Ohio State Buckeyes: Michigan Wolverines


The new College Football Playoff is supposed to encourage schools to schedule better nonconference games, as teams try to beef up their schedule strength to earn one of the playoff’s coveted four spots at season’s end.

On Thursday, Texas A&M and UCLA announced that they’ll play each other during the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

Other schools have announced future marquee nonconference opponents, including Texas A&M vs. USC, Notre Dame vs. Texas, Alabama vs. Michigan State and LSU vs. Oklahoma.

Here are five other nonconference games I’d like to see in the future:

[+] EnlargeNick Saban, Urban Meyer
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer and Nick Saban have faced off for SEC titles, but their current teams, Ohio State and Alabama, have played only three times in history.
1. Alabama vs. Ohio State: Alabama’s Nick Saban and OSU’s Urban Meyer dominated the SEC when Meyer was coaching at Florida, combining to win five BCS national championships from 2006 to 2012.

When Meyer was still coaching at Florida, the Crimson Tide and Gators played in two of the most anticipated SEC championship games. The No. 2 Gators beat the No. 1 Tide 31-20 in 2008, and then the Tide turned the tables on No. 1 UF with a 32-13 win in 2009.

Alabama and Ohio State have played only three times in history, with the Tide winning each time, most recently in a 24-17 victory in the 1995 Citrus Bowl.

2. Texas vs. Texas A&M: Perhaps the biggest casualty in conference realignment, Texas and Texas A&M haven’t played each other since the Aggies bolted the Big 12 for the SEC after the 2011 season. Sadly, there are no plans for the in-state rivals to play again in future regular seasons.

The Aggies and Longhorns played each other 118 times from 1894 to 2011, with their annual meeting traditionally being played on Thanksgiving Day. UT won nearly twice as many games as the Aggies (76-37-5), including nine of the last 12 meetings.

With former Louisville coach Charlie Strong taking over at Texas, and Kevin Sumlin building the Aggies into an SEC powerhouse, the game would also pit two of the sport’s best African-American coaches against each other.

3. Oregon vs. Baylor: Two of the game’s most explosive offenses -- and two of its best-dressed teams -- would undoubtedly light up the scoreboard if they ever played. In fact, the contest would probably look more like a track meet.

Under coach Art Briles, the Bears have become the Ducks of the Southwest, with their hurry-up, spread offense and myriad flashy uniforms closely resembling what Chip Kelly and then Mark Helfrich built at Oregon. The Bears and Ducks follow the same blueprint on offense: play fast and score fast.

We hoped to see this matchup in the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl last season, but alas, it didn’t happen. Oregon and Baylor have never met on the gridiron.

4. Michigan vs. USC: Two of the sport’s traditional heavyweights have faced each other eight times in the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Vizio, but only twice during the regular season -- in 1957 and 1958.

The Trojans won the last three meetings in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 in 2007, 28-14 in 2004 and 17-10 in 1990. USC has won six of the past seven meetings overall and holds a 6-4 advantage all-time.

We might have seen this matchup during the regular season if a Big Ten/Pac-12 scheduling partnership hadn’t fallen apart in 2012.

5. Georgia vs. Florida State: UGA coach Mark Richt was a longtime assistant under legendary FSU coach Bobby Bowden before taking over the Bulldogs, and he recently poached defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt off the Seminoles’ staff.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles go head-to-head for a lot of recruits every year, and Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher upgraded his roster by effectively recruiting South Georgia and Atlanta.

The Bulldogs and Seminoles have played 11 times and only once since 1984 -- UGA defeated FSU 26-13 in the 2003 Sugar Bowl. Georgia leads the all-time series, 6-4-1.

Big Ten lunchtime links

December, 19, 2013
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Six shopping days left.
The latest version of the ESPN class rankings is out, and there are seven Big Ten teams within the top 40 classes.

With movement happening across the board, there are trends and stories developing, so Big Ten recruiting writers Tom VanHaaren and Brad Bournival give you a look at what to watch within the conference:

Trending up
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry has a ton of individual moments which stick out in the memories of fans, be it individual performances or games or sometimes even the hoopla surrounding it.

