Ohio State Buckeyes: Drew Basil

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

Who is going to replace Drew Basil?

[+] EnlargeKyle Clinton
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesKyle Clinton was 3 of 3 on extra points against Florida A&M in 2013.
Considering the little regard Urban Meyer seems to have for kicking field goals, maybe it won't actually make any difference who emerges as the top candidate to fill the job Basil left behind.

Even as much as the Ohio State coach raved about his starting kicker last year, Basil actually only attempted 10 field goals and was only called on once in the last four games. There certainly appears to be a trend emerging there for the ultra-aggressive Meyer, who only tried 11 field goals in the 2012 season, his first with the Buckeyes.

So will it really matter whether veteran walk-on Kyle Clinton or early enrollee Sean Nuernberger claims the job for Ohio State in a battle that couldn't be decided during spring practice? Perhaps not when it comes to 3-pointers, but finding somebody capable of placing kickoffs to set up the blitzkrieg coverage style preferred by Meyer might make the race a bit more important for the Buckeyes in terms of establishing field position.

Nuernberger appears to have a decided edge in leg strength, and he arrived on campus as the odds-on favorite to claim the gig, given his athleticism and the simple fact that Ohio State gave him a scholarship, knowing it would likely have to replace the steady veteran. Clinton is accurate, though, and there were times during camp in March and April where he might have been the leader in the head-to-head competition, a credit to a work ethic that hasn't gone unnoticed by the coaching staff.

Either way, Meyer isn't likely to put all that much work on the shoulders of either kicker, based on his track record with the program. But with the punter position locked up thanks to the booming leg of Cameron Johnston and a deep pool of candidates ready to return punts and kickoffs, the kicker spot would seem to be the only one in the third phase in which there's really anything to worry about heading into training camp.

The impact Clinton or Nuernberger might have on Ohio State's title hopes is another matter entirely.
Thirty Big Ten players heard their names called during the 2014 NFL draft, but many others received phone calls immediately after the event. The undrafted free-agent carousel is spinning, and players from around the Big Ten are hopping aboard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OSU offseason to-do list: Special teams

January, 10, 2014
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Another 12-win season is in the books, though the second one under Urban Meyer did come with a pair of losses at the end that took a bit of the shine off the record for Ohio State. As the Buckeyes turn the page to Year 3 under Meyer, they'll certainly be looking to top that victory total, clinch a spot in the first edition of the College Football Playoff and again compete for a national title. To do so, all three phases will have issues to address, and the final checklist hits on the special teams.

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesFreshman Dontre Wilson returned 21 kickoffs for 523 yards this season.
Find some explosion in the return game: Considering the influx of speed on the kickoff return unit and the presence of a veteran to field punts, Ohio State has to be disappointed in the lack of spark it had when the ball was kicked its way. Even before the second-half lead in the Discover Orange Bowl started to slip away thanks to a punt that Philly Brown muffed for a costly turnover, the Buckeyes were merely average in that phase ranking No. 60 in the country and weren't much better with Dontre Wilson pacing a kickoff unit that finished No. 42 in the nation. Meyer undoubtedly has much higher expectations for his returners and has long placed an emphasis on creating game-changing plays in that phase of the game, something he'll only harp on more heading into spring practice. Not only is Brown gone, but every player who fielded more than one punt last season has departed along with him, so there will be open auditions for at least one role when practice resumes for the Buckeyes.

Replace the kicker: Meyer at times seems allergic to kicking field goals, but he could at least feel somewhat comfortable when he did settle for a 3-point try with veteran Drew Basil around and hitting 90 percent of his attempts. But that security blanket is gone now, and while that might make Meyer even less inclined to kick a field goal moving forward, in the short term he'll have his attention focused on the candidates to fill the void. Walk-on Kyle Clinton will have a crack at the job, though his current experience is limited to 3 extra points and a handful of kickoffs in his career. Incoming freshman Sean Nuernberger, the No. 9 player in the country at the position, could wind up being the solution for Ohio State.

Dial up the FreakShow: The loss of Bradley Roby at cornerback is obviously pressing, but not having him around to lead the FreakShow punt-block unit could be just as significant given how dramatic an impact he had during his career attacking the football on special teams. Few things in a game mean more to Meyer than coming up with a momentum-swinging block in the kicking game, and Roby had the instincts and athleticism to do it perhaps as well or better than anybody the coach has ever had at his disposal. Doran Grant has shown a flash of that ability, but the Buckeyes will be looking hard at the young talent it has been stacking up in the secondary to find another guy or two capable of blazing deep into the backfield, getting a hand on the football and then potentially turning a block directly into points the way Roby did with the program.

