Who’s the QB? That and more from Ohio State

Swirling around the 2011 Ohio State Buckeyes are more questions

than one would hear in a typical day at the BMV and all the

kindergarten classes in Columbus combined.

The answers, however, will likely be far more complex.

A lot of points surrounding No. 18 Ohio State’s tattoo scandal,

NCAA investigations and the looming penalties have already been

hashed and rehashed over the past nine months. Still, it’s

difficult to keep any lingering questions separate from the action

on the field.

So strap on your thinking cap and then your Riddell. It could be

a bumpy ride.

1) Who’s the quarterback?

The last two years, that hasn’t been a question; It was Terrelle

Pryor. But Pryor, caught up in the eye of the NCAA hurricane,

abandoned the college life to try to make it in the NFL. He was

taken in the third round of Monday’s supplemental draft by the

Oakland Raiders. Few Buckeyes fans are mourning his departure …

now, at least.

He left behind a crowded field of potential successors.

Virtually unknown, one is old, one is young, all have varying

talents. But no one’s too sure about how any will perform on

Saturdays.

It appears that Luke Fickell, who took over as interim coach

when Jim Tressel resigned under fire in May, favors the youngest

and the oldest of the contenders.

The greenest QB in scarlet and gray is Braxton Miller, an

acclaimed recruit from suburban Dayton, Ohio. He graduated from

Huber Heights’ Wayne High School a few months early so he could

enroll in January. He’s learning the playbook four plays per day,

but it’s a daunting task. The coaches like what he’s shown so far

while recognizing he still has miles to go.

Joe Bauserman was a fourth-round draft pick in the 2004 amateur

baseball draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates and spent three seasons in

their organization as a pitcher. Now he’s on in long relief for the

Buckeyes as a 25-year-old who knows the offense and can do a little

bit of throwing and a little bit of running. He’s spent the last

two years standing on the sidelines with a clipboard.

The other two candidates – tall, pocket-style passer Taylor

Graham and the guy who arguably had the best spring, Kenny Guiton –

have apparently fallen out of the top-two rotation.

Fickell, assured of only one year as head coach, says he won’t

make any decisions based on his ”interim” title. Still, going

with Bauserman requires him to do less schooling and preparation

with the triggerman of his attack. Throwing Miller into the mix

offers a challenge to the youngster and the coaching staff –

although it also gives pause to opposing defensive coordinators who

could be faced with a young game-breaker who will be learning on

the fly.

Odds are, Bauserman takes the first snaps in the first four

games. After that, it could be Miller who starts when the Buckeyes

begin Big Ten play on Oct. 1 vs. Michigan State.

2) What about the defense?

Losing seven defensive starters would cripple a lot of teams.

But Ohio State isn’t exactly like a lot of teams, particularly

those in the not-so-deep Big Ten.

The line will be fine, with Nathan Williams, John Simon and

Johnathan Hankins handling things in place of the graduated Cam

Heyward. The potential for problems looms elsewhere, since Ross

Homan and Brian Rolle ran out of eligibility at LB and much of the

secondary is gone with the departure of cornerbacks Chimdi Chekwa

and Devon Torrence along with safety Jermale Hines.

Andrew Sweat, Storm Klein and Etienne Sabino have the inside

track at playing time at linebacker, although Sabino broke a bone

in his hand and is iffy for the opener Sept. 3 against Akron.

Prized rookie Curtis Grant may sneak into the picture as well.

In the backfield, Tyler Moeller returns after missing most of

the past two seasons due to injury. He’ll play the hybrid

linebacker/DB spot in passing situations. Travis Howard and Florida

State transfer Dionte Allen have impressed many and they’ll likely

see a lot of action at cornerback along with Dominic Clark. Joining

holdover Orhian Johnson at safety is C.J. Barnett, who started at

the beginning of the 2010 season before a knee injury.

All in all, there’s talent but thin spots at LB and throughout

the secondary.

3) How much will the Buckeyes miss the suspended players?

A lot. DeVier Posey is clearly the best receiver on the roster.

Tailback Dan Herron was the leading rusher a year ago. Mike Adams

had the solid year that was long expected of him at left tackle

last season. Solomon Thomas, a backup defensive lineman, made the

play of the game that saved a win against Arkansas in the Sugar

Bowl – a victory that Ohio State officials later vacated because

Tressel had played players that he had reason to believe would be

ineligible for accepting improper benefits. Posey, Herron, Adams

and Thomas will sit out the first five games for accepting cash and

tattoos from a local businessman who pled guilty to federal charges

of drug trafficking and money laundering. By the time they return,

Ohio State’s season could be decided. (Another player, backup LB

Jordan Whiting, will sit out only the first game.)

Should the Buckeyes get through those first five games in good

shape – say, 4-1 or better – the subsequent influx of experience

and talent will make them a lot better.

But if things go south before Oct. 8, it could be a long

season.

4) OK, so Herron’s out for five games. Who’ll take his spot?

The Buckeyes appear to have a stable of good running backs

waiting in the wings. Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Rod Smith

provide speed, cutting ability and excitement to an offense that is

severely lacking in all three areas.

Also, they seem to complement each other. Hall is small (just

5-9), but quick. Berry is strong enough to run inside and fast

enough to get around the corner. Smith (6-3, 230) is more of a big

back.

Bottom line: No need to worry here.

5) How will the players be affected by the NCAA’s impending

ruling on sanctions?

Kids are kids. They’ll play football pretty much the same way

when ranked No. 1 as they would at No. 120, whether first team or

scout team.

There’s no question that some will keep an eye on their cell

phones for word when the NCAA eventually hands down its ruling on

Ohio State’s penalties – which could come as soon as the end of

September or as late as mid-November.

Whether Ohio State gets hit with another body blow – a bowl ban?

recruiting limitations? a hefty fine? – probably won’t have much of

an effect on the Buckeyes up to that point. Now, if they’re 7-1

when the word comes out that they’ll be watching the bowl games on

TV, that’s another matter.

Moreso than in any of Ohio State’s 121 previous seasons playing

intercollegiate football, there are some questions this season that

just defy an answer before everything plays out.

Rusty Miller can be reached at

http://twitter.com/rustymillerap