Ohio State Buckeyes: Garrett Goebel

With spring in the books for more than a month, the long march through the offseason and back to football is only beginning. But BuckeyeNation is going to keep doing its part to speed up the journey -- or at least make it more interesting. This week, that means a bunch of countdown lists, picking up today with a look at a handful of incoming freshmen who could contribute right away for Ohio State.

Ranking potential impact freshmen

Vonn Bell
Miller Safrit/ESPNVonn Bell could make an immediate impact in nickel and dime packages.
1. DB Vonn Bell: The Buckeyes don't exactly need a safety to come in and play extensively right off the bat thanks to the veteran presence of senior starters C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, and they even have a senior in Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown with the talent and experience needed to play a valuable role in reserve. But the late addition of Bell, thanks to the tireless recruiting of safeties coach Everett Withers, does give the Buckeyes an elite athlete who could crack the rotation in the nickel and dime packages right away. And with Ohio State likely playing extensively in formations with extra defensive backs, Bell could be seeing a lot of action quickly.

2. ATH Dontre Wilson: The spread attack operated just fine a year ago even without Urban Meyer having a dynamic skill-position guy capable of playing his vaunted H-back position. Heading into his second year with the program, Meyer worked overtime to find a versatile rusher/receiver to take the offense to another level, and Wilson is at the top of the list because of a combination of speed and ability to make defenders miss in space. The Buckeyes already have enough options on hand to be even more explosive than they were a year ago, but Wilson figures to supply one more element of danger if his transition to the Big Ten matches his fast times on the track.

3. LB Trey Johnson: His position is among the toughest on the field to play right away, but Johnson is walking into a situation where the Buckeyes are still low on depth and could need him to fill out the rotation after just one training camp. Natural instincts and a seemingly advanced knowledge of the game could give Johnson a head start as he tries to give the Buckeyes another candidate for work at the second level, and he should have plenty of chances to show what he can do on the practice field in August. If Johnson can market himself as an option either in the middle or at strong-side linebacker at 6-foot-2 and 220 pounds, his odds of making a mark will only get better.

4. WR Jalin Marshall: Another weapon in the open field with a high motor and elusiveness, Marshall will be on the working list of options at H-back along with Wilson. But he could also find some work soon after showing up on campus as a target in the passing game, and the path to the field might be a bit more clear at wide receiver with a relatively thin position group on hand coming out of spring for the Buckeyes. Philly Brown and Devin Smith are the clear starters again after productive seasons a year ago, but there aren't a lot of bodies behind them. If Marshall can absorb his responsibilities on the perimeter and master a handful of routes in a hurry, he could find the ball in his hands with a chance to inflict some pain on defenses.

5. DT Joey Bosa: The Buckeyes landed the elite pass-rushers they needed in Meyer's first class. The second addressed restocking the cupboard on the interior of the defensive line, and the four-star defensive tackle from Florida should help fill that void after Johnathan Hankins left early for the NFL draft and Garrett Goebel graduated. The Buckeyes have some veterans returning who have solid claims to the starting jobs and rising sophomore Tommy Schutt will be a factor inside as well after shaking off some injuries from spring practice. But they could certainly use some fresh blood to bolster the two-deep. Bosa's aggressiveness and violent first step might vault him into that mix sooner rather than later.
2012 record: 12-0

2012 conference record: 8-0 (first, Leaders Division)

Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners: QB Braxton Miller, RB Carlos Hyde, WR Philly Brown, LT Jack Mewhort, C Corey Linsley, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LB Ryan Shazier

Key losses: RT Reid Fragel, WR Jake Stoneburner, DE John Simon, DE Nathan Williams, DT Johnathan Hankins, DT Garrett Goebel, FB/LB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Miller* (1,271 yards, 13 TDs)

Passing: Miller* (2,039 yards, 15 TDs, 6 INTs)

Receiving: Brown* (60 catches, 669 yards, 3 TDs)

Tackles: Shazier* (115)

Sacks: Simon (9)

Interceptions: Howard (4)

Spring answers:

1. End game: The Buckeyes have to replace all four starters up front, and while the defensive line isn't quite as deep and is far from a finished product, the future looks pretty bright on the edge. Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington were among the top prizes in Urban Meyer's first recruiting class with the Buckeyes, and that talent is already starting to shine through as they slide into first-team roles heading into the fall. Spence is a dynamic force with his ability to use speed to get to the quarterback, and Washington isn't exactly sluggish despite all the strength in his 293-pound frame. The two combined for seven sacks in the spring game, and the Buckeyes are expecting similar performances when it actually counts.

