College football is back! What better time to take stock in things...
I don’t want to say Ohio State football seasons are all running together for me at this point, but to some extent they are. That’s probably a combination of things.
First of all, yeah, I’m getting old.
This is my fourth year on the Ohio State beat for my hometown newspaper — the one from which I used to cut out Gary Nuhn columns about Eddie George and various other stars of my younger days — but I started out in the press box in 2003 as a student in the sports information department.
I’ve been covering the Buckeyes more or less for 16 years professionally, but it starts earlier than that.
My first clear Ohio State football memory is watching Earle Bruce be carried off the field at Michigan in 1987.
The first season I was dialed in every week and knew very clearly what was going on was 1993 with Dayton’s own “Big Daddy” Dan Wilkinson anchoring the defensive line and St. Henry’s Bobby Hoying starting at quarterback. (At Cedarville, we had a particular interest in St. Henry since the Redskins had a habit of knocking us out of the playoffs, but I digress...) That was the year John Cooper’s program really arrived — in all its glory considering it ended with another disappointing result at Michigan — and the Buckeyes became nationally relevant again.
But by now you might be asking, does this history lesson have a point? Yes...
As good as those teams were in the ‘90s, it’s almost unfathomable how much better Ohio State is now.
Of course, the Buckeyes were really good in the 2000s, but as much as those teams won, I always felt like they were better-coached but less talented than the ones of the previous decade. There are always tradeoffs in life, right? So the constant debate was which would you rather be?
Then Ohio State hired Urban Meyer.
The two-time national champion coach was expected to change that — meld the strengths of John Cooper and Jim Tressel — and he pretty much did with a super-charged offseason program and more intricate, systematic approach to national recruiting.
Ironically, the offense Meyer was known for went stale, but that only opened the door for Ryan Day to join the program and eventually succeed him as head coach.
Promoting Day, who upgraded the passing game immediately upon arrival and brought some diversity to the rest of the attack after becoming head coach, prompted questions about whether or not he was ready, but so far so good: He’s 23-2 with two Big Ten championships and two playoff appearances.
The biggest concern was probably about whether or not he could keep up the recruiting, and he has.
So with the offense updated and talent still flowing in without fail, the program appears to be not just good but exponentially better than it has been at any point in my lifetime.
In his first rodeo, Day drew one of the biggest, nastiest bulls, but he’s proven able to stay on for eight seconds.
Now can he outpoint the others who can, too?
The next ride starts tonight at Minnesota....
In some ways, this was a throwback preseason for the Ohio State media.
Interview subjects were plentiful, but actual depth chart information that was useful was quite scarce. We did not learn much in August we didn’t already know from the spring.
But back during the Tressel days, most position battles had a little more intrigue because they were often a much-hyped four- or five-star recruit going up against a three-star. Fans typically rooted for the higher-rated guy to win and viewed it as a disappointment if he did not, but of course many great stories came from the pool of three-stars who became starters.
Now there is a feeling that whoever wins any position battle will be fantastically talented, so what difference does it really make?...
Of course, Ohio State winning the Big Ten and making the playoff are not birthrights no matter how much it might feel like it at this point.
Plenty of things could go wrong this season that would derail Day’s train, and some would not exactly be shocking.
Maybe the quarterbacks struggle when the lights go on. Perhaps the new-look line is not ready for primetime.
The defense? Yeah, it looks like the Silver Bullets will have a better pass rush, but let’s see it. The back seven is a great example of what I described earlier: Still in flux any way you slice it, but there are so many talented options there it feels like they will figure out a way to make it work.
The schedule is also no cakewalk even if it’s not murderer’s row.
A half-dozen teams Ohio State faces in the regular season have enough talent to give them a puncher’s chance, but will the manifestation of the Buckeyes’ possible problems coincide with those game days?
Don’t bet on it, but that’s why they play the games (and why I don’t bet on them!).
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