All projects, however, are not created equally. The team’s defensive style will change, but its changes will be both easier to adapt to and less recognizable than those the offense will be subjected to. Part of this is owed to consistency in the coaching staff and past excellence of the unit. Another part to the fact that, to an average fan, stout defense is more a function of individuals than schemes (when, in fact, the opposite is true). Whatever the reason, the focal point was always going to be the team’s offense.
Not surprisingly, much has been written about the radical transformation the Ohio State offense will undergo in the coming year. It’s true that an offense like Urban Meyer’s has never been utilized at Ohio State. It’s also true that an offense like this has never been utilized in the Big Ten; the Rich Rodriguez disaster doesn’t speak to Meyer’s potential for success, mainly because his offense has little in common with Urban’s creation. Meyer will retain more of the power football tradition than he’s been given credit for. It may look different, but Meyer himself asserts that a powerful ground game will be the basis for the team’s offensive philosophy this year. The quarterback will be given greater responsibility. The receivers and tight ends will be responsible for a wider variety of routes and decisions.
Less has been written about how messy that change may be.That changed this weekend, when word leaked that Jordan Hall will be sidelined for the beginning of the season. Hall was projected to fill the hyped “Percy Harvin role” in the 2012 offense. He’s got a combination of speed, power, and durability (or so we thought) unique to the team’s roster, so he seemed like a logical fit. Without him, Meyer’s offense on opening day may be less of a Wolverine-killing machine than we expected.
In the end, it doesn’t matter much.
The Buckeyes have much to play for this year, but Meyer’s most important goal, a national championship, isn’t on the list. That means that Meyer, his team, and the Buckeye fan base were given an unexpected gift by the NCAA when it banned the Buckeyes from postseason play.
In a program with a historical offensive philosophy centered around “three yards and a cloud of dust,” change was always going to take time. Braxton Miller is a clear example of a player Urban Meyer would have fought to bring in if he had been running the show during the kid’s recruitment. There aren’t many other players that fit that description. The team’s wide receiving corps is a shining example. Meyer has publicly stated that the unit hasn’t lived up to his expectations. Another is the offensive line, which is woefully thin due to under-recruitment in recent years.
Further, the magnitude of the Buckeyes’ offensive incompetence in 2011 has been lost this offseason. Simply put, the ball didn’t move. First downs felt like touchdowns. Braxton Miller was a bright spot, but he was also inaccurate and indecisive at times. The rest of the offense was an army without a general (he was fired on Memorial Day).
Of course, this situation isn’t unique to Meyer. All head coaches with new digs are forced to work with players that don’t perfectly match their system. That’s been true of every stop Urban himself has made. At both Utah and Florida, Meyer had a very good first year followed by a superb second one. There’s no reason why that pattern won’t stay consistent here in Columbus.
However, as noted above, the stakes are somewhat lower. That’s got to feel weird for a guy from whom national championships are expected on an annual basis. It certainly feels strange for a fan base that expects the same. But weird doesn’t feel so bad.
The coaches and team are free from the pressure of expectations. The traditional barometers of success in college football (poll position, postseason success, and a conference championship) are all off the table. As long as they send That Team Up North back home with a loss, nobody will accuse them of failure. That leaves Meyer with a year to experiment. A year to perfect his philosophy and its application to Ohio State. A year to incorporate all that he learned in his year off, which may be a great deal. A year when, frankly, he won’t be blamed for attaining something short of perfection.
And two years to prepare for a 2013 title run.
Fans are also left in a unique position. We can relax. We can enjoy the transformation happening in front of us. We can speculate about the future without the stress of the need for immediate success.
The Buckeyes are free to fail. Even though they probably won’t, it feels weirdly satisfying.