Ohio State Buckeyes: mike vrabel

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Ohio State way has been almost all Luke Fickell has ever known, and for years, there wasn’t much reason to branch out and try another approach.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer, Luke Fickell
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsLuke Fickell's 2013 Ohio State defense didn't live up to the standards Urban Meyer wants in Columbus.
As a former player, the current defensive coordinator played a role in maintaining the proud tradition of the program, so he understood the demands of representing the Buckeyes. For more than a decade, he’s passed on the gospel of the Silver Bullets on to the coaching staff, surrounded by familiar faces who knew the system just as well as he did and had been a part of many wins together.

And when the results are positive, there might be little incentive to figure out what made Wisconsin so effective in bottling up passing attacks under Chris Ash or how Penn State was churning out NFL prospects on the defensive line under Larry Johnson. But when things go wrong, that comfort with the way things have always been done can become dangerous complacency for somebody unwilling to change. That said, Fickell is embracing some fresh approaches if they can help get Ohio State's defense back to an elite level.

“It’s been a great transition, to be honest with you,” Fickell said earlier this month after the second practice of spring camp working with the new-look staff. “I know we haven’t had the real stressers and the reality of a season, but I tell you, we’ve battled through a lot of things in the last month or so and it’s been a great growing experience for me. I’ve always had a little bit of a comfort level here with the people that I’ve known ... and that’s one of those things that Coach [Urban] Meyer likes to challenge you to do is get out of your comfort zone.

“Having some new guys has made me do that and has made me broaden the things that we do. It’s been a great growing experience.”

The Buckeyes certainly left themselves plenty of room to grow defensively after completely falling apart down the stretch last season on that side of the ball. The Buckeyes came up short in the Big Ten title game, fell out of contention for the national title and coughed up a lead in the Orange Bowl, which were all products of the late-season struggle.

Meyer didn’t fire any assistants after his team finished the season ranked 110th in the nation in passing defense and allowed 115 points over the final three games, but he was afforded the chance to shake up his staff after safeties coach Everett Withers left to take over as the head coach at James Madison and Mike Vrabel surprisingly left his alma mater for a position with the Houston Texans.

“I have a lot of confidence in the coaches that were here,” Meyer said. “Obviously we didn’t perform up to the standard. We won a lot of games, but there were some holes.

“Holes are very easy to blame players or blame coaches, so just overall, we need to freshen up our defense.”

Meyer has admitted that fresh voices were probably needed as part of that rebuilding job, and the offseason departures allowed him to bring in a couple of them in Ash and Johnson. The current plan still has Fickell retaining play-calling duties for the Buckeyes, but Ash in particular is expected to play a prominent role in reshaping the pass coverage -- and updating what it means to play Ohio State defense.

“The idea of sometimes bending but don’t break is not exactly the mentality that obviously Coach Meyer likes,” Fickell said. “Those are some of those things that, as we get into our third year of it, we figure out each other, and hopefully, we do a lot better job of it.

“You know, the most important thing to understand is we ask our guys to be 1 of 11. We ask them to play together, that’s why this is the greatest team sport known to man, and it’s not any different for coaches. It doesn’t matter the titles or anything like that. ... We’ll be on the same page.”

That might mean reading a slightly different textbook than the one Fickell has had for years at Ohio State, but he’s clearly open to new ideas.
Earlier today, you read about all the Big Ten coaching changes from the 2013 season. Now it's time for you to select the most damaging assistant coach departure in the league. As mentioned in the post, most of the exiting coaches did so on their own accord. For the purposes of this poll, I've listed only coaches who voluntarily left their posts.

Here are the candidates (in alphabetical order):

SportsNation

Which Big Ten assistant coach is the biggest loss for his former team?

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    16%
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    49%
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    11%
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    4%
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    20%

Discuss (Total votes: 6,910)

Thomas Hammock, running backs, Wisconsin: Hammock spent only three seasons with the Badgers but made a significant impact on the team's signature position group. In Hammock's first season on staff, Montee Ball led the nation in rushing and was a Heisman Trophy finalist. Ball won the Doak Walker Award the following year, and last fall Melvin Gordon and James White set the NCAA record for rushing yards by a pair of teammates (3,053). Hammock, a master at maintaining a competitive environment, oversaw 40 100-yard rushing performances in three years, the most for any team in that span. He also served as Wisconsin's recruiting coordinator. Like his predecessor, John Settle, Hammock leaves Wisconsin for the NFL with the Baltimore Ravens.

Larry Johnson, defensive line, Penn State: Johnson spent the past 18 seasons at Penn State, taking over the entire defensive line in 2000. But after twice being passed over for the Lions' head-coaching position, he left for the same post at rival Ohio State. He built a reputation as an elite defensive line coach and a top regional recruiter, particularly in the Washington, D.C., area, where he spent 20 years as a high school coach. Johnson mentored seven first-team All-Americans at Penn State, including Tamba Hali, Michael Haynes, Courtney Brown and Devon Still. Six of his players won Big Ten defensive-player of-the-year or Big Ten defensive-lineman-of-the-year honors.

Terry Joseph, Nebraska, secondary: Like the other coaches on this list, Joseph excelled on the recruiting trail, helping to increase Nebraska's presence in the South and Southeast. In 2012, Joseph's first season on staff, Nebraska led the nation in opponent pass completion percentage (47.1 percent), ranked fourth in pass defense (168.2 yards allowed per game) and ninth in pass efficiency defense (105.32). He developed players such as cornerbacks Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Ciante Evans, and safety Daimion Stafford, all of whom earned all-Big Ten honors. Nebraska intercepted 27 passes in Joseph's two seasons on staff. He leaves for a the same post at Texas A&M.

Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator/tight ends/fullbacks, Indiana: Littrell oversaw a Hoosiers offense that finished ninth nationally in total yards, 16th in scoring and 17th in passing. Although head coach Kevin Wilson gets much of the credit for the offense's prowess, Indiana improved significantly in Littrell's two seasons. In 2012, the Hoosiers scored 9.4 more points and racked up 111.8 pass yards per game more than they had the previous year. Indiana in 2012 set team records for passing yardage (3,734), total offense (5,304), completions (331), attempts (540) and total plays (939), and shattered the total offense and touchdowns marks last fall. Tight end Ted Bolser blossomed under his watch. He leaves for a similar post on North Carolina's staff.

Mike Vrabel, defensive line, Ohio State: The former Buckeye star made a seamless transition from playing in the NFL to coaching in college. After working with Ohio State's linebackers during a challenging 2011 campaign, Vrabel transitioned to the defensive line, where he mentored standouts John Simon and Johnathan Hankins in 2012. Simon won Big Ten defensive-player-of-the-year honors that fall. Vrabel in 2013 inherited a group with no returning starters but helped develop players such as Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett and Noah Spence, who combined for 22.5 sacks. Vrabel made his biggest impact in recruiting, earning ESPN.com Big Ten recruiter-of-the-year honors in 2012. He returns to the NFL as Houston Texans linebackers coach.

It's voting time. You're up.
Non-Minnesota fans might have missed Friday's official announcement that Mike Sherels has been promoted to Gophers linebackers coach after serving on the team's recruiting staff. Sherels is the first new assistant Jerry Kill has hired in his Minnesota tenure, but the move likely signified -- likely being the operative word -- something bigger for the Big Ten.

The end of the coaching carousel for 2014.

