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Dave Thurman (7:25 am)

Although I was attending a conference this weekend and unable to watch all of the action live, it was a great Saturday and Sunday for Buckeye Nation.  As I took time to watch what I missed thanks to DVR, and poured over the stat sheets, a number of random thoughts came to mind.  So here goes, in no particular order:

-The Buckeye defense, coming off promising performances against Penn State and Illinois, really is improved.  However, they will need to be at their best next week when Fred Flintstone brings his ugly helmets to Columbus, featuring a spread offense with lots of speed.

-Not sure how the Two Jim's (Tressel and Bollman) managed to get into the booth in Madison, but I am sure they were calling the game, because it was incredibly conservative and predictable.  Better hope Herman and Meyer are back in charge this weekend. 

-Thad Matta had a pretty nice weekend for himself, winning the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament with victories over Rhode Island and Washington plus bagging his first big recruit in a couple years in 2014 forward Keita Bates-Diop from Illinois.  Bates-Diop certainly needs to bulk up his 6-8 190 pound frame, but has major skills.  I'm sure TV announcers aren't nearly as excited by this addition as Buckeye fans.  


 
 
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O-H-I-O from The Gambia, Africa!
Dave Thurman (5:12 pm)

It is on week's like this that family and friends start to worry about me.  Normally, I can hide my obsession with Ohio State football, but not on the week of the opening game...and certainly not when it's the beginning of the Urban Meyer era.

Understand, that even during the offseason I tend to be a little out of control when it comes to the Buckeyes.  All you have to do is set foot in my house and you'll know that I suffer from chronic Buckeye fever.  The loft in our house is painted scarlet and gray and decorated with so much Ohio State football paraphanelia that first time guests gasp when they come up the steps.  We even have a small refrigerator in the room, so we can grab cold drinks during the game and not have to traipse downstairs to the kitchen. 

It gets worse.  When my wife wanted a cat she came home from the humane society, proudly announcing that she had named the furry little thing Scarlet.  Then, she wasn't happy until we got another cat so we could name him Gray.  When my son and his wife adopted a golden retriever recently I was ticked that they didn't name him Brutus.  Yes, I am a sick man!

Last year I took a team over to Zimbabwe, Africa, to work with a school and clinic out in the bush.  On our way home, we had to make an emergency landing in The Gambia (don't ever head there intentionally), and wound up stranded in that cesspool for the better part of a day.  My solution to fatigue and boredom?  A quick dip in the nearby Atlantic Ocean, in which I got four of the young ladies on the trip to do their best O-H-I-O pose. 

When my kids were small and we spent our vacation at the beach, we didn't make sand castles like other normal families, but instead created The Shoe.  It's true - I have the pictures to prove it.  We got pretty good at it after a few years!  Just about got into a fight with a guy who unknowingly stepped on it one time, though.

As you can see, it doesn't have to be the week of a game to get me juiced.  So imagine what I am like on the eve of Urban's initial contest in venerable Ohio Stadium.  Truth is I am having trouble sleeping, and find that I can't go more than an hour in the office without checking all the best Buckeye blogs and websites to see if there is any news.  Admit it - you are dealing with some of the same symptoms right now, aren't you?  And that's why after the jump I'll give you a few tidbits from Urban's B1G Teleconference today.


 
 
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Dave Thurman (9:12 am)

Although it has been nearly 34 years since Woody Hayes prowled the sidelines in Columbus, he continues to cast a long shadow that subsequent coaches have had a hard time shaking.  Every head coach who has followed (not counting Luke Fickell who was basically a one-year interim) has had moments when it looked like they might finally get fans to forget about Woody.  But in the end, none of them has managed to close the deal.  Briefly let's take a look at the three men who had the unenviable job of following the legend, and notice why they came up short.  Then, we'll discuss the reasons Urban may succeed where others failed.

Earle Bruce: Some were surprised when the Buckeyes raided Iowa State to nab Bruce, who had never won more than 8 games with the Cyclones, or won a bowl game.  In his first year, though, Bruce nearly led OSU to the promised land, when the team headed to Pasadena undefeated as Big Ten champs, ranked number one in the nation.  Until the final minutes of that game, it looked like Ohio State would come out on top, but a late touchdown allowed USC to win 17-16, causing Bruce to come one point shy of his dream. Little did he know that life would never be that good again in Columbus.  Had Bruce won that game, it would have gone a long way toward climbing out from under the shadow of Woody Hayes, but alas the football gods did not favor Earle.  In fact, the next six seasons all ended with a 9-3 record,  giving Bruce the nickname of "Old 9-3 Earle."  

