Friday, February 16, 2007

A No Brainer for the Browns

For those who, like myself, bleed Brown and Orange every Sunday afternoon from late August through late December (and sometimes January, if we’re lucky), the NFL Draft has become almost like a national holiday. A chance to briefly take a break from Major League Baseball and the NBA, to find the smallest glimpse of hope that perhaps this is the year that our beloved Cleveland Browns can turn it all around. The time of year when we can all put on our respective GM hats, and speculate as to which over-priced, over-hyped young prospect the powers-that-be might select.

The problem, as always, is that the Browns need help everywhere. They could use a Running Back or a Quarterback, they could use help throughout the Offensive and Defensive Lines, they could use help in the Secondary and at Linebacker…to put it bluntly, the Browns have more holes to fill than Justin Timberlake at an after-Grammy’s party. The fortunate thing is that once again the Browns have the honor of selecting in the top 5 (the 5th time in 9 years we’ve had such an honor), and will no doubt have the opportunity to find a premier player at any one of those positions.

So which direction will the Randy Lerner, Phil Savage, and Romeo Crennel decide to go on April 28th? Since the Browns will draft either #3 or #4, depending on the coin flip with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they will have any number of different options to go with. Personally, I believe there is an obvious choice as to which player they should be thinking about drafting, and if he’s available, cannot afford to pass him up.

That still won’t stop me from laying out the rest of my top 5, in order, as to who I would like to suiting up on the shores of Lake Erie next season (Note: this is assuming that we could choose whomever we want, regardless of draft position, although I do make note as to whether or not I believe each player will be available. Also, I’m assuming that the Browns continue the status quo and lose - this time the coin flip and will draft #4).

So without further ado, here is my Top 5:

5.) Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech – According to most “experts”, Johnson is the biggest guarantee in the entire draft. True, Wide Receiver is not the most pressing of needs for the Cleveland Browns, but Johnson is #1 on Mel Kiper’s and Scout’s Inc. big board. He is 6’4, 225 who is fast for his size (with a 4.4 – 40), and is compared to Terrell Owens in ability without all the baggage. The Buccaneers are expected to take him with their pick, so he probably won’t be available at #4, but if he is, he’ll be tough to pass up.

4) Alan Branch, DT, Michigan – Most recent mock drafts that I’ve seen project the Browns to take Branch with the first pick. Romeo Crennel is a defense-first guy and will no doubt want to shore up his 3-4 Defense with a dominant run-stopper who can play either NT or DE. Branch is big at 6’5, 330 pounds, but has one huge flaw – he’s from Michigan and I don’t think I can handle the Browns selecting another Wolverine in the first round (or another defensive lineman for that matter). The Browns need some serious help on the D-line, though, and Branch would be a perfect fit.

3) Adrian Peterson, RB, Oklahoma – Peterson has most people in the Dawg Pound salivating. He’s 6’1, 220 lbs, and runs 4.46 – 40 yard dash, with a great combination of size, power, and speed. Reuben Droughns has been a durable back, but adding Peterson will give the Browns that #1 type back that they’ve passed up on in previous drafts (see Tomilinson, LaDanian). So why do I have him at #3? He hasn’t shown any signs of durability, having suffered injuries in all 3 of his years at Oklahoma (shoulder, ankle, and collarbone). A guy with that kind of injury history will have the Cleveland Clinic salivating instead of the Pound. With Peterson’s injury history, combined with Cleveland’s, is he somebody we would want to gamble on? I say yes.

2) Brady Quinn, QB, Notre Dame – JeMarcus Russell is almost definitely heading to Oakland with the #1 pick, which leaves Quinn playing the 2007 role of Matt Leinert. He could (and should) go in the top 5, but could get passed up by Detroit and the Browns which would most likely send him down to the Texans at #8. Most in Cleveland don’t like Quinn, mostly because he played at Notre Dame and secondly because he never won the “big game”. All valid points, but at 6’3, 224 lbs with good size and a great arm, he doesn’t have too many flaws as a Quarterback. Let’s not forget that Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Carson Palmer didn’t have great college resumes, all of which Quinn is compared to (and I would argue that each of those QBs had better players surrounding them). Not to mention he is an Ohio boy. Plus, Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis are close; so don’t think that he won’t get a long look.

