The 2014 B1G Championship: A Game Of Blackjack?

“Rain Man, let’s play some cards…”

In the aftermath of Ohio State’s 42-28 victory in THE GAME, the speculation among Ohio State fans, as well as the national media, was this burning question – how could Ohio State possibly expect to win the 2014 B1G Championship without star quarterback J.T. Barrett?

The speculation is not without merit. After all, Barrett was the leader of the Ohio State offense, and a possible Heisman Trophy candidate. Backup quarterback Cardale Jones has played sparingly throughout his Ohio State career, and will be making his first career start against one of the top defenses in college football when the Buckeyes face the Wisconsin Badgers.

More importantly, Ohio State’s defense has not played well down the November stretch run. Against Michigan State, Minnesota, and Indiana, all with talented running backs, Ohio State gave up substantial yardage on the ground. But against Michigan’s Drake Johnson, the Wolverines’ third-string running back, giving up 74 yards, only added fuel to the fire of concern. Now Ohio State will be facing Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon (2230 yards) and Corey Clement (830 yards). Oof.

Here are the three areas I will be focused upon as Ohio State and Wisconsin kick it off at 8pm EST on FOX…

1. The Ohio State Rush Defense Against The Wisconsin Offense: If Ohio State cannot slow down Wisconsin’s running game, it will be all over for the Buckeyes. Co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Chris Ash must figure out a way to slow down Wisconsin’s Gordon and Clement. Look for Ohio State to put eight men in the box, leaving the cornerbacks on an island with Wisconsin’s receivers one on one. It is a daring and risky strategy, but it may need to be done to keep Ohio State in the game defensively. Rotating interior defensive linemen will be critical to keep Ohio State’s defensive linemen from tiring out. A cause for concern will be if Wisconsin can continually line up on first down, then on second down hear, “2nd and 3.”. That could spell doom for the Buckeyes if Wisconsin is in perpetual short yardage plays throughout most of the night.

2. Ohio State Cannot Be Conservative On Offense: Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer made a statement about new starter Cardale Jones – “It’s his show, he’s got the keys to the car,”… Coach Meyer and Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman will be working overtime on how to best tweak the offense for Jones heading into this game, focusing upon the areas and plays that Jones handles best. If Ohio State tries to simply run the ball, down after down, predictably and conservatively, Ohio State will lose this game. A possible strategy with Jones on passing plays could involve a moving pocket, using quarterback waggles and bootlegs that will allow Jones to get out of the pocket and hit an open man, or simply run for positive yardage if nothing is open. Again, Ohio State needs to focus upon what the offense can do with Jones at the helm, and emphasize that getting the ball into the various Buckeye playmakers is the way to win this game offensively. Letting Jones play with no holds barred can only boost Jones, and the team’s, collective confidence. And that leads me to…

3. Winning The Psychological Battle: Ohio State is in great shape here. At his customary press conference on December 1st, Coach Meyer was audibly surprised that Ohio State was the listed underdog to Wisconsin. For a master motivator such as Coach Meyer, the media simply gave Coach Meyer one more button to push on his team. Coach Meyer can truly play up the disrespect angle of the national media, and should have his team ready to go at a fevered pitch when the game begins. And if Ohio State wins over Wisconsin, my guess is Coach Meyer will look into the television cameras, pointing out how Jones did what was needed in only six days of preparation; how much better would Jones be able to play with nearly a month’s worth of preparation, as in preparation for The College Football Playoff?

Prediction: Up above, I used a blackjack reference, as I believe this game will be relatively low-scoring, as well as I believe the first team to hit 21 points will win. It won’t come easy, and it may not be enough to impress The College Football Playoff committee, but I see it Ohio State 21, Wisconsin 17.

Terrapins Can Make It Terrible For Ohio State’s First MD Visit

Ohio State travels to Byrd Stadium in College Park, Maryland, for its first ever contest against B1G newcomer Maryland. Maryland was projected as having a strong initial season within the B1G, and this trip to Byrd Stadium should prove to be quite a raucous beginning for Ohio State as the Buckeyes begin conference play for the 2014 season.

