Forget, for a moment, all the intrigue. Forget the end of Tresselball. Forget the uncertainty at quarterback now that Terrelle Pryor has withdrawn from the school. Here's the bottom line: Ohio State is still one of the most talented teams in the Big Ten, and—even with the departures of a longtime head coach and a star quarterback and the suspension of three top seniors for the first five games—the battered program remains loaded for a run at its seventh straight outright or shared conference title. "With everything that's happened over the off-season, we want to just get back on the field," says new coach Luke Fickell, who stepped in after Jim Tressel resigned on May 30, following the revelation of a pattern of NCAA violations.
The Buckeyes, who have ranked in the top six in the nation in scoring defense for six straight years, will be helped by the return of senior linebacker Tyler Moeller (who missed eight games last season with a torn pectoral muscle).
The quarterback situation is unsettled—either fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman (who has attempted just 47 passes as a Buckeye) or true freshman Braxton Miller (a dual threat in the Pryor mold) will start—but the offensive line is stocked with talent and experience.
The anchor of the unit is senior center Michael Brewster, a starter since the fourth game of his freshman season. The 6'5", 305-pound All-America has blossomed into the nation's top center, as well as the team's heart and soul now that Pryor is gone. A future first-round pick, he made sure his teammates hit the weight room in the off-season and has been a spokesman (via Twitter) for a program in transition. "Having Mike's experience and leadership, on and off the field, is huge," says Fickell.
The Buckeyes hope Brewster and the line can lead the way until senior wideout DeVier Posey and senior running back Dan Herron (1,155 rushing yards, 16 touchdowns) return from suspensions related to the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal, in time for an Oct. 8 showdown at Nebraska. The Buckeyes could still face additional NCAA penalties, but for now they'll focus on trying to win another Big Ten title.
17 at Miami
1 Michigan State
8 at Nebraska
15 at Illinois
12 at Purdue
19 Penn State
26 at Michigan
The team's only proven wideout had 53 catches for 848 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Rushed for 800 yards in the last seven games of 2010—but he's suspended for the first five this year.
One of the conference's strongest players will shuttle between tackle and end.
Conference Big Ten
Coach Luke Fickell (1st year)
2010 Record 12--1 (7--1 in Big Ten)
Final AP Rank 5
Returning Starters 11
Offense 7, Defense 4
GREG ASHMAN/CAL SPORT MEDIA (BREWSTER)
Brewster, a four-year starter, will be counted upon to lead the Buckeyes through a quarterback change and the suspensions of key players.
MARVIN FONG/THE PLAIN DEALER/LANDOV (SIMON)