As my colleague Neil Paine explained earlier this week, the Cincinnati Bengals now project to finish with the best record in the NFL — at least according to FiveThirtyEight’s NFL Elo ratings. The Bengals probably are not the best team in the league; Seattle ranks ahead of them in the Elo ratings, as do Denver and New England. But Cincinnati is 3-0 so far, and those other teams are 2-1. That extra win coupled with a relatively favorable schedule puts the Bengals slightly ahead of the others in projected wins.And yet, the Elo simulations have the Bengals finishing with an average record of 11-5 (11.2 wins and 4.8 losses if you want more precision). Doesn’t the best team in the NFL usually do better than that?It usually does — in fact, it always does. The NFL has completed 34 16-game seasons since it expanded its schedule in 1978 (excluding the 1982 and 1987 seasons, which were shortened by labor disputes). All of those seasons featured at least one team that won at least 12 games. And about 60 percent had at least one team that won 14 or more games.But here’s the thing: the Elo simulations do expect there to be at least one 14-2 team this year. We’re just not sure which team.The chart below depicts the distribution of possible win totals, after thousands of simulations, for the Bengals along with the five other teams with the highest projected win totals. (Those are the Seahawks, Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos). As the chart should make clear, the Bengals’ 11.2-win projection is just an average outcome. Usually, they came pretty close to that average; they won between nine and 13 games in about 70 percent of simulations. But they also won 14 or more games 16 percent of the time. In about 6 percent of simulations, meanwhile, the Bengals wound up with a losing record.And the Bengals are not alone in having a chance to win 14 games. The Seahawks have a 10 percent chance. The Patriots have an 8 percent chance. The Cardinals, Chargers and Broncos are somewhere in the same ballpark, as are other teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and Carolina Panthers.Overall, at least one team won 14 or more games in 62 percent of our simulations, which is right in line with the historical average.Is this just a matter of one team getting hot? That’s a big part of it — it’s not so hard for a team to get lucky over a 16-game schedule. But it’s not the whole story. It’s early in the season, and it could also be that we’re underestimating how strong some of the teams are. Our simulations account for this possibility.Take the Detroit Lions, for example. They’re certainly not among the more likely teams to win 14 games; they rate as almost exactly league average, according to Elo, and already have one loss. They’d need to win at least 12 of their remaining 13 games.If you assume the Lions have a 50 percent chance of winning each remaining game, they’d need to do the equivalent of coming up with heads 12 or 13 times in 13 coin tosses. The probability of that is only 0.17 percent, or about one chance in 600, according to a binomial distribution.But that isn’t the right assumption. It assumes that our projection of how the Lions will perform in one game should be independent from how they perform in the next. But this isn’t the case. Let’s put it this way: If the Lions are 7-1 by the time they reach their bye week in Week 9, would you still give them just a 50 percent chance of winning their remaining games? You wouldn’t — and neither does our Elo simulator.Instead, the simulations are dynamic. We play out the rest of the season one week at a time, and a team’s Elo rating is affected by how it did in the previous week. If the Lions happen to win their game Sunday against the New York Jets in one simulation, for example, it will boost their Elo rating when the simulation gets to Week 5, making them more likely to win that game as well. And if they win that game too, they’ll be still more likely to win their Week 6 game.This might seem like a trivial detail, but it isn’t. It reflects the fact that there’s considerable uncertainty about how strong each team is. And it has a meaningful effect on the odds. Because they’re dynamic, our simulations give the Lions about 1-in-75 chance of winning at least 14 games. Those are still very long odds, but you’d make a huge amount of money over the long run if you got paid out 600 times your wager on bets that actually had a 1-in-75 chance of coming through.Accounting for this properly helps our simulations closely match the historical distribution of NFL win totals. In the chart below, I’ve compared how many teams won a given number of games in an average Elo simulation against the historical figures for 16-game NFL seasons. (The historical average in the chart is adjusted for the fact that there were formerly fewer than 32 NFL teams.) For instance, an average of 1.3 teams per season finished with 13 wins in our simulations, which almost perfectly matches the historical figure.If we didn’t account for this properly, there would be too many teams bunched in the middle with records like 10-6 and 7-9 and too few with records like 14-2 and 1-15. That still doesn’t mean you should bet on any particular team to go 14-2. But the odds are that at least one of them will get there.
