Big Ten lunch links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
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How long is too long to wait for free pizza?
  • Michigan's new offensive coordinator might be "insane" according to Devin Gardner, but Doug Nussmeier's might be just what the program needs.
  • Michigan State backup quarterback Tyler O'Connor has no plans to transfer, even with Connor Cook ahead of him on the depth chart.
  • Penn State moved a pair of defensive tackles to the offensive line, a sign of confidence in the players already on hand in the defensive trenches.
  • The Ohio State offensive line has a bunch of new faces, but the guy leading the unit remains the same. Ed Warinner's presence continues to give the Buckeyes confidence they can reload up front.
  • After a year away from football, Maryland receiver Marcus Leak has returned humbled, more mature and looking to make an impact.
  • Brandon Scherff has always been known for his ability to look ahead, and that trait is a big part of the reason the star left tackle elected to stay at Iowa for another season.
  • The tackles at Purdue are under intense scrutiny this spring, but the program has been pleasantly surprised with the play of sophomore J.J. Prince so far.
  • Vincent Valentine had his body right ahead of spring practice, but the Nebraska defensive tackle realized quickly he needed to make some technical improvements to have a big sophomore season.
  • Tanner McEvoy has played well elsewhere, but the Wisconsin junior made clear he'd prefer to stick around at quarterback.
  • The latest twist in the drama unfolding at Northwestern: Trevor Siemian opposes forming a union, and the quarterback indicated "a lot" of teammates feel the same way.
video

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer hired Chris Ash away from Arkansas primarily to fix Ohio State's problems in its pass defense.

What Ash found is that the biggest area of need might have been from the shoulder pads up rather than any scheme or philosophy.

"You talk about Ohio State and the history, and there have been some really good defenses and some really good defensive backs," the Buckeyes' first-year co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach told ESPN.com. "You knew what you were going to get when you lined up against Ohio State -- you were going to get hit in the mouth.

[+] EnlargeChris Ash
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsChris Ash says instilling a new attitude in the secondary is as important as any scheme he is bringing to Ohio State.
"From my observations, some of that confidence and swagger has been lost in the last couple of years. And that mental psyche is probably as big as anything for us to regain."

It's understandable why the secondary might have felt shell-shocked by the way last season ended. The last three games of the season saw Ohio State surrender 451 passing yards to Michigan in a one-point win, allow Michigan State's Connor Cook to register his first career 300-yard passing day in a Big Ten championship game loss and serve up five passing touchdowns to Clemson in the Orange Bowl defeat. That led to withering criticism from fans and media about the pass defense.

"It’s been everywhere about how bad our back end was," senior cornerback Doran Grant said.

Ash said he hasn't looked much at the past and doesn't really care about it. But he does want the defensive backfield to play with an attitude and confidence, a task that's not made easier by the loss of three starters from last season.

One way Ash has tried to instill those traits is by showing his players clips from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks' secondary. Seattle's hard-hitting, long cornerbacks and safeties set a tone for its entire defense.

"We made lot of cutups of them and said, 'Guys, this is how the best in the business play the game of football,’'' Ash said. "Are we going to be that? No, but we can be in our own way, and this is the way we need to play."

Ash wants his players showing energy and excitement on the field. So whenever a defensive back gives a great effort or celebrate a big play in practice this spring, you'll hear Ohio State coaches say, "Locker it." That's jargon for saving the video clip, which Ash will later show to his players in meetings.

Ohio State needed more change than just the mental side of the game, of course. Ash will help give the Buckeyes a more consistent and aggressive approach in its pass coverage, utilizing the Cover 4, or quarters, scheme. That will also feature some man-to-man, press coverage at times. It's kind of a combination of what Ash ran at Wisconsin, mixed in with some principals that Michigan State has had so much success with.

"We're taking the same approach that we take to stopping the run and putting it in the back end," Meyer said. "The feeling around here was as long as we stop the run and give up some passing yards, that’s OK. That’s not the case anymore. There are too many good throwing teams out there."

Grant is by far the most experienced player in the secondary and looks to take over the role of No. 1 cornerback after Bradley Roby's departure to the NFL. Working opposite him are junior Armani Reeves and redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple. The latter two were both big-time recruits, and Ash said Apple is probably the defense's most improved player over the latter half of spring ball.