But the player that the Browns need the most:

1) Joe Thomas, T, Wisconsin – Understandably, Browns fans are desperate for a winner. However, for the amount of analysis that is debated every Monday through Sunday during the regular season, the fans have an unusually short attention span. What is the #1 complaint that all Cleveland loyalists have had since the return in 1999? That is a rhetorical question, of course, because anyone who has wasted 5 minutes watching the Browns knows that the answer lies with their pathetic Offensive Line. But many fans, including myself, get excited about the possibility of bringing in a franchise Running Back or a franchise Quarterback, or a big-time Wide Receiver, and forget that ultimately the battle is won and lost in the trenches. True, he’s not the “sexy” pick, but he’s the #2 overall player according to Scouts, Inc. and we can finally get that big-time left tackle that can anchor our line for the foreseeable future. This is the Browns #1 need and if he’s available, they HAVE to take him.

Now, everything depends on what the Detroit Lions do. Like I said, JeMarcus Russell will go #1 to the Oakland Raiders and Tampa Bay will probably take Calvin Johnson at #3. The Lions have a need at Quarterback and on the Offensive Line, so they will most likely take Thomas or Quinn with the #2 pick. Ideally, the Lions take Brady Quinn, which is one less decision for the Browns to have to make, and drop Joe Thomas right into our lap at #4 (Adrian Peterson is almost guaranteed to be there for us).

I would look no further than the New York Jets as a team to mirror. Last year, they made the smart pick at #4 by drafting D’Brickashaw Ferguson (T, Virginia) and then they used the #29 overall pick for Nick Mangold (C, Ohio State). Both started as rookies and anchored a revamped line which led them into the playoffs. I’m not saying they’ll make the playoffs next year, but finally with that big left tackle in Cleveland, the Browns will take a huge step towards getting there.

Now all they have to do is fire Romeo Crennel and hire Marty Schottenheimer (but that’s topic for another blog).

Friday, February 9, 2007

Cure for the February Blues

I know its been a few weeks since I’ve posted something here, but a healthy dose of work combined with my inability to put the “Kick Return” game behind me, has kept the creative juices from flowing. But after a few weeks off, I can't keep quiet about the joy and pain that is the 2006-2007 Ohio State Men's Basketball team…

I hate the month of February for sports!

Actually, let me start by explaining something about myself – I have a serious love-hate relationship with the game of basketball. I’m not entirely sure why this is (it’s probably because I’ve never been that good at playing the game…my Dad and Brother have the market cornered in basketball talent in the family), but I have little to no patience for it - and anyone who has watched a game with me knows what I’m talking about. Whether I’m playing or watching, I become completely and utterly irrational and uncontrollable, ultimately leading to embarrassing myself to some heightened degree (example: I’ve been thrown out of a Church league Basketball game before – a memory I would very much like to forget). Point being, no other game gets me more frustrated than hoops.

Anyway, I digress back to my original point.

February is the worst month in sports. It means the end of football, baseball is still a few weeks away from pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training, the NBA is pointless to watch until May, and (until the arrival of Thad Matta at Ohio State) college basketball sort of lies in the weeds until March. But this February is different. Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., Daequan Cook, Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, Othello Hunter, Ivan Harris, and David Lighty have saved what would be and has been historically a depressing month.

I love this team! Sure they can be frustrating to watch. Sure they rely way too much on the three-ball. Sure from one game to the next they can look completely different. And sure it seems that with each game, a new weakness is exposed, but they’re starting to show some signs of consistency and I believe are poised to make a serious run in the tournament.

Here are some of my likes and dislikes of THEE Ohio State Buckeyes:


Greg Oden – I know this is incredibly obvious, but I love turning on ESPN every day or reading countless articles and blogs that mention how good Oden is and can be. He and Kevin Durant are the faces of college basketball.

NBA talent – It is normally believed by most of the college basketball world that a team that has a serious chance at making the Final Four and ultimately winning the NC has to have NBA caliber talent - the more, the better (which is what made the 1998-1999 team that went to the Final Four so special – sure Scoonie Penn was great, but only Michael Redd went to the NBA). The current Buckeye squad has at least 3 NBA players – everyone knows Oden will be one of the 1st or 2nd picks in the Draft, but Daequan Cook and Mike Conley Jr. will also play at the next level. 3 NBA ready players on one team is scary for anyone to face.

Who Will Step Up Today? - When needed, this team has 6 different players that can step up at any crucial time in the game and make a play. Oden, Conley, Cook, Lewis, Harris, and Butler have all made big plays down the stretch during their current 8-game win streak.

