Ohio State Buckeyes: C.J. Barnett

Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

Unlike the draft, the UDFA list is somewhat fluid, and other players could get picked up later today or in the coming days. To reiterate: This is not the final list.

Here's what we know right now from various announcements and media reports:

  • LB Jonathan Brown, Arizona Cardinals
  • WR Ryan Lankford, Miami Dolphins
  • TE Evan Wilson, Dallas Cowboys
  • WR Steve Hull, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Spencer Harris, New Orleans Saints
Notes: Illini OT Corey Lewis, who battled knee injuries throughout his career, told Steve Greenberg that several teams are interested in him if he's cleared by doctors.

  • WR Kofi Hughes, Washington Redskins
  • RB Stephen Houston, New England Patriots
Notes: S Greg Heban and K Mitch Ewald have tryouts with the Chicago Bears.

  • LB James Morris, New England Patriots
  • OT Brett Van Sloten, Baltimore Ravens
  • G Conor Boffeli, Minnesota Vikings
  • WR Don Shumpert, Chicago Bears
  • LS Casey Kreiter, Dallas Cowboys
  • LB Marcus Whitfield, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • CB Isaac Goins, Miami Dolphins
  • LB Cam Gordon, New England Patriots
  • S Thomas Gordon, New York Giants
Notes: RB Fitzgerald Toussaint (Baltimore), DT Jibreel Black (Pittsburgh), LS Jareth Glanda (New Orleans) and DT Quinton Washington (Oakland) will have tryouts.

  • LB Denicos Allen, Carolina Panthers
  • S Isaiah Lewis, Cincinnati Bengals
  • T/G Dan France, Cincinnati Bengals
  • WR Bennie Fowler, Denver Broncos
  • LB Max Bullough, Houston Texans
  • DT Tyler Hoover, Indianapolis Colts
  • DT Micajah Reynolds, New Orleans Saints
  • OL Fou Fonoti, San Francisco 49ers
Notes: LB Kyler Elsworth has a tryout scheduled with Washington.

  • LB Aaron Hill, St. Louis Rams
  • QB Taylor Martinez, Philadelphia Eagles
  • OT Brent Qvale, New York Jets
  • CB Mohammed Seisay, Detroit Lions
  • DE Jason Ankrah, Houston Texans
  • C Cole Pensick, Kansas City Chiefs
  • OT Jeremiah Sirles, San Diego Chargers
Notes: CB Ciante Evans has yet to sign but will do so soon. DB Andrew Green has a tryout with the Miami Dolphins.

  • WR Kain Colter, Minnesota Vikings
  • K Jeff Budzien, Jacksonville Jaguars
  • WR Rashad Lawrence, Washington Redskins
  • DE Tyler Scott, Minnesota Vikings
  • S C.J. Barnett, New York Giants
  • K Drew Basil, Atlanta Falcons
  • WR Corey Brown, Carolina Panthers
  • G Andrew Norwell, Carolina Panthers
  • G Marcus Hall, Indianapolis Colts
  • WR Chris Fields, Washington Redskins
  • OT Garry Gilliam, Seattle Seahawks
  • LB Glenn Carson, Arizona Cardinals
  • S Malcolm Willis, San Diego Chargers
Notes: OT Adam Gress will have a tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • DE Greg Latta, Denver Broncos
  • S Rob Henry, Oakland Raiders
  • G Devin Smith, San Diego Chargers
  • DT Bruce Gaston Jr., Arizona Cardinals
Notes: P Cody Webster will have a tryout with Pittsburgh.

  • WR Brandon Coleman, New Orleans Saints
  • WR Quron Pratt, Philadelphia Eagles
  • LB Jamal Merrell, Tennessee Titans
  • DE Marcus Thompson, Miami Dolphins
  • S Jeremy Deering, New England Patriots
Notes: According to Dan Duggan, DE Jamil Merrell (Bears) and G Antwan Lowery (Baltimore) will have tryouts.

  • G/T Ryan Groy, Chicago Bears
  • TE Jacob Pedersen Atlanta Falcons
  • TE Brian Wozniak, Atlanta Falcons
  • DE Ethan Hemer, Pittsburgh Steelers
Quick thoughts: Martinez's future as an NFL quarterback has been heavily scrutinized, but Chip Kelly's Eagles are a fascinating destination for him. Whether he plays quarterback or another position like safety, Kelly will explore ways to use Martinez's speed. ... The large Michigan State contingent is still a bit startling. The Spartans dominated the Big Ten, beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl, use pro-style systems on both sides of the ball and had just one player drafted. Bullough, Allen and Lewis all were multiple All-Big Ten selections but will have to continue their careers through the UDFA route. ... Colter certainly looked like a draft pick during Senior Bowl practices in January, but that was before his ankle surgery and his role in leading the unionization push at Northwestern. I tend to think the injury impacted his status more, but NFL teams have been known to shy away from so-called locker-room lawyers. ... Other Big Ten standouts like Jonathan Brown, Morris and Pedersen were surprisingly not drafted. Morris should be a great fit in New England. ... Coleman's decision to leave Rutgers early looks questionable now that he didn't get drafted.

