Cus Words: Lookin' For A Reason

Football season's return means the weekly column is back, complete with a song title copied straight from the author's 3,400-song library. To open another season, C.C.R. is the inspiration as we take a look at what happened this offseason that should have Buckeye fans smiling as well as potential reasons to frown.

What we learned in the offseason: The Buckeyes are deep.

Ohio State entered spring ball missing seven starters from the 2010 Big Ten champions, so naturally media and fans focused on replacing them, particularly standout defenders Kurt Coleman and Thaddeus Gibson.

All the new starters look dependable at worst, but there were more than seven players who showed glimpses they could be ready to contribute if called upon.

This is especially true on defense, where linemen Johnathan Hankins, Adam Bellamy and Garrett Goebel all had impressive moments during preseason camp, as many as six linebackers looked ready to play and second-team cornerbacks Corey Brown and Travis Howard held their own with the No. 1 unit when starters Devon Torrence and Chimdi Chekwa sat out to rest sore hamstrings.

At safety, Jermale Hines has starting experience so there is little question he's ready for a bigger role, and sophomores Orhian Johnson and C.J. Barnett both had good moments with Barnett apparently emerging from camp as the starter after Johnson missed time with a leg injury.

Offensively, four starters are back on the offensive line with Mike Adams and Andrew Miller both looking worthy of first-team reps at left tackle while youngster Jack Mewhort looks ready to step in if someone goes down inside.

The backfield is four or perhaps five deep at tailback with a pair and a spare ready to go at fullback as well, but not every picture is quite so rosy.

None of the backup quarterbacks gave much reason to feel comfortable if something happens to Terrelle Pryor, and tight end is a question mark after starter Jacob Stoneburner and backup Reid Fragel.

There seems to be no lack of talent available at wide receiver, but consistency remains a question with presumed No. 3 man Taurian Washington while health problems clouded the status of Chris Fields and Grant Schwartz. On the bright side, true freshman Corey "Philly" Brown flashed the raw ability to step in if needed.

What we figure to learn this season: How good can these Buckeyes be?

I know that seems pretty obvious, but it's a question I'm not ready to answer until they start playing for keeps.

What's odd is I see this as a team that should be far more consistent than any in recent memory, but I'm not completely sold on how it will make big plays.

That transition is not as easy as it seems.

Pryor has been able to hit the big play in both of his first two seasons while the intermediate stuff has been somewhat bedeviling.

I don't think the latter is going to be a problem this year. More easy throws have been added to the playbook, and he looked really comfortable dumping the ball to the tight end and to his running backs all spring and throughout the preseason, but will that translate to the regular season?

And will the short stuff come at the expense of explosive plays, or will it lend itself to as many or more?

Maybe I'm just being a contrarian here.

I can easily see how this team could go undefeated, but after having watched its ups and downs for so long (during previous seasons), I want to make sure I don't get carried away with the general preseason optimism.

Not that doing so is the end of the world, but when a team enters most seasons looking like it could win all its games, you tend to put yourself on guard to being fooled.

The problems that crept up last year should not have been that surprising, but they were at the time.

Now the line is older and healthier (for now), and the backs are a year older and healthier (for now).

Both get a huge boost from fullback Zach Boren, a sophomore who came out of nowhere to become a key contributor down the stretch. He has looked outstanding throughout the offseason both as a blocker and a receiver.

DeVier Posey had a great preseason, from my point of view, looking more explosive and more consistent than he did earlier in his career. He seems to have gotten over the lapses in concentration that held him back.

But it all comes down the Pryor, of course.

He was able to balance the role of care taker and occasional big play maker as a freshman much better than he handled being The Man the offense went through for everything early last season (We should note the supporting cast let him down at times).

As a result, the coaches took the ball out of Pryor's hands until he figured out how to help himself help his teammates. Even now, Pryor doesn't have all the answers, but I think he's made great progress both physically and mentally.

All that lies ahead of him is to take the most difficult step there is for a football player: Quarterbacks transform from OK to great by knowing when to step on the gas, when to idle and when to break.

Beanie Wells handled the idling and part of the acceleration in 2008. Pryor just gave him the ball and got out of his way half the time that season, letting him chew up yards and time while also contributing numerous long runs. Then all that was left for Pryor to do was to throw a rare short pass to keep defenses off balance and go deep when they were preoccupied with Wells. That job is not that difficult, and Pryor was superb most of the time, as evidenced by his leading the Big Ten in passer efficiency, a stat that would have seemed absurd for much of last season.

Now he's got the idling part down. He knows when and how to make the easy play when it's there. Will he be able to keep doing that while also going deep when the opportunity arrives? Does he know how to create such opportunities?

That's the biggest question of 2010 for Ohio State, one that will probably determine how good this team will be: Champion of the block or best in the nation?

DVR Directions: With the Buckeyes opening on Thursday night, this might be a weekend to give the DVR a rest and save some space for future weeks.

None of the games going head-to-head with Ohio State and Marshall look all that appealing to me as there will be other chances to scout Indiana (the Hoosiers host Towson on BTN) and Minnesota (at Middle Tennessee State on ESPNU). At halftime of the clash between the Buckeyes and the Thundering Herd, the Pittsburgh-Utah tilt on Versus (kicking off at 8:30 Eastern) could be worth a look.

(Want to scout Miami? The 13th-ranked Hurricanes are relegated to for some inexplicable reason.)

Saturday offers a great chance to get an early look at a bunch of Big Ten opponents. Start at noon with Youngstown State at Penn State and Eastern Illinois at Iowa, both on the Big Ten Network. At 3:30, Purdue gets its first chance to show if its solid finish to 2009 was a fluke when the Boilermakers travel to Notre Dame (NBC), and Rich Rodriguez Referendum 2010 gets under way when Michigan hosts Connecticut on ABC.

Cus Words Big Ten Power Poll (2009 ranking)

1. (same) Ohio State
2. (3) Wisconsin
3. (2) Iowa
4. (5) Northwestern
5. (6) Michigan State
6. (4) Penn State
7. (9) Indiana
8. (same) Purdue
9. (11) Michigan
10. (7) Minnesota
11. (10) Illinois

Marcus Hartman is a staff writer for and Buckeye Sports Bulletin. He can be reached for comment, cursing or questions via email at mhartman[at]buckeyesports[dot]com

For more from him, read his blog about Ohio State football and whatever else crosses his mind .

Buckeye Sports Top Stories