"Ohio State was left without the coach who had won a national title in 2002, had mastered Michigan and the Big Ten, and had molded the Midwest’s premier program."
-Adam Rittenberg, ESPN
With all the highlights of Ohio State football as of late—a national title, an unreal trio of Heisman candidate quarterbacks, a coach that hasn’t lost in conference and, yes, Mark May leaving ESPN—we may have forgotten the events that transpired just four short years ago.
Jim Tressel resigned as head coach of Ohio State Memorial Day weekend in 2011 amid a scandal involving tattoos and sale of memorabilia. NCAA investigations would follow, players, including Terrell Pryor, would leave for the NFL while others remained suspended at Ohio State. What would follow in the fall was a 6-7 season including the first loss to Michigan since 2003, a bowl game loss to Florida and, ultimately, a one-year postseason ban.
Then came Urban Meyer, who seemed to turn the program around instantly. His 38-3 record, including wins over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff Championship, shows how "He gave a great program a chance to be great again right away, which you don’t see often," said Rittenberg. "Just ask USC and Miami." When most programs take years to recover, if they are even able to (think SMU), Ohio State bounced back in just one season to go 12-0.
But we need to remember Tressel’s legacy that he left behind for Meyer. As much as tattoo-gate hurt Ohio State’s reputation, and despite losing two BCS national titles, Meyer inherited a winning team, an outstanding recruiting class and an unparalleled group of leaders like John Simon, Zach Boren and Jonathon Hankins to pave the way.
Four years ago today, it seemed impossible that Ohio State football would be where it is today. When the biggest problem the program faces is which of three outstanding quarterbacks to start in the fall, it has come a long way from the dark ages.
"It’s probably not a bad idea, because other conferences are doing it and conference games historically have great audiences. Our fans love to go to conference games, so why not have a season of them?"
-Mark Rudner, Big Ten senior associate commissioner, interviewed by Brian Bennett
The Big Ten is looking to follow suit with the SEC and begin league play earlier in the season—maybe even week one. This year, however, the only intra-conference game in September will be Penn State’s week three matchup against Rutgers—a remnant of scheduling when Rutgers was not part of the Big Ten.
While the SEC begins full league play as early as week three (last year, 21st-ranked Texas A&M opened their season at conference foe and 9th-ranked South Carolina), the Big Ten usually plays exclusively out of conference opponents through September, beginning league play in October for the remainder of the season. However, beginning in 2016 with nine-game conference schedules, the Big Ten will begin scheduling league matchups earlier in the season.
In 2017, Ohio State will open with Indiana, and Purdue will face Northwestern week one in 2018. However, scheduling grows more complicated beyond that, as some teams have already filled their schedules with out of conference opponents more than a decade out. The Big Ten remains ahead of most other conferences in that it already has most of its games scheduled through 2019, so figuring out the mesh of schedules for future matchups is not critical right now.
"We’re trying to find weeks early in season where we can fit conference games in there," said Rudner. "It’s something that really bubbled up from the coaches several years ago, and I think administrators supported that. We want to join the crowd, like everybody else seems to be doing."
The league would like to keep the early season matchups as cross-division, non-rivalry games, preferring to reserve those premier matchups for later in the season.
The last time the Big Ten played conference games in week one was 1996, when Illinois opened at Michigan and Purdue played at Michigan State.
With the NBA draft less than a month away, Ohio State point guard D’Angelo Russell is bulking up, improving his pull-up shot and playing against superstars like Chris Paul in preparation for his likely top-three pick. Russell has team workouts starting next week, likely with those teams with the top four picks.
Prior to his season, Russell hadn’t understood the lottery and its implications, but is excited for the opportunities that it has presented for his future in the NBA:"I had no clue how that worked. Just to be there was a heck of an experience. I feel like wherever I go, I will make the best out of it."
Russell is currently projected to go No. 3 overall to the Philadelphia 76ers, who are in desperate need a player to complement last year’s first-round pick, center Joel Embiid
Russell and Embiid could balance each other well for the Sixers, opening up opportunities on the perimeter for Russell and down low for Embiid, according to Derek Bodner. Russell’s passing skills, outstanding range and ability to quickly shoot off the dribble will create conflict for defenses who will need to quickly shift their tactics.
But Russell’s greatest asset that he could bring to the Sixers is his ability to create space. He spreads the floor by being able to pull up from anywhere, spacing out the defense and giving his teammates the ability to move. With the need to hit the three-point shot becoming more and more critical, Russell can bring a lot to the table in Philadelphia.
"Does this make the Buckeye’s QB race any clearer? Heck no But you have to admit it’s interesting. One thing sports analysts, bloggers and fans don’t have to do is literally put their money where their mouth is when it comes to projections."
Vegas is finally weighing in on the Ohio State quarterback debate.
#OhioState Starting QB odds (via TopBet.eu) JT Barrett -125 (43% chance) Cardale Jones +120 (35% chance) Braxton Miller +250 (22% chance)— RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) May 31, 2015
J.T. Barrett, who started all 12 regular season games last year for the Buckeyes before being injured, is the current leader in Vegas, with a 43% chance of starting. Cardale Jones, the hero of Ohio State’s post-season run, is No, 2 with a 35% chance of starting, leaving senior Braxton Miller with 22% odds of starting.
With Miller at the lowest odds, many are questioning his decision to stay at Ohio State.
"Try to recall the last time a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year advanced to the draft not having played much at all in his final two seasons," questioned Dennis Dodd from CBS Sports.
Miller, who graduated in December, could have gone on to a new school and immediately played as a graduate transfer for his final year of eligibility. Jones was considered by many to be the favorite in the spring because he was the only healthy quarterback of the trio, but with Barrett healthy and Miller nearly recovered, the playing field is leveled.
"But, like I said, just about everybody has an opinion on this," said Moyer. But nobody—not even Urban Meyer—knows the real answer. So, until Meyer names the opening day starter, we’ll just have to keep guessing—and bettors will have to keep monitoring that prop."
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