Bucknotes 11/22

In this edition of Bucknotes, Dave Biddle tackles such issues as Ohio State's 2006 depth chart, Wisconsin's replacement for Barry Alvarez, the problems with instant replay in college football, and Lloyd Carr's latest rant.

Even fresh off the most enjoyable game of the season – the 25-21 comeback win over Michigan – it's never too early to start looking ahead to next year. Let's go position-by-position and examine how the 2006 Buckeyes might line up.

Quarterback: Junior Troy Smith finished the 2005 regular season ranked first in the Big Ten and seventh in the country in passing efficiency with a rating of 158.4. He had 1,940 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, four interceptions and a completion percentage of 62.2.

Smith also added 545 rushing yards (4.4 per carry) and 11 rushing touchdowns.

It was one of the best seasons in recent memory by an OSU quarterback.

Only Bobby Hoying's 1995 season (3,269 yards, 29 TD) resulted in a better quarterback rating (163.4).

Joe Germaine's 1998 campaign was also stellar (3,330 yards, 25 TD) but his QB rating was below Smith's at 150.6.

From the, "it would have been absurd to talk about this before the season started" file, Smith now has the chance to go down as one of the top quarterbacks in OSU history. He already has two memorable wins over Michigan under his belt, and with a big senior year in 2006, it's not farfetched to think he'll be considered the best by many fans.

Smith is not going to top Art Schlichter's 7,547 career passing yards. He's not going to best Hoying's 57 career touchdown passes. Not even close.

But looking at the entire picture, passing skills, running skills, leadership, toughness, there is a lot to like about No. 10.

Will he take that next step and become a Buckeye legend next year? Or will he rest on what he's already accomplished and start dreaming of an NFL career? I think it will be the former. Look for Smith to put it all together and have one of the best seasons by an OSU quarterback next year. Barring injury, he will put up gaudy statistics with his big arm and crafty running.

The backup quarterback will be Justin Zwick, unless he decides to transfer.

The staff was very impressed with true freshman Rob Schoenhoft in practice this year, and he could leapfrog Todd Boeckman as the backup if Zwick does in fact leave. (I think Zwick will stay, knowing that Smith could be injured at any time with as much as he runs the ball.)

Incoming freshman Antonio Henton will also join the fray next year, but he will likely be redshirted.

Running back: Sophomore Antonio Pittman was expected to be the man this year, but few thought he would explode to the tune of 1,195 rushing yards (5.4 yards per carry) and six touchdowns.

Pittman is already making his presence felt in the OSU record books. He became just the fourth sophomore in OSU history to reach 1,000 rushing yards in a season, joining Archie Griffin (1973), Keith Byars (1983) and Vince Workman (1986).

And next year, Pittman has the chance to become just the fourth Buckeye to reach 1,000 yards twice in a career, joining Griffin (1973-75), Tim Spencer (1981-82), Byars (1983-84) and Eddie George (1994-95).

And what's not to like about Pittman? He runs hard, has excellent vision and quickness, and has a great attitude. I look for him to work even harder this offseason and come back around 205 pounds, with just as much speed. Pittman is going to continue living up to his nickname of "The Beast" the next two years, barring injury.

Yes, incoming freshman phenom Chris Wells will steal some carries from Pittman in 2006, but how many? It's a problem you know OSU head coach Jim Tressel loves to have. If it takes Wells a while to adjust to the college game, Pittman is a proven stud. If Wells comes in and earns playing time, the Bucks will have two good backs on the same team for the first time in the Tressel era. There is not a downside.

And that's another good thing about Pittman. Unlike most running backs in his situation, I couldn't imagine him pouting and whining if Wells does in fact steal some carries. At a position usually dominated by strong egos, Pittman seems only concerned about winning.

It will be interesting to see who steps up as the No. 3 back next year. Will it be Maurice Wells, or Erik Haw? Wells was not very impressive this year as a true freshman, but in fairness to him, many times when he was inserted into the game, the Buckeyes were in obvious running situations and was asked to run up the middle. Even Pittman didn't play much as a freshman in 2004, so there is still plenty of time for Wells to prove the Buckeyes didn't make a recruiting mistake.

