Helwagen: Goodbye ... and Hello

New Bucknuts managing editor reflects on 8-1/2 years at Buckeye Sports Bulletin as well as the future with the Bucknuts Media Network.

EDITOR'S NOTE -- As many of you know, I have arrived at Bucknuts.com this week after spending the last 8-1/2 years as the editor of Buckeye Sports Bulletin.

It is a shame that I did not get a chance to say goodbye to the many great readers of BSB. So here is the column I planned to run in the Football Preview edition, sharing some of my thoughts as I close one chapter of my professional life and open another.

What can you say when you're leaving your dream job after 8-1/2 years?

Well, for starters, it has been a heck of a ride.

And, for seconds, I can gloat that I had a better ride than Mark Rea, my predecessor and the person who originally recruited me 14 years ago to become a BSB contributor.

I only say that from the basis of the fact that Mark never got to cover a Bowl Championship Series-caliber bowl game, and I got to cover four of them.

That's right, I saw the Rose Bowl win, two Sugar Bowls (one good, one bad) and the Fiesta Bowl, which would be a whole chapter in the life story of anybody who attended it.

(As I understand it, Mark is coming back to BSB. I'm sure you'll join me in hoping he gets to cover his first BCS bowl in just a few months.)

But that's not all. As Mark would attest, this has been more than a job. It's been an adventure.

I also got to see the inside of the White House, courtesy of OSU's national champions. I was at the 1999 Final Four, courtesy of Jim O'Brien, Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd. And, for good measure, I covered four more bowl games in Florida and two Kickoff Classics just outside New York City.

All totaled, I figure I have covered OSU sporting events in 19 of the 50 states. I saw the inside of all 11 Big Ten football stadiums -- including four trips to Illinois.

I only missed three OSU football games -- home, away or otherwise -- over the last eight seasons, and that was only because my wife was expecting our third child in the fall of 2001.

Oh, yes, the wife and kids. I want to thank them for sharing me for much of the last decade, allowing me to make these travels and enjoy so many great experiences.

(I guess, as I wrote that line, I realized some of why I am moving on. Many of you who have been close friends and acquaintances through the years are learning of this change right now. As I have gone down this path the last decade, I have been disconnected from many of my close friends and family. Hopefully that will change.)

Of course, this job allowed me to come in contact with so many great people. If I started listing them, I would surely do somebody an injustice.

Oh, what the heck. At OSU, we're talking about people like O'Brien, Jim Tressel, Andy Geiger, Archie Griffin, John Markell, Bob Todd, Bill Conley, Jim Heacock, Tim Spencer and a ton of other head coaches, assistants and administrators.

As far as people I've worked alongside, some of the best are Bruce Hooley, Rusty Miller, Jon Spencer, Dave Woolford, Doug Harris, Marla Ridenour, Jim Naveau, Jason Lloyd, Tim May, Bob Baptist, Matt McCoy and all of the other reporters, radio and television people I've come in contact with.

Of course, you are only as good as the people you work with. I want to thank Frank Moskowitz for this opportunity as well as our entire staff for their efforts. BSB is a total team effort, and I wish this team -- led now by Rea -- the best of luck in the future.

And, finally, I want to thank you, the readers, for your support, advice and warm feelings over these past 8-1/2 years.

When Frank hired me in November 1994, he said I would never experience anything quite like "sitting in the big chair" at BSB. He was right.

But, like they said in the Bible or in "North Dallas Forty" (I'm not sure which), there comes a time to put away all childish things. For me, this must be that time.

Not So Fast, My Friend

This is still the Football Preview edition, so let's preview this 2003 Ohio State football team.

The history books tell us that repeating as the national championship team has been a rare occurrence. In fact, it has only happened four times since 1957. (If you're keeping score at home, those teams were Nebraska in 1994-95, Alabama in 1978-79, Oklahoma in 1974-75 and Nebraska in 1970-71.)

That's four teams in 46 years -- about a 9 percent chance.

Here's a numbing thought: The last Big Ten team to repeat as a national champion was Minnesota in 1940-41.

Now, don't jump off the (uncompleted) Lane Avenue bridge and commit suicide just yet.

The history books also show us that two teams that have won BCS national titles in the last five years have at least made it back to the championship game the following year. (That would be Florida State in 2000 and Miami last year.)

Neither of them repeated, but that is still a 40 percent chance that the Buckeyes might make it to this year's title game at the Sugar Bowl.

Let me say this: I like this team's chances to at least get back to the title game. Every time doubt creeps into my mind, I come back to the fact there are battle tested players at almost every turn.

Honestly, do you want to bet against Craig Krenzel, Michael Jenkins, Chris Gamble, Ben Hartsock, Alex Stepanovich, Shane Olivea, Bryce Bishop, Adrien Clarke, Rob Sims, Will Smith, Darrion Scott, Tim Anderson, Robert Reynolds, Dustin Fox or Mike Nugent?

Granted, the Maurice Clarett situation has been the distraction of all distractions. And, if he misses any appreciable amount of time, I think that would hurt the bottom line.

My choices for a breakout year include Lydell Ross on offense (he should get some work in Clarett's absence) and Mike D'Andrea and A.J. Hawk on defense.

The schedule is certainly tough with the two early season games with Washington and N.C. State, the late season home challenge with Purdue and the three brutal Big Ten games at Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan.

For the last eight years, I have predicted OSU's record and bowl berth. A year ago, for instance, I thought the Buckeyes would go 11-2 and advance to the Rose Bowl.

