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Written by Dan Wismar

Dan Wismar

Brax2012There is no Texas or USC on the non-conference schedule for the Buckeyes in 2012, and with dates in East Lansing, Madison and Happy Valley looming down the line, the temptation might be for Ohio State to look past the September slate. But a team entering the season riding a four-game losing streak can afford to do no such thing.

Despite the lack of marquee names, no apologies are necessary for the strength of the early OSU schedule. There are no FCS YSU’s or Appy States. The Buckeyes will host Miami (OH), Central Florida, California and UAB before they jump into Big Ten play, and today we’ll look at that first third of the schedule to see if any of the non-conference visitors could potentially spoil Urban Meyer’s coming out party.

Scoping Out the Schedule

Miami LogoSept. 1 - Miami Redhawks - Miami was 4-8 in 2011, their first season under head coach Don Treadwell, but this is a program just one season removed from winning the MAC title, and they return 16 starters this fall.

Quarterback Zac Dysert is back after passing for 3,513 yds with 23 TD’s and 11 INT last season, and he’ll pass Ben Roethlisberger as the all-time passing yardage leader for Miami when he hits 2,300 yards this year. He counts on preseason all-MAC wide receiver Nick Harwell (97 rec, 1425 yds, 9 TD in ‘11) to haul in his throws, and he has three other returning receivers that combined for 91 more catches a year ago. Four of five O-line starters return, but a so-so rushing attack isn’t likely to make a living against the OSU front seven.

The Redhawks defense is expected to be solid, having ranked third in the MAC in points per game allowed in 2011, and this year they’ll be led by senior OLB Pat Hinkel and all-MAC cornerback Dayonne Nunley. The preseason experts rate Miami as one of two teams to beat (Ohio U. the other) in the MAC East this year, and Phil Steele has them ranked 7th in his “Most Improved Teams” ranking of all FBS schools for 2012.

The Redhawks are 0-4 against OSU, their last meeting a 34-14 loss in 2005. This year they will have the misfortune to serve as the opponent for Urban Meyer’s first ever game as Ohio State head coach, and I’m thinking the atmosphere at the Horseshoe will not be conducive to an upset, to say the least. The Bucks might struggle in one or more of their non-conference games this fall, but this contest better not be one of them.


UCF Knights logoSept. 8 - Central Florida (UCF) - Big things are expected of the UCF Knights this fall, despite their 5-7 mark a year ago. George O’Leary enters his 9th year in Orlando with 16 starters returning to a program that lost six games by seven points or less in 2011. Both Lindy’s and Phil Steele project the Knights to win the Conference USA East, and Steele has them listed as his #1 “Most Improved Team”, and ranks them #15 in the nation in the preseason. (No. 38 in Lindy’s)

For a little perspective, the Buckeyes are right behind UCF, at #2 on Steele's "Most Improved" list, and he has them #11 in the nation overall. Northeast Ohio Buckeye fans looking for a preview can check out the Knights at Infocision Field where they’ll open the season with a Thursday night affair against the Akron Zips on August 30, nine days before they invade Columbus. (Good seats still available, I’m told)

I’ll stop short of calling this one a “trap game” for the Buckeyes, but it may turn out to be far more competitive than most fans realize as we sit here in June. The Knights have a very good defense, and they’ll bring a lot of skill position talent and speed in their running back and wide receiver corps. In J.J. Worton, Quincy McDuffie and Josh Reese, UCF returns their top three receivers from a year ago, and freshman Breshad Perriman (son of NFL star Brett) turned heads in the spring as a potential early contributor at WR. At running back, Miami transfer Storm Johnson should start, but the Knights are deep behind him with Latavious Murray (564 yds, 8 TD) and Brynn Harvey (574 yds, 3 TD) returning.

80% of the offensive line returns, and features all-conference performer Theo Goins at guard. Quarterback Tyler Gabbert transferred in from Missouri, and he may unseat Blake Bortles, who finished the 2011 season as the starter at QB. UCF is tough and fast on defense, with perhaps the conference’s best line, and an experienced and deep secondary. They led the conference in scoring defense, rushing defense and total defense in 2011. If they can catch the Buckeyes basking in the glow of a big victory in the opener, don’t be surprised if they make a game of it.


cal-logoSept. 15 - California - This is the first of a 2-game home-and-home set with the Golden Bears of the PAC-12, a series in which the Buckeyes are 5-1 all-time, although the schools haven’t played since 1972. Jeff Tedford’s Bears are not projected to be wholly competitive with the PAC-12 elite teams USC and Oregon, but they are expected to be on a par with the Stanfords and UCLA’s in the second tier of programs in that conference. That qualifies them as a more than respectable early season opponent for an OSU team still working their way back from the debacle that was 2011.

