Bucking the trend
They are a rock in this season of upheaval; of Appy State over Michigan and Stanford over USC. In 2007, Ohio State stands as a traditional bulwark against the gatecrashers swarming the BCS Top 10 -- your BC Eagles and Arizona State Sun Devils; your Oregons and Kansas Jayhawks and Mizzous. Going into Saturday's game against No. 21 Wisconsin, the undefeated Buckeyes stand atop the BCS poll. And that, frankly, rates as one of the larger surprises in a season of them.
Was it so wrong to expect Ohio State to fade from view for a season or two? Following its 41-14 pratfall against Florida in last season's national title game, this humbled program commenced hemorrhaging studs.
No, it was not wrong to expect his team to enter a valley, Buckeyes quarterback
Forgive me, Todd, for jumping to the unfair conclusion that you would spearhead a regression in the Buckeye offense; from the wide-open pyrotechnics of the Troy Smith era back to the dink-and-dunk days of
"Todd is a different player from Troy, but he's also a different player from Craig Krenzel and from
Ask the poor Penn State corners, whom Boeckman picked on right out of the gate in a commanding 37-17 win in Happy Valley last Saturday. A 6-5, 243-pound junior lauded for his accuracy and vision, Boeckman hit wide out
A polite, intelligent product of St. Henry (Ohio), where he was a four-year starter, Boeckman nonetheless strikes a cocksure note as he talks about taking what the defense gives him. "If I see that they're stacked at the line, I'm gonna hit 'em over the top."
The confidence in his tone is a measure of how far he's come in just two months. Asked to name the area in which he's improved the most, Boeckman speaks of a skyrocketing "confidence level ... the more reps you get, the more comfortable you're going to feel." Each passing week, he says, adds to his knowledge of "what my guys do best."
By "his guys," he means The Brians, who've proved to Buckeye Nation that there is life after Ginn and Gonzo. In alphabetical order, they are:
He does everything at one speed, says Buckeyes receivers coach
Hartline's 34 receptions include five touchdowns. But his season highlight was a school-record 90-yard punt return against Kent State. If B-Hart didn't exactly show a Ginn-like burst getting around the corner against the Golden Flashes, his friends aren't about to hold that against him. "Well, he set a school record," said Gonzalez, mustering as much tact as possible, "so you knew it was going to take awhile."
Let people think these Buckeyes don't have wheels. As Hartline says, "We've been attacking that misconception."
Unlike Hartline, who broke his leg as a high school senior and redshirted a year at Ohio State, Robiskie got into the mix as a true freshman. From the get-go, says Gonzalez, "Robo was a lot more mature than most incoming freshmen. He did the extra things. You didn't necessarily know what kind of player he was going to be, but you knew he was going to be the best player he
That talent includes Robiskie's "tremendous range," says Hazell, the receivers coach, "and very good speed." Deceptive speed. "Brian gets on you, he's got that long stride, and all the sudden he's by you," says Hazell, who saves for last perhaps his most obvious gift: an "uncanny" ability to
Robo is a master, says Hazell, of "the subtle push-off," the boxing out and gaining position to make that grab. And he doesn't give up on plays. That was Robiskie, you may recall, on the business end of Troy Smith's "Heisman moment" TD pass in the fourth quarter against Penn State a year ago. He ran a five-yard hitch, saw the protection collapse, went vertical, saw Smith reverse his field -- Heisman moments require at least one reversal of field -- and broke to his left across the end zone. "Troy saw him just before he popped open," says Hazell, "and let fly."
Almost as exciting, for Buckeyes fans, was the sight of the new guy, Boeckman, toying with the Nittanies a year later. That 60-yard bomb to Ray Small -- like Ginn a product of Glenville (Ohio) High, who may be, in time, better than either Brian -- gave the Bucks first and goal at the eight. Boeckman finished the drive with a TD pass to Robiskie, then changed gears. He fed the ball to
While it lost players to the NFL, Ohio State lost none of its versatility. "We can tighten it up this year, or we can spread it out," says Hazell. "We've had success both ways. We've got a bunch of guys at wideout we can win with. Our quarterback is doing an exceptional job, and we're playing behind the defense" -- the Buckeyes lead the nation in total defense -- "which helps immensely."
So stout is the Buckeyes' D, in other words, that Boeckman & Co. know they're going to get plenty of possessions.
After Wisconsin, Illinois comes to the Horseshoe. If those games go as expected, the Buckeyes will go to Ann Arbor with nothing less on the line than a berth in the national championship game.
How were so many people so wrong about the '07 Buckeyes?
"Everybody on the outside saw everything we lost," Robiskie explains. "But everyone on the inside saw the potential."
Boeckman, it turns out, isn't the only Buckeye with excellent vision.