Sunday, March 08, 2015

Basketball, Wisconsin, and the Birth of the Buckeye "Nuthouse"

The Ohio State University is not, has never been, and will never be a basketball school. It's not that the school doesn't have a rich basketball history; the BasketBucks have won a national championship (1960), finished runners-up four times (1939, 1961, 1962, 2007), and made the Final Four an additional five times (including one vacated appearance). But Ohio State basketball isn't a top-5 elite level program like the football team is, and so it's had to be content chugging along in the shadow of Ohio Stadium.

The turn of the century was a particularly bleak era for the basketball Buckeyes. The team's 1999 Final Four run had been wiped out because of illegal benefits paid to player Boban Savovic, leaving the team without an official NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992's Elite Eight loss to Michigan. After Tressel's football team defeated Miami for the 2002 national title, it looked like basketball would forever be an afterthought at Ohio State.

Nowhere was this more visible than in the atmospheres within Ohio Stadium and Value City Arena. Down on the east bank of the Oletangy, the roar of the crowd on Saturday afternoons could be heard for miles around, shaking the composure of opposing QBs as they fruitlessly tried to direct their offenses. The Best Damn Band in the Land and Block O worked tirelessly in conjunction to whip 105,000 strong into a constant frenzy. Meanwhile, across the river, the Schottenstein Center, America's latest soulless pro arena clone, hosted the day's tepid half-capacity crowd as they reclined on their hands and watched the Buckeye cagers stumble through another mediocre campaign. The band's valiant attempts to rally the crowd were only with the echoes of their voices off the wall as the fans slept on and the "Buckeye Nuthouse" student section looked on in puzzlement.

I arrived on campus at the same time as the man who set in motion a change for the better, head coach Thad Matta. Though the Buckeyes were ineligible for the tournament during his first season because of self-imposed sanctions, Matta led the team to a respectable 20-win season and a home finale victory over the #1 and previously undefeated Illinois Fighting Illini. Then they won a B1G title the following season, and worked up to a #1 ranking of their own in 2007. But while the success was there, the excitement still lagged. The Athletic Band used to have a policy that required members to perform for a certain schedule of events, but allowed them to attend and perform at any additional basketball or hockey games they wanted. Even so, few members took advantage of this policy, even to see the #1 ranked men's basketball team play without having to buy a ticket. The crowd exhibited no coherence: the band and the Nuthouse would start competing cheers, with neither knowing what the other was doing, while the regular attendees paid little attention to either, taking their cues from the cheerleaders (the quietest of the three groups).

It took a visit from the hated Wisconsin Badgers to finally change the mood for the better. The #1/#2 ranked Badgers, one of only 3 teams to beat OSU in 2006-07, were in town to face the #2/#1 ranked Buckeyes, and the Schott was packed and rocking. Band members who normally spent time between songs in idle conversation were now glued to the action and attuned to the passions of the crowd. The Nuthouse was full of empty seats, but only because the filled-to-capacity student section refused to sit for even a minute. The rally towels placed on every seat pregame could've powered the scoreboard with all the attempted distractions the fans aimed at the Badgers. And most importantly, the disparate groups listened to and communicated with one another. The students finally figured out what the hell "Cheer 1" was and where the O, H, I, and O were supposed to go. The guy with the giant foam cowboy hat led the band in "Defense" and "Let's Go, Buckeyes" and even "Hey, Bucks, Come on Down" in flawless conjunction with the flow of the game action. And the cheerleaders took cues from and fed cheers to both. 40 minutes later, Michael Conley hit a beautiful teardrop jumper to lead Ohio State to a 49-48 win and their second consecutive outright B1G championship.

The culture of winning would remain, but the era of fan pride had just begun. By the time the next season started, the athletic department had designed a more exciting game introduction experience, although with the band's performance of "Across the Field" and "Buckeye Battle Cry" still providing the backbone from their new courtside seats. Today, the Nuthouse is as energetic and stimulating as any student section in the nation, including Ohio Stadium's beloved Block O. THE Ohio State University may still be a football school, but one visit from the Wisconsin Badgers closed the gap considerably between the school's two premier sports. Let's hope that a big win today can push the basketball experience even farther forward.

GO, OHIO! BEAT THE BADGERS!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Three-Body Problem: Ohio State's QB Dilemma

At this point in 2014, Buckeye Nation was frustrated after another tough loss, during which Braxton came up just short for the second straight game. But with Kenny Guiton graduating, it seemed like Ohio State's QB situation was clear: Braxton would make another run at the Heisman and the inaugural College Football Playoff his senior year, and then the job would go to the untested Cardale "They Don't Even Let Me Throw in Garbage Time" Jones.

Fast forward to now, where presumptive 3rd string QB Cardale "I Ain't Come to Play in College Stadiums" Jones, fresh off a national championship, announces that he's come to play school for at least one more year. The guy he replaced, JT Barrett, finished 5th in the Heisman voting after starting for the majority of his freshman year. And the smoke signals coming from Braxton's camp seem to point to his return as well. With such an embarrassment of riches at QB, to whom should Urban turn on Labor Day in Blacksburg?

Question 1: Who Starts for the Buckeyes in 2015, and Who's #2?
Draper:  I'm going to focus on who I would start.  Trying to predict Urban is incredibly hard because of his deep love for Braxton.  In my mind, the edge goes to JT Barrett.  I'm an unabashed fan of the skill set of JT who I think is the best quarterback on the roster.  But herein lies the problem: Does the choice go to:
a) The best QB/passer? JT
b) The best athlete? Braxton
c) The best NFL body with (arguably) the highest ceiling? Cardale
Some say this is a great problem to have, and I'd prefer this to having no QBs, but it is called a problem for a reason.  I lean to JT in the front if he's healthy with Cardale nipping at his heels.  I don't think Braxton has the arm ability to succeed at the next level. He has more explosive play ability but the best QBs in any league must be competent in the pocket.  Cardale shined against some tough defenses, but let's be honest with ourselves, Zeke was the key.  Don't take everything away from Mr. Jones, but the 12-gauge chucked it deep and it worked.  I saw a few nice throws that were far better than anything I'd seen in the short history of Cardale Jones, but not enough to hand the keys to the car.  Cardale finished the run, but there is NO WAY we are there without JT. Give me the best passer with the best football mind.  Give me JT Barrett.
Hoying: Urban loves Braxton. Let's not forget that in Evanston in 2013, after Kenny G had proved in September that he could be the man to lead Ohio State, and Braxton had already turned it over 3 times to Northwestern, Urban stuck with his guy to pull out the win. Braxton, not Hyde, got the ball on 4th-and-1 against Michigan State. And Braxton, even though obviously hurt, was the man Urban trusted to produce some endgame magic during the Orange Bowl collapse. This season, even after JT produced record-breaking numbers against Cincinnati, Urban reiterated that Braxton would be the man in 2015. How does Urban sit a 2-year Heisman contender and 2-time B1G Offensive POY?
Then Barrett set the single-season touchdown record, surpassing some guy named TROY SMITH who had a pretty good career at OSU. He was the All-B1G QB and finished 5th in the Heisman voting despite missing the last game and a half of the season due to injury. How does Urban sit the guy who willed this team to road wins against Penn State and Michigan State and shredded the record books along the way?
Cardale's record speaks for itself. 3 games against 3 of the top defenses in the country, 3 huge wins. Zero INTs that were his fault (though the fumbles against Oregon were horrendous). How does Urban sit the champ?
From where I'm sitting, I can't see a reason for Urban to stick with Braxton anymore. JT throws a prettier ball and keeps his eyes downfield while buying time in or out of the pocket. As for the ground game, it seemed like every single down this year, we had to listen to announcers say "JT isn't the running threat that Braxton Miller is, but he can still make some things happen." Poppycock. In 2012, Braxton rushed for 1271 yards, 5.6 YPC, and 13 TDs. This year, JT rushed for 938 yards, 5.5 YPC, and 11 TDs. JT can run as much as Braxton does, and while he doesn't quite have Braxton's escapability, he has the vision to avoid big hits and can actually absorb a couple without shattering (unless a lineman sits on his ankle). Furthermore, the guy DOES NOT misread the zone read. He runs Braxton's offense better than Braxton does, and he did it as a freshman. Anyone remember Braxton as a freshman?
That just leaves Cardale. JT was stunning this season, but he didn't face Wisconsin, Alabama, and Oregon. JT's first 3 starts were an uneven struggle against an OK Navy defense, a disaster against Virginia Tech (behind an awful O-line), and...pick your score against Kent State. Cardale's resume was impressive, but can we really say any of those victories was because of Cardale's efforts? His TD passes set the tone against Wisconsin, but the defense pitched a shutout, the receivers bailed him out on a couple of throws, and Zeke was crushing their spirits by the end. The Sugar Bowl was his shining moment, with 12 Gauge picking up 3rd and long after 3rd and long and rolling the Tide's LBs beneath his gargantuan frame. And the National Championship clearly belonged to Zeke and the Silver Bullets, though Cardale didn't stand in their way. Who was more impressive: JT against Michigan State or Cardale against Alabama? Hard to say.
I think the tiebreaker lies in Urban's system. Urban loves the zone read, and as previously mentioned, JT runs it perfectly. Cardale is an NFL-type QB, and he'll be playing on Sunday's, but Urban's not going to completely remake his offense around one of his QB options, just to switch it back after Cardale leaves next year. Depending on how fast the offense learns and how quickly the new starters jell together in the offseason, we may see a two QB system next year, just to give opposing defenses even more fits. BUT, during their first drive down the field, the men of the scarlet and gray will be led by...

