Throughout August and September we will be counting down the top 25 teams (as listed here) going into the 2009 season. Today I do my very best not to make cheap, easy jokes about the Ohio State football program because, really, the Buckeyes are really good, and have been for years. Until big games. Damn, I tried.

First Impression

While the Ohio State‘s rap is to fold in big games, they probably shouldn’t be known ONLY for that. They routinely dominate their conference, produce NFL draft picks like the Ivy League pumps out Daily Show writers, and are among the 5-7 most recognizable college football institutions in the country.

My impression of Ohio State this season is that it’s most likely a transitionary year, but Terrelle Pryor will do some otherworldly things to give Buckeye fans false hope that this is the Year of Ohio State. It isn’t.

Last Year

By all accounts, 2008 was a good year for Ohio State. The Buckeye program, from the players to the administration to the fans, expects to make a BCS game year in and year out. Obviously, this is probably a little overblown, but not totally unreasonable.

USC was an embarrassment early (sans Beanie Wells), but the team was in the midst of turning to Terrelle Pryor and USC’s defense was essentially a giant, unrelenting wall of brutality.

The rest of the offseason briefly featured a blip of a scare by Ohio, but was otherwise uneventful. They were simply winning games while trying to find an identity beyond Terrelle Pryor and some top notch upperclassmen defenders.

A win on the road over a down Wisconsin team was last minute. A lazy victory over a terrible Purdue team begat a thrashing of a ranked Michigan State team, which begat a abysmally bad football game (and loss) against Penn State in Columbus.

The Buckeyes quickly focused to take Northwestern in a healthy, impressive fashion. The next week was similar as Wells and Pryor ran all over the shockingly sloppy Illini in Champaign.

Michigan is/was terrible and OSU rightfully slaughtered the Wolverines and then primptly lost their 3rd (three for three) marquee game of the season against Texas in the Fiesta Bowl, albeit in the last minute.

Like I said earlier, it was a good year. The defense really only played one bad game (USC), but the offense with Pryor under/near center was far too green to take the Buckeyes over the top.

People

Terrelle Pryor is and will be the face of Ohio State for the next two years, and rightfully so. He’s casually the best athlete Ohio State has had in recent memory and is running the show, for better (running) or worse (passing).

What makes 2009 a transitionary year more than anything is the lack of experienced offensive skill position players that surround Pryor. WR DeVier Posey should be a considerable threat on the outside, but beyond him, there isn’t too much (and yes, I know about Ray Small and Dane Sanzenbacher). An offensive line that got consistently manhandled by the better teams the Buckeyes played doesn’t help much either.

The big losses come mostly on defense and at receiver. Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline were solid playmaking receivers, if not unspectacular on the outside, but losing LBs James Laurinaitus, Marcus Freeman, and CB Malcolm Jenkins creates a sizable crater on D.

It’s still Ohio State, though, they’ve still recruited well, and they’ll still plug in talented newcomers at important positions.

This Season

USC coming to the ‘Shoe is clearly the most anticipated non-conference game of the college football season, A lot has been made of USC’s struggles and losses at key positions, but the same can be said (to a lesser extent) about Ohio State. At this point, I don’t see how it won’t be closer, though I still see USC being double digits better than Ohio State.

A quick Toledo jaunt shouldn’t be cause for alarm, but the following week should be. The Bucks host an enigmatic Illinois team that appears to be loaded with experienced talent, something OSU seems to be devoid of at the moment.

From there, the schedule softens (@Indiana, Wisconsin, @Purdue, Minnesota, New Mexico St), which should leave Jim Tressel‘s bunch with, at the very least, a 4-1 record.

The November 7th game in State College should be Ohio State’s best chance to win a big one and move out from underneath the considerable weight of losing the bigger games on their schedule. Will they? Probably not, but we shall see.

Conclusion

Jim Tressel and his staff have Ohio State firmly entrenched where they should be – at the top of the Big 10. There’s little indication when you look at the next year or two that anyone will be able to consistently dethrone the Buckeyes.

That said, this could be the both the worst Buckeyes team of the past few years and, at the same time, a team that finishes with double digit wins and another Big 10 title, if that makes any sense.

Prediction

9-3, but 2010 could be scary if the Pryor takes a major step forward this fall.

Game Highlights Set to an Unfortunate Music Medley

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uBP-UHVBWbg

-Dan