1991Arkansas2034Georgia St.144896.639.0 1997Kentucky2181Montana157897.727.9 1991UNLV2187Montana159298.443.1 1999Michigan St.2112Mount St. Mary’s142898.925.0 1985St. John’s1948Southern163687.783.7 1999Connecticut2140Texas San Antonio146898.625.3 2009North Carolina2103Radford152098.010.8 1986Kansas2059North Carolina A&T151797.179.6 2005Washington1964Montana150495.217.4 2013Kansas2024Western Kentucky149997.76.5 2012Syracuse2054UNC-Asheville161994.97.5 1992Duke2209Campbell134599.738.2 1990UNLV1989Ark.-Little Rock160794.048.0 2007Kansas2063Niagara161395.212.6 This data suggests that No. 16 seeds have in fact been pretty unlucky. On average, Elo would have given the No. 1 seed a 97.6 percent chance of winning each individual game; the range runs from 99.9 percent (Duke against Florida A&M in 1999) to 87.1 percent (Memphis against Oral Roberts in 2006). But given 124 chances to pull a rabbit out of their hats, No. 16 seeds “should” have come away with about three victories, according to Elo. Furthermore, the probability of them having gone winless is only about 5 percent. I wouldn’t call the No. 16s phenomenally unlucky — we’re talking about odds of about 20-to-1 against, not 20,000-to-1 against — but this confirms my intuition that they haven’t caught very many breaks.The good news for No. 16 seeds is that their situation has been improving very slightly. Since the tournament introduced its play-in game in 2001, the average No. 16 to play a No. 1 had an Elo rating of 1504; before that, their average rating was 1470. The play-in games are helpful to the cause of the No. 16 seeds in two ways. First, the truly execrable No. 16s, like Florida A&M in 1999 (which came into the tournament with a 12-18 record in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference), will be routed into the play-in game and will usually lose it instead of wasting one of the 16-seeds’ four opportunities. Second, the play-in winners will have a game of NCAA Tournament experience under their belts. That helps both in real life and for a team’s Elo rating, since Elo weights recent games (and especially recent tournament games) more heavily.So cheer up, Holy Cross, Hampton, Florida Gulf Coast University and Austin Peay State. Yes, you’re probably going to lose by 30 points. But sooner or later, one of you is going to make history.Check out FiveThirtyEight’s 2016 March Madness Predictions. 1988Purdue2015Fairleigh Dickinson150297.562.6 1988Oklahoma2043Chattanooga152995.759.9 Embed Code 1999Duke2295Florida A&M124899.925.3 YEARNO. 1 SEEDELONO. 16 SEEDELOTHIS GAMECUM. GAMES 1985Georgetown2135Lehigh125699.7%99.7% 1989Illinois2094McNeese St.150998.553.6 1994Arkansas2001North Carolina A&T136498.932.7 2011Duke2117Hampton147598.78.2 Every No. 1 vs. No. 16 men’s NCAA Tournament matchup, ever 2015Wisconsin2129Coastal Carolina148498.95.1 1990Michigan St.2052Murray St.160794.543.8 1987North Carolina2133Pennsylvania149298.869.3 2007Florida2046Jackson St.136598.712.4 2009Connecticut2024Chattanooga150397.411.1 1995Kentucky2115Mount St. Mary’s144399.031.4 By Nate Silver 2007Ohio St.2084Central Conn. St.155097.713.2 1992Kansas2106Howard141098.937.8 2003Arizona2069Vermont148198.520.3 It’s the sort of statistic that seems ripped from pages of the Washington Generals media guide. Since the men’s NCAA Tournament went to a 64-team format in 1985, No. 16 seeds are winless: an imperfect 0-124 record.No. 16 seeds can be pretty bad basketball teams, of course. Often, they’re teams from small conferences that won automatic bids by winning their conference tournament in a series of upsets after having barely cleared .500 during the regular season. (Small-conference teams that win both the regular season and their conference tournaments will usually wind up with No. 13, 14 or 15 seeds instead.) Furthermore, No. 16s have the misfortune of being matched up against No. 1 seeds, which are theoretically the four best teams in the country.But being bad is one thing; going 0 for 124 is another. My hunch is that No. 16 seeds have been unlucky not to have pulled off at least one upset.Consider that in the 1998 women’s NCAA Tournament, No. 16 seed Harvard (those plucky upstarts) beat No. 1 seed Stanford. And in the men’s tournament, several No. 16 seeds have come close to winning. Two of them, Princeton and East Tennessee State, lost by a single point in 1989 to Georgetown and Oklahoma, respectively. The next year, No. 16 seed Murray State took Michigan State to overtime before losing by four.Meanwhile, plenty of No. 15 seeds have won. Well, not plenty, but seven of them have upset No. 2 seeds. And No. 14 seeds have beaten No. 3 seeds 20 times. These results suggest that 16-versus-1 upsets ought to be possible, especially because there isn’t always a whole lot of daylight separating teams from one seed to the next. As its choices this year made clear, the selection committee is not infallible. Sometimes a team gets seeded as a 16 when it should probably have been a 14 or 15. Sometimes a No. 1 seed should have been a No. 2 seed. If a No. 15 seed can beat a No. 2 seed, then surely a 15-seed that’s mis-seeded as 16 can beat a 2-seed that’s mis-seeded as a No. 1.But we can be more precise about this. In building our NCAA Tournament forecasts this year, we developed an Elo ratings system for college basketball. Although our forecasts for this year blend Elo with several other computer ratings, we can run Elo-based projections for past tournament games going back as far as we like.Here, then, is how Elo would have forecast every past 1-versus-16 matchup on the day it was played. Once we figure out the No. 1 seed’s odds of winning each game, we can simply multiply the probabilities to figure out their cumulative odds of winning all 124. It’s a long table, so scroll down to the bottom for the punch line. 2014Wichita St.2041Cal Poly153997.45.9 1988Temple2058Lehigh152197.258.2 1993Michigan2095Coastal Carolina146398.534.6 1990Oklahoma2101Towson150498.651.1 2013Louisville2124North Carolina A&T145199.06.8 2001Stanford2113UNC-Greensboro145999.123.4 2006Villanova2035Monmouth150597.413.7 2013Gonzaga2032Southern143598.46.7 1992UCLA1959Robert Morris148597.036.6 2006Duke2084Southern143199.116.5 1995UCLA2059Florida Intl.131399.531.2 2009Louisville2059Morehead St.153497.010.1 1993Kentucky2066Rider142798.835.1 1995Wake Forest2077North Carolina A&T136199.131.7 1994Purdue2036Central Florida137399.034.2 2000Michigan St.2125Valparaiso147098.824.7 1991North Carolina2108Northeastern155797.241.9 1987Georgetown2015Bucknell148197.364.2 1994North Carolina2082Liberty145098.433.1 2011Kansas2117Boston U.157098.18.1 1996Kentucky2127San Jose St.157797.830.5 2007North Carolina2097Eastern Kentucky149498.413.5 2010Syracuse1986Vermont161992.68.8 1996Massachusetts2127Central Florida136599.629.4 1998Kansas2144Prairie View131799.626.4 1996Connecticut2134Colgate146698.829.1 2014Florida2086Albany155498.06.0 2010Duke2059Arkansas Pine Bluff142298.79.5 Our sports podcast Hot Takedown previews March Madness. 