Top 25 Countdown
No. 9 Ohio State
• Last Season: 10-3 (lost to Texas in the Fiesta Bowl).
• Returning Starters: 12 (5 offense, 7 defense).
• Key Game: vs. USC, Sept. 12.
Why They're Worth Watching
Sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor is one of the most dynamic players in the country and causes a stir no matter what he does, whether it's throwing two touchdown passes in the spring game or reportedly running a 4.33 in the 40-yard dash this summer. Pryor, who started 10 games as a freshman, is "the same athlete he was, maybe then some, but he's 10 times the quarterback he was," Coach Jim Tressel said in a radio interview. The defensive line is experienced and has several pass-rushing ends, led by junior Thaddeus Gibson (five sacks in 2008). Ohio State has been the Big Ten's best team over the past four seasons, posting a 29-3 record in conference play.
Player to Watch
Dan Herron, Soph., RB
Herron, who is nicknamed "Boom" because of his hard-nosed running style, is the Buckeyes' most experienced running back. He rushed for 439 yards and six touchdowns on 89 carries last season, and will team with speedy junior Brandon Saine to try to fill the void left by Beanie Wells.
Why They're Vulnerable
Seven Buckeyes were taken in the first five rounds of the NFL draft, including most of Pryor's playmakers: Wells and wide receivers Brian Robiskie and Brian Hartline. The offensive line is young and needs to improve. Left guard Justin Boren, an all-Big Ten honorable mention pick in 2007 at Michigan before transferring, has missed some time with a sprained knee. Ohio State needs replacements for linebackers James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, the team's top two tacklers in 2008. One candidate, Tyler Moeller, is out for the season with a head injury. The Buckeyes have embodied the Big Ten's struggles on the national stage; over the past four seasons, they're 1-3 in BCS bowls.
-- Camille Powell