COLUMBUS — When he was younger, Urban Meyer played baseball, a sport where going 3 for 10 is regarded as being successful.
No wonder someone as driven as he is soon migrated to football, where the pursuit of perfection sets the standard much, much higher.
The merger of Meyer, one of the most accomplished coaches in college football, with Ohio State, one of the most successful college football programs ever, has created a tidal wave of anticipation about the Buckeyes’ upcoming season.
With the hiring of Meyer last November, Ohio State was able to step nimbly away from the crater left by NCAA violations, player suspensions, the forced exit of coach Jim Tressel, a bowl ban and a 6-7 record last season.
Meyer immediately changed the atmosphere and the direction of OSU’s program with his intensity, his blunt manner of speaking and by quickly assembling a top tier recruiting class.
Now comes the hard part. Now, Ohio State has to go on the field and try to make all those dreams of uninterrupted success dancing in the minds of OSU’s huge fan base real.
Ohio State has 15 returning starting position players, including quarterback Braxton Miller, a strong and deep defensive line led by John Simon, and a solid defensive backfield.
Nowhere is change more evident than on offense, where Meyer brings his version of the spread offense, which he used to climb the coaching ladder from Bowling Green to Utah to Florida, where he led the Gators to two national championships.
Miller will be at the center of OSU’s fast-paced offense. As a freshman, he threw for 1,159 yards and rushed for 715 yards after being forced onto the field a year ahead of schedule when Terrelle Pryor left for the NFL and Joe Bauserman was not up to the task of starting.
Meyer has built up Miller since the day he was hired, calling him, “the most dynamic athlete I’ve coached.”
“When I first got the phone call (about becoming Ohio State’s coach), I knew all about Braxton. That’s the first thing that popped into my head because you’re dead in the water if you don’t have a guy (at quarterback) who can play. He can play,” Meyer said.
The defensive equivalent of Miller, when it comes to earning Meyer’s approval, has been Simon, the senior defensive end who was practically guaranteed a captain’s spot by his coach months before the players voted.
He has called Simon, “as good a player as there is in college football.”
Johnathan Hankins gives OSU a pair of imposing defensive linemen. “They’re SEC players, which is kind of how you measure it now,” Meyer said.
There are still many questions, though, most notably at running back, receiver and on the offensive line.
Running back Jordan Hall was supposed to be an explosive playmaker until he had to have surgery to repair a torn tendon in his foot. He is expected to miss at least the first two games.
Receiver is also an area of uncertainty after no Buckeyes receiver caught more than 14 passes last season.
The hope is returning players like junior Corey Brown and sophomore Devin Smith will improve in a hurry and that freshman Michael Thomas, who caught 12 passes in the spring game, can play like that when the games mean something.
Tackle Jack Mewhort and guard Andrew Norwell are the only returning starters on the offensive line.
Until Hall returns, Carlos Hyde will be the No. 1 running back. Fullback Zach Boren will be a bigger part of the offense and Brown could be used in some of the roles Hall was slotted to fill.
Hyde, who was OSU’s third-leading rusher with 566 yards last season, is at a crossroads in his career, Meyer said.
“Carlos Hyde has to step up and take the baton because he’s got the tools. He has to stay healthy and it’s time to go get it. This is the defining moment of Carlos Hyde’s career,” he said.
Ohio State opens its season Saturday at home against Miami of Ohio. It has eight home games, with its toughest road tests probably coming at Michigan State on Sept. 29 and at Wisconsin on Nov. 17.