SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  Ohio St. Buckeyes

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Jim Tressel (3rd year, 21-5)
2002 record: 14-0 (Beat Miami 31-24 in Fiesta Bowl)
Big Ten finish: T-1st
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 191.3 ypg
(5th in Big Ten, 31st in nation)
Pass: 173.2 ypg (10th, 92nd)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 77.7 ypg (1st, 3rd)
Pass: 243.1 ypg (10th, 95th)
Projected Starters
Offense (11 returning starters in bold)
SE   12   Michael Jenkins   Sr.  
FL   7   Chris Gamble   Jr.  
LT   53   Ivan Douglas   Sr.  
LG   63   Adrien Clarke   Sr.  
C   76   Alex Stepanovich   Sr.  
RG   79   Bryce Bishop   Sr.  
RT   71   Shane Olivea   Sr.  
TE   88   Ben Hartsock   Sr.  
QB   16   Craig Krenzel   Sr.  
TB   13   Maurice Clarett   So.  
FB   38   Branden Joe   Jr.  
Defense (6)
DE  75  Simon Fraser  Jr. 
DT   56   Darrion Scott   Sr.  
DT   54   Tim Anderson   Sr.  
DE   93   Will Smith   Sr.  
SLB   44   Robert Reynolds   Sr.  
MLB  46  Fred Pagac  Sr. 
WLB  47  A.J. Hawk  So. 
CB   37   Dustin Fox   Jr.  
CB   7   Chris Gamble   Jr.  
SS  Tyler Everett  So. 
FS  Will Allen  Sr. 
Special Teams
85  Mike Nugent  Jr. 
21  B.J. Sander  Sr. 
KR  28  Maurice Hall  Jr. 
PR  Chris Gamble  Jr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Washington 
Sept. 6  San Diego State 
Sept. 13  NC State 
Sept. 20  Bowling Green 
Sept. 27  Northwestern 
Oct. 11  at Wisconsin 
Oct. 18  Iowa 
Oct. 25  at Indiana 
Nov. 1  at Penn State 
Nov. 8  Michigan State 
Nov. 15  Purdue 
Nov. 22  at Michigan 
In case you wondered if the Ohio State faithful were still giddy months after the Buckeyes stunned Miami in the Fiesta Bowl, consider that a main campus street was named Champions Lane, OSU merchandise sales went through the roof, and roughly 60,000 people flocked to the spring game, with the Goodyear Blimp flying overhead.

It's not just the fans -- preseason pollsters (including SI.com's Spring Top 25) are putting their confidence in the Buckeyes, too.

"It doesn't matter to us," quarterback Craig Krenzel said. "What were we last year? Thirteen? Preseason rankings don't matter. They base it on what you did last year and what you have coming back."

Certainly the Buckeyes appear to have the personnel to make another run at the Big Ten title and a spot in a BCS bowl, with the entire starting offense and a few standouts on defense returning. Coach Jim Tressel also will be blessed with a poised group of 20 scholarship seniors.

On paper, the losses look minimal, but when you include valuable fill-ins like David Thompson, Mike Stafford, Chris Vance and All-America punter Andy Groom, it's more significant. "In pure numbers, I think people are saying we don't lose that much. I think we lose some very productive guys," Tressel said. "But I think what no one really knows is what did we lose when we lost those men."

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

It's not often that a team can return all 11 starters on offense, especially when that team is coming off a national championship. Yet that's the situation for the Buckeyes, who would like to improve their offensive efficiency and put a few more points on the board.

Tressel wants the offense to get to where it was in 1998, which is a pretty lofty goal. He said the aim is to put up 40 points, 250 yards passing and 200 rushing per game. The latter alone would be a good omen, considering the Buckeyes have won 96 percent of their games over the past 12 years when they rush for 200 yards.

They have the horse in tailback Maurice Clarett, a leading Heisman Trophy candidate. He'll take a ton of handoffs from Krenzel and work behind a veteran, powerful offensive line.

The passing game will feature receiver Michael Jenkins, who amassed a 1,000-yard season last year. Krenzel also can dial up Chris Gamble and emerging threats such as Drew Carter and Santonio Holmes. The Buckeyes also would be wise to make use of sure-handed tight end Ben Hartsock.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

Coordinator Mark Dantonio will again employ zone blitzing and multiple looks out of his 4-3 alignment. He's got the ideal personnel up front, with strength, quickness and versatility on the outside in the names of Will Smith, Darrion Scott and Simon Fraser. Scott also will play inside quite a bit, where he'll line up next to All-Big Ten candidate Tim Anderson.

Linebacker is a preseason concern, as Matt Wilhelm and Cie Grant will be hard to replace. However, sophomores Mike D'Andrea and A.J. Hawk could become stars in their own right if they continue to improve.

The secondary will be tested early and often with safeties Mike Doss and Donnie Nickey no longer providing the last line of defense and pass-happy teams such as Washington and N.C. State making early-season visits. Still, corners Gamble and Dustin Fox are no pushovers.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Mike Nugent is back after drilling 25-of-28 field goals and blasting several touchbacks on kickoffs. He could be ready for another All-America-type season, or he could regress if he misses Groom as his holder. B.J. Sander, a left-footed boomer, takes over Groom's very important dual role.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

The development of a more explosive offense is a must. Ohio State will have to take advantage of its wealth at receiver by evolving the passing game while still relying on its power-rushing game. Meanwhile, the defense will need to get a stellar effort up front, especially early on as new linebackers and defensive backs get used to their roles.

Last year, the Buckeyes defeated Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan in the same season for the first time since the Big Ten expanded to 11 teams. Returning to the BCS title game very likely will require another sweep, and this time all three biggies are on the road. That will be a monumental challenge considering the Buckeyes are going to get everyone's best shot.

"We've got to make sure that we understand that as well we played in 2002 and as well as things happened to go for us, we're going to need to be significantly better in 2003," Tressel said. "That's just reality."

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