Germany didn’t begin the World Cup as the favorite. That honor belonged to (ahem) Brazil. But that’s a slightly deceptive measure. This was a top-heavy World Cup; not only Brazil but also Germany, Argentina and Spain would have been the front-runners in many past editions of the tournament.By the end of the World Cup, Germany left little doubt it is the best team in the world. In fact, it may be the best national soccer team ever assembled.One simple way to compare World Cup winners is by their goal differential throughout the tournament. Germany, with 18 goals scored and four allowed, comes out at a plus-14. This is tied for the best goal differential ever for a World Cup champion; Brazil also scored 18 goals and allowed four in winning the 2002 tournament.No, the Germans weren’t flawless. They tied Ghana in the group stage and had a little more trouble than they should have with Algeria in the Round of 16. But few World Cup champions are perfect in every match. All but three eventual winners took a draw or loss, or required a penalty shootout, along the way (soccer statisticians usually count games that go to penalties as draws).And some of these teams were fortunate in other respects. Uruguay only needed to play four matches to win the inaugural World Cup in 1930. Uruguay also had the benefit of playing on home soil. Brazil, in 2002, had a favorable draw — China, Costa Rica and Turkey were in its group.The Germans, by contrast, did this against some tough competition. They took down Argentina and Brazil in the knockout stage, along with a French team that had been playing as well as anyone.The World Football Elo Ratings provide one way to account for all these factors: a team’s strength going into the tournament, its dominance during the tournament itself, the quality of its competition, and whether it was aided by playing at home.Germany’s Elo rating was high to begin with at 2046, which is stronger than a number of World Cup winners. But it gained 150 more points throughout the World Cup (about half of them by beating Brazil 7-1), finishing with a rating of 2196.This is the highest Elo rating ever for a World Cup champion. The 1962 Brazil team previously held the top spot.In fact, it’s the highest a national soccer team has ever been rated in the Elo system. Before Germany, the highest-rated team of all time had been Hungary in 1954. Hungary’s rating peaked at 2166 after winning the World Cup semifinal, but then it lost to West Germany in the tournament’s final match.I’ll be curious to see how this year’s German team is regarded in barroom arguments around the world, both now and with the benefit of hindsight. It doesn’t have a transcendent superstar, although it has a number of players who might rank in the top 20 or 25 in the world. It’s often said that the Germans didn’t have a distinctive style — although their relentless attacking play represents the new paradigm in world football, and it led to the highest-scoring and perhaps most exciting World Cup in many years.Other teams — notably Spain from 2008 to 2012, and Brazil under Pele — had longer sustained stretches at the apex of world football. But Germany is young and deep. Mario Götze, who scored the winning goal in the final Sunday, is 22. Thomas Müller and Toni Kroos are 24, and Mesut Özil is 25. The Germans have a good chance to go in as the favorites in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.Still, the competition is going to be tough. At the start of the next tournament, Brazil’s Neymar and Colombia’s James Rodríguez will be just 26, and Lionel Messi — despite playing in his fourth World Cup — only 30. France is perhaps a player away from competing with the world’s best teams, and after having won FIFA’s Under-20 World Cup last year, it could make that transition soon. This is a great era for the international game, and that makes what Germany accomplished all the more impressive.
