Scottish terrier8 “God loves a terrier.” — Gerry and Cookie Fleck, “Best in Show”Nearly 3,000 dogs are entered this year in the Westminster Kennel Club’s annual dog show. Officially, they belong to 199 dog breeds and varieties, their names affirming the global success of dog breeding, one of the most awesome biological experiments in history: affenpinscher, Beauceron, boerboel, keeshond, löwchen, Plott, Samoyed, schipperke, vizsla, xoloitzcuintli.On Tuesday at Madison Square Garden, seven dogs will bound onto Westminster’s iconic green carpet in the event’s final round. Each dog will be linked to a human handler by a show collar and lead, the two participants expertly guided and guiding. When the applause finally dies down, a tuxedoed judge will carefully assess each dog for its appearance, gait, coat, ears, eyes, teeth and temperament — its form against its original function. After careful deliberation, the judge will deem one of these dogs the highest expression of what a dog can be. The award: A polished pewter bowl and the coveted title Best in Show.For a long time at the Westminster show — the club has put on dog shows since 1877 — the winner of this title came from the same group of dogs over and over and over again, resulting in a record that is unrivaled even by the most storied of sports dynasties. For decades, terriers reigned supreme over Westminster. But then the arc of history turned against them. “A lot of working-class people were involved with them in the U.K. because it was a hobby,” Green said. “It didn’t cost a lot of money to keep a dog and breed a few dogs, and working-class people would breed puppies and make a little money doing that.” Someone was always in the market for a good show dog. “A good one is always what everybody was looking for,” Green said.A “good one” was exactly what George Thomas was always looking for. In 1939, The New York Times called Thomas “one of America’s greatest all-around dog experts” when he judged Best in Show at Westminster. But it was his business acumen decades earlier that drove him to this distinction. Beginning in the late 1800s, Thomas imported terriers from England to the United States, and business was good. The English press dubbed him the “American Ambassador.” He imported hundreds of the greatest wire fox terriers ever produced in England to the U.S.The rich East Coasters who bought the dogs often got more than a dog in the deal. “George Thomas would say, ‘OK, I can get you the foundation stock; I can get you a man from England to come over and take care of the dogs and groom them for you,’” Green said. “And he did, literally, scores of people, started their kennels for them.”And judging by news reports from Thomas’s time, this was a profitable business. The 1915 Westminster champion, yet another wire fox terrier, was plucked from “the obscurity of an English barnyard” for 2 pounds. On our side of the pond, one Boston terrier3Actually the result of breeding bulldogs with the (now extinct) English white terrier. at the 1907 show sold for $1,000 — about $27,000 today — to “a prominent New Yorker.” 15-inch beagle2 Smooth fox terrier4 Norwich terrier2 Newfoundland2 Sealyham terrier4 Thomas’s heir apparent in the trans-Atlantic dog trade was Percy Roberts, who started as a kennel boy for Thomas when he was 16 years old. During his 70-year career, Roberts was terriers — “a leitmotif of the 20th century in dogs,” according to The Canine Chronicle, a show-dog magazine. Roberts won his first Best in Show, with a wire fox terrier, in 1926. And then the stock market crashed.Roberts was traveling from England to America with thousands of dollars’ worth of dogs in 1929 when he got news of the crash. He didn’t go back to England for another four years. The Gilded Age was, by now, a distant memory, and the Great Depression had begun. “There were some big kennels that went kaput when the crash came,” Green said. The Manhattan dollars that had been put toward show dogs dried up, squeezing the terrier-import business. Not only had the terriers themselves cost good money, but so had the mercenary experts that undertook the intensive endeavor that is terrier maintenance. And so went the terrier demand.And then television came along. While Black Tuesday changed the business from the U.S., a few decades later, mass media changed it from England. The English working class that was largely responsible for raising the dogs turned to other leisure pursuits. “So instead of you going outside in a cold shed and pulling hair, you can watch a football game, and you’re sitting in your kitchen by the fire,” Green said. “Well, which would you rather do for a hobby?” And so went the terrier supply.Echoes of these effects are visible in data. The American Kennel Club, which is the governing body for dog shows and whose membership includes Westminster, tallies the most popular breeds in the country each year, going back to 1935. This data is based on purebred dog registrations with the club, which says it registers nearly 1 million dogs each year. (There are something like 80 million dogs owned in the U.S.)4I obtained rank data — the American Kennel Club doesn’t release raw registration numbers. The club ranked roughly the top 100 breeds for the early years of this data set, increasing to roughly 175 breeds in more recent years. Many of the all-star terrier breeds5Those that have won more than two Best in Shows through 2015. The smooth fox terrier, which has won four Best in Shows, isn’t included in the chart because the data on its popularity during the last century is incomplete. began to decline. English springer spaniel6 German shorthaired pointer2 The breed group system was introduced at Westminster in 1924. The number of groups has increased since then; I’ve backdated the present group definitions for the chart above.2Five of the groups were introduced in 1924, the hound group was added in 1930, and the herding group was created in 1983. For the cat-fanciers among you: The sporting group is home to your retrievers and spaniels; the working group to huskies and mastiffs; the toys are pugs and Shih Tzus; the non-sporting are Dalmatians and bulldogs; the hounds self-explanatory; and the herding group is sheepdogs and collies.