We've officially passed the quarter poll on Urban Meyer's first year at Ohio State. It is amazing to think that this season is already 25% done, considering how long it took us to get here in the first place; from the firing of Jim Tressel, to the promotion of Luke Fickell, to the 6-7 nightmare season, to the hiring of Meyer to the start of this season. But three games in, it is tough to figure out what to make of this squad of Buckeyes. In my mind, there are two incredibly fair viewpoints.
The Optimist looks at the season and the team on the whole, dismisses the issues as growing pains, and prepares for the B1G season ahead, where every game offers a chance to distance the Buckeyes from their sub-par, sub-talented B1G brethren. Put simply: the glass is half full.
The Pessimist can see every tree despite the forest, and knows that going into the B1G season might not be the cupcake walk that some are anticipating. The errors are obvious, the mistakes are adding up and the results could be less than what we expect of any Buckeye team, regardless of coach or players or talent. Put simply, the glass is half empty.
Where's your glass?
Let's look at this Ohio State team on the whole and give all its aspects a fair shot. Remember, this is a team that is trying to bounce back from a 6-7 throwaway year, having just installed a new coaching staff with a radical new philosophy. Changes won't be immediate, but some are already readily evident.
Has this team really grown from last year's squad? Sure, the record says they have, but the remnants of 6-7 are still sitting squarely on the shoulders of this year's iteration. The radical new coaching staff and philosophy have created a team that is flashy, sure, but wholly one dimensional, and will only be more so if the injury count doesn't pump it's brakes.
Braxton Miller is picture of what Urban Meyer wanted to do when he got to Columbus. He's averaging four touchdowns a game, 100 yards rushing and 200 yards passing the ball. He is also showing a command of the game that I doubt many of us thought he'd have this early in his career. He doesn't timidly clap while waiting for the ball, he does it with the confidence of a man built to run a big time college football offense. As long as he stays healthy, that dog will hunt.
A quarterback cannot - I repeat CANNOT - be the answer to every offensive question on a football team. Years ago, when the likes of Vince Young and Troy Smith were being all world offensive players, that kind of philosophy could work. But you can't risk it in today's game. Braxton Miller's 12 touchdowns have been the story in The 'Shoe, but what happens if one of his 19 runs per game tears his ACL? That dog sleeps, it doesn't hunt.
The year began with plenty of concern of skill positions players to run in Meyer's offense. But after three games, plenty of early favorites have shown up. The college football world stood, mouth agape, after Devin Smith's insane catch brought him out of hiding and into the role of premier receiver. Carlos Hyde is banged up, but should be ready to go for the B1G season. And when those two aren't available, Jake Stoneburner is there to pickup the pieces. This offense has stars, they just took a few games to materialize.
I'm glad Stoney finally got some looks and some cheap-y scores. But at the end of the day, one of your top wideouts was a tight end last year and couldn't outrun a Shawnee Hills cop this summer. All power to Devin Smith, and that catch against Miami is still incredible, but the corps isn't much deeper than those two. Hyde might be back for the B1G, but he might not, meaning your starting tailback is either true freshman Bri'onte Dunn or Jordan Hall, he of the dogshit foot injury. There's skill, but it's not necessarily game tested.
There are weaknesses on defense, even the most heady optimist can't ignore that. But when this defense makes mistakes, they are usually there to make up for them. They're giving up a relatively svelte 18 points per game, and held the Miami RedHawks to negative yardage on the ground. Travis Howard leads a defense that has six interceptions with three of his own - ain't no one going on Travis Howard Island this year. And a hearty welcome back to John Simon and Big Hank, who showed their true form getting at the Cal offense.
This is a defense that is rife with issues and are lucky they haven't cost the team a game or two this year. Six interceptions is ball-hawking great, but you need to pick off the ball when you're giving up 283 yards/game through the air and you just gave up 224 yards on the ground to California. Big plays are killing this defense. Long passes have relegated the secondary to staying on the field when a three-and-out was possible, and Brendan Bigelow's 81- and 59-yard TDs last weekend were caused not so much by great running, as by horrible, shoestring tackling. LeVeon Bell will have a field day stepping over outstretched Buckeye hands. So will Shoelace.
The opponents have provided good tests, too. Miami went in to Boise and played with the darling of the Mid Majors before falling on the Smurf Turf, just like everyone else does. Central Florida was stout and offered NFL-level talent to play against. Cal is a major conference team with a great running back and should fare well in the Pac-12. Ohio State should be happy to be 3-0.
Miami has a good quarterback and nothing else, and will probably finish mid-table in the MAC East. UCF is who we thought they were - poor coaching, mid-level talent, undeserving of being on the same field with Ohio State. And don't get me started on Cal. Cal lost to Nevada. In Berkeley. And had to work to beat FCS Southern Utah the following week. They won't win more than 3 games in the Pac 12 and they almost walked into Columbus and beat the Buckeyes. Despite the sub-par schedule, Ohio State is lucky to be 3-0.
UAB is a layup.
Which camp are you in, Buckeye fans? Is the glass half-full, with reasons to believe the best is yet to come for this team? Or is the glass half-empty, with plenty more reasons to think there could be trouble on the horizon, despite the down year for the B1G? Time will tell.