Confused? Check out the glossary here.
1. Ranking on power vs. prediction
If Louisville is getting a boost from this year's West Virginia Effect (where you play so well in your bowl that people forget how mediocre you were in November), then Ohio State is feeling this year's USC Effect (where you were banned from the postseason and didn't get the chance to play well or poorly). The last impression the Buckeyes left us was a victory over their chief rival in late-November and a pretty 12-0 record. Combined with the fact that Meyer is recruiting like gangbusters, it's easy to get starry-eyed about the Buckeyes' prospects. Many are.
Ohio State will start the 2013 season ranked up high. Very high, in fact. Quite high. At first glance, it's not hard to see why. The Buckeyes went unbeaten, they return nearly everybody of consequence on offense (for most of the season, anyway), they're coached by Urban Meyer, they're loaded with a growing number of former four- and five-star recruits, and they're Ohio State.
I get all of that. But I also get that Ohio State wasn't an elite team last year, that a dominant front seven was gutted, and that there's no immediate proof that last year's major weaknesses (quarterback Braxton Miller taking sacks, an inefficient receiving corps, an iffy pass rush even before the aforementioned gutting, and mediocre special teams) will be alleviated in any way.
Ohio State ranked 14th in last year's F/+ rankings, just ahead of Michigan State (whom the Buckeyes beat by one point), Wisconsin, and Utah State, and just behind Stanford, Oklahoma State, and South Carolina. For every near-elite performance (35-23 at Penn State, 21-14 at Wisconsin), there was a mystifying struggle (29-22 over Purdue, 35-28 over Cal, 29-15 over UAB, all at home). The Buckeyes did what they needed to do, when they needed to do it; that they won all of their games no matter how they looked should be celebrated. It just probably shouldn't be assumed that they'll do it again the next year.
Record aside, 2012 was a nice rebound year for the Buckeyes. After the weird limbo experiment of 2011 -- Luke Fickell served as interim coach all season when Jim Tressel resigned that May, and they tumbled to 36th in the F/+ rankings -- they rebounded to 14th. That ranking wasn't as high as it was in the Tressel years (they ranked between second and ninth every year from 2005-10), but it was obviously a solid step forward. And with an outstanding level of experience, they should expect another step this year. But how much of one?
And, with that schedule, does it matter how much they improve? Even if Ohio State is only the 10th- or 12th-best team in the country this year, what game are the Buckeyes supposed to lose? They get Wisconsin at home, and two of their conference road games are against Illinois and Indiana. Trips to Northwestern and Michigan will be rough, but they'll likely be favored in both. (At least, they are right now.) In this year's Football Outsiders Almanac 2013, we simultaneously tamp down expectations (Ohio State is ranked just 10th in our projections) and build them up (they still have a 67 percent chance of going at least 11-1 and a 27 percent chance of going undefeated).
So that leads to an interesting question: How should we be looking at teams right now? In these preseason rankings, should we be placing teams in order of perceived present-tense quality, or are we making predictions for how the season should play out? The best justification for placing Ohio State at or near the top of the polls is if you're doing the latter. But shouldn't we be doing the former? Since polls are basically treated as your resume throughout the course of a season, slowly shifting from what we think you are to what you've accomplished, shouldn't we avoid using our assumptions for what you'll accomplish as part of our initial ranking criteria?
(I'll have this same question in the Louisville preview.)
