SENIOR STRONG safety Kurt Coleman has firsthand experience with the Buckeyes' ability to reload quickly. In 2007 he was one of six new starters on a defense that lifted Ohio State from fifth in the nation in scoring defense in '06 to first. "Obviously, our coaches don't just get the starters ready to play," Coleman says.
Overall, 23 Buckeyes were taken in the 2005 through '08 NFL drafts, yet the program has hardly missed a beat: Ohio State has won at least 10 games in each of the last four years, played for the national championship twice and been to two other BCS bowls. This annual rite of rejuvenation is the primary reason why, despite the loss of 11 starters from the 2008 team, Ohio State is the pick to win its fifth straight Big Ten title. (The Buckeyes shared the crown with Penn State in '05 and '08.)
The 5'11", 188-pound Coleman, a ferocious hitter, led the Buckeyes with four interceptions last season and is the team's top returning tackler. Coleman, who finished with double-digit tackles in each of the Buckeyes' final three games last season, will have to take charge of a defense that lost a pair of All-America playmakers in cornerback Malcolm Jenkins and middle linebacker James Laurinaitis.
Help will come from a defensive line that has three of four starters back and, after finishing 18th in the country against the run last year, the potential to be dominant again. For example, what 6'2", 240-pound junior end Thaddeus Gibson lacks in size, he makes up for with quick feet and a motor that doesn't stop; the converted linebacker led Ohio State with five sacks last season. The experienced line should take pressure off senior middle linebacker Austin Spitler, who after spending four years as the understudy to Laurinaitis finally gets his shot. "He really hasn't played a game yet," says defensive coordinator Jim Heacock. "But he's very intense and tough, like [Laurinaitis], and seems to be seizing the opportunity."
The entire defense will have to be primed from the get-go while sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor adjusts to seven new starters on offense. Among the newcomers to the lineup is 5'10", 193-pound sophomore tailback Daniel (Boom) Herron, who has a running style to match his nickname. That's a good thing because USC is coming to Columbus on Sept. 12. A victory over the Trojans would set the stage for the Buckeyes' run at a third BCS Championship Game appearance in four years.
Get the latest and best Buckeyes stories, statistics and fan blogs from across the Web, handpicked by the editors of SI.
PRYOR HAS TO ADJUST TO SEVEN NEW OFFENSIVE STARTERS.
CONFERENCE: Big Ten
COACH: Jim Tressel (9th year)
2008 RECORD: 10--3 (7--1 in Big Ten)
FINAL AP RANK: 9
RETURNING STARTERS: 11 Offense 4, Defense 7
3 at Indiana
17 at Purdue
31 New Mexico State
7 at Penn State
21 at Michigan
The Nittany Lions walked out of the Horseshoe last year with a 13--6 victory and kept the Buckeyes from claiming an outright Big Ten title. The stakes figure to be just as high when the teams square off in Happy Valley.
The secret to Ohio State's success under Jim Tressel? In the past four seasons the Buckeyes haven't ranked lower than sixth nationally in scoring defense. Last year they gave up 13.9 points per game and finished sixth.
AARON JOSEFCZYK/ICON SMI
The top returning tackler, Coleman is prepared to lead the defense.
Photograph by JOHN W. MCDONOUGH
Herron, who rushed for 439 yards despite only two starts as a freshman, has a nickname that speaks to his running style: Boom.