Our most recent take on James was last summer, after the Heat won their second consecutive NBA championship. We looked at the odds of James catching up to Michael Jordan’s six championship wins, the most in the salary-cap era (since 1984-85). We put the odds of the Heat winning the 2014 championship at about 33 percent, with the chances getting lower each subsequent year. So given this year’s loss, James might be making a smart move with his current opt-out. But given James’s win shares, we put his odds at winning a championship — regardless of the team — at about 20 or 25 percent. We were partially right — Wade and Bosh did show solidarity in a move to Miami. But we were wrong in predicting James’s decision. In a follow-up piece, we further evaluated the merits of James joining the Heat. There was a major hit to his popularity because of the way he announced the decision and because of Miami’s relatively small fan base. We argued this could have reduced his earning potential by $150 million. We conceded that “James may able to redeem himself through athletic success,” which turned out to be the case: He made $42 million from endorsements in 2013, which dwarfs the $28 million he made in 2009 when he was with Cleveland. The world is abuzz with the news that LeBron James is opting out of his contract with the Miami Heat. There’s plenty of speculation about what this means and where he might decide to go, if anywhere, but we thought it might be interesting to take a look at our own history of guessing James’s future. Here’s a roundup of predictions that we’ve made, and how accurate they turned out to be:The last time James opted out of his contract was in 2010, when he left the Cleveland Cavaliers and signed with the Miami Heat, joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh there. Before he announced that decision, we analyzed his value as a player, as well as the different options available to him, and tried to determine the best route for him to take with regard to his personal brand. We decided he’d be best off trying to both win a championship and do so in a way that would be perceived as overcoming a challenge. We doubted that “forming a ‘dream team’ with Wade and Bosh in Miami would do that much for him,” so it was most likely that he would stay with Cleveland or join the Knicks, while Wade and Bosh would stick together in either Chicago or Miami.
Kevin Durant held back LeBron James.Miami’s LeBron James was not bad. He was good most of the game, in fact. But Kevin Durant was better, much better, all game long. The difference between the two superstar players helped Oklahoma City overcome a 13-point deficit in Game 1 of the NBA Finals to earn a 105-94 victory.The Thunder have a 1-0 series lead with Game 2 Thursday back in Oklahoma City. And it was Durant most responsible for OKC’s enviable position. He scored 17 of his 36 points in the final period on an dizzying array of shots. James had seven of his 30 when the game was decided. To wit: He had only one basket over the first 8:15 of the fourth.James averaged just three points in the fourth quarters of the Heat’s six-game loss to Dallas last year, taking almost all the heat for Miami’s Finals failure. He was good in this one, Durant was just better.And when fans chanted “MVP! MVP!” late in the game, they weren’t talking about James, the guy who won the regular-season award.They meant Durant, who is in a race with James for his first ring — and maybe the title of best player in the world is on the line, too.But first thing’s first. The game matters most, and James needs more help. Russell Westbrook shot just 10 of 24, but after halftime he and Durant outsored the entire Miami team 41-40. He finished with 27 points, eight rebounds 11 assists and just two turnovers. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade had 19 points but shot just 7-of-19 for the Heat, while Shane Battier provided some rare offense by scoring 17 points, his high this postseason.Turning to a small lineup late in the third quarter, the Thunder improved to 9-0 at home in the postseason. Defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha helped defend James during the Thunder’s comeback, relieving Durant of the burden so he could focus on his scoring.A couple of key stats were significant. One, OKC outscored the Heat 24-4 on fastbreak points. Not good, especially considering how effective Miami has been on the break. The second stat is this: The Thunder scored 56 points in the paint. Really not good.
Jeremy Lin, the point guard who slept on his brother’s couch as he crafted one of the most dynamic 35-game stretches in NBA history, was allowed to walk from the New York Knicks to the Houston Rockets Tuesday night.The team that gave Lin the opportunity to emerge from a nobody on the bench into an international somebody – even gracing the cover of Time magazine — elected to not match a three-year, $25.1 million offer sheet he signed with the Rockets. So in essence, the player that charged “Linsanity” and the millions of off-the-court marketing and sponsorship dollars walked from the Knicks without the team receiving any compensation.Knicks sources and coach Mike Woodson said for a week that the team would match any offer to retain Lin. And considering Knicks owner James Dolan had doled out enormous money to the likes of Eddy Curry, Larry Brown and Isiah Thomas, it seemed reasonable to assume he would do so to keep Lin, a worldwide phenomenon. But, in the end, Dolan considered Lin is too expensive.Lin took to Twitter when it became official. “Much love and thankfulness to the Knicks and New York for your support this past year…easily the best year of my life#ForeverGrateful.”“Extremely excited and honored to be a Houston Rocket again!!#RedNation,” Lin added in another tweet.A team source told ESPNNewYork.com earlier this week that the third year of the Rockets’ offer — worth $14.8 million — caused the Knicks to consider letting Lin go. If the Knicks had matched the offer, they would have been subject to a luxury tax in the third year, potentially bringing their total out-of-pocket cost for the team’s salary to about $43 million in 2014-15.The Rockets’ offer to Lin would pay him $5 million in the first year, $5.225 million in the second and $14.8 million in the third, according to sources.The Knicks, realizing a $30-million penalty in Year 3 of the contract that would come with matching the offer, made a sign-and-trade deal to acquire another point guard, Raymond Felton. Felton played one season with the Knicks, but it was nowhere near as exciting as Lin’s New York stay.Lin, 23, was a revelation, performing brilliantly for a stretch that included 38 points in a win over the Los Angeles Lakers on national television and hitting the game-winning shot at Toronto. In between, he was mostly steady, although he did have a turnover problem. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.2 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 35 games with 25 starts before his season was cut short because of surgery to repair torn cartilage in his knee.An undrafted guard out of Harvard, Lin was cut twice in the preseason, once by Houston, and played in the D-League, before leading the Knicks to seven consecutive wins that electrified the city and the Asian community. His rise earned him a significant raise, from $788,000 last season to $5 million this season.His departure has sparked much debate among media and fans in New York, a debate that will rage for quite some time.
Dwight Howard‘s became NBA bad guy No. 1 after last season’s incessant complaining about his situation, where he would be traded to, his coach and just about anything else. Out of it came the nickname “Dwightmare.”Looking back on it now as a Los Angeles Laker, Howard said the whole protracted, tried saga made him stronger.“I think there’s a reason why everything happened the way it happened,” said Howard, who ended up traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. “So far it’s been an unbelievable experience for me. It’s like a dream come true.”Howard endured a tumultuous final season with the Orlando Magic in 2011-12. The three-time defensive player of the year demanded a trade to the Brooklyn Nets at the beginning of the season, but the two sides couldn’t reach a deal.I did want to go to Brooklyn. That’s a place where I told the Magic that I really wanted to go,” to Stephen A. Smith and Ryan Ruocco on ESPN NewYork 98.7 FM. “[But] I was traded to the Lakers, and I think it was a blessing in disguise.“I thought I was going to get traded at the beginning of the year, actually; that’s when I asked for it. But everything happened for a reason. I had to go through last year to get to where I’m at today. It’s made me a stronger and better person for it. I had to go through the hell and the stormy forecast to come out to a place like this . . . and I’m thankful for it.”Going through it, however, was tumultuous. The perception was that Howard changed his mind about his loyalties every other day, fostering an impression of unsteadiness.“The whole year a lot of people were making up a lot of stories about ‘This deal is getting close, that deal is getting close to being done,’ or whatever, but none of those deals were ever close,” Howard said.Eventually, despite myriad trade rumors all the way up to the trade deadline, Howard stunningly agreed to waive his early-termination option and committed to stay with Orlando through the 2012-13 season.“I think a lot of it was people just felt like I was going back and forth with the whole thing,” Howard said. “But the business side, people don’t understand, when you’re doing business you have to be a shark. You have to demand things. If you don’t, people will run over you, and that was a lesson that I learned.“At the end of the day, you can’t please everybody. There’s gonna be people happy about me staying, there’s gonna be people happy about me leaving. I’m over that now. I can’t control the way how people feel about me.”
