Big Ten Countdown - Leaders Division - Second Place
By Tony Gerdeman
2. Ohio State Buckeyes
Unproven quarterbacks who may or may not be ready to play, but they'll be handing the ball off to a talented group of runners. Athletic receivers, but inexperienced while their star is suspended. A big offensive line that has the depth to handle missing its left tackle for five games. A defensive line that will have to trim players to find an eight-man rotation. Two new linebackers, and a secondary that people don't know enough about yet.
Seven on offense, four on defense and the punter.
Sept. 3 Akron (W)
Sept. 10 Toledo (W)
Sept. 17 at Miami (W)
Sept. 24 Colorado (W)
Oct. 1 Michigan State (W)
Oct. 8 at Nebraska (L)
Oct. 15 at Illinois (L)
Oct. 29 Wisconsin (L)
Nov. 5 Indiana (W)
Nov. 12 at Purdue (W)
Nov. 19 Penn State (W)
Nov. 26 at Michigan (W)
"Let's win this for He Who Shall Not Be Named!"
A Big Ten Championship. There is never a time at Ohio State when this isn't the goal. And with the division format, the possibility is certainly there even in a "down year". The Buckeyes can win the division with two losses, provided one of those losses isn't to Wisconsin.
Eleven wins. Even without suspensions or Terrelle Pryor leaving, winning at Nebraska was going to be next to impossible, and the quarterback situation will bring about at least one loss that shouldn't be a loss. The Buckeyes just have to hope that that one bad game comes in Lincoln.
Five wins. Even typing it, it sounds insane, but the Buckeyes could conceivably start 3-3, and THEN have to play Wisconsin and travel to Illinois. Then they finish with three difficult opponents (at Purdue, Penn State at Michigan), which better Ohio State teams have struggled against.
Five Questions Looking For Answers
1. Can the play of quarterbacks Joe Bauserman or Braxton Miller keep the other on bench?
2. Will a running back establish himself in Boom Herron's absence?
3. Can Andrew Norwell hold up at left tackle while Mike Adams is out?
4. Will the defensive line produce the quarterback pressure that it was missing last year?
5. Can the secondary stay healthy this season?
Best Chance For a Big Loss
At Miami. To be sure, Ohio State should not be involved in any blowouts this season, but sometimes early in the season a road game can get out of hand. With everything going on at Miami, perhaps the Buckeyes will let their guard down a bit. Even if Ohio State has decided on one guy at quarterback by this game, that doesn't mean he won't be nervous for his first road outing.
Most Important Game
Wisconsin. It's the most impactful Big Ten rivalry right now, and it's a divisional game to boot. Neither team can afford to lose this game, but that especially goes for the home team. The Buckeyes need to nip the Badgers in the bud right now, while Wisconsin is at their best. Ohio State needs to assert their dominance until the Badgers acquiesce and show their bellies.
Best Road Game To Pack Up The Family Truckster And Travel To
At Michigan. Think of it as a Scared Straight program while also getting to see Ohio State beat the tar out of the Wolverines.
Game They Shouldn't Lose, But Could
At Purdue. Don't pretend like this isn't a possibility. Since 1997, Ohio State has gone into West Lafayette four times as a ranked opponent, and come out with just two wins.
Something To Look For
Running back by committee all season long. For the first five games of the season, expect the bulk of the carries to be split between Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Jaamal Berry, provided Berry is healthy. Hall is the most versatile, Hyde is the most powerful, and Berry is the most dynamic. They have all earned carries, though Berry was slowed with an injury-filled camp. There's also redshirt freshman Rod Smith, who has drawn comparisons to past Buckeye greats Beanie Wells, Eddie George and Robert Smith. Oh, and then on October 2, All-Big Ten tailback Boom Herron gets reinstated. You might remember him, he has rushed for 2,194 yards in his career. He also averaged 127 yards rushing per game over Ohio State's final five games last season. Even with Herron's return, if there are running backs producing in his absence, then they will be allowed to continue to produce in his presence.
Center Mike Brewster. Brewster is a Rimington Award candidate and is on just about every All-American team you can find. He has 36 starts already in his career, and if the Buckeyes make it to the Big Ten Championship Game and play 14 games this season, Brewster would tie Luke Fickell for most starts in a Buckeye career.
Receiver Devier Posey. Posey is the most complete wide receiving prospect at Ohio State since Santonio Holmes. If he wasn't suspended for the first five games of the season, you'd hear his name more often. It will be difficult for him to build a relationship with the quarterbacks while not on the field, but when he does return, expect him to get open and expect the quarterbacks to look for him.
Player People Are Expecting Too Much From
Quarterback Braxton Miller. Braxton Miller was supposed to be the future of Ohio State football, not the present. He will be very good in time, and is probably pretty good right now, but it's not fair to expect him to have the same impact that Terrelle Pryor had as a freshman.
