Fiesta Assumptions Unmasked (Pt 2)

Jim Tressel

When not lobbing insults and jibes at Ohio State's players, writers aimed to hit Jim Tressel and his coaching staff with horse apple blurbs.

· After penning an article critical of Ohio State, a writer followed it with a piece examining e-mails sent by upset Buckeye fans. He offered this pearl, "Jim Tressel's previous success at Youngstown State was another common refrain. The fact that he came from a smaller Ohio college proves he was an underappreciated genius who needed the opportunity to arrive at this moment. Kind of like Gerry Faust and Randy Walker, I guess."

· Another incorrectly stated, "The ‘Canes are the first truly balanced team Ohio State will face. Jim Tressel is an excellent coach, but he has an unsolvable equation. If Buckeyes defensive coordinator Mark D'Antonio tries to stifle All- American tailback Willis McGahee, he takes a chance quarterback Ken Dorsey will rip Ohio State from the air…"

· "So the Buckeyes will make Miami QB Ken Dorsey, 38-1 as a starter, beat them? Against a pass defense ranked 87th in the nation? Sheesh, great idea, brainiacs."

· A fourth noted, "This is a coach that stumbled five times in his inaugural season at Ohio State. He is 0-1 in Buckeye bowl games and lost the close ones in 2001 instead of squeaking out a "W" as his team did this season. Credit Tressel's squad for winning five games this season decided by six points or less but if you want to talk about never flinching look no further than Larry Coker."

I cannot figure out the point of these comments. Where is the value in professional journalism when the only proof offered to buttress one's argument is to simply engage in insulting or belittling others? At what point the responsibility to report the facts of the situation (instead of blithely asserting one's own opinion) take over?

At what point does an editor encourage their writers to be balanced in their approach and research the careers of the Ohio State coaching staff instead of panning them in ignorance? Where were the discussions of Tressel's pedigree? Where were the articles pointing out that Tressel defeated Jim Donnan 2 times out of 3 in D-IAA title games and handed Terry Bowden a loss while he coached at Samford? Where were the articles that discussed Tressel's 4 wins in 6 national title games at Youngstown State (in only 15 seasons) even when they were prohibitive underdogs? Where were the articles discussing Mark Dantonio and Ohio State's success against potent offenses like those of Purdue, Washington State, Illinios, Texas Tech, etc.?

Ohio State = Nebraska

The most puzzling assertion was that the 2002-03 Ohio State Buckeyes were synonymous with the 2001-02 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Amazingly this was rarely challenged even though it was made without a single shred of evidence.

· "Just like last year when Miami's dazzling speed left Nebraska helpless, the ‘Canes will be too quick in the Fiesta Bowl. The Hurricanes beat the Cornhuskers 37-14, and a similar score Friday night shouldn't surprise anyone."

· "Nobody has our talent," Miami tight end Kellen Winslow was saying after this 56-45 avalanche. "We're way too fast for Ohio State. It'll be like Nebraska was last year. Nobody can hang with our speed." Cocky? Well, yeah, sort of, but it also happens to be God's honest truth. You don't beat this Miami team when you have its attention, as Virginia Tech was merely the latest to prove."

· At least this writer included the slightest margin of doubt with his opinion; "I am not certain Ohio State, a bobble and drag of a shoe from losing to Illinois last month, will provide a better game for Miami than Nebraska did in last season's blowout."

· Apparently this national author forgot that Nebraska and Ohio State are two different programs; "I call it destruction in the desert. Like the Roadrunner dropping a safe on Wile E. Coyote's head. By the time the dust settles in Tempe, Ariz., the only thing the Buckeyes will hear is "Beep, beep" as they see a rooster-tail of smoke from the back end of Willis McGahee's cleats. Ohio State is Nebraska - you remember what happened to the Cornhuskers against the Hurricanes last season in Pasadena, don't you? - with the cute leafy decals on their silver-and-scarlet helmets."

· When several Buckeyes were said they believed Miami could be beat, a writer responded, "This all sounds good and promising, but it also sounds familiar, which is neither good nor promising. Haven't 34 opponents in a row said similar things before losing to the Hurricanes? Wasn't Nebraska being taken seriously before last year's Rose Bowl, which stopped being serious about the time UM moved ahead by five touchdowns?"

