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Ohio State football | Questions (and answers) about the offense, defense, special teams
Gone are 12 players taken in the first four rounds of the NFL draft, including three of the top 10. Such losses require a rebuild, but Ohio State is confident it will be temporary. The Buckeyes have had talented players waiting in the wings the last two years after successive banner recruiting classes. Now those players are ready to take the stage. As they do, the following questions about the 2016 Buckeyes will be answered:
A freshman will start on the line?
Yes. His name is Michael Jordan. He enrolled in January so he could gain a head start, and he has been turning heads. He could start at left guard Saturday as the Buckeyes replace three starters up front from last year. Junior Jamarco Jones is at left tackle, sophomore Isaiah Prince at right tackle, senior Pat Elflein moves from left guard to center and junior Billy Price from left guard to right guard. But the rise of a freshman into the regular line also is a sign that some upperclassmen have not stepped up. As coach Urban Meyer has said, depth up front is a major concern.
Will it take two to tango?
The largest shoes to fill are those of running back Ezekiel Elliott, who rushed for almost 3,699 yards over the past two seasons. Elliott showed flash with some breathtaking breakaways and toughness by rarely leaving the field. Redshirt freshman Mike Weber is expected to take his place in the lineup, and he has displayed some of the capability that made him the subject of a recruiting battle between OSU and Michigan in 2015. But junior Curtis Samuel split time in preseason camp between running back and hybrid, and he appears to be in the plans to share the load.
Can the receivers be more than ordinary?
Noah Brown was on the verge of becoming a playmaking receiver a year ago before suffering a broken leg. Veteran Corey Smith also suffered a broken leg, in a game against Indiana. They’re both back, and appear to be the class of the relatively green receiving corps that includes freshman Austin Mack and senior hybrid Dontre Wilson, who is finally healthy. Practice observers say several receivers have flashed big-play ability; will it transfer to show time?
Can Barrett manage the youth?
J.T. Barrett, who took over as the starting quarterback at midseason last year, has youth and/or inexperience all around him. OSU would rather not lean heavily on his running to make the offense go, meaning he must wheel and deal while urging along the youth movement. Coaches want more zest from the passing game, which was lacking in the first part of last season when Cardale Jones was at the helm. Barrett should come out winging it from the start.
Will play-calling be on point?
There is little doubt that the play-calling excelled last season once offensive coordinator Ed Warinner finally was moved to the press box for game 12 at Michigan and the bowl win over Notre Dame. He will be there from the start this season, and is confident the view will continue to enhance the flow.
How can the Buckeyes replace Bosa?
Joey Bosa had only five sacks last year, but he did have 16 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback hurries. Beyond the stats, the defensive end was the focal point of every opposing offensive game plan. There’s no one on this year’s defensive line as menacing, but Tyquan Lewis had eight sacks and Sam Hubbard 6 1/2 in 2015. The bigger question might be inside. The Buckeyes hope that Michael Hill, Tracy Sprinkle and some promising youngsters can be stout.
Can LBs play up to recent standards?
Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan returns, but the dynamic Darron Lee and reliable Joshua Perry are in the NFL. Lee redefined the position as a “walk-out” linebacker because of his speed and burst. The Buckeyes are optimistic that Chris Worley (for Lee) and Dante Booker (for Perry) are ready after serving apprenticeships. If either falters or is injured, a stable of candidates are talented enough to step in, including Jerome Baker, Justin Hilliard and veterans Craig Fada and Joe Burger.
Will inexperience doom the secondary?
Cornerback Gareon Conley is the only returning starter among the defensive backs. Almost certainly joining him in the secondary will be Malik Hooker at safety. Damon Webb looks to have the edge at the other safety over Erick Smith and Cam Burrows. The other cornerback spot is a three-way battle among Denzel Ward, Marshon Lattimore and Damon Arnette. Other than Burrows, none has much experience. But they do have talent, starting with speed. The key for all of them might be a short memory. If they get beat on one play, they can’t let it affect them on the next one.
