Derek Jeter has been cleared to play in a New York Yankees minor-league game this coming Saturday, the team announced today. The New York Yankees shortstop is scheduled to play no less than five innings for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders in a game against Lehigh Valley.Jeter is working his way back from an ankle injury he suffered back on Oct. 13th. After surgery and a stint of rehab, he played five spring training games, where a new break was discovered on April 18th. As a result, he hasn’t played in a single game this season.Last season, before the all-star suffered the injury, he hit .316/.362/.429 (114 OPS+) while leading the majors in hits (216), plate appearances (740) and at-bats (683). So having Jeter back will definitely improve the lineup of the Yankees, if he gets back in to the swing of things.
The Super Bowl has aired its share of controversial commercial ads over the years, but this one was of a different variety. Fans watching the Philadelphia Eagles face off against the New England Patriots on Super Bowl Sunday caught a 30-second Dodge Ram commercial that was apparently meant to evoke patriotism through its use of a Dr. Martin Luther King speech.But most folks weren’t feeling it and Ram Trucks has issued a response.Airing on Sunday, Feb. 4, the 50th anniversary of King’s “The Drum Major Instinct” speech, the truck advertisement used portions of the speech as images of blue-collar Americans, a dog rescue and a soldier hugging his son were spliced between Ram trucks driving through the terrain.All of this as King began, “If you want to be important, wonderful. If you want to be recognized, wonderful. If you want to be great wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.”It didn’t sit well with fans.“That was a disrespectful Ram commercial esp during #BlackHistoryMonth,” someone tweeted.Another put it in a more visceral way.“I want to punch that Dodge Ram commercial in the face.”“Are you kidding me?” a tweet read. “This #RAM commercial cannibalizing an MLK sermon to try and sell trucks is a f—— disgrace. #SuperBowl.”Me after that MLK Dodge Ram commercial pic.twitter.com/3TEVZgtvaZ— Kameron Bonaparte (@KillaKam1947) February 5, 2018 That one Black Marketing intern at Dodge Ram coming into work tomorrow. #SuperBowl pic.twitter.com/zDov0MZQpT— NUFF (@nuffsaidNY) February 5, 2018Yet Ram Trucks says it worked closely with King’s estate to create the ad.“Their representatives were a very important part of the creative approval process every step of the way,” the statement released in the early hours of Monday, Feb. 5 read.Intellectual Properties Management Inc. Eric D. Tidwell, managing director of the organization which handles King’s speeches and intellectual property, added the following.“We found that the overall message of the ad embodied Dr. King’s philosophy that true greatness is achieved by serving others,” the statement from the late King’s son, Dexter King, said. “Thus we decided to be a part of Ram’s ‘Built To Serve’ Super Bowl program.”pic.twitter.com/c8mXipoPkD— RamTrucks (@RamTrucks) February 5, 2018The King Center tweeted earlier that Dexter King’s sister, Bernice King, nor the center itself controls the use of the civil rights martyrs words or likeness for such things.Neither @TheKingCenter nor @BerniceKing is the entity that approves the use of #MLK’s words or imagery for use in merchandise, entertainment (movies, music, artwork, etc) or advertisement, including tonight’s @Dodge #SuperBowl commercial.— The King Center (@TheKingCenter) February 5, 2018
Here, we point out that the goal of a changeup is usually to fool the batter by presenting a speed different from that of the fastball. Greinke does not do that. Just over a month ago, the Houston Astros pulled off the biggest move of the season: In a deal reported minutes after the trade deadline had passed, the Astros acquired Cy Young winner Zack Greinke from the Diamondbacks to form baseball’s best rotation alongside Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, the two likeliest Cy Young candidates.Greinke, a future Hall of Famer, has been stellar this season — a 2.99 ERA and a sub-1 WHIP. According to FiveThirtyEight’s pitcher ratings, he would be the top pitcher on two-thirds of teams and the No. 3 on just three — and that’s the one he’s on. The move already has paid dividends for the ‘Stros, who are 5-2 in Greinke’s starts and have baseball’s best run differential since the trade — by nearly 50 runs.Now six weeks into team No. 6 (remember when he was traded to the Angels for the 2012 stretch run?), Greinke continues to adapt. At 35 years old, it’s anyone’s guess how long he can keep up this performance, but he’s signed through 2021 and should contribute through then. And because of the way he’s dealt with his decreasing velocity by relying on command and movement, he should be set up well for continued long-term success.According to Statcast, Greinke throws eight pitches: four-seam fastball, changeup, slider, curve, sinker (or two-seam fastball), split finger, cutter and eephus. (We’ll get back to that last one.) Only Yu Darvish has as many listed on his Statcast page, with the same eight (though the classifications may hide some of Darvish’s arsenal). Anibal Sanchez, Rich Hill and Odrisamer Despaigne are the only pitchers with