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Ohio State Buckeyes"/>
Top 25 Athlon Team Previews: Ohio State Buckeyes
2009 Record: 11-2 (7-1 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Jim Tressel
Terrelle Pryor :: AP
vs. Toledo (Cleveland)
New Mexico State
at Penn State
Oregon (Rose Bowl)
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Terrelle Pryor, QB: If his poor mechanics really are behind him, Pryor could enjoy a special junior season.
Ross Homan, OLB: The soft-spoken senior led the Buckeyes in tackles and interceptions last season.
Cameron Heyward, DE: The bull-rushing end causes havoc up front.
Kurt Coleman, SS: You just don't replace his toughness and leadership.
Thad Gibson, DE: His versatility, tenacity and team-high 13 tackles for loss will be missed.
Jim Cordle, OL: He was by no means an All-America, but led by example.
779: Terrelle Pryor's team-leading rushing total last season. The Buckeyes need to get other backs more involved.
The unit that chewed up Oregon in the Rose Bowl is the one Buckeyes fans were waiting to see all season. The plan now is to continue to unveil dual-threat Terrelle Pryor and put away the old version of Pryor, who could make spectacular plays -- and backbreaking ones -- at any moment.
It will help that he can still throw to veteran wideouts DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher -- as well as tight end Jake Stoneburner -- and has a loaded set of backs behind him, including Brandon Saine and Boom Herron, who combined for 1,339 rushing in 2009.
The offensive line is big and potentially punishing but could continue to have trouble with elite pass-rushers. Pryor has the elusiveness to burn overly aggressive defenders, but it's a safe guess the coaches would rather he not lead the team in rushing attempts again.
The loss of five starters has led to plenty of question marks on this side of the ball. However, cornerback Chimdi Chekwa properly summarized the mood when he said, "I don't want to offend any offensive guys or anything, but we play defense at Ohio State. That's what we do and that's what we love to do. We step on the field knowing that we're going to play great defense."
That certainly held true last season, as opponents averaged only 2.9 yards per rush and managed to convert only 30.9 percent of their third down attempts.
Look for more of the same with a potentially dominant front seven. Nathan Williams and John Simon are more than ready to help seniors Cameron Heyward and Dexter Larimore up front, and linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle, the top two tacklers from a year ago, are back to help break in talented outside backer Etienne Sabino.
Chekwa and Devon Torrence return to man the corners. At safety, Jermale Hines has All-Big Ten talent, but Orhian Johnson is relatively unproven.
New faces bring a new outlook, although placekicker Aaron Pettrey will be missed. Devin Barclay, the hero of last year's overtime win over Iowa, gets first shot at placekicking, but freshman Drew Basil can help out and also kick off. Ben Buchanan brings a strong leg, but also inconsistency, to the punting position. Jordan Hall looks ready to improve a middling return game.
With a bevy of key returnees, a Heisman Trophy candidate in Pryor and a schedule that includes four nonconference home games, the Buckeyes will be considered an elite team.
Winning week after week to maintain that status is going to require an effective committee approach at running back, solid special teams and a commitment to the passing game. The Buckeyes need a third receiver to emerge.
On defense, Johnson or someone else needs to make good reads and fluid plays to allow coordinator Jim Heacock the confidence to continue going after opponents.
A sixth straight Big Ten title is not only possible, but expected. Beyond that, Tressel is going to have to push the right buttons to return to the BCS championship game.