Ohio State Buckeyes: Chris Ash

Spring game preview: Ohio State

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
9:00
AM ET
Ohio State has an action-packed afternoon planned for its spring showcase, including an undercard that features a lacrosse game in the Horseshoe and halftime entertainment that includes Ohio State players racing students. Here’s more of what to expect from the annual LiFE Sports Spring Game:

When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesBackup QB Cardale Jones development will be a big storyline to watch in Ohio State's spring game.
Admission: General admission tickets are $5 (originally priced $12 in advance; fans who already purchased tickets can get a refund for the difference from the place they bought the tickets beginning Monday, or donate the difference to the LiFE Sports program and Boys and Girls Club). Children under six years old and Ohio State students get in free.

TV: Big Ten Network (live coverage)

Weather forecast: Conditions should be just about perfect after a spring spent largely indoors for the Buckeyes. The high temperature is projected to be 72 degrees and the forecast calls for a zero percent chance of rain, setting the table for what should be a gorgeous afternoon at the Shoe.

What to watch for: The Buckeyes try to balance the teams as much as possible to present a competitive game for fans and a chance to evaluate the roster for coaches, and that should provide a few notable measuring sticks at critical positions heading into the offseason.

It’s no secret that pass defense was awful for Ohio State down the stretch as it dropped its final two games last season, and while Chris Ash has only had 14 practices as the new co-defensive coordinator in charge of the secondary, early reviews have been positive. But how will the defensive backs match up against a proven deep threat such as Devin Smith or a speed-burner such as Dontre Wilson on the perimeter?

For that matter, how will the passing attack look without Braxton Miller at the helm for the Buckeyes as he continues to recuperate from offseason shoulder surgery? The importance of replacing backup quarterback Kenny Guiton shouldn’t be overlooked for Ohio State, considering the number of times he was needed off the bench during his career, and Cardale Jones will be under the microscope in the spring showcase to see how far he’s come with his accuracy and as a decision-maker.

There is some uncertainty about the starting offensive line as the Buckeyes try to replace four starters up front, and there’s a heated battle going on between a handful of candidates trying to fill the void at running back left by Carlos Hyde. But the main focus for the Buckeyes will be on the skill players on the perimeter -- on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Meyer, no doubt, will be paying close attention to whatever happens when the ball is in the air.
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer hired Chris Ash away from Arkansas primarily to fix Ohio State's problems in its pass defense.

What Ash found is that the biggest area of need might have been from the shoulder pads up rather than any scheme or philosophy.

"You talk about Ohio State and the history, and there have been some really good defenses and some really good defensive backs," the Buckeyes' first-year co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach told ESPN.com. "You knew what you were going to get when you lined up against Ohio State -- you were going to get hit in the mouth.

[+] EnlargeChris Ash
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsChris Ash says instilling a new attitude in the secondary is as important as any scheme he is bringing to Ohio State.
"From my observations, some of that confidence and swagger has been lost in the last couple of years. And that mental psyche is probably as big as anything for us to regain."

It's understandable why the secondary might have felt shell-shocked by the way last season ended. The last three games of the season saw Ohio State surrender 451 passing yards to Michigan in a one-point win, allow Michigan State's Connor Cook to register his first career 300-yard passing day in a Big Ten championship game loss and serve up five passing touchdowns to Clemson in the Orange Bowl defeat. That led to withering criticism from fans and media about the pass defense.

"It’s been everywhere about how bad our back end was," senior cornerback Doran Grant said.

Ash said he hasn't looked much at the past and doesn't really care about it. But he does want the defensive backfield to play with an attitude and confidence, a task that's not made easier by the loss of three starters from last season.

One way Ash has tried to instill those traits is by showing his players clips from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks' secondary. Seattle's hard-hitting, long cornerbacks and safeties set a tone for its entire defense.

"We made lot of cutups of them and said, 'Guys, this is how the best in the business play the game of football,’'' Ash said. "Are we going to be that? No, but we can be in our own way, and this is the way we need to play."

Ash wants his players showing energy and excitement on the field. So whenever a defensive back gives a great effort or celebrate a big play in practice this spring, you'll hear Ohio State coaches say, "Locker it." That's jargon for saving the video clip, which Ash will later show to his players in meetings.

Ohio State needed more change than just the mental side of the game, of course. Ash will help give the Buckeyes a more consistent and aggressive approach in its pass coverage, utilizing the Cover 4, or quarters, scheme. That will also feature some man-to-man, press coverage at times. It's kind of a combination of what Ash ran at Wisconsin, mixed in with some principals that Michigan State has had so much success with.

"We're taking the same approach that we take to stopping the run and putting it in the back end," Meyer said. "The feeling around here was as long as we stop the run and give up some passing yards, that’s OK. That’s not the case anymore. There are too many good throwing teams out there."

Grant is by far the most experienced player in the secondary and looks to take over the role of No. 1 cornerback after Bradley Roby's departure to the NFL. Working opposite him are junior Armani Reeves and redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple. The latter two were both big-time recruits, and Ash said Apple is probably the defense's most improved player over the latter half of spring ball.

Sophomore Vonn Bell, who made his first career start at safety in the Orange Bowl, tore his MCL early in spring practice. In his absence, the 6-foot-3 Tyvis Powell and the 6-foot Cam Burrows are taking first-team reps at safety. Both are former cornerbacks and are what Ash calls "the model of what we want to recruit here" at safety because of their speed and size.

