Urban Meyer will not hoist his third crystal ball this January, but that won’t stop him and his Ohio State team from striving for perfection.
Meyer made that much clear during his first meeting with his team this summer.
He implored his team to be hungry and to play angry this fall. If this year’s Buckeyes play with the anger that fueled a few of Meyer’s Florida teams, this will be an Ohio State team that should not be trifled with.
Ohio State’s desire to prove that Buckeye football is alive and well could lead to a banner-worthy season in Columbus. Ohio State is ranked No.18 in the USA Today preseason poll, which looks to be a safe but inaccurate spot in my opinion.
The last Ohio State team with this much to prove was the 2002 squad that won the national championship over Miami in a game for the ages.
After going 7-5 in Jim Tressel’s first season at OSU, the Buckeyes entered 2002 ranked No.12 nationally with expectations to finish in the top three in the then-loaded Big 10 conference.
That season ended with a 14-0 record that included the BCS and Big 10 championships (a shared conference title with Iowa). The 2012 Buckeyes cannot win that many games or add anymore trophies to their gaudy collection, but they could mirror that 2002 team’s success in terms of overachieving.
Like the team that preceded them a decade earlier, OSU will return what looks to be a dominant defense.
The defensive line will platoon the newest edition of Silver Bullets, led by seniors John Simon and Garrett Goebel, and juniors Jonathan Hankins and Adam Bellamy. The unit has been compared to the strong 2002 defensive line that included current New Orleans Saints standout Will Smith.
Despite their youth, OSU’s linebackers will also make their case as one of the finest in the nation this year, led by sophomore Ryan Shazier and Etienne Sabino.
Among the biggest differences between the ’02 Buckeyes and the ’12 installment lies in the secondary. That team had defensive stalwarts such as Mike Doss and two-way threat Chris Gamble. This year’s team is looking for that leader and unquestioned presence in the secondary.
Senior Travis Howard will look to provide leadership in the secondary. Bradley Roby will try to emulate his impressive freshman season of 2011. Their youth is a question mark. This defense that will be fueled by Meyer’s blitz-happy scheme is good enough to garner the Buckeyes a top-20 national standing.
As dependable as the defense should be, it’s the fear of an inconsistent offense that would make any voter weary of placing OSU too high on their preseason rankings.
Sophomore Braxton Miller will be a better quarterback in every facet this fall, and young receivers Corey Brown and Evan Spencer will need to step up and make plays for their emerging signal caller. Jake Stoneburner’s transition from tight end to wide receiver should take pressure away from the young receivers while giving Miller a go-to guy at the position.
Once known for their ability to ground and pound while featuring some of the best running backs in college football history, the Buckeyes' running backs and offensive line are question marks entering 2012.
Senior Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde look to be up to the challenge while running behind a relatively young offensive line that features only one senior in right tackle Reid Fragel.
The emergence of the offensive line could be the biggest story for a team the Bucks, and that uncertainty is probably why OSU would probably be left off the top-10 in the preseason rankings.
The Buckeyes’ schedule bodes well for OSU to finish in the top-20 at season’s end.
The first four games of the season should enable the Buckeyes to rack up a 4-0 record heading into their Big 10 opener at Michigan State.
OSU then gets Nebraska at home before playing four games against the lower tier of the Big 10. This includes an away matchup with a depleted Penn State squad.
Ohio State’s last two games at Wisconsin and at home against arch rival Michigan might very well define Meyer’s first season in Columbus.
The Buckeyes won a thriller last season against the Badgers before losing their first game since 2003 to the Wolverines. Don’t think the Buckeyes or Columbus has forgotten about that last regular season game of 2011.
The biggest question mark of the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes is whether OSU’s offense will have enough play makers to keep pace with their talented defense.
It will be up to Miller to provide leadership on offense in order to help Ohio State win the close games, after losing six games last season by seven points or less.
The defense will perform for the Buckeyes, but how will the offense fare when tested on the road against the talented Spartans and Badgers? If the offense plays with more consistency and identity, they should fare well when tested.
Expectations are high in Columbus—when are they not?—despite the fact that Ohio State is a young team with a new coaching staff and cannot play for a Big 10 or national championship.
Like 2002, the fans won’t be disappointed; and like 2002, this team is good enough to be ranked No.12 in the nation heading into 2012.