By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
Ohio State Buckeyes 2012 Spring Preview
2011 Record: 6-7, 3-5 Big Ten
Spring practice: March 28-April 21
Returning Starters: Offense – 7, Defense – 9
Passing: Braxton Miller, 85 of 157, 1,159 yds., 13 TD, 4 INTs
Rushing: Braxton Miller, 159 car., 715 yds., 7 TDs
Receiving: Devin Smith, 14 rec., 294 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: C.J. Barnett, 75
Sacks: John Simon, 7
Interceptions: Two players tied with 3
Redshirts to watch: OL Tommy Brown, OL Chris Carter, DL Chase Farris, DL Kenny Hayes
Early Enrollees: OL Jacoby Boren, RB Bri’onte Dunn, QB Cardale Jones, LB Joshua Perry, DB Tyvis Powell, WR Michael Thomas
Sept. 1 Miami (Ohio)
Sept. 8 UCF
Sept. 15 California
Sept. 22 UAB
Sept. 29 at Michigan State
Oct. 6 Nebraska
Oct. 13 at Indiana
Oct. 20 Purdue
Oct. 27 at Penn State
Nov. 3 Illinois
Nov. 17 at Wisconsin
Nov. 24 Michigan
Offensive Strength: Quarterback Braxton Miller was thrown into the fire as a true freshman last season and that experience should pay big dividends in 2012. Miller totaled nearly 2,000 yards of offense, while posting 20 overall scores. With another offseason under his belt and new coach Urban Meyer bringing a spread attack to Columbus, Miller will easily surpass last season’s numbers and should be among the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks.
Offensive Weakness: There’s some concern about the running backs and wide receivers, but Ohio State’s biggest issue on offense is the line. Two starters are back up front (tackle Andrew Norwell and guard Jack Mewhort), but there’s very little depth and last season’s group allowed 3.5 sacks a game. In addition to the personnel questions, the line must learn a new scheme.
Defensive Strength: 2011 wasn’t exactly a banner year for the Ohio State defense, but it wasn’t awful either. The Buckeyes should be solid in all three levels of the defense next year, but the line has potential to be one of the best in college football. End John Simon picked up seven sacks last year and will benefit from the return of Nathan Williams from a knee injury. Tackle is in good hands with Johnathan Hankins and Garrett Goebel returning. The Buckeyes will also get some help from a talented freshman defensive line class, which will be key in replenishing the depth up front.
Defensive Weakness: With nine starters back, co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers should feel good about this group. However, there are a few things this defense needs to shore up in the spring. The pass rush generated just 1.8 sacks a game last season, while the defense forced 20 turnovers. Both of those numbers could improve in 2012.
Spring Storylines Facing the Buckeyes
1. Change is in the air in Columbus. After a messy season of distractions and a coaching change, things have finally settled down for Ohio State. New coach Urban Meyer is one of the best in college football and should lead the Buckeyes to a quick turnaround in the win column. Meyer also hired a top-notch staff, bringing in Everett Withers from North Carolina to help Luke Fickell coordinate the defense, while one of the rising stars in the assistant ranks (Tom Herman) will help call the shots on offense. Although Herman is listed as the offensive coordinator, expect Meyer to play a significant role in calling plays and developing the offensive gameplan. After Meyer dealt with health issues at Florida, it was important for Ohio State to hire a top-notch coaching staff, which it seems to have accomplished. However, it’s important for this group of coaches to jell, especially with some key question marks facing the roster in 2012.
2. Although there’s a lot of positive momentum going for Ohio State, the Buckeyes are ineligible to play for the Big Ten title and a bowl game in 2012. Although Meyer is a terrific coach, will the postseason ban have any effect on the team? With no postseason possibilities, it’s all about pride for Ohio State in 2012. If the pieces fall into place, it’s not of the question the Buckeyes can finish among the top 10-15 teams in the final postseason poll. However, with nothing to play for, Meyer and his coaching staff will have to work a little overtime to keep this team motivated and ready to play each week.
3. Michigan’s Denard Robinson should be the Big Ten’s preseason first-team all-conference quarterback, but Ohio State’s Braxton Miller should get the No. 2 spot. Miller had a solid freshman year and should flourish under Meyer. A key question facing the Ohio State offense is the playmakers around Miller. Daniel Herron departs at running back, leaving Jordan Hall, Carlos Hyde and Rod Smith as the top three options going into spring practice. True freshman Bri’onte Dunn will also be one to watch in spring workouts. The receiving corps was a disappointment last year, but there’s a lot of young talent and this group should be improved in 2012. Although there’s plenty of options at both positions, the coaching staff would like to see a pecking order develop and go-to options emerge this spring.
4. If there is one area on offense that will likely give Meyer a reason to lose sleep at night, it’s clearly the offensive line. Tackle Andrew Norwell and guard Jack Mewhort both garnered honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, but they are the only two returning starters on the offensive line. Marcus Hall started five games last season and will be expected to emerge as one of the starters this spring. After those three, the battle to replace center Mike Brewster and tackles J.B. Shugarts and Mike Adams is the biggest issue facing Ohio State. In addition to the personnel losses, the Buckeyes are switching from a pro-style approach to a spread attack. Settling the front five and developing some depth could be the difference between finishing with seven wins and another disappointing season or 10 victories and a finish at the top of the Leaders Division.
5. Linebacker Andrew Sweat and safety Tyler Moeller will be missed, but Ohio State’s defense should be one of the best in college football this season. The defensive line is stocked with talent, including potential All-American end John Simon. This group also got an infusion of talent through recruiting, as recruits Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, Tommy Schutt and Se’Von Pittman all ranked as a top 100 recruits in the 2012 Athlon Consensus 100. Outside of building the depth on the line, the biggest priority for Fickell and Withers needs to be sorting out the linebacking corps. Etienne Sabino, Ryan Shazier and Storm Klein all have experience, but there’s very little depth. Curtis Grant figures to be the top option off the bench, but more options need to be found.
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