Ohio State Football: Can OSU's Rebuilt Defense Play at a Championship Level?
"Sometimes you have great games and sometimes you don't."
Those were the words Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith used in the aftermath of a surprising and brutal 41-14 thrashing at the hand of the Florida Gators in the 2007 national title game.
The Buckeyes had entered that game as college football's most dominant team, going wire-to-wire through the 2006 season ranked atop the polls while putting together a perfect 12-0 campaign.
Their perfection came to a screeching halt in Glendale, Arizona that night.
Some Ohio State fans try to blame the loss on Ted Ginn Jr.'s freak injury during the game's opening kickoff. Some try to blame it on the long layoff between the end of Ohio State's regular season and the title game.
Those who can be honest with themselves know that there was something much different that separated Ohio State and Florida that night.
The Gators' front seven manhandled one of the greatest offenses in Ohio State history.
The Buckeyes came into the game averaging over 36 points per game and boasted one of the most balanced offensive attacks in the country. Smith was averaging a hair over 228 yards of total offense per outing, and all but two of Ohio State's first 12 opponents failed to keep their game against the Buckeyes within two touchdowns.
Florida, though, held Ohio State to just 82 yards of total offense. And Smith, who looked untouchable throughout the year, finished his last collegiate game with a miserable six yards of total offense (35 passing, -29 rushing).
That's the kind of defense that wins championships.
Since Florida's victory over Ohio State in 2007, the SEC has used its top-flight defenses to win seven straight BCS National Championships. The victims in those games (Ohio State twice, Oklahoma, Texas, Oregon, LSU and Notre Dame) have averaged just 12 points and 274 yards of total offense.
While an entertaining offense is fun to watch, a stifling defense is what puts the crystal ball in the trophy room.
That's why Urban Meyer's first priority this spring is Ohio State's defense. The Buckeyes lost seven starters from last years squad, including all four defensive linemen and two of their three linebackers.
Repairing a front seven that damaged won't be easy, but Meyer has a lot of depth up front.
The Buckeyes will replace defensive ends John Simon and Nathan Williams with a rotation that includes a pair of former 5-star studs in Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence (via Rivals), and guys like Joel Hale, Michael Bennett and Tommy Schutt form a formidable interior.
The linebacker core returns arguably the Big Ten's best defender in Ryan Shazier, who led the team with 115 tackles (17 for loss) in 2012. Finding a running mate for Shazier is imperative, and Meyer is hoping middle linebacker Curtis Grant can step up to be that guy.
The secondary is in great shape with All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby and long-time starting safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant.
But Meyer knows that championships are won with a strong front seven. Of course, he was the one who unleashed the Gators on Ohio State back in '07, so this winning formula isn't new to him.
“If we put together a good D-line and linebackers, I think we’ll have a good team,” Meyer said on Thursday following his team's second spring practice. “If not, we won’t. It’s pretty simple.”
Will Meyer and the Buckeyes be able to rebuild their defense and play at a championship level? If the goal is to raise the crystal trophy that has eluded the Buckeyes since that night in Glendale six years ago, they better find a way.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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