We talked yesterday about this year being a roller coaster... well, if that's the case, then the second half of the year must have been the part where we were turned upside down (over and over again). The Buckeyes learned what having the national championship spotlight on them is all about (in a good and bad way) but fought through it all to have a ten-win season and be in the thick of the national championship hunt right down to the final game.
July 3, 2003 -- Columbus Independence RB Erik Haw becomes the ninth player to commit to Ohio State for the 2004 signing class.
July 9, 2003 -- Tallahassee, FL Lincoln QB Joe Bauserman makes a commitment to the Buckeyes. Bauserman will wait to see where he lands in the baseball draft before coming in to OSU. Right now, he will most likely grayshirt if he decides to play football.
July 13, 2003 -- A quiet summer is about to get real busy in a hurry as an article runs in the New York Times containing allegations of cheating by Ohio State football players and favoritism of football players from OSU staff, including a teacher allowing Maurice Clarett to take an oral exam instead of a written one. Ohio State responds by promising an investigation.
July 15, 2003 -- Fans and staff come out in defense of OSU and Clarett, but is the damage already done?
July 23, 2003 -- Hamilton DB Brandon Underwood becomes the tenth player to commit to Ohio State for the 2004 signing class.
July 23, 2003 -- Ohio State and Michigan are picked to be at the top of the Big Ten, but even bigger news comes at the Big Ten Kickoff where Jim Tressel claims he didn't read the New York Times article (emphasis on the word "claims", of course...).
July 30, 2003 -- Word had been circulating for a couple of weeks, and on this day, it became public that the NCAA was looking into an incident involving items reportedly stolen from a car driven by Maurice Clarett. Clarett reported items in excess of $10,000 were stolen from a car he was driving in the spring, and the NCAA investigation centered around Clarett's finances and how he came up with the items. It was admitted that Clarett exaggerated the value of the items when reporting the theft, and Ohio State suspended Clarett from practice until the issue was resolved. Later in the week, OSU AD Andy Geiger stated that he expected Clarett to be cleared.
July 31, 2003 -- The Buckeyes get another early commitment for 2005, this time from Lakewood St. Edward OL Alex Boone. Boone tells us that it took him "about thirty seconds" to make up his mind after OSU offered.
August 5, 2003 -- The Canton Repository reports that Maurice Clarett blows off a scheduled meeting with Marcus Allen.
August 6, 2003 -- The defending national champions report to check in amidst plenty of controversy.
August 7, 2003 -- Photo Day is held at Ohio Stadium without Clarett. The team appears ready to proceed without him. Sports Illustrated selects Ohio State as its preseason #1 team and features Craig Krenzel on the cover.
August 11, 2003 -- A four-hour meeting takes place between the Clarett camp, the NCAA, and Ohio State. Ex-NFL great Jim Brown is now involved.
August 20, 2003 -- Clarett will miss the opener, and now Chris Gamble is in the spotlight.
August 22, 2003 -- Another meeting takes place, and it is announced that Clarett will miss multiple games although he will be allowed to practice. In addition, team captains are announced: QB Craig Krenzel, WR Michael Jenkins, DE Will Smith, and DT Tim Anderson.
August 24, 2003 -- Clarett was welcomed back to the team.
August 30, 2003 -- With the national spotlight on Ohio State, the Buckeyes bombed the Washington Huskies 28-9 in their home opener on prime time national television. ESPN College Gameday was in town and conducted an impromptu interview of Clarett, which would later prove to be a bit controversial. OSU's win answers all the questions surrounding the team about how they would perform without Maurice.
September 2, 2003 -- Maurice Clarett is suddenly prohibited from practice. News sources report that he could miss most of the season and that the Clarett family is exploring its options, including a lawsuit against the NFL in order to overturn the existing rule that a player must be out of high school for three seasons before playing in the league.
September 6, 2003 -- What a difference a week makes. Ohio State struggles to get past a tougher-than-expected San Diego State team, 16-13. The Buckeyes topped the Aztecs without making an offensive touchdown, and it would be a signal of more offensive struggles to come.
September 8, 2003 -- More allegations surface about Clarett, this time regarding improper benefits he received.
September 9, 2003 -- Word begins to surface that Clarett's season may be done. Jim Tressel gives the "OK" for Clarett to transfer.
