by P. Carl Giordano, Managing Editor

On Nov. 28, 2011, the balance of power shifted perceptibly in the Big Ten. That was the day Urban Meyer signed his contract to become the head coach at Ohio State. Almost immediately, a ripple effect began. Although NCAA sanctions will prevent the Buckeyes from playing any postseason games at the end of the 2012 season, several major recruits de-committed from other schools and decided to don the scarlet and grey for their collegiate careers. With 16 starters and both kickers & the long snapper returning, OSU is one of the most seasoned teams in the Big Ten. The returning offensive talent on hand fits in nicely with the spread attack Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman installed in the spring.

Ultimately, 2011 interim coach Luke Fickell (now the co-defensive coordinator for the Buckeyes) was never going to get serious consideration to take the mantle from disgraced former HC Jim Tressel on a long-term basis. The decision was made very easy for the administration as the Buckeyes dropped their last four games last season. Meyer magnanimously decided to retain Fickell with the title of d.c., much to the applause of the Buckeye faithful. Given Meyer’s sometimes erratic “I quit”-“I’m back”-“I quit” antics at Florida, having a ready substitute head coach available seems prudent.

With an appearance in the conference title or national championship games off the table this season, Meyer is using 2012 as a staging platform for a potential run at the top spot in 2013. Part of getting his team ready is to established better discipline after “tattoo-gate” opened the door for investigations and eventual sanctions in Columbus. Some of the Buckeye players didn’t get the memo, however, most notably the “whiz kids”...top pass target TE Jake Stoneburner and starting left tackle Jack Mewhort. The pair were caught “relieving themselves” outside a tavern in Dublin, Ohio June 2 (at 2:30 am) and arrested. Now it’s unclear to us if Meyer was more miffed about the two starters peeing in public or being run down from behind less than 40 yards away by police after bolting from the scene of the crime. Had they outrun the donut-filled cops, we’re not talking about this. It seems to us some speed work to improve the young men’s 40 times would be appropriate. The players were moved from the “Grey” team depth chart to the “Maize” list (they were the only two players on the “Maize” team...at least the only two not playing for the Michigan Wolverines).

Neither player is expected to miss any games, as both are being counted upon for key contributions to the cause. Stoneburner was tied for the team lead with 14 catches last season and topped the Buckeyes with 7 TD catches. He should be the main target in the passing portion of the TE-oriented spread attack. Mewhort is a junior left tackle who’s the team’s best returning offensive lineman, and tackle is a woefully-thin area at OSU in 2012. Sitting down Mewhort would mean true frosh Taylor Decker and converted senior TE Reid Fragel would be forced to man both tackle positions instead of sharing the right side spot. Any injury would force soph Darryl Baldwin (a little-used converted defensive lineman) into the breach.

Meyer’s spread appears to have a good fit in the all-important QB position with soph Braxton Miller (right), who led the team in rushing and rush TDs last season. Miller threw for just 1159 yards, but his 13-4 TD-interception ratio was excellent, and he finished the season strong, completing 32 of 48 passes for 397 yards, 4 TDs combined in the regular season finale against rival Michigan and the Gator Bowl against Florida. Miller’s athleticism and ability to make a big play from nothing will be maximized by Meyer and Herman. RB Dan Herron (678 YR) is gone, but sr. Jordan Hall and jr. Carlos Hyde combined for 971 YR (4.7 ypc) and 9 rush TDs in 2011. Hyde is a Floridian who packs a punch (weighs 235 lbs.), but Hall’s speed and explosiveness is a bit better fit for the offensive scheme. Both will contribute and true frosh Bri'onte Dunn (a late recruiting steal from rival Michigan) will make a pitch for touches and has been compared with former OSU star Beanie Wells.

Fickell is partnering with assistant head coach and co-d.c. Everett Withers (North Carolina's interim HC last season) to direct the Buckeye defense, which has nine starters back and should make improvement over last season’s 19th ranked unit. DE John Simon (7 sacks) and S C.J. Barnett (led team with 75 tackles) both received all-conference mention. Replacing 2011's 2nd-leading tackler LB Andrew Sweat shouldn’t be a huge problem, as soph MLB Curtis Grant and early enrollee frosh Joshua Perry were both highly-decorated preps and should be more than capable of manning Sweat’s post.

The Buckeye pass defense was ranked 14th a year ago, while the run defense held foes to 3.8 ypc, and improvement could come if NT Garrett Goebel and DT Johnathan Hankins can get a little more penetration. Last year OSU ranked 72nd in sacks and 84th in tackles for loss, and the last four opposing QBs completed completed 69% against a flagging pass defense to turn the tide in an 0-4 finish to the season, partially due to the fact Sweat wasn’t healthy after being injured against Purdue after making just one tackle against the Boilers.

Summary: If Meyer is indeed rejuvenated and refreshed, Ohio State football can be expected to make at a solid run at the national title in 2013 and beyond. Meyer is a superb offensive mind and an organizational master and, perhaps more importantly, a recruiting genius. He plays as well as any coach in the country in the all-important theater of the recruits’ living rooms. Just his name and reputation immediately sapped quality prospects from opponents and brought them to Columbus. Those players are among the talented base auditioning for a potentially spectacular Buckeye future. Life will soon be good again in Columbus.


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