2007 RECORD: 11-2; BIG TEN: 7-1
Lost BCS Championship Game vs. LSU 38-24
LOCATION: Columbus, Ohio
STADIUM: Ohio Stadium (102,329)
HEAD COACH: Jim Tressel
OVERALL: 208-73-2 (22 seasons)
AT OHIO ST.: 73-16 (7 seasons)
The last two seasons Jim Tressel has led his Buckeyes all the way to the BCS Championship game, only to be thrashed by an SEC team each time. Several players seriously considered declaring for the NFL draft, going so far as to send their names to the NFL for evaluation. Ultimately, only Vernon Gholston made the jump. Whether they didn’t like their grade or the call of a potential National Championship was too strong to pass up, the return of several key senior starters makes OSU the team to beat.
WHEN THE BUCKS HAVE THE BALL
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Bollman (8th Season)
OFFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 9
KEY LOSSES: Kirk Barton
Lost in last season’s run was the outstanding job by signal caller Todd Boeckman. He was taking over a team that had lost in the BCS Championship game the previous season and for Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. Boeckman rallied the troops and brought them to the brink of a national championship. He has a good arm and is a better athlete than he’s given credit for. Eight Buckeyes caught 10 or more passes a year ago and all eight are back, led by senior Brian Robiskie. The son of a coach, Robiskie runs crisp routes, has reliable hands, and plays faster than his 40-time. Four of five blockers return along the line, led by senior LT Alex Boone. He possesses the size and mobility to protect the QB and lead the way in the rushing attack, which leads us to the focal point of Ohio St.’s offensive attack. Junior TB Chris “Beanie” Wells tops several Heisman lists and depending on how many touches he receives, Wells could make a run at 2,000 yards. The fact that legendary Buckeye Archie Griffin would even mention Beanie’s name in the same breath as Jim Brown’s tells you all you need to know about this tailback.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) QB RB Chris Wells (JR), 2) OT Alex Boone (SR)
WHEN THE OTHER TEAM HAS THE BALL
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Jim Heacock (4th Season/13th at OSU)
DEFENSIVE STARTERS RETURNING: 9
KEY LOSSES: Vernon Gholston, Larry Grant
The two players that surprised the NFL the most by returning were MIKE James Laurinaitis and cover corner Malcolm Jenkins—a duo that many had slotted as first round picks. Their time will come, but not before they try to capture a third straight Big Ten title. Laurinaitis is a speedy playmaker who can do it all—stop the run, get after the quarterback, and drop into coverage. Not too far behind is fellow senior Marcus Freeman, who possesses excellent size and speed. He may be overshadowed, but Freeman is one of the top linebackers in the Big Ten, if not the country. Jenkins leads a stellar and experienced secondary. The senior corner can lock people down or drop into a zone and read the QBs eyes. He is a solid tackler and can play some safety if need be. That shouldn’t be too much of an issue with returning starters Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell manning the safety positions. Keep an eye on sophomore Chimdi Chekwa, the next in the line of outstanding Buckeye corners. Up front, they will miss Gholston’s pass-rushing ability, but may have the answer in Lawrence Wilson if the senior can return to 100 percent. The top talent along the line is sophomore end Cameron Heyward, who is both powerful and quick—another star in the making.
TOP PROSPECTS: 1) CB Malcolm Jenkins (SR), 2) LB James Laurinaitis (SR)
With the Big Ten down, many view the Buckeyes as having a one-game season. Go into the Coliseum and beat the USC Trojans on their field and OSU can punch their ticket to a third straight title appearance. Is it that simple? Of course not. Is that their biggest game of the year? You can bet your bottom dollar. In the Big Ten they still have to play Wisconsin, Penn St., Illinois and Michigan, all of whom are ranked, thank you very much. Illinois knocked them off last season in Columbus and Madison is never an easy place to go to. In 2003, No. 23 Wisconsin knocked off the No. 3 ranked Buckeyes—the two schools have not squared off the last two seasons. Another potential road bump is a trip to East Lansing to take on an improved Spartans squad.
The Regular Season: Yes, this is the part of the schedule that the Buckeyes have conquered in each of the past two seasons. However, any athlete will tell you one of the most difficult things to do is understand that you do not start where you left off the previous year, especially when you’ve come so close to reaching the pinnacle. Ohio St. did exactly that last season…can they do it again? James Laurinaitis leads a group of players who dabbled with the idea of jumping to the NFL, but ultimately decided to return to Columbus. The Butkus and Bednarik Award winner can say that they did not return just to finish the job, but winning the title has to be on their minds. They have the team to it, as long as they follow the coach’s cliché and take it one game at a time.
CFI FINAL ANALYSIS
It can only be about the title for the Buckeyes this season—there are no more moral victories. They return nine starters on both sides of the ball from a team that made the BCS Championship for a second straight season. It is time to get out there again and, this time, finish the job. In “Beanie” Wells they have a difference maker who can elevate an already great team to even higher levels. Expect Boeckman to be better in his second year as starter and their defense to be even more dominant. This is the year Tressel claims his second national title.
Photo Credit: Collegiate Images
Saturday, August 30, 2008
2007 RECORD: 11-2; BIG TEN: 7-1