I’ll admit it. After the last couple of seasons, I was so ready for Ohio State football to be over I couldn’t see straight.
What a difference a postseason victory makes. Now, I find myself anticipating what could be a special season in 2010. Of course, we have to get through the rest of winter, spring football, summer conditioning and fall camp, but the fact remains that exactly 31 weeks from today, OSU will kick off the 2010 football season at home against Marshall.
The Buckeyes will be shooting for a sixth consecutive Big Ten championship, seeking to tie their own conference record set between 1972 and ’77. The team will also be shooting for an unprecedented seventh straight victory over archrival Michigan while attempting to extend their string of Bowl Championship Series berths to six in a row.
Those goals seem well within the Buckeyes’ grasp, but there are others. Terrelle Pryor will embark upon his third season as a starter and seek to build upon his Rose Bowl performance. Could he challenge Alabama running back Mark Ingram for the Heisman Trophy? Why not?
Then there is the holy grail for all Division I-A teams: the BCS National Championship Game. The title game will be played in a familiar venue, at least for the Buckeyes – University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. – and if Ohio State can get to the championship contest, it would become only the second team in BCS history to play in four title games. (Oklahoma is the other one.)
Before any of that can occur, of course, the Buckeyes must get through a 2010 season that features some tough road contests. For those of you experiencing football withdrawal, here is a breakdown of the team’s schedule next fall in reverse order of difficulty.
12. Eastern Michigan (Sept. 25) – Anything resembling success would be an improvement for the Eagles. Their 0-12 record this past season was only the tip of the iceberg. There are 120 schools playing Division I-A football, and EMU ranked near the bottom in several major statistical categories including 116th in total offense and 117th in scoring defense.
Things quite simply couldn’t have gotten much worse for first-year head coach Ron English, who spent five seasons on Lloyd Carr’s staff including three as defensive coordinator. The good news is that a lot of youngsters got extensive experience last season, including Alex Gillett at quarterback, one of nine freshmen who started multiple games for the Eagles.
The date with EMU will mark the second straight game for the Buckeyes against a team from the Mid-American Conference. The two teams have never met, but OSU is 26-1 against current members of the MAC with the only blemish a 12-6 loss to Akron in an 1894 game played at the Ohio State Fairgrounds.
11. Marshall (Sept. 2) – The Thundering Herd are coming off a 7-6 finish, their first winning record since 2004. That still wasn’t enough to save Mark Snyder, the former OSU defensive coordinator who resigned as head coach prior to the team’s Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl win over Ohio.
In Snyder’s place, Marshall hired John “Doc” Holliday, who knows a little bit about Ohio State. He was in charge of safeties on Urban Meyer’s staff at Florida when the Gators rolled to a 41-14 win over the Buckeyes in the 2007 BCS National Championship Game.
Holliday was also recruiting coordinator for Meyer, and he has already attracted what many experts say is Marshall’s best recruiting class in years. That will help plug some holes created by the departure of such All-Conference USA performers as tight end Cody Slate, linebacker Mario Harvey and kicker Craig Ratanamorn.
10. Ohio (Sept. 18) – Frank Solich begins his sixth season in Athens looking for some consistency. The Bobcats won nine games last year, but have yet to put together back-to-back winning seasons under Solich. The fact of the matter is OU hasn’t experienced consecutive winners since 1979-80.
If Solich is going to break that streak, he is going to have to find some more offense. Despite winning nine games last year, the Bobcats had one of the most anemic attacks in college football including a running game that accounted for only 112.0 yards per game.
Ohio-based teams haven’t had much success against Ohio State over the last 90 years or so. The Buckeyes are working on a 38-game unbeaten streak against in-state rivals that stretches back to a 7-6 loss to Oberlin in 1921. The Bobcats are 0 for 6 lifetime against Ohio State, including a 26-14 loss in 2008.
9. Indiana (Oct. 9) – The Hoosiers have lost 14 of their last 16 conference games and things may not get much better in 2010 if IU can’t figure out a way to stop their opponents. Two-time team MVP Jammie Kerlew is gone along with defensive end running mate Greg Middleton, not exactly the best news for a unit that ranked 10th in the Big Ten in both yardage and points allowed last season.
On the plus side, head coach Bill Lynch is beginning to embrace a power attack on offense and has a potential stud in running back Darius Willis, who had 607 yards as a freshman. If the offensive line can jell, and quarterback Ben Chappell can continue to build a rapport with talented young receivers such as Tandon Ross, the Hoosiers could at least be entertaining on that side of the ball.
The early portion of IU’s schedule is a soft one, including a Big Ten opener at home with Michigan. But then the Hoosiers must travel to Columbus, where they have lost 29 of their last 31 games, including eight in a row.
8. At Illinois (Oct. 2) – On the heels of another disappointing season in Champaign, Fighting Illini fans will likely have little patience with Ron Zook. The head coach enters his sixth season with a 21-39 record at Illinois, a mark that is skewed to the upside by the 2007 Rose Bowl season.
