I don’t think it’s stretching it to say that the offensive line has been the Achilles heel for the Ohio State football team these past few years.
Since 2005, the Buckeyes have enjoyed almost unprecedented success with four consecutive seasons of 10 victories or more, tying a school record. During those past four seasons, the team has 43 victories in 51 games, a winning percentage of .843.
What most critics choose to focus upon, however – whether they’re right or whether they’re wrong – are the eight losses. Seven of them have come against ranked teams. (Only the home loss to Illinois at the tail end of the ’07 season came against unranked competition.) And six of the seven losses to ranked teams have come against opponents ranked among the nation’s top three.
More often than not, Ohio State has also been highly ranked in those games and one of the major tipping points in those contests has been the play of the Buckeyes along the offensive line. It couldn’t protect Todd Boeckman last year against USC and it couldn’t protect Boeckman in the 2008 national championship game against LSU. Likewise with Troy Smith in the title game against Florida. You could even argue that the offensive line was the major culprit in the losses to Penn State and eventual national champion Texas in 2005. Hurried quarterbacks at critical junctures led to game-changing turnovers in both of those games.
So, what have we learned? If Ohio State is to make a run at a national championship in 2009 – and I mean a serious run – the Buckeyes will need their offensive line to rise to the occasion. It also means that the team is going to have to solidify its starting tackle positions early in fall camp. Will it be Mike Adams, J.B. Shugarts or Andy Miller on the left side? Will it be Jimmy Cordle on the right side? It should be an interesting battle, but the battle had better be decided quickly.
That said, here is my all-time top 10 Ohio State offensive tackles. All of the aforementioned players should aspire to get their names on this list – and if they do, this coming season could turn out to be very, very entertaining.
1. Orlando Pace – No less an authority than 1995 Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George sums it up nicely. “If it wasn’t for Orlando Pace,” George once said, “you’d have never heard of me.” Pace was the most decorated offensive lineman ever to play at Ohio State and he was a star from the first time he set foot on campus during his freshman season of 1994. Had he not left early for the NFL and returned for his senior year in 1997, he could have been the first lineman ever to win the Heisman Trophy. Simply put, he was just that good. As it was, Pace filled his trophy case with two All-America honors, back-to-back Lombardi Awards and the Outland Trophy. He was also named the 1995 Big Ten player of the year making him the only offensive lineman in the last 45 years to have been named conference MVP.
2. John Hicks – Hicks was 6-3 and 258 pounds, but had the mobility of a much smaller player. He was a rare blend of size, strength, speed, attitude and coachability that comes along only once every so often. In fact, Woody Hayes made a highlight reel of Hicks’ blocking technique and used it as a teaching tool for the remainder of his coaching career. Hicks topped off his college career in 1973 with a second All-America honor as well as the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award. He was finished runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting to Penn State running back John Cappelletti, the highest finish ever for a lineman in the Heisman voting,
3. Chris Ward – Ward began a three-year run as the starting left tackle for the Buckeyes in 1975 and paved the way for Archie Griffin to win his second Heisman Trophy before blocking for the likes of Jeff Logan in ’76 and Ron Springs in ’77, both of whom became 1,000-yard rushers. Ward was a two-time All-American who started 36 consecutive games and was part of an offense that piled up 1,469 points over four seasons – an average of 30.6 per game. He was also part of a team that won or shared the Big Ten championship every year he was a Buckeye.
4. Korey Stringer – Overshadowed somewhat by fellow offensive tackle Orlando Pace, Stringer was one of the reasons why Ohio State fielded such offensive powerhouses in the mid-1990s. The big, burly Warren, Ohio, native cleared opposing tacklers like a hot knife through butter and finished second in 1994 in both the Outland Trophy and Lombardi Award voting. Nevertheless, Stringer was a consensus first-team All-American that season, and then was selected in the first round of the 1995 NFL draft by the Minnesota Vikings. Before his tragic death in 2001, Stringer played six seasons in Minnesota, during which the Vikings made the playoffs five times including the NFC championship game twice.
