It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. That describes both my holiday vacation and the Buckeyes in 2004. There was relief to some that the season was over and there was rampant optimism in the way we ended it. In a year that scared the dickens out of Ohio State football fans, we could also say that it was "A Tale of Two Seasons".
Season I started, lurched and ended all in six weeks. After scraping out three wins during our out-of-conference schedule, we stumbled badly, falling to Northwestern in Chicago then Wisconsin at home, and getting embarrassed at Iowa. Yes, we hit bottom. Clarett spun his tall tales, too, which provided some irritating comic relief as true Buckeye fans worldwide called for the resignation of everyone from Brutus to Gordon Gee (many years too late, there…).
Season II brought back the team and memories of yore. A new quarterback, a revitalized offense and the emergence of already-legendary freshman Teddy Ginn, who seems to play in a football universe inhabited only by him. We won five of our last six, including beating Michigan (by a bunch) and the bowl game (by a bigger bunch). Even the game we precariously lost (Purdue) was winnable and turned out to be the only bad game by a surprising Troy Smith. Yes, we had some other blemishes as Troy got "boosted" and other players tried to further blacken the Buckeye reputation, but Ohio State righted the ship and seems ready to sail-for-the-grail next year.
And, you know what? When analyzing "best" and "worst", it seems as if the worst is behind us and the best is yet to come…
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Meanwhile, back at the Alamo…Did we kick some Cowboy butt, or what? Talk about your total-body whippin', your beat-down, your domination of a team like we haven't seen since, well…Michigan! As a Buckeye fan, that was thoroughly enjoyable and completely fulfilling.
In the beginning of the game, I thought our offense would be…hamstrung. But I also realized that their offensive scheme was…pointless. And in retrospect, here were two teams going in different directions. The Buckeyes were on a roll and OK State was simply ready to roll over. It was a perfect match-up for OSU: our defense could completely shut down their attack and their defense hasn't shut down anybody all year. Didn't it seem like we could pretty much do whatever we wanted? Plus, we got to beat another Michigan guy senseless (Coach Les Miles) and another quarterback. That makes three straight QB's that we have bowled over: Dorsey, Roberson and now Donovan Woods. And they said that the Cowboys were the most physical team in the Big Twelve. Coach Miles said: "Ohio State was a big physical team and that didn't bode well for us". Go figure…
Zwick was playing for Boeckman just like Smith had played for Zwick. Bad hamstring? Hey - he throws off his back foot anyway! And the kid is tough. Texas tough. He didn't complain. He didn't explain. Imagine - if you will - that Zwick would have had that offensive line, and Branden Joe and Teddy Ginn during his first six games; and we could be talking about a 10-2 team.
Finally, not enough credit is given to Coach Mark Snyder, who schemed two brilliant games against Michigan and Oklahoma State. He has taken as big a beating as Zwick, but Snyder came up aces in the out-coaching department.
It's a great way to close out a "difficult" season and an even better way to position the program for the polls of 2005. And, as Auburn found out, that can be crucial…
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Herby, Herby, you can go home again…But maybe not to the place you once lived. It was hard to ignore the persistent and egregious comments of the ESPN editorial, I mean announcing staff during the telecast Wednesday night. Yes, it was cute to re-live Herbstreit's glory days at Centerville, amidst the adulation of fellow alums AJ Hawk and Mike Nugent. And, yes, Kirk seemed to be backtracking a bit - seeming to understand that the Buckeye listeners really did like the Buckeye team. But his "We need a public hanging" theme got a little old and a little self-righteous over time. As Tressel has said, that's the easy way out. Take a kid that has committed a misdemeanor, make it a capital crime and punish him for all the world to see? Who does that help? The university? The kid? I think not…We have seen generations of kids watch their friends go to jail for drugs, yet they keep using them. You have to save one kid at a time - and each problem has it's own story.
Do we over-react to Troy Smith just because Maurice Clarett has character problems? Do we come down harder on academic shortcomings others may have now or in the future because Reggie Smith and Dareus Hiley flunked out? Corso and Herbstriet, perched in their ivory tower, talked glibly about "OSU has to get tough on the arrests". Well, were we tough enough on Ira Guilford or on Louis Irizarry or on Marco Cooper? Where are they now? The players that were wrong got righted. Hey - remember El Roberson and his Fiesta Bowl shenanigans last year? Tressel takes a bad rap, yet stands firm in his convictions.
