Welcome to week two of your eight-week Empire season preview for the 2012 football Buckeyes. Every week between now and kickoff, we’ll break down a different component of the fall season (see topics and links to past posts below). Some will be written by me. Some will be presented in roundtable format if the topic calls for it.
This week, we break down the schedule, which can always be found on the sidebar of this site or on this amazing wallpaper designed by Michael Bower.
Miami (OH), September 1st, Columbus, OH
UCF, September 8th, Columbus, OH
California, September 15th, Columbus, OH
UAB, September 22nd, Columbus, OH
Michigan State, September 29th, East Lansing, MI
Nebraska, October 6th, Columbus, OH
Indiana, October 13th, Bloomington, Ind
Purdue, October 20th, Columbus, OH
Penn State, October 27th, University Park, PA
Illinois, November 3rd, Columbus, OH
Wisconsin, November 17th, Madison, WI
Michigan, November 24th, Columbus, OH
The Buckeyes will play 12 games in 2012. Eight of those will be at home. Eight will be conference games. Three will be played at night (Nebraska, Indiana, Penn State).
Urban Meyer must be salivating.
The 2012 schedule, at first glance, looks highly favorable to the good guys. It starts with four home games, none of which are against teams that are likely to pose severe competition to the Buckeyes.
Games against Miami (OH) and UAB should be excellent oppurtunities to rest the team’s core players for future, more grueling, battles. Every major program has these games on their schedule, and they rarely lose them. Don’t feel sympathy for Miami though. They know that programs like Ohio State need schedule-fillers, which is why they extract obscene sums of money from their opponent in exchange for permission to be pummeled for 60 minutes.
UCF and Cal should be more intriguing matchups. UCF is regarded as an up-and-coming team with a fair amount of talent. Within its section of college football (C-USA), it’s dangerous. Of the early games, this could be the most competitive for the Buckeyes. Cal, on the other hand, is a perpetual disappointment. The school retains a high profile despite years of mediocrity. Last year, the Bears got blown out by every good team in the Pac-12 (and some lousy ones). It’s a big enough matchup to earn a spot on national television, but it probably won’t be close.
After the four-game homestand to start the season, the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing for the start of conference play. Full previews of each of these games would be fruitless so far away, but first impressions can be useful.
Last year, coming off of a brutal offseason and a early-season run where the Buckeyes lost badly to Miami and were nearly upset by Toledo, the Big Ten seemed daunting. Nebraska was an unknown quantity. Michigan State and Wisconsin were good teams with stout defenses, which made them anathema to Ohio State’s low-flying offense. Illinois and Penn State were undefeated to that point. Michigan was licking their chops after nearly a decade of Buckeye dominance. Our fears turned to reality. Contents against Michigan, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State and Nebraska all ended in losses, some in humiliating fashion.
This year, each of those games look substantially less daunting. Michigan State and Wisconsin have lost key players, including their quarterbacks. Nebraska is due for revenge after a close encounter in 2011. That’s compounded by the fact that the Buckeyes won’t play the Cornhuskers again for years due to Big Ten scheduling quirks. Penn State is in shambles. And finally, Michigan is coming to Columbus for the Buckeyes’ bowl game. There’s no damn way they go north with a win.
The perceived weakening of the Big Ten schedule is due to two things. First, the Buckeyes have improved and the fan base knows it. With a burgeoning star at quarterback, a retooled coaching staff, and a scheme finally designed to maximize Ohio State’s talent, the energy and optimism surrounding the team is palpable in Columbus. Second, as noted above, the conference has, indeed, gotten weaker.
There’s been a great deal of discussion amongst the Buckeye faithful about whether a perfect season, and a subsequent postseason number one ranking in the AP poll, is possible. Though I won’t share my personal prediction (that comes in week eight of this series), such speculation seems hyperbolic. Logic and history dictate that a team that lost seven games last year will drop at least two in a dramatically improved, albeit not perfect, season. That said, when you look at the Buckeyes’ schedule game-by-game, it’s agonizingly hard to choose which game the Buckeyes will lose.
Even if the Buckeyes don’t win every game, they can enter the year knowing that every game is at least winnable. There are few teams in the country that can make that claim.
It could be a special season.