All posts by Derek Woods

How will the Buckeyes Replace Raekwon McMillan?

Raekwon McMillan has been the heart and soul of the Ohio State defense for the past two-plus seasons, but with the former team captain set to be selected in the 2017 NFL draft after declaring early, who will be the next middle linebacker for the Buckeyes?

McMillan finished his career being named a second team all-American after a solid junior season. The former five-star prospect out of Hinesville, Georgia came to Ohio State with huge expectations as he was the consensus top inside linebacker in the country in the 2014 recruiting class. The expectations were almost impossible to meet, but having number five in the middle of your defense leaves one less thing to worry about every Saturday.

A big part of being a leader of the defense is being a student of the game, being able to put teammates in the right places and knowing exactly where everyone should be. This is something McMillan excelled at, and something Ohio State with surely miss as they try to replace him in 2017. Voted a captain as a true junior, McMillan is a player who played his best in some of the biggest games, as seen by his last game against hated rival Michigan in which he tallied 16 tackles.

Urban Meyer will have a huge void to fill with all that McMillan was for Ohio State over the last three seasons, and there is a shortlist of players who will try to replace him.

The first name that comes to mind as a player that should step up and take that role on as middle linebacker at Ohio State is former five-star prospect Justin Hilliard out of St. Xavier high school in Cincinnati, Ohio. A player who out of high school was the 17th ranked player overall and the # 1 outside linebacker in the 2015 class, Hilliard has the talent but has yet to put it together as a Buckeye due to injury. If the 6’1″, 230-pound linebacker can live up to his billing and finally stay healthy, he will compete for the job come fall.

Dante Booker, (a player who started game one at outside linebacker for the Buckeyes) will be another player who will compete for playing time at middle linebacker next season. Booker was injured in the opener against Bowling Green, and after Jerome Baker player the game of his life a week later against Oklahoma, it was impossible to take him out the rest of the way.

Booker has the talent, as seen by him holding off a talent like Baker to remain the starter through the spring and fall camp before losing his job to injury. His biggest hurdle like Hilliard will be to stay healthy if he wants to compete for the job. The former 2013 Ohio Mr. Football will have his shot to get acclimated to the middle linebacker in the spring, but may stay on the outside if someone else can step up in the middle.

Baron Browning, a true freshman from Kennedale, Texas who will participate in spring practice after enrolling early is also a player that is a dark horse to win the starting middle linebacker spot come fall. Although only a freshman, Browning is one of the best linebacker prospects in the country, and will immediately press all of the Buckeye linebackers for playing time. ESPN ranked Browning the #2 outside linebacker in the 2017 class, and his combination of size and speed at 6’3″, 232 pounds makes him one the best athletes in the country. How fast Browning can catch on to the college game during the spring will determine if he is truly ready to start as a true freshman.

Ohio State is stocked with talent at linebacker, with a number of former high school All-American players vying to replace McMillan this fall. But can any of them truly fill that void, or will the Buckeyes struggle up the middle this season?

E-mail Derek at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @D_woods21.

Photo Credit: Flickr

 

2017 Ohio State Signees That Could Make an Instant Impact

For Ohio State under Urban Meyer, a consensus top-five ranked recruiting classes is something you come to expect. With National Signing Day 2017 officially in the books, the Buckeyes once again bring in a loaded group of prospects with limitless talent and NFL futures ahead of them.

Urban Meyer has had a number of great players come in over his five seasons as head coach in Columbus, with a number of very talented signing classes. The 2013 class comes to mind first as undoubtedly the best class Meyer has assembled to date, with players like Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, and Vonn Bell to name a few.

With as good as that class was, the 2017 signees come in with the most hype of any class Meyer has had. The 2017 class saw Ohio State bring in nearly as many five-star players in this one class than all of Meyer’s previous classes at Ohio State combined.

The Buckeyes suffered more early departures this off-season, with six players from the 2016 team deciding to forgo their remaining eligibility at Ohio State to enter the NFL draft. With those players leaving, and the Buckeyes suffering even more early departures from the 2015 team, it was very important to sign a class like this in 2017.

With some openings for playing time available for the upcoming season due to those early departures, or simply a lack of production from current starters, the extremely talented 2017 class will have its opportunities to prove its worth early.

Ohio State’s secondary took the worst hit when it comes to depth and experience for the upcoming season. Early departures from Marshon Lattimore, Gareon Conely, and Malik Hooker leave Damon Webb as the lone returning starter in the defensive backfield.

With those openings available, look for 2017 signees and five-star players Shaun Wade (ESPN No. 1 ranked corner), and Jeffrey Okudah (ESPN No. 1 ranked safety) to have a say in filling that void. Wade (Jacksonville, Florida), and Okudah (Grand Prairie, Texas) come from powerhouse football states and have the ability to play right away as both have enrolled early to get a head start of the college learning curve.

Okudah may have the better chance at playing due to his ideal size and Wade still needed to add some muscle, but both players will have a shot come fall. Kendall Sheffield, (ESPN No. 1 ranked JuCo corner) a former five-star prospect and Alabama signee will also get a crack at playing time after spending a season at Blinn College. Sheffield is known for his blazing speed and has the ability to get on the field right away if he can catch on quickly in Columbus.