This post always includes a reminder that additional coaching changes still can happen, even though most of the Big Ten has started spring practice. It's the nature of the business.

Despite two new teams in the Big Ten, the number of overall changes in the league dropped for the second consecutive year, going from 32 in 2013 to 27 this year. There was only one complete staff overhaul, at Penn State, and four programs -- Illinois, Iowa, Michigan State and Northwestern -- kept all of their coaches from last season. After replacing more than half of his staff in the last offseason, Illinois' Tim Beckman hopes continuity pays off in what likely will be a make-or-break 2014 campaign. Iowa is back to its stable self after two years of coaching flux, while Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald hasn't made a staff change since after the 2010 season. Michigan State made a major commitment to Mark Dantonio and his assistants after the Spartans' Rose Bowl win, but it's still impressive that Dantonio retained the entire staff after such a great season.

Both Rutgers and Maryland have some new faces on staff before their inaugural season of Big Ten play. Rutgers has two new coordinators (one outside hire, one promotion), while Maryland has new assistants overseeing both lines.

[+] EnlargeLarry Johnson
Michael R. Sisak/Icon SMILongtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson moved to Ohio State this offseason after James Franklin was hired as the Nittany Lions' head coach.
Other than Penn State, Indiana and Rutgers are the only teams featuring two new coordinators in 2014. Although IU assistant Kevin Johns previously held the co-offensive coordinator title, he'll be the main man, as he takes over for Seth Littrell.

For the most part, the coaches leaving Big Ten programs did so voluntarily and for potentially better positions. Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien took the same role with the Houston Texans, while two assistants -- Ohio State's Everett Withers and Maryland's Greg Gattuso -- left to become FCS head coaches at James Madison and Albany, respectively. The Big Ten lost several assistants to the NFL, as O'Brien brought four assistants with him from Penn State (John Butler, Stan Hixon, Charles London and Anthony Midget) and swiped another from Ohio State's staff (Mike Vrabel). Wisconsin also lost running backs coach Thomas Hammock to the Baltimore Ravens.

Arguably the most interesting move took place within the league, as longtime Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson replaced Vrabel at Ohio State.

OK, let's get to it already.

Here's the rundown of coaching changes (head coach and full-time assistants only; number of new coaches in parentheses):

INDIANA (3)

Who's gone?

Doug Mallory, defensive coordinator/safeties
Seth Littrell, offensive coordinator/QBs
Jon Fabris, defensive line

Who's in?

Brian Knorr, defensive coordinator/defensive ends/outside linebackers
Larry McDaniel, defensive line
Noah Joseph, safeties


Other moves

Promoted Kevin Johns to main offensive coordinator. Johns also now coaches quarterbacks in addition to wide receivers.
Moved James Patton from assistant defensive line/special teams to tight ends and fullbacks

MARYLAND (3)

Who's gone?

Tom Brattan, offensive line
Lee Hull, wide receivers
Greg Gattuso, defensive line

Who's in?

Greg Studwara, offensive line
Keenan McCardell, wide receivers
Chad Wilt, defensive line

MICHIGAN (1)

Who's gone?

Al Borges, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Who's in?

Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks

Other moves

Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is overseeing linebackers instead of defensive linemen
Mark Smith moves from linebackers to defensive line
Roy Manning moves from outside linebackers to cornerbacks
Curt Mallory will coach only safeties rather than the entire secondary

MINNESOTA (1)

Who's gone?

Bill Miller, linebackers/assistant head coach

Who's in?

Mike Sherels, linebackers (promoted from recruiting staff)

Other moves

Pat Poore moves from wide receivers to running backs
Brian Anderson moves from running backs to wide receivers


NEBRASKA (1)

Who's gone?

Terry Joseph, secondary

Who's in?

Charlton Warren, secondary

OHIO STATE (2)

Who's gone?

Everett Withers, co-defensive coordinator/safeties
Mike Vrabel, defensive line

Who's in?

Chris Ash, co-defensive coordinator/safeties
Larry Johnson, defensive line/assistant head coach

PENN STATE (10)

Who's gone?

Bill O'Brien, head coach/offensive playcaller
John Butler, defensive coordinator/cornerbacks
Charlie Fisher, quarterbacks
Stan Hixon, wide receivers/assistant head coach
Larry Johnson, defensive line
Charles London, running backs
Mac McWhorter, offensive line
Ron Vanderlinden, linebackers
John Strollo, tight ends
Anthony Midget, safeties

Who's in?

James Franklin, head coach
John Donovan, offensive coordinator/tight ends
Bob Shoop, defensive coordinator/safeties
Charles Huff, running backs/special teams
Brett Pry, co-defensive coordinator/linebackers
Josh Gattis, wide receivers/assistant special teams
Herb Hand, offensive line
Ricky Rahne, quarterbacks
Sean Spencer, defensive line
Terry Smith, cornerbacks

PURDUE (1)

Who's gone?

Jon Heacock, defensive backs

Who's in?

Taver Johnson, defensive backs

RUTGERS (4)

Who's gone?

Dave Cohen, defensive coordinator/linebackers
Ron Prince, offensive coordinator
Rob Spence, quarterbacks
Damian Wroblewski, offensive line

Who's in?

Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Bob Fraser, linebackers/special teams
Mitch Browning, offensive line
Ben McDaniels, wide receivers

Other moves

Promoted special teams coordinator Joe Rossi to defensive coordinator
Anthony Campanile is coaching only tight ends after overseeing both tight ends and wide receivers

WISCONSIN (1)

Who's gone?

Thomas Hammock, running backs/assistant head coach

Who's in?

Thomas Brown, running backs

Big Ten Thursday chat wrap

January, 23, 2014
Jan 23
4:00
PM ET
As we suffer through winter and the offseason together, we also bond over Big Ten football. Thanks to those who joined me earlier today for the weekly Big Ten chat. We discussed the East-West balance in the Big Ten, recruits flipping, new coaching hires and more.

[+] EnlargeJames Franklin
Matthew O'Haren/USA TODAY SportsAs James Franklin can attest to, flipping recruits is part of the business.
Did you miss out? Not to worry. Here's a full chat transcript, along with some highlights:

Bernard from Columbus: Larry Johnson an upgrade over [Mike] Vrabel in both recruiting and coaching?

Adam Rittenberg: Hmmm, good question. In coaching, I'd say yes, mainly because Johnson has way more experience than Vrabel and a track record of producing elite defensive linemen. As a recruiter, I'd also give Johnson a slight edge because of his long-term success, but Vrabel had quickly developed himself into an outstanding recruiter.

Rob from Morristown, N.J.: What is your honest take on [James] Franklin flipping recruits from Vandy to PSU? I hear a lot of other teams' fans talking about how we were up in arms when other programs were poaching our players once the sanctions were handed down ... as much as many of us were upset that recruits like Noah Spence and Armani Reeves flipped to Ohio State ... there is no comparison, we were upset that other schools were trying to flip our CURRENTLY enrolled players ... just wanted to get that out there...

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, we both know that no fan base likes it when coaches flip their recruits, but fans also should know by now that it happens all the time and will continue to happen unless there's an early signing period. James Franklin was honest about it when asked: Players do pick coaches, not schools, and will follow coaches if they leave. Is it unfortunate? To a degree. But it's the nature of the business, and Penn State has experienced both sides of it in recent years. I agree that the attempts to flip current players -- looking at you, Tim Beckman -- annoyed PSU fans more than losing recruits to Urban [Meyer].

