201011 200711 201325Bye 20031T1Possible home adv. 20012T4Bye 201111 Tom Brady, Super Bowl MVP; Tom Brady, NFL icon; Tom Brady, scofflaw. The Deflategate punishments have been handed down by the league office, and the official report on the incident refused to speculate about whether the New England Patriots got any advantage from their deflated balls, saying: “It is impossible to determine whether this activity had an effect on the outcome of games or what that effect was.” But suspending Brady (and taking away draft picks) is almost sure to have an effect.The Patriots owe the league $1 million, one first-round draft pick in 2016, and one fourth-round draft pick in 2017. All of that for “violation of the playing rules and the failure to cooperate in the subsequent investigation.” Meanwhile, for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of the NFL,” Tom Brady — the Patriots’ reasonably well-known quarterback — received a 4-game suspension, which he is planning to appeal.The best spin on this news for Patriots fans is that Brady’s value is relatively unknown. While he has a history of great accomplishments and stats, QB success is much more of a team accomplishment than an individual one. Unlike certain other quarterbacks who have played for multiple teams and multiple coaches, Brady has only played for Bill Belichick’s Patriots. We don’t know if the Patriots would collapse without him — the one season where he missed significant time (in 2008), the Patriots went 11-5 with Matt Cassel under center.1I certainly look forward to some empirically significant games next year if Brady’s appeal fails. The Patriots’ backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, actually had a higher passer rating than Brady last year, though he only had 27 attempts and was sacked five times.But while I don’t know what Brady is really worth, I can lay out a couple of estimates and see what the effects of his suspension might be. Let’s use history as our guide and look at the past 14 years to see what might have happened had Brady been forced to sit the first four games of each season.While I’m not always in love with how Vegas values QBs, it’s a decent place to start: According to RJ Bell of Pregame.com, the betting line in the Patriots opener against the Steelers has shifted by about 5 points, though Bell claims gamblers usually consider Brady’s value to be closer to 7 points. So for this first test, I took each game that Brady played for the Patriots in the first four team games of each season and took away 6.5 points. In other words, if the Patriots won by 7 or more, I assumed that they would have won even without Brady, while if they won by 6 or less I counted it as a loss (if he didn’t play, I left the result as is). I then re-jiggered the playoff standings to see how the Patriots’ new record would have affected their playoff position each season. This recalculation cost the Pats eight wins since 2001, knocked them out of the playoffs in 2005 and 2009, and cost them a first-round bye in 2013.2Assuming everything else had played out the same — which is unlikely, but counterfactuals are pretty much always just mind candy. However, it also leaves all of their Super Bowl-winning seasons unscathed: 200311 2008outout This one looks a lot worse. If you took one win away from every Pats team since 2001, not only could they have missed the playoffs two more times (depending on whom they lost to), but they would also lose a playoff bye at least twice and possibly four times, again depending on which game they lost and by how much. It’s also probably worth noting that the 2008 Patriots, who had Brady for less than one quarter of one game, would have been a No. 3 seed if they could have squeezed out one more win, or even been a bye team if they managed two more wins. Instead, they missed the playoffs.More importantly, losing one more game would have had negative effects on New England’s playoff position in three of its four Super Bowl-winning years. And that’s why four games of Brady might be even more valuable than the draft pick — to the Patriots. For most teams, a first-round draft pick is probably worth more than a single win. But if that one win is crucial to your Super Bowl chances, you take it. 20093outPlayoffs 20054outPlayoffs 201222 YEARSEEDSEED W/ ONE FEWER WIN IN FIRST FOUR GAMESCOST 20093T4Possible playoffs 200122 200422 2002outout 2002outout 200711 200644 20111T1Possible home adv. 201011 200644 20141T2Possible bye 201223Bye But that version of this examination is probably too granular. In the Patriots’ four games without Brady, there are only so many outcomes — they can only win zero, one, two, three or four games with or without Brady. While technically every swing has some probability (they might have won zero games with Brady but now win four games without him), the most likely effect is that the Patriots drop zero or one games — that’s the outcome the 7-point estimate produced in 10 of the 12 years in which Brady played in all of the season’s first four games. That is, if they would have gone 3-1 with Brady, without him they’d probably stay at 3-1 or drop to 2-2. Now let’s focus on the most likely negative scenario. What would happen if we just took one teensy-tiny win away each season? 20054T4Possible playoffs 201411 200422 20132T2Possible bye 2008outout YEARSEEDSEED W/ BRADY OUT FIRST FOUR GAMESCOST
Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders was fined $50,000 by the NFL for faking an injury during a game in Cincinnati on Oct. 21.Sanders initially played coy in public comments about the incident, but in recent weeks has said the matter was being handled internally.Also fined on Friday by the league were Panthers safety Haruki Nakamura and Packers tight end Ryan Taylor, $21,000 each; Titans safety Michael Griffin, $20,000; Raiders cornerback Tyvon Branch, Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, and Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves, $15,750 each; Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe, $10,000; Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, Colts cornerback Cassius Vaughn, and Steelers safety Will Allen, $7,875 apiece.During the Steelers-Bengals game, NBC announcers openly discussed their belief Sanders apparently was deliberately feigning an injury for the purpose of saving a timeout.Anderson said it found no evidence the Steelers, on an organization-wide basis, were instructing or condoning the faking of injuries for competitive purposes.“If I believed that to be the case, the discipline would be substantially more,” Anderson said. “Instead, it reflects the commissioner’s strong view that it is the responsibility of the club to insure that its players are familiar with and in compliance with the league’s competitive rules.”In an open letter to Sanders and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert, Anderson cited video evidence to the contrary of Sanders’ contention that he was in severe pain while lying on the ground, before or after the play.Sanders sat out one play — a team trainer attended to him — and then returned to the game for the next play, a Pittsburgh punt. Anderson noted that Sanders outran his teammates and downed the ball.“The video of the play shows Sanders running swiftly and effortlessly toward the punted ball, and then leaving the field with no sign of discomfort,” Anderson wrote. “Sanders also played the rest of the game without difficulty.”The NFL sent out a memo to team general managers and coaches in September that said, “The Competition Committee deprecates feigning injuries.” The league reiterated it had the power to fine players, coaches or teams or even take away draft picks.This is the first punishment the league has handed out for faking an injury.When asked two days before his meeting with the league if he thought the NFL had a problem with faking, Sanders said “Not that I know of.”
After an extraordinary run, Djokovic has been merely ordinary, by his high standards. Over a seven-year stretch from Wimbledon in 2009 through the French Open last year, he played all 28 majors and reached 28 quarterfinals, 24 semis and 18 finals, winning 11. In a sport increasingly dominated by veterans, Djokovic was getting better as he aged, netting seven finals and six titles from his last eight majors of the stretch. Since then, though, he has a second-round loss, a final loss and a third-round loss. That kind of run used to be respectable even for the world’s best players: Sampras had a worse three-major stretch when he was No. 1 in 1997-98. But more recently Djokovic, Federer and Nadal set a much higher standard of consistency. Now that all three are struggling, Andy Murray has capitalized, winning 29 of his last 30 matches to take a commanding lead in the rankings over No. 2 Djokovic.Djokovic is far from finished. Some of his struggles could be chalked up to bad luck: All three of his recent Grand Slam losses were close, and came after a stretch in which he’d won all his close calls. He’s healthy and sounded motivated in Melbourne after having discussed his quest to find emotional fulfillment on the court last fall. Even during his slump, he has won six of nine matches against fellow top 10 players, including a defeat of Murray two weeks ago. He was favored by experts and Elo ratings to win the Australian Open, and barring injury he’ll be one of the favorites at each of the year’s remaining three majors.But time is not on his side. With each upset loss, Djokovic becomes a little less likely to catch up to his rivals for the sport’s most distinguished record. Share on Facebook Seven months ago, it was hard to imagine Novak Djokovic losing a Grand Slam match: He’d won his last 28, and 53 of his last 55. And 24 hours ago, it was hard to imagine him losing an Australian Open match: He’d won his last 15, and 40 of his last 41. But on Thursday in Melbourne, Djokovic crashed out in the second round to Denis Istomin, 7-6(8) 5-7 2-6 7-6(5) 6-4. Djokovic will be 30 by the time the next major starts (the French Open begins May 28), and he’ll still be stuck on 12 career major titles. His pursuit of Roger Federer’s record 17 titles has stalled out around the same age that slowed Federer and the other two guys Djokovic is chasing: Rafael Nadal and Pete Sampras.