But it also bears mentioning that Cleveland has been playing well above its established talent level during the playoffs thus far. Their offense has been an order of magnitude better than it was during the regular season, and although some of that has come from simply shooting the lights out (their effective field goal percentage has been a league-best 5.1 percentage points above what we’d expect from the quality of their shots during the playoffs), they’re also assisting on a higher percentage of their made buckets in the playoffs — perhaps a sign of the greater cohesion James alluded to.So if we gauge supporting casts by postseason performance alone (again measured by BPM), the 2016 Cavs emerge as the best group of teammates ever to accompany James to the NBA Finals — and the 10th best to support any star player, period: For the 14th time, we’ll get an NBA Finals rematch, this one between the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers. Last year, the Warriors overcame a few early-series hiccups to close out LeBron James and the otherwise-undermanned Cavs in six games, beating them by an average of 7.2 points per game in the series. But James thinks things will be different this time around.“We’re better built to start the finals than we were last year,” James told reporters Tuesday. “We have another year under our belt and more chemistry, [and] healthwise, you know we’re healthy and we’re excited about the opportunity.”He’s right that this version of the Cavs is far better than the iteration Cleveland sent to the finals last season. Missing Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving for much of the postseason a year ago — Love was lost for the playoffs in the first round, and Irving logged only one appearance in the finals — the Cavs provided James with one of the worst supporting casts ever dragged to the cusp of a championship. That Cleveland at one point managed to claim a 2-1 series lead against Golden State was mostly a testament to the singular greatness of James, who produced one of the best individual performances in finals history despite losing.The Cavaliers who suit up alongside James this year will be far better. To measure the quality of James’ supporting cast (and those of every player who led his team to the NBA Finals since 19791The earliest season for which data availability makes this exercise possible.), I first calculated a multi-year Box Plus/Minus (BPM) talent projection for every player on a finalist’s playoff roster, tracking the number for the team’s best player2I was liberal in my definition of a team’s “best player” — if a player either had the highest talent rating on his team’s postseason roster, or led the team in playoff value over replacement player, I included him in the sample. as well as his teammates. (Defining the quality of a player’s teammates as his team’s BPM if that player was replaced with a league-average, zero-BPM talent.) While James’ supporting cast last year ended up ranking 88th out of 93 entrants since 1979 — sixth from the bottom of the list — this year’s version ranks a far more respectable 50th in terms of raw talent. It isn’t James’ most talented set of finals teammates — that honor is reserved for the 2011 Heat (for all the good it did them). And it still isn’t more talented than the crew Stephen Curry will be rolling with in Golden State. The Warriors’ supporting cast ranks 42nd if you consider Curry their top player. (They also rise to 22nd if Draymond Green is considered No. 1; Green leads the team in VORP this postseason, though it’s mostly a function of Curry’s missing so many games earlier in the playoffs.) VIDEO: LeBron’s supporting cast is playing better than Curry’s Furthermore, James himself is also enjoying one of his best-ever playoff performances this season. That’s why, according to playoff BPM, the Cavs as a whole rank fourth among all NBA Finalists since 1979. If we focus on recent play, Cleveland certainly looks “better built” this time around.But a team’s long-term track record should count for something as well, and by that standard the Warriors still have the edge. Golden State went into last year’s finals with an Elo rating (our pet metric for gauging team strength) 90 points ahead of Cleveland — the equivalent of 3.2 points per game on the scoreboard at a neutral court — and they currently lead the Cavs by 64 — about 2.3 points per game — despite Cleveland’s playoff surge. Slicing the favorite’s edge by nearly a point per game isn’t nothing, but the Warriors also have home-court advantage again, to say nothing of the benefits they might reap from their championship experience of a year ago.So even the better-built version of the Cavs comes into the finals as an underdog. But with superior teammates this time around, James will have a far better opportunity than last year to change his underwhelming lifetime finals record for the positive. The rest will be up to him.Check out our latest NBA Finals predictions.
Despite receiving an endorsement from executive vice president Jim Buss, Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike Brown needs his team to make an about-face from a terrible start to the season or he could be fired.Sources told ESPN.com that the Lakers, while having publicly expressed support for Brown in the wake of a 1-4 start, are privately anxious about what they have seen – or not seen – of the team so far. The Lakers a six-game homestand against inferior competition. And should the team continue to struggle, it could be Brown’ undoing.The homestand begins Friday night against the Golden State Warriors who’ll be without injured center Andrew Bogut and reserve Brandon Rush. The Lakers will also face Sacramento, San Antonio, Phoenix, Houston and Brooklyn.In Brown’s defense, the Lakers have had a healthy Steve Nash in the lineup for only 1½ of their five games so far because of a leg injury. Dwight Howard continues to rec0ver from the back surgery and Kobe Bryant has also been playing through a foot ailment.All that and still, according to ESPN.com’s source, the team’s hierarchy want to see vast improvement in a short period of time.The Lakers are off to the worst start in the Western Conference despite carrying the league’s largest payroll at just over $100 million, which would trigger an estimated luxury-tax bill at season’s end of nearly $30 million.“I have no problems with Mike Brown at all,” Buss said. “He just works too hard and he’s too knowledgeable for this to be happening.“So either the (new Princeton offensive) system is flawed or something’s going on. Or, like the Triangle, it’s very hard to pick up and understand. I’m not a basketball mind like he is or the players are, and the players are fine with it, so I just have to be patient.”The challenge there is that heading into the season, Buss acknowledged that “this team was built to win now,” raising questions as to how patient the Lakers are willing to be.“You have to give it time to understand (what’s going on),” Buss said. “I don’t know if there’s an actual game total that would make me impatient. I know if we’re 1-15, I don’t think that would be very good. I’m sure that would be a panic button. But at this time, I’m fine with what’s going on. It’s a learning process for the players. As long as everybody is on the same page, I think we’re fine.”After practice Thursday, Bryant admitted that he’s dismayed by the first 1-4 start in his 17-year career but labeled himself as Brown’s “biggest supporter” in the organization.“For us, (belief is) the biggest thing right now, especially while we’re trying to find our way,” Brown said.Said Howard: “Right now, there’s a lot of noise. We’re trying to figure out how to play with each other. We’re trying to figure out where we’re going to get our shots. Everybody is trying to just figure each other out and how we can put this thing together. So once the noise is settled, we can all just have a clear mind. We’ll be fine.”
