We celebrate the rapidly approaching end of 11W Fall Camp (the married types' wives have finally noticed their absences) with one last brief look at what we expect to transpire this fall. Making up the itinerary for our final Roundtable of the pre-season: who should see the majority of minutes at the three linebacker spots?, is there a game the Bucks can afford to lose?, and what do you take away from this past Saturday's potentially telling jersey scrimmage?
Luke: Given the "Final Destination" style death march the Ohio State linebacking corp seems to be on right now, the out-for-the-season Ty Moeller aside, which trio of linebackers do you want to see get the majority of the action this fall?
Jason: It's no secret that I'm a huge early Rolle fan and I like hearing he's holding down the middle spot. Undersized or not, he's going to make plays instead of reacting, which was all too familiar at linebacker the past few years. Flanking him, I'd like to see Homan as the solid run-plugger and Sabino with his athleticism on the other side. Spitler will be ready for action soon, but it's just too hard for me to get that excited for a guy that's getting playing time by tenure as opposed to skill alone. Plus, I haven't recovered from his missed punt block against LSU.
Alex: Honestly, I really would like to see the rotational approach using Homan, Rolle, Spitler, and Sabino, with Sweat sprinkled in some times and Hines at the Star. I think Sabino is the best athlete of the bunch and once the game slows down for him and he is able to do what he wants, when he wants, he will be a force to be reckoned with. Spitler and Homan are the most knowledgeable out there and have been around awhile to know how to play in this defense. Rolle is just a beast and his M.O. this year will be: see ball-hit ball. I'm excited to see this new era of players step in to the real LINEBACKER U.
Joe: Like Jason, I'm excited to see Brian Rolle get significant playing time. He's obviously a high-motor guy and the Bucks need guys like that to get everyone fired up. Not only that, but he's a highlight reel of "Jacked Up" style hits, and that's always a good thing for a young LB corps. I'm also looking forward to the continued development of Ross Homan and hoping he becomes one of the leaders of the defense. As for Spitler, it's hard to say because he's sat behind JL for so long I'm not really sure what kind of player he is. Sabino, Sweat, Klein, and Bell are all exciting young players, but hopefully we will be seeing them mostly in blowout wins.
Luke: Brian Rolle is rapidly becoming the unofficial 11W mascot. Moving forward, let's play the hypothetical game. Suppose Ohio State finishes the regular season slate 11-1. While there's obviously no such thing as a "good loss", which dropped contest would be the least consequential in terms of keeping Ohio State in the proverbial discussion for Pasadena? (Or: can the Buckeyes drop a game and still be on the MNC shortlist?)
Joe: I'm going to be the contrarian and say Toledo is the game the Bucks can most afford to lose. After a convincing win over USC, everyone will be expecting a let-down. USC was still in the MNC discussion last year after losing to Oregon State, so it's not entirely without precedent. That being said, I still expect Ohio State to win over Toledo. After all, it's well-established that they don't lose to non-BCS teams. If they lose again to USC, there's no way they'll get back into contention. But if they can win that game and then drop one that is obviously an outlier, they can still get back in the championship game but winning out in convincing fashion. I have to admit that the prospect of losing to an in-state team sickens me. But then again, pretty much any loss sickens me.
Keith: I don't think there's any chance making the MNC if the Bucks lose this year. Even if I were to entertain the thought of a one loss Buckeye team making the title game, to me, it would only be possible if we beat USC early to build some voter equity. Perhaps a loss to say Purdue midway through the slate would give OSU time to work back into the equation in December after everything shakes out. But, even that's a fairy-tale.
Luke: Keith and I are pretty much on the same page here. A loss to USC would all but guarantee the Rose Bowl would be the ceiling for success this season, though I do think there's an off chance an early loss to the likes of Illinois could be overlooked if the results against SC are impressive enough. I do think we're kidding ourselves though if we think the national perception of the Big Ten, as repeated ad nauseam by some certain analysts and bloggers alike, won't trickle down to the media and coaches should another big game dissapointment play itself out 2 weeks from now.
We wrap our pre-season roundtable series with one more Q&A about this past Saturday's jersey scrimmage. The defense won that contest 52-44 with Terrelle Pryor reportedly hitting Jake Ballard on a TD, but the Ohio State defense getting to the quarterbacks six different time. Which is the most telling sign to you: that a tight end was utilized on a scoring play, the defense was able to put that kind of pressure on the quarterback all scrimmage, or the offensive line was unable to protect the quarterback optimally?
Corey: If you would have asked me this question on Saturday, I would have said how bad the O-line was, but after thinking about it for a few days, I have now shifted to how good this D-line can be. Gibson was in the backfield all day against make shift offensive line units. Heyward was having a big day before rolling his ankle. The tackles were getting a better push up the field and Lawrence Wilson didn't even see action. Heacock is going to have 8-10 guys he can rotate in this year and I would not be surprised if this turns out to be one of the top 3 D-lines in the nation. However, the O-line has to be solidified and start showing improvements if this team is going to do anything this year.
Keith: Unfortunately, I have to go with the offensive line. It's a tired story that seemingly is told fall after fall leading into the first game. And, it almost never suddenly changes just because the season starts. Just once I'd like to hear how the offensive line is dominating a fall camp. Instead, we are used to the reports of protection problems and shuffling of players to fill gaps. As much as I want to, I can't get enthused about the TE's...yet.
Alex: I am probably taking a different road than most, but I actually think the use of Ballard and Fragel (Stoneburner didn't play) in the scrimmage is the most telling sign. With TP not allowed to be hit or tackled and the offensive line being juggled due to injury, I can ultimately dismiss those two from holding much stock in terms of telling signs for the 2009 season. I think with a young receiving corps and the fact that big time recruits at tight end want to see the ball thrown to the position, Tressel is looking to incorporate "The Jakes" into his offense this year. Ballard is a future NFL player at around 6-7, 260 and has the athletic ability to be a superb pass catcher and blocker. Stoneburner obviously is a match-up nightmare for opposing safeties and linebackers and can cause some damage, especially in the red-zone. I really think you will see the tight end utilized more this year as right now we don't have any proven studs at wide out and until that happens, look for Tress to give TP as many options as possible to throw the ball to and keep opponents guessing where the ball is going.