TB from Champaign, Ill.: What are the odds of me keeping my job with the Illini after 2014 and finishing off my "Fighting Force 2015" recruiting class?

Adam Rittenberg: It could happen, TB, but you need to make a bowl game this season. Few coaches with three bowl-less seasons are going to survive, especially those who have never won over the fan base/boosters. So how do you get to six wins? It's certainly possible with a schedule that includes three likely non-league wins (Youngstown State, Western Kentucky and Texas State), and a crossover schedule that doesn't include Michigan State or Michigan. The road schedule is once again brutal (Washington, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Ohio State, Northwestern), so your team must play well on its home field.

Rick from Georgia: Adam, with a new OC at Michigan, do you think they may go in the direction of using a two-QB system similar to Northwestern? It would be nice to see [Devin] Gardner line up at wide receiver while also getting snaps at QB.

Adam Rittenberg: Rick, while you can't rule this out because Michigan loses both [Jeremy] Gallon and [Drew] Dileo, the team would like to keep Gardner at quarterback, if at all possible. The Wolverines have some talent at tight end with [Devin] Funchess (essentially a WR) and Jake Butt, but they must develop some other options at receiver this spring. Shane Morris' progress at QB also will be key. Can he really push Gardner, or will a healthy Gardner separate himself in spring ball? Should be really interesting.

Steve from NJ: Adam, really miss chatting with everyone since the turn to Facebook, but oh well. As for the B1G East this year, I have no trouble giving OSU credit for what they did, although you have to admit, many of [its] games could have gone either way. MSU looks very strong. UM hasn't shown much of late. And PSU, even with the sanctions, is still hanging on. My point is, the winner of the East could be any of those four based on how the ball bounces. In the West, I really only see Wisc and Neb, with NW and Iowa having an outside shot.

Adam Rittenberg: Steve, I guess I wonder why you think Wisconsin and Nebraska are far and away the favorites in the West? Wisconsin loses an enormous senior class and has QB questions. Nebraska lost to Iowa and Minnesota and was a Hail Mary tip from losing to Northwestern. Will the Huskers suddenly eliminate their sloppiness and become dominant in 2014? Maybe, maybe not. I think the West is pretty even with the top 4-5 teams, while the East likely will be a 2- or 3-team race, as I don't think Penn State has enough to keep up.

Thanks again for your questions and participation. Let's do it again soon.

This week, on "As the Big Ten turns ..."

Bill O'Brien left Penn State for the NFL's Houston Texans and took Ohio State defensive line coach/top notch recruiter Mike Vrabel with him. Ohio State head coach returned the favor to the Nittany Lions by hiring longtime Penn State assistant/top notch recruiter Larry Johnson to replace Vrabel.

Meanwhile in Arkansas ... Bret Bielema fled Wisconsin for the SEC less than a year after complaining about the SEC-style recruiting tactics Meyer was using. On Tuesday, Bielema's trusted defensive coordinator, Chris Ash, left the Razorbacks to go work for -- you guessed it -- Meyer and the Buckeyes.

Got all that. The coaching carousel is never boring, is it?

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesUrban Meyer is strengthening his staff with the additions of Chris Ash and Larry Johnson.
The latest news here is Meyer hiring Ash away from Bielema, according to ESPN's Joe Schad, to replace safeties coach/co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers, who's now head coach at James Madison. Couple that with the Johnson coup, and Meyer has made two impressive, strategic moves in bringing in outstanding assistants who also know the Big Ten and its footprint extremely well.

Ash has been Bielema's defensive coordinator since 2011 and oversaw the Wisconsin defense on the 2011 and 2012 Rose Bowl teams for the Badgers. He's a secondary coach by trade so that fits in perfectly with what Ohio State needed -- especially after what we saw down the stretch from the Buckeyes' pass defense.

While Wisconsin might have had some noteworthy breakdowns in the secondary during Ash's time, he's never had the pure talent to work with that he'll find in Columbus, where guys like Vonn Bell, Doran Grant, Eli Apple and Tyvis Powell are ready to be coached up.

Ash was making a reported $550,000 at Arkansas so Ohio State obviously made a big commitment to get him. It's another good sign for the Big Ten, which is now bringing SEC guys into the league (James Franklin, Doug Nussmeier) instead of the other way around.

You have to wonder what this means for Luke Fickell, as Ash would seem unlikely to leave the Hogs if he weren't going to at least major input on calling plays. Unless he really got a big raise. (Or unless he decided that "We don't want to be like the SEC, in any shape or forms." Ahem). We'll likely find out more about Fickell's role when Meyer talks about these moves officially later in the week.

Both Ash and Johnson are outstanding hires for Ohio State, and if they tweak some rivals just a bit in the process, well, that's just a bonus for the Buckeyes.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Turns out Urban Meyer can land blue-chip coaching prospects, too.

[+] EnlargeLarry Johnson
Michael R. Sisak/Icon SMILarry Johnson has a long history of developing defensive linemen and will get a crop of talented players to work with at Ohio State.
In turn, the Ohio State coach has done everything he can to keep the pipeline of talented players flowing smoothly despite the offseason shakeup to his staff.

Meyer hadn’t needed to prove that his eye for talent was as sharp in picking out assistants since his first staff was finalized ahead of the 2012 season. With the two-year commitments he required of his coaches all honored and completed, the seemingly unexpected departure of defensive line coach Mike Vrabel to the Houston Texans put Meyer on the spot, and in reportedly swooping in to snatch up Larry Johnson away from Penn State, he hardly could have done a better filling that void for the Buckeyes.

Vrabel had quickly proven himself as one of Ohio State’s most valuable recruiters and among the best in the Big Ten during his three seasons with the program. But Johnson has been doing it for years with the Nittany Lions, and his reputation as a closer and a resume that can back it up surely made him the most attractive candidate to Meyer.

Vrabel’s knowledge of the game made for a smooth transition when he stepped away from the NFL as a player and returned to his alma mater to coach. He was regularly praised for his ability to help make in-game adjustments to the scheme and his work this season in turning a unit that had to replace all four starters into a fearsome line that helped Ohio State lead the conference in sacks made it clear he could develop talent as well.

But Johnson is no slouch on the sideline. His leadership skills won him numerous endorsements from those around or affiliated with Penn State as a viable option to lead the entire program in the wake of both the Jerry Sandusky scandal and Bill O’Brien’s departure. And he’s also been able to maximize the talent at his disposal during his decorated career with the Nittany Lions, with the first-round draft picks to prove it.

Now he’s going to inherit a position group that is certainly the most loaded on the Ohio State roster and potentially one of the best in the nation with Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Tommy Schutt, Jamal Marcus and Adolphus Washington all returning, just for starters. And that’s before Johnson gets a chance to get to work on what he does best as a recruiter, which should only help the already rich get wealthier up front.

Given how successful Vrabel had been in short order and how valuable he was for Ohio State, it might have been hard to envision that the Buckeyes could end up coming out even heading into Meyer’s third season, let alone maybe even being winners in the offseason sweepstakes.

But in case anybody needed a reminder, Meyer typically gets what he wants. And in flipping Johnson from Penn State, he also got the Buckeyes exactly what they needed.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

January, 10, 2014
Jan 10
4:30
PM ET
Wishing you a great weekend. Penn State hiring of new coach James Franklin should be finalized Saturday, so be sure and check the blog for reaction.

Don't forget: Twitter!

To the inbox ...