Just 12 days after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace is expected to return to the starting lineup Tuesday night when the Lakers take on the New Orleans Hornets.World Peace, who was supposed to be sidelined for at least six weeks, participated in a three-on-three scrimmage at practice Monday and appeared to be healthy.“We’ve got a chance to make a push for this championship,” World Peace told reporters after practice. “We all need it. All the guys under contract, injured or not injured, we need each other to make a run at this thing.”With just five games left to secure the final playoff spot, the Lakers (40-37) trail the Utah Jazz (41-37) for the eighth postseason spot in the Western Conference. Every game is important for the Lakers to win as the Jazz hold the tie breaker.“He’s good,” Lakers coach Mike D’ Antoni said. “It’s probably a game time decision, but he looks good. He’s raring to go. The medical staff will make a decision tomorrow. It’s unbelievable. He’s different. … I’ve never seen this before.”World Peace began his rehabilitation last week, running and shooting with the team Saturday and before Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. He said he was ready to play last Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks, but he was not cleared by team doctors.World Peace injured his knee in the first half of the Lakers’ 109-103 loss to the Golden State Warriors on March 25. This is the first ever knee injury for the Lakers defensive stopper, who tweeted that his recovery time would take a week and half.“Right after the surgery, they were amazed how the swelling didn’t even exist off of meniscus surgery,” World Peace said. “You can play, but the swelling is what keeps you from playing, so when I didn’t have any swelling that’s why I was pushing to play. I wanted to play three games ago. It was good teamwork with doctors and training staff.”With the return of World Peace to the Lakers lineup, the team will still be without point guard Steve Nash. Nash will miss his fourth consecutive game because of a hip injury, but is expected to return to the lineup on Friday when the Lakers play the Warriors.
The Los Angeles Clippers hit the jackpot by acquiring Chris Paul, and, in turn, Paul has hit the literal jackpot with the Clippers.With NBA free-agent season underway, Paul is expected to sign a five-year extension that will pay him $107 million to stay in LA.Many teams, including the Atlanta Hawks, were hoping to make a play to lure Paul away from the Clippers. But Paul isn’t even listening to suitors. He’s signing on the line that is dotted.The free agency period began one minute after midnight Sunday, and Paul was expected to receive his official offer at that moment, according to ESPN.Locking up Paul was never a question for the Clippers, who, in the past, have been notoriously cheap. But Paul’s dynamic play and leadership at the point guard position transformed Los Angeles’ second team into a serious playoff contender–and a team that was as exciting as any.With Paul secure, the team can now look ahead to acquiring more talent around him and power forward Blake Griffin.
New York Liberty protests in support of Black Lives Matter (Fox Sports)In a defiant move Thursday, members of three WNBA teams refused to take questions about basketball at a post-game press conference in protest of a fine given for wearing black warmup t-shirts. Atlanta Black Star reported the WNBA fined the New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and Indiana Fever $5,000, and their team members were charged $500 each.The basketball stars wore their uniform-approved Adidas Black t-shirts that read #BlackLivesMatter and #Dallas5 – but the messages did not comply with the league’s guidelines which state uniforms must not be changed in any way. The hashtags are meant to honor the shootings done by and against police. League president Lisa Borders commended their “engagement and passionate advocacy for non-violent solutions to difficult social issues” but expected teams to comply with uniform guidelines.At the press conference Thursday afternoon following the New York Liberty and Indiana Fever’s matchup at New York’s Madison Square Garden, The Washington Post reported the players would not answer questions regarding the game or basketball but were willing to discuss social issues.LIVE on #Periscope https://t.co/Cc4rbHOROL— Excelle Sports (@ExcelleSports) July 21, 2016“We really feel like there’s still an issue here in America,” Liberty player Tanisha Wright said. “And we want to be able to use our platforms, we want to be able to use our voices, we don’t want to let anybody silence us in what we want to talk about. So you guys can ask away about anything that’s happening in society.”“It’s unfortunate that the WNBA has fined us and not supported its players,” she added.Fever forward Tamika Catchings also confirmed her team would not answer questions about their 82-70 game win or the sport itself. She mentioned the blackout was a group decision.“I think, no matter what our success is on the court, basketball is just that — it’s just basketball,” the 2012 WNBA champion said. “And there’s a whole other world outside of that, and it’s way more important than what we do.”“What’s most upsetting is the way it was handled,” Indiana Fever point guard Briann January told ESPN. “You have a league that is 90 – if not above 90 – percent African-American and you have an issue that is directly affecting them and the people they know and you have a league that isn’t willing to side with them.”Phoenix Mercury forward Mistie Bass pointed out the WNBA’s praise of team actions in support of the Orlando Shooting last month, which included wearing t-shirts.I would hope the league would feel the same way about our desire 2 use this platform 4 the recent tragedies! #taboo pic.twitter.com/agtKlYovOu— Mistie Bass (@A_Phoenix_Born) July 21, 2016Carmelo Anthony of the New York Knicks, who has been encouraging athletes to be social activists, also supports the protest.“I don’t see no reason to fine them,” he told ESPN. “If anything you should want to support them. I don’t know details, but don’t see a reason to fine them.”
