Give it up for the Ohio State football schedule makers. With Kevin Wilson coming aboard as the offensive coordinator — offensive savior? — the Buckeyes’ early slate is filled with drama and irony.
The Buckeyes open on Aug. 31 (a Thursday night) at Big Ten Conference opponent Indiana, the place where Wilson spent the past six seasons as head coach and helped the Hoosiers turn into a formidable offensive program.
After that, it’s a (mega) non-conference home game on Sept. 9 against Oklahoma, where Wilson had a record-setting, nine-season run as offensive coordinator.
If anything, it will be an early read on the Wilson influence, something that he has constantly downplayed, echoing the thoughts of Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer.
When spring football began, Meyer said, “We’re not changing, we’re enhancing what we do. If it was broken, then we’d have to change it. If we wake up one day fifth or sixth in the Big Ten in offense or something, then you’re going to see one of those overhauls.’’
Ohio State football isn’t broken. It’s 61-6 in Meyer’s five seasons with two appearances in three seasons of the College Football Playoff. The Buckeyes led the Big Ten in yards last season (5,969) and finished second in points scored (512).
But they were shut out — Clemson 31, Ohio State 0 — in the Fiesta Bowl national semifinal. Overall, the Buckeyes finished 81st nationally in passing.
Even though it was an 11-2 record, the Buckeyes had some rough offensive patches. Shortly after the season was snuffed out, offensive coordinator Ed Warinner and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck were off to new jobs.
Ohio State felt comfortable in hiring Wilson, who resigned at Indiana amid “philosophical differences’’ and talk he had mistreated players. He denied those allegations. The Buckeyes also added Ryan Day as quarterbacks coach.
Meyer said he has long admired Wilson’s work. And there’s plenty to admire.
Wilson’s Hoosiers led the Big Ten in passing three times (2012, 2013, 2015) and finished second last season. During his time at Oklahoma, when the Sooners won six Big 12 titles and scored a then-NCAA record 716 points in 2008 (now second in Football Bowl Subdivision history), quarterback Sam Bradford finished as the NCAA’s career leader in passing efficiency.
Meyer said he wants a more accurate passing game with greater productivity on the deep ball. He’s seeking more consistency. If Barrett goes to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist, that’s probably an indication of the Buckeyes reaching a new level. As much as Ohio State won in 2016 — 11 victories and a spot in the CFP semifinals — Barrett and the passing game were far from dominant forces.
So it’s an evolution, not a revolution. If it’s a new coordinator, he’s still charged with running the Buckeyes offense, not ripping it up and starting over.
Wilson now has that opportunity. And in an ironic and fun twist, his first two matchups are against the Hoosiers and Sooners, the programs where he made his name.
There won’t be any easing into Ohio State’s 2017 schedule, though the storylines are immediate and compelling.