Bucks have a familiar feeling
This year's Ohio State team seems similar to the 2002 team that won a national title.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- There are remarkable similarities between the 2004 Ohio State Buckeyes and the team that won the national championship just two years ago.
Both have a core of talented, veteran stars. Both have a surplus of young, eager prospects. Neither had an established quarterback, receivers or was stocked with returning starters elsewhere.
"The funny part about it, in 2002 when we came in here we had a decent group coming back and all of that, but we were coming off being an average team," coach Jim Tressel said. "How were we going to be? I didn't know. An unproven quarterback and all that stuff. And, shoot, we won every game."
The Buckeyes return just nine starters from last year's team that went 11-2 and finished No. 4 in the rankings after manhandling Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl. Last spring they lost a record 14 players in the NFL draft, leaving gaping holes up front, in the secondary and at most of the skill positions.
Yet there is a feeling of history repeating itself in Buckeye Nation.
"We're going to shock a lot of people in America this year," defensive back E.J. Underwood said.
The decision as to who will replace Craig Krenzel at quarterback came down to sophomores Justin Zwick and Troy Smith. Zwick, the most acclaimed quarterback recruit for the Buckeyes since Art Schlichter, is a tall, lean pocket-passer. Smith is a shifty runner and scrambler with a rocket for an arm.
Tressel, who last week named Zwick the starter for Saturday's opener against Cincinnati, wants to invest his time in one starter but doesn't eliminate the chance that he may continue to play both.
"Have I ever done it 50-50 at quarterback for a whole season? No," Tressel said, adding, "But we'll see."
The quarterback position isn't the only worrisome spot for Ohio State in 2004. The Buckeyes are a maddening mix of untested and unproven youth alongside tested and proven veterans.
The linebackers, including the established A.J. Hawk and intriguing transfers Anthony Schlegel (Air Force) and John Kerr (Indiana), should be superlative. But most of the defensive line (except for end Simon Fraser) and half the secondary will feature new faces.
"I feel this defense is going to be awesome," said Schlegel, a captain as a sophomore at the academy where he led the team in tackles two years ago.
Dustin Fox is back for a fourth season as a starting cornerback. He said the defense may have to carry the load early in the year until the offensive players get acquainted.
"On offense it takes a little bit more time because there's a lot more timing that goes into an offense," he said. "On defense, we just run around and hit -- it's a 'see ball, get ball' kind of a deal. But there's experienced guys over there who will take over and allow that offense to do a good job."
Pockets of talent
Most of the offensive front wall and the receivers stood on the sidelines a year ago but there are pockets of experienced talent.
Flanker Santonio Holmes blossomed in the Buckeyes' final two games (10 catches, 158 yards, 4 TDs) while Roy Hall will get the first call to replace money receiver Michael Jenkins. Lydell Ross is back at tailback after rushing for 826 yards in 2003, but he averaged 25 yards in Ohio State's two losses.
Mike Nugent is one of the premier kickers in the nation but it remains to be seen who will do the punting.
Despite all the questions, the Buckeyes are still ranked No. 9 in the preseason.
"It is a lofty ranking but, you know, it is early and it is Ohio State," Tressel said. "People respect Ohio State."