In 1988 he did manage to go 10-3, as OSU played one more game than usual, but the problem was that he could never quite get over that hump.  His teams played pretty well against Michigan (5-4 for his career against UM) and in bowl games (5-3 record) but always seemed to stub their toe against a mediocre team or two each season.  Bruce lacked the kind of charisma needed to deal with continued 3-loss seasons, and due to that lack of magnetism, failed to attract the nation's top talent.  Since most of the best Ohioans still found their way to Columbus, Bruce survived for nine seasons, but when his final team finished 6-4-1 it was too much, and Earle was given the boot.  Although he twice led the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl, Earle lost both contests, and nine years without a win in Pasadena was simply too much for the man who followed Woodrow Wilson Hayes.  


 
 
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Dodson brought joy on National Signing Day
Dave Thurman (1:47 pm)

National Signing Day 2012 provided quite a rush for Ohio State fans.  Kyle Dodson, a Cleveland native, who had verballed to Wisconsin, flipped to the Buckeyes and many of us were ecstatic.  His announcement was colorful - the stuff of YouTube fame - and OSU fans rightfully celebrated.  In truth, Dodson was the last of a very impressive group of players that changed their minds after Urban Meyer was named the head coach at Ohio State.  Other players who flipped to the Buckeyes included Noah Spence, Joey O'Connor, Taylor Decker, Tommy Schutt, Se'Von Pittman, and Camren Williams.  Quite a haul!  Of course, an early signing period in college football would have kept that from happening, and the 2012 OSU class would have been mediocre at best. 

So the debate rages on.  Should the NCAA mandate an early signing period in football, as exists in basketball and many other sports?  And if so, when should it occur?

A survey conducted in 2009 revealed that 73% of FBS coaches and 82% of FCS coaches syupport an early signing pereiod, although their proposal was for a December date, which would only be about 6 weeks earlier than at present.  As more and more coaches suffer the pain and dissapointment of having verballed players poached, the popularity of an early signing day increases.  And, with players increasingly making their decisions earlier than in the past, it seems to make sense to at least consider an early signing period.

Briefly lets take a little time to weigh out the arguments on both sides.

Those in favor of an early signing date, point to the following:

1) The benefit to the young men, themselves.  Without doubt, recruiting has become a big-time business, and many youngsters want to end the drama and pressure by making an early commitment.  Problem is, just because they issue a verbal in the spring or summer before their senior year does not mean that their recruitment will end.  Many schools will continue to call them and try and get them to change their minds.  Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, who favors an early signing day, says the following, "It helps them academically when they're not fielding 12 calls a week for 45 minutes Monday through Friday (while) getting ready for a game, trying to study for school, trying to get their academics up, trying to take the ACT and SAT."  Not sure Fisher really cares about academics, but his logic is pretty strong. 


 
 
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Dave Thurman (8:42 am)

There is a new sheriff in town, and in case you haven't noticed, he isn't playing games.  To some of us this is more than a little surprising.

I have to confess that when Urban Meyer was hired at Ohio State I didn't expect him to be such a strict disciplinarian.  Truth is, I figured Meyer was a guy who recruited great players...and then gave them a long leash.  I don't know why I thought he was soft on punishment, but for some reason that was my perception.  

Don't get me wrong, I was thrilled when Urban was announced as the new head coach at OSU.  I knew he was a terrific recruiter, a good X and O coach, and a proven winner.  But Meyer was often portrayed as being smarmy and at times, borderline sleazy.  And, especially after Florida crushed my beloved Buckeyes in the 2007 National Championship Game, I dismissed him as being just another SEC coach.  Translation:  I figured Urban looked the other way when his players skirted the law.  Man was I wrong!

Flash forward five years, from my jaded view of Meyer to present reality.  Since taking over as Buckeye chief, he has acted like an old school Texas Ranger, more than ready to show his sliver star.  Consider the following examples:

-Dominic Clarke: The swift defensive back was dismissed in January, after being charged with drunken driving and arrested for disorderly conduct for firing a BB gun on campus.  Clarke was a solid contributor, too, who was expected to be in the 2-deep again this season.