The pressure to win and win quickly won’t be eased by an early nonconference schedule that features Missouri and Cincinnati before mid-September. The Illini get a mini-break with an open week before hosting the Buckeyes, and they’ll likely need it. UI has lost seven in a row at home to Ohio State. Another break in scheduling is the fact that neither Iowa nor Wisconsin are on Illinois’ Big Ten slate in 2010.
Still, Zook is going to have to plug several big holes in his starting lineup, specifically on offense with the losses of playmaking receiver Arrelious Benn, who left early for the NFL, and veteran quarterback Juice Williams. New offensive coordinator Paul Petrino, who left his brother Bobby’s staff at Arkansas, heads a coaching staff overhaul.
7. Purdue (Oct. 23) – The Boilermakers certainly got plenty of mileage from their 26-18 victory over Ohio State in mid-October. That signature win ended a five-game losing streak and propelled Purdue to victories in four of their last seven contests.
For all of that late-season success, however, the Boilermakers still finished with a 5-7 record, their second straight losing season. Purdue hasn’t experienced three consecutive losing campaigns since posting 12 in a row between 1985 and 1996, a stretch that cost three head coaches their jobs.
If Danny Hope expects to escape the same fate that befell Leon Burtnett, Fred Akers and Jim Colletto, he will have to find a suitable replacement for senior quarterback Joey Elliott, who threw for 3,026 yards and 22 TDs last season. It also wouldn’t hurt if the Boilers boilered up a little more on defense. They surrendered 29.1 points per game last year to rank ninth in the conference in scoring defense.
6. At Minnesota (Oct. 30) – The Golden Gophers opened their new on-campus TCF Bank Stadium last season but took what was perceived to be a step backward. The team finished 6-7, and that dropped head coach Tim Brewster’s three-year mark to 14-24.
Part of the problem has been a lack of consistency with the coaching staff, particularly on offense. Former Detroit Lions quarterbacks coach Jeff Horton will become Brewster’s third offensive coordinator in as many years, and it remains to be seen what kind of attack Horton will run.
Anything would be an improvement over last season. Despite the presence of several veterans including third-year starting quarterback Adam Weber, Minnesota finished dead last in the conference in rushing, scoring and total offense.
5. Michigan (Nov. 27) – Several Big Ten coaches would seem to be on the hot seat, but none more than Rich Rodriguez. Although his team improved its overall record to 5-7, the cold, hard truth remains that the Wolverines have lost 13 of 16 conference games under Rodriguez. That is the program’s worst stretch since the mid-1930s.
Despite last year’s uptick in terms of overall wins, there is reason to believe the Wolverines aren’t really making many strides toward overall improvement. The offense got better last year, finishing 59th in the country, but U-M was still a lowly 82nd in total defense and 115th in turnover margin.
Meanwhile, Ohio State has continued its unprecedented streak of success in the series. The Buckeyes have won six in a row and eight of the last nine, and that includes a 4-0 mark in Columbus under Tressel.
4. Penn State (Nov. 13) – Joe Paterno needs six more wins to reach 400 for his career, and that may be easier said that done. After compiling 40 victories over the past four seasons, 2010 could be a rebuilding year in Happy Valley.
JoePa will have to find replacements for six starters on defense, including star linebackers Navorro Bowman and Sean Lee as well as tackle Jared Odrick. Penn State also will have a quarterback competition entering spring practice featuring untested redshirt freshmen Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin along with true freshman Paul Jones, who enrolled in classes early.
The schedule isn’t very friendly, either. After several years of fattening themselves on nonconference cupcakes, the Nittany Lions visit defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 11. Three weeks later, Penn State opens Big Ten play at Iowa.
3. Miami, Fla. (Sept. 11) – The Hurricanes hope to continue the rebuilding process that began last season with a 5-1 start that elevated them as high as No. 8 in the Associated Press poll. A pedestrian 4-3 finish followed that hot start, but plenty of reasons to be optimistic remain around Coral Gables.
Jacory Harris threw for 3,352 yards and 24 TDs in 2009 and is one of the top young quarterbacks in college football. He will have to make better decisions, however. Harris pitched 17 interceptions and was sacked 34 times. That latter number may not get much better next season if Miami can’t find suitable replacements for starting tackles Jason Fox and Matt Pipho, who are off to the NFL.
There is no doubt the Hurricanes as well as their fans have this game circled. Many in the Hurricane Nation cling to the belief that the 2002 national championship was unjustly taken from them, making this not only a rematch but a revenge game.
2. At Wisconsin (Oct. 16) – After a couple of so-so seasons, Bret Bielema appears to have the Badgers back on track. In fact, many observers believe the fifth-year coach will field his best team in 2010.
Wisconsin always seems to find a bruiser to play tailback and John Clay certainly fits that bill. He carried the mail 287 times – 82 more than anyone else in the Big Ten – and led the conference with 1,517 yards and 18 TDs. The Badgers also benefited from the play of quarterback Scott Tolzien, who didn’t wow anyone with over-the-top talent but still managed to lead the conference in pass efficiency while throwing for 2,705 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Clay and Tolzien are only two of 10 starters returning to the Big Ten’s No. 1 offense, and Bielema also welcomes back several defensive starters including linebacker Chris Borland, who earned conference freshman of the year honors.
