How does one start an article about the 2011 Ohio State Buckeyes? Do we talk about the Tattoo Five, Jim Tressel, Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller, Luke Fickell or another storyline? For those that aren't fans of Ohio State it was one of the most interesting seasons ever at Ohio State. For the fans of the Buckeyes? One of the most miserable not just in recent memory but all-time. I've taken my shots at Ohio State and their administration this year but in this article we are going to look at it from the Ohio State perspective. On the football field, the Buckeyes struggled to be consistent all season long. They lost to Miami (Fl), Michigan State, Nebraska, Purdue, Penn State, Michigan and Florida. Those seven losses are one more than Ohio State lost combined over the three previous seasons. Despite having such a miserable season and getting banned from bowl competition this year, Ohio State got a shot in the arm when they hired Urban Meyer to take over their program. Just how quickly Urban can turn the ship around will be one of the most intriguing storylines of 2012. We caught up with Grant Edgell of Buckeye House Call to get his take on the 2011 Ohio State Buckeyes and to get a sneak peak into 2012.
CFBZ: 2011 was a very difficult year for Ohio State. What do you think were the biggest lessons learned by the football team?
Buckeye House Call: Obviously the hope is that the remaining players have learned from the decisions made by their predecessors. Unfortunately, as is the case with many NCAA sanctions, those at fault served some time but others are now left to clean up the rest of the mess. The bowl ban and scholarship reductions, while hitting the University on the financial statement, hurt today’s juniors worse than the institution and certainly have a bigger impact than the punishments levied on those who used poor judgment to begin with.
With all of that being said, we can’t be sure anything was actually learned. If you remember correctly the issues that arose from players being paid excessively for hours they didn’t work occurred after the original issues were brought to light, and occurred anyway. What does that say about what they learned?
On the bright side I believe the program is working hard to “clean out the closet.” It started with the dismissal of coach Tressel and may end with the same outcome for A.D. Gene Smith. Time will tell. The players who remain now, ready to serve a bowl ban, weren’t the ones who committed the infractions to begin with so their question would likely be, “what did we need to learn?”
The bottom line is that changes need to occur, starting at the top, with how communication, education, and policies are put into place and implemented. It all falls back on the ability for one administrative team to keep a close eye on hundreds of athletes. It’s an uphill climb for every University, but hopefully those still involved with OSU – players included – have at least learned a lesson from the year-long scrutiny.
Buckeye House Call: Miller came in with mountains of hype and potential and, to some degree, got the short end of the stick at different points in time this season. Fan/Media reaction, as it is with anyone, was game-to-game as far as positive or negative and there were times when I believe his confidence was shaken. Keep in mind he’s only the third true freshman quarterback to start for Ohio State (Schlichter, Pryor) but came in with every intention of learning behind fourth year starter Terrelle Pryor. Once the mess started to snowball and Pryor exited stage left, it was into the fire for young Braxton.
He made typical “rookie” mistakes, but one of the bigger issues that coach Meyer will work to eliminate is Miller’s tendency to hold onto the ball in the pocket for too long. Where Pryor was often a run-first QB, Braxton is just the opposite. He has the speed, agility, and quickness to be a devastating runner and we saw glimpses of that this season. Unfortunately we also saw the pocket collapse on him before that internal clock went off in his head that would have him on the move. Someone with his athleticism shouldn’t take on 39 sacks in thirteen-game season, but he did.
Accuracy was another issue. He came out of the gates early throwing a pretty ugly ball, and at one point Ohio State even switched brands to a slightly smaller ball to help with that. He worked it out as the year went on, spinning it much better later in the season, but his accuracy on the deep ball really hurt us. Miller overthrew a number of wide open receivers streaking down the sideline this year, most notably in losses to Penn State and Michigan that could have made the difference in the game.
CFBZ: Outside of Braxton Miller, which players impressed you the most with their play on the field in 2011?
Buckeye House Call: Undoubtedly we have to look at true freshman linebacker Ryan Shazier in this spot. He started out earning his way onto the field the same way most freshman can and do: special teams. After earning some stripes and showing an athleticism and drive that was much needed out of our linebacking crew, his was the first name called when Andrew Sweat went down.
Simply put, Shazier is going to be a beast. He sticks his nose into every play, he’s athletic enough to cover plenty of space side-to-side, and he has that wreckless abandon to him that you see out of all great linebackers. He doesn’t half-ass tackles, and showed plenty of toughness when he hurt his knee in the second quarter of his second start, this one against Michigan, and played out the game with a knee brace. He wasn’t the same after the injury and that probably impacted the Ohio State-Michigan game as much as any other single event that day.
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
Buckeye House Call: Many will point to the sanctions, turmoil, and Luke Fickell’s performance but I think as a few years go by I’ll personally look at this season as the end of the Jim Tressel Era. He resigned on Memorial Day and never saw an ounce of gameday prep in 2011, but this was his team – his game plan – his players – and his 6-7 record.
Many (most?) of us loved Coach Tressel after he showed us the year-in and year-out success we could expect and accomplish as Ohio State fans. Many of us hadn’t seen a National Championship in our time as fans, but Coach Tressel helped bring us one.
The players’ actions that led to the investigation were bad enough, but news of Tress lying to investigators was devastating. Not for a second will I say he “tricked” us into believing he was a better man than he was because, by all account, he’s a great human being. Forget the win-loss record - I already miss the Vest, the boring post game answers, and the confidence we had in him as head coach even if we didn’t always agree with his means to an end.
Really there was only one thing that could happen to lighten the frustration, and it did…..
CFBZ: Looking ahead to the 2012 season, what does Urban Meyer need to do in order for the season to be considered a success?
Buckeye House Call: It’s funny that we talk about success in these terms again because we just had hundreds of these conversations before this season, only with Luke Fickell as the weight bearer, but it's very difficult not to! I’ll say this – there’s no way 8-4 or even 9-3 will fly in 2012. The expectations are absolutely through the roof, fair or not, and we have a non-conference schedule that even the Nittany Lions would chuckle at. This isn’t to say the sky will fall and anyone will call for Urban’s head if we can’t get ten wins, but I believe that’s the number that most will see as the line in the sand next year in the success-or-not conversation.
The other requirement, obviously, is to beat Michigan. Period. Nobody will care how shiny a one-loss season looks if that one loss is the Hoke and the Wolverines. God forbid.
With all of that being said, and as rough as the Buckeyes looked throughout 2011, don’t be surprised if Urban Meyer doesn’t pull a top-5 ranking and an undefeated 2012 when all is said and done. Jim Tressel didn’t leave the cupboards bare, and this isn’t Meyer’s first song and dance.
CFBZ: Bonus Question: Is Michigan back?
Buckeye House Call: You had to ask, didn’t you. I can’t be any more clear than to say there’s no chance in hell Michigan is “back.” They had a great 2011 but they received a BCS bye after playing out a favorable schedule that saw them miss Penn State and Wisconsin. Their toughest non-conference opponent was Notre Dame and I don’t think that counts anymore as “tough.” Equal, maybe.
Listen, I can be as biased as the next fan in this rivalry but the fact of the matter is that they’re not likely going to see near the same success in 2012 as they did in 2011. Facing defending National Champion Alabama at a neutral sight to open up the season could be very ugly, and trips to Lincoln, South Bend, and Columbus won’t help their cause either. Michigan State has beaten them four straight years and nothing tells me that won’t extend to five this October.
If by “back” you mean back to mediocrity, then UM is the team to watch in 2012.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Pac-12- Oregon State Beavers