Chicken Counting

By Johnny Ginter on June 3, 2014 at 11:00 am

I am, admittedly, completely horrible at determining anything about the future in sports. I usually just go with my gut based on what I've seen, heard, and most importantly, whether I'm in a particularly gloomy mood or not.

It's not especially scientific, but that's okay because neither is sportswriting. Unless you're a Nate Silver or a Ken Pomeroy, most sports analysis comes down to who looks best in their uniform, whether we like it or not. In the past I've made fun of various writers for their over-reliance on intangibles, and while basing an analysis of a player on whether or not they have the "clutch gene" or "real guts" is mind bendingly stupid, it's also not leagues worse than saying that a player or a team "is due" for success or failure. It's all pretty much the same concept, just dressed up in different ways.

Anyway, because these are the long, dreary months of the offseason, predictions are en vouge. We can't avoid them, because until I start my slow descent into madness that'll involve a weekly analysis comparing The Simpsons to brands of Nerf Footballs, football downtime means that writers generally are in the business of convincing readers that they know what they're talking about. And the best way to do that is though lazy predictive articles that people will hopefully forget about in a few months.

We've done that to ourselves more than a few times, most notably with regard to the cornerbacks. Ever since Malcolm Jenkins, we've been in the business of anointing subsequent No. 1 corners as the next big thing after relatively decent years, only to have it blow up in our faces. Remember Howard Island? Of course you don't! It was stupid!

Here's the case study for the point that I'm making today: the 2011 Ohio State defensive line.

For months leading up to the 2011 season, we knew precious little about the football team in general. Tressel was gone, Joe Bauserman was hilariously considered to be the best option at quarterback, and Carlos Hyde was about to get all of 13 carries in the final four games. The real strengths of the team had obviously yet to be sussed out.

Except that defensive line. Boy howdy were we high on the defensive line.

Plus, any of three incoming freshman ends -- Kenny Hayes, Chase Farris or Steve Miller -- could make a quick impact. If the front seven can get to the quarterback a little better, it can counteract a downgrading of the secondary from "nation's best" to just "very good."

The DL for the Buckeyes is going to be a strength again for this team.  They return half their starters back, the vast majority of the rotational players who were all super talents, and reloaded another level of talent behind that group.  The Bucks third string DL is full of guys that would be seeing the field in the bulk of the Big Ten this year. Their depth up front is better than just about any team in the nation.

The defensive front loses some key parts with Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore gone, but there are some nice pass rushers back on the outside and enough good, young, big players ready to fill in the gaps. This is a versatile group that should be a rock against the run ...

Hankins has that and more, and should he get his conditioning in order he looks like Ohio State’s next great defensive lineman. Still, Hankins is unproven. Where he lines up depends greatly on junior Garrett Goebel, who could play nose tackle, giving Hankins more freedom inside. If Hankins is as good as advertised – and I realize he’s still inexperienced – Ohio State could be terrific up front.

So: great against the run, might have a nice pass rush if some guys develop.

That's a nice bit of measured, completely wrong analysis, but it's also worth pointing out that Hankins and Simon were hailed as demigods before the season (and in 2012 Urban Meyer very nearly sacrificed a ram on the Block O in Ohio Stadium to Si'Mon the Lord of Intangibles). Let's see how that turned out in 2011.

Yards per game (rank) YPC Allowed (rank) Total Yards Allowed (rank) Sacks (rank)
141.5 (51) 3.84 (48) 1840 (52) 23 (70)

By all accounts, uh, not awesome.

It's not awful really (although a damn sight worse than the kind of run defense that Ohio State is accustomed to fielding), but the real issue is that a lot of the hype surrounding guys like Hankins and Simon and Williams was actually warranted. They were all talented players, and people could be forgiven for extrapolating their success into even greater future success. And while it happened for some of them individually, it didn't happen for the unit as a whole.

I recently saw an argument online where a STEM academics fanboy tried to call out people in the Humanities disciplines for not using all that observation and data that they collect to be more predictive of human behavior. In other words, a math nerd got mad at history dudes for not creating a model to predict when wars will happen.

Obviously that's stupid. People are weird, unpredictable animals that frequently act against their own self-interests and will often do the opposite of what's expected of them.

The same applies for sports. This year, the Ohio State defensive line is primed to be excellent. They have a legit star in Bosa, several guys who are MAYBE a step behind him, and decent depth. They also have the potentiality for injury (as happened with Nate Williams), and of course dismissals/transfers that further deplete the roster.

The extremely high expectations that we have for that unit and others should remain in place, but proclamations that they're going to be the best in the country should wait until the ball is kicked off in late summer.

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