The 2011 Bears were 7-5 going into their Holiday Bowl loss to Texas, and generated few surprises during the season, getting hammered by USC, Oregon and UCLA, while beating Utah, ASU, and Colorado. Close losses to Washington and Stanford turned what might have been a standout season into a somewhat disappointing one. They’ll return six starters on offense, including quarterback Zach Maynard, tailback Isi Sofele and all-conference wide receiver Keenan Allen, but there are lots of holes to fill, and as many as four freshmen could wind up starting on that side of the ball.

Three defensive back starters return for the Bears, but beyond that the defense will be very young and green. Senior nose tackle Aaron Tipoti is a potential all-PAC player. The Bears are ranked #48 nationally by Phil Steele and #50 by Lindy’s in the preseason. This looks like a talented young team that the Buckeyes might be happy to catch in September rather than November. But as an above average team from a BCS conference, Cal will be a serious early test for the Buckeyes in Meyer’s inaugural campaign.


UAB LogoSept. 22 - UAB - The Blazers of Alabama-Birmingham visit Ohio Stadium in what will be the first ever meeting between these schools. Most of the professional prognosticators have UAB fighting it out with Memphis to stay out of the Conference USA East basement in 2012, so if the Buckeyes get past UCF and Cal unscathed, they might be able to start game-planning for the Sept. 29 trip to Michigan State rather than losing a lot of sleep over the Blazers. (Yes, I realize that contradicts the premise of my opening paragraph, but you get me)

UAB will be playing under first-year head coach Garrick McGee, and they’re coming off a 3-8 season in 2011. Offensive tackle Chris Hubbard (2nd Team) is the only Blazer player to be found on the first two teams of All-C-USA players this preseason, so this is not a group studded with individual star power. Dual-threat QB Jonathan Perry returns having passed for 2000 yards and rushed for 300 more last year, but outside of Hubbard, the entire offensive line will be untested.

Only four starters are back on defense for the Blazers, which may be a plus, since they surrendered almost 40 points per game, while finishing dead last in the conference in nearly every defensive category. Call this one a tune-up for the Big Ten schedule for Ohio State, and root for no injuries and some breakout performances by some young Buckeyes.

The remaining schedule -

Sept. 29 - at Michigan State
Oct. 6 - Nebraska
Oct. 13 - at Indiana
Oct. 20 - Purdue
Oct. 27 - at Penn State
Nov. 3 - Illinois
Nov. 10 - (Open Date)
Nov. 17 - at Wisconsin
Nov. 24 - Michigan


Loose Leaves

What a Relief

OSU starters Jake Stoneburner and Jack Mewhort were arrested last weekend on a misdemeanor charge of obstructing official business after they were seen by police urinating in public outside a bar near the site of the Memorial Golf Tournament in Dublin. The charge against the Buckeyes’ starting tight end and left tackle results from the fact that they initially attempted to flee the scene before surrendering to police. Stoneburner’s parents own a home adjacent to the Muirfield Village Country Club where the golf tournament was taking place that weekend, and the incident occurred outside The Bogey, a popular establishment in Shawnee Hills near the course.

Stoneburner and Mewhort were suspended from all team activities by Coach Meyer pending resolution of the case. They are expected to be arraigned on Monday June 11, and many expect the charges to be dropped at that time, if not before. They might not have been charged beyond a parking ticket-like citation had the police officer not fallen and broken his thumb while in pursuit of the pair. There will surely be some punishment in store for the two from Meyer, although there is virtually no chance that it will cost them game time this season. For that we too can all be greatly relieved.


Sorry, Cal

Starting times and TV coverage for the first three OSU games of the 2012 season were made public on Thursday. All three games will be noon (ET) kickoffs, with the Sept. 1 Miami game to be broadcast on Big Ten Network, the Sept. 8 UCF game to be shown on ESPN 2, and the Sept. 15 game against Cal to appear on ABC. For the Cal Bears, who are traveling east of the Mississippi for a regular season game for just the third time in eight years, it means they’ll be kicking off at 9 a.m. their time.


Not Ducking the Dawgs

The Big Ten and the PAC-12 have arranged to play a series of 12 inter-conference football games annually, beginning in 2017. As a result of this long term scheduling commitment, Ohio State has informed the University of Georgia that it will not be able to follow through on the memorandum of understanding the two schools had signed in 2010 to try scheduling a 2-game series for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.  When the announcement was first made there was some smack talk from SEC country that the Buckeyes were pulling out because they were afraid to play the Bulldogs. Really.


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