Considering this rivalry is among the biggest, longest and best in sports, there is an overflow of Michigan-Ohio State moments to pick from when it comes to selecting the five most memorable, from a Michigan perspective.

Here’s one man’s look at five signature moments in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.

1. Michigan upsets Ohio State in 1969: The game which turned the rivalry from just another rivalry into one of the most celebrated rivalries regardless of sport in the nation. First-year head coach Bo Schembechler and Michigan upset Ohio State, 24-12, snapping a 22-game winning streak for the Buckeyes. The win sparked the “Ten-Year War” between Michigan and Ohio State and its legendary coaches, Schembechler and Woody Hayes. At the time it was considered among the biggest upsets in college football history.

[+] EnlargeTim Biakabutuka
AP Photo/Tom PidgeonMichigan running back Tim Biakabutuka high steps past an Ohio State defender to gain some of his career-high 313 yards.
2. Tim Biakabutuka, 1995: Perhaps the single-most impressive individual performance from a Michigan player in the history of the rivalry. While Biakabutuka only scored once in a 31-23 win over then-No. 2 Ohio State, ruining the Buckeyes’ national title hopes, he gained 313 yards, slashing through the entirety of the OSU defense. It was the second-best single-game rushing performance in Michigan history and one of two 300-plus yard rushing games in school history.

3. Snow Bowl, 1950: Like most seasons, the Big Ten title was on the line when these teams played in what the Ohio State library website quotes the Ohio State University Monthly as a “full-scale blizzard.” Michigan won, 9-3, in a game where Wolverines punter Chuck Ortmann punted 24 times. The game’s only touchdown, according to the OSU library site, came after a blocked Ohio State punt in the end zone was recovered by Michigan.

4. Punt returns. So many punt returns: Stop in the end zone. Look around. Pose. When Desmond Howard finished off a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown in 1991, he struck the iconic Heisman pose still replayed more than 20 years later. The return -- and the pose against Ohio State -- helped cinch his Heisman Trophy. Six seasons later, with another potential statue there for the taking, Charles Woodson caught a punt of his own and returned it 78 yards for a touchdown to help Michigan knock off the Buckeyes. Woodson didn’t pose after his return, but the win pushed Michigan to the Rose Bowl and eventual national championship. Oh, and for Woodson, the first and only primarily defensive player to win the Heisman.

5. The day after Bo Schembechler’s death: The day before the biggest game in the history of this rivalry, one of its biggest icons collapsed and died of a heart attack. Bo Schembechler, the architect of a lot of what has turned into the Michigan football of today, had passed away. The last 24 hours of his life included a funeral for a former player, speaking to the 2006 Michigan team and a dinner with old friends. While Michigan lost the next day in Columbus, it turned what would usually have been one of the more intense atmospheres of the year into a somber remembrance. Ohio State honored Schembechler, a former assistant, before the game. His death also transformed Michigan’s program for a handful of years until Brady Hoke’s hire in 2011.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Nothing really says as much about a rivalry as a good villain. Every narrative, whether someone wants to admit it or not, has one. There’s a white hat, a black hat, all of those cliched things.

With Michigan and Ohio State, there is plenty to go around.

Here’s a look at the top five Michigan villains for the Buckeyes, most of whom had a hand in critical wins in the last game of the regular season.

1. Bo Schembechler, Coach: Much like Woody Hayes on the Ohio State side (and maybe Jim Tressel) there is no surprise Schembechler is tops on this list. Heck, a band made up of Ohio State fans even called themselves the Dead Schembechlers. Bo vs. Woody still ranks among the best coaching rivalries in the history of sports. Schembechler finished 11-9-1 against his biggest rival and a 5-4-1 record against Hayes. Oh, and if there were any questions about this, Schembechler’s win over Ohio State in 1969 ignited the “Ten-Year War,” which elevated this rivalry to among the best in all of sports.

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
Mike Powell/Allsport Michigan quarterback and Ann Arbor native Jim Harbaugh guaranteed a win over Ohio State in 1986 and delivered.
2. Jim Harbaugh, QB: You make a guarantee that you will beat your rival, you'd better back it up. When Harbaugh, who grew up in Ann Arbor, said Michigan would beat Ohio State, he permanently placed himself in the history of this rivalry. The Monday before The Game in 1986, Harbaugh said “I guarantee we will beat Ohio State and go to Pasadena.” Michigan’s response -- they had to do it. Harbaugh did, leading the Wolverines to a 26-24 win at Ohio State that Saturday, sending his team to the Rose Bowl.

