Friday, November 2, 2007

Calling O-H-I-O

SATURDAY ADDITION: Jim wrote a nice story on the Glenville connection in today's Cap Times, read it here. It's sort of buried on, but it's very well done and worth a read.

Most of you know that I spent my first two years post-UW in a humble little state called Ohio. It was an interesting time. Basically, my buddy Mike Pidanick and I would work 90 hours a week and play Madden and NHL ’96 for the other 78 hours. In warm months we added daily golf, with one year on the links accounting for 95% of my lifetime rounds.

We also spent lots of time watching high school sports, and after returning to Wisconsin I couldn’t help but think: the level of play and athleticism is significantly higher in Ohio. The difference was most noticeable in basketball, where athleticism is easier to spot. But the football players were also better. My second year there, Ben Roethlisberger came into Fremont and threw eight touchdown passes against our hometown boys. Eight! I can’t even begin to imagine a kid doing that in Wisconsin.

This has been on my mind more than usual since we play Ohio State this week. Let’s face it, the Buckeyes are going to take just about anyone they want from the state, but there are still lots of good guys left over. Lots of them end up playing in the MAC. I’m not saying we should be competing with Toledo and Kent State for recruits every year, but would Roethlisberger, Charlie Frye (who we also covered), or any of those other MAC stars contributed at UW? Damn right they would have. But we can also get high-level talented kids that would excel at OSU.

Henry Mason’s efforts have been outstanding mining talent from that state. I may be off a year or two here (Jim can help me out), but in the years preceding Mason’s arrival in Madison, we didn’t get much from Ohio. Kevin Huntley – a Crimson Streak from Fremont St. Joseph Central Catholic – was a solid four-year contributor. But after Mason arrived came a line of real standouts: John Favret, Chris Chambers, Mike Echols, Chad Kuhns (a Bellevue Redman), Lee Evans. Russ Kuhns, Delante McGrew, and Dontez Sanders were starters. On today’s team, Jason Chapman and Kyle Jefferson and standouts, Lance Smith is good when he’s eligible, Shane Carter is making plays, and Otis Merrill, Prince Moody, Daven Jones, Brandon Kelly, and Bill Nagy are also on the roster, most with a chance to contribute some day. All except Moody are northern Ohio, most of them Northeast Ohio, guys.

The Ohio connection, in particular Bedford/Cleveland, is the best pipeline we have going right now. St. Louis was great for awhile – the Fletchers, Bryant, Starks, etc. – and we’ve got Wes Kemp coming next year. It is vital to the future of this program to keep these alive. We can only get so much out of Wisconsin, the Twin Cities should theoretically be more competitive with Brewster at the U, and Zook and Weis should take more of Chicago than we’re used to. New Jersey is another goldmine, but the rise of Big East football, Schiano at Rutgers in particular, and Penn State's return to relevance will make it tougher to get Ron Daynes out of that region.

I love how the Bedford kids talk about Chambers and Evans with such reverence, hopefully Jefferson can keep the tradition going.

As for tomorrow’s games, I have low hopes, but that’s okay. We ought to be a significant underdog, whether PJ plays or not, and have a chance to pull a stunner. My sense is that we will overachieve and play just well enough to lose by single digits. There’s nothing wrong with Ohio State, but the fact that they’re the clear-cut #1 nationally is more a reflection of college football’s dearth of elite teams than a reflection of their dominance. Last year’s OSU team would beat this year’s by 20.

Prediction: Ohio State 20, Wisconsin 16


Jim Polzin said...

Ironically, I wrote something on the Glenville connection that is running in Saturday's paper.

By the way, as I was about to land in Columbus tonight I looked down and we were going right over the top of what I thought was a football stadium. The lights were on, you could see people running around on the field. I got a little bit excited thinking this was a Ohio football playoff game.

Then I saw the soccer nets. What a letdown.

olson said...

So I'm listening to the game on the radio (like it's 1959) and the play-by-play guy just exclaimed "Jack ICKY-goon on the coverage." I kid you not.

Scott Tappa said...

I'm guessing that what Jim saw was the Columbus Crew's stadium. The MLS playoffs are going on, but I also know they play high school playoff games there, it's a terrific venue for that - beautiful grass field, somewhere around 25-30,000 capacity.

Jim Polzin said...

Sort of buried? That's an understatement. I'm about to go postal on our Internet folks because I put all this effort into a story that nobody can frickin' find.