seven.But it’s not just the variety of pitches that makes Greinke special. It’s how he throws them.Consider his changeup. Greinke throws his offspeed on 21.9 percent of pitches — a fairly steady increase from 7.9 percent back in 2008. Yet as his fastball has lost velocity, from once hitting more than 100 miles per hour in 2010 to averaging below 90 in 2019, his changeup has gotten faster. Instead, Greinke uses a power changeup with devastating late movement. Only Edubray Ramos has a smaller average speed difference. Greinke’s pitch has surpassed his slider, which used to be considered his best pitch, as the second option. Along with this, Greinke’s cutter, a staple of his arsenal in 2012 and 2013, has all but disappeared.Then there’s the curveball, a slow sweeping pitch. Greinke’s curveball is the second-slowest among qualified starters, behind the Nationals’ Patrick Corbin, at just over 70 miles per hour.This is where the eephus comes in. Greinke’s curve can be thrown so slow that Statcast registers it as the arcing pitch. But it’s not clear whether it’s a different pitch or just a curveball thrown slower. Nobody is throwing a true eephus, though six pitchers are credited with the pitch this year; only Greinke has one under 60 miles per hour. But even if you consider his eephus and his curveball as the same pitch, Greinke would still be tied with Sanchez and Darvish for the lead with seven different pitches.MLB pitchers have struck out 16 hitters on sub-67 mph pitches this year. Greinke owns eight of those (and four of the rest are from position players) with his slow curve that can make batters look silly.Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/d20e23b5-749c-4869-9845-d5b61e1ee064.mp400:0000:0000:14Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The newest one is the split-finger, which he threw in April for the first time since pitch tracking began in 2008. He’s thrown five so far in 2019, including three to Jacob DeGrom in the same at bat. If he’s experimenting with it now, there’s a chance it becomes a regular part of his arsenal in the future, especially with the Astros’ penchant for getting the most out of pitch selection.But beyond his wide repertoire of pitches, Greinke’s pitching style is one of a kind. He throws most pitches low but gets strikes. Even though he throws fewer pitches in the strike zone than average, he almost never falls behind. And his .198 wOBA allowed on pitches out of the zone is second in MLB, also behind Corbin.Greinke has faced just 11 3-0 counts this year and had thrown a fastball every time, almost always on the edge, until he gave Christian Yelich a perfect changeup last week. None of the 20 other pitchers with as many pitches this year has seen fewer than 15 such counts. In the month of July, Greinke threw 479 pitches and none was in a 3-0 count. He threw eight pitches with a 2-0 count — seven were in the strike zone and the other was fouled off. He’ll throw in the strike zone when he falls behind; that just doesn’t happen very often. And even when he does, batters can’t take advantage — they’re just 2-16 on 2-0 counts this year despite seeing 65 percent of pitches in the strike zone.When he’s ahead, it’s a different story. That’s when the sub-70 curveball becomes devastating. Ahead in the count, Greinke throws just 27 percent of pitches in the strike zone; the league average is 38 percent. And 76 percent of his strikeouts have been on pitches out of the zone, well higher than the league average of 56 percent. And his plan of attack is to go low. On 1-2 counts, specifically, Greinke throws in either the lower third or below the strike zone more often than any other pitcher.Greinke is truly a unique pitcher. His fastball and offspeed have nearly the same velocity, but his curveball is one of the slowest. He throws outside of the strike zone but never falls behind, and batters can’t seem to figure out any of his pitches.Through his impressive career, the one thing Greinke lacks is a ring. He has 11 postseason appearances, but his biggest impact was probably his lone start in the 2014 NLDS (in which he scored more runs than he allowed in seven innings). He makes the top 10 list of career games started without a World Series appearance. But if he earns a huge postseason moment, he could move from likely Hall of Famer to potentially first ballot. Perhaps he’ll have that chance in Houston this October.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Sure, the college football playoff selection committee could change its mind at the last minute. Maybe it will decide Baylor deserves to rank ahead of TCU because Baylor won their head-to-head matchup. Maybe the committee will suddenly develop a fondness for Florida State, a team it has liked less than voters in the Coaches and AP polls.But hoping for a shift in attitude is reminiscent of the line often said by losing political candidates: “The only poll that matters is on Election Day.” True, that’s when the votes are counted, but the pre-election polls predict the final tally pretty well. Voters usually don’t waver at the polling place.Likewise, the voters on the committee are likely to remain steadfast. In fact, the rankings the committee published Tuesday night look like the work of a group that is doubling down rather than hedging its bets. TCU, which