5. Chuck Csuri – An All-American at tackle, Csuri was voted the team MVP during the 1942 national championship season. That year, he led a rushing attack that averaged 5.2 yards per carry and 281.2 yards per game in addition to 33.7 points per contest. Csuri left OSU after that season to join the military, but he returned to finish his collegiate career in 1946 and earned his third varsity letter. After graduation, he became a national leader in the field of computer graphics.
6. Dave Foley – Foley started at right tackle in 1966 and ’67 before moving to the left side in 1968. The move coincided with the Buckeyes rolling to the national championship and Foley was in the middle of the proceedings. He was one of the team captains that season and helped pave the way for fullback Jim Otis to rush for a then school-record 985 yards. Foley earned consensus All-America honors in ’68 and the third of his three Academic All-American honors. Following his college career, Foley was a first-round selection (26th overall) by the New York Jets in the 1969 NFL draft, and he played nine seasons with the Jets and Buffalo.
7. Bob Vogel – Vogel held down the left tackle spot for the Buckeyes from 1960-62, and was one of the guys who blew open holes regularly for All-America fullback Bob Ferguson. After finishing his college career, Vogel had a 10-year pro career with the Baltimore Colts blocking for the likes of Johnny Unitas and Tom Matte, and he made the Pro Bowl five times. Vogel played in two Super Bowls, including Super Bowl V when the Colts defeated Dallas, 16-13, on a last-second field goal by Cincinnati Aiken High School product Jim O’Brien.
8. Dick Schafrath – A two-sport star as a schoolboy in Wooster, Ohio, Schafrath turned down a baseball contract from the Cincinnati Reds to play college football at Ohio State. He played offense and defense for the Buckeyes, and teamed with future pro football hall of famer Jim Marshall to give OSU one of the top tackle tandems in the country. The duo anchored the line that helped the Buckeyes win the 1957 national championship. Schafrath was a team co-captain in 1958, and then became a second-round selection by Cleveland in the 1959 NFL draft. He was a fixture at left tackle for the Browns throughout his 13-year career, not only protecting the blind side of quarterbacks but opening holes for such Hall of Fame running backs as Jim Brown, Bobby Mitchell and Leroy Kelly. Schafrath was a seven-time Pro Bowler and was voted the Browns’ most valuable player in 1963.
9. Robert Karch – Karch was a tackle for the Buckeyes who helped blow open holes for Chic Harley during the 1916 and ’17 seasons, allowing Ohio State to claim their first-ever Western Conference championships. During his senior season in 1917, Karch was named to the All-America team.
10. Jim Tyrer – Tyrer was extremely versatile for Woody Hayes, starting at left tackle as a sophomore in 1958 and then switching to the right side in ’59 and ’60. Tyrer, a native of Newark, Ohio, blocked for fullbacks Bob White and Bob Ferguson during his college career, and he earned first-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior. Tyrer went on to enjoy an excellent professional career, mostly with the Kansas City Chiefs. He won three AFL championship rings with the Chiefs as well as Super Bowl IV following the 1969 season. Tyrer was named the AFL’s offensive lineman of the year in ’69. Unfortunately, Tyrer did not meet with the same success in his life after football. Following a series of business misfortunes and heavily in debt, Tyrer shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself on Sept. 15, 1980. He was only 41.
If you would like to take a look at my top 10 players at other positions, here are the links:
BIG TEN BEEFS UP ’09 SLATE
A quick check of the 2009 nonconference schedules for Big Ten shows a little more bite than in recent years. Just two years ago, only one league team featured a nonleague schedule against teams that had combined for a winning record the season before. This fall, that number rises to seven.
