Big Ten Breakdown: Ohio State Buckeyes, Part 1 (Overview and Offense)
What an offseason for the Buckeyes.
After this, Ohio State levied sanctions on itself, and athletic director Gene Smith declared these self-imposed sanctions enough to ward off further penalties. While unbiased readers attempt to fathom the absurdity of Smith's declaration, the NCAA may or may not agree with Smith, but they do agree that OSU did not lose institutional control.
And now, just a couple of weeks away from the beginning of football season, we're left to await the NCAA's final say.
Regardless what the NCAA finds, whatever rules Jim Tressel broke, the guy knew how to win football games. In fact, OSU was the fourth-winningest program in the country during his tenure (third-winningest among AQ conferences).
And when you consider that many of the programs near the top of that list broke the same rules as Tressel, one can say that, for the most part, he was operating on a strangely level playing field.
I am not in any way excusing Tressel. I'm saying that the NCAA is an absurd, flighty, impotent and corrupt institution and Tressel might be impossible to replace.
That leads me to current head coach and former OSU defensive coordinator, Luke Fickell.
Fickell might be in an impossible situation. He was hired out of necessity, due to the poor timing of Tressel's resignation. He is officially the interim coach, and if he wins less than 10 games or loses to Michigan, he will probably never be more than the interim coach.
Needless to say, 10 wins under these conditions might be next-to-impossible, even for Tressel. But that is the situation in front of Coach Fickell.
Let's hope he is a more composed and adept coach than he is a public speaker.
2010 Scoring Offense: 38.8 PPG (second in the conference), total offense: 448.6 YPG (second), rushing YPC: 5.23 (third), passing efficiency: 157.76 (second).
Average scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: Three.
Best scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: First (2006).
Worst scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: Fourth (2007, 2008 and 2009).
Returning Starters: RB Dan Herron***, FB Zach Boren, WR Devier Posey***, TE Jake Stoneburner, TE Reid Fragel, OT Mike Adams***, C Mike Brewster, OT J.B. Shugarts.
*** indicates the players will be suspended for the first five games of the season.
Open Positions: QB, WR, OL.
I was surprised to see that over the last five years, Ohio State has had the best offense in the conference.
Perhaps that is because the defense has been so amazing, the offense has been overshadowed. Perhaps it's because the Ohio State offense and Tressel-ball gained its reputation early in the Tressel era and the latter part—the part during which Darrell Hazell had a say in the play-calling—featured a more productive offense.
Now, Tressel is gone. Hazell is gone. Pryor is gone. And as OSU FC Tim Bielik pointed out, the current offensive coordinator (and the primary play-caller during those early Tressel years), Jim Bollman might have a bigger impact on the 2011 season than Luke Fickell.
The first four years of the Jim Tressel era—when Bollman called all the offensive plays—are decidedly less impressive than the last six. In that time period, the best the offense ranked was fourth in the conference. That was in 2002, their national championship year. Otherwise, they ranked seventh twice and eighth once.
In 2005, the season Hazell got involved in the play calling, they jumped to No. 2. And 2006-10 is represented above. Is the improvement a coincidence, Tressel playing his recruits or is Hazell the difference-maker? I don't know the answer.
I do know that I'm half expecting the Bucks to come out this season similar to 2003, when the offense was as vanilla as it could be, and did what it had to do to get wins. The difference between 2003 and 2011 is that I don't know if the defense will be as good as it was, I don't know that this offense can afford to be vanilla and I don't know if Luke Fickell can win games like Jim Tressel.
That said, the offense will depend upon the quarterback. If Fickell/Bollman start a pocket quarterback, expect 2003. If they go with a dual-threat quarterback, expect something similar to the offense Pryor ran, though not nearly as efficient.
The pocket quarterback is senior Joe Bauserman. Bauserman is 26 years old and has served as Pryor's backup for the last two seasons. It is pointless looking too heavily at his statistics, because most of it was in garbage time, and it was not in the offensive scheme in which he would likely play.
There is unquestionably a ceiling with Bauserman. He's not Pryor, he's not Troy Smith and he's not even Craig Krenzel.
The advantage with Bauserman is that he is a veteran, he won't get rattled and he won't lose games. If he has a strong running game behind him, he can be successful.
The problem is it is unlikely he can carry the team on his back if he has to.
The dual-threat quarterback is either true freshman Braxton Miller or third-year sophomore Kenny Guiton.
Miller was Rivals' top dual-threat quarterback in the 2011 class. He has been on campus since January and he competed in spring practices. While he is not the physical presence that Pryor was, he was a much more polished passer coming out of high school.
Miller is a playmaker. Miller can or will eventually be able to carry the team on his back and win games. Miller's talents allow the offense to be more versatile than it would be under Bauserman.
But Miller is a true freshman, and I don't care how talented the true freshman in question is, there is still a significant learning curve. If Miller gets the starting job, he is going to make mistakes that a veteran like Bauserman wouldn't make.
The wild card in this scenario is Guiton. Guiton is also a dual-threat quarterback. He is not as talented as Miller. He is not as experienced as Bauserman. He has only seen action in five collegiate games, and he has thrown two passes, one of which was an interception.
It is unlikely Guiton will get the start, but he is in the mix.
Also, sophomore Taylor Graham is another pocket quarterback that is theoretically a possibility.
Again, if Tressel were still the coach, I'd be more confident that the team could carry whoever is at quarterback. I'd be more confident if the Bucks weren't without their top receiver, running back and offensive lineman for the first five games.
I'd be more confident if there were more experienced receivers in the lineup. I'd be more confident if the defense were a lock to be as good as they've been the past 10 years.
