Ohio State Buckeyes: Kenny Guiton

Big Ten lunch links

May, 13, 2014
May 13
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Big Ten athletic directors' meetings are under way at league headquarters. Check back for updates throughout the week.

Link time ...
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.

How much faith do the Buckeyes have in the backup QB plan?

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCardale Jones is likely to enter the fall as the backup quarterback for Ohio State.
From the moment Braxton Miller headed to shoulder surgery through the end of camp, Ohio State had little reason to wring its hands and worry about what he might be missing during 15 spring workouts. If anything, the coaching staff immediately seemed to recognize the potential blessing of having its three-year starter and two-time Big Ten player of the year doing nothing but mental work in March and April.

For starters, Miller's physical ability is plenty well established by now, and Ohio State's innovative approach to keeping him involved on the field with a video camera on his head and a microphone near his mouth kept him involved and invested in the learning process. And, perhaps more importantly, it gave the Buckeyes a chance to dive into the evaluation process and figure out just how reliable the safety net is under Miller in case he's forced to miss any more time for injury in the fall.

Kenny Guiton proved himself to be the perfect reliever for the Buckeyes over the last two seasons, always ready to come off the bench at a moment's notice and use his exhaustive knowledge of the playbook to keep the spread offense humming along without missing much of a beat despite not having quite as many tools at his disposal as the incomparable Miller.

But Guiton is gone now, and even after winning the backup job coming out of the spring game, Cardale Jones has big shoes to fill in the No. 2 spot well before he can even think about taking over after Miller's eligibility is up at the end of the season.

Ohio State coach Urban Meyer praised the work the physically imposing Jones did during camp, but he danced around the question of how much of a potential drop off there would be if Miller was knocked out of the lineup and the offense was suddenly in the hands of his largely unproven understudy. Jones has a rocket of an arm, but aiming it in the proper spot consistently still seems to be a bit of an issue for the redshirt sophomore.

With unnatural speed for a 6-foot-5, 250-pounder, Jones would still be a threat on the ground in the option or zone-read game, though he's certainly not as explosive as Miller. And by his own admission, Jones has not had the most businesslike approach to his craft since arriving on campus, an area where he would clearly need to make strides to meet the standard Guiton set as the model backup.

But Jones still has plenty of time to go to work before fall camp opens, and when the Buckeyes do report for practice again, they'll have their starter back behind center and again taking the reps with the first-team offense. After a spring without Miller, both Ohio State and Jones now should have a better grasp on what needs to be done to be ready if a similar absence pops up in the fall.

And that doesn't mean closing the gap between Jones and Miller as much as making sure Jones is at least close to Guiton's level.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nothing has changed.

But to Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, that might actually be a sign of progress.

With the top quarterback on the shelf and their veteran, reliable backup no longer with the program, the Buckeyes have had plenty of time and attention to devote to the battle to replace Kenny Guiton behind entrenched starter Braxton Miller. And with Cardale Jones in the same spot with the first-string offense after six practices that he occupied when spring camp opened, the lack of news Herman has had to report is actually good news for Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCardale Jones is getting valuable experience with the first team during spring with Braxton Miller sidelined.
“I think it’s telling that through six practices Cardale Jones is still getting the majority of reps with the ones,” Herman said after practice on Tuesday. “To say that he’s head and shoulders [ahead] or taking a step forward, I don’t know that it would be accurate. But he hasn’t done anything to not deserve to take those reps.

“He’s playing like a quarterback at Ohio State should.”

There’s still no question who the starting quarterback at Ohio State will be in the fall, but Miller’s shoulder surgery and subsequent rehabilitation during March and April has come with a silver lining as the coaching staff evaluates candidates for the crucial relief role Guiton filled so admirably over the last two seasons.

For all his considerable talent and eye-popping production, Miller has been forced to the sideline in a handful of games with minor health issues during his career and also missed three weeks due to a knee injury last fall, with Guiton seamlessly taking the reins every time he was needed. But regardless of how much Jones or J.T. Barrett might be called upon in the fall, the Buckeyes are taking full advantage of the extra work both are getting now to try to get them ready for more than a backup role down the road with Miller heading into his final season.

“I tell those two guys a lot of the time, just be you,” Herman said. “Their strengths are so different. I tell J.T., you get paid a scholarship to make great decisions, to get the ball out of your hands and be accurate. You’re not going to grow, your arm, this year, is not going to get a whole lot stronger. ... So be on time, be accurate and be right with what you do with the football.

“Cardale, your strengths are different as well. Cardale is 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and can throw it through that wall. Use some of that, use the talents that you have and then while we develop the portions of your game that need to be developed, we’ll do that.”

For Jones, that process appears largely focused on the redshirt sophomore's accuracy, particularly after scattering throws off target during parts of a scrimmage on Saturday.

But his combination of speed and size makes him an intriguing option as a rusher at quarterback, though certainly in a different way than the elusive, electric Miller. And there’s no question about his arm strength, which has previously been on display during open practices and has produced a handful of explosive plays down the field thanks to his ability to deliver the deep ball.

So, after throwing out maybe one rocky performance among six thus far, those positives outweigh any negatives and leave Jones in the same solid position to contribute to the Buckeyes that he was in when camp opened.

“That was just a ‘this is my first scrimmage on a winner-loser day as the quarterback with the first offense at the Ohio State University and I’m nervous as hell’ thing,” Herman said. “What he showed me on Saturday was not indicative of the previous four practices or [Tuesday’s] practice. So we’ve got to make sure they don’t get so worked up on a Saturday scrimmage because it’s winner-loser day and all their fundamentals and technique and knowledge go out the window.

