Know thy foe: Ohio State

We've reached the penultimate chapter of Know Thy Foe, and today we'll be previewing the Ohio State Buckeyes, who will make the trip to Madison for the first time since the Badgers knocked off the then-No. 1 Buckeyes back in 2010. The Wisconsin-Ohio State rivalry has certainly grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, making the next chapter one of the can't miss games of the 2012 regular season.
Thankfully, brought in another expert on the Buckeyes to give us the inside scoop on Urban Meyer's new team, and what we can expect to see coming out of Columbus and the Horseshoe in 2012. is certainly grateful to Ben Axelrod of for lending us a hand today.
Know Thy Foe: Ohio State
Obviously the Buckeyes made the biggest hire of the offseason when they brought in Urban Meyer to coach the team. What kind of talent does Meyer have to work with in his first year, and will there be an adjustment period for the players to go through?
Ben Axelrod: With all due respect to Luke Fickell, the biggest reasons that Ohio State went 6-7 a year ago had to do with the team's uncertainty at both head coach and the quarterback position. Had both Jim Tressel and Terrelle Pryor returned a year ago, the Buckeyes would've been national title contenders, and while it would be premature to say Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller have returned the Buckeyes to that type of status, it's certainly clear that lack of talent is not a problem with this team. The Buckeyes could certainly use another playmaker or two on the offensive side of the ball, but with 18 returning starters and one of the top recruiting classes in the country, I wouldn't expect any missteps in Meyer's first year in Columbus to be because the talent isn't there.
What kind of offense should we expect the Buckeyes to use in Meyer's first year? Will it be a completely new system, or will Meyer hang on to some older concepts to make the transition easier?
BA: The Buckeyes are going to run the spread offense that Meyer is famous for, although he has also been adamant than some I-formation principles will remain a part of the playbook. A lot of people forget this, but the Buckeyes often ran an offense similar to the spread when Tressel had Troy Smith and Pryor under center, and Miller is certainly the type of quarterback that Meyer would like to build his new offense around.
Same question, but for the defense this time. Who are the key players to watch on defense this year?
BA: With Luke Fickell being retained as the defensive coordinator, I wouldn't expect much- if any- to change as far as Ohio State's defensive philosophy goes. This year, it will all start upfront with John Simon and Jonathan Hankins, who combine for what is arguably the most dynamic frontline duo in the Big Ten. Bradley Roby is a star in the making at cornerback and appears to be poised for a breakout season (albeit in a secondary that still needs some work), and look for Ryan Shazier to only grow from a freshman campaign that was one of the few bright spots for Ohio State in 2011.
Obviously the post-season ban makes things a little more interesting, but what are the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Buckeyes this year? Will Meyer be able to pick up where Tressel left off, or will there be a few bumps in the road during this first year?
BA: The best case scenario for the Buckeyes would be a 12-0 season, some controversy in the BCS, and a share of the AP National Title. That may seem unlikely, but if you look at their schedule- which doesn't feature any out-of-conference powerhouses- they should be favored in all but maybe two games this season. Worst case scenario would involve Braxton Miller not making the steps that he's expected to make, some growing pains between Meyer's staff and players who were recruited by Tressel, and a second straight loss to Michigan. It's far more likely though that the Buckeyes will land somewhere in between those two scenarios, with most around the beat predicting a 9-3 or 10-2 record.
What can we expect to see in this year's version of the Wisconsin-Ohio State game? The two teams have combined for some great games over the last few years. Can we expect another exciting game this year in Madison?
BA: With no bowl game this season, Buckeye fans have circled two games on their calendar this year: the Michigan game (for obvious reasons) and the Wisconsin one. A lot of Ohio State's newfound interest in the Badgers comes from Bret Bielema essentially accusing Urban Meyer of cheating in the recruitment of Kyle Dodson, which led to weeks worth of sports talk fodder down here in Columbus. In fact, one radio host was very adamant that he'd trade having this year's Michigan game at home in order to face the Badgers in Columbus for Meyer and Bielema's first meeting. I don't see any reason why it shouldn't be another great game between the two, but if the Buckeyes get up early, I wouldn't expect Meyer to hold back like Tressel may have in the past.
Thanks again to Ben for providing his insight on the Ohio State Buckeyes. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenAxelrod.
For more Wisconsin Badgers news, notes and discussion, follow John on Twitter.