"He won another [championship] last season at Ohio State and hasn't been shy about wandering into the SEC's footprint to lure top players to the Horseshoe."
-Chris Low, ESPN's Big Ten Blog
This afternoon, Chris Low over at ESPN called attention to a quiet phenomenon that was set in motion when Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus: that the Big Ten is trying to "out-SEC" the SEC. It started with Meyer refusing to abide by the "gentleman's agreement" that had previously characterized recruiting in the Big Ten, by going after recruits who had already committed to other Big Ten schools. His peers were furious, but there's no denying that his bold approach has changed the conference's culture.
One of Meyer's other "SEC-type" moves is one of geography. The long-held wisdom is that the top football talent in the country comes from the south, so Meyer shifted his focus heavily to recruiting those players to come to Columbus. He's pulled some of the school's biggest contributors from places like Florida, Georgia, and Texas, and shows no signs of slowing down his efforts in those states.
The absurd attendance at Ohio State's spring game is further evidence of Meyer's SEC-style approach to building a program. Having massive crowds for fake football games was long considered the mark of SEC schools, but Meyer has brought that, too, to the Midwest.
"As it became increasingly evident that Russell was going to leave for the NBA, Matta and his staff needed to address the hole that was going to be in Ohio State's roster."
-Bill Landis, Cleveland.com
On Wednesday, D'Angelo Russell announced his intention to leave for the NBA Draft after one season at Ohio State. It's the right call -- Russell projects as a high first-round pick -- but the departure of such a phenomenal player leaves the Buckeyes with some question marks on the roster. Fortunately, Thad Matta has recruited his way to a great infusion of talent in 2015.
The crown jewel of the 2015 class is JaQuan Lyle, who will almost certainly start at one of the two guard spots for the Buckeyes. Lyle was the fifth and final member of the class to sign on with Ohio State. He's a versatile player with good size and the ability to get to the bucket, though his jump shooting could use a little work. He could pair up with either Austin Grandstaff or A.J. Harris in the backcourt, if Kam Williams doesn't win the starting spot at shooting guard. Grandstaff is a knock-down shooter working on improving his all-around game, while Harris is a 5'9 speedster that can get to the hoop. Matta will have a lot of flexibility at the guard spots, which should help mitigate the loss of Russell.
Joining the three guards are SF/PF Mickey Mitchell and C Daniel Giddens. Mitchell has the most diverse skill set of any player in the class, capable of playing anywhere from point guard to power forward, but he'll be battling Marc Loving for the other forward spot opposite Jae'Sean Tate. Giddens likely won't start either, as the coaching staff likes Trevor Thompson at the 5, but he's capable of fighting for a good chunk of playing time. The future of the frontcourt looks brighter than it has in years.
"What Ohio State did on first and second down with their play action game was lethal. We couldn't get caught running with motion and get picked with their rub routes."
-Virginia Tech head coach Bud Foster
By now, Ohio State's defeat at the hands of Virginia Tech in week two of the 2014 season has become just a bit of trivia -- that a disappointing Hokies team took down the eventual national champions has become a curiosity, a black swan event in the bigger picture of the Buckeyes steamrolling three of the best teams in the country en route to a title. But last year's triumph, on the Hokie side of things, was no accident, and isn't an impossible act to repeat.
What really sunk Ohio State in last year's tilt was the masterful way in which Bud Foster implemented his 'Bear' front on defense, a look that gave J.T. Barrett hell in just his second career start. The beauty of the Bear front is that it sets up defensive linemen for one-on-one blocking assignments, negating the offense's ability to use combination blocks in the gap the running back is supposed to hit. It's also (with the right personnel) a look that can shut down a read-option attack like Ohio State's, given that it's designed to allow defenders to move laterally to the point of attack. There's flexibility there: while it's traditionally a linebacker or end that has to account for the quarterback in the read-option, Foster assigned that role to a speedier corner, with great results.
It certainly worked against Ohio State last year -- Barrett finished 9 of 29 passing and Ezekiel Elliott gained just 32 yards, the worst game of the year for each by a wide margin. But the Bear front isn't infallible, either. After VT's success, several other teams tried adopting Bear concepts against the Buckeyes, but as Barrett grew into a Heisman contender and Elliott broke out as one of the country's most dangerous tailbacks, those attempts became less and less successful. The Bear also relies on excellent man-coverage corners who can get by without safety help over the top, and plenty of teams lack the personnel to make that happen effectively. The Buckeyes open at Virginia Tech this season with a chance for redemption.
"I consider myself a cornerback. I don't see myself as a safety. But I am open to it."
-Bradley Roby, former Ohio State CB
One former Buckeye might be switching positions at the next level. Bradley Roby, who was Ohio State's shutdown corner during his time in Columbus, might transition from CB to safety this season for the Denver Broncos. Roby was an excellent nickel corner in his rookie season, notching 65 tackles, 2 INTs, and a sack. He also didn't shy away from contact, a valuable trait for a safety to have.
The move isn't set in stone yet, but Broncos GM John Elway has spoken several times about the plan to have Roby take snaps at safety throughout the spring and summer to prepare him for the coming season. Roby is a fantastic playmaker who might otherwise be watching the action from the sidelines thanks to Denver's excellent starting corners. It makes sense to utilize Roby's talents as often as possible, making his move to safety in certain packages a smart one. He has also been bulking up in preparation for the switch.
STICK TO SPORTS:
- Ohio State's CFO is sticking around, despite previously saying he was leaving for a corporate job.
- An OSU sorority just got hit with a 2 year suspension.
- Five Ohio cities cracked the "top 10 most miserable cities in the United States" list. Woof.
- You can fish without buying a license in the state of Ohio next weekend.
- The Ohio Military Hall of Fame inducted its 2015 class today.