2008Memphis2023Texas Arlington144298.111.4 2000Duke2161Lamar137299.624.0 1997Minnesota2023Texas St.142398.327.4 1995Kansas2049Colgate147997.732.0 1987UNLV2064Idaho St.150697.367.4 2001Michigan St.2105Alabama St.145098.522.6 2010Kansas2161Lehigh151499.09.7 2002Kansas2066Holy Cross156197.321.9 2009Pittsburgh2021East Tennessee St.153696.210.4 2014Virginia2028Coastal Carolina145197.85.5 2006Connecticut2109Albany153197.916.2 2002Maryland2110Siena154298.321.5 1993North Carolina2147East Carolina148098.936.2 2012Kentucky2105Western Kentucky147698.57.9 2012Michigan St.2029Long Island U.157995.76.9 2003Oklahoma1975South Carolina St.147397.820.6 2004Stanford2041Texas San Antonio145098.418.5 2004Kentucky2085Florida A&M142199.018.3 1992Ohio St.2038Miss. Valley St.147598.138.3 2005Illinois2132Fairleigh Dickinson147599.017.2 1996Purdue2050Western Carolina153996.829.5 2002Cincinnati2055Boston U.149497.821.1 1993Indiana2130Wright St.155797.935.5 2004Saint Joseph’s1941Liberty144896.518.9 2015Duke2028Robert Morris155496.45.2 2005North Carolina2095Oakland151098.417.0 1998Duke2135Radford146298.826.5 2011Pittsburgh2008UNC-Asheville159494.58.3 CHANCE THAT NO. 1 SEED WINS … 2001Illinois2030Northwestern St.147598.023.0 2012North Carolina2059Vermont162996.07.2 1999Auburn1988Winthrop143897.425.7 2008North Carolina2141Mount St. Mary’s156398.311.6 1997Kansas2194Jackson St.145199.228.6 1991Ohio St.1997Towson153096.540.4 2006Memphis1931Oral Roberts162987.114.1 1986Kentucky2029Davidson152495.674.2 1989Oklahoma2028East Tennessee St.151796.254.4 2010Kentucky2029East Tennessee St.152696.59.8 2002Duke2193Winthrop141199.522.5 1989Georgetown2055Princeton153196.751.9 2013Indiana1986James Madison157494.56.2 1985Oklahoma1963North Carolina A&T154495.795.4 2004Duke2037Alabama St.133999.318.8 2011Ohio St.2115Texas San Antonio152398.78.0 1988Arizona2003Cornell149497.756.9 2003Texas1919UNC-Asheville127298.419.6 1986Duke2116Miss. Valley St.160797.577.7 1997North Carolina2099Fairfield143399.128.8 2005Duke2058Delaware St.146998.316.7 1994Missouri2003Navy141498.333.6 2015Villanova2086Lafayette149998.05.4 2001Duke2149Monmouth154498.623.7 2008UCLA2074Miss. Valley St.135099.512.3 1989Arizona2117Robert Morris136099.556.6 2003Kentucky2149IUPUI155998.119.9 2014Arizona2012Weber St.155795.75.6 1998North Carolina2155Navy146498.926.8 1986St. John’s2006Montana St.154094.470.1 2015Kentucky2158Hampton150399.05.4 2008Kansas2102Portland St.169895.511.8 1987Indiana2007Fairfield147398.066.0 More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed 1990Connecticut2015Boston U.153396.446.3 1985Michigan2024Fairleigh Dickinson146198.082.0 2000Stanford2092South Carolina St.141798.424.1 2000Arizona1982Jackson St.139699.024.5 1998Arizona2159Nicholls St.152198.827.1
Carmelo Anthony said he could not watch the trouble those in New York were enduring from Hurricane Sandy without doing something. So, the New York Knicks’ star forward did something.Anthony and others trekked to the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, where some residents remain without electricity and water, and handed out boxes of food and housing supplies to those in need.“I wanted to step up to the forefront,” Anthony said to a small group of reporters on the scene. “We all know what Sandy did to our city, especially to Brooklyn, and to Red Hook, with us being right here on the water. It hit us pretty bad, so I feel like I’m the face of Red Hook and I wanted to come back and give back to the place I grew up.”In conjunction with the Carmelo Anthony Foundation, Feed the Children and Metro Ministries, Anthony delivered 500 boxes filled with food and cleaning supplies to a housing project on Columbia Avenue, a block away from where he lived as a child in Red Hook.Some residents of the surrounding projects say they have been without electricity or heat since the storm hit last Sunday.“Sometimes it feels like we’re the forgotten borough, the forgotten neighborhood,” said Red Hook resident Vanessa Bernard, who has been without power since last Sunday. “This is uplifting. Some families don’t have much at all, and it’s really difficult. Anything helps, and to do this is uplifting.”“We just wanted to provide a temporary relief,” Justice Anthony, Carmelo’s brother, said.Carmelo Anthony said it was a “no-brainer” to help.“I’m one of them, I was once one of them,” he said. “I grew up running around with a lot of the older guys as a little kid, so for me to come back and to help and give out house supplies and things like that, that’s the least I can do, especially at a time like this.”
Scottie Pippen former NBA star, will not face any criminal charges after meeting with police officials Monday to answer questions about the alleged altercation at Malibu’s Nobu restaurant.Los Angeles County sheriff’s office spokesman, Steve Whitmore, offered the following: “He came in to be interviewed, he’s been cooperative…Mr. Pippen will not be arrested, there’s more here than meets the eye.”Per witness accounts, a fight began near the valet station outside the restaurant, but there were no other details on what started the fight.TMZ reported Monday that Pippen may have seriously injured the man in the reported altercation and would be charged with felony assault. It said Pippen turned himself in to authorities in Malibu and that the man was knocked out after Pippen allegedly punched him in the face and kicked him repeatedly.There is still no mention as to the impetus behind the ordeal, only that the man suffered “broken teeth and a swollen mouth,” as well as head and back injuries.
