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IN THE LONG RUN, IT ALREADY LOOKS AS IF THE BUCKEYES WILL land on their feet in the wake of the improper-benefits scandal that ended Jim Tressel's tenure in 2011. But 2012 is shaping up to be a transitional year. Urban Meyer returns to Columbus (where he was a graduate assistant) with plenty of talent to work with—on defense, anyway. The Buckeyes arguably have the best line in the nation. Defensive end John Simon, a third-team All-America last year, earned Meyer's highest praise when the coach (invoking his Florida tenure) referred to his defensive leader as "Tebowish." He is joined by junior defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, an absurdly athletic 317-pounder. The secondary, headed by junior safety C.J. Barnett, is deep and experienced, and the linebacking corps, while green, is talented.
On offense, though, Meyer has issues. A year ago Ohio State averaged 24.5 points, its lowest output since 2004, and 318.2 yards of offense, its worst output since the Woody Hayes era (1976, to be exact). "There's a lot of reasons why," Meyer says. "But obviously, [they] played a true-freshman quarterback and had relatively inexperienced guys at the skill positions. It showed statistically, and it showed on videotape."
The true freshman to whom Meyer refers is Braxton Miller. Now a sophomore, he's a star in the making and is potentially a superb fit for Meyer's spread offense. But last season he was raw as a passer, and given Ohio State's dearth of quality receivers, he may not have the supporting cast he needs to progress. (The go-to guy may turn out to be massive tight end Jake Stoneburner.) Still, Meyer is upbeat. "I think we're probably a little bit ahead of where I thought we would be," he says.
As part of the Buckeyes' punishment for the violations committed under Tressel's watch, they're not eligible for a bowl or for the Big Ten title game. Meyer, however, hasn't missed a beat in recruiting: Despite a scholarship reduction, his 2013 class is shaping up as one of the nation's 10 best. Nor has it taken him long to get under the skin of opposing Big Ten coaches. (Michigan State's Mark Dantonio and Wisconsin's Bret Bielema were both unhappy with Meyer for poaching recruits.) These are both good signs that after a tumultuous 18 months, the Buckeyes are getting back to business as usual.
COACH Urban Meyer (1st year)
CO--OFFENSIVE COORDINATORS Tom Herman, Ed Warinner
CO--DEFENSIVE COORDINATORS Luke Fickell, Everett Withers
2011 RECORD 6--7 (3--5, 4th in Leaders Division)