College football countdown: No. 12 Ohio State

Wednesday, July 26th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Return to normalcy is Buckeyes' goal

Contending for national and Big Ten titles is the norm at Ohio State. Seasons at .500 or lower are anomalies. So after the Buckeyes finished 6-6 last season, one would be correct in assuming this isn't a happy bunch of coaches and players.

"None of us are happy with last year – not the players, not the coaches," said John Cooper, whose record last year was the school's worst since 1988 (his first season), when the Buckeyes went 4-6-1. Last year also marked only the third time in 33 years the program produced six or fewer victories.

In fact, the Buckeyes are downright angry. And with that disappointment will come some subtle changes that Cooper is hoping pay off in a big way.

Ohio State will have two new coordinators this fall. Both coaches moved up the ranks. Chuck Stobart will handle offensive duties, and Jon Tenuta takes over on defense, although Fred Pagac (now assistant head coach) will continue calling defensive plays.

The Buckeyes ranked 38th last season in rushing offense (166.5 yards per game), but Cooper and Stobart want to see a return to "Ohio State football." And that means running the ball at will.

"Our emphasis in the spring was on being tougher up front," Cooper said.

Left tackle Tyson Walter (6-5, 300) is the anchor on an offensive line that returns three starters, so the Buckeyes have the manpower and experience up front.

"We may have tried to hit too many home runs last year," Cooper said. "Maybe we need to hit more singles and doubles."

The Buckeyes also had more than a few hit against them, and that has to change.

By controlling the ball better offensively, Ohio State can help the defense. But the Buckeyes allowed 159.7 rushing yards per game last year (71st in the nation) and more than three touchdowns per game. A big part of the problem, Cooper believes, was the fact they forced only 21 turnovers and ranked 99th in turnover margin, at minus-67 per game.

Even though the Ohio State defense will lean toward inexperience, Cooper and Tenuta say forcing more turnovers and making more stops on third down has a lot to do with attitude.

If a little more anger is what it takes, Ohio State certainly doesn't have to look far to find motivation.

Ohio State Schedule- Sept 2 Fresno State; Sept 9 at Arizona; Sept 16 Miami, Ohio; Sept 23 Penn State; Oct 7 at Wisconsin; Oct 14 Minnesota; Oct 21 at Iowa; Oct 28 at Ourdue; Nov 4 Michigan State; Nov 11 at Illinois; Nov 18 Michigan

Ohio State Buckeyes Capsule

COACH: John Cooper (103-39-4 in 12 seasons at Ohio State, 185-79-6 in 23 seasons overall).

LAST YEAR: 6-6, unranked.

OUT: The Buckeyes want to run the ball more effectively , but they'll have to replace tailback Michael Wiley. Senior Derek Combs appears to have the inside track.

IN: Joe Cooper replaces Na'il Diggs at one outside linebacker spot and appears to have the team's best shot at continuing a streak of nine years in which at least one OSU linebacker has been named first-team All America.

BIG PLUS: The defensive line lost only one key performer (James Cotton) from last year.

BIG MINUS: The Buckeyes had better be dominant up front on defense, particularly early. There's a lot of inexperienced players behind them.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: Ohio State always has talent. If the Buckeyes can get through a fairly difficult September schedule, including their Big 10 opener at home against Penn State, the rest of the season sets up nicely with Purdue as perhaps the most difficult road game.

BOTTOM LINE: The Buckeyes must start strong. If not, the critics will again begin howling for Cooper's hide, and this team easily could slip back to, or under, last year's level.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. So. Miss.
22. Utah
21. Texas A&M
20. Penn State
19. Tennessee
18. Colorado
17. Oklahoma
16. Purdue
15. Illinois
14. Kansas State
13. Florida
12. Ohio State