Closing Arguments: Ohio State

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"There is evidence of bad shit having been survived before. Ancient Advice Left in cave by Wise French Caveman: When Bigbad Shit come, no run scream hide. Try paint picture of it on wall. Drum to it. Sing to it. Dance to it. This give you handle on it."  -- Ken Kesey, best selling author of 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'

Some Bigbad Shit happened to Ohio State since we did this dance this time last year.  We screamed, some of us hid, we wrote on walls about it, some people danced the drumbeat of the Death Penalty, singing and dancing on Ohio State's grave.  Jim Tressel isn't who we thought he was and is no longer the coach.  Terrelle Pryor is serving a five game suspension...in the NFL, as an Oakland Raider, and the shine is off the Ohio State chrome, at least for the time being. 

But at the end of the day, Ohio State has survived. 

About 12 years ago, my Dad got pneumonia in both lungs and nearly died on Christmas night.  He survived, but ever since that episode, he had what I call a 'new normal'.  He lost some of his vitality, his strength, and his stamina, and it never came back.  Although I don't think Ohio State will suffer long term over this, there is, at least this year, a 'new normal' coming in Columbus.

Ohio State, after the jump.

Don't forget to make your weekly picks for the OPC.  It has been brought to our attention that the original group topped out at 100, so to meet the growing demand, a second OTE group has been created. 

To join, do the following:

1. Head over to Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, and click on the "Join a Group" link. The Group ID for the Off Tackle Empire overflow group is 20129 and the password is still "sherman"

2. Create a name for your predictions set (I recommend just using your SB Nation handle), and make and submit your predictions for Week 1 five minutes before the start of the first listed game.

3.  Jon will combine the results of the OPC 1 and OPC 2 groups and create a Top 20 list as the season progresses.

 I. Case History/Opening Argument

A.  Case History

It's easy to look back on the Jim Tressel decade of Ohio State football and rattle off the accomplishments:  A BCS National Championship, 9-1 against Michigan, 5-3 in BCS games, 7 B1G titles, and so on and so forth.  None of that matters anymore.  Well, when placed in a historical context it means a great deal, as it was arguably the best decade in OSU football history, and one of the most impressive runs of any B1G team ever, redacted or not.  But trying to use those past accomplishments as a predictor of future success is folly, at least in 2011, and primarily for one reason:  Tressel is gone, and that changes everything.

If this were a coaching hire under any other circumstance, with a coaching search, vetted candidates, and an ultimate decision, I think I'd be fine with Luke Fickell, at least in some respects.  He's has a great staff around him, he seems like an energetic and enthusiastic guy, he has a reputation as a great recruiter, and his OSU credentials are impeccable.

BUT..the unknown.

He's never been a head coach before, and to say this was a normal coaching change is akin to saying Sterling Archer is just another spy.  How's Fickell going to do?  We don't know.  He might be a better coach than Tressel...doubtful.  He might freeze up like a spotlighted deer in the road...also doubtful.  But with Tressel, I always felt that Ohio State had the better coach on the sideline 9 times out of ten, and while he was playing chess, his counterpart was usually two steps behind and playing checkers, and the outcome, while usually pretty close, was rarely in doubt.  Now, I'm not saying that Fickell will be a bad coach, but I am saying until we actually see him...coach...a game, we have no idea what we're dealing with. 

B.  Opening Statement

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, I rise in defense of my client, Ohio State.  Your honor, Ohio State appears before you a humbled program.  Gone is the hubris of the last decade, and the certainty of knowing that coming out of the tunnel Ohio State was the better team eight times out of ten, with the better coach nine and a half times out of ten.  Also gone is the bombast of years past.  My client realizes that the ruling by the NCAA, while very gracious (at least to this point), still has implications moving forward.  For most of our lives, the saying in Columbus has been 'at Ohio State, we don't rebuild, we reload.'  While the Buckeyes aren't rebuilding, at this point it's a stretch to say that there will be a simple re-load enroute to another B1G title and a BCS game.

Oh, and George Dohrmann can suck our Pulitzer Prize winning balls. 

II. Factual Summation, or Discovery, as the Barristers Might Say 

A. What We Can Learn From Pop Culture 

Normally, in this spot, we put a summary of what we've written about OSU during the off-season, but screw that.  Almost everything we wrote about was the god damn scandal, and I'm done reading about all that stuff.  Let's talk football.  We have a widget on the left side of the main page that goes into the sordid history.  I'm done with it.

Well, almost...Cee Lo, gaze upon the OSU haters, sing it loud, and sing it proud, my man. 

 

I see you writin' words of doom 'bout the team I love,

 and I'm like FUCK YOU! (Woo hoo hoo)

I guess the Dohrmann SI story just wasn't enough,

 so I'm like FUCK YOU and FUCK Dohrmann too! 

