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Hometown Spotlight: Jake Ryan

Apr 20, 2015 -- 8:57am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

NAME: Jake Ryan

SIZE: 6-2, 240 pounds

COLLEGE: Michigan

POSITION: Linebacker

PROFILE: A Westlake native and St. Ignatius graduate, Ryan repaid Michigan for its confidence in him with an outstanding career that should lead to a mid-round selection in the NFL Draft. Ryan had only Mid-American Conference offers until he visited Ann Arbor and former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez offered a scholarship, which Ryan quickly accepted. He started 41 games for the Wolverines and made 267 career tackles, including 45.5 tackles for a loss. Ryan comes from a strong football background. His father (Wake Forest) and grandfather (Xavier) played college football and so did an older brother and younger brother at Ball State. Ryan was a two-year captain at Michigan and 2014 team MVP. He clearly earned his teammates' respect after returning from an ACL tear in the middle of the 2013 season. A medical redshirt would have been the best thing for his NFL prospects, but Ryan rushed his way back onto the field because his team needed him. He further showed his selfless nature by agreeing to move from outside linebacker to middle linebacker for his senior season again because the team needed him to do so. Ryan made a single-season career best 112 tackles, including 14 for negative yardage, and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors in his final season.

STRENGTHS: Ryan is a tough run defender and a productive tackler with good burst to the football. He is fundamentally sound with pursuit angles and plays his gaps well. He has adequate straight-line speed to go sideline-to-sideline and shows exceptional instincts and feel for the game. He is one of those players who is always around the ball and arrives with bad intentions. Those attributes make him a coach favorite who is likely to outperform his draft position, either as a two-down starter or as a special teams contributor. His skill set makes a return to outside linebacker likely in the NFL, so he can use his blitz instincts and his pursuit abilities.

QUESTIONS: Perhaps because he played in the middle only one season, Ryan could improve on shedding blocks and reacting more quickly. His aggressiveness can be a detriment at times. He has some limitations moving laterally, which causes him to wind up on the ground too often when he works inside. Sometimes over-pursues a play because of his eagerness to get involved.

ANALYSIS:  Many of the concerns about Ryan are related to him playing in the middle, which is somewhat unfair because of his inexperience at that spot. Teams can look at that as a detriment, or they can look at it as a bonus that Ryan has the versatiity to play both inside and outside, and that he projects as a productive player in both 4-3 and 3-4 alignments. He has the size, physiciality and commitment to work and study his way into a very productive NFL player.

CONCLUSION: Ryan is not as fluid as scouts would like, but he's one of those guys who won't wow teams as much on film as he will on the field. Don't undervalue the fact he was coached in college by Greg Mattison, former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens. Ryan is likely to improve his weaknesses the more work he gets. It's quite possible he'll become the type of player fan bases of teams that didn't take him will ask, "How did we pass on this guy in the draft?"

CLEVELAND FIT: The Browns could use a productive tackler to improve their run defense. Having found Chris Kirksey in the third round last year, maybe they get lucky again with Ryan in this draft. The Browns' fifth-round choice is No. 147 overall, which is probably too high for Ryan, given the team's other needs. But if he's still there in the sixth round, the Browns have two choices, Nos. 188 and 201, and would be wise to take a hard look at the home-town kid.

LAST WORD: NFL Network analyst Charles Davis: "Ryan isn't going to blow anyone away with his measurables, but he's always around the ball. He might be one of those high-energy guys that makes it very hard for a team to cut him."

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Cardale Jones' performance at the Scarlett & Gray game was a reminder of why he should be the Buckeyes' starting QB

Apr 18, 2015 -- 5:00pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The choice Urban Meyer says he will delay until the middle of August should have been made for him Saturday in the middle of the first quarter of the Scarlet & Gray game.

Here are the three things you need to know about all Meyer needs to know to solve his much-anticipated quarterback battle.

No. 1: Cardale Jones...

No. 2: off one foot...

No. 3: threw the ball 60 yards on the money.

Thank you for coming. See you this fall.

