COLUMBUS — How strong is Ohio State football’s brand? How much have the Buckeyes impressed people during the six seasons Urban Meyer has been their coach?
The last time the Buckeyes were on the field they were embarrassed. And if humiliated is worse than embarrassed, then they were humiliated.
Maybe a little surprisingly, they were not even penalized for this in the court of public opinion. At least not much and not for long.
With 15 returning starters from the team that lost 31-0 to Clemson in a semifinal of the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Eve, the Buckeyes are being given the best chance of keeping Alabama from winning another national championship this year by many people.
Imagine if Penn State had lost 31-0 in the Rose Bowl. It would still be hearing “Overrated” chants. Imagine Notre Dame had made it to a bowl game and had been crushed similarly. The story line would have been that it was living on its reputation.
This is what Meyer has built in six seasons at Ohio State with a 61-6 record, a national championship and recruiting classes stocked with 5-star and 4-star recruits every year.
Ohio State has had a place at the big boy table in college football for a long time. But this feels like something a little different.
So, are this year’s Buckeyes, who open their season Thursday night at Indiana, what people are saying they are? Or could they be in for a disappointment?
Meyer says Ohio State can be elite this year but that it’s not guaranteed.
“I think we’ll have a great team. I don’t think we have a great team yet, but I like where we’re at,” he said last week.
Ohio State reached the College Football Playoff last year with a team that had only six returning starters.
So, it is easy to see the logic in saying it can do better this season with starters back at 15 positions.
But even with all that experience and talent there are still questions that need to be answered on offense and defense.
The offense in general did not live up to expectations last season, especially in the last three games when it scored only three touchdowns in regulation against Michigan State, Michigan and Clemson after scoring 77 points, 62 points and 62 points in games earlier in the year.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett, probably unfairly, took much of the heat for OSU’s offensive inconsistency.
Barrett threw for 2,555 yards and 24 touchdowns with seven interceptions and rushed for 845 yards. But measured against the standard of his 2013 redshirt freshman season (2,834 yards passing, 34 TDs and 938 yards rushing) he came up short.
At the Big Ten media days in July, Meyer said OSU’s offensive struggles shouldn’t be pinned on Barrett.
“J.T. Barrett broke a bunch of records as a (redshirt) freshman. That’s because the receivers were outstanding. We struggled at times last year because our offensive line was not up to speed, our tight ends were not good and our receivers weren’t playing up to potential. So the quarterback takes the hit,” Meyer said.
Defensively, Ohio State has one of the best or maybe the best front sevens in the country. With players like Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard, the defensive line matches up with anyone. And the starting linebackers aren’t far behind that group.
The big question is replacing three starters in the defensive backfield, all of whom were first-round NFL draft choices.
If Ohio State answers most of those questions it will be a very good season. If it can answer them all, it could be a great season.