· Perhaps the most insulting and wrongheaded piece offered was this hyperbole written by a Florida journalist who apparently bought into the Miami hype:

"These simple, poor, plodding people are getting ready to step into another realm beyond their comprehension. Maestro, cue the Twilight Zone music, please: There is a sixth dimension beyond that which is known to Buckeyes. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the sunlight of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that might be called the…Hurricane Zone… The Buckeyes will find out in the Fiesta this season what Nebraska found out in the Rose Bowl last season. They will learn there is college football, and then there is Miami football. They will learn that there is intensity, and then there is angry, ratcheted-up, wild-eyed Miami intensity."

Taking the perilous course of looking at a few flat statistics (more on that tomorrow), how did these two teams compare entering the national title game? Since both were rushing offenses, the burning question remained - could they keep the Hurricane defense honest with the pass? Ohio State had 259 attempts, 167 completions, and 2302 yards passing with 14 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions entering the Miami game. Crouch and Nebraska were not nearly as proficient going 189-105 for 1,510 yards passing with 7 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. What about turnover margin (a statistic that normally has teeth to it)? In 2001, Nebraska fumbled 21 times, lost 13 of those, and threw 10 interceptions while only taking the ball away from opponents on 24 occasions. Ohio State by contrast fumbled on 17 occasions, lost 10 of those, and tossed only 5 interceptions while forcing 25 turnovers. For the record, that is a +10 margin versus a +1 margin. In their respective championship games with Miami, turnovers cost Nebraska 14 points and led to a 34-0 halftime deficit while Ohio State capitalized on Miami turnovers to score 14 points to gain a 14-7 halftime lead. Why not compare their records over their last 15 games (excluding the Miami contest in both cases) to find similarities between the programs? Had one bothered to look, Nebraska is 7-8, has scored 419 points, and has given up 397 since November of 2001. Ohio State is 14-1, has allowed 220 points, and has scored 433 during the same period. What about comparing their scoring defenses going into the Miami game? The 2001 Cornhuskers gave up 131 points to their final 4 opponents. By way of contrast, the 2002 Buckeyes yielded 138 points in their previous 11 games combined and surrendered a mere 34 in the final 4 contests. To put that into perspective, Nebraska allowed Colorado to score 35 points in the first 20 minutes against Barnett's boys...

In all seriousness, I am left wondering in what way exactly were these two teams alike? Even though their rushing offenses are completely different, unless one wishes to argue that Maurice Hall's second touchdown against Michigan qualifies the Buckeyes as an option team.

So what happened to bring about these bogus comparisons?

Have you ever heard of a concept called "Group Think"? It is a phenomenon where individual members of a profession, subgroup, or even a large group conform to prevailing majority opinions. When Group Think is at work, one is encouraged not to challenge widely accepted ideals. When an individual does have the audacity to challenge cherished behaviors and beliefs, they are generally punished via ostracism, ridicule, and even violence.

The danger is that just because most folks believe something does not make it fact; Group Think may or may not reflect reality. There are subcultures in America full of nutcases that believe the Holocaust never happened. Thousands in the United States would willingly testify under oath that Elvis is alive and kicking and that man never landed on the moon. Walk into a room full of these individuals, and they would laugh at your "credulity" and think you a fool for believing that Elvis is dead. They would regale you with multiple ways to glean that the tapes of the Apollo lunar missions were clever fakes.

How does this connect with a football game?

A psychology student studying the causes and effects of Group Think could write a dissertation on the coverage of this game alone. Truly. Seemingly all it took were the comments by Kellen Winslow Jr. and a few others, and suddenly Ohio State morphed into Nebraska West. Writer after writer commented on this "fact" until it was enough to simply note the conventionally accepted wisdom without the slightest scrap of evidence to back it up. Apparently, they were not about to let the reality that these two teams shared virtually nothing in common get in the way of a good story angle.

