"If Ohio State is going to return to the top of the heap of the Big Ten and get back in the College Football Playoff, odds are it will be the quarterback on the other side of the ball helping to lead the program there."
- Austin Ward, ESPN.com's Big Ten blog
This week, the folks at ESPN's Big Ten blog hashed out who the most important player in the conference might be in 2016. The "quarterback on the other side of the ball" in question is MLB Raekwon McMillan, one of Ohio State's captains for next season, picked by Austin Ward as the biggest impact player in the Big Ten. It's not a bad bet that McMillan will be one of the most pivotal players in the Best Conference in America, either. After serving as Curtis Grant's understudy much of his freshman year, McMillan broke out as a sophomore to become a leader on one of the country's best defenses.
The other pick from Ohio State, unsurprisingly, was J.T. Barrett. Barrett was better than Cardale Jones in 2015, but wasn't the same electric, do-it-all player that he was during the 2014 season. That's poised to change next year. He has a firm grasp on the starting job, with all the QB controversy behind him. He'll be one of the only veterans on an offense losing almost every impact starter, likely meaning a higher volume of touches early on as his team gets acclimated to the rigors of their schedule.
Other players considered for the top spot were Michigan's Jabrill Peppers, Michigan State's Malik McDowell, Iowa's Desmond King, and Northwestern's Anthony Walker, which...seems like a long shot. Still, there's a bevy of world-class talent in the Big Ten heading into 2016.
"In the first year of the CFP, Ohio State proved as the No. 4 seed it's possible to overcome a bad home loss early...by continuing to improve."
- Jon Solomon, CBS Sports
This week, the team over at CBS Sports attempted to rank every college football national champion from the CFP and BCS eras. It's an interesting debate, to be sure, especially given how rapidly the college football landscape has changed in the last few years. (For further proof, the 2001 Miami Hurricanes claim the top spot on the list, and perhaps rightly so. Anyone heard from Miami lately?) The two CFP champions, Ohio State and Alabama, came in Nos. 9 and 11 on this list.
The biggest flaw in these rankings is that they undervalue the difficulty of winning a championship in the current playoff format. It's true that neither 2014 Ohio State nor 2015 Alabama escaped the season without a loss, but both teams had to win two postseason games against some of the best in the country in order to claim the crown. Losses to Virginia Tech and Ole Miss stung each, certainly, but Ohio State had to beat 'Bama -- the No. 1 team in the country -- for the right to even play in the title game. This year's Crimson Tide waxed an excellent Michigan State team in order to get into the championship against Clemson, who also happened to be No. 1.
Still, as Jon Solomon, the rankings' curator, points out, this is nothing more than an exercise designed to produce debate. For my money, 2014 Ohio State was head and shoulders above teams like 2011 Alabama (who finished one spot of the Buckeyes on the list).
"Roby has emerged as a reliable third corner in a league that has put a premium on the job in the past decade."
- Robert Klemko, SI.com's MMQB
That's Bradley Roby, former Ohio State Buckeye and one of the most important pieces in the Denver Broncos' recent postseason win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The MMQB's Robert Klemko details the impact Roby had on the game:
[Fitzgerald] Touissant took a handoff to the left sideline where Roby, the corner, was being blocked and held by Darrius Heyward-Bey. Roby shot a left jab at the swinging football with the precision of a dentist extracting a tooth. The Broncos drove the length of the field, scored and added a two-point conversion to go up seven.
Pivotal as Roby was against a banged-up Steelers team missing a handful of their best players, he might need to take on an even bigger role this weekend against the New England Patriots. Broncos starting CB Chris Harris, Jr. is dealing with a shoulder injury that will almost certainly limit him in the AFC Championship. If Harris struggles, Roby will be called upon to be the difference-maker against a talented Patriots receiving corps that looks fully healthy and operational.
If nothing else, we can all root for a former Buckeye to embarrass a former Wolverine on a big stage for the second straight week.