Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

BMiller1 optThe summer solstice has come and gone, and as the days once again grow shorter, the preseason college football magazines return to the newsstands like the buzzards to Hinckley...or something. The experts have put their ratings, rankings and ramblings in print for the record, and we consumers of this trove of information have dutifully pored over them, eager for insights and predictions, but also for mind-numbingly arcane trivia to report to anxious readers. You were anxious, weren’t you?

After all, hockey and basketball are over, and baseball is entering the dog days. Before the calendar flips another month, the Buckeyes will be practicing for the 2013 season. All four of the primary college football magazines, Phil Steele’s, Lindy’s, Athlon, and Sporting News, have climbed out on a limb and picked Alabama as the nation’s #1 team this fall, but three of the four have the Buckeyes ranked #2...and as such, project OSU into the final BCS Championship Game.

That should get the juices flowing, right? Especially since Urban Meyer hits the field on a 12-game winning streak in Scarlet and Gray. What follows is an attempt to summarize what these four publications have to say about 2013, especially as concerns the Buckeyes and the Big Ten, with a little MAC thrown in on the side. I’ll use abbreviations for the four different magazine sources, as necessary, to keep clear who says what. (In order from above...PS, LN, AT, SN)  

philsteelecoverBy the way, if you’re going to head out to the newsstand yourself, and you want just one magazine that has it all, you can’t spend 10 bucks any smarter than to drop it on Phil Steele’s College Football Preview. Suffice to say, it’s the college football writer’s bible. Steele, who is headquartered in Cleveland, has a solid track record of predictions, (and is anything but shy in telling you all about it), but what makes his publication stand out above the rest is the wealth of statistical information on each team...going back 5 to 10 years...with individual, team and coaching performance data, organized and easily accessed in a way that is unmatched by his competitors. A lot of what he has to say can be found at the website, but you can’t beat holding the 352 pages of densely packed text in your hands.

Without further ado....here’s what the CFB  experts have to say about 2013...along with some thoughts of my own....


Preseason Top Tens


number2PS - #1 Alabama - #2 Ohio State - #3 Florida St. - #4 Texas - #5 Oregon - #6 USC - #7 Louisville - #8 Oklahoma St. - #9 Georgia - #10 Notre Dame

LN - #1 Alabama - #2 Ohio State - #3 Stanford - #4 Oregon - #5 Texas A&M - #6 Georgia - #7 Clemson - #8 LSU - #9 South Carolina - #10 Louisville

AT - #1 Alabama - #2 Ohio State - #3 Oregon - #4 Georgia - #5 South Carolina - #6 Clemson - #7 Stanford - #8 Notre Dame - #9 Texas A&M - #10 Louisville

SN - #1 Alabama - #2 Stanford - #3 South Carolina - #4 Florida - #5 Ohio State - #6 Oklahoma St. - #7 Texas A&M - #8 Oregon - #9 Clemson - #10 Notre Dame


Notes: What jumps out at me here is that Steele has three teams (FSU, Texas, USC) in his top six that no other publication ranks in its top ten! No surprise that he has all three of those traditional powerhouses rated high on his list of “Surprise Teams” for 2013. Louisville is a favorite this year, for two reasons: They have Teddy Bridgewater, an early Heisman favorite at QB...and the experts have searched their soft schedule in vain for games they figure to lose.

One word about Alabama and that “grinder” of an SEC schedule:  Sure they have LSU and Texas A&M on the slate, and there’s no doubt they’re loaded again, but the consensus best three teams in the SEC East are Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. All three are in somebody’s Top Ten,  and the Crimson Tide play none of them.  Auburn and Arkansas are coming off of awful years...ditto Tennessee and Kentucky. So circle the September 14 date in College Station as the best shot at keeping ‘Bama out of the title game again, but for this year at least, spare me the sob story about how brutal the SEC schedule is for Nick Saban.

Please don’t take that observation as a suggestion that the OSU schedule is close to as tough as ‘Bama’s...far from it. People have called the Buckeyes’ 2013 schedule soft...and for good reason. They happen to avoid MSU and Nebraska in conference, and their non-conference slate was made easier when their SEC opponent (Vanderbilt) pulled out on them at the last minute. When the California series was scheduled the better part of a decade ago, Jeff Tedford’s program was a perennial Top 20 team. Who knew?