How will Schiano mesh with the staff?
Urban Meyer usually shies away from hiring his friends, but he made an exception for the former Rutgers and Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano after co-coordinator Chris Ash left. Schiano shares the title of defensive coordinator with Luke Fickell. Could that be an issue? It shouldn’t be. When Ash was given authority to overhaul the defense two years ago, Fickell willingly went along and made sure the defensive coaches meshed. Schiano’s knack for adding wrinkles to a defense will be welcomed.
Which inexperienced players will likely emerge?
The starters on Sept. 3 might not be the starters all season. The plentiful depth and abundant inexperience will make it a weekly competition to keep jobs. Who could emerge in time? On the defensive line, look for Dre’mont Jones, Davon Hamilton and Jashon Cornell to make a move. And then there’s that Bosa kid — freshman Nick. Baker, Hilliard and perhaps Tuf Borland or Nick Conner will push for playing time at linebacker. The secondary is extremely fluid, but don’t be surprised if Erick Smith forces his way into the lineup.
Will there be happy returns?
With Jalin Marshall off to the NFL, the hunt has been on for a punt returner with panache. Noah Brown, Dontre Wilson, Corey Smith and freshman Demario McCall have been auditioning for the role. Being a reliable catcher of the punt is the first priority. James Clark and Johnnie Dixon appear to be at the head of the line to return kickoffs, with Wilson and perhaps McCall also knocking on that door.
Will deep snapping stay on point?
Quick, name the long snapper of last season. Bryce Haynes snapped almost in anonymity because of his precision, though he still got his name out there occasionally by getting in on several tackles in punt coverage. The Buckeyes look for the same from redshirt freshman Liam McCullough, who like Haynes was recruited — and given a scholarship — for just that role.
No question about the kicker?
As a freshman, Sean Nuernberger was the kicker of record. Yet he was second string at the start of last season to Duke transfer Jack Willoughby before regaining the job late in the year. Nuernberger managed to extend his school record for consecutive made point-after kicks to 106. Australian Cameron Johnston heads into fourth and final season as the first-team punter after helping the Buckeyes rank No. 1 in net punting in the Big Ten the past three years.
With the new college football season upon us, fans across the country are hoping their team could be the one crowned national champion on January 11 2016 in Glendale, Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium. Of course, who is ultimately successful will depend a lot on the talents of their players—and a healthy dose of luck.
Oh, and let’s not forget about the coach.
There are just a handful of coaches who have excelled at creating successful, sustainable programs over the course of many years. Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, Mark Dantonio and Gary Patterson come to mind.
How do they do it?
While all have their specific plans, I believe the most successful coaches emphasize success beyond the playing field. That may sound like a cliché, but it has to be more than just a platitude. There has to be a system.
After all, the stakes are too high for colleges and universities to employ coaches that are not dialed into their players’ developmental needs. We need only recall the recent scandal involving former Rutgers basketball coach Mike Rice, who was fired after administrators discovered a pattern of abusive behaviors displayed toward his student athletes.
Ultimately, it’s coaches who are closely attuned to their players’ social and emotional development that seem to have higher degrees of sustainable, on-field success.
Rites of passage: turning boys into men
In an upcoming article for the International Sport Coaching Journal, I present a case study with Urban Meyer, coach of The Ohio State University Buckeyes. The hope is to show how his particular system bears striking resemblance to a modern-day rite of passage.
The literature on rites of passage (also known as rituals of initiation) identifies three main phases through which children become adults:
It begins with a separation phase, one that marks the beginning movement out of the individual’s childhood status.
Next, the transformation phase involves a “betwixt and between” period of uncertainty, characterized by wavering back and forth from less mature to more mature behaviors
Finally, the reincorporation phase represents the individual’s integration of the attitudes, values and behaviors required of prosocial adults.
There is overwhelming acceptance of the historical importance of rites of passage, especially in terms of their use to foster cohesiveness within social groups.
