With the bowl season still a few days away from kicking off, we have some extra time to remain focused on the future. We're going to take a look at how future depth charts may take shape for new coaches, particularly those who will likely be installing a slightly new system. That means Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, that means Charlie Weis at Kansas, and of course that means Urban Meyer at Ohio State.
From Woody Hayes to Jim Tressel, Ohio State has won a lot of games by playing the most conservative offense imaginable. Hayes is one of about 17 coaches to whom the famous "Only three things can happen when you pass (and two of them are bad)" quote is attributed (Robert Neyland and Darrel K. Royal are two others), and the concept of Tresselball (run on first down, run on second down, kick on fourth-and-1, give your awesome defense good field position to work with) won a lot of games in the decade of the 2000s. Urban Meyer, meanwhile, was an early adopter of the spread offense; he unveiled his own version of the spread at Bowling Green in 2001, and he won big in 2002. Then, he went to Utah and won bigger. His teams won at least nine games in every season from 2002-09, he went undefeated at Utah in 2004, and he won two national titles at Florida (2006, 2008).
If Ohio State is going to adopt any sort of spread attack, Meyer's is a good starting point. He spreads the field, but his offenses do not operate at a torrid pace (like Oklahoma), and they do not throw the ball 60 times per game (like, say, Houston). With Tim Tebow behind center, the Florida offense was as powerful as it was fast, often employing a fullback, to which some spreads are allergic. Meyer adapts to the personnel at hand, but most of his greatest successes have come with a dual-threat quarterback (Tebow, Bowling Green's Josh Harris) running the show. And in Braxton Miller, Meyer certainly has that dual-threat guy.
(Note: for the most part, this series will focus on players already on campus. We will get to the impact of incoming freshmen at a later date.)
Braxton Miller (6'3, 210, So.) -- 67-for-134 (50%), 997 yards (7.4/pass), 11 TD, 4 INT, 33 sacks for 173 yards; 111 rushes, 868 yards (7.8), 7 TD, +21.4 Adj. POE
Kenny Guiton (6'2, 195, Jr.)
After a horribly slow start in September, when Joe Bauserman was taking a healthy portion of the snaps and Braxton Miller was still learning where all of his classes were on Ohio State's enormous campus, the Buckeye offense picked up steam. Miller got his footing, and good things began to happen.
Ohio State Adj. PPG (September): 19.9
Ohio State Adj. PPG (October): 27.6
Ohio State Adj. PPG (November): 29.6
By the end of the season, Miller had compiled a mostly impressive stat line for a true freshman. With most of his snaps coming in the final five games (and with minimal playing time versus the early cupcakes), Miller still averaged 7.4 yards per pass and 7.8 yards per carry (not including sacks). His legs will be the single most impressive asset with which Meyer has to work next year.
Of course, the passing will have to improve. I used the friendly "7.4 yards per pass" figure, but when you account for sacks (and he was sacked on a whopping 20 percent of his pass attempts), that average plummets to 4.9 yards per attempt. He completed just 50 percent of his passes, and that isn't going to cut it moving forward.
Urban Meyer's offense may utilize the run, but it needs an efficient passing game to thrive. As we have all learned (repeatedly) over the last two years, Tim Tebow does not have the prettiest pass mechanics. Yet, in three years as Florida's starter, he completed 66 percent of his passes and averaged 9.3 yards per pass. Miller averaged a rather explosive 15 yards per completion, but to succeed, the completion percentage will need to rise, which means the per-completion rate will fall.
Carlos Hyde (6'0, 238, Jr.) -- 101 carries, 549 yards (5.4), 2.2 Highlight Yds/Carry, 6 TD, +5.3 Adj. POE
Jordan Hall (5'9, 195, Sr.) -- 96 carries, 384 yards (4.0), 1.0 Hlt Yds/Carry, -5.4 Adj. POE
The Buckeyes certainly have quite a few options at running back. I like Hyde the most -- he provides a bruising presence that Meyer will probably be able to take advantage of, and he produced by far the best per-carry numbers of any returning back. Big Rod Smith (a 6-foot-3, 230-pound sophomore-to-be) and Jaamal Berry could play a role in the backfield as well. And as we'll see below, all four of these backs could see plenty of opportunities in the passing game. Meyer will need all hands on deck for that.
Devin Smith (6'3, 190, So.) -- 29 targets, 12 catches (41% catch rate), 247 yards (8.5/target), 4 TD
Corey Brown (5'11, 182, Jr.) -- 28 targets, 14 catches (50%), 205 yards (7.3), 1 TD
Verlon Reed (6'0, 195, So.) -- 14 targets, 9 catches (64%), 132 yards (9.4)
Chris Fields (6'0, 180, Jr.) -- 21 targets, 7 catches (33%), 101 yards (4.8)
Evan Spencer (6'1, 190, So.) -- 7 targets, 3 catches (43%), 78 yards (11.1), 1 TD
T.Y. Williams (6'5, 228, So.) -- 8 targets, 5 catches (63%), 74 yards (9.3)
So here's where things get dicey. It is easy to say that Miller needs to learn how to pass more efficiently, but he will need a lot of help from his receiving corps in this regard, and that might take a year or two. The good news is, everybody on the above list will have eligibility remaining in 2013 as well, so any 2012 improvement will be magnified moving forward. The bad news is, there are no truly proven weapons returning. The six players above, all freshmen and sophomores in 2011, combined for just 107 targets, fewer than 34 single receivers across the country.
Of the options above, Verlon Reed is perhaps the most intriguing. You cannot draw too many conclusions from so few opportunities, but he was the only receiver above to provide a catch rate of even 64 percent (which is still lower than Tebow's completion rate) and one of only two to average at least 9.4 yards per target. Plus, he received two carries in 2011; Meyer is known for utilizing speed however he can and is more than familiar with using both running backs (Chris Rainey) in the passing game and wideouts (Percy Harvin) in the run game. The speedy Reed could be an interesting player to watch.
Most of these players' stats will be transformed in 2012. Expect higher catch rates, lower per-catch figures, and, if utilized properly, per-target averages as good or better than what most provided in 2011.
Not all spread attacks utilize a tight end, but Meyer is not averse to it. In Stoneburner and Fragel, he will have two interesting options, though his version of a tight end is still going to be different than the Tresselball version (more receiving opportunities, less blocking).
Projected Two-Deep -- Offensive Tackle
Andrew Norwell (6'5, 308, Jr.) -- 12 career starts
Jack Mewhort (6'6, 303, Jr.) -- 12 career starts
Antonio Underwood (6'3, 305, So.) -- 1 career start
Eric Kramer (6'4, 305, So.)
Projected Two-Deep -- Center
Brian Babek (6'2, 280, So.)
The good news: all of next year's projected starters were once four-star recruits, and most got quite a bit of playing time as youngsters in 2011. The bad news: three players accounting for 106 career starts (Mike Brewster, J.B. Shugarts, Mike Adams) will be gone. Tressel always recruited a high caliber of offensive lineman -- it was the cornerstone of his offensive approach -- but there is little depth of experience heading into 2012.
The transition from a Tresselball style to Meyer's offensive approach will probably not take place without some growing pains. The good news is that, in Miller and a deep backfield, Meyer will have some toys to play with as the adjustment is made. The 2012 Buckeye offense will likely post improved numbers over the 2011 iteration, but we probably will not see the full effects of the transition until 2013, when around 10 of 2012's projected starters return and some more sense can be made of the passing game. In terms of personnel, this is a nice time to make a move.