The Cleveland Fan on Facebook

The Cleveland Fan on Twitter
Buckeyes Buckeye Archive Buckeye Leaves
Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

BigTenTurfFootball at Ohio State is never boring, but in contrast to the last couple of years, the offseason talk has been focused on football, as opposed to tattoos, NCAA investigations, coaching searches and bowl bans. In fact, it says something about how uneventful spring football was for Urban Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes that one of the biggest pieces of news of the season in Columbus is the realignment of the Big Ten Conference. After one swan song season here in 2013, it’s goodbye long Leaders. There will be no formal Farewell Tour.

The New Big Ten

NewBigTenThe Big Ten office announced recently that they are scrapping those much derided division names in favor of East and West, and will be realigning their member teams accordingly. The renamed division format will be effective when new members Maryland and Rutgers join the conference for the 2014 season, and a new nine-game conference schedule will commence in 2016.

The East

Joining current Leaders members Ohio State, Penn State and Indiana in the new East Division will be Michigan, Michigan State and the two new additions from the east....Maryland and Rutgers. The concentration in one division of the three traditional football powers in the conference - OSU, Michigan and Penn State - certainly gives the appearance of a competitive imbalance in football at the outset. It may turn out that way in the short term, but it’s hardly a no-brainer.  

Michigan is just now coming out of a down cycle, and Penn State is arguably heading into one. None of these three power teams has made an appearance in either of the first two Big Ten championship games, for a variety of reasons. And only the Buckeyes, who are coming off a speed bump of their own, could be considered capable of dominating this league. I argued a year ago that, despite a BCS bowl game season in 2011, Michigan will be “back” when they win, at the very least, a division title. If there’s a sleeper to be noted in this group, you might look at Rutgers, a program that has been quietly out-recruiting many of its future Big Ten East rivals.

The West

Nebraska, Wisconsin and Northwestern will probably still be the best teams in the West when they get rolling out there in the Central time zone in 2014. Illinois, Iowa, Purdue and Minnesota should assume the role of challengers, unless one or more of those programs takes a quantum leap this fall.

At first glance, you can see why most observers are calling the East...warts and all...the stronger of the divisions.  Wisconsin is in a coaching transition. Northwestern still has to beat some of the league’s top programs to prove they are something besides your father’s Northwestern. And until Nebraska gets back to playing defense, they’ll have their own set of question marks. And the other four teams....well, make that at second glance too.

So What?

The most important consequence of the new alignment for OSU fans is that The Game will be unaffected by the changes in scheduling and division makeup. With OSU and Michigan playing in the same division, there will not have to be a “rivalry game” exception to the rotation of teams from the other division off of the schedule. When the new nine-game Big Ten slate begins in three years, each team will play the other six teams in their own division, and a rotating three teams from the other division.

The possibility that the importance of OSU-Michigan in November could be diluted by the prospect of the two teams having to play a rematch one week later in the Big Ten championship is a concern no more. More likely now is that OSU-Michigan will be contested for a berth in the title game more often than not. If it’s possible (and not sacrilegious to suggest), that could make it even more important than it has been for the first 116 years of the rivalry.

Whatever else may be said about the new alignment, if recent recruiting trends are a predictor of success, the two best teams in the conference will be playing in the East, and we could be entering another era of the Big Two and the Little Eight (Plus Four)


Class of 2014

LonnieJohnson2Recruiting season never ends these days, and Urban Meyer’s staff continues to build on next fall’s class of newcomers. The 2014 group of commits stands now at eight, the latest being Gary, Indiana wide receiver Lonnie Johnson, who gave his verbal to Ohio State on Mother’s Day.

Johnson (6’ 3”, 180 lbs) has long favored OSU, but his commitment came as a bit of a surprise to the recruitniks.Meyer is courting several higher rated receivers, and Johnson, a 3-star prospect by Scout, was thought by some to be farther down the pecking order. But he has the size to play outside, a priority at the moment for Meyer, based on the number of skilled slot and hybrid/pivot types on the roster. The scouting reports and the available video demonstrate good speed and an ability to go up and get the football, so the staff accepted his wish to become a Buckeye.

To this point, Meyer has five Ohioans and three out-of-staters in a class that will probably total about 20 recruits come February. He has four offensive commits and four on defense at the moment, and dozens of offers out to the best of the best across the country. In the current recruiting world though, you have to draw a distinction between offers that are “commitable” and those that are conditional. If 5-star kids like Jabrill Peppers and Juju Smith, or stud offensive tackles like Jamarco Jones wanted to commit today, Meyer & Co. would roll out the red carpet. But for most of the rest, the offers are meant to “show the love” to the kid, with the understanding that limited openings and lots of competition mean they’ll have to get the prior approval of the staff before they can say “yes”.

Lattimore1There may be only a few more Ohio kids in this 2014 group, with Akron SVSM linebacker Dante Booker and the Glenville duo of WR/CB Marshon Lattimore (pictured) and safety Erick Smith the top targets from the Buckeye state. Receiver Derek Kief, from Cincinnati LaSalle remains another possibility.

Look for at least one, and possibly two JUCO offensive linemen in this class, as Meyer has legitimate concerns about his 2014 O-Line, which will be rebuilding from losing four starters after this season. Rather than count on true freshmen to be ready to play, Meyer would prefer to bring in at least one lineman he can project as an immediate contributor. The best bets at the moment appear to be Jermaine Eluemunor and/or Chad Mavety, two of the top-rated JC linemen in the country.