After losing center and team captain Pat Elflein to graduation, the Buckeyes will move Billy Price from his right guard spot over to center next season. That leaves a hole at guard for mauling 6’3′, 319-pound incoming freshman Wyatt Davis from Bellflower, California. Davis is one the top ranked guards in the 2017 class and has a college ready (some could argue even NFL) body coming in. Davis could be in line to earn a starting spot as a true freshman. Josh Meyers, a 6’6′, 310-pound tackle/guard from Miamisburg, Ohio and another one of the nation’s top offensive line recruits in the 2017 class will also get his shot to earn early playing time this season.

Ohio State is loaded at defensive end with names like Sam Hubbard, Tyquan Lewis, and Nick Bosa. But what Ohio State doesn’t have is a household name at defensive tackle. Season-ending injury to game one start Tracy Sprinkle saw the Buckeyes playing with a number of inexperienced defensive tackles during the 2016 season.

Dre’Mont Jones and Michael Hill stepped up for the most part, but the Buckeyes could use some more talent at the position. Enter incoming freshman and four-star prospect Haskell Garrett, who ESPN ranks as the No. 7 Defensive tackle in the nation in the 2017 class. Garrett comes in as a winner, playing at powerhouse program Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a very well coached player and is stout against the run and pass, and should give the defensive line group some much-needed bulk weighing in at just under 300 pounds.

Urban Meyer is in very good hands with this incoming recruiting class, it has the potential to be the best Meyer has ever brought in when it’s all said and done. With a class this good, the Buckeyes should see a few if not a number of true freshman see the field in 2017.

E-mail Derek at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Is J.T. Barrett Good Enough to Win the Buckeyes a National Championship?

When you’re playing for Ohio State, being simply “good” is not enough. The expectations are to be great, and win national championships. With that being said, does J.T. Barrett truly have what it takes to lead the Buckeyes back to a national championship?

Barrett will leave Columbus owning most, if not every quarterback record in the Ohio State record book, but after the Ohio State offense failed to score a single point during its national semifinal game against Clemson, one has to wonder if the two-time Big Ten quarterback of the year can take his team where it expects to go.

It’s a conversation that will most likely take place all off-season, with Barrett deciding to return next season as a redshirt senior.  If you were to look strictly at the numbers, one could say Ohio State was equipped with one of the better returning quarterbacks in the country.

Barrett truly was one the nation’s best during his redshirt freshman season, (his first as a starter) completing a career best 64.6% of his passes, throwing for 2,834 yards, 34 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. A stat that was very underrated during that season, was the fact that Barrett averaged 9.0 yards a pass attempt, also a career high to this point. The yards per attempt stat shows how effective Barrett was getting the ball down the field during that season, and gives you some hope that with Kevin Wilson taking over, J.T. can once again play at that high level.

The biggest difference between the play of Barrett during that 2014 season and the two seasons that followed in the eyes of most, is the fact that Barrett was under the tutelage of new Texas head coach Tom Herman. Herman has quickly become one of the better offense minds in college football over the past few seasons, and many believe he was a big reason J.T. Barrett, as well as Cardale Jones, played so well during 2014.

The two seasons after saw Barrett splitting time with the aforementioned Jones during 2015, and having a pretty good 2016 regular season only to have everything crash and burn on offense against Clemson in the playoff.

Barrett threw for 2,555 yards during the 2016 campaign with 24 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. He also added 845 yards rushing and 9 more touchdowns on the ground. A big difference from Barrett’s 2014 season is that during the 2016 season he averaged just 6.7 yards per attempt. Sure, a 2.3 yards per attempt dip doesn’t seem like much, but it shows the issues the Buckeyes had stretching the field and getting chunk plays. There are plenty of schools who would love to have a quarterback with those numbers, but at Ohio State expectations are a little different.

Yes, with a 26-4 career record as a starter and a 3-0 record against archrival Michigan, maybe Buckeye faithful should have a little more faith in the quarterback who has accounted for more total touchdowns that any player in Ohio State history. But those numbers are irrelevant if they aren’t accompanied by playoff wins and national championships.

Top-rated 2016 Under Armor All-American Dwayne Haskins has a chance to be a great player for Ohio State one day, and with his upside, a good off-season and more shaky play from Barrett could see the ultra-talented Haskins get his number called sooner rather than later. If Haskins can do the job just as good or better than Barrett and has more upside for the future, why not make his time now?

Whether he has been affected by poor coaching, (which has been addressed in the form of hiring a new offensive mind in Kevin Wilson) way below average play at receiver, or simply the fact that he hasn’t improved from year to year, Barrett will definitely feel the pressure to perform this upcoming season.

E-mail Derek at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @D_woods21.

Photo Credit: Flickr

The Big 10 Will get two Teams in Playoff

The last college football playoff rankings  before championship weekend were released Tuesday night, and the results were pretty much as expected.

After falling to #2 Ohio State in Columbus, Michigan fell from #3 last week to #5. This opened the door for Washington to move into the fourth and final spot in the college football playoff. Alabama obviously remained at #1 after remaining undefeated with a win in the Iron Bowl. Ohio State, after a victory over yet another top-ten opponent remained firmly positioned in its #2 spot, and Clemson moved up from #4 to #3. Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State round out the top-10.

