Luke Fickell as he appeared in an article via the Toledo Blade

Live long enough and your sure to find your share of surprises in life- some good, some bad. Luke Fickell got the most shocking of all surprises when the Ohio State administrators gave him the de facto keys to the Lamborghini of a college football program.  This after only warming the car up a few times and taking a joy ride around the block a time or two. Training over. It is now time to take that car out in rush hour traffic with speed traps at every turn.

Things appear good for Fickell on the surface.  He at least looks the part and is saying the right things in front of the media and other onlookers thus far. Truth be told, if you were to tell Fickell that he would be The head coach at The Ohio State University six months ago, he probably would have been looking for a punch line somewhere. There is no joking now. Fickell has been set up for a dream job with more asterisks than a credit card terms and conditions notice. Let’s take a deeper dive into what the Columbus area native has before him.

The old adage states that you never want to be the man to replace a legend. Despite the feelings of some critics, Jim Tressel will be known as a legend in the annals of Ohio State for the way that his teams performed on the field. A national championship, seven-league titles, and eight BCS games (five of them culminating with a victory)  in ten years is enough to build statues at almost any program. That, is before we even mention the record against “that school up North.” Add to it all the work that he did in the community, and the way that Tressel carried himself at the podium before and after games, and anyone in their right mind would have to agree that Woody has company on the banks of the Olentangy.

How will Fickell emerge from such an enormous shadow?  Anything short of the torrid pace that the “sweater vest” set will leave the fans of one of the most rabid fan bases in America with a case of scarlet fever. Fall outside of the national championship race and folks will be uneasy. Break the string of Big Ten titles (excluding the ridiculous blotting out of last year) and people will be even more anxious. Worse yet, lose to those winged helmets in year one and everyone tied to the program will already be pining for the days of old just one year removed from them. Out with the new, and in with the old. Don’t let the removal of the interim tag fool you-if there is a regression from the standard that has been set, there is going to be enormous pressure to replace it with a clearance tag.

Remember the polish that senator Tressel had in front of the media? Sure it was frustrating to hear the same clichés and tones each and every time the man answered questions, but he at least make you think that he had it all under control. Fickell is, at least thus far, uncomfortable to say the least in the limelight.  He has had two opportunities to show his moxy in front of the cameras and has looked less than composed both times.  He has almost too much energy in front of the cameras, and gives the impression that his nerves overtake his train of thought. Before we get too bent out of shape, let’s remember that he has been thrust into the most extreme case of on the job training, and should improve his composure over time.  Even if he doesn’t improve, the best news of all is that a coach will ultimately be defined by what his teams do on the field (right Ron Zook?). Still though, this is a far cry from the man that everyone will remember leading pressers and befuddling all.

Aside from the expectations, there is that little thing about pending sanctions hanging over the scarlet and grey. It has already cost the program one blue chip recruit, and one gets the feeling that others are waiting for things to crystallize before making any type of commitment. How far will it go? Despite the news that a failure to monitor citing will not be forthcoming, there is still the possibility of sanctions that could mean a loss of scholarships or more. Realized or not, the enormity of the tattoo scandle and the subsequent penalties will have an impact on the recruiting trail. There are more than likely going to be some of those aforementioned leaner years that will make it tough for Fickell to really gather steam with administrators, media, and fans alike. That brings us to our next point…

An Urban legend? There is that big ‘ole elephant sitting in the offices of the football offices. You know it, I know it, and even the man to which much speculation has been made knows it. That alone makes the intriguing desires of many to hire Urban Meyer an interesting proposition. Meyer has been very coy with his responses of whether he would be interested in taking on reigns to a program that he has longed to run. Rather than end any and all rumors, he has made a point to word his responses very wisely to let those that make the decisions at Ohio State know that he is not removing his name from the mystery of the possibility. Can the actions of one man say keeping the options open more? Hardly.

People will be quick to judge a man cutting his teeth in a big time college football program, but patience would prevail by hiring a proven winner. Gene Smith and company might be committed to Luke Fickell this season, but if and when things get close to anarchy within the ranks, the captains of good old state U could have their proven winner in the person of the former Gator coach and Ohio native. Despite the rumors, Meyer has not yet bought a house in the affluent Columbus suburb, but it may not be long if all of the stars that seem to be aligning shine even brighter.

There is a lot to like about Luke Fickell. He has passion for everything Ohio State, is a native to the area, and seems honest, hard-working, and sincere. He is the kind of guy that you root very hard for. What remains to be seen though is who Luke Fickell really is. The better question may be who will Luke Fickell be? Will he be the next stable and successful coach at his alma mater, or will he be a bridge to perceived better things?  Time will tell, and it may be as soon as this season.

