When we start talking about our Great Expectations for 2004, it's enough to scare the dickens out of you…
There. I'm glad I got a chance to get that in. I don't pretend to know that much about, well…really much of anything; other than knowing my own opinions. I'm no genius. Or as Joe Theismann was famous for saying, "Nobody in football should be called a genius. A genius is a guy like Norman Einstein".
Norman Einstein or Norman, Oklahoma. Everybody's got opinions on next year and mine might not be the best but it looks like they might be the first! So let me say this about that:
Mr. Bucknuts Expectations for 2004
Justin Zwick will start. And most fans will realize we don't have a recognizable third-string QB. They will then assume that Nathan Szep is that guy.
Zwick will do fine but will hesitate and make us realize that Krenzel was a pretty good decision-maker. Justin is a better passer, though, and that should help. We still don't know about his heart and Craig's was the size of the Fiesta Bowl.
I think we do fine here and we get another good-natured QB controversy started if a) Troy Smith does not play or b) if Troy Smith does play.
My morality is very flexible in welcoming back Maurice Clarett. C'mon, people, what did he do besides be arrogant and obnoxious, anyway? Like all great athletes…
This position will be greatly improved, regardless. Lydell will be back in full flower and either Maurice Hall will have better knees (and hands) or Erik Haw will have us all as subscribers to "The E. Haw Show". That's what he calls it, by the way.
I will go out on a limb and become the only person with a pulse that predicts Clarett's return. There.
Hartsock is gone. Hamby and Irizarry are back. Rory Nicol is coming in and Hoobler may be here too although a move to LB could happen for him. And none of this is as important as 1) Do we have an offensive line that get a running game going and 2) Can the new QB integrate the short (i.e. tight end) pass into his repertoire? If those answers are affirmative, we will love our tight ends.
Will we miss Drew Carter? Yes. Will we miss Michael Jenkins? Yes yes. Hey – I missed Chris Gamble this past year. So did the coaching staff, it seems.
I think Gamble will get more PT in 2004 and I think it will be as an OSU wide receiver and not at some forlorn NFL factory. I also think that Santonio Holmes is legit – no, make that sensational. And that Roy Hall won't make us forget David Boston but the two names will be mentioned soon in the same sentence.
With Bam and Hollins and Hiley and Gonzalez and Miles Williams and Devin Jordan and hopefully Fred Davis hanging around, there won't be a lack of targets. It will depend on the archer. And Jordan is used to catching Zwick, don't forget.
Does the trembling show up as I type? I thought so…
So Stepanovich and Clarke and Bishop and Olivea will be missing. Listen, folks, the OL was largely missing in 2003! And the emphasis is on both the large and the missing. Missed blocks, missed assignments and missed opportunities.
The new line will be smaller and more athletic. And – by gum – I will just come out and say it: Can it really be worse than last year? Really?
Early projections have the line consisting of Mangold, Sims, Olds, Kne and a player to be named later. Could be Datish. Could be Coleman. Could be Kirk Barton, Ben Person, Tim Schaffer, Leon Hart, Kyle Mitchum or Prancer, Rudolph or one of the elves.
Hey – if ever a high school stud looked at a major program and hoped he could play O-line early, wouldn't this program be this one?
The reign of terror for Will Smith is over. The new reigning terror should be Simon Fraser from the other side. To replace (well, succeed…) Will Smith, we've got a cast to pull from, including Mike Kudla, Jay Richardson and Joel Penton. We also have the younger Marcel Frost and others yet to assert themselves. I say you can add Mike D'Andrea's name to the mix, as he would make an outstanding addition as a DE.
I also say that the terror factor will go down a bit from last year here, but not much…
How do you replace the stalwart pros-to-be Tim Anderson and Darrion Scott? Well, Quinn Pitcock replaced Scott most of last year and looked great. David Patterson might be even better. And if we keep Joel Penton on the inside, we are deep and fierce. There is still Marcus Green and Sian Cotton and Brandon Maupin.
Hard to believe, but we just lost two great inside linemen and we won't hardly miss a beat…
We were good last year. We will be better next year.
Rob Reynolds played well, but he was never a star. Carpenter will be a star. AJ Hawk already is a star and will rise farther in the firmament next season.
