Who knows how Ohio State is going to respond and perform under interim head coach Luke Fickell, who will be without running back Dan Herron, wide receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams and defensive end Solomon Thomas for the first five games in wake of the suspensions? Ohio State still has plenty of talent, but how rusty will those players be, and how cohesive a unit will the Buckeyes be, with all of their issues?
If you take a straw poll of the 33 players outside the Ohio State program at Big Ten Media Days, most will give the answer Minnesota senior running back Duane Bennett gave.
"On the field, we still know they're going to be Ohio State," Bennett said. "They're going to have great athletes. They're going to have a great game plan. They're going to have great coaches helping them out. They're still going to come out and compete, they're still going to come out and put their best foot forward."
Ohio State will have all of its suspended players back when its hosts Wisconsin on Oct.29, but it's hard to say what kind of team the Buckeyes will have after those players have had only one tune-up game, a game at Nebraska nonetheless.
Early on, not only do the Buckeyes have to find a suitable offensive replacements for the three suspended players for five games, not to mention the players lost to graduation or the supplemental draft, Ohio State needs to find linemen, especially the Buckeyes couldn't run an actual spring game due to the lack of personal in the trenches.
"It's a difficult situation," first-year head coach Luke Fickell said. "We all understand, and hopefully we have emphasized to our players, that we know the game starts and there's one up front. We are thin. We understand that. Like we said, that's one of the big reasons we have to focus on them young guys coming in, getting them to grow, mentoring them in the process because they will be counted on at some point in time in this season. It is something that obviously we're aware of. We've got a plan for it. We're going to continue to move forward with it."
Ohio State has four quarterbacks on its roster, but many assume the job will either go to senior Joe Bauserman or freshman five-star recruit Braxton Miller. Bauserman has the most experience, completing 16 of 22 passes for 174 yards, two touchdowns and an interception last year, and is the safe option. Miller, on the other hand, has been on campus since January, and has good mobility and awareness. Does OSU throw him into the deep end right away?
"That's going to be an interesting question," Fickell said. "Again, I think our focus is going to be on a competitive nature. We have four obviously very capable guys, one being maybe a 25-year-old senior and one being an 18-year-old freshman and everywhere in between. We refer to all of this them as being young.
"We're going to put them in situations where we think they can be successful. Each one is a little bit different in his own right. As we move along in camp, really focus on who we think gives us the best opportunity to win as a team."
Defensively, the Buckeyes were good last season (fifth in the nation in points allowed, fourth in yards allowed and third in rushing yards allowed), but there was no pressure on opposing quarterbacks, as OSU only had 23 sacks last season. Think it would have made a difference if Scott Tolzien had some pressure, instead of having the time to go 13-of-16 passing?
Stepping up to the podium, Fickell described the last few months as an exciting, crazy, emotional whirlwind, but maintained that he believes the foundation of the program has been set. He also made it clear that disgraced coach Jim Tressel isn't involved. Saying that he hasn't had time to sit and think or time to feel sorry for any sort, Fickell said he hadn't had a lot of contact with Tressel, but had plenty of contact with former coach John Cooper, who he played for at Ohio State, and former coach Earle Bruce.
The message: be yourself. Players on both sides of this budding rivalry might use the word ‘revenge.' For Ohio State, the Buckeyes are looking to avenge their only loss of the 2010 season, a 31-18 loss at Camp Randall on oct.16, when Ohio State plays just its fourth true night game in the last three seasons.
"You don't get too many night games in the Shoe, so you have to cherish them," said senior center Mike Brewster, as Ohio State is officially 0-2 in home night games since the start of 2008. "They are unbelievable to take part in. It's similar to what Camp Randall is like. I think it's going to be rowdy, fans having been drinking all day and a great environment."
Wisconsin on the other hand that Pryor keeps quiet once and for all. A week after the Wisconsin loss, after beating Purdue, Pryor proclaimed, "I think if we played nine out of 10 games, we beat Wisconsin."
That comment obviously did not sit well with the people inside the Wisconsin locker room.
"There wasn't any question who won that football game," UW coach Bret Bielema said. "The only bad thing about Terrelle leaving is the week after, he called it a fluke, they'd beat us nine out of 10 games. So we really wanted to play that game against him [this year]. Unfortunately, we won't. But our kids know what they did last year."
Consider this game highlighted on both program's and fan base's calendars.
Overall Record: Ohio State leads 53-18-5
Record in Columbus: Ohio State leads 28-7-3
Last Meeting: Wisconsin won, 31-18, in Madison in 2010