Of course, this is all just discussion. If Ohio State goes 12-0, the Buckeyes will head to the Big Ten title game in the BCS top-2 whether they start at No. 2 or No. 10. And any game they lose will be an upset and a disappointment.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 12-0 | Adj. Record: 11-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 14|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Miami (Ohio)||56-10||W||28.2 - 14.8||W|
|8-Sep||Central Florida||31-16||W||37.9 - 22.7||W|
|15-Sep||California||35-28||W||30.0 - 32.0||L|
|22-Sep||UAB||29-15||W||33.8 - 24.5||W|
|29-Sep||at Michigan State||17-16||W||48.1 - 24.3||W|
|6-Oct||Nebraska||63-38||W||51.4 - 25.7||W|
|13-Oct||at Indiana||52-49||W||33.9 - 29.1||W|
|20-Oct||Purdue||29-22||W||24.1 - 23.3||W|
|27-Oct||at Penn State||35-23||W||33.8 - 19.9||W|
|3-Nov||Illinois||52-22||W||42.4 - 16.8||W|
|17-Nov||at Wisconsin||21-14||W||24.3 - 16.3||W|
|24-Nov||Michigan||26-21||W||35.4 - 25.3||W|
|Points Per Game||37.2||21||22.8||31|
|Adj. Points Per Game||35.3||18||22.9||21|
2. Land Mine-Dodging 101
One thing to note about Ohio State is that some of the close games were close, in part, because of luck. As you see at the bottom of this post, the Buckeyes suffered minus-2.8 points per game of turnovers luck. They lost two fumbles in UCF territory in a 31-16 win. They lost two of three fumbles to Michigan State in a one-point win. They recovered zero of four fumbles against Purdue. Life was harder because the bouncing ball wasn't landing in Buckeye hands, and despite some seemingly shaky results, Ohio State only played at a below-average level once (against California). Plus, they got better as the season progressed, which is always a good sign for a young team.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): Ohio State 35.9, Opponent 24.6 (plus-11.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Ohio State 34.0, Opponent 19.6 (plus-14.4)
Ohio State did fumble a lot, and the propensity for allowing big plays (especially against California and Indiana) nearly cost them dearly. But the Buckeyes dodged the land mines and won some nice games late. There's something to be said for that.
|Q1 Rk||85||1st Down Rk||16|
|Q2 Rk||2||2nd Down Rk||26|
|Q3 Rk||25||3rd Down Rk||30|
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Braxton Miller||6'2, 215||Jr.||**** (6.0)||148||254||2,039||58.3%||15||6||27||9.6%||6.7|
|Kenny Guiton||6'3, 208||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||23||139||56.5%||2||1||1||4.2%||5.5|
|J.T. Barrett||6'1, 209||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
3. Getting back on schedule
Miller's open-field running ability is devastating, and with an absolutely loaded backfield that will apparently still include Carlos Hyde, there is no reason to wonder why Ohio State ranked sixth in Rushing S&P+, eighth on standard downs, and second in the red zone last year. The run portion of the Meyer offense is fully weaponized and fun to watch:
Hyde's balance and speed also made him a devil to handle on the edge, which Meyer's versatile option attack was easily able to feature. Much like other spread-option teams, the Buckeyes can switch up their assignments so that Hyde attacks the edge and Miller becomes the inside runner. [...]
The Ohio State offensive line again show its athletic chops, executing reach blocks. Heuerman helps secure the edge before cutting down a pursuing linebacker, and Hyde acts as a lead blocker who finds a safety to clear out of the way. Meanwhile, Miller uses his 4.4 speed and quicks to make magic happen in the open field.
With Miller back, along with four starting linemen, Hyde, and six other four-star running backs, Ohio State will probably improve on all the rankings mentioned above. This offense is going to be a lot of fun to watch ...
... at least until it falls behind schedule. So far in his career, Miller has been sporadically capable of delivering a scramble-around-pass-rushers-and-find-an-open-man highlight on second- or third-and-long; but most of the time, he just gets sacked. Miller was sacked on one of every 10 pass attempts last year, and if Corey Brown wasn't open, Miller was probably tossing a 50-50 ball downfield to Devin Smith, Jake Stoneburner, or Evan Spencer.
For as good as the Buckeyes were on standard downs last year, they were equally mediocre on passing downs. You can often get away with that -- lord knows OSU did last year -- but it's a big red flag. Against top defenses, like the one the Buckeyes could face in a major bowl game at the end of the year (and barely before), you're going to fall behind schedule. You have to be better at catching back up than Miller and company were last year.