beat Texas badly last week, advanced to No. 3 in the rankings, overtaking Florida State, which won narrowly against Florida. That creates some further separation between TCU and No. 6 Baylor. And Florida State is now No. 4 despite being undefeated. The Seminoles will very probably make the playoff if they win the ACC championship game, but the committee seems to be making clear they won’t get in with a loss.TCU’s chances of making the playoff are now 96 percent, according to the FiveThirtyEight model — up from 80 percent before the committee’s new rankings were released. Those odds might seem incredibly high, but TCU has a cupcake opponent in 2-9 Iowa State, against whom it’s a 97 percent favorite, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI). TCU remains unlikely to make the playoff should it lose, but it looks safer in the event of a win. That’s bad news for the teams ranking just behind it: Florida State, Ohio State and Baylor.Arizona’s playoff chances were also helped slightly by the new rankings, rising to 10 percent from 7 percent. The committee slotted the Wildcats at No. 7 after their victory against Arizona State last week, ahead of Michigan State, which also won. Moving ahead of Michigan State is not important unto itself — MSU isn’t playing in the Big Ten championship game and is no real threat to make the playoff — but it’s a sign the committee likes Arizona enough that it could break into the top four if it defeats No. 2 Oregon for the Pac-12 title.That leaves us with six games of consequence on the college football calendar this weekend: the four major conference championship games and the Big 12 regular-season games involving TCU and Baylor. These six games represent 64 possible permutations of winners and losers. But the simple version is this:Alabama, Oregon, TCU and Florida State are very probably in the playoff with a win.No other team controls its own destiny. Ohio State is more likely than not to make the playoff with a win, but it’s in trouble if everyone else wins out.Only Alabama can really afford to lose, and even it wouldn’t be totally safe.If you want the more complicated version, read along:No. 1 Alabama Crimson TideOpponent: No. 16 Missouri, for the SEC championship, on Saturday. Alabama is a 82 percent favorite, according to FPI.Overall chance of making playoff: 94 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 100 percentChance of making playoff with a loss: 68 percentChance of making playoff with a loss if the rest of the top five win: 39 percentAlabama is heavily favored against Missouri, but things could get messy if it loses.Historically in the Coaches Poll, No. 1 teams that lost their conference championships fell to either No. 3, 4 or 5. The FiveThirtyEight model agrees with that range; it has Alabama as most likely to fall to one of those spots in the committee’s rankings if it loses.There’s a huge amount of practical difference between finishing at No. 3 and No. 5, of course, but it’s hard to be more precise than that. One problem is that we don’t know whether the committee sees Alabama as a clear No. 1 or just barely ahead of the other top teams. The other complication is that Alabama isn’t playing its game in a vacuum.The dangerous case for Alabama is if it loses while the rest of the top five — Oregon, TCU, Florida State and Ohio State — win. That scenario would be a nightmare for the committee; it would either have to deny the SEC a slot in the playoff (Missouri and Mississippi State have almost no chance) or bypass a one-loss conference champion such as Ohio State for two-loss Alabama.Could Alabama wind up behind Baylor, too? Possibly, but the model has Baylor as the team that could break Alabama’s fall in the standings instead. Whereas it gives Ohio State a 60 percent chance of being ranked higher should it win while Alabama loses, it has Baylor with just a 30 percent chance of doing the same.No. 2 Oregon DucksOpponent: No. 7 Arizona for the Pac-12 championship Friday night. Oregon is a 74 percent favorite, according to FPI.Overall chance of making playoff: 81 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 100 percentChance of making playoff with a loss: 26 percentChance of making playoff with a loss if the rest of the top five win: 10 percentOregon will be an underdog to make the playoff it loses. One problem is that its opponent in the Pac-12 championship game, Arizona, could jump ahead of it. The model has Arizona with a 65 percent chance of ranking ahead of Oregon should it beat it in Santa Clara, California. That seems conservative; the model makes no special consideration for head-to-head play whereas the committee might, and Arizona would then have two head-to-head wins against Oregon (the Wildcats beat the Ducks in the regular season).Still, the Pac-12 championship is not quite a winner-take-all game. The committee could have some rationale for preferring Oregon to Arizona even if Oregon loses; Arizona played a poor nonconference schedule, and it has a middling rating, according to FPI and other systems. There’s also the chance the committee won’t admit a Pac-12 team.No. 3 TCU Horned FrogsOpponent: At home against Iowa State on Saturday. TCU is a 97 percent favorite.Overall chance of making playoff: 96 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 99 