1. JT Barrett, backed up by
2. Cardale Jones.
3. Braxton Miller...will be gone

Seeberg:  First off, I would like to think that this will be a non-issue.  I believe newly minted offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and his co-coordinator Tim Beck should spend months devising a passing version of the triple option in which all three are in the backfield simultaneously.  It would be literally indefensible.  Short of that?  As absurd as this statement would have been just two months ago, 12-Gauge may have the inside track at the moment.  He is still the least proven of the three and his numbers are actually not as good in terms of QBR as either Braxton or J.T.  That said, he went up against three top 15 teams (which accounts for his lower QBR rating) and still beat them all.  Further, Miller and J.T. will both still be rehabbing during spring ball which means Cardale gets another month of first-team reps to continue to get acclimated and improve.

Assuming all three are in the scarlet and gray, healthy for summer ball and it is a truly "open" competition, I have to give the edge to Cardale.  My gut, however, tells me that Urban has a soft spot for Braxton and the job will still be his come opening day if he is healthy and performs well enough during the summer.  In either case, I believe the opposite guy will be #2 (Braxton under Cardale or vice versa).  J.T. Barrett and his B1G record for TDs responsible for in a season?  Third-stringer.  I know it's cliche, but it really is a pretty nice problem to have.

Question 2: What Should Braxton Miller Do?
Draper: I didn't mention my thoughts above, but the second Cardale said he was returning to play school, I tweeted #byeBraxton.  There's only one reason to stay and that is that his style of football matches Urban's philosophy to a T.  Even though OSU is the best fit for Braxton, I don't think the best fit for OSU is Braxton.  If he transfers, he can take over the reins of another program in which he can flourish rather than being mired in a QB battle.  He has served the university well and should be lauded for what he has done, but JT and Cardale seem to have a better future in college and the pros in my opinion.  The injury issue with Braxton cannot be overlooked with the glut of talent.  You need to have faith that your guy can stand in and take a hit.  I don't think he can do that.  Earlier in the season, there was chatter about him taking over the RB duties...but no way that's happening with Zeke exploding on the scene.  I wish him well, but I think he'd be best served taking his talents elsewhere.  FSU is a possibility, but I don't know if he fits Jimbo's pro style system.  It would be good for him to refine his skills in an attempt to make the NFL but would the Noles want him? Oregon is a nice fit, but little room to grow.  To step into a ready made position, Houston seems like a perfect fit with Tom Herman, but clearly, the chance for a title is essentially zero.  I'm guessing he goes to Eugene or Tallahassee...who knows? Maybe we'll meet again.
Hoying: As I said above, I don't see a compelling reason for Urban to start Braxton over JT Barrett. One could make a case for him at #2 ahead of Cardale, but should a QB of Braxton's caliber be content to ride the pine his senior season? No. Braxton's still not NFL ready (and he missed the deadline), so he needs to transfer. He won't find a program that's a better fit than Urban's spread, but he may be able to develop some new skills that can impress NFL scouts and maybe even chase a title along the way. Oregon would be a good option if he doesn't want to be touched by opposing defenses. Baylor might be a good choice if he really wants to develop his passing game (though I don't think it's really his style). Anyone who saw Sean Maguire stumble his way to a victory against Clemson knows that FSU would love a good QB to replace Jameis Winston, and playing under the coaches who trained the overall #1 draft pick is very tempting. But FSU doesn't really run their QBs either. Perhaps Auburn could use a replacement for Nick Marshall. Perhaps (vomit) Nebraska needs a better version of Tommy Armstrong to start Mike Riley's tenure with a bang. Wisconsin (projectile vomit) is sitting on zero QBs, as always. The possibilities are endless for Braxton if he leaves, very limited if he returns to Columbus.
Seeberg:  The rumors swirling around Braxton Miller's final campaign started well before this season was in the books and they are likely to intensify in the coming weeks.  More often than not, however, the signs have pointed to him returning to Columbus.  Why, you may ask?  It can be pretty successfully argued that both J.T. and Cardale are better passers than Braxton.  All three have capable arms, but J.T. seems to be a bit more accurate on short-to-intermediate throws while Cardale and his I-can-throw-it-through-the-uprights-from-midfield-while-kneeling arm has phenomenal touch on the deep passes, a skill Braxton has yet to master as he often overshoots them.  Despite these observations, Braxton is the incumbent, and, I believe, the favorite of the head man, Saint Urban of Ashtabula.  If he is to return to the 614, it is not without reason as he would be virtually guaranteed the starting job at FSU or Oregon a la Russell Wilson being borrowed by Wiscy for one season.  Publicly, an open competition has been spoken of, but something tells me Braxton has the inside track, and if that's the case, he should return to the 'Shoe.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Grading the Bucks--CFP Championship: Oregon

Offense: B+
What a run (and we saw a lot of that in the championship game).  Ezekiel Elliot proved he was a grown a$$ man and took care of the completely overmatched Oregon defense.  While I think Zeke was the absolute key, it's hard to say he was the only key.  The O-line was fantastic, Cardale was a bulldozer and made a few key throws (great pass to Marshall over the middle), the WR did their job (nice hockey stop Thomas)...it was a complete domination of the offense....but.... I said before the game, turnovers will be key.  Luckily, they weren't because the Bucks couldn't hang on the ball.  That's really the only negative.  Beastly performance in which the buzzword of 'physicality' is actually apropos.

Defense: A-
With all those turnovers, the defense stepped up in a BIG way.  There was some nervousness after the first drive that seemed exceedingly easy for the Heisman winner.  After that, they did NOTHING.  The biggest detractor to the defense was the Buckeye offense who continually challenged the defense with giving the ball back.  They stepped up each and every time.  The biggest moment was after the invisible defender caused the Cardale fumble in the redzone.  Backed up with a four point lead, the Bucks became Bullets.  Eli Apple made (arguably) the play of the game to push the TE out of the endzone on 3rd and goal.  If Oregon takes the lead, momentum is huge, but this defense answered the Bell (see what I did there) time and time again.  Big 4th and goal stop, holding the Ducks to an atrocious 3rd down percentage by forcing them into 3rd and long; what a transition we've seen on this side of the ball since September.

Special Teams: B+
Eh....didn't really need these guys.  They did their job.  I love that we kicked it into the endzone on kick offs most of the time.  Can't really say much with the limited amount of kicks, but overall solid.

Coaching: A
Masterful.  This team was fired up and wasn't to be denied.  The decision to go for it on 4th and short on our side of the field was great.  I love the call in that situation.  Urban had his finger on the pulse of his team and went for the gold.  After the first drive or two, the gameplan was simplified to what worked...give it to Zeke.  They can't stop it.  I would have preferred the Buckeyes have gone for it on 4th late in the game, but the coaches pretty much knew the game was over at that point.  Let's be clear: the decision to go in the 3rd was the right decision regardless of the outcome.  I applaud the coaches for making the 'tough' decision.  You play to win the game.
Also, some are knocking Urban for scoring another TD at the end...come on.  This is Oregon, not the Little Sisters of the Poor.  Stop us or shut up.  If he ran a double pass, that's one thing.  Simple dive plays, that's football.

Overall: A+
National Champions.  Feels good.  Win this and it's an auto A+.  Fantastic year Bucks.  What a ride! Let's do it again next year!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF CHAMPIONSHIP - BUCKS VS. DUCKS

Final Post-Bowl Standings
1) Hoying               52-24    (4-11 upset)
2) Draper                50-26    (7-8 upset)
2) Schweinfurth     50-26    (6-9 upset)
4) Seeberg              49-27    (2-13 upset)

