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Headline: The Experts Speak Out
(From Feb. 2006 issue)
The 2005 Ohio State football season is in the books. By the time you read this, the Buckeyes would already have taken on Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl, putting an end to another eventful season.
Did this year's team live up to expectations? Or was it a disappointment? What stood out, and what didn't? And what about next year? Our staff gathered together after the end of the regular season to look back on the 2005 football season to give some answers to those questions and more thoughts on what we saw throughout the course of this year. Let's take a look at the results.
Final grade (A-F) of Ohio State's overall performance:
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: B+. A national championship takes luck. The Buckeyes didn't have it and didn't make their own this season. The resulting two losses cost them a shot at a national title, but they still won a share of the Big Ten. 9-2 with a win over Michigan is a nice season, no matter how you cut it.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: B+. The Buckeyes were one of the best teams in the country this season and finished strong. But you can't erase the two losses.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: B+. It can't be any better
than that with two losses, including one at home. Then again, it was a Big Ten
championship season and those have been in short supply in recent years. And
that win at Michigan is worth an extra half-letter grade most of the time.
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: Antonio Pittman is the MVP. Yes Troy Smith had an unbelievable season, but he started only nine games and took another four to hit his stride. Pittman played the entire year and as his abilities came to the fore, the offense took off.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: Troy Smith, edging out Antonio Pittman. Smith led the Big Ten and finished seventh in the country in passing efficiency with a rating of 158.4. Only Bobby Hoying (163.4 in 1995) had a higher single-season QB rating in OSU history. Smith was playing as well as anybody in the country the second half of the season.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: Oh, man. This one is hard. Santonio Holmes was consistently good from game one through 11. Troy Smith was borderline great from game six through 11 and, once again, amazing against Michigan. He is clearly the leader of the offense. But Holmes, for his play all season, was the MVP.
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: A.J. Hawk. I don't think any explanation is needed.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: A.J. Hawk. The best defensive player in the land cemented his place among the all-time greats at OSU. His leadership and toughness will be missed almost as much as his playmaking abilities.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: Bobby Carpenter made a concerted run at this honor with his play as the designated pass rusher from the midway point of the season on. But for anyone to think that this award would go to anybody but A.J. Hawk, they would be mistaken. That was a Chris Spielman-type year, if I've ever seen one.
What will you remember most about this season?
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: Two items: One, this team was so very close to playing at a championship level but just was not there. They missed key tackles, dropped passes, fumbled the ball, and didn't force turnovers. Two, they pushed through their deficiencies and mounted a comeback for the ages in Ann Arbor. They showed heart.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: The 25-21 comeback win at Michigan. One for the ages. The Buckeyes looked down and out trailing by nine midway through the fourth quarter. But Smith led them on a pair of memorable TD drives, including an 88-yarder in the final four minutes.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: I'll remember two things. First would be the opportunities that could have been if they had defeated Texas because they had a chance to win that game. The second thing was the win at Michigan, late in the game. That will always be remembered as a great victory.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: The way they did not pack it in
after the 3-2 start. With all of the commotion in and around Columbus about the
two losses and the poor offensive showing, they stayed with what they do and who
they are. They stayed together, won six straight and got their picture on the
wall at the WHAC as the school's latest Big Ten championship team.
What was your biggest surprise of the 2005 Buckeye season and why?
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: The development of Troy Smith as a passer was a pleasant surprise. Had I been told last September that Smith could ever run a proficient spread attack as he did against Michigan, I would have done a double take. Opponents should beware; Smith is just now learning to be a quarterback.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: Losing two regular season games was the biggest surprise. This team had national championship talent, but didn't get the breaks in the Texas and Penn State games.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: Maybe Antonio Pittman. I thought he had a great spring and thought he might come in and do a nice job for them. But as he kept piling up 100-yard game after 100-yard game it became apparent that he had elevated his game to where he could be an every down back. His future looks pretty bright.
What was the least surprising thing about the season and why?
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: The performance of the defense. They were expected to be good and didn't disappoint. Yet their weaknesses remained an area of exploitation with questions at one cornerback and defensive end keeping them from equaling the 2002 unit.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: The play of Santonio Holmes. He's as solid as they come and will be playing on Sundays for years. He put up good numbers (48 catches, 853 yards, 10 TDs) but you could make the argument that he was actually underutilized, considering how talented he is.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: I think the great play of the linebackers. We identified them as the best linebacker corps in the country going into the season. They proved it and lived up to those expectations.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: The play of the defense. With so many returning starters, you knew they would be pretty good. And they were. Teams could not run on Ohio State. You could say the defense played well enough to be 11-0.
