Ohio State lost an unbelievable amount of talent this offseason, sending 12 players — big-time, impact players — to the NFL Draft.
So there’s no way the Buckeyes can still be in contention for the Big Ten title, right?
“I would say going into this (season) this is as talented a group top to bottom as we've had,” Urban Meyer said during Big Ten Media Days.
Here’s the list of the Buckeyes drafted to NFL teams earlier this year: Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Eli Apply, Taylor Decker, Darron Lee, Michael Thomas, Vonn Bell, Adolphus Wahsington, Braxton Miller, Nick Vannett, Joshua Perry and Cardale Jones. That’s a college football All-Star team right there.
But what you’ve got to understand is that Meyer and the Buckeyes don’t rebuild, they reload. Meyer’s five recruiting classes since he took the reins of the Ohio State program have been ranked No. 4 (2012), No. 2 (2013), No. 3 (2014), No. 9 (2015) and No. 3 (2016) — and the Class of 2017 is already ranked No. 2, perhaps his best yet.
So, yes, there are tons of holes to fill, and this Buckeyes team is very young, especially compared to recent seasons with championship wins and championship expectations. But the way Meyer has recruited, it’s not a question of how good the next wave is, it’s a question of when it will be ready to compete for a conference title.
“This year I’m trying to help the younger guys get up to our standard of how we play here at Ohio State and make sure they understand that we don’t have rebuilding years,” quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “The expectations are not going to change because you all don’t have experience. We’re going to try to do our best to make sure you get that in camp and practice, and it’s your job to make sure you come to play.”
And Meyer agrees. He thinks this team has the ability to win, but he knows that he needs to get it ready to do that.
“I see that potential,” he said. “I see I think 2014 was the template that everybody wants. J.T. Barrett was buried in the depth chart, Darron Lee, Eli Apple, Zeke Elliott, Mike Thomas — those guys were no-names, and they became very good throughout the course of 2014. And another guy, Cardale Jones, was buried on the depth chart. A lot of pressure on our coaches, assistant coaches and myself, to get them game-ready. I would say going into this this is as talented a group top to bottom as we've had. Now how do we get them game-ready?”
Getting the team ready to do that is a different challenge than recruiting, however.
Ahead of training camp, back at the end of July, Meyer said he was looking at August as “the most critical coaching month” he’s ever had. That’s saying something for a guy who’s won a trio of national championships.
But as he pointed out, there are parallels to the 2014 team. Barrett was thrust into duty that season after an injury to Miller, Bosa was just a sophomore and nobody knew if Elliott could follow in the footsteps of Carlos Hyde. Similar questions — save the quarterback one — exist heading into 2016. So don’t be alarmed if the Buckeyes are again playing for a conference championship or more come the winter.
It is Meyer, after all.
“Where we are as a team in 2016, have to find a way to replace arguably one of the best group of players ever to come through college football,” Meyer said. “I've been answering a lot of questions about a young team. The issue would be if it was a non-talented young team. And that's not the case at all. So it's a very young team, but talented. Probably the most critical coaching month that I've ever been through. We have to get these guys ready. Forty-four of our players, which is over half of our scholarships, are kids that never played in a game. So we have to get them ready.”