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Drew Thurman (9:54 pm)

Dane Sanzenbacher was a late addition to the Senior Bowl roster, not even getting to practice in Mobile, Alabama with his teammates until Tuesday. He made the most of the opportunity though. He drew nothing but positive reviews during practices, with many talking about his superb route running ability and hands. DraftInsider.net had this to say about his practice performances:

"Sanzenbacher made the right choice coming to Mobile after getting a late invitation.  He’s not going to be an early draft pick yet will be a very productive NFLer that’s drafted in the later rounds then hangs around the league for a long time."

Then tonight in the actual game he lead the North team with five catches for 62 yards, including a few very tough catches. The only receiver in the game that outperformed him was Leonard Hankerson of Miami (FL). Ross Homan also got some playing time in the game and split reps with Greg Jones of MSU.

 
 
The Buckeyes head to Evanston, Illinois to face Northwestern (13-7, 3-6), trying to build off of the shellacking of Purdue this last Tuesday. The Wildcats will be down their best player John Shurna (19 PPG), who has a concussion, making this matchup a lot less appealing. Still, come chat it up with us as we take it in...

The game airs at 6 PM ET on ESPN 2, but the LiveBlog starts at 5:30!
 
 
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Dave Thurman (10:15 pm)

Ohio State received their 22nd verbal for the class of 2011 this evening and honestly, I didn't see this one coming.  Long snapper Bryce Haynes (Cumming, Ga./Pinecrest) pledged his servcies to the Scarlet and Gray over North Carolina, Notre Dame and Harvard.  Most of the rumors pointed to Notre Dame as his favorite followed by the Tar Heels, so is comes as a bit of surprise that Haynes chose the Buckeyes, saying, "That is just the college I liked the most. I felt most comfortable there. That is really where I wanted to go."

I could be wrong but I don't ever remember Ohio State signing a long snapper out of high school before.  It has been common in recent years to give a scholarship to an upper classman who has proved themselves as a solid long snapper, but I believe this is a first.  Haynes, who is 6'4", 185 pounds, is reportedly a fine athlete who runs a 4.7 40, and played both defensive end and wide receiver in high school.  But OSU has offered him as a long snapper, and hopefully he will be a good one.  Special teams weren't so special in 2010, and it all starts with a good snap, so maybe this isn't such a strange offer after all.

Welcome aboard Bryce...now it is time to hit the weights. (Video after the jump)

 
 
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Keep an eye on Devin Smith...
Drew Thurman (3:46 pm)

Last year at this time, I wrote about a few players in the 2010 class that fans should not forget about, and I decided to look at few guys in this class as well.

Obviously the 2011 class is a very solid one for the Buckeyes, and one of the better classes in the country this year. There is a lot of star power to be excited about, with guys like Braxton Miller, Doran Grant, Michael Bennett, Ryan Shazier and Steve Miller all coming to Columbus. With National Signing Day just around the corner, there is also the chance to grab other superstars in the making like Curtis Grant, Aundrey Walker and JaJuan Story. Honestly, this could be Tressel's best class ever when the dust settles.  

With that said, Buckeye fans should not forget about some of the lesser hyped players in this class. Tressel has been one of the best coaches in the country at developing two and three star players, and as Jason of 11W wrote about earlier this week, the numbers prove it. Not that any of us need the numbers for proof. Just go back at look at guys like AJ Hawk, James Lauriniaitis, Malcolm Jenkins, Chimdi Chekwa, Donald Washington or Dane Sanzenbacher, and you quickly realize how great Tressel is at making these low profile players into gems. So, let's take a look at a few guys who could fit into that category in this class, I call them "The Forgettables."   

WR Devin Smith: 

Now some of you may give me a hard time because Smith has garnered a bit more attention than the other guys later on this list. Still, he is widely regarded as a three star prospect and the second best receiver in this class for Ohio State behind Evan Spencer. Personally, I think he has an opportunity to play early for the Buckeyes, maybe even as a freshman. With Dane Sanzenbacher graduating and DeVier Posey's suspension, there are plenty of holes in the receiving core to start the season. While there is other young blood on the roster for OSU, I'm not sure anyone will have the quickness and play making ability in the air that Smith combines, making him a very viable option. His statistics the last few years at Massillon also suggest a big time player:

"In Smith’s case, it was more often than not that the opponents weren’t able to hit the target. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound wide receiver improved on his stellar first season at Massillon in 2009 with an even better one in 2010, and that is why he was chosen as The Independent’s football Player of the Year.

