By Kate Hedlin
Ohio State is determined to ignore the national championship hype surrounding its team. The fact that the person calling for focus is Terrelle Pryor is evidence of just how dangerous these matured Buckeyes could be.
In his third year as starting quarterback, Pryor and second-ranked Ohio State open the 2010 season Thursday night at home against Marshall.
The versatile Pryor is looking to take the Buckeyes to the next level after they went 11-2 last season and won their fifth consecutive Big Ten title. They defeated Oregon 26-17 in the Rose Bowl to finish the season ranked fifth in the AP poll.
With Pryor, a Heisman Trophy candidate, returning, and a defensive unit that was among the nation’s best last year bringing back most of its starters, Ohio State is an early favorite to challenge for a national title.
However, the Buckeyes are quick to brush off the talk, especially after blowout losses in the 2006 and 2007 BCS championship games.
“We don’t need any of the hype,” Pryor said. “There’s always going to be the roundup of the top teams. We don’t need to read any of that stuff. We just need to focus and to take care of the business we need to take care of.”
The Buckeyes, who follow their opener with an intriguing home game against No. 13 Miami next weekend, hope Pryor’s vocal leadership and increased maturity are signs this year’s team can live up to expectations. The quarterback, who was named Rose Bowl MVP, passed for 2,094 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season while leading the Buckeyes in rushing with 779 yards and seven TDs. He had offseason knee surgery after suffering an injury that decreased his mobility.
“It’s a huge difference from when he first got here to now, his maturity and how he became a leader,” safety Tyler Moeller said. “When he first got here, I don’t think too many people liked him, really. He was kind of a punk. But now I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a great player and a great leader and I’d follow him into battle any day.”
Two of Pryor’s favorite targets return for 2010 – DeVier Posey (60 catches for 828 yards and eight TDs in 2009) and Dane Sanzenbacher (36 receptions for 570 yards and six TDs). Also back are the team’s leading four rushers from 2009, including Pryor.
Not to be overlooked is the defense, which ranked fifth in Football Bowl Subdivision in points allowed with 12.5 per game, was fourth with 262.3 total yards per game allowed and tied for second with 24 interceptions.
Top tacklers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle return for their senior seasons as does defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, who had a team-high 6 1/2 sacks and 10 tackles for loss.
The Buckeyes should also be helped by the return of Moeller, missed all of last season after suffering a fractured skull and brain injury in an offseason incident at a restaurant/bar. The senior is finally back at full strength.
“We missed him sorely,” coach Jim Tressel said. “It’s going to be huge to have him back.”
Tressel’s defensive unit will look to dominate a Marshall offense that struggled last year, ranking in the bottom third of the FBS with 21.8 points and 349.1 total yards per game.
The Thundering Herd have a new coach in former West Virginia assistant John Holliday after a 6-6 regular season record led to Mark Snyder’s resignation before a 21-17 win over Ohio in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl. Holliday was also a member of Urban Meyer’s staff on Florida’s 2006 national championship team.
Senior Brian Anderson returns at quarterback after throwing for 2,646 yards and 14 touchdowns last year. He also threw 13 interceptions.
Besides visiting Ohio State, Marshall will host No. 25 West Virginia on Sept. 10, providing an early test for the new coach. The Thundering Herd have lost nine straight games against ranked opponents since winning at then-No. 6 Kansas State in 2003.
“Hope and pray I guess,” Holliday responded when asked how to contain Pryor. “I’m not sure you can totally contain him. … He is a great challenge for us.”
The Buckeyes, who haven’t dropped a home opener since a 19-0 loss to Penn State in 1978, will try to avoid another scare in their first game after holding on for a 31-27 win over Navy last year.
Ohio State most recently faced Marshall in 2004, winning 24-21.