“Cardale has done a great job. He has done nothing to deserve less reps with the ones right now.”

A healthy Miller would change that equation, of course. But for now, Herman has nothing new to report and seemingly no reason to complain.

Big Ten's lunch links

March, 20, 2014
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Dayton was an incredible appetizer. Time for the buffet.
  • With Braxton Miller on the shelf, Ohio State is getting a close look at his backups as it tries to replace the invaluable services of Kenny Guiton.
  • There may be plenty of ground to make up, but freshman quarterback Wilton Speight is impressing early as he tries to learn Michigan's new playbook.
  • Illinois is battling through injuries to its top tight ends, but that is opening up reps elsewhere for younger guys trying to make an impact.
  • Penn State coach James Franklin is in favor of an early signing period.
  • Sorting through its cornerbacks will be one of the most critical aspects of spring practice at Rutgers.
  • Mark Pelini had a veteran who helped him manage the growing pains when he joined the Nebraska roster as a walk-on center. Now it's his turn to be a leader.
  • Michigan State has to replace three senior starters on the offensive line when spring camp opens. Position coach Mark Staten said to "ask in a couple weeks" who is stepping up to fill the void.

Big Ten lunchtime links

March, 12, 2014
Mar 12
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Happy Patriot League tournament final day.

Early OSU observations: No. 5

March, 10, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State’s two practices to open camp before taking the week off for spring break give you a peek at some new faces and a couple of changes. While the Buckeyes are gearing up for the sprint to the finish of spring workouts, we’re looking at the early developments and what they mean for Urban Meyer’s team.

No. 5: Quarterbacks under the microscope

[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCardale Jones will audition for Ohio State's backup QB job this spring.
The video feed coming from the camera on Braxton Miller’s head might not make for perfect viewing, but the Ohio State senior’s running commentary breaking down coverages and where to deliver the football certainly makes up for the lack of entertainment value. It also drives home the lengths the coaching staff will go to maximize the talent of its quarterbacks, even when they can’t throw a football due to offseason shoulder surgery.

And while Miller’s ongoing education figures to have the most significant impact for Ohio State’s title chances, the last two seasons have provided plenty of evidence that having a steady backup is just as critical -- and monitoring that job is just as labor-intensive for quarterbacks coach Tom Herman.

Fortunately for Herman, Miller’s injury provided something of a blessing in disguise by freeing up reps for Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett to audition for the No. 2 spot, and after the first week there doesn’t appear to be any change in the pecking order. Jones has been around the program longer, and that experience and his impressive natural skills have given him the edge over Barrett, whose intelligence and accuracy are big assets.

There’s still plenty of time for something to change, and Jones and Barrett will have no shortage of opportunities to build their case for the role Kenny Guiton filled so admirably over the past two seasons. But at this point, Jones is making the most of his chances to lead the first-team offense when Miller is not around, which could be invaluable if that situation pops up again when it matters.

Top spring position battles: No. 5

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Nobody is walking into a stress-free environment when Ohio State returns to the practice field in spring as long as national-title aspirations hang in the air and Urban Meyer prowls the sideline.

But the pressure isn't the same for all the Buckeyes since a healthy handful have their names etched at the top of the depth chart and won't be sweating a competition for a starting job -- obviously beginning with a quarterback who has finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting two years running. But who will back up Braxton Miller is just one of the most intriguing positional battles that will be waged in March and April, and that's where this week's countdown begins as we look at the candidates for some critical gigs for a team with its sights set on winning it all come fall.

[+] EnlargeKenny Guiton
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsBackup quarterback Kenny Guiton was the ultimate security blanket the past two seasons. Will Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett earn that spot in 2014?
No. 5: Backup quarterback

  • Predecessor: Kenny Guiton (75 for 109, 749 yards, 14 touchdowns, two interceptions; 40 carries for 330 yards and five TDs)
  • Candidates: Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett
  • Why to watch: Given the amount of hits Miller takes and the number of times he's been forced out of games even briefly due to injury, there's no question that having a security blanket behind him is crucial for the Buckeyes. Nobody made Meyer feel cozier than Guiton over the last two seasons, and he became something of a legend for his uncanny ability to keep the offense rolling along when Miller was forced out of the lineup. Ohio State is unlikely to get the same level of maturity and leadership the fifth-year senior provided from two guys with such limited experience, but it will need to quickly identify whether it's Jones or Barrett who has the best chance to duplicate Guiton's on-field success off the bench.
  • Pre-camp edge: The Buckeyes made a point of getting Jones some significant reps during spring ball a year ago, and he was then given a couple opportunities to show what he could do in a live setting by appearing in three games last season. There's not much to be learned about his ability throwing the football with just two passes on his resume, but Jones showed how dangerous he can be running it with 17 carries for 128 yards and a touchdown. Even that small amount of experience and the time he's had to absorb the playbook should give him a head start in March, but Barrett certainly can't be ruled out after arriving on campus and instantly impressing the coaching staff with his grasp of the system and devotion to learning his craft.
It's Senior Bowl week, so you should be following our draft experts as they track the 15 Big Ten players suiting up for the North squad on Saturday in Mobile, Ala. Before turning the page toward the Senior Bowl, let's review how the Big Ten groups performed this past weekend in the East-West Shrine Game and NFLPA Collegiate Bowl.

East-West Shrine Game

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

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

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

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

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

January, 8, 2014
Jan 8
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Hey, everybody, I'm back in my usual Wednesday slot now that the holidays are over. Answering your emails always feels like a holiday, however. Let's get to it:

Pat from Iowa writes: With the new playoff system in place next year, will it help or hurt the Big Ten?

