Ohio State heads into the 2012 season in a strange position.
Coming off an ugly 6-7 season and tattoogate, things appear to be back on the upswing with the hiring of Urban Meyer. But there will be no postseason for the 2012 Buckeyes. They can always try to go undefeated and hope for a No.1 rankings in the polls, but other than that, this is going to be a transition year that will build up to a revenge game against rival Michigan.
Meyer brings his spread offense to the Big Ten, which would appear to be a great position for athletic quarterback Braxton Miller. Along with the ruthless recruiting that contributed to Meyer’s retirement from Florida, the future certainly is bright in Columbus. But as for right now, a coaching change wasn’t the only reason the Buckeyes finished below .500 last year. Of course there is a roster filled with blue-chip talent, but there are some questions about Ohio State heading into the season. Let’s take a look at the props to stat and track.
Braxton Miller rushing yards: Over/Under 1,000
Perhaps no one should have been more excited about Meyer’s arrival than Miller. The talented quarterback has all the skill in the world, but a combination of inexperience and turmoil around him resulted in an ugly freshman campaign last year. Ohio State finished last in the Big Ten in passing offense (23 yards-per-game fewer than No. 11 Minnesota!) and 11th in the conference in total offense. Meyer’s offense at Florida, and Utah before that, were built on spreading everyone out and giving the quarterback the chance to run or throw. His offensive mind helped Alex Smith become a No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft and Tim Tebow become the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy and become one of the greatest college players of all-time.
As much as Miller struggled as a passer last season, he showed the ability to make some spectacular plays with his feet. He finished with 715 net rushing yards, which takes into account the incredible 39 sacks he took with just 196 pass attempts. With an offense that is sure to run plenty of better-designed QB runs, Miller is going to feel plenty comfortable. Add in the youth and unreliability of the wide receivers, and this could become a RichRod/Denard-like run-first offense. I’ll take the over on this one.
Number of running backs with at least 500 rushing yards: Over/Under 2.5
The Buckeyes lose Boom Herron, but still return a multi-headed monster in the backfield. Last year, three running backs rushed for at least 400 yards: Herron (675), Carlos Hyde (566) and Jordan Hall (408). The junior Hyde led the Buckeyes with 5.3 yards per carry. The senior Hall can play out wide or in the backfield and can fill the Percy Harvin role that was so lethal for Meyer at Florida. The problem is that Hall is expected to miss the first few weeks of the season after slicing his foot earlier this offseason. Sophomore Rod Smith averaged 4.0 yards per carry on 29 carries as a freshman last season and is expected to increase his role. Behind those three are highly-touted freshmen Warren Ball and Bri’onte Dunn. When Miller isn’t running, he’ll have several different options in which to hand off the ball.
As for the line, it’s hard to predict how they’ll be. They lose three multi-year starters from a group that finished fourth in the Big Ten in rushing, but they also allowed a conference-worst 46 sacks. One of the losses is four-year starter Mike Brewster at center. Corey Linsley appears to have that starting spot locked up. Left guard Andrew Norwell is the only full-time lineman returning to the same position he had in 2011, while part-time player Marcus Hall has the inside track for the right guard spot. The problem will come on the edge, where the Buckeyes are thin with depth. Jack Mewhort has played all over the line in his career, but appears to have the left tackle spot locked up and has emerged as a leader. The good news for the line is that four players have starting experience. More bad news is that Meyer’s offensive style has demanded they slim down a bit to get quicker and better block in space.
There are enough talented runners, but with Miller taking a fair share of the carries and the questions on the line, I’m going to go with the under and say two running backs hit the 500-yard mark.
Team sacks: Over/Under 24.5
With the expected struggles on offense last year, it was a bit of a surprise to see Ohio State’s defense have its share of problems as the season went along. The Buckeyes allowed 22 points to Toledo in the second game of the year, 34 in a terrible loss to Nebraska, 20 to Indiana and 40 to Michigan in the regular season finale. It certainly wasn’t a terrible defense, finishing fifth in the Big Ten in total defense, but given the talent, it wasn’t acceptable.
Last year, the defensive line was a problem outside of end John Simon, who had seven sacks, while the rest of the line had just nine. As a team, the 23 sacks put them in the middle as No. 6 in the conference. The line was a problem last year, but should be the strength of the defense this season. There is going to be a whole ton of depth, talented depth. Adam Bellamy is a veteran among a bunch of talented young guys who will compete for playing time. Tackle Jonathan Hankins, who had 67 tackles, including 11 for loss last season, has slimmed down, but is as strong as ever, and the entire-two-deep on the inside returns.
A strong defensive line should help a linebacking corps that will be a bit thin and inexperienced. Only two players who had regular playing time return: Senior Etienne Sabino and sophomore Ryan Shazier. The hope is that talented sophomore Curtis Grant will be able to fill in the middle. Outside of that, it’s a group of highly-recruited, but untested, players. The depth is a problem. One major injury, and the linebackers could become a big problem, but if the line can be dominant, it will allow the coaches to be fleixible with the linebackers. I’m going to go with the over.
Team wins Over/Under 8.5
Missing out on the postseason is especially difficult for the Buckeyes this season, but everything out of their control would be in place for a Leaders division title. Wisconsin is dealing with a coaching overhaul, Penn State’s issues have left them crippled from a program standpoint and Purdue and Illinois aren’t in positions to take a big step forward. Also, Indiana exists. A combination of a down Leaders division and easy nonconference schedule mean the Buckeyes should walk to seven or eight wins easily. But can they get to double-digits — something they failed to accomplish last year for the first time since 2004? Let’s run down the schedule.
The nonconference slate consists of Miami (Ohio), UCF, California and UAB, all at home. Cal will be the most difficult of the four, but still should be an Ohio State win. The Big Ten season opens up with trouble. At Michigan State followed by a home game against Nebraska. I’ll go with MSU in the first one, but the Buckeyes should be able to handle the Huskers at home. The next four games are: at Indiana, Purdue, at Penn State and Illinois. The Boilers have had Ohio State’s number in West Lafayette and could be a Leaders dark horse, but the Buckeyes should be able to handle it at home. That would hit the over and bring us to the final two games. Ohio State won’t have a bowl game, but it can treat the last two games — at Wisconsin, home vs. Michigan — as de facto postseason games. I’m going to put down the game at Camp Randall as a loss. There’s a chance it could be the division-clinching game for the Badgers, as well. That leaves is with The Game. There’s a decent chance it could determine U-M’s Legends title hopes, too. This matchup could include the two most-dynamic quarterbacks in college football, but I’ll give the Buckeyes the edge thanks to home field as they finish with 10 wins.