When the guts of Ohio State fans everywhere were wrenched on January 5th, 2009, the pain took a toll on Terrelle Pryor much more than anyone else. Pryor had been a prep phenom throughout high school and was arguably the most highly touted quarterback coming out of Pennsylvania in the state’s history. As Quan Cosby crossed the goaline with less than 20 seconds to go in the fourth quarter of Texas’s 24-21 Fiesta Bowl victory, Pryor knew his chance to win the big game was dwindling. After Todd Boeckman launched a hail mary as time expired, the ball fell hard to the ground and now Ohio State was entering a new era. This would now be Pryor’s team featuring new players all across the board. This team looks to be very athletic and feature different offensive sets than in recent years to accomodate the versatility of Pryor. Today, I will look into the Ohio State season preview and tell you what I expect from Terrelle Pryor and the new look Buckeyes.
SCHEDULE- Obviously USC is the headliner of the 2009 schedule but there are a few other intriguing match ups that draw interest. The Buckeyes start out with a home game against Navy, which isnt as much of a pushover as Youngstown State or any other 1-AA school Tressel has scheduled lately. Navy features a heavy run attack with versatile players at the skill positions. This game should be a great tune-up for USC and improve the run defense which will be on display against USC, which will either start Aaron Corp or Matt Barkeley. On September 12, this will be the fourth time in the past four seasons that Ohio State will have a chance to show that they can compete on the primetime BCS level. Pete Carroll’s teams seem to reload instead of rebuild every season. Despite losing several players in the first round of April’s NFL Draft, USC still features stars on both sides of the field. Taylor Mays, the hard-hitting Strong Safety, is the vocal point of the Trojan defense and will try to keep the Buckeyes in check. On the offensive side of the ball, USC showcases supreme talent at every level. At Running Back, the Trojans seem to have every five star back to come out of high school. The top back is Joe McKnight, who with his blazing speed and ability to cut, juke, and run by the defense will be a challenge for the young Ohio State defense. The Trojans have a large quantity of big, athletic receivers that stretch the field and cause problems for the secondary. The top receivers on the team are Damien Williams and Ronald Johnson, both who torched the Penn State secondary in the Rose Bowl last January. With so many skilled athletes at every position, the Trojans pose the biggest threat for Ohio State on the entire schedule and will be the headline for the season. Apart from the USC game there are a few Big Ten match ups that pose a major threat for another Big Ten title. The first of the threats is Penn State, who the Buckeyes play in Happy Valley, a stadium where surprisingly Ohio State has had success lately. The Nittany Lions return starting QB Daryl Clark but lost a plethera of Wide Receivers to the NFL Draft. I see Pryor having a big game in his home state and the defense holding off Joe Pa’s squad to redeem the home loss from last season. The next is home against Minnesota, a team on the rise under the direction of Tim Brewster. The Golden Gophers feature a spread, pass heavy attack that caused problems for the Buckeye defense last season and the spread has been an epidemic for Ohio State in recent years. Next up is the Iowa Hawkeyes, the only team in the Big Ten to win a bowl game last season with their Outback Bowl victory over South Carolina. The Hawkeyes are hurting after the loss of Shonn Greene, the only player to run for over 100+ yards in each game last season and the key point to Kirk Ferentz’ team last season. The Iowa squad also lost Mitch King, the stud defensive tackle that held his own on run defense and got after the opposing Quarterback often last season. The last of the challengers is the Michigan Wolverines, even after coming off a 3-9 season and a beatdown 42-7 they took from the Buckeyes, the Wolverines will still be a force for Ohio State to be reckoned with. Rich Rodriguez is just starting to put his pieces into the puzzle and it starts with freshman QB’s Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier, both athletic Quarterbacks that can run and throw, similar to Pat White. When you’re involved in one of the biggest rivalries in sports, it doesn’t matter who the team is, they will still be hard to beat. These are the threats for the Buckeyes for the 2009 season, after looking at the schedule many times, I see the Buckeyes going 11-1, with the sole loss to USC. By Zach Fleer
