September 2019

US Soccer Fans Click On Manchester United More Than Other Better Teams

Counting all visits to English-language article and game pages, the Premier League is on top, with about three times the traffic as the Champions League. Then again, the Premier League had more than twice as many weeks and three times as many games on its calendar as the Champions League,2From the group stage on, when the good teams join the fray. and some Champions League games featured Premier League teams, so per game the two leagues are about even. Share of U.S. views of English-language pages for ESPN clubs, articles and players 8Liga MX1.7 7Serie A2.0 6Barcelona7.1 RANKLEAGUESHARE 9Manchester City2.8 8Mexico men3.9 2U.S. men8.7 7Real Madrid6.1 4La Liga7.7 10Tottenham2.7 3Champions League9.0 3Liverpool7.9 Source: ESPN 1Premier League26.1% 1Manchester United12.0% The international soccer activity includes the Women’s World Cup last summer. Although the U.S. women’s national team didn’t get many views of its club page, ranking behind MLS’s New York City FC and just ahead of Chile’s men, it drew lots of views to its game pages during its run to victory. The women’s wins in the final and semifinal drew more traffic than any other soccer matches, and four of the top five were U.S. World Cup matches. The match that clinched the Premier League for Leicester topped all other club matches, including any from the Champions League. Drawing more interest than MLS is no great accomplishment. Lionel Messi’s player page drew more traffic than all but six of the 20 MLS clubs.Even these metrics overstate MLS’s popularity among U.S. soccer fans, because they don’t account for U.S. page views of ESPN sites in Spanish, including Deportes. MLS gets an even lower share of those page views, which are dominated by Mexico’s Liga MX and Spain’s La Liga. Account for those, and Barcelona and Real Madrid would move closer to Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal in popularity but would still lag behind Manchester United. Those six clubs account for 49 percent of all U.S. traffic to ESPN’s English-language sites for clubs and players around the world. (Atlético Madrid remains far behind, getting about as much total traffic as MLS leader Los Angeles Galaxy.)Leicester City finished with less than one-fifth of Manchester United’s traffic but gained during its stunning run to the Premier League title: Source: ESPN 5Arsenal7.8 5MLS6.7 Share of U.S. views of English-language pages for ESPN articles and games 4Chelsea7.9 2International17.8 6Bundesliga2.8 The Champions League features the very best club soccer teams in the world. The Premier League generally doesn’t: Saturday’s Champions League final, an all-Madrid affair between Real and Atlético, will be the fourth straight without a premiership team. The Champions League pits the best clubs in Europe against each other, including the four best Premier League teams, whose performance shows that their league is struggling to keep up with the best of Spain, Germany and Italy. Yet the Premier League remains the most popular attraction for U.S.-based fans looking for news and scores at ESPN’s soccer website — and its traffic dwarfs that of the U.S.’s own professional men’s soccer league.Manchester United drew 12 percent of all U.S. visits to ESPN FC’s club and player pages during the 12 months through May 15, according to page-view data provided by Timothy Bayus, a senior analyst in ESPN’s research and analytics department.1ESPN owns FiveThirtyEight. That wasn’t a particularly good 12 months for United: a fifth-place finish, failing to qualify for next season’s Champions League, exiting this season’s Champions League in the group stage. (United did win this year’s FA Cup, scant consolation.) Yet it led all clubs in traffic and drew more than four times as much as all the Major League Soccer clubs combined: RANKCLUBTRAFFIC SHARE read more

