No time like 4½ months before the first college football game of 2013 to spark an argument that Nebraska fans will line up to weigh in on.
Ohio State's Urban Meyer ended spring ball Saturday with some comments that arched eyebrows on the Big Ten Conference's western edge. In discussing the progress of his receiving corps and the passing game overall, the second-year coach said:
“If we can figure that out, I would be disappointed if we're not the best offense in the Big Ten.''
Kind of sounds like fighting words to Nebraska and All-Big Ten quarterback Taylor Martinez, 1,000-yard rusher Ameer Abdullah and the league's most versatile receiving corps.
What some bloggers and talkers over the weekend missed was the back half of Meyer's comments.
“The one glaring weakness is the fifth spoke of the offensive line,'' he said. “We have a legitimate concern about who that player is.
“I feel good about four of the five starters. Unless we get that fifth, there goes the best offense in the Big Ten. You can't play with four linemen.''
Overall, though, Ohio State isn't back-tracking on its plans for a scoring explosion.
Check out what Buckeye offensive lineman Jack Mewhort said last week when I asked him about OSU being a 50-point-a-game offense.
“I sure hope so,'' the senior said “That all is based on our execution. We definitely have the weapons and we have the quarterback and we have a lot of guys coming back on offense — nine out of 11.
“I definitely feel we have the players and the system to do something special.''
The biggest reason for offensive optimism, besides the returning personnel, is simply the passage of time. A second year in Meyer's spread system, according to quarterback Braxton Miller, will be like moving from introductory classes to graduate-level work.
“Just knowing how the plays develop, I can move around the pocket knowing where guys are going to be,'' he said. “Guys last year were just hoping to get open.
“This year, it's like night and day.''
Players say the more time spent learning the OSU offense, the keys to making it work become second nature.
“When you're in the meeting room and Coach is putting something in, he explains the big picture to you,'' Mewhort said. “There are a lot of moving pieces, and now that I'm older and understand football better, I see how it stresses out defenses more.
“It's been cool to learn Coach's offense. If we execute, it's only going to get better and better.''
That's a little scary considering Ohio State last year used an alleged elementary version of its offense to lead the Big Ten in scoring at 37.2 points (Nebraska was second at 34.8). The Buckeyes produced 60 touchdowns in 12 games to Nebraska's 61 in 14 games.
Husker fans will try to trump the argument that Ohio State will only get better in Year Two by noting that Martinez is a fourth-year starter at quarterback and in his third year of Tim Beck's offense.
What spices this debate even more is the subplot about Martinez vs. Miller as the Big Ten's best quarterback.
In 2012, the media picked Miller. The coaches chose Martinez.
Almost immediately, speculation began that the coaches actually voted more against the not-well-liked Meyer's player as much as for Martinez.
If you think this doesn't happen, please extract your head from the sand immediately. Such voting has happened in Big 12 basketball for years against Baylor players because of Bears coach Scott Drew and his, ahem, aggressive recruiting.
So Meyer's “Dr. Slick'' reputation can't be discounted as a factor.
I voted Miller first and Martinez second. Their statistics were almost identical. For me, the difference was Ohio State went undefeated, plus Martinez's penchant for turnovers.
How close Miller and Martinez are remains up for debate. But there is no argument that Meyer wants Miller to get a lot better against the OSU coach's own standard.
“Fundamentally, he's pretty good,'' Meyer said after the spring game. “But when it breaks down, that's when it starts to go.
“He had a couple of situations where it didn't look very good — he went back to the old days and started running instead of keeping your eyes downfield. But he's much improved. Braxton had a good spring.''
Good enough to make the Buckeyes the best offensive team in the league over Nebraska?
Maybe. Unless that title belongs to Northwestern.
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