On defense, the Buckeyes must replace seven starters from yet another standout defense. On offense, only three starters have graduated, but four others must sit out the first five games because of their suspensions for committing NCAA violations.
The result is that the spring has been all about position battles for the Buckeyes as the coaching staff determines which players will take the field when OSU opens on Sept. 3 vs. Akron.
Of course, nothing will be determined before or even after Saturday's Spring Game, but this spring is still a chance for some players to make a move heading into summer workouts and eventually fall camp.
So which players have to best chance to end up in the starting lineup this fall? BuckeyeSports.com breaks it down using observations from the five practices reporters have been allowed to see thus far.
Quarterback: Ohio State will have two-time bowl quarterback Terrelle Pryor back in game six vs. Nebraska, but the battle to see who will replace him for the opening five games has been the talk of camp among fans and reporters. All four signal callers in the running – senior Joe Bauserman, sophomore Kenny Guiton, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and early enrollee Braxton Miller – have been getting reps, though Bauserman has been the No. 1 quarterback when available and Miller has been working with lower units. Tressel admitted to going back and forth between all four players throughout the spring, so this battle won't be solved before fall. Bauserman has experience on his side, while Guiton brings a little bit of everything to the table, Graham has a rocket arm and Miller is likely the most talented. His ability to escape from rushers in the backfield and make positive plays with his feet is the true wild card and might be the tiebreaker when all is said and done.
Running back: Dan Herron cracked 1,000 yards last year and was the engine of Ohio State's late-season rushing attack, but he's out for the first five games as well, and backup Brandon Saine is lost to graduation. Now, the Buckeyes have a great problem – picking which standout back to get the bulk of the carries in his stead. Junior Jordan Hall has great vision and quickness and the most experience along with great hands, while sophomore Jaamal Berry has shown the ability to take the ball to the house and has looked like a potential superstar this spring. Then there's Rod Smith, a redshirt freshman who has impressed since arriving and has a great blend of speed and power if not a propensity for making youthful mistakes. And don't forget Carlos Hyde, another big back who showed he can carry the mail last season. Hall and Berry would seem to have the edge when it comes to a starting role, but all should see carries and also more time and emphasis in the passing game as we've seen this spring.
Wide receiver: Two spots are open here thanks to the graduation of Dane Sanzenbacher and the suspension of DeVier Posey. There haven't been many surprises, as the two players behind them who saw the most playing time last year – Corey Brown and Chris Fields – have simply moved up in the rotation. Brown showed flashes of talent but was ineffective (only eight catches) in 2010, though the quarterbacks have shown more of an ability to take advantage of Philly's breathtaking speed this camp. Fields is a solid playmaker but hasn't yet shown an ability to excel at any one skill. Columbus native Verlon Reed is also making a move, but one has to think there's a chance for Devin Smith and Evan Spencer to make a bid for early playing time in fall camp under new receivers coach Stan Drayton.
Offensive line: Replacing two-year starting guards Justin Boren and Bryant Browning was supposed to be a straightforward task, but the suspension of first-team All-Big Ten left tackle Mike Adams has thrown a bit of a monkey wrench into the equation as possible guards Marcus Hall, Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort have been forced to play some tackle during the spring and one will have to start there come the fall. Mewhort and Corey Linsley have been the top guards during camp but many have prognosticated that Hall is a viable option to start there as well. Going on spring reps, Hall looks he has the best chance to start for Adams instead with Mewhort and Linsley on the inside, but time will tell. The good news is that all were highly recruited players with good skill sets, and they have looked good run-blocking during the spring.
Defensive line: Replacing strongside end Cameron Heyward and tackle Dexter Larimore has resulted in a twist thus far. Adam Bellamy backed up Heyward a year ago, but it appears this spring that big Johnathan Hankins has been playing in that spot – one at which he moonlighted a few times a season ago – while Garrett Goebel has taken over Larimore's role. Both are former wrestlers who know how to use leverage, though Goebel doesn't quite have the size of Larimore. Bellamy, then, has been among the top reserves. At this point, it looks as though those three will get the most playing time when it comes to replacing the two departed Buckeyes.
Linebacker: This one seems pretty cut-and-dried, with Andrew Sweat ready to take over Ross Homan's role as the Will linebacker and Etienne Sabino moving into Brian Rolle's spot as the middle man. Both have looked good this spring, with Sabino making impact plays after a redshirt year and Sweat performing better at a more natural position after he was ill-suited to the Sam spot he played a season ago. Sabino is still getting more comfortable and should continue to improve while Sweat looks like a natural. The next step is finding a strongside ‘backer, with experienced walk-on Tony Jackson filling that role at times in camp. Freshman Curtis Grant also could step into the role, but it just seems more likely Ohio State will play more in its nickel setup with Tyler Moeller playing the star position he manned before suffering a season-ending injury in the Big Ten opener last season.
Defensive back: There are some good options in the secondary to replace cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence and dependable safety Jermale Hines. Most observers agree that Travis Howard has been one of the best players of the spring while taking over one of the cornerback roles. The competition at the other spot should be good between Dominic Clarke (who played in the Sugar Bowl and earned praise from Tressel as a more confident, mature player), Florida State transfer Dionte Allen and rising redshirt freshman Bradley Roby. All have looked good during camp, though Clarke appears to be in line for the first shot. At safety, the return of C.J. Barnett should put him in line for Hines' spot. Barnett started the 2010 season at safety but blew out his knee in game two, but he looked more and more confident and impressive as those two games unfolded. He's already back in drills and seeing some spot duty. Christian Bryant is also playing some star and safety after his impressive '10 debut as well.
Special teams: The special teams were hit or miss a season ago, but kick scrimmages so far have showed the Buckeyes should be in good hands. Taking over for Devin Barclay, Drew Basil looks more confident at kicker after having his only two attempts blocked a season ago as a freshman. It's always hard for freshman kickers to make a difference, so too much shouldn't be read into his 2010 struggles. The Buckeyes continue to look for a long snapper during the spring, but the arrival of Bryce Haynes in the fall could make that a moot point.