After the 2017 season many thought the gap between Ohio State, and the rest of the Big Ten had closed considerably. 2018 was supposed to be the year some teams caught, or even passed the Buckeyes. Many were picking OSU to go to the College Football Playoff, but a lot thought it would be Penn State’s year. Others felt it would be Wisconsin. A few even picked Michigan State. As always, there were those who thought this was the year for Michigan. But, when the dust settled on the 2018 Big Ten season the Buckeyes were still at the top of the heap. And the gap had widened.
After an 11-2 season in 2017, Penn State fell to 9-4 this year. It was the second year in a row they lost to both Ohio State and Michigan State. I really believed 2018 was going to tell us something about the job James Franklin is doing. He lost a lot from the previous season, and it was going to be a challenge to maintain the level we had seen from the Nittany Lions lately. I think it will be even more of a challenge next season when they are trying to replace three-year starter Trace McSorley at quarterback. Wisconsin is another who slipped badly this year. The Badgers only loss in 2017 was in the Big Ten Championship game to Ohio State. They fell to 8-5 this year, but a stomping of Miami in the Pinstripe Bowl sent the Bucky Badger faithful into the offseason with a smile. But, make no mistake Wisconsin wasn’t the team they have been in recent seasons. That’s two of the conferences heavy hitters who slipped in 2018.
Michigan State expected big things, but after going 10-3 in 2017 they plummeted to just 7-6 this year. Most of the blame for this can be placed on an offense that was absolutely awful. They averaged just over 18 ½ points per game, and were held to 7 or less points four times. Quarterback Brian Lewerke battled shoulder problems all season, and really struggled. The Spartans’ defense was outstanding; I thought they were better than Michigan. But, they could only take the Spartans so far. Speaking of the Wolverines, they zoomed to a 10-1 record before getting exposed by the Buckeyes. The weaknesses Ohio State exploited were always there, but the Buckeyes were the only team Michigan played who could take advantage of them.
Their destruction of Michigan is a big reason why I think the gap between Ohio State, and the
rest of the Big Ten is getting wider. This was supposed to be Jim Harbaugh’s best Michigan team by far. They were ranked in the top four by the College Football Playoff committee, and considered far superior to anyone else in the conference at one point. The Buckeyes proved to be more athletic, faster, and deeper than the Wolverines. By destroying the conference’s second-best team, it showed just how far the other conference programs have to go to catch the OSU. Yes, the Buckeyes had their issues this year, and were upset by Purdue (who finished 6-7). Yes, Northwestern is improved, and big things are expected for a Nebraska team that got better in the second half of the season. But, Ohio State still won 13 games, the Big Ten Championship, and the Rose Bowl in spite of their troubles. It takes talent to do that. A lot of it. The type, and depth of talent others in the Big Ten don’t possess. The Buckeyes are still the conference’s best program, and based on what I saw in 2018 the gap is getting wider.
After entering the NCAA transfer portal recently, linebacker Keandre Jones has decided to go back home to Maryland. As I said before, by all accounts he was an outstanding teammate, so I hope he has success with the Terrapins. Also, ex-Buckeye running back Brian Snead has enrolled at Iowa Western Community College. Derek Young of K-State Online is reporting Kansas State is now recruiting Snead.
The transfer portal could provide the Buckeyes with some much needed help along the offensive line. Jonah Jackson, a 6’4”, 305 pound two-year starter for Rutgers, is considering Ohio State. He started 11 games at guard in 2018, and would seem a natural fit to step into the left guard spot for the Buckeyes.
247 Sports has released their list of the top 50 players in the transfer portal. Buckeye quarterback Justin Fields is rated first, followed by former Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, who is now at Oklahoma. Former Buckeyes Tate Martell, and Keandre Jones are tenth and 34th respectively.
Redneck Riviera All-Stars
Terry McLaurin represented the Buckeyes in the Senior Bowl last week in Mobile, Alabama (have often heard that gulf coast region referred to as the Redneck Riviera). As I stated before, this is THE college football all-star game. The teams are coached by NFL staffs, and practices are crawling with NFL GM’s, coaches, and scouts.
McLaurin drew rave reviews for his performance on AND off the field. Many spoke of what a quality individual he is. He capped off a strong week of practice by catching 4 passes for 73 yards in the North’s win over the South on Saturday. He also gained 20 yards on a nifty reverse. McLaurin was used almost exclusively as an outside receiver by the Buckeyes, but he lined up in various places in this game. Raiders’ head coach Jon Gruden, who coached the North, had some fun by slapping a Raiders decal on the helmet of a player who made a nice play. McLaurin earned three of those awards. I could just see the heads of Notre Dame fans everywhere exploding when cameras caught Gruden sticking one on the helmet of an Irish player. McLaurin did nothing but help his draft stock last week.
As a Browns fan, I paid particular attention to a few receivers while watching the game because I think it is an area they can still very much improve. Recently I’ve been thinking it would be nice for Baker Mayfield to have a Julian Edelman-like receiver to work with. If you’re not familiar with him, Edelman is a tough-as-nails slot receiver for the Patriots who has caught over 400 passes in the last five seasons. There aren’t a lot of receivers like that out there, but we may have seen
one in the Senior Bowl. Cleveland area native Andy Isabella of UMass is a second-team all-American, and Biletnikoff Award finalist (nation’s top receiver). Like McLaurin he was used as an outside receiver in college, but was moved to the slot for Senior Bowl week. After some early struggles in practice, he really took to the position. I like this kid a lot. He’s very similar to Edelman in size (Isabella is 5’9”, 186 pounds; Edelman is 5’10”, 198 pounds), quickness, and toughness. The Browns have Jarvis Landry as a slot receiver, but they are able to move him all over the place because he’s so versatile. I think Isabella would be an outstanding compliment to Landry.
