Mr. Bucknuts Bucket Of Bullets

As the Buckeyes rested up this past weekend, we got a chance to check out the rest of the teams across the Big Ten and the nation as the conference and national race starts to heat up. In the latest Bucket of Bullets, Mr. Bucknuts talks about the national scene and also comes back to some thoughts on this year's (and next year's) Buckeye team.

Well, the weekend smoke has cleared and the Big Ten and national pictures are a little bit clearer. A little bit…

On the Big Ten scene, we start to wonder: just how good is/was Purdue? They lost a frog-strangler to Minnesota and then let the Domers blow them out. So we wonder also– is October the traditional swan song month for the Gophers as they were riddled by Penn State and still face a month of Michigan and Michigan State? Michigan stepped away from the abyss (barely) by biting the twice-bitten Spartans in overtime. And a mistake-prone Wisconsin eked by Indiana, but we have to hope that someone (from a group of Northwestern, Minnesota, Purdue, Penn State and Iowa) can beat Barry's boys.

On the national scene, SoCal spotted ASU a bunch of touchdowns and came back to win again. Certainly takes the spin off of them being "unbeatable", eh? The Urban Legend went down hard in Tuscaloosa and Texas warmed up for its annual beat down at the hands of Oklahoma. This year – it might be different. OSU moved up as LSU dropped one of the two games they played last week. And…well, here's what one of the threads on the Bucknuts premium message board (with a little editing for profanity and entertainment) said about both the national Big Ten scenes:

POSTER ONE: "Honestly, did not see any team the Bucks can't beat. I did not know that "overrated" was spelled F-L-O-R-I-D-A"

POSTER TWO: Virginia Tech is vastly over-rated. Who have they played? All that is standing in our way is Texas and USC."

POSTER THREE: "And the rest of our Big Ten schedule!"

POSTER FOUR: "If we get by PSU, and we should, I really like our chances. The B-10 looks weak and we don't play Wisky. Scum is the only other game I worry about."

POSTER FIVE: "Purdue's back 7 looks very beatable. The defensive coordinator is a close runner-up to Dave Wannstedt for most befuddled D-I coach."

POSTER SIX: "Maybe it was just me, but after watching PSU play, I am scared as hell about next week. They looked very very good (or else Minny was very very bad)."

Now, even I can't explain it better – or over-simplify it further – than that. Why even try?

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Lies, damned lies and statistics…In college football, statistics are best used in retrospect to buttress your abstract position about a team or a player ("Best defense in the history of the SEC" or "No better wide receiver ever at Moose Junction Tech"). But often the stats are obscured by the way the game is played in real life. As an example, if OSU's offense hadn't had a good day against Miami, the defense would have stayed in and shut out the RedHawks. Instead, the Hawkies scored two meaningless late-fourth-quarter touchdowns and now the Buckeyes are "giving up" four more points a game because of it. You can't ever win a national "Best Defense" contest with games like that! Yet, they do lead the nation (at 41 yards per) in defense against the run. That is well deserved. How did they get there? Great D, of course. But also because, in slop time, the losing team is passing more and running less. That helps, too.

But here's a meaningful category made pretty meaningless, that has to chafe your chicken. AJ Hawk is the best linebacker in the country. Period. Don't even go there. Yet he is only about #50 in tackles, although he makes (or so it seems…) virtually every stop on every down. Two reasons there: the Buckeye defense forces so many 3-and-outs that they aren't on the field that long and you can't rack up tackling stats from the bench (it's a rule…). Plus, the defensive front cleans up so many plays that Hawk can't get there in time to even get an assist. The inverse of that last item is that other team defenses can be so leaky up front that their linebackers get all the stops. But if you are always tackling 10 yards down the field…well, you get the point. Stats certainly don't tell the whole story of this great OSU defense. So far…

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Ohio high school exports…I made a stab at expressing my dismay – two weeks ago – at seeing so many quality Buckeye kids wearing Michigan and Notre Dame uniforms. That thought was driven home even further a week ago while taking in the Minnesota-Purdue tilt on TV. Both of these schools recruit Ohio well, what with Glen Mason working his old home state with a passion. Check this out: Purdue has eight Ohio high schoolers on their squad while Minnesota has seventeen!

Now, some of these kids are role players, of course. But many are primary players and some are outright stars. On Purdue, we see Ray Edwards – a potential All-American defensive end. Then there's Andre Chattams (the right brother…) with lots of stats at WR. And Greg Orton will be another Dayton WR from whom you will be hearing. Then for those Golden Rodents, Bryan Cupito is their starting QB out of Cincinnati. The heir apparent at running back is Gary Russell from Columbus, as well as Justin Valentine. Potential stars of the future are LB Alex Daniels, Dominic Jones and Keith Massey (all from Brookhaven) in addition to Walnut Ridge's Ernie Wheelwright. They are hoping to get 2005 Brookhaven star Jeff Cumberland, who – like Wheelwright – might be lost to the Buckeyes due to academic issues.