Previous to-do lists: Offense | Defense

Season report card: Ohio State

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

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

Up next: The No. 7 Buckeyes.

Offense: A-

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

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

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

Defense: B-

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

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

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

Special teams: B+

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

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

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

Overall: A-

Everything was set up for the Buckeyes to make a run at the national championship, and despite all the hand-wringing about the BCS standings and OSU's schedule, all the dominoes had fallen into place ahead of the conference title game. And while that loss to the Spartans left them one game short of playing for the national crown, the Buckeyes still won 12 and are headed to the Discover Orange Bowl, which is a respectable consolation prize in what should again go down as a successful season.
There's only one game on tap this week, but it's a very big one. Let's take a look at five things to watch in Saturday night's Big Ten championship game between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 10 Michigan State:

1. Something's gotta give: The nation's No. 1 defense in Michigan State goes up against the nation's No. 3 scoring offense in Ohio State. But has either unit really been tested? The Spartan Dawgs have been pretty special, but they've yet to face an offense ranked in the top 50 in yards. Ohio State's attack also looks the part, and the Buckeyes have faced two top-10 defenses (Wisconsin, Iowa), but no others in the top 35. Behind running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes lead the nation in yards per rush (7.1) and runs of 10 yards or longer (130). Michigan State leads the nation in fewest rush yards allowed (64.4 per game), fewest yards per rush (2.2) and fewest rushes of 10 or more yards (19). Who will gain the edge at the line of scrimmage?

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCan Braxton Miller and Ohio State's high-powered offense move the ball against Michigan State's stingy defense?
2. Buckeyes back on the big stage: It has been a while since Ohio State played a game of this significance on a stage as big as Lucas Oil Stadium. Miller has been brilliant the past two seasons, but he has yet to play in the postseason with a spot in the national championship on the line. Nebraska came into last year's title game tight and it showed in a disastrous performance against Wisconsin, which played loose and ran the Huskers up and down the field. Although no one expects Ohio State to lay an egg, Michigan State has been here before, and the Spartans are likely heading to the Rose Bowl no matter what happens in the game. MSU is the first top-15 team Ohio State will play since its win streak began under Meyer. Are Miller and the Buckeyes ready for the challenge?

3. Shutdown showcase: The title game features two of the nation's elite cornerbacks in Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard and Ohio State's Bradley Roby. Both have the ability to shut down a side of the field and make game-changing plays if quarterbacks dare to throw their way. Dennard, a likely first-round draft pick, will press Ohio State's receivers and try to eliminate the deep passing game. Roby is playing his best football and can be a difference-maker not only on defense but on special teams. Dennard has four interceptions and a forced fumble in an All-American-caliber senior season, while Roby has a pick-six, a fumble return for a touchdown, and a blocked punt and recovery for a touchdown.

4. Cook's big moment: Asked to make a brief opening statement on a media teleconference earlier this week, Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said, "Hello, I'm Connor Cook." The Spartans sophomore will introduce himself to the nation Saturday night and can make a strong statement about himself and the MSU offense. No one pegged Cook to be in this position before the season, but he has taken control in Big Ten play, passing for 1,708 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in eight league contests. Cook said that after Ohio State's defensive struggles, "you're licking your chops" about Saturday's game. He hasn't played in a game this big, but he doesn't lack confidence. It will be interesting to see how he fares.

5. Special attention: Michigan State's first appearance in the Big Ten title game came down to a special-teams play, and it didn't end well for the Spartans as Isaiah Lewis was flagged for running into Wisconsin punter Brad Nortman. Don't be surprised if the kicking game once again plays a big role in determining Saturday's winner. Both teams have excellent punters (MSU's Mike Sadler, OSU's Cameron Johnston), and Roby has been a special-teams star with three blocked punts and two recoveries for touchdowns. Kickers Michael Geiger (MSU) and Drew Basil (OSU) both have shown good accuracy on field goals with limited opportunities. Lewis' performance as he returns home to Indianapolis also is worth monitoring.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Training camp hasn't even started yet. After that grueling month, there's still almost an entire season to be played before "The Game" that matters most.

But it's never too early to set the table for the feud between Ohio State and Michigan, and at BuckeyeNation and WolverineNation, we're doing it all week.