Two other receivers you may want to keep an eye on over the next few months are Marshall’s Tyree Brady, and Keelen Doss of UC Davis, an FCS school. They’re identical in size (6’3” and just under 210 pounds), and they way they play the position; both are physical, strong receivers. Either would improve the Browns at this position.
If you watched the game you really understand why Dwayne Haskins is considered the top quarterback in the draft. None of the guys I saw are even close to him. For those Penn State fans who think Trace McSorley was the Big Ten’s best quarterback, you need to stop drinking the blue Kool-Aid. McSorley has a scattershot arm, and may not even be drafted.
Los Angeles long snapper Jake McQuaid, along with New England special teams ace Nate Ebner, and defensive end John Simon will represent the Buckeyes in Super Bowl LIII Sunday night. The interesting thing about that trio is two were walk-ons with the Buckeyes. McQuaid walked on out of Elder High School in Cincinnati, and Ebner originally went to Ohio State for rugby (he competed for the U.S. at the 2016 Olympics). Two other schools in the Great State of Ohio are represented as well. Julian Edelman was a quarterback at Kent State before the Patriots turned him into a receiver, and Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers is a defensive end for New England.
I’m not going to predict any kind of a score, but I will say I think the Patriots win their sixth championship. They’re better on defense than they were a year ago, and their offensive line is playing at a very high level right now. Unlike last year’s Super Bowl they’ll have Edelman and Rob Gronkowski available. Gronk isn’t what he used to be, but just ask the Chiefs what a problem he still can be. The Rams have an outstanding pass rush. Brady knows how to get the ball out of his hand in a hurry. I think he’ll hit the short to intermediate throws all night.
Rams receiver Brandin Cooks is sending the team’s locker room custodian, Alfonso, and his son on an all-expenses paid trip to the Super Bowl. Cooks is impressed with the way Alfonso keeps the room so clean, and feels he is just as much a part of the team’s success as any player.
Rams’ offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth is in his first Super Bowl after thirteen years in the league, Teammate John Sullivan makes it for the first time in eleven seasons. For the Patriots, linebacker Ramon Humber makes his first appearance in his tenth season.
Here’s a not so gentle reminder: the Super Bowl is nothing more than the NFL championship game. That’s it. Nothing more. Just because it has a pretty name, and there is a ton of hype it doesn’t mean a championship won in the Super Bowl era is more prestigious than others. The league began in 1920. The championship the Akron Pros won that inaugural year isn’t any less important than the one the Eagles took home last year.
One last NFL note. The Colts are bringing back kicker Adam Vinatieri for another year. The 2019 season will be the league’s all-time leading scorer’s 24th.
Sometimes Being The Bearer Of Bad News Can Be Fun
Earlier this week during a newscast on KDKA (a Pittsburgh station for those not familiar) they ran a story which included a clip of an interview with Tom Brady. When the Patriot quarterback appeared on the screen the graphic under his name said, “Known Cheater.” While I’m sure Steeler fans everywhere got just THE biggest kick out of this, station management did not, and did the right thing by firing the employee responsible. Regardless of hometown loyalties you just can’t do that type of thing.
Steeler fans love to tell anyone who will listen just what a cheater Brady and the Patriots are. Well, here is something most black and gold fans don’t know: their favorite team got caught cheating once also. Back in 1978 the Steelers got caught practicing in pads during a time when league rules said you should not. Longtime NFL reporter John Clayton was a reporter for a Pittsburgh paper at the time, and reported the story. Fans were not happy at all….with Clayton. The league was unhappy with the team, and took a third round draft choice away from them in the 1979 draft. The Steelers went 14-2, and won the Super Bowl that season. Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you the extra practice in pads is what helped them win a championship, but you get a lot more out of practicing in pads than when you practicing without them.
So, if you’re a Steeler fan, the next time you pick up a nice, big rock to toss at the House That Brady Built, keep in mind others can be chucking stones at the glass abode your favorite team built as well. Oh, if you’re wondering whatever happened to that third round draft pick the league took away from the Steelers, it went to the 49ers. They drafted Joe Montana.
On my desk at work I have the History Channel’s “This Day in History” day-by-day calendar. It gives fun facts about something momentous that happened on each date. My fun calendar told me last Saturday (the 26th) was the fifteenth anniversary of a dead whale unexpectedly exploding in Taiwan while local authorities were trying to move it off the beach. I thought this was fairly humorous, so I sent it off to a longtime friend who shares a similar sense of humor. He replied by asking if the use of the word unexpectedly really necessary? Who expects a whale to explode? Well, after doing a Youtube search I found it isn’t really that uncommon.
When a dead whale washes up on the beach of a hip, trendy seaside community it can be a novelty, but they want it off of their hip, trendy beach because it eventually becomes an eyesore, and I’m quite sure smells really bad. Gasses have built up inside of the dead whale. Whales are large. That means a lot of gas can build up. So, when they detonate it usually rains hellfire, and whale bits all over everything in sight. Sometimes they explode while being moved. Sometimes they explode while being cut open in preparation for being moved. Sometimes they explode just laying there. My advice to you is if you’re taking a stroll along your nearest hip, trendy beach, and you see a dead whale, avoid walking past because you could end up on someone’s YouTube video covered in Shamu innards. You never know what I’m going to write about in the offseason.
I don’t go to Super Bowl parties. Too many people at those things who are there for the party, and not the game. Too many people who can’t figure out why you’d rather watch the game when a party is going on. I don’t like those people, so I stay home and watch the game in peace. Enjoy the game wherever you happen to be.