Michigan State is picked by many as a dark horse candidate for the conference championship and the Spartans are going to battle-test themselves with a nonleague slate that features teams that posted a combined 31-20 record in 2008 – Western Michigan (9-4), Central Michigan (8-5), Notre Dame (7-6) and I-AA Montana State (7-5).
Close behind Sparty is Illinois with nonconference opponents that recorded a combined 31-21 mark a season ago. Taking on the Illini this year will be Cincinnati and Missouri, teams that combined to go 21-7 last year. Also on the docket: always-tough Fresno State (7-6) and I-AA Illinois State (3-8).
Illinois head coach Ron Zook is also preparing for the schedule expansion past Thanksgiving which goes into effect in 2010. Zook has switched around his team’s ’09 schedule to include a pair of open dates, including the week before taking on Ohio State in late September. The Illini will also wind up Big Ten play on Nov. 14 – a week before everyone else – and then finish their regular-season schedule at UC on Nov. 27 (the day after Thanksgiving) and in Champaign against Fresno State on Dec. 5.
As they have for the past couple of years, Penn State and Northwestern have fattened their nonconference diet with cupcakes. Neither team plays an opponent who finished over .500 last season while none of the Wildcats’ four nonleague opponents notched more than three victories.
The Nittany Lions play a trio of teams that finished 5-7 in 2008 – Akron, Temple and i-AA Eastern Illinois – as well as Syracuse, which posted a 3-9 record. Northwestern also has Syracuse on its schedule along with Eastern Michigan and I-AA Towson, each of which also finished 3-9. The Wildcats also play Miami (Ohio), which was 2-10 last season.
Nine of the 11 conference schools have Division I-AA opponents on their schedules for 2009, and some of those smaller schools are aiming to be this year’s version of Appalachian State. Wisconsin hosts Wofford, who finished 9-3 last season, while Iowa takes on instate rival Northern Iowa. The Panthers were 12-3 last year and made it to the I-AA semifinals before bowing 21-20 to eventual national champion Richmond.
Here is the full slate of nonconference games for Big Ten teams. Division I-AA teams are in italics.
Illinois: Missouri (10-4) @ St. Louis, Illinois State (3-8), @ Cincinnati (11-3), Fresno State (7-6)
Indiana: Eastern Kentucky (8-4), Western Michigan (9-4), @ Akron (5-7), @ Virginia (5-7)
Iowa: Northern Iowa (12-3), @ Iowa State 2-10, Arizona (8-5), Arkansas State (6-6)
Michigan: Western Michigan (9-4), Notre Dame (7-6), Eastern Michigan (3-9), Delaware State (5-6)
Michigan State: Montana State (7-5), Central Michigan (8-5), @ Notre Dame (7-6), Western Michigan (9-4)
Minnesota: @ Syracuse (3-9), Air Force (8-5), California (9-4), San Diego State (2-10)
Northwestern: Towson (3-9), Eastern Michigan (3-9), @ Syracuse (3-9), Miami-Ohio (2-10)
Ohio State: Navy (8-5), USC (12-1), Toledo (3-9) @ Cleveland, New Mexico State (3-9)
Penn State: Akron (5-7), Syracuse (3-9), Temple (5-7), Eastern Illinois (5-7)
Purdue: Toledo (3-9), @ Oregon (10-3), Northern Illinois (6-7), Notre Dame (7-6)
Wisconsin: Northern Illinois (6-7), Wofford (9-3), Fresno State (7-6), @ Hawaii (7-7)
Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former running back Jonathan Wells who turns 30 today.
Wells was born July 21, 1979, in River Ridge, La., and became a star at John Curtis High School in his hometown. He rushed for more than 4,600 yards during his prep career and led his high school team to consecutive state championships as a junior and senior. J-Dub signed with Ohio State in 1998 and was a four-year letterman but didn’t break out until his senior season in 2001 when he rushed for 1,294 yards and 16 TDs. That included 129 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan as the Buckeyes pulled off a 26-20 upset of the 11th-ranked Wolverines. Wells was a fourth-round selection by Houston in the 2002 NFL draft and played four pro seasons, all with the Texans. His best year was as a rookie in 2002 when he led the team with 529 yards and three touchdowns. His career numbers included 1,167 yards and 10 TDs on 374 carries, and 44 receptions for 323 yards and two scores.
