Philadelphia, PA – Over the past few seasons, the Ohio State Buckeyes have endured plenty of turmoil and turnover.
However, against the odds, the program has more than just rebounded, emerging from the ashes of their 2010 improper benefits scandal to become one of the top contenders for the BCS national title in 2013.
The fallout from the incident forced the Buckeyes to forgo several scholarships and cost them bowl eligibility in 2012. It also left the team in a state of flux after the resignation of Jim Tressel, who won more than 80 percent of his games at the helm for Ohio State from 2001 to 2010.
Luckily, the school found its savior during the dark period in head coach Urban Meyer.
Following a lackluster 6-7 campaign in 2011 under interim head coach Luke Fickell, the Buckeyes shocked the college football landscape by bringing Meyer aboard last season. Meyer's track record was nearly impeccable prior to arriving in Columbus. After dominating lower levels of competition at Bowling Green and Utah from 2001-2004 (39-8), he went on to win five bowl games in six seasons at Florida while being crowned BCS national champions in 2006 and 2008. Still, even with his standing as one of college football's most brilliant minds, many wondered how long it would take Meyer to bring Ohio State back to national prominence.
It's safe to say Meyer silenced any doubters in his first season. Despite being ineligible to play for the Big Ten title or in a bowl game, the Buckeyes were outstanding in 2012, finishing a perfect 12-0, setting up strongly for a similar run in 2013.
The key to Meyer's success last season was his ability to quickly implement his offensive scheme, and the results were fantastic, as the unit amassed over 423 yards per game while scoring a lofty 37.2 points per game. There's no reason to think that the offense can't put up even better numbers in 2013, as nine of 11 starters return to the fold, including quarterback Braxton Miller.
Miller emerged as one of the nation's most dynamic playmakers during his sophomore season, showing prowess in the passing game (.583 completion percentage, 2,039 yards, 15 TDs, six INTs) while displaying elite ability to make plays with his legs as well (1,271 rushing yards, 13 TDs).
Miller's confidence under center has improved with each season on campus, and he has high hopes that even more growth is on the horizon.
"I know the plays better, how they'll develop and where the guys are going to be," Miller said of his evolution as a quarterback. "It allows me to move around the pocket more confidently."
The Heisman Trophy-hopeful signal-caller will have plenty of talent to help him out in 2013, headlined by senior tailback Carlos Hyde, who, despite missing two games a season ago, racked up 970 yards (5.2 ypc), while ranking second in the Big Ten with 16 rushing touchdowns. Hyde and Miller will both benefit from the return of offensive line staples Jack Mewhort and Andrew Norwell, both of whom earned All-Conference honors in 2012.
In addition to having the Big Ten's top rushing attack fully intact, Ohio State's top receiving threats Corey Brown (60 rec, 669 yards, three TDs) and Deven Smith (30 rec, 618 yards, six TDs) are also back to help Miller improve vertically.
Meyer knows he has a lot of talent to work with, and he isn't bashful about his expectations for the offense.
"I would be disappointed if we're not the best offense in the Big Ten," Meyer said following his team's spring game.
Things are less certain on the defensive side of the ball for the Buckeyes, as they were solid yet unspectacular a season ago in allowing opponents to put up 22.8 points per game. Things are even less certain going into this year, as only four starters return.
The good news is that Second Team All-Big Ten linebacker Ryan Shazier is back for his junior season looking to improve upon a team-leading 115 tackles, 17 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles while also adding five sacks and an interception in 2012. Ohio State should be one of the top teams in the conference against the pass as well, as Christian Bryant (71 tackles, INT), Bradley Roby (63 tackles, two INTs, 19 PDs) and C.J. Barnett (56 tackles, two INTs) make up a very experienced secondary.
"I think we made great strides this spring," senior safety Barnett said. "There were a lot of questions coming into this season, especially on defense with guys like John Simon (14.5 TFL, nine sacks) graduating. It's important to see guys like Adolphus Washington step up and make some plays."
The way the offense is built, it would surprise no one if the Buckeyes run through the Big Ten once again in 2013. Now that Meyer has already shown his ability to dominate the regular season, the next big question is whether or not his team can end the SEC's reign of terror over the FBS landscape. It's been eight seasons since another conference has hoisted the national championship trophy, but Meyer has held that crystal football twice before, and he just may have what it takes to bring it back to Columbus at season's end.