May 17, 2016
Urban Meyer was supposed to have one of the easiest jobs in college football last year, fueled by a loaded roster that returned seven starters on each side of the ball from a team that had just steamrolled its way to—and through—the first-ever College Football Playoff.
Ohio State entered the 2015 season as the first unanimous preseason AP No. 1 team in college football history, and no one anticipated the Buckeyes struggling with a schedule that provided few obstacles.
The pressure of living up to those enormous expectations, though, proved to be too much for Meyer and the Buckeyes, as they stumbled down the stretch against Michigan State and ultimately fell short of a second consecutive playoff berth.
With the 2016 season on the horizon, Meyer has a whole new set of hurdles ahead of him. But fortunately for the Buckeyes, none of those hurdles will be as big as the expectations that wore the team down a season ago.
Getting a Young Team Ready
The main cause for those decreased expectations is the youth movement that’s underway in Columbus.
After pasting Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, an incredible nine underclassmen declared for the NFL draft, leaving an enormous hole in Ohio State’s depth chart. The Buckeyes had a record 10 former players selected in the first three rounds of the draft, highlighting the talent exodus that’s headed to the NFL.
Meyer was left with a team needing to replace 16 total starters—eight on each side of the ball.
The Buckeyes are fortunate to return a ton of experience at key spots. Offensively, the unquestioned leader will be behind center with J.T. Barrett in the fold. On defense, middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan will anchor a new-look unit.
Looking at all the attrition and youth on his roster, Meyer talked about the enormous challenge his team faces heading into the season.
“It’s just survival right now,” Meyer said, according to Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com. He later added, “This is uncharted waters for me too. [The roster turnover] is the thing that kicks you in the teeth.”
Getting this young team ready to go by Week 1 will be Meyer’s toughest challenge this season.
Integrating New Defensive Coordinator Greg Schiano
Roster turnover is difficult enough to manage, but Meyer will have the added task of integrating a key coordinator into the fold this year.
That process was disastrous a season ago, when Ohio State’s offense failed to establish an identity without former offensive coordinator Tom Herman at the helm. Meyer brought in Tim Beck to replace Herman, and despite boasting NFL talent at every position, the Buckeyes ranked just 41st nationally in total offense.
Meyer is undergoing a similar change with his defense, replacing former defensive coordinator (and now Rutgers head coach) Chris Ash with Greg Schiano.
Schiano, of course, has a long and successful career that’s highlighted by a successful head coaching run at Rutgers and an NFL stint as the head man of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Meyer is banking on Schiano’s experience paying dividends and easing the transition process that went so poorly for the offense last year.
“Greg Schiano is an excellent coach,” Meyer said, according to Austin Ward of ESPN.com. “He is someone I have known for quite some time now and someone who is going to align with our staff extremely well. I think he will be outstanding as a coach and mentor in our program and I am pleased to have him on our staff.”
Navigating One of College Football’s Toughest Schedules
Once Ohio State has its infrastructure established—from the two-deep roster to the new-look coaching staff—it will have to find a way to conquer one of college football’s most brutal schedules.
It starts with the improved nonconference slate and matchups against reigning MAC champion Bowling Green and high-flying Tulsa. Those are just warm-ups to one of the most highly anticipated games of the year when the Buckeyes head south for a showdown with playoff contender Oklahoma.
A well-timed bye week will give the Buckeyes a break before they attack the newly implemented nine-game league schedule.
Back-to-back road games against Wisconsin and Penn State will be tough to navigate, then two West Division matchups against Northwestern to close October and Nebraska to open November will be tricky as well.
But all of this will pale in comparison to the two-week gauntlet to close the season, when Ohio State travels to East Lansing with revenge on its mind against Michigan State. A week later, the Buckeyes will close out the 2016 campaign against Jim Harbaugh and Michigan, who will be looking to avenge last year’s humiliating 42-13 home loss.
Last year’s loaded team would’ve been challenged by this schedule. This year’s team may be swallowed by it.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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