Something’s coming...something good (Texas Edition)


(First in a series introducing some of the incoming freshmen on the 2013 Buckeyes)

Urban Meyer pulled off something unprecedented with his 2013 recruiting class. Taking advantage of offensive coordinator Tom Herman’s recruiting connections in Texas, the Buckeyes raided the Lone Star State in a big way, pulling three top recruits to Columbus, and at least two of the three have a chance to play right away. Past OSU regimes have been able to grab an occasional recruit from the state...notably David Boston...but this kind of a talent heist is something we have not seen before.


J.T. Barrett - QB - 6’ 2”, 205 lbs.   Wichita Falls, TX

Barrett1Barrett is one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country (rated 13th overall at QB by Scout), and he fits Urban Meyer’s offense like a glove. He appears to be a slightly thicker version of Braxton Miller, without the lightning quickness of the current Buckeye QB, but with a good arm and superior leadership qualities, in addition to his assets as a runner. Barrett missed the majority of his senior season with a knee injury that required surgery, but he has rehabbed successfully, and his early enrollment at OSU got him involved in spring ball, albeit on a limited basis. You’ll see in his junior highlights that his Rider High School team runs a read-option attack closely resembling Meyer’s OSU offense, so Barrett should be very comfortable once his time comes in Columbus. That time probably won’t be in 2013, as he sits fourth on the OSU depth chart, and his recuperating knee would benefit from a redshirt season this fall.

Mike Mitchell - LB - 6’ 4”, 225 lbs.  Plano, TX

Mitchell1A 5-star talent, and the #2 rated middle linebacker in the country, Mitchell is a rare combination of size and speed who may end up at outside linebacker at OSU. Mitchell blew up on recruiting boards when he posted an off-the-charts score in the SPARQ test of overall athletic ability, which included a 4.39 40 time and a 40.6 inch vertical jump. This young man is just an extremely talented athlete who happens to be playing linebacker. His high school team used him as a running back and a kick returner, as you can see in highlight videos here and here. As a senior he recorded an impressive 186 tackles, including 32 TFL, with 11 sacks. Mitchell will have to work his way up the depth chart when he arrives in August, but given OSU’s question marks at the linebacker positions, it would surprise no one if he is getting playing time as a freshman. At the very least, you’d expect to see him contributing on special teams early in the season.


Dontre Wilson - WR/RB/KR -  5’ 10”, 180 lbs -  DeSoto, TX

WIlson1Wilson was rated the #5 player in the state of Texas, and one of the top 100 players in the nation by all the scouting services. With legitimate 4.4 speed, Wilson is a young man who could contribute from a running back spot, or at wide receiver and kick returner. He is slated to start out in the Hybrid/Pivot role at OSU...the famous “Percy Harvin” position in Meyer’s offense, where he’ll compete with returnee Jordan Hall and fellow freshman Jalin Marshall. Wilson was originally committed to play for Chip Kelly at Oregon, but when Kelly took the Eagles job, he opened up his recruitment, and Meyer and Herman swooped in and snagged him on signing day. The infusion of speed on offense coming in with this freshman class is a defining characteristic of the group overall, and Wilson is a big part of that trend. I can see him getting some playing time on offense as the season progresses, and he could be returning kickoffs even earlier. Highlight videos here and here.


Loose Leaves


orlando-pace- In a bit of news greeted throughout Buckeye country with a unison cry of “What took you so long?”, Ohio State great Orlando Pace was named to the College Football Hall of Fame last week. Pace, a native of Sandusky, is by consensus one of the greatest offensive tackles to ever walk the planet, and the sentiment of Buckeye fans was perhaps summed up by The Ozone’s Brandon Castel, who remarked that “The College Football Hall of Fame can finally sleep at night knowing Orlando Pace is a member”.  

A two-time, first team All-American, Pace became the first player to win the Lombardi Award twice, and he finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1996. After being drafted with the first overall pick in the NFL Draft in 1997, Pace played 13 NFL seasons with the Rams, making seven Pro Bowls, and playing a key role on the 1999 Super Bowl champions. He becomes the 24th Ohio State player named to the Hall.

Pace and Heisman winners Ron Dayne of Wisconsin and Florida’s Danny Wuerffel were among 12 players inducted this year. Of local interest, Miami’s Vinny Testaverde, who quarterbacked the Browns, and Michigan State’s Percy Snow, who attended Canton McKinley, were also inducted.


- Columbus Dispatch writer Bill Rabinowitz covers the Buckeyes for the hometown paper, and he conducted a wide-ranging interview with OSU Athletic Director Gene Smith earlier this month.  Smith answered questions about new coaches, new athletic facilities, and the new Big Ten alignment, among other things. My hat is off to Rabinowitz for asking all the tough questions of Smith as well as the easy ones. He didn’t always get complete answers, but no one could accuse him of dodging the sensitive topics. Worth a read for the dedicated OSU fan.


- Take five minutes to watch this video, put together by one of the video coordinators in the OSU Athletic Department, for use by the school in their 2013 presentation to Nike. Lots of classic footage of Woody, Archie, Spielman, George, Byars, Pace and others. Well done, guys.


- In the category of “Way Too Early Polls”, several prognosticators like the Buckeyes chances to build on their 12-0 season of 2012 with another strong campaign this fall. Mark Schlabach at ESPN has OSU on top in his late-April look at the teams best situated to go unbeaten. Phil Steele has the Bucks at #2 behind Alabama, and Dennis Dodd has the Buckeyes edging out the Crimson Tide to end the long SEC streak of national titles.

We’ll update those rankings in January.


on Twitter at @dwismar

Dan’s OSU Links and Resources



The TCF Forums