The Buckeyes honor their seven football national champions at their indoor practice facility inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center. In order, there are huge signs for the five "consensus" champions: 1942, 1954, 1957, 1968 and 2002. Then, out of order not by accident, are signs honoring the Football Writers national champions of 1961 and 1970.
However, curiously, there is nothing inside the Horseshoe celebrating the national championship squads.
To stray from the point for a moment … you could argue whether OSU should officially claim five or seven national titles. It almost takes something away from the consensus champions to lump them all together.
Then again, take a school like Alabama into consideration. The Crimson Tide claims a whopping 12 national championships. But only four of those would be considered unanimous, or near-unanimous. (Interestingly, Alabama was crowned champion in every poll across the land in 1961 – except for the Football Writers. See above.)
Sorry to pick on Alabama, but you have to when it is giving itself credit for the 1941 national championship. The Tide rolled to a 9-2 record that season and was named "Football Thesaurus" national champions, ahead of "consensus" champion, undefeated Minnesota. (It's decisions like that that leave an entire generation of sports fans having never heard of Football Thesaurus.)
Even Michigan, which prohibits advertising signage in Michigan Stadium, honors its national champions on its scoreboard (including split titles).
It's time Ohio State caught up. Seven national titles is something to be proud of – especially five unanimous titles – and there's nothing wrong with a little boasting when you are bringing recruits and 105,000 other people into the stadium every other Saturday.
And you know every other cut-away on TV would zoom in on the national championship signs. Much like when a Chicago Bulls game is on TV, you know you are going to see a few shots of the six championship banners. What advertising could be better than that?
It doesn't need to be anything extravagant, but there definitely should be something in Ohio Stadium commemorating the national champions.
PENN STATE CROW
OK, I was wrong about Penn State … at least so far. The Nittany Lions looked like a very solid team in their 44-14 thumping of an overrated Minnesota squad.
When I saw PSU's Michael Robinson play last year, I thought he was the worst starting quarterback in the Big Ten since probably Steve Bellisari. Inaccurate, poor decision-maker, but every once in a while could do some damage with his legs.
However, this year, Robinson is starting to look like a quarterback. Not just an athlete running around pretending to play the position. In fairness to Bellisari, he also began to come around late in his senior year, including a big game against Minnesota, in fact.
Am I sold on Robinson yet? No. Call it stubbornness, but I don't think it is. He has yet to face even an average Division I defense and I still think he will struggle once he does. Ohio State has one of the best defenses in the country and Robinson could be headed for a long night this Saturday. Even during his shining moment against Minnesota (the Gophers still haven't learned how to tackle) there was Robinson bouncing passes in front of receivers and sailing balls far over their heads.
But I'm learning not to bet against the guy. He clearly worked hard in the offseason and improved, held off sophomore Anthony Morelli, and is poised to have a good senior year. But I still think the "Silver Bullets" are going to be too much for him to handle. As good as he's been this year at times, he's still an average quarterback.
Where Penn State impresses me is at running back (Tony Hunt) and on defense. I thought the Nittany Lions were in for another tough season, but they look like a solid top 25 team.
GAMEDAY IN HAPPY VALLEY
ESPN's College GameDay will be on location in State College, Pa., for Saturday's primetime showdown between OSU and PSU. Does this increase PSU's already strong home field advantage? Probably. It means the fans will be a little extra revved up. But I think it's excellent exposure for what has suddenly become a big game. The Big Ten needs Penn State to be good and this is a primary example. We're talking about one of the top programs in the country when things are going right. Tradition, fan support, talented recruiting base, everything. Penn State has been anything but a top program the last five years, but it's good for the Big Ten when "Happy Valley" isn't being treated for depression.
I did not think the Nittany Lions would be 5-0 coming into this game (I thought Minnesota would beat them). But I'm glad they are. If Ohio State is able to win, it will look that much more impressive. And on national television no less.
INDIANA ON THE RISE?
OK, of course Indiana football is on the rise. There's nowhere to go but up. But in all seriousness, the Hoosiers made a great hire in head coach Terry Hoeppner. The former Miami University coach is going to do for Indiana what Glen Mason has done for Minnesota. In order words, he will make a Big Ten doormat respectable. Hoeppner won't be playing for Big Ten championships, but he'll eventually have IU in bowls more often than not.
I will never understand why Indiana let Bill Mallory go in the 1990's. He should have been there until he retired. But after a couple of swings and misses with guys like Cam Cameron and Gerry DiNardo, the Hoosiers have finally found their man.
By the way, just a word to the wise: If you're traveling to the OSU-IU game in Bloomington this year, make sure you arrive early. Get there at least three hours before kickoff, relax and tailgate. Or risk missing kickoff altogether. Then, plan on doing something for a few hours after the game (or, God forbid, leave the game early). It doesn't get much worse than Indiana as far as traffic coming to and from. They don't adjust their traffic lights for game days, there are no traffic cops other than right outside the stadium, so there is just standstill traffic for miles outside of Bloomington. A three-and-a-half hour drive to Columbus can turn into seven hours real quick. Or real slow.
