No. 3: Ohio State
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 30, 2010
There’s reason to love Ohio State. Begin with a loyal fan base, one that has come in droves to Ohio Stadium — at least 100,000 fans in the seats for 55 consecutive home games. Then there’s a coach who is nothing if not consistent: Jim Tressel has taken O.S.U. to seven B.C.S. bowls in nine years. Then there’s the way the Buckeyes ended last season, silencing critics throughout the nation by ending 2009 on a 6-0 run. The final victory, against Oregon in the Rose Bowl, propelled Ohio State into the spring on a very high note. Then there’s Terrelle Pryor, the much-hyped, much-maligned, better-than-you-think quarterback. The pieces are surely in place for another national title run.
15 (9 offense, 6 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 2
- Sept. 11
- Sept. 18
- Sept. 25
- Oct. 2
- Oct. 9
- Oct. 16
- Oct. 23
- Oct. 30
- Nov. 13
- Nov. 20
- Nov. 27
Last year’s prediction
I have no doubt that Ohio State will return to the B.C.S. in 2009. This year, I’m predicting that the Buckeyes do so as the Big Ten champs, a title the program ceded to Penn State in 2008. Neither of these statements should surprise anyone; after treading water – by its lofty standards – last fall, O.S.U. is poised for another 10- or 11-win regular season. If everything breaks its way, Ohio State could still play for the national title with a single loss; it will be tough, however. Instead, I’ve got Ohio State hovering between fourth and sixth nationally and playing in the Rose Bowl.
In a nutshell A bitter early-season loss to U.S.C. and an unfathomable road loss to Purdue in mid-October. Other than that, Ohio State was perfect. Well, perfect in record only, perhaps. The Buckeyes struggled at times, beginning with a narrow win over Navy in the season opener and continuing with offensive imperfection in a scattered handful of victories throughout the season. Yet despite all the criticism and negativity, Ohio State ended the year with yet another Big Ten crown, yet another B.C.S. bowl berth, yet another top 10 finish. This is all expected nowadays, of course. What else is expected? A top five defense: O.S.U. ended the year ranked fifth in total defense, seventh in rush defense and 13th against the pass. The defense allowed only 12.5 points per game, barely trailing Florida for fourth-best in the nation. So the offense was average; it will be better in 2010. Offense plus defense? If that does occur, Ohio State might be unstoppable.
High point A wonderful final four games: wins over Penn State, Iowa, Michigan and Oregon, the latter in the Rose Bowl. The win at Penn State, which allowed the Buckeyes to make it to Pasadena, was vintage Ohio State: suffocating on defense, powerful on the ground, randomly explosive through the air. There’s little doubt that the Penn State win gave O.S.U. confidence; the young Buckeyes came of age against Oregon.
Low point An ugly loss at Purdue, 26-18. The loss opened up the team, its quarterback and its coach to wide criticism, though those skeptics have been surprisingly quiet since the Buckeyes won their next six games.
Tidbit Two reasons why Ohio State will not lose to Marshall on Sept. 2. Well, three, if you count the talent disparity between the two teams. Reason No. 1: Ohio State has won 54 consecutive regular season non-conference home games against teams not ranked in The Associated Press Top 25. Reason No. 2: Ohio State has not lost a home opener in 32 years, since Penn State topped the Buckeyes in 1978.
Tidbit (10 wins edition) Last fall, Ohio State became the first F.B.S. team in history to beat five 10-win teams in one season. Shocking, right? Wait, I thought O.S.U. was terrible last fall! The Buckeyes knocked off Navy (10-4) in the season opener, took out Iowa (11-2), Penn State (11-2) and Wisconsin (10-3) in Big Ten play, and topped Oregon (10-3) in the Rose Bowl.
Tidbit (domination edition) Just how dominant has Ohio State been since 2005? The Buckeyes have won at least 10 games in each of the last five years, tying the Big Ten record. They’ve won at least a share of the conference championship in each of the last five seasons, one short of its own Big Ten record. They’ve finished in the top 10 of each season’s final poll, the only F.B.S. team to do so. Lastly, Ohio State has reached five consecutive B.C.S. bowls. Yes, I know O.S.U. does not have a national title to show for it, but it’s clear to me that we’re watching the most dominant stretch a program has had in the modern era of the Big Ten.