September 10, 2003 -- The official announcement is made by OSU AD Andy Geiger that Clarett is suspended for at least the entire season for receiving improper benefits and misleading NCAA investigators. Geiger leaves the door open for Clarett's return, but the announcement leaves more doubt about that possibility.
September 13, 2003 -- In one of the most exciting games of the year, Ohio State outlasts NC State in three overtimes, 44-38. NC State rallied from a 24-7 fourth quarter deficit to tie the game, but in the third overtime, OSU's defense stopped RB T.A. McClendon just inches short of the goal line on a fourth down run to win the game.
September 14, 2003 -- The NFL confirms it received a letter from Clarett's attorney stating their intentions to possibly sue to challenge the draft rule.
September 19, 2003 -- Clarett files a motion of discovery against Ohio State.
September 20, 2003 -- The Buckeyes hold off Bowling Green 24-17 to move to 4-0 on the season. An injury to Craig Krenzel forced back-up QB Scott McMullen into the starting role, and he took home his first win as a Buckeye QB. Like the week before, Ohio State was up 24-7 before Bowling Green made a late comeback.
September 23, 2003 -- Clarett sues the NFL for early entry. Krenzel is still struggling with injury and may not play in the next game.
September 24, 2003 -- Huber Heights Wayne LB Marcus Freeman becomes the 11th player to commit to Ohio State for the 2004 recruiting class.
September 27, 2003 -- The Buckeyes shut out Northwestern 20-0 for their fifth win of the season and their 19th straight victory. The game is a bit of a snoozer but back-up QB Scott McMullen once again stepped up for injured QB Craig Krenzel and helped OSU to victory. The Buckeyes now had a bye week before traveling to Wisconsin.
October 6, 2003 -- Columbus Eastmoor FB Dionte' Johnson -- the son of ex-OSU LB Pepper Johnson -- becomes the 12th player to commit to Ohio State for the 2004 recruiting class.
October 10, 2003 -- Clarett files a federal suit against OSU, claiming his rights were violated when OSU gave details of his testimony to NCAA officials to the police.
October 11, 2003 -- Ohio State's 19-game winning streak comes to an end in Madison, Wisconsin as the Wisconsin Badgers fought off OSU, 17-10. The Buckeye D gave up over 100 yards to a running back for the first time since the Wisconsin game in 2002, and Wisconsin burned OSU for a 79-yard TD pass to Lee Evans late in the fourth quarter to grab the lead after OSU tied the game. As it turned out though, OSU's national title hopes were not ended by this game. The Buckeyes get a black eye in this game though when LB Robert Reynolds is caught on camera choking Wisconsin QB Jim Sorgi. Reynolds later apologized and was suspended for the following game against Iowa. Reynolds came under heavy criticism both locally and nationally as a result of the incident. Meanwhile, the lack of Buckeye offensive attack was also a subject of much criticism as well.
October 18, 2003 -- The Buckeye offense didn't get any better, but it didn't need to this week as Ohio State topped a nationally-ranked Iowa team 19-10 without scoring an offensive TD. OSU scored on a blocked punt recovered in the end zone and a punt return by Michael Jenkins as well as a safety and two field goals.
October 25, 2003 -- Indiana was just what the doctor ordered for the Buckeyes as the struggling OSU offense exploded for over 600 total yards against the hapless Hoosiers in a 35-6 win. The victory was marred a bit by the loss of WR Drew Carter, who tore an ACL during the first half. Carter was having a fine season and was on his way to establishing himself as an NFL prospect after struggling with injuries throughout his career.
November 1, 2003 -- Ohio State travels to Penn State to take on a struggling Nittany Lions squad but struggle themselves as they need a late drive to pull out a 21-20 win. Craig Krenzel was forced to leave the game due to injury in the first half, and back-up Scott McMullen rallied the team to a come-from-behind win. The game resulted in a very minor QB controversy as some fans were calling for McMullen to take the starting spot while Coach Tressel was vague on who the starter would be.
November 8, 2003 -- The Buckeye offense looks good again as they pull away from nationally-ranked Michigan State, 33-23. Craig Krenzel put to rest any QB controversy as he started and played the bulk of the game. The game was one of the best overall efforts of the season from the team, and momentum seems to be building for a national championship run. Meanwhile, a report surfaces that Maurice Clarett is in danger of failing two classes at Ohio State.