percentChance of making playoff with a win if the rest of the top five win: 95 percentChance of making playoff with a loss: 12 percentChance of making playoff with a loss if the rest of the top five win: 1 percentThese next two cases are the simplest. TCU is very probably in with a win — even if all the other top teams win. It’s very likely out with a loss. Everyone else will be hoping for TCU to lose because it would be a clean knockout. Unlike Alabama, TCU would be little threat to remain in the top four with a loss. Unlike Oregon, a loss wouldn’t invite another team like Arizona into the playoff conversation. Unfortunately for those other playoff suitors, TCU is a 33-point favorite in Vegas.No. 4 Florida State SeminolesOpponent: No. 11 Georgia Tech for the ACC championship Saturday night. Florida State is a 64 percent favorite.Overall chance of making playoff: 62 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 94 percentChance of making playoff with a win if the rest of the top five win: 88 percentChance of making playoff with a loss: 3 percentThis is an even clearer win-and-you’re-in, lose-and-go-home case. The model has Florida State as 94 percent likely to make the playoff with a win but gives it just a 3 percent chance with a loss.You could debate either of those numbers, I suppose, but I don’t know that you’d get very far. Florida State has twice been overtaken in the playoff committee standings despite winning; is it possible that the committee could do that to the Seminoles again? Probably not; those previous demotions came after wins against middling opponents; Georgia Tech is a wholly respectable one. And the model isn’t considering the political consequences to the committee of leaving an undefeated defending national champion out of the playoff.No. 5 Ohio State BuckeyesOpponent: No. 13 Wisconsin for the Big Ten championship Saturday night. Ohio State is a 59 percent favorite.Overall chance of making playoff: 35 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 60 percentChance of making playoff with a win if the rest of the top five win: 16 percentChance of making playoff with a win if at least one higher-ranked team loses: 86 percentChance of making playoff with a loss: 1 percentFirst things first. The Buckeyes need to beat Wisconsin. What then? As I’ve mentioned, the top four are in a reasonably safe position with a win. That necessarily implies the No. 5 team — Ohio State — needs someone ahead of it to lose to have much of a shot. If Ohio State wins but so does everyone ahead of it, its chances of making the playoff are just 16 percent. If it wins and someone ahead of it loses, those chances jump to 86 percent. Ohio State was hurt slightly by TCU pulling ahead of Florida State; TCU, playing a soft opponent, would have been an easier team to overtake for the No. 4 position.No. 6 Baylor BearsOpponent: At home against No. 9 Kansas State on Saturday night. Baylor is a 70 percent favorite.Overall chance of making playoff: 18 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 26 percentChance of making playoff with a win if the top five win: 1 percentChance of making playoff with a win if one higher-ranked team loses: 7 percentChance of making playoff with a win if two or more higher-ranked teams lose: 62 percentChance of making playoff with a loss: 0 percentThe model is bearish on the Bears’ chances; it has them favored to make the playoff only if they win and at least two teams ranked ahead of them lose. Conference balance could also work against Baylor. If TCU gets in, the Big 12 will already have a representative in the playoff, and that could encourage the committee to prefer Ohio State or Arizona (or Alabama should it lose to Missouri) ahead of the Bears.No. 7 Arizona WildcatsOpponent: No. 2 Oregon for the Pac-12 championship Friday night. Oregon is favored; Arizona has a 26 percent chance of winning.Overall chance of making playoff: 10 percentChance of making playoff with a win: 37 percentChance of making playoff with a win if the top five apart from Oregon win: 8 percentChance of making playoff with a loss: 0 percentArizona has come a long way. Its chances of making the playoff were just 0.4 percent two weeks ago. It has since secured big wins against Utah and Arizona State, while getting some help elsewhere (UCLA’s loss to Stanford) to get into the Pac-12 championship game.The Wildcats will still need to bypass three teams to get in, but they have the advantage of playing one of them. Arizona is more likely than not to overtake Oregon in the standings should the Wildcats beat the Ducks.No team below Arizona has more than a 3 percent chance of making the playoff. Kansas State is the team with the 3 percent chance after its ranking improved from No. 12 to No. 9. An even longer shot is Georgia Tech, which climbed from No. 16 to No. 11 and has a 1 percent chance. That’s not good, but it’s better than No. 13 Wisconsin or No. 16 Missouri, both of whom are also playing for their conference championships.We’ll conclude with the model’s probabilistic take on how the top 25 might look Sunday:It’s fun to contemplate how things might change if there were eight teams in the playoff instead of four. Michigan State and Mississippi State would still be alive, and Wisconsin, Georgia Tech and Kansas State would have a lot left to play for.
