The Parallels Between 2014 Florida State and 2015 Ohio State

Ben AxelrodBig Ten Lead WriterSeptember 29, 2015

Sep 7, 2015; Blacksburg, VA, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Cardale Jones (12) throws the ball against the Virginia Tech Hokies at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBUS, Ohio — With his Monday press conference winding down, Urban Meyer was ready to get started on his afternoon activities. So as soon as the Ohio State head coach saw the direction that what he thought would be the final inquiry of the day he was headed, he seized the opportunity to address it directly.

"Does it feel like more of a grind this year than maybe you thought it might?" the reporter asked.

"Oh, I imagine you're leading to the fact that there are expectations that are so high?" Meyer responded, rewording the question to acknowledge the elephant in the room that the Buckeyes haven't been playing as well as many thought they would be through the first four games of their national title defense.

"Exactly," the reporter replied.

From there, Meyer didn't mince words.

"I could tell you no, but I think so," Meyer said. "First you're winning pretty soundly, playing pretty good. And the expectation level—you say, 'Well, back when you played Alabama, back when you played [Oregon in the national championship].'

"But this is a different team. Different time."

This year's Ohio State squad isn't the first to find that out the hard way.

After all, it was just a year ago that defending national champion Florida State found itself seemingly underachieving, despite returning several key pieces from its title team while facing a relatively manageable schedule.

One month into the Buckeyes' turn at defending their crown, the similarities between the two teams' respective national national championship defenses are too glaring to ignore.

Slow Starts

Through the first four weeks of the 2014 season, the Seminoles found themselves in the exact same position Ohio State does at the moment. With a 4-0 record to its credit, FSU sat at No. 1 in both major polls with the bulk of its conference schedule still ahead.

But just like the Buckeyes, the Seminoles' top billing had more to do with what they had accomplished the season before than it did what they done in the prior four weeks.

Because in wins over Oklahoma State, The Citadel, Clemson and North Carolina State, Florida State hardly looked like the nation's No. 1 team. The Seminoles beat their first four opponents by point differentials of seven, 25, six (in overtime) and 15, respectively, a far cry from the dominance they asserted during their run to the 2013 national title.

"I'm not really concerned," FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher said following his team's 56-41 win over North Carolina State on Sept. 27. "I think we're getting better in a lot of ways."

As for the Buckeyes, Meyer has been more willing to admit to his team's shortcomings thus far, which have included an 18-point victory against Virginia Tech, a 38-0 shutout of Hawaii, a 20-13 win over Northern Illinois and a 26-point best of Western Michigan.

Sure, Ohio State's first four wins have been more impressive from a point differential standpoint than the Seminoles' were a season ago, but the Buckeyes have admittedly not played up to their own standards through the first third of the regular season.

That rang especially true in Ohio State's closer-than-expected win over Northern Illinois on Sept. 19, which saw the Buckeyes offense commit five turnovers and give the Huskies two opportunities to drive the field late in the game with a chance to tie or take the lead with a touchdown.

In a 20-13 victory, Ohio State struggled with Northern Illinois.
In a 20-13 victory, Ohio State struggled with Northern Illinois.Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

After being bailed out by a second-half pick-six by linebacker Darron Lee, members of the OSU offense admitted they weren't playing like the nation's top-ranked team.

"Right now, we're not the No. 1 team in the country," running back Ezekiel Elliott said. "We definitely have the potential to be, but right now, with the way we're playing, we're not."

Technically, the Buckeyes still are the nation's No. 1 team, and based on having entered the season with pole position, that likely won't change—at least in the AP Top 25 and USA Today Sports Coaches Poll—unless Ohio State endures an actual loss, not a moral one. But through four weeks, the Buckeyes have hardly played to their potential, especially on offense, where inconsistencies have become commonplace in the past month.

And just like last year's Seminoles, a lot of those struggles can be pinned on one position in particular.

Quarterback Conundrums

At no point last season did Florida State face a quarterback controversy like the one Ohio State has dealt with, but there are similarities in the drop in production that both teams have seen from their respective signal-callers.

For the Seminoles, the disappointing quarterback play came by way of reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, who spent his sophomore season marred in controversy and even suspended for FSU's September matchup with Clemson. The distractions off the field for Winston appeared to lead to issues for him on it, with his completion percentage, yardage total and touchdowns all taking a dip from 2013 to 2014, while his interceptions increased from 10 as a freshman to 18 as a sophomore.

"I think we all learn from our experiences," Fisher stated after Winston threw three interceptions in a 42-31 win over Louisville in late October. "I think he continues to grow as a person, as a player and in all aspects of his life."

John Raoux/Associated Press

Meyer, meanwhile, has been more upfront about his disappointment when its come to the play of his quarterbacks, with neither Cardale Jones nor J.T. Barrett grabbing hold of what's been an unprecedented quarterback competition between two key figures on last year's title team.