Sophomore Vonn Bell, who made his first career start at safety in the Orange Bowl, tore his MCL early in spring practice. In his absence, the 6-foot-3 Tyvis Powell and the 6-foot Cam Burrows are taking first-team reps at safety. Both are former cornerbacks and are what Ash calls "the model of what we want to recruit here" at safety because of their speed and size.

They've got a long way to go to match the Seahawks, but the Buckeyes have very promising, if somewhat raw, athletes to work with. They hope that leads to a much better and more confident secondary this season.

"It’s not about the size or anything like that," Grant said. "It’s about going hard and being coachable. [The Seahawks are] a high standard, but Ohio State, we’re also a high standard."

Video: Ohio State's Michael Bennett

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
5:00
PM ET

Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett talks about the Buckeyes' talented defensive line and changes to the defense this spring.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Spring weather has just now finally arrived for Ohio State, but its camp is already about to come to a close. Ahead of Saturday's exhibition game to wrap up the 15 workouts spread through March and April, we're taking a look at players who have helped themselves and could put on a show over the weekend, switching over today to defense.

[+] EnlargeAdolphus Washington
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesMoving inside will help both Adolphus Washington and the Buckeyes' defensive line.
LB Darron Lee

  • The sophomore might not have been one of the popular pre-spring picks to claim the third starting job at linebacker and help fill the void left by Ryan Shazier's early entry to the NFL draft, but Lee impressed the coaching staff enough during offseason workouts to earn the first crack at it when camp opened -- and he's done nothing since then to lose the spot. The Buckeyes have tweaked the lineup a bit with Joshua Perry moving over to weak-side linebacker in place of Shazier with Lee taking over on the strong side, and with Curtis Grant in the middle, that unit has shown some signs of getting Ohio State closer to the level it has come to expect on defense. Lee's versatile athleticism as a former high school quarterback and defensive back has blended well with the added strength he's put on at 225 pounds, and the Buckeyes have had little reason to explore other starting options heading into the spring game.
CB Gareon Conley

  • One of the more touted prospects at the position a year ago, coach Urban Meyer hasn't been shy about expressing some disappointment that Conley wasn't ready to contribute last season and ultimately redshirted. But his skills in coverage are starting to show up more regularly now, and he's pushing Armani Reeves hard for the second starting job opposite Doran Grant in Ohio State's more aggressive man-to-man defense. Even if Conley doesn't claim that gig, the Buckeyes are still likely going to have him heavily involved in the nickel and dime packages, and the rigors of playing more bump-and-run in the secondary will make having reliable, talented depth like he figures to provide invaluable. Assuming the offense again tries to stress the passing game in the closing scrimmage, Conley should have numerous chances to show his stuff on Saturday.
DT Adolphus Washington

  • Now a junior with some proven ability when it counts on his resume, Washington isn't exactly emerging out of nowhere. He's also previously had a breakout spring that ended with a prolific performance in the exhibition game that seemingly announced his arrival as a future star. But injuries and what appeared to be uncertainty about the best way to use Washington kept him from truly becoming the havoc-wreaking force the Buckeyes expected last season, and in some respects that made the 6-foot-4, 288-pounder a bit of an afterthought heading into camp. His move to defensive tackle, though, has provided the stability perhaps needed to allow him to flourish -- and when healthy, there's never been a need to question his physical tools. With Noah Spence and Joey Bosa on the edge and Michael Bennett returning on the inside, a rejuvenated Washington could be the piece that gives Ohio State one of the most relentless pass rushes in the nation.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
12:00
PM ET
RIP, Princess Lacey.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Spring weather has just now finally arrived for Ohio State, but its camp is already about to come to a close. Ahead of Saturday's exhibition game to wrap up the 15 workouts spread through March and April, we're taking a look at players who have helped themselves and could put on a show over the weekend, starting today on offense.