Former players in the N.F.L.
46 S Will Allen (Pittsburgh), OT Kirk Barton (Carolina), OT Alex Boone (San Francisco), LB Bobby Carpenter (St. Louis), CB Nate Clements (San Francisco), S Kurt Coleman (Philadelphia), C Jim Cordle (New York Giants), LB Na’il Diggs (St. Louis), WR Joey Galloway (Washington), CB Chris Gamble (Carolina), DE Vernon Gholston (New York Jets), WR Ted Ginn, Jr. (San Francisco), WR Anthony Gonzalez (Indianapolis), LB Larry Grant (St. Louis), WR Roy Hall (Indianapolis), WR Brian Hartline (Miami), TE Brian Hartsock (New York Jets), LB A.J. Hawk (Green Bay), WR Santonio Holmes (New York Jets), CB Malcolm Jenkins (New Orleans), WR Michael Jenkins (Atlanta), LB James Laurinaitis (St. Louis), C Nick Mangold (New York Jets), S Donnie Nickey (Tennessee), K Mike Nugent (Cincinnati), DT Ryan Pickett (Green Bay), DT Quinn Pitcock (Seattle), DE Jay Richardson (Oakland), WR Brian Robiskie (Cleveland), DE Robert Rose (Seattle), S Anderson Russell (Washington), DE Darrion Scott (Washington), OG Rob Sims (Detroit), DE Will Smith (New Orleans), QB Troy Smith (Baltimore), CB Antonio Smith (Cincinnati), LB Austin Spitler (Miami), LB Mike Vrabel (Kansas City), CB Donald Washington (Kansas City), RB Beanie Wells (Arizona), S Donte Whitner (Buffalo), LB Matt Wilhelm (San Francisco), CB Antoine Winfield (Minnesota), DT Doug Washington (Pittsburgh), CB Ashton Youboty (Buffalo).
Arbitrary top five list
Writers with Ohio ties, with notable work
1. Toni Morrison, “Beloved.”
2. James Thurber, “My Life and Hard Times.”
3. Sherwood Anderson, “Winesburg, Ohio.”
4. William Dean Howells, “The Rise of Silas Lapham.”
5. Harvey Pekar, “American Splendor.”
Jim Tressel (Baldwin-Wallace ’75) 94-21 after nine seasons with the Buckeyes. Like another Ohio-bred top college coach, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Tressel went from 7-5 in his debut season, 2001, to undefeated and a national champion in his second, as his scrappy Buckeye team took down the heavily favored Miami Hurricanes in a classic B.C.S. title game. While the Buckeyes have yet to win a second title under Tressel, the last seven years have seen Ohio State continue to assert itself as one of the nation’s top programs — if not the cream of the crop. Tressel has piloted the Buckeyes to six double-digit win seasons over the seven years; this span includes an N.C.A.A.-best six B.C.S. appearances, including title game losses following the 2006 and 2007 seasons. As one would expect, Tressel has the Buckeyes in yearly competition for the national title. How many coaches can you say this about? Not many. And let’s recall Ohio State’s title drought following the end of the Woody Hayes era; the Buckeyes had been very good, but had not been able to get over the hump. Not anymore, as Tressel has been one of the nation’s best. Tressel was already an Ohio coaching legend before he even took the O.S.U. job, having led Youngstown State, part of the F.C.S., to four national championships from 1986-2000. Three of those championships came in a four-year span (1991, 1993-4). As an F.B.S. assistant, Tressel coached at Akron (1975-1978), Miami of Ohio (1979-80), Syracuse (1981-82) and Ohio State (1983-85). Always calm and collected, Tressel’s steady hand has yielded the next Ohio State dynasty.
Players to watch
Start this section with Terrelle Pryor? I don’t think so, as good as the junior might be. The key behind Ohio State’s late-season surge wasn’t Pryor, but the boys up front: the offensive line keyed Ohio State’s 6-0 finish to 2009. The best news? The Buckeyes return five linemen who made at least four starts a year ago, including full-time starters Justin Boren, Mike Brewster and Bryant Browning. This trio constitutes a dominating interior, with Boren and Browning flanking Brewster, the center, at left and right guard, respectively. Junior Mike Adams will take over at left tackle, where he worked as a reserve last fall — Adams also made four starts at tackle. He doubled at right tackle as a reserve, leaving him as an option on the strong side. J.B. Shugarts held down the right side in 2009, as he was expected to do. Look for both Adams and Shugarts to be improved thanks to last year’s experience; if this pair plays up to its potential, Ohio State’s offensive line is clearly the best in the Big Ten.