Haw was likely in Tressel's "doghouse" early in the season. He did get a few chances here and there late in the year and played well. There's a chance Haw will transfer following this season, but I think the Columbus native will stay in his hometown and tough it out. He's only an injury or two away from being the man.

Fullback: The Buckeyes will be in very good hands next year at this position with Stan White Jr. and Dionte Johnson.

White is more of an H-back (fullback/tight end) who lines up all over the field. He has developed into a very good blocker and OSU could use him more as a receiver next year. White played tight end and linebacker in high school and he's a better athlete than you might think.

Johnson – the son of former OSU star linebacker Pepper Johnson – didn't receive as much playing time this season as he would have liked, but next year he should get more opportunities. I look for the Buckeyes to rely on Pittman and Chris Wells a lot next year and Johnson will definitely factor into the plans as a lead blocker.

Wide receiver: Santonio Holmes will likely leave early for the NFL, but Ohio State should be in decent shape at the wide receiver position next year.

Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez will be the primary receivers. Gonzalez will have to adjust to being the focal point of defenses at times, as opposed to a No. 3 slot receiver, but he could be in for a huge year. His route running, speed and hands are excellent.

A lot of people are down on Ginn right now, but let's be honest: the preseason Heisman hype was foolish at best. He was still a kid trying to learn the nuances of the receiver position. Next year, I fully expect Ginn will put up huge numbers in what will likely be his final collegiate season.

Roy Hall will likely step in as the No. 3 receiver next year. He had just 14 receptions for 112 yards this year. The 6-3, 240-pound Hall will be a nice compliment to the speedy Gonzalez and Ginn.

There will also be a host of young receivers vying for time and Albert Dukes is probably at the top of the list. He attended the same high school as Holmes (Glades Central, Fla.) and some feel he's nearly as talented.

Also in the mix will be Brian Robiskie, Devon Lyons and Brian Hartline.

Offensive line: The Buckeyes will miss center Nick Mangold and Rob Sims, but the offensive line has the makings of a very solid unit next year.

Returning starters include left tackle Doug Datish, right guard T.J. Downing and right tackle Kirk Barton.

I expect Datish will move down to left guard and Alex Boone will start at one of the tackle spots.

That leaves Jim Cordle to take over the center duties. He will be a redshirt freshman next year and offensive line coach Jim Bollman is very excited about his potential. Cordle could be a rare four-year starter on the line. (You could also throw Boone in that category since he started four games this year when Barton was down.)

If he doesn't crack the starting lineup, the first player off the bench will be sophomore guard/tackle Steve Rehring. He played a lot as a true freshman in 2004 and even received two starts. In 2005, he was again battling for a starting spot, but came down with pneumonia and was redshirted.

Also, judging by his dominant play on the high school level, I wouldn't be surprised to see incoming freshman Connor Smith get a lot of playing time off the bench next year. I think the staff will work him in much in the same fashion as Boone this year.

Depth up front should be much better next year. Don't forget about sophomores-to-be Ben Person, Kyle Mitchum and Jon Skinner. Even Downing didn't play until midway through his third year in the program. The Buckeyes need one, maybe two of these players to step up next year.

Tight end: Who ever imagined we'd be thinking, "Too bad Andree Tyree doesn't have another year in the program." What was a glaring weakness for OSU for most of the year turned into somewhat of a strength in the latter stages of the season.

Marcel Frost stepped into the starter's role and played well. He finished the regular season with modest stats (6 catches, 62 yards) but he seems to have a bright future at the position. He teamed with Tyree to play a very good game against Michigan in Ann Arbor.

Ohio State will also get Rory Nicol back from injury next year. He will battle Frost for the starting job, but both players should see a lot of playing time regardless.

Defensive line: Quinn Pitcock will be back for his senior season and he could emerge as one of the best defensive tackles in the nation. Pitcock's statistics are never going to stick out (27 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 1 sack in 2005) but his job in the Buckeyes' scheme is to help control the line of scrimmage, eat up blockers and allow the linebackers to fly around and make plays. No one does that better than him. He has an usual blend of strength and quickness and plays incredibly low to the ground.