Jerry Sandusky Sentenced to 30 Years In Prison

Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State assistant coach who was convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse, was sentenced to at least 30 years and not less than 60 years for his reign a torment that stunned the nation and nearly abolished a storied football program.At 68, the sentence by judge John Cleland means Sandusky will likely die in prison, which is what many of the jurors said he deserved for manipulating youths he preyed on in his charity organization, Second Mile.Legendary coach Joe Paterno was fired in the aftermath of Sandusky’s arrest and later died from complications of cancer.Penn State president Rodney Erickson issued a statement that read, in part: “While today’s sentence cannot erase what has happened, hopefully it can provide comfort to those effected by those horrible events.”Sandusky maintains his innocence and plans to appeal, a process his lawyer, Joe Amedola, has said will probably begin in the coming weeks.Wearing a red prison-issued jump suit, Sandusky spoke for about 13 minutes before Cleland announced his decision. Sandusky said, among other things, “I feel the need to talk, not for fear or for arrogance, but for my heart. I’m filled with emotion and determination. I did not do these disgusting things.”At one point, according to CNN, Sandusky raised his voice and said, “We’re going to smile and laugh because that’s who we are. We smile through the pain.”Monday night, Sandusky issued an audio statement to the Penn State radio station that said, “They could take away my life, they could make me out as a monster, they can treat me as a monster, but they can’t take away my heart. In my heart, I know I did not do these alleged, disgusting acts. My wife has been my only sex partner and that was after marriage.”He also blamed his plight on everyone but himself. “A young man who was dramatic, a veteran accuser, and always sought attention, started everything. He was joined by a well-orchestrated effort of the media, investigators, the system, Penn State, psychologists, civil attorneys and other accusers. They won.”The victims said otherwise, at his trial three months ago and Tuesday morning at the sentencing hearing.“I don’t know if I can ever forgive you,” Victim No. 4, looking at the former coach. “I don’t know if I can ever forgive you.”Victim No. 6 said, “That night you told you were the Tickle Monster so you could play with my 11-year-old body. I realize (now) just how much you manipulated me.”Victim No. 5 said through tears, said: “The sentence will never erase what he did to me. It will never make me whole. He must pay for his crimes and take into account the tears, the pain, the private anguish.”Judge Cleland said in his statement: “This is a tragedy. . . about real betrayal, not just of the heart but of the soul.”Sandusky will spend about a month undergoing evaluations before he is transferred to a Pennsylvania prison where he will serve his sentence. read more

Barry Bonds Back With Giants as Instructional Coach

Significantly trimmer and offering smiles not often seen in his final playing days with the San Francisco Giants, Barry Bonds was back in uniform for the first time in seven years, as he began a seven-day stint as a roving instructor for the franchise.“I’m more nervous at this than when I was playing, because as a player, it was only my mind, me,”  said Bonds, the home-run king who was mired in controversy over suspected steroid use. “Now I’m trying to put that [knowledge] into other players’ minds. I’m a little more nervous being on this side than that side. Hopefully, I can just bring some good value to the ball club. Hopefully, I can bring value to these guys and then let (manager Bruce) Bochy see how I do. I would rather let them evaluate me, and then hopefully something good can come out of this.”Bonds, as he has been, was evasive about steroids.“I already went to court, and that’s where I’ll leave it,” he said when confronted on the subject. “And I think anything outside that doesn’t need to be commented on.”He did say that with 762 career home runs, the most by anyone, he deserves a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. His said that his only regret was that he did not have a more congenial relationship with the media.“I was different character playing,” he said. “Now I’ve had to slow down and do different things. I think we all do. I think when you’ve been gone a while you have time to reflect on things. But I needed ‘that guy’ to play. I needed him. It was who I was at the time. It was not who I am in my day-to-day life.“I’m the same person but a different character. I was like this guy over here who is crazy, and this guy over here who is not. I’m more in the middle. I can still be crazy, but I’m a lot calmer now.”As for coaching, he said, “I have to learn [about] them. But that will never take me more than a minute. All you have to do is go into a batting cage and I’ll tell you everything that’s going on. Very fast.“I think they did pretty good without me. They won two World Series championships. I don’t know if I can help. I know I can do one thing: I can help you do a little better than you already are. But I don’t know how much I can do. But I will have time to find out.” read more