Floyd Mayweather Jr. dominates Robert Guerrero to win title fight with lopsided decision.A 36th birthday, a year off — two months of which was spent in jail last summer on a domestic abuse conviction — would normally be the recipe for disaster for any fighter taking on a quality opponent. But Floyd Mayweather Jr., the pound-for-pound king, is not just any fighter. Instead, he looked the way he always looks: dominant.Mayweather easily retained the world welterweight championship with a masterful one-sided beatdown of interim titlist Robert Guerrero on Saturday night before a crowd of 15,880 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.Guerrero had called out for Mayweather to fight him for the past couple of years, and you know what they say: Be careful what you wish for.Mayweather appeared vulnerable in his previous fight, when he was tagged repeatedly in a unanimous decision win against Miguel Cotto last May, leading some to suggest that perhaps Mayweather’s years of dominance were coming to a close. But after he took apart a man who was six years younger, physically bigger and unafraid to try to rough him up, forget about it.It was all Mayweather. All three judges, Jerry Roth, Duane Ford and Julie Lederman, scored it 117-111 for Mayweather. ESPN.com had it 119-109 for Mayweather.The fight was the first for Mayweather under a 30-month deal he signed with Showtime/CBS — after dumping longtime TV home HBO — that could see him fight up to six times and earn $200 million-plus. His next date is Sept. 14, also at the MGM Grand, and if Mayweather continues to perform as he did against Guerrero, it could be a deal well worth the investment, because “Money” dazzled — and earned a minimum of $32 million, tying his own record for biggest purse in boxing history.Mayweather rarely got hit cleanly, a testament to his father, Floyd Mayweather Sr., a defensive-minded trainer who returned to head his son’s corner for the first time since a junior lightweight title defense in 2001. They have been estranged on and off for years while Floyd Jr.’s uncle Roger Mayweather served as his trainer. But with Roger increasingly feeling the effects of diabetes and Floyd Jr. realizing he needed to go back to his defensive basics, the match worked.“I was really happy to be back with my father,” Mayweather said. “I knew after the Cotto fight, I was getting hit too much and my dad would help me get hit less. My defense was on point, and he told me just stick to your defense — the less you get hit, the better — and to box smart.”Read more: ESPN
Florida State’s handling of the sexual assault allegations of star quarterback Jameis Winston–and potential Title IX violations– are under investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights.The investigation stems from a complaint filed with the Office for Civil Rights by the accuser in the Winston case, according to USA Today.“Our client is particularly gratified by the OCR’s decision to investigate and look for discrimination and find remedies to it,” the accuser’s lawyer, Baine Kerr, said, “because her primary goal, from the beginning, has been affecting change that will make women at Florida State safer on campus.”The accuser, a Florida State student, said she was raped by Winston in December 2012. Deadspin.com reported Thursday that school officials met with Winston in January 2013 to discuss the matter. But the school might have violated federal law by delaying its investigation and meeting with Winston, alone, despite legal advice to the contrary.No charges were filed by State Attorney Willie Meggs against Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner. Winston’s accuser filed her complaint with the Office of Civil Rights in March, 16 months after she first reported the incident.The OCR tells schools that “conduct may constitute unlawful sexual harassment under Title IX even if the police do not have sufficient evidence of a criminal violation. In addition, a criminal investigation into allegations of sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably.”Failure to comply with federal Title IX laws, which cover sexual harassment and violence, can result in a school losing its federal funding.“We can confirm that we have been notified of the OCR investigation; however, due to federal and state privacy laws the university cannot comment,” Florida State spokesman Browning Brooks said in a statement.The OCR will investigate all sexual assault complaints at the university during the last three years.Winston, who won the Heisman in the week after learning he would not face charges, is currently playing for the Seminoles baseball team. He will be a sophomore for the coming football season.It is unclear if the accuser will pursue a civil case against Winston or the university. Her family accused the Tallahassee Police Department of delaying the investigation and discouraging her from going forward with the case because of the public attention it would receive. Tallahassee police have defended their handling of the case.A civil case can still be filed after the OCR investigation. Kerr confirmed a Deadspin.com report that football players Chris Casher and Ronald Darby were recently charged with violations of the school’s Code of Conduct.Both Casher and Darby told police they witnessed the sex between Winston and the accuser. Casher told police that he attempted to join, but was told to leave by the accuser. Punishments under the code include expulsion from the school. Darby is a starting cornerback on the team.
(Wikimedia Commons)Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has heard about the Cleveland Cavaliers star Tristan Thompson cheating on Khloé Kardashian. He’s also heard people say that Kardashian should have seen it coming due to his athlete status and he wants folks to know that’s the wrong way to think.The retired NBA star explains the issue with boxing athletes as cheaters in a Monday, April 16 essay for Cosmopolitan, saying it’s still bad even if it doesn’t compare to making a sexist joke or buying into racist stereotypes.“This is a pervasive opinion people have of pro athletes — and not even the worst one,” he wrote of unfaithful pro-players. “But that doesn’t make it true or acceptable. Imagine how different the response would be if the comment were, ‘He’s Black.’ But athletes are expected to accept the insulting stereotypes, shut up, and dribble.“This offensive characterization is in no way on par with the much worse stereotyping of women, people of color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community,” he continued. “But when we allow any prejudice to pass unchallenged, we endorse all prejudice. That smarmy joke about dumb blondes that a colleague tells at lunch demeans all women. That ‘observation’ about smart Asian students or gay flair or rapist immigrants endorses an environment of lazy thinking that carries over into other decision-making that is ultimately detrimental to society. When we hear casual stereotyping and say nothing, we collude in the detriment.”After acknowledging the role confirmation bias plays into pushing forward the notion that athletes are all cheaters, Abdul-Jabbar also admitted that sports stars from all kinds of games have had their share of indiscretions.“What makes the Khloé Kardashian situation more poignant — and more ripe for tabloid fodder — is that this is not the first time she’s been publicly cheated on, not even the first pro athlete to cheat on her,” he said, possibly referring to Rashad McCants, who claimed the cheating story was made up for TV.“Certainly, wealth, power, and fame give athletes, politicians, musicians, actors, and filmmakers more opportunities to be unfaithful to their spouses,” Abdul-Jabbar continued. “But availability is no excuse for availing. Nor is it okay to use the bad behavior of some to characterize all. I’m not here to defend or condemn Tristan Thompson’s actions. If people feel the need to judge him, let them do so based on his behavior, not his profession or gender.”Meanwhile, folks on Twitter have been giving their take on the 71-year-old baller’s essay.“Right, so it’s our fault this stereotype persists, we make them cheat by our micro-aggressions,” someone said. “Got it. It’s a form of stereotyping, therefore a form of #racsim and so on, blah, blah, blah.”“Well they need to stop cheating so they aren’t stereotyped… if the shoe fits, buy a matching shirt,” someone else said.“Lol, but why isn’t this stereotype pushed on actors, musicians and politicians too?” someone else wondered. “They cheat just as often? Why not criticize the home wreckers, groupie, and gossip sites that take advantage of often false rumors to defame celebrities?”
