Urban Meyer has said he sees a good team when he looks at his squad. Do you agree?
Ryan: I do agree. Ohio State will be very good at football this year. Although Ohio State will be without the injured Braxton Miller and several departed players like Carlos Hyde, Philly Brown and Ryan Shazier – not to mention 80 percent of the offensive line and three-fourths of the secondary – the depth that the Buckeyes have this year is the best of the Meyer era. The Buckeyes are not a team you want to see on your schedule this year despite the loss of Miller.
Jeff: I think that's pretty fair. In fact, I'll say one of the things that really keeps me from thinking this year might be a total disaster is Meyer's confidence in his squad. With a starting quarterback who's never taken a snap and a ton of youth -- 18 true or redshirt freshmen on the depth chart! -- my gut tells me this is a team that could see things go south in a hurry, no matter how talented it is. But Meyer is confident in the squad and he knows more than I do, so who am I to argue?
Marcus: The makings are certainly all there. I think the talent upgrade is more than just talk. We won’t know if it also has the toughness to back up the ability until the games start for real.
Does this feel the most like an Urban Meyer team since his arrival?
Ryan: It does. The 2014 recruiting class in particular makes it feel that way, but it’s not hard to see why Ohio State fans should be excited about the future. The youngest three classes on the team were all ranked in the top five in the country, and many players from those groups will see playing time this year. J.T. Barrett, while unproven, is a prototypical Meyer quarterback. This is his offense all the way.
Jeff: In many ways it does. The head coach won't say it but the skill position talent is nearing what he wants, he now has the aggressive defensive scheme he's craved, and the secondary is filled with long, rangy athletes who can serious disrupt opposing offenses. They are still getting there as far as experience and I won't be convinced about the offensive line until I see it in action, but there are some major Meyer calling cards out there.
Marcus: Without a doubt. The speed component continues to grow, especially on offense, and it is going to be needed more than ever. We haven’t gotten to watch much in the fall, but the defense had a different feel in the spring as well.
Is it fair to lessen expectations since the loss of Braxton Miller?
Ryan: Yes. A thousand times yes. Ohio State fans may not personally choose to lower their expectations, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I like to see the pro sports teams I root for win all the games they play. With that being said, Miller is the two-time Big Ten Player of the Year. He made plays that almost nobody else in the country could make, and that’s absolutely invaluable – especially with the second-most inexperienced offensive line in the country. Barrett, by all accounts, is a great leader and teammate who oozes with potential. But we’ve never seen him do it, and until that changes I have no problem lowering the expectations for this team.
Jeff: Yes! He's Braxton Miller! I know Braxton hasn't been perfect, but he's a stud. He was a leader on a team sorely needing experience, and he's one of the most explosive athletes ever to play quarterback in the Big Ten. I don't care how much of a cool customer Barrett is. You're going to miss some of what Miller brings to the table. His athleticism and skills helped OSU win numerous games it could have (and perhaps should have) lost the past couple of years. Will Barrett be able to make those plays when the game is on the line? Time will tell.
Marcus: I think things remain more or less the same in the regular season. This team always had some question marks, and most of them are independent of Miller, so the potential for problems is not much different on defense or the offensive line. I think there will be some growing pains. Where I think he is most likely to be missed is a high-pressure situation where the Buckeyes need a big play that only someone with his physical ability can create, and I don’t think that will happen much until the postseason.
Which freshmen do you think will make the biggest impact this season?
Ryan: I’m going to stick with my choices from National Signing Day and say the player who could very well be Ohio State’s leading scorer this year as well as the guy Meyer just can’t stop talking about. The first, of course, is kicker Sean Nuernberger, who wound up with the top spot on the depth chart that was released Wednesday. Despite attempting just 10 field goals last year, Drew Basil finished four points shy of leading scorer Carlos Hyde. If Ohio State’s offense isn’t quite as prolific this year, it may call on Nuernberger’s big boot for up to twice as many field goal attempts as were taken last year. The other player is Curtis Samuel, who I’ve been a big fan of since last fall. Sky’s the limit with him, and I expect him to be no stranger to the end zone this year.
