Emergency plan: OSU's backup QBs

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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With the news that Ohio State QB Braxton Miller is out for the season with an injury to his throwing shoulder, it’s time to get to know who will be taking snaps for the Buckeyes this fall.

J.T. Barrett
  • The redshirt freshman only ascended to the No. 2 spot over the weekend, just in time to be in position to take the reins of the spread offense if Miller's shoulder is seriously damaged. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Barrett has the weakest arm of the three top quarterbacks on the roster, and the coaching staff has had no problem admitting that because he makes up for it with above-average tools everywhere else across the board. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman has praised Barrett since the moment he signed for his cerebral approach to the game, pinpoint accuracy and the sort of athleticism required to run Ohio State's offense even after suffering an ACL injury as a senior in high school. At this point, the Buckeyes elevated Barrett to the backup spot simply because, as Herman said Monday, "the offense moves better when he's in there."
Cardale Jones
  • With his impressive size at 6-5 and 250 pounds, plenty of speed and the ability to overpower defenders as a rusher, Jones looked like the heir apparent in claiming the backup job during spring practice while Miller was on the shelf following surgery. The redshirt sophomore has a rocket for a right arm, but it doesn't always fire in the right direction and inconsistent accuracy has been regularly cited as the biggest hurdle for Jones in the passing game. He has a slight edge in experience with the program after enrolling in January 2012, putting him on campus for the entirety of coach Urban Meyer's tenure with the Buckeyes, but he has attempted only a pair of passes in live action with one completion for 3 yards. He has showed off his mobility during his few chances to play, rushing 17 times for 132 yards with a touchdown.
Boston College coach Steve Addazio remembers an era when players wanted to redshirt as true freshmen to better prepare them for the final four years of their college career.

"Now it's 'I want to play,' " Addazio, 55, said. "If you're talking about not playing them early, the majority are like 'What do you mean?'"

So, the ability to play or possibly even start as a true freshman has become a regular sales pitch for coaches from the Power Five to the Group of Five. It's certainly a tool in the belt for Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher. Last week, Fisher alluded to the number of freshmen All-Americans he's coached the last four seasons. Twenty-four hours later, it was on the program's official recruiting Twitter page.

"The last [four] years we've had 14 freshmen All-Americans," said Fisher, condensing multiple outlets' freshmen award teams into one, concise Florida State propaganda poster. "If you come in ready to play, we're willing to put you on the field. It's critical for guys to come in saying 'When I'm the best, I'll play.'"

Fisher has the goods to back up his claims, even if the numbers are obviously skewed to best represent his program. But how does his résumé compare to those coaching some of the country's other top programs?

I tried to come up with a way to accurately discern which schools play the most freshmen and decided true freshmen letterwinners was the simplest and most effective way to crunch the numbers. To earn a letter, a player has to actually play consistently through the season. The disclaimer is each program can use different benchmarks when awarding letters, but there is never going to be a perfect way.

I began with Florida State's, looking back at the 2011-2013 classes. To properly quantify the data from Florida State, I decided I'd look at the five schools ranked highest in the preseason polls that have had its coach in place at least five seasons. Oregon's Mark Helfrich was offered an exemption because he was promoted from within and is in his sixth season with the Ducks. Coaches in place at least five years was the stipulation since an incoming coach might be susceptible to playing the prospects he recruited or having a number of transfers that could open up starting or rotational spots.

The criteria: Each class was looked at and the total number of signees was pared down to just those who enrolled as members of the football team in the fall. Junior college signees were excluded, as were any recruits who were academically or medically disqualified before playing a game. That explains why the total number of freshmen for our purposes might look different than what might be seen on RecruitingNation. Any true freshmen who spent a year at a post-graduate or prep school was also excluded. Redshirt freshmen were disqualified, too.

Bottom line is if the player was not a part of the football team the fall following his high school graduation, he was excluded.

Nearly all of the data was collected after poring through media guides and archives, although the communications departments at some of the schools were also helpful providing numbers and deserve recognition.

So, here is the actual data:

 

It is hardly a coincidence that Fisher and Alabama's Nick Saban, who mentored Fisher at LSU, have identical percentages of true freshmen earning a letter. Fisher and Saban arguably have been the two best recruiters over the last few cycles, and, the data shows those two are not going to keep young talent off the field simply because of age. Nearly half of the true freshmen at Alabama and Florida State lettered over the last three seasons.

Mark Dantonio has built Michigan State into a national title contender in a different manor, relying on experience. Only 12 percent of true freshmen lettered over the last three seasons. Recruiting to Michigan State is not the easy task it is at some other top-10 programs, and the Spartans are not recruiting as many ESPN 300-level players as the likes of Alabama and Florida State.

It should be noted Michigan State, Oklahoma and Oregon don't have quite the recruiting base Alabama and Florida State do.