The variety of responses to my article “The Hidden Value of the NBA Steal” has been amazing. I expected there to be a lot of questions and criticisms, but I didn’t anticipate the depth and thoroughness of reader analysis.Some of the points people raised (pro and con) I expected; some I did not. For example, a number of people objected to my characterization of the hoop as only “slightly larger” than the ball. As I’ve learned, the diameter of a basketball (9.2 inches) is only 52 percent of the diameter of the rim (18 inches). I definitely thought the ratio was higher. The maximum distance a ball can clear the rim is only 4.4 inches, so perhaps I should have said “not too much larger” instead. But the point — that shooting is beautiful, and I understand why we devote so much attention to it — stands.I���ve picked what I think are the four most common and most salient questions and comments, and will respond to them in four parts. Here’s the first:“Can a steal really be worth NINE points?”This question arose in various forms, many of which were not phrased as a question and some of which I can’t repeat in polite company.Here’s one of the more gently worded versions, emailed in from “Johnny”:Isn’t the “theoretical” upper bound on the value of a steal capped at 8 points? I say this by looking at the limiting case where on every possession we don’t steal the opposing team makes a three pointer, is fouled and then makes the free throw. Then on every possession where we steal, we make a three pointer, is fouled and then makes the free throw and every possession where we don’t steal we don’t score. In this case the value of a steal would be 8 points (saved 4 points from making the steal and gained 4 points from scoring after the steal). Now this is obviously completely unrealistic, but I find it hard to believe a steal could be worth anything more.And here’s the language in my article that some people objected to:Yes, this pretty much means a steal is “worth” as much as nine points. To put it more precisely: A marginal steal is weighted nine times more heavily when predicting a player’s impact than a marginal point.The confusion here is somewhat understandable and probably stems from how we understand the word “worth” (the quotes were meant to signify that I was using a precise definition). The finding isn’t that getting a steal improves a team’s chances of winning by the same amount that adding nine points would. But kudos for being skeptical enough to imagine me capable of such absurdity. By “worth,” I meant the ability of steals to predict a player’s impact (as measured by the amount his team suffers when he doesn’t play) versus the ability of points to do the same.Conversely, a few stats-savvy readers disliked this comparison from the opposite direction: In other words, raw points scored have been so discredited in the advanced statistical community that using them as a basis of comparison is too easy! I should note that the outsize predictive value of steals is not especially controversial in that community either. For people interested in the cutting-edge, box-score-based predictive metrics, I recommend Daniel Myers’ work on “advanced statistical plus minus” and its ilk (check out the monster coefficient for steal percentage).A good number of readers also concluded that comparing “worth” of steals to points in this way invited confusion, and thus may have been a mistake in presentation, if not of analysis. The logic goes like this: If a steal only nets us two points or so, you’re “inviting confusion” by saying it’s “worth” nine points. People know that two points is not nine points, so it looks ridiculous.Perhaps they are right that this is difficult for someone unfamiliar with the issues to read idly. But the reason I phrased it that way originally, and stand by that language, is simple:When it comes to predictions, a point is not worth a point.I think understanding this concept is important, and inviting people to deal with it instead of skirting around it is worth the debate. This is a fundamental lesson of empirical thinking: The immediate value of something can be (and often is) very different from its predictive value.
We’re on the ground in Rio covering the 2016 Summer Olympics. Check out all our coverage here.Olympic tennis should be as, well, grand as a Grand Slam. The world’s best players show up with a chance to win hardware for their countries — and without making a yearlong commitment. They get to hang with other great athletes in the Olympic Village. And they only get one chance every four years — not four chances every year. That makes it especially precious for players who are sidelined with injury just before the games, as Rafael Nadal was in 2012 and as Roger Federer is this year. The reality, though, is a bit more flawed. The necessities of the national nature of the Olympics imposes restrictions on what is otherwise mostly an individual sport. And that robs the Olympics tennis event of some of its top players and teams — and that’s not counting the stars who blamed Zika when they withdrew.No country gets more than four players in each of the men’s and women’s 64-player singles draws — half the size of major draws. That limit means half of France’s eight men in the Top 50 don’t get a shot at individual glory. Meanwhile, to improve regional representation, Ons Jabeur of Tunisia (ranked No. 188 at the time the entry list was finalized) and Stephanie Vogt of Liechtenstein (No. 274) got into the women’s draw. At majors, they’d usually have to try to earn their way in through qualifying.At least in singles, players are competing as they usually do. On the tours, some of the best doubles teams are paragons of multinational cooperation — a former pairing of an Indian man and a Pakistani teammate inspired tennis fans in both their countries. Part of what makes tennis great, if you’re into individual agency for athletes, is that even when players team up on tour, they do so by choice. They choose whom to partner and whom to dump — leading to a fun round of musical chairs and attendant gossip in each offseason. The Olympics, though, forces teammates to split up. Four of the top 10 women’s teams in the world, including the very best one, pair players from different countries. So do six of the top 10 men’s teams. There isn’t a ranking for mixed doubles, yet just three of the 16 majors since the last Olympics were won by a man and woman from the same country. Yet all those players who normally partner with someone from a different country had to find someone else to play with in Rio de Janeiro.The bigger problem with