While some members of the Big Ten have seen their football-related lives crumble in the offseason, others have taken crucial steps toward solidifying themselves as the conference's teams to beat.
One of those, of course, is Ohio State.
Ever since they brought Urban Meyer on board, it has been clear that the Buckeyes weren't going to be OK with another fourth-place finish in the Leaders Division. There have been animated press conferences, lofty promises and more than a few swipes at Michigan.
But all of that isn't what will make the upcoming season memorable. To Meyer, much of this team's success depends on that of this year's freshmen, whom he told USA Today "might see a lot of action" in the season-opener against Miami of Ohio. Here are a few in particular to watch.
At the moment, he's still on his way to recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but according to ESPN.com's Austin Ward, Boren should only miss a "couple weeks" of practice.
And when he is ready to make his return, Meyer will certainly be happy to have him. The offensive lineman—a 6'2", 283-pound native of Pickerington, Ohio—made the Division I Ohio all-state first-team and in 2011 led his team to its first-ever D-I state championship game.
Plus, Ohio State seems to run in the Boren family's blood: His two older brothers, Zach (currently a senior) and Justin (currently a member of the Ravens) have both been impact players with the Buckeyes. Expect more of the same greatness from the youngest Boren.
Heading into the 2012 season, the Buckeyes are going to have two talented freshmen running backs in Ball and Bri'onte Dunn. The only difference between the two is that one had an unfortunate run-in with the cops at the end of July (though he escaped drug charges), and the other hasn't.
Neither Ball nor Dunn is likely to upstage Carlos Hyde or Jordan Hall in terms of attention or playing time this season, but one of them can establish himself as the likely heir to their thrones. And given the fact that Hall is unlikely to return from a foot injury before Week 3, according to ESPN.com's Joe Schad, there's room for someone else to step up and establish himself.
Last season, the Buckeyes' leading rusher was quarterback Braxton Miller. Hyde ranked second in rushing touchdowns behind him, and with Dan Herron gone and Hall injured, there's a void for somebody else to fill. It could easily be Ball.
Few freshmen were more impressive than Michael Thomas during camp and fans are still talking about his performance in the spring game, when he registered a whopping 12 catches. But can that impact carry over when it really counts?
Maybe. With 6'5" senior Jake Stoneburner moving from tight end to wide receiver, according to the Times Bulletin, it's pretty clear who the No. 1 guy is going to be: The same one who led the team with seven receiving TDs in 2011. However, part of the reason Stoneburner was switched, via the Times Bulletin, is because the Buckeyes don't have enough playmakers at the position.
If Thomas can establish himself as someone who can fill that hole early on, he might permanently earn himself a coveted position on the depth chart.
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