Despite coming off of a national championship, there was some turmoil surrounding the 2003 Ohio State football team. Before the new season began, starting running back Maurice Clarett was dismissed from the team for accepting improper benefits and for lying to the NCAA about those benefits1. Still, the Buckeyes returned key members from the previous season, including co-MVPs Craig Krenzel and Chris Gamble, Michael Jenkins, Mike Nugent, and Will Smith. During the autumn of '03, a scoreboard graphic in The Shoe showcased some of those players in a parody of The Brady Bunch introduction. I'm pretty sure it was called "The Buckeye Bunch", though my old age2 does not allow me to say that with certainty. I do recall that Gamble occupied the Ann B. Davis square, because it made perfect sense that he would be the "and" of the credits. Gamble may not have been the face of the team, but by staying on the field for all except two plays, give or take, the year before, he earned the right to be singled out.
Typically, there are three coveted locations in a television show's opening credits:
The first name: The "starring". This is the lead actor or actress, usually the main attraction.
The second-to-last name: The "with". This person is slightly less well-known than the last name listed but still warrants an acknowledgment, due to career longevity or popularity.
The last name: The "and". This person is either the most famous member of the cast or the one who has been in the business the longest. He/she is invaluable to the show, probably playing a scene-stealing supporting character who is much loved by the audience.
If the 2010 Buckeyes had their own title sequence, it would not be difficult to assume which players would have held what positions. The star would have been Terrelle Pryor, the "with" would have been team MVP Dane Sanzenbacher, and the "and" would have been the best player, Cameron Heyward. Those three players are now gone. So who on the 2011 squad will be the James Spader to their Steve Carell?
Like a Heisman winner, the headliner normally would be a quarterback or running back. A linebacker would also be appropriate for Ohio State, a university that practically manufactures them on an assembly line3. However, the quarterback job is up for grabs, the starting running back is suspended for the first five games, and the only returning starter at linebacker seems to have lower name recognition than the tight end4. Andrew Sweat is a solid player, and Coach Fickell chose him to be one of the team's representatives at the Big Ten Media Days. Yet, during the offseason, when fans were ready to fashion nooses, the most reassuring words came from two players. Jake Stoneburner was one; Mike Brewster, the unofficial spokesman of the program, was the other.
Entering his fourth year as a starter, Brewster is the best candidate for the starring role. Center is not the sexiest position, and most mini-Buckeyes are not going to run around their yard in #50 jerseys, practicing their stance and snaps. Nevertheless, Brewster is arguably the best player suiting up for the Scarlet and Gray. Selected to a couple All-American teams last year, he's the frontrunner for the Rimington Trophy, given every year to the best center in college football. He was also named to the 2011 Outland Trophy Watch List and was included as one of 12 Big Ten "players to watch". Undoubtedly, Brewster will be a captain. He's shown leadership even before coming to Columbus, when he helped recruit his 2008 class, forming the so-called "Brew Crew". He's the anchor of an offensive line that will be without starting LT Mike Adams for five games and one that will have to protect a new quarterback. The circumstances are not ideal, but there's no one better in college football to help break in a new QB.
The "with" spot is harder to determine. Nathan Williams and John Simon, as the two returning starters on the defensive line, are the most obvious choices. Both are intimidating presences with the ability to disrupt the opposing team's offense. Williams made the Ted Hendricks Award Watch List, which is presented to the nation's top defensive end. He will be looking to repeat as team leader in sacks, though Simon could challenge him for that title. Simon joined Brewster as a B1G player to watch, so expectations are high. It often appears like the junior defensive lineman receives more media attention than Williams, but the latter has seniority and experience on his side, which is why I give him the edge for "the with" label. That's not to say he will have a better year than Simon. After all, Ken Jeong is credited as "the with" on Community, and yet, Donald Glover owned the second season.
Deserving to be anointed the "and" is elder statesman Tyler Moeller5. After a sucker punch nearly ended his playing career two years ago, the linebacker/safety triumphantly returned last season, only for him to miss the second half with a torn pectoral muscle. If healthy, Moeller is a playmaker who will see much time on the field, especially at the Star position in nickel defense. He is entering his 6th season and is another strong candidate to be named captain.
Truth be told, this is not a group whose title sequence would rival that of season two of Damages. This is a no-name ensemble. Brewster, Williams, and Moeller are not superstars of the college football world. It's possible that someone could pull an Urkel and go from supporting player to taking over the show. Denard Robinson did that last year for Michigan, and there are enough openings in the starting lineup for a breakout performance.
Versatile Jaamal Berry and Jordan Hall have shown promise as backup RBs and in the return game. Both have also proven capable of catching passes, and Hall in particular is expected to see time as a slot receiver thanks to a depleted corps that will have to deal with a suspended DeVier Posey. Stoneburner could become a key target for the quarterback as well. LBs Etienne Sabino, coming off a redshirt, and Storm Klein, now recovered from a hamstring injury, are looking to make the leap as impact players. CB Travis Howard, who emerged last season, and DT Johnathan "Big Hank" Hankins are poised for big seasons. Freshmen who could contribute immediately include QB Braxton Miller, the Beanie Wells-like RB Rod Smith, and WR Devin Smith.
Despite all of that, what matters most is not individual recognition but team results. There is still plenty of talent coursing through the veins of this program. During one of the most chaotic times in OSU football history, players have to step up while remaining a united front. Perhaps, in their hypothetical credits, the 2011 Buckeyes simply would be listed alphabetically, and fans hope that like Treme, the ensemble comes together to create a beautiful piece of work.
- 1 This offseason, when scandals are breaking every week, such rule-breaking seems downright quaint, no?
- 2 Twenty-something, but I get indigestion every so often now.
- 3 Like a Linebacker U. Yeah, I said it, Penn State.
- 4 This is not to insult Sweat or Stoneburner. It's just that at OSU, this is rarer than a Michigan defensive player making a tackle.
- 5 He and Joe Bauserman will be the butt of many "he's been around since the [insert the name of a former president]'s Administration" jokes.