“Terriers are in many ways the most homogenous group of breeds,” Flyckt-Pedersen said. Terrier breeds tend to be similar to one another, especially compared with the heterogeneity of the non-sporting group, for example, which is home to both the Lhasa apso and the Norwegian lundehund.If terriers were once the Yankees of Westminster, one terrier breed in particular was their Babe Ruth: the wire fox terrier. Flyckt-Pedersen, who has bred terriers since 1963, called wire fox terriers “the ultimate” terrier breed. “They were hunting dogs, and they had to be tough and fearless to hunt badgers and foxes,” he said. “They have to have a real personality, they have to have a real character, and they have to be confident and, hopefully, fearless.” Wire foxes alone have won 14 Westminster Best in Shows. A distant second: another terrier. The Scottish terrier has won eight. Westminster’s dog show is the second-longest-continuously-running sporting event (if you’ll permit it the label) in the country, after the Kentucky Derby (ditto). Since Westminster first crowned a Best in Show, in 1907, 46 winners have been terriers. Of the 43 Best in Shows that were awarded in the first half of the 20th century, 29 went to a terrier.1There was no Best in Show awarded in 1923. The first three Best in Shows all went to the same terrier — Warren Remedy, a fox terrier. The terrier “is to Westminster awards what Meryl Streep is to the Oscars, except that the terriers win more,” The New York Times wrote in 2003. But this has changed. The market and tastes that made terriers such popular show dogs in the first half of last century shifted, and a broad decline in terrier popularity is now mirrored by fewer terrier Best in Show titles. Pekingese4 Bulldog2 The word “terrier” comes from the Middle French chien terrier — literally, dog of the earth. The dogs were originally bred to kill vermin — there’s still a breed known as the rat terrier. And it is this hunter’s instinct, this fearlessness, that has come to define the temperament of the breed today. As A. E. Housman, the English scholar and poet, wrote, “I can no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat.” Hunting — like poetry to a poet — is just what terriers do.This temperament is highly valued in the present-day show terrier. “When a terrier group comes into the ring, they’ll all look confident and seem to enjoy doing what they’re doing,” Geir Flyckt-Pedersen, this year’s Westminster terrier group judge, told me.Terriers may have a temperament made for a dog show, but their coats are the stuff of nightmares. To maintain the coat coloring that is valued in the breeds, and to keep it properly harsh, a show terrier’s hair must be pulled, plucked and stripped, by hand. Every day. Pointer3 Illustrations by Joe McKendry This fall from prominence has affected more than the multi-champion terrier breeds. The Dandie Dinmont, the Skye, the Kerry blue, the Bedlington, the Welsh, the standard Manchester, the Australian and the Lakeland have all seen significant declines in popularity, as well.For some terrier breeds, the situation is existential. In 2011, a campaign was launched to save the Sealyham terrier — winner of four Westminster Best in Shows and once the dog of choice of King George V, Cary Grant and Elizabeth Taylor — from extinction. “If we can save the rhino or tiger, we can surely save this useful and charming breed of dog,” the British magazine Country Life wrote. Some related breeds, like the English white terrier, from which the Sealyham line descends, have already gone extinct. In 2010, only 49 Sealyham puppies were registered with the U.K.’s Kennel Club, down from 2,000 in the breed’s peak years. The near-extinction of the Sealyham is an extreme illustration of terrier decline — even among terriers, the Sealyham is extremely difficult to show. The dogs have very thick coats, for one thing, and their white fur tends to get dirty easily.Despite the difficulties, an intrepid few still soldier on in the terrier world. Diane Orange, a columnist for the American Kennel Club, told me that she has bred terriers since 1956 and now breeds Welsh terriers in West Virginia. When I reached her by phone, she had her hands full: “I’ve got a 6-month-old puppy running around loose, and I’ve got to put her back in her crate.�� When she returned a minute or two later, she continued: “Right now, I’m starting to work on coats for four of them for the summer, and once I get really working on the coats, it’s going to take me an hour a day, per dog, to get them ready to show, for about three months.”When terriers were hegemons of Westminster in the early 20th century, there were far fewer breeds in the country. And as terrier popularity has declined, the variety of dog breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club and competing at Westminster has increased. But terrier titles haven’t gone down just because there is more competition now. In 1950, when terriers ended their run of winning 29 out of 43 Best in Shows, there were 19 terrier breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, 17 percent of the 109 total. Now, there are 31 terrier breeds, 16 percent of the 189 total.6Westminster did not have historical data on the number of breeds and varieties competing each year, so I used the American Kennel Club data, which is a close proxy. There are 10 more dog types on the Westminster list, though, because the breeds are divided into even finer categories — e.g., the dachshund is one breed on the American Kennel Club list, but its longhaired, smooth, and wirehaired versions compete at Westminster separately. A new terrier breed — the American hairless — was recognized just this year and will make its debut at Westminster in 2017. Of course, other breeds have their own issues. Where terriers are blessed with pluck, beagles, for example, “you have to convince them that they love what they’re doing,” Darlene Stewart, a committee chair for the National Beagle Club, told me. Training, rather than grooming, might be the main challenge.Ultimately, each dog is judged according to its own breed’s rubric. In the Best in Show ring, a dog competes against the others, but also against the platonic ideal of its own breed. And these ideals are public record. The American Kennel Club’s standard for the wire fox terrier, for example, comes in at just over three dense, single-spaced pages. Source: Westminster Kennel Club Miniature poodle3 In the past two decades, titles have been fairly evenly distributed across most of the breed groups. Last year’s winner was a beagle (a member of the hound group) known as Miss P, only the second beagle to take the title. The runner-up: Charlie, a Skye terrier. Boxer4 BREEDBEST IN SHOWS By Oliver Roeder More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed Airedale terrier4 Standard poodle4 Afghan hound2 Old English sheepdog2 Oliver Roeder and Jody Avirgan visit the Westminster Dog Show on our podcast What’s The Point. Toy poodle2 Doberman pinscher4 Black cocker spaniel2 One Yorkie did win Westminster, back in 1978. But Yorkshire terriers, small as they are, compete in the toy group at Westminster. The terrier on the rise is barely a terrier at all.Despite the upending of the import market decades ago and the breeds’ often sharply declining popularity, the terrier experts I spoke to were still high on the dogs’ chances to prevail at the Garden this year. Oddsmakers haven’t cooled completely on their chances, either. The Wynn sportsbook puts the odds of a Skye terrier Best in Show at 5-to-1, making that breed the second overall favorite. The odds of a German shepherd win are 4-to-1.7The Scottish terrier comes in at 18-to-1, the wire fox at 40-to-1, and the Welsh at 125-to-1. Charlie, the Skye terrier who was last year’s runner-up, has good odds to win this year, as does Rumor, who was the best of the German shepherds and won the herding group on Monday.At the Garden on Tuesday, the mood among the dog handlers will be serious and competitive. “It’s just like what you would expect with trainers at the Kentucky Derby or mechanics at the Daytona 500,” said Stewart, the beagle expert. “They’re not going to be talking to each other about the new clutch they put in their car.”But that competitive tension can work in a terrier’s favor. “The chaos that is [the Westminster] show doesn’t bother the terriers,” Orange said. “They are so outgoing and so full of themselves that they don’t get exhausted. And they don’t stress out the way some of the more sensitive breeds do. Very few things bother a terrier.”The royal terrier bloodline may have thinned, but it’s royal nonetheless. “Terriers are still difficult to beat if you’ve got a good one,” Green said. Lakeland terrier2 For decades, it wasn’t just dog-show success injecting the terrier brand into the collective American psyche — politics and pop culture also shined light on these breeds. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had Fala, a Scottish terrier, as a pet in the White House. The dog was a centerpiece of a nationally broadcast speech given by the president in 1944, and a statue of the pet sits at Roosevelt’s memorial in Washington, D.C. The Kennedys owned a Welsh terrier called Charlie. Asta, a wire fox terrier and now a staple of crossword puzzle answers, became a Hollywood star, appearing in “The Thin Man” films and many other movies in the 1930s and ’40s. Alfred Hitchcock owned Sealyham terriers, and the dogs made cameos in his movies.But the history of terriers in America goes back further than that. To understand it, you have to start in the United Kingdom.Terriers were described by an English physician as early as the 16th century; by the Victorian era, the animals had become the people’s dog of choice. Flyckt-Pedersen and Peter Green, a legendary terrier handler who has won four Westminster Best in Shows, agreed that some combination of the animals’ hunting utility and the vagaries of public taste were responsible for terriers’ popularity in the U.K. Around the turn of the 20th century, “terriers were the popular things,” Green said. “The only other breeds that were popular were sporting dogs.” And different terrier breeds emerged that were tailored for different landscapes and different prey — rats, badgers, rabbits and so on. Most successful breeds at Westminster “The domestic dog is a genetic enterprise unique in human history,” a team of biologists wrote in a 2004 paper in Science. The animals are all one species — Canis familiaris — but they range from the diminutive 8-pound Brussels griffon to the massive 150-pound Neapolitan mastiff. But with the exception of the Boston terrier’s one-year reign in 1935, only four dogs have taken turns atop the American Kennel Club’s most popular breed list: the cocker spaniel, the beagle, the poodle and the Labrador retriever. And there is a disconnect between popularity in the broader canine world and success in the silk-stocking milieu of Westminster: Ubiquity doesn’t necessarily lead to first-place ribbons and shiny pewter bowls. No Labrador retriever (“America’s dog,” per the vice president of the American Kennel Club) has ever won Best in Show at the Garden. Nor has a retriever of any kind. No beagle had until 2008, despite more than 70 years in the popularity top 10.Some popular dogs do take the top prize, though. Poodles of various types have taken nine titles, and cocker spaniels, which have enjoyed two distinct reigns as the country’s most popular breed, have won four. In some sense, popularity is bound to help. “If a breed is bred in numbers and bred by serious people, the chances that you breed something fantastic is higher than if it’s a small breed, with a small number of breeders,” said Flyckt-Pedersen, the terrier judge.Some breeds have seen boom times. Chief among them: the French bulldog, Rottweiler, Maltese, and Siberian husky, each of which has risen from obscurity around 1950 to prominence today. But so far only one of these — a Siberian husky back in 1980 — has taken Best in Show. It remains unclear what the next dog-show dynasty will be or if there will be one at all. Might it be the dawn of the toy? A Pekingese and an affenpinscher took the titles in 2012 and 2013. Perhaps a long-in-coming age of the hound? Hounds have taken three titles since 2008 — as many as they’d won in the previous century. Or maybe the retrievers will finally get their due.Things change. A Portuguese water dog now lives in the White House. Our celebrities tote around Maltese and toy poodles. “Frasier” went off the air long ago, and its star terrier, Moose, is dead. So is Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier from “The Artist.”But amid the still-smoldering ruins of the terrier empire, one terrier prospers — the rose that grew while the others wilted. The Yorkshire terrier’s increased popularity, per the American Kennel Club data, stands alone as a terrier on the rapid rise. Stingray of Derryabah, a Lakeland terrier, won Best in Show at Westminster in 1968 and Best in Show at Crufts, the U.K.’s major dog show, the year before. Photo courtesy of AKC Gazette Collection Illustration by Sean Sims. Frame photo by DeAgostini / Getty Images Wire fox terrier14 West Highland white terrier2 Embed Code
