It's Ohio State week at OTE, and the writers here were kind enough to let me share my thoughts on the big stage. You may have seen me on the threads, or around other sites. I own my own Buckeye blog, Inside The Shoe, and reached out to the writer's here for an article I could write about my favorite team. So enjoy a season roadmap for the 2011 Ohio State Buckeyes.
When Ohio State fans took in the excellent, 12-1, Sugar Bowl Champions season, they had no idea what they were in for during the spring and heading into the summer. The worst nightmare possible, Jim Tressel stepping down, was coupled with Terrelle Pryor leaving a year early, and the notice of allegations from the NCAA. With the official doomsday coming in August, this summer has been a gloomy one for Ohio State.
So what of the rest of the Scarlet and gray-clad Buckeyes? Without Treselball, the offense (and defense) have been left to the assistant coach Luke Fickell. Now a head coach of a talent-laden Buckeye squad, the questions arise. Who will start at Quarterback? What's the offensive gameplan? Is Fickell even prepared to take a job like this? Buckeye fans across the country are skeptic at best to see how the 2011 Ohio State football team will fare. Let's take a look at the schedule and break each game down, and see what the road ahead looks like.
The season starts off with the Buckeyes hosting another in-state team in Akron. From 1943 to 2010, Ohio State has an 53-4-1 record on opening day games at the 'Shoe, and I'm fairly confident that loss #5 won't be coming from Akron. This is Luke Fickell's first game as head coach, and since we don't know how the QB situation will play out, for this article we're going to go with Braxton Miller ending up being the starter. This is going to be a good warm up for some tougher opponents down the stretch of the season, and the young freshmen will need the practice as they have big shoes to fill.
Star Watch: Braxton Miller - The young, much heralded QB from Huber Heights Wayne is coming into this season with a huge load on his shoulder. Terrelle Pryor came in and played sparingly the first 3 games, and then started the 4th game of the 2008 season. Miller won't have that luxurious time to learn everything down perfectly. He will show his skills in the Akron game by throwing the football, with a couple of promising runs. Big things are expected for the Troy Smith-like player.
Key Match Up: Braxton Miller vs. Akron's Secondary - We saw how Miller handled himself in the Spring Game, but how will he fare against a real defensive set up? If he blows the Zips secondary up, great, let's get ready to play against Miami and Nebraska. If not, it's going to be Woody Haye's-type football. Run, Run, Run, Punt. That means serious trouble for the rest of the season.
The final tune-up game for the Buckeyes, and in these first two games, it's important to not lose anyone to injury. We all know how that turned out last time. With the loss of the Tat Four, we can't afford to lose anyone else to stupid injuries. The last time OSU played the Rockets, they headed up to Cleveland to play in the NFL stadium. I don't expect much threat from Toledo, but you can't overlook any team. Ever.
Star Watch: Jaamal Berry - With Boom Herron out the first 5 games of the season, a running back needs to step up. It's time for my man Berry to show his stuff. Berry has shown flashes of greatness, and speed.
Key Match Up: OSU Special Teams vs. Toledo Special Teams - All of last year, special teams was a serious issue for the first time ever under Coach Tressel. This was apparent here, and here. This year OSU's ST will have to play pretty good if they want to give their young QB a chance to compete with the opposing teams defense.
A huge moment for this Buckeye squad, as they travel down for their first away game against a pretty decent Miami team. The Hurricanes come in with a lot faith in their new head coach Al Golden, and this is their best shot to make some noise in the college football landscape.
Star Watch: Tyler Moeller - Moeller was given a 6th year of eligibility, due to receiving an injury early in 2010, and will now be a huge leader on the defensive side of the ball. He's a safety that was converted from linebacker, and he's a ballhawk, and only plays fast. Look for him to have a big impact on this game.
Key Match Up: OSU Defense vs. Miami Offense: The Hurricanes are bringing some serious firepower as always, and we've already seen what they can do with the ball in their hands. Luckily, our defense was on key last year, picking Jacory Harris off 4 times, and getting tons of pressure. They'll have to do the same to give Miller a chance to shine on national television.
Colorado was a late addition to the 2011 schedule, but a nice surprise for Buckeye fans. One of the few Pac-10 teams Ohio State has played as of late, the game shouldn't be too difficult, and should help progress the likes of the team after a loss or win to Miami.
Star Watch: John Simon - Simon is the heir to the king of the D-Line, left by Cameron Heyward. Simon was already a monster, but now he and Nathan Williams will be the anchors of this pretty good defensive line.
Key Match Up: Braxton Miller vs. Braxton Miller - Yes, you read that correctly. If Miller is coming off a loss to the Hurricanes, will he able able to overcome that and still play with a cool head, or will he show up nervous and indecisive. If he's coming off a win, can he build on that, getting better by taking it one game at a time.
Two of the 3 Big Ten Champions in 2010 are playing in the 'Shoe, and both are shooting for big goals. Another big game for the Buckeyes as Mark D'antonio and his staff are looking to beat the Buckeyes for the first time since 1998.
Star Watch: Jaamal Berry - If Braxton starts to get a little shaky, Fickell will most likely turn to the running game, which is good news for Jaamal Berry. With good line play anchored by Mike Brewster, they could open some daylight for Berry, and by that time, he's gone.
Key Match Up: Ohio State vs. MSU - This game really comes down to field position, and would be a perfect game for Jim Tressel and his staff. Depending on how Fickell coaches, this is a winnable game. The Silver Bullets will withstand some serious firepower, and perhaps some trickery.
