A Look At the Schedule...
For a complete look at Ohio St's '09 opponents, check this out. The Buckeyes open on September 5 (10 days!!) at The Shoe against Navy. Don't expect OSU to totally dominate this one, despite what most media members and the point spread will tell you. Ohio St generally struggles each year against one non-conference opponent that they should beat easily (Ohio in '08, Akron in '07, Marshall in '04). Expect that to happen here, especially as Navy actually went 6-6 and made a Bowl game last year. That being said, at no point during this game will I be nervous about the Middies pulling the upset.
The following week is the big one, when USC comes to Columbus. We all remember last year's beatdown, but there are several reasons why this year's outcome could be far different. While both teams lost a ton of talent to the NFL, SC will be starting a new Quarterback (Carroll has yet to decide whether it will be Matt Barkley or Aaron Corp) whereas Terrelle Pryor will be back under center for OSU. Of course the biggest difference is where the game will be played. Away from the polo shirts, surfer dudes, and frosted tips that populated SoCal last year, this time the Trojans make their way into one of the toughest places to play in the country. A couple of months ago I didn't think Ohio St stood a chance in this one, but the closer we get to this game the more confidence I'm building. A new QB playing in a very hostile environment at night could be very reminiscent of Pryor's struggles in the Coliseum last year. This game could make or break the season for both teams.
After USC, Ohio St could be close to double-digit favorites in every game for the next two months. They take on Toledo on Sept. 19, a game that will be played at Cleveland Browns Stadium, which I think is a really cool idea for these two Ohio teams. We see MAC teams upset big-name programs every year, but don't expect that to happen in this one. Big Ten play comes early this year as Illinois makes the trip to Columbus to close out September. QB Juice Williams has people in Champaign thinking Heisman, and WR Arrelious Benn is one of the biggest playmakers in the country. This will probably be the toughest conference test other than Penn St, but it's in The Shoe and the Illinois defense is very weak with the departure of CB Vontae Davis, so I'm not too worried about this one.
Ohio St travels out of Ohio for the first time to visit Indiana on October 3 before coming back home to face Wisconsin on the 10th. Indiana is never any good and this is supposed to be a very down year for the Badgers. There shouldn't be too much trouble winning the rest of October's games against Purdue (away), Minnesota, and a rare late non-conference game vs. New Mexico St.
November 7 is the biggie, when OSU heads to Happy Valley. Penn St came out of The Horseshoe with a W in last year's thriller, so the Bucks will have revenge on their mind as they try to do the same this year. If OSU can get by USC (a really big if), there is a good chance that both of these teams will come into this game undefeated and be not only playing for a Big Ten title, but also a spot in the National Championship.
Iowa is back on the schedule after a two-year hiatus and visits Columbus on the 14th. As they do every year, Ohio St closes its season with "that school up north," this year in michigan. You look at this schedule and see 10 very winnable games with showdowns against USC and Penn St that will likely decide the Buckeyes' fate.
A Look At the Defense...
Malcolm Jenkins is now a New Orleans Saint. James Laurinaitis is now a St. Louis Ram. Two of the most decorated and talented defensive players in the long history of this storied program have moved on to the NFL. LB Marcus Freeman and CB Donald Washington have also departed. With those guys gone, this unit is looking for a new leader to step up. Look no further than SS Kurt Coleman. Coleman (pictured above) is a three-year starter and was third on the team in tackles last year and is expected to be the star on this year's defense. His defensive backfield mate Anderson Russell is also back to man the free safety position for the third straight year as well. This is the best safety duo in the Big Ten, and will be expected to do it all to cover up for the lack of experience at linebacker.
Corner Chimdi Chekwa had an excellent 2008 season, but was usually overshadowed by the incredible things that Jenkins did. Chekwa will replace Jenks as "boundary corner," and has some large shoes to fill. Andre Amos takes the place Washington left at "field corner." Amos has showed lots of promise in his career and has played sporadically over the past three seasons, but has always been bothered with nagging injuries. Juniors Devon Torrence and Jermale Hines are the top reserves.
To add insult to injury (or in this case injury to insult), the most experienced returning linebacker, Tyler Moeller, was injured in camp and is out for the season. Put that on top of Laurinaitis, Freeman, and Curtis Terry graduating, and the linebacking corps is in some trouble. Coaches have loved Ross Homan's skills for the past two years, and he will finally get his opportunity on the weak side. Austin Spitler has impressed coaches and teammates with his outstanding effort in practice. Now it's time to translate that to game day as he takes over for Laurinaitis in the middle. The strong side was supposed to be Moeller's spot. Now sophomores Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat are competing, with the edge looking to go to Sabino. His name might sound familiar, as he was the one who scooped up Jenkins' blocked punt to score the lone touchdown in last year's win over Purdue.
The strength of the defense is in the front four. Thaddeus Gibson, Doug Worthington, Dexter Larimore, and Cameron Heyward make up the best defensive line in the conference. Gibson and Heyward wreaked havoc on the ends last year and should be even better this year. Lawrence Wilson, Nathan Williams, and Solomon Thomas can all get to the QB and provide great depth at DE. Wilson was slated to start in both the '07 and '08 seasons, but suffered season ending injuries each year. Worthington is back to start at one DT position, while Larimore and Todd Dennlinger will alternate at the other.
K Ryan Pretorious and P A.J. Trapasso are both gone, but don't expect much of a dropoff. K Aaron Pettrey was the kickoff and long field goal man last year, and will take over all kicking duties this year. He has incredible range (up to 60 yards) but needs to be more accurate from up close. Fifth-year senior Jon Thoma will punt. Receivers Flash Thomas and Ray Small both have lots of experience returning and should provide several big plays with their incredible speed.
This is a relatively inexperienced defense, but the safeties and line should provide some consistency. This should be the first time in several years where the offense is the better unit. It's going to be a sad sight seeing these guys take the field without #33 and #2 out there.
Let's make no mistake about it, last year's graduating class was one of the best ever. Include junior draft entrees Beanie Wells and Donald Washington, and this team lost a ton of talent. There is, however, several young faces looking to make a name for themselves. The Cleveland fan in me wants to be pessimistic (the Browns are going 5-11 by the way), but I can't help myself when it comes to this team. If they can upset USC on Sept. 13, there is certainly a chance that we'll see OSU back in the National Championship. Tressel has done an incredible job of beating the teams that he should beat over his career (Illinois in 2007 comes to mind as a rare time where he hasn't). If I had to make a prediction right now, I'd say 11-1 with a loss to SC and a fifth straight Big Ten title and a Rose Bowl berth.
First game: September 5 vs. Navy, 12:00, ESPN
I already talked about this game at the beginning of this post, so I'll just make a prediction.
Ohio St 22 Navy 14
Wednesday, August 26