Sunday Afternoon Quarterback: The Overnight Ascent of the Buckeyes

David WilliamsSenior Analyst IOctober 14, 2007

IconThis wasn’t supposed to be the Buckeyes' year.

They were supposed to be in rebuilding mode after losing every one of their major offensive playmakers.

Who was Todd Boeckman?  Could Beanie Wells carry the load?  How effective would Ohio State’s defensive line be while breaking in new starters? Was James Laurinaitis overrated?

The general consensus was that this was the year Ohio State would lose to Lloyd Carr and the more talented, more experienced Michigan Wolverines. 

As Athlon Sports predicted, “Ohio State has its work cut out for it if it is to return to the top of the Big Ten and the BCS bowl equation.”  

While Boeckman had been around the program for four years, he'd only thrown 10 career passes. Prognosticators said he'd be at best a caretaker for the Buckeyes offense—à la Craig Krenzel, whose conservative yet effective decision-making led the Buckeyes to a National Championship in 2003.

That said, even the skeptics admitted Boeckman would be throwing to some up-and-coming playmakers: Ray Small, Brian Hartline, and Brian Robiskie.  All three had shown promise behind Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez. 

Robiskie was especially promising—and his size, speed, and ability to make tough catches have helped him emerge as one of the best OSU receivers in some time.

Wells has also lived up to expectations in the backfield, running for 642 yards (5.4 YPC) with six touchdowns and no fumbles—all on a gimpy ankle.

Wells' carries have been relatively limited in order to keep him fresh, as well as to give talented backup running backs Maurice Wells and Brandon Saine some time in the limelight.

Boeckman, Robiskie, and Wells—as well as an improved offensive line led by tackles Alex Boone, and Kirk Barton and guard Steve Rehring—have led the Buckeyes offense to an impressive 35.7 scoring output per game.

The defense, meanwhile, has been as good as advertised, allowing only 6.6 points per game.  Led by Nagurski Award-winner James Laurinaitis, stud defensive end Vernon Gholston, and defensive backs Malcolm Jenkins and Donald Washington, the Buckeyes D has picked up where it started off last year—and continues to be the foundation for Jim Tressel’s football team. 

There's still a stigma attached to this Ohio State team after last year’s National Championship game, but all the Buckeyes have does is win—which is more than can be said for most of the other top teams in the country.

As it stands, the Ohio State Buckeyes have impressively, interestingly, and astoundingly risen to the top of the polls.

Some writers and analysts might quibble with the Buckeyes' lack of a signature victory, but the reality is that everyone else has lost.  Only in this crazy season could I call such a team deserving of the No. 1 spot.

Ohio State was ranked No. 11 in the AP Preseason ranking. Let’s examine how each of the ten preceding teams fell flat on their faces:

1. USC

The Trojans, considered by Stanford Head Coach Jim Harbaugh to be the “best team in the history of college football,” showed their promise early on in the season by disposing of previously highly-ranked Nebraska. 

Warning bells started to ring when SC barely skated by a Washington team that got destroyed by Ohio State.  And of course, who could forget the irony of SC losing to the team whose coach deemed the Trojans the best team ever?

USC’s 20-13 win over a not-so-talented Arizona team may spell doom for Pete Carroll’s national championship hopes.

2. LSU

Les Miles’ LSU Tigers were the consensus No. 1 team last week after barely getting by a talented Florida Gators squad in Death Valley. Their place in the BCS Championship game in New Orleans wasn’t guaranteed, but many felt the Tigers were a good bet to lose no more than one game.

Well, they lost that one game this weekend at Kentucky. 

The visit to the Commonwealth should have produced a relatively easy win—especially after LSU beat this same Kentucky team 49-0 last year—but a series of injuries and an unwavering game plan by Rich Brooks led to an improbable Kentucky victory. 

While Andre’ Woodson didn't have a Heisman-caliber performance, not many other players have impressed, either.  One thing’s for sure: LSU players Fear the Apostrophe.

Note: LSU is still really, really good.  It’s a shame that Matt Flynn had to go and lose the game for this otherwise extremely talented team.  Verne Lundquist can vouch for Flynn all he wants, but since when are poorly thrown balls the fault of the receivers?   

3. West Virginia

As proved by their performance thus far, the Mountaineers go as their running game goes. 

In the five games WVU has won, they have produced an astounding 337 rushing yards per game.  In the loss against South Florida, West Virginia ran for 205 yards. 

Though it looks like West Virginia has a chance—with some help—to win the Big East title, their loss to South Florida all but destroyed the Mountaineers' national championship aspirations. 

