Ohio State Buckeyes: Ed Warinner

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

June, 11, 2014
Jun 11
5:00
PM ET
It's mailbag time once again. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter, and you can ask us mailbag questions there.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Brian, this whole scheduling FCS teams issue REALLY makes me upset as a fan and a season ticket holder. I think it's really quite ridiculous that the Power 5 conferences want to play by their own set of rules, but also schedule games against teams that are already at a competitive disadvantage. Why is it that no one in the media is questioning the logic behind, as you said in your most recent article "with power teams needing seven home games to make budget", how does this make sense when schools are bringing in tens of millions of dollars more in media contracts now than they were 10 years ago? It seems the Power 5 conferences want to play by their own rules and act autonomously, but yet refuse to work together on scheduling partnerships to ease the process for nonconference scheduling. I'm also sick of the excuse that the B1G needs to consider scheduling FCS schools to maximize potential to get into the new "Playoff." I think the selection committee should ignore any game played against an FCS school when identifying the best teams for the playoff.

Brian Bennett: Some very good points, Rob, and you and I appear to be in total agreement that these FCS games should be eliminated. I didn't even mention ticket prices in my post, but the rising costs of attending games is yet another reason why these games are abhorrent. And I also agree that the seven home games argument is a bit odd given the massive amount of money flowing into Power 5 conference teams. It has been projected that the Big Ten could distribute $45 million to each of its member schools after the league's new TV contract is negotiated. Surely some of this can help make up for a lack of a seventh home game in some seasons, no? Or do schools need to continue to raise coaches' salaries and build even more spectacular facilities with that cash?

I also love your last point about the selection committee ignoring wins over FCS opponents. So if, say, an ACC team is 11-1 but has a win over an FCS team, it should be considered 10-1. That might make a big difference when comparing it to an 11-1 team from another conference that has 11 wins over actual FBS teams. I think that would change some schools' willingness to schedule FCS opponents very quickly.


Dave from Minneapolis writes: Honestly, I love the no-FCS mandate, as well as the nine-game B1G schedule for entertainment, but it is not the best move for getting into the playoff. While the schedule will be considered, it certainly won't be enough to counter a loss to a lower-level FBS (former) team. If an 11-2 B1G team is up against a 12-1 ACC/SEC team for playoff selection, the B1G team won't get selected. Sure, it may help when 12-1 against 12-1, but seems the extra risk might not be worth the reward ... for those concerned with the "playoff." All the more reason why it should be an eight-team playoff, with each major conference champ gaining entrance.

Brian Bennett: Dave, while I agree with you on an eight-team playoff, which in my view would be the perfect setup, we need to be happy that we at long last have some sort of a playoff system. And it will eventually expand, I believe. I also don't think the FCS mandate will have much impact on the Playoff in terms of wins or losses. Let's face it: Any team that loses to an FCS or lower-level FBS team is not going to make the four-team Playoff field anyway. What not scheduling FCS opponents does for the Big Ten is raise its overall strength-of-schedule component, which could be key for selection purposes.


Jared from Minnesota writes: Your recent article about B1G needing to stay the course and ultimately refrain from scheduling FCS opponents is definitely legitimate. However, I recall a mailbag post a little bit ago where (I'm not sure if it was you or Rittenberg) argued the point that some schools -- Indiana, for example -- might benefit from scheduling an FCS team in order to help their program to move to the next level, in the Hoosiers' case, become bowl eligible. Would you agree (or still agree if that was your stance) that there is still some stock to that scenario?

Brian Bennett: I don't believe I ever said that schools like Indiana should schedule FCS schools. However, I do believe a team like the Hoosiers should dumb down its schedule if it needs to get over the hump and into a bowl game. Last year, Indiana played Navy, Missouri and Bowling Green in the nonconference schedule, which seemed to me a bit too ambitious for a program looking for its second bowl appearance since 1993 and first in six years. There are plenty of easier games against lower-level FBS schools to be had, even if it means a home-and-home series to reduce costs.


Josh from NYC writes: When do you think Michigan becomes a national, or at least regional, power again? Other programs have faced or are facing similar paths, Bama between Bryant and Saban, Oklahoma and Texas now, and it'll happen again. However the school is just built for success and I don't see anything shy of the death sentence keeping this program down. Not that I'm not enjoying MSU's recent success, but it's fun to see some brotherly competition.

Brian Bennett: Great question, Josh, and it's something that needs to happen, not just for Michigan but to strengthen the entire Big Ten. Michigan has every possible resource you would need, including the nation's largest stadium and huge revenue streams. Brady Hoke's staff has recruited highly ranked classes. So there's really nothing that should be keeping this program down. Either Hoke will get it there in the next couple of years, or someone else will get a chance to try.


