- Ohio State's Philly Brown is not impressed by Michigan State's "no-fly zone." The Spartans don't want to take a back door to the Rose Bowl.
- Mark Dantonio's BCS title talk perfectly fits the swagger the Spartans are playing with, Dan Wetzel writes. Urban Meyer is challenging his pass defense. Michigan State and Ohio State are much different teams than they were the last time they met.
- Shawn Eichorst explained his support of Bo Pelini during a radio interview. A Nebraska-Texas bowl matchup in Arizona remains a possibility.
- Penn State will need to find some new linemen next season.
- Breaking down what went wrong with Michigan's offense in 2013.
- What Indiana can look forward to in 2014 after missing a bowl yet again.
Ahead of those four matchups, I got coaches who went up against the participating teams to share some of their insights about what we should expect this weekend, and mixed in a few of my own.
ACC: Florida State Seminoles versus Duke Blue Devils
Coach No. 1 on Duke: “They’re one of the two or three best-coached teams in the conference. They know what they’re doing. They’re opportunistic on defense. They do a good job of taking away what you like to do, the run game or particular routes that you like in the passing game. Everyone talks about that, but they actually do it. The offense adjusts well on game days, too.”
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The plan was to find an even mix, blending in the pass as often as the rush after favoring the latter so heavily last year. On top of that, the Buckeyes would take as many deep shots as short throws, with perimeter rushes complementing attempts between the tackles.
“When you see the productivity of the run game and where that’s taking you, then you continue to call it more until something tells you not to,” Herman said. “Throughout the [Michigan] game, nothing was telling us not to.
“Have you seen [Nos.] 34 and 5 run it?”
That combination of RB Carlos Hyde and QB Braxton Miller, respectively, has been hard to miss during another perfect regular season for the Buckeyes, and the way they’ve been carving up teams on the ground only makes it harder for Herman to dial up a pass play or two.
Miller has looked vastly improved with his arm during his third year as a starting quarterback, but his acceleration and body control as a rusher remain his most dangerous weapon. And with Hyde playing at easily the highest level of his career at tailback, the combination has served at times to make a passing game almost completely unnecessary.
The Buckeyes completed just six passes in the win over Michigan last week, but the backfield tandem rushed for 379 yards and four touchdowns. Ohio State had just 11 completions in a previous win over Indiana and 13 before that against Illinois, but Miller and Hyde combined for 691 rushing yards and nine touchdowns over that two-game span.
But while the passing game appears to be trending down with the potent rushing attack on the rise, that perceived imbalance doesn’t exactly mean Ohio State hasn’t accomplished what it set out to do offensively before the season.
“Balance is not having the same amount of rushing yards or the same amount of passing yards, or the same amount of rushing plays versus the same amount of passing plays,” Herman said. “Balance is being able to win the game either way dependent on how the defense [plays], what the defense is trying to take away. I think we are a balanced offense right now.
“I think [the disparity] is a product of how well we’re rushing. It’s not a concern.”
The Michigan State Spartans, who boast the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense, could turn it into a problem if Ohio State's passing attack isn’t able to carry its weight Saturday with the Big Ten title on the line. During coach Urban Meyer's (and Herman’s) two years with the Buckeyes, the aggressive, hard-hitting Michigan State unit has arguably had more success against the Buckeyes than any other defense, holding them to just 17 points last year.
The Spartans will no doubt be looking to force Miller to put the ball in the air more often, bringing extra help near the line of scrimmage to limit his options as a rusher and to try to slow down Hyde. But Michigan State won’t be the first team to take that approach, and Ohio State will almost certainly wait to see if the Spartans' D can make OSU do something different on offense before doing so on its own.
“It’s a little bit of a concern, especially when you see who's coming,” Meyer said. “We have a lot of respect for our rival's [Michigan State] run defense; if there was some vulnerability shown on defense, it was actually on pass defense.
“But we felt like we're getting some big yards per crack, and both Carlos and Braxton run the ball at a very high level.”
So the Buckeyes just kept doing it against the Wolverines. And by the time they were done, the season total was even more heavily weighed down with rushing attempts, which now has a 63-37 edge in percentage of plays this season.
That approach has obviously worked just fine, and Meyer made it clear that the goal Saturday won’t be to balance the numbers.
“[Herman] and myself got into a little bit of a rhythm as far as some formations and some ways we were running the ball out,” Meyer said. “I just want a W.”
If that means a whole lot of Nos. 34 and 5, so be it.
