In keeping with my "quarter-century of fandom" theme, I've selected my all-time team of Buckeyes that have played with the program since 1984. Some of the choices- David Boston, Orlando Pace, Antoine Winfield and Mike Nugent- required no thought at all. Other choices- second running back, second receiver, and guard- took a bit of wrestling to decide. A lot of great players have come through this program in the last twenty-five years, and not all of them- guys like Joe Germaine, Alonzo Spellman, Chris Wells, Steve Tovar, Matt Wilhelm, and Shawn Springs- made the cut. What's left is the best of the best.
QB- Troy Smith: Joe Germaine warrants serious consideration for this spot, and sentimentally, so does Craig Krenzel, who did nothing but win. But the electrifying Troy Smith, the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, gets the nod. His rifle arm, quick feet, leadership and escape ability led to a 25-3 record as a starter, including a perfect 3-0 mark against Michigan.
RB- Eddie George: Steady Eddie overcame early-career fumbling problems to become one of the greatest backs in Ohio State history. In 1994, the big tailback rumbled for 1,442 yards and 12 touchdowns, than followed up with his monster Heisman season- 1,927 yards and 24 scores, as he provided the power gear for the most prolific offense in school history.
RB- Keith Byars: This was a tough choice. Beanie Wells was fantastic, and on an aesthetic level, I liked Robert Smith better than anyone- he was so smooth and made it look so easy. Antonio Pittman and Raymont Harris were fine runners, and no player electrified a team like Maurice Clarett. But I've got to go with big, versatile Keith Byars, who excelled as a blocker, receiver and return man as well as a runner and finished second to Doug Flutie in the Heisman balloting in 1984.
WR- David Boston: A lot of great receivers have worn the uniform over the last twenty-five years, but this choice is a no-brainer. David Boston is simply the most awesome physical specimen to ever play receiver at Ohio State. This guy was truly a man among boys- so bad-assed he didn't even need a full complement of blockers to take it to the house.
WR- Cris Carter: Another tough selection, with Joey Galloway, Terry Glenn, Michael Jenkins, and Santonio Holmes from which to choose- among others. But no one combined grace, route-running, and great hands like Cris Carter, who made the sideline catch like nobody's business and more than anyone else, turned Columbus into a destination for playmaking receivers.
TE- Rickey Dudley: Originally a basketball player at Ohio State, Rickey Dudley combined excellent blocking with the ability to stretch the field on pass plays. John Cooper's regime produced a number of good tight ends, but Dudley was the best of the lot.
T- Orlando Pace: Maybe the best football player, period, to don the Ohio State uniform in the last quarter-century. Pancake Pace mauled everyone he went up against, from marginal talents to All-Americans, and did it in a way that made his brilliance noticeable to even the most casual fan. He was as entertaining to watch as the most gifted skill players, and that's not something you can often say of an offensive lineman. Oh, by the way, he also won two Lombardi Awards and an Outland Trophy as a Buckeye.
G- Jim Lachey: Now an enthusiastically biased analyst on the Ohio State Football Radio Network, Lachey's All-American blocking helped the Buckeyes win the Big Ten title and go to the Rose Bowl in 1984.
C- LeCharles Bentley: The mediocrity of the Buckeye teams for which he performed didn't obscure the brilliance of LeCharles Bentley, who won the Rimington Award as the nation's most outstanding center for 2001.
G- Rob Murphy: I leaned toward the steady-if-unspectacular Rob Sims for this spot, but in the end, I'm going with Rob Murphy, a two-time All-American who blocked for some of Ohio State's most explosive offensive units in the late 1990's.
T- Korey Stringer: The late, great Mr. Stringer was a two-time All-American and part of the first wave of superb talents that John Cooper brought to Columbus in the early ‘90s. He's been a bit overshadowed by his Buckeye contemporary Orlando Pace, but Korey was a dominant force at the tackle position in his own right.
DE- Will Smith: The Fresh Prince terrorized quarterbacks and ball-carriers alike, and followed up the 2002 National Championship with a senior season that saw him win the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year Award.
DT- Dan Wilkinson: You won't find Big Daddy's name next to "high motor" in the dictionary of football clichés, but when he felt like it, this guy was a one-man wrecking crew.
DT- Kenny Peterson: A product of the same Canton McKinley powerhouse that featured Mike Doss, and Jamar Martin, Peterson anchored the front four of the National Championship 2002 defense. His destruction of Miami's Rimington Award-winning center Brett Romberg was critical to Ohio State's upset of the Hurricanes in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
DE- Mike Vrabel: A fast, smart player who could stuff the run and rush the passer with equal aplomb, the Walsh Jesuit product was a first-team All-American and key member of the dominant 1996 defense that carried the Buckeyes to within an eyelash of a National Championship. I played against Vrabel in high school; I remember several of my teammates hanging out in the weight room the following Monday, proudly swapping stories about how badly he'd manhandled them.
