Ohio State has a mighty big target on their backs at the start of the season. Urban Meyer knows he has a loaded team returning, but how is he managing the expectations and the hype before they even take the field?
I think this is the biggest thing standing in the way of a repeat appearance in the Playoff. Yes, the run defense could be better and someone needs to take over the job as a vertical receiving threat, but the biggest issue to me is whether Urban can keep the team hungry and expectations managed all season.
All the team heard last year is that they were underdogs in the big games, especially after their loss to Virginia Tech. That's not going to be a thing this year. The Buckeyes are likely to be favored in every game this season, so it'll be up to Urban and his staff to convince the players that repeating is extremely difficult and that they can be upset in almost any game they play. Motivation shouldn't be an issue against Virginia Tech, Michigan, or Michigan State, but I'm worried about Penn State. It's also worth noting that Urban has never had an undefeated championship season.
It appears Braxton Miller has agreed to switch to wide receiver/H back...which is still frightening. How heavily will he be used considering the other talent returning to the depth chart at wideout this year?
Just a few days ago Urban said that he wants Braxton to be the starter at H-back by opening day. So even though it seems like he has an unlimited ceiling at H-back, he's still new to the position and not guaranteed a starting spot. And that's with Dontre Wilson, Curtis Samuel, and Noah Brown all at the same position.
Out of those guys, Braxton seems to have the best agility and short-distance burst, but we've also seen a lot more of him than his H-back peers. So considering Braxton's understanding of the position, his competition at H-back, and simply his competition for touches between receivers, running backs, and quarterbacks, it's asking a lot for him to be number one guy from the beginning. I'd think 700 yards receiving, 500 yard rushing would be a great year.
Have you had a chance to read ESPN's feature story on Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer? Agree/disagree that we are headed for the long-awaited 21st Century Ten-Year War, or are both of these guys just so focused on winning that they don't pay attention to such hype?
I don't think either of them are paying too much attention to the hype, but it has to be something they've at least considered -- especially since it's hard to imagine Harbaugh not doing well at Michigan. Ohio State obviously has the head start in terms of relative talent and recent success but I Michigan is ready for a resurgence.
On the one hand, it's amazing how much talent is currently on the Wolverines' roster -- two former five-star guys at running back, a high-performing defense, and an offensive line chock-full of highly-recruited guys. On the other hand, is the Big Ten East actually capable of handling three national title contenders (including Michigan State) every year? I don't know if it'll be another Ten-Year War just because I think it would have to be a three-team war for the 21st century -- assuming none of these coaches leave before the end of the next decade, which I think is unlikely.
Are you #TeamCardale or #TeamBarrett coming out of spring and summer camp? Is there a plan to use both in certain situations or does Meyer want a firm #1 starter from beginning to end?
Well, everything I've heard suggests that the players themselves want there to be a clear pecking order instead of a rotating starter. Not sure if Meyer agrees with Cardale and J.T. here, especially since he successfully managed both Chris Leak and Tebow in his first Florida championship season (though that was a different situation as Tebow was effectively a short-yardage run specialist).
I'm personally #TeamBarrett, but just by a hair. It's true that Cardale opened up a new dimension to the offense with the vertical passing game, but it seemed like Devin Smith bailed out Cardale with a couple of excellent jump ball receptions. You can't deny the competition that Cardale faced relative to Barrett, but J.T. was accurate as a passer, distributed the ball well, and made great post-snap reads.
Biggest change on Ohio State's coaching staff was the loss of Tom Herman (who I secretly hoped would end up at Michigan to sour the OSU national championship a bit). How is new-but-familiar-guy Ed Warinner planning to transition the offense with such a crazy amount of talent at quarterback?
I'm not sure much will change now that Warinner is in charge. Meyer has noted that he will be involved with play calling as well, and I don't believe Warinner's offensive philosophy will differ much from Herman's. Expect the same five or so base runs, play action and quick short passes, and run-pass options.
Ohio State's opening game is against Virginia Tech, the lone blemish on the Buckeyes' record last year. What've they learned since last year and give a few keys to that game against a Hokie team playing for Frank Beamer's swan song season?
The Virginia Tech game was eye-opening for Meyer and Herman. Afterwards they introduced a number of "bear-beaters" to respond when defenses take away Ohio State's base inside run game. The big adjustment was the addition of a pulling tackle to base runs and an increased focus on man-beater vertical receiving routes. Many teams attempted to copy Virginia Tech's defense last season, but only Penn State neared their level of success.
Second, Virginia Tech's defense was somewhat susceptible to explosive run plays, as evidenced by their 41st-ranking in rushing PPP+. The key will be in breaking a few explosive runs (with bear-beater offensive line checks) and having enough of a vertical passing game to prevent Virginia Tech from going cover-0 all night. Almost all of Virginia Tech's front seven returns, so this is a good test for how much Ohio State's vaunted offensive line really improved over the course of 2014.
For us outside observers of the Ohio State program, give a few interesting tidbits on what we should know about the 2015 team from BTN's "Days of Scarlet & Gray" program that has been airing on the network this month.
I think the biggest revelation about the actual team was that Braxton has a good bit of work to do to be a star at H-back. It's not just like he can line up in a different spot on the field, over a year since he played his last down, and immediately be a superstar again. Other than that, the first installment was more about the character of the players than too much about new strategy or position battles.
Beer question, and a two-parter: What Ohio brews are getting you through these final days until the 2015 season? Which brew would you want served in The Horseshoe under the newly-approved pilot beer program?
I'm a huge Great Lakes fan. Dortmunder Gold and Elliot Ness are my end-of-summer picks for easy-drinking malt-balanced beers, but soon their excellent Edmund Fitzgerald porter and Oktoberfest will be my football season picks.
Oktoberfest and Dortmunder Gold would be perfect in the Shoe. Dort was originally named "The Heisman" and still has a football on the label, is a Great American Beer Fest winner, and would be a local option for beer drinkers looking for an alternative to a macro light lager. Their Oktoberfest would also be a top pick with its slightly higher ABV (6.5%) for keeping warm during late fall night games.