Inquiring minds want to see how that 45 percent stacks up to some of the other top programs in the country, so even though they did not fit the criteria I looked at a few other schools with coaches in place at least five seasons and lately in the top half of the rankings. LSU was worth a look considering it's Les Miles' 10th season in Baton Rouge and, like Fisher and Saban, has recruited exceptionally well for a long period of time. Mark Richt is in his 14th season at Georgia and, like Miles, usually has a highly-regarded recruiting class. Steve Spurrier is in his 10th season at South Carolina and has steadily improved the Gamecocks' class to the point that the 2015 class is No. 5 nationally. Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson from a perennial disappointment into a two-time BCS bowl participant. And Ohio State and Texas A&M, mainly because it's worth seeing how third-year Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer fares considering he frequently voices his preference to avoid redshirting. Kevin Sumlin is also in the process of trying to build an SEC power that can compete with Alabama and LSU in the SEC West.

 

For the Buckeyes, out of the 69 true freshmen to land in Columbus, Ohio, from 2011-2013, 31 lettered -- the same 45 percent. Looking at just Meyer's two seasons, however, he is decimals ahead of Fisher and Saban at 46 percent (21 out of 46), thanks in large part to 14 freshmen letterwinners in his first season.

Georgia's Mark Richt has a percentage of nearly 50 percent, but the Bulldogs' numbers might be the most skewed. Along with South Carolina, the Bulldogs had several recruits that either did not qualify or spent time at a prep school or junior college. Also, Georgia's long list of dismissals and transfers is well documented, and all of the departures has opened up spots for freshmen to earn immediate playing time.

It is Miles, though, who plays a higher percentage of freshmen than all of the others. Twelve true freshmen lettered for LSU in both 2012 and 2013, and another nine earned a letter in 2011. There were a total of 65 applicable freshmen to enter LSU during that span and 33 of them lettered. That's a percentage of 51 percent.

Certainly the numbers will fluctuate year to year, and coaches at every single program are playing freshmen more frequently than ever before. When taking into account the timeline is over three years, LSU averages just one more freshman letterwinner per season than Alabama and Florida State. For our intents and purposes, though, the data shows which top programs consistently play the most freshmen in this new era of freshmen phenoms.

And, uh, FYI, Alabama has 19 ESPN 300 players prepping for their freshmen season this fall. LSU has 16, and Florida State isn't far off with 13 of their own.

Big Ten morning links

August, 19, 2014
Aug 19
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Apologies to the rest of the league, but there's one story that is going to be dominating the coverage today. And it might for the next couple days after suddenly appearing overnight as word trickled out about Braxton Miller's injured shoulder.

If you missed it, the two-time Tribune Silver Football winner, one of the most decorated individuals in Big Ten history and the key to Ohio State's bid for a conference title and a potential run to the College Football Playoffs, left the second practice of a two-a-day session on Monday with what appears to be a new injury to his already surgically-repaired shoulder. A source confirmed to ESPN.com late on Monday that trainers attended to Miller on the field after a throw that the Buckeyes expected to be a barometer of progress as he regained strength in the muscles around his shoulder.

There's no word yet on the severity, but obviously the workout didn't go as planned. The program hasn't confirmed the injury or released any information about medical tests at this point, but it has a previously-scheduled media availability slated for this morning. Stay tuned for more information as the story continues to develop.

As for the rest of the conference?

Depth chart shuffling
East Division
  • A cross between a "mad scientist" and a movie character, Bob Shoop impressed his boss at Penn State from the moment he met James Franklin.
  • One secret to Steve Longa's success at linebacker for Rutgers? Ritually watching film of Ray Lewis.
  • A string of injuries ended the playing career of lineman Nate Clarke, but he's making a quick transition to coaching as a student assistant for Maryland.
  • Indiana is trying to keep the ball rolling with recruits.
West Division
  • Nebraska held a handful of players out of their most recent scrimmage, but there's no reason to be alarmed as the program tries to stay fresh ahead of what could be a taxing September.
  • Wes Lunt appears to still be in the lead at quarterback for Illinois, but official word is expected on Wednesday after practice.
  • Where can Iowa improve? It could probably start in the red zone.
  • In another look at how Northwestern could handle its nonconference schedule, Kevin Trahan asks if the Wildcats should pursue neutral-site games.
  • Wisconsin might wind up putting freshman quarterback D.J. Gillins on the field this season after another solid outing in Monday's scrimmage.
  • There are plenty of pass-rushers in the well-stocked Big Ten looking to make an impact. Count Minnesota's Theiren Cockran among the defensive ends looking to be "the guy" this season.

Ohio State has already had months to work on a backup plan.

Odds are, they were always going to need it in some capacity. Depending on the severity of a new shoulder injury for star quarterback Braxton Miller, they might have to rely on it much earlier than expected.

Already limited through much of training camp as the Buckeyes eased him back from a February surgery on his throwing shoulder, a source confirmed on Monday night to ESPN.com that Miller left the practice field in pain after a throw in an afternoon workout -- just hours after again declaring himself 100 percent and ready for the opener on Aug. 30 against Navy.

