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Welcome to week six 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.
This week, we discuss the Buckeyes’ future beyond this season, which is inevitably on fans’ minds as the team starts its season.
It would be foolish to argue that the Buckeyes have nothing to play for in 2012. Despite the fact that a postseason berth is out of the question for Ohio State, we’ll have a variety of ways to measure the team’s success and derive satisfaction from what seems likely to be a successful season.
First, and most obviously, there’s wins and losses. Second, we’ll still be represented in the AP poll every week. There, the Buckeyes are already ranked 18th and it isn’t outlandish to think that a top ten position could be secured by year’s end (an undefeated record could even lead to a number one ranking). Third, there’s bragging rights in the Big Ten. If the Buckeyes don’t lose in conference play this season, that’s an asterisk on the declared conference champion’s resume that Buckeye fans would be wise to take advantage of. Finally, there’s a litany of intangible feelings that football season in Columbus brings that can’t be diminished by relatively minor NCAA sanctions.
That said, it would be difficult to not view this season as a primer of sorts.
Head coach Urban Meyer is a man with major ambitions. He should be. His success at each of his previous coaching stops is undeniable and, after winning two national championships in three years during his time at Florida, the fan base’s expectations understandably align with his past accomplishments. His goals haven’t changed. Early in his tenure at Ohio State, rumors surfaced that he was using the prospect of multiple national championship wins as a carrot to lure recruits to Columbus. Then, during the first episode of ESPN’s All-Access training camp special, Meyer spoke to the Buckeyes about the drive and hard work needed to win a crystal ball without even once referencing the fact that the team was disqualified from pursuing it.
That means that, no matter what kind of success the Buckeyes have this season, it won’t be a fulfillment of our ultimate goal. However, that doesn’t mean this season is lost in the pursuit of the next Ohio State national championship.
It’s absolutely unfair to the seniors, but for everyone else on the team, it may be useful to look at the 2012 season as the first half of the quest for a 2013 national championship.
First, our record matters. The Buckeyes are starting the season ranked 18th this year because of the team’s poor performance last year. In college football, it actually makes a great deal of sense to carry over the team’s performance in the previous year when ranking teams during the preseason. Most players and coaches return, albeit a year older. And the year-to-year quality of many programs doesn’t change (though this isn’t universally true). So if the Buckeyes win 11 games this season with Urban Meyer as the coach and a second year quarterback, you can bet your ass that they’ll be ranked in the top 5 next year. And simply put, the path to a national championship is substantially easier for teams that start the season ranked highly.
Second comes player development. The Buckeyes’ roster is young. Nowhere is this more true than at skill positions. Braxton Miller, Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Evan Spencer, Carlos Hyde, and Brionte Dunn will all return to school after this year (some of them are even freshman).
As for the rest of the roster, there are a multitude of young backups that are badly in need of grooming, particularly in the trenches. Taylor Decker, Noah Spence, and company are all future starts who are sure to contribute this year, but for a 2013 championship run, they need to be prepared to come out firing in a year.
The combination of these two factors and countless other minor ones, means that, as fans, we should keep one eye trained toward the future no matter what happens this season. The ultimate goal is a ring.
So there’s another way to see 2012. It’s the first half of a 24 game season that lasts well over one calendar year. The Buckeyes are ready. Are you?