Sure, the pass fell incomplete, and Jones likely would have been sacked on the play if Meyer had allowed defensive end Joey Bosa to do more than slap at the jersey of OSU's reigning national championship quarterback.

But no matter how you classify what happened on that one snap before 99,391 in Ohio Stadium, there is no dismissing that Jones again showed something neither of the other two competitors for the QB job can do.

And that is why Meyer is just wasting time -- his and ours -- by delaying the decision to name Jones as the Buckeyes' starter for 2015.

The hesitation is understandable, because Meyer wants to be sensitive to the feelings of sophomore J.T. Barrett and senior Braxton Miller.

You could tell that much afterward when Meyer said, "This (selection process) will be terrible. It's all good, but the terrible thing is, I admire all three of those guys. It's not just a one-game wonder. Cardale did it for three games. J.T. did it for a whole season. Braxton has had two good years. It's going to be a tough deal."

Of course, it won't be easy to tell Barrett, after finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, that it's time to take a seat behind Jones.

And it will be harder to tell Miller, who's won two Big Ten MVP trophies and who's remained at Ohio State post-graduation when he could have transferred anywhere in the country and played immediately, that his services are no longer needed.

The loyalty Meyer is showing two quarterbacks who've played exemplary football is admirable and seldom seen at cut-throat, big-boy football programs.

But Meyer's job is not to be loyal to any player, it's to put the best team on the field every fall Saturday.

And for Ohio State, that is unquestionably with Jones at the controls.

You could see it Saturday on more than Jones' 60-yard, off-balance, flick-of-the-wrist throw.

You could see it on several of the long, downfield darts Jones completed to Corey Smith, with whom he collaborated on 58- and 37-yard touchdown touchdown passes.

And you could see it at halftime when Jones uncorked a 74-yard pass to win a long-distance throwing competition with Barrett and former Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith.

You could clearly see it, even on a day when Meyer said Jones, who completed 19 of 42 attempts for 304 yards, two inteceptions and two TDs, "was not as sharp as he has been all spring."

Scary, simply scary, just like the artistry in Jones' 60-yard downfield bomb that echoed all the way back to OSU's wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon en route to the first College Football Playoff title.

The cliche for what Jones did with that off-one-foot, step-up-in-the-pocket, drop-it-down-the-elevator-shaft strike and for what he did in vanquishing three playoff opponents, is that he, "took the top off the defense."

That's a little bit like saying a volcanic hiccup took the top off Mt. St. Helens.

Jones doesn't just threaten a defense deep, he terrorizes it.

Barrett and Miller can't do what Jones can in that regard, and the Barrett and Miller family trees need not take offense at that assessment.

No one in college can laser it long like Jones.

You think it's a coincidence that Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 220, 230 and 246 yards in consecutive post-season games?
It wasn't.

Elliott doesn't find that room to get rolling if Jones doesn't threaten safeties with completions into the adjoining zip code.

Do you like Ohio State's chances of coming back from a 21-9 second-quarter deficit against Alabama with Barrett or Miller at the controls?

Sure, Elliott clinched that win with an 85-yard touchdown run, but he was going no where until Jones zipped the Buckeyes down the field and into the end zone for 28 unanswered points after falling into that early hole.

Meyer's internal conflict is this:

Barrett and Miller both have the talent to start and lead OSU to an unbeaten regular season. Barrett earned that off his performance last season. Miller earned it off his performance in 2012 and 2013, and for sentimental reasons given his return.

But here's the nagging voice in Meyer's head that he shouldn't ignore:

Jones throws it better than anyone, and the alternatives are not close. How good might Jones be if he received starter's reptitions in practice all the time?

As an added bonus, Jones can bull rush for the tough yard OSU might need to sustain a game-winning drive with a force neither Barrett nor Miller can muster.

"We're going to take it day-by-day," Meyer said of the quarterback decision. "This will be one of the unique stories in college football. How do you handle three quarterbacks? It's going to be day-by-day."

It shouldn't be.

Saturday was enough.