For the Big Ten, the latest CFP rankings give the conference at least a shot to get two teams from one conference in the playoff for the first time since it being instituted a few years ago. With the top two spots nearly locks to remain the same, championship weekend will be huge for teams fighting for the final two spots in the college football playoff. Let’s take a look a couple different scenario’s in which the Big Ten could claim at least one of those final two spots.

With Ohio State almost a lock for the playoff after remaining at #2 in the rankings with no more games to play, the Big Ten will have at least one team in the playoff at this point. The conference then has three more teams, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State, (with the latter two playing for a Big Ten championship) just outside the top four at numbers five, six, and seven respectively.

This is good news for those in Big Ten country, who hope it becomes the first conference to have multiple teams in the playoff. The first scenario that is rather easy to picture is to say the winner of the Big Ten championship game between Wisconsin and Penn State will be the team that will crack the top four first.

Both teams currently sit at 10-2, and would finish as a two-loss conference champion with a win in the Big Ten title game. In a scenario where both Clemson and Washington were to both become conference champions, it would then be an argument between the winner of the Pac-12 in one-loss Washington, against the winner of the Big Ten championship with two losses. In this scenario, it would benefit the Big Ten to have Penn State beat Wisconsin, who would then have wins over two top-ten teams to rival the soft conference schedule of Washington.

Could a two-loss Big Ten champ beat out a one-loss Pac-12 champ for the final playoff spot? For me, it could. The Big Ten has been far an away the best conference in the country all season, with four teams that could match up with most teams in the country. This could aid a two loss Big Ten championship team in trying to beat out a one-loss Pac-12 champion in Washington. Washington will look to throw in some style points while beating the #8 ranked Colorado to avoid any chance at this happening.

The second scenario where the Big Ten could get two teams in the playoff is Washington dropping the Pac-12 title game to Colorado, which is honestly the most likely scenario of them all. If Washington were to fall and Clemson wins the ACC, the final playoff spot would be up for grabs to teams like Michigan, and the winner of the Big Ten championship game between Wisconsin and Penn State.

In this case, the committee would be deciding between a Michigan team with two losses, (that on the field clearly looks like a top-four team in the country) and a two loss Big Ten champ that lost to the Wolverines head to head. If Washington loses, and Penn State wins the Big Ten, you would have Penn State as a Big Ten champion fighting for the final playoff spot with a Michigan team that it lost to 49-10 earlier this season.

How could you then put that Penn State team in the playoff over Michigan regardless of a Big Ten Championship? In my eyes you couldn’t, but to many, the question would then be what’s the significance of even winning your conference? With a Washington loss and a Wisconsin win over Penn State, the argument would also be interesting with Wisconsin losing on the road by seven to Michigan. Who’s to say on a neutral field the Badgers couldn’t have beaten the Wolverines? It’s an argument that could go a number of different ways. Regardless, with a Washington loss, the Big Ten will get two teams in the playoff.

The last scenario to discuss as far the Big Ten crashing the college football playoff, is one in which both Clemson and Washington slip in their respective championship games, which would open the door for possibly three Big Ten teams to enter the playoff. In this case, you could conceivably have Michigan, and the winner of the Big Ten join Ohio State and Alabama in the third edition of the college football playoff. As crazy as it sounds, losses by both Clemson as Washington could see this happen. Michigan, who would have beaten its competition for one of those spots in Pac-12 champ Colorado would surely get in. The Big Ten champion would then most likely go head to head with Colorado for that fourth and final spot.

In the end, we could go on and on with these scenario’s of who will and won’t get in the playoff. But my bold prediction is that the Big Ten will get two teams in the playoff, becoming the first conference to do so in the playoff era.  A Washington loss to Colorado will open the door for #5 Michigan to sneak in the playoff over the Big Ten champ, as the debate will be a head to head win versus a conference champion, and for me you cannot ignore the fact that Michigan beat both Penn State and Wisconsin. Michigan has showed in the field it is a playoff caliber team, this will bode well for the Wolverines as they stake claim to the fourth and final spot in the college football playoff.

 

E-mail Derek at derek [dot] woods [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo Credit :https://flic.kr/p/zSYGZ2

Each Big Ten Contender’s Case to Make the CFB Playoff

It came a little later than expected, but college football fans finally received a chaos-filled Saturday in Week 11, the type of chaos that makes college football so great.

With just two weeks remaining in the regular season, a shake-up within the college football universe was bound to come. Five teams ranked within the top ten fell on Saturday, including three teams who had a grasp on the college football playoff top four in Clemson, Michigan, and Washington.

It was the first time numbers 2, 3, and 4 all fell in the same week in 30 years, and that goes to show just how crazy of a week it was for college football.  The losses within the top four obviously affected the playoff picture nationally, but the Michigan loss was especially important for the Big Ten championship race going forward.

With Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Penn State (who are all ranked within the Top 10 of the CFP Rankings) all vying for the opportunity to play in the Big Ten championship, let’s take a look at each Big Ten contender’s case to make the CFP.