Oregon Ducks vs. THE Ohio State University Buckeyes
Draper: This Buckeye team has improved since day one.  One thing I know is that they are unafraid of anything.  They fought the big, bad SEC and took care of business behind the stellar running of Ezekiel Elliot.  The Ducks took care of FSU in what appeared to be stunning fashion, but the scoreboard lies.  The game was close until FSU threw in the towel late.  Mariota has the tools to be a college superstar...but so does Elliot, Smith, Thomas, Marshall, and (maybe) even Jones.  The Buckeyes are facing a mirror of themselves with a key difference...the Bucks have the superior defense (something that hasn't been said about the Urban Meyer Buckeyes very often).  Darron Lee has matured as the season has progressed into a defensive star and that D-line is something of beauty.  The Ducks have been so close in the recent past that I'm sure they will throw caution to the wind but the Buckeyes simply match up better.  Expect a shootout like every sane person, but the OSU defense will get the key stop that will swing the course of the game.  Here's the key for the Buckeye offense: Step 1) minimize/eliminate turnovers, then step 2).... then Step 3) Profit.  This is what we've waited for.  Make it count.  Last game of the year, Brent.  GO BUCKS! BEAT THE DUCKS! Ore: 41--OSU: 48
Hoying: Before bowl season began, I wasn't sure who would win either of the playoff semifinals, but I was pretty sure that whoever won the Sugar Bowl would walk away with the title. After watching the games on New Year's, nothing's changed in my estimation. Ohio State is a nightmare matchup for the Ducks. Not only can our beloved Bucks score just as fast and efficiently if need be (hello, Devin Smith and Ezekiel Elliott), but we bring a power element on both sides of the ball that the Ducks just don't have. Perhaps it's unfair to say the Ducks are still a finesse team, but after seeing the way Cardale was bulldozing Alabama defenders and dragging them out of the endzone three at a time, I think even Wisconsin and Minnesota would start to look a little dainty in comparison. Bosa, Bennett, & Co. should be able to make a big play or two when needed. Even if they can't take Mariota Kart down, they might be able to force a catastrophic decision. Florida State's pedestrian secondary came up with a pick against this guy; maybe he is human after all. We can't afford any late-game breakdowns like we've seen in...virtually every game from Penn State onward, but this is the last game of the year, Brent. Can't hold anything back now. Bucks over Ducks for the 9th time in a row, and the glorious golden lipstick makes its first stop in the STATE OF OHIO! Ore: 31--OSU: 42
Schweinfurth: This Buckeye team has been so much fun to watch this year.  I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Zeke pound the ball and the development of the defense lead by Bosa and Lee.  The underdog role just fits this team perfectly.  Everyone says that Ohio State is a mirror of Oregon, but that isn't the case.  Ohio State pounds the ball first and throws later right now.  There is no reason to think that formula can't work this week. The two suspensions the last few games show that Oregon has a lack of focus and to me, are taking the Bucks lightly.  This defense is built to stop an attack like Oregon, and they will.  This Ohio State team is loose and ready to go.  Urban does not lose at Ohio State as an underdog.  Finish the Chase young men!  Everyone knows the best way to hunt Ducks is with a 12 Gauge.  The Chase for 8 is complete! Ore: 34--OSU: 52
Seeberg:  Alright people, we know what we've gotten ourselves into here.  This game is likely to be a shootout.  In a game where stops will be at a premium, I don't know whose D to trust more.  The Silver Bullets have been roundly praised for their effort against Alabama- except there was still a "35" on the opponents' scoreboard.  Tressel would have had heart failure seeing that number of TOTAL points.  Granted two of those TDs came on short fields as the result of turnovers, but Mariota and Co. are even more likely to capitalize on such mistakes should they occur.  Speaking of those mistakes, neither team is particularly turnover prone, but both are in the top 10 in turnovers forced (Oregon with 30 is number ten, OSU with 32 is number six).  The Ducks, however, lead the country in turnover margin thanks to Mariota throwing a pick about once every other year.  Then again, in somewhat of a reprieve for our secondary, two of the Ducks' top three wideouts are gone due to injury and the ganja, meaning it will be tougher for Mariota to exploit any weaknesses.  Basically, it is very easy to make a very solid case for either team to win this game.  At the midseason point, I took Oregon to win the title because I felt they were about a head above everybody else.  Our beloved Buckeyes have closed that gap to just a few hairs with one of most phenomenally improved football teams I can remember seeing.  I trust Urban Meyer far more than I trust Helfrich, but unfortunately for the Buckeyes it ain't the x's and o's it's the Jimmys and the Joes.  Marcus Mariota is the best JimmyJoe on the field and a marvelous season for the Bucks falls just short.  Ore: 44--OSU: 38

10 Reasons Why Ohio State Beats Oregon

1. Unlimited...POWER!

The Braxton Miller/Carlos Hyde combo might have been the best Buckeye rush attack since Cornelius Green and Archie Griffin. However, even after losing them both, the OSU rush attack hasn't suffered, racking up over 260 yards per game. And they've done it against such sledgehammer fronts as:
#1 Michigan State (88 YPG)
#3 Penn State (100 YPG)
#4 Alabama (102 YPG)
#15 Michigan (118 YPG)
#23 Wisconsin (126 YPG)
This isn't all on Jalin Marshall end-around sweeps, either. Ezekiel Elliott has the power to blow through the line and the speed to put defenders behind him once he dashes into the secondary. And he's been at his best since JT Barrett went down, going for 220 against Wisconsin and 230 against Alabama. Meanwhile, Cardale Jones decided to jump-start Ohio State's fading second quarter offense by seeking out Alabama linebackers to run over, sending a few of them off the field with injuries. Oregon's run defense isn't terrible (156 YPG, #51 in D1-A), but does anyone expect those spindly LBs and DBs to be a physical match for the bash brothers?

2. Upset City

Shortly after the conclusion of the Sugar Bowl, Vegas opened the championship game betting, giving 7 points to the Buckeyes. The line has come down to about -5 Oregon by this point, but seeing as how the favorite hasn't flipped, Duck fans should be nervous. Why? Since Urban Meyer came to Ohio State, his Buckeyes have been underdogs 5 times: this year against Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Alabama; and two years ago against Michigan State and Wisconsin (again). None of those predicted Buckeye losses came to fruition. No one motivates his team like Urban does, and this is just the extra fuel on the fire Oregon doesn't need.

3. Addition and Subtraction

In East Lansing, during what was then the climax of the Buckeye season, Dontre Wilson broke his foot. It didn't stop him from scoring a terrific touchdown, but the do-it-all wunderkind hasn't gained a yard for the Bucks since. Jalin Marshall has been a more than adequate replacement, single-handedly delivering the Buckeyes from a potentially devastating home loss against Indiana and playing a crucial role in extending several drives against Alabama. But now, Oregon will have to prepare for BOTH of them, including the possibility that both could see the field at the same time. On the other sideline, Oregon's WR corps is becoming more depleted by the day. Their leading Rose Bowl receiver, Darren Carrington, was gonna play, but then he got high; and their leading TD receiver on the season, Devon Allen, was injured early in the Rose Bowl and won't see the field. The Ducks are no stranger to injury on the season, but they can ill afford the loss of key personnel against their toughest opponent on the year.

4. Tradition

Nothing excites the college football fan base like a matchup of two of the sport's blue bloods pitting centuries of tradition against each other. This...is not one of those games. Ohio State is one of 8 programs with with a 70+ winning percentage and has won 7 national championships dating from WWII to the BCS era. Oregon has won less than 60% of its games and has NO national titles to its name. The Ducks have only sniffed a  championship once in their 120 year history, falling to Auburn on a last second field goal in 2011. The Ducks run a gimmick offense and wear gimmick uniforms; particularly egregious are their upcoming abominations that feature NEITHER of their school colors. Ohio State is Script Ohio, Gold Pants, an ancient concrete stadium that looks like the Roman Colosseum, and the 10-Year-War. Oregon is...brought to you by Phil Knight. Of course, the most important tradition is winning, and the Ducks have put together 7 consecutive 10+ win seasons, but Ohio State has been in the title hunt year after year after year, and they've shown they can handle success on the highest level. Oh, and these teams have met often enough to establish a tradition of their own: once in Eugene, five times in Columbus, and twice in the Rose Bowl. Eight games, eight Buckeye victories.

5. Flip the Field

In the unthinkable event that one of these offenses is actually forced into fourth down and leaves the field, who has the advantage? Both teams have freshman placekickers, and while Neurnberger has been a bit inconsistent, the Ducks haven't even attempted a field goal past 42 yards. What if the offense stalls on its own side of the field? Oregon P Ian Wheeler is averaging 39 yards/punt, placing 10/41 punts inside the 20, but Ohio State's Cameron Johnston averages 45 yards, while still putting 24/73 punts inside the 20, including a few that appeared to scrape the goal line paint and jump backwards. If, somehow, the projected shootout turns out to be a Tresselesque defensive struggle, you can bet The Vest will be smiling at the booming punts flipping the field for the Scarlet and Gray.

6. Weathering the Storm

The Buckeyes are quite intimate with adversity this season, from the preseason injury to practical Heisman finalist lock Braxton Miller to the late season injury to practical Heisman finalist lock JT Barrett. After a series of embarrassing losses on September 6th, various idiots around the nation read the eulogy not just for the Bucks' 2014 season, but the entire B1G's. On a micro scale, OSU has found itself behind the 8-ball in a number of games this season, from trailing in their season-opening half against Navy, to dropping behind early by 14 against Virginia Tech, to struggling all first half long in a nightmare East Lansing environment,  to trailing their hapless rival even into the 2nd half, to finding themselves behind 21-6 to the #1 team in the country. But on each of these occasions, this team found a way to fight back, folding only once to a team with a brilliant game plan designed to take advantage of this team's considerable youth. September feels like a long time ago, and though this team continues to make mistake after mistake and dig hole after hole, they don't have an ounce of quit in them. Florida State showed that mistakes can doom a team against the Ducks, but the Noles were still in the game for 2 1/2 quarters, until they gave up. Don't expect this squad to do the same.

7. Under Pressure

The Pac-12 season didn't start off so rosy for the Ducks, as they squeaked out a 7 point win over terrible Washington State and then folded to Arizona at home. What was the secret of their lack of success? A horizontal quarterback. The Cougars managed to sack Mariota 7 times, and the Wildcats were able to add 5 more even from a 3-3-5 scheme. Oregon has since righted the ship after the return of LT Jake Fisher, allowing only 17 sacks in its other 12 games, but they haven't seen a D-line like Ohio State's. The Silver Cannonballs sit at 12th in the nation in sacks, led by Joey ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, who's sitting on 13.5 sacks and hungry to sit on a few more. A couple of these might put Oregon into yardage sufficiently long to end a drive or two.

8. Getting Better All the Time

For the last couple of months, I've struggled to analogize this team to past OSU greats. After the Virginia Tech debacle, I feared another 2011, where a brand new QB and unproven RB struggled and a so-so defense let us down when we needed them most. After a couple of impressive wins over subpar competition, I thought they could be like the 2000 squad, with a QB nobody wanted to start, a decent running back, and a defense that could get us close to a B1G title, but not quite there. Then the legend of JT Barrett continued to grow and I began to have visions of 2007, with a terrific QB no one saw coming, hampered by a subpar O-line. Then the line started to jell, the receivers started to make plays, and the secondary picked off everything thrown their way; the 2006 juggernaut seemed more like the appropriate comparison. Every time I think I have this team pegged, they go above and beyond expectations. How should I think of them after the 59-0 dismantling of Wisconsin and a win over #1? 1998? 1996? 2010? 2002? True, the dream of undefeated died a long time ago, but I've never seen a team improve so much over the course of one season. And I don't think we've seen their best performance yet.

