The StoryDing dong, Troy Smith is dead. Church bells should peal across the state the first time Todd Boeckman throws an interception or completes like 50% of his passes or like blows a game like whoah.
Also dead are Pittman, Ginn, Gonzalez, and a couple offensive linemen, leaving the Buckeyes bereft of the offense that steamrolled the country until its inexplicable -- and highly, highly annoying -- collapse in the Not Fiesta Bowl which instantly validated for all time to everyone south of the Mason-Dixon line that their college football was WOOOO COMPLETELY EFFIN AWESOME YO!!! Congratulations! Now your decrepit school systems have been rendered irrelevant! Please rejoice in this marker of regional dominance and forget that we burned a swath of destruction from Atlanta to the coast, you traitorous confederate bastards. If it wasn't for us dragging your asses back into the Union you would be the Sudan right now. (The Sudan's in Africa. Which is across an ocean. Which is a large body of water.)
What? Where am I? Oh. Ohio State.
Anyway, the Buckeyes took a one-year detour on the spread express route to take advantage of that whole Heisman winner thing, but now figure to return to the Ohio State of (slightly) old. They will pound the ball on offense, stuff your face on defense, and usually win 17-9. They'll have infuriatingly great kicking. They'll probably play in a nice bowl game. Etc.
Problems do loom, however: the line is young and flimsy at DT. The secondary is distressingly thin and young, and the offensive line might still be looking for Jarvis Moss. Everyone expects a step back except SEC fans, who can't imagine Ohio State getting any worse.
(Not particularly relevant since every offensive skill starter save completely ignored TE Rory Nichol is gone, along with two OL starters. Thankfully.)
Rating: 2. Despite being a nearly all-conquering juggernaut in the Tressel Era, one area in which Ohio State struggled of late is quarterback recruiting. There are three on the roster:
- Redshirt junior Todd Boeckman, the presumed starter. Boeckman was an unremarkable three-star in 2003 (he also grayshirted) whose other offers were Pitt and Maryland.
- Redshirt sophomore Robby Schoenhoft. The highest rated quarterback on the Buckeye roster, Schoenhoft was a four star who picked OSU over Michigan. But... wow. Schoenhoft is the oddest four star with M/OSU offers ever. How often do you see a guy who's a pocket passer complete 37% of his attempts and get attention from anyone other than Buffalo? The general opinion on Schoenhoft is that he's a kid with a nice arm who shows well at combines but isn't an actual quarterback.
- Redshirt freshman Antonio Henton, a dual-threat three-star from Georgia with other offers from Louisville, Illinois, and Maryland
There was no Weis E. Coyote quarterback subterfuge this offseason at Ohio State: it was obvious Todd Boeckman would be the starter from the moment the Not Fiesta Bowl ended and he is indeed the starter. He is large, strong armed, and utterly green; no one has seen him in live action since high school eons ago. Since that goes for everyone on the roster, predicting the outcome here is difficult. A quick check of all the good things each did in the spring game...
...reveals Schoenhoft to have a mean three-yard stop, Henton a mean quarterback scramble, and Boeckman a decent deep ball. At least one decent deep ball. The overall numbers weren't pretty:
Boeckman completed 6 of 14 passes for 103 yards. Playing for both teams, Schoenhoft was a combined 7-for-18 for 83 yards and Henton was 8-for-16 for 45 yards.Henton also threw three interceptions; Boeckman fumbled once.
None of these guys is going to be Troy Smith. The hope is for adequacy here. Upside is Craig Krenzel; downside is Steve Bellisari.
Tailback & FullbackRating: 5. Until Chris "Beanie" Wells -- and that's the last time "Beanie" gets mentioned in this preview -- spun free of what should have been a Shawn Crable TFL and zipped through the Michigan secondary en route to the first of two backbreaking Ohio State touchdown runs, his freshman season was mostly an exercise in unforced fumbles and romps over hopelessly overmatched run defenses. It's hard to extrapolate from a freshman year in which Wells was a backup who got most of his carries against Northwestern, Minnesota, Michigan State, and the like. He is unlikely to average 5.5 yards per carry as the primary threat, especially without Smith, Ginn, and Gonzalez drawing all sorts of attention.
