Ohio State Buckeyes season recap

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
10:31
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Finding an identity seemed like a foregone conclusion for Ohio State, which returned 20 starters, won or shared the Big Ten title the last three seasons and entered the fall with legit national title aspirations.

But it took two months for these Buckeyes to figure out exactly who they are. And by the time the calendar flipped to November, a third straight trip to the BCS National Championship Game and a record third consecutive outright Big Ten title were essentially off the table. Fortunately for Ohio State, an opportunity for some much needed national respect remains on Jan. 5 in the Fiesta Bowl.

A seemingly stable Buckeyes squad turned into Team Drama during the first five weeks of the season.

Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, sustained a right foot/toe injury in the third quarter of the opener against Youngstown State, sparking debate about whether he should have been in the game. Wells' toe dominated the headlines the next two weeks, as Ohio State struggled to beat Ohio. The star back ultimately was ruled out for Ohio State's game at then-No. 1 USC, and the Buckeyes suffered another national embarrassment, losing 35-3 at the L.A. Coliseum.

The next week brought a quarterback change, as Terrelle Pryor, the nation's No. 1 recruit, became the first Buckeyes true freshman to start at quarterback in 30 years. Pryor and the offense hit some bumps along the way, but the freshman showed beyond-his-years poise in several contests.

After blowing a fourth-quarter lead against Penn State, Ohio State finally came together in November, winning three games by a combined score of 117-37. Though the Buckeyes' inclusion in the Fiesta Bowl was met with grumbling across the country, they will face Texas at full strength, which certainly was not the case against USC.

Offensive MVP -- Running back Chris "Beanie" Wells

The easy answer here is Pryor, and though the freshman did an excellent job after becoming the starter, Wells' return to the field had a more significant impact. On a team filled with accomplished seniors, Wells is clearly Ohio State's best on-field leader and inspires confidence in those around him. He rushed for 1,091 yards and eight touchdowns in only nine games (121.2 ypg average), proving that when healthy, there might not be a better back in the country.

Defensive MVP -- Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins

Jenkins came on strong during Big Ten play, cementing himself as the nation's top cornerback and a key special-teams contributor. The 2008 Thorpe Award winner recorded three interceptions, nine pass break-ups, three forced fumbles and two blocked kicks. He sealed a victory at Wisconsin with an interception in the closing seconds, blocked a punt that was returned for a touchdown against Purdue and blocked another punt out of the end zone for a safety against Illinois.

Turning point -- Oct. 18 at Michigan State

In truth, there were multiple turning points for Ohio State during the fall -- Wells' injury, the USC loss, the Northwestern win -- but a trip to Spartan Stadium provided the platform for the Buckeyes to show they're still a pretty good football team. After telling head coach Jim Tressel to bench him if he didn't perform, Pryor turned in a near flawless performance. Wells racked up 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and the defense flexed its muscles by forcing five turnovers and returning two fumbles for touchdowns.

What's next

The Fiesta Bowl is critical for Ohio State, which continues to win Big Ten games and beat Michigan but needs to make a national statement after consecutive flops in the championship game. Another BCS bowl loss would increase bile for the Buckeyes, while a win would restore some degree of respect. Ohio State loses defensive mainstays like Jenkins, James Laurinaitis and Marcus Freeman, and Wells likely will enter the NFL draft a year early. But with Pryor back, the Buckeyes will once again be in the Big Ten title mix next fall.

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BIG TEN SCOREBOARD

Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12