OSU Buckeyes: Corey Brown
Where they’re strong
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We’ll give as much detail as we can and go behind the scenes to see why these Class of 2014 standouts are so attractive to the Buckeyes.
Next on the list of safeties is Erick Smith, who comes from a school that has sent 19 athletes on to Ohio State -- with a 20th waiting in the wings -- since 2002.
Vitals: Smith (Cleveland/Glenville) is 6-foot-1 and 185 pounds.
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That said we’ll put the number at 18 in the class for right now and take a look at who is in the fold and who looks to be the clubhouse leader at each position.
Again, it’s early May, so don’t set this in stone. It’s just a look at who might fall the Buckeyes’ way before things are finished.
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We’ll give as much detail as we can and go behind the scenes to see why these Class of 2014 standouts are so attractive to the Buckeyes.
Next on the list of safety is standout Quincy Wilson, who led his school to a Class 3A state championship in Florida.
Vitals: Wilson (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla./University School) is 6-foot-1 and 197 pounds.
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Of course, the Ohio State quarterback couldn't help but think about how his team had beaten both Big Ten title game participants.
"I got kind of upset watching it, because it was a different type of game than what I was expecting," Miller told ESPN.com. "I thought it would have been a different type of story if we were there."
Linebacker Ryan Shazier, like a lot of other Buckeyes, had similar feelings as he watched the BCS championship game between Notre Dame and Alabama about a month later.
"To be honest, I was feeling sick," Shazier said. "Because I felt like we had a great team and we should have been in the game. I feel like if everybody who had to watch that game can keep that in their head this year, it's going to push us to another level."
Of course, the Buckeyes couldn't play for a Big Ten championship or go to a bowl because of NCAA probation. And they say that's a big reason why they're not dwelling on their accomplishments but rather looking forward this offseason.
"Yeah, we went 12-0, but it didn't really mean much," receiver Corey "Philly" Brown said. "It's not like we won anything. I feel like none of our team got a taste of what it feels like to be playing for a national championship. That makes us more hungry to get there."
Along with the reminders of last year, head coach Urban Meyer had another banner put up in the football complex this spring with the slogan "The Chase." That was his not-so subtle message to the players to keep striving toward new goals. But Meyer said he hasn't noticed any sense of complacency with this group.
"I've watched for that," he said. "I've had our strength coach [Mickey Marotti] watch for that. I don't feel it. If I did, I'd jump in the middle of it."
Meyer's biggest concern this spring has been identifying new leaders. Outside of left tackle Jack Mewhort, he wasn't sure which players would fill the shoes of seniors like John Simon and Zach Boren from last year. He has brought in weekly guest speakers to talk to the team this spring about leadership, and he's hoping guys like Miller, Shazier, Brown and defensive backs C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant and Bradley Roby take on those roles. Of course, Meyer had similar worries about last year's team at this time, and it ended up having what he calls one of the best group of leaders he's ever coached. So that figures to work itself out.
The young front seven on defense also presents question marks, as Shazier is the only returning starter among the defensive line and linebacker units. But sophomores Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence showed with their combined seven sacks in the spring game that Ohio State is blessed with talented options up front, even if there might be a learning curve at work.
"We're going to have to live with some mistakes," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said. "But our job as coaches is to say, 'Hey, what can they handle?'"
Will these Buckeyes be able to handle the increased expectations and pressure in 2013? Last year, they began the year ranked No. 18 in the Associated Press poll and weren't eligible to receive votes in the coaches' rankings. Even as they continued to win, they mostly operated outside of the limelight because of their absence from the national title hunt. This year, the spotlight will be on them from Day 1, as they should open the season in the top 5.
"We're definitely going to be a huge target," running back Carlos Hyde said. "We're back to where Ohio State usually is, which is the No. 1 team on the schedule that teams want to beat. It lets us know that we just can't come out and roll our helmets out and expect to beat a team."
The target is larger, but so too is the goal. The shackles of probation are off, and if Ohio State can pull off a repeat undefeated season, odds are its players won't be watching the national championship game from afar next January. Roby, the team's All-American cornerback, is confident that will happen. He says that "last year was the commercial, and this year is the movie."
"We've got the talent, and I'm not going to say the schedule is easier, but we don't play Nebraska and we don't play Michigan State," he said. "It's set up in our favor. All we have to do is go out there and keep grinding."
