Kickoff is right around the corner and what do we have here?? The Buckeyes are number 2 behind Saban the God. Preseason polls are stupid because the rankings are based on last year's bowl game, where the team is after spring ball, and/or where the team looks to finish because everyone can see into the future, but whatever, it's a nice starting point and something to talk about. I don't really rank the teams until after the non-conference is done and everyone is a few games into their respectful league play, but if you start high you have an advantage over a surprise team that is playing catch up the whole year.
What I want to do is look at the number 2 ranked team in the country and explain why I get aroused when the local guy comes on the radio and talks BUCKEYE FOOTBALL. Let's break down this team:
Urban's best year is his second, when the guys already buy in, know what the hell is expect and he can add more dimensions to the playbook. He also gets more of his recruits in there and can shape his personnel how he wants it. Big game coach, but also has a great view of the overall picture. Dominates rivals on the field and for high school 4 and 5 stars. 12-0 and he is just getting started
This changes throughout the season, obviously, but holy shit. This actually may be a weakness as well because "style points". Road games at Cal who is starting a freshmen QB and has lost two key defensive guys, are picked to finish bottom in the Pac 12 North. Night game at Northwestern (ROAD TRIP) in October is the only other losable on paper on the road. This schedule is stronger than Louisville's, however, and that may be the tiebreaker along with the Cardinals starting at 9 to get OSU into the title game. I do think that an undefeated season along with a win in the Big Ten Championship Game will cement them against a 1-loss SEC team in Pasadena though. Ohio State should be favored by at least a touchdown in every game, home and away.
This offense has the potential to be on par with the 1995, 1997, 1998 and 2006 firepower, with a Heisman candidate taking snaps, 4 of 5 linemen coming back, every receiver back and a stable of 5-7 running backs who can break it at anytime. Give them the full playbook after a 12-0 year and look the hell out. Even with 2 RBs suspended for the first game and Hyde sitting out the second as well, that just means the ball won't be shared to every guy. It actually helps the young guys (Wilson, Elliot, Dunn) to get early action along with getting the old guy (Hall) back onto the field after an injury-filled 2012. Oh yeah, both tightends come back as well. To add to a nearly full playbook is the addition of the NFL option Urban and Herriman took notes on during the playoffs, specifically the "full house" diamond pistol read option look the 49ers and Redskins employed. Add play action with a deep threat and this offense looks to be unstoppable.
Defense: Weakest of the Strengths
The defensive line is anew. Lost are gap-eater Hankins and all-time Buckeye John Simon, Sabino, Boren, Klein and Howard Island. No matter who you have behind them, leadership cannot be replaced over the off-season. All American and 1st round pick returns at corner and two guys who will be paid later in the NFL that will cause absolute havoc from the ends, Spence and Washington. Freak backer Shazier is back along with both safeties. A bunch of young guys will step in and have to prove themselves, and compared to the offense, the defense is the weak link. Make no mistake, this crew will still be in the top half of the Big Ten. If there are any questions on this team, here they lie. Right now they look to be a B, which is very survivable. They will also continue to grow as the season chugs along, and their depth plays into defending the spread. Their main defensive package will be nickel, allowing only two linebackers, their weakest spot depth-wise, on the the field for the majority of the games. Also a situation that plays into their hands is when the other team is playing catch-up and are forced to throw at Roby, Bryant and Barnett. Dorian Grant, a junior, takes over the other corner. Don't forget about the 5-stars in Apple and Reeves at the other corner (Reeves get the start for the for the opener), along with Tyvis Powell looking to nail down the "Star" (LB/SS/Nickel hybrid). The only question, starter-wise is who will start next to Shazier at the Mike. Curtis Grant, former best-high school-linebacker-in-the-world finally grew up during the off season, so I've been told. However, he has failed to be named starter and that raises the question, do the coaches see him as the starter? Behind him is freak Mike Mitchell (going old school and wearing number 44) and the Sam backer Perry when they go with 3 backers. If Curtis, after year 3 isn't trusted, Mitchell will be thrown into the fire and hopefully he can produce 50% of what Boren brought in the second half of last year. The fact that Boren stepped in and played as an all Big Ten 'backer last year was one of the greatest things I've ever seen done in a Buckeye uniform.
Special Teams: Relative Weakness
Last year the kicking game was alright. The coverage teams were average. This year the kicker returns, but there is a question at punter. Can the kicker also punt? Can a 3-star athlete from my high school take over? Is this Aussie guy for real? The punter from down under has won the media over, but no starter has been named. I bet that I'll see the 3rd string QB more times than the punter this year, but having a foot that can pin down the opposition in a tight game is a huge advantage. A few of the young speed freaks will return kickoffs and the options for punt returners are plenty; last year's returner in Philly Brown, Jordan Hall who returned kicks as a backup RB a few years ago, or any of the young speed freaks. Fans in the first couple of rows better keep their head on a swivel because there will be a lot of punts sailing out of bounds trying to stay away from the punt returners. Stay tuned...
I'll steal this from the local radio guys...what result of the season would be considered a "good" season? The norms hold true. Get to Indy, beat Michigan and get to the Rose Bowl. However, I don't think that's good enough because that means they lost a game somewhere in between. Is a 12-1, Big Ten and Rose Bowl Championship good enough? Looking back, that would be considered great. But to lose to a team that was a big underdog? I'm sure Meyer would be retained for 2014, but nothing less than having a chance to win the National Championship in the 4th quarter against an SEC team will suffice without disapointment. This team should lose one game at most. Period. And it has to be to the national champion in the waining minutes. Very high expectations 2 years removed from 6-7, but that's what Ohio State is looking at. The Chase starts August 31st at noon in the 'shoe against Buffalo. I'll see ya on the banks of the Olentangy...