mixed at the Olympics is how easy it is to medal once you’ve qualified: Just 16 teams enter (after having qualified by making it into one of the other draws and then signing up for mixed in Rio), so it takes just two wins to reach the semifinals. Win one of the next two matches and you’re on the podium.Partly because of all the limitations, especially on top players who don’t qualify because their country’s talent pool is too deep, the tours stopped offering ranking points for wins in this year’s Olympic event. John Isner, the highest ranked American man, cited that as a major factor in his decision to skip Rio. Isner and other opt-outers have been feasting on depleted competition at the tour events. Isner got 150 ranking points for beating three players outside the top 50 in Atlanta last week — 150 more than he would’ve gotten if he’d won the gold medal in Rio. Ranking points, not gold, are the currency on tour, yielding direct entry to events and higher seeds that offer safer passage through the draw.The Olympic men’s singles draw may have lost other stars to early upsets because of their best-of-three-set format until the final. Novak Djokovic, who has won just about every important title except a gold medal, lost his first match in straight sets to Juan Martin del Potro. At a major he would have had a chance to try to come back — a thrilling prospect whether or not he would have pulled it off.I asked the International Tennis Federation, which helps organize the event, for a response to my criticisms. David Haggerty, president of the ITF, said in a statement sent through a spokesman: “The ITF is happy with the overall format of the Olympic Tennis Event, which presents a unique opportunity for players to represent their countries in individual competition. The current format ensures a strength of entry alongside a diversity of nations that reflects the universality of our sport.” He added that the draw size and number of sets are constrained by the desire to limit the event to a little over a week so players can get back on tour, and so that they can enter singles, doubles and mixed without undue burden.I’m not arguing, as many do, that tennis shouldn’t be in the Olympics.1Nor is it a plea on behalf of ESPN, the owner of this website and the broadcaster of the U.S. Open but not of the Olympics. All of the sport’s top players in recent years have competed passionately for their countries and have medaled in 2008 or 2012, or both: Serena and Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka, Djokovic, Federer, Nadal, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka. I watched many of them at the London games in 2012 and enjoyed the novelty of watching singles stars playing doubles, wearing country uniforms and bringing lots of new colors to the usually staid Wimbledon aesthetic. And no one who watched the Djokovic-del Potro epic, or saw both players’ tears afterwards, would prefer it had never happened. It’s just a reminder that when the Olympic format is forced on top of an established sport’s pre-existing structure, flaws and awkwardness are inevitable. Tennis is an individual sport and is at its best when players — and doubles pairs — are free to compete for themselves.
OSU junior forward Marc Loving looks to shoot in a game against Air Force on Dec. 8 in Columbus, Ohio. OSU won, 74-50. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorThe Ohio State men’s basketball team started conference play on the right foot, as the Buckeyes secured a 78-63 win Wednesday over Minnesota in Columbus.OSU came out firing, as it opened with an 11-0 run, which stunned the Minnesota Golden Gophers to begin play.The Buckeyes’ energy and aggressive play couldn’t be matched over the first 10 minutes of the game, as OSU pushed the early lead to 15. Their momentum halted, however, slowly allowing Minnesota to climb back into the game as OSU’s lead was trimmed to just 37-34 at halftime.The second half was a back-and-forth battle until freshman point guard JaQuan Lyle took over the game. His game-high 13 assists guided the Buckeyes to the victory, continuing the team’s season-high five-game winning streak. The Buckeyes now stand at 9-5 on the season, including a 1-0 mark in Big Ten play.After the game, Lyle credited his teammates for knocking down shots when given the opportunity, and, as a whole, was happy with the way the team has grown over the course of the season.“I think we grew up as a basketball team and we grew together,” Lyle said. “I think that’s the main thing. We’re a basketball team now and there are no longer individuals.”OSU coach Thad Matta said he was pleased with the overall performance, especially when responding to adversity.“I think a month ago we struggled to play ourselves out of bad situations,” Matta said. “And tonight we did a much better job when things didn’t go particularly well for us. We still have a long way to go, I’m not going to lie about that. But guys are making progress, and to see (junior forward) Marc (Loving), who may have struggled a little bit the last two games, play the way he did tonight, that’s a very positive thing for our team.”As Matta noted, Loving returned to early-season form after a few off games. The Buckeyes leading scorer poured in 20 points, while snagging six rebounds.Loving said tonight’s aggressive gameplan was the key to OSU’s success.“Just having an aggressive mentality from top to bottom,” Loving said. “Being on your toes and being aggressive at all points of the game, swinging the ball and just moving the defense from side-to-side to get the best shot possible.”Sophomore forward Keita Bates-Diop also continued his stellar play as of late for the Buckeyes, dropping 13 points on a night when OSU shot 51 percent from the field and had three players score in double figures.Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said he was proud of his team’s effort, but ultimately its lack of depth couldn’t keep it in the game.“I think when you’re down by 15 and then to come back it takes a bit out of you,” he said. “When we got in foul trouble that took a lot out of us. I was proud of our fight though. They threw a punch, then we threw a punch, but they threw the final punch to end it.”The Buckeye defense held Minnesota to 36 percent shooting on 21-of-58 from the floor, while OSU shot 51 percent. It was just the fourth time this season it shot north of 50 percent.“It’s a heck of a win for us to start the Big Ten season,” Matta said. “I was pretty pleased with the performance.”The Buckeyes are set to return to action on Sunday to take on Illinois at 3 p.m. in Columbus.