Photo by espn.com.After all the rumblings in New York that Geno Smith was a disaster and totally ill-prepared to lead an NFL team–the rookie quarterback made a nice account of himself in the Jets’ season-opener, a stunning 18-17 last-second victory over Tampa Bay.Smith, who opened training camp in competition with incumbent and now-injured starter Mark Sanchez, went 24-for-38 for 256 yards, with a touchdown, an interception and a fumble. He also had 47 yards rushing and set up the game-winning field goal by drawing a personal foul penalty in the waning seconds.Down by two with just seconds left, Smith scrambled for 10 yards before running out of bounds. However, the Buccaneers’ Levonte David pushed him when he clearly was out of bounds, drawing the 15-yard penalty, setting up Nick Folk’s 48-yard field goal with two seconds left.“I’m never going to panic,” Smith said afterward. “It’s a game, it’s something that I’ve been playing my entire life, I’ve been in that situation plenty of times.”Not exactly. This was his first NFL game. In New York. And after a preseason effort that, when he was healthy, did not inspire confidence.“We knew that he’s a much better quarterback than he showed in that one preseason game when he was hobbling around,” Jets’ coach Rex Ryan said, referring to Smith’s three-interception performance against the Giants. “I think where he really helped us, he ran, he made some big plays running.”Smith was much better and his poise shone through. “I love playing with a team like this,” Smith said, “because you don’t have to go out there and try to be Superman.”It was not a super play that saved the day for the Jets, but it was one that Ryan said Smith made happen.“No question,” Ryan said. “They had everybody back in coverage, they were deep down the field. At the time we knew we needed to make a play and he did. He stepped up, presence of mind, he was running like crazy and got out of bounds.”“I just go out there and I told those guys ‘it’s never over,’ ” Smith said. “I was on the sideline talking to Kellen (Winslow Jr.) and we were going over situations. Talked with Willie Colon and telling those guys just, ‘Hey, give me some extra protection and we’ll find a way,’ and that’s what we did.”
Washington Redskins coaches decided to bench quarterback Robert Griffin III on Sunday after he bruised his knee during a hit from 335-pound Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.Doctors cleared Griffin to return in their 45-21 loss to the Denver Broncos, but coaches opted to keep him off the field.After falling to the ground in pain, Griffin’s left knee was examined by doctors.“I think it just scared me,” he said.The left knee isn’t the same knee that Griffin had surgery on in January, after he tore his ACL in last year’s playoffs.When asked about Griffin’s left knee Redskins coach Mike Shanahan said: “I think he’s fine. Doctors felt like he could have went back in.”Griffin told the media after the game: “We decided it was smart to just keep me off the field and be ready to go next week.”
Tottenham HotspurPremier League7.60 4Uruguay0.832+1.17 UnderachieversExpectedActualDifference 5Mexico0.520-0.52 Southgate’s plan seems to be to put the players from these teams into a compatible lineup before re-creating their off-the-ball tactics. As I noted in my Group G preview, of all the teams to qualify for the World Cup, England ranks third in breaking up an opponent’s possession before it completes three passes, behind only Germany and Spain.England’s famed problem has been getting its generational talents to click together. For once, the big teams in the Premier League are kindred spirits tactically, and this will have an impact on the national team’s ability to leverage the players provided by those clubs.Young attackersEngland is fielding an extremely young side in Russia, with an average age of 26 — only Nigeria is younger. And England’s average of 19 caps per player makes it the most inexperienced side in the competition.2Tied with Tunisia. But while they may be relatively new to the international stage, these youngsters are by no means immature in terms of elite soccer. England’s attack, in particular, is filled to the brim with talent just ready to peak. England features cohorts from aggressive-pressing clubsThe 10 big five European club teams best at pressuring opponents, 2017-18 2Netherlands0.670-0.67 4Russia0.600-0.60 Cups won Cups won 2Germany2.044+1.96 1Hungary0.920-0.92 1Brazil3.015+1.99 5Argentina1.442+0.56 Manchester CityPremier League6.71 sec. Hamburger SVBundesliga8.22 Nonetheless, the team that will face Tunisia on Monday is new and exciting. Gone are the mainstays from the past three World Cups, players like Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Because of the players’ age and inexperience, this team is free of the weight of expectation — despite having the seventh best pre-tournament chance of taking the trophy home, according to FiveThirtyEight predictions. And for the neutral fan, too, England has a lot to offer.Tactical coherencePep Guardiola — the current manager of Manchester City, which became the first team in history to break the 100-point mark in the Premier League — has had an indirect hand in the past two World Cup-winning teams. In the final against the Netherlands in 2010, eight players featured on the pitch for Spain had been coached by Guardiola in his time at Barcelona. When Mario Götze broke Argentinian hearts in 2014, he was one of seven German players in the final to have played under the Catalan manager that season at Bayern Munich.This is likely to be less about Guardiola specifically, despite his brilliance, and more about his indirect influence on the tactical coherence of a national team. With him at the helm of the country’s best side, his players would naturally get national team starts; the ability of those players to click when on the pitch together meant that they had more coherent tactics than other teams stacked with good players. Indeed, Italy, which won the 2006 World Cup with a quintessentially Italian style of football, featured a spine of five Juventus players in the final.With only four Manchester City players on the squad, manager Gareth Southgate will pay homage to Guardiola’s team in style more than in personnel. Man City midfielders David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne are playing for Spain and Belgium respectively, but Southgate will try to replicate them by using Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli as “free eights” in the midfield. England has six more players total from Tottenham, managed by Mauricio Pochettino, and Liverpool, managed by Jürgen Klopp. These teams, like City, press the opposition extremely aggressively out of possession, with all three in the top 10 in Europe’s biggest competitions this season in terms of how quickly they shut down their opponents: Tottenham’s Harry Kane, for example, is one of the best goal-scoring strikers in the world at the tender age of 24. Somewhat terrifyingly, he is still improving: He was even better at getting off quality shots this season than he was the year before. The expected goals per 90 minutes from his shots in the Premier League rose from 0.45 in 2016-17 to 0.75 this year.Dele Alli, 22, will support Kane for their country as he does for their club. His 2017-18 