Football Preview: Ohio State

Aug. 26, 2010

By Larry Watts

Ohio State already has a blueprint for the 2010 football season. Former Buckeye quarterback Troy Smith drew it up back in 2005.

It starts with being named the MVP of a BCS bowl game, a feat Smith accomplished as a junior after leading the Buckeyes past Notre Dame in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl. Then come back the following season to win the Big Ten title, go undefeated in the regular season and be awarded the Heisman Trophy before entering the national championship game.

Terrelle Pryor, who was often compared to Smith when he came to Columbus as the nation's top quarterback recruit, has already taken the first step, and he did it as a sophomore when he was named MVP after the Buckeyes dumped Oregon 26-17 in the 2010 Rose Bowl. He accounted for 338 yards total offense (266 passing, 72 rushing) and two touchdowns to wrap up a 11-2 campaign for the Bucks.

With 16 starters returning, including Pryor and a host of national award candidates, head coach Jim Tressel heads into 10th season heavily favored to win their sixth straight conference title. And the Buckeyes wouldn't mind taking this season one step further than Smith did in 2007 -- actually win the national title.

OFFENSE: It all starts with the 6-foot-6, 233-pound Pryor, but Tressel hardly is at a loss when it comes to weapons of mass destruction on both sides of the ball. With nine starters returning and several others with valuable playing experience, the playbook should be expanded in 2010. Pryor, a junior, passed for 2,094 yards and 18 touchdowns last season while adding a team-high 779 yards rushing and another seven scores. However, in order to join the nation's elite list of quarterback, he will have to improve on his 56.6 completion rate and avoid letdowns like he had at Purdue, where he was picked off twice in a 26-18 setback. Pryor's top two passing targets return in the form of junior DeVier Posey (60 catches, 828 yards, 8 TDs) and senior Dane Sanzenbacher (36-570-6). Senior Taurian Washington has the early edge over freshman Chris Fields as the third receiver. Sophomore Jake Stoneburner (6-5, 245), a converted wide receiver, had a breakout spring and will cause several matchup problems at tight end. Senior Brandon Saine was plagued by injuries in 2009 but still managed to rush for 739 yards while junior Dan Herron (600, 7 TDs) provides another veteran option in the running game. Sophomore Jordan Hall and freshmen Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde will provide plenty of depth. Ohio State is solid across the front line with four returning starters -- seniors Justin Boren (6-3, 320) and Bryant Browning (6-4, 313) at guards, junior Michael Brewster (6-5, 293) at center and junior J.B. Shugarts (6-7, 297) at right tackle. Junior Michael Adams (6-8, 300), who has been limited by injuries, moves in at left tackle.



DEFENSE: Seven starters are back on defense, but graduation did hit the Buckeyes hard in the loss of Kurt Coleman, a three-year starter at strong safety. Up front, senior Cam Heyward (6-5, 286) passed up the NFL and returns at defensive end, where he posted 6.5 sacks in 2009. Junior Nathan Williams (6-3, 260) will line up on the other side as a hybrid end/linebacker. Senior Dexter Larimore (6-2, 310) returns at one tackle slot while weight room fanatic John Simon (6-2, 270), a sophomore, moves into the other slot. Senior linebackers Ross Homan (team-leading 108 tackles in 2009) and Brian Rolle (95 hits) treated opposing ball carriers like ragdolls last season. Junior Etienne Sabino, a special teams standout, has the edge over fellow junior Andrew Sweat at strongside linebacker. Sophomore Orhian Johnson was slowed by injuries last year and gets the call to replace Coleman at strong safety. Converted linebacker Jermale Hines, a senior, will operate at free safety. Seniors Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence are returning veterans at the corners.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Tressel has always been a stickler when it comes to the kicking game and this is where things could get sticky for the Buckeyes. Junior Ben Buchanan only punted four times last year (42.8-yard average) and did not put his best foot forward during the spring. Buchanan is also a candidate to handle long field goals. Devin Barclay, a 27-year-old senior and former professional soccer player, was 7-for-10 on field goals after inheriting the job midway through last season. The Buckeyes will be breaking in new return specialists with Washington and sophomore tailback Jordan Hall getting the first crack in fall camp.

MISCELLANEOUS: The Buckeyes got a huge emotional lift in the spring with the return of senior Tyler Moeller, a hybrid safety/linebacker. Moeller missed all of last season after suffering a skull fracture during a bar fight while on vacation with his family. Moeller did not take any hits during the spring and Tressel is slowly working him back into the rotation. The national watch lists for postseason awards are loaded with Buckeyes. In addition to Pryor receiving Heisman, Davey O'Brien, Maxwell and Camp consideration, Heyward (Hendricks, Nagurski and Becnarik), Homan (Nagurski, Butkus and Bednarik), Boren (Outland and Lombardi), Brewster (Outland and Rimington), Hines (Thorpe), Chekwa (Thorpe), Rolle (Butkus), Browning (Outland) and Posey (Biletnikoff) have drawn national attention. Opening the season at home on a Thursday (Sept. 2) will give the Buckeyes a little extra time to prepare for their second game, when they host Miami (Fla.) Sept. 11. The two schools last met for the national championship in 2002, which Ohio State won 31-24 in double overtime. After a bye on Nov. 6, the Buckeyes close out their schedule with Penn State, at Iowa and home with Michigan.