That said, if you believe in recruiting rankings you are forced to believe in Wells, Rivals' #1 recruit in the country at any position in 2005. He is huge and fast and has some dainty cutting ability. At the very least his freshman season proved him to have more ability than a David Underwood, who was huge and fast and so top heavy a slight breeze would knock him over; that worst case scenario averted we have a narrow range of ability with Tony Hunt at the bottom and Eddie George at the top. Wells is going to be very good, and this year.
There do exist two concerns: the aforementioned fumbling, which can be chalked up to small sample size now but would blossom into a full-fledged issue should it continue into 2007, and the potential for Wells' pounding style to expose him to injury. He's a violent, smashing runner and those guys are always prone to injuries both nagging and severe. Adrian Peterson, a similar (though hopefully much better) player, had a career marred by injury; Wells has a higher risk of the same than most backs.
Another Wells, Maurice, is the backup. Maurice is the platonic opposite of Chris, a dreadlocked scatback from Florida who's thoroughly disappointed so far in his career. He was a highly touted recruit in his own right and has reportedly impressed throughout the offseason, so he may be a decent backup option. Freshman Brandon Saine is very, very fast and will probably see carries here and there.
The fullbacks are veteran and were effective when deployed a year ago; one will emerge as a battering ram for Wells.
Wide Receiver & Tight EndsRating: 3. This position group, so deep a year ago, has been stripped down to the bare bones. Two Brians, Hartline and Robiskie, return after encouraging 2006s. Past that there is little experience, and most of that is on its way to disappointing. A true freshman is probably the third wideout.
Both Brians are similar players, loping striders with good but not Ginn speed, fairly reliable hands, and a modicum of route-running ability. Both were three star recruits in 2005; Hartline redshirted but Robiskie did not. One difference: Robiskie's offer list belied his ranking -- aside from OSU he also had Miami and Florida offers -- while Hartline's other suitors were Iowa and Michigan State. Robiskie was more heavily deployed last year with 29 catches for 383 yards and five touchdowns. One of those touchdowns, of course, was this one:
Behind the two starters is an array of question marks. Albert Dukes and Devon Lyons are veterans who have been passed over by first the Brians and now apparently three-star true freshman Dane Sanzenbacher, an Ohio State in-state camp offer who has impressed in the fall. Michigan has always done very well with these guys and Sanzenbacher's immediate leap into the two-deep bodes well for his future, but maybe not so well for Ohio State's present. There's also sophomore Ray Small, who lives up to his name at 5'9"-ish. He's a little nippy guy who will see time as a screen and short-YAC-friendly route runner; if Ohio State continues deploying its "Shotginn" set he'll be the one in the triple threat position replacing Ginn. He had eight catches a year ago.
Again, this should be a comedown from last year. Robiskie's shown a knack for getting open deep and Hartline's shown flashes of being a solid possession-plus type in the mold of Gonzalez, but neither can reasonably be expected to replace the production of the departed NFL first-rounders. They'll probably be good enough but uninspiring.
Offensive LineRating: 4. Three starters return to a line that seemed like one of the best in the country until Jarvis Moss and the rest of the Florida defensive line decided that they liked their HEISEMENS sacked one billion times. No one saw the line's total collapse coming, and it's hard to know what to make of it in the aftermath.
On recruiting hype and returning starts alone, the line should be pretty good. Alex Boone was a five star who leapt into the starting lineup as a true freshman; enormous Steve Rehring (6'8"! 345!) was a fine starter as a sophomore; senior Kirk Barton has been a fixture on the Ohio State offensive line for seemingly a decade. There are two new starters but in low-danger areas on the interior. But: Rehring may lose his job to redshirt freshman Brian Browning, and Ohio State's recruited sparsely on the offensive line so if either of new starters Jim Cordle and Ben Person can't hack it there are few options behind them. And there was that wholesale collapse against Florida.
What to pick? I can offer little here, especially with the presumed move to an entirely different sort of offense. The "4" above is for returning tackles who should be excellent players and a general rule of thumb to give Ohio State the benefit of the doubt when things are in question, but there's no conviction behind it.
