Ohio State Buckeyes: Evan Spencer

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always trying to find new ways to motivate his players.

Last spring, he had a banner put up in the Ohio State field house reading “The Chase …” in reference to the Buckeyes’ championship pursuits. Meyer said he thought about changing the display for the 2014 offseason. In the end, though, he stuck with the same one.

“We didn’t accomplish it,” Meyer told ESPN.com. “We chased it but didn’t catch it. So the chase is still on.”

Ohio State, of course, nearly made it to its desired finish line. After going 12-0 for the second straight season under Meyer, the Buckeyes just needed to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game to clinch a date with Florida State for the BCS national title. Instead, they fell 34-24 to the Spartans and closed the year on a two-game losing streak with a 40-35 setback against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer says Ohio State is still trying to finish "The Chase."
So the chase continues, albeit with a much different-looking team in the 2014 starting gate. Gone is four-fifths of the offensive line that formed the backbone of the Big Ten’s top-scoring offense the past two seasons. Also gone are reigning Big Ten running back of the year Carlos Hyde and top receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, as well as the two biggest stars on defense -- linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby -- who opted to enter the NFL draft.

Experience is lacking in many key areas, but Meyer is ready to let some talented youngsters loose, including true freshmen. In retrospect, he wishes he had done so last year, when defensive end Joey Bosa and receiver Dontre Wilson were the only first-year players to make a big impact until safety Vonn Bell started in the Orange Bowl.

“We redshirted too many last year, and that was our fault,” he said. “There was a misunderstanding, and we just didn’t do a good job, especially on defense. When they show up on campus, we need to get them ready to play.”

This spring, early enrollees Raekwon McMillan (linebacker), Curtis Samuel (tailback) and Johnnie Dixon (receiver) were all heavily involved and have secured roles in the fall. Redshirt freshman are also at or near the top of the depth chart at strongside linebacker (Darron Lee and Chris Worley) and cornerback (Gareon Conley and Eli Apple), while true sophomores like safety Cam Burrows and tailback Ezekiel Elliott could force their way into the starting lineup.

“When you talk about inexperience, that’s a good thing right now,” said Chris Ash, who was hired from Arkansas as co-defensive coordinator to help fix Ohio State’s pass defense. “There aren’t a lot of habits that we have to change to fit what we’re trying to do. We don’t have older guys that are comfortable with where they’re at in their careers.”

An already young offense became even greener this spring because of injuries to three senior leaders: tight end Jeff Heuerman, receiver Evan Spencer and quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will no doubt look a lot different when Miller returns from shoulder surgery. During the 15 spring practices, the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year often stood behind the offense and wore a camera on his head so coaches could go over what he was seeing on the field.

“We're exhausting every avenue and even inventing different avenues to make sure he's engaged and getting mental reps,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “We're doing the best we can with a bad situation. He has embraced it and is working his tail off, making sure he’s getting the most out of it.”

Herman says the Buckeyes should be more explosive on the perimeter this season, with guys like Wilson, Dixon, junior college transfer Corey Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas and freshman Jalin Marshall at receiver and a stable of athletic tailbacks. The safeties are longer and quicker than they have been in the past, and the defensive line -- which could be one of the nation’s best -- will have four starters who all used to be defensive ends.

The objective is clear: more speed. To that end, Meyer has hammered a new mantra in the players' heads: “4 to 6, A to B.” That means play hard for four to six seconds and get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. It's hard to interview an Ohio State player these days without hearing the phrase.

“That’s all he’s been preaching this spring.” defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. “He said he’s not really worried about technique and all that stuff. It’s just about playing hard, because if you play hard, effort makes up for mistakes.”

Washington said the defense was greatly simplified this spring, with only about four or five different calls to learn. Aggressiveness trumped scheme.

“The culture of Ohio State is to go hard, not trick you,” Meyer said. “I just felt like there was too much stuff last year, instead of just going hard.”

By moving faster and playing harder, the Buckeyes hope to overcome their youth and track down what they've been hunting. They have been tantalizingly close.

“We’re still on a chase,” Washington said. “We’ve just got to finish it.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

Who will be catching the passes this fall?

There is no shortage of speed on the perimeter. After emphasizing the addition of skill players on the recruiting trail over the last couple years to boost the passing attack, Urban Meyer appears to have enough depth to work with as well heading into his third season with the program.

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDevin Smith looks poised to build on a junior season in which he had 44 receptions, including eight for touchdowns.
But how exactly the Ohio State coach will tap into that athleticism and who he'll be trotting out in the starting lineup remains a bit of a mystery even after spring practice, and not even his top returning wideout was assured of a first-team job when camp closed.

Devin Smith will almost certainly wind up leading the way for the Buckeyes as they again try to balance their potent rushing game with more production through the air, and the senior is poised for both a heavier workload and more diverse responsibilities as the coaching staff moved him around to different positions throughout March and April. He is a proven commodity as a deep threat and has become a regular in the end zone, but Ohio State is still trying to tap into his potential and develop him into a more consistent, complete receiver. Getting involved in the short to intermediate passing game is a logical next step for Smith, and shifting him around the formation seems to be the start of that process in preparing him to make a big impact in the fall.

Smith figures to be joined by Dontre Wilson in the starting rotation after yet another head-turning set of workouts, and the sophomore's move to the wide receivers' meeting room on a full-time basis should allow him to get a better grasp on the playbook than he had a year ago when he was largely surviving solely on his natural ability. Wilson still will be involved at times as a rushing threat in the hybrid role made famous by Percy Harvin at Florida, but he's shaping up to be a matchup nightmare in the slot for opposing defenses -- a threat to take screens the distance with his track-star speed or burn linebackers tasked with covering him deep down the field.

So while Meyer didn't name any official starters, those two players are locks to be significant contributors, leaving competition between a handful of candidates to grab a third spot. The Buckeyes have a traditional, physical target in Michael Thomas coming off another big spring, an unselfish, experienced veteran in Evan Spencer who is a willing blocker on the perimeter, and there are also speedy options such as Johnnie Dixon or Corey Smith who could help stretch the field.

Ohio State didn't need to make a decision about any of them during the spring and it didn't rush into one, leaving the competition open for the offseason conditioning program and training camp. Meyer might have a better idea of his pecking order than he lets on and appears to have two clear-cut building blocks to work with as the passing game undergoes its renovation, but it looks as if the project is going to spill into the fall.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- It says a lot about the place Ohio State finds itself that a 25-point conference road victory, in which it scored 60 points, provides fodder for critics and detractors.

