We're #3! We're #3! We're #3! It has a nice ring to it. And just like last year, we go back to the "Just win, baby" school of thought. If we win out, everything will take care of itself. Despite the best efforts by the ESPN talking heads and the other naysayers, all the smoke will clear and we will ascend to our rightful heights…if we keep winning.
Yes, Buckeye fans, we were the worst one-loss team in the nation last week, coming in at approximately sixth on your hit parade. And we are the worst one-loss team in the nation again this week. It's just that three of those other one-loss teams lost last weekend and the pollsters can't find any way to punish our Buckeyes for a while.
You know, it's not as if we are playing patsies to get here. This isn't the Minnesota scheduling factory or TCU, after all. We played three Top Twenty teams (at least rated in the top twenty at one time) in our non-conference schedule. And we beat them all. And we've played three Top Twenty teams so far in the Big Ten. Two of those teams (Iowa and Michigan State) have been rated in the Top Ten. We beat those two and lost to Wisconsin at night, on the road in a driving rainstorm. By a touchdown. And to win out? We have to beat three more Top Ten teams.
That's nine Top Twenty teams out of twelve. To reach the promised land, we will have to beat eight of the nine.
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Remembering Michigan State…I can't ever remember feeling quite as distraught about my Buckeyes (and there have been quite a few tests of that nauseous feeling over the years…) as when OSU blew the game against MSU in November 1998. That was a great indomitable Ohio State team that just got its priorities screwed up for about thirty minutes. Paul Harker, the Michigan State O-lineman from Dayton (who really wanted to go to OSU) played in that 1998 game and played again last weekend at the Shoe as well. Six seasons later. My radio partner, Jerry Rudzinski, was the captain of that 1998 Buckeye team. There are still a lot of strong memories even this much further down the road. Jerry was on the sideline Saturday. It had to feel good to him. And Harker was out between the lines, getting flagged for a personal foul penalty against fellow Dayton product Will Allen. It probably didn't feel as good to him.
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Getting defensive about our Buckeyes…Ohio State lead the nation in rushing defense going into the Michigan State game, yielding a paltry 49 yards per game and 1.5 yards per carry. Those glossy figures shined even brighter after the Spartan ground attack gained only five yards Saturday. And it would have been negative yards if Smoker hadn't scrambled for a first down on a late meaningless drive. I said at the beginning of the season that we had the best D-line in the country and I say it again now.
A true test of the overall brilliance of our rushing defense is that good offensive teams (like Michigan State) don't even try to run against our Bucks. Fifty-five passes by Michigan State? Where are you, Duffy Daugherty…And this great D will be tested in the next two weeks. Purdue ran surprisingly well against a very stout Iowa defense and Michigan has run well against everybody.
One last accolade for a great defense that still doesn't get enough accolades…The Dantonio plan was nearly perfect Saturday. Break it down: We were up against a top-notch offensive team and what did they accomplish? They got a late meaningless TD when the game had been decided. They got a kickoff return for a TD. And the only drive they scored on (early in the first quarter) was abetted on third down by one of the worst pass interference calls in the history of North America. The defensive plan was to shut down the run. Let Smoker complete a bunch of short passes. Tackle receivers fast. And don't let them get behind us.
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Never trust anyone under thirty…Jim Tressel became the fastest coach in OSU's glorious football history to reach the thirty-win plateau Saturday, displacing Earle Bruce from that honor. We asked this before - if you thought that Coach T would average more than 10 wins a season in the first three seasons of his tenure, after replacing Coach Coop, would you have smiled broadly and whispered things like, "From your lips to God's ears"? It has been a fabulous run - and we have three more shots at it before the 2003 season winds down…
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Notre Lame sinks with Navy…I know I run the risk of getting flagged for piling on, but just how low has the Notre Dame program sunk when they celebrate wildly after beating Navy on a last minute field goal? Now, come on kids, this is a Navy team that hasn't beaten the Irish in forty years (can you say "Roger Staubach", children?). So now the Irish are rising at 3-6 and NBC must be feeling pretty smug about that exclusive television contract. Give me a break…
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And a word about recruiting…No, not more armed forces references; we are talking about the upcoming Buckeye class of 2004. Since the Buckeyes have had half a dozen walk-ons the past few seasons end up as scholarship players, we realize that recruiting rankings are highly subjective. Yet, there is one area that OSU must excel in for recruiting to succeed. That area is the state of Ohio.
In a really well-researched recruiting summary coming out this week by, well…me, we listed the Top Ten Ohio high school recruits as rated by eminent guru Duane Long of Ohio's Future Stars fame. They are: 1) Ted Ginn 2) Fred Davis 3) Delbert Ferguson 4) Brandon Braxton 5) Ben Person 6) Chad Hoobler 7) Marcus Freeman 8) Brian Hoyer 9)Miles Williams and 10) Antonio Pittman.
So how are we doing? You can read the whole megillah for details but - in summary - it is projected that we will ink at least seven of the top ten and two of them (Ferguson and Hoyer), we didn't even offer; although they would probably both become Buckeyes if we did. Hey Coach T: good job on the college and high school fields this year…
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Officially, a bad year…In my continuing rant against football officials that feel like they need to take over the game, Saturday gave us some new splendid evidence that Big Ten officials have to be rated near the bottom of their species. I've already vented about the early pass interference call (made 15 minutes after the alleged infraction by an official two states away…) but that paled in comparison with the non-call of a personal foul against the thugs that nailed Krenzel out of bounds. Hey - the zebra throws a flag at the time of the mugging but then…picks it up? What - upon further review? Did the other guys say, "Hey no blood, no foul"? How do you over-rule an opinion when there's no instant replay?
OK. That wasn't the low point. The worst part of the officiating was the blatant disregard for holding by Michigan State. They were holding nearly every play and all over the field. The fans were howling, the defensive line jerseys were in tatters and major plays were majorly affected.
Listen, if they are never going to call the dang thing, let's just get rid of holding as a penalty and be done with it…
E-mail Mr. Bucknuts at firstname.lastname@example.org