After clinching last season’s Big Ten regular season title with four games to go, Jim Foster’s team is fighting for survival and a spot in the NCAA Tournament with four games left this time around. Being ranked as high as No. 6 on Nov. 22, Ohio State (15-9, 6-6 Big Ten) has been streaky and unpredictable during conference play. But a strong run during its last four conference games could spring the team back into the tournament picture. Foster said the urgency the team will need to have down the home stretch is critical because last season’s team wasn’t mentally prepared for the rigors of the postseason. “They hadn’t experienced it,” Foster said. “That’s how you develop some character; that’s how you develop some toughness; that’s how you become a better player and a better team.” Last season ended in the NCAA Tournament’s second round when Mississippi State upset the second-seeded Buckeyes. “We just didn’t have a sense of urgency. … We already won the conference and were looking at the Big Ten Tournament,” senior center Jantel Lavender said of the team’s mindset this time last year. “We didn’t play as hard as we should have, and now everyone’s playing on edge and we can’t lose games.” Lavender became OSU’s all-time leading scorer on Sunday after adding 29 points and bringing her total to 2,587 in its 83-76 win Sunday against Minnesota (11-14, 3-9). “It means a lot. I think it’s something I’ll never forget,” Lavender said. “I think it shows my dedication to my teammates and what I want to do for my team. … I just try to play hard for my team all the time.” After winning two straight conference games against Purdue (17-9, 7-6) and the Golden Gophers, the Buckeyes are hoping to keep the momentum rolling when they host Penn State (21-6, 10-3) on Thursday. In its previous encounter, Jan. 30 in State College, Pa., OSU fell, 80-71, to the Lady Lions when Penn State’s backcourt of Alex Bentley and Maggie Lucas combined for 39 points. Foster said Wednesday that the team must do a better job of preventing Bentley from penetrating and kicking the ball out to Lucas, who made 6 of 8 3-point attempts in that contest. Although Foster had questioned his team’s defensive intensity, he said he thought it was increasing lately. Senior guard Brittany Johnson said in addition to improving defensively, the team is becoming more cohesive on the offensive end. “I think we’re starting to mesh really well; we’re moving the ball. Last Penn State game we weren’t really moving the ball,” Johnson said. “It’s starting to come back. We’re starting to mesh, and it’s coming down to the end of the season and we’re playing really well right now.” Thursday’s tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.
The California Golden Bears football team will be hoping to continue a trend of Pac-12 Conference dominance over the Big Ten when they play Ohio State this Saturday. On the second Saturday of the college football season, three Big Ten teams traveled west to play Pac-12 teams, and all three of them – Wisconsin, Nebraska and Illinois – lost their games, respectively to Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State. But this Saturday, the tables will be turned on California, which travels east to play the Buckeyes in Ohio Stadium. California comes into the game with a 1-1 record, coming off a 50-31 victory against Southern Utah, after opening its season with a 31-24 loss to Nevada. California’s first road game of 2012 comes against the Buckeyes, which are 2-0 and ranked No. 12 in the Associated Press top 25. Even though his team is on the road and unranked, California freshman wide receiver Chris Harper believes his team will defeat its ranked opponent on Saturday. “I think that even though Ohio State is a great team, I think that we’re a great team also and we’re going to be able to compete and come out victorious,” Harper said. Junior Keenan Allen, a fellow wide receiver, agreed. “I think our chances (of winning) are high,” Allen said. “We’ve been practicing pretty good all week, and I just think we just got to polish up on a couple of things from these last games and I think we’ll be a great football team.” Coach Jeff Tedford said during the weekly Pac-12 teleconference on Tuesday that playing OSU, who will have senior linebacker Storm Klein and senior running back Jordan Hall suited up, will be a “great challenge” but believes his team is prepared. “I think