Friday, September 03, 2010

The 10 best players of the Tressel era (so far)

September 2, 2010

By Bill Livingston

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The list of the 10 best players of the Jim Tressel Era at Ohio State begins with a Heisman Trophy winner and ends with a Dick Butkus and Bronko Nagurski award winner.

How hard is it to make this team?

Harder than it has proven for Michigan, in a complete reversal of the trend of The Game before Tressel, to beat the Buckeyes. And that's proven to be a stumper eight times in nine years, including the last six in a row.

1. Troy Smith, quarterback (2003-06) -- Video game numbers: 46 TD passes, 10 interceptions in his final two seasons, including a 30/6 ratio in his Heisman year of 2006. He was the leader of three wins over Michigan, all with "SportsCenter Play of the Day" efforts. The Glenville product was the dominant force in college football in his electric senior season. Had it not been for the resounding thud of his BCS Championship Game performance against Florida, he would rival two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin as Ohio State's greatest player ever.

2. Maurice Clarett, running back (2002) -- The most polarizing figure in Ohio State football history, Clarett was the freshman on whose shoulders the national championship hopes rested. No one ever made more amazing runs for no gain or little gain, as time and again the one-year wonder avoided drive-killing losses. Clarett scored the winning touchdown after breaking a backfield tackle in the championship game, but the Buckeyes would never have gotten that far without the ball he stole from Miami safety Sean Taylor after Taylor's end zone interception. With no OSU field goal on that drive, there would have been no overtime.

3. Will Smith, defensive end (2000-03) -- The leader of the ferocious front four of the 2002 national championship team, he recorded 10.5 sacks and set the tone for the upset of Miami with a bear-paw swat and sack of Dorsey for a loss on the very first play.

4. Michael Jenkins, wide receiver (2000-03) -- Facing fourth-and-14 in the first OT against Miami, or facing fourth-and-2 at the Boilermakers' 37 in the final minute and change at Purdue, who ya gonna call? Jenkins always answered with huge catches.

5. Chris Gamble, cornerback (2001-03) -- Yes, he was roughed up in the end zone on fourth down in the first OT by Miami, on the penalty that prolonged the tying drive. He also played 106 other snaps in that game and caught OSU's longest pass of the night. A throwback as a two-way player, Gamble made an interception to save the day against Purdue in 2002 was strictly Willie Mays/Vic Wertz stuff in terms of ground covered.

6. A.J. Hawk, linebacker (2002-05) -- The best of a terrific trio that included Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel, Hawk won the Vince Lombardi Award as the best lineman or linebacker in the college game. No less than legendary Texas coach Darrell Royal left the Horseshoe in 2005 raving about Hawk and his fellow linebackers.

7. Ted Ginn Jr., wide receiver (2004-06) -- Scoring on kickoff and punt returns, swerving on end arounds, flying into the clear on deep balls, even passing for a score, the Glenville flash was an all-purpose threat. Opponents had to find him in a hurry, because he was the fastest man in college football.

8. Will Allen, defensive back (2000-03) -- Doss' caddy for three years intercepted Michigan's John Navarre at the sill of the Buckeyes' goal on the last play in 2002; caught a pass Matt Wilhelm tipped in the end zone to hold off Cincinnati; knocked Willis McGahee out of the Fiesta Bowl on a clean hit, and recovered the fumble of the Hurricanes' Roscoe Parrish in the same game; and stopped an N.C. State running back inches short of the goal on fourth down in the third overtime. In his senior year, Allen was an All-American.

9. Mike Doss, safety (1999-2002) -- Fierce hitter and three-time All-American, Doss was a champion at every level of the game. His ramble with an intercepted pass got Ohio State started in the upset of Miami in the national championship game.

10. James Laurinaitis, linebacker (2005-08) -- Three time All-American, Butkus Award winner as the top college linebacker, Nagurski Award winner as the top college defender, Laurinaitis was a very, very good college player. But he just didn't make that many game-changing plays and "hit the rewind button" collisions.

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