The program hasn't publicly commented, and there haven't been any confirmations of results of medical examinations on his shoulder at this point. Ohio State has a media availability scheduled for Tuesday morning, and the coaching staff should be able to shed more light on an injury that could just be another minor setback or perhaps a devastating blow to the Buckeyes' title chances.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsJ.T. Barrett appears to be the leader to replace Braxton Miller, whether that's for a few plays or several games.
For all of Miller's immense talent and freakish ability, though, there has been one weakness that has consistently popped up throughout his career. And while the Heisman Trophy candidate has more often than not absorbed the extra punishment he takes as a rushing threat and proved his toughness by bouncing back, the Buckeyes have needed his backup either for a couple of drives or a couple of weeks in each of the past two seasons due to injuries.

Now, before his final season has even officially started, there are warning signs that Ohio State is again going to need the services of a second quarterback at some point, which as of this weekend would be redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. But since Miller was on the shelf all spring recovering from his offseason surgery on that same shoulder and had been limited throughout camp by an every-other-day throwing schedule, the Buckeyes have at least had a chance to figure out who is next in line behind him.

"You never want to not throw as a [starting] quarterback, I get that," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said after a morning workout and before the injury. "... But for the young guys to get the live reps is invaluable. You can't put a value on it because it usually doesn't happen.

"We're making the most of it; obviously, we'd prefer it the other way, don't get me wrong. But we're certainly making the most of it."

The importance of maximizing those reps can't be underestimated now, and Barrett has been the individual taking the greatest advantage in a two-man race with Cardale Jones to fill the legendary shoes of Kenny Guiton on the depth chart behind Miller.

Rest assured, there will be much more to come as this story develops.

Braxton Miller reinjures right shoulder

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller reinjured his right shoulder Monday, according to a report by the Columbus Dispatch.

Miller, a senior, underwent minor surgery on the shoulder in February and the team had been moving him along slowly in his recovery.

He threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns, and ran for another 12 scores in leading the Buckeyes to the Discover Orange Bowl last season.

Ranked fifth in the preseason AP poll released Sunday, Ohio State is expected to be in the national title conversation and Miller a Heisman Trophy candidate.

The Buckeyes open their season Aug. 30 at Navy.

Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller reinjured his right, throwing shoulder during practice Monday, a source confirmed to ESPN.com.

According to the source, Miller suffered a noncontact injury Monday and was taken off the field under medical supervision. He had declared himself 100 percent healthy earlier in the day.

Miller, who underwent minor surgery on the shoulder in February, will undergo an MRI on Tuesday, according to multiple reports.

Ohio State officials have declined to speak to the severity of the injury, which The Columbus Dispatch reported earlier Monday. The injury could put Miller's status for his senior season in question, according to the paper.

Ohio State barred media access to the team Tuesday, saying that interviews with assistant coaches and players have been canceled. The school also said that it would provide an update on Miller's status "once there is enough information to share."

Miller threw for 2,094 yards and 24 touchdowns and ran for 12 more scores in leading the Buckeyes to the Discover Orange Bowl this past season.

Ranked fifth in the preseason Associated Press poll released Sunday, Ohio State is expected to be in the national title conversation and Miller a Heisman Trophy candidate.

The Buckeyes open their season Aug. 30 against Navy in Baltimore. If Miller is unable to play in the opener, redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett likely would get the start, backed up by sophomore Cardale Jones.

But the fall-off in experience would be precipitous.

Miller has thrown 666 passes in his glittering three-year career. Barrett has never played in a game, and Jones has thrown only two passes.

Barrett, a 6-foot-1, 225-pounder out of Wichita Falls, Texas, was an acclaimed recruit who watched along with Jones last year as Miller took most of the snaps in the Buckeyes' 12-2 season.

When Miller was hurt for most of the San Diego State


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Big Ten Monday mailbag

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
5:00
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How was everybody's weekend?

OK, enough small talk. Let's dive right into today's Big Ten mailbag.