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Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Cardale Jones one of few Buckeye stars to see action in Spring Game

Apr 18, 2015 -- 7:00am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

COLUMBUS -- Whoever first said, "You can't tell the players without a scorecard," must have been covering a spring football game.

Maybe even the Scarlet & Gray game at Ohio Stadium.

You might not think you'll need a roster Saturday when the defending national champion Buckeyes conclude spring drills with their annual scrimmage, but the faces will be more unfamiliar than familiar despite Urban Meyer returning a host of starters in 2015.

One face you'll recognize is that of Cardale Jones, the Cleveland Glenville product who stood the college football world on its collective ear four months ago with nerveless performances against Alabama and Oregon in the College Football Playoff.

In a perfect spring football world, a talent like Jones wouldn't take the field to risk injury, but the world of Ohio State quarterbacks is so surreal even the nonsensical makes sense.

Jones will play because you can't have a Scarlet & Gray game with just one quarterback, and that's what OSU would have if Jones sat and left things to redshirt freshman Stephen Collier.

The Buckeyes' other quarterback headliners, J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, can't play because of injury rehabilitation, so their anticipated position battle with Jones won't ensue until August.

Meyer hopes to conclude it, or at least pick a pecking order, in time for his first choice to zero in on preparation for the season-opener Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech.

"I think in the middle of training camp," Meyer said of his timetable. "Every one of them deserves that opportunity and right now two of them aren’t getting it. I think by the middle of training camp, you have to at least have a handle on this thing.”

Jones could be the object of NFL teams affections right now had he opted to enter the draft on the heels of leading OSU to the national title.

Instead, he returned to school and Meyer has observed continued growth from the 6-5, 250-pound junior.

"I really saw it when we were preparing for the Alabama game," Meyer said. "But he has continued it with his maturity level and the way he handles his business. That’s where I saw the leaps and bounds. We had a month to get ready for Alabama. That’s where I saw the complete transformation from a young boy to a grown man.

“He has continued on his journey. It’s been really good.”

Jones won't have many familiar targets to throw to on what it expected to be a sun-splashed day in the Horseshoe with temperatures in the mid-70s.

Michael Thomas, OSU's leading receiver, is out after sports hernia surgery.

Devin Smith and Evan Spencer are gone, off to seek careers in the NFL.

Dontre Wilson won't play as he recovers from a knee injury suffered last season at Michigan State.

Tailback Ezekiel Elliott won't play because of two wrist surgeries.

So get ready for heavy doses of Parris Campbell, Noah Brown and Terry McLaurin.

Who?

Exactly.

Also, keep your eye on Curtis Samuel, Elliott's backup last season who Meyer believes is too talented not to play 30-40 plays per-game. That's meant a shift into the slot, where Samuel may take some of Jalin Marshall's snaps if Marshall moves to wide receiver to soothe OSU's losses there.

Don't expect much rock-'em, sock 'em action today with the starters, as Meyer will limit them to two series and won't permit tackling all the way to the ground.

It's the no-running-with-scissors approach meant to approximate game action, but not get anyone of significance hurt before the Buckeyes can begin defense of their title.

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Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Hometown Spotlight: Kurtis Drummond

Apr 13, 2015 -- 7:26am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

NAME: Kurtis Drummond

SIZE: 6-1, 208 pounds

COLLEGE: Michigan State

POSITION: Safety

PROFILE: Drummond, a Hubbard High School graduate, won the award presented to the Big Ten's best defensive back after a senior season at MSU in which he started for a third straight season and was a first-team All-Big Ten pick by both the coaches and media for a second straight season. Various media entities accorded Drummond All-America mention. He led MSU in tackles (72), interceptions (4), pass break-ups (11) and passes defended (15) .  The latter number also tied for first in the Big Ten.

STRENGTHS: Has the size and athleticism NFL teams want in a safety, with the college production to back up his measurables. Drummond moves well and there are no questions about his ability to change direction with speed after he ran a 4.41 in the 20-yard short shuttle at the NFL Scouting Combine. Michigan State's defensive system required him to cover slot receivers, which Drummond did well enough to impress scouts with his ball skills and his ability to recover and close when beaten. He had 8 interceptions in his junior and senior seasons combined.

