The Opening-Day Starter

After an impressive start that had some whispering his name for Heisman, Todd Boeckman showed some growing pains down the stretch in his first season as a starter. However, while the competition might be heating up around him, the senior gets the first crack at the job in Jim Tressel's offense.

When the Buckeyes line up for the first snap of 2008 on August 30 against Youngstown State, Todd Boeckman will be under center.

Count on it. At least, if Jim Tressel's past has anything to say about it.

Despite being the incumbent starter, the senior-to-be saw a drop-off in production during the second half of his first season as the team's starter. After throwing for 14 touchdowns and amassing four games of passing for 200 yards or more in the first six games, he threw for just nine more touchdowns and topped the 200-yard mark just once in the final six regular-season games.

He also threw eight of his 14 interceptions in the final seven games counting the team's loss to LSU in the BCS National Championship Game. Arguably his lowest point came in the team's 28-21 loss to Illinois in week 11, when he threw three interceptions and zero touchdowns.

It has all added up to a situation where Boeckman could potentially be feeling his grip on the starting job slipping as he heads into the offseason.

Or at least, that would be the case if someone besides Tressel was presiding over the team. The head coach entering his eighth season in Columbus has shown a tendency to favor upperclassmen when it comes to playing time.

For that, he has his father, Lee, to thank. When Jim was a college quarterback under his father at Baldwin-Wallace College in northern Ohio, he had one shot at the starting job: His senior season.

After spending three years learning the system and backing up the older players ahead of him, Jim quarterbacked his team to an 8-1 record under center. But while that year as a starter was earned through hard work and effort, it also came about because, under Lee Tressel, the senior got the first crack at the job.

"The senior, it was his job," said Ken Preseran, who backed up Jim during his senior season. "Obviously if it wasn't going well the head coach would make a switch, but the senior was up. The senior was first up. It was his job to lose."

Those lessons were not lost on Jim, who spent his senior season trying to be as efficient as possible. Official statistics from the season have been lost during the years, but Preseran described Tressel as a quarterback who was always careful with the football – an asset he preaches in his own quarterbacks today.

Still, Tressel is haunted by an interception he threw against Wittenberg in a 17-0 loss that knocked B-W out of the playoffs.

"My senior year in the Ohio Conference championship, I was rolling to the right and I had a choice to make: Would I run it in or should I throw it?" he said. "I chose to throw it, it was picked and we lost the game."

From that aspect, Tressel has to be less than pleased with the 14 interceptions Boeckman threw last season – most by a quarterback during the Tressel era and third-highest in OSU history.

In addition, the coaches felt confident enough in the abilities of redshirt freshman Antonio Henton to apparently create a game plan that involved his talents for the national championship game. To top it off, the Buckeyes are in the running for the nation's top quarterback in Terrelle Pryor, a prospect who figures to make an immediate impact immediately upon setting foot on campus.

Both figure to push Boeckman to perform his best and could challenge to take the spot should he falter as the season goes on, but history has shown that Tressel is reluctant to change starting quarterbacks unless things are going drastically wrong.

In 2001, sophomore Craig Krenzel started two games in place of senior Steve Bellisari after the team captain was arrested for driving under the influence. Bellisari then hung onto the starting job until he graduated, only giving way to classmate Scott McMullen for two games due to injury.

Heading into the 2007 season, Boeckman was embroiled with Henton and sophomore Robby Schoenhoft in a quarterback duel that was his to lose all along. As soon as Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith graduated, Tressel handed the reins to Boeckman – albeit slyly and with reservations at first.

"If there were a game today, for instance, Todd Boeckman would line up and start the game," Tressel said before the team began spring practices. "Todd has an experience advantage for sure. I think another advantage he has which Robby and Antonio have to work real hard to overcome is Todd didn't spend the whole last year or so reading cards and running plays just from a robotic standpoint. Todd got to work on learning conceptually what we are doing and those types of things."

Still, faced with the challenge of breaking in a new starter, Tressel gave Boeckman the first shot at the job and he took it and ran with it. Despite his shortcomings, he was named first-team All-Big Ten by the media following the season.

And if Tressel's track record and background have anything to say about it, he will be the starter on opening day.

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