9. Heisman Revenge Tour

Marcus Mariota, Marcus Mariota, Marcus Mariota. No one player dominates the conversation leading up to this game like this year's Heisman winner, and rightfully so. However, the Buckeyes have run into a few Heisman contenders so far this season, and these difference-makers didn't make much of a difference against the Silver Bullets. D1-A's leading rusher, Melvin Gordon, racked up all of 76 yards on 26 carries, well below his season averages of 184 YPG and 7.5 YPC. Alabama's Amari Cooper did catch 2 TDs against the Buckeye secondary, but neither was longer than 15 yards, and Cooper was limited to 9 catches for 71 yards overall. Mariota wasn't at his best in the Rose Bowl, but he was effective. It's time for the Heisman curse to finish him off, at the hands of the Scarlet and Gray.

10. Coaching

Mark Helfrich has done a terrific job in his first two years as head man at Oregon, compiling an absurd 24-3 record and masterminding one of the nation's top two offenses (alongside Baylor's). However, Urban just went head-to-head with the nation's leader in national titles, the Devil himself, and outschemed him for another huge victory. This is nothing new for Urban, of course. He crashed the big boy BCS party with his undefeated Utes (back when it was hard to do so) and later created the fiction of SEC dominance by destroying Tressel's Buckeyes in the desert on January 8, 2007, adding another national championship a mere 2 years later for good measure. Despite what some boneheaded Buckeye fans believe, Meyer hasn't slowed his pace since coming to Ohio State, immediately reshaping the personnel from a 6-7 disappointment into 12-0 perfection, even though they had nothing to play for, and elevating each subsequent team to a higher and higher level. Helfrich is a fine coach, but Urban is first-class. If I were Helfrich, I'd be having trouble sleeping this weekend, distraught by the thought of having Urban's full attention for 11 days. 

Friday, January 09, 2015

Grading the Bucks--The Sugar Bowl: Bama

I'll be honest with you, I should have done this earlier.  I don't remember all the finer points of the game a week later but I'll give it a whirl.

Offense: A-
Can't say enough about Zeke and the O-line.  Immediately postgame, Mr. Hoying and I talked about how we may have actually seen an upgrade at the running back position after losing Carlos--and this is nothing knocking El Guapo's ability.  Zeke has been able to find, hit, and explode through holes while simply blowing by people.  The fumble was no good but 2 huge runs set the tone and ended the game.  The O-line has also matured in ways I never thought possible.  And speaking of maturation...Car-Dale Jones.  For a guy who looks like he's waiting for his mom to pick him up at the playground, he is playing like a man.  Still not the polished passer that JT was, but he can sling it and bowl people over.  The downgrade is for the 2 turnovers.  Can't do that against the Ducks.  Need to score with them.
I want to make one additional comment here: the double reverse pass for the TD before the half isn't getting nearly enough pub.  I saw it rated as the 8th or so best play of the bowl season---um, no.  This play was UNBELIEVABLE.  Let's break it down.  Evan Spencer, a WR, throws an absolutely perfect pass to the corner of the endzone over the outstretched fingertips of an Alabama DB.  Pretty good...but that's not even the best part.  The catch by Michael Thomas is an all-timer.  He catches it with the fingertips and still manages to contort his foot to stay inbounds! Uncle Keyshawn couldn't have done it better.  Odell Beckham Jr.'s catch was better, but that's about the only one this year (2014-now) that can top it.  The body control was phenomenal.

Defense: A-
Read my posts from earlier this year, I was hyping up a Mr. Darron Lee as the next great OSU LB.  Nailed it.  The defense gave up some runs that could have broken the spirit but they kept coming.  Steve Miller with the pick 6 (he's a picker, he's a grinner, he's a lover, he's a sinner) to seize momentum and the overall frustration of Blake Sims.  Michael Bennett has been the unsung player the last 2 games for this defense.  He's been eating up space on the interior line frustrating a downhill rushing attack.  Amari Cooper struck efficiently, but couldn't get free to open the game for Bama.  Credit the young secondary for holding up.  And a final thought: Go down Tyvis.  I know that may not be 'what Prime would do', but let's be serious.  All he does is make game ending interceptions.  The differences was holding Bama to 2-13 on 3rd down.  Best defense gets off the field.

Special Teams: A-
No returns but another great kicking performance.  It's not often that Cameron Johnston is upstaged by the opponent, but JK Scott was fantastic for Bama.  Nuremburger made his 2 chip shots and Johnston was solid as usual.  I believe it was Spencer who made a fantastic recovery of an onside kick at the end in what should have sealed it.  The return game was fine but nothing special (although I seem to remember a big hit on Bama on a kickoff return...might be remembering wrong).  After a week, if I don't remember the special teams, it was usually a good week.

Coaching: B
The playcalling was still avoiding the run a bit too much when Zeke was getting it done early.  10 yards a pop but Herman really wanted to get Cardale going (especially near the goalline).  Sometimes, you need to ride your stud (give it to Hyde--still having PTSD from the B1G Championship vs. MSU). Defense was called very well and the halftime adjustments were strong.  Then the final OSU drive came... Zeke was still chugging and a first down ends the game.  Something tells me that with the emotion and momentum of the game, Zeke gets 10 yards on 3 carries even if we tell Bama the plan.  But... Meyer/Herman/whatever (Bollman?) decides to 'go for the ballgame on a bomb on 1st down... I get the idea of shaking it up and being aggressive, but there's aggressive and just plain dumb.  Sure the defense is stacked for the run, but that play has way too many bad outcomes.  Cardale could have simply misthrown the deep ball even if Devin was wide open.  3 straight knees gives Bama the ball back at the 20 (at worst--just tell Cam to punt it through the uprights) with about 40 seconds.  No way they get that shot they had at a Hail Mary.  Now, I'm not advocating the kneel down, but I run Zeke on the safest play and tell him his first 10 priorities are not fumbling and the 11th is to get yards.  Odds are pretty good that Bama doesn't even get the ball back.  As it stands, the Bucks triumphed over this obstacle, but in my mind, it was an obstacle that was self imposed.

Overall: A-
Week 2.  A devastating loss at home to a mediocre team.  We at Let's Go Bucks said: 'Win, and it will work out.'  Now, the Bucks head to Jerry World for all the Dr. Peppers.  Let's make it count.  I expect a shootout but whatever happens, this has been a fun ride...and, one final thought, this Buckeye team is going to get better next year...Have fun 'OTHER CONFERENCES'.

GO BUCKS! BEAT THE DUCKS!!

10 Reasons Why Oregon Beats Ohio State

1. Mariota Party

Oregon QB Marcus Mariota is the nation's leading offensive weapon by a wide margin. He leads all quarterbacks in QBR, yards/attempt, TD/INT ratio, and total TDs. He's 3rd in total passing yards, 2nd in passing TDs, and 5th in completion percentage. Mariota has been stellar ever since starting his freshman year, racking up 103 TDs and only 13 INTs over 3 seasons while compiling a 36-4 record. Oh, and he just won the Heisman trophy by the second-largest margin in the history of the award. (I wonder who had the largest margin...) If Mariota brings his "A" game to Dallas, it's tough to see how Ohio State can possibly counter such a difference maker. Cardale Jones has none of Mariota's experience (2-0 record as starter), rating (159.0 vs. Mariota's 184.3), or TD/INT ratio (6:1 vs. Mariota's 40:3).

2. Buckeye Turnover Drive

The Ducks sport the FBS's most favorable turnover margin, +20 over 14 games. While Ohio State is no slouch in this department (+10 over the same 14 games), it's troubling to imagine what Oregon could do with an extra turnover in this game, particularly since neither defense is expected to have much hope of forcing the other offense to punt. One stop, one score, may make all the difference. Thankfully, the Scarlet and Gray have matched the Green and Gold's ball-hawking efforts in their 2 postseason efforts; both squads have grabbed 7 TOs and lost 2 since the start of December.

3. Old, Unbusted Hotness

Ohio State's starting 22 features 11 freshman and sophomores, while Oregon only puts 7 underclassmen on their first team. We've already discussed Oregon's substantial experience advantage at QB, but equally worrisome is Ohio State's young O-line, which returned only one starter from last year. Oregon's offensive line, in contrast, returned 3 starters from 2013. Both teams have had phenomenal success and are playing their best football of the season in 2015, but at what point does OSU's lack of experience become a liability? The Crimson Tide sacked Cardale 3 times in the Sugar Bowl, while Mariota spent New Year's untouched by the FSU front.

4. Ain't No Stopping Us Now

Nobody has scored more points this season than the Oregon Ducks: 47.2 PPG. (The Baylor Bears scored one PPG more than Oregon, but played one fewer game). And no team has held the Ducks below 42 points since their loss to Arizona on October 2nd. The Buckeyes are no slouch on offense, either, averaging 45 PPG, but they've had their sputters down the stretch, scoring only 31 against Penn State (needing two short fields in OT to do so) and against Minnesota (albeit in a blizzard). The Seminoles had a month to rest their injured star linebackers and analyze the Quack Attack, and what happened? They got blasted for 59 points, Oregon's highest total since their season-opening win over South Dakota. The Silver Bullets are a bit tougher than the Noles, but nowhere near the same league as the Cardinal (16.4 PPG allowed), on whom the Ducks unloaded for 45 points. The Buckeyes don't often give up 40+ points and win, although it can be done (2013 vs. Michigan, 2012 @ Indiana). Can they beat an opponent they can't stop?