Josh Moyer: Two names immediately spring to mind: Michigan State's Jeremy Langford and Indiana's Tevin Coleman. Langford did pretty darn well in his first year as a starter in 2013, and he can only get better. He didn't carry the ball more than 20 times until Game 6. And, from that point on, he carried the ball at least 21 times in every contest and set a school record by reaching 100 yards in eight straight games. He's the odds-on favorite to once again lead the Big Ten in rushing TDs and, nationally, only four returning tailbacks gained more yards than him last season. Plus, Connor Cook said in the spring that Langford has taken on a much bigger role in the passing game. With Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah taking up most of the spotlight in the B1G, Langford might be one of the most overlooked tailbacks in the nation. Coleman has received a lot of love from the Big Ten blog, but for good reason. He missed the final three games of 2013 with an ankle injury and never received above 20 carries a game -- but still finished with 958 yards. He also averaged 7.3 yards a carry last season and was even able to reel off a 64-yard run against Michigan State. With another offseason and a healthy ankle, the explosive junior has the potential be the Big Ten's surprise tailback this season. Josh Moyer: Let me answer your question with another question, Colin. What game would you prefer to watch: TCU vs. Louisiana Tech or Alabama vs. Oregon? One features the No. 2 vs. No. 3 team; the other features USA Today's No. 37 team vs. No. 80 team. (Last season the Spartans' offense was ranked No. 80 and Oregon's defense was No. 37). In other words, at its heart, strength on strength is just more entertaining. So, naturally, it's going to draw attention away from the other matchup. Still, the other matchup constitutes half the game, so let's take this time to look a bit closer at that "other" battle. Oregon's defense has a better ranking than the Spartans' offense, but there's still a lot at play here. On the surface, the Ducks boast a great run-defense since they allowed just 3.8 yards a carry last season. But there are some potential issues. For one, the two teams that had the most rushing attempts against the Ducks -- Stanford and Arizona State --both wore them down and ended up with wins. Secondly, only three teams in the nation were worse against the run on third down (65.5 percent conversion rate) and only seven teams in the nation were worse at stopping rushing plays at the line of scrimmage (17.8 percent). And, thirdly, Oregon has to replace two good defensive tackles. So you have to think Langford's success inside should have a big impact on the game. In the secondary, Oregon also boasts one of the best defensive players in the Pac-12 in cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu. So Cook would be wise to avoid him altogether, especially since the Ducks don't have a proven No. 2 CB. So, sure, the Michigan State offense vs. Oregon defense has its own storylines at play. But count me in with the majority. I'm still more looking forward to the irresistible force vs. the immovable object. Can Michigan State crumble the hopes of a Heisman hopeful? Can Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota deflate the aspirations of Spartan Nation just one week into the season? That's just going to be plain fun to watch. Josh Moyer: Hey, I dig the optimism, but getting a little ahead of ourselves, aren't we, Sean? Anyway, I could definitely see Penn State getting some votes and making an appearance around Nos. 24 or 25 if it knocks off Northwestern to go 5-0. But chances are it'll need another quality win -- or at least one that trumps the likes of Akron and UMass -- to really work its way into the top 25. (A reminder: Polls will have little to no bearing on the playoff this season.) A quick start like that is possible, but it won't be easy with three decent opponents. Central Florida has a great secondary and could test Christian Hackenberg with his inexperienced wideouts. Rutgers' defensive line could pose problems for PSU's thin offensive line, which will likely feature two converted defensive tackles at offensive guard. And, even without Venric Mark, Northwestern boasts enough returning starters to pose a problem. A celebration after a 5-0 start might even be a bit premature for Penn State because the stretch immediately afterward is more important. There are no guarantees there: at Michigan, Ohio State, Maryland, at Indiana. How PSU fares there might be the key to its season. Josh Moyer: Hoo boy, that's a tough one. Important follow-up question: How good of a friend? It's definitely a good week for Big Ten football but mainly due to three matchups: Michigan-Notre Dame, Michigan State-Oregon and Ohio State-Virginia Tech. Also, Northwestern-Northern Illinois might not be bad. But everything else? Hmmm ... how do I put this delicately? Unwatchable garbage (e.g. - Rutgers-Howard, Nebraska-McNeese State, Maryland-USF, etc.). But there might be hope for you, Matthew. The kickoff for the earliest of those three games is 6:30 p.m., so that should at least give you some time to find a TV at the reception. Or, barring a TV (what kind of wedding is this?), give you time to fake the stomach flu. I can only imagine "Dear Abby" would offer the same advice. Or at least she should. Godspeed.

Games that will test playoff hopes

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Got your four teams picked for the inaugural College Football Playoff?

Beware before you turn in your final list, because teams always come out of nowhere. For instance, Auburn, Michigan State and Missouri all finished in the top five of the final polls last season -- and weren't even ranked to start the season.

Conversely, the team starting the season ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason poll hasn't finished higher than No. 7 the past four years.

None of us has a crystal ball, but we do have a road map of sorts -- the games that will shape who gets in and who gets left out this season when the selection committee unveils the first football version of the Final Four.

Here are 10 games to mark on your calendar:

LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Aug. 30

Right out of the gate, we get a game between two teams just outside the top 10 in the preseason polls who are talented enough to state their case come selection time for the College Football Playoff. And check out Wisconsin's schedule. If Melvin Gordon and the Badgers can get past the Tigers in the opener, the only other nationally ranked team (in the preseason) they face is Nebraska at home on Nov. 15. They avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State in the regular season.

Michigan State at Oregon, Sept. 6


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Big Ten morning links

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
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Actual college football returns next week. Huzzah.

