An undefeated season now leads to massive expectations
Considering how badly the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were elephant-stomped in the BCS title game by Alabama, the lamentations that an undefeated, untied Ohio State team was unable to participate have only grown. Unfortunately, due to punishments incurred during the tenure of Jim Tressel, that was not going to happen.
But, the 12-0 Ohio State bunch of 2012 has the opportunity to participate in a postseason game next year. The expectations to make good on their undefeated run and at least play for a title in Year 2 of Urban Meyer's tenure are going to be enormous.
While no team is perfect, this Buckeyes squad was in 2012, and with the pieces Meyer brings back, there is an outside chance that his 2013 team remains so.
An unbeaten run begins and ends with Braxton
What else is new?
For the last two seasons, quarterback Braxton Miller has carried this team on his shoulders, and powered them to victory with his legs.
As a true freshman, Miller was asked to take the reins of one of the most historically dominant programs in all of college football and guide the Buckeyes through a period of unprecedented upheaval. All he did was rush for 1,159 yards and throw for another 715. Combined, he tallied 20 touchdowns -- not bad for an experienced senior, let alone a student-athlete only a few months out of his high school prom.
For an encore, Miller not only bulked up from 210 to 220 pounds, but he once again led the team with 1,271 rushing yards. He showed off a a vast improvement in the passing game, throwing for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns. His 13 on the ground mirrored those of his freshman year.
How much Miller continues to improve throughout spring and summer practices will go a long way towards another undefeated run for his Ohio State Buckeyes.
As well as a long way towards a potential Heisman Trophy.
Braxton's buddies must continue to improve
The majority of Miller's favorite targets in the passing game are returning, as are three of the team's top four running backs.
Over the week-to-week grind of the regular season, even the cream of the Big Ten crop showed they could not contain the one-man wrecking crew that was Miller. However, had the Buckeyes been eligible to play against Alabama or Notre Dame in the title game, things would have been far different. Give either Irish coach Brian Kelly or Bama's Nick Saban a full month to prepare to contain one guy and generally speaking both will get it done.
Thus, Meyer must draw significant improvement from his supporting cast if his team is going to be ready to make a run at the 'whole dang thing' next season.
Carlos Hyde, at 6-foot and 232 pounds, showed off a unique blend of speed and power in going off for 146 yards on 26 carries in the season finale over Michigan. He returns for his senior year expecting to blow away the conference and the nation, and with good reason. Hyde averaged 5.2 yards per carry for 970 yards despite missing two games with a sprained MCL. He can be the power to Miller's grace. Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn are two others to keep an eye on in the running game.
Corey Brown, the team's leading receiver with 60 catches for 669 yards, will also be back, along with the explosive sophomore Devin Smith, who caught 30 passes for a whopping 618 yards. This tandem should be a dangerous one for opposing defenses in 2013.
Ryan Shazier is about to change the game
Braxton Miller may be getting all the hype, and deservedly so, but another sophomore blew up the competition in 2012.
Ryan Shazier is not yet a household name at the linebacker position, but Big Ten running backs and quarterbacks know all about him. At 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, this Plantation, Florida native has all the size, strength, and athletic ability to dominate on the football field.
And not just in the future.
Shazier easily led the team in 2012 with a whopping 114 tackles, or roughly 9.5 a game. He also recorded a massive 17.0 tackles for a loss and five sacks.
This relentless playmaker is going to be the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes defense in 2013, but he will not be alone. Ohio State loses its entire defensive line (more on that in a moment), but the team's top four tacklers, including Shazier, all return for another year.
Defensive backs Christian Bryant, Bradley Roby, and CJ Barnett all played extremely well in 2012. Keep an eye on Barnett, who recorded 56 tackles and two interceptions in only nine games.
Skilled positions are important, but B1G Championships are won in the trenches
In 2010, the Buckeyes' offensive line ranked No. 118 nationally in sacks allowed, obviously an unacceptable statistic for Meyer when he arrived. He whipped his gigantic, Midwestern offensive linemen into shape and into lock-step with the rest of the program's march towards an undefeated season.
Senior Reid Fragel weight trained so intensely that he ballooned from 280 to 310 pounds, and now he is on track for a professional career.
Fragel is the only member of the offensive line leaving. The most important position on the line, left tackle, returns Jack Mewhort, and his buddy at left guard, Andrew Norwell, is back for another run at perfection as well.
Defensively, the picture is not so pretty. Star defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is leaving a year early as a surefire first round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. In fact, Meyer is losing all four starters from a defensive line that ranked 13th nationally in rush defense. Besides Hankins, Meyer will be replacing John Simon, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams.
It won't be easy, but young men such as Noel Spence, Joel Hale, Adolphus Washington and JT Moore should fit the bill.
One guy to keep an eye on is Chris Carter. Carter came to Columbus at over 400 pounds, was switched to defense from offense, and could be a force if he continues to lose weight. He is currently at around 355.
Lest we forget, special teams are one-third of every football game
Corey Brown, primed to break out as a senior receiver, has already made waves in the return game. In 2012, Brown returned 18 punts for 221 yards and two touchdowns, absolutely fantastic numbers. Should he keep those up, along with an increased role offensively, Brown will be a force on an elite college football team.
No matter how great any team is, at least a game or two will always come down to those few clutch moments that define a champion.
Ohio State returns placekicker Drew Basil for one final season in Columbus. He only attempted 11 field goals in 2012, but he made eight of them, along with 56-of-57 extra point attempts. Basil has experience under pressure, making four of his five field goal attempts in the Buckeyes' 26-21, season-ending win over Michigan.
If he can carry over that momentum into the same clutch situations in 2013, big things can be expected of him and his team.