Brian Bennett: It's a good question, and I suppose it depends on how you look at things. The BCS was actually pretty good to the Big Ten as far as getting teams into the major bowls. The league had two BCS teams this year as it did for most of the BCS era, thanks in large part to the schools' massive fan bases and attractiveness to bowls.

We're about to experience a sea change, no doubt. I believe that every other game outside of the four-team playoff will lose relevance, with the possible exception of the Rose Bowl. But even the Rose won't be quite as special as it has been to the Big Ten. Say the College Football Playoff were in place this year, the Rose wasn't a semifinal and you were a Michigan State fan. Would you have been as excited to go to Pasadena, knowing your team got squeezed out of playing for the national title? I don't think so.

The flip side of that coin is the playoff will help the Big Ten have a better chance to compete for a national championship, something the league has not done since the 2007 season. The Spartans would have had a great shot at making the four-team field this season, and undefeated or highly-ranked Big Ten champions will always be right in the mix. It's really up to the conference to make sure it consistently places teams in the Playoff, and then to perform well once there. Ridicule will await any of the five major conferences that repeatedly miss out on the four-team event.

Alex from Cincinnati writes: Hey, Bennett, thanks for your good work. Orange Bowl: from what I saw the game could have ended either way, but Clemson happened to be up when the clock expired. Now the B1G narrative for the next 9 months will be vastly different than if Ohio State had pulled out the victory. Do you agree that we're often too quick to either anoint or admonish certain teams and conferences, when in reality there is quite a lot of parity at the top?

Brian Bennett: Thanks for the kind words, Alex, and I agree with you that the margin between winning and losing at the very top level is very small. Just ask Auburn. The Big Ten, save for Michigan, was highly competitive in most of its bowls this year and came close to winning six of the seven.

But for the second straight year, the Big Ten finished 2-5 in bowls. A few teams, like Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State, actually entered their games as favorites but failed to deliver. Ultimately, they keep score for a reason, and it has become a trend for the league to end up on the short end of the scoreboard in recent postseasons. I really don't think the gap between the Big Ten and other leagues like the SEC is that large, as shown by the three Jan. 1 bowls in Florida. But it's a tougher argument to make without using victories as evidence.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyQuarterback Braxton Miller, who was banged up with shoulder and rib injuries, and the Buckeyes lost their final two games of the season.
Tom from DC writes: Hey, Brian! Can you explain why Braxton Miller was still in the game? The guy was injured to the point that his play was compromised. During those last few series, I kept yelling at the TV for Kenny Guiton. Miller is great, but he clearly wasn't firing on all cylinders. Despite that, he was still given designed runs and big throws ... WHY? I cringed every time. Despite all the mistakes, the biggest one, I think, was letting a severely injured QB play, while a stellar backup was fresh and ready to roll. Miller is a team player -- he would have understood if he was benched for Guiton due to injuries.

Brian Bennett: That's a fair and understandable question, Tom. I can tell you that offensive coordinator Tom Herman was asked if he ever considered putting Guiton in, and he quickly responded no. Asked if there was ever a conversation about it, Herman said the conversation went like this: If Miller can walk, he can play. So that shows you that Ohio State was firmly tying its sail to Miller just about under any circumstance. It makes sense, as Miller is the two-time Big Ten offensive player of the year and a guy who has proven throughout his career that he makes big plays in the clutch.

But I also agree with you that Miller's passing was compromised by his shoulder and rib injuries, and that all those hits might have contributed to the final interception. And I think Ohio State relied too much on Miller in the final two games while forgetting about Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter.

Josh in an empty office building writes: Hey B-ri, do you think the Spartans will struggle with complacency next year? They no longer have to prove themselves, and may be over-confident going into next year's Big Ten schedule.

Brian Bennett: If Michigan State is complacent, then it will be in for a long day in Week 3 at Oregon. I'd be more worried about the offseason practices and whether the Spartans rest on their laurels a bit. But the good thing is this program has always played with a bit of a chip on its shoulders under Mark Dantonio, and the staff has been around these players so long that it should be able to spot and eliminate any complacency right away. It also helps that several jobs will be open on defense, and competition usually fosters intensity. You always wonder how a team will handle a new level of success, but the fact that several players and coaches have already mentioned competing for a national title next year indicates that they are still striving upward.

Nathan from San Antonio, Texas, writes: Can you give us one final rundown of the new bowl tie-ins for the Big Ten next year? I know there were talks to add the Music City Bowl and Car Care Bowl, were those made official and are there still some bowls that could be a Big Ten tie-in next year?

Brian Bennett: Sure thing, Nathan. Let's start at the top. The Rose Bowl remains the main tie-in for the Big Ten, but the Rose will be a semifinal game next year. So unless a Big Ten team makes it to the Playoff, the conference may not have a team in the Rose in 2014. The league also shares a spot in the Orange Bowl with the SEC and Notre Dame; if the 2014 Big Ten champ fails to make the four-team playoff, it could wind up in Miami.

The rest of the lineup goes like this:

Capital One
Outback
Holiday
Music City/Gator*
Kraft Fight Hunger
Pinstripe
Detroit
Heart of Dallas/Armed Forces*

*- Rotating.

Remember, too, that the selection process will be based on tiers of teams, with heavy input from the Big Ten office in order to create fresh and attractive matchups.

Indra from San Antonio, writes: Hey, Brian, even though it's in the past now and what's done is done me and the handful of other UM fans down here in S.A. are really curious why Derrick Green and De'Veon Smith didn't get any carries in the Wings Bowl. I still doubt the outcome would have been different but it would have given them some much needed playing time/experience as it did for Shane Morris. Why do you think Coach Hoke opted to not utilize them?

