Jeff Simpson / The Lantern
“There’s always next year.”
The famous adage, which easily rolls off the tongue for any Cubs, Lions, Clippers or Cleveland sports follower, is recited by fans of all but one team per sport each year.It’s a phrase that evokes a sense of disappointment, letdown or regret. But in the case of the Ohio State football team, it should imply a feeling of eagerness and anticipation.
Losing to USC in such a heartbreaking fashion probably reduced the Buckeyes’ appeal as Big Ten play arrives and the team looks up in the rankings to conference rival Penn State.
In college football, one loss — at any point in the season — can immediately quash a team’s lofty expectations or hopes. And while the Bucks’ chances of returning to a BCS bowl game are still favorable, the ideal target remains a BCS Championship.
That bull’s-eye likely won’t be hit this season, not with the big-game failures reputation lingering around after the loss to Southern Cal.
Next year, however, provides hope. Not the artificial, “we can’t possibly be this bad again,” or “we’re due for a ring,” type of pseudo-optimism. The Buckeyes are typically good every year. Next year, they will be great.
Barring any premature jumps to the NFL, OSU should return all but two starters on offense and all but four on defense.
Jim Cordle can be replaced at right tackle by the team’s myriad of options along the offensive line. And the Buckeyes rarely throw to their tight ends, so Jake Ballard won’t be missed too much in the passing game.
Defensively, the departure of safeties Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell will have the largest effect. Coleman has been a consistent playmaker for three years, and his leadership will be missed. Junior Jermale Hines has already started to steal away playing time from Russell, so permanently inserting Hines into the secondary shouldn’t hamper the defense.
The key, clearly, will still be the progression of sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. An encouraging factor is that his supporting cast will be intact. He’ll still have his running back duo of “Boom” and “Zoom,” and highly touted freshman Jamaal Berry could play into the mix.
Pryor’s top receiving option, sophomore DeVier Posey will have another year under his belt to nullify his lack of experience. He was thrust into a starting role this year after totaling just 11 receptions in his freshman season.
In addition to Posey, Pryor has also found a rapport with junior receiver Dane Sanzenbacher, who is expected back for one final year.
Coach Jim Tressel will have the ideal roster he likely envisioned when recruiting each talent over the past few years.
OSU also takes on a favorable schedule, with Ohio Stadium playing host to all of the potentially difficult contests.
The Buckeyes welcome Miami (Fla.), Penn State and Michigan all to The Horseshoe, while playing weaker opponents such as Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota away from home.
Clearly, the stars align for OSU in 2010.
The loss to Southern Cal might have signaled some fans to throw up the white flag on ’09. If that’s the case, at least next season is shaping up in the Bucks’ favor. But opportunities like this appear few and far between — just ask Chicagoans or Clevelanders. When a bright future arises, keep in mind: there’s not always next year.