- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
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We're getting closer and closer to finding out just how teams will fare in the 2012 season. But before the fall campaign kicks off, we're presenting our looks at the best- and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team.
As a reminder, these pieces are not in any way predictions. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.
Let's move on in our alphabetical march to the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Urban renewal. The off-the-field distractions of last year are over. Lots of blue-chip talent is back. And Urban Meyer knows how to make the most of it.
The Buckeyes field one of the top defenses in the nation as the Silver Bullets reclaim their elite status. The defensive line and secondary are both among the best in the nation, and Ryan Shazier and Curtis Grant make huge strides to bring the linebacker unit up to Ohio State's standard of excellence. On offense, Braxton Miller develops into a superstar at quarterback, while the young receivers grow up in a hurry and Jordan Hall comes back quickly from his foot injury to become Percy Harvin 2.0.
A beneficial nonconference schedule which features four home games against unranked teams leads to four easy blowout victories. Ohio State gets its first test at Michigan State in Week 5, but a dominating defensive effort shuts down the Spartans' shaky passing game, and Miller throws the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Nebraska comes to the 'Shoe the following week, and just like a year ago, the Buckeyes race out to a 27-6 lead. But this time, Miller stays in the game and there will be no Huskers miracle. Two electrifying Hall touchdowns -- one on a kickoff return and another on a 60-yard draw play -- spark a 34-13 win.
Following easy victories over Indiana and Purdue, Ohio State heads to Beaver Stadium. Despite a snowstorm and the Penn State white out, Miller stages his own version of the Wildcat by running for 200 yards in the 21-0 win. Meyer schools former assistant Tim Beckman and Illinois as the Buckeyes head into their bye week 10-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country.
Still privately harboring some bitterness toward Bret Bielema over his recruiting comments in February, Meyer spends two weeks feverishly preparing for Wisconsin. Ohio State comes out with plenty of "juice" and ends the Badgers' home-field dominance. Going for two on every score, the Buckeyes win 44-20.
"I hope Bret enjoys St. Elmo's and everything else about Indianapolis next month," Meyer says in the postgame news conference. "Because it will be a long time before Wisconsin makes it back there."
Ohio State can't go to a bowl but ends the season on a high note, beating Michigan by two touchdowns. Brady Hoke storms off the field, fuming about Meyer turning five of the Wolverines' top commits to the Scarlet and Gray. Michigan finishes 6-7 with a bowl loss to Ohio.
"He might forget to say 'State' when he talks about us," Meyer says of Hoke. "That's OK. We've got the State-ment."
The 12-0 season puts the Buckeyes No. 1 in the final regular-season AP poll. They drop to No. 2 following the BCS title game but are assured of entering the 2013 season as the top-ranked team in the land. Miller goes to New York as a Heisman finalist, while John Simon wins the Nagurski and Hendricks awards and Johnathan Hankins collects the Outland. The Oakland Raiders cut Terrelle Pryor. Meyer signs a 10-year contract extension.
Urban blight. There sure is an awful lot of hype over a team that finished 6-7 a year ago. Meyer has a glittering résumé, but his last year at Florida was one of his worst seasons. Defenses have caught on to his spread offense, and he doesn't have the skill position players to run it properly.
The offense struggles in closer-than-expected wins over Miami (Ohio) and UCF, as Miller completes less than 50 percent of his passes. The first real crack in the armor appears when California scores an upset victory in the 'Shoe. Ohio State bounces back against a bad UAB team, but the week before the Michigan State trip, news breaks that Miller, Hall, Simon and Hankins were spotted hanging out at a tattoo parlor. They cannot explain why they are suddenly covered head to toe in full sleeves or where their university-issued iPads went. Meyer suspends all four. The shorthanded Buckeyes are no match for the Spartans or Nebraska the following week.
After a win over Indiana, athletic director Gene Smith announces that there are no more compliance issues to worry about. Forty-five seconds later, Cleveland businessman and creepy superfan Bobby DiGeronimo emerges from his hiding spot in the Ohio State locker room, carrying envelopes stuffed with cash.
Multiple suspensions ensue, and Ohio State loses to Purdue for the third time in four years. Penn State breaks out the Wildcat again and somehow the Buckeyes are surprised by it again in a road loss. They beat Illinois to mercifully make it to the bye week, but the worst is yet to come.
Still privately harboring some bitterness toward Meyer's recruiting tactics, Bielema can't wait to run up the score on Ohio State. He goes for two on every score and leaves Montee Ball in until the final minute in a 44-17 victory.
"Welcome to the Big Ten," Bielema says.
Hoke adds to the Scarlet and Gray's misery with his second straight win over "Ohio." Michigan wins the national championship, and Ohio recruits make a beeline for Ann Arbor. Meanwhile, Ohio State finishes 5-7 and has NCAA investigators and investigative reporters poking around Columbus once more. Pryor writes a book exposing improprieties during his time in school and it becomes a best-seller.
Meyer resigns, citing health concerns.
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