Ohio State's 2014 football season began with the news that Braxton Miller would miss the entire season and that redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett's first career start would be in less than two weeks versus Navy. The only way to make replacing four offensive line starters even more scary is to give them an inexperienced and untested quarterback to block for. On the defensive line, word got out that first-team All-Big Ten selection Noah Spence would also miss the year on a suspension.
Needless to say, expectations were lowered. Many thought the Buckeyes still had the firepower to do well in the Big Ten, outside of a trip to East Lansing, but any Playoff dreams should be abandoned. Then, after the Virginia Tech fiasco, those fears were supposedly confirmed.
But now after the end of the Buckeyes' regular season, the Buckeyes are headed to the Sugar Bowl to face Alabama in the Playoff semi-finals, and Ohio State is second in the F/+ overall rankings.
With that dramatic swing in the Buckeyes' fortunes, it's worth taking a look at how the Buckeyes' advanced stats compare to the first two years of Urban Meyer:
|Year||Overall F/+ rank||Offensive F/+||Defensive F/+||Special Teams F/+|
Urban Meyer wasn't kidding when he said that he's "building a program here" comparing Ohio State to Alabama and Nick Saban. The 2014 Buckeyes have improved in every major category since the 2012 squad went 12-0.
It cannot be understated how much an offense's potential changes when you have high turnover on the offensive line (not to mention at quarterback too), but the Buckeyes only slid from second overall in Offensive F/+ to fourth. That even beats preseason projections from Football Outsiders:
|Overall F/+||Offensive F/+||Defensive F/+|
Looking at the Offensive S&P+ numbers between this year and last year, the passing game was obvious big improvement. The Buckeyes were 18th on Passing Downs and 17th in Passing S&P+ (passing efficiency ratings) in 2013, and first in both of those categories in 2014. In fact, after scoring 52 points against Wisconsin (and ignoring the fact that it was with the third-string quarterback), the offense is first in every S&P+ offensive category except for one (Drive Rating), where it is ranked second. (We'll get to it more in our statistical previews, but Alabama is second in Offensive S&P+). It's also worth noting that these statistics are opponent-adjusted -- the 2014 offense had success against three top-25 F/+ defenses in Wisconsin, Penn State, and Michigan State.
Besides Meyer and Herman, the constant that is most important in the offense's success has been offensive line coach Ed Warinner, who gets his unit ready for action each season. He transformed Ohio State's offensive line when he was hired in Meyer's first season, and now has a rebuilt offensive line that ranks second overall in Adjusted Line Yards.
But the biggest improvement across Meyer's tenure has been in Defensive F/+. With new talent like Vonn Bell, Eli Apple, Darron Lee, and Raekwon McMillan, in addition to new coaches like Chris Ash and Larry Johnson, the defense has improved significantly over last season's group:
|Defensive S&P+||Rushing S&P+||Passing S&P+||Drive Rating|
There are obviously improvements across the board, but nowhere more than in Passing S&P+, where the Buckeyes are now a top ten team. The Buckeye defense only allowed three teams to average over 6.8 yards per attempt (Michigan State, Michigan, and Cincinnati) and held five teams under five yards per attempt. The Buckeyes were fourth in interceptions gained with 21, sixth in sacks with 40, and sixth in tackles for loss with 100. Those all feed in to the Buckeyes ranking 7th in Defensive Havoc Rate, which measures "how much hell a defense is raising." So keep raising hell for two more games, Bosa and company.