What do you do when you lose 13 starters, a Ray Guy Award-winning punter and several members of your staff, including a highly regarded defensive coordinator? You panic.
Unless, of course, you are a program like Ohio State.
"I don't think much is different," defensive end Simon Fraser said. "I mean, we've got a young team but we've got a lot of talent."
It's hard to argue. The Buckeyes, 25-2 in their last two seasons, expect to win and still have a plethora of skill at their disposal. The trick will be to get it to click by the start of the Big Ten schedule.
By then coach Jim Tressel will need his quarterback quandary resolved, and a mostly new offensive line will be expected to excel. The defense, which lost coordinator Mark Dantonio to the University of Cincinnati, will need time to jell as well but figures to be the same stingy, hard-hitting unit of recent years.
"Guys feel that we're going to go out there and meet our expectations that we always have had," said cornerback Dustin Fox, one of the few returning starters. "Guys know that we're going to go out there and stop the run."
Still, the coaching staff has its work cut out for it. "We do have a significant transition going on," Tressel admitted.
OffenseA former quarterback himself, Tressel holds his signal-callers to a high standard and talks about the position's three commandments -- eliminate mistakes, make big plays and make good decisions. "Whoever does that best, I assure you, will be our quarterback," Tressel said.
Ohio State lists that person as Justin Zwick, a former prep phenom who has a quick release and a good understanding of the offense. However, fellow sophomore Troy Smith cannot be discounted. He has a live arm and extremely nimble feet and will be ready if Zwick struggles.
The Buckeyes lost three NFL draft picks up front in Shane Olivea, Adrien Clarke and Alex Stepanovich but possess more mobile replacements in center Nick Mangold and left tackle Rob Sims. The line seems to mesh with tailback Lydell Ross, who is pointing toward a big senior season.
"My confidence is sky-high," Ross said. "I'm not looking back at anybody. I'm just looking forward to what I have to do, which hopefully is go out on top."
The Buckeyes will miss Michael Jenkins at receiver but have another big target in Roy Hall and a gamebreaker in Santonio Holmes.
DefenseDantonio is gone and so are seven starters from last year's 11-2 team. However, new coordinator Mark Snyder brings the same high-energy, aggressive style, and the cupboard isn't exactly bare.
The defensive line has several candidates for breakout seasons. Fraser will be the anchor.
The linebacking corps is an embarrassment of riches led by the feisty A.J. Hawk and highly physical Anthony Schlegel, a transfer from Air Force. Bobby Carpenter is a natural strong-side performer who can take on tight ends and blast into the backfield to disrupt plays. Quality depth abounds.
The secondary lost the shutdown ability of Chris Gamble and big-play knack provided by Will Allen, which will be hard to replace. However, veteran corner Dustin Fox is a good starting point and safety Nate Salley is on the brink of stardom. After that it's athletes galore.
"I think we have the makings of having another outstanding Ohio State defense," Tressel said. "We just need experience."
SpecialistsOSU lost punter B.J. Sander, who often single-footedly altered field position last year. A freshman, a backup placekicker and a transfer are vying to take his place. The Buckeyes return one of the best kickers in the nation in Mike Nugent, and the return and cover teams should be more dangerous, especially if true freshman Ted Ginn Jr. provides a spark.
Final AnalysisIn posting a 25-2 record the last two years, the Buckeyes have lulled teams to sleep on offense, smacked them around on defense and enjoyed a huge advantage on special teams. Tressel will try to do more of the same, but he will need more big plays and for his talented squad to grow up fast. The big questions are at quarterback and the offensive and defensive lines, where questions usually don't warrant lofty predictions. However, the program is on a roll and the overall talent is impressive. Plus, OSU will be expected to win with a home schedule that includes Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. The keys will be getting big production from Ross and Holmes and retaining a defensive swagger.