The second-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes enter the 2010 season with tangible chance of winning the national title, and the first step of the process will be knocking off Marshall in Thursday's opener.
The Thundering Herd welcome Doc Holliday as the program's 29th head coach, and he brings with him 31 years of collegiate coaching experience. Holliday, an accomplished recruiter, inherits a Thundering Herd squad that finished 7-6 a year ago, including 4-4 versus Conference USA competition. A total of 45 letterwinners and 13 starters are back in place, including six players that earned post-season recognition from the C-USA coaches in 2009.
"My ultimate goal has always been to be a Division I head football coach at a major university and to have this opportunity at Marshall, a school rich in tradition and full of potential, is a dream come true," said Holliday upon being hired.
Ohio State is 9-0 in season openers under Jim Tressel, and it would be a complete shock to the college football world if that record wasn't pushed to 10-0 on Thursday. The Buckeyes have won 54 consecutive regular-season non- conference home games against unranked teams and are one of just three teams to post 10 or more wins in five consecutive seasons. Ohio State has an all- time opening day record of 104-12-4, and this year's group is absolutely loaded with talent.
The only previous meeting between Ohio State and Marshall occurred in 2004, a narrow 24-21 triumph by the Buckeyes.
Brian Anderson will be the man under center to start this game for Marshall. Anderson, who made 13 starts last season and threw for 2,646 yards and 14 touchdowns, had to win his job during fall camp, but that is understandable considering the new coaching staff and the fact that the signal caller tossed 13 INTs a year ago. There is a talented group of receivers to work with, and Antavious Wilson is the best of the bunch. The 6-0, 191-pound Wilson made an immediate impact as a freshman last season, leading the team with 60 catches for 724 yards and three touchdowns. The sophomore tandem of Martin Ward and Andre Booker step in to a void at tailback. Booker got less touches than Ward last season but is listed atop the depth chart and has better breakaway speed.
The strength of the Marshall defensive unit figures to be the line, and that was the case a year ago as well. Vinny Curry is a 6-4, 252-pound end who is ready to become a star after posting 59 stops and 3.5 sacks as a sophomore last season. Mario Harvey, a thumper at linebacker, is a big-time talent who came up with 117 tackles and seven sacks last season. He will be asked to help contain the Ohio State ground attack in this opener. As for the Marshall secondary, this group was dealt a big blow when corner DeQuan Bembry, who made 53 stops and three picks last season, was kicked off the team after being charged with assault on a police officer and underage consumption. That leaves Ahmed Shakoor as the most experienced corner, as he had 36 stops and a team- high 11 PBUs in 2009. Omar Brown is another returning starter in the defensive backfield, and both players will be under attack early and often on Thursday.
Throughout much of last season, no player was more heavily criticized than Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Then, in his final game as a sophomore, the gifted signal caller showed his true ability, throwing for a career-high 266 yards and two touchdowns while also rushing for 72 yards in a Rose Bowl victory over Oregon.
"I thought he learned a great deal throughout the regular season his sophomore year," said Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said at Big Ten Media Day. "And I thought it really started to crystallize in his mind during bowl practice."
Pryor posted 25 total touchdowns a year ago and is a legitimate Heisman candidate as a junior. The backfield tandem of Brandon Saine (739 yds, 5.1 ypc, four TDs) and Daniel "Boom" Herron (600 yds, 3.9 ypc, seven TDs) returns, and while Pryor did lead the Buckeyes in rushing a year ago, the hope is that he can do less with his legs in 2010 without sacrificing team success. At wideout, top targets DeVier Posey (60 rec, 828 yds, eight TDs) and Dane Sanzenbacher (36 rec, 570 yds, six TDs) are back. And along the offensive line, four starters return from a unit that dominated the trenches on a weekly basis last year. Put simply, this offense is loaded and figures to overwhelm Marshall and most other opponents.
The Buckeyes also return a wealth of talent from a defense that ranked fifth in the nation in both total defense (262.3 ypg) and scoring defense (12.5 ppg) last year. Cameron Heyward is a star in the making at defensive end, as he led the team with 6.5 sacks last year as a junior and opted to return to OSU instead of entering the NFL Draft. At linebacker, the Buckeyes return their top two tacklers in Ross Homan (108) and Brian Rolle (95), and both were recently named team captains. Homan also excels in coverage, as evidenced by his team-leading five interceptions and 10 passes defended. Moving to the secondary, both starting cornerbacks return in Chimdi Chekwa and Devon Torrence. There are some fresh faces at safety, one of the lone questionable positions on the team.
Ohio State will score early and often in this opener and will likely only need the starters for three quarters. This group of Buckeyes has as good a chance of winning the national title as any team in the country.