That would be a record that is normally considered average by Ohio State standards. This year, however, an 8-4 record along with key victories over Michigan and the Alamo Bowl domination of Oklahoma State, gives the Buckeyes confidence leading into the 2005 campaign.
Nineteen first downs, 404 total yards and 35 minutes in time of possession made the Alamo Bowl one of the best offensive outputs of the season for the Buckeyes. Justin Zwick played through an early hamstring pull to complete 17 of 27 passes for 190 yards and a touchdown. Most importantly, he had no turnovers and showed consistency for four quarters; the mark of a maturing quarterback.
Lydell Ross played his finest game of the season by carrying 12 times for 99 yards. His 8.2 yards per carry average could have helped his team in the early goings of the 2004 season.
The highlight of the offense, however, "a-ginn" was Ted Ginn. The master athlete tallied up 124 all-purpose yards and again amazed friend and foe alike with his performance. Never has there been an athlete make so many big plays with rarely a hand laid on him. He dashes, darts and weaves through defenders as smooth as an Olympic skater but faster than the Lone Ranger's speeding bullet. His performance catapulted him into position as an immediate contender for the Heisman Trophy next season as only a sophomore.
Defensively, the Buckeyes were equally impressive. By holding the Cowboys to just 286 total yards and seven points, the Ohio State defense proved itself to be physically superior to a team that had been averaging over 30 points per game. A tailback that had been averaging 145 yards per game was held to a mere 20 and a team that had led the nation in turnover margin ended up committing two for the night and a minus-1 margin for the game. This was complete superiority by the "Silver Bullets."
It would be impossible to over emphasize the flawlessness of the Buckeye kicking game. Mike Nugent's record-breaking performances all season continued as he nailed all four field goals and three extra points to show the world why he is the Lou Grosa Award winner and the very best kicker in college football. Just as impressive were his deep kickoffs that gave Oklahoma State no chance of good field position to start their offensive series. Hats off to the consistency of the other specialists, punter Kyle Turano and long snapper Kyle Andrews.
All and all, the Alamo Bowl was one worth remembering. It was a great victory to end the 2004 season and a great jump start to 2005. Even though he was from Tennessee, Davey Crockett himself couldn't have been prouder of the Buckeyes.
Confidence On A High For 2005
The aggressive pass rush of Simon Fraser, the athleticism of Dustin Fox, and the soaring kicks of Mike Nugent will be missed next fall. A group of captains that led their team through the tough times to a remarkable finish will be equally missed. But just as always at Ohio State, there are young warriors ready to make their mark on the turf of Ohio Stadium. A talented group of starters, part-timers and new-bloods are anxiously looking forward to the fall of 2005.
A defensive front that along with the elder Fraser, got better each week needs to continue to improve in order to dominate the massive offensive lines of the Big Ten conference. Marcus Green, Quinton Pitcock and Mike Kudla matured by the seasons end. But still needed will be the depth essential at the defensive line position. Jay Richardson, David Patterson, Joel Penton and Vernon Gholston are able-bodied souls who have great potential. Jim Heacock, an outstanding defensive line coach, should have this group ready to go after a solid spring practice and two-a-days.
Ohio State, arguably, returns the best linebacking corps in college football. The likes of Bobby Carpenter, A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel and Mike D'Andrea are second to none. Watch for Chad Hoobler and Marcus Freeman to give solid support to an already sturdy unit.
The secondary will miss the talents of Fox, but the steady improvement of Nate Salley, Ashton Youboty, Tyler Everett and Donte Whitner is much to build on this spring. I look for Salley to not only be one of the finest safeties in the country, but could be voted one of the team captains next fall.
The bottom line is the Ohio State defense should be the strongest in the conference starting the 2005 season. The stellar linebacking group and continual improvement by the front four and secondary should force opponents into the dreaded third-and-long situations and also force many more turnovers than this past fall.
Offensively, the biggest improvement on the season continued to be the performance of the offensive line. As many as six different starters return in 2005 led by seniors-to-be Nick Mangold and Rob Sims. Long, clock-eating drives which the Buckeye offensive front provided itself during the Michigan game and Alamo Bowl, wear down the opponents and keep the Buckeye defense fresh. T.J. Downing, Kirk Barton, Steve Rehring, Tim Schafer and several redshirt linemen give the offensive line the much needed depth to deal with the wear and tear of a long season.
The tight end position is of concern. The loss of big-play potential Louis Irizarry and the toughness of now-Indianapolis Colt Ben Hartsock was dearly missed this fall. Ryan Hamby brings experience and Roy Nicol got his feet wet, but the Buckeyes need Marcel Frost in order to have that big play threat at the tight end position.
Santonio Holmes (provided he follows his words and stays put), Ted Ginn, Roy Hall and Anthony Gonzalez are the foundation of a receiving core that can be very special. All have the potential of turning a reception into a score. Speed, hands and athletic ability should make this unit the most dangerous to opposing teams next fall. If this group becomes as good at blocking as receiving (and I believe they can and will be), it could be the most solid group of wideouts in the country.
Three, yes, I said three, quarterbacks will be in the picture starting this spring. With a cloud hanging over Troy Smith, coach Jim Tressel will use spring practice to work both Justin and Troy, and at the same time allow Todd Boeckman enough repetitions to be an immediate backup in the fall. All coaches love competition, and at the quarterback position, competition will be the name of the game this spring.
The most disappointing position of the fall was at running back. Injuries, inconsistency, turnovers and off the field issues were devastating in terms of production in the backfield. Even though a strong finish by Mo Hall and Brandon Joe, and a good bowl game by Lydell Ross eased the pain, the Buckeyes need a dominant running attack. Hopefully, the maturity of Antonio Pittman and the energy of Eric Haw will lead to a resurgence in the Buckeye ground game.
No one and no unit will be missed more than Nugent and the specialists extraordinaire. Mike and the two Kyles were superb. Pressure situations never bothered the trio. Perfect snaps, booming punts and game winning field goals became common place. What became routine for the Buckeyes cannot be taken for granted. The toughest job of the Buckeye coaching staff will be to recruit and coach the talent necessary for the Ohio State kicking game to be the most respectful and most feared in college football which is not an easy task.
Going into the fall of 2005, I expect the Ohio State Buckeyes to be in the top five in the country. To stay there and possibly compete for a national title, I believe it will take three things by the Oho State coaching staff.
* First, they must solve the off the field problems. Distractions and missed playing time leads to inconsistency in team performance and attitude.
* Secondly, don't take the kicking game for granted. Keep improving on an already strong return game and train the specialists to perform under pressure; a tough job to say the least.
* Lastly, recruit speed. The speed and quickness of a Ted Ginn, Chris Gamble, Terry Glenn or Joey Galloway can turn an average play into a big one. It can also turn a good season into a great one, maybe even a national championship one.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley was an assistant coach at Ohio State for 17 years. He contributes columns and conducts Chat sessions at Bucknuts.com. His next Chat session will be at 3:30 p.m. Monday here on the site.