Saturday is Senior Day at Ohio State. This year will likely bring some mixed emotions to the event.
The Buckeyes have a small senior class of contributors -- of the 24 players who will be honored before the Penn State game, only nine have ever started a game in their careers. And of those nine, four of them have been mired in controversy this year. Offensive lineman Mike Adams and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas sat out the first five games as part of their suspension for the tattoo-for-memorabilia scandal. Running back Dan Herron served that suspension and an extra game for another violation. And receiver DeVier Posey will be playing for the first time Saturday after sitting out 10 games for both the tattoo case and a summer job that the NCAA has alleged paid him for work he didn't perform.
The seniors also won three Big Ten championships and played in three BCS games, winning two of them (though one of them, like the entire 2010 season, was officially vacated). So how exactly will fans view this class? Will it be all cheers on Saturday? Or some grumbling as well?
"I'm not sure how they will react," Herron said. "That's really not something we can worry about. If fans give us a good response, we'll be happy. If they don't, we've got to keep moving on."
Head coach Luke Fickell says the seniors who were suspended should be shown the same respect as others.
"They've made a mistake," he said. "They've served their penance. They've shown what they can do in the way that they've handled themselves ....
"To me, these guys have battled through a lot. I've got the utmost respect for them for how they've handled the situations. The way they've been in the locker room, I couldn't ask for anything truly more in the last six months than the way they've handled themselves, the way they've accepted me, and our coaching staff, and the things we thought were important for these six months."
Posey might be the most interesting case study of them all. Surely, the Buckeyes' woeful passing offense could have used him this season. He's a central figure in not one but two situations that resulted in a notice of allegations from the NCAA. He's also paid the price by sitting out 10 games his senior year and trying to stay in shape and focused on when his opportunity would come.
Adams and Herron, who were starters before their suspensions, stepped right back into their roles when they came back. Fickell praised the way Posey has handled himself through the situation but didn't commit to Posey starting this week. The Buckeyes may need him against a stout Penn State defense.
"I'm so excited to see him out there and playing," said Herron, a close friend of Posey's. "When you miss 10 games, it's tough on someone, especially when it's your dream to play college football. He's been working tremendously hard and hopefully he'll show that on Saturday."
It's also important to note that many of the seniors never got into any NCAA turmoil. Guys such as All-Big Ten center Mike Brewster, who will be starting his 47th consecutive game this week. Brewster said he'll choose to remember the BCS bowls, and that the NCAA can't vacate last year's Allstate Sugar Bowl win over Arkansas out of his mind. This year, though Ohio State is 6-4, he said he'll remember helping to mentor young players such as Braxton Miller and hopefully setting the stage for the future.
It remains to be seen how the rest of the senior class will be remembered.
"I hope we have a great legacy," Herron said. "We've been through a lot, but we don't make that as an excuse. We've shown that you can go through anything and that anything is possible. We're going to fight to the end."