Urban Meyer is set to enter uncharted territory this winter after Ohio State suffered its first loss in nearly two years on Saturday night in the Big Ten Championship Game.
But with the fuming Buckeyes set to earn an at-large bid to the BCS, you can bet Meyer will have his players ready to finish the season the same way they began it, in dominant fashion.
Despite the gut-wrenching loss, Ohio State is still 24-1 overall since Meyer took over and is one of the most talented offensive teams in the country, ranking seventh in total offense and fourth in scoring offense.
With that in mind, expect Meyer and his alma mater to bounce back in a big way this coming January.
Although Ohio State clearly didn't bring its A-game to Indianapolis on Saturday, you can credit Michigan State for most of the Buckeyes' struggles.
After all, Ohio State averaged 6.8 yards per carry as a team and took excellent care of the ball. Instead, it was Michigan State's top-ranked defense that stood out as the biggest winner of the night. The Spartans held up on key fourth downs late in the game and did a phenomenal job of avoiding penalties on both sides of the ball.
But Michigan State's defensive success can't come as much of a surprise. They ranked tops in the nation in total defense and third in scoring defense coming into the Big Ten title game, and they simply played up to their impressive numbers.
Plus, despite a sluggish start, Ohio State was able to score 24 unanswered points over a brief span in the second and third quarters to take the lead. The Buckeyes actually led by four heading into the final quarter. With Ohio State scoring touchdowns on two of its first three possessions in the third quarter, it's fair to say Meyer's halftime adjustments were spot-on.
Therefore, it's clear that the loss came down to late-game execution more than anything else.
That's something a two-time national champion head coach like Meyer can correct with the help of his staff, especially with several weeks to prepare.
Most bowl projections have Ohio State earning a bid to the Orange Bowl where they would face Clemson, another at-large team from a power conference, per SI.com college football writer Stewart Mandel:
Expected BCS pairings. FSU Auburn. Rose: Mich St-Stanford. Fiesta: Baylor-UCF. Sugar: Bama Oklahoma. Orange: Clemson Ohio St.— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) December 8, 2013
Assuming the popular projection becomes reality, it'll be 12-1 Ohio State taking on 10-2 Clemson for the coveted bowl of oranges.
But unlike Michigan State, Clemson is no defensive juggernaut. The Tigers surrendered more than 560 yards and 50 points to Florida State in Death Valley back in October, and they rank well below the Spartans in all of the critical defensive categories. Clemson ranks 17th nationally in scoring defense and 21st in total defense, allowing 350 total yards on average.
It goes without saying that a team like Alabama would be a much more difficult matchup for the Buckeyes.
Therefore, so long as Meyer is able to keep his players focused and hungry for postseason success, he has the system and talent in place to take advantage of the Buckeyes' likely matchup and lead Ohio State to its first 13-win season in over a decade.
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