So we meet, uh, for the first time. Iowa Hawkeye QB and Patriot Extraordinaire Ricky Stanzi is arguably the most accomplished signal caller Ohio State will face this season, writes Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Also, as Johnny told you yesterday, Stanzi is an Ohio kid, facing the only shot he has at taking down the home state team that overlooked him. Stanzi, like Terrelle Pryor, has evolved from a mercurial playmaker to a composed quarterback at the tail end of his collegiate career. However, also like TP, he's far from perfect. It was his late interception - when the Hawkeyes thought they had the game well in hand - that helped Northwestern rally for the upset in Evanston. Against Arizona, he started slow, tossing a Rick Six early in the game before finishing strong. Make "Stanziball" jokes all you want; the Buckeyes can't afford another slow start Saturday, as Stanzi and his talented WRs will surely make the Buckeye secondary pay in ways McGloin and PSU could not.
So setting off a thermonuclear device on the 50-yard line of Michigan Stadium might be a little over the top? When both Penn State and Michigan looked to be terrible earlier in the season, I thought about penning a column-like substance about how the season had been turned on its head and Miami, Wisconsin and Iowa would end up being the pivotal games on the Ohio State schedule, not Wisconsin, PSU, Iowa and Michigan as first perceived. But that sounded an awful lot like work, and thus, it didn't get done. Fortunately so for my internet ego, too: it turns out that Miami stinks, Wisconsin had the Buckeyes' number, Penn State will indeed finish with a .500 or better record, and Michigan's offense is more or less legit, against both good and bad defenses. My prognosticating skills: bunk. But they would likely get me a sweet gig on Wall Street, no? Adam Rittenberg surveys the wreckage of a Big Ten season that looks nothing like I thought it might, and declares that Ohio State must root for the following:
For Rose Bowl/Big Ten automatic BCS berth, the Buckeyes should root for ...
So that's a lot of word vomit with a couple of basic points: Ohio State needs Wisconsin and Michigan State to lose. I find it highly unlikely that either team will lose at home on Senior Day to either Northwestern or Purdue, respectively. Thus, we need to root for Michigan to upset the Badgers this week, and for Penn State to pull a fast one on the Spartans next week.
If you can't bring yourself to root for either, we understand. But remember: the Rose Bowl may take one of the undefeated squads from a non-automatic qualifying conference, so you Boise and TCU haters may end up getting the opportunity to have the Buckeyes back up your claims.
Hey, we know what that's like. Adrian Clayborn is a beast. But the stats don't quite show it, as Bill Rabinowitz of the Dispatch explains.
A year ago, Clayborn was a scourge on the field, and it was reflected on the stat sheet. He had 70 tackles as a junior. Twenty were for loss, including 11 sacks. He was particularly dominating during a signature performance against Penn State when he blocked a punt and returned it for a pivotal touchdown.This year, such moments have been rare. Entering a game Saturday against Ohio State, Clayborn has only 3 sacks, seven tackles for loss and 42 tackles.
Last year, I considered Clayborn to be a mirror image of our own Cameron Heyward, and sure enough, Heyward himself is going through a down year, with just one half of a sack, 7.5 tackles for loss and 34 total tackles on the season. Both players' struggles are only explained so much by a renewed focus on actually blocking him by opponents (i.e. frequent double teams, etc.), which makes their tribulations all the more puzzling. Even ignoring the statistics, I think both players' stock has taken a bit of a hit following their decision to return for their senior seasons. Stuff like this is the reason why Tressel actively encourages players to leave early if they get a good projection back from the draft committee. I'm sure neither player regrets his decision to return, and both can probably be saved by closing out the season strong and stellar combine performances. It'll be interesting to see when both come off the board in April; I wager they won't be taken more than a round apart.
Snap judgments. Big Ten Network blogger Brent Yarina turns in an early evaluation of each Big Ten roundball squad. Some of the evaluations of interest:
You could see it in the preseason, and the season opener was no different: Kalin Lucas has recovered quite well from last season's Achilles' injury. Lucas' stroke also has improved a lot, and when you add that to Durrell Summers' outside game and Draymond Green's improved range, the Spartans could be very dangerous inside and out.
To no surprise, Purdue's defense looks strong again, as it limited Howard to 40 points on 25 percent shooting in the opener. Stout defense is the norm for this program, though, but noticeable athleticism is not. New blood (Terone Johnson) and re-sculpted bodies (D.J. Byrd and Patrick Bade) should give the Boilermakers a new dynamic.
Jordan Taylor has a chance to finish the season as the Big Ten's best point guard. Yes, better than Demetri McCamey or Kalin Lucas. The conference's returning leader in assist-to-turnover ratio, Taylor figures to add an increased scoring role to his terrific distributing skills. He's off to a good start, too, tallying 20 points in the opener.
About that point guard, you ask? Freshman Aaron Craft dished out nine assists and had no turnovers in Ohio State's season opener against North Carolina A&T. The position is still a question mark, of course, but there's no doubting the Buckeyes' newest players. Craft, Jared Sullinger and Desean Thomas combined for 51 points, 22 rebounds and 12 assists, all while shooting 60 percent.
Other teams, like Iowa, Michigan, and Illinois are all variants of "need work", but for the Buckeyes, things are looking up: Wisconsin and Michigan State still look to provide the biggest tests, with Purdue lurking somewhat in the background without Robbie Hummel, but the Boilers remain a team that can and will beat the Buckeyes if Thad Matta's team doesn't bring its A-game. I'm not sure how accurate Tubby Smith's "best conference in the country" talk is, as I'm only peripherally aware of the quality of college basketball conferences, but I will say that a conference with such great depth is exactly what this Buckeye team needs if it wants to get past the Sweet Sixteen this year.