Carlos Hyde

Ohio State loses RBs coach Stan Drayton to Chicago Bears

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Ohio State has managed to hold on to all of its potential transfers and early NFL Draft entrants, but the Buckeyes have still suffered some attrition following their national championship.

Tom Herman left last month to take over at Houston, and now running backs coach Stan Drayton has departed for the Chicago Bears. The club announced the hiring earlier Thursday.

Drayton spent the past four seasons on the Ohio State staff. He coached wide receivers during Luke Fickell‘s season as interim head coach, then was retained and moved to running backs by new head coach Urban Meyer. He was promoted to assistant head coach in 2013 and, prior to that, interviewed for the Temple job that eventually went to Matt Rhule.

Drayton worked for Meyer twice previously, as Florida’s running backs coach in 2005-07 and then again in 2010.

The Bears job will be Drayton’s first full-time coaching position in the NFL. He previously served as an offensive/special teams quality control assistant for the Green Bay Packers from 2001-03.

Drayton produced a 1,000-yard runner (or darn close to it) in all three seasons handling the Buckeyes’ running backs. Carlos Hyde rushed for 970 yards in 2012 and 1,521 yards in 2013, and Ezekiel Elliott notched an impressive 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns in route to the national title.

(Photo credit: Ohio State athletics)

Make room: Urban joins Saban on the college coaching mountaintop

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Go ahead and make all of the “family” and “sabbatical” jokes you want; Urban Meyer will just continue winning football games and defying the detractors, thank you very much.

Entering the College Football Playoff title game, Meyer was already considered one of the best head coaches in college football. Exiting it, he’s cozied up side-by-side with the current king of college football coaching.

The resounding 45-20 win over Oregon in the College Football Playoff title game marked the third of Meyer’s career, with the first two coming at Florida.  The only other head coach in the history of college football to win national titles at two different schools?  Nick Saban, who’s won three at Alabama after winning one at LSU.

What sets Meyer apart from Saban, or anyone else for that matter, however, is this latest title.

Never once did Saban win a title at either school with a backup quarterback; Meyer’s third title came with his third quarterback of the year.  It was, simply put, one of the greatest coaching jobs in recent college football history.  Or ever.

And it wasn’t just overcoming the losses at such a key position.  There was the inexplicable loss on the field — double-digit defeat to Virginia Tech in Columbus — and an unbearable loss off of it — the suicide of walk-on Kosta Karageorge — that Meyer and his coaching staff were forced to navigate, each requiring different, nuanced approaches to get the team back on track and pointed toward what became an increasingly obtainable postseason goal.

Even coming into the season there were question marks, with the offensive line needing to replace four starters and the running game searching for a replacement for All-Big Ten running back Carlos Hyde.  At season’s end, OSU’s line was one of the best in the Big Ten if not the country while Ezekiel Elliott (76-696-8 in three postseason games) made fans say “Carlos who?”

Despite all of that tumult and turmoil, Meyer and the Buckeyes began the postseason by curb-stomping Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten title game, then beating the Nos. 1 (Alabama) and 2 (Oregon) playoff seeds to win the program’s first championship in a dozen years.  Viewed through the prism of a third-string quarterback, it was as epic of a run that you may ever see from a team that, from the inside, wasn’t really expected to do much even prior to Braxton Miller‘s injury.  As I wrote earlier, the scariest part for college football in general and the Big Ten specifically is that Meyer himself acknowledged during the early portion of the season this team was a year away from contending for a national title.

Instead, that internal plan was accelerated by a year in very public fashion, with Ohio State, given the copious number of returning talent, likely entering 2015 as the No. 1 team in the country.  And, after the way the 2014 season began, it’s astounding that statement can be made in anything other than jest.  After seeing the buzzsaw Meyer’s Buckeyes became, it’s anything but.

On the field, with the win in the semifinal, Meyer and Saban are now 2-2 in head-to-head meetings.  On the recruiting trail, where wins are nurtured and cultivated, Saban remains the king — but Meyer’s not far behind.

Provided this year’s class remains where it’s at, the Tide will pull in the No. 1 recruiting class for the seventh time in the last eighth cycles.  In Meyer’s first three years, the Buckeyes finished third (2014), second (2013) and fourth (2012); this year’s class is currently seventh, although it’s expected to be Top-Five in caliber by the time Signing Day rolls around next month.

Along with Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Meyer and Saban will continue to battle it out for years on the recruiting front.  How many years will that battle continue?

Saban is 63 years old, while Meyer is 50.  Both coaches are within reach of tying, or even surpassing, Bear Bryant‘s individual record of five national championships.  How long Saban wants to continue coaching remains to be seen, although it doesn’t appear that the desire will burn out anytime soon.  Perhaps, even, the ascension of Meyer and the Buckeyes will help that fire burn a little hotter.

