The Ohio State Buckeyes have successfully navigated their non-conference schedule, improving to 4-0 with a 29-15 victory over the University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers.
The Buckeyes can now turn their attention toward the very thing that left them black and blue last year: conference play.
Last year's 3-5 league record was the worst Ohio State compiled against Big Ten opponents in years. The Buckeyes opened up 2011 conference play losing two straight games, then faltered late by dropping three straight contests to Purdue, Penn State and Michigan.
Through four weeks, Ohio State has certainly looked better than they did in 2011. But with their recent struggles against Cal and UAB, the question of whether or not they can continue their winning ways against better competition needs to be raised.
What Happened in 2011?
Ohio State's struggles in 2011 were mainly the result of an offense that, when put lightly, moved like 11 drunk men trying to choreograph a flash mob.
The Buckeyes offense averaged just 22 points per game in conference play last year and failed to score 35 points once against a Big Ten opponent.
The defense was better, but even it wasn't as good as it's been over the last decade.
Ohio State uncharacteristically allowed some opponents to have huge games. On the road against Nebraska, the Buckeyes surrendered a 21-point second-half lead by allowing the Cornhuskers to pile up 423 yards of offense in a 34-27 victory.
Penn State confounded Ohio State's defense running the wildcat, with Silas Redd running free in a 20-14 loss at home.
And in the regular season finale, Denard Robinson pretend-scooped things into his mouth all day while carving Ohio State's defense up in a 40-34 victory in Ann Arbor.
In the end, the Buckeyes failed to win at least a share of the conference title for the first time since 2004 (not counting the 2010 title they were forced to vacate).
Will the Buckeyes Improve in 2012?
The offense has improved almost exponentially, but Ohio State has serious issues on defense.
As a conference, the Big Ten is down. Wisconsin is a shell of its former self, Nebraska's run defense has struggled at times and Michigan has looked uninspired so far this year. Michigan State appears to have just as many issues on offense as Ohio State does on defense. And Penn State is...well, just kind of depressing.
The Big Ten is so bad that Purdue looks like one of the best teams in the conference.
Against what appears to be lesser competition than last year, can Ohio State have a successful conference run?
To do so, the Buckeyes will have to improve defensively. Through four games, Ohio State is giving up 395 yards per game to its opponents. They've done a good job keeping teams out of the end zone, surrendering just a hair over 17 points per game, but things will tighten up in conference play, and they'll need to improve their tackling and pass defense quickly.
On offense, they'll need to try and avoid long stretches of ineffectiveness. Against UAB, the Buckeyes produced zero points in the first and third quarters, and lulls like that won't be so easy to overcome against familiar opponents.
Urban Meyer appears to be limiting the amount of carries Braxton Miller gets in the running game, but that not might fly against Nebraska, Michigan State and Michigan this year.
What are your thoughts? What will the Buckeyes have to do to prevent another Big Ten letdown this year?