The flip side of that, however, is to wonder if it was all that good in the first place. Though no one scored on Ohio State at all, chances are many teams could have turned in a performance like this when Colt McCoy's second start and Anthony Morelli's first were the toughest tests on the docket. (Drew Tate? Maybe, but by that point Tate was busy throwing horrible interceptions as Iowa clattered to a 2-6 conference record.) Helped by a bevy of opponent turnovers and the offense's ability to turn any offense one dimensional by midway into the second quarter, Ohio State's defense found itself in a highly advantageous position for most of last year. I don't believe it was nearly as good as the numbers to the right indicate. This opposed to the 2005 defense, which I lived in constant fear of.
Defensive LineRating: 3. Sophomore defensive tackle Doug Worthington is
- 6'7", and
- 271 pounds.
At end, there is Vernon Gholston (@ right). As a sophomore he racked up 8.5 sacks and 15 tackles for loss amongst 49 tackles. He's the best defensive end in the conference and a potential All-American. There were some questions about Gholston's responsibility in the run game early last year, but he answered those with aplomb. He's the best player on the Buckeye defense. Also he has arms that are less a gun show and more a nuclear missile silo. Also also: can we test that guy for 'roids? I'm just sayin'.
Opposite Gholston a few highly touted recruits are in a fierce battle to start. Junior Lawrence Wilson currently has the edge on sophomore Robert Rose and junior Alex Barrow. Given the recruiting rankings of these guys -- Rose was a five star, albeit a late riser that may have been a little bit of an overreaction based on a single impressive Army game outing -- and their numbers, one should work out and be adequate (and adequate for Ohio State's purposes, not Purdue's), if not better.
LinebackersRating: 4. A favorite MGoBlog hobbyhorse is James Laurinaitis and how goddamn overrated he is; anyone who's read this space since last year's Ohio State game can probably sing along with what follows. He was hesitant and awful in his first real test against Texas, thought much of what ailed him then can be fixed by experience. Against Iowa, he was quiet. When Michigan came calling and actually had the athletes to get out past the OSU DTs and get a blocker on Laurnaitis, he washed out every time. Hart finished with 140-some yards and three touchdowns. I might as well dig up my summary of the guy from last year's All Big Ten team because I think the exact same thing:
My position on Laurinaitis and his magic, leather-magnetized hands has been made clear: dude is way overrated and belongs nowhere near the Butkus finalist list or the All-American teams he'll no doubt feature on. I blame two people: Troy Smith and Brent Musberger. Smith is the primary motor for Ohio State's #1 ranking and Musberger's intolerable boosterism of him during the Texas game, Iowa game, and every other game was repeated so often that it became true in the minds of the brainwashed masses.All that said: I did put him on the second team as a sophomore and he projects better as a junior. Depending on how much he improves he could warrant the breathless Musbergerisms he receives; I still would like to see it before believing it. My theory on Laurinaitis is that he's great in space but easy to block and my theory on the OSU DTs is adequacy at best -- no double-teams demanded here -- so I am compelled to predict a significant step backwards in Ohio State's run defense. Like... not awful or anything, but thorough averageness is a possibility.
...but he does have his good points. He is fast, able in zone drops -- to get Drew Tate to throw the ball right at you you have to be in good position -- and a good blitzer. If he's kept clean he will fill and tackle ably. He's not bad by any stretch of the imagination and... sigh... deserves a place on this team. But on the second team, dammit, until he defeats a block. Any block.
On the strongside, Marcus Freeman returns. A highly touted recruit who made a smooth transition to start as a redshirt sophomore, he projects well. One concern: despite being Ohio State's second leading tackler, Freeman didn't make much in the way of plays with only 2.5 TFL and one sack. Six pass breakups and two interceptions are impressive, though -- zone drops are a strength for these linebackers. He will be somewhere between good and very good.
Graduated senior Steve Kerr was a liability last year and won't be missed at all. Senior JUCO transfer Larry Grant is the starter; sophomore Ross Homan will also press for time. I am skeptical about both these players given their inability to displace Kerr in a season of thorough blah from the former Indiana transfer. Both have an obvious excuse as guys in their first year at Ohio State but, like Michigan, when Ohio State feels compelled to bring in a JUCO anywhere it signals a deep unease about a particular position. The weakside is likely to remain a problem.