KEY PLAYERS- This is one of the first years in recent memory that Ohio State will feature an offense and defense with hardly any returning starters at the skill positions. Not since 2002, has Ohio State opened with a brand new Wide Receivers corps and a new starting Running Back, both years the RB from the year before had the last name “Wells,” also. Terrelle Pryor looks to increase his passing from the year before in which he threw for 1,311 yards and 12 TD’s. Pryor was just as much of a running threat as he was a passing threat last year compiling 631 yards and 6 TD’s. The bright spot to look forward to with Terrelle is that he is only going to get better and the experience he received last year playing in big games against USC, Penn State, and Texas will only make him better. Pryor kept the Trojan defense in check in the limited action he saw in his first road game of his college career. Arguably his best passing game was against a stout Penn State defense where Pryor threw for 225 yards and completed over 75% of his passes. QB’s Coach Jim Daniels has been working with Pryor all off-season on his throwing mechanics and the improvement showed in the Spring Game, in which Terrelle launched many passes downfield for completions. Already listed as a Heisman dark horse, Pryor should have a compelling sophomore season and will truly tell where the Buckeyes will go this season. Arguably the strongest part of the Buckeye offense is the line. A group that received criticism last season, the Ohio State line features new starters and a group that can really mix it up. The new starters are Mike Adams, the Left Tackle from Dublin Coffman. Adams was the top tackle coming out of high school and should be a welcomed replacement for Alex Boone. At guard for Ohio State is Justin Boren, the transfer from Michigan, was the top lineman for the Wolverines as a freshman in 2007 and should be a key player for the rushing attack. Next, is Mike Brewster. Brewster was the starting center a year ago and should continue to excel at the middle of the line. Connor Smith, Jack Mewhort, JB Shugarts, and Bryant Browning should battle for the right guard spot as all four are great players and will only add depth to the team. At right tackle is Jim Cordle, the third year starter who has received criticism for his lack of production but should have a solid senior season. The next key player is Boom Herron, who had a string of strong performances the last four games of the season, scoring at least one touchdown each game and also running for 80 yards against Michigan. Herron is another young player that should compete for the starting job along with Jamaal Berry, Brandon Saine, Marcus Williams, and if he ever scores high enough on his ACT, Carlos Hyde. The Wide Receivers group in my opinion is the most intriguing group of them all. The Buckeyes lost their top two contributers to the NFL Draft in Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline and look to restock and have a different mold this season. Ohio State features a group of small, speedy receivers similar to the SEC, with Ray Small, Deveir Posey, Lamaar “Flash” Thomas and Dane Sanzenbaccher. Small, who had thoughts on the NFL Draft, looks to be the lead receiver considering he is a fourth year senior and finally caught the ball against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl. Posey and Thomas are both sophomore studs with speed to burn and contributed as much as they could in the time they had last season. Posey averaged ten yards per catch last season and didn’t drop a pass thrown his way. Deveir is a prospect with cant-miss hands and route running skills similar to Terry Glenn. Thomas, who I am friends with on Facebook, wasn’t involved as much in the passing game last year as Posey was but did run back kickoffs. Thomas has been compared to Ted Ginn in the speed department and should be a solid #3 option this year for Jim Tressel’s offense. Thomas’ other link to Ginn, is that both players toted the prestigious #7, a jersey worn by many great Buckeye receivers. On defense, which has been the Buckeye way of life recently, Ohio State features a speedy defense with many new names. The front seven will have numerous new starters and the only returning starters are Cameron Heyward, and Ross Homan. The Buckeyes will feature a new and improved, in my opinion, Linebacking corps with Florida products Brian Rolle and Etienne Sabino. Both players fit the mold of the SEC Linebacker; Fast, hits hard, and excels in pass coverage. Rolle, is a freak of nature. Standing at 5′11″, 221 