They've got a long way to go to match the Seahawks, but the Buckeyes have very promising, if somewhat raw, athletes to work with. They hope that leads to a much better and more confident secondary this season.

"It’s not about the size or anything like that," Grant said. "It’s about going hard and being coachable. [The Seahawks are] a high standard, but Ohio State, we’re also a high standard."
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The cushions are gone in the Ohio State secondary.

For the spring, that figuratively applies to a group of defensive backs being challenged and pushed to the limit on a daily basis, removing their personal comfort zone in order to to improve on the disaster that was last season’s pass coverage.

By the fall, it will literally mean the spaces that used to be open to opposing wide receivers at the line of scrimmage will no longer exist, replaced instead by a relentless barrage of nonstop press coverage.

The goal both now and later is for the Buckeyes to make an opponent uncomfortable when the ball is in the air, and cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs is more than willing to do his part to take out the buffer and dial up the pressure to make sure that happens.

“We’re playing a style of defense that is very appealing to me as a corners coach,” Coombs said. “Every single snap of spring football we have lined up in press coverage, and that’s the way we’re going to learn it. Then we’ll find out how we stack up when the fall comes around.”

[+] EnlargeArmani Reeves
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsArmani Reeves and the Buckeyes will be in press coverage more often in 2014.
The Buckeyes came up woefully short on the measuring stick last fall, and its beleaguered pass coverage was arguably at the top of the list of reasons they fell short of their goal of playing for the national championship as the secondary unraveled down the stretch.

Ohio State survived a shootout against rival Michigan despite allowing 451 passing yards, but even its high-powered offense wasn’t able to keep trading punches against Michigan State and Clemson as those teams combined for 682 yards and eight touchdowns through the air in those two losses. Collectively the Buckeyes allowed 250 yards or more eight times as they sank to No. 110 in the nation in pass defense, and coach Urban Meyer has made it well known that he believed the defense was too conservative.

That message has clearly been delivered to returning assistants such as Coombs, and a fresh voice in co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has echoed it as he helps install a much more aggressive system that will bring the cornerbacks up to the line of scrimmage to force the issue in man-to-man coverage.

“It takes practice to play that way,” Coombs said. “Football is made up of a myriad of different schemes. There are lots of different things, and it’s not like you can just say, ‘Hey, go put those guys up on the line of scrimmage and go play.’ It’s the scheme; it’s how everything fits together.

“I’m not blaming that on anybody, but that was not what we were doing. We did it at times, but it wasn’t our base concept -- it was an adjustment. Now it is our base alignment, and we will adjust off of that. So, in order to do that, you’ve got to do it.”

That alone doesn’t guarantee improvement, and the Buckeyes are certainly aware that it will take more than tweaking the playbook to get results.

For starters, three veterans from the secondary must be replaced, including cornerback Bradley Roby, after he elected to skip his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL draft. The Buckeyes do still have senior Doran Grant around to fill that void at the boundary position in the secondary, and he has all the tools to become a shutdown defender, the role Roby filled during the last couple seasons.

The new scheme also presents some personnel challenges, as the demanding nature of press coverage will force the Buckeyes to rotate cornerbacks more frequently to keep them fresh. That will make it imperative to bring along an inexperienced, but talented, group of players, including former elite recruits such as Gareon Conley and Eli Apple to supplement Grant and projected starter Armani Reeves without much drop-off in production or effort.

But there is still time left in spring practice to work on that, plus an entire offseason this summer and training camp in August until the Buckeyes feel comfortable dealing with the pressure.

Then it will be their turn to put it on somebody else.

“I actually like it,” Grant said. “Our whole team is liking it. We’re buying into it and we appreciate this defense. We’re going to work our butts off to get [it right].”

After all, the Buckeyes know they can’t get it fixed sitting on cushions, either.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The changes to Ohio State's defensive scheme will have to wait.

For now, Chris Ash is only focused on how the Buckeyes go about their business, regardless of the schemes the new co-defensive coordinator might install to fix a unit in need of repairs.

More man coverage and a new package of aggressive blitzes were part of the promises that accompanied Urban Meyer’s hiring of Ash in the offseason. But at least through the first half of spring camp, there has been no deep dive into the playbook. At this point, Ash has largely stayed on the first few pages, keeping the approach as simple as possible in the first phase of the rebuilding job, focusing on effort above everything else.

“It doesn’t matter what we do schematically,” Ash said. “We’re going to have a philosophy; we’re going to have a system, an identity for what we’re doing. But really, it’s about how hard we play and how consistent we are doing it.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Gallon
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesTyvis Powell and Ohio State are focusing on effort in the defensive backfield so far in spring practice.
“What I’m happy about so far is the effort that guys are giving. The guys have bought into what I’m coaching, what I’m teaching and they’re coming out here and practicing extremely hard. That’s all I care about right now. With the changes from the past, I couldn’t tell you because I don’t know what it was like before.”

Ash might not have any baseline with which to compare Ohio State’s practices this spring compared to the last couple of seasons, but the returning players certainly do. And the differences have not gone unnoticed at the midway point of spring practice.

The coaching staff has kept a running tally of loafs in practice, pointing out when players are coasting or failing to meet the oft-repeated standard of giving “4 to 6 seconds” of relentless effort from “Point A to Point B.” The Buckeyes are picking up every loose ball and trying to duplicate “scoop-and-score” scenarios. Every interception is supposed to be returned at least 10 yards at full speed, though safety Tyvis Powell has taken it upon himself to double that when the football comes his way, trying to build his case as a potential leader for the revamped secondary.

