The Urban Renewal in Columbus has begun. After going 6-7 without a sweater-vest clad coach on the sideline, the Buckeyes turned to the only coach this decade who can reasonably compare resumes with Nick Saban: Urban Meyer. After going 12-0 in his first season and being denied a right to play for the title due to some free tattoos, expectations are sky-high again at Ohio State.
“Is there a word above supremely,” said Kevin Noon, publisher of BuckeyeGrove.com, when asked about the confidence level of Buckeye fans when it comes to competing for national championships year after year under Urban Meyer.
“Ohio State fans are supremely confident that Urban Meyer can lead to BCS Championships plural,” Noon declared.
Recently, however, Meyer brought a dose of realism by telling the Associated Press that his team had “too many holes to fill” to be compared to Alabama, and the general consensus is that, while the result may have been closer, the Buckeyes would have ultimately suffered the same fate as Notre Dame. That realization has not halted what Noon described as a “mixture of anger and disappointment” amongst the Buckeye fan base from being excluded from championship consideration. However, as Noon argues it’s likely that “as time moves on, more feelings of optimism will arise out of the bad feelings.”
Such optimism is clearly warranted.
With the return of Heisman candidate Braxton Miller, the Buckeyes could be a contender this coming season. Noon said that “Ohio State’s offense really should develop with this extra year, and we saw moments where the Buckeyes came into their own as a team.” However, as Noon pointed out, “the question mark will fall on the defense.” Meyer loses eight starters including all four linemen, two linebackers, and two defensive backs to graduation.
To replace the lost starters as well as to continue to build the depth that will allow Ohio State to keep pace with Alabama, Meyer has been relentless on the recruiting trail bringing cornerbacks Eli Apple (#17 in the Breitbart 25) and Cameron Burrows, as well as defensive ends Tyquan Lewis and Tracy Sprinkle to compete this spring for immediate playing time. Headliners including defensive tackles Billy Price and Michael Hill, defensive end Joey Bosa, linebackers Mike Mitchell (#15 in the Breitbart 25) and Trey Johnson, as well as safety Jayme Thompson will join them in the fall.
While Noon admits that “it’s hard to pencil a true freshman in the mix even with a head start,” expectations will be high for the early enrollees to make an immediate push for a starting spot. Noon also cites Johnson and Mitchell as defenders we may see next season. “I think both linebackers in Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson could be impactful immediately and have opportunities for immediate playing time at linebacker” said Noon. “Both players will have everything to play for with a depth chart that is written in pencil.”
Johnson caused a stir this past weekend with a visit to Tennessee, but he appears to be solid to the Buckeyes.
Noon, who said he “loves this class,” also was quick to distinguish Bosa as a player that “doesn’t come across overly flashy,” but is “a hard-nosed playmaker who is disruptive as well as technically sound.”
On the offensive ball side of the ball, Meyer has also added crucial weapons. “I believe that Jalin Marshall could be that X Factor that was missing last year” Noon said before adding, “Meyer likes to have a speedy versatile type of weapon that Marshall can be.” With Marshall in the “Percy Harvin” role, Meyer is also bringing in dual-threat quarterback J.T. Barrett, tight end Marcus Baugh, offensive tackle Evan Lisle, and power running back Ezekiel Elliott who Noon said could “emerge from a crowded backfield depth chart early in his OSU career.”
Elliott’s recruitment may not be over yet as a visit to in-state Missouri has put him signing with the Buckeyes in modest doubt.
Despite an already impressive haul, Meyer is still heavily pursuing new five-star safety Vonn Bell, speedy Rivals100 running back Dontre Wilson, four-star offensive tackle Cameron Hunt, shifty four star wide receiver James Clark, and the heralded four-star Robinson twins (Tyrell and Tyree) as the primary targets for the Buckeyes. Corn Elder, a dynamic running back who also wants to play basketball at the next level, as well as others could be factors as well.
Noon said he believes that “when the faxes start rolling in, the Buckeyes could finish as high as second or third,” though he admits catching the top spot may be out of reach. Meyer will have to turn up the heat on some top prospects including Bell who may be leaning towards Alabama as well as Wilson and the Robinson twins (all three are committed to Oregon).
Regardless of exactly how the Buckeyes finish, Ohio State is once again a program on the rise. There is a belief that the Buckeyes may emerge as the best threat to Alabama/SEC dominance, and some believe the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry could once again be a part of the national title conversation. Brady Hoke has the Wolverines playing well on the field and sitting in the top 10 of the Rivals.com Team Rankings. In fact, the Wolverines may be poised to make a jump this weekend if Hermitage HS (Richmond, VA) running back Derrick Green (#9 ranked prospect in the Breitbart 25) chooses Michigan over his childhood favorite Ohio State, a move that would really sting for Buckeye fans.
Even still, the sun would still be shining in Columbus and optimism will only glow brighter after Signing Day. Adding an outstanding class that meets needs will only strengthen the confidence of Ohio State fans. Noon closed our conversation by saying “with Meyer and the talent that he is stockpiling, there will be a lot more to the yearly conversations about title runs and OSU fans are hoping to spend the New Year in Pasadena ,not at the traditional Rose Bowl, but rather at the game on Jan 6 for the final BCS era championship game.”