- Graham-George Offensive Player of the Year: Braxton Miller, Ohio State
- Nagurski-Woodson Defensive Player of the Year: Chris Borland, Wisconsin
- Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year: Christian Hackenberg, Penn State
- Hayes-Schembechler Coach of the Year (coaches vote): Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
- Dave McClain Coach of the Year (media vote): Dantonio
Miller wins the offensive player of the year trophy for the second straight season. He's a very worthy honoree, despite missing three games with injury in September. Teammate Carlos Hyde had a very strong case, and so did Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah. But I doubt you're going to hear too many people complaining about this trophy joining the 2012 version on Miller's mantel, given that he remains the most dynamic offensive player in the Big Ten.
Hackenberg was an obvious a call as there was for any award in the Big Ten this year. It would be difficult to justify voting for anyone else as the league's top freshman given his performance all year as the Nittany Lions' starting quarterback. A Penn State player has won this award two years in a row, as Deion Barnes took home the prize a year ago.
Now let's get to the two most controversial choices.
Nobody loves Borland more than the Big Ten blog. He's a tremendous player and a great leader who has had an amazing career. He was the unquestioned leader of the league's second-best defense. He should have been a Butkus finalist and is a worthy All-American.
The most egregious blunder in the awards voting, however, occurred in the coach of the year race. I wrote earlier today that if Urban Meyer didn't win this honor, they should just rename it "Coach of the Year, Non-Ohio State Division" or "Coach Who Most Exceeded Expectations." It is utterly ridiculous that Meyer is 24-0 but 0-for-2 in Big Ten coach of the year balloting. It is nearly criminal that no Ohio State coach has won this award since 1979.
That's not to belittle Dantonio, who has had an outstanding season and showed courage in sticking by some struggling players on offense earlier in the year. But Michigan State won 11 games in 2010 and 2011 before slipping to 7-6 last year with a slew of close defeats. Now that the Spartans are an 11-win team again, are we to assume Dantonio did a magical job of getting back to that level? Or is he just a good coach who had a rough year last season because of offensive inexperience and some bad breaks? If you wanted to argue that Jerry Kill and his staff overcame more than anybody and should win this award, fine. But I don't really see how both the media and coaches both voted for Dantonio over Meyer.
It's no secret that Meyer rubs people the wrong way, and you hope that didn't influence the voting process. Ohio State fans have to be wondering why their undefeated, potential national championship team didn't reap more of the spoils of victory.
Junior-college prospects are often an outstanding way for programs to fill their rosters. Because of the experience the prospects have with a higher level of play, they can immediately help at positions of need.
Big Ten schools are after plenty of juco prospects to round out the remainder of the Class of 2014. With the 2014 ESPN Junior College 50 rankings releasing today, here is a look at five junior-college targets for the conference.
OL Chad Mavety
Garden City, N.Y./Nassau community college
ESPN JC 50 ranking: No. 8
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The last goal on the list was the most critical.
The plan obviously wasn’t to give up more than 600 yards of offense.
Ideally, the defense wouldn’t have allowed 41 points.
Of course, the best-case scenario probably didn’t call for needing to snuff a 2-point conversion in the final minute to escape either.
“What do you mean what went wrong?” Fickell said. “Did we win? Did we win? Did we win? I’ve been up there quite a few times in my 18-year career here and not come away with a win.
“There are a lot of things we have to correct, but every single week we have objectives, and the last objective last week was to win. We came away with a win, we made a play when we had to make a play.”
The Buckeyes didn’t make many on that side of the ball before an interception by Tyvis Powell sealed the win over the Wolverines. Even with a positive outcome, there’s no way they can hide from that fact.
Fickell acknowledged some communication breakdowns, gave credit to Michigan for an aggressive game plan that caught Ohio State off guard and stressed the importance of improved “awareness” as his team prepares for Saturday’s Big Ten title game in Indianapolis against No. 10 Michigan State.
But his boss took it one step further, as coach Urban Meyer made it clear he didn’t think another passing grade would be likely without a much more stout defensive effort.
“We won't win the game,” Meyer said. “We won't win that game this time. That's just very simple. We have to play much better.
“Pass defense [breakdowns] surfaced again and lack of contact on the quarterback. We just had some guys running open. It was a combination [of problems]. If you could say it was one thing, then I would say it was one thing. But I trust that we'll get it fixed, and I trust that these guys will be locked and loaded and have a good week of preparation.”
