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Friday, August 22, 2008
Three questions for Ohio State


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After relocating a little closer to The Shoe, it's time to take a look at the Ohio State Buckeyes, the back-to-back Big Ten champs and, as they're better known around the country, the back-to-back national runner-ups.

Before getting to the questions, I must say it was a bit odd to drive past a huge Time Warner Cable building about a mile and a half south of Ohio Stadium. From my vantage point, there wasn't a mass protest going on outside, though it can't be a popular spot among Buckeyes fans after what's happened with the Big Ten Network. The Cleveland Plain Dealer's Doug Lesmerises recently wrote that both sides are still at fault for no agreement being reached, and the left-in-the-dark Buckeyes fans should respond to Gene Smith's letter with one addressed to all parties involved. Hard to argue with that. 

 
 AP Photo/Terry Gilliam
 All of Buckeye Nation is looking forward to Terrelle Pryor's debut.

Moving on, here are three questions facing the Buckeyes this fall.

1. How will the team use freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor?

It's the biggest preseason debate for a team with few position battles and a ton of experience returning on both sides. Senior Todd Boeckman is the starter and Joe Bauserman the likely backup, but all eyes will be on Pryor when the season opens Aug. 30. Some Buckeye backers don't think offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and his staff are creative enough to effectively use Pryor, but Pryor might be making it easier for them. The common belief was that he would be used in special situations (goal line, etc.), much like Florida used Tim Tebow as a freshman. But Pryor's progress as a passer in training camp should expand his role. The first two games provide Pryor with opportunities to acclimate to the college game, but the coaches would be wise to save any custom packages and super-secret plays for USC in Week 3. 

2. Can Boeckman take the next step?

He shares a backfield with a Heisman candidate (Beanie Wells) and shares a position with the program's future poster boy (Pryor), but the senior has a chance to elevate his own profile this fall. Boeckman turned in a solid first season as the starter, completing 63.8 percent his passes with 25 touchdown strikes. Interceptions were his bugaboo, as he threw multiple picks in four games, including the BCS national championship. Boeckman had the third-highest interception total among Big Ten starters (14) despite having the third-fewest number of pass attempts (299). Expect the first number to drop this fall as Boeckman builds on last season with the Brians (Robiskie and Hartline) back at wide receiver. 

3. Will the defense force more turnovers?

Ohio State returns nine starters from a unit that led the nation in both total defense (233 ypg) and scoring defense (12.77 ppg) last season. But a stingy unit wasn't exactly an opportunistic one, as the Buckeyes tied for 93rd nationally in takeaways with 19. Cornerback Malcolm Jenkins has four interceptions in each of the last two years, but the Buckeyes could use more takeaways from standout linebacker Marcus Freeman and safeties Anderson Russell and Kurt Coleman, neither of whom recorded an interception last fall. It might sound nitpicky to knock this defense, but turnovers decide games more than any other statistic and the Buckeyes need more of them. Given who's back, it shouldn't be a problem.