Buckeyes find their rhythm

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Drumsticks in hand and a huge smile on his face, Braxton Miller was right in the middle of the action, as he had been all season as the multi-talented quarterback showed off one more skill by helping the band lead an end zone dance party.

Right next to him, banging away on a huge bass drum with "State" emblazoned across it in big, bold letters, wide receiver Devin Smith was adding a postgame partnership with his quarterback after they already contributed a couple more big plays together on the field in yet another win.

On the way to the locker room, a group of Ohio State linemen, led by center Corey Linsley, caught up with their coach, wrapped their arms around Urban Meyer and soaked in the positivity that comes with perfection.

All of those guys will be back to defend a Leaders Division title and extend a winning streak that officially survived Meyer's first season with the program after a gritty, 26-21 victory over Michigan on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. And if that was just the opening act for the Buckeyes, imagine what might be in store once they get warmed up.

"The whole theme this week was to go where the air is rare," Meyer said. "The last door is a big one -- open it up, kick it open, do what you've got to do to get through the door. Once you're in there, it smells different, it tastes different, it looks different.

"I'm hoping our guys get that taste and they want to go do it again. Once you taste that, it tastes really good. The foundation, I think, is strong."

Setting it with an unblemished record is a pretty solid way to establish the program again, and Meyer is seemingly well ahead of schedule in restoring Ohio State to national prominence. Only two teams in the country finished the regular season without a loss, and while the Buckeyes won't get a chance to play for a conference or national title because of NCAA sanctions, that won't be the case at this time next year.

And just a couple days shy of his first anniversary with the Buckeyes, given the massive improvements made in just 12 months after inheriting a 6-7 team facing a bowl ban, it seems reasonable to anticipate that the next wave of construction in the second will be just as successful.

There will be plenty of significant contributors to replace. That will take place mostly on defense, as six starters will graduate and two more could potentially jump to the NFL. The offense will lose starting right tackle Reid Fragel and versatile target Jake Stoneburner on the perimeter, but the rest of the high-powered attack returns almost completely intact. And if Miller continues his development as a passer, a group of young linebackers gets itself ready to take on an expanded role and the Buckeyes continue collecting signatures from elite recruits, the encore performance could come as early as next season.

"We knew what the end game was going to be," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "We knew that this was it, so when you know that going in, it wasn't like somebody yanked that out from us a week ago. You deal with it, accept it, move forward and rise to the challenges that are put forth every Saturday. Our guys did that.

"To have any regrets, to have any sorrow about what's going to happen in the next month would be foolish. We've got to hit the road recruiting on Monday morning, go finish up a great recruiting class that we've already started."

That class currently sits at No. 6 in the country in the RecruitingNation rankings and the work is obviously not yet done.

The renovation of the Ohio State program is still a work in progress as well. The Buckeyes weren't a flawless team all season, struggling at various times in every phase of the game and occasionally making a few of their victories harder than they needed to be. But even if that formula doesn't change in Meyer's second season, there will still be two more games waiting for them -- and one big door to kick down.

"We're going to lose some really good players, really good players and really good people -- even the ones that weren't star players," Meyer said. "Someone has got to pick up the slack when they leave us.

"We're starting a new journey. However, the journey's foundation is really, really strong."