Looks like tattoos and Gordon Gee didn't equal L-O-I-C...ain't that some shit? (Ain't that some shit!)  

Yeah, excuse me while I do a little dance of joy, at least for the time being.  With no LOIC or Failure to Monitor (at least for now), the death of The Ohio State Buckeyes have been greatly exaggerated, but let's not make light of this:  OSU, while probably not damaged long term as long as there are no new allegations, is behind the power curve for this season, regardless of the talent still in Columbus.   And make no mistake, there is plenty of talent there.

But most of that talent is unproven...and say it with me...unknown.

Besides Tressel, they are missing some integral players for five games, to include top running back Dan Herron and WR Devier Posey.  Pryor, he of the 31-4 career record, won't be back at all.  They will be opening the season without those three and a multitude of other players who graduated, including Cameron Heyward, Dane Sanzenbacher, Ross Homan, and Brandon Saine.  This would be a tough year for OSU to make it to Indianapolis in a normal year, and this off season has been anything but normal for the Buckeyes.  They have a difficult schedule made tougher without those key players, and the first game they get everyone back will be on the road against Nebraska.  It's asking a lot from inexperienced underclassmen on both sides of the ball.

And long term, The Aftermath could become an issue.  I've never been a huge fan of rating recruiting classes; it's akin to grading NFL drafts 24 hours after they're done--fairly arbitrary and mostly pointless.  But you can't help but notice the inroads Brady Hoke is making back into the fertile recruiting grounds of Ohio, something that Jim Tressel locked down for the better part of a decade, and Rich Rodriguez pretty much ignored.  Right now, it's just one class and a blip on the radar.  If OSU has a good season, and once they get their coaching situation settled, things should get closer to what they were in recent years.  But a poor season followed by an underwhelming selection for head coach, and the worm may turn for the forseeable future in Michigan's favor. 

III. Emotional Plea

A.  Why Ohio State Is Still A Player For The B1G Championship

 

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The OSU quarterback:  Braxtoe MIllerman

All of those obstacles aside, if there is one program that can withstand a lean year, it's Ohio State.  The entire coaching staff save Tressel is back, the guys that they have on their second team could start on a lot of teams, and it looks like they have capable guys that can step up and play.  The biggest question mark, of course, is quarterback.  The current battle is between freshman Braxton Miller and senior Joe Bauserman.  Coach Fickell just announced that both have earned the right to play as the #1 guy, so there will be a quarterback shuffle, at least for the early part of the season. 

Bauserman is a senior, and has been in the offense and knows it probably better than the defensive minded Fickell.  But Miller is immensely talented and the better athlete, and might be able to make more happen on the field.  I fully expect both of them to see action early on, and it could very well drag on through the whole season.  It's not like it hasn't happened with the Buckeyes before, and it was one of the few times I can remember where a quarterback rotation worked (Stanley Jackson and Joe Germaine, OSU won the Rose Bowl).  I am a firm believer that if you have two quarterbacks, you really don't have any, but most OSU fans have no faith in Bauserman, yet you look at the freshman Miller and just assume his inexperience will cost two or three games off the top. 

As for the rest of the offense, RB's Jamaal Berry and Jordan Hall should be able to hold the fort down until Boom Herron is back.  They've looked good in limited action, and if there's one position Ohio State recruits better than just about anyone, it's running back.  If there's a position of concern, it's WR, which isn't a good thing if your QB position is so shaky.   Verlon Reed and Corey Brown will step in and try to fill the void left by Sanzenbacher and Posey, but they have a grand total of 7 receptions between them.  If Ohio State throws more than 15 passes a game in the first month, I'll be stunned.

On defense, the line should still be stout, anchored by John Simon.  Andrew Sweat, Tyler Moeller, and Etienne Sabino will probably continue the long standing tradition of ridiculously talented OSU linebackers, and the secondary will still be good. 

Both sides of the ball are playing in very familiar systems with all of the same position coaches and coordinators, except Fickell is now the head man and he was replaced as LB coach by Mike Vrabel.  They know this system, the coordinators are some of the most respected in the conference, and even though they lost a lot of experience, there is a lot of talent waiting to shine.

The Miami mess--which makes OSU's problems look like Mormon seminary in comparison--now makes that a very winnable game, especially with suspensions of some key players looming, as has been reported.  And with MSU at home, that's a difficult but winnable game. 

If you're an OSU fan, you can talk yourself into the Buckeyes being 5-0 just in time to get their key players back for their trip to Lincoln.  If they can run the gauntlet of MSU, Nebraska, Illinois (who is going to be good, mark my words), and Wisconsin at 3-1 and only end up with one conference loss on the season, they have a real shot to make it to Indianapolis.  I don't see any team really running the table once the conference season starts, so 7-1 should be good enough to win the Leaders Division, depending on who they lose to and how the tiebreakers fall.  Wisconsin will be the big hurdle, but that's a home game, it's coming off of a bye, and the players suspended because of the tattoo scandal will have been reinstated for almost a month.  Nebraska's the next biggest hurdle, but Nebraska's offense isn't intimidating, and that's the game OSU gets all of the suspended players back.  Run those four games, and they're on the inside track to Indy.

