The Ohio State Buckeyes didn't expect to be 4-3 entering their bye week, but then again, a year ago at this time nobody suspected a slew of suspensions and the de facto firing of their coach were mere months away.
The changes and a few key injuries along the way put interim coach Luke Fickell and the Buckeyes in a difficult spot. And they also serve to make it difficult to grade this team at about the midpoint of a lost season.
There are at least three games still to play - Wisconsin (Oct. 29), Penn State (Nov. 19) and Michigan (Nov. 26) - that should give a better accounting of Fickell, the assistant coaches who remain and the players themselves, but what follows are grades on what has transpired to date:
The Associated Press
Ohio State coach Luke Fickell speaks with his team during the second half against Illinois last Saturday in?Champaign, Ill. The Buckeyes upset the previously unbeaten Fighting Illini, 17-7.
COACHING: Fickell and the staff probably saved themselves from an outright failing grade when the Buckeyes defeated previously unbeaten Illinois last week. But really, how big an accomplishment was beating another overrated Ron Zook team?
A better assessment of Fickell and the staff probably came the week before, when Ohio State had a 27-6 lead over Nebraska in the third quarter before quarterback Braxton Miller got hurt. But that has to be tempered by the odd playcalling (10 passes vs. eight running plays) after Joe Bauserman replaced Miller. Too many of those passing plays came when the Buckeyes still had the lead.
The staff loses points for going into this season without further developing the other quarterbacks.
QUARTERBACKS: We've seen flashes of Miller's potential. That is all that prevents a failing grade. The rest of the season is the true freshman's chance to gain experience and develop his skills.
And speaking of development, why didn't anyone on the coaching staff recognize that Bauserman was not the answer, even in the short term? I didn't like what I'd seen of him in spot duty as Terrelle Pryor's backup the last few years. If I could see that from the press box or the sideline or on TV, what were Fickell, offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and QBs coach Nick Siciliano watching?
The season-opening victory over Akron was fool's gold. Bauserman was 12 of 16 for 163 yards, passed for three touchdowns and ran for another against the Zips. He has completed just 28 passes since.
RUNNING BACKS: The Buckeyes' offense just got a huge boost with the return of Dan Herron. The senior from Warren made cuts against Illinois that showed how much more Ohio State's younger backs have to learn.
Of course, Herron's return meant less time for players like Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall and Rod Smith. Hyde - still the Buckeyes' leading rusher with 408 yards and five TDs on 78 carries - responsed by jumping on Twitter to complain.
If it's not one thing for Ohio State this season, it's another.
RECEIVERS: The loss of DeVier Posey for the first five games really hurt this group, which was exceptionally thin behind him. Then Corey "Philly" Brown got hurt and the situation got worse.
TE Jake Stoneburner leads the Buckeyes with 12 catches, including six TDs. No other receiver has more than nine catches. WR Devin Smith has nine receptions and three TDs.
Ohio State's receivers have been simply unable to get separation from opposing DBs most of the season.
Receivers coach Stan Drayton, a Cleveland native and former Division III?All-America running back at Allegheny?College, was Jim Tressel's final coaching hire.
Drayton isn't a rookie coach. He served as Florida's running backs coach under Urban Meyer and has nearly two decades of college and NFL experience.
Aside from?Posey and Stoneburner, Ohio State just doesn't have anyone with big-play potential.
OFFENSIVE LINE: As bad as the Buckeyes' offense has been at times this season, it's hard to believe this group has paved the way for a collective 1,225 rushing yards to date. Ohio State is averaging 4.1 yards per carry.
But the Buckeyes have given up 19 sacks. There have been more than a few seasons in which Ohio State QBs weren't sacked that much. To be fair, nine of those sacks came against Michigan State alone, but the numbers show that no unit of the offense has played particularly well.
It's a shame senior C Mike Brewster came back for this. He could have left school early for the NFL draft last season. Here's hoping his draft status won't be hurt too much before the season ends.
The return of LT Mike Adams from a five-game suspension has helped.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Junior DT John Simon, a Cardinal Mooney product, has been as good as advertised. Simon has 26 tackles and leads the Buckeyes with 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks.
DT Johnathan Hankins is a massive 6-foot-3 and 335 pounds and calls to mind former Baylor star Phil Taylor, who is now with the Cleveland Browns. Hankins has surged to second on the team with 36 tackles, including 6.5 TFL and two sacks.
Imagine how much more effective Simon and Hankins would be in DE Nathan Williams (knee) hadn't gotten hurt in the opener. Williams has had surgery and will miss the rest of the season.
LINEBACKERS: If there has been one area of the defense that hasn't been quite as good as in past seasons, it's the linebackers.
Andrew Sweat leads OSU with 49 tackles, but there is the sense that Fickell, defensive coordinator Jim Heacock and first-year linebackers coach Mike Vrabel want to see more of an impact from this group.
Etienne Sabino is third on the team with 35 tackles.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Aside from the loss at Miami, the secondary hasn't played all that badly.
Sophomore safety Christian Bryant, a Cleveland Glenville product, worked his way into the starting lineup and has 33 tackles and a team-high five pass breakups. Freshman CB?Bradley?Roby has a team-leading three interceptions.
SPECIALISTS: PK?Drew Basil was shaky early, but has now made 8 of 10 field goals. P?Ben Buchanan (41.3-yard average) has been solid.
Long snapper George?Makridis is a Warren native and the brother of former OSU LS?Dimitrios Makridis.
The return game has been solid.