Wednesday, August 24

Buckeye Season Preview Part I

At the beginning of the calendar year, Ohio St was celebrating a thrilling victory over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl. In just about nine short months, the landscape of the Buckeye football program has changed drastically. Amidst a scandal regarding several high-profile Buckeye football players "allegedly" receiving improper benefits throughout their tenures in Columbus, legendary coach Jim Tressel has stepped down and superstar quarterback Terrelle Pryor has left the team. It is no secret that this once-proud and storied program is in the middle of a total shit-storm (NCAA sanctions still pending), and new head coach Luke Fickell is being called on to be the man to bring them back to where they belong - in the top echelon of collegiate football. Let’s take a look at how he plans to do that, and whether or not he can be successful so soon after the mess that was this off-season.

Last Season
Ohio St came into the 2010 football season ranked #2, with expectations where they typically are in C-Bus - National Championship or bust. If it were not for the first two-and-half quarters on an October Saturday night in Madison, WI, it just may have been the former, but let’s start from the beginning.

OSU cruised through their opener against Marshall leading into their showdown with Miami. The Bucks prevailed in The Shoe, 36-24, but some bone-headed Buckeye mistakes made this game look closer than it was. Another couple of drubbings against far inferior Ohio and Eastern Michigan teams put Ohio St at 4-0 heading into conference play.

In another game that was closer than it should have been, OSU beat Illinois 24-13 in the Big Ten opener. The Bucks stomped Indiana before that forgetful night against the Badgers. Ohio St’s defense seemed invincible all season long, save for this one performance, where Wisconsin running backs John Clay and James White bitch slapped them for nearly 200 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. OSU dug themselves a hole early, trailing at 21-3 at halftime. They provided a bit of a comeback in the final two quarters, but the deficit was too much to overcome and the #1 ranked Buckeyes fell 31-18.

Ohio St came back with a vengeance, outscoring their next three opponents (Purdue, Minnesota, Penn St) by a combined 139-24. OSU then toppled Iowa 20-17, in the regular season’s most exciting game. In the regular season finale, the Buckeyes dropped a close one to michig...oh wait, this is a post from this decade, meaning Ohio St easily disposed of its rival, like always, 37-7. OSU finished the season tied for first in the Big Ten, claiming themselves at least a share of a sixth straight conference title. The Sugar Bowl was an exhilarating one, with Ohio St getting a big lead early only to blow it in the second half before finally prevailing on a last-minute interception of Ryan Mallet in the red zone to beat Arkansas 31-26.

The Offense
With the departure of Jim Tressel and, to a lesser extent, Terrelle Pryor, Ohio St will usher in a new era of Buckeye football. So who will be under center to lead this new era? Well, as I write this we are nine days away from kickoff, and the answer to this question is still unclear. OSU came into spring camp with a wide open, four-man race. Let’s take a look at our candidates, shall we?

Joe Bauserman, Sr. - The only one with any experience, and it isn’t much. In mop-up action last season, Bowser completed 16 of 22 passes for 174 yards, 2 TDs and 1 INT. Remember Todd Boeckman? Well, picture him, with a weaker arm and without that one year of All-Conference play. Probably the front-runner to start early on in the season.

Kenny Guiton, So. - The dual-threat sophomore has thrown all of two career passes. He showed some flashes with a great Spring Game last year, but couldn’t unseat Bauserman as the backup in ‘10, so that pretty much tells you all you need to know.

Braxton Miller, Fr. - Surely the most talented of the group, and definitely the fan favorite to win the gig. The drawback, as it goes with any true freshman, is the lack of experience and leadership. I see very few scenarios that don’t play out with this guy leading the team by mid-season, but he even has a shot to take over from Week 1.

Taylor Graham, Fr. - The redshirt freshman is son of former OSU standout Kent Graham. He definitely has the best arm of the group but also is the least mobile. His only chance to see the field this year is if the others all really struggle, particularly in the downfield passing attack.

With practices all but over and the season ready to begin, I’m sure Fickell and the coaching staff have a plan in place for the QB position - they just haven’t filled me in yet. My guess is that Bauserman will start opening day, but will be pulled early in the season in favor of Miller.