4. Texas

The Texas Longhorns may be one of the most disappointing teams in college football.

Building off his impressive freshman performance, sophomore quarterback Colt McCoy was expected to finally emerge from Vince Young’s shadow and lead the Longhorns to the BCS Championship. 

BCS or Bust, I said. 

The warning signs were there early in the season, as the Longhorns struggled against Arkansas State, TCU (for a half), and Central Florida.

Still, their 41-21 loss to Kansas State was a surprise to me, as K-State dominated in all aspects of the game. 

UT’s 28-21 loss to Oklahoma was expected, but not many could have imagined the Horns would start off 0-2 in the Big 12 conference.  Texas looks like it could have rebounded after this Saturday’s blowout of Iowa State, but a Big 12 title is highly unlikely.

5. Michigan

Forget Texas—Michigan is THE most disappointing team in college football. 

The Wolverines' inexcusable loss at the hands of the Appalachian State Mountaineers in Week One was compounded by a 39-7 blowout against Oregon. 

With Michigan 0-2, there were rumblings that Lloyd Carr would be fired on the spot.  But, to their credit, the Wolverines have struggled through the adversity, and still have a good shot at winning the Big Ten. 

That said, the losses at the beginning of the season showed that this team was vastly overrated.  If they’d done better, Mike Hart would be the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. 

Hart's inspired play—playing through a myriad of injuries and carrying the team on his shoulders—has been overshadowed by Michigan’s early ineptitude.

6. Florida

The Florida Gators have also lost twice—but their losses were by a combined seven points to two teams ranked in the Top 25. 

Would they beat Ohio State more often than not? Probably. Unfortunately, one more loss would be the kiss of death for their SEC Championship aspirations. 

Remember, though: Tim Tebow wears Jorts, and his tears cure cancer.

7. Wisconsin

Another team that hasn't lived up to the preseason hype. 

Following a 12-1 season—capped by a dominating performance over SEC runner-up Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl—things were looking up in Madison.  Three-year starter Jon Stocco was gone, but fifth-year senior Tyler Donovan was stepping in.  The P.J. Hill Heisman campaign was on the horizon, as the sophomore running back looked to improve on his 1,569 yard rushing performance in 2006. 

But things haven’t gone as planned. 

Wisconsin won close games over UNLV and Iowa and allowed 31 points to The Citadel before being upset by the Illinois Fighting Illini.  With a chance to redeem themselves in Happy Valley, the Badgers lost embarrassingly, 38-7. 

The Wisconsin Badgers are a textbook example of paper champions: The talent is there, but they can't deliver on the field.

8. Oklahoma

The Sooners are the one team on this list that may have exceeded expectations.

Following the departure of Adrian Peterson and Paul Thompson, most observers expected OU to struggle.  More than halfway through the season, though, the Sooners have emerged as the favorite in the Big 12 South. 

It wouldn’t be surprising for the Sooners to win out, but their 27-24 loss at Colorado could hurt them if LSU and OSU also run the table.

9. Virginia Tech

The Hokies had a rough start to the regular season, struggling against East and North Carolina and getting blow out by LSU.

Things started to turn around with a 41-23 win over Clemson—and with freshman QB Tyrod Taylor at the helm, the Hokies look to be one of the favorites in the ACC again. 

Their early loss actually helps Virginia Tech in the polls, as they are once again ranked in the top 12.

10. Louisville

The Cardinals have been out of the national championship talk for a month after losing to Kentucky, Syracuse, and Utah. 

Louisville seems to have finally rebounded with a win over the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bearcats, and may still win the Big East depending on what happens to West Virginia and South Florida.

You know the Sports Illustrated curse? Maybe after this season there’s also a Preseason Poll curse.

No.'s 1-10 already went down—and No. 11 had better watch out.

Extra Points

1. At no point did it ever cross my mind that Boston College was the No. 3 team in the country after only beating I-AA instate “rival” UMass by 10 points.  But let me repeat that.  BC is presently No. 3 in the country.  Bow down to their greatness.  One thing I have noticed about ascending teams this year is that once too much spotlight is pressed upon them (see: LSU, Cal, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Missouri, etc., etc.), they ultimately get upset.  Fittingly, Boston College travels to Blacksburg, Virginia to play a reinvigorated Virginia Tech Hokies team.  By the way this season is progressing I wouldn’t be surprised if Boston College lost this football game.

2. Boston College being ranked No. 3 in the country is almost as absurd as South Florida being ranked No. 2 in the country.  While I’m not really disputing the positions of these undefeated teams, I can assure you that no sane, rational fan or writer or analyst could’ve told you these two teams would be as successful as they have been more than halfway through the season.  But that’s why we play the game.