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 1

February, 28, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn't over yet.

There's less than a week left on that wait for spring practice, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for the players. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key position battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, we'll make a handful of predictions for what should happen in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

[+] EnlargeTyvis Powell
Jason Mowry/Icon SMITyvis Powell played well for the Buckeyes in 2013, but he will have a bigger role next season.
No. 1: The secondary earns rave reviews

No unit will be under closer inspection this spring than the secondary with a new coach, three new starters and huge task in front of it after the Buckeyes struggled so mightily to stop the pass last season.

But all those fresh faces and all that room to grow also allows for the defensive backs to make the biggest impression in the spring, and the Buckeyes are in position to turn a few heads and get back to the level the program is accustomed to defensively by the fall.

With Bradley Roby off to the NFL a year early, Christian Bryant's appeals for a medical redshirt denied and C.J. Barnett out of eligibility, there are critical holes to fill. Few teams in the nation, though, can match the talent the Buckeyes have acquired in the secondary in the last couple recruiting cycles, and all that work is poised to pay off as the youngsters move into the starting lineup.

Tyvis Powell already did that as a redshirt freshman last fall, and he proved he can be counted on after spending his first season as a regular playing in nickel and dime packages before starting at safety in the Discover Orange Bowl. He was joined on the back line in that game by heralded recruit Vonn Bell, who flashed the athleticism that made him one of the nation's most sought-after recruits last year with a leaping, one-handed interception that restarted the hype for his sophomore campaign.

At cornerback, Doran Grant played better and more reliably than perhaps he received credit for, and there will be a spirited battle to land the job on the other side of the formation during camp. Armani Reeves might have the inside track when practice opens given his experience, but Gareon Conley and Eli Apple will be legitimate threats after watching from the sideline during their first seasons on campus.

And all of those guys will be getting watched by a fresh set of eyes with new secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash taking over and implementing his more aggressive approach to shutting down passing attacks. He might be getting monitored just as closely as the players as Urban Meyer takes a more hands-on approach to getting his defense fixed and ready to contend for at least a Big Ten title.

That job probably won't be done by the time the spring game rolls around in April. But it seems like a safe bet the Buckeyes will be able to see plenty of progress by then, regardless of how much further they might still have to go.

Players to watch in spring: No. 2

February, 13, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offseason conditioning program is in full swing. Signing day has come and gone. Blink and spring practice will already be here.

[+] EnlargeVonn Bell
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMIThe Buckeyes need safety Vonn Bell to be a game-changer in 2014.
Ohio State is less than a month away from getting back on the field and starting preparations for the 2014 season, and those days probably can't go by fast enough for a program coming off consecutive losses after a 24-game winning streak. To help pass the time, we're counting down the top five players who are facing critical springs, either because it's a turning point in their careers or the Buckeyes are counting heavily on them to fill vacant jobs as they try to get back in contention for a national title again in the fall. The series flips to the defensive side of the ball today at a spot that will be critical in the secondary.

No. 2: Vonn Bell, safety
  • By the numbers: The debut season for the defensive back was largely spent on special teams as he chipped in 19 tackles, but he ended the season on a high note by earning the start in the Discover Orange Bowl and nabbing his first career interception.
  • What’s at stake: The Buckeyes had all kinds of problems defending the pass a year ago, and that was with a group of experienced veterans who were supposed to make the secondary a team strength. Now they have to replace safeties Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett and Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown, not to mention cornerback Bradley Roby, and it will be up to a couple of classes stocked with some of the most sought-after recruits in the country at the position to prove the Buckeyes are in good hands moving forward and capable of exceeding the low standard that was set last season. The buzz around Bell that started with his signing-day decision to join Ohio State a year ago has only become louder with his performance in the loss to Clemson, and the defense desperately needs him to be a game-changer in the secondary.
  • Best-case scenario: There’s no question Bell will be lining up with the first team when camp opens in March, and there’s not much doubt that he’ll be staying in that spot for a while. New co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Ash was brought in to mold the Buckeyes into a more aggressive outfit, and that figures to be well-suited to Bell’s athletic ability given both his reputation and the glimpse of his talents at the end of last season. Ohio State will also be monitoring the partnership with the other expected starter at safety, and developing chemistry between Tyvis Powell and Bell in the spring could go a long way toward repairing the beleaguered defense in the fall.
It's Senior Bowl week, so you should be following our draft experts as they track the 15 Big Ten players suiting up for the North squad on Saturday in Mobile, Ala. Before turning the page toward the Senior Bowl, let's review how the Big Ten groups performed this past weekend in the East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

East-West Shrine Game

Players who registered statistics:
  • Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon led the East team with four receptions for 55 yards
  • Purdue CB Ricardo Allen ranked second on the East team in tackles with five. He also had three punt returns for 56 yards, including a 30-yarder
  • Purdue DT Bruce Gaston Jr. had two tackles for the East team, both on run plays that went for one yard
  • Penn State LB Glenn Carson had four tackles for the East team
  • Penn State S Stephen Obeng-Agyapong had three tackles and a pass breakup for the West team
  • Indiana TE Ted Bolser had two receptions for eight yards for the West team
  • Michigan State LB Max Bullough had three tackles for the West team
  • Minnesota S/CB Brock Vereen had one tackle for the West team
  • Nebraska WR Quincy Enunwa had one tackle on special teams but no receptions for the West team
NFLPA Collegiate Bowl

