No matter what anyone from The Sporting News might tell you, Ohio Stadium is one of the best stadiums in college football. In fact, it might be one of the finest venues in the entire sports world.
But does it give the Buckeyes an overwhelming home field advantage? The numbers over the last four years say no.
From 1998-2001, Ohio State was 18-7 at home. That's a 72 percent winning percentage. The Bucks' road record over that same time period (not including neutral sites) was 13-6, good for 68 percent.
So, the Buckeyes play a bit better at home than on the road. But they don't dominate in Ohio Stadium like one might think. And the reason their winning percentage was even as high as 72 during that time is because of all the wins over the likes of Ohio, Toledo, Miami (Oh.), Akron and San Diego State. Think the Bucks could've beat those schools on the road, too?
The span of 1998-01 seems to be a good one to examine because a little bit of everything happened to Ohio State during that time.
In '98, the Bucks were the nation's preseason No.1 team and would have played in the first-ever BCS championship game if not for the 28-24 upset by Michigan State in Ohio Stadium. But even with the one blunder, it's hard to knock a team that finished 11-1 and ranked No. 2 in the land. (And I still say Tennessee is lucky it played a very average Florida State team and not the Buckeyes for the title).
In '99, Ohio State went 6-6, it's first non-winning season since 1988. All things considered, the Bucks played well at home that year with a 5-2 mark.
In John Cooper's final season, the Bucks went 8-4 - that's 4-2 at home, 4-1 on the road and 0-1 in the bowl. The annual embarrassing home loss came against Minnesota, 29-17.
I think Tressel is going to turn Ohio Stadium into the dominating presence it should be, but in his first year the Buckeyes went 4-2 at home, including the meltdown against Wisconsin (up 17-0, lost 20-17).
The goal for this year's team? Of course, the ultimate goal is to win every game, but free safety Donnie Nickey (6-3, 215, Sr.) says first things first.
"Team wise, our goal is to win every game at home. The last few years, we've lost a few games in the Horseshoe and that can't happen. We have such an intimidating stadium and we need to put the pressure on the other teams," Nickey said.
It should be intimidating, but hasn't been. But why have the Bucks struggled at home at times? Who knows? Is it because the Buckeye faithful don't get loud enough in the Horseshoe? Well, I think Buckeye fans get loud, but nationally we have a reputation of being just semi-loud at home (that's much louder than Michigan, not quite as loud as Penn State and nowhere near as loud as Tennessee). Look at it this way: Ohio State fans aren't exactly known to lead the league in "noise penalties." You know, when the visiting QB can't hear over the rabid fans and the official penalizes the home team. When's the last time that's happened in Ohio Stadium? Well, it came pretty close to happening last year in OSU's 38-20 win over Northwestern. The house was rocking that night (notice that's "night" not "afternoon")...
One thing Andy Geiger should definitely consider is scheduling more night games at OSU. It provides an even-better atmosphere for the fans, and more importantly, the Buckeyes are undefeated (4-0) all-time in night games at Ohio Stadium. This year's opener against Texas Tech would be a good time to do it - the temperature will probably be around 100 degrees in Columbus the afternoon of Aug. 24 (much like against Fresno State in the '00 opener). Well, it's probably too late to do anything this year, but why not have one night game per year? (None scheduled this year.)
All-American strong safety Mike Doss (5-11, 203, Sr.) will return kickoffs this year along with tailback Maurice Hall (5-10, 190, So.). With the Buckeye offense expected to struggle at times, field position will be a big key and both Doss and Hall have the tools to be game-breakers. Doss might have to knock the rust off just a bit, but he did rush for 1,454 yards and 22 touchdowns as a senior at Canton McKinley High School, where he also handled kickoff returns.
Hall averaged a team-high 21.8 yards on 24 returns last year as a true freshman. He has that burst, that acceleration, which could make him great in this role for the next three years.