Serena Williams twirls after defeating Carina Witthoeft, of Germany, during the second round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2018, in New York. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)NEW YORK (AP) — It’s all about the tutu for Serena Williams at the U.S. Open.Just days after French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli said her black catsuit with clot-preventing compression tights “will no longer be accepted,” Williams chose a one-armed black tutu-style dress by Off-White’s Virgil Abloh to take on Magda Linette at the Open. She won.Perhaps her sparkly shoes emblazoned with her name and “queen” also helped.On Wednesday night, playing against Carina Witthoeft, Williams was in another tutu dress that’s part of her new collaboration with Nike and Abloh, who is also men’s artistic director for Louis Vuitton. Anna Wintour looked pleased as she watched Williams beat Witthoeft.The Queen Collection is inspired by Williams’ love of dance. She paired the black look with a leather biker jacket. The dresses have sheer panels on one shoulder and long sleeves on the other. Williams tugged hard on the sleeve as her Wednesday match began.The 23-time Grand Slam winner wore compression fishnets with her tutu looks to guard against blood clots, a problem she battled soon after giving birth last September.Retail, prices range from $130 to $900 for various pieces in the new collab.
College football season kicked off 69 days ago, on Aug. 26. But with the College Football Playoff committee releasing its first set of rankings Tuesday night, the season for irrational pigskin arguments has only just begun.Take the committee’s initial rankings: Although the top three of Alabama, Clemson and Michigan didn’t surprise anyone — they’re three of the only four remaining undefeated major-conference teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision — the decision to put one-loss Texas A&M at No. 4 over unbeaten Washington was generally seen as a head-scratcher. And that’s just the first edition of the rankings! A whole lot more can happen between now and Dec. 4, when the final version drops.To help you sort it all out, FiveThirtyEight is relaunching our College Football Playoff prediction model for the 2016 season. In fact, this year we’ve built a continually updating page that lets you view the current favorites, as well as the not-so-favorites: Every team with at least a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoff is listed. You can also choose custom scenarios for the future, letting you see how the model changes if a given team wins or loses its next game, or if it wins out over the remainder of its schedule. As for the nuts and bolts of the model, we’re using the same system we rolled out last year, itself an improvement over the version we used in Year 1 of the CFP.Here’s a brief refresher on how our model works: It takes the most recent version of the CFP committee’s rankings, simulates the next week of games using ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), uses a version of our old friend the Elo rating to guesstimate how the committee would react to those FPI-simulated results,1With uncertainty-generating mechanisms in place to “scramble” the rankings in ways that might not always follow historical precedent. and then repeats the process until we have a simulated version of the committee’s final rankings.Do that 10,000 times, and we can estimate the likelihood of any team ranking in the committee’s top four when the dust clears on the season. But … does it actually work? Well, for what it’s worth, the model did a pretty good job of predicting the field last season. Just don’t ask us about what happened in 2014. (Don’t worry, we also tweaked the model afterward to fix some of its first-year bugs.)This season, Clemson, Alabama and Michigan check in at Nos. 1-3 in playoff probability — which isn’t exactly a shock. And Washington fans shouldn’t feel too bummed about their team’s snub in the first CFP rankings. Despite placing fifth in the committee rankings, our model gives the Huskies a 47 percent probability of making the playoff, the fourth-best odds of any team, and greater than a 99 