CHICAGO – Expectations are high in Columbus. Ohio State was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Big Ten championship, linebacker James Laurinaitis was picked as the preseason defensive player of the year and tailback Chris Wells was so honored on offense.
In other words, it’s business as usual for OSU head coach Jim Tressel, who will again attempt to navigate what he views as a difficult conference schedule in an effort to get the Buckeyes back into the national championship game.
“(The poll) hasn’t been very accurate in the past, which is a little frightening,” Tressel said at the annual Big Ten Football Kickoff. “It’s really kind of irrelevant because there is Penn State, there is Michigan, there is Michigan State, there is Purdue, there is Minnesota and on and on. Outside of this net week or two, there’s not much discussion of the preseason poll.”
Last season, the Buckeyes were picked to finish third in the conference behind Michigan and Wisconsin before winning the conference outright. OSU has been voted as one of the top three teams in each season since 2001, being picked as favorites in 2003 and 2006. In addition, the team has had a player be named either the preseason offensive or defensive player of the year in every season since 2002.
However, this marks the first time the Buckeyes have had both the preseason offensive and defensive players of the year – and the first time that has happened in the conference since 1996, when Northwestern was so honored.
But as the Buckeyes get ready for the season with a roster Tressel said has 40 players with four or more years of experience, they will do so with a few questions to be answered.
One of those was all but finalized Thursday when Tressel was asked for an update on the status of redshirt freshman defensive back Eugene Clifford. After telling media members July 14 that a decision would be made within the next two weeks, it appears Clifford’s tumultuous time as a Buckeye is coming to an end.
“I really can’t say anything about Eugene just in case he ends up somewhere else and they need to talk about it,” Tressel said. “He’s in the midst of some situation and we’ll know for sure what everyone is doing, Eugene and the rest, when we report to camp.
“Do I expect (him)? Probably not.”
Asked to clarify if “the rest” meant other players facing potential punishments, Tressel said he meant the other 105 players on the roster.
Tressel reported that all the summer school grades he received were “good,” but not all expected members of the 2008 squad were in class. Incoming freshman defensive lineman Nathan Williams did not report for summer classes, Tressel said, in order to take a necessary class.
In addition, classmate Shawntel Rowell has also had academic struggles, with former head coach Ted Ginn Sr. telling BuckeyeSports.com that the defensive tackle also has to take another class.
“Hopefully they’ll be alright,” Tressel said, adding that he expects Williams to be there when the team reports for fall camp August 3.
As part of the conference, the Buckeyes released their fall media guide complete with a first look at the depth chart for the season. A few surprises were found at both the wide receiver and cornerback positions.
Junior wideout Ray Small, who has been laboring in the doghouse for unspecified reasons since spring football, was not listed on the team’s two-deep after finishing as the team’s No. 3 receiver one season ago. In addition, he did not get a one-page bio like the other scholarship athletes did, instead finding himself relegated to the pages listing the team’s walk-ons.
“I didn’t know that,” Tressel said. “I haven’t pored over the media guide yet, but is his status in question? No.”
In addition, junior cornerback Donald Washington is listed as the backup to sophomore Chimdi Chekwa despite having started all 13 games last season. Washington was held out of a spring practice and was demoted to third string on the spring depth chart for an unspecified transgression, but Tressel said he could still earn his “car keys” back.
That process is still ongoing, the head coach said.
“Yeah, and he’s doing a good job,” Tressel said.
Asked what he has to do to earn his privileges back, Tressel said, ‘Do a great job. In everything.”
If the preseason prognosticators are on the ball, he – as well as his other teammates in question – should do all they can to get back in good graces, because this might be a special year for the Buckeyes.