"When you're not a champion you've got to learn and know what a champion looks like, feels like."
- Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck, via FOXSports.com
Ohio State is off to about as rocky of a start as a defending champion can have without losing a game. After a thrilling opener against a tough Virginia Tech team, the Cinderellas of 2014 have come back down to earth with a "meh" win against Hawaii and a squeaker against Northern Illinois that pretty much felt like a loss. Still, the Buckeyes are champions until they aren't, and their next opponent, Western Michigan, is treating them as such. Head coach P.J. Fleck acknowledged the Broncos' underdog status, one which is the norm when a small school comes to play a big money game.
That hasn't stopped WMU from trying their hardest to play spoiler. The Broncos put up 24 points against a Michigan State team that looks like a playoff contender, with quarterback Zach Terrell hanging 355 yards on the Spartans. The MAC is a conference whose title race is going to be a tangled mess -- Toledo over Arkansas! NIU hanging with the Buckeyes! -- but Western Michigan looks like a team that could be right in the thick of it.
As for Ohio State, they will look to get a desperately out-of-sorts offense firing on all cylinders again in the last week before Big Ten play begins in earnest. Urban Meyer has described the effort on that side of the ball so far as "playing defense on offense," which is a pretty apt summation of how things have gone for the defending champs so far. Being the hunted, Meyer has said, is far less preferable to being the hunter.
"It looks like [Mel] Kiper is taking a new stance, listing only one Big Ten player in the top 10 of his latest big board."
- Sean Merriman, BTN.com
Despite boasting two of the best teams in the country through three weeks, the Big Ten conference is losing some love in NFL Draft circles. At the moment, the only player from the conference in Mel Kiper, Jr.'s top ten is OSU defensive end Joey Bosa. That's a far cry from a few short weeks ago, when multiple B1G players saw themselves listed among that illustrious group.
The good news is that Mel Kiper, Jr. is often wrong, and that the season is still in its infancy. Bosa has hardly wrecked the world in his two games on the field, but he's a force to be reckoned with, and No. 97 will hit his stride soon enough. Other Ohio State guys like Ezekiel Elliott (No. 13), Taylor Decker (No. 16), Michael Thomas (No. 22) and Darron Lee (No. 25) have plenty of time to improve their draft stock and their pay grade as the season progresses.
Also representing the Big Ten in Kiper's rankings are Michigan State OT Jack Conklin and Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg. His top spot still belongs to a DE, with Ole Miss' Robert Nkemdiche claiming that honor for now.
"They're passionate about football. They're going to make it rough for the opposing team no matter who it is."
- Mike Hart, WMU RBs coach and former UM Wolverine, via David Drew (MLive.com)
Mike Hart knows a thing or two about what it feels like to come into Ohio Stadium as the enemy. (He also knows a thing or two about losing there.) Hart, who played running back at Michigan from 2004 to 2007, was one of many Wolverines to go 0-4 against the Buckeyes during Jim Tressel's reign of terror against that team up north. Now, he's the running backs coach at Western Michigan, the next opponent up on Ohio State's early season schedule.
To his credit (per David Drew), Hart was incredibly diplomatic when asked about the environment in the Horseshoe. Hart made reference to the passion that Ohio State fans have for their team, the crowd noise and energy, and the general atmosphere in the stadium.
Hart, who ran wild all over Upstate New York during his high school years (for a time holding the national touchdowns record, even though he was yanked from most Onondaga High School games by halftime, having already scored between 3 and 6 TDs), was once held to 61 yards on 18 carries in the 'Shoe. He's now tasked with coaching his players to face an Ohio State defense that's been as stingy as anyone in the country, allowing a miserly 12.3 PPG so far this season. It may be a while before Hart notches his first career W in Ohio Stadium.
STICK TO SPORTS:
- It's dusty in here: OSU and WMU coaches will wear #CoachtoCureMD patches this weekend to raise awareness of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
- Sound the alarm! Matt Damon would play Daredevil if the franchise got rebooted.
- Apropos of nothing, Joe Bonamassa's "Stop!" will melt your face off.
- Jon Bois and PFTCommenter, two of the internet's greatest treasures, have both dropped some world-class stuff this week.
- The only 2 tweets you need to see for the next few days: here and here. Have a great weekend, y'all.