3. Charles Woodson, DB: Where to start? Woodson talked trash with Ohio State receiver David Boston prior to the 1997 contest, then went out and clinched the Heisman Trophy with a 37-yard touchdown reception, a 78-yard punt return touchdown and an interception. This on top of his 1995 performance as a freshman, where in the Tim Biakabutuka game he intercepted two passes to knock off the undefeated Buckeyes. Being from Fremont, Ohio, only makes it more difficult to deal with.

4. Tom Harmon, HB: Harmon wasn’t really even a villain in this rivalry except that he was just so much better than the rest of his peers at the time. According to the Heisman Trophy website, Harmon completed 11 of 12 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns along with 139 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the final game of his college career and against Ohio State. He also intercepted three passes and kicked four extra points in the game. Harmon won the Heisman after the season. Why wasn’t he a bigger villain? Consider this: After the performance, the Michigan Alumnus magazine (on the Bentley Historical Library website) said the crowd at Ohio State gave Harmon a “thundering ovation.” Chances are, that doesn’t happen today.

5. Barry Pierson, DB: In the game which really launched the rivalry -- that 1969 one -- Pierson intercepted Ohio State three times. He also had a massive special teams play, returning an Ohio State punt 60 yards to set up a Michigan touchdown. While that entire 1969 team could probably be on that list, Pierson statistically made a major impact that day.

Bonus selection: Drew Henson, QB: Henson is on this list for a couple of reasons. He was the last Michigan quarterback to beat Ohio State in Columbus in 2000. While that alone might not be enough to be on this list, consider this: When he left Michigan to pursue baseball following that season, he was assigned to be the third basemen for ... the Columbus Clippers. It did not go well. Henson was booed over and over again despite playing for the hometown team and the Triple-A affiliate of the Yankees. All because he played for Michigan and beat Ohio State.
After looking at my team in our All-Time Draft and seeing some obvious holes -- defense? running back? -- I immediately tried to rectify my decision by heading over to Ohio State to try and pilfer one of their players from one of their all-time rosters.

[+] EnlargeA.J. Hawk
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesFormer Ohio State linebacker A.J.Hawk is an instinctive playmaker who would bolster any defensive lineup.
While the obvious choice for a steal would be two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, I feel decent enough about my running back/flex combination of Butch Woolfolk and Denard Robinson that I can try to bolster my defense. So the guy I would try to steal is linebacker A.J. Hawk.

Hawk might not have been the best linebacker in Ohio State history -- that was Chris Spielman -- but the former first-team All-American and 2005 Lombardi Award winner would fit well in the defensive scheme my coaches would devise. And the hair. You have to appreciate the hair.

In all seriousness, though, having covered Hawk during the 2006 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, when he played against his future brother-in-law Brady Quinn and Notre Dame, I saw first-hand what Hawk was able to do to an opposing offense. He sacked Quinn twice that day and changed much of what Notre Dame had tried to do.

His 394 tackles are fifth in school history, and his 41 tackles for loss are eighth. His 15 sacks are 13th. He led Ohio State in tackles for three consecutive years.

The final piece is that Hawk is a high-character guy. He is an intelligent playmaker with good instincts and can make plays from sideline-to-sideline. He would be the one player from Ohio State I’d steal.
SabanAP Photo/Chris O'MearaNick Saban is a major reason the SEC has hoisted the crystal football for seven years in a row.
So you think your team has a chance to reach the national championship game this season. You think this could be the year.

Hold up a second.

While there are always questions of timing and scheduling and the human element to winning college football games and reaching the national championship, there are some surprising similarities between teams that have been able to lift a crystal football at the end of the season and those who have come close.

Some, like talent, coaching and, at least for the past seven years, residing in the SEC, are obvious. But what about what takes place on the field?

Since 2006, when the Southeastern Conference began dominating college football, there have been specific criteria which have fit all of the champions plus three other teams (Florida in 2009, Penn State in 2008 and Ohio State in 2006), all of whom reached the Bowl Championship Series.