Brian Bennett: I admit I was a bit baffled by that game plan, Indra. I thought Green had established himself as Michigan's best running option late in the season, and yet he received one carry -- one! -- for five yards against Kansas State. Smith saw four carries for seven yards. I get that the Wolverines' offensive line was a mess and that their best chance might have been to throw the ball more. But given that it was Morris' first start and that Justice Hayes came out of virtually nowhere to get four touches, I can't say that I have any idea what was going on with Al Borges' plan. It's safe to say that plan needs a thorough review and reworking this offseason.

Dave from Iowa writes: Does Jake Rudock get the starting nod for Iowa? Or would he get a leg up in a QB competition? Seems like C.J. Beathard has a stronger arm. Will Beathard get a shot?

Brian Bennett: Beathard said after the game that it was his understanding that he'll be given a shot to compete for the starting job in the spring. But Rudock is still the guy who beat out Beathard last offseason and started all 13 games for the Hawkeyes this season. Was Rudock great? No, but I thought he played very well at times. He's got a huge experience edge. Beathard will probably have to really outplay Rudock this offseason to actually unseat him, as Kirk Ferentz is not exactly known for making drastic changes.

Drew from Lincoln writes: Love the Big Ten blog, but I'm kind of confused about something. Can we finally put an end to the infatuation with Ohio State and Michigan? I'm not talking about publicity. A large fan base ensures publicity. I get that. I'm talking about the hype. Ohio State let down a lot of people in their last two games, and Michigan habitually underachieves and is way too inconsistent. Yet, Michigan State just finished the most successful season in the Big Ten since 2002, and it seems Wisconsin and Nebraska are just as competitive every year. Despite that, I'm sure Michigan and Ohio State will clean up recruiting again this offseason, and the hype will begin anew.

Brian Bennett: I get where you're coming from Drew, though I think there was less hype from Adam and me about Michigan and Ohio State's supposed "dominance" than there was from other corners. I didn't pick Michigan to win the Legends Division in 2013, for example. It's also true that Ohio State and Michigan remain the Big Ten's two most recognizable brands, for historic, financial and a whole host of other reasons. Because of that, those two teams are always going to receive a lot of attention, and if you're someone who really gets into recruiting -- in other words, someone very unlike me -- then you'll understand all the accolades those two teams will get around signing day.

The "hype," as you put it, is still very much deserved for Ohio State. Sure, the Buckeyes lost their final two games this year, but they went 24-0 before that and are still the gold standard for this conference for what they've done over the years. Michigan is the program that has vastly disappointed and has in many ways hurt the entire Big Ten by not living up to its own expectations. We're always going to talk and write a lot about these two teams because of their importance to the league. That said, if in 2014 you ever catch me writing that those two schools are going to pull away from the rest of the Big Ten, you have permission to flog me.

Jordan M. from Greenville, S.C., writes: I thought you said Ohio State was gonna win the Orange Bowl? Look how that turned out. Go Tigers!

Brian Bennett: Boy, I got a lot of grief from Clemson fans over my "Ten reasons Ohio State will win the Orange Bowl" post. To clarify, I was assigned to write that post, as every blogger was assigned to write one for BCS bowl teams in his or her conference. I tried to have a little fun with it and jabbed the ACC and Clemson a little. What good is sports without a little trash talk? I also said Woody Hayes would reach down from the afterlife and trip a Tigers player, so that tells you how serious I was. Let me remind Clemson fans that I visited your town in November and wrote nice things about you. Met a lot of friendly folks down there. And my official prediction was Clemson 38, Ohio State 35. I'd say that worked out pretty well for me.
Breaking down the critical areas and key players as No. 7 Ohio State closes the season against No. 12 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl (TV: ESPN, 8:30 p.m.).

Embrace the challenge: As if the Buckeyes haven't had enough challenges thrown their way defensively down the stretch, things have only become more difficult for them despite having all the extra time to prepare for the bowl game after dropping the Big Ten championship against Michigan State. The top pass-rushing threat is at home after Noah Spence was suspended by the conference for three games. The most skilled defensive back is on the shelf thanks to a bone bruise for Bradley Roby. Starting middle linebacker Curtis Grant is still banged up. Even a player who was already ruled out for this game received bad news this week with Christian Bryant's appeal for a medical redshirt denied by the NCAA. That is a lot of adversity for the Buckeyes regardless of how explosive the offense their facing is, and they can either take the challenge head on or shrink in the spotlight.

Secondary shakeup: Urban Meyer vowed changes were coming for his beleaguered defense, and a couple have already come into focus with tweaks to the personnel. Picked on down the stretch, senior Corey "Pittsburgh" Brown is expected to be replaced by Tyvis Powell at safety, and talented freshman Vonn Bell will slide into the nickel back role and see his most extensive playing time of his debut season just before it ends. Those two guys represent the future for the Buckeyes at safety, and they will certainly have their hands full against Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and his talented cast of receivers. No matter what happens, Powell and Bell figure to at least gain some valuable experience heading into an offseason where starting roles are likely to become permanent for them.

Passing fancy: Braxton Miller can change a game without ever throwing a pass thanks to his fleet feet, but the Buckeyes would certainly like to see his accurate arm again. The junior hasn't completed more than 13 throws or topped 160 yards since the first week of November, and while Ohio State still put up a lot of points during that dip in his passing totals, the lack of balance caught up with it against the Spartans. Aside from winning a BCS game, Miller is also trying to impress NFL scouts and prove that he's ready for the next level, and that combination should provide plenty of incentive for him to put his best foot -- or arm -- forward.

