High gear, high hopes for Buckeyes
All that has really been won so far are a couple of games that actually help Michigan in the standings. All that’s certain about the next month is that Ohio State will be favored to beat the likes of Indiana, Purdue, Penn State and Illinois, and even if those and the two bigger games that follow go in Ohio State’s favor, the Buckeyes will still be watching on television come January.
Starting the very moment this 2012 season ends, Big Ten races of the near future will technically involve 11 teams chasing a spot in Pasadena and/or the big carrots of the new postseason system. In theory, anybody can win it in any given year.
In reality, Urban Meyer is driving the lead car — and he’s driving it like a madman.
Catch him if you can. Good luck, too, because this would have been the year to get a jump on it.
Meyer’s first Buckeyes team is 6-0, far from perfect in his eyes or those of anyone who has seen the Buckeyes extensively. But sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller is the most explosive weapon on an offense that’s learning to like pace and consistent explosion, and a roster that has enough talent to cover its holes and weak spots. OSU has put together its two best performances in the past two weeks as the Buckeyes scored muscle-flexing wins at Michigan State and over Nebraska.
“This team,” Meyer said earlier this week, “is growing up.”
Dropping 63 points on Nebraska doesn’t win Ohio State anything. It insinuates and allows the mind to wander toward a lot of things, though, given the national stage on which it was played, the speedy recruits who watched it from the sideline and the discussion it has sparked.
Can anyone tackle Miller? Will Ohio State go for 70 if it can get there? What happens when Meyer, long one of the best recruiters in the business, really gets his guys and systems in place?
Meyer didn’t inherit a perfect situation, but his arrival last November created the perfect storm. Proven, fiery coach meets talented roster that needed a kick in the pants. Coach likes to kick pants. Quarterback likes to run. The new Buckeyes are a team on a year-round mission to be bigger, stronger, faster — and think bigger, too.
It’s a bold new world for Ohio State and the Big Ten. Meyer’s working on beating everybody, recruiting everybody, getting little things cleaned up that can lead to bigger things down the road. There’s little margin for error in this or any year in big-time college football, but Ohio State’s 6-7 season that ended 10 months ago might as well have been 10 years ago.
There are going to be bumps in the road — maybe soon; maybe more than a few — but just half a season in, these new Buckeyes are ahead of schedule.
There were no winners in the mess that pushed out Jim Tressel, got Terrelle Pryor booted and got this 2012 team bowl-banned. There’s also no rationally thinking Buckeyes fan who would trade Tressel for Meyer right now or who can’t get over 2011 and whatever prior — and Pryor — victories the NCAA now says never existed.
It’s not a leap to say the Buckeyes are going to consistently win 10, 11, 12 or more games because they’ve done it before and Meyer has done it before. He brought Bowling Green from the ashes to bowl games, Utah from football anonymity to the Fiesta Bowl and a traditional power back to elite status, winning two national championships in three seasons at Florida and starting this run of SEC dominance that everybody else is still trying to stop.
He’s now part of that everybody else, but he’s not coaching just anybody. This isn’t TCU crashing the BCS or Kansas coming from nowhere for a brief meal at the big boy’s table. This is Ohio State, with the same Buckeye leaves on the helmet and endless resources on hand it has always had, and now it’s using television to catch the attention of blue-chippers from everywhere and a no-huddle offense to get them thinking about signing up.
It’s his experience that gives Meyer both a unique and proven perspective on handling both success and adversity. Ohio State is up to No. 8 in the Associated Press poll in a year it’s ineligible to be ranked in the coaches poll. He said he hasn’t been and won’t be afraid to talk to his players about stakes, spotlight and what happens next if the wins keep coming.
“These players are just playing football, and they have a right to know where they stand on a national level,” Meyer said. “You come to Ohio State, and that’s why we’re all here. You should have those discussions in the middle of October.”
Told that a lot of coaches shy away from talk of rankings and big goals because they prefer to focus solely on the following Saturday, Meyer said “not this coach.”
Recruits notice that stuff. They notice highlights of teams scoring 63 points, too. If the rest of the Big Ten doesn’t like this new Buckeyes swagger, it’s going to have to beat it out of them.
There are seven true freshmen playing on the kickoff team, and all seven can run like crazy. There are underclassmen throughout the depth chart, and there are players waiting their turn who’d be playing in lots of other places. Meyer is constantly thinking about those guys, too. On the day after the Buckeyes beat Nebraska, the Buckeyes on the bottom of the depth chart went through a 25-minute, full-go scrimmage.
“We need to develop those guys,” Meyer said.
For all the things Meyer is, fat and happy — especially in combination — don’t make the list.
The record may eventually show that this Ohio State team played a whole bunch of nobody in the non-conference portion of its schedule, and that it ran its season win total into the double digits against a Big Ten that was very weak, both by recent standards and in comparison to other conferences. This team might eventually be shown to have warts. It might have to complete more than seven passes in the next big game. It might — gulp — see it all come crashing down in the season finale against Michigan.
Anything’s possible. And six games into the Meyer Era, Ohio State fans are free to spin that forward in any crazy-thinking way they’d like.