But that's the nature of college football in late November for an undefeated team. Politicking and nit-picking all play into a sport that chooses its championship game largely by way of popular opinion, creating a week-to-week beauty pageant.

Urban Meyer admitted after Saturday's 60-35 victory at Illinois that he and his team got a little too caught up in all the national title talk recently. Following a performance filled with warts, if not outright worry, Meyer wants the No. 3 Buckeyes to hop off that carousel.

"We need to make sure our focus is on just getting better each week instead of all the national stuff," Meyer said. "I think I'm learning a lesson. Just shut your mouth and quit worrying about this, quit worrying about that."

[+] EnlargeOhio State Touchdown
Bradley Leeb/USA TODAY SportsOhio State's Carlos Hyde crosses the goal line for the first of five touchdowns he scored Saturday at Illinois.
Meyer even suggested that he will restrict media access to his players in the next few weeks. Issues such as style points and schedule strength have dominated the discussion in recent weeks for Ohio State, and wide receiver Evan Spencer made waves last week by saying, albeit somewhat jokingly, that his team would "wipe the floor" with Alabama and Florida State. Linebacker Ryan Shazier said Saturday that "everybody was up in our heads" about the national title race during the Buckeyes' bye week.

Any distractions that might have caused didn't surface until well into Saturday's game. Ohio State, as it does just about every week, seized immediate control of the game, racing out to a 28-0 lead with 10:20 left in the first half. The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 63-0 in the first quarter in their past three games.

But the Illini -- who now own the nation's longest conference losing streak at 20 games, the second-worst streak in Big Ten history -- found a hole in the Buckeyes' most airtight unit this season: punt coverage. V'Angelo Bentley scored on a 67-yard punt return in the second quarter to give his team some life. Led by a gutsy effort from quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, Illinois sliced the lead to 14 early in the second half and trailed by only 12 with less than five minutes to play.

"When we got up big, everybody just kind of mellowed," Ohio State receiver Corey "Philly" Brown said. "We thought they would give up and they didn't. ...

"It was a big-time wake-up call."

Unlike the previous two games, the Buckeyes had to play their starters the whole way. Meyer had hoped to rest left tackle Jack Mewhort, who tweaked his knee in practice Wednesday, but he was forced to put Mewhort back in during the second half.

Ohio State couldn't exhale until Carlos Hyde ripped off two 50-yard-plus touchdown runs in the final 4:03, and on a windy day that made passing a challenge, Meyer rode the running skills of quarterback Braxton Miller harder than he had all season. Miller finished with 184 yards on 16 carries.

But it was the defensive effort that proponents of teams such as Baylor and Stanford will harp on, as Ohio State gave up 420 yards and its highest point total of the season. Few will give the Buckeyes a pass for missing starting linebackers Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant or for losing starting defensive lineman Joey Bosa to a neck injury after he had rung up 2.5 sacks. Meyer called the defensive performance simply "not good enough."

"That is unacceptable from us," safety C.J. Barnett said. "Illinois is a good team with some great athletes, but at the same time, we expect more from ourselves."

Only in college football would a team that secured its 22nd consecutive victory with a 25-point road win be scrutinized and criticized. And make no mistake: The Buckeyes were not satisfied with their showing. The truth is that they're not going to the BCS title game unless Alabama or Florida State lose, and their best argument remains the long winning streak.

Just don't expect to hear much about that subject from the Ohio State camp in the coming days.

"There will be a lot more focus on Indiana this week," Barnett said, "instead of worrying about the big picture or what's in the future. We need to worry about the right here and now."

Five things: Ohio State at Illinois

November, 16, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Looking at the critical areas and most important players as No. 3 Ohio State looks to stay unbeaten as it visits Illinois on Saturday (noon, ESPN).

Tune out the noise: The Buckeyes dialed up some of the conversation involving their BCS title chances with Evan Spencer's confident comments in reference to Alabama and Florida State early in the week, and Urban Meyer made it quite clear he didn't appreciate the potential distraction. The Ohio State coach has largely succeeded in his nearly two full seasons in avoiding the kind of public trash talk that can find its way on to bulletin boards of opponents, and Meyer has long emphasized the importance of not looking past any opponent and having his team evaluate itself only against the squad it faces on a given Saturday. It's understandable at this point why the Buckeyes might be looking around elsewhere, given their position in the BCS standings and the recent struggles of the Illini. But they also are well aware that they shouldn't be taking anything for granted on the road in the Big Ten.

Up in the air: Meyer made it no secret heading into the first bye week of the season last month that Ohio State's top priority was shoring up its soft pass defense. Coming out of the second off date, it appears he's seen the improvement, but a true barometer is on tap against the Illini, a team throwing for nearly 290 yards per game and certainly capable of exploiting any breakdowns in the secondary. The Buckeyes haven't had many breakdowns in the last two weeks, largely keeping Penn State from doing any significant damage until the outcome had long been decided and then following that up by dismantling Purdue in a shutout victory. Even when the yardage was coming relatively easily against Ohio State, the defense has shown a knack to come up with a timely interception to swing momentum -- the Buckeyes have at least one pick in every game this season.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Allen Kee/ESPN ImagesBraxton Miller and Carlos Hyde are aiming for another big game.
Friendly skies: Braxton Miller was a bit banged up and the weather wasn't doing him any favors as a freshman visiting Illinois two years ago, but it's still remarkable to look back at a box score that included just one completion for him and compare it to the passing tear he's been on since returning from injury for the Big Ten opener against Wisconsin. The junior has been so ruthlessly efficient over the last two games -- completing 37 of his 47 attempts for nine touchdowns -- that he has barely been needed in the second half of those blowout victories. Those shortened outings and what amounted to almost three full games missed because of his knee sprain in September have limited his numbers, but he's playing like every bit the Heisman Trophy favorite he was projected to be before the season. He should be licking his chops to face an Illinois team ranked No. 114 in total defense.

Second level: Already low on depth at linebacker, two of the three starters are nursing at least a minor injury and could stretch the unit even thinner against the Illini. Curtis Grant has been limited in practice over the last two weeks with ankle and back issues and Joshua Perry had surgery on a finger during the off date, leaving star junior Ryan Shazier as the only sure thing for the first-team unit. Perry is likely to play, but Grant is a bit more questionable, which figures to put Ohio State in more nickel and dime packages against Illinois -- though that might have been the case either way against an offense that has a clear preference for passing.

