The old saw is that "Perception is reality". I think that's bunk. If your perception doesn't match reality often enough – or soon enough – you are going to suffer. Because, in the end, reality is reality and you just can't negotiate it away.
But right now, we are stuck in an awkward time in which ESPN's perception (which they are selling to the rest of the world, like $10 whores…) has somehow become our reality. And it makes old Mr. Bucknuts get a little philosophical. Doesn't take much, you know…This situation was best described by Win (At All Costs) Churchill as "A riddle inside an enigma wrapped in a conundrum". Or something like that. It's getting deeper without making any more sense. The same guy (Winnie) also said, "A lie can get out of bed and be halfway around the world before the truth can get up and put its pants on".
And so it goes with the "lies, damned lies and statistics" that ESPN keeps dream weaving.
Last week, the incessant pounding began to take its inevitable toll as a tough and righteous Andy Geiger retired at a tearful press conference saying, "My work is no longer fun". The following day, Bucknuts heard from one of our biggest recruits, Mission Viejo's Kevin Bemoll, saying he was decommitting, commenting wryly that "With all the stuff that's going on in Ohio, I'm going to see what else is out there". And he referenced "probation" and "Tressel leaving".
We are on defense trying to disprove a lie. There is no win there. There is no there there. There is only time – which should wound all heels…
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Taking stock, taking offense…When we analyzed the offense before last season, here's what we wanted to see: We were optimistic that it was Flydell time; we thought that Branden Joe was finally healthy and ready; we saw Zwick as a bigger Krenzel with a better arm; we thought we had young and promising receivers; and we hoped that the line would jell. And this is what we got:
1. Lydell's good runs could be counted on one hand; Hall and Pitman were serviceable but not exciting back-ups.
2. Joe was hurt (again), Schnittker didn't make your socks go up-and-down, and the "promise " was a true freshman, Dionte Johnson.
3. Zwick made us forget McMullen, but not Krenzel.
4. Two of the promising receivers (Roy Hall and Bam Childress) barely made an impact. Devin Jordan was hurt. Ginn and Gonzalez became the surprise leaders of this group by year-end. The tight ends didn't factor in…
5. The offensive line looked like they were swimming in gelatin the first half of the year. A walk-on became a starter. Zwick became target practice.
While I didn't foresee great things from the offense (yes, you can look it up…), my practiced line was: "Well, they can't be worse than the previous year and they went 11-2". Well, they were. Until it was Ginn Time. And then here came Gonzo. And Troy appeared. And our line mystically came around. And they pounded Michigan and Oklahoma State into submission.
20-20 hindsight is a specialty here at Bucknuts. So how about next year? What are we looking at in January 2005? One could argue that everyone is back. Ross really wasn't a starter, Joe was only in at the end, and Mike Kne was one-of-many on the O-line. If everyone is back form a mediocre offense, is there really room for realistic optimism?
You betcha! Hey – it's The Year of the Buckeye, remember? At quarterback, Troy Smith lit it up and both he and Zwick got invaluable playing time. Plus, there's Boeckman in the wings. The running attack will be greatly improved with a more mature Pitman, an emerging Haw, Ginn at the slot and (hopefully) a national new recruit (Wells? Gwaltney?). The receiver corps is stacked with Holmes, Ginn, Gonzalez, Jordan, Hall (and Dukes?). Hall could/should move to tight end but they also have a pretty good Hamby, and two emerging "real goods" in Rory Nicol and Marcel Frost. Dionte Johnson will be your blocking back (aided by Schnittker and Stan White), and the offensive line? What a difference a year makes! A line of Sims, Mangold, Downing, Datish, Barton, Schafer, and Coleman is a tough athletic group. And the guys behind them look even better: Person, Mitchum, Skinner, Rehring, and true freshmen Alex Boone and Jim Cordle.