The Atlanta Falcons had the NFL’s most explosive offense this season, racking up yards and points with efficiency and balance. As a result, the Falcons are the NFC’s No. 2 seed in the playoffs, quarterback Matt Ryan is a leading MVP candidate and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is reportedly interviewing for four different head-coach openings.The Falcons led the NFL in many offensive metrics this season, finishing No. 1 in points per game (33.8), yards per play (6.7), per-drive scoring rate (52.6 percent) and Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average).But Ryan, Shanahan, star wideout Julio Jones and the Falcons’ dynamic tailback duo of Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman were all in Atlanta last season, and the Falcons finished below or around the league average in all of those categories.So what has transformed an underperforming offense into the most effective unit in the NFL?Nearly every element that has made the 2016 Falcons offense special was on display in Week 12, when they welcomed a hungry, talented Arizona Cardinals defense. Despite their struggles with consistency, the Cardinals ended up finishing first in sack rate (8.1 percent), second in yards-per-play allowed (4.8), ninth in per-drive scoring rate (32.1 percent) and 10th in per-drive turnover rate (13.0 percent).The Cardinals received the opening kickoff and then drove for a touchdown, putting Ryan and company in a 7-0 hole. How the Falcons offense answered is a microcosm of how it’s dismantled NFL defenses all season long.Anchoring the run gamePerhaps the best free-agent acquisition of the offseason, center Alex Mack — the second-highest rated center in the league, according to Pro Football Focus — has transformed the Falcons’ line, providing a vital boost to the team’s pass protection and run-blocking. And his leadership on the team has set the tone for the Falcons’ young offensive line, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff told me during an August interview on SiriusXM’S “NFL Inside Read.”On Monday, Falcons head coach Dan Quinn called Mack a “real critical factor in what we do and how we play.” That was evident on the second play of the Falcons’ opening drive against the Cardinals in Week 12.On a zone run to the left, Mack (No. 51) engaged and overwhelmed Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell (No. 93). Freeman (No. 24) cut behind Mack’s block and exploded through the opened seam:Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/538_falcons_mack-1.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Football Outsiders’ offensive line metrics rank the Falcons 10th in Adjusted Line Yards (4.09), up from 15th (3.82) last season. The balance provided by being able to run the ball is keeping the Atlanta offense on schedule and the chains moving; the Falcons’ run game was third in expected points added (+22.12) this season, up from 31st in 2015 (-62.96).Outstanding receiver playJulio Jones’s raw numbers this season were down from 2015, when he was a first-team All-Pro and led the league with 1,871 yards on 136 catches. But his efficiency is up significantly, and the Atlanta offense has been better for it. During the 2016 regular season, Ryan targeted Jones on 24.2 percent of his pass attempts, down from his force-fed 33.1 percent rate in 2015. The effectiveness of new receivers Mohamed Sanu and Taylor Gabriel, plus the continued impact of Freeman and Coleman out of the backfield, means that the entire Atlanta offense doesn’t have to run through Jones anymore. With Jones free to concentrate on beating defenses deep, his yards per catch exploded from a career-low 13.8 last season to 17.0. That’s Jones’s highest mark since his rookie season (17.8), when he was a high-powered complement to veteran No. 1 Roddy White.Ryan’s accuracy and ball placement haven’t been markedly better this season than in the past, as Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus wrote, but his receivers are getting open more often and catching the ball much more reliably.Gabriel (1st), Jones (2nd) and Sanu (34th) all rank among the top 35 receivers in DVOA, reflecting the per-play value each delivered on passes thrown their way. But Ryan’s collection of weapons is so robust that even down-roster players make big contributions. On the opening drive against Arizona in Week 12, rotational wideout Justin Hardy made a spectacular catch that turned an incomplete pass into a 27-yard gain:Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/538_falcons_hardy.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Dictating matchupsBut watch the Hardy catch again: The tight end goes in motion right, then turns around and sprints out to the left flat. The offensive line sells a zone run to the right, only for Ryan to sell a play fake and roll back to the left. Hardy’s two-move route takes him with the run action, then upfield, then back out to move with the quarterback.All-Pro Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson should have no problem covering a fourth-string wideout one-on-one, but his eyes are checking on the run action. By the time he gets his head around and watches Hardy make a second move, there’s too much separation for Peterson to recover. Ryan puts it high, and Hardy makes an outstanding catch.Throughout the drive, Shanahan uses motion, spread formations, bunch formations and varied personnel packages. Sanu lines up outside, inside — even as a Wildcat quarterback, fooling a linebacker with a read-option keeper:Video Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/538_falcons_sanu_b.