Josh from NYC writes: I know, I know, offensive MVP of the Rose Bowl and Big Ten Championship game. However had those very catchable INTs gone through, Cook could just as easily come out the villain rather than the hero. That said, when, if at all, do you think we start seeing some Damion Terry action over there in East Lansing?

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, Connor Cook lived on the edge for most of the season with his throws, and he certainly had fortune on his side. But what I loved is that he'd respond from a near-interception with a great throw on the run in traffic or a nice deep ball. If you get the breaks, you have to capitalize, and that's what Cook did. He deserves to be the starting quarterback entering the 2014 season. That said, Terry should be part of the offense, and I could see Michigan State employing a package of plays to get Terry more involved. Mark Dantonio understands the need to have more mobility and play-making skills from the quarterback spot. Terry certainly can help in that area.

[+] EnlargeDerrick Green
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioOhio State's defense had its struggles against Michigan but have found what needs correcting before facing Michigan State.
Shane from Michigan writes: Hi Adam, I have a question maybe you can help me with. First of all, I am very optimistic about Michigan's latest hire of Doug Nussmeier. He sounds like a very proven coach. My concern is still the offensive line. The line has never really been great for the three years of the Brady Hoke era. So my question to you is this: how much of the offensive line woes fall on the O-line position coach and how much is that actually on the offensive coordinator?

Adam Rittenberg: It falls mainly on offensive line coach Darrell Funk, especially because he directly recruited the linemen. The coordinator must create schemes catered to players' strengths and make the right play calls and the right times, but when you can't convert third-and-1 on a consistent basis, there's not much a coordinator can do. I'm interested to see how Michigan's blocking schemes change under Nussmeier, who clearly knows the run game is a priority after the past two seasons. But the development of individual players falls more on Funk.

Brian from Raleigh, N.C., writes: As the dust clears from the 2013 season, Northwestern loses "QB 1A" Kain Colter. Predictions, please: Does Trevor Siemian take over as a full-time QB in a 2009 Kafka-style offense? Is there open competition in the spring between Siemian, Zack Oliver, and Matt Alviti? Or does NU try to replicate 2012's success/take advantage of differing skill sets with another multiple-QB system?

Adam Rittenberg: Brian, I'm glad you brought up the 2009 offense, and I'd even throw in (pun intended) the pass-heavy 2008 offense led by C.J. Bacher. If Siemian is the starter, and it seems likely he will be, Northwestern should shape the offense more around his skill set, which is pocket passing. Assuming a two-quarterback system will work every year is risky, and assuming one quarterback will get hurt every year because of how much Northwestern runs its quarterbacks isn't a long-term formula for success in my view. There should be a competition this spring and Siemian shouldn't be handed the job. But if he stays healthy and develops with the receiving corps, which should be pretty good, I think Northwestern ditches the 2-QB deal and goes back to the 2008/2009 offenses, except this time with better running backs.

Casey from Dublin, Ohio, writes: I think the West division from top to bottom will be better than the East in 2014. After Mich St and tOSU they don't have anybody to compete. Michigan still has to prove it can get back. Penn St loses the top playmaker and will break in a new head coach. The West has Neb, Wisky, Iowa, Minny and possibly NW competing for the title in the west if they can get strong QB play and Mark can return to the Mark of 2 seasons ago.

Adam Rittenberg: Casey, the West undoubtedly has more parity entering 2014 and could be a more exciting divisional race. Will it be top-to-bottom better than the East? A lot depends on Michigan, which must rebound from a very disappointing season, and Penn State, which once again welcomes a new coaching staff. If those two programs both improve, the East should be stronger overall. Every West team has potential flaws, as Wisconsin loses a huge senior class, Minnesota has quarterback problems, Iowa needs to show more on offense, Nebraska must overcome long-term erratic play, and Northwestern comes off a brutal 5-7 year. I feel pretty comfortable writing that MSU and OSU will be pretty good in 2014. There are more unknowns in the West, but it should be a lot of fun to watch.

Greg from Philadelphia writes: Really Adam? Christian Hackenberg isn't a star to watch in 2014?! You're ridiculous.

Adam Rittenberg: I've been called worse, Greg. It's a national list and you can't include everyone. Penn State's uncertain coaching situation at the time the story ran played a role in not including Hackenberg, who has given every indication he'll return but still faces a decision on his future with the new staff. He certainly looks like an eventual superstar, but he'll have to adjust to a new set of offensive coaches under James Franklin.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Michael ConroyUrban Meyer has some big shoes to fill on his defensive staff.
Steve from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Hey Adam, how do you see Coach Meyer handling his defensive staff after he reviews the year, and who are some likely candidates to replace Coach Withers?

Adam Rittenberg: Meyer will be a busy man next week at the American Football Coaches Association in Indy as he must not only replace Withers but also defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who is joining Bill O'Brien with the NFL's Houston Texans. Both Withers and Vrabel were exceptional recruiters, so Meyer has to find candidates who not only can develop young players in both areas but get it done on the trail. I think it's important to get an assistant with ties to the South like Withers had. Could Ohio State bring back former coordinator Jim Heacock as defensive line coach? Extremely underrated assistant, in my view.

Nathan from San Antonio writes: Hey Adam, did you happen to see that next years MSU @ Oregon game was moved from week 3 to week 2? I have only read it in one location and wondered if it was true and if so, how come?

Adam Rittenberg: It has been moved, Nathan, to accommodate national television and a certain time slot, which won't be at night. The TV plans aren't final, but the game needed to be played Sept. 6 rather than Sept. 13. So Michigan State won't have an extra week to prepare for the Ducks after the opener against Jacksonville State, but it also won't have to deal with Autzen Stadium at night, which is never fun for the visiting team.

Donnie from Atlanta writes: Hey Adam/Brian, when will the Maryland & Rutgers additions be league official and when will you guys bring them in as part of the blog? Excited to learn more about the newcomers and the new stadiums/fan bases my Buckeyes will be going up against.

Adam Rittenberg: Donnie, we typically make the transition around national signing day, so check the blog in February as we'll officially welcome Maryland and Rutgers.
It turns out that Bill O'Brien's departure from Penn State caused some collateral damage for Ohio State.

According to multiple reports, and as first reported by BuckeyeGrove.com, Buckeyes defensive line coach Mike Vrabel is leaving the team to take a job with the Houston Texans. O'Brien, of course, was named the new Texans coach last week.

[+] EnlargeMike Vrabel
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesThe loss of Mike Vrabel is a big one for Ohio State for many reasons.
Vrabel did really nice work at Ohio State the past three years in his first college coaching job. The defensive line was the main strength of the Buckeyes' defense the past two seasons, both with veterans like John Simon and Johnathan Hankins in 2012 and again this year with youngsters like Noah Spence and Joey Bosa.

He'll leave the program in great shape at the defensive line position, with Bosa, Spence, Michael Bennett and Jamal Marcus -- who had a strong performance in the Orange Bowl in place of the suspended Spence -- among a deep group returning for 2014. Where Vrabel's departure could really hurt is in recruiting.

He was named the 2012 ESPN.com recruiter of the year and was one of Urban Meyer's best closers on the recruiting trail. That is no surprise, since he has a strong personality and the credibility to back it up thanks to his success as a player with the New England Patriots. Flashing a Super Bowl ring never hurts in living rooms.

With Vrabel's NFL background, it's no surprise that he'd be attracted to a job at the next level, though he did seem pretty comfortable in the college game. Some Ohio State fans, unhappy with Luke Fickell's performance, wished he'd eventually be promoted to defensive coordinator in Columbus.