Which brings up another thing: aren't you tired of losing academic "casualties" to schools like Michigan State and Minnesota and then have them come back to beat on you? Perhaps it's academic to some, but our casualties still remain casualties…

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Katrina, Rita, and the OSU game day programs…I don't mean to pick nits (OK, I guess I do…), but it bothers me to keep hearing media coverage that OSU is donating $2 from every program they sell on game day. The program was normally $5. This year, they made it $7 with the announcement that the extra $2 goes to hurricane relief. I'm all for that and they've raised a bunch of money. But who exactly is donating the two bucks? It's the fans, not the school. In fact, the school probably moves more magazines with the announcement that they are "donating" the funds. Call me cynical (again), but how about some truth in advertising in those programs?

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Saying "bye" to the defense…Since we often try to find the amusing stuff during a bye week, I thought I would go a'musing about OSU's defense; specifically, where might be the fall off next year and what is the speculation from these parts as to how the country's best defense (this year) will look (next year)? Here goes:

One of the question marks this year was the D-line, which has come through fabulously, particularly recently. Of course, we didn't predict that Bobby Carpenter would become a part-time defensive end. But we also didn't predict that Marcus Freeman would miss the entire season. Next year, they have to replace Mike Kudla and Marcus Green on the line as well as those contributions from Carpenter. I feel the Buckeyes have a number of stout bodies that will replace Green adequately (Penton, Abdallah and Patterson) so the question goes back to both ends. Kudla has been fantastic, so there's a good chance for a fall-off there. Perhaps Patterson will move to one end. Lawrence Wilson will be a superstar at one DE (eventually) and they have yet to see the promising Vernon Gholston or Doug Worthington ply their trades in earnest. So, there's a lot of "promise" but there is going to be some of that old bugaboo of rebuilding next season, at least early in the year, on the defensive line. Quinn Pitcock, fortunately, is so good that he will make up for some smaller deficiencies elsewhere.

Now, as to replacing the nation's best set of linebackers…AJ Hawk is simply irreplaceable. But Carpenter might be easier than previously thought, only due to the previously expressed fact pattern that they are replacing him as a somewhat DE. Plus, they are replacing him with Marcus Freeman, who might be faster and even stronger, while not quite as large. The middle is really interesting as I think a healthy Mike D'Andrea will be better than a very good Anthony Schlegel. Really, I do. Plus, OSU has an outstanding prospect in Hoobler directly behind. So, I can see John Kerr and James Laurinaitis "replacing" Hawk while the other two positions shouldn't show great overall fall-off. Keep in mind that Jim Heacock will use this new group differently than the current group so comparisons will be somewhat unfair all around. Finally, the "new Hawk" is coming in Ross Homan. You will love this kid.

And that leaves us with the back four. And if Youboty doesn't leave OSU, it will be a great group next year. At safety, they will replace Salley, who is a terrific athlete but who also has his downside: the "highlight hit" seems to take precedence over great positioning. Whitner will return for his senior All-American season and both Brandon Mitchell or Jamario O'Neal seem poised to take Salley's spot. If Youboty stays, the duo of Youboty and Jenkins should be fabulous. And behind them is the emerging presence of Andre Amos, plus a really good recruiting crop coming. OSU will be good-to-great in the secondary next year.

Overall? It might take this group a few games to find its identity (see: OSU offense of 2005) and it is hard to say – with a straight face and no straitjacket – that the 2006 version will be as good or better than 2005. Not with Hawk gone. But the D-line could be faster, the linebackers will be darn good and the secondary might be better.

That's a lot to look forward to, particularly when you anticipate having 4-5 NFL draftees leaving your defensive team…

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Bye bye bye…Really, why is this called a "bye week"? Because it sounds better than saying the Buckeyes are having an "off week"? (Well, OSU did have an off week against San Diego State but that engenders a different set of questions.)

A "bye week" implies that there is some kind of tournament going on and that OSU has been given a preferential rating. If the NCAA, in their not-so-considerable wisdom, ever did conceive of a tournament (I thought I could sneak it by them by not calling it a "playoff"…), then the rest of the season would make more sense, indeed. It would encourage regional powers like the Buckeyes and Longhorns to meet without ruining their chances to make it to a mythical title game. And if they were good enough? They would then earn a bye.

That's not to say we didn't earn one after last week's inspired play against Iowa. It's only to say that we should call it what it is: a week off.

Some say that each week that the Bucket is published is a week off; or a weak offering. But if you have your own burning issues, you can say "hi" or "bye" to Mr. Bucknuts by writing him at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com


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