2014 CFN Preview - Ohio State Buckeyes
Ohio State DT Michael Bennett
Preview 2014 - It's playoffs or bust after coming achingly close to playing for it all. (Getty Images)
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What You Need To Know & Top Players
College football breakdowns on
Someone can say 99 nice things about you, but it’s the one negative comment you’ll remember.
Head coach: Urban
3rd year: 24-2
13th year overall: 128-25
Off. 17, Def. 20. ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
1. DT Michael Bennett, Sr.
2. DE Joey Bosa, Soph.
3. DE Noah Spence, Jr.
4. CB Doran Grant, Sr.
5. DE Adolphis Washington, Jr.
6. TE Jeff Heuerman, Sr.
7. WR Devin Smith, Sr.
8. WR Dontre Wilson, Soph.
9. P Cameron Johnston, Soph.
10. OT Taylor Decker, Jr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 Navy (in Balt.)
Sep. 6 Virginia Tech
Sep. 13 Kent State
Sep. 20 OPEN DATE
Sep. 27 Cincinnati
Oct. 4 at Maryland
Oct. 11 OPEN DATE
Oct. 18 Rutgers
Oct. 25 at Penn State
Nov. 1 Illinois
Nov. 8 at Michigan State
Nov. 15 at Minnesota
Nov. 22 Indiana
Nov. 29 Michigan
Urban Meyer can win 24 games in a row at Ohio State, but it’s the two losses
that everyone will remember - for now.
Ohio State doesn’t play in the same figurative league as everyone else in the Big Ten, and for the moment that includes Michigan and even recent champions Wisconsin and Michigan State, too. It’s national title or bust for a program that’s bound by nothing, gets almost any recruit it really, really wants, and has an A-list head coach with two national championships on the résumé. But even with all the success, all the talent, all the facilities and all the amazing things going its way, getting any appreciable love and respect from the SEC types is hard, and nothing short of a national championship will change that.
The main criticism is fair – Ohio State came up with a nice, but hardly dominant win over Wisconsin last season, and the second-best win in the Meyer era came against an okay Nebraska team in 2012. It’s not like Urban’s days at Florida when every other week brought a new, massive challenge to deal with – the Buckeyes simply haven’t had many chances to face anyone with a pulse over the last two years. Put the Ohio State team of the last two years in the SEC and it’s probably Georgia, at best.
The defense went bye-bye against a mediocre Michigan squad to only fan the flames of skepticism even further, and when the big question was whether or not an undefeated Buckeye team actually deserved to play for the BCS championship over an SEC champion with one-loss, the question was answered with a thud. One 34-24 loss to Michigan State later, and the national title chance that was set up so perfectly on a tee was gone, along with the aura of invincibility under Meyer’s watch.
Had the Buckeyes come out and blasted away at Clemson in the Orange Bowl – the same Clemson team that got its doors blown off at home by a Florida State squad that went to Pasadena – the narrative at the end of the year might have changed. The thrilling 40-34 shootout loss to the Tigers gave the naysayers have all the ammo they needed.
But the two losses from the 2013 season don’t matter much for the prospects for the 2014 campaign. It’s Ohio State, so if it goes 13-0 and wins the Big Ten title with victories over Virginia Tech, Michigan State, Michigan and (probably) either Nebraska or Wisconsin, it’ll be in the inaugural College Football Playoff no matter what, and 12-1 with a conference championship will almost certainly get it done, too. And then it doesn’t matter a lick what the SEC types or the other critics have to say – get in the playoff, win two games, and the respect will be taken and well-earned.
But getting there won’t be quite so easy.
Even without superstar quarterback Braxton Miller, consider the season a complete and utter failure if there’s a playoff-ruining loss along the way to Navy, Virginia Tech, Kent State, Cincinnati, Maryland, Rutgers, Penn State, Illinois, Minnesota, Indiana and/or Michigan, meaning the team just has to play up to its talent level to book 11 wins. It’ll all come down to the road game at Michigan State, and making sure it’s able to handle everyone’s best shot.
The defensive line should be among the best in the nation and will destroy any and all mediocre running games, and the secondary has a chance to be even better despite the loss of Bradley Roby, C.J. Barnett and Corey Brown. The O line has to reload, but it had to come up with some new ideas when Meyer first came to Columbus and it turned out to be fine. There are more than enough weapons at the skill positions, the coaching staff is peerless, the recruiting class was yet again full of NFL talent, the schedule is light and breezy, and there’s a Heisman-caliber quarterback in Braxton Miller to be the catalyst for a special season.
It’s all set up perfectly for the Buckeyes, but it’ll take just one misfire to ruin all the fun. 24-2 was nice, but for Ohio State, it wasn’t good enough. Anything less than a national title won’t be good enough, either.
What to watch for on offense: Don’t expect any shying away from the power game. Remember when Urban Meyer couldn’t coach a good running back? That was one of the few on-field issues at Florida – he failed to develop the star tailback recruits who came to Gainesville. That ended with Carlos Hyde, who ran for over 2,500 yards and 31 touchdowns over the last two seasons. The line needs the most help up front, and while it’s going to be a fight to get the starting five set going into the season, everything will be fine – talent isn’t a problem.