O'Brien certainly saw up close what Vrabel was able to do with his defensive line, and one of Vrabel's major recruiting wins was wooing Spence away from Penn State. Now O'Brien can return the favor to Ohio State, in a sense. O'Brien was an assistant with the Patriots when Vrabel was a player there.

Vrabel is the second defensive assistant to leave Ohio State this year, following co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Everett Withers, who left to become the head coach at James Madison. This offseason is the first time Meyer will have to replace assistants at Ohio State, as he asked each of his coaches to give him a two-year commitment.

But that's coaching. Good assistants leave for better jobs. This presents Meyer an opportunity to rework his defensive staff and make changes after that side of the ball collapsed late in the season. But Vrabel is not a guy he or Ohio State wanted to see go.

Big Ten Christmas Eve mailbag

December, 24, 2013
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Since Christmas is tomorrow, the normal Big Ten Wednesday mailbag comes at you a day early. Consider this your letters to Santa blog:

Matt from Tucson, Ariz., writes: I'll send my question to you since you chose Nebraska as your most improved bowl team. I'm curious why (as a whole) Nebraska is perceived as a bad team that didn't meet expectations? I was watching ESPN's bowl preview show and was disappointed that Mike Belotti called Nebraska "a bad team" while Georgia was declared a team that persevered through injuries. Didn't Nebraska persevere through enough O-Line, WR, and QB injuries to make it to an 8-4 record? The O-line was so beat up that Vincent Valentine was needed on the FG team by the end of the season. Why is there no love for the Huskers?

Brian Bennett: "Bad" is a very subjective word, Matt, and not one I'd use to describe this Nebraska team. It's true that the Cornhuskers did get a whole lot of crummy luck when it came to injuries, including losing senior quarterback Taylor Martinez and much of the offensive line. Nebraska did a great job of persevering and pulling out victories in tough games against Northwestern, Penn State and Michigan, the latter two of which came on the road. If there's a difference between Nebraska and Georgia, it's that the Bulldogs have marquee victories over South Carolina and LSU and came within a miracle play of beating Auburn on the road. The Huskers didn't accomplish anything close to that and suffered three blowout losses at home -- to UCLA, Michigan State and Iowa.

Tim from Raleigh, N.C., writes: Will the Capital One Bowl be the last game Joel Stave starts for Wisconsin? I want Bart Houston (#BartHouston2014 which I try to get trending on Twitter) to start next year. I've been excited about this kid since he committed. I thought Gary Andersen might not be as thrilled since he is a pocket passer, but I looked at Houston's stats and he had 338 rushing yards and 19 rushing TDs in his senior HS season. He's supposed to have the better arm and can probably run better than Stave. I respect Stave a lot being an in-state walk on, but I don't think he's the answer for the next 2 years. I'm also scared Houston could then transfer. I don't want us to be in a Nebraska type situation where get stuck with a QB that you started as a freshman. Also, Houston has to start, HE'S NAMED AFTER BART STARR!!

Brian Bennett: Well, he's got a good name and some nice high school stats. There's an airtight case that he should start. Ahem.

There's nothing quite like the love for backup quarterbacks among fans. A player is almost never as popular as he is before he plays a significant down. Hey, Bart Houston might wind up as a great player. We have no idea. I'll tell you who does, though: Andersen, offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig and the rest of the Badgers staff. They've seen Houston practice every day since they've come to Madison. If they thought Houston was better than Stave, he would have played more by now.

Maybe Houston progresses in the offseason and overtakes Stave, who simply missed too many throws in 2013. Or maybe Tanner McEvoy makes a move at quarterback, though his future may well lie on defense after he played well at safety. It's no secret that Andersen likes mobile quarterbacks. Right now, though, Stave still has a huge experience edge. It will be up to someone else to outplay him in practice.

[+] EnlargePat Narduzzi
AP Photo/Al GoldisCould Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi get a head coaching job soon?
Matt from SoCal writes: Do you see Pat Narduzzi as a real option to be the head coach at Texas?

Brian Bennett: I don't, Matt. It's not that I think Narduzzi couldn't do a good job at Texas. It's just that I don't believe the Longhorns will hire a coordinator. They've got more money than Scrooge McDuck and are going to shoot for the moon with this job. Narduzzi might, however, benefit from a possible coaching carousel resulting from the Texas hire.

Kevin from Rock Island, Ill., writes: Illinois has really been going after the Juco players. What are your thoughts on the strategy and some of the signees so far? It has worked for Groce and the basketball program, but when there are so many holes, it seems like a short term fix to a bigger problem.

Brian Bennett: No doubt there are some issues with signing a lot of junior college guys. Not all pan out, and you risk getting in the cycle of needing more and more to fill gaps. But Tim Beckman really needs more depth and experience on the roster, and I think he sees this mostly as a short-term fix. The guys Illinois signed last year weren't exactly superstars, but players like Zane Petty and Martize Barr contributed, and Eric Finney might have done more than that had he stayed healthy. I can't pretend to know how good these incoming 2014 jucos will be, but I do like that the Stone-Davis brothers both fill needs at receiver and defensive backs and have three years left to play.

Connor M. from Lima, Ohio, writes: Love the work you guys do for the Big Ten! Looking ahead to next year, let's say Braxton and Shazier both play well in the Orange Bowl, raise their stock and turn pro. How much will the offense and defense be affected and who do you see replacing those two in their respective positions, most specifically, the QB spot?

Brian Bennett: Thanks, Connor. I think Ryan Shazier is the more likely of the two to go pro, and Ohio State could more easily absorb that loss, even though it would be a huge one. The defensive line should continue to improve, and there's a ton of young talent at linebacker and in the secondary on the way. Losing Braxton Miller, however, would change the whole outlook for the 2014 Buckeyes, especially since most of the offensive line and Carlos Hyde also are seniors. The only experience at all on the roster at quarterback is Cardale Jones, and he's a freshman who has thrown four passes. Freshman J.T. Barrett and incoming recruit Stephen Collier would battle Jones for the starting job, but Ohio State would basically be starting from scratch. In a much more difficult division.

BUCKIHATER from Future Home of the BigTen, NYC, writes: If you look back starting from the modern era of college football (1960's- present), the school who loves to put the word 'THE' in front of its name only has two claimed national titles -- you can even argue they should only have one if it wasn't for a really bad call, while the other happened before Woodstock. If you compare the 'THE' to other traditional football powerhouses like 'Bama, Miami, even Nebraska who all have 5 or more since the 60's, its not even close. Why does 'THE' get so much love on being the savior for the Big Ten? I was shocked to see the lack of championships over the last 50 years and Michigan State just did what every team in the Big Ten wanted to do for 2 years: Beat the bullies from Columbus.

Brian Bennett: So I take it you're not an Ohio State fan, then? Listen, if you want to start talking about national championships won by the Big Ten since the 1960s, this is not going to turn out well for anyone. Since 1970, we've got Michigan's split national title in 1997, Ohio State's in 2002 and ... hey, look, at that squirrel over there! The Buckeyes have been the only Big Ten team to even play for a national championship in the BCS era as a league member, and they've done it three times. So if you want to hate on Ohio State, that's fine. But that makes the rest of the conference look even worse by comparison.