Rested and ready: The streak of 100-yard rushing performances continued for Carlos Hyde, and it only took eight carries against Purdue to get there. That light workload should help the bruising senior running back be as fresh as possible for the closing stretch of three regular-season games and a likely Big Ten championship game berth, and the roll he's been on figures to also allow him to break the 1,000-yard barrier and finally give Meyer his first tailback to accomplish that feat. Since returning to a featured role against Wisconsin, Hyde has been a monster in the backfield and is averaging 132 yards per game in conference play. Like Miller, Hyde is also in line for another stats-stuffing performance against a defense that is allowing almost 240 yards per game on the ground.

OSU starting to hit campaign season

November, 11, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The preference would be to avoid politicking completely.

But if Urban Meyer needs to stump for his team, the Ohio State coach isn’t afraid to do it.

Corey Linsley is all for sportsmanship and isn’t necessarily a fan of style points.

But the OSU center has done some research on the BCS formula, and his analysis makes it clear to him that the Buckeyes can’t afford to take their foot off the pedal down the stretch.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY SportsIt's getting to the point in the season where Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes might have to start campaigning to get a shot at the title.
Despite repeated requests for Ohio State to compare itself to Alabama throughout the offseason and into the past few weeks since the BCS standings were unveiled, Buckeyes players have consistently steered the conversation back to the next opponent.

But Ohio State receiver Evan Spencer finally slipped up on Monday, becoming the first player to come out and publicly declare that the Buckeyes could “wipe the field” with the likes of Alabama or Florida State.

After spending the first two months of the season focusing solely on what they could control and expressing confidence that everything else would work out just fine, the Buckeyes are starting to show signs that they are aware their destiny isn’t entirely in their hands. And with just three games left before a potential appearance in the Big Ten championship to enhance their résumé, it appears the Buckeyes are now more willing to hit the campaign trail as they sit at No. 3 in the BCS standings -- just on the outside looking in at a chance to play for the national title.

“It’s awful, but I work for our players,” Meyer said last week. “I’ve been there before a couple times where some things had to happen right. For us to waste energy on that, it’s not fair to the players we coach.

“But at the end of the day, I’m working for the families of our coaching staff and the families of our players. That’s who we work for.”

The most important job remains keeping Ohio State unbeaten, because it will have no argument whatsoever if it trips up down the stretch given the crowded field at the top of the BCS standings and the weak perception of its schedule this season.

Oregon's losing to Stanford was a step in the right direction for the Buckeyes, and they were certainly pulling for an upset last week as they kicked their feet up on the couch during their second and final off week. But without another loss from a team ahead of them, the Buckeyes are not likely to climb any higher than where they’re at right now, and Stanford and Baylor are nipping at them from behind.

So while taking care of their own business remains the priority, it actually wouldn’t seem to hurt at all for the Buckeyes to call a little attention to themselves any way they can.

“We have to do everything in our power to not let anybody from behind jump us, and we’re absolutely interested in it because it’s no longer a case of us just playing our best,” Linsley said. “We also have to have somebody else not play their best. And if we beat Penn State 13-10 [instead of 63-14], we’re not in this conversation. Baylor jumps us or Stanford jumps us or whatever.

“But we did put up points, and we have to put up points and stop teams on defense. Call it what it is. We’re not facing the No. 5 team in the nation [Saturday at Illinois] or from then on out. ... Call it unsportsmanlike, call it running up the score, we’re trying to accomplish something that nobody else in our conference is trying to accomplish at this point.”

The list of programs around the nation capable of competing for that crystal football is starting to dwindle, and chances to stand out from the crowd are starting to get scarce.

That’s particularly true for the Buckeyes, who don’t play anybody in the Top 25 to close the regular season but could have a marquee showcase waiting for them in the Big Ten championship game if No. 16 Michigan State can close out the season without another loss and keep climbing in the BCS standings.

But if for some reason the Buckeyes don’t get any additional help, style points don’t have any impact or Meyer voting his team No. 2 in the coaches' poll doesn't change anything, maybe there’s a slim chance they can talk their way into a matchup with the Crimson Tide or Seminoles.

“I’m a little biased,” Spencer told reporters on Monday. “I think we’d wipe the field with both of them.”

At this point, there’s really nothing to lose by speaking their minds.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The ability to make all the throws was always evident.

Tom Herman had seen the impressive arm strength plenty on the practice field, and for some of the criticism the Ohio State offensive coordinator’s prized pupil has taken for his accuracy, Braxton Miller is more than capable of fitting a football into a tight spot.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller's four touchdown passes against Wisconsin were a display of the wide variety of throws in his arsenal.
But even if a quarterback has the necessary skills to deliver any pass in Herman’s playbook, it won’t mean much without the confidence to actually pull the trigger when the time comes. And with one perfectly-placed, back-shoulder touchdown throw on a secondary read against a stout defense, Miller provided a perfect example of the difference it makes when those two traits are combined into one dangerous package.

“I think it’s a throw he wouldn’t have made,” Herman said. “He could have made it, absolutely could have. He wouldn’t have made it, because he didn’t trust himself.

“He didn’t trust what he saw, he didn’t trust when he saw it, he might have seen it a split-second too late, he might not have trusted the fact that what he was seeing was reality. But the kid physically is not much different than he was last year.”

Miller was no slouch as a sophomore, and he’s got plenty of hardware from the Big Ten, a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race and a perfect record from a year ago to show for it.

But there was also clearly room for him to grow and develop as a passer after completing just more than 58 percent of his passes with 15 touchdowns against six interceptions. Herman and Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer delivered that message to Miller early and often in the offseason after defenses had started to adjust to his threat on the ground late last season by loading the box and daring him to throw.

A knee sprain suffered on the opening drive of the second game this season had largely kept him from showing off his improvements in that area, but three first-half touchdowns against the Badgers put it on full display in front of a national audience in primetime, each touchdown showcasing the strides in his game.

There was a bullet thrown across his body on a play-action rollout for a 25-yard strike to Evan Spencer, which was followed up working through his progression to Devin Smith on the second touchdown of the game. And just before halftime, he looked off the coverage to the right, stepped up in the pocket and fired a bomb to the left for a 40-yard connection with Philly Brown -- the throw that Miller himself pointed to as one he wouldn’t have made a year ago.

“I probably would have checked it down to Carlos [Hyde] or something like that,” Miller said. “Just going through my reads and being comfortable with the offense and knowing where everybody is at, that’s a big advantage.

“Last year, we didn’t really know how to run routes, I really wasn’t comfortable with the playbook as much as I am right now. It just takes time, offseason working with the guys to get time and placement with the ball and outcomes like that in the game can happen all the time.”

That’s obviously the plan, and if Miller can continue to put up efficient, productive outings like he did against the Badgers with his arm, an already explosive rushing attack could become even more of a handful.