QUESTIONS: Drummond had some aspects in his game that scouts hoped he would clean up as a senior. Instead, he missed enough tackles in space to create indecision about his ability to tackleand take the proper pursuit angle. The career-worst 9.1 yards per target that Drummond allowed in 2014 is also a concern.

ANALYSIS: Drummond has some of the things that must be part of the package for a starting free safety in the NFL. He can make plays on the ball in the air and close on receivers, but his instincts and inconsistent tackling cause teams to wonder about entrusting their last line of defense to him. Drummond is more of a catch-and-drag tackler, so there's no certainty he can play physically enough near the line to be an asset on running plays.

CONCLUSIONS: The case can be made that Drummond's production increased slightly from his junior to his senior season. He intercepted four passes both seasons. His passes defensed jumped to 11 from six in 2013 and his negative-yardage tackles rose from 3 1/2 to five. He led MSU with 72 tackles, 19 less than the season before. Even so, projections for Drummond are all over the board. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. said he's a fifth- or sixth-rounder. ESPN's Scouts Inc. has him the No. 82 overall prospect and the No. 6 safety.

CLEVELAND FIT: The Browns have so many needs that Drummond seems unlikely to wind up in Cleveland. If he were there in the fifth or sixth round, that's where a backup center or reinforcements at linebacker make much more sense than another safety.

LAST WORD: NFL Network analyst Charles Davis: "He was one of my favorite players in 2013. I know he fell off in 2014. He wasn't the same guy. I think he tried too hard. I think if you're trying to justify being a big-time guy and making every play...I think (that) got him into some trouble. I think he could ultimately be a really good addition to someone because I think he can play (man-to-man defense). I know he can cover over the top and erase some mistakes that happen underneath. I think he's a good tackler when he brings his eyes to everything. I think the Oregon (loss) jolted him and took a while to get his feet back under him."

 

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Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Hooley: Buckeye fans can't cheer for Wisconsin

Apr 06, 2015 -- 6:54pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Why would I want a title I covet for my team to go to another team that beats my team like a rented mule?

So, despite all of you who've tried to convince me on Twitter, I just can't root for Wisconsin in the NCAA Championship game against Duke.

I hear a lot of Big Ten fans say it would be good for the league for Wisconsin to end the conference's 15-year title drought.

Of course, it would.

But it wouldn't be good for Ohio State's basketball program, and that's all I care about.

I know I'm supposed to subscribe to the All for One and One for All philosophy of conference collegiality.

But sometimes, just because we hear something often, we assume it's true. Our minds get numb and we don't take the time to examine whether conventional wisdom is really all that wise, or whether it might be flat out wrong.

Well, I'm here to tell you that the notion I should cheer for Wisconsin to win the NCAA Basketball Championship just because the Badgers are from the Big Ten is as flawed as a seven-dollar bill.

I'm an Ohio State fan. I don't like Wisconsin. Certainly, not when the Badgers play the Buckeyes, and I fail to see why I should support Bo Ryan's crew any other time, either.

Just to see if I'm nuts, I put this question out on Twitter to see if people could convince me I'm wrong:

 

They couldn't, although a few of them tried:

Now, boys, tell me how a national championship for Wisconsin helps Ohio State. That would just give Wisconsin more credibility and cache, which would mean greater access to more talented recruits than Wisconsin is getting now.

Bo Ryan is already kicking our tail with middling talent that he develops into outstanding players. Imagine what he'll do if he gets a roster full of five-stars.

Here's another one:

Ahhh, the old rising tide theory. If that were true, then all the boats in the Atlantic Coast Conference would be floating over our heads by now.

Since the tournament expanded to 64 teams 30 years ago, ACC teams have won more NCAA championships than any other league. ACC teams have won the tournament eight times. But Duke and North Carolina have won seven of those, and Maryland, which isn't in the ACC any more, won the other.