The criteria would have even been more streamlined, except Auburn’s defense in 2010 was a statistical tire fire and Florida found a bunch of ways to not score or rush too well in 2006. Had they been better in those areas, almost every statistical category measured by the NCAA would have had a strong baseline ranking for a champion.

While this isn’t foolproof -- again, see Auburn and Florida -- the following criteria could give you an idea as the season goes along how much of a chance your school really has at winning it all.

Rank 38th or better in rushing offense: Every national champion averaged more than 160 yards rushing during its national championship season and all save that 2006 Florida team gained more than 214.4 yards a game on the ground and ranked in the top 16.

Rank 23rd or better in scoring offense: National champions have been able to score a lot, which is even more impressive considering every national title winner since the 2006 season has been in the defense-oriented SEC. Every title team averaged at least 29.7 points a game and only 2006 Florida was under 32 points.

Rank 37th or better in passing efficiency: The national title winners have all been in the upper third when it comes to passing the ball -- again, a mild surprise considering the level of defenses in the SEC. Every national champion had a passer efficiency rating of 133.61 or better and was ranked 37th or better.

[+] EnlargeAlabama defense
AP Photo/Bill HaberThe past seven national champs have been particularly adept at stopping the run.
Have a top 15 run defense: For all the prior criticism of Auburn’s defense in 2010, the Tigers actually fared well here, ranking ninth in rushing defense that season. They did give up the most yards per game of any of the national champions, though, with 109.07. All, too, were ranked in the Top 15. Interestingly, Alabama has been the top rushing defense in the country the past two seasons when it won national titles. Of the seven national champions, four held opponents under 80 yards rushing a game.

Rank in the top 40 in sacks (but don’t rank too high): Surprisingly, none of the national title winners was in the top 10 in sacks, either, but all landed in the Top 40, somewhere between 2.29 and 2.64 sacks a game and somewhere between No. 24 and No. 40. So putting some pressure on an opponent’s quarterbacks -- but not too much? -- should be at a premium when it comes to fielding a title contender.

Have at least one player selected in the first round of the NFL draft following the national title game: This, actually, should not be much of a surprise considering the national champion should have at least some NFL-caliber talent on it to survive the season. Defending national champion Alabama did a good job of this in this past draft with three players in the top 11. The total first-rounders for the Crimson Tide actually dropped from the 2012 draft, which saw four players taken from the school. Every title winner, though, has had at least one the following April.

Have a player score at least 10 touchdowns rushing and/or receiving: Again, this seems like a no-brainer, especially considering how many points a game the national champion teams are averaging. But it also shows if a team spreads it around too much, there might not be that gamebreaker type of player to get a team a score when it was absolutely necessary.

Did not lose a non-conference game in the regular season: Again, not a stunner here. The national champions over the past seven years which have lost games have all lost them within the confines of the SEC. This, though, actually blows up the theory that losing early is better than losing late when it comes to the national polls and winning a national championship considering most non-conference games are played in September and early October. So as you get ready to dig in to conference play, know if your team dropped a game, it could be in real trouble to win a title. And/or if it has a difficult non-conference game (see Georgia vs. Clemson in August and Michigan vs. Notre Dame in September), that game might loom even larger.

OT Damian Prince slims down, speeds up 

April, 23, 2013
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ASHBURN, Va. -- At an event that featured three of the top 11 defensive prospects in the ESPN 150, third-rated offensive tackle Damian Prince of Forestville (Md.) Bishop McNamara impressed every bit as much as any of them Sunday at the Nike Football Training Camp outside of Washington, D.C.

Prince showed off a slimmed down frame -- he’s lost more than 30 pounds, he said, to reach about 285 -- and dominated in blocking drills against a stout group of defensive linemen.

Prince, No. 33 in the ESPN 150, put himself in position to rise over the upcoming months.

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McGraw, Wilson look near and far 

April, 15, 2013
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Two prospects with scholarship offers from Southeastern Conference power programs said they’re following through with plans to look hard at schools in other parts of the country.