Not in the minds of the Buckeyes, who thought they could have fielded a much better all-around attack.
"I feel like last year we didn't play a complete game as an offense," running back Carlos Hyde said. "Some games it was all running, while others it was just passing."
Head coach Urban Meyer rarely seemed happy with the offensive production last year, outside of the running skills of Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller. He often expressed his dissatisfaction over a lack of speedy playmakers and an inconsistent passing game.
"I'd get frustrated," Meyer told ESPN.com. "But the bottom line is, name an offense that doesn't have guys who make people miss and are dynamic with the ball in their hands, and that's not a great offense. We don't have enough."
The names on offense haven't really changed much this spring. But the hope is that with another year of understanding the system, some improved throwing and catching and maybe some reinforcements from the recruiting class, the Buckeyes will come closer to fulfilling Meyer's vision of a truly great offense.
It all starts, of course, with Miller, whose efforts to become a more accurate passer this offseason have been well documented. Ohio State also needs continued development from its receivers, which is not a very deep group right now. Meyer singled out Corey "Philly" Brown, who led the team with 60 catches for 669 yards, as someone who's becoming one of those dynamic playmakers he's seeking.
"I've tried to work on my open-field running and body control so I could cut faster," Brown said. "It's really paying off for me right now."
Brown is the clear No. 1 receiver, but he needs more help. The team has only six scholarship receivers this spring, and offensive coordinator Tom Herman said he'd only feel comfortable playing four of them for a whole game. Devin Smith made some highlight-reel catches on deep balls early last year but was less effective down the stretch, as he had only 13 receptions in the final eight games.
"People, for lack of a better term, figured him out," Herman said. "He wasn't a very versatile guy. He did a couple of things really well, but the other things that he tried to do, he was very below average. He's starting to improve some of his weaknesses to be a more complete receiver, and he has a lot of physical tools and a great attitude."
Herman said Chris Fields has had a really good spring, and Evan Spencer is a reliable target. Sophomore Michael Thomas, the star of last year's spring game, has shown flashes of his talent but needs to progress in a lot of areas. Herman called the receiver depth "a bit scary right now." But the Buckeyes recruited several receivers in this year's class, including Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Corey Smith. They're hoping at least one or two contributes right away.
"You hate to count on [recruits] because they're usually overrated," Meyer said. "But that's why we went out and recruited them."
"We're not asking them to come in and be Jerry Rice," Herman said. "We just hope they can provide some depth and maybe add some skills that we don't currently have in that room right now."
One area certainly not lacking in depth is at running back, where Hyde returns after rushing for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns last year. Rod Smith is having a good spring, Warren Ball appears to be coming on and if sixth-year senior Jordan Hall can ever stay healthy, he'll provide lots of versatility. There was a buzz last week in practice when the Buckeyes lined up with Hyde, Smith and Ball in the same backfield with Miller in a formation Meyer cribbed from the San Francisco 49ers.
"That can give a bunch of trouble to defenses," Hyde said. "They just see three big backs in the backfield and a quarterback who can also run the ball. They don't know who's getting the ball or who's going where."
Ohio State's offensive players do know where they're going, which is different than last spring. Now in the second year of the system, Herman says he can teach his guys not just what to do but why they're doing it.
"It's not just the memorization of, 'OK, I have to line up on the left here,'" he said. "I could train a monkey to do that. What separates really good offenses from average to below-average offenses is all 11 guys understanding the big picture, the entire concept and scheme we're trying to accomplish. It's been nice to kind of dive into that with all of our players this spring."
Knowing how to change a route against a certain defensive look, for instance, should help the Buckeyes play faster this year. The coaches have challenged the players to be a Top 5 offense in the nation this year. That's a lofty goal, but remember that this team is starting from an already high level despite its flaws.
"I definitely think we can be one of the top offenses in the country if everybody takes care of business and is mistake free," Brown said.
- Who's back: The Buckeyes will lead from the back, with both experience and leadership expected to provide a trickle-down effect for the defense with Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett returning for one more season together as the starting tandem at safety. Ohio State even has a veteran waiting in line to come off the bench and potentially help in the nickel package with senior Corey Brown providing yet another old hand as the program reloads in front of the secondary. There will be six new starters in the front seven and one more at cornerback, but the Buckeyes are as stable as they possibly could be at the back of the defense with Bryant and Barnett poised to close their careers on a high note.