We looked back on Monday at some heroes and villains on both sides of the rivalry. Today we're looking ahead at the strengths and weaknesses that could decide the latest edition in the storied series, which is just more than four short months away.


Ground and pound:

Carlos Hyde
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesOhio State running back Carlos Hyde is poised for a big senior season.
The Ohio State rushing attack was potent enough a year ago, but it's only added more experience and weapons to the mix now. By November, it might be almost impossible to slow down the Buckeyes on the ground as they incorporate the new pieces to the attack and potentially get more support from the passing game. Braxton Miller is obviously a threat to score from anywhere on the field, and if Carlos Hyde makes the kind of improvement he's targeted in terms of making defenders miss at the second level, that one-two combination will continue to rank among the best in the country, particularly with four seniors back on the offensive line.

But it might be the added dimension of a healthy Jordan Hall or a true freshman such as Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall at the hybrid, Pivot position that gives opponents even more fits. Or maybe it's a backfield that can be loaded up with as many as three talented rushers, rolling out Rod Smith or Bri'onte Dunn in a diamond formation with Hyde and Miller. Either way, the Buckeyes have the personnel to give Michigan a workout in the front seven.

Air patrol:

The expectations are growing for Michigan's passing attack now that Devin Gardner has the position all to himself, and he'll have plenty of time to develop and find a rhythm before meeting up with the Buckeyes. But there might be no stiffer test in the country than the one Ohio State can present a quarterback thanks to its overflowing talent and veteran savvy in the secondary. Cornerback Bradley Roby and safeties Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett would make life difficult on their own, but the Buckeyes can complement that with another senior safety in reserve in Corey "Pittsburgh"' Brown, a junior cornerback looking to make a name for himself in Doran Grant and a class of incoming defensive backs that represented perhaps the best signing day haul in the nation.

The Buckeyes plan to get as many of those guys involved as possible this season, which could make the secondary even more fearsome by the time Gardner gets a crack at them.


Middle ground:

The fresh faces are almost everywhere in the front seven, but heading to training camp, there's not all that much uncertainty about who will be filling which shoes left behind by the defenders who helped the Buckeyes go unbeaten last fall. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are poised for breakouts at end and Curtis Grant and Joshua Perry appear ready to lend a hand next to Ryan Shazier at linebacker, but there are two critical spots on the inside of the line that bear monitoring as Ohio State prepares to stop opposing rushing attacks. Michael Bennett is close to a lock for one role, but there could be a heated competition for reps next to him to complete the rotation. Tommy Schutt battled injuries throughout spring practice, but he has the ability to be a future star. Joel Hale is a grinder and respected leader, and the junior could be an intriguing option as well. And if big Chris Carter can manage his weight, his massive frame clearly could fill up some rushing lanes.

By November, the Buckeyes figure to have long ago answered those questions up front and should have also built up plenty of experience. But that will be at the top of the priority list as Ohio State chases a Big Ten title -- and keeps an eye on its rival.

Kicking it:

More often than not, the Buckeyes had the edge over opponents in the third phase. But considering how much value Urban Meyer places on special teams and how much production he expects, Ohio State wasn't all that close to giving him what he wanted a year ago. Kicker Drew Basil wasn't used all that much, aside from the season-ending win over Michigan, but among his 11 attempts last season were a pair of missed field goals from less than 39 yards that didn't exactly inspire confidence. The Buckeyes will be breaking in a new punter as well, and winning the field position battle is as important under Meyer as it has always been under previous regimes at Ohio State -- putting pressure on some young contributors to make plays in kickoff and punt coverage.

Philly Brown took a couple punts back for touchdowns last year and the "Freak Show" punt block unit made itself a nuisance a few times, but Meyer and newly-promoted special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs keep the bar pretty high in that area of the game. And in tightly contested rivalries, it can make all the difference.

Ohio State lands commitment No. 10 

June, 11, 2013
It didn’t take long for Sean Nuernberger (Buckner, Ky./Oldham County) to impress Ohio State.

And it didn’t take the Buckeyes long to impress Nuernberger.

The senior kicker participated in Ohio State’s specialist camp Monday and today and accepted a scholarship on the spot.

The place kicker had been in contact with Louisville and Kentucky and went down to Alabama’s camp as a punter, but when the opportunity to join Ohio State came about, he couldn’t pass it up.

Five questions facing OSU in 2014 

March, 4, 2013
Spring practice begins Tuesday at Ohio State, but the Buckeyes never stop recruiting.

On Feb. 6, Urban Meyer and Co. landed the third-ranked team in the nation after a 2012 recruiting campaign that put Ohio State sixth.

