Ohio State Buckeyes: Rod Smith

Picks to click: Week 8

October, 17, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After a second bye week, Ohio State has been itching to get back to work and keep the ball rolling after winning its Big Ten opener. If the Buckeyes are going to stay unbeaten in the league after Saturday's matchup with Rutgers, these guys figure to play significant roles.

TE Jeff Heuerman
  • The veteran's injured foot took longer to fully heal than previously anticipated, but Heuerman looks healthy and ready to add yet another dimension to Ohio State's rapidly improving offense. With J.T. Barrett at quarterback, the Buckeyes have played some of their best football by pushing the tempo, and Heuerman's versatility is key in helping to ramp up the pace given his skills as both a blocker and a receiver. Heuerman is too big to be covered by a defensive back, he's too athletic for a linebacker to handle one-on-one -- and might also be just the answer the Buckeyes need to shore up some inconsistency in the red zone.
DT Michael Bennett
  • Thanks to relatively modest numbers at this point, the senior has somewhat fallen off the awards radar at this point of the season. But the same ability that made him a preseason All-America candidate is still there, and it shows up at least a couple times per game even if it doesn't produce individual statistics. Bennett still has 3 tackles for a loss and a sack to his credit, and Ohio State's blowout wins have given him rest late in games, but his work occupying blockers down after down has helped Joey Bosa and other blitzers keep quarterbacks off balance. When a team stops paying extra attention to him, Bennett still has the speed and strength to slice into the backfield and make some noise.
RB Rod Smith
  • The majority of the backfield workload will continue to be on Ezekiel Elliott's shoulders, but the former ESPN 150 recruit is finally showing signs of living up to his promise and carving out a role for himself in his final season. The process actually started by proving he could be trusted with special teams playing time, and now Smith might be in position to become Ohio State's short-yardage and goal-line finisher with his tough running between the tackles. Smith has scored a rushing touchdown in each of the last three games and has also grabbed one as a receiver this season, making him yet another threat that a defense must account for.
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 will the Buckeyes divvy up the carries?

Urban Meyer has never seemed all that worried about establishing one true workhorse in the backfield, though when he found one in Carlos Hyde the Ohio State coach turned him loose and let both the yardage and the carries pile up.

But with last season's top tailback out of the picture, will the Buckeyes try to duplicate the formula of identifying one featured rusher to pair with quarterback Braxton Miller or will they unleash all the weapons in a stocked arsenal to try to replace all the production left behind by Hyde as he heads to the NFL?

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteWill Ezekiel Elliott take over the lead running back duties this season?
If they're going to settle on one guy, Ezekiel Elliott is the clubhouse leader after spring practice, even if Meyer has been hesitant to reveal a pecking order. At the end of his true freshman season a year ago, Elliott had already shown in a handful of appearances why he was such a coveted recruit, taking advantage of the rare opportunities afforded backup rushers with 262 yards on just 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns. Elliott doesn't appear as physically imposing as Hyde, but at 225 pounds, he's not much lighter than his predecessor, capable of taking and dishing out punishment and also bringing more than enough speed to break away from defenders when he finds some daylight.

But if the Buckeyes would like to mix it up and spread the touches around, they have no shortage of candidates with plenty to bring to the table. Senior Rod Smith still hasn't quite lived up to his enormous potential and had to sit out the end of spring practice due to academic issues, but his natural talent remains hard to ignore and could encourage the coaching staff to find a way to get him on the field. The same is true for Bri'onte Dunn, who surprisingly took a redshirt as a sophomore but flashed his ability with explosive runs during open workouts during camp before capping it with 35 yards on 6 carries with a touchdown in the spring game.

It's a new face, though, that might actually be the biggest threat to a backfield monopoly, with early enrollee Curtis Samuel turning heads throughout March and April and giving Meyer another speedy, versatile threat to open up the spread rushing attack. The Buckeyes already have Dontre Wilson tabbed in their hybrid role and he's certainly likely to take a few attempts from the tailbacks, but Samuel is cut from the same mold and clearly had Meyer enticed by his game-breaking ability heading into the offseason.

So as they move into the summer conditioning program, the Buckeyes could easily go either way -- but to some extent, that was the case a year ago with Smith, Jordan Hall and ultimately Wilson all offering legitimate options to shoulder the load. It was up to Hyde to prove as the season progressed that he simply shouldn't ever come off the field, and now it appears to be Elliott's turn to help decide if a workhorse or a committee is the best option in the Ohio State backfield.


COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ezekiel Elliott never has to go too far to be reminded of the tradition he's hoping to uphold.

Inside the Ohio State running backs meeting room are pictures of legends like Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Chris "Beanie" Wells.

"I'm very aware," Elliott said. "Every day, [running backs] coach [Stan] Drayton reminds us. When you see those guys every day, you know you have to continue the legacy."

[+] EnlargeElliott
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott is hoping his versatility will make him Ohio State's primary ball-carrier in 2014.
Elliott doesn't even have to think back that far in history to know what he's trying to replace. Last year, Carlos Hyde led the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, finishing with 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns despite serving a three-game suspension to start the year.

Hyde's departure leaves a seemingly gaping hole in the Ohio State backfield. Elliott, a sophomore, will get the first crack at filling it.

He ran 30 times for 262 yards last year, with most of that production coming in a 162-yard performance in mop-up duty against Florida A&M. There’s certainly a difference carrying the ball against an overmatched opponent like the Rattlers and doing it in the heart of Big Ten play, but Elliott says that brief experience as a true freshman was beneficial.

"Getting out there and playing helped a lot, just getting those jitters out," he said. "Hopefully this year, I'll be ready to go.

"I think I've improved a lot. I've gotten a lot bigger, I'm faster and I anticipate the game a lot better."

Urban Meyer has stopped short of anointing Elliott as the heir to Hyde, but Elliott practiced with the first unit almost the entire spring. He had only three carries in last week's spring game, as the Buckeyes know by now what they've got with him. Senior Rod Smith, who missed spring practice because of academics, and sophomores Warren Ball and Bri'onte Dunn also are in the mix for carries. Midyear enrollee Curtis Samuel also impressed the coaches this spring.

Still, it's pretty clear the Buckeyes see Elliott as the starter in 2014. Elliott has the pedigree; ESPN Recruiting ranked him the No. 11 running back in the Class of 2013 after he piled up 3,061 all-purpose yards and 50 touchdowns as a high school senior in St. Louis. He also won three Missouri state track and field titles.

"He probably has some of the best quick-hip explosion of anybody on the team," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "You see it in his pass protection. You see it in his quick, sudden burst cuts. He has good vision, and he's a great team guy who just wants to win and go hard. There's a lot to like."

There's more of Elliott to like this season, too. Last year, he played between 210 and 215 pounds. This spring, he said, he weighs about 225 pounds. He doesn't look as thickly built as Hyde, who was listed at 236, but he still packs some power in his carries.

"He's a very strong runner," Herman said. "On a scale of 1-to-10, if Hyde is a 10, then he's an 8.59. He's not there, but he's still pretty darn good when it comes to running between the tackles, putting his shoulder down and making the tough two-, three- and four-yard runs."

