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August 3, 2011

Top 120 countdown
No. 16 Ohio State
Interim Coach: Luke Fickell (First season.) | Staff
Last season: 12-1, 7-1 (T-1st in Big Ten; beat Arkansas in Sugar Bowl)
Returning starters (At least seven starts last year): Offense (6): T Mike Adams, FB Zach Boren, C Michael Brewster, RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey, T J.B. Shugarts. Defense (4): SS Orhian Johnson, T John Simon, LB Andrew Sweat, E Nathan Williams. Special teams (1): P Ben Buchanan.

OFFENSE

OVERVIEW: Coach Jim Tressel resigned and QB Terrelle Pryor left school amid an NCAA scandal that saw Ohio State vacate its 2010 wins and its share of the Big Ten title. In addition, three of the team's best players - RB Dan Herron, WR DeVier Posey and T Mike Adams - are suspended for the first five games as punishment for their role in the NCAA violations. What's it mean? There are doubts that this offense can effectively develop run-pass balance and efficiency. Tressel's departure might mean the offense opens up a bit; he sometimes was too conservative with his play calls. Still, this is an offense that is going to rely on the running game.

AN INSIDE LOOK
THE LINGERING QUESTION: Will Ohio State get steady quarterback play? With Terrelle Pryor gone, the Buckeyes can go with steady-but-unspectacular Joe Bauserman or talented-but-untested Braxton Miller.
THE BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Ohio State has an us-against-the-world mentality, gets steady quarterback play and wins the Big Ten Leaders Division behind a stout defense and ground-bound offense that wears down opposing teams.
THE WORST-CASE SCENARIO: The offense breaks down because of poor quarterback play, defenses stuff a one-dimensional offense and Ohio State mails it in after a slow start and has a middling season.
STAT TO KEEP AN EYE ON: Ohio State averaged 228.5 passing yards last season (54th in the nation), and the Buckeyes must come close to that figure in 2011. The new quarterback needs to pass well enough to keep defenses honest so foes can't gang up to stop what could be a good ground game.
BACKFIELD: Who will play quarterback with Pryor gone? Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham and touted true freshman Braxton Miller, who enrolled in January, are the contenders. It could come down to Miller and Bauserman. Miller arrives with a ton of press clippings and has the fans excited, but will the staff really turn the offense over to a true freshman? Bauserman may be the front-runner just because he's a senior and was Pryor's backup the past two seasons, but he's a pedestrian talent. Ohio State should be fine at running back even with Herron suspended the first five games. Jordan Hall is a nifty runner with speed, but can Hall (5 feet 9/195 pounds) be an every-down back? Jaamal Berry was a ballyhooed prospect and has shown flashes of greatness. Carlos Hyde and redshirt freshman Rod Smith also could figure in the mix. FB Zach Boren is a primo escort.

RECEIVERS: Posey far and away is the team's top deep threat, but he's also out for first five games. With Dane Sanzenbacher graduated, who's going to catch passes? No other wide receiver caught even 10 passes last season. Keep an eye on Corey Brown, a speedster who remains a work-in-progress. Chris Fields, who has good hands and sneaky speed, and T.Y. Williams, a big target who some feel will be the next great Buckeyes wide receiver, are others who could emerge. James Louis is another youngster to watch. The Buckeyes have a strong duo at tight end in Jake Stoneburner and massive Reid Fragel (6-8/260).

LINE: A strong line returns three starters, though Adams - who might be the nation's best tackle - must sit out the first five games. He may have been the most improved player on offense last season. Touted Andrew Norwell is expected to step in for Adams. J.B. Shugarts needs to mature at the right tackle slot. Michael Brewster may be the top center in the nation. The search is on for two guards with Bryant Browning and Justin Boren gone. Sophomores Corey Linsley, who played in six games last season, and Marcus Hall, who redshirted last season, will head into fall camp atop the depth chart. Hall was a big-time signee in the 2009 class.

DEFENSE

OVERVIEW: The Buckeyes ranked fourth in the nation in defense in 2010, but only four starters return. Keep an eye on the secondary, which has the most work to do. Still, there's plenty of talent on the roster for this to develop into another top-flight unit. The Buckeyes play a 4-3 front and make it a priority to stifle the run; they've allowed more than 100 yards per game rushing just once in the past six seasons.

LINE: The line will miss E Cameron Heyward, a first-round pick, and T Dexter Larimore, but the Buckeyes will have one of the top units in the Big Ten. T John Simon, who also may play end, needs to prove he can be a leader. He's strong and explosive at the point of attack and can stuff the run. Simon could be in line for a special season. Fellow Ts Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Adam Bellamy form a nice rotation. E Nathan Williams is a returning starter who must bring the heat off the edge. E Solomon Thomas must sit out the first five games because of a suspension.

LINEBACKERS: The linebacking corps took a hit with the departures of Brian Rolle, the team's top tackler in 2010, and Ross Homan. Returning starter Andrew Sweat must lead the way on the weakside. He's a good athlete with All-Big Ten potential. The time is now for Etienne Sabino to fulfill the massive hype that followed him to campus. He redshirted last season to balance the classes, then secured a starting spot at middle linebacker in the spring. The strongside slot is open. It could be Tony Jackson or incoming freshman Curtis Grant.

