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Published: Wednesday, 6/18/2008

Never too early to talk Buckeyes: Preseason publications target OSU for title game

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

COLUMBUS - Being ranked No. 2 in the middle of June does not mean much in college football when the start of the season is still 10 weeks away, but it gets the conversation started in earnest.

In one of the first national preview magazines to hit the market, Ohio State is ranked second in the country, behind recent nemesis Florida, and the Buckeyes boast five preseason first team All-Americans, more than any other school.

Phil Steele's 2008 College Football Preview claims that it is the "most accurate" of the preseason publications over the last nine years, and reminds its readers that in 2002, its pick for the No. 1 surprise team was Ohio State, and the Buckeyes went on to win the national championship.

This year, Steele likes Ohio State's 19 returning starters, the most of any team in the early top 25. He also thinks that after taking his team to the national championship game the past two years and losing, this year Ohio State coach Jim Tressel could get back in the picture holding the glass football. The major challenges appear to be road games against Southern Cal and Wisconsin.

"This could be Tressel's best team yet," Steele said. "Their road trip September 13 to USC looks like a national title semifinal game, but they are talented enough to knock off the Trojans."

John Porentas, a Toledo native and St. Francis de Sales graduate who is editor of the popular Ohio State fan site theozone.net said that talent assessment is likely accurate, and after winning three straight Big Ten championships, the Buckeyes will be subjected to extremely high expectations.

"Last year was basically looked at as a year with some major rebuilding to do, and they went out and won the Big Ten again and made the championship game," he said. "There was less expectation and it was looked on as a good year, despite the two losses. This year, expectations are through the roof, and two losses would be a disaster."

Steele likes Ohio State linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins as first-team All-Americans. In his unit rankings, which gauge the talent/strength/depth of each area on a team, OSU was rated best in the nation at linebacker, just ahead of USC, and the only Big Ten team in the top 15. Penn State, once referred to as "Linebacker U" was rated 27th at the position.

Ohio State's defensive backs were considered the second-best group in the country behind Oregon, while the Buckeyes defensive line ranked third in the nation as a unit.

Steele rated Ohio State the strongest team in the country at running back, where junior Chris "Beanie" Wells was a first team All-American pick. Wells was ranked ahead of Georgia's sensational sophomore Knowshon Moreno. Michigan State's Javon Ringer (6th) and Wisconsin's P.J. Hill (12th) were the only other Big Ten backs in the top 15.

Wells, often mentioned as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate, is joined on that OSU backfield depth chart by speedy sophomore Brandon Saine, senior Maurice Wells (no relation), and redshirt freshman Dan "Boom" Herron, who even the stoic Tressel raves about.

Ohio State's vault full of experience and talent on the offensive line made that unit the second-highest rated in the nation. Senior Alex Boone (6-8, 312) was designated first-team All-American at tackle, while Steve Rehring, a 6-7, 335-pound senior, was selected as the fifth-best guard in the country.

Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman was ranked the seventh best in the country, behind top-rated Tim Tebow of Florida, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, and second-ranked Curtis Painter of Purdue. Brian Robiskie was rated No. 11 at wide receiver.

Porentas said it would be tough to make a case against any of the five Buckeyes that were first-team picks in Steele's preseason All-American group.

"It would be hard to argue with any of them, because skill-wise, they could all be in the NFL right now," he said.

"Ohio State would have been a very talented team if those guys had left and gone to the pros, but what makes it a really exceptional team is that now they have loads of talent, plus experience. You can't overstate what that's worth."

Contact Matt Markey at:

mmarkey@theblade.com

or 419-724-6510.



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