TURN TROY LOOSE?
Last year against Penn State, the Buckeyes were staked to an early 14-0 lead thanks to a punt return for a touchdown from Ted Ginn Jr. and an interception return for a touchdown from Tyler Everett. Therefore, quarterback Troy Smith wasn't asked to do much throughout the game. The Buckeyes cruised to a 21-10 victory and Smith was a caretaker and nothing more.
Now a year older, what can we expect to see from Smith in Happy Valley this Saturday? He obviously has a better grasp of the offense and is free to do much more. But if Jim Tressel likes the way his defense is playing against Robinson and the Lions' offense, don't be surprised to see a very conservative attack from the Buckeyes. No, that's not what fans what to hear fresh off the 530-yard explosion against Iowa, but something tells me that Tressel doesn't think Robinson can beat them. Therefore, look for a lot of running from Smith, Antonio Pittman and maybe Ginn as OSU looks to play its classic "Tresselball" approach: win field position and control the clock.
Will the Nittany Lions' defense stick eight in the box and should the Buckeyes throw deep to counteract that? Yes and yes. There is no doubt OSU will try and get the ball into the hands of Santonio Holmes and Ginn on occasion. But this is still a Tressel team going on the road to play a ranked opponent. In other words, don't expect too much creativity from the offense this week. Hopefully I'll be wrong and we'll see OSU come out with its full offensive arsenal. But I see a defensive struggle with Tressel not wanting to make the first mistake. That could mean very little passing from Smith and not enough touches for Holmes and Ginn. It will be interesting to see how it plays out, but if Penn State can't move the ball against Ohio State's defense, you can bank on a conservative approach from OSU's offense. Tressel is an excellent coach – especially a big-game coach – but he's not one to go for the throat. On the road, he likes to play it close to the vest… even more so than usual.
SO SIOUX ME
The NCAA recently upheld its decision that the University of North Dakota's usage of the nickname "Fighting Sioux" was offensive and would be banned. Unlike Florida State, which will be able to continue using "Seminoles," the NCAA ruled that there are Sioux tribes that find the nickname offensive.
While they're on the topic, could any college nickname be more insensitive and offensive, at least right now, than the Miami Hurricanes? I actually like the name, but watch out for that NCAA PC bandwagon. Soon "Buckeyes" could be considered offensive to all the poisonous nuts out there.
ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF TRESS ‘GETTING IT'
Since he was hired, Tressel has implemented the "Jack Tatum Hit of the Week" award. Quite a tribute to one of the hardest hitters to ever play the game.
Tressel also gave out an award for the offensive lineman of the week. But this year, he made it the "Jim Parker Offensive Lineman of the Week" award.
Parker, arguably the best lineman to play at OSU, died earlier this year. He is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It's little stuff like that which makes it clear that Tressel "gets it." Individually, some people might think that making the players sing Carmen Ohio on the field after games, making them learn the hometown and school of every player on the team, etc… is corny at best. But I think it's part of what makes Tressel a great coach.
B-BALL BUCKS NCAA BOUND
If Ohio State's three-year drought from the NCAA Tournament put a little too much "mad" in your "March" there's good news: The drought is about to end this year.
I have the Buckeyes pegged for 25 wins this year – even before the most talked about recruiting class arrives next fall.
What I really like about this year's team is the experience level. You have three fifth-year seniors in center Terence Dials, forward Matt Sylvester and swingman J.J. Sullinger. The other senior – guard Je'Kel Foster – also has a lot of game experience, including his days in junior college ball.
Dials will be in the running for Big Ten Player of the Year, although he will face stiff competition from the likes of Illinois' Dee Brown, Minnesota's Vincent Grier, Michigan State's Paul Davis and Indiana's D.J. White. But overall, it should be a huge year for the 6-9 Dials.
Overall, under second-year coach Thad Matta – one of the rising stars in the business – it should be a very strong year for OSU. I know everyone is already looking ahead to next year when Greg Oden and the gang joins the fold, but this season could be a memorable one. The additions of guards Ron Lewis and Sylvester Mayes will be a huge boost to an already talented and experienced core of players.
GINN ON D?
Many have asked and wondered if OSU will use Ginn on defense at all this season. Tressel said prior to the year that Ginn would be eased in at cornerback and would probably be used in red zone situations as the season progressed.
So why hasn't he been used so far? Well, maybe the Buckeyes feel comfortable enough at cornerback with junior Ashton Youboty and the emergence of true freshmen Malcolm Jenkins (as well as corner/safety Tyler Everett) that they don't think they need Ginn on defense for the time being. But I still expect at some point this season we will see Ginn playing defensive back. It probably won't be against Penn State, but if the Bucks face a good passing team (like maybe a Michigan State) don't be surprised to see No. 7 out there on defense. He certainly isn't being overused on offense, so there should be plenty of gas in the tank.