And players are likely celebrating as well, because training camps are winding to a close. Depth charts are also shaping up as well as teams move nearer toward preparing for Week 1. But some key jostling for jobs remains. Let's take inventory of a few of the more interesting position battles left in the Big Ten:
  • Wisconsin quarterback: By most accounts, incumbent starter Joel Stave has looked like the better option over Tanner McEvoy so far this month. At this point, I'd be surprised if Gary Andersen started McEvoy over the far more experienced Stave in the opener against LSU, though McEvoy could see some time in special packages. The Badgers have practiced some option, and that just doesn't seem like Stave's cup of tea, now does it? Where some battles stand for the Badgers.
  • Illinois quarterback: Tim Beckman has said he could name a starter on Wednesday. Most everyone expects it to be Oklahoma State transfer Wes Lunt. A big question, in my mind, is how the Illini can best use Aaron Bailey's talents.
  • Michigan State linebacker: Replacing Max Bullough and Denicos Allen isn't cut and dry, but it's not because of a lack of options. Riley Bullough and Jon Reschke are coming on strong and pushing Taiwan Jones and Darien Harris for playing time. Mark Dantonio described the situation on Saturday as "sort of a linebacker group by committee right now."
  • Iowa cornerback: It's a three-man scrum between Maurice Fleming, Sean Draper and Greg Mabin to see who starts opposite Desmond King. Mabin might have been set back by a minor injury. But Kirk Ferentz said the position is "up for grabs right now." Ferentz still has a lot of questions to answer.
  • Ohio State left guard: Darryl Baldwin seized the right tackle job, but there's far less clarity at left guard, a position that Urban Meyer has said concerns him. Doug Lesmerises breaks down the fight for playing time there and elsewhere on the Buckeyes.

Another major position battle should be cleared up on Monday, when Purdue is expected to name its starting quarterback. But that's one where Danny Etling has been a big front-runner all along.

On to the links:

Weekend scrimmages

1. Jabrill Peppers is going to play a lot, the offensive line still needs work and other observations from Nick Baumgardner on Michigan's open scrimmage before an estimated 25,000 fans.

2. Rutgers' Saturday scrimmage, dominated by the offense, provided answers to some key questions.

3. Wide receiver Deon Long was one of the stars of Maryland's open scrimmage.

4. Defense won the day at Michigan State's scrimmage.

5. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson sees improved depth on his team after the Hoosiers' latest scrimmage.

6. The running game was the main attraction in Purdue's scrimmage.

7. Northwestern held an open scrimmage, but hardly anyone of note participated.

West Division
East Division
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This one’s for you, Auburn fan who thinks the national runner-up should be higher than sixth in the Associated Press preseason poll, released Sunday afternoon. And it’s for you, Ohio State fan, to defend the chronically criticized Big Ten, the only Power Five league without a team in the top four of either the AP or USA Today coaches' preseason poll.

Don’t worry, Baylor fan, we didn’t forget you. If you want to climb to the top of beautiful new McLane Stadium and scream about why your Bears should be higher than No. 10 in both polls, go right ahead. Maybe you can hear the same outcries from fans of No. 19 Arizona State, No. 20 Kansas State or No. 24 Missouri, the defending SEC East champ excluded from the coaches' poll while barely squeaking into the AP.

Speaking of the SEC, no other conference had more teams (eight) in the preseason AP poll. So what’s the complaint? There could have been more. Meanwhile, the league that ended the SEC’s run of national titles, the ACC, placed just three teams -- No. 1 Florida State, No. 16 Clemson and No. 23 North Carolina -- in the AP rankings. Duke fans, grumble away.

Preseason polls serve a therapeutic purpose. They allow us to vent, to argue, to compare, to exclaim, to protest and, most important, to fill time before the games begin later this month. They are part of the American sports fan experience, and you should enjoy them.

Yet for the first time, the polls will have little to no bearing on shaping college football’s national championship race. And that’s a great thing too.

If Tom Osborne, Condoleezza Rice and Jeff Long were relentlessly refreshing Twitter at 2 p.m. ET Sunday, the time the AP poll was released, we have a problem. If Oliver Luck, Tyrone Willingham and Archie Manning furiously began calculating the Top 25 breakdown by conference, this might not work out. If Mike Tranghese, Barry Alvarez and Pat Haden immediately noticed how similar the AP and coaches' preseason polls are -- teams ranked 7 to 17 are identical, and only two teams, Missouri and Texas, made just one of the polls -- the playoff selection process could go very wrong.

The 13 members of the College Football Playoff selection committee shouldn’t care about these rankings. They shouldn’t spend one nanosecond analyzing them. They shouldn’t read this or any other media report about what the polls suggest about this team or that conference. Here’s hoping they spent Sunday fishing, golfing or anything other than poll watching.

This is about you, not them. So go ahead and wonder if a Wisconsin team with a largely revamped roster is rated way too high -- No. 14 in both polls -- and why Iowa, which loses far less than the Badgers off a vastly improved team, failed to make either preseason poll. Ask which set of voters correctly has the order of “O” teams -- Oregon, Oklahoma and Ohio State. Argue whether teams with new quarterbacks (Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Clemson, Texas A&M) are too high or too low.

Notre Dame’s inclusion at No. 17 will set off fireworks, but remember the AP votes took place before Friday’s announcement that four starters, including star cornerback KeiVarae Russell, have been held out pending an academic investigation into potential misconduct.

There’s little debate at the top, as defending champion Florida State, led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, received 57 of the 60 first-place votes in the AP poll. Alabama, which will have a new quarterback but returns arguably the nation’s most talented roster, is solidly in second position. It’s very close for No. 3 between Oregon, which could have the nation’s best player (Marcus Mariota), and Oklahoma, which stunned Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl and eyes the next step.

Although the SEC has three teams among the top nine and five in the top 13, the Pac-12 enters the season projected as the nation’s No. 2 conference. The quarterback-stacked league has three teams in the top 11 and five in the top 19.