Additionally, the absence of separation, transformation and reincorporation experiences in contemporary society is thought to be significantly related to youth violence, drug and alcohol use, gang involvement, bullying and delinquency.
These dysfunctional behaviors are believed to be the misguided attempts of young people to create rites of passage for themselves, in the absence of mentors or positive influences.
Urban Meyer: the quintessential coach
Why choose Urban Meyer as a case study?
Well, I have to admit that ease of access plays a part for me, since we both work at the same university. But Meyer is a worthy subject. After fielding two national football championship teams at the University of Florida during the 2006 and 2008 seasons, he led the 2014 Ohio State University Buckeyes to the first-ever College Football Playoff National Championship.
Throughout his 13-year career as a head coach, his teams have won five conference championships and twice (2004 at Utah and 2012 at Ohio State) have registered undefeated seasons. It’s hard to argue with those kinds of triumphs on the field.
But I believe his efforts to create off-the-field success for his players are closely tied to his teams’ on-the-field accomplishments.
Underlying these efforts is what Urban Meyer has dubbed his “Plan to Win,” a competitiveness doctrine based on a set of core values for players that includes behavioral commandments (honesty, respect for women, no drugs, no stealing and no weapons) and a strong emphasis on classroom success.
Color-coordinating a ‘Plan to Win’
The key component of the Plan to Win is what he has named his Blue-Red-Gold (BRG) incentive system. Three color-coded stages—Blue, Red, and Gold—represent a ladder of privileges climbed by players as they display mature behavior both on the field and off.
As Meyer explained in a 2012 Columbus Dispatch article:
Blue stands for child, which means ill-equipped, defiant, disinterested. So if you’re in blue, we don’t think very highly of you, and we make that very clear. And every freshman who comes into the program is blue, for example… Guys who are red get nicer gear. If they want to change numbers, if they want to get a visor, if they want to move off campus, the answer for them then is maybe. You get up to gold, you do what you’ve got to do because gold means you’re a grown man. We don’t tell you when to study, things like that. Gold means you deserve to be treated like a man.
The BRG system is a comprehensive player motivation method that contains a variety of inputs and outcomes. Meyer and his coaches closely monitor player adherence to academic demands and behavioral expectations across all status levels, with meaningful rewards bestowed for appropriate behavior—alongside swift consequences for infractions.
Transitions in status (up or down) are handled by the entire coaching staff, who meet as a group every week to discuss player progress and deliberate possible transitions. When the coaches decide to promote a player, an announcement is made to the entire team in the form of a “graduation ceremony” that recognizes the player’s newfound “status.”
Transforming performance on—and off—the field
The BRG incentive-based system mirrors the rites of passage conceptual framework discussed earlier.
Blue can be equated with the status of a young child and, as such, beginning movement out of this status parallels the “separation” component of the rite of passage.
In turn, red is equated with a middle stage, similar to the “betwixt and between” state of adolescence that is marked by a “transformative” stage of development.
Finally, gold status represents the adult stage of development and all of the privileges and responsibilities associated with this marker of full maturity.
Meyer’s BRG system is so successful because the expectations are clear about what it means to grow up in the eyes of the coaching staff, and the behaviors that players must enact in order to achieve that status are well-defined.
When everyone’s on the same page off the field, it makes it easier to work as a cohesive unit—and win—on the field.
A recipe for success in sports—and life
Simultaneously, there is an explicit recognition that coaches serve as powerful male role models for their players.
For example, Meyer regularly hosts Family Night dinners so that players are exposed to the coaches and how they act around their loved ones.
There is a more spiritual component to this work as well, with various community engagement activities centered on “setting the table” for players to understand the importance of living a life in service to things greater than themselves.
Coaches who use ceremonies to mark player transitions mine a tradition that honors and recognizes accomplishment. For generations, various forms of promotions and recognition have been used to inspire athletes, soldiers and students alike.