Elliott, however, won't have the veteran offensive line that Hyde enjoyed running behind the past two seasons. Only one starter -- tackle Taylor Decker -- returns from last year's unit, and the Buckeyes spent this spring trying to find the right combination up front. That remains a concern heading into the summer, but Ohio State remains dedicated to establishing a physical ground attack.

"We're never going to abandon our core principles and tenants and beliefs offensively in terms of being a downhill, A-gap, tight zone and power running team," Herman said. "Now, will we need to get the ball to the perimeter a little more to take the heat off the guys up front? Probably."

That's another reason the Buckeyes like Elliott. He can get those tough yards in between the tackles, but he's also got the speed to do more than just that, as evidenced by his 8.7 yards-per-carry average in limited duty last season.

"I can take it outside, run tight zone, power and catch the ball out of the backfield," he said. "So think it helps a lot that I'm versatile."

Elliott will need every tool at his disposal to live up to the standards set by some of his Ohio State predecessors. Good thing he's got a lot of them.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The kitchen is still stocked with enough ingredients to make another delicious offensive meal, but the main dish probably won’t be beef again.

With four senior starters gone from the line and bullish running back Carlos Hyde headed to the NFL, Ohio State is going to have to make some changes to its high-scoring recipe after rewriting the record books thanks in large part to all the meat it had in the middle of the field.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesOhio State's offensive line will be revamped in 2014, with tackle Taylor Decker as the only returning starter.
And while that doesn’t mean Urban Meyer or coordinator Tom Herman will be abandoning the power rushing attack that has been the calling card of their version of the spread attack in favor of a more finesse approach, some of its finest ingredients are now on the perimeter, potentially giving the Buckeyes a new look when they’re done experimenting this spring.

“As bad as we want an offensive line like last year, it’s going to take a while to develop that,” Meyer said. “I think at some point because we recruited well and with our line coach [Ed Warinner], that will happen. But no, it’s going to be different.

“We’re going to have to lean on some perimeter ways of getting first downs and all that. Last year [it] was rushing for 300-plus yards per game. It’s because that offensive line was so good. We have other weapons, but it will be a little different taste to it than last year.”

Braxton Miller will still provide the most flavor heading into his senior year at quarterback, but there will be plenty of fresh faces around him as the Buckeyes transition from the veterans who helped pile up points over the last couple seasons to the younger talent Meyer has recruited since taking over the program.

The loss of the core group of linemen is certainly a blow, though Ohio State has prepared for it by working the replacements into games and getting them extra practice work last fall. Filling the void left by the workhorse Hyde might seem like a tall order as well, but the Buckeyes have as many as five candidates they have confidence in to carry the load on the ground in his absence. There’s also the matter of replacing leading receiver Philly Brown, a versatile athlete who supplemented his 63 receptions with a handful of rushing attempts in a hybrid role.

But if there aren’t experienced seniors ready to step up on the line, the Buckeyes at least have returning starter Taylor Decker around to bridge last season to the future at left tackle. Hyde’s production and consistency made him one of the nation’s best tailbacks and a potential first-round draft pick, but Ezekiel Elliott shined in his limited opportunities and senior Rod Smith has never had his physical tools questioned. Dontre Wilson is more than capable of taking over Brown’s role now that he has had a chance to grasp the responsibilities of the H-back position and improved his hands enough to be considered a full-time receiver.

Meyer has suggested that using Wilson and athletes like Jalin Marshall and Curtis Samuel on bubble screens or jet sweeps to get to the edge might be the best way to adapt while the offensive line develops, and he’s certainly been recruiting enough speed to perhaps more truly spread the field than the Buckeyes have done in his first two seasons. And as successful as they've been anyway, that different taste might not go down easily for opposing defenses.

“We’ll never leave our core values,” Herman said. “Spread the field horizontally and vertically, be in the shotgun, add the quarterback as part of our run game and have that dimension and to be a downhill, A-gap, tight-zone, vertical, power-run team with vertical play-action pass off it. What does that evolve to? I don’t know.

“But I think when people ask me maybe what I’m most proud of the first couple years here is we didn’t fit a square peg into a round hole. ... You've got to figure out what everybody can do, what they do well and try to mask the deficiencies while you’re improving them yet play to the strengths. Where that’s headed after six spring practices, I have no idea. But it will be different.”

The Buckeyes still have plenty of time to tinker, and the cupboards are far from bare.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Stan Drayton isn’t picky about how the job gets done.

The Ohio State running backs coach doesn’t need his next starter to have all the same physical qualities Carlos Hyde brought to the backfield. Drayton doesn’t even care if he needs more than one guy to fill the void Hyde left behind after his final season with the Buckeyes, and he’s not in a hurry to settle on a depth chart or figure out how to distribute carries.

In terms of fitting some sort of ideal mold for a tailback, Drayton has no preference as he sorts through a handful of options with different sizes and strengths. As for the details of how to match Hyde’s wildly productive, staggeringly efficient work on the ground, it doesn’t appear to make any difference to Drayton whether it takes one guy or five, as long as the results are the same.

[+] EnlargeBri'onte Dunn
Greg Bartram/USA TODAY SportsBri'onte Dunn, a four-star recruit in the 2012 class, redshirted last season and is squarely in the mix for playing time.
“He has to be replaced,” Drayton said. “This is The Ohio State University, and it’s the next man up. I’m sure if you asked Carlos Hyde, he’d tell you the same thing. It’s the next man up.

“Somebody has to step up and fill the shoes of Carlos Hyde. If it takes more than one guy to do that, I promise you it’s going to get done.”

The Buckeyes certainly weren’t a one-man show on the ground last year, and no matter what happens at running back this spring, they still won’t be in the fall with Braxton Miller and his talented legs returning at quarterback.

But Hyde was far and away the main focus at tailback last season, accounting for more rushing attempts than the rest of Ohio State’s stable of running backs combined despite missing three games to suspension. And now that he’s gone, those 208 carries he had as a senior will have to go somewhere, and the race is already heated as the new candidates scramble to claim them.

Rising sophomore Ezekiel Elliott appears to be first in line after shining in a limited role a season ago, averaging 8.1 yards per carry while showing off his explosive speed and the ability to absorb or inflict punishment with his 225-pound frame.

Rising senior Rod Smith isn’t far behind and is doing everything he can to finally turn his natural talent into production before it’s too late. Sophomore Bri’onte Dunn is coming off a somewhat unexpected redshirt season during his second year at Ohio State and is impressing with his improved grasp of the offense. Warren Ball and early enrollee Curtis Samuel both are squarely in the battle for playing time as well, with the latter turning heads during offseason workouts and potentially becoming an option to play a hybrid role as a rusher and receiver when he gets completely healthy.

So even if the Buckeyes can’t settle on just one guy to fill Hyde’s shoes, they’re clearly not short of options.

“It’s real competitive, and coach Drayton really has us going,” Dunn said. “Everybody wants to play for Ohio State, so we’ll go as hard as we can.

“Carlos was like a big brother to me. He taught me a lot, and by his example last year, it just taught us all a lot. ... Everybody is just going hard and trying to go for the spot. Our mindset is to be the best back in the country.”

Hyde made his case last season, finishing with 1,521 yards, 15 touchdowns and a resume that might make him the first running back selected in the upcoming NFL draft.