Few would be shocked if the inaugural playoff reveals a field similar to the top of the preseason rankings. We could see four teams from four conferences, as both polls show, or multiple teams from a league like the SEC or Pac-12. Perhaps a team outside the preseason top 10 rises up, like Georgia, Arizona State or Nebraska. While zero teams from Group of Five conferences appear in the AP poll, don’t write off UCF, the reigning Fiesta Bowl champion.

Talking season might be over, but debate season is in full swing, at least until the real season begins. So tell the world what you think of the polls. Just don’t expect the committee members to listen.

Florida State No. 1 in preseason poll

August, 17, 2014
Aug 17
2:14
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Jameis Winston and defending national champion Florida State are No. 1 in The Associated Press preseason college football poll.

The Seminoles will start the season No. 1 for the sixth time -- the first since 1999 when they became the first team to hold the top spot for the entire season.

Florida State received 57 of 60 first-place votes Sunday from the media panel. No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oregon and No. 4 Oklahoma each received one first-place vote. Ohio State is No. 5 and Auburn is No. 6.

Winston, the Heisman Trophy winner last season as a redshirt freshman, led Florida State to a 34-31 victory against Auburn in the last BCS national championship game.

This season the Bowl Championship Series is being replaced by the College Football Playoff. A selection committee will pick the top four teams in the country for two national semifinals.

The rest of the top 10 is UCLA


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Fired Ohio State director won't return

August, 16, 2014
Aug 16
11:07
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State trustees have decided against reinstating the university's marching band director, who was fired after an investigation showed he knew about, but failed to stop, a sexualized band culture.

Board chairman Jeffrey Wadsworth wrote Friday to Jonathan Waters' attorney, saying the board "stands firmly'' behind the findings of a university investigation and president Michael Drake's decision to oust him.

Waters, who had led the band since 2012, had written to the board asking for a chance to return to his job, citing what he called flaws in the university probe and his positive performance review weeks before he was terminated. His elaborate halftime shows drawn on iPads revolutionized the field and prompted millions of fan views on YouTube.

He wanted the board to take up the matter at its next meeting this month. Wadsworth's letter to attorney David Axelrod said the board won't review the case.

"We consider the matter closed and we are moving forward as a university,'' the letter said.

Axelrod said Saturday that he's very disappointed by the board's response.

"It's just human decency that they should let someone who has done so much for the university to at least get a chance to be heard,'' he said.

Axelrod said Waters is still focused on getting his job back and litigation challenging a "deeply flawed'' investigation is a possible option. Ohio State spokesman Gary Lewis said Saturday that the university stands behind the investigation and has taken steps to move forward.


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Big Ten Friday mailbag

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
5:00
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Very soon, college football will occupy your weekends. Until then, here's an extra-large mailbag to help you make it through. Continue to submit questions for our team of reporters.

Mitch Sherman: Joe took issue with my analysis of Minnesota, which included some humor, in our Best case/Worst Case series. We traded a few messages on Twitter. I invited him to submit a question for the mailbag, and he did, with a well-constructed email on the Gophers. Now we're buddies, though he's not convinced me that a best-case scenario for Jerry Kill's team equates to more than nine wins. Joe notes that Minnesota, from its eight-win team a year ago, trades Michigan State, Penn State and Indiana for Ohio State, Illinois and Purdue. I see that as a wash -- 2-1 for 2-1. And though Minnesota may not be more than a slight underdog during a four-game, midseason stretch against Northwestern, Purdue, at Illinois and Iowa, I don't see it as a team with enough talent to run the table against that group. As Joe tells me, the Gophers feature veteran lines and a strong defense overall. Best case, QB Mitch Leidner and the receivers make a big jump to support a solid running game. That's a 10-win team, he says. I'm not so sure. I think the cards fell about as perfectly as possible last year. Minnesota won a pair of games by a field goal in 2013, and each of its losses by came by double digits. TCU is an upgrade in the nonconference. The Gophers have to go to Michigan again and also get Nebraska and Wisconsin on the road. Nine wins sounds pretty optimistic. But thanks, Joe, for the conversation.

Mitch Sherman: It's not good. The Wildcats, as expected, are staying optimistic about the loss of arguably their two most potent offensive weapons. Yes, Northwestern can handle this from a personnel standpoint, with capable players set to fill the shoes of Venric Mark and Christian Jones. But this is another blow to the psyche of Pat Fitzgerald's club one year after a season of disappointment followed by a distracting offseason. What happens when more adversity strikes? It threatens to send the Cats more easily into a downward spin. In the end, I think the recent developments could contribute to a season with one or two fewer victories.

Mitch Sherman: In the Big Ten East? Perhaps, though I find it premature to write off Michigan. Despite James Franklin's hot start, the Wolverines will keep up with Penn State and Michigan State in recruiting. And moderate improvement on the field would allow Brady Hoke to beat Ohio State for a fair share of the prospects over which the rival programs go head to head. Penn State needs time to prove that Franklin's early results in recruiting will elevate the program to an elite level. If you're asking about the Big Ten as a whole, the Buckeyes and Spartans stand atop the heap today, but Wisconsin and Nebraska from the West possess the infrastructure to compete long term with any program in the league. Read more from ESPN's Recruiting Nation.