In eight years, I've missed OSU's win total by 14 games (an average of 1.7 games per year). I have predicted six Big Ten titles in eight years; OSU has now delivered three. I have predicted seven BCS-caliber bowl games; OSU has been to four.

Each year, I place the upcoming season's games into three distinct categories. I call them chip shots (should be easy wins), tester field goals (going to require some effort) and long field goals (might need a good gust of wind at the right time to push the ball through the uprights).

Last year's 13-0 regular season helped these numbers: In eight years, OSU is 29-1 in games pegged as chip shots (the lone loss was against Illinois in 1999). The Buckeyes are 32-8 in tester games and 14-9 in long field goals.

Without any further ado, here is a look at this year's (extremely tough) OSU schedule.

Chip Shots (4)

* San Diego State, home, Sept. 6 -- The Aztecs led at halftime two years ago in Ohio Stadium before OSU rallied for a 27-12 win. Look for SDSU to test OSU's rebuilt pass defense early and often.

* Bowling Green, home, Sept. 20 -- The Falcons begin OSU's second pass through the MAC. Since 1997, OSU is 6-0 against MAC teams with a margin of victory in excess of 27 points. This will be new BG coach Gregg Brandon's fourth game as a head coach.

* Northwestern, home, Sept. 27 -- The Wildcats figure to be much better than a year ago. The real improvement must come on defense, where eight of NU's 12 opponents scored 39 or more points a year ago.

* Indiana, away, Oct. 25 -- It's not a good sign when you're IU coach Gerry DiNardo and two of the first four questions you hear at the Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago deal with linebacker John Kerr's transfer to Ohio State.

Tester Field Goals (4)

* Washington, home, Aug. 30 -- The Rick Neuheisel controversy has certainly cast a pall over the UW program. But the atmosphere at the 'Shoe figures to be off the hook when the defending national champions take the field for a rare night game. OSU's string of 28 straight home nonconference wins will be on the line.

* Iowa, home, Oct. 18 -- The Hawkeyes had a taste of the BCS with the Orange Bowl last year. Although this could be somewhat of a rebuilding year for Iowa, this match-up of last year's co-Big Ten champs will still be fun.

* Michigan State, home, Nov. 8 -- The Spartans could make some waves in the Big Ten race, particularly if Jeff Smoker can return to his previous form at quarterback. New coach John L. Smith promises to bring the spread to East Lansing.

* Purdue, home, Nov. 15 -- OSU can't get caught looking ahead to the season finale at Michigan. Nine starters return for the defense that supplanted OSU as the Big Ten's best after the bowl games (those stats were factored in for the first time last year).

Long Field Goals (4)

* N.C. State, home, Sept. 13 -- After whacking Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl, the Wolfpack is pointing to this year as the one it takes the next step toward a BCS bowl. This figures to be a great showdown between two top-10 teams.

* Wisconsin, away, Oct. 11 -- A scheduling quirk sends OSU back to Madison for the second consecutive year. With an 8 p.m. Central start time, it is a given this will be the most hostile crowd the Buckeyes will play in front of this year.

* Penn State, away, Nov. 1 -- OSU is just 1-4 in Big Ten games in State College. As noted before, if OSU opens the year 8-0 this would be for a school record breaking 23rd straight win. That should rachet things up a notch or two.

* Michigan, away, Nov. 22 -- If it is possible, the 100th rendition of The Game could mean as much or more than any other in series history. OSU will be gunning for a third straight win over UM for the first time since 1960-63. With each team firmly in everybody's preseason top 10, this could be one for the ages. Then again, aren't they all?

Summing Up

Remember, out of about 40 media members polled before the Fiesta Bowl by The Miami Herald, I was one of five who picked Ohio State to upset Miami and win the national championship.

So, with that in mind, is it a shock that I'm picking Ohio State to go 12-0, including 8-0 in the Big Ten? I see the Buckeyes dancing on Bourbon Street Jan. 4 for the national title game.

It won't be easy, certainly. And the controversy du jour regarding academics will linger and possibly follow this team all season long.

But Tressel and his staff have a strong hand to play with this year. If they make all the right moves -- as they did a year ago -- the Buckeyes could position themselves for another crack at championship glory.

I want to ask one favor, though. Should the Buckeyes falter somewhere along the way -- either at home or on the road -- I would ask the OSU fans in attendance to save their usual catcalls after losses and give this team a standing ovation for its accomplishments during this winning streak.

As for me, I'll be around. Hopefully I've been able to entertain and enlighten you for the last few years. Enjoy the 2003 Ohio State football season!

And The New Chapter

This job with Bucknuts is like a dream come true for me. I get to continue doing the things I love to do -- sharing information with all of you on every realm of Ohio State athletics.

I was serious when I said I hope to make Bucknuts.com the best college sports fan web site in the country. It is going to take a lot of work, but I know I am joining a great team -- assembled by Mr. Bucknuts, himself.

We're not going to take ourselves too seriously and I beg you to let us know if you'd like to see something in particular. I also ask you to feel free to pose questions for our staff on the Ask The Insiders message board.

We may not get to them in the first 20 minutes, but we will do our best. It is our goal to build a great community of OSU fans. We already have a head start in that regard and we just want to build on it every day.

We are also going to work hard on Bucknuts the Magazine and the Bucknuts radio show. Our affiliations with Ohio's Future Stars and the J.J. Huddle web site are also important pieces of our overall landscape.

I'm ready to start this new journey. Let's see where it takes us.


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