But Drayton doesn’t necessarily need one candidate to emerge as the best individual rusher in the country to get what he’s looking for this spring. The only thing that really matters to him is making sure Ohio State has the best backfield, any way he can get it.

“I’m always going to operate under the notion I need at least three [guys],” Drayton said. “I need at least three, and there’s five of them.

“All those guys are in the mix. They’re so competitive, they all bring something different to the table, they all have a different style, different strengths and weaknesses and they can all help this football team. ... I just prefer a guy who is going to be productive, period.”

Drayton might not be picky about how the production comes. But there’s no flexibility about making sure the Buckeyes get it one way or another.

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 2

February, 27, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn't over yet.

There's less than a week left on that wait for spring practice, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for the players. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key position battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, we'll make a handful of predictions for what should happen in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

No. 2: The diamond formation returns

[+] EnlargeDontre Wilson
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesThe versatile Dontre Wilson could be one of many to get touches in the diamond formation.
The cupboard was already overflowing a season ago, and Ohio State intended to use as many ingredients as possible before it found out it could get by using the same one as often as possible as the main dish.

The kitchen is every bit as well stocked this spring as it was at this time last year, but the Buckeyes no longer have Carlos Hyde at their disposal as a complement to Braxton Miller in the backfield, which may well bring a little more variety to the rushing attack.

Urban Meyer had intentions of spreading around the carries when he unveiled a full-house backfield in a diamond formation during camp last year, using three of his talented tailbacks at the same time along with Miller to give the option attack even more firepower, keep defenses guessing and, perhaps, keep everybody happy with their workload. Ultimately, the combination of Hyde and Miller was enough to again give Ohio State one of the nation's best ground games, and Hyde finished the season with 127 more attempts than any other running back -- despite missing three weeks of action due to suspension.

With the stockpile of both traditional running backs like Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn and a growing collection of hybrid weapons led by Dontre Wilson, the diamond formation and a more even distribution of touches figures to be featured during spring practice. Maybe that particular package won't end up becoming a staple of the playbook in the fall, but it's one more wrinkle that can make life miserable for opposing defensive coordinators and a scheme that could potentially take some of the pressure off Miller as a rushing threat.

If nothing else, maybe it will simply provide a chance for the coaching staff to evaluate a handful of options to replace Hyde at once. The competition for playing time is already going to be fierce in the backfield, and it might suit Ohio State's interests best if it can name more than one winner.

Top spring position battles: No. 4

February, 18, 2014
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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 after already tackling that topic in the countdown, the series rolls along with a look at who else might be lining up with him in the Ohio State backfield.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsEzekiel Elliott averaged 8.6 yards and had three touchdowns on his 33 touches as a freshman in 2013.
No. 4: Running back

  • Predecessor: Carlos Hyde (208 carries for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns; 16 catches for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns)
  • Candidates: Senior Rod Smith, redshirt sophomores Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball, true sophomores Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson
  • Why to watch: The Buckeyes will again spend the spring and summer months emphasizing improvements in the passing game and seeking to find more balance in the play-calling, but Urban Meyer's version of a successful spread offense will always start with a powerful rushing attack. And after two seasons of leaning on Hyde to do the heavy lifting between the tackles and keep the chains moving, the Buckeyes now need a new sidekick for Miller -- or maybe a couple of them. With such a deep stable of options returning to fill the void left by Hyde and his 19 carries per game, Ohio State might not need to tab just one guy to handle the majority of the work. They could try to spread around touches among as many as four rushers. That was also the plan to some extent last year, though, before Hyde clearly proved he was the most reliable and consistent threat on the ground and ultimately soaked up most of the snaps. All that playing time is available now, and the competition to earn it will no doubt be heated.
  • Pre-camp edge: If the Buckeyes are purely looking for a strong, rugged rusher who fits the physical mold of Hyde, Smith or Dunn might have the advantage. Should Meyer want to feature a more dynamic athlete like he always intended to do with Jordan Hall, Wilson might be in line for more work as a traditional tailback instead of shifting around as a hybrid weapon. But the best combination of size, speed and game-breaking ability appears to be Elliott, who showed glimpses of his potential while racking up 262 yards on just 30 carries with a pair of touchdowns during his first season on campus. Of the many candidates the Buckeyes can sort through, the process is likely to start with Elliott when the pads go back on next month.

Players to watch in spring: No. 3

February, 12, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offseason conditioning program is in full swing. Signing day has come and gone. Blink and spring practice will already be here.

[+] EnlargeEzekiel Elliott
Trevor Ruszkowksi/USA TODAY SportsFormer ESPN 300 prospect Ezekiel Elliott could be in line to start at tailback for the Buckeyes in 2014.
Ohio State is less than a month away from getting back on the field and starting preparations for the 2014 season, and those days probably can't go by fast enough for a program coming off consecutive losses after a 24-game winning streak. To help pass the time, we're counting down the top five players who are facing critical springs, either because it's a turning point in their careers or because the Buckeyes are counting heavily on them to fill vacant jobs as they try to get back in contention for a national title again in the fall. The series rolls along today with another potential weapon on offense.

No. 3: Ezekiel Elliott, running back

  • By the numbers: There wasn’t an abundance of opportunity for the reserves in the Ohio State backfield, but Elliott made the most of the chances he did get as a true freshman, rushing 30 times for 262 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
  • What’s at stake: The starter and workhorse at running back is gone, and somebody is going to have to fill the large void Carlos Hyde leaves behind as he heads to the next level. The Buckeyes have plenty of options on hand, but given the relatively even playing field heading into spring, Elliott is staring at a golden opportunity to claim a starting job and keep the momentum rolling for one of the nation’s most potent rushing attacks. Bri’onte Dunn, Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Dontre Wilson are all factors for playing time at tailback as well, but Elliott’s 8.7 yards per carry off the bench during his first season with the program raised the already high expectations for his career and likely will give him the inside track. Wilson is certain to see more touches as a sophomore, but he remains more of a hybrid weapon in the spread offense, while Elliott could fit into the more traditional role Hyde filled as a partner to quarterback Braxton Miller on the ground over the last two seasons.
  • Best-case scenario: With such a deep stable of rushers, the Buckeyes don’t necessarily need to just settle on one guy to handle the majority of the workload at the position. But as Hyde helped prove at the end of his career, allowing a tailback to get into a rhythm throughout the game and to develop chemistry with Miller running the option has its benefits, offering some evidence that a clear pecking order on the depth chart would be valuable leaving spring practice. The competition is going to be heated, and older players such as Smith and Dunn won’t be lacking for motivation heading into a potential make-or-break camp in March. But Elliott is likely going to be the favorite, and having him solidify that status would no doubt be a relief for Ohio State.
National signing day is less than 48 hours away, and Big Ten fan bases are preparing to officially welcome the 2014 class. My interest in recruiting has increased during the years, but I likely will never reach the mania of many fans.

[+] EnlargeWilliam Gholston
Zuma Press/Icon SMIWilliam Gholston played three seasons for Michigan State, recording 142 tackles and 10 sacks.
The reason: There have been so many examples of supposed top recruits who go bust, and under-the-radar guys who become stars, especially in a largely developmental league like the Big Ten. Recruiting evaluation is an inexact science.

