Emblazoned on the cover of their regional issue of Sports Illustrated were three senior Buckeye defenders: lineman Cameron Heyward and linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle. Those three players make up half of OSU's contingent of captains this fall, joining offensive lineman Bryant Browning, running back Brandon Saine and wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher.
With a cover date of Aug. 16, the Buckeyes posed for the cover at least two weeks before team captains were announced Aug. 25. But rather than wonder when their cover will come, Browning said the Buckeyes on the offensive side of the ball take pride in any member of the team being on the cover of a national magazine.
"I feel it's a huge honor for those guys to have a chance to be on something like that," he said. "Whenever something like that happens, the whole team feels proud that our teammates have a chance to be on the front of a national magazine like that. We get excited about it.
"It's a great picture of those guys. I feel that the defense every year is one of the top defenses in the country and they deserve things like that."
In other words, each of the preseason top four teams in the nation were chosen as such because they are expected to be strong on defense. That the Buckeyes should be included on that list does not come as much of a surprise.
In OSU's first weekly release, that side of the ball gets its own full-page display titled "The Silver Bullet Defense," a longtime nickname bestowed on the unit. Last season, the Buckeyes ranked fifth nationally in total defense. It marked the fifth consecutive season OSU ranked among the nation's top 15 in the category, including a first-place finish in 2007.
In other words, it did not come as a major surprise to the members of the OSU offense that the players who proved to be their defensive counterparts among the team captains were picked to be on the cover of SI.
"Everybody knows what our defense is going to bring to the table," Saine said. "Over the past couple of years they've been the mainstay and they've been consistently good while our offense has had some troubles here and there. I don't know if we're exactly under the radar, but we have something to prove."
What is ironic is that the offense returns more starters from last season (nine) than the defense (seven).
From a historical perspective, the defense is evening things up with the offense. When the Buckeyes were on the cover for the 2006 season preview, the photo featured three offensive players: quarterback Troy Smith and linemen T.J. Downing and Doug Datish. Two years later, it was a mixed bag: quarterback Todd Boeckman, running back Chris Wells and linebacker James Laurinaitis.
As Sanzenbacher pointed out, the OSU offense has not exactly been left out of the conversation when it comes to talk about the upcoming season. Buckeye fans are wondering if the offensive explosion showcased during the Rose Bowl was a sign of things to come this fall or merely an aberration. Meanwhile, the continued development of junior quarterback Terrelle Pryor has been a topic of great debate.
"There's been just as much talk about what we're going to do on offense," the wideout said. "I think it says a lot about our defense though, that we have guys that are strong enough leaders and strong enough players to be able to make (the cover). I think it's a good thing for our offense because we get to go against these guys every day so it can only make us better."
When the photo was taken, Rolle said he had no idea he would eventually be named a captain.
"Maybe they knew something I didn't know," he said with a laugh.
Although he said he is fine with not being on the cover, Sanzenbacher could not resist taking one jab at his teammates. For the first time, all three Buckeyes on the cover are donning helmets.
"There's a reason they put helmets on those guys for the cover," he joked.