"At this point, I think the [B1G POY] honor has to go to Barrett, who only continues to get better."
-Tom Dienhart, Big Ten Network
There have been a number of fantastic individual performances in the B1G this season. At least one expert thinks J.T. Barrett's has been the most impressive of all. Tom Dienhart over at BTN is buying Barrett as the conference's player of the year for 2014. While players like Nebraska's Ameer Abdullah, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon, and Indiana's Tevin Coleman have all stood out thanks to great numbers, the freshman quarterback of the Buckeyes has been the biggest difference-maker for his team in 2014.
Despite Barrett's emergence as a conference player of the year front-runner, Dienhart isn't buying the B1G's ability to push a team into the first ever college football playoff. A dearth of quality opponents left on Ohio State's (the putative conference champ) schedule, combined with the favorable rankings and schedules of the teams still ahead of the Buckeyes, make it a long-shot that the conference will be represented in the playoff according to Dienhart.
Another team that might be doomed by the same problems as the Buckeyes is the impressive TCU Horned Frogs. TCU, one of two clear Big 12 favorites (along with Baylor), will suffer from a lack of quality remaining opponents in light of their conference not playing a championship game.
"I think he has a good understanding of 'This is my last go-around' and that the sands from the hourglass are falling through."
Ohio State's oft-criticized big man, Amir Williams, is heading into his final season in Columbus. Rather than trying to live up to the hype that surrounded him when he first entered school, Williams is instead looking to play with the kind of consistency that will give the Buckeyes a legitimate presence in the paint. "Amir has been probably better than he's been in his first three years here," coach Matta told Cleveland.com's Ari Wasserman. "Is it to the level I would like on a daily basis? We're getting there."
Matta cites an improved ability to finish around the basket and get up and down the floor as the reasons for his (guarded) praise of Williams' game. One of the biggest criticisms of the Buckeye center has always been a perceived lack of energy and focus while on the floor. Matta is hoping that those nagging inconsistencies will be a thing of the past, now that Williams sees the handwriting on the wall. The last game that Williams played, he was held scoreless against an upstart Dayton team that knocked the Buckeyes out of the NCAA tournament.
Could a little competition help push Williams to the next level? Graduate transfer Anthony Lee, though more a power forward than a pure center, has a more well-rounded game than Williams and could give OSU a different look should coach Matta decide to play small ball. Trey McDonald, who was energetic (albeit not great) off the bench last season, will also be pushing for minutes. These threats to Williams' minutes in his final season in Columbus might be just what the doctor ordered for the big man to finish his Buckeye career strong.
"I think our mantra for (last) week was we were going to empty the chamber...We were going to empty the chamber and we were going to be aggressive."
-Offensive coordinator Tom Herman (via Cleveland.com)
The Buckeyes certainly pulled out all the stops on Saturday against the favored Michigan State Spartans. That ability to hit the gas and not look back is one of the reasons that beat writer Doug Lesmerises cites as to why Ohio State will beat Minnesota tomorrow. There is a difference, according to Herman, between not "leaving bullets in the chamber" and "throwing caution to the wind." The former helped the Buckeyes topple the Spartans, and can be adjusted according to the opponent. The latter is what makes defensive and special teams coaches "perk up their ears," in Herman's words.
The much-improved offensive line provides another leg up in tomorrow's showdown against the Gophers, according to Lesmerises. Everyone from freshman guard Billy Price to center Jacoby Boren made an impact against MSU last week, and that steady play is a big reason why the Buckeyes haven't lost a game since the first weekend of September. "It's a combination of how we practice, how we prepare, how we teach," offensive line coach Ed Warinner said.
Other reasons that the Buckeyes will walk out of Minnesota the victors, according to Lesmerises? For one, the team is trying to get in the mindset that it should treat preparation for every game the way it treated the matchup against Michigan State--the "new normal," according to H-back Jalin Marshall. Another reason is that, while David Cobb is one of the best running backs in the country, it will be hard to set him up for success against the Buckeye defense without any semblance of a passing game. The Gophers are perhaps the most imbalanced team in the conference in that respect. History also favors the Buckeyes, if you believe that sort of thing: Ohio State is 43-7 in this matchup, and the Gophers (who beat Michigan earlier in the year) haven't beaten the Buckeyes and Wolverines in the same season since 1940.
"The Big Ten has figured out that its top teams will need to play one another...but that change does not go into effect until 2016. In other words, the Big Ten understands one of its problems, but is in no hurry to solve it."
-Michael Bird, SBNation
Ohio State might very well be one of the four best teams in the country. There's also a very good chance that they won't get the opportunity to prove it. Stuck in what is probably the worst of the power 5 conferences, the Buckeyes might be relegated to a New Year's bowl game rather than being selected to play for the first annual college football playoff trophy. While Ohio State has easily the worst loss of any team still in the hunt (hello, Virginia Tech), even that might not necessarily have sunk them had the rest of the conference not been so abysmal for the last 3 seasons.
The B1G, often looking like slapstick comedy masquerading as football, has not done the team any favors. There was a reason that, although rendered moot by an crushing loss to Michigan State in the conference championship game, people were calling for a one-loss SEC team to jump undefeated Ohio State for a place in last year's title game. The conference has been lackluster, and there's not an awful lot that its best team can do about that. Adding such storied programs as Rutgers and Maryland might have earned Jim Delany some serious TV money, but in a more sensible universe those two Ohio State blowouts could have been replaced by games against ranked opponents. The following, from the article, sums up the B1G's biggest problem better than I ever could:
Meyer is one of two active coaches to have won multiple titles as a head man. The other is Nick Saban, whose team lost a game earlier in the season, but which has a chance to come back because Alabama plays in the best division in college football history. College football fans are treated to the spectacle of the sport's best coach testing himself on a weekly basis against elite competition. The same is not true with the sport's second-best coach, as Meyer's team cuts through a hollow shell of a conference.
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