|Braxton Miller||QB||6'2, 215||Jr.||**** (6.0)||200||1,440||7.2||7.5||13||+41.7|
|Carlos Hyde||RB||6'0, 242||Sr.||**** (5.8)||184||980||5.3||4.1||16||+5.4|
|Jordan Hall||RB||5'8, 197||Sr.||**** (5.8)||40||218||5.5||3.3||1||-0.4|
|Rod Smith||RB||6'3, 238||Jr.||**** (5.9)||32||215||6.7||5.5||2||+5.6|
|Bri'onte Dunn||RB||6'0, 222||So.||**** (5.8)||25||133||5.3||2.0||2||+0.3|
|Corey Brown||WR-Z||6'0, 187||Sr.||**** (5.9)||11||96||8.7||5.7||1||+3.6|
|Warren Ball||RB||6'1, 222||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Ezekiel Elliott||RB||6'0, 198||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Dontre Wilson||RB||5'10, 174||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Corey Brown||WR-Z||6'0, 187||Sr.||**** (5.9)||85||60||669||70.6%||7.9||32.0%||54.1%||8.0||118.2|
|Devin Smith||WR-X||6'1, 198||Jr.||*** (5.7)||58||30||618||51.7%||10.7||21.8%||69.0%||10.7||109.2|
|Evan Spencer||WR-Z||6'2, 206||Jr.||*** (5.7)||23||12||136||52.2%||5.9||8.6%||56.5%||5.7||24.0|
|Nick Vannett||TE||6'6, 255||So.||**** (5.8)||14||9||123||64.3%||8.8||5.3%||92.9%||7.5||21.7|
|Jeff Heuerman||TE||6'6, 250||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13||8||94||61.5%||7.2||4.9%||76.9%||7.3||16.6|
|Carlos Hyde||RB||6'0, 242||Sr.||**** (5.8)||11||8||51||72.7%||4.6||4.1%||54.5%||4.5||9.0|
|Chris Fields||WR-H||6'0, 200||Sr.||**** (5.9)||7||4||55||57.1%||7.9||2.6%||57.1%||8.2||9.7|
|Jordan Hall||RB||5'8, 197||Sr.||**** (5.8)||5||3||31||60.0%||6.2||1.9%||60.0%||6.2||5.5|
|Michael Thomas||WR-X||6'2, 199||So.||**** (5.8)||5||3||22||60.0%||4.4||1.9%||40.0%||4.8||3.9|
|Frank Epitropoulos||WR||6'1, 200||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Corey Smith||WR||6'1, 180||Jr.||**** (5.8)|
|Jalin Marshall||WR||6'0, 190||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Marcus Baugh||TE||6'4, 233||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|James Clark||WR||5'11, 170||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
4. Can any of these RBs play WR?
Again, it's just an embarrassment of riches for Ohio State in the offensive backfield. But it's a bit of a different story in the receiving corps. Sure, there's the customary load of incoming star freshmen -- three, in fact, along with a four-star JUCO transfer in Corey Smith (and no, it's not going to be confusing at all if the top three receivers are Corey Brown, Devin Smith, and Corey Smith); plus, there's four-star sophomore Michael Thomas.
Any of these relative newcomers could figure things out and make a difference in 2013. In fact, the odds are good that at least one of them succeeds pretty quickly. But they'll have to if Ohio State's pass fortunes are going to improve. Corey Brown is a solid possession man and bailout option on third downs, and Devin Smith is great as long as he doesn't have to be counted on to catch more than half his passes (at 21 yards per catch, he's a lovely deep option), but Spencer didn't produce much last year, and the tight ends didn't do a whole lot with their two targets per game.
|Jack Mewhort||LT||6'7, 308||Sr.||**** (5.8)||25 career starts|
|Andrew Norwell||LG||6'6, 319||Sr.||**** (5.9)||25 career starts|
|Marcus Hall||RG||6'6, 315||Sr.||**** (6.0)||18 career starts|
|Corey Linsley||C||6'3, 297||Sr.||**** (5.8)||12 career starts|
|Reid Fragel||RT||12 career starts|
|Antonio Underwood||LG||6'3, 301||Jr.||*** (5.6)||1 career start|
|Darryl Baldwin||LT||6'6, 307||Jr.||*** (5.7)|
|Taylor Decker||RT||6'7, 315||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Chase Farris||RT||6'4, 300||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Jacoby Boren||C||6'2, 287||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Tommy Brown||RG||6'4, 310||So.||*** (5.6)|
|Kyle Dodson||OL||6'6, 324||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Pat Elflein||OL||6'2, 293||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Evan Lisle||OL||6'6, 265||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
5. Trench domination
It is a bit strange that an Ohio State offensive line that ranked 11th in Adj. Line Yards and was nearly flawless in short-yardage situations didn't get anybody named to the all-conference first- or second-team. There are probably a couple of reasons for this, other than the obvious: nobody in particular stood out.
First, the sack rates were awful, and Miller's own inability to throw the ball away more quickly probably reflected poorly on the line. Second, a lot of the run success was probably credited to Miller and Hyde, not the line.