percent chance of making the playoff if it wins out (though it gives the Huskies just a 25 percent chance of doing that).Of course, the model also comes with a lot of built-in uncertainty, especially at this early stage of playoff speculation. It says there’s an 84 percent chance that at least one team outside the Clemson-Alabama-Michigan-Washington quartet crashes the CFP party by season’s end — most likely Ohio State (though the Buckeyes probably need to beat Michigan on Nov. 26 to do it), Louisville, Texas A&M or Wisconsin, all of whom have a 10 percent shot or better at the playoff.Some of those teams need more help than others, however. The Buckeyes and Badgers could control their own destinies to some degree by winning out — Ohio State’s odds would be 96 percent if it ran the table, Wisconsin’s would be 74 percent if they did the same, and Texas A&M’s would be 61 percent. But Louisville’s chances at the playoff would only be 39 percent even if we knew they’d win all their games from here out. (Gaming out contingencies such as those are where the choose-your-own-scenario feature of our interactive comes in handy. Hint, hint.)Even with the perfect number of undefeated major-conference teams for a four-team playoff, the crystal ball is still pretty cloudy at this point. There’s a lot of football left to be played. But our model should at least be a useful guide for making sense of the silliness that’s surely waiting in the season’s second half.Check out our college football predictions. Will your favorite team make the College Football Playoff? See all of our predictions for the 2016 season »
playerTeamTOTALper 600 plate app. Aaron Hicks is climbing the WAR chartsThe top 20 MLB players by wins above replacement per 600 plate appearances, 2017-18 8Jose AltuveAstros12.56.04 19Giancarlo StantonMarlins/Yankees10.84.73 9Francisco LindorIndians13.25.51 It once seemed inevitable that the New York Yankees would sign Washington Nationals star Bryce Harper when he became a free agent at the end of this season. Though Harper has been injured and inconsistent since his 2015 MVP year, he’s still a rare talent who will hit free agency just entering his physical prime at age 26 — and the Yankees are one of the few teams able to afford him.But the Yankees may no longer need Harper’s services in the outfield. They’ve found a new star to join Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and the rest of their big names, a star who may not be as well-known but who has turned into one of the game’s best players: Aaron Hicks.The underrated 28-year-old is in his prime and under club control through the 2019 season. Hicks avoided arbitration by settling for a modest one-year, $2.85 million deal last offseason. He’ll be a relative bargain next year, too.Hicks homered Saturday and later provided the walk-off hit against Baltimore to clinch a playoff berth for the Yankees. He left Monday’s game in the fourth inning with hamstring discomfort, but he told reporters he isn’t concerned and should be able to return in a few days.Through Sunday, Hicks was tied for 17th in position player wins above replacement at 4.9 WAR, according to FanGraphs. (Harper was tied for 38th.) WAR is an accumulative stat, so when we adjust for playing time,1Hicks missed significant time in 2017 because of an oblique injury. Hicks ranked 11th in baseball in WAR per 600 plate appearances since 2017. By that measure, he placed ahead of stars like Christian Yelich, J.D. Martinez and Kris Bryant in terms of overall performance per playing time. 17J.D. MartinezTigers/D-Backs/Red Sox9.14.88 15Kris BryantCubs9.25.01 WAR 1Mike TroutAngels16.38.95 14Alex BregmanAstros11.05.04 Among players with at least 800 plate appearances since the start of the 2017 season.Source: FanGraphs 5Anthony RendonNationals12.46.32 10Tommy PhamCardinals/Rays9.65.38 4Jose RamirezIndians14.56.61 12Christian YelichMarlins/Brewers11.25.11 13Andrelton SimmonsAngels10.45.07 20Lorenzo CainRoyals/Brewers9.74.72 6Justin TurnerDodgers9.56.08 3Aaron JudgeYankees13.06.79 16J.T. RealmutoMarlins8.94.88 18Nolan ArenadoRockies10.64.82 7Matt ChapmanAthletics9.36.06 2Mookie BettsRed Sox15.16.91 11Aaron HicksYankees8.25.30 Hicks projects to