season was marred for some by the idea that it was a regression compared with the year before. What really happened, though, was that he got fewer chances but created more. He also experienced a downturn in chance conversion, from scoring 44 percent more than might be expected based on chance quality in 2016-17 to underachieving it by 12 percent this season. All that made people forget that Alli is one of the brightest under-23 talents in the world. And nobody — apart from maybe Denmark’s Christian Eriksen — is better at supplying Kane.Man City’s Raheem Sterling may have made recent headlines for getting a rifle tattooed on his leg, but the more important of his designs is the one on his arm of a young boy, wearing England’s No. 10 shirt, looking up at Wembley Stadium, the home of English football. He’s my player to watch for Group G because of his electric ability to both get and create chances, coming off the back of an incredibly productive league season with 18 goals and 11 assists. And he’s only 23.Dark horses?The biggest problem for England in terms of being a dark horse in Russia is its likely post-group opposition. The English have a good shot of making the quarterfinal (58 percent when the tourney began) but will probably have to face Germany or Brazil at that point, depending on whether England finishes above Belgium in their group. Winning a matchup against one of those powerhouses is a long shot, though anything can happen in a World Cup.England has an exciting team of young stars, playing at stylistically compatible clubs, and a manager who seems tactically savvy despite his relative inexperience. Even if they don’t manage to bring home the trophy this summer, the future looks bright for The Three Lions for the first time in a generation.Neil Paine contributed research.Check out our latest World Cup predictions. OverachieversExpectedActualDifference Expected goals1388 Goals3528 Bayern MunichBundesliga7.51 England’s youth movementRanks of Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in key offensive statistics in the English Premier League, 2017-18 teamleagueAvg. Opponent Possession Duration *Among attackers with at least 850 minutes playedSource: Football Whispers Borussia DortmundBundesliga7.91 LiverpoolPremier League7.92 EibarLa Liga7.23 Rank per 90 minutes* The big five leagues are the Premier League (England), Bundesliga (Germany), Ligue 1 (France), La Liga (Spain) and Serie A (Italy).Source: Football Whispers Assists93158 Expected assists76127 3England1.621-0.62 There is an uncharacteristic air of hope this year surrounding an uncharacteristic England team. To be an England supporter is to inherit a contradictory combination of utter nihilism and raging anger, expecting nothing and everything at the same time. English players have developed an unfortunate reputation: They will wilt under the brightest lights, typified by the inability to hold their nerve during penalty shootouts.But the perception of mental weakness between generations is, to some extent, a consequence of the spread-out nature of international tournaments. The World Cup is rare and unpredictable: Germany, the defending champion, had just a 13 percent chance of winning in Russia going into the tournament, according to FiveThirtyEight’s model, and even Brazil, the favorite, had less than a 20 percent chance.Using pre-tournament Elo ratings going back to 1930, we can construct a logistic regression to look at how many World Cup trophies each country might have expected based on team strength, the competition format and whether the country was hosting.1Historically, having a home advantage makes a big difference, so the model adjusts for the advantage that comes with hosting responsibility.Brazil, Germany and Italy have roughly a pair of trophies each more than the model’s predictions based on their strength before the tournament, which illustrates that the World Cup is hardly a tale of who the favorite is going in.England has underachieved, winning a solitary trophy relative to 1.62 expected World Cups. By our measure, only Hungary, which was one of the world’s best in the 1950s, and the three-time runner-up Netherlands have seen a bigger discrepancy. English supporters born after 1966 are justified in feeling a tad underwhelmed by the team’s performances on the world stage, but it could be worse — of the underachievers, England is the only team to actually have managed a win at all. England should have more trophiesTop five under- and overachievers by actual World Cups won vs. expected Successful dribbles666831 MarseilleLigue 18.15 RomaSerie A8.36 3Italy2.144+1.86 Based on a logistic regression that uses each team’s pre-World Cup ELO rating, accounting for host country and size of field. Germany’s history includes West Germany, while Russia’s includes the Soviet Union.Source: EloRATINGS.NET RB LeipzigBundesliga7.88 StatisticHarry KaneDele AlliRaheem Sterling
The Premier League has never been one for parity. For the majority of its existence, the league has been dominated by a small fraternity of very talented (and very wealthy) clubs. Only six teams have won the Premier League in its 27-year existence, and only four have won it more than once. And if last season is any indication, the stratification is becoming even more extreme. It’s Manchester City and Liverpool’s league to lose, and everyone else is playing for third place.The rivals from the north of England had the second and third best seasons in Premier League history last year by points accrued. And if it weren’t for an astonishing goal line clearance and the small matter of 11.7 millimeters, Liverpool might have lifted its first-ever Premier League trophy last May. Instead, Manchester City claimed its second straight title and fourth this decade.While domestic success might have eluded them, the Reds finished their 2018-19 campaign with a 2-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League final in Madrid. So while Manchester City may start the Premier League season as champions of England, Liverpool will start it as champions of Europe.Both City and Liverpool boast impressive squads — so impressive that neither felt the need to dip their toes too deep into the transfer pool this summer. City starts the season where it left off in the Soccer Power Index (SPI), leading the league with a 94.2 team rating, while Liverpool is close behind at 92.9. As such, the FiveThirtyEight projection model suggests this season will be as imbalanced as the last, as it’s unlikely that any other team will win the Premier League: It gives City a 55 percent chance of winning and Liverpool a 32 percent chance. Meanwhile, the model gives Chelsea a 5 percent chance to win the title and Tottenham a 4 percent chance.Perennial top-six teams Manchester United and Arsenal each begin the season with a 1 percent chance of winning the title; the remaining 14 teams each have a less than 1 percent chance of Premier League glory. Here’s a look at what to expect.The big twoManchester City and Liverpool didn’t make a lot of roster moves this summer because neither Pep Guardiola nor Jürgen Klopp believed doing so was necessary. City’s main piece of business was acquiring defensive midfielder Rodri from Atlético Madrid. The club splashed roughly $80 million for the Spaniard, who is likely the heir to City’s longtime