Sunday Morning QB: Looking At Fiesta, 2006

In the final edition of Sunday Morning Quarterback for the 2005 season, we answer the Ten Pressing Questions for Ohio State's win over Notre Dame at the Fiesta Bowl. Plus, we recap the rest of the bowls and we take a quick look ahead to 2006, where we understand OSU will visit the defending national championship team on Sept. 9. Click here for more.

Welcome to the final edition of Sunday Morning Quarterback for the 2005 season. Each week during the year, I wrote this column as a quick read on the news, notes and opinion on Ohio State's weekly game as well as the Big Ten and the college football nation at large.

We start with a look at OSU's Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame:

On Monday morning, I posted my Ten Pressing Questions regarding OSU's appearance in the Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame. Now, in the wake of OSU's 34-20 win over the Irish, we will try and answer these questions.

Without any further adieu, here we go:

1. How big is this game, really? -- This was just the fifth meeting ever between these two tradition rich college football powers who are located just 280 miles apart. The all-time series was tied 2-2. Ohio State, obviously, won bragging rights in the series for years to come since there are no future meetings in sight.

This is important, especially since ND coach Charlie Weis is coming into Ohio with more regularity. OSU won the battle for Lawrence Wilson last year. Will they do the same with Cincinnati LaSalle junior standout Ben Martin next year?

The Buckeyes did their part, though, beating the Fighting Irish head to head on the football field. Maybe that result will take ND down a peg or two.

2. Which Troy Smith will show up? -- The hits just keep on coming for Smith, who followed a career game against Michigan by going for 408 yards total offense (342 yards, two touchdowns passing) in the win over Notre Dame.

Smith just seems to get better and better with each game. The excitement has to be huge to see how he will attack a 12-game regular season in 2006 as one of the top five returning quarterbacks in college football.

In the win, Smith had touchdown passes of 56 yards to Ted Ginn Jr. and 85 yards to Santonio Holmes.

"I think he kept his composure and I say that in reference to a few times when we had guys wide open and he didn't panic," said OSU quarterbacks coach Joe Daniels. "He just relaxed and threw the football and put it right there. You know, that's not easy. There's the old saying, ‘Don't miss the layup.'

"When you see a guy wide open, you overthrow it or underthrow it because you get all excited. He kept his composure, and that was the key."

Daniels is eager to get to work with Smith on 2006.

"I think it's a continual growth for him," he said. "I think he'll continue to get better and learn, I hope."

3. Can Antonio Pittman approach or eclipse the 100-yard mark? -- Pittman ended the game with 136 yards on 21 carries. Of course, 60 of those yards came on his final carry – the backbreaking touchdown that put the Irish away. That meant that Pittman only had 76 yards on his first 20 carries.

But Pittman's work was enough to help OSU win the possession battle. The Buckeyes held the ball for nearly 31 minutes in the game.

And, his final run was the one that ultimately wrapped up the game for the Buckeyes.

"They always say you have to play four quarters," Pittman said. "In the fourth quarter, I busted the big one to seal it up."

Pittman's big game ended his year at 1,331 yards – the 10th best single season in OSU history. Like Smith, you can't help but wonder if the best is yet to come for Pittman.

"I think I came a long way from last year to this year," Pittman said.

4. Can Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr. get loose and make a big play on offense or special teams? -- In the build-up for this game, we talked about the big plays that Terry Glenn turned in during the 1995 game against Notre Dame and Dimitrious Stanley had in the 1996 game.

Well, Ginn and Holmes took what those guys did and trumped them with their big TD catches – as well as Ginn's incredible start-and-stop-and-start again 68-yard touchdown run on a reverse.

OSU's dynamic duo exposed Notre Dame's woeful secondary and overall lack of speed. I understand ABC dropped a stat that OSU had three offensive plays of 50 yards or longer in the regular season and they had three in the first half of this game against ND.

And, while Holmes is headed to the NFL, Ginn's stock has never been higher. He had nine catches against Michigan and eight more for a career-high 167 against Notre Dame. Afterwards, he committed, perhaps,a Freudian slip by saying he had "one more year" left.

But, like we said about Smith and Pittman above, I imagine most OSU fans are interested in seeing what a bigger, stronger and more experienced Ginn has for an encore next season.

"I just try to go out and play hard and play fast and do everything right," Ginn said.

Sounds like a good plan to me.