Last weekend’s contest versus the University of Cincinnati left Ohio State fans curious about the Buckeye pass defense. New co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash was brought in during the offseason to fix what was considered the weakest link in Ohio State’s defense. After allowing Bearcats WR Chris Moore to average nearly 74 yards per reception (3 receptions for 221 yards, 3 touchdowns), who could blame Ohio State fans for feeling somewhat anxious heading into a game that features two of the B1G’s leading receivers in former Ohio State recruiting target Stefon Diggs and Deon Long?

Besides Diggs and Long, Maryland features other players on its roster who may be familiar to Ohio State fans. Players such as OT Damian Prince, OT Derwin Gray, and WR Taivon Jacobs were all recruited by Ohio State, but chose Maryland instead. The lone Ohioan listed on Maryland’s roster is freshman TE Andrew Gray, who did not receive an Ohio State scholarship offer.

Three areas I will focus upon during the game are:

– Ohio State’s Press Coverage With Its Secondary: Anytime a team decides to play aggressively with its pass defense, it is a high risk, high reward situation. Receivers such as Diggs and Long can easily take a pass all the way to the end zone, like Chris Moore did last weekend. Will Ohio State adjust its safety play to offer up more help to its cornerbacks, and help neutralize the threat of big plays?

– Ohio State’s Pass Rush Must Come Up Big: So far this season, sophomore DE Joey Bosa has been causing disruptive plays along the line of scrimmage, resulting in turnovers against the opposition. Will Bosa be able to come up big again, especially against a Maryland team that may double-team him? If Bosa is double-teamed, will Adolphus Washington or Michael Bennett be able to pick up the slack, and create the necessary pressure to help Ohio State’s secondary?

– Ohio State’s Run Game Must Control The Clock: Against Cincinnati, sophomore RB Ezekiel Elliott ran for 182 yards, while teammates J.T. Barrett, Rod Smith, Dontre Wilson, Curtis Samuel, and Jalin Marshall also contributed to the overall team rushing effort (380 yards on the ground). To keep Maryland off the field, Ohio State will need its rushing attack to come through in the clutch time of this contest.

While the oddsmakers have penciled Ohio State as a strong favorite, I believe this game will be in doubt until midway through the fourth quarter. Even though there will be anxious moments for Ohio State fans, players, and coaches, I have it Ohio State 42, Maryland 31, with Ohio State scoring a late touchdown to secure its first B1G victory of the 2014 season.

Ranking The 2014 Ohio State Football Schedule (Part Two)

Part one reviewed the 2014 Ohio State football schedule, ranking games from easiest to more challenging, as I perceive them to be. Part two will pick up from where we left off, reviewing the games I consider to be within the “Trap Games” category for Ohio State.

7. @ Minnesota (11/15/2014 – kickoff and telecast TBD): This game at Minnesota will be Ohio State’s first game versus the Golden Gophers since the 2010 season, a now-vacated 52-10 victory. Why am I concerned about this game? As in life, timing is everything. Ohio State will be coming off a visit to East Lansing, MI, on 11/08. Even if Ohio State wins versus Michigan State, will Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer be able to have the Buckeyes “up” for a game on the road, against an opponent that plays a physical style of offense, in what could be less than ideal weather conditions? Perhaps I am giving Minnesota too much credit, but I believe this game could be closer than most Ohio State fans realize.

8. @ Navy (08/30/2014 – 12pm EST kickoff, CBS Sports Network telecast): In 2009, Navy came into Ohio Stadium, and nearly pulled off an upset, but were thwarted by former Buckeye linebacker Brian Rolle. While Ohio State has far superior speed and athleticism than the Naval Academy, Navy’s triple option offense will keep Ohio State’s newly-revamped defense off balance all game. For an Ohio State defense that has struggled the past two seasons, it is truly a baptism by fire for new Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash. Throw in the fact that the triple option offense is difficult for a scout team to adequately simulate, and you may understand why I am ranking this game so highly in terms of difficulty for Ohio State in the season opener.

