Preseason Forecast - 2014
By Patrick Murphy
COLUMBUS, Ohio (August 29, 2014). - As the Ohio State Buckeyes await their 2014 season-opener against the Midshipment of Navy in M&T Bank Stadium it might be a good time to review just how this season of great expectations was set up.
2013 was a season that looked destined to deliver so much to the Buckeye football team and their fans.
Ohio State entered the year No. 2 in the nation in both major polls and it seemed they were on a collision course with Alabama for the National Championship.
It was set for a match made in heaven with two of college football’s historic programs, led by two of the nation’s top coaches who just happen to be rivals, meeting in the last BCS title game.
The Crimson Tide though could not hold their end of the bargain, hitting a speed bump named Johnny Football that they have become all too familiar with. Hope was not lost entirely for Alabama, who won the title the previous year with one loss, but Nick Saban’s Tide fell at home to LSU eight weeks later.
Even though the Tide would not be in The Game, the Buckeyes were cruising through non-conference opponents with ease.
Quarterback Braxton Miller and his offense seemed to set new records each game as they put up video game numbers. The defense, which was expected to struggle early with only four returning starters, quickly clicked into gear.
The potential trap game, traveling out west to take on the California Golden Bears only boosted fans feelings that this team had something special, as the Buckeyes won big.
Conference play began and with it brought new challenges for Urban Meyer’s team. The No. 1 ranking meant that those in the Big Ten were gunning for Ohio State that much more, as they looked to be the ones to knock OSU off their perch.
Wisconsin hung with the Buckeyes for the first two quarters, but the hurry up offense eventually wore down the big bodies of the Badgers’ defense in the second half.
The trip to Evanston, marked by some as Ohio State’s most difficult task, did not live up to the hype. The two-quarterback system had worked for the Wildcats up to that point, but against the silver bullets everything came apart.
Penn State was a fun night game for fans, but mainly because their team opened an early lead and never looked in danger.
Idiana put points on the board in the Horseshoe, but in the end, the Scarlet and Gray put up quite a bit more.
The trip to Ann Arbor was the rivalry game everyone expected. Michigan needed the win to setup a rematch with the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game, but OSU had bigger hopes. A solid three quarter battle changed due to turnovers in the fourth quarter. Ohio State celebrated a trip to Indianapolis on the team up north’s field.
The biggest scare came in the Big Ten’s finale, where Nebraska got out to an early lead and had the Buckeyes down at half. Miller and the offense awoke in the second half, emerging refocused and pulled off a win, albeit a close one.
Georgia was the SEC opponent waiting in the championship game. Once again, the magic of the south prevailed. Ohio State’s dream season was ended with a gut-wrenching loss to the Bull Dogs to close out the BCS era.
“It’s hard to forget that loss still,” said sophomore Dontre Wilson.
“After such a good season, to have things end that way. It just hurts. But like Coach Meyer says, we have to focus on this year.”
Though the season ended sour, especially for the seniors who were major contributors in 2013, 2014 comes with renewed promise and a sense of focus.
The Buckeyes lost a lot of experience on both sides of the ball, but were fortunate to get the younger players considerable playing time.
The offensive line is the primary area of attrition, but due to minor injuries and big leads, the likes of Jacoby Boren, Pat Elflein, Chase Farris, Kyle Dodson, and Darryl Baldwin all got valuable experience that keeps Ohio State’s line worries at a minimum.
The receiving corps and safeties also will miss 2013 starters. Philly Brown and Chris Fields of the pass catchers and Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett in the defensive backfield, but Ohio State has talent returning. Vonn Bell leads a list of talented prospects at safety, and the speed and depth of the OSU receiving corps may well be the best in all of OSU football history.
This team is motivated to get back to the summit. After an undefeated 2012 season, many of these players knew little of defeat. Now almost all of them have that bitter taste still lingering. This desire to prove themselves at the highest level is the reason this team is preseason No. 1 and expected to be in the first ever college football playoff.
The player with the most to prove is Miller. After being the Heisman Trophy favorite to start last year, he finished second in the final voting. Putting up good numbers all year long, many thought Miller would take the award home in New York, but it was a preview of things to come, as Miller took his first post-season lost to Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
“Aaron deserved the award, there’s no doubt about that,” Miller said dejectedly when he returned to Columbus.
After two interceptions and a lost fumble in the National Championship, Miller cares more about closing the deal for his team than the individual awards.
“I returned for one reason and one reason only,” Miller said. “That is to take this team to National Title and come home with that crystal ball.”
Everyone around the quarterback has noticed a change in him.
“He has continued to grow as a leader and knows how focused he needs to be this year,” said fellow senior Devin Smith.
“All he wants to do is work on throws, watch tape, get better. He’s forcing us to work with him and it can only benefit our team.”
With even more weapons this year, including Parris Campbell, Terry McLaurin, and Curtis Samuel, and another year working with the likes of Wilson and Ezekiel Elliott, the Ohio State offense could take another big step this season.
The defense is also driven to prove that last year’s regular season wasn’t a fluke.
“We lost some key guys,” junior Noah Spence told reporters.
“We believe this can be an even better defense though. Guys like me and Adolphus are a year more experienced and Mike Mitchell] and Trey [Johnson] and some others are looking really good. We’re just really hungry.”
The loss of Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby, along with the safeties, will be felt, but Meyer’s continuous recruiting makes filling these holes relatively easy.
“This team still has work to do, that’s for sure,” Meyer said.
“This group is ahead of last year’s team I believe and to me it is because they understand what it’s like to fall. They’ve felt the pain and they want to feel that the glory of being on top.”
2013 was a great season until the end, which made it tart for both players and fans alike. It could be, though, that the failure to conclude last year the way Ohio State wanted could make the 2014 Buckeyes special.