August 2, 2011
Winning now comes before loyalty for Fickell
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COMMENTARY - Ohio State senior quarterback Joe Bauserman and head coach Luke Fickell have something in common - everything is riding on this year.
For the 26-year-old Bauserman, he has one final shot to become Ohio State's starting quarterback. If he doesn't convince the staff he's the best signal caller on the team during fall camp, the sixth-year senior's career will likely end without him ever starting a game for the Buckeyes.
Things may not be quite as final for Fickell, but his performance as the team's first-year head coach will go a long way in determining whether Ohio State's administration views him as the long-term solution for one of the most coveted positions in all of college football.
That changes everything in the quarterback race, particularly for Bauserman.
Jim Tressel was known for staying loyal to upperclassmen, which is why many felt as if Bauserman was the front-runner for the job before the former head coach turned in his letter or resignation on Memorial Day.
Under Tressel, Bauserman took the majority of the first-team repetitions in spring practice while Terrelle Pryor - who is no longer with the program - sat out while nursing an injury.
Bauserman would've likely continued to rep solely with the first team at the beginning of fall camp if Tressel still was the team's head coach, but Fickell doesn't quite have the time to experiment with the senior based on experience alone.
That's not saying Bauserman doesn't give Ohio State the best opportunity to win, but if there's any doubt in Fickell's mind as to who the Buckeyes will play best with under center, he has to figure out who that guy is regardless of seniority or perceived experience.
Given what we saw out of freshman Braxton Miller in the spring game, who showed his great athleticism to extend plays and move the chains, its possible that the highly-touted recruit is the best option for the Buckeyes.
Miller spent the majority of spring practice repping with the fourth team, but he got multiple drives in Ohio Stadium in the spring game with the first team. Miller finished the scrimmage 7-of-12 for 73 yards and a touchdown, in addition to 19 rushing yards on four carries. That performance, of course, came on just three weeks of practice with the Buckeyes.
The other two options could come in to play, too, whether it is Taylor Graham and his rocket arm or Kenny Guiton and his hybrid style that combines moderate elusiveness and passing potential.
But one thing's for sure - Fickell has to win now. The quarterback chosen, of course, will have quite a bit to do with whether or not the Buckeyes are successful on the field in Fickell's one chance.
Bauserman sports the most experience, but he didn't really put on the performance needed to win over fans clamoring over the freshman Miller in the spring game. The senior finished the scrimmage just 4-of-11 passing and started the first series by getting sacked twice and being called for a delay of game penalty. It wasn't until his final drive where he threw his only touchdown.
Those memories came fresh off the only action Bauserman got in the regular season in 2010. With Pryor out with an injury for a few drives at Illinois last year, Bauserman's relief of Pryor wasn't pretty. In addition to not providing a spark the Buckeyes offense needed to move the ball on the Illini on the road, Bauserman also threw an interception.
Fickell indicated in Chicago that he met with Gene Smith to discuss reasonable goals for Ohio State in 2011, who still is reeling from a summer filled with scandal and uncertainty. Fickell didn't share what Smith's expectations are, but there's no question they've been communicated to Fickell.
The Buckeyes still have a hearing with the NCAA's Committee on Infractions on Aug. 12, but the Buckeyes will be well into their preparation for the season opener looming just weeks after.
While Fickell will likely be gauged on an array of different things - recruiting and the program's perception will likely be a part of that - winning will undoubtedly be the deciding factor in answering the question of whether he's the right man for the job.
The beauty of the biggest decision for Fickell is that he can make it simple. Regardless of age, experience, seniority, or any other factor, all he has to do is pick out the one quarterback that gives Ohio State the best chance to win football games.
The future isn't guaranteed for Fickell, so he has to go with the guy that gives him a chance to realize his dream of becoming Ohio State's next long-term head coach.
This is about more than loyalty for Fickell. This is about winning. It's about business. And it's about accomplishing his dream.
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.
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