And now OSU fans are thinking, somewhere way back in the dark shadows of the cortex, "Man, look at this team. Just wait until next year!" Even though we are playing out the string on this magical mystery tour of 2002. Even though we are playing for the national championship in four weeks. It's so seductive. It's fantasy football at its best. It's downright American.
The trouble with next year is that it never really comes. As Coach Kierkegaard said, "The best way to look at life is backwards. Unfortunately, we have to live it forwards". Or something like that. And twenty years from now, we'll remember the 13-0 regular season record. But we'll struggle to place those unbelievably fortuitous games (Purdue? Illinois?). Can we possibly repeat those serendipitous moments next year? Twelve or thirteen times? Hey – why not!
That's why recruiting is so darn titillating. We can make it up as we go. Who will remember? Now, for the sake of this argument, let's look at the Buckeyes and their 2003 season. What do we have to work with?
We've got the entire two-deep returning on offense (less Chris Vance). And before you say, that's good news? I say – that's great news. Clarett should be healthy. Ross will be healthier. Hall will be better. Krenzel will bring back the magic. We get "the Maurice Clarett" of tight ends in Louis Irizarry and we might have the best set of receivers in the country. That's right: Michael Jenkins, Chris Gamble, Drew Carter, Bam Childress, John Hollins and freshmen sensations Santonio Holmes and Roy Hall. And, to boot (particularly) the suddenly sensational Mike Nugent is returning.
The offensive line, you say? I say that a couple of the mastodons will be smaller. I say that Stepanovich, Douglas and Olivea will have All-Big Ten seasons. Mix in the more agile newcomers (like Rob Sims, Nick Mangold and Doug Datish) and you have the possibilities of something special up front.
And how about the 2003 defense? Well, how about three All-Big Ten D-linemen coming back (Scott, Anderson and Will Smith) plus Simon Fraser, who will be All-Big Ten. How about the terrific youngster tandem of Quinn Pitcock/Joel Penton being turned loose on the inside? Linebackers and the secondary will be the question marks. And taking second things first, let's look at the DB's.
I say that Dustin Fox will move to safety and Will Allen will get to start. I say that the two new safeties might be better all-around (don't forget defending the pass) than even Nickey/Doss. Cornerbacks? Gamble at one spot and either Underwood or Donte "Lights Out" Whitner at the other. AJ Hawk will star/excel at one linebacker position and one of D'Andrea/Carpente/Pagac will fill the Wilhelm void; Reynolds returns to anchor that group. We need a new punter but BJ Sander has been schooling now for four years!
Will we be as good as 2002? Maybe better. Will we win 13 in a row? Maybe not. We will probably be favored in every game – as of this point. And favored to beat Michigan three times in a row for the first time since the 1940's.
As far as the schedule goes for next year, our out-of-conference warm-ups don't look quite as intimidating as they did a month ago. We open with Washington at home, then have a "bye week" on the road against San Diego State. We then come back home to play North Carolina State and Bowling Green. The Big Ten season starts with Northwestern at home (like a bye week), Wisconsin at Madison (again), Iowa at home (insert venomous remarks here), two road games at Indiana and at Penn State, home then against rebuilding Michigan State and against Purdue. And, finally, going for the threepeat at the World's Largest Outdoor Toilet in Ann Arbor.
Obviously, we'll have to play better on the road but we should have a better team to do that. If "luck" is our lady again next year, we could be up at Michigan in November with Krenzel throwing passes and Carr throwing embolisms as we look to win our 26th straight game – the longest winning streak in the nation!
Ooh. I like that. Yes, it's a great time to be a Buckeye. And it's great not to have to wait until next year!
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