linchpin midfielder, Fernandinho. City’s front line — consisting of any configuration of Leroy Sané, Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Sergio Agüero, Riyad Mahrez and Bernardo Silva — won’t require much in the way of extra goal-scoring. But much of what City does has been enabled by Fernandinho’s ability to break up opposition possession and win the ball through midfield, so getting a younger, healthier version of him, in Rodri, makes a lot of sense.And if Rodri’s performance last season is any indication of what’s to come, Guardiola and co. will be able to justify the hefty price tag: Among players who played at least 15 games, Rodri was the 10th-best central midfielder in La Liga in interceptions per 90 minutes in the middle third of the field, and he made the seventh-most tackles at his position in the middle third. His role in Madrid was to disrupt the opposition’s attack and advance the ball to Atlético forwards. Rodri finished the season as La Liga’s third-most successful central midfielder in terms of passing accuracy from the middle third to the final third, ahead of superstars like Toni Kroos, Ivan Rakitić, Luka Modrić, and Sergio Busquets.City was already the best team in the Premier League at both holding possession and scoring, leading the league in share of possession (at nearly 68 percent) and total goals. Adding another wrecker in the center of the field who can also advance the ball into the attacking third with accuracy seems likely to make them even harder to stop. Bringing a healthy Kevin De Bruyne into the fold won’t hurt City’s chances at a three-peat, either.Liverpool, meanwhile, might not have added star power this summer, but it will have more depth. It made three signings of note, though none is expected to get much game time. Two — Dutch defender Sepp van den Berg and English winger Harvey Elliott — haven’t reached their 18th birthdays yet, and the other, former West Ham goalkeeper Adrian, will spend most of his days on the bench ready to deputize for Alisson Becker should catastrophe strike.The Reds will also return fully healthy versions of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Adam Lallana, who should bolster an already-dominant midfield. Last season, only City was better than Liverpool in possession percentage in the middle third of the field. When each player was most recently healthy enough to play in 15 games or more during a season — Oxlade-Chamberlain in 2017-18 and Lallana in 2016-17 — they finished 21st and 22nd, respectively, among Premier League midfielders in terms of passing accuracy from the middle third to the final third. It’s unclear just how much they’ll factor into Klopp’s plans, but Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lallana’s ability to accurately progress the ball from the middle third to the final third could prove crucial for a Liverpool team that did so less efficiently than City last season.Less-than-perfect passing aside, Liverpool still finished the season with two of the league’s three shared Golden Boot winners in Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané. Along with forward Roberto Firmino, the group forms one of the most prolific scoring trios in world soccer, combining for an astounding 113 goals in the past two seasons. Fuse Liverpool’s attacking prowess with its ability at the back — center back Virgil van Dijk is currently the bookmaker’s favorite to win the Ballon d’Or as the world’s best player, and Becker is the Premier League’s reigning Golden Glove winner — and it’s not hard to see why our model is high on the Reds.The next fourThe triumvirate of contenders in London all had very different summers in terms of personnel changes. Chelsea allowed malcontent manager Maurizio Sarri to return to Italy and pursue his dream job at the helm of Juventus and dealt playmaker Eden Hazard — its best player and among the best in the entire Premier League a year ago — to Real Madrid. In the wake of all that change, it hired club legend Frank Lampard, who’s only been a manager for one season, to steward the club into the future. And they’re hoping American wunderkind Christian Pulisic can fill Hazard’s shoes, a tall order.Don’t expect Pulisic, who played his last four seasons at Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, to be a one-to-one replacement for Hazard, however. Like Hazard, Pulisic can play in just about any attacking role and can use both feet with near-equal ability. Unlike Hazard, Pulisic didn’t lead his league in passes made in the final third per 90 minutes last season, and the American didn’t even sniff Hazard’s passing accuracy. Pulisic is an excellent attacking option — Chelsea is lucky to have signed him before its transfer ban went into place — and he could certainly form exciting partnerships with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Callum Hudson-Odoi after the latter recovers from an Achilles injury. But a player like Hazard is irreplaceable.Unlike Chelsea, Tottenham didn’t end up selling any of its top talent this summer. Indeed, the Lilywhites went on a bit of a shopping spree instead, shelling out roughly $68 million for French defensive midfielder Tanguy Ndombele. The former Lyon man completed 89 percent of his passes in 2018-19, the 11th best rate per 90 minutes among midfielders in Ligue 1.At first glance, Ndombele’s game doesn’t look drastically different than that of Moussa Sissoko, one of Tottenham’s mainstays in midfield. Both are box-to-box midfielders responsible for interrupting the flow of the opposition’s attack and restarting the attack for his team. But everything Sissoko can do, Ndombele can do a little bit better. Ndombele outstripped Sissoko in chances created, assists, expected goals, interceptions per 90 minutes, pass percentage, passes in the final third per 90 minutes and key passes per 90 minutes. Ndombele also proved last season that he’s an elite dribbler among defensive midfielders. He led Ligue 1 defensive midfielders in dribbles per 90 minutes in the middle third of the field, and had the ninth-best success rate. His ability to beat opponents off the dribble, paired with his elite passing ability, will allow Ndombele to progress the ball forward toward Tottenham’s scorers.While some of Ndombele’s statistical superiority can perhaps be explained by the relatively weaker French league, Ndombele is also younger than his French compatriot and has room to keep improving. Either way, he and Sissoko should form a formidable partnership in the center of the field for Spurs this season.The Lilywhites will be a pleasure to watch with healthy versions of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min providing the scoring touch up front. But once again, uncertainty at each fullback position probably means they won’t challenge for the title.Things for the other team in North London look a bit better than they did last season, but only marginally. Arsenal hasn’t done anything to fix its back line: The shaky Shkodran Mustafi will probably be called upon to play lots of minutes in central defense, which is bad news for the Gunners, and former club captain Laurent Koscielny is now on the move to Bordeaux. They did add depth in the middle of the field and another scoring threat up front, securing the signatures of Spanish midfielder Dani Ceballos (on