20 Questions and more predictions

Our pre-practice week continues today with even more predictions, except this time it comes in the form of 20 questions. What are some of the big issues with this team? Let's take a look.

Predicting the success or failure of this year's Ohio State team is very difficult.  The prognostications for this team have run the gamut, ranging from 8th place in the Big Ten to sleeper national title contender.  One of the reasons for such a wide range of predictions is the huge question marks this team has, and what the answers to those questions are is anyone's guess. 

Today, we are going to play 20 questions.  I am going to provide the best and worst-case scenarios for each, and then make a guess at the answer.

1. Will Derek Morris qualify?

Best-Case Scenario:  He passes his test and becomes an immediate contributor

Worst-Case Scenario:  He fails his test and does not see the field in 2002

A Guess: I only included this question because every single frickin' day at least three new people ask whether or not he has qualified.  Therefore, I have concluded this is the most asked question of the year.  The truth is that right now, it's anyone's guess, and because of that, I'll avoid making a prediction, but I am not optimistic about it.

2. Will Coach Tressel win the hearts of Buckeye fans everywhere?

Best-Case Scenario:  The Bucks win football games and Tressel makes everyone happy (maybe that should be called the Impossible-Case Scenario as there will always be some coach haters)

Worst-Case Scenario:  The Bucks struggle, Tressel makes a few bad calls here and there and the Fahr Cooper Gang re-emerges as the Fahr Tressel Gang

A Guess: Buckeye fans are hard to please.  That's good and bad; it's good because at least we demand excellence and aren't satisfied with a middle-of-the-road performance, but it can be bad when the boo-birds and fan frustration surface, which doesn't make things pleasant for anyone.  I don't think Tressel will do anything this year to bring out the venom that Cooper received, but I don't think he'll win universal acclaim either.  A bad game or two combined with a bad call or two will cause a few to criticize, but he will once again make people happy by... (see #20).

3. Will the offense open up this year?

Best-Case Scenario: Krenzel is the second coming of Joe Germaine, the wide receiver and tailback talent proves to be sickening, and the offensive line comes together, giving us shades of 1998

Worst-Case Scenario: Things start to look similar to what happened against Penn State and Michigan State in 1999

A Guess: I am not an expert in Xs and Os by any means, but I'll take a shot at this and try to sound smart in the process.  I have heard people criticize the Cooper-ism "Win the surest way," but this year, I don't think the surest way is to come out with an exciting, innovating, 21st century offense.  Sure, one of the strengths is wide receiver, and I think OSU needs to get the ball in their hands to take advantage of that.  But with a new quarterback and some talented running backs, I think this team is still going to try to run the ball first.  It won't be three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust, but it won't be the Spurrier "Fun n' Gun" either.  Move the sticks, get the yards, put together drives, limit mistakes.  It doesn't matter to me if they score 20 points a game or 50 points a game if they get the W.

4. Will Ohio State find a quarterback who will get the job done?

Best-Case Scenario: Krenzel is the second coming of Joe Germaine (again), someone emerges as a solid back-up

Worst-Case Scenario: Fans start to wonder if Steve Bellisari has any eligibility left

A Guess: I'm both optimistic and pessimistic here.  The quarterback situation scares me.  But the good thing is that we're not really looking for a quarterback who will single-handedly win football games here.  We just need a field general to run the offense and move the sticks.  I'm optimistic about Krenzel being able to do that.  Cautiously optimistic, but optimistic nonetheless.  I think we could have some ups-and-downs, but I do believe OSU is capable of winning the Big Ten with Craig at the controls.  As for the back-up, I am not sold on McMullen, so I hope OSU does not have to go to a back-up in an important situation early on.  I eventually think Zwick will move up to second-string, but I hope Krenzel can hold down the spot and stay healthy unless someone unexpectedly shows greatness in practice.

5. Will this starting offensive line unit be good enough to keep the offense moving?

Best-Case Scenario: Clarke, Olivea, Bishop, Douglas, and Stepanovich come together, stay healthy, and perform up to the potential that made them highly-recruited high school standouts

Worst-Case Scenario: We start to wonder if the walk-ons in the two-deep are good enough to start

A Guess: I do not think this starting unit will be horrible, but I don't think we'll see any All-Big Ten performers either.  I use the word "solid" a lot, and I'll use it again here.  The good news is Ohio State should win the battle of the trenches against the majority of the teams they face.  The offensive line could have a few struggles against teams like Michigan and Washington State, but I think these guys are fired up and will prove to be a decent starting unit.  Also, as has been said before around here, it doesn't hurt to go up against the OSU defensive line in practice.