Another Out-right Title? – If things go according to plan, the Buckeyes will go into the February 25th game against Wisconsin with a 25-3 record and a what looks to be a shot at their 2nd consecutive OUTRIGHT Big Ten Title. That would be an incredible accomplishment (in a league that hardly ever has an outright champ)!


Where’s the Effort? - At times this team can look bored. They have a tendency to put the game on cruise control in the second half, usually leading to a too-close-for-comfort game. The last 4 games they’ve done this (hell, the last 8 games they've done this), only to turn it on defensively and shut the opposing team down in the final 5 minutes. They can't do this in March if they want to win.

Veteran Pampering – This team is so deep and has so many playmakers, that there aren’t enough shots to go around - a fact that Ron Lewis, Jamar Butler, and Ivan Harris have complained about on several occasions. Butler had a tough time taking a back seat to Mike Conley Jr. (although he’s somewhat come around as of late), while Ron Lewis and Ivan Harris have verbally complained about their lack of minutes. Suck it up boys and play like a team.

A Must Win - They need to beat Wisconsin on February 25th. All 3 of their losses came to Top 10 teams on the road, which is a convenient excuse, but they have no real signature wins. Sure they beat a good Indiana team, and sure they beat a tough Tennessee team, and sure they beat Michigan State twice, but a win against Wisconsin will go a long way to giving them the confidence they need going into the tourney (plus it will all but guarantee them a #1 seed).

Do I think this team has what it takes to win the National Championship? Definitely. They have more talent riding the bench than probably 60% of the Division 1 teams have in their starting line-up (probably a slight exaggeration, but whatever). If they can start playing like a team that actually likes each other (and when Greg Oden has a chance to start using both of his hands) nobody – save Florida – will want to play Ohio State.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

"The Kick Return*"

O.K., O.K, O.K., just relax. You’ve been here before. How many times have you had this same exact feeling? Plenty of times! So take a deep breath and we’ll play this one by the book…

Here’s my general progression the day following a devastating loss:

Step 1: The “Shock” phase: This consists of me sort of stumbling around in a daze wondering, “What the hell happened?”

Step 2: The “Why Me” phase: More moping around, although this is more or less me mumbling to myself over and over again some form of, “What did I do to deserve this?”

Step 3: The “Transition” period: This is when I start fading from the “Why Me” phase to the “Anger” phase. This usually takes a while…it’s a culmination of watching Sportscenter, reading the various articles dedicated to my misery, talking to my Dad, my brother, my brother-in-law, and my buddies all going through the same thing. The gamut of emotions that range at this time can’t be classified into one section, but it inevitable ends up in…

Step 4: The “Anger” phase or the “What the F@ck” phase: Pretty self-explanatory. At some point during this time, I swear off sports (Ohio sports especially) or vow never to take anything so seriously again…which then leads to guilt, which then leads back to anger for feeling so guilty about something that makes me feel so shitty…it’s a vicious cycle.

Stage 5: The “Hopelessness” period: “We blew it…I’ll never root for a winner! I’m cursed!”

Stage 6: The “Healing” phase: The endless barrage of “The sun will come out tomorrow” type speeches by my girlfriend finally starts to sink in, and the healing can now begin.

(These steps take anywhere from a day, to a week, to a month or longer to get through...but since I've been here so many times, it's mercifully getting easier.)


Monday night’s game was a tough one to swallow, just for the sheer shock of it all. I think my good friend Taylor summed it up the best when he emailed, “I just wish we lost a close game, or even looked competitive. I’m not even pissed about it, we were just so bad that I don’t know what to think.” With all of us being dual Cleveland/Ohio State fans, we’ve seen our fair share of “shockers”. But if the likes of “The Drive”, “The Fumble”, “The Shot”, “the Jose Mess-up”, or anything from the "Cooper years" were like taking a swift kick to the frank and beans, then Monday nights National Championship game was like taking a shovel to the face.

(To hammer the point home, by the end of the game I had the “Winston after he got ran over by the ghost of the derailed subway train in Ghostbusters 2” look on my face. All I needed was Egon exclaiming afterwards, “Did anyone catch the number of the locomotive?” “Sorry…I missed it…but I think the plates were from Florida.)