Safety Mattrell McGraw (River Ridge, La./John Curtis) and outside linebacker Petera Wilson (Memphis, Tenn./White Station) hold offers from Alabama, Ole Miss and Tennessee. Wilson has also been offered by Florida, Georgia, LSU and Mississippi State; McGraw by Arkansas and Vanderbilt.


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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The final unbeaten dream is dead.

Ohio State killed the last one left and in the process proved that it’s suddenly alive and well as a contender again.

Limping along without a win over a ranked opponent and a little more than a week removed from an embarrassing early loss in conference play, the Buckeyes finally rediscovered the defense-first formula that has proved to work from them so many times before. And while Ohio State would have taken a momentum-building win over any ranked team in the Big Ten to help validate itself again as a national threat, there were certainly no complaints about the collateral damage a 56-53 win on Sunday at Value City Arena caused No. 2 Michigan.

A perfect start for the Wolverines is gone. Trey Burke’s player of the year candidacy hit a minor snag thanks to the relentless pressure the Buckeyes slapped on him. And with Michigan poised to jump to No. 1 in the polls after watching the other unbeaten teams fall one by one this week, it’ll likely be heading the other direction while No. 15 Ohio State reversed its slide and put itself in position to climb again.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Buckeyes point guard Aaron Craft said. “We hadn’t played our best when we played the better teams that we played this year, and I think we kind of just took a step back and tried to find a way to get a big win.

“Any time you can do it against a team like Michigan or in this league [is big], and you just can’t lose at home. That’s something that you really harp on if you want to be there at the end of the season, to try to win a Big Ten championship.”

The Buckeyes checked off everything on that to-do list one by one, almost as soon as the ball was tipped.

There was no shortage of passion on the court or in the sellout crowd, and Ohio State turned that energy into a huge 16-0 run that put a young Michigan team on its heels just seven minutes into the game.

The Buckeyes also tirelessly defended their home court, harassing Burke with lockdown defense from Craft that forced Michigan’s leading scorer to take 14 shots to get his 15 points while turning the ball over four times.

And the message that it was going to take a return to a tougher brand of basketball after losses at Duke, last month at home against Kansas and in an ugly trip to Illinois was clearly delivered, putting the Buckeyes right back in the mix in the rugged Big Ten.

“Our coaches, everybody, we were disappointed in our effort [at Illinois],” senior Evan Ravenel said. “We just told the team, if we come out here like that, we’re going to get beat up and beat every game in this league.

“We know what kind of team we have and know how we’ve got to play, we’ve got to play physical, grind it out, play strong defensively and we’ve got to have a good mind to win games. That’s what we did today.”

The Buckeyes didn’t exactly do it for the entire 40 minutes, struggling through a lengthy dry spell as the Wolverines dialed up the defensive pressure themselves to completely erase a lead that had been as large as 21 points to tie the game late in the second half.

But just as Ohio State had tightened the screws defensively in jumping out in front of its rival, it put itself back in control by making it difficult for Burke to get open looks -- or anybody else, for that matter, as the Big Ten’s best shooting team connected on just 38 percent of its attempts from the floor to watch its perfect start go up in flames.

“[Ohio State coach Thad Matta’s] teams have always been this way, but this one really, the perimeter defense in particular, is exceptional,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “Thad is a great defensive coach and they’ve got great defenders, and that combination is very good.

“Craft is as good as there is, as good as I’ve ever seen. He’s tremendous, he’s going to be good and you just have to applaud that and say, ‘OK, we’ve got to continue to get better, because they’re going to continue to get better.’”

The Buckeyes have some proof of improvement now.

And while the work is far from over with so much basketball left ahead of Ohio State in the Big Ten, it made sure there would be no need for a second crack at ending a rival's perfect season -- or another chance to claim its first signature victory.
The "Inside the Game" position preview series concludes with a look at the Michigan and Ohio State secondaries.

Like many of the other position groups discussed by Austin Ward of BuckeyeNation and Michael Rothstein of WolverineNation, a peek into the secondaries of Michigan and Ohio State reveals a lot of similarities between the schools.


Ohio State
Ward:
No infusion of new talent is necessary for Ohio State.

All the Buckeyes need is a deep pool of veteran defensive backs to take another step forward, and throwing the ball against them could be one of the tougher challenges in the Big Ten.