JK from NoVA writes: Brian, have you actually looked at Ohio State's offensive line? That was a rhetorical question because if you did, you wouldn't post this rubbish. Ohio State's talent level up front is shameful. They will likely duke it out with Michigan for the worst offensive line in the Big Ten. They have next to no experience, very little talent, and they make Penn State's depth situation look positively good (it is actually far better than most think).

Brian Bennett: Shameful? Really? I have "actually looked" at the Buckeyes' line and have seen them in practice. That line includes left tackle Taylor Decker, who started last year and who Urban Meyer said was playing as well as any Ohio State lineman at the end of 2013. It includes Chad Lindsay, who transferred from Alabama after starting several games there at center. It also includes Pat Elflein, who filled in for Marcus Hall very well last year. Fourth-year junior Antonio Underwood and fifth-year senior Darryl Baldwin ran with the first team most of the spring. There are a lot of younger players behind them pushing for time.

Meyer wasn't satisfied with his line play this spring, but to say the group lacks talent is disingenuous. Remember there were many questions about the line before 2012, and Ed Warriner quickly shaped that group into one of the country's strongest units. Warriner is one of the best in the business, and while this year's O-line likely won't be as good as the 2013 version, he'll get it figured out.

Top Big Ten recruiters 

June, 9, 2014
Jun 9
10:00
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Want to dominate on the recruiting trail in Big Ten territory? You better be long in experience because the conference’s best have lengthy track records that often stretch for more than a decade. These rankings are dominated by three Ohio State assistants, which might explain why the Buckeyes always manage to reel in plenty of ESPN 300 prospects.

Big Ten Tuesday mailblog

May, 27, 2014
May 27
5:00
PM ET
You ask, I attempt to answer. I ask, you follow us on Twitter. Deal? Good.

To the inbox ...

Lance from Greensboro, N.C., writes: Your answer to Rajiv highlights the problems with the so-called "playoff". If all five power conference champions ran the table, one of them would HAVE to be left out.

Adam Rittenberg: That's true, Lance, but it's also extremely unlikely. Let's look at how many power-conference teams (or Notre Dame) ended the regular season (including league title games) with perfect records during the past 10 seasons. For these purposes, I'm including any team that will be in a power conference in the 2014 season.

Here's the list:

2013: Florida State
2012: Notre Dame
2011: LSU
2010: Auburn, Oregon
2009: Alabama, Texas (Boise State and Cincinnati were not in power conferences in 2014)
2008: Utah (Boise State also undefeated)
2007: None
2006: Ohio State (Boise State also undefeated)
2005: USC, Texas
2004: USC, Oklahoma, Auburn (Boise State also undefeated)

As you can see, the chances of five undefeated teams from power conferences in the same season -- much less three -- is highly unlikely. The playoff will be more about which one-loss teams are most deserving. If you run the table in a Group of Five conference, you should be in.


John from Kansas City, Missouri, writes: It seems that Iowa is at that point in [Kirk] Ferentz's "cycle" where they have the unusual combination of experience and talent. They also have a very favorable schedule, leaving the traditional powers from the east off the slate. Let's say this Iowa team clicks and has a 10-, 11- or 12-win regular season and makes it to the B1G championship. Does Iowa get the praise and credit of being back at the top of the conference or does the success get written off as a product of the weak schedule?

Adam Rittenberg: John, it's probably not what you want to hear, but I think you would hear a lot about Iowa's schedule. It would depend a lot on what Nebraska and Wisconsin do in their games before visiting Kinnick Stadium in late November. We know at least one of them will have a loss as they meet Nov. 15 in Madison, but it would help Iowa if one or both are ranked in the top 10 when they come to Iowa City. Otherwise, Iowa likely will gain national credibility only by beating a team like Michigan State or Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game. It could feel a lot like 2009, when Iowa kept winning but didn't receive much love outside the Big Ten footprint.


Louie Louie from Evanston, Ill., writes: Why do people think Northwestern is going to be bad next year? Do people really think that last year was a return to the mean rather than a fluke year? I think Trevor Siemian is underrated - I think he's still one of the best pure passers in the Big Ten; the running back corps is underrated with Venric Mark, Treyvon Green and Stephen Buckley, among others. The wide receiver corps is among the best in the B1G and the secondary has a host of experience. Of course, the big problems are the offensive line and the interior defensive line, but it's not like the teams on its schedule are particularly great. I'm predicting at least a seven-win season, more likely eight wins.