The question then begs to be asked: On May 30th, when the head coaching job at Ohio State fell in Luke Fickell’s lap, will he ultimately judge this life surprise as a splendid opportunity taken, or one that will result in apprehensive reflection?

Like a prized fighter that finally took too many body blows, Jim Tressel has tendered his resignation effective immediately. In his place, Luke Fickell will take over the football team until the end of the year when the university has stated that they will conduct a search for the sweater vest’s replacement.

Why now? Why the resignation when the university has shown such staunch support of Tressel throughout the entire process? Once news broke, the coach got nearly an embarrassing amount of support from both athletic director Gene Smith and the president Gordon Gee. Once they hitched their wagons to his defense, you began to really believe that the university, students, fans, and most importantly  tattoo parlors across the state would stand by their man no matter what. It seemed like almost the entire state would bear the badge of honor for a man that has won more than any coach in its history.

Then, on Memorial Day 2011 news comes that Tressel is finished.

Had the smoke not gotten thicker after the March news conference confirmed that the head football coach at Ohio State committed a “major” NCAA infraction, perhaps the sidelines would still be patrolled by the Senator in 2011. The reality, however, is that true or not, things continued to surface. There was more insight that Tressel forwarded e-mails to folks besides those that should have been first to get an alert in their inbox, there were rumors of deals on wheels, and then former players having a battle royale via Twitter.

Enough is enough.

The NCAA will soon be levying their penalties against the university, but now they will be doing it with the knowledge that the man that committed this (or these) infractions will not be performing the most important play in football any longer, by punting questions at a news conference.

Will the NCAA show a little mercy now that Ohio State has cut off the head of the proverbial snake, or will it look unfavorably still because it took so long for it to shed its skin? Time will tell, but one thing is certain-Ohio State fans will remember this Memorial Day.

Follow Phil Harrison on twitter @peharrison.

We took a look at the Leader’s Division of the Big Ten yesterday, so it is only fitting that we parlay that into how the Big Ten Legends Division is shaping up after spring ball. Let’s dive right in like Terrelle Pryor into a tattoo parlor:

1. Nebraska- The new kids on the block have a legitimate chance at winning the division their first year in.  The conference suits did them no favor by providing them with perhaps the toughest schedule of any Big Ten team. Nebraska kicks it off by going to Wisconsin and then welcomes Ohio State to Lincoln with OSU at full strength for the first time. They also have to go to Michigan State and go to Penn State and Michigan. Still, this team should have a great defense back to carry the load. That in combination with a down Big Ten, especially in the Legends Division, will allow the Cornhuskers a chance to get to Indy.

2. Michigan State- You could easily make the case that the Spartans belong in the top spot in the Legends Division. The offense may be the best in the Big Ten this year, and they certainly have seemed to turn things around to be a contender each year under Dantonio. The problem with this team though could lie on the defensive side of the ball where they just won’t have the play makers to shut down teams. You couple that with trips to Ohio State and Nebraska, and they could fall just short of their goal of winning the first Legends Division Championship.

3. Iowa- This is a bit of a rebuilding year for Iowa and you never know exactly what you’re going to get from a Ferentz team in years in which there is a lot of turmoil. The best news of all however is that they seem to have a feature back in Marcus Coker that generally lends well to the ball control offense and sound defensive scheme that the Hawkeyes utilize. You know a Kirk Ferentz offensive line is going to be good, and they should be good enough to win more than they lose. It will all hinge on the play of the new quarterback James Vandenberg, and its hard to pick a team to go too far with a youngster under center.

4. Northwestern- Northwestern is no longer the doormat of the Big Ten, and has now solidified itself as a perennial tough out for the last 15 years or so. Things are no different with Fitzgerald at the helm as they have figured out the best style of play to best suit the talent that they bring in. The skill of player will hardly ever win a Big Ten title, but they will continue to give teams a tough out and win their share of shootouts. With Dan Persa back, you are looking at much of the same this year.

5. Michigan- It is hard to tell where Michigan will be this year with Brady Hoke stepping into the mix. I do feel as though there will be some improvement in the toughness category that will keep this team from melting down at the end of the year like the last three campaigns. The defense has got to be better by getting older and switching to the 4-3, but Denard Robinson has looked more out of place than Rich Rodriguez singing “You Lift Me Up” on the offensive side of the ball with the new direction Michigan is going.  As Denard goes, so too do the Wolverines. They’ll be knocking on the door of a bowl game, but that’s about it.