What was your biggest disappointment about the season and why?
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: The loss to Texas. The Buckeyes had this game won if they make just one of probably 15 plays. They didn't. It was a complete team and coaching loss.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: Losing the Texas game. The Longhorns have an outstanding team this year, but I do not feel that the better team won that night. Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot late in the game, and the QB shuffling didn't help. I think it's a different story if they played later in the season.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: Probably the offense over the first four or five games. After the way they finished the 2004 season with such great games against Michigan and Oklahoma State, they were way too inconsistent for my taste in the Texas, San Diego State and Penn State games. It could not hurt them against SDSU, but meant defeat against Texas and Penn State. Then again, those two teams ended up a combined 22-1, so give them a little bit of credit, too, I guess.
Best moment of the season:
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: Undoubtedly the crowning moment for this team had to have been Pittman scampering into the end zone with just 24 ticks remaining in regulation to defeat Michigan. He and Stan White combined to knock heads with Prescott Burgess -- who scorned Ohio State -- before bowling him over at the goal line.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: The 25-21 comeback win at Michigan.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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 hardly played at all, wiped out Michigan's side of the line.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: Take your pick – the few
moments right after Anthony Gonzalez caught that pass from Troy Smith and you
knew Ohio State was about to defeat Michigan or the final few seconds of the
game when Michigan was unable to run another play and you knew Ohio State had
Worst moment of the season:
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: Bobby Carpenter's injury against Michigan. Beyond the impact it would have on the outcome, Carpenter was a joy to watch. Seeing him in tears, unable to play his final regular season game was painful.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: The 17-10 loss at Penn State. Nothing seemed to go well that night in a hostile environment.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: Take your pick – when Texas' Limas Sweed landed on his back inbounds with the game winning touchdown of that game or when Penn State's Tamba Hali blasted Smith for a fumble that snuffed out OSU's comeback bid.
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: Nick Mangold. Here is a young man who was given a good deal of press, but no matter how much he received, it wasn't enough. The offensive line will miss him in 2006.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: Nick Mangold and Quinn Pitcock. They are two of the best interior linemen in the country and don't always get the credit they deserve. Mangold was basically a coach on the field.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: There are a few. Maybe Quinn
Pitcock on defense. Maybe Anthony Gonzalez on offense. These are people who don't
get credit with making a lot of plays. The plays they do make are generally huge
and they help so many of their teammates make big plays with what they do.
Team's biggest strength heading into 2006:
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: Offensive line. I expect Doug Datish to move to center and with Kirk Barton, Alex Boone, Steve Rehring, and T.J. Downing all returning, this group might open up serious holes in defenses. Couple that with Stan White Jr.'s blocking and the running abilities of Pittman and Chris Wells, and the offense might roll up big numbers.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: The offense as a whole. With Smith and Pittman back, along with six other returning starters, the ‘06 team has the makings of best offense of the Tressel era.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: I could say it's the offense and with seven or eight returning starters that may be the strength of this team on the field. But you can't teach something like what this team went through at Michigan. I would say just that general sense of team and how they can overcome any obstacle put in front of them. With a road game at Texas and one as well at Iowa, that type of perseverance should serve them well next year.
Team's biggest question mark heading into 2006:
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: Defensive end. The lack of pressure since the departure of Will Smith has been a source of trouble. Mike Kudla helped, but OSU must find a way to disrupt offenses without having to blitz.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: Replacing the linebackers. However, I don't foresee a huge drop-off with James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, John Kerr, Mike D'Andrea and Chad Hoobler all stepping up.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: Who will replace that great linebacker corps.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: Well, the defense. They could
lose up to eight or nine starters on that side of the ball. That is a lot of
guys to replace. You like to think there is plenty of talent there with people
like Marcus Freeman and Chad Hoobler at linebacker and Jamario O'Neal at
safety. But these people have hardly ever played, so there will be somewhat of
learning curve early on next year.
Give your early prediction for 2006:
Charles Babb, Staff Writer: If they get past Texas early, this team has a better than average shot of playing for and possibly winning a national title. A loss to Texas will still leave them in good position. With all other key games at home, I expect an 11-1 season.
Dave Biddle, Bucknuts Assistant Editor: 12-1, national championship.
Bill Conley, Former OSU Assistant and Bucknuts.com Contributor: 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.
Steve Helwagen, Bucknuts Managing Editor: Could be another Big Ten championship-caliber season and maybe another top-10 finish. It depends on the defense and how quickly they plug all of the holes, particular at linebacker in the secondary. I'm going to say 10-2 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten. (Where have I heard that before?)