Jim Naveau: Buckeyes not quite 'there' yet


COLUMBUS -- The lesson of the last month is that Ohio State the last two seasons has had a great record but wasn't a great football team.

Twenty-four consecutive wins after the arrival of Urban Meyer, a few of them bordering on the miraculous, have been followed by back-to-back losses.

First, a 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 7 ended OSU's dream of a national championship. Then Clemson's 40-35 Orange Bowl win on Friday night showed that the Michigan State game was who the Buckeyes really were.

They were a very good team that was flawed and those flaws caught up with them in the end.

Ohio State just wasn't skilled enough on defense, consistent enough on offense and mature enough at some key positions to meet the expectations - its own and those of the fans.

Late in the game against Clemson, with Ohio State facing a 3rd and 13 situation, the image of Craig Krenzel throwing to Michael Jenkins for a first down in a similar situation in overtime in the national championship game against Miami in 2003 came to mind. Even at the time, there was a confidence that Krenzel could make that throw and Jenkins would make that catch.

I don't know if Braxton Miller and any of his receivers inspired that same kind of rock-solid confidence this season. That is not to fall into the trap of giving the quarterback too much credit or too much blame.

It's just a fact that Ohio State's offense shared in the two season-ending losses with the awful pass defense that was played from Day One. Ohio State's offensive statistical line against Clemson included four turnovers, five quarterback sacks allowed and only two third-down conversions in 13 chances.

Against Clemson and Michigan State, Ohio State's offense stopped scoring just when it appeared the Buckeyes were on the edge of putting their opponent away.

So, now it's on to the future. A future without Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby and four of five starters on the offensive line, who are all walking out the door.

Shazier joined the list of players leaving when he announced Sunday he will skip his senior season and enter the NFL draft. He is regarded as a possible first-round selection. Shazier's exit leaves a huge hole at linebacker, where he was the team's leading tackler by a wide margin and had 23.5 tackles for losses and 7.5 quarterback sacks.

If Miller does the same thing, it will create just as big a hole in the offense. His father told Cleveland.com that Miller's decision could come early this week. He is not as highly rated as an NFL prospect right now as Shazier.

Next season the College Football Playoff, in which the top four teams will play each other to determine a national champion, replaces the BCS.

Even without a significant number of the players who helped build the 24-2 record Ohio State had over the last two seasons gone, you know the expectation among many fans will be for OSU to challenge for one of those four spots. Maybe that's not realistic. But the existence of those expectations is real.

And Meyer did not come to Ohio State to go 8-4.

So, the chase to reach the level this year's team couldn't quite get to has already started. And that starts with defense.

While Meyer says he is "not a big blamer," he is candid that there must be big steps made in that area.

"We're not a championship caliber defense right now," Meyer said. "Is it what we expect? No, we expect top ten defense at Ohio State, top ten offense and top ten special teams."

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