On April 1, the first day of spring practice, junior starting
quarterback Steve Bellisari tried to fool the media by wearing
the number 16 jersey of sophomore backup Craig Krenzel instead of
his own number 8. Given how erratically Bellisari played last
season, few were laughing.
He captained a ship that seemed to spring a new leak every week
until finally going under in a three-turnover, 24-17 loss at
Michigan in the season finale. The Buckeyes didn't play in a bowl
for the first time since the 1988 season, coach John Cooper's
first year at the helm. "Last year left a lot to be desired,"
says Bellisari, who wrested the starting job from Austin Moherman
early in the season only to put up the lowest completion
percentage (45.1) of any Buckeyes quarterback since Cornelius
Greene in 1973. "We can't just go out on the field, say 'We're
Ohio State!' and expect to win."
Cooper addressed last year's subpar season almost immediately,
axing offensive coordinator Mike Jacobs and defensive ends coach
Shawn Simms last November, shuffling the assignments of his other
assistants and hiring new coaches for the offensive line and the
linebackers. New offensive coordinator Chuck Stobart, unlike
Jacobs, will meet with Bellisari daily and mold the offense to
his quarterback's strengths. "A good football team doesn't ask
people to do what they can't do, and Steve is not Joe Germaine,"
says Cooper, referring to the pocket passer who threw 25
touchdowns in the Buckeyes' 11-1 season of two years ago.
Bellisari, fourth among Big Ten quarterbacks in rushing (332
yards on 116 carries) last season, will take deeper drops to take
better advantage of his mobility. He will run an offense that has
more option plays and naked bootlegs. When he does pass, he
should have at least two sure-handed receivers to aim for in
seniors Ken-Yon Rambo and Reggie Germany, who combined for 1,489
receiving yards a year ago. The defense has seven starters
returning, but new coordinator Joe Tenuta must deal with the
losses of second-team All-Big Ten cornerback Ahmed Plummer and
linebacker Na'il Diggs to the NFL draft.
Ohio State is aided by a schedule that has Penn State, Minnesota,
Michigan State and Michigan visiting Columbus, so don't expect
Cooper to be sitting home in January for a second straight year.
Also, don't expect Bellisari to be hiding in someone else's
jersey on April Fools' Day next spring.
COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON By giving Bellisari more options, the coaches hope to improve everybody's numbers.
1999 record: 6-6 (3-5, T8 in Big Ten)
Final ranking: not ranked
Consecutive wins for the Buckeyes in September games, dating to
Sept. 17, 1994.
An opposing team's coach sizes up The Buckeyes
"They scare me. They got beaten up and weren't very good last
year, but you know they're going to fight back....Bellisari is
very athletic, but he was lost last year. They ran all those
sprint outs and bootlegs without any idea of what they were
doing....Tailback Jonathan Wells is headed for a breakout
year....Defense is Ohio State's strength. The line and the
linebackers will give you fits, but the secondary is short on
Strength: 4th of 115
Sept. 2 FRESNO STATE
9 at Arizona
16 MIAMI (OHIO)
23 PENN STATE
Oct. 7 at Wisconsin
21 at Iowa
28 at Purdue
Nov. 4 MICHIGAN STATE
11 at Illinois
["TELLING NUMBER" COMPILED BY DAVID SABINO]