H-B Curtis Samuel

  • [+] EnlargeCurtis Samuel
    AP Photo/Gregory PayanCurtis Samuel showed his potential in a run in a scrimmage last week.
    An early enrollee, Samuel showed off his straight-line speed with one of the longest touchdowns of the open scrimmage on Student Appreciation Day, taking a handoff up the middle on a fourth-and-short situation and never looking back on the way to the end zone. Samuel's athleticism drew rave reviews even before he hit the practice field, and after being initially slowed by a hamstring injury last month, he put it on full display by bursting through the hole and pulling away from defenders in front of several thousand fans. Even more people will be watching at the Horseshoe, and Samuel will no doubt have a few chances to show what he could bring to the Ohio State offense as a first-year contributor at the hybrid position along with Dontre Wilson.
TE Marcus Baugh

  • The redshirt freshman started his career on the wrong foot off the field, but if Baugh can avoid any more of those missteps, he clearly has the talent to make things happen on the turf for the Buckeyes. Ohio State already has two talented players ahead of him at one of its deepest positions, but with Jeff Heuerman currently on the shelf following foot surgery, Baugh has benefited from the additional reps and is building a case to be included in the game plan in some fashion along with Nick Vannett. Even before Heuerman was injured, Baugh was turning heads by teaming with reserve quarterback J.T. Barrett for some long gains through the air, and more passes figure to be coming his way in the spring showcase.
RT Darryl Baldwin

  • The fifth-year senior has had to patiently wait his turn, but his time appears to have finally arrived this spring as he prepares for his final season with the program and a likely role in the starting lineup. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner has had a magic touch at right tackle during his two seasons with Ohio State, turning former tight end Reid Fragel into a professional prospect with just one year to work with him and then bringing Taylor Decker quickly up to speed last season in his first year as a starter. With Decker switching over to the left side, Baldwin has earned praise for his work with the starters and will have one more chance in live action to solidify that role as his own heading into the offseason.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 8, 2014
Apr 8
12:00
PM ET
I've been to Storrs. I don't know how UConn keeps doing it.
The NCAA men's tournament is all over, but we've still got the title match in our all-time Big Ten coaches' tournament.

Like that other madness, we had some lower seeds advancing all the way to the championship, though the upsets weren't huge. In our second semifinal matchup, No. 4 seed Penn State's Joe Paterno edged No. 1 seed Ohio State's Woody Hayes by a 53-47 count in your voting, with more than 21,000 votes cast.

So Paterno advanced to face No. 3 seed Nebraska's Tom Osborne. An all-time Big Ten coaches tournament final with no Woody or Bo? It is surprisingly so, though the two finalists are no slouches either.

We'll open the tournament final on Thursday. For now, here are some of your comments on this matchup:
Brian from Smyrna: I voted for Joe Paterno over Woody Hayes. There's no arguing that Hayes has a better Big Ten résumé than JoePa. But Paterno has a better career than any other Division 1 coach ever. No one won more games than he did and even his 2 championships are short changing him (he went undefeated 4 other times without being awarded a championship). He won during all kinds of eras of the game. No one will ever top the greatest coach of all time.

Sean J. from Philadelphia: Yes, many coaches have won a plethora of games, fund-raised for their universities, and built the brand of their schools. However, none have had the same impact that Joe Paterno had both on and off the field. Not many fans can attribute their coach for the success of the team and their own personal success. Whether it's the national recognition your degree gets, the time spent in the library with his name on it, or the visit he made to your tent in Paternoville the night before a big game, Joe Pa impacted many of our lives. Despite accusations from the scandal, generations of alumni know they owe Joe a debt gratitude for the education they received at Penn State. That is why he deserves to win this tournament.

David S. from Virginia Beach: Quite simply, Joe Paterno coached and won 409 games regardless of the dumbest part of the NCAA sanctions Penn State had... NO ONE BETTER

Brian B. from Atlanta: I voted for Joe Paterno for two reasons: 1. Joe Pa was the greatest coach of all time. 2. I hate Ohio State and would vote for anything opposite them. Obviously a no-brainer.

Dave from Columbus: Great matchup here. Two towering figures of the B1G. Okay, so JoePa wasn't part of the B1G until the last 20 years of his career, but still. Both coaches' legacies were ended in disgusting tarnish. My favorite team being tOSU, Woody gets my vote. But it's deeper than that. Woody's been immortalized throughout campus, the B1G and beyond. I just don't see JoePa's legacy ever recovering from what happened there. I have a feeling a lot of folks are voting for JoePa out of their disdain for Woody.

