Big Ten Team Profile: Ohio State Buckeyes
WNUR Sports Director Joe Misulonas (@jmisulonas) previews the Ohio State Buckeyes as part of our summer Big Ten Preview series. To check out our previous previews, click: Illinois | Purdue | Michigan | Indiana | Nebraska | Minnesota | Penn State | Wisconsin
Let’s not kid ourselves, the Ohio State Buckeyes were the best team in the Big Ten. Sure, Nebraska and Wisconsin went to the Big Ten Championship game, where the Badgers somehow beat the Cornhuskers (and then lost the Rose Bowl to Stanford, who also was not the best team in its conference). But we all know the Buckeyes were the Big Ten’s Best.
In Urban Meyer’s first year in Columbus, Ohio State was the only team in the FBS to finish undefeated last season. Not even the Alabama Crimson Tide, who beat Notre Dame in the National Championship, can’t boast an undefeated record. What would have happened had Ohio State been eligible for a bowl? Would the BCS have taken the undefeated Buckeyes and Fighting Irish, leaving the Crimson Tide (who were obviously the best team in the nation) out to dry? Or would an undefeated team have been the odd man out?
It doesn’t matter. What matters is Ohio State is eligible for the postseason this year and is the favorite to win the Big Ten.
Before I examine this Buckeyes roster, let’s review Urban Meyer’s career.
First of all, his career record is 116-23. That’s an .834 winning percentage. He’s won five conference championships, seven bowl games, and two national championships. He and Nick Saban are currently battling for the title of best coach in college football (although Saban’s leading by two championships). Meyer has produced two Heisman trophy winners in Alex Smith and Tim Tebow, and therefore is singlehandedly responsible for starting Tebowmania and providing ESPN with 85 percent of its on-air coverage.
This season, Ohio State brings back Braxton Miller at QB, who finished fifth in the Heisman voting last season after throwing for 2,039 yards, rushing for 1,271, and scoring 28 TDs (15 passing, 13 rushing). Miller’s been working with renowned QB coach George Whitfield, and is sure to improve in nearly all aspects of his game this year. Expect big things from Miller, including perhaps a Heisman trophy.
However, Miller may not have Carlos Hyde next to him in the backfield. Hyde, who ran for nearly 1,000 yards and 16 TDs last season, was suspended by the team earlier this week as they investigate an alleged assault against a woman committed by Hyde this past weekeend. Jordan Hall will take over the running duties for the Buckeyes. For a team which finished top 10 nationally in rushing offense last season, losing a proven back like Hyde may hurt this offense. But Meyer is as close to an offensive genius as we can find in college football today, and Hall is nothing to shake your head at. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season as a backup. Ohio State’s rush attack will most likely remain one of the nation’s best with or without Hyde.
The rest of the offense largely remains intact from last season. Miller became more comfortable with Philly Brown and Devin Smith by the end of last year, and both return to help boost Miller’s Heisman candidacy. And their offensive line is formidable, with four starters returning from last year’s team. If they can open up holes for the run game and protect Miller, this Buckeyes offense may be borderline unstoppable.
While the offense is returning nearly all its starters, the defense is another story. All four defensive line starters are gone. Two of their three linebackers need to be replaced. And Bradley Roby, who is considered one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, was arrested last weekend and faces a misdemeanor battery charge. The Buckeyes have not punished Roby yet, but it is possible he will miss games as more details about his case develop. The defense will bring back Ryan Shazier, who may be the best linebacker in the Big Ten and will be one of the few defensive playmakers on this roster. So while the Buckeyes offense is sure to be dominant, their defense has several question marks. However, Ohio State consistently recruits the best players in the nation and will replace their starters with top level talent. Whether those young players can immediately make an impact or if it will take time for them to adapt to the college game will determine how well the defense plays this season.
The Buckeyes schedule does them a lot of favors. After a fairly weak non-conference schedule of Buffalo, San Diego State, California, and Florida A&M, they open Big Ten play against Wisconsin in Columbus. The Buckeyes will have some tough road tests, including in Evanston on October 5th, and a regular season finale in Ann Arbor. Otherwise, the Buckeyes are unlikely to have difficulty with the rest of their conference opponents.
Ohio State’s offense will be formidable, which may make up for their weaknesses on defense. Their is adequate reason to think this Buckeye team will not only be one of the best teams in the Big Ten, but one of the best in the nation.
Never bet against Urban Meyer.