1999Sammy SosaCHC461763✓ So there’s a chance. But if you look at who did the homering over the rest of the season, Stanton’s odds might need to be adjusted downward more than a little. Of the eight hitter-seasons in our sample with 20 or more home runs between Game 116 and season’s end, all came in the steroid era, and only one — the great Ken Griffey Jr. — belonged to a player never associated with performance-enhancing drug use. The most by a recent player was the 18 late-season homers that Jose Bautista hit in 2010. 2001Sammy SosaCHC412364✓ 2001Barry BondsSF492473✓ Want a late-season home run barrage? Juice up.MLB players who hit the most home runs before the end of the season after hitting 35 or more home runs through 116 games YEARPLAYERTEAMTHROUGH 116 GAMESREST OF SEASONTOTALPEDS? 1997Mark McGwireOAK/STL352358✓ Miami Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton is on some kind of hot streak. With yet another home run on Sunday (he’s homered in four straight games and nine times this month), Stanton now has 42 on the 2017 season — and 21 in his last 33 games. Just when it looked like Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees was going to usurp Stanton’s crown as the game’s top power hitter, Stanton has reclaimed it with a vengeance.Stanton’s season is already historic; only 11 times in the 162-game-schedule era1Since 1961. has a batter hit 42 or more home runs in his team’s first 116 ballgames. But Stanton can set his sights on another historic mark: the pre-steroids single-season home run record of 61, set by Roger Maris in 1961.Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds later surpassed Maris’s mark.2Bonds holds the current record with 73 home runs, set in 2001. But McGwire and Sosa either admitted to or tested positive for using performance-enhancing drugs, and Bonds was mentioned prominently in the Mitchell Report (which investigated the use of steroids in baseball), thus tainting their accomplishments in the eyes of many fans. So for Stanton, breaking Maris’s “record” would bring cachet even if it isn’t technically the record anymore.And by the numbers alone, Stanton — who needs 20 more home runs by the end of the season to best Maris — has an outside shot at the feat. For every batter who hit at least 35 homers in the first 116 games of a 162-game season,3This sample included 72 players. I recorded how many homers each managed over the rest of the season. About 11 percent managed to hit at least 20 more home runs. 1998Sammy SosaCHC432366✓ 1998Ken Griffey Jr.SEA411556 1990Cecil FielderDET351651 2002Alex RodriguezTEX372057✓ 2007Alex RodriguezNYY391554✓ That means Stanton will need the kind of performance not seen since the steroid era to beat Maris’s old record — a tall order, even for one of history’s greatest power hitters. Of course, maybe juiced balls are the equivalent of steroids for today’s batters, which would certainly boost Stanton’s odds. Either way, to get there, he’ll have to stay nearly as hot as he’s been in this recent streak over the entire rest of the year.Check out our latest MLB predictions. 1998Mark McGwireSTL462470✓ 1961Roger MarisNYY441761 Based on 72 hitters. For 162-game seasons only. Implication of PED use based on the Mitchell Report, failed drug tests and player admissions.Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, Lahman database 1999Mark McGwireSTL442165✓ HOME RUNS 2007Prince FielderMIL351550 1997Ken Griffey Jr.SEA362056 2006Ryan HowardPHI411758 2010Jose BautistaTOR361854
Audio Playerhttps://fivethirtyeight.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/womenatsloan.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.When FiveThirtyEight offered me the opportunity to attend last week’s MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, I jumped at the chance to geek out on two of my favorite subjects — sports and data.But my heart sank a little when I saw that only one of 30 speakers listed on the preliminary agenda was a woman. (The final speaker count was 22 women and 131 men.) I’ve been to other sausage fests, and they can operate like insular clubs that leave women feeling like outsiders.This year’s conference seemed promising, though. While the honorary executive board was all men, the conference chair was event co-founder Jessica Gelman, a former professional basketball player and the current vice president of customer marketing and strategy at the Kraft Sports Group, owner of the New England Patriots. The other women on the agenda were all-stars, too — like Amy Brooks, executive vice president of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department; Heidi Pellerano, senior vice president at Wasserman Media Group; Stefanie Francis, co-founder of Navigate Research; and Elyse Guilfoyle, a senior industry analyst at Google.But there weren’t many women on stage or in the crowd. Only one of the 23 people attached to a finalist research paper was a woman, and one of her male colleagues presented the paper. Pellerano and Francis’s presentation on how Hispanic fans consume sports and Guilfoyle’s talk about ticket purchasing analytics were some of the only times that women were in the spotlight.Despite