So Urban Meyer's first year on the job included a top-5 recruiting class, a 12-0 record, and a win over Michigan. Other than the bowl ban, this had to be pretty close to the best case scenario, right? What do you think were the keys to success in year one? Think really hard and try to give me even the nit-iest of picks about last season (needing OT to beat Purdue has to be in there).
This was absolutely the best case scenario for Ohio State. While the fan base was looking at the season optimistically, it seemed the most popular sentiment was a 10-2 or 11-1 type of season with a healthy amount of fans predicting closer to 10-2 or 9-3. The general thought process seemed to be with Urban Meyer stepping in and the depth of talent already on the team, Ohio State was well positioned to secure around 10 wins. Surpassing that and ending up with the sixth unbeaten season in school history was pretty special. Looking back on the season, it's easy to forget that Ohio State far from steamrolled every team on their schedule. At the beginning of the year, it seemed like the Buckeyes were sleepwalking through many of their games in the first half, only to turn it on in the second or when the situation dictated it.
In terms of the keys to success, obviously Braxton Miller being Braxton Miller played a huge part in Ohio State going undefeated, but the emergence of Carlos Hyde as an every down back really helped keep defenses honest. Hyde had 185 carries last year and just missed eclipsing the 1,000 yard mark with 970 yards and added 16 touchdowns for the Buckeyes. Columbus is excited to see what Hyde can do with another year of experience under his belt (provided his legal situation works itself out). Backup quarterback Kenny Guiton deserves mention as well. One of the more notable knocks against Miller was his durability last season, but that could also be due in part because of the volume of carries he had each game. It seemed that every game Miller would have to come out for a short time due to various bumps and bruises and Guiton would come in and guide the offense as if nothing had happened. His leadership in the Purdue game was obviously downright inspiring, and without him, the Buckeyes could have seen their season take a turn for the worse.
The offense looks to be pretty well stacked with Braxton Miller coming back as the quarterback for the second year in this system. What would you like to see Miller improve on in the offseason? What level can this offense reach if Miller takes another step forward as a quarterback?
It's been mentioned often that Miller was still learning the offense during the beginning of the season last year, and given that he performed so well, it's built up expectations for him to be at his best this year. Braxton himself said at Big Ten Media Days "It's like dang, I actually know what I'm doing this year". Miller has already spent time in the offseason preparing for this year spending time with renown quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. working on his footwork, and touch passing, amongst other facets of his game.
If Miller can improve his passing even further and start throwing like a quarterback that doesn't have his 4.4 speed to fall back on, the possibilities are endless. The offense was already dangerous last year, but with the addition of mastering the playbook and working on his mechanics, Braxton has the potential to be the best college quarterback in America.
Defensively, Ohio State hasn't been quite as dominant the past couple years as it was under Tressel, but given the talent present, it would be hard to believe an improvement isn't on the way. Do you think the defense can make the leap back to being one of the few best defenses in the country this year, and what needs to happen for that to come to pass?
Led by one of the best linebackers in the country in Ryan Shazier, the Ohio State defense is no slouch. There are some areas where they might not be as strong (particularly depth), but I don't think there is really an area where they would be considered a liability or weak. Bradley Roby, Christian Bryant, C.J. Barnett and Doran Grant round up a secondary that is pretty solid and experienced. The defensive line will be without senior leader John Simon this year but have promising talent across the depth chart with Adolphus Washington, Noah Spence, Michael Bennett and Tommy Schutt. Not to mention the capable backups with names like Steve Miller and freshmen Joey Bosa and Tyquan Lewis.
This defense is ripe with talent, and while the defensive front may be young, they do have some game experience and learned from the best before them. The Buckeye defense has an opportunity to bring back the "Silver Bullets" tag, provided they can stay healthy. Most feel a repeat of last season isn't likely based on the early returns from spring ball.
What is the best position group on the team, and which has the most questions surrounding it right now?