There are certain things we know about the Buckeyes as they fine-tune their lineup, and other things that need to be addressed.

Here are five questions facing the school as they turn the calendar completely to 2014:

1. What to do with the offensive line?

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Spring forward: Kicking game breakdown

February, 28, 2013
With national signing day in the books, the next big date on the Ohio State calendar as it continues working toward an encore for an undefeated season in 2013 is spring practice. Before those workouts begin, BuckeyeNation will take a look at each position to see where the roster is at -- and where it's going.

[+] EnlargeDrew Basil
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesDrew Basil is the incumbent kicker and is likely to take on punting duties in 2013 as well.
  • Who's back: With all the firepower the Buckeyes have returning and an aggressive coach who would clearly prefer never to need anybody to boot the football, the loss of punter Ben Buchanan may not be that big of a deal. But no offense is going to be perfect on every possession no matter how much Ohio State might score this fall, which makes filling the void the senior left a high priority this spring -- and could give kicker Drew Basil plenty to do. The Buckeyes recruited and received a commitment from a punter before Johnny Townsend ultimately elected to stay closer to home and sign with Florida, which has created something of a dilemma for Meyer and newly promoted special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs. But Basil does have one more year left to contribute with the program, and he will be the leading candidate at both positions heading into camp next week.
  • New face: Frank Epitropoulos isn't new to the program, but he could wind up being a fresh option to fill the hole at punter. The graduate of nearby Upper Arlington was recruited as a wide receiver and was listed at the position last fall during his first year with the Buckeyes, but the big leg he showed off as a three-way player in high school when averaged more than 42 yards per punt will make him a candidate as a specialist and could help take some of the burden off Basil.
  • Projected spring depth chart: Basil should enter spring practice as the starter at both positions, with Kyle Clinton backing him up at kicker and Epitropoulos potentially pushing for work at punter.
  • Numbers game: Meyer's fearless approach paid off in pressure situations as the Buckeyes led the country in fourth-down conversion percentage last fall, but it doesn't leave much of a sample size to judge Basil's accuracy as a kicker. Heading into the final week of the regular season, the rising senior had attempted just six field goals, making four of them. The Buckeyes needed him to deliver against rival Michigan to close out the undefeated campaign, though, and he doubled his total by making four of his five tries in the victory.
  • One to watch: There aren't many candidates, leaving Epitropoulos as the most intriguing option for the Buckeyes among the specialists. His numbers in high school suggest he has the strength and ability to potentially be productive at the next level, and with Ohio State loading up with dangerous weapons at wide receiver and creating stiff competition for playing time at the skill positions, handling the punting duties could provide a clearer path for Epitropoulos to contribute.
  • He said it: "Kerry Coombs is an excellent coach who has a great deal of experience and expertise with special teams. He is an outstanding teacher, an excellent motivator and he has a true passion for special teams." -- Meyer earlier this month

It's combine time in the Midwest 

February, 14, 2013
It’s time to camp.

With the signing period over, the need for the Class of 2014 to get noticed becomes paramount. This weekend, three big combines take place.

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Ohio State hardly needs motivation thanks to the chip on its shoulder already firmly in place after sitting out the postseason with a perfect record. But just in case any players required any extra fuel heading into workouts or wanted a little help putting together some goals, BuckeyeNation is here to lend a hand with some records that could be in reach with another productive offseason.

