The Ohio State Buckeyes entered the season with many questions to be answered. After three weeks, many of those questions remain, but we are getting an idea of what this team has become.
What is that?
It is a team that is developing on the fly.
Ohio State entered the season with a new quarterback, a new running-back, a new receiving corps, and a new coach. It was not just a lack of experience – the offensive specialty positions were nearly void of any experience to start the season.
The fan base, spoiled by perennial BCS appearances and 12-win seasons, were not ready for this on-the-fly development. Jordan Hall’s two-game suspension, and the coaches’ lack of confidence in starting a true freshman quarterback has put this team behind the curve.
The Buckeyes are out of the Top 25. They lost 24-6 to Miami in week three.
I dare mention that Miami lost to Maryland, Maryland got destroyed by Temple, and Miami lost to Kansas State this past weekend. It’s a good thing that wins and losses are not always transitive in this game, and that Ohio State is a team that will drastically improve during the course of this season.
Some fans are ready to throw in the towel and officially call it a rebuilding year.
Unfortunately, Ohio State cannot afford a rebuilding year. Recruiting is down, and the offensive line is as strong as it will be for many years to come. They need to win now to retain their elite status and the attention of potential recruits, specifically on the offensive line.
This weekend’s game is huge. For that matter, the next four games will make or break this football team.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Jordan Hall is an incredible playmaker. He is averaging 67.5 yards per kick-off return.
Terrelle Pryor’s High School running mate has turned out to be one of the best sleeper-finds in the country. He can do it all.
Hall catches the ball out of the backfield. He can line-up in the slot. He is averaging 5.3 yards per rush. The kid is as strong as an ox for a guy who stands only 5’9”. The amazing thing is that Hall is only the second-best running back on this football team.
Ohio State will get back the services of All-Big Ten performers Mike Adams, Devier Posey, and Daniel ‘Boom’ Herron in their game at Nebraska. That is just one of many reasons why I believe this weekend's game against Michigan State will be just as difficult and just as important as the Nebraska game.
This team is still a few pieces away, and Braxton Miller is only beginning to realize that his many talents do indeed translate to this level.
Luckily, the missing pieces are coming back. The question is what kind of season will Ohio State salvage after all of this turmoil and change?
My best guess is that the Buckeyes will drop one of the next two games. They could lose at home to the Spartans and win at Nebraska, or vice-versa.
I see this team improving down the stretch. Nebraska, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are potential losses, but Ohio State will have a significant talent advantage over the other teams on their schedule (including Penn State and Michigan).
Some of that has to do with the return of Ohio State’s suspended players, and some of it has to do with the fact that outside of the top four, the conference is pretty bad this year. Regardless, Ohio State will probably destroy their competition in a bowl game that will not reflect the talent of this football team.
Best case scenario: Ohio State finishes the regular season at 10-2. The offensive line, Jordan Hall, and the defense hold the team together until this team gets everyone back on the same page.
They return to a respectable bowl game against a good football team, and finish the season at 11-2.
Worst case scenario: Ohio State drops three of the next four games. Braxton Miller is slow to develop against the big boys, and the team struggles to find an identity until game nine against lowly Indiana.
They drop another late game to Penn State or rival Michigan, and the program goes into hibernation. Ohio State finishes the regular season at 7-5, and everyone is too busy talking about their basketball team to pay attention to their win in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
The fact of the matter is that this team is probably somewhere in between.
I know the detractors are not sympathizing, but don't worry. From a Buckeye fans’ perspective, it is actually quite entertaining(and refreshing) to watch this team develop. It has been a long time since this team has been an underdog more than once during the regular season.
The teams’ current position puts an end to the ‘over-rated’ talk, and might even spark some ‘under-rated’ talk later in the season. The fans get to watch the young talent instead of hearing about their performance on the practice squad.
Film study is not going to do much for the competition. The schemes and the personnel change from week to week. The heart of this team, the offensive line, remains consistent and strong, while the soul of this team, it’s play-makers on offense, are just coming back into the picture.