Some of the great sports columnists live on by the weight of their words. Grantland Rice and Jim Murray and – from here in Ohio – Si Burick are all great examples. As to the weight of a "Bucket of Bullets"? I am more akin to the lowly celery, which has "negative calories". It takes more calories (energy) to eat a piece of celery than the calories that piece has in it to begin with. So, I say – read the Bucket and you will know less than when you started. But it is calorie-free.
Which is a great way to begin a new season! We will start light, get heavy right away and then discover our real playing weight. The team, that is. The Bucket will take things seriously, disguised by laughing all the way. I say, he who laughs last, thinks slowest.
Think about this: Northern Illinois. The class of the MAC. Ohio Stadium. 3:30 PM. We finally get it on. We have been talking about this season so long, that the football almost seems anti-climactic!
These Huskies have pulled together some pretty talented squads in the last few years. Picked to win the MAC by those pundits that follow such things, Northern Illinois has 12 returning starters and both returning specialists from a team that went 6-2 to tie for first in the MAC West last year, and was prevented by a last second touchdown from winning the whole enchilada outright.
Will they be intimidated in the Horseshoe? Maybe a little, but not much. This is a school that has played and defeated Maryland, Alabama and Iowa State all in the same year. Last year, this squad lost to Northwestern – by one point. Last year, this team also played in the Big Outhouse and wasn't repulsed by the smell.
It's also a team that has a great back, albeit small in stature. That's Garrett Wolfe, all 5-7 and 170 pounds of him. For eight games in 2005, they also featured the throwing of Phil Horvath, who tossed for over 2000 yards before going down for the season in the eighth game. They will be a much sterner opening test than – say – North Texas State, to use an example. And they are coming in knowing that their season (careers?) is made if they upset the No. 1 Buckeyes. Nothing to lose and low expectations. That makes for a powerfully loose combination.
As for our young and hungry and talented Buck Boys? Maybe youth will work to their advantage here. There's no overlooking your first opponent when it's the first game you have ever played! And with the two-deep as competitive as it is, there's no letting down, or you will be sitting down.
The bookies show the Buckeyes as favorites (18 points). And Ohio State hasn't lost to a MAC team in 111 years (Akron in 1895), so those odds favor as well. As I predicted on our almost-world-famous Bucknuts Radio Hour, there will be some trickery and some awkwardness and some discomfiting moments, but the talent, speed, home crowd and desire of this team will move away in the end. Think 34-17, only because Tressel won't run it up and because the Husky first team should be able to score against our less-husky second squad.
Let's get it on and let's get it in the books!
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And as to the comparison at the beginning of this column – comparing the lowly Bucket to a Grantland Rice or a Jim Murray, well…I always told my Mom I would be considered in the same sentence as giants like those. And now I am…
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"One" is the loneliest number…It's rarefied atmosphere, the plateau upon which the Buckeyes find themselves. Did you know that:
1) In all of history, this is only the seventh time since the inception of
the AP poll in 1936 that OSU has been pre-season ranked No. 1. It also happened
in 1942, 1958, 1969, 1970, 1980 and 1998. OSU went on and won the national title
once - in 1942.
2) Since 1950, only four teams chosen No. 1 by the AP in the preseason have gone on to win the national title. They were Oklahoma in 1985, Florida State in 1993 and 1999 and USC in 2004. Although the Buckeyes were "close" in 1998…
Those are the odds. Play ball!
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Which teams don't play which teams…Many of us postulate that the season will come down to which team plays well in the Big Ten against…well, which team. But you also have to look at the imbalances of scheduling since the B-10 went to their B-11 format. This year, f'rinstance, here's a list of the teams that other teams don't play:
Ohio State: Purdue, Wisconsin
Michigan: Illinois, Purdue
Iowa: Michigan State, Penn State
Penn State: Indiana, Iowa
Illinois: Michigan, Minnesota
Indiana: Northwestern, Penn State
Michigan State: Iowa, Wisconsin
Minnesota: Illinois, Northwestern
Northwestern: Indiana, Minnesota
Purdue: Michigan, Ohio State
Wisconsin: Michigan State, Ohio State
Off hand, I say the Bucks get a pretty good break as both Purdue and Wisconsin have been spoilers in the past seasons. Michigan doesn't get to play Illinois, so that's a bad break for them. MSU misses Iowa and Wisconsin, so that helps. And Purdue doesn't play either OSU or Michigan? Good one for those Broilers…
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This is the ends…And the Doors keep swinging, as the Buckeyes have great talent at the defensive end position and more talent entering – potentially. Yes, this is the part of your Bucket of Bullets program where we look at one particular position and conjecture as to how that position will get recruited. This week, we are up to (down to?) the position of defensive end.
