2009 CFB Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

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Preseason Ranking: No. 6 in AP Top 25; No. 6 in USA Today Poll.

Key Returning Players: Terrelle Pryor (QB); Daniel “Boom” Herron (RB); Dane Sanzenbacher (WR); Jake Ballard (TE); Michael Brewster (C); Bryant Browning (OT); Jim Cordle (G); Thaddeus Gibson (DE); Cameron Heyward (DE); Doug Worthington (DT); Kurt Coleman (S); Chimdi Chekwa (CB); Anderson Russell (S); Ross Homan (LB).

Key Losses: Chris Wells (RB); Malcolm Jenkins (CB); Alex Boone (OT); Marcus Freeman (LB); Brian Hartline (WR); James Laurinaitis (LB); Brian Robiskie (WR); Nader Abdallah (DT); Rory Nicol (TE); Ryan Pretorius (K); Steve Rehring (G); A.J. Trapasso (P); Donald Washington (CB).

Player to Watch: Terrelle Pryor, QB.
After dazzling Ohio State and Big Ten fans with his dual-threat capabilities last year as a true freshman, Pryor enters his second season looking to become a more complete quarterback. Pryor completed 60.6 percent of his passes last year and amassed 1,311 passing yards with 12 touchdowns. He also rushed 139 times for 631 yards and six touchdowns. With a full season under his belt, the sophomore should have a better understanding of Jim Tressel’s dynamic offense. In fact, Tressel has waxed poetically about Pryor’s development this summer, claiming that his sophomore signal caller is the same athlete he was last year, but 10 times the quarterback. If that’s true, the Big Ten is in massive trouble.

Team Strength: Don’t let the losses of James Laurinaitis, Malcolm Jenkins and Marcus Freeman lead you to believe that the Buckeyes will take a step back defensively in ‘09. Replacing players like those three won’t be easy, but OSU will still have one of the best defenses in the conference, if not the best. While the linebacker unit is a bit of a question mark with the departures of Laurinaitis and Freeman, the Buckeyes will have one of the better defensive backfields in college football. Cornerback Chimdi Chekwa is a solid in coverage and safeties Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman are entering their third seasons as starters. As long as the Buckeyes can find a replacement for Jenkins, their secondary is going to be extremely hard to throw on. Toss in a front line that features dynamic pass rusher Thaddeus Gibson, as well as quality defenders in Cameron Heyward and Doug Worthington, Ohio State should expect big things from its defense this year.

Potential Weakness: While Pryor is expected to take the next step as a passer, the Buckeyes lost a ton of offensive talent with the departures of Chris Wells, Brian Robiskie, Brian Hartline and Rory Nicol. Considering Pryor only threw four interceptions last year, he has proven that he’ll limit the mistakes. But will he feel forced to make things happen without as much talent around him this year? “Boom” Herron will certainly help take some of the pressure off Pryor, but the Buckeyes are going to need receivers Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey to emerge as playmakers.

Outlook: With a potentially dynamic dual-threat quarterback in Pryor and a stout defense, the Buckeyes are once again the class of the Big Ten Conference. But there’s no question that a win over USC on September 12 in Columbus is a must if the Buckeyes want to convince voters that they belong in the national title game. They do have some questions that need to be answered, most notably regarding Pryor’s development as a passer, the linebacker unit, the potential lack of offensive weapons if Sanzenbacher and Posey can’t produce, and the health of offensive lineman Justin Boren, who could miss up to three weeks with a sprained MCL. But considering Pryor’s ability to make things happen with his arm and legs, as well as the overall talent they have defensively, the Buckeyes should cruise through their schedule (save for the Trojans) and at least set themselves up to be in the national title discussion.

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