3. The seat for Bill Callahan has to be getting pretty uncomfortably hot at this point.  Nebraska’s 45-14 loss at the hands of the 40-year old man Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State Cowboys was one of the worst losses at home in the history of Nebraska football.  A similar loss helped show the door for Callahan’s predecessor, Frank Solich, so the writing may be on the wall.  Callahan was supposed to modernize the Cornhuskers offense and return the illustrious program from mediocrity during Solich’s tenure.  Well, Nebraska is currently 4-3 (1-2 in the Big 12) after being blown out by Missouri and Oklahoma State and almost losing at home to Ball State.  It may be time for a change.  More on the coaching hot seat later.

4. Remember Jake the Snake? Is this the year that Arizona State, led by junior quarterback Rudy Carpenter returns to prominence in the Pac-10?  Arizona State quietly remains as the only undefeated school in the conference, but has played one of the most cream-puff schedules to this point.  ASU will get plenty of opportunities to prove its worth with games against Cal, at Oregon, at UCLA, USC, and Arizona.  At least they got the likes of San Jose State out of the way for their National Championship push…Just to clarify they aren’t going to be close.

5. Speaking of San Jose State, the Spartans had a great opportunity to put to rest the arguments of those affiliated with Hawai’i who truly believed their team deserved to get a shot at the national title if the Warriors indeed went 12-0.  Alas, a 14 point deficit was not enough for the Man among Warriors Colt Brennan, as he heroically led his troops to victory.  He has thrown 9 interceptions combined in games against Idaho and San Jose State, yet is still on the Heisman long-list in some eyes.  I disagree.

6. It’s been real, UConn.  The Huskies finally played a real team (Virginia) and lost 17-16.  Connecticut had surprisingly gone 5-0.  A quiet 5-0.  So quiet that the Huskies weren’t even ranked in the top 25.  That’s what they get for playing the Duke/Maine/Temples of the world.  With their schedule, I wouldn’t be surprised if Connecticut lost the rest of their games and missed out on a bowl game—even with a 5-0 head start.

7. In the battle of the Carolinas, South Carolina barely edged North Carolina 21-15 as USC quarterback Chris Smelley once again looked impressive throwing for 3 touchdowns. Though UNC was down 21-3 in the 4th quarter, freshman quarterback T.J. Yates led his team back, throwing for a touchdown and running for another.  Although it has been tough for the Tar Heels to establish a consistent running game with the duo of Johnny White and Anthony Elzy, Yates and sophomore wide receiver Hakeem Nicks have given fans in Chapel Hill reason to believe.

8. Texas Tech finally beat a team with some credentials, easily disposing of the embattled head coach Dennis Franchione and his Texas A&M team.  Although A&M had not beaten Tech in Lubbock in 14 years, Aggies running back Jorvorskie Lane foolishly guaranteed a victory over the Red Raiders earlier in the week.  To their credit, Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree each had impressive games and finally deserve some of the Heisman hype coming their way.  If Harrell, Crabtree, and the Red Raiders can beat Missouri next week, I’ll be even more convinced.

9. Vanderbilt lost in typical “Vanderbilt fashion” to Georgia.  Up 17-7 in the 3rd quarter, the Commodores let up a touchdown in the 3rd and gave up the lead with a field goal try by Brandon Coutu in the 4th quarter.  After a fumble by Vanderbilt running back Cassen Jackson-Garrison, Knowshon Moreno and the Bulldogs drove down the field for a game-winning field goal by Coutu.  This win over the Commodores ruined Vanderbilt’s homecoming celebrations (though it probably didn’t ruin their partying after the game was over) and avenged Georgia’s homecoming loss against Vandy last year.  It doesn’t look like Vanderbilt will get to 6 wins this season, though with all of the craziness in college football this year, I shouldn’t be surprised about anything.

10. Darren McFadden’s Heisman hopes took a major hit after his 17 carry 43 yard performance against the Auburn Tigers.  McFadden’s performance this year proves the importance of the team concept in college football; while McFadden is arguably the best player in college football, he needs to have some semblance of talent around him to succeed.  Unfortunately, since wide receiver Marcus Monk is still out with an injury, the only other talented players on Arkansas are backup running back Felix Jones and fullback Peyton Hillis.  Even with a decent defense, it’s tough to win without an offensive line, good receivers, or a quarterback.