"Smith caught 60 passes for 1,130 yards with nine touchdowns for the 7-4 Tigers. The receptions and yards both are second-most for a single season in Massillon history, behind Devin Jordan’s record 98-catch, 1,492-yard effort in 2001." 

 
 
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Dave Thurman (9:06 pm)

20-0 and improving: About a week and half ago the OSU hoops team looked headed for their first loss, as they were barely pulling out close conference games and off to Illinois, followed by a big game at home against Purdue.  Not only did they not lose, but the basketball Bucks seemed to regain their early season swagger and then some, playing possibly their best two games of the season (and the beatdown of Iowa before that wasn't too shabby, either). So what gives?  Were they merely going through the motions when they narrowly escaped against Minnesota, Michigan and Penn State?  Or are they actually getting better? 

Well, first off, teams like Minnesota and Penn State may be better than we are giving them credit for, and winning at Michigan is never to be taken for granted.  In addition this team is relying greatly on three freshmen, and it isn't surprising when young guys hit a bit of a wall about the middle of January, especially in a grueling conference like the Big Ten.  But, yes, I do believe the team is improving, and most of that is due to a baby faced assassin named Aaron Craft.

Make no doubt about it Jared Sullinger is the bell cow for this team, and that has nothing to do with his girth.  Simply put he is a franchise player.  But college basketball success is predicated on point guard play, and as Craft has grown and developed so has the team.  His dribble penetration was exceptional against Purdue, and it literally broke down the Boilermaker defense.  With the arsenal of shooters at his disposal, all Thad needed was a good point guard and he has it in the scrappy freshman from Findlay.

In the home stretch: National Signing Day is less than a week away, and if you are like me it is hard to concentrate on work during the first Wednesday in February. I feel kind of like a kid on Christmas Eve, waiting to open all the new presents under the tree.  And this year it looks like there will be some really nice gifts.

 
 
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Drew Thurman (12:50 pm)

Despite Florida's best efforts to deny reality and refute the rumors than Stan Drayton was headed to Ohio State, we now know the truth. The news became official today, which came via OhioStateBuckeyes.com:

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Stan Drayton, one of the top offensive skill coaches in the nation, is joining the Ohio State football staff as an assistant coach working with the Buckeye wide receivers, Coach Jim Tressel announced today. Drayton will start his duties Feb. 1. "Stan Drayton first and foremost is a fine person and family man. He is a Buckeye born and bred, and will add a tremendous dimension to our football family," Tressel said. "We are fortunate to gain one of the finest coaches in America to serve our kids, school and community."

Drayton comes to Ohio State from Florida, where he served as the Gators' running backs coach and recruiting coordinator during the 2010 season; he also served as Florida's running backs coach from 2005-07, and held the same position at SEC schools Tennessee (2008) and Mississippi State (2004).

With coaching experience and success at every level, Drayton's resume includes stints as an assistant coach at Syracuse (2009), Bowling Green (2000), Villanova (1996-2000), Penn (1995), Eastern Michigan (1994) and Allegheny (1993). From 2001-03, he served as the offensive quality control and assistant special teams coach for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to three NFC playoff appearances. He is a past nominee for the AFCA Assistant Coach of the Year award, and was recognized by Rivals as one of the nation's top 25 recruiters.

Three times a first-team All-America selection as a running back at Allegheny (Pa.) College, Drayton is Allegheny's all-time leading rusher and scorer and was a part of the 1990 Division III national championship team. He still holds the Division III single-season record for touchdowns scored per game (3.2). Drayton was a two-time All-American in track as well, competing in the 100 and 200 meter dashes. A 1993 graduate with a bachelor's degree in English, Drayton was inducted into the Allegheny College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.

A Cleveland native who is a graduate of John Marshall High School, Drayton and his wife Monique have two daughters, Amari and Anaya.

 
 
Tonight the Buckeyes have their second straight conference showdown, as they host the No. 12 ranked Boilermakers. This has major implications in the Big Ten race with Purdue sitting just one game behind the Buckeyes in the conference. If they can steal one on the road tonight, it would go a long way for JaJuan Johnson and company down the stretch. So tonight's game has all the makings of a good one, and should be great to watch.

The game tips off at 9pm Eastern Time on ESPN, but you can join the live blog starting 8:30! 
 
