2008 OSU Season Outlook

In the past, our season outlooks were of the ‘down in the weeds’ variety – players, starters, rotation, positions, injuries, and so forth. We’d like to take a broader view this year: ask some tough questions, and go out on a limb to provide some prescient answers.

 


Q: On what will the outcome of this season depend?
A: On leadership.

Last year’s Buckeyes were largely devoid of leadership, even though they benefited from a Butkus award winner on defense and a quarterback in his 73rd season.

James Laurinaitis has a precise, surgical approach to his game, but has never quite convinced me that the team belongs to him. This is in direct contrast to his predecessor A.J. Hawk, who played loose and passionate, but clearly owned the players around him. Little Animal needs to understand that passion is good. He needs to grab some helmets, order the young ones around, and never, ever let stuff like this happen again.

On the other side of the ball, Todd Boeckman faces a different challenge. He’s clearly the leader; but last season, Todd saved his worst performances for his biggest games. This season has at least three more ‘big’ games than last year, so the season could hinge on his wounded ducks and poor decisions (or lack thereof). He needs to be a leader by example. Fortunately for OSU, history trends indicate that teams have their highest increase in consistency and production with second-year starters at QB.

 


Q: Will OSU beat USC?
A: Probably.

There’s no question that, on paper, OSU is a deeper, more talented team, and all the warning signs are there that USC is a dynasty that’s been in decline for a couple of seasons now, only we’re just now starting to notice it.

Were the game in the Horseshoe, I’d be more comfortable predicting a lock win for the Buckeyes. However, the context of this specific game – a road game, at night, in the Coliseum, against Pete Carroll, with USC benefiting from a bye week beforehand – makes it even harder of a challenge for OSU to pull off.

No matter what the outcome, however, the odds that this single game will actually impact the national title picture are fairly remote. Don’t believe the hype machine that claims the loser will be out of the title race. Did we learn anything from 2007? Barring an embarrassing lopsided victory of one team over another, the loser is not likely to drop very far in the polls, and we know that at least two teams ahead of the loser will lose games later in the season (as OK plays Mizzou and Ga plays Fla).

In fact, the odds slightly favor a rematch of OSU and USC, either in the title game, or in the January 2009 Rose Bowl.

 


Q: How many victories do fans have a reasonable right to expect?
A: Nine.

Wait – let me explain. The question used the word ‘reasonable.’ To me, it’s reasonable to expect victories against Youngstown St, Ohio, Troy, Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan St., Penn St., Northwestern, and Illinois.

The remaining three games are USC, Wisconsin, and Michigan. USC we’ve already covered above. It’s a likely victory, but all of the associated intangibles prevent us from expecting it.

Wisconsin will likely be a top-10 team through most of the season, and the Buckeyes will play in Camp Randall, at night, in October. Tough game.

As for Michigan, yeah “rebuilding/Threet/suckitude/” yadda yadda. Doesn’t matter. Since the early-20th century, the teams are 50/50, no matter their records, no matter who’s coaching. 50/50. In fact, if there is any trend, it leans in favor of first-year coaches – no first-year coach at Michigan has ever lost his first OSU game. Something to think about.

So, if this season lived up to a reasonable expectation, OSU shouldn’t do any worse than 9-3 in the regular season. However, my opinion is that the Buckeye defense should be good enough to pull off one or two more victories, and if the offense (read: Boeckman) is much improved over last year, an undefeated regular season is very much possible.

 


Q: Will OSU win a first-time-in-history fourth consecutive conference title?
A: Yes.

And if it happens, it’s likely to be outright, as the two Big Ten teams not on OSU’s schedule (Indiana and Iowa) will probably not be good enough this year to contend. If the Buckeyes earn it outright, they also make history with a third-consecutive outright title.

 


Q: Will Beanie win the Heisman?
A: No.

Will he be the best RB in the country? Absolutely. But running backs only win Heismans if they put up numbers. To be considered, a back usually has to set records or challenge them, and it’s not likely that any tailback in a Jim Tressel system will ever get the number of carries needed to do so. Last year, Beanie averaged 21 carries a game with a 5.9 YPC average. If a 2000-yard regular season is the benchmark, then considering 21 attempts per game, Beanie would have to average 8 YPC to get close. Very unlikely.

And in fact, Tressel has indicated multiple times that Beanie may get fewer carries this year than he did last season (although, that could be strategic disinformation).

For Beanie to put up the numbers to win the Heisman, he’ll have to get about 30 carries or touches a game; or the other Heisman candidates will have to be weakling seatwarmers. Jim Tressel’s system precludes the former, and with all of the high-powered veteran quarterbacks in the country this year, the latter is not likely to happen.

However, there is one caveat to consider: The media has been pushing and pushing for years to get another two-time Heisman winner. Clearly, Tim Tebow enters into 2008 as the favorite in the race. But if Tebow has an average year, or if it becomes clear that he’s being outshined by other quarterbacks (e.g., Sam Bradford, et. al.), it’s entirely possible that they’d push Beanie’s candidacy if for no other reason than to set him up in 2009 to become the second two-time winner. The story couldn’t play out any better, not only because the first two-time winner was a Buckeye, but because at his current rate, he’s on track to beat Archie’s records sometime during his senior year (if he stays).

 


Q: Will OSU compete in the title game?
A: Probably not.

Why do I say this? Because the answer, for any team, is ‘probably not.’

There’s so much that goes into getting one of those two spots, and only part of it is hard work and number of victories. If you’ve been following football for any length of time now, you understand that blind chance plays just as much of a role as anything else. Not only does a team have to put themselves in position to be selected, but all those other things they can’t control have to mount up as well – the balls have to bounce their way, the calls have to go their way, game day weather has to be favorable for them and detrimental to their opponents, injuries can’t occur, teams ranked higher have to lose, etc.

At the end of the season, any one of perhaps a half-dozen teams could compete for two BCS title game slots. One will be from the Big 12 (either Oklahoma or Missouri), one from the Pac 10 (likely USC), the SEC championship game winner (probably Florida), and one from the Big 10 (either Ohio State or Wisconsin). In addition, the knuckleheads at ESPN will no doubt do their annual shoving of a mid-major or Big East team down our throats, so expect to hear Fresno State or West Virginia in that mix, too. It’s just too messy, and there’s too many things that those teams don’t have control of that can affect the outcome of their seasons.

Plus, OSU will suffer from something those other teams don’t: the anti-Big Ten bias that is firmly ingrained in the minds of the poll voters. If there’s any question of whom to invite, OSU will probably be overlooked in favor of another team.

It sounds obvious, but OSU’s best chance to compete is to go completely undefeated. If a loss happens, then hope it occurs against USC by a field goal.

 


Q: If they get there, will OSU win it?
A: No, if they have to rely on talent or coaching alone.

A: Yes, if the leadership problem is solved.

One final point: If they get to either Miami or Pasadena, the Buckeyes will no doubt have one or zero losses on a schedule that includes at least five ranked teams – two of them (USC, Wisconsin) ranked in the top-10. It is even possible that Penn State or Illinois make it into the top 10 before their respective games against OSU. That’s a much harder schedule than in previous years.

Between a respectable schedule this season and their bowl competition in recent years, by the end of this season, Ohio State should be a team with more experience against the nation’s best than any other Buckeye team in recent memory. It bodes well for them.

Comments

  1. Beanie isn’t staying.

  2. I’m more concerned with playing Illinois in Champaign than facing That Team Up North in the ‘Shoe. Remember last year? Plus, Ron Zook’s blue chip recruits are a year older.

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