a one-year loan from Real Madrid) and French winger Nicolas Pépé, who shredded defenses in Ligue 1 with 22 goals last season.Ceballos could help shore up a midfield that finished fifth in possession rate in the middle of the field — which would be a good first step toward finishing in the top four of the table at the end of the season — and Pépé should add even more firepower to an attack that has only been outscored by City and Liverpool over the past two seasons. But Arsenal didn’t really need more scoring — Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was joint top-scorer a season ago, and Alexandre Lacazette has netted 27 goals in his two seasons at Arsenal — so the Pépé move is a strange one.If Manchester United had one priority going into the summer transfer window, it was to improve its back line. The Red Devils conceded 54 goals in 2018-19, 31 more than City and 32 more than Liverpool. They addressed their defensive woes, getting right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace and center back Harry Maguire from Leicester City.The total bill for the two defenders comes out to roughly $160 million, but that’s hardly an issue for a club with near-inexhaustible resources. It’s unclear whether the new defenders can bring United back to the top of the Premiership, but United fans would probably settle for a top-four finish and some Champions League soccer in the meantime.Top challengers The top-six is almost always set in stone, but things could be shifting this season. Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leicester City, and, of course, Everton might be battling it out for the so-called Everton Cup,1For the uninitiated, the Everton Cup is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the seventh-place finisher in the Premier League. but they could also each realistically make a push for a top-six finish. The three challengers are all closer to Arsenal and Manchester United in SPI ratings than Arsenal and United are to Manchester City and Liverpool. All three clubs pulled off some key signings in the transfer window, but Everton might have had the most fruitful summer. Everton locked up André Gomes — among its best players a season ago — on a permanent basis and snatched versatile midfielder Fabian Delph away from Manchester City. And in one of the summer’s biggest shocks, Everton managed to bring in 19-year-old Juventus and Italy starlet Moise Kean.Delph found minutes difficult to come by on a stacked City team last season, but he should expect to play a more important role for the Toffees, especially now that Everton has sold Idrissa Gueye to Paris Saint-Germain. And if Kean continues to develop, he, Gylfi Sigurðsson and Richarlison could form a lethal strike team.Wolverhampton wasn’t as active as Everton. It signed top-scorer Raúl Jiménez to a permanent deal and gave the Mexican forward some cover up front, signing Italian forward Patrick Cutrone from AC Milan. Cutrone had a down season in Serie A in 2018-19, but scored 10 goals in 2017-18 as a 19 year old. With Jiménez, Diogo Jota and Rúben Neves, Wolves already have a potent attack. If Cutrone regains some of the form he showed as a teenager, Wolverhampton may find itself contending for the top six.As good as the summer has been for Everton and Wolves, something truly special could be happening at Leicester City. Losing Maguire hurts, but everywhere else you look on the Leicester roster you see talent. Jamie Vardy can’t stop scoring; James Maddison has shades of a young David Beckham; new signing Ayoze Pérez is a proven goal-scoring commodity; the 22-year-old Youri Tielemans is already among the league’s best midfielders and has signed on a permanent basis; Ben Chilwell likes to get forward and ranks among the top five left backs in passes made into the final third of the field, and passes made in the final third of the field; Wilfred Ndidi, Harvey Barnes and Demarai Gray all played key roles for the Foxes last season, and none of them are older than 23.The last time Leicester City had a team of sneaky-good youngsters — Mahrez, N’Golo Kanté, Jeffrey Schlupp and Gray — and wily veterans, they won the damn Premier League as a miracle longshot. City and Liverpool’s excellence mean something that magical probably won’t happen again any time soon, but it wouldn’t be shocking if Leicester made a push for the top six — or even the top four.The newcomers It’s always hard to judge how newly promoted teams will perform in the Premier League. It could go the way of Wolverhampton, which finished the 2018-19 campaign in seventh place, just 9 points behind sixth-place Manchester United. Or it could go the way of Fulham, which was relegated after winning just seven games and conceding a ludicrous 81 goals.Among this season’s three newcomers, Aston Villa is the highest-rated team in SPI and the best suited for top-tier success. The Villans possess the best player of these three teams in attacking midfielder Jack Grealish. Grealish is club captain and a lifelong Villa fan, and he was one of the best passers in the final third of the field in the Championship last season: Grealish made the third-most passes in the final third per 90 minutes, and he completed those passes at the third-highest clip.When Grealish missed two months with a shin injury, Villa floundered near the middle of the table. When Grealish came back from that injury, Villa went on a 10-game winning streak during which they outscored opponents 23-5, rocketing up the table into a playoff position and eventually into the Premier League. Villa isn’t just Grealish, of course — they brought in 12 new players, including former Burnley goalie Tom Heaton, and let go of 14 others — but keeping their star healthy will be key to their success.Norwich City’s hopes rest on the shoulders of a 29-year-old Finn named Teemu Pukki. The Canaries’ hitman torched Championship defenses for 29 goals last season, a tally good enough to earn him the Golden Boot. If the Finn keeps up his hot form, Norwich could stave off elimination. But if Pukki goes as cold as his native Kotka in winter, the Canaries might find themselves back in the Championship as quickly as they left it.This leaves us with Sheffield United. The Blades haven’t played Premier League soccer since they spent a single season at the top level in 2006-07. (Prior to that, the last time Sheffield United competed in the Premier League was the 1993-94 season.) In fact, Sheffield United spent six seasons in League One, from 2011-12 to 2016-17, so this leap will feel especially big. The bookmakers and our model both think Sheffield United has the best odds of getting relegated.Even if that does happen, at least club legend Billy Sharp — who has scored more Football League goals in this century than any other player — is finally getting a shot to prove himself in the Premier League.2He had a two-game stint with Southampton in 2012-13, but nothing came of it. The Sheffield-born striker will have played with them in three levels of the English pyramid when the season kicks off in Bournemouth on Saturday. Sharp is a true poacher who has scored 227 league goals in his career thus far, but his most important goals are still in front of him. If Sheffield is to stay up, it will be because Sharp had the season of his life.Check out our latest soccer predictions.