Even for all those positives, though, the work still isn’t done. Miller made at least one throw that could have been an interception, wasn’t flawless with his decisions and also left some yards on the field by scrambling horizontally instead of looking to get down the field.

But the overall progress was hard to ignore.

“Graded out well, but not great,” Herman said. “Certainly better than probably what I had expected, which was a positive.

“Mentally and consistency with his mechanics and footwork, all that is 10 times better than it was.”

Now he’s got some throws on film to prove it.
On occasion Saturday night, Ohio State lined up with quarterback Braxton Miller in the shotgun, flanked by running back Carlos Hyde and receiver Dontre Wilson.

If you're a defensive coordinator, that might qualify as a special kind of torture. Think of all the possibilities with that trio. There's Hyde, the 235-pound power back who at times couldn't be tackled by Wisconsin. There's Wilson, still just a freshman but already one of the fastest players in the Big Ten who's fulfilling the Percy Harvin role for Urban Meyer's offense. Then of course there's Miller, who can beat you with his arms or his legs.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCarlos Hyde's full-time return added another dimension to an already diverse Ohio State offense.
That particular offensive grouping didn't create a ton of damage in the Buckeyes' 31-24 victory. But it showed that, like sideline observer LeBron James, Ohio State now can do a little bit of everything now when it has the ball.

In fact, Meyer's biggest lament about the offense after Saturday's game was that he couldn't find playing time for Jordan Hall and Kenny Guiton. Hall, who leads the team with 427 rushing yards and eight touchdowns, got one carry against the Badgers. Guiton -- who leads the Big Ten in passing touchdowns with 13 -- never saw the field.

Miller quickly showed why the "debate" over whether he or Guiton should start was always silly, because he simply can do so many more things. Offensive coordinator Tom Herman said Monday that Miller still made some mental mistakes and needs to do a better job scrambling straight up the field. But Herman praised Miller's back-shoulder throw to Devin Smith for a touchdown, and Ohio State has now incorporated a vertical passing game to go along with its strong rushing attack. Receivers Smith, Corey "Philly" Brown and Evan Spencer are drawing praise not scorn from Meyer these days, and the trio has combined for 13 touchdown catches.

"They use their weapons well at every position," Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said Monday. "They can get the ball to anybody, and they can score on any given play."

Fitzgerald should know exactly what that looks like, because he has built the same thing with his team. In fact, when Northwestern hosts Ohio State on Saturday night in Evanston, we will see arguably the two most versatile offenses in the Big Ten.

The Wildcats, of course, employ a two-quarterback system with Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian, the former excelling as a runner and the latter serving as something like a designated passer. Offensive coordinator Mick McCall can use the option game with Colter or spread the field with Siemian and a deep group of wide receivers. The two quarterbacks are completing 69.8 percent of their passes.

In fact, Northwestern is fourth in the Big Ten in both passing and rushing yards, the only team to rank in the top four in each of those categories. The Wildcats have accomplished that almost entirely without star tailback Venric Mark, who has dealt with an unspecified lower body injury all season. But Mark, who ran for 1,371 and was an All-American punt returner last season, is listed as a co-starter on the team's depth chart this week.

Fitzgerald said Monday that if Mark gets through practice without issue, "we will have him in some capacity" on Saturday. Treyvon Green (404 rushing yards, five touchdowns) has filled in nicely for Mark and brings a bit more power, but Northwestern's offense takes on a different dimension with Mark's speed, especially when paired with Colter.

Northwestern will likely need every available weapon against Ohio State, which managed to shut down Wisconsin's running game on Saturday while allowing some big plays through the air.

All coaches talk about being "multiple" on offense, but the Wildcats and Buckeyes truly embody that this season. Nebraska can also do just about everything, though the Huskers' offense sputtered against UCLA, while Penn State can keep defenses guessing with many formations and plays. Just about everybody else in the league is looking for a consistent passing game (Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin), a dependable running attack (Indiana, Illinois) or both (Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue).

Ohio State and Northwestern both have inexhaustible options on offense. The trick will be finding which ones work best on Saturday night.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Contrived or not, there’s officially no controversy now.

The conversation about whether Kenny Guiton had done enough to take over as Ohio State’s starting quarterback had drawn on with Braxton Miller defenseless, unable to make his case while recovering from a sprained knee.

Finally able to play again, Miller made it abundantly clear that he’s not only the best option for the Buckeyes, he’s among the most dangerous players in the entire country.

In case anybody had forgotten how lethal he is with his legs or improved he is with his arm, Miller provided a refresher course in a 31-24 win over No. 23 Wisconsin and its stout defense that should silence any remaining skeptics over who should be taking Ohio State’s snaps.

“I don’t really look into how the media deals with that,” Miller said. “It doesn’t bother me at all.

“I was proud of Kenny and the way he led the team while I was out, and I look at him as a big brother. So, no controversy with that.”

There was never really any to begin with inside the program, and despite the bracketing of his top two quarterbacks on Urban Meyer’s depth chart earlier in the week, the Buckeyes coach made it clear again after knocking off the Badgers that Miller solidly remains his first choice.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller made plays with both his arm and his legs and showed why there is no controversy about who is Ohio State's starting QB.
After missing the past two games and nearly all of another one, Miller wasted little time proving why. He rifled bullets all over the field in one of his most efficient passing performances, steadily took on more of a workload as a rusher and showed few signs of rust after the layoff.

He dropped in a 25-yard strike to Evan Spencer on the opening drive of the game. He delivered a gorgeous, driven, back-shoulder throw to Devin Smith for a 26-yard touchdown. Then, after one of his worst tosses of the night, Miller capped the first half with a 40-yard bomb to Philly Brown that sent the Buckeyes into the locker room with all the momentum before going to work on the clock with his legs down the stretch.

In all, Miller completed 17 of his 25 passes for 198 yards and 4 touchdowns and tacked on 83 more yards on the ground, turning in exactly the kind of versatile performance that made him a preseason favorite for the Heisman Trophy and the Buckeyes a threat in the national title race.

“No [doubt about the starter], not if he’s healthy,” Meyer said of Miller. “When I saw Braxton on Thursday, there was no doubt who was going to be our starter.

“The team we played is very good, should be undefeated except for some ridiculous call. ... I think he played very well. Braxton did have a heck of a day.”

Miller has had more than a few like it before, though the fresher memories for the Buckeyes have been of Guiton after a prolific touchdown binge while filling in over the past three games that rewrote the school record books.

Ohio State has brainstormed for ways to get both quarterbacks involved in the offense, either together in one formation or through some sort of rotation. But that never looked to be a realistic option against the Badgers, particularly when Miller started darting all over the field, using his elusiveness and acceleration to escape pressure in the pocket and pick up yardage in a way that few quarterbacks can.