James from Nashville: Many people are overlooking the fact that Paterno had the benefit and being independent and setting up a lot of cupcakes. Hayes was the better coach, and would have won more titles if not for facing off against Bo for a decade, and playing Rose Bowls against several exceptional USC teams. Even so, he still won more titles, more conference titles, and indeed a higher percentage of Big Ten games that Paterno. Anyone who votes Paterno is clearly someone who does not know much about the history of the Big Ten.

Larry P. from Mansfield, Ohio: Woody Hayes won 13 Big Ten titles and 5 national championships. Joe Paterno won 2 Big Ten titles and 2 national championships. Not a tough call.

Tom from Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio: The Big Ten term 3 yards and a cloud of dust came because of Woody. Yes, when you think of Penn State, you think of Joe Pa. When you think of Ohio State, you think of Woody. The difference is when you think of the Big Ten, you also think of Woody. My vote goes to Woody Hayes.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The spring season's star was back on a familiar stage, again stealing the show.

A few thousand fans crowded into Ohio State’s indoor practice facility on Saturday, and, as he’s done three camps running, Michael Thomas gave them all something to remember and rave about.

The redshirt sophomore stuck out one hand in the corner of the end zone, plucked a pass out of the air as if the football and his glove were made of velcro and started a team-wide celebration with yet another entry on his spring highlight reel.

[+] EnlargeMichael Thomas
AP Photo/Al BehrmanMichael Thomas is doing his spring thing again. He made a memorable catch during a scrimmage on Saturday.
For now, Thomas has almost nothing of note on his résumé after the month of April in his career with the Buckeyes, failing twice in a row to build on head-turning workouts and jaw-dropping glimpses of his athleticism at wide receiver. But in the midst of a third productive camp and coming off a surprising redshirt season, though, Thomas might finally be ready to carry over some of his springtime success into the fall.

“I just took last season like a developmental year,” Thomas said. “That motivates me more, motivates me every day.

“We’ve been waiting for spring to come around since we knew we were probably going to redshirt. Now it’s here and we’re going hard and competing every day.”

Thomas has had a knack for winning those battles in the spring, and it has only made his lack of production when it really counts all the more puzzling.

As an early enrollee in 2012, Thomas dominated the spring game with a team-high 12 catches, a number that was even more notable with the Buckeyes coming off a season in which no player made more than 14 receptions.

Last spring, Thomas seemed to always have the edge on the practice field during open workouts, using his 6-foot-3, 203-pound frame to overpower defensive backs on intermediate routes or flashing his speed and ball skills to make plays deep down the field.

But his first season in 2012 ended with just three receptions. Last fall, a disappointing training camp in August prompted the coaching staff to bench him for the opener, a decision that ultimately sent him down the path to a season on the sideline.

“He didn’t have a great fall camp,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “So, I didn’t play him in the first game, mainly because I wanted him to realize that we’re not going to go a whole season with him preparing the way he prepared, performing the way he performed in practice. That’s just not what we expect here. After that game, kept going, he kept growing, but we didn’t want to waste a year on Mike just to catch 12 balls or 15.

“We weren’t going to put him in the game unless we had to, so we saved a year, but he got a year of experience preparing to play.”

That extra year might come in handy down the road for the Buckeyes when or if Thomas does end up tapping into his outsized potential, and he certainly had plenty of chances to build himself into a dangerous target while working against future NFL cornerback Bradley Roby on the practice field last season.

Ohio State has been able to put up prolific, historic offensive statistics in the past two seasons while leaning heavily on its rushing attack and not getting quite as much balance from the passing game as the coaching staff would like, an issue Urban Meyer has made well known he’d like to fix heading into his third season with the program. A lack of depth at receiver isn’t solely to blame for that, much like a rough training camp that produced a redshirt for Thomas wasn’t the only factor that limited some of the options and production on the perimeter.

But Thomas has the ability to help solve both problems at the same time. He’ll just have to move his next encore performance up to the fall.

