- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer needed only a season to restore Ohio State to the top of the Big Ten and among the elite programs in the nation.
But the Buckeyes aren't all the way back to where they want to be yet, at least not until there's some company for the last crystal football that was claimed more than a decade ago now.
Meyer's quick work a year ago in guiding Ohio State to a perfect record has put his team directly in the middle of any conversation about national title favorites this fall, and the momentum is seemingly only building after signing two banner recruiting classes to lay the groundwork for the coming years. The combination of facilities, existing talent, the coaches around him and a relatively manageable path to the BCS or the four-team playoff that is on the way all point to the Buckeyes remaining in the hunt for trophies with Meyer around.
For now, though, they check in just shy of the top spot in ESPN.com's Future Power Rankings -- but No. 1 is squarely in their sights.
The Buckeyes will rise if: They follow the blueprint and add defensive talent.
The plan is in place, and Meyer has plenty of evidence at his disposal that proves it will work. In fact, with the Buckeyes it produced results at an even faster clip than at any of his three previous stops. The perfect record in Year One should only work in his favor as he continues assembling pieces to fit his spread offense and restock a defense that is talented but not all that deep or experienced. In the short term, the most pressing concern for Ohio State is rebuilding a front seven that was wiped out by graduation and the early loss of defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins to the NFL. And while that issue has already been tackled head on by Meyer and his staff on the recruiting trail, the impact of recent signees like Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson at linebacker might not be truly felt until 2014. Until then, though, the Buckeyes can lean on a dynamic offense that is loaded with experience and could have Meyer's ultimate weapon at quarterback for two more years if Braxton Miller returns for a senior season, giving them a head start no matter how the defense develops when matched up with a proven winner on the sideline.
The Buckeyes will fall if: Other programs start poaching coaches, and strong replacement hires aren't made.
Meyer asked for a two-year commitment from his assistants when they were hired, and every last one of them honored that request after the unbeaten campaign last fall. But they'll be free to shop around when the 2013 season comes to an end, and if it wraps up with something close to the same level of success they enjoyed in their first year with the program, there figures to be no shortage of suitors that could test the continuity of the staff moving forward. All four guys with a coordinator title are likely to be in the mix to run their own program somewhere, with Tom Herman, Ed Warinner, Luke Fickell and Everett Withers all bringing something to the table that sets them apart. Herman is a rising star in the profession, Warinner has an impressively diverse resume on offense, and Fickell and Withers both bring deep defensive knowledge and prior experience as head coaches that could make them appealing. The cycle of losing and replacing assistants comes with the territory for a winning program, and Meyer has obviously had to deal with it before. But it could throw some uncertainty into the future if the Buckeyes wind up needing to fill numerous voids all at once.
5dDan Murphy and Austin Ward