Perhaps what might turn out to be the game of the year, the Tat Four are back, and believe me will be ready for some action after sitting on the sidelines for the first 5 games. Bo Peleni and the Cornhuskers are hosting the Buckeyes for the first time since joining the conference, and who knows if this could be a preview for the Big Ten Championship or not.
Star Watch: Braxton Miller - The game is going to be in his hands, and at this point in the season, we'll get to see some serious progression, or mediocrity from the young QB.
Key Match Up: Braxton Miller vs. Taylor Martinez - While Taylor Martinez may or may not be the QB (I think he's fantastic at what he does) during this game, if he is it's going to come down to who can lead his team to victory. Two similar style QB's, and a big national stage will show the true character and will of these guys to win.
The past couple of years Illinois as been that team to watch out for, because no matter the W/L ratio, they could beat you. Or at least scare you enough to make you think they can beat you. Now, the Fighting Illini have their shot to catapult themselves into the Big Ten Championship race. With Nathan Scheelhaase to lead the offense, Illinois is going to be a dangerous dark horse.
Star Watch: Tyler Moeller - Always coming up big in key defensive situations, Moeller will know where to be and when to be there. One great defensive play can change a ball game, and I have a feeling this might turn into a dogfight.
Key Match Up: OSU Defense vs. Illinois Defense - This one comes down to whoever can get the most stops in crunch time. My bets are on OSU, all homerism aside, but anything can happen if Miller gets shaken up.
One thing that Ohio State fans loved about Jim Tressel was his ability to learn from his mistakes and to get revenge the next year on teams. We saw it with Illinois 2007-2008 , Purdue 2009-2010, and Michigan 2004-2010 (1 revenge isn't enough for TTUN). After a horrific showing in the first half, Ohio State tried to rebound too late against the Badgers and got out-muscled on the defensive AND offensive side of the ball. It all resulted in the only loss for the Buckeyes in 2010. This year Wisconsin is the absolute favorite to win the Big Ten Title with the transfer of Russell Wilson, a mobile QB with a big arm. Big expectations coming out of Madison are only going to give more motivation to this team.
Star Watch: Ohio State offensive line - The O-Line is going to have to be on their game. Wisconsin has always had outstanding line play on both sides of the ball, so if OSU wants to score some points in the Red Zone more than they did last year, the offensive line is going to have to get some push.
Key Match Up: Luke Fickell vs. Bret Bielema - Bielema is turning into one of the better coaches in the conference and is even a hilarity to follow on twitter. The media has give the role of wide eyed newcomer to Luke Fickell and it will be up to him to see if any of the Vest rubbed off on him.
Good old quarterback sleeves is gone, and questions are the only thing that come to mind when I think of the Hoosiers football team. They are in bad shape for 2011, and Ohio State should utilize this game to get and stay healthy for the home stretch.
Star Watch: The Offense - One of those games that the Buckeyes will light up the scoreboard. You have Boom, Posey, Miller, Berry, and a lot more. Too much for the Indiana defense.
Key Match Up: Braxton Miller vs Braxton Miller - Seems like Miller has a lot of mind games going on in the 2011 season. After all these big wins (or losses) will Miller still be focused on the task of winning another Big Ten championship?
Danny Hope and the Purdue Boilermakers are one of the hardest teams to figure out this year. I'm not sure if this is going to be a tough game, or another week to help the injured get healthy.
Star Watch: Boom Herron - Figured he hasn't had his name called in a while, and this is one of those games that he can feel free to explode for some big yardage.
Key Match Up: Ohio State defense vs. Purdue Offense - Purdue doesn't have a lot of firepower, but that doesn't mean mistakes can't be made. Hopefully things go as planned and Ohio State ends up with a win.
A tough QB competition might be a serious hold back for the Nittany Lions this season. Some are hopeful that Penn State might have a better season then most expect, but most are doubters of them this year. Joe Pa is coaching another year, and hasn't even come close to mentioning when he might retire.
Star Watch: Defensive Line - It seems every year that the defensive line brings their "A" game to the Penn State games, and I expect nothing less of them because of it.
Key Match-Up: Ohio State Secondary vs. PSU QB: No matter what QB starts the game, they all know how to throw the ball, and throw it well. The OSU secondary isn't very deep at corner, so look for a lot of fade routes by Penn State, to try and exploit the mismatch.
The first Rivalry game without Jim Tressel. Brady Hoke is the new man in at Michigan, and no one is sure what to expect from Hoke or the Michigan Wolverines. I have a funny feeling that Michigan might surprise some people this year, and I sincerely hope Ohio State is not one of them. Fickell was on the sidelines when Tressel would masterfully get a win after win after win against the Wolverines. Hopefully he was paying attention, because if not, his stay in Columbus won't last long. Traveling to Ann Arbor is going to be no easy task on a freshman QB's shoulders, especially in the best rivalry in sports.
Star Watch: Boom Herron - Ohio State running backs love to face Michigan I guess, because it seems like every time they play, one of the backs breaks open for a big run for the endzone. Herron is playing in his final OSU-Michigan game as a senior, so you know he's going to give it his all.
Key Match Up: OSU Seniors vs. Michigan - Without Tressel around for their last game, I wouldn't be surprised if they played this game for The Vest himself. They have 3 pairs of Gold Pants and want that 4th one oh so badly. Braxton Miller could get his first, which puts him in the running for a 4-0 record vs. Michigan, the only OSU QB to do so in history. I'm getting ahead of myself though. Let's see how this year turns out.