Ohio State Football: Why 2014 Is a Make-or-Break Season for Urban Meyer

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterJuly 17, 2014

USA Today

In college football, momentum is everything. Urban Meyer has admitted as much. And after back-to-back losses in the Big Ten Championship Game and Orange Bowl to end the 2013 season, the Ohio State coach no longer knows whether he has it on his side.

"That's a great question. I don't know," Meyer answered when asked if his program has maintained its momentum through its skid. "Obviously we hit a speed bump. A real big speed bump."

Whether the Buckeyes have or don't have momentum is a story for another day and a different column. But in the event that Ohio State has indeed lost its mojo, it better find it soon. Because 2014 is shaping up to be a make-or-break year for the Buckeyes, in more ways than one.

That may seem like hyperbole, given that Meyer has accumulated a 24-2 record in his first two seasons in Columbus. Any program, regardless of its size and stature, should be thrilled with those results, regardless of when and where the two losses came.

No, this isn't about a lack of success for the Buckeyes, because under Meyer they've enjoyed plenty. But for a coach and program that are both ultimately judged by championships, 2014 presents each with their best chance of ending their respective droughts as a series of factors have made the present brighter than the post-2014 future in Columbus.

Braxton Miller has one last chance to capture a championship in Columbus.
Braxton Miller has one last chance to capture a championship in Columbus.Jeff Haynes/Associated Press


Braxton's Senior Send-Off

If you believe in the importance of the quarterback position—and Meyer does—then it's tough to undersell the value in the Buckeyes making the most of Braxton Miller's senior season. Already a two-time Big Ten MVP, Miller has been the one constant in the OSU offense under Meyer and has carried the Buckeyes on his back at times.

Miller's mere presence is enough to make a team a title contender as most times they take the field, the Buckeyes will have the best player on it. Add in Miller's abilities in Meyer's spread offense and you have the makings of something special, with both a national championship and Heisman Trophy becoming attainable goals in Columbus.

Behind Miller, however, Ohio State isn't quite as fortunate at the quarterback position. At least not yet.

Redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones is unproven, and neither redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett nor true freshman Stephen Collier have taken a snap at the college level. Barring the arrival of a JUCO transfer or immediate-impact freshman, one of those three will be the Buckeyes' starting quarterback in 2015, and each would present a significant drop-off from his predecessor.

Sure, a first-year starting quarterback has won each of the past two Heisman Trophies as well as last year's national championship. But behind Miller, nobody on the OSU roster possesses the talent of a Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston, which only increases the importance for the Buckeyes to make a run in 2014.


Strengthening the Schedule

The good news for Ohio State is that its 2014 schedule is much more impressive than its much-maligned 2013 slate. The bad news? After that, it's only getting stronger.

This season, Ohio State's three most anticipated games include an out-of-conference matchup with Virginia Tech, a Big Ten Championship Game rematch with Michigan State and the annual Michigan rivalry game. Of those three contests, only the Buckeyes' showdown with the Spartans will be played on the road.

In 2015, Ohio State will move to a less home friendly schedule, as the Buckeyes will repay the Hokies and Wolverines with trips to Blacksburg and Ann Arbor, respectively.

Remember how OSU will be breaking in a new starting quarterback that season? His first start could very well come during the Buckeyes' Monday night prime-time 2015 opener against Virginia Tech in hostile Lane Stadium. That's not ideal.

As for 2014, early betting lines have Ohio State favored in every one of its game, except for its Nov. 8 trip to East Lansing, Michigan, according to the Golden Nugget's sportsbook (via SB Nation). Las Vegas currently pegs Michigan State as just a one-point favorite over the Buckeyes, and a lot can obviously change between now and November.

It'd be in the best interest of the Buckeyes to take advantage of this year's schedule before 2015 presents a rockier road.

Michigan State's Connor Cook could prove tough to topple for the Buckeyes.
Michigan State's Connor Cook could prove tough to topple for the Buckeyes.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images


Big Ten Betterment

Of all of the factors that have worked in Meyer's favor since he arrived in Columbus, perhaps the most important has been the unimpressive nature of the Big Ten. Michigan's been down, Penn State's struggled with sanctions, Wisconsin went through a coaching change and Nebraska had to adjust to the league as a whole.

Altogether, it's been relatively easy for the Buckeyes to remain one of the league's elite.

But if Meyer's theory on momentum is correct, that won't be the case for long. Because the Big Ten has it on its side.

Michigan State certainly does as it sits atop the Big Ten mountain as the league's reigning champion. It doesn't appear to be heading anywhere anytime soon, either, as Rose Bowl MVP quarterback Connor Cook is only a junior and the Spartans have made their mark on the recruiting trail.

As has Penn State, which, according to 247Sports.com, boasts the nation's fifth-ranked 2015 recruiting class. And whether he's coaching them a year from now or not, Brady Hoke continues to add loads of talent to a Michigan roster that was depleted of such when he arrived in 2011.

2014 may be a bit early to start writing the Return of the Big Ten narrative, but come 2015 it could very well be in full effect. And with a new quarterback and unfavorable schedule already in the fold for the Buckeyes that season, 2014 is shaping up to be the most pivotal of the Meyer era in Columbus.