That type of gesture and work ethic won’t go unnoticed by Ash, mostly because it’s exactly what he’s looking for before adding wrinkles to a pass defense that finished last season ranked No. 110 in the nation.

“There’s really not much [that’s difficult to learn] because it’s all that simple right now,” Powell said. “They’re not overloading us with plays or different schemes right now; everything is really kind of basic. They’re not trying to put in too many plays. They’re just making sure that we master what they’re already giving us.

“Basically the biggest difference right now is just flying around. ... Practice was kind of relaxed, but it’s getting back to high energy now. They demand effort out of us right now, so that’s the best thing about it.”

In some respects, that’s about the only demand the Buckeyes are making on defense.

They’re allowed to give up big plays if mistakes happen, as long as those gains don't come as a result of lackadaisical effort. If an assignment is missed, that can be excused if a player does everything possible to make up for it by chasing down the football. Even if the fundamentals aren’t perfect, there’s still plenty of time to address that later as well.

“We have some talented players here, and if they can be consistently in the right spots and executing and going with maximum effort, we’re going to do pretty well,” Ash said. “The first thing I want to make sure they’re doing is coming out here and living the culture of Ohio State football that coach Meyer has -- that’s going 4-to-6, A-to-B and playing with extreme effort. As long as we can do that, we’ll fix anything else that we have wrong.”

Those changes are coming, too. For now, Ash’s top priority is as simple to understand as the scheme.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
12:00
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I haven't had to tear up my bracket just yet, so I got that going for me, which is nice.
The Big Ten is rooted in historic rivalries, but some of these series have been lopsided in recent years. We're taking a closer look at these games and whether things will change or remain the same in 2014.

So far, you and I think the status quo will remain in series like Wisconsin-Minnesota, Michigan-Michigan State and Minnesota-Michigan. The final rivalry under the microscope has no trophy at stake because it doesn't need one. It goes by a simple title: The Game. Ohio State and Michigan. Enough said.

Lately, it has been all Buckeyes.

Let's dive in ...

Series: First meeting in 1897. Michigan leads 58-45-6. Since 1951, Ohio State leads 33-27-2.

Last meeting: Ohio State prevailed 42-41 on Nov. 30, 2013, at Michigan Stadium after snuffing out Michigan's potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt.

The streak: Ohio State has won consecutive matchups, and Michigan has only one win in the series since 2003. The Buckeyes' 2010 victory was vacated because of NCAA violations.

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Next meeting: Nov. 29 at Ohio Stadium

The skinny: Ohio State dominated Michigan during coach Jim Tressel's tenure, but the gap seems to be narrowing a bit since Brady Hoke took over the Wolverines' program. Hoke beat Ohio State in his first season, and his Wolverines nearly pulled an upset last year against a Buckeyes team that had won its first 23 games under Urban Meyer. Michigan's inconsistent offense found a rhythm against Ohio State, and Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner and wide receiver Jeremy Gallon matched blow for blow with the dynamic Buckeye backfield of Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde.

This year's game could come down to whether the Michigan offense or the Ohio State defense fixes its issues from 2013. Both units have new coaches, as coordinator Doug Nussmeier comes to Michigan, while Chris Ash and Larry Johnson take on key roles in Columbus. Ohio State and Michigan are in the same division for the first time, and The Game should have implications on who goes to Indianapolis. Michigan hasn't won at Ohio Stadium since 2000, a game that sealed John Cooper's fate as Buckeyes coach. Both teams return their quarterbacks and bring in decorated defensive recruits such as Jabrill Peppers (Michigan) and Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State).

The (very early) prediction: Hoke prepares Michigan well for The Game, and the Wolverines should be a bit steadier on offense. But I don't see Miller losing his final home game as a Buckeye, especially with postseason implications likely on the line. Miller rallies Ohio State late for a three-point win.
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.

Big Ten Friday mailblog

March, 14, 2014
Mar 14
4:30
PM ET
Last mail call before the weekend. Don't forget to follow us on Twitter. Join the 100K strong.

Let's get started ...

Bob from Cary, N.C., writes: How do we measure the competitive strength of East vs. West over time? My hunch is that over the next five to 10 years Maryland/Rutgers will flourish and Iowa/Minnesota/Illinois will flounder. The West teams will be less visible in the media of NYC/DC and recruiting areas of Ohio/Pennsylvania. This very scenario was a factor in Nebraska's decision to leave the B12. Can the B1G avoid the obvious disparity between East and West over time?

Adam Rittenberg: Bob, ultimately you measure the divisions by which teams are winning league titles and which division has more strength at the top. The East Division appears to have an edge, but I don't know if Rutgers or Maryland will flourish simply because of its location. Both programs must invest a lot more into football to keep pace with programs that have more tradition and more resources. Big Ten revenues undoubtedly will help both newcomers, but it's not easy to compete with Ohio State, Michigan and others.

It's important for West Division teams to maintain a presence in Ohio and Pennsylvania, and to recruit well in the new areas. Remember that Illinois had a huge recruiting presence in Washington, D.C., when Mike Locksley was on staff. The Illini didn't need Maryland in the league or the Big Ten TV presence in the market to have success. Do West Division teams have some geographic challenges? Sure. But the right coaches and the right recruiting approaches -- combined with winning -- should keep the divisions balanced enough.