Saban then Meyer, or Meyer then Saban?  I don’t really know; I’ll let others put one ahead of the other if that’s the tack they want to take.

What I do know is that they are both the best the game of college football has to offer right now, and are among the best in any sport.  Something else I know?  If I had a son, I’d want him to play for either coach.  That’s the highest compliment I can pay either man.

The coaching legacies will ultimately work themselves out, but there was one certainty prior to Monday night: if Meyer hadn’t caught Saban, he was nipping at his heels.  Post-Monday night? At bare minimum, Meyer has pulled up side-by-side with his former, current and future nemesis.

Let the debate rage.  Being nearly a decade and a half younger and after further bolstering the résumé to near-Nicktator proportions, though, it’s no longer a given that when somebody asks who the best coach in college football is, the name “Saban” is automatically blurted out.

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 4 Ohio State

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(It should be noted this preseason ranking was determined before news of Braxton Miller being lost for the season.)

2013 Record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in Big Ten (lost to Michigan State in championship game)
2013 postseason: Orange Bowl (40-35 loss to Clemson)
2013 final AP/coaches ranking: No. 12/No. 10
Head coach: Urban Meyer (128-25 overall, 24-2 in two years at Ohio State)
Offensive coordinator: Tom Herman (3rd year at Ohio State), Ed Warinner (3rd year at Ohio State)
2013 offensive rankings: 5th rushing offense (308.64 ypg), 90th passing offense (203.3 ypg), 7th total offense (511.9 ypg), 3rd scoring offense (45.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 4*
Co-defensive coordinators: Luke Fickell (13th year at Ohio State), Chris Ash (first year at Ohio State)
2013 defensive rankings: 9th rushing defense (109.43 ypg), 112th passing defense (268.0 ypg), 47th total defense (377.4 ypg), 28th scoring defense (22.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Stadium: Ohio Stadium (104,944; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2010 (2009, outright)

THE GOOD
In a season that once appeared to be all about making the playoff or bust, the Buckeyes still look to have a very good shot at making a run at a Big Ten title despite losing starting quarterback Braxton Miller for the season. Losing Miller cannot be understated for the fortunes of this season, but more on that in a moment. What Ohio State does have is a roster that has been built by landing the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten each of the past four seasons, so the talent on the roster is not much of a concern for the Buckeyes as far as the Big Ten is concerned. One fo the downfalls of Ohio State last season was the defense not being strong enough to hold off a balanced opponent like Michigan State or slow down a potent offense like the one owned by Clemson. When push came to shove, Ohio State’s defensive line was the one being shoved in the clutch. That should change some this season with a focus on toughening up the defense. New defensive line coach Larry Johnson (from Penn State) will have an impact with the play of the defensive line, which could be the best in the Big Ten, with Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa up front and Noah Spence scheduled to return following a multi-game suspension. Ohio State’s opening games may be more difficult now, without Miller, but the Buckeyes should still be able to remain one of the favorites in the Big Ten’s East division.

THE BAD
The loss of Miller is without a doubt a major blow for Ohio State. Miller was Ohio State’s, and the Big Ten’s, best player when healthy and his contributions to the Ohio State offense will not be easy to make up. Miller was not only looking to improve with his passing abilities, but he was also the team’s leading rusher returning this season (1,283 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013). Ohio State should still be able to run the football this fall, but the loss of Miller has the potential to make Ohio State’s running game much less of a threat to opposing defenses. That is, until we see just how redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett adapts to his new responsibilities under center.

THE UNKNOWN
Ohio State has plenty of talent, but now head coach Urban Meyer is challenged to find a way to make everything come together in a different way than he may have been spending all summer doing. Meyer is a really good coach — one of the best in the country — but can he manage to keep Ohio State among the favorites for a playoff spot at the end of the year after losing Miller and lead running back Carlos Hyde (NFL) with a lack of significant experience in the backfield? Throwing an extra challenge into the equation this season is Ohio State does not have as easy a non-conference schedule to allow these things to be sorted out without concern. Ohio State faces a decent Navy team in the season opener in Baltimore, and then hosts a Virgina Tech team that should be improved this fall. A home game against Cincinnati could present a challenge to before getting into Big Ten play.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Penn State
The road game at Michigan State is still the highlight of the 2014 Ohio State schedule, and the non-conference slate should help show just what Ohio State will be this season. A road game at Penn State, in primetime, could be the first real challenge for the Buckeyes though, despite the Nittany Lions being a thin team when it comes to depth and Ohio State blasting their neighbors from the east 63-14 last fall. If Penn State stays healthy, they could pose a threat to Ohio State at home in a revenge situation. New head coach James Franklin has sparked the program a bit, and playing in front of 100,000 fans not cheering for you could be a challenge for a young quarterback like Barrett. Win this game, and Ohio State will prove to remain a top threat in the East.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: WR Devin Smith
Braxton Miller would have been the easy pick here, but with the quarterback ut of commission this fall the next best offensive player may end up being wide receiver Devin Smith. Smith should be one of the top receivers for the Buckeyes this fall as Ohio State’s leading returning receiver with 660 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.

