Realistic Expectations For 2012?

By Jeff Rapp, August 30th, 2012

Welcome to what we like to call the Ruckus, but only because this segment of the site lead to lively discussion and debate, not because anyone is trying to shake up the world.

In this installment, editor Jeff Rapp sits down with Matt McCoy, the renowned sports director at 610 WTVN (AM) in Columbus. They got together just prior to a recent on-air segment, which was part of the station’s “Best Buckeye Coverage,” and discussed the awaiting 2012 football season for Ohio State.

Rapp and McCoy took a detailed look at the season at hand and listed their concerns for the Buckeyes, even while the public was clamoring for an undefeated season and ready to taste blood during the Sept. 1 season opener with Miami (Ohio).

A former OSU swim team captain, McCoy has been covering Ohio State football and basketball for basically two decades and also serves as the PA announcer for home games at the Schottenstein Center. He was there when the Buckeyes looked to turn a corner in the John Cooper era, flourished in the Jim Tressel era, and hit rock bottom last season.

Likewise, Rapp has been a fixture in the Ohio Stadium press box since 1991 and has seen just about every conceivable high and low for the program.

We pick up their conversation at the WTVN studios with the Urban Meyer era beckoning:

Rapp: I think it wouldn’t be strange at all for me to see them lose two or three games. If you walked around town and heard anyone say anything other than 11-1 or 12-0, they’d look at you funny.

McCoy: Yeah. I’m totally in agreement on that. I think what works in their favor is the schedule with the eight home games and Nebraska at home, Michigan at home. Now going to Michigan State and to Wisconsin is a bear, but if you look at there are maybe four or five games where you go, ‘Heh, I could see them losing,’ and if they go 3-2 in those or even 2-3 in those you’re looking at 9-3 or 10-2. So I could see that.

But on the other hand, I could see worse, because they were 6-7 last year and they’re learning a new offense.

The thing that’s interesting to me – and I am as guilty of this as anybody – is I’m excited to see the new style and how’s it going to look in Ohio Stadium and it seems like the perfect offense for Braxton Miller. But that’s a lot to learn. And it’s not like they have dynamic playmakers in place to run this offense.

I mean, is Philly Brown all of a sudden and All-Big Ten caliber player? I don’t know that. He might be. But I need to see it, I guess is what I have to say.

Rapp: Well, we’ve seen some very good Ohio State teams, and I can’t remember one that had Huey, Dewey and Louie playing wideout.

McCoy: Right. Exactly.

Rapp: Now I’m not … it sounds like I’m knocking those guys. I’m just saying the production last year was nothing close to the standard. And like you said, Philly Brown has got to be better than a guy who shows up once every four weeks and catches 14 or 15 balls. You just can’t have that.

I do like Devin Smith’s big-play ability. I like Evan Spencer. Verlon Reed, it sounds like he’s ready to go. Michael Thomas is really confident. But I don’t know how you can sit here and say they’re going to go 12-0 when you’ve got that big of a question mark out of such an important group.

McCoy: Right. And you’ve got Jake Stoneburner moved to wide receiver instead of tight end to add depth at wide receiver. I have to be careful how I say this because Braxton Miller isn’t even proven, but to me out of everybody on the offense there’s one guy that I think can be dynamic right now as I look at it, and that’s Braxton Miller.

He showed flashes of that last year in the Michigan game. But let’s face it, first of all he was in over his head because he was a freshman and he was thrust into that situation. Secondly, I don’t know how great of coaching he got. But with tutelage and everything, I expect big improvement. He’s unproven …

Rapp: Absolutely.

McCoy: … But he’s the one guy I would say who can be dynamic. I don’t see anybody else on the offense, as I sit here as the season is getting ready to start, that I sit here and go, ‘Oh, he’s going to be dynamite.’ I’m not saying that they can’t be, but, again, I need to see it.

I think everybody is assuming that the Florida offense that Urban Meyer won a couple national championships with – bam! – that’s what we’re going to see at Ohio State. He had the personnel for that. I don’t know that he’s got that right now. That’s why I can’t jump on board and say this is an 11-1 or 12-0 football team.

Rapp: Well, good coaches, especially offensive coaches, adjust to what they have. Steve Spurrier would love to throw it 45 times if he had that kind of personnel and there he was pounding the ball on the ground against Vanderbilt. You do what you have to do to win games. Is it possible Ohio State will look much more like a traditional Big Ten team after all this conjecture about the world opening up and this spread changing everything they do? And I guess B is, is that good enough? Maybe it is.

McCoy: It might be. They’re going to run the spread, but another misconception I’ve heard from the calls we’ve had and e-mails I’ve gotten is that they think all of a sudden Braxton Miller is going to throw for 4,000 yards. I don’t think so. Urban Meyer said Monday, it is a spread offense but it’s a running spread offense.

