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One and Done?

Scott Haynes, College Editor

On Campus Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Last season, on the national stage in the Desert, tailback Maurice Clarett was the brightest bulb in the Ohio State marquee, as he scored the winning touchdown in double-overtime against the Miami Hurricanes.

For that matter, the freshman phenom could arguably be credited with getting the Buckeyes into the Fiesta Bowl in the first-place, with his hard-nosed and electrifying running style all season long.

All he did was earn Big Ten Freshman of the Year, as well as, All-American and All-Big Ten honors. He rushed for 1,237 hard-earned yards, with 18 TDs. He set a freshman rushing record at OSU, despite missing three games and parts of two others with injuries.

However, building on such a successful debut season will be difficult, if not impossible, as off-the-field problems have seriously put Clarett's collegiate career in jeopardy.

Maurice Clarett
With each passing moment, it is becoming clearer that Maurice Clarett's days in Columbus are numbered.
Clarett was suspended for a breach of the NCAA's rules regarding amateurism and also for allegedly misleading investigators into his off-the-field behavior the run-around. He has been accused of giving a false theft report to police. Thousands of dollars worth of clothes and stereo equipment, along with money were reported stolen from a car Clarett parked on campus last spring, according to police. His use of the vehicle could have been a violation of NCAA rules regarding illegal benefits.

Also, questions have arisen regarding Clarett receiving assistance to pass a class before last year's Fiesta Bowl.

Where there's smoke, there's usually fire. Ohio State University and Athletic Director Andy Geiger seem to have one goal in mind. DON'T GET BURNED.

It is becoming quite clear that Ohio State, now in the middle of all this controversy, is trying to distance itself from the young man that brought a national title back to Columbus. Clarett was suspended for several games, but was initially allowed to still practice with the team. Head coach Jim Tressel came out recently and changed that, suspending the young man from training with the team as well.

Is it fair? No, not for either side. A tremendous 2002 season by the Buckeyes now has a ominous cloud surrounding it (if indeed Clarett received special treatment last year).

Then there is Clarett himself. I know the system is set up so that the school has to get into a defensive posture, with little regard to the player himself, but the length that OSU has gone in leaving the young man out there on a limb, is a little disturbing. Especially to Clarett and his family.

With each passing moment, it is becoming clearer that Clarett's days in Columbus are numbered. The big question is, what are his options? According to the NFL, Clarett isn't allowed to enter the league until he is three years removed from high school. Therefore, he would not be eligible for the 2004 Draft, but must wait until 2005. Clarett could be the posterchild for litigation against the NFL's stance on underclassmen and therefore could change the face of both the college game and professional game in the near future. That of course, is a debate for another time.

Getting back on target...Will the Buckeyes survive if Clarett is unable to return to the team? Of course.

Will they be able to successfully defend their national title? That's a whole different story.

Tressel wants to believe that the running game is in fine shape with Maurice Hall and Lydell Ross filling the void. He doesn't have a choice, does he?

One look at the season-opening win over Washington tells a different tale. The pair combined for just 101 yards on 27 combined carries. Clarett averaged more than that last season (over 112 yards per game) and rushed for over 130 yards on four occasions, including a career-high of 230 yards against Pac-10 co-champion Washington State.

The team will be fine this weekend, going up against a much weaker San Diego State squad, but next week, it's a powerful NC State team, followed by a dangerous mid-major (Bowling Green). Then the real fun begins with the Big Ten slate, including road games at Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. We'll all see if Tressel sticks firm with his comfort level regarding the ground attack.

What does Clarett do in the interim? I guess nothing. He wanted to become the greatest rusher in OSU history (a tall task to say the least with names like Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Robert Smith) and seemed to be on the right track after a tremendous freshman campaign. That doesn't look like it is going to happen now.

Following last season, the sky was the limit for Clarett in Columbus...That sky has all but fallen now.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Scott Haynes at shaynes@sportsnetwork.com.

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