Simply put, it’s a formula that works, and these rituals and rewards carry great psychological meaning for individuals.
While the details of Meyer’s Plan to Win may be unique, I believe the overall aims and basic structure are shared by many of the most successful coaches.
Case studies of other highly successful men’s coaches bears this out. For example, Pete Carroll’s success at both the college and professional football levels has been discussed as being based on factors related to self-knowledge, self-confidence and optimism.
The same can be said of coaches in high-performance women’s sports. Take, for example, legendary University of Tennessee women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt, whose coaching style was reported to have involved high degrees of instructional behavior and praise offered to her players within a high-intensity environment.
In a 2008 book, Meyer stated his desire to remain in contact with his players long after graduation, noting that if they “become the best husbands and fathers they can be, then we have won at the game of life.”
By tapping into the deep historical traditions of “rites of passage,” coaches can help get the most out of their players, both on and off the field. And along the way, a lot of boys can be turned into fine, upstanding men.
Source: The Conversation September 5, 2015
By Stephen M Gavazzi, Professor, Human Development and Family Science & Dean/Director, Ohio State Mansfield Campus at Ohio State University
Article Link: The secret to a college football coach’s success
Ohio State Football Ticket Prices Are Skyrocketing. Here's Why.
An Ohio State-Michigan ticket in 2014 will cost more than the same ticket in 2012 and 2010 combined. How did that happen so fast?
Expectations for Ohio State football were soaring heading into the 1904 season.
The university athletic association even commissioned the installation of 1,500 extra bleacher seats on the east side of Ohio Field (for you youngsters - today that's the sidewalk across High Street from Buckeye Donuts) to accommodate all of the freshly-minted bandwagoners they were sure would pile onto campus to see the best Buckeye team yet.
It turns out a 6-5 team with zero tradition doesn't exactly set the demand curve on fire, and that's what happened 110 seasons ago. Ohio State's soaring expectations went unmet, those extra fans never showed up and the new bleachers stood empty for the majority of that disappointing five-loss season.
Coach Edwin Sweetland lasted one more year in Columbus before skipping town to help some guy named Pop Warner run his football team at Cornell.
The university had priced tickets for that overhyped 1904 season in tiers: A "regular" game entry would cost fans a quarter while the two "deluxe" games (against the Michigan Wolverines and, yeah you guessed it, the Carlisle Indians) would run four times as much.
I looked it up so you wouldn't have to: That precious dollar in 1904 is worth about $23 today, which would still be $127 short of face value for a single Ohio State-Michigan ticket this November.
OSU FOOTBALL TICKETS
$45 (vs. UM)
$57 (vs. UM)
$59 (vs. UM)
$62 (vs. UM)
$70 (vs. UM)
$70 (vs. UM)
$150 (vs. UM)
Yes, tickets to The Game in 2014 cost $150 apiece. The last two times Ohio State hosted Michigan in 2010 and 2012 that same ticket cost $70. Even with inflation, you could have attended both of those games combined for less than it costs this year.
So why did the university abruptly jack up the price? The optics for a hike like this are terrible. They know this, but they did it anyway.
Back in 2012 Ohio State brought in a consulting firm to conduct a pricing study to determine if it was maximizing its ticket revenues. The firm took the secondary market (Ohio State has a contract with Ticketmaster, so it already gets a significant piece of it) as well as scalpers into consideration.
The firm's recommendation was to raise ticket prices on what is already the highest face value college football ticket in the country. It's not just 2013 and 2014 ticket prices that are jumping, either; your can expect your ticket to The Game in 2016 to cost $175 if not more.
Those consultants also suggested Ohio State increase the annual ante for its President's Club ($2,500) and Buckeye Club ($1,500) donation minimums, either of which grants the donor the right to purchase season tickets.
You may think these hikes price out the average fan from buying football tickets and going to games, and you would be wrong, because only suckers pay retail.
