Sunday, June 24, 2007

If...Then... statements

The way a season turns out is dependent on how some of the more "questionable" links in the system work out. For the most part, we know which players and aspects of the game the Buckeyes are going to be great at next season (kicking, rushing, pass defense, and the always present Tressel-like mental edge in each player's attitude), but it's those things we aren't quite sure about that will tell the tale that is the 2007-08 Buckeye football season. For example, last season, we knew what we were getting out of our offense. Our defense? Not so much. That's why people had us ranked all throughout the top 10 in the preseason polls last season. Unfortunately, there are quite a bit more question marks surrounding the Ohio State football team this season, and I am going to look at the 5 biggest uncertainties in order from least to most critical to a successful year.

Not a site you want to see out of your defensive leader
If the team forgets about Florida, then Ohio State will have a successful season

I am not overly concerned that the returning members will be so paralyzed by memories of the debacle in the desert last January that they won't be able to be the same guys that they were for the first 12 games of the season. Jim Tressel is just too good of a teacher to let those thoughts stick with them, and for the defense especially, it could (and should) be used as motivation. I hope that this new group of leaders on the team can be every bit as good of leaders as last year's captains, but it's something that we may not know until midseason, when Ohio State is losing a game on the road to a Big Ten opponent. Then, will this team do what all the other Jim Tressel teams in the past have done and rise to the occasion, or will they go fetal at the slightest hint of adversity? Again, this may not even be a question at all. After all, it takes a special kind of person to play football for Jim Tressel at Ohio State, and I'm almost positive that this new group of leaders are every bit as mentally strong as past Tressel players. I just need to see it to be certain.

If Doug Worthington gets knocked down this easily in a game, he won't be playing long

If the defensive tackles can step up, then Ohio State will have a great defense
Quinn Pitcock, David Patterson, and Joel Penton have all moved on. Those two captains, and the three top guys on the interior defensive line are no more than just very big shoes to fill. The first man that needs to step it up is Todd Denlinger. Denlinger is the only true defensive tackle that was part of the two-deep last season, and he will be expected to be a workhorse defensively. From what little I have seen from him, he seems to have the motor and motivation to be a great defensive lineman, but whether or not he can do it on every single play remains to be seen. The other defensive tackle spot will almost certainly go to a converted defensive end, which means two things: First, whomever it is will have exceptional athleticism for a defensive tackle, but will be raw at the position. The first candidate is Doug Worthington, a blue chip redshirt sophomore that has had to battle through injuries and being buried on the depth chart to earn his spot. He was listed last season at 274 pounds, a solid 10 pounds lighter than David Patterson, an already undersized defensive tackle. However, he has most likely bulked up in the offseason and could be a monster by the first game. Other potential defensive tackle contributers include ends Alex Barrow and Robert Rose, although Rose will most likely see quite a bit of time as a defensive end. True freshman Cameron Heyward could see some time due to the lack of depth.

Sometimes the easiest catches are the most important ones...But diving catches are always the fun ones to watch.
If the receivers can catch balls, then Todd Boeckman/Robbie Schoenhoft/Antonio Henton will have a much easier time
Let's face it, none of these quarterbacks coming in are going to be the second coming of Troy Smith any time soon. The success that Smith had last season was absolutely remarkable, and he was the closest thing Ohio State fans will see to a perfect quarterback in a long time. These guys are all going to force unnecessary throws into double coverage, get picked off, take sacks, and all the usual inexperienced quarterback stuff. One thing that can make their transition into the college game much easier, however, is having a solid group of receivers to have to throw too. Unfortunately, Ted and Anthony are gone, which means that Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline, and Ray Small will be the receivers that are relied on for the most part this season; not exactly names that take your breath away. I'm not asking for those three players -- or any receiver on the team -- to be like Ginn or Gonzo, it's unrealistic to ask. However, what I am asking, is that they do what they're getting their college paid for to do: catch the football. Dropped passes can kill a quarterback's confidence, especially one as inexperienced as the three coming in. If the receivers can get open, make catches, and move the chains without making the highlight reel plays that Ginn and Gonzalez did last year, I will be more than pleased with these players.

As the saying goes, "every possession should end in a kick," whether its a field goal attempt, an extra point, or a punt

If the special teams is 2002-2005 good, then Ohio State will win close games
Let's face it, the kicking game last year took a bit of a hit when Huston graduated. Of course, the return game seemed phenomenal, but if you throw out Ginn's return against Florida, the team only averaged about 19 yards per kickoff return. Of course those numbers are skewed slightly due to the opposition's tendency to kick away from Ginn, but the low average does speak volumes about the overall return team's coverage. However, the real surprise in the special teams department last year was, of course, the kicking game. A 69% field goal percentage is nearly unacceptable from a Tressel coached football team. Remember the good ole' days of Mike Nugent and Josh Huston when, as long as the ball got inside the 35 yard line, you were guaranteed at least 3 points? That wasn't the case last year, it's just that Pettrey and Pretorious had one of the country's most dynamic offenses to bail them out and just score touchdowns every time they crossed the 50. Much of the struggles could have been due to the fact that they were both in their first years as a starting kicker for one of the country's premier football teams. Remember, Nugent and Huston weren't all that great when they split kicking duties back in 2001. A near guarantee of getting points on the board when driving down the field will take loads of pressure off of whichever quarterback is leading the way.

Tressel's teaching ability will be paramount in the development of the season
If Jim Tressel settles on a quarterback, then Ohio State will be in a January Bowl game.
Looking back over the past 20 years of college football, it is incredibly rare to find an instance when a carousel of quarterbacks led a team to a successful season (Remember, although Tim Tebow and Chris Leak both played a lot last season, it wasn't like having two separate QBs, Tebow had his own offensive packages designed for him). When a new quarterback comes in in the middle of the game, the whole offense has to adjust to his playing styles. There is no chance for a crew to build a sense of chemistry and camaraderie when the captain of the ship is changing every other possession. We saw what happens when multiple quarterbacks are juggled in 2005 against Texas. Everything just seems out of sync. That is why it is imperative that Tressel settle on a quarterback as early as possible. He'll be able to get away with juggling offensive sets against the inferior out of conference schedule this season (By the way, this is a great season to have a weak schedule, it will really help the quarterback grow for a Rose Bowl run in 2008), but when Big Ten play rolls around, he better have his man. Even if it's the wrong man, I'd much rather have the second best quarterback playing all game long rather than having all three different quarterbacks rotating time all game long.

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