Kenny from Cincinnati writes: Vonn Bell is injured for the spring but as a safety, how important are those practices? I feel like by now they know his abilities. I think watching film and terminology work might actually be more beneficial for a young upstart with a new coach. But then again maybe I am looking for a positive in a suspect secondary.

Adam Rittenberg: Bell is still just a sophomore, Kenny, so he could have benefited from the practices, especially with a new safeties coach -- and co-defensive coordinator -- in Chris Ash. But Ohio State saw what Bell could do in a starting role in the Orange Bowl, where he had an interception and seven tackles. Bell could have locked up a starting safety spot with a strong spring, but he'll still have time to impress Ash in the summer. Ash told me last month that safety Tyvis Powell, along with cornerback Doran Grant, had really stood out in the offseason. I'd be surprised if Powell doesn't start at one safety spot. Bell must earn the other.


Rob from New York writes: I find that one of the underdiscussed factors in the Big Ten's recent, drastic decline has been the improvement of the MAC and, as it's related, the Big Ten's inability to pull in those athletes. There's really no reason why Khalil Mack should be playing for Buffalo instead of any of the Big Ten schools. Jordan Lynch should be playing for Illinois or Northwestern, but he went to NIU. Same story with Eric Fisher, why wasn't he at Michigan or Michigan State? I'd say part of this has to do with the fact that recruiting networks aren't the same in the North as they are in the South, but it's hard not to blame the Big Ten coaches as well.

Adam Rittenberg: Rob, I agree there are some excellent MAC players who could have helped Big Ten teams. Mack, Lynch and Fisher certainly are three of them. But is the MAC really an improved league? I say no. The MAC has declined since the early part of the 2000s, when you had Marshall, Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green and Toledo surging, and Northern Illinois was starting to break through. Sure, the MAC records some upset wins every season, but Northern Illinois was outclassed in the Orange Bowl and no other league squad has reached a BCS bowl. Maybe Bowling Green will change things, but this league isn't the TCU-BYU-Utah Mountain West. I agree that the MAC has some great players overlooked by bigger schools in recruiting. But that always has been true, just as it is in the Sun Belt, Conference USA, etc. As a league, the MAC, much like the Big Ten, leaves something to be desired.


Anthony from Arlington, Va., writes: Great choice on the week 8 trip to College Park for the Iowa/Maryland game. I'm not sure if you're aware, but the Iowa alumni base in the DMV is huge. So huge, in fact, that I anticipate one-third of Byrd Stadium will be Hawkeye fans. I'll even make a bet. If it's less then drinks are on me postgame. If I'm right, you get to shake your rump to the victory polka!

Adam Rittenberg: Anthony, there are several Big Ten fan bases with a sizable presence in the area. Indiana and Penn State are two others. These existing Big Ten pockets contributed to the league's decision to pursue Maryland. OK, you really want to see me dance the polka? I'll tell you what. If my editors actually send me to Iowa-Maryland, you've got a deal. Just make sure there are no cameras around.


Jon from Chicago writes: Any word on if MSU and Oregon will have new uniforms from Nike for their game this fall? It'd be a great idea, right, especially since this will be one of the biggest games of the year.

Adam Rittenberg: Jon, nothing has been finalized yet, but I would fully expect Nike to make a splash for the game. Oregon has a vast array of uniform combinations, and Michigan State has unveiled a few new versions in recent seasons. Maybe instead of the green vs. green pairing, we'll get something like this from the Ducks and something equally wacky/non-traditional from MSU. As long as the recruits like it, right?
Ohio State defensive line coach Larry Johnson finds himself in an interesting position, even if he doesn't care (which he likely doesn't). Johnson was the overwhelming choice as the Big Ten's most significant assistant coach departure for leaving Penn State after 18 seasons.

Well, now it's time to look at the Big Ten's most significant assistant coach addition, and Johnson, the only coach to move within the conference this past offseason, is among the candidates.

Here's the full list (in alphabetical order):

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Who is the Big Ten's best assistant coach hire for 2014?

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Chris Ash, co-defensive coordinator/safeties, Ohio State: The Buckeyes swiped Ash from Arkansas, where he was the sole defensive coordinator, and bring in a coach with past Big Ten coordinator experience at Wisconsin. Ash's defenses at Wisconsin ranked in the top 15 nationally in scoring in both 2011 and 2012. Arkansas' defense went from 113th nationally against the pass in 2012 to 72nd last season.

Ralph Friedgen, offensive coordinator, Rutgers: Friedgen was Maryland's head coach from 2001-10, guiding the Terrapins to seven bowl games (five victories) and an ACC title in 2001, when he won national coach of the year honors. He also has been an offensive coordinator for 21 seasons at either the college or NFL level, helping Georgia Tech to a co-national title in 1990 and winning the Broyles Award as the nation's top assistant in 1999.

Larry Johnson, defensive line, Ohio State: Johnson spent the past 18 seasons at Penn State -- the past 14 as the Lions' defensive line coach -- and developed a reputation as both an elite coach and an elite recruiter. He mentored seven first-team All-Americans at Penn State, including Courtney Brown and Tamba Hali, and six of his players were named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year or Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year.

