For most of the first period at Madison Square Garden on Monday night, the newly renovated scoreboard above center ice displayed only the time remaining and a 0-0 score — not shots on goal, face-off percentage or the other data that it normally tracks.I thought this might be a ploy by New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault. In Games 1 and 2 of the series — both comeback wins by the Los Angeles Kings — the Kings’ peripheral stats were more impressive than the Rangers’ (the Kings led the Rangers 87-65 in shots on goal, for example). Indeed, Los Angeles has a well-deserved reputation as a stat-savvy team that focuses on metrics related to puck possession and scoring opportunities, which can better predict game results than goals scored and allowed.No #fancystats for you, LA Kings! No moral victory on the strength of Zone Start Adjusted Corsi! You’ll have to win this hockey game the old-fashioned way: by scoring more goals than the other team!The stats clicked back on to the MSG scoreboard late in the first period. Soon after, the Kings scored, and they went on to beat the Rangers 3-0.But it was the Rangers who had more scoring opportunities. They had 32 shots on goal, compared with 15 for LA. Counting missed shots and blocked shots, their edge was 59-33.It can be tempting, if you have a passing familiarity with advanced hockey metrics, to take solace when outcomes like these occur or to curse your favorite team’s bad luck. How often does a team lose despite outshooting its opponent by a 2-1 margin, for instance?Actually, teams lose often. In playoff games since 1988, teams that took about two-thirds of the shots in a game (somewhere between 65 and 70 percent) won only 62 percent of the time. The chart below generalizes this data based on logistic regression and estimates how often teams win a game based on the number of shots they take.Much of this is simply a reflection of the fact that goals scored and allowed are a noisy statistic. A lucky deflection or two for the Kings, a great save or two by Jonathan Quick, and all those extra shots often go for naught.But another reason is that play changes once a team finds itself trailing. The shot count was even at 4-4 when the Kings scored with one second left in the first period. The Rangers piled on shots only once they trailed.The chart below shows how often a team shoots based on the game score. The data is based on playoff games since 2012. It includes blocked shots and missed shots, as well as shots on goal (these are called Corsi events in #fancystats terms) in 5-on-5 play.Teams down by one goal are shooting about 25 percent more often than their opponents at even strength. Teams down by two or more goals are shooting about 40 percent more often.Are those extra shots translating into goals? Actually, yes. In cases when it trails by two goals or more, a team scores about 2.4 goals per 60 minutes of ice time at even strength, compared with 1.8 goals for the leading team.So, at least in the playoffs, there’s been some tendency for the trailing team to recover (despite that it should be the slightly weaker team on average for having fallen behind). It’s like a mild version of the CPU Assistance that allowed the computer to make spectacular comebacks in games such as NBA Jam just when you thought you had everything wrapped up.It isn’t clear whether this represents rational behavior on the part of the leading team. It would be one thing if it were stalling just to get the game over with, reducing shots and scoring for both teams. But it’s actually allowing its opponents more shots and more goals — at the same time it’s taking fewer of its own.One possible explanation is the avoidance of penalties (to the extent they can be averted through more passive play). In playoff games since 2012, teams are scoring 6.3 goals per 60 minutes on the power play — nearly three times their rate at even strength. Shorthanded teams score 0.8 shorthanded goals per 60 minutes. Those long-term averages didn’t help the Rangers on Monday night, who went scoreless in six power play opportunities.