more than 3,000 people at the event, there was never a line at the women’s restroom. Gelman estimates that about 85 percent of attendees were men. That was true of the FiveThirtyEight delegation, too — I was the only woman from our team to attend, and the gender imbalance of our office is something we’ve noticed and that senior members of FiveThirtyEight are working on.When you feel like an outsider, it’s natural to seek out your own, and as I walked through the hallways, I found myself exchanging friendly head nods with the few other women I passed. It reminded me of that little wave that motorcyclists sometimes give each other out on the road, and I started asking these compatriots what they thought of the conference and what it was like to be so outnumbered by men.One of the first women I approached turned out to be Leigh Castergine, who is suing her former employer, Mets co-owner Jeff Wilpon, for gender discrimination (the lawsuit alleges that he fired her for being pregnant out of wedlock). She said she had lots to say but couldn’t talk until the lawsuit was resolved. The Mets deny the allegations.Attendee Valerie Laird, a research assistant at the University of Michigan’s business school, told me that she’d agonized over what to wear. “I want to be taken seriously, but I want to look nice,” she said. Was it better to wear a dress or pants? If she made herself look attractive, would she be taken less seriously, or would she worry that men were approaching her because they wanted her number? Laird’s friend Jessica Edwards told me that considerations about how to dress were part of the ongoing fight for respect. “Guys don’t take you seriously in sports,” she said. “It’s so frustrating because this is what I want to do with my life.”One student who requested anonymity told me that she struggled with what name to put on her conference badge and her résumé. She has always gone by a nickname that’s a diminutive of her already very feminine name. She was there to network, and she worried that hiring managers, who often make quick judgments about candidates, might too easily dismiss or stereotype her based on her nickname.Two other young women who didn’t identify themselves (I’ll call them Jane and Jill) laughed when I asked whether they would mind telling me what it was like to attend Sloan as a woman. “We’ve been talking about this a lot,” Jane said. Like me, they’d noticed that many of the women on stage were there as moderators, rather than speakers. “We would prefer to see more women who are actually talking about their experience as the expert, versus facilitating the conversation,” Jill said.This difference between being the moderator and the expert reminded me of a recent New York Times piece by Sheryl Sandberg that observed that women often do more than their fair share of the unheralded but important tasks around the office — things like organizing and preparing. Moderating is difficult to do well (you have to herd the speakers into serving the audience instead of themselves), but praise about a panel typically focuses on what the speakers said, rather than the moderator’s performance.Yet everyone I spoke to agreed that a session specifically on women’s sports wasn’t the answer. During an informal discussion about women in the industry, Gelman said the decision not to hold such a panel was deliberate.Segregating sports by gender just amplifies inequalities. “We want to integrate and show how women are actively part of the conversation and not just a side part,” Danielle Russell, one of the conference’s student leaders, told me.Jane and Jill, whom I caught coming out of the negotiating panel, had some suggestions on how to achieve that goal. “They could have talked about Brittney Griner’s salary or about deals they’ve done that are related to that,” Jill said, referring to the former Baylor star who now plays for the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury.It’s not surprising that the conference focused primarily on the NFL, MLB and NBA, considering the amount of money they generate relative to other sports. But these are also sports with large disparities between male and female opportunities, observed Alison Mehlsak and Melissa Jenkins, graduate students at the University of Virginia’s business school. Creating some panels focused on sports that are more accessible to women could help, they told me. “Sports like tennis and golf, and events like the Olympics, offer rich opportunities to include women in the conversation,” Mehlsak said. As my FiveThirtyEight colleague Allison McCann recently pointed out, women’s sports are the next frontier in sports analytics.The lack of women at Sloan isn’t entirely the organizers’ fault. Professional sports is a male-dominated industry — one that ignores women at its own peril. Women now make up nearly half of the Super Bowl audience, and the latest Nielsen stats show that they represent at least a third of the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL audience. The Sloan conference wields a heavy influence, and its organizers have an opportunity to make a difference by seeking out more women’s voices and inviting them into the fold.
