Coach: Jim Tressel (6th season, 50-13) 2005 record: 10-2 (Beat Notre Dame in Fiesta Bowl) Big Ten finish: 7-1 (t-1st) 2005 I-A offensive rankings: Rushing: 24th (196.7 ypg) Passing: 52nd (225.7 ypg) 2005 I-A defensive rankings: Rushing: 1st (73.4 ypg) Passing: 43rd (207.9 ypg)
at Michigan State
Depth Chart: Offense
7 returning starters in red
Ted Ginn Jr.
Stan White Jr.
Depth Chart: Defense
2 returning starters in red
Ted Ginn Jr.
Ted Ginn Jr.
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At Ohio State, a place once known as "the graveyard of coaches," Jim Tressel has managed to find a cushy seat with 50 wins in five years and the 2002 national championship. However, Tressel could be taken out of his comfort zone in '06 even though the Buckeyes, once again, will be expected to contend for the title.
While a young defense develops and Tressel works to make his special teams an asset, he may have to unleash a high-octane offensive attack. If the Buckeyes can pick up where they left off last year -- 34 points and 617 yards of offense in a Fiesta Bowl drubbing of Notre Dame -- they should be up to the challenge.
Playmakers abound on offense even with the loss of receiver Santonio Holmes, and for the first time in his career quarterback Troy Smith will start the season entrenched as the Buckeyes' signal caller.
"I never thought that something like that would affect me," receiver Anthony Gonzalez says, "but to be perfectly honest, I can't express how nice it is to know that when you go out there you're going to have No. 10 out there. Having a guy who you've been with for years and you've kind of grown with, it really is nice for an offense. Everybody knows what to expect."
The Buckeyes enjoyed that kind of reliability on defense in recent years, but A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, Donte Whitner and Ashton Youboty are among the nine departed starters, leaving the staff charged with reloading on that side of the ball.
"We've got a semi-veteran front that's got to become very veteran, and we've got a young group of linebackers who have to learn every day, and we've got an extremely young group in the secondary where every day is going to be an adventure, but that's college football," Tressel says.
For the first eight games of the '04 season, the Ohio State offense resembled a high school attack, rife with basic runs, safe passes, plenty of punts and barely more than 20 points per game. Then Ted Ginn Jr. added an electrifying presence with three touchdowns in a win at Michigan State. Two weeks later, it was Smith who tore up Michigan -- with Ginn adding a dazzling punt return touchdown for good measure.
The OSU offense has been lethal virtually ever since. The Buckeyes rolled up 33 points in an Alamo Bowl win to end the '04 season and averaged 32.7 points per game last fall. Plus, Smith no longer shares responsibilities with Justin Zwick. Now, Smith is the clear-cut leader of the Buckeyes, and Ginn is ready to be a more reliable receiver and better all-around player.
Holmes was terrific last season with nearly 1,000 yards receiving and 11 TDs before leaving for the NFL, but Gonzalez should help fill that void. The coaches are pleased with the depth at receiver after veteran Roy Hall and up-and-comers Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie all enjoyed impressive springs.
The running game should be exciting as well. Speedy junior Antonio Pittman is coming off a 1,331-yard season, and incoming freshman sensation Chris Wells adds a new dimension by slamming his 225-pound frame behind a mammoth offensive line.
How big are the Buckeyes up front? The projected starting front five weighs in at an average of 6-foot-7 and 314 pounds. Expect OSU to hit the ground running this season.
It all starts up front for the Buckeyes, who, whether they stick to their 4-3 look or occasionally shift into a 3-4, should be stout at the point of attack. Quinn Pitcock is a pest inside, and he'll be flanked by the steady David Patterson, who shifts from end to tackle.
If the staff can discover the right combination in the linebacking corps, the middle of the defense won't drop off as much as most expect due to the loss of Hawk, Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel to the NFL. Marcus Freeman will assume Hawk's responsibilities playing on the weak side and leading the group, and juco transfer Larry Grant or veteran James Laurinaitis will handle the other side. The middle features two fifth-year veterans, John Kerr and Mike D'Andrea.
The secondary is a work in progress, but Malcolm Jenkins has shutdown ability at corner, and Jamario O'Neal could be a rising star at strong safety. One of the most pleasant surprises of the offseason has been the rapid development of redshirt freshman Anderson Russell, who figures to see lots of time as a nickel back.
The Buckeyes have been spoiled over the past five years with Mike Nugent and Josh Huston handling the kicking duties. Now, they will turn to Ryan Pretorius, a 27-year-old native of South Africa. A.J. Trapasso has the leg to be an asset at punter, and the return game, featuring Ginn, will be dangerous.
The Buckeyes have a foundation for greatness with two legitimate Heisman Trophy candidates in former prep teammates Smith and Ginn. OSU also has a coach with a 50-13 record and one national title during five seasons in Columbus. Tressel proved that he could win with different styles while claiming four I-AA national championships at Youngstown State. He's challenged to do that again, as the Buckeyes likely will have to outscore foes, not simply shut them down, to win consistently.