Perhaps the most pressing correction to be made will be ensuring the Buckeyes are communicating the way they have largely throughout the season in allowing just more than 20 points per game. It was an issue they at least identified before the final defensive snap against the Wolverines to get on the same page in time to get a season-saving stop near the goal line.
The Buckeyes might also have been a little overzealous and trying to do too much individually, which hurt them in the screen game as huge holes opened and the Wolverines gashed them for long gains with no tacklers in sight. But that, too, is a lesson they preferred to learn from a win.
“To be honest, I feel execution and effort were there, but it was a lack of communication that we messed up on,” linebacker Ryan Shazier said. “I feel like we did a good job executing the things that we needed to execute, and we had the effort out there on the field. They just threw a bunch of curveballs at us and we have to try to change up on them during the game.
“We just have to do what we have to do to get this ‘W,’ and that means play great defense.”
The Buckeyes didn’t do it over the weekend but got a victory anyway, which Fickell was quick to point out. But crossing off that final objective against Michigan State might be a lot tougher to do without meeting a few other goals first this time.
Let's turn our attention now to the league's top coach:
If Meyer doesn't win the award this year, then we need to change the name of the honor to "Coach Who Most Exceeded Expectations." Or "Coach of the Year, Non-Ohio State Division." It's ridiculous that voters for these awards often overlook sustained excellence only to pick someone whose team did better than some worthless preseason predictions. All Meyer has done is go 12-0 for the second straight season. The Buckeyes also withstood some adversity, including the suspension of Carlos Hyde, Braxton Miller's knee injury and safety Christian Bryant's season-ending knee injury. Plus, Ohio State had an enormous target on its back all season long. Mark Dantonio did excellent work at Michigan State, especially in staying patient with the offense under withering early criticism. But the 2012 season now looks like the aberration for a Spartans program that has 11 wins in three of the past four years. The Minnesota story is also tremendous, and if this were a vote for coaching staffs, I might give it to the Gophers. But Meyer shouldn't be punished for having sky-high expectations. He should be rewarded for meeting them.
Adam Rittenberg endorses Meyer
Brian pretty much writes it all here as to why Meyer should be the choice. I've had a problem with this award for some time and the fact an Ohio State coach hasn't won it since Earle Bruce in 1979. If Meyer doesn't win after guiding Ohio State to a second consecutive undefeated regular season and a team-record 24 straight wins, just get rid of the thing entirely. Dantonio, Kill and Iowa's Kirk Ferentz all did excellent jobs improving their teams in 2013, but Meyer maintained a standard of excellence in a sport where even the most talented and experienced teams usually stumble at least once in a season. The offense has become even better in Year 2, and the defense held up for the most part despite returning just one starter in the front seven. Enough with the sympathy coach votes. Give it to the guy who has come into the league and dominated right away. Otherwise, the award lacks any credibility.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio believes that no matter which team wins the Big Ten title Saturday, the winner should be considered for a berth in the Vizio BCS National Championship.
No. 2 Ohio State is favored over the No. 10 Spartans, and if the Buckeyes (12-0) were to finish a second straight regular season undefeated, Urban Meyer's squad would be an understandable pick to play for the national title.
Dantonio agrees with that sentiment.
"I do believe, should Ohio State win, that they should represent in the national championship game," Dantonio said. "I think that when you have an undefeated football team, that's the right thing to do. ... That's my tip of the hat to Ohio State."
Dantonio also said he doesn't understand why the Spartans wouldn't be in contention for a spot in the title game if they were to beat the Buckeyes, assuming other chips fell in their favor as well.
"Why not us, if certain scenarios take place, which obviously last weekend you saw a lot of scenarios take place," Dantonio said. "There are no givens in college football. Anybody can rise up to beat someone else. That ball bounces a lot of different ways.
"The fact of the matter is we're 11-1 right now, we're playing in a championship environment. And we'll move from there. Don't limit yourself. Dream big. That's what I tell my football team."
For his part, Meyer has refused to enter into public debate about whether the Buckeyes deserve to play for the national title. On Monday, he said he might have something to add to the conversation after Saturday's game.
- Ohio State defensive coordinator Luke Fickell was a little defensive about his unit, but everybody involved knows the effort will have to be better in the Big Ten title game.
- The other defensive coordinator in the championship matchup, Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi, is trying to come up with answers for Ohio State's prolific scoring machine.
- The combination of two teams unbeaten in the conference finally gives the Big Ten a big showcase in its marquee game, writes Tom Dienhart.
- Change is coming for Penn State, which appears to be shaking up its coaching staff and will be in the market for two new assistants this offseason.