5. A Real, Live Quarterback

But then again, it's not like the Bucks are playing terrible offenses like Penn State and Michigan every week. Ohio State has faced the nation's #7 (Michigan State), #16 (Alabama), #29 (Wisconsin), and #31 (Cincinnati), holding them to an average of 20 PPG, just over half of these teams' combined scoring average. What separates the Ducks from these teams? If you read #1 above, you probably know the answer: an elite-level QB. Gunner Kiel and Connor Cook are nowhere near Mariota's talent level, but each was able to throw for over 350 yards against the Buckeye back seven. The Silver Bullets have improved a bit since from November on, culminating in a great Sugar Bowl performance that saw Blake Sims held to under 250 yards and forced 3 picks, but Mariota is no improvised first-year starter, and he's certainly not the hot flaming mess that is Joel Stave, or Zander Diamont. Unless the secondary plays at another level, Buckeye Nation is going to have flashbacks of 2013 all night long.

6. The Red Zone is for Loading and Unloading Only. There Is No Stopping in the Red Zone.

In Buckeye Nation's darkest hour, when Ohio State trailed Alabama 21-6, where lay the blame? Two turnovers in OSU territory certainly didn't help, but Alabama was finishing their drives, while Ohio State's efforts were falling just short. Across the country, the Ducks did some sputtering of their own, ending consecutive first-half possessions with a turnover on downs and a short field goal, but the Ducks never trailed because FSU's first 3 possessions ended in two field goals and a turnover on downs. If the Buckeyes can't figure out how to covert 1st-and-goal from the 2 (hint: give the ball to Zeke), or at least force a field goal or two, they'll find themselves in another hole very quickly, and 15 down against Oregon is probably insurmountable.

7. And Bad Mistakes...I've Made a Few

Much is being made of the Ducks' blowout win over Florida State in the Rose Bowl, but most people seem to be forgetting that the score was only 18-13 at half, after the Noles had already racked up almost 300 yards of offense, and FSU was within 4 until halfway through the third quarter. How did Oregon maintain the lead, and how did they eventually blow the game wide open? Capitalizing on mistakes. 2 turnovers on downs in the first half kept the Ducks in control, and 5 second-half turnovers keyed a 28-0 run to end the game. Meanwhile, Ohio State choked away a first half they were otherwise dominating through their red zone mismanagement and slippery ball handling, and a bizarre first down bomb at on their final drive gave Alabama a last gasp to tie the game on a Hail Mary. Woody Hayes sagely observed that the team that makes the least mistakes wins. If New Year's Day replays itself, that team will be the Oregon Ducks.

8. Pac Attack

It's easy to make the case for the Pac-12 as college football's top conference this season. The Pac-12 went 9-3 against the other Power 5 conferences and Notre Dame during the regular season, adding another 5 wins and a loss against power teams during the bowl season. Included in that stellar resume are seven wins over our beloved B1G, with a lone loss coming through lowly Washington State's season-opening loss to Rutgers. The Ducks have run roughshod over their conference foes, winning each of their last 8 conference games by double digits. Ohio State has had similar success, and while the B1G earned some redemption this bowl season, nobody's about to forget the disastrous September that nearly eliminated them from playoff contention. One potential Pac-trap: the entire conference managed to avoid any battles against the ALMIGHTY SEC, which you may recognize as the league against which the Buckeyes went 1-0 this year.

9. One Foot out the Door

Where is Tom Herman's head right now? After an amazing run at offensive coordinator which saw Ohio State's PPG jump from 30.7 during the 2009-11 seasons to 42.8 over the last 3 years, Herman has been hired away to take the head job with the Houston Cougars. After taking the job, Herman decided to stay on as OC for the Bucks during the playoffs, and the offense hasn't suffered yet, putting up a healthy 42 on one of the nation's top defenses. But students of history may remember a similar situation back in 2000/01. Mark Richt, architect of Florida State's offense, tops in the nation, accepted the head coaching job at Georgia prior to the national championship. The Noles proceeded to unconditionally surrender to a stifling Oklahoma defense, accumulating all of ZERO offensive points. Maybe the Sooner D was just that good, maybe the Noles were just off that day, or maybe Richt phoned in his bowl prep. Given what we saw in the Sugar Bowl, and what we know about Oregon's defense, it's unlikely that Herman's Buckeyes will suffer the same fate, but anything less than an "A" performance from the Buckeye attack probably won't get the job done.

10. 2 Fast 2 Furious

One of my least phrases in sports is "closer than (or not as close as) the score indicates." Nothing a team does matters other than the points they put up and give up. Better to say that "the outcome was never really in doubt," which applies to the last few minutes of each of Ohio State's wins since the Penn State 2OT thriller, with the exception of the Sugar Bowl. But looking at the scores, there haven't been too many blowouts: Michigan State by 12, Minnesota by 7, Indiana by 15, Michigan by 14, Alabama by 7. Each of these games (except Alabama) was comfortably in hand, yet the scores don't reflect this reality. Why not? Because the Silver Bullets, for whatever reason, don't like to close out games once they think they have a safe lead. In every game (except Wisconsin, obviously) since Penn State, the Buckeyes' opponent has scored the final TD, often in embarrassing fashion:

Michigan State: 10 play, 76-yard TD drive in 1:52 after Ohio State went up 49-31
Minnesota: Recovered a muffed punt at the OSU 14, scored 2 plays later, added a FG, all after Ohio State went up 31-14
Indiana: Tevin Coleman 52-yard TD run after Ohio State went up 42-20
Michigan: 9 play, 75-yard TD drive in 2:43 after Ohio State went up 42-21
Alabama: 6 play, 65 yard TD drive in 1:25 after Ohio State went up 42-28

Oregon's offense scores the second-most points in the country, with the nation's 115th-ranked average time of possession. They scored 7 offensive TDs against Florida State, and none took longer than 3 minutes. No lead is safe, and if the Buckeyes are going to hold on in the fourth quarter yet again, they can't blink.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Postseason Conference Awards (and National Awards)

ACC
OPOY:
Draper: Jameis Winston (QB--FSU)
Hoying: Rashad Greene (WR--FSU)
Schweinfurth: Rashad Greene (WR--FSU)
Seeberg:  Rashad Greene (WR--FSU)

DPOY:
Draper: Vic Beasley (DE--Clem)
Hoying: Dadi Nicolas (DE--VT)
Schweinfurth: Vic Beasley (DE--Clem)
Seeberg:  Vic Beasley (DE--Clem)

COY: 
Draper: Jimbo Fisher (FSU)
Hoying: Paul Johnson (GT)
Schweinfurth: Paul Johnson (GT)
Seeberg:  Paul Johnson (GT)

Big Ten
OPOY:
Draper: J.T. Barrett/Melvin Gordon (Co) (QB--OSU/RB--Wisc) --I'm a copout
Hoying: Melvin Gordon (RB--Wisc)
Schweinfurth: Melvin Gordon (RB-Wisc)
Seeberg:  Melvin Gordon (RB--Wisc)

DPOY:
Draper: Joey Bosa (DE--OSU)
Hoying: Joey Bosa (DE--OSU)
Schweinfurth: Joey Bosa (DE--OSU)
Seeberg:  Joey Bosa (DE--OSU)

COY:
Draper: Urban Meyer (OSU)
Hoying: Urban Meyer (OSU)
Schweinfurth: Urban Meyer (OSU)
Seeberg:  Urban Meyer (OSU)

Big Twelve
OPOY:
Draper: Trevone Boykin (QB--TCU)
Hoying: Trevone Boykin (QB--TCU)
Schweinfurth: Trevone Boykin (QB--TCU)
Seeberg:  Trevone Boykin (QB--TCU)

DPOY:
Draper: Paul Dawson (LB--TCU) (Narrowly beating out a wet washcloth)
Hoying: Paul Dawson (LB--TCU)
Schweinfurth: Paul Dawson (LB--TCU)
Seeberg:  Paul Dawson (LB--TCU)

COY: 
Draper: Gary Patterson (TCU)
Hoying: Gary Patterson (TCU)
Schweinfurth: Gary Patterson (TCU)
Seeberg:  Gary Patterson (TCU)

Pac 12
OPOY:
Draper: Marcus Mariota (QB--Oregon)
Hoying: Marcus Mariota (QB--Oregon)
Schweinfurth: Marcus Mariota (QB--Oregon)
Seeberg:  Marcus Mariota (QB--Oregon)

DPOY:
Draper: Scooby Wright III (LB--Arizona)
Hoying: Scooby Wright III (LB--Arizona)
Schweinfurth: Scooby Wright III (LB-Arizona)
Seeberg:  Scooby Wright III (LB--Arizona)

COY:
Draper: Rich Rodriguez (Arizona)
Hoying: Rich Rodriguez (Arizona)
Schweinfurth: Rich Rodriguez (Arizona)
Seeberg:  Rick Rodriguez (Arizona)

SEC
OPOY:
Draper: Amari Cooper (WR--Alabama)
Hoying: Amari Cooper (WR--Alabama)
Schweinfurth:
Seeberg:
  Amari Cooper (WR--Alabama)

DPOY:
Draper:  Shane Ray (DE--Mizzou)
Hoying: Senquez Golson (DB--Mississippi)
Schweinfurth: Senquez Golson (DB--Mississippi)
Seeberg:  Senquez Golson (DB--Mississippi)

COY:
Draper: Dan Mullen (Miss St.)
Hoying: Hugh Freeze (Mississippi)
Schweinfurth: Dan Mullen (Miss St.)
Seeberg:  Dan Mullen (Miss St.)