As we prepare for the faxes to roll in, especially from the Big Ten prospects in the ESPN 300, it's always interesting to take a look back at how the top Big Ten recruits from four years ago performed. There wasn't an ESPN 300 back in 2010, just an ESPN 150, which included 15 Big Ten players. Some became stars, some never got started and others haven't closed the book on their college careers.

Let's take a closer look (positions listed according to ESPN recruiting profiles):

Top 50

  • No. 12: Demar Dorsey, S, Michigan -- Although Dorsey signed with Michigan, he was denied admission to the school. He had a checkered past but reportedly was given no specific reason for the denial. Dorsey appeared headed to Louisville but never made it and played for Grand Rapids Community College in 2011. He planned to transfer to Hawaii in 2012 but never played for the Warriors.
  • No. 42: William Gholston, DE, Michigan State -- Gholston played three seasons for the Spartans, recording 142 tackles, including 30 for loss and 10 sacks. He started 24 games and stood out in bowl wins against Georgia and TCU. After a big performance in the 2012 Outback Bowl, Gholston appeared on several preseason watch lists but underachieved at times during the 2012 campaign. He skipped his final season and was a fourth-round pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
Nos. 51-100

  • No. 56: Rod Smith, RB, Ohio State -- Smith redshirted the 2010 season and has been in a reserve role the past three seasons, playing briefly at linebacker in 2012. He has 83 career rushes for 448 yards and four touchdowns. Smith once again will compete for the starting job this fall.
  • No. 66: Khairi Fortt, LB, Penn State -- He played two years for Penn State, recording 50 tackles, including 6.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks, before transferring to Cal in 2012 when the NCAA imposed sanctions on PSU. Fortt sat out the 2012 season because of injury and had 64 tackles (3.5 for loss) in nine games last season before suffering an arm injury. He declared for the NFL draft last month.
  • No. 70: Dakota Royer, DE, Penn State -- Royer didn't play at linebacker in his first two seasons, moved to tight end after spring ball in 2012 and moved back to linebacker early in camp. He then decided to walk away from football, remained on scholarship and graduated in May.
  • No. 80: James Louis, WR, Ohio State -- Louis redshirted the 2010 season and then opted to transfer from Ohio State to Florida International. He never played for FIU and is no longer listed on the roster.
  • No. 82: C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE, Iowa -- He appeared in every game during the past four years and started the past two-and-a-half seasons, earning first-team All-Big Ten honors from the coaches as a senior in 2013. Fiedorowicz had 91 career receptions for 899 yards and 10 touchdowns, including six this past season.
  • No. 88: Evan Hailes, DT, Penn State -- Hailes redshirted in 2010 and played two games in 2011, recording two tackles. A series of blood clots, which first surfaced in the spring of 2011, ended his career in 2012. He remained with the team in a coaching role.
[+] EnlargeDevin Gardner
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallThe reviews have been mixed for Devin Gardner, who passed for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2013.
Nos. 101-150

  • No. 112: Rob Bolden, QB, Penn State -- Bolden in 2010 became the first freshman quarterback in 100 years to start a season opener at Penn State. He made 16 starts in two years at Penn State but transferred to LSU after the NCAA imposed sanctions on the program in 2012. Bolden has yet to play for the Tigers and has one season left.
  • No. 118: Miles Dieffenbach, C, Penn State -- Dieffenbach redshirted in 2010 and didn't play in 2011 before starting 23 games the past two seasons at left guard. He'll likely enter the 2014 campaign in the same spot.
  • No. 128: Devin Gardner, QB, Michigan -- Gardner appeared in 12 games as a reserve quarterback in his first two seasons before alternating between wide receiver and quarterback in 2012, starting the final four games under center. He started 12 games at quarterback in 2013 and passed for 2,960 yards and 21 touchdowns, delivering several huge performances and also some duds. Gardner, who received a medical redshirt for the 2010 season, returns for his final year this fall.
  • No. 131: Darryl Baldwin, DE, Ohio State -- Baldwin worked as a reserve defensive lineman in 2011 before moving to offense in the spring of 2012. He played mostly special teams in 2012 and backed up left tackle Jack Mewhort the past two years. Baldwin could move into a starting role in his final season.
  • No. 137: Corey Brown, WR, Ohio State -- After recording just 22 receptions in his first two seasons, Brown emerged as the Buckeyes' top option in the passing game as a junior and senior. He combined to record 123 catches for 1,440 yards and 13 touchdowns and earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2013 from the coaches.
  • No. 147: Andrew Rodriguez, G, Nebraska -- Rodriguez played mostly in a reserve role for his first three seasons and then started every game as a senior in 2013, alternating between right tackle and right guard for an injury-plagued Husker line. He earned honorable mention All-Big Ten honors from both the coaches and the media.
  • No. 148: C.J. Olaniyan, DE, Penn State -- After redshirting in 2010, Olaniyan recorded 18 tackles and a sack during his first two seasons. He started every game last fall at defensive end and led Penn State in both sacks (5) and forced fumbles (3), recording 11 tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery. He'll enter his final season projected as a starter.

More misses than hits in the group, although several players still could finish their college careers as stars.

OSU offseason to-do list: Offense

January, 8, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Another 12-win season is in the books, though the second one under Urban Meyer did come with a pair of losses at the end that took a bit of the shine off the record for Ohio State. As the Buckeyes turn the page to Year 3 under Meyer, they'll certainly be looking to top that victory total, clinch a spot in the first edition of the playoffs and again compete for a national title. To do so, all three phases will have issues to address, and today the checklist starts on offense.

Improve the passing attack: The spotlight always shines on the quarterback first, and Braxton Miller undoubtedly still has room to grow as a passer. But getting the spread offense to take flight will take more than improved accuracy, better decisions and a tighter grasp on the playbook from Miller. With Philly Brown moving on after a productive career, Ohio State will have to start by replacing him as the leading receiver, a job that should fall to Devin Smith if he can find more consistency on the perimeter. The Buckeyes, though, had fewer candidates to make a play in the passing game than originally thought last season, and Smith and tight end Jeff Heuerman are going to need a group of talented youngsters to lend a hand next fall -- perhaps starting with Michael Thomas as he comes off a redshirt season as a sophomore.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker will be the only returning starter on the Ohio State offensive line, but a couple replacements are already identified.
Rebuild the line: The day was always coming, but now the reality of replacing four senior starters on the offensive line must sink in for Ohio State. Meyer and position coach Ed Warinner have something of a head start, given Taylor Decker's successful transition into the starting lineup last season, and Pat Elflein's strong work when pressed into duty against Michigan and Michigan State at the end of the year will provide another level of comfort in the rebuilding process. The coaching staff has a lot of faith in Jacoby Boren to fill the void at center, which gets the Buckeyes over the halfway mark, but it will need to identify another tackle and guard during spring practice to complete the unit, begin building chemistry and prepare to meet the high standards of the 2013 group.