Fond farewell: For all the seniors have both been through and accomplished during their careers, there is plenty for them to feel proud about as they suit up for the program for the final time. They battled through the adversity that came with the NCAA sanctions, posted a perfect record in 2012 and a handful provided memorable moments that Ohio State will never forget. Carlos Hyde's relentless rushing style, Kenny Guiton's invaluable work off the bench at quarterback and the physical blocking of four senior starters on the offensive line, just to name a few, have certainly left a mark for the Buckeyes. All of them should be properly motivated to finish on top against the Tigers.

On the Marcus: Noah Spence obviously wasn't working alone as the defensive line quickly went from question mark to one of the most effective units on the team, but the sophomore clearly deserved plenty of credit as he led the team in sacks with 8 and chipped in 14.5 tackles for a loss overall. Now facing a three-game suspension that starts with the Discover Orange Bowl, at least temporarily the Buckeyes again have to replace a starter up front after rebuilding the defensive line completely after last season. Jamal Marcus moved up from linebacker to defensive end as part of that process, and in a supporting role he offered a pair of sacks among his 15 tackles, forced a fumble and showed glimpses of the kind of athleticism that have allowed Spence to thrive in the opposing backfield. Against Clemson, Marcus will have to prove he can do it for an extended period of time, particularly since it will be critical for the Buckeyes to disrupt Boyd and try to force some mistakes with the football.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio State didn't accomplish everything on its checklist in 2013, but it came pretty close in what has to be considered a successful year. If the Buckeyes are going to top it in 2014, it can start with these resolutions moving into Urban Meyer's third season with the program.

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

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

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

We complete our look, from the opposing-coach perspective, at the Big Ten championship game with second-ranked Ohio State.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz wrapped our report on Michigan State, so let’s give him the floor to open the discussion about the Buckeyes, who beat Iowa 34-24 on Oct. 19 -- Ohio State’s second-closest game of the year before its one-point escape last week at Michigan.

While the Buckeyes’ opponent Saturday night relies on its defense to carry the load, coach Urban Meyer’s team leans on an offense that leads the Big Ten in most statistical categories and tops the nation in yards per rush and red-zone efficiency.

“There's really not a weakness,” Ferentz said. “Their line is veteran, they've got four seniors up front. They're very good, very well coordinated. The whole scheme and concept is well-coordinated.

“The thing that makes them a challenge offensively is they've got a good receiving corps. They've got, if not the best back, one of the best backs in our conference, and they've got a quarterback who can run and throw. It's like a team that has 12 guys."

And with that, here are excerpts from our conversations with Big Ten coordinators and assistant coaches who played -- and lost to -- the Buckeyes this year. As with the Michigan State report, we granted anonymity to the coaches to ensure the most candid responses.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesCan Michigan State contain Braxton Miller?
ESPN.com: Ohio State has scored at least 42 points in its past five games, while Michigan State has allowed fewer than seven points in five of its past six outings. What must the Buckeyes and quarterback Braxton Miller do to maintain their momentum?

Coach:
I think Braxton Miller must have a good game for Ohio State. Quarterback run is something that Michigan State may struggle with, and obviously, Braxton is a good ace to have up your sleeve. One thing that's interesting about Ohio State is that I don't know if they're really the best technique-wise up front. There's things that Michigan State could really exploit. If you go back and watch a lot of Ohio State's big plays, it's not great execution. It's more athleticism. People freak out because of Braxton Miller, and all of a sudden Carlos Hyde has it. I feel like at times, Ohio State gets by because of their physical ability. Those kids up front are phenomenal, big athletes, but this is a team that will make them pay if Ohio State is not on their marks.

ESPN.com: We knew Hyde was good. But he’s rushed 1,164 yards in his past seven games. That’s ridiculous. What kind of an impact might he have on the players around him in this game?

Coach:
He's a physical, downhill runner that will align hard and run through tackles and make a 3-yard gain into a 6-yard gain or a 3-yard gain into an 18-, 20-yard gain. … We felt if we could deny that and make them earn everything, we'd be in the game. Michigan State is physical up front and they've got a chance to match up and deny some of those Hyde runs, but the key is Braxton Miller -- how much they run him and if he gets loose on a scramble.

ESPN.com: Michigan State is going to sell out to stop Hyde and Miller in the run game, but can Ohio State beat the Spartans through the air?

Coach:
We felt like that was their strength, throwing it over the top. We thought [Kenny Guiton] threw the ball pretty well on the drop-back, intermediate game. Miller hit us on some deeper crossing routes, but we didn't think he was going to beat us dropping back and throwing it play after play after play. We felt like we couldn't give up the home run over our head. We felt like the receivers had good speed.

ESPN.com: Clearly, Ohio State had an off day on defense last week against Michigan. But it’s happened a few other times, too. What’s the key to moving the football against the Buckeyes?

Coach:
You've got to put together a mix. You're going to have to get downhill on them and create some running lanes. Probably the one area that's not as hard to attack is the secondary. They have a really solid corner in [Bradley] Roby, but overall, you have some plays out there a little bit easier than you do against Michigan State.

ESPN.com: Despite some of the defensive issues, OSU remained stout against the run. How do you see Michigan State attacking that front seven?

Coach:
The guys up front are good, solid players. I don't know if there's anyone one that stands out. The one kid inside, [Michael Bennett], he can create some things. He was a big, strong guy, got after it a little bit. [Ryan] Shazier, linebacker-wise, he's a heck of a player. That's going to be the interesting matchup, Michigan State's offense against Ohio State's defense, and how well they can run the football. The one thing that's happened with Michigan State is their quarterback's been playing really well, and they're going to run the football. That's the one strength that Ohio State has. They can defend the run, where in the passing game, they'll have a little bit more trouble. So Michigan State, how well they throw the ball, will be interesting to see.