- New face: The huge target the Buckeyes officially landed on national signing day won't be around to add depth or potentially crack into the rotation until fall practice, though there's already plenty of buzz building about what Vonn Bell could provide in the secondary when he arrives. The athletic, 6-foot-1, 190-pounder should be walking into a situation without the pressure that can come from having to contribute a whole lot right away thanks to the presence of those talented seniors -- though coach Urban Meyer will likely be counting on them to get Bell up to speed as well.
- Projected spring depth chart: Bryant and Barnett will be back in their familiar spots, with Brown currently the favorite to be the first man up in the nickel package and a valuable option in reserve. The Buckeyes were bitterly disappointed to watch rising sophomore Devan Bogard's first season with the program end with a knee injury last fall, but he figures to be in the mix for work at some point, and classmates Tyvis Powell and Najee Murray could offer something as well.
- Numbers game: Barnett was slowed by a nagging ankle injury for part of the season, but when he and Bryant were on the field together, the production was hard to miss. The two combined for 127 tackles, three takedowns for a loss, three interceptions, 21 passes defended, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. Barnett missed three games and took some time to shake the rust off after that as well, but there's plenty of evidence of how effective those two safeties can be in the back end.
- One to watch: The clock is ticking for Brown, and there will be more competition for his job heading into fall camp,with Bell leading the charge. The Buckeyes already have some sophomores on campus capable of pushing the veteran for playing time, and Brown will certainly need to make an impression with his existing knowledge of the defense and a higher level of consistency than he's shown in his few opportunities to contribute over the last couple years. Departed senior Orhian Johnson proved how important it was to have a reliable upperclassman ready to complement Bryant and Barnett, and co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Everett Withers will be watching closely to see if he's got another one he can count on when the season rolls around.
- He said it: "I've been doing this a long time, but this group with the young men that are [already] here in [cornerbacks] Eli Apple and Cam Burrows and the guys we just added to that group -- if the development goes as we think it will go, we feel like this is a very talented group which should be able to help Ohio State do special things." -- Withers on signing day
- Who's back: Bradley Roby took his time weighing his options, so Ohio State had no choice but to wait and see if it was replacing both members of a talented twosome or just half of it. Eventually it got the good news it had been hoping for and largely expecting, with Roby ultimately deciding to stick around and build on a banner season as a redshirt sophomore. With or without him heading into 2013, the Buckeyes had been loading up on the recruiting trail and signed what appears to be the best crop of defensive backs in the country, and with Travis Howard moving on to the next level, they could see some action opposite Roby pretty quickly. But there is one other returner who could block the path to the starting lineup after Doran Grant impressed when called upon last fall and could be even better heading into his junior campaign.
- New faces: The Buckeyes will no shortage of talented cover guys to sort through in the freshman class, and two of them are already on campus to give the coaching staff an advance look at what they can do. Eli Apple was the crown jewel in RecruitingNation's third-rated classl, and he could make himself a factor for playing time right away thanks to the extra reps and head start he'll be afforded in spring practice. The same is true for Cam Burrows, the ninth-ranked cornerback in the nation coming out of high school and another option who could potentially fill a short-term and long-term void for the Buckeyes.
- Projected spring depth chart: Roby is locked in at one cornerback spot, and Grant should have the edge when the Buckeyes report to work next week thanks to his experience and knowledge of the defense. But Apple and Burrows have the physical tools to push for first-team reps, and rising sophomore Armani Reeves also caught the eye of the coaching staff last fall with his contributions on special teams.
- Numbers game: No secondary in the Big Ten was more opportunistic than Ohio State's, which tied for the conference lead with 14 interceptions and made quarterbacks think twice about testing its defensive backs all year long. But half of those picks belonged to players who won't be back this spring, led by Howard and his conference-leading four interceptions and two more from safety Orhian Johnson. If Roby is able to turn a handful of his head-turning 17 passes broken up into interceptions, though, the Buckeyes could offset those losses somewhat easily.
Many are already projecting the 2013 Buckeyes as a top-5 team and a national title contender, not to mention the Big Ten favorite. Fans are hoping for another undefeated run. Meyer isn't running away from those things.
