The day Ohio State fans have been looking forward too is upon us. Buckeye Nation has been in pain, has been in mourning, has been in denial, since that fateful night in Glendale. We can get excited about the Spring Game and be proud of the 75,301 that came out to enjoy the organized scrimmage. But it is not the same as a real game. Saturday at about 4:00 pm, the Scarlet & Gray will be 1-0 on the new season and it will be the first step to officially putting the disaster in the desert behind them. If you believe the pre-season magazines, the Buckeyes will finish the season somewhere in the mid-teens in the rankings and will be playing in January, but probably in Orlando or Tampa. If you want to read the Editorial from Joe-S-U, he will tell you this could be a year of destiny for OSU.
Coach Tressel is starting his 7th season at helm of the Buckeyes and enjoys a 62-14 record and a National Championship. But that is nothing compared to the 135-57-2 record he had in Youngstown. Tressel spent 15 years as the head coach at Youngstown State and six as the Executive Director of Intercollegiate Athletics before being named the head football coach at The Ohio State University in January 2001. While at YSU, he lead the Penguins to 4 National Championships.
Once he left town, Jon Heacock took over as Head Coach. So far he has 43-27 mark and took the Penguins to the semi-finals of the Division 1-AA playoffs last year. His work will be cut out for him though as he comes to Columbus. In spite of the loss of several key players for the OSU offense, the defense is still in tact and will make it very hard for Youngstown State to move the ball. The Penguins lost 27 lettermen and eight first-team All-Conference players.
The past two years YSU has won the Gateway Football Conference championship and combined for a total of 19 victories. In 2006, they posted an 11-3 overall mark advancing to the NCAA Playoffs semifinal round for the first time since 1999 and seventh time in school history. The march to the playoff in 2006 will be long remembered. YSU posted five wins over top-25 ranked foes, earned the school's first outright Gateway title since joining the league in 1997, earned an automatic bid to the playoffs for the first time since 1987 and captured conference titles in consecutive years for the first time since 1978-79. They had a Gateway-record 10 first-team all-conference selections while a group of 15 players earned all-league honors.
This year will be a bit different though with all the player loses. The defense should have a solid front seven, with Mychal Savage anchoring the line and James Terry leading the way at linebacker. The offense will not have as many returners but does feature Tom Zetts at quarterback who comes in with 36 career starts.
For OSU, this season will be start so much different than the past two when they have sat on top the preseason polls. In spite of rankings as low as 18th in the football magazines, at least the Coaches and Media polls have them 11th. Although they are looking up at times for the first time since the 2005 campaign, it is a very doable road to the championship again. But starting this low, they will need some help. But it is way to early in the season to start thinking about that.
Right now we want to settle in to the 2007 squad and the new players. Todd Boeckman will get the start and I am sure Rob Schoenhoft will see some action but it is Boeckman's spot to lose. He is not Troy Smith but he has been around the program for a long time (seems like he came in the year after Bobby Hoying left) so he knows the offense and he knows that Tressel will reward him for just simply guiding the team and not making mistakes. Beanie Wells will be the feature back replacing Back-to-back 1,000 yard season rusher Antonio Pittman, but he may be limited in the first game. He hurt his ankle in one of the early August practices and has been setting out of some of the contact drills. I can see Tressel letting him get some hits under his belt but expect to see a lot more of Mo Wells and Brandon Saine than we will see as the season evolves.
We have a stable of receivers to replace Ginn and Gonzalez so they need to perform to get playing time. Brian Hartline is the key returner but expect to see Ray Small, Albert Dukes and Tauran Washington in action. The only question will be is just how much will Tressel open it up against this 1-AA opponent. The offensive line should be solid but let's hope the block a bit better than they did in the desert.
The defense should be fun to watch this year. Although the lost some starters on the D-Line, there are plenty of players to reload those positions. The linebacking core may be as deep as it has ever been, and although they lack some experience in the secondary, that will be solid too with returners Malcolm Jenkins and Anderson Russell. Expect to see the Buckeyes rotating a lot of players, partly to give some experience and partly to keep bodies fresh on what is expected to be a hot day.
The kicking game will be better than last year, returning AJ Trapasso as punter, as well as Ryan Pretorius and Aaron Pettrey for kickoffs and field goals. Pretorius won the starting roll in the kicking scrimmage last week so he should make for a healthy competition this year. However, recently Pettrey was injured so he may not see action in this game. What we don't want is a repeat of the 2001 season when we had 2 kicker system with Mike Nugent (before he was Nuuuuuge) and Josh Huston.
It is not the 2001 team that this squad reminds anyone of, in fact they actually look more like the 2002 team. A strong defense that will keep them in every game, and a new quarterback on growing offense.
Look for big things from this team in 2007, just don't look for anything big this Saturday.
Bottom Line- Yes OSU will win this week, and next week and so on. They will not be challenged until they head to Ross-Ade Stadium to face the Boilermakers. People seem to be willing to write this team off as second or third in the Big Ten this year. But keep in mind, this Junior class is 23-3 so far in their OSU career. And two of their loses were to the two National Champions and the third was to a Penn State team that was 2 seconds from being undefeated themselves. So this team knows how to win ..... and it starts Saturday!
Prediction: Ohio State 41 Youngstown State 3