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Tough stretch now awaits struggling Buckeyes

The Associated Press

In a few weeks, it is likely that the only thing left to talk about concerning Ohio State is whether Urban Meyer will be the Buckeyes’ next coach.

What began in December with the NCAA suspending Terrelle Pryor and four other Buckeyes for swapping championship rings, trophies and other memorabilia for tattoos has left one of the elite programs in college football poised to have its worst season in 23 years.

The Buckeyes are 3-2 after an ugly 10-7 loss at home against Michigan State on Saturday. Next up is a treacherous three-game stretch: at No. 14 Nebraska on Saturday, at No. 19 Illinois the week after and home for No. 4 Wisconsin after an off week.

The Buckeyes haven’t missed the postseason since 1999, haven’t finished below .500 since 1988 when they went 4-6-1 in John Cooper’s first year as coach, and haven’t lost four straight games since 1943. To say those things won’t happen this season is to indulge in wishful thinking and hoping for the best.

Ohio State ranks 108th in the nation in total offense and 110th in passing. Without Pryor, the Buckeyes simply have nobody prepared to be a starting quarterback for a big-time team.

No grand plan at Ohio State had senior quarterback Joe Bauserman starting this season. Braxton Miller was not supposed to be leading the team as a freshman. But that’s what coach Luke Fickell has been left with.

Of course, the grand plan also never had Fickell running the team — at least not so soon.

Fickell was handed this mess when Jim Tressel was ousted for covering up the violations that got Pryor and company suspended.

A small bit of good news for the Buckeyes comes this week when the other players who were suspended with Pryor become eligible to play in Lincoln.

The additions of receiver DeVier Posey, running back Dan Herron and tackle Mike Adams should provide a boost, but it might already be too late.

The mix in Columbus is volatile. Players normally accustomed to competing for Big Ten titles and BCS bids could quickly be relegated to vying for a trip to Detroit for the bowl season. Will talented seniors such as Posey and Adams already be thinking more about their draft stock than beating the Illini?

With Fickell and the rest of the coaching staff not guaranteed a job beyond this season, do underclassmen tune out coaches they figure won’t be around next year?

To say the Buckeyes seem to be on their way to getting what they deserve isn’t quite right. Surely there are players on that roster and coaches on that staff who deserve better than a five-win season. No doubt there are many who could be paying from crimes they did not commit while Pryor and Tressel collect NFL paychecks.

And there just might be enough talent in Columbus to prevent the collapse that appears to be inevitable.

“This team has some great players. I know some of these guys are doing the best job they can to step up,” center Mike Brewster said. “I know Joe came in and did a good job at the end of the game and I know Braxton’s doing the best he can. It was a hard day, but you’ve got to keep fighting.”

Maybe Brewster, a senior, is one of those guys who deserves better.

But for leaders such as Athletic Director Gene Smith and University President Gordon Gee, who allowed a star coach and star players to believe they could skirt the rules, and all those boosters, supporters and fans so blinded by loyalty that they actually believe the Buckeyes have been victimized, this season is exactly what they had coming.