- Devin Gardner was clearly struggling at the end of his gritty performance on Saturday against Ohio State, and Michigan coach Brady Hoke revealed the injury was "turf toe."
- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was publicly reprimanded and fined $10,000 for his comments about the officiating after the loss on Friday against Iowa.
- Purdue isn't going to deviate from its plan to rebuild the program, though it clearly isn't happy with an 11-loss season.
- Illinois confirmed that Tim Beckman will return for another season on the sidelines. He'll have a decision to make about defensive coordinator Tim Banks.
- The final home game of the year brought a season-high for Wisconsin, as a fan checked in with a blood-alcohol content sample of .322 and six people were taken to a detox facility.
- An in-depth look at a meeting and the circumstances that led to Kirk Ferentz taking over at Iowa and Bob Stoops heading to Oklahoma.
Let's turn our attention to the defensive side of the ball.
If I had to build a defense around one Big Ten player, I would pick Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland. If I were an NFL general manager drafting one Big Ten defender, I'd go with Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard. But for the 2013 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, I'm endorsing Ohio State's Shazier. Borland and Dennard would be good choices, too, but Shazier's overall profile gives him the edge. He leads the Big Ten in both tackles (122) and tackles for loss (21), leads Big Ten linebackers in sacks (6) and is tied for the league lead in forced fumbles (4). He needs just five more tackles for loss to tie Mike Vrabel's team record. Ohio State really leaned on Shazier, the only returning starter in the Buckeyes' defensive front seven, and he came through every single week. Like Carlos Hyde, my pick for Offensive Player of the Year, Shazier is finishing the season extremely well, recording 50 tackles in his last three games.
Brian Bennett endorses Shazier
In another year, Borland and Dennard might just win this award. But it's really hard to ignore what Shazier has done, especially in the closing stretch of the season. Where would Ohio State's defense be without him? That's something I'm sure Urban Meyer and Luke Fickell would rather not contemplate. Three times this season, Shazier was named Big Ten defensive player of the week, and the Butkus Award finalist could have been honored in many other weeks. Borland was also outstanding, but missing two Big Ten games hurt his case. There's no better cornerback in America than Dennard, but I think a linebacker has a bigger impact on a defense. And no one player made a bigger impact on the league defensively than Shazier.
A thrilling Iron Bowl victory by Auburn on Saturday shook up the BCS standings and left only two undefeated AQ teams at the top of the polls. The Florida State Seminoles and Ohio State Buckeyes appear to control their own destiny as they prepare for their respective conference championship games. But three SEC teams -- Auburn, Alabama and Missouri -- also are ranked in the top five in the BCS standings and are in position to seize a title-game bid if the Seminoles and/or the Buckeyes are upset.
Those five teams are all ranked highly in our latest FEI ratings, although not in the same pecking order as the BCS standings. FEI is an opponent-adjusted drive-based system designed not to select a national champion but rather to measure overall team efficiency, the success of a team maximizing its own possessions and limiting the possession success of its opponents.
Team records are a function of performance and the strength of the opposition faced. Ohio State ranks ahead of Auburn in our FEI ratings, for instance, but, if the two teams swapped schedules, they likely also would swap records. According to our data, the Buckeyes would be 11-1 against Auburn's schedule and the Tigers would be 12-0 against Ohio State's schedule. (It should be noted that, in this alternate scenario, Ohio State would still be ranked just ahead of Auburn according to FEI).
The possession efficiency data is also useful in projecting what might lie ahead for the remaining BCS title contenders. We compared each of the top five teams in the BCS against every team in the 2007 to 2012 seasons across five key measures -- opponent-adjusted offense, opponent-adjusted defense, special-teams efficiency, field-position advantage and overall FEI rating.
Which teams from the recent past are most similar statistically to the BCS front-runners, and where might each end up when the dust settles this weekend?
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"We play the game to win ..."
Brady Hoke's vocal cords sounded even more tired than usual as the Michigan coach stood at the podium on Saturday afternoon, moments after losing to archrival Ohio State 42-41. His answer was a response to the first question he faced -- and the one he'll keep hearing as his Wolverines trudge through their mid-tier bowl and into a cold Ann Arbor winter.
Going for two instead of kicking the PAT and likely heading to overtime? At home? In the Big House? With your offense performing at a season-best clip? With a chance to shoot down the Buckeyes' chances at a BCS title?
