The past, the present, and the future. All are worthy of conversation right now when you are talking about Ohio State football. Even in the off-season, never a dull moment.
First off, what a great finish to 2004. If people don't think off-season momentum is important, they are out of there mind. Confidence brings great coaching and great playmaking. Smith, Ginn, and the defense beat up on Michigan. Zwick, Ginn, and the defense beat up on Oklahoma State. Players realize they can win big games. Players realize the 14 2004 draftees were a great part of Ohio State football, but there is life after that group. Players remember winning out on the island in a one-on-one situation. Players remember their low pad levels and footwork as they moved out the opposing linemen. Players remember feeling and playing fast.
After posting great numbers and returns, big-time businessmen walk into board meetings with swagger. After hanging lopsided victories on U of M and Oklahoma State, Buckeye football players enter the weight room and 7-on-7 with swagger. Confidence brings energy and emotion instead of a "going through the motions" attitude during winter conditioning.
How about Nugent, Fox, and Fraser! Those were some key starters that won a lot of games (and kept things together after a three-game skid). I've always felt anyone can lead during the good times, but keeping things together with all the turmoil is special. They showed great leadership and great character.
The Andy Geiger chapter of Ohio State athletics will be closed soon. He was always good to me. When I needed guidance or advice on future jobs or college degrees, he always took some time for me. On top of that, we walk into some pretty impressive facilities when we attend an OSU athletic event. The coaches he has worked with are unbelievable. I'm a huge Tressel fan, O'Brien fan, and Matta fan (I'd also say we are taken care of with hockey, baseball, women's basketball, and many more).
Geiger never took a backseat to anyone in the country in terms of athletic horsepower. He knew we were better, smarter, and quite honestly, more impressive than competing schools. While he wouldn't define things with the same arrogant words that I just used, he raised our standards. He wouldn't let us fall. He wouldn't even let us plateau. He made us constantly improve. He had a great era.
Andy Geiger is man of many interests that is extremely well-rounded. When I saw him outside of work, he would rather talk about music, or the stock market, or traveling, or other interests he had. We are losing a legend in athletic administration.
As for the Clarett soap opera, it is too bad he had it happen under his watch. All he did was force communication early and often with the players, coaches, compliance officers, athletic advisers, and others charged with governing NCAA rules and regulations. He did his best to bring in talented people with high ethical standards. From there, he educated everyone and established expectations. He gave people the tools to succeed. What else can you ask from an athletic director? Let's hope his successor continues to raise the bar on our programs.
I am hearing some big predictions for next year's team, and rightfully so. Smith, Zwick, Zwick, Boeckman, Smith…all of them need to get ready. I always felt players shouldn't transfer because strange things happen during a four- or five-year career. Keep you mouth shut and work hard and chances are you will see the field.
Zwick and Smith have both started and been "The Man." Zwick and Smith have also both sat the bench and been peppered with questions about transferring. They have seen it all, and I don't see why they can't see a dual quarterback system early in the year if necessary. Smith was on a roll, but suspensions don't help things on the depth chart. Yes, Smith's mobility is a weapon, but he opened up a crack for Zwick. Spring ball and August will be telling. The Northwestern, Wisconsin, and Iowa losses had much deeper issues than just quarterback play.
Antonio Pittman is a nice player. You would have expected someone so silky smooth to get more time, but there is a big learning curve in your freshman year. You have to learn the playbook as well as conquering added levels of responsibility off the field. While many are begging for tailbacks (and yes we need depth), I see a player in Pittman that could take over a game if necessary in the next few years. Is he Archie or Eddie? No. But he is very capable of getting us where we want to go.
The defensive backfield is very encouraging, especially coming off a terrific Alamo Bowl. While Oklahoma State is no threat when it comes to a passing game, you have to applaud the attitude and speed with those DB's. Salley, Youboty, Whitner, and Everett were just awesome in that last game. Those four in particular were very physical. Nasty, physical players playing centerfield and filling on run support will only help a robust linebacking corp in the 2005 opener.
What about Ted Ginn, Jr.? Keep feeding him the ball. Yeah, he could play defensive back, but he is such a threat on offense that I would formulate a gameplan where he gets his touches ON OFFENSE. Gamble two-platooned, and I think if we had to do it all over again, he would still go both ways, but your receiving isn't as good when you are getting all those snaps on defense. Gamble would have been off the charts as a receiver if given the right focus. He is off the charts as a first rounder in the NFL on defense, so whatever we did was the right thing, but this team needs Ginn catching passes, returning punts and sweeping outside.
All in all, the team has found the maturity and confidence that lacked in our three-game skid. It should be fun. See you soon Longhorns.