It wasn’t easy, but the Pittsburgh Penguins kept their bid for a second-consecutive Stanley Cup alive on Thursday night, surviving the surprising Ottawa Senators with a double-overtime win in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. On paper, there was little reason to think the Sens would pose much of a threat to the defending champs, let alone take them into the 85th minute of Game 7. But that’s the way things have been for Pittsburgh all playoffs long.Chris Kunitz’s game-winning goal saved Pittsburgh from what would have been the biggest conference-finals upset since 1996, when the Florida Panthers knocked off a very different version of the Penguins. According to Hockey-Reference.com’s Simple Rating System (SRS), Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the league during the regular season (0.59 goals per game better than average), while Ottawa ranked a distant 18th (0.01 goals per game below average).1In 1996, the Pens ranked third and the Panthers ranked eighth, though the gap between the two teams — 0.6 goals — was just as big as the gap between Pittsburgh and Ottawa this season.It was the second series in a row that Pittsburgh has been taken the distance by its opponent, after Washington pushed them to seven games in the conference semifinal. To their credit, the Penguins weathered each onslaught; they even outgunned the Sens by 45 combined shots in the East final, including 49 over the series’ final four games. But Pittsburgh has also been living dangerously. Its even-strength possession metrics over the entire playoffs are not as good as they were during last year’s run to the Cup final, nor do they compare well with the postseason numbers of the Penguins’ upcoming opponent, the Nashville Predators.The Preds didn’t play particularly great hockey during the regular season — they ranked 13th in SRS (in part because brilliant defenseman P.K. Subban missed 16 games with an injury). But they’ve saved their best work for the playoffs, where they rank second in possession rate (Pittsburgh is 12th out of 16 teams) and first in SRS2Playoff SRS is calculated by adjusting each team’s playoff goal differential for the regular-season SRS ratings of the teams they’ve played, with a home-ice advantage adjustment to account for where each game was played. (Pittsburgh is second). Pittsburgh was better in the regular season, but Nashville’s been the hotter team of late.So which situation would you rather be in, heading into next week’s series? Intuition might say it’s better to be the comparatively less worn-down Preds, rolling with the more impressive postseason stats. But history suggests otherwise. Going back to 1988,3The earliest season of data in Hockey-Reference’s indispensable game finder tool. there have been 14 cases in which one Stanley Cup finalist had the better regular-season SRS, but its opponent had the superior SRS in the playoffs leading up to the final.414 other times, SRS from both the regular season and postseason agreed who the better team was; those clear favorites won their series 79 percent of the time. Of those, the better regular-season team won the Cup nine times (64 percent). And that’s not even considering that the Penguins’ regular-season edge was slightly wider than the typical favorite’s, or that they’ll have home-ice advantage in the final.If we’ve learned anything about the Penguins these playoffs, it’s that they rarely make things easy. (And if we’ve learned anything about the NHL since 1998, it’s that repeating as a champion is really hard.) But a grueling, complicated postseason run isn’t necessarily a handicap in the Stanley Cup Final, if you’ve had a championship track record all season long.
