Football practice is in full swing, and we're just three weeks away from kickoff. To get you ready, we're looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for each Big Ten team in 2014.
Do not view these as predictions in any way, shape or form. They are meant to illustrate the realistic potential highs and lows for a team's season, and any game-by-game breakdowns are more of a means to an end than anything else. And we're trying to have some fun here.
Let's continue now with the Ohio State Buckeyes:
As the confetti rains down at Jerry World, a grinning Urban Meyer glances over at the sideline. Standing next to each other, smiling back at him, are Jim Tressel, Archie Griffin and the ghost of Woody Hayes in a mirror of the "Return of the Jedi" celebration.
The force has been with Meyer and the Buckeyes all season long. They finally have the explosiveness and depth it takes to be a true national title contender, as Meyer's young players develop at warp speed.
Braxton Miller turns in his best season yet en route to winning the Heisman Trophy. He throws for 3,000 yards, runs for 1,200 and piles up 40 total touchdowns. He is energized by weapons around him like a vastly improved Dontre Wilson and young speedster Jalin Marshall. Ed Warriner makes sure the revamped offensive line doesn't miss a beat, and Ezekiel Elliott steps right in for Carlos Hyde.
The defense is paced by the front four, all of whom earn All-Big Ten honors. Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett are All-Americans, and Bosa and Noah Spence both tally double-digit sacks. Linebacker Raekwon McMillan wins the Big Ten freshman of the year trophy. Chris Ash fixes the back end of the defense, with young safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell blossoming into stars. The Silver Bullets are back.
Ohio State terrorizes opponents the entire year, rolling over a punchless Virginia Tech and destroying Meyer's alma mater, Cincinnati, in the nonconference schedule. The Buckeyes average 45 points per game and cruise into to their showdown at Michigan State at 8-0. The Spartans put up a valiant fight, but after Joshua Perry stops a Connor Cook sneak attempt on fourth-and-2 in the fourth quarter, Ohio State seizes momentum and goes on to win by two touchdowns.
The Game isn't much of one, as Miller scores six touchdowns in a 49-14 rout of Michigan. A third straight 12-0 regular season is in the books. The Wolverines, suffering through a 3-9 season, fire Brady Hoke and then completely botch the search process before settling on Lane Kiffin.
The Big Ten championship game is a coronation, as Ohio State scores the first 28 points and beats Wisconsin handily. The Buckeyes are made the No. 2 seed in the College Football Playoff, where they open with a victory over defending national champion Florida State in Pasadena, California. Meyer then gets revenge on Nick Saban and leads his team to a one-point win over Alabama in the title game, benefiting from a late pass-interference call in the end zone.
Meyer hoists the new Playoff trophy and promises the start of a championship dynasty in Columbus. Then he joins Tressel, Griffin and Hayes' ghost for the happiest "O-H-I-O" anyone can remember.
Meyer slumps in a golf cart in the bowels of the Gator Bowl, inconsolable and barely touching his cold, soggy Papa John's personal pizza. His Buckeyes have just finished what for them was a vastly disappointing season, made all the worse by an ugly loss to Florida -- Meyer's old school -- in rainy Jacksonville.
The season held such promise for a talented young team. But everybody forgot about the young part. Four new starters on the offensive line, new featured performers at running back, receiver and linebacker and an inexperienced secondary all make this a transition year in Columbus.
The first signs of trouble arrive in the opener, as Ohio State needs a fourth-quarter rally to put away pesky Navy. Virginia Tech comes to the 'Shoe and pulls off a stunning upset, blocking three kicks and dedicating its win to Frank Beamer, who announced his impending retirement before the game.
The Buckeyes regroup to reel off six straight wins, barely beating Penn State on the road thanks to a Hail Mary touchdown from Miller to Devin Smith. But reality strikes back as Michigan State uses its physical style to overwhelm a shaky offensive line and batter Miller like a piñata. The Spartans win 24-10.
Even in a diminished state, Meyer's team has enough to get by Minnesota and Indiana. But Michigan ends all hope of a division title when Devin Gardner completes a two-point conversion try in the final minute for a 38-37 Wolverines win. Michigan wins the Big Ten title and goes to the College Football Playoff.
With several players concerned more about their NFL draft status, Ohio State shows up listless in the Gator Bowl. A 9-4 season would still be celebrated by most programs. But Meyer, burned out from the tough year and staring blankly into his small tub of garlic butter, seriously contemplates stepping away. Buckeye Nation nervously awaits his decision.