9. Cincinnati (09/27/2014 – 6pm EST kickoff, BTN telecast): Ohio State has defeated Cincinnati in its previous visits to Ohio Stadium over the years (1999, 2004, 2006). With Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville at the helm, Cincinnati went 9-4 in 2013. The old 2002 storylines will be in overdrive leading up to this game. Be on the lookout for stories involving how Coach Tuberville has a winning record vs Coach Meyer, when both were in the SEC. With a 6pm kickoff, this should be a good one.

10. Virginia Tech (09/06/2014 – 8pm EST kickoff, ESPN telecast): The 2014 home opener for Ohio State should be rocking. Virginia Tech is the marquee non-conference opponent for Ohio State this season, and I expect Coach Meyer will try to use this game to highlight the program with recruits in attendance, as well as impress a national television audience. Virginia Tech’s defense, which ranked eleventh in the country in points allowed in 2013, may be disruptive to a still-developing Ohio State offensive line. The special teams battles between both squads will also be something to watch.

III. Rivalry Games: Throw out the records in these contests. Ohio State fans should not be surprised if these games come down to the final play, with Ohio State emerging as the victor or the victim. (Note: In fairness to Penn State, I believe the Nittany Lions will again be in this category for Ohio State, but not this season, with remaining NCAA sanctions against the program.)

11. Michigan (11/29/2014 – kickoff and telecast TBD): That Team Up North. THE GAME. In 2012, Ohio State rallied to win, 26-21. In 2013, Ohio State survived on the road, 42-41. With Michigan head coach Brady Hoke under fire to turn the Wolverines around from a disappointing 2013 season, does anyone doubt that this game will be lacking any suspense or intensity? This could be a game that saves Coach Hoke’s job, or seals his fate. In addition, this could be a game that determines the representative from The B1G’s East Division for its 2014 B1G Championship Game.

12. @ Michigan State (11/08/2014 – 8pm kickoff, ABC telecast): Here is the game that all Ohio State coaches, players, and fans have been looking toward since the Michigan State Spartans ruined Ohio State’s chances to compete for the 2013 BCS Championship. In 2012, Ohio State eked out a 17-16 victory in East Lansing. With an 8pm kickoff, the coaches for both sides will have their hands full making sure their players are not too high for this game, after a full day of probable intensive media attention. I doubt that there is anything that will be done to help the fans, who will have a full day to properly imbibe at tailgates and parties.

There you have it – my perspective on the 2014 Ohio State football schedule, from easiest to most difficult. Let me know what you think. The 2014 football season is just around the corner.

Three Storylines: The Coaching Staff

Surprisingly, after 24 wins in two years, Urban Meyer’s coaching staff remains largely the same. Tom Herman, Kerry Coombs and Luke Fickell–all three heavily rumored to be entertaining head coaching offers–return to the sidelines under Meyer, looking to snag the first College Football Playoff Championship. To fill the holes left by Mike Vrabel (Houston Texans – LB coach) and Everett Withers (James Madison University – head coach,) Meyer brought in a heavy hitter and an up-and-comer. What their impact will be remains to be seen, but we’re feeling optimistic.

Can Chris Ash become the defensive Tom Herman?

When Urban Meyer and Tom Herman showed in 2012, they took a team that had averaged 24.5 points and 318 yards per game the year before and turned it into an offensive machine, churning out an average of 37.2 points and 424 yards. Last year they kicked it up a notch, finishing with 45.5 points and 512 yards per game.

The sacrifice for all that output seems to have been on the other side of the ball, particularly in the passing game. The traditionally stout Silver Bullet defense turned into a predictably exploitable sieve, culminating in 268 passing yards given up per game in 2013. You remember.

Enter Chris Ash, managing to escape the hot-sauce-soaked clutches of Bret Bielema the way no chicken wing or Busch Light ever could. Ash had some success as DB coach and defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, but is still largely unproven.

Not unproven however is Urban Meyer’s eye for coaching talent, so if he thinks Ash can help right this ship, I believe him. Critics may point to last year’s dismal showing at Arkansas, when Ash and the Hogs turned in the #73 pass defense. I’m not going to make excuses for that; I’ll just point out that it’s still 39 spots higher than Ohio State finished. Yeah.

