“If you fail and something’s not going well, you change it. If things are going well, you don’t change and try to make it better.”
Urban Meyer has had to live with the memory of a 31-0 shutout loss to Clemson since December 31. Now, just weeks away from the start of the 2017 season, Meyer and the Buckeyes finally have their shot at redemption after eight months of waiting.
But this situation, while not altogether unfamiliar, is still unique for Meyer, who had previously lost just two bowl games heading into the offseason. In those instances, however, Meyer led his teams back to the field better than before and, on both occasions, won national titles the following seasons. The first time in 2007, Meyer, then at Florida, fell to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl after a relatively lackluster, 9-4 season (he was coming off his first national title with the Gators in 2006). He then led a new-and-improved Florida squad back in 2008 for a second championship. The second, more familiar time was in 2013, when Meyer and the Buckeyes lost to Clemson by a 40-35 margin in the Orange Bowl. Offseason changes, including bringing Chris Ash in to improve the defensive secondary, helped to boost Ohio State to its 2014 national title.
Now, the Buckeyes have a similar opportunity to that of 2014. With high expectations all around, including a top-three rating in the preseason coaches poll and the second-highest odds of winning the national title this season, there is a buzz about what this team is capable of, even after a crushing loss to conclude last season. Meyer has made similar adjustments to those he did post-2013, including adjusting the coaching staff to fix known problems. While there will surely be growing pains as the team adjusts to the new changes (think the Virginia Tech game in 2014), Meyer has shown that he can continue to grow and develop teams into championship contenders throughout the season.
“I think a lot of people felt internally that they were maybe a year ahead of schedule a year ago, and this would be the team that could make some noise and make a run.”
Kirk Herbstreit will have a busy start to the college football season. In addition to the usual Saturday morning College Gameday show, this time held September 2nd in Atlanta for the matchup of Alabama and Florida State, Herbstreit will also broadcast Ohio State’s opener against Indiana August 31, and will stay in Atlanta for Tennessee’s matchup against Georgia Tech on Labor Day. That makes three games in five days for the former Ohio State quarterback. And given the high caliber of the games--Alabama, Ohio State and Florida State take the top-three spots in the preseason coaches poll--Herbstreit will have a lot of prep work to do leading into the weekend.
While it is common practice in other conferences to open with a conference game, Ohio State has not done so in more than 40 years. Making matters more intriguing is that the Buckeyes are beating the rush and playing their opening matchup on a Thursday. And though Ohio State opened away from home in both 2014 and 2015, this season marks just the 15th time in program history that the Buckeyes have been away from Columbus for their home opener. The Buckeyes will also be seeking a reprieve from their last time on the field--a 31-0 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
Offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will be facing off against his former team in his first game with the Ohio State program. Under Wilson, Indiana often played closer games than expected against the Buckeyes, putting up huge numbers on offense, though allowing for ample scoring on defense by Ohio State. Still, the Hoosiers have not beaten Ohio State since 1990.
Indiana quarterback Richard Lagow acknowledged to Herbstreit that the Hoosiers could be a “surprise team in the Big Ten” this season. With an experienced defense, and Lagow, a junior college transfer, returning for his second year as a starter, Indiana could prove better than the experts think.
“But just below J.T. Barrett in that pecking order is where the fun starts--both for this season and in beginning to project the future at that all-important position for the Buckeyes.”
While senior quarterback J.T. Barrett has his position on lockdown heading into the fall, the question remains about who his backup will be. Redshirt sophomore Joe Burrow is entering his third season with the program, while Dwayne Haskins is a redshirt freshman. While the competition would seem to be limited to these two, true freshman Tate Martell, a four-star recruit from Las Vegas, could also get in the mix.
Haskins looks a lot like the quarterback of the future for Ohio State. Just as Cardale Jones was favored for his ability to air out the passing game, Haskins brings an arm that is more in line with where the offense is likely heading in coming years under Kevin Wilson. With more vertical passing and less scrambling by the quarterback, Haskins would seem to bring the right skillset to the offense. And, like Jones, Haskins, at 6-foot-3, 214-pounds and growing, could provide that needed power when he does need to use his feet.
Burrow, meanwhile, was the de facto backup last season, and has now defeated Barrett in two spring games, for what it’s worth. The sophomore’s skillset is much more in line with what Barrett currently brings to the table, making him an ideal backup for this season with Barrett at the helm. Burrow also has a year more experience in Ohio State’s system over Haskins. If Barrett were to be injured, Burrow could step in with minimal disruption to the offense, while Haskins may require some adjusting to.
While the quarterback battle next spring is certainly the more intriguing question, especially if Martell winds up in the mix, the backup spot for this year really is about security for Ohio State, and who will be able to provide the most consistent play to keep the offense moving should Barrett be unable to play.