"People say, 'Would you rather be the underdog or the favorite?'" Meyer said Friday in a news conference. "We'd love to be the favorite all the time. That means we've got a good team. So, no, I don't mind it."
Meyer knows his second team in Columbus has much room to grow, starting on a defensive line where all four starters depart from the 2012 lineup. He's still looking for "drastic improvement" from the receivers and from his quarterbacks' throwing precision. Meyer said he planned to meet with the team Friday afternoon, and his mantra would be "truth." As in, he would be bluntly honest with the players on what they needed to work on.
"We were very strong in certain areas [in 2012] and some of them were phenomenal," he said. "But quite a few were below average. So if it's strong, enhance it, and if it's weak, fix it."
The challenge for the Buckeyes is to make those gains without the benefit of the 15 extra bowl practices in December. Meyer and his coaches can't do much with the players on the field until spring practice begins. The players have to take more of a responsibility to work on their own.
"If we want to be a very functional football team, there has to be some self-leadership among the groups," Meyer said. "Because it's on the players; the coaches can't force them to do it."
Some other notes from Meyer's media session:
- Four Ohio State assistants at least had discussions about other jobs this spring, but everyone on the staff stayed. Meyer said he hopes his assistants will get opportunities to move on, but always asks his coaches for two-year commitments.
- Could Ohio State compete with Alabama? Meyer reiterated his declaration from the season-ending win against Michigan when he said the Buckeyes were a very good team who could play with anybody in the country. But then he added, "to say we can roll in there and beat a team like that, first I'll say I don't want to speculate. And then I'm going to give you an honest answer: Right now, I think we have too many holes to fill."
- Asked about the apparent talent disparity between the Southeast and the Midwest, Meyer had this to say: "In the Southeast, the quantity is far greater than the quantity of the upper-level Midwestern schools. ... It's up to the Big Ten to change that. The only way to do it is to go out and recruit and get some more depth."
- Speaking of recruiting, Meyer said there's a huge difference in that area this year as opposed to last year after he took the job in November. Back then, he said, he was just handed lists of the top 20 players at each position, and he would call them to make a sales pitch. Now, he says, "We've been here, we've been in the schools and we know what we're getting."
- Meyer called the loss of several great senior leaders off last season's team, most notably John Simon, "a huge void." He said offensive tackle Jack Mewhort could take the role of Simon as the team's heart and soul. Other potential leaders he mentioned include running backs Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde, safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, receiver Corey "Philly" Brown and linebacker Ryan Shazier.
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin running back Montee Ball's highlight tape of touchdowns might as well be a full-length feature. He entered Saturday with 77, one shy of the FBS all-time record.
Unfortunately for Ball, Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier watched most of the movie in the week leading up to Saturday's game.
"He scores plenty of touchdowns," Shazier said. "I watched film on him, and I saw when he gets around the [1- or 2-yard line], he likes to jump. So once he jumped, I jumped, and I punched the ball out."
Shazier's forced fumble against Ball late in the fourth quarter -- just the second lost fumble in Ball's record-setting career -- ended up not meaning much. Wisconsin scored on its next possession to tie the game before Ohio State went on to win 21-14 in overtime.
But Shazier's play epitomized Ohio State's victory, one fueled by defense with a sprinkle of special teams, thanks to Corey "Philly" Brown.
Braxton Miller won't be on "SportsCenter" tonight, but Shazier should be. So should defensive end John Simon, who tied a career high with four sacks. So should cornerback Bradley Roby, who had to cover two players after a teammate blew an assignment and batted down a sure-fire touchdown catch by Derek Watt.
The silver bullets stood tall at Camp Randall Stadium, helping Ohio State secure a Leaders Division title, maintain a perfect 11-0 record and set up a chance for perfection in The Game next week against Michigan.
"Our offense kind of struggled a little bit, but at the same time, it's a team sport, so the defense, we needed to go out and do our thing," said Roby, who wore a Leaders Division championship T-shirt. "Defense wins championships. We thrive on that."
MADISON, Wis. -- Braxton Miller has carried Ohio State most of the season. The defense did the honors Saturday in holding off Wisconsin 21-14 in overtime to preserve a perfect record.
