What's a Buckeye?
...joining Penn State at home for the bowl season this winter.
When the two teams meet in State College on Oct. 27, it will be a virtually meaningless game, because like Penn State, Ohio State is also banned from the Big Ten Championship Game this year.
The Buckeyes failed to make the final rankings last year. They're not used to that. In fact, they're not used to finishing outside the top-10. It must have been a weird feeling. This year is looking very different for Ohio State. With Urban Meyer now at the helm, and the majority of its 2011 starters returning, the Buckeyes would have been a favorite to win the division, if not the Big Ten Title. That doesn't mean they can't win football games--a lot of football games--this fall.
Here's a better look at this year's Ohio State team, below the jump...The Past Few Seasons...
You may have already forgotten, but before Penn State dominated the headlines, it was Ohio State that was going through a tempest of controversy, capped off with an unpleasant coaching change. Jim Tressel was sent off with a thud after the tattoo and memorabilia scandal tore through the program. He was replaced by interim coach Luke Fickell, who did an admirable job leading the team through such a tough period. Tressel had won a national championship, more Big Ten titles than some other Big Ten teams have ever won, and two fists full of BCS berths. Last year was a far cry from that, as Tressel was not on the sideline for the first time in a decade.
Ohio State had more downs that ups last year. The losses to Miami, Michigan State and Purdue ended any hopes for a decent final record, while close wins against Toledo and Indiana had the fanbase seriously concerned. But it was a bad year for the Buckeyes, dealing with so many distractions. They were able to pull off a nice upset of Wisconsin. Braxton Miller emerged as the new leader of the team. And, oh yeah, hired a new coach. You may have heard his name before: Urban Friggin' Meyer.
If the recruiting tear is any indication of what's to come in Columbus, it'll make Tressel's tenure look like amateur hour. But it's easy to fall into the trap of lofty expectations for the new coaching staff, even if it's someone of Meyer's stature. The guy wins championships. Can't really argue with that.
Miller is the undisputed focal point of the offense, especially with Meyer's preferred spread-run system that worked well when he had guys like Alex Smith and Tim Tebow taking the snaps. Though the offensive line could use some fine-tuning, Miller's development could mitigate some of the problems a mediocre line might cause the offense as a whole. Jake Stoneburner is the top target for Miller out of the tight end spot, while the rest of the receivers will need to raise their game a bit. Taking most of the handoffs should be Jordan Hall, who finished with 400 yards last year. Don't expect 40 points per game from this year's OSU offense. But it should not have anywhere near the kind of difficulty it had last year scoring points.
Of course, a great defense helps any offense, and that's what OSU should have this fall. Every position has a returning full-time or part-time starter from last year. Topping it off will be those emerging leaders of 2011 are now the stars ready to shine in 2012. NT Nate Williams anchors the middle of the line and the front seven, with LBs Etienne Sabino and Curtis Grant leading a deep and talented linebacker unit. The back four returns all of its starters, led by the top two returning tacklers on the team, CJ Barnett and Christian Bryant. It should be one of the most improved defensive backfields, and defenses as a whole, in the nation.
The schedule has some nice warm-up games before the main course of the Big Ten slate. I can't imagine Miami(OH), UCF, California, or UAB would cause this Buckeyes team any trouble. But the first road trip of the season, to East Lansing, will be a big test. If Ohio State can get to 5-0, there's no real stopping them until the last two weeks. Coming off a bye, the Buckeyes must travel to Wisconsin, then return home for Michigan. It could be the difference between finishing the season with 10 wins or not.
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