6. Will a solid two-deep emerge on the offensive line?

Best-Case Scenario: Cook and Olds start to emerge, Kuhnhein shows a spark in his final season, and the freshmen are as advertised

Worst-Case Scenario: Coach Tressel looks up in the stands, sees Neutron Man dancing, decides he has good feet, and decides to give him pads to put under that jersey and suit him up at left tackle

A Guess: Eh.  This is the scariest part of the team right now.  Here's a question for you -- who is the team's 6th best offensive lineman right now?  I have no idea what the answer to that question is.  The drop-off from the starters to the second-string is like going from my mom's roast beef, gravy & mashed potatoes to a nice meal at the Target cafeteria.  I don't know if that's a good analysis because I don't know if the starters are quite that good... :-)  but you get the picture.  I think we may see a solid lineman or two emerge from the freshmen and what's there now, but this unit will likely be paper thin all year.  We need the offensive line starters to stay healthy.

7. Will the place-kicking improve?

Best-Case Scenario: Mike Nugent's field goal kicking becomes as deadly accurate as Ted Nugent's crossbow and takes repeated journeys through the center of the goal posts

Worst-Case Scenario: The combined 10-for-24 field goal stat from last year goes down this year; the Bucks run one of those contests where a fan tries to kick a field goal for a million dollars, but the fan is actually secretly trying out for the team

A Guess: The 10-24 stat is not very good, and I'm guessing that the OSU field goal kickers will certainly do better.  I wouldn't trust any of the OSU place kickers to make an Adam Vinatieri kick just yet, but I think we'll see improvement.  The legs are there; we just need to work on the accuracy and mental aspect, and I think Mike Nugent will be ready to go this year.

8. Will the Buckeyes return a kick or a punt for a touchdown this year?

Best-Case Scenario: The OSU return team becomes a threat to break one

Worst-Case Scenario: "Back deep to return the kick for the Buckeyes... Adrien Clarke and Ivan Douglas..."

A Guess: I love having electric return men.  I loved having Nate Clements two years ago because he was a threat to make something happen every time he fielded a punt.  It's just one more weapon to the arsenal and can make quite a difference.  This year, I have a feeling we could see one of each.  Mike Doss is not the fastest man on the team, but I just have a gut feeling he will break one.  I also think Chris Gamble, if given enough chances, could run a punt back.  I don't think Vance is the type to break a long punt return, but Gamble could do it.  I do think the return units will be better this year.

9. Will the Buckeyes be okay at cornerback?

Best-Case Scenario: The light goes on for Richard McNutt as he shakes the ankle injuries and shows why he was the #2 CB in America coming out of high school.  Dustin Fox shows he has learned the position and has made the transition with no problem.  Harlen Jacobs continues to emerge, Chris Conwell makes for a solid back-up, E.J. Underwood proves to be the real deal, and Bobby Britton comes back to become a key contributor.

Worst-Case Scenario: Cie Grant is forced to move back to one corner, I am at the other corner

A Guess: Corner is indeed a concern, particularly against teams like Texas Tech and Washington State, and even though Lee Evans probably won't be the same again this year, I didn't like hearing that he expects to be back for OSU as well.  I think the answer will lie in-between the above scenarios; this group will give up some plays here and there, but they won't be so bad that the rest of the defense won't matter.  I think they have worked hard and we will see continued improvement from this bunch.

10. Will this ballyhooed freshman class be able to contribute in a big way to the success of this team?

Best-Case Scenario: Those who play provide a big boost to the starters, and those who redshirt make us excited about the future

Worst-Case Scenario: Fans start to question Bill Conley's ability to recruit and evaluate talent

A Guess: We can't expect too much out of any recruiting class right away.  This class has been at least as hyped up as the 1996 #1 class, but don't expect to see the group live up to their ability on the field right away.  They are, after all, only freshmen.  But expect to see a few players break through and contribute, particularly Maurice Clarett, Mike D'Andrea and E.J. Underwood, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that one or two could start before long.

11. Who will step forth as the team leaders?

Best-Case Scenario: The voting for captain will be much easier than first thought and the team has true leaders

Worst-Case Scenario: We yearn for Captain Ken-Yon

A Guess: It is hard to guess who will be the leaders on offense.  I like what I hear about Craig Krenzel, and even though it might be tough to envision a first-year QB as a captain, I think he could very well emerge as a leader on offense before long.  I'm guessing Chris Vance will also be a leader because there are no other seniors.  On defense, you have to believe that Doss, Wilhelm and Nickey will be the leaders.  I think we can expect quite a bit of senior leadership on the defense.  And if you want a dark horse... Andy Groom.  We have heard his name in the past as a candidate for captain.

12. Will the defensive line really be as good as we think it can be?

Best-Case Scenario: Opposing quarterbacks become the victim of Silver Bullets

Worst-Case Scenario: The Buckeyes are out-gained by San Jose State

A Guess: Last year, the four projected starters had a combined 13 sacks.  This year, some think Will Smith may push that number by himself.  I cannot find any holes in this defensive line, and I think they will live up to the hype.  I can't wait to see them in action, and I expect them to be mentioned with Miami and Oklahoma when talking about the best lines in the nation.