 
 
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Dave Thurman (1:22 pm)

It seems like just yesterday Thad Matta was having his way with national Top 20 talent. He was a magnet for the best of the best. Names like Greg Oden, Mike Conley, Daequan Cook, Kosta Koufos, B.J. Mullens, William Buford, Jared Sullinger and DeShaun Thomas come to mind, and there was plenty of other excellent talent mixed in (including Evan Turner who wasn’t quite as highly ranked). However, the last couple of classes have lacked that “marquee” name, with Matta missing out on the superstars. And, looking at the class of 2013 prospects, it seems he may come up empty again.

Don’t get me wrong, the class of 2011 was very good with guys like Sam Thompson, Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and LaQuinton Ross. But none of those guys was a Top 20 recruit or instant star. And this year’s class was almost an 0-fer, as Thad reeled in just one late recruit in Amadeo Della-Valle, whose name is awesome even if his game still needs some work.

So what gives? Is Thad suddenly losing his touch? I don't think so, but I can come up with at least three factors that are affecting his recruiting prowess - two John's and a state revival. Allow me to explain:

1) John Groce - The former assistant, who did a super job at Ohio the past four seasons before moving on to Illinois, had the reputation of being a great recruiter. Word is that he did a lot of the legwork in getting Oden and Conley, and helped Thad develop some solid roots with top AAU programs. My guess is that when he left it created a bit of a vacuum that has never been filled. I like Dave Dickerson, but I'm not sure he has been or will be as effective. Of course, Groce had Indiana roots, which helped greatly. There is always a harvest of talent in our neighbor to the west. Maybe Chris Jent can help out with recruiting since he is not only a good coach, but has NBA experience.


 
 
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Stoney set for big year in 2012
Dave Thurman (2:02 pm)

Even in the midst of another stellar season by the Thad 5 in basketball, it is never too early to start thinking about football.  With a new head coach and a lot of new players it is exciting to think of the possibilities.  Here are five bold predictions for the 2012 season to add some warmth to your mid-winter chill:

1. Braxton Miller will double his passing total from 2011.  I know - this one seems obvious, since he only threw for 1159 yards this past year.  However, keep in mind that he will have to post his numbers in twelve games, as OSU is banned from any postseason activity.  Also remember that the Buckeyes will still run the ball a good deal, featuring Braxton, himself, along with a bevy of fine backs.  But with all that in consideration I still think Miller will more than double 2011's passing stats.  As a bonus prediction, I'll throw in that fans in the fifth row will feel safe this next year, with Joe Bausmerman having used up his college eligibility. 

2. A true freshman will lead the team in sacks.  Ohio State brings back some fine veteran defensive linemen, so this sounds like a more risky prognostication.  However, my thought is that offenses will be tailored to stop John Simon, Nathan Williams, and Johnathan Hankins, opening up the opportunity for someone else to get to the opposing quarterback.  There are three nationally ranked ends making their way to Columbus, and any one of them could become a pass rush specialist.  The most acclaimed is Noah Spence, bur for some reason I have a feeling that Adolphus Washington makes the most noise next season.  It would not shock me if one of these guys tallies a bunch of sacks, which would be great news for Luke Fickell and the defensive coaches.

 
 
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Dave Thurman (3:57 pm)

There are sports rivalries and then there is Ohio State and Michigan.  It may not quite rank up there with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that is almost as old as time, but it's not too far behind.  Ever since the inaugural meeting back in 1897, won handily by "That School Up North" 34-0, there has been some bad blood between these two border rivals, and lots of great memories.

Historical Highlights from the Early Years:

Many of the legendary stories from "The Game" came long before my time:

- In 1902, "Carmen, Ohio" was penned on the train ride back to Columbus after OSU was pasted 86-0 in Ann Arbor.
- In 1922 Ohio Stadium was dedicated the day the Wolverines came to town.  Of course many referred to the new 71,000-seat stadium as "The House that Chic built."  In truth halfback Chic Harley did put the Buckeys on the map, leading Ohio State to three straight wins over Michigan (the first three OSU victories in the series). 
- Beginning in 1934 every Ohio State player on a team defeating  Michigan has received a gold pants pendant.  All of this due to Coach Francis Schmidt commenting that "Michigan puts their pants on one leg at a time!"
- The 1950 game has gone down in history as the "Snow Bowl" as it was played in howling winds and snow at Columbus, and featured 45 punts!  
- The 1967 game won by the Buckeyes at Michigan was the first in the series to be played before a crowd of over 100,000 fans...something that has become commonplace in our day and age.
- In 1968 Woody's boys defeated UM 50-14, and tried unsuccessfully to go for two after the last touchdown.  When asked why he would go for two with an insurmountable lead Woody replied, "Because I couldn't go for three." 