Through the 2014 regular season, it was Barrett who was the Heisman Trophy candidate—he ultimately finished fifth in voting—before a broken ankle in the Buckeyes' regular-season finale opened the door for Jones to win three consecutive postseason games en route to the national title.

After not announcing who his starter for 2015 would be until the Buckeyes' season opener against Virginia Tech, Meyer has stuck with Jones as his No. 1 quarterback through the first four games of the season despite benching him mid-game in the second and third weeks.

Barrett, however, failed to seize his opportunities to jump back in the starting lineup and currently possesses a season stat line of 21-of-38 passing, 193 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

"Someone has to beat someone out," Meyer said as he explained why he was sticking with Jones in the starting lineup after Barrett finished the Buckeyes' battle with Northern Illinois. "You don't anoint people, 'Let's give that guy a shot.' Every time I hear that, I guess that person's never coached for a living."

Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

In a way, Meyer was rewarded for his patience last weekend, with Jones putting together his best game of the season in Ohio State's win over Western Michigan on Saturday. But despite throwing for a career-high 288 yards and two touchdowns, Jones missed on several opportunities downfield due to underthrown balls, something that wasn't lost on his head coach.

"Fundamentally, he wasn't sound," Meyer said of Jones, who he estimated threw six underthrown passes against the Broncos. "So that's just something you've got to work on."

But for the first time all season, the Buckeyes' quarterback conundrum seems to have quieted. What that will mean for Ohio State moving forward remains to be seen.

Uncertainty Ahead

How much the Buckeyes can improve between now and the end of the year is to be determined, although it's worth noting that last year's Ohio State squad didn't begin to hit its stride until it approached the postseason. Like last year's Seminoles, the Buckeyes will likely benefit from a favorable schedule, which may not see them face a ranked opponent for more than another month.

With games against Indiana and Maryland to start the Big Ten campaign, followed by a home matchup with Penn State and dates against Rutgers, Minnesota and Illinois, the Buckeyes may not be truly challenged until a Nov. 21 meeting with second-ranked Michigan State. Even then, that matchup comes in Columbus, giving the Buckeyes the added benefit of playing the highly anticipated matchup on their own home field.

But Ohio State's seeming cakewalk through October and the better part of November could also be a double-edged sword for the Buckeyes. Look no further than the precedent the College Football Playoff committee set with Florida State a year ago, slotting the Seminoles third in the first four-team tournament, despite FSU being the only team in the playoff with an undefeated record.

Based on the criteria set forth for the committee, it became clear that quality wins were what mattered most in its seeding process. And with two ranked opponents—as well as another one in a potential Big Ten Championship Game—ahead, those could come few and far between for Ohio State this year.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

Of course, it also didn't help the Seminoles' case that despite playing a lesser schedule, they found themselves in a number of close calls. Heading into the ACC Championship Game, Florida State won its final three regular-season games by a combined 12 points, all in matchups against unranked opponents.

"We look at their body of work, whether they’ve controlled the games, compared them to those around them," Arkansas athletic director and College Football Playoff committee chairman Jeff Long said as he explained why the Seminoles were slotted third despite their status as the undefeated reigning national champions.

With two-thirds of the 2015 season left, there remains plenty of time for the Buckeyes to change their course and begin to take advantage of their schedule by posting eye-popping point differentials. Through four weeks, however, Ohio State appears to be headed on a similar path as last year's Florida State team, which ultimately lost to Oregon in their semifinal matchup in the Rose Bowl.

But if there's one difference between this year's Buckeyes and last year's Seminoles, it's that Meyer, unlike Fisher, is owning the situation rather than running from it.

"I think that's natural, yeah. I could tell you no, but I think so," Meyer said of this season having been harder than even he expected it to be. "That's my job—I'm watching it very closely."

Ben Axelrod is Bleacher Report's Big Ten lead writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAxelrod. Unless noted otherwise, all quotes were obtained firsthand. All statistics courtesy of cfbstats.com. Recruiting rankings courtesy of 247Sports.

Related

    BH: How about 23? | Really about Ruck?

    Ohio State Football logo
    Ohio State Football

    BH: How about 23? | Really about Ruck?

    Bucknuts
    via Bucknuts

    NFL Combine primer: What to know to follow the Buckeyes

    Ohio State Football logo
    Ohio State Football

    NFL Combine primer: What to know to follow the Buckeyes

    Bucknuts
    via Bucknuts

    OSU Good News: Women's swim & dive win B1G title, fencing sharp

    Ohio State Football logo
    Ohio State Football

    OSU Good News: Women's swim & dive win B1G title, fencing sharp

    Bucknuts
    via Bucknuts

    BM5: What can Fields do even better? Who will be his backup?

    Ohio State Football logo
    Ohio State Football

    BM5: What can Fields do even better? Who will be his backup?

    Bucknuts
    via Bucknuts