“The” Ohio State University football program is coming off quite a season, and I don’t mean that in a good way. The Buckeyes were a program in disarray heading into 2011 in the wake of the Jim Tressel/Terrelle Pryor mess and with a few key players suspended for the first handful of games. So perhaps it wasn’t a huge surprise that the Buckeyes finished 6-7 (3-5 in Big Ten), their first losing season since 1988, and saw their streak of six straight Big Ten titles end.
Perhaps even worse to some fans, OSU was beaten, 40-34, at Michigan to fall to its bitter rival for the first time in eight years.
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Yet something great came out of 2011: the hiring of Urban Meyer as head coach. And even though Meyer’s team can’t play in any postseason game this year due to NCAA sanctions, expectations are sky high again in Columbus.
You may have heard of this Meyer guy, who led the Florida Gators to two National Championships before stepping down at the end of the 2010 season supposedly to spend more time with his family amid reports of health concerns.
He spent last year working for ESPN but was officially hired right after the Michigan loss. Meyer, an Ohio native, has a 104-23 record over 10 seasons with Bowling Green, Utah and Florida. From 2001-10, he had five 10-win seasons, the two BCS titles with the Gators and a 7-1 record in bowl games -- including a 41-14 victory over unbeaten and top-ranked Ohio State in the 2007 BCS title game.
Meyer kept 2011 interim-Head Coach Luke Fickell on staff, naming him the co-defensive coordinator with former North Carolina interim-Head Coach Everett Withers, but it will be Fickell who makes the defensive calls. To run his offense, Meyer tabbed former Iowa State offensive coordinator/QBs Coach Tom Herman for the same position in Columbus. He will play a large role in implementing the spread offense and in tutoring young QB Braxton Miller. Herman took most of his offensive philosophies from Meyer's teams at Utah.
This unit struggled in a big way last season, ranking just 81st in the nation in points per game (24.5) and No. 115 in passing yards (127.0 per game). But that was to be somewhat expected with Miller being thrown to the wolves and him missing top WR DeVier Posey for most of the season due to suspension and top running back Dan Herron for about half of it. Miller actually was behind Joe Bauserman for the first three games but then took over for good.
In his first eight games, Miller had an average of 120 total yards a game and eight TDs. In his final four games, he averaged to 229 total yards a game and 12 TDs. Miller would end up leading the team in rushing as well. The no-huddle, spread system should suit him well if the spring was any indication, plus Miller ran a version of the spread in high school.
Running back Jordan Hall is expected to be a big part of the offense as a Percy Harvin-type hybrid player, but he will miss at least the first two games after surgery to repair a torn tendon in his foot. Carlos Hyde likely will be the main back and he averaged 5.3 yards a carry with six TDs while splitting time last season. The OSU receivers did next-to-nothing last year, and that group has potential but also many questions with Posey now in the NFL.
Jake Stoneburner remains the projected starter at tight end on the most recent depth chart and Jack Mewhort is still listed first at left tackle -- the same positions they held before Meyer stripped them off their scholarships for the summer after their misdemeanor arrests in June. So it appears they won’t miss any time. Only two starters are back on the line.
This unit was solid last year but certainly not up to Buckeyes standards, and it welcomes back nine starters. Shutting down the run and then going on the attack is Fickell’s approach. Look for end John Simon to be first-team all-Big Ten at a minimum this year – he had 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks last year. And Simon will have another stud next to him in tackle Johnathan Hankins, who had 67 tackles, including 11 for loss in 2011.
Meyer also signed a few five-star defensive line recruits. Playmaker Ryan Shazier was a major bright spot at linebacker last year as a freshman and will lead that group. The secondary should be one of the best in the Big Ten with plenty of experience and depth, led by safety C.J. Barnett, who led the team in tackles (75) and added two interceptions last season.
2012 Ohio State Buckeyes Football Schedule Analysis
The nonconference schedule will be a walk in the park as Ohio State faces mediocre-to-downright-terrible teams in Miami (Ohio), Central Florida, California and UAB. So that’s 4-0 entering Big Ten play.
In Big Ten play, the schedule is brutal in the sense that OSU has to play the three best teams from the Legends Division in addition to every team in its own Leaders Division. Just like last season, OSU opens conference play in 2012 against Michigan State, but this time it’s in East Lansing (Sparty a 2.5-point early favorite). That Spartans defense completely shut down the Buckeyes in a 10-7 win in Columbus in 2011. But that also was likely the OSU defense’s best game.
Then Nebraska visits Columbus for the first time as a Big Ten foe. Last year, the Huskers had the largest comeback in school history, erasing 21-pont deficit en route to a 34-27 victory over Ohio State. If OSU wins that game, it could easily go on a nice winning streak with very winnable games to follow: at Indiana, vs. Purdue, at Penn State (normally a tough chore, but obviously that program is in flux) and vs. Illinois.
The final two games of the season are a monster as OSU visits Wisconsin (Buckeyes do have a bye week to prepare) in a game that likely will determine the Leaders Division (OSU can win it but not represent it in the Big Ten title game), and then the hated Wolverines come to Columbus. That will be OSU’s Super Bowl considering it’s the final game of its season.
2012 Ohio State Buckeyes Big 10 and BCS Futures Odds
On 5Dimes, OSU is the -135 favorite to win the Leaders Division (there’s a betting option with and without OSU). Ohio State’s “over/under” win totals: 8.5 (over a -230 favorite), nine (over a -130 favorite), 9.5 (under a -170 favorite). Miller is +1700 to finish in the Top 3 of the Heisman and +6700 to win it.
2012 Ohio State Buckeyes Football Predictions
In my opinion, the Buckeyes are being a tad overrated heading into 2012 just because of Meyer. We still don’t know what Miller will do, although I’m sure he will improve under Meyer.
I would argue the entire offense remains a big question mark – if Hall is back by the Big Ten slate that will help immensely. The defense should be one of the better ones in the Big Ten. I could see the Buckeyes running the table at home (certainly no lock) but winning at both Michigan State and Wisconsin is unlikely.
I would project the Buckeyes with a 10-2 record (no worse than 9-3), but think the Badgers take the Leaders Division. Watch out for OSU in 2013, however!
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