The AL Is Still Beating The NL — But Maybe Not For

Tuesday’s MLB All-Star Game is baseball’s annual showcase of the American League’s utter dominance over the National League. (The AL has won 22 of the past 30.) But in recent years, the importance of this game has been sadly watered down by interleague play, which is now baseball’s weekly showcase of the American League’s utter dominance over the National League.Since interleague play was concocted in 1997, the AL has continually used these regular-season games to tack on extra wins while bludgeoning its senior circuit counterpart. This season is no different. But there are signs that the National League may be narrowing the gap — though not enough to keep it from losing. By run differential, the AL is putting up its worst performance since 2004, the first year in its current interleague winning streak. But the wins aren’t as evenly distributed between leagues as the runs are — the National League has earned only a .469 winning percentage in these games. (Even that poor performance is the best the NL has put up since 2013.)But for those who yearn for more balance between leagues, there are promising signs. The American League has been buoyed by a handful of superior teams like the Houston Astros, who racked up a +43 run differential (alongside a 7-0 record) in interleague play so far this year. While the Astros are here to stay, the American League probably can’t count on sustaining their streak year after year if much of their dominance relies on a handful of teams.Unless that handful of teams is in the American League East, that is. This season lends credence to the theory that much of the junior circuit’s dominance can be credited to the AL East, which has a record of 42-28 in interleague play. Powered by prospects and youngsters, both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox have worked their way up toward being the best teams in baseball. And the Tampa Bay Rays are just on the outside looking in, with the 11th-best run differential in MLB this season. Without the AL East, the leagues have played to a virtual standstill, with the NL edging ahead at 54-51.The combination of big budgets and savvy front offices keeps the American League East a powerhouse, both within and between leagues. But much of the rest of the junior circuit is currently fragile or rebuilding, which has allowed the National League to nearly close the distance. Regardless of whether the NL wins the All-Star Game, its improvement over the past two seasons might prove to be the beginning of a new trend of competitive play between the leagues — even if the AL has been the safe All-Star Game pick for as long as anyone can remember. read more