5. Will Ohio State be able to hold its own against Notre Dame's running game? -- ND's Darius Walker was making some inroads early. He had 11 carries for 60 yards in the first half. But with OSU in command of the game, Weis opted to shift more to the pass. In the second half, ND attempted 11 rushes and 28 passes.

Yes, Walker did score three touchdowns. If you recall, before the game I predicted Walker would become the latest member of the Amos Zereoue Club: "The line at the end of the day will probably look about the same – 20 carries, 80 yards … and a loss."

Walker's final line: 16 carries, 90 yards … and a loss. He can join Zereoue, Willis McGahee, Darren Sproles, Vernand Morency, Michael Hart and many others in this select club.

6. Can the Buckeyes contain Brady Quinn? -- We were concerned that Quinn, a 3,000-yard passer, would have a big game. But his numbers looked a lot like Ron Powlus' against Ohio State, sans the serial turnovers.

By the end of the game, Quinn realized he had been in a football game. He was 29 of 45 passing for 286 yards. He was sacked five times and, truly, wore Mike Kudla (three sacks) and A.J. Hawk (two sacks) most of the night.

Plus, Quinn was victimized at times by some terrible drops. I think Jeff Samardzija may have had three himself.

Quinn, a Dublin, Ohio, native who passed on a chance to play quarterback at OSU, gave all the respect to OSU afterwards.

"It was a great experience, something I always looked forward to," he said. "I knew it would have to be a bowl game to play against Ohio State, but to have an opportunity to play the Buckeyes was big for me. It was better than I hoped."

7. Can the OSU defense get off the field on third down? -- For the year, Notre Dame had converted 50 percent of its third and fourth downs. They ended up 9 of 17 on third down and 1 of 2 on fourth down, each impressive enough. But at several key moments, the Irish were unable to get that one more first down they needed to put themselves in scoring position.

And, in fact, it was a pair of late third-down conversions by the Ohio State offense, setting up Pittman's late touchdown run, that helped clinch the game for the Buckeyes.

8. Will a turnover or several of them shape this game? -- This series had been predicated on which team made the costly error. In 1935, an OSU fumble led to ND's game winning touchdown in an 18-13 win in Columbus. In 1995, ND's Powlus threw a pick and lost a fumble and the Irish also fumbled a punt. All three mistakes led to OSU touchdowns in a 45-26 win. Finally, in 1996 (a 29-16 OSU win) Powlus threw two costly picks.

But the converse was true this time. Smith lost a fumble deep in his own end and the defense snuffed the ND threat. He also lost one as the Buckeyes were going in for a score. Notre Dame did not commit any turnovers this time. This was reminiscent of OSU's win over Michigan State earlier this year, when the Buckeyes lost the turnover battle 4-0.

9. What factor will Josh Huston be? -- It was an up-and-down night for Huston. He slipped on the opening kickoff, giving ND great field position as it drove for the first score. He also had a pair of field goals blocked, kicks that may or may not have been high enough to get over the line.

But he did put five of his seven kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks. And he did make a pair of important field goals in the second half as the Buckeyes clung to the lead.

10. Can the Buckeyes pull off what would be a gigantic win in a BCS game? -- Notre Dame was all business in the days coming into the game and then scored on the opening drive. But Ohio State never lost its poise and methodically buried ND under a hail of huge offensive plays.

The Buckeyes acted like they had been there before. This incredible senior class was part of a fourth straight bowl win, including a third BCS bowl win. OSU improved to 4-1 in bowls under Tressel and 4-0 all-time in the eight years of the BCS.

And a Bonus Question: Will Bobby Carpenter play? -- No, Carpenter did not get into the game, and, as I thought, the Buckeyes did not need him to defeat Notre Dame. OSU has been so lucky in terms of injuries the last several years. You hope Carpenter is able to rehab and get ready for the NFL draft workouts this spring.

* The Buckeyes and their faithful put on a great display at the Fiesta Bowl for the third time in four years.

"How about a hand for (Fiesta Bowl executive director) John Junker over there, our favorite guy," Tressel said as he wrapped up his postgame press conference.

But amazingly, the Buckeyes can play their way back to the Fiesta Bowl next year if they are one of the top two teams in the BCS rankings. (Keep in mind, the Fiesta Bowl as well as next year's national title game shift to the new Cardinals Stadium across town in Glendale, Ariz., next year.)

Still, the Buckeyes are hoping to ride their powerful offensive to another double-digit win season next year.

