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The year that was for Ohio State Buckeye football

Brittany Schock / Asst. photo editor

Some might call the last 12 months the most forgettable in Ohio State football history, while others might call it the most memorable. Regardless of how you characterize the last year for OSU, one can point to Dec. 26 as the date that changed the course of Buckeyes football.

On that day, Buckeyes’ wide receiver DeVier Posey left tackle Mike Adams, quarterback Terrelle Pryor, running back Daniel “Boom” Herron and defensive end Solomon Thomas made public apologies for selling OSU football memorabilia in exchange for improper benefits in the form of tattoos.

Just days later, those same five players helped end the program’s nine-game losing streak to Southeastern Conference teams in bowl games as the Buckeyes beat Arkansas, 31-26, in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

The events that followed in the months after the 2010 season concluded may have been hard ones to watch for members of Buckeye Nation.

Now-former OSU coach Jim Tressel was assessed a five-game suspension and $250,000 fine for failing to report NCAA violations that the five players committed. He later resigned on May 30.

“After meeting with university officials, we agreed that it is in the best interest of Ohio State that I resign as head football coach,” Tressel said in a statement released by the university. “The appreciation that (wife) Ellen and I have for the Buckeye Nation is immeasurable.”

Tressel compiled a 94-21 record in 10 seasons at OSU, which included an undefeated run to a national championship in 2002.

The program’s casualties continued to mount as the summer months approached.

After leading the Buckeyes to back-to-back Bowl Championship Series victories in the 2010 Rose Bowl and the 2011 Sugar Bowl, Pryor departed OSU on June 7 to pursue a professional career. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders as a third-round selection in the NFL supplemental draft Aug. 22.

The university then announced July 8 that it would vacate the entire 2010 season before a subsequent announcement that it would be donating its $388,811 share of winnings from the Sugar Bowl victory to charity, Aug. 15.

Three days prior to donating its bowl victory earnings, university officials met with the NCAA for a hearing regarding NCAA infractions in Indianapolis. A final ruling was expected from that hearing in eight to 12 weeks, though one still has not been issued.

Then came time for actual football.

First-year OSU coach Luke Fickell led the Buckeyes to a 2-0 record to begin the 2011 campaign with wins coming against Akron and Toledo on Sept. 3 and 10, respectively. The wins came in spite of numerous suspensions to players for various infractions.

Kevin Noon, the managing editor of buckeyegrove.com, said the revolving door of suspended players throughout the season was one of the key storylines from the Buckeyes’ 2011 season.

“The craziest part of the season was they just couldn’t seem to keep from having to suspend players,” Noon said of OSU, which had 11 players suspended throughout the season . “We thought we saw the worst of it with the guys involved in the tattoo situation, but then every time we turn our head, it was another player getting dinged for this or getting dinged for that.”

OSU passed its early-season tests against opponents from the MAC conference despite news of suspensions sometimes dominating headlines, but on-field issues began to take center stage for the Buckeyes after its Sept. 17 trip to play the Miami Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla.

The Miami defense held the then-No. 17-ranked OSU offense down throughout the game and limited the Buckeyes to two field goals by sophomore kicker Drew Basil. The unranked Hurricanes upended OSU, 24-6. The loss had historical consequences for the Buckeyes, who fell from the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll for the first time in nearly seven years.

OSU wouldn’t return to the AP rankings in 2011.

Freshman quarterback Braxton Miller began what would eventually become an award-winning campaign a week later in his Sept. 24 debut against Colorado.

Miller’s full array of skills were on display against the Buffaloes as he rushed for 83 yards and connected with fellow freshman Devin Smith for two touchdown passes to help lead OSU to a 37-17 win at Ohio Stadium.

“(Miller) gave us a lift, gave us some things we needed offensively as well as keeping plays alive,” Fickell said after the game.

The lift was short-lived, however.

A week later, the Buckeyes began their Big Ten conference campaign with a 10-7 loss to the eventual Legends Division champions, Michigan State.

OSU traveled to Lincoln, Neb., a week later to help celebrate Nebraska’s first-ever Big Ten Conference home game. By game’s end, the Cornhusker’s were the only team celebrating and OSU was again on the wrong side of history.

