Rea's Say: Getting Acquainted

It's a new week, a new website and it's time we get better acquainted. Check out the first Rea's Say for the Scout.com website which features some of managing editor Mark Rea's musings about the upcoming Ohio State schedule, the Big Ten and life in general.

For those of who you know me, hello again. For those of you who don't, this is the first installment of my Internet column/blog for Scout.com. It gives me a chance to give my opinion on all things Ohio State as well as the Big Ten and the national scene.

Fair warning: I do not own a pair of scarlet and gray glasses, so I can get critical when I feel it is warranted. But I like to play things straight down the middle. I am not a cheerleader. Likewise, I'm not one of those guys who take delight when the Buckeyes stumble.

I have covered Ohio State football for a large chunk of the past 30 years – beginning with the 1978 season – and I also know a thing or two about recruiting. I like to say that I've been around recruiting so long that I remember when Bill Kurelic taught school and Tom Lemming was a mailman.

Nevertheless, the more we get to know each other, the better I will know the tenor of how you all are feeling and vice versa. To that end, I thought I would give you a peek into my world by offering some of my likes and dislikes.

I'll watch just about any college football game, even if Notre Dame or Michigan is involved. I don't like the NBA because it is a watered-down version of basketball. NBA players simply cannot shoot the basketball with any kind of accuracy. Know how many of the 30 NBA teams shot at least 50 percent from the field this past season? Zero.

I don't dislike Notre Dame as much as most. I probably do dislike Michigan as much as most. From the big hole in the ground in which they play to the ugliest helmets in college football to an arrogance from which I have no idea where it came, my favorite teams are truly Ohio State and whoever is playing U-M.

I still watch ESPN, and I'm a paying customer to ESPN Insider on their website. There are still a lot of things to like about the so-called worldwide leader in sports, including College GameDay, Boise State football and Suzy Kolber. But I refuse to watch SportsCenter and I absolutely loathe Stuart Scott. Someone is going to have to explain to me how that guy became a quasi-star of the broadcasting business.

I like Jessica Alba. I'm just not too sure she should be the subject of so many message board threads, especially on sports websites.

I like blondes. I must ... I married two of them. (Second one worked out much better.) Even my daughter is blonde.

I like Jack Daniel's on the ice. I don't understand mixing Jack with Coke – or much of anything else, for that matter.

Best steak I ever had: Chamberlain's Steak and Chop House, Addison, Texas. Best pasta dish: rigatoni with vodka sauce at Harry Caray's in Chicago. Best seafood: sautéed grouper at Pelican Bend in Isles of Capri, Fla. Best chicken wings: Crazy Flamingo, Marco Island, Fla. Best pizza: Plank's Café, Columbus, Ohio. Best place for a quick beer: Dub Pub, Dublin, Ohio. (If you've ever been there, you'll know why.)

My top 10 sports movies of all time: 1. Field of Dreams (if you ever "had a catch" with your dad, you'll know why this one is a classic); 2. Hoosiers (Norman Dale and Jimmy Chitwood; the ending still gives me goose bumps); 3. Caddyshack (Rodney, Ted Knight and a million catchphrases still in use); 4. Rocky (Yo, still the best of the bunch); 5. Rudy (I'm a sucker for the underdog; so shoot me); 6. Cinderella Man (Totally underrated movie with great performances throughout and a killer ending); 7. Major League (I'm a Reds fan, but I love this movie because it has almost as many quotable lines as Caddyshack) 8. Seabiscuit (another underdog story with a happy ending); 9. The Harder They Fall (cautionary boxing tale with crisp acting by an aging Humphrey Bogart and young Rod Steiger); 10. A League Of Their Own (Geena Davis has seldom been better and Tom Hanks is in full stride as Jimmy Dugan/Jimmie Foxx).

I like to play golf and poker, not that I'm particularly very good at either one. I've always been pretty good at softball, but my back, shoulder, knees and wrists forced me into retirement a few years ago.

I'll listen to pretty much any kind of music from classical to country. Not too keen on hip hop or rap, although there is some of both that I don't mind.