Jeff: Well, Nuernberger is going to start at kicker, lol. The quesiton says "freshmen" but I only will consider true frosh here because those are the guys who were playing high school football a year ago, so Nuernberger has to be at the top of the list. I also expect Samuel to make some plays for the offense, as everyone has been raving about him this fall. Dante Booker will get some play at linebacker, I think, by the end of the year. In the secondary, I won't count out Damon Webb, either.
Marcus: The loss of Miller puts the onus on more people to become weapons on offense, and that probably means more touches for Jalin Marshall and Samuel as options beyond the top two or three. On defense, perhaps Tyquan Lewis steps up in the early absence of Noah Spence, but the best candidates are probably Eli Apple and Gareon Conley given the importance of the press corners in the new defensive scheme.
What are you most excited to see out of the team this weekend?
Ryan: Actual football! I think I speak for everyone in saying it’s been far too long. Aside from that, I want to see how this team reacts when things don’t go its way. The line is new, the quarterback is new, the secondary is new and at some point, things are going to go awry. Meyer has spent the entire offseason doing everything in his power to develop the culture of this team and instill in his players that E + R = O and that life is all about managing their response (R) to events (E) in order to control the outcome (O). Did it actually work? I’m excited to find out.
Jeff: Just the team. There are a bunch of guys who we just don't know how they will perform when the lights go up. I want to see how all the youngsters, with Barrett at the top of the list, perform in a live game situation. We might know less about this Ohio State team in game one than any time since I joined BSB, so I'm intrigued to see it all come together.
Marcus: I would say something about the defense, but the Navy triple option means we might not see the same things we will for the rest of the year. So I am going to go with the new playmakers on offense — Dontre Wilson, Ezekiel Elliott, Marshall and Samuel.
OK, the big one: How many wins do you project for the Buckeyes?
Ryan: It’ll be in the double digits. I’ve said 10-2 for the regular season, and I’ll stick with that for now. There’s just so many questions. You can say you think all the questions will be answered, but there’s no denying that the issues are there. I doubt two losses will get Ohio State into a playoff, but if it gets them into the Big Ten title game I think they win that as well whichever bowl game follows. This team is going to be one of the best in the country come December. I’m just not sure it will get through the path to that point unscathed.
Jeff: There is enough talent on this team to go 12-0. I am not arguing that at all. But there is also enough inexperience that when coupled with the injury woes the team has faced this fall, things could really go wrong and the team could stumble to something like seven wins. So I might be the pessimist of the group, but I'm going to fall right in the middle and predict nine regular season wins. I just don't see how the Buckeyes get over the massive personnel losses from last year without some growing pains along the way. Young teams tend to have dizzying highs and crashing lows at times, and there's no question the Buckeyes have a young team. No matter how it goes, there will be some fun times ahead, though. This could be one of the most fun Ohio State seasons in some time, and that's starting with a hell of an intriguing matchup Saturday vs. Navy.
Marcus: As referenced above, I had some concerns before Miller went down. Will the offensive line really be ready? Will the defense be able to implement the new scheme without making too many mistakes? Can the offense outscore those mistakes if they come?
I expected Miller to take a big step forward as a passer until he lost all those reps, but I believe the offense really is designed to function similarly with him and without him. He was most likely going to be the guy who smoothed over any cracks, make a play here and there if breakdowns up front or on defense left the team in trouble. I was concerned about his readiness to start the season, and I still think the Virginia Tech game looms as a bad way to follow up the unique Navy matchup. The Hokies have plenty of questions, too, of course. Neither Navy or Cincinnati will be pushovers, either.
I still think the Buckeyes will be motivated to prove a point at Michigan State in November, and at their best they should be able to handle the Spartans at the top of their game. The rest of the conference schedule is plenty manageable with solid quarterback play. Yet they could still be ripe for a letdown, particularly the week after what I expect to be a victory over the Spartans.
So I picked 10-2 before and after the loss of Miller. I still think we’ll see the Buckeyes in the Big Ten Championship Game, and I think they are better than anyone who could emerge from a wide-open West. I don’t think that will get them in the playoff, but perhaps a nice big bowl in Texas will be a solid consolation for a team with so many new faces in important places and no senior quarterback to hold it all together.