Oklahoma as #1
As much as this may make me an unpopular fellow, I actually agree with this ranking. If defense is the cornerstone and foundation of a championship caliber team, then given the ability of Oklahoma at linebacker, defensive back, and especially on the defensive line – they have to be rated as the top team coming into 2003.
Why not Ohio State?
Why would the champion not be considered #1 until they are knocked off of the proverbial pedestal?
Ohio State lost the heart and soul of their defense. Wilhelm, Grant, Peterson, Thompson, Doss, Nickey, and Wilhelm provided not only production but also incredible leadership.
The idea that the Buckeyes can ride their offense to a title if the defense is not as strong as needed is not a very wise one. Miami was supposed to ride its offense to a national title in 2002. Florida State was supposed to ride its offense to a national title in 1998 and 2000. Ohio State was supposed to ride its offense to a national title in 1998. Florida thought it could ride its offense to a title over Nebraska, and Miami was supposed to ride its offense over Alabama in 1992.
Before I will put Ohio State in the #1 position, they must prove that they are either at or just a mere hair below their proficiency level in 2002 on the defense and with special teams play.
At the same time, Ohio State fans should have their collective heart warmed by this dubious honor handed to Oklahoma. Being named #1 to enter a football season is very close to the kiss of death. Only Florida State has managed to run wire to wire as #1 in the past decade. According to the law of averages, that means OU has a whopping 10% chance to make it through the season undefeated.
Maurice Clarett Part 2,978,137
Ohio State fans should get used to this story and get used to those outside of Ohio State slamming the Buckeyes for his actions.
Why should Ohio State followers get used to the story? Fact #1 – Maurice Clarett is only a sophomore. He could be gone after 2003, but on the other hand he could be around for up to 3 more seasons. Fact #2 – Even if Clarett were to leave Ohio State (read: be kicked off the team or lose his eligibility) then he would still be forever linked to the university. Fact #3 – The eyes of the College Football world will all be focused on Ohio State this year since they are defending national champions.
Why should fans get used to people outside of Ohio and outside of The Ohio State community slamming the Buckeyes? For months, there has been nothing to report. For months, those who disliked Ohio State have been looking for a way to discredit what the team and coaches accomplished. For years, the Southeastern Conference teams on probation have bitterly complained that other teams were doing the same exact things but not being slammed by the NCAA. Now, the reporters can all have something to write about on a slow day (Clarett). Now, the Ohio State haters have someone to nominate as an honorary club member for his contributions to their cause (Clarett). Now, the SEC fanatics all have an Ohio State player (Clarett) that they believe (correct or incorrect) shows that the way their program is run is the same as it is at Ohio State.
The kind of damage Maurice has done to the image of Ohio State, his teammates, and his coaches cannot be measured. He owes them a tremendous apology and should be grateful beyond measure if they consent to let him play once again.
Call Me Mr. Lewinsky…
Perhaps the worst part of this whole story is that Maurice Clarett has tarnished himself. The public perception of him last September was that he was a phenomenal talent the likes of which had not been seen since Hershel Walker or Georgia some two decades ago. He was the talk of the nation in college football circles. Everyone wanted a piece of this bright, articulate, and opinionated young man. It was not a question of whether or not he could win a Heisman but rather when would he win his first one?
Like Monica Lewinsky, he is a young person who made a series of poor judgments and now has been labeled (perhaps permanently) for them. Those outside of Ohio (and even more than a few inside the state) view him as a talented but temperamental Prima Donna with a near terminal case of foot-in-mouth disease. He is frequently cited as what is wrong about collegiate sports, and in more irresponsible cases of journalism has been lumped in with players such as Lawrence Philips and even Carlton Dotson and the Baylor scandal. He has been labeled (thanks to the New York Times article) as a dumb jock "not prepared for college." He is the butt of jokes from everywhere to the late night shows to the company water cooler. Perhaps the worst part of all is that he has almost become persona non grata among the fans he said he wished so badly to please last fall.
Maurice Leaving Early for Professional Football
If he tries it, he will discover it is the worst mistake of his young life.
What is important to understand in this situation is that Maurice Clarett is damaged goods in the eyes of professional scouts. He is not a top 5 pick. He is not even a top 10 pick. Maurice would be lucky to be a top 60 pick.
The NFL (and CFL) draft is all about measurables and durability. Maurice has neither right now.
The reality is that he has yet to complete a season completely healthy when given the number of carries allotted to most feature backs. That is a bad sign when scouts consider how high they want to draft a player. Simply put, if Maurice's body cannot hold up under the wear and tear of 16 year old kids and 21 year old young adults hitting him, why in the world would it be expected to withstand the vicious tackles of 32 year old men who are literally trying to put him in the hospital on any given play? Without proof that Maurice can make it through a season, he is not worth a first round pick. It is unlikely that General Managers or coaches would risk their job taking him high in the first or even second round.
Maurice does not currently have the right measurables right now either. Sure, he is strong (at least he might be if his shoulder ever completely heals). Sure, he has vision. The problem is his speed. In the NFL, you better have better do your best "Speedy Gonzales" impression if you hope to bust runs any longer than Pinocchio's nose. If you do not possess that kind of ability, then you will have to make a career out of being durable between the tackles for 5 and 10-yard gains like Jerome Bettis or Eddie George…
That brings us back to question #1 – Can Maurice even stay healthy for one season? Until that question is answered, he will remain a question mark. Only teams willing to risk throwing away a draft pick and millions of dollars would be foolish enough to pick him before the third round.
Another reason Maurice is not a legitimate target for the professional leagues at this point is his immaturity. Since his arrival at OSU, it seems that Barnum and Bailey would have been proud of his act, and it is surprising Siegfried and Roy have not called and offered him a position opening for their act in Vegas. Clarett has been an almost constant sideshow and distraction for his teammates. Yes, some of this is not his fault. Yes, some of this is to be expected when you make an 18-year-old kid world famous (literally) within months of his leaving high school. Yes, he might be finally starting to mature a little bit (a day late and a dollar short according to most). However, that does not change the simple fact that he has created problems for coaches and teammates.
No NFL team wants that in their organization. It is hard enough to win without having to look at a teammate and say, "Et tu Brute?" every other week.
As for getting rid of Clarett?
Some of the more rash and reactionary are now upset enough that they would like to see Clarett never don the Scarlet and Grey again. They would rather pitch him off of the boat and allow the fishes to make short work of him. If it means the Buckeyes lose a game or two without him, then so be it. At least they will win or lose without a hint of scandal or a cloud of controversy.
I think that is going too far unless clear evidence of wrongdoing is found. I think it might be a great idea to suspend him for conduct detrimental to the team and for "exaggerating" on a police report. Let him sit a few games and think about how his actions impact others. Hundreds of others who are doing their jobs and trying to go about it in a positive way have now been painted an ugly color with a rough brush because of his big mouth and his immature actions. It is not pretty, and those folks cannot appreciate it. One can only hide behind the veil of "immaturity" so long before it is time to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled child.
On the other hand, he is a 19-year old man-child who has made some serious errors in judgment for which he is now paying a steep price. He can no longer play football – the game that he loves – until he has been cleared of wrongdoing. He is reviled by those he wanted to embrace him (fans) and laughed at by those from whom he craved respect (sportscasters and sportswriters).
Probably the best course of action right now is to take the view of Andy Geiger and Jim Tressel. Wait and see what is actually substantiated. Then, once you know what the truth of the matter is, act accordingly.
E-mail Charles at email@example.com