National
OPOY:
Draper: Marcus Mariota (QB--Oregon)
Hoying: Marcus Mariota (QB--Oregon)
Schweinfurth: Marcus Mariota (QB--Oregon)
Seeberg:  Marcus Mariota (QB--Oregon)

DPOY:
Draper:  Scooby Wright III (Arizona)
Hoying: Scooby Wright III (Arizona)
Schweinfurth:
Seeberg:  
Scooby Wright III (Arizona)  (don't worry Buckeye Nation, Bosa wins this next year)

COY:
Draper: Urban Meyer (OSU)
Hoying: Urban Meyer (OSU) [Gary Patterson--TCU is a super super close second]
Schweinfurth: Urban Meyer (OSU) [Call it homerism if you want but the Bucks lost 2 Heisman candidate QBs and had a player lose his life...then dismantled a top 15 team]
Seeberg:  Urban Meyer (OSU)



Bowl Pick Bonus - The Dirty Half-Dozen

Final Regular Season Standings
1) Draper                48-22    (7-8 upset)
1) Hoying               48-22    (4-11 upset)
3) Schweinfurth     46-24    (6-9 upset)
4) Seeberg              45-25    (2-13 upset)

Bowl creep continues. Not only are there 38 total postseason exhibition games, not counting the +1 National Championship Playoff Final, but we've expanded from 4 BCS games to 5 BCS games to 6...New Year's Eve and Day Super Important Games (TM). We'll pick the championship once 2015 arrives, but here's a six-pack of picks to last you until then.

Peach Bowl: Ole Miss Rebels vs. TCU Horned Frogs
Draper: The deciding factor will be TCU's mindset heading into the game.  Yeah, they were left out of the playoff.  Is this a moment to prove themselves or one in which they just don't care? TCU had this opportunity with the Ginger Ninja playing in the orange and black and took down the Badgers in the Rose Bowl so I think Coach Patterson will get the troops ready to go.  This is a game for Treyvone Boykin to show off.  The LandShark defense is for real and will rear its ugly head, but the TCU D is no slouch either.  I actually think this is more low scoring than my counterparts, but I agree on the outcome.  Rebels: 20--TCU: 24
Hoying: PEACHES AIN'T SPORTS, except in the thankfully classically-renamed Peach Bowl. What better way to kick off New Year's Eve than with a mismatch? Ole Miss hasn't been the same worldbeater since Laquon Treadwell's heartbreaking (and leg-breaking) injury against Auburn. However, as my colleagues note, this game will hinge on whether TCU comes out pouting because they got left out of the playoff (see Alabama last year) or with their hair ablaze, ready to prove to a skeptical world that they belonged after all. If it's the latter, watch out. The nation's top defense won't know what hit them. Heisman-invite worthy QB Trevone Boykin and company will be scoring early and often. The Rebel forces can't repel firepower of that magnitude! Rebels: 31--TCU: 45
Schweinfurth: How overrated is the Big 12 this year?  This game (and the Cotton Bowl) will bear this out.  TCU has a ridiculous offense this year.  Ole Miss has Bo Wallace.  Saying that, both defenses are about equal.  I will take TCU and Trevone Boykin.  Rebels: 28--TCU: 42
Seeberg:  Ole Miss saved their New Year's Eve and Day Super Important Games (TM) chances with a nice win in the Egg Bowl.  Meanwhile, TCU got bumped from the playoff after the Buckeyes' thrashing of Wiscy.  This game likely will come down to how motivated TCU is to be in this game after the disappointment of being left out of the playoff.  If TCU comes out flat they could struggle to get into double digits on offense against the Rebels' stout D, but I think they will play with anger and purpose and finish off a great season with another W.  Rebels: 20--TCU: 28

Fiesta Bowl: Boise State Broncos vs. Arizona Wildcats
Draper: Mr. Hoying and I were two of the VERY few people who believed in the Little Blue Engine that Could in 2007 as the Broncos took down the mighty Sooners.  This Boise State team is a shadow of the Zabransky 'juggernaut'.  Zona is a weird team that ended a fantastic season with a whimper getting stomped by Oregon.  RichRod's boys can fly around the field, but they usually have inferior athletes.  Not so in this case.  Scooby Wright and Anu Solomon will control both sides of the ball as the Fiesta pays back the Broncos. Boise: 24--Zona: 41
Hoying: Poor, poor Fiesta Bowl. The bowl selection white elephant took a big steaming dump in the desert, plopping down 2-loss Boise State to face DickRod's Destroyers. Were he still coaching Michigan, I'd believe Rodriguez could find a way to cHoke this one away, but the Wildcats are very much a program on the rise and are solid enough in all phases of the game (except game-winning field goals). All-American LB Scooby Wright will snack on star Bronco RB Jay Ajayi, while Arizona's freshman QB Solomon will push the Wildcats another step forward toward Anu era of success. Boise: 20--Zona: 34
Schweinfurth:  Why is Boise State playing in one of the "New Year's Six" games?  This game will only be watchable to see how many points Arizona puts up.  This game will be on in the background.  Boise: 17--Zona: 45
Seeberg:  Let's be clear, this is NOT your father's Arizona Wildcats football program.  Rich-Rod has them playing solid football in the second best conference in the country.  Meanwhile, this is also NOT your older brother's Boise State team.  Other than a nice win over Colorado State, the Broncos have beaten nobody of note and are unlikely to be able to do enough to slow down the Wildcats' potent O.  Arizona posts their first relevant bowl win in, well, literally forever (seriously, they're the only original PAC-10/12 team to never even PLAY in the Rose Bowl, let alone win it).  Boise: 24--Zona: 38

Orange Bowl: Mississippi State Bulldogs vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
Draper: This bowl game is quite intriguing.  The Bulldogs faltered down the stretch but are still enormously talented.  The Yellow Jackets are a one trick pony....but what a trick!  Paul Johnson shows that if you commit to something wholeheartedly, you can still have success even if the technique is outdated.  The Jackets potent option attack is a 'you-know-what' to stop, but the Bulldogs are really good on D.  Oh yeah, Dak and the Bowling ball are good enough to roll over the overmatched Jacket D.  Georgia Tech will frustrate the crap out of the MSU defense, but they won't be able to stop Dak Prescott. MSU: 38--GT: 27
Hoying: Remember when, during the month of October, and for the first time ever, the entire college football world revolved around the state of Mississippi? Since then, the shine's come off the apple a bit in Stark Vegas, but a BCS (New Year's One-of-Six? What do you call one of these non-playoff games?) bowl win would still be a huge jump forward for the program. We're about to find out just how good of a coach Dan Mullen really is. You know what Georgia Tech's going to do. You know they will do it very well. You know you have the athletes that can stop them. Can you figure out a way to get it done, with a month to prepare? Since Mullen seems to be one of the hottest young coaches in the game, and was trained by the best (Corch Irvin Meyers), I have high hopes for the Bulldogs to take this one. MSU: 31--GT: 17
Schweinfurth: Georgia Tech runs that tricky triple option offense.  However, it's really only tricky if you don't have time to prepare for it.  News flash, Mississippi St has had around 3 weeks to prep for this game.  The only problem with the triple option is falling behind early.  I think that's what happens in this game.  GT keeps it somewhat close but just can't keep up with that run heavy offense.  MSU: 35--GT: 31
Seeberg:  This game is not getting nearly the attention it deserves.  GT is a mere eight points away from being undefeated this year while the Bulldogs lost by just five to Bama.  A win in that de facto SEC title game likely would have secured their spot in the playoff regardless of the Egg Bowl outcome.  The triple option is a nightmare to prepare for, but the extra prep time for a bowl game will certainly help the Bulldogs.  In a game likely to be close, the Yellow Jackets' one-dimensional offense may be their undoing (see Florida State).  Bulldogs win a tight one.  MSU: 34--GT: 27

Cotton Bowl: Michigan State Spartans vs. Baylor Bears
Draper: Another game about 'who want to be here?'  I've been pretty consistent on the Sparty is overrated front all year.  Yeah, the D is pretty good, but not as good as last year's No Fly Zone.  The Offense...eh.... Connor Cook and Langford are nice pieces and Tony Lippett is the real deal, but that's about it.  Bryce Petty has been phenomenal all year with the Baylor fast paced attack.  Looking at the resume, Baylor has a clear advantage as they've actually won a game vs. a decent team (sorry Nebraska).  I feel the unstoppable force vs. the immovable goes to the force.  Despite the mantra of defense wins championships, a great offense beats a great defense more often than not these days.  I think the Spartans get into a track meet...which is not what they're designed for.  Sparty NO!! MSU: 41--Baylor: 48
Hoying: Can Sparty really handle success? There's been a conspicuous dearth of "Sparty, NO!" moments since the refs stole the Notre Dame game from State's grasp last season, but they haven't really beaten anyone of consequence since last year's Rose Bowl win. Two marquee opponents, two faceplants. Baylor's probably kicking themselves that they didn't get a chance at MSU during the regular season, since beating Sparty seems to punch a ticket to the playoff. Alas... This game has the same X-factor as the Peach Bowl: can Baylor shrug off a snub? Whereas TCU was able to graciously accept a Rose Bowl berth after an undefeated 2010 season, and come away with a win over a tough Wisconsin squad, Baylor dealt with last season's title chase stumble by Bortling all over themselves in a loss to Central freaking Florida. With all the foaming at the mouth Art Briles did in his December rants against the Big 12 Commissioner and the Playoff Committee, I'll be surprised if he has anything left to motivate his team for this one. Sparty YES! MSU: 35--Baylor: 34
Schweinfurth: Both of these teams can put up points, that much is undeniable.  However, Baylor does not have a defense.  I really expect Connor Cook to flat light up the Bear's defense.  MSU's defense will have a tough time with the Bear offense, but they should get a stop or two.  That will be the difference in this game. MSU: 42--Baylor: 35
Seeberg:  Ah yes, "Big 12 team who thinks they should be in the playoff" part two.  Baylor laid a big fat egg in their last bowl game, giving up a whopping 52 points to Blake Bortles and UCF.  They may have some extra motivation this year to prove they belonged in the playoffs, but they're also playing a much better team in Michigan State, especially on the defensive side of the ball.  Art Briles went all Andrew Jackson nepotism, promoting his son to offensive coordinator, and Dantonio and Co. should have some interesting wrinkles to throw at Briles, Jr.  Sparty gets a second consecutive high-profile bowl win.  Sparty: 42--Baylor: 28