Um The Red Sox May Actually Be In Trouble

It’s a bad idea to read too much into any April baseball games, but this week’s two-game sweep at the hands of the archrival New York Yankees appears to have officially sent the Boston Red Sox into a full-blown crisis. The team’s record dipped to 6-13 — tied for the second-worst for a defending champ since 1947 (trailing only the fire-sale 1998 Marlins) — and they landed once again in last place in the American League East.[Our 2019 MLB predictions are updated after every game.]“This is flat-out embarrassing for my family, for my team, for our fans,” Boston ace Chris Sale told reporters after giving up four runs over five innings in Tuesday’s 8-0 loss. “This is about as bad as it gets. I have to pitch better.”“We’re not really playing very well anywhere,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski added. “Our starting pitching hasn’t been very good, our defense hasn’t been overly good, our hitting hasn’t been like it’s been capable of being.”As Dombrowski suggests, Boston has come by its horrible record honestly: Only the dreadful, rebuilding Miami Marlins (-49) have a worse run differential than the Red Sox’s -42 mark this season. Bad stretches happen to good teams sometimes, but ones this terrible haven’t happened often to teams that were supposed to be as good as Boston — especially coming off last year’s 108-win season. Since World War II, only six other teams that started a season with an Elo rating of at least 1562 (like the 2019 Red Sox) had any 19-game stretch in which they won six or fewer games — much less had those be the only 19 games we saw of them. Mookie Betts5.7+10.66.8+1.5-9.1 2018 Season2019 Season Hector Velazquez2.2+1.02.7+1.8+0.8 2010Yankees1563613 1977Reds1566415 Eduardo Rodriguez3.6+2.54.0-1.6-4.2 Tzu-Wei Lin0.7+0.00.1-0.1-0.1 1955Yankees1568613 When bad stretches happen to good (we think?) teamsAmong teams that started a season with an Elo rating of at least 1562, the worst 19-game stretches at any point in the season, 1946-2019 2019Red Sox*1562613 Blake Swihart1.9-0.32.4+0.6+0.9 Ryan Brasier1.1+1.12.8+1.3+0.2 Xander Bogaerts5.4%+4.36.2%+6.5+2.2 * First 19 games of season. WAR Rankings WAR numbers are through games of April 17, 2019.Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs Tyler Thornburg0.6-0.21.4-0.2+0.0 Brandon Workman1.2+0.42.1+1.4+1.0 2000Yankees1565316 Eduardo Nunez4.6-0.73.8-5.8-5.1 The Red Sox’s strengths have become weaknessesMLB-wide wins above replacement (WAR) rankings for the Boston Red Sox, 2018 vs. 2019 seasons Christian Vazquez2.5-0.33.9+1.7+2.0 201821818653 Mitch Moreland4.2+0.85.3+2.2+1.4 * Based on plate appearances and (leverage-weighted) innings pitched.WAR numbers are through games of April 17, 2019.Sources: Baseball-Reference.com, FanGraphs 2002Athletics1565415 David Price4.9+3.45.2+3.9+0.5 In the bullpen, the team probably has missed closer Craig Kimbrel, who recorded 1.8 WAR last season but was not re-signed (and remains a free agent today). But mostly the story of the 2019 Red Sox is of the holdovers from last year’s championship team — and most of those have fallen short of the performance standards they set for themselves a season ago.Shortstop Xander Bogaerts has actually played extremely well in the early part of this season, starter David Price and first baseman Mitch Moreland have been solid, and third baseman Rafael Devers has improved on last year’s disappointing sophomore campaign. But those gains don’t make up for declines by Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez and subreplacement starts from Jackie Bradley Jr., Eduardo Nunez, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi and — most concerning — Sale. Rafael Devers4.5+0.56.2+2.5+2.0 Brock Holt3.4+1.31.6-0.3-1.7 2019221822301727 Rick Porcello5.3+2.93.0-4.8-7.7 PlayerPlaying timeWAR/162Playing timeWAR/162WAR/162 Diff. Nathan Eovaldi1.5+1.15.7-2.0-3.1 (The good news for the Red Sox? Those other teams posted an average of 94.3 wins per 162 games even with the bad 19-game stretch, and none won fewer than 87. But again, those 19 games weren’t the only bits of evidence we had about the teams to begin the season.)It was always likely that the Red Sox would regress some — and perhaps even a lot — after last year’s storybook season. But nobody could have predicted that the wheels would fall off so quickly and thoroughly as they have. According to wins above replacement (WAR),1Averaging together the WAR figures found at Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs. the Red Sox went from the third-best team in MLB last season (behind the Astros and Yankees) to the fourth-worst this year (ahead of the Orioles, Marlins and Rockies). For two categories in which the team ranked among the top six last season — hitting and starting pitching — Boston has dropped into the bottom nine (including the very worst starting performance in baseball), and the bullpen has also dropped from the top five to the league’s bottom half: Chris Sale4.4+6.54.9-2.5-9.0 SeasonBattingBase runningFieldingStartersBullpenTotal Sandy Leon2.7+0.00.2-0.7-0.7 Matt Barnes2.1+1.22.3+3.0+1.9 Jackie Bradley Jr.4.9+2.44.8-4.0-6.4 SeasonTeamPreseason Elo RatingWinsLosses Brian Johnson2.6+0.91.0-1.9-2.8 Andrew Benintendi6.1+4.15.6+2.8-1.3 Dustin Pedroia0.1-0.11.7-3.2-3.1 Heath Hembree2.0+0.32.4+0.0-0.3 Steve Pearce1.5+1.22.1-3.4-4.5 Sam Travis0.4-0.20.6-0.1+0.1 2018Dodgers1568514 Worst 19 Games J.D. Martinez6.0+6.16.6+5.0-1.2 Marcus Walden0.3+0.22.0+0.2+0.0 Most of the Red Sox holdovers are ice-coldPercentage of team playing time* and wins above replacement (WAR) per 162 games for players who were on both the 2018 and 2019 Boston Red Sox Betts has placed a lot of the responsibility for the team’s slow start on himself. “Basically, what I’m doing is unacceptable,” Betts said Monday. “I have to figure out a way to get something done and help the team.”The reigning AL MVP should start to turn things around sooner or later, though. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is an unsustainably low .208 this season, indicating a lot of potential for improvement, and most of his Statcast metrics are in line with his career numbers before last year’s career season — when he still was a .292/.351/.488 hitter with outstanding defensive skills.If Betts will be fine, Sale is a bigger worry. The lanky left-hander’s fastball velocity has been low in three of four starts — though he did reach an average of 96.1 mph against the Yankees on Tuesday (which is near where he was most of last season before a sharp drop-off in September). But radar-gun readings aside, Sale is also walking a career-high2Among seasons with at least 100 innings pitched. 2.5 batters per nine innings and has already given up nearly half as many home runs (five) as he yielded all of last year. The Red Sox have enough other talented players to remain a good team in a down year from Sale, but they might not be able to be a truly great team without him pitching at his best.And are they actually a good team, despite this horrid start? Or will this season eventually spiral into disaster the way Boston’s last championship defense did? As bad as the Red Sox have looked, it still seems foolish to count them out. In a sport where it takes 67 games before a team’s record is even roughly half-luck and half-skill, 19 games shouldn’t matter much to our expectation for a team going forward. Even after this rough start, our Elo model gives the Sox a rating of 1538, which equates to the talent needed to win about 89 times per 162 games. That’s only about five and a half fewer wins of talent than Elo thought they had before opening day.But the problem is that the Red Sox have to live with that 6-13 record they’ve banked for themselves so far. If they play like an 89-win team over the rest of the season, they’d still only end up with 85 wins by season’s end. In a division where the Tampa Bay Rays and even the up-and-down Yankees are on track for 92 or more wins, 85 to 90 wins might leave Boston right on the edge of the playoffs. (And to get to, say, 95 wins, they’d have to play at a 102-win pace over the rest of the season.) Although it is often said that the MLB season is a marathon and not a sprint, don’t be surprised if Boston’s early struggles force it to run ragged down the stretch just to make a bid for the AL’s second wild-card spot.Check out our latest MLB predictions. read more