Maryland and South Carolina have really good women’s basketball teams — two of the four best in the country. But Connecticut and Notre Dame, their respective Final Four opponents on Sunday in Tampa, are a cut above. They’re ranked No. 1 and 2 in the country by the AP, the coaches and the tournament selection committee. They’re the favorites to reach Tuesday’s final in our March Madness predictions and in Vegas. They played each other in last year’s final. And, best of all, they have a rich history — one that isn’t as one-sided as UConn’s recent dominance suggests.Notre Dame has dealt UConn seven of its 18 losses since the start of 2007. In other words, 39 percent of the time UConn has lost in the last eight-plus years, it’s been against Notre Dame.If UConn and Notre Dame play each other in the final, it’d be their 21st meeting since the start of 2007 — the latest ESPN Stats & Info data available. They played 12 regular-season games (11 back when both were in the Big East), plus three Big East conference finals and one semifinal. They’ve also met four times in the last eight Final Fours, with two wins apiece. A Tuesday meeting would be the rubber match.Maryland and South Carolina have been good, but they simply haven’t been as dominant. UConn has won 94.6 percent of its games since the start of 2007, by far the best in the sport. Notre Dame ranks fifth, at 84.1 percent. (Stanford, Green Bay and Baylor are second, third and fourth.) Maryland is 11th, at 80.6 percent. And South Carolina is 53rd, at 64.3 percent. But South Carolina’s and Maryland’s relative inconsistency, coupled with UConn’s and Notre Dame’s late, lamented conference rivalry, means they have a much thinner record against the rest of the Final Four.So let’s look more closely at the UConn-Notre Dame rivalry. UConn has won 13 of their last 20 matchups, or 65 percent. That’s as close as UConn gets these days to a balanced rivalry — it’s the lowest winning percentage UConn has against any team it has played more than five times since the start of 2007. Every team but one that has played UConn at least once in that time has a losing record against the Huskies. (The one exception is longtime rival Tennessee, which won their only recent meeting.) More than 90 percent of UConn opponents haven’t beaten the Huskies even once, including four teams that have played them at least 10 times.Also notable, for a team that has regularly all but clinched its games by halftime, UConn has beaten Notre Dame by an average of less than eight points per game in their 20 meetings. That’s the closest average margin for any UConn opponent that has played the Huskies more than five times since 2007.UConn, meanwhile, is responsible for a big chunk of Notre Dame’s losses since the start of 2007: 13 of 49, or 27 percent. UConn is the only team Notre Dame has played in more than six games in that period that has a winning record against the Fighting Irish.Notre Dame’s recent wins against UConn all came in an astonishingly short spell: The Fighting Irish won seven of eight meetings over a stretch that started with Notre Dame’s upset of UConn in the 2011 Final Four. Notre Dame star Jewell Loyd, a junior and the team’s leading scorer, is the only current player who was a major contributor for the Fighting Irish when they last beat UConn.It’s not the most heated or longstanding rivalry. Before the teams played in December — in a game UConn won by 18 points — espnW’s Graham Hays pointed out that it doesn’t have the rich character and tension of UConn-Tennessee. Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw, asked before the game about her relationship with Connecticut coach Geno Auriemma, made it sound like the two were friendly acquaintances in the corporate world. “Geno and I are terrific,” McGraw said. “We saw each other this summer. We’ve got no issues, no problems. Just business as usual for both of us.”If it’s business as usual for both teams on Sunday, we’ll see them renew their acquaintance in the final on Tuesday in Tampa, in the latest edition of the closest thing to a rivalry that Auriemma’s dominant UConn team has these days.