Average fans don't have to be wealthy to join Buckeye Club - or even President's Club - every year in order to buy the right to buy tickets. Average fans simply need to understand how to compliantly pass their costs for enjoying Ohio State football onto someone else.
In most cases, that someone is going to be the US Treasury.
First, that Buckeye Club/President's Club ante - the IRS has a nice little rule specifically for university donations that are made in order to buy the right to purchase tickets: You can deduct 80% of that donation from your taxes every year.
This means joining the Scarlet & Gray level of Buckeye Club - which at $1,500 gets you the right to buy two tickets - gives you a $1,200 tax deduction. Oh, you need a stadium parking pass too? That requires a $3,000 gift, which knocks $2,400 off your income.
If you would like to travel with the team, get field passes, have cocktails with Gene Smith and gain all of the other perks that come with OSU's Super Creepy All-America level donation tier, that $25,000 gift gifts you a $20,000 tax break.
This is uncapped, provided your donations aren't more than half of your Adjusted Gross Income, which for the vast majority of Americans who bother to file returns is over $50,000 annually. That's the average fan.
So if you can endure the angst of writing a big check to Ohio State by simply remembering you'll be getting 80% of it back in tax breaks once you show the IRS your fancy Buckeye Club sticker.
That's only the beginning: You can get even more of your football investment covered.
Once you become a President's Club member you will need to actually buy the tickets. You, being a person...or a corporation, since the United States has laws about corporate personhood that extend to businesses numerous rights and recognitions afforded to individuals.
So just incorporate yourself. Provide consulting, freelance in the trade of your choosing or even start a blog (wink) and you've got nice catalyst for incorporating. As you are probably aware, corporations buy up a lot of tickets - not only because they have the capital to do so but because college football games can become business expenses when you're a business.
If you're in sales, already own a business or run a little side enterprise, terrific - you are already in great shape to use your Buckeye football tickets as a legitimate business expense (provided your business is both legitimate and legal, with sincere apologies to you self-taught unregistered pharmacists and/or distributors).
Your keys to Ohio Stadium's gates are tucked into the law, the tax code and accepted, legal business practices - all of which are legal. Short of being a minor, in a lousy financial situation or both - getting Ohio State tickets isn't a terribly difficult or expensive task no matter what the university charges.
Ohio State's consultants probably discovered the university could inflate the price tags on both its donation minimums as well as all tickets - especially the big tickets - without suffering a significant shortfall in paid attendance. Note that italicized word - it's a finance decision, not a football one, and it's rooted in how college sports enthusiasts can or already do pay for their game day habits.
As long as there continue to be easy and legal ways for passing along the costs of enjoying college football to the Federal government the acquisition price isn't all that important. Asking for discounts for games against lesser opponents is a naive position, as Ohio State is not in the business of helping its football consumers save money. Only the spring game - an event with a purpose that does not intersect with Ohio State's financial goals - can be given away or put on clearance.
It does not matter if FAMU-caliber game tickets barely go for $10 on the street. It also does not matter if Michigan stinks again and the guys on bicycles circling Lane Ave at Olentangy have to unload their tickets for only $90 or even $75. That's not the university's problem, especially since mechanisms are in place to make doing business with Ohio State both secure and financially palatable.
Those unmet expectations of 110 years ago that left the brand new east bleachers of Ohio Field empty don't matter nearly as much today as they did back then. Not in Ohio Stadium, not with Buckeye football now implanted in the state's DNA, not in the Columbus business community and definitely not with our tax laws. The product doesn't even have to be flawless; it simply needs to be good enough (this is a financial declaration, not a football one - or my opinion).
Ohio State will get its larger cut with the very first ticket transaction as well as with all of those lucrative pre-transactions and many of the secondary ones. What happens beyond that - the opponent, the scalping, the weather that day, even the team's record - is inconsequential since the university gets paid first.
So there truly is zero waste in Ohio Stadium. We've come a long way since 1904.