Player People Will Be Pleasantly Surprised By
Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. Hankins gets a lot of hype by Buckeye fans in some circles, and it's with good reason. Hankins is the type of defensive tackle that the SEC has been building championships around. He's quick off the snap and will need to be double teamed to be contained. During games, when an entire offensive line collapses, 95% of the time it will be because of Hankins.
Cornerback Bradley Roby. The Buckeyes are breaking in two new starters at cornerback this season. Travis Howard is expected to cement his place in the lineage of great Buckeye cornerbacks, but they might want to hold off on pouring that cement until Roby's days are done. One of the fastest Buckeyes on the team, he has also shown a knack for separating the ball from its intended receiver.
Best Reason They Won't Be Undefeated
Too many unknowns. We don't know how the quarterbacks are going to play. Joe Bauserman has been around forever, but the only meaningful snaps he's ever gotten have been fear-inducing for many. We don't know how the receivers will do, even though they have impressed during camp. And finally, we really have no idea what kind of head coach Luke Fickell will be.
Best Reason They Will Be Undefeated
They still have more talent than anybody in the conference. This would have been the deepest stable of tailbacks in the Jim Tressel era. Instead it will just be the norm of the Luke Fickell era. The receivers are currently unproven, but Ohio State receivers have proven themselves for years. The offensive line is one of the best in the conference. They have the most versatile defensive line in the Big Ten, hungry linebackers, and a typical Ohio State secondary. The biggest question mark is the quarterback situation. However, there is little doubt that Braxton Miller will eventually be a star - and it's possible that it could happen sooner rather than later.
Something They Do Well
Stop the run. Ohio State only allowed 97 yards rushing per game last season. It's the fifth time in the last six seasons that they have held their opponents under 100 yards rushing per game. The aforementioned Johnathan Hankins will be a large part of continuing that trend. The depth on the defensive line will allow constant rotation, which will make running the ball even harder. Then, patrolling right behind those defensive linemen will be sure-tackling linebackers who can run sideline to sideline as well as any in the country.
Something They Don't Do So Well
Throw and catch. This isn't just about Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller. It's also about young receivers who have a heck of a lot to prove this season. Young receivers need things to be as easy as possible for them. But it's quite likely that they are not going to have that luxury this season. Brace yourselves folks, because the passing game might not be very pretty at times this season.
Focus. Sometimes when there's so much going on around you, all you can do to get by is seclude yourself and get your tunnel vision on. Talking to the Buckeye players this year, that seems to be exactly what they've done. Even though so much happened in the offseason, the team itself has very little pressure on them this year. Last year, they were the top-ranked team in the nation when they went into Madison and lost. They weren't entering Camp Randall as simply "the Buckeyes", they were entering as the #1-ranked Buckeyes. This season, they won't have to worry about that. There is no pressure on the team. There are almost zero expectations, and they know it.
What's Gotten Worse?
The quarterbacking. Say what you want about Terrelle Pryor, but he was the only quarterback in BCS history to lead his team to a BCS game in his first three seasons on campus. It will always be hard to replace somebody who was the only person to ever do something. Last season Ohio State scored more points than any other season in their history. Don't expect them to approach the 38.8 points per game they scored in 2010.
Anything Else We Should Know About?
Don't expect a drop off at linebacker. Ohio State loses multi-year starting linebackers Brian Rolle and Ross Homan, but does have promising talent returning. Andrew Sweat was the starter on the strong side last year, but will move to the weak side and will lead the Buckeyes in tackles this year. Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino will share the middle, depending on whether or not they're in a nickel defense. When they are in the nickel, Klein will likely leave in favor of nickelback Tyler Moeller. Moeller missed the bulk of last season, but could be the key to this Buckeye defense firing on all eleven of its cylinders this season.
Don't weep for the secondary. The Buckeyes do indeed lose two starters at cornerback and a relative lifer in safety Jermale Hines. However, there is almost never a shortage of cornerback talent at Ohio State and 2011 is no exception. In fact, don't be surprised if Travis Howard and Bradley Roby perform better than Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence did last season. Orhian Johnson returns at one safety spot, after starting eleven games last year. He replaced an injured C.J. Barnett is who is now healthy again and had a fantastic fall camp. Add in third cornerback Dominic Clarke - the fastest player on the team, and third safety Christian Bryant, and the relatively unknown secondary isn't much of a concern for the Buckeyes this season.
Make a Wish
Quarterback competency to the level of Terrelle Pryor's freshman season when he led the conference in passing efficiency.
Four different Buckeyes will rush for at least 100 yards in a game this season.
Scandal Most Likely To Rock the Program
You don't watch the news much, do you?
If The Head Coach Was a Superhero, What Would His Super Power Be?
The super ability to be in the right place at the right time. He wouldn't have to search for crime, he would simply have to wait for it to happen right next to him. He's kind of Murder, She Wrote-ish like that.
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