2. Air it out: Miller has proven what he can do with his legs, and Ohio State didn't really need to see him show them off in the spring. The emphasis was on continuing to develop the junior quarterback as a passer, which meant a heavy dose of play calls forcing him to put the ball in the air and a quick whistle if he tried to scramble. The results for Meyer were encouraging. His efficient, 16-for-25, 217-yard performance in the spring game showed a much more accurate delivery and better decision-making that hints at bigger things from the fifth-place finisher in last year's Heisman Trophy race.

3. Backfield stable: One thing that might keep Hyde from giving Meyer a 1,000-yard running back this season is all the teammates fighting to snag a few of his carries. The rising senior is the clear cut No. 1 to partner with Miller in the backfield, and Hyde didn't have to earn that job in the spring after piling up touchdowns last fall and finally tapping into his enormous potential as a rusher. But while he was watching some reps, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball all showed their upside this spring, which has the Buckeyes even toying with a diamond formation that gets three tailbacks on the field at the same time.

Fall questions

1. Filling out the front seven: Shazier is certainly a fine place for any defense to start, but the Buckeyes would obviously prefer if there were at least one other returning starter joining him in the front seven. There are high hopes again for junior Curtis Grant at middle linebacker, but he's been tabbed as a first-team guy before coming out of spring only to fizzle in the fall. Ohio State will need Grant and sophomore Joshua Perry to help lead the charge as it tries to add depth and talent at linebacker to stabilize a defense that will feature a lot of new faces.

2. Fresh blood: There wasn't a great option to fill Meyer's vaunted H-back position last fall, so the Buckeyes effectively had to put the hybrid spot, made famous by Percy Harvin at Florida, on the shelf. Jordan Hall's return from injury makes him a candidate to diversify the offense, but a handful of recruits the Buckeyes landed in Meyer's second class would could really take the spread to another level. Speed-burners such as Dontre Wilson or Jalin Marshall will be watched closely in August as they could become factors for the Buckeyes as early as September.

3. Something special: If the Buckeyes score as easily and often as it appears they might, maybe it won't matter who handles the kicking game. But Meyer has always taken pride in his special teams, and at this point there is still some uncertainty as Drew Basil is pressed into action as both a kicker and a punter. In the big picture, the changes on defense are far more critical -- but close games usually pop up along the way for teams trying to win a championship, and Basil might need to pass some tests for the Buckeyes.
Adolphus Washington is a huge part of Ohio State's future on defense, but he hasn't forgotten the Buckeyes' recent past.

Asked to identify his top goal during spring practice, Washington made sure to give a nod to the man who showed him the way in 2012.

"To fill the shoes of John Simon," Washington told ESPN.com. "I know those are some big shoes to fill. I'm just working my hardest to try and do that."

[+] EnlargeAdolphus Washington
David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty ImagesAdolphus Washington knows he has some big shoes to fill as he replaces John Simon at defensive end.
Many would say Washington, a 6-foot-3, 292-pound defensive end, boasts more natural ability than Simon, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. He undoubtedly came to Columbus as a more decorated recruit, rated as the nation's 65th-best player and No. 7 defensive end in the 2012 class, according RecruitingNation. (Simon had no national ranking when he arrived in 2009.)

But Simon maximized every ounce of talent he had during an exceptional Buckeyes career, earning respect from teammates, fans and coaches, including Urban Meyer, who put Simon in a select category of players he has coached (he hangs Simon's and Tim Tebow's jerseys in his office at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center). He attacked the weight room and practices the same way he did the game field on fall Saturdays, and everyone took notice, including a young defensive lineman from Cincinnati.