The Heat paid Goran Dragic $85 million this offseason to be the franchise’s best point guard since Tim Hardaway. If nothing else, Dragic should ignite a team that played at the NBA’s second-slowest pace last season. Now that he has recovered from season-ending treatment for blood clots on his lung, Chris Bosh hopes to play as he did in his most productive year in a Heat uniform, the 2013-14 season. His conditioning and versatility ensure that his game will continue to age like fine wine. Many want to compare Justise Winslow, a former Duke standout, to a younger version of Wade, but Wade says Winslow’s size and strength remind him of a younger version of Metta World Peace, the artist formerly known as Ron Artest. To complicate matters further: CARMELO thinks Winslow’s top comp is another Heat teammate, Deng. The post-LeBron James era got off to a disastrous start last season for the Miami Heat, who endured a 37-45 campaign that was riddled with injuries and dumped the team outside of the playoffs for the first time in seven years. A potentially devastating offseason could have followed, but some semblance of order and continuity was restored when franchise anchor Dwyane Wade patched up differences with management and settled on a one-year, $20 million contract for this season. Point guard Goran Dragic signed a long-term deal. Promising center Hassan Whiteside continued to develop, and both Chris Bosh and Josh McRoberts are healed and healthy coming off season-ending maladies last year. All signs point to a Heat revival in the East and an opportunity, if the team stays relatively healthy, to stare down LeBron in the postseason.FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO, on the other hand, projects the Heat to go 38-44 and fall just below .500. We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here. If Dwyane Wade had a million dollars for every game he missed last season — oh, wait. Evaluating Wade is all about vantage point. He’ll point to the fact that he was second in the league in usage rate last season, but skeptics counter that injuries prevented him from being used for at least 20 games for a second straight season. CARMELO expects Wade to be a shadow of his former self; his top comp, another great in the last chapter of his career. After spending a decade in Chicago, Luol Deng struggled with the turbulence that moved him to Cleveland and ultimately to Miami in the span of a few months. After failing to find comfort with his role last season, he’s banking on that to change in a contract year. It figures that a projection system named after a member of the longtime rival New York Knicks would take such a low-blow shot at the Heat. So a year after hitting rock-bottom and winning just 37 games during an injury-ravaged season, Miami is projected to win only one more game? If so, expect a major shakeup for what has been one of the NBA’s most stable franchises.Here are the CARMELO projections for Miami’s core players: The promising yet enigmatic big man did something last season that hadn’t been done in 50 years: Hassan Whiteside averaged 11 points, 10 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in less than 24 minutes a game. That’s profound efficiency, but the key now for Whiteside is to develop consistency. The route from a $21 million salary last season to the $1.6 million vet’s minimum this season involved plenty of sacrifice for Amar’e Stoudemire. But it’ll require even more if Stoudemire is willing to accept a reduced role off the bench to make this work in Miami.Read more: 2015-16 NBA Previews
Well before the season started, coach Thad Matta told Evan Turner that he wanted the junior to make the switch from small forward to point guard.The choice to put the ball in Turner’s hands proved to be a monumental decision, as the Buckeyes became Big Ten regular season champions and Turner and Matta both took home postseason honors.In the first of what will likely be many awards for the Ohio State junior, both the media and coaches selected Turner as the Big Ten Player of the Year Monday.“I think it’s a really big deal,” Turner said Monday night on a teleconference. “Most of my awards are state-wide but this is across the Midwest and is against some of the best talent in the country.”Matta was honored by the media as the conference Coach of the Year. Purdue’s Matt Painter earned the honor from the coaches.“We all love playing for [Matta},” Turner said. “He’s a player’s coach and we all have trust and faith in him.”Turner leads the conference with averages of 19.5 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. His 5.8 assists per game rank second in the Big Ten.The Chicago native started the season with a bang, recording just the second triple double in OSU history, with 14 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists in a 100-60 victory over Alcorn State.Two weeks later, he stuffed another stat sheet, notching 16 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds in an 84-64 win over Lipscomb.But the success came to an abrupt — albeit temporary — end. On a breakaway dunk in the early stages of a blowout victory Dec. 5 against Eastern Michigan, Turner fell to the floor, breaking a pair of vertebrae in his back.Doctors initially predicted that the injury would cost Turner eight weeks, but the resilient junior returned to the court after just five weeks of recovery.During his absence, the Buckeyes fell into the Big Ten cellar. OSU went 3-3 with Turner sidelined, plagued by an ineffective offense.But once the do-it-all guard returned to action, the Buckeyes surged through the home stretch of the season, winning 13 of their last 15 regular season games.With a 73-57 win Mar. 2 over Illinois, the Bucks clinched a share of the Big Ten title.Matta and Turner look to each other for the reasons behind the team’s success this year.“We’re really close. I really look at him for guidance,” Turner said. “He’s coached some great players and he’s taught me how to be a great player. He’s helped me grow up in a number of ways, and I’ll forever appreciate him for that.”Turner is the fifth player in OSU history to win the award. Jim Jackson took home the honor twice.Sophomore William Buford was named Third-Team All-Big Ten by both the coaches and media. Junior David Lighty was selected as a Third-Team All-Big Ten choice by the media and junior Dallas Lauderdale was named to the First-Team All-Big Ten Defensive Team by both the coaches and media.Ohio State earned the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and will play the winner of the Michigan-Iowa game at noon Friday in Indianapolis.