And as long as a left knee that was covered by a thin brace under his pants and long, black socks can hold up, the stage will continue to belong to Miller.

“I’ve been working really hard these last couple weeks because I’ve been hurt,” Miller said. “I felt good, my legs felt good. Energy-wise, I wasn’t out of shape and felt good.

“I’ve been in there [working] all day. I felt like I had a job without getting paid.”

After all that rehab was done, his real job for the Buckeyes was waiting. There was never any question who it belonged to.

OSU offense finally getting whole again

September, 27, 2013
Braxton Miller & Carlos HydeJamie Sabau/Getty ImagesLast year, Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde drove the Buckeyes offense. This week, the duo returns.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The face of the program has spent more time in sweats than pads on game days.

Last year's top rusher and automatic touchdown machine in the red zone has played in only one game, and even then he was barely used.

An offensive line that needed to manage a couple of injuries coming out of training camp has been called on really only once for a full shift as a complete first-team unit.

And yet, as Ohio State tight end Jeff Heuerman glanced down at a box score to make sure his numbers were right after a wildly prolific performance he was comparing to a similar outing the week before, a smile started creeping across his face.

How much better can the No. 4 Buckeyes get on offense? Until they actually get everybody on the field, they might be only scratching the surface.

"Our offense has been rolling," Heuerman said on the heels of routing Florida A&M 76-0. "We had 603 yards [last week], I think we had 608 [against California], so these last two weeks, our offense has really been clicking.

"But seeing Carlos [Hyde] back out there was good, that's definitely a player who carries a big load with us. And I think getting Braxton [Miller] back this week will spark some things up."

The fire already has been burning pretty steadily for the Buckeyes early in the season, and Urban Meyer's spread attack has been ruthless and close to unstoppable while racking up more than 52 points per game outside of Big Ten play. And while the competition hasn't been all that stiff, Ohio State also has been working without two of its most critical contributors essentially throughout the first four weeks and has barely missed a beat.

There was time to plan for the absence of Hyde in the backfield, because his three-game suspension was handed down far enough in advance to make other arrangements at running back coming off his breakout, 17-touchdown junior campaign. But the knee sprain Miller suffered on the seventh snap of the second game had a chance to significantly disrupt what Meyer wanted to accomplish early in the season as Ohio State tried to build toward Saturday's meeting with No. 23 Wisconsin, particularly given how critical the junior quarterback was to the game plan last year on the way to a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race.

[+] Enlarge Jordan Hall
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsJordan Hall filled in admirably at running back, gaining 422 yards and scoring eight touchdowns.
And while Kenny Guiton has scribbled his name all over the school record books filling in for Miller, and Jordan Hall has emerged as one of the most productive rushers in the country at this point of the season, neither of them were held up as reasons the Buckeyes could contend for a national championship this fall. They both help make a compelling case for how much depth Meyer has at his disposal, but they were expected to play complementary roles for a reason -- and plugging the starters back in could produce some pretty scary things for defensive coordinators to think about.

"The expectation level on offense is real high," Meyer said. "We have some weapons, you know, and I kind of like where we're at.

"The best way to think about it is checkers. There are some pieces on the board, and I like the checkers that we have right now. So, it's just a matter of our staff putting them together at the same time, getting them healthy and making sure they're in great shape."

Putting two pieces with the skills of Miller and Hyde on the board actually might change the game completely as the Buckeyes get healthy and whole again offensively.

There was nothing wrong with checkers. But now they might be able to play some chess.

"I've never heard of having too many weapons being a bad thing," wide receiver Evan Spencer said. "We know as players that pretty much everybody can go in and get the job done.

"The sky is the limit for our offense. We've got so many weapons, and we can do so many different things, I mean, I can't even imagine all the things we can do."

They certainly haven't shown all they're capable of with the football yet, regardless of what the stats sheet has shown. Once again fully loaded, Heuerman and the Buckeyes might soon have even more reasons to smile.

It’s mostly a light week in Big Ten football, and Wisconsin and Ohio State will kick off Saturday night with no other competition from league games.

That’s perfect. You should watch as this matchup takes center stage. Savor it. This is the rarest of rivalries, one that is simultaneously waxing and waning before our eyes.

Though it’s the Big Ten opener for Ohio State and we haven't yet reached October, this game might just decide the Leaders Division race. That should come as no surprise, as these two teams have played several high-stakes showdowns in recent years.

“All my years that I've been here,” Wisconsin senior running back James White said, “this has been a great game. It has always come down to the wire."

The past three meetings have produced instant classics. The Badgers knocked off then-No. 1 Ohio State 31-18 at home in 2010. In 2011, Braxton Miller’s 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith with 20 seconds left lifted the Buckeyes to a 33-29 win at the Horseshoe. Last season, Ohio State won 21-14 in overtime at Camp Randall Stadium.

While Ohio State has won five of the last six against Wisconsin, the Badgers have won or shared the last three Big Ten titles. They’ve also represented the Leaders Division in the first two Big Ten championship games, including last year when Ohio State was ineligible.

That both compete in the same division while Penn State remains on probation has added meaning to this game, which wasn’t always so competitive. The Buckeyes lead the all-time series 55-18-5 and beat Wisconsin every year between 1960 and 1980. The Badgers won twice (with one tie) between 1988 and 2000.

“I was here a long time ago, and it was not a rivalry,” said Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, who was a Buckeyes assistant from 1986-87. “You have to give credit to Wisconsin. I think it all started with coach [Barry] Alvarez, and then the following coaches have done a great job. They are one of, if not the best, programs in the Big Ten right now, and because of that, it’s become a very good rivalry.”

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesCoach Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes take on Wisconsin on Saturday in a battle of Top 25 teams.
The rivalry intensified when Meyer arrived and then-Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema made some disparaging comments about the new Ohio State boss. While both later insisted publicly they had patched up any potential rift, there was little doubt both badly wanted to beat the other last November. After Bielema left for Arkansas, ex-Ohio State president E. Gordon Gee was caught on tape calling Bielema “a thug.” The wife of Buckeyes assistant coach Mike Vrabel took a shot at Bielema and his wife on Twitter on Saturday after Arkansas lost to Rutgers -- ironically winning some favor with Wisconsin fans in the process.

The intrigue between the teams’ head coaches cooled considerably when the Badgers hired Gary Andersen, who served as Meyer’s defensive coordinator at Utah. When the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s Doug Lesmerises asked Meyer this week if he missed Bielema, Meyer chuckled and said, “I’m good with Gary.”

