A division title and BCS berth are nothing to sneeze at; however, many members of Buckeye Nation are disappointed by the outcome of the 2013 season. That empty feeling is nothing new as the outlook is usually national title or bust. (For the program to constantly have sky-high expectations is actually not a bad thing, but that could be covered in another column on another day.)
An undefeated campaign in 2012 plus the disappearance of the bowl ban resulted in an even higher sense of mania for Ohio State football fans. The nail-biter against Michigan followed by losses to Michigan State and Clemson showed the program is not quite there and pointed out three glaring needs for the following season.
1. More Imagination on Offense
The 2013 Ohio State offense wasn't a revival of Woody Hayes' "three yards and a cloud of dust" but it wasn't the most exciting to watch either. With Braxton Miller (pictured) and Kenny Guiton, the Buckeyes had two agile quarterbacks who are threats when throwing the ball or using their feet. In the last three games, in particular, Ohio State didn't get the fullest potential out of these guys. Much of the play calling was fake or real handoffs to running back Carlos Hyde, followed by mid-range bombs in obvious passing situations.
I kept waiting to see if Miller and Hyde would be used in two-quarterback formations similar to Florida's Chris Leak and Tim Tebow (you know, because the same person who coached them is now on the Ohio State sideline). Was anything special saved for the big rivalry game? No. How about for the Big Ten championship game, with a shot at the national title on the line? No. The Orange Bowl - the result of which becomes largely irrelevant the moment the Florida State-Auburn coin is tossed - didn't give us anything new and fresh to see on offense.
2. More talent on defense
A very unscientific poll found that nine out of ten Pop Warner kids know that defense wins championships. The 2002 Ohio State team had a decent offense and a stellar defense. (For that matter, the formula worked pretty well for Michigan State this year.) Urban Meyer's crew had the reverse of that formula.
It has been almost comical to read comments posted on Facebook and ESPN.com that defensive coordinator Luke Fickell should be fired. On what grounds? It's hard to justify firing anyone after a two-loss season in which the two losses were anything but lopsided. The star power on defense wasn't anything close to what the Bucks had to work with on offense. Big Ten champion Michigan State had the best defense in the conference.
All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier (pictured) has already announced he's off to the NFL. Ohio State, like many top programs, never rebuilds; it simply reloads. The figurative cupboard needs to be filled with quick thinkers who are fleet of foot. The Orange Bowl did nothing to shed the stereotype that the Big Ten is slower than the other conferences.
3. More discipline
When kick returner Corey Brown muffed the punt and turned the ball over, the Buckeyes lost the momentum and were never able to regain it. Had the Buckeyes held onto the ball and scored, they would have opened up a 16-point lead. With the way Clemson was moving the ball, however, that margin may not have been enough, but it would have helped. Sure, muffed kicks happen, but in big games, the concentration needs to be there.
The defining image of the Michigan game wasn't the interception of a two-point conversion that would've put the Wolverines ahead. It was the near bench-clearing brawl in the first half. Dontre Wilson throwing punches when surrounded by nothing but blue jerseys wasn't the smartest thing. But you can't have people coming off the bench ready to pound someone. Marcus Hall getting thrown out and then flipping off the Michigan Stadium crowd only made the program and University look bad.
With the first-ever playoff on the horizon, the coming season offers both opportunities and challenges. For the Buckeyes to break through and claim the big prize, they'll need to be operating on all cylinders.