PA PassLB Wasted yards * Fewer than 20 observationsSource: NFL Next Gen Stats 1st7.1– Distance traveled by a defender while biting on a play-action fake is a fairly precise way to quantify just how fooled a defender was on a play. Continuing to move toward the line of scrimmage when the offense is passing is a problem; defenders want to “get depth” as soon as they can if they identify pass. Any movement toward the line of scrimmage is usually wasted.After summing up the total distance traveled for each of the plays, I calculated that on the average play-action pass play, the middle linebacker covers 7.5 yards of wasted ground. In seven instances in our sample, teams ran 15 or more play-action plays in a single game. Those games would have offered the middle linebacker the most opportunities to figure out the play-action, but the average distance traveled was 8.2 yards — even higher than the overall average.I broke out the average wasted distance traveled by linebackers by the number of times a play-action pass was called in a game to see how teams reacted. It turns out that the wasted distance traveled was remarkably stable. 3rd7.8– 15th*11.1– The play-action pass is one of the most effective calls in all of football. The three teams that use the play-action the most — the Rams, the Patriots and the Chiefs, according to data from Sports Info Solutions — each locked down a first-round bye in the playoffs. Across the league in 2018, quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts average 1.39 yards per attempt more out of play-action than they do on all other plays.1And it’s not just guys like San Francisco’s Nick Mullens and his +4.2 yards per attempt play-action differential who are bringing up the group average. Of 40 qualifying quarterbacks, 77.5 percent have a higher yards per attempt on play-action passes than on other plays. This pattern of play-action success holds true for every year that we have data.22005 through 2018. Yet despite this success, the league average share of plays that are play-action passes is just barely above 20 percent.Why is play-action so effective? When defenders bite on a play-action fake, they move out of position for defending the pass and create clear lanes for the QB to throw to the intermediate and deep parts of the field.But NFL coaches tend to run them only a handful of times per game because they appear to believe that overuse of play-action will cause linebackers to stop biting on the fake. Diminishing returns will set in, defenders will stop respecting the run, and the superiority of play-action will vanish. But is this actually the case? Do linebackers start to ignore the fake handoff if they see it many times in a single game?Until very recently, we had a hard time answering this question with the data that was available. But in the past couple of weeks, the NFL released a tranche of Next Gen tracking data for 91 games from 2017 via its inaugural Big Data Bowl. Michael Lopez, the NFL’s director of analytics, spearheaded the effort to allow analysts to dig into the tracking data and mine it for insights. I was able to use this data to quantify the effect of play-action on the movement of middle linebackers — and to see if a high number of play-action plays had any effect on the outcome of the plays.I took each of the 1,235 play-action plays in the sample and isolated just the middle linebacker’s movement from snap to throw.3Both outside linebackers and box safeties are also influenced by play-action, but their run fit responsibilities are sometimes less clear, so for this study, I focused just on the middle linebacker. I measured the distance traveled by the defender while moving forward toward the line of scrimmage at any angle, and I stopped counting the distance as soon as he turned and retreated into coverage. If two linebackers were playing on the inside, I included only the player who moved the most toward the line of scrimmage during the play. Below are three animations that help illustrate the process.4Animation code courtesy of the NFL.The first shows the entire play with all players involved: 5th7.5– 6th7.3– More play-action passes do not mean fewer wasted yardsAverage yards wasted by the middle linebacker on each play-action pass in a game 10th7.9– There is a lot of good research showing that teams don’t run enough play-action. Most of the arguments for limiting its use are unsupported by the evidence. Now, thanks to the NFL’s Next Gen data, we can add evidence that middle linebackers won’t stop biting on the play-action, even if it’s used more than NFL coaches have been comfortable running it. 9th8.4– The third shows when I stopped counting the linebacker’s movement as “wasted” for the purposes of the study: 16th*4.7– 4th7.1– 11th7.2– 14th*6.4– Linebackers bite just about the same amount the 11th time a play-action pass is called in a game as the first time it’s called. It’s only after we get to 12 play-action passes in one game that things start to get wonky — but that may be because of the small sample sizes of those instances.Across the entire sample of 91 games and 1,235 plays, I found no correlation at all between the number of times a team ran the play-action and total yards of wasted ground by middle linebackers.5R-squared of 0.001775, p-value of 0.5766. We’d love more data to examine, to look closer at what happens when more play-actions are run. But given what we know about the effectiveness of the play, the self-imposed threshold set by play-callers of roughly six to nine play-action fakes per game is likely too low.Stopping the run is a major focus at every level of football, and the NFL especially makes it a high priority to effectively defend the run. Teams do this by coaching their linebackers and box safeties to play the run first in nonobvious passing situations. This emphasis on run stopping comes at a cost, however. Defenders must read their “run keys” — movements by the offense that indicate a run is coming — and react quickly to fill their gaps and prepare to make a physical play. It could be the case that defenders simply don’t think about how often the team is faking the run but instead just read and react to their run keys.To play fast in the NFL, it’s often said, you can’t think but instead must react based on instinct and training. Perhaps that instinctual reaction explains why play-action continues to be effective no matter how often it’s used. It’s also probably the case that certain teams and players are more susceptible to play-action than others, and smart NFL teams will identify and exploit their opponents’ tendencies.Those smart NFL teams should also pay attention to exactly how they use the play-action. According to the Sports Info Solutions data, passes thrown 7 yards deep or less are caught less frequently on play-action than on other passes. This could be because defenders have moved toward the line of scrimmage and are in better position to make a play on the ball. Play-action is only more effective than other passes when the ball travels at least 8 yards in the air — over the head of the linebackers who’ve been fooled. 12th*8.5– The second shows the entire play with the middle linebacker and quarterback isolated: 8th7.2– 2nd7.7– 13th*10.5– 7th7.2– Check out our latest NFL predictions.
