The 2011 Season: Are We Screwed?

For obvious reasons, the bulk of the off-season on-field talk has been about those crucial first five games of the year: Akron, Toledo, @Miami (Fl), Colorado and Michigan State.  Yes, this is a new Bizarro Buckeye world we live in and suddenly there truly is no such thing as a cupcake game.  Most folks will look at that list and still come away with no worse than a 4-1 start, and it would not surprise me if we came out of it unscathed.  But with the mutant Spring “Game” just around the corner and no reports of a clear QB leader or, more importantly, even one reliable receiver for that mystery signal caller, the stage may be set for a colossal collapse.

The biggest hurdle is not simply making it to the Nebraska game with a winning record.  It’s dealing with a necessarily schizophrenic approach to the season.  We all know that the First-5 team will be a run-heavy, defense-oriented squad that will look like the groups that generally close out the last quarter-and-a-half against the likes of, well, Akron and Toledo.  The problem is that now they have to do it for four whole quarters.  Preparing them to do that is going to take a lot of reps away from the Last-7 team.

The schedule doesn’t do us as many favors as it first appears to either.  No, you couldn’t really ask for a better “easing in” period than Akron and Toledo, but even experienced Buckeye teams of late have had their hands full with the in-state little brothers at times.  Getting a shot at what will essentially be a team of backups (on offense, anyway) is the best chance they’ll have of getting that signature victory for a long time.  They’ll be motivated and we’ll make mistakes.  If those turn out to be the dominating wins they ordinarily would be, then we may be able to breathe a little more easily.

But not too easily.  The last three opponents out of this group are all BCS conference teams, including a revenge-minded Miami team that has a lot of questions of its own, but will at least be answering them at home, which means as much as 53% of the crowd will be on their side.  Then comes Colorado, now a member of the Pac-12, who will no doubt be watching this all week.  Then Big Ten play opens with the best team from the state up north, headed up by our old friend Mark Dantonio who, with old friend Tressel nowhere in sight, will have no reason not to unleash the full force of his scowl upon us.

And then the next season begins and the real starters merge with the standouts from the First-5 team and we get back to doing what we do best.  This seems to be the general consensus anyway, as if the post-suspension portion of the season is a gimme.  The Ink Tank’s first game back just happens to be Nebraska’s first Big Ten home game.  You think that crowd isn’t going to be insane?  The Huskers will be coming off a road trip to Madison, which will certainly be a physical affair that could soften them up for us.  But they’ll either be high on a win over one of the conference’s top dogs (and looking for another) or wounded and hungry and looking for a fight.  Neither of those is good for us, considering we’ll have to go through a little bit of early-season growing pains again until the starters knock the rust off.  Then it’s a battle through the usual suspects of Wisconsin, Penn State and a re-re-energized Michigan with another new head coach pretending to “get it.”

Even with a couple of stumbles along the way, this could still be a successful season for a team that doesn’t really know any alternative.  The two biggest threats to win the Leaders division (Penn State and Wisconsin) both have to visit the ‘Shoe, meaning that an appearance in the inaugural Big Ten Championship Game (and with it, a shot at a BCS berth) is still a realistic goal, but getting there is going to be far more challenging than we’re used to.

 

Comments

  1. Good point about both Toledo and Akron looking at their games against OSU as their “one chance”. I don’t see it happening, but it is definitely something to be considered.

    It’s a shame that this season will turn out like it will (no matter what happens, it will always have an asterisk by it) but it’s interesting that the BT championship game could wipe away a lot of the early missteps.

    I’m anxious either way.

    (Bonus points for getting in a dig at Michigan)

  2. Cloud of Dust says

    I would put myself in that 4-1 or better group too, but I thought it would be a good idea to at least consider that we all might be a little too optimistic. This is a situation we haven’t really been through before and probably won’t be again. The two games that scare me most are @Nebraska and @Miami and that fear has little to do with the actual opponents. The good thing is neither of those games should have much impact on our ability to make it to the B10CCG.

  3. Oh, we definitely shouldn’t be optimistic about the first 5. So many unknowns. The thought of the Ginger Ninja under center terrifies me.

    The thought of going in to Nebraska with essentially a new team also scares me but I think could be the most exciting game of the year if the Tat 5 come out firing on all cylinders.

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