First off, the offense will certainly not be as predictable in 2011, for the simple reason that there are so many positions up for grabs. The starting lineup is usually a piece of cake for Buckeye fans to name on an annual basis, but not this year.
QUARTERBACK: When was the last time people actually were left guessing who the starting signal-caller was going to be in the first game of the season? Do we really have to go back to Austin Moherman and Steve Bellisari? Actually, it would be Troy Smith and Justin Zwick, but it was fun mentioning the other two.
Who starts in 2011? The Old Man? The Kid? The Legacy? The Flash? All signs seemingly point toward a training camp battle between Joe Bauserman and Braxton Miller, but Taylor Graham and Kenny Guiton might argue a little. I do think it's an open competition, but Bauserman and Miller would appear to be co-favorites, with the true freshman possibly having an edge, especially since he enrolled in January and went through spring football. BOLD PREDICTION: Braxton Miller may indeed win the starting job and play well, which is all well and good. But a true freshman cannot be expected to star week after week. If Ohio State is to have a big year in 2011, Bauserman is going to have to come off the bench, assuming he doesn't start, and pull a game out of the fire. Remember Scott McMullen, or Mark Garcia.
TAILBACK: You can have your five-star freshman quarterback, but the tailback position will be the spot that makes or breaks the 2011 season. This group will need to bring their A+ game on a weekly basis, because they will face stacked defenses, and you just can't block them all. There are a ton of talented ball-carriers on the roster. Boom Herron. Jaamal Berry. Roderick Smith. Carlos Hyde. Jordan Hall. All have strengths, but there isn't going to be a five-man rotation. BOLD PREDICTION: They actually give Jaamal Berry a true shot at being the lead dog, and try to see if they can LOWER his 8+ yards per carry average. They just might find out they can't lower it all that much, which means you have your star tailback. Would be fun to see a few 40 and 50-yard runs, which in turn would help out the freshman quarterback even more. Chicks dig the long-ball, and Berry is the home run hitter. Put him in the cleanup spot and watch him leave the yard.
WIDE RECEIVER: Problem area alert!!!! Are you sick of hearing people say "Somebody needs to step up?" Many apologies, but.......
Who steps it up? Who can actually play? Was James Louis all that coming out of high school? Can Chris Fields finally live up to his promise? Is Verlon Reed the real deal, or Bam Childress 2.0? Can Tyrone Williams catch the damn ball, or is that Philly Brown's line? Can the two freshman contribute? I know DeVier Posey is a stud, but rumor has it he won't be catching any balls the first five games. But, we won't be mentioning that subject. BOLD PREDICTION: It's Devin Smith time. He has the ability, and the "it factor" to grab a spot and never give it back. Ohio State has started freshmen wide receivers in the past. They just might do it again in 2011.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Mike Brewster has been EVERYTHING AND MORE than Ohio State could have reasonably expected when he signed his letter of intent. What does that have to do with this article? No clue, but I felt it needed to be said.
J.B. Shugarts is a warrior, and a player that has played hurt, and without complaint, a lot of his career. If Beanie Wells had Shugarts' toughness, he would be killing the NFL, and not backing up bad players. But that's another story, for another day. Not sure Ohio State fans truly appreciate all Shugarts brings to the table. In an era of "fake Buckeyes" and "true Buckeyes", Shugarts is a true Buckeye. Thank you.
Andrew Norwell might be the most talented offensive lineman on the roster, and also might be the best NFL prospect. That will be evident after the first series against Akron. Norwell can ball, boys and girls. BOLD PREDICTION: By the middle of the season, Ohio State fans not only won't be worrying about the loss of Justin Boren and Bryant Browning, but might actually be wondering how they kept Jack Mewhort off the field. You heard it here first.
TIGHT END: There are two darn good ones, backed up by two darn talented youngsters. Reid Fragel is putting together an NFL resume. Jake Stoneburner has already stamped himself as a future NFL player. BOLD PREDICTION: No need for boldness, as Ohio State has four that can play.
