Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
For Ohio State football, it doesn’t get much better than what happened inside The Horseshoe on Saturday.
The Buckeyes beat their archrival, on Senior Day, in front of 105,000-plus screaming fans, to finish the season undefeated.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, handing OSU a 26-21 victory against Michigan and securing a 12-0 record, scarlet and gray clad enthusiasts rushed the field, surrounding Buckeye players and coaches as they joyously – and slowly – made their way to the locker room.
For first-year coach Urban Meyer, and the rest of Buckeye Nation, the 2012 season was about as good as it gets.
Until next year, anyway.
Yes, the 2012 season was great. Perfect, in a sense. But due to NCAA sanctions caused by “Tattoo-Gate,” the Buckeyes are banned from the postseason. OSU’s year ended after the Michigan game. No Big Ten Championship Game. No shot at playing for a national championship, either.
There is no postseason ban for the 2013 season, and the foundation has been set in Columbus to win championships.
OSU is expected to return 9 of 11 starters next year from an offense that averaged 37.1 points per game this season. Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller is likely to be a Heisman Trophy front-runner in 2013. Redshirt junior running back Carlos Hyde, who rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown against the Wolverines, is “developing into one of the best backs in the country,” according to Meyer.
On defense, the Buckeyes lose a bevy of senior leaders and playmakers, including defensive ends John Simon and Nathan Williams, and linebackers Zach Boren and Etienne Sabino. Junior defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins and redshirt sophomore cornerback Bradley Roby could leave for the NFL as well.
But sophomore linebacker Ryan Shazier, a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate this season, returns. So do both starting safeties, freshman defensive linemen Adolphus Washington, Noah Spence and Tommy Schutt.
The senior class, which Meyer refers to as the “most selfless group I’ve ever been around,” will not be easy to replace. But the Buckeyes experienced a great deal of success in 2012, and the large amount of players that are coming back are anxious to experience it again.
“I’m hoping the guys get that taste and they want to do it again. Because once you taste (success), it tastes really good. And the foundation, I think, is strong,” Meyer said after the game Saturday.
OSU will celebrate what it achieved this season, and deservedly so. But many underclassmen are already excited for next September.
“We’re just glad that the team got to feel what it’s like to be 12-0 so next year, we’re just as hungry in the offseason to get there again,” said junior wide receiver Corey Brown.
Because of the postseason ban, OSU players didn’t get everything they said they feel they deserved this year. In 2013, there will be no sanctions holding them back, and they’re looking forward to it.
“We’re just going to come out hungry next year though, to get what we were supposed to get this year,” Hyde said.
As for Meyer, he is really only getting started. He’s been at the helm of the OSU football program for roughly 12 months, and in that time, turned a 6-7 team in turmoil into a 12-0 team on the upswing.
He’s starting to get “his guys” into the program – players that he recruited, not past OSU coaches. The freshman class, which Meyer was largely responsible for, played a big role this season. Washington had a sack and a forced fumble Saturday, while Schutt and Spence were in on numerous third-down situations, often forcing Michigan’s quarterbacks out of the pocket.
Meyer said there were a “bunch of recruits in the meeting room again,” after the game. His 2013 class is ranked in the top 10 in the country by multiple sites.
And while many criticized OSU’s schedule this season, 2013 could be easier. Michigan State and Nebraska are off the schedule, and replaced with Northwestern and Iowa, who went a combined 13-11 this year. The biggest non-conference game is likely to be at California, which recently fired its coach Jeff Tedford.
OSU is likely to be favored in all of its regular season games next season. If all goes well for the Buckeyes in 2013, they could be riding a 23-game win streak when they arrive to Ann Arbor, Mich., on November 30, 2013.
In all, Meyer’s first year in Columbus seemed to go as well as could have been planned. Such success, though, likely has amplified expectations, and possibilities, for the future.
“I’m ready to go right now. I’m ready to get back into the off-season, working out and preparing for next season,” Hyde said. “I can’t wait.”