 

# 7. Wisconsin

Remaining schedule- 11/19: At Purdue, 11/26: Vs. Minnesota 

Wisconsin, which currently sports an 8-2 record heading into Week 12 (ranked #7 in the CFP rankings) is the team that currently has the best chance to make the Big Ten championship game at this point. The Badgers are 4-0 in the West division of the Big Ten, and since they already beat Nebraska, Wisconsin has the inside track on the West division title with just two games to play.

That’s good news for Wisconsin, as the Badgers have wins against LSU, at Iowa, Nebraska, and at Northwestern already on their resume.  With a chance to add two more regular season wins as well as a win over Michigan, Penn State, or Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, the Badgers would at least put themselves in the conversation to be included in the college football playoff as a two-loss conference champion.

In a best case scenario, Wisconsin would get either Ohio State or Michigan in the Big Ten championship game, with a chance to avenge one of its two losses on its way to winning the Big Ten. This would give Wisconsin its best possible chance of making the playoff. The Badger defense has carried the team all season long and is ranked in the top ten nationally. To win the Big Ten, the defense will have to carry them to another three victories.

# 8. Penn State

Remaining schedule- 11/19: At Rutgers, 11/26: Vs. Michigan State 

Who would have thought at this point in the season we would be talking about a Top Ten Penn State team having a chance to win a Big Ten championship? Not many.

But with two regular season games to play, that’s exactly the position this Nittany Lions team is in. James Franklin and company are currently ranked number 8 in the CFP rankings. Penn State finishes the season with two very winnable games, with their toughest remaining game at home against a 3-7 Michigan State team.

Penn State’s best wins include home wins over Minnesota, Ohio State, and Iowa, while handling Indiana on the road last Saturday. James Franklin’s team seems to be getting better as the season progresses, with the win over Ohio State breeding even more confidence into a bunch that not many believed in coming into this season.

The problem is, Penn State’s lone loss came at the hands of Michigan. Not only did the Nittany Lions lose, they were manhandled in Ann Arbor in a 49-10 shellacking in late September. But we all know how football is, it’s all about match-ups.

However, if Ohio State were to win out (beating Michigan along the way), Penn State would control its own destiny as far as making the Big Ten title game.

This could very well happen and could lead to Penn State playing Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game. With a win over Wisconsin, the dilemma would then be considering a one-loss Ohio State team with better quality wins but a loss in the head-to-head match up. Penn State has a chance to make the playoff but will need help to get there.

#2. Ohio State

Remaining schedule: 11/19- At Michigan State, 11/26- Vs. Michigan 

Ohio State is in the most difficult position when it comes to winning a Big Ten championship, with the Michigan loss to Iowa putting the Buckeyes in a position where they no longer control their own destiny. The Buckeyes are ranked number 2 in the CFB rankings, but still have to win and play wait-and-see. Even with wins in its final two games, Ohio State still needs a Penn State loss to get into the conference championship game.

The Buckeyes’ résumé includes wins at Oklahoma and Wisconsin and home wins against Northwestern, Nebraska, and Michigan (if they win out). The Buckeyes only loss would be on the road to Penn State by three points in a game that Ohio State controlled for much of the night. That résumé would stack up well against almost any in the country.

The Buckeyes are in a tough spot as far as winning their conference, but will still have a very good chance of making the playoff if they win their remaining two games, one being against #3 Michigan. This may be the season we find out if a non-conference champ can crack the college football playoff.

The worst case scenario for the Buckeyes would be Penn State winning out and winning the conference championship. This would put Ohio State in a position to compete for their spot in the playoff with a team they lost to head to head, although Penn State would have two losses.

The Buckeyes seem to be playing very good football, winning 62-3 in both of their last two games. The Buckyes need to win out and hope for some help.

#3. Michigan

Remaining schedule: 11/19- Vs. Indiana, 11/26- At Ohio State

The Wolverines are the one team from the Big Ten East that controls its own destiny to get to the Big Ten title. But coming off their first loss of the season (as well as the loss of their starting quarterback Wilton Speight to a reported broken collarbone), Harbaugh and company need to pick up the pieces quickly as Indiana comes to town this Saturday before finishing with “The Game” against Ohio State.

Although numerous reports have put Speight on the shelf for the season, head coach Jim Harbaugh is still showing a little gamesmanship by not tipping his hand in a situation that is extremely unfortunate for a team with playoff aspirations.

I’m sure in the end Harbaugh very well knows the status of his quarterback going forward, but that doesn’t mean he has to let everyone else know, particularly Indiana this week. The Wolverines are still in a prime position being ranked third in the latest CFP rankings. But without their starting quarterback, they must hope backup John O’Korn (a transfer from Houston) can handle the job.

The Wolverines must rely on one of the nation’s best defenses to carry the load, and the running game must be able to control the clock while taking pressure off O’Korn.

The Wolverines should handle Indiana at home, but the defining moment of their season will be their trip to Columbus to end the season. Win that game, and the Wolverines have a good chance of winning the Big Ten championship and a spot in the CFP.

E-mail Derek at derek [dot] woods [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo: Penn State, Flickr

Time to Panic? Or Will the Penn State Loss Fuel an Ohio State Playoff run?

With Ohio State nearly a week removed from a shocking three-point loss at the hands of Penn State, the question is simple: Are the Buckeyes not as good as once thought? Or will the loss at the hands of the Nittany Lions fuel a push towards the playoff and a Big Ten title as we head into the home stretch of the Big Ten regular season?