Replace Carlos Hyde: The heavy workload might have made it seem like the stable was relatively empty behind Carlos Hyde, but among the offseason to-do items, replacing the stellar senior running back might be one of the easier tasks for the Buckeyes. The hard part might be sorting through the options and figuring out how to distribute the workload a season after Hyde carried the football 127 times more than any other tailback -- a margin that would have been even wider if not for his three-game suspension to begin the season. Dontre Wilson is certain to get more touches, but the starting job seems likely to belong to somebody else, as the rising sophomore figures to stay in a hybrid role. Ezekiel Elliott showed flashes of his ability off the bench and could be in line for the top job, though perhaps Rod Smith could finally break through or maybe Bri'onte Dunn will come off a redshirt season as a sophomore with something to prove. Either way, the Buckeyes have options in the backfield.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The projected starter has handled his business and is finally returning after a three-game suspension. Carlos Hyde is a proven touchdown machine, and he will no doubt want to make up for lost time.

[+] Enlarge Jordan Hall
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsOhio State tailback Jordan Hall has rushed for 402 yards and six touchdowns so far this season.
The guy who filled in for him is still healthy, red-hot and has done nothing to lose his spot in the Ohio State backfield. Jordan Hall has shown he's more than capable of handling the every-down workload, and there might not be much reason to tinker with what has worked early in the season.

The electric freshman has put his speed on full display and lived up to the enormous hype that built from the moment he signed with the Buckeyes through a head-turning training camp. The package of plays for Dontre Wilson appears to be steadily expanding, and Ohio State hasn't exactly been hiding the fact it would like to get him more involved.

But coach Urban Meyer only has one football at a time at his disposal during the game, and with Rod Smith, Warren Ball and Ezekiel Elliott all clamoring for touches as well, finding a way for them all to be involved is about to become an even bigger challenge with Hyde set for his debut on Saturday against Florida A&M. Maybe it's an issue that would make Meyer's peers around the country envious, but it's a potential problem nevertheless.

"Jordan Hall has certainly earned the right to touch the ball in a big way, so I'm not sure yet [about the distribution of carries]," Meyer said. "Carlos did a lot a for us a year ago -- a lot. He's a very talented running back, and that [suspension] was hard on everybody.

"But this is a good issue to have."

Meyer doesn't appear to be in a hurry to solve it, and this week it might not make any difference against a Football Championship Subdivision defense that figures to be grossly overmatched against one of the most explosive offenses in the country. But based on a relatively small sample size since he took over the program last year, it doesn't appear Meyer will be worried about hurting any feelings when it comes time to decide who will be taking handoffs and how many they might get.

The Buckeyes weren't nearly as deep at tailback a year ago after Hall's second injury forced him to redshirt after appearing in just three games, and that was obviously a significant factor for an attack that leaned heavily on Hyde and his 185 carries. But despite having Smith and Bri'onte Dunn available on the bench, Hall actually still finished the season second among running backs with 40 attempts.

So far this season, Meyer has again appeared to favor riding with one running back to complement his mobile quarterbacks the majority of the time in the ground game. Excluding rushing attempts by the quarterbacks, Hall has taken 65 percent of the carries through three games despite some lopsided scores -- including a career-high 30 attempts in the blowout win over California on Saturday.

Wilson chipped in five carries, and with 59 yards to show for it a week after producing 51 yards and a touchdown, the speedster only figures to be getting more involved moving forward.

But now Hyde is coming back into the equation as well. And while the Buckeyes had laid some plans in spring practice for Hall to slide out to H-back and the offensive staff had toyed with full-house backfields featuring three running backs to incorporate all that talent into the formation at once, no matter how Meyer eventually decides to spread the ball around, the pickings will have to get slim for a few guys.

"I've been thinking about that," Meyer said. "I don't know yet. I'll answer that later in the week."

Finding a way to keep everybody happy this week probably won't be that tough. But even once the competition does pick up again next week when Big Ten play opens, sorting through too many options in the backfield certainly beats the alternative for the Buckeyes.

Player of the Week: Big Ten

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
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The questions keep popping up, and Jordan Hall keeps shooting them down with emphatic answers.

Could the senior handle a full load and be an everydown back a year after being forced to redshirt due to a couple of injuries? Is he capable of finishing in the red zone? Is he even still a running back for Ohio State?

The Buckeyes handed him the football 30 times on the road against Cal, and he looked as fresh at the end of the game as he did at the start and added a few more explosive plays to a highlight reel that is well stocked through three weeks. Hall might not be the prototypical short-yardage back given his relatively small statute, but he punched in three more touchdowns in the easy win on Saturday evening. And at this point, it's pretty clear the Buckeyes are sold on Hall's ability in the backfield and can continue to feature him there as long as they'd like, though there's another question looming soon with projected starter Carlos Hyde returning from suspension.

But with Hall running as aggressively as he ever has in his career and coming off one of the best performances of his career in the 52-34 win over Cal, he hasn't given the Buckeyes much reason to shuffle their personnel in a deep, talented stable of rushers.

Another expected backup to Hyde in the preseason already returned from his own early suspension, and Rod Smith has barely been able to chip away at Hall's workload. In fact, with all those carries over the weekend and five more touches as a receiver, Hall's influence actually expanded as he accounted for 188 yards of total offense and those three scores. And now with 402 yards with two more games still to play in September, it's Hall who is ahead of the pace to finally give coach Urban Meyer the first 1,000-yard running back of his career.

Much of the attention thus far has focused on the quarterbacks, and with Braxton Miller injured with a knee sprain, Kenny Guiton deserved the limelight after breaking out with a record-setting effort leading the spread offense as a starter. But the Buckeyes proved late in the season a year ago that the attack needed more than one threat to truly become dangerous, and back then it was Hyde taking the pressure off and thriving as the top option at running back.

But the first three weeks have belonged to Hall, and after his latest eye-catching outing, there might be no need for the Buckeyes to take the ball out of his hands.

Big Ten predictions: Week 3

September, 12, 2013
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After two relatively easy weeks of picking games, the challenge gets much tougher with a delicious slate of Week 3 games. Last week, our picks mirrored one another. There will be some disagreements this time around.

Let's dive in ...

BOWLING GREEN at INDIANA

Brian Bennett: Bowling Green has looked terrific in its first two games, while Indiana's defense was all but absent last week versus Navy. Different styles, but I think the Falcons seize on the Hoosiers' weaknesses. They kick a field goal late for my not-very-special upset special. ... Bowling Green 37, Indiana 34

Adam Rittenberg: I had Indiana beating Navy and losing this game entering the season, so naturally, I'm picking the Hoosiers to win after falling to Navy. The defense bounces back a little against a more conventional offense, and Nate Sudfeld consistently attacks downfield to Kofi Hughes and Shane Wynn. Sudfeld rallies IU in the fourth quarter and finds Ted Bolser for the game-winning touchdown. ... Indiana 38, Bowling Green 35

WESTERN ILLINOIS at MINNESOTA

Rittenberg: Can you wake me when Minnesota finally starts playing someone? Quarterback Philip Nelson adds two more rushing scores as the Gophers pull away early in the third quarter following a Ra'Shede Hageman forced fumble. Then we can look ahead to San Jose State. ... Minnesota 37, Western Illinois 17

Bennett: There's not much interesting about this game, except that we get to throw around the word "Leathernecks." It's a good week to get Mitch Leidner some experience. ... Minnesota 35, Western Illinois 13


