For starters, the offense looks like it's going to be a two-headed monster featuring fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller.
Who is the quarterback?
For starters, it looks like it's going to be a two-headed monster featuring fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller. Whether it's critical that one emerge over the other remains to be seen, but prematurely losing the services of three-year starter Terrelle Pryor - regardless of one's opinion of his actions off the field - was a blow. He delivered some big plays, especially with his feet. Miller has shown the potential to do the same, but grasping the entire offense will be his challenge.
Who will catch the ball?
The quarterback position isn't the only major question mark on offense. One of last year's starting receivers, Dane Sanzenbacher, is now in the NFL and the other, senior DeVier Posey, is suspended for the first five games. The team is looking for Corey Brown to step up, and he showed promise in the preseason, as did Verlon Reed, a former high-school quarterback, and Chris Fields. Also look for freshmen Devin Smith and Evan Spencer to get serious looks.
Is it finally tight end time?
You can't spell the word tease without "TE," and for some time that's all the idea of throwing to the tight end has been in the OSU game plan. But with two veterans - Jake Stoneburner and Reid Fragel - who have proven they can catch the ball as well as block, and with two promising freshmen in Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett, TE might stand for the essential part of the passing game this year. And remember, nobody covers the tight end consistently in college football.
Who's the leader of RB posse?
Daniel Herron, who topped 1,000 yards last season, is suspended the first five games, yet there has been no panic. Jordan Hall and Jaamal Berry have flashed make-'em-miss potential, and preseason camp served as a proving ground for Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith, two young power backs. They will be launched by a line, anchored by All-American center Michael Brewster, that has the chance to be more physical than in recent years, even with three new starters on opening day.
Happy returns for offense?
Nebraska coaches have this to ponder the week of OSU's first game ever in Lincoln: Herron, Posey and left tackle Mike Adams - one of the top offensive linemen in the Big Ten at season's end last year - will be back in the lineup after serving suspensions. Each looked strong and focused in preseason camp, and their return at midseason could be the booster shot the Buckeyes need to make a run to the first Big Ten title game.
- Tim MayDEFENSE
Can the line be disruptive?
The foundation of any defense is the line, and the Buckeyes are accustomed to nothing but the best. Last year, offensive coordinators had to scheme against defensive end Cameron Heyward. Until a huge Sugar Bowl, Heyward was held in check, at least statistically, much of the season. But the extra attention allowed other defenders some breathing room to make plays. Dexter Larimore was an underrated presence as well, and he's also gone. On paper, though, the Buckeyes should be able to overcome those losses. Nathan Williams is a dangerous pass rusher and John Simon is a load. The new difference-maker in the middle should be Johnathan Hankins, a 335-pound sophomore who has unusual quickness for a player his size.
Who will provide leadership?
The defensive group looks to be on the quiet side in terms of volume. Safety Orhian Johnson likes to chirp, but he's in the minority. Veterans such as Williams, Simon and Andrew Sweat prefer to let their actions speak for themselves, which is in the mold of coach Luke Fickell. But sometimes a player needs to grab the microphone and have the others fall in line. Who will fulfill that role?
Is there depth at linebacker?
Assuming Etienne Sabino can play with a broken left hand, the Buckeyes' starters should be solid. Sabino, Sweat and Storm Klein all have play-making ability. But there's no question that young players will have to emerge now that Dorian Bell and Jonathan Newsome have left the program. Top recruit Curtis Grant has had his share of growing pains, but Ryan Shazier has looked good. Although Shazier weighs only 212 pounds, he isn't afraid to mix it up. Nate Oliver, a former safety, could be a wild card.
Can the freshmen contribute?
Well, they had better be able to. In addition to linebackers Grant and Shazier, Michael Bennett is in the defensive-line rotation and has shown promise. Defensive back Doran Grant has looked good. The Buckeyes also should get a lift from some redshirt freshmen. Bradley Roby has the edge at the cornerback opposite Travis Howard, and lineman J.T. Moore could join Bennett as an often-used sub.
Can the secondary overcome losses?
Injuries hit the Buckeyes hard late in the year, particularly in the Sugar Bowl, forcing seldom-used players into action. The Buckeyes hope that trial by fire will pay off. Ohio State lost senior cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence and safety Jermale Hines. But the Buckeyes have been encouraged by the performance of the defensive backs in camp, and what was once regarded as a potential weakness now might be a strength. Howard has locked down one corner spot. The safety position has plenty of depth with Johnson, C.J. Barnett, Christian Bryant and Tyler Moeller, who plays a hybrid linebacker/safety role.
- Bill RabinowitzSPECIAL TEAMS
Will Basil be the allspice kicker?
Drew Basil, hands down, has the liveliest foot on the team, as he proved time and again in preseason work. Last year, the freshman kickoff man and long field-goal kicker - behind regular Devin Barclay - missed both of his field-goal attempts. This year, Basil assumes all of the place-kicking duties, and he will be backed by left-footed Russell Doup. Ben Buchanan no longer dabbles in place kicking, and his punting seems to have benefited greatly. His preseason punts normally were high and long, and he's coming off a 41-yard average last season.
Who will offer big returns?
Jaamal Berry, who averaged 25.4 yards on kickoff returns last season, is considered the primary returner, but he was hobbled early in camp by a pulled hamstring. Running back Jordan Hall might join him deep this year, and freshman receiver Devin Smith, a track standout at Massillon, showed speed and a knack for making the right cut in camp. Hall was the primary punt returner (9.9-yard average) last season, but receiver Corey Brown might see some chances there, too, as might Smith and Chris Fields.
Who will tackle the big problem?
Considering that the OSU defense was among the elite in the nation last year, it doesn't add up that the Buckeyes' kick-coverage rankings were so abysmal. They gave up an average of 21.44 yards on kickoff returns last year, 61st nationally, and an average of 10.5 yards on punts, 90th in the nation. It was difficult to tell in preseason camp whether progress had been made, because there was no formal kick scrimmage as in recent seasons. That coach Luke Fickell named running backs coach Dick Tressel as special-teams coordinator as well, might help close the breach- or give fans someone specific to blame if the gap continues.
- Tim May