Even after the loss to Penn State, Ohio State still has the ability to say that all of the goals they had before the season are still in front of them. The Buckeyes currently sit at 6-1 (3-1). Harbaugh and the Wolverines now sit atop the Big Ten East with an unblemished record of 7-0 (4-0).

Despite that, the Buckeyes still have a chance to run the table the rest of the way, which would most likely earn Urban Meyer and company a spot in the Big Ten championship game.

That is unless the James Franklin led Nittany Lions were to use the upset over Ohio State to springboard them for the rest of the season, which in a scenario in which both teams were to win out, Penn State would have the tie breaker over the Buckeyes.

Although it is a possibility, Penn State running the table the rest of the way in the Big Ten seems more of a long shot than the Buckeyes winning out, beating Michigan on their way to the Big Ten title game.

In the game against Penn State this past weekend, the Buckeyes gave the game away more than the Nittany Lions took it from them. Ohio State entered the fourth quarter with a two touchdown lead, and if it wasn’t for blunders on special teams (a blocked punt and FG leading to a total of ten points) the Buckeyes would still be amongst the ranks of the undefeated.

Although the Buckeyes clearly were the better team against Penn State, they came away with a loss and plenty of other things to work on as the Buckeyes host Northwestern this Saturday.

When looking for things to work on in order to reach their ultimate goal of winning a Big Ten Championship and reaching the playoff, look no further than the Ohio State passing game.

It was said all offseason how the Buckeyes were working to improve upon the passing attack, which probably cost the Buckeyes a shot at the college football playoff a season ago.

After a week three win at Oklahoma, it seemed as if the Buckeyes had figured out the perfect balance of run and pass. Barrett finished the game with just 152 passing yards but threw for four touchdowns. It looked to be just what the Buckeyes needed from the passing game as Barrett made the throws when he needed to in key moments.

That was, however, against an Oklahoma team that plays in the Big 12 where defense is optional. When you get into the Big Ten, the level of defense improves drastically. That sentiment has been proven as the Buckeyes have struggled mightily in the passing game in their last three outings against Indiana, Wisconsin, and Penn State respectively.

Yes, J.T. Barrett must improve as a passer if Ohio State looks to improve in the passing game. But it’s not all on Barrett to get the passing game out of the gutter.

It starts up front with the offensive line. In the last three games alone, Barrett has been sacked a total of nine times. In the four games prior, he was sacked just two times.

A lot of those sack numbers were accumulated from the game against Penn State, where the Ohio State offensive line was completely outmatched. Ohio State gave up six sacks to the Nittany Lions and allowed pressure on 26 of J.T. Barrett’s 51 drop backs, which in turn means that Barrett was under fire 50% of the time.

For a team with playoff aspirations, this is simply unacceptable. The offensive line must play better if Ohio State wants to stay afloat in the race for a Big Ten championship.

As bad as the offensive line has played, however; the receiving core for Ohio State hasn’t played much better. One thing you notice while watching the Buckeyes receivers so far this season is that they don’t get much separation on their routes.

Over the past three games, it seems as if most times Barrett passes the ball it is to a receiver who is well covered. In those instances, Barrett is basically hoping his receiver can make a play on the ball over the defender, something that is difficult to do on a consistent basis.

The Buckeyes currently have no deep threat at receiver, with Noah Brown, (who is probably the best of the bunch) being more of a possession receiver and none of the other new Buckeye receivers doing anything to show they should be a starter at Ohio State.

One good thing for the Ohio State passing game is that tight end Marcus Baugh seems to be coming along and should give Barrett a much needed reliable target going forward.

The Buckeyes coaching staff must also step up their game as well, with the play calling from week to week being very inconsistent. It is well known that Curtis Samuel is the most dynamic playmaker on the Ohio State offense, with the running of Mike Weber and J.T. Barrett being huge keys as well.

The coaching staff needs to find a balance of getting each of their playmakers, (mainly Samuel and Weber) the touches they need each week. A prime example of this is the fact that Samuel had just two carries against Penn State, one going for a 74-yard touchdown. The week before against Wisconsin, Weber got just eleven carries as the Buckeyes barely escaped Madison with a victory.

If Ohio State wants to improve on offense, it needs to get the ball in the hands of Samuel and Weber as much as possible, and each should receive their fair share of touches each week. Finding a way to make these two players the focal point of the Ohio State offense should be the main concern for the coaching staff going forward.

Like I stated from the beginning, the Buckeyes still have all of their goals in front of them. Ohio State has a good shot to run the table up until the Michigan game the last week of the season, although games against Nebraska, Minnesota, and Michigan State won’t be easy.

It remains to be seen if Ohio State can right the ship on offense. But as of today, it’s time to hit the panic button in Columbus as the Buckeyes look like the inferior team when stacked up against their hated rival Michigan.

 

 

E-mail Derek at derek [dot] woods [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo: https://flic.kr/p/NigqGN

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Michigan at Ohio State for the Big Ten?

Heading into the seventh week of college football season, the Big Ten conference is very well represented in the most recent AP Top 25 Poll. Four teams are ranked in this week’s poll with all four also being ranked inside the top ten.