Unlike when it happened 35 years ago, this time everyone sees The Punch coming. Yet, still there is no way to avoid getting hit by it, as a barrage of TV replays, tired jokes and national stories will focus on the left hook that Woody Hayes threw during the 1978 Gator Bowl against Clemson.
The Roundhouse Heard ’Round the World will be shown on ESPN; Charlie Bauman’s name will resurface; #woodysfist could trend on Twitter in the days leading to Ohio State’s Orange Bowl matchup against Clemson on Jan. 3.
The Buckeyes and Tigers have not met since that fateful late-December day in ’78, when Hayes slugged Bauman after the Clemson nose guard intercepted a pass late in a 17-15 victory against Ohio State. The ugly incident led to Hayes’ firing the next day.
The national narrative will be predictable, fixating on Hayes’ volatility. Certainly, the “Old Man,” as many of Hayes’ players called him — though never to his face — could be tyrannical, but to focus only on Woody’s anger is to miss the humanitarian hiding behind the brawler.
None of us is exactly one thing. We are saints one minute and sinners the next. We leave the office humming Silent Night and later scream indecencies at the driver who cut us off in traffic.
Hayes’ positives and negatives were more extreme. His temper was toxic, but his tenderness touched lives. Unfortunately, over the next few weeks, his public warts will win the day. As counterweight to the portrayal of Hayes as amateur heavyweight, however, it is only fair to present the other side.
• Ten years after leaving Ohio State in 1970, former right guard Alan Jack was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system.
When Hayes heard about Jack’s condition, he immediately contacted the Mayo Clinic in
Minnesota and got his former lineman an appointment with the head of neurology.
“The doctor said to me, ‘Who is this Woody Hayes?’ Jack said. “He was kidding, of course. You’d have to live in a tunnel not to have heard of Woody.”
Hayes did not pull strings. He yanked them.
• Billy Joe Armstrong was an OSU freshman in 1959, still one year away from starting at center, when Hayes noticed the player and his mother standing in line at the annual spring-game banquet.
“I was a nobody, one of the guys who still had tape on the helmet with my name on it, and Woody walks up to my mom and says, ‘Dot, have you had a doctor look at those legs?’ My mom had picked cotton in Mississippi before we moved (to Huron, Ohio) and had varicose veins that were just horrible. Woody says, ‘They can do things about those now, uh-huh, uh-huh.’??”
Dot Armstrong arrived at OSU on a Tuesday, had surgery on Wednesday and returned home on Friday.
“And nobody ever sent her a bill,” Armstrong said.
• Bill Pollitt was a graduate assistant under Hayes in 1971 — a “clipboard holder,” as he put it — when he decided to apply to law school.
One problem: “I scored in the lower 20 percent of the LSAT; a rhesus monkey probably could have beat me,” Pollitt said.
Capital University Law School initially rejected him, the interviewer telling Pollitt he was wasting their time and suggesting he might want to become a plumber instead.
Hayes heard what happened and was outraged. Four days later, Pollitt received a letter of acceptance from Capital.
“And I did really well there, which shows that good things happen when you get a shot, and Woody was the one who gave me one,” Pollitt said, sharing his theory that Hayes helped get him into Capital by calling John McCormac, dean of the law school, who also officiated Ohio State football practices.
Pollitt has been a Franklin County Municipal Court judge since 1996. “If not for Woody Hayes, I never attend law school and never have an opportunity to be a judge. He changed my life,” Pollitt said.
Many other stories exist of Hayes working behind the scenes to help coaches and players, including accepting an offer to speak at the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association seven months after the Clemson game.
Then there was this: Hayes offered Earle Bruce an assistant job after knee injuries ended the player’s career in 1951. Bruce turned that offer into a career in coaching, eventually replacing the man who first hired him.
“Without Woody calling me with the job offer after I hurt my knee, I don’t know where I’d be,” Bruce said.
That was Woody. The harmful fist always opening into a helping hand.