2San Francisco114201317Jacksonville141999 Well, that didn’t take long. We’re just one week into the 2017 NFL season, and there’s already a new team atop FiveThirtyEight’s Elo ratings. The Kansas City Chiefs rose to the top slot after beating the preseason No. 1 New England Patriots 42-27 in last Thursday’s season opener, and now Elo gives them a league-best 14 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.OK, so maybe you shouldn’t bet the farm on that Chiefs championship just yet. (The Vegas books still list K.C. in a tie for the seventh-best Super Bowl odds of any team, alongside the Atlanta Falcons.) But Kansas City occupying first place in an NFL power ranking is a pretty rare sight nonetheless. Since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger, the Chiefs have only held the No. 1 slot for eight total weeks,1Including this week. the same as the New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Compare that with the team the Chiefs beat — the Pats, who lead all post-merger franchises with 137 total weeks at No. 1 — and you start to get a sense for just how unusual a top-ranked K.C. squad is.The last time the Chiefs ranked first in Elo? Week 11 of the 2003 season, when Kansas City had just crushed the Cleveland Browns to move to 9-0 on the year. It was K.C.’s fourth consecutive week at No. 1, but the celebration wouldn’t last: Dick Vermeil’s Chiefs were upset by Cincinnati on the road the following week, part of a 4-3 stretch to close the regular season. And in the playoffs, they lost an epic shootout with Peyton Manning and the Colts in which neither team punted. K.C. fell to 7-9 the next season, and the offensive firepower briefly captured with Trent Green and Priest Holmes was never quite achieved again. CAR65CAR71CAR+1.4– 7Washington51199221Kansas City82017 13Seattle30201629Atlanta0— FiveThirtyEight vs. The CrowdLast week, we rolled out a new game in which we invite you, the readers, to make picks against our Elo algorithm — as well as each other. (The more confident you are in your choices, the more points you win.) After each week, we’ll tally up everyone’s scores, and you can see where you stand relative to Elo and your fellow players.As a side benefit of this exercise, we can also use the results of your picks to figure out which games and teams the crowd most disagreed with Elo about — and who was right. For instance, in Week 1, readers were all over the woefully high 57 percent win probability Elo gave the Andrew Luck-less Colts on the road against the L.A. Rams. (In Elo’s defense, it doesn’t factor in key injuries like Luck’s.) Los Angeles ended up crushing Indy 46-9, costing our algorithm a lot of points in the process.Here are all the games from the opening week of the season, in order of how much readers outsmarted Elo:3The Chiefs-Patriots matchup isn’t included here because our game launched last Friday, after the season opener was played. 10Minnesota42201625Buffalo41991 MIN59MIN54MIN-6.7– 6Indianapolis52200921N.Y. Jets82010 our PICKWIN PROB.READERS’ PICKWIN PROB.ACTUAL WINNERREADERS’ NET PTS 8Miami50198524New Orleans62010 9Oakland43200225Cincinnati41982 HOU74HOU75JAX-3.1– IND57%LAR53%LAR+8.2– 14L.A. Rams27200229Detroit0— 4Green Bay67201120Baltimore92009 CIN63CIN58BAL+4.6– 15Philadelphia22200429Houston0— Kansas City is far from being the franchise with the least time spent in first place. Among teams that have reached the top slot, five — New Orleans, Cincinnati, Buffalo, Carolina and Arizona — have spent fewer weeks in first than K.C. Four other teams — Detroit, Houston, Cleveland and (amazingly2Given that they’ve made two Super Bowls.) Atlanta — have never made it to No. 1 in the post-merger era.Maybe the Chiefs will have the staying power of the Patriots, whose 11-week reign at the top K.C. snapped this week. Or maybe they’ll be like last year’s Minnesota Vikings, who spent one solitary week at No. 1 (Week 6, if you’re keeping track) before fading away. DAL65DAL60DAL-6.7– Elo’s dumbest (and smartest) picks of Week 1Average difference between FiveThirtyEight reader points won and Elo points won per matchup Source: Pro-Football-Reference.com 11Chicago40198827Carolina22015 ATL72ATL80ATL+1.9– GB61GB56GB-6.6– 16Tennessee17200829Cleveland0— WSH58WSH52PHI+4.6– OAK51OAK54OAK+0.5– 12Denver37201628Arizona12015 PIT76PIT86PIT+1.9– DET54ARI52DET-8.3– The Week 1 winner is …Congratulations to Dante Sblendorio of Livermore, California, who absolutely humiliated Elo with this week’s high score of 225 points. Dante, a 25-year-old physicist, went for an extremely aggressive approach that paid off: He picked 12 of 14 games correctly, all at 100 percent confidence. Too bad he wasn’t in Vegas.Remember: You can start playing the prediction game this week, even if you didn’t get your picks in last week.Check out our latest NFL predictions. 5Pittsburgh59200921Tampa Bay82003 3Dallas108199619N.Y. Giants112008 Most weeks spent at No. 1 in NFL Elo ratings, 1970-2017 BUF64BUF71BUF+2.6– 1New England137201717L.A. Chargers142009 DEN74DEN66DEN-8.5– RKTEAMWEEKSLAST YR AT NO. 1RKTEAMWEEKSLAST YR AT NO. 1
Chess is an antique, about 1,500 years old, according to most historians. As a result, its evolution seems essentially complete, a hoary game now largely trudging along. That’s not to say that there haven’t been milestones. In medieval Europe, for example, they made the squares on the board alternate black and white. In the 15th century, the queen got her modern powers.1Long ago, the queen could move only one square diagonally at a time.And in the 20th century came the computer. Chess was simple enough (not many rules, smallish board) and complicated enough (many possible games) to make a fruitful test bed for artificial intelligence programs. This attracted engineering brains and corporate money. In 1997, they broke through: IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer defeated the world champion, Garry Kasparov. Humans don’t hold a candle to supercomputers, or even smartphones, in competition anymore. Top human players do, however, lean on computers in training, relying on them for guidance, analysis and insight. Computer engines now mold the way the game is played at its highest human levels: calculating, stodgy, defensive, careful. Or at least that’s how it has been. But if you read headlines from the chess world last month, you’d think the game was jolted forward again by an unexpected quantum leap. But to where?The revolutionary is known as AlphaZero. It’s a new neural network, reinforcement learning algorithm developed by DeepMind, Google’s secretive artificial intelligence subsidiary. Unlike other top programs, which receive extensive input and fine-tuning from programmers and chess masters, drawing on the wealth of accumulated human chess knowledge, AlphaZero is exclusively self-taught. It learned to play solely by playing against itself, over and over and over — 44 million games. It kept track of what strategies led to a win, favoring those, and which didn’t, casting those aside. After just four hours of this tabula rasa training, it clobbered the top chess program, an engine called Stockfish, winning 28 games, drawing 72 and losing zero. These results were described last month in a paper posted on arXiv, a repository of scientific research.Within hours, the chess world descended, like the faithful to freshly chiseled tablets of stone, on the sample of 10 computer-versus-computer games published in the paper’s appendix. Two broad themes emerged: First, AlphaZero adopted an all-out attacking style, making many bold material sacrifices to set up positional advantages. Second, elite chess may therefore not be as prone to dull draws as we thought. It will still be calculating, yes, but not stodgy, defensive and careful. Chess may yet have some evolution to go. For a taste of AlphaZero’s prowess, consider the following play from one of the published games. It’s worth emphasizing here just how good Stockfish, which is open source and was developed by a small team of programmers, is. It won the 2016 Top Chess Engine Championship, the premier computer tournament, and no human player who has ever lived would stand a chance against it in a match.It was AlphaZero’s turn to move, armed with the white pieces, against Stockfish with the black, in the position below: In the middle of the AlphaZero paper is a diagram called Table 2. It shows the 12 most popular chess openings played by humans, along with how frequently AlphaZero “discovered” and played those openings during its intense tabula rasa training. These openings are the result of extensive human study and trial — blood, sweat and tears — spread across the centuries and around the globe. AlphaZero taught itself them one by one: the English opening, the French, the Sicilian, the Queen’s gambit, the Caro-Kann.The diagram is a haunting image, as if a superfast algorithm had taught itself English in an afternoon and then re-created, almost by accident, full stanzas of Keats. But it’s also reassuring. That we even have a theory of the opening moves in chess is an artifact of our status as imperfect beings. There is a single right and best way to begin a chess game. Mathematical theory tells us so. We just don’t know what it is. Neither does AlphaZero.Yet.DeepMind was also responsible for the program AlphaGo, which has bested the top humans in Go, that other, much more complex ancient board game, to much anguish and consternation. An early version of AlphaGo was trained, in part, by human experts’ games — tabula inscripta. Later versions, including AlphaZero, stripped out all traces of our history.