Monday, July 02, 2007

2007 BCS Conference Team Preview: Ohio State

As part of TSE's Countdown to College Football, TSE regular Joe Table Blew It will preview all of the BCS conference teams: The Big XII, Big 10, ACC, SEC, Big East, Pac-10, and Notre Dame. This post focuses on Ohio State University, and their attempt to win three straight Big 10 Championships.

The big question last year in Columbus was could Ohio State replace their vaunted defense from 2005? That question was quickly and often answered, as the defense was a big reason why the Buckeyes were competing for a National Championship last January. The question this year? Can Ohio State replace their vaunted offense from 2006? If they can, they could be looking at another trip to the biggest BCS Bowl. That is a huge if.

Quarterback is as good of a place to start as any, as Todd Boeckman, after waiting patiently for four years, finally gets his crack at running Jim Tressel's offense. Boeckman threw a total of three passes last year, and he will be responsible not only for replacing a Heisman Trophy winner, but effectively managing a slower, more methodical, more Tressel style of offense. He will be handing the ball off to a duo of Wells, the starter being Chris "Beanie" Wells. This kid is much bigger than the man he is replacing (Antonio Pittman), and is not afraid to take a hit. The Buckeyes will have a pro-style running game when they employ Maurice Wells to do some outside rushing and pass catching. These two backs should provide a nice backfield attack for a quarterback who could benefit from reliable pass catchers and down field runners behind him. The receiving corps lost three of its men from last year to the NFL draft, two of them going in the first round. What remains is Brian Robiskie, who thrived being the third option last year for Ohio State, but can he bring that same playmaking ability to the number one split end position? Sophomore Ray Small will take over at flanker, but the real gem of this group could be Rory Nichol, the tight end. Boekman will not employ the natural arm strength and instinct that Troy Smith had, which could mean a lot of checks on his progression. This translates for a lot of catches for the tight end. Can Nichol step up? The offensive line is the one unit on this offense that should be pretty stable, as Alex Boone, Kirk Barton, and Steve Rehring return to a stout (save the Florida game) offensive line. All three of these guys are over 300 pounds, and at least 6'6". Wow. Boone and Barton have a shot at being first team All-Americans, and they make up the best bookend tackles in the NCAA this year.

The question mark of 2006 has straightened into an exclamation point in 2007. Leading tackler and interceptor James Laurinaitis was the well deserved winner of the Nagurski award, and should have no problem leading the Buckeye linebackers once again. Another All-American candidate is on the defensive line, as Vernon Gholston looks to improve on his 8.5 sacks last season without his partner in crime, the departed Quinn Pitcock. The secondary also features an All-American candidate in Malcolm Jenkins, the junior that had 4 picks last year. He should be solid, the real question is can another Glenville stand out, Jemario O'Neal can be a playmaking saftey, in the great tradition of defensive secondary stars at Ohio State. Another newcome to keep an eye on is Larry Grant. He is replacing John Kerr, and turned some serious heads in OSU's spring game this year.

Ohio State could not have picked a worse year for a semi-rebuliding year, because the Big Ten is loaded. However, there seems to be no such thing as a rebuilding year in Columbus anymore , just a reversion to the famed "Tressel ball" where the offense will simply try to control the ball and avoid mistakes. One thing is for certain: the Buckeyes defense will keep them in every game this year. Another benefit to the Bucks this year is that they should have a pretty easy road all the way through to the last week of October. Then, the heavy lifting begins. At Penn State, Wisconsin at home, Illinois (who gave the Bucks all they wanted last year), and then up to Ann Arbor to face the Wolves. On paper, PSU, Wisco, and Michigan seemingly have better teams than OSU, but no team is better coached, and I predict that no team is hungrier. This team is creepily similar to the 2002 team, and all of the pundits will regret ranking this team fourth in the Big Ten. They may not win the Big Ten title this year, but I wouldn't bet against Jim Tressel in the Big Ten, either.

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