 
 
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Dave Thurman (3:35 pm)

Normally I am like Alfred E. Neuman of Mad magazine fame.  When I hear negative rumors circulating about Ohio State sports I usually brush them aside, because somebody is always talking and trying to stir things up.  Most of the time, the threats of impending doom don't materialize, and life goes on as usual.  But I have to confess that I am starting to get a little antsy regarding the future of Jim Tressel. 

Obviously every day there is a new article coming out that either predicts the imminent firing of Coach Tressel or compares his situation to that of Bruce Pearl, who was recently canned as basketball coach at Tennessee.  I am almost immune to the email alerts I get from ESPN, Bleacher Report, and other websites that mention something about Tress being in serious hot water.  I expect the sensationalistic media to react in this fashion, because they know that people love to read negative journalism and revel in the misery of a big-time rival.   Mentioning Tressel in the headline is guaranteed to hook readers.   

Now please don't get me started on the comparions to Bruce Pearl.  Over the years I have seen all kinds of pictures of Pearl cuddling up to bikini-clad coeds, often appearing to be drunk, and usually with that awful fake tan. Those of us who have followed Ohio State football the past decade know that Jim Tressel is a family man, dedicated to his job, and not a public embarrassment like so many college coaches.  I am convinced that he is also a man of ideals.  While I am not saying that JT is above reproach (and who is), I am confident that he is not a low life like Bruce Pearl and his ilk. 

That being said, I am beginning to get nervous.  Not because of the headlines from over zealous journalists, or the rants from opponent bloggers.  No, I am worried about the full scale witch hunt that is underway.  Usually when inquisitions begin they wind up finding something.  Part of that is because there is such an expenditure of time and money that they feel compelled to dig up some dirt.  And, let's face it, if you dig deep enough you are bound to find something.  The fact that the NCAA is sending in it's big dogs is scary.  Add to that the fact that the ESPN investigative news show “Outside the Lines” is snooping around Columbus and you get downright frightened.  They don't intend to leave town empty handed. 

This may not be Watergate just yet, but it is beginning to look like the biggest investigation of Ohio State sports in history.  And some people won't be satisified until they have the scalp of the headman himself.  Let's hope he is as squeeky clean as he has been portrayed. 

 
 
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Dave Thurman (4:57 pm)

The Buckeyes travel this Saturday to Iowa City and the 2010 season rests in the balance.  It may not seem fair to say that one game will make or break an entire year, but that is pretty much the reality for this week's contest.  Win, and Ohio State can keep their hopes alive for at least a share of the Big Ten title (their sixth in a row), as well as a BCS Bowl game.  Lose and those aspirations go down the drain, relegating the Buckeyes to a less than desired destination for the holidays. 

Remember, this season began with high expectations, as coaches, players and fans alike hoped (maybe expected) it would wind up in Arizona and another shot at a national title.  That pretty much went out the window with the loss at Wisconsin, but we were consoled by the fact that there was still a great deal at stake. After all, nobody ever has to apologize for a Big Ten title or securing a BCS bowl bid.  

However, if Ohio State takes it on the chin this weekend, even the most optimistic among us would have to consider 2010 a grave disappointment.  A team that seemed to have all the pieces in place - senior leadership, confidence, hunger, a favorable schedule, a superstar quarterback -  would wind up missing out on all of its goals.  That would be an awfully tough pill to swallow, although it wouldn't quite rank up there with the disasters this year in Austin, Texas and Gainesville, Florida (sorry I couldn't resist). 

Anyway, choose your favorite cliche.  Its all on the line this Saturday...it's judgment day 2010...  the defining moment of the season.  Indeed, the pressure is on, and the question is, are the Buckeyes up to the task?  Let me go on recrod as saying that I am more than a little bit nervous.  Consider the following: