished more.
Chad from Dacula, Ga: I vote for Tressel. Just based on his record against the other top school in the B1G, TTUN! (At least during that 10-year reign).
Chief Illiniwek from Illinois: Zuppke beats Tressel hands down. Anyone looking from a distance might not appreciate how much of an innovator Bob Zuppke was, not just with the huddle but with his formations and game planning. No two games were coached or planned the same, in an era when most teams had no more than a handful of plays they used all season. Coaches like Tressel (a great coach, no doubt) were able to accomplish what they did in large part because of coaches like Zuppke and Stagg. On top of that, Zuppke was a great motivator and educator, as Red Grange himself pointed out. Zuppke made Grange earn his way onto the team and pay his own way through school with no guarantee of playing time, but he also taught him a lot about football. Without Zuppke, there is no Grange, and without Grange, possibly no NCAA football or NFL as we know it.

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 25, 2014
Mar 25
12:00
PM ET
Five months and three days 'til the start of college football.
video Throughout this recruiting cycle, Recruiting Nation will profile several ESPN 300 prospects in the 2015 class, including an inside look at the prospect, his recruitment, a scouting report and what college program could benefit when he ultimately makes his decision.

ROSWELL, Ga. -- One of the top juniors in the nation, Kevin Toliver II, made the trip from his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla., to Atlanta to compete against some of the best athletes in the country at the Atlanta Nike Football Training Camp this past Sunday.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
5:00
PM ET
Hope you all have caught your breath after a thrilling weekend of basketball action. Three Big Ten teams are still dancing, and my home state is about to go up in flames.

But enough about hoops. It's always football time around here, and this is a time when I answer your burning Big Ten questions.

3-2-1, shoot:

Adam from Houston, Texas, writes: Hey, Brian, two questions: 1) What are the "must-do's" for Braxton Miller to hoist the Heisman Trophy this year? I think in some fashion, watching tape on the former OSU Heisman winner Troy Smith can help. Smith was a much better passer than Miller, but was a threat running when he had to. I think he also has to show up mentally for big games. It was obvious even through the TV against Northwestern and Michigan State (read: away from home) he was rattled. Does growth as a "field general" increase his chances at all, or will it only come down to performance? 2) What is your preseason Heisman list?

Brian Bennett: Heisman talk in late March. I love it!

This is going to sound overly simplistic, but more than anything, Miller needs numbers and wins to get into serious Heisman contention. In the past two seasons, he has thrown for just more than 2,000 yards, with a 1,000-yard rushing season in each. He had 28 total touchdowns in 2012, 36 last season. Those are good, but not eye-popping, stats. Consider that last year's winner, Jameis Winston, threw for more than 4,000 yards and had 44 total touchdowns. Given the way offenses are heading, big-numbers guys such as Winston and Johnny Manziel are going to stand out.

To do that, Miller needs to continue to make strides as a passer, and his receiving corps -- especially with favorite target Philly Brown gone -- needs to step up and help him out. He also needs to stay healthy and upright behind a rebuilt offensive line.

And, of course, spotlight victories are tremendously important. Winston played for the national champs. Manziel beat Alabama. Miller was in the discussion the past two years because Ohio State won 24 consecutive games. For the first time this year, he'll have some tough early tests against Virginia Tech, Navy and Cincinnati. Big performances and wins in those games could give Miller a head of steam.

Finally, my preseason list would naturally include Winston -- even though it's virtually impossible to win the Heisman twice -- along with Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Baylor's Bryce Petty, UCLA's Brett Hundley and Miller. Winston and Manziel came out of virtually nowhere to win, however, so next year's Heisman could go to somebody we're not even discussing right now.


Rich from Des Moines writes: Brian, I'm sure whenever you do a post like the coaches tournament, you get crushed by people for leaving out their favorite coach/player/whatever. That's not my intention. Rather, I just want to ask why a few coaches that seem obvious for inclusion to me were not only left out of the bracket but not even mentioned in the closing paragraph as notable but not quite worthy of making the cut: 1. Biggie Munn, MSU: I understand he only coached one season in the Big Ten. But Tom Osborne coached zero seasons in the Big Ten; 2. Lloyd Carr, Michigan: While I am a committed UM hater, not mentioning him seems like a pretty big omission; 3. John Cooper: I know he is ridiculed in many quarters. I ridicule him for failing to understand the importance of the Michigan game, calling it just another game. But the guy won a lot.

