COLUMBUS — Moments after leaving the din of the postgame celebration of Ohio State’s Rose Bowl victory over Oregon, quarterback Terrelle Pryor offered a word of caution to the Buckeyes’ 2010 opponents.
“We’re just going to keep on getting better,” he said.
That’s not good news for the Big Ten, which has watched Ohio State win or share the last five conference titles. It’s also a daunting prospect for the Buckeyes’ four non-league opponents next fall, including the Miami Hurricanes, who come to Columbus on Sept. 11 in the season’s second game.
When he was asked what the Buckeyes’ 26-17 bowl victory meant to a program better known for its big-stage failures than successes over the past three seasons, departing senior safety Kurt Coleman said, “We have the talent to run with anybody.”
That talent pool won’t include seven graduating starters, and possibly a couple more juniors who might give up their senior year to enter the NFL draft. Gone will be defensive linemen Doug Worthington and Todd Denlinger, linebacker Austin Spitler and defensive backs Coleman and Anderson Russell, along with offensive lineman Jim Cordle and tight end Jake Ballard — who may have won the Rose Bowl with a dramatic fourth-quarter catch on third-and-long.
Defensive lends Thaddeus Gibson and Cameron Heyward along with cornerback Chimdi Chekwa are contemplating giving up their final year of eligibility.
So much for who’s not back. Those returning provide a strong core.
With just two starters missing on offense, Pryor will be rejoined by favorite receivers DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher, along with tailbacks Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. The line, an ongoing problem in recent years, returns almost intact, with Mike Brewster at center flanked by Justin Boren, Bryant Browning and J.B. Shugarts.
“This team reloads,” Coleman said. “The offensive line is basically all returning next year and the defensive line should be fine. It all starts there, and if everyone can come back and be healthy, the (2010) season should be good.”
Pryor, of course, is the centerpiece. The junior-to-be has had his ups and downs while learning on the job. The Buckeyes won their final five regular-season games with their star quarterback shoved to the background, handing off to Saine and Herron, running it about as much as he threw the ball.
Coach Jim Tressel, of course, hates turnovers more than he loves flashy plays, and he clearly minimized Pryor’s role in the offense after he had eight interceptions and lost three fumbles in the season’s first seven games.
In the Rose Bowl, however, the wraps came off and Pryor had his best game. He completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards and two scores with one interception, and also was Ohio State’s leading rusher with 72 yards on 20 carries.
“I think with this game, it can definitely be a statement game for him going into next year,” Russell said.