Ohio State Football, Sports

How about those Buckeyes?

12.28.07 | 3 Comments

Sears BCS Trophy
Photo Credit: Playboy Blog

As you may know (and care about or not,) the Ohio State Buckeyes will meet the Louisiana State Tigers in New Orleans January 7th, 2008 to decide the national championship for the 2007 season of Division I college football. DI (now called Bowl Championship Division) is the only division in college football that does not decide the winner of the championship through a playoff system, it’s rather, a playoff game where the participants are selected on the basis of the college coaches poll, a private poll (Harris Interactive), and the average of 6 computer ranking systems with each component accounting for 1/3 of the overall rating.

That’s how the teams got here. Now when you hear gripes and groans from outside Baton Rouge and Columbus, you’ll know why. With the preamble out of the way, this entry looks at the Ohio State Buckeye team and the season they’ve had building up to their appearance in the championship game. I did a similar preview for LSU a few days ago and will ultimately post a game preview.

Not even a Buckeye fan wearing the thickest scarlet and gray glasses predicted that the Buckeyes would be in this game, this year. I think most fans had this appearance scheduled for next year, after all, few teams get better losing a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, a 1,000+ yard running back, three top receivers, and 75% of their starting defensive line to graduation and the NFL draft. In my season preview, I had the Bucks down for a 10-2 season and a borderline BCS participant (not championship game.) The team started out of the gate a little wobbly beating D-IAA Youngstown State and Akron in closer games than anyone would have liked. But built up momentum and confidence throughout the season. Todd Boeckman stepped in for Troy Smith and performed well, Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline filled in for Ginn and Gonzales, the defensive line didn’t miss a beat (except when projected star Lawrence Wilson broke his leg in the first game of the season.) The defense allowed a little over 10 points per contest while the offense produced 32 points per game this year; an impressive performance in a rebuilding year.

The Buckeye schedule was comprised of 8 conference and 4 non-conference games. The out-of-conference slate included D-IAA Youngstown State, Akron, at Washington, and Kent State. Not a murder’s row to be sure, but also just what the doctor ordered to get a rebuilding team up to speed. The game in Washington was critical – even though Washington turned out to be not a very good team, when the Buckeyes met them in Seattle, they were undefeated having obliterated Syracuse on the road and soundly thumped a strong Boise State team at home. After a close first half, the Bucks pulled away as Boeckman hit his stride in the second half. The Buckeye opponents collective win/loss record for the season was 18-30.

The conference slate for the Buckeyes was respectable, due to the vagaries of the 11 team Big 10 (don’t ask me, I don’t know) two teams are missed each year. This year, the Buckeyes dropped Indiana and Iowa from the schedule. They played a slate that included Michigan and Penn State on the road (the Bucks had never beaten both UM and PSU on the road in the same season before) and a sandwich game of Illinois which turned out to be the lone loss of the season on the Illini’s strong running game and dubious calls by the officials. The most impressive performance of the year was the game at Penn State, most people predicted a loss to the Nittany Lions, road game, at night against a strong team. A recipe for collapse, the opposite happened leading to a solid win. There are two ways to view the Buckeyes season: pessimistic, they played no one and still managed to lose a game. Optimistic, they were supposed to be rebuilding and no one could touch them in competently officiated games. There is some truth in each perspective.

Ohio State’s conference foes posted a win/loss record of 55-41 which indicates that the Big 10 was dominant out-of-conference (which is true with the Big 10 sporting a 79.5% OOC win rate and a BCS league best 69% against BCS-level OOC teams.) Thus the combined record of OSU’s opponents is 73-71, a snapshot of their schedule and results are posted below:

OSU's 2007 Football Schedule
Data Source: Massey Ratings

I watched every Ohio State game this year (thanks Big Ten Network) and believe the two defining games of this season are the Penn State and Michigan games (with all due respect to the Illini who beat the Buckeyes at home.) The Penn State game showed this team’s best attributes, a dominating defense and efficient offense systematically dismantling a good team in a very hostile environment. Virtually everything went according to plan in the PSU game and the Bucks walked away with a dominant win when most predicted their demise. The Michigan game was a completely different story, coming off a tough home loss where the defense had a sub-par game, and the offense flat out stunk, the team marched into Ann Arbor and held Michigan to 91 total yards and rode Beanie Wells for 221 yards and 2 touchdowns. This team had every reason to fold, injuries, let down after an unexpected loss where they got jobbed by the refs, hostile crowd, horrendous weather, and history never having beaten both PSU and UM on the road in the same season. They gutted out a dominating win when most people expected a loss, the definition of heart.

In the loss to Illinois, the role of the refs cannot be understated, two non-calls led to 14 points. An uncalled clear fumble and a pick play resulting in a touchdown. That being said, Illinois played a great game and simply ran the ball down the Buckeye’s throats in the 4th quarter; the defense was powerless to stop them which ultimately resulted in the loss. The offense, particularly Todd Boeckman and the offensive line, had a bad day. The defense was getting blown off the line of scrimmage and Illinois was able to run up the gut, never a good thing. This exposed the weakness of the Buckeye team providing a blueprint to beat them, misdirection supplemented by power running north and south, with periodic play action passing run by a red-hot quarterback. Juice Williams had the game of his life through the air, he didn’t have his normal 50% completion kind of day. Youth, inexperience, injuries, and officiating all contributed to this loss. The most troubling aspect to the team performance at Illinois and Boeckman’s performance at Michigan is the regression. Tressel coached teams tend to play their best football in November, this is the second time in his seven year tenure the team showed regression in November (the other being 2004 with a loss at Purdue.)

Despite the negatives, Ohio State is a good football team and is a trendy upset pick among the football cognoscenti – though the Buckeyes remain an underdog on the card relative to the odds (presently 4 point dogs.) Anyone expecting a repeat of last year’s performance against Florida will be disappointed (or happy depending on your rooting interests.) This has the makings of a 60 minute slugfest from two very physical teams. The key questions I have about the Buckeyes are:

  • Will Donald Washington play? He is an integral part of the secondary and the defense will suffer if he is absent.
  • To what extent will injuries heal? The long lay off is actually a benefit relative to healing up.
  • Will the team report in shape for practice? Heck, I put on a quick 5 lbs over the holidays, why wouldn’t players do so?
  • How will the Buckeyes respond to the hostile environment in what is virtually a home game for LSU?
  • How will the offensive line stand-up to LSU’s pass rush?
  • Will the defensive line fill the center of the field stopping the LSU rush attack?
  • How will the 0-8 bowl record against the SEC play into the team’s psyche?
  • How will the team handle the constant pecking of the talking heads saying the Buckeyes don’t belong on the same field as the Tigers and the nightmares of last year’s contest against Florida?

As with the prior LSU entry, I’m not ready to make a game call yet. But I do see this as a tough matchup for the Buckeyes against a very good LSU team at home. Everything is going against OSU and that’s why they’re underdogs. I’ll post a game preview and make a call in the near future. Meanwhile, let’s enjoy the other bowls as these two teams gear up for the championship.