Taver Johnson, defensive backs, Purdue: Taver Johnson's hiring didn't get as much publicity as the others on this list, but he could turn out to be just as valuable to his new team. Like Ash, Johnson escaped Arkansas and returns to the Big Ten, where he enjoyed success as Ohio State's cornerbacks coach. He mentored Malcolm Jenkins, the 2008 Jim Thorpe Award winner, and had three Buckeyes corners earn first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Doug Nussmeier, offensive coordinator, Michigan: Nussmeier brings impressive credentials to Ann Arbor, including a national championship ring he won as Alabama's offensive coordinator in 2012, when the Crimson Tide set records for both scoring and total offense. He has mentored quarterbacks such as Alabama's AJ McCarron, Washington's Keith Price and Jake Locker and the St. Louis Rams' Marc Bulger. Nussmeier also has Big Ten experience as Michigan State's quarterbacks coach from 2003-05.

It's that time again. Cast your vote.

Early OSU observations: No. 4

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State’s two practices to open camp before taking the week off for spring break gives one a peek at some new faces and a couple changes. While the Buckeyes are gearing up for the sprint to the finish of spring workouts, we’re looking at the early developments and what they mean moving forward for Urban Meyer’s team.

No. 4: Safeties getting squeezed

[+] EnlargeVonn Bell
Zach Bolinger/Icon SMISafety Vonn Bell's knee surgery knocks him out for the spring.
The process was never expected to go smoothly or easily, but Ohio State surely could have done without a setback popping up on the first day of camp as it set out to repair its damaged pass defense.

Urban Meyer made clear that a few coverage breakdowns were to be expected as the Buckeyes installed a more aggressive scheme in the secondary, and so he wasn’t troubled by the big plays that were given up as practice opened with the offense clearly getting the better of the defense. He also recognized that there wasn’t enough depth at safety for his liking, but losing projected starter Vonn Bell to knee surgery for the rest of spring after that first workout might have been more difficult for Meyer to stomach than a few deep balls completed to wide-open receivers.

Bell is expected to be back to full speed by May after the minor procedure for a tear in his medial collateral ligament, more than enough time to allow him to take advantage of the offseason program and get physically ready for his critical role on the back line. But with new co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Ash installing his new system, reps in March and April would have been invaluable for Bell, particularly because Meyer expressed confidence only in him, Cam Burrows and returning starter Tyvis Powell as options at safety.

The Buckeyes have two newcomers on the way in the fall, but the lack of depth at the position during the spring might be unsettling for a team that was devastated by just one key injury during the season, as everything fell apart after losing Christian Bryant in late September. Bell’s injury isn’t nearly as serious, but it offered a quick reminder that the secondary is going to hit some potholes on the road to rebuilding.
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
We're taking snapshots of each position group with every Big Ten team entering the spring. Up next: the defensive backs.

Illinois: The secondary returns mostly intact from 2013, as Illinois returns starters at both cornerback spots (V'Angelo Bentley and Eaton Spence), as well as Zane Petty, who started the final seven games at free safety. Taylor Barton, who opened last season as a starting free safety, also is back. Building safety depth is important this spring as Illinois must replace Earnest Thomas III. Barton will compete with Jevaris Little and others for playing time. The depth is much better at corner as Darius Mosely and Jaylen Dunlap both saw significant action as freshmen last fall.

Indiana: Like Illinois, Indiana returns a lot in the defensive backfield but must improve after struggling to stop opponents in 2013. The Hoosiers also lose only one starter in safety Greg Heban, a mainstay during the past four seasons. There's a lot of experience at cornerback with returning starters Tim Bennett (senior) and Michael Hunter (junior), along with reserve Kenny Mullen (senior). Decorated recruit Rashard Fant, who redshirted in 2013, will compete for significant playing time. Senior safety Mark Murphy will lead the secondary, and sophomore Antonio Allen could fill the other safety spot when he returns from an ACL tear. Building depth here always is a priority at IU.

Iowa: The situation isn't as dramatic as the linebacker spot, but Iowa still must replace two productive players in cornerback B.J. Lowery and safety Tanner Miller, who combined for six interceptions in 2013. Lowery is the more significant loss, as he had 19 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The good news is Desmond King looks like a budding star and he will move into the featured role Lowery occupied. Jordan Lomax, Sean Draper and others will compete to start opposite King. Strong safety John Lowdermilk returns after a solid junior season. Lomax also could play free safety and will compete there with Anthony Gair and Nico Law, who both appeared in all 13 games last fall as reserves.

Maryland: The back four aims for better results on the injury front and on the field in 2013. Maryland returns both starters at safety in Sean Davis, the team's leading tackler with 102 last fall, and Anthony Nixon, but there should be competition behind them with A.J. Hendy and Zach Dancel. The cornerback position is worth watching this spring as Dexter McDougle departs and Jeremiah Johnson remains limited by a toe injury. Will Likely has opened the spring as a starter, and Alvin Hill could rise up after recording 24 tackles last season.

Michigan: The secondary took a step back in 2013 and all jobs are open even though Michigan returns two veteran cornerbacks -- Blake Countess and Raymon Taylor -- and some experience at safety. Jabrill Peppers, the nation's No. 2 overall recruit according to ESPN Recruiting Nation, will play a major role for the Wolverines this fall, whether it's at corner, safety or nickel. Junior Jarrod Wilson started the first seven games of last season at free safety, and Dymonte Thomas is a good candidate to start at one of the safety spots. Michigan should expect more from this group in 2014.

