Urban Meyer took over a program coming off of a 6–7 record — its first losing season since 1988 — and saddled by NCAA sanctions. But he found a winning formula by allowing Braxton Miller to throw the ball downfield enough to keep defenses honest and then carry the day with his feet. Miller scooted for more than 1,200 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns, and OSU needed most of them with the defense struggling against spread teams.
This year, Miller should be able to cede more of the running onus to a deep and talented backfield led by senior Carlos Hyde, who has designs on becoming the first running back to reach the 1,000-yard plateau under Meyer. Hyde will get a lot of push from Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn, Warren Ball and even incoming freshman Ezekiel Elliott.
Senior Jordan Hall is back from injury to fulfill the hybrid duties as a back who can split out and hurt defenses as a receiver. Corey “Philly” Brown and Devin Smith will lead a corps of wideouts who are vastly improved in all areas. True freshman Dontre Wilson is an explosive playmaker and will play a large role in the offense this year. Jake Stoneburner is out of eligibility, but the tight end spot is just fine with the tandem of Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett in tow.
And perhaps most important, the offensive line is as sturdy as it’s been in years with four starters returning and hulking Taylor Decker poised to take over at right tackle.
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Here’s where the “if” game begins for the Buckeyes.
Ryan Shazier is coming off of a 115-tackle season and is ready to hunt down ball-carriers once again. The two players expected to line up with him as starting linebackers, middle man Curtis Grant and strong-sider Joshua Perry, are physical specimens with playmaking ability.
The secondary is led by superstar corner Bradley Roby and a pair of returning starters at safety in seniors Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett. The coaches also are enthused with the elevation of Corey “Pitt” Brown and redshirt freshman Tyvis Powell, either of whom can play nickel or safety. Doran Grant should be solid at the other corner spot.
However, Curtis Grant and Perry are far from proven, and the front line is comprised of a pool of youngsters who won’t have the likes of John Simon and Johnathan Hankins around anymore to show them the ropes. Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are going to have to approach their vast potential quickly, and defensive breakdowns in the back seven have to cease if this team is to take down the Big Ten.
Braxton Miller, QB – One of the most dangerous players in college football, Miller could rewrite the school record book.
Bradley Roby, CB – A big-play performer who scored via a blocked punt, fumble recovery and interception return last season.
Ryan Shazier, LB – Ohio State needs its star backer to stay healthy and hold together a developing front seven.
Drew Basil is back at placekicker after a somewhat uneventful 2012 season. With the coaches seeking big plays, he was called upon to attempt just 11 field goals. Still, he’ll stay busy as he also boots kickoffs and has been handed the added chore of punter. The Buckeyes added competition for Basil at punter in early June, as Cameron Johnston - an Australian Rules Football player - will join the team in time for 2013. Cover teams should be solid with so many able bodies, and the return game could be impactful with Smith, Hall and Philly Brown finding creases.
The Buckeyes suddenly have a potent offense with experience up front, a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and weapons that can populate open areas of the field. The defense, however, requires some development up front and steadier tackling on the back end.
Fortunately for OSU, four of the first five games are at home, and the pieces should be in place by the time the team heads into a crucial November that includes road trips to three Big Ten schools.
Ohio State looks formidable on paper, and the hunger to return to a high-profile bowl is evident, but the coaches are concerned that too much leadership has walked out the door. Still, don’t be surprised if this team is playing for a national title.
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