MLB was the Achilles' heel last year. Pagac was too small and too slow. D'Andrea was too raw. Next season, we have a more "seasoned" D'Andrea plus we have potential upgrades in both John Kerr and Anthony Schlegel. Don't forget about John Kerr!
We have exciting prospects on the rise, as well, with Curt Lukens and Marcus Freeman.
Linebacker? We're good!
Let's assume that Fox and Gamble stay at cornerback. That means we have the estimable Nate Salley returning and he will get better and better. On the other side – and replacing yet another All-American in Will Allen – is a pick-em amongst Tyler Everett, Donte Whitner and Brandon Mitchell. Everett has the experience but Whitner has the raw talent edge. We have some outstanding prospects coming in (and the prospect of the outstanding Ira Guilford switching back to safety…), but there is little likelihood that Tresselball sees young faces in these positions.
I worry here. I would rather take a chance at cornerback with the talent we have, and move the wily Fox to safety. But you've heard that before…
Re the previous discussion, we expect both Fox and Gamble to return to these positions. But there are plenty of options. EJ Underwood is a very under-rated one. And I like Donte Whitner as your natural cornerback.
As good as Gamble and Fox have played at times during the past two years – as each tried to adapt to this new position – it is reasonable to expect that they will be even better next season. If they return at the corners, we are set…
The kicking game
Don't argue with me here – we have the best place-kicker in the country. And that should be good enough!
Punting? Well…we had the best punters in the country the last two years. That was good enough. With Sander supplanting Groom, we became accustomed to heroic (and frequent) punting. With a moribund offense, we better have a good punter. Often, it has been our most effective offensive weapon.
And if that assignment falls to eighth-year-red-shirt senior Josh Huston…then, Huston, we have a problem. Josh is a backup kicker and won't deliver what we are used to receiving at punter. We tried – and failed – to land a great transfer from Vanderbilt and a great JC leg (David Lonie) from Australia. We are still in on some good high school kids, but right now I miss the opportunity we missed with Adam Graessle the prior recruiting season.
Punting will be a question mark and it could loom large and foreboding.
The offense can only get better.
The defense can only have question marks.
I think we will score more and in more different ways in 2004. If our DB's rise to the challenge, the defense could be sensational (again) as the linebackers will be terrific and the line won't be far behind last year's.
The special teams will be better because they weren't as well drilled, as they should have been. And that won't happen two years in a row! Punting, though, could be a season-changer…
Speaking of which, I am also assuming that the coaches don't change. I know, I know. That could be seen as good news or bad news. Let's put it this way: We don't want any of the defensive coaches to change!
Lastly, let's take a quick look at our schedule:
Cincinnati: At Ohio Stadium and the Bearcats have a new coach. We should be fine.
Marshall: At home, it could be a tester like Bowling Green last year. But we should be 10-14 point favorites.
North Carolina State: This looked fierce a year ago, less intimidating now with the under-achieving Wolf Pack. If we are to make any noise next season, this will be a date to circle and we should be favored.
Northwestern: Even though it's there, it's still Northwestern…
Wisconsin: Finally, after two straight years at Camp Randall, we get ‘em at our place. That should be enough.
Iowa: A toughie because it's there. But they aren't what they were. But beware.
Indiana: They might be even worse next year. A controlled scrimmage…
Penn State: Not quite in the "class" of Indiana, but they're getting there. And we get them in Columbus, to boot.
Michigan State: It's there. And it's John Smith's time to show if he has a program or just one surprising year. We still should be favored.
Purdue: It's there. And it's Joe Tiller's time for revenge. But he is missing a lot of the pieces from the past season(s).
Michigan: The best news is that a bunch of the tormentors are gone. And it's good news that it's at home. But…
Overall, I think we will be favored in all but – perhaps – two games. And that's how the pundits will see our season.
MR. BUCKNUTS GREAT EXPECTATIONS? We'll shock the world. No, we won't necessarily run the table. We will just show some offense. And that will be a shock to most of the world.
Plus, I think having low expectations is simply by-products of uncreative minds.
E-mail Mr. Bucknuts at email@example.com