What does Larry Johnson Sr. bring to the table?

Johnson was a mind-blowing hire, and to this day I’m not sure how Meyer convinced him to leave Penn State–literally the only other college he has ever worked for, and where his two sons played football. As well as taking over the D-Line from Vrabel, he also snagged Withers’ Assistant Head Coach title.

I’ll admit that I initially thought this was a primarily recruiting-oriented hire, but after taking a look at Johnson’s accomplishments, that may have been naive of me. His D-Lines at Penn State were top-notch and he produced more conference defensive Players of the Year (5) than any other position coach since 1996.

He seems to be in sync with Meyer when it comes to overall philosophy, focusing on personal relationships with players and placing a high value on fast, relentless play. I have no doubt he’ll be able to pick up where Vrabel left off and then some.

Can Urban Meyer bounce back from the disappointing end of last season?

Meyer hasn’t had many disappointments in his coaching career, from his successful spread experiments at Bowling Green to his world-shocking run at Utah to those jaw-dropping Florida teams. His worst season ever was the 8-5 stumble in his last year with the Gators–a year he was begged to coach by Florida’s AD. That season still ended with a bowl win over… somebody… who can remember these things?

And to call 12-2 a disappointment is kind of absurd, but the back-to-back losses to Michigan State and Clemson in the biggest games of the year were, frankly, disappointing. So, how does Meyer respond?

If history is any indication, pretty well. Meyer’s teams have never trended downward two consecutive seasons. Of course, Ohio State is only the second team he’s gone to Year Three with, but still, BGSU and Utah both improved greatly while he was there.

At Florida he went from 9 wins in 2005 to 13 and a national title in 2006. After another 9-win campaign in 2007, he tore off two consecutive 13-win years and won another championship, before finishing with that 8-win snoozer.

Meyer is a master motivator, and I have no doubt that he is using those two final games as fodder for Buckeye fire this season. Armed with that, a sideline full of play-makers, and one of the greatest coaching staffs ever assembled, watch out for the Urban Meyer Redemption Tour in 2014.

2014 OSU Spring Football – Questions To Answer (Part 2)

Part one of this series dealt with questions and challenges that I perceive as important, but lower priority, for Ohio State to address this spring. On any college football team, there will always be issues with players unhappy about playing time. Any coach will want to see more production from any position group. Below are the top five pressing issues, as I see them, for Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer to focus upon between March 4th and the date of the April 12th Ohio State Spring Game.


5. Placekicker – While Coach Meyer is always wanting touchdowns from his offense, it is sometimes required to have a placekicker on the roster who can come through with a clutch field goal at the end of the game. Reliable Drew Basil has exhausted his eligibility, opening the door for true freshman Sean Nuernberger to claim the position. Nuernberger enrolled early at Ohio State, allowing him the opportunity to seize the job this spring. Competition for the placekicker position may come from Kyle Clinton, a walk-on who saw game action during the 2012 season. This position could rise in importance by the conclusion of spring games, based upon Nuernberger’s performance this spring.

4. Backup Quarterback – Senior quarterback Braxton Miller made the decision to come back to Ohio State for his fourth and final year of eligibility, pleasing Ohio State coaches and fans alike. With Miller’s recent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder, Ohio State will use the spring practices to determine who the primary backup quarterback is to Miller – Cardale Jones, J.T. Barrett, or newly-signed Stephen Collier.

Based upon Ohio State Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Tom Herman’s comments, Jones will begin spring practice as the primary backup…

Jones played sparingly in 2013, appearing in three games. Most of Jones’ game appearances were as a result of both Miller and departing backup Kenny Guiton having Ohio State in front by a considerable margin; Jones usually would hand the ball off, or run himself. Throwing only three passes, it would be fair to say that Jones will certainly be given more opportunities as a passer this spring.

Barrett was the primary quarterback recruit targeted by Coach Herman for the 2013 recruiting class. Barrett redshirted in 2013, using the time to recover from a serious knee injury that wiped out most of Barrett’s senior high school season. Barrett’s leadership qualities have been raved about by the Ohio State coaching staff; will these qualities allow him to leapfrog Jones for the backup spot by the end of spring practice?