lbs, the junior, who wears #36, most Buckeye fans know what that means, can hit and excels in coverage on passing downs. This should be a breath of fresh air for Ohio State fans who witnessed the demolition we took against the faster and more athletic defenses from Florida and LSU. From the looks of it, it seems Jim Tressel has realized what the game has evolved into and has adjusted accordingly. Sabino, the most intriguing of the two, is a big kid that runs his 40 yard dash in the 4.5 area, yikes! If Ohio State and LB’s Coach Luke Fickell can get his motor running, Sabino should be a welcomed addition to a defense that lost three-time All-American James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman. On the defensive line, Ohio State is also turning more athletic with the plethera of ends that are solely pass rushers and can also mix it up on running downs also. Thaddeus Gibson and Nathan Williams are the leaders out of the pack after coming up with great performances against Michigan and Texas. Williams is undersized but can get after the Quarterback and causes trouble for slower tackles due to his speed. Thaddeus Gibson is an Ohio product from Euclid that has a similar body to Brian Rolle. Gibson is a converted Linebacker that reminds me of Demarcus Ware. Gibson pass rushes like a pro but still needs to improve on his discipline and stopping the run. In the Fiesta Bowl, Gibson had two crucial roughing the passer penalties called against him that may have cost the Buckeyes the game. If Gibson is improving in practice like they say he is, the line should be set. By far the weakness of the defense is the secondary. With the loss of Thorpe Award winning corner Malcolm Jenkins and solid #2 Donald Washington, opposing teams should capitalize on the youth and inexperience the Buckeye corners present. Chimdi Chekwa will be the #1 as the season starts and I expect freshman corner Corey Brown to contribute along with Florida products Orhian Johnson and Travis Howard. Howard, who attended the same high school as Sabino, is a big corner that can mix it up and jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. The Ohio State safeties are the strongest part of the Buckeye defense, with the return of Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell. Out of anyone on the defense, Coleman and Russell are most experienced, having played three seasons in a row for the Buckeyes. Coleman, is still on the rise, and showed his versatility and play making ability last year on seperate occasions. Russell is a solid Free Safety, but still has improvements to make. Most Buckeye fans lasting impression on him is the bad coverage on Quan Cosby on Texas’ final play. Russell has done much more in his career and should have a productive senior season. My honorable mention players on the defense are freshman Linebacker Dorian Bell, who was a Blue Chipper and is another one of the speedy backers. Lawrence Wilson returns for his senior season and should vie for playing time on the defensive line along with fellow senior and Glenville product, Rob Rose. Jermale Hines was a great addition to the secondary last season after converting form Linebacker and looks to contribute more to the defense in sets other than the Nickel. Last but not least is Tony Jackson, a Central Crossing and Westland product that is friends with my sister and is a big, athletic Linebacker that should see action late in blowout games. By Zach Fleer
OVERVIEW- For three consecutive seasons, Ohio State, had featured a team that looked identical each year. In 2009, the Buckeyes will have many new starters and a new offensive focus. I project seeing the Buckeyes feature multiple backs, defensive ends, linebackers, and corners to add to the depth Jim Tressel has always had as head coach. Terrelle Pryor looks to have a strong season and make a case for the Heisman Trophy and should lead the young offense with the experience gained in road games at USC, Wisconsin, Michigan State and Illinois. With all this being said, the upstart Buckeyes project to another ten win season and will have a tough battle against USC, which they are more than capable of winning. If the Buckeyes play to their potential in each big game and leave the mistakes for teams that they can beat easily, they should be set for another Big Ten title. The defense is more athletic in recent years and should get after their opponents which will create oppurtunites for the offense. 11-1 is the season I project, and that would please Buckeye fans all across the state of Ohio and abroad. This is your Ohio State Football Preview, presented by Fleer Sports. By Zach Fleer