“For a while, for like two months, we could say to ourselves, ‘Well, the Go AI contains thousands of years of accumulated human thinking, all the rolled up knowledge of heuristics and proverbs and famous games,’” Frank Lantz, the director of NYU’s Game Center, told me. “We can’t tell that story anymore. If you don’t find this terrifying, at least a little, you are made of stronger stuff than me. I find it terrifying, but I also find it beautiful. Everything surprising is beautiful in a way.” AlphaZero is already behind by two pawns, and its bishop is, in theory, less powerful than one of Stockfish’s rooks. It’s losing badly on paper. AlphaZero moved its pawn up a square, to g4 — innocuous enough. But now consider Stockfish’s black position. Any move it makes leaves it worse off than if it hadn’t moved at all! It can’t move its king, or its queen, without disaster. It can’t move its rooks because its f7 pawn would die and its king would be in mortal danger. It can’t move any of its other pawns without them being captured. It can’t do anything. But that’s the thing about chess: You have to move. This situation is known as zugzwang, German for “forced move.” AlphaZero watches while Stockfish walks off its own plank. Stockfish chose to move its pawn forward to d5; it was immediately captured by the white bishop as the attack closed further in.You could make an argument that that game, and the other games between the two computers, were some of the strongest contests of chess, over hundreds of years and billions of games, ever played.But were they fair? After the AlphaZero research paper was published, some wondered if the scales were tipped in AlphaZero’s favor. Chess.com received a lengthy comment from Tord Romstad, one of Stockfish’s creators. “The match results by themselves are not particularly meaningful,” Romstad said. He cited the fact that the games were played giving each program one minute per move — a rather odd decision, given that games get much more complicated as they go on and that Stockfish was programmed to be able to allocate its time wisely. Players are typically allowed to distribute their allotted time across their moves as they see fit, rather than being hemmed in to a specific amount of time per turn. Romstad also noted that an old version of Stockfish was used, with settings that hadn’t been properly tested and data structures insufficient for those settings.Romstad called the comparison of Stockfish to AlphaZero “apples to orangutans.” A computer analysis of the zugzwang game, for example, reveals that Stockfish, according to Stockfish, made four inaccuracies, four mistakes and three blunders. Not all iterations of Stockfishes are created equal.DeepMind declined to comment for this article, citing the fact that its AlphaZero research is under peer review.Strong human players want to see more, ideally with the playing field more level. “I saw some amazing chess, but I also know we did not get the best possible,” Robert Hess, an American grandmaster, told me. “This holds true for human competition as well: If you gave Magnus [Carlsen] and Fabiano [Caruana] 24 hours per move, would there be any wins? How few mistakes? In being practical, we sacrifice perfection for efficiency.”Chess.com surveyed a number of top grandmasters, who were assembled this month for a tournament in London (the home of DeepMind), about what AlphaZero means for their profession. Sergey Karjakin, the Russian world championship runner-up, said he’d pay “maybe $100,000” for access to the program. One chess commentator joked that Russian president Vladimir Putin might help Karjakin access the program to prepare for next year’s Candidates Tournament. Maxime Vachier-Lagrave, the top French player, said it was “worth easily seven figures.” Wesley So, the U.S. national champion, joked that he’d call Rex Sinquefield, the wealthy financier and chess philanthropist, to see how much he’d pony up.“I don’t think this changes the landscape of human chess much at all for the time being,” the grandmaster Hess told me. “We don’t have the ability to memorize everything, and the games themselves were more or less perfect models of mostly known concepts.”In some aesthetic ways, though, AlphaZero represents a computer shift toward the human approach to chess. Stockfish evaluated 70 million positions per second, a brute-force number suitable to hardware, while AlphaZero evaluated only 80,000, relying on its “intuition,” like a human grandmaster would. Moreover, AlphaZero’s style of play — relentless aggression — was thought to be “refuted” by stodgy engines like Stockfish, leading to the careful and draw-prone style that currently dominates the top ranks of competitive chess.But maybe it’s more illustrative to say that AlphaZero played like neither a human nor a computer, but like an alien — some sort of chess intelligence which we can barely fathom. “I find it very positive!” David Chalmers, a philosopher at NYU who studies AI and the singularity, told me. “Just because it’s alien to us now doesn’t mean it’s something that humans could never have gotten to.”
Junior left fielder Ronnie Dawson (4) rounds the bases after hitting a home run during OSU’s 12-1 win over Hofstra on March 18 at Bill Davis Stadium.Credit: Giustino Bovenzi | Lantern reporterThe Ohio State baseball team followed its 12-1 victory over Hofstra on Friday with two more wins against the Pride on Saturday and Sunday by scores of 4-2 and 2-1, respectively.The Buckeyes’ three-game sweep improved their record to 11-6-1 and sets the stage for a televised showdown Tuesday with Xavier. Over the weekend, OSU’s offense pumped out 24 hits while its pitching staff allowed just four runs. Game 2With redshirt sophomore Adam Niemeyer, one of the Buckeyes’ strongest pitchers, on the hill, OSU seemed to be in line for another easy victory. However, the cold weather and Hofstra starting pitcher Chris Weiss kept OSU’s offense in check until the Buckeyes broke through with a three-run eighth inning. With OSU trailing 2-1, junior left fielder Ronnie Dawson provided the spark for the Scarlet and Gray, punching an RBI single through the right side of the infield to score junior catcher Jalen Washington. After an intentional walk to senior third baseman Nick Sergakis, senior first baseman Troy Kuhn singled through the left side to score Washington and Dawson, tallying the game’s final runs. Niemeyer (1-1) received a no-decision in his fourth outing of the year, scattering five hits during a career-high seven innings of work. Sophomore reliever Seth Kinker (2-1) picked up the win for OSU, while redshirt sophomore Yianni Pavlopoulos earned his fourth save of the year. Freshman John Rooney (1-2) received the loss for Hofstra. Game 3The final game of the homestand turned out to be a pitchers’ duel between two seniors: OSU’s John Havird and Hofstra’s Bowie Matteson. Hofstra drew first blood on sophomore center fielder Steven Foster’s RBI single to left center in the top of the sixth inning. In the bottom of the seventh, the Buckeyes finally solved Matteson, breaking through behind an RBI triple from freshman designated hitter Brady Cherry, which scored junior center fielder Troy Montgomery. With the game tied at 1-1, Dawson once again provided the heroics for OSU. On the first pitch he saw, the 6-foot-2 junior drove a hard-hit single to right field to plate Cherry. Havird (1-1) picked up the win for OSU, hurling a career-high seven innings and striking out three with no walks. Pavlopoulos picked up another save, his fifth..Over the weekend, Dawson batted .600 (6-for-10) with seven RBIs, one homer, two triples, one double and two walks. The Grove City, Ohio, native now leads the team with 21 RBIs. OSU’s next challenge is set to come Tuesday against the Xavier Musketeers (7-12) at 5:05 p.m. The game is OSU’s fourth of a seven-game homestand at Bill Davis Stadium.