"His competitive spirit, that's the biggest thing," Washington said. "I'm pretty athletic, and I've got a lot of things God blessed me with to play football, but his competitive spirit is what I take away the most."

Washington is part of a new-look Buckeyes defensive line that must replace Simon and three other starters (tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel, and end Nathan Williams). As a true freshman, Washington appeared in 10 games, logging 156 plays and recording three sacks, 3.5 tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a blocked kick.

He recorded two of the sacks in Ohio State's final three games.

"My first game when I went out there, things were just lightning fast," Washington said. "But as the year went on, it kind of slowed down. Now I'm just out there playing, out there competing."

Washington has the size and skills to play both line spots but has been practicing this spring at defensive end. He'll likely start opposite fellow true sophomore Noah Spence, who logged 237 plays last season, the most among the Buckeyes' returning linemen.

"He's learning how to do some other things, like moving down inside at times and things that aren't as natural to him," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell told colleague Brian Bennett. "He's very athletic out on the edge, and he's getting a lot better in different situations and things we've asked him to do, like being one of the inside fit guys."

Spence and Washington headlined Meyer's first recruiting class at Ohio State, which included arguably the best defensive line haul in the country. They live in the same dorm as freshmen and have talked about getting a place together off campus for the next academic year. Washington said Spence will "probably be one of my best friends for life."

The two typically are mentioned in the same sentence when it comes to football, and they form the foundation for Ohio State's future along the D-line.

"Noah brings the athleticism and the speed," Washington said, "and I can bring the speed and the power. But Noah also has power. Noah's a lot stronger than he looks. We bring the same things."

Spence has drawn rave reviews for his play throughout the spring, and Washington seems to be making strides in recent weeks. Meyer, who describes Washington as a "wonderful person," said the lineman always grades high in terms of attitude and effort but lacked a chip on his shoulder.

"He's not an angry player," Meyer said. "The position he plays, you have to play angry. You can see that starting to come out these last three or four practices."

Ohio State's spring game has added meaning for Washington, who returns to his hometown and will take the field Saturday at Paul Brown Stadium. The defensive line will be in the spotlight as many are interested to see how the replacement project is going.

"We get reminded about it every day," Washington said. "We just go out there and try to show the guys returning on defense, Coach Meyer, Coach Fickell, that we can fill the shoes and be just like they were."

Washington already has a believer on the offense in a guy he often faces in practice.

"He's obviously got all the physical tools, he's blessed," Buckeyes left tackle Jack Mewhort said. "I see him coming along every day. That chip on his shoulder, people may have not have seen that before, but I can definitely see that more as spring ball goes.

"If he keeps going in the right direction, he's going to be a force to be reckoned with in this conference."
Mike Vrabel enters only his third season in coaching following a 14-year NFL playing career, but the Ohio State assistant might never again face a challenge like the one that sits before him.

It's rare when a defensive line coach steps on the practice field and doesn't see a single starter from the previous season. How rare? According to Ohio State's athletics communications staff, the Buckeyes haven't had a complete overhaul of their starting defensive line since the 1985 season, when all three top spots had to be filled. Although Ohio State ended up starting four new linemen in 1998, it had a returning starter from 1997 (end Matt LaVrar) on the roster.

All four starters from the 2012 team -- ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, and tackles Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel -- have moved on. The effort to replace them is arguably Ohio State's top offseason story line, as the Buckeyes could be a defensive line away from contending for a national title in 2013.

[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesOhio State is counting on players like Noah Spence to deliver for an inexperienced defensive line.
"We're not going to claim to be experienced," Vrabel told ESPN.com on Thursday, "but we're going to go out and continue to improve. They work, and they're committed to being great."

Vrabel is stressing three areas for the linemen this spring -- attitude, effort and toughness. If all three are achieved, Vrabel thinks the players can "let their God-given ability to take over."