Rose Bowl: Oregon Ducks vs. Florida State Seminoles
Draper: I've got a weird feeling about this playoff-possibly, due to my alma mater-but I think FSU has something to say.  Every game has been a nail-biter it seems, but they always seem to 'escape'.  Eventually, it's not escaping but winning.  Winston has yet to play a complete game this year but many fantastic halves.  This is the game in which he blows up.  The Seminole D hasn't been good due to injuries piling up all year, but many will return for the Rose Bowl.  Oregon has trouble with complete teams that can play both sides of the ball (OSU, Stanford, Auburn,etc.).  While FSU's D is not the same as last year's squad, they have the athletes to disrupt any team.  The loss of Ifo Ekpre-Olomu will loom large as Winston shows why NFL scouts will prefer him to the Duck counterpart.  Mariota is fantastic and will be a nice pro for 5-10 years, but Jameis has superstar talent...if he can stay clean.  This will be the shock of the bowl season to most, but I'm going with the Noles.  I've got a feeling... UO: 31--FSU: 41
Hoying: Another classic Rose Bowl matchup: Pac-12 vs. ACC. Somehow, Florida State still has not lost a game since Obama's first term, but their style points make 2002 Ohio State look like 2001 Miami. Oregon exorcised some demons in their Blowout...err...Championship Saturday win over Arizona, but do they have the weapons to bring a 29-game win streak to an end? Bluntly, yes. The Ducks feature a high-powered balanced offensive attack behind dual-threat Super Mariota and talented RB Royce Freeman, and I don't think anyone is about to forget what the Duck D did to a terrific Wildcat attack on December 5th. Jameis has been playing with fire all season, actively hurting his team in the first half only to ride to astounding heroics late. Problem is, this only works if you can stop your opponent for a few drives, and this year's Seminole D is like the Chicago Bears compared against last year's Seattle Seahawk-level juggernaut. Root hard for Florida State, Buckeye Nation, but this Duck Hunt will leave the dog laughing all day long. UO: 45--FSU: 31
Schweinfurth: Which Heisman QB will shine the brightest?  That is the question everyone is asking.  Winston has been giving the ball away like Oprah gives away gifts (you get a pick and you get a pick...).  If Winston throws 2 or more this time, game over.  The Ducks will make the Noles pay.  I expect a good game and a FSU comeback, but Oregon's powerful offense is just too much.  UO: 35--Noles:31
Seeberg:  For weeks us Buckeye fans were convinced a Seminole loss was our only shot to get into the playoff.  Now, we must ironically root for them to beat Oregon because, in my opinion, the Ducks are the best team in the country.  If this game is anywhere close in the fourth quarter, I genuinely believe that (in)famous Jameis will find a way to win it.  The only problem is that the Ducks aren't going to allow it to be that close.  Mariota inches closer to equaling Winston's resume with a Heisman and a ring.  Ducks: 43--Noles: 24

Sugar Bowl: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. THE Ohio State University Buckeyes
Draper: Ah...another game, another alma mater.  The Tide roll in as heavy favorites, but no team in the country is as hot right now as the Buckeyes.  Cardale is on top of the world, but he needs to sharpen up a bit against Saban's defense.  Blake Sims has been quite consistent during this year but he's been serviceable.  Cooper, Henry, and Yeldon will shoulder the offensive load for the Tide while Jones, Elliot, and Smith work for the Bucks.  A big part of this game will be decided on the lines.  The team that gets pressure will grab the advantage.  Bosa needs to dominate and the Buckeye O-line needs to keep Cardale clean.  While the Tide have more experience, if the Bucks can avoid mistakes they can ride the youthful exuberance to Dallas.  The B1G Championship was largely a case of willpower and refusal to let a repeat occur in Lucas Oil.  This time, it's about strict execution.  Meyer vs. Saban battles usually turn out something special.  I think the Bucks are a year away, but 'I ain't no fake Buckeye!' Bama: 27--OSU: 31
Hoying: In January 1978, the top two coaches in the game led Ohio State and Alabama to a titanic clash in the Sugar Bowl. What happened? The Tide rolled the Buckeyes, 35-6, despite fumbling the ball 10 (!) times. Don't expect either result to occur this time, as these teams are much more easily matched than one of Bear's finest squads taking on fading Woody Hayes (also, ball control is a thing now). Where is Bama vulnerable? If the midseason is any indication, it's on offense. Blake Sims, while impressive, is still learning to be a QB (glad the Buckeyes don't have that problem...) and Super Amario can only do so much to bail him out. The Lucas Oil Massacre showed that the Silver Bullets could win a game with defense; now it's time for them to actually DO it for the first time since the 2012 Wisconsin game. On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes will need a healthy dose of EzE churning out some yards and 12-gauge Cardale cocking and firing over the top of the Tide's weak safety play. Most importantly, the lines will have to impose their will upon the enemy, like they did against Michigan State and Wisconsin and did NOT do against Virginia Tech. This one's winnable. I feel lucky. The dynasty IS over! Bama: 24--OSU: 27
Schweinfurth: I am so ready for this one.  This is not the Bama of the last few years.  That secondary just doesn't have that killer instinct of the last few years.  Alabama's offense looks like a one trick pony.  Yes Amari Cooper is very good, but OSU's D has bottled up good receivers all year.  Offensively, OSU knows what it has in Cardale Jones.  Alabama has some garbage time against Illinois and the B1G Champ game.  Not exactly a lot of film on 12 Gauge.  This will be fun and I expect a lot of the same offensive formula that got Cardale into a rhythm early in the B1G Champ game.  I trust the front 7 to get pressure on Sims.  Finally,  Urban Meyer is THE master motivator.  Ohio State is a big underdog.  Meyer doesn't lose at Ohio State as an underdog.  This will be a pissed off OSU team coming out of the tunnel Thrusday night.  Happy New Year! GO BUCKS!! Bama: 20--OSU: 28
Seeberg:  Congratulations Buckeyes, you made the first EVER college football playoff!  (You know, if you don't count any of the other divisions who have had playoffs for decades).  Your prize?  You get to play the best program of the last five years by a pretty sizable margin.  Both coaches will have their teams supremely well-prepared for this game.  I believe if these teams played ten teams, OSU wins 3, maybe 4.  In a one-game-takes-all scenario though, things are different.  Cardale will lead a couple of seamless drives thanks to some solid play-calling and in-game adjusting, but the difference in the game will be Amari Cooper.  The Silver Bullets will have to devote a corner and a safety to containing him, which will leave enough gaps in the run game for Bama to have some success between the tackles.  If Bosa, Bennett and Co. rattle Sims, which is possible, all bets are off, but Bama's O will make just enough plays to keep the Buckeyes at bay.  An overachieving Buckeye squad falls just short, if a year ahead of schedule.  Watch out for the 3-QB system in 2015!  Bama: 31--Bucks: 21

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Grading the Bucks: B1G Championship--Wisconsin

Offense: A+
What a game.  Cardale was absolutely fantastic based on the situation in which he was thrust.  Without regard to the situation, I'd grade him at a B+ (some of the deep balls were thrown into coverage), but he gave his receivers a chance.  This was by far the best the receivers have played all year.  Thomas, Smith, Smith, Spencer, and Marshall all ran crisp routes and won seemingly every 50-50 battle.  Oh yeah, there was also the ground game...200+ for Zeke.  I'd say that's pretty good.  The O-Line was outstanding opening holes and protecting the last remaining QB.  There is almost nothing not to like here.  If they keep up this level, watch out Bama (and we're going to be pretty good next year too).

Defense: A+
The best I've seen this defense look in 3 years...easily.  The D-line play above and beyond the already lofty expectations. Bennett, Bosa, Frazier, Miller, and Washington were all electric.  They took a major Heisman campaign and completely crushed it.  The pass D was no slouch either (although their task was miniscule).  The Vonn Bell interception was textbook.  I could see from the stands the way he baited the QB and broke on the ball the second it was thrown.  There was one bad play in pass coverage (about 3 plays from the end) in which a receiver was completely wide open...but those were the backups and Wisconsin sucks.  It all comes back to the line and linebackers.  I was very nervous going up against Gordon, and this team answered and destroyed the bell.  Fantastic job.

Special Teams: A-
I'm sorry Cameron Johnston. You are amazing and borderline MVP.  72 yard punt that checked up at the 1? Another bomb hit with a 9 iron that kicked back inside the 5? Are you kidding?  I just had to do something here because this is the only unit with any real blemish (and there were 2).  The blocked field goal wasn't fun (although it didn't matter) and, you know where I'm going, ANOTHER KICKOFF OUT OF BOUNDS!!  It was almost a point of pride to return to form on the last kickoff of the night.  I'm sorry, but it grinds my gears.  Cameron Johnston gets an A+++.

Coaching: A
Fantastic gameplan.  Keep Cardale clean and let him do what he does best: throw the deep ball.  The gameplan was essentially ride Zeke and bomb it.  Perfect.  Defensively, they clearly watched film and realized Wisconsin sucks.  Stop Gordon and watch the Badger QB's suck.  Bingo. I also love the mentality to jump on them early and show no mercy.  The energy was there from the opening kickoff and that is testament to coaching.  Never forget last year.  Eyes on the prize.

