Sunday, January 06, 2002

What's next for Ohio State?

New QB won't be forced to carry load in 2002

The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — Steve Bellisari pondered his Ohio State legacy and put it best: “If this is the last thing people remember, it's a good thing.”

        Bellisari followed an atrocious three quarters in Tuesday's Outback Bowl with a startling, four-touchdown comeback, only to see the Buckeyes lose 31-28 on a last-second South Carolina field goal.

        His career at Ohio State was marked by as many blown plays as big plays. He had a 19-12 record as a starter. Off the field, DUI charges cost him starts in the final two Ohio State games.

        Now the Buckeyes will find out what life without Bellisari is like. Will it be paradise, or will his absence mean a rocky transition to Craig Krenzel — or maybe to a kid who hasn't graduated from high school yet?

        Bellisari and the rest of the starting backfield, tailback Jonathan Wells and fullback Jamar Martin, all played their last game in Ohio State uniforms. Same goes for offensive linemen LeCharles Bentley and Tyson Walter; defensive linemen Mike Collins and Tim Cheatwood, and linebackers Joe Cooper and Courtland Bullard.

        It also is unlikely that strong safety Mike Doss will return, passing up his senior season just as cornerback Derek Ross did a month ago. Tight end Darnell Sanders is rumored to join them.

        If so, the 2002 Buckeyes will be dramatically different from this season's 7-5 version.

        Krenzel would figure to have the inside track to replace Bellisari, with Scott McMullen — the season-long No.2 — also in the running. The radio talk show experts will have six months to wonder if first-year coach Jim Tressel doesn't trust Krenzel, who led the team to a rare victory at Michigan but then got a quick hook in the bowl game.

        “I'm sure he'll use that experience to his advantage,” said Tressel upon the team's return Wednesday night.

        A long shot to start is incoming freshman Justin Zwick, the runner-up (to fellow Buckeyes recruit Maurice Clarett, a running back) in the Ohio Mr. Football voting. One of the school's most prized quarterback signees since Art Schlichter in 1979, Zwick will have to hit the ground running — physically and mentally — if he hopes to climb past the four upperclassmen ahead of him on the depth chart.

        Whoever takes the first snap from the replacement for the All-Big Ten Bentley won't be required to carry the brunt of the offense.

        Michael Jenkins, Chris Vance and Chris Gamble all established themselves as quality receiving targets. Lydell Ross and Maurice Hall showed much promise as freshmen running backs.

        On defense, Darrion Scott, Simon Fraser, Tim Anderson, Will Smith and Kenny Peterson give the Buckeyes a solid front wall. Matt Wilhelm will call the defensive plays from his middle linebacker spot. The secondary will have holes but none that can't be patched.

        Tressel was hired after John Cooper's 13-year tenure was severed after a loss to South Carolina in the 2001 Outback Bowl. He now knows his players, and they know him. The comfort level for each should go up.

        “We made progress,” Tressel said of his first Ohio State team. “I'd like to have been better than 7-5, absolutely.”


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