With the graduation of an outstanding group of seniors and potentially three juniors (Donte Whitner, Ashton Youboty and Santonio Holmes), next years squad needs as many repetitions as possible to succeed in the 2006 season.
If the seniors and the three mentioned juniors are eliminated from the current starting lineup, the Buckeyes are left with the following breakdown by this years grade classification:
* Offensive Line: 2 juniors, 1 sophomore, 1 freshman, to fill two spots
The toughest position to replace will be the center spot left vacant by Nick Mangold. The heir apparent is Doug Datish, who has some experience at tackle and center. T.J. Downing and Kirk Barton should be much improved and the highlight of the youngbloods is freshman tackle Alex Boone.
* Wide Receiver: 1 junior and 2 sophomores to replace Santonio Holmes if he turns pro
A very solid position for the Buckeyes. Ted Ginn Jr., Anthony Gonzalez and Roy Hall are experienced and talented receivers with Albert Dukes, Devon Lyons and Brian Robiskie waiting in the wings.
* Tight End: 1 sophomore and 1 freshman to replace a tight end (Ryan Hamby) that was injured a large part of this season.
Marcel Frost has the physical talent to get the job done, he'll need to show consistency in receiving and continual mental maturity. Brandon Smith showed some ability and has good size (6-3, 240 ) for a freshman.
* Quarterback: 2 juniors, 1 sophomore, 1 freshman
Troy Smith should have a great senior season. The question is, who will emerge as the back-up? Is it smart to back-up a senior with another senior.
* Tailback: 1 sophomore, 1 freshman, 1 redshirt freshman
Antonio Pittman returns as the starter with Maurice Wells. The problem is, how do you keep Eric Haw and incoming Chris Wells happy. Look for someone to possibly be moved to another position.
* Fullback: 1 junior, 1 sophomore
Stan White Jr. and Dionte Johnson return but the fullback position sees limited time in the spread offense. Stan's versatility as an H-back and the TE along with special teams makes him a huge asset.
* Defensive Line: 4 juniors, 2 freshmen to replace a solid defensive tackle (Marcus Green) and an outstanding end (Mike Kudla)
Probably the most improved position this season. David Patterson, Jay Richardson, Joel Penton and Quinn Pitcock should have a great senior season, especially with Jim Heacock as their coach. Watch for talented Vernon Gholston and Lawrence Wilson to start making their mark.
* Linebackers: 2 juniors, 1 sophomore, 1 freshman to replace the best linebacking corps in the country.
Impossible to come close to the production of the three Musketeers. Hopefully, Mike D'Andrea will stay healthy, Marcus Freeman will return healed up and James Laurinaitis will turn into an "animal" like his dad. Don't count out Chad Hoobler, he can run and hit.
* Secondary: 1 junior, 1 freshman to replace as many as four starters
If Donte Whitner and Ashton Youboty leave, and with Nate Salley and Tyler Everett graduating, this position could be hit as hard as the linebackers. Jamario O'Neal, Brandon Mitchell, and Malcolm Jenkins have big shoes to fill. They better be fast shoes, too. Expect the long ball a lot in 2006.
* Special Teams: 2 freshman to carry on the excellence in place kicking
Is it even possible for Ryan Pretorius or Aaron Pettrey to follow the performance of Mike Nugent and Josh Huston. Buckeye fans can't expect miracles.
You can readily see the importance of bowl practice. These young Buckeyes need as many practices as possible from now to next season. Those schools that don't make it to the post season bowl game essentially lose out on an extra spring practice, one that can't be made up. That's why bowl games are not only important, they're a must.
Answers To Tough Questions
For the upcoming February edition of Bucknuts The Magazine, I was asked to respond to several questions on the 2005 Ohio State football season. I understand my responses and those of Steve Helwagen, Mr. Bucknuts, Duane Long, Gary Housteau, Kirk Larrabee, Dave Biddle, Kyle Lamb, Jerry Rudzinski, Bill Greene and Charles Babb will be published in the upcoming issue (due out Jan. 15).
Here were some of my responses to the survey:
* Letter grade for the 2005 season -- A-. They got better after the Texas game. The play that was the difference maker in the whole season was the blocked field goal for a touchdown against Michigan State. After that play, the Buckeyes played as well as any team in the country.
* The offensive MVP -- Without a doubt, the guy who showed the most improvement throughout the course of the season was Troy Smith. He impressed me by becoming a much better throwing quarterback and a better decision maker.
* The defensive MVP -- The best defensive player in the country this year was A.J. Hawk. He was a great emotional leader and a special leader by the way he played the game.
* Biggest surprise of the 2005 season -- The improvement and play of Josh Huston. He was a guy that had never been in the heat of battle. He was the starting place kicker and played remarkably well. He did well kicking the ball out of the end zone for touchbacks.
* Biggest disappointment in 2005 -- This was probably not handling the pressure at Penn State. I'd say it was the inability to score points against a team that was a good football team but had not shown in the past to be a great defensive team.
* Best moment of the year -- The best moment of the season, I think, was the last play for Pittman's touchdown against Michigan. Stan White Jr. blocked two players and Andree Tyree, who had not hardly played at all, wiped out Michigan's side of the line.
* Worst moment of the year -- I think the touchdown pass Texas threw late in that game. It was a matter of inches from being deflected away. Their receiver did not break the route like he should have. He was forced inside on the release and should have converted to the corner route. He stayed vertical and he made a great play.
* OSU's unsung hero for 2005 -- Maybe Anthony Schlegel. There was a guy who played as well as he could possibly play. He showed better speed and agility than he had in the past. He became one of the most feared tacklers on the team and topped off that linebacker corps.
* Biggest strength coming back in 2006 -- The biggest strength coming back is the quarterback position with Troy Smith. He and Vince Young will be the best two athletic quarterbacks in the country next year.
* Biggest question for 2006 -- Who will replace that great linebacker corps.
* Early prediction for 2006 -- If Holmes, Youboty and Whitner end up leaving, I think it will be difficult for the Buckeyes to repeat as Big Ten champions. If they stay, they should be right in it until the end.
I will be back in roughly two weeks with my thoughts on the Fiesta Bowl match-up against Notre Dame. See you then.
EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley was an assistant football coach at Ohio State for 17 years. He is in his second year of providing expert analysis on OSU football for Bucknuts.com.