So with a new quarterback, Ohio St will be relying heavily on their workhorse running back and play-making receiver...starting in Week 6. This is the case because Dan Herron and DeVier Posey were two of the players in the aforementioned scandal, resulting in their suspensions from the first five games of the season.

Boom Herron is a stud - he proved that time and time again last year - but the outlook at RB isn’t all that bleak even with his suspension, as the Buckeyes have a stable of guys ready to carry the load. Jordan Hall will most likely be the “primary” back, although this will by all means be a running back-by-committee. Hall’s 37 carries were tops last year among returning Buckeyes, and his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield makes him an attractive option, considering a new QB may need his check-down guy often.

The most explosive runner on the team is sophomore Jaamal Berry, who averaged a stupid 8.3 yards per carry in limited time last season. I predicted 2010 to be a breakout year for the youngster from Miami, FL, but with Herron being said stud and the since-departed Brandon Saine getting his touches, carries were hard to come by last season. Herron’s suspension just might be the catalyst in Berry becoming a household name. Big man Carlos Hyde and redshirt freshman Rod Smith will also see some action. If one or two of these guys show some promise early on, expect them to split carries with Herron once he returns, forming one of the best ground attacks in the NCAA. Don’t forget about fullback Zach Boren, one of the best lead blockers in the nation.

While the Ohio St running game should be fine sans Boom for a few weeks, the case is much different in the receiving corps without go-to man DeVier Posey. The OSU wides were very thin last year, so the suspension to Posey paired with the graduation of Dane Sanzenbacher leaves the Bucks in dire straits. The only players with a single catch to their resume are sophomores Chris Fields and Corey Brown, who have combined for a whopping 11 career grabs. They appear to be set as the starters in the season’s first five games, and will certainly need help in the form of immediate contributions from true freshmen Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. Redshirt freshmen Verlon Reed and T.Y. Williams may also find their way into the mix. This is not good news for a new starting QB, so tight ends Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel will have huge tasks to be the go-to-guys early on to try and steady their signal-caller, whomever that may be. Week 6 cannot come soon enough.

The offensive line will have some new faces, but this unit should once again be the strength of the Buckeye offense, thanks mostly in part to All-Big Ten center and team captain Mike Brewster. Fellow senior J.B. Shugarts is solid and will be back to man the right tackle position, as long as he can shake off a few nagging injuries. The third member of the trio of would-be returning starters, Mike Adams, is - you guessed it - suspended for the first five games.

Sophomore Andrew Norwell looks to have the first shot at replacing Adams, but other young players, including four true freshman, may get their opportunities should he falter. With Justin Boren and Bryant Browning graduated, there is open competition for the two guard spots. Marcus Hall, who seemed to be in Jim Tressel’s doghouse much of last season, should have one spot, as sophomores Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, and Ivan Blackman vie for the other. When Adams, another All-Conference performer, returns, this should be one of the better O-lines in the country.

Check back in next week to read my thoughts on the defense, how the schedule shapes up, and overall what we can expect the Buckeyes to accomplish this season.



Barber said...


I enjoyed the post.

I was going to stir some shit up, but i thought better of it. At some point id like to here your perspective on Tressel post Pryor, maybe at the Draft.



Andy said...

Very well-researched piece, as usual. Certainly better than this haughty, condescending pile of garbage from Grantland. Remind me to stop going to Grantland.

Would you rather have lost the Sugar Bowl, or won it like we did and have it vacated. I dunno, I hate cheating, but as a fan, the latter is much better. In the former, at least I get the experience of watching the W, which was great.

Speaking of cheating, if the Miami scandal came out before the OSU one, Tressel would still be the coach here. I liked reading the various violations by player and then the part at the end where each one refused to comment. Because they're all guilty.

The Miller/Bowser thing is more than a little like Pryor/Boeckman, no?

"Jake Stoneburner" sounds like a name from a movie about football.

Figgs said...

That Grantland piece was really dumb. It took him an unnecessary amount of time to get to his point, which I'm still not exactly sure was. He also seems to have a weird obession with Outback.

I would rather win the game then have it vacated. Keep in mind, these players in no way "cheated." It's not like steroids in baseball. What they did had nothing to do with how they played on the field. Ohio St will forever be 2010 Sugar Bowl Champions in my mind.