The Big Ten released football schedules for its 12 teams for the 2013 and 2014 seasons on Wednesday. Here is what stood out from Ohio State’s schedules: – The OSU-Michigan rivalry will not be going anywhere in the 2013 and 2014 seasons. The matchup will be the final conference game before the Big Ten Championship games, which are set for Dec. 7, 2013, and Dec. 6, 2014. – OSU will not be facing Nebraska, the newest school to join the Big Ten, in 2013 or 2014. The Buckeyes and Cornhuskers will, however, meet on Oct. 6 this season. Michigan State also will not be on the schedule for the Buckeyes in 2013 or 2014. – OSU will not be taking on Minnesota for a span of four years between 2011 and 2014, unless the teams meet in the conference championship. – OSU and Wisconsin will face off in the Buckeyes’ Big Ten opener in 2013. The rivalry matchup is scheduled for Sept. 28. – OSU’s first Big Ten game in 2014 will be against Purdue on Oct. 4.
Saturday’s spring scrimmage might mean spring practices are coming to an end, but a number of position battles are just starting to heat up. Because of graduation and suspensions, at least 14 of 22 starters from last season won’t be on the field come the opening game of the season against Akron. The spring scrimmage is the players’ last chance to make a positive impression on the coaches before summer practice. Here’s a look at the top position battles to watch Saturday. Quarterback The most high-profile battle is undoubtedly at the quarterback position. Senior Joe Bauserman, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham, redshirt sophomore Ken Guiton, and freshman Braxton Miller are all vying to replace the suspended Terrelle Pryor for the first five games of the season, but none has made a strong enough case to be named the starter. Bauserman seems to be the first guy on the depth chart, but a senior getting the nod in a close battle is no surprise on a Jim Tressel-coached team and all candidates are getting reps with the first team offense. “They shine their own day,” redshirt junior Jake Stoneburner said. “They all seem to be getting a good grasp of the offense.” With Pryor still sidelined from surgery on his left foot, look for all quarterbacks to get equal opportunity on Saturday. Cornerback Perhaps the fiercest battle of the spring has been for the second starting cornerback position. Junior Travis Howard has arguably been the most impressive player on the Buckeye team this spring and has locked up a starting job, but the other corner spot is wide open. Coming into spring, Tressel spoke highly of sophomore Dominic Clarke. “We’ve kind of seen a transformation from (Clarke) not unlike we’ve seen from (former Buckeye Malcolm Jenkins),” Tressel said. But Clarke has some competition. Dionte Allen, a transfer from Florida State, has shown a great open-field tackling ability in addition to coverage skills. Sophomore Bradley Roby wasn’t necessarily expected to be in the picture for a starting job, but has played his way into the conversation. He’s shown playmaking ability and a nose for the football, intercepting two passes in last Saturday’s scrimmage. Howard said he’s not sure how the fight will end. “They’ve all been battling and each of them have their days,” Howard said. “I’m looking forward to see who actually comes out on top because those are three great cornerbacks.” Left tackle Senior Mike Adams’ suspension for the first five games leaves a hole on the offensive line at left tackle. Sophomore Andrew Norwell and redshirt sophomore Marcus Hall have emerged as the leading candidates to fill the gap. Norwell was the favorite entering spring practice, but Hall has been impressive, especially after being separated from the team last year because of academic issues. Saturday’s scrimmage could go a long way in determining who ultimately gets the starting job, but Adams says either one would be more than adequate to replace him. “Those guys filling in at left tackle are doing a great job. They’ve really made a lot of progress since we’ve started,” Adams said. “When you’ve got two big guys like that who are athletic, as long as they know what they’re going to do, they’ll be fine for the season.” Linebacker Senior Andrew Sweat and redshirt junior Etienne Sabino are clear starters at linebacker, but sixth-year senior Tyler Moeller, juniors Storm Klein and Jonathan Newsome, and redshirt freshman Dorian Bell all have a chance to see the field in the upcoming season. Moeller hasn’t participated in spring scrimmages thus far, so look for Klein, Newsome, and Bell to fight it out Saturday.
Although the Ohio State football team has found itself on the outside looking in for the past five weeks, one Buckeye team is finding itself ranked again, as the OSU men’s basketball team will open its season as the No. 3-ranked team in the nation, according to at least one poll. The first ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll of the 2011-12 season was released Thursday and ranked the Buckeyes behind No. 1 North Carolina and No. 2 Kentucky. Defending national champion Connecticut and Syracuse rounded out the top five. Expectations have run high for OSU since its top two leading scorers from a year ago, sophomore forward Jared Sullinger and senior guard William Buford, opted to bypass the NBA draft following the Buckeyes’ Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky. OSU sophomore guard Aaron Craft, last season’s leader in assists and steals, also returns to a Buckeye team that compiled a 34-3 record the 2010-11 season. Sullinger, Buford and Craft were each preseason selections to the watch list for the John Wooden Award, which goes out to “the outstanding collegiate basketball Player of the Year,” according to the award’s website. Candidates must also have maintained a cumulative GPA of 2.00 or higher throughout their entire college career, the website says. No. 14 Wisconsin and No. 18 Michigan were the only other Big Ten programs that will open the season ranked in the coaches’ poll. Before they meet the Badgers and Wolverines in conference play, the Buckeyes will will start the year against a trio of games against ranked teams. OSU will battle No. 10 Florida, No. 6 Duke, and No. 13 Kansas on Nov. 15, Nov 29 and Dec. 10, respectively. OSU opens its season up Nov. 11 with a home game against Wright State.
The No. 4 Ohio State men’s tennis team is looking to keep its undefeated record at home this season in tact when it hosts Notre Dame and LSU this weekend. The Buckeyes (10-2) head into the matchups coming off a trip to the semifinals in the International Tennis Association (ITA) Team Indoor Championship in Seattle, Wash. OSU secured shutout victories against two ranked opponents during the tournament run, beating both then-No. 13 California and then-No. 5 Pepperdine, 4-0, before falling to No. 1 Virginia, 4-3, in semifinal play. In the semifinal loss to the Cavaliers, OSU doubles tandems continued their 2013 win streak when the teams of junior Blaz Rola and redshirt sophomore Kevin Metka and redshirt senior Devin McCarthy and junior Ille Van Engelen won their matches, 8-4 and 8-6, respectively. In singles, after a 6-4, 6-2 victory from Rola, OSU forfeited its 2-0 lead as redshirt sophomore Hunter Callahan, redshirt freshman Chris Diaz and McCarthy all lost their individual matches. A win by senior Connor Smith tied the match 3-3 before the Cavaliers captured the winning point in a showdown featuring the top two players in the nation, Virginia’s Alex Domijan (No. 1) and OSU’s redshirt junior Peter Kobelt (No. 2). The scoreboard favored Domijan, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5. “We got the doubles point, and seemed to be off on the right foot,” said coach Ty Tucker. “Overall, the guys fought hard and played hard.” The close loss against the nation’s top team in Virginia gave the Buckeyes optimism for how the team will fare down the stretch. “We noticed that we have a pretty good team,” McCarthy said. “We have some guys who are stepping up. We obviously lost to the No. 1 team in the country, so just trying to build upon that and realizing that at the end of the year we could win a national title.” Van Engelen said the team knew they had the potential to knock off Virginia but fell short. “(The loss) is also perspective for the future, because they are the No. 1 team in the country and have amazing players, so if we can compete with them so closely now, that’s perfect,” Van Engelen said. Since both losses for the Buckeyes this season have taken place on the road, facing off against No. 25 Notre Dame and No. 24 LSU in Columbus should serve as an advantage for OSU, which has not lost at home in more than 150 matches. “The guys are comfortable here. We have two very good teams coming in, and we need to play good tennis,” said assistant coach Justin Kronauge. “After a tough loss, I think they are ready to get out there and put on a good show this weekend.” With only several matches before conference play kicks off, OSU players plan on keeping a high level of intensity on the court. “Especially since we are traveling to North Carolina right after (this weekend), it’s important to get back into the rhythm, win our matches and get back in the flow,” Van Engelen said. McCarthy credited Tucker for always telling the team to focus on “getting 10 percent better” and then seeing where the team is by the end of the season. “I think it’s kind of to this point where it’s ‘push through,’” McCarthy said. “You never know at the end of the season – we might win (a national title).” The matches against Notre Dame and LSU are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Both matches are set to begin at noon at the Varsity Tennis Center.