Do I think we lost because of a 51-day layoff? No, that’s a cop-out (although seeing how Michigan played against USC, I guarantee they start scheduling that game a little later. They both looked like they were on sedatives.) Do I think there is a curse on the Heisman trophy? No, although it is difficult to not be distracted by the whirlwind media attention that comes with the honor (Quinn, McFadden, and Smith all had horrible Bowl games, although I didn’t see Brady Quinn or Darren McFadden banging strippers at Scores in New York following the presentation). All in all, I think the entire team was completely swept up by all the hype. Finally, do I think losing Ted Ginn Jr. hurt? Yes, but not 42-14 hurt.

(By the way, since its fun for Ohioans to come up with clever names to describe their heartache, I will stop referring to the 2007 National Championship Game and start calling it “The Kick Return”. Thank you Roy Hall! Thanks a f#ckin’ bunch!)

No, what we got was an old-fashioned beat-down. We got out-ed on every level: Out-played, out-hustled, out-muscled, and more importantly out-coached. If you’ve listened to any of Jim Tressel’s talking points over this season, the concept of accountability and taking responsibility should stand out. That being said, the blame for this whole debacle goes squarely on the shoulders of Coach Tressel.

So what happened? How could he go from being such a big game genius to laying one of the biggest eggs in Ohio State history? I think it could be any number of things, but I think he bought too much into his own “deity” status that all Ohio State fans saddled him with. He tried beating an SEC team by playing an SEC-type game instead of playing our own Big Ten game, and that played right into Urban Meyer’s hands. I know nothing (in fact I know less than nothing) about coaching a football team, but even I knew after the first offensive series that our O-line was incredibly over-matched in their pass protection. Even after our only successful drive (by running the ball no less), he continued to rely on the pass instead of the run, and before you could say “SEC Speed” the game was out of control. Despite being (in my opinion) the best in-game coach in the country, he simply refused to adjust his gameplan. Basically saying, "I'm Jim Tressel, and we can win any type of game, as long as I am the coach."

O.K., so it’s midnight, the chariot turned back into a pumpkin, and Jim Tressel is not as infallible as we all thought. But you know what? It’s not all that bad. Coach Tressel took a natural step that all great coaches take. Woody Hayes was notorious for losing in the Rose Bowl, but always managed to get his team in the NC picture and win a few. Pete Carrol not only lost in the National Championship game, but also lost in his rivalry game and blew another chance at the title, all in the same year. Hell, Bob Stoops lost big in a National Championship game and just got publicly beat by Boise State. All great coaches have tough losses, they wouldn't be great coaches if they didn't. And soon enough Urban Meyer will find that one out as well.

One more thing, sure he didn't look as sharp as usual, but Troy Smith is taking an unfair amount of criticism. How can he be expected to do anything behind that Offensive Line? (Speaking of which, let me leave a message for Troy Smith: I know your dream job is to play quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, but you just got a crash course on what life is like for the man who leads the Brown and Orange. Do you think Charlie Frye enjoys playing hurt every week, constantly on the run behind a pathetic offensive line? Do yourself a favor; go win a super bowl with a team that has a chance. Trust me on this; get out while you still can!)

What’s done is done. I woke up yesterday morning, quickly blew through Steps 1 – 5, and started to begin the healing process. Even if we sometimes treat it like it’s bigger than life, it’s still just a game. And I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll be really sad to see this senior class (and perhaps a few of our juniors) leave for the NFL. Over the past few months, this team carried themselves with more class than I’ve ever seen by a team with that big of a spotlight (and that certainly can’t be said for Pete Carroll’s Trojans, Lloyd Carr’s Wolverine’s, or Urban Meyer’s Gators – Chris Leak notwithstanding). I have never been more proud to be a Buckeye than I have been these past few months and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

So when you get knocked down, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back on that bicycle! It’s Basketball season baby, and we’ve got LeBron James and Greg Oden to dull the pain. WITNESS.

GO BUCKEYES (and at least we’re not Michigan)!

*Originally I called this "The Celebration", but upon further review I thought this was too jovial for the way I was feeling, so I changed it to "The Kick Return".

Friday, January 5, 2007

Buckeye Speed

Allow me to make a few points leading up to the National Championship game on Monday night:

Can we please stop with the term “SEC Speed”? It’s like the analysts think every team in the south has been injected with horse tranquilizers that makes them speed demons or something. Don’t get me wrong the Gators are fast as hell, but lets be honest here, despite playing in the SEC, Florida hasn’t seen anything like what they’re about to witness on Monday night.