B. Why Ohio State Isn't A Player For The B1G Championship

Because there's just too much to overcome.  A coaching change is one thing, but going from Tressel to Fickell is on an entirely different level.  And again, that's not a knock on Fickell.  He's in a difficult spot, and he's embraced the opportunity.  But he will be coaching for his job every week, and speculation is that regardless of how he does, he's a temp on a one year contract, to be replaced by (insert name of big time coach here).  That's not fair to Fickell, and he could very well win the job outright, but he's being forced to coach with one hand tied behind his back for five games.  And even though everybody else on the staff is back, it's the one guy that isn't back that potentially throws the whole season into chaos, and Fickell coaching at full strength might still be three steps below everyone else in the conference. 

Except Ron Zook.  I kid, I kid. 

Like I mentioned earlier, no one knows how Fickell will react to adversity, nor do we know how he will adjust to what the opponent is throwing at him.  The Buckeyes might feel the pressure to hire a 'big name', regardless of how well Fickell does, and the perception of him as a lame duck caretaker has already had an adverse affect on recruiting.

And even if Fickell turns out to be as good at X's and O's as everyone else in the conference, the loss of talent, from Pryor and the tattoo guys along with players that graduated, well, that makes Ohio State just another good team in 2011.  The talent gap between Pryor and Braxtoe Millerman is too wide to overcome, and when you throw in the loss of Posey, Herron, Saine, Sanzenbacher, Adams, Ross Homan, Brian Rolle, Chimdi Chekwa, Cam Heyward, Justin Boren, and Tressel, there's not a scenario that realistically ends up with Ohio State continuing their current run of BCS appearances.  The quarterback won't have anyone to throw to early, and that lack of a passing game will cost OSU dearly, right when it's needed the most.

Ohio State's schedule is brutal.  Miami is a winnable game, but it's at Miami, going against a team that's also embraced the 'us against the world' mantra.  They open their conference schedule with a Bataan Death March of co-champion Michigan State with the tattoo scandal players suspended, at Nebraska, at an Illinois team that played them very tough in Champaign last year, and home against Wisconsin.  It's not unrealistic to see OSU going 2-2 if not 1-3 in that stretch, and if they drop the Miami game, the season could be over early.  If that happens, Fickell is a Dead Man Walking, and this thing could unravel before our eyes.

IV. Verdict

A.  The Staff Calls the Games

But what's really going to happen?  In 2011, I think Ohio State will be one of the better teams in the conference, more than likely an above average team.  But to win the B1G in 2011, above average won't cut it.  

Overall, the OTE staff has OSU averaging out to about a 9-3 record, which all things considered, I'd be happy with as long as one of the wins is against Michigan.  Bama Hawkeye and JDMill are our only writers that have OSU making the inaugural championship game, and Bama is the only one that has them winning the title game.  The staff also sees OSU going 7-4 against Michigan.  Resident Buckeye writer and co-founder Jon Franz picks them to lose to Michigan, and he will be turning in his OSU card and moving to St. Louis Nashville shortly, right next to FAKE ASS BUCKEYE Ted Glover Kirk Herbstreit.

Right after Kaiser Soze pays him a visit.

Ted Glover:

10-2 (6-2)  Losses to:  MSU, Nebraska

Judas Iscariot Jonathan Franz: 

9-3 (5-3) Losses to:  Michigan State, Nebraska, and Michigan (BOO!)

Graham Filler:

8-4  (5-3)  Losses to:  Miami FL, MSU, Neb, Wisconsin

Bama Hawkeye:

10-2 (6-2) losses to Nebraska, MSU with OSU over Nebraska in Conference Championship Game

Hilary Lee:

9-3  (5-3)  Losses to:  Nebraska, Penn St, Michigan (BOO!)

JDMill

10-2 (7-1) losses to Miami, Nebraska, lose Conference Championship game to Nebraska

Chadnudj:

Ohio State: 9-3 (5-3): losses to Michigan State, Nebraska, and Penn State 

Paterno Ave:

8-4  (4-4)  Losses to:  MSU, Nebraska, Wisconsin, PSU

Ricardo Efendi

10-2 (6-2)   Losses to:  Nebraska, Michigan (BOO!)

MSUlaxer27

OSU  10-2  (6-2) Losses to:  Wisconsin, Michigan State

KennardHusker

Ohio State 9-3 (5-3) Losses to:  Nebraska, Wisconsin, Michigan (BOO!)

O...H...!!

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