UCLA at NEBRASKA

Bennett: I've gone back and forth on this all week, but in the end I worry that Nebraska's home-field advantage won't be enough to overcome its youth on defense. Brett Hundley amasses five total touchdowns, and the Huskers come up just short on their final drive. ... UCLA 38, Nebraska 34

Rittenberg: Nebraska's defense remains a big concern, especially against Hundley, but with no Johnathan Franklin, the early kickoff and a long trip, I expect UCLA to be a big sluggish. Martinez delivers a turnover-free performance in a big game and finds Quincy Enunwa for the game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute. ... Nebraska 35, UCLA 34

AKRON at MICHIGAN

Rittenberg: UCF's Blake Bortles abused Akron for big plays in Week 1. Devin Gardner, eat your heart out. The Gardner-Gallon connection cranks up again as Jeremy Gallon hauls in two more touchdowns. Fitzgerald Toussaint goes for 120 rush yards and a score as Michigan rolls. ... Michigan 45, Akron 17

Brian Bennett: Akron has won four games since the end of the 2009 season. Notre Dame hangover? Maybe, but it won't matter one bit. ... Michigan 48, Akron 10


YOUNGSTOWN STATE at MICHIGAN STATE

Bennett: Is Jim Tressel back coaching Youngstown State? Maybe then the Penguins would have a chance. The Spartans play Connor Cook and Damion Terry and get only two touchdown drives out of both of them. But the defense scores again. ... Michigan State 27, Youngstown State 3

Rittenberg: I'm tempted to go with the Penguins since Michigan State's offense is ice cold (be sure to tip your waitress). This will be close for three quarters, but Michigan State's Terry steps up late with a touchdown pass and a touchdown run (yes, two offensive touchdowns). Sadly, no touchdown for Bane this week. ... Michigan State 24, Youngstown State 10

IOWA at IOWA STATE

Rittenberg: Do I have to pick a winner here? Iowa took a step back last week in many ways, although the power run stepped up when the team needed a lift. This will be a sloppy game on both sides, but Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock, along with the offensive line, prove to be the difference in the fourth quarter. ... Iowa 19, Iowa State 17

Bennett: Kirk Ferentz really needs this game. Then again, so does Paul Rhoads after losing to Northern Iowa in the opener. I don't expect many fireworks, either, but the Cyclones are just a little more desperate and have the momentum in this series. They win it on an overtime field goal. ... Iowa State 16, Iowa 13

UCF at PENN STATE

Bennett: UCF is a trendy sleeper pick and has an experienced quarterback. But Penn State's defense is a major step up from Conference USA/American Athletic competition. It's close for a half, but Christian Hackenberg gets going in the third quarter with a pair of touchdown tosses to Allen Robinson, and Bill O'Brien tops George O'Leary. ... Penn State 27, UCF 17


Rittenberg: Tricky game for Bill O'Brien's crew, but I expect Penn State's defense to do enough against Blake Bortles and a talented UCF offense. UCF jumps out to an early lead, but Zach Zwinak and Akeel Lynch spark Penn State's rushing attack in the second half, each scoring a touchdown as the Lions prevail. ... Penn State 34, UCF 27

WASHINGTON vs. ILLINOIS (at Chicago)

Rittenberg: Washington is the more talented and experienced team, and a lot needs to go right for the Illini to pull off the upset. I see another fast start for Illinois against a Huskies team that struggles on the road and might be a little sleepy following a bye week. Nathan Scheelhaase throws two more touchdown passes, but Washington tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins proves to be the difference with 120 receiving yards and a score. ... Washington 31, Illinois 21

Bennett: I'd like to pick the Illini here because it would be a great story. They certainly proved me wrong last week in a big way. I still think Washington is just a little too talented, though. Keith Price throws four touchdown passes, making him the best quarterback Soldier Field has seen in a while. (That one's for you, Adam.) ... Washington 37, Illinois 23


OHIO STATE at CALIFORNIA

Bennett: Cal played Northwestern pretty tough and then ... almost lost to Portland State? Inconsistency should be expected, I guess, with a freshman QB and a new coach. There are going to be a whole lot of big plays in this one, and I suspect Kenny Guiton will see the majority of the action. Big coming-out party for Dontre Wilson here. ... Ohio State 49, Cal 28


Rittenberg: Cal provides a nice test for Ohio State's young defense, but the presence of cornerback Bradley Roby should help hold one of the Bears' standout wide receivers (Chris Harper and Bryce Treggs) in check. Ohio State has too much at the line of scrimmage and will use its ground game of Jordan Hall, Rod Smith and Wilson to outlast the Bears. ... Ohio State 38, Cal 27

NOTRE DAME at PURDUE

Rittenberg: The Boilers have shown me nothing to suggest they can knock off a team like Notre Dame, which is pretty darn good despite last week's loss in Ann Arbor, Mich. Purdue starts strong but can't finish two early drives. The Irish then take over with their rushing attack, led by Amir Carlisle, and force two second-half takeaways. ... Notre Dame 38, Purdue 17

Bennett: Circle the wagons, Purdue. It's going to be a long couple months. ... Notre Dame 35, Purdue 7


WESTERN MICHIGAN at NORTHWESTERN

Bennett: Western Michigan just lost to Nicholls State. OK, then. Northwestern might not be quite as sharp after two big games, but it won't need to be. Kain Colter rushes for 100 yards and a pair of scores, and he and Trevor Siemian both get an early rest. ... Northwestern 38, Western Michigan 10


Rittenberg: Previous Northwestern teams might be ripe for a letdown, but not the 2013 squad. Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian deliver another strong performance, combining for five touchdowns (three pass, two rush), including two scoring passes to Christian Jones. The defense forces two more turnovers as the Wildcats cruse. ... Northwestern 41, Western Michigan 17

WISCONSIN at ARIZONA STATE

Rittenberg: I just don't like the matchup for the Badgers, even though they've been so impressive early on. Arizona State's strength (pass game) goes up against Wisconsin's weakness (secondary), and although the Badgers control the clock with their run game, the Sun Devils hit in too many big plays. Too much Taylor Kelly in this one. ... Arizona State 35, Wisconsin 28

Bennett: I think big Will Sutton will be a shock to the system to Wisconsin offensive linemen used to dealing with the UMass and Tennessee Tech lines of the world. The secondary also gets burned a few too many times. Joel Stave throws two interceptions to thwart a comeback attempt, and Big Ten teams stay thirsty in the desert. ... Arizona State 28, Wisconsin 20.


Wait, we're not done yet. It's time for our guest picker of the week. Oh, you haven't heard? Throughout the season, we'll choose one fan/loyal blog reader each week to try his or her hand at outsmarting us. There's nothing but pride and some extremely limited fame at stake. If you're interested in participating, contact us here and here. Include your full name (real names, please) and hometown and a brief description why you should be that week's guest picker. Please also include "GUEST PICKS" in all caps somewhere in your email so we can find it easily.

We found this week's picker in the desert: Adam Fraser from Gilbert, Ariz.

