Top 10 questions facing Ohio State
COLUMBUS (AP) - Here are 10 questions swirling around the 2005 Ohio State Buckeyes:
1, Who's the quarterback? Justin Zwick is the man in the opener on Saturday against Miami (Ohio), with third-stringer Todd Boeckman expected to get his first action. Beyond that, hold your breath. Troy Smith, suspended for the first game for accepting around $500 from a booster, is back for the Texas showdown the following week. But coach Jim Tressel might not thrust him into the pressure cooker right away, thus (whisper) opening the way (whisper) for a (whisper) quarterback controversy.
2, Can Josh Huston fill Mike Nugent's cleats? Nugent, the best kicker in college football the last three years, will be hard to replace. Huston's performance in the spring and again during August stamped him as a solid kicker. Nugent, however, was about an 80-yard field goal better than ''solid.''
3, Who's the punter? Kyle Turano averaged 42.8 yards a punt last season, leading the Big Ten in net punting. Then he graduated. Few might remember that the backup punter a year ago was none other than second-team quarterback Justin Zwick, who had 32- and 24-yard quick kicks in 2004. Zwick will NOT be the full-time punter in 2005. The job belongs to unproven redshirt freshman A.J. Trapasso, who has had off-the-field problems but has won praise from coach Jim Tressel on the field.
4, What's a Texas-Ohio State ticket worth? The simple answer? $58. Of course, if you find a wealthy Dallas oilman who won't let a few decimal places stand in his way of watching his Longhorns in action, you may parlay that $58 into the gross national product of a Third World country. With several days left to the game, listings on eBay offered a ticket for somewhere between $300 and $700. Good luck.
5, Will Tressel open up the offense for Ted Ginn Jr.? Tressel before spring practice: ''We'd like to be very explosive. I'd prefer to have every scheme that there is.'' He says he's added to the playbook to put the ball into Ginn's hands, but most of the players say they can't tell a difference between the offensive approach from 2004 to 2005.
6, The ground game will be better, right? It better be. Ohio State's lack of rushing productivity is a troubling trend. The last two years, the Buckeyes had a total of 25 rushing TDs. You have to go back to 1966 to find fewer touchdowns running the ball in consecutive years. Tressel's first team in 2001 only went 7-5 but rushed for as many TDs as his last TWO teams combined.
7, OK, enough about the past. What about this year? The Buckeyes had trouble running last year because the line was shaky, and not just in run blocking (23 sacks allowed even with a mobile QB in Troy Smith). The tailbacks are promising but green as grass. The fullbacks seldom carry the ball because they have to stay in to block. Unless an unknown quantity (such as another freshman named Maurice - this time, Wells) stockpiles a big year, don't be surprised if the struggles continue.
8, Who'll decide the Texas-Ohio State game? Texas' Vince Young might be the No. 2 QB in the nation behind Heisman winner Matt Leinart of USC. Despite the comebacks he led against Oklahoma State, Kansas and Michigan last year, the 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is a high-wire act - dramatic highs and disturbing lows. He threw 12 TD passes but 11 interceptions a year ago. In the Longhorns' biggest regular-season game, they were shut out by rival Oklahoma, 12-0. A partisan crowd, nasty Ohio State defense and a national TV audience could bring out his best - but most likely his worst.
9, If Ohio State beats Texas, will it win the national championship? Remember 2003? Second-ranked defending national champ Buckeyes romped over No. 17 Washington 28-9 in the opener. A week later, they were downright lucky to get past San Diego State 16-13. Watch out for the supposed ''lulls'' in the schedule. Miami (Ohio), San Diego State, Penn State and Minnesota could give Ohio State all it can handle, and possibly far more.
10, Who'll win the Big Ten? Purdue is the media darling, because of its easy schedule (no Wolverines, no Buckeyes, the toughies at home). Michigan has talent aplenty at the skill positions, but is scrambling to fill gaps on defense. Iowa is set except for three difficult road games: Ohio State, Purdue, Wisconsin. The Buckeyes are good but not decisively better than the rest.
Here's an 11th question for you: How about a four-way tie at 6-2 in the conference?