"We've had some tough times and some great times," says Schlichter, now a senior. The great times came in his second season: Hayes was gone, and the Buckeyes went 11-1 for Earle Bruce, losing by a point to USC in the Rose Bowl. Schlichter made the NEA All-America and finished fourth in the Heisman voting. The tough times? Last year Ohio State ranked first in many preseason polls, but lost to every Top 20 team it played—UCLA, Michigan, Penn State.
"We had 26 seniors on last year's team, and I think we had a little tension, disunity," says Schlichter. "We weren't what you'd call a team because a lot of players didn't perform up to their capabilities. The mood this year is a little scared but excited, wondering if we can do the job. I think that's good."
Schlichter's backup, Bob Atha, who will also do all the placekicking, thinks that pressure on Schlichter might have been part of the problem. Says Atha, "They built up Art [for the Heisman] and it hurt him very much. And I think Art was conscious of it to a point that he ran the options in a way to protect himself from injury. You can't blame him. We're friends, but I felt sorry for him."
In defense of Schlichter, his offensive line certainly didn't play up to its potential, allowing defenders to chase Schlichter all over the turf and sack him 23 times. Still, he completed 53.4% of his passes and threw 12 for touchdowns. Tackle Luther Henson and Guard Scott Burris are gone from the interior line, but Tackle Joe Smith and Guard Joe Lukens, who made All-Big Ten as a sophomore, return. Bill Roberts, a 6'5", 258-pound sophomore tackle, could really make life easy for Schlichter.
Two other great losses are Flanker Doug Donley, who caught 43 passes for seven touchdowns, and Tailback Cal Murray, the Big Ten rushing leader with 1,267 yards. Bruce may move last year's fullback, speedy Tim Spencer (577 yards on 108 carries), to tailback and replace him with soph Vaughn Broadnax, who, at 6'3", 242, is in the classic Ohio State fullback mold. But Schlichter wants to change all that "three yards and a cloud of SuperTurf" stuff. He's trying to cajole Bruce into using a no-fullback, split-tailback offense, which would include Spencer and junior Jim Gayle, to add yet another pass-catching threat to the attack.
"One thing we have is great receivers," says Schlichter. " Gary Williams [39 catches, six TDs] is one of the best. Thad Jemison and Victor Langley are fine, too, but Cedric Anderson is going to be great. He runs better than anybody I ever saw after he gets the ball. And we'll have to score to win, I know that. We lost a lot on defense."
And how! Seven defensive starters are gone, including the entire secondary. Only two tackles and two linebackers return, and there's very little experience elsewhere. That should make the Buckeyes dangerously vulnerable to their third and fourth opponents, pass-happy Stanford (which has Schlichter's Heisman rival, John Elway, throwing for it) and Florida State, not to mention one of the strongest Michigan teams they will ever have faced in the season finale at Ann Arbor.
Fletcher Jenkins, a defensive tackle from Tacoma, leans forward on his sofa in his Seattle apartment and plucks a two-inch steel screw from the jade plant on the table. It's the screw that was inserted in his left knee following surgery a year ago. So why does he keep it in the jade plant? "So I can find it when I get depressed. It reminds me that things can be a whole lot worse."
Husky fans are anything but depressed, and one of the reasons is Jenkins. He was generally ignored in the recruiting wars (only Idaho State and Wyoming expressed serious interest), but he thinks that was justified. "Let's face it," says Jenkins, a senior, "I wasn't sound academically." Now, not only have his grades perked up (2.5 GPA in music; he plays drums with a jazz trio, and wants to teach or play professionally), but no one can ignore his football. Last season he made 88 tackles, including 10 sacks. In one virtuoso performance against Southern Cal, a game Washington won 20-10, Jenkins had 12 tackles, four sacks and recovered a fumble. At only 6'2�", 247 pounds, he has pro scouts clucking that he isn't big enough for the NFL. Time will tell. In the meantime, he's becoming a savvy guy. He even learned while laboring over a jackhammer this summer. "The trick was to let the hammer do the work and just maintain control," he says. Kind of like letting linemen thrash around while one slips inside to crush the ballcarrier, right, Fletcher?