Bradley Roby is shaping up as an emerging star at cornerback, and while Travis Howard and Doran Grant could battle for the right to start opposite him, the Buckeyes figure to be fine with either of them or backup Adam Griffin on the field.

C.J. Barnett might be poised to breakout as well at safety, though there’s plenty of experienced depth alongside him at the back of the defense. A pair of juniors in Christian Bryant and Corey Brown and senior Orhian Johnson provide plenty of options for defensive backs coach Everett Withers, who brings a proven track record of creating turnovers with him to Ohio State.

The Buckeyes picked off 13 passes last season, with Johnson and Roby tied for the team lead with three apiece. But both of those numbers will have to improve for Withers to be happy at the end of the season, and there is more than enough know-how and ability to make that happen.

Rothstein: What once was a group of players thought to have little talent and no experience has turned into this: the best unit on Michigan’s entire roster.

A few holdovers from the disastrous 2009 and 2010 seasons for the Michigan secondary remain on the roster in key positions, including starting cornerback J.T. Floyd and safety Jordan Kovacs, both of whom were thrown into unenviable positions as young players in a 3-3-5 defense few inside the Michigan program were familiar with.

But they learned and went from questionable players to two of the more reliable players anywhere on the Michigan roster. Joining them in the likely starting defensive backfield are safety Thomas Gordon and sophomore cornerback Blake Countess.

All four started at least half of Michigan’s games a season ago.

The four are just the front line of an incredibly deep secondary with both experience -- nickel back Courtney Avery -- and a youthful push, including highly touted freshman safety Jarrod Wilson and sophomore cornerback Delonte Hollowell, who stood out on special teams as a freshman.

There could be trouble if Kovacs were to be injured, but otherwise this is Michigan’s most dependable position group.
The "Inside the Game" position preview series continues with the crux of any defense -- and long a position with a lot of lineage at both Michigan and Ohio State: Linebackers.

BuckeyeNation’s Austin Ward and WolverineNation’s Michael Rothstein take a look at the men in the middle of both defenses.


Michigan
Rothstein:
Michigan’s linebackers can rejoice. For the first time since any of them has been a Wolverine, they will play in essentially the same defensive scheme with the same defensive coordinator for the second season in a row.

And if you think that doesn’t make a difference, you’re kidding yourself. Even defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said as much, that having the players learning the same system for the second year allows for a faster refresher course along with more advanced teaching. And for the linebackers more than any other defensive position group, this is critical.

Michigan has the bulk of its main playmakers at the position back, including fifth-year senior Kenny Demens in the middle along with sophomores Desmond Morgan and Jake Ryan on the outside.

Demens is Michigan’s leading returning tackler with 94 last season, including three sacks. Morgan, as a freshman, was fifth in tackles with 63. At linebacker, that kind of production is expected.

That starting group, though, will be pushed. Junior Cam Gordon is fighting with Ryan for time, as is senior Brandin Hawthorne behind Morgan. Also involved are a gaggle of talented freshmen, including James Ross III, Royce Jenkins-Stone, Kaleb Ringer and Joe Bolden, who enrolled last spring and could see a lot of time his freshman season.

Still, though, it is a young group with a lot of room to grow and likely won’t see its true potential for another season or two.

Ohio State
Ward:
There may not be a linebacker with the name recognition of the Ohio State legends that have come before them.

By its own admission, the current group of Buckeyes didn’t live up to the expectations established by those predecessors.

But even without a Hawk or Laurinaitis this fall, the middle of the defense should be much improved even if there isn’t any established star on the roster during training camp.

Perhaps by the time the Buckeyes take on their rivals at the end of the season, though, sophomores Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant could make themselves a lot more familiar to folks around the Big Ten. Shazier in particular began building some buzz for himself during a three-game tackling barrage when he was inserted into the starting lineup due to injury last season and responded with 30 takedowns.

Now Shazier appears to have a more permanent spot in the rotation, and along with Grant and senior Etienne Sabino they should give defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell a solid foundation to start with. While there isn’t much experience in reserve to work with right now, the Buckeyes loaded up with five talented signees in February who will ultimately be charged with restoring the program’s proud defensive tradition.