"The national championship is here next year," OSU's Smith said. "We like that and hopefully next year it sets up pretty good. For the last four or five years, we have been known as a defensive team. I'm sure we will still be known as a defensive team, even though we lose key and major guys.

"Now, it's going to be more of a balance, the defense and the offensive team, hopefully."

Here is a look at OSU's returning starters for next year (at least until we know what will happen with CB Ashton Youboty and SS Donte Whitner):

Offensive Personnel -- Returning Starters (9 of 12): LT Doug Datish, RG T.J. Downing, RT Kirk Barton, TE Marcel Frost, FL Ted Ginn Jr., QB Troy Smith, TB Antonio Pittman, FB Stan White Jr., SL Anthony Gonzalez. Starters Lost (3): SE Santonio Holmes, C Nick Mangold, LG Rob Sims.

Defensive Personnel -- Returning Starters (5 of 12): DE David Patterson, DT Quinn Pitcock, CB Ashton Youboty, SS Donte Whitner, NB Brandon Mitchell. Starters Lost (7): DT Marcus Green, DE Mike Kudla, OLB A.J. Hawk, MLB Anthony Schlegel, OLB Bobby Carpenter, CB Tyler Everett, FS Nate Salley.

Special Teams Personnel -- Returning Starters (4 of 5): P A.J. Trapasso, LS Drew Norman, PR-KR Ted Ginn Jr., PR-KR Santonio Holmes. Starter Lost (1): K Josh Huston.

Here is a look at the 2006 schedule, when OSU will again miss Purdue and Wisconsin in Big Ten play:

Sept. 2, Northern Illinois -- The Huskies ended up 7-5 overall after a stunning 31-30 loss to Akron in the MAC title game. The key returnee would be RB Garrett Wolfe, a 5-7, 174-pounder who had 1,588 yards and 16 TDs as a junior.

Sept. 9, at Texas -- The Longhorns capped a 13-0 season with their 41-38 triumph over USC in the Rose Bowl and won the school's first national championship in 35 years. QB Vince Young says he'll be back, but the NFL millions may be hard to pass up. Young would be the Heisman Trophy favorite and among 15 returning starters (eight offense, seven defense) for the Horns.

Sept. 16, Cincinnati -- Former OSU assistant Mark Dantonio would get another shot at the Buckeyes. OSU spoiled his head coaching debut with a 27-6 win in 2004. The Bearcats were a disappointing 4-7 overall and 2-5 in their first season in the Big East. It appears that one-time OSU signee LB Freddie Lenix has enrolled at UC and could be on the field against the Buckeyes.

Sept. 23, Penn State -- The Nittany Lions wrapped up an improbable 11-1 season with their triple overtime win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Joe Paterno sounds intent on coming back, but PSU must regroup with just 11 starters back (five offense, four defense, two kickers). It looks like Anthony Morelli would move in at QB.

Sept. 30, at Iowa -- The annual Kirk Ferentz-to-the-NFL rumors are rampant with so many coaching vacancies at the next level. LBs Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge are gone, but the Hawkeyes will have 16 returning starters (seven offense, seven defense, two kickers), including QB Drew Tate (2,828 yards passing, 22 TDs) and RB Albert Young (1,334 yards rushing). And this game is at Iowa, where the Hawkeyes massacred OSU in 2004.

Oct. 7, Bowling Green -- The Falcons were 6-5 this past year, tying Akron and Miami (Ohio) for the MAC East title. QB Omar Jacobs (2,591 yards, 26 TDs as a junior) is the key name.

Oct. 14, at Michigan State -- Coach John L. Smith is on the hot seat already at MSU after the Spartans were 5-6 overall and 2-6 in Big Ten play. But he will welcome back 13 starters (five offense, six defense, two kickers), including strong-armed QB Drew Stanton (3,077 yards passing, 22 TDs).

Oct. 21, Indiana -- Terry Hoeppner recently underwent surgery to have a tumor removed from his temple. The prognosis is he should have a full recovery. There was also plenty of hope from his first year at the helm at IU, although the Hoosiers were just 4-7 overall and 1-7 in Big Ten play. He will welcome back 14 starters (seven offense, five defense, two kickers), including the nice pitch-and-catch combo of QB Blake Powers (2,305 yards passing, 22 TDs) and WR James Hardy (61 catches).

