Wednesday, September 2, 2009

CFI Countdown: #5 Ohio St. Buckeyes

2008 Record: 10-3 (Big Ten 7-1)
Bowl Game: Lost Fiesta Bowl to Texas 24-21
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Stadium: Ohio Stadium (102,329)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Overall: 216-74-2 (24th season)
@ Ohio St.: 83-19 (9th season)
Link to OSU Football Page

Jim Tressel has led the Buckeyes to 43 wins over the last four seasons. Those wins took Ohio St. to three Big Ten titles, four BCS Bowl games, and two BCS Championship game appearances. Nevertheless, Ohio St. has almost become a dirty word in some parts as a couple of poor performances against premiere competition have overshadowed their otherwise impressive record of consistency. They will look to improve those big-game performances in 2009.

When the Buckeyes Have the Ball

Offensive Coordinator: Jim Bollman (9th season)
Scheme: Two-Back/Spread Offense
Starters Returning: Four
Key Losses: RB Beanie Wells, OT Alex Boone, WR Brian Robiskie, WR Brian Hartline

Terrelle Pryor ended up playing a lot more than originally planned as a true freshman, which should pay dividends in 2009. No one is saying Pryor is a finished product by any means, but the sophomore has incredible physical skills. He has prototypical size and often is the best athlete on the field, creating mismatches whenever he gets out of the pocket. Because he is so dangerous with his legs, it opens up passing lanes—defenses must always account for Pryor as a runner. Even with Chris “Beanie” Wells leaving early for the NFL, the running game should be just fine with sophomore Dan “Boom” Herron taking over the starting role. Herron sees the field well and is a hard runner. Brandon Saine will come off the bench with his excellent ball skills as a receiver, but the back with the most potential might be true freshman Jaamal Berry. That trio gives the Buckeyes one of the deepest backfields in the conference. Up front, sophomore Mike Brewster anchors the offensive line from his center position and is already one of the best at his craft. Also returning are tackle Jim Cordle and guard Bryant Browning, with former Michigan man Justin Boren, a nasty blocker, taking over at the other guard spot. When they do throw the pigskin there will be no shortage of weapons. Junior Dane Sanzenbacher gives Pryor a reliable target, while sophomore DeVier Posey brings superstar potential—he’s a big play waiting to happen. Also keep an eye on freshman Duron Carter—the son of Cris—and sophomore Lamaar Thomas as the season progresses.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) QB Terrelle Pryor (SO), 2) C Mike Brewster (SO), 3) DeVier Posey (SO)

When the Other Team Has the Ball

Defensive Coordinator: Jim Heacock (5th season)/Luke Fickell (5th season)
Scheme: Multiple 4-3
Starters Returning: Seven
Key Losses: CB Malcolm Jenkins, LB James Laurinaitis, LB Marcus Freeman, DT Nader Abdallah, LB Larry Grant, CB Donald Washington

Last season it was about the linebackers. This year, with all three backers gone, the defensive line will lead the way. Defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Thaddeus Gibson complement each other perfectly. Heyward is a load at almost 290 pounds, and not many college linemen are as strong and stout at the point of attack. Meanwhile, the 240-pound Gibson uses his athleticism and quickness to beat blockers off the edge. Look for Gibson to have a breakout season as a pass rusher. Clogging up the middle are Doug Worthington and Dexter Larimore, a pair of workman-like defenders. Seniors Rob Rose, Todd Denlinger, and Lawrence Wilson, as well as sophomore Nathan Williams provide depth. Williams is the next in line, while Wilson is former starter working his way back to health. At linebacker, junior Ross Homan looked good in a backup role last season and should be a leader this season. Joining Homan will be senior Austin Spitler and hard-hitting junior Brain Rolle. Pushing for playing time will be talented sophomore Etienne Sabino. The last line of defense is secure with one of the nation’s best safety tandems in seniors Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell. The top coverman is junior Chimdi Chekwa, with Andre Amos and Devon Torrence competing for playing time. True freshman Travis Howard has the ability to make an impact this season.

Top Pro Prospects: 1) DE Cameron Heyward (JR), 2) CB Chimdi Chekwa (JR), 3) DE Thaddeus Gibson (JR)

The Schedule

Do you think any team wants to win an out of conference game more than Ohio St. does when the Trojans roll into Columbus? It’s nothing personal with the Men of Troy, but that is the only way the Buckeyes can silence the growing wave of somewhat deserved criticism. It’s kind of a big game in the polls too—a win and suddenly the Buckeyes would leapfrog USC in the national title picture. They also play Iowa, Illinois, and Wisconsin at the Horseshoe with Michigan St. off the schedule. Road games at Indiana and Purdue are essentially open-book tests, but a trip to Happy Valley will not be an easy final exam—expect a whiteout waiting for the Pennsylvania native Pryor. They also travel to that school up north to the Big House for extra credit in what could be a tougher game than it looks heading into the season.

Pivotal Point

“Step up” should be the theme for the 2009 Buckeyes. Pryor needs to step up as a superstar and carry the offense. Herron needs to step up and replace Wells. Posey and Sanzenbacher need to step up and replace the Brians (Robiskie and Hartline). On defense, Homan needs to step up as the leader of the linebacking corps. Chekwa needs to step up as a lockdown corner. And Coach Tressel needs to step up in big spots—they all do. That means no more blowouts (see 35-3 to USC) or blowing fourth quarter leads (up 6-3 heading into the fourth quarter versus Penn St. & took 21-17 lead with just over two minutes remaining in their bowl loss to Texas). They faced three top-ten teams and went 0-3…it’s time to step up!

CFI Final Analysis

Outside of their stinker at the Coliseum—and there is no other way to categorize their performance against USC—the Buckeyes played some darn good football in 2008. They went toe-to-toe with the third ranked team in the country—twice—before falling 13-6 to Penn St. and 24-21 to Texas. Did you know they had a true freshman playing quarterback? TP is a freshman no more and it’s time for the Buckeyes to win some of those spotlight games and what better place to start than on national television versus the Trojans?

College Football Insiders Top 25 Countdown:

The Next 25 (26-50) Plus 18 Bowl Teams
#25 West Virginia Mounainteers
#24 Tennessee Volunteers
#23 Clemson Tigers
#22 Pittsburgh Panthers
#21 Michigan St. Spartans
#20 Utah Utes
#19 Oregon Ducks
#18 Florida St. Seminoles
#17 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
#16 Boise St. Broncos
#15 North Carolina Tar Heels
#14 Penn St. Nittany Lions
#13 Mississippi Rebels
#12 Oklahoma St. Cowboys
#11 California Golden Bears
#10 Iowa Hawkeyes
#9 Virginia Tech Hokies
#8 Georgia Bulldogs
#7 USC Trojans
#6 LSU Tigers

Photos Courtesy of The Ohio State Department of Athletics