Mitch Sherman: Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst granted a rare interview this week, and while he said nothing of great significance, simple statements from Bo Pelini's boss are enough to make news. I'm not sure stability is the goal of Husker football; if so, things have changed more than I realized. And Nebraska's relevance is debatable. Sure, the Huskers are relevant in Nebraska, as always, and regionally. But on a national level, I don't notice much discussion about the program, unless it involves the coach's cat. Still, it's good for Nebraska when Eichorst offers an occasional comment, if just for the sake of appearance, even if he remains guarded in his opinions.

Mitch Sherman: I sense irritation from Nate and fans of many Big Ten programs over the hype that surrounds Jabrill Peppers, Michigan's freshman defensive back. Hey, Peppers is good, and he's starting to prove it in practice. But no one in an important position at Michigan is set to award him with anything until he does it consistently on Saturdays. Peppers will get his shot first at nickelback in Greg Mattison's system, though the Wolverines are likely to try the talented rookie in many roles. 

Ohio State Buckeyes season preview

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
10:30
AM ET
» More team previews: ACC | Big 12 | Big Ten | Pac-12 | SEC

Previewing the 2014 season for the Ohio State Buckeyes:

2013 overall record: 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten)

Key losses: Carlos Hyde, RB; Ryan Shazier, LB; Bradley Roby, CB; Jack Mewhort, OT; Corey Linsley, C; Andrew Norwell, OG; Corey Brown, WR

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesBraxton Miller will be lined up behind a less experienced offensive line this season.
Key returnees: Braxton Miller, QB; Devin Smith, WR; Jeff Heuerman, TE; Noah Spence, DE; Joey Bosa, DE; Michael Bennett, DT; Curtis Grant, LB; Doran Grant, CB

Instant impact newcomer: There’s no linebacker among the projected starters with the pedigree to fit with the Ohio State greats. But lurking just behind that top group, the potential of true freshman Raekwon McMillan is immense. Rated as the No. 1 linebacker prospect last year out of Hinesville, Georgia, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound rookie has lived up to his billing so far in Columbus.

Projected starters

Offense: QB: Braxton Miller, Sr., 6-2, 215; RB: Ezekiel Elliott, So., 6-0, 225; H-B: Dontre Wilson, So., 5-10, 185; WR: Devin Smith, Sr., 6-1, 197; WR: Corey Smith, Jr., 6-1, 180; TE: Jeff Heuerman, Sr., 6-5, 255; RT: Darryl Baldwin, Sr. 6-6, 307; RG: Pat Elflein, So., 6-3, 300; C: Chad Lindsay, Sr., 6-2, 302; LG: Antonio Underwood, Jr., 6-3, 303; LT: Taylor Decker, Jr., 6-7, 315

Defense: DE: Joey Bosa, So., 6-5, 285; DT: Adolphus Washington, Jr., 6-4, 288; DT: Michael Bennett, Sr., 6-2, 288; DE: Noah Spence, Jr., 6-3, 252; WLB: Joshua Perry, Jr., 6-4, 250; MLB: Curtis Grant, Sr., 6-3, 240; SLB: 6-3, 240; Darron Lee, So., 6-2, 230; CB: Doran Grant, Sr., 5-11, 193; SS: Vonn Bell; FS: Tyvis Powell; CB: Gareon Conley, Fr., 6-0, 190

Specialists: K: Sean Nuernberger, Jr., 6-1, 237; P: Cameron Johnston, So., 6-0, 195

Biggest question mark: The Buckeyes return only Decker as a starter from an offensive line that dominated last season, running over every opponent -- even Michigan State -- to the tune of 273 yards. OSU's 6.8-yard rushing average led the nation, but its line remains a work in progress. Can this group protect Miller, the Buckeyes' No. 1 asset, and open holes for Elliott and his sidekicks the way Ohio State did for Hyde in 2013?

Most important game: Any one that the Buckeyes lose, seeing how it would likely knock them from the inside track for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Going game by game, the Buckeyes figure to be big favorites every time out until a Week 11 trip to Michigan State. By the arrival of this rematch of the 2013 Big Ten title game -- won 34-24 by MSU -- the Spartans should have sharpened their teeth nicely on defense.

Upset special: The Sept. 6 visit from Virginia Tech looks mildly worrisome. The Buckeyes might need more time to develop consistent play up front on offense and in the secondary, and Hokies coach Frank Beamer will pull out all the stops. The Hokies have won 19 of their past 21 road openers but remain unsettled at quarterback. The Buckeyes, on defense, must use their considerable edge at the line of scrimmage.

Key stat: Ohio State's red zone efficiency (touchdowns/red zone attempts) last season, 84.1 percent, led the nation by a sizable margin. How did the Buckeyes do it? With a punishing ground game and a versatile quarterback. The quarterback returns, and the talent is there at tailback to again post a solid number.

