Inside The 'Magnificent Three'
They predicted Braxton would transfer, and take Oregon or LSU to not-exactly-new heights. They thought Cardale Jones would turn pro. Something. There simply couldn't be three great quarterbacks who would get along on one team. It's never been done.
And yet, that's exactly what's happening. Now it's up to Urban Meyer to maximize the riches he has. Unfortunately, he seems uniquely experienced to do so.
Urban Meyer's coming out moment was probably the 2007 national championship game against Ohio State. Chris Leak, an accurate pocket passer, took most of the snaps, but he also ceded to Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin for direct snaps. Tebow provided an inside running threat, and Harvin bounced a lot of plays outside. This way, no matter who was taking the ball, Meyer's and Dan Mullen's offense could attack every part of Ohio State's defense.
Even last year, J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones weren't quite athletic enough for Urban's liking, so he had Jalin Marshall take snaps as a quarterback and try to make plays from the Wildcat. Heck, he dialed up Evan Spencer to do this against Alabama. On plenty more plays, Meyer used Marshall or Curtis Samuel on jet sweeps to the edge to create an impromptu 3-on-2 situation with blocking receivers taking on smaller cornerbacks. Basically, Meyer doesn't have to retool his offense much to find room for everybody's talents.
Between Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones, and J.T. Barrett, Urban now has a perfect trio to continue what Urban already does. Like Tim Tebow, Cardale Jones provides tough inside running. Like Percy Harvin, Braxton Miller is mesmerizing in space. Like Chris Leak, J.T. Barrett is reliable and accurate. In fact, each of Ohio State's 'Magnificent Three' - a term Meyer coined in January - is more well-rounded than the stars Meyer had at Florida.
The most complete quarterback remains Barrett, but the deadliest combination might be Braxton and Cardale Jones. In a no-huddle offense, the unlucky defense facing those two has be ready to defend deep, vertical throws from Cardale, tough, 250-pound interior running, and slippery athleticism from Braxton, who can embarrass 240-pound linebackers with ease. Depending on how the defense tries to handle that, Meyer can supplement Miller and Cardale with a traditional running back, slot receivers, tight ends, and deep threats.
And with a no-huddle attack, Meyer can survey the defensive personnel, pinpoint weaknesses, and call plays that make life easy on his athletes. Anyone looking to stop Ohio State will need championship-level athleticism and intense discipline. Very, very few teams can boast that.
The fact that Braxton Miller will draw more attention from NFL scouts as a receiver, and the fact that Ohio State is somewhat thin at receiver options, indicates that Miller will spend a healthy amount of his time in this system as a horizontal and deep threat. In particular, jet sweeps offer the possibility of sending Miller in motion, where he has the chance to tuck it and run or still throw the ball to a receiver deep, while also allowing the quarterback who took the snap to keep the ball, throw from the pocket or run the opposite way. With the athleticism of the players involved, and a championship-level offensive line protecting the players, this is almost impossible to stop.
The one who's likely to see the most snaps at quarterback is J.T. Barrett. For all the tantalizing possibilities of Braxton out in space, or Cardale taking deep shots down the field or rumbling through the middle, Meyer values accuracy and decision-making the most. That's Barrett's strength.
Though Meyer's offenses are known for their explosiveness, he operates with an Iowa-like obsession with down and distance. Barrett won the job initially because of his mid-range consistency and good decision making in the zone read. The Buckeyes were elite at avoiding three and outs a year ago, and that's the fuel that makes the offense go. With more plays that the Buckeyes run, in favorable down and distance situations, there are more opportunities to break off big gains, tire out the defense, and keep momentum.
Cardale Jones, the last of the Big Three, has the ability to throw the ball deep better than anyone. But, there may not be as many options in the deep passing game. And with how Meyer's offense runs, Cardale may be - if not option #3 - then option #2b for overall playing time. But that will also depend on how much Braxton's throwing has improved, and if he's healthy.
When the Buckeyes trot out against Virginia Tech this year, it will be with a similar offense to what they've always had. It'll be the same cast of characters. And, J.T. Barrett will probably be the first on the field. He broke the Big Ten record for touchdowns, after all, and he's pretty deadly to stop by himself. The logistical nightmare will start sometime after that.
Hitting the Links Is Better in November
It's been a long time since a Michigan team steadily improved throughout a season. Urban Meyer has it down to a science, unfortunately.
I am late to this story; apparently LSU will be punished for excessive communication with a student-athlete who backed out of a commitment to the Tigers. As a result, the Tigers will have a hard time getting early enrollees for the next two seasons.
Curtis Samuel averaged 6.6 yards a carry behind Ezekiel Elliott. Really, he's the perfect back-up for their offense, with his ability to stretch a defense horizontally and be physical enough between the tackles.
This comes on the eve of a strong recruiting class in the state of Michigan, and in 2017, Donovan Peoples-Jones coming out of Cass Tech.
There are some heavier players who don't get enough credit for their athleticism. Mitch Leidner (6'4", 237) is one. Another is Imani Cross, who measures like a fullback at 6'1", 240 pounds, but runs like a running back.
Beckman is slowly growing on me. He seems to do everything right, and just slightly too late. Two, four, and now six wins. There's no reason the Illini can't compete in the Big Ten West if they make strides on the line of scrimmage.
Michigan State's defensive line is going to be a killer. On the other hand, it's unclear who will step up at wide receiver, with the top two receivers gone and the third, Macgarrett Kings, Jr., possibly kicked off the team after a drunken disorderly charge.
Defense usually gets less attention, but count Michigan State's corners and Nebraska's linebackers as key battles in both divisions.
Derek Mason's path to 6 wins, let alone 9, is fraught with difficulty. Out of conference, WKU, Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee and Houston offer at least three wins. But good luck finding two or three more against the SEC East, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M. Mason will coordinate the defense himself, while Wisconsin's Andy Ludwig tries to manufacture a good offense.