Steele’s ranking of 2013 strength of schedule, for example, has OSU at #67 out of 126 FBS teams...right about the middle of the pack. I’ve seen other rankings with OSU’s slate rated as low as #105. But back to the magazines’ rankings...

Notice that no Big Ten team other than OSU sniffed anyone’s Top Ten. Here’s where the experts placed the best of the rest of the B1G, and the MAC...ranking out of 126 FBS teams.

PS - #16 Nebraska - #20 Wisconsin - #23 Michigan State - #24 Michigan - #32 Northwestern - #34 Penn State (Top MAC teams - #26 Northern Illinois - #45 Bowling Green - #50 Ohio - #53 Toledo)

LN - #16 Michigan - #20 Michigan State - #21 Nebraska - #26 Wisconsin - #28 Northwestern - #48 Penn State (Top MAC teams - #27 Northern Illinois - #49 Ball State - #71 Ohio - #80 Toledo)

AT - #14 Michigan - #19 Wisconsin - #21 Nebraska - #24 Northwestern - #32 Michigan State - #39 Penn State (Top MAC teams - #44 N. Illinois - #74 Ball St. - #79 Toledo - #89 Ohio)

SN - #13 Michigan - #21 Nebraska - #24 Wisconsin (SN rates just the Top 25)



It really is a carrousel....

AndersonWisc231 teams...that’s one of every four FBS schools....will have a new head coach on the sidelines this fall. And that’s after 28 first-year coaches a year ago. By my count, there’s just one “repeat” vacancy filled this year, as Gus Malzahn left after one season at Arkansas State to take the Auburn job, so the FBS coaching fraternity has had almost a 50% turnover rate in just two seasons. (You decide it that’s a symptom of a systemic problem of some sort)

Athlon rates the performances of the new coaches from 2012: #1 OSU’s Urban Meyer - #2 Kevin Sumlin (Texas A&M) - #3 Bill O’Brien (Penn State) - #4 Hugh Freeze (Ole Miss)...

Three of Ohio State’s 2013 opponents will be headed by a first-year coach...Sonny Dykes at California, who comes to the Bears from Louisiana Tech (via Texas Tech and Arizona)....Gary Anderson of Wisconsin (pictured) , who was hired away from a successful stint at Utah State....and Darrell Hazell at Purdue, fresh off an 11-win season and a bowl appearance in his second year at Kent State.



Buckeye Standouts

Roby MattSullivanReutersThere’s lots of Buckeye action on everybody’s All-Big Ten and All-America teams this season. For starters, 4th-year junior cornerback Bradley Roby is named a 1st team All-American by all four publications. Roby (#1 at right)  is officially out from under the radar after leading the nation in passes defended last year with 19. He’s a first round draft choice waiting to happen...projected anywhere from pick 10-20 by the way-too-early 2014 mock drafts.

Almost as highly-touted is junior outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who was named 1st team A-A by Steele and Athlon, and 2nd Team by the other two (SN, LN). There’s a chance Shazier could stay for his senior year in 2014, but his OLB skill set is prized by NFL teams, so OSU fans could be watching his swan song this fall.

Of course, the other big name popping up on All-America teams and lists of Heisman favorites is quarterback Braxton Miller. Three of the magazines (PS, LN, AT) list Miller at 2nd Team All-American...all three giving the 1st team nod to the returning Heisman winner Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. SN left Miller off its 3-deep A-A team, preferring Manziel, Bridgewater and Alabama’s AJ McCarron, in that order.

Miller is plugged as the #1 favorite to walk away with the Heisman in December by Steele and Athlon, and he is rated 1B (to Manziel’s 1A) by Lindy’s. Sporting News favors Manziel and McCarron over a group of other QB’s, including Miller, just behind the favorites. The consensus seems to be that if Ohio State goes undefeated, Miller will win the Heisman. If they don’t, he won’t. That feels right.