our guys are ready for that test against a very good football team,” Tedford said. “We’ve had to play through a couple things the first two weeks actually that have kind of persevered us through some things.” Harper said his preparation for playing the Buckeyes has been the same as it is for any other game. “I’m preparing the same I would any other week,” Harper said. “This is just, it’s another game. Although it’s a big game against a big team, my preparation is still the same because I try to come out and work hard every day at practice.” California ranks 49th nationally in total offense, with an average of 441 yards per game in its first two contests, and is tied for 35th in scoring offense with 37 points per game. Defensively, the Golden Bears have been worse statistically, ranking only 78th in total defense while allowing 410.5 yards per game, and 91st nationally in points allowed with 31. Nonetheless, OSU coach Urban Meyer said the Buckeyes’ opponent has no shortage of talent, including future NFL players on its roster. “You’ll see some Cal Bears going in the draft next year,” Meyer said. One California player whose talents have received considerable recognition from OSU coaches and players alike is Allen, who ranked ninth in the Football Bowl Subdivision in both receptions and receiving yards in 2011. “Anytime you play a great receiver, you have to have tremendous respect for their ability, and what they do well,” said OSU cornerbacks coach Kerry Coombs. “Keenan Allen is a great route-runner, he’s got great speed, he does really well, he’s got great body control when the ball is in the air, he goes and gets it. They’re going to run vertical routes, so he’s going to be a factor. They’ll do that with multiple receivers, but he’s a tremendous talent.” OSU sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby said he is looking forward to the opportunity to “go against the best.” “Everybody has been talking about him, saying he’s one of the best in the country,” Roby said. “I think he’s a good athlete and I think he’s a good football player, so I’m just ready to go against him.” Allen said the Bears “definitely need to make progress” with their passing offense from their first two games of the season, but pointed out that he is not the team’s only offensive playmaker. “We have a lot of guys on offense who make plays,” Allen said. “C.J. Anderson (senior running back), Isi Sofele (senior running back), myself, Chris Harper, Bryce Treggs (freshman wide receiver). We all make plays in open field, so once we get the ball into our hands, they really going to have break down and make the open-field tackle.” Coombs also praised California’s quarterback, senior Zach Maynard, who is Allen’s half-brother. “He’s very athletic, he’s very fast, he does a great job of avoiding pressure, pulling it down, making things happen, and sometimes scrambles to run, sometimes scrambles to throw, makes a lot of big plays,” Coombs said. “I think he’s a total package and a guy who’s got experience.” As for OSU’s quarterback, sophomore Braxton Miller, California senior linebacker Robert Mullins compared him to Colin Kaepernick, who played the position at Nevada from 2007-2010, and is currently the backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. “(Miller)’s the most athletic (quarterback) I’ve seen,” Mullins said during California’s weekly press conference on Tuesday. “In terms of how dynamic he is, he reminds me of Kaepernick.” Mullins also discussed how the California defense can slow down Miller, who has accounted for 664 yards of total offense in his first two games of the season. “Any time you have a dynamic quarterback like that, you have to be disciplined,” Mullins said. “We have to rally to the ball because he can move in space, he may break some tackles … ultimately, it comes down to what we do.” Another OSU player to whom Tedford gave specific praise was senior defensive end John Simon. “(Simon) plays as hard as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Tedford said. Meyer said that he has great respect for the coach that will be across the field from him on Saturday. “One of my great friends, I’ve known Jeff (Tedford) for a long time,” Meyer said. “Studied football with him back when I was at Bowling Green.” Kickoff in the Horseshoe between OSU and California is scheduled for noon on Saturday. Patrick Maks contributed to this story.