13. Will the linebacking crew miss Joe Cooper and Courtland Bullard?

Best-Case Scenario: Cie Grant becomes a one-man wrecking crew back at his more natural position, Robert Reynolds lives up to his blue-chip ability in his first year as a starter, and three solid back-ups step forward

Worst-Case Scenario: Fans petition to have Marco Cooper let back on the team

A Guess: There is a small hint of pessimism here on my part, but I think that this crew will be ok.  I like the possibilities that Cie Grant brings.  You don't find many people with the physical ability to start at cornerback and outside linebacker.  Matt Wilhelm will be Matt Wilhelm if he stays healthy, and Robert Reynolds should be good.  Depth is a bit of a concern, but I think the incoming freshmen will give a boost there. I would guess they will not miss the departed players a whole lot.

14. How much will Ohio State miss Jamar Martin?

Best-Case Scenario: Branden Joe and/or Brandon Schnittker will be more athletic versions of Jamar Martin

Worst-Case Scenario: Quinn Pitcock's time at running back in high school comes in handy

A Guess: Jamar Martin was quite the fullback.  We're talking about a guy who will probably be mentioned down the line as one of the better OSU fullbacks in memory.  But I think Branden Joe and Brandon Schnittker are perfect fits and will do a great job of replacing Martin.  They might not wind up being as good of a blocker as Martin, but I think each one will be a load.

15. How much will Ohio State miss LeCharles Bentley?

Best-Case Scenario: Stepanovich shows signs of an All-Big Ten center

Worst-Case Scenario: The snap flies over the quarterback who has already been sacked before the ball got there

A Guess: We can't hope for another Bentley, but I think Stepanovich will be okay.  Bentley proved he was the best in America last year, and you just can't expect to replace a player like that.  So saying that the production at this position will decline is not necessarily a bad thing. 

16. Have the internal problems that plagued the team over the past few years finally disappeared?

Best-Case Scenario: Team chemistry is as good as it has been in years and when a player refers to the team as a "family," they're telling the truth

Worst-Case Scenario: Harlen Jacobs sues Maurice Clarett over use of the number 13, Mike Doss has 257 unpaid parking tickets, Neutron Man and Buckeyeman start to fight in the aisle, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria

A Guess: We've heard plenty of people talk about some of the players who might have been problems... I've even heard Kirk Herbstreit mention it in the past.  We can speculate and name names, but I am guessing that this year, several of the soap-opera like issues will be gone and the team can just worry about playing football.  Sure, there will always be an academic issue here and a disciplinary issue there, but I think the Tressel Train is rolling full steam now without big distractions in the way, and I'm guessing we won't see many (if any) problems of that nature this year.

17. Will these tailbacks be as good as we think they can be?

Best-Case Scenario: OSU has four tailbacks that can start for anyone and two of them push the 1,000 yard barrier

Worst-Case Scenario: OSU has trouble pushing the line of scrimmage barrier

A Guess: The overall experience is lacking a little bit, but this part of the team is not a concern.  I think it is not out of the realm of possibility to see the next two great OSU running backs emerge this year.  If the offensive line stays solid, these guys should rack up the yardage.

18. Will the Buckeyes miss Darnell Sanders?

Best-Case Scenario: Ben Hartsock, Ryan Hamby, R.J. Coleman, Redgie Arden, and Jason Caldwell prove to be as deep and talented of a group of tight ends as OSU has had in a while

Worst-Case Scenario: I line up at tight end

A Guess: The more I think about it, the more I like these tight ends.  Hartsock will be solid, and after a while, I think Hamby will be effective too.  Coleman might have more potential than any of them, and Arden is still real green at the position, but you have to like his physical tools.  A better question might be "Will the Buckeyes pass more to the tight end?"  To that question, I might have to guess no unless a serious pass-catching threat emerges, but I think the Buckeyes will be fine overall at tight end.

19. Will Ohio State win the Big Ten?

Best-Case Scenario: Rose-Bowl bound!

Worst-Case Scenario: The first ever Big Ten team in the Motor City Bowl!

A Guess: I picked the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten back in the spring and I'm stickin' to it.  I'm still worried about some of those question marks, but overall, I like the way things are looking.  The Big Ten is anyone's for the taking this year, and I think even though the Bucks might lose a game or two in the conference, it will be theirs in the end.

20. Will Ohio State beat Michigan?

Best-Case Scenario: Ohio State 9,999,999,999   Michigan 0

Worst-Case Scenario: Aww, not again!

A Guess: I think the Buckeyes will win again this year and we'll finally stop hearing some of the garbage spew from the mouths of the Michigan fans.  I think this year's game could be a war, but the war will be in our house, and I think we'll take it.

If I had a couple of wishes for this season, it would be to play with pride and give it 100%.  I don't want to see any games where afterward someone says "Uhh, we just weren't ready to play."  Bring it every game!  And hopefully there will be no catastrophic injuries.  An injury bug in the wrong places could damage this team's season real fast.  And students, please don't turn over cars or set fire to any furniture this year, especially after a loss (first off, it's played out. Second, it's weak. It makes no one look good. Third, have fun when you get asked about it during a job interview). Other than that, let's just hope for a fun season.  Go Bucks!

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