"Not to get too much into things, but obviously Coach Andersen and Coach Meyer have a relationship in the past,” Wisconsin defensive tackle Beau Allen said. “There's a mutual respect between Coach Andersen and that staff over there.”

Allen laughed.

“That may be something that might be a little different this year, without getting too detailed or specific."

Friendship between coaches is not the only reason this rivalry may have already peaked. After this season, Ohio State and Wisconsin will play in separate divisions as the Big Ten expands and splits into East and West branches. The two teams are not scheduled to meet in 2014, 2015 or 2017, though they could still face each other in the conference title game.

That’s particularly a shame for the Badgers, because as their historic rivalry with Minnesota has become one-sided and Iowa went missing off the schedule for a few years, Ohio State has loomed as potentially their biggest game.

"You enjoy going up against great teams like Ohio State,” Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon said. “I mean, it's Ohio State. So it's kind of disappointing, but I'm sure if things go how we want, we'll probably see them again."

Things are a little different from the Buckeyes’ perspective. Wisconsin has become a rival because of division alignment and the Badgers’ contention for Big Ten titles. But Ohio State doesn’t view this game as the one it must win.

"When it comes to rivalries, no,” Buckeyes receiver Evan Spencer said. “I mean, just because The Team Up North, it's hard to place words on that one. Wisconsin is a big game, don't get me wrong. It's one of the biggest ones we have on the schedule.”

The schedule brings few guaranteed rematches between these two teams. So make sure to watch Saturday’s game. Savor it.

“We like playing these guys,” Allen said. “We've had great games, and that's why you play college football. You want to play great teams, you want to play great games, and you want to play great players. That's what we've had between the two of us."

Ohio State at the quarter pole

September, 24, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The plan needed some adjustments on the fly, but the end result as nonconference play wrapped up was exactly what Ohio State had in mind.

Braxton Miller was on the shelf for almost all of it, the defensive line had to deal with a couple notable injuries and the strength of schedule may have taken a hit due to circumstances the Buckeyes couldn’t control. But they are undefeated, about to get much healthier and might actually wind up being fresher than coach Urban Meyer might have hoped for after four games before kicking off the grind that is the Big Ten slate.

With the “preseason” out of the way, it’s time to take a look back at the superlatives from a stretch that pushed Ohio State’s winning streak to 16 games.

[+] EnlargeKenny Guiton
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteKenny Guiton is loved by the fans and respected by his teammates. Not bad for a backup QB.
Best game: The Buckeyes didn’t know until late in the week before flying to take on California if they’d have Miller available after he suffered his sprained knee the game before, and the flight itself provided some adversity for the roster. But the spread offense hummed right along with Kenny Guiton at the helm, jumping to an early lead with three touchdown passes from the backup in the first six minutes while the rebuilt defense forced a couple turnovers and survived the up-tempo onslaught from Cal in a comfortable 52-34 victory. The outing wasn’t perfect, but it did offer a glimpse at plenty of the things that could make the Buckeyes dangerous moving forward.

Best player: The competition wasn’t the stiffest on the schedule, but taking the best player in the Big Ten out of the lineup at least opens up the possibility that the playing field would level out a bit against teams like San Diego State and Cal. But Guiton did more than a serviceable impression of Miller in September, and he actually posted some Heisman-worthy individual numbers while filling in as the starting quarterback. Miller will be reclaiming his job when conference play opens Saturday, but Guiton set a handful of school records while piling up 664 passing yards, 186 rushing yards and 14 total touchdowns. He deserved the spotlight that was shining on him for a change.

Best performance: Guiton’s wildly productive outing at Cal captured most of the attention, but Jordan Hall’s work in the backfield was every bit as critical, both in the win and keeping a starting spot that he seemed to be just keeping warm for the suspended Carlos Hyde. The senior running back carried the ball 30 times, proving he could handle a full workload as he comes back from a medical redshirt season. He turned those touches into 168 yards and 3 touchdowns to give Meyer something to think about when Hyde’s three-game punishment expired.

Best surprise: The public criticism and talk of dysfunction at wide receiver has been put to rest for a while now, but the Buckeyes might actually have more depth on the perimeter than they were letting on during spring practice or training camp. Ohio State has nine different players averaging at least one reception per game, and although Devin Smith and Philly Brown are still pacing the group, guys like Evan Spencer, Chris Fields and freshman hybrid Dontre Wilson are giving the spread attack even more weapons to deploy.

Biggest disappointment: A physical test against Wisconsin will be the best gauge of how well Ohio State has rebuilt its defense, but there were a couple lapses on the road against high-octane Cal that caught the attention of the coaching staff and the returning veterans. The Buckeyes counted 16 missed tackles in that game and had a few communication issues in the secondary while giving up 34 points, though they’ve had little to complain about during the other three victories on the defensive side of the ball and rank No. 21 in the country in points allowed.
MADISON, Wis. -- No team defended Ohio State's offense and star quarterback Braxton Miller better than Wisconsin in 2012.

Don't believe me? Ask Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer.

He makes it clear that the Badgers caused the most problems for the Big Ten's top scoring offense and the league's top offensive player. Wisconsin held Miller to a season-low 97 pass yards, only 48 rush yards on 23 carries, zero touchdowns and a QBR of 39.5. Ohio State recorded only 15 first downs, 236 yards and 21 points against the Badgers, well below its season averages (21.4 first downs, 423.8 yards per game, 37.2 points per game).

The Buckeyes survived 21-14 in overtime, thanks mostly to their own defense.

"Obviously," Meyer said Monday, "they shut us down pretty good last year."

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/David StlukaThe Wisconsin defense made things difficult for Ohio State QB Braxton Miller when the teams met last season.
Wisconsin's defense tries to do it again Saturday night when it faces No. 4 Ohio State and Miller, who has been cleared to play following a sprained knee and likely will start. But the Badgers know they're facing a better and broader Ohio State offense this time. The Wisconsin defense also has been through some significant changes with first-year coach Gary Andersen and his staff.

Despite some glitzy numbers, Ohio State's offense was a one-man show for much of 2012, at least at the skill positions. A physical defense like Wisconsin could zone in on Miller and running back Carlos Hyde, without playing too much attention to the perimeter.

The Badgers have no such luxury this year as Ohio State boasts a much stronger supporting cast. Seven Ohio State players have at least seven receptions in the first four games, and four have multiple touchdown catches. Six different Buckeyes have rushed for touchdowns. The offense not only avoided a hiccup when Miller hurt his knee. It actually performed better with backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, who has won back-to-back Big Ten offensive player of the week awards.