That Weird Jon Lester Trade Wasnt That Weird

This year’s Major League Baseball trade-deadline fire sale mostly went to script, headlined by the Jon Lester/Yoenis Cespedes mega deal where the Oakland A’s and Boston Red Sox helped each other out in the usual fashion: One got to clear millions in salaries off the books while gaining a few parts, and the other obtained a high-impact starter for its championship run. The wrinkle in this case is that the team doing the dumping is big-market, big-payroll Boston, and the one gearing up for the post-season is small market, small-payroll Oakland.For a good breakdown of this trade, see Jonah Keri’s piece in Grantland. Here’s a quote that had me laughing at my desk:It’s hard to blame GM Ben Cherington for embracing the fire-sale approach. … Even if Lester leads the A’s to World Series glory, it still looks like the Sox made out like bandits in this deal.So one team may substantially increase its chances of winning the World Series, while the other makes out like bandits! Keri is absolutely right though: The reason these fire-sale deals are so common is because they benefit both sides. When a team’s competing for the playoffs, winning now is much more valuable, and when a team’s out of contention, money is more valuable.You know who understands this? Oakland General Manager Billy Beane. In competitive years under Beane’s tenure (when the A’s finished first or second in their division), the A’s have made July deals gaining them a net total of 9.61 wins above replacement (relative to the players they had to give away), while taking on an extra $16 million worth of salary for those years (of which, the A’s would pay a remainder, depending on the terms of the trade). Note: Yes, that is an pretty good money-to-WAR ratio, but it’s what would you expect. Conversely, in years when the A’s have not been in contention, Oakland has sold a net of 12.25 WAR, while shedding the remainder of $46 million worth of salary.For the small-payroll team to be the fire-sale buyer is rare, especially with as large a pay gap as exists between the Red Sox and Athletics (more than $79 million). Since 1996, just $21 million worth of salary obligations (or remainder thereof) have gone to the small side of a payroll gap that big (about 1.2 percent of contract value for all trades conducted in the period), and those were offset by those teams shedding $109 million. In other words, poor teams typically trade big contracts for little ones.Overall, since 1996, bigger payroll teams have sent $736 million in present-year salary to smaller payroll teams. The bigger payroll teams have taken on $1.02 billion, meaning the poorer teams netted close to $300 million.That said, the Oakland/Red Sox deal isn’t unusual if we ignore payroll and just look at the standings. Oakland currently holds the top spot in the AL, the Red Sox are in 13th. For trades between teams with at least a 12-spot gap between them in the standings, $161 million in salary shifted to the better teams in exchange for just $7 million going the other way. Overall, the team with the better position in the standings has taken on about $1.35 billion dollars in salary while shedding just $413 million. Meaning, the lower ranked teams have netted nearly $900 million in fire-sale trades (almost triple what poorer teams have done).Let’s look at this in chart form. I’ve plotted all the contracts traded in July from 1996 through 2013 (plus Lester’s) below, with the size of the players salary for the given season represented by area of the bubble:There are four quadrants representing the four basic types of trades. Quadrants kitty-corner from each other are essentially trade partners — e.g. when poor teams find themselves in the better competitive spot, they seem to be pretty willing to spend money to go after wins (435 million) and are even less willing to give away assets (112 million).For fun, I ran a regression from pay gap and standings gap to the size of contract changing hands and found that pay gap is actually borderline insignificant after you account for standings (for fellow nerds: t-Stat of 6.5 for standings gap, just 1.6 for payroll gap).In other words, while the A’s-Red Sox trade appears to be extremely unusual (a fairly large outlier on the chart above), it’s not because small payroll teams just don’t usually make trades like this. It’s because small payroll teams aren’t usually in position to make trades like this. read more