The Buckeyes' linemen boast plenty of ability. Ohio State had arguably the nation's top defensive-line haul in the 2012 recruiting class, signing four ESPN 150 defensive linemen, three of whom -- Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt -- saw the field as true freshmen. More help is on the way from the 2013 class with standouts like tackle Joey Bosa, an ESPN 150 selection. Two incoming line recruits, Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle, enrolled early and are participating in spring ball.

But the group has only nine combined career starts, five from junior end J.T. Moore. Its career tackles leader, junior tackle Michael Bennett, has a whopping 28 stops in 21 games.

"The guys we've got have a little bit of experience with Adolphus and Noah and Tommy," Vrabel said. "Michael Bennett and Joel Hale, Steve Miller, those guys have been here, contributing and giving us some leadership. And Tracy and Tyquan are just trying to figure their way through this thing.

"We're learning every day."

Although Ohio State's defensive line undoubtedly will be younger, Vrabel also thinks it will be faster with players like Spence and Washington, who finished third on the team with three sacks in 2012. Again, talent isn't a problem, but the line needs leadership after losing two-time captain John Simon.

Head coach Urban Meyer challenged several of the older linemen at the start of the spring, saying, "Steve Miller's been here for a while. It's time to go play. Chris Carter, how long has he been here? At some point you can't redshirt anymore." At the very least, Ohio State needs the veterans to fill out the line rotation.

Ideally, they can take the reins.

"No one's going to replace what John Simon provided for this program," Vrabel said. "We can only hope that we find guys who are willing to lead, be the same person every day, be competitive, play with some toughness and play with some effort. We'll have guys step up."

Vrabel should get an accurate gauge on his group this spring because of the men they'll be lining up against. What the Buckeyes lack in defensive-line experience, they make up for on their offensive line, which returns four starters with 81 combined career starts.

"If we can compete against them," Vrabel said, "we feel like we're going to be OK."

Spence evidently has been competing well, impressing Buckeyes offensive line coach Ed Warinner with his edge-rushing speed.

Vrabel's return to his alma mater in 2011 generated tremendous excitement, and he made an immediate impact on the recruiting trail. But his coaching skills will be under the microscope as he works with a group that, for now, is Ohio State's biggest question mark.

"I'm a young coach, I'm new to this, so every day is a challenge," he said. "I enjoy it, I embrace the challenge and try to do my best."

Spring forward: DTs breakdown

February, 21, 2013
Johnathan HankinsEric Francis/Getty ImagesOhio State will have to find a way to replace Johnathan Hankins.
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.

    • Who's back: The void in the middle of the defensive line is substantial, but that doesn't mean it's likely to become a black hole for Ohio State as it transitions to life without Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel. Losing a talent like Hankins early to the NFL draft was a major blow to the defense even if it was expected, and Goebel's senior season was quietly productive and steady even if it wasn't flashy as the combination of the two big guys plugged gaps and often made rushing up the middle a fruitless proposition for opponents. But there are talented guys in reserve up front, even if there doesn't appear to be all that much depth heading into spring practice. Michael Bennett and his versatile set of skills will be put to use on the interior, and junior Joel Hale and sophomore Tommy Schutt both have the ability to handle the first-team load after filling in off the bench a year ago. Those three guys will be the focal point, charged with picking up where Hankins and Goebel left off.
    • New face: The Buckeyes have two recent signees already on campus and ready to go to work in the spring, though both are listed as defensive ends and don't appear to have the size needed to battle at the interior spots. But either way, Tracy Sprinkle (6-foot-2, 241 pounds) and Tyquan Lewis (6-foot-3, 223) could potentially allow line coach Mike Vrabel to tinker with his rotation a bit, particularly with somebody like inside-outside guy Adolphus Washington who is capable of playing multiple positions. Natural tackles Michael Hill, Joey Bosa, Billy Price and Donovan Munger will bulk up the group in August.

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Ohio State offers 6-5, 270-pound DE 

February, 7, 2013
Dylan Thompson (Lombard, Ill./Montini Catholic), a 6-foot-5, 270-pound defensive end, didn’t mince words about his latest offer.

