There is a special scent in the air – the scent of roses. Everybody knows you can't count your chickens before they're hatched, or your roses before they blossom. But there is justification for the positive expectations even though a game has yet to be played.
Eighteen starters return from the 2004 team that started the Alamo Bowl. The Buckeyes also have seven home games – not to mention a guy named Ted Ginn Jr. These are only three of the many reasons the 2005 Buckeyes have a chance to be very special. It wouldn't be shocking at all if the Nov. 19 contest against "those people up north" is for the chance to play in the Bowl Championship Series national championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena.
The offensive unit that tallied up over 3,800 yards for the season and averaged 320 yards per game is loaded with experience. An offensive line that is anchored by senior center Nick Mangold and offensive tackle/ guard Rob Sims should be the best offensive line since the unit that won the national championship game over the Miami Hurricanes. The playing time Kirk Barton, T.J. Downing, Doug Datish and Steve Rehring received in 2004 should give them the confidence to start the season where they left off, by dominating the opposition.
The tight end position is intriguing to say the least. Three-year letterman Ryan Hamby is the solid starter and sophomore Rory Nicol the immediate backup. Marcel Frost, who is the most athletic of all tight ends, has yet to be a factor. He is very fast and physical but needs to mature and gain the trust of the coaching staff. What makes the position intriguing is that in the spread offense, the tight end is rarely used as a receiver and in some formations there is no tight end at all. He is primarily a blocker when in the game. Don't be surprised to see two-tight end sets only in short yardage and goal line situations, but that's not even guaranteed.
One of the big reasons fans can expect to see less of the tight end is due to the strength of the wide receiver position. No team in the Big Ten and few in the country have such depth and talent at the position. Ginn comes off a phenomenal freshman season and he, along with leading receiver Santonio Holmes (55 receptions for 769 yards), have to strike fear into the hearts of the opposition. Now add Roy Hall and much improved Anthony Gonzalez and you have a foursome of exceptional talent.
The quarterback controversy of 2005 does not necessarily revolve around who has earned the number one spot but who will stay healthy or stay out of the "dog house". These situations with Justin Zwick and Troy Smith open the door for talented redshirt Todd Boeckman. If Justin takes a while to heal up or Troy can not keep everything together, Todd will get his opportunity. And do not be surprised if by mid – season the quarterback battle is for the number two spot, not the number one.
As with the tight end position, the I-formation set (fullback and tailback) may be close to extinction this season. A spread offense normally uses a single back. The spread allows a scat back to use his talents in the open field if the offensive line can punch a hole in the defensive front. Since the extra safety is bumped out to help cover down receivers, an Antonio Pittman or Eric Haw have a chance to be big play makers. Brandon Schnittker is even getting some looks at tailback. Stan White Jr. and Dionte Johnson will be called upon when that rarely desired I-formation or a pass protecting single back is needed.
On the offensive side, keep an eye on some of the new bloods. Even though they may not be starters early, they have a chance to provide immediate help. Alex Boone is an athletic lineman with quick feet. He has the potential to be an All-American before he graduates. The other lineman that could see some action is center Jim Cordle of Lancaster, although he has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Tailback Maurice Wells, though small in stature, has super hips and breakaway speed. Look for him to challenge Pittman and Haw for the number one spot by midseason.
The only thing that could keep the Ohio State defense from being nationally ranked in 2005 would be injuries. Veteran assistant coach Jim Heacock should be superb as defensive coordinator. He is an outstanding coach who is well liked and respected by the players.
A.J. Hawk leads the best linebacking corps in college football. A.J. should have won the Butkus Award last season. Bobby Carpenter brings quickness and speed and Anthony Schlegel the toughness to round out Ohio State's "terrific trio". Hopefully, Mike D'Andrea can get healthy and Marcus Freeman's year of experience will give added depth to the line backing spot. Curtis Terry and Chad Hoobler also can spell the starters and provide special teams help.
Two young men I personally recruited have a chance to become All-Americans this season. Ashton Youboty, from Klein, Texas, and Nate Salley from Fort Lauderdale, Florida are an experienced and a proven corner-safety combination second to none. They have the agility and toughness to set the standard for the 2005 secondary. Donte Whitner, Brandon Mitchell and redshirt Nick Patterson will fight for the safety spot opposite Salley. Tyler Everett and Sirjo Welch compete for the much needed second corner position. Young players have a chance to make an early mark in the secondary due to the necessity to play as many as six defensive back at times.
The first unit defensive front is solid. Quinn Pitcock, Marcus Green, Mike Kudla along with Jay Richardson are good, tough football players. But more than any other position, the defensive line positions are the toughest to play. Not only do you have a 300-pound offensive lineman across from you to defeat, you may be double teamed. Once you win, the physical battle, you then have to pursue full-speed downfield. That's why depth is crucial. A defense must be at least two deep up front. The challenge is for backups David Patterson, Sian Cotton, Joel Penton and Vernon Gholston to play as good as the first unit.
More true freshman have a chance to give immediate help to the defense as compared to the offense. First of all, defensive players play special teams. Secondly, depth in the secondary and defensive front is vital. Jamario O'Neal is simply too good to sit the bench. He may be the first true freshman to start. Jamario along with Malcolm Jenkins and Andre Amos may also see early action as defensive backs. Look for Lawrence Wilson and redshirt Nader Abdallah to add much needed depth to the defensive front. There is no need to use up eligibility at the linebacking position. There's plenty of experience and depth for the season.
The only way for 2005 to be special for the Buckeyes is for special teams to fill in key vacancies. Within the last few seasons, Ohio State specialists have ranked among the best in America. Andy Groom, B.J. Sander, Mike Nugent, Kyle Turano and Kyle Andrews were "automatic" at their particular skills. Josh Huston is talented but has lacked consistency, A.J. Trapasso has a strong leg but is still learning the techniques of punting, and long snapper Drew Norman is unproven. To make it to the Rose Bowl, you've got to have superior special teams. Hopefully this will not be the Achilles heel for the 2005 Buckeyes.
The part of special teams which has a chance to be outstanding is the return game. Watch for Ginn and Holmes to be a double threat as returners. No college or university spends more time on special teams than the Buckeyes. Hopefully it will pay off.
Two of Ohio State's three toughest opponents are at home (Iowa and Texas). Only the dastardly Wolverines are away.
Every coach in college football says you have to take it "one game at a time", and they're right. But realistically, a victory in Ann Arbor should make that scent of roses even stronger.
Enjoy the 2005 Ohio State football season – I think it could be a great one.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley, an OSU assistant coach for 17 years, is back for his second season as an analyst for Bucknuts.com. Conley will conduct his next Chat session for Bucknuts.com subscribers at 3 p.m. Monday. His weekly Sunday morning radio talk show on WTVN-AM (610) in Columbus will debut this Sunday. It runs from 9 a.m. to noon.