Players who registered statistics:
  • Ohio State QB Kenny Guiton completed 1 of 4 pass attempts for nine yards. He also lost a fumble for Team American
  • Wisconsin TE Brian Wozniak had two receptions for 25 yards for Team American
  • Nebraska OT Brent Qvale registered a tackle on the play where Guiton fumbled for Team American
  • Ohio State S C.J. Barnett had a tackle for Team American
Ohio State backup quarterback Kenny Guiton became a cult hero in September, putting up big numbers in place of Braxton Miller and leaving some wondering whether he was the league's second-best signal caller.

Those evaluations might have been a bit overboard, but Guiton is a fun player with a fun story, and possibly an NFL future. The Ohio State quarterback leads a contingent of five Big Ten players who will participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, to be played Jan. 18 at the StubHub Center in Carson, Calif.

Rosters for the game have been finalized. All five Big Ten players will play for the American squad. 'Merica!

New Year's resolutions: Ohio State

January, 1, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State didn't accomplish everything on its checklist in 2013, but it came pretty close in what has to be considered a successful year. If the Buckeyes are going to top it in 2014, it can start with these resolutions moving into Urban Meyer's third season with the program.

Fix the defense: The lack of depth was evident even before injuries started taking a toll on the defensive side of the ball, but that really doesn't excuse the breakdowns that popped up frequently at the end of the season. Giving up nearly 260 passing yards per game will never be acceptable at a program that's proud of its defensive tradition, and that weakness in the secondary is a big part of the reason Ohio State is opening 2014 in the Discover Orange Bowl and not playing for the national championship. In recruiting, the Buckeyes have been accumulating the pieces they need to get back to having a complete two-deep capable of playing at a high level and not just a talented group of starters without much support. Making the right hire to replace co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers could be critical in helping that entire unit reach its potential.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsRegardless of whether Braxton Miller returns for the Buckeyes, Ohio State needs better offensive balance in 2014.
Find balance: For a while, the Buckeyes looked like they had already become the kind of balanced offense Meyer has been trying to build. Braxton Miller's accuracy clearly improved, the receiving corps was hauling in passes deep down the field and tight end Jeff Heuerman was giving Ohio State a matchup nightmare to throw at defenses to keep them from loading up the box to stop the powerful rushing attack. But that aerial attack vanished almost completely down the stretch, with poor weather, good defenses and the success of the ground game all eventually producing too much reliance on Miller and Hyde to make plays with their legs. In the end, the Buckeyes wound up rushing 243 more times than they threw the ball, which isn't close the 50-50 split Meyer has targeted as ideal for his spread offense.

Identify leaders: A core group of veterans that included four senior starters on the offensive line made it easy for the Buckeyes to figure out who to follow last season. But with those stalwarts moving on, along with captains such as C.J. Barnett, Philly Brown, Kenny Guiton (and potentially Miller and linebacker Ryan Shazier, if they leave early for the NFL draft), there will be a significant void to fill. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett could be at the front of the pack to become the voice and face of the program, but he's going to need some help -- and the sooner the Buckeyes find out where it's coming from, the better off they'll be as they head into offseason workouts.

Season report card: Ohio State

December, 20, 2013
Final exams are either ongoing or all wrapped up around the Big Ten. We're passing out grades, too, for each team's regular-season performance.

Each team receives a grade for offense, defense, special teams and overall play.

Up next: The No. 7 Buckeyes.

Offense: A-

[+] EnlargeHyde/Miller
AP Photo/Jeff HaynesCarlos Hyde and Braxton Miller proved to be nearly unstoppable in the running game.
A somewhat sloppy final exam brought down the overall grade, but it's hard to find fault with the most prolific scoring attack in the Big Ten and one of the most explosive offenses Ohio State has ever had in its decorated history. The rushing game was close to unstoppable, clear strides were evident when the football was in the air and the offensive line proved itself to be one of the best units in the country as the Buckeyes rolled their way to more than 46 points per game.

For all the talk about trying to balance out the spread offense this season, though, the Buckeyes weren't quite able to trust the passing game when it mattered most against the best defense they faced all year. Michigan State made them pay in the Big Ten title game as Braxton Miller struggled with his accuracy and his receivers put a few catchable throws on the ground, making rushing lanes harder to come by down the stretch and ultimately building to a failed fourth-down rush with a chance to play for the crystal football hanging in the balance.

But, obviously, the Buckeyes had 12 wins on the resume before that, and Carlos Hyde's wildly productive senior season finally gave Urban Meyer a 1,000-yard running back. Despite missing three games due to suspension to open the year, Hyde still led the Big Ten in rushing yardage during league play and finished with 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground as the Buckeyes bullied through the regular season thanks to his terrifying partnership with Miller in the backfield.