I read a great point on Swerb’s Blurbs the other day that I think needs repeating (by the way, Swerb’s Blurbs is the best website if you’re a duel Cleveland/Ohio State fan, and you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t read it…just letting you know). Anyway, in High School, Maurice Wells was the runner-up for Florida’s Mr. Football Award as a junior and the winner of the award as a senior. So for those who think that the talent in the south is so much better and faster than the talent in Ohio, then why is Wells the Buckeye’s 3rd string running back behind two kids from Akron?

The Buckeyes have had a bullseye on their back since they started the year #1 and have performed at the highest level on the biggest stages all year long. They seem loose and ready to play, while the Gators have looked uptight and bitter all week long (I think this plays in our favor).

How much do you really know about any of the teams in the SEC? They don’t play anyone outside of their own Conference and each team is exactly the same. Trying to analyze a team from the SEC is like trying to dissect the family tree of a back-woods West Virginian (basically they keep it all in the family, everyone bangs everyone and eventually they all look the same). Florida’s out of conference schedule was against Southern Miss, UCF, Western Carolina, and Florida State (who they play every year). Now a few of the teams (like Arkansas, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt) scheduled tough games, but all-in-all the SEC is so difficult to get through undefeated that teams can’t afford to play anyone tough out-of-conference. My point is this; when I see a stat like, Florida ranks 6th in the nation in rushing defense, how reliable can that be? Other than Arkansas (who ranks near the top thanks to Heisman trophy runner up Darren McFadden), no SEC team ranks higher than 37th in the nation in rushing offense. So who knows if the SEC is overrated or underrated.

Looking at the Bowl games, the Big Ten is 2-0 in head-to-head match-ups with the SEC, with Wisconsin beating runner-up Arkansas in the Capital One Bowl and Penn State (9-3) outlasting Tennessee (9-3) in the Outback Bowl. LSU looked like a championship-caliber team, they dominated an overrated and over-hyped Notre Dame team (seriously, can we get over the Charlie Weis is a genius thing, please? The guy is a cartoon character). But Florida dominated that LSU team at home in October, so that's saying something. Florida’s only loss came on the road at Auburn, who beat Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl (17-14).

Don’t underestimate Urban Meyer. The guy has never lost a Bowl Game or a Conference Championship game.

Michigan still sucks.

Ohio State has never beaten a SEC team in a bowl game – they are 0-7 (most recently, twice to South Carolina in the Outback Bowl).

I can’t imagine Troy Smith losing his last college game.

Finally, here’s my prediction for Monday's game. Any time, you pit the best of the SEC and the best of the Big 10 in a National Championship setting you’re going to get a great game. However, there are 2 things that give the Buckeyes the advantage. The Gators have a great coach in Urban Meyer, but we have a better one in Jim Tressel. The Gators have great Quarterbacks in Chris Leak and Tim Teabow, but we have a better one in Troy Smith. That’s what it takes to win big games and that’s what it takes to win championships. In the end, “Buckeye Speed” will be too much for the Gators and Ohio State will be your 2006 National Champions.

Final score: Ohio State 31, Florida 21.



Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Bizarro 2002"

Remember the “Bizarro Jerry” episode of Seinfeld? Elaine ditches Jerry, George, and Kramer to associate with her new friends Kevin, Gene, and Feldman, that turn out to look exactly like her former cohorts, but act almost the complete opposite. Jerry refers to them as her “bizarro friends” in reference to the alternate Superman universe “where up is down and down is up”. Well, now that we are approaching 2007, looking back at this past year; I think it’s safe to say that 2006 could be considered “Bizarro 2002”.

Think about it:

In 2002, Ohio State finished the regular season undefeated, waiting to play in the National Championship game in Tempe, Arizona. After managing to barely squeak past each of their opponents throughout the season, they were the heavy underdogs heading into the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl against a flashier #1 team. In 2006, the Scarlet and Gray finished the regular season undefeated, waiting to play in the National Championship game in Glendale, Arizona. After dominating their schedule, the Buckeyes are heavy favorites to win the Tostitos National Championship Game, against a team that barely played their way to up to #2 (Now, I’ve said before in this blog, I don’t think you can compare the 2006 Florida Gators to the 2002 Ohio State Buckeyes, because the Gators have a loss, while the Buckeyes were undefeated, but forgive me for the sake of this argument)...