Talk about going from the outhouse to the penthouse, this traditionally undermanned position is certainly well-manned now. Think about this: I posit that Vernon Gholston, Lawrence Wilson and Robert Rose will all play in the NFL one day. Not only is this group composed of freshmen and sophomores, two of the three won't even be starting for the Bucks this year! No, that honor will go to one of them and to Jay Richardson. I am also postulating that two other of the "Young and the Huge" will move on down the line, to defensive tackle. The leading suspects there are Alex Barrow and Doug Worthington, two more super prospects.
Wait – is the cupboard empty then? Not hardly. You have Ryan Williams still coming back from an injury and you have the exciting Walter Dublin just coming to school. So, DE is deep and young and talented. And about to get even more so. Why, because two of the following four recruits will end up in scarlet and gray: Solomon Thomas, Ben Martin, Martez Wilson and Devon Still. And how good are these guys? Let's take a look:
Solomon Thomas: Duane Long says he is the second best DE he has seen in ten years in Ohio. Solomon says (wisely) that he is just waiting for the right time to commit to OSU. That's a good combination.
Ben Martin: If Solomon is the second best, then who is the best? That would be Ben Martin. One of – perhaps – the best ten players in the nation, Martin indicates that the decision will come down to OSU and Notre Dame. Those close to him indicate he has been put off by Coach Weis' arrogance. Go figure…
Martez Wilson: Also could be a Notre Dame/Buckeye battle. If there's anyone as good as or better than Martin, it's Wilson. Great choice to contemplate.
Devon Still: Still, there'll be more. Devon is more. His offer list is the proverbial "Who's Who" of the major powers.
Two of four is a helluva haul. Personally? Take the two Ohio boys and let's worry about the linebacker position next week…
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Two scoops of plain vanilla…Sometimes here at Bucknuts we are working on the same story (thesis?) at the same time without the other Bucknuts' scribe knowing it. Such was the case two weeks ago when I intended to shock the world with my great idea, only to get "scooped" by that rascal, Steve Helwagen. The idea? The 2006 Buckeye team has nine new starters on defense. So did the 1997 team, a squad that only gave up 13 points a game!
Steve asked Coach Heacock about the trials of so many new players and was told:
Heacock harkened back to
1997, when the Buckeyes had to replace eight defensive starters after going 11-1
and winning the Rose Bowl in 1996.When asked if he's ever seen a situation like
this before, he said, "We had one in 1997. We had (Andy) Katzenmoyer back and
Winfield Garnett. That was similar."
Steve went on to editorialize:
That 1996 defense was one of OSU's best as it allowed just 10.9 points per game. That is the school's lowest scoring allowed average since the 1979 team allowed 10.5 points per game. Last year, OSU allowed 15.3 points per game.
Just for old time's sake, that 1996 defense had Matt Finkes and Mike Vrabel at DE, Garnett and Luke Fickell at DT, Katzenmoyer at MLB, Greg Bellisari and Ryan Miller at OLB, Ty Howard and Shawn Springs at CB and Damon Moore and Rob Kelly at the safeties.
The 1997 defense allowed 13.1 points per game for a 10-3 team that lost at Penn State, at Michigan and to Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. The returning starters were Garnett, Katzenmoyer and Moore. The new starters were Rodney Bailey and Matt LaVrar at DE, Jimmy Bell at DT, Kevin N. Johnson and Jerry Rudzinski at OLB, Antoine Winfield and Ahmed Plummer at CB and Gary Berry at FS.
