The long quarterback sweepstakes at Ohio State, which commenced when the final gun sounded at the national championship game in January, ending the reign of Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at the helm of the Buckeyes' offense, finally has a winner.
It is just not a winner-take-all. Not yet.
As expected, redshirt junior Todd Boeckman will start at quarterback for Ohio State on Saturday when the Buckeyes open the 2007 season at home against I-AA Youngstown State. He had been the front-runner all along, based on time served with the program - three full seasons to date.
"That's the one that everyone was waiting for," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said about the quarterback auditions, "and really it hasn't changed from what we've been talking about before. Todd Boeckman is the guy that's going to have the first chance to go out there and be nervous and have some fun, and he's been waiting so long for this opportunity. He's been studying hard, paying close attention. He knows who we are and what we want to do."
But Tressel quickly added that redshirt sophomore Rob
Schoenhoft has kept himself in the hunt, and will play against the Penguins in something other than a mop-up role, Tressel said.
"I've been happy with Rob Schoenhoft and I expect him to have some opportunities to play on Saturday," Tressel said about the 6-6, 240-pound product of Cincinnati St. Xavier.
Tressel gave a less than rousing endorsement to redshirt freshman Antonio Henton, a 6-2, 220-pound athletic player from Georgia who spent 2006 on the scout team.
"I'm not a hundred percent sure if Antonio Henton is going to get in there," Tressel said. "If Antonio gets an opportunity, he needs to use every single snap to get better and move toward his goals."
The unexpected dark horse in this quarterback race has to be freshman Joe Bauserman, a 6-2, 220-pounder from Virginia who comes to Ohio State after first playing professional baseball. Tressel cited Bauserman's progress with picking up the offense, but repeated his initial plan to play only Boeckman and Schoenhoft, and let Schoenhoft enter the game before the outcome is decided.
"The ideal scenario is that Todd will do very well, and when Robbie gets thrown into the fire - and it will be early, it's not like it's going to be later; it's not going to be an afterthought, it's going to be pre-planned - that they'll make good decisions and do a good job," Tressel said.
Tressel seemed to take some comfort in the fact that Boeckman, a 6-5, 235-pounder from St. Henry, has had three years to soak up the system while playing behind Smith and backup Justin Zwick, and gain a certain degree of experience. Boeckman has played in six games, and completed 7 of 10 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown.
"What gives Todd the nod over Robbie and Antonio and Joe is his understanding of the whole system of defensive football and all that goes into it, and he's just got so much experience," Tressel said. "Now we need that to translate into game performance. That's why it's neat that we get to start playing games."
Tressel said Boeckman does not bring the same tools to the table as Smith, but he recalled some growing pains before Smith became the premier quarterback in the Big Ten.
"I've been very pleased with Todd this preseason," Tressel said. "I thought his first practice or two were average, and I thought after that, the next 20-plus have been progressive. And he needs to know and we need to know he's not going to be Troy Smith the day he walks in, because Troy wasn't Troy until he grew. So we've got to make sure that we continue to improve every snap and learn from every snap."
- Matt Markey