Monday, May 01, 2006
AN ABSURDLY PREMATURE ASSESSMENT OF: OHIO STATE
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SMQ spins the wheel for a hastily-rendered, too-soon look at a random school's prospects for the fall, sans inevitable academic and criminal suspensions, sudden transfers, debilitating injuries and other miscellaneous misfortunes of the long summer
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Nine back on offense leading to projections of grandeur; nine gone on defense to uncertainty. tOSU: Now with fireworks!
PAST FIVE SEASONS: 50-13 (31-9 Big Ten) - 2005: 10-2 (7-1 Big Ten); won Fiesta Bowl
STARTERS BACK, ROUGHLY: 11 (9 Offense, 2 Defense)
WHAT'S CHANGED: The entire defense, save stud tackle Quinn Pitcock. Six of last year's back seven is about to make mega bucks as football players playing football for various football teams in The National Football League, three as first round picks. The linebackers and safeties - for the record: Hawk, Schlegel, Carpenter, Whitner and Salley - were collectively second to none. Seven of twelve opponents had their season-low point total against tOSU last year; not one got closer than four points to its season average. That's a damn good group that left.
WHAT'S THE SAME: The entire offense, save stud receiver Santonio Holmes (ah, sweet dichotomy). It was virtually unstoppable, too, once Troy Smith made himself comfortable; during the team's seven-game win streak following its only league loss at Penn State, Smith and Co. upped the wattage to 38 points a pop against a string of suspect defenses and got writers reaching for stories on deadline in March all hot and bothered with the prospects for this fall.
MAJOR OVERHAUL=MAJOR CONCERNS: So - Number One, eh? (LINK WARNING: Non-sensical Kool-Aid reference). This very, very early hype isn't surprising given the expected offensive prowess, even without Holmes, but unlike Dennis Dodd, SMQ is not ready to automatically anoint the new defense "killer" on anything resembling a mythical championship scale. It doesn't take much insight to see that losing the linebackers - prototype Butkus-style linebacking assassin Hawk especially - and secondary stalwarts that made the group legitimately killer the last two years isn't a shrug-off, plug-and-play situation; it won't be October before it's a shit-we-really-miss-those-guys situation. The tempering factor: half the new starters and even a couple projected backups are fifth-year seniors, so the learning curve isn't, like, totally steep, even if the drop-off in talent from Hawk and Co. could be.
YOU THE MAN NOW, DOG: Troy Smith has been alleged to be "the Next Vince Young," just a few months after we christened Vince Young himself as the original "Vince Young," which is a bit premature. Smith is not as big and not as strong-armed as VY, not as spectacular on a hide-the-children level, but he will shred a bad defense to tatters and keep it together by avoiding mistakes (only four INTs last year to 16 TDs; 8 TDs to 1 INT in '04) against good ones; there's very good reason to believe that tOSU would have taken down Texas last September with the recently reinstated Smith going full-time rather than giving way to the giant sucking presence of Justin Zwick, in which case our perceptions of all involved would be much different now. But reality being what it is, and our perceptions being what they are, the most serious of the few questions about Smith have to concern his inability last season to overcome the toughest defenses (Penn State, Texas) he saw.
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In Harry Turtledove's world, Troy Smith takes all the snaps and Ohio State wins the Rose Bowl. Alas, the constraints of time and space...
THE MEANING OF SANTONIO HOLMES: The other question is how much Santonio Holmes meant to the passing game and the offense as a whole as a legit number one receiver, a spot Ted Ginn Jr. has seemed too inconsistent and rail thin to fill. There is a good compliment between big play, watch-at-all-times heartstopper Ginn and possession man Anthony Gonzalez, but is there the depth that allowed the offense to run the run-oriented, quick-read spread most of the season? Smith's rushing total owes a lot to the respect defenses had to pay to the far-flung flanks as he and Antonio Pittman attacked the middle, but no more Santonio Holmes to keep an eye on means more attention paid to the backfield. Depth charts still list fullback as a position in the base offense, and it might be employed more often if Ginn, Gonzalez, Roy Hall or some combination doesn't make up for the loss of Holmes' threatening presence. If the defense struggles, Jim Tressel might actually revert to Krenzel Era conservatism and try to slow things down to keep opposing offenses off the field.
OVERLY OPTIMISTIC POST-SPRING CHATTER: New uniforms are puke but OMG the light is going on and staying on for Ted Ginn:
Ted Ginn might score a touchdown on every play. That is totally Heisman Trophy shit. Five-year, $23 million contract to anyone who lays a hand on him this fall - late hits in the end zone not included.
REASON FOR HOPE: Smith, Pittman, Ginn, entire offensive line back, if not always sober. This offense should make for the Buckeyes' best by far since the Hoying-George-Glenn days a decade ago. (Really? A decade? What have we accomplished since then? - ed.) We are very old men; grizzled.
REASON TO BE AFRAID, VERY AFRAID: 2005's best offensive player and everybody who was anybody on defense are in the pros. There is no way of legitimately replacing the experience and talent of the departed linebackers and safeties.
IF THIS TEAM WERE ANY POP CULTURAL, HISTORICAL, POLITICAL, LITERARY OR OTHERWISE NOTABLE FIGURE, IT WOULD BE... Advances in military technology immediately following World War I - after four years searching in vain for a breakthrough to escape the brutal tyranny of defensive-oriented trenches, old-fashioned methods were scrapped for new ideas based on speed and vast advances in air power, leading to more aggressive and effective attacks in the next conflict.
HONESTLY, WITHOUT LOOKING AT THE SCHEDULE, SMQ'S THINKING: Double-digit wins again, but he'll hold off on predicting a conference championship until he gets a better look at the league compared to the Buckeyes' big question marks on defense. Can a team that lost so much talent in one place really be better?
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Previous absurdly premature assessments:
April 3: Central Michigan...April 4: Brigham Young...April 6: Kentucky...April 7: Bowling Green...April 8: Southern Cal...April 11: Rutgers...April 12: Marshall...April 13: Florida State...April 15: San Diego State...April 17: Alabama...April 19: Oregon State...April 20: Buffalo...April 22: NC State...April 23: Arizona...April 24: Memphis...April 26: Louisiana Tech...April 28: Iowa...April 30: Toledo
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The million dollar question is, you guessed it, the Defense. Here in Columbus hopes are high with phrases like "we don't rebuild, we reload" tossed around reguarly. The truth is these statements are somewhat accurate
as many of the new starters were highly touted recruits, like Jamario O'neal DB, Marcus Freeman LB, James Laurinitis LB, and Malcom Jenkins DB all chomping at the bit to see action. And now with freshmen LB Ross Homan already ordained to be the Hawk's second coming, tOSU has effectively reloaded.
Granted, these conclusions are optimistic but this is one of tOSU's fastest most athletic defenses. That said, our questions on D will remian unanswered until saturday, particularly week two against TEXAS. This game, once again, will set the stage for the rest of the season with the winner becoming an odds on favorite for the national title!
Not as big? True.
Not as strong of an arm? False.