The Defense belongs to Jim Heacock, and last time I checked he wasn't about to put it up for sale, so all is fine in that household. Thank you very much.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A ton of talent went walking out that door, led by Cameron Heyward, but fear not because these spots are still loaded with studs. Nathan Williams is the one player that has proven he is a difference-maker when healthy and motivated, but average without both qualities. Williams is a huge key, especially allowing a poor pass-rushing front four to get to the quarterback without blitzing. It is on him to take his game to the next level, and the motivation of climbing NFL draft boards should appeal to him.
Johnny Simon is the most versatile of all the defensive linemen, and having enough quality depth around him means he can be moved all across the front. Johnathan Hankins showed flashes last year, and he needs to prove he can go for 50 snaps, not just 20. I like everything about Adam Bellamy. BOLD PREDICTION: IF, again, IF Melvin Fellows is healthy, and he told me a few weeks ago that he is, this is like finding that hundred dollar bill in your jeans on laundry day. Maybe even a better surprise than that. Fellows has an NFL body, and five-star talent. If he's on the field for 20 snaps per game, he can be a game-changer.
LINEBACKER: Another relatively unknown group, mainly because of inexperience and injury, but talent abounds. Andrew Sweat is another Ross Homan, so you don't miss a beat there. Etienne Sabino is nothing like Brian Rolle from a physical standpoint, but he'd better be just as good to hold of Curtis Grant, who could figure into the rotation. Tyler Moeller is part STAR, part safety, part linebacker, but all football player. Put him in your lineup at whatever position you want, but he is huge for this defense. Ryan Shazier could fill the role of outside blitzer that this team desperately needs. BOLD PREDICTION: A little birdie told me that Scott McVey is 100% healthy, and if that's true, HE could find himself in the rotation. People forget how talented this kid is, and if healthy, McVey might be the outside blitzer they need.
CORNERBACK: Want to hear something really off the wall? Of course you do. Travis Howard just might be THE most talented defensive player at Ohio State in terms of what the NFL wants. If Howard stays healthy, and produces like people know he can, don't be surprised to hear his name mentioned as one who could leave early. Howard has one starting spot locked up. Who takes the other? Dionte Allen? Doran Grant? Dominic Clarke? BOLD PREDICTION: It's a battle right up to the Miami game, but Bradley Roby emerges as the starter opposite Howard. He has come a long way in a short time, and his intelligence, work ethic and athleticism gets him the starting spot.
SAFETY: Christian Bryant is now over 190-pounds, and looks like a solid rock. He plays somewhere. C.J. Barnett is supposedly fully healed, but those injuries usually take at least a full year, so let's temper the enthusiasm for him. Jamie Wood came on during bowl practice, and had better be improved, or risk being passed by the young pups, Jeremy Cash and/or Ron Tanner. Can Chad Hagan find his way to the field? BOLD PREDICTION: If strength and conditioning are truly the important factor they are made out to be, Orhian Johnson will be the most improved player on the team this season. He looks like an NFL-ready player, and his speed is dramatically better. O.J. has been good so far in his career, but now he looks ready to take the next step.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Probably should have listed this group first, because they are THAT important, especially this year. Ben Buchanan is who he is, meaning he won't turn into Ray Guy overnight, but the hope is that he will be quicker getting the ball off, and better at directional punting. Drew Basil simply has the weight of the world on his shoulders, more or less. There should be more close games, especially early, so making key field goals could swing the record two or three games. No pressure there, right? BOLD PREDICTION: Luke Fickell and Mike Vrabel are supposed to take an active role in special team play this year, and that can only be a good thing, because the coverage units have been awful for a while. I'm expecting to see motivated, pumped-up, aggressive coverage units this season, a welcome change from the past two.
Players will be reporting in a few weeks, which will be a welcome sight. Almost as welcome as an article on Ohio State football that is 100% about Ohio State football these days.
I'm so ready for college football that I'm even looking forward to hearing the tired and annoying "Seven Nation Army' again. That's when you know you REALLY miss football, but I'm still not ready for 'Rock and Roll Part-2', with apologies to my man Gary Glitter.