Trying to determine the top five questions confronting Ohio State's football program is no easy task. The looming controversy of Coach Jim Tressel's involvement in "Tattoo-Gate" overshadows all of the on the field concerns facing the Buckeyes.
5. Who will emerge on the offensive line? - While many Ohio State fans would look at this question as a relatively easy question, it is important to remember that Ohio State is not only losing both starting guards (Justin Boren, Bryant Browning), but will also be without the services of left tackle Mike Adams for the first five games of the season. Throw in the fact that starting right tackle J.B. Shugarts battled injuries the majority of last season, and Ohio State is essentially only returning one certain starter in center Mike Brewster.
If Shugarts is healthy, look for Shugarts to stay at right tackle. The left tackle battle will rage between Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall. Norwell impressed in his limited playing opportunities last season, while Hall will try to regain his stature after his redshirt season of 2010. It would not surprise me if Hall is moved to a guard spot, as he is a strong run blocker, and I believe Ohio State will look to run the ball early and often next season. Jack Mewhort and Corey Linsley would seem to be among the likely candidates to fill the guard spots as well. Maintaining good health is important for the offensive line, as the depth will be an issue all season long in 2010. There are rumors redshirt freshman Darryl Baldwin may be moved from defensive line over to the offensive line, to help with the depth issues.
4. Who will be the starters in the secondary? - Ohio State lost starting cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence, as well as Jermale Hines from one of the safety positions. Fortunately for Ohio State, there is depth at the position, but it is relatively inexperienced. Tyler Moeller returns for a sixth year, and will be provided an opportunity to play at one of the safety spots, if not the Star position. C.J. Barnett was a starter at safety until sidelined by injury, allowing Orhian Johnson the opportunity to play last season. No matter who emerges at safety, Ohio State fans know there are players with some playing experience. Darkhorses in the race include Jamie Wood, Zach Domicone, Chad Hagan, and Nate Oliver. True freshman Jeremy Cash will also try to win the spot this spring, as an early enrollee.
At corner, look for Christian Bryant, Dominic Clarke, Travis Howard, and transfer Dionte Allen to battle for the two spots. Bryant, Clarke, and Howard all played meaningful snaps in the Sugar Bowl against Arkansas. Bryant may even get an opportunity at safety, as he played the Star position after Moeller was injured last season. Others who will battle for playing time are Donnie Evege, Corey Brown, Adam Griffin, and Bradley Roby.
3. Who will emerge as Ohio State's starting quarterback? - In the wake of Terrelle Pryor's five game suspension, many Ohio State fans forgot that Pryor sustained an injury in the waning moments of the Sugar Bowl, requiring surgery. Pryor was going to miss the spring, suspension or otherwise. Joe Bauserman seems to be next in line, and may line up under center against Akron in the season opener on September 3rd, but will Bauserman hold onto the job? Kenny Guiton, Jr. also had playing opportunities last season, and pushed Bauserman for the backup position well into fall camp in 2010.
Redshirt freshman Taylor Graham has supposedly looked good on the scout team. Throw in early enrollee Braxton Miller, and the quarterback battle will likely rage throughout spring, and possibly into the fall.
2. Who will start at wide receiver? - Many times in 2010 I made the statement that Dane Sanzenbacher would be truly missed in 2011, and that was before DeVier Posey's suspension came to pass. Add in the fact that Ohio State lost Darrell Hazell as its wide receivers coach to the head coaching job at Kent State, and will be breaking in new wide receivers coach Stan Drayton, and you can understand why I rank this area so highly in terms of concern. Drayton has never coached the position, either. It is not as though Ohio State is bereft of talent at the position.
Rising sophomore "Philly" Brown returns as the leading wide receiver with eight receptions. Yes, you read that right - eight. Chris Fields had three receptions last season, and could also stake a claim for a starting position. Redshirted players James Louis, Verlon Reed, and T.Y. Williams will all have opportunities to impress this spring, as well as James Jackson. With such a strong stable of running backs, plus an inexperienced quarterback, it would not surprise me if Ohio State used a two tight end set with Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel. Stoneburner had a solid 2010 season, and could line up in the slot on passing downs. Stoneburner had twenty-one receptions, and could be a reliable receiver in the intermediate routes.
Ordinarily, the wide receivers and its inexperienced position coach would rank as my top concern heading into spring football. But my top concern facing Ohio State is...
1. How will Jim Tressel's suspension affect the Buckeyes? - With no news forthcoming from the NCAA, rumors run rampant on Tressel's 2011 season and fate. Will he be suspended for all of 2011? Will Tressel be fired? Will Tressel resign under pressure? While Jim Tressel may do his best to focus his energies on the tasks at hand on the field, it remains to be seen if his players have the same abilities. Ohio State fans may find out when the spring game concludes spring practices on April 23rd in Ohio Stadium.