Adam Rittenberg: Louie, part of the low expectations can be traced to a 5-7 season combined with the unionization issue, which many believe could splinter the team. But part of the expectations also can be traced to folks not doing their homework. Northwestern had everything go wrong last season and still was two plays away from being 7-5. The roster doesn't turn over significantly, and the defense could be the best in Pat Fitzgerald's tenure. If the lines hold up, this team should win at least six games and possibly eight or nine.

I disagree with you about the schedule: While Northwestern misses Michigan State and Ohio State, its nonleague schedule features Notre Dame, Cal and Northern Illinois, and its home schedule (Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan) isn't particularly easy. But if Northwestern remains relatively healthy, it should be in most games and win more than it did during a disastrous 2013 season.


Scott from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Which plays a bigger role in the success of the Buckeyes this season? 1) O-line; 2) defensive back seven?

Adam Rittenberg: Scott, normally when an offensive line loses four starters, the group automatically becomes the biggest question mark on the team and, in turn, will shape success or failure. But I have enough faith in Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner, one of the best in the country, to get his revamped group ready for the season. The Buckeyes will move the ball and score points.

The back seven on defense is the bigger issue because teams repeatedly attacked them late in the 2013 season. I really like the Chris Ash hire to boost the secondary, and the talent is there for a rebound. But I wonder about the depth. The defensive line should be dominant at times, but teams will find holes if Ohio State doesn't improve on the back end. The development of the linebackers and secondary will have more bearing on Ohio State's success.


Austin from Camp Hill writes: Which B1G draft pick do you foresee making the biggest impact in his first year at the next level?

Adam Rittenberg: I really like linebacker Ryan Shazier with Pittsburgh. He had a very productive junior season at Ohio State but can get so much better with his skill set. He should thrive in the Steelers' defense, which has had success with other Big Ten standouts. I also think Darqueze Dennard fits in really well at Cincinnati, which got a steal by drafting him at No. 24. There are some concerns about whether he'll be an elite corner and master zone coverage, but his aggressiveness and coachability should translate really well with the Bengals. You want a sleeper pick? I really like safety Brock Vereen with the Chicago Bears.
CLIFTON, Va. -- Five-star defensive tackle Tim Settle, No. 10 in the ESPN 300, will not be making an early commitment, that much has been known from the start. What is also known about Settle is that he intends to go through the entire process and take all five of his official visits.

What wasn’t known is that Settle has started to think about what schools will make the cut.

“I’m going to trim it down in August to 14,” said Settle, who earned an invitation to The Opening Saturday after a stellar performance at the Nike Football Training Camp at Centreville High School in Clifton, Va. “The reason I’m going to trim it down in August is two-a-days and getting ready for the season. I don’t want a lot of pressure on me. I just want to play and have fun my senior season.


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Big Ten lunch links

April, 10, 2014
Apr 10
12:00
PM ET
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.
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 lunch links

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:00
PM ET
Sure looked like Eddie Johnson was onside to me. I'll count it as another rivalry win.
  • Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner joined in the tradition of poking fun at a rival during a fundraising event with fans. Should anybody be offended by his canned jokes?
  • Michigan coach Brady Hoke responded to Warinner's comments with a bit of humor of his own.
  • Mark Dantonio doesn't usually hold press conferences to talk about one player, but the recruitment of Malik McDowell called for some discussion of how it all went down for Michigan State.
  • Penn State tight end Adam Breneman will be on the shelf for the rest of spring practice thanks to a bone bruise in his knee.
  • Nebraska wide receiver Sam Burtch is a no-nonsense guy, and his businesslike approach could be a boost for the offense this fall.
  • Mark Weisman saw plenty of room to grow after reviewing every carry from last season, and the Iowa running back might need to improve to keep getting most of the carries in a crowded backfield.
  • Purdue tailback Raheem Mostert's speed isn't up for debate based on his times on the track. The next thing he has to do is prove he can be physical on the football field.
  • Illinois is looking for more team speed on defense, and the early returns from spring practice suggest the unit might be getting faster.
  • Yet another Big Ten tight end is currently stuck on the sideline during spring practice, and like the others, Tyler Kroft is trying to make the most of it.
  • Deon Long is now "90 percent" healthy, but he's well on the way to getting back and helping Maryland at wide receiver.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The change in Ohio State's offensive line is impossible to ignore this spring, even in regard to the only returning starter.

For one thing, he’s now lining up at left tackle, swapping sides after a breakout sophomore season on the right for one of the best offensive lines in the nation.

