After what felt like an eternity, last night the Ohio State University finally announced its decision in the investigation into how head football coach Urban Meyer and athletic director Gene Smith handled accusations of domestic violence against former assistant coach Zach Smith.
Both will receive a suspension without pay; Smith from Aug. 31 through Sept. 16, and Meyer will be unable to interact with his team until Sept. 3, and then will be suspended for games through Sept. 15’s contest against TCU.
There is no doubt that Urban Meyer is one of the best college football coaches of his generation, and arguably of all time. But, when we look back at the on-field story of the 2018 season, I just don’t think that his three-game suspension will have much of an impact.
Let’s take a look at what this suspension actually amounts to. Since Ohio State opens the season against the Oregon State Beavers on Sept. 1, Meyer will not be allowed to be with his team until the Monday following the opener. While certainly, you would much rather have your head coach with his team during the final weeks of fall practice than not, as Meyer said during the press conference last night, this team and coaching stuff is one of, if not the, best groups that he’s ever worked with. So they should be able to handle things leading up to the season.
Considering that interim head coach Ryan Day will be assisted by former head coaches Greg Schiano and Kevin Wilson, you have to assume that they will be able to construct a two-deep that maximizes the team’s strengths, as well as to get the players as ready as possible for the Beavers, who went 1-11 last season and were outscored 516-248.
With all due respect to the age-old adage that anything can happen in college football, it is difficult to imagine that a team as talent-laden as this Buckeye squad is would have trouble with Oregon State, no matter who is technically in charge.
After that game, Meyer is able to return to practices, and, should he have any issues with what was decided under Day, he can change it. However, I imagine that the coaching staff has prepared enough throughout the off-season that everyone will be on the same page upon Urban’s return.
With the Beavers in the rearview mirror, it will be time to open conference play against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on Sept. 8. And, with former OSU assistant Chris Ash at the helm, of course he will be motivated to upset his former program. However, Rutgers went 4-8 last year, and was outscored by more than 10 points per game. In 2017, the Buckeyes beat Rutgers, 56-0. While again acknowledging that anything can happen, it is practically impossible to think that Ohio State could drop that game, especially at home.
That, of course, brings us to the biggest Meyer-less test on the schedule: TCU. The No. 5 Buckeyes will travel to Arlington, Texas on Sept. 15 to take on the No. 16 Horned Frogs in a “neutral site” game at AT&T Stadium. TCU finished the 2017 season ranked No. 11, going 11-3, including a 39-37 Alamo Bowl win over Stanford.
However, the Horned Frogs lost 10 offensive starters from that bowl victory, including quarterback Kenny Hill, running back Kyle Hicks, and wide receiver John Diarse. On the other side of the ball, they will also be replacing five starters.
According to SB Nation’s Bill Connelly, TCU ranks 114th out of 130 FBS teams in terms of returning production with just 52 percent, while Ohio State has 62 percent for 84th. A lot will be expected of former four-star, sophomore quarterback Shawn Robinson against Ohio State’s stellar defense; which Connelly projects to finish eighth in S&P+ this season.
This will definitely be a marquee game in the early season, but when it comes down to it, the Buckeyes just have to win. It doesn’t have to be by three touchdowns, or come with impressive style points, but simply pulling off a win over a ranked opponent in hostile territory will be more than enough to bridge the gap to coaching normalcy in Columbus. And, at least on paper, the Buckeyes will go into the TCU game with a substantial talent advantage.
The only thing that they will be missing is Meyer; but, his impact on the game will be felt in the week of practice leading up to the contest, and in the game plan executed on the field. Meyer might not actually be there, but his stamp will most certainly be on the Buckeyes performance.
Now, the one area where Meyer’s suspension does become a more serious concern is the fact that there will need to be fairly regular changes in the coaching staff over the next month. By Sept. 3, the players will almost certainly be used to hearing Day’s voice leading the team, but will then need to adjust to having Meyer back for six days, then not there for games. Now, one thing that was not made clear last night is whether Meyer’s suspension is for the entirety of game days, or just once the contests actually begin. There is a significant difference between the two, not only in preparation, but in motivation.
I certainly expect that this game will be closer without Meyer on the sideline that it would be with him, but OSU is the better team, and the coaching staff is more than able to keep the boat afloat without its normal captain.
In Meyer’s stead, it is expected that Tim Hinton will serve as the team’s 10th assistant coach. Normally the program’s Executive Director for Football Relations and Special Assistant to the Head Coach, Hinton presumably will not be on the practice field during the week, but will still have position group responsibilities on game days.
The constant bouncing back-and-forth between coaches could present a bit of a stumbling block for the players, especially against TCU in the team’s first game away from The ‘Shoe on the season. However, if the team can manage to keep the voices straight and adapt to the different personalities of coaches, there is no reason not to expect the Buckeyes to head into Week 4 against Tulane 4-0.