In college football it is widely accepted the Southeastern Conference is the best.Seven straight national championships is hard to argue with, especially when six of those title games have been by double digits.But the argument that the SEC is the deepest conference in America because any team can beat any team doesn’t seem to be realistic.From the start of the 2012 season until last Friday, the top six teams in the SEC based on their conference record: Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas A&M had a combined total of one loss to the bottom eight teams in the conference.Now after five of those teams lost to lower tier SEC squads – LSU to Ole Miss, Texas A&M to Auburn, South Carolina to Tennessee, Florida to Missouri and Georgia to Vanderbilt – the conference is being touted as the deepest in America.That just doesn’t seem logical, you cannot go from being blatantly top heavy to ultra deep just because the stars lined up one weekend and a bunch of teams lost.One week simply does not make a deep conference.If things continue along this trend and the top teams continue to falter then maybe that argument could be made, but for now, it doesn’t have enough merit.Even if you look at the SEC’s national titles over its collective run of dominance it is top heavy. Of the four championships won since Florida claimed their second in 2008-09, Alabama has won the title three times, with arch-rival Auburn being the only team to unseat them.And after the BCS rankings were released Sunday, the Crimson Tide, ranked No. 1, look poised to bring home another this year.If you are a league that supposedly boasts parity then shouldn’t those championships be more spread out? Wouldn’t you expect a team like Georgia or Texas A&M to contend for a championship?Last season the argument was made that the Big Ten conference was made up of Ohio State, who could not participate in the postseason because of sanctions stemming from tattoo-gate, and then everyone else.Couldn’t you make the same argument with Alabama this season?Sure, until someone manages to unseat the SEC as reigning national champions they will remain as the class of college football. But the conference doesn’t need the added hype making it seem better than it is.The gap in talent between conferences is closing, but until the SEC is brought back down to earth things will remain as they are in college football.
OSU then-sophomore midfielder Michela Paradiso (9) approaches a defender during a game against Pittsburgh Aug. 28, 2013 at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. OSU won 2-0Credit: Lantern file photoThe Ohio State women’s soccer team ended its weekend road trip with a double overtime draw against Minnesota and a loss to No. 13 Wisconsin.The Buckeyes traveled to Minneapolis on Sunday to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers for their second game in three days.Minnesota got on the scoreboard early in the 11th minute when senior forward Olivia Schultz scored off an assist from junior defender Haley Helverson.The Buckeyes tied the game up in the 33rd minute after sophomore midfielder Alexis Degler drilled a shot off of a Minnesota defender inside the right post after a corner kick by freshman midfielder Nikki Walts. Junior midfielder Michela Paradiso came close to giving OSU the lead late in the first half but her shot from 10 yards sailed over the crossbar.The game remained tied heading into the half with OSU holding an 8-5 lead in shots, 2-1 on goal.Senior midfielder Ellyn Gruber gave the Buckeyes a chance after gathering a loose ball but her shot from 12 yards was deflected by Minnesota sophomore goalkeeper Tarah Hobbs. Degler tried to give the team the lead in the 74th minute but missed a shot from 10 yards in the box.In the final minutes of regulation, Minnesota sophomore defender Ashley Pafko had a wide open shot from eight yards away but redshirt-freshman goalkeeper Megan Geldernick made a leaping save to send the game into overtime.The Buckeyes posted a 14-13 lead in shots during regulation while the Golden Gophers held a 6-4 advantage in shots on goal.The Buckeyes got a few chances early in overtime but were unable to find the back of the net in the first 10 minutes. The game went to a second overtime with neither team finding a way to score.OSU tallied a season-high 23 shots to Minnesota’s 17 with a 10-6 advantage in shots on goal to give the Buckeyes their first tie of the season.On Friday, the Buckeyes traveled to face No. 13 Wisconsin.The first half featured a lot of back-and-forth action between the teams. The game remained scoreless until the 44th minute when Wisconsin sophomore midfielder Rose Lavelle lofted a free kick past Geldernick to give the Badgers a 1-0 lead heading into halftime.Through the first half, the Badgers held an 8-3 lead in shots and a 3-1 lead in shots on goal.In the second half, the Badgers capped the scoring during the 65th minute when senior forward Cara Walls nailed a strike just under the crossbar.OSU didn’t respond for the rest of the game, taking the shutout loss.The Buckeyes fell to 5-7-1 overall and 2-4-1 in the Big Ten. The team’s next matchup is set for 7 p.m. Saturday against Maryland at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Four days before the Buckeyes are scheduled to take the field against Penn State, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer took to the Big Ten teleconference to discuss a quality coaching addition, keys to the Penn State matchup and the development of some young Buckeyes.OSU (5-1, 2-0) is set to take on the Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-2) after beating Rutgers, 56-17, last weekend.Meyer said losing Mike Vrabel to the NFL was like losing a key player. “You can’t replace him with a lesser quality coach.” He added that he “pinpointed” Larry Johnson when he first got to OSU, and brought him in after Vrabel left. “He’s done a great job for us.”Meyer said he talked to Johnson about Penn State junior defensive lineman Anthony Zettel. He said Zettel is “a great inside player, pass rusher, spins on contact. He’s an athletic guy playing inside.”He said redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall wasn’t a good practice player last season, and was lazy in the classroom. Meyer said he’s now one of the Buckeyes’ “better practice players” and added that he “does well in school.”More on Marshall: “A gentleman, a guy who represents Ohio State the right way.”Meyer on redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett: “He’s saved our bacon a few times” with his scrambling ability.He said quarterbacks need to have escapability, but don’t need to have world-class speed. “We cannot not have that kind of player again,” he said.Meyer said “everything starts” with the matchup in the trenches. He had specific praise for sophomore defensive lineman Joey Bosa.He said there are “a bunch” of guys on the defensive line who need to earn more playing time. “It’s time for them to start contributing more,” he said.The Buckeyes are scheduled to face-off with Penn State on Saturday in State College, Pa. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
