Look Who's Back

With a deep and experienced roster, the Buckeyes bid for a third straight trip to the BCS title game
August 10, 2008

A WARNING TO those suffering from Buckeyes Fatigue Syndrome: You could be in for another long season. Following lopsided losses to SEC powers Florida and LSU in the last two BCS championship games, Ohio State is back this fall with essentially the same lineup it fielded a year ago and appears more than capable of earning a third crack at the national title in three years. The roster is flush with 47 fourth- and fifth-year players, and nine starters are back on each side of the ball, including left tackle Alex Boone, middle linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins—all of whom gave up the chance to be first-day picks in the NFL draft and returned for their senior seasons. "We all wanted to go out with a bang this year," says Boone.

Perhaps the most important returning player is tailback Chris (Beanie) Wells. A 6'1", 237-pound junior, Wells averaged nearly six yards a carry last season in rushing for 1,609 yards and 15 touchdowns. Against Michigan, Wells carried 39 times for 222 yards and two touchdowns. It's little surprise that he's on the short list of candidates for the Heisman Trophy.

If anything, the Buckeyes had to rely too much on Wells last season. Quarterback Todd Boeckman, in his first year as the starter, opened strong but faded as the schedule got tougher. Wells had a total of 79 carries in Ohio State's last three games, while Boeckman threw only 62 passes in that time (two touchdowns against six interceptions). Against LSU in the BCS title game, he was sacked a season-high five times, in part because he wouldn't get rid of the ball. To help Boeckman, a sixth-year senior, the coaches experimented in the spring with a two-tailback set that emphasizes short, quick passes. "Todd already showed us he was a great leader," says Wells. "He worked himself hard this spring. We all did."

Another new wrinkle could come from highly touted freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who endeared himself to scarlet-and-gray fans when he chose the Buckeyes over Michigan (and Penn State). A 6'6", 235-pound run-pass threat in the mold of Vince Young, Pryor should play this fall, though coach Jim Tressel has been vague about his plans.

Some fans might groan at the prospect of seeing Ohio State back in the title game, but the Buckeyes could care less. "We want to prove ourselves to the world," says Wells.

A NEW TWO-TAILBACK SET EMPHASIZES SHORT, QUICK PASSES.

CONFERENCE: Big Ten

COACH: Jim Tressel (8th year)

2007 RECORD: 11--2 (7--1 in Big Ten)

FINAL AP RANK: 5

RETURNING STARTERS: Offense 9, Defense 9

SCHEDULE

AUGUST
30 Youngstown State

SEPTEMBER
6 Ohio
13 at USC
20 Troy
27 Minnesota

OCTOBER
4 at Wisconsin
11 Purdue
18 at Michigan State
25 Penn State

NOVEMBER
8 at Northwestern
15 at Illinois
22 Michigan

KEY GAME
Two years ago a big win at Texas bolstered the Buckeyes' run to the BCS title game. This season, playing in a less-than-imposing Big Ten and with an otherwise soft nonconference schedule, Ohio State may need a victory at USC to make a third straight trip to the championship game.

WORTH NOTING

The Buckeyes have won consecutive outright Big Ten championships for the first time since 1954 and '55. No school has won three straight outright Big Ten titles.

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PHOTOELAINE THOMPSON/APWells is being hyped for the Heisman, but he would gladly trade the trophy for a national championship. PHOTO

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