Ten Pressing Questions: Let's Get It Started

As the season opener with Cincinnati approaches (12:10 p.m., ESPN-Plus), we examine some key questions that need to be answered for the 2004 Ohio State football team. Click here for your game day primer for some things to watch for -- including the play of starting quarterback Justin Zwick -- in this game.

After nine months, the wait is finally over. Just past noon today, Ohio State will kick off its 2004 football season by hosting Cincinnati at Ohio Stadium.

As we all count down the minutes until kickoff, I came up with my usual game day theme, Ten Pressing Questions, to think about what we may look for during today's season opener. As always, I'll come back on Sunday with my thoughts on how each of these questions were answered during my award-winning (in my dreams) Sunday Morning Quarterback column.

Without any further adieu, here we go:

1. How will Justin Zwick fare in his debut as the starting quarterback? We first caught wind of how good Zwick could be clear back in 1998, when he stepped in as the starter at Orrville High School and led the Red Raiders to a state championship as a freshman. He has been training for this day ever since. And here it is. Will Jim Tressel trust Zwick to make plays in the passing game to help OSU win this game? Or will he simply be the caretaker of the offense until he and the rest of his young mates evolve? Hmmm. Either way, the wraps come off this talented young man today.

2. How much will Troy Smith play and how effective will he be? Tressel would not commit to a plan to integrate Smith into the game, simply saying instead that Smith will play. In a perfect world, OSU will jump on Cincinnati early and the plan to put Smith in the game will not be influenced by time and score. Many of you have never had the privilege to see this talented quarterback in action. Once again we say, the wraps come off this talented young man today.

3. Will the real Lydell Ross please stand up? Ross tells anybody who will listen that he aspires to have a 1,000-yard season. To do that, with just 11 regular season games, he will need to pile up quite a few 100-yard days. There will be no better time to start just such a string than today. Of course, much of Ross' success will be dependent on the play of his offensive line. But you and I both know he needs to come through big, making good reads and running strong, if he expects to be successful. We shall see if the talk of an all-new Ross is the truth or just talk.

4. You know Santonio Holmes has star written all over him. My question is this: Will this be like 1994, when opponents realized Joey Galloway was OSU's only game breaker and they'll scheme to stop Holmes and, in turn, the Buckeyes? The fact is OSU needs people like Roy Hall, John Hollins, Bam Childress, Devon Lyons, Albert Dukes and Tony Gonzalez to stand up and be counted. Hall, in particular, must deliver the goods starting today.

5. Is Rory Nicol ready for prime time? OSU loves to use two-tight end sets. Today, the second tight end will be a true freshman, Rory Nicol. Because Marcel Frost has been dinged up – pretty much from the time the pads went on – Nicol has been pushed to the top of the line, or at least right behind Ryan Hamby. It should be neat to see this newbie in action.

6. Will this lean, mean offensive line come through? We've heard how smaller and faster is supposed to be better on the OL. We've heard how Doug Datish and Tim Schafer (and also Kirk Barton) have earned their spots in the rotation. Today, we will see how this important reclamation project is coming.

7. What kind of impact, if any, will Ted Ginn Jr. have? You've seen the highlight films, you've read the miles of copy about how good this kid could really be. Of course, he is just a freshman. Keep that in mind as you watch him today. Maybe he'll score a touchdown, maybe he'll make a rookie mistake. Can you imagine the roar, though, if the new No. 7 can somehow get out into the clear and break free? Oh my.

8. How will Mark Snyder's defense differ from what we've seen under Mark Dantonio? This will be an interesting thing to watch. OSU enjoyed unbridled success under Dantonio the last two years. It is hard to find fault with anything Dino, as they call him, did these past two seasons. However, if there is one thing we will be watching it will be to see how much pressure Snyder's defense exerts. It seemed Dantonio was content to play it safe and allow teams (see San Diego State and others) move the ball between the 20s with virtual impunity. When teams dared to enter the red zone, Dantonio would bring the heat and, typically, turn out the lights. That was a formula that worked, especially since OSU had veterans galore on offense. That is not the case any more, however. The Buckeyes, to be truly successful, may need to come after their opponents and get them off the field quickly. With uncertainty on offense and at punter, this strategy shift makes sense. It will be interesting to see how much the defense reverts to the 3-4, allowing Mike D'Andrea and Anthony Schlegel to play side by side.

9. Speaking of those linebackers, OSU desperately needs meaningful play at the middle linebacker spot. Will it be there today? It's hard to imagine any team having two better MLBs than D'Andrea and Schlegel. D'Andrea will get the starting nod today, but look for Schlegel quite a bit as well. Let's see how these two are able to contribute today.

10. Finally, Kyle Turano has never played a snap for Ohio State, yet today he will be asked to punt the ball (probably six or seven times). How will he fare? By all accounts, Turano won the job over Josh Huston hands down. He needs to take everything he's done in practice the last three weeks and translate it on to the playing field today at the Horseshoe. With 106,000 looking on, sometimes that is easier said than done. Remember, Tom Tupa dropped his first snap as the OSU punter some 20 years ago. You have to hope nothing like that will happen today.

Hey, enjoy the game and we'll see you on the other side.

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