Even without the opportunity to play for the Big Ten Conference Championship or a BCS Championship in 2012, the Ohio State Buckeyes are one of the most fascinating teams to watch as we move closer to the start of the season.
This is a program that has undergone a number of changes over the last two years, has dealt with NCAA sanctions and is trying to rebuild itself after its once-stellar reputation took a huge hit.
That is not to say the cupboard has been completely bare—if it was, Urban Meyer wouldn't have taken the head coaching job. But there is still a lot of work that has to be done this season.
As we gear up for the start of the season, here are the three biggest questions facing the Buckeyes.
No. 1: How much of a difference will Urban Meyer make in year one?
Evaluating college coaches in their first year is always a dangerous proposition, but when you go to a place like Ohio State, excellence is required right away.
Urban Meyer has already gotten things off to a good start, as Rivals ranked Ohio State's recruiting class as the fourth-best in the country.
More important than that, though, is the way Meyer maximizes his talent. He is a great recruiter, but he also knows how to coach young players. This is an important teaching year for Meyer, who needs to establish his voice with this program.
Given the work he did at Utah and Florida, Meyer should have no problem leading the Buckeyes to a strong season in his first year as head coach.
No. 2: Will Braxton Miller take the next step?
A big reason that Meyer took the Ohio State job was because of sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller. Just listening to Meyer talk about his quarterback, you would not be wrong to think he had a man-crush.
Here is what Meyer said about Miller all the way back in November (via Brian Bennett at ESPN.com):
"And to tell you I'm excited to coach him, I'm not using the correct adjectives. And because there's mixed company around I'm not going to use the correct adjectives, how excited I am. So I think you get it, right? Really excited.
"We've been blessed to have some great quarterbacks. And I'm really thinking this guy can be -- I'm putting a lot of pressure on this cat already -- but he's special. What I've seen on film, he's special."
Like any freshman, Miller showed a lot of good things and a lot of things he needs to work on. He is an explosive athlete who can change the game with his arm and his legs, but he needs to find ways to be consistent.
Ohio State is not loaded with impact offensive talent right now, so Miller is going to be the most critical player for the Buckeyes in 2012.
No. 3: How will the Buckeyes fare in 2012?
Some teams will lose focus as the season moves along if they aren't playing for a bowl berth. Others will treat every game like it is their bowl game and make a statement.
The good news is that Ohio State does not play a difficult schedule. There are four games right off the bat against Miami (OH), UCF, California and UAB that should put the Buckeyes at 4-0 heading into a two-game stretch against Michigan State and Nebraska.
The Buckeyes close the season with Wisconsin and Michigan, which will tell us all we need to know about them heading into 2013.
I see them going 8-4 this season.
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