Best case-worst case: Ohio State

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

The eighth installment in a series examining the best and worst outcomes, within reason, for each Big Ten squad.


Terrelle Pryor puts it all together, the defense fills the gaps and the Buckeyes head back to Pasadena, but not for the Rose Bowl.

Ohio State fans provide a warm welcome for Navy, but the Mids' entrance is the only memorable moment in an easy Buckeyes' win. USC visits Columbus the next week and Pryor steals the show, throwing for three touchdowns and bulldozing Taylor Mays in a 28-17 win. Buckeyes defensive end Thaddeus Gibson makes Matt Barkley's road debut a living hell, and Carson Palmer leaves The Shoe with his head down. The win vaults Ohio State to No. 3 in the nation.

A week later, Ohio State heads to Cleveland and pounds Toledo, as Cleveland native Ray Small redeems himself by returning two punts for touchdowns. Cognizant of what happened the last time Juice Williams visited Columbus, Ohio State's defensive line puts Williams on his back throughout a Sept. 26 game, as the Buckeyes improve to 5-0. Four easy wins follow, and the run game starts to gain steam with Dan Herron and Brandon Saine.

Pryor returns to his home state and delivers a masterpiece at Beaver Stadium, dissecting the Nitttany Lions secondary for 310 pass yards. He finds DeVier Posey for the game-winning touchdown with four seconds left as Ohio State escapes with a 21-20 victory. The Buckeyes clear another hurdle the next week against Iowa to clinch at least a share of their fifth consecutive league title.

A trip to Ann Arbor follows, and Ohio State continues its dominance of the archrival Wolverines. Buckeyes left guard Justin Boren, a Michigan transfer, manhandles the Wolverines defensive tackles as Herron and Saine combine for 300 rush yards. Rich Rodriguez is left shaking his head and wondering what might have been as Pryor dazzles again.

The Buckeyes ascend to No. 2 nationally and head to Pasadena for the first time since January 1997 -- but not for the Rose Bowl. They face a heavily favored Florida team in BCS title game. As was the case in 2007, the underdog prevails as Jim Tressel wins his second national title at Ohio State. Pryor finishes third in Heisman voting and enters 2010 as the frontrunner. The defensive front mirrors the 2002 version and leads the Big Ten in sacks. Safety Kurt Coleman wins the Thorpe Award.


The offense sputters again, the defense takes a step back, Ohio State's big-game blues continue and the Buckeyes give up their Big Ten crown.

Pryor remains a one-dimensional quarterback, and the offensive line doesn't give him much time to throw. Ohio State struggles for a half against Navy, and much like last year's game against Ohio, no one leaves The Shoe feeling good about the team's chances against USC. Another big-game flop follows, as Barkley outplays Pryor on the national stage, Mays records three interceptions and the Trojans roll 31-14. Palmer gloats on the sideline and fans file out early. Small enters Tressel's dog house again.

After thumping Toledo, Ohio State nearly drops its second straight home contest to Illinois before surviving in overtime. The Buckeyes quietly win their next five games, none by more than 17 points, and head to Happy Valley needing a much better showing.

It's a defensive struggle for the second straight year, and Ohio State takes a fourth-quarter lead before Sean Lee knocks the ball loose from Pryor on a scramble. Daryll Clark leads the game-winning touchdown drive as Penn State ends Ohio State's Big Ten road win streak at 17 games. Ohio State's run of Big Ten titles ends the next week as Iowa prevails in Columbus.

The team's last meaningful streak gets snapped Nov. 21 at Michigan, as the Wolverines pull the upset to beat their archrival for the first time since 2003. At 8-4, Ohio State misses a BCS bowl for the first time since 2004. The Buckeyes beat Kansas in the Alamo Bowl but leave San Antonio feeling extremely unfulfilled about the season.