Buckeyes have clear path as 2013 season begins
AUG 29, 2013 11:52a ET
Ten things to know, watch and ponder (that have nothing to do with Alabama or Michigan) as No. 2 Ohio State embarks upon a season of justifiably high expectations.
No Alabama talk because Ohio State has a long way to go, literally and figuratively, before it can think about what many college football fans would consider a dream matchup in the Really Big Game. And no Michigan talk because that game -- or maybe the first of two games in seven days -- is also a long way away.
1. But Ohio State should get to Ann Arbor at 11-0. Absolutely. The No. 1 thing to know about this year's Ohio State team is that it has more talent -- and in many cases much more -- than its first 11 opponents. Preseason rankings mean absolutely nothing, but of all the perceived contenders for really big prizes, not many have a path to get there like Ohio State has. Are the Buckeyes the second-best team in the country? Urban Meyer would probably say no. Will they ever have a better chance to end up as one of the top two teams? Maybe not.
2. They still have to play the games. They still have to win the games. They still have to not fumble in the red zone and stay healthy and get the right bounces and at some point they will have to summon some of that unexplainable magic that helped them beat Purdue last year because every week they're going to get everybody's best shot. And they have to do it all knowing there's a prize at the end. Last year is over. Last year was different. With Meyer, Ohio State football is forever different. And so are the standards.
3. Braxton Miller is a legit Heisman candidate. More importantly, it's his offense -- one he needs to command, one that will operate as fast and as efficiently as he lets it, one that will be tailored to his strengths and his immense talents. He has a better supporting cast than he had a year ago and he's throwing a better ball than he did a year ago. With Miller's command and a speed upgrade, Ohio State's offense will be different and more dangerous. If the Buckeyes lose in the regular season, it's a whole lot more likely they'll lose 38-35 than 14-10.
4. From where I sit, Miller took too many hits last year. I asked Miller this summer if he thought so, too, and he told me only in the UAB game "when Carlos (Hyde) got hurt." With Hyde suspended for at least the first three games, that bears watching. But with Jordan Hall and Dontre Wilson among others, the running game should be in better shape. And Meyer himself said this week that if Miller leads Ohio State in rushing again, something probably went wrong.
5. The suspensions won't hurt this weekend, but they've cost Meyer sleep. Even the smallest distractions become problems when the Buckeyes play -- and live -- under the kind of microscope they're playing and living under, and besides staying healthy Meyer's primary concern with so many players in new roles and the national championship talk everywhere is that his team will be mature enough to keep its focus and limit outside issues. With two bye weekends during the regular season, Meyer will get to decompress and spend time with his family. But he'll sleep with one eye open, hoping like heck the Columbus Police don't call.
6. Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence probably are good enough to live up to their hype, but the hype says they're going to be great immediately. If Ohio State has one major concern from a personnel standpoint, it's that the front seven is thin and unproven. There's talent, and there's going to be opportunity, but they've already had to scramble due to injuries on the defensive line and besides Ryan Shazier the linebackers lack big-game experience. The Buckeyes are very deep and very good in the secondary, and with just about everybody running the spread they'll often play six or seven defensive backs at a time. But teams are probably going to try to beat Ohio State by running the ball at them, making the linebackers prove themselves and making the defense as a whole prove that the tackling problems they had early last season truly are in the past.
7. From Meyer himself, earlier this week: "First of all, we are not that good yet. I'll tell you if I believe we are, and we're not. We have a long way to go." He's said throughout the offseason that things didn't start clicking last year until at least four games into the season. There are whole new chapters to be written, and he has no idea how this team will respond to situations or increased pressure. But the pieces are in place. Oh, it's going to be an interesting ride.
8. Those bye weeks will come in handy -- and one thing to watch is that four Ohio State opponents play the Buckeyes with an extra week to rest and prepare. Meyer said the Buckeyes have better offensive line depth than they had entering camp four weeks ago, but due to injuries and circumstances they don't have a full roster of scholarship players. Meyer might even have to pump the brakes a bit on his infamous "Bloody Tuesday" practices to preserve his team's legs (and other body parts). Having high expectations and goals that include playing big games from November and into January can be classified as good problems to have, but college football seasons are always full of twists and turns. Last year's senior leadership and unselfishness carried the Buckeyes through some tough moments; how the Buckeyes respond to adversity this year -- and it's coming, even if they stay unbeaten -- could tell the story.
9. Other things that aren't talked about much but are important: Meyer kept his entire coaching staff intact, and if the Buckeyes have another successful season that's not likely to happen again. With so much speed throughout the roster, the Buckeyes should be very good on special teams and capable of making game-changing plays in the kicking game. And with two tight ends as gifted as Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman, those in the receiving corps who have been up and down had better be "up" or they'll find their snaps cut. Meyer put the clamps on training camp because he didn't want anyone to see the formations and personnel groupings he and Tom Herman have cooked up.
10. The time is now. It seems a little crazy that the Joe Bauserman Era was just 22 months ago, but Meyer has made it seem like it was 22 generations ago. With four returning offensive linemen, no guarantee that Miller is around for 2014, this schedule and momentum second only to That Team In Tuscaloosa, the table is set. Ann Arbor to Indianapolis to Pasadena? Anything less should be considered a major disappointment.