Michigan State: Will opposing offenses invade the No Fly Zone in 2014? Not if Michigan State can fill several spots, none bigger than Darqueze Dennard's at cornerback. Dennard, a unanimous All-American and the Jim Thorpe Award winner, departs to the NFL, and junior Trae Waynes slides into the featured corner role after a promising sophomore season. The competition opposite Waynes heats up this spring as Ezra Robinson, Darian Hicks, Jermaine Edmondson and Arjen Colquhoun compete. Free safety Kurtis Drummond boasts 21 career starts and enters 2014 as one of the league's top safeties. RJ Williamson likely will fill Isaiah Lewis' spot at strong safety, and Demetrious Cox provides depth.

Minnesota: Like the Gophers' defensive line, the secondary loses a huge piece in Brock Vereen, who played both safety and cornerback last season. But there might be enough returning pieces to fill the void. Cornerback Eric Murray had a very solid first season as a starter, and Minnesota also brings back Derrick Wells and Briean Boddy-Calhoun, both of whom have starting experience. Leading tackler Cedric Thompson and Antonio Johnson finished last season as the starting safeties, and both are back. Senior Grayson Levine provides some experience in a reserve safety role.

Nebraska: An important spring awaits new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren, who must identify new starters at cornerback, safety and nickel. The Huskers are replacing Ciante Evans and Stanley Jean-Baptiste, who combined for eight interceptions, 18 passes defended and 15 tackles for loss in 2013. Safety Andrew Green, who made 10 starts in 2013, also leaves. The good news is cornerback Josh Mitchell had an excellent bowl game and will fill a starting spot. Leading tackler Corey Cooper also returns at safety. There's not much experience at corner other than Mitchell, and Daniel Davie, Auburn transfer Jonathan Rose and others will compete. Nebraska brings back more at safety with Harvey Jackson, who made three starts in 2013, and junior Charles Jackson.

Northwestern: That the Wildcats' secondary could be one of the team's biggest strengths seemed laughable three years ago, but it could be true this fall. All four starters return, led by safety Ibraheim Campbell, one of the Big Ten's most productive defenders (262 career tackles). The depth at cornerback looks strong as starters Nick VanHoose and Matt Harris return, along with Dwight White and Daniel Jones, who opened 2013 as a starter and is coming back from an ACL tear. Traveon Henry should start alongside Campbell, and there are some promising young safeties like Godwin Igwebuike.

Ohio State: Pass defense proved to be Ohio State's downfall in 2013, and the Buckeyes' secondary will be under the microscope this spring as new assistant Chris Ash steps in. Ohio State loses All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and will lean more on Doran Grant, who started opposite Roby in 2013. Ash also expects big things from Tyvis Powell, who will start at one of the safety spots. Safety Vonn Bell finally logged significant playing time in the Orange Bowl and could become a permanent starter as a sophomore. Veteran Ron Tanner and Cam Burrows also are in the mix at safety. There should be good competition to start opposite Grant, as Armani Reeves tries to hold off redshirt freshmen Gareon Conley and Eli Apple.

Penn State: After a season of moving parts and inconsistent plays, Penn State hopes for a more settled secondary. Adrian Amos, who alternated between cornerback and safety last season, will lead the group and brings plenty of experience. Jordan Lucas likely will start opposite Amos at cornerback after making strides toward the end of his sophomore season. PSU loses some leadership at safety with Malcolm Willis and Stephen Obeng-Agyapong departing and will lean on Ryan Keiser and Jesse Della Valle, both of whom have starting experience. Converted wideouts Trevor Williams and Malik Golden provide depth at cornerback and safety, respectively.

Purdue: The rotation from 2013 returns almost completely intact, but Purdue loses a very big piece in cornerback Ricardo Allen, a four-year starter. Cornerback Frankie Williams enters his third year as a starter and will slide into Allen's featured role, while the competition for the other top corner spot will feature Antoine Lewis and Leroy Clark, among others. Purdue has plenty of experience at safety with Taylor Richards, who started every game in 2013, and Anthony Brown, who replaced the injured Landon Feichter and had 69 tackles. Feichter also is back from a broken leg.

Rutgers: This group is anxious to turn the page after a season filled with personnel issues and poor performance (Rutgers finished 120th nationally in pass defense). Senior safety Lorenzo Waters leads the group after recording 62 tackles and two forced fumbles in 2013. Johnathan Aiken will try to start opposite Waters at free safety, although he'll be pushed by Delon Stephenson and Tejay Johnson, who started three games last fall. Gareef Glashen started six games last season and seems likely to retain one of the top cornerback spots. There will be competition at the other between Anthony Cioffi and Nadir Barnwell, both of whom started games as true freshmen in 2013. The most intriguing player to watch is cornerback Ian Thomas, who returns to the team after quitting midway through last season, one that he began as a starter.