6. Minnesota- The program has dialed up Jerry Kill to try and turn around probably the worst program in the Big Ten right now. The problem is that the only thing in the pantry is dual quarterback MarQueis Gray. There is no doubt that he is an unbelievable talent and will keep the Golden Gophers in some games, but not against the elite teams. The reality is that this program has a long way to go from a sheer athleticism stand point to have a puncher’s chance. The only question is what will be worse: The football team, or the weather?

That concludes our two part look at the Big Ten as the teams look after spring ball. Feel free to chime in and tell us your thoughts.


Now that spring practice is in the books and we at least have a little more to go on, it is time to rank the teams in each division as they stand going into summer workouts.

Here is a look at the order of the Leader’s Division first:

1. Ohio State- I know, I know, there are suspensions a plenty for the first five games of the year and it has got to take its toll at some point right? You bet it might, but remember that the Big Ten division winner is crowned by how well a team does in conference, and not out of it. I still think that this is the most talented team on paper (and the coolest with all of the tattoos), and with everyone returning for all but one Big Ten game, they still get the nod over pretty good Wisconsin and Penn State teams.

2. Wisconsin- Wisky has to play Nebraska and also go to Columbus and East Lansing. On top of that,  the Badgers are replacing the starting quarterback along with a couple of all Big Ten performers on both the offensive and defensive lines. You know they are still going to be able to run the ball, but breaking in a new QB along with the schedule is going to make it awful tough to be on top.

3.  Penn State- Nittany Lion fans will be saying I told you so in the front part of the Big Ten schedule.  They will then resume their annual call for the resignation of Joe Paterno when they have to play at Ohio State and Wisconsin to round out their slate. Until they can be settled at quarterback, I just don’t see them fairing well enough on the road to beat out either of the top two.

4. Ilinois- This could be a dangerous team if Ron Zook wasn’t still coach. Nathan Scheelhaase showed us that he can give defenses fits with his dual threat ability and moxie.  You just never know what you are going to get with the ‘Fighting Zookers. They will probably either over-achieve or fall well short of expectations. For now, we’ll wait and see and plug them about where they would normally be.

5. Purdue- Purdue should be improved on offense, but the entire team itself still lacks the talent to get into the upper echelon of the Big Ten, let alone the Leader’s division.  Purdue will have a very good quarterback in either Rob Henry or Robert Marve, but there are too many question marks elsewhere. After this year, look out for the Danny Hope resignation/firing watch.

6. Indiana- It’s Indiana, and its football. Need I say more?

Coming Thursday-The Legend’s Divison

Every college football team goes through downturns. Nobody is immune to it, and much like the central Ohio weather, it is hard to forecast. Still, ultimately, there comes an event which starts a downward spiral for the program. USC has its Reggie Bush, many teams in the SEC had its “sanctions”, and the Florida State of the 90’s began a decline because of the rise of other football powers.

The ongoing saga of Tressel, the tattoos, and emails will certainly take its toll on Ohio State football, but will it be enough to act as a catalyst towards mediocrity for the program?

Tressel is still getting unbelievable support from OSU followers, but you have to believe that all of this is going to take its toll on the backbone of a college football program, recruiting.

How can a coach who predicated himself on class and ethics (and got recruits because of it), now go into homes and use the same sales pitch? Maybe it won’t last, but OSU has only landed one commitment since news of this entire sordid tale took place. If this trend continues, OSU could very well take a step backwards.

The next couple of years will be key (especially as the final sanctions come out) with recruiting and continuity of the coaching staff. If the program can weather the storm then their is hope that the scarlet and grey can stay among the elite.

If not however, Tressel could always open up a tattoo parlor.

We have more breaking news on the Sweater Vest watch. No wait, no we don’t. Everything that keeps coming out on Jim Tressel and the much maligned football team is only new to the media. We have now gone from Tressel simply lying to now sharing the now infamous email that he received about the selling of football memorabilia to various sources.

Here’s a news flash for those that are not getting it: The OSU administrators already know all of this, and the fact that nobody can read between the lines and wait to be spoon fed is glaring.

Yes, the NCAA has come back and said that OSU has potentially committed a major infraction, and yes, there is a possibility that there could be some sanctions come out of it. This is old news and not anything different than what Gene Smith and Gordon Gee have known.

Time to move on until something that hasn’t already been uncovered comes to light.

This is a brand new site dedicated to sports enthusiasts who want to read commentary on a lot of sports topics, with a slant towards college football (Big Ten and Ohio State especially).

Take a poke around, but remember that we are still dusting off some of the sawdust from opening. You will see things change around a bit, but make yourself at home and have fun reading, fuming, and commenting.

Phil Harrison