Defense: B-

At their best and fully healthy, the Buckeyes appeared to be on their way to living up to the high standards of the Silver Bullets and ranking among the nation's best defenses with a developing front, a game-changing linebacker and a veteran secondary filled with playmakers. Without the full complement of starters and against some solid offensive game plans, the Buckeyes at times looked completely lost and were exposed in the back end, particularly late in the season as injuries revealed the lack of depth at critical positions.

[+] EnlargeJoey Bosa
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsJoey Bosa and the Buckeyes will try to shut down the Crimson Tide's rushing attack.
The good certainly outweighed the bad for Ohio State, as it showed a knack for regrouping and making critical adjustments after some shaky starts, notably against Iowa and Northwestern. Ryan Shazier came up short in his bid for a couple of individual trophies, but the junior linebacker sent his NFL stock soaring with another stats-stuffing season that was downright spectacular at times. After needing to replace the entire defensive line, Noah Spence, Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett all proved more than capable of wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield and will return next season.

But much, much more was expected of the secondary with Bradley Roby returning for at cornerback to team with senior safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett. The loss of Bryant in September to a fractured ankle was a blow the Buckeyes were never able to truly recover from, and finishing No. 11 in the Big Ten in pass defense is never going to be acceptable at a program with so much defensive pride. Those issues were balanced out by a stout rush defense and an opportunistic unit. While there are certainly programs that would be happy with a grade like this on defense, Ohio State isn't one of them.

Special teams: B+

Freshman Cameron Johnston turned out to be an invaluable recruiting pickup late in the game a year ago, bursting on the scene with his powerful leg and a unique ability to dial it back when needed to switch field position. A coverage unit stocked with starters willing to lend a hand in the kicking game certainly didn't hurt, either.

The Buckeyes also made life miserable on opposing punters, a calling card of an Urban Meyer team, with Roby blocking a pair and Doran Grant throwing in another. Drew Basil was solid kicking the football, though Ohio State didn't call on the senior all that much has he attempted just 10 field goals, making nine.

There was a spark missing on kickoff and punt return, which will no doubt frustrate Meyer heading into next season. Dontre Wilson broke a 51-yard kickoff return and Philly Brown had a long of 65, but neither was able to break a touchdown.

Overall: A-

Everything was set up for the Buckeyes to make a run at the national championship, and despite all the hand-wringing about the BCS standings and OSU's schedule, all the dominoes had fallen into place ahead of the conference title game. And while that loss to the Spartans left them one game short of playing for the national crown, the Buckeyes still won 12 and are headed to the Discover Orange Bowl, which is a respectable consolation prize in what should again go down as a successful season.

Recapping the Big Ten All-Americans

December, 19, 2013
If you thought the Hollywood awards season lasted a long time, well, it has nothing on college football.

There's now an endless number of individual trophies, many sponsored by city sports commissions or other groups who want to be associated with college football. And the same is true with All-America teams. Major ones now include the Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp, Sporting News, ESPN.com, SportsIllustrated.com and CBSSports.com. Whew.

It can be hard if not impossible to keep up with all of it. So we're here to recap it for you, with a list of every Big Ten player who made one of those major All-America teams. In all, eight different Big Ten players garnered at least one first-team All-America nods, while 19 earned at least a second- or third-team honor. (Note that some organizations, like Walter Camp and ESPN.com, release only a first team).

We start the list with the lone unanimous first-team All-American from the conference:

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsMichigan State corner Darqueze Dennard was the Big Ten's only unanimous first-team All-American.
Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard

First team: AP, AFCA, FWAA, Walter Camp, Sporting News, ESPN.com, SI.com, CBSSports.com

Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier

First team: AP, ESPN.com, SI.com
Second team: FWAA, Walter Camp, CBSSports.com

Michigan OT Taylor Lewan

First team: Sporting News
Second team: AP, Walter Camp, CBSSports.com, SI.com

Wisconsin LB Chris Borland

First team: FWAA
Second team: AP, CBSSports.com, SI.com

Penn State WR Allen Robinson

First team: CBSSports.com, Sporting News
Second team: FWAA, SI.com
Third team: AP

Ohio State OT Jack Mewhort

First team: ESPN.com
Second team: FWAA, Walter Camp, SI.com
Third team: AP, CBSSports.com

Northwestern K Jeff Budzien

First team: Sporting News
Second team: Walter Camp
Third team: AP

Michigan State P Mike Sadler

First team: ESPN.com, CBSSports.com

Michigan State DE Shilique Calhoun

Second team: AP, Walter Camp, SI.com

Ohio State RB Carlos Hyde

Third team: AP

Iowa OT Brandon Scherff

Second team: FWAA

Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah

Third team: AP

Penn State G John Urschel

Third team: AP

Wisconsin G Ryan Groy

Third team: AP

Minnesota DT Ra'Shede Hageman

Third team: AP

Michigan State LB Max Bullough

Third team: AP

Michigan State LB Denicos Allen

Second team: SI.com
Third team: AP

Nebraska G Spencer Long

Third team: CBSSports.com

Ohio State S C.J. Barnett

Third team: CBSSports.com

Five things: Ohio State at Michigan

November, 30, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- We look at critical areas and key players, as No. 3 Ohio State heads to Michigan for The Game in hopes of keeping pace in the BCS standings and trying to wrap up another perfect regular season (ABC, noon).

