Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel met with the media at today’s Big Ten Kickoff Luncheon media proceedings at the Chicago Hyatt Regency.
Tressel’s Buckeyes were selected as the preseason choice to win the Big Ten in balloting by conference media reps. Michigan was second and Iowa was third. OSU quarterback Troy Smith was the preseason choice as the Big Ten offensive player of the year, while Penn State linebacker Paul Posluszny got the nod on defense.
The OSU coach talked about having his team singled out as the preseason favorite.
“I think it’s encouraging to all the people that care about Ohio State that people think highly about Ohio State,” Tressel said. “Granted, we do have to replace a lot of folks. We’ve been working hard to do that since January began. How legitimate is it? I don’t know. We’ll find out by the end of November. It’s always nice to be mentioned.”
Along the same lines, OSU figures to be a top-five pick – if not No. 1 – when the USA Today coaches poll is released on Friday. Tressel was asked if the national championship race is wide open since every team – including his, with just two starters back on defense – having major question marks.
“I don’t know who all is picked in the top five,” Tressel said. “I don’t know what question marks Oklahoma has because they are returning just about everybody. But Texas is changing its quarterback. Ourselves, with all of the people we have to replace. Southern Cal has to replace a similar amount. But we’re all going to go to work and see who ends up there in the end.”
Tressel was also asked about the ongoing medical situation involving assistant coaches Jim Bollman and Joe Daniels. Bollman, OSU’s offensive coordinator, underwent heart surgery in May and has returned to full-time duty. But Daniels, facing a battle with cancer, may only be available for part-time duty when fall camp opens on Sunday.
“Joe is involved in (chemotherapy) treatment,” Tressel said. “He’s working hard at that and doing what he has to do with that. At the same time, he is working hard with what he is and what he loves to do, which is to be a coach. So we’re just working smart about how much time he spends at the office. We’ll be smart about how many days out in weather like this he will spend.
“We will try to have the right mixture of work. I think work is as therapeutic as anything. And then also balance that with how much time he has to spend with his treatment.”
Tressel shared some general thoughts on his 2006 team.
“We have a pretty neat blend of youth and maturity,” he said. “Seventeen of our 18 seniors are fifth-year guys. That means that they have seen a lot. They have seen some good times and they’ve seen some times when we wish we could have done better. They have grown through a lot of experiences.
“Then we have a whole bunch of guys who will probably be playing for the first time this year. It has been fun to watch them go through the wintertime and the spring practice and now summertime. You like to believe that that time between the end of spring practice and now is when a lot of understanding occurs with those first-time people. We are anxious to get rolling out there.”
The coach was asked if he would prefer losing nine starters on offense or defense if he was forced to rebuild.
“I would really rather not lose nine off either side of the ball all at once,” he joked. “That will be a great challenge for us. The positive thing is where there is some experience is up front. That will give us a chance. Sometimes if you’re solid up front that helps the development of the people in the linebacker corps and on the back end.
“You would hate to lose nine on either side of the ball, but that’s college football. We are excited to have all nine of those guys in NFL camps right now. Hopefully, they will make teams and make us proud. But right now, we have a lot of work to do to replace them.”
Tressel matched Earle Bruce with 50 wins in his first 63 games as the OSU head coach. He was asked if it’s hard to deal with the monster he created at Ohio State with high expectations every year.
“The monster at Ohio State was created long before we arrived,” he said. “Ohio State has always had those expectations. We have had good fortunes and that success over many many many years. I think you know when you become a part of that, whether you become a part of that as a player or as an assistant coach that you have those expectations.
“You know that monster that was created is a fun monster to be around. It’s a great challenge to be around that kind of expectation and, I guess, you just try and manage it day by day.”
Here are more comments from Tressel on topics including:
* The difficult task of building a defense in college football -- “I have to think it’s real difficult to play defense in college football. You see so many different offensive schemes in the college game. On Sundays, you turn it on and you see roughly similar styles in that league. Collegiate defensive staffs and players face a lot of different challenges, so I think building a good defense is important.
“We have been and will be a zone blitz defense that prides ourselves on pressure and speed. We don’t have the experience that we’ve had. You build that through time. We know who we are and who we would like to be. We just have to try each week to learn those lessons. We’re in the beginning stages of that school.”