In 2002, Maurice Clarrett dominated the headlines for his on-the-field performance. In 2006, Maruice Clarrett dominated the headlines with his off-the-field performance...

In 2002, a second year coach for the Cleveland Browns led his team to the brink of the playoffs. In 2006, a second year coach for the Cleveland Browns led his team to the brink of disaster. (Still don’t believe its “Bizarro 2002”? At some point this Sunday, the last day of the year, Ken Dorsey will be starting at Quarterback and will probably connect with Kellen Winslow Jr., and they’ll be playing for an Ohio team…and I’ll be rooting for them.)...

Anyway, you get my point. All in all, 2006 was a great year for those who rooted for THEE Ohio State University, and a not-so-great year for those who rooted for “That City by the Lake” (and a roller coaster ride for those, like me, who rooted for both). So as we countdown to 2007, let me countdown my Top 5 storylines from 2006.

5) Pronk Power

It was a disappointing year for the Cleveland Indians as they were the pre-season favorites to win the A.L. Central and perhaps contend for the World Series. The Tribe had good hitting and good pitching, then the season started, and yada-yada-yada they finished 4th in their division. Travis Hafner delivered the best storyline from an otherwise substandard year, hitting a record 6 grand slams, tying Don Mattingly for the most in a single-season.

4) Wherefore Art Thou?

Romeo Crennel continues to show that he is in way over his head, not winning a single game within the division for the first time in 50 years, and on the verge of going 4 and 12 for the second consecutive season. One of the positives that can be taken from this otherwise dismal campaign, Kellen Winslow Jr., Braylon Edwards, and Kamerion Wimbley (the Browns’ last three #1 picks) have each played full seasons and have each competed at a high level – even though Edwards is starting to become a real problem in the locker room. Regardless, this is encouraging considering how snake-bitten our #1 picks have been since the Browns returned to the league in '99 (damn, I just jinxed them).

3) The Year of the Rivalry

For the first time in the long history of the rivalry, Ohio State and Michigan faced each other as the top 2 teams in the country (and both with undefeated records). The game on November 18th dominated the headlines for the last 4 weeks of the regular season, and with a 42-39 win by the Bucks, it was as good as advertised. Mini-rivalries with Texas and Florida over the past year have also added to the enjoyment of Ohio State's sprint to the Championship. The White Sox and Indians hate-fest picked up where it left off the previous season (although it didn’t turn out to be as big as it should have been). And the Cavs found competition that will stand between them and the NBA Championship in the coming years, namely the Washington Wizards and the Detroit Pistons.

2) Basketball is Back!

Before LBJ, basketball in Ohio had been pathetic (with exception to Ohio State making the Final Four in 1999). However, a great season by the Cavs, taking the defending champion Detroit Pistons to Game 7 of the Quarterfinals, and brought a relevant playoff series back to Cleveland. Those who had their eye on incoming freshmen Greg Oden and the Thad Five, missed the Buckeyes come out of nowhere to win an outright Big Ten title and snag a #2 seed in the NCAA Tournament (not to mention how much fun the Buckeyes are to watch this season). As The Rock would say: "FINALLY...Basketball has COME O-HI-O!

1) #1 With a Bullet
Troy Smith started the year off as MVP of the Fiesta Bowl and built on that success by delivering nothing short of the greatest season ever by an Ohio State quarterback (not to mention becoming the first Quarterback at TOSU to win the Heisman Trophy). Overall, the Buckeyes won 13 games in 2006 (losing 0), and hope to start 2007 where it left off, by winning a bowl game in the desert.

Looking back, 2006 was pretty fun for Ohio Sports. It was a great year to be a Buckeye and for the first time in a long time we saw a meaningful playoff run by a Cleveland team. Moving forward, 2007 will either start with a bang or with a bust, but I'll always remember 2006 as the year we time traveled back to 2002, even if it was "bizarro" (Good Times!).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

(Heis)Man of Troy

Glance towards the sideline of any Ohio State game and you’ll find one constant. Whether it’s 1st and goal with a 30-point lead over Michigan State or 4th and 12 in overtime of the National Championship game, Jim Tressel paces the sidelines, sporting his trademark sweater vest, as a monument to calm, cool, collectiveness. Twice since THEE Ohio State University hired him as head coach, have I seen Jim Tressel lose his composure. The first was following the 2003 Fiesta Bowl (celebrating his first Division 1A National Championship). The second came on Saturday when Troy Smith won the Heisman Trophy. With tears in his eyes, Tressel watched his quarterback walk up to the podium, accept the coveted award, and take his rightful place among the College Football all-time greats. 5 years of hard work, perseverance, and dedication culminating in one great moment shared by two great individuals.