“I just had to reach out a little bit, extra effort, one-handed catch, it hit my glove and stuck to it,” Thomas said after adding another spring touchdown catch to his collection. “There are still a lot of things I have to work on, but we’re getting better every day.”

Small crowds have had a chance to see that improvement in the spring. But the Buckeyes are still waiting to see him show it off to a packed stadium when it truly matters.

Ohio State to pay out over $2M

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
2:33
PM ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State will pay more than $2 million in total guarantees to bring Virginia Tech, Kent State and Cincinnati to Ohio Stadium this fall.

The university disclosed the payouts on Monday at the request of The Associated Press.

Cincinnati, located a couple of hours away, will receive the most money -- $888,246 -- to play the Buckeyes on Sept. 27. Kent State, also located about two hours away, will get $850,000 to appear in Columbus on Sept. 13. Virginia Tech, which comes to Ohio Stadium on Sept. 20 as the first of a home-and-home series, will get a $350,000 guarantee.

The Buckeyes get an $850,000 guarantee to open against Navy on Aug. 30 at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.


(Read full post)


Michigan's defense controlled play throughout the spring game Saturday at Michigan Stadium, echoing a theme throughout most of the league that day.

Several Big Ten squads held scrimmages or open practices, and the defenses had the edge in most of them. The offenses stepped up in a few, and several quarterbacks appear to be separating themselves.

Let's recap the weekend scrimmages. (Note: Scrimmages that were closed to the media and had no available statistics.)

WISCONSIN

Despite a new-look front seven and several position changes, Wisconsin's defense dominated Saturday's scrimmage. Cornerbacks Sojourn Shelton and Darius Hillary both had good days against an undermanned receiving corps, and coach Gary Andersen called the quarterback play very average. "We have a long way to go in the throw game, and that's disappointing," Andersen said. "If we want to be a good team, we have to figure that out." The defense also shined against the run, even against top backs Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement.

PURDUE

Technically, the Boilers' offense won Saturday's jersey scrimmage at Ross-Ade Stadium. But the defense looked stronger for much of the day, recording seven sacks and two takeaways. Unofficially, five Boilers recorded sacks, including two from tackle Michael Rouse III, who finished with three tackles for loss. Coach Darrell Hazell said of the defensive line, "They played in the [offensive] backfield."

Top quarterbacks Danny Etling and Austin Appleby struggled, combining to complete 21 of 42 passes for 205 yards with a touchdown (Etling) and an interception (Appleby). Running back Raheem Mostert highlighted the offense with 134 yards and two touchdowns on only nine carries. Mostert is making a strong push this spring to be Purdue's No. 1 running back.

MINNESOTA

The Gophers' defense loses top performers Ra'Shede Hageman and Brock Vereen from last fall's unit, but it controlled play on Saturday. Minnesota's D held the offense without a point on its first seven possessions in the scrimmage. Safety Cedric Thompson had an excellent interception off a deflection on the first drive. The offense picked it up later in the scrimmage, as quarterback Mitch Leidner found KJ Maye for a 50-yard touchdown strike, and both Leidner and Berkley Edwards had long touchdown runs.

NEBRASKA

Here's one offense that flexed its muscles on Saturday after being subdued earlier in the week. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. had an "efficient" performance, according to coach Bo Pelini, as he continues to look like the team's top signal-caller. Armstrong ran for two touchdowns. Sophomore Terrell Newby received a lot of work at running back as Ameer Abdullah sat out, and receiver Jordan Westerkamp turned a short pass into a long gain. Defensive tackle Aaron Curry left the field with a neck injury, but Pelini thinks he'll be fine.

MICHIGAN STATE

The offense recorded a 27-25 win against the defense in MSU's first spring jersey scrimmage, as quarterback Connor Cook completed 15 of 21 passes for 187 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Wide receiver DeAnthony Arnett, who has been relatively quiet since transferring from Tennessee, had five receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown. Tyler O'Connor, competing for the backup quarterback job, had a good day (10-for-15 passing, 132 yards, TD).

After allowing a touchdown on the opening possession, the defense forced four consecutive stops. Standouts included safety Kurtis Drummond (six tackles, 1 TFL, interception), end Shilique Calhoun (two sacks) and linebacker Chris Frey, an early enrollee, who had two sacks and three tackles for loss.