The other clear-cut starter next year is David Patterson. The only question is whether he will line up inside next to Pitcock, or on the edge at defensive end. Patterson's versatility will be big for the defense. He stepped up with a quality season this year with 23 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. Look for him to improve those decent numbers quite a bit next year, especially if he plays end.

Jay Richardson will be given every opportunity to win a starting job, but you have to wonder if the light is ever going to turn on for him. Richardson has very good athletic ability, but tends to take plays off. That doesn't exactly fit in with the "Silver Bullets" mentality.

Other candidates to start at end will be Lawrence Wilson, Vernon Gholston and Alex Barrow.

At tackle, Joel Penton will be back for his fifth year and will receive a good deal of playing time. Sian Cotton, Nader Abdallah and Todd Denlinger will also be in the mix.

Linebacker: Obviously, the Buckeyes will have big holes to fill at linebacker next year. Many feel that A.J. Hawk, Anthony Schlegel and Bobby Carpenter are the best linebacker corps in school history.

But as crazy at it sounds, Ohio State should be just fine at linebacker next year. Five players will vie for the three vacant starting spots. They include: James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, Mike D'Andrea, John Kerr and Chad Hoobler.

Laurinaitis and Freeman are near locks to start on the outside. That leaves the other three to fight it out in the middle. And they are all athletic enough to play on the outside. Even if Hoobler doesn't start in the middle, for example, he'll still see the field quite a bit. Kerr always stands out to me and I would not be surprised to see him emerge with a starting job.

Incoming freshman Ross Homan could have a chance to work his way into the rotation as well on the outside.

Defensive back: Here's where things get a little sticky. It's difficult to forecast what will happen next year with the status of cornerback Ashton Youboty and safety Donte Whitner still very much in doubt. They are both considering an early jump to the NFL.

I think they will both stay, but it won't surprise me to see Youboty leave. He would not slip past the second round of the draft.

Whitner, on the other hand, would likely not be taken before the fourth round. But financial constraints might force his hand.

One of the pleasant surprises of the 2005 season was the play of true freshman cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. He will be one of the starting corners next year and is a budding star with his ability to cover and play the run.

Ginn could also see time at cornerback next year. Much of that will depend on Youboty's decision.

Also look for a lot of cornerback Andre Amos next year. I'm convinced he would have played as a true freshman this year if Jenkins wasn't around. But the coaches wanted to redshirt at least one of their talented young corners.

At safety, Brandon Mitchell will play a lot, no matter what happens with Whitner. Jamario O'Neal – who received most of his playing time on special teams this year – will also be an important piece of the puzzle at safety.

Also competing for time will be Nick Patterson and Anderson Russell.

Special teams: At kicker, the Buckeyes will lose 10th year senior Josh Huston (OK, sixth year). Ryan Pretorius and Aaron Pettrey will battle for the job this spring and during preseason camp. I think Pretorius has a slight edge thus far.

At punter, A.J. Trapasso will return following his up and down freshman year. Overall, he was good this year, averaging 40.4 yards per punt. He was inconsistent, but find me a freshman punter that wasn't. Trapasso will get better each year and will be one of the best in the country by the time he leaves OSU. Tressel has a knack for developing kickers and punters.

The return games will also be in good hands with Ginn. He won't have to share returns with Holmes, so it will be interesting if the Buckeyes decide to go with the dual punt returners once again. The other kick returner will likely be Gonzalez.

Drew Norman will return as the long snapper.

Overall, the 2006 Buckeyes should open the season as national championship contenders once again. But we all know how delicate that is. In the crusty-old bowl system, one early slipup and you can be done. And the Buckeyes do play at Texas next year. (Hope for Youboty and Whitner to stay, and Texas' Vince Young to leave.)

I think Smith and Pittman are headed for huge years next season. It will take a lot of luck to win the national title, but OSU could have as good of a chance as anyone.

WISCONSIN'S MISTAKE?

