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2006 Season Preview: Ohio State

Does it get any bigger than this? Kirk Herbstreit has already recorded six wet dreams about this game, Lee Corso is going to permanently retire the lithium so he can go hogwild berserk, and Chris Fowler? well, he?s a patsy. Who knew?

When Ohio State Has The Ball The perceived team strength for the Buckeyes, as they return 8 starters from the unit that caught the nation?s eye with a waxing of the usually stout Notre Dame Fighting Irish defense. In all seriousness, the preseason Buckeye nob-slobbing is pretty much encapsulated in that one sentence. Troy Smith and Ted Ginn, Jr. went nuts against Notre Dame. 8 of the 11 offensive starters from that game return. Therefore: Ohio State will be very good on offense.

Let?s try to take a more critical look at the Buckeyes, though. First things first: Troy Smith. One of the stories we?re being force fed ad infinitum is Troy Smith 2006::Vince Young 2005. They?re both black, they?re both solid runners, and they both ended their junior campaigns with strong finishes. But how well do they compare? To the mats with the numbers! A look at their season?s prior to championship (VY) or forthcoming championship (TS).

[Key: YPG=Yards Per Game / YPR=Yards Per Rush / YPA=Yards Per Attempt]

Vince Young and Troy Smith
Year Rush YPG YPR Rush TD Pass YPG Comp. % YPA TD-INT
VY ?04 89.9 6.5 14 142.2 59.2% 7.4 12-11
TS ?05 55.5 4.5 11 207.5 62.4 9.6 16-4

Ho ho. This is interesting. Troy Smith was quite a bit ahead of Mr. Young in the passing department in the above comparison, but we?ve left off one very important fact: Troy Smith was a junior in 2005, while Vince Young was a sophomore in 2004. Maybe we ought to look at Vince Young?s junior line:

Vince Young 2005
Year Rush YPG YPR Rush TD Pass YPG Comp. % YPA TD-INT
VY ?05 80.8 6.8 12 233.5 65.2% 9.34 26-10

When you compare junior season to junior season, Troy Smith?s advantages disappear. Young remains the significantly superior runner, while entirely closing the gap in the passing numbers.

This begs one obvious, critical question: how much improvement can one reasonably expect to see between one?s junior and senior season? I quickly glanced at Matt Leinart?s numbers as a reference ? while he maintained his excellent junior numbers, he did not improve upon them. Drew Brees ? the same. I thought Kordell Stewart might be a decent comp, but his passing statistics weren?t that strong in his junior campaign.

There?s no way to know (without doing an exhaustive study on it) how much Smith can reasonably expect to improve, but it?ll be hard to do a whole lot more than he did as an accomplished junior. Add in the fact that he lost his best receiver, Santonio Holmes, to the NFL, and there?s further reason to wonder whether the passing attack can be expected to take a step forward.

Ted Ginn, Jr. will get some preseason Heisman hype because when he touches the ball, he?s a threat to score. His shortest touchdown of the year in 2005 went for 42 yards. The problem, widely reported, is that Ginn has a consistency problem. He?s been known to run lousy routes, and is better known for disappearing when his team needs him most. Texas may not remember Ginn from last year?s game much, and for good reason. He caught one pass for 7 yards. Is he really a ?go to? receiver? My hunch is that his big play abilities are maximized when he?s got another big-time receiver (like Holmes) opposite him. Can Anthony Gonzalez be that guy? He?s not bad, but he?s definitely not Holmes.

This brings us to the running game, which will feature the sometimes underrated Antonio Pittman and freshman super-recruit Chris Wells. Pittman, a junior, rushed for 1360 yards last season (5.5 per attempt) and 7 touchdowns. Wells was Rivals #3 overall recruit in 2005.

The strength in the running game gives Ohio State balance, something you must have against a defense as physically talented as Texas?. If Smith is passing the ball well, the Buckeyes can have success, but if he struggles at all, Ohio State?s in big, big trouble. The Texas defense will probably play the Buckeyes much the way they did USC in the Rose Bowl ? limiting explosive plays and forcing Troy Smith to take what Chizik gives him. If he?s unwilling, or unable, it?s sayonara for OSU.

When Texas Has The Ball It?s awfully hard to make predictions about what Texas will do, or will be able to do. As previously stated, Colt McCoy will likely start the game under center, but it?s anyone?s guess how good he?ll be by September 9th. Will Davis rotate the quarterbacks? Will Texas run the zone read option out of the shotgun?

Clouding the crystal ball even more is the fact that Ohio State lost 9 of their 11 starters from the stellar 2005 defense, including all three linebackers and the entire starting secondary. That?s an unusually high amount of turnover, and even more unusual amount of above average talent that was lost. How ready this group will be by the second game of the season is just as big an unknown as the Texas offense.

We know Texas would love to control the running game, but we also know Tressel will do what he did last year ? spend as much defensive capital as he can on making Texas pass.

The Prediction (Caveat Emptor): Overtime, baby! The only thing I?m sure of is that it will be close and competitive. An above average offense takes the field against an above average defense. A green offense tries to score on a green defense. The script for a classic is there, but last year?s thriller will be hard to match in terms of drama. The only other thing I?m absolutely sure of is that I?ll be there, screaming my lungs out. But I said it in the spring, and I?m sticking with it now. Texas has enough offense to score on the new Buckeye defense, and only a fool would bet against Gene Chizik at this point. Texas wakes up on September 10th the new #1 team in the nation, thanks to a 30-24 win.