The Dallas Mavericks have suffered their first loss of the season due to the arthroscopic surgery on the right knee of star Dirk Nowitzki.Nowitzki, who is 34, will miss at least six weeks rehabbing his knee and the beginning part of the regular season.Nowitzki sat out the Mavericks’ last three preseason games due to soreness and swelling to his right knee. He wanted to put the surgery off until after the season, but was advised that he needed to have the procedure because of the inflammation he is dealing with now.Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle addressed the media Friday about Nowitzki’s absence for the next six weeks.“We’ve got to really buckle down,” Carlisle said. “Six weeks is a long time. A week and a half of it is non-season time, so that’s a bit of a plus, but NBA games are hard and we’re going to have to have everybody ready to play. Simple as that.”With the loss of streaky guard Jason Terry to the Boston Celtics in the offseason, the offensive load will be relegated to newcomers O.J. and Darren Collison.The 11-time All-Star has had his knee drained twice this month by Mavericks’ medical staff, to have the swelling return days later. Nowitzki tried to rest and ice his knee, while doing low-impact conditioning work this week. After seeing no progress in his efforts he decided to have surgery.Nowitzki spoke to the media Monday after following three consecutive practices and the return of the swelling.“If it’s going to keep swelling up on me, that’s obviously not a way to go throughout an 82-game season and hopefully long playoff run,” Nowitzki said.He was first bothered by the knee during last season’s training camp, which caused him to take four games off to focus on his conditioning. Nowitzki went on to average 21.6 point and 6.8 rebounds last year for the defending champions, which was his third worst statistical year since entering the league in 1999. In the 1999 season he averaged 8.2 points and 3.5 rebounds as a rookie.With the Mavericks tipping the season off against the Los Angeles Lakers on Oct. 30, everybody apart of the team will have to step their level of play up if they do not want to be at the bottom of the standings in the Western Conference.“It’s never going to be easy to lose a game-changer for six weeks,” Carlisle said. “We know that, but we’re going to have to make up for it in other areas. We’re going to have to play with grit and guts, and we’re going to have to raise our level of efficiency in all areas.”
If Michigan State were as strong as the average top-rated team, it would win this year’s tournament a shade less than 17 percent of the time, instead of little more than 10 percent. The same goes for Villanova, a likely No. 1 seed currently ranked second by Pomeroy; instead of being expected to win nearly 18 percent of the time, the Wildcats’ low rating limits them to odds below 12 percent. In fact, the collective tournament win probability for Pomeroy’s top 3 teams is about 14 percentage points lower than it would be in a typical season, simply because 2016 has so much parity — the best teams aren’t as good as top teams normally are.Because the NCAA Tournament is a zero-sum game, the rest of the field gains from this lack of top-heaviness. Although pretty much every team ranked No. 4 to No. 25 by Pomeroy benefits some (teams ranked below that don’t really have much of a chance either way), the biggest beneficiaries are positioned in the back half of the top 10 and into the teens: All of this means more teams will have more of a chance this year than in just about any other season in memory. Get ready for one Mad March. March Madness is always rough on favorites. In your typical men’s college basketball season, the statistical favorite goes into the NCAA tourney with only about a 20 percent to 25 percent probability of winning the championship. In other words, even the “best” team is three or four times more likely to lose early than it is to win it all. We can be vaguely confident that one of the top handful of teams will emerge from March’s wreckage unscathed, but that’s about it. Over the past seven seasons, the eventual champ was (on average) the tourney’s seventh- or eighth-most-likely winner beforehand, according to simulations using Ken Pomeroy’s ratings.And this year has the potential for a lot more anarchy than usual. Michigan State is the consensus top team according to a variety of predictive metrics, but that’s not unanimous — there are some solid indicators pointing to Villanova, North Carolina and surging Kansas as well.1The Jayhawks rank first in Jeff Sagarin’s ranking of recent team performance. And if the Spartans truly are the best, they’re one of the weakest top-ranked squads in recent memory. Since Pomeroy began tracking team ratings in the 2001-02 season, only one No. 1 team — the 2005-06 Duke Blue Devils — owned a lower pre-tournament power rating than Michigan State has now. Plus, Sparty might not even earn a No. 1 seed; only 11 of the 77 bracket prognosticators aggregated by Bracket Matrix see the team headlining a region in the NCAA Tournament.This isn’t meant to pick on the Spartans (sorry, Nate!), but it does illustrate that if even the nation’s strongest team has a number of factors limiting its championship odds, it’s going to be an unusually wide-open year for the tournament.To see exactly how much this year figures to depart from the norm, I plugged Pomeroy’s ratings into ESPN’s latest Bracketology projection, calculating each team’s odds of winning the tournament if Selection Sunday goes as Joe Lunardi predicts. Virginia checked in first with a 12 percent probability of winning — significantly lower than the 20 percent to 25 percent chance held by the typical pre-tourney favorite — followed by Villanova at 11.7 percent and Michigan State at 10.4 percent. I then re-simulated the bracket after assigning each team the typical strength connoted by its Pomeroy ranking — i.e., how much better would the top teams’ odds be if they were as strong as in an ordinary season?