What they're wearing: No announced plans yet for an alternate uniform in 2014, but the Buckeyes are 6-0 when wearing nontraditional gear. It beat Michigan last season in all white jerseys and pants.

Team’s top Twitter follows: Start with the all-important, but not so exciting, coach, Urban Meyer, coordinators Luke Fickell and Tom Herman, the official account of OSU athletics and AD Gene Smith. Miller, Devin Smith and Bosa provide a sampling from inside the locker room. Brutus Buckeye is worth the follow, as is director of player personnel and self-described OSU #swaggernaut Mark Pantoni. Then there's this guy, who used to play quarterback at Ohio State. And, of course, do not miss the entertainment offered by Fake Urban Meyer and the coach's real wife, Shelley Meyer.

They said it: "We have to assess how we want to gain yardage now. If we wanted to gain yardage last year, a lot of times, [it] was just five guys and a tight end blocking and handing it off to the big boy Carlos and let him go."
-- offensive line coach Ed Warinner on the rebuilt OSU running game.

Stats & Info projection: 10.46 wins

Wiseguys over/under: 10˝ wins

Big Ten blog projection: 11 wins. The schedule sets up so well that it’s difficult to envision anything other than an 8-0 start. Even Penn State, while never an easy foe on the road, simply does not match up well with Ohio State (see 63-14 final in 2013). After Michigan State, the three-game finish isn’t all that rough, though, surely, Michigan will stage resistance at the Horseshoe (see 42-41 final in 2013). Nonetheless, we like the Buckeyes to beat every foe but the Spartans, and it’s just too soon to call the game of the year in the Big Ten. So we'll say the likelihood that OSU slips at Michigan State or elsewhere slightly exceeds the chances that it will run the table.

Big Ten morning links

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
8:00
AM ET
We’re now a week removed from “The Season” and the best performances from the best players in college football history, but I have to get something off my chest, Big Ten nation.

We talked about Illinois’ Red Grange and Minnesota’s Bronko Nagurski. We even mentioned modern players like Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne and Purdue’s Drew Brees. But there’s one guy I feel we skipped over, one player who has never really gotten the due he deserves.

Michigan running back Willie Heston (1901-1904).

Maybe you’ve heard of him; maybe not. BTN’s Dave Revsine wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal earlier this week and mentioned player compensation and past precedents like “Willie Heston Cigars.” Adam Rittenberg recently alluded to the same anecdote, as well. But Heston is not exactly a household name.

Sure, you’ve heard plenty about other old-time legends, like Yale’s Walter Camp and Notre Dame’s Knute Rockne. But what about Heston? Why should you care? Well, Camp named him to four of his All-American teams (two on his first team). And Heston was so good, give a listen as to what Rockne had to say about him:
“Willie Heston gets my vote as the greatest back of all-time. Since those days many wonderful backs have flashed on the gridiron, including Red Grange and my own Four Horsemen of 1924, and my choice is still Heston.”

That’s right – one of college football’s coaching legends just said Heston was better than Grange. That’s high praise. But look at the numbers. In Grange’s career, which spanned from 1923 to 1925, he finished with 2,071 rushing yards, 5.3 yards a carry and 34 total touchdowns. Heston? 2,339 rushing yards, 8.4 yards a carry and 72 touchdowns.

Still not impressed? Well, did I mention most of Heston's rushing stats only came from 17 – let me emphasize that again, 17 – of Heston’s career games, since the NCAA couldn’t confirm numbers from them all? Some estimate Heston actually rushed for 5,000 yards in his career; others go as high as 7,000 yards.

Heston’s on-field exploits read like a comic book hero's. He could reportedly outrun gold medalist Archie Hahn in short races, he helped Michigan win four national titles and outscore opponents – this isn’t a typo – during his career by 2,326 to 40. He went 43-0-1 in four years and was just as tough on defense.

I’ll stop listing details before you start accusing me of hyperbole. But I’m sure by now you’re wondering why on earth you don’t know the Wolverines’ Superman. Well, when Heston played, we were still nearly 20 years away from the official start to the NFL. Heston tried his hand at coaching following his U-M career, then went into law and real estate.

In many ways, his football career – at least the most important part of it – lasted just four seasons. That counts for something when it comes to seeping into the national consciousness. If that's incorrect, Penn State linebacker Dennis Onkotz – who played incredible college ball but sparingly in the NFL due to an injury --would still be mentioned in the same breath as Jack Ham.

My point is simply this: There are a lot of great players in the Big Ten, and there are a lot of unsung heroes. None tower above Heston. And he deserves to be remembered.

Who do you think is an unsung hero? List him in the comments. But let’s move on to more current football now …

East Division
  • Maryland coach Randy Edsall voiced disappointment with his receiving corps last week. Now? It's a different story in Week 2 of practice.
  • Indiana coach Kevin Wilson says this has been the Hoosiers' best summer and believes his team could be poised to break out.
West Division
  • Northwestern is remaining mum on the surprise transfer of Venric Mark but, the Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein writes, "it seems apparent Mark would have faced more discipline beyond the two-game suspension ..."
And finally ...

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