Then there was the puffed up story that Kirk told to make a good tale more dramatic. He haltingly recited a revisionist twist to the AJ Hawk recruiting, saying that Hawk was the last player taken in his class and only after linebacker Buster Davis declined. Well, not that the truth is important to ESPN but…Hawk was offered and committed in the summertime, after a fine showing at Ohio State Senior Advanced Camp. Buster didn't decide until two weeks after Commitment Day. And the last player taken that year? Troy Smith. Now, that's a good story - but it just didn't fit the ESPin Heads' script…
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Recruiting from the odds-and-ends zone…As we have been doing for the past six weeks, I am taking a look at specific positions now that we are winding down the recruiting season and heading to Commitment Day in the first week of February. We have covered the offense (and we do seem pretty well covered, at that…) so now it's time to turn the spotlight onto defense, starting with…
Defensive Ends: We saw what a dramatic difference it made when Will Smith emigrated to the NFL this year. All of a sudden, Simon Fraser got more attention. All of a sudden, Mike Kudla looked vulnerable. But then Mike got it going and Simon added pressure and…well, this is a position that still needs bulking up down the road. We still have the talented potential of Jay Richardson and the coaches are excited about young Michigander Vernon Gholston who will be but a sophomore. But Fraser is gone and Kudla has one more year and Marcel Frost switched to offense and Redgie Arden - well, don't get me started. Alex Barrow could play into a position here and Curtis Terry is an exciting prospect but maybe 30 pounds light. Quality motor guys like Joel Penton can also swing from the inside to the outside.
And more help is on the way. Duane Long loves the first step of California recruit Ryan Williams. And "soft verbal" Doug Worthington is one of the top 2-3 DE's in the country (also from Will Smith's New York state…). . Duane thinks that Worthington is so big he might end up inside. So that leaves room for more.
Could it be a bulked up Alex Daniels? Maybe. But the coaches would prefer the sleek and fleet Lawrence Wilson for the last spot.
In Ohio next year? It's a crapshoot right now with Jeff Cumberland (Brookhaven) and Robert Rose (Glenville) at the front of a pack that could include John Ryan (St. Ignatius) and Kallen Wade (Withrow).
My call? I think we get both Daniels and Wilson. Daniels becomes a great OLB and Wilson gets you excited at DE. With the other Dubyas coming in, we are then locked and loaded.
Defensive tackles: We are already locked and loaded here with first-rate talent vying to get on the field. All-World Quinn Pitcock is back with senior-to-be Marcus Green and the aforementioned Joel Penton. Behind them, youngsters Sian Cotton and the huge Brandon Maupin (plus or minus his off-the-field situation…) are chomping at the bit. And everyone loves the possibilities of R-FR Nader Abdallah. Yet, maybe the best of class is the prodigiously talented David Patterson who Duane once called "a bigger Warren Sapp".
But we are not done. Todd Denlinger is on his way and the staff is high on this kid. And we are looking at Walker Ashley as well as a South Carolina surprise, Hivera Green.
In Ohio next year? Antonio Reed from Warren Harding is one stud to consider and another might be Xenia's Martin Channels.
My call? We would love to get one more in this class to keep the pipeline brimming. The obvious choice is the peripatetic Ashley. Green could be the back up. If Ashley "survives" his trip to Penn State (and his Nit Lion father's pressure to commit there), I think he comes on down
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Come on down, boys…If you saw the same offensive line that I was watching, gelling like Nebraska's line of old. And if you saw the Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside attack of Branden Joe plus the tailback du jour. And if you knew that Ohio State would be ranked in the Top Five pre-season next year and you knew they started freshman running backs and that your competition to start would be Pittman and Haw and - whew…
Maurice Wells and Jason Gwaltney - come on down! Yes, there is that tremulous rumor that they talked about being a package deal. And what a package that would be - the Clarett-like pounder in Gwaltney and the Wiley-coyote type sweet back in Wells. I say, let's get excited about this possibility and hope that they do, too…
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Closing the deal…One of the knocks on John Cooper was that he didn't graduate enough players (14% in his last year…). Interestingly, if he beat Michigan or won bowl games, would we have looked with quite the same scrutiny at that graduation figure?
Despite the ostensible current program problems, it was announced last week that the football team had a 2.8 GPA and that we lead the Big Ten in "scholar athletes". So much for that academic deal - now how about the real deal of closing out the season with gridiron wins?
We have already remarked - in this space - that Ohio State had only won their last two games of the season twice in twenty years prior to the Tressel era. How has Tressel done in his four years at the helm of the Buckeyes? Twice now, in four years, we have won the last two games. He has won six out of eight of those games (losing only to Lou Holtz in that freakish first year bowl game and then losing to that freakish Michigan team last year). You know how unexpected those 6 of 8 wins were? Ohio State was the underdog in all but one of the eight games! That's right, only against Michigan in 2002 were we favored. Odds-makers had grown accustomed to us under-performing. I think that image has now changed.
And Tressel is well on his way to changing the OSU academic image at the same time.
Yes, fans, it is - once again - a great time to be a Buckeye!
To revel in your great times, or comment on any of the above, feel free to contact Mr. Bucknuts at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com