SECONDARY: Yes, three starters are gone, but there are plenty of athletic options to plug in. The search is on for cornerbacks with Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa gone. Travis Howard was the first corner off the bench last season and must assert himself as a shutdown guy. Dominic Clarke also figures to play a big role. Orhian Johnson returns at strong safety. Keep an eye on Tyler Moeller, a senior who looks ready to finally take off after sitting out the better part of the past two seasons after being assaulted and suffering brain trauma in 2009. Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett also are back from injury to bolster the safety spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS

A kicker must be found with Devin Barclay gone. Drew Basil is the favorite after serving as the kickoff man last season. But Basil's only two field-goal attempts in 2010 were blocked. Ohio State looks good at punter with Ben Buchanan; he averaged 41 yards per boot last season, with five punts longer than 50 yards. Jordan Hall ranked second in the Big Ten in punt returns (9.9) and kickoff returns (27.9), taking one back for a score. The coverage teams were surprisingly lax last season; the Buckeyes allowed one punt-return TD and two kickoff-return TDs.

THE RECRUITING SIDE
Average national ranking past five years: 12th
Buzz: The Buckeyes are coming off a great recruiting year, one in which they finished on top of the Big Ten by a mile and No. 11 overall in the country. Virginia LB Curtis Grant, the nation's No. 2 player, headlines the class, which includes seven of the top 10 in-state players. But since the departure of Jim Tressel, things have been rough for the 2012 cycle, including de-commitments from OLs Kyle Kalis and Kyle Dodson. Both then committed to other Big Ten schools. - MIKE FARRELL

IMPACT NEWCOMER

All eyes will be on Miller, a four-star prospect and the No. 1 recruit in Ohio. He graduated early and took part in spring drills. Miller is a dynamic athlete who possesses many of the same physical attributes as Pryor. He may not begin the season as the starter, but chances are good he eventually will be the guy.

SCHEDULE

Playing four of the first five at home will help buffer Ohio State, but challenges loom. There's a Sept. 17 trip to Miami and an Oct. 1 visit from Michigan State. October will be the month that makes or breaks the Buckeyes. In addition to the Spartans' visit, Ohio State also plays at Nebraska, at Illinois and at home against Wisconsin. The season finishes with a tough 1-2 punch: a visit from Penn State and a trip to revenge-minded Michigan, which has lost seven in a row and nine of 10 to Ohio State.

OUTLOOK

Before the fall of the Tressel empire, Ohio State was the favorite to win an unprecedented seventh Big Ten crown in a row. Now, the Buckeyes may be playing only for pride, which is huge in Columbus. Ohio State must figure out how to patch some holes - most notably at quarterback and wide receiver - while staying focused amid NCAA trouble. The Buckeyes have enough talent to fill the spots created by the suspensions, as well as shoring up the front seven on defense, but will the team get steady quarterback play? Is interim coach Luke Fickell ready to be the leader of a major program? Lastly, will the team stay motivated and focused if it is ruled ineligible for the league title after meeting with the NCAA? Stay tuned.

OFFENSE
QB Joe Bauserman (6-1/233, Sr.)
Braxton Miller (6-2/185, Fr.)
RB Jaamal Berry (5-10/200, Soph.)
Jordan Hall (5-9/195, Jr.)
FB Zach Boren (6-0/252, Jr.)
Carlos Hyde (6-0/238, Soph.)
WR Chris Fields (6-0/185, Soph.)
Corey Brown (5-11/182, Soph.)
WR T.Y. Williams (6-5/228, R-Fr.)
James Louis (5-10/180, R-Fr.)
TE Jake Stoneburner (6-5/245, Jr.)
Reid Fragel (6-8/260, Jr.)
LT Andrew Norwell (6-5/308, Soph.)
Tommy Brown (6-5/320, Fr.)
LG Marcus Hall (6-5/315, Soph.)
Andrew Norwell (6-5/308, Soph.)
C Michael Brewster (6-5/293, Sr.)
Eric Kramer (6-4/270, Soph.)
RG Corey Linsley (6-2/310, Soph.)
Jack Mewhort (6-6/288, So.)
RT J.B. Shugarts (6-7/297, Sr.)
Ivan Blackman (6-3/322, Soph.)
P Ben Buchanan (6-0/195, Jr.)
KR Jordan Hall (5-9/195, Jr.)
DEFENSE
E Adam Bellamy (6-4/295, Soph.)
Melvin Fellows (6-5/270, Soph.)
T Garrett Goebel (6-3/281, Jr.)
Johnathan Hankins (6-3/335, Soph.)
T John Simon (6-2/270, Jr.)
Dalton Britt (6-2/290, Jr.)
E Nathan Williams (6-3/260, Sr.)
John Simon (6-2/270, Jr.)
SLB Tony Jackson (5-10/225, Sr.)
Curtis Grant (6-3/225, Fr.)
MLB Etienne Sabino (6-3/242, Jr.)
Storm Klein (6-2/230, Jr.)
WLB Andrew Sweat (6-2/238, Sr.)
Curtis Grant (6-3/225, Fr.)
CB Dominic Clarke (5-10/191, Soph.)
Dionte Allen (5-11/185, Sr.)
CB Travis Howard (6-0/190, Jr.)
Nate Oliver (6-0/215, Sr.)
FS Jamie Wood (6-1/198, Soph.)
Christian Bryant (5-9/190, Soph.)
SS Orhian Johnson (6-2/205, Jr.)
C.J. Barnett (6-0/190, Jr.)
K Drew Basil (6-1/212, Soph.)
PR Jordan Hall (5-9/195, Jr.)

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com, and you can click here to follow him on Twitter.



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