Ohio State is currently the No. 2 team in the USA Today coaches poll, quarterback Braxton Miller is an early Heisman favorite, and the Buckeyes are expected to challenge Alabama for BCS supremacy before we move to a playoff system in 2014.
Expectations in Columbus are always high.
Kyle Rowland of ElevenWarriors.com certainly subscribes to that theory:
What expectations? It's always undefeated or bust at Ohio State http://t.co/jEwARO62xp— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) August 12, 2013
But with the Buckeyes returning 13 starters on both sides of the ball and holding the honor of being the only team in the nation that finished with an undefeated record in 2012, those expectations are higher than ever.
Handling high expectations will make or break Ohio State's 2013 season.
Make no mistake—there's no reason not to like the Buckeyes as a clear-cut favorite to represent college football in one-half of this year's national championship game.
If you're under the impression that the SEC will find its way to Pasadena next year for the eighth straight year, then you should also be under the impression that the Buckeyes have the pedigree and the schedule to make a legitimate claim for the second spot before the season even begins.
From the schedule to the overall talent on Meyer's roster, Ohio State is sitting pretty.
|2||Sept. 7||San Diego State|
|3||Sept. 14||at California|
|4||Sept. 21||Florida A&M|
|6||Oct. 5||at Northwestern|
|9||Oct. 26||Penn State|
|10||Nov. 2||at Purdue|
|12||Nov. 16||at Illinois|
|14||Nov. 30||at Michigan|
With a relatively light non-conference schedule balanced by a trip to California, the Buckeyes should be 4-0 by the time Wisconsin comes to Columbus.
The Badgers, Indiana, Northwestern and Penn State will all pose stiff tests, but the expectation heading into the regular-season finale against Michigan will still be 11-0.
Top to bottom, there's no reason the roster can't carry the team to that mark.
Miller is clearly the headlining player in Columbus, and that praise is warranted. As a sophomore, Miller threw for 2,039 yards and added another 1,271 on the ground en route to 28 total touchdowns.
Chris Huston of HeismanPundit.com thinks an undefeated mark again this year will help sway voters in his direction:
No.1 thing going for Braxton Miller's Heisman hopes is the good possibility he'll be 25-0 as a starter when the vote comes due.— Chris Huston (@HeismanPundit) August 12, 2013
He quietly finished fifth in the Heisman voting behind the New York invitees (Johnny Manziel, Manti Te'o, Collin Klein) and USC wide receiver Marqise Lee. As a junior, Miller will have a better grasp of Meyer's offense, another year of offseason improvement and maturity that comes with experience.
Elsewhere on offense, Carlos Hyde, Devin Smith and Corey Brown give Miller the weapons he needs to make Ohio State's offense as dangerous as any team's in the country. Along the offensive line, the Buckeyes will also return four of five starters.
The defense is more of a concern than a strength, with the defensive line carrying the biggest question mark heading into the season. The Big Ten is littered with teams prepared to run the ball for a living, and the Buckeyes need their young contributors at those four positions to step up.
All that said, there's only one real difference between the way Ohio State finished in 2012 and the way they expect to finish in 2013.
To steal a phrase from Major League Baseball, "This time it counts."
The Buckeyes might have completed an undefeated season in 2012, but they were playing for nothing but pride and school spirit down the stretch. The NCAA bowl ban from the Jim Tressel era kept the Buckeyes from getting their shot at a 13th win last year.
This year, "playing for pride" won't fly. Ohio State is playing for a national championship, and everyone within earshot of what Meyer expects of his team knows that anything less will be a disappointment.
Meyer himself was categorically perfect in his second season at one of his previous stops. Eleven teams have finished undefeated at season's end since 2004, and Meyer completed one of those campaigns at Utah.
Anything less than 13-0 will not suffice.
There's little doubt Ohio State fans and players felt this way before the 2012 season began, too. But this time it's different, and anyone who has played in a big game will attest to that fact.
As the season wears on, the pressure will mount. It didn't mount last year because the Buckeyes were a team with nothing to lose. The NCAA had already taken away everything except the unadulterated bliss of playing the game for fun.
If Ohio State recaptures that emotion and avoids letting the expectations overcome them, it will be a landmark season in Columbus. If not, we'll still watch with intrigue as this bunch tries to win the Big Ten and prove last season was no fluke.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant (@DowntownEG) on Twitter.