OSU coach Urban Meyer during a game against Rutgers on Oct. 24 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorIt might have lost an unprecedented amount of talent to the NFL draft, but the Ohio State football team has begun to look toward the future as it resumed spring practice this week after taking some time off for spring break.Much of the conversation with OSU coach Urban Meyer on Tuesday was a reflection on the future of the program as it looks to withstand the departure of 16 starting offensive and defensive starters to graduation or early entry into the draft.Here are three key takeaways from the coach’s press conference as the Buckeyes continue to work toward the April 16 spring game.Stability on offenseWhile the Buckeyes might be missing big names like Braxton Miller, running back Ezekiel Elliott and wide receiver Michael Thomas, there is still some returning talent, anchored by redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett and redshirt senior center Pat Elflein.Meyer emphasized the importance of their return, saying a team incorporating new players at those positions has no shot.“The fact that those two guys are back, we have a shot,” he said. “And I think we have a decent chance to be good on offense. And it’s mostly due to those two guys coming back.”Meyer also spoke highly of Barrett’s leadership, saying that he’s one of the best leaders the team has ever had.Joining Barrett and Elflein as the only other returning starter on offense is redshirt junior left guard Billy Price. Some players, such as redshirt junior tight end Marcus Baugh, got their feet wet as backups last season and are set to step in as starters. But other groups, such as wide receiver and the right side of the offensive line, have a lot of questions to be answered before the start of the 2016 season.New players, new pressureWith new faces being pushed into bigger roles, Meyer also spoke to the pressures that will be on those players expected to step up.“We try to put as much pressure on the players now because it’s not fair to put pressure on them in October,” Meyer said.However, he added that the coaching staff can prepare a player as best as it can, but sometimes the player simply cannot handle it once things step up.“There are a lot of great athletes who don’t respond to stress very well,” Meyer said.With only six returning starters, a lot of inexperienced guys will be turned to in an effort to make a name for themselves in the spring. Those names range from true-freshman early enrollees to players who have been on the team for several years, biding their time to step into the spotlight.Confidence at cornerDespite losing star cornerback Eli Apple to the NFL draft, Meyer expressed confidence in his defensive backfield in part because of cornerbacks Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward.Lattimore, a redshirt sophomore, struggled with a hamstring injury his first two years with the team. Meyer spoke highly of the Cleveland native.“Marshon has to stay healthy, he’s so talented,” Meyer said.Conley is one of the few returning starters for the team, starting all 13 games in 2015 as the No. 2 corner. The redshirt junior knows better than anyone about the importance of putting on a show in preseason practice sessions, as his performances this time a year ago helped cement his status as a starter for a defending national-champion team.Ward, who played in 11 games last season, made seven tackles, including two in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. The true sophomore is primed to compete with Lattimore for the starting cornerback spot opposite Conley.Meyer and the Buckeyes will continue their build-up toward OSU’s annual spring game, which is scheduled to kick off at 1:30 p.m. on April 16 at Ohio Stadium.
Just as Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State football team marched out of Happy Valley with a win on Saturday, the “other” football squad — OSU men’s rugby — performed lights-out on a big stage, defeating Northern Iowa 44-20 and securing itself a place in Saturday’s conference semifinals.Northern Iowa and OSU squared each other up for the first 20 minutes — in a game consisting of two 40-minute halves — until sophomore wing Gareth Williatt broke the stalemate in the 25th minute with not one, but two remarkable 40-yard runs.“Those tries were all him just reading the defense,” senior captain Mickey Franco said. “He kind of did his own work on the sidelines, broke a couple of tackles and it was just a real individual effort on his part.”In a matter of minutes, the Bucks were up 10-0.Shortly after, the Buckeye defense held and after an effective drive down the field, senior Eric Sanchez bulled the ball in for a try. A missed extra point (worth two points) by Alex Brust left the score at 15-0.Freshman Josh Holland was the next to step up for the Bucks. Holland had been making dazzling cuts for long gains all game. One time, he sprinted to a foot within the out-of-bounds line, stopped, made a 360 spin, and then sprinted for another 10 yards in the opposite direction. He broke a 25-yard run late in the first, and OSU led 22-5 at halftime.As the second started, Northern Iowa rumbled out of the gates strong, maintaining possession with short runs up the middle. NIU reached OSU’s goal line several times but the scrappy Buckeye defense refused to break. A few stands and a quality punt later, the ball ended up at the NIU 10-yard line. There, junior flanker Chad Cochran capitalized on a fumbled punt, making the score 27-5 and all but sealing the match.Northern Iowa volleyed back but only faintly. The score got as close as 27-15, but the speed of the Buckeyes was uncontainable. Quick-hit scores by Franco, Spencer Dye and Kyle Harmon made the score 44-15. A last-second try by Northern Iowa left the final score at 44-20, in favor of OSU. The combustive offense of the NIU game should come as no surprise. The Buckeyes bring a speedy but young back seven that starts four underclassmen, including three freshmen. Quick, elusive, and well-organized, they are the lightning to the thunder of the big boys on the front eight. In the NIU game, they scored on six of eight tries.“We’re running plays and we’re scoring,” Franco said. “Our backs have come together really well. We moved some guys around, and it’s starting to click now. We’re starting to know each other, get to know where each other are out there. … It’s looking real good right now.”Starting next Friday in Elk Heart, Ind., the Buckeyes take on Bowling Green in the semifinals of the Midwest Conference. On the other side of the bracket awaits Notre Dame or Indiana, with the winner of the league championship receiving the only bid to the 16-team National Championships, which starts in the spring. Bowling Green — though not currently ranked — was ranked No. 17 before the Buckeyes defeated them 43-19 Oct. 31. “We’ve been waiting four years to get that win,” Franco said. “They’ve been beating us for a while, winning the Midwest Championships.”After losing tough games to No. 3 Navy and No. 7 Penn State (twice), the team was 1-3. They beat Notre Dame and Purdue, lost to Indiana, and were 3-3 before squaring off against the Falcons.Now at 6-4, the Bucks find themselves ranked No. 23. They have won four of their last five games, averaging 40 points per contest while allowing just 15 points per game in those four victories. Only one team will advance from the Midwest and this weekend decides it. “We feel strong, real strong,” Franco said. “We feel ready to go, real confident. We feel ready to beat whoever stands in our way. … We’re excited about [the Midwests] and we’re ready to bring home some hardware.”