Oct. 28, Minnesota -- TB Laurence Maroney declared for the NFL draft after the Gophers' Music City Bowl loss to Virginia. That defeat left Minnesota at 7-5 overall. UM coach Glen Mason, after some contentious negotiations, got his four-year extension at roughly $1.65 million per year. He will have 15 returning starters (seven offense, six defense, two kickers), including QB Bryan Cupito (2,530 yards passing, 19 TDs). RB Gary Russell (1,130 yards rushing, 18 TDs) would be in line to replace Maroney.

Nov. 4, at Illinois -- It will be two year of the Ron Zook reclamation project in Champaign. Year 1 was a wash as the Illini were about as dismal as any Big Ten team in recent memory, finishing 2-9 overall and 0-8 in Big Ten play. There will be 21 returning starters (10 offense, 10 defense, one kicker).

Nov. 11, at Northwestern -- QB Brett Basanez is done after a four-year run with the Wildcats, who ended up 7-5 overall after their Sun Bowl loss to UCLA. Coach Randy Walker would have 18 starters (nine offense, seven defense, two kickers) due back, including RB Tyrell Sutton (1,474 yards, 16 TDs as a freshman).

Nov. 18, Michigan -- The Wolverines ended the year at 7-5 after their controversial Alamo Bowl loss to Nebraska. UM will have 13 returning starters (six offense, six defense and one kicker). That group would include QB Chad Henne (2,526 yards passing, 23 TDs), TB Michael Hart and WR Mario Manningham (27 catches, 6 TDs as a freshman).

Now for a look around the Big Ten:

* It was looking like a complete bowl washout for the Big Ten until Wisconsin and co-champions Ohio State and Penn State combined to win the league's three biggest bowl bids and give the conference a 3-4 bowl record.

No. 3 Penn State wrapped up that strong finish with a 26-23 triple overtime win over No. 21 Florida State in Tuesday's Orange Bowl. The game matched college football's two winningest coaches in FSU's Bobby Bowden and PSU's Joe Paterno. But Paterno had the last laugh in a game filled with missed field goals when Kevin Kelly made a 29-yard kick in the third overtime to end the four-overtime ordeal … er, classic.

"I told him we're too old for this," the 79-year-old Paterno said of his advice to Kelly. "It's almost past my bedtime."

The win was costly for PSU as TB Tony Hunt and LB Paul Posluszny each went down with injuries.

* No. 21 Wisconsin stunned heavily favored No. 7 Auburn 24-10 in the Capital One Bowl to send coach Barry Alvarez out as a winner. The Badgers never looked back after taking a 17-0 lead. QB John Stocco threw for 302 yards and two TDs, while RB Brian Calhoun capped a big year with 213 yards and one TD. For the year, Calhoun had 1,636 yards and 22 TDs.

"The main thing I'm most proud of is that we brought pride back to our fans for our football program," said Alvarez, who enjoyed his fourth 10-win season.

Alvarez remains Wisconsin's athletic director, while defensive coordinator Bret Bielema takes over the reins of the football program.

* No. 16 Florida held off a late charge from No. 25 Iowa and took a 31-24 win in the Outback Bowl. The Gators benefited from an offsides call against the Hawkeyes on an onside kick, a kick Iowa recovered. Replays showed that LB Chad Greenway was not offsides.

QB Drew Tate threw for 346 yards and three TDs for the Hawkeyes, who rallied from down 24-7 at halftime.

* No. 17 UCLA outscored Northwestern 50-38 in a wild Sun Bowl that saw Bruins wide receiver Brandon Breazell amazingly score on a pair of onside kick recovery/returns. NU lost after scoring the game's first 22 points. QB Brett Basanez went out in a blaze of glory, completing 38 of 70 passes for 416 yards with two TDs and two interceptions for the Wildcats.

* Minnesota dropped a 34-31 decision to Virginia in the Music City Bowl, falling after holding a 21-10 halftime lead. QB Bryan Cupito threw for 358 yards and two TDs for the Gophers. But his interception in the end zone with just 36 seconds left ended Minnesota's late comeback bid.

* Michigan dropped a controversial 32-28 decision to Nebraska in the Alamo Bowl. The Wolverines blew a 28-17 fourth-quarter lead, but had a chance to win on the final play. On that play, UM executed eight laterals and, in a scene right out of the Cal-Stanford game, players and media members streamed on the field in the middle of that final play. But UM's Tyler Ecker was knocked out of bounds at the Nebraska 13-yard line.

