The closest thing to a "new rivalry" that has come out of the division format of the new Big Ten has been Wisconsin vs. Ohio State. Sure, these two teams have played some classic games before the division start up (2010 quickly comes to mind), but since the division format these two teams have played two of the more classic Big Ten games of the past five years.
Well, this is the last year of these two teams in the same division and as Badger fans it sure would be nice to get one against their division rivals and be in the divers seat following their Sept. 28 meeting in Columbus.
So, as we get closer to the season starting let us go behind the enemy lines and get to know what's up with Urban Meyer's crew. Joining us is Patrick Jones from TheBuckeyeBattleCry.com. You can follow them on Twitter @The_BBC.
Let's get right to the questions, shall we?
MTB: As camp gets underway, is there any sense of pressure considering last season's results? How is this team handling the high expectations?
Patrick Jones: There is a huge sense of pressure from the Buckeye faithful and the national media, in my opinion. One of the biggest contributors to that pressure is the schedule. There is no doubt the schedule is shall we say, soft. The non conference is ugly at best. A trip out west to Cal may be the only real test. As for the B1G, they get Wisconsin and Penn State at home and have to travel to Northwestern and Michigan. They somehow missed Nebraska and Michigan State in 2013. The 2013 Buckeyes can't afford any 35-28 wins over Cal this year. Last year there was only the Leaders Division championship to play for and there was no doubt that there was no pressure from anyone. I would imagine Meyer could've gone 1-11 as long as he beat Michigan and most would've been okay with that. Everyone knows how hard it is to run the table at this level of college football, let alone to go two years in a row undefeated. As for the team and what you hear and see, there's no pressure. Meyer has preached one practice, one game, one week, one month at a time and that has seemed to be the motto from any and all players that have been asked about any kind of championship aspirations. To a man, they are only talking about August 31st and Buffalo.
MTB: With Carlos Hyde out the 1st three games of the season, who's stepping it up in camp and what do you see happening once Hyde makes his return?
Patrick Jones: This is a great question. When the Hyde news first surfaced, most outside of Buckeye nation thought this would be a huge deterrent to being a championship contender in 2013. The one place the Buckeyes have good depth is at the running back position. Senior Jordan Hall was limited last year due to numerous injuries but has returned after receiving a medical redshirt and junior Rod Smith seem to be next in line after Hyde. Sophomore Bri'onte Dunn saw some time last year and could see some carries in Hyde's absence along with redshirt freshman Warren Ball, who's coming off a knee injury from last year. The biggest issue here is not the talent or the depth, but the way in which Meyer was going to use his backs and how he'll have to use them now. If Rod Smith could learn to hang on to the football, he may be the most talented back on the roster. His fumble issues have frequently found him on the sidelines dating back to the Tressel days. Jordan Hall has long been tagged as Meyer's "Percy Harvin" at OSU. He's finally 100% and we may get to see what he actually can do. The star of camp has no doubt been true freshman Dontre Wilson. Every player and coach has raved about his speed. He may be the wildcard in this whole running back situation if he gets in early, makes plays, and protects the ball. Freshman Ezekiel Elliot has also impressed and has been mentioned by Urban several times as a guy who will see time early. Urban Meyer loves speed and these two guys have speed not seen at OSU since Ted Ginn. As for when Hyde comes back, Meyer has been asked this question several times and he's danced around it very good. Most feel it's going to be a "wait and see approach". The biggest key to that equation will be Hyde's behavior during camp and the first three weeks of the season. Obviously Hyde will play a role once he returns, how big of one will more than likely be dictated by the production of his replacements.
MTB: Defensively this team seemed to do it with a lot of smoke and mirrors (based on rankings). That said, could this defense in 2013 actually be better by subtraction?