finish 2018 as a 5-WAR center fielder, a star-level player. He blends one of the game’s strongest outfield arms (reaching 105.5 mph with a throw in 2016) at a premium defensive position with one of the most disciplined bats in the majors and burgeoning switch-hitting power.Of course, prior to last season, he had been a major disappointment. The Twins selected Hicks — a two-way star at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California — 14th overall in the 2008 draft. He made multiple top 100 prospect lists. But in his three years in the majors with Minnesota, covering 928 plate appearances, Hicks batted just .225 with a .306 on-base percentage and .349 slugging mark. It was good for an OPS+ of 81, meaning he was 19 percent below the average major league offensive performer.On Nov. 11, 2015, the Twins ran out of patience and traded Hicks to the Yankees for John Ryan Murphy, a replacement-level catcher with a career on-base mark of .269. Murphy is now a backup in Arizona.“In Minnesota, I feel like I was just trying to hit for a high average. That’s pretty much all I was trying to do,” Hicks told me in July. “I didn’t worry about home runs or anything like that. I just tried to get on base and have a high on-base percentage and hit singles: up-the-middle, opposite field.”The approach was generally ineffective for Hicks. When he arrived at Yankee Stadium, which has one of the shortest right-field fences in baseball, his entire philosophy changed. With the Twins in 2015, Hicks pulled batted balls at a 35.8 percent rate. Hicks has increased his pull percentage to 42.9 percent last season and to 45.1 percent this season, making him the 28th most pull-oriented hitter in the game.“When I came here, they wanted me to use my athleticism to hit the ball in the air more,” Hicks said. “Hit for more power. … The [Yankees major league] staff has been amazing as far as being able to elevate my game, different approaches in how to attack the baseball, and how to become the type of player I want to be.”The Yankees as a team focus on power and pull. That philosophy may be why the Yankees (251 home runs through Sunday) could challenge the 1997 Seattle Mariners’ single-season team home run record (264) despite having only one player (Stanton) with more than 30 home runs this season.Hicks doesn’t have the raw power of some of his teammates: His average exit velocity of 87.3 mph puts him in the middle of the pack in the majors, ranking 195th out of 336 batters. But he said his focus on power and pull has a side benefit: He’s become more selective at the plate. Hicks ranks fifth in baseball in walk rate on the season at 15.8 percent, a slight increase from his 14.1 percent mark last year and a large gain from 2016 (8.3 percent) and 2015 (8.7 percent). In the second half of this season, Hicks leads baseball in walk rate at 19.6 percent.“When I try and get the ball in the air, I swing at less stuff, because if I can’t hit a pitch in the air, I don’t swing at it,” Hicks said. “Naturally, I start to walk more. … If I’m getting pitches I can’t do damage with, I’m not going to swing until I have to with two strikes.”Only two major league players have walked more frequently and hit more home runs than Hicks this season: Harper and Mike Trout.Hicks swung at 23.8 percent of pitches classified as out of the strike zone in 2015 and 24.4 percent in his first year with the Yankees in 2016. That rate dipped to 21.5 percent last year and 19.4 percent this season. Among qualified hitters, only Joey Votto, Alex Bregman, Andrew McCutchen and Mookie Betts are swinging at fewer pitches out of the strike zone. Those players are either MVP candidates (Bregman, Betts) or have won MVP Awards (Votto, McCutchen). Trout ranks seventh.Pitchers have thrown Hicks — an excellent fastball hitter — fewer and fewer four-seam fastballs, from 34.8 percent of offerings in 2016 to 31.2 this season. Yet Hicks is slugging .525 against curveballs and holding his own against changeups.The Yankees have unearthed a star. While the club could still pursue Harper, Hicks gives it an alternative. He allows New York to invest $400 million elsewhere this winter and beyond.Check out our latest MLB predictions.
