|Quarterback Braxton Miller :: AP|
Jim Tressel is gone. So is Terrelle Pryor. Ohio State is confronted with great uncertainty in the wake of the program's ugly off-season, and that uncertainty starts at the top. Luke Fickell takes over after an improper-benefits scandal led to Tressel's Memorial Day resignation. A 37-year-old with no head-coaching experience, Fickell inherits a program beset with suspensions as well as the looming possibility of NCAA sanctions.
For Fickell, a former Buckeyes noseguard, this truly is his dream job, even in a less-than-ideal scenario. "I'll take the shot in any way I possibly can," says Fickell, who spent nine seasons as an assistant under Tressel. "There never have been any challenges I wouldn't accept."
For all the drama, a talented team remains in Columbus, though it will look much different than it did in 2010. Of the 22 Ohio State starters in last January's Sugar Bowl, only nine will start the season. But the Buckeyes have lured top five recruiting classes to Columbus in three of the past four years (including Scout.com's No. 1 class in '09), and a great deal of that talent could emerge in '11, especially on defense. Five-star recruits such as linebacker Etienne Sabino, a redshirt junior, and redshirt sophomore end Melvin Fellows have breakout potential. Dionte Allen, a senior transfer from Florida State, could make an impact at cornerback.On offense, though, the effects of the scandal run deep. Three important projected starters -- tailback Dan (Boom) Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and tackle Mike Adams -- must sit out the first five games. And Pryor's early departure forces Fickell to make a critical decision at quarterback. He could tab true freshman Braxton Miller, one of the nation's top recruits in 2011, or go a more conservative route with 25-year-old former walk-on Joe Bauserman. (Redshirt sophomore Ken Guiton and redshirt freshman Taylor Graham are also options.)Ultimately the biggest hole may be the one left by the controversial Tressel, who went 106-22 with seven Big Ten titles in his 10 seasons. Even with the turmoil, one thing does remain certain: Expectations in Columbus won't change. If Fickell wants to keep his dream job beyond this season -- the rumor mill already churns with big names who could potentially take over -- the scandal won't be a crutch. He'll need to win.
Weakened by suspensions, will the rushing attack still be able to control games early in the season?
248 -- Fewer points allowed by OSY than by any other FBS school since '01. Over 127 games, foes have averaged 14.9 points.
Devier Posey, WR, Sr. -- Suspended until Week 6, Posey is by far the team's most established wideout. He finished with 53 catches for 848 yards and seven TDs in 2010; no other returning receiver had more than eight receptions last year.J.B. Shugarts, RT, Sr. -- He and Mike Adams form the Big Ten's most talented tackle tandem. (Adams is among those suspended until Week 6.) Shugarts has 23 career starts, and that experience will be especially crucial early with the team breaking in new starters in the backfield.Nathan Williams, DE, Sr. -- Ohio State ranked fourth nationally in total defense last season, but it was tied for 76th in sacks. Williams and junior tackle-end John Simon could help improve that. Despite starting only 10 games in 2010, Williams led the Buckeyes with 4½ sacks.Dan (Boom) Herron, TB, Jr. -- One of the Big Ten's top tailbacks in 2010, he has also been suspended for the first five games. He was at his best in the second half of last season, rushing for 800 of his 1,155 yards in OSU's final seven games.Mike Brewster, C, Sr. -- The 6-5, 305-pounder has anchored Ohio State's offensive line since earning freshmen All-America honors in 2008. A likely first-round NFL draft pick, Brewster has taken it upon himself to lead the Buckeyes amid distraction.
Jaamal Berry, RB, So. -- Opportunity's knocking, and Berry is ready to answer. With an inexperienced QB and in the absence of Herron, the Buckeyes need a go-to running back. The shifty, speedy Berry can deliver. He showed flashes of big-play potential in limited carries (32) last season, averaging 8.3 yards per rush including a 67-yard TD burst against Eastern Michigan. Expect more highlights from him as a featured back.
Braxton Miller, QB, Fr. -- Terrelle Pryor's departure could open the door. Miller was OSU's most important recruit even before the Pryor mess. Now the five-star QB from Huber Heights, Ohio, could soon start. It helps that he enrolled early and that in the spring game he led the offense to three scores on four drives.This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' Big Ten Preview.