CHICAGO — Ohio State long has served as the Big Ten’s football flagship institution based on its success and prominence.
The Buckeyes are the only Big Ten school to win a BCS championship. Two other times Ohio State played for the BCS title, only to lose to the Southeastern Conference. Last year the Buckeyes finished 12-0 but were ineligible to compete in a bowl.
Ohio State enters the season ranked No. 2 nationally and continues to serve as the Big Ten’s best possibility to dethrone the SEC and win a national title. The Buckeyes are talented and deep on offense and return the league’s top Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Braxton Miller. But the danger of overconfidence is always lurking. That keeps Coach Urban Meyer concerned.
“I’m always worried about that,” Meyer said. “The question is, because of high expectations, that they think they have got some of the answers.
“I would be disappointed in our staff if that happened because that’s what practice is for ask corrections and meeting rooms and meetings. I don’t think we have that problem. I really don’t. First of all, we are not that good yet. I’ll tell you if I believe we are, and we’re not. We have a long way to go, especially on certain areas. So I don’t feel that at all.”
But the team is confident it can match the top SEC squads — once the season is over.
“There’s a lot of talk about that,” Miller said. “You’ve just got to get better. You’ve got to win your conference first and then see what’s going on at the end of the year. We’re going to put our 110 (percent) effort in like we did in winter workouts. The challenge is there. We’ve got to overcome challenges like that.”
Ohio State is loaded offensively. Along with Miller, the Buckeyes return their six leading rushers and eight of their top nine receivers. Miller threw for 2,039 yards and rushed for 1,271. Carlos Hyde, who is suspended for the first three games, ran for 970. Corey Brown caught 60 passes and Devin Smith hauled in six touchdowns.
Four of the team’s starting offensive linemen return, including one of the nation’s best tackles in Jack Mewhart.
“This year’s team has high expectations, riding off the coattails of what those kids did last year, and it’s very simple that if we get tremendous leadership from our coaching staff, but most importantly our players, then we’ll have a success,” Meyer said. “I feel strongly about this group having a successful season.”
Defensively is another story. Only one of the front seven comes back, albeit one of the best linebackers in Ryan Shazier. Ohio State had up and down moments defensively last year, giving up 38 points to Nebraska and 49 to Indiana. But the defense stabilized late in the season to finish unbeaten.
“Defense is where the issues are,” Meyer said. “We lost our entire front seven. I believe we recruited well. (Assistant) Mike Vrabel has done a very good job developing a little bit of an esprit de corps with our defensive line, our linebackers. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are two guys that if they continue to develop will become Big Ten candidate players as they continue in their journey and their career.”
If the Buckeyes’ defense can improve in time for early-season league tests in Wisconsin and Northwestern, Ohio State is capable of cruising through the league until its season finale at Michigan. If the Buckeyes get through the Wolverines unscathed and follow with a Big Ten championship, they might get the chance to dethrone the SEC and uphold the Big Ten’s honor.
But that’s a long way off.
“We’ve just got to work on our opponents and then we can worry what’s on the other end after the season,” Miller said.
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