"I'm not ready to say [he's a starter]. I want him to be. He's getting real close."
- Urban Meyer, via ESPN.com's Austin Ward
With Evan Spencer heir-apparent Noah Brown out with a broken leg and several prominent players suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech, the Ohio State receiving depth chart is more uncertain than ever. That means Braxton Miller, the team's newest H-Back, is in prime position to break in at the position when the Buckeyes go to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech on Sept. 7. But has he done what needs to be done to lock up a starting spot, with the season barely a week away?
"He's really developing his routine...getting the play, getting the split, and identifying the coverage...my plan is to have him ready to do that," coach Urban Meyer told ESPN's Austin Ward. Ward rightly points out that Miller doesn't have to be the Buckeyes' long-term solution catching passes -- Michael Thomas, Nick Vannett, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, and a whole host of other young playmakers will do plenty of that -- but will almost certainly need to be a factor in Week 1, with Marshall, Smith, and Dontre Wilson suspended.
As if the pressure weren't enough, Miller is also battling a nagging hamstring injury that has slowed him at times in the preseason. Viewers of BTN's "Scarlet and Gray Days" were recently treated to the sight of Miller making some good catches in practice, but also saw one or two catchable passes skip right out of his hands. The season starts in ten days, and nothing is guaranteed. The Buckeyes have work to do.
"It was not an accident that we found ourselves, at the end of the season, holding up a great trophy."
- Ohio State DB/Special Teams coach Kerry Coombs, via Chris Vannini, CoachingSearch.com
Speaking of "Scarlet and Gray Days," this week's episode saw Ohio State assistant coach Kerry Coombs -- perhaps the most energetic man in college football -- dropping some serious knowledge on his players. With the team gathered in a meeting room, Coombs highlighted the importance of good special teams play and the impact it has on field position, one of the national championship squad's best attributes.
"When our offense starts at the 34-yard line [or better," Coombs told the team (particularly the freshmen, who he accused of "knowing nothing"), "they score touchdowns 60 percent of the time. That's how you end up being on top of the country...it is the cause of victory." Coombs went on to emphasize that while he would never denigrate those who actually go to war by comparing it to football, that what they do is "the next level down." As such, the Buckeye staff will hand out U.S. Army-issued metal ammo boxes to players who demonstrate a relentless, ferocious style of play. Vonn Bell was given the team's first ammo box for his tireless work on both defense and special teams.
For more advanced stats on how Ohio State does what it does, be sure to check out SBNation's own Bill Connelly's Ohio State preview, and take a listen to this week's "Hangout in the Holy Land" podcast, where our staffers dive into the metrics and what they mean for the Virginia Tech game. Want to know more about BTN's excellent "Scarlet and Gray Days," narrated by J.K. Simmons? We've got you covered there, too.
"If you're the type of person who yearns for bedlam, settle in and get comfortable."
- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN.com
This being an Ohio State blog, we've extensively covered the kind of chaos facing even the unfairly-loaded Buckeyes heading into 2015 (see above). Questions about wide receivers, defensive linemen, and yes, quarterbacks, abound, just ten days away from the season opener against last season's would-be spoilers, Virginia Tech. But despite all of the unknowns, the Buckeyes are in pretty good shape, when you examine the situations facing the other premier programs in the country.
Ohio State is one of only four teams ranked in the AP's top ten bringing back a starting quarterback from 2014 (regardless of who starts for Urban Meyer's team), joined by Trevone Boykin at TCU, Cody Kessler at USC, and Connor Cook at Michigan State. Teams like Auburn and Baylor will hang their hopes on program guys who are nevertheless new to the pressure that comes with being the starter. Oregon, Florida State, and Georgia could all very well have transfer quarterbacks starting in week one, which comes with its own set of challenges. According to Wittenberg, a whopping eight of the AP top 25 will be trotting out signal-callers with two or fewer starts against FBS opponents.
Even teams firmly set at quarterback, teams with massive expectations of their own, face huge questions entering the season. TCU -- who will start the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite under center -- must replace six(!) defensive starters, a tall task even for a talented coach like Gary Patterson. Perennial powerhouses Auburn, Alabama, and Florida State are in even more dire straits on the other side of the ball, losing seven(!!) starters apiece on offense. It's things like these that make trying to project the top 4, 10, or 25 in any college football season ahead of time an absolute crapshoot. Buckle up.
"Australians' biggest advantage in American football shows up not in the long, booming spirals, but in shorter to mid-range punts, where touch and accuracy are crucial."
- USA Today (via the Associated Press)
For Ohio State fans, it's no secret that having an Australian punter on the team is something of a blessing. Aussie Cameron Johnston, perhaps college football's most celebrated coffin-corner man, played a massive role in the Buckeyes' claim to 2014's field position title. Having the best field position in the country is certainly nothing to sneeze at (as Kerry Coombs highlights above), and Ohio State will look to continue that dominance in 2015, with Johnston leading the charge.
Urban Meyer's squad is hardly the first to capitalize on the very particular set of skills that former Aussie Rules Football players bring to the table, either. LSU's Mad Hatter, Les Miles, has been on the cutting edge of recruiting punters from Down Under for several years. He led the way with Brad Wing (now battling fellow Aussie Jordan Berry for the Pittsburgh Steelers' punting job), who had some eye-popping highlights for the Tigers while in Baton Rouge. Miles' current punter, Jamie Keehn, and his understudy, Josh Growden, both hail from Australia. Keehn's first ever college snap went from disastrous to delightful as he fielded a snap that had sailed over his head, scooted away from defenders, and netted a 38-yard punt.
The Tigers, like the Buckeyes, certainly expect their run of excellence on special teams to continue. Hopes hang heavily on their Australian specialists, who actually make punting something to look forward to, talented as they are.
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