Ohio State then-freshman linebacker Baron Browning (5) attempts to stop a Scarlet Knight in the fourth quarter against Rutgers on Sep. 30. Ohio State won 56-0. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorOhio State entered last spring with many starters on its veteran-laden defense set. Not to mention, multiple players, including defensive ends Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa and Sam Hubbard and linebacker Jerome Baker, had already established themselves as playmakers.But this season, beyond defensive end Nick Bosa and defensive tackle Dre’Mont Jones, not many potential game-changers are known. A lot of talent exists on the defense, but most remain unproven.A number of highly regarded freshmen — including four five-star prospects — were added to Ohio State’s defense last season, but the vast majority either played in reserve roles or did not play at all. The Spring Game will offer the first chance to watch many of them play extended minutes. Here are some players on the Buckeyes’ defense to watch in Saturday’s Spring Game.Chase YoungThe moment former five-star prospect and sophomore defensive end Chase Young stepped on campus, his chiseled 6-foot-5, 265-pound frame stuck out. The enormous 18-year-old almost became a punch line with many people comparing him physically to an NFL player, despite having recently graduated from high school.Ohio State then-freshman defensive end Chase Young (2) waits in between plays in the fourth quarter of the Ohio State- UNLV game on Sept. 23, 2017. Ohio State won 54- 21. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorNow, with a year of experience, Young’s time has arrived.With Hubbard, Lewis and Jalyn Holmes off to the NFL, defensive end went from a position of enormous depth to a top-heavy unit manned by one stud, a duo of highly regarded, yet inexperienced players and a former defensive tackle. Therefore, it is pertinent for Young to make the leap from five-star prospect to impact player.Having spent a season backing up that trio and Bosa, the sophomore defensive end should now be ready to slide into a starting role opposite Bosa. Young picked up 3.5 sacks last season and should be in line to more than double that tally in 2018.Though quarterbacks sometimes wear a different color of jersey in the Spring Game that dictates they aren’t allowed to be hit, that likely will not be the case Saturday with no guaranteed starter. With signal-callers able to be hit, the Spring Game referees should be ready to blow their whistles quickly because Young is coming for the quarterback trio.Baron BrowningAnother former five-star prospect, sophomore linebacker Baron Browning earned special teams reps and mop-up duty on defense early in the season, but gained more playing time toward the end of the year. With Baker and Chris Worley gone and redshirt sophomore Tuf Borland sidelined with an Achilles injury, Browning has a chance to earn a starting position in his second collegiate season. However, he has to beat out a number of worthy, experienced linebackers in Malik Harrison, Keandre Jones, Dante Booker, Pete Werner and Justin Hilliard to make an impact.Browning stands out when he walks onto the field due to his uncommon combination of size and speed. His physical gifts have even impressed head coach Urban Meyer, who called him “as talented a linebacker as has ever walked through these doors.”“He’s got it all now. He’s got A to Z,” Meyer said. “An intelligent guy, a good person, and God has blessed him with an incredible skillset.”That skillset allows him to play all three linebacker positions. Though with Borland likely set as the starting middle linebacker, he will likely have his best shot at playing time on the outside.Every opportunity counts when a large group of players is interlocked in a position battle. And everyone will have their final shot to make an impression during spring practice on Saturday. The most physically gifted player at his position, Browning should stand out.Shaun WadeOne of Ohio State’s two five-star cornerbacks in the 2018 recruiting class, Shaun Wade did not get nearly the opportunity offered to fellow five-star cornerback Jeffrey Okudah. Wade’s body would not allow it. He underwent abdominal surgery during the season and never saw the field.Ohio State then-freshman cornerback Shaun Wade warms up prior to the Buckeyes’ season-opening 49-21 win over Indiana on Aug. 31 in Bloomington, Indiana. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Sports EditorNow a redshirt freshman, Wade has the opportunity to make the impact many thought he would last season. Redshirt junior cornerbacks Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette, along with Okudah, stand in the way of Wade earning starter-level snaps to start the year. But considering his rank as the second-best cornerback in the 2017 class, the now-healthy Wade should push for snaps. And with Okudah sitting out spring practice and the Spring Game due to having surgery on a torn labrum that has bothered him since high school, Wade has a chance to shine.In the past, the Buckeyes relied on a three-cornerback rotation. With Kerry Coombs gone, new cornerbacks coach Taver Johnson said he intends to maintain the rotation, provided he has three starter-quality cornerbacks. With Okudah out for the spring, Wade has a chance to prove he can break into the trio of rotating starters.And with all eyes on the quarterback battle during the Spring Game, the opportunity exists for Wade to make a statement in front of a crowd.
Ohio State head-coach-in-waiting Ryan Day answers questions from the media during a press conference at the Fawcett Center on Dec. 4. Credit: Amal SaeedThe recruitment of five-star defensive end Zach Harrison came down to the last minute for Ryan Day and Ohio State. For Day, Harrison was a good representation of what the recruiting process has been like for him transitioning into the head coaching role after Urban Meyer announced that he would retire after the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.“We had a home visit last week, was really important to sit down in the home and talk to the family about the direction of the program and having some communication on just some of the leadership changes that comes with the change of the head coach,” Day said. This was a conversation Day had with many recruits in this two-week span following Meyer’s announcement, a needed conversation that the state of the program, despite the transition of leadership, was very strong and would be consistent. For many, the decision on whether to choose to come to Ohio State was much simpler. Day said the decision comes down to families trusting that their son would be taken care of. Harrison trusted Day. So did 14 other recruits, giving Ohio State the No. 3 2019 recruiting class in the Big Ten and No. 12 in the nation, according to the 247Sports composite rankings. Day knew from the moment Meyer handed him the reins of Ohio State recruiting that it would be a difficult process in securing the 2019 class during the period of transition, which he started immediately after the Big Ten Championship. Day had connected with many of the of the 2019 recruits in August and through the first three games of the season when he was named the acting head coach during Meyer’s suspension. He said this helped him have a closeness with the families. In the two-week span, what he considered to be a whirlwind, Day said it took a level of trust for the families to commit to a program with a brand new head coach. “I think there was some faith right here because I’ve only been on the job here really for a couple of weeks,” Day said. “When you connect with people, you look them in the eye and you sit in their homes, there’s a connection to be made there, I thought that happened.” But many of the families had the same types of questions, revolving around the same topic: replacing Meyer and what Day’s vision and direction for the Ohio State football program would be. “We think we have the most comprehensive program from A to Z in the country. The infrastructure is here and that the plan is not to change that,” Day said. “There’s a reason why there’s been so much success here in the past and we want to keep that going.” Day said even though there will be a change at the head coaching position, providing a change in personality and demeanor, the infrastructure would stay in place, the “Plan to win,” as Meyer coined, would remain consistent. This is what brought Harrison to Ohio State, what kept five-star wide receiver Garrett Wilson and five-star center Harry Miller committed. While the Buckeyes have an expectation for the quality of player and person they recruit, the storyline for the 2018 early signing period revolved around the expectation that the recruits have in Ohio State, despite the off-the-field storylines the program went through. And for those that remained with Ohio State through the firing of former wide receivers coach Zach Smith, the suspension of Meyer, Meyer’s retirement and Day’s promotion, the new and acting head coach is very grateful. “When you look at who these kids are in the last seven months, their loyalty, it’s amazing,” Day said. “What happened in August and then the coaching change down the stretch, these kids stuck with us, that means a lot to us. And we are not going to forget that moving forward.”