It was the latest disappointment for Michigan, which was ranked as high as No. 3 before a Sept. 10 loss to Notre Dame. UM's five losses were by a combined 21 points. The 7-5 finish was Michigan's worst since a 6-6 finish in 1984. UM lost its third straight bowl game as well.

And a glance at headlines nationally

* No. 2 Texas stunned No. 1 USC 41-38 to win the national championship at the Rose Bowl. The Longhorns were down to a fourth down in the final seconds, but QB Vince Young scrambled for the game winning 8-yard touchdown run with 19 seconds left. He then also ran for a two-point conversion.

USC advanced as far as the Texas 43-yard line in the closing seconds, but could not get in position for a potential game-tying field goal. Young threw for 267 yards and also rushed for 200 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Longhorns to a second straight Rose Bowl win and their first national championship in 35 years.

Matt Leinart threw for 365 yards and one touchdown and LenDale White had three touchdown runs for USC, which saw its 34-game winning streak and a chance to win a third straight national title go by the wayside.

* Oklahoma upset No. 6 Oregon 17-14 in the Holiday Bowl with QB Rhett Bomar throwing for 224 yards and a touchdown.

* No. 11 West Virginia knocked off No. 8 Georgia 38-35 in the Sugar Bowl, played before a pro-Georgia crowd at the Georgia Dome. WVU struck a blow for the much-maligned Big East by jumping out to a 28-0 lead and downing the SEC champions in their own backyard.

Steve Slaton rushed for 204 yards and three touchdowns for the Mountaineers.

* No. 10 LSU obliterated No. 9 Miami (Fla.) 40-3 in the Peach Bowl, also held at the Georgia Bowl. Matt Flynn subbed for injured QB JaMarcus Russell and threw for 196 yards and two TDs for the Tigers.

* No. 12 Virginia Tech rallied with a pair of late touchdowns to defeat No. 15 Louisville 35-24 in the Gator Bowl.

* No. 13 Alabama downed No. 18 Texas Tech 13-10 on a final-play, line drive 45-yard field goal by Jamie Christensen in the Cotton Bowl. Alabama won its NCAA-record 30th bowl.

* My final top 15: Texas, USC, Penn State, Ohio State, LSU, West Virginia, Georgia, Auburn, Virginia Tech, Alabama, Notre Dame, Oregon, Florida, Wisconsin, Miami (Fla.).

* My 15 teams to watch for 2006 (in no particular order): Texas, Ohio State, USC, LSU, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Florida, Auburn, Iowa, Wisconsin, Boston College, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Notre Dame.

We will wrap up each week with a look at how OSU's opponents fared.

Date (Time, TV), Opponent (Record), This Week's Result, Next Week's Game

Sept. 3, Miami (Ohio) (7-4), regular season complete.

Sept. 10, Texas (13-0), beat USC 41-38 in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship.

Sept. 17, San Diego State (5-7), regular season complete.

Sept. 24, Iowa (7-5), lost to Florida 31-24 in Outback Bowl.

Oct. 8, Penn State (11-1), beat Florida State 26-23 (3 OT) in Orange Bowl.

Oct. 15, Michigan State (5-6), regular season complete.

Oct. 22, at Indiana (4-7), regular season complete.

Oct. 29, at Minnesota (7-5), lost to Virginia 34-31 in Music City Bowl.

Nov. 5, Illinois (2-9), regular season complete.

Nov. 12, Northwestern (7-5), lost to UCLA 50-38 in Sun Bowl.

Nov. 19, Michigan (7-5), lost to Nebraska 32-28 in Alamo Bowl.

Jan. 2, vs. Notre Dame (9-3) at Fiesta Bowl, lost to Ohio State 34-20 in Fiesta Bowl.

Note: OSU's opponents combined to post a record of 84-57 this year (including, of course, 2-10 against Ohio State).

Big Ten Standings

Team (Overall, Big Ten)

Penn State* (11-1, 7-1)

Ohio State* (10-2, 7-1)

Wisconsin (10-3, 5-3)

Michigan (7-5, 5-3)

Northwestern (7-5, 5-3)

Iowa (7-5, 5-3)

Minnesota (7-5, 4-4)

Purdue (5-6, 3-5)

Michigan State (5-6, 2-6)

Indiana (4-7, 1-7)

Illinois (2-9, 0-8)

*-Shared Big Ten championship.

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