But there are a lot of "if's" in this equation, and that means that the OSU quarterback situation has to be taken at face value. And the face value is the Buckeyes will either be starting a limited, veteran quarterback in a limited, safe offense, or a (talented) true freshman in a more versatile offense.
Neither option is especially attractive.
After a mediocre 2009 in which Dan Herron split carries almost evenly with Brandon Saine, "Boom" Herron blossomed into one of the better Big Ten backs in 2010. Last year, he had 1,155 yards to go along with 5.35 YPC and 16 touchdowns. He also had 19 receptions for 180 yards.
This year he will be back, but he will miss the first five games.
In my opinion, this is the least crippling of the suspensions.
The player that will probably take his carries is sophomore Jaamal Berry. In limited carries last season, Berry ran for 266 yards, 8.31 YPC and two touchdowns. He was also one of the top kick returners in the conference.
In a position where inherent talent is imperative, Berry has plenty to go around. He was Rival's fifth-ranked running back in the 2009 class.
Other players that could get carries include redshirt freshmen Rod Smith or sophomore Carlos Hyde.
Junior Zach Boren may be the most entrenched player on the offense. He will be a three-year starter at fullback and though he won't carry the ball much, he is a strong blocker and has proven to be a dependable outlet receiver.
Overall, the Bucks will have their usual roster full of talented backs. Berry could be an effective starter right now, but he will share carries with Herron when he gets back.
In short, suspensions or not, OSU will have solid running backs.
Receivers and Tight Ends
Ohio State's top receiver, Devier Posey, will miss the first five games of the season. Outside of Posey, the rest of OSU's receivers have a combined 10 career receptions.
Seven of those receptions were by sophomore Corey Brown and three were by sophomore Chris Fields.
It's difficult to pinpoint who will get the most playing time aside from Posey, but most projections feel the primary receivers will be Brown, Fields, redshirt freshmen T.Y. Williams and Verlon Reed; and junior Jordan Hall.
Hall is a converted running back. Due to Berry's emergence and the lack of quality players in the receiving corps, Hall was moved to receiver in the spring. He is a playmaker that will probably play on the edge while Posey is out. Once Posey gets back, he will move to the slot which is a better fit for his abilities.
Speaking of playmakers, Corey Brown has all the tools he needs to be a big-time threat. The problem has been his hands. Last season. he had a number of dropped balls. Wide receiver coach Stan Drayton described Brown as too much of a "body catcher" last season, but he is working to correct the problem.
T.Y. Williams is another player with plenty of physical tools, but a bit of a ball-catching problem. He is 6'5", 228 lbs. and could be a monster in traffic. He just needs to learn the fundamentals of the position.
Reed was a high school quarterback, who, like seemingly all the other receivers, is learning the position and still has issues catching the ball.
Finally, Fields reputedly had a poor spring, but is in the mix and might compete with Hall for the slot position.
Fortunately, the tight end is much more stable. Ohio State has two returning players with plenty of experience in juniors Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel.
Fragel is a traditional tight end. He is a strong blocker that will mostly line up with a hand on the ground. Last season, he had nine receptions for 121 yards and a touchdown.
Stoneburner is the better receiver and can play as more of an H-back. Last year, he had 21 receptions for 222 yards and two touchdowns.
OSU under Bollman and Tressel did not typically use the tight end much in the passing game. In fact, Stoneburner's 21 receptions was the most by a Buckeye tight end under Tressel. The previous "record" was 18 catches in 2003 by Ryan Hamby.
Presumably, the lack of experienced receivers and Stoneburner's talents will force the OSU offense away from their tendencies.
Posey is one of the best receivers in the conference, and it would benefit the offense greatly if he played in the beginning of the season in order to build familiarity with his new quarterback. That is not going to happen. In effect, Ohio State will have to find other bodies.
As is always the case with the Buckeyes, there is a surplus of talent, but this year, the talent at pass catcher is very raw.
Big Ten Position Group Ranking: 8
Suspension No. 3 is left tackle Mike Adams. He is a two-year starter and a 2010 first team all-conference player. WalterFootball.com calls him the sixth-best tackle in the 2012 draft and projects him to go in the second round. Needless to say, his ranking is hurt by multiple off-the-field indiscretions.
As a veteran, Adams doesn't need the summer practices, but an offensive line is built on cohesion, and it is possible and likely the line and thus, the offense will be a bit disjointed when he gets back.
Other than Adams, veteran center Mike Brewster and right tackle J.B. Shurgarts are stalwarts on the line.
Brewster is WalterFootball.com's top center for the 2012 draft and he is projected to go in the top 25. He is the leader of the offensive line and arguably of the offense.
J.B. Shurgarts is another two-year starter. He is not the talent that Adams or Brewster is, but he is solid at right tackle. More than the other two, a strong senior season will help him boost his draft status.
There are a number of players in line for the two guard positions, as well as left tackle for the first five games. The most notable are sophomores Andrew Norwell, Marcus Hall, Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley. Also, freshmen Chris Carter and Antonio Underwood could be in the mix for playing time.
Marcus Hall earned playing time his true freshman year, but redshirted in 2010 in order to fix some academic issues. This opened up playing time for true freshman Andrew Norwell last season, as he was backup to Shurgarts.
Both Hall and Norwell have plenty of size and athleticism. Now it is a matter of putting it on the field.
The other players are largely unknown, having played mostly in garbage time. Nonetheless, they will be needed to step up, especially while Adams is out.
In closing, this is a good line, though, in my opinion, slightly overrated, especially while they have to compensate for Adams' suspension. Nevertheless, some of the individual parts are there, and they will dominate any of the lesser defensive fronts they face.
Big Ten Position Group Ranking: 4
Coming next week, a look at the Buckeyes' defense and specialists.
Be sure to check out past installments of Big Ten Breakdown, beginning with the most recent, the Iowa Hawkeyes.
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