 
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Drew Thurman (8:36 am)

He's Back! Well, Tressel has found a replacement for Doug Davis, the assistant strength coach who headed to join Darrell Hazell at Kent State. The choice? Well, that would be former Buckeye Anthony Schlegel. Normally the assistant strength coach isn't something that is newsworthy, but Schlegel's recent history in Columbus combined with his unique personality should be enjoyable to watch. The guy just bleeds scarlet and gray too.

"This was the only job I would have moved my family out of Texas for," he said. "I'm happy to be here and proud to be back."

I got to meet Schlegel a few years back, right before he departed for the NFL, and the guy is hilarious. He's definitely all country, and I hope we see him rock the "sweater vest only" look that he made famous while at OSU. This is a great hire for the staff, let's hope they hit a home run with the WR Coach position as well.

Pay attention NCAA! Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated, is bringing even more exposure to the oversigning topic, calling out the SEC in particular. This had been a hot topic over the past several months as many national writers have shared their opinions and ESPN's Outside the Lines even did a feature on it. Of course, the NCAA has yet to really do anything that matters to change what is happening. Yes, the new NCAA bylaw (13.9.2.3) does limit coaches to 28 signees by May 31st for the first time this season, but as Staples talks about, this isn't a real solution.

"So now that a nationwide rule governs signee totals, the morally shaky practice of oversigning should end. Shouldn't it? Not even close. The rule isn't worth the paper on which it's printed, and everyone in college football knows it.

"The NCAA rule was sponsored by the SEC, home to some of the nation's most notorious oversigners. The SEC passed its own rule in 2009, and that rule was in place last year when Auburn signed 32 players and LSU signed 29. Thanks to a lingering numbers drought in the Loveliest Village on the Plains following Coach Tommy Tuberville's 2008 ouster, Auburn managed to squeeze every academically qualified player onto the roster. That wasn't the case at LSU, where Coach Les Miles already had tried to clear the decks by cutting quarterback Chris Garrett. Miles misjudged how many of his academically shaky signees would qualify, and by summer's end, Miles had two more qualified newcomers than he had available scholarships."

 
 
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Dave Thurman (11:15 am)

It has been an interesting year at Ohio State as the basketball team has thus far trumped the highly successful football squad.  Don't get me wrong, a 12-1 season on the gridiron with a bowl win over an SEC team is nothing to sneeze at, but I guess we all expected something special from the football Bucks.  In fact, as good as their season proved to be, it never seemed "great", probably because of that first half meltdown in Madison, and the fact that they lacked a "signature" win until the Sugar Bowl (and even that game felt like they just held on). 

On the other hand, few would have predicted a 20-0 start for the basketball team, even though most experts felt this would be a very good squad.  True, the schedule has been pretty soft, with a lot of tough games on the horizon, but all you have to do is look around the nation to realize how incredible it is to be undefeated this late in January. So, without doubt this team grades out with a solid "A" to this point, even if depth is no better than a "C".  Basically, the Buckeyes play seven guys, so let's take time to grade them individually, starting with the upperclassmen.

David Lighty: The "old man" of the team, Lighty has played on some excellent teams and with a bunch of NBA players through the years. Although he has never been a great shooter, this year he has shown improved marksmanship hitting 45% from behind the arc (although still just 65% at the foul line).  His strength is defense, and few are better at shutting down an opponent than number 23, but he is also an excellent passer who is averaging 3.7 assists per game.  Even if he didn't score much (and he is averaging nearly 13 a game) he would be valuable, but this year he has become a legitimate offensive threat as well.  Considering his leadership and intangibles I have to grade David an A to this point. 

Jon Diebler: The classic "shooter" is hitting 47.6% of his shots behind the three-point line while making three a game.  He is a good passer (2.5 asssits per game) but a poor rebounder (1.9 rpg) and a mediocre defender in my estimation.  Still he can stick a dagger in the heart of an opponent with his threes and is a smart player who rarely turns the ball over.  I'll give him a B+.

 
 
The Buckeyes head into Champaign to take on the No. 22 ranked Illini this afternoon, in arguably the most hostile environment so far this season. This game is obviously vital when it comes to Big Ten bragging rights, but it also could be a huge momentum builder for OSU. Five of the next seven opponents the Buckeyes face are ranked, so it would be nice to see them hit their stride today.   

The coverage starts at Noon Eastern Time on CBS, and the LiveBlog kicks off 30 minutes before as usual. Enjoy!