Lastly, Stephen Collier. The wild card of this group, Collier enrolled early and will participate in spring drills. Described by Coach Meyer as a “development guy”, Collier will battle for the backup position, but it would be highly surprising if Collier could overtake both Jones and Barrett for the primary backup quarterback spot.

Yes, Braxton Miller will/should be under center, when the season begins on the road at Navy on August 30th. As Ohio State fans have witnessed over the past two seasons, having a dependable backup quarterback behind Miller has often made all of the difference between winning and losing. This battle could also have repercussions for the 2015 season, after Miller has left Ohio State.

3. Linebacker – On National Letter Of Intent Day for 2014, Coach Meyer stated, “That’s far too many mistakes have been made in either lack of development or whatever and it’s just not where we need to be” in reference to the Ohio State linebackers. When that statement was made, this is how I interpreted it, along with many others…

Compounding the challenges for this position group are the losses of Ryan Shazier (to the NFL) and Mike Mitchell (transfer). With Curtis Grant and Josh Perry returning, Trey Johnson would seem likely to have an opportunity to claim Shazier’s starting spot. Based upon Grant’s concussion history, as well as Perry’s injuries, it is not improbable that Ohio State will have a completely overhauled linebacker corps for the season opener against Navy on August 30th. The biggest name for fans to be focused upon this spring? Incoming freshman Raekwon McMillan, who enrolled early. Others in the mix may be walk-on Joe Burger, Camren Williams, and redshirt freshman Darron Lee.

2. Defensive Back – After being torched through the air by Michigan State in The B1G Championship Game, then by Clemson in The 2014 Orange Bowl, changes were necessary for the Buckeyes across the board, both in coaching and in personnel. Coaching changes bring new Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach Chris Ash, to replace Everett Withers, who left for the head coaching position at James Madison. Kerry Coombs remains on staff, but Ohio State fans believe Coach Ash will be in charge of rebuilding the Ohio State secondary. From National Letter Of Intent Day 2014, Coach Meyer stated on Ash, “And then Chris Ash is charged with he’s got a serious responsibility. That’s to improve our pass defense. He’ll be in charge of the entire back end of our defense. He’s going to coach safety. He’s going to continue to coach corners. However we’re going to have one voice back there, it’s his responsibility to improve our pass defense… And obviously it’s more than just a secondary. It’s linebackers and everything. But you’re going to see some significant changes in the way we approach our business back there.”.

Personnel changes are needed not only due to poor performance, but also for players who have exhausted their eligibility, such as Bradley Roby (NFL Draft early departure), C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant, and Corey “Pittsburgh” Brown. Doran Grant is the only returning starter, and after the 2013 season by the defensive backfield, Grant may not have a lock on a starting position. Armani Reeves, Eli Apple, Cam Burrows, Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Gareon Conley, Christopher Worley, Jayme Thompson, and Ron Tanner will all be battling for starting positions and the prestige of their new position coach this spring.

1. Offensive Line – This was a close call, between the revamped secondary or the offensive line, for the most important area of concern for Ohio State to work upon this spring. While the secondary loses three starters, the offensive line loses four starters, plus flips starting right tackle Taylor Decker to the left side. Ohio State did very well with its recruiting class for offensive linemen, securing five players; two freshmen, Marcelys Jones and Kyle Trout, have already enrolled and will participate in spring practice.

If Decker can switch over from right tackle to left tackle with minimal issues, that will be very reassuring for the Ohio State coaching staff and fans. Jacoby Boren seems likely to have the inside track to the center position, as Boren filled in admirably for departing senior Corey Linsley. Likewise, Pat Elflein would seem to have a shot at the right guard position, after filling in for departing senior Marcus Hall. “Darryl Baldwin is penciled in at right tackle”, based on Coach Meyer’s comments from National Letter Of Intent Day 2014. Keeping my eyes and ears open for news about the performance of the offensive line will be paramount this spring, as this unit will largely determine the strength or the challenges of Ohio State’s offense for the 2014 season.