If a rising tide lifted all boats, where are the titles for Wake Forest, or South Carolina, or Clemson, or Virginia or anybody else in the ACC who's routinely getting humbled by Duke and North Carolina?

I'll bet North Carolina State doesn't think it's so great having three Tar Heel titles force fed to them since 1993.

How come in the old Big East, which won six championships, Connecticut won four of them. The Huskies' rising tide didn't do much for Boston College, or Providence, or St. John's except drown them all.

Look, I admire what Ryan has accomplished at Wisconsin. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I liked Wisconsin a lot better when Steve Yoder coached the Badgers, because then I knew when Ohio State went to Madison, it was most likely coming home with a victory.

And it's not just Wisconsin that I have a problem with. I don't root for Michigan State, Michigan, Ilinois or any other Big Ten team in basketball. And don't even get me started on Indiana.

But here's where I agree with the Tweeters who told me I should root for Wisconsin.

I actually do root for every Big Ten team in football, and here's why the two situations are completely different.

In basketball, you don't need a strong conference reputation to earn your way into the NCAA Tournament when you're in a league like the Big Ten. If you win most of your non-conference games, and just half your league games, you're going to get into the field and have the chance to chase a championship.

But it's completely different in football, as this past season proved. Ohio State barely got into the College Football Playoff because of the perceived weakness of the Big Ten. The Buckeyes' ranking in the polls suffered from the weak teams in the league around them.

That's why it's beneficial for every Big Ten team to have other conference schools do well in football, because that's when the rising tide raises all boats argument actually holds water.

But in basketball, that view is bogus. So, you're on your own Wisconsin.

All I have to stay to you is, Go Duke!

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Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Hometown Spotlight: Frank Clark

Apr 06, 2015 -- 7:10am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

NAME: Frank Clark

SIZE: 6-3, 271 pounds

COLLEGE: Michigan

POSITION: Defensive end.

PROFILE: Clark, a Cleveland Glenville graduate, is a mid- to early-mid-round talent with off-field issues he will have to work hard to convince a team to ignore. He was arrested and charged with misdemeanor count of domestic violence after being arrested in mid-November after an altercation with his girlfriend at a hotel in Sandusky. Those charges are still pending. Police reports said Clark assaulted his girlfriend, who was staying with him. Then-Michigan coach Brady Hoke dismissed Clark from the team shortly after that, before he could play another game. He played in 10 games before his dismissal, starting nine, and had 4.5 quarterback sacks.

STRENGTHS: Clark has good speed and power and turned heads at the NFL Scouting Combine with a time of 4.05 on the 20-yard shuttle run. That was the best time in that drill for defensive linemen, which could cause some team to ignore his domestic violence arrest, even at a time when that issue has hammered the league's public image.

QUESTIONS: Is a mid-round pick worth the public relations hit a team would suffer for taking a player with Clark's past? In other years, sad as it is to say, a domestic violence arrest wouldn't be the deterrent it rightfully is now in the wake of the negative groundswell in the aftermath of the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy arrests. On the field, the question about Clark is whether the hand strength he's shown in effective bull rushes at the college level would translate to the NFL, where offensive tackles are much more skilled.

ANALYSIS: Clark appears to play with energy and displays enough skill that his sack totals should be higher than 9.5 his final 23 games at Michigan. To spend a fifth-, sixth- or seventh-round choice on him, a team will have to reconcile why he was not more productive in college, relative to what shows up on tape. And that team would have to be convinced Clark's off-field issues are under control.

CONCLUSIONS: Clark plays a position where talent trumps baggage, so if a team is convinced he can get to the quarterback, it will take a chance. The question is whether his addition is easier to hide late in the draft, when there are other picks to distract from his arrival, or as an undrafted free agent. Signing Clark as a UFA might attract even more unwanted scrutiny than drafting him, because at least as a draftee a team can argue that Clark's talent makes him worth the risk.

CLEVELAND FIT: Mike Pettine's, "Play Like a Brown," mantra is supposed to include off-field, as well as on-field behavior. That would appear to exclude Clark, but perhaps the Browns might think that if there's anywhere Clark could get a fair shake, it's in his home town.

