No. 17: Ohio State
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 17, 2011
So, to recap. In December, five players are suspended for the first five games of 2011 for selling jerseys, pants, rings — just receiving improper benefits, in short. Ohio State goes on to win the Sugar Bowl with these five in place, which some people take umbrage with. In March, it is first reported that then-coach Jim Tressel knew of these N.C.A.A. violations nearly a year before but didn’t report them to the N.C.A.A. or his own university. Tressel is suspended for the first two games of 2011 — later raised to five games — and fined $250,000. In April, the N.C.A.A. releases its Notice of Allegations; Tressel doesn’t come off well. Tressel resigns on May 30, leading O.S.U. to name Luke Fickell the interim coach for the 2011 season. In June, would-be senior quarterback Terrelle Pryor decides to forego his final season of eligibility. That same month, O.S.U. vacates its 2010 results and goes on two year of self-imposed probation. Did I miss anything?
Big Ten, Leaders
11 (7 offense, 4 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
- Sept. 10
- Sept. 17
at Miami (Fla.)
- Sept. 24
- Oct. 1
- Oct. 8
- Oct. 15
- Oct. 29
- Nov. 5
- Nov. 12
- Nov. 19
- Nov. 26
Last year’s prediction
There’s simply nothing I can find umbrage with on this roster: a weakness for significant portions of 2009, Ohio State looks to have one of the nation’s most dangerous quarterbacks under center; the running game will again be among the top 20 in the country; the offensive line improved; the defense stingy and opportunistic. It seems as if I’m covering my tracks in case Boise State, say, loses to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6. Maybe. All I can say is this: if a team like Ohio State does not play for a national title, it speaks volumes about just how many great teams there are in college football in 2010.
In a nutshell All went swimmingly through the second Saturday of October: 6-0, 2-0 in conference play, Ohio State had been moderately tested by Illinois but clearly stood as one of the top teams in the country. A loss to Wisconsin changed that, at least to a degree. The Badgers were the more physical team — as well as the more explosive, perhaps — which was a turn of events few could have expected, night crowd in Madison or no. The Buckeyes regrouped from there, winning five straight to end the regular season and beating Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. But the defining moment of 2010 came after the season was over, as noted above. And so we face an existential dilemma: Ohio State went 12-1 but must vacate the results, so it’s up to the players, coaches and fans to decide how to really remember last season. Will memories of 2010 be tinged by the fact that the program lists its final record as 0-1?
High point The last two weeks of the regular season. The Buckeyes concluded November with a 20-17 road win at Iowa, complete with a familiar scoring drive to earn the win, and a 30-point win at home over rival Michigan. Ohio State must have been very upset to hear that Rich Rodriguez would not return in 2011.
Low point A 31-18 loss to Wisconsin on Oct. 16. The Badgers stormed out to a 21-0 halftime lead and never looked back. While O.S.U. got within a field goal in the third quarter, Wisconsin scored the game’s final 10 points for the 13-point victory.
Tidbit Ohio State ended last season ranked fourth nationally in total defense (261.9 yards per game), fourth in pass efficiency defense (98.6 opposing rating), third in rush defense (96.4 yards per game), fifth in scoring (14.3 points per game), tied for 12th in forced turnovers (30), third in first downs allowed (14.5 per game), fifth in third down defense (30.2 percent) and tied for seventh in red zone defense (70.0 percent). Catch all that? Perhaps the most impressive statistic is this: Ohio State held opponents scoreless in 25 quarters of a possible 52 quarters last fall, or 48.1 percent of all quarters played. In all, the Buckeyes have allowed less than 186 points in each of the last six years.
Tidbit (Pryor edition) Terrelle Pryor would have set several extremely impressive school records even if playing in only eight games as a senior, barring injury and ignoring the fact that the program vacated the 2010 results. Why ignore that fact? Because the tidbit does illustrate just how productive he was, contrary to public opinion, and does show what O.S.U. is going to miss under center. Pryor ends his career ranked fifth in school history in passing yards, with 6,177 yards to Art Schlichter’s 7,547. He’s tied for first with Bobby Hoying for career touchdown passes with 57. He’s second in total yardage with 8,341 yards, again behind Schlichter, who had 8,850. Schlichter is also first in touchdowns responsible for with 85, ahead of second-place Pryor with 78. Pryor was already Ohio State’s most prolific rushing quarterback, having passed Cornelius Green late in 2010. He’ll be sorely missed on the field.
Former players in the N.F.L.
