Championship or not, OSU looks ahead to next season

Todd Porter

Now that Ohio State’s second straight run at a national title is finished, what about a third?

What the Buckeyes become in 2008 is dependent upon a number of factors, including who stays, who leaves and who decides to join Ohio State.

Three Buckeye juniors could enter the NFL early. The loss of cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, defensive end Vernon Gholston and linebacker James Laurinaitis could deal the OSU defense a blow.

Jenkins and Gholston have said they would not discuss their decisions until after Monday’s game. That usually is an indication the player is leaving and does not want to cause a distraction.

Laurinaitis is another story.

Rare opportunity for linebacker

In the past, Buckeyes Head Coach Jim Tressel has encouraged underclassmen to leave if the NFL gauges them to be a first-round pick.

Laurinaitis said he would be perfectly happy returning to Columbus. Complicating his decision is the likelihood that his sister, Jessica, plays ice hockey at Ohio State. His older brother, Joey, is in the military and is a police officer in the Dayton area.

“I’m not going to think about it or talk about until the game is over,” said Laurinaitis, a two-time All-American who won the Butkus Award this year and the Nagurski last season. “I think last year there were a lot of distractions with some of the guys who were already seniors leaving and things like that.”

If Laurinaitis does return, he could be a rare defensive preseason Heisman Trophy candidate. He also could be OSU’s first two-time Butkus winner and a three-time consensus All-American.

“Guys just have to trust what comes back (from the NFL),” Laurinaitis said. “It’s not definitive of where you’ll go. A.J. Hawk came back, and he was probably first-round talent. It just lets you know where you stand.

“Other guys are in different situations. There might be family issues or financial reasons. Every individual is different.”

Laurinaitis would not have to turn pro early for financial considerations. His father, Joe, was half of the “Road Warriors” tag team that made it big in the WWF.

Waiting on Pryor

OSU’s recruiting class is almost filled. The last commitment Tressel would like to get is from Pennsylvania high school star Terrelle Pryor. He is the kind of mobile, spread offense shotgun quarterback Tressel seems to prefer and the country’s most sought after recruit.

Pryor isn’t likely to announce his choice until signing day in February.

At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, Pryor drew attention because he played with a Buckeye leaf on the back of his helmet. The 6-foot-6 quarterback with 4.4 40-yard speed seems to enjoy playing games with the recruiting experts.

He also is considering Michigan because of Head Coach Rich Rodriguez, who had a track on Pryor when he was at West Virginia. Rodriguez reportedly told Pryor he was leaving for Michigan before he told the West Virginia players. Pryor immediately put Michigan in his top five.

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail