The Urban Meyer era at Ohio State begins on Saturday when the Miami-Ohio RedHawks travel to Ohio Stadium to take on the Buckeyes in the 2012 season opener for both teams.
"Obviously to say I'm excited about Saturday, it would be a very shallow statement, because I think everybody knows that," said the Buckeyes' newest head coach. "But I'm honored to be here, honored to be the coach of the Ohio State University football team and to come back home and coach in the great state of Ohio."
After a year working as a television college football commentator and analyst, Meyer is back on the sidelines. The spread offense enthusiast enters 2012 with a 104-23 record after successful stints at Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida. Meyer's winning formula is needed in Columbus now more that ever, as OSU finished 6-7 in 2011, its first losing season since 1988. Among Meyer's accomplishments are a perfect Utes' season in 2004, a pair of BCS National Championships with Florida, and a 7-1 record in bowl games. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes' new coach, he will have to wait until 2013 to add to his impressive bowl game record as Ohio State serves its one-year postseason ban. Ohio State coaches are 21-1-1 in their debuts with the school. The only OSU coach to lose in his debut game was Jack Ryder, in 1892.
The RedHawks had an awful start and finish to their season, as the reigning MAC champions heading into 2011, finished with a dismal 4-8 overall record. Don Treadwell had to wait for his first career win as a head coach, as things started off bad. Treadwell's career record dropped to 0-4 trekking through a challenging non-conference schedule before the RedHawks downed Army for their first victory. Miami defeated the bottom dwellers of the MAC during the heart of its schedule, but lost three in a row by an average of 4.3 points to close the season.
These in-state foes have met only four times before in history despite being separated by just a little more than 100 miles. Ohio State improved to 4-0 in the all-time series with its 34-14 victory over the RedHawks on Sept. 3, 2005 at Ohio Stadium in the last encounter. The Buckeyes have defeated 57 consecutive non-conference opponents not ranked in the top 25.
Miami's air it out philosophy gave it the 14th best passing game in the nation with an average of 299.1 yards per game in 2011. Senior quarterback Zac Dysert comes into 2012 just 1,939 yards short of passing Ben Roethlisberger's program record after throwing for a career best 3,513 yards in 2011.
"Zac has improved since last spring and I thought he was better in the spring than he was at the end of last season," said quarterbacks coach Mike Bath. "He's worked extremely hard at his craft. The thing that stands out most is that Zac has become a technician and understands how fundamentals fit into the overall play."
Nick Harwell will be a big factor in Dysert's pursuit of Big Ben's record. The junior was college football's second-leading receiver last season with 1,425 yards and nine TDs. The 6-foot-1 wideout has a dangerous combination of speed and strength that will test OSU's secondary. Dawan Scott and Andy Cruse are both experienced wide receivers, but they will need to take advantage of the defense's focus on Harwell.
The RedHawks' impressive 2011 passing numbers came with their national worst average of 73.8 rushing yards per game. Treadwell decided to start senior Justin Semmes at tailback, who was the only player on the team to crack the 100-yard mark in a game last season.
Miami was strong on the other side of the ball in 2011 as it ranked 24th in the nation in pass defense (195.2 yards per game), 39th in scoring defense (22.9 points per game), and 48th in total defense (363.7 yards per game).
Senior linebackers Jaytee Swanson and Pat Hinkel will have to replace the void left by the graduation of two of Miami's top three tacklers. The linebackers' jobs will be made easier by the front four that includes DT Austin Brown, DT Mike Johns, DE Jason Semmes, and DE Wes Williams.
The RedHawks' secondary returns three starters including First-Team All-MAC selection Dayonne Nunley. Sophomore Brison Burris is expected to start at strong safety as he returns after showing promise as a true freshman. Starting free safety D.J. Brown led the team in pass break-ups with 15 last season.
Miami's new defensive coordinator Jay Peterson faces the task of slowing down Ohio State's Braxton Miller. The scrambling quarterback took over the starting job four games into his freshman season and finished with 1,159 passing yards, 715 rushing yards, and 20 total touchdowns. While Miller's passing ability is a work in progress, his athleticism makes him difficult to contain.
The Buckeyes lacked a standout skill player in the passing game last season. Miller has a huge target 6-foot-5, 245-pound hybrid pass catcher Jake Stoneburner. Sophomore Devin Smith and junior Corey Brown both earned starting wide receiver spots after fitting well with Meyer's new system.
Junior halfback Carlos Hyde should be the lead back after rushing for 5.3 yards per carry last season. Senior running back Jordan Hall is a versatile threat that can be used anywhere on the field to keep defenses off balance.
Meyer has stated his intention to build a speed driven defense comparable to that of the premier SEC programs. The new head coach will look towards third- team All-American DE John Simon to lead the charge this season. Simon's job as a pass rusher is made much easier by Johnathan Hankins who weighs in at 322 pounds yet displays impressive athleticism. Hankins finished 2011 with 67 tackles.
Etienne Sabino, the team MVP in last season's Gator Bowl, is the lone senior starter in the linebacking unit. The sophomore duo of Ryan Shazier (6-2, 230) and Curtis Grant (6-3, 235) are fierce athletes and could develop into an unstoppable tandem.
OSU's secondary, which returns 62 career starts, is led by safety C.J. Barnett and sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby. Senior CB Travis Howard (6-1, 200) has great size for his position and will be starting opposite of Roby.