Left: While waiting for the title ceremony, Magnus Carlsen is finally able to relax with his father by his side. Right: Following his defeat, Karjakin was clearly disappointed while speaking to the Russian media. He confirmed rumors about travelling to New York with a Virgin Mary icon. Watching an elite chess match in person is at once enjoyable and discomfiting. You follow the players’ actions — their moves, their mannerisms — for long stretches of time. You hang on each one and imbue it with meaning. You become so familiar with their moves that you can rattle them off later from memory: “queen to h6,” say, or “rook to e2.” You try to understand why the players did what they did. The moves can be beautiful or inscrutable or frustrating or disappointing. You try to imagine what you would do if you were in one of their chairs. You try to predict what they will do next. You try and make sense of their postgame explanations. But you aren’t them, and you can never really understand.On Wednesday, the final day of the World Chess Championship, hundreds crowded into the Fulton Market Building in lower Manhattan to watch, trying to understand. Magnus Carlsen, the defending champion, No. 1-rated player in the world and the closest thing the sport has to a rock star, was facing his challenger, Sergey Karjakin of Russia, in a series of speedy tiebreaker games. The 12 lengthy games that had stretched over the previous 19 days — I attended 11 in person — ended tied and the two grandmasters were back in their chairs in a soundproof glass box to break the deadlock. It was the biggest day in chess in many years. Carlsen, the former wunderkind, was clinging to his title and his legacy, while Karjakin and the Russians were hoping for a return to the days of Soviet chess hegemony. On the fourth game of the tiebreaker, and the 16th of the match, Carlsen attacked the Russian’s king, Karjakin resigned and the two shook hands. It was over. You had to elbow your way through knots of onlookers to get anywhere in the venue’s sprawling VIP wing. Men in suits and expensive shoes crowded around TVs, watching the games and sipping martinis. The room was at a low murmur — equal parts English and Russian with an occasional dash of Norwegian. The clinking of glasses and the ratatat of ice in cocktail shakers punctuated the chess talk.Like a Russian nesting doll, a VVIP section had been set up for Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley billionaire, and company within the VIP section. It was newly roped off and closely monitored by scary-looking bodyguards. Thiel, a Donald Trump supporter and a strong chess player himself, and Yuri Milner, the Russian billionaire venture capitalist, sat at a board inside. With apologies to Beyoncé, it was $6 billion at a chess table. Accompanying them: Bennett Miller, who directed “Foxcatcher,” about the wrestling-obsessed murderer and multimillionaire heir to the du Pont fortune, and the Icelandic grandmaster Hedinn Steingrimsson, who was giving them a private analysis of the ongoing championship game taking place just a few yards away.A buffet and wine bar had been installed for the guests from Silicon Valley who’d arrived that day, and bored-looking members of their entourages lolled on large couches, poking at iPhones. Word around the venue was that the billionaires had paid $50,000 for these privileges. (The match’s organizer wouldn’t comment on the figure.) Much later in the evening, some other journalists and I raided their buffet, eating what must have been thousands of dollars worth of cold mini tacos.“Are you security?” the writer Brin-Jonathan Butler asked one of the well-dressed, well-built men keeping close watch over the well-heeled chess lesson.“Something like that,” he responded ominously. “I wouldn’t bother them, if you don’t mind.”This World Chess Championship scene was somewhere at the intersection of Bond film, Trump fundraiser and museum gala. There are other internal chess-world squabbles. Agon Limited, the match’s organizer, filed an application for a restraining order and injunction against a number of popular third-party chess websites, just before the match began. The websites’ alleged transgression? Relaying chess moves live, which Agon saw as a violation. The application was denied by a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, who wrote that “robust reporting of factual data concerning the contestants’ moves” best served the public interest. Agon’s CEO, Ilya Merenzon, told me that the company would continue to pursue the matter in court, and was also proposing legislation to cement their rights to the games they organize.I discussed the case with Macauley Peterson, the content director for chess24, one of the defendants, on the floor of the venue during one of the early games. He kept glancing away from me at people walking by. He said he was worried about who might be eavesdropping.The tournament’s organizers have declared their own victory, though, bragging that the 20-day biennial championship had drawn some 10,000 spectators to its location in the South Street Seaport. But that’s less than, say, half the average attendance of the worst team in baseball for any one of its 81 home games this year. And the event’s only two main sponsors were PhosAgro, a Russian producer of phosphate-based fertilizer, and EG Capital Advisors, a Russian investment management company. Not exactly Nike and Coca-Cola. Spectators in the VIP lounge. A production team from Russia created an atmosphere for VIPs more often seen in Moscow than Manhattan. Despite the high-powered, moneyed interest, and its prime New York City location, the match was sparsely covered by the American press — as chess is generally — and given little attention outside the core chess world. It’s unlikely to increase the game’s reach or exposure as the organizers may have hoped. That did happen once in the States — in 1972 — but that was because of Bobby Fischer.The troublesome shadow of Fischer stretches over every conversation of chess’s success and future in the U.S. He was the best American player of all time, and its only modern world champion. His legacy is stained by his vocal anti-Semitism, and comments that he was pleased with the terrorism on Sept. 11, among other things. But in his chess prime, he carried the U.S. on his back while sitting at the board, having taught himself the game, largely alone, in a shabby Brooklyn apartment. And he won.While this year’s championship lacked the colorful characters and Cold War narrative of Fischer’s title run — although some journalists tried to revive them — it did have some of the controversy.Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the game’s international governing body, FIDE, was absent from the match, having been sanctioned by the U.S. for business connections with the Assad regime in Syria. Ilyumzhinov is no stranger to controversy. He insists he was abducted by aliens. They were wearing yellow spacesuits and nabbed him from his Moscow apartment in 1997, taking him away to a distant star. He considers chess “a gift from extraterrestrial civilizations.” Left: Magnus Carlsen, 26, at the World Chess Championship’s opening gala at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. Right: Sergey Karjakin, 26, tests the overhead lights in the playing hall. All photographs by Misha Friedman Left: A branded vodka bar assured VIPs were sufficiently entertained throughout the tournament. Right: Ekaterina, a Karjakin family friend, flew in from Moscow just for the tiebreaker round. But despite the controversy and the finances, what’s really missing from chess is a character.The U.S. has three players in the world Top 10, any one of whom could have a shot at challenging Carlsen for the title in two years. They’re undeniably fantastic players. But they seem less like compelling national characters — and less like artists — than Fischer did. They’re technicians, raised in a computer-chess age. Carlsen ended the match and extended his world championship reign with a beautiful move on Wednesday evening — whether he’d admit its beauty or not — sacrificing his queen to entrap Karjakin’s king. But in one of the postgame press conferences, Carlsen said chess was a sport and a science. For art, he said, you’d “have to look elsewhere.” Left: Neil deGrasse Tyson, a celebrated astrophysicist, and Fabiano Caruana, the No. 2 ranked chess player in the world, chatted about baseball. Right: Peter Thiel showed up for the decisive tiebreaker round and had a grandmaster at his side to explain the games live. Tickets were expensive, but there were a lot of young fans at every game, especially on weekends. After the match — after the trophy presentation and the cake and the champagne — our photographer and I tracked down the Norwegian contingent at an after-after-party at a steakhouse a couple miles uptown. It was a festive scene. Holiday garland and lights festooned the bannisters and the restaurant was a cozy respite from the cold and rainy November day outside. Carlsen was sitting at a far table in the crowded dining room with about 50 others. He was eating. With a fork. Like a person. It was odd to see him with something other than a chess piece in his hand.I wanted to talk to him. I’d been watching him for hours most days for the past three weeks. But honestly I had no idea what I’d say. Carlsen famously hates interviews. But I was saved. “No questions. Definitely no,” his manager, Espen Agdestein, told us. “He’s very tired. We’re just relaxing.”I’m not Carlsen. But I understood.