Offseason countdown: Hankins moves on

January, 22, 2013
The work for the 2013 season is already underway for Ohio State with the strength program in full swing, but the first moves that started shaping the potential encore effort from a perfect campaign began almost two months ago. BuckeyeNation is counting down the five biggest early developments for the team since last season ended and how they will impact the Buckeyes moving forward.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Johnathan Hankins
AP Photo/Scott BoehmReplacing Johnathan Hankins will be among the Buckeyes' biggest tasks heading into the 2013 season.
No. 4: Johnathan Hankins declares for the draft
  • Development: The Buckeyes certainly weren't blindsided by the decision, but that doesn't mean it still didn't sting when Johnathan Hankins officially announced he was forgoing his senior season and making himself available for the upcoming NFL draft. The stout, skilled defensive tackle had been projected as a first-round pick all season long, and with his stock unlikely to climb much higher even with another productive campaign for Ohio State, the program was always anticipating there would be a hole to fill in the middle of the defensive line.
  • What it means: If it were simply a matter of just plugging one guy in the rotation up front, the Buckeyes wouldn't have much to worry about. But with the other three starters all exhausting their eligibility, the loss of Hankins effectively tipped the scales. It turned a position group that could conceivably have been young, but still deep, into an inexperienced unit that could deal with some growing pains without that veteran presence around. That's not to suggest the Buckeyes don't have the talent on hand to pick up where the departed players off last season, particularly since Noah Spence, Tommy Schutt and Adolphus Washington all picked up some valuable experience off the bench and have tremendous upside. There's no doubt that trio would have benefited from having Hankins back for another season, but with options such as Michael Bennett or J.T. Moore still around, the Buckeyes still figure to be in good shape.
  • Numbers game: Replacing four starters is daunting enough on its own, but the bar is set just a little higher considering the contributions up front last year. Combined between John Simon, Nathan Williams, Garrett Goebel and Hankins, the first-team line chipped in 182 tackles -- 31 of them for a loss -- and 13 sacks. The torch has been passed to the rising sophomores, and the pressure is now on to live up to that standard or surpass it.
  • He said it: "For me to say we have to get [to the championship] next year, that's like talking about having to go fly to the moon. We're nowhere near having that conversation. You know what we really have to do? We have to find out who can play defensive line for us. We lost some really good players." -- Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer

Next up: Replacing Johnathan Hankins

December, 26, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Heading into the new year and offseason workouts, BuckeyeNation will look at some holes left by the departing Ohio State veterans and potential candidates to fill them, continuing today in the trenches.

[+] EnlargeOhio State's Johnathan Hankins
AP Photo/Scott BoehmJohnathan Hankins will be tough to replace for OSU.
  • Who: The Buckeyes might have held out some slim hope that Johnathan Hankins would return for another year and a chance to compete for a championship, but with his stock already so high, that always was going to be a bonus and not an expectation heading into Urban Meyer's second season with the program. Hankins didn't post the gaudiest numbers during his junior campaign, but his ability to impact the game went well beyond statistics as he occupied multiple blockers, ate up space in the middle of the defensive line and swallowed up any running backs that happened to venture his way as he solidified his NFL stock while the Buckeyes went undefeated.
  • By the numbers: While for the most part the work Hankins did to anchor the defensive line was hard to quantify in the box score, the junior still finished fifth on the team with 55 tackles. There wasn't much flashy about his approach and he didn't finish many plays in the backfield with just 4 tackles for a loss, but it was a rare sight to see Hankins lose an individual matchup and he simply had to be accounted for by the opposing offensive line on every snap.

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I believed Johnathan Hankins when he said last summer that he wanted to help Ohio State win a championship.

But some NFL draft decisions are made for you. And when you're a virtual lock in the top 15 of the draft, you make the jump, no questions asked.

Hankins surprised no one Monday in announcing he'll forgo his senior season and enter the 2013 NFL draft. The Ohio State junior defensive tackle boosted his stock this season, eating up space and ball-carriers in the middle of the Buckeyes' defensive line. Many NFL draft prognosticators, including our own Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, have Hankins as the first Big Ten player off the board in April.