Only research, hard work, and the willingness to invest time in the process allows one to determine which notions are legitimate and which are more outrageous than portraying Stalin as a humanitarian. I wonder how many writers commenting on the games with such confidence put in this time and hard work. How many reporters actually watched more than 2-3 games of each team? (How many actually watched that number?) I wonder how many actually watched both the Ohio State-Cincinnati game and the Miami-Rutgers contest. I wonder how many put in the extra time and effort to watch half a dozen games for both teams. In watching or listening to at least parts (if not the whole) of 8 Hurricane and all 13 Ohio State match-ups, my opinion is that it was fairly clear that Miami was not all that superior to the Buckeyes. Even the gap in overall talent was not as pronounced as many claimed, but again - in order to know this meant investing hard work, time, and effort.

Tragically, most simply took a shortcut. They read what others who actually watched or attended the games wrote, looked at a few box scores, bought into the hype, and lazily wrote their stories. Embarrassment followed. Some took shelter in the infamous (but legitimate) call, and some ignored the results.

Very few came out after the game to admit that the majority, Group Think, opinion was not only flawed - it was egregiously incorrect.


Multiple writers simply quoted the statistics and implied that the result of the Fiesta Bowl was a mere formality.

· As if to prove the Hurricanes' superiority, one AP writer commented, "Miami's offense has been unstoppable, averaging 41.9 points and 473.9 yards. Ohio State might have the best defense in the nation, allowing 12.2 points and 78.7 yards rushing, but it didn't face this offense." He continued, "Dorsey threw for 3,073 yards and 26 touchdowns. Willis McGahee ran for 1,686 yards and 27 touchdowns. Andre Johnson caught 48 passes for 1,038 yards and nine TDs. Kellen Winslow Jr. had 46 catches for 604 yards and seven TDs."

· Another writer heaped scorn upon the notion that Ohio State would put the game in the hands of Dorsey by giving his statistics against West Virginia; "I dare the Buckeyes to put this game on Ken Dorsey's shoulders…In ‘forcing' Ken Dorsey to throw [against the Mountaineers], the Miami quarterback amassed a career high 422 yards."

· Yet another prattled off track times of multiple Hurricanes as if they were a talisman. "Consider that sophomore Willis McGahee, their star 6-1, 224-pound tailback, runs an unbelievable 4.22 40. Then consider that his teammate, 6-3 227-pound junior split end Andre Johnson, holds the team record in the 40 with a 4.21…At last year's Big East indoor track championships on Feb. 17 at Syracuse, Johnson, McGahee, and fellow ‘Canes football player Roscoe Parrish came in first, fourth and sixth in the 60-meter dash, with times of 6.83, 6.9, and 6.94 respectively."

Statistics are a two-edged sword. They can be illuminating, or they can enshroud the user in a fog so thick that they unwittingly charge headlong off a precipice. It is often difficult even for the discerning to determine which stats are meaningful in predicting future outcomes and which ones are simply entertaining. The conundrum is that even thought their attraction is so compelling as to make sirens look like a wart-faced hag, statistics simply cannot account for all aspects of the human beings who actually participate in the contest. Nowhere is there a formula to calculate heart, desire, discipline, intelligence, or even the dynamic relationship between a coach and his players. Nor is football played with 40 times, track exploits, and yards per catch. Statistics do not play a position on the gridiron, and they do not even influence the outcome of future contests. They merely reflect past games against teams other than the latest opponent.

Would you like some pertinent examples?

Jerry Rice will perhaps be remembered as the greatest receiver who ever played professional football, but his physical numbers are not only unremarkable - they could even be labeled mediocre for his position. If statistics were everything, Randy Moss should lead the NFL in receptions and yards after the catch every season, and James Jett would have dominated the game. A phenom like Ben Gay should obliterate NFL competition and overshadow running backs like the undersized Emmit Smith (who just set a new record for all time rushing yards) because his height, weight, and 40 times make Emmit look like an undersized turtle. Todd Marinovich and Jeff George should be right up there with Marino and Elway if being able to toss a spiral and arm strength were all that mattered at the quarterback posision…

I could blather on and on with this and list countless examples, but cutting to the chase; what is the bottom line?

