As fans continue to wonder how Ohio State will rebound from the BCS National Championship Game in January – the so-called "Debacle in the Desert" which OSU lost 41-14 to Florida – there are just as many questions between the lines. Who will replace Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Troy Smith? How will hyped tailback Chris Wells do in his first year as a starter? Will James Laurinaitis back up his Nagurski-winning season with a better one yet?
Those questions are the ones this series will attempt to answer. Looking at numbers from previous similar situations in Buckeye history, some guesses will be made as to how the 2007 season might go.
Today the series starts with a look at the quarterback position. Todd Boeckman, Robby Schoenhoft and Antonio Henton figure to wage a spirited battle for playing time during fall camp in efforts to become the Buckeyes' starter. Surely the results of that battle will go a long way in determining how the OSU season will develop, but what can Buckeye fans expect?
Since the "passing era," as termed by former signal caller Jim Karsatos, began under Art Schlichter in 1978, Ohio State has replaced a two-year starter eight times. There is a mixed bag when it comes to success of the team in such situations.
Three times the team's winning percentage has gone up, three times it has regressed and twice it has stayed the same. On the whole, Buckeye teams with new starters have had nearly as good of records as they did in previous years, but the touchdown-to-interception ratio and completion percentages left something to be desired.
Some of OSU's greatest achievements during the past 25 years have come in years with first-year starting quarterbacks. Bobby Hoying left OSU following the 1995 season having played three excellent years and leading the Buckeyes to an 11-2 record in his final season. All Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine combined to do was go 11-1 and win the 1996 Rose Bowl against Arizona State.
The most memorable season for Ohio State in the past quarter century was undoubtedly 2002. A darkhorse Buckeye team, coming off a 7-5 season played mostly under senior Steve Bellisari, went 14-0 and won the national championship with Craig Krenzel, who was in his first year as a starter, at the helm.
On the flip side, Ohio State has had some of its most disappointing seasons in recent memory under new starters. The 1999 team was attempting to follow in the footsteps of the '98 squad that went 11-1 under Germaine and might have been the most talented Scarlet and Gray squad in the past 25 years. Instead, under Bellisari and Austin Moherman, the Buckeyes went 6-6 and failed to qualify for postseason play.
That season mirrored another tough year with a new starter in charge. Tom Tupa's only season as OSU's No. 1 ended without postseason play when the Buckeyes went 6-4-1 in 1987. Karsatos' Buckeyes went 10-3 the previous season. The 1987 struggles ended with the firing of head coach Earle Bruce, who received a fitting tribute when OSU won his final game with a rousing comeback against Michigan.
While figuring out what might be in store for Ohio State in 2007 is tough while looking at the above results, a baseline can be created by looking at the average numbers the quarterbacks had in their first year as starters.
In the eight seasons with a new starting quarterback since 1980, Ohio State teams have gone a combined 71-25-1 for an average of 8.9 wins and 3.1 losses per year (perhaps those forecasting a 9-3 season for OSU in 2007 are not that far off). That's in comparison to a 75-20-1 record for the seasoned starters in the year before. On average, that extra experience essentially is worth half a win each season.
Now, what kind of statistics can be expected from the trio of new starters? The numbers are not overwhelming on average for the new starters. Ohio State's combined completion percentage in years with new starters is just 54.0, compared to the 65.3 percent of passes that Smith completed last year to set the school record.
OSU teams with new quarterbacks average 14.4 passing touchdowns per season, 10.5 interceptions and 2,168 yards. All that is down from the 30 scores, six picks and 2,542 yards Smith tossed for a year ago. While everyone under the sun figures OSU will experience a drop off with Smith having graduated, those numbers show just how precipitous the fall could be.
One thing to keep in mind is that whichever quarterback exits August with the starting job very well might not have it the entire season. In five of the eight transition years – 1982 (Mike Tomczak and Brent Offenbecher), 1991 (Kirk Herbstreit and Kent Graham), 1996 (Jackson and Germaine), 1999 (Bellisari and Moherman) and 2004 (Smith and Justin Zwick) – multiple quarterbacks have started games.
What does it all mean? First of all, those who have been predicting a 9-3 record for OSU in 2007 based on the schedule are backed up by history, although there are plenty of cases of Buckeye teams with new field generals surpassing and falling short of said mark. Smith's legendary numbers of a year ago will be hard to even approach, but solid and steady play could very well be expected. One good bet is that expecting the same quarterback to start all 12 regular-season games might just be folly.
The eight transitions in the "passing era":
1981 to 1982: Art Schlichter to Mike Tomczak and Brent Offenbecher
1984 to 1985: Tomczak to Jim Karsatos
1986 to 1987: Karsatos to Tom Tupa
1990 to 1991: Greg Frey to Kent Graham and Kirk Herbstreit
1995 to 1996: Bobby Hoying to Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine
1998 to 1999: Germaine to Steve Bellisari and Austin Moherman
2001 to 2002: Bellisari to Craig Krenzel
2003 to 2004: Krenzel to Justin Zwick and Troy Smith
Next up on Wednesday: What can be expected from Chris Wells in 2007?