Regardless, the line is enormous, wonderfully experienced (all four returning starters are seniors and have combined for 80 career starts), and the backups are, naturally, mostly former four-star recruits. Since I attribute a lot of the sacks to Miller, I feel comfortable saying this is one of the two or three best lines in the conference. It might be the best.
|Q1 Rk||29||1st Down Rk||42|
|Q2 Rk||28||2nd Down Rk||10|
|Q3 Rk||42||3rd Down Rk||23|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Noah Spence||DE||6'3, 247||So.||***** (6.1)||11||9.5||1.4%||1||1||0||1||1||0|
|Michael Bennett||DT||6'3, 285||Jr.||**** (6.0)||8||8.5||1.3%||1||1||0||1||1||1|
|Jamal Marcus||DE||6'2, 230||So.||*** (5.7)||11||7.5||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Adolphus Washington||DE||6'3, 292||So.||***** (6.1)||10||7.0||1.1%||3.5||3||0||0||0||0|
|Joel Hale||NT||6'4, 309||Jr.||*** (5.7)||7||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tommy Schutt||DT||6'2, 303||So.||**** (5.9)||10||3.5||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Steve Miller||DE||6'3, 252||Jr.||**** (5.8)||7||2.0||0.3%||1||1||0||0||0||0|
|Chris Carter||DT||6'4, 341||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Joey Bosa||DE||6'5, 270||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Michael Hill||DT||6'3, 315||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Tyquan Lewis||DE||6'3, 237||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Billy Price||DT||6'4, 280||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ryan Shazier||WLB||6'2, 222||Jr.||**** (5.8)||12||92.5||14.1%||17||5||1||11||3||0|
|Curtis Grant||MLB||6'3, 241||Jr.||***** (6.1)||8||5.0||0.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Joshua Perry||SLB||6'4, 243||So.||**** (5.8)||10||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Camren Williams||MLB||6'1, 231||So.||**** (5.8)||10||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Craig Fada||SLB||6'0, 226||So.||NR|
|Trey Johnson||WLB||6'2, 220||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Mike Mitchell||LB||6'4, 216||Fr.||***** (6.1)|
6. Well, if you've got to rebuild up front …
... you might as well do it with a boatload of former four- and five-star recruits. Ohio State has to replace a downright alarming number of stellar players in the front seven, including all four starting linemen and four of the top five tacklers in the linebacking corps. Tackle Jonathan Hankins was a second-round draft pick, end John Simon was a fourth-rounder, and in all, the eight departures accounted for 34 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, and 11 passes defensed. (For a frame of reference, UTSA had 37 tackles for loss as a team last year.)
So yeah, there's a pretty high bar for new starters to reach. Ohio State was one of the five most efficient teams versus the run last year, was almost the best defense, period, in the red zone, and allowed opponents few opportunities to break into the open field. (When they did get into the open field, they tended to go a long way, but that's another story.)
That said, a) the pass rush was mediocre, b) WLB (wrecking-ball linebacker?) Ryan Shazier and his 17 tackles for loss return, and c) the new holes will be filled by players like five-star sophomore ends Noah Spencer and Adolphus Washington, five-star junior linebacker Curtis Grant, and more former four-star recruits than can be found on most entire rosters in the Big Ten. Half of Washington's seven scrub-time tackles came behind the line of scrimmage, and it goes without saying that the ceiling here is Sistine Chapel-level.
But how quickly can the unit approach said ceiling? Because opponent No. 2 (San Diego State) can run the ball like crazy, opponent No. 3 (California) will try to pick you apart with the pass if you can't pressure the quarterback, and opponent No. 5 (Wisconsin) is probably going to be awesome, nearing elite, on the ground.
Ryan Shazier and Christian Bryant. Andrew Weber, US Presswire.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Christian Bryant||FS||5'10, 192||Sr.||**** (5.9)||12||53.5||8.2%||0.5||0||1||12||2||1|
|Bradley Roby||CB||5'11, 192||Jr.||*** (5.6)||11||52.0||7.9%||2||1||2||17||0||1|
|C.J. Barnett||SS||6'1, 203||Sr.||**** (5.9)||9||45.0||6.9%||2.5||0||2||6||0||0|
|Doran Grant||CB||5'11, 191||Jr.||**** (6.0)||12||17.0||2.6%||1||1||1||1||0||1|
|Pitt Brown||SS||6'1, 201||Sr.||***** (6.1)||12||12.0||1.8%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Adam Griffin||NB||5'8, 183||Jr.||** (5.2)||11||10.5||1.6%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Najee Murray||CB||5'9, 186||So.||**** (5.8)||5||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Armani Reeves||CB||5'10, 197||So.||**** (5.8)||5||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ron Tanner||FS||6'0, 200||So.||*** (5.7)||8||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Devan Bogard||S||6'0, 193||So.||**** (5.8)|
|Tyvis Powell||NB||6'3, 201||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Eli Apple||CB||6'1, 188||Fr.||**** (5.9)|
|Vonn Bell||DB||6'1, 190||Fr.||***** (6.1)|
|Cameron Burrows||DB||6'0, 203||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Jayme Thompson||DB||6'2, 183||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
7. Bradley Roby might be the most important player on the roster
At least, he's the most important player not named Miller. He has some of the best ball-defending skills in the country, his fellow starter (Travis Howard) is gone, and the other corners are mostly inexperienced. When word was leaking that both he and Hyde were in hot water, it was easy to make the case that Roby was the bigger loss. Combined with the fact that Ohio State had quite a problem with big plays on the ground (which has to be at least partially pinned on the secondary -- and yes, the holes got smaller late in the year), losing Roby would hurt quite a bit.