Guiton's OSU career nearly didn't happen

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Pick a sample size, change the pool of voters, it hardly makes a difference to an approval rating that might as well be a unanimous endorsement.

Limit it to teammates, and the votes poured in to make Kenny Guiton a captain at Ohio State.

[+] EnlargeKenny Guiton
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteKenny Guiton is loved by the fans and respected by his teammates. Not bad for a backup QB.
Expand it to one of the largest stadiums in college football, and the fans that pack the Horseshoe have made their feelings well known by chanting the senior’s name.

Even across the country, a brief stint in the spotlight in September earned him recognition as the national player of the week and turned him into a household name.

That near universal admiration is rare enough for anybody, let alone a backup quarterback.

But Ohio State's has become a cult hero. And as he takes in the appreciation for what he’s accomplished for the last time on Saturday at Ohio Stadium, he will do so knowing just how easily he could have missed out on it entirely.

The accidental Buckeye

Tom Herman wasn’t the only recruiter who had taken an interest in the quarterback from Houston, but he was in the same boat as the rest of the small handful of coaches seeking Guiton's services back in 2008.

Then an assistant at Rice, Herman saw the multipurpose potential Guiton brought to the position. There was an accurate, but not overpowering, arm capable of leading a passing attack. Mobility, but perhaps not game-changing acceleration, which could extend plays and pose a threat as a rusher.

But Guiton wasn’t the kind of recruit worth waiting around forever for, and ultimately Rice had to move on and take another quarterback.

“Kenny had kind of put off his decision, kept waiting and waiting,” Herman said. “At that time we felt like we had to fish or cut bait.

“I think that’s why it didn’t work out for a lot of different places that he originally had offers to.”

At the top of Guiton’s list was Kansas.

When he called the Jayhawks, they had already filled their need for a passer.

Guiton placed a call to his next choice in the Big 12.

“I called Iowa State, and they were like, ‘We just had a commit two or three days ago,’” Guiton said. “I just waited too long.

"After a while, there was nothing on the table.”

There was still Prairie View A&M, and after dragging his feet, that option was looking pretty appealing.

Then Ohio State swooped in unexpectedly after it was spurned by its top targets and scrambling to fill the late void in its 2009 recruiting class, offering a nice landing spot in the Big Ten. But what it didn’t necessarily provide was a place where much was expected of him.

Even Rice thought it might have a bit of a project on its hands with Guiton, and the Buckeyes were in reasonably good shape at the position in the first place.

“I’d be lying to you if I told you we thought [at Rice] this was possible,” said Herman, now the quarterbacks coach at Ohio State. “They didn’t here, let’s be honest. Nobody did, and Kenny has continued to prove the naysayers wrong in everything he does.

“I think they understood he would be a developmental guy, and he has exceeded expectations. And I think he understands that, and it adds a little fuel to his fire, a little chip on his shoulder.”

It would come in handy again well after arriving on campus.

Career at a crossroads

Braxton Miller had individual awards already after a breakout freshman season, and he also had the support of a new coach before spring practice even started in 2012.

Guiton couldn't blame Urban Meyer for his enthusiasm about working with the freakishly talented Miller in his spread offense, and in truth he had no problem again accepting a role as a backup. But with the sense there would be no battle for the starting job, not to mention showing up late for Meyer’s first team meeting and having what Guiton himself called a “childish mentality,” the relationship didn't get off to an ideal start for either party.

“He wasn’t acting like a quarterback at Ohio State,” Meyer said. “That’s a lofty standard to play quarterback at a place like this. You’re expected to live your life a certain way, and he wasn’t doing it.”

Guiton was again at a crossroads.

He hadn’t done anything of consequence for the Buckeyes, and it would have been difficult then to predict Guiton might wind up being somebody who would be missed.

He made some calls home to his family, who pointed out the value of a degree at Ohio State. He talked it over with his close teammates, in the process recognizing how deep their bond was after already enduring plenty of adversity together. He also survived the early morning workouts with strength coach Mickey Marotti as part of his punishment for showing up late to that meeting, proving to the staff he had the toughness to make it in their program.

“I was like, ‘This guy is on me and I’m not even his starter,’” Guiton said. “The vibe wasn’t there. Is it worth it? That’s what I’m thinking. Is it worth it?

“But, man, I’ve been through so much. I feel like I’ve grown to be a man, and that really helped me to mature.”

Improvements as a football player came along with the maturation.

‘Kenny G … Kenny G’

[+] EnlargeKennt Guiton and Braxton Miller
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsKenny Guiton (13) and Braxton Miller haven't lost in two years and run a two-QB package called "Jazzy" that is a fan favorite.
There would be no acclaim if Guiton hadn’t delivered when given the opportunity.

When Miller has been knocked out of action, Guiton has showed an uncanny ability to come directly off the bench and finish scoring drives.

Most memorably, he salvaged an unbeaten season last year by rallying the Buckeyes in the final minute to force overtime against Purdue when Miller had been sent to the hospital.

He added his lore in September during his first career start at California, throwing three touchdowns in the first six minutes, finishing with 368 yards of total offense and earning national player of the week honors. The next time out, he set a school record with six touchdown passes -- all in the first half.

He returned to the bench for Big Ten play as Miller healed and reclaimed his job, but it was clear Guiton wasn’t forgotten even if the spotlight was gone.

The Buckeyes installed a two-quarterback package nicknamed “Jazzy” in reference to Guiton’s shared moniker with musician Kenny G., a reflection of the faith in him from within the program. And the roar of approval from the Ohio State fans when "Jazzy" made its debut against Penn State, his first action since Miller’s return, confirmed that his popularity with the public hadn’t waned a bit.

