Pity the poor Ohio State Buckeyes. They are working with an interim head coach in Luke Fickell who is likely to be replaced at the end of the season. They had to play their first six games at less than full strength due to NCAA suspensions. They have needed to break in a freshman quarterback to replace a superstar forced to leave the program a year early.
They are "only" 3-3 with losses to Miami and ranked Michigan State and Nebraska teams. Despite all these problems, a look at their depth chart disputes the notion of their demise. Without question, they are the best assemblage of players Illinois has faced so far this season. High school superstars dot their roster. Even though a number of them are still youngsters, no one doubts their abilities.
The Buckeyes built an impressive 27-6 lead behind freshman quarterback Braxton Miller (6'-3", 210) at Nebraska last weekend. Before his third quarter sprained ankle, he had 91 rushing yards and completed 5 of 8 passes for 95 yards and a touchdown. The team fell apart when he went to the sideline, but he is expected to be healthy Saturday.
On the year, Miller has completed 25 of 47 passes for 386 yards and 4 touchdowns with only one interception. His ability to avoid sacks using his speed and mobility. His maneuverability is a special dimension that may be superior to his predecessor Terrelle Pryor. In 49 rushes, he has gained 209 yards on the ground. Senior Joe Bauserman (6'-1", 230) has ability, but the team appears to have lost confidence in him. Not so for Miller.
Ohio State always has a strong running game. Last year, senior Dan "Boom" Herron (5'-10", 205) was named 1st team All-Big 10. He has 2194 career rushing yards and 29 TDs. The Illinois game will be his return from NCAA-induced suspension, so he is listed as third string for the contest. But few doubt he will make his presence known, probably early.
In Herron's absence, junior Jordan Hall (5'-9", 195) and sophomore Carlos Hyde (6'-0", 238) have shared the load. They have combined for an average of 132.9 yards a game so far this season. Last week, Hyde enjoyed the 1st OSU 100 yard rush game this year. He leads the team with 400 yards, a 5.3 average.
Bookend juniors Zach Boren (6'-0", 252) and Adam Homan (6'-2", 248) share the blocking load at fullback. They are both pile drivers in the Jay Prosch mold. The tight ends are outstanding. Jake Stoneburner (6'-5", 245) and Reid Fragel (6'-8", 280) share the load. Stoneburner is 7th on the OSU career TD chart for tight ends.
As always, the wideouts are fast and athletic. Star sophomore Corey Brown (5'-11", 182) caught 3 passes for 61 yards against Nebraska in his first game back from injury. He shares one spot with sophomore Chris Fields (6'-0", 180). Freshman Devin Smith (6'-3", 190) is a future superstar there. Illinois freshman Evan Spencer (6'-1", 190), son of a Buckeye, and redshirt freshman T.Y. Williams (6'-5", 228) share the other spot.
Seniors Mike Adams (6'-8", 320), a left tackle, and center Mike Brewster (6'-5", 305) lead the offensive line. Adams is a cinch NFL player, and Brewster earned All-American last season and is considered by some to be the best center in the country. Senior J.B. Shugarts (6'-7", 300) is no slouch at the other tackle.
Sophomore Jack Mewhort (6'-6", 303) is a fixture at right guard. The other guard spot could see sophomores Andrew Norwell (6'-5", 308) and Marcus Hall (6'-5", 231) sharing the load. Norwell, younger brother of former Illini Chris Norwell, started last week and also backs up Adams. Hall started the first five games before last week's one-game suspension.
Other backups have talent also. Ohio State consistently recruits some of the country's best offensive linemen.
The Buckeyes are known for their Silver Bullet defense. They have ranked in the Top 20 for scoring defense each of last 9 seasons, including a top 6 in each of last 6 years. They are presently tied for 17th in the nation, giving up an average of 17.8 points a game despite allowing 35 last week.
Their top defender is left tackle John Simon (6'-2", 270), a junior. He was listed as one of the 12 "Players To Watch" in the Big 10 preseason. Sophomore Johnathan Hankins (6'-3", 335) and freshman Michael Bennett (6'-3", 280) made a major impression for TV viewers last week. They are strong and cat-quick at right tackle. Junior Garrett Goebel (6'-3", 290) is the nose guard. Defensive end is shared between redshirt freshman J.T. Moore (6'-2", 252) and true freshman Steve Miller (6'-4", 245).
Ohio State always has a strong linebacking corps. Senior WILL Andrew Sweat (6'-2", 238) leads the team with 43 tackles. Sophomore middle linebacker Storm Klein (6'-2", 230) could become the next MIKE superstar and has the name for it. Junior Etienne Sabino (6'-3", 242) is the starter at SAM, and he has plenty of experience.
Junior Travis Howard (6'-1", 190) is one cornerback, and redshirt freshman Bradley Roby (5'-11", 185) is stationed at the other. Sophomore Christian Bryant (5'-10", 190) stars as the left safety, averaging 8 tackles per game last 3 since becoming the starter. He is a vicious tackler. Sophomore right safety C.J. Barnett (6'-0", 190) leads the Big 10 in passes defended with six.
When the Buckeyes use a rover back or "Star," senior Tyler Moeller (6'-0", 210) enters the game. Junior Orhian Johnson (6'-2", 205) plays safety when Bryant moves to star.
There is plenty of talent on special teams also. Sophomore Drew Basil (6'-1", 212) has connected on 7 consecutive field goals. He is 7 for 9 on the season and hasn't missed any of his 17 extra points. Junior punter Ben Buchanan (6'-0", 180) averages 41.6 yards a punt and is 4th nationally with 15 punts inside 20 yard line. Hall handles punt and kick returns. He is joined on the latter unit by soph Jaamal Berry (5'-10", 200).
Ohio State hasn't suffered a losing season since 1988, and they have no intention of doing so this year either. They have gone to bowl games 15 of the last 17 years and have appeared in 8 BCS bowl games, which ties Oklahoma for most in the country. So don't cry for the Buckeyes. They are doing just fine, thank you.