All in all, the 2008 season would have to be called a disappointment by Buckeyes fans. After all, Ohio State proved yet again that it can’t seem to win a big game out of conference and that was learned early when OSU was thumped 35-3 in L.A. by Southern Cal.
Something positive did come from that game, however: Terrelle Pryor was installed as the starting QB.
Pryor performed pretty well the rest of the year but couldn’t lead OSU to the Big Ten title after the Buckeyes lost a big home game late in the season to then unbeaten Penn State.
OSU still managed to earn another BCS bowl berth, but its luck didn’t change in those games either when the Buckeyes were beaten by Texas.
A lot of talent has graduated from the 2008 team, including running back Chris “Beanie” Wells, both starting receivers, linebacker James Laurinaitis and cornerback Malcolm Jenkins - the latter two All-Americans.
But 2009 is all about Pryor, who could be the best player in the Big Ten in just his first full season. He could easily do for Ohio State what Vince Young did for Texas, although a national title is probably not in the cards this season.
Overall, the Buckeyes bring back four starters on offense and seven on defense. But this team’s season comes down to two games.
Ohio State’s 2009 schedule (times remain in flux):
September 5 vs. Navy
September 12 vs. USC
September 19 at Toledo
September 26 vs. Illinois
October 3 at Indiana
October 10 vs. Wisconsin
October 17 at Purdue
October 24 vs. Minnesota
October 31 vs. New Mexico State
November 7 at Penn State
November 14 vs. Iowa
November 21 at Michigan
Ohio State’s over/under for regular-season wins is 9 ½ and I’d say the Buckeyes exceed that by a half.
That season opener against Navy should be fun, as we get to see an option team deal with a Big Ten club, which doesn’t happen too often. Certainly OSU won’t lose in the Horseshoe to Navy, but look for that to be closer than expected.
But then comes Defining Game No. 1 for the Buckeyes, Sept. 12 in a rematch with Southern Cal.
The good news for OSU is that Pryor actually will have had more on-field experience than projected USC starter Aaron Corp. But much of the USC offense returns otherwise. It’s on defense where USC might be a little vulnerable early in the season with just two starters back. It will be interesting to see the line here, but I expect USC to be a slight favorite with oddsmakers very skeptical of OSU’s history in big non-conference games. And I do expect a close Southern Cal victory.
Honestly, there’s no reason to look again at Ohio State’s schedule after that until Nov. 7 at Penn State.
Why? OSU has the longest streak in the nation of not losing to a team that didn't end up in a BCS bowl, with that coming Nov. 13, 2004 against Purdue (53 games). And none of the teams OSU will face between USC and Penn State will be in a BCS bowl.
So can the Buckeyes win in Happy Valley?
Last year’s 13-6 PSU win in Columbus was rather ugly and this year’s probably will be a lot more high-scoring with Pryor more ingrained in the Buckeye offense. But the Lions bring back star QB Daryll Clark and RB Evan Royster and have the best linebacking group in the country, while OSU is depleted there. A close PSU victory.
The Bucks will rebound with two wins to end the year, including a school-record sixth win in a row over a still-rebuilding Michigan.
So that’s another double-digit win season at 10-2 and probably enough for another BCS game.
OSU is listed as the Big Ten favorite over Penn State, with the Buckeyes at +155. And OSU is +1000 to win the national title. I would argue neither of those bets is good value this year.