Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor are gone, but their impact on Ohio State’s program could last for a while.
Despite a tumultuous summer, the 18th-ranked Buckeyes still face high expectations entering their season opener at home against Akron on Saturday.
Ohio State returns from a scandal-plagued offseason hoping to put the last few months behind it. At the center of the drama was a tattoo-parlor owner who gave cash and discounts for memorabilia to several players.
When the dust settled, Tressel resigned after it was learned he had knowledge of the improprieties. Shortly after that, Pryor left the program, skipping his senior season.
Luke Fickell was named interim coach, moving up from assistant defensive coach.
“With adversity and with different things that happened, it brings you tighter together,” Fickell said. “That’s the one thing you could truly say: The effort level, the energy level, is something that we’ve been excited about.”
Although his tenure in Columbus ended in disgrace, Tressel and his trademark sweater vests leave a large mark on the program. He had a record of 106-22 in 10 years, leading the Buckeyes to a national championship and eight Bowl Championship Series games. They went 12-1 and defeated Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl in his final season, but that was vacated as part of the school’s attempt at self-sanctions.
Further punishment from the NCAA still could come. A ruling is expected to be made sometime in September.
The departures of Tressel and Pryor aren’t the only absences which may plague the Buckeyes. Although the team returns top rusher Dan Herron (1,155 yards, 16 TDs) and brings back receiver DeVier Posey (848 yards, seven TDs), they are among four players who were suspended the first five games for taking part in the exchange.
Also sitting out will be starting tackle Mike Adams and backup defensive end Solomon Thomas.
While the Buckeyes said fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman will likely start at quarterback Saturday, they expect to rotate him with freshman Braxton Miller as the team tries to replace Pryor.
Over three seasons, Bauserman is 23 of 47 for 320 yards and two touchdowns.
“Just talking with those guys, talking with the offensive staff, we know we’re going to need them both,” Fickell said. “The whole idea is we want to make sure that we can put them out there in front of 106,000 and see how guys respond.”
Also up in the air is who will emerge as either quarterback’s best option. With Posey sidelined, the team’s biggest concern may be at receiver. Sophomores Corey Brown and Chris Fields are expected to see most of the action while freshmen Verlon Reed and Evan Spencer will also share time.
Brown and Fields combined for 11 catches and 127 yards last year. Still, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman isn’t concerned about his inexperienced receiving corps.
“That position has a chance to be deeper than it has been for us in years,” Bollman said. “They’re all newer, younger guys who have shown a lot of ability, shown a lot of potential and if they keep working like they’ve been working in preseason camp, I think they’ll be OK.”
A matchup with Akron should get the short-handed Buckeyes off on the right foot.
In Rob Ianello’s first year as coach in 2010, the Zips lost their first 11 games before closing the season with a win over Buffalo. They were outscored by an average of 19.5 points and averaged 268.5 yards of offense - second-fewest in the FBS.
Quarterback Patrick Nicely particularly struggled, throwing 13 interceptions to 10 touchdowns while completing only 49.4 percent of his passes for 1,753 yards.
“He showed some toughness,” Ianello said. “However, the quarterback situation has to improve.”
Akron has lost 14 straight on the road and is 1-21 all-time against Top 25 opponents, last beating a ranked Marshall team in 2002.
The Buckeyes are 6-1 all-time against the Zips, with the one loss coming in 1894. Ohio State won the last meeting 20-2 in 2007.