And then there’s the haircut, as Taylor Decker trimmed off his long locks as part of a job shadow program, trying to give himself a more “professional” appearance.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker is the only returning starter on Ohio State's offensive line, but even he'll be at a new position this season.
Both developments help drive home the completely new look up front for Ohio State, where even the lone holdover has a new position as part of a makeover of a unit that lost four starters, a group that's arguably been the strongest in Urban Meyer's tenure with the Buckeyes.

“It’s definitely a different feeling, but I think our focus needs to be not worrying about who lost, but on who we have,” Decker said. “We have really talented guys; they just need to develop confidence in themselves. They can do everything. They just need to realize they can go out and do it play after play after play and be consistent.

“We’ve got a lot of talented guys. Our only issue is inexperience.”

That certainly wasn’t a problem for the Buckeyes a year ago when Decker was the only fresh face in the lineup. Now the only projected first-teamer on the roster with starting experience is guard Pat Elflein, who filled in for a suspended Marcus Hall in the Big Ten championship game after admirably replacing Hall after he was thrown out of the Michigan game.

That leaves plenty for the Buckeyes to sort through this spring, and the process of nailing down full-time replacements for tackle Jack Mewhort, guards Hall and Andrew Norwell and center Corey Linsley might well spill into August. But offensive line coach Ed Warinner isn’t low on options, and the young guys trying to step into those big shoes aren’t short on confidence, either.

“For us, I think it motivates us a unit,” center Jacoby Boren said. “There is no doubt, those guys were freaking awesome, great guys, great players. But we have a lot of good guys here competing, and we’re working hard.

“We’re not working to be like them. We’re going to work to be the best that we are and keep building on that.”

Their predecessors obviously set the bar pretty high during the last couple seasons, setting the tone for an offense that led the Big Ten in scoring and was fifth in the nation in rushing, averaging more than 300 yards per game on the ground.

The Buckeyes started preparations for replacing them last season, occasionally cutting back on practice reps for the first unit in favor of the backups in an effort to speed through the learning curve and getting them as much game action as possible. Prospective right tackle Darryl Baldwin, Elflein and Boren figure to benefit from that taste of experience, and Antonio Underwood's return from knee surgery has gone smoothly enough that he opened camp as the starter at left guard. Behind that starting group, Ohio State has recruited well and could conceivably have players such as converted defensive lineman Joel Hale or Kyle Dodson make pushes for playing time.

And with all those candidates on hand ready to take over, Warinner isn’t losing much sleep, even though he’s looking at a totally different line.

“I’m pretty confident, yeah,” Warinner said. “Because everything that you want to see at this point, we’re seeing. Great work ethic, tough guys, very well-conditioned, guys who want to learn, guys who come and watch film and work the game. Guys who do extra, guys that are very coachable; they’re sponges. Guys who come with energy to practice.

“You’ve got all these things. The only thing they lack is experience.”

Now there’s nobody in their way to keep them from getting it.

Players to watch in spring: No. 5

February, 10, 2014
Feb 10
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offseason conditioning program is in full swing. Signing day has come and gone. Blink and spring practice will already be here.

Ohio State is less than a month away from getting back on the field and starting preparations for the 2014 season, and those days probably can't go by fast enough for a program coming off consecutive losses after a 24-game winning streak. To help pass the time, we're counting down the top five players who are facing critical springs, either because it's a turning point in their careers or the Buckeyes are counting heavily on them to fill vacant jobs as they try to get back in contention for a national championship again in the fall. The journey starts today on the offensive line.

[+] EnlargeDarryl Baldwin
AP Photo/David DurochikConverted defensive lineman Darryl Baldwin is the favorite to become Ohio State's right tackle in 2014.
No. 5: Darryl Baldwin, right tackle

  • By the numbers: The converted defensive lineman, who had a sack in 2011 before moving to the other side of the ball, has been credited with appearances in 21 games for the Buckeyes, largely in a reserve role and on special teams.
  • What's at stake: The Buckeyes are losing four senior starters off the offensive line, and with Taylor Decker moving to left tackle, all five positions will have a new look up front when camp opens in March. Baldwin is currently tabbed to fill Decker's spot on the right side, and the reviews have largely been positive for his work on the practice field in the past as the backup to Jack Mewhort at tackle. He certainly has the size, at 6-foot-6 and 310 pounds, to get the job done, and offensive line coach Ed Warinner has proven more than capable of maximizing the talent and fine-tuning the technique of his position group.
  • Best-case scenario: Baldwin is already in position to win a starting job, and he'll be running with the first unit when the Buckeyes get back to work. But given the high standard the offensive line has set since Urban Meyer took over, it likely won't be enough for Baldwin to simply prove capable of filling out the lineup. The Ohio State coaching staff will be hoping for a Reid Fragel-like development, turning a guy without many notable contributions elsewhere, who has been around the program for years, into a ferocious, dependable right tackle.