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the (very-long-and-since-edited question), Rich. Going through this exercise proved one thing: there is a tremendous and rich history of outstanding coaches in the Big Ten. I know going in that we couldn't make everyone happy. We like to keep these types of fields short so they don't overwhelm the blog, but I probably could have expanded it to a 64-team field. As it was, we went to a 12-team tournament instead of the eight-entry bracket we used for the players' and championship teams' tournamaent.

To address your specific questions, longevity made a difference in our choices. So while Munn did great things at Michigan State, he only coached there for seven seasons, including one in the Big Ten. We also wanted to diversify our field as much as possible, so while Carr also accomplished a whole lot, Bo Schembechler and Fielding Yost seemed like better choices for Michigan. Cooper has some outstanding seasons, particularly 1993, 1996 and 1998, but he's not exactly beloved by Ohio State fans and we already had Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel. You can't please everybody. Just look at some of the controversial seeding in the men's basketball tournament.


Franklin from Norman, Okla., writes: What's with all the negative Michigan reporting these days? It seems like you guys are getting a kick out of it. It is quite clear that Adam does not like Michigan but I thought you were different. You guys are acting like Michigan is about to get hit with Penn State sanctions. Also, while you guys are all high on Michigan State and Ohio State (rightfully so), the upcoming season Michigan has will shock both of you. You are underestimating the impact coach [Doug] Nussmeier will have and the reorganizing that Brady Hoke did.

Brian Bennett: What you call "negative reporting," Franklin, I just call reporting. When a player as well known as Taylor Lewan gets charged with assault for an incident after the Ohio State game, that's news. When a starting offensive lineman gets suspended for the spring and the opener, that's news. No matter how much you love the Maize and Blue, I can't imagine you feel good about how the Brendan Gibbons saga has unfolded. I promise you that Adam and I derive no pleasure from reporting about off-the-field incidents and in fact would much, much rather just stick to writing about games and more pleasant stories. But stuff happens, and there's no way to deny that it hasn't been a great few months for the Wolverines this offseason. The best way to get past all that is to win, and the team certainly has the talent to do so, though many questions remain at several positions. I'm heading up to Ann Arbor this weekend and am eager to see how things are going this spring.


Jeff from between Omaha and Lincoln writes: Some of the coaches would like to be able to make scholarship offers earlier to help eliminate the flipping toward the end. This makes perfect sense to me. Teams need to make plans and have backup plans in place. However, doesn't this also work in reverse? A three-star athlete might want to go to a top-level program, but can't receive that offer because a commitment from a four- or five-star kid who said he wanted to go to that school. Isn't there a degree of discrimination happening here? If an athlete makes a commitment, he should be held to it. If he's not ready, the school can move on. The only exception should be if a coaching change is made. I'd like to see a few athlete-based lawsuits pop up against the rule-makers and see what happens.

Brian Bennett: Discrimination isn't really the word, but there are some complicating factors with coaches being allowed to offer earlier and an early signing period. Some players simply develop later while guys who are stars as juniors stagnate, especially once they get a big-time offer. Head coaches, assistants and roster plans change all the time. If big changes are made to the recruiting calender, I'd like to see some protections and restrictions in place. Limit the number of kids who could sign early to, say, no more than half the class. Allow anyone who signed early to get out of his letter if the head coach leaves afterward. These are some of the issues that need to be debated, in my opinion.


Drew from Detroit writes: Two quick questions... which B1G schools would you say have the best and worst football/basketball combo? Also, what's the difference between a "mailbag" and a "mailblog?"

Brian Bennett: Michigan State gets the nod from me for best combo, especially after just winning the Rose Bowl and for all its basketball success under Tom Izzo. But Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin are not far behind at all. As for the worst combo, right now it has to be Purdue, which finished last in the Big Ten in both sports. Historically, it's probably Northwestern, which is dragged down by a basketball program that still has never made the tournament.