Favorite sportscasters: Bob Costas (NBC/HBO), Vin Scully (Dodgers), Al Michaels (Monday Night Football), Verne Lundquist (CBS), Chris Fowler (ESPN). Least favorite: Stuart Scott (ESPN), John Sterling (Yankees), Stuart Scott (ESPN), John Madden (Monday Night Football), Stuart Scott (ESPN), Chris Berman (ESPN); Stuart Scott (ESPN).

Maybe it's just me, but I got a real sour taste in my mouth after watching the celebrations by the Florida football and basketball teams after they beat Ohio State in their respective national title games. An old coach once cautioned his players to win and lose with the same amount of dignity. Not sure either Urban Meyer or Billy Donovan embraces that idea – making it imperative that each gets put in their place this coming season.

Oh, and by the way: My last name is pronounced Ray but spelled R-E-A. Hence, "Rea's Say." Remember that it rhymes with Shea (as in Shea Stadium) and we'll be fine.

I think that about covers it for now.

A LOOK AT THE SCHEDULE

Know what happens six weeks from this Saturday? Ohio State kicks off the 2007 regular season that will feature new faces, familiar places and the return of Wisconsin and Purdue as Iowa and Indiana drop off.

Here is a quick look at the Buckeyes' opposition next season:

Youngstown State (Sept. 1) – Ohio State hosts a Division I-AA team for the first time and it is Jim Tressel's old team. The Penguins are always good and 2006 was no exception – they advanced to the I-AA semifinals and finished with an 11-3 record. Unfortunately, YSU has never had much success going against I-A competition, losing 37-3 to Penn State last season and 40-0 to Pitt the year before. The Penguins are coached by Jon Heacock, brother of OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, and former Ohio State tight end Louis Irizarry is one of several returning starters.

Akron (Sept. 8) – The Zips regressed last season, dropping to 5-7 overall just one year after winning the MAC championship. Their lone marquee win in '06 was a 20-17 victory at North Carolina State. Akron did show some offensive firepower at different times during the season, and should benefit from the return of tailback Dennis Kennedy, a one-time OSU verbal who rushed for 914 yards and nine TDs last season. One other thing the Zips have going for them: They are the only team currently in the MAC ever to beat the Buckeyes although it's been awhile – 1894.

At Washington (Sept. 15) – The Buckeyes are 7-3 all-time against the Huskies, but only 3-2 in Seattle and haven't won there since 1969. Head coach Tyrone Willingham will begin his third season at U-Dub after posting a 2-9 record in 2005 and a 5-7 mark in '06. The Huskies were 4-1 last season before a six-game losing streak knocked them out of the postseason running. One thing Willingham will have to improve is defense – it finished 85th in scoring defense and 95th in total defense last year.

Northwestern (Sept. 22) – The Buckeyes ease into the Big Ten schedule by hosting the Wildcats, a team that hasn't won in Columbus since 1971 and has been outscored 206-36 on its five trips to the Horseshoe. Northwestern endured a tough season in 2006, beginning with the death of head coach Randy Walker over the summer. But the 'Cats accomplished some good things during Pat Fitzgerald's first year as head coach, including victories in two of their last three games.

At Minnesota (Sept. 29) – It's difficult to know what to expect from the Gophers as they transition from Glen Mason's run-oriented offense to new head coach Tim Brewster. Under the new regime, Minnesota will have to figure out a way to stop the opposing team – the Gophers finished 113th in total defense last year. Tressel has never lost in four games against Minnesota, the Buckeyes are 39-7 in the overall series, and OSU has never lost in 10 visits to the Metrodome.

At Purdue (Oct. 6) – October begins with the Boilermakers, whom the Buckeyes haven't seen since a 24-17 loss in West Lafayette in 2004. As Joe Tiller enters his second decade as head coach, Purdue's philosophy hasn't changed much. Finishing 8-6 last season, Tiller's team was the nation's No. 6 passing team while finishing 90th in scoring defense. The Boilers will present a challenge for anyone's secondary with one of the country's top passing combinations in quarterback Curtis Painter (3,985 yards, 22 TDs) and wide receiver Dorien Bryant (1,068 yards, six TDs). Add to the mix that it will be the Buckeyes' second road night game in a row and the possibilities for a misstep are definitely there.