[+] EnlargeCarlos Hyde
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCarlos Hyde and the Buckeyes rank No. 6 in the nation in rushing (314.7 ypg). Michigan is No. 14 in run defense (116.4 ypg).
Miller moment: The Wolverines haven't had much to rely on consistently, but one area where they've largely succeeded this season is slowing down opponents on the ground. They're likely going to do everything they can to keep Carlos Hyde, Braxton Miller and the nation's sixth-best rushing attack from beating them, and against a veteran offensive line and those dynamic runners, that's likely going to take an extra defender or two in the box. That approach helped hold the Buckeyes to 26 points in 2012, but Miller is a different quarterback than he was as a sophomore. He may need to prove it with his arm a few times to keep the Wolverines honest. The junior might also find his way back in the Heisman Trophy conversation if the combination of his right arm and his legs put up more big numbers in yet another win.

Silver bullet: All the Buckeyes had to do was let Ryan Shazier off his chain. Since turning the junior linebacker loose more often as a blitzer and finding different spots to line him up closer to the line of scrimmage, Shazier has been an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses, which can't seem to keep him out of the backfield. Over the past four games, Shazier has piled up an eye-popping 11.5 tackles for loss, but that doesn't even completely capture how disruptive he's been. Shazier has to be accounted for on every play, and that's opening up opportunities elsewhere for defensive linemen like Noah Spence, Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa to wreak some havoc. Those Buckeyes will be drooling after watching film all week of a Michigan offensive line that has given up more tackles for loss than any team in the country.

Pickin' the blues: A streak that has lasted all season for the Ohio State secondary finally came to an end last week, and that isn't likely to sit well with star cornerback Bradley Roby or veteran safety C.J. Barnett. The Buckeyes had been under fire from their own coaching staff for issues in defending the pass, but until Indiana made it through the matchup last week without throwing an interception, the playmakers in the backend had nabbed at least one INT in every game this season. Injury concerns last week for Doran Grant, Armani Reeves and the season-ending ankle injury that cut Christian Bryant's year short stretched Ohio State mighty thin in the secondary. It should be closer to full strength and should have a good shot at starting a new streak against Devin Gardner and his 11 interceptions this season.

Gold standard: There are two more guaranteed games for the Buckeyes, including one with seemingly much more on the line next week against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. And it might be tempting to look ahead to what figures to be a tougher test against a different team "up north," particularly with a trophy on the line. But Urban Meyer might appreciate and understand the value of rivalries better than any coach in the country, and his 21-3 record in those games suggests he's had no problem getting the attention of his team leading up to the matchups. The Wolverines will no doubt want to wreck Ohio State's perfect season so it will be critical for Meyer to have his bunch locked in at the Big House instead of eyeing a trip to Indianapolis.

Full house: The Wolverines may load the box, and Miller might make them pay with his improved accuracy and decision-making throwing the football, but either way the Buckeyes aren't likely to abandon their rushing attack. The combination of Hyde and Miller alone is usually enough to give a defense headaches, but the Buckeyes might have tipped their hand a bit last week against the Hoosiers that one counter to a stacked line of scrimmage will be throwing an extra rusher into the backfield and dialing up the option attack. Dontre Wilson was much more active last week and is slowly seeing his workload increase as the season progresses. In the spring, the Buckeyes toyed with the idea of a full-house backfield in a "Diamond" formation that featured a dizzying array of speed and power. It hasn't shown up yet in the regular season, but that might be a useful weapon over the next two weeks, starting with a Michigan defense that goes into The Game ranked No. 14 in the nation against the rush.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secondary now primary concern for OSU

October, 9, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Veteran experience and plenty of athleticism were supposed to provide peace of mind.

Ohio State seemingly had no reason to worry about its secondary in training camp. It was going to lean on a couple senior safeties to provide stability, count on talented cornerbacks to lock down in coverage and then dip into a reserve of skilled newcomers to feature packages designed to overcome youth and uncertainty in a rebuilt front seven.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Chuck Rydlewski/Icon SMIThe highlight of Bradley Roby's season so far was probably his blocked punt against Northwestern.
But somewhere along the way in the first half of the season, those roles have been reversed for the Buckeyes. Urban Meyer’s defense had had a few more holes in it than Ohio State's coach surely anticipated, which has made patching them up an unexpected priority for his bye week.

“It’s rather obvious,” Meyer said. “We’re really good against the run. We held a very good rushing team in Wisconsin well below [its] average. We kind of kept Northwestern in check, also a very good running team with some complicated schemes.

“But the pass defense is very alarming right now.”

That certainly wasn’t the script the Buckeyes were expecting to work off this season with Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett returning to anchor the defense in the back at safety, Bradley Roby spurning the NFL for another season to bolster his stock at cornerback, and a handful of guys pushing new starter Doran Grant for the final spot in the lineup.

Bryant’s fractured ankle suffered late in the win over Wisconsin two weeks has certainly thrown a wrench in those plans, but even with the respected captain and often overlooked contributor on the field, the secondary wasn’t quite living up to the lofty standard it had set for itself heading into the season.