LAST WORD: From ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.: "I think Clark will be affected (by the domestic violence arrest). I wouldn't say dramatically. From team from team, I don't know how they'll view off-the-field issues with various players. But in this particular case, it's significant, it's serious. And in terms of the drop, you obviously could have (one), considering where the NFL is right now with this whole issue...especially having as many players that are able to get after the quarterback and play in a similar type of way, affects him. (There is) great depth, in terms of pass rushers and defensive ends. So that will push him down. Every team will look at that differently and have a different viewpoint. And the league, obviously, is very strong on (domestic violence). So this is not the time ... to have any issue like that off the field."

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Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Best of the Best: Top-10 NCAA Championship Teams

Apr 04, 2015 -- 7:30am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

PhotoComposite/ESPN

The championship Kentucky, Duke, Michigan State and Wisconsin chase Saturday at the Final Four will eventually qualify one school to complete the picture of the NCAA Tournament's 30-year run with an expanded field of at least 64 teams.

Looking back over those years since the bracket's expansion in 1985, college basketball has changed dramatically from the days of Big East dominance to the preponderance of one-and-dones across the country today.

Here's a list of the Top Ten NCAA champions during this era, with the caveat that no team can argue for inclusion if it wasn't good enough throughout its respective regular season to capture a No. 1 seed in the year it won the crown.

No. 10 — 2005 North Carolina Tar Heels (33-4)

Two years after leaving Kansas to coach at his alma mater, Roy Williams won his first national championship after losing twice in the title game with the Jayhawks. He rode Sean May, Rashad McCants and Raymond Felton to the championship with a 75-70 win over Illinois, which had lost only once.

No. 9  — 1995 UCLA Bruins (32-1)

The Bruins got a scare in the second round against Missouri, but Tyus Edney's court-length drive and layup at the buzzer delivered a 75-74 win. Once at the Final Four, UCLA rode the O'Bannon brothers, Ed and Charles, to wins over "Big Country" Bryant Reeves and Oklahoma State in the semifinals and Arkansas, 89-78, for the championship.

No. 8 — 2012 Kentucky Wildcats (38-2)

The dawn of the disposable championship team arrived with John Calipari's one-and-done wonders from Bluegrass Country. With Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist headlining the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for a third straight season, Calipari won his first title on his third visit to the Final Four with a third different team. Unlike his previous visits with Massachusetts and Memphis, this one has so far survived the long arm of NCAA justice.

No. 7 — 1999 Connecticut Huskies (34-2)

Jim Calhoun won his first of three titles thanks to a dynamic backcourt of Khalid-el Amin and Ricky Freeman, to go with sharp-shooting wing Richard Hamilton. The Huskies upset Duke, which had lost only once in 38 games and boasted four players who would go in the first round of that spring's NBA draft, in a 77-74 final at Tropicana Field.

No. 6 — 1993 North Carolina Tar Heels (34-4)

The Tar Heels won Dean Smith his second national championship in a title game against Michigan's Fab Five that's become known for the timeout Chris Webber called that he did not have. The resultant technical foul iced the win for UNC, which lost to Michigan on a last-second shot in the semifinals of the Rainbow Classic in December. Donald Williams won Final Four MVP honors for the Tar Heels, who featured Eric Montross and George Lynch inside.

No. 5 — 1990 UNLV Runnin' Rebels (35-5)

This team gets prominent mention as the best of the expanded-tournament era, because it typified Las Vegas cool and because it throttled Duke by 30 points, 103-73, in the championship game. But for a team as loaded as this Jerry Tarkanian-led bunch -- with Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Greg Anthony -- no team can be the best since 1985 that lost to the likes of New Mexico State and UC-Santa Barbara in the Big West or that lost to Kansas by 20 points in the regular season.