The two big names from the conference are represented in Ohio State and Michigan, while a gritty Wisconsin team as well as upstart Nebraska round out the Big Ten teams currently ranked.

With that being said, only one team can win the Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are the cream of the crop in the Big Ten, and I expect one of these powers to take home the conference crown.

The schools possess the two best coaches and rosters in the conference by a wide margin. That doesn’t guarantee that one of the two won’t slip up, but let’s make a case for each team to represent the Big Ten as conference champions.

Ohio State

For Ohio State, it’s not a question of the talent on the roster, but whether Meyer could mold this number of inexperienced talent into a Big Ten contender on the fly. With a week three throttling at Oklahoma, the Buckeyes eased most concerns about their inexperience and made a case to be the top team in the country.

Led by veteran quarterback J.T. Barrett, Big Ten rushing leader Mike Weber, and versatile playmaker Curtis Samuel the Ohio State offense has the potential to be great. The rushing game has been just about everything you could ask for so far as Weber has enjoyed a solid first season as a starter to this point. The passing game however may be the weakest aspect of this Ohio State team, one that could haunt them if not corrected.

On defense, ball hawking safety Malik Hooker is tied for the nation’s lead in interceptions with four, and rising cornerback Marshon Lattimore isn’t far off himself with three in his own right.

The Buckeyes truly have a chance to finish as one of the country’s best defenses when it’s all said and done. The combination of pass rushers  at their disposal cobimined with lockdown man defense makes this defense truly scary as their young players will continue to improve as the season progresses.

The schedule that the Buckeyes face the rest of the way however won’t be a cake walk to the Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes travel to Madison this Saturday to take on Wisconsin in a showdown between top 10 teams.

If they can escape that game unscathed, they still play at home against #10 Nebraska, and finish with games at Michigan State and home against rival Michigan.

On Paper, Ohio State is the most talented team in the Big Ten. But games aren’t won on paper, ask the 2015 Buckeyes.  Urban Meyer’s offense relied heavily on the run against Indiana as J.T. Barrett passed for just 93 yards on 9/21 passing. That’s fine when your team can rush for nearly 300 yards.

When Ohio State plays a team like Wisconsin and Michigan that can make them do something else besides simply hand it off they may have issues if the passing game doesn’t get fixed. If it does, their may be no team that can stop the Buckeyes this season.

Michigan 

The Wolverines entered this season with expectations through the roof, as many pundits picked them to win the Big Ten. Ohio State returned just six starters, Michigan State lost key cogs in Connor Cook and Shilique Calhoun, and the rest of the Big Ten was mediocre last season.

The things to like about this Michigan team is its tenacious defense. The Wolverines boast what could be the best cover corner in college football in Jourdan Lewis. Harbaugh and company also have one of the deepest defensive fronts in the nation led by Chris Wormley and Taco Charlton. If Rashan Gary comes into his own even more late in the season, watch out for this Michigan defense.

The offense is led by a three-headed rushing attack which includes true freshman running back Chris Evans, senior De’Veon Smith, and fellow senior Ty Issac. Typical of a Harbaugh coached team, the Wolverines are very physical up front and like to impose their will on teams week in, week out.

The Wolverines also possess one of the most dynamic athletes in the country in Jabrill Peppers. Whether it’s at linebacker, nickel corner, running back, receiver, even special teams, Peppers is all over the field for the Wolverines and makes the team a lot better with him on the field.

https://twitter.com/snmichigan/status/785632315741507584

The weakness in the Wolverines so far is the mediocre play at quarterback from Wilton Speight. As was the case with last season’s Michigan squad, the team lacks an elite quarterback, and counts on him to not lose the game rather than win it.  Later on this season, (most likely against Ohio State) the Wolveines will need plays from their quarterback to get the win, but is Speight a capable option?

Both teams are very good on defense, currently the two top teams in the nation in points per game allowed. The offenses are both run driven, albeit in different ways. What will make the difference when these teams actually play later this season?

The tie-breaker in a very close game come late November will be J.T. Barrett making more plays than Wilton Speight. The Buckeyes take out the Wolverines in a nail biter to send them to the Big Ten championship game.

E-mail Derek at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo: flickr/Slippy Slappy

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Win Over Sooners a Small Piece of the Bigger Picture for Ohio State

As great as the dismantling of Oklahoma in Norman was for the Buckeyes’ psyche, the win was just a small step towards a bigger goal for Ohio State.

Urban Meyer has had  an amazing run so far in his four-plus years as head coach in Columbus. Yet, the three-time national champion has just one Big Ten Championship.

The Buckeyes were banned from postseason play in Meyer’s first year, but still, Ohio State has allowed gritty Michigan State teams to win the Big Ten two out of the last three seasons, while having arguably a much better roster.

Yes, it was great to see Ohio State flex its muscles against a top-15 opponent on the road, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The college football season is a marathon, not a sprint.

At the end of the day, it was a good win against a non-conference opponent. Win or loss, it may not have had much effect on the Buckeyes’ playoff chances. That is, if they handle their business during conference play.

Against the Sooners, Ohio State wreaked of a team that had all the pieces to win the College Football Playoff this season.