OSU football coach Urban Meyer answers questions from the media at the 2014 Big Ten Media Days July 29 in Chicago.Credit: Tim Moody / Lantern sports editorIt’s long been understood that championships are not won or lost behind the podium.That being said, there is, however, plenty that fans can glean from what a coach or player might say at events like the Big Ten Media Days, which took place on Monday and Tuesday in Chicago.Here are five things that fans can take away from the comments of the Ohio State representatives who took part in the 2014 Big Ten Media Days.1. The OSU defensive line has historic potentialFollowing breakout seasons from senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett and sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa, the OSU defensive front could be one of the best coach Urban Meyer has ever laid his eyes on.“2006 was our best defensive line,” Meyer said, referring back to his time at the University of Florida. “If they all perform and stay healthy, this one could be on that level.”For reference, that 2006 defensive line that Meyer referred to boasted defensive end Jarvis Moss, the 17th overall pick of the 2007 NFL Draft to the Denver Broncos, and defensive end Derrick Harvey, the 8th overall pick of the 2008 NFL Draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars, both of whom helped Florida to beat OSU in the 2007 National Championship Game.If Meyer believes it, Bennett does too.“The fact that coach Meyer said it means that it’s pretty real,” Bennett said following Meyer’s comparison. “But as much as we have the potential to be it, potential doesn’t mean anything if you don’t do it, so we have to keep working.”2. Braxton Miller is the undoubted face of the Buckeyes and has a lot on his mind heading into his final seasonAs if there was any doubt who the most important player on the OSU roster was heading into Monday morning’s press conferences at Big Ten Media Day, Meyer removed all doubt.Without prompting or without a single question tossed his way, Meyer’s first comment addressed his senior quarterback: Braxton Miller.“Our quarterback, I know I’ll get asked that question, is ready to go,” Meyer said. “He’s full-speed, in the best shape of his life.”While Miller may be the face of Big Ten football, having won both the Big Ten offensive player and quarterback of the year the past two seasons, the quarterback feels as if injuries derailed what he believes might have been a Heisman-caliber 2013 season.“It could’ve been a different situation at the end of the season,” Miller said. “I fell off the Heisman radar, injury wise. That’s what happens, you miss a couple of games and your name gets quickly pushed aside.”Health may not necessarily be in his control, but Miller is certainly using last season’s happenings, as well as added talent around him, to push his name back into the national limelight.“I’ve been in the Heisman race the last two years, so I have to take advantage of what we’ve got in front of me this year,” Miller said. “If I’m in the Heisman situation again, hopefully, I get to walk across that podium and accept that award.”Ultimately, however, Miller said that following his tumultuous, four-year career at OSU, rather than being remembered as a Heisman Trophy winner, his goal is more team based.“Being in the situations I overcame as a freshman and sophomore, it’s not easy,” Miller said. “I just want to go out with a nice run this year and be known as a champion.”3. Miller already knows the targets that could elevate him to those Heisman heightsWith the Heisman talk lingering around No. 5, Miller seems to have developed quite the chemistry with a few potential receiving targets, starting with senior tight end Jeff Heuerman.“Them guys is 6’6, 260, man, you know you can’t miss those targets,” Miller said. “They’re a mismatch for any linebacker, any corner, any safety, so I’m going to make sure they get that ball early this year.”While the tight ends seem to be the primary targets for Miller, and therefore for opposing defenders as well, Miller’s favorite wideouts seem to be under-the-radar players who haven’t quite made an impact for the Buckeyes thus far.Miller thinks that some of his receivers will emerge from the bottom of the depth chart and become playmakers for the Buckeyes this fall.“Corey Smith, Mike Thomas, the guys on the outside, ” Miller said. “Those are the guys who are going to make some people like, ‘wow, where have these guys been at?” and it’s going to be fun.”Miller isn’t alone in his belief in his receivers, however.Coach Meyer, long a detractor of the receivers at OSU, finally seems to be confident in the pass-catchers to the outside.“I’ll be disappointed now if the receivers aren’t able to carry their own weight,” Meyer said.4. An unproven offensive line remains a huge concern for the BuckeyesA season after losing four starting offensive linemen, one of whom was a captain, the Buckeyes are searching for answers on the line.In his opening remarks to the media on Monday Meyer made it clear that the protection up-front is alarming.“The offensive line is No. 1,” Meyer said of his concerns heading into the new season. “I was a little disappointed with what happened in the spring. We just didn’t see the growth we would like to see.”If the offensive line is to grow from a weakness to a strength, who will lead the charge?Meyer believes it is the veterans that will ultimately decide the direction of the group.“Chase Farris, Antonio Underwood, Jacoby Boren, the new guy from Alabama Chad Lindsay, Darryl Baldwin… there’s a common theme there,” Meyer said, listing the offensive linemen who’ve yet to make a true impact for the Buckeyes. “They’re all nice players, nice people, who’ve been around for a while and haven’t played, so we have to get something out of them.”5. Despite glaring uncertainty, hope springs eternal for the new OSU pass defenseRanked 112th out of the 125 FBS teams in terms of pass defense, the OSU defensive backfield was a disappointment for the Buckeyes last season, calling for a revamping.Meyer brought in former Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash to oversee the defensive remodeling, and thus far Meyer seemed to be pleased with the complete overhaul.“Chris Ash has done an admirable job installing a brand new pass defense,” Meyer said in his Monday presser. “We completely have blown up and started from scratch an area that we were not very strong in.”Bennett has seen the merits of the move as well, but feels that the play of the defensive backfield is impacted by the defensive front as well.“I feel like we’re a lot more aggressive,” Bennett explained. “The DB’s are a lot more aggressive. The d-line needs to get to the quarterback more or else we’re going hang the DB’s out to dry.”With the new defensive schemes of Ash under wraps and a potentially top-rated defensive line ready to contribute, the defensive backfield may be headed in the right direction, but is still a giant unknown heading into training camp.