49 S Will Allen (Pittsburgh), TE Jake Ballard (New York Giants), OT Alex Boone (San Francisco), OG Justin Boren (Baltimore), OG Bryant Browning (Carolina), LB Bobby Carpenter (Detroit), CB Chimdi Chekwa (Oakland), CB Nate Clements (Cincinnati), S Kurt Coleman (Philadelphia), C Jim Cordle (New York Giants), LB Na’il Diggs (St. Louis), CB Chris Gamble (Carolina), DE Vernon Gholston (Chicago), LB Thaddeus Gibson (San Francisco), WR Ted Ginn (San Francisco), WR Anthony Gonzalez (Indianapolis), LB Larry Grant (San Francisco), WR Brian Hartline (Miami), TE Ben Hartsock (Carolina), LB A.J. Hawk (Green Bay), DE Cameron Heyward (Pittsburgh), S Jermale Hines (St. Louis), WR Santonio Holmes (New York Jets), LB Ross Homan (Minnesota), S Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans), WR Michael Jenkins (Minnesota), DE Dexter Larimore (New Orleans), LB James Laurinaitis (St. Louis), C Nick Mangold (New York Jets), LS Jake McQuaide (St. Louis), K Mike Nugent (Cincinnati), OG Jim Narby (Cleveland), DE Ryan Pickett (Green Bay), WR Brian Robiskie (Cleveland), LB Brian Rolle (Philadelphia), DE Robert Rose (Miami), S Anderson Russell (Washington), RB Brandon Saine (Green Bay), WR Dane Sanzenbacher (Chicago), DE Darrion Scott (Washington), OG Rob Sims (Detrot), DE Will Smith (New Orleans), LB Austin Spitler (Miami), CB Devon Torrence (Minnesota), CB Donald Washington (Kansas City), RB Beanie Wells (Arizona), S Donte Whitner (San Francisco), CB Antoine Winfield (Minnesota), DT Doug Worthington (Washington).
Arbitrary top five list
1. Jack Nicklaus.
2. Tiger Woods.
3. Bobby Jones.
4. Ben Hogan.
5. Arnold Palmer.
Luke Fickell (Ohio State ’97), entering his first season. And probably his last as the head coach, if I had to guess, barring another Big Ten title. The general consensus is that Ohio State will open up its head coaching position to a national search at the end of this season, making Fickell a one-and-done interim coach. Even if that does occur — and it’s far to early to make any real assumptions — 2011 present the former O.S.U. co-defensive coordinator with a wonderful opportunity. Even if the Buckeyes disappoint by the program’s recent standard, perhaps going 8-4, Fickell will become a very popular candidate for a job opening at a MAC stop, for instance, with the thought being that if he can pilot the Buckeyes through this difficult stretch he has what it takes to lead a lesser program. Then again, Fickell could surprise us all, leading O.S.U. back to the Rose Bowl despite what seems like a stacked deck. He’s spent the last six years as Ohio State’s co-coordinator and linebackers coach, sharing the former duties with Jim Heacock. That he wasn’t the sole coordinator is a good thing this fall, as Fickell can give Heacock the lion’s share of the defensive assignments and devote himself fully to being a C.E.O. — like his predecessor. Outside of a two-year stint as Akron’s defensive line coach from 2000-1, all of Fickell’s college experience has come with the Buckeyes. As a player, Fickell started 50 straight games at nose guard — you wouldn’t guess it by looking at him now — for Ohio State from 1993-96. He was an O.S.U. graduate assistant for one year, in 1999, before moving to Akron; he returned in 2002 as Ohio State’s special teams coordinator, a position he held for two seasons. Then linebackers, then co-coordinator, now head coach. A great opportunity, above all else.
Players to watch
Pryor won’t be back at all, but left tackle Mike Adams, wide receiver DeVier Posey and running back Dan Herron will be back for Ohio State’s trip to Nebraska on Oct. 8. Perhaps you’ve heard of these developments. So each offensive grouping has holes to fill, some for longer than others; it’s therefore a good thing that Ohio State stockpiles top recruits like Cold War rivals stockpiled warheads. Finding the next Herron – until the real Herron returns to the field – won’t be all too difficult, though you won’t find the senior’s experience elsewhere on the roster. You will find some nice talent, speed, athleticism and versatility, however.
Jaamal Berry (266 yards, 8.1 yards per carry) should see Herron’s five-game suspension as an outstanding opportunity. Berry would have probably spent this season again serving as a change-of-pace option, filling in for Herron on occasion but leaving the senior to do the heavy lifting. Again, this is a great chance for Berry to shine. The same could be said of another sophomore, Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 115 yards last fall. Then there’s junior Jordan Hall, who can do it all: either a running back or a receiver, perhaps both, Hall’s blend of versatility adds another dimension to this backfield. What about redshirt freshman Rod Smith? His size and running style separates him from the rest of the pack, which could lead to Smith playing a huge role as a rookie.
