Buckeyes will be OK
Ohio State may not repeat, but it won't be due to Clarett's suspension
Posted: Friday August 22, 2003 6:37PM; Updated: Friday August 22, 2003 6:50PM
College football players get hurt, arrested or suspended on a regular basis. Rarely, however, does such an occurrence prompt television stations to interrupt regular programming, as those in Columbus, Ohio, did Friday for Maurice Clarett.
That alone speaks to the magnitude of this story, both for Ohio State and the rest of the country. And we didn't even find out exactly how long he's going to be out.
Buckeyes fans are clamoring to know when, if ever, they'll get to see their hero suit up again. Big Ten fans -- as well as those of non-conference foes Washington and N.C. State -- want to know whether their defenses will have to face the guy. And observers everywhere are wondering if Clarett will become that much-anticipated guy who finally challenges the NFL's three-year waiting period.
Well, as intriguing and salacious all this might be -- especially when it involves souped-up cars, allegations of academic fraud and connections to LeBron James -- at the end of the day, it might not have nearly the impact many imagine.
First, let's answer the most pressing question: How will Clarett's absence affect the Buckeyes' prospects for the season?
There's no question Clarett is a rare talent whose arrival played a major role in OSU's title run last season. And you'd have to be missing some brain cells to suggest they're the same team without him.
But by the same token this is hardly a nightmare circumstance. The scandal didn't suddenly break in the middle of the season, when it would have been far more disruptive. They've been practicing without him for several weeks now and undoubtedly have a contingency plan. And the position it affects is one where the Buckeyes are well stocked -- Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall are both talented, experienced tailbacks. One could argue that losing quarterback Craig Krenzel would be far more disastrous.
Ohio State may very well lose a game during Clarett's suspension, but chances are it won't be a result of not having him. There are all kinds of reasons why only one national champion has repeated in the past 25 years, and none of them include waiting for weeks on end to find out how long your star running back will be suspended.
The Buckeyes are still quite loaded with a proven quarterback in Krenzel, all five offensive line starters returning, stud receiver Michael Jenkins, two-way star Chris Gamble and arguably the top defensive line in the country. Nevertheless, they were a few close calls from going 10-4 last year. It's entirely possible the ball will bounce the other way a couple times this year, with or without Clarett.
As for that other issue, whether Clarett might decide to leave the college game altogether, only the guy in the No. 13 jersey knows for sure, but it appears to be a non-issue.
Clarett, without question, is one of the most enigmatic figures college football has seen in recent years. He doesn't speak publicly too often, but when he does, something unconventional usually comes out. As a result, the public almost expects him to choose the unconventional path.
But Clarett, despite what you read in The New York Times, is a smart, albeit somewhat naive kid. He seems to take pleasure in teasing the media, as at the Fiesta Bowl last year, but behind that facade is a 19-year-old kid who enjoys all the same things as any kid his age -- having fun, being part of a team and, of course, winning games. To that end, he probably realizes Ohio State will be a much more suitable outlet the next couple years than either the CFL or the court room, even if that means sitting out a few games for indiscretions to which he's already admitted fault.
Remember, the only time Clarett has ever mentioned anything along the lines of challenging the NFL was in one interview more than 10 months ago. More recently, he was seen leaving a meeting Friday with a big smile on his face, then joining his teammates later that day to break practice. Hardly the actions of a guy on his way out of town.
No one knows right now just how many games constitute "multiple." But for the moment, let's presume it's the number floated in a Columbus Dispatch report Friday: six.
Here's how the scenario likely plays out:
Ohio State goes the first half of its season without him, perhaps losing once, either to North Carolina State on Sept. 13 or at Wisconsin on Oct. 11. The media will make a big deal out of Clarett's first practice, Clarett's first missed game, etc. But, as they've done since the day he got there, the school's p.r. people will go to great lengths to shield him from reporters, and the frenzy will eventually die down.
It will pick up again, of course, when he makes his triumphant return, on Oct. 18 against Iowa. Clarett will look a little rusty at first, but eventually he'll turn it on, running for about 120 yards a game down the stretch, thus renewing the whole NFL controversy all over again.
But as long as the Buckeyes beat Michigan, no one in Columbus will mind.
Stewart Mandel covers college sports for SI.com.