OSU redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore knocks the ball out of the hands of a Rutgers player during the Buckeyes game on Oct. 2. The Buckeyes won 58-0. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorUrban Meyer is a fan of big, mobile quarterbacks, running the ball and defenses that do not give an inch. This season, the Ohio State coach has all three elements, with the defensive unit quite possibly being the most impressive part of the team.Against Rutgers, the Silver Bullets simply dominated. Surrendering just 116 total yards, OSU held Rutgers to its worst completion percentage this season, at just 18.75 percent. The only real offense given up by the Buckeyes on Saturday came courtesy of Rutgers junior running back Robert Martin, who produced 40 yards on 13 carries. Overall, OSU surrendered an average of 2.2 yards per carry, its best number this season.Meyer loves to play defensive football, and his team has given him record-setting defensive football this season. After a few slow offensive starts at the beginning of each game, he said the key has been the play of his defense, which has kept the Buckeyes in every game.“You know, any time you have great defense that’s — just the way the game of football is, you have great defense, thing are going to get usually rolling for you at some point,” Meyer said. “Even if you struggle a little bit.”Although a statement performance on the defensive side of the ball has the Buckeyes feeling well about their remaining Big Ten opponents, Indiana is not a team to sleep on. Redshirt junior quarterback Richard Lagow is second in the Big Ten with 1,278 passing yards, and leads the conference in terms of yards per attempt among other starting quarterbacks.In the backfield, junior Devine Redding is off to a fast start, picking up 413 yards rushing, averaging 5 yards per carry, but has failed to find the endzone. OSU has yet to surrender a rushing touchdown this season.Off to a 3-1 start, Indiana is coming off a barn-burner matchup against then-No. 17 Michigan State. The Hoosiers stunned the Spartans in overtime, picking up their third win of the season.Redshirt junior linebacker Chris Worley said he is not shocked the Hoosiers won. In the mind of Worley, it was all about the skill level of each team.“If both teams play hard, the best team should win on Saturdays,” Worley said. “I think both teams played hard, and the best team won.”Indiana presents a dynamic attack, which promotes an interesting challenge to the Buckeyes. Allowing just 9.0 points per game, OSU has one of the best defenses in the nation, which is exactly why OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell feels his unit is ready for the test of the Hoosiers.“We talk about objectives all the time, and objectives are things we measure every single day, every week,” Fickell said. “We try to leave the goals and the big long-term things until the end of the year. We know we’re are on the right path, we know we gotta continue to improve, but we like where we are right now.”OSU sacked Rutgers redshirt junior Chris Laviano three times, with three different players dragging down the quarterback. Redshirt junior Tyquan Lewis, redshirt freshman Robert Landers and freshman Nick Bosa all broke through the offensive line and took down Laviano.So far, Lewis and Bosa have two sacks each this season, while Landers picked up the first sack of his OSU career.For the first time this season, OSU’s defense failed to record a turnover. Incredibly, Rutgers is the first offense this season to prevent the Buckeyes from scoring a defensive touchdown.Indiana ranks as one of the worst in the nation in interceptions thrown per game, giving up nearly two picks per game. Although the Hoosiers give up plenty of picks and OSU missed out on forcing a turnover Saturday, redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore said grabbing another interception is not the goal.“I feel like if you’re too thirsty to get an interception, that’s when things go bad, so I’m just going to continue to play my technique and if it comes, it comes,” Lattimore said.Looking to continue their dominance on defense, the Buckeyes will face Lagow, Redding and the rest of the Hoosiers on Saturday in Ohio Stadium at 3:30 p.m. in their second Big Ten game of the season.
OSU junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis (59) takes his position during their game on Nov. 19, 2016 at Spartan Stadium. The Buckeyes won 17-16. Credit: Mason Swires | Assistant Photo EditorMichigan played its first game of the season without redshirt sophomore quarterback Wilton Speight last week, and if they proved one thing in their 20-10 victory over Indiana, it’s that its offense now relies almost solely on the shoulders of senior running back De’Veon Smith.Even if the injured Speight does return against Ohio State, Smith will still likely be considered the most crucial part of the Michigan offense.The senior running back set a career-high with 158 rushing yards in last Saturday’s victory over the Hoosiers and accounted for both of Michigan’s touchdowns.This trend is not something that has been entirely alien to their offense, however. Of the 60 touchdowns scored this season by the Maize and Blue, 39 have come on the ground while only 17 have come through the air and two have come on defensive plays. Smith is responsible for 10 of those rushing touchdowns.But this style of rushing offense is a bit different from one that the Buckeyes have faced in other games this year. The Wolverines run with a pro-style offense, meaning they rely heavily on the play of the offensive line and count on their quarterbacks being styled more to pass than to run.The play of the running backs is different than that of most other college-style offenses, but junior linebacker Chris Worley knows exactly what to expect out of the running backs.“It’s not going to be guys trying to run around you,” Worley said. “It’s going to be guys trying to run through your face.”OSU redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley said in this game, the defense will have to focus more on stopping Smith and the rushing offense than their air attack.“They don’t throw the ball as much because they run the ball a lot,” Conley said. “But we’ll be forced to stop the run and play the pass whenever it comes.”Facing a run-heavy offense, the Buckeyes should feel confident about their chances in slowing down Smith given how their defense has played against the run this year. OSU ranks 18th in fewest rush yards allowed per game and has only allowed four touchdowns to be scored on the ground, tied for second among FBS teams. They have also only allowed opponents to average 3.39 yards per carry, good for 18th fewest among FBS schools. For redshirt junior defensive end Tyquan Lewis, that ability to plug up the run comes down to more than just preparation, it rests on the defensive line’s mentality.“It doesn’t really matter to me, because every team has their scheme with what they’re going to do,” Lewis said. “At the end of the day, it’s about who’s going to put their hand in the dirt and just going. You can play whatever formation you want to play, we’re going to play whatever defense we have to to dominate.”In Michigan’s 14-13 loss two weeks ago to Iowa, Speight suffered a broken collarbone on his left side. Filling in for the redshirt sophomore was redshirt junior quarterback John O’Korn, a transfer from the University of Houston. O’Korn failed to deliver much as he finished the game with only seven completed passes in 16 attempts for a total of 59 yards. He was also only capable of running for 19 yards on six rush attempts.For a time, it appeared O’Korn was headed towards his second career start in a Wolverine uniform as many early reports indicated Speight was unable to play for the remainder of the regular season. However, Speight has not officially been ruled out and now rumors emerge that he could still be Saturday’s starting quarterback.The signal caller at the beginning of the season, Speight had given the Wolverines a starting quarterback with the ability to provide the team with a strong air attack. He had completed 160 of his 257 attempted passes for a 62.3 percent completion rate, thrown for 2,156 yards and had 15 touchdown passes to only four interceptions. Lewis acknowledges that while it isn’t easy to prepare when such an important position remains a question mark, the team will be prepared by Saturday to face whomever is behind center.“It could be rough depending on if one’s a runner or not,” Lewis said. “They have a really solid foundation with what they’re going to do: run the ball, throw when necessary.”