2011 Record: (6-7, 3-5 in Big Ten)
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (First year at Ohio State, 104-23 All-Time)
Last Bowl Game: 2011 season Gator Bowl: lost to Florida 24-17
Swing Games: 11/17 at Wisconsin
Stat to Cheer: scored on 89.74% of trips to red zone (2nd in B1G)
Stat to Fear: allowed 46 sacks in 2011 (last in B1G)
Phil Steele's Returning Starters: (Offense: 6; Defense: 9; Specialists: 2)
Key Defensive Returnees: DE John Simon (53 tackles, 7 sacks), DT Johnathan Hankins (66 tackles, 2 sacks), S CJ Barnett (75 tackles, 2 INT), LB Ryan Shazier (56 tackles, 3 sacks), DE Nathan Williams (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks in 2010), CB Bradley Roby (47 tackles, 3 INT)
Key Offensive Returnees: QB Braxton Miller (13 TD, 4 INT), RB Jordan Hall (408 yds rush), RB Carlos Hyde (566 yds rush, 6 TD), WR Devin Smith (14 rec), TE Jake Stoneburner (14 rec)
Top Recruits: Noah Spence (Scout.com's #2 DE), DE Adolphus Washington (#3 DE), DE Tommy Schutt (#5 DT), RB Brionte Dunn (#7 RB), CB Armani Reeves (#6 CB), DE Se'Von Pittman (#9 DE), OLB Joshua Perry (#9 OLB)
CFBZ: Now that Urban Meyer has been on campus for a while, what excites you the most about his debut season?
Buckeye Empire: Change. Without a doubt the last 18-24 months have been the most difficult for just about every Ohio State fan alive. To be able to move on from the scandal and scrutiny, and in the process watch the program adopt an entirely new system and philosophy under a rock star-type personality, has the fan base itching for the season to get going. Even having had Meyer around and in the Columbus news for eight months now it'll still feel a bit surreal to see him marching up and down the sideline at Ohio Stadium. There's literally not another scenario that could have been better for the Buckeyes (with Meyer) going into this season, given the way Jim Tressel went out and the struggles last year under Luke Fickell.
CFBZ: Ohio State took a step back on defense last year. What are the biggest areas that the defense needs to improve in 2012?
Buckeye Empire: Definitely the defensive front seven. The defensive backfield was in pretty good shape last year with the emergence of Bradley Roby and the experience of Travis Howard and they should be pretty well set this year as well. Meyer has come in and focused on building speed and athleticism into the defensive line, starting immediately with his 2012-13 recruiting classes. Ohio State has a recent history of fielding some pretty solid defenses but if that change starts to take place as soon as this season it could get very interesting.
CFBZ: What are the expectations for Braxton Miller in his second year at Ohio State?
Buckeye Empire: Expectations are sky high for Miller. Some are talking a possible visit to the Heisman Trophy presentation, but realistically that's a conversation for 2013 and 2014. The immediate future and focus should be on what Urban Meyer can do with a talent such as Braxton. If anyone thinks Braxton can come out in a new offense and dominate from the first game, in the form of the Gators version of Tim Tebow, they should probably take a step back and gain some patience. It'll be a process for Braxton to gain a full grasp of the offense and leadership role that comes with it. Those four non-conference games have probably not been more important in the last decade as they are this season. By the time Ohio State makes that trip home from East Lansing on September 29th we should know a lot about the immediate future of the Miller-Meyer combo.
CFBZ: What is your gut feeling on the final record for the 2012 season and what makes the season successful in your eyes?
Buckeye Empire: I'd love to say 11-1 but that would require designating who the "1" would be and I just can't do that. The early road trip to East Lansing will be an amazing test for the new regime and system and the Bucks head to Madison to face a team out for revenge this year as well. The night game in State College isn't as big of a concern as the two against Sparty and the Badgers, but that place will be insane when the Ohio State comes to town, as always. I truly believe 12-0 is possible, but that would be an amazing achievement for a first-year staff. Thankfully they didn't walk into a bare, talentless cupboard. If Braxton can get going, and all signs say he will, and Jordan Hall can get back from foot surgery by Week 4 or 5, the Bucks have a shot at posting an unblemished 2012. What would be deemed "successful?" 12-0. The Ohio State fans are back to being Ohio State fans and expectations are through the roof, bowl or no bowl. The only way 10-2 or 11-1 could possibly be considered a successful 2012, in the eyes of the Buckeye faithful, is if the Buckeyes go 2-0 versus Wisconsin and Michigan and any loss incurred came from slipping up elsewhere. That said, Urban isn't losing to Michigan this year. That. Won't. Happen.
This will be the fourth school Urban Meyer has been a head coach for and so far his worst debut season was his first season as a coach (8-3 at Bowling Green). No matter where Urban has gone, he's been able to be successful from the get-go. This year, Urban steps into a less than ideal situation as the Buckeyes 6-7 record last year was their worst since 1988.
This is Ohio State so there is definitely talent for Urban to work with, the question is how they will fit the system he wants to run. Offensive Coordinator Tom Herman will lean heavily on sophomore QB Braxton Miller. Miller struggled as a true freshman and didn't complete double digit passes until the next to last game of the season. Despite struggling, Miller showed flashes and had his best statistical passing game in the season finale as he went 18 of 23 with 2 TD against Florida. One thing Miller was very successful at was running the football as he had five games of 90 rushing yards or more and finished the season as the leading rusher on the team. The Buckeyes should be ok in the backfield with Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall and some talented freshmen. The receiving group has to step up after a disappointing 2010 where no one on the team had more than 14 receptions.
The defense was a strength for the Buckeyes during the Tressel tenure but they took a step back last year. They finished they year giving up a touchdown more than in 2010 and 60 yards more. If DE Nathan Williams can rebound successfully from injury it will give the Buckeyes two ends that can get after the QB and that will be trouble for B1G foes. The Buckeyes have the talent to be very good on defense this year but there is a lot of unproven talent that will have to step up for the Buckeyes to improve on defense and the defense might have to carry this team until the offense finds it's identity. The good news is that the Buckeyes don't leave the state of Ohio until their September 29th date with Michigan State. Ohio State will be much improved this year but it will take longer than this season for Urban to get the Buckeyes back to the top of the B1G.
2012 Prediction: 9-3
Top 25 Countdown
#19 Ohio State
#23 Oklahoma State
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