In the wake of the destructive tattoo scandal and the firing of longtime head coach Jim Tressel, a majority of the Ohio State faithful believed Urban Meyer was the only guy in America who could quickly revive and restore this storied program.
Now Meyer gets that opportunity, although he embarks on his first season as the most powerful man in Ohio, his home state, still wearing a few shackles that were intended for his predecessor. Meyer's first edition of the Buckeyes will not be eligible to play in the Big Ten's championship game and will not be allowed to take part in a bowl game following the 2012 season.
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Meyer certainly has the personnel, the experience and the depth that would allow him to challenge for a Big Ten championship and possibly a national championship in his first season as head coach in Columbus. But Meyer, who was on the staff of former head coach Earle Bruce as a graduate assistant in 1986-87, will have to rely on alternate motivations, however, since one of the cornerstones of the NCAA sanctions aimed at Tressel and his program will force Ohio State's season to end with the game against rival Michigan on Nov. 24.
Known as a master motivator in his hugely successful stints at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, Meyer scoffs at the notion the Buckeyes get a year to lay low and recover, thanks to the bowl ban.
"There's no such thing as a buffer year in college football, certainly not at Ohio State and certainly not with myself and our staff and our players," Meyer said. "So no, there's no buffer year."
Meyer has ahead of him the task of restoring the honor in the Ohio State program, and bringing the Buckeyes back after they suffered their first losing season since 1988 by tumbling to 6-7 last year with interim head coach Luke Fickell holding the reins.
The new coach of the Buckeyes inherits an offense that is strong up front, deep in athletes, and features a potential superstar in sophomore QB Braxton Miller, who seems ideally suited for the spread offense Meyer has installed. The defense will be a strength, as usual, led by All-American DT John Simon, and there will be an increased emphasis on speed and quickness, especially up front.
Meyer, a defensive back at Cincinnati in his playing days, believes his team enters fall camp in what he calls a "very positive" place, despite several suspensions that have taken place since he took over, all relating to relatively minor off-the-field incidents.
"I have some incredible leaders on the team," Meyer said. "As far as our football team, I like where we're at and anxious to get going.
With no Big Ten title game on the table, and no bowl game a possibility, the Buckeyes will certainly find 2012 to be uncharted territory. Meyer likely will use his psychology degree more this season than in any previous year, since the ultimate motivational tools -- bowls and league titles -- are not part of the formula. That could mean the annual showdown with rival Michigan becomes even more important.
"I don't know if you can add any more to it," Meyer said. "And the big reason is hopefully by the end of the season there's going to be two really good football teams that are going to go play each other. I certainly imagine in our home stadium there will be a buzz about that. I've already heard it."
HEAD COACH: Urban Meyer, first year at Ohio State, 104-23 as a head coach (10 seasons)
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: TE Jake Stoneburner -- The senior should be back in the good graces of head coach Meyer once fall camp starts, with a minor arrest earlier in the summer put behind him. Stoneburner is a vital leader on this team, and someone who will have to be prominent in the passing game while the Ohio State outside receivers develop. Stoneburner was an all-state receiver in high school in Columbus, but grew to 6-foot-5 and 245 pounds as a Buckeye, better suited at tight end. His size and speed compound the issues for opposing defenses, and Stoneburner has a propensity for making the big play -- half of his receptions in 2011 went for touchdowns. He will have to be a constant option for sophomore QB Miller as the Buckeyes evolve into a spread offense team under Meyer.