The floor is yours:
I'm a lifelong Husker fan living in Arizona. I'm a season-ticket holder and couldn't make it back for the UCLA game. I just started a new career at Prudential and my boss played football for UCLA. I've followed your blog for years and constantly smash your predictions. Let me put it on record at least one week, the Huskers biggest week of the year!! Thanks Adam (do it for your fellow Adam).

Other Adam's picks ...

Bowling Green 42, Indiana 40
Minnesota 30, Western Illinois 20
Nebraska 41, UCLA 37
Michigan 45, Akron 6
Michigan State 20, Youngstown State 13
Iowa 20, Iowa State 16
Penn State 24, UCF 13
Washington 31, Illinois 30
Ohio State 30, California 28
Notre Dame 38, Purdue 14
Northwestern 48, Western Michigan 10
Arizona State 34, Wisconsin 20

SEASON RECORDS


Brian Bennett: 22-2
Adam Rittenberg: 21-3
Guest pickers: 18-6

Big Ten Wednesday mailbag

September, 11, 2013
9/11/13
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It's Wednesday. Business time. So let's get down to the business of your e-mails:

Adam from D.C. writes: After two weeks down, I have a couple questions/observations. First, Michigan should top the power rankings after putting down Notre Dame. OSU has yet to really impress/dominate their weak scheduled opponents. This was really evident when Baylor hung 70 points and put up 781 yards on the same Buffalo team that OSU only scored 40 on and put up 460 yards. Is Michigan really the B1G team to beat and should they be on top of the power rankings? Secondly, we all know the Nebraska defense is still having issues. But Northwestern has actually given up the most yards of all the B1G teams so far and is second-to-last in points per a game allowed. You could argue they had to play Cal, but then Cal just barely beat Portland State. So who has the worst defense in the B1G?

Brian Bennett: Adam and I had the Michigan-Ohio State power rankings debate on Saturday night. If you go only by what the two teams have on their 2013 résumés, then the Wolverines deserve to be on top. They are, after all, the only Big Ten team to defeat a ranked opponent. However, Ohio State hasn't had the opportunity to do the same, and we were convinced all offseason that the Buckeyes were the best and most talented team in the conference. Are we really going to abandon that notion simply because their wins over Buffalo and San Diego State (by a combined score of 82-27, by the way) weren't otherworldly beatdowns?

The other thing to consider here is that Urban Meyer has yet to play with a full deck. Carlos Hyde remains suspended, Bradley Roby and Rod Smith missed the opener, Braxton Miller missed most of last week's game, Corey Linsley has been recovering from an injury, etc. I still think Ohio State at full strength is the Big Ten's best team, but it sure would be nice to actually see that total lineup go against a strong opponent. Guess we'll have to wait for the Wisconsin game. Also: Two games are in the books. Let's not get too hung up on rankings just yet.

As for Northwestern, the defense hasn't put up terrific stats, but the Wildcats easily have played the toughest schedule in the first two weeks. They are the only team in the league who has opened against a pair of AQ teams, and whatever you want to say about Cal, that team is going to score a whole bunch of points this year. Syracuse really only moved the ball effectively in the second half after Northwestern had built a huge lead and might have been coasting a bit. The loss of cornerback Daniel Jones hurt in the Cal game, and freshman Dwight White needs to make some major improvements before Big Ten play. But I like the playmaking ability of that defense, which has come up with seven interceptions in the first two games.

It's impossible to judge Northwestern's defense statistically against a team like Wisconsin, which has pitched a pair of shutouts against FCS quality teams. The title of worst defense in the Big Ten still belongs to Indiana until proven otherwise.




Quinn from Moline, Ill., writes: Michigan came off a huge win recently, but Notre Dame hadn't completely proven themselves as a really good team, in my opinion. As well, Northwestern just dismantled Syracuse, but Syracuse isn't nearly as good as Notre Dame is. Who has more momentum going into Week 3?

Brian Bennett: Let's not take anything away from Michigan's win. Notre Dame is very, very good, and I believe that will be shown throughout the season. I can't believe how many people want to dismiss the Irish and seem to be completely forgetting that they still have many of the same players as last year's team that played for the BCS title.

Northwestern, to me, has been wildly impressive. You can't overstate how tough it was to start on the road in Pac-12 country, fly across two time zones and back, and then play a physical (if perhaps not offensively gifted) Syracuse team. And the Wildcats won both games by double digits without basically anything from Venric Mark. They deserve accolades right now, and if you don't think this is a legitimate conference contender, you're not paying attention.

As far as momentum? I'm not sure it matters. Both teams might be a little beat up, emotionally and physically, after these early season challenges. And Michigan plays Akron and UConn next, while Northwestern gets Western Michigan and Maine.




Mike from San Diego writes: Brian, I know the Badgers have played inferior competition so far this year, but I have never been more optimistic for a game against OSU. In Week 1, OSU didn't look too sharp against Buffalo (granted they were missing a few players due to alleged criminal activity). I don't expect the Badgers' defense to throw a shutout against the Buckeyes, but Wisconsin did hold them to the fewest amount of points in regulation last year. Let's say a glimpse of last year's defense shows up to the game and Wisconsin running backs run like they are capable. Stave is healthy (he was injured last year), and Miller already has a few bumps and bruises. Under those assumptions how do you like Bucky's chances? Personally, I am more worried about Northwestern the following week.

Brian Bennett: More worried about Northwestern at home than Ohio State on the road? That might be a first. Wisconsin has looked great the first two weeks -- who's had a better early honeymoon than Gary Andersen? -- but the competition was so weak that it's hard to know what that means. Bret Bielema's teams used to steamroll inferior competition at home all the time. The Badgers did play very well defensively against Ohio State last year. Miller might have been a bit banged up, but that Wisconsin defense did a great job of taking away his runs, gumming up the middle of the field and making it a slog. That could happen again, as we don't know yet how healthy Miller will actually be in two weeks with that MCL sprain. On the other hand, the Buckeyes are much better at receiver this year and have more weapons on offense, including Dontre Wilson and a healthy Jordan Hall. Plus, Carlos Hyde will be back that week with presumably fresh legs.

Of course, we also need to see how that young Silver Bullets defense will handle Wisconsin's powerful running game. We'll have a much, much better handle on the Badgers after this week's Arizona State matchup, which I think will tell us a lot more about Wisconsin's chances vs. Ohio State.




Steven from Ann Arbor writes: It has come up regarding Devin Gardner and the Michigan quarterback depth situation a couple times, and I apologize if it has already been addressed, but there is a significant amount of data that suggests running quarterbacks aren't nearly as injury-prone as we all (me included) naturally feel they would be. This link is a quick sample of what I could find off hand, and there is more, but, as unnatural as it seems, every additional Gardner run does not necessarily magnify his injury risk. With the example of Denard fresh in our memories from last year, this gets lost. I'm sure there are several factors, but one would probably be that hits at the end of a QB run are much more well prepared for than a blindside sack. It clearly isn't as simple as "more runs = more hits = more injuries."

