August 3, 2013

Buckeyes ready for Year 2 under Meyer

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Sometime tonight, somewhere on the Ohio State campus, a growing tradition will take place. After three and a half months of offseason conditioning, Buckeyes Assistant AD for Football Sports Performance Mickey Marotti will present Urban Meyer with his second ever Ohio State team.

The ceremony, which has become a ritual between Meyer and his right-hand man, will be enjoyable for some and less than that for others. While proclaimed offseason "champions" dine on filet and their preference of food, those less fortunate -- the ones who didn't make Marotti and team leaders' subjective cut -- will likely spend their meal pondering what they can do in the coming weeks to not find themselves in this position again, while eating whatever it is that they're allowed to.

And with that, fall camp for the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes will officially be underway.

Year 2 under Meyer has always been a memorable one, regardless of wherever it is that the 12-year head coach has been. At Bowling Green in 2002, Meyer led the Falcons to a 9-3 record, and in 2004, the then-Utah head coach amassed a 12-0 mark in his final season in Salt Lake City. In Meyer's last second season -- 2006 in Florida -- he won the first of his two BCS National Championships with the Gators, beating Ohio State by a score of 41-14 in the title game.

Altogether, Meyer has amassed a 34-4 cumulative record in his second seasons at programs, and the expectation is that he'll continue that success in Year 2 in Columbus.

Ranked second in the preseason USA Today coaches poll, the Buckeyes are coming off of a 12-0 debut season for Meyer and return a combined 13 starters on both sides of the ball, including reigning Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller. Ohio State looks primed to continue its head coach's stellar second season track record, but like all other teams at this time of the year, it will be forced to find answers to questions in the coming weeks.

Twenty-eight years ago was the last time that an Ohio State defense was forced to replace all four starters on its defensive line. That nearly three decade-long streak, however, comes to an end this year, with Buckeyes defensive line coach Mike Vrabel facing the enviable task of replacing all of the starters -- and two NFL Draft picks -- in OSU's front-four.

Thanks to talented recruiting classes and offseason development, the Buckeyes' defensive line hardly looked like a shell of its former self this spring, with sophomore defensive ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence stealing the show in Ohio State's annual spring game. Questions persist up the middle, where Michael Bennett and Joel Hale will get the first cracks at being the Buckeyes' space-eaters, but Tommy Schutt, Chris Carter, Donovan Munger, and Michael Hill could all provide some much needed depth.

Although the Buckeyes won't play their first game until Aug. 31, the offseason was not without its enemies. Namely, a few that popped up in recent weeks in the form of unnecessary distractions and potentially costly suspensions.

After an altercation at a Columbus bar that saw him named a person of interest, but ultimately never charged, starting running back Carlos Hyde has been suspended for at least Ohio State's first three games of the upcoming season. Joining Hyde in suspension for the Buckeyes' opener will be freshman tight end Marcus Baugh (underage possession of alcohol and a false identification), and possibly cornerback Bradley Roby, who was charged with misdemeanor battery in Bloomington, Ind. two weeks ago.

While situations like the ones listed above typically add to a coach's stress, they've only increased Meyer's desire to get to tomorrow as soon as possible. As he's mentioned in the past, distractions can derail the most talented of teams, and the Buckeyes head coach is determined to not let his fall into that trap.

Fresh faces should help alleviate some of Meyer's worries, with the Buckeyes laying claim to the nation's second-ranked recruiting class in 2013. Meyer successfully wooed a pair of five-star defenders in Vonn Bell and Mike Mitchell to Columbus, as well as a quartet of talented playmakers in Dontre Wilson, James Clark, Jalin Marshall, and Ezekiel Elliott.

Most -- if not all, and then some -- of the players listed above figure to factor significantly into the Buckeyes' plans in 2013. "We don't recruit players to redshirt" is the motto that Meyer and his staff have often touted since coming to Columbus, and this year's class appears on paper to be more ready to contribute than last year's.

Miller's Heisman hopes have only been increased by the addition of this year's class, with the junior signal-caller specifically singing the praises of Wilson's ability this offseason. The first-team All-Big Ten quarterback finished fifth in Heisman voting a season ago, and hasn't been shy about stating that winning college football's most prestigious award is one of his goals for the upcoming season.

In order to do that, Miller will have to improve on a completion percentage of 58.3 percent from a season ago. If, however, that is accomplished, and Miller puts up numbers similar to the record-setting ones that he did a year ago, a Heisman Trophy and another successful second season for Meyer could well be in the Buckeyes' future.


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