And the reason, of course, is simple: Though the Buckeyes are, on paper, absolutely leaded, there is also that little issue of the Tattoo Five—an issue that means Jim Tressel will play the first five weeks of 2011 without some of his best players. Including his superstar quarterback.
Unless the NCAA steps in to soften its punishment, the fact is that Tressel is going to have a real challenge on his hands.
Can he overcome that challenge and deliver yet another Big Ten title in Columbus? Find out here, in our 2011 Ohio State preview.
OVERVIEW: Tressel is dominating the Big Ten like no coach since, well, I don't know ... Fielding Yost? The Buckeyes under Tressel have now won or shared six straight Big Ten crowns—a remarkable and historic achievement, really—and once again, Ohio State looks like the odds-on favorite to take the crown in 2011. Tressel has built a program superior to his league rivals in most every way. The Buckeyes are most talented team in the conference. They're the most well-coached team in the conference. They're the most confident team in the conference, too. And why not? They win the thing every year.
THE CEILING: Another Big Ten championship. You might think winning league titles has gotten old for the Buckeye faithful. But I assure you, the folks in Columbus savor every single one, just as they savor every single win over Michigan, no matter how easy those victories have been of late. With the Wolverines in full-on rebuilding mode, with Iowa in a state of turmoil, with Penn State slipping and with Nebraska coming off a mildly disappointing 2010, it's hard not to see the Bucks as the Big Ten favorite in 2011.
REASON FOR CONCERN: Well, it's obvious, isn't it? QB Terrelle Pyror, TB Boom Herron, WR Devier Posey and OT Mike Adams will all miss the first five games of the season. But it's not really those games that are the issue; with the possible exception of the Michigan State showdown, and maybe the Miami game, the Buckeyes should cruise to victory in all five. The bigger question, of course, is what happens once those five-game suspensions are over. How do you possibly bring these guys back into the fold after five long games—nearly half the season? How do you not mess up the team chemistry if you bench some of the guys that carried you to a 5-0 start? Tressel is going to have handle this situation, very, very carefully. But even if he manages this thing to perfection, I have to figure the upheaval and confusion is going to cost the Bucks at least one game. Maybe two.
THE SCHEDULE (key games in bold): 9/3 vs. Akron; 9/10 vs. Toledo; 9/17 at Miami; 9/24 vs. Colorado; 10/1 vs. Michigan State; 10/8 at Nebraska; 10/15 at Illinois; 10/29 vs. Wisconsin; 11/5 vs. Indiana; 11/12 at Purdue; 11/19 vs. Penn State; 11/26 at Michigan
THE VERDICT: The 2010 Buckeyes were not a "great" team. And the 2011 Buckeyes probably won't be, either. It's not just because of the suspensions, though. For all the hype about the guy, Pryor has never really developed into a truly outstanding quarterback. He is a tremendous athlete, yes. And he's an underrated passer, too. But he's still prone to mistakes in a way that, say, Cam Newton wasn't. He's just not the winner that Newton was. The Big Ten won't be great next year, but it won't exactly be weak, either. Nebraska, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State and even Miami are capable of beating the Bucks. One of them--maybe even two of them--will do just that. But in the end, it will be the same old story out in the old Midwest: The Buckeyes walking off with another Big Ten crown. REGULAR SEASON PREDICTION: 10-2