Quit Bashing Ohio State! Four Reasons to Believe in Jim Tressel, Buckeyes

Gerald BallCorrespondent ISeptember 15, 2008

Right now, everyone wants to take Jim Tressel and the Ohio State Buckeyes and throw them away because of their recent poor performances in big games.  These criticisms are simply unfair.

1. The USC, Florida, and LSU teams that beat Ohio State did so because they not only had better players, but the superior athletes were at the very positions that give Ohio State the most trouble.

USC, Florida, and LSU weren't 30 points better than Ohio State (who, let us remind you, had to play two of those three games without their best offensive players—Ted Ginn Jr. against Florida and Beanie Wells against USC) in terms of overall talent, but their ability to exploit Ohio State's weaknesses resulted in Ohio State getting smothered.

For example, suppose a team has a great QB and WRs and an opportunistic defense, but a suspect running game and offensive line.  That team will cruise right along, piling up points on offense and getting sacks and turnovers on defense, looking like a team for the ages—until, that is, they play a team with five future NFL draft picks in its front seven!

Eight sacks and three INTs later, the same head coach that is a genius for revolutionizing the college game with his spread the field with three and four WRs offense, and who has NFL owners and general managers offering him piles of money, is an idiot who can't coach.

The people criticizing Ohio State right now very likely root for teams who also would stand no chance against a national title contender whose scheme and best athletes exploit the limitations of your scheme and best athletes. 

2. Pardon me, but who else was going to play in these games?  Are we criticizing Ohio State for playing USC on the road?

(Please recall that the year Ohio State won a national title, they demolished Pac-10 champions Washington State on the road.  A lot of folks want to pretend that Carson Palmer's USC won the Pac-10 that year, but it ain't true.  WSU got the privilege of getting crushed by Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl that year, while USC got to play Iowa, remember?)

Somehow I missed YOUR PROGRAM'S offer to fill that spot on USC's home schedule.

As for their playing in the national title games: Who else was supposed to go?  In both 2005 and 2006, Ohio State was No. 1 by virtue of having the best record in college football.

And why did they have the best record?  Simple: The very same Ohio State scheme that made them look VERY BAD in losses against Florida, LSU, and USC is what keeps them from losing to teams like 6-6 UCLA and 4-7 Stanford.

Yes, that was aimed at the not few people whose true ire at Ohio State is due to their conviction that the Buckeyes kept USC from putting the SEC in their place in those games.

The very same thing that makes Ohio State reliable and dependable against mediocre teams is what makes them vulnerable against teams that emphasize a more aggressive—and risky—style.  It is a tradeoff.

If you are a Midwestern program that can't count on the edge talent (QBs, WRs, LBs, DBs) that schools in California, Texas, and Florida get just by keeping their own players at home, your best bet is to build a system that allows you to win nine or 10 games a year with players in your own region, and that allows you to steal a player or three from another region.

Terrelle Pryor is at Ohio State instead of Texas because he saw Troy Smith win a Heisman and get drafted at Ohio State.  That wouldn't have happened had Ohio State lost to Northwestern and Purdue that season. 

3. Compare the grief that Ohio State is getting now to the teflon that Bobby Bowden and FSU got during their run.  FSU lost three of their four title game appearances, including embarrassing losses to Florida (52-20) and Oklahoma (13-2, and it wasn't that close).

This was with Bobby Bowden's long history of losses to Miami, usually because a coach who owed his success to the passing game and taking big risks all of a sudden fell in love with running up the middle and playing for field goals.

We also don't like to talk about media favorite Steve Spurrier's record in big games that don't involve Phillip Fulmer, or how the media has at one point or another manufactured stars out of people like Jeff Tedford, Mike Bellotti, Charlie Weis, Joe Tiller, Bob Toledo, Mike Leach, Terry and Tommy Bowden, and Rick Neuheisel.

Many of those guys have gotten fired—or settled into mediocrity—without nearly as much criticism as Tressel has received for losing only to 12-0 Texas, 11-1 Penn State, 12-1 Florida, 11-2 LSU, 9-3 Illinois, and now No. 1 USC since 2004.

4. Claims that Ohio State plays a weak schedule are giggle-inducing.  The only conference whose non-league schedules do not include three games against mid-major and I-AA teams is the Pac-10.

The Big East does it.  The ACC does it.  The SEC does it.  The Big 12 does it.

And with all respect due to the Pac-10, a fat lot of good it has done them, hasn't it?  Seriously, where has this policy of scheduling tough non-league games gotten the other nine teams in this conference, who aren't within shouting distance of USC or any other national contender, including Ohio State?

As far as the Big Ten being so bad...compared to whom?  What great things have the Big East, ACC, Big 12, or the little nine of the Pac-10 done the past six years against either USC or the SEC champs?

West Virginia beat UGA in the Sugar Bowl!  Well, here's a great big pat on the back.  Texas beat USC for the title!  Well, you take a pat on the back PLUS a cookie.

Did either WVU or Texas maintain that elite status?  No!  Has anybody else even done what they did?  That's what I thought. 

What is going on is that the media is turning people against Ohio State, clearly one of the top four programs of the decade (behind USC and LSU, but right there with Oklahoma), because the media hates Ohio State's run-oriented offense.