ILLINOIS

The Illini had their second off-site practice of the spring, traveling to Sacred Heart-Griffin High School in Springfield for a controlled scrimmage on Friday night. Quarterback Wes Lunt continues to look like Illinois' starter. According to Rivals.com's Doug Buchson, Lunt completed his first 14 pass attempts against the second-string defense for about 250 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman wideout Mike Dudek continues his strong spring, and receiver Geronimo Allison had a 45-yard touchdown catch from Lunt.

Defensive linemen Kenny Nelson and DeJazz Woods stood out against the second-team offensive line, consistently penetrating the backfield. Cornerback Caleb Day also looked good.

RUTGERS

The most important thing coming out of Rutgers' first spring scrimmage was some clarity at quarterback, as Gary Nova, Mike Bimonte and Chris Laviano all worked with the first-team offense. Although a rash of injuries made it tough to get a true gauge, Bimonte had the best day, leading two touchdown drives. Coach Kyle Flood said all three signal-callers will continue to work with the top offense. Flood singled out defensive linemen Darius Hamilton and Kemoko Turay for their play during the scrimmage.

NORTHWESTERN

Like several other Big Ten teams, Northwestern can't have full-blown scrimmages because of its injury situation. But the Wildcats had their top units match up for stretches of Saturday's practice on the lakefront. Trevor Siemian entered the spring as the No. 1 quarterback and appears to be ending it the same way. Siemian looked sharp on his first series, completing all three of his attempts. Dropped passes were a problem for much of the day, but wide receiver Kyle Prater, a USC transfer who has battled injuries for much of his career, had a one-handed grab on a pass from Zack Oliver. Cornerback Matt Harris and safety Kyle Queiro both made plays for the defense.

OHIO STATE

The Buckeyes invited students inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for Saturday's practice, creating some cool scenes. Several young players stood out, namely cornerback Eli Apple, who had two interceptions and a big hit. Running back Curtis Samuel, an early enrollee, also sparked the crowd with a 50-yard touchdown run. Linebacker has been an area of concern for Ohio State, but Darron Lee and Chris Worley both made some plays on the outside. Ezekiel Elliott is looking more like Ohio State's top running back, as he showed his size and versatility during the practice.

Big Ten's lunch links

April, 7, 2014
Apr 7
12:00
PM ET
Big Ten is desperate for a title. Which one of you is willing to make the sacrifice?

Links time ...
Enjoy the Final Four. And for you Michigan fans out there, enjoy the spring game at the Big House.

Don't forget: Twitter!

To the inbox ...

Kenny from Cincy writes: I was comparing on-the-field accomplishments of the past two Ohio State QBs and I feel like Terrelle Pryor has had a better career (you know, despite crippling the program the next year but I feel like most in Buckeye land have forgiven him). Pryor: 3 Big Ten championships, a Rose Bowl win, and a Sugar Bowl win over a SEC team in three years (I know the games were vacated, but it did happen). Braxton Miller: 0-2 in bowls and 0 Big Ten championships, but two Silver Footballs and 24 wins in a row are nice. My question is, due to the expectations that QBs like Troy Smith and Pryor elevated, do you think Miller has to win a Big Ten championship or more this year or will the Braxton Miller years be seen as a failure in Buckeyes fans' eyes?

Adam Rittenberg: Kenny, this is a really interesting debate regarding each quarterback's legacy. There's no doubt Miller has accomplished more individually than Pryor. He could be the first Big Ten player to win three offensive player of the year awards. He likely would have won a Big Ten championship in 2012 if Ohio State had been eligible for postseason play, but when you look at macro team accomplishments -- league titles and BCS bowl wins -- Pryor definitely gets the edge. He likely was an ill-timed blitz away from having a third BCS bowl win in the 2009 Fiesta Bowl against Texas. One big difference is Pryor played on teams with much better defenses. Miller had several reasons to return for his senior season, and winning a Big Ten title certainly is one of them.