Finally, the coaching and strategy "came around" to where there is room for rampant optimism. With hard-to-scout weapons like Ginn, Smith, Ginn, Holmes and Ginn, the offense really opened up. That, alone, will make the offensive line look better. And play better. In 2005, the offense will hold up their end, and look for them to score a lot earlier and a lot often-er than in 2004…
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There is no "D" in "Big Twelve"…We were all a little intimidated, I suppose, to hear that Oklahoma State was "the physical team" in the Big 12. OSU then beat them so badly that they chased their coach all the way to Louisiana. This is a conference that seemed to forget how to play defense in December, then again in early January. Texas-El Paso scored 28 on stout Colorado, Ohio State posted an easy 33-spot, Texas Tech gave up 31 to Cal (well, they did score 45, themselves…), A&M coughed up 38 to a mediocre Tennessee offense, Texas gave Michigan 37 and then Oklahoma got beaten like a tied-down goat: their invincible defense gave away 55 (!) to USC. It's not a conference, it's an epidemic! In seven bowl games (including Iowa State's tougher 17-13 win over Miami), the Big Twelve allowed an average of nearly 34 points a game…
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Recruiting from the odds-and-ends zone…We have looked at the offense, and looked at the defensive line in past weeks. Now, it really gets fun. We are talking
Linebackers: You don't know your players without a scorecard, here. In just the past three weeks, recruitables such as Elijah Hodge, Andre Mathis, Travis Beckum, and Anthony Felder have come and gone from the Buckeye radar. But, then, in a surprise to most of us, OSU signed on Austin Spitler and James Laurinaitis and look to be ready to sign Speedville's latest in Freddie Lenix.
Going back in time, three years ago OSU made the all-time haul of linebackers in a class that included Hawk, D'Andrea, Carpenter, Stan White and Kudla. They then added on Schlegel to form the best group in the country last year, as well as next year. Behind them? We have the talented Marcus Freeman, the as-yet-unveiled Curt Lukens, and Chad Hoobler, who burned a year of eligibility when D'Andrea went down, Schlegel got dinged and Kerr was unavailable. The still-to-be-seens include Brandon Smith (probably inside) and Curtis Terry (DE or OLB).
The Great Group will be seniors next year and the New Group looks like Hoobler in the middle (hopefully Kerr for one year…) and Freeman/Lukens on the outside. Thus, we are thin at a historically thick position. That's where the recruits come in. Spitler is a classic "Mike" that will need a year or two to be ready. Laurinaitis and Lenix could play outside. And they need at least one more to keep the pipeline filled (and to augment special teams).
Here's how I see it: The Buckeyes really really want Rico McCoy, a special OLB who is down to Ohio State and Tennessee and I think they get him. Alex Daniels would have been a good pick-up as he can play multiple positions but he is off to play for Glen Mason. Finally, we are looking at newly emerging Tavares Kearney and Taalib Tucker, two Georgia prospects that could be around at the end if McCoy and Daniels choose to go elsewhere.
Next year in Ohio? Two words: Ross Homan. There won't be another AJ Hawk for many moons but Homan might be the next best thing. We have followed him since the eighth grade, a year in which he played tailback and was tackled a total of six times – the whole year. Maybe the best player in the history of a storied Coldwater program and a guy who should make a lot of noise at Ohio State between 2006 and 2010. Thaddeus Gibson from Euclid is another name you should hear.
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From the "Even a broken clock is right twice a day" department…Lee Corso had a number of scripted ad-libs during the Buckeye broadcast (btw, did those guys ever talk about the game, or just editorialize?). One of the more propitious was his throwaway that, "I always liked to face teams that had few turnovers during the year because the odds even up". Oklahoma State led the nation in fewest turnovers going into the Ohio State game. They coughed the ball up twice, early, which helped lead to the general rout. Then, Texas A&M, which was fourth in the nation in turnover margin, threw together more turnovers than the corner bakery as they embarrassed their fans against Tennessee. Last week, Corso predicted the Buckeyes would be #2 in the nation at the start of next year. Let's hope that makes him 2 for 2 in the last two weeks…
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Where are they now? And why?… In my monthly recruiting column last Thursday (that literally dozens have read by now), I listed a group of last year's high school seniors that Ohio State could have taken. But didn't. That list looked like this:
2004's Guys OSU Coulda Had (but didn't take)
1. Delbert Ferguson
2. Miles Williams
3. DaJuan Morgan
4. Brock Bolen
5. Ray Williams
6. Gary Russell
7. Brian Hoyer
8. Louis Holmes
9. Gartrell Shavers
10. Andrew Johnson
Did OSU really miss anything with these guys (like they did with Big Ben or Dave Ragone or Ryan Brewer or, well…it's a long list of woulda/shoulda/coulda…)? Here's what our crack research staff came up with in examining the guys listed above:
1. Delbert: Didn't get the OSU offer and other offers dissolved so he went with former Buckeye defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio in Cincinnati. He red-shirted and the jury has not even been voir dired on Delbert.
