Hard to imagine in July that this would have been a question for Ohio State at any point this season, but given Chris Wells' gimpy foot, it bears watching who dots the I in the Buckeyes' staple formation this weekend.
Wells has not been ruled out, but he was labeled "doubtful" Tuesday by head coach Jim Tressel. If he opts to hold the All-Big Ten performer out, duties fall on the triumvirate of senior Maurice Wells, sophomore Brandon Saine and redshirt freshman Boom Herron.
Ohio State running backs coach Dick Tressel told reporters Wednesday that sophomore walk-on Marcus Williams could get some carries, too.
The position coach expressed a desire to use each backup in a way that accentuates his talent, but he stressed that all three can do everything necessary of a tailback in the OSU offense.
He added that if a committee approach is necessary, they won't rotate on a series-by-series basis.
2. How will the Buckeyes run it?
This refers both to method and rate of success. This was more likely to be speculation to begin after Chris Wells departs for the NFL, but perhaps now fans will see a preview of what the 2009 or 2010 running game will look like Herron is listed No. 2 on the depth chart behind Chris Wells in the depth chart published Monday by the university, and he might be the best suited to execute the traditional tailback role in the Ohio State offense. Despite his slight build, Herron is a between-the-tackles runner with the ability to find creases and a willingness to put his head down and power through defenders.
Dotting the 'I' was just one of the many things Saine did as a high schooler at Piqua on his way to being named Ohio's Mr. Football in 2006, and Ohio State likes to use him in a multitude of ways, too. He will not only line up behind the fullback but has also been seen in the lead back's spot and is comfortable in the slot, on the wing or split out wide.
Maurice Wells has never excelled running between the tackles in college but with some nifty moves against the Penguins he reminded fans he can make defenders miss in the open field. A more wide-open attack could benefit him.
Ohio State showed last week it can bunch up its formations or spread them out. Which will it do this weekend?
3. How will the passing game perform?
Without Wells to focus on, the Ohio defense might be able to pay a little more attention to Ohio State's two experienced starting wide receivers, Brian Hartline and Brian Robiskie and three or four hungry, talented youngsters clamoring for playing time in the slot or behind the Brians.
But, as tight end Rory Nicol suggested, they might not.
"Ohio State runs the ball. Yeah, Beanie's a great back, but we've got a great offensive line," Nicol said. "They're going to put seven in the box all the time. They've done that against Ohio State when Lydell Ross ran the ball, Brandon Joe or whoever it was. Sure, Beanie is different. He's prolific, and he's got the ability to take it the whole way every single time he touches it, but they're going to load the box up against us because that's what we do. We run the ball, and until they stop us that's something we always stress as an offense."
Jim Tressel is on record as looking for more consistency from both starting quarterback Todd Boeckman and second-stringer Terrelle Pryor, and both should have plenty of opportunities to impress the head man no matter the status of the star running back.
4. What about pass protection?
Boeckman and his understudies faced his fair share of pressure from Youngstown State last week, although the Penguins had just one sack.
This week both Tressels characterized Ohio as a team that likes to blitz, although the Bobcats did not record a sack last week against Wyoming, which attempted just 20 passes on the day.
Keep in mind also that Chris Wells is considered the best pass protector among the Buckeye running backs.
5. Who gets a better boost from the return game?
Ohio State's struggles in returning kickoffs last season have been documented well, although Saine looked good rambling for 28 yards on the only YSU kickoff of the opening weekend.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, were eighth in the nation in 2007 with an average of 25.1 yard per return. The team leader in that category, Chris Garrett, is back and picked up 28 yards on his sole return last week, but the Buckeyes must also account for Donte Harden, who returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in this season's opener.
The Buckeye punt return showed some improvement last week, but there is no telling what Ohio might expect from itself. The Bobcats, who were 116th in the nation last season in punt returns, had none against Wyoming.