We're continuing to hand out grades for every Big Ten team's 2012 season. We'll be doubling up on these to finish them up before Jan. 1. Once again, we're judging each team's offense, defense, special teams and overall performance.
Up next: Ohio State
The scariest thing about Ohio State's season is that the Buckeyes seemed barely to be scratching the surface of their offensive potential. And yet they led the Big Ten in scoring at an average of more than 37 points per game. Most of that came courtesy of a dominant running game, led by quarterback Braxton Miller, running back Carlos Hyde and the league's best offensive line. The Buckeyes ranked 10th nationally in rushing yards per game. And yet they can go so much higher in the passing game, where they had only the No. 101 pass offense this season. Corey "Philly" Brown developed into a steady receiver, but Devin Smith faded down the stretch after making some huge highlight plays early. Miller is already a superstar who finished fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting, mostly because of his legs and the flair for the dramatic. If he can become a consistent, accurate thrower, the rest of the league is really going to be in trouble.
If only Ohio State's season were on a semester system, the grades would be dramatically different for each half of the year. The defense looked lost at times in the first six weeks, giving up big plays and showing poor fundamentals. Urban Meyer did not hide his displeasure at the way his defense played in September and much of October. But Meyer said the unit played at a championship caliber in the second half, and he was right. Linebacker Ryan Shazier led the charge, as he stopped overrunning plays and started blowing up opponents' game plans on a regular basis. Bradley Roby was the Big Ten's best cornerback, while John Simon was named the league's defensive player of the year and Johnathan Hankins was a huge space-eater in the middle. Those early struggles hurt the grade here a little, but Ohio State aced the second semester.
Special teams: C
Here's an area which could certainly stand to improve next year. The Buckeyes had way too many breakdowns in their punt-protection unit and were merely average in kick returns and punting. Brown did an outstanding job on punt returns, though, scoring two touchdowns. Kicker Drew Basil didn't get much work but made eight of his 11 field goal attempts.
You can criticize Ohio State's performance in a few areas, but the only number that really matters is 12-0. Every week, the Buckeyes found a way to win, even if it wasn't always pretty at times. They showed a remarkable resiliency, best evidenced by the comeback in the final minute to tie the game against Purdue when Miller was in the hospital and backup quarterback Kenny Guiton led the charge. Ohio State blew out Legends Division winner Nebraska and beat Big Ten champ Wisconsin on the road. The Buckeyes were unquestionably the league's best team and one of only two undefeated teams in the country. If that's not worth an A-plus, nothing is.
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