The Buckeyes were victimized for a handful of big plays on the road against California, with communication issues leaving targets wide open. Committed to stopping the run against the Badgers, Ohio State did exactly that -- but couldn’t contain receiver Jared Abbrederis as he racked up 207 yards through the air. And with a similar game plan last week at Northwestern, the Buckeyes were again largely successful in the trenches only to have that work undone by 343 passing yards.

Of course, Ohio State remains unbeaten, is alive and well in the hunt for a national title and is still ranked No. 19 in the country in total defense. But that rating is due in large part to shutting teams down on the ground, and the disparity between a rush defense that is seventh-best in the country and a passing defense that is No. 76 in the nation (allowing 240 yards per game) is clearly wide enough to command Meyer’s attention on the off date.

“First on the hit parade is pass defense,” Meyer said. “That’s not just coverage, but it’s pass rush in combination with pass defense. We’ve devoted so much energy to stopping the run because that’s obviously what our philosophy is, but we’ve given up too many pass plays, big plays in the passing game. That’s No. 1 on defense.

“I believe we’ve played soft coverage at times, and then the two big hits that we gave up last week were pure missed tackles. ... That’s not because of poor scheme, it’s just you have to make the play.”

Nobody was expected to make more of them than the defensive backs when the season started. Halfway through it, the Buckeyes are regrouping and trying to make sure the defense doesn’t have to pull off any more high-wire acts.

Five things: Ohio State-Northwestern

October, 5, 2013
The schedule doesn't appear to offer many more hurdles for No. 4 Ohio State, but there's a big one in its way at No. 16 Northwestern (TV: ABC, 8 p.m.) on Saturday. The Big Ten showdown comes fully stocked with talent, stakes and what figures to be an energized crowd under the lights.

Title chase is on: The Buckeyes haven't exactly hidden their goals for the season since putting up their enormous banner in the spring signifying the start of "The Chase," and this trip to Northwestern has always stood out as a defining moment in the pursuit. Ohio State typically gets strong support on the road, and the environment might not be overly hostile, but the Wildcats can make life difficult with a versatile offense and an opportunistic defense. Northwestern is also unbeaten and could put itself in the conversation for something more than a Big Ten title with a win, giving both teams plenty to play for as October action kicks off.

Secondary concern: Ohio State is still dealing with the disappointment of losing senior Christian Bryant to a broken ankle, and the players and coaches might not ever truly get over it this season. But the Buckeyes obviously have to fill the safety's on-field role somehow, and the schedule isn't going to stop to allow them extra time to process their emotions or tinker with the rotation. Corey Brown is next in line and will start alongside C.J. Barnett, which will continue to give the defense two veterans at safety. But Tyvis Powell and true freshman Vonn Bell should see expanded roles in the nickel and dime packages moving forward as well, and Northwestern is capable of giving all those defenders a stern test.

Individual awards up for grabs, too: Braxton Miller won't be able to recoup the opportunities he lost to pile up stats while effectively missing three games in September, but his return last week against Wisconsin certainly put him back on the map with Heisman Trophy voters anyway. The junior quarterback was superb delivering the football, showing off his improved arm with four touchdown passes, claiming yet another win over a ranked opponent and keeping his team on track to compete for trophies at the end of the season. Another performance like last week's could easily restore his standing among the top candidates for the game's highest individual honor.

Hall passed: Jordan Hall is again listed as the starting running back on Ohio State's depth chart, but that didn't mean anything a week ago when Carlos Hyde actually filled that job when the game started and then took almost every rushing attempt that went to a tailback in the win over Wisconsin. Urban Meyer lamented Hall's lack of touches shortly after the victory was in the books, and the Ohio State coach has continued to stress the senior's value in the attack throughout practice this week. But for however the depth chart might read, Hyde is clearly the top choice in the backfield, and finding ways to keep Hall involved while still getting the football in Dontre Wilson's hands is going to be a chore.

Roller coaster for Roby: The All-American skills were on display at times, but overall Bradley Roby delivered something of a mixed bag a week ago at cornerback. He made an athletic play in the backfield, but the tackle for a loss appeared to cost him a bit physically. He made an interception and broke up three passes, but he was also burned a couple timesm and Ohio State gave up more than 200 yards receiving to Jared Abbrederis. The junior's natural athleticism isn't up for debate, but Roby will have his ability to bounce back from an uneven performance put to the test. The reconfigured secondary will need him at his best against the Wildcats.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The announcement was still fresh in mind, barely more than 24 hours old as Urban Meyer reported for the first meeting of the day.

Saturday night’s win over Wisconsin was creeping into Sunday morning when the Ohio State coach walked to a podium he would soon smack after revealing star safety Christian Bryant had been lost for the season with a broken ankle, and it was still early on Monday when his staff met at 7 a.m. to talk about replacing him.

