Buckeyes must answer 10 key questions in 2010

Published 1:30 am Friday, August 20, 2010

COLUMBUS — Here are 10 questions swirling around the 2010 Ohio State Buckeyes:

1) How much depends on QB Terrelle Pryor?

This is the same first question as a year ago here. And the answer is the same: Everything.

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Pryor had a fine sophomore season in 2009, capped by being named offensive MVP of the Rose Bowl. But one bothersome fact: The Buckeyes might have been at their best when he took a secondary role. Remember, because of a knee injury he didn’t do a whole lot more than hand off and occasionally throw from the pocket over the last four regular-season games.

Pryor says he’s gotten smarter, better, stronger, more durable. His teammates agree.

“The guy is a freak of nature,” safety Jermale Hines said. “And not only is he a freak of nature, but he’s coming along as a quarterback. He’s starting to look off defenses and things like that. His arm has gotten way stronger. But I’m really not surprised because he’s the hardest working guy on the team. Hands down.”

2) Who’s on the D-line?

Good question. With Nathan Williams, who was penciled in at the Leo spot, or basically rush lineman, out with a knee injury that doesn’t require surgery, the Buckeyes are scrambling a bit. The line was already a hair thin because of the departure of Doug Worthington and Todd Denlinger (graduation) and Thaddeus Gibson (early entry into NFL draft).

Solomon Thomas takes over for Williams, but several of the backups are unproven and inexperienced. With standout Cameron Heyward at the opposite end, the Buckeyes need to fill the gaps until Williams returns.

3) Who steps in for the two missing safeties?

Co-captain Kurt Coleman was a huge loss at strong safety, while Anderson Russell is easily replaced at free safety. Orhian Johnson — it’s OR-ee-uhn, by the way — has size, speed and a knack for contact. He’ll fill the vacancy left by Coleman’s graduation, backed by Aaron Gant and Nate Oliver. Hines, who saw a lot of playing time a year ago as the nickel back and at the star position, will be an upgrade on Russell.

4) Any remaining questions about the starting lineup?

Not really. Etienne Sabino moves in for Austin Spitler at sam linebacker with Jake Stoneburner the new tight end and Mike Adams or Andrew Miller likely taking over for Jim Cordle at left tackle.

Neither line is quite as deep as coach Jim Tressel would like, opening the door for some rookie to make a name for himself.

5) What about the freshmen?

Speaking of rookies, Andrew Norwell could see some time as a backup on the O-line, and soon. Carlos Hyde, originally in the incoming class a year ago, has had a fine camp and might be another sizable (6-foot, 235) option at tailback. Due to Williams’ injury, David Durham and Johnathan Hankins could climb the depth chart on the D-line.

And, of course, Drew Basil has had a strong August and is vying for the starting kicker spot with Devin Barclay.

6) Will coach Jim Tressel open up the offense?

Sure. The Buckeyes will probably throw it all over the yard, maybe 40, 50 times a game.

Just kidding. With a deep and solid set of tailbacks and a veteran line, why would he even want to turn the Horseshoe into a high-wire act?

Nope, if there’s one thing that doesn’t change much at Ohio State, it’s the head coach’s mind. You can count on the Buckeyes sticking to the ground — a perennial strength — and throwing only when necessary. That’s what they call Tresselball.

7) What motivates the Buckeyes?

Well, everyone thinks they’ll be good and the Big Ten has already anointed them as the team to beat. They’re also ranked No. 2 in the nation by most publications. Beyond that, Ohio State can become only the second team to win six straight Big Ten titles, matching the record set by the 1972-77 Buckeyes.

The string of titles provides incentive a couple of ways. First, Ohio State players don’t want to be the ones who let it end on their watch and, second, Big Ten teams will either be resigned to their fate or motivated to do something about it. Consider: Almost every player in the Big Ten has spent their career looking up the standings at Ohio State.

8) When will we find out how good this team is?

Mark this down, if you haven’t already: Sept. 11. By 6:45 p.m., you’ll have an idea. The Buckeyes kick off against Miami at 3:40 that day, and there are many who believe the Hurricanes might just be ready for their moment in the spotlight.

Beyond that, it’s no huge secret that Wisconsin and Iowa are tired of seeing Ohio State raise the Big Ten trophy every year. Both get the Buckeyes at their place, the Badgers for a night game on Oct. 16 that will allow the cheesehead faithful plenty of time to get fired up in a variety of ways. The Hawkeyes draw the Buckeyes on Nov. 20, still smarting from the overtime loss a year ago that denied them a shot at a piece of the title.

9) Any other games to keep a particularly sharp eye on?

What if the Nov. 27 game against Michigan ends up being a referendum on Rich Rodriguez’s job performance? That would be interesting.

Others to watch include a couple of games easily overlooked: Ohio and Minnesota. Somebody from within the state’s borders is going to knock off the big team from Columbus some year. Is this the year to put an end to the rest of the state’s 35-game losing streak to the Buckeyes?

Also, Minnesota isn’t on anybody’s radar in terms of vying for a conference title. But there are rumblings that Tim Brewster, who is 14-24 in his three years at the helm, has to start turning things around, and soon. A night game before a packed house in Ohio State’s first trip ever to TCF Bank Stadium might just be a chance for him to make a point.

10) So what’s a reasonable expectation for the 2010 season?

Given the experience and depth the Buckeyes have, it’s only reasonable to imagine them in the thick of the chase for a sixth straight Big Ten title — unless they go through one of those seasons where every break and every injury goes against them. Most publications have them going 11-1, with the lone loss on the road at either Wisconsin or Iowa.

That guess is as good as any.