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Chris Dufresne's college football top-25 countdown: No. 2 Ohio State

The Buckeyes blossomed in the Rose Bowl last season and return this fall as a powerhouse BCS title contender and standard bearer for a rejuvenated Big Ten Conference.

August 31, 2010|Chris Dufresne

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time.

No. 2 Ohio State

Ohio State, quarterback Terrelle Pryor and the Big Ten Conference have all showed how fast, in a TMZ world, reputations can be ruined and remade.

A year ago, Ohio State couldn't win the big one, Pryor couldn't throw the big one, and the Big Ten not only couldn't count to 11, it couldn't be counted on in big plate appearances.

Ohio State was nursing the stigma of consecutive Bowl Championship Series title-game losses to Southeastern Conference schools (Florida and Louisiana State).

After the 2008 season, the Big Ten went 1-6 in bowl games.

And while Ohio State had recruited the nation's top spread-option quarterback in Pryor, out of Penn State's back yard, people figured conservative Coach Jim Tressel would set his progress back years.

It looked that way, really, through last year's losses to USC and Purdue.

Something happened, though, between the time Ohio State won the Big Ten in late November and played Oregon in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1.

Pryor used the extra practice time to hone his passing skills and then threw everyone, especially Oregon, for a loop.

"It's like having a whole spring practice," Tressel said of the extra time.

Tressel, for the Rose Bowl, actually unbuttoned his vest and let Pryor loose. Pryor completed 23 of 37 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns in Ohio State's 26-17 win, and he was the Buckeyes' leading rusher with 72 yards.

"I was very excited when Tressel said we were coming out winging it," Pryor said after that game.

Iowa would win the Orange Bowl, giving the Big Ten two wins in BCS bowls, while Penn State scored a huge credibility victory when it defeated LSU in the slop at the Capital One Bowl.

The Big Ten — except for Michigan — was back.

"We needed to have a good bowl season," Commissioner Jim Delany said at Big Ten media day. "We had it."

Delany added to the momentum in the off-season by adding Nebraska, beginning next year, as the 12th member.

The chances of Nebraska's joining a conference featuring the defending BCS champion are . . . good.

On offense, Ohio State returns nine starters, most importantly Pryor, on a team that has been tried and tested.

Unless Pryor's performance in the Rose Bowl was a one-game fluke, he is well-positioned to win the Heisman Trophy and lead Ohio State to this season's BCS title game in Arizona.

Ohio State has a few holes to fill on defense, but coordinator Jim Heacock proved himself a master adapter in the Rose Bowl when he devised a brilliantly simple, disciplined scheme to neutralize Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

The schedule is custom-built, with eight games at home, including the first four. The highlight is a Week 2 visit from Miami, a rematch of the 2002 season's BCS championship game. Among the other games, the toughest are Big Ten trips to Wisconsin and Iowa.

"I know we'll be a team that's being targeted," Tressel said. "And we'll always get everybody's best shot. . . . We better make sure our best shot's ready each Saturday."

Tressel couldn't have said it better:

This is Ohio State's best shot in years.

The countdown so far: 25. Washington; 24. Navy; 23. Utah; 22. Houston; 21. Pittsburgh; 20. USC; 19. Stanford; 18. Auburn; 17. Arkansas; 16. Oregon State; 15. Florida State; 14. Georgia Tech; 13. Wisconsin; 12. Oklahoma; 11. Miami; 10. Iowa; 9. Oregon; 8. Texas; 7. Virginia Tech; 6. Florida; 5. Texas Christian; 4. Alabama; 3. Nebraska; 2. Ohio State.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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