The ensuing touchdown on a 2-yard rush only dialed up the volume.

“I was kind of nervous for the snap,” Guiton said. “Everyone was yelling, standing ovation. Then after the game, Coach Meyer came up to me and was doing that chant: ‘Kenny-G, Kenny-G.’

“I told him, ‘I know, coach. I love it.’”

The feeling is obviously mutual. And from the smallest sample size in the locker room to the larger one in the stadium, Ohio State will have one more chance to show it to the backup quarterback with the perfect approval rating.

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

November, 20, 2013
11/20/13
5:00
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Excited for my first trip to Minneapolis this weekend. Gophers fans, where should I go on Friday and Saturday? Hit me up with some suggestions.

I suggest you read this mailbag first:

Doug from San Diego, Calif., writes: Can you please explain the math/stats behind Baylor being so close to tOSU in the BCS? Both teams have beaten one currently ranked team, both teams played lame non-conference schedules (with tOSU arguably playing a slightly more respectable one), and both teams are statistically ballpark (except for tOSU's passing stats). Is it the polling that is keeping tOSU close or is it math/stats in the computer stuff? And on the same hand, why is FSU so far ahead of tOSU? FSU's wins against Maryland & Miami do not seem impressive right now, and with those teams current rankings FSU have beaten only one currently ranked team (albeit a Top 10 team).

Brian Bennett: Doug, asking a journalist to do math is always risky business. But I think I can pull it off here. The polls are not to blame for Ohio State's miniscule .0013 lead over Baylor in the latest BCS standings. The Buckeyes are No. 3 in both the USA Today coaches' and Harris polls, while the Bears are No. 4. It's the computers where Baylor makes up some ground, as it is tied for No. 3 in the computer average, with a high of No. 3 and a low of No. 5. Ohio State is fifth in the computers, behind both Baylor and Auburn, with a high of No. 3 and a low of No. 7.

Baylor's computer numbers should rise with a win over Oklahoma State this week, but Ohio State will get a boost if Wisconsin and Michigan State keep winning. As for Florida State, the Seminoles have a healthy lead over the Buckeyes in the polls and are No. 1 in the computer rankings. They haven't been criticized enough for playing a weak schedule, but that win over Clemson still carries weight. At the end of the season, Ohio State could have two better wins -- Wisconsin and Michigan State, should the latter occur -- than Florida State. But the 'Noles' utter dominance all season long gives them the edge.

Rob NitLion from Morristown, N.J., writes: Bennett-o! This is very much a biased comment but I'd still like your rebuttal. How can you guys possibly leave Allen Robinson off of your B1G Offensive Player of the Year list? I understand his TD total is low and he isn't playing on a championship contending team BUT...here is where he deserves consideration. He is by far the best WR in the B1G the past two years. This year in particular he is catching passes from a true freshman QB, on a team that has not proven to have many other consistent receivers (so the focus of defenses is on him). He is CLUTCH!!! ... I'm not saying he is deserving over Miller, Hyde or Abdullah to win the award but he needs to be in the conversation.

Brian Bennett: Robinson has very much been in the conversation all year long, as he has consistently ranked in the top five of my weekly awards race tracker for offensive player of the year. He is a tremendous player and the best of a really good class of receivers in the Big Ten this year. It's just really hard for wide receivers to win these types of individual awards because they're so dependent on their quarterback. While Christian Hackenberg has been outstanding for a freshman, I'd love to see what Robinson's numbers would be this year if he were playing with an experienced quarterback (say, the new starter for the Oakland Raiders, for example).

The lack of touchdowns also hurts Robinson's case, as does Penn State's also-ran status. A big finish in the last two games could move him up in the race, but he'll likely have to settle for his second straight Richter-Howard receiver of the year trophy. Not a bad consolation prize.

David C. from Davis, Calif., writes: Again it seems that Michigan State will be penalized for making it to the B1G Championship game when considering possible at-large BCS bids. Isn't it unfair to consider wins and losses when one team plays more games, and if you compare only the regular season schedules, one team has a better record? Granted, this is not nearly as unfair as 2011, when Michigan State beat UM and made it to the Championship game, and UM got a BCS bid solely on their fan base. But still, comparing an 11-2 team to a 10-2 team that didn't make the Championship game, when it would be comparing an 11-1 team to a 10-2 team otherwise, doesn't seem analytically honest.

Brian Bennett: Let's leave the word "fair" out of the discussion, because it is mostly a foreign concept in the bowl system. Michigan State's first concern is finishing in the Top 14 of the BCS to be eligible for an at-large bid. Remember that the Spartans did not do so in 2011 and therefore could not have been selected for a bid over Michigan. Michigan State is No. 13 right now and should move up a bit in the next two weeks if it wins out, but a loss to Ohio State would knock the team back down and make things close.

Here's the other problem for the Spartans in that scenario: if Wisconsin beats Minnesota this week, Michigan State would not have a single win over a ranked team. Now, I happen to think Mark Dantonio's club is really, really good, but the résumé would be viewed as lacking by some folks. Wisconsin is six spots behind the Spartans in the BCS standings but could jump ahead by winning out and finishing with a seven-game win streak. The body of work for Wisconsin and Michigan State at that point would be pretty similar, with both losing to Ohio State, beating Minnesota and losing their one high-profile nonconference game (thanks to help by officials in both).

Of course, the Spartans can make this all moot by simply winning the rest of their games and not leaving it in the hands of voters, computers and bowl committees to decide.