[+] EnlargeDrew Basil
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesDrew Basil made 56 extra points in 2012, the third-most in Ohio State history.
  • Who owns it: A prolific attack in 2010 gave Devin Barclay plenty of chip shots to convert, and the Ohio State kicker converted every single one of them -- putting his name in the school record book an extra point at a time. That record obviously is much more of a reflection of a dynamic offense than an indicator of how good or bad Barclay was that season, but it's well worth nothing that he is the only kicker in the single-season top 10 for 1-pointers who made every attempt.
  • Who wants it: Just three seasons after Barclay took over the top spot, the Buckeyes are primed to put an even more explosive offense on the field in Urban Meyer's second year with the program. Drew Basil should be in line to capitalize heading into his senior campaign. As a junior, Basil perhaps didn't get as many chances to try field goals as he might have hoped, a combination of Meyer's aggressiveness and a red-zone offense that ranked among the best in the nation at turning those chances into touchdowns, doing so 76 percent of the time. That proficiency still gave Basil work to do, and he banged through 56 extra points, in all in the third-best individual season in school history in that category.
  • Relevant number: The Buckeyes were a perfect 3-of-3 when they had to dial up a two-point conversion instead, and considering how effective the offense was near the goal line thanks to the versatile backfield tandem of battering ram Carlos Hyde and elusive quarterback Braxton Miller, Meyer could conceivably think about trying to double up after a touchdown more often next season. Had those three tries been extra points last year, Basil would already own the No. 2 spot on the single-season list -- though the Buckeyes would obviously much rather be undefeated.
  • Offseason checklist: There's not much preparation Basil really needs to do to convert his simplest chances as a kicker, leaving the work that could carry him to a personal record to all those teammates on offense. Another year of development for Miller as he readies for a third season as the starting quarterback should take the spread offense to another level, and there is no shortage of weapons around him. Aside from the loss of Reid Fragel at right tackle and Jake Stoneburner at wide receiver, every other starter returns for an offense that led the Big Ten in scoring last season and still has room to grow.
  • Attainable goal: All signs point to even more scoring for the Buckeyes in 2013, and given the track record already established by Meyer with the program, that means touchdowns and not field goals. While that could keep Basil from piling up a personal point total that could challenge Barclay's overall mark of 122 set during that same 2010 season thanks to 20 field goals, the extra point mark could be in serious jeopardy.


Year in review: Ups, downs for specialists 

December, 7, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, wrapping up today by rewinding to look at the kicking game and a group of special-teams contributors that were stretched by injury during a roller coaster campaign.

[+] EnlargeCorey Brown
Jim Rinaldi/Icon SMIReceiver Corey "Philly" Brown became the playmaker that Urban Meyer was looking for on special teams.

  • Most valuable player: Roles on special teams just aren't handed out under Urban Meyer, though that doesn't change the fact they're valuable proving grounds for players looking to make an impression, as the Ohio State coach is so heavily involved with the kicking game. It also doesn't just apply to younger players, since it was junior Corey "Philly" Brown's explosive contributions on punt return that seemingly helped his role on offense expand as the season progressed and the Buckeyes gained even more confidence in his ability to make something happen with the football in his hands. Meyer had been somewhat critical of Brown's ability to make defenders miss early in the season, but his 76-yard punt return against Nebraska helped seal a blowout victory and signaled that the wide receiver was turning a corner as a playmaker.
  • By the numbers: Good luck finding a more successful punt return unit than the one Meyer rolled out in his first season with the program. On four different occasions with an opponent trying to kick the ball away and swing field position, the Buckeyes decisively flipped the momentum instead with touchdowns. Brown returned two punts for scores, cornerback Bradley Roby pounced on a mishandled snap for a touchdown and also recovered a ball that had been blocked by Travis Howard for another trip to the end zone in a productive season for that unit -- one that Meyer will expect even more out of next year.

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Four downs: Keys to OSU-Wisconsin 

November, 16, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Critical areas for the Buckeyes as they hit the road for a physical test at Wisconsin with a chance to lock up an outright division crown. The game will be televised live on ABC at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday from Camp Randall Stadium.

Buckle up: Both offenses have a bruising, downhill runner. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State will have mobile quarterbacks. And both programs have proven more than capable of shutting down rushing attacks with aggressive defenses that rank among the best in the Big Ten.

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Ohio State awards tracker: Week 8

October, 23, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A glance at the Ohio State players named to preseason watch lists and how they performed in a 29-22 overtime win against Purdue to stay undefeated:

QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): The sophomore didn't look quite like himself even before getting hurt in the third quarter, having rushed for just 10 yards on his first 11 carries. Miller did look poised to break out on his 37-yard run that ended with him getting rammed to the turf and eventually taken to the hospital, and it looks like he'll have a chance to go back to work against Penn State this week.

DE John Simon, Sr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT): The two-time captain never gave up on plays even after just missing on a couple chances to make tackles behind the line of scrimmage, finishing with nine tacklese overall as he scrambled around and brought down Boilermakers in a much better defensive effort collectively for the Buckeyes.

DT Johnathan Hankins, Jr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland): The big man in the middle was back to his old tricks, giving the Purdue offensive line all it could handle, and he swallowed up pretty much every interior run that came his way. Hankins also got a critical hand on a field goal that kept the game close in the second half.

WR Corey "Philly" Brown, Jr. (Biletnikoff): Yet another player who dealt with an injury that popped up against Purdue, Brown made three catches for 44 yards and had a 9-yard rush before heading to the locker room early. The Buckeyes appear likely to get him back against the Nittany Lions, and they are getting him more and more involved as the season progresses.

