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Kevin Wilson’s offense plus Urban Meyer’s recruiting could be an unstoppable force

Wilson managed to make average talent great at Indiana, but what can he do with the nation’s top recruits?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Northwestern Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

“I think the key word is mesh. If there is something that fits conceptually with what we’re trying to do, then we add it.”

- Urban Meyer, via Austin Ward, ESPN

Kevin Wilson’s offensive style represented the critical factor in turning a perennially substandard Indiana squad into one of the Big Ten’s best offenses. And while he certainly never had a dearth of skill at Indiana, acknowledging that “the talent we had over there was really good, too, because we recruited and developed it,” the pool of skill position players at Ohio State represents a new opportunity for Wilson. Moving from three-star recruits to four- and five-star recruits means that Wilson has a lot more to work with on the field.

However, as Wilson has shown, building a potent offense is not solely about the talent coming into the locker room day one of practice. “What we did in the weight room, what we did off the field, what we did in practice...You can talk about talent, but it’s also about getting guys to play,” Wilson said. “Talent doesn’t win. It’s the ability to play together.” For instance, while Wilson built a powerful attack behind Sam Bradford and Adrian Peterson at Oklahoma, he also managed to make Nate Sudfeld an effective quarterback and Tevin Coleman a 2,000-yard rusher with the Hoosiers. He is able to create strong offenses based on the personnel he has, rather than being stuck in a specific scheme relying on a specific group of players.

At Ohio State, Wilson has acquired a senior quarterback in J.T. Barrett, a 1,000-yard rusher in Mike Weber and four returning starters on the offensive line. While the Buckeyes have lost their top receivers from a year ago, the last two recruiting classes boast four, four-star recruits at wide receiver whom Wilson can mold. Along with new quarterbacks coach Ryan Day, Meyer has brought in the coaching personnel to adjust the offense and move forward. “We’re not changing; we’re enhancing,” Meyer said. “If it was broken, we’d have to change it.”

“We lost what I think is a man’s man in Raekwon McMillan,” Schiano said. “Really fine football player, really smart football player.”

- Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, via Tim Shoemaker, Eleven Warriors

The tall order of replacing the departed Raekwon McMillan at middle linebacker for Ohio State is one of the major gaps looking to be filled this offseason for Greg Schiano’s defense. As one of just a few returning starters on his side of the ball last season, McMillan anchored the unit as captain of one of the best defenses in college football. Whoever ends up replacing McMillan--who had 221 tackles in two seasons as a starter--will need to be a similar kind of smart football player in order to lead the defense into the 2017 season.

The answer could be found in fifth-year senior Chris Worley, who played at strongside linebacker last season alongside McMillan. While things could certainly change as the coaching staff tries new lineups, given that the season is still months away, Worley has already made an impression on Urban Meyer and Schiano in just two days of spring practice.

Worley is lighter than McMillan by about 10 pounds--a critical mass when it comes from shifting to outside linebacker to the inside position. And while Meyer credited Worley’s “mentality” in playing the middle spot, he acknowledged that “we just have to see if his body can hang in there at the MIKE linebacker spot.”

Schiano, however, was not concerned. “I’m not worried about that at all,” he said. “Eat right, lift, train and he’ll be ready to play.”

Worley proved to be a crucial part of last year’s defense in his first year as a starter, racking up 70 tackles on his way to being named an All-Big Ten honorable mention. His experience with the team will be an asset heading into next season. “He’s just a really, really smart football player.” said Schiano. “He’s a guy that I think understands the game at a very, very high level.”

“Ohio State made the NIT last year, barely beat Akron at home in overtime, then was sent to its room. Even that booby prize escaped the Buckeyes this season.”

- Bill Livingston, The Plain Dealer

After neglecting to receive an invitation to the National Invitation Tournament, the Ohio State basketball team failed to make the postseason for the first time since the 2004-05 season--the first season under Thad Matta, when the Buckeyes were not eligible for postseason play. Perhaps worse than not making the NIT, however, is the fact that Ohio State lost to the 14th-seeded Rutgers Scarlet Knights in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament last week in Washington D.C. just a day after athletic director Gene Smith endorsed Matta.

For Matta, it is easy to remember the good he brought to the Ohio State basketball program--nine NCAA tournament bids, two Final Fours and a national championship appearance. The national record goes well alongside Matta’s five Big Ten titles. That success led to outstanding recruiting on Matta’s part, snagging such names as Greg Oden and Mike Conley.

Unfortunately, Matta’s success in recruiting and the subsequent benefits of strong teams have fallen off in recent years. While John Calipari and Mike Krzyzewski have built effective one-and-done programs at Kentucky and Duke, the Buckeyes have not been able to reload even with talent that stays for more than a single year. Matta has also missed out on significant in-state talent, including Columbus native Trey Burke, who instead opted to go to Michigan, and Nigel Hayes of Toledo who chose Wisconsin over Ohio State.

But perhaps the biggest change between the program at its height under Matta and where it stands now is the effort of the players on the court. Fans yearn for the days when Aaron Craft would take the game into his own hands, throwing up a wild three-point shot to beat Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, or when Jared Sullinger chose to return to the Buckeyes the next season after a Sweet 16 loss, or when Greg Oden played through a broken wrist to be a part of the program. After a lackluster season where Marc Loving and Jae’Sean Tate alternately tried to energize their team, it was obvious that the Buckeyes’ collective head was not in the game.