Wisconsin: The Badgers are relatively young at both secondary positions but boast far more experience at cornerback than safety. Junior Darius Hillary and sophomore Sojourn Shelton started all 13 games at cornerback last season. Peniel Jean adds even more experience at the position. Safety is much less settled as Dezmen Southward graduates, Michael Caputo shifts to linebacker and Tanner McEvoy returns to quarterback. Nate Hammon and Leo Musso both played in all 13 games last fall as reserves. Newcomers like Serge Trezy and Austin Hudson could compete for time when they arrive this summer.
Tags:

Ohio State Buckeyes, Illinois Fighting Illini, Michigan State Spartans, Michigan Wolverines, Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana Hoosiers, Penn State Nittany Lions, Iowa Hawkeyes, Maryland Terrapins, Big Ten Conference, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Northwestern Wildcats, Purdue Boilermakers, Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Vonn Bell, cam burrows, Armani Reeves, Blake Countess, Doran Grant, Jarrod Wilson, Darian Hicks, Gareon Conley, sojourn shelton, Jabrill Peppers, Nick VanHoose, Chris Ash, Eli Apple, Rashard Fant, Godwin Igwebuike, Tyvis Powell, Darius Hillary, Mark Murphy, Michael Caputo, Peniel Jean, Dymonte thomas, Ron Tanner, Landon Feichter, Dezmen Southward, Adrian Amos, Daniel Jones, Ibraheim Campbell, Kurtis Drummond, V'Angelo Bentley, Dwight White, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Tim Bennett, Matt Harris, Taylor Richards, Antonio Allen, B.J. Lowery, Ryan Keiser, Derrick Wells, Nate Hammon, Austin Hudson, Jesse Della Valle, Michael Hunter, Trae Waynes, Eaton Spence, Jaylen Dunlap, Raymon Taylor, Zane Petty, Cedric Thompson, John Lowdermilk, Josh Mitchell, Charlton Warren, B1G spring positions 14, A.J. Hendy, Alvin Hill, Andrew Green, Anthony Cioffi, Anthony Gair, Anthony Nixon, Antoine Lewis, Antonio Johnson, Arjen Colquhoun, Charles Jackson, Corey Cooper, Daniel Davie, Darius Mosely, Delon Stephenson, Demetrious Cox, Dexter McDougle, Eric Murray, Ezra Robinson, Frankie Williams, Gareef Glashen, Grayson Levine, Harvey Jackson, Ian Thomas, Jeremiah Johnson, Jermaine Edmonson, Jevaris Little, Johnathan Aiken, Jonathan Rose, Jordan Lomax, Kenny Mullen, Leo Musso, Leroy Clark, Lorenzo Waters, Malik Golden, Nadir Barnwell, Nico Law, RJ Williamson, Sean Davis, Sean Draper, Serge Trezy, Tanner Miller, Taylor Barton, Tejay Johnson, Traveon Henry, Trevor Williams, Will Likely, Zach Dancel

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The slogan on the banner hanging outside Mickey Marotti’s office was no longer delivering exactly the right message, so the Ohio State strength coach decided to update it himself.

The last word left some room for ambiguity, so Marotti pulled out some athletic tape to cover it up, got out a marker and made his expectations much more clear for a team coming off consecutive losses to end last season.

The sign that greeted the Buckeyes used to demand that “the BEST players have to be the BEST workers,” but that bar was too low for Marotti and necessitated some editing and minor redecorating during offseason conditioning ahead of Tuesday’s first practice of spring.

“Anybody can be a worker,” Marotti said. “Anybody can punch a clock and get a paycheck. I want grinders.”

The Buckeyes can now find that word scribbled in all caps on the white tape just above the door to Marotti’s office. And that hard-working mentality has clearly emerged early in the year as a driving force for a team that came up short of a couple of its most important goals after its 24-game winning streak came to an end, giving way to a two-game losing streak.

Ohio State still had plenty to feel good about last season after winning its division again, knocking off rival Michigan to cap another perfect regular season and piling up some individual honors along the way. But the loss in the conference title game that kept the Buckeyes from claiming the top prize in the Big Ten and likely from playing for the national championship, and the defeat in the Discover Orange Bowl that followed it, still sting in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.

And part of the process in erasing that pain and reaching a higher level in 2014 started with tweaking their vocabulary along with their mindsets.

“Last year, I don’t want to say the word entitled,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “ … Last year it was kind of, well, you were 12-0, you’re preseason this, you’re this, and I haven’t had many people ask about our preseason [ranking]. Right now we’re just trying to find out who’s going to play for us in some spots.

“I don’t want to diminish what happened because we came back and took the lead in the fourth quarter and lost a couple [leads] in those last two games, and that happens. If I felt like there was a lack of fight, then we’d blow the whole thing up. There was certainly not lack of fight.”

There were, perhaps, a few critical pieces missing in terms of personnel and maybe a defensive philosophy that didn’t quite match up with what Meyer ideally wants from his program. Those were obviously at the top of his list when he reported for practice on the indoor field Tuesday.

Ohio State still has some questions to answer at linebacker, but it attacked that weakness on the recruiting trail by signing four guys in the most recent class and appears like it might have a somewhat unexpected solution to replace Ryan Shazier on the weakside with Darron Lee emerging with the first-team unit to start camp.

The process of installing a more aggressive secondary under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash has only just begun, but his approach appears to be more in line with what Meyer is expecting even in the early stages.

But again establishing Meyer’s standard for work ethic and reinforcing his emphasis on “4-to-6 seconds of relentless effort” on every play was just as important in shaping his team to compete for a title, and Marotti did his part to help cut down on any wiggle room.

“We just have to improve, we’ve got to finish and I like where we’re at as a team,” Meyer said. “I want an angry, blue-collar team, and I’m hoping that’s what we have.”

The key for the Buckeyes is apparently making sure those blue-collar workers are showing up to do more than punch a clock.

Big Ten Monday mailbag

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
5:00
PM ET
Let's beat a case of the Mondays and another depressing winter storm with this edition of the mailbag. Remember to keep your questions coming, as Adam and I are both doing two mailbags per week now. Or you can always tweet us your questions.

