By now all good Buckeye fans know the 2007 Ohio State return teams were relatively dreadful. The kickoff return unit averaged just 17.65 yards per attempt last season, a mark that ranked 117th in the nation and narrowly missed being the lowest of the Jim Tressel era. The punt return game posted a more respectable 8.9-yard average that ranked 58th, but one could argue that is skewed by Brian Hartline's 90-yard touchdown return against Kent State.
Tressel hopes a new kickoff return combo of Brandon Saine and Boom Herron can revitalize the kickoff return unit that missed the blazing speed of Ted Ginn Jr. last season. Saine and Herron, both running backs, are expected to help each other in the blocking department better than primary returners Hartline and Ray Small – both receivers – did last season.
Hartline and Small return as the top two on the punt-return unit.
Also, do not be surprised to see sophomore cornerback Devon Torrence potentially to inject some life into one or both of the return units.
2. Can the Buckeyes dominate the line of scrimmage?
Given the talent and experience returning up front on both sides of the ball – Ohio State has back four of five starters on the offensive line and six of the eight players who filled the defensive-line two-deep for the national championship game – this should be a given. However, the Penguins proved quite feisty up front last season, stoning the Buckeye offense in several short-yardage situations last year. Youngstown State was able to stiffen defensively thanks at least in part to filling the box with extra defenders, a strategy Tressel said he expects to be in use again this season. Will the Buckeyes be able to impose their will to a greater extent this season?
On the flip side, YSU is expected to unveil a new spread offense. That would give the Buckeyes a first chance to show if the work they put in to build a more productive pass rush has paid off.
3. How will the quarterbacks look?
Tressel wants to see all three of his quarterbacks in against live bullets, and all three are in unique spots.
Returning starter Todd Boeckman has no concerns about losing his job, but he will get his first chance to show he has increased his command of the offense and can be more consistent in his decision-making as a senior.
Behind him, redshirt freshman Joe Bauserman figures to make his debut. He will want to show the coaches and fans alike that he can be a viable option should Boeckman go down at some point this season.
Then, of course, there is Terrelle Pryor. The nation's No. 1 recruit has gotten good reviews from coaches and teammates during the preseason and is considered the future of the program. His combination of size and speed perhaps make him the most intriguing aspect of the game at the old Horseshoe this weekend. Will he get a chance to show off his dazzling open-field running ability? How will his reportedly rebuilt throwing motion look?
4. What about the backups?
Tressel figures to substitute liberally even if the score does not get out of hand early.
Traditionally, he likes to use extra players early both so he can get a look at them in game-action (and on film) and to keep everyone fresh in the late-summer's heat.
While 17 starters are back from last season, there has been plenty of jockeying for spots among the second-teamers. Offensively, as many as eight or nine players are in competition to be the top backups on the line, three tailbacks (Herron, Saine and senior Maurice Wells) are looking for playing time behind starter Chris Wells, and Small and Dane Sanzenbacher have waged a spirited battle to be the third wide receiver while other youngsters like Taurian Washington, DeVier Posey and Lamaar Thomas also want to earn playing time. Defensively, seeing what ends Thaddeus Gibson and Curtis Terry, linebacker Brian Rolle, new nickel backs Tyler Moeller and Jermale Hines and reserve cornerbacks Shaun Lane, Andre Amos and Torrence can do will be interesting.
5. Are there any new gadgets ready for unveiling?
Since last December, we have heard bits and pieces of news from sources both official and unnamed that indicated Ohio State was going to try a variety of new ways to attack foes on both sides of the ball.
Is this the day we see the "pistol" variation of the shotgun offense? Will Saine start to show his versatility in bouncing between return man, fullback, tailback and receiver? What about Pryor and the read-option?
Defensively, Moeller and Hines present an experiment with bigger, more physical players in the nickel defense.