As a tri-captain on the softball team, it’s no wonder why Courtney Pruner refers to herself as “the enforcer.”“She’s a standout player, so it’s always great when your captains are your best players and/or your hardest workers,” coach Linda Kalafatis said. “She gets some due respect because of the things she does that enables us to win.”Pruner has a .318 batting average and a slugging percentage of .598. She has 37 RBIs, despite a hip surgery in December 2007 that caused her to miss her entire sophomore season.“I looked at it like, I’m not going to play softball for 15 years of my life to miss one of my last years,” Pruner said. “All my life I’ve wanted to play four years of Division I college softball. It’s not in my nature to not come back, even though the hip pain was rough and the rehab was rough.”“But I knew if I wanted to play this last year I’d have to work hard at rehab.”A redshirt senior, Pruner is primarily OSU’s designated hitter. She has 10 home runs this season and 36 in her career.Pruner received Big Ten Player of the Week earlier this season in April after going 6-for-7 against the Illinois Fighting Illini. This was the first conference award of her career.“It’s a huge honor because the Big Ten is such a tough conference and there’s so many amazing players,” Pruner said.Although Pruner has pitched for the Buckeyes and played infield and outfield, her field time is limited.“Because of my hips, it’s just way too painful,” Pruner said.Kalafatis said, “The kids really admire Courtney’s ability to fight through pain and all the things she’s been through. She’s shown some great maturity and leadership in that respect.”That leadership is exactly why Pruner is captain.“It’s nice to be respected by your teammates,” Pruner said.
Ohio’s erratic, day-to-day weather conditions are nothing like the sunny, cactus-filled deserts of Arizona. The two states are separated by almost 2,000 miles and the Rocky Mountains, so it’s no shock the climates are quite different. However, when five Arizona natives willingly leave the year-round warm weather to play baseball in the often-unpredictable climate of Columbus, it’s surprising. Ohio State sophomore Jaron Long and juniors Greg Solomon, Tyler Giannonatti, Brian King and Kirby Pellant all left “The Grand Canyon State” to play baseball two time zones away for the Buckeyes and coach Greg Beals. “I just came because I wanted to get out of Arizona,” Solomon said. “I wanted to come to a D-I university that had a good program.” Solomon, a catcher, was the first of the five to make the decision to come to Columbus when he left Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix after the 2010 season. As a junior college transfer, he said he wanted to go somewhere where he knew he could play and at least have the opportunity to start. He said he felt OSU was a good fit because then-starting OSU catcher Dan Burkhart was leaving for the pros and Beals was taking over for retiring OSU coach Bob Todd. Solomon started 46 games last season for the Buckeyes and has started 24 of OSU’s 35 games this season. The other four “Arizona Buckeyes” transferred just a year later from junior colleges as well. Pitchers Long, Giannonatti and infielder Pellant, all transferred from Chandler Gilbert Community College in Chandler, Ariz., while King came from Paradise Valley like Solomon. “I feel like I should get some sort of finders fee for these guys,” Solomon said with a grin. “I mentioned (King) to the coaches last year and I don’t know if they had already thought about going out there, but I feel like I was the instigator of these guys.” King, a pitcher for the Buckeyes starting eight games this season with a 5.08 ERA and 3-3 record, acknowledged it was