Oho State had a record 14 players selected in a seven-round NFL draft, so, clearly, the Buckeyes will have a different look on the field this season. They also have some issues off the field.
The latest incident in the Jim Tressel era was the arrest of sophomores Louis Irizarry and Ira Guliford on robbery charges. Those second-degree felonies were met with immediate suspensions from the team.
Irizarry had been on probation for assaulting three Ohio State students last October.
Since Tressel was hired on Jan. 18, 2001, 14 Ohio State players have been arrested in 15 incidents. Critics are starting to question the direction of the program, but Ohio State athletic director Andy Geiger defends his coach by saying that football players are merely a part of the university community.
"I don't know how to have players integrated into the life of the university and not integrate them into the life of the university," Geiger told the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
"Some college students drink. I don't know what you want me to do about that. To compare an open container violation to an assault and say they are the same thing is ridiculous."
However, Ohio State president Dr. Karen Holbrook said the university would not tolerate violent behavior, and former Ohio State star Chris Spielman said the repeat incidents need to treated more decisively.
"I understand that mistakes are made," Spielman said. "Second chances are given. However, if nothing is learned from the second chances and the mistakes of others, the discipline needs to be stronger."
While Ohio State is dealing with its image problem, Tressel is trying to put another elite team on the field. He needs to find a solid quarterback to replace Craig Krenzel, and it looks as if Justin Zwick will get the call.
Zwick completed 16 of 26 for 165 yards in the spring game and has an edge over sophomore Troy Smith. Zwick has a strong arm and a quick release, but without Maurice Clarett, the Buckeyes still need to find a running game.
KEY GAME: The Buckeyes will always point to Michigan in the last game of the regular season. However, road games against Iowa and Purdue will show whether the Buckeyes have a dominant team or just a solid one. Head coach Jim Tressel has a 2-1 record against Michigan and needs to make sure the pendulum doesn't swing too far back to the Big Blue side.
THE MINDSET: Ohio State was still a very good team last season, but lost some of the buzz around its program because the offense was dreadful for a large part of the season. There have been myriad off-field issues and now there are a lot of key starters to replace, but, more than any team in the country, the Buckeyes excel in the close games and likely still will be tough to knock out.
BIG SHOES TO FILL: The NFL drafted a record 14 Ohio State players in April and that means young players will have to step up. The most important may be QB Justin Zwick, who has to do the job in place of Craig Krenzel. Zwick is a physically gifted player who probably will throw the ball better than Krenzel, but he needs to demonstrate similar consistency and leadership ability.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I was pleased with our quarterbacks. If the season started today, Justin (Zwick) would probably start and (backup) Troy (Smith) would also play." — Jim Tressel's comment on his quarterbacks following the completion of spring football.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PROJECTED OFFENSIVE STARS: RB Lydell Ross — No, he doesn't compare with the long-departed Maurice Clarett, but Ross was productive in the second half of the 2003 season. He gained 826 yards on 193 carries and scored 10 TDs. He should be able to exceed the 1,000-yard mark in 2004.
WR Santonio Holmes — On a team that has seen its share of great receivers over the years, Holmes does not have to take a back seat to any of them. He has game-breaking speed and caught 32 passes for 549 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Look for huge numbers this year.
PROJECTED DEFENSIVE STARS: LB A.J. Hawk — He led the Buckeyes in tackles last year with 106 — including 13 tackles for loss and four sacks. He is extremely hard hitting and very aware. Hawk had 10 tackles and won the defensive MVP award in the Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State.
CB Dustin Fox — Should be starting for the third straight year. He had 77 tackles and three interceptions a year ago.
LB Anthony Schlegel — The transfer from Air Force was impressive in the spring and claimed a starting spot in the middle.
INJURY IMPACT: TE Louis Irizarry and DB Ira Guliford have been suspended from the team as a result of robbery charges.