We're wrapping up our Summer Series this week, with Ohio State and Wisconsin on deck. Today we'll head over to Columbus, looking at the Ohio State Buckeyes as they are this summer heading into the 2011 football season. It's been a rough off-season for the Scarlett and Gray, but with the most recent development from the NCAA investigations, it looks like things might not be all that bad, especially this year. So in we go. Enjoy.
The Past Few Years...
It's been one hell of a ride for Ohio State the past 10 years.
One BCS National Championship. Two more title game appearances. A handful of Big Ten championships. A few handfuls of BCS game appearances. Even a Heisman Trophy winner.
Yes, fun, to say the least.
It all started when the very successful head coach John Cooper was pushed out of Ohio State following years of grumbling by the fans and administration, mostly due to Cooper's failure to consistently beat Michigan. He finished a paltry 2-10-1, not counting a win over the Wolverines when Cooper was head coach at Arizona State. But now Cooper, who had been accused of never quite taking The Game seriously enough, was gone. In came James Patrick Tressel, and Ohio State would embark on a decade of success not seen in Columbus since the Woody Hayes era.
Starting things off with a bang, Tressel beat Michigan in his first season as head coach. That's all he needed to do. This was now his team, his program, and the fans were happy to hand it over to a winner. Tressel would only lose to Michigan once in his time at Ohio State, a 2003 loss as Michigan went on to win the conference and a Rose Bowl berth. But Ohio State won or "shared" conference titles in 2002 and consecutively from 2005 thru 2010. It was the decade of the Buckeyes in the Big Ten. And while other teams like Penn State, Iowa and Wisconsin tried their hardest to challenge Ohio State, even picking off the champs here and there, no other team came close to matching the success of the Buckeyes in the 2000s.
In 2010, everything looked set up to finally win Tressel's second BCS Championship at Ohio State, after falling flat in 2006 and 2007. It started off well enough, beating Miami(FL) in a highly anticipated September matchup. But the early slate was full of teams Ohio State should have beaten no problem, and it did just that. Then came Wisconsin, a team that has been able to beat Ohio State in the past. The Badgers did it once again, this time in dominant fashion under the Camp Randall lights. Ohio State looked like crap. Was this team all hype and nothing else?
Not even close. Ohio State won out, landing a Sugar Bowl berth against the SEC's Arkansas. However, before the game, the NCAA troubles began. A slew of players were suspended, but strangely not for the bowl game. Rather, the punishment was the first five games of 2011. The Buckeyes won the bowl game, but their troubles were far from brushed under the carpet. We won't rehash it here, but Ohio State was riled by a huge NCAA investigation, resulting in Tressel's resignation, Terrelle Pryor leaving early for the NFL, the vacation of all 2010 wins, and two years probation. Not much of a punishment, but that's not for us to discuss now or here.
Much of the team returns this year, the talent is there. But can new coach Luke Fickel get the kind of production out of this group Tressel was able to?
What to Look for in 2011...
It's all about surviving against a manageable schedule (except Miami, FL) until the "Tattoo Five" return for the Nebraska game in Lincoln. Funny how that suspension worked out, huh? Anyway, quarterback Joe Bauserman is the safe choice, but it wouldn't shock me at all to see true frosh Braxton Miller (VHT QB recruit) get in there right away. Outside of Miami, there's not really a single challenge a true freshman at Ohio State shouldn't be able to handle.
The big problem for Ohio State comes deeper in the backfield and out on the perimeter, where both the best running back (Dan Herron) and best receiver (Devier Posey) are part of the Tattoo Five. The talent behind them is plentiful, but hardly as experienced. With a new quarterback, help from the other skill players is vital. It might not be there this year until week six. There is one bright spot on offense--the line. All-American center Mike Brewster came back for his senior year, while fellow All-American left tackle Mike Adams will return after the five-game suspension. Once Adams returns, this unit should really dominate later in the season.
The defense loses much more, but in the natural way, by graduation and NFL declarations. Star defensive end Cameron Heyward graduate to the Pittsburgh Steelers, while tackle Dexter Larimore is also gone. But the unit returns six of the top eight, and should be deeper overall. Nate Williams and Johns Simon are the returning starters and should lead the younger guys until things get more settled. The linebackers are the closest thing in college football to what Penn State manages to do at that position, as the Buckeyes always seem to reload no matter how many great players are lost. Brian Rolle and Ross Homan depart, but the guys coming up are both talented and not as raw as typical replacements. Andrew Sweat started 10 last year, while Etienne Sabino is a stud recruit who redshirted 2010.
If there is one place this defense could suffer this season, it's in pass defense. Ohio State loses 1st Team All-American cornerback Chimdi Chekwa, 1st Team All-Big Ten safety Jermale Hines, and corner Devon Torrence, the team's No. 4 tackler. Can Ohio State fill these spots with talent? Of course. But chances are the production won't be matched. Of the returnees, only one of them--Orhian Johnson--actually started a game in his career, and that was only 11 starts in 2010. Travis Howard did pick off Matt McGloin for a touchdown in last year's game. But who didn't pick off Mac for a touchdown last year? Color me unimpressed.
|09-17-2011||Miami(FL)||Miami Gardens, FL|
|10-01-2011||Michigan St.||Columbus, OH|
|11-12-2011||Purdue||West Lafayette, IN|
|11-19-2011||Penn State||Columbus, OH|
|11-26-2011||Michigan||Ann Arbor, MI|
|12-03-2011||B1G Championship||Indianapolis, IN|
I should mention special teams, only because that's what this program supposedly hung its hat on. Well, they haven't nearly been the same since Ted Ginn, Jr. graduated. This unit isn't exactly "Tressel Ball" caliber. Then again, this isn't Tressel's team anymore. So, yeah.
The schedule would be deadly if Iowa were there in place of Indiana. But it's still very difficult with two BCS automatic qualifiers in the non-conference slate. After opening with the Tour of Northern Ohio--Akron and Toledo--the Buckeyes travel to South Beach for a rematch against Miami. The Canes are looking up this year, while the Bucks are looking down. Watch this game. Colorado comes to Columbus the week after. Once the Big Ten schedule kicks in, it'll be time to shut your eyes and go. Michigan State, at Nebraska and at Illinois all right off the bat. Ohio State will need that bye week.
The problem is that the bye will only allow Ohio State to rest, not necessarily look toward an easier second-half of the year. Getting Wisconsin and Penn State at home will be huge, but everyone in the Big Ten should be wary of Michigan this season. Ohio State should have little trouble topping eight wins. If the quarterback situation is settled early, and the defense gets up to speed before the Big Ten schedule starts, 10 wins is closer to what I'd expect from this team.