Brian Bennett: Steven, we may overrate the injury risk of running quarterbacks, since there are plenty of those in college football and they're not getting hurt every week. Knowing how to slide and avoid contact at the end of a run is huge. But the anecdotal evidence on the other side is pretty strong, too. Just look at Braxton Miller, who had to leave Saturday's game against against San Diego State after spraining his MCL when he got sandwiched at the end of a run. Miller also got hurt last year vs. Purdue after taking a hit on a long run. Northwestern's Kain Colter suffered a concussion on the second play at Cal when he was smacked on a run. Quarterbacks can get hurt staying in the pocket as well -- just ask Wisconsin's Joel Stave, who suffered a broken collarbone when he was sacked last year by Michigan State. But I feel pretty good about Devin Gardner's blind side as long as Taylor Lewan is protecting it. I don't have a problem with Michigan running Gardner, because that's a big weapon and they have to play to his strengths. But I find it hard to believe that there isn't added risk of injury there.




Matt E. from Southern MD writes: Brian, thanks for all the work you and Adam do to entertain us B1G faithful. Why no love for Penn State in "What We Learned in the Big Ten: Week 2" though? We obviously have some growing to do and need to establish some consistency, but I thought there were a number of positives to take away from this past weekend.

Brian Bennett: Matt, the title of that post is "What We Learned in the Big Ten," not "Giving Love to Teams in the Big Ten" or "Here Are Some Positives to Take Away." We're taking a big-picture approach there, trying to assess the big themes and league-wide revelations from each game day. We do only five items per week. With 12 teams in the Big Ten, odds are we're not going to hit on every team in great detail, especially during a nonconference weekend that includes some pretty lopsided games. As for Penn State, what did we really learn about the Nittany Lions? Christian Hackenberg had some highs and lows, the running game looked much better and the defense continues to shine. But it was Eastern Michigan. Penn State should beat Eastern Michigan 45-7. We learned much more about Penn State in Week 1 against Syracuse, a game I covered in person, and we'll likely learn more this week against UCF.




Dave from Kansas City writes: Do you think Kirk Ferentz is in as much danger of losing his job as Mack Brown or Lane Kiffin?

Brian Bennett: It's actually an interesting comparison, because Brown and Kiffin are among the handful of coaches who make as much or more per year as Ferentz. The Kiffin similarities end, however, when you consider he's only under contract until 2015, at a reported $4 million per year. While eating two more years at that price would be painful, USC can afford it.

Brown's situation is closer to Ferentz, contract wise. Texas has him signed through the 2020 season -- the same length as Ferentz's deal -- with a $5.2 million annual salary and $100,000 raises each year. But, ESPN's Darrell Rovell has reported that Brown's buyout right now is only (maybe I should say "only") $2.75 million. For a school that has more money than Walter White buried in the desert, that's pocket change. Iowa would owe Ferentz around $18 million if it fired him this season, a figure that is still crazy to wrap your head around. And the program isn't nearly as rich as Texas.

Of course, the Hawkeyes are coming off a win, so let's be optimistic here. Iowa really needs to beat Iowa State this week to calm down this talk about Ferentz and to position itself for a potential return to a bowl game this year.




Jesse from Plymouth, Mich., writes: Part of me thinks MSU (and its fan base) should take the patient approach with Damion Terry -- allow him to learn the playbook, create chemistry with his teammates, etc. Besides, if we play him and he ends up finishing it out, you can pretty much guarantee Cook, O'Connor and Maxwell won't be on the roster next year. That's a scary thought knowing we won't have any backup QBs besides true freshmen. However, the other part of me wants to see him on the field badly. Everyone keeps pointing to the fact that he doesn't know the playbook as well and that would hinder the play calling. After seeing pro set, read option, Wildcat, pistol, abracadabra ... maybe that would be a good thing, going back to basics and returning to a more simplified scheme for the time being?

Brian Bennett: Well, first off I can guarantee you that Andrew Maxwell won't be on the roster next year because he's a senior. Let's also acknowledge the mythical, magical qualities that fans associate to the backup quarterback. The thrill of the unknown is always so much better than the guy you've seen on the field struggling. Fact is, almost nobody has actually witnessed Terry perform in a Michigan State uniform in practice besides the coaches and a few media members. I trust Mark Dantonio's coaching staff to know whether he's ready to go.

My take on it has been and remains that if the coaches think Terry is ready, or that there's a better than average chance he could offer an improvement on the other quarterbacks the Spartans have, then he needs to play. Because there is no sense in saving a guy's redshirt when it's possible that he could help you win now. This Michigan State team is built to win this year with its defense and its schedule. You worry about next year next year. Whether Terry is in fact an upgrade, no one really knows. I do know that if the receivers, offensive line and play calling don't all also get better, whoever is playing quarterback for the Spartans will have a difficult time succeeding this year.

Four downs: Buckeyes to watch vs. SDSU

September, 6, 2013
9/06/13
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Players and positions to watch as Ohio State goes back to work on Saturday against San Diego State at Ohio Stadium (TV: ABC, 3:30 p.m.).

Offensive line

The reviews were just average for the big guys up front in the season opener, and that's not nearly good enough for a program that expects its offensive line to be the best in the conference. A so-so performance also puts prized quarterback Braxton Miller directly in the line of fire, and after giving up four sacks to Buffalo, the Buckeyes are obviously looking for a significant improvement there. Part of the issue is health, and with center Corey Linsley in the game during the first quarter, the Buckeyes were close to unstoppable with the football. When coach Urban Meyer decided to pull him and rest his surgically-repaired foot, adding another new player in sophomore Jacoby Boren to the mix along with right tackle Taylor Decker certainly appeared to knock things out of whack. That unit will be in the crosshairs of Meyer this week.

Bradley Roby

The dynamic junior cornerback had to wait an extra week to get back on the field thanks to his one-game suspension, delaying his chance to start improving his NFL draft stock and also forcing the Buckeyes to tap the brakes a bit on their plans for a more aggressive defensive approach. Ohio State has continually stressed that it won't build its program around one guy, but with Roby out, the amount of press coverage was clearly lower than anticipated and the blitz packages appeared to be scaled back some. Not having safety C.J. Barnett on the field was also a factor with less depth overall in the secondary, but Roby is the centerpiece in the backend, and he'll no doubt be energized to prove he's better than ever before.

Running backs

The job continues to belong to Jordan Hall, but the first true threat to unseat him early in the season is returning to the fold. Rod Smith was yet another expected contributor forced to watch the opener due to suspension, and the projected backup missed out on what could have been a golden opportunity to prove he could be an every-down back while Carlos Hyde serves his own punishment over the first three weeks. Instead Hall turned in the most prolific rushing performance of his career and raised the bar for Smith, who will have to prove himself quickly on special teams before he can get a crack at showing off his physical rushing style -- and what Ohio State hopes will be improved ball security.

Philly Brown

The receiving version of Philly Brown was barely a factor in the opener, and Meyer was quick to shoulder the blame for the senior's lack of touches during a two-catch outing against Buffalo. The special teams version showed some flashes of productivity with 44 yards on 4 returns, but he was also shaky fielding the football and, according to assistant Kerry Coombs, had issues with a "high sky and a bright sun." The Buckeyes need Brown to be a factor both in the passing game, like he was last year as the team's most targeted receiver. And they can also use the dynamic returner he proved he could be last season while taking a pair of punts back for touchdowns. Ohio State will be looking for improvement in both areas heading into Week Two.

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