The Buckeyes coughed up a 27-6 lead and allowed the Cornhuskers to creep back into the game and eventually eke out a 34-27 win. Sophomore quarterback Taylor Martinez and junior running back Rex Burkhead converted a key second-half score to help clinch the win for Nebraska.

OSU fortunes were reversed in the month to follow, though.

The Buckeyes upset then-No. 16-ranked Illinois on Oct. 15, 17-7, and went into its bye week with ample time to prepare for the eventual Big Ten Conference Champions, Wisconsin.

The extra time to prepare for the then-No.12 Badgers paid off.

After leading for most of the second half against Wisconsin, the Buckeyes fell behind the Badgers, 29-26, on a 49-yard touchdown pass from Wisconsin senior quarterback Russell Wilson to sophomore receiver Jared Abbrederis with 1:18 remaining in regulation.

The crowd, which was ready to celebrate OSU’s second win against a ranked team in as many games, went silent.

With 20 seconds remaining in the game, though, freshman quarterback Braxton Miller found classmate and receiver Devin Smith for a shocking, game-winning score. The Buckeyes won the game, 33-29, and fans stormed the field to celebrate as the team improved to 5-3 on the season and 2-2 in the Big Ten.

A Nov. 5 win against Indiana kept the Buckeyes’ goal of a Leaders Division title within sight, but the team faltered down the stretch and lost to Purdue, Penn State and Michigan. The loss to the Wolverines ended OSU’s seven-game winning streak to “that team up north.”

“I think they put themselves in a very difficult position,” Noon said. “We saw low moments with the Purdue game.”

And the program was never too far removed from its on-field issues.

In a letter to athletic director Gene Smith dated Nov. 10, OSU President E. Gordon Gee said that he was disappointed with Smith’s efforts in distancing former university booster Robert DiGeronimo from the athletic program. DiGeronimo overpaid members of the football team, including Posey and Herron, for work they did not complete during summer jobs in 2011.

The letter from Gee to Smith said: “It is clear that greater effort and more rigorous scrutiny involving any activities relating to Mr. DiGeronimo, including the potential interactions between him and the Athletics program and student-athletes, was in order … I am disappointed that this is where we find ourselves. You know I find this unacceptable.”

So, not only was OSU eliminated from a chance at competing for the Big Ten title, but it finished its conference schedule with a 3-5 record and a 6-6 mark overall. There was also speculation about whether Smith’s job as athletic director was still safe.

Many in Buckeye Nation were soon celebrating, though.

After weeks of speculation regarding the future of Fickell’s status as coach of the Buckeyes, former Florida coach and ESPN analyst Urban Meyer was introduced Monday as the 24th head coach in the history of OSU football.

In 10 seas
ons as an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision coach at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, the Ohio native compiled an overall record of 104-23 and a 7-1 record in bowl games. Meyer’s bowl triumphs included two national championships and a 4-0 record in BCS games.

“I am deeply honored and humbled that Dr. Gee, the trustees and Gene Smith have selected (me) to lead the Ohio State football program,” Meyer said. “If it was but for the coaching position at the Ohio State University, I would not have coached this coming year.

“Our objective is simple — to make the state of Ohio proud. Our goal is to win Big Ten championships.”

Noon said that OSU’s team is talented, despite what some may perceive about the team after it finished 2011 with a .500 record.

“Urban Meyer is going to have to plug in a couple holes where there were probably some issues, but the truth be told, he’s not having to rebuild a roster of mediocre players,” Noon said. “He’s got very talented players on the team. I just think that maybe under a new scheme that they should be able to bounce right back.”

Nearly one year, a vacated season, three football coaches and 11 suspended players later, OSU is still standing. Beyond that, the Buckeyes accepted a Sunday invitation to play in the 2012 Gator Bowl against Florida.

Fickell said Sunday that the Jan. 2 bowl appearance is an opportunity to move OSU football forward.

“(The players) deserve this,” he said. “These 15 (or) 16 practices, to me, is a big part of making sure our program is moving forward.”

Noon said OSU has made the best of an extraordinarily challenging year.

“All things considered, OSU made the most of it,” he said. “We saw some high moments with the growth of Braxton Miller and the fantastic finish against Wisconsin. I think, all things considered, they did about as well as you would have expected under extraordinary circumstances.”

Michael Periatt contributed to this story.

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