* OSU’s first two games, at home against MAC favorite Northern Illinois and at defending national champion Texas -- “I think those games are very important for their own reasons. Any time you begin the season at home, it’s important how you come out of the gate. The first impression you make to yourself and to your fans is important. We know how good Northern Illinois is. Joe (Novak) has done a fabulous job with that program. They have a great running back returning.
“I think a lot of people will take notice of the great intrasectional game with us against Texas down in Austin. Everyone talks about how hot it is here today. It will be a lot hotter than that down in Austin. That’s one of those that our guys will remember, the series against Texas.
“We like to have one of those marquee series going on. We have Southern Cal coming on home-and-home and Miami (Fla.) coming on home-and-home.”
* On comparisons between this year’s team and the 2002 national championship team -- “Our team in 2002 probably had a lot more experience on the defensive side. Our team on the offensive side in 2006 probably has a few less question marks. We didn’t know who the quarterback was going to be in 2002. We have a good idea who we will line up there now. It’s almost flipped from an experience standpoint. We were more experienced on defense at that point.
“I don’t think we can lose sight of the fact offensively that we lose two first-round draft choices and a third-round pick – all of whom started (part of) four years – with Santonio (Holmes), Nick (Mangold) and Robby Sims that we aren’t without some challenges on offense as well.”
* On the notion that Ted Ginn Jr. is just becoming a complete receiver -- “He has fabulous hands. He catches the ball with his hands, unlike some fabulous receivers who just catch it. In terms of route running, that is something he has gotten better at. I think you would have to characterize him as an excellent route runner.
“He is a neat kind of leader. He does it a little bit with energy. He is so bubbly. He’s a positive guy. You could see him encouraging the least likely guy that you would imagine. I think he is a fun loving, positive guy who has good hands and runs good routes.”
* On the opening on the strength and conditioning staff under new head S&C coach Eric Lichter -- “We have not (named a replacement). We wanted to get through that Bottom Line phase, as we call it. I think they were going to bring somebody in in the next day or so. Hopefully, we’ll have someone on board fast.”
* On the status of oft-injured senior LB Mike D’Andrea -- “It would be a great bonus for us. Eric Lichter has done a great job of tailoring his training as such so that he doesn’t have swelling. The problem he’s had is he’s had a hard time shaking the swelling. All of a sudden, you’re set back and you can’t train. You’re not strong enough and things compound themselves.
“They did a good job of using the aquatics and the pool so that the swelling didn’t occur. Mike told me the other day that for the last three or four days he has run more than he has in some time and not had the swelling. I would love to have that luxury and that bonus of Mike being able to help us.
“We haven’t seen him lately. In bowl practice, we saw him flying around and making plays. But it was the middle of 2004 when he got hurt. The last 1-1/2 seasons we haven’t seen much of him. That would be a bonus to get him back in there. He has a knack of getting to the football. When he’s healthy, he’s something.”
* On getting to work on Sunday -- “That is the most fun we have, sitting in the staff room and arguing about how we should block this and what we should do. And then going out there and testing it out. Then, going out on Saturdays and really testing it out. The rest of it is necessary and important, but, yes, this is when the real fun begins.”
* Tressel is joined in Chicago by Smith as well as senior OL Doug Datish and senior DT Quinn Pitcock. (Look for a story on Smith later today.)
Datish confirmed that Bollman is back at work.
“He’s back and he’s ready to go,” Datish said. “He looks good.”
* This marks the third time in 11 years that Ohio State has been selected as the preseason favorite in the Big Ten by the media. OSU was also picked in 1998 (finished tied for first) and 2003 (finished second). Michigan has been picked first four times and Penn State three times in the same time period. Northwestern got the nod in 2001.
* The OSU media guide did not include any future schedules beyond this season.
But the Big Ten guide contains three nonconference opponents for OSU in 2007 and only one in 2008.
One new game for 2007, an Oct. 13 date with Kent State, was announced to go with a Sept. 8 game with Akron and a Sept. 15 game at Washington that were previously announced. OSU is apparently still looking for an opponent for its Sept. 1 opener in 2007.
In 2008, OSU only has one date set – at USC on Sept. 13. It seems likely that Division I-AA Youngstown State will be on the schedule somewhere in 2008 to fill one of those three openings. No fewer than nine Big Ten teams will play I-AA opponents with the new 12th game this year.