The offense was clicking. J.T. Barrett did what J.T. Barrett does, getting the ball in the hands of his playmakers with a chance to make a play. On Saturday, plenty of plays were made.

Barrett finished the game 14-20 with 152 yards and four touchdowns through the air, adding 74 yards on the ground.

The real story of the game for the Ohio State offense was Noah Brown, who hauled in each of the four Barrett touchdown passes, one being the catch of the season so far, which I couldn’t go on without showing.

Brown has established himself in the Ohio State offense as a true possession receiver and red zone threat, a much needed aspect of a potent Buckeye attack. Brown currently leads the FBS with five receiving touchdowns through three contests.

Letting the world know he’s no one trick pony, Brown displayed his route-running ability against the Sooners top cover corner, Jordan Thomas, for another Ohio State touchdown.

With the emergence of Brown, to go along with the game-breaking playmaking ability of Curtis Samuel, the Buckeye offense seems to be in good hands at the skill positions.

Samuel continued to show he is one of the most explosive players in the country, flashing his speed on a crucial fourth and one early on in Saturday’s matchup.

Samuel finished with 98 rushing yards and the touchdown shown above, on just 11 carries against the Sooners.

Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber has also played well, rushing for 123 yards on 18 carries. Weber has tallied 351 yards in his first three games, good for first in the Big Ten.

Weber has yet to receive 20 carries in a game so far this season, and with a heavier workload will come even better production. Weber, (who is averaging 6.5 yards per carry) will surely become a more focal part of the offense as the season wears on and the weather gets cold.

Defense

As for the Ohio State defense, the “Silver Bullets” looked like one of the better defenses the country has to offer. The biggest thing that jumped out on Saturday was the speed of the Ohio State defense.

Safety Malik Hooker and cornerback Marshon Lattimore, (who are tied for the nation-lead in interceptions, with three) both played great games, and the coverage against the Sooners was spectacular.

Along the defensive line, the Buckeyes have four defensive ends that could start for most other schools in the country. When Baker Mayfield made mistakes, he did it under pressure from the Ohio State defensive line.

The combination of  Tyquan Lewis, Sam Hubbard, Jayln Holmes, and Nick Bosa provides a rotation at defensive end that keeps players fresh to rush the passer, while the secondary does their part in the back end.

Raekwon McMillan is one the nation’s best middle linebackers, and it showed as he helped stop the Oklahoma rushing attack led by two great backs in Samaje Perine and Joe Mixson.

The insertion of Jerome Baker at the outside linebacker position, in place of the injured Dante Booker, in my opinion, takes the Buckeye defense to the next level.

Baker is extremely fast and athletic, as seen from 68-yard interception returned for a touchdown in the first half. Baker got his opportunity due to the Booker injury, and flashed as one of the best players on the field finishing with seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and the one interception.

Look for Baker to earn the starting spot for good and to be out there making plays for the Ohio State defense for weeks to come.

The Ohio State defense seems to have all the pieces in place to be dominant. That will help them reach the College Football Playoff.

As good as the Buckeyes looked, I’m still not sold they are going to run roughshod through a Big Ten conference that boasts four teams in the top 12 of the AP poll. The Buckeyes face three of those teams in Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan, with two of those contests on the road.

Yes, the win against Oklahoma should make you feel good about this young Buckeye team, but the Buckeyes very well could have lost at Oklahoma and still made the playoff.

The win gave us confidence about what we can expect down the line from this team as they continue to grow and gain experience. So far, the Buckeyes look like one of the four best teams in the country. The Ohio State season will come down to crucial games during conference play.

 

E-mail Derek at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo: Flickr

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Less Star Power Means More for Ohio State Offense

The 2015 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes could very well have been one of the most talented rosters ever assembled in Columbus. Fitting all those talented pieces together on one field is the hard part.

With NFL draft picks Ezekiel Elliott, Mike Thomas, and Braxton Miller on one offense, you could see there could be a problem with just one football to go around.

What worked so well for the Ohio State offense in the team’s first game of the season against Bowling Green is exactly what derailed last year’s squad. The Buckeyes would force feed touches to its stars at all cost, specifically Elliott. As good an idea as it seemed at the time, this may have been what caused the Buckeye offense to become so stagnant and predictable.

Albeit against an overmatched Bowling Green squad, the Ohio State offense amassed video game numbers in its first contest of the season.

Ohio State had one of its best offensive performances of the Urban Meyer era, putting up 77 points and a school record 776 yards of total offense. No matter who the opponent is, those numbers are ridiculous and is an indicator this Ohio State team can replace some of its losses.

On the Ground

One of the biggest questions coming into this season is how the Buckeyes would replace the 1,800 rushing yards Ezekiel Elliott took with him to the NFL.

Redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber got the first crack at replacing Elliott in the Ohio State backfield, and the first-time starter impressed. Weber ran for 136 yards on 19 carries in his first career start in Ohio Stadium.

Junior H-back, (and probably  the Buckeyes most talented offensive player) Curtis Samuel also chipped in with the running game adding 84 yards on the ground as well.

The best thing about how Weber looked on Saturday, the young back definitely wasn’t afraid of the moment, running with authority on each and every carry.

With the looks of Weber in his first career start, to go along with the dynamic big play ability of Samuel, the Buckeye running game should be just fine this season.