Doug from KC, MO, writes: I have a Hawkeye question stemming from some recent conversations I've had with Nebraska fans. They always talk about whether to get another coach or not because they want to be contending for National Titles like the old (90's) days. I tell them for most teams in the country, and especially the BIG, this is pretty unrealistic. CFB is at a point where a lot of the odds/rules/recruiting are stacked against northern teams and outside of programs with lots of tradition (Mich, OSU and even ND) it is going to be very tough for you to have a regular NCG contender. I hope for a BCS game or Rose Bowl for Iowa every 4-5 years but it is just too much of a stretch for me to think Iowa (and other mid-tier BIG teams) will make a NCG appearance. Do you think some BIG teams have expectations that are too high or am I on the Debbie Downer side of the argument?

Brian Bennett: Doug, can you talk to BUCKIHATER for me? Anyway, I'm not sure enough Big Ten programs are ambitious enough. The Rose Bowl is great, but too many league teams talk like the Big Ten title is the ultimate goal, and I believe that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. How many times did you hear Urban Meyer talk about how much the Buckeyes just wanted to get to the Rose Bowl?

Anyway, as I just wrote a moment ago, the Big Ten hasn't exactly been reeling in the national titles. Here's the good news for the league, and for a team like Iowa: the forthcoming Playoff opens things up. Have a great year, win the Big Ten, and there's a chance you'll be in the four-team playoff. From there, who knows? Getting to that playoff, not the Rose Bowl, has to be the goal for every serious league team from 2014 on.

Chris from Northern Michigan writes: Happy holidays, Brian, and merry bowl season. I would like to get your thoughts on the MSU QB situation. Obviously it looks like Connor Cook has the job wrapped up for the next two years, barring injury or a huge year next year leading to NFL early entry. Would you expect Damion Terry or Tyler O'Connor to transfer? MSU just lost a QB recruit, and while it would be understandable that either current QB would want to play, a Cook injury could be catastrophic if either transfers.

Brian Bennett: Catastrophic? Well, you'd still have Cook and at least one backup. Not a whole lot of teams had to play three quarterbacks major minutes this season, outside of Nebraska. Cook will be hard to unseat after going 9-0 in the Big Ten and winning a title. I do think there will be some sort of role for Terry, because he's just too talented not to get on the field. Wouldn't surprise me one bit if O'Connor moved on.

And to your first point, Chris, Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

December, 20, 2013
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Wishing you a great weekend. Check out the full ESPN bowl schedule (with broadcast teams).

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter if you aren't already.

To the inbox ...

Mike from Allentown, Pa., writes: Hey Adam, with all the talk about Penn State's bowl ban being looked into this offseason, I have a hypothetical question for you. If the NCAA were to drop Penn State's bowl ban, would the Big Ten comply and make them eligible for the Big Ten championship? Or, is it possible the Big Ten could extend that ban separate from the NCAA?

Adam Rittenberg: Mike, the Big Ten's penalties always were tied to the NCAA's. Big Ten rules state that if the NCAA declares a team ineligible for postseason play, that team can't play in the Big Ten championship game. So if the NCAA lifts the bowl ban, the Big Ten would declare Penn State eligible for a league title (the Lions already can win their division). Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany has been pleased with Penn State's response to former Sen. George Mitchell, the independent athletics integrity monitor assigned to the school. So I'd be shocked if the Big Ten added or maintained any sanctions against Penn State once the NCAA ones are lifted.


Josh from Indy writes: Have you ever thought about the comparison between Darqueze and his cousin Alfonzo? Both had great careers for their respective teams. Just wanted your take on this.

Adam Rittenberg: Josh, I definitely thought about it after Darqueze Dennard won the Big Ten's Tatum-Woodson Defensive Back of the Year award, which Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard claimed in 2011. I can't imagine two family members have won the same award while playing for different teams in the same league. Pretty cool. Darqueze's numbers this season are more impressive than Alfonzo's in 2011, although Alfonzo was a true shut-down guy who basically eliminated one side of the field. Darqueze's pro prospects are better, as many peg him as a first-round draft pick. We'll never know where Alfonzo would have been drafted if he hadn't had the off-field trouble. Both are great players, though.


Derek from Preston, Iowa, writes: Hey Adam, I was just curious as to what you thoughts were on Derrell Johnson-Koulianos' Twitter tirade against Kirk Ferentz. Ferentz is beloved for the most part in Hawkeye Country, and this whole thing just seems weird. Why now?

Adam Rittenberg: The timing is interesting, Derek, as much of this happened three years ago. I understand Derrell's perspective that Ferentz blackballed him with the NFL and stifled his playing career. Some of his teammates back up the accusations against Ferentz and strength coach Chris Doyle. It's an unfortunate situation, but I would be very surprised if Ferentz or Iowa has anything to say about the accusations, especially so long after the fact. Iowa has moved forward and Ferentz's word still carries weight in NFL circles.

DJK has the right to air his grievances, and he has never held back on his views. Honestly, I can't think of a Big Ten player I've covered who fit in less with a particular program. But I doubt there will be major consequences for Ferentz or Iowa.


Fatback from Newark, Ohio, writes: Just wanting to know what your thoughts about Ohio State's defensive coordinator position. I know Fickell is an OSU guy, but we definitely need a change of pace. What do you think about Fickell moving down to just a position coach ( if he doesn't get another job this offseason), and hiring another person from the outside or moving Mike Vrabel up? I think with Vrabel we would play much more aggressive and sit back in all the zone coverage that teams seem to kill us on. Again, your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: It would be tough for Ohio State to demote Fickell, who was the Big Ten's third highest-paid assistant this year ($610,000). You're not going to pay that salary to a position coach (at least you shouldn't). Fickell still brings a lot of value to Ohio State as a recruiter, and while his defense has its issues this year, youth in the front seven and Christian Bryant's injury didn't help matters. On the other hand, Urban Meyer has extremely high standards, and if he feels Fickell isn't helping the team to a national championship, maybe you make the change.

I've heard that Vrabel has definite head-coaching potential, and he did a nice job with a young defensive line this year. With Everett Withers reportedly departing to James Madison, don't be surprised to see a co-coordinator situation with Vrabel and Fickell. Perhaps Vrabel has more say on play calls. I just can't see Ohio State forcing out Fickell right now.


Joe from Kentucky writes: How can you guys leave off Blake Countess and Stanley Jean-Baptiste from the All-B1G selection for Bradley Roby? Roby was suspended for his off-the-field antics (looks really all-conference) and he got exposed by any of the good WRs he faced. Jared Abbrederis and Jeremy Gallon made him look silly to the tune of almost 400 yards combined. That does not sound like an all-conference performer to me. On the other hand, Countess led the conference in INTs and Jean-Baptiste was right there (if not tied). I think you guys were a little biased in trying to make MSU and OSU the top two represented teams (which their records show). Also, Ryan Shazier is the only person on that Ohio State defense to be named All-B1G.

Adam Rittenberg: Roby's one-game suspension really isn't relevant, as we included Carlos Hyde on the team despite his three-game suspension because he was the Big Ten's best running back in league play (few would argue). I agree that Roby struggled against Abbrederis in the Wisconsin game, but many of Gallon's yards didn't come against Roby in the Michigan game. Roby made a touchdown-saving tackle on Gallon, running completely across the field, one of several displays of athleticism he had this season. He had a very good Big Ten season and is one of the better special-teams players I can remember in this league. SJB had a nice season but no picks in Big Ten play. You could make a case for Countess, but I still feel Roby performed better in Big Ten play than any corner other than MSU's Dennard. Shazier is the only other Buckeye defender on our All-Big Ten team, although lineman Michael Bennett deservedly made the second-team.