On Thursday, former Penn State coach Joe Paterno will be laid to rest after spending half of his life teaching the lessons of life and football in State College, Pa. Thousands will attend to mourn the loss of Paterno as part of a three-day period of public mourning that started Tuesday and runs until Thursday. While most attendees are saying their final goodbyes to the winningest coach in Division I college football history with love and respect, other, less welcome visitors will be trying to disrupt. The Westboro Baptist Church, a notorious hate group that protests military funerals and often partakes in other acts of stupidity, plans to picket the funeral in protest of homosexuality. 2012 marked the 50th year of marriage between Paterno and his wife, Sue. That seems straight to me. Margie Phelps, daughter of Westboro minister Fred Phelps, tweeted this week that Paterno is “in Hell” and implied that God took Paterno’s life on Sunday morning because he failed to report the child molestation allegations that surround former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky. This makes sense, because God certainly wasn’t aware of Paterno’s failure to report Sandusky’s wrongdoings when they happened 10 years ago. As all semi-intelligent human beings, such as Margie Phelps, are aware, God only finds out when people commit awful acts in life once the media gets ahold of the information and reveals it to the general public. It must have been difficult for God to determine who goes to Heaven and who goes to Hell before media outlets like ESPN, CNN and The Lantern existed. I suppose he just flipped a coin on anyone and everyone who never made the newspapers. I hope you can sense my sarcasm. WBC gets away with protesting funerals and events on a regular basis. Thursday might be a bit different. Coming into State College, Pa. and disrespecting Paterno is the equivalent of protesting a king’s funeral — and make no mistake about it, in State College, there has never been and will never be a more prominent, iconic and king-like figure than Paterno. The State College Police Department should quietly arrest the protestors within seconds of them arriving. I’m not a policeman, but this fits the description of “disturbing the peace,” right? If PSU students were arrested for protesting Paterno’s firing, then an arrest of WBC for protesting his funeral certainly seems appropriate. Don’t make a big deal of it — keep the spotlight on honoring Paterno. Then, get the dirt bags out of the public eye and make sure they never want to come back to State College, Pa., again. Paterno made an incredible mistake. Not reporting the molestation of anyone, regardless of age or gender, is beyond unacceptable. I’m not saying Paterno deserves a free pass because of his death. What I am saying is that for more than 60 years, Paterno took thousands of young football players and did all he could to ensure they became men, both on and off the field. His former players’ testimonials about him over the past few weeks have been countless and genuine. When Sandusky goes to court and the facts are unveiled, the psychos that run WBC can have their say, hold up their signs and believe that anyone other than fellow loons and bigots care about their message. The rest of us sane people can have our opinions as well. But for now, they should stay away from the situation and allow Paterno’s family and friends to let him go in peace. Let’s hope the folks who run law enforcement in State College, Pa. make sure of that. read more

