Can the rest of college football stop the SEC from its eighth straight national championship? That’s the big question facing coaching staffs in the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and at Notre Dame this offseason. Alabama is a heavy favorite to win its fourth BCS title in five years in 2013, but the No. 2 spot in most preseason polls is expected to be a tossup between Oregon and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are coming off an undefeated regular season but was unable to play in a bowl game due to NCAA sanctions. The Ducks finished 2012 with 12 victories but a 17-14 loss to Stanford ended their hopes of playing for the national title.
Even though the 2013 season is still months away, it’s never too early to take an early look at how Oregon and Ohio State might stack up next year.
Although the Ducks are picked by most to be the No. 2 team next year, Athlon’s early top 25 has the Buckeyes ranked just behind Alabama.
5 Reasons Why Ohio State (Not Oregon) Is Alabama’s Biggest Threat in 2013
Urban Meyer versus Mark Helfrich? No offense to the Oregon first-year head coach but this intangible is heavily favored in Ohio State’s direction. Helfrich was promoted to keep continuity from the Chip Kelly era but has no previous head coaching experience. Although Helfrich knows the Ducks’ culture and has played a role in developing their offense, there will be a drop-off from Kelly.
Meyer has been one of college football’s most successful coaches of the BCS era, recording a 39-8 record from stops at Bowling Green and Utah and a 65-15 mark at Florida. Meyer won two national championships during his tenure in Gainesville and is 12-0 in his only season with the Buckeyes.
Neither team has a difficult schedule, but Ohio State’s slate is slightly easier than what Oregon will face. The Buckeyes face Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M in the non-conference portion, and Oregon will play Nicholls State, Nevada and Tennessee.
While the non-conference portion is essentially even, Ohio State has an easier path to a national championship in the Big Ten. Outside of the Buckeyes, the Big Ten isn’t expected to have another team inside of most preseason top-15 lists. Wisconsin, Michigan, Nebraska and Northwestern will be ranked outside of the top 15 but will still present a challenge for the Buckeyes. Ohio State has four conference road games, with the toughest being a matchup against Michigan.
Oregon’s road to an unbeaten record is more difficult, especially with a date at Stanford on Nov. 7. The Ducks also face Washington in Seattle, and the Huskies could be one of the Pac-12’s most-improved teams next season. Oregon also plays UCLA – the preseason favorite in the South Division – but misses USC and Arizona State.
There will always be a game that is tougher than most expect once the season kicks off, however, Ohio State has a favorable path to another 12-0 mark in the regular season.
3. Improving playmakers
Even though quarterback Braxton Miller started all 12 games in 2012, Ohio State can’t rely on the junior passer to survive another season with 227 carries. Miller is a perfect fit for coach Urban Meyer’s spread offense, and with another offseason to work with the coaching staff, he is expected to be one of the top Heisman contenders in 2013.
Taking some of the pressure off Miller will be essential to a national championship run. The good news for Ohio State is nearly all of its skill players from last season return, and running back Jordan Hall is back after missing nearly all of 2012 due to injury. Hall has potential to play in a Percy Harvin role for the Buckeyes, along with serving as a complement back to starter Carlos Hyde. Although Hyde finished the year with less than 1,000 yards, he had two 100-yard efforts in the final three games and scored 16 touchdowns in 10 games.
Hyde and Hall will be one of the Big Ten’s top running back duos next season, and the receiving corps returns four out of its top five statistical receivers from 2012. Corey Brown is back after catching 60 passes for 669 yards and three scores, and Devin Smith heads into his junior year with 10 career touchdown receptions.
There’s no shortage of playmakers in Eugene, starting with running back De’Anthony Thomas. Receiver Josh Huff averaged 15.4 yards per reception, and tight end Colt Lyerla is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. However, with the departure of running back Kenjon Barner, the Ducks lack a proven running back that can handle 20-25 carries a game.
Oregon may have more overall playmakers, but Ohio State’s supporting cast next season is in better shape than it was in 2012.
4. Defensive improvement in Columbus?
The Buckeyes’ defense started off Big Ten play on a bad note last season. Ohio State allowed 38 points to Nebraska and 49 against Indiana. Although both games resulted in a victory for the Buckeyes, it wasn’t a vintage defensive effort most in Columbus were used to seeing. Ohio State’s defense was better in the second half of the season, allowing 20.4 points over the final five contests and generating four sacks in three out of the final four games.
Even though the defense loses linemen John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams, this unit has potential to show improvement in 2013. Co-coordinators Everett Withers and Luke Fickell have a full offseason to get the players acquainted with the scheme, while Meyer has brought in two of the nation’s best recruiting classes in 2012 and 2013. The back seven of the defense should be the strength for Ohio State, especially thanks to the decision of cornerback Bradley Roby to return for another year in Columbus.
Due to the success of its offense, Oregon’s defense often gets overlooked. The Ducks allow 374.2 yards per game but held opponents to 21.6 points per contest and forced 40 turnovers. Oregon’s defense was also hit hard by personnel departures, losing standouts Dion Jordan (defensive end) and linebackers Kiko Alonso and Michael Clay to graduation. Even though the Ducks have a few holes to fill, this unit shouldn’t suffer too much of a drop-off.
The edge in defense should slightly favor Oregon, but the Buckeyes have plenty of time to let their new starters get acquainted with the lineup. With Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M in the first four games of the season, Ohio State should work out the kinks by the time it plays Wisconsin and Northwestern to open Big Ten play.
5. Braxton Miller’s development as a passer
Although Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller had an outstanding sophomore campaign, he still has room to grow in Meyer’s offense. Miller completed 54.1 percent of his throws as a freshman and improved that number to 58.3 percent in 2012. With another offseason to work with Meyer and coordinator Tom Herman, Miller could push that total to over 60 percent. The Ohio native averaged 169.9 passing yards per game in 2012 and that total could easily be over 200 next year.
In addition to Miller’s development in Ohio State’s spread attack, his surrounding cast is improving, and the receiving corps has emerging weapons like Corey Brown and Devin Smith. And with the Buckeyes likely to take some carries off his shoulders, Miller will have an opportunity to focus more of his attention on attacking defenses with his arm.
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