With everything happening this offseason in college football, it's easy to forget about arguably one of the biggest coaching moves in NCAA history.
A two-time national championship winning coach is coming out of a brief retirement to coach one of the top five programs in the country.
And, it just so happens that program is coming off its first losing season in 23 years, lost its own national championship winning coach, and is facing a postseason ban this year.
Urban Meyer is already being seen as a savior in Columbus, Ohio. After the beloved Jim Tressel met his own demise, Ohio State wandered through a frustrating 6-7 season under interim head coach Luke Fickell. While Fickell had to also deal with the loss of Terrelle Pryor, it was made abundantly clear the Buckeyes needed an overhaul. They needed a fresh start. They needed a favorite son to come home and restore lost pride.
But make no mistake, the expectations for Urban Meyer are not high for Buckeye fans. They are national championship or bust.
Obviously that ain't happening this year, but the foundation will begin to be laid in 2012. When a coach with the pedigree of Urban Meyer comes to a national powerhouse like Ohio State, the expectations can't be anything else but a national championship… or two or three. After all, since winning the title in 2002, OSU has done it all but lift the crystal ball once again. Although the B1G has become somewhat of a national punching bag for its bowl failures, Ohio State had been a Top 3 program in the Tressel Era. Just take a look at these statistics from 2002-2010:
99-17 Overall Record (85.3 Win %, not counting 12 wins in 2010 that were vacated)
8 BCS Bowl Appearances (5-3 record, Sugar Bowl vacated)
7 Big Ten Championships
7 AP Top 5 Finishes
1 National Championship
8-1 vs Michigan
That's an era of success that can be held up against any program in any time period and stand fairly well. And there's the rub about Ohio State coming into the Urban Meyer Era.
Urban Meyer has to top that on the field while also restoring Ohio State's image off the field.
Can Urban Meyer surpass 7 Top 5 finishes and 7 Big Ten Championships in 10 years? While also coming off a postseason ban? While also restoring pride in a program that got caught with major ink stains on its perceived lily white image?
As much as the losses on the football field hurt Buckeye fans last year, it was the loss of the moral high ground that stung worse. No longer could the two percenters and the rest of Buckeye Nation claim some sort of moral superiority over SEC schools for doing things the right way. (But after this offseason, hopefully the fight for the moral high ground can permanently be put to rest.) No, instead, Ohio State was just like every other big time college football program, it just took a few tattoos and e-mails to realize it.
However, Meyer has to stamp his authority on publicly trying to run a clean program. After his own troubles at Florida with off-field issues, the coach has acted quickly to punish any transgressions this offseason. Jake Stoneburner and Jack Mewhort were temporarily stripped of scholarships for a misdemeanor arrest and starting linebacker Storm Klein was kicked off the team after a domestic violence charge. It's a strong disciplinary start for Meyer, but time will tell if it holds up.
As for recruiting, the Urban revival has been swift. Meyer already has a Top 10 class building for 2013. It's clear that Meyer has some work to do on this front and is delivering, almost since the minute he stepped foot on OSU's campus. He's got top recruits like DEs Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, WR Michael Thomas, DB Cameron Burrows, and QB J.T. Barrett already lined up. Perhaps most importantly for Meyer, he's recruiting strong for Ohio State nationally with 8 states represented in the 15 commits for 2013.
But of course, the on-field product will be the truest test and the area of most interest in what amounts to a redshirt year for the new coach and system. Meyer is fortunate to have a sophomore superstar in Braxton Miller to mold and shape in his image this coming season. Miller showed flashes of brilliance in 2011, but too often Luke Fickell turned to the Jalopy arm of Joe Bauserman instead of handing Miller the keys.
Many Buckeye fans will tell you the best part of Urban Meyer's arrival is the departure of offensive coordinator Jim Bollman and the boredom of TresselBall. While that moniker was always unfair to the former coach, the Buckeyes took TresselBall to a dark, extreme place last season. They were laughably inept and impotent offensively last season. 118th in sacks allowed, 115th in passing offense, 107th in total offense, and 81st in scoring offense. As offenses around the country put up scores in the 50s and 60s, a draw up the middle on 3rd & 7 was commonplace in Columbus. A punt was a moral victory at times. A drive that didn't lose yardage was a success. Remember this? Or this?
While OSU will undoubtedly improve offensively, there are major questions along the offensive line and in the receiving corps, where a young group desperately needs a #1 option to emerge. The O-Line lost three starters from last year, although that honestly may be a good thing. Clearly though, the biggest improvement will be a full season of Braxton Miller. The week-to-week development of Miller and Meyer will be the central story to watch this season.
For Urban Meyer, the postseason bowl ban may actually help him in the short term. Expectations will be tempered this year because there honestly isn't much to play for. Meyer can stand to lose a game to MSU or Nebraska or Illinois without alarm bells ringing. But don't let this season fool you into believing that Ohio State under Urban Meyer expects nothing less than multiple national championships. That's the last frontier for a program that has done it all the last decade except beat the SEC in a national championship game.
For Urban Meyer's 2012 season to be a success, all he has to do is get Ohio State closer to that goal and give Buckeye fans a program to believe in once again.
Oh, and beat Michigan.