"It's grown," Wisconsin inside linebacker Chris Borland said of Ohio State's arsenal. "They've got a lot of speed at the skill positions and do a great job of getting them out on the edge. Number 1 [Dontre Wilson] is a player, a true freshman, they like getting the ball in his hands and use him with Number 2 [Jordan Hall]. The line does a good job, and with the weapons they have, they can take the top off, too.

"It's one of the best offenses in the country."

Wilson and Hall, who play the H-back position Meyer loves to feature in the offense, didn't play Wisconsin in 2012 as Wilson was still in high school and Hall was rehabbing a foot injury. Evan Spencer, Jeff Heuerman and Chris Fields played in last year's game at Camp Randall Stadium, but they're much bigger factors now.

Saturday likely will mark the first game Ohio State will have its full complement of weapons, as Miller returns alongside Hyde, who was suspended for the first three games. But Andersen doesn't expect many changes from a unit that is operating in fifth gear.

"They want to run the ball first," Andersen said. "They want to be very effective in the play-action run game. They want to have a run game that forces you to run sideways. …
You'll see some balls go out sideways to get you to run, get the defense tired, and they'll come back at you and start running the ball and trying to be physical with you.

"That's good coaching. It's the way it should be done."

Wisconsin has good coaching, too, especially on defense with Andersen and coordinator Dave Aranda. The Badgers are adjusting well to an aggressive 3-4 set, ranking sixth nationally in both yards allowed (243.3 ypg) and rush yards allowed (76.3 ypg), 10th in points allowed (10.5 ppg) and eighth in pass efficiency (86.1).

Opponents are averaging just 2.5 yards per rush and 4.9 yards per pass attempt against Wisconsin, which has yet to allow a passing touchdown.

"We've faced spread offenses three times this year," nose guard Beau Allen said. "We've done a good job of shutting down the run. Against [Arizona State], we gave up too many passing yards. How comfortable and familiar we've become practicing and defending spread teams goes a long way."

Ohio State's spread offense will test Wisconsin's young secondary, so the Badgers will lean on Allen, Borland and the rest of a veteran front seven.

"They're experienced, they're tough-minded, it means a lot to them and they prepare very well," Andersen said. "You're going to get their best shot every single week."

Although much has changed for both Wisconsin's defense and Ohio State's offense since last year's meeting, Allen and his teammates can draw upon their performance against the Buckeyes.

"That's going to be real helpful tape for us to watch," Allen said. "We have a lot of defensive players back, and being in that situation where we defended them so well is going to be beneficial for us this year, to emulate some of the stuff we did and use it again successfully."

Wisconsin's defense would gladly take a repeat performance Saturday night at Ohio Stadium -- with a different result on the scoreboard.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Zach Smith won't shield his unit from criticism, and it received plenty for the issues of a struggling passing attack a year ago.

But for all the problems that the Ohio State receivers coach is quick to point out, he's not going to make them shoulder all the blame, either.

The pass protection was far from perfect, and the Buckeyes allowed too many sacks. Braxton Miller is a truly unique weapon at quarterback, but his decision-making and accuracy as a sophomore left plenty to be desired. As dominant as the rushing attack was last season, perhaps the tailbacks could have been a bit sharper at picking up blitzing defenders when Ohio State was trying to air it out.

Those areas of improvement aren't pointed out to absolve the receiving corps, and neither Smith nor coach Urban Meyer have ever sugarcoated their feelings about a group they have publicly labeled as "dysfunctional" and a "clown show."

It does, however, offer a reminder that it takes more than crisp route-running and steady hands to put on an aerial show. But based on the lack of jokes at their expense during training camp, it appears the wideouts have done everything they can to avoid coming in at No. 1 on the list of things holding back the spread offense.

Philly Brown
Greg Bartram/US PresswireCorey "Philly" Brown led Ohio State with 60 catches in 2012.
"Every group had their deficiencies in that area, and the wide receivers probably most contributed," Smith said. "But there’s been definite commitment to improving that.

"I think it’s been a long process. It’s not something that could have happened overnight, and I think where we’re at right now, ‘OK, we’ve taken a step, we’re no longer dysfunctional -- now let’s go be the best receiver unit in the country.’ "

That goal would have been almost unthinkable for the Buckeyes a year ago, when the bar was set almost comically low following a 2011 season in which it took just 14 catches to lead the team.

The transition to a more wide-open offense did yield instant results, with Philly Brown pushing the team-leading reception total out to 60, Devin Smith providing a deep threat capable of striking from anywhere and Evan Spencer showing flashes at times of becoming a reliable third option. But all of them had soft spots in their games, most notably a lack of explosiveness after the catch from Brown and occasional lapses in focus from Devin Smith that led to some easy drops. And there also wasn't much depth to speak of behind them, with only four players cracking double-digits in receptions as the offense skewed heavily toward the rush.

The receivers are intent on changing that this year. And aside from more polished play from top veterans such as Brown and Smith, the Buckeyes are getting vastly improved play on the practice field from Spencer, have skilled and developing weapons in Michael Thomas and Chris Fields waiting in the wings and a fresh handful of talented newcomers with the type of speed Meyer so covets on the edges.

Miller's talent as a rusher and a deep stable of rushers still might keep the Buckeyes from becoming a team that can perfectly balance the ratio between the run and pass. But the development of the receivers this fall can certainly help it come closer than the 2-to-1 mark it posted last season, even if the responsibility isn't all on them.

"I think it’s natural development," Zach Smith said. "A year ago, I told everyone that it was a young group that needed to grow up and develop and get better, and that’s something they’ve done. Fast-forward a year: They had trials, tribulations, had hard times, great successes, and they have grown and learned from mistakes to the point that now they’re able to be a mature group, able to use those learning points in the past to make sure they don’t happen again and to grow from them.

"I’m pleased with the growth from the last year, and now we’ve got to keep going. ... The next step we have to take is the consistent domination as a group. When we take that step, I’ll be really pleased."

And if they do make it, the receivers can share some of the glory the same way they have the blame.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On the day he signed to Ohio State in the spring, coaches were already fighting over who would get the first chance to work with him in their meeting room.

When he reported to campus in the summer, veteran teammates started raving about his physical skills and the impact he was already having in offseason workouts.

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Ohio State AthleticsFormer ESPN 300 recruit Dontre Wilson could make a big impact for the Buckeyes as a freshman.
And by the time training camp for the fall finally arrived and Urban Meyer got his hands on him, it took all of three practices for the Buckeyes coach to join the chorus singing the praises of freshman Dontre Wilson and his ability to instantly upgrade an offense that was plenty dangerous without him.