There probably won’t be as much pressure to do it right away with arguably the best line in the nation in front and a skilled, veteran secondary behind them. But they should be able to get things back on track either way.
Our "Inside the Game" positional previews with WolverineNation's Michael Rothstein and BuckeyeNation's Austin Ward continue in the trenches.

Ward and Rothstein discuss the contrast in the defensive lines. The Buckeyes could go as far as nine deep and believe they are among the nation's best units, while the Wolverines lost three-fourths of their top-notch line from a year ago, have another player on indefinite suspension and are unsettled at best.


Ohio State
Ward:
The expectation up front for Ohio State is not just to be better than its rivals.

It’s not even to be the best in the conference.

The Buckeyes are going into this season with the goal of establishing themselves as the deepest and most talented group in the nation, and they certainly have a shot at building their case.

It helps to start at the top with the return of tireless, tenacious end John Simon and the emergence of Johnathan Hankins next to him as a force at defensive tackle, but there’s plenty more ammunition than that.

Garrett Goebel and Adam Bellamy round out the projected first unit, and even though he’s listed behind Hankins, Michael Bennett could be too disruptive in the middle to keep on the sideline. When Nathan Williams receives full clearance from his knee surgery, he could provide another scary weapon on the edge for a team that could conceivably roll through nine guys without a substantial drop-off.

On top of that, there’s a talented trio of newcomers who will fight to either be included or expand that rotation. Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Se’Von Pittman gave Ohio State a recruiting haul in February that would make any program envious. And it figures to set up the Buckeyes not just for a good run in the trenches this fall, but also into the next few seasons.

Michigan
Rothstein:
On a team filled with current or former defensive line coaches -- besides Jerry Montgomery both head coach Brady Hoke and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison came up as defensive line coaches before assuming loftier titles -- there is a lack of a lot of things with their former pet position.

Experience, for one, is lacking as the line will boast three new starters and the one returning starter, senior Craig Roh, is adjusting to added weight and a new position as a strongside defensive end.

Depth is another issue, as the Wolverines could see multiple freshmen push for time on the line behind some of the inexperienced starters.

Will Campbell and Jibreel Black are the likely starters on the interior of the line, with Campbell being three years of promise without production and Black adding weight and learning to play inside after being converted from defensive end. At rush end, sophomore Brennen Beyer slides in as the likely starter after Frank Clark’s indefinite suspension due to legal issues.

Behind them are talented freshmen in Ondre Pipkins, Tom Strobel, Chris Wormley and Matt Godin -- all of whom could push for time. Nathan Brink provides some veteran stability at end and tackle, but the walk-on doesn’t have a ton of experience.

It’s a position full of questions at a spot where the Wolverines can’t really have them, as much of what Mattison likes to do on defense comes from the expectation of a defensive line getting pressure on a quarterback.
Our "Inside the Game" positional previews with WolverineNation's Michael Rothstein and BuckeyeNation's Austin Ward continue with the men who hardly accumulate any statistics at all -- the offensive line.

Ward and Rothstein discuss the contrast in the lines -- the Buckeyes with a lot of new players and the Wolverines with some experience.

Ohio State
Ward: Most of the faces are going to be new after losing three starters.

The schemes figure to be significantly different with a new offense and position coach.

That might make it hard to gauge how productive Ohio State can be up front heading into training camp, and it could even take a few games to figure out how smooth the transition will be this fall.

But the Buckeyes will enter practice with a reasonably good idea who will open the season with the first unit after Jack Mewhort impressed at left tackle in the spring, Corey Linsley jumped up to grab a job at center and Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell settled in at the guard spots.

A battle between Reid Fragel and Taylor Decker will pick up again this month for the gig at right tackle, and after that the Buckeyes figure to be closely monitoring a few newcomers as they work to build depth.

Joey O’Conner and Pat Elflein boast four-star pedigrees, Kyle Dodson could conceivably work his way into the mix at tackle and Jacoby Boren turned heads after enrolling early and claiming a backup job during the spring. All of them have at least minor injury concerns heading into the fall, though if all are healthy and ready to contribute, they provide another reason why the Buckeyes could look much stouter in the trenches in a month or two than they might now.

Michigan
Rothstein: The leadership in the middle is gone and that is not to be taken lightly, but otherwise, Michigan returns much of its offensive line from a season ago.