easier making the decision to come to OSU knowing his junior college battery-mate was already there. The same can be said of Giannonatti and Pellant, who not only went to the same junior college, but also won the 2009 Arizona Class 5A state championship together at Corona del Sol High School in Chandler. “(OSU) came out and they offered me and they offered (Giannonatti), and it was like, ‘If he’s going, I’m going,”” Pellant said. Beals said it definitely helps the recruiting process when players are recruited in pairs. “They’re coming a long way from home, it’s nice to have a little bit of a comfort zone there,” Beals said. “It helps that they know they’ve got a buddy here or they’ve got another buddy coming with them.” Long, a three-game winner with a 2.31 ERA, was the last of the five to sign with the Buckeyes. He said knowing that Pellant and Giannonatti were already committed to OSU made his decision easier, and he is glad they were here when he arrived. “When you come to a school this big and you don’t really know anyone, it’s intimidating,” the Buckeye pitcher said. “But you have these guys that you’ve been friends with, so until you find new people to hang out with, you’ve got somewhere you can go with people you already know.” When the two prominent baseball programs in Arizona don’t come calling, the state’s high school baseball players are not left with many options. “In Arizona, there’s two schools: Arizona and Arizona State,” Beals said. With eight national championships between them, The University of Arizona and Arizona State University have rich baseball histories and many of the state’s high school players dream of playing for the storied programs. But when they’re not offered the opportunity, they can feel slighted, like Pellant. “If you don’t go there or get offered there, you kind of have a hatred toward them,” OSU’s team leader in steals (19) said. “That’s what makes you want to leave Arizona to get somewhere else.” For many, the platform “to get somewhere else” is Arizona’s junior college baseball. “If you don’t go to one of those two schools, a lot of kids go to junior college,” Beals said. “It is such more of a prominent avenue for high school kids there than it is here in the Midwest.” “The JUCO baseball out there is good competition,” Pellant said. “Guys are getting drafted every year and it draws a lot of universities out there. OSU heard about it and went out there.” The five players said they are happy that OSU gave them the opportunity and said coming to Columbus was the right choice, aside from maybe the weather, they all said jokingly. They said at times, they can’t believe they’re playing for a school like OSU. “Ohio State comes out and recruits you and it’s kind of like, ‘Dang! OSU wants me,’” Giannonatti, who’s yet to appear in a game this season, said. “You see (OSU) on every channel every day, it’s a big school. It’s almost an honor to come here.” Solomon said being a Buckeye has made him notice things he didn’t before. “Whenever I go back to Arizona, I notice the ‘Block-O’ more than I did, before I saw it everyday,” Solomon said. “Knowing that there’s people all over rooting for you, I think is pretty cool, and I’m glad that I got to come here.” Pellant agreed and said it’s awesome knowing there are Buckeye Nation fans everywhere that love them. “They don’t know you, you don’t know them, but they support you every minute of the day,” Pellant said. “That’s special.” The “Arizona Buckeyes” have been a vital part of OSU’s team this season. Pellant and Solomon, the only everyday players of the five, have started a combined 59 games for the Buckeyes while Long and King are part of OSU’s improved starting rotation, each winning three games.
