COLUMBUS, Ohio -- After an interesting night of travel along the back roads of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio -- damn you, MapQuest -- I've arrived safely in Buckeye Country.
Today I'll be spending some time with the Ohio State Buckeyes, who will practice in pads this afternoon.
Pretty quiet offseason around here, right? The Buckeyes have dominated the news the past few weeks, as the NCAA investigates violations by coach Jim Tressel. Ohio State hopes its self-imposed punishment for Tressel -- a five-game suspension and a $250,000 fine -- will hold up, but it could be wishful thinking. Tressel last week promoted co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Luke Fickell to assistant head coach, and Fickell will handle Tressel's game-day responsibilities during the suspension.
There are so many storylines with Ohio State, and this would have been one of the more intriguing spring practices even before the Tressel revelations came to light. Ohio State needs to identify a starting quarterback, a starting running back, a starting left tackle and a No. 1 wide receiver for the first chunk of the season. Quarterback and receiver stand out to me as the two most challenging spots to fill. I'll be interested to see how signal-callers Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton, Taylor Graham and especially Braxton Miller are performing this spring. Miller, a heralded freshman who enrolled early, could put himself in the mix for immediate playing time with a strong showing in the next few weeks.
Other items I'll be tracking:
Running back: Ohio State has no shortage of candidates here. Rod Smith generated buzz during bowl practices, but he'll have to beat out Jordan Hall, Jaamal Berry and Carlos Hyde. The Buckeyes boast different types of backs and should be able to survive without the suspended Dan Herron.
Leadership: Tressel praised Terrelle Pryor and the other suspended players for their leadership during Sugar Bowl practice and through the winter program. That's a good sign, but Ohio State needs leaders who will be on the field from the get-go to guide the team in 2011. It's important for veterans like center Mike Brewster and safety Tyler Moeller to take charge.
Maintaining defensive excellence: Ohio State will go through some ups and downs on offense during the first five games, and we should expect a very conservative game plan with a new starting QB. The Buckeyes will look to win with classic TresselBall -- ironic, since Tressel won't be with them -- and excel with defense and special teams. You almost take for granted that Ohio State will churn out another top-10 defense, but the unit is replacing key players up front (Cameron Heyward, Dexter Larimore), at linebacker (Brian Rolle, Ross Homan) and in the secondary (Chimdi Chekwa, Devon Torrence, Jermale Hines).
Much more to come from C-Bus, so stay tuned.