Among the other luminaries celebrating birthdays throughout the world this 21st day of July: Fifties singer Kay Starr (“Wheel of Fortune”) is 87; film and TV actor Paul Burke is 83; film director Norman Jewison (“The Cincinnati Kid,” “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “Moonstruck”) is 83; former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is 71; actor Edward Herrmann is 66; film director Tony Scott (“Top Gun,” “Days of Thunder” and “Crimson Tide”) is 65; former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr is 63; singer songwriter Yusuf Islam (born Steven Georgiou and better known as Cat Stevens) is 61; Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau is 61; former MLB reliever Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky is 60; comedian and Oscar-winning actor Robin Williams is 58; comic actor Jon Lovitz is 52; Olympic gold medalist soccer player Brandi Chastain is 41; model/actress Ali Landry is 36; British pro golfer Paul Casey is 32; actor Josh Hartnett is 31; New York Yankees lefthander CC Sabathia is 29; and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Kellen Winslow II is 26.
AND FINALLY …
** In case you missed it, former Ohio State assistant coach Dennis Fryzel died July 6 at his home in Duluth, Ga., after a battle with renal cancer. He was 67. Fryzel was a Cleveland native who was a star receiver at Garfield Heights High School and Denison University. He was an assistant on several college staffs including Columbia, Williams College, Air Force, Syracuse, Tampa and Ohio State, where he served from 1979-81 as Earle Bruce’s defensive coordinator. Fryzel, along with defensive line coach Steve Szabo and defensive backs coach Nick Saban, were fired by Bruce following the Buckeyes’ narrow victory over Navy in the 1981 Liberty Bowl. Fryzel left coaching after that and entered into successful business ventures in both commercial construction sales and telecommunications.
** Former Michigan State football coach and athletic director George Perles plans to enter next year’s Michigan governor’s race. He will place his name into the candidate pool for the Democratic primary. Perles coached the Spartans from 1983-94 and posted a 68-67-4 record. That included the Big Ten championship in 1987 and a Rose Bowl victory over USC.
** SMU is renovating its football offices, and the project includes the new Jerry LeVias Reception Area to honor the College Football Hall of Famer and SMU alum. LeVias was also the first African-American scholarship athlete and second African-American football player in the old Southwest Conference. Longtime Ohio State fans may remember LeVias from the 1968 season opener when he caught 15 passes for 160 yards in the Mustangs’ 35-14 loss to the Buckeyes in Columbus. SMU attempted 76 passes in that game, still a record for an Ohio State opponent.
** It seems like Oregon unveils new uniforms every year. Guess that’s what happens when you are the guinea pig for hometown Nike. Anyway, this year’s Ducks will have the option of 80 different jersey combinations. Not sure why a team that plays a maximum of 13 games needs more than six times that many jersey combinations, but there it is.
** When Nebraska hosts Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 26, it will mark the 300th consecutive sellout at Memorial Stadium. The streak began in 1962 when the Cornhuskers hosted Missouri in front of a then-capacity crowd of 36,701. Memorial Stadium’s current capacity is 81,067.
** As it often does, ESPN recently made a mountain out of a molehill when Florida head coach Urban Meyer told the Gainesville Sun, “I’m not going to Notre Dame. Ever. I’m going to be the coach at Florida for a long time – as long as they want me.” The hubbub started last December when Meyer mentioned coaching the Fighting Irish would be his “dream job.” Of course, I would put Meyer’s comments about never going to Notre Dame in the same category as Gary Williams’ claim that he would not leave Ohio State for Maryland or Brett Favre’s annual retirement announcement(s).