As for the 'bag/'blog thing, I've always called it a mailbag, while Adam prefers mailblog, for whatever reason. That's not a piece of wordplay I particularly enjoy, but I've been known to make many groan-inducing puns. So to each his own.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Stan Drayton isn’t picky about how the job gets done.

The Ohio State running backs coach doesn’t need his next starter to have all the same physical qualities Carlos Hyde brought to the backfield. Drayton doesn’t even care if he needs more than one guy to fill the void Hyde left behind after his final season with the Buckeyes, and he’s not in a hurry to settle on a depth chart or figure out how to distribute carries.

In terms of fitting some sort of ideal mold for a tailback, Drayton has no preference as he sorts through a handful of options with different sizes and strengths. As for the details of how to match Hyde’s wildly productive, staggeringly efficient work on the ground, it doesn’t appear to make any difference to Drayton whether it takes one guy or five, as long as the results are the same.

[+] EnlargeBri'onte Dunn
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsBri'onte Dunn, a four-star recruit in the 2012 class, redshirted last season and is squarely in the mix for playing time.
“He has to be replaced,” Drayton said. “This is The Ohio State University, and it’s the next man up. I’m sure if you asked Carlos Hyde, he’d tell you the same thing. It’s the next man up.

“Somebody has to step up and fill the shoes of Carlos Hyde. If it takes more than one guy to do that, I promise you it’s going to get done.”

The Buckeyes certainly weren’t a one-man show on the ground last year, and no matter what happens at running back this spring, they still won’t be in the fall with Braxton Miller and his talented legs returning at quarterback.

But Hyde was far and away the main focus at tailback last season, accounting for more rushing attempts than the rest of Ohio State’s stable of running backs combined despite missing three games to suspension. And now that he’s gone, those 208 carries he had as a senior will have to go somewhere, and the race is already heated as the new candidates scramble to claim them.

Rising sophomore Ezekiel Elliott appears to be first in line after shining in a limited role a season ago, averaging 8.1 yards per carry while showing off his explosive speed and the ability to absorb or inflict punishment with his 225-pound frame.

Rising senior Rod Smith isn’t far behind and is doing everything he can to finally turn his natural talent into production before it’s too late. Sophomore Bri’onte Dunn is coming off a somewhat unexpected redshirt season during his second year at Ohio State and is impressing with his improved grasp of the offense. Warren Ball and early enrollee Curtis Samuel both are squarely in the battle for playing time as well, with the latter turning heads during offseason workouts and potentially becoming an option to play a hybrid role as a rusher and receiver when he gets completely healthy.

So even if the Buckeyes can’t settle on just one guy to fill Hyde’s shoes, they’re clearly not short of options.

“It’s real competitive, and coach Drayton really has us going,” Dunn said. “Everybody wants to play for Ohio State, so we’ll go as hard as we can.

“Carlos was like a big brother to me. He taught me a lot, and by his example last year, it just taught us all a lot. ... Everybody is just going hard and trying to go for the spot. Our mindset is to be the best back in the country.”

Hyde made his case last season, finishing with 1,521 yards, 15 touchdowns and a resume that might make him the first running back selected in the upcoming NFL draft.

But Drayton doesn’t necessarily need one candidate to emerge as the best individual rusher in the country to get what he’s looking for this spring. The only thing that really matters to him is making sure Ohio State has the best backfield, any way he can get it.

“I’m always going to operate under the notion I need at least three [guys],” Drayton said. “I need at least three, and there’s five of them.

“All those guys are in the mix. They’re so competitive, they all bring something different to the table, they all have a different style, different strengths and weaknesses and they can all help this football team. ... I just prefer a guy who is going to be productive, period.”

Drayton might not be picky about how the production comes. But there’s no flexibility about making sure the Buckeyes get it one way or another.
The ultimate Big Ten road trip for the 2014 season is, sadly, over. It's back to the reality of travel budgets and some Saturdays on the couch. For those who weren't paying attention the past few weeks, Brian Bennett and I each picked a game to attend -- featuring at least one Big Ten team -- during each week of the 2014 season.

