Because Ohio State is not eligible for the postseason, the football viewing public has largely ignored the Buckeyes this season. What’s the use if they’re not eligible to win the Big Ten championship, let alone a bowl game? Or so the thinking goes.
But new head coach Urban Meyer is putting together a championship-caliber season without the fanfare. He’s done it largely with talent recruited under the Jim Tressel-Luke Fickell regime, but Meyer has made it a seamless transition in Columbus.
The reality of the situation is, Ohio State may finish the regular season undefeated, which under normal circumstances would make it a candidate to play in the national championship game.
Braxton Miller has been the key to the Buckeyes’ success and could perhaps be the best player in the nation this season. While Geno Smith of West Virginia has been terrific slinging the football all over the field and Collin Klein of Kansas State is a blood-and-guts, grind-it-out runner, Miller has been the nation’s best dual-threat quarterback this season.
Seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game with an average of 130.29, Miller has also been effective through the air by completing about 60 percent of his passes with 11 touchdowns compared to four interceptions.
If Miller is ignored by Heisman voters simply because they haven’t been paying attention to Ohio State this season, that will be a shame. There’s still roughly half a season still to go, but Miller has been deserving of Heisman attention so far this season.
Running back Carlos Hyde is developing as a nice complement to Miller, which Ohio State needs, because early in the season, the entire offense revolved around the quarterback.
The Buckeyes defense has been among the best in the Big Ten this season as well, which features big junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, a potential first round NFL Draft choice whenever he decides to declare.
But the real stars of the show on defense have been Bradley Roby and Travis Howard, perhaps the best duo of cornerbacks in the nation. Roby, only a sophomore, has 12 passes broken up this season and three touchdowns, one each on an interception, a fumble recovery and a punt return. Howard, meanwhile, has three interceptions.
Don’t ignore Ohio State simply because they’re not going bowling this season. They’re still worth your time as a fan.
Where College Gameday Is At
The ESPN College Gameday crew travels to the Swamp this weekend as Florida hosts South Carolina for Saturday’s featured matchup.
Focus will center on Steve Spurrier’s return to his old stomping grounds, but what’s at stake is a probable SEC East title and a berth in the SEC’s championship game.
The Gators debuted at No. 2 in the nation in the season’s first BCS standings released earlier this week while South Carolina is coming off a hard-fought 23-21 loss at LSU last weekend, its first loss of the season.
This weekend marks the final game of three-week stretch of brutal games for South Carolina by hosting Georgia and then playing at LSU and Florida in order. And to be sure, the Gamecocks will have their hands full in attempting to earn two wins out of those three games.
Not making matters any easier for South Carolina is the status of star running back Marcus Lattimore who Spurrier said will not start on Saturday. As for how much Lattimore plays against Florida with a bruised hip, that is still uncertain.
Having Lattimore to help take pressure of quarterback Connor Shaw would certainly help the Gamecocks as they face a stingy Gators defense. Last week was a case in point as Shaw threw two interceptions at LSU, and he got little help from the South Carolina ground game when Lattimore rushed for only 35 yards on 13 carries.
South Carolina also got pushed around on defense last week, and it’ll look to change that this week against the one-two punch of running back Mike Gillislee and sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel who’s a bigger threat on the ground than through the air at this point in his development.
Prediction: The Florida defense will do what it’s done all year, and that’s come up with the big stops when they count. The game will be close, but Florida defense will get a big stop in crunch time to stop any threat South Carolina has of winning the game. Gators win 24-21.
The Wisconsin Connection
Following a nightmare start to the season, the “Ball” just keeps on rolling and is gathering momentum in Madison.
Barring a meltdown the second half of the season, Wisconsin basically guaranteed itself a Leader’s division championship last weekend (thanks to the ineligibility of Ohio State and Penn State) by defeating Purdue on the road in a game that turned into a 38-14 blowout.
Montee Ball was the hero of last week’s game by rushing for a career-high 247 yards and scoring three touchdowns, which allowed him to break the Big Ten record for career touchdowns with 72.
What’s interesting is how much better Ball is playing the past couple weeks as compared to earlier in the season. There’s been a lot of attention on the performance of the Badgers offensive line and how it wasn’t opening up any holes for Ball the first few games of the year, but it sure seemed like Ball was in funk right along with his offensive linemen. He just wasn’t the same player that scored 39 touchdowns in 2011.
So what’s the difference between early season Montee Ball and midseason Montee Ball? It’s difficult to say. Maybe his series of concussions had something to do with it. Perhaps the negative publicity that built over the offseason began to snowball and affect Ball from a mental standpoint.
Whatever the case, Ball appears to back to his old form finding creases and breaking tackles, and the Badgers are a better team because of it.
This weekend they take on Minnesota in a battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe, the longest-running rivalry in all of FBS. Attention will be on Golden Gophers head coach Jerry Kill who had an epileptic seizure following the Gophers’ game last week against Northwestern.
Prediction: Kill has Minnesota headed in the right direction by starting out the season 4-0 in non-conference play, but the Gophers have thus far been overmatched in conference play. That will continue against an improving Badgers team Saturday in Camp Randall as Wisconsin wins 31-17. Television coverage is at 11:00 a.m. on ESPNU.
This week’s exclusive player interview is with Western Kentucky defensive lineman Quanterus Smith whose Hilltoppers have a 5-1 record and are on top of the Sun Belt conference standings. Smith already has 6.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for a loss so far this season and is listed as the 13th ranked defensive end (and a potential outside linebacker) in his senior class by NFLDraftScout.com.
Question: Is this the year Western Kentucky wins a conference championship?
Smith: Yes sir, it is. It should be. If not, it’s on us.
Question: Regardless of what happens in the conference, do you feel good about qualifying for a bowl for the first time in school history?
Smith: Yeah, man. We just need to get one (win).
Question: Tell me about Willie Taggart and the job he’s done at Western Kentucky.
Smith: He’s done a great job. He came in and moved some things out and changed some things around and got this program moving in the right direction.
Question: Give me a preview of this weekend’s game vs. Louisiana-Monroe. What makes them dangerous?
Smith: Their quarterback is very good, and they play hard. They’ve got a pretty good offensive scheme.
Question: Tell me a little about yourself. What is the single best thing you bring to the table?
Smith: Pass rush.
Question: Do you play strictly in a three-point stance.
Smith: No, I’l play in a two, too. I’ll be playing a little two this game.
Question: What determines whether you’ll play in a two-point stance?
Smith: Just so we can see stuff, plays and stuff like that, formations.
What Happened Before Saturday
Any hopes that a hot Arizona State team would give Oregon a challenge on Thursday evening dissipated about one minute into the game.
The Sun Devils got off to a quick start by recovering a fumble on Oregon’s second play from scrimmage by freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota and got a touchdown 28-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Kelly to Kevin Ozier.
It was all downhill from there for Arizona State. On the following possession, Ducks running back Kenjon Barner had a 71-yard touchdown two plays into the drive, and Oregon never looked back.
Coach Chip Kelly’s team got off to a 36-point halftime lead and racked up 406 rushing yards on the evening.
The Ducks are ranked third in the nation in the season’s first BCS rankings behind Alabama and Florida and hope to leap-frog the Gators for second.
An impressive win over Arizona State on the road will help Oregon’s cause, but they’ll have a difficult time if Florida defeats an even better opponent, South Carolina, this weekend.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email email@example.com.