The Big Ten season is still more than a month away, but the early season tournaments that prepare the Ohio State softball team (7-3, 0-0) for the grind of conference play are starting to heat up. The OSU softball team travels to Cathedral City, Calif., on Friday to participate in the Mary Nutter Classic, where it will play five games over the weekend, two against ranked opponents (No. 11 LSU and No. 14 Arizona, both on Friday). “The Mary Nutter Classic is one of the premier tournaments every year, so of course the girls are excited,” said first-year coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly. “We’re going to play some ranked opponents … but the game doesn’t know who’s ranked, so you just have to go out there and play it.” The tournament comes about a week after OSU’s participation in the Jacksonville University Tournament, which saw the unranked Buckeyes go 3-2 on the weekend, including a 1-0 upset of No. 16/17 Louisville. “We came out strong,” said sophomore outfielder Taylor Watkins. “We should have beat some teams, but we did our best and stuck together in all the situations we were put in.” The biggest news from the weekend in Jacksonville was the emergence of sophomore pitcher Alex DiDomenico. The 5-foot-9 right-hander from Youngstown, Ohio, completed 15 innings for the weekend, holding batters to a .130 average. Her four-hit, eight-inning shut-out of Louisville was the centerpiece to a weekend that saw her named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on Monday, her first such honor. “I was really happy about it,” DiDomenico said. “I was shocked actually, but I mean, it felt really good.” Her coach echoed the Big Ten’s praise. “I think Alex has grown a lot in the last six months,” Schoenly said. “When she hits her spots, she can have a lot of success, and I think it’s a really big confidence boost for her.” The Buckeyes sport a 2-1 record against ranked foes on the year. Their single defeat was a 6-1 loss against then-No. 8 Georgia on Feb. 8 in Athens, Ga., a defeat they avenged the next day with a 5-4 win. “The competition is what I’m really looking forward to,” DiDomenico said. “I think it will be a good experience … we’re just working to get better. We can never get too good.” Visit www.thelantern.com for the rest of this story. The Buckeyes are using these early season tests as measuring sticks as they head toward the Big Ten season, which for them begins on March 22 at home against Indiana. “It shows us who we can beat and how good we are and what we need to work on,” Watkins said. “It shows us that we can play against those ranked teams.” While OSU knows these early season games are valuable learning tools, the team knows the real test begins once conference play starts. Schoenly is focused on keeping the team concentrated on the present and getting better each day as conference season looms. “We fully expect to be better a month from now than we are now, because we’re better now than we were a month ago,” Schoenly said. “If they just keep buying into the fact that we need to continue to get better as the season goes on, we’ll be ready when conference season comes.” The Mary Nutter Classic begins Friday and ends Sunday. OSU is scheduled to play No. 11 LSU, No. 14 Arizona, California Polytechnic State University, San Diego State and Utah on the weekend.
Lantern file photoThen-sophomore Jeff Heuerman catches the winning touchdown against Purdue on Oct. 20, 2012 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won, 29-22.Heading into fall camp, the Ohio State football team found itself surrounded by questions of who would step up and start in multiple positions on both sides of the ball.Tight ends coach Tim Hinton is head of a unit that had such a problem, but you won’t hear a word of complaint from him.Unlike positions such as the defensive line and linebacker (aside from second team All-Big Ten linebacker Ryan Shazier) who were left with a compilation of young, inexperienced players to choose from, Hinton has two talented tight ends who spent significant time on the field in 2012.Junior Jeff Heuerman and redshirt sophomore Nick Vannettcombined for 17 catches, 217 yards and a touchdown last year, and both are looking to earn a role as the team’s No. 1 tight end.Hinton, though, is not convinced that there will even be a No. 1 guy this year.“I think there’s a (No.) 1 and (No.) 1 A, and I think it depends on what we’re doing. Each has certain strengths that they are better than the other at,” Hinton said. “I don’t feel uncomfortable with either one going in and playing a whole game nor do I feel uncomfortable spotting them in the right places.”When asked if the Buckeyes would look to employ a two tight end set, a system gaining traction in today’s NFL landscape, Hinton made it clear he likes the idea of multiple tight ends.“We certainly want to stretch some football teams and put two tight ends out there and have to play spread football from two tight ends, and hopefully we can do a great job of that,” Hinton said.During camp, both tight ends have been developing a chemistry on the field that can really help the team, according toHeuerman.“We work really well together. This offense is so fast and up-tempo and demanding, especially on the tight ends and all the things we have to do,” Heuerman said. “It’s almost impossible for it just to be run with one tight end. Him and I complement each other really well and I think together it’ll be a fun year to watch.”Offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman has seen the advantage that having both Heuerman andVannett can bring to the offense.“The good thing about us being no huddle is we don’t have to take those guys off the field. We don’t have a blocking tight end and a pass-catching tight end. We’ve got two tight ends that can line up and do both things,” Herman said. “It allows us to play faster, it allows us to keep the entire offense in as a one personnel group.”Hinton said the use of an uptempo offense with more than one tight end gives OSU an advantage over their opponent.