[+] EnlargeJared Abbrederis
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCorey Pittsburgh Brown (No. 3) will likely get the first shot at replacing Christian Bryant for the Buckeyes.
The emotions might still have been raw given Bryant’s importance as more than just a tenacious tackler thanks to the vocal leadership and veteran leadership he provided the Buckeyes in the secondary. But there was nothing Meyer could do to change the fact that Bryant was no longer a part of the plan for trying to stop No. 16 Northwestern on the road this week, and finding somebody to fill that void will stay at the top of the agenda until No. 4 Ohio State finds its best option.

“This is not an easy one,” Meyer said. “Last year, I would have put my hands all over that, because I didn't really know [safeties coach] Everett Withers very well. But he's an excellent football coach, and when we met this morning, I wanted opinions [from the entire staff], and I'm going to give mine.

“And we are going to meet again at 2 o'clock and I want to hear what they are going to do.”

After all that brainstorming, the Buckeyes don’t necessarily need to have identified a permanent solution, but they will need to settle on somebody to line up in Bryant’s spot at safety when they hit the practice field on Tuesday afternoon.

The list has already been whittled to three defensive backs, with Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown the most likely candidate given his experience and some consistent production already this season from his role in the dime package. But nickel safety Tyvis Powell is also a potential target for a starting role in the base formation, and talented true freshman Vonn Bell also gave the Buckeyes something to consider during those conversations on Monday.

But whoever ultimately emerges and takes over Bryant’s job moving forward, the shoes are going to be extremely difficult to fill -- and there isn’t going to be much time to get used to wearing them either.

“This is a very complicated offense,” Meyer said. “It’s one that's going to require [good communication], and one of the disappointing things we had last Saturday was not just a couple guys got beat, but we had some errors in checks and communication.

“We can't have that, and with that position open now, that's a big part of it.”

Brown’s familiarity with the system alongside fellow veteran defensive backs Bradley Roby and C.J. Barnett might give him the edge to claim that spot, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs indicated the senior would likely be getting the first crack at it.

Brown had actually been nipping at Bryant’s heels statistically so far this season, with Bryant only leading Brown by one tackle through five games. And Brown had also chipped in a tackle for a loss and broken up a pass, showing signs of the type of versatility the Buckeyes crave in the secondary.

Bryant, though, has set a high standard for stuffing the box score in a variety of different ways, and at least from an on-field perspective, Coombs and the rest of the defensive staff will be watching closely early in the week to make sure they find somebody capable of providing some similar production across the board.

“I think as we sit here this afternoon that Pitt Brown will go in there and play,” Coombs said. “I don’t know exactly the configuration of how all those guys are going to fit going into the week, and some of that will be developed and discussed during practice.

“But our guys, those are versatile players back there and I think that gets understated somewhat.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean the loss of Bryant has been overstated. But all the coaches can do now is show up for their early meetings and work on a new plan.

Wins are Ohio State's best statement

September, 29, 2013

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Earlier in the week, Urban Meyer called Wisconsin the "king of the Big Ten." After yet another Ohio State victory on Saturday night, no questions remained about the real league royalty: the team with King James on its sideline.

Yet this was hardly a coronation. The No. 4 Buckeyes had to fight until the final minute to hold off the No. 23 Badgers 31-24 in front the third-largest crowd in the history of the Horseshoe. Plenty of people probably checked in on this prime-time game to find out just how good Ohio State truly was after it had cruised against soft competition for the first four weeks.

They might have come away still unsure.

"I don't know if we made a statement," safety C.J. Barnett said. "We know we had our doubters. Hopefully, we proved them wrong. But if not, it doesn't matter. We're just going to keep working."

Meyer's team looked ready to provide a resounding impression at various points in the game. Quarterback Braxton Miller returned from his 11-quarter injury absence and immediately led the offense on a touchdown drive in just four plays. The Buckeyes went end to end as fast as LeBron James, who cheered on his home state school from the 20-yard line during the first half.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsBraxton Miller threw for 198 yards and rushed for 83 in his first game since injuring his knee Sept. 7.
Miller, reunited with running back Carlos Hyde for the first time this season, threw four touchdown passes and put his team up 31-14 with his final one late in the third quarter. Take that, Oregon and Clemson and other teams jockeying for BCS title game position.

But Wisconsin, which hasn't lost a game by more than seven points since 2010, refused to buckle. The hard-luck Badgers outgained the Buckeyes (399-390) and cost themselves a better chance at the upset because of a missed field goal, several costly penalties and a defensive breakdown at the end of the first half. Saturday's game was billed as the de facto Leaders Division title game. It might well have just pitted the two best teams in the entire Big Ten.

"They did exactly what we thought they were going to do," Ohio State receiver Philly Brown said. "We knew it going into this game that it was going to be a brawl."

Just not exactly the type many expected. The young Buckeyes defensive front seven accomplished the nearly impossible by shutting down Wisconsin's running game and its star tailbacks, Melvin Gordon and James White. The Badgers finished with just 104 rushing yards on 27 carries, while Gordon -- the leading rusher in the FBS heading into Saturday -- was limited to 74 yards on 15 attempts before a leg injury ended his night early.

The longest Wisconsin rush of the night was White's 17-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. Mostly, however, White and Gordon found little space to maneuver and plenty of defenders in their area.