The full itinerary is below:

Week 1: Brian at Penn State-UCF (in Dublin, Ireland); Adam at Wisconsin-LSU (in Houston)
Week 2: Adam at Michigan-Notre Dame; Brian at Michigan State-Oregon
Week 3: Brian at Minnesota-TCU; Adam at Penn State-Rutgers
Week 4: Adam at Miami-Nebraska; Brian at Miami-Nebraska
Week 5: Brian at Cincinnati-Ohio State; Adam at Minnesota-Michigan
Week 6: Adam at Nebraska-Michigan State; Brian at Nebraska-Michigan State
Week 7: Brian at Penn State-Michigan; Adam at Northwestern-Minnesota
Week 8: Adam at Iowa-Maryland; Brian at Nebraska-Northwestern
Week 9: Brian at Michigan-Michigan State; Adam at Ohio State-Penn State
Week 10: Adam at Northwestern-Iowa; Brian at Wisconsin-Rutgers
Week 11: Brian and Adam at Ohio State-Michigan State
Week 12: Adam and Brian at Nebraska-Wisconsin
Week 13: Brian and Adam at Wisconsin-Iowa
Week 14: Adam at Michigan-Ohio State; Brian at Nebraska-Iowa

You've seen our picks. Now it's time for yours.

Today's poll asks you to pick one game to attend during the 2014 season. It's a tall order, we know, as there are several good options. You can pick the biggest game for your favorite team if you'd like, but we'd also like you to think a little broader. Consider the locations, the timing, the game-day atmosphere, the culinary/beverage options and more.

It wasn't easy narrowing the options to five, but here goes ...
    SportsNation

    Which Big Ten game would you most like to attend?

    •  
      11%
    •  
      15%
    •  
      15%
    •  
      29%
    •  
      30%

    Discuss (Total votes: 9,229)

  • Wisconsin vs. LSU, Aug. 30 in Houston: If you like Texas barbecue, running backs and blockbuster season openers, this is the game for you. Wisconsin standout Melvin Gordon begins a potential Heisman Trophy campaign against a strong LSU defense at Reliant Stadium (soon to be NRG Stadium). The Badgers have a big chance to make a statement about their place in the Big Ten race and possibly the playoff picture.
  • Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6: The Big Ten has the biggest stadiums in college football, but Oregon probably has the loudest in Autzen Stadium. The Ducks also boast an excellent team led by quarterback Marcus Mariota. Michigan State's last trip to the West Coast was great one, and the Spartans can put themselves in the playoff mix with an upset win in Eugene. Also, sources tell me the Oregon dance team will be there.
  • Ohio State at Michigan State, Nov. 8: A rematch of the 2013 Big Ten championship game pairs the two preseason favorites in the East Division. The game features standout quarterbacks (Braxton Miller and Connor Cook) and pass rushers (Shilique Calhoun, Joey Bosa and Noah Spence). It also could kick off under the lights, despite being in November. Sparta will be rocking.
  • Nebraska at Wisconsin, Nov. 15:The West Division title could be on the line as the Huskers and Badgers meet at Camp Randall, site of Nebraska's league debut as a Big Ten member in 2011. Ameer Abdullah and the Huskers look for a much better result this time around. Abdullah will share the field with his good friend, Gordon, in a matchup of the league's top two running backs. Madison could be chilly, but it offers a lot to see, do, eat and drink.
  • Michigan at Ohio State, Nov. 29: The Game doesn't need much of a sales pitch, especially after last season's thriller in Ann Arbor. Miller plays his final home game and tries to finish with three consecutive wins against the Wolverines. Michigan aims for its first win in Columbus since 2000. It's a big year for Wolverines coach Brady Hoke, who could use another win against Michigan's archrival.

Time to vote.

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 24, 2014
Mar 24
12:00
PM ET
Spent the weekend hoopin' it up in Milwaukee. Good times. Back to the football grind, and the links.
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: As the center of an intense recruiting battle between Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Texas A&M, a four-star linebacker will lean on those close to him when it comes time to make a decision; and two future SEC opponents took turns testing each other at Sunday’s Atlanta Nike Training Camp.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

SPONSORED HEADLINES

The latest from Gustin at The Opening
ESPN 300 athlete Porter Gustin (Salem, Utah/Salem Hills) took time out to talk recruiting and more with WeAreSC's Garry Paskwietz on Tuesday at The Opening.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video