Meeting Elite Standards: Ohio State's Five Keys to a 2009 BCS Bowl Game

Tim Bielik@bielik_timSenior Analyst IAugust 24, 2009

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 05:  Terrelle Pryor #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates with Rory Nicol #88 after a 5 yard touchdown reception against the Texas Longhorns during the fourth quarter of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl Game on January 5, 2009 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Ohio State starts the season in 13 days with a No. 6 ranking in both the AP and coaches' polls.

But with so many question marks left to be answered when kickoff arrives, the possibilities for the season range from a top-five season to a middle-of-the-road bowl appearance.

No doubt they have as good of talent as most elite teams in the country, but what type of year are the Buckeyes in for with a matchup against USC and road trips to Happy Valley and Ann Arbor?

If the Buckeyes look to get to a BCS game for a team-record fifth straight season, there are five keys to this outcome to the season.

1. Terrelle Pryor's improvement as a passer

Much has been made of Pryor working to improve his mechanics and footwork in the spring and summer just before camps.

Coach Jim Tressel was quoted at the end of this past week's "hell week" as saying Pryor was 10 times the QB he was a year ago.

Everything made of this, from pulling underperformers from seven-on-seven drills to quotes from teammates, should make Buckeye fans excited.

If indeed he is much improved as a passer, expect Ohio State to have its most exciting offense since Troy Smith's Heisman Trophy season in 2006.

2. The defensive line lives up to its hype

The Buckeye front four is expected to be the best Ohio State has had since its championship season in 2002 with Will Smith and Kenny Peterson anchoring the line.

Leading this year's line are bookends Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward, both of whom create havoc on the ends. Backing them up will be senior Lawrence Wilson and sophomore Nathan Williams.

While the DT position could be stronger, Buckeye Nation has to be excited by the possibility of a front four that can create chaos in the backfield while still having seven in coverage.

If they can do that, it will take a lot of pressure off of a back seven putting in at least three new starters.

3. Putting pieces on the offensive line in the right combination

One of the main weaknesses of the Buckeyes in recent years has been an un-athletic offensive line.

With scapegoat OT Alex Boone gone, along with G Ben Person, in comes Michigan transfer G Justin Boren.

The interior of the line looks to be solidly set with Boren, sophomore C Mike Brewster, and converted T Bryant Browning in the trenches. Senior lineman Jim Cordle appears to be the starter at RT for now.

Converted TE Andy Miller could be the biggest surprise of the year, as he is the favorite to start at LT, competing with sophomores J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams. Whoever starts at that LT spot has to be athletic enough to protect Pryor's blind side, or it could be a long year for the superstar sophomore QB.

4. Generating offensive balance

Last season's team with Beanie Wells witnessed an offensive unit that ran the football a vast majority of the time, making it easier to stop an offense where more production was expected.

When going up against the elite teams, no one can rely on just one form of offensive play. With a diverse number of playmakers at RB and WR, the playcalling should be more balanced.

If Pryor is really that improved a passer, it's time to take the reins off and turn him loose on the college football world.

A more balanced, diverse offense will look more fluid in the modern college game than the old "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense. Plus, if the offense can put up points, it will allow the defense to play more aggressively in somewhat of a double-edged sword.

5. Whoever starts at LB establishes dominance

Tyler Moeller's season-ending head injury, along with smaller injuries to Ross Homan and Austin Spitler, has dramatically shuffled personnel setups within a deep, athletic linebacking corps.

Regardless of who defensive coordinators Jim Heacock and Luke Fickell start in the middle of the defense, expect them to be the best playmakers, and expect them to be more aggressive than in years past.

One name to keep an eye on is junior Brian Rolle.

Though he is undersized at less than six feet, he is very athletic and hits like a tank. Currently Rolle has his name penciled in to the MLB spot, which was a great surprise to most people outside the team.

Homan and Spitler are most likely to be the other starters, but each of them brings something different to the table: Rolle's speed, Homan's versatility, and Spitler's physicality.

Having depth will mean the staff should continually rotate personnel, and having these young guys turned loose should make life a nightmare for opposing offenses.

The season is still a few days away, but early reports out of camp have fans pretty excited about 2009. If the team can mature quickly, anything is possible for the Buckeyes this year.


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