Home is not very far for a trio of Ohio State men’s lacrosse players. For senior midfielder Scott Lathrop, sophomore defenseman Mark Crawford and freshman defenseman John Hardesty, it is a short drive back to their hometown of Upper Arlington. All three Buckeyes played high school lacrosse for Upper Arlington High School. “Playing there gave me confidence. It gave me drive to continue the success here,” Lathrop said. “I know everybody always wants to win, but it’s nice coming from a program that had that kind of success.” In the case of Upper Arlington, “success” might not be the right word. “Dominance” might be more appropriate. Upper Arlington coach Ted Wolford is entering his 18th season at the helm. He has won 12 state championships as coach. Wolford said the trio of Buckeyes are some of the most loyal kids he has coached. “If you say to yourself, ‘If I were to go into battle, would I want one of those guys in your foxhole with you?’ You would say, without a doubt,” he said. “Any one of those guys would be people that would have your back, people that would be there to support you.” Lathrop, a co-captain for the No. 13/15-ranked Buckeyes, also was a captain when he wore a Golden Bears uniform. “Scott was a captain for us, you know, as well as he is now for Ohio State,” Wolford said. “He was just always a very focused individual that worked very hard.” Wolford said Crawford’s first choice was football and that he chose to play lacrosse late in his high school career. But, Wolford said, that didn’t change the type of character he had. “He definitely had the strongest work ethic in his senior class,” Wolford said. “He’s definitely one of those kids that everybody looked up to because he pushed everybody to improve. There’s not an ounce of ego in him at all.” Just a freshman for the Buckeyes, Hardesty was exposed to high-level competition early in his high school career. Like Lathrop, Hardesty also was a captain for Upper Arlington. “Right from the get-go, he kept coming to us and asking how he could get better,” Wolford said. “He always pushed us as coaches to help him improve his game.” The success of the Upper Arlington program has made it a hot spot for OSU recruiting. Wolford said he already has two players on his team this year who have committed to play for the Buckeyes in the future. Although the three Buckeyes all are in different classes, they share a bond from their time as Golden Bears. “I think the biggest part would just be having that person that you’ve known for two, three or four years in high school, and kind of having that connection already made and bringing it to college,” Crawford said. Despite the three now playing lacrosse for the Buckeyes, Wolford said he still remains in contact with them. “I always try to stick around after games and try to talk to them afterwards and see how they’re doing,” he said. “I want to let them know that I’m very proud of them; I’m very happy with the fact that they’re competing and that they’re doing well both in the classroom and in their athletic endeavors.” OSU has started off the season with three consecutive victories against Detroit Mercy, Mercer and previously No. 3-ranked North Carolina. The Buckeyes suffered their first loss against Massachusetts on Saturday, 11-9. While many of the OSU players come from all over the country, the trio has one advantage that not many other members of the team can say they have. “We share a little bit, I think, because we’re always getting stuff for being so close to home and going home and getting home-cooked meals,” Crawford said. “So we all have to stick together and stay strong.”
When it’s time to compete, Ohio State women’s track and field star Christina Manning likes to get down to business. “Everyone knows I’m a very silly person,” Manning said. “But when it comes down to competition, I know that there’s expectations.” Manning has met those expectations and built an impressive résumé in her time at OSU. In her tenure, the junior has been named a three-time All-American and has earned five Big Ten Individual Championship titles. Most recently, Manning was named Big Ten Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year and Athlete of the Big Ten Outdoor Championships. The accolades compliment her performance at the 2011 Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships where she was also named the Athlete of the Championships and Big Ten Indoor Track Athlete of the Year. “Well, it feels amazing,” Manning said. “I had previously won indoor last year, but last year outdoor I had a downfall and didn’t get to finish the race. So this year I had to defend a title and earn a title, and being able to do that made me feel really good about both seasons. I take championships very serious, and to be named Athlete of the Year both indoor and out is recognition to that.” Coach Karen Dennis said Manning’s focus is the key to her success. Before she competes, Manning prefers to warm up on her own. “She’s soft-spoken,” Dennis said. “I think when it comes time to be on the track she becomes introverted. I think that’s probably one of the qualities you need in order to be a champion. You have to get centered and be able to avoid distractions.” The recognition added to an already great season for Manning and her team, who claimed the Big Ten Indoor Championship for the first time in school history. But for Manning and her team, one championship wasn’t enough. When the outdoor championship came, Manning knew she had to turn it up a notch to sweep the conference. When her team called on her, she delivered, claiming first place in the 100-meter dash and the 100-meter hurdles, and anchoring the 4-by-100-meter relay team to a first-place finish. “I was working really hard, and you don’t really go to a meet like that and leave with that title,” Manning said. “It