Ohio State Football: Are the Buckeyes Still Big Ten Championship Contenders?

Derek CiapalaContributor ISeptember 8, 2011

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 3:  Braxton Miller #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes throws a pass to Christian Bryant #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the third quarter against the Akron Zips on September 3, 2011 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Akron 42-0. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Much has changed since Ohio State clinched a share of the Big Ten Championship last season.

Former head coach Jim Tressel resigned, Terrelle Pryor moved on to the NFL and seven players have been suspended. The school now awaits the NCAA’s ruling on violations committed at the school by Tressel and some of his players.

Surely all of these changes at Ohio State would eliminate them from contention for the 2011 Big Ten Championship, right?

I don’t think so. Here are three reasons to believe Ohio State still has a chance to win the conference title:


The Winning Foundation

Tressel is gone, but the foundation he built is still there. New head coach Luke Fickell has kept most of the coaching staff together and added leadership with former Buckeye Mike Vrabel returning to the program as the team’s linebackers coach.

The people in charge of the Ohio State program have been in the trenches with Tressel and know how to win. The players who’ve come back for the 2011 season have been instilled with the winning mentality required to compete in the Big Ten.

The football program isn’t going to fall apart just because Tressel is gone. He left behind a solid organization of leadership to take over, and I believe that was evident in Ohio State’s impressive 42-0 opening victory over Akron.


The Talent is Still There

Ohio State’s defense was barely tested against a horrible Akron team, but it became clear as the game wore on that they’re going to be good. The Buckeyes have always found a way to reload when players graduate and/or move on to the NFL, and this year is no different.

Ohio State’s defense swarmed to the ball, created turnovers and stuffed any holes the Akron offensive line tried to open. The Buckeyes performed just as well as they always do.

As for the offense, I was pleasantly surprised at how efficient both Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller were at quarterback, and I was impressed by how well the Buckeyes’ receiving corps performed.

Tight end Jake Stoneburner caught three touchdown passes as Bauserman’s go-to man, while young players like Verlon Reed and Devin Smith both played very well.

Even freshman Evan Spencer got into the act with his thrilling one-handed grab in the fourth quarter.

I actually came away from this game more impressed with Ohio State’s receivers than I was at any point last season. There is still talent on this team, and I’m confident they’ll continue to perform well when called upon.


The Schedule Works Out in Ohio State’s Favor

Don’t get me wrong, Ohio State is going to be tested as soon as this Saturday, Sept. 10 against Toledo, but with the addition of the conference championship game, the Buckeyes can struggle early and still compete for the title.

Ohio State doesn’t face a divisional opponent until their Oct. 15 road game against Illinois. At that point, the Buckeyes will have had more than enough time to settle the roster following the return of the four remaining suspended players.

Theoretically, Ohio State can lose to both Michigan State and Nebraska and still make it to the Big Ten title game. Last year that wasn’t possible, but with the new league format, it could happen.

Ohio State would still have to beat their divisional opponents, including Wisconsin and Penn State, but with a back-loaded schedule, the Buckeyes have a chance to solidify the roster for the season’s stretch run.



Ohio State does have some challenges this season, but they aren’t out of contention yet.

Tressel left behind a solid organization with plenty of talent for coach Fickell to take advantage of. It won’t be easy with tough divisional matchups against Wisconsin and Penn State later in the schedule, but Ohio State is definitely still capable of winning the Big Ten Championship.