But when it came time to name team captains, the names that rose to the top all hailed from the defensive side of the ball. Safety Kurt Coleman, linebacker Austin Spitler and defensive lineman Doug Worthington – all seniors – were named the team's captains for the 2009 season. Head coach Jim Tressel said there was no clear-cut fourth captain once the votes were tabulated.
"The voting shows you who the team would like for sure and then there's a whole smattering of other guys that say, ‘Man, you know, they got significant votes so they ought to get to do this some,' " Tressel said.
The end result will be a fourth, rotating captain who will come from the OSU offense. Potential candidates for that task include seniors Jim Cordle, Jake Ballard and sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor, the latter of whom will lead the team's offense this year.
The voting was done differently this season. This year, the Buckeyes were asked to vote for three team captains, not four as in previous years. No reason was given for the change in balloting, Coleman said.
When the results came out and no offensive players were selected for the honor, Ballard had a hard time arguing with them. After all, that was exactly who he had voted for.
"It would've been nice, but I look up to all those guys," the tight end said of the three captains. "They're some of my best friends. They worked harder than anybody and they deserve it."
What does it all mean? It means that a defensive unit that has been perceived as the backbone of this year's team from the outside looking in is looked at the same way by those who are actually on the inside.
Throughout fall camp, the players have downplayed any thought that the defense has been ahead of the offense or that the defense might have to carry the team this season. Now those arguments are not being refuted – or at least very loudly.
"I just think we've got a dominating defense," Ballard said. "A lot of them are back and we're depending highly on them. We see a lot of the guys on defense as maybe more of leaders because to be a good team, our defense needs to step up and play to the best of their capability."
Typically, the players who represent the Buckeyes at the annual Big Ten media kickoff in Chicago go on to be team captains. This year, OSU was represented by Coleman, Worthington and Ballard.
Ballard said he was a little disappointed not to be named a captain but that it will not change his approach to the season.
"Me and (Cordle), we're trying to be leaders here on the offensive side and we're being vocal and making sure everyone is busting their butt out there," he said. "When you put in work for four or five years you want to be a leader. You feel like the players that left passed it on and you want to leave this place better than when you got here. That's what I think all of us upperclassmen feel like we need to do."
Spitler said he does not feel that the honors mean the team has no leaders on offense.
"A lot of guys obviously have a lot of respect for the three guys on defense, but I think we're going to have some leaders on the offense really shine through," he said. "We're going to have to if we want to be successful, and I think some guys are going to step up to the plate."
Cordle said there are several players who can fill the spot on offense.
"You're still going to have leaders and things like that where guys like myself and Terrelle and whoever it is will step up and lead," he said.
This is not the first time in Tressel's tenure that OSU has not had a full compliment of captains. The 2007 team featured two captains on offense and one on defense, with the fourth spot filled on a weekly alternating basis. The 2002 national championship team had just two captains, and both of them played defense.
According to Cordle, that fact bodes well for this year's team.
"They said back in '02 we won a national championship, so if it worked then it'll work now," he said with a laugh.