"I really think we showed to the country that we can stop the run and that we're not anybody to be messing around with," Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier said. "They have a great offensive line, and I feel like our D-line is going to be great also."

Yet the Badgers countered with a surprisingly effective passing game. Quarterback Joel Stave threw for 295 yards, 207 of them going to receiver Jared Abbrederis. Despite everyone in the stadium knowing whom Stave would target, Abbrederis repeatedly found ways to get open while burning Ohio State's all-America cornerback Bradley Roby several times.

"He's got my vote for All-Big Ten," Meyer said. "He did an incredible job."

The bad news in the secondary got much worse late in the game when senior safety Christian Bryant suffered a broken ankle trying to make an interception. Bryant is one of the top leaders on the defense, and Meyer was so upset about the season-ending injury that he slapped the podium in his postgame news conference and said, "Doggone it. Hard part of the game, boy."

Bryant's on-field absence could be felt next week at Northwestern. As far as off the field, it could last even longer.

"I'm not worried about the playing [aspect]," Barnett said. "I'm worried about the leadership aspect. It's going to take all of our leaders to do more. I've got to do more."

The injury hurts, but the Buckeyes still boast an enviable position. They hold a virtual two-game lead over Wisconsin in the Leaders race by owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. After Saturday's "GameDay" showdown at No. 17 Northwestern, the Buckeyes should have smooth sailing until the season-ender at Michigan, which might or might not have fixed its troubling flaws by then.

Critics might harp on Saturday's narrow margin of victory, but they would underrate Wisconsin if so.

"It's a Big Ten win," offensive lineman Andrew Norwell said. "To beat a Big Ten team, that says something, especially a ranked team. This was a big win for us."

Not, however, a dominant one. The Buckeyes might need those while trying to convince pollsters and Big Ten skeptics that they belong in the national championship picture. Saturday's game was more reminiscent of last year's team, which eked out several close victories on its way to 12-0.

Still, the wins keep piling up. Meyer has never known an unhappy postgame "Carmen Ohio" sing-along as a head coach, having produced 17 straight victories. When you can bring LeBron James in for a pregame speech with scores of recruits watching, that bodes well for the future.

"I don't know," Meyer said when asked about the impact of James' presence Saturday. "I just know that I love athletes that handle their business."

The Buckeyes keep doing that every week. Until someone can dethrone them, that's the only statement that matters.

Four downs: Buckeyes to watch at Cal

September, 13, 2013
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A closer look at players and positions that will be critical for No. 4 Ohio State as it tries to extend its winning streak under Urban Meyer to 15 games on Saturday at California.

Kenny Guiton

[+] EnlargeKenny Guiton
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteWith Braxton Miller's status still uncertain, Kenny Guiton could be in line for more work Saturday.
The health of Braxton Miller has been under the microscope all week long since he left on the opening drive of Ohio State's easy win last week, and while his sprained knee has responded well and the junior will be on the plane heading west, it's a safe bet his backup once again will be seeing some action.

The Buckeyes might not know exactly how much they'll need Guiton until shortly before kickoff, but even if Miller is in solid enough shape to start, Meyer might well play it safe and get his reliable reliever off the bench to share the load at times anyway -- particularly if the spread attack is able to get an early lead against a suspect Cal defense.

Joey Bosa

Perhaps overlooked with the spotlight shining so brightly on Miller's knee is the fact Ohio State is dealing with another injury concern on the other side of the ball, and the groin problem for defensive end Adolphus Washington actually might be a more pressing issue. Considering the youth in the front seven for the Buckeyes and Cal's uptempo, aggressive style with the football, removing Washington from the lineup could be a significant blow up front.

True freshman Joey Bosa has played himself into position for a potential start and has drawn rave reviews for his athleticism and smooth transition to life in major college football, and the Buckeyes might wind up counting on him to back up all that talk in a pressurized situation.

Corey Linsley

The senior center expected to go the distance last week on his surgically repaired foot, but the lopsided scoreboard instead influenced Ohio State to err on the side of caution once again and take it slow with Linsley. He's certainly ready for a full workload against Cal, and the Buckeyes clearly have been more effective when they have their anchor on the field. The 17 early snaps and 23 points in the opener provide obvious evidence when compared with the 17 points Ohio State scored in the rest of the game without him. To help take some of the strain off the defense as it deals with a Cal squad looking to snap the ball close to 100 times, the Ohio State offensive line often will be called on to dominate as run-blockers and help work on the clock with the ground game, and Linsley can set that tone right in the middle of it all.


Designating official starters at cornerback was all the rage last week, but it truly won't matter at Cal. All three of Ohio State's top cornerbacks are going to see plenty of action, and after a somewhat inconsistent outing in place of Bradley Roby in the opener, the defensive staff surely felt better about what it got out of Armani Reeves in the win over San Diego State. Along with Doran Grant, safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant and nickelback Tyvis Powell, the secondary will be facing one of its toughest tests of the season against a pass-happy offense that will try to attack with a barrage of throws all over the field. The Buckeyes consider themselves one of the deepest, most talented units in the nation, and this will be a huge opportunity to prove it with no shortage of plays to be made.


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