That said, he's still on the team, even if he won't be playing in every game. And beyond that, man oh man, does Meyer have a lot of young bucks at his disposal. With Roby's instability, last year's (improved) big-play issues, a rebuilt pass rush, and the fact that young blue-chippers are never a guarantee, one has to admit that while the OSU pass defense could get a lot better, it's hard to be certain it will.
|Drew Basil||6'2, 210||Sr.||76||61||18||23.7%|
|Kyle Clinton||6'1, 216||Jr.||2||63.5||1||50.0%|
|Drew Basil||6'2, 210||Sr.||56-57||6-8||75.0%||2-3||66.7%|
|Rod Smith||KR||6'3, 238||Jr.||13||23.3||0|
|Devin Smith||KR||6'1, 198||Jr.||8||18.4||0|
|Corey Brown||PR||6'0, 187||Sr.||18||12.3||2|
|Devin Smith||PR||6'1, 198||Jr.||4||3.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||82|
|Field Goal Pct||60|
|Kick Returns Avg||86|
|Punt Returns Avg||36|
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|7-Sep||San Diego State||60|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||8|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||2|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+3 / +9.8|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (9, 4)|
8. Urban Meyer teams and fumble recoveries
In 2012, Ohio State recovered 15 of 34 total fumbles (44 percent). Combined with the fact that the Buckeyes couldn't turn defensed passes into interceptions as well as the national average, they had a bit of negative turnovers luck on the year. But the turnover oddities are nothing new for Meyer teams. In 2009, Florida recovered just 25 percent of all fumbles. In 2004-05, Meyer's Utah and Florida teams recovered 67 percent. Only twice since 2004 have Meyer's teams gravitated into the 45-55 percent range.
(This means next to nothing, by the way. Just found it interesting.)
9. On paper, the Buckeyes are the best in the B1G
They really are. But I really like Wisconsin, and I really think the trips to Michigan and Northwestern are going to be rough. This team had quite a few flaws last year, and while throwing star recruits at holes can sometimes work as a patch, it's not a given that it will work. The running game is going to be incredible, but there's no guarantee the passing game will be better. The pass rush probably isn't going to be worse despite the turnover, but it might not improve. And even if the Buckeyes can more capably pressure the quarterback, do we know that the run defense isn't going to stumble with an almost entirely new front seven?
As long as the Buckeyes beat the Badgers on September 28, they'll probably win the conference. I'm buying that. But even with the schedule, I don't see them as a favorite to reach the national title game. I can't tell you who they'll lose to, but the odds are good that they'll lose to somebody.
But really, that says something, right? Two years after a terribly awkward coaching change and NCAA sanctions, Ohio State is established enough that I feel like a naysayer for only predicting a top-10 or top-12 team an 11-1 or 10-2 record. And with the recruiting going as it's going, it's hard to imagine the Buckeyes slipping again for a while.
10. B1G balance of power
As I do at the end of each series of previews, I figured it would be interesting to rank the Big Ten teams now that I'm done with hefty previews for all of them. This conference is fascinating this year, featuring both some extreme dead weight and a wealth of strong teams.
1. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
7. Penn State
Ohio State and Wisconsin are solid as my 1-2 (to the point where they could almost be in a different tier), and I fear injuries enough to laminate Penn State at No. 7, but I have already changed my mind on numbers 3 to 6 a few times. It's going to be fun watching this conference title race play out, even if one team (max) has a say in the national title race.
One of these teams is probably going to reach six wins. Hell, two might. But that won't mean they're very good.