by Max Gundlach - 07/15/2005
The 2005 College Football season is just around the corner and this is our favorite time of year at Doc's Sports. The season is filled with optimism for every team in the Big Ten. However, many of these teams have question marks that need to be addressed in order for them to return to prominence. Can Michigan replace the offensive player of the year and top three NFL Draft pick Braylon Edwards? Can Iowa find another playmaker on offense besides quarterback Drew Tate? Finally, can Penn State find any offensive playmakers to go along with a solid defense? The team coming in with the least question marks on paper is the Ohio State Buckeyes. This team is loaded with playmakers on both sides of the ball and is my clear choice to take the Big Ten crown.
The Ohio State Buckeyes finished out the 2004 season in style winning five out of their last six games. This included an impressive 16-point victory against Michigan and a dominating Alamo Bowl victory against Oklahoma State. Young players really established themselves and once they started to see action, this team really took off. Almost everyone will be back for the 2005 season as State returns nine starters on both sides of the ball.
Leading the way in the talent department is the dynamic duo of wide receivers in Ted Ginn Jr. and Santonio Holmes. These two resemble the talented trifecta of receivers that Michigan had one year ago. Holmes enters his junior year as the No. 1 receiver for the Bucks after catching a pass in every game he played last season. He finished the season with 769 yards and seven touchdowns on 55 catches. Teams will have to shade an extra man to him in order to keep him in check.
That can lead to major problems because the guy on the opposite side of the field is the most explosive player in the conference. Ted Ginn Jr. had a breakout season as a freshman and I look for him to do more of the same as a sophomore. Ginn has the ability to take the ball to the house every time he touches the ball. His breakout performance came against Michigan State, when he scored three touchdowns (one rushing, one receiving, and one punt return) including the go-ahead score with fewer than two minutes to play to lead the Ohio State Buckeyes to a much-needed victory. Ginn is so talented that many of the Columbus faithful feel that he will see some action at cornerback as well. I doubt if that will happen and think he can be better equipped at full strength on offense and special teams.
The quarterback position was a detriment to this team during the 2004 season, but I feel they have addressed that by volume. State returns their top two quarterbacks from last season in Troy Smith and Justin Zwick. When Smith took over the reins midway through the season, the offense ran at a more efficient pace. Smith has the ability to run or throw and that gives this offense an added dimension that they have not seen since the Stanley Jackson era. However, Smith ran into some off-the-field issues and was suspended for the Alamo Bowl and must sit out the first game of this season. Most of the Columbus media feel that Smith has done enough during spring practice to keep the No. 1 spot once he returns to action following his suspension.
However, Justin Zwick had a breakout game in the Alamo Bowl filling in for Smith. Doc's released the Ohio State Buckeyes as a top bowl selection coming into that game as a slight underdog. When news broke about the status of Smith, the line jumped over a field goal and our eyes lit up because of that. Zwick had an outstanding game completing 17 of his 27 passes and leading Ohio State to a 33-7 victory. More of the same can be expected in 2005 if Smith is not able to be productive.
One thing Jim Tressel has had throughout his tenure at Ohio State is a hard-noised dominating defense and this year appears to be no exception. Led by all-conference linebacker A.J. Hawk this defense appears to resemble the 2002 team. Also returning are team leaders in interceptions (Ashton Youboty) and sacks (Anthony Schlegel). OSU does have to replace cornerback Dustin Fox, but that seems to be solidified assuming Tyler Everett can come back from his knee injury.
Special teams may be a concern this season since both the kicker and punter have graduated. Mike Nugent was the Lou Groza winner in 2004 and would consistently hit the net from 50-plus yards. Nugent was a captain and team MVP and nobody would want to follow in his footsteps. However, senior Josh Houston has patiently waited his turn and now it is his time to shine. He has a strong leg that can reach the mid-fifties and his accuracy needs to be on because of the ball control style of offense played by the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Finally, as in 2002, the schedule seems to favor the Bucks with all three non-conference games being played in Columbus. The highlight game comes on September 10 when the Longhorns invade Columbus. This will likely be a match-up of top five teams and I favor the home squad. Texas plays a Big Ten style of offense and State will make Texas and Vince Young beat them through the air. After this game, the schedule really favors the Bucks until their annual meeting with Michigan. State must travel into Ann Arbor in a game that may decide the championship. Tressel has fared well against Michigan beating them in three of his four encounters. The lone loss came two years ago in Ann Arbor when Michigan clearly had the better team led by senior QB John Navarre.
The Ohio State Buckeyes are my clear choice to capture the Big Ten Title. If things go their way early, this team has the ability to run the table and wind up in the Rose Bowl playing for the National Championship. Be sure to check our website weekly for more articles about the Big Ten Conference. Doc's has been King for the Big Ten for more than 34 years.