ESPN Insider is taking a look at "20 teams that can win it all" in 2012 and lands on an interesting team today: Ohio State.
Of course, the Buckeyes can't win a BCS championship, as they are ineligible for the postseason and can't be ranked in the BCS standings as part of their NCAA probation. But Ohio State still could theoretically finish first in the Associated Press poll if it were to go undefeated.
K.C. Joyner writes that it's not too far-fetched to believe in that outcome. One of his top reasons why the Buckeyes could have a dominant season is an offense that could break out in Urban Meyer's first year after performing better than people thought in 2011.
"The truth is that in many ways this offense wasn't nearly as bad as its reputation. For example, according to cfbstats.com, the Buckeyes ranked third in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game and yards per carry in conference contests. The return of two of their backs with 100 or more carries (Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall) and Meyer's ability to customize game plans around the talents of his rushing talents are two reasons the Buckeyes made my list of the best running back committees in college football.
Quarterback Braxton Miller's abilities as a runner are another reason to be optimistic about the OSU offense. His production on designed runs improved as the 2011 season progressed; he increased his yards-per-carry average from 5.6 during his first six games (with no touchdowns) to 9.1 in the last six (with seven TDs), according to ESPN Stats & Info."
A strong defense, anchored by John Simon and Johnathan Hankins up front, and the wealth of talent that's always around in Columbus are other reasons to be optimistic. Reasons to be pessimistic include the Buckeyes' still-developing passing game and the parity of the Big Ten.
My take is that an undefeated season wouldn't come as a total shock. Ohio State's nonconference schedule (Miami of Ohio, UCF, Cal and UAB) is as easy as it has been in years, and the Buckeyes should get through that 4-0. They have to open Big Ten play at Michigan State, which we currently rank No. 1 in our league power rankings. That's a daunting assignment, but should Ohio State pull it off, it gets Nebraska the following week in the Horseshoe for what should be a special atmosphere. Win that one, and there's a very good shot at being 8-0 before heading to Penn State on Oct. 27.
Going to State College and later to Madison, Wis., will be among the toughest challenges of the year for Meyer's team. The Buckeyes are not particularly deep on offense and can't afford an injury to Miller or many of their offensive linemen this season. The passing game will have to improve by leaps and bounds over last year, especially at receiver.
On the other hand, the Buckeyes didn't get blown out in any Big Ten game last year during a 6-7 campaign and will have a much more experienced head coach at the controls. Without a postseason to look forward to, they can make going undefeated their main goal.
In the end, I think a 10-2 or possibly even 11-1 season represents a more realistic ceiling for this team. I believe the conference is just too balanced for any team to run the table, that those road games to Michigan State, Wisconsin and Penn State are too formidable and that Ohio State has some trouble spots with its passing game and depth. But it wouldn't be a total stunner to see the Buckeyes turn in an outstanding regular season.
What do you think the chances are for Ohio State going 12-0 in 2012?