2. Miles: The coaches must have been able to "see for Miles" as they "reneged" on their offer, due to grades. Miles went to Michigan State where he was booted off the team for criminal misconduct. That wouldn't have helped our current perception malaise.
3. DaJuan: He was not DaJuan for the Buckeyes and couldn't get past the academic screening committee. DM was off to NC State and OSU took Albert Dukes (could be in the "Uh Oh Dept., there…). Morgan made one catch for 6 yards in 2004, trailing such other OSU almost-ers like Richard Washington and Tramain Hall. By a lot.
4. Brock: He wanted to be a tailback at Ohio State. Or at least a fullback. They said maybe, as a linebacker. He went to Illinois, where he rushed for 51 yards on 11 carries in 2004; fifth best on a really bad team. He just recently announced a transfer to Louisville.
5. Ray: Where to begin? The former Mr. Ohio Football took some bad bounces last year. He committed to West Virginia, and then was a spectator (of sorts) at the Lorenzo Hunter robbery and murder. He is not in jail but also not in school. As with Miles, OSU might have dodged a problem here…
6. Gary: Russell apprenticed behind a terrific tandem at Minnesota, where both starting backs gained over 1000 yards. Russell did fine as a freshman, putting up 144 yards on 24 carries in a mop-up role. We should hear more good things from Gary.
7. Brian: Duane Long thinks OSU missed one here as Hoyer went off to Michigan State. He red-shirted last year behind three upper-classmen. Stay tuned.
8. Louis Holmes: On again, off again for over two years, Louis is alleged to be toiling at the junior college level this year after trying to gain academic admissions standards at the Division I level.
9. Gartrell: Changed from Ohio State to Colorado State then changed his names from Gartrell Shavers to Gartrell Johnson III. Shavers/Johnson rushed for 12 yards on two carries and had –2 yards on his one reception his first season.
10. Andrew: 16 carries for 41 yards in a limited role his freshman season – but behind some pretty big names at Miami.
Each year, I will update this Top Ten of "Coulda Hads". Next week, I will go through the Top Ten list of "Guys OSU Really Wanted (but didn't get"). That includes such luminaries as Dwayne Jarrett, Fred Davis, Brandon Barrett, Darius Walker and more blasts from the past. Hey – if you're gonna follow recruiting, why stop just because they go somewhere else? Exactly – too much is never enough…
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Finally, let's end on a positive note…And what better notes to sing this year than to look at the way that Michigan loses. I'm not just talking about wobbly field goals limping over as the time clock expires in the Rose Bowl. No, I am talking about to whom they lose, as well. Michigan really has four big games a year, three rivalry games and their bowl game. The rivalry games (yes, there is more to Wolverweenie fan than just the Buckeyes) are Ohio State, Michigan State, and Notre Dame. And this year? The Frightening Irish started off the UM parade of horribles by beating UM 28-20, a week after Brigham Young beat the Irish (and Michigan was an 11-point favorite in the Notre Dame game). Their next rivalry game? They beat Michigan State in overtime after coming back from 1000 points down with minutes to go. And, yes, they were 11-point favorites in that game, as well. Then the Buckeye massacre occurred on November 20, of course, with our Bucks winning by 16 despite being five-point dogs at home. Finally, with one game to correct all the other games, Michigan left Pasadena a loser, falling in the final seconds by 1 to Texas. Nobody was willing to bet on that game, or so the bookies told me.
We ended up a winner. Michigan ended up a loser. Next!
To talk about winning or whining, talk to Mr. Bucknuts by contacting him at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com