felt really good.” Relay teammate Letecia Wright agreed. “Christina is a great hurdler and competitor. I’m proud of her,” said Wright, who leads the 4-by-100-meter relay team that Manning anchors. Manning’s versatility makes her a valuable asset to her team and to her coach. “Christina is probably, pound for pound, one of the best sprinter-hurdlers in the history of this program,” Dennis said. That’s a label Dennis doesn’t use liberally. Manning has affected the team in a huge way, and it’s taken hard work to earn that respect. “I definitely think it’s because of the work ethic that I put in,” Manning said. “Coach Karen molded me into a more serious athlete and a more serious individual.” Considering her high school career, Manning’s success may come as a surprise. She was a devout hurdler in high school and didn’t become a sprinter until she came to OSU. The atmosphere she trained in at high school practices wasn’t near the challenging level she has experienced in college. “We didn’t really practice in high school,” Manning said. “You went there; you laughed; you saw your friends. … There were no rules.” Once she arrived at OSU, her coaches let her know things were going to be different. In the latter stage of her college career, Manning adapted to the demands of the workouts. “Coach Joel (Brown) … he runs professionally, so he knows exactly what he talks about,” Manning said. “He doesn’t play. There’s no fun and games when he’s around. That helps us focus.” Dennis wasn’t easy on her either. Used to making her own rules, Manning had to learn to bend to her coach’s will. “Coach Karen is hard on me,” she said. “She doesn’t let me do whatever I think would be best for me. … She just keeps my head on.” Manning understands Dennis has her sights set on teaching her athletes to be their best in more ways than one. “It’s helping to make me a better woman in general,” Manning said. “Coach Karen cares a lot about the women we’re going to become.” But Dennis’ rules have helped mold Manning into a champion still looking to accomplish even bigger goals. “By the time I leave here … I want to get three individual (medals) and then a relay,” Manning said. “Four gold (medals) at the end of Big Ten Championships. And, of course, I want to win nationals.” No matter what happens, Manning said, her ultimate goal is to compete professionally. Dennis said Manning has what it takes to break records at OSU and excel at the next level. “Christina has ambitions to be an elite athlete,” Dennis said. “I think she’s certainly on the right track to running at the elite level.”
Ohio State co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom HermanCredit: Hayden Grove / Lantern TV Sports directorOhio State co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman has officially been named the next head coach at Houston, the school announced Tuesday.Herman is set to be introduced at Houston in a Friday press conference, the school announced in a press release. His contract spans five years and is worth $6.75 million.The release said Herman will stay with the Buckeyes’ coaching staff until OSU’s run in the College Football Playoff comes to an end.“This is a tremendous opportunity for my family and I to come back to Houston and lead one of the top programs,” Herman said in the release. “I am looking forward to working with one of the top athletic directors in the country as well as (Houston Chancellor Renu) Khator in a partnership that will make the city of Houston and the great state of Texas proud.”Under Herman in 2014, the OSU offense finished fourth in the nation with 45.2 points per game. The Buckeyes were also eighth in the country with 507.6 total yards per game.In each of his three seasons at OSU, a Buckeye quarterback was named the Big Ten’s Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year.Current senior quarterback Braxton Miller won the award in 2012 and 2013 — as well as being named the conference’s MVP and Offensive Player of the Year both seasons. After Miller was ruled out for the season after injuring his shoulder during fall camp, Herman coached redshirt-freshman J.T. Barrett to a record-setting season and the Quarterback of the Year honor.In his only season as the starter, Barrett set the Big Ten and OSU record for total touchdowns in a season with 45 and set school records for passing touchdowns in a season and total yards in a season.Herman also picked up an accolade of his own this year, as he was named the 2014 Broyles Award winner. The Broyles Award is given annually to the top assistant coach in the nation.Herman — a California Lutheran University product — joined the Buckeyes in 2012 along with coach Urban Meyer after holding the same position at Texas State, Rice and Iowa State in previous seasons. He also spent time as an assistant at Sam Houston State and a graduate assistant at Texas.The Simi Valley, Calif., native is set to replace Tony Levine at Houston after Levine led the Cougars to a 21-17 record over three seasons. Levine was fired on Dec. 8.Herman’s hiring was initially reported by Fox Sports on Monday.After coaching Barrett to an 11-1 record as a starter, Herman was also tasked with preparing another quarterback for their first collegiate start after Barrett fractured his ankle in the regular season finale against Michigan.With a week of preparation, Herman helped redshirt-freshman quarterback Cardale Jones throw for 257 yards and three touchdowns in his first start, leading OSU to a 59-0 win over Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game. The win also helped the Buckeyes secure a spot in the first-ever College Football Playoff.Herman is set to coach Jones and the Buckeyes against No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Years Day. Kickoff for the semifinal matchup is set for 8:30 p.m. in New Orleans.