Kyle from Madison, Wis., writes: With spring games on the horizon, we once again see the difference between the BIG and the SEC; where BIG spring games are a moderately attended sideshow that might be fun for a family, SEC games routinely sell out. Is there any way to increase interest among BIG fan bases for these games, and is there any benefit (besides, in the case of Wisconsin, raising extra money for a cause) to doing so?

Brian Bennett: I wouldn't classify Ohio State's spring game as "moderately attended;" the Buckeyes led the nation in spring-game attendance in 2012 with more than 81,000 and set a record with more than 95,000 at the 2009 event. (That figure dipped to 37,000 last year, but Ohio State moved its spring game to Cincinnati in 2013 because of renovations at the 'Shoe). Nebraska got more than 60,000 people to come out to its spring game last year, which became memorable because of Jack Hoffman's inspiring touchdown run. Penn State had more than 60,000 two years ago, and I would expect a big crowd at Beaver Stadium next month to see the beginning of the James Franklin era.

Still, Kyle is right that the average spring game attendance in the Big Ten is typically less than that of the SEC. Just check out this list from last spring. But one of the main factors on attendance at those events is weather, and of course, April weather in the Midwest can be a whole lot more unpredictable (and sometimes downright unfriendly) than it is in the South. Unlike with real games in the fall, most fans and alums don't plan for weeks on making it to a game; they look at the weather and see if it's worth it to sit outdoors and watch a practice. Spring games are a great way for fans to get a glimpse of their team during the long offseason, especially those with kids, but they're not usually all that exciting, either. And with every team's spring game available on the Big Ten Network or elsewhere, I can't blame anyone for finding something better to do on an April weekend.


Andy from Beavercreek, Ohio, writes: Does Bo Pelini's raise signal a commitment to the coach, or is it a "Hey, recruits, don't run screaming when we lose a few games" raise?

Brian Bennett: It's neither, Andy. The $100,000 pay raise Pelini got was worked into his contract in 2011 and was nothing more than a scheduled formality. The more interesting question is whether he'll get a one-year extension to keep his current deal at five years. It hasn't happened yet, but it still could. Ultimately, though, we all know that 2014 is what's most important for Pelini's future. If Nebraska has a mediocre or subpar year, athletic director Shawn Eichorst might be inclined to make a change. If Pelini can finally deliver a conference title or at least maintain the nine- and 10-win plateau without as much off-the-field drama as last year, he'll likely be safe.


Jared from Columbus, Ohio, writes: Can you think of another year where Ohio State's defense would have accounted for 30 percent of the best offensive performances of the season? I've heard the excuse that the talent was down from the norm, but you can't tell me the Buckeyes had less talented athletes than many teams that outpreformed them on D. Are you surprised there hasn't been more talk about accountability of the coaches, especially with a guy like Urban Meyer at the helm?

Brian Bennett: It was by no means a vintage year for the Silver Bullets, though most of the bad Ohio State defensive performances came in the final weeks of the season. Depth became a major issue, especially in the Orange Bowl, and I was a bit surprised some younger players such as Vonn Bell didn't see more reps earlier in the year. (Though, to be fair, the Buckeyes were 12-0 and ranked No. 2 going into the Big Ten title game). Meyer has said over and over again that Ohio State's defense has not been up to standards, especially at linebacker. He has not really criticized his coaches or defensive coordinator Luke Fickell much at all publicly, and I'm not sure what purpose that would serve. The offseason hiring of Chris Ash from Arkansas to be co-defensive coordinator spoke volumes, however, and I'd expect him to have a big role in the defense this year.


Luke B. via Twitter writes: Do you think Indiana's two-QB system can work, or would it be in IU's best interest to pick one and stand by him?

Brian Bennett: I would argue that it can work and that it did work, for the most part, last season, as the Hoosiers fielded the Big Ten's top passing offense despite juggling Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson at quarterback. Sudfeld started off the season hot but faded a little down the stretch as Roberson took on a bigger role. Sudfeld throws it a little better than Roberson, but Roberson has better wheels. Conventional wisdom suggests that you need to pick just one guy, but Northwestern had success with a two-quarterback system in 2012 and used the same plan last season. Would coach Kevin Wilson like to see one guy totally separate and command the offense this spring as the clear No. 1? Probably. But part him probably also likes the idea of having two guys push each other constantly and knowing he has an option should one struggle on gameday.


LP from NYC writes: Brian: Nobody really talks about this but it feels to me that one the reasons the B1G made the decision to expand East was to protect one of their power brands, who at the time was just given the worst penalty in the history of college sports. Now that my Nittany Lions have shocked the world, including Jim Delany, do you think the B1G brass regrets this decision even a little bit? I mean, can you imagine if they went after Carolina and Duke instead of Rutgers and Maryland?

Brian Bennett: While there were rumors of the ACC courting Penn State and it's no secret the Nittany Lions felt isolated, I don't think the NCAA penalties had any impact whatsoever on the league's decision to expand East. This was all about opening up new markets, both for TV eyeballs, new fans and recruiting purposes. That's why the Big Ten chose schools located in the highly populated New York/New Jersey and Washington D.C./Baltimore/Virginia, even if the specific programs offered nothing extra special in terms of football. North Carolina and Duke would have given the league better "brands" (though not all that much in football), but they wouldn't have created as much potential areas for growth. It's also odd to me to suggest that league officials would regret the expansion decision when Rutgers and Maryland haven't even officially joined the conference yet.

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
12:00
PM ET
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