(The irony is, 5 years ago, 2 High School athletes from similar backgrounds with similar talents came to Ohio State in Jim Tressel’s first great recruiting class. Maurice Clarett was the jewel, the guy who would join the long list of great Buckeye running backs, Troy Smith was the last man signed, without a position and simply listed as “athlete”. Over the next few years, each would get into trouble, and each would serve suspensions. However, in the end, the “athlete” will go down as the greatest Ohio State Quarterback ever, while the “jewel” is currently a resident of the Franklin County Corrections Center serving a minimum 3 and a half-year prison sentence. What does that tell you about the choices a person makes?)

There is no doubt that Troy Smith IS the best quarterback ever to wear the Scarlet and Gray (you can even argue that he has a chance to be the greatest Buckeye ever). He is the first Big Ten Quarterback to win the Heisman. He is second only to OJ Simpson in Heisman voting margin of victory (OJ beat Leroy Keyes by 1,750 points, while Troy beat Darren McFadden by 1,662), his 801 first place votes are also second all-time behind the Juice, but his 86.7% of the first place votes is a Heisman record.

So when he was at the podium this past Saturday, I got to thinking about my favorite Troy Smith moment. The problem is, he has dazzled us so many different times, that I can’t come up with just one. Since I couldn't decide on one, here are my Top 5 most memorable Troy Smith moments:

5.) September 9, 2006: “A Texas-Sized Payback”
Austin, Texas - With the score tied 7-7, Troy Smith hits Ted Ginn Jr. with a perfect 29-yard over-the-shoulder touchdown pass with 16 seconds left in the first half. The Buckeyes took the lead into halftime and never relinquished it. Smith finished with 269 yards passing and 2 touchdowns in route to a 24-7 victory.

4.) September 23, 2006: “Exorcising the Demons”
Columbus, Ohio – Penn State, the only team to give Troy Smith problems in his great career, was once again proving a worthy opponent, that is until Troy Smith delivered what would become the signature play of his Heisman campaign. With the Buckeyes nursing a slight lead, Smith dropped back to pass, rolled right, avoided a sure sack by turning on a dime, reversing course, and hitting Brian Robiskie in stride for a 37-yard back-breaking touchdown pass. The Buckeyes go on to win 28-6.

3.) November 20, 2004: “A Star is Born”
Columbus, Ohio – In his coming out party, Troy Smith hits Tony Gonzalez with a 68-yard touchdown bomb on the 5th play of the game. His first of three victories over Michigan, unranked Ohio State went on to upset #7 Michigan. He finished with 241 yards passing (2 touchdowns) and also running for another 145 yards.

2.) November 18, 2006: “The Game”
Columbus, Ohio – Curious to see how Troy Smith might do in the NFL? Look no further than “The Game of the Century”. Troy Smith locked down the Heisman Trophy with his 316-yard, 4-touchdown performance, leading #1 Ohio State over #2 Michigan. Smith hit Ted Ginn Jr. for a 39-yard end zone strike on a play-action fake to take a 2-touchdown lead. Although Michigan fought back, Smith held on to cap off his third straight win over that team up North and clinched a spot in the BCS National Championship game.

1.) November 19, 2005: “The Comeback”
Ann Arbor, Michigan – With 47 seconds left in the game, and the Buckeyes down by 2 points, Troy Smith hits Anthony Gonzalez for 26-yards to set up the game-winning score. Since I can’t begin to explain it, see it for yourself (little did we know, you could have mailed the Heisman to him right then and there):

I feel privileged to have been able to watch Troy Smith grow as a person and as a player over the last few years and it will be bittersweet to see him suit up for the last time. Lets hope that the best Troy Smith moment comes after the game on January 8th, when he holds up the Crystal Football. Then we can look back on his career at Ohio State not only as a Heisman Trophy winner, but also as a National Champion. And you never know, maybe, just maybe, we’ll get to see Jim Tressel show his emotions for the third time in 6 years (but don’t count on it).