(Left) Sophomore quarterback Christian Hackenberg makes a pass during a Sept. 6 game against Akron in State College, Pa. Penn State won, 21-3.Credit: Courtesy of TNS(Right) Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. barrett carries the ball during a game against Rutgers on Oct. 18 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 56-17.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorIn 2013, the Ohio State football team beat a reeling Penn State squad, 63-14, at Ohio Stadium.About a year later, the Buckeyes (5-1, 2-0) and Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-2) are set to face off again. But this time around, Penn State is free of NCAA sanctions including a revoked postseason ban and likely looking to avenge its big loss last season.The Lantern sports editors picked five keys to the matchup that could either spark the Buckeyes or help the Nittany Lions turn around their season.1. J.T. Barrett vs. Christian HackenbergBarrett is OSU’s redshirt-freshman phenomenon while Hackenberg is a true sophomore with all-world potential.The two are set to go head-to-head under center when their teams meet this weekend, and the game could easily come down to which one plays better. Based off production so far this season, Barrett might be more likely to have the better day, but both have put up big numbers at times.OSU’s quarterback is the Big Ten’s most efficient passer — checking in with a 182.1 efficiency rating so far — while Hackenberg is averaging more passing yards per game than any other quarterback in the conference. That being said, the second-year Penn State starter is averaging less than four yards more than Barrett.Outside of yards per game, the Buckeyes look to have a huge statistical advantage as Barrett has thrown 20 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions, while Hackenberg has thrown seven picks to just five scoring tosses.If the Buckeyes’ defense can get after Hackenberg and force him to make more mistakes — and if Barrett comes out firing once again — it could be another long day for the Nittany Lions.2. Strength vs. StrengthBeyond two young guns at quarterback, the matchup between the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions is set to feature the Big Ten’s top statistical defense against the conference’s best offense.Penn State ranks first in the conference in total defense, giving up 283.3 yards per game, but OSU is first in total offense at a whopping 533.8 yards per game. The Nittany Lions are also first in scoring defense, giving up just 15.2 points per game this season, while the Buckeyes are No. 2 in the Big Ten with 46.5 points for per game this season.The deciding factor in this game could be on the flip side of the field when the Buckeyes’ defense comes up against Penn State’s offense.While the Nittany Lions’ defense has been strong throughout the year, their offense is all the way down at No. 10 in the conference with just 375.5 yards per game. They’ll be going up against an OSU defense that ranks fifth in the Big Ten for total defense.If the numbers hold true, the Buckeye offense will be put to the test against Penn State, but the Nittany Lions might struggle to move the ball against a statistically superior OSU defense.3. Will sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott find space to run?Forget their total defensive numbers, the Nittany Lions’ defense has been simply dominant when it comes to the running game in 2014.So far, they’re giving up just 60.8 yards per game, which puts them up more than 30 yards against the No. 2 team in the conference: Michigan.But Penn State hasn’t had to face Elliott yet this season.He’s not the best running back in the world right now, but he’s been breaking out over the past few weeks to spark the OSU offense on the ground. Overall, the Buckeyes are fifth in the Big Ten in rushing offense, but if Elliott continues to improve, they should climb the rankings.Elliott will be up against a stiff test when he takes on the Penn State defensive front, but if he can find a way to match his season numbers — he’s averaging 88.5 yards per game — the Buckeyes will benefit greatly and likely find themselves in a position to win the game.4. Will the Penn State crowd affect a young Buckeye team?The last time OSU played a game in State College, Pa., nine current Buckeye starters weren’t even Buckeyes.The crowd at Beaver Stadium is notorious for being loud and sporting the white-out look for prime-time games against ranked opponents. This time, the game means a little more as well. The last time the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions squared off in Beaver Stadium, neither team was eligible for the postseason because of NCAA violations. Now, the tables are turned and the stakes are higher, which will likely result in a sell-out crowd from the Penn State faithful.Despite having the second-largest college venue in the country, Penn State ranked seventh in average home attendance as of Oct. 1. with an average of 99,806.Expect that number to drastically rise Saturday night.5. Could an OSU win give it a rise in the AP poll?Let’s be honest, the Buckeye schedule is not very strong.However, not many teams go into Beaver Stadium on a Saturday night and come out with a victory, except for the Buckeyes.OSU has won its last three games when visiting the Nittany Lions and three of the last four night games overall against Penn State.With that being said, will a win in a historically hostile environment be enough to impress the voters? Or will the Buckeyes have to blow out their division rival in order to get back into the top 10?Only time will tell as the Buckeyes and Nittany Lions are scheduled to meet Saturday at Beaver Stadium in State College. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.