That's the scenario Hoke had presented to his seniors on the Michigan Stadium sideline. He'd left it up to them, though he was quick to absorb all the criticism after the final outcome. They wanted to go for it. So did he. Besides, they had the go-to, two-point play already dialed up. Always did.
From the moment quarterback Devin Gardner stepped into the shotgun position, the play -- like so many others during his amazing 451-yard passing and five-touchdown day -- had looked perfect. In reality, it looked too perfect. On both sides of the football.
Michigan initially lined up with two receivers stacked on the right side, led by 6-foot-5 Devin Funchess, who had just hauled in the touchdown pass that set up the situation. On the left side was the sneaky Wes Welker-like possession artist, 5-10 Drew Dileo. But before the snap, Dileo went into motion and jogged over to take his place behind Funchess and Jeremy Gallon, who already had 175 yards receiving on the day.
The moment Dileo took his position, Ohio State corner Tyvis Powell had to catch himself. He didn't want to reveal what had just popped into his mind, like some sort of heavenly transmission from Woody Hayes ... or at the very least a current OSU position coach.
"It's all thanks to Coach Coombs," said Powell, referring to the Buckeyes' demonstrative secondary coach, Kerry Coombs. Head coach Urban Meyer had let Michigan get set for the two-point try and called a timeout to discuss what the coaches had just seen. Coombs approached Powell, a redshirt freshman, and told him that there was no doubt the Wolverines would run one of two plays. It would either be a speed option, which had already led to a pair of Michigan touchdowns. Or the play would come out of a triple stack ... with Dileo, Powell's man, hiding in the third slot ... as the primary receiver ... running something short ... likely a pivot ... at the goal line ...
"It all started happening just like we'd seen on film and how the coaches said it would," recalled Powell, still sounding a little stunned by it all. But he didn't believe that's how the actual play would go down. It was too obvious, right? Wrong.
Even though Ohio State had four defensive backs guarding three receivers, it was a designed mismatch by Michigan. At the snap, Funchess made contact with Powell and was supposed to either screen him out or draw him into the back of the end zone to help the waiting safety. But Powell didn't bite. His eyes never left Gardner, whose eyes never left Dileo. Funchess had a size mismatch in the back of the end zone, and if Gallon had run a true out instead of a halfhearted block attempt on OSU corner Doran Grant, he would've had room to work on the outside half of the end zone.
But Gardner fired the ball into unexpected double coverage, where Powell stepped in at the goal line and made the interception. (Had he not, Grant was also waiting in front of Dileo, having slipped Gallon's shove.)
"He really threw the ball," said Powell, admitting he was "shocked" to see it come his way. "That's their bread-and-butter play on two-point conversions. All week that's what we practiced."
A couple of hours later, Powell was still gripping the Michigan football in his arms on the team bus. He was still grinning. But now he was watching Alabama play at Auburn on the bus TV. Like the game he'd just played in, this one seemed destined for overtime.
"There was a shot ... we had the wind behind us ..."
If Hoke's voice was hoarse, then Nick Saban's was like the inside of a gravel truck. Like Hoke, the Alabama coach had rolled the dice. Unlike Hoke, Saban's situation -- a 57-yard field goal with no time remaining -- seemed risk-free. Miss and go to overtime.
But what happened next -- Chris Davis' impromptu 109-yard kick return for the game-winning touchdown -- has sparked college football conversations in every corner of America, from stuffed-shirt academia to Barbara Walters and Whoopi Goldberg on Monday morning's "The View."
It should be no surprise that perfection-obsessed Saban routinely addresses that very situation in practice, despite the fact that Saturday night's Miracle on the Plains was, according to the NCAA, only the fourth time a game has ended on a similar play. It should also be no surprise that Saban reminded his team as they took the field (like the Michigan two-pointer, after a timeout) to keep an eye on Davis, who was lining up in the end zone, more than half a field away from the line of scrimmage.
Of course, Auburn practices that play, too. No matter how rare it might be. That was made obvious by the beautiful wall of blockers that lined the left sideline to plow the road for Davis. At least three pancake blocks took place in Davis' line of sight. But while all that was going on, we all should have been paying more attention to the cornerback's left foot, which came within inches of stepping over the line and out of bounds at the 35 ... the 40 ... the 45 ... and pretty much every yard in between.
It was so close that a group of bitter Tide fans posted what they believe is photographic evidence that he did step out of bounds, along with a petition to have overtime played.
"It was closer than I thought," admitted Davis, who carried his game-winning football all the way home, just like Powell. "But I knew I was in."
