Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, August 2, 2012
At Ohio State, it's about turning the page. A new era has begun-and the possibilities seem limitless. Last season was difficult, as the Buckeyes endured the program's first losing season (6-7) since 1988, which was John Cooper's first campaign. The program also was shackled with NCAA probation stemming from the Jim Tressel era.
Enter Urban Meyer. His hiring shortly after the season energized the Buckeye Nation, leaving fans dreaming of big things on the horizon. Yes, Ohio State in ineligible for the postseason and Big Ten title. But that still doesn't mean there isn't a lot to play for, as Meyer begins to lay the foundation of a program that seems poised for greatness in coming years.
With that, I offer 10 reasons for Ohio State fans to be excited entering 2012.
1. The Urban-a-tor. Is there a better coach in America not named Nick Saban? Of course not. Urban Meyer brings instant credibility and a national championship resume to Columbus. He already has impacted as a recruiter. And you can bet his effect on the field this fall will be every bit as powerful for a program that is priming the pump for tomorrow.
2. Hungry and angry. That best describes Ohio State, as it embarks on a season shrouded in NCAA sanctions that will keep the Buckeyes from competing for the Big Ten title or playing in a bowl. But that doesn't mean Ohio State will lack motivation to have the best record in the league. With games vs. Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Michigan State, the Buckeyes will have a big say on who wins the title.
3. Braxton Miller. Urban Meyer has been effusive in his praise of the sophomore signal-caller. Miller is a wondrous mixture of athletic talents who endured a baptism of fire last season-and held up well. He hit 54.1 percent of his passes for 1,159 yards with 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He also ran 159 times for 715 yards and seven scores. Miller must quickly embrace the new spread scheme to improve what was the worst passing game in the Big Ten last season (127.0 ypg).
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4. Secondary. There may not be a better collection of defensive backs in the Big Ten. All four starters are back, led by the junior safety duo of C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant. And the cornerback tandem of senior Travis Howard and Bradley Roby also is excellent. Keep an eye on Roby, who was a sensation as a redshirt freshman last season. The corners have embraced the new scheme, which calls for less press coverage and more play on the ball.
5. D-line. Massive tackle Johnathan Hankins is one of the top NFL prospects in the Big Ten. The 317-pound junior is a wrecking ball inside. Senior end John Simon epitomizes everything Urban Meyer loves in a football player from leadership and work ethic standpoints. Simon also is a whale of a talent who plays like his hair is on fire. The return of senior end Nathan Williams from an early-season 2011 knee injury will amp up the pass rush. And a group of touted incoming freshmen (Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt, Se'Von Pittman) will make this unit even more formidable.
6. Improved linebackers. This unit was maligned at times in 2011, as there was a lack of playmaking ability and dynamic edge. That may be changing. Sophomore Ryan Shazier looks like a future star after turning heads as a true freshman last season. It's now or never for Etienne Sabino, a senior who still is looking to reach his potential. Perhaps a new-found sense of urgency will help. Curtis Grant is ready to blossom on the inside as a sophomore after arriving on campus amid massive hype.
7. Schedule. It's built for success. All four non-conference games are at home, with the toughest being vs. Cal. A 4-0 start would set up a huge Big Ten opener at Michigan State. Win that, and the Buckeyes may be able to start dreaming of-perhaps-an unbeaten season? Maybe? Possibly?
8. Jake Stoneburner. Keep an eye on the 6-5, 245-pound senior tight end. Stoneburner will be a weapon on third downs and in the red zone. Last season, he made just 14 catches. But seven of them went for touchdowns. Expect more of the same this fall.
9. Kicking game. The duo of kicker Drew Basil and punter Ben Buchanan should be among the best in the conference. Basil is Mr. Automatic, not missing a field-goal attempt of less than 40 yards last season. Buchanan has a big leg and a knack for downing the ball inside the 20-yard line.
10. Strong staff. Not only is Urban Meyer a top-notch coach who won national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2008, but he also has assembled a boffo staff. Retaining last year's interim head coach Luke Fickell as defensive coordinator was key. Meyer then lured Everett Withers from North Carolina to help coordinate the defense. He was the Tar Heels' interim head coach last season. The offensive staff is led by coordinators Tom Herman, one of the nation's brightest young coaches, and Ed Warinner, a sage mind who also excels coaching the offensive line.
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