LB- Andy Katzenmoyer: The Big Kat enjoyed one of the greatest seasons any freshman has ever had at Ohio State, at any position, and followed it up with a Butkus Award-winning season in 1997. Missouri's Corby Jones is probably still looking for the license number of the scarlet and grey semi that ran him over back in '97. He was no Rhodes Scholar, but the Big Kat was at Ohio State to crack skulls, not books. It should be noted that he's working toward his degree at Otterbein, owns a successful gym, and is by most accounts a pretty nice guy, which beats being an intellectual douche-bag.
LB- Chris Spielman: The epitome of the best of Ohio football, Spielman came out of Massillon to become one of the toughest, most relentless players in the history of the program. He was always, always around the football, maximized every physical gift he had, and came up big in the biggest games. As I've said before, Chris Spielman is my all-time favorite Ohio State player. I wore his #36 in high school, albeit with far, far less distinction (for my career, I had twenty-seven fewer tackles than Spielman had in the 1986 Michigan game alone.)
LB- A.J. Hawk: Not highly recruited out of Centerville High School, A.J. Hawk became a Buckeye All-American with sideline-to-sideline speed and a nose for the football equaled only by Chris Spielman among Buckeye linebackers I've had the privilege to watch. Hawk was the anchor of the exceptional 2005 linebacker corps that also included Bobby Carpenter and Anthony Schlegel.
CB- Antoine Winfield: The graduate of Akron Garfield and 1998 Thorpe Award winner was the best component of the brilliant Ohio State defensive backfields of the late ‘90s. Not only was #11 a shutdown corner, he could rattle teeth coming up in run support.
CB- Malcolm Jenkins: A three-year starter, Jenkins won a well-deserved Thorpe Award for his brilliant senior season of 2008. Malcolm just beats out Shawn Springs for this spot.
FS- Michael Doss: The heart and soul of the magnificent 2002 defense, Doss more than made up for questionable skills against the pass with bone-crunching ferocity against the run. Not to say he didn't have his moments against the pass- after all, it was his interception and long return that set up Ohio State's game-tying score in the '03 Fiesta Bowl, turning the tide of the game in favor of the Buckeyes.
SS- Damon Moore: A three-year starter, the hard-hitting Moore was part of the greatest secondary in school history, along with Antoine Winfield, Nate Clements, Ahmed Plummer, and Derek Ross. He salted away Ohio State's 1996 Rose Bowl berth with a pick-six at the expense of Indiana's Chris Dittoe.
K- Mike Nugent: Say it with me, folks: NUUUUUUUGE. It's not often that a kicker becomes a fan idol, but that's what happens when he makes fifty-yard field goals look as easy as extra points. His 55-yarder to beat Marshall in 2004 is the stuff of legend; that baby would have been good from 65.
P- Andy Groom: It's tough to call a punter a team MVP, but Andy Groom definitely deserves at least a little consideration for what he did for the 2002 team. Groom's howitzer of a leg continually won the field position battle, and for that team, field position was everything. His importance to the National Championship run can't be overstated.
KR/PR- Ted Ginn: Without a doubt, the most exciting individual performer I've ever seen in a Buckeye uniform. Every time Teddy Jr. got the ball, there was anticipation of seeing something you'd never seen before on a football field. The phrase "he can score from anywhere on the field" might be a little overused, but it absolutely applied when it came to #7. Didn't matter where he was, whether he was surrounded by defenders, trapped in the backfield or along the sideline- all he ever needed was one or two moves, one or two missed tackles, and he could be gone.
HEAD COACH- Jim Tressel: The man in the sweater-vest has the National Championship, the domination of Michigan, and the sense of what it means to be a Buckeye- and what the Buckeyes mean to this state.
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR- Walt Harris: Other than recruiting, John Cooper's biggest attribute was the ability to find great assistants and the latitude to let them shine. Walt Harris is the best example; he came to Columbus in 1995, and although his official title was quarterback coach, he was the real architect of the record-shattering offense that lit up Ohio Stadium that season.
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR- Mark Dantonio: I considered Fred Pagac, the architect of the dominant late ‘90s Silver Bullets, for this spot. But Dantonio gets the nod for masterminding the 2002 defense that carried the Buckeyes to a National Championship.
Not a bad team, huh?