Comparing Rebuilding Projects In Columbus

Wondering how the 2007 Ohio State offense will pan out inevitably conjures visions of two recent years Ohio State faced massive rebuilding projects, 1999 and 2004, a discussion leading to compare some of the key numbers regarding those two squads and the one set to report for practice today.

There's been much all through the offseason about just how much the Ohio State offense will lose from 2006 to 2007, and it has been popular to compare this challenge to the one faced by the squads of 1999 and 2004. The former came a year after John Cooper's Buckeyes spent most of the season ranked No. 1, beat Michigan, won the Rose Bowl and finished ranked No. 2 in both major polls. The latter saw most of the key parts of the 2002 national champions head for the NFL or elsewhere after winning 11 games and a BCS bowl while finishing ranked No. 4.

For some historical perspective on the eve of practice, takes a look at how the statistical losses compare.

Percentage of offense returning

Rushing: 67.1
Receiving: 24.8
Scoring: 39.6*

Rushing: 81.2
Receiving: 41.3
Scoring: 61*

Rushing: 33.8
Receiving: 33.8
Scoring: 36*

*Does not include kicking

First, let us remember all three teams lost starting quarterbacks with multiple years of extensive playing time, although the roles of Joe Germaine and Troy Smith, the signal callers in '98 and '04, are hard to compare to that of 2003 man Craig Krenzel. Germaine and Smith are two of the best passing quarterbacks in school history, while Krenzel was more of a care taker, able to create big plays on occasion but not with the regularity of Germaine (His 3,330 yards passing as a senior are still the school record) and Smith (The only Buckeye to throw 30 touchdowns passes in a single season).

The previous replacements at quarterback also had reason to look for much more help from the running game, which would appear to leave just one advantage over either squad for Buckeye fans to look forward to in 2007: the 1999 returning receivers.

But not everything is as it appears.

In 1998, David Boston put together the finest single season for a receiver in school history with 1,435 receiving yards, a total that nearly matches the combined efforts of '06 departees Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. Interestingly enough, the No. 2 receiver in 1998 was Dee Miller, who picked up 915 yards through the air, also exceeding the individual totals of both Ginn and Gonzalez.

A further inspection of the numbers actually finds good news for the next quarterback: whoever it turns out to be, he will have more targets with meaningful experience than the combinations of Steve Bellisari and Austin Moherman (1999) or Justin Zwick and Troy Smith (2004).

After Boston and Miller, the leading receiver in 1998 was tailback Michael Wiley (27 catches for 200 yards). No other wideout caught more than 14 passes that season.

The Zwick/Smith combo could look to Santonio Holmes (32 catches for 549 yards as a redshirt freshman in 2003), but that was it.

Todd Boeckman, Robby Schoenhoft or Antonio Henton all may look forward to tossing to the experienced duo of Brian Robiskie, whose 29 catches nearly matched the total of Holmes, and Brian Hartline, whose 17 grabs far exceed the No. 2 returnee in either of those other seasons studied.

That is not all, however.

Despite both teams returning a bulk of the running game from the year before, neither the '99 nor '04 squads could replicate prior success.

Wiley and Lydell Ross (the leaders in '98 and '03, respectively) both lost a significant number of yards from their junior to senior seasons, although Ross' can partly be attributed to a midseason suspension. The next offensive line Ohio State runs out there also figures to be stronger than that of either of the others studied here, and the same can be said for the likely starter at tailback: sophomore Chris Wells.

But Does It Mean Anything Anyway?

Numbers, of course, are not everything, and a football team is comprised of more than just offensive skill players.

Aside from the aforementioned differences in offensive lines, both previous teams featured defenses with less experience than the 2007 one figures to have. Six starting defenders departed after 1998 and seven did so after 2003. The '06 group figures to lose five starters (if counting either Anderson Russell or Jamario O'Neal a returning starter, but not both).

The 1999 Buckeyes skidded to 6-6, while the 2004 team started well enough before hitting a rough patch at mid-season and finishing 8-4. Whether the '07 team affirms the saying that bad things tend to happen in threes remains to be seen.

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