* Not counting injured quarterback Braxton Miller

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Buckeyes’ projected starting RB undergoes wrist surgery

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The bad news is that the presumptive heir apparent to Carlos Hyde has reportedly undergone surgery.  The good news is that it’s not expected to cost him much practice time, let alone any games.

Citing a source close to the situation, the Cleveland Plain Dealer is reporting that Ezekiel Elliott underwent surgery on an injured wrist Saturday morning.  The running back suffered a fracture in his wrist during practice at some point this past week, with a pin being inserted to help the healing process.

Despite that, Elliot is expected be back participating in practice this coming Thursday.

The school has yet to address any injury Elliott may have incurred, for what it’s worth.

Last season as a true freshman, Elliott rushed for 262 yards — averaging 8.7 yards per carry — and a pair of touchdowns.  With the departures of Hyde and Jordan Hall, the 6-0, 225-pound Elliott, a four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class, is expected to take over as the Buckeyes’ lead back.

UPDATED 1:11 p.m. ET:  Ohio State released the following statement addressing Elliott’s health.

Sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott had surgery on his left wrist this morning at the OSU Medical Center East for a minor injury incurred at practice on Friday. Elliott, from St. Louis, Mo., and Burroughs High School, rejoined the team in time for lunch today. He will continue to attend practice and work on conditioning with a full return to the fields expected around the middle of next week.

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Heisman Watch List

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And now we come to one of the most fruitless and frustrating portions of preview season: the preseason Heisman watch list.

Last year around this time, Johnny Manziel, fresh off becoming the first freshman to ever claim the Heisman, was being viewed as the co-favorite to become just the second-ever to stake his claim to a pair of stiff-armed trophies. AJ McCarron, still basking in the glow of becoming the first starting quarterback with back-to-back BCS title-game wins, was viewed as a potential challenger to Johnny Football. So too were Braxton Miller, Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater and a whole host of other players.

And then, of course, Jameis Winston happened. A 35-1 longshot last August, Winston went on to claim the 2013 Heisman in near-record fashion, joining Manziel as the only freshmen to win the award.

Winston, as you can expect, will be the favorite heading into the 2014 season. Is there, though, another Jameis out there this year? Let’s take a snapshot look at the reigning winner as well as 20 players, in alphabetical order so as not to (gasp!) offend anyone, who could snatch the trophy from the preseason front-runner.

JAMEIS WINSTON, FLORIDA STATE, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 257-of-384 passing (66.9%) for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 88 carries for 219 yards (2.8 yards per carry) and four touchdowns
QUICK HIT: There’s really not much to say here that hasn’t already been said.  Winston was the best player in college football last season, and also happened to play on the best team for good measure.  He’s lost a couple of weapons, but twice as many returned to go along with the obligatory growth of some of the younger skill players who should see their roles expand in 2014.  Also remember that Winston was in his first year as a starter; if his skill-set makes even a nominal jump, look out Archie Griffin… especially if he can avoid the negative off-field headlines.

AMEER ABDULLAH, NEBRASKA, RB
2013 STAT LINE: 281 carries for 1,690 yards (6.0 ypc) and nine touchdowns; 26 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns
QUICK HIT: Unbeknownst to quite a number of people I’d suspect, Abdullah, not Melvin Gordon (see below) or anyone else, led the Big Ten in rushing last season.  As you can see by his receiving numbers, he’s quite adept at coming out of the backfield as well.  If you’re looking for a Heisman darkhorse, you could do worse than focusing on Abdullah as he will be the focal point of the Cornhuskers’ offense yet again..

RAKEEM CATO, MARSHALL, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 298-of-499 passing (59.7 %) for 3,916 yards, 39 touchdowns, nine interceptions; 99 carries for 294 yards (3.0 ypc) and six touchdowns
QUICK HIT: The first of two players on this list from non-Power Five conferences, and the one who has the best chance of crashing the December New York City Heisman party as a finalist.  The 2013 stats speak for themselves, and should do nothing but improve in 2014.  What separates Cato from the rest of the “have-not” pack is his team: there’s a very good chance that Cato and the Herd roll through the regular season unbeaten, and do so very, very easily.  Will the fact that exactly zero of the 12 opponents come from Power Five conferences impact Cato’s chances?  Possibly, but if the quarterback jabs voters in the face with a left-right combo of stats and team success, they won’t have a choice but to pay attention.

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