No. 4 — 2001 Duke Blue Devlis (35-4)

The Blue Devils had a loaded roster of Carlos Boozer, Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Jay Williams, and they needed it to weather four epic games that season against Maryland. Duke trailed by 10 with 54 seconds left in regulation at College Park in their first meeting, only to rally and win in overtime. Maryland returned the favor with a win at Duke on Battlier's Senior Night. The Terps rallied from 14 down to get even in the ACC title game, but Duke triumphed on a tip-in with 1.4 seconds left. Inevitably, they met again in the Final Four, where Maryland led by 22 with seven minutes left in the first half and 11 at halftime, only to get snowed under in the second half in an 11-point Duke win. Two nights later, the Blue Devils used three straight three-point field goals from Dunleavy in the second half to vanquish Arizona, which featured Luke Walton, Gilbert Arenas and Richard Jefferson in an 82-72 final.

No. 3 — 2007 Florida Gators (35-5)

The Gators became the first team to repeat as national champions since Duke in 1992, and the first ever to repeat with the exact same starting lineup as the year before. Joakim Noah, Al Horford and Corey Brewer turned their back on the NBA to return to Gainsville for their junior seasons. They humbled Ohio State, 86-60, in a December matchup at Florida, where Greg Oden scored only seven points in one of his first games back from a broken right hand. The Gators encountered a much different Oden once the teams faced off again at the Final Four. The OSU center had 25 points and 12 rebounds, but twice his blocked shots were turned into three-pointers on the perimeter. It wasn't Horford, Noah or Brewer who hurt the Buckeyes, but the Gators' backcourt of Taurean Green and Lee Humphrey, who went a combined 7-for-10 from beyond the arc in an 84-75 final.

No. 2 — 1992 Duke Blue Devils (34-2)

The pressure of playing as the defending national champions couldn't buckle these Blue Devils, who survived an epic regional final against Kentucky, winning 104-103 in overtime on Christian Laettner's foul-line jumper after a court-length pass from Grant Hill. Duke used a technical foul called on Indiana coach Bob Knight to gain separation in an 81-78 Final Four semifinal win, setting up a rematch against Michigan's freshmen Fab Five for the championship. Duke won in Ann Arbor, 88-85 in overtime, when the teams first met in mid-December. But in the title game, Laettner shook off a horrible first half to lead a second-half rout that ended with Duke a 71-51 winner.

Photo/AP via ESPN

No. 1 — 1996 Kentucky Wildcats (34-2)

It took Rick Pitino seven seasons to build the Wildcats back up to championship caliber, even though they got close in 1992 and again in 1993, when they lost in the Final Four. This time, Pitino left nothing to chance with a ridiculously-talented roster dubbed, "The Untouchables." Kentucky pressured all over the floor with a rotation featuring 11 eventual NBA players, the vestiges of which would lose in the 1997 championship game and win the title again in 1998 in the first year after Tubby Smith succeeded Pitino. Fourth-seeded Syracuse didn't pose the toughest championship test for the Wildcats, but they advanced to the title game via a Final Four semifinal win over Massachusetts, which handed UK a 10-point loss early in the season. Kentucky's only other loss came in the SEC title game. The 11 players who eventually reached the NBA were Derek Anderson, Tony Delk, Jamaal Magloire, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer, Nazr Mohammed, Scott Padgett, Mark Pope, Jeff Sheppard, Wayne Turner, and Antoine Walker.

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Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

OSU's Meyer shows strategic diplomacy in the face of an embarrassment of riches at QB

Mar 31, 2015 -- 4:04pm

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

Urban Meyer never coached Jesse Palmer during a six-year run as the University of Florida's head football coach, but it's Palmer -- a former Gators' QB -- who Meyer can closely identify with now as Ohio State's spring practice approaches its midpoint.

With an abundance of riches at quarterback like college football has never seen, Meyer is giving off the same vibe as Palmer and other eligible hunks when surrounded by willing and winsome marriage material on The Bachelor.

While Meyer has never courted his QB candidates on some private yacht or island, he's definitely made some memories with all three that appear to be complicating his final rose selection as the Buckeyes' starter.

