Finishing the job
Former star George roots for OSU to do what he couldn'tPosted: Wednesday January 01, 2003 9:59 PM
By John Donovan, CNNSI.com
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Eddie George knows too well the disappointment that sometimes engulfs the football program at Ohio State.
Back in 1995, the Buckeyes were 11-0, George was in the midst of a breakout season and the national title, it seemed, was right there for the taking.
But the Buckeyes lost to Michigan, once again, then lost in the Citrus Bowl to Tennessee. George left Columbus that season with nearly 2,000 yards rushing, a hefty 6.3 yards-a-carry average and the Heisman Trophy. But no championship.
Friday night, George returns to see a new OSU try to take care of a little unfinished business. The undefeated Buckeyes play No. 1 Miami in the Fiesta Bowl here with the national title at stake, and George plans to be there for his team.
"This is a great thing for the program, a great experience for the school as far as getting back among the elite of college football," George said by phone Wednesday. "During my time there, I had some opportunities to get some things done. But … now I have the opportunity to live vicariously through these young guys who are playing."
Ohio State, 13-0 and ranked No. 2, is a huge underdog to the defending national champion Hurricanes, who are also 13-0. But George, who is as into this game as he is his own for the NFL playoff-bound Tennessee Titans, has done his homework. He knows the Buckeyes have more than a little chance to win this thing.
The reason he's so optimistic: Maurice Clarett, maybe the best back in Columbus since George left seven seasons ago. Clarett, the first true freshman to start a season at tailback for the Buckeyes in nearly 60 years, holds the key to the game, as George sees it. Or at least one of the biggest keys.
Granted, George doesn't stand alone in that assessment. It's just that, coming from him, it somehow carries a little more weight.
"I'm very impressed with his talent. He's young, he's very motivated. He has his own ideas, his own mindset. He's his own man pretty much," George says of Clarett. "He's come into a situation at Ohio State and done something no one ever has [at least since 1943]. I'm very impressed with him."
Clarett ran for 1,210 yards this season, averaging 6.0 yards a carry, running for at least 100 yards in seven of the 10 games he played in. If he runs well against Miami, if the Buckeyes can control the ball and keep it out of the hands of the explosive Hurricanes' offense, the Fiesta Bowl figures to be a lot closer than many experts may think.
And George, an unabashed cheerleader for his alma mater, figures that's just what Clarett can do.
"I predict that Clarett is going to have a big game. It's probably not going to come fast," George said. "But he'll keep banging and end up with 120, 130 yards and maybe a couple of touchdowns."
George has seen a few of Ohio State's games this season and relishes the return to prominence of the once-proud program. Though the Buckeyes were OK during George's four years at Ohio State (1992-'95), never finishing out of the Top 20, a tie with Wisconsin and a loss to Michigan did in any chance they had at a national title in '93. Then the two late losses in '95 finished them again.
"I think what has changed is the coach, more than anything. He has put his stamp on Ohio State. He has the players' attention," George says of Jim Tressel, who took over for the coach George played for, John Cooper, after the 2000 season. "To be in only his second year and to have already beaten Michigan twice … you'd have to say he'd have to go down as one of the greatest coaches ever at Ohio State, at least since Woody Hayes. He's on the right track.
"I have to cheer them on. To come from a program like that, it reflects on you and what you're all about."
George lives in Nashville and still spends a lot of time in Columbus, where he returned to finish his degree in landscape architecture, graduating in 2001. His Titans won the AFC South this season with an 11-5 record -- George ran for 1,165 yards -- earning a weekend off before they begin their playoff quest next weekend in Nashville.
The free weekend just happens to come at the perfect time to try to help Ohio State erase decades of disappointment in their quest for a national title.
"As of right now, my next game is Ohio State," George said. "After that, I'll worry about mine."