TE Jake Stoneburner, Sr. (Mackey): The veteran wasn't targeted as much as he was the week before, but Stoneburner added another catch to his tally and picked up 17 yards to go with his solid blocking on the perimeter. It also couldn't have come at a much better time for the Buckeyes as he helped set up the score in overtime with his grab over the middle on a second-and-1o snap.

SS C.J. Barnett, Jr. (Thorpe): Looking more healthy as he works back to full strength after missing time with a high-ankle sprain, Barnett had a clear impact in the secondary with six solid tackles and a critical interception in the end zone. His experience and knowledge of the defense don't show up statistically, but Barnett has also been an invaluable leadership asset.

K Drew Basil, Jr. (Groza): The junior still isn't getting a lot of chances to show off his leg, and he just missed converting on his best chance all season to do it on Saturday. Basil was called on to try a kick from 50 yards against the Boilermakers, but he banged it off the left upright and has now made 3 of his 5 field goals this season.

LB Etienne Sabino, Sr. (Butkus): The senior missed his second game since fracturing a bone in his leg, and he's not expected to return in time for Saturday's trip to Penn State.

RB Jordan Hall, Sr. (Walker): Another veteran who is stuck on the sideline, Hall missed his third game in a row since going down with a partially torn ligament in his knee.

Ohio State Awards Tracker: Week 7

October, 16, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A glance at the Ohio State players named to preseason watch lists and how they performed in a 52-49 win on the road against Indiana to stay undefeated and move up to No. 7 in the AP poll:

QB Braxton Miller, So. (Maxwell, O'Brien): The Hoosiers had a few answers for the multipurpose threat on the option, but not nearly enough to stop him from breaking another long touchdown run and having one more enormous game in the spread offense. Miller complemented his 149 rushing yards with 211 through the air, tacking on a pair of touchdown throws to keep his name in the conversation for the major awards.

DE John Simon, Sr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Lott IMPACT): A quick-hitting attack kept the Buckeyes from getting to the quarterback much, though Simon got close a few times, as usual. Even without a sack, he kept his recent run of success in the backfield going with another tackle for a loss to run his tally to 8.5 this season.

DT Johnathan Hankins, Jr. (Bednarik, Lombardi, Nagurski, Outland): Much like his buddy on the end, the defensive tackle wasn't able to do much damage statistically against the Hoosiers. But Hankins also found a way to make the most of the few plays he was in on, chipping in a tackle for a loss that cost Indiana 3 yards.

Braxton Miller
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesBraxton Miller (5) and Corey "Philly" Brown (10) are both in the running for postseason honors.
WR Corey "Philly" Brown, Jr. (Biletnikoff): The team lead in receptions was extended after Brown made six more catches in the win, but his biggest play came as a rushing threat on the perimeter. The junior took a well-timed pitch from Miller and did the rest of the work himself on a 12-yard touchdown carry that opened the scoring against the Hoosiers.

TE Jake Stoneburner, Sr. (Mackey): After a three-week drought, Stoneburner was once again a featured part of the passing game. He finished with four catches for 41 yards and provided a reliable weapon for Miller, particularly when the quarterback was rolling out of the pocket and couldn't help but find the big target.

SS C.J. Barnett, Jr. (Thorpe): Returned from a three-week absence because of a high-ankle sprain and picked up almost right where he left off in the secondary. Only converted linebacker Zach Boren made more tackles than Barnett in his first game back, and the safety also broke up a couple of passes as he settled back into his role in the back end.

K Drew Basil, Jr. (Groza): Basil finally tried some field goals longer than 26 yards, and the results were mixed. The junior drilled his first attempt from 35 yards away against the Hoosiers, but he missed on the second attempt (also from 35 yards) -- his first miss of the season in just four tries.

LB Etienne Sabino, Sr. (Butkus): The absence of the captain and the lack of depth at linebacker was pretty obvious as the Buckeyes moved Boren over from fullback to fill the void. Sabino will be out at least two more weeks as he recovers from a fractured bone in his leg.

RB Jordan Hall, Sr. (Walker): On the shelf again with a partially torn ligament in his knee, Hall remains doubtful for this week's home date with Purdue. Without him in the lineup, the Buckeyes have turned to Carlos Hyde, and the junior has 296 yards and five touchdowns in the last two games.


Ohio State Quarterback Competition
Marty Smith discusses the competition among Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller to be Ohio State's starting quarterback.