Connelly has become one of the nation's most interesting college football writers, in part because of his use of advanced stats. His previews of each team in college football are worth a read simply because they pack a ton of good information on each team into a pretty digestible format.
It's no different for Ohio State, and even for me, who is paid to know things about the Buckeyes, there are a few things in his preview that even I didn't know – or maybe knew but just wasn't actively aware of until I saw them written down in front of me.
Here are five things I learned – and you might, too – by reading Connelly's Ohio State preview.
Maybe we underrated Corey Brown
The general consensus on Philly is that he was a good but not great receiver, someone who can be replaced without much trouble by some of the younger, more explosive targets now on the Ohio State team. That's a point that was perhaps driven home this spring when Brown didn't get selected in the seven rounds of the NFL draft.
But maybe we're selling him a bit short. Connelly clearly likes what Brown provided to the Ohio State offense a season ago. He was more a possession guy than a big-play threat – that has been Devin Smith for the past two years – but as a possession guy, he stood out to the tune of a 72.5-percent catch rate. As Connelly points out, that makes him just one of five receivers in major-conference football with at least 85 targets to top 72 percent.
Add in the fact that Brown caught 63 passes last year – the most in a season in Columbus since David Boston in 1998 – and has been credited by head coach Urban Meyer for turning into one of the best leaders on the team, and maybe we're all underestimating what the Buckeyes will be missing without No. 10 on the field.
The offense really was that good
OK, we knew that, but look at some of the numbers and it's driven home just how historic the Buckeye offense was a season ago.
Ohio State led the nation in a number of categories, including points per trip inside the 40, numerous metrics of success rate (getting 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third and fourth down), performance on standard downs (first downs, second-and-6 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, and fourth-and-4 or fewer).
Even at the end of the year, the offense was lethal even when it didn't show up on the scoreboard. It averaged 33.7 points per game vs. Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson, but its mark of adjusted points was 49.3 per game. In other words, if OSU had played an average team with average luck that week, that would have been the expected output based on the team's performance. Putting up 24 points on Michigan State's defense resulted in an adjusted score of 53.5 points. Not bad.
Add in the standard stats – school records for points and yards per game, numerous games with more than 8 yards per carry to shatter school marks there – and it's obvious the Buckeyes have a tough act to follow in 2014.
Did the defensive line underperform?
Considering the Buckeyes lost four starters from the year before and pretty much every contributor save Michael Bennett was an underclassman, it would be patently ridiculous to say the Buckeyes underperformed.
But maybe they weren't as good as we thought. The standard stats – rushing yards allowed per game, tackles for loss and sacks – are pretty good, but those masked a few issues.
Of course the Buckeyes didn't allow many rushing yards last year. They were pretty good at stopping the run at the start of the season, then teams didn't have to even bother running against them at the end when the pass defense gave out. Plus the injuries at linebacker, particularly to Curtis Grant, who started off the season really well, didn't help when it came to stopping the run.
As for the sacks number, well, you're bound to rack up sacks when teams have as many dropbacks as they did against Ohio State a year ago – teams threw a much higher percentage of passes against OSU than against other teams, as Connelly's defensive footprint chart shows. But at the end of the day, you're only gonna get sacks on a small percentage of plays – you still have to be able to cover, and when the Buckeyes didn't get home, there were issues.
But as Connelly writes, Ohio State ranked 96th in adjusted line yards and 58th in rushing S&P+, fancy ways of saying teams got yards on the ground when they wanted them. So while the defensive line had a lot of good moments in 2013, seeing consistency develop in 2014 might be the real key.
Braxton Miller can improve.
Connelly wrote something about the Buckeyes' star QB that made me at least think:
"He no longer takes a sack on one of every five or six attempts, but like so many mobile quarterbacks, he still takes too many. And while his passing took a nice step forward in 2013, he'll likely be throwing a few more passes under duress, or to receivers who aren't quite as open. The windows will get smaller."
Connelly says that the windows will get smaller as the Buckeyes lose both four star linemen and Brown, and that's a fair point. Oftentimes, a player's performance is much more tied to the players around him than we care to realize; if the Buckeyes are young at some spots this year, the subtle differences – such as "smaller windows" – could affect Miller in 2014.
And that reminds me of something our Marcus Hartman said during the BSB roundtable we put in the May issue of our print publication.
"I still think the No. 1 thing he needs is just throwing reps," Hartman said. "I don't think finding the receiver is as much of an issue as actually executing the throw consistently for Braxton. I think that's the larger issue for Braxton. Sometimes, guys are going to be covered and you're going to need to throw them open. I think he can see where it is, but can't always get the ball where and when he wants it. I think that's the main thing that he lost (this spring)."
I tend to agree with Marcus – sometimes, Miller just isn't accurate enough with his passes even when he does diagnose what is going on, so his missed time in the spring does worry me. And if those windows get smaller this year, it will be a tougher task.
Now, I'm not counting Miller out at all – he spent the spring immersed in the mental side of the game, and all indications are he's made another step as a team leader this offseason. And we all know he has all the talent in the world. But it's something that bears watching.
The Big Ten won't be so bad this year
With Connelly finishing his Big Ten previews at the conclusion of the Ohio State piece, he also made a list at the bottom ranking where the Big Ten teams fit going into the season.
He has Ohio State and Michigan State at the head of the class, with Ohio State likely ahead just on raw talent alone going into the season. After that, he groups nine schools in the next tier before lauding the league's depth.
And I think he's on to something. Wisconsin and Michigan could jump up into the upper tier based on how their teams develop and should both spend some time in the top 25 this year. After that come Iowa, Penn State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Maryland, Minnesota and Indiana; all are potential bowl teams in 2014 and none are pushovers.
As Connelly puts it, "This conference has nine teams that are just a couple of breakout players away from top-25 status," and he's right. So while there won't be a ton of opportunities for sexy wins on the OSU schedule, there won't be a ton of easy wins, either.