Kent State (Oct. 13) – The expanded schedule calls for another midseason break from Big Ten play, and this year features another instate MAC school. The Golden Flashes finished second in their division last year, but a 6-6 overall record kept them out of the bowl picture. That record included a 44-0 blowout loss to Minnesota in their opener and a 17-14 defeat at the hands of Army, a team that won just three times last season. Kent has played Ohio State only once before, a 51-17 loss in Columbus in 2002.

Michigan State (Oct. 20) – Former OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio takes over an underachieving team that was 4-8 overall and just 1-7 in Big Ten play last year. Dantonio's immediate assignments will be finding a replacement for veteran quarterback Drew Stanton and shoring up a defense that allowed 28.4 points per game in 2006. Dantonio clearly prefers coaching for Tressel over coaching against him. His Cincinnati teams lost twice to the Buckeyes in Columbus – 27-6 in 2004 and 37-7 in 2006.

At Penn State (Oct. 27) – It's bad enough that this is another night game because Ohio State struggles anyway when it takes on JoePa in his own back yard. The last time the Buckeyes visited Happy Valley, they were victims of a "White Out" in 2005 and came home with a 17-10 loss. It was a roller-coaster ride for the Nittany Lions last season, but they finished 9-4 overall including a 20-10 upset win over Tennessee in the Outback Bowl. Duplication of that success will depend upon whether or not Paterno can fill holes created by the graduation losses of such star players as running back Tony Hunt, offensive tackle Levi Brown, linebackers Paul Posluszny, safety Donnie Johnson and all four defensive linemen, including stud tackle Jay Alford, a third-round steal for the New York Giants.

Wisconsin (Nov. 3) – The Badgers and Buckeyes renew their burgeoning rivalry after a couple of years apart. Wisconsin has been difficult to handle in Columbus in recent memory. Tressel is winless in two home games against the Badgers, and the Buckeyes haven't enjoyed an Ohio Stadium victory over Wisconsin since 1996. Last year, the Badgers were a glittering 12-1 under first-year head coach Bret Bielema, but they might be hard-pressed to repeat that kind of performance. They lost a host of veteran players, including offensive tackle Joe Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the NFL draft, and overachieving quarterback John Stocco.

Illinois (Nov. 10) – Before Florida ran roughshod over the Buckeyes, it was the 2-10 Illini that provided somewhat of a blueprint on how to beat Ohio State last year. Ron Zook returns for a third season in Champaign, and although his team lost 10 games last season, four of those defeats were by a touchdown or less. Couple that with an excellent recruiting campaign and plenty of buzz around the campus, and Illinois fans can expect marked improvement out of a program that has won only two of its last 30 Big Ten contests.

At Michigan (Nov. 17) – After six straight seasons with at least three losses, the Wolverines rebounded to 11-2 and got as high as No. 2 in the national polls. But the season ended on a sour note with losses to Ohio State and USC, and although quarterback Chad Henne and tailback Mike Hart decided to return for their senior season, the defense will suffer major losses including defensive linemen LaMarr Woodley and Alan Branch, linebacker David Harris and defensive backs Leon Hall and Willis Barringer. OSU has won five of the last six games in this series, its best streak since winning six of seven from 1957-63. One other note: Next year's BCS National Championship Game will be played Jan. 8, 2008, in New Orleans – 52 days after the OSU-Michigan contest.

GORGING ON CUPCAKES

As long as we're looking at schedules, a quick check of the Big Ten shows some nonconference slates. Discounting Division I-AA teams – eight conference teams dip into the lower division for opposition this season – only one Big Ten team features a nonleague schedule against teams which combined for a winning record in 2006.