Hankins won't help Ohio State try to win a national title in 2013, but he undoubtedly made the right call.

"I will always be grateful for the family I have gained here at Ohio State," Hankins said in a prepared statement. "I want to thank coach [Urban] Meyer, coach [Mike] Vrabel and strength coach [Mickey] Marotti for bringing the best out of me as a football player and person, and for their constant support. I also want to thank coach [Jim] Tressel and coach [Jim] Heacock for recruiting me and giving me an opportunity to be a part of this great school and great program."

Hankins added that he intends to finish his degree at Ohio State, which is great to hear. He started every game the past two seasons and finishes his career with 138 tackles (58 solo, 80 assists), including 16.5 tackles for loss and five sacks.

Although Ohio State expected Hankins to leave, his departure underscores some potential depth issues the team will have up front in 2013. Defensive end John Simon, the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, moves on along with nose tackle Garrett Goebel and defensive end Nathan Williams.

The good news is Urban Meyer has recruited very well at defensive line, securing blue chippers Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington in his first class (both played this fall). Linemen like Michael Bennett, Steve Miller, Tommy Schutt and Joel Hale all should see increased roles in 2013. Ohio State also is bringing in several standout D-line recruits like ESPN 300 selections Joey Bosa and Michael Hill.

Ohio State has a lot of young talent along the defensive line, but the Buckeyes need those players to grow up in a hurry if they want to take another step forward on defense.

Year in review: Veterans anchor DL 

December, 4, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A position-by-position look at a perfect season for Ohio State, continuing today by rewinding to break down a defensive line that had high expectations at the beginning of the year and was starting to live up to them by the end.

[+] EnlargeJohn Simon
Greg Bartram/US PresswireOhio State defensive end John Simon had 14.5 tackles for loss in 2012 as a senior.

  • Most valuable player: The final season with the program might not have been as prolific individually as expected for John Simon, but good luck getting the two-time captain and team-first senior to complain about his numbers after helping the Buckeyes go undefeated. Simon was hampered by injuries all season long and perhaps had to carry more of the workload than Ohio State initially planned due to a roster that didn't have quite as much depth as initially thought, but he still led the Big Ten in sacks and provided invaluable leadership to help set the tone for future teams under coach Urban Meyer.
  • By the numbers: While it seemed for much of the year Simon was having plenty of chances to make big plays in the backfield slip out of his hands, he still wound up converting plenty of them by grabbing hold and throwing them to the turf during his last season with the Buckeyes. If Simon had the benefit of a Big Ten championship appearance, a bowl game or even the final week of the regular season to pad his stats, he surely would have topped the 16 tackles for loss he posted as a junior. In the end, he settled for 14.5 of them -- effectively one out of every three tackles he made went for a loss.

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Ohio State 10: Week 12 power rankings 

November, 26, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There was only one more shot to impress the voters in The Associated Press poll.

Ohio State also had only one final game to make a move in the weekly power ratings.

No surprise, the top spots stayed the same as the Buckeyes polished off their perfect season, getting big-time passing plays from Braxton Miller, another impressive outing from Ryan Shazier and more hard running from Carlos Hyde.

But the defensive effort in the second half as Ohio State shut down rival Michigan in a 26-21 decision on Saturday at Ohio Stadium allowed for some tinkering after that, and for now, the latest edition of the Ohio State 10 will have to stand for a while.

No. 1: QB Braxton Miller

  • Last week: No. 1
  • Against Michigan: The sophomore again found rushing room hard to come by, but Miller made up for it with perhaps his most impressive passing performance of the season. Against one of the nation’s best pass defenses, Miller rarely wasted a throw in completing 14 of his 18 attempts and racked up 189 critical yards and a touchdown.

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Ohio State 10: Week 11 power rankings 

November, 19, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Maybe Ryan Shazier is running out of time to take over the top spot in the power rankings.