11. Suddenly, Auburn is looking really good in its impending game at LSU next Saturday.  With a defense capable of stopping the best runner in the country, Auburn will be able to compete and possibly win in this hostile environment.  What will Brandon Cox do this time?  I know you’re all curious.

12. Northwestern quarterback C.J. Bacher threw for another 470 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 49-48 overtime victory over the Minnesota Golden Gophers.  The Wildcats are now 4-3 with a good shot at making a bowl game.  No matter how well they do, though, I cannot overstate that they’ll have to live with losing to Duke for years and years to come.

13. Though Pittsburgh is painfully bad this year, freshman running back “Shady” McCoy is having a banner season and is on pace for 1,336 yards and 18 touchdowns.  This might not be Pitt’s year, but they will be a force again in the Big East with such youthful talent.

14. Stanford followed up its shocking upset over USC by losing to TCU, 38-36.  Don’t worry, Jim Harbaugh.  You still beat the best team in the history of the universe, which is enough for one season.

15. God proved today that he made a mistake after all of these years and in fact is a fan of Boston College and not Notre Dame.  He mixed up His Catholic schools, an honest mistake.  If BC ends up winning the National Championship this year, we’ll all know the real reason and it won’t be because of Matt Ryan.

Washington University (MO) Watch: Washington University won the Founders Cup over rival University of Chicago by the score, 31-10.  The WashU defense continues to impress, forcing 7 turnovers in the first half including a 62-yard fumble recovery and touchdown by junior defensive end, Brent Sensenich.  The Bears (6-1) look to make a push for the Division III playoffs with games against Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, and Greenville College (IL) to end out the season.

Some Links

-So I mentioned before that Bill Callahan was on the hot seat in Lincoln after getting blown out by Oklahoma State.  Well, at least he’s in better shape than the No. 1 person by, Houston Nutt.  Sitting comfortably at No. 120 at the bottom of this list is Ohio State’s own Jim Tressel.

-This guy is just one of many protesting Houston Nutt and the Arkansas Razorbacks.  Weren’t they SEC runners-up last year?

-We knew it was coming.  I present to you a Mike Gundy-inspired car dealership commercial.  Fowler Toyota! Buy from me! I’m a man!

-You’d think Matt Grothe’s biggest test against Central Florida would’ve been its athletic linebacker corps or its play-calling scheme, but after dropping 60 points on UCF it must’ve been the thousands of Facebook pokes he received from students of the rival school.

-Kansas is 6-0 and already beat up on its instate rival, Kansas State.  Here is a pretty basic visual summary of how this game went (Warning: Graphic implications).  At least the Jayhawks Public Relations Department has Head coach Mark Mangino’s back.

-Here is a song dedicated to Ole Miss Head coach Ed Orgeron.  Colonel Reb is Cryin’.

-If you didn’t hear about the Akron-Western Michigan game from last week, WMU opted to take a safety deep in its own territory as opposed to punting the ball back to Akron with little time left in the 4th quarter.  On the ensuing free kick, Akron caught the ball and took it back for a touchdown anyways.

-From early on, Georgia fans are trained to know that Tim Tebow wears jean shorts.

-Let’s go Gators, Let’s go Gators, rah-rah-rah.

-Speaking of which, Tim Tebow had to get a new cell phone number after it was leaked to hundreds of LSU fans.  Here is a “transcript” of some of the cell phone calls.

-Craig Steltz may have gotten knocked out of the LSU-Kentucky game for a while, but he laid the wood on Florida running back Kestahn Moore.

-Here is a list of some of the best signs from College Gameday in Baton Rouge.

-West Virginia, a Top 15 team came to Syracuse last weekend.  But you wouldn’t be able to tell looking at the crowd in the Carrier Dome.

-Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel regarded the Nebraska “blackshirt” D as simple and stubborn as a high school defense.

-Former Tennessee standout defensive tackle John Henderson shows how he gets pumped for a game.

-You’ve heard of 6 degrees of Kevin Bacon, but what about six degrees of Vinny Testaverde?

-A pre-Halloween festival in New Bremen, Ohio dropped a 900-pound pumpkin on a Michigan Wolverine-inspired truck.  O-H…I-O.

-So the Miami Hurricanes athletic department has decided that the Miami students will be asked to wear beach attire in the student section at basketball games.  Oh how I wish college basketball would come sooner…

Next Week: Sunday Afternoon Quarterback may or may not be in Lexington, Kentucky to see the clash between two of the best quarterbacks in the country, Tim Tebow and Andre’ Woodson.  LSU fell to the Kentucky Wildcats this weekend.  Will the Gators Fear the Apostrophe too?



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