Mewhort NorwellSteele also recognized a couple of senior Buckeye offensive linemen in his preseason A-A picks, naming guard Andrew Norwell to his 3rd Team, and tackle Jack Mewhort to the 4th Team offense. Mewhort (#74) is pictured with Norwell here. 

The rest of the Big Ten is represented sparsely on the preseason A-A squads, but Michigan’s left tackle Taylor Lewan was a unanimous 1st Team pick by these four experts. Linebackers Max Bullough of Michigan State and Wisconsin’s Chris Borland showed up on most everybody’s 2nd or 3rd teams, and Penn State receiver Allen Robinson was a common selection in the 3-deeps.

Kent State’s unexpected run in 2012 has vaulted running back/kick returner Dri Archer into the national spotlight. Steele named Archer his national “All Purpose” Player of the Year, and he was recognized as 1st team all-purpose back by Athlon, and 3rd Team A-A at kick returner by SN.



All-Big Ten

BigTenLogo1The assumed status of Ohio State as the team with the most talent in the Big Ten is reflected in the all-conference picks this preseason. As a representative example...and one available online... Steele named six Buckeyes to his 1st team of 24 players, and six more to the second unit.

In addition to Miller, Roby, Shazier and Norwell, who were all unanimous 1st team selections, several other Buckeyes were named 1st team all-conference by one expert or another. Jack Mewhort (PS, AT), center Corey Linsley (AT) , defensive end Noah Spence (AT),  safety Christian Bryant (PS), and running back Carlos Hyde (LN).

Receiver Devin Smith, end Adolphus Washington, linebacker Curtis Grant, and safety C.J. Barnett all got 2nd Team recognition.  


- Lindy’s Big Ten ratings list Braxton Miller as “most accurate passer”, and as “coolest in the clutch” in the conference. Carlos Hyde grabs the top spot as “hardest to bring down”, and Devin Smith is  their “most dangerous deep threat”.They list Roby (#2), Shazier (#5) and Hyde (#9) among their Top 10 “NFL Talents” in the conference. Ranking the incoming Big Ten recruits, OSU has five of the top seven, with Mike Mitchell, Vonn Bell, Jalin Marshall, Cameron Burrows and Joey Bosa rated #3 through #7, with five more 2013 Buckeye freshmen in the Top 20.

- In Sporting News Big Ten evaluations, Urban Meyer is “Best Game Day Coach” as well as “Best Recruiter”. Braxton Miller is the conference’s “Best Athlete” and also has the “Best Instincts”, while Devin Smith its “Fastest Receiver”. Ohio Stadium is rated the “Most Intimidating Stadium”.

Athlon’s All-Big Ten 2013  



Ranking Position Units


Steele’s, Athlon and Lindy’s all rank teams’ position units, so here’s a look at where the Buckeyes stack up nationally there. (**Lindy’s rates the offensive backfield as one unit, instead of separate rankings for RB’s and QB’s)


QB’s - (Braxton Miller, Kenny Guiton) - Steele - #2 , Athlon - #2, Lindy’s - ** #5

RB’s - (Hyde, Smith, Dunn, Ball, Hall) - Steele - #15, Athlon #8, Lindy’s - ** #5

WR’s - (Smith, Brown, Spencer,Thomas, Marshall, Wilson, Clark) Steele - #22, Athlon - #NR, Lindy’s - #8

OL’s - (Mewhort, Norwell, Linsley, Hall, Decker) - Steele - #7, Athlon - #3, Lindy’s - #5

DL’s - (Spence, Bennett, Hale, Schutt, Washington) Steele - #21, Athlon - #10, Lindy’s - NR

LB’s - (Shazier, Grant, Perry, Mitchell, Johnson) Steele - #11, Athlon - NR, Lindy’s - #5

DB’s - (Roby, Grant, Bryant, Barnett)  Steele - #9, Athlon - #2, Lindy’s - #3

ST’s - Only Steele ranks special teams units, and he has OSU at #13 in the nation.