MIAMI -- Ohio State offensive line coach Ed Warinner huddled with his position group in a corner of the team's locker room following a 40-35 loss to Clemson in Friday's Discover Orange Bowl.

Warinner's voice started to crack as he told the players what they'd meant to him and what they'd accomplished. Warinner wrapped it up by saying, "You all are champions in my heart."

Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, they'll have to settle for those kinds of fond memories from their supporters. They've won 24 games the past two seasons, but it's the "And-2" that will haunt them. As in, 24-2.

Those two losses came at the worst possible times, first in the Big Ten championship game against Michigan State with a BCS title-game berth at stake, and then on the wrong end of a wild South Florida shootout. A program that went 12-0 the past two regular seasons managed to end up feeling disappointed at the end an otherwise magical run.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyBraxton Miller was on his back as much as he was on his feet at times, but his gutty performance almost got Ohio State a win Friday.
"It's bittersweet," linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "We had a great year, and the year before was great. But at the end of day, the last two seasons we haven’t won anything."

It's not hard to pinpoint why Ohio State fell short of earning a championship: a defense that literally limped to the finish line and a still-too-inconsistent passing game.

All of the pregame fears about Clemson's passing attack shredding the Buckeyes proved valid as the Tigers tandem of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins abused a makeshift secondary. With star cornerback Bradley Roby sidelined by a knee injury and two players starting at their defensive backfield positions for the first time, Ohio State surrendered 378 passing yards and five touchdowns through the air, while Watkins set Orange Bowl records with 16 catches for 227 yards.

Even when they applied solid coverage, the Buckeyes' corners and safeties found themselves almost helpless against the best receivers they'd faced in three years. At one point, Armani Reeves was called for pass interference and tipped the ball out of the hands of the 6-foot-5 Martavis Bryant in the end zone. Bryant still caught the ball for a touchdown.

"I can’t get any closer than that," Reeves said. "That’s what happens when you play great players."

Then again, Ohio State's defense made a lot of people look great down the stretch this season, giving up averages of 38.3 points and 539 total yards (Clemson piled up 576) in its final three games. If there's any optimism to be found there, it's that six players who were either freshman or sophomores started on defense Friday, and the future for guys such as Joey Bosa, Jamal Marcus and Vonn Bell looks bright.

Despite the defensive problems, the Buckeyes still had plenty of chances to win the game. They somehow led at halftime even after yielding 362 yards in the first two quarters. They were up 29-20 and were getting the ball back late in the third quarter when Philly Brown muffed a punt return to give the Tigers new life. That would be the first of four second-half turnovers that would ultimately doom Ohio State, the next three coughed up by quarterback Braxton Miller.

No one could fault Miller's effort. He accounted for four touchdowns while absorbing a severe beating most of the night. He injured his shoulder early in the game. He lay on the turf for a few minutes after taking a late hit on a touchdown pass to Carlos Hyde. Miller said he probably had a cracked rib to go along with his throbbing shoulder.

"That's probably one of the toughest games I’ve played in, as far as being hit-wise and being banged up," Miller said. "Probably the toughest one all year."

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer rightly called Miller "a warrior" for his performance. But Miller also turned the ball over twice in the final 3 minutes, 12 seconds and didn't see linebacker Stephone Anthony slide underneath a post route on the game-sealing interception near midfield. Miller was non-committal after the game about whether he'd go to the NFL or return to Columbus. Friday's game made it clear he still has a lot to work on in college as a quarterback, though he might want to save his body from more punishment with a nearly brand-new offensive line next season.

Miller had come through at the end of big games so many times before in his career that it was shocking to see him not do so against Michigan State and Clemson. Same goes for Meyer. Ohio State had made a habit out of choking out opponents in the fourth quarter in his tenure, and before Friday he was 4-0 in BCS games.

"That's what we train for," center Corey Linsley said. "We train to finish. It's definitely disappointing, because that was our M.O."

Ohio State was not far away from its championship goals this season. Another play or two against Michigan State, and maybe the Buckeyes are in Pasadena, Calif., right now getting ready to play Florida State, an admittedly frightening prospect given the tattered state of their defense. Friday's game went back and forth and could have ended differently if not for the untimely turnovers.

But a team's record tells the story. Ohio State won its first 12 games again this season. Then came the "And-2."

"Those were championship games," cornerback Doran Grant said. "And we didn’t win 'em. Plain and simple."