It was over when: Ohio State safety Christian Bryant broke up a fourth-down pass to Jacob Pedersen in overtime. The Buckeyes had taken the lead on a 2-yard Carlos Hyde touchdown run moments earlier.
Game ball goes to: Ohio State LB Ryan Shazier and Ohio State DE John Simon. Shazier continued to sizzle during Big Ten play with 12 tackles, including three for loss and a forced fumble that appeared to seal the win. Simon (four sacks) also had his best game of the season as Ohio State repeatedly turned away the Badgers.
Stat of the game: Wisconsin outgained Ohio State 360-236 but kept stalling in Buckeyes territory. The Badgers had seven drives in regulation either start in or reach Ohio State territory but ended up with only 14 points. Their only drive in overtime ended after four plays.
What it means: Ohio State wins the Leaders Division title -- the only championship it could win with the postseason ban -- and maintains its quest for perfection heading into the Michigan game. Wisconsin drops its second consecutive home game for the first time since the 2008 season after having a 21-game win streak snapped Oct. 27 against Michigan State.
Second guessing: Wisconsin went conservative several times on third down in Ohio State territory, once at the end of the second half and again at the end of the third quarter. Curt Phillips had some success passing the ball, but offensive coordinator Matt Canada stuck with the run despite long-yardage situations, and the Badgers couldn't get into the end zone.
Unsung hero: After saying this week that he hated Wisconsin as much as Michigan, Ohio State WR Corey "Philly" Brown backed it up. Brown provided one of two Ohio State touchdowns in regulation with a 68-yard punt return and had four receptions for 48 yards in the win.
1. Ballin' for history: Thirteen years after Ron Dayne broke the NCAA career rushing record, another Wisconsin running back is on the doorstep of a major milestone. Badgers senior Montee Ball, who, unlike Dayne, spent a year and a half as a reserve, needs one more touchdown Saturday against Ohio State to tie the NCAA career mark of 78 held by former Miami (Ohio) star Travis Prentice. Ball has scored 13 touchdowns in his past six games and is averaging 179.1 yards and three touchdowns in his past nine November games. A big performance against the unbeaten Buckeyes will once again put Ball on the radar for top national honors. Ball's next rushing touchdown will mark his 72nd, moving him past Dayne for the Big Ten career record.
2. Holding serve in the Legends: Nebraska and Michigan are tied atop the Legends Division at 5-1, and on paper, they should stay that way after Week 12. Both teams are favored to take care of Minnesota and Iowa, respectively, on senior day in Lincoln and Ann Arbor. Nebraska's magic number (wins and Michigan losses) to punch its ticket to Indianapolis is 2. A Huskers loss and a Michigan win puts the Wolverines in control of their own fate in the division. One senior day subplot is whether face-of-the-program stars like Nebraska running back Rex Burkhead and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson will play after missing time with injuries. Burkhead (knee) returned to practice this week and seems closer to a return, while Robinson (elbow) remains day-to-day.
4. Hope and a prayer: There's growing talk that Purdue will make a head-coaching change after the regular season no matter what happens in the final two games. But can fourth-year boss Danny Hope save himself with a three-game win streak to become bowl-eligible? It's reason enough to tune in for an otherwise off-the-radar game between Purdue and slumping Illinois on Saturday. A loss to the Illini would prevent Purdue from getting bowl-eligible and likely seal Hope's fate, while a Purdue win adds intrigue to next week's Bucket game against Indiana. The Boilers' offense got on track last week behind quarterback Robert Marve and running back Ralph Bolden, while defensive tackle Kawann Short had his best game of the season at Iowa.
5. Rivalry renewed: Saturday's game at Camp Randall Stadium won't decide which Leaders Division team goes to the Big Ten title game, as Wisconsin already punched its ticket last week. But Ohio State can lock up the Leaders Division championship -- the only title it can win this season -- while Wisconsin can legitimize its trip to Indy by handing Urban Meyer's Buckeyes their first loss of the season. Looking ahead, the Ohio State-Wisconsin game likely will be the signature contest in the division for years to come. Illinois is a mess, Purdue has backslid this season, Indiana is still building and Penn State still has three more years of postseason bans. "I hate Wisconsin just as much as Michigan," Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown said this week. While Meyer and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema say their post-signing day spat is a thing of a past, it could bubble up Saturday depending on how the game goes.
