Ohio State has three games left to prove they are the team that was highly-ranked to start the season, and that the loss to Wisconsin was just one of those games, not a sign of things to come. To get back into the national title picture, Ohio State needs a lot of help, but only AFTER sweeping the final three games.
First up is Penn State, followed by Iowa on the road, and the finale in Columbus against Michigan. How has each position group fared this season, and is each group poised to succeed over the final three games?
QUARTERBACK: Terrelle Pryor has had an amazing season statistically, but unfortunately he has the same reputation nationally as this team does: A bully that feasts on the patsies, but backs down in the face of a true opponent. The demise of Miami is devaluing an excellent performance by Pryor, but the fact remains he has been outstanding in 2010, except for the clunker against Wisconsin. For Pryor, the case is simple, as he must lead his team to three wins and do it impressively, to be taken seriously as a Heisman candidate, and yes, there is still time for that. What about Joe Bauserman and Kenny Guiton? Ballcaps and clipboards are all we need to see, at this point. OUTLOOK: Pryor just needs to be Pryor, and there is a thought that he has not been totally healthy all year, but the bye week helped tremendously. Pryor should be able to dominate the Lions this week, and put up huge numbers.
RUNNINGBACK: What was once thought of as "tailback-by-committee" has now become primarily the Dan Herron show, with Boom having an excellent season and averaging 4.9 yards per carry. The others have sparkled too, indicated by rushing averages: Jaamal Berry 8.7, Jordan Hall 4.1, Carlos Hyde 6.0, and Brandon Saine 4.6. Ohio State also has Pryor able to break off 20+ yard runs at a blink. OUTLOOK: Penn State should get rolled on the ground early, opening up things for Pryor through the air. Since they were gashed last year by by the run, look for Penn State to crowd the box, which is just what Ohio State wants. They should rush for 200 and throw for 200.
WIDE RECEIVER: A much-maligned DeVier Posey has really looked good since Wisconsin, and this is his time to show he belongs among the nation's elite receivers. Look for him to explode over the next three weeks. Dane Sanzenbacher has had the type of senior year people dream of, and that will continue over the next three. The sleeper this week? Jake Stoneburner. Stoney will be open down the seam against the Penn State zone, and they've worked on it extensively this week, now that Jake is 100% healthy. OUTLOOK: Ohio State will only throw if Penn State forces them to, and they might not be able to do that. If Ohio State comes out aggressively as a passing-team first, this group could put up huge numbers.
OFFENSIVE LINE: This group was touted as one of the finest in the Tressel Era, and THEY HAVE DELIVERED. Somehow, these guys are looked at as an under-achieving group, but the rushing averages and the time Pryor has to throw, speak otherwise. Mike Brewster has been solid, if not spectacular for most of the season, and has put himself in the mix among the nation's top centers. J.B. Shugarts is playing one one foot, and playing better football than at any time in his career. Mike Adams was the one everyone worried about for 2010, but who's worried now? Bryant Browning is just everything you look for in a Buckeye, and might be the best of the bunch. How good is your line, when a player like Justin Boren might be your #5 man? OUTLOOK: They have been as good as advertised, and they need it to continue three more weeks. No way the Wisconsin loss gets laid on this group.
DEFENSIVE LINE: So far: Not as good as last year. Not one of these guys is dramatically better than last year, except for Nathan Williams, who can do more things than just rush the passer off the edge. Johnny Simon has been good, as have Cam Heyward and Dexter Larimore, but more was expected. They haven't been in quarterback's faces consistently, and there have been running opportunities against them. This was supposed to be the strength of this team. It hasn't been to date, but that can turn around. OUTLOOK: These guys are good, but they have the potential to be great, and not just against Purdue and Minnesota. They dominated the Penn State offensive line last year. I expect a repeat performance this week.
LINEBACKER: Same as above: Good, but not great in 2010. Brian Rolle and Ross Homan were talked about as potential All-Americans in pre-season, but that has not happened. These two were so good in 2009, but might not be at that level in 2010. Andrew Sweat HAS been impressive for a first-year starter, and figures to get better. The depth issue is a disappointment, as several high-rated players cannot stay healthy enough to contribute. OUTLOOK: I expect Rolle and Homan to benefit from the week off, from a health-perspective, and be dominant over the next three weeks.
DEFENSIVE BACK: I believe this group has performed pretty darn well, in the face of a ton of injuries. The lack of a consistent pass rush has put Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa under tremendous pressure, and they have responded at a high level. Are they perfect? No, but they had a reason to expect the quarterbacks would not have this much time to throw. Orhian Johnson has been okay for a first-year starter, and he has learned his role is to not get beat deep. In reality, C.J. Barnett had beaten Johnson out, and should have been the starter, and his injury hurt almost as much as Tyler Moeller's. Donnie Evege was in a position to contribute as well, before his injury. Jermale Hines has played well all year long, and is as solid as one gets back there. Aaron Gant has been a pleasant surprise, and they are praying his body holds up over the next three weeks. Another injured player, Christian Bryant, was impressive in his play. OUTLOOK: Injuries should have decimated this group, but they keep throwing guys out there, and they're succeeding. HUGE PROPS to assistant coach Paul Haynes for how well he mixes, matches and teaches, at the safety spots. They need to hold it together three more games, and they should be able to, especially with no more injuries.
SPECIAL TEAM PLAY: What a mixed bag these guys have been. Devin Barclay has been excellent, while Ben Buchanan has done what was expected. I'm going to give the benefit of doubt to the coverage teams and say things are better, especially when you see that most of the injured guys were good special team players, like Evege, Bryant and Corey Brown. OUTLOOK: Gotta stay strong for three weeks, and not have any major breakdowns. Can't predict that will occur though, given the uncertainty of this group all year long.
PREDICTION: Of the next three games, this one should be the easiest, and I have a lot of respect for the Penn State program. They are definitely an improving team, but catching Ohio State this week is not what the doctor ordered at all. OUTLOOK: A well-rested, highly-motivated, Buckeye team puts one on the Nittany Lions this week, and it could be UGLY. I'm calling it 41-16, and it could be over by halftime.