Did Wisconsin make a big mistake by not conducting a national search for its new head coach?

Barry Alvarez – the best coach in UW school history – will retire this season after 16 years at the helm. He hand-picked his successor: Badgers defensive coordinator Bret Bielema.

But this is not the old Wisconsin. Alvarez took a Big Ten bottom-feeder and turned it into a nationally respected program. The Badgers would have been able to attract a top coach from the outside if they wanted it that way. But instead, they "settled" on Bielema.

Maybe that's too strong of a word, but I don't think it is. I think the Bielema hiring was convenient for Alvarez, who also doubles as the school's athletic director. The last thing Alvarez wanted was for some hot shot to come in from the outside and change the way the Badgers are used to doing things. He wanted someone in his mold.

But what am I missing on Bielema? He's not exactly Wisconsin born and bred – he has spent just two seasons at Wisconsin. His coaching this season has also left a lot to be desired. The Badgers are currently 102nd in the country in total defense, giving up an average of 431.3 yards per game.

This is the best they can do?

Bielema, 35, played at Iowa from 1989-92. He was a graduate assistant coach at Iowa from 1993-95, and then became the Hawkeyes' linebackers coach from 1996-2001.

He then became Kansas State's co-defensive coordinator for two season (Ohio State faced him in the 2004 Fiesta Bowl, winning 35-28), before landing at Wisconsin in 2004.

Alvarez obviously feels that Bielema is one of the best young defensive minds in the country. But 102nd out of 117 teams in total defense? Again, you have to think the Badgers could find a better fit for their program. Someone with head coaching experience; or at least someone who has proved to be one of the top coordinators in the game. Bielema is neither.

Alvarez accomplished some amazing things while at Wisconsin, including three Rose Bowl victories. But the Badgers could be in for some rough years in the near future. Losing Alvarez would have been a big loss regardless – he is a legend in Madison and rightfully so. But the Badgers would have done themselves a favor if they would have opened up a search for a new coach, instead of promoting from within.

Alvarez earned the right to pick his successor, but I don't think he's doing the school a favor here.

INSTANT REPLAY SYSTEM FLAWED

College football needed an instant replay system and it should get credit for adopting one. But there are too many flaws with the current setup.

The primary problem is that only the replay official in the press box can stop play when there is a questionable call. If he doesn't see the replay in time, or doesn't get the right angle, play continues without a review.

But we see too many plays like the "lateral" from Chad Henne in the OSU-Michigan game which was ruled an incomplete pass on the field. It was an obvious lateral, but the replay official didn't catch it in time and Michigan got the next play off with no damage done.

The NFL doesn't have instant replay down to an exact science either (the "peep box" is ridiculous and wastes time) but one thing I like about the NFL is the coach's challenge. Twice a game the head coach can throw a red flag when he wants a call to be reviewed. If the call on the field stands, the team is charged with a timeout. If the call is reversed, no timeout is taken off the board.

College football needs to adopt some sort of coaches' challenge to make up for the slow trigger finger of the replay official in the booth.

CARR WRECK

Enjoy it while it lasts, Buckeye fans. I can't imagine Lloyd Carr sticking around too much longer.

You just knew Carr was going to find something to whine about following this year's OSU-UM game. At his press conference this week, he claimed Gonzalez' crucial 26-yard catch in the final minute shouldn't have counted because Gonzalez wasn't forced out of bounds. Come on, Lloyd. We're used to your incessant complaining, but usually you don't just make stuff up. Gonzalez was bumped out of bounds by a UM defender and came back in to make the game-clinching play.

Carr would never imagine giving credit to Smith and Gonzalez for a great play. Instead, he continues to show his class, or lack thereof.

The "brush by" when he shook Tressel's hand following the game was just classic Carr. If the situation was reversed, you know Tressel would have shook his hand and wished him well.

Hey, at least Carr wasn't alone in his whining this year. Former Michigan backup quarterback Mike Taylor also took some ill-fated shots at the Buckeyes and Tressel prior to the game.

No reason to get mad. The Buckeyes did all their talking on the field. It's going to be a long winter in that state up north.


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