As per usual in Columbus, anything short of a national championship from the Ohio State Buckeyes is a disappointment. The Buckeyes have won a share of the last five Big Ten championships, and look poised to do it again this year, a record six in a row. With almost the entire Rose Bowl Champion team back this year and a #2 preseason ranking, the Buckeyes hope the magic that struck the team in 2002 strikes again this year. Here’s a breakdown of the good, the bad, and the potentially ugly scenarios for the 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes.
Returning Starters: Ohio State has 15 starters from last season returning to fight for a national title once more. On offense, key returning starters include Heisman contender Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, Dan Heron and Brandon Saine will run the ball, and Dane Sanzenbaker and Devier Posey will be catching Pryor’s passes. Cameron Heyward, Ross Homan, and Brian Rolle are the big names on defense. This is a very experienced team, and almost the same one that dominated the Rose Bowl against Oregon to close out last season, so look for them to be hungry for more.
Schedule: The schedule is tough, with Miami coming to town in Week 2, and playing three Big Ten opponents ranked in the Top 15 preseason. Should the Buckeyes go 12-0, however, that tough schedule could be very beneficial to their hopes of reaching the championship game. I’m counting it as a positive because there is a very good chance that Ohio State will be undefeated this year, and should other teams also go undefeated, the tougher schedule could put them ahead of the pack. Also, eight of their 12 games will be played at Ohio Stadium, including Miami, Penn State, and Michigan. Talk about home field advantage.
Running Backs: With Heron and Saine leading the way, and not even taking Pryor, the fastest one the field into consideration, the running back corps should be five deep. While Coach Jim Tressel wants Pryor to throw more, when he turns to the run game, there will be a wealth of experience and talent just asking to be taken advantage of. The running backs should be exciting to watch this year.
Potential Stumbling Blocks:
Miami: Only the second game of the season, this could be a real gauge for how the entire season is going to go. Their strong passing game under Jacori Harris will be a huge test for the Ohio State defense. In all honesty, this looks to be the toughest matchup of the season, so with a win here, it would be no surprise to see a 12-0 Buckeye team playing for a national championship at the end of the season.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin usually plays the Buckeyes tough, and this year will be no exception. The Badgers return most of their starters from a year ago, including quarterback Scott Tolzien and John Clay, their phenomenal running back and 2009 Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. The Buckeye defense held him in check last year, but it will be tough to do so two years in a row, especially since Clay will be out to avenge his worst performance. Add the fact that the game will be played at Camp Randall Stadium in Wisconsin, which is a tough place to play even when stakes aren’t as high as they are this year.
Iowa: If the Buckeyes meet a healthy Hawkeyes team this year, namely Ricky Stanzi, it could provide a very interesting matchup for control of the conference title. Iowa is basically the same team it was a year ago, when they took Ohio State to overtime in Columbus with a backup quarterback. They also have the potential to go undefeated this season. This looks to be a tough, hard fought game to the finish in Iowa, so I would think it’s pretty safe to say that the winner will represent the Big Ten in a bowl game as its champion.
Could Go Either Way:
Terrelle Pryor: Pryor, so hyped up out of high school, has taken two years to come around to the quarterback everyone always expected him to be. Last season was a bit rough for Pryor at times, but the Rose Bowl game against Oregon was a huge breakthrough for him. If he plays with that consistency and intensity in every game this year, he will be pretty unstoppable. If consistency proves to be an issue for him once more, Ohio State may not have as good a year as they are capable. Personally, I feel that he showed tremendous growth in just one game. I know that that is the kind of competitor he wants to be, and he and the rest of his teammates will push each other to do the best they can. They are hungry for a phenomenal year, and I believe that they can do it.
Defense: Most of the defensive line is gone, but keeping Cameron Heyward for his senior season could offset that. Defense looks to be tough, but the pass rush and secondary could be potential stumbling blocks. Ross Homan and Brian Rolle will be very tough linebackers for the Buckeyes, perhaps the best in the league. The secondary will have issues replacing Kurt Coleman from a year ago.
Michigan: Even though Michigan has had two bad years, and with such low expectations for this season, the Buckeyes need to have a strong game to get past their arch-rivals. No matter what the standings, these two teams play each other hard, everyone wants a win so badly, and Michigan would love nothing more than to deliver the huge upset. A win against Ohio State may even save Rich Rodriguez’s job even if the rest of their season is bad. So the Buckeyes better come into their final regular season game prepared to battle it out with Michigan once more.