Through the Air

For the Ohio State offense, or any offense to succeed however, there must be consistent effective play from the quarterback. The problem last season was that Ohio state never got that consistency.

The combination of J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones never gained the traction everyone thought would undoubtedly come with the talent on last year’s Ohio State roster.

Part of those struggles in the passing game may have come from trying to force feed the ball to its playmakers. The Ohio State quarterbacks looked to be trying to get certain players the ball in certain spots instead of taking what the defense gave them.

In J.T. Barrett’s first season as a starter, spreading the ball around to different receivers is what made him the Big Ten quarterback of the year. Against the Falcons, Barrett went back to spreading the wealth.

Barrett completed touchdown passes to four different receivers in just the first half and threw for 6 touchdown passes overall.

With new starters at every position within the receiving core, Barrett can focus on reading the defense and not trying to make sure one of his stars is getting the ball.

Barrett had a historic day on Saturday, and a lot of that can be attributed to the way he led the offense, distributing the ball to near perfection.

As crazy as it may sound, less star power will lead to a better offense for the 2016 Ohio State Buckeyes.

Email Derek at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo: Flickr

J.T. Barrett Must Contend for Heisman for Ohio State to Reach Playoff

The 2016 Ohio State Buckeyes will be young…very young. That being said, they do return redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett at what is essentially the most important position in football.

Ohio State finished the 2015 season 12-1, a disappointing season in the eyes of many with future NFL talent all over the roster. Urban Meyer and company enter the 2016 season ranked 6th in the first AP Poll. For a team that returns just six starters, (three on each side of the ball) that is a higher ranking than most expected.

One thing you can say however is that we’ve seen a young Ohio State team mature right in front of our eyes before. A prime example coming during the 2014 season where a team many thought was a season away from making noise in the playoff picture turned into the best team in the country on the way to a national championship.

To expect this year’s Ohio State squad to replicate that feat is unreasonable, but the blueprint is there. If Ohio State expects to win a Big Ten championship and a birth in this years college football playoff, it will be on the back of two-time team captain J.T. Barrett.

Barrett started off slow in his first season as the starter at Ohio State. A 9-29, three interception performance at home against Virginia Tech in the second game of the 2014 season sent Buckeye nation into a frenzy. The “we miss Braxton Miller” chants couldn’t have been louder after that game. Little did we know, Barrett would soon quiet those naysayers and then some.

Barrett finished that season with 45 total touchdowns (34 passing, 11 rushing). He also accumulated nearly 3,800 yards of total offense. Those numbers earned him Big Ten quarterback of the year as well as fifth place in the Heisman voting.

With an offense in 2016 that will feature new starters at every skill position around him, it is essential Barrett to help carry the load while the inexperienced players gain their footing.

As good as Barrett was in 2014 before a broken leg ended his season in the regular season finale against Michigan, he was just as bad at times during the 2015 campaign. Barrett did however split time with Cardale Jones as the starting quarterback during for the majority of last season.

The back and forth with Jones admittedly got in Barrett’s head, and it showed in his play as the Ohio State passing game never reached the levels it did during 2014.

Barrett had four games with over 300 yards passing during the 2014 season. The Buckeyes had zero such games by either starting quarterback the entire 2015 season. If Ohio State wants to have any chance to win the Big Ten in 2016, the passing game must improve drastically from a season ago.

A balanced attack will also lighten the pressure on redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber, who is tabbed with replacing the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft Ezekiel Elliott. That’s a ton of pressure on a kid who’s never played a down of live action at the college level. The Buckeyes will not be able to rely on the running game and defense that carried them last season, at least early on.

Although the Buckeye offense will break in eight new starters, having J.T. Barrett and the experience/leadership that comes with him will no doubt speed up the learning curve for those around him. With three new starters in the secondary to go along with two new linebackers, the Buckeye defense may need even more time to gel.

If Barrett and the Ohio State offense can afford the defense that time to find its identity by scoring points in bunches, you could be looking at a dangerous team come the latter part of the season.

Barrett very well may have a good year this season, but good may not be good enough. The Jim Harbaugh-led Michigan Wolverines, (#7) as well as the Michigan State Spartans (#12) will be huge tests in Big Ten West. A week three match-up with #3 Oklahoma on the road also looms for the Buckeyes.

For Ohio State to pull off those wins, Barrett must show the accuracy and confidence he did in his first season as the starter. Michigan may have one of the best defenses in the country on paper, so Barrett’s play will most likely be paramount to a victory in that match-up.

Michigan State prides itself on physical defense, and the fact that Barrett played so poorly against Sparty a year ago in Ohio State’s lone loss makes that matchup even more important this season.

The Oklahoma match up leaves more room for error being an out of conference game on the road. But the country will be watching, and it will be a good chance for Barrett to show he can return to the player he once was. Playing against a high-flying Oklahoma offense led by Heisman candidate Baker Mayfield, Barrett and the Buckeye offense may need to put on a show to stay in that contest.

It’s pretty simple, for Ohio State to have a chance to get where they want to go this season, J.T. Barrett will have to have a not good, but great season. A season that will lead him to New York as a Heisman finalists.

E-mail Derek at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @D_Woods21.

Photo: MGoBlog/Flickr.