First off, there are definitely national championship hopes within this football team, and the key game is certainly the battle with Miami. There are five games without the suspended-five, and only Michigan State and Miami seem like trouble spots, but a home game against Mark Dantonio might not be all that difficult to win.
Going on the road to Miami, without several key members, will be the early test the Buckeyes need to pass if they are to have national championship hopes realized. Look for the game to be an ugly, defensive battle, the exact type of game Ohio State loves and usually wins.
The two biggest losses among the five suspended players will be Terrelle Pryor and DeVier Posey, which comes as no surprise to Buckeye fans. Solomon Thomas is a nice player, but the Sugar Bowl hero can be replaced. Mike Adams is a stud tackle, but do not underestimate the talent of Andrew Norwell.
What about the loss of Boom Herron? I'm not worried, and I think a lot of Boom as a player. Jaamal Berry has grabbed the starting tailback spot by the horns and looks to be The Man to start off the 2011 season. Berry averaged over 8 yards per carry last year, and it's time to see what he can do in full-time action. Short-yardage will be handled by redshirt frosh Roderick Smith, and he looks like the real deal. I expect Jordan Hall to see much time at slot receiver, with Carlos Hyde also in reserve action. The loss of Boom should be minimal.
How do you replace Terrelle Pryor? That one is going to be a tough fill, and Jim Tressel will play that card when he has to, and that time isn't late April. My early guess from talking to people I trust? I've consistently said Joe Bauserman and that could be the safe choice, but don't be surprised if Braxton Miller is the guy. Miller has made serious progress in the past ten days, and is now showing his immense talent. Taylor Graham and Kenny Guiton appear to be behind the other two. Could Miller's running ability set him apart from the others? Could very well be the case.
Wide receiver is a problem area, and there's no way to spin it. The drop-off from Posey is gigantic, although Philly Brown is full of potential, but he needs to be more consistent catching the football. Chris Fields, Tyrone Williams and James Louis have worlds of talent, but so far it's not translating to the field. Verlon Reed has been better than those three, and could be in a position to push for playing time. Newcomers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer might be able to earn time as true freshman. Also, look for Jordan Hall to get time in the slot, as he has been more consistent catching the football than most of the wide receivers.
Tight end is a huge strength, and freshman Jeff Heuerman is better than originally thought. Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel could be the best twosome in America, and another freshman, Nick Vannett, isn't even in school yet. No worries among this group.
Bryant Browning and Justin Boren might not be missed all that much because Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley and Marcus Hall are all playing well, especially Mewhort who has dedicated himself to following in the footsteps of his roommate Mike Brewster. J.B. Shugarts and Norwell should be fine until Adams returns. This group could be among the best in the country once again.
The defensive line should be a huge strength and incoming freshman Joel Hale has been very good, although he could still be asked to red-shirt because of depth. Garrett Goebel and Adam Bellamy have been battling for playing time with Johnny Simon and Johnathon Hankins, so no worries at tackle. Nathan Williams is 100% healthy, which he wasn't last year, and freshmen Kenny Hayes and Steve Miller could both see time. Very deep and talented unit.
The story of the linebackers has been the play of Dorian Bell, whose five-star talent has never been in question. Ryan Shazier has impressed but has been bothered by a hamstring injury. Etienne Sabino and Andrew Sweat are playing at a level expected from three-year players. Curtis Grant isn't even in the picture yet, but it will be hard to keep him off the field as well.
The defensive backs have been hit by injuries to key players, and Dionte Allen hurt a shoulder this week and should be out Saturday. The starting corners are Dominick Clarke and Travis Howard, with Christian Bryant as the nickel back. Jeremy Cash has made some noise in the past week and has worked his way to second team safety. Jamie Wood was looking good before he was injured, and Tyler Moeller is not cleared for full-time work yet. C.J. Barnett appears to have picked up where he left off from last year's Miami game, and that's being a star. Orhian Johnson is not appreciated by many Buckeye fans, but he was good last year and has been excellent all spring. Ron Tanner arrived in March and has shown why he was so highly rated coming out of high school.
Once you put the stuff on the ESPN crawl off to the side of your focus, the reality is that this is still one of THE most talented teams in the country, and a definite threat to win the national title in 2011.
Never forget that college football is not about anything but collecting the most talent, and everything else is mostly chicken feed. I have no doubt that Kent State, Central Florida and Kansas all have great leadership, winning attitudes and great chemistry, but so what?
Ohio State has as much talent as any team in America, better coaching than 90% of the programs in America, and those two ingredients put the Buckeyes in the hunt for the national championship, even with the suspensions. Find a way to win the Miami game and 2011 could go down as one of the greatest years in Ohio State history.