If Ohio State Doesn't Have a "Down Year" in 2016, Will it Ever Under Urban Meyer?

By Tim Shoemaker on July 28, 2016 at 8:35 am
Urban Meyer.

CHICAGO — As Urban Meyer stood at the podium Tuesday morning for his press conference at Big Ten Media Days, the Ohio State head coach laid out the upcoming task at hand in a blunt, straightforward fashion.

“Where we are as a team in 2016,” he said, “we have to find a way to replace arguably one of the best group of players ever to come through college football.”

That's it? No pressure.

The Buckeyes lost 16 starters from their 2015 team, 12 of whom were selected in the NFL Draft. That group was at the core of 50 career wins and had both a Big Ten title and a national championship on its resume.

Yet despite all of that, despite the losses of players like Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Eli Apple, Taylor Decker and Darron Lee — should I go on? — Ohio State insists its expectations have not shifted for 2016.

“I don’t think we’re thinking expectations are lowered this year because people are gone,” quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “I don’t think that’s fair to the people that came through Ohio State before and, myself, and the players that are here now.

“There’s a certain standard at Ohio State, and it shouldn’t change for anybody. I don’t care how many people you lost.”

Expectations certainly haven’t changed much in the eyes of the media, which selected the Buckeyes to win the Big Ten in an unofficial poll conducted by cleveland.com. In Vegas, the betting odds are on Ohio State’s — and Michigan’s — side, listing the two as co-favorites to win the league.

That’s a very normal occurrence in the Meyer era, even if this year isn’t quite as normal as previous ones.

“[Losing] nine juniors is a little over the top. I don't want to see that happen too often,” Meyer said. “I'm happy for the players, but I'm finding out, I've never had nine before. I think we had six at Florida in 2009. You're feeling that in the next year recruiting cycle because your numbers are all screwed up.

“Nine is a lot. I think maybe 4-5 is manageable.”

Here’s the thing: Expectations probably should change for Ohio State. That’s allowed to happen from year-to-year and it certainly seems reasonable this season for the Buckeyes as they have to endure such an abnormally large talent loss and play the most difficult schedule in the Big Ten.

Yet, here we are with Ohio State as the league favorite which certainly begs an interesting question: If the Buckeyes don’t endure a “down year” in 2016, with all of this roster turnover and a rigorous road schedule, will they ever have one under Meyer?

Meyer stated this 2016 team might be, top to bottom, the most talented group he’s ever had. With 44 players on the roster having never played a game and only six scholarship seniors listed on the roster — former walk-on linebackers Craig Fada and Joe Burger are now on scholarship for the season —  the majority of the team will return next year.

And, oh yeah, have you seen the 2017 recruiting class?

So, sure, Ohio State will lose some key guys early from this 2016 group to the NFL Draft and some others who are buried on the depth chart may not return, but the core of this team, the talented recruiting classes Meyer has assembled during his time in Columbus, will be back.

If the Buckeyes don’t have a down year this year, they may never under Meyer.

“We’ve got a freight train rolling right now,” senior center Pat Elflein said.

Ohio State may sputter this season. There’s potential for the young group to look overwhelmed on the road at Oklahoma in Week 3. The Buckeyes can certainly lose road games at Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan State in the Big Ten. After all, the Spartans are the only team in the league to beat Ohio State since Meyer took the reins and they’ve done it twice.

Then, of course, comes the end of the year battle with archrival Michigan. The Buckeyes get that game at home, at least.

There are plenty of opportunities for Ohio State to stub its toe along the way. A 9-3 season is not totally out of the question. That, maybe, would be considered a down year. But if 9-3 is as bad as it gets, for one year, Buckeye fans may be able to handle that.

Of course, there's also a chance Ohio State doesn't sputter, that it wins the Big Ten and it makes the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes were in a similar situation in 2014 and, after an early loss to Virginia Tech, turned into the best team in the country and won a national title.

That season was supposed to be a down year and it wasn't. This season is similar.

"I don't feel the overwhelming expectations that were here a year ago," Meyer said.

If there's a time to "get" Ohio State, it might be in 2016. Meyer, however, is often quite dangerous when he's in this position.

"The issue would be if it was a non-talented young team and that's not the case at all. It's a very young team, but talented," Meyer said. "Probably the most critical coaching month that our staff will — I'm speaking for myself — that I've ever been through.

"We have to get these guys ready." 

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