Defensive BacksRating: 4. Malcolm Jenkins is the star of a secondary short on both depth and experience; there is a not-insignificant chance this group ends up resembling last year's Michigan unit that proved itself ineffective despite the presence of an NFL first-rounder.
There aren't many problems with Jenkins. I still prefer Ikegwuonu and King, as Jenkins occasionally gets excessively aggressive and lets receivers behind him, but the gap is not wide. Last year he was fortunate opposing quarterbacks overshot his man when this happened. But the flip side of that aggression is a hellish battle for many opposition receivers. Jenkins is a jam artist with heavy hands, better than anyone in the conference at fighting a third down slant tooth and nail.
So, yeah, but then... um. The rest of the secondary has questions. Corner is frighteningly thin. Andre Amos is out for the year with an injury, leaving sophomore Donald Washington, the nickelback a year ago behind former walkon Antonio Smith, as the other starter. Washington was okay as a freshman but by no means a star. Adrian Arrington had his way with him a few times. Past that: nothing with a snap. There is redshirt freshman Chimdi Chekwa, a middling recruit, and true freshman Eugene Clifford. Clifford was the crown jewel of last year's recruiting class but if he's on the two-deep as a true freshman at cornerback I believe that bodes extremely unwell for the Bucks. Clifford is big, very big -- 6'2", nearly 200 pounds -- and was universally regarded a safety by the recruiting gurus.
The other options in the nickel are a fourth year junior who's seen no time except on special teams and a safety, Tyler Moeller, who's a converted linebacker(!). There's every indication that spread teams will find someone to pick on.
At safety, Jamario "Toast" O'Neal, he of the hilarious five star ranking, has lost his job to Kurt Coleman, a sophomore Ohio State fans are high on. The other safety is Anderson Russell, returning after an ACL tear that cost him his 2006. He is also a sophomore and is without a doubt the most unexpected starter on this Ohio State team. A two-star recruit from Georgia with other offers from Duke(!) and Furman(!!!) -- reviewing his old recruiting articles is hilarious: "Anderson enjoyed Duke visit" as if anyone on the planet has ever gotten an offer from Ohio State and picked Duke -- not only got offered by the Bucks but was a starter as a redshirt freshman until tearing his ACL against Iowa. He returns for a sophomore season as the starter. So pick your path here: nothing recruit or insta-starter; the jury is out given the paucity of passing offenses Russell went up against last year.
Special TeamsRating: 4. I hate Ohio State and their never ending factory of superb kickers. Last year's starter was 8 for 11 and lost his job to a 28-year-old Australian who passed up a rugby contract -- oi! -- to play at Ohio State. I do take some small solace in this shakiness...
Neither kicker looked great in Wednesday's kick scrimmage, Pretorius 5-of-10 unofficially and Pettrey 7-of-13, but after a year of feeling like he was the Buckeyes' most consistent kicker in practice, Pretorius seemingly won the job five days ago in Saturday's jersey scrimmage....but not much. There's enough here to project Buckeye kicking to be something less than great -- Mike "Ted" Nugent would never get replaced -- but they've still got two adequate guys, which is two more than Michigan has at the moment.
Punting was virtually irrelevant for Ohio State last year, at least until the Not Fiesta Bowl, -- there is no Buckeye punter listed amongst the NCAA statistical leader because you need to average 3.6 per game -- but junior AJ Trapasso returns after averaging 40.6 yards per kick, landing 17 inside the 20 with only four touchbacks. Only about a quarter of his kicks were returned. He was a major reason Ohio State was 13th in net punting. He's one of the country's best.
OSU's returners are in the NFL; a step back from Ginn is highly probable.
