Fiesta Bowl Notes: Whitner, D'Andrea, Zwick

Ohio State safety Donte Whitner discussed his options and decisionmaking process on the NFL following Monday night's win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. We also have notes on Ashton Youboty, who faces a similar choice, as well as Mike D'Andrea and Justin Zwick on their future hopes and plans as well. Click here for more.

Reporters cornered Ohio State junior safety Donte Whitner after Monday night's Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame, intent on asking Whitner if he had made a decision on whether he will return for his senior season at OSU.

Whitner did not have a decision, although he said he was 75 percent headed in one direction. He did not indicate, though, if he was closer to staying or leaving.

"I want to sit down this week, this upcoming week," Whitner said. "I want to set my decision by Thursday. I'll make a decision this upcoming week.

"I am leaning 75-25 one way, but I won't say which way."

Whitner said he will speak with OSU coach Jim Tressel about the decision as well.

"He's not trying to pressure me," Whitner said. "He's trying to help me and get as much information for me as possible so I can make the best decision possible. I'm going to sit down and talk to him and see what he has to say. I'm sure he will have some good things to say, and then I will make my decision."

Whitner is one of several Cleveland Glenville products on the roster. He said he has only discussed his decision in general terms, though, with his teammates.

"I've talked to a couple guys, but nothing more than that," Whitner said.

If Whitner does decide to leave, he enjoyed one of his best games as a Buckeye against Notre Dame. Whitner had nine tackles (seven solos), one fumble forced and three pass break-ups as OSU rolled to the win.

"We just had to bring a lot of pressure, disguise a lot and not let (ND quarterback Brady Quinn) know what we were doing before the snap," Whitner said. "We had to take away the big play from the receivers. They lived off big plays all season, whether it was a short catch and a run or a bomb. They didn't really have any of those tonight."

Coming off this Fiesta Bowl win and a 10-2 season, Whitner thinks the Buckeyes can contend for a national title in 2006.

"That is in the back of my head," he said. "This team is equipped to win a national championship next year and guys do have confidence. There will be some experienced guys. We will lose some good guys on defense, but there are guys that will step in. Winning a championship is in the future for Ohio State."

Also Pondering

Another junior contemplating a jump to the NFL is junior cornerback Ashton Youboty.

Youboty had six tackles (one for loss) and a pass break-up in OSU's win over Notre Dame.

He told reporters afterwards he is "50/50" in terms of his decision whether to return.

Whitner, Youboty and underclassmen elsewhere have until Jan. 15 to file paperwork with the NFL to declare for the draft.

D'Andrea Hopeful

In the days leading up to the Fiesta Bowl, there was talk that linebacker Mike D'Andrea could be able to help the Buckeyes against Notre Dame.

However, the final box score did not list D'Andrea as appearing in the game.

After missing time early in the season due to complications from knee surgery, D'Andrea saw time in a handful of games before going back on the shelf. The NCAA has granted him an extra year of eligibility, meaning he can come back next year and compete for a chance to start at middle linebacker.

"I feel good," D'Andrea said at the media day last Friday. "I'm finally 100 percent again"

In regards to his balky knee, D'Andrea said, "The knee kept swelling up on me. It's been two major injuries, really. It's just been bad luck, I guess."

With OSU's three linebackers leaving after this season, D'Andrea hopes to be in the mix to start next year.

"Anyone would think that way in my position," he said. "You've gotta look at it that way. Obviously, the big thing I want to do is stay healthy next year."

Zwick's Plans

Justin Zwick began the last two seasons as the starting quarterback at Ohio State. But each year, junior classmate Troy Smith has wrested the job away.

Smith, now 13-2 as a starter, has a death grip on the quarterback job after leading OSU to seven straight wins – including season-ending triumphs over Michigan and Notre Dame.

For Zwick, he is down to one season of eligibility. He will be a fifth-year senior in 2006. He has two choices – he can stay at OSU and back up Smith or he can transfer to a lower division of football and have a chance at playing.

Zwick could have transferred, which he admits he gave serious thought to doing. But he says he'll be back next year for his final season, even though it will be as the backup quarterback.

"It's something I've thought about," Zwick said at media day. "I've weighed my options and I think it's best to just be here and be ready to go in case my opportunity comes. Do you want to chance maybe going somewhere and not having a good team, or going somewhere and getting hurt? Then I don't have the Ohio State backing behind me … I want to finish out here, be with my guys another year and have fun. And if something happens down the road, it happens."

Reaching the NFL by way of being a backup is difficult, leading to speculation and rumors he would transfer to Division II Ashland, where former OSU assistant Lee Owens is the head coach. But Zwick denied ever thinking about Ashland.

"If I had left, I would've left the state," he said.

Zwick started OSU's first two games in 2005 – a win over Miami (Ohio) and a loss to No. 2 Texas. Two days after that loss, Tressel announced on a radio show that Smith would start the following week's game against San Diego State. Zwick learned of the decision through a subsequent TV report.

"(Quarterbacks coach Joe) Daniels had said something in meetings before practice that day and I didn't think much of it," Zwick said yesterday. "Then I saw it on TV and took it more in-depth there. That's when I found out, basically, sitting in the team room watching TV. But what are you going to do about it?"

Zwick did all that was asked of him last year and this year after Smith was suspended for taking money from a booster. He led the team to an Alamo Bowl win last December on essentially one leg after injuring his hamstring.

He then looked sharp in the season-opening win over Miami (Ohio) and started the Texas game. But his fumble late in the game cost the Buckeyes any realistic chance at a comeback, and two days later he was out of a starting job.

"At first I was wondering ‘What did I do wrong?' " he said. "But in the end, it's not your decision to make, so you go with the flow. It's not something I'm going to go argue about, so I'll just be a backup they can rely on, keep a good attitude and work hard."

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