“LB - RAEKWON MCMILLAN, OHIO STATE, JUNIOR
The former five-star recruit has blossomed into one of the nation’s best defenders in his third season with the Buckeyes.”
-SI Staff, SportsIllustrated.com
Ohio State leads all schools with four selections to the Sports Illustrated Midseason All-America Team. The Buckeyes are represented by guard Billy Price, center Pat Elflein, linebacker Raekwon McMillen, and safety Malik Hooker. Also, quarterback J.T. Barrett leads the second team, behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the list’s only unanimous selection.
While you could make an argument that Curtis Samuel deserved the second team all-purpose slot over Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey, the real snub of SI’s list is the unforgivable omission of Ohio State’s all-world punter Cameron Johnston.
The Aussie is one-tenth of a punt per game away from leading the country in punting average by nearly a full yard. His 3.5 punts per game is barely behind the 3.6 required for eligibility. Johnston has averaged 50.8 yards over his 21 punts this season, which is particularly impressive considering that the Buckeye offense is not often buried deep in its own territory.
So, while most Ohio State fans would prefer that Johnston never even had to step on the field, there is an odd confidence in knowing that a team’s punter is equally adept at booming one for 70 yards (which he did against Wisconsin) or downing one inside the 20, which he has done on more than 57% of his punts this year. I, for one, am hoping that come season’s end, he is sitting at exactly 3.6 punts pg.
“So much for inexperience being a problem at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are up and running again without any signs of slowing down, replacing a record-setting draft class and a huge batch of early departures while continuing to win.”
-Austin Ward, ESPN.com
Expectations are always high come football season in Columbus, but as fall 2016 approached there was an unusual amount of uncertainty surrounding the Buckeye football team. Yes, the Ohio State coaching staff has recruited as well as any in the country, but whenever you have to rely on as many new starters as OSU is this year, it can be a bit daunting.
So, to see young players like Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore, Noah Brown, Jerome Baker, and Nick Bosa making significant contributions is gratifying. However, as Ward points out, not everything has been perfect for the Bucks this season. Coming off of two games where things did not go as planned for the passing game, head coach Urban Meyer said on Monday that the team’s receiving corps still needs to get better.
“It's a work in progress with a bunch of young receivers,” Meyer told the assembled media, “and they have to continue to work at it.”
Currently, No. 3 Michigan is giving up the fewest passing yards per game in the country (113.7) by more than 19. So, as you start to look forward to a potential meeting of unbeaten rivals in The Game, Barrett and his WRs will likely need to be more productive against Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers if they want to claim a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game, and likely the College Football Playoff as well.
“Barkley is 31st in the country, and sixth in the Big Ten, in rushing, but we think he's the best back in the conference. You don't have the kind of game he had against Ohio State last year by accident.”
-Bill Landis, cleveland.com
Not only did the Buckeye defense give up its first rushing touchdown of the year against Wisconsin, it also allowed a season-high 236 yards rushing, including 166 to Corey Clement. Enter Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. Do you remember him? Last year he gorged the Ohio State defense for 194 on the ground.
So far in 2016, Barkley only ranks as the sixth most productive back in the Big Ten, with 97 yards per game, but the Buckeye coaching staff knows that he has the potential to bust games open.
Meyer called him a “first-rounder,” and while he apologized for the “coach speak,” said that no matter what defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Greg Shiano whip up in terms of a gameplan, the key to slowing down Barkley will be to finish tackles, something that the defense didn’t do all that well against Wisconsin.
“You won't stop him,” Meyer said, “but minimize the impact the running back has on us.”
Before their open date last week, Barkley ran for 202 yards against Maryland, and earlier in the season went for 136 against Michigan, which currently has the ninth best rush defense in the country.
Coming off of an emotional win against Wisconsin, if the Ohio State defense is not prepared to contain Barkley, it could be another big day for the Penn State sophomore.
“I wanted to call this category a push due to the early-season playmaking of the Buckeyes, but the struggles that several of the back seven defenders had against Wisconsin in comparison to Michigan’s complete dominance against the same team makes it unrealistic to say the two teams are on even ground at this stage.”
-Josh Liskiewitz, Pro Football Focus
The beauty of sports is that neither past successes nor failures impact a team’s present circumstances. After the 2014 season, Meyer refused to call his team the “defending champs” because it was a different mix of players, so the new group had nothing to defend.
In that vein, this year’s Michigan Wolverines appear to have overcome the stigma of their 13-2 record against Ohio State in the past 15 years to become the media darling to win this year’s Big Ten title. No doubt there is increased talent in Ann Arbor thanks to mercurial head coach Jim Harbaugh, however, few on the Wolverine roster have proven to be able to produce under the extreme pressure of a big-time game. Until they do, that is tough to count on.
Liskiewitz gives Michigan the edge in four of the position groups that he graded, with the Buckeyes only coming out on top in the offensive line and quarterback comparisons. However, he does admit that in many cases (secondary and defensive line) the Wolverines get the edge because of depth and OSU’s inexperience.
While no Buckeye fan ever likes losing to Michigan in anything, since there are still more than five weeks before the Maize and Blue travel to Columbus, it might not be a bad thing to have analysts and pundits heaping extra pressure on an untested Wolverine team.
STICK TO SPORTS
- LeBron James says that playing at Ohio State is “always special.”
- Samsung is setting up Note 7 exchanges booths around the world.
- “Red Dead Redemption 2” confirmed for 2017 with “new online multiplayer experience.”
- Inside the New York Public Library’s haunted apartments and death chutes.
- Vote Compass compares you to presidential candidates.