After all, Cardale Jones won Meyer the third of his national championships, Braxton Miller guided OSU to victories in Meyer's first 24 games and Barrett rewrote the Big Ten record book in his only season as starter before an injury sidelined him from the Buckeyes' College Football Playoff run.

Meyer is so conflicted he can't even bring himself to trot out the meaningless, but complimentary, "If we had a game today...," bromide as a temporary commitment to Jones -- the only quarterback healthy enough to take snaps in team drills this spring.

Tuesday, Meyer went so far as to allow for the possibility that he might resort to a "speciality quarterback" just to get two guys on the field this fall and, presumably, keep as many contestants for his QB affections happy.

"That's kind of what we did in 2006 (at Florida)," Meyer said. "That was kind of two different skill sets, a very unique situation, a very ego-less approach to the game. One quarterback drives them down, the other guy comes in and is the goal-line quarterback, but it worked."

It worked because Chris Leak, the starter, was not a running threat and because Tim Tebow, the specialist, was not much of a throwing threat beyond the gimmicky Jump Pass on the goal line.

That Florida team, which hammer-locked Ohio State in the BCS title game, 41-14, didn't have a running back gain even 700 rushing yards.

OSU, of course, has Ezekiel Elliott returning at running back after an 1,800-yard season in which he scored 18 touchdowns and rushed for exactly three fewer yards (696) in the Buckeyes' three post-season games as the 699 yards Florida's leading rusher, DeShawn Wynn, gained in the Gators' 2006 championship season when he -- not Tebow -- led the team in rushing.

So Meyer certainly doesn't need Barrett or Miller -- both of whom are rehabilitating from injuries this spring -- to come in on the goal line and rescue Jones.

Nor does Meyer need Jones or Barrett to come in on the goal line and rescue Miller, any more than Meyer needs Jones or Miller to come in and rescue Barrett.

All three OSU quarterbacks have proven themselves adept at rushing for touchdowns and throwing for touchdowns, whatever suits Meyer's fancy as the juggernaut he's built chugs toward defending its national championship.

So why is Meyer floating this fanciful, "speciality quarterback," scenario, particularly when even if he plays two quarterbacks, he's going to leave one out in the cold?

The answer is simply because the very discussion creates wiggle room for Meyer to preserve the plausibility that all three quarterbacks will have an integral role this fall.

If Meyer were to label Barrett and Jones backups to Miller, should the two-time MVP prove himself healthy, Jones might leave for a Division I-AA starter's role -- say, at Youngstown State where former OSU coach Jim Tressel is school president and juuuuuust might have Jones' coach at Glenville, Ted Ginn Sr., on speed dial.

The NFL can't wait to get its hands on Jones, whether he's throwing lasers at Ohio State or at a level down. The league just wants to see more from the 6-5, 250-pounder who turned the nation on its ear in January, first with his performance on the field, and then with his decision to return to OSU.

Meyer also has to guard against Barrett taking any news that he's not the starter as a cue to search for a new campus, perhaps even the University of Houston, where his former quarterback coach, Tom Herman, is now the head man.

Barrett might even be able to sell the NCAA on 2015 being a medical redshirt year for him, hence preserving three seasons of eligibility, starting in 2016.

Miller already has his diploma from OSU, so he can capitalize on the NCAA's post-grauate transfer rule and leave Columbus any time for immediate eligibility elsewhere.

How strange would it be for Ohio State to return to the national championship game, only to encounter Miller across the line of scrimmate, playing quarterback for Oregon, Florida State, Alabama or some other opponent that's a proven QB shy of fashioning its own run to the title?

So, expect Meyer to waffle on this awhile longer, at least into the fall, when perhaps a injury or rehab mishap will remove one quarterback from his list of candidates to start.

Jones' chief drawback his first three seaons at OSU was never talent, but attention to detail. By declining to throw him even the bread crumb of being the Buckeyes' No. 1 QB for the moment, Meyer has Jones' full attention and keeps him intensely interested.

Right along with the rest of us.

####

Bruce Hooley hosts "The Bruce Hooley Show" from 5-7 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

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