6. Taking a pass: The Big Ten might not be flush with elite quarterbacks and high-powered offenses this season, but a few of its teams can sling the ball a bit, and two of them meet at Beaver Stadium. Indiana and Penn State are the Big Ten's top two pass offenses, ranking 26th and 40th nationally, respectively. They'll share the field Saturday as they try to rebound from different types of losses. Indiana quarterback Cameron Coffman struggled with his accuracy (25-for-46) in last week's loss to Wisconsin and looks for a sharper afternoon. Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin wasn't a happy guy after the Nebraska loss and will try to take it out on IU. The game features two of the Big Ten's top receivers in Penn State's Allen Robinson and Indiana's Cody Latimer.
7. Hawkeye hex: Iowa has been in a funk for much of the season and particularly in the past month, dropping four consecutive Big Ten contests. Perhaps a date with Michigan can put the Hawkeyes back on track. See, Iowa has won three straight against Michigan for the first time in team history and five of its past eight against the Wolverines. Michigan's seniors are anxious to finally get over the hump against Iowa, one of two Big Ten teams (Penn State the other) they have yet to beat. But maybe it works the other way and Iowa finally shows a spark on offense and stiffens its defense. If not, the Hawkeyes won't be going bowling for the first time since the 2006 season, and it'll be a very long winter for Kirk Ferentz. "It doesn't hurt, obviously," Ferentz said of his team's Michigan win streak, "but it doesn't guarantee us anything."
8. Backs of different sizes: Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell is the biggest featured running back in the Big Ten, checking in at 6-2 and 244 pounds. Northwestern's Venric Mark is the smallest, checking in at 5-8 and 175 pounds. But both have been extremely effective this season with the ball in their hands. Bell leads the Big Ten in rushing yards (1,249), while Mark ranks third in rushing yards (1,181) and first in all-purpose yards (1,917). Each has been the MVP of his respective offense, and it'll be interesting to see them on the same field at Spartan Stadium. Both Michigan State and Northwestern defend the run well, too, both ranking in the top 25 nationally.
9. Illini look for a spark: Illinois ranks last in the Big Ten in scoring, rushing and total offense, and lingers near the bottom of the FBS in all the significant categories. The Illini need some sort of boost on offense or a 2-10 season is a virtual certainty. Head coach Tim Beckman, whose background is defense but who had a high-powered offense at Toledo the past few years, took a more active role with the offense this week in an effort to get things going. Beckman also noted that co-offensive coordinators Chris Beatty and Billy Gonzales call plays on different downs. Hmmm. Starting cornerback Terry Hawthorne took more reps with the wide receivers this week and could see an increased role against Purdue. Illinois aims to win on senior day for the first time since 2007.
10. Bowl picture taking shape: We learned a little more about the Big Ten bowl contingent last week as Minnesota became bowl-eligible, Purdue took a big step toward the postseason and both Iowa and Indiana took a step toward a winter at home. There should be some more answers in Week 12. Michigan State aims for its sixth win to go bowling for the sixth consecutive season under coach Mark Dantonio. Purdue must keep its bowl hopes alive at Illinois, while both Iowa and Indiana must win on the road to avoid loss No. 7. It won't be easy for the Hawkeyes or Hoosiers. Indiana never has won at Beaver Stadium in 15 previous meetings with Penn State. Iowa never has won consecutive games at Michigan Stadium.
Bring that beat back.
Team(s) of the week: Ohio State and Michigan share top billing this week. The Buckeyes turned in an attention-grabbing 63-38 blowout of Nebraska on national TV and have climbed up to No. 8 in The Associated Press poll. An undefeated season remains a strong possibility. Michigan was also very impressive, going on the road to clobber Purdue 44-13 in a must-have win. Anybody else already looking forward to The Game this year?
Best game: Even though Northwestern led Penn State 28-17 in the fourth quarter, you just knew it wasn't over. In fact, the Nittany Lions were just getting started. They reeled off 22 fourth-quarter points in a game that featured several wild momentum swings and fourth-down plays.
