Ohio State has established the reputation of a perennial powerhouse amid the college football landscape. While transitioning through different eras and regimes, one constant remains: winning. Universities such as Oklahoma, Michigan or USC can relate; no matter the coach, the players or the trends between the trenches, the teams annually produce favorable results on the field.
So, in forecasting the outcome of the nearing season, the central question doesn’t revolve around the number of victories and a potential bowl game appearance. No, Buckeye backers demand to know Ohio State’s true shot at that elusive national championship. (Elusive for a powerhouse like OSU, since it’s been all of seven years since the Buckeyes last captured a national title).
With a veteran-laden group in 2008, OSU finished 10-3, falling to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. This year, youth has infiltrated the Buckeyes’ roster. After graduating 28 seniors and losing three juniors to the NFL, inexperience could plague the team on both sides of the pigskin.
Coach Jim Tressel must replace a pair of starting linebackers, both starting receivers, both starting cornerbacks, and a workhorse of a running back. With the youth movement, however, the team feels it has added more speed and athleticism.
OSU also finds itself with more depth, with six or seven players in the mix at the linebacker positions, and six or seven more expected to receive playing time along the defensive line.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor is only a sophomore, but has already gained the experience in his brief career to effectively command the huddle. Pryor’s rare blend of size (6-foot-6, 235 pounds) and speed (reportedly ran a 4.33 40) earned him Big Ten Preseason Offensive Player of the Year honors.
While many 20-year-olds would quiver under the pressure of performing before 100,000 faithful, Pryor has embraced the opportunity to establish himself as a leader on the squad, and kept himself humble and unsatisfied. After hearing incessant criticism about his lack of arm strength at the end of the ’08 campaign, Pryor arrived at spring practices launching 50-yard bull’s-eyes downfield.
The athleticism infused on defense and at quarterback illustrates Ohio State’s attempt to adapt to the current trend in the college game. Namely, the team with the most speed typically comes out on top. The Buckeyes couldn’t match USC’s quickness at receiver, running back, and on defense in a 35-3 letdown last year in Southern Cal. OSU has an opportunity to avenge the defeat on Sept. 12 at The Horseshoe.
The Bucks’ recent struggles in big games have been well-documented; Tressel’s crew failed to show up in consecutive title games, then against USC and Penn State before losing a close contest to Texas. Redemption against the Trojans and Nittany Lions would go a long way toward a Buckeye berth in a BCS Bowl.
As Pryor said, “There’s teams out there waiting for us and there are teams out there that we owe some stuff to, so we just have to bring it.”
Competition in the Big Ten shouldn’t throw the Buckeyes off of their BCS path. A game at Penn State would appear more intimidating if Joe Paterno’s bunch hadn’t lost its top three receivers and three key defensive playmakers. The Bucks shouldn’t break a sweat in road contests at Indiana and Purdue, and Minnesota, Illinois and Wisconsin don’t pose much of a threat to OSU at The Shoe.
Simply put, the war with USC will determine quite a bit for the Buckeyes, especially considering the team up north is coming off of a 3-9 season.
All in all, a new wave of players might bring changes to the team’s style of play. It won’t, however, alter any expectations for the upcoming season, one in which the Buckeyes face the boundless task of winning every time they step onto the field.
Plenty will ride on a certain sophomore under center and a nationally-televised chance at redemption, pressure that Pryor welcomes.
As he said, “I don’t really have expectations of myself but to lead this team to big things and be more successful than last year.”