"I dunno..." said a pensive and whiny Johnny back in April, "...if Bauserman can hold it together for five games while Pryor is out, then I really don't see any reason to burn Miller's redshirt. It just seems like a waste."
Well screw that. Second place, first loser. No fear. Unleash the beast. That's "MISTER" Big Dog to you. USA number one.
What I'm saying is, expectations are funny things. Four months ago I was pretty sure that after an embarrassing five games to open the 2011 season, we'd still be right in the thick of the Big Ten race. Moving a true freshman to QB and crossing our fingers seemed like a pretty bad idea at the time; sort of like Neil Armstrong ditching the "steady as she goes" flight plan for "the hell with it, we're going to Mars."
Now things have changed a bit. Pryor isn't coming back after five games, Tressel isn't going to be here to help nurture a young QB on the sidelines for a year to prepare him for a leading role, and frankly, there is a decent chance that OSU wouldn't be allowed in the Big Ten Championship game even if they had the record to qualify for it. In a weird sense that's almost cathartic, because it means that this season Ohio State doesn't have to be constrained by the successful formula of the past ten seasons, and doesn't have a precedent to live up to.
Because of that, there are a number of things that I feel Ohio State needs to take the initiative with, beginning with the biggest dog on the field: the quarterback position.
Braxton Miller needs to be the starter, and he needs to have the freedom to do his own thing. One of the biggest mantras during the Tressel era for QBs was to emphasize mistake-free football above all else. It's one of the primary reasons why Terrelle Pryor and Troy Smith traded brilliant, mind-boggling plays for consistency. Not that this wasn't a valid approach; Smith eventually became so automatic that plays like this one (thanks, Keith) were rarely needed.
Still, this year is the perfect opportunity to let Braxton be Braxton. If he really can become a Michael Vick or Pat White-esque player, now is the time to find out. Let him create for himself, and try to establish some kind of rapport with at least one receiver that's not a speedy running back or a guy named Stoneburner or Posey.
Those players will, of course, play a big part of Miller's development, but this season has to be about planning for the future. The sooner Braxton can get on the same page with a young player like T.Y Williams, Chris Fields, Philly Brown, or yes, even James Louis himself, the better. A multiyear QB/WR tandem the likes of a Smith/Ginn or even a Pryor/Sanzenbacher would do wonders for this offense.
Defensively, there aren't as many calculated risks to take; I believe that part of the reason that OSU's defense has been so successful in recent years is the willingness to be incredibly versatile and take chances with different lineups. During recruiting, Heacock and Fickell have gone after guys who can fill multiple roles in the the defense while still finding players who can anchor certain positions. I'm going to be pretty sad when Tyler Moeller finally graduates, but I'm not going to be too worried in that there are guys like CJ Barnett and Christian Bryant ready to step in to fill his shoes.
As far as the coaching staff goes, it's impossible to know what the future holds. The inclination among the Ohio State administration may be to stick with what works if Fickell salvages a successful season. I don't think that's a wise decision, but if Fickell does stay on for multiple years as head coach, there are a few things he needs to start doing now, including:
- Outlining a clear and coherent policy concerning NCAA regluations. Broadcast it to everyone who will listen, and detail specific consequences if it is ignored.
- Draw a distinction between himself and Jim Tressel. If the "interim" tag really has been taken away from his title, prove it on the field and coach like someone not cribbing from someone else's notes.
- A different stance toward the media is a good way to start, and on that front, so far so good.
There's a certain amount of bravado that comes with throwing caution to the wind, and honestly that's something that I've missed in OSU football in the past few years. It feels like we spent an incredible amount of time worrying about living up to our billing or making sure that we didn't have a letdown against inferior opponents or whatever nitpicky thing you can apply to the phrase "uneasy lies the head that wears the crown."
Truth be told, I don't expect this to be a banner year for Ohio State football on the field. Four losses is more than possible, in my opinion. But I would much rather have those losses come by way of the Buckeyes trying something new and taking risks rather than desperately clinging to an old formula.