The quarterbacks may be the obvious choice, but I'll stick with the running backs as the best position group this year. With Miller possibly looking to take more of a passing role and cut down slightly on his carries, the running back position will have more opportunities to shine. In addition to the aforementioned Carlos Hyde (or even assuming he's not in the mix), you have Jordan Hall who will play in multiple positions (mostly featured at Pivot, the overly referred to "Percy Harvin role") throughout games and has the speed to break for a big play at any moment. From there, you have a much improved Rod Smith, who despite having infamous troubles holding onto the football as a freshman, showed a couple of promising runs last season and proved he could provide Hyde with more than capable relief when need.
Next man up is Bri'onte Dunn, who Buckeye fans were excited about last season after hearing the hype from practice reports. Dunn only ended up getting carries in three games, but the coaches have spoken highly of him in the past and there's no doubt he would be a starting running back on a number of other Big Ten sides. Coming in as freshmen, expect to see both Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson featured in some way on the field for the Buckeyes this fall. Elliott had 50 touchdowns in his senior season at the high school level and has performed exceptionally well in big games at that level. Wilson brings in dangerous speed that could possibly be featured as a kick returner and will most likely see himself in a few different positions and/or formations to help utilize that speed.
The position with the most questions will be the linebackers. Ryan Shazier has his spot locked up at weakside linebacker and should be ready for an All-American-type season. Where the questions arise are the middle linebacker and strong-side linebacker. Curtis Grant has been one of the more disappointing recruits that Ohio State has seen in some time. Coming in with high expectations from the beginning, Grant has yet to prove himself on the field. This season, it's up to Grant to step up and help lead the defense or he will be pushed aside by his back up, Cam Williams. Joshua Perry, at 6'4", 243-pounds, holds down the strong-side position, a year after seeing duty on special teams and playing a bit of linebacker. Meaningful game experience is really what hurts the Buckeye linebacking corp, with Shazier being the lone truly proven commodity.
Anything notable happen during spring practice, and are there any fresh faces on campus that you expect to contribute right away?
Curtis Grant did provide Buckeye fans with some hope of his transition to the college game might finally be over in the spring game, where he played pretty solid and only missed a couple of tackles. Backup quarterback Cardale Jones reportedly practiced well and proved to the coaches he belonged, but sturggled on the field in the spring game. Jones was erratic and had a few turnovers that were pretty ugly and might lead to incoming freshman J.T. Barrett stepping up into the third QB spot.
Incoming freshmen that will most likely see the field this year include the previously mentioned Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson. Expect cornerback Eli Apple to see P.T. in on the defensive side of the ball after having a very good spring. A name that hasn't been mentioned much is Jalin Marshall. Marshall is coming in as freshman as well and while he mostly played quarterback in high school, the Ohio State staff has been focused on Marshall's ability as a wide receiver. His ceiling is extremely high at that position, and I would expect to see him on the field this fall as well.
The bowl ban is over, Ohio State is coming off a wildly successful season, and the schedule sets up well for another undefeated run. Is it national title or bust time? Does anything about this team/schedule/etc. worry you going into the 2013 season? And if Ohio State makes it to the BCS title game, can Meyer beat a Nick Saban coached Alabama team that has looked nigh invincible over the past few years?
The time is now for a run at a national championship. The offensive line is filled with experience coming from Andrew Norwell, Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Taylor Decker and Marcus Hall. Amongst those five, Decker is the most green from a starting stand point, but his transition into fulltime starter should be aided by joining a group that helped provide one of the most explosive running attacks in the Big Ten last season. The offensive skill positions are more than solid with playmakers such as Devin Smith and Corey "Philly" Brown. If Ohio State's defense returns to form and the offense continues to grow into Urban Meyer and Tom Herman's designs, this team has a chance to be particularly special.
There's no denying, even from the most die-hard Buckeye fans, that the 2013 Ohio State football schedule would be considered rather paltry. Perhaps the scariest part of Ohio State's schedule is whether or not it would be considered strong enough to make the BCS championship game if the Buckeyes repeat last year's success but find themselves joined by other major conference sides. Of course, there are always going to be games that end up stronger later on in the year, but for now, if Ohio State doesn't go undefeated, the team (and especially the fan)'s lofty expectations are unlikely to come to fruition.