Coach Urban Meyer (left), co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck (center, without helmet) and co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chris Ash led the Buckeyes on the first day of spring practice March 10 at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. The Buckeyes kicked off practice less than 2 months after winning the 1st-ever College Football Playoff National Championship. Credit: Tim Moody / Sports editorOhio State football coach Urban Meyer has won three national championships and led the Buckeyes to their first title in 12 years less than two months ago — and he isn’t letting up. OSU senior linebacker Joshua Perry said Meyer and the rest of the coaches were just as intense on the first day of spring practice as they have ever been. “They want to coach us really hard and they want to put us in those situations where we have to kind of fight a little bit,” Perry said. “They want to make sure we get the best out of everybody and we want to develop young players and make sure the older players know what they’re doing and have great leadership.”Perry, who was part of Meyer’s first recruiting class at OSU, led the Buckeyes in tackles during their title run. Another member of his recruiting class, senior offensive lineman Taylor Decker, said Tuesday that Meyer’s consistency is what has led to the success of the football program at OSU. “He is the same guy. He is not going to change,” Decker said. “He will recognize guys for their efforts but he is not going to change the type of person and the type of program or the culture that we have around here.”That culture took a slight hit this offseason as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tom Herman bolted to the University of Houston for a head coaching position while running backs coach Stan Drayton accepted the same position with the NFL’s Chicago Bears.Meyer said losing a coach like Drayton worries him. “You lose a Stan Drayton who is a heck of a football coach. You worry, will there be a drop off in that room?” Meyer said. “I am going to watch it even more closely now than I ever have.”Meyer will likely also be watching over the quarterback room, which is now occupied by Tim Beck, who was hired from Nebraska to replace Herman. Meyer said the reason for bringing in coaches like Beck to replace Herman and Tony Alford from Notre Dame to replace Drayton is important because of what they can add to an already established culture.“You look at what Nebraska, the last 10 years, it’s one of the winningest programs in America. I picked their brains about some of the things they did well,” Meyer said. “Then Tony Alford came from one of the great programs, they played for a title two years ago. I try to absorb and pull information out of them.” Make no mistake, though: Meyer is committed to what OSU is doing and is sticking to it. “We have a coach’s manual that we kind of went through. There is a very detailed way we teach. The expectation level of your unit room, the culture of the program, there are three parts of the culture you are expected to know,” Meyer said. “I would have to say that’s one area I am insane about.”But while Meyer is worrying about introducing new coaches into the OSU environment, he said he is also encouraged by the coaches who have already been in the system. “Our defensive coaches … they actually led a team meeting today,” Meyer said. “Chris Ash and Luke Fickell (led it) and it was magical. You have meetings that are reactive and proactive. Reactive meetings are awful. The meeting we had today was proactive.”While the defensive coaches are starting to lead team meetings, it’s an offensive coach who received an offseason promotion. Offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner was upgraded to offensive coordinator after Herman’s departure, which Decker said he was happy to see. “He deserved something like that, a promotion like that. When coach Herman told us he was leaving, I knew coach Warinner wanted that spot because he had been in that seat before,” Decker said. “I am completely confident in his ability to do that.”Warinner served as the offensive coordinator at the University of Kansas for three years before coaching for two years at Notre Dame.So with a mix of new and returning coaches, how is Meyer going to monitor his team? “That’s something I’m going to watch like a hawk,” Meyer said. “That the culture here is established now we have to just add to it not change it.”The Buckeyes are set to play their annual Spring Game on April 18 at Ohio Stadium before starting the 2015 season on the road against Virginia Tech on Sept. 7.