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Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Season recap: Ohio State

By Adam Rittenberg

OHIO STATE BUCKEYES

Record: 6-6 (3-5 Big Ten)

After the offseason from hell, Ohio State entered the year with new faces, new roles and new uncertainty. The team that had dominated the Big Ten for the past decade found itself with many questions on both sides of the ball and on the sideline. No Jim Tressel. No Terrelle Pryor. No Dan Herron, DeVier Posey and Mike Adams for the first five games (and, as it turned out, longer in Posey's and Herron's cases).

How tough would the season be for the Scarlet and Gray? Tougher than almost everyone imagined. Not only did Ohio State see its streak of Big Ten titles end, but the Buckeyes finished with their worst record since 1999 and dropped more league games this year than they had in the past six seasons combined (excluding the vacated wins from 2010). Ohio State lost to archrival Michigan for the first time since 2003 and nearly was shut out at home for the first time since 1982.

The offensive struggles were expected with the departures and suspensions, but Ohio State couldn't produce much in the first half of the season until freshman Braxton Miller emerged at quarterback and Herron added another dimension in the run game. The Buckeyes finished the season ranked 107th nationally in total offense and 116th in passing, and their defense wasn't quite as dominant as normal.

Luke Fickell, tabbed to replace Tressel, handled a difficult situation with class, but his inexperience showed at times on game days. The sting of a subpar season was tempered by the hiring of Urban Meyer, who should get Ohio State back to the top of the Big Ten soon.

Offensive MVP: Miller. He was one of few bright spots for a unit short on experienced players and imaginative play-calling. The Big Ten Freshman of the Year led Ohio State in rushing with 685 yards and seven touchdowns on 144 carries. He completed just 50 percent of his passes but fired 11 touchdown strikes and only four interceptions in limited work throwing the ball. Running backs Herron and Carlos Hyde also merit mentions.

Defensive MVP: Defensive lineman John Simon. He was Ohio State's most dominant and most consistent defender throughout the season, leading a young unit that had its ups and downs. The junior recorded seven sacks and 15 tackles for loss, leading the team in both categories. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors from the league's coaches for his efforts.

Turning point: There are two. After starting Big Ten play at 0-2, Ohio State upset Illinois in Champaign to spark a three-game win streak. Entering a seemingly manageable closing stretch, the Buckeyes dropped their second consecutive game at Purdue as a potential game-winning extra-point attempt was blocked with 55 seconds left in regulation. Ohio State went on to lose in overtime and drop its final two games to Penn State and Michigan.

What's next: Urban Mania. It's all about Meyer and his plan to get Ohio State back among the nation's elite. First, the school will learn its punishment from the NCAA infractions committee, which could come in the next few days. The Buckeyes finish the season in the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, where they'll face Florida, the team Meyer led to national titles in 2006 and 2008 before retiring last year.