Davis' white-line ballet was reminiscent of so many other moments in so many games this season that came down to inches. (Remember that missed Missouri field goal against South Carolina in double-OT? How much more interesting would the SEC title game be had it gone the other way?)
But as Lou Holtz reminds us each weekend on "College Football Final," every team that wins a national championship has to have one game in which they're lucky. Auburn now has two. Ohio State, on the other hand, hasn't needed much this year, at least not until Michigan.
Still, for these two teams to meet in Pasadena, Calif., in January, it will require ... lots more luck. They'll need Duke (perhaps second only to Auburn when it comes to 2013's out-of-nowhere teams) to work some magic in Charlotte, N.C., against Florida State. And they'll both need to make sure they aren't on the wrong side of luck in their respective conference title games.
But regardless of what happens this weekend, Tyvis Powell and Chris Davis will never have to buy another lunch in their home states. And Powell will always have his football. Davis is still searching for his.
He dropped it after crossing the goal line during the celebration. The last time anyone saw it, it was at the feet of fellow defensive back Robenson Therezie, one of Davis' escorts into the end zone, who stood over it signaling for a touchdown as the crowd started flooding the field. At one point it was thought that it had been retrieved and Davis was even handed a football that was believed to be the one. But it was not.
A crystal football in January would be a nice substitute.
Why we love college football. #StoryOfTheSeason pic.twitter.com/qqqidLG1Op
— ESPN The Magazine (@ESPNMag) December 1, 2013
First up, Offensive Player of the Year.
Our recent debate on this topic showed how close the race is between Hyde, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller and Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah. I leaned toward Abdullah before Week 13 but wanted to see how each candidate finished the season. You can't go wrong with any of the three, but Hyde gets my vote. Note the "Big Ten" reference in the award. Hyde has been simply dominant in league play, rushing for 1,249 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight Big Ten contests and averaging a ridiculous 7.8 yards per carry. Abdullah is great, too, but his Big Ten numbers aren't nearly as impressive. Hyde runs behind the Big Ten's best offensive line and shares a backfield with arguably the nation's best dual-threat quarterback, but he does a lot of the work himself with pure power. Hyde is Urban Meyer's first 1,000-yard back. He's the biggest reason Ohio State survived an Oct. 5 trip to Northwestern. And he's playing his best football right now, racking up 589 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in his last three games. Hyde hasn't had a bad Big Ten game this year and has shined in league play the past two seasons.
Brian Bennett endorses Ohio State QB Braxton Miller
Hyde and Abdullah would be fine choices for this award. But I'm going with last year's honoree as a repeat winner. Always a threat to run, Miller became a precision passer this season. During Big Ten play, he led the league in pass efficiency, completing 65.1 percent of his throws with a league-best 19 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. And he was just as dangerous with his legs, rushing for 809 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 7.1 yards per carry during conference play. Had Miller not missed three nonconference games with a knee injury, he would be a leading contender for the Heisman Trophy, if not the top candidate right now. But he showed his value immediately upon returning from that injury, throwing four touchdown passes in a 31-24 win over Wisconsin on Sept. 28 that all but locked up the division title for the Buckeyes. He also had five total touchdowns in last Saturday's win over Michigan. Hyde has been in beast mode as well, but I think one of the reasons for his success is that teams are constantly afraid of Miller taking off with the ball. Miller is ultimately what makes the league's best offense go, so he's my pick as offensive player of the year. Again.
Week 14 brought us unforgettable rivalry games from across the country, including an epic Civil War victory by Oregon, a nail-biting win for Ohio State in The Game and an Iron Bowl upset that saw Auburn win in the most implausible manner.
The wild week caused a big shakeup in the BCS standings, with Ohio State vaulting to No. 2 followed by Auburn, Alabama and Missouri. As a result, much is at stake heading into this week's conference title games.
In this edition of "No Huddle," Insider's panel of experts debates big questions surrounding the league title matchups -- as well as which team will prevail in the Big 12 and which Week 15 favorite should be on upset alert.
1. Can Michigan State's defense stop Braxton Miller and Ohio State's offense?
Travis Haney: No, though it can slow OSU. The Spartans are going to have to score some to win this game, but you have to like a defense that's first in yards per play (3.77) and fourth in scoring (11.8) to at least slow Miller, Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes. I cannot imagine the track meet that OSU and Michigan played Saturday, with a combined 83 points. I think the first one to 24 wins in Indy, and it wouldn't at all surprise me if it wound up being Michigan State.
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