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JIM TRESSEL IS GONE. SO IS TERRELLE PRYOR. OHIO STATE IS confronted with great uncertainty in the wake of the program's ugly off-season, and that uncertainty starts at the top. Luke Fickell takes over after an improper-benefits scandal led to Tressel's Memorial Day resignation. A 37-year-old with no head-coaching experience, Fickell inherits a program beset with suspensions as well as the looming possibility of NCAA sanctions.
For Fickell, a former Buckeyes noseguard, this truly is his dream job, even in a less-than-ideal scenario. "I'll take the shot in any way I possibly can," says Fickell, who spent nine seasons as an assistant under Tressel. "There never have been any challenges I wouldn't accept."
For all the drama, a talented team remains in Columbus, though it will look much different than it did in 2010. Of the 22 Ohio State starters in last January's Sugar Bowl, only nine will start the season. But the Buckeyes have lured top five recruiting classes to Columbus in three of the past four years (including Scout.com's No. 1 class in '09), and a great deal of that talent could emerge in '11, especially on defense. Five-star recruits such as linebacker Etienne Sabino, a redshirt junior, and redshirt sophomore end Melvin Fellows have breakout potential. Dionte Allen, a senior transfer from Florida State, could make an impact at cornerback.
On offense, though, the effects of the scandal run deep. Three important projected starters—tailback Dan (Boom) Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and tackle Mike Adams—must sit out the first five games. And Pryor's early departure forces Fickell to make a critical decision at quarterback. He could tab true freshman Braxton Miller, one of the nation's top recruits in 2011, or go a more conservative route with 25-year-old former walk-on Joe Bauserman. (Redshirt sophomore Ken Guiton and redshirt freshman Taylor Graham are also options.)
Ultimately the biggest hole may be the one left by the controversial Tressel, who went 106--22 with seven Big Ten titles in his 10 seasons. Even with the turmoil, one thing does remain certain: Expectations in Columbus won't change. If Fickell wants to keep his dream job beyond this season—the rumor mill already churns with big names who could potentially take over—the scandal won't be a crutch. He'll need to win.
COACH Luke Fickell (1st year)
OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR Jim Bollman
DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR Jim Heacock