Rapp: And here’s the other thing about football to me as we sit here with the season about to start: It’s still a game of decisions and mistakes. And some of the best athletes on this team are still guys who have not proven that they are always making the best decision and always playing level-headed, and I’ll give you an example.

Braxton Miller, he’s going to have that option or zone read. Is he going to maybe take the ball out of the belly of the running back instead of give it to him and then fumble? I mean, we have to let this all play out. Ryan Shazier, you’ve got to love his tenacity and his athletic ability. Is he going to be out there looking to knock people’s heads off and get a stupid 15-yard penalty at a key time?

Quite frankly, Christian Bryant did way too much of that last year, and as much as I think the other safety …

McCoy: C.J. Barnett.

Rapp: … Thank you. He’s ready to have a good year but he’s been know to miss a tackle and overrun a play and stuff like that, too.

Those are huge keys to me. Can those guys steady the ship? Or is the defensive line so good that it doesn’t matter?

McCoy: Because they can cover the safety or a missed assignment.

Rapp: Yeah. Those guys can be super-aggressive and even get away with some mistakes if John Simon and all those guys are breathing down everybody’s necks on every play.

McCoy: You didn’t even mention also Curtis Grant.

Rapp: Right.

McCoy: Loads of talent, excited to see him out there, but he hasn’t done anything yet. He couldn’t get on the field last year.

Rapp: Of course, there’s also the play last year (at Michigan) where we are still trying to figure out what Etienne Sabino is looking at in coverage on that touchdown pass from Denard Robinson. I mean, I like Etienne Sabino but can he go 20 yards downfield and cover a tight end and not get completely lost?

All the attitude stuff sounds great and the athleticism, I think, will be good or even better than last year, but you still have to perform and you still have to make the right decision and the right plays.

Now, I do think the defense will be very good, because I do think they’re going to be great up front. But I don’t know.

McCoy: Yeah, I don’t want to come across like a wet blanket because I do think they’re going to be markedly better than last year. I like the new coaching staff. It’s more of a hands-on and aggressive approach. And Jim Tressel was extremely successful. I’m not saying this is better or worse. It’s just different. For us it’s just refreshing to see.

As Earle Bruce said on “Bucksline” last night, Jim Tressel would say the punt is the most important play in football and Urban Meyer would say the touchdown is the most important play in football. And that’s what I mean, that mentality of keeping the foot on the gas and being aggressive instead of punt and play defense is refreshing to see. Is it going to translate into more wins? I don’t know that yet.

Rapp: That’s the other thing. It’s great to have that mentality and I’m sure Urban Meyer is going to want to hammer that through in these first few games, but if this is a good special teams/good defense/run the football kind of team and those are the strengths, how much are you going to force the big play? How much are you willing to be hit and miss offensively?

Because Tom Herman has had great success wherever he’s been, but this is the Big Ten. You don’t just get to go wherever you want to go with the football.

McCoy: You know, you mentioned special teams, dovetailing off of that, Florida, I believe, led the nation in blocked punts twice while Urban Meyer was there. And this week in interviews Drew Basil said that the punt-block unit was …

Rapp: The Freak Squad, or something?

McCoy: … the Freak Show. So there’s another example. As much as Jim Tressel stressed the use of the punt and special teams, it’s a different attitude – everything is a different attitude. We’re not just going to let them punt the ball; we’re coming after it. So maybe that’s a way they generate some points, if they do truly have a Freak Show.

(Both laugh.)

They could block a few kicks and scoop and score or set up good field position a few times. Florida did that as well. There’s different ways to score points if the offense does struggle.

But I agree with you, getting back to one thing you said. You think the defense is going to be pretty good. I do, too. Boy, the linebacker depth is extremely thin, the secondary was extremely inconsistent last year, but I think they’ll be better. And the defensive line, I just look at it and go, ‘That’s really good.’ And, oh, by they way, they’ve added some great freshmen in Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington.

Rapp: So what’s your prediction then with all of that said?

McCoy: Well, I vote in the AP poll and I put them preseason at 14, which is actually higher than where they are. They’re 18th.

Rapp: You homer.

McCoy: Yeah, I know. And Athlon had them sixth. My thinking was they’re 10-2 or 9-3, and that seems like a 14 number. I’ll take 10-2 or 9-3.

Rapp: I’m right there, too. And like you said, that’s markedly better.

McCoy: Yeah. I think that’s a good year for them.

Rapp: I do, too, but I don’t know if that satisfies fans based on everything I’m hearing.

McCoy: Well, if all goes right and all these questions we’re brining up are answered, there’s no one on their schedule they can’t beat. I’m not saying they can’t go 12-0. But if you’re asking me what is realistic, I don’t know if 12-0 is realistic.