While the Buckeyes have occasionally tried to temper the buzz that is building exponentially with seemingly every practice, the problem with tapping the brakes on something that moves as fast as Wilson and the hype around him is that it barely slows them down at all.

“Man, I’m going to tell you, that little joker right there is quick,” junior Evan Spencer said. “You’ll see, he’s so explosive, and you never know where he’s going to go or what kind of move he’s going to make.

“He’s a real guy -- he can move.”

The Buckeyes already knew that based on the blistering times he posted on the track in high school, and more confirmation arrived when he clocked a 4.33-second time in the 40-yard dash shortly after arriving for the offseason program. They had also seen plenty of evidence of what Wilson could do in pads as he racked up more than 4,400 all-purpose yards and 81 touchdowns at DeSoto High School, testing himself against some of the toughest competition in the country in Texas.

But if Ohio State coaches needed to find out first-hand if that natural athleticism and a versatile set of skills that makes him dangerous as both a rusher and receiver was going to transition smoothly enough to contribute to the nation’s second-ranked team, Wilson didn’t make them wait long to decide.

In one 7-on-7 session during the first week of camp, Wilson grabbed three touchdown catches in short succession with each of them showing off a different aspect of his game. There was a double move that highlighted his acceleration and ability to change direction. He used pure speed to get behind the secondary for another, and later turned a simple out route into a score by cutting up field and darting between two oncoming tacklers on the way to the end zone.

The practice performance and the glowing reviews from teammates and coaches alike have only added to the anticipation for Wilson’s debut against Buffalo on Aug. 31. But if it’s increased the pressure on him, he is certainly hiding it well.

“I’m aware of it, but I don’t really pay it any attention,” Wilson said. “I just come here and play football and do what I love.

“I mean, I’m handling it. ... I think I’ve done pretty good, just have to live up to high expectations because of the way I was recruited and all the hype. I think I’m doing pretty good so far.”

It is still early in camp, there’s still plenty of room to grow for any freshman at this stage and Wilson still hasn’t even played a game yet to allow for a true evaluation of how much he might help as the Buckeyes try to make a push for a national title.

There’s also some uncertainty about where exactly Wilson will fit in the lineup and how often as he splits time with the running backs and receivers, learning responsibilities as both a rusher and an option at the H-back position that Percy Harvin made famous under Meyer at Florida.

Comparing Wilson to perhaps the most dangerous hybrid weapon he’s had, though, is at least one area where Meyer is quick to bring the conversation to a complete stop. But short of that, the Buckeyes are full-steam ahead with their new toy.

“He’s got something that we didn’t have, and that’s just electric speed,” Meyer said. “He also has a unique skill set where he’s extremely dynamic and fast, which we all now what that means in the game of football -- especially in an offense where you try to create space.

“He goes hard. We just have to point him in the right direction now.”

Based on the seasons leading up to it, the Buckeyes are clearly setting the course for something big with Wilson for the winter.

Position preview: Wide receivers

August, 6, 2013
Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp starts to heat up and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.


[+] EnlargeDevin Smith, Isaiah Lewis
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDevin Smith looks to get help from some newcomers this fall.
Top of the depth chart: Philly Brown and Devin Smith on the perimeter with Chris Fields in the slot

Next in line: Michael Thomas might not have been able to crack the starting lineup with another impressive spring camp, but the sophomore is certainly knocking loudly on the door thanks to a complete package of size, willingness to take on contact, speed and an ability to make difficult grabs with his strong hands. Evan Spencer has also shown flashes of productivity, and he could be a nice addition to the rotation if Ohio State needs to throw another body in the mix.

New faces: The lack of depth at receiver was no secret, and Urban Meyer and his staff attacked that potential weakness on national signing day by loading up at the position and landing some of the fastest targets on their board to beef up the passing attack. Depending on how smooth the transition is for Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and James Clark, the Buckeyes may have instantly turned a spot that could have been easily tripped up by a couple injuries into a group capable of moving on without missing a beat.

Recruiting trail: Brown could find himself in elite company if he leads the team in receptions for the third straight season as expected. But he’ll have to be replaced in the offseason, and while there are already candidates to fill that void on campus, the Buckeyes are chasing recruits at receiver with the same urgency they did a year ago to make sure the pipeline is full. Four-star commits Lonnie Johnson (Gary, Ind./West Side) and Terry McLaurin (Indianapolis/Cathedral) are already in the fold, and both bring the type of game-breaking speed Meyer so covets on the perimeter.

Flexibility: The Buckeyes are much more capable of spreading the ball around in the passing game this season, and neither Meyer nor offensive coordinator Tom Herman are shy about using every weapon available to them. That should take some of the pressure off Brown, but he and Devin Smith will still be the top attractions and favorite targets for Braxton Miller after another season of absorbing the playbook and developing physically. Brown, in particular, should benefit from his improved ability to make something happen after the catch, which figures to significantly improve his yardage total as a senior.

Notable numbers:

-- Brown certainly isn’t likely to match his 46-catch improvement from his sophomore year to his breakout junior campaign, but he does have room to build on his yardage. Criticized early last season by Meyer for not making defenders miss any tackles, Brown steadily improved but still finished the season averaging 11.1 yards per reception -- and boosting that was a top priority in the spring.

-- Devin Smith has proven he can strike from just about anywhere, but perhaps more important for the Buckeyes, he’s also been able to do it when the team needs him to deliver most. On his 10 touchdown grabs through two seasons, Smith has averaged a robust 39.3 yards on his scores -- and three of them have gone down as game-winners.

-- Devin Smith and Brown combined for 90 receptions last season, and while the Buckeyes might take that total again from the starters without much complaint, they’d definitely prefer it to account for a smaller percentage of the overall production. In all, the tandem made 56 percent of the receptions for the offense and only one other returning player finished with double-digit catches last year with Spencer’s 12.

Big question: How much help can the newcomers provide?

The Buckeyes can be reasonably certain they know what they’re getting out of Smith and Brown. They have plenty of optimism for the improvements Miller has made as a passer, and they also are confident in the combination at tight end with Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett capable of expanding the game plan through the air. But Ohio State could use at least one and probably two targets who either haven’t had a chance to shine yet or weren’t on campus a year ago to add some diversity, depth and danger to the WR unit. Thomas is a likely option moving into his sophomore campaign, but the three newcomers will also be watched closely this month to see if they’ll be able to jump right in that mix or if the Buckeyes will have to continue to lean heavily on the veterans.


Did Ohio State Cheap Out On Championship Rings?
ESPN sports business reporter Darren Rovell discusses Ohio State's decision to spend less than the maximum allowed on rings for its players.