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Denard Robinson is one of the top Heisman candidates for 2012.
The college football season is a couple of months away, but the countdown to 2012 has officially begun. Athlon Sports’ 2012 preseason annuals will be hitting newsstands in early June and its official top 25 countdown will begin on May 1. Picking the order of finish in each conference and compiling the top 25 is no easy task. Each day leading up to the release of No. 25 on May 1, Athlon’s editors will tackle some of the top preseason debates and question marks facing the teams and conferences for 2012.
Urban Meyer has never won fewer than eight games in his debut season at any school in his career – he went 8-3 at Bowling Green, 10-2 at Utah and 9-3 at Florida. He should hit that mark again at Ohio State, even without the benefit of a bowl or a potential Big Ten title game appearance. I look at Ohio State’s schedule and I don’t see any game that’s a definite loss. The Buckeyes aren’t going to go undefeated – road trips to Michigan State and Wisconsin, plus home dates with Nebraska and Michigan are swing games. I could see Ohio State splitting those four games. That gives the Buckeyes a nine-win season heading into the Michigan game. On the other hand, the Wolverines have the tougher schedule. Michigan opens with Alabama in Arlington and must visit Notre Dame and Nebraska before heading to Columbus for the finale. I know others are buying into Ohio State – with Meyer on the sideline and a full season of quarterback Braxton Miller – being a Big Ten contender in all but name. I still like Michigan as the better team with the defense continuing to improve and Denard Robinson and the offensive coaching staff spending another season together. Even though Michigan will have a tougher road than Ohio State, the Wolverines seem headed to a higher win total.
If we are strictly debating the regular season win totals of Michigan and Ohio State, I will have to go with the Scarlet and Gray in a tie-breaker. There are five total "losable" games on the Buckeyes' schedule. That said, road trips to Michigan State and Penn State are not all that scary for an Urban Meyer-coached, Braxton Miller-quarterbacked squad. The Bucks likely would have beaten Nebraska on the road last fall had Miller not gotten hurt, so a visit from the Huskers to start October shouldn't be too menacing either. That leaves the final two weeks of the regular season in which Ohio State visits Wisconsin and hosts that team from up north. While the road trip to Madison seems daunting, there is nothing special about this Badger team that forces me to pencil in a loss for Ohio State — especially coming off a bye the week before. Finally, it feels like an awfully tall order for Michigan to walk into the Horseshoe and beat a team that knows it will be playing its final game of the season with a chance to ruin the lofty goals of its rival — be it a Big Ten title, BCS bowl bid or more. Keep in mind, the worst Ohio State team in more than a decade nearly beat the best Michigan team in five years on the road last fall. On the conservative side, I will go with a 10-2 record for Ohio State and a win over Brady Hoke.
I will also give Michigan a 10-2 record for the 2012 regular season. The Wolverines will exercise some in-state demons by beating Michigan State for the first time in five seasons and will exact some revenge on an underwhelming Iowa team. And while I would love to pick Denard Robinson to upset the defending champions and their totally reworked defense on a lighting fast tract in Dallas in Week 1, I just can't see the Maize and Blue line of scrimmage holding up against Alabama. That leaves the trip south to Columbus in the season finale as the tie-breaker. An Ohio State win gives both teams a 10-2 record (in my scenario) and thus the Bucks get the nod via tie-breaker.
It’s tough to gauge where Ohio State stands as a team going into 2012. The Buckeyes underachieved last season, largely due to the coaching situation and overall uncertainty surrounding the program. However, Ohio State still has one of the Big Ten’s best rosters, and new coach Urban Meyer has been a winner at every stop. Meyer has also produced immediate results, which bodes well for Ohio State's record in 2012. The Buckeyes have a few question marks on offense - offensive line and receiving corps - but return quarterback Braxton Miller, a perfect fit for Meyer's spread attack.
Michigan had a tremendous first season under coach Brady Hoke, but suffered two key losses on the lines (center David Molk and tackle Mike Martin) and play in the tougher division. The Wolverines should score plenty of points, thanks to the return of quarterback Denard Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Michigan’s defense made huge strides under coordinator Greg Mattison last year, and should continue to show improvement in 2012.
There’s a good chance both teams finish with a 10-2 record, but I will give Ohio State a slight edge over Michigan for the most wins in 2012. The Wolverines have a tougher non-conference slate, facing a neutral site game against Alabama and a road test against Notre Dame. The Buckeyes have an easier road in non-conference play, taking on Miami (Ohio), UCF, California and UAB. Ohio State does have a tough Big Ten slate, as it will take on Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska in crossover games with the Legends. Considering how weak the Leaders Division is this year, the Wolverines should be able to sweep their crossover games, with the exception of the matchup against Ohio State. Expect the battle between rivals for the best record in the regular season to come down to the final weekend, with the Buckeyes edging the Wolverines in Columbus.
Kevin Noon, BuckeyeGrove.com
I am not sure if this is a totally fair question based upon the fact that Ohio State could play in as many as two fewer games with a bowl ban and a B1G Championship Game ban. It is safe to say that Michigan will make a bowl game and I do think it is one of the favorites in the Legends Division to go to Indy. So if you are counting the potential "postseason" games for Michigan, I will say the Maize and Blue wins more games. Yet, I believe that Ohio State's schedule sets up well for a 10-2 season with tricky games at Madison (Wis.) and East Lansing (Mich.) and a tough home game with Nebraska. I see Michigan going 9-3 during the same timeframe with losses to Alabama, Ohio State and either Michigan State or Nebraska. The Wolverines struggled to the end last season with one of the poorest performing Ohio State teams in recent memory, Buckeyes get the edge this year at home. Ohio State posts more regular season wins, but Michigan finishes with more due to NCAA sanctions in Columbus.
I think the Buckeyes will win more than the Wolverines during the regular season, mainly because of an easier out-of-conference schedule. Michigan might be able to catch up in wins during the postseason, since Ohio State will not be eligible for the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game. Urban Meyer might have inherited a sanctioned program, but he also is walking into a talented roster in Columbus. The defense should be excellent, led by John Simon, Johnathan Hankins and Christian Bryant. On offense, quarterback Braxton Miller looks like the perfect fit for Meyer’s dual-threat system. With linemen Andrew Norwell and Jack Mewhort clearing the way, the Buckeyes could put up enough points to win double-digit games this season. Michigan will also score big this year, with the electric Denard Robinson leading the way. The Wolverines did lose a couple of key linemen on each side of the ball, and that will hurt in trying to repeat last year’s 10-win regular season. OSU should go 4-0 outside of the Big Ten, while UM has games against Alabama and at Notre Dame. I think the Buckeyes will be greatly improved and have a good shot at 10 wins, while the Wolverines will battle a tougher slate and finish with eight or nine victories.
How will Athlon predict the Big Ten standings for 2012? Check back on May 1 as the 2012 Top 25 countdown will be released one team a day.
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