“The whole premise of being no huddle is to keep the defense on the field and get them running around, get them tired. If you’re subbing guys out that have specialty roles, then the defense is allowed to substitute too,” Hinton said. “I think the biggest flexibility offensively comes in the fact that they can do both things very, very well.”Heuerman attributes his growth during camp to the extra time he has had in coach Urban Meyer’s offense when compared to the start of last season.“This is my second year in the program so I understand it a lot more. Understanding the program and how everything works with the culture and everything has really helped out,” Heuerman said. “On the field, second year in the offense, knowing what to do rather than just lining up like it was last year. I think it’s really helped me succeed.”With the addition of new players from coach Urban Meyer’s first recruiting class who are expected to contribute right away as well to the improvements the veterans have made this offseason, distributing the football could be a point of emphasis all season. But Heuerman wants to contribute in any way he can, as long as the team keeps winning.“The more weapons you got, the better you’ll be. If that means I get less catches or less opportunities and we win and get to where we want to get, then I’m perfectly fine with that,” Heuerman said.Further down the depth chart, things seem to get a little more dicey, with the loss of redshirt freshman Blake Thomas to a career-ending neck injury in addition to the suspension of freshman Marcus Baugh for the season opener.Redshirt junior J.T. Moore is helping to fill the holes left by Thomas and Baugh, making the switch from defensive end to tight end last week. Heuerman said he is fitting into his new role well.“He’s doing good. That’s a tough transition going from defensive end to tight end. It’s two totally different worlds and he embraced the change really well,” Heuerman said. “He’s been doing really good with us, he’s been blocking really well. I think we’ll definitely see him in there in some two tight end packages and stuff and goal line and stuff.”But Hinton is not going to worry about the tight end position as long as Vannett or Heuerman is on the field.“When 86 (Heuerman) and 81 (Vannett) are out there, I feel really comfortable. When it’s the young guys right now, I don’t feel near as comfortable. I mean God bless them, they’re working hard, but they’re not there yet,” Hinton said.
Sophomore forward Peanut Johnson (3) passes the ball during a game against Indiana Oct. 26 at Buckeye Varsity Field. OSU lost, 5-4.Credit: Sam Harrington / Lantern photographerAfter being shut out by then-No. 12 Northwestern, the Ohio State field hockey team (5-12, 0-6) is scheduled have a chance for revenge against the Wildcats Thursday in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.The Buckeyes, who are seeded seventh in the tournament, are scheduled to take on the second-seeded Wildcats at 12:15 p.m.Despite the previous result against Northwestern, OSU coach Anne Wilkinson said the tournament is a new beginning for the Buckeyes.“To be in the tournament, starting fresh, it’s a new season,” Wilkinson said. “I think that (the players) are excited about it.”Senior midfielder Mona Frommhold said another chance against Northwestern is a great opportunity for OSU.“It’s a good chance to do something better … The last game we lost 5-0,” Frommhold said. “We just want to play differently this time. We want to win, actually.”Sophomore forward Peanut Johnson said this match will be different from the last because the team has a better idea of what to anticipate from the Wildcats.“Now we know what to except from (Northwestern),” Johnson said. “We worked on things specific to them so I think it should be a lot better game. We’re more focusing on what we can do in relation to how they play, but we are definitely focused on making ourselves better.”The Buckeyes need to focus on being able to finish the plays they have control over, Wilkinson said.“Really it’s our ability to execute,” Wilkinson said. “Statistically we had more corners than they did, but they finished their opportunities. So really we need to be able to execute our opportunities, so we worked on that with a little bit of pressure this week.”She said the main goal is to stop Northwestern from hitting dangerous areas on the field.“We have to be aware,” Wilkinson said. “They’ve got a lot of speed so we need to be able to shut down certain areas of the field. We need to recognize (their players) early, whether we can step and deny them the ball … we are trying to get some good matchups out there both defensively and on the attack.”Johnson said the other teams in the tournament might underestimate OSU because of its record, but that they shouldn’t count the Buckeyes out.“People might be taking us lightly but anything can happen in tournament time,” Johnson said. “We are all really committed to showing up this tournament.”OSU plays host to the Big Ten Tournament this year, with all games set to be played at Buckeye Varsity Field, and Frommhold said the home-team advantage will be a boost.“I think a lot of our fans are coming and will cheer for us,” Frommhold said. “We are all very excited for the tournament.”Wilkinson agreed.“We are excited but so is Northwestern,” Wilkinson said. “They are co-champions of the Big Ten and they’ve got a lot of quality players. We know it’s going to be a lot of work and we need to be able to take advantage of the opportunities that we get and really limit their chances.”The tournament is scheduled to open at 10 a.m Thursday with Michigan taking on Iowa. The Buckeyes are set to play after the first match.
