By Derek Helling
Playing a season with a guarantee that no matter how well you play, you won’t reach the postseason, is an interesting situation for coaches and athletes.
That is exactly the situation the Ohio State Buckeye football team finds itself in entering the 2012 season. Because of improper benefit and recruiting violations under the tutelage of former head coach Jim Tressel the Buckeyes are dealing with scholarship reductions and a postseason ban.
Enter new head coach Urban Meyer after a year under Luke Fickell.
Meyer brings with the success he produced at the University of Florida to not only Columbus, but the Big Ten Conference as well. There was an immediate effect from his entrance. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio and Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema criticized Meyer publicly after he recruited players that had previous verbal commitments to other schools. Those schools included but were not limited to Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
On the strength of Meyer’s reputation and a class of incoming freshmen ranked fourth in the nation by Scouts, Inc. the Buckeyes have become the only team with a losing record last season to be ranked in the AP Preseason Poll, coming in at number 18.
Despite a losing season in 2011, there is some good talent in Columbus. Top names to return for 2012 include sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller, senior tight end Jake Stoneburner, senior defensive end John Simon, junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and junior safety CJ Barnett.
One area of the team that Meyer is sure to address first is the passing game, or more accurately, lack thereof. While Meyer’s offense at Florida was not predicated on airing the ball out, it would be a waste of the talents of Miller and Stoneburner to run a ground-heavy attack.
The reality is that last season three players tied for the lead in receptions with 14. That wasn’t a typo. 14 catches was good enough to lead the Buckeyes in receptions last year. Both wideouts Corey Brown and Devon Smith are returning. With Meyer in charge and Miller more experienced, the passing game at Ohio State can only improve.
The Ohio State defensive line anchored by Simon and Hankins looks to be the strength of the Buckeyes defense. This is the same line that stymied Montee Ball during a Heisman campaign year, and to sweeten the pot, it gets junior end Nathan Williams back from injury to add more depth.
All four starters in the secondary are also returning. If the defense stays healthy and plays to its potential, it will keep the Buckeyes in games regardless of their offensive performance.
The Buckeyes’ schedule is no cupcake, but it’s not a gauntlet either. They have all four non-conference games at home against beatable opponents. The conference docket features tough road games at Wisconsin and Michigan State but they do get Nebraska and rival Michigan in the horseshoe this season.
The one big question going into this season is that of motivation. Will not being able to play in a bowl game or even the Big Ten Championship Game affect the desire and intensity of the team? That will be the duty of Meyer and the rest of the staff to convince the freshmen, sophomores and juniors that this season is an important step in developing the team back to a national title contender. Meyer wants them to believe they can contend for a national title in 2013. This coming season will go a long way to deciding whether or not that will be realistic.