That would be Purdue, which has a pair of 10-win teams from last season on its schedule. Central Michigan (10-4) was Mid-American Conference champion in '06 while Notre Dame (10-3) joins Toledo (5-7) to give the Boilermakers' nonconference opponents a combined 25-14 record from last year.

On the other side of the coin, Penn State and Northwestern will try to fatten up on mostly cupcakes. The Nittany Lions don't play any I-AA teams and have to travel to South Bend to take on the rebuilt Fighting Irish. But their other three nonconference opponents – Florida International, Buffalo and Temple – combined for a robust 3-33 record last season.

Meanwhile, the Wildcats will try to rebound with a nonleague schedule that features Nevada, Duke and Eastern Michigan, teams that combined for a 9-28 record in 2006. Even the I-AA opponent on Northwestern's schedule – Northeastern – posted a sub-.500 season last year at 5-6, giving the entire Wildcats' nonconference schedule a .292 winning percentage from a year ago.

Of course, Northwestern isn't the only Big Ten playing a Division I-AA team that finished below .500 last year – so are Illinois (Western Illinois, 5-6); Wisconsin (The Citadel, 5-6); and Indiana (Indiana State, 1-10). Three teams, however, are wading into the best that I-AA had to offer in 2006 – Minnesota takes on North Dakota State (10-1), Ohio State hosts Youngstown State (11-3) and Michigan takes on two-time defending I-AA national champion Appalachian State.

Here is the full slate of nonconference games for Big Ten teams:

Illinois – Missouri, Western Illinois, @ Syracuse, Ball State

Indiana – Indiana State, @ Western Michigan, Akron, Ball State

Iowa – Northern Illinois, Syracuse, @ Iowa State, Western Michigan

Michigan State – UAB, Bowling Green, Pittsburgh, @ Notre Dame

Michigan – Appalachian State, Oregon, Notre Dame, Eastern Michigan

Minnesota – Bowling Green, Miami (Ohio), @ Florida Atlantic, North Dakota State

Northwestern – Northeastern, Nevada, Duke, Eastern Michigan

Ohio State – Youngstown State, Akron, @ Washington, Kent State

Penn State – Florida International, Notre Dame, Buffalo, @ Temple

Purdue – @ Toledo, Eastern Illinois, Central Michigan, Notre Dame

Wisconsin – Washington State, @ UNLV, The Citadel, Northern Illinois

STAFF UPDATE

As I mentioned in the opening, the warm welcome we have received on this site is extremely gratifying.

Unfortunately, there is one member of our staff who will not be making the transition with us. Jeff Rapp has decided to leave our company and will go to work for Bucknuts in the near future. I am sure that website will announce the news soon, but I wanted to be upfront about letting all of you know what you can expect.

Before the conspiracy theories begin, there was no acrimony in Jeff's departure. After spending a long time in one space, sometimes you seek a change. That happened recently with Dan Patrick of ESPN and it is not uncommon in this profession.

I have no doubt that Jeff will prosper in his new surroundings just as I have no doubt we will prosper with our staff as we incorporate what we do with what Kyle brings to the party here as far as basketball coverage is concerned.

LEFTOVERS

• Happy belated birthday to Todd Boeckman, who turned 23 on June 20. Did you know Boeckman is older than Troy Smith? The Heisman Trophy winner doesn't turn 23 until Friday.

• Often times, when a program is placed on probation, the athletic director and head coach pay with their jobs. Not so at Oklahoma where athletic director Joe Castiglione was recently promoted to vice president for intercollegiate athletics programs and head coach Bob Stoops received a contract extension through 2013.

• In case you missed it, the NCAA's board of directors will review the complete ban on text messaging at its Aug. 9 disciplinary meeting. Some member institutions have asked to restore text messaging to recruits under certain conditions.

• There is a poll currently running on CBSSportline.com that asks "Which college football program has been the most notorious rule breaker?" The choices are SMU, Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma, Miami (Fla.), Arizona State or somebody else. Thank goodness ESPN isn't doing the survey because we all know which team it would have listed at the top. (By the way, Miami was leading by a fairly comfortable margin.)


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