Now, as for Pryor: for all his faults, he’s a Heisman contender for a reason. No, it’s because of the hype, as sizable as it might be. It’s because of the talent, the athleticism, the ability to single-handedly carry this offense through its flirtations with inconsistency. Much depends of his improvement as a passer. Statistically, Pryor took a step forward in 2009; upon further examination, however, it’s clear that Pryor did not take the step forward expected of him in his second season in the starting lineup. This progression must come in 2010, as Pryor holds the key to Ohio State’s title hopes. If he can duplicate his performance against Oregon — 267 yards passing, 72 yards rushing — over the entire 2010 season, and his team reaches its expectations, he’s a leading option to take home the Heisman. Let’s see if he takes a Vince Young-like leap as a junior.
The issue at receiver isn’t on the top level, where Ohio State has one solid, one potentially spectacular starter. Senior Dane Sanzenbacher might be more than just solid, in fact: he made 36 receptions for 570 yards last fall, with both totals good for second on the team, averaging a team-best 15.8 yards per catch. He also made six touchdown grabs, the second-best number on the team. The star, however, is clearly junior DeVier Posey. He came into his own during Ohio State’s terrific run to the end the year, pulling in 570 of his 828 receiving yards and five of his eight touchdown grabs over the final seven games of the year. It was merely a matter of the light turning on, obviously, as Posey never lacked the physical gifts necessary to dominate on the Big Ten level.
Finding depth is a slight concern, even if O.S.U. doesn’t ask for much production from its receiver corps outside its top two options. Look for redshirt freshman Chris Fields to earn some significant game action, as well as senior Taurian Washington — the latter hasn’t done much during his career. It’s not a major worry, as the second grouping certainly has talent, but it would be nice if the Buckeyes returned a bit more experience at the position.
The defense is terrific. I’m running out of superlatives; it’s been 118 team previews. It’s really, really good — strong at each level, but particularly in the front seven. Not that the secondary isn’t strong in its own right, especially with seniors Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence returning at cornerback. This is the Big Ten’s best starting duo, thanks to Chekwa’s decision to return for his senior season — though that was clearly the right move, in my opinion. Chekwa and Torrence are experienced, though they could stand to be a bit more productive, at least in terms of creating turnovers. That will come, as each does a very good job manning up against the relatively average receiver talent found in the Big Ten.
Kurt Coleman is gone at strong safety, with a pair of sophomores battling to take his spot. Orhian Johnson was considered the favorite throughout the spring and summer, therefore making C.J. Barnett’s ownership of the top spot on the depth chart somewhat surprising. In my opinion, this looks like a position battle that will continue into September, with Tressel and his staff making a final decision once they see each player participating in live game action alongside the rest of the starting lineup. Senior Jermale Hines is more than secure in his free safety role: he might be the Big Ten’s best. He should be even better in 2010, thanks to an added year of experience under his belt.
Ohio State could start a walk-on on the strong side; as long as seniors Brian Rolle and Ross Homan are in place, this linebacker corps ranks among the best in the country. Are you seeing a trend here? Best cornerback duo in the Big Ten; best free safety in the Big Ten; best linebacker corps in the Big Ten, and so on. Rolle and Homan, last seen posing menacingly on the cover of Sports Illustrated, combined for 202 tackles (12 for loss), 2 sacks and 6 interceptions last fall, with Homan earning first-team all-conference honors after pacing the Buckeyes in stops and tying for the team lead in picks. The question here isn’t whether the pair will produce, but how good they’ll be as seniors. Junior Etienne Sabino should be the guy on the strong side, though junior Andrew Sweat currently stands atop the depth chart.
No surprises along the defensive front: Cameron Heyward and Nathan Williams at end, John Simon and Dexter Larimore at tackle. We all know about Heyward, of course. The senior is an all-American candidate, a big, strong end built for the next level; he might have taken his chances at the N.F.L. after last season, when he made 46 tackles (10 for loss) and a team-best 6.5 sacks. His decision was a big one for the Buckeyes, obviously. Williams, his starting mate at end, oozes potential. He played very well in a reserve role a year ago (26 tackles, 8 for loss, 3.5 sacks).