Best call: No one can accuse Bill O'Brien of playing it safe. Even though Penn State's kicking game is very shaky, most coaches would have settled for the field goal on fourth-and-4 from the other team's 5-yard line when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter. O'Brien is not most coaches. He rolled the dice and went for it, and Matt McGloin scrambled into the end zone for what turned out to be the winning score. Penn State was 5-of-6 on fourth-down conversion attempts against Northwestern.
Second guessing: Indiana was humming along in the first half against Michigan State but got strangely conservative right before halftime. Kevin Wilson gambled and pulled off an onsides kick after going up 24-14 late in the half. But after driving to the Michigan State 6-yard line, the Hoosiers ran three straight running plays and gained only 4 yards. Wilson elected to kick the field goal instead of going for it on fourth down, even though Michigan State was on the ropes and a touchdown might have provided a knockout blow. That's not the reason Indiana lost, because the Spartans pitched a shutout in the second half. But I bet Wilson would at least throw a pass into the end zone if he had to do that over again. Maybe he and O'Brien should compare notes.
Big men on campus (offense): It's all about the quarterbacks. Michigan's Denard Robinson ran for 235 yards (more than Purdue's entire offense generated) and threw for 105 more in the win over the Boilermakers. Ohio State's Braxton Miller ran for 186 yards and threw for 127 more in the pasting of Nebraska. And McGloin threw for 282 yards and accounted for three touchdowns while leading the Nittany Lions' fourth-quarter comeback.
Big man on campus (defense): Ohio State's Bradley Roby had a pair of interceptions against Nebraska and returned the first one 49 yards for a touchdown to open the Buckeyes' scoring onslaught. Props also to Roby's teammate John Simon, who had five tackles for loss versus the Huskers.
Big men on campus (special teams): Northwestern's Venric Mark and Ohio State's Corey Brown each scored on punt returns. Mark went for 75 yards against Penn State, while Brown took his 76 yards to the house.
Worst hangover: Purdue. Yes, Nebraska isn't going to enjoy the next two weeks after getting steamrolled by Ohio State. But the Cornhuskers always knew that was going to be a tough road game they could lose and still win the Big Ten. The Boilermakers were fired up after a solid start to the season, and many around the team believed a breakthrough was coming for Danny Hope's program. Instead, Michigan waltzed into Ross-Ade Stadium, rolled out to a 28-3 first-half lead and put Purdue back in its place. Now there are questions again about whether the Boilers will ever turn the corner under Hope. A win over Wisconsin this week now becomes paramount.
Strangest moment(s): It was a painful day for some of the officials in the Big Ten on Saturday.
In the Northwestern-Penn State game, line judge Michael Mahouski suffered a ruptured quad tendon while avoiding a hit on the sideline and had to be carted off. Another line judge was carted off in the Illinois-Wisconsin game. Forget replacement refs. Big Ten officials might need some replacement hips at this rate.
But those weren't even the weirdest circumstances involving an official on Saturday. In that Illinois-Wisconsin game, Illini quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase tried to high-five back judge Mike Brown after scoring on a short touchdown run. Brown was not having any of it.
"Our deal is to hand the ball to the official," Scheelhaase explained. "But somehow the ball got loose -- I probably, like, threw it a little bit -- and in apology, I tried to give him a high-five. I almost knocked him over. He almost tripped.
“I don’t think they can [high-five players]. One of the refs told me they weren't able to do that.”
At least Mahouski got a handshake from Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald as he left the field on the cart.
The Huskers looked ready to run early while building a 17-7 lead. But they ended up with cleat marks on their backs as the Buckeyes sprinted to a breathtaking 63-38 victory. NCAA sanctions might be the only way to prevent Ohio State from winning the Big Ten this year. Another superstar performance by Braxton Miller and another shaky Nebraska performance on the road -- especially on defense -- made the difference.
Here's how it went down:
It was over when: Corey "Philly" Brown returned a Nebraska punt 76 yards for a touchdown with 5:50 left in the third quarter. That put Ohio State up 49-31, and the Huskers never got any closer. Ohio State scored on special teams and on defense, as Bradley Roby had a 41-yard pick-six in the first quarter.
Game ball goes to: Ohio State quarterback Miller. Who else? The clear Big Ten MVP through six weeks, Miller was fantastic once again after a slow first quarter. He set a Buckeyes record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 185 yards on just 16 carries. He also threw for 127 yards and accounted for two touchdowns. Carlos Hyde also deserves recognition after rushing for 138 yards and four touchdowns.