During Wednesday’s National Signing Day press conference, Urban Meyer said the defensive end and offensive tackle positions were areas of need for the Buckeyes.Consider those needs taken care of.Meyer’s haul of recruits for the 2012 class included decorated and sought-after defensive ends Adolphus Washington from Taft High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, Noah Spence from Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pa., and Se’Von Pittman from McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio. Meyer also nabbed two of the top offensive lineman in the country, Kyle Dodson and Taylor Decker of Cleveland and Vandalia, Ohio, respectively.Meyer said he could have spoken on the strength and quality of each member of his first recruiting class at OSU, but singled out Washington, Spence, Pittman, Dodson and Decker during his opening remarks.Marc Givler, a recruiting analyst for BuckeyeGrove.com, said these five players were likely comparable to the best five recruits on any college team in the country.“They stack up with anybody’s (top five recruits),” Givler said. “These are guys that had offers from everyone in the country, just about. They were coveted across the nation.”Meyer said the Buckeyes, who have a traditionally strong defensive unit, have not tallied sacks in great numbers lately.He said he thinks Washington and Spence, both five-star recruits according to Rivals.com, and Pittman, a consensus top-100 player in the country, could be the answer to OSU’s low sack numbers.“They were three guys we identified that we had to have,” Meyer said of the three defensive ends.Washington committed before Meyer’s hiring, but OSU’s $4 million-dollar-per-year coach was actively involved in the recruiting of Pittman and Spence, players he said were the “prize of the recruiting class.”“(Pittman and Spence) are the guys you can take anywhere in the country with you at anytime,” Meyer said. “They’re high-character guys that play real hard. They have different body types.”Meyer also said the three players made a hard decision in choosing OSU, as their interest in the Buckeyes was used against them by rival schools.“A lot of the schools went after them saying, ‘How can you go to a place that has the No. 1 defensive end, the No. 2 defensive end in a lot of rankings?’” Meyer said. “That probably surprised the recruiting class.”Givler said OSU’s three top-rated defensive ends would be weapons in seasons to come.“(Meyer) got three guys that can rush the passer in one class,” Givler said. “Any time you can land three of the top defensive ends in the entire country, it’s going to be a huge thing. It’s going to take pressure off the rest of your defense.”Givler said the speed of 6-foot-4, 245-pound Spence, and the power of 6-foot-4, 230-pound Washington and 6-foot-5, 245-pound Pittman will create problems against opposing offenses.“Spence is, what I call, an open-end. Acceleration up the field is what you’re looking for, and he has that,” Meyer said. “Where you have (Washington) and Pittman who are more the wider-body guys and more power rushers.”Then there’s Meyer’s prized offensive tackles, Decker and Dodson.Meyer said he identified Decker and Dodson as the tackles he wanted the night he was hired at OSU.“That night we were on the phone, and if you would have told me we would have got the top two guys we went after, that would have been a good day for us,” Meyer said. “There’s a lot of positives.”Dodson’s paperwork arrived at OSU just minutes before Meyer’s press conference began — the player announced his commitment at Cleveland Heights High School at about 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to multiple reports.Givler said Dodson, standing at 6-foot-6 and weighing in a 310-pounds is a tremendous physical talent.“(Dodson) is able to get out on the edge and really get to that second level,” Givler said. “Definitely huge upside with Dodson.”The 6-foot-8, 315-pound Decker from Butler High School was the No. 77-ranked player in the nation and the No. 7-ranked senior in the state of Ohio.Decker’s prospects are mostly similar to those of Dodson, Givler said.“Decker is a little more technically sound than Dodson at this point, and has come a long way physically,” Givler said. “He continues to get better and both (Dodson and Decker), four or five years from now could be playing on Sundays.”All told, OSU’s 25-man class is currently ranked No. 3 by Scout.com, No. 4 by Rivals.com and No. 6 by ESPN.Meyer said he did not want to call this the best class in OSU history, nor a “home run,” but rankings of national media outlets suggest Meyer has succeeded.Kevin Noon, the managing editor of BuckeyeGrove.com, said Meyer’s first recruiting venture since leaving the University of Florida in early 2011 was a success.“While (Meyer) may want to sit there and hold off and reserve judgement until he sees these guys, as an analyst … this is a dream class that he was able to put together,” Noon said. “What makes it even more amazing is just the brevity of time he had to work on putting this class together. It just shows what the Meyer brand means, and what the Ohio State brand means. When you put them together, it’s very dangerous for other programs when you’re going against him.” read more