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Anything Can Happen

There was no way USC was going to lose to UCLA. They were going to rollover the Bruins, lockdown that #2 BCS spot, and book a ticket to Glendale, Arizona for a shot at the National Championship. Everyone was happy and the BCS was saved for at least one more year. Of course its never that simple in college football. Ask head coach Karl Dorrell if there was any way UCLA could’ve beaten the Trojans. Ask Pete Carroll the same question and you’d get the same answer. Ask Lloyd Carr if one game can change a rivalry. Ask Urban Meyer if his team deserves to play in the National Championship, or ask Jim Tressel what an underdog can do in the desert. My point is this, in college football, on any given day, anything can happen.

UCLA’s upset over USC sent shock waves through the NCAA and sent the BCS into an absolute frenzy. In the end, Florida won the popular vote against Michigan and will face The Ohio State University for the National Championship. But did the BCS get it right? I think so. Out of 4 teams that had a chance at the title game, Ohio State and Florida each won their last game, while Michigan and USC each lost their last game. Michigan’s only loss came in the Horseshoe to the #1 team in the country by 3 points, while Florida’s only loss came on the road in Auburn, on a controversial call in the closing minutes. Now, since its ridiculous to compare who should play for the national title by deciding who had the better loss, let’s see who had a tougher schedule. Florida finished with a 3-1 record against ranked teams, while Michigan finished with a 1-1 record. Florida defeated 9 bowl eligible teams (faced 10) while Michigan defeated 6 bowl eligible teams (faced 7). Florida won their Conference, Michigan didn’t.

So forgive me if I don’t feel the least bit sorry for the Maze and Blue. In fact, forgive me for enjoying it too much (You know in National Lampoons Christmas Vacation, when Clark Griswold opens up his Christmas bonus, only to find it’s a 12-month subscription to the Jelly-of-the-Month club? I like to picture Lloyd Carr watching the BCS Selection show, expecting a bid to the National Championship game, getting the Rose Bowl game, then completely losing it - kicking everything thing in site, stumbling over to the side, and taking a giant swig of eggnog, “It’s good, it’s good!")! Old Lloyd should be happy it isn’t 10 years ago. If it was, the bowl picture would look like this; Ohio State would be playing USC in the Rose Bowl, Florida would be playing in the Sugar Bowl, and Michigan would be stuck in Tampa playing for the Outback Bowl. So get over it! Go win the Rose Bowl and prove you deserve to play on January 8th. Until then, take it like a man (By the way, seeing how things shook out this year, I think we might be on the verge of getting even with Michigan for all those John Cooper years…but, not quite yet).

The last thing I’ll say about the BCS is this: Its pretty close to getting this whole College Football National Championship thing right. I would have no problem with using polls to decide the rankings, if it weren’t for people like Jim Walden. Who is Jim Walden and why does Iowa State’s old Head Coach have anything to do with the 2006 National Championship you ask? Well, he voted in the Harris Poll and his top 3 went like this - 1) Florida, 2) Ohio State, 3) Michigan. What? Florida is #1? Shenanigans! Yet, this is someone who has a say in who should play in the National Championship. And as long as you give dopes like Jim Walden a voice, the system will always be flawed.

Regardless, we finally have our match up. The Ohio State Buckeyes will face the Florida Gators on January 8th in Glendale, Arizona for all the Tostitos. But if you can’t wait until then, wet your whistle on December 23rd. That’s when Greg Oden and the rest of the Scarlet and Gray Basketball Team head to a hostile Gainesville to face the Gators on the hardwood floor (By the way, one of the most interesting storylines that absolutely nobody is talking about is when Oden came to Columbus, the hot topic was “Could the Buckeyes win the Football and Basketball Championship in the same year?” At the time, I shrugged it off as being ridiculous, until I saw both teams play. Now I think it could potentially happen. But as Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend!” Look who just won the National Championship in Basketball and is now playing for the National Championship in Football – yep, you guessed it. I don’t really know how I feel about that, but it is definitely interesting).

Let me close with a warning to Buckeye Nation. We have a chance to do something great - no team has ever beaten three teams ranked #2 in the same season. But don't look past the Gators. For the next 32 days, they'll hear about how they don’t belong in the National Championship. For the next 32 days, when our guys are collecting trophies, Florida will be hearing about how they don’t even belong on the same field as this Ohio State team. For the next 32 days, these Gators will here about how there is no way they can win. So just remember…in college football, on any given day, anything can happen…especially in January…especially in Arizona. Just ask Larry Coker.