As always, looking forward to all of your commentary and critiques. Most of all, I am just happy to have football to focus upon, even if it is just from March 4th through April 12th.

Surprise visitor to make Official Visit to OSU this weekend

Late last night news broke that a surprise visitor would take an official visit to Ohio State this weekend just a few days after National Signing Day. This news isn’t that unusual in the grand scheme of things but the player taking the OV and his relationship to another current commit makes it a very interesting development.

The news was broke by 247sports National Football writer Steve Wiltfong…

So many of you will be asking yourself who exactly is Shelby Spence and why has he popped up on OSU Radar so late in the process. The truth is Shelby has long been on OSUs radar as he attended Friday Night Lights last summer with his teammate and good friend Jamarco Jones. So there is why this visit has become so important as Shelby and Jamarco are great friends and as all of you know by now Ohio State and Michigan State are in a heated battle to land current OSU commit Jamarco Jones who is considering flipping to MSU after a last minute visit to MSU this past weekend and only 24 hours to go to NSD.

What does this all mean for OSU and Spence and Jones? I was able to sit down and talk with Shelby late last night and get some info out of him about his recruitment and whether or not he and Jones are a package deal and the answers were somewhat surprising.

The important thing to know from my interview with Shelby was that the OV didn’t just pop up out of no where late in the process. When I asked him about the visit he said, “We’ve been talking about it” for a while. Also asked him who was main recruiter and he mentioned, that his original recruiter was Mike Vrabel but since Vrabel left that “Coach Meyer has taken over his recruiting”. It also helps that new Co-DC Chris Ash was his recruiter when he was at Wisconsin last year. This is important because it shows how serious they are in trying to land the 6’0″ 200 lbs DT QB/ Athlete. When I asked what position they would like to use Shelby at he mentioned Safety and that is what they had him play when he was out last summer for Friday Night Lights.

Academics play a huge role in Shelby’s life and prior to the announcement of his OV to OSU this weekend he was mainly considering Ivy League schools and told me he wants to major in Economics where ever he goes and certainly OSU has a highly rated Business/Economics program that could fit the bill for Mr. Spence.

Currently Shelby does not have an offer and when I asked him about that he told me, “I’ll have a better idea on his visit” what if any offer Coach Meyer can give him. There are 2 basic options at this point a traditional offer if OSU has a spot to give him say if either Jamarco Jones or Malik McDowell choose to go elsewhere. Or they could offer him a Preferred Walk-On which means he would walk-on and be in line to get a scholarship as soon as one becomes available. Which I am sure most OSU fans would prefer since it means they also landed both Jones and McDowell.

When asked if he had a dream school or if he grew up a fan of any particular school he told me, “Not any school but grew up a fan of specific players such as Troy Smith, Ted Ginn Jr, and Terelle Pryor.”. He certainly doesn’t hurt that all of the players he mentioned were OSU greats that’s for sure.

He did mention, he would not make a haste decision and that if he loved his visit to OSU he would “sit down and discuss everything with his family before making a final decision.”.

I did get to ask him on the record about his relationship with Jamarco Jones and whether he felt like OSU considered himself and Jamarco to be a package deal or if they considered themselves to be a package. He definitely feels like he is being recruited on his own abilities and that he is not tied to Jamarco. He said, that he and Jamarco “Have not discussed that at all” and neither have the coaches. He also told me he hasn’t discussed with Jamarco which way he is leaning and that whatever decision that Jamarco makes it won’t effect his own personal decision.


It certainly doesn’t hurt that this could be Jamarco and Shelby together for the next 4-5 years and the longtime friends could play together at Ohio State even if they haven’t discussed it in great detail as of yet.

Are you still curious why “all of a sudden” OSU is interested in Shelby then you haven’t taken the time to watch his highlights to see he is the real deal and as I informed Shelby last night … Troy Smith was the last recruit taken in his class and only got the spot when another player chose to go elsewhere but he made his own destiny after arriving and eventually ended up a Heisman winner and a legend to OSU fans so I ask you to watch his highlights and see what the OSU coaches see before being a jaded fan…