No Posey early, but no Dane Sanzenbacher at all; the latter loss looms far larger. Who will be Ohio State’s new consistent, move-the-chains, deceptively-quick receiver in 2011? That’s a great question. When looking ahead to Akron – sans Posey – you find only two receivers who have made a reception for the Buckeyes: sophomores Corey Brown and Chris Fields. You know what that means, right? It’s time for freshmen, redshirt and true, to step up to the plate. One, redshirt freshman Verlon Reed, a converted high school quarterback, is poised to join Brown in the starting lineup come the season opener. Another freshman coming off a redshirt season, T.Y. Williams, has battled inconsistency on the practice field but has the size, at 6’6, to be a difference-maker. In a perfect world, incoming freshmen Evan Spencer and Devin Smith wouldn’t play for a year or two, give or take; they’ll both play in 2011. New wide receivers coach Stan Drayton will have his hands full. While the receiver corps develops — and even after a few contributors step forward — look for Ohio State to continue utilizing tight ends Jake Stoneburner (21 catches for 222 yards) and Reid Fragel in the passing game.
And the offensive line: Adams will be missed while paying his penance, but O.S.U. knows what it will get in sophomore Andrew Norwell, his short-term replacement. Norwell did enough last fall as Ohio State’s first lineman off the bench to make him the long-term answer at tackle, but he’ll probably move back to a reserve role come October. In the meantime, he’ll bookend the line with junior right tackle J.B. Shugarts. The latter and center Michael Brewster are the lone two returning starters to be found on the depth chart heading into Akron; Brewster, now also a junior, is one of the best centers in the nation. He’ll be flanked at guard by Marcus Hall, who has bided his time in preparation for this opportunity, and Jack Mewhort. That’s the idea as of today.
Only four starters return on defense, though the Buckeyes get back a pair with past starting experience coming an injury-plagued 2010 campaign. What this defense lacks, from top to bottom and at all points in between, is star power – you know, early all-Americans, national award candidates, stars. Is that such a big deal? Nope, not since the Buckeyes always have a defender or two make waves after coming in under the radar. But it does warrant mentioning that for the first time in several years, Ohio State doesn’t have that headliner on defense.
But there are some nice pieces. The Buckeyes return a pair of starting linemen in Nathan Williams (46 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and John Simon (41 tackles, 8.5 for loss), with the latter joining Williams at end after spending last season inside. Simon will continue to play tackle in certain situations and packages, but he’ll spend more of his time at strong side end. It’s a terrific starting combination, even if Williams has reached his ceiling; I don’t think he has, but Williams is steady, consistent and productive. Simon’s move inside leaves a vacancy at tackle, one the Buckeyes hope to fill with massively talented sophomore Johnathan Hankins. Talent, size, explosiveness and aggressiveness? Hankins has that and more, and should he get his conditioning in order he looks like Ohio State’s next great defensive lineman. Still, Hankins is unproven. Where he lines up depends greatly on junior Garrett Goebel, who could play nose tackle, giving Hankins more freedom inside. If Hankins is as good as advertised – and I realize he’s still inexperienced – Ohio State could be terrific up front.
It’s time for Etienne Sabino to be a factor. No, I’m serious this time: that line has been regurgitated annually, in this space and elsewhere, and Sabino has yet to make the impact most expected upon his arrival in 2008. This fall presents the junior’s greatest opportunity yet at cracking the starting lineup, as Ohio State lost two starters to graduation and another pair of contributors to transfer and suspension, respectively. So it seems like Sabino will get the nod on the strong side – not his most comfortable spot, but one that will play well to his size and strength. Junior Storm Klein (18 tackles, 1 interception) will open the year as Ohio State’s starter in the middle, with returning starter Andrew Sweat (41 tackles), a senior, on the weak side. And there are a pair of true freshmen, Curtis Grant and Ryan Shazier, who will play. One more new face: you’ve probably heard of linebackers coach Mike Vrabel.
It’s in the secondary that Ohio State gets back a healthy Tyler Moeller – heading into his sixth year – and C.J. Barnett, adding depth to a loaded crop of safeties. It’s nearly an embarrassment of riches: Moeller, Barnett, Orhian Johnson, Christian Bryant and more. Bryant, who impressed as a freshman in 2010, is too good not to find a home for somewhere in this secondary. But Moeller’s healthy return should find him again serve as Ohio State’s nickel back, a fifth starter in the secondary. So where does that leave Bryant? Either he runs second behind Moeller, still playing a ton but not starting, or he moves over to cornerback, where it seems he’d be a nice fit. One thing that seems set: Barnett will join Johnson (50 tackles, 1 interception) at strong and free safety, respectively.