Turnover MarginThe theory of turnover margin: it is nearly random. Teams that find themselves at one end or the other at the end of the year are highly likely to rebound towards the average. So teams towards the top will tend to be overrated and vice versa. Nonrandom factors to evaluate: quarterback experience, quarterback pressure applied and received, and odd running backs like Mike Hart who just don't fumble.
|2006||Int +||Fumb +||Sacks +||Int -||Fumb -||Sacks -|
|0.69 (13th)||21||6||2.92 (12th)||6||12||1.46 (24th)|
Buoyed by the leather magnets in James Laurinaitis' gloves, Ohio State was hugely positive in this category a year ago and should take a major step back. Boeckman has a lot of practice experience but is not going to be a Heisman winner; OSU's interceptions should go up significantly. Also, Wells has given indication he's something of a fumbler. I expect this number to be slightly negative at the end of the year; it will be a major step back.
Position Switch StartersTheory of position switches: if you are starting or considering starting a guy who was playing somewhere else a year ago, that position is in trouble. There are degrees of this. When Notre Dame moved Travis Thomas, a useful backup at tailback, to linebacker and then declared him a starter, there was no way that could end well. Wisconsin's flip of LB Travis Beckum to tight end was less ominous because Wisconsin had a solid linebacking corps and Beckum hadn't established himself on that side of the ball. Michigan flipping Prescott Burgess from SLB to WLB or PSU moving Dan Connor inside don't register here: we're talking major moves that indicate a serious lack somewhere.
Worthington was a defensive end and now starts at tackle. I think this bodes unwell.
Dumbest Thing In CFN PreviewJust because.
Best Defensive Player: Junior LB James Laurinaitis. What does Laurinaitis possibly do for an encore after leading the Buckeyes in tackles and interceptions a year ago, en route to becoming the first true sophomore to win the Nagurski Award? A physical beast in run defense, he’s also stellar in underneath pass coverage, making him a natural at creating takeaways.Obvs I was going to go for this.
Flickr Says...What I would give for a microwave large enough to put this in.
An Embarrassing Prediction, No Doubt
Best CaseUndefeated is probably out of the question, but 11-1 isn't. OSU picked a good year to make Washington the primary OOC foe.
Worst CaseWell... there isn't much to threaten until Penn State rolls into town in Week 8. I guess it's possible Purdue could pose some sort of threat, but visions of Wells smushing Boiler defenders into the ground are vivid. But they do return many players and could make a leap. Also: they are well suited to take advantage of a potentially shallow secondary. Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan are all eminently losable, and maybe an uncharacteristic game gets blown by some quarterback errors, but 8-4 is about the worst scenario I can concoct.
Final VerdictI think the above will seem unnecessarily negative given the final output down here, but the tendency in these previews is to quarrel with the conventional wisdom when it needs quarreling with, and much of the conventional wisdom about last year's Ohio State defense was, in my opinion, wrong. Thus the words spent arguing that James Laurinaitis is only the third best middle linebacker in the conference. Still, while I don't expect this year's Ohio State defense to be actually bad per se it does seem a clear step down from the last couple years. Defensive tackle is a major concern, as is depth in the secondary and experience at safety. Ohio State plans to play a lot of freshman on defense this year and it's not by choice.
Everyone expects Tressell to pull in his horns and go with the traditional smash mouth Tresselball offense, and so does this preview. Given the available personnel that's what makes sense. I think this is likely to recur:
The difference between 2002 and this year will be the lack of unfathomable luck and a flimsier defense.
Tressel Ball in Big Games, '02 vs. '06 2002 2006 Pts./Game 16.2 29.5 Avg. MOV 8.0 15.8 Runs/Game 44.0 34.3 Yds./Carry 3.5 4.6 Passes/Game 16.6 28.5 Yds./Pass 8.2 7.7 Run:Pass % 72.4 54.4
2002 Games: Washington State, Wisconsin, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan
2006 Games: Texas, Penn State, Iowa, Michigan
|9/1||Youngstown State||Functional DNP|
|9/15||@ Washington||(very) Probable Win|
|10/13||Kent State||Functional DNP|
|10/27||@ Penn State||Tossup|
|11/17||@ Michigan||Probable loss|
Oh, the infinite hubris in that "probable loss." But, seriously this is what I think is true so there you go. One of these days Ann Arbor Torch And Pitchfork customers will come for me, I'm sure. Ohio State starts off 7-1, splits versus PSU and Wisconsin, and comes to Ann Arbor with the Big Ten title on the line. In the aftermath, I don't jump off U Towers. 9-3.... verging on 10-2.