Will from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Should I be concerned that Michigan will be breaking in two new starters at both offensive tackle positions in 2014? Lewan and Schofield took 99.9 percent of the snaps this year, likely making their replacements having VERY little, to no game experience. After the abysmal display on the interior of the line this year, I do believe there are positives in game time reps of the interior line translating to better protection up the middle next season. Will inexperience on the edge hurt the line more next year than the inside this year, or can you mask the youth more on the outside than in?

Adam Rittenberg: Some good points here, Will. I agree that Michigan's interior line will be improved next year because of all the experience gained, even through some tough times. It will be interesting to see what Michigan does with Erik Magnuson, who can play either guard or tackle but might be best at tackle depending on his development. The staff was excited about Ben Braden's development in the offseason, and he could step in for Lewan at left tackle. I'm really interested to see how the line performs in Arizona following bowl practices, but you're right that the group will continue to be under the microscope with both veteran tackles departing.


Ken from Carmel, Ind., writes: When Clifton Garrett recently committed to LSU, he mentioned the great game-day atmosphere. Having attended a game there, I agree. Sometimes I think the B10 doesn't get that -- and is slow to pick up other little things like that (night games) that can make the difference in winning or losing recruiting battles, and eventually games. As an Iowa grad, the large number of 11 a.m. games certainly don't help the game-day atmosphere. I get the feeling that the people at the top -- president, and A.D. -- don't understand this. You'll have a couple more arrests with later games, but most people just cheer louder and have more fun - a.k.a., better game-day atmosphere. Your thoughts?

Adam Rittenberg: Couldn't agree more, Ken, and I've been writing this for years. The Big Ten needs to prioritize prime-time games and become more open to weekday games, which would get some of the smaller programs some much-needed exposure. The good news: the league is definitely warming up to the idea, adding more prime-time games and becoming open to November night games, most likely in the 2014 season. Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke said Thursday that the Big Ten's next television contract will feature more prime-time games. That's a good thing, as the noon ET and 3:30 p.m. ET windows just don't carry the same weight with recruits.

DE Bosa's breakout sets table for 2014

December, 17, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- As the self evaluation is delivered in hindsight, Joey Bosa almost makes it seem like a miracle he was even able to get on the field.

The freshman defensive lineman didn’t set any expectations for himself, because he had no idea what life was going to be like in college.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJoey Bosa had a stellar freshman season with 6.5 sack and six QB hurries.
Brutally honest and quick to the point, his assessment of the guy who showed up on campus over the summer was he “wasn’t really a good player.”

Physically gifted for his young age and certainly somebody Ohio State was excited about down the road, all of the preseason attention was on a pair of pass-rushing talents in the class above him, which again helped keep the pressure down and the goals seemingly nonexistent.

But if his rapid development into one of the best young linemen in the Big Ten has taken him by surprise or maybe come a little easier than he thought it would, Bosa does bristle at the suggestion. It hasn’t been the product of a miracle, and it has not happened by accident.

“Definitely wouldn’t say it came easy,” Bosa said. “In the beginning, I wasn’t really a good player and it took a lot of hard work and pushing through a lot of stuff to get where I am.

“It’s good to see that all my hard work is being rewarded with something.”

The honors are piling up now as Freshman All-American awards flood in from across the country after his breakout campaign, tributes which might have exceeded expectations even if Bosa had decided to set any before his first season with the program.

He wasn’t expected to be a starter on the completely rebuilt defensive line, with Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington tabbed as the next great stars up front heading into their sophomore seasons. Among the heralded 2013 recruiting class, much of the focus centered on the game-breaking talent of hybrid weapon Dontre Wilson, the bright future for safety Vonn Bell or the possibility of a pair of touted linebackers cracking the lineup at a thin position on defense.

Instead, Bosa wound up making the biggest impact of them all, ultimately supplanting Washington in the starting lineup, forming a terrifying tandem with Spence on the way to 12.5 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks -- and by the middle of the season, providing him and the coaching staff with a chance to upgrade their evaluations.

“I think you get opportunities,” defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said in October in the middle of Bosa’s rise. “You start out with five opportunities, ten opportunities, 15, whatever those opportunities are. He was a player that took advantage of those opportunities and went from 20 or 25 snaps to 50, 55, 60.

“Now he's a starter for us. We've got to have him in there, he's a difference maker.”

He’s also just getting started for the Buckeyes, and they’ve got plenty of time to get even more out of Bosa now that he’ll actually have some expectations moving forward.

Ohio State could have its entire front seven back next fall if linebacker Ryan Shazier decides to hold off on the NFL for another season, but either way it will be building around a defensive line that appeared to speed through the learning curve this fall. While that was a collective effort by the Buckeyes, it’s not a stretch to tie Bosa’s smooth individual transition to the overall improvement, and it’s not all that difficult to pinpoint when things changed for him.

“Probably the Northwestern game [was the turning point],” Bosa said. “It was my first time really making some plays, scored a touchdown, was player of the game.

“But I’m not really focused on individual accomplishments, so I just hope to finish this season strong.”

Whether or not Bosa can accomplish that goal in the Discover Orange Bowl, there will certainly be no hiding from the expectations ahead of his sophomore season now.

OSU has reason to celebrate, work to do

November, 23, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The conversation about polls and rankings might be getting annoying.

The wait for some help might be getting tedious as it stays frozen out of a potential spot in the national championship game.

The apparent need to defend the longest winning streak in school history and the perceived weakness of its conference could be wearing out Ohio State during the week.

But the No. 3 Buckeyes clearly aren’t getting tired of winning on Saturdays, and they treated a 42-14 win over Indiana at snowy Ohio Stadium just like they had each of the 22 games that had come before it.

They will keep facing questions about how impressive their résumé is and where they rank among the top contenders. They'll hear plenty about the need for style points. But as long as they don’t lose, the Buckeyes don’t seem to care about how the job gets done on the weekend.

“I mean, I think if you win a game and you’re on a streak like us, why wouldn’t you celebrate?” senior left tackle Jack Mewhort said. “We’re on the longest win streak in Ohio State history, and we’re going to have some fun when we do stuff like that.”

[+] EnlargeJason Mowry/Icon SMI
Jason Mowry/Icon SMIBraxton Miller has rushed for 328 yards and three TDs in the past two games.
The Buckeyes again were all smiles after yet another victory, and they clearly were enjoying themselves as they steamrolled on the way to it against the overmatched Hoosiers.

Braxton Miller capped a pair of athletic runs with acrobatic dives into the end zone, one seemingly for show as he executed a front flip by choice after breezing 37 yards through the Indiana defense and another out of necessity as he leaped over a defender at the goal line and toppled in for his second rushing touchdown.

With the outcome well in hand in the second half, the coaching staff erupted off the sideline after a fourth-down stop in the red zone kept a shutout intact for the moment, with defensive line coach Mike Vrabel running all the way down to the 15-yard line to join in the party.

When it was all over, the record broken, a berth in the Big Ten title game assured, another perfect regular season one game closer to becoming a reality, Urban Meyer had a couple of quick seconds by himself on the way to the south end zone to join his team in a postgame sing-along with the band. And if the Buckeyes coach is getting tired of all the winning, he hid it well as he repeatedly pumped his fist on the quick jog over from midfield.