Getting rushing production won’t be an issue
with J.T. Barrett now under center, but can Ohio State take control of games like it was able to with Hyde pounding away? Ezekiel Elliott is a 6-0, 225-pound back who has the ability to provide a little thump, and 6-3, 231-pound Rod Smith certainly has the size. There might be a bit more of a rotation than in recent years, but if Meyer has a back who’s getting the job done, he’ll ride him.
What to watch for on defense: Get ready for complete and utter dominance from the defensive front. Terrific last year, the line helped a run defense that gave up just 1,532 rushing yards and
nine scores on the season, but linebacker Ryan Shazier was the top playmaker behind the line,
and now he's gone. Boo hoo. 2013 superstar recruit Joey Bosa appears ready to blow up
after coming up with 7.5 sacks, DT Michael Bennett is an almost-certain top ten overall draft pick, Noah Spence – issues and all – will be fantastic on the end after an early suspension, and Adolphus Washington is about to become a dominant force.
There's depth behind the fantastic front four, more talent on the way, and the
versatility to mix things up a bit. Expect the line to spend most of 2014 in opposing backfields.
The team will be far better if … the secondary doesn’t suck. It’s not like the Buckeyes were facing Baylor and Texas Tech every week, but they couldn’t seem do handle anyone’s passing game. It didn’t matter when Cal hung up 371 yards and three scores – the Bears were awful – but Wisconsin WR Jared Abbrederis did whatever he wanted, Northwestern quarterbacks completed 25-of-31 passes for 343 yards, and the wheels completely came off late. OSU gave up 288 yards to Illinois and then got torched by Indiana for 320, Michigan for 451, Michigan State for 304 and Clemson for 378, allowing 16 touchdown passes over the final five games.
Can the pass defense possibly be better without Bradley Roby, Corey Brown and C.J. Barnett? Yeah. Doran Grant is a great place to start at one corner, and Tyvis Powell is a solid nickel defender. 2013 super-recruit Vonn Bell suffered a knee injury, but he should be fine, and the recruiting class is bringing in more NFL talent in Erick Smith, Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore. Helped by a killer pass rush from the defensive front, expect the nation’s 110th-ranked pass defense to improve.
The Schedule: It’s a fun non-conference slate dealing with the Navy rushing attack in Baltimore to kick things off, and then hosting Virginia Tech in an interesting BCS conference matchup before rolling through Kent State. Cincinnati is dangerous, but the Buckeyes get a week off to prepare before hosting the (most likely) best team in the American Athletic. And then it’s Game On, kicking off the Big Ten season at Maryland.
OSU gets the two new guys in the first two conference games, facing Rutgers after a week off following the Maryland game, and then there’s a run of three road games in four weeks going to Penn State, Michigan State and Minnesota along with a home game against Illinois. Home dates against Indiana and Michigan could be shootouts to close things out.
Best offensive player: Senior TE Jeff Heuerman. With Braxton
Miller out for the year, the hope is for J.T. Barrett to become the new
superstar. However, Heuerman is now the best player on the attack with the
ability to stretch the field with the speed to come up with a 57-yard touchdown
catch against Clemson and the size to outmuscle defenders for the ball. He might
not be the type of receiver who'll lead the team, but he'll be a dream of a
safety valve for Barrett.
Best defensive player: Senior DT Michael Bennett. An almost certain first round selection had he come out early, the 6-3, 285-pound veteran will be the anchor of a phenomenal line that helped the D come up with 42 sacks and 91 tackles for loss last season. Bennett isn’t huge, but he’s tough, active and aggressive with the ability to play inside or out. Exactly what the NFL is looking for, he’s on display now for the next level as a dream 3-4 end, even though he can do a little bit of everything. It’s not like the great line needs an anchor, but he’ll act as one.
Key player to a successful season: Redshirt freshman QB J.T.
Barrett. Welcome to the fun, rookie. Actually, he's a redshirt freshman who's
being thrown into the spotlight now that Braxton Miller is out for the year with
a shoulder problem - and he's a good one. While he's not all that big, he fits
the Ohio State dual-threat mold with 6-1, 225-pound size, excellent quickness,
and a good enough arm to get by. He wasn't a superstar of superstar prospects,
partly because he suffered a knee injury, but he's a strong all-around talent
who now has to fill in for the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year. Good luck.
The season will be a success if ... the Buckeyes get into the College Football Playoff. Winning the Big Ten title is the main goal that everyone will be talking about, but that’ll be empty if there isn’t an invite to the adult table at the end of it. There might be just enough holes to have major problems with a Florida State or an SEC champion, but as long as there’s a shot at the title, it’ll be a good year. Just get in and then hope for the best – the Buckeyes should be able to hang around with anyone. Anything less than a spot in the playoff will be a disaster, especially is some other Big Ten team makes it in.
Key game: Nov. 8 at Michigan State. Leave the hoopla over the Michigan rivalry to the casual fan – Ohio State needs to win the Big Ten game of the year to achieve its big goals. The Big Ten championship loss served as a preview of what’s to come, setting the tone for a tremendous rivalry now that the two are in the same division. The Buckeyes owned the matchup for years, but it’s turned into a war over the last three showdowns with the Spartans winning 10-7 in 2011 and losing 17-16 in 2012.
2013 Fun Stats:
- First Quarter Scoring: Ohio State 229 – Opponents 69
- Sacks; Ohio State 42 for 292 yards – Opponents 22 for 136 yards
- Rushing TDs: Ohio State 45 – Opponents 9
- 2014 Ohio State Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players