Sunday, January 4, 2004

Fiesta farewell: 27 Bucks stop here

Tressel needs to restock, but so do Michigan and other Big Ten foes

By Neil Schmidt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The Fiesta Bowl served as something of a sendoff party for Ohio State, as 27 players depart from a group that won 25 games over two seasons. With just nine starters coming back - eight fewer than returned from last season - it's tempting to term 2004 a transition period.

Yet the Big Ten might be in transition itself. League champion Michigan will return about the same number of starters as OSU, and most of the top quarterbacks and running backs in the conference are departing.

If their cupboard is perceived to be relatively bare, the Buckeyes talk of working quickly to restock.

"As far as 'how are the cupboards,' the cupboards are going to work to see what we can do," coach Jim Tressel said Friday night. "...We'd better start practice tomorrow."

OSU bids goodbye to quarterback Craig Krenzel, who went 24-3 as a starter and set an OSU bowl record Friday with four touchdown passes. Also gone is Michael Jenkins, the school's receiving yardage leader.

Defensively, All-Americans Will Smith (defensive end) and Will Allen (safety) depart, as does junior cornerback Chris Gamble, who announced after the game he is leaving early for the NFL.

When projecting OSU's offense, one must begin with a giant X-factor named Maurice Clarett. Though indefinitely suspended from the team and suing the NFL for early entry to the draft, the troubled tailback reportedly wants to return to the Buckeyes.

Lydell Ross, who rushed for 826 yards this season, is a serviceable tailback. But Clarett could again make OSU a title contender.

An intriguing dimension that emerged Friday was fullback Branden Joe, who had career highs of 11 carries and 46 yards, all in the second half when Kansas State was geared to stop the run.

And then there's the QB battle between Justin Zwick and Troy Smith.

Zwick, who threw 89 touchdowns in an acclaimed prep career, is figured to have a slight edge. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder is reputedly better at reading defenses and is more accurate, which would play into Tressel's conservative hand.

At 6-1 and 210 pounds, Smith offers a stronger arm and more athleticism. He saw action as a kick returner this season.

"Those guys are neck and neck," Joe said. "It's going to be fun to watch them battle."

Freshman Santonio Holmes has shown he could be as talented a receiver as OSU has ever had. Moeller grad Ryan Hamby will ascend to the No. 1 tight end spot.

OSU will fill three starting sports along both lines. There will be numerous candidates, especially on defense, where the Buckeyes have used a deep rotation this fall. Junior defensive end Simon Fraser is the lone starter back on that line.

Tackles leader A.J. Hawk, the Fiesta Bowl's Defensive MVP, anchors the linebacking corps, which will remain strong with Bobby Carpenter and Mike D'Andrea assuming larger roles.

Two new starters are needed in the secondary, and Hamilton grad E.J. Underwood will challenge for the spot Gamble vacates.

The seniors-to-be represent Tressel's first recruiting class - just a few were John Cooper holdovers - so the 2004 Buckeyes will truly be his guys.

"We've been through the highs and the lows," Fraser said. "We've got some great competitors. We're ready to take responsibility of this team."

Buckeye breakdown: Key losses

• QB Craig Krenzel (two-time Fiesta Bowl offensive MVP)

• SE Michael Jenkins (career receiving yardage leader)

• TE Ben Hartsock (first-team all-Big Ten)

• DE Will Smith (Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year)

• DT Tim Anderson (first-team all-Big Ten)

• DT Darrion Scott (all-Big Ten in 2002)

• SS Will Allen (first-team All-American)

• CB Chris Gamble (likely first-round NFL draft pick)

• P B.J. Sander (Ray Guy Award winner)

Ohio State's projected 2004 starters (returning starters in bold)


• SE Bam Childress/Roy Hall

• OT Rob Sims

• OG T.J. Downing/Doug Datish

• C Nick Mangold

• OG Adam Olds/R.J. Coleman/Kirk Barton

• OT Mike Kne

• TE Ryan Hamby

• FL Santonio Holmes

• QB Justin Zwick/Troy Smith

• TB Lydell Ross

• FB Branden Joe


• DE Simon Fraser

• DT Quinn Pitcock

• DT Marcus Green/David Patterson

• DE Mike Kudla

• LB A.J. Hawk

• LB Bobby Carpenter

• LB Mike D'Andrea/John Kerr*

• CB Dustin Fox

• FS Nate Salley

• SS Donte Whitner/Tyler Everett

• CB E.J. Underwood/Ashton Youboty


• PK Mike Nugent

• P Josh Huston/A.J. Trapasso#

*-transfer; #-incoming freshman



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