Senior wide receiver Devin Smith (9) and redshirt-junior wide receiver Corey Smith (84) celebrate during OSU’s 52-24 win against Maryland on Oct. 4 in College Park, Md. Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorIn college football, anything is possible.The phrase “any given Saturday,” while cliché, rang true last week as a handful of ranked teams fell to lower-ranked or unranked opponents.With that being said, the No. 15 Ohio State football team is sitting in an interesting position.If the bricks fall in the right way, the Buckeyes could have a long-shot chance at making it in to the first ever College Football Playoff, something OSU coach Urban Meyer said he addressed with his team.“We do that every year this time of year and I just show the rankings and I show the teams … they are going to hear it and I don’t want them to hear much about it at all after our conversation,” Meyer said Wednesday. “When you look at it, everything is wide open. College football, this is a pretty open year.”OSU junior offensive lineman Jacoby Boren said no matter where the Buckeyes rank nationally, the mindset remains the same.“I think guys know (where we stand). Stuff got pretty crazy last weekend, but I think our attitude — we just try to go out and get better every week and we can only control what we can control,” Boren said. “We are going to go out, try and win every game, win a Big Ten championship and then after that we will see how things stack up and hopefully it will work out for us.”Meyer added that even though he held a team meeting regarding the issue, he does not want it blown out of proportion.“I don’t want to make it bigger than it is. We talk about it briefly, and we move on. I don’t think these kids care,” Meyer said. “I am hoping that they just want to get better and the thing we are most concerned about is we had momentum and it’s been taken away so we have to keep that momentum somehow.”That momentum the Buckeyes carried was because of back-to-back games in which the offense produced more than 1,200 yards combined — including 710 against Cincinnati, eight yards short of a school record.Boren said Wednesday that the offensive surge is because of the experience that the Buckeyes gain with each week.“I think we have grown a lot the past few weeks. We started off a little bit slow, but we started to get a little bit of momentum and we have definitely grown the past few weeks and we are still nowhere near where we need to be,” he said. “We just have to keep growing.”Meyer said he is concerned about continuing to grow throughout the course of the team’s second bye week in a month.“The first one I think came at the right time. You could see we played pretty well afterwards. This one, I don’t know,” Meyer said. “All I know is it remains to be seen. It is uncomfortable to be honest with you. I am not used to the two (bye weeks) in the first six, seven weeks in the season. I always do research and this has never happened to us before. I don’t want to be paranoid, but I am.”OSU senior defensive lineman Steve Miller didn’t seem as worried as Meyer, as he said Wednesday that while the timing of the bye week has been awkward for him, it provides opportunities for other players.“I say it’s been strange, because it’s real early. And we really aren’t that really banged up yet, so it really isn’t that bad to be taking a break,” Miller said. “It’s been more laid-back for this break. Just trying to get some of the young guys ready.”The Buckeyes are scheduled to return from their bye week Oct. 18 to host Rutgers at Ohio Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
OSU is led onto the field by coach Urban Meyer prior to a game against Minnesota on Nov. 15 in Minneapolis. OSU won, 31-24.Credit: Mark Batke / Photo editorWith just two games remaining in the regular season, the Ohio State football team is hoping to add at least one more game to its schedule.The Buckeyes (9-1, 6-0) need to win just one of their remaining two games — or have Michigan State (8-2, 5-1) lose one — in order to return to Indianapolis for the Big Ten Championship Game for the second straight season.OSU coach Urban Meyer said Monday that ever since falling in back-to-back games to end the 2013-14 season, the goal has been to return to Lucas Oil Stadium.“That was everything. That was everything we did was to get another shot at the Big Ten Championship,” he said. “Everything, and that’s at the doorstep. I imagine that’s why they were pretty juiced up yesterday for practice.”Wide receivers coach Zach Smith, who Meyer said coached his best game against Michigan State two weeks ago, agreed.“That’s why we wake up in the morning and brush our teeth and do what we do. That’s been the ultimate goal, the No. 1 goal; the thing we had to do was get back there and win a championship for this university,” Smith said Monday. “That’s all we really talked about. There was no greater goal, nothing beyond that talked about, and that’s been what our sights have been set on since day one, pretty much every day.”Redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Pat Elflein, who made his first career start in the 34-24 loss to the Spartans in the 2013 Big Ten title game, said the memories of that game are still fresh in his mind.“It’s huge. Fell short last year and that still hurts,” Elflein said Monday. “That’s what we can control is winning the conference (but) we have to beat Indiana first.”The Hoosiers are set to enter Columbus as the only team in the Big Ten without a conference win (3-7, 0-6) and on paper, appear to be an easy opponent for the Buckeyes.The Buckeyes currently sit at No. 8 in the College Football Playoff rankings, and while style points would likely help OSU, Elflein said OSU needs to focus on the task at hand.“That thought is there, but you can’t do that. You can’t think about that because Indiana, they are in our way,” he said. “You don’t want to overlook them because it is a Big Ten football team. You have to focus on what is important now which is Indiana.”OSU has not lost to the Hoosiers since 1988, when the Buckeyes fell, 41-7, in Bloomington, Ind.Even though a spot in the top four is still in sight, Meyer said he’s not sure his Buckeyes deserve a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff just yet.“Not right now, no. No, I don’t, because I don’t want to make ignorant comments,” Meyer said. “I just don’t know. I’d make the comment that we’re one win away from representing the East (Division) in the Big Ten Championship game, because I do know that.”It has been largely debated as to whether or not the Big Ten will even get a team in the playoff, but Meyer said he believes the Big Ten is better than advertised, and even cited a specific example.“Northwestern goes in there and beats Notre Dame, and Northwestern … last year I remember they were 15th in the country or 16th in the country, so the consistency of teams in our conference, I think, is the only thing lacking at times,” Meyer said. “But that’s without studying it, but the top five teams in our conference, they can play anywhere.”With all of that, no one on the current OSU roster has been a part of a Big Ten championship or national championship team, something Elflein said should not be the norm.“I don’t have any rings, I don’t have any championships (and) that’s why we came here, to win championships,” Elflein said. “When they say that (current OSU players don’t have a championship), it hits me its like, ‘wow, that’s not right.’ That’s not Ohio State. Compete for championships, that is what we are here to do.”Before the Buckeyes can compete for a championship, they are set to take on the Hoosiers at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium.