Another 2017 Ohio State Season Preview

The world was one Ohio State football season preview short. But not anymore. Other rightings: Michigan, Northwestern, Indiana, Purdue, Nebraska, Rutgers.

Urban Meyer wakes up from a dream in which he’s arguing with an old college roommate about the technical definition of a crackback block to a quiet office, alone.

He’s slept in his chair again, feet propped on his desk. Before him, film from the shutout loss to Clemson loops on mute.

Rubbing his eyes, Meyer watches J.T. Barrett audible at the line on second and eight. The backfield adjusts, then sets. The h-back goes in motion. With a fuzzy grasp of what stage of the game he’s seeing, Meyer can’t recall the outcome of the play.

At the snap, Barrett is pressured immediately by the Clemson line. He looks left on the option, comes back right, somehow gets the shovel pass off, and gets ridden to the turf by some fat Clemson end who looks like he’s bodysurfing. The back runs forward into a scrum. Gain of three, third and five.

Meyer’s stomach grumbles, his mouth tastes sour. A single word fills his mind: coffee. He pictures himself drinking it, and waits for the thought to pass. There is weakness to be found in fulfilling the imagos of the future self that form in one’s mind. Every decision must be a surprise.

It’s his wife’s favorite play, that inside shovel option. A holdover from the Florida days. That Clemson so obviously expects it from that formation, down, and distance, makes Meyer wince, for there is weakness also in playing hostage to one’s emotions. To call that play is a loving homage; it is therefore suicide.

Real love is in the fake.

Everything in the office is still and quiet. Dark oak trim swallows the recessed light. Only the television moves. Meyer, with a growing nausea, shifts in his chair as the third down call congeals: five wide with the QB alone in the backfield. At Barrett’s beckoning, the outside receiver motions in.

The ball is snapped, Clemson rushes four. The pocket holds, begins to close. Barrett flicks a pass between two short curl routes to hit Curtis Samuel on a deep cross. He’s open; but the ball deflects off his hands, caroming in the air for a sickening few seconds, and flutters to the ground incomplete. Time to punt.

Meyer lets off a string of curses in a low voice. He can self-hypnotize with his voice, a low droning thing he has trained to stay, by and large, imperturbable, mild, even boring. It assures him, as pressures mount, that every challenge can be met, so long as one has cleansed oneself of the impurities of small distraction.

The broadcast shows a replay of Barrett’s throw from a few angles. Samuel doesn’t have his hands up in time; no, on second thought, he does. He just doesn’t fucking catch the goddam bitch of a thing. Meyer watches as the receiver’s gloves come together to form the O; the ball ricochets off the ring and pinky. Could have been a first down and more. And then, who knows?

He presses pause, contemplates a replay. Instead, he turns the TV off. The wall clock says 3:34AM. Slowly he comes to his feet, discovering his right leg, which was locked at the knee, is asleep. Limping, he slides a stack of sealed envelopes — letters to recruits — into his hand to drop off in the bin for outgoing mail.

Something he admitted in one bothers him. Did he confess to a small fatigue? Did he tell an embarrassing truth? Or did he stick to the catechism of the simple, reassuring lie? He cycles through them, squinting at the addresses in the mealy glow of the hallway’s emergency lights. One to a recruit’s girlfriend, one to his mother, another to an aunt. He remembers nothing of what was written.

No, the nagging feeling comes from that incompletion, and it bothers him the whole drive home, through the light traffic of Columbus at the zero hour before 4AM. When he gets home, the house will be empty — Shelley and the kids away at summer camp. He’ll notice that the maid who fixed up his bed left a small wrinkle at the bottom right corner. That wrinkle will rankle, it will be like the proverbial pebble in the mattress; no more proof will be needed that the woman is unfit for the task of keeping the house clean than that she will find such an oversight tolerable. As he folds the sheets back and, still fully clothed, slips in, Meyer makes the call, his right upper lip snarling: in the morning, he’ll fire her ass.

 

Best Case Scenario

No self-respecting Ohio State fan should expect anything less than a perfect year. They have the Big Ten’s best quarterback. They have the Big Ten’s best defense. And they have the Big Ten’s best coach. They are the Big Ten’s best case scenario. Kevin Wilson liberates JT Barrett’s mind from its aversion to error, and Urban’s new maid shows no lapses in her sheet-tucking. By the end of the year, he rests, unrankled.

 

Worst Case Scenario

Each third of the season features an eminently losable game, even for a program that wins those types of matchups with demoralizing regularity. Oklahoma wants revenge; Penn State wants to keep the crown, and the head-to-head primacy; and Michigan wants, for the love of God, to beat an OSU team with a pulse. The secondary’s reload is a misfire, Curtis Samuel’s gamebreaking ability is keenly missed, and Barrett chafes under the tutelage of Kevin Wilson. A 10-3 Buckeyes team wins the Citrus Bowl.

 

Most Likely Case Scenario

Every year features one miss, and at least one near-miss, for OSU. The question is, when will those occur? Do the Buckeyes falter early, against Oklahoma, a game easily forgotten by season’s end? Will they drop one at Nebraska, or versus Penn State, or at Iowa, whom they face in consecutive weeks? Will Michigan finally start the rivalry in this century? No loss is guaranteed to take them out of the Big Ten Title game. And given the coaching disruption in Norman, the freak feeling of last year’s loss at PSU, and the sense that the better Michigan gets, the even-better Ohio State gets, it is impossible not to put the Bucks in the playoff, by hook or by crook. It’s another 14-1 season dissatisfying only to those who sleep on mattresses stacked ten feet high.

 

Did You Know?

Despite its seeming invincibility, Ohio State has won one Big Ten title in the last seven years. It has not mattered.

 

Fantasy Preview

Quarterback

JT Barrett is the clear-cut No. 1 choice in any Big Ten fantasy draft. Barrett, in many regards, was subpar last season and still led our league in scoring. Don’t get cute, just draft JT first. He’s been known to put up 5+ TD games…in the first half. Behind him, Joe Burrow is poised to collect garbage-time stats that make him an intriguing prospect when your starter is on bye. Freshman Dwayne Haskins may be the next great Buckeye signal caller, but that’s a year away, at least.

Running Back

Detroit Cass Tech product Mike Weber spurned Michigan for the Bucks, and it appears that for the next two or three years he’ll contribute significantly to Wolverine fans’ already considerable self-loathing. Cut from the same contact-loving cloth as Zeke Elliott, Weber posted excellent freshman numbers as the starter, and he’s a solid mid-to-late first rounder…if he lasts that long. Sophomore Demario McCall showed impressive moves and a nose for the endzone in some meaningless playing time last season, and without Curtis Samuel, his role may increase in volume and breadth. Some reports indicate that freshman JK Dobbins impressed the coaches enough to earn playing time immediately, but Urban Meyer has been known to lie through his teeth about such things.

Wide Receiver

OSU receivers are mesmerizing like a black hole. Their traditional wideouts, like Michael Thomas and Noah Brown, have disappointed the last two years, while the coveted H-back role, inhabited by Curtis Samuel last season, has paid out handsomely. Reports indicate Parris Campbell is taking over Samuel’s role, but he may share reps with McCall and/or fellow receiver KJ Hill. Terry McLaurin will be in the mix on the outside, and Binjimen Victor, Austin Mack, and Johnnie Dixon may also have opportunities. It’s a classic case of too many cooks in the kitchen.

Tight End

How frustrating it must be to play tight end for Urban Meyer’s Ohio State. Marcus Baugh could be a great fantasy prospect on most other teams, but on Ohio State, he’s more of a loose end. Draftable, but not before the last round.

Kicker

Sean Nuernberger is back and healthy and should be kicking a shit ton of extra points. He’s a top option.

Defense

Ohio State is replacing some top-tier talent on defense with a lot of top-flight recruits. Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard lead one of the nation’s best pass-rushing units, meaning a lot of sack points adding up throughout the season. Chris Worley is a worthy successor to Raekwon McMillan in the middle, and Jerome Baker ought to wreak havoc on the outside. The secondary is in a rebuild year, but last year was supposed to be a rebuild year too. Given defensive coordinator Greg Schiano’s talents at denial, this is probably one of the nation’s best defenses, even with the tough schedule.

 

Suggested viewing material:

Cruising on the road v. Oklahoma

Urban Meyer gives a tour of his office

The loss to Clemson