Patrick Jones: A lot of people will tell you, they can't be much worse. They will replace six of the starting front seven from last year and more importantly, they have to replace the leadership of John Simon. One of the biggest problems last season on defense was the lack of pass rush. Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington have to step up and be a much bigger presence this year. in the middle junior Joel Hale and sophomores Chris Carter and Tommy Schutt have to fill the shoes of Jonathan Hankins. The biggest problem on defense will not be talent, but depth. They just don't have the depth at linebacker and defensive back. At linebacker, we all know what junior Ryan Shazier can do. It's the guys like junior Curtis Grant and sophomore Joshua Perry that have to show what they can do now that they're in the starting lineup. True freshman Mike Mitchell has had a great camp and had thrust himself into the LB rotation. The legal troubles of All American corner, redshirt junior Bradley Roby, leave a ton of questions in the secondary. There still is no talk of how many games Roby will miss, most feel it'll be a 2 game suspension. Again, this is something Meyer has danced around and has said he'll wait and let the legal process play out. At safety, seniors Christian Bryant and CJ Barnett may be the best safety tandem in college football. True freshman Vonn Bell is a solid backup if something was to happen to either, but after that, again, the depth is just not there. The young front seven will have four weeks to "learn" on the job but when Wisconsin comes to town on September 28th, they're going to have to show they can play.
MTB: Jordan Hall – the man seems like a perfect fit to the Percy Harvin role, is it finally his time to shine? What's the latest on him out of camp?
Patrick Jones: That has been the plan now for two springs/fall camp's but unfortunately in year one, it was injuries that kept him off the field. He's healthy this year and people have been raving about him. Two years ago, a lot of people expected to see Hall in the slot and making plays all over the field but with a true freshman QB in Miller, Jim Bollman had to "dummy down" the playbook making Hall all but invisible. Hall is not a true in between the tackles back and Meyer knows this. I think we'll see a lot of Jordan Hall early and if he can make plays, you'll see even more. I think it helps to have the young Bucks behind him trying to get on the field. The latest out of camp on Hall is that he looks faster and more crisp than he ever has. He has said several times this camp that he's been reborn and is so grateful for the second chance he's been given this year.
MTB: What players are surprising coaches and fans the most so far in camp? Who should Badger fans be on the lookout for that they may not yet know?
Patrick Jones: To a man, Braxton Miller has been impressing all with his improved passing skills. Braxton spent a lot of time in the offseason with passing guru George Whitfield and it seems to be paying off early in camp. The name mentioned most often however, is true freshman Dontre Wilson. Wilson was a 5* RB and number one prospect out of Texas who originally verbally committed to Oregon. Ohio State came in late after Chip Kelly left for the NFL and was able to flip Wilson into scarlet and gray. Wilson has the speed that might not have ever been seen at OSU. He's running a lot with the one's and Meyer has said he will see the field and see the field early. All freshman at OSU get a black stripe on their helmet when camp starts and they have to earn the removal of that stripe, Wilson was the second freshman to get his black stripe removed. As for Buckeyes that Badger fans should lookout for……On defense, redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell has earned the praise of Urban Meyer and a starting role at the star position. Powell was a guy who worked his tail off during the offseason and is ready to make a huge impact on the silver bullets defense. On offense, Sophomore tackle Taylor Decker has the makings of a great offensive lineman. Decker has all but shored up the starting RT spot left vacant by now Cincinnati Bengal, Reid Fragel. The offensive line was a huge strength for the Bucks last year and Decker has the talent and size to help this group not miss a beat. Also, a fun side note, new punter, freshman Cameron Johnston has drawn great reviews from anyone who's seen him. Meyer has commented a couple of times on the athleticism of Johnston and the options he gives him in the punting game. Johnston has become a media and fan favorite already due to his Australian accent and fun nature.
MTB: Finish this sentence: 2013 will be a success if….
Patrick Jones: The Buckeyes stay healthy. No one doubts the talent level of the starting 22 for the Buckeyes. What scares a lot of the Buckeye faithful is what's behind those 22. Meyer has said, he's a class or two away from having the depth he feels comfortable with. We saw what injuries to key positions did to last year's preseason number one, USC, and no doubt, the Buckeyes can't afford that same issue. And of course, as always, 2013 will be a success if…they beat Michigan!
Thanks to Patrick for answering our questions and make sure to check them out throughout the season as they do some great work.