It has been an offseason to forget if you are an Ohio State football fan.
Head coach Jim Tressel has resigned and quarterback Terrelle Pryor has left the team. On top of all that, there are at least four players who will be suspended for the first five games and a few others that could join them after Ohio State goes through a disciplinary hearing in August.
All the drama that has unfolded has made last year’s 12-1 season, which included a 7-1 Big Ten record and a 31-26 win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, seem like a long time ago.
Luke Fickell, 2010 co-defensive coordinator, is the new interim head coach, and it figures to be a big challenge to get this team to play at the same level that we have grown accustomed to.
Here is a closer look at what the Buckeyes will send to the field on both sides of the ball, plus my thoughts on where they will finish in the Big Ten standings.
With Pryor gone, the Buckeyes enter the 2011 season with a big question mark surrounding the starting quarterback position. The top two options to lead the offense are senior Joe Bauserman and true freshman Braxton Miller.
While Bauserman may open the season as the starter, Miller is the future and will likely end up on the field sooner rather than later.
Ohio State returns first-team All-Big Ten running back Dan Herron, but he is one of the four players who will be suspended early.
That will give Ohio State a chance to see what it has in redshirt freshman Rod Smith. If Smith proves to be a capable starter, Ohio State will have a very talented duo to throw at opposing defenses once Herron returns.
Senior wideout DeVier Posey finished second on the team with 53 catches for 848 yards and seven touchdowns, but he is another player who is suspended early. Without Posey in the lineup, Ohio State is going to have to rely on unproven players like sophomores Corey Brown and Chris Fields to step in and make plays.
The Buckeyes have three starters back on the offensive line, but starting left tackle Mike Adams is yet another player who will be suspended early. Still, this is a very talented unit with the likes of senior center Mike Brewster and senior right tackle J.B. Shugarts back from last year. Sophomore, Marcus Hall, will start in place of Adams until he is cleared to play, while sophomores Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley look to take over at the two open guard spots.
The Buckeyes lose star defensive end Cameron Heyward, who really shined in the bowl game against Arkansas. The loss doesn’t figure to hurt the Buckeyes too much, as they return one of the best defensive ends in the conference in senior Nathan Williams, who had a team-best 4.5 sacks last season.
Also back is junior defensive end John Simon, who impressed as a sophomore with three sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. They do have to replace both starting defensive tackles, but they have two very capable players waiting to get their chance in junior Garrett Goebel and sophomore Johnathan Hankins.
Ohio State is well known for sending out big-time talent at linebacker and should have two stars in senior outside linebacker Andrew Sweat and junior middle linebacker Etienne Sabino. Joining Sweat and Sabino will be junior Storm Klein.
Where Ohio State figures to take a step back is in the secondary. The Buckeyes lose first-team All-American corner Chimdi Chekwa along with corner Devon Torrence and first-team All-Big Ten free safety Jermale Hines.
The only starter back is junior strong safety Orhian Johnson, leaving the Buckeyes very inexperienced in the defensive backfield.
Junior Travis Howard and sophomore Dominic Clarke are expected to be the two new starters at corner while junior C.J. Barnett looks to team up with Johnson at safety.
2011 Prediction: Third, Big Ten Leaders
Even with all the turmoil and suspensions that the Buckeyes will have to face this season, there is still a ton of talent left over for this team to compete in the Big Ten.
Without Tressel calling the shots, I do think this team is going to take a step back, but don’t count the Buckeyes out just yet. The key will be replacing Pryor—if they can do that, they will be right there with Wisconsin and Penn State in the Leaders Division.
For a closer look at the Buckeyes season, check out our Ohio State football predictions article. If you want to see where we have all 12 teams finishing in the conference, take a look at our 2011 Big 10 predictions.
SOURCE: Jack Jones, Senior Writer, Bleacher Report. Also check out BetFirms.Com, a site that Jack runs.