Can a program that doesn't have direct access to the best players in Florida, Texas, and California OR warm weather that allows them to recruit nationally actually win anything with a pro-style offense?  If so, we haven't seen it.

OK, forget the pro-style offense.  Let's talk about the spread passing offenses, where you don't really need the prototypical pro-style QBs, WRs, or OLs.

Can you win a national title with the types of offenses that you see or have seen at Oregon State, Arizona, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Arizona State, Cal, Baylor, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Texas Tech, Missouri, Colorado, Louisville, Cincinnati, Purdue, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Michigan State, and now Auburn?

The truth is that this offense has produced five national titles: BYU (1983), Miami (under Dennis Erickson in 1989 and 1991), Florida (1996), and Oklahoma (2000).

As BYU is obviously irrelevant, and we have already established that you will never get the QBs and WRs to Ohio State that Miami and Florida will get...I think that Tressel is looking at what Bob Stoops accomplished with Josh Heupel, Nate Hybl, and Jason White with the spread and considers himself just about even.

This is especially true when you consider that Oklahoma has changed offenses some four times since that 2000 title.  Some of it was due to former offensive coordinators Mike Leach, Mark Mangino, Chuck Long, and Kevin Sumlin becoming head coaches elsewhere, but a lot of it was in fact due to Bob Stoops feeling that his offense let him down against great defenses. 

What about the spread or read option, you say?  My reply: What about it?

Ohio State ran some of it with Craig Krenzel and won a national title in 2002.  Ohio State ran it even more with Troy Smith in 2005 and came within two plays (against 12-0 Texas and 11-1 Penn State) of playing for the title that year—and they still won a BCS bowl.

And precisely what offense do you believe that Tressel recruited Terrelle Pryor to run?  Ohio State actually recruited one of the top QBs in the Southeast to run that offense—Antonio Henton in 2005—but it turned out that Tressel didn't like Henton's passing ability or decision-making, and he gave the job to Boeckman instead.

(My opinion: This was a mistake not dissimilar to Tressel's initially favoring Steve Bellisari over Craig Krenzel and then Justin Zwick over Troy Smith.  Tressel tends not to realize that in his system a scattershot athletic QB will take him a lot further than a pedestrian dropback passer, even one that can scramble a bit like Boeckman.  Troy Smith won big games in Tressel's offense back when he was barely a 50 percent passer.)

This is not to say that Tressel should necessarily discriminate against dropback QBs that can make plays.  If the next Mark Sanchez wants to come to Ohio State, recruit and play him.

But Tressel should realize that if the QB isn't the next Mark Sanchez, then he won't have the pass-blocking offensive linemen, tailbacks that can pick up blitzes and catch passes, tall WRs that run routes, or fast TEs with good hands that it requires to make him look good.

Without those players around the QB, what you get is Todd Boeckman, Justin Zwick, and Steve Bellisari.  Better yet, even WITH those players you get John David Booty, who despite West Coast and media hallucinations never got USC any closer to winning a national title than Boeckman did.

If John David Booty couldn't handle UCLA's defense in 2006 (which was mostly DeWayne Walker's scheme), then how would he have handled Florida's defense (which was Charley Strong's scheme AND several future NFL starters)?

A lot of Tressel bashers have forgotten the guy that he replaced: John Cooper.  Cooper was a former Pac-10 guy (Arizona State) who spent YEARS trying to build Ohio State into what USC is now, or for that matter what FSU and Miami were.

What did he find out?

That Bobby Hoying was as good as it got for QBs that he could get to Columbus.  That his WRs were either tall fast guys that couldn't catch or short fast guys that couldn't run routes, and his TEs were plodding run blockers.

He found out that his OLs weren't fast, quick, or agile enough to set up either those ridiculous passing lanes or those seams for USC's tailbacks to get huge plays on receptions and screens, and even if he did, his tailbacks weren't versatile enough to take advantage of it.

Result: Not only did Cooper not build Ohio State into a Midwestern pro-style dynasty—he couldn't even beat Michigan!  So he was fired and replaced with a coach who could not only beat Michigan, but also virtually everybody else. 

I put Tressel in the same category as Mack Brown and Tom Osborne from the last decade: guys who do nothing but win, yet the media turns everyone against them because they don't like the way that they win.

Instead, the media proclaims everybody who can produce a seven-win season throwing the ball 50 times a game to be the next coaching genius that will revolutionize the game, only to see that guy either get fired four years later, or still winning seven games a season 10 years later.

No disrespect to guys who get fired, or even more so, to guys that can maintain a winning program: It is just appalling how the media will proclaim their greatness while belittling people that win, and win big.

The reality is that Tressel is in this for the long haul.  There won't be a loaded USC or an angry SEC team waiting in the title game every single year.  Coaches head for the NFL or lose their edge, teams go on probation—everything goes in cycles.

In 2010, Pete Carroll could be head coach/GM of the Lions, and the SEC gauntlet of Meyer, Spurrier, Richt, Saban, Tuberville, Fulmer, Nutt, and Petrino may have become impossible to navigate, etc.

Tressel could then find himself in the national title game against an Oklahoma or Texas (or a Missouri, Kansas, Oregon, South Florida, or Virginia Tech) with junior Heisman Trophy winner Terrelle Pryor under center.

Who would be favored to win that game?  Tressel already knows the answer, and that's why he isn't changing a thing—nor should he. 


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