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Any offensive coordinator can install a bunch of goofy looks and pre-snap window dressing. But Shanahan is dictating matchups and getting players open.Aggressive coachingThe 11-play touchdown drive (discounting a defensive penalty on the Cardinals’ 2-yard line) seems like a master class on how to execute a scripted game plan against a stout defense.But the Falcons’ offense did fail at one point in the drive. Peterson sniffed out a screen to Freeman on a 2nd-and-4 play from the Arizona 44, and on the next play, Coleman was stopped three yards short of the sticks.A 4th-and-3 in opponent territory? Other NFL head coaches might punt the ball away and surrender possession, but Quinn went for it. Shanahan dialed up a rub route, and Sanu made a drive-saving catch.The Wall Street Journal named Quinn the fourth-most-aggressive head coach of 2016, factoring in fourth-down decisions, play-calling and special-teams decisions. By pressing his talent and scheme advantage, Quinn is maximizing his chances of winning.It’s not just that Ryan has cut his interceptions down this season, from his career rate of 2.4 percent to 1.3 percent. It’s not just that the offensive line is playing much better, receiver depth is dramatically improved or that the coaches are getting optimal results from the available talent. It’s all of these factors coming together to challenge NFL defenses on every front — and make the Falcons look as ready as anybody to make a Super Bowl run.Check out our latest NFL predictions.
The Ohio State women’s tennis team closed out the 2010 regular season this weekend winning one of two matches at home to finish at 18-8 overall and 5-5 in conference play.Coming off a hard-fought victory at Indiana the previous weekend, OSU welcomed the Wisconsin Badgers to Columbus Friday night for the first match of its final homestand.Able to carry over the momentum from the previous weekend, the Buckeyes made quick work of the overmatched Badger squad with a 7-0 victory.The convincing victory marked the team’s record-best ninth shutout of the year, surpassing its previous best of eight attained in both the 1978-1979 and 2006-2007 seasons.“It was a big match,” coach Chuck Merzbacher said. “We needed to get that win for Big Ten seeding and NCAA purposes, so that was an important match and fortunately we were able to get it.”Following Friday’s strong showing, the Buckeyes returned to the OSU Varsity Tennis Center on Sunday afternoon hoping to take down Goliath in the form of the No. 6 Northwestern Wildcats.Despite being backed by an enthusiastic, packed house, Northwestern proved to be too much to handle, downing the Buckeyes with relative ease 5-2.One of two seniors playing her final home match in scarlet and gray, Christina Keesey provided one of OSU’s few bright spots of the day downing her opponent in straight sets 7-6, 6-2.“Northwestern is a great team, and we knew we had to fight hard today,” Keesey said. “I was glad I was able to end the way I did, and the team battled as hard as we could so that’s all you can ask for.”With the regular season now behind them, the team has its sights set on Iowa City, where it will travel for the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday with high expectations. “I was pretty pleased with the whole weekend,” Merzbacher said. “We competed pretty well and the Big Ten is wide open, so when we go to the Big Ten tournament I think we can play with anybody.”
At the conclusion of the 2012 NFL Draft April 28, former Ohio State center Mike Brewster was still waiting on the phone call that could change his life. At the time, his NFL dreams were on hold. All 253 draft selections had come and gone, and he was not among the players selected. But Brewster did not have to wait much longer for his opportunity to play in the NFL. By the end of that same Saturday night, Brewster signed as an undrafted free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars. As an undrafted free agent, Brewster had the opportunity to choose which team he would sign with. He told The Lantern that the Jaguars were the right team for him. “It was the best situation, as far as they didn’t draft any linemen,” Brewster said. “Their (offensive line) coaches had been in contact with me probably more than anybody. That made me feel comfortable.” As a four-year starting center for the Buckeyes, Brewster started 49 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in school history. Brewster’s former coach Luke Fickell has the longest streak at 50 straight games. In 2010, Brewster was named to the Football Writers Association of America All-American Team, and was named first-team all-Big Ten by the media. Jaguars offensive line coach Andy Heck told The Lantern that the Jaguars were “fortunate” to be able to sign Brewster as a free agent. “Every guy we bring in here is a guy that we believe can compete to make our team,” Heck said. “Mike is a guy that I think has a legitimate shot to make a team, to develop into a solid pro, and he’s going to get that opportunity here to compete, to take his game to another level. If he earns it, he’ll make the team and play.” Brewster, a native of Orlando, Fla., said returning to his home state was a big factor in his decision to go to Jacksonville. “I prayed to come home, and it happened in a mysterious way,” Brewster said. “I’m as happy as I could be. Nobody loves the state of Florida as much as I do.” Brewster could have declared for the 2011 NFL Draft following his junior season, but said he has no regrets about his decision to return to OSU for his senior year. “I grew up, learned a lot, I got smarter, I got a lot stronger, and then things just didn’t really go my way,” Brewster said. “I don’t regret it … I could have left after my junior year, but it was important for me to come back and try to help the program.” Brewster said ending up with the right team was more important to him than being drafted. “(Being drafted in the) fifth (round) and before, it’s a pretty decent signing bonus, but other than that, you just want the right fit,” Brewster said. “I was nervous that someone was just going to snatch me up in the sixth or seventh, just to take me.” Heck said