Then-freshman Nichelle Prince (7) avoids a defender during a game against Pittsburgh Aug. 28, 2013. OSU won 2-0.Credit: Lantern file photoWith time running out, the Ohio State women’s soccer team made a big play at the end of regulation to tie with No. 24 Michigan.There wasn’t a lot of action in the first half as neither team was able to get much going. Both sides were unable to convert on opportunities as the match entered halftime scoreless.The Wolverines held an 8-4 lead in shots and 3-1 lead in shots on goal for the first half.Sophomore forward Nichelle Prince gave the Buckeyes a chance to take the lead in the 63rd minute but freshman goalkeeper Megan Hinz made a diving save to keep the score tied.Sophomore forward Nicky Waldeck gave the Wolverines the lead in the 70th minute with a header off a corner kick from freshman forward Taylor Timko.OSU responded with a header from senior midfielder Ellyn Gruber off a cross from senior forward Kayla Varner in the 75th minute to tie the game.With two minutes remaining, Varner had a chance to give the Buckeyes the lead with a header but the shot was saved by Hinz to keep the game tied.In the final minute, freshman forward Danielle Hogarth gave the Wolverines the lead with a header off a cross from sophomore midfielder Anna Soccorsi.Just a few seconds later, sophomore defender Nicole Miyashiro tied the game again off an assist from freshman forward Sammy Edwards. The late goal was the last of regulation, sending the game into overtime with the score tied, 2-2.Michigan ended regulation with a 22-18 lead in shots while both teams managed seven shots on goal.Redshirt-freshman midfielder Ani Sarkisian gave Michigan a shot in the 93rd minute but redshirt-freshman goalkeeper Megan Geldernick was there to make the save.Both teams were unable to score and so the game was sent into a second overtime.Both teams struggled for chances in the second overtime, but sophomore midfielder Jessica Heifetz had a chance to give the Wolverines the win in the 107th minute but Geldernick was able to make another save for OSU.The rest of overtime played out and the game ended in a 2-2 draw.OSU moved to 5-8-3 overall and 2-5-3 in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes also handed Michigan (11-4-1, 7-2-1) its first draw of the season.Up next, the Buckeyes are scheduled to face Iowa on Friday at 7 p.m. at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium and Nebraska on Sunday at 1 p.m.
OSU junior guard Ameryst Alston goes for a 2-point shot while VCU freshman guard #13 Brittani Burgess and sophomore guard #14 Adaeze Alaeze try to intercede in the first half of the OSU Women’s basketball game against VCU November 23, 2014. OSU went on to win 96-86.With the Big Ten season around the corner, the Ohio State women’s basketball team is set to end its non-conference season on a high note against No. 22 West Virginia.The Buckeyes (7-4) and Mountaineers (9-1) are set to complete a home-and-home series dating back to last season, in which the Buckeyes won in Morgantown, W.Va., 70-61. Following that game, the Mountaineers would go on to win 17 of their next 18 games.Sophomore forward Shayla Cooper said she hopes to make a big impact in her first game for the Buckeyes.“I’m looking to bring a lot of energy, a lot more rebounding,” Cooper said.Cooper, a transfer from Georgetown, had to sit out until the end of fall semester due to NCAA transfer rules. In the two games she played for the Hoyas in 2013, she totaled 32 points and 17 rebounds.She spoke highly of her own defense, which will likely be needed against a deep Mountaineer frontcourt.“I’m more like the muscle of the team,” Cooper said. “I’m the one that’s going to get those rebounds, like when we played Pitt and we needed that one rebound.”The Mountaineers frontcourt starts with 6-foot-5 redshirt sophomore center Lanay Montgomery, who has totaled 66 rebounds in 10 starts this season.OSU coach Kevin McGuff said he was glad to have Cooper as an eligible player on the team.“It’s good to have her now,” McGuff said. “It’s good to have another body.”At 6-foot-2, Cooper provides depth, especially since the Buckeyes starting lineup is currently comprised of four guards and only one forward.One of those guards, junior Ameryst Alston, is looking forward to playing with Cooper for the first time.“Definitely, really excited to have her back,” Alston said. “I’m really looking forward to playing with her finally, like in an actual game.”Alston said that Cooper’s presence is also important both offensively and defensively.“She’s definitely going to bring energy, for sure,” she said. “She’s such a physical player, so that’s definitely something that we need, as far as rebounding.”In addition to Cooper’s eligibility, freshman forward Alexa Hart was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week, her first weekly award. Alston was also named to the Big Ten Honor Roll.With a win, the Buckeyes would be on a four-game winning streak heading into conference play. That would be the longest of the season and would be a tie for the longest in the past two seasons under McGuff.The game against the Mountaineers is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start on Monday at the Schottenstein Center.