Mark The Calendar


BamaAM2012 seemed a pretty lame year for compelling non-conference match-ups, and although many programs recognize the need to beef up the non-con schedule beginning with the new playoff system in 2014, this season’s slate has more cupcakes than challenges for the elite teams. There are exceptions, however, and we list below some of the best games, on paper, in both non-conference and in-conference play...

August 31 -

Georgia at Clemson: Right out of the gate, a matchup of two of the top QB’s in college football, Tajh Boyd and Aaron Murray, and the likely end of the national title hopes of the loser...before Labor Day.  (Also...Alabama vs Virginia Tech in Atlanta)

Sept. 7 -

Florida at Miami:  The Canes should be improved with 18 starters back, and the Gators will compete in the potent SEC East. The strong Florida defense vs the explosive offense of Miami is the battle to watch. (Also...Notre Dame at Michigan)

Sept. 14 -  

Alabama at Texas A&M - The Rematch.  Manziel vs McCarron. A 3:30 pm kickoff on CBS. The ratings should be off the charts. (Also...UCLA at Nebraska....Ohio State at Cal...Tennessee at Oregon)

Sept. 21 -

Arizona St. at Stanford - Lots of folks like the Sun Devils to win a fairly tame PAC-12 South. Visiting the Cardinal in September will tell us a lot about what they’re made of. (Also...Kansas St. at Texas...Michigan St. at Notre Dame)

Sept. 28 -

Wisconsin at Ohio State - A pivotal game for Meyer’s Buckeyes. Will the middle of his defense hold up against the still-powerful rushing attack of the Badgers? (Also...LSU at Georgia...Oklahoma at Notre Dame)

October 5 -

Notre Dame vs Arizona St. (Arlington, TX) - A primetime game at Jerry Jones place...unlikely either team will still be unbeaten, but it’s a slow week. (Also...Ohio State at Northwestern...Kansas St. at Oklahoma St.)

Oct. 12 -

Oklahoma at Texas (Dallas) - Could the ‘Horns be playing for Mack Brown’s job by midseason? Sooners have crushed Texas two years in a row. (Also...Florida at LSU...Northwestern at Wisconsin)

Oct. 19 -

Florida St. at Clemson - The two best teams in the ACC Atlantic square off, and if Clemson can get by Georgia in the opener, this could be a battle of unbeatens. (Also...UCLA at Stanford....USC at Notre Dame)

OregonStanfordOct. 26 -

UCLA at Oregon - The Ducks don’t play USC, and they have a bye week after this one before traveling to Stanford. It may be their first real test. (Also....Penn State at Ohio State...Louisville at USF....trap game for the Cardinals?)

Nov. 2 -

Florida  vs Georgia (Jacksonville) - The annual classic in the SEC East...after years of being dominated by the Gators, Georgia has won the last two meetings. (Also...Miami at Florida St.....Michigan at Michigan State)

Nov. 7 (Thursday night)

Oregon at Stanford - The two PAC-12 North powerhouses meet on a grass field at Stanford Stadium. Last year in Eugene, the Cardinal beat the top-ranked Ducks on an overtime field goal. ESPN primetime...pass the popcorn.

Nov. 9 -

LSU at Alabama - The second Week 11 matchup that could decide a division title in a major conference.  LSU has just 12 starters back, but let’s face it...they’re always loaded. (Also...Nebraska at Michigan...Oklahoma at Baylor)

Nov. 16 -

Michigan State at Nebraska - One of two important games in the B1G Legends Div. on this Saturday (Michigan at Northwestern the other).  Sparty smarting from a home loss to the Huskers a year ago. (Also...Florida at South Carolina...Stanford at USC)

Nov 23 -

Texas A&M at LSU - Impossible to say who’ll still be standing by this time, but this should be one to watch in any event.  (Also...Michigan St at Northwestern....ASU at UCLA)

Nov. 30 -

Ohio State at Michigan - Always some huge games on the last Saturday of November, but this tops the list as usual. Going into 2013, Brady Hoke is unbeaten in the Big House. This would be the last time these two teams could potentially face a rematch of The Game one week later. (Also...Florida St at Florida....Notre Dame at Stanford...Clemson at South Carolina)



Rating the Conferences

Only Phil Steele’s and Sporting News rate college football’s conferences, and the two have only minor disagreements with the ranking this year. The SEC of course is on top, and both have the Big Ten in 4th place. Steele rates the Big 12 over the PAC-12 at #2 and #3, while Sporting News has the PAC-12 at #2 and the Big 12 at #3.