The Wolverines’ biggest questions revolve on the interior of the line, where fifth-year senior Ricky Barnum will have to replace David Molk, last season’s Rimington Award winner, and some combination of walk-on Joey Burzynski, fifth-year senior Elliott Mealer, redshirt freshman Chris Bryant and freshman Kyle Kalis will vie for the left guard slot previously held by Michigan’s new right tackle, Michael Schofield.

It is a unit, though, that has experience. Schofield started most of last season at left guard and has next-level potential. Taylor Lewan, a potential NFL first-round draft pick, is in third year as a starter at left tackle, and fifth-year senior Patrick Omameh will start his third season at right guard.

Lewan and Omameh will be looked to as the leaders of the line, having held offensive line camps for the younger players during voluntary workouts in the summer to help teach them various plays Michigan runs as well as different blocking schemes the Wolverines use.

So much of line play, though, depends on chemistry and continuity. Much of that will fall to Lewan, who has often said he plans on taking more of a leadership role this season.

Michigan’s biggest issue comes in who will back up the starters. The Wolverines appear to have options at guard with the losers of the left guard battle filling in at both spots. At center, Michigan has only redshirt freshman Jack Miller behind Barnum, and the Florida native has a history of injuries.

At tackle, there is not much depth and Michigan could have to look to incoming freshmen should Schofield or Lewan go down, which would be a tricky proposition on a team very dependent on its running game.
The Inside The Game Ohio State-Michigan positional previews with BuckeyeNation’s Austin Ward and WolverineNation’s Michael Rothstein continue today with a look at perhaps the biggest question marks on the offense for both schools.

The wide receivers and tight ends.

Ohio State
Ward: Urban Meyer didn’t sugarcoat his assessments in the spring, and those words have surely been ringing in the ears of the targets in the passing game all summer.

Maybe the new Ohio State coach was simply trying to send a message to the receivers about how important they are in the spread offense. Perhaps Meyer is truly concerned about the talent he’s inherited at those skill positions -- or maybe it’s a combination of the two.

Regardless, after posting some of the worst receiving numbers in the country last season, the Buckeyes are counting on more from the passing game and the group already on campus is going to be responsible for the improvement.

Devin Smith and Evan Spencer both have the ability to produce on the perimeter, and Corey “Philly” Brown has emerged as a viable candidate in the hybrid pivot position thanks to his speed and elusiveness. All of them earned a starting spot coming out of spring practice, but the player that perhaps excited the most for the Buckeyes during camp was Michael Thomas. The true freshman pulled down 12 catches in the spring game -- only two fewer than the highest total anybody posted for the entire 2011 season.

But the guy who might really help the offense and quarterback Braxton Miller take off is tight end Jake Stoneburner, an invaluable security blanket with a knack for turning his catches into points. Of the senior’s 14 catches last season, half of them went for touchdowns.

Michigan
Rothstein: The biggest question for Michigan this season, offensively or defensively, is who is going to catch the ball consistently for the Wolverines. The coaches have preached having confidence in fifth-year senior Roy Roundtree and junior Jeremy Gallon, but neither has the size the graduated Junior Hemingway did.

Both have had productive seasons in the past -- Roundtree caught 72 passes for 935 yards as a sophomore in 2011 and Gallon had 31 catches for 453 yards last season -- but neither has shown great consistency.

Otherwise, Michigan is staring at a bunch of unknowns. Receivers Drew Dileo, Jerald Robinson and Jeremy Jackson have shown promise, but hardly ever in game situations. Incoming freshmen Amara Darboh and Jehu Chesson both have the size and speed potential offensive coordinator Al Borges desires, but no experience.

Tight end, where Kevin Koger was a reliable option the past three seasons, is an even bigger question. The tight ends on the roster combine for two career catches, 28 yards and even less experience.

Fifth-year senior Brandon Moore -- once a highly-touted recruit -- is the likely starter here but otherwise the Wolverines are looking at two freshmen, Devin Funchess and A.J. Williams, and a fifth-year senior walk-on, Mike Kwiatkowski, to fill the role.

As good as Michigan’s run game may be, its receivers and tight ends could stall the offense unless they are able to identify consistent producers.

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