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April 1, 2010

After Rose Bowl win, OSU's focus on BCS title

No one is making fun of Ohio State and its inability to win a BCS bowl now.

The Buckeyes looked impressive in knocking off Oregon 26-17 in the Rose Bowl to cap an 11-2 season. Ohio State had lost its three previous BCS bowls, including drubbings in the BCS title game following the 2006 and '07 seasons. Non-conference losses to USC in each of the past two seasons further sullied the Buckeyes' big-game reputation. But the Rose Bowl victory has vanquished some of those bad feelings.

More than anything, the victory over the Ducks clears a psychological hurdle. Now, Ohio State looks poised to challenge for the national championship.

It all will hinge on how well the defense replaces six starters. Offensively, it will be vital for quarterback Terrelle Pryor to continue his evolution as a passer. Following a confounding 26-18 loss at Purdue that had Pryor's critics shouting from Columbus rooftops, Pryor settled down and impressed in leading the Buckeyes to six consecutive victories to close the 2009 season.

Here's a look at the Buckeyes as they enter spring drills.

OHIO STATE AT-A-GLANCE
QB Terrelle Pryor will look to continue his improvement as a passer this spring.
THE BASICS
Coach: Jim Tressel
Last season: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in the Big Ten. Beat Oregon 26-17 in the Rose Bowl.
Spring dates: April 1-April 24.
RETURNING STARTERS
(minimum of six starts)
Offense (8): G Justin Boren, C Michael Brewster, G Bryant Browning, WR DeVier Posey, QB Terrelle Pryor, RB Brandon Saine, WR Dane Sanzenbacher, T J.B. Shugarts.
Defense (6): CB Chimdi Chekwa, E Cameron Heyward, FS Jermale Hines, LB Ross Homan, LB Brian Rolle, CB Devon Torrence.
Special teams: None.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH

Pryor looks primed for great things after passing for a career-high 266 yards and two touchdowns and running for 72 more yards in the Rose Bowl win. Pryor is coming off knee surgery and should be ready to go this spring. How much will coaches push him? Pryor will have a bevy of options behind him (Saine, Dan Herron, Jaamal Berry) and on the outside (Posey, Sanzenbacher). Despite the early departure to the NFL by end Thaddeus Gibson, Ohio State still has the potential to have one of the best defensive lines in the nation. Heyward will be one of the country's best ends. Sophomore tackle John Simon must take the next step, and junior Nathan Williams will get a chance to replace Gibson at the LEO (standup end/rush end) spot.

HELP IS NEEDED

The Buckeyes lost two standout safeties in Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell, though Hines started 11 times when Russell was hurt or as a nickel back. While Pryor showed flashes of becoming a complete quarterback late last season, the jury remains out on his passing skills. Pryor was just the No. 8-rated passer in the Big Ten, and Ohio State's aerial attack ranked last in the conference (173.6 ypg). The Buckeyes lost three key defensive linemen in Gibson and tackles Todd Denlinger and Doug Worthington. On offense, a starting tackle and a tight end need to be found.

THREE GUYS TO WATCH

SS Orhian Johnson: With the loss of Coleman and Russell, Johnson is a favorite to claim a starting slot. Johnson, a sophomore, impressed last season when he filled in for a suspended Coleman against Indiana.

LB Tyler Moeller: Moeller, a senior, was projected to be a key contributor before being assaulted while on vacation during the summer and missing the season. It isn't known if he'll see contact this spring, and there also is talk that he could be moved to safety.

WR Taurian Washington: He began last season as the No. 3 wide receiver, but his lack of concentration saw him quickly fall down the depth chart. It's now-or-never for the senior, who will battle sophomore Duron Carter for the No. 3 spot.

THE PRESSURE IS ON

OT Mike Adams: Rated the No. 1 offensive tackle in the nation by Rivals.com in the Class of 2008, Adams has failed to live up to the hype. He was hampered by an injury as a true freshman and an off-field issue ruined the start of the 2009 season. Word is that Adams, a junior, is dialed in and ready to blossom. If not, sophomore Marcus Hall could pass him.

THE BUZZ

Winning a league-record-tying sixth Big Ten championship in a row seems like a given. Ohio State has its sights set on a bigger prize: the BCS title. And that may be a reality if the defense develops as expected and Pryor continues to blossom as a passer.

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.


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