Ohio State opens season with five returning seniors
They didn’t have to be broke. They didn’t have to be mocked. But that is what they are now.
In the weeks after losing a second straight national title game, James Laurinaitis, Malcom Jenkins, Marcus Freeman, Alex Boone and Brian Robiskie looked at the opportunities before them. All five could have left Ohio State’s football team and declared for the NFL Draft.
One by one, they came looking for advice. They talked to former players who left early and those who stayed another season. Most of them found Mike Doss.
The McKinley High School graduate and three-time Ohio State All-American was once in their shoes. He could’ve left the Buckeyes for the NFL as a junior. Instead, he returned and left a champion. Doss gave them unvarnished advice. The NFL is a business. College football is the best time of your life.
“I don’t know what all those guys’ personal situations are with their families,” Doss said. “Maybe they didn’t want to leave Ohio State being second-best two years in a row. There’s a lot of pride and honor in that. It’s a decision they made, and one I respect.”
Today at noon against Youngstown State at Ohio Stadium, the Buckeyes, ranked No. 2 in the Associated Press and third in the coaches poll, take the field with those five players and lofty expectations on a gamble that Ohio State can finish what it hasn’t the last two years.
“All I let them know was it’s OK to come back,” Doss said. “There’s a lot of pressure on professional athletes. It’s not just running out there with a helmet on and throwing on an NFL logo on the side of it and think you don’t have any problems. In college, you’re on Cloud Nine. People love you.
“I don’t care where you go in the NFL, but there will be a couple guys you always hear saying I wish I could go back. That experience — going to college, playing football and maturing between the ages of 18 and 22 — there will never be anything like it.”
Head Coach Jim Tressel has expressed his gratitude to the players who returned. He’s told his coaching staff how important this season is to the seniors.
“We’re very conscious as a staff that, hey, there’s a bunch of guys that could have gone on and they really enjoyed their time here,” Tressel said. “They’re excited about being here another year, we’ve got to make sure they get our best.
“They’ve risked a little bit, if you will, and we’ve got to make sure that we do everything we can do to make their risk pay off.”
Today’s opener won’t draw much interest nationally, unless Columbus spins off the Earth’s axis and Youngstown State goes Appalachian State. Next week, OSU hosts Ohio University. Then the season and the fate of those five returning NFL draft picks will be known a little better.
A game at Southern Cal will go a long way toward determining the kind of risk-reward the Buckeyes get in return. Today, though, OSU has to win, and probably win impressively.
“We kind of have got to go undefeated this year to get back to the national championship, to gain the country’s acceptance,” Jenkins said. “For us, though, we just want to win and play our best. If that means winning by a big margin or barely winning a game, that’s what it takes.”
Jenkins understands the nation’s skeptical outlook on Ohio State. The Buckeyes have played for three of the last six national titles. Fans don’t want to see the same team on top — and then on the bottom — every year.
“Sorry, America,” Jenkins said, “we’re trying to get there.”
Youngstown State at Ohio State
TV: The Big Ten Network will televise the game with Thom Brennaman, Charles Davis and Charissa Thompson.
RADIO: Ohio State Radio Network (WHBC-AM 1480, WKNR-AM 850, WAKR-AM 1590) with Paul Keels, Jim Lachey and Marty Bannister.
THE SERIES: Ohio State won the only meeting between the two schools last year, 38-6. OSU is 174-48-15 against Ohio teams. The last time an in-state opponent beat the Buckeyes was 1921, when Oberlin won, 7-6.
THEY’RE FROM YOUNGSTOWN STATE: Former Notre Dame coach and TV analyst Bob Davie, major league pitcher Dave Dravecky, Eagles QB Ron Jaworski and Ed O’Neill who played Al Bundy on “Married With Children” are alumni. Of course Ellen Tressel, wife of Buckeye Head Coach Jim Tressel, is a graduate.
THE COACHES: Jim Tressel hasn’t lost a season opener since 1995, when he was the head coach at Youngstown State and lost to Kent State (17-14). Tressel is looking for his 209th all-time win, 74th at OSU. He is 73-16 as the Buckeyes head coach. Jon Heacock, the brother of OSU defensive coordinator Jim Heacock, is in his eighth season at YSU and took over for Tressel. He is 50-31.
HOW IT WILL GO: Youngstown State made Ohio State beat them through the air last year as the Penguins stacked the line of scrimmage with eight and nine defenders. Ohio State’s offense is supposed to be much better than it was a year ago. The Buckeyes are more than RB Beanie Wells. The guess is Tressel will get all three QBs — Todd Boeckman, Joe Bauserman and Terrelle Pryor — in the game before halftime. Wells is starting a Heisman campaign whether he knows it or not. He has to have a big game on the ground, and Tressel is aware of that.
Look for the Buckeyes to rotate in a lot of young players, particularly on the offensive line. It’s not a good game to be breaking in a new QB and a new offense, but that’s what the Penguins are doing. Todd Rowan will start at QB for YSU. He’s completed one pass in his college career. Brandon Summers will get time, too. He transferred from Toledo. Tressel will not want to make a school that he’s still fond of look bad. But when the Buckeyes put in their third-team QB, it’s going to be Pryor.
PORTER’S PICK: This is not the kind of game the Big Ten Network wants to debut on Time Warner. It will be ugly, and it will get there in a hurry. Ohio State 48-0.