The key is the interior. A lot rides on Larimore’s shoulders: the senior has ability, but needs to remain healthy. This latter factor is key: O.S.U. has talent coming up through the ranks on the second line, but it’s unproven. Though only a sophomore himself, Simon’s potential has Ohio State fans very excited. If he plays up to his talent level and Larimore stays healthy, this line should be terrific. So, to recap: great secondary, great linebackers, great defensive line. So, to sum up, great defense.
Position battles to watch
Running back The depth in the backfield is terrific, with senior Brandon Saine and junior Dan Herron again poised to share duties as the team’s lead backs. Saine finished second to Pryor in rushing last fall, posting 739 yards on 5.1 yards per carry. Herron chipped in with another 600 yards to go with 7 touchdowns, with the latter total tying Pryor for the team lead. This pair will undoubtedly lead the way for the Buckeyes in the running game, with Pryor obviously adding another 700-900 yards as well as on the ground. The real battle will be for Ohio State’s third back, with redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry a slight favorite over sophomore Jordan Hall, though it’s hard to discount Hall’s 252-yard season in 2009. However, Berry might have been Ohio State’s third back last fall had a nagging hamstring injury forced him to take a redshirt. Include true freshman Carlos Hyde in the mix, and the Buckeyes have a wealth of options at running back. So what will the eventual rotation look like? Saine and Herron are the top two, of course, and will likely combine for somewhere between 275-325 carries. Yet it’s important to remember that both players have been somewhat injury-prone, so even if Berry and Hall take secondary roles in September, both need to be ready at a moment’s notice. As for the competition to be Ohio State’s third back: Hall produced when called upon in 2009, but Berry looks like the future at the position. In that case, I’d be surprised if the redshirt freshman doesn’t earn 50 carries in 2010.
Game(s) to watch
Michigan to end the season, of course. If Michigan hopes to take a step forward, well, the first step will be taking it to Ohio State. With the game coming in Columbus, and with Ohio State potentially playing for a spot in the B.C.S. title game, Michigan might have a hard time turning the recent tide in the series. The Buckeyes also face Iowa and Wisconsin on the road and Miami (Fla.) at home in an intriguing non-conference matchup.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell I said it in yesterday’s Oklahoma preview: there is little separating the top four teams. There is even less separating Ohio State from Alabama and Boise State, the two teams remaining on this list. So why here, not No. 1? Again, as I said in the Oklahoma preview, I feel more confident in both Alabama and Boise State’s chances at going 12-0; Ohio State has all the weapons to run the table, but I’m only slightly less confident in its ability to do so. Why? Because the Buckeyes have to go to Wisconsin and Iowa, the next-best teams in the Big Ten. They also land Miami (Fla.) at home in September, though the Hurricanes would have to bring their best game in years to truly have a shot at upending the Buckeyes. Truthfully, this was an agonizing pick: Who do I think won’t play for a national title? Ohio State, as hot a team in the country down the stretch in 2009? Or Alabama, the defending champs? Or Boise State, the underdogs with the schedule and preseason ranking to earn a shot at the title? As I said, agonizing. And I wouldn’t begrudge Ohio State fans for being upset — seeing as I can make a very, very valid argument as to why O.S.U. deserves to be considered a championship favorite. 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.
Dream season Not only do the Buckeyes finish 12-0, they reverse their recent trend of ineptitude against SEC opponents with a convincing win over Alabama in the B.C.S. title game.
Nightmare season Ohio State does not win the Big Ten, does not reach a B.C.S. bowl, does not pass go, does not collect $200. If you don’t think the Buckeyes are reaching a B.C.S. bowl, you know something the rest of us don’t.
In case you were wondering
Where do Ohio State fans congregate? 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. As always, let me know if I’ve missed any potential gathering sites.
Who is No. 2? There’s only two teams left. There aren’t very many hints that would make this worthwhile, obviously. So let’s make it difficult. The next school is a public university. It contains the letter “B.” The school’s home city has a population fewer than 203,000 people, according to the most recent numbers. This same home city is or has been in the past the state’s capital. Finally, the university’s home city holds a Basque festival twice every decade.
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Tags: Jim Tressel, Ohio State
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