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Michael Jordan is not willing to accept mediocrity at center

The third-year starter’s hard work in practice paid off against Tulane.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Texas Christian Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

“He came up to me every day after practice, because I got on him a little bit. We chart every snap, and he was very accurate this whole week.”

-Urban Meyer, via Doug Lesmerises,

For the third-straight season, Ohio State’s starting center is a newly-converted guard. The experiment has worked with exceptional results in the previous two iterations, with Pat Elflein and Billy Price both winning the Rimington Award as the nation’s best center.

The start of this season didn’t have quite the same fireworks, as Michael Jordan took over the role. Jordan, a true junior, is a third-year starter for the Buckeyes, and previously played at the guard position on lines with both Elflein and Price. His move to center was met with some difficulty, and he carried the burden with the rest of the line of adjusting to a new quarterback in Dwayne Haskins.

Those problems manifested themselves in what has been the closest of Ohio State’s four games so far this season: When the Buckeyes traveled to Arlington, Texas to face TCU. Jordan’s snaps seemed to be uncomfortably low, causing problems for Haskins as he worked to rally his offense. While Haskins was able to handle the issue for the most part, roughly a quarter of Jordan’s offensive snaps were off-target, putting pressure on the young quarterback to work harder than he needed to against what has been the toughest defense he’d faced up to that point as a starter.

Those low snaps, obviously, would be a concern as the Buckeyes prepare for Penn State this week— that is, if the snaps continued to actually be a problem. Against Tulane Saturday, Jordan didn’t seem to have any issues with snaps, a far cry from his performance a week before.

According to Urban Meyer, the issue was a point of emphasis at practice all week leading up to the Buckeyes’ final non-conference matchup. It was, apparently, an issue which was resolved in just a week of more deliberate snaps.

“This will be the sixth top-10 game between Penn State and Ohio State in the Big Ten era. Four of them have been played in Columbus.”

-Mark Wogenrich, The Morning Call

It didn’t take James Franklin long to turn Penn State around after his arrival in 2014. The Nittany Lions won the Big Ten in 2016 and, despite being shut out of the College Football Playoff and falling in the Rose Bowl to USC, were widely considered one of the top teams in the nation. They built on that success last year, when the Nittany Lions won the Fiesta Bowl, defeating Washington 35-28.

As it relates to Ohio State, Penn State has, as a result, been a royal pain. In 2014, Franklin’s first season as head coach, J.T. Barrett and company escaped Happy Valley 31-24 in double overtime. The Buckeyes won handily at home the next season, turning in a 38-10 beating over the Nittany Lions. But Franklin made up for the loss in 2016, when he finally toppled the Buckeyes 24-21 in State College, dashing, for the moment, all hope of a berth in the Playoff. Last season, the Buckeyes managed an even narrower margin, with Barrett, in his final game against Penn State, leading a massive, fourth-quarter comeback in Columbus and earning a 39-38 win.

Last year’s game was probably the most exciting of the season for Ohio State, but it was also significant on a national scale. Penn State and Ohio State entered the game ranked second and sixth, respectively, and the winner was considered the de facto champion of the Big Ten East, especially since Penn State defeated Michigan the week prior. This year, however, marks the first time that Penn State has hosted a top-10 matchup since 1999.

However, Ohio State is used to playing host to premier matchups. In addition to facing the Nittany Lions at home last season, the Buckeyes also hosted fifth-ranked Oklahoma. In 2016, Ohio State held two top-10 matchups against Nebraska and Michigan.

“There have already been some big upsets this year--ODU over Virginia Tech, Arizona State over Michigan State, BYU over Wisconsin--but until one of the big dogs at the top goes down, the real chaos hasn’t started.”

-David M. Hale, ESPN

Four weeks into the college football season and the landscape of who is actually a contender remains, in large part, still murky, as teams have barely broken into their respective conference slates. A few truths, however, seem to be taking shape. For starters, and with no surprise, Alabama still looks like the team to beat. Also without much surprise, the four next-best teams from last season remain the next-best teams throughout the first month of the 2018 season: Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson and Ohio State (the order thereof is certainly debatable). Oh, and at No. 13 in the AP Poll, defending national champion UCF remains close to the elite as well.

Both Ohio State and Oklahoma (and, now, Clemson) are breaking in new quarterbacks this season, making their consistent presence at the top of the game even more impressive. Haskins is in the top-10 (actually, mainly the top-five) of most major passing-related statistical categories, including passing touchdowns (16, second nationally), completion percentage (75,7 percent, second nationally) and passing efficiency (third nationally), and he has only really played int he second half against TCU.

Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray isn’t too far behind, with 14 total touchdowns on the season and just two picks. Both Murray and Haskins are obvious Heisman contenders, though, for some reason.

Dabo Swinney, meanwhile, announced today that freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence would be the Tigers’ starter— replacing Kelly Bryant. The same Kelly Bryant who took Clemson to the Playoff last season. Both Lawrence and Bryant had seen playing time throughout the young season, but the latter won the role after a four-touchdown performance against Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Clemson is not the only team which has been playing multiple quarterbacks so far this season. Ohio State has worked Tate Martell in on cleanup duty in three games already this year. Notre Dame, Georgia and Miami are also working through playing multiple quarterbacks in a game.