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BREAKOUT STAR: LB Etienne Sabino -- The Florida native should be poised to have an explosive senior season. Sabino took the rare move of sitting out the 2010 season as a redshirt when the Buckeyes were very deep at his position. Now, he is a fifth-year veteran with 39 games under his belt. An athletic tackling machine, Sabino played in all 13 games as a true freshman, when he was a phenom on special teams. He appeared in all 13 games again in 2009, and again last season. With former starter LB Storm Klein booted off the team over the summer, the door is open wide for Sabino to become a dominant force on the Ohio State defense.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DL Noah Spence -- When Meyer made Spence one of his first high-profile recruits, many observers saw that as the first step in turning the Buckeyes' defense into something more like what Meyer employed in the SEC -- one built on speed, quickness and athleticism. Spence is a Parade All-American and was the No. 2 defensive end prospect in the country according to several recruiting services. Spence was rated as the top player in Pennsylvania, and a two-time winner of the defensive player of the year award. Spence had more than 50 sacks in his career. The Buckeyes have high expectations for Spence and he should figure into their defensive plans from the start.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: As the Buckeyes adapt to the spread offense, a lot of scrutiny is placed on sophomore Miller and how quickly he will pick up the nuances and subtleties of the spread. When Miller finds his comfort zone, Ohio State becomes a very dangerous team to defend. The defense will have to be stout while the offense matures, but the wealth of talent on that side of the ball should virtually guarantee another strong unit. If DE Nathan Williams returns close to 100 percent after missing all but one game of 2011 with a knee injury, the Buckeyes get even better. Special teams play, always an emphasis with Meyer, should be improved and potentially a game-changer later in the season. On the motivational side, if Meyer can convince his players that the showdowns with Michigan State, Wisconsin and Michigan are his team's real bowl games this season, the Buckeyes should be nasty.
AREAS OF CONCERN: Meyer did not hesitate to admit that he enters the 2012 season without a deep understanding of the opposition his Buckeyes will face. After spending the past 11 years coaching in the Mid-American Conference, at Utah, and in the Southeastern Conference, and last year in the broadcast booth, Meyer is taking a crash course in the Big Ten. "The thing I don't understand and really have a complete grasp of is our opposition, of our opponents, because I don't know the conference very well," Meyer said as the Buckeyes prepared to open fall camp.
-- DT Johnathan Hankins might be the primary beneficiary of the latest addition to the Ohio State football staff -- team dietician Sarah Wick. Since Wick came on board at the request of Meyer, Hankins has shed 25 pounds and packed more muscle on his 6-foot-3 frame. Hankins, an all-Big Ten choice last season as a sophomore, enters 2012 as a pre-season All-American who has cut his body fat from 28 percent to 21 percent, increased his speed and quickness, and developed a new taste for fruits and vegetables.
-- LB Storm Klein, who played in 38 games for the Buckeyes over the past three seasons and started 10 times at middle linebacker in 2011, was kicked off the team by Meyer following Klein's arrest in early July on domestic violence and assault charges. Meyer did hint that Klein's status could change, should the charges be altered.
-- OT Jack Mewhort, Ohio State's most experienced offensive lineman, was suspended earlier this summer after his arrest on charges of obstructing official business. Mewhort, who is expected to take over the critical left tackle spot this season, should be back with the team for the start of fall camp, according to Meyer. Mewhort has played in 23 games for the Buckeyes, starting all 13 games last year.
-- RB Jordan Hall, who suffered a torn tendon in his foot when he stepped on a piece of glass in his yard this summer, will miss the start of the season. Hall was expected to be the starter at tailback, and also serve as a return man for the Buckeyes.
-- DE Nathan Williams, who missed all of the 2012 season but the opener when he injured his knee, is still rehabbing following surgery but is expected to be in camp when the Buckeyes open practice. Meyer said they are proceeding with caution with Williams, but he expects the athletic pass-rushing terror to be part of the defense when the season begins.
-- RB Jaamal Berry, who many expected to be the next great Ohio State tailback when he was recruited out of Miami, has transferred to Murray State following a string of legal problems in Columbus. Berry rushed for 266 yards as a freshman in the 2010 season, but spent most of last year in the doghouse. He was involved in a scuffle on campus, and later charged with assault following another incident in downtown Columbus. Berry is scheduled for trial in that case in late August. Once he gets to Murray State, Berry will be eligible to play right away since it is a FCS school.