- Associated Press - Thursday, June 16, 2011

COLUMBUS, OHIO (AP) - With the dark clouds of an NCAA investigation and impending player suspensions hovering over the program, Ohio State interim coach Luke Fickell doesn’t know exactly what he’ll have to work with this fall.

All he knows is there are difficult times ahead.

“It’s a daily grind,” he said earlier this week in his first solo public appearance as the interim. “We’re not going to worry about the hypotheticals. We will attack those situations as they arise.”

Jim Tressel’s 10-year reign as coach ended when he was pressured to resign on May 30 due to a drip, drip, drip of alleged NCAA violations. Tressel knew some of his players broke NCAA rules and, contrary to his contract and NCAA bylaws, did not report them to his superiors.

Five players were suspended for the first five games of the 2011 season for trading signed memorabilia for cash and discounted tattoos. One of those five, three-year starting quarterback Terrelle Pryor, gave up his senior season last week while in the vortex of the NCAA probe. He has since hung his hopes on being taken in a possible supplemental NFL draft later this summer.

Ohio State has an Aug. 12 date with the NCAA’s committee on infractions. The NCAA could void the 2010 season and accompanying sixth straight Big Ten championship, hand down a postseason ban for one or more years, suspend more players and even restrict recruiting. It could also let the current sanctions stand.

While those issues are resolved, Fickell, who holds the Ohio State record with 50 consecutive starts as a nose tackle from 1993-96 under coach John Cooper, will have decisions to make on the field and in the locker room.

Others are watching closely.

“He’s a great guy,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “We played at the same time in the league. I have the utmost respect for him as a player. He was tough, physical, just a great player, and that’s the way his linebackers and his players have always played for him. He’ll do a great job.”

Perhaps the primary personnel matter facing Fickell, who is working on a two-year contract but only guaranteed one season as interim, is the situation at quarterback.

With Pryor gone, the Buckeyes are left with four candidates for the job. Two have seen scant action, two others have never played in a college game. Fifth-year senior Joe Bauserman, who turns 26 midway through the year, is vying with redshirt sophomore Kenny Guiton, redshirt freshman Taylor Graham and prized recruit Braxton Miller to take Pryor’s place.

Each threw a touchdown pass in the spring game. Tressel seemed to be leaning toward the youngest, Miller.

But now, the race is wide open.

“We’ve got four great guys. They’re going to be competitive,” Fickell said. “(We’ll) put them out there to give them their opportunities and see who can raise their level of competition and compete and who we can count on.”

Another minefield to be negotiated is recruiting _ and keeping those you successfully recruit. Ejuan Price, a linebacker from the Pittsburgh area, has asked Ohio State to release him from the letter of intent he signed in February. The incoming recruits were scheduled to report on Sunday.

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