Confession is Good for the Soul: Confession time. I picked Penn State to defeat the Buckeyes last Saturday in a close one, as I thought the injuries, poor tackling, and life on the edge would finally catch up to OSU. I admit my lack of faith in a team that has consistently found a way to win, and in that way, has somewhat mirrored the Ohio State team of a decade ago, that wasn't pretty but always came out on top. But then again, I do live by the adage, "There's no such thing as a disappointed pessimist."
In many ways I think the PSU victory was the best of the season, and was the product of good coaching, teamwork, hard-nosed effort, and help from the referees (okay I threw that last one in dripping with sarcasm due to all the crying by Penn State fans and bloggers).
Champions that were identified by Urban Meyer at his Monday press conference were three offensive linemen (you can guess which ones but I'm assuming one isn't Marcus Hall), Jake Stoneburner (who has responded to a heart-to-heart a couple weeks ago), Evan Spencer, Carlos Hyde; and, Braxton Miller who was the offensive player of the game. On defense only two guys graded out as champions, Ryan Shazier (who had a monster game) and Bradley Roby and they were co-defensive players of the week. Although he had no catches at PSU, Devin Smith took home special teams player of the game for his work as a gunner on the punt team. Meyer called Smith "the fastest player on the team", a fact Roby may wish to dispute. In addition, Adam Griffin was awarded the scarlet short for extra effort in Saturday's game.
Meyer was noticeably tired at the Monday press conference but was effusive in his praise of what he called "a special team." He gave a nice shout our to Chase Farris, who he said is "on fire", praising his development since his move from defensive line to offensive line. He also mentioned how much improvement there has been from Zach Boren since his mid-season move to linebacker, but in typical Meyer fashion moved from compliment to challenge, saying he was disappointed that Boren didn't grade out as a champion, noting he has to get better. For me that is the essence of what makes Urban great. He walks that fine line between lifting players up with positive praise, and challenging them to dig deeper and get better. And he seems to know when each is needed most.
As for injuries, the bad news is that Etienne Sabino is doubtful, and you have to believe the coaches will hold him out, and get the senior linebacker ready for the final two contests. Jordan Hall continues to be on the shelf, and it seems likely that he will use a medical redshirt, which is good news for next year's team. Zach Domicone, who has been important on special teams, is not practicing but is expected to be ready for Saturday's game.
Meyer has had a great deal to say about Braxton Miller this week, grudgingly admitting that number 5 is a legitimate Heisman hopeful, but also saying that his passing is not up to snuff, and that he must get better. Illinois would seem to be an opponent that offers Miller an opportunity to hone his passing skills, which may be needed in the final couple games. It appears that Miller gets overly excited at times, which the head coach has acknowledged, and his mechanics "get tied up in knots." However, as we all need to remember, Braxton is only a sophomore and still very much a work in progress.
Speaking of young players, Urban commented on Ryan Shazier in his Tuesday B1G teleconference, indicating that he has also been guilty of playing hyper at times, and overrunning plays. However he credited Fickell for settling him down, and helping Shazier move from simply being a big athlete running around, to a disciplined linebacker.
As for discussing this week's opponent, Meyer said that Illinois is looking for an identity on offense, and if you have watched any of their games, you know that is true. Last year they rode their defense a lot, but in 2012 the Illini are surrendering 30.8 points per game, although their lack of offense has contributed to some of that. So with an offense that hasn't found it's niche, and a defense that hasn't been very good, the team has struggled. Let's hope that continues for at least one more week.
Interesting Tidbits: Did you notice that Ryan Shazier was wearing a different number Saturday night? Instead of his usual #10 he was wearing #48 in memory of his childhood friend Gary Curtis. A former manager at Plantation (FL) High School where Shazier played, Curtis died over the summer due to muscular dystrophy. Certainly Shazier played inspired ball Saturday night, and if I was him, I would keep wearing #48 from here on out...A lot of Buckeyes were on preseason watch lists for major awards, and some found out this week that they have become finalists: Braxton Miller is one of 16 finalists for the Maxwell Award, given to the collegiate player of the year, and Johnathan Hankins is a semifinalist for the 18th Chuck Bednarik Award, honoring the top collegiate defensive player of the year. Also, Bradley Roby has been announced as a semifinalist for the Thorpe Award...A potentially great class of 2013 is being lined up by Urban Meyer, but it won't be until the first week of February until we know who all will be included in this haul. If you are like me you are always interested in how the verbal commitments are doing as seniors in high school, and thanks to Tony Gerdeman and our friends at The Ozone you can read up on all of them right here. I think there will be another 4-5 added, including some big names, but as for now, I like this group and most have had very impressive senior campaigns.
Hoops News: Believe it or not the OSU men's basketball team hit the hardwood yesterday with their first exhibition game, and it won't be long until they are playing for real. Coming off a Final Four birth in 2012, expectations are high even though Jared Sullinger and William Buford have moved on to play for pay. The AP preseason poll has the Buckeyes ranked fourth, which seems a little high to me, as it does to Myron Metcalf of ESPN. Various publications all have the Buckeyes in their preseason top ten, with most of them picking OSU to either finish second or third in the conference. Obviously Indiana is the clear choice for winning the B1G, and most are crowning them the favorite to win the whole enchilada. Behind the Hoosiers, the experts are divided in whether it will be Ohio State of Michigan in the conference's number two spot. It seems strange that Michigan State is being picked fourth, since they have regularly been first or second during the past decade. As for individual honors, a whole lot of publications are choosing DeShaun Thomas as a preseason All-American, and he is a consensus first team all B1G performer. Surprisingly most of those same sources have Aaron Craft as a 2nd team conference selection, and at best, an honorable mention All-American. Then today Jason King shared his choices for the Top Ten point guards in the nation, and had Craft at number six, four spots behind Trey Burke of Michigan. It is true that Aaron isn't impressive to the naked eye, and he doesn't score a boatload of points, but I wouldn't trade him with any other point guard in America. In fact, if Craft stays healthy, the Bucks will be a tough out again this year, despite their youth.