Actually (ahem), there were only two returning starters on that team because Damon Moore didn't begin the season as a starter. That's as per one Jerry Rudzinski who did start that year (1997) and who saved the programs from those games. Not only did I disagree with Steve on who actually started but our own Kirk Larrabee suggested to me that Na'il Diggs really started in front of Jerry. When I put that theory to the old captain, Jerry had this to say:
Lastly, yes I did beat out Nail Diggs in 97 for the starting spot in all 13 games. I know that is tough for you all to believe (considering he is a high profile NFL player with millions and I am a Midwestern hospital bed salesman), but I WAS THE GUY
Maybe just a little bit, uh, defensive? Anyway, despite all of us buffoons getting involved, it is still a great story…
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Pacing back and forth…There are 85 scholarships and it's hard to follow the bouncing ball (or the revolving door) as those ships bob up and down. Tressel's brain trust seems to focus on getting in 20 good kids every year, spacing out the positions and pacing the recruiting so to emphasize a senior class – with backfill. Case in point: although the Bucks are loaded with superior young talent this season, they still feature 17 fifth-year seniors. And 19 seniors in all. That's what caused Coach T to remark wryly, when asked if these Buckeye Battlers are ready to come to grips with a pre-season No. 1 rating. He said, "I'm hoping our older guys have enough maturity to handle it. We have 17 fifth-year guys. They have more seniority than some of our staff members."
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JT and the OL…Ever since Jim Tressel arrived here to kick off the Post Cooper Era, he has produced better and better offensive lines which has lead Buckeye Nation to bemoan 1) How come the offensive line isn't even better and 2) Well, we're better but how about the depth?
Coach Conley was one of those critics and even our own redoubtable Duane Long chimed in (consistently) on that depth thing. So I say, let's look at the record!
The first class that JT truly recruited was the vintage class of 2002. In that O-line collection, we had Rob Sims, Nick Mangold, Doug Datish and TJ Downing. The best of the crop was supposed to be Derek Morris – he of the "two Heismans before I leave", yet left early in the fall. A footnote: Tim Schafer was also in that class although he was recruited as a defensive lineman. The results: Mangold is playing for the Jets on Sunday, Sims for the Seahawks, Derek Morris was drafted (no Heismans). Downing and Datish will both be draft choices and even Schafer is turning into a serviceable (maybe a starting) player. Pretty good results there, eh you naysayers?
Then came the odd class of 2003, with all of one offensive lineman: high school tight end Kirk Barton. Oh, how we looked for some flesh to bite that year! Meanwhile, even Duane now admits that Barton was a find and Kirk, too, seems fated for the NFL either this year or next.
2004? They got Kyle Mitchum, Ben Person, Jon Skinner and Steve Rehring. Rehring is already penciled in as a multi-year starter, Skinner will be and no one is saying bad things about either Person or Mitchum. A good group.
Then last year, they landed nationally coveted Connor Smith and now-highly touted (by his teammates) Bryant Browning, both slated to start in 25 games or more. For that depth charge, they also have the lesser-known Josh Kerr.
I say that over half of the above-mentionables will play professionally. You know what's even more impressive? All of the recruits – 100% of them – are still in the program, are good kids and are highly productive.
Say what you want about the offensive line classes (and you will rave about next year's…), but if you say we haven't recruited well, you would be dead wrong…
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The odds and the oddities…There are all kinds of oddities when it comes to recruiting classes (just look at the guys at Bucknuts that cover them!), but one really stands out to me, upon reflection. That is the OSU class of 2003.
Start from the fact that the last five commitments that year read like a rogue's gallery. In order: Marcel Frost, Ira Guilford, Louis Irizarry, Sian Cotton and Reggie Smith. Whew. Then we have Dareus Hiley and Brandon Maupin to add to the under-achiever circle. Finish it off with two players that finished (with injuries) well before their time – Devin Jordan and Curt Lukens – and the taking-up-space oddity exploration continues.
Wait, there's more. Todd Boeckman was "in" that class but ended up being gray-shirted to the next one. And the class stars, Donte Whitner and Ashton Youboty, both came in early and left for the pros early, as well.
That means, of the 15 players that could/should be graduating in four years, only one will: David Patterson! And only two will make it out in five years: Kirk Barton and Anthony Gonzalez. Some strange reunions that you could hold in a phone booth. And – what are the odds?
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A real robust T…For those playing fantasy football along with me, imagine a combo of Woody and Tress. Imagine (willful suspension of disbelief is required here…), a Buckeye backfield lining up with Troy Smith at QB and then, behind him – in the "T" – Ted Ginn, Chris Wells and Antonio Pittman across the back. Troy could throw or pitch or toss or hand off. And how about the mis-direction and the…well, you get the picture.
The games can't get here soon enough!
If your particular fantasy hasn't been served on MySpace and you have lowered your expectations to discussing sports with Mr. Bucknuts, feel free to contact him at MrBucknuts@yahoo.com