1. At Iowa (Nov. 20) – Following an 11-2 season that included an Orange Bowl win over Georgia Tech, the Hawkeyes believe they will be serious national championship contenders in 2010. Part of the reason is because nine starters return to the No. 8 scoring defense in the nation, including star defensive end Adrian Clayborn.
The Hawkeyes will also welcome back six starters on offense, including quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who had led the team to an undefeated season before injuring an ankle at Northwestern. However, one possible chink in the armor could be the offensive line. Iowa loses four of five starters up front.
Even so, the schedule sets up perfectly for the Hawkeyes. Penn State, Wisconsin and OSU all have to visit Kinnick Stadium. Of course, looks can be deceiving. While the Hawkeyes have owned Penn State and Wisconsin recently – a combined 11-3 overall since 2002, including 5-1 in Iowa City – the same cannot be said for Iowa’s fortunes against the Buckeyes. The Hawkeyes have lost 11 of their last 12 overall in the series with OSU, and 14 of their last 17 to the Buckeyes at Kinnick.
Today’s Buckeye birthday belongs to former All-American offensive lineman and current OSU staffer Jeff Uhlenhake.
Jeffrey Alan Uhlenhake was born Jan. 28, 1966, in Indianapolis, but moved at a young age to Newark, Ohio, where he helped lead Newark Catholic to one high school state championship and two runner-up finishes. He was a two-time All-Ohio selection and Class A Lineman of the Year as a senior before signing with Ohio State in 1985. Uhlenhake went on to earn All-Big Ten honors at both guard and center, and received All-America honors at center in 1988. He was a fifth-round selection by Miami in the 1989 NFL draft, and played nine pro seasons with the Dolphins, Saints and Redskins. After his playing career ended, Uhlenhake got into coaching and spent one season on Mark Dantonio’s staff at Cincinnati and two as offensive line coach for the Cleveland Browns under Romeo Crennel. In 2007, Uhlenhake returned to Ohio State and is currently a strength and conditioning assistant on Jim Tressel’s coaching staff.
Among the luminaries observing birthdays this 28th day of January: six-time Emmy winner Alphonso Joseph D’Abruzzo is 76 (you probably know him better as actor Alan Alda); San Antonio Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich is 61; evangelical Christian minister and author Rick Warren is 56; French president Nicolas Sarkozy is 55; American televangelist Creflo Dollar is 48; former Anthrax lead guitarist Dan Spitz is 47; two-time Grammy winner Sarah McLachlan is 42; comedian Mo Rocca is 41; Detroit Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordóñez is 36; Detroit Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper is 33; former *NSYNC member Joey Fatone is 33; Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Lyle Overbay is 33; and Backstreet Boys member Nick Carter is 30.
Also on this day in history: the Yale Daily News became the first daily college newspaper in the U.S. in 1878; abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollack was born in 1912; the U.S. Coast Guard was created in 1915; the Lego Co. patented their design of toy bricks in 1958; actor John Banner (Sgt. Schultz in “Hogan’s Heroes”) died on his 63rd birthday in 1973; and the Challenger space shuttle exploded shortly after takeoff in 1986. All seven astronauts on board were killed, including New Hampshire social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe.
** Former Ohio State great Bill Willis was among those honored as “Great Ohioans” on Jan. 20 at the Ohio Statehouse. The Great Ohioan Award goes to individuals who played a significant role in Ohio, U.S. and world history. To qualify, they must be an Ohio native or have lived in the state for at least five years, and at least 25 years must have passed since the event for which they were nominated. Willis, who died in 2007, joins former Cleveland Indians pitcher Bob Feller, former Ohio Gov. James M. Cox and Florence Ellinwood Allen, the first woman to serve on the Ohio Supreme Court, as the 2010 honorees.
** Earle Bruce has gotten a start on his second generation of coaching prodigies. After helping begin the careers of such coaches as Pete Carroll and Nick Saban, both of whom served as Ohio State assistants, Bruce is no doubt proud that Zach Smith landed his first full-time coaching job earlier this month as wide receivers coach at Marshall. Smith didn’t coach on any of Bruce’s staffs – he is the grandson of the former Ohio State head coach and College Football Hall of Famer.
** Former Virginia head coach Al Groh didn’t spend much time in the unemployment line. Groh, who was fired after nine seasons with the Cavaliers, has been hired by Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson to be his new defensive coordinator.
** In case you missed it, former Ohio State assistant weight coach Mike Cochran has been hired by new Akron head coach Ron Ianello as director of strength and conditioning.
** ESPN has launched a new informational website the network hopes will serve as a sports archive. ESPNDB.com currently in its infancy with its lone profile currently covering the NBA, but the network has said it will expand its compendium to all sports in the near future.
** You can still purchase copies of my book “The Die-Hard Fan’s Guide to Buckeye Football” online at Amazon. Or if you like a signed copy, they are available for $19.95 plus $5 for shipping and handling. Make out your check or money order to Columbus Sports Publications and send it to: Mark Rea Book, c/o Buckeye Sports Bulletin, P.O. Box 12453, Columbus, OH 43212.