Looking to erase the stigma of two national title game failures is first and foremost on the minds of the Buckeyes this season. Even with a combined record of 33-5 the past three years, Ohio State has faced national ridicule.
Coming off of an 11-2 season and a surprising BCS title game appearance - no OSU fan in their right mind expected a young and inexperienced squad to get that far, so thanks to every other program for choking at one point or another last year! - this Buckeyes squad is much more equipped to compete for a championship. Here are three reasons why:
1. More dynamic offense: The addition of Terrelle Pryor at quarterback opens up the playbook to new levels. Todd Boeckman is still “the guy” under center, but Pryor will add another dimension to what this offense can do. His credentials speak for themselves.
All of the receivers return, including Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline, while the offensive line – with big fella Alex Boone holding down the left tackle spot – has been bolstered by three top recruits in Michael Brewster, Mike Adams and J.B. Shugarts.
2. Chris Wells/Brandon Saine: A breakthrough season for “Beanie” Wells has this former top recruit on everyone’s pre-season Heisman list. Arguably one of the most talented players in college football, Wells is drawing comparisons to Eddie George – and he might acutally be better. Coupled with the super-speedy Saine, who last year emerged as a threat to not only run but catch the ball, the Buckeyes’ backfield can produce big plays at any given moment.
3. Defense, Defense, Defense: James Laurinaitis will level you as soon as you step on the field. Lawrence Wilson is healthy and will be more then capable at replacing Vernon Gholston. Malcolm Jenkins and Jamario O’Neal, one of about 712 players from Glenville to pass through Ohio State in the past decade, anchors a very solid secondary.
The 2008 Buckeyes are talented, deep and versatile. Nearly everyone returns from the team last year – 18 of 22 starters overall, not to mention the entire kicking corps. If there’s a hole on this team, good luck finding it.
The game everyone has circled on their calendars is Sept. 13 at USC, which will be the barometer to see if Ohio Statebelongs in the national spotlight. A win could springboard the team through the season – another nationally primetime, embarrassing loss could prove irrevocably demoralizing (particularly to the spirited fanbase).
Other key road games on the slate include tilts at Wisconsin (one of the toughest environments in college football), Michigan State and a vastly improved Illinois squad. Then, of course, the season closes with the game against you-know-who, and even though Michigan will likely only have four or five wins at that point, they’d like nothing more than to derail potential Buckeye title hopes in the Horseshoe.
Another 10-plus win season and BCS bowl appearance is in store for this team, and anything short will be considered disappointing for Ohio State fans. But after the wackiness of last season - it was like the "bizarro" episode of Seinfeld every week, for God's sake - who knows what's in store for everyone this year?
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