Vets get young linemen ready for future

December, 30, 2013
12/30/13
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The future hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s no longer just the Ohio State coaching staff thinking about what it looks like on the offensive line.

The four seniors heading for the exit and about to usher in a new era are now every bit as aware that the end is near, leaving them two different legacies to attend to at once before they leave behind all of those starting jobs.

The ramifications on their own careers with the No. 7 Buckeyes are obvious as they look to cap a banner two-year run in the Discover Orange Bowl against No. 12 Clemson on Friday. But looking beyond that, the veterans have balanced their preparations for one final game with the need to get some younger guys ready for what comes after it at a position that has become the backbone of the program thanks to that core group of four.

“I think as you start to look around and it’s coming to an end for us, you realize that you do have a lot of responsibility to make sure this place is OK when you’re gone,” left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “I think us as seniors, I’ve been trying to coach guys more than I ever have and making sure that guys are getting ready.”

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker will have to take a lead role on the offensive line after the departure of four senior starters.
There will be one familiar face still around, with Taylor Decker serving as a bridge from the present as the Buckeyes begin the transition and rebuilding of the critical unit up front.

The sophomore right tackle more than held his own with his senior teammates on the close-knit offensive line, and his experience playing alongside them could be invaluable as he suddenly becomes the elder statesman in the meeting room. The Buckeyes have also had a recent glimpse at Pat Elflein in competitive situations as he was pressed into duty at right guard following Marcus Hall's ejection against Michigan and subsequent discipline in the Big Ten title game, and the right side of the line appears to be in good hands if that’s where both he and Decker end up staying.

Jacoby Boren has also impressed on the practice field and in limited opportunities to play in games at center, though plugging him into the starting lineup would still leave a couple more holes to fill heading into spring practice. And since Mewhort, Hall, Andrew Norwell and Corey Linsley won’t be around then to offer any advice to potential candidates to fill those spots, they’re getting all the pointers they can in now.

“Just from a teaching standpoint, it’s just all about helping them out, where we see their weaknesses are,” Linsley said. “If we can point out, like, I don’t know, Billy Price needs to learn to keep his pressure on the inside of his feet and not lose his balance by keeping it all over the place. That’s one area that I’m helping him.

"Jacoby, Pat and Taylor are definitely the ones who have progressed the most, and they’re doing a heck of a job leading in terms of off the field, intangibles. We don’t really need to do a lot from a motivational standpoint. [Offensive line coach Ed] Warinner does all the work there, because he’s grinding them day in and day out.”

Warinner is probably the most important holdover for the linemen, though the rebuilding job almost became even more challenging with the highly respected assistant in the mix for head-coaching jobs again this winter. If more dominoes fall this offseason, he could still get back in the mix for a position elsewhere, which would really cloud up the crystal ball for the Buckeyes on the offensive line.

But at least for one more week, Ohio State knows exactly what it has.

“I know people talk a lot about us leaving and the shape of the offensive line, but I’m not worried,” Mewhort said. “I know there are a lot of hard workers in there and a lot of guys who are going to be very good players in the future.”

The chance to prove it is creeping up quickly.

What we learned: Week 13

November, 24, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A closer look at the developments from No. 3 Ohio State's 42-14 win over Indiana on Saturday at the Horseshoe as it clinched a spot in the Big Ten title game and set a school record with its 23rd victory in a row.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesRyan Shazier had a day for the record books in Ohio State's win over Baylor.
Buckeyes worthy of some hardware: The forgotten man in the Heisman Trophy race is roaring back with some of the best football of his career, this week using his legs to make the biggest impact. Overlooked a year ago for individual honors, Ohio State's most prolific defender is making it impossible to ignore him as he stuffs the box score to capacity. Braxton Miller and Ryan Shazier deserve to be in the middle of any conversation about the best players at their position this season, though the latter's case might be the strongest heading into the final week of the regular season. Miller was electrifying with 144 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns to go with 160 yards through the air and 2 more scores, but Shazier's 20-tackle outing will go down in the record books. The junior made 5 of those plays behind the line of scrimmage, forced a fumble, made a sack and also broke up a pass in one of the more complete performances a linebacker could have.

Dontre Wilson is ready to be unleashed: The Buckeyes have brought their freshman speedster along relatively slowly, but they appear ready to turn him loose with three critical games left to play. Wilson turned his seven offensive touches into 58 yards and a touchdown. It was a relatively modest total, but the mere threat of him on the field opened up space elsewhere for his teammates as the Hoosiers paid attention to his every step. Wilson might not have the entire playbook down yet, his hands let him down once and he isn't really that effective between the tackles yet. But get him in space, and he's quite clearly got the jets needed to burn a defense and put up points.

