Ohio State fans will forever wonder "what if" about their undefeated 2012 football team. Urban Meyer led the Buckeyes to an unbeaten 12-0 record in his first season in Columbus and Braxton Miller blossomed into a Heisman Trophy-contending quarterback. There are holes to plug on defense, but with two elite recruiting classes waiting in the wings and the entire offense returning, expectations are as high as possible in C-Bus this spring. The Buckeyes also won't waste any time getting things started. Spring practice will be more halfway over by March 28, which is when Ohio State first hit the practice field a year ago.
Ohio State Buckeyes 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 12-0 (8-0)
Spring practice dates: March 5-April 13
Returning Starters: Offense – 9, Defense – 4
Passing: Braxton Miller, 148-of-254, 2,039 yds., 15 TDs, 6 INTs
Rushing: Braxton Miller, 227 car., 1,271 yds., 13 TDs
Receiving: Corey Brown, 60 rec., 669 yds, 3 TDs
Tackles: Ryan Shazier, 115
Sacks: Ryan Shazier, 5.0
Interceptions: 3 tied at 2
Redshirts to watch: RB Warren Ball, OL Kyle Dodson, DB Najee Murray, DB Tyvis Powell
Aug. 31 Buffalo
Sept. 7 San Diego State
Sept. 14 at Cal
Sept. 21 Florida A&M
Sept. 28 Wisconsin
Oct. 5 at Northwestern
Oct. 12 Bye Week
Oct. 19 Iowa
Oct. 26 Penn State
Nov. 2 at Purdue
Nov. 9 Bye Week
Nov. 16 at Illinois
Nov. 23 Indiana
Nov. 30 at Michigan
Offensive Strength: Up the middle. Both guards, an All-Big Ten center, star quarterback Braxton Miller and four experienced running backs give OSU one of the best offensive foundations in the nation.
Offensive Weakness: Big-play pass-catchers. Corey Brown is a solid player but Miller has no elite, No. 1-type wideout and Meyer needs to find one on an offense that really has no other weaknesses.
Defensive Strength: Secondary. Bradley Roby and two honorable mention All-Big Ten safeties return to one of the best defensive backfields in the nation.
Defensive Weakness: Defensive line. All four starting defensive linemen — three seniors and one junior — have departed. The good news is that Meyer has plenty of bodies to compete for these openings.
Spring Storylines Facing the Buckeyes:
1. Rebuild the defensive line. Johnathan Hankins, John Simon, Nathan Williams and Garrett Goebel have all departed the defensive line leaving four open starting sports up front for Meyer. But fans can expect the '12 recruiting class to be featured prominently along the front this spring. Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington and Tommy Schutt are all second-year players who could star in new starting positions. Joel Hale, Steve Miller and Michael Bennett are in the mix heavily as well. Frankly, this is an embarrassment of riches for one team losing all four starting linemen.
2. Supply Ryan Shazier with some support. Shazier is an All-American-caliber linebacker who might be the hardest hitter in the nation. He makes overzealous mistakes, at times, but has elite upside and will be the leader of the defense in 2013. He is a proven commodity but will need support alongside him. Jamal Marcus, Curtis Grant, David Perkins and Josh Perry will be the first names to get a crack at filling the voids left by Etienne Sabino, Zach Boren and Storm Klein.
3. Find a star on the outside. Corey Brown had a nice season last year, but he leads a non-descript collection of wide receivers and tight ends. Miller has no go-to star on the outside catching passes for him and this offense could use a down-the-field playmaker. Does Brown take another step? Will Devin Smith, Michael Thomas, Evan Spencer or Chris Fields develop into a legitimate No. 1? Who will fill the tight end void left by Jake Stoneburner's graduation?
4. Establish a pecking order in the backfield. The offensive line returns four starters and the backfield returns the top five leading rushers so the running game should be elite. Carlos Hyde scored 16 times last season and nearly rushed for 1,000 yards. However, Bri'onte Dunn or Rod Smith, two bigger workhorse backs, might be more talented and will certainly press for time. Organizing the deep backfield and slotting players into specific roles in the offense will be important this spring.
5. Keep Braxton Miller grounded... and healthy. Miller plays the game with reckless abandon, and many times, had to play through injuries to lead Ohio State to victory last year. He knows he is a remarkable player with the highest of upsides, in both team and personal expectations. A trip to the BCS national title game and a potential first-round slot in the 2014 NFL Draft are undoubtedly in his sights, so keeping him focused, grounded, healthy and out of trouble will be important throughout the offseason. No news is good news with Miller.
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