Brewster will play multiple positions on the interior offensive line during this summer’s training camp and preseason as he attempts to make the Jaguars’ final 53-man roster. “We’ll give him a lot of work at center,” Heck said. “I think he’s a guy that’s got the physical makeup and mental makeup to be a center in this league. He’ll also cross-train as a guard.” Heck said he believes Brewster has the necessary mental attributes to succeed as an NFL center. “I like Mike’s intelligence, I like his demeanor,” Heck said. “I think that both of those things suit him playing an interior line position, particularly center where he’s got to really be the quarterback of the offensive line.” Heck also addressed the areas of Brewster’s game where he must improve. “He needs to work on being consistent with his gun snaps, keeping himself in better balance,” Heck said. “These are things that everybody needs to work on.” Even after going undrafted, Brewster remains confident that he will have a successful NFL career. “At the end of the day, you can either play or you can’t,” Brewster said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a fourth-, fifth-, sixth-, seventh-round pick, undrafted … the best players are going to play. I’ll make it work, and I guarantee you I’ll be playing football for years to come.”
Redshirt senior quarterback J.T. Barrett (16) throws a pass in the first quarter against Nebraska in Memorial Stadium on Oct. 14. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorThe Ohio State team that lost to Oklahoma Week 2 does not look like the same team that strolled to easy victories against its last five opponents.Against Oklahoma, the Buckeyes appeared out of sync. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was missing his targets, the defense was biting on every play fake and nothing the Buckeyes did in the second half of the game went their way.Since the loss, both the offense and defense have clicked. Although against lesser opponents, the team cruised through its past five games.Playing against only its second real test of the season, how will Ohio State know which team will show up Saturday? Will it be the team that lost 31-16 in its home opener or is it the one that has since outscored opponents 266-56?Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said both the former and latter teams are no different, and this is still the same team with the same identity that entered the season.“It’s very clear who we are, who we’re always going to be, offensively and pretty much defensively,” Meyer said on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches teleconference. “We didn’t execute very well, we didn’t coach very well. But identity, there’s never been a misunderstanding what that is around here. We’ve enhanced things.”Ohio State had the luxury of suffering its loss early enough in the season that it was able to address the issues the Sooners exposed.It will not have that luxury again.If the Buckeyes don’t execute well against Penn State, its hopes of a national championship will be dashed.The loss did a lot to prepare Ohio State for this upcoming matchup, however, and could play a role in avoiding another defeat. It gave Ohio State’s players an idea of flaws that needed to be addressed moving forward. It also put the Buckeyes on the brink of a lost season. With their backs to the wall, the players left Ohio Stadium that night knowing they had no more room for error and had to go all-out for everything if they hoped to have a shot at a title.“We learn a lot more from a loss than we do from a win,” redshirt senior defensive end Tyquan Lewis said. “We came back that next week and we just started working. Practice became more competitive, so everybody stepped up a little more.”Co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said it wasn’t that the practices became more challenging, but rather everything became more organized and better structured. “We’ve practiced better. We haven’t practiced harder, we’ve just had better structure, and I think I’ve done a better job of understanding what [Meyer] wants in our players and our staff is working the offense with a lot of enthusiasm in practice,” Wilson said.Based on the Buckeyes’ ease of victory, one could almost make the argument practices have extended into every Saturday. The disparity between Ohio State and its competition has been significant, and it has allowed the team to build up chemistry, figure out what works and what doesn’t without the consequence of making mistakes.Wilson said early in the season the offense in particular was still figuring one another out, learning the strengths of each player at its disposal.“We came into both of those games [against Oklahoma and Penn State] with really good players,” Wilson said. “I just think that first game, not by design, but we were not in the rhythm or the flow. We didn’t maybe prep. We were working hard, but maybe a little disjointed and getting things clean for offensive line and for quarterback and for a team to play with cohesion.”Now the offense is in sync. The players and coaches are all familiar with one another, and the time the team has had to not only receive additional practice from the bye week but also beat up on some weaker opponents built up confidence as well as chemistry among the players.“The offense as a whole is clicking the best it’s been in years. It’s clicking at the right moment,” redshirt senior center Billy Price said. “We’re hitting things. We’re timing things up nicely. We’re making sure we’re isolating and making sure that our players are on their players and making sure that our guys are in advantageous positions.”The offense has clicked against weaker opponents, but will it click when the clock hits 3:30 p.m. and Ohio State faces the No. 2 team in the nation with College Football Playoff hopes on the line?“Well we don’t know yet, do we?” Wilson said. “That’s why we’re playing.”