Nat Parduzzi from East Lansing, Mich., writes: Hey Brian, I'd like to get your take on something: Max Bullough is the unquestionable leader of the nation's top defense at MSU. He's a coach on the field -- you'll see him make adjustments to DL gap assignments and even audible out of blitzes like a QB when he sees something he doesn't like -- I've only seen it constantly done successfully on Alabama's national title teams. While MSU's D has no shortage of praise, Bullough seems to be left out in the cold when it comes to individual accolades -- he's not even a semi-finalist for the Butkus award. What gives? Is it a lack of mind-blowing stats? Stats are for losers. Don't the pundits realize that my... I mean Pat Narduzzi's defense probably doesn't have as high of stats because they're on the field so little?

Brian Bennett: Nat -- I see what you did there -- you make some really fine points. But I'll let you in on a little secret: most of the people voting for these awards (and full disclosure: I am a voter for several of them, but not the Butkus) simply don't have time to watch every team in the country closely. They may see some highlights or catch a game here and there. But for the most part, they follow one particular team or conference or region. In other words, they don't get to see the nuances of a certain player like Bullough and what he means. That's why stats take on a bigger role, and Bullough -- who's averaging 6.1 tackles per game and has just one sack this season -- isn't going to leap off the page.

Excuse me for using a baseball analogy here, but as someone who watched well over 100 St. Louis Cardinals games this year, this situation reminds me a bit about the case for Yadier Molina as MVP. People who watched that team closely saw all the amazing things he did for the pitching staff and defense. But those things can't be found in a box score, which is why he didn't win. Same thing, I think, goes for Bullough.

Victor from Norfolk, Va., writes: Brian, with Ohio State having its Senior Day this Saturday against Indiana, I personally believe that Kenny Guiton should get the start. He is a captain on the team and this is his last time playing in the 'Shoe as a player. I know it probably won't happen but I think it would be a great thing to do for a player who has played exceptionally well when called on and is a great leader on this team.

Brian Bennett: Victor, I like the thought because of what Guiton has done for the Buckeyes. But any time you're in the hunt for national and conference titles, I don't think you mess with things at quarterback. Remember that Indiana only lost by three points to Ohio State last year and kept things close well into the second half two years ago in Columbus. I don't think Urban Meyer wants to risk anything, especially after his defense gave up a lot of points to a spread team last week, and Braxton Miller is still his best option. But Guiton should get a nice ovation when he is honored on the field before the game, and if things go the way they should, he should get some playing time in the second half.

Scott from Barron, Wis., writes: I see that a lot of Gopher fans think they have a chance against Wisconsin. They are delusional. I have watched all of Minnesota's games. The Gophers are overrated. They beat Northwestern without Mark and Colter, Nebraska WITH Martinez (subtraction by addition), an impotent Penn State, and got a gift from IU. Also, they do not match-up well with Wisconsin. Their strength is running the ball, Wisconsin's strength on defense. Their weakness on defense is stopping the run. .... The Badgers will roll The Goophers, and I will be in the stands cheering when they do.

Brian Bennett: I don't necessarily disagree with any of that, Scott. Wisconsin is a heavy favorite, and it should be. But you have to admit that there's something special going on with this Minnesota team. The Gophers have some mojo and are playing with a lot of confidence right now. They also have shown an ability to run the ball and control the clock, two things that will be crucial this Saturday. A much worse Gophers team went to Camp Randall last year and trailed by just 11 points heading into the fourth quarter.

Minnesota also has had an extra week to prepare because of its bye last week and will be at home. I'm not saying the Gophers will win. But it wouldn't shock me if they did.

Mark from Az writes: Seems to me like the real bowl battle in the Big Ten is for the 4th place spot. OSU, MSU, and Wisconsin should all win out. OSU could win the title game and Wiscy is getting closer to an at large berth, which may happen. Or MSU wins the title game and OSU would be mostly certain to get an at large berth. Leaving MSU or Wisconsin for the Capital One bowl. But then who goes to the Outback?

Brian Bennett: There's still a lot to be decided, obviously. Everything hinges on whether the Big Ten can get a second BCS berth this season. Right now, I'm still leaning toward no on that question. If not, you can comfortably slot Michigan State and Wisconsin into the Capital One and Outback bowls in some order.

But if there are two BCS bids, then things open up a bit. The Outback just had Michigan last year, so I think it would be doubtful that the Wolverines end up there again -- especially since Michigan likely will be no better than 8-4. A potential 9-3 Nebraska team would be attractive to the Outback folks. The Huskers have been to Florida in back-to-back years, though, and may prefer Arizona, though it's hard to say no to the Florida recruiting possibilities.

Iowa and Minnesota are potential Outback teams as well. If the Hawkeyes were to win out to finish 8-4, they could leap Nebraska and Michigan -- both of whom they would have beaten -- and have some momentum that bowls like. Minnesota has the great story with Jerry Kill but also has to battle its poor traveling reputation. And the Gophers have two tough games remaining with Wisconsin and Michigan State.

So I'd give the edge to either Iowa or Nebraska for that spot if the Big Ten gets two in the BCS. But that remains a big if.

Anthony from Worcester, Mass., writes: As a Michigan fan, I think I would prefer to play in the Gator Bowl rather than the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl. The Gator Bowl is in recruit-rich Florida, is on January 1st, and is against the SEC. We'd also be playing the #6 SEC team, so we might be favored. I'd rather play an SEC team on NYD than a Big 12 team in late December. Am I wrong?

Brian Bennett: You're not wrong. The Gator Bowl is still a higher-profile game, and it would likely mean an easier and cheaper trip for most Michigan fans. But have you been to Jacksonville in January? On that front, I'd prefer Arizona.

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