Urban Meyer watches a Buckeye offensive possession from the sideline in the third quarter of the Ohio State-Iowa game on Nov. 4. Ohio State lost 24-55. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorOhio State will not win a national championship this season. It will not even reach the College Football Playoff.The Buckeyes’ second loss of the season, a 55-24 blowout to Iowa Saturday, made sure of that.As far as many Ohio State fans are concerned, the 2017 campaign is effectively over. Quarterback J.T. Barrett’s Buckeye career will end in a meaningless bowl game, and the rest of the team will begin to look to next season.So what’s next for Ohio State?Head coach Urban Meyer said Monday that keeping the Buckeyes motivated with few remaining game in their schedule is something he has not considered too much.“That’s something we work on not today, that’s something we’ve been working on all year,” Meyer said. “And you try to get a close team that cares about each other and plays really hard. It’s not going to be some speech I give to the team. So it’s a process. It’s a journey that we’re on. And there’s still plenty of things, great things ahead.”Though players and coaches will say the Big Ten is still theirs to take — and they’re not wrong — that is not what Ohio State sought to accomplish when it began the year. Players, coaches, media and fans all set the expectation level for the Buckeyes to win a championship. Despite the fact Meyer has won just one Big Ten title in his six-year tenure at Ohio State, winning the Big Ten is tertiary to reaching the playoffs and winning a title. If Ohio State wins the remainder of its three regular season games — against Michigan State, Illinois and Michigan — then it will travel to Indianapolis to presumably square off against the Wisconsin Badgers, who are one win from clinching the Big Ten West title.For Meyer, the matchup against Michigan State is as far as he is looking ahead. Just as it has for a large part of Meyer’s career in Columbus, the road to the Big Ten title game runs through that matchup.“You still look at the standings and Ohio State and Michigan State are [first and second] in the Big Ten East,” Meyer said. “And everybody knows this game for the last, what’s our sixth year of playing them or something, usually it’s just a prizefight. So the tougher team usually wins. And we’ve got to understand what we’re going to play against.”Even if Ohio State runs the table and captures Meyer’s second Big Ten championship, this season is lost for many.And this year defines the end of an era. The core group of players that led Ohio State to a national championship, two playoff appearances, a Big Ten title and another bowl game win will exit Ohio Stadium for the final time against Illinois, leaving the Buckeyes with a plethora of position battles heading into the next season. With so many potentially drastic changes coming to Ohio State’s roster and the struggles this veteran team has faced thus far this season, it is fair to wonder whether Ohio State will be back in the mix next season. How will the team fare with a new quarterback under center and an offensive line replacing its two top linemen protecting him? What about a defensive line that could potentially lose four starters?Those asking the questions might not want to admit it, but next season could prove less fruitful than this campaign. It is going to be a young team replacing key contributors all over the field, and a learning curve will await. Those disappointed by the results in 2017 could be disappointed by 2018. Perhaps the difference in expectation levels will lessen the blow of a down year for the Buckeyes. Knowing that the team is younger could make a title-less season easier to stomach.The Buckeyes entered the 2017 season as the favorite to win the Big Ten and among those listed as most likely to win the national championship. That they will not achieve the latter is a devastating blow and the former would be only a mere consolation prize. Though it is still early, the Buckeyes do not appear to be in a position to be named the early favorite to win the Big Ten or national championship next year.To many outside the program, the season is over. To those inside the program, the season is still alive and well. There will be no talk of the 2018 season until the clock in that meaningless bowl game ticks down to zero.“Where is the program headed?” Meyer asked. “That’s kind of deep. We’re playing Michigan State this week. We gotta really practice well and fix the turnover issue on offense and play a little better on defense. Kicking was much better.”