Those are some nice options at safety; some of this depth hinges on Moeller’s ability to stay healthy, but he’ll be firm and focused heading into what really, absolutely should be his final season. I think his past injury concerns are why O.S.U. is still listing Bryant at nickel back, as if the Buckeyes could feel secure in Moeller’s ability to remain on the field it would make sense to transition Bryant back to cornerback. Let’s say that doesn’t occur: in the case, Ohio State will put forth a starting cornerback duo of junior Travis Howard and either Bradley Roby or Dominic Clarke. I just think Bryant needs to see the field in some significant capacity.
Position battle(s) to watch
Quarterback So instead of merely needing a replacement for the first five games of 2011, Ohio State needs a new full-time starter. A position of nearly unparalleled strength thus becomes a question mark: there’s talent to pick from but little experience. In order of experience, Ohio State’s options at quarterback are fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Ken Guiton, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and true freshman Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes need to make a quick decision in order to provide some continuity to an offense that badly needs some relief, but it’s absolutely vital that Fickell and his staff take their time and make the right choice. Obviously. It’s probably safe to say that Bauserman has a leg up thanks to his experience, which includes two years of service as Pryor’s backup. Last fall, Bauserman hit on 16 of 22 attempts for 174 yards and 2 scores, all in garbage time. Guiton made two attempts last fall as a redshirt freshman; Graham didn’t play last fall, of course, while Miller arrived on campus in time to participate in spring drills. And Miller impressed in that small sample size, quickly grasping the basics of this offense while showing the ability that led many to label him the quarterback of the future. Everyone thought the future would arrive in 2012 at the earliest, however. To me, this seems like a competition that won’t really be decided until at least mid-September, as Ohio State opens the year with two teams it should beat with relative ease, Akron and Toledo. The Buckeyes could thus start Bauserman but also play whichever quarterback — or quarterbacks — they think can also lead this offense. By the heart of Big Ten play, O.S.U. needs to have made a firm decision. If it’s Bauserman, it’s because of his experience. If it’s Guiton, it’s because he has the best blend of athleticism and time spent in the system. If it’s Miller, it’s because he just too good to keep off the field.
Game(s) to watch
Is there more or less juice surrounding this year’s Michigan game than in the past? I’d still say more even without Tressel back in the fold, and Michigan’s Brady Hoke just adds fuel to the fire on a daily basis, it seems. That game continues to be the most important on Ohio State’s schedule. A return to the Rose Bowl hinges on how the Buckeyes fare against Wisconsin and Penn State, with both games coming at home. In any other year, you’d think that would pave Ohio State’s path to Pasadena. Could Toledo knock off the Buckeyes on Sept. 10? Some may put Ohio State on upset alert, but don’t buy into that claptrap for a second.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell There’s just too much swirling around this program for Ohio State to maintain its legendary run atop the Big Ten. Too much along the sidelines: Fickell’s going to be learning on the fly, which is a frightening scenario for a team with such lofty yearly expectations. Too much on the roster: outside of the typical attrition due to graduation, the Buckeyes must replace a would-be senior quarterback and go forward without three additional key figures for the first portion of the season. How could any team survive such issues? Well, this isn’t just any team or program; it’s Ohio State, and there’s enough talent rising up through this roster to fill the starting spots left vacant. So there’s talent, plenty of it, though much of it on the younger end. And that’s a problem for Ohio State – not a 6-6 problem, but this sort of youth and inexperience would lead me to think closer to 8-4 or 9-3 when taken in conjunction with the coaching changes. What will O.S.U. get at quarterback? Will anyone step up at wide receiver? Depth along the offensive line? These are pretty meaningful questions for any team, let alone one entering a period of great unknown: no real idea of who its next coach will be, no idea about the future of its athletic department, Ohio State is in a state of transition. For now, until everything becomes settled, O.S.U. can’t be viewed as the Big Ten favorite. It’s been a long time since anyone’s uttered that phrase.
Dream season Despite all the off-field drama, Ohio State does what it usually does: 11-1, tops in the Big Ten.
Nightmare season Everything that has taken place since December takes its toll on a roster and staff beaten down by the troubling developments, leaving O.S.U. with less than eight wins for the first time since 2001, Tressel’s debut season.
In case you were wondering
Where do Ohio State fans congregate? Begin with Eleven Warriors, which is nothing if not consistently excellent. For message board chatter, take a trip to Buckeye Planet, The-Ozone, Buckeye Grove and Buckeye Sports. For additional coverage, check out Buckeye Commentary, The Buckeye Blog and Our Honor Defend.
Through 104 teams 325,623.
Who is No. 16? Three former coaches at tomorrow’s program went on to win at least 10 games in a season at a B.C.S. conference institution.
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Tags: Andrew Norwell, Big Ten, Christian Bryant, Etienne Sabino, Jaamal Berry, Jim Tressel, John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Luke Fickell, Michael Brewster, Ohio State, Rod Smith, Terrelle Pryor, Tyler Moeller
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