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Prelude to a Season: #8

8.) Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio StateWhat You Need to Know
For the Ohio State Buckeyes, 2009 is a world away from 2008. Last season, OSU came into the year a presumptive favorite to challenge for the national title, and ride their 19 returning starters from a BCS Championship game team into the promised land. The Buckeyes certainly had a year that most schools would consider a tremendous success, but in Columbus it was viewed as a bit of a disappointment. Nevermind the fact that OSU finished the year 10-3, their fourth straight 10+ win season. Nevermind the fact that OSU finished the season ranked #9, their 4th consecutive season concluding in a Top 10 ranking. Nevermind the fact that OSU split their 4th consecutive Big 10 title. Many football pundits and fans alike simply point to their inability to live up to high expectations as some sort of failure.

Failure is a bit extreme to describe OSU recently under the direction of Jim Tressel. Tressel sports a career 83-19 record and a national championship in 2002. Tressel has dominated the Big 10, struggled at times against the nation’s best, but on the whole, has made OSU a perennial contender for the national championship. This year, with the right breaks, is no different.

On the offensive side of the football, the Buckeyes return only 5 starters from a unit that averaged 27.6 points per game and 343 yards per game, both down from the two years prior. The key returner on this offense is Terrelle Pryor, one of the most highly celebrated recruits in the Tressel era, and one of the most explosive and dangerous players in the conference, having been named the Big 10 Freshman Player of the Year. Pryor excelled in his freshman season and now finds himself in sole possession of the QB position, where his stats and impact will only grow. The largest loss for the Buckeyes is RB Chris “Beanie” Wells, who is now playing on Sundays in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals. Wells’ 1197 yards and 8 TDs certainly made the defense key on the running game, thus opening up Pryor’s options. Having a running back capable of defensive attention will be critical for OSU to continue their offensive success. Junior Brandon Saine looks to be that attention grabber. Opening holes for Saine and protecting Pryor will be 3 returning full-time starters on the offensive line, though there have been numerous position shifts and relocating along the offensive front. The Buckeyes are attempting to have quick, agile, athletic bodies in the tackle roles. The receiving corps has lost Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline but do return 4 of their top 7 pass catchers.

Defensively, the Buckeyes 2009 season is certainly notable for the people they are replacing rather than the stars coming back like 2008. A unit that gave up 13.9 points per game and 294 total yards loses 4 full-time starters, all of them tremendously important. 1st Team All American CB Malcolm Jenkins as well as Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year in LB James Laurinaitis and 2nd Team All Big 10 LB Marcus Freeman all are missing off the 2009 squad. Replacing those three and their production will be nearly impossible. Leading the charge for the Buckeyes will be senior SS Kurt Coleman, the leading returning tackler and pass interceptor. 7 of the top 8 return along the defensive front, and must improve their sack numbers and rush defense if OSU is to be a contender for the conference or the national titles. Tressel has brought in a very highly touted linebacking group which will make that defense solid for years to come.

The schedule for OSU shapes up as favorably as possible considering the teams on it. Out of conference, the Buckeyes get all their games in Columbus save for a matchup against Toledo in the Cleveland Brown’s stadium. Coming to Ohio Stadium is Navy, New Mexico State, and the largest and most intimidating opponent, USC. Last year saw the Buckeyes dominated by the Trojans at USC, and payback is on the minds of everyone associated with OSU. In Big 10 play, the Buckeyes play 4 road games with the roughest task being Penn State. Indiana, Purdue, and Michigan also all host the Wolverines. At home, Ohio State gets Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa. Northwestern and Michigan State are not on the schedule.

Who You Need to Know & Their 08 Stats
QB Terrelle Pryor: 100-165, 1311 yds, 12 TDs, 4 INTs, 139 att, 631 yds, 6 TDs
SS Kurt Coleman: 78 tkls, 1 sack, 3 TFL, 4 INTs
DE Thaddeus Gibson: 26 tkls, 5 sacks, 4 TFL

Game to Watch
For the Ohio State Buckeyes, there are two key games on the schedule each impacting a much different goal for the 09 squad. To win the Big 10, the Buckeyes look to their matchup November 7th against Penn State in Happy Valley where the Buckeyes must endure a challenging opponent, a challenging environment, and a team that beat OSU last year in Columbus. When it comes to the national title goal, the Buckeyes need to defeat USC on September 12th. A win and OSU is in the hunt for a national championship, but with a loss, OSU may be out of the title picture even if they win out.

They’ll Do Well If…
… the rushing attack for OSU is adequate enough to open the offense up for Terrelle Pryor. A lack of rushing means a defensive gameplan by opponents that keys on Pryor, making life difficult for the sophomore, regardless of his talent.

Season Outlook
The Buckeyes have 10 very winnable games on the schedule, with their contests against USC and Penn State hard fought battles for the Buckeyes. Best case scenario is an upset of both and a 12-0 finish, which still may not be good enough to play for a national title given the teams above them in the preseason that may also go undefeated. Realistically, the Buckeyes are looking at 10-2 with losses to both Penn State and USC, leaving them right in the hunt for a share of the Big 10 should Penn State stumble.

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