But the Ohio State sophomore is building a pretty strong case as the best defensive player in the Big Ten -- and he's also starting to give Braxton Miller a run for his money.

Shazier delivered another highlight-reel play that won't be forgotten by the Buckeyes for a long time, even if it ultimately didn't end up going down as a game-winner after he punched the ball loose from Wisconsin tailback Montee Ball at the goal line in the fourth quarter of the 21-14 overtime win on Saturday. And while that resume still leaves him a spot behind Miller in the latest edition of the Ohio State 10, he might be No. 1 in a different poll soon if he keeps up his torrid pace for one more week.

No. 1: QB Braxton Miller

  • Last week: No. 1
  • Against Wisconsin: The sophomore clearly didn’t have his best stuff and was effectively bottled up by the Badgers' sound game plan, but that doesn’t diminish his value for the Buckeyes through the season. And what Miller might have lacked on the stats sheet over the weekend, he more than made up for by keeping his record as the starting quarterback perfect this season.

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Freshman focus: Future for defensive line 

November, 14, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There's not much uncertainty about where games in a hard-nosed, growing rivalry are decided.

When Wisconsin and Ohio State get together, it's not a secret that toughness is challenged and victories are forged at the line of scrimmage. And after a somewhat sluggish start on the defensive side of the ball for the Buckeyes, that group is finally starting to look like the dominant unit many expected to see heading into the season.

But most of the production, and perhaps the entire starting unit, could be wrapping up their college careers the next two weeks against Wisconsin and Michigan. And while the Buckeyes will obviously have the veterans on hand this weekend and next, it's tempting to peek into the future and see how that unit might look different a year from now, given how important that group will be, since the line is going to have to be rebuilt.

In reality, it essentially comes down to three guys on the field now -- and the three that will have to replace them.

The Edge Rusher
[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesNoah Spence will have some big shoes to fill in 2013.

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Ohio State 10: Week 10 

November, 5, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There wasn't much room for movement.

Ohio State did what it had to do against an overmatched opponent, and it got key contributions from all the usual suspects Saturday in the weekly power rankings in a 52-22 throttling of Illinois.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the top spots on offense and defense remain the same heading into the bye week, though there was a bit of shuffling deeper into the rankings. Thanks to this needed off week of recovery for the Buckeyes, those spots are safe for close to two weeks now until the trip to Wisconsin is in the books and the attention turns to The Game -- and a potential run at perfection.

No. 1: QB Braxton Miller

  • Last week: No. 1
  • Against Illinois: Challenged throughout the week to clean up some fundamental flaws with his throwing motion, the sophomore responded with one of his most efficient outings through the air as he carved up the Illini. If not for a couple of drops, Miller’s stats could have looked better while completing 12 of his 20 tosses for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns and adding 73 rushing yards and another score.

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Ohio State 10: Week 9 

October, 29, 2012
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- There wasn’t any need to validate his spot in the pecking order for Ohio State.

Braxton Miller did it anyway.

For any number of reasons, the outing the Buckeyes quarterback turned in at Penn State might go down as one of his most valuable this season despite some uneven passing and a few shaky decisions. The crowd was hostile, the Nittany Lions had a solid plan to stop the rushing attack and, most importantly, Miller was coming off a scary hit and a trip to the hospital the week before.

But the sophomore added another 100-yard performance on the ground, turned a 1-yard run into an electrifying experience and kept the Buckeyes undefeated with his knack for delivering in the biggest moments.

He’s never been seriously threatened for the top spot in the Ohio State power rankings this season, and nothing has changed now.

No. 1: QB Braxton Miller

  • Last week: No. 1
  • Against Penn State: The sophomore quarterback put his injury concerns behind him, and he moved right back into position to contend for the Heisman Trophy in the process. Miller has had more prolific outings, but he added 134 more rushing yards and a couple of crucial touchdowns on the ground along with a timely scoring strike to Jake Stoneburner to keep the Buckeyes unbeaten.

No. 2: LB Ryan Shazier

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Did Ohio State Cheap Out On Championship Rings?
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