Ohio State Buckeyes (2000: 8-4)
The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
Coach and programJohn Cooper was fired on Jan. 2 after Ohio State lost, 24-7, to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl. He was 111-43-4, shared three Big Ten titles and played in bowls in 11 of his 13 seasons.
But he was 3-8 in those bowl games and was just 2-10-1 against Ohio State’s chief rival, Michigan, a game Ohio State fans refer to as “The Game.”
After Cooper’s firing, Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger also cited poor academic performance, on-the-field taunting and off-the-field brushes with the law by the Buckeyes players as reasons for the need for a change.
New coach Jim Tressel’s Youngstown State teams won national titles in 1991, 1993, 1994 and 1997 -- the most for a head coach in I-AA history -- and had 12 winning seasons.
Is Tressel the right man for job? Sure, he’s been one of the nation’s most successful Division I-AA coaches, winning four national titles in his 15 years at Youngstown State. But it’s a world of difference between Youngstown State and Ohio State, so we’ll have to wait and see how he does. With 11 starters back (five on offense, six on defense) and non-league games against Akron and San Diego State to start the season, Tressel should get out of the blocks at 2-0. That will keep critics off his back until mid-September, at which time all bets are off. Tressel inherits a team with a brutal schedule. Ohio State plays at UCLA, Indiana, Penn State, Minnesota and Michigan this fall.
But Tressel has already answered one of the biggest questions facing him: Can he recruit? Despite Cooper’s firing, Ohio State salvaged its recruiting season by landing commitments from four prep All-Americans -- running backs Maurice Hall (5-10, 180) from Columbus and Lydell Ross (6-0, 205) from Tampa, Fla.; wide receiver Angelo Chattams (5-11, 185) from Dayton, Ohio; and safety Dustin Fox (6-0, 185) from North Canton, Ohio.
Tressel also picked up a huge “W” when Massillon (Ohio) Washington High School quarterback Justin Zwick announced he will play college football at Ohio State in 2002.
No, if Tressel can find a way to beat the hated interlopers to the North and win bowls with regularity, he’ll enjoy a long reign as the Buckeyes coach.
OffenseTressel isn’t taking over a down-and-out program, just one with a down-and-out veteran quarterback in senior Steve Bellisari (6-3, 220).
Bellisari needs to be more productive in 2001, if the Buckeyes are to challenge for the Big Ten crown. Bellsari threw for 2,319 yards last season, but completed only 52.6 percent of his tosses and had just 13 touchdown passes. And he wasn’t as dangerous as expected as a runner, accounting for only 179 yards on the ground in 2000.
Jonathan Wells (6-2, 230), a senior, is expected to step in for Derek Combs, a seventh-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders, at tailback. He ran for 598 yards and a team-best six touchdowns last year in a backup role. Another running threat is bullish senior fullback Jamar Martin, a 6-0, 245-pounder and the prototypical Ohio State fullback: a bruising blocker and powerful runner.
Gone are OSU’s top four receivers from last year: Ken-Yon Rambo, Reggie Germany, Chad Cacchio and Vaness Profit. In spite of the personnel losses, there are still plenty of pass catchers on campus. Rangy sophomore Drew Carter (6-4, 187) has established himself as a sure starter, while junior college transfer Chris Vance (6-2, 185), diminutive sophomore speedster Ricky Bryant (6-0, 175), redshirt freshman John Hollins (6-2, 185) and cornerback-turned-wideout Bam Childress (5-10, 175) seem locked in a duel for the other starting spot. All will play in the fall.
The starting offensive line senior left tackle Tyson Walter, sophomore left guard Alex Stepanovich, senior center LeCharles Bentley, sophomore right guard Shane Olivea and sophomore right tackle Adrien Clarke could be better than average, which beats the heck out of the last two years.
Defense and special teamsThe graduation of defensive ends Brent Johnson and Rodney Bailey and the unexpected departure of tackle Ryan Pickett for the NFL means nose guard Mike Collins is the lone holdover on the defensive line. Despite being constantly double-teamed, Collins finished the 2000 season with 46 tackles, tops among OSU’s defensive linemen.
Linebacker is an area of strength for the Buckeyes. All three starters -- seniors Joe Cooper (6-0, 225) and Courtland Bullard (6-3, 227) on the outside and junior Matt Wilhelm (6-4, 245) in the middle -- return. The fiery Cooper, one of 20 returning lettermen on the defense, was a consensus All-Big Ten pick and a third-team Associated Press All-American. A Butkus Award candidate, Cooper has a penchant for playing well in big games.
Cornerback Nate Clements’ decision to leave school a year early hurts, but NFL scouts figure to be sniffing around OSU’s campus again this fall and winter to check out junior All-America candidate Mike Doss. The hard-hitting Doss (5-11, 197) led the Buckeyes in tackles last year with 90, including 16 in the season finale against Michigan.
Just as he did during his successful tenure at Youngstown State, Tressel will place a great deal of emphasis on special teams play at Ohio State. To that end, he has hired long-time assistant Ken Conatser as the Buckeyes’ special teams coordinator.
Bottom lineGeiger rolled the dice in choosing former Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel. And he knows it.
Geiger hired a man who has proven that he can beat the Hofstras and Delawares of the Division I-AA world, but a guy who has never coached a game of Division I-A football. Hiring Tressel over Minnesota coach Glen Mason sets up an interesting matchup between the two when Ohio State plays at Minnesota on Nov. 3.
This year, Tressel faces a rugged schedule, but has the talent to push for third or fourth in the Big Ten, behind Northwestern and Michigan. We’ll call it a middle-of-the-pack finish, which still means a bowl berth.