Athlon's College Football top 25 countdown for 2012 continues with No. 6 Ohio State. New coach Urban Meyer should bring a quick turnaround to Columbus, especially with sophomore Braxton Miller due for a breakout season. The Buckeyes are ineligible to play for the Big Ten title in 2012.
Will Ohio State Have the Best Record in the Big Ten?
David Fox (@DavidFox615)
I’m a believer that Ohio State will be vastly improved -- judging by our top-10 ranking of the Buckeyes, that’s not news -- but I am concerned that improving from 6-7 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten to the top team in the Big Ten is a stretch. True, Ohio State’s last six losses were all by a touchdown or less and only two of them were in Columbus. I credit some of those lapses to a rookie coach and a freshman quarterback. Now, Ohio State has Urban Meyer and a sophomore signal-caller who could be a perfect fit in the offense. Let’s face it: Meyer is a miracle worker in year one. He’s never won fewer than eight games in his debut season -- he improved Bowling Green from 2-9 to 8-3, Utah from 5-6 to 10-2 and Florida from 7-5 to 9-3. I tend to believe his first year at Ohio State will be closer to his first year at Florida than his stops in the MAC and Mountain West. Ohio State will have a top-notch defense loaded with upperclassmen and two talented sophomores (cornerback Bradley Roby and linebacker Ryan Shazier), but the offense is a question mark. We just assume Miller is going to be a star overnight. The talent is there as is the coaching, but he’s still a guy who didn’t complete more than eight passes in a game until the last two games against Michigan and Florida. He rarely completed even half his passes after taking over as the starter. Ohio State will be better, but the Buckeyes aren’t going to be the (on paper) Big Ten champion.
Braden Gall (@BradenGall)
I will say yes, but since the Big Ten feels so wide open in 2012, I don't feel strongly about it. Ohio State will be dramatically improved in the win-loss ledger simply because the team is finally unified, led by one of the nation's elite head coaches and can only improve from what was the worst Buckeye team since...1988?
The non-conference slate offers some interesting challenges that should be perfect for a developing star quarterback and stellar defense. UCF and Cal are both bowl teams with quality talent but winning at the Horseshoe is highly unlikely. A 4-0 record heading into conference play is all but certain for the Bucknuts. However, Week 5 is where things get interesting. We will know most of what we need to know about Ohio State when they open Big Ten play in East Lansing. The Spartans have the offensive line and defense to challenge the Buckeyes, but do they get the quarterback play needed to beat OSU? If Ohio State wins that game, they won't lose until late November — if at all.
Nebraska, Purdue and Illinois will all be tests at home with the Huskers offering the toughest opposition. Yet, Ohio State was up 27-6 in Lincoln last year when Braxton Miller got hurt and Big Red made the improbable second-half comeback. There is no chance that type of loss happens again under Urban Meyer. Road trips to Penn State and Indiana sprinkled in should be wins as well.
That leaves the final three weeks of the season to likely determine who has the best record in the league. The bye week is perfectly situated in front of a road trip to Wisconsin. The Badgers and Spartans will likely be the two toughest games of the year and I believe Ohio State will slip up against one of the two. Ohio State hasn't lost in East Lansing since 1999 and is 7-1 in the last eight against MSU while it's 1-2 in its last three trips to MadTown.
This, of course, brings us to the season finale against the bitter rival from up North. With nothing left to play for but a chance to ruin it's arch-rival's title bid, I cannot see Ohio State losing at home to Michigan. Last year's 40-34 shootout road loss to Michigan is telling. The worst Ohio State team in over two decades nearly upset the best Michigan team since 2006 on the road. If Ohio State goes 11-1, it will have the best overall record in the league, and, at 7-1, will likely tie for the best conference record as well.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
The balance of power in the Big Ten for the 2012 season is definitely tilted in favor to the Legends Division. Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska each have a strong case to be picked No. 1 in the Legends and be ranked among the top 10-15 teams for the upcoming year. The Leaders Division is down, as Wisconsin is not expected to repeat last season’s win total, and Penn State will be in a battle just to get to seven victories.
Considering the strength of the Legends Division, I think Ohio State will emerge with the Big Ten’s best record. The Buckeyes are coming off a disappointing 6-7 season, but the pieces are in place for a big improvement in the win column. New coach Urban Meyer has engineered quick turnarounds at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, and Ohio State figures to fall into a similar path.
Outside of Meyer’s arrival, the biggest reason for optimism in Columbus is quarterback Braxton Miller. He took his lumps as a true freshman last season and should thrive in Meyer’s spread attack. The Buckeyes need the receiving corps and offensive line to jell, but the defense should be one of the best in the nation.
Ohio State should sweep the non-conference portion of its schedule, but could lose at least two games in Big Ten play. Matchups at Michigan State and Wisconsin won’t be easy, while the Buckeyes host Nebraska and Michigan.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the champion of the Legends Division and Ohio State finish the regular season with the same amount of Big Ten wins (six), but I think Meyer finds a way to lead the Buckeyes to the conference’s best record.
Big things are expected in Columbus in Urban Meyer's first year. However, the Buckeyes' regular season success will have to satisfy OSU fans in 2012 since there will be no postseason in Year 1 under Meyer. As long as Meyer and the coaching staff can find a way to keep their players motivated throughout the season, then it wouldn't surprise me one bit to find them with the top conference mark when all is said and done, even if it doesn't result in a trip to Indianapolis to play in the Big Ten Championship game.
Wisconsin should be Ohio State's toughest opposition in the Leaders Division and these two will meet up in Madison on Nov. 17. That's a week before the Buckeyes' true season finale, a home game against none other than Michigan. Ohio State also faces another tough back-to-back assignment earlier in the season when it takes on Legends contenders Michigan State (in Lansing, Sept. 29) and Nebraska (home, Oct. 6) on consecutive Saturdays.
If Ohio State can navigate these four games with no worse than a split, than the Buckeyes are looking at no worse than a 6-2 conference record. However, I think Meyer uses the postseason ban to his advantage in firing up his guys, and the Buckeyes bond together to prove a point to the rest of the Big Ten. And just like what happened last season with USC winning its division, but not being eligible to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game, a 7-1 Ohio State team will see to it that the 2012 Big Ten title game includes just one true division winner.
Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)
I see the Buckeyes going either 6-2 or 7-1 in league play, so they should at least tie for the best Big Ten record. Ohio State does have to play the three top teams from the Legends Division — Michigan State, Nebraska and Michigan — plus travel to Wisconsin. But I think Urban Meyer has the roster to split those four conference games, if not go 3-1. Last season in Columbus involved so much turmoil and change, and I see the Buckeyes going right back to the top of the Big Ten pecking order this year.
The OSU resurgence will start with an excellent defense, led by linemen John Simon and Johnathan Hankins as well as secondary members C.J. Barnett, Bradley Roby and Christian Bryant. The Buckeyes were a lock for top 10 in total defense for most of the past decade, and I see them getting back to that lofty standard. On offense, quarterback Braxton Miller could have a breakout sophomore season in Meyer’s dual-threat system and with a year of experience under his belt. Ohio State will not be eligible for the Big Ten Championship or a bowl game, but the Buckeyes are a top candidate for having the league’s best record.
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