Tuesday, July 26, 2011

BUCKEYES HAVE QUESTIONS THAT NEED ANSWERED GOING INTO 2011

Luke Fickell
TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
Now that the NFL lockout has been lifted and the pros are ready to get back at it in the coming days, you can probably guess what I am dying to discuss in this column, right?

Yep, your prognostication is correct — Ohio State football! 

(Please excuse me if I misled you there. I've been watching ESPN and reading Sports Illustrated a lot recently and I think it's beginning to affect me in an unsavory way)

The Buckeyes are about to start fall camp in a couple weeks so it's as good a time as any to discuss some burning questions, regarding Ohio State football ...

Q: WILL LUKE FICKELL EFFECTIVELY REPLACE JIM TRESSEL AS HEAD COACH IN COLUMBUS?

A: Yes, he will.

Luke Fickell is the type of guy who wants to go all out, all the time and will challenge his players to do the same. Tressel was a more cerebral, laid back type of coach, whose one major weakness was that he was too conservative at times, an approach that seemed to plague the Buckeyes in many big games over the past few seasons. 

Fickel has a great football I.Q., is familiar with the players and coaches currently on the team, knows how to lead young men and understands what it truly means to be a Buckeye. 

Fickell is the kind of person who would make players rue the day they ever traded in their Big Ten championship rings and gold pants for tats.

Q: WILL OHIO STATE ACTUALLY BE GOOD ENOUGH TO MAKE A SEVENTH STRAIGHT BCS BOWL GAME IN 2011 WITH THE LOSS OF SO MANY PLAYERS?

A: The only way the Buckeyes fall short of a trip to a BCS bowl game this season is if the NCAA prevents them from going. 

Being that the NCAA has stated they will not charge OSU with "failure to monitor" during the Tattoo-gate scandal, the Buckeyes will most likely get an opportunity to make it seven straight trips to BCS land.

Losing Tressel and quarterback Terrelle Pryor — as well as five-game suspensions to Dan Herron, DeVier Posey, Mike Adams and Solomon Thomas — would be a fatal blow to many teams across the nation ... but not Ohio State. 

See, the thing is, the Buckeyes possess more talent on the two- and three-deep than most of the Big Ten has on its starting rosters. 

Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller may have Buckeye fans forgetting about Pryor very quickly. Sure, I know it's saying a lot to think a frosh can lead a team to a BCS bowl game or a Big Ten title with no collegiate experience, but that's how highly I think of Miller's abilities. 

I believe Miller can make the same impact his freshman season as Michael Vick did for Virginia Tech in 1999, when he led the Hokies to an 11-0 record and a berth in the BCS championship game. Miller's game is very comparable to Vick's coming out of high school. Actually, Miller is a much better passer than the former dogfighting kingpin was in his days at Newport News (Va.).

As for losing Herron in the backfield for the first five games? Remember the name Rod Smith. 

I know, I know ... you are asking: "what about Rod Smith?" Well ... just remember the name is all I ask. 

It will all become clear to you very soon.

Q: WHICH GAME WILL BE THE BIGGEST OBSTACLE FOR THE BUCKEYES IN 2011?

A: October 8 at Nebraska.

This game is going to be very difficult on the Buckeyes for the fact that they will be heading to an extremely hostile environment, going up against a national championship caliber team, and doing so with an inexperienced quarterback and head coach. 

Add to the mix that it will be Nebraska's first ever Big Ten game, and you have a brutally difficult task if you're sporting the scarlet and gray. 

There's a reason ABC has chosen this game for Primetime.

Q: WHICH TEAM PROVIDES THE BUCKEYES ITS TOUGHEST TASK GETTING TO THE BIG TEN TITLE GAME?

A: WISCONSIN.

As far I see it, the Leaders division will be a three-team race between Ohio State, Wisconsin and Penn State. The Badgers gave the Buckeyes their only defeat of the season in 2010, but that was in Madison. The Buckeyes will play both Wisconsin and Penn State in Columbus this season. 

To make matters even better for the Buckeyes, the games are later in the season, meaning that the suspended players will have returned and the inexperienced guys will have had seven college football games under their belts.

Q: WITH RICH ROD BEING AXED IN ANN ARBOR, WILL MICHIGAN SNAP ITS SEVEN-YEAR LOSING STREAK TO OSU?

A: Nope!

Q: WILL BRADY HOKE LEAD MICHIGAN OUT OF OBSCURITY?

A: Doubtful ... at least not right away.

Let's face it, the Wolverines just don't have the thoroughbreds to compete in any significant races. That is absolutely first and foremost. I don't care if Vince Lombardi and George Halas are on the sideline, you're not beating Ohio State, Nebraska and Iowa with one- and two-star recruits on your defense. The Wolverines gave up 65 points to Illinois last season. A change in your base package isn't going to turn that group into the Steel Curtain anytime soon.

Whether Michigan wants to admit it or not, Hoke was not its first choice as the new head coach. Yes, he's fiery and possesses a lot of passion for the game, but I just don't see where bringing in a coach who won 47 of 97 games at places like Ball State and San Diego State is going to remedy the situation up north. A great cheerleader? Yes. A great coach? I just don't see it.

Sure, the Wolverines are improving a little on the recruiting front since Hoke arrived in Ann Arbor. But is that because he's a great recruiter, or is it because all the uncertainty at Ohio State has allowed the Wolverines access to talent that wouldn't otherwise be there for them?

I'm sensing as soon as OSU is cleared of any postseason bans, the river of talent will flow south again so dramatically that the National Weather Service will have to issue tsunami warnings on the banks of the Olentangy.