Good Friday morning friends and readers, and welcome to your final Skull Session of 2011.
Most would agree that this has been one of the wildest years in the storied history of Ohio State athletics. We were witnesses to some of the saddest Buckeye moments in my lifetime, but we've also seen an athletic department that has become more than "just football" in a school once known simply for its exploits on the gridiron.
In basketball, head coaches Thad Matta and Jim Foster have taken the hoops programs to heights rarely achieved in Columbus, and have a combined 26-1 record. The Buckeye hockey team, at 13-4-1, would have the #1 seed nationally if the postseason began today. The scarlet and gray wrestling team is 6th in the country. It's a good time to be a Buckeye.
Of course, we are also at the precipice of a new and exciting era in Buckeye football as well.
On Monday, the Ohio State football team will play in a bowl game against Florida in Jacksonville. A game that would most certainly be a "marquee" matchup in most years, this year's version finds two of the game's most recognizable programs in a battle to avoid a sub .500 finish for the season. You're likely to see two young, talented and frustrating teams hampered by inexperience on the field and on the sidelines.
What happens in those 60 minutes is anyone's guess, but what we do know as Buckeye fans is that when the clock shows four zeroes, the Urban Meyer era begins officially.
HEA-HEA-HEA, GOODBYE. With the Meyer era beginning, the Jim Tressel era officially ends, and with that comes to end of Jim Heacock's run at Ohio State, and what a run it has been. Heacock was initially hired by John Cooper in 1996 and worked as the defensive line coach at Ohio State from 1996-2004.
The Alliance, Ohio native has been a career assistant head coach, save for one stint as the head coach at Illinois State from 1988-1995. He took a chance on a graduate assistant from Ohio State named Urban Meyer, giving him his first "real" job as a college coach.
Heacock was one of three assistants of the Cooper years retained when Jim Tressel took the reins at OSU in 2001, and his contribution to the current state of Ohio State football should not be overlooked. The Buckeyes have produced 25 NFL defensive linemen in the 15 years that Heacock has been in Columbus, and have regularly been regarded as one of the country's best defensive units.
The "silver bullets" of Fred Pagac and Jon Tenuta in the mid-90's took on many different forms, as Mark Snyder and Mark Dantonio each handled things their own way, but Heacock's versions never skipped a beat. There's no doubt that this year's defense has been the most frustrating of his tenure as the DC, but it doesn't, or shouldn't, change his legacy with Buckeye fans.
In 2007, Jim was named Frank Broyles National Assistant Coach of the Year, leading the Buckeyes to a national title game shot against LSU in what many considered to be a "reloading" year for Ohio State. Even famed Buckeye disparager Dennis Dodd of CBS could not help but be impressed by what Heacock was able to accomplish that year.
Heacock had many chances to move elsewhere, but was always at home in Ohio, and we as Buckeye fans should remember to give him his well-deserved final applause on Monday afternoon.
REMEMBER THE ALAMO. Few of the "mid-tier" college bowl games produce the annual excitement and drama that the Valero Alamo Bowl does. If by some chance you didn't get to watch this year's edition last night, boy oh boy did you miss out as Washington and #12 Baylor put on an offensive show for the ages. The final score? Baylor 67, Washington 56. Who needs #MACtion?
The lack of defense in this game was not surprising, but the guys turning heads for the offenses might have been, at least a little.
Recently crowned Heisman Trophy Robert Griffin III was solid for the Bears, but the whacko's from Waco showed that they were more than just one Superman and a bunch of Jimmy Olsens. Terrance Ganaway, a 6'0, 240 running back was the star of the night for Baylor, amassing 200 yards and 5 TDs, but the Bears had two other 100-yard rushers as well. When it all ended, Baylor had run over, through, and around the Huskies defense for 777 total yards, 482 on the ground.
Washington had their own superhero despite the loss, and the country might have gotten their first glimpse at one of 2012's Heisman dark-horses: Washington sophomore QB Keith Price. Price erupted for 438 yards through the air and four passing touchdowns, and also accounted for 3 scores on the ground, out-dueling RGIII for much of the game.
No one defended (in) the Alamo from kick-off to final gun, and we the viewer made out like bandits, while Chris Spielman attempted to keep his lunch down as a result of the defensive misdeeds that were perpetrated again and again by Baylor and Washington in San Antonio.
BUCKEYE ROAD SHOW. Maybe it's because the game is on New Year's Eve, maybe it's because it's smack-dab in the middle of bowl season and the final push for the NFL play-offs. Maybe it's a combination of all those things, but it seems to me that Saturday's basketball game at #15 Indiana isn't getting enough attention.
The 13-1 and #2 ranked Buckeyes will travel to Bloomington for their third road-trip of the season, and their first with what seems to be a fully functioning and healthy Jared Sullinger. Sully missed the Kansas game with a lame back and left the game at South Carolina game after only a few moments with a bruised foot that had Buckeye nation holding their collective breath.
After the systematic dismantling of a pretty good Northwestern team on Wednesday night, the Buckeyes should get a much better test in Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers are 12-1, and are playing the game Saturday coming off their first defeat of the season, as Michigan State "upset" IU 80-65 two nights ago.
Against Northwestern, Ohio State played its most complete game since the Duke blow-out, and were dominant on both sides of the ball, holding the Wildcats to 32% from the floor. The Buckeyes will face a much better team in IU, and will have their perimeter defense tested early and often. The Hoosiers are shooting 45% from beyond the arc, and freshman stud Cody Zeller gives them an inside presence that will keep the Bucks honest.
Wednesday night the Buckeyes got unexpected contributions from Jordan Sibert and freshman PG Shannon Scott, who played 20 and 18 minutes respectively. Those minutes were a result of two unique circumstances: Matta going to the reserves early (Sibert) and foul trouble for Craft (Scott). Those minutes could be very important as the Buckeyes look to extend their bench moving forward, beginning Saturday night.
OH YEAH, THERE'S A FOOTBALL GAME MONDAY. Has there ever been a Buckeye football game that most have felt so "meh", about? It's not just that we're all sort of "over" this season, but the lack of consistency on the field from the Buckeyes and Gators has left a vacuum in the ol' expectations department for Monday. The Buckeyes could play well, they could play like crap, or they could do both in alternating quarters.
Florida's front-seven could dominate the Buckeye offensive line, or they could care less; it's really hard to tell what we will see Monday.
What do you expect out of the Buckeyes and Gators?
QUICK SLANTS. It's happening again, more OSU violations... I so wanna do this to someone... These "Awkward Family Photos" never get old... If only he could help Oregon from choking in big games... You're welcome, America... Penn State AD addresses the coaching search and moving forward