Ohio State’s Big Ten season started favorably with a convincing 30-0 thrashing of Illinois on Saturday. The Buckeyes’ first conference test went smoothly despite unfavorable weather conditions.“I thought our guys did a good job of focusing on the task at hand, the Big Ten beginning,” coach Jim Tressel said at his weekly press conference. “We had a couple mistakes with the football, but for the most part I thought we did a good job of handling a game type that we hadn’t been in in quite some time.”The last time the Illini visited The Horseshoe they played the role of spoiler, as they defeated the then-ranked No. 1 Buckeyes 28-21. However, there would be no upset this season as the Bucks held their opponent scoreless for the second consecutive week, posting back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1996.“Obviously our defense sets the tone,” Tressel said. “Even if the opposing team starts a couple first downs and so forth, they don’t panic. They just keep playing, come up to the play.”The score might have been decisive over Illinois, but Tressel doesn’t believe his team played mistake-free football in its first conference win. Only three players on offense and five on defense were graded as having “winning performances” by the coaching staff.“We enjoyed the decisiveness of the score, and the fact that it was a shutout was something you take tremendous pride in as a defensive football team, but we’ve obviously got a lot of work to do,” Tressel said.Although the Buckeyes (3-1, 1-0) were considered visitors when they traveled to Cleveland to play Toledo, they now prepare for their first real road test against Indiana (3-1, 1-0) Saturday night.Senior safety Kurt Coleman outSenior captain Kurt Coleman has been suspended by the Big Ten for Saturday’s game against Indiana after a late “helmet-to-helmet” hit on Illinois backup quarterback Eddie Mcgee. The suspension was handed down Monday by Big Ten officials. A joint statement was released following the suspension by athletic director Gene Smith and coach Jim Tressel that showed displeasure with the ruling. Losing a three-year starter and captain is never easy, but the Buckeyes will try to move forward despite losing their defensive leader.“Well, you can never look at losing a player as something that stops you in your tracks because guys sprain ankles, they twist knees, they pull hamstrings, they hurt elbows,” Tressel said. “You better have been getting ready the next guy at any position. So do you like losing guys? No. I think we’ve been pretty fortunate.”Tressel said Coleman took the decision like a man and will move forward. Anderson Russell and Jermale Hines will play at the safety spots this week. Sophomore Ohrian Johnson has also seen time at safety and should see more action in Coleman’s absence.Buckeyes’ stout defense vs. Indiana’s high-powered offenseThe Buckeyes’ defense had another strong performance against Illinois, forcing three turnovers and holding the Illini to 170 yards of total offense. After its second shutout, OSU turns its attention to Indiana and a Hoosiers offense that put up 467 yards against Michigan last week. After two solid defensive outings, the Buckeyes are preparing to be tested again.“Obviously they watch TV. They watch the highlights,” Tressel said of his team’s awareness of Indiana’s offense. “They see the facts and figures, and they saw that Indiana had every opportunity to win thier Big Ten opener and put up a lot of yards and made a lot of plays, so our guys went to work on that.”After struggling with Navy the first game of the season, the defense has been the strong point of the team thus far, and their success can be attributed to several factors.“I think it starts with good personnel. There’s no doubt about it,” Tressel said. “We have some veterans who have been there and grown and so forth. We have a little bit of depth, such that we can play 15 or 16 or 17 guys a week, but they prepare awfully hard.”Shotgun offense and running game spell successOSU’s offense looked a little different in the rain on Saturday, as most of its plays were run out of the shotgun. The Buckeyes used more spread formations and a formidable running game to control the clock for the win, despite having no passing yards in the first half. Running back tandem of Daniel “Boom” Herron and Brandon Saine, along with quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s rushing ability, accounted for 236 yards on the ground in what might be the Buckeyes’ new style of offense.“I think if you’re a defense, you’re a little more concerned about the quarterback as a runner when he’s in the shotgun, as opposed to having to go backward to run forward,” Tressel said. “The downside to the shotgun quite obviously is that when I’m under center I can have my eyes on those safeties all the time, and I know how they’re spinning their coverage, and I can get my post-snap reads.” OSU’s success on the ground will also open up its passing game, which has not been up to Tressel’s standards yet.“We haven’t completed as many passes, period, as I’d like to complete,” he said.