The senior linemen are going to be missed: The moment hasn't arrived yet, but the Buckeyes obviously know it's coming. Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell carved out a couple quick minutes in the end zone to snap a picture together with position coach Ed Warinner, and the coaching staff is clearly going to miss those four seniors on the offensive line. The Buckeyes bulled their way to 311 rushing yards, averaging a robust 8 yards per attempt, taking full advantage of the gaping holes the veterans provided up front while they still can. It's perhaps no real secret how important replacing those linemen next season is going to be, but they provided one more lesson on their value as the Buckeyes shoved around the Hoosiers and left Ohio Stadium with one more win.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A future without four seniors on the offensive line isn't far away, and Urban Meyer is well aware that day is coming.

But when the Ohio State pulls those veterans off the field in a blowout, there's one prominent member of the present plans that stays behind as part of the building of the next wave of blockers in the trenches.

Taylor Decker is the bridge between the physical, road-grating unit that ranks among the best in the country and an uncertain group that may be stocked with potential but obviously has nowhere near the experience of the first-team unit. That leaves a delicate balancing act for Meyer with his sophomore right tackle as he plans for success both at the moment and down the road, and as he watched trainers attend to Decker's injured knee on Saturday at Purdue, the risk was much easier to see than the potential reward.

"It was horrible when I saw that happen," Meyer said. "You should have heard [offensive line coach Ed] Warinner. It was like somebody shot him, 'Oh, my gosh.'

"That's a fine line. But he needs to play. He needs to play."

Decker has been playing a critical role all year as the only new starter on the line, and after a rocky start in his debut to open the season, he's also been living up to Ohio State's high standards and continuing to look like a future star.

The time is fast approaching where Decker will be the elder statesman of the unit, and that has clearly been a factor for Meyer and the coaching staff as they decide how much work he needs when they send in the backups, the guys who will eventually be joining him as full-fledged starters.

Last week in the blowout of Purdue, quarterback Braxton Miller was pulled to start the second half along with most of the senior linemen, but Decker was still involved late in the third quarter when he suffered a knee sprain that brought out the training staff and produced a bit of panic on the Ohio State sidelines.

Decker limped to the locker room shortly after being helped off the field, hobbling and clearly favoring his left leg as he left for further evaluation. But the knee didn't swell, and though he has been held out of practice this week, he's expected to be in the lineup next week against Illinois.

And against another suspect Illini defense that could allow the Buckeyes to get a glimpse of the future once more, Meyer may well need to again toe that fine line between protecting the present and building for next season.

"That's a hard thing," Meyer said. "But I know he is [going to play next week]. He's actually ahead of the schedule."

For the Buckeyes as a whole, that development should keep them right on pace for where they want to go -- both now and later.

OSU will be hot shopping spot for ADs

November, 6, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The holiday shopping seemingly starts earlier every year.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer, Luke Fickell
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsWith Ohio State's success, Urban Meyer may have to part with some of his top assistants, including Luke Fickell.
Perhaps the most popular store for athletic directors who are looking to put a new football coach under the tree isn’t even officially open for business. However, there's already one who is reportedly banging on the door trying to capitalize on a head start.

The two-year commitments Urban Meyer asked of his first coaching staff at Ohio State will soon be filled. The assistants have all added 21 wins without a loss to their most current résumés. The No. 4 Buckeyes are on pace for another division title, in line for a spot in the Big Ten title game and still jockeying for a bid to compete for the crystal football.

So, as the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported on Tuesday that Florida Atlantic is targeting defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, it’s a safe bet that some of the hottest coaching toys on the market are at Ohio State. And after keeping them all to himself after last season's undefeated campaign, the signs are already there that Meyer will need to restock his shelves this offseason.

“We had four guys that had some people trying to discuss head-coaching opportunities for them,” Meyer said in the spring. “And I hope that happens for some of them, but I’m kind of glad it doesn’t happen after just one year.

“I always ask for just a two-year commitment. I think that’s fair.”

Across the board, Meyer’s first staff has provided just about everything he could have hoped for when he took over the program, including sticking around and turning down a few offers a year ago.

As the team appears to be getting stronger every week, the benefits for the Buckeyes are obvious. OSU is thriving on the continuity and familiarity that comes with the opportunity to spend more than one season with a position coach, coordinator or simply a playbook. They’ve proven more than capable of making successful in-game adjustments -- whether it was altering the approach defensively against Iowa after seeing a new formation or tweaking an offensive game plan to feature the brutal running style of Carlos Hyde more as the passing attack struggled at Northwestern -- there are trademarks of a group of coaches and players all on the same page.