OSU redshirt-freshman linebacker Darron Lee (43) chases Minnesota senior running back David Cobb (27) during a Nov. 15 game in Minneapolis. OSU won, 31-24.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorThe Ohio State football team braved the elements, turnovers and a powerful Minnesota running attack to come away with its second straight win on the road over a ranked opponent Saturday in Minneapolis.The Buckeyes, who moved up one spot in the Associated Press poll to No. 7, will now return to Columbus to take on an Indiana team that boasts the third-best rushing offense in the Big Ten.But before the Buckeyes take on the Hoosiers, The Lantern sports editors have come up with a list of five takeaways from the 31-24 win in Minneapolis.1. Redshirt-freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett is having unprecedented successThere’s little chance anyone expected Barrett to be even close to as successful as he’s been this season, and even less of a chance anyone expected him to break rushing records set by injured senior quarterback Braxton Miller.Against Minnesota, Barrett broke two Miller rushing records and stormed past his single-season total touchdown mark set in 11 full games played last year. Barrett’s 86-yard touchdown run in the first quarter broke Miller’s previous OSU quarterback long of 81 and his 189 total rushing yards set another school mark for a signal caller.When Miller went down with a torn labrum during fall camp, many expected the Buckeyes to fall off on offense. But with the success Barrett has had, not only has OSU continued to produce, but its offense has been even better than in years past.If he continues on the same pace, Barrett will probably finish with by far the best statistical season in OSU history.2. The Buckeyes have been lucky, but must cut down on mistakesThe Golden Gophers scored three touchdowns. Each touchdown came directly after an OSU turnover.Redshirt-freshman H-back Jalin Marshall fumbled twice — once on a sure touchdown — and Barrett threw an interception. Without those three plays not only would OSU have won by a wider margin, but it’s possible the Buckeyes would have pitched a shutout.The only three real breakdowns for the OSU defense came after those three turnovers as the unit was strong from start to finish. If the team cuts down on mistakes — especially turnovers — it could compete with any other program in the nation.3. OSU’s pass defense has turned a cornerMinnesota redshirt-sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner isn’t a great player, but he’s no slouch either. The Buckeyes still made him look like one.Leidner finished the day just seven of 19 on pass attempts for 85 yards while he tossed two interceptions. The number could have been even higher as the Buckeyes had multiple clear shots at picks.Part of the credit has to go to the OSU pass rush, which sacked Leidner three times, but senior cornerback Doran Grant, sophomore safety Vonn Bell and the rest of the Buckeyes’ secondary have proved themselves capable of shutting down opposing aerial attacks. 4. But the Buckeyes’ run defense will need to improveOf Minnesota’s 303 total yards of offense, 218 came on the ground. The Buckeye defense let senior running back David Cobb rush for 145 yards and all three of the Golden Gopher touchdowns Saturday afternoon. This does not bode well for the future, as the Buckeyes are scheduled to take on the Indiana Hoosiers next week in a game that features Indiana junior running back Tevin Coleman, who rushed for 307 yards in a loss to Rutgers. In addition, Wisconsin redshirt-junior running back Melvin Gordon broke the NCAA FBS record for rushing yards against Nebraska on Saturday, as he rushed for 408 yards in just three quarters of play.Assuming both the Buckeyes and Badgers win out, Gordon could be running against the OSU defense in the Big Ten title game Dec. 6 in Indianapolis. 5. The Big Ten title game is (almost) a lockUrban Meyer’s goal for his team to be playing for championships in November is almost a reality for the Buckeyes. With a Buckeye win, and/or a Michigan State loss, OSU will appear in its second straight Big Ten title game. Last season, the Buckeyes lost, 34-24, to the Spartans, ending their hopes at a national championship.This year, it appears the Buckeyes will be heading back to Indianapolis with just Indiana and Michigan remaining on the regular season schedule.Both games will be in Columbus, and neither opponent currently has a winning record.The goal is in sight for OSU — now it just needs to finish, something it could not do last season.The Buckeyes are set to return to action Saturday at noon against the Hoosiers at Ohio Stadium. read more

Then sophomore forward Lindsay Agnew (20) maintains possession during a match Oct. 24, 2014 against Iowa at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Credit: Lantern File PhotoAfter sweeping its first two games of the season a week ago, the Ohio State women’s soccer team played two more over the weekend, remaining undefeated with a win and a tie.The No. 18 Buckeyes (3-0-1) hit the road Thursday evening to take on the Dayton Flyers at Baujan Field and came away with a 2-1 victory.The teams went into the locker room at halftime scoreless, but junior forwards Nichelle Prince and Lindsay Agnew came back in the second half to collect a pair of Buckeyes goals.Prince’s goal was her second of the season, already just one shy of her total from the 2014 season, in which she was limited to 10 games due to a leg injury. The junior was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for the first week of the season due in large part to her overtime game-winner in the Sept. 23 upset victory against then-No. 8 Florida.The Flyers got onto the board with a 30-yard free kick late in the game. OSU redshirt junior goalkeeper Jillian McVicker collected eight saves in the match for her third win of the season.Completing the two-game weekend road trip, the Buckeyes then traveled to Austin, Texas, on Sunday afternoon.Sunday was the first meeting between the Buckeyes and the Longhorns, and the unfamiliarity with the other showed as the match ended in a scoreless draw. The game went into a double overtime, but neither team could find the back of the net. The Buckeyes led the Longhorns in shots 18-17, including an 8-7 edge in shots on goal.McVicker started Sunday’s contest, stopping the only shot she faced, but was lifted for freshman Devon Kerr to begin the second half. It was the collegiate debut for Kerr, a product of Barrie, Ontario, and she blocked all six shots fired her way.Kerr is already the third goalkeeper employed by OSU coach Lori Walker this season after redshirt sophomore Megan Geldernick got second-half time in the season opener.OSU is now set to return to Columbus to host Florida International on Thursday evening. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. read more