Joe from Phoenix writes: I don't understand everyone's love for a nine-game conference schedule. I do not believe rematches in college football are a good thing, as it makes the first game irrelevant. With a nine-game schedule, you almost guarantee a rematch in the championship game. Why not schedule one more "quality" nonconference game? That way all Big Ten schools have an opportunity to have one more win on their record, and look better for the bowl committees.

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I hear you and it definitely increases the likelihood of a rematch in the Big Ten championship, but I also see the league's viewpoint. It wants a greater schedule rotation to enhance your product week after week. It wants players to face every league team at least once in a four-year period. I also think it's tricky to demand another quality nonleague game in place of the ninth Big Ten contest. Some schools would step up, but you need teams from other power conferences to play ball, too, which is no guarantee. I also think some schools would schedule cupcakes. Bowl committees rarely care about strength of schedule.


Joe from South Bend, Ind., writes: Adam, what was maybe one thing you found impressive with your visit to Happy Valley and was your one big takeaway?

Adam Rittenberg: Joe, I'm very impressed with James Franklin's staff. They're very sharp guys who know how to keep the energy level high and relate well to a group of new players. Everyone knows that Franklin operates in fifth gear, but his assistants do, too, and there's tremendous cohesion with the staff. It would have been much harder if the staff lacked familiarity as it tried to get to know the players. My big takeaway: Penn State's defense is much further along than the offense, and the Lions likely will need to win low-scoring games this fall. Coordinator Bob Shoop has a good plan and inherits some good pieces. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg is a once-in-a-generation type quarterback, but he'll face more pressure this year because of the issues with the offensive line.


Kevin from Las Vegas writes: Is history the only thing that qualifies a team for elite status? Wisconsin is seen as a sleeper in the B1G, and two years ago they were "elite." Michigan and Ohio State would never be considered "sleepers," even after down years. Is this simply because of historic achievements (lots of national championships when Teddy Roosevelt was president), branding (our helmets have wings!), or lazy writers (not you guys, of course)? Do teams like Wisconsin, Michigan State or Iowa ever really have a shot of being elite because their legacy doesn't include deep history?

Adam Rittenberg: Kevin, it's a good point to raise, especially because I think Michigan State is being overlooked heading into 2014 just because it hasn't been a traditional power. You hear a lot about Ohio State making a run for the College Football Playoff, but Michigan State dominated the Big Ten last year (nine wins by 10 or more points), won the Rose Bowl and brings back quarterback Connor Cook and defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, among others. Wisconsin has gained national respect in the past 20-plus years, but the Badgers also recently lost three consecutive Rose Bowls, which hurt their cause. Iowa has had its moments but lacks the consistency of Wisconsin. Michigan State, meanwhile, really has it rolling under Mark Dantonio. At some point, the Spartans need to be viewed as elite for what's happening now, not in the past.


Charlie from Chicago writes: What recruits in the conference are due to have breakout seasons in their freshman year?

Adam Rittenberg: There are potentially quite a few this year, Charlie. Early enrollees have an advantage, so keep an eye on players such as Ohio State LB Raekwon McMillan, Michigan WR Freddy Canteen, Ohio State WR Johnnie Dixon and Penn State WR De'Andre Thompkins. Other potential impact recruits arriving in the summer include Michigan CB Jabrill Peppers (the Big Ten's top-rated recruit in the 2014 class), Illinois DE Jihad Ward (junior college transfer), Minnesota RB Jeff Jones and Michigan State DT Malik McDowell, whom Mark Dantonio gushed about Wednesday after he finally signed.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The cushions are gone in the Ohio State secondary.

For the spring, that figuratively applies to a group of defensive backs being challenged and pushed to the limit on a daily basis, removing their personal comfort zone in order to to improve on the disaster that was last season’s pass coverage.

By the fall, it will literally mean the spaces that used to be open to opposing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage will no longer exist, replaced instead by a relentless barrage of nonstop press coverage.

The goal both now and later is for the Buckeyes to make an opponent uncomfortable when the ball is in the air, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is more than willing to do his part to take out the buffer and dial up the pressure to make sure that happens.

“We’re playing a style of defense that is very appealing to me as a corners coach,” Coombs said. “Every single snap of spring football we have lined up in press coverage, and that’s the way we’re going to learn it. Then we’ll find out how we stack up when the fall comes around.”