Returning for another season with the Buckeyes wasn’t solely a perk for the program, of course. For all the attention Ohio State got in 2012 while going unbeaten, it didn’t win a national title and couldn’t even play for the conference crown. Adding those to a list of accomplishments can certainly help a potential candidate stand out when business really picks up for athletic directors in the coming months.

And the Buckeyes will have no shortage of options depending on what a potential suitor is looking for, from innovative offensive minds to a pair of defensive guys with previous experience as interim coaches.

Tom Herman’s work with quarterback Braxton Miller and Ohio State’s eye-popping offensive numbers will surely make him one of the top targets among coordinators. Ed Warinner’s results with the offensive line while serving as the co-offensive coordinator and his background in multiple styles of attacks could be appealing as well.

Fickell has interviewed for at least one major program in the past, and Ohio State’s surging defense may well get him cracks at jobs bigger than the one Florida Atlantic might offer. Everett Withers has long been respected around the country for his ball-hawking defenses, and the Buckeyes have only helped him add to that reputation.

The rest of the assistants have enhanced their profiles as well, with Mike Vrabel’s young defensive line zipping through the learning curve and Zach Smith’s receivers operating at a much higher level this fall, just to name two.

It may turn out that keeping most of his assistants around becomes an even bigger priority for Meyer if the inquiries start flooding in for his coordinators. But, for now, two-year engagement isn’t over, and there’s still plenty of work to be done.

But if the Buckeyes end up doing what they planned on by the end of the season, Meyer will surely have no problem passing on a glowing recommendation.

“The one negative thing about success and hiring good coaches is that they’re hot items,” Meyer said after last season. “If I had five guys that people never call me and want to hire them, that means I’ve probably got bad coaches.”

With the shopping season apparently underway and the Buckeyes still rolling, Meyer had better make sure his phone is fully charged.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The scene unfolded like something out of a recurring nightmare.

The classroom was Ohio Stadium. The first day of school was a season opener and a debut as a starter.

And the assignment that showed up on Taylor Decker's desk was a final exam, shutting down a surefire first-round draft pick.

“Obviously,” the Ohio State right tackle said, “the first game I didn’t start as I had wanted.”

That might be expected considering Decker’s inexperience was being matched up with one of the most dangerous defenders in the nation in Buffalo’s Khalil Mack, and there was certainly some carnage as the sophomore was thrown into graduate-level work right away on the offensive line.

But rather than relive that rough outing and allow that disappointment to impact a bright future, Decker instead went right back to work for the No. 4 Buckeyes, making sure there wouldn’t be another one like it as he established himself as the final piece of a puzzle with four senior starters up front.

It certainly helped that Decker had already been welcomed into that group by the veterans and had the full support of the coaching staff after distancing himself in what had been a close race for playing time in spring practice, because contributing to an outing in which Mack made 2.5 sacks and also turned an interception into a 45-yard touchdown could easily have shaken his confidence after just one game.

“That’s the third-ranked linebacker in the country on all the scouting boards,” offensive line coach Ed Warinner said. “And if you assess the game, it wasn't 20 bad plays in the game, it was three. But three bad plays for a cornerback or three bad plays for a tackle, everybody knows about it. They don't know about the other 65 that were pretty decent.

“I didn't have any doubt that at some point he would turn the corner, and he did the next game and played very solid in the second game of the season. It's continued to just get better and better. ... He feels good about himself and so do we. Things are good.”

The Buckeyes haven’t had much to feel bad about offensively since the opener, and they still scored 40 points in that win despite a few missed assignments with Decker under the microscope.

Blessed with both enormous size at 6-foot-7, 315 pounds and technical ability that impressed the coaching staff as soon as he stepped foot on campus, there wasn’t really any doubt that Decker was destined to fill the only vacancy on a decorated offensive line after battling with departed senior Reid Fragel during training camp a year ago. And even in the aftermath of his occasional struggles handling Mack in August, the expectations didn’t change from Warinner, and he never panicked over the results from such a small sample size. That's paying off now for an offense line that is bulldozing holes for a rushing attack averaging nearly 280 yards rushing and playing every bit as well as the unit did last season.

“The coaches kept their trust in me and kept coaching me hard and my teammates picked me up,” Decker said. “I feel like because of that I’ve been able to improve.

“I mean, I knew that wasn’t me, that wasn’t how I’d been playing and performing in camp prior to that game, the weeks leading into it. It was a tough pill to swallow, but I just had to bounce back and recover from it, play the way I know I can play.”

And with each passing week, those memories are increasingly fading away just like a bad dream.

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