“I know one thing, and that’s this team is playing at a very, very high level,” Meyer said. “They’re focused each week, and that’s our job to maintain that focus each week.

“On a national level, we have enough to work on, so this week you’re going to hear some very generic answers about everything. I’m not being a jerk to you guys, but our focus is on beating that rival team and that’s it.”

The Buckeyes have had plenty of distractions tugging at them lately, which won’t change ahead of The Game at Michigan, but the risk of losing their focus has gone up with every successive win as the scrutiny and pressure continue to ramp up around the program.

The division wasn’t clinched yet heading into the final home game of the season. The seniors had the emotions of their last trip through the tunnel to deal with. The BCS lead over Baylor was trimmed to a razor-thin margin last week, adding another element to a conversation about how the Buckeyes fit in the title picture behind Alabama and Florida State.

But none of those things did anything to slow down Ohio State as it raced to a 42-point lead and coasted to the finish line, and they certainly haven’t put a damper on the enthusiasm after a game goes final.

“No, no,” Meyer said when asked if the winning was getting old. “There’s Victory Meal tomorrow night.

“It’s the 23rd Victory Meal in a row.”

The food still tastes plenty sweet for the Buckeyes, regardless of what anybody else thinks about the dinner spread.

OSU will be hot shopping spot for ADs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With the shopping season apparently underway and the Buckeyes still rolling, Meyer had better make sure his phone is fully charged.

Five things: Ohio State-Penn State

October, 26, 2013
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas and key players as No. 4 Ohio State looks to extend the nation's longest winning streak and stay on top of the Big Ten Leaders Division as it hosts Penn State at the Horseshoe (ABC, 8 p.m.).

Getting defensive: The Buckeyes haven't minced words about their effort before halftime in the last couple weeks, and it clearly hasn't met their high standards based on the profanity assistant Mike Vrabel needed to describe it. Ohio State was pushed around up front and had issues defending play-action passes last week against Iowa, and it was following a similar first-half script from its previous road victory over Northwestern that required some critical adjustments at halftime. Down the stretch, the Buckeyes have been fantastic and overall they still rank No. 15 in the nation in total defense. But they could use a complete game against a Penn State offense averaging more than 33 points per game.

Miller magic: Even when he didn't have his best stuff last year against the Nittany Lions, Braxton Miller still found a way to lead a relatively easy victory on the road and supply perhaps the highlight of his season with one of the more electrifying 1-yard runs you'll ever see. The junior quarterback was somewhat slowed down by a Penn State defense that was intent on making Miller throw, and he wasn't nearly as proficient as a passer at this time a year ago as he appears to be now. The Nittany Lions could have their hands full with an improved version of Miller who is healthy and playing arguably the best football of his career.

Taking back the corner: Extra motivation for a divisional showdown in prime time that features a one-on-one matchup with perhaps the best wide receiver in the Big Ten probably wasn't necessary. But just in case, the ejection that cut Bradley Roby's day short last week against Iowa gave him a little fuel for the competitive fire this week, and the redshirt junior will certainly be needed at his best against Allen Robinson. Roby has had something of a mixed bag so far in Big Ten play, missing a few assignments during a huge passing night for Wisconsin while also picking off a pass, then blocking a punt for a touchdown against Northwestern before getting tossed against the Hawkeyes. He might not get a better opportunity to impress NFL scouts this season than he will have against the Nittany Lions.

Pressure building: The Buckeyes have acknowledged where they stand in the BCS rankings, and they are well aware that they need help from teams across the country and potentially some style points to impress voters. But in addressing the standings with the team on Sunday, coach Urban Meyer tried to deflect some of that stress by instead having the Buckeyes embrace the challenge and focus solely on the process that has produced 19 consecutive victories. The outside distractions are starting to mount, and if the Buckeyes have let their guard down at all, Penn State is certainly capable of making them pay for it.

Still building: For all the success on offense already this year, Miller estimated midway through the week that the Buckeyes were still only operating at "92 percent" of their capability. Where will the other eight percent come from? The Buckeyes can start by continuing to integrate Dontre Wilson into the attack, and the versatile freshman certainly made life tough for Iowa last week despite touching the football just four times. Those plays accounted for only 25 yards, but Wilson's mere presence on the field and role as a decoy in certain packages opened up huge rushing and throwing lanes elsewhere -- and the Buckeyes are likely only going to keep adding to his arsenal as the season progresses.

OSU adjustments better late than never

October, 23, 2013
10/23/13
11:00
AM ET


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Halftime is working just fine as an adjustment period.

Sooner would be even better for Urban Meyer.

The Ohio State coach has watched an almost identical scene play out over the last two games with his defense, which has been gashed on the ground, struggled in pass coverage and been pushed around in falling behind at intermission in consecutive outings. And while there hasn’t been all that much to complain about after the No. 4 Buckeyes have had a chance to regroup and possibly rearrange a few things in the locker room, Meyer clearly wouldn’t mind if those tweaks could be made before the game is halfway over.

“I do feel at times when people give us something new, we will sit back and react and get it figured out,” Meyer said. “And it's the intelligent way of doing it or you might give up fast points.

[+] EnlargeRyan Shazier
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMILinebacker Ryan Shazier leads a unit that is ranked 15th nationally in total defense.
“But I'd much rather take a more aggressive approach when something bad is happening. Let's go try to disrupt. And we've had that conversation.”

Without the ability to rewrite the script at intermission, the Buckeyes might be having those discussions after a loss instead, so the outcomes can make it hard to criticize the recent approach too much.

But they have at least appeared to be flirting with disaster defensively after falling behind against both Northwestern and Iowa, teams that found relatively easy success in the early stages of those games thanks in part to some offensive wrinkles that were installed during bye weeks to catch the Buckeyes off guard.

Like those two previous opponents, Penn State also has had an extra week to prepare for Ohio State, and it may well be borrowing some of the concepts in the play-action passing attack or from the three tight end set that have worked in the opening quarters over the last couple of weeks. But the Nittany Lions almost certainly will need more than that up their sleeves, because the Buckeyes have proven they can come up with a counter to new looks once they’re given a bit of time, allowing a total of just 17 points after halftime in the comeback wins that kept their record perfect.

“I think the thing we have to understand both as players and coaches is that it doesn't always go how you draw it up,” defensive line coach Mike Vrabel said. “You go out and work on something all week and you prepare. And I think as a player you go out there and it's not always roses. It's not always you dominating somebody.

“Certainly we don't want to play like that, but there's times during the course of a season or game where it's not going well and you have to find the will to go win a football game.”

The Buckeyes have done that 19 times in a row now, and the defense has played a critical role in building that streak and keeping it alive with solid play down the stretch.

Despite some of the first-half woes, Ohio State still ranks No. 15 in the nation in total defense. In both games, a secondary that had been picked on at times responded to come up with a crucial fourth-quarter interception. And after allowing 101 rushing yards through two quarters against Iowa, the Buckeyes allowed only 29 more for the rest of the game and still rank seventh in the country in shutting down the run.

They would obviously prefer to get that type of performance earlier, and that message has been delivered from the top of the program. But the adjustments are at least better for the Buckeyes at halftime than never.

“We've got to get [the information] to them and make them go out there and understand and play it with confidence, play against new looks with confidence,” Vrabel said. “We understand they're not professional football players. I think the learning curve might not be as steep for them, but we've got to adjust.

“We've got to do it quicker.”

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