Strength and conditioning coach Al Johnson was recently asked during a radio interview which of the Buckeyes made the most improvement in the weight room since the end of the '01 season. His quick reply was Matt Wilhelm (6-5, 245, Sr.), Alex Stepanovich (6-4, 305, Jr.) and Tim Anderson (6-4, 300, Jr.)... Johnson said that Wilhelm's upper body is "huge" and he is very flexible. He joked that Matt's had plenty of chances to work on his upper body thanks to his ankle injury... Johnson said Stepanovich put on more weight that anyone else on the team and that his lower body is incredibly strong... Johnson said Anderson is strong low and high, but what really stood out about him this spring was his quickness... Johnson said all three of these guys basically lived in the weight room during the winter.
Changing gears just a bit, let's take a quick look at the Basketball Buckeyes and why the future is looking so bright.
First off, the 2002-03 squad is going to be a good one in my opinion. Brent Darby (6-1, 195, Sr.) is primed for a huge senior year and Terence Dials (6-9, 250, So.) could be the most valuable big man in the league. Dials more valuable than Minnesota's Rick Rickert? Yes, for a couple of reasons: Rickert (6-10, 220, So.) will play just one more year at Minnesota before going to the NBA, while Dials will be at Ohio State for at least two and probably three more years... Rickert is actually more of a natural three-man than a four, or five. He likes to stay out on the wing and launch threes, although he can take it to the hole with the best of them. Unlike Rickert, Dials is a physical player who bangs and rebounds... But Dials also has pretty good athletic ability. I think he will average a double-double (points/boards) at some point in his career and it could happen as early as this year.
With the "graduation" of Reggie Evans and the early departure of Jared Jeffries to the NBA, the only big men in the league worth talking about besides Dials and Rickert are Illinois' Brian Cook (6-10, 230, Sr.), Indiana's Jeff Newton (6-9, 220, Sr.), Michigan State's Adam Ballinger (6-9, 235, Sr.) and Wisconsin's Mike Wilkinson (6-10, 225, So.)
* While this year's team will be good, if you're a Buckeye hoops fan, it's the 2003-04 season to be really excited about. The Bucks will have to replace Darby and Sean Connolly (6-5, 200), but the returning cast will be strong and will be aided by the two transfers - JJ Sullinger (6-5, 210, So.) and Tony Stockman (6-1, 185, Jr.). Having two guys with D-I experience like that will be a huge boost for this team...
Dials will have his breakout year (if he doesn't have it this year) and will have three senior post players at his back. Power forward Zach Williams (6-7, 230, Jr.) will be returning for what will likely be his fourth year in the starting lineup. He was Ohio State's leading rebounder last year at 5.9 per game and averaged just under 10 points per game as well...The reviews have been mixed on center Velimir Radinovic (7-0, 230, Jr.), but I still think he is going to develop into a very effective Big Ten player. Remember how well he played in the Big Ten Tournament? (Then again, everyone on the team this side of Connolly played well in the Big Ten Tournament.) Vel just obviously needs to get stronger... Junior college transfer Shun Jenkins (6-6, 235, Jr.) will have a year under his belt by the 03-04 season and should be a solid contributor off the bench. Word is this guy is a Tim Martin-type with more athletic ability and better offensive skills. He won't need to put up big numbers for the Buckeyes, but he will be the fourth man in the four-man rotiation... That means that Matt Marinchick (6-10, 240, So.) will probably be the odd-man out for the next two years. I hope he proves me wrong, but I don't see him beating out one of the other four and I don't see OB needing to rotate five big men.
The 03-04 backcourt also has the makings of a very solid group. Brandon Fuss-Cheatham (6-1, 190, So.) will have two years of experience under his belt and will be the starting point guard. Stockman and Ricardo Billings (6-4, 200, Fr.) will rotate at the two, with Stockman also seeing some minutes at the one. Matt Sylvester (6-7, 200, Fr.) could be a returning starter at the three and will share minutes with Sullinger.
That's a lot of depth and a lot of talent. Right now on paper, it definitely looks like OB's best Ohio State team.
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