Overall: A
This was about as flawless a game as possible.  The crispness of execution was there and the hunger was definitely apparent.  Cardale was bailed out by excellent receiver play at times, but he gave his guy a chance.  The people in my section kept agonizing that more points were needed to impress.  The two most important numbers from this game were both 0:  0 points given up; 0 turnovers. There was no doubt in mind after the game (actually, no doubt since VT) that we were in.  I said the week before (and no one listened): win and jump TCU.  This team has a tough draw, but to be the best, you have to beat the best (as the Badgers found out).  Play like this and there's a real chance.

Go Ohio! Beat Bama!

Monday, December 08, 2014

10 Thoughts from a Great Weekend to Be a Buckeye

A few musings on the B1G Championship, the events of this weekend, and the season in general.

1. The Receiver Play Was Outstanding

On Ohio State's first drive, QB Cardale Jones threw up an end zone jump ball to Devin Smith, who was completely blanketed by Wisconsin CB Sojourn Shelton. An interception would have been disastrous, not just stifling a promising drive but shattering the untested quarterback's confidence on his deep ball. Instead, Smith fought off the DB and came down with the ball, giving Ohio State the lead less than 2 minutes into the game. All night long, the receivers made play after play, whether it was Devin Smith's end zone antics (3 times!), Michael Thomas's leaping catches, Corey (Dewey) Smith demolishing LB Joe Schobert (and getting kicked out of the game for being too badass), or every receiver executing outstanding downfield blocking on every play. Other than EzE letting a ball slip off his fingertips in the red zone, I can't remember a single dropped ball. This was what Buckeye fans had been waiting for after 3 years of abysmal receiver play.

2. MV...T?

Cardale Jones was the easy sentimental pick for MVP of the game. The stats were gaudy (12-17 for 257 yards, 3 TDs, and no INTs), and he looked completely at home in or out of the pocket (watch him get wrecked throwing his prettiest rainbow of the day to Devin Smith). But the MVP award could have just as easily gone to Devin Smith himself. Or Michael Bennett, who completely destroyed Wisconsin's interior line and made Gordon a complete non-factor. By game's end, Bennett had racked up 4 tackles for loss and 2 forced fumbles, one of which led directly to a touchdown return by Bosa. Or Doran Grant, who picked off 2 passes and broke up 2 more. Or Cameron Johnston, who is almost definitely a witch, knocking a ridiculous 73-yard line drive right over Kenzel Doe's head to die at the 2, as well as a 58-yarder that landed a blade of Fieldturf short of the goal line and boomeranged back like a Phil Mickelson lob wedge. Or Ezekiel Elliott, who broke Gordon's own B1G Championship rushing record on all of 20 carries (and one shoe). Honestly, you could point to any random member of the two-deep, hand them the game ball, and nobody would complain.

3. The Old Urban Is Back

All season I've had to put up with the derps on Facebook and Twitter saying that Urban hasn't won a game of consequence at Ohio State. I guess the 24th consecutive conference win didn't mean anything, even though that's never been done before. Or knocking off the defending conference champions every year he's been coach, twice on the road. Or beating Michigan 3 straight years, or going 3-0 as an underdog...I think the skeptics will come around after this one. Not only was this game of tremendous consequence, making all the difference between #4 and #5, but it seemed like Urban knew the Badgers better than Gary Andersen did. This is a completely different team than the one that took the field against Navy on August 30th, and that doesn't happen without outstanding leadership. A new O-line, a new linebacking corps, two new quarterbacks, a new kicker, it didn't matter. The system works, jerks.

4. The Committee Got It Right

By season's end, there were only 6 teams seriously in the discussion: Alabama, Baylor, Florida State, Ohio State, Oregon, and TCU. Florida State, as the only undefeated team, was an easy pick to fill one slot. Alabama and Oregon were equally obvious selections, boasting elite wins, the conference trophies from the nation's top 2 leagues, and acceptable losses. And despite the committee's bizarre week 14 decision to put TCU at #3 after blowing out 6-6 Texas, Ohio State was easily the best choice to complete the quartet. The Buckeyes had the 2nd best win of the three teams (@Michigan State, only eclipsed by Baylor's win over TCU) and a great #2 win (the Wisconsin blowout, comparable to both Big 12 teams' wins over Kansas State), as well as a win over a mid-major champion, Cincinnati (compare that to TCU's win over Minnesota and Baylor's win over...Buffalo), and an overall resume that featured wins over NINE bowl-bound teams (compared to 5 for Baylor and 6 for TCU). The teams' FBS opponents' W-L comparison is quite stark (85-57 for Ohio State, 64-57 for TCU, 61-59 for Baylor), and as far as the "eye" test is concerned, no team in the nation had a win as impressive as 59-0 over Wisconsin. Yes, the loss to Virginia Tech was bad, but it's hard to imagine such a factor being dispositive when so, so many others weighed in favor of the Buckeyes.

5. ...Kind of

The internal ranking of the top four teams, however, made little sense. In the last 35 years, an undefeated power conference team has been ranked behind a team with a loss at the end of the regular season exactly FOUR times. 2012 Ohio State and 1993 Auburn were on sanctions. 1993 Nebraska was ranked #2 behind a Florida State team that demolished everyone on their schedule except for #1 Notre Dame (losing by 7), and the Huskers got a chance for a #1 vs. #2 matchup against the Noles in the Orange Bowl. 1992 Texas A&M was ranked #4 behind undefeated Miami, undefeated Alabama, and 11-1 Florida State, who had lost to only Miami (Wide Right II). Somehow, the committee saw fit to drop undefeated Florida State to #3 this year based on...the "I" test (as in "I think this team is better"). Make no mistake, this year's versions of Alabama and Oregon aren't juggernauts that tripped up against elite opponents; they're very good teams who, unlike FSU, had a bad week they couldn't quite turn around.

The playoff matchups should be: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Ohio State (Sugar); #2/3 Oregon vs. #2/3 Alabama (Rose).

6. The Big 12 Doesn't Need a 13th Game

Much was made of the fact that the four playoff participants each won a Power 5 conference championship game this weekend. After Baylor and TCU found themselves on the outside looking in, every Big 12 Chicken Little declared that the league would never get a fair shake until they got an extra game of their own. This is, of course, obviously wrong, for at least 2 reasons:

A) Just win, and you're in

Imagine if TCU could have put together a single late-game drive or stop against Baylor, or if Baylor had...not sucked...against West Virginia. The Big 12 would've had a team at 12-0 and probably #1 in the playoff rankings. Would they really want to risk a sure thing in a conference championship the following week? Ask 2007 Missouri.

B) This year's champ...still wouldn't be in

No matter how you split the Big 12, Baylor and TCU would almost certainly have been in the same division. So TCU would have ended up exactly where they are now, and Baylor would have had a chance to play...Kansas State again? Oklahoma? West Virginia? None of those wins could have made up for the gap in strength of schedule between the Buckeyes and the Bears. It would've been Ohio State, Baylor, and TCU at #4, #5, and #6, just like it was without "One True Champion."

7. Avoiding the BCS Mess

When the new playoff format was announced and everyone cheered that the controversies of the BCS era would at last be no more, I remained skeptical. I predicted that future arguments about #4 vs. #5 would be just as bad as the #2 vs. #3 problems of the past. After one year, it looks like I'm 0 for 1 on that front. Could you imagine what the debate would have looked like this year if we were under the 2-team playoff BCS system? Would the top 3 have looked ANYTHING like they do now? Would the voters really have snubbed the undefeated, defending champion, 29-win streak Florida State because of a few close wins? If not, how fierce would the fight have been between Alabama and Oregon? Certainly worse than the OSU/TCU/Baylor slugfest.

So congratulations, playoff people, the future does look bright after all. (And, as a homer, I'm obviously happy to have a 4-team playoff when my team is squarely at #4.)

8. Wait Till Next Year

After Braxton went down for the season, I wrote that the Buckeyes might actually be better off in the long run, since the very very young 2014 Buckeyes would have a year to gain valuable experience before Brax retook the reins for his true senior season. But no one (except the haters) expected Barrett to outplay Miller in his freshman year, and nobody but nobody expected Cardale, this raw O-line, and the oft-maligned defense to do THAT to Wisconsin last night. Think about how good this team is right now, then imagine next year's squad with these guys returning:

3 All-B1G caliber QBs
All-B1G caliber RB Ezekiel Elliott
4/5 of this year's OL
Dontre Wilson AND Jalin Marshall
5 of this year's 2-deep DL
All of this year's good LBs
The entire secondary (minus Doran Grant)
Every kicker/punter

If we're not preseason #1, we won't be outside the top 4.

9. January 1st, That Is

Even though the 2015 Buckeyes should be better than the best pieces of 1998, 2002, and 2006 combined, the scary thought is that this team is good enough to win it all THIS YEAR. We're somewhat of a long shot, but it's not like there's a 2013 Florida State or 2004 USC or 2001 Miami in the bracket. We all saw what Cardale can do with 7 days to prepare; imagine what Tom and Urban can do with a month. As I said last week, this season has already been an unbelievable success, but this team isn't ready to quit just yet. All that stands in their way are 1) Urban's nemesis, 2) the runaway Heisman winner, and 3) the defending champs.

After Indy, I can't wait.

10. Put Me In (the stands), Coach!

It bears mentioning that my fellow Let's Go Bucks! weekly prediction co-champion John Draper and I have been to 2 Ohio State games this season, and the Buckeyes have won them by a combined score of 125-0. We are currently accepting sponsorships to send us to New Orleans.

BONUS: It's 12:51...

Oh, by the way, Saturday also saw Michigan's basketball team lose to the New Jersey Institute of Technology, the only D-1 school that doesn't have a chance of playing in the NCAA Tournament (due to their unique independent status).

Ohhhhhhhh.....(tap tap tap)