I’ve been hearing a lot about how the Big Ten is improved this year over a dismal showing in 2012, but I must admit I’m at a loss to see just where the improvement lies. Maybe the assumption is that it just couldn’t possibly be worse...and there may be something to that.

The conference champion Wisconsin Badgers lost their coach and his staff, while Michigan lost its best offensive player (Robinson) to the NFL, and its best defensive player (Jake Ryan) to injury. There is scant evidence to suggest that Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota or Purdue will be surging any time soon. Michigan State and Nebraska are the favorites in the Legends, but both look like flawed teams....the Spartans on offense, the Huskers on defense.

The sanctions-induced difficulties of Penn State are closer to their beginning than their end, and they’ll probably be playing a true freshman at QB, albeit a very talented one in Christian Hackenberg. Only the Buckeyes, Michigan and Nebraska made even a ripple in the recruiting rankings, and the two newcomers in 2014, Maryland and Rutgers, aren’t likely to elevate the football prestige of the group.

Perhaps the on-field results will show some improvement over 2012...a low bar to get over, to be sure. But I don’t think it will shake up those conference rankings by the experts very much over the course of the coming season.

Sometime in August we’ll have a Big Ten Preview out in this space, but in the meantime, here’s a link to a nicely done breakdown and evaluation of the conference’s teams by The Ozone’s Tony Gerdeman. You might also enjoy an interview with Phil Steele as conducted by the guys at Eleven Warriors, with Steele’s thoughts on the 2013 Buckeyes and the rest of the Big Ten.



Loose Leaves

Herman1A collection of college football and OSU-related tidbits from the CFB magazines and elsewhere...

- Lindy’s ranks the “Top Ten Football-Basketball Coaching Combos”, and OSU’s Urban Meyer and Thad Matta come in at #1, edging out Louisville’s Charlie Strong and Rick Pitino for the top spot. (Michigan’s Hoke and Beilein were #10).

- In Lindy’s Top Ten “Hot Offensive Coordinators” (presumably “Hot” meaning as potential head coaching candidates), OSU’s Tom Herman (pictured) was ranked #3. (Clemson’s Chad Morris #1)

- In the “Used to be Buckeyes Dept.”, Athlon lists former OSU players Brian Bobek (Minnesota) and Jeremy Cash (Duke) among their “Top Transfers” for 2013. Bobek could be starting at center for the Golden Gophers if he’s healthy, and Cash, a safety, should start for the Blue Devils.

- If you want to feel old, consider the following sons of famous people playing college football in 2013...Barry Sanders Jr. (RB, Stanford), Nick Montana (Joe’s kid...QB, Tulane), Deion Sanders Jr. (WR, SMU), Torii Hunter Jr. (WR, Notre Dame), Kelvin Taylor (Fred Taylor’s son...RB, Florida), Trey Griffey (son of Ken Griffey Jr...WR, Arizona) , Justin Combs (son of P. Diddy....CB, UCLA. (as listed by Lindy’s)

- There seems to be a consensus in the national media....kind of a universal belief coming off as a theme of all their writing about Ohio State...that Urban Meyer is possessed of a rather large ego. I don’t know what else I can say about that....just thought it should be noted.

- There is little disagreement that Ohio State has the best incoming recruiting class in the Big Ten, as three of the four magazines rank the OSU class of 2013 as #2 in the nation, behind Alabama. (SN has UM as the top group in the B1G, with OSU #2)

- Here’s a follow-up on the story of the 12-year old Ohio State fan who named his brain tumor “Michigan” to help motivate himself to beat it. It appears he has done just that. What can I say, Grant Reed - you are the man.



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Photo credits: Neal C. Lauron - Columbus Dispatch (Mewhort,Norwell); Matt Sullivan - Reuters (Roby)