Third in a series

What Urban Meyer has done on the football field at Ohio State borders on epic. He is 73-8 in his six seasons at Ohio State and a whopping 47-3 in the Big Ten, claiming at least a division title — or an oftentimes meaningless tie for it — every season. He’s won the Big Ten twice and won a national championship.

But this year is wrought with challenges, and it’s only early August. Before fall practices could even begin, chaos has ensued in Columbus. The Zach Smith domestic violence issues have blown up and Meyer is in the crosshairs now, with the “what did he know and when did he know it” questions hovering over him as part of his leaving the program — temporarily or permanently? — on administrative leave while the school investigates.

These events make doing the crystal ball murky. So, full disclosure here. What plays out below in the game-by-game predictions was written before the Meyer/Smith events broke. I already wasn’t sold. And since I don’t know whether Meyer will be fired our not — but I’m guessing he will — I’m not going to blow up the picks and call for a 6-6 season or something silly, which did happen after the Jim Tressel disaster broke in 2011.

Consecutive awesome recruiting classes means there’s a ton of talent in Columbus, but the other contenders in the Big Ten East — namely Michigan, Penn State and Michigan State — have been coming on hard, too.

Throw in a new starting quarterback who has only seen mop-up duty in four games, and there were reasons to be concerned, even before the Meyer news. The goals are still high, of course — they always are at Ohio State — but many challenges lie ahead in the 2018 season. I’ll be honest, this is a projection that has a chance to completely blow up in my face. But, you ask for them in early August, and you get them.

Here’s a quick look back to last year’s Crystal Ball projections:

2017 Projection: 11-1 (8-1 in Big Ten)
Actual Record: 10-2* (8-1 in Big Ten)

*regular season

And now, on to this year:

Coaching situation

It’s Urban Meyer, and, outside of Nick Saban, no one in college football has a better resume on the football field. But if he returns to the field and doesn’t get swept away in this scandal of his own doing, we’ll see a lot about his greatness this year, juggling a new quarterback and all the mistakes that come with it. And if he doesn’t, can the remains of the coaching staff keep it all together? It’s totally unpredictable.

Quarterback situation

OK, on to the field. It only seemed like J.T. Barrett spent 10 years at Ohio State. He’s gone now and it’s up to newcomer Dwayne Haskins to take over at quarterback. Despite his impressive comeback win at Michigan last year, we’re still talking about such a small sample size with a first-year starting quarterback. There are very few question marks on this team, but he’s certainly one of them.

Strengths & weaknesses

Ohio State might have the best defensive line in college football, with Nick Bosa leading the way. They have great running backs and are loaded at just about every position, with stars as both starters and backups. There are concerns at quarterback, linebacker and in the middle of the secondary, but with so many young studs ready to step up, that level of concern is pretty low.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: vs. Oregon State (W)
Not that the Buckeyes need an edge here, but a Noon ET start in Columbus is really 9 a.m. Pacific time on the Beavers’ watches. The Beavers were an awful 1-11 a year ago, with six of the losses coming by 28 points or more. An easy season-opener.

Week 2: vs. Rutgers (W)
This early Big Ten opener will be a breeze. The Buckeyes have won 56-0 and 58-0 the past two years against the Scarlet Knights. Expect more of the same.

Week 3: vs. TCU in Arlington, Texas (W)
An early test on a big stage will tell us a lot about how quickly Haskins is progressing at quarterback. There might be some turnovers here for OSU, but the Buckeyes defense will be too much. This one might be close, and a bit ugly, but a low-scoring win is something to be expected.

Week 4: vs. Tulane (W)
Another easy walk in the park.

Week 5: at Penn State (L)
Penn State will have a hostile crowd on its side and a senior quarterback who will be playing in his 39th game by then. Weird things always seem to happen in Happy Valley, and that’s going to happen again. This will be a tough September loss to swallow.

Week 6: vs. Indiana (W)
For some reason, the Hoosiers always play Ohio State tough. They’ll do it again as an uninspired Buckeyes team simply goes through the motions, needing a late rally to pull out a tight win.

Week 7: vs. Minnesota (W)
The divide in talent level is still too much here. Buckeyes cruise.

Week 8: at Purdue  (W)
Some very good Ohio State teams have gone into Purdue and lost, and the Boilers are on the rise under Jeff Brohm. But the Buckeyes are on a roll now, and they have no trouble shutting down the Purdue offense completely.

Week 9: Bye

Week 10: vs. Nebraska (W)
New coach Scott Frost will do good things at Nebraska, but he’s going to need a few years to get the talent level back up there. Buckeyes cruise at home.

Week 11: at Michigan State (W)
This is a tough road trip. The Spartans are very good, and they never back down. But the Buckeyes force some key turnovers and pull away late to win by a couple of touchdowns. With no Meyer, if that happens, this could easily become a loss.

Week 12: at Maryland (W)
The Terrapins have been no match for Ohio State lately, losing 62-14 and 62-3 the past two seasons. Expect more of the same.

Week 13: vs. Michigan (L)
With the Big Ten East title on the line, Jim Harbaugh and Michigan finally find a way to beat Ohio State. It’s only been forever, and the Wolverines are due. Michigan gets some late magic to win by three and clinch the Big Ten East. I did call this before the Meyer news, so that’s no excuse later.

2018 Projection: 10-2 (7-2)
Final Standings: T-2 in Big Ten East 

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