Ohio State redshirt senior offensive lineman Demetrius Knox (78) makes an “H” as he is taken off the field in the second half of the game against Michigan on Nov. 24. Ohio State won 62-39. Credit: Casey Cascaldo | Photo EditorOhio State proved plenty in its dominating 62-39 victory against Michigan, including the ability to play consistently well on both sides of the ball against a team ranked in the top 25 in scoring offense and defense.For the offense, it wasn’t the usual successful game. It wasn’t just redshirt sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins throwing the lights out on his own.Against Michigan, and Maryland the week prior, the Buckeyes found a more complete offense, allowing Haskins to continue to put up big numbers while the run game gained the consistency it lacked in the first half of the season.The new and improved offense starts with the new and improved play on the offensive line.“I have seen the consistency,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “We’ve all seen consistency start — I can’t give you the exact time, but they’re playing very well right now.”Haskins has thrown for more than 395 yards and the team has run for at least 170 yards and 4.8 yards per carry, allowing only a single sack in the past two games combined.Both Maryland and Michigan ranked in the top 20 in passing defense coming into the matchup, and the Wolverines had the No. 1 defense in the NCAA.Meyer said the offensive line’s performance against Michigan “was one of the best” he has seen from the group all season.After giving up zero sacks to Michigan and becoming a key contributor to the statement win the Buckeyes needed, they lost a key member late in the fourth quarter when the game was all but over.Redshirt senior guard Demetrius Knox went down with a foot injury that Meyer described as a “Lisfranc issue.” Knox announced Monday on Twitter that his Ohio State career was over after starting 20 total games for the Buckeyes.“He’s done so much for this team in his career here, so it’s a tough loss for us,” Meyer said. “We’ve got to regroup and put together that position.”Taking Knox’s place will be redshirt freshman guard Wyatt Davis, Meyer said. Davis, a former five-star recruit, has appeared in five games this season.Meyer said Davis’ recruitment was “one of the most enjoyable recruiting experiences” he’s ever had, and the redshirt freshman has been close to getting his chance for weeks.“He’s a rugged guy, and he’s been scratching and clawing for playing time ever since probably five, six weeks ago, and has been close,” Meyer said. “We didn’t want to disrupt the flow of the five guys in there.”Davis no longer needs to scratch and claw his way to the job. He has it. But he gets the starting job following the offensive line’s best performance yet and Ohio State’s most consistently impressive game in every facet of the field.Davis enters as the player disrupting the consistency — a change in the depth chart that could disrupt an Ohio State team finally looking like one that can make a run for the College Football Playoff.Meyer said all five starting members of the offensive line were champions against the Wolverines.Against No. 19 Northwestern, which has another top 30 scoring defense, Davis will need to prove himself able of taking over the spot Knox leaves behind, right at the time Ohio State’s offensive line finally turned the corner it had been searching for.
Competitors race against the train This year’s event was won by Paul Green, a runner from Sale Harriers. His performance was on the right track throughout, and he eventually steamed to victory in one hour, 28 minutes and 23 seconds.And Mr Green, expressed his delight at the win:Paul Green, Race The Train winner said: “It’s just a great relief knowing in that last half mile that I was actually going to win it for once and it’s a real buzz – the crowd were cheering really loudly and it really gets the adrenaline going so yeah, it’s great, really chuffed today.” Mr Green is a regular to the event and won this year after coming close in previous years – and no doubt he’ll be looking to defend his title next time around. The backdrop may not have been Rio and the Copacabana beach, but the stakes were equally as high in the Welsh countryside – as 1,000 runners competed in the annual Race The Train contest.Founded in 1984 – after the idea was posed by a local dentist – the event involves a 14-mile course, where runners compete for pace against a steam train.Not every athlete manages to beat the train to the finish line, but the popularity of the event has now stretched overseas – with competitors from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Hong Kong. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.