November 10, 2003 -- Things suddenly look more promising for OSU in the national race as they move to #3 in the BCS standings.
November 15, 2003 -- In perhaps the most exciting game of the year, Ohio State toughs out an overtime win over Purdue on Senior Day, 16-13 in overtime. The game was a classic defensive showdown of two of the Big Ten's best teams, and the Buckeyes prevailed after Purdue missed a short field goal to end the game. Once again, Ohio State pulled out the win despite scoring no offensive touchdowns. The Buckeyes moved to 10-1 with the win and hype begins almost immediately for next weekend's showdown against Michigan, which will be for the Big Ten title and possibly a berth in the national championship game.
November 16, 2003 -- A late-night/early morning incident takes place involving WR Santonio Holmes, CB Chris Gamble and QB Troy Smith and an altercation between some unidentified women. Accusations are made but the university states the players were acting as peacemakers. Holmes and Smith were later charged with disorderly conduct in the incident. The players would not start against Michigan. Later that day, the Buckeyes get a bit of a surprise commitment as Suncoast, FL Riviera Beach DB/WR DaJuan Morgan becomes the 13th player to commit to Ohio State for the 2004 recruiting class.
November 17, 2003 -- Ohio State officially moves to #2 in the BCS standings. Even though they technically do not control their own destiny, indications are that a win over Michigan would almost assure them of a place in the national championship game.
November 22, 2003 -- The 100th version of the OSU/UM game is one that Buckeye fans would like to forget as Michigan's offense steamrolls the Buckeye defense on the way to a 35-21 win. Michigan jumped out to a 28-7 lead over Ohio State, but the Buckeyes made a run in the second half, cutting the lead to 28-21. Michigan put the game away though with one last TD and ended OSU's hopes for a Big Ten and national title.
November 25, 2003 -- OSU DE Will Smith is named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
December 7, 2003 -- Days of waiting to find out what bowl Ohio State would wind up in came to an end as the Buckeyes were selected by the Fiesta Bowl to return to the desert for the second year in a row and play Kansas State. The move is a big surprise as the overwhelming majority of fans, media, and players assumed the Buckeyes would be traveling to Miami for a rematch with the Miami Hurricanes in the Orange Bowl.
December 9, 2003 -- Craig Krenzel wins the Draddy Award, which is called the "academic Heisman".
December 11, 2003 -- Punter B.J. Sander wins the Ray Guy Award for the nation's top punter. Sander's brilliant senior season came after four up-and-down seasons at OSU where he was named the starter in 2001 but lost the job to walk-on Andy Groom.
December 13, 2003 -- As Maurice Clarett's lawyers begin to argue their case in federal court, reports surface that the door is still open for him to return to the Buckeyes.
December 14, 2003 -- Euclid LB Brandon Smith becomes the 14th player to commit to Ohio State for the 2004 recruiting class.
December 16, 2003 -- Beaver, PA TE Rory Nicol becomes the 15th player to commit to Ohio State for the 2004 recruiting class. Nicol, the #2 TE prospect in the country and a top 100 player, confirms his decision two days later at a press conference.
December 17, 2003 -- An academic probe clears Ohio State of the charges raised by the July New York Times article.
December 19, 2003 -- Pickerington Central P A.J. Trapasso becomes the 16th player to commit to Ohio State for the 2004 recruiting class although Trapasso also reveals he will be coming to school early (like Marcus Freeman, Steve Rehring and Antonio Pittman) and will not count against the total for this class.
December 22, 2003 -- News surfaces that OSU defensive coordinator Mark Dantonio will be taking the head coaching job at Cincinnati. The announcement is made at a press conference the following day.
December 31, 2003 -- We come to the end of the year, wondering already what 2004 will bring. Will the Buckeyes do the job in the Fiesta Bowl? What will happen in the 2004 recruiting class? What will happen in the 2004 season, and who will be the quarterback of the future? Will Maurice Clarett play his next down as a Buckeye or in the NFL?
We'll find out soon enough. As crazy and eventful as 2003 was, there should certainly be plenty to talk about over the next 365 days. Happy new year!!!