Stat of the game: From early in the second quarter until Brown's punt return, Ohio State scored touchdowns on all six times it gained possession. The Buckeyes outscored Nebraska 42-17 during those two quarters.
Best call: Facing fourth-and-2 from the Nebraska 31 in the final minute of the first half, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer decided to go for it. And why not, when you have the best player on the field? Miller pulled off a beautiful quarterback counter run and sprinted all the way to the end zone for a 35-24 Buckeyes advantage.
What Nebraska learned: Some big home wins had Huskers fans hoping their team had turned the corner and were ready to win a conference championship this season. But old problems like playing defense on the road and hanging onto the ball reared their ugly heads yet again. In Nebraska's three biggest conference road games since joining the Big Ten (Michigan and Wisconsin last year, Ohio State on Saturday) it has been gashed for a combined 156 points, an unfathomable number for a program Bo Pelini supposedly has built on defense. And while Taylor Martinez made some huge plays for his team, the quarterback threw three interceptions, lost a fumble and reverted to some bad form at times. The Huskers simply can't be taken seriously as a Big Ten power until they plug the leaks on defense, eliminate turnovers and beat a league titan on the road.
What Ohio State learned: The Urban renewal looks ahead of schedule. Ohio State is clearly the best team in the Big Ten right now, and the scary part is, the Buckeyes are getting better. At 6-0 with a force of nature like Miller, Meyer's club should be ranked in the top 10 this week with a chance to climb higher. The Buckeyes likely will be 8-0 before heading to Penn State on Oct. 27. If their offense is as powerful as it looked against Nebraska, they're a real threat to run the table.
"It was really frustrating," Brown recalled to ESPN.com. "Our offense just couldn't get anything going on."
Still, beneath some good stats lie some concerns for Ohio State as it prepares to take on the Spartans' stout defense again. The offense has a tendency to go dormant for long stretches. The passing game remains inconsistent. And the team is heavily reliant on Miller's individual gifts.
Asked this week how close his offense is to being the diverse attack he wants, Meyer answered, "I don't think it's very close yet. At times, we've shown glimpses, but we've got to have more confidence to spread the ball around a little bit."
At least the receivers have made progress from the offseason, when Meyer criticized their past production and practice performance. Brown (20 catches for 223 yards) and Devin Smith (17 for 272) have already exceeded their reception totals for last year. Smith has become the big-play target, while Brown is a reliable possession guy.
"We've come a long way from the spring until now, and you can see a big difference in the way we have played," Smith said. "We got tired of the way people were talking about us and saying we were not good. We had to make a quick change, and now the whole world sees that Ohio State has receivers who can make plays."
Receiver/tight end Jake Stoneburner has had his moments, with two touchdown catches against California two weeks ago and a big role in the blocking scheme last week versus UAB.
"I think they're still trying to figure out how to use me," Stoneburner said. "But I think it's working out pretty well so far."
Ohio State ranks second in the Big Ten in rushing at 229 yards per game but really hasn't had a full deck to work with because of injuries, first to Jordan Hall (foot) and then to Carlos Hyde (knee). Hyde is expected back this weekend, giving the Buckeyes both running backs for the first time this season. Hyde is a force inside the tackles, while Hall can stretch the defense on the edges.
But Michigan State has one of the top rushing defenses in the country. Meyer says the Buckeyes will have to make plays downfield in the passing game this week and going forward, since opponents have started loading the box to try to slow down Miller. That puts even more pressure on the receivers to come through.
"We've got a lot of guys in our [receivers] room that can stretch the field, go up and make the big play," Brown said. "I feel like if we take our shots, any of our wideouts can make the play."
They will have to do so against arguably the best secondary in the conference, led by corners Johnny Adams and Darqueze Dennard. And Miller, for all his heroics this year, will need to have his best day throwing the ball into tight quarters. Maybe most importantly, the Buckeyes will have to avoid backing themselves up with penalties and other mistakes that have kept this offense from truly taking off so far.
"It seems like every week we're fixing stuff here but then making some mistakes there," center Corey Linsley said. "If we can just put it all together ..."
They might just have to do so Saturday to avoid more frustration against Michigan State.