[+] EnlargeArmani Reeves
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsArmani Reeves and the Buckeyes will be in press coverage more often in 2014.
The Buckeyes came up woefully short on the measuring stick last fall, and its beleaguered pass coverage was arguably at the top of the list of reasons they fell short of their goal of playing for the national championship as the secondary unraveled down the stretch.

Ohio State survived a shootout against rival Michigan despite allowing 451 passing yards, but even its high-powered offense wasn’t able to keep trading punches against Michigan State and Clemson as those teams combined for 682 yards and eight touchdowns through the air in those two losses. Collectively the Buckeyes allowed 250 yards or more eight times as they sank to No. 110 in the nation in pass defense, and coach Urban Meyer has made it well known that he believed the defense was too conservative.

That message has clearly been delivered to returning assistants such as Coombs, and a fresh voice in co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has echoed it as he helps install a much more aggressive system that will bring the cornerbacks up to the line of scrimmage to force the issue in man-to-man coverage.

“It takes practice to play that way,” Coombs said. “Football is made up of a myriad of different schemes. There are lots of different things, and it’s not like you can just say, ‘Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go play.’ It’s the scheme; it’s how everything fits together.

“I’m not blaming that on anybody, but that was not what we were doing. We did it at times, but it wasn’t our base concept -- it was an adjustment. Now it is our base alignment, and we will adjust off of that. So, in order to do that, you’ve got to do it.”

That alone doesn’t guarantee improvement, and the Buckeyes are certainly aware that it will take more than tweaking the playbook to get results.

For starters, three veterans from the secondary must be replaced, including cornerback Bradley Roby, after he elected to skip his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. The Buckeyes do still have senior Doran Grant around to fill that void at the boundary position in the secondary, and he has all the tools to become a shutdown defender, the role Roby filled during the last couple seasons.

The new scheme also presents some personnel challenges, as the demanding nature of press coverage will force the Buckeyes to rotate cornerbacks more frequently to keep them fresh. That will make it imperative to bring along an inexperienced, but talented, group of players, including former elite recruits such as Gareon Conley and Eli Apple to supplement Grant and projected starter Armani Reeves without much drop-off in production or effort.

But there is still time left in spring practice to work on that, plus an entire offseason this summer and training camp in August until the Buckeyes feel comfortable dealing with the pressure.

Then it will be their turn to put it on somebody else.

“I actually like it,” Grant said. “Our whole team is liking it. We’re buying into it and we appreciate this defense. We’re going to work our butts off to get [it right].”

After all, the Buckeyes know they can’t get it fixed sitting on cushions, either.
Who is the greatest Big Ten coach of all time?

Our all-time Big Ten coaches tournament is attempting to answer that question, and we're down to our final four candidates. Our first semifinal opened yesterday with No. 3 seed Nebraska's Tom Osborne taking on No. 2 seed Michigan's Bo Schembechler.

Now it's time to take a look at our other Final Four showdown ...

No. 4 Penn State's Joe Paterno vs. No. 1 Ohio State's Woody Hayes

Tournament résumés:
  • SportsNation

    Which coach wins this semifinal matchup?

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      52%
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      48%

    Discuss (Total votes: 22,118)

    Paterno: For nearly half a century, JoePa was Penn State football. He won a record 409 games, plus two national championships (1982, 1986) and had four other undefeated seasons. He won all four major bowl games -- the Rose, Orange, Fiesta and Sugar -- and was the AFCA national Coach of the Year five times. Yes, his career ended in scandal and a huge chunk of his wins were vacated by the NCAA. You have to decide for yourself how much that affects his legacy.
  • Hayes: He's the No. 1 seed in the tournament for a reason. Hayes won 205 games, the most of any coach while a member of the Big Ten, and a record 152 league games. He also captured 13 Big Ten championships, tying him for the most all time, and five national titles (1954, 1957, 1961, 1968 and 1970). He was irascible, unyielding and one of a kind, and some of those qualities led to his downfall. But he is virtually synonymous with Ohio State and the Big Ten.

Which coach moves on to the title game? Voting will be open through the weekend, and make sure to drop us a note saying why you voted the way you did. The best responses will run in our results posts.

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