Statistics are not flat but dynamic. Winners and losers are not determined simply by putting figures on an 8 ½ by 11 sheet of paper and using simple addition and subtraction. The relationship between the scoring prowess of Miami, Ohio State, and every other team is in direct proportion to the quality of their competition. Perhaps it is not the incompetence of an offense or even the proficiency of a defense that holds down the score in any given contest as much as field conditions, injuries, an unusually poor coaching decision, turnovers, or a host of other factors. Too little was made of the statistical dynamic of the Ohio State defense against its competition and too much was written about the flat scoring statistics of Miami without regard to the defenses they faced. The result was a bevy of numbers that not only meant next to nothing, these figures were actually misleading.



Tomorrow: Part III Still More Assumptions Unmasked



Sources Used:

Tim Brando, "Some Things are Worth Seeing Twice." The Sporting News, November 20, 2002.

Bob Wojnowski, "Hey OSU Fans: UM Would do you a Favor by Winning." The Detroit News, November 22, 2002.

Ron Rappaport, "Ohio State could be Toast-itos in title game." The Chicago Sun-Times. November 25, 2002.

Rappaport, "Name callers aside, OSU fans know the Truth." The Chicago Sun-Times. November 27, 2002.

Martin Fennelly, "UM can be beat; Now It's Ohio State's Turn to Try." TBO Sports, Dec 8 2002.

Matthew Zemek, "Monday Morning Quarterback: Attention, Big Ten Fans: Look to Stillwater and LA." College Football News, December 2, 2002.

Dan Lebatard, "With So Many Stars, Call Them Team Heisman." Miami Herald Dec 8 2002.

David Whitley, "Who Can Beat Miami? Only ‘Canes Themselves." Orlando Sentinal, December 8 2002.

Rick Telander, "Miami will Run Away With It." Chicago Sun Times, December 9, 2002.

Dick Weiss, "Miami: We'll bowl ‘em Over." NY Daily News. December 9, 2002.

Jay Mariotti, "Empty Bowls -- Again." Chicago Sun-times, December 9, 2002..

Jon Saraceno, "Bowls Botched Again." USA Today, December 10, 2002.

Tim Brando. "'Canes Have it All Over the Buckeyes." The Sporting News, December 11, 2002.

Chris Dufresne, "The Time's Rankings." L.A. Times December 12, 2002.

Jeff Miller, "Buckeyes use the Rhetoric of Big Underdogs." Miami Herald, December 17, 2002.

Wann Smith, "28 Minus 1 Equals 0…and Smith's Bowl Picks." Pigskin, December 18, 2002.

Omar Kelly, "UM's Gore Just Being Frank." Orlando Sentinal, December 24, 2002.

Scott Martineau, "Fiesta Bowl Game Plan." Miami Insiders Network. December 27, 2002.

Mike Bianchi, "Warning Flags up for Ohio State." Orlando Sentinal, December 29, 2002.

Darryl Richards, "Stallings believes in the Buckeyes." December 29, 2002.

Chris Bello, "It's Still a Canes Thing…" Miami Insiders Network, December 31, 2002.

Matt Hayes, "Part 1: It's the Buckeyes' Party." The Sporting News, December 31, 2002.

Matt Hayes, "Part 2: It's the Buckeyes' Party." The Sporting News, December 31, 2002.

Stewart Mandell, "Marquee Matchup:'s Stewart Mandel Breaks Down the Fiesta Bowl.", December 31, 2002.

Pete Fiutak, "2003 Fiesta Bowl Preview: 13 Reasons Why Ohio State Will Win." CFN, No date provided.

John Donovan, "Blowout City." CNN/, Jan 2, 2003.

Stewart Mandel, "Closer than you think.", Jan 2, 2003.

Richard Rosenblatt, "The Case for Miami: Speed Kills Buckeyes in 41-14 Loss." AP writer. January 3, 2003.

CFN staff "2003 Fiesta Bowl Preview: Ohio State vs. Miami" CFN, January 3, 2003.

Jim Donnan. ESPN chat. January 3, 2003.

* Joel Bushbaum - who worked for Pro Football Weekly. Prior to his tragically young death on December 29, his last prediction was OSU 26 and Miami 24.

E-mail Charles at

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