By Mike Castiglione, Associate College Football Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: Although they didn't get back to the national championship game, the Ohio State Buckeyes did answer their bowl critics by taking down Oregon in the Rose Bowl (26-17) last season.
The Buckeyes suffered an early-season setback to third-ranked USC (18-15), but
rebounded with decisive wins in each of the next four weeks. However, a 26-18
loss at Purdue on October 17th took the wind out of their sails, and
ultimately dashed their BCS title hopes. The Buckeyes eventually began to play
up to their lofty expectations, taking down No. 11 Penn State (24-7) and No.
10 Iowa (27-24 in OT) in consecutive weeks, before beating archrival Michigan
(21-10) to end the regular season and earn an invite to the Rose Bowl to face
No. 7 Oregon. In that game, sophomore star quarterback Terrelle Pryor threw
for a career-high 266 yards and two touchdowns, and also rushed for 72 yards
to lift OSU to its first Rose Bowl victory since 1997. By and large, Pryor's
big performance is what has prompted another year of BCS hype around Columbus.
OFFENSE: Pryor had his moments during his sophomore season, but it wasn't
until the Rose Bowl that he finally displayed the skills that scouts have been
drooling over for quite some time. He finished the 2009 season with 2,094
passing yards, a team-high 779 rushing yards, and 25 combined touchdowns.
Coach Jim Tressel expects Pryor to continue to polish his skills and grow as a
"I thought he learned a great deal throughout the regular season his sophomore
year," Tressel said at Big Ten Media Day. "And I thought it really started to
really crystallize in his mind during bowl practice."
The backfield tandem of Brandon Saine (739 yds, 5.1 ypc, four TDs) and Daniel
"Boom" Herron (600 yds, 3.9 ypc, seven TDs) returns. There is also a ton of
depth behind those two. At wideout, top targets DeVier Posey (60 rec, 828 yds,
eight TDs) and Dane Sanzenbacher (36 rec, 570 yds, six TDs) are back. And on
the offensive line, four starters return from a unit that dominated the line
of scrimmage on a weekly basis last year.
DEFENSE: OSU also returns a ton of firepower from a defense that ranked fifth
in the nation in both total defense (262.3 ypg) and scoring defense (12.5
ppg) last year. One player who does not return is defensive end Thaddeus
Gibson, who decided to leave early for the NFL. But if there is one position
OSU is lined up to handle such a blow, it's at defensive end, where Cameron
Heyward is a star in the making. He led the team with 6.5 sacks last year as a
junior and opted to return to OSU instead of entering the NFL Draft. Nose
tackle Dexter Larimore (6-2, 310) is a beast up the middle when healthy.
At linebacker, the Buckeyes return their top two tacklers in Ross Homan (108)
and Brian Rolle (95). Homan also excels in coverage, as evidenced by his team-
leading five interceptions and 10 passes defended.
In the secondary, both starting cornerbacks return in Chimdi Chekwa and Devon
Torrence. However, Chekwa had an underwhelming season in coverage, and
Torrence is still a work in progress. Replacing a pair of safeties who were
both three-year starter presents a big challenge for the OSU defense. Senior
Jermale Hines will take over at strong safety, while coaches are quietly
hopeful about sophomore Orhian Johnson filling the free safety spot.
SPECIAL TEAMS: There are a few questions in the special teams department, such
as who will handle the return duties? However, coach Tressel, does have plenty
of depth to choose from there. Senior Devin Barclay got a chance to kick last
year and made 7-of-10 attempts, including the game-winner against Iowa.
However, he struggles on longer kicks. Ben Buchanan will take over at punter,
and while he is new to being a full-time starter, he did perform well when
called upon to start against Toledo last year.
OUTLOOK: Once again, expectations could not be higher for Ohio State. The
Scarlet and Gray will start the year with a No. 2 ranking and the mission of
BCS Championship or bust. That comes with the territory of winning five
straight conference titles. The Buckeyes can ill-afford another stumble as
they did against Purdue last year. They'll get another tough early-season
test, this year from Miami on September 11th. But they won't hit the road
until the first week of October when they head to Illinois. The back end of
the schedule presents some dangerous hurdles, as OSU will take on Penn State,
Iowa and Michigan in the final three weeks.