Ohio State Football: Realistic Expectations for the Buckeyes' 2014 Season

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Ohio State Football: Realistic Expectations for the Buckeyes' 2014 Season
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Every time the Ohio State football team gathers for practice at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the Buckeyes' mantra is featured prominently on an enormous sign overhead.

"The Chase..."

It represents Ohio State's pursuit of a national title—a journey that started in 2012, when Urban Meyer took over the team and rattled off a school record 24 consecutive victories.

The Chase got derailed by Michigan State in last year's Big Ten title game. Another loss to Clemson in the Orange Bowl knocked the Buckeyes even further off course.

But after signing the nation's No. 3 recruiting class, reevaluating the leadership structure and finishing up a productive spring camp, Ohio State is back on track. 

Meyer feels that Ohio State has unfinished business.

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press/Associated Press
Urban Meyer wants stronger leaders for the Buckeyes this year.

“We’re teaching people to be unit leaders," Meyer said, according to Chris Vannini of 247 Sports. "We’ve got a systematic approach to how we’re going to fix this thing. It’s not broke. We didn’t finish The Chase.”

Should Ohio State fans expect another title run this season?

Last year, Ohio State marched its way to Indianapolis unscathed—fueled by a weak schedule, a veteran offensive line and the bullish abilities of Carlos Hyde.

None of those advantages will be available in 2014.

The Buckeyes' did catch a few breaks on their schedule. The Big Ten's realigned divisions take effect this season, and Ohio State won't have to play Wisconsin, Nebraska or Iowa—three of the top teams from the West.

That could change if the Buckeyes were to meet one of those squads in the Big Ten title game. To do that, they'll have to navigate  a conference slate that includes road games against Penn State and Michigan State. Then, of course, there's the season finale against Michigan in Columbus.

Ohio State will also have to overcome a much stronger nonconference schedule. The Buckeyes open the season in Baltimore against Navy before coming home to host Virginia Tech, Kent State and Cincinnati in consecutive weeks. Bleacher Report's Brian Leigh ranks Ohio State's nonconference slate the fourth toughest in the country. 

The Buckeyes will attack that schedule without the heart and soul of last year's team. 

Meyer is still scraping the pieces together to replace four senior starters along the offensive line. The Buckeyes have a deep stable of running backs—Ezekiel Elliott is primed for a breakout season—but they'll miss the steady production of Hyde, who put up historic numbers despite starting the year with a three-game suspension.

Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

But Ohio State could be strong where it was weak last year.

Meyer brought in co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash to overhaul the Buckeyes' much-maligned secondary. Ohio State gave up an average of 268 passing yards per game, ranking 110th in the country, which ultimately cost the Buckeyes a chance to play Florida State in the national title.

Early returns from the spring game showed that the Buckeyes have resolved those issues.

It also doesn't hurt to have Braxton Miller—one of the most lethal dual-threat quarterbacks in college football—back to run the offense.

So what should Ohio State fans expect for the upcoming season? Will the Buckeyes make a run at the first ever college football playoff?

Just like last year—the Buckeyes will be legitimate contenders in the national title race. Barring significant injuries, Ohio State should overcome its tough nonconference schedule without a blemish. 

How many regular season games will Ohio State win next year?

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The November 8 matchup against Michigan State looms large, though. With the game in East Lansing, the Spartans have an advantage that will be very tough to overcome. 

With a young defense and an even younger offensive line, it wouldn't be surprising if Ohio State was upset at some point in the year—perhaps by Penn State or Michigan.

A 10-2 regular-season campaign is a safe, realistic expectation for the Buckeyes' upcoming season. 

Meyer, however, has overachieved in Columbus before. In 2012, most experts felt a nine-win season was a feasible forecast. The Buckeyes went on to beat everyone on their schedule.

It's safe to assume that Ohio State isn't worried about expectations. They're too preoccupied with The Chase.

 

All recruiting information via 247 Sports. Stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. 
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.

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