Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will be coaching his 300th college game when Illinois invades Columbus for the Big 10 opener Saturday. He has 220 wins, 77 losses and two ties in his illustrious career and 85-20 as coach of the Buckeyes. With an overabundance of talent matriculating to his school each year, Tressel is expected to continue his outstanding winning percentage.
Ohio State has won Big 10 championships each of the past four years and won at least ten games those seasons. They are the Big 10 favorite again this year. Since more than 100,000 fans have watched each of their past 50 home games, the Buckeyes have a decided home field advantage.
The Buckeyes lost a large senior class to graduation after last season. But it would be a mistake to characterize them as rebuilding. They have 35 players who have started at least one game. Eight freshmen have seen time in the first three games, demonstrating their talent as replacements for the departed seniors. Ohio State doesn't rebuild, it just reloads.
Leading the way for the Buckeyes is sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The #1 rated high school player two years ago, Pryor presently leads the Big 10 in total offense with 263 yards per game. His 372 yards last week against Toledo, with 262 passing yards and 110 yards rushing, ranks as fifth best all-time in OSU history. The 6'-6", 240 pounder has great speed to go along with a strong arm.
Pryor is a fluid runner who moves faster than he appears. He is always a threat to scramble out of the pocket for big yards, and he can run options and draws at any time. His passing accuracy is improving as well. He still makes mistakes at times, but when he is on he can take over a game by himself. Fellow sophomore Joe Bauserman (6'-2", 220) is Pryor's backup, and he would start for many teams.
Ohio State lost talented running back Beanie Wells to graduation, and his replacements lack his size and power. But Dan "Boom" Herron (5'-10", 193) and Brandon Saine (6'-1", 217) form a formidable one-two punch. Herron has scored at least one touchdown in each of the past 7 games, and he is averaging 4.3 yards per carry in his past 5 games. True freshman Jordan Hall (5'-11", 190), Pryor's high school teammate, adds speed as the third string back.
The tight ends play an important role both catching passes and blocking for Ohio State. Senior Jake Ballard (6'-6", 256) is a three year letterman, and he is backed by redshirt freshman Jake Stoneburner (6'-5", 230). Both of the fullbacks in the two deep are freshmen. Zach Boren (6'-1", 255) is backed by Adam Homan (6'-4", 235), the younger brother of junior weakside linebacker Ross Homan.
The wide receivers are new to starting games, but they are highly talented. Junior Dane Sanzenbacher (5'-11", 175) sped past the Toledo secondary last week for two long bombs. He is backed by senior Ray Small (5'-11", 180). Sophomore DeVier Posey (6'-3", 205) and true freshman Duron Carter (6'-2", 190), son of former Buckeye great Cris Carter, man the other receiver spot. Both are highly rated prospects.
Some Buckeye fans are concerned about their offensive line, but there is plenty of quality there. They did lose starting right tackle Jim Cordle for 3-4 weeks with an injury, but sophomore J.B. Shugarts (6'-8", 298) is a capable replacement. Junior Bryant Browning (6'-4", 312) is a two year starter at right guard.
Sophomore Mike Brewster (6'-5", 296) started at center as a freshman. Michigan transfer Justin Boren (6'-3", 315) is the left guard. He is Zach's older brother. And junior Andrew Miller (6'-7", 295) and sophomore Mike Adams (6'-8", 322) are listed as co-starters at left tackle. Both rangy tackles are lettermen.
Defense continues to be a team strength. Since 2006, the Buckeyes have held opponents to less than 21 points 41 times. This is the best of all FBS teams. Toledo had been averaging 42.5 points their first two games, but OSU shut them out and forced punts on the first ten possessions of the game. They allowed only 13 yards on the ground and 210 total.
Dominating ends Thaddeus Gibson (6'-2", 240) and Cameron Heyward (6'-6", 287), both juniors, lead the defense. Heyward is the athletic son of former running back Craig Heyward. Both are two year lettermen and are backed by lettermen Nathan Williams (6'-3", 245), Solomon Thomas (6'-5", 240), and Lawrence Wilson (6'-4", 274).
OSU is three deep at both defensive tackle spots. Lettermen Doug Worthington (6'-6", 276) and Rob Rose (6'-5", 285) are backed by former Illinois prep Garrett Goebel (6'-5", 280) at left tackle. Freshman super John Simon (6'-3", 265) is third team behind lettermen Dexter Larimore (6'-2", 300) and Todd Denlinger (6'-2", 292).
Austin Spitler (6'-3", 234) is a three year letterman at strongside linebacker. He is backed by potential super Etienne Sabino (6'-3", 232). Ross Homan (6'-0", 229) is backed by Andrew Sweat (6'-2", 220) on the weakside. And junior Brian Rolle (5'-11", 221) is an active two year letterman in the middle. True freshman Storm Klein (6'-3", 225), one of the Buckeyes most prized recruits, backs up Rolle.
The defensive backfield is speedy and highly experienced. Cornerbacks Devon Torrence (6'-1", 193) and Andre Amos (6'-1", 183) share one spot, while Chimdi Chekwa (6'-0", 188), a member of OSU's Big 10 champion 400 meter relay team, starts at the other corner ahead of redshirt freshman Travis Howard (6'-1", 180).
Cleveland Glenview junior Jermale Hines (6'-2", 210) starts at free safety ahead of Anderson Russell (6'-0", 205), a three year letterman. The strong safety is three year letterman Kurt Coleman (5'-11", 188). Redshirt freshman Orhian Johnson (6'-2", 178) backs him up.
Aaron Pettrey returns as the placekicker. He has earned three letters. Fellow senior Jon Thoma handles the punting. Small, Sanzenbacher, and Posey return punts, while former Illini recruiting prospect Lamaar "Flash" Thomas joins Herron and Saine returning kicks.