Urban Meyer might’ve sized up Ohio State football’s season in a sentence. “At times, we’re really good,” the Buckeyes coach said. “At other times, we’re not.” In a year highlighted with triumphs against Michigan State, Nebraska and Penn State, the Buckeyes have often looked the part of their No. 6 national ranking. Rather bewildering, sloppy melees against perceived-to-be inferior competition in contests against the likes of Purdue, Indiana, California, Central Florida and Alabama-Birmingham often has, convincingly, suggested otherwise. At an impressive 9-0, it’s hard to look at the Buckeyes one way or the other without remaining cognizant of the juxtaposition between an OSU team playing in the spotlight and when it’s not. Buckeye cornerback Bradley Roby said it’s a matter that’s been addressed. “I mean, that’s just all mental mistakes that you have to fix,” the redshirt sophomore said. “You have to play (at a) high level every week. You see Alabama, they don’t care who they play against, they play at a high level. “That’s the (kind of) teams that we think that we’re at the same level with, so we have to play dominant like them … we have to come out and dominate from the very beginning.” An argument could certainly be made that the Crimson Tide – college football’s defending national champions – are playing at a higher level than the Buckeyes. But here Meyer and OSU are, undefeated nine games into his first season at the helm in Columbus and off to the program’s best start since 2007. Regardless of a game-to-game ebb and flow this year, OSU has found ways to win the types of games it probably would’ve collapsed in 2011. At 9-0, Meyer might have the Buckeyes back to believing they can win again. Which is all Buckeye Nation can ask for, right? While the former Florida coach has successfully and effectively navigated OSU this far, his squad has yet to put together a win since its opener against Miami (Ohio) where they’ve blown out their competition. A place like OSU, Roby said, demands more. “That’s typical for Ohio State football,” he said “and we haven’t done that yet this year.” Roby and the Buckeyes, though, might have a chance to do that against a struggling Illinois team (2-6, 0-4 Big Ten) on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. “That’s something we kinda want to do this game coming up,” Roby said. The Thorpe Award semifinalist, though, said they’re not taking the Illini lightly. History suggests they shouldn’t, either. Despite their 0-3 record on the road in coach Tim Beckman’s first season in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois has won three of the last five meetings in Columbus (1999, 2001, 2007). Maybe more ironic is the fact the Illini snapped the Buckeyes’ 10-0 start in 2007 with a 28-21 toppling of the then-ranked No. 1 team in the nation. Now, nearly five years later, Illinois finds itself again in a position to thwart this OSU team’s attempt to match that record for the first time since. “I think they’re very dangerous,” Meyer said Wednesday at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. “I think Illinois’ got every bit as much talent as we do.” Meyer said if the Buckeyes execute and “find a way” to win, they should be okay. And while that concept might not be astrophysics, it could be the difference between OSU putting together what some might call a complete game, compared to contests where they stumbled out of the gate. If anything, though, Meyer said Illinois might be another look in the mirror, another gut check, another chance to see what the Buckeyes are and what they’re not. “Here’s the thing: how good are we? That’s the question we’re asking ourselves,” Meyer said. Good enough to be 9-0? Their record speaks for itself. Good enough to be 10-0? Roby said the Buckeyes aren’t succumbing to the weight of such a feat. “Nah, no pressure. No pressure,” he said. “We feel like we can win every game, we said it at the beginning of the season, so why not? Why give up? Why stop right now?” Kickoff for OSU’s second-to-last home tilt of the season against the Illini is set for 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire is how the Ohio State men’s lacrosse team might be feeling this preseason. After traveling to powerhouse No. 5 Johns Hopkins for a scrimmage last weekend, the team is set to host a doubleheader Saturday against two more nationally respected programs, No. 12 Syracuse and Robert Morris. The upcoming doubleheader and the regular season have seen ramped-up practices for the Buckeyes, which will be looking to test out some fringe first team players in the matchups this weekend. Coach Nick Myers said he is encouraged by the team’s work ethic so far but said he wants to make sure playing time doesn’t go to some of the players’ heads. “Our motto is ‘Don’t count your reps, make your reps count,’” Myers said. “Guys who may not have got as many reps in the Hopkins game … are going to get more of a chance this weekend.” As was the case with a Jan. 20 match against Team Canada, this weekend’s doubleheader at Woody Hayes Athletic Center has sold out. The wealth of support for the team has been noticed in the locker room, too. OSU assistant coach Dave Dobbins said he thinks OSU students’ enthusiasm is going to help motivate the Buckeyes toward their lofty goal of an NCAA Tournament bid. “It’s great to have that support from the local community. It’s exciting for the guys playing in front of a home crowd,” Dobbins said. Some members of the team said they are excited to test their skills against, historically, some of the sport’s best. Senior midfielder Kevin Mack sees the matchups as a chance for the team to find out where they stand before next week’s season opener. “Syracuse is a top 10 program traditionally and Robert Morris always has a potent offense,” Mack said. “It’s just going to be a good test for us.” Like Mack, Myers said he understands even though it’s still the preseason, this match could be a good sample of what this OSU team can do. “It’s still an exhibition, but it’s an outstanding opportunity with Syracuse and Robert Morris, two very different styles of play that will really test us defensively,” Myers said. OSU starts the regular season at home against Detroit on Feb. 9. Dobbins said he can already sense the team’s excitement to start the year. “They’ve handled it well but are looking forward to the end of the preseason,” Dobbins said. “They have to strive for the season but they’ve done a nice job of it.”