Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde proved to be a lethal and dependable combination in 2012.
Ohio State's offense led the Big Ten in scoring in 2012 on their way to an undefeated season. In 2013 the stakes will be higher since the Buckeyes will be eligible for the postseason and therefore will have a chance to compete for the Big Ten title and possibly the national title.
The Buckeyes will have to lean heavily on their offense—which returns nine starters—because the defense will be young, especially in the front seven.
The definition of an "x-factor" can vary, but everyone knows about some of Ohio State's established stars. But for the Buckeyes to match—or increase—their success in 2013, they will need some players with the potential to take their play to the next level and become reliable, consistent playmakers.
Ohio State left no doubt in 2012 that they could run the ball. Quarterback Braxton Miller became Meyer's first 1,000-yard rusher while running back Carlos Hyde missed two and a half games and still amassed over 900 yards.
Those two will return to run behind a powerful offensive line that brings back four starters—all of which will be seniors in 2013.
Improved Passing Could Make Miller Ultimate X-Factor
No one can question whether or not Miller can run the football. But when Ohio State struggled in 2012, it was because the other teams were able to load the box with defenders and force Miller to have to beat them deep.
This offseason will provide a great chance for Miller to improve his mechanics and consistency. During his first two seasons at Ohio State, Miller was forced to learn a new offense in the offseason, but this time he will have his coaching staff returning and instead he can focus on improving as a quarterback.
No matter how much better Miller gets at throwing the football, he will need more consistent weapons around him.
Veterans Ready to Take the Next Step
Devin Smith proved he can be a playmaker—led the Big Ten with 20 yards per catch—but struggled in the second half of the season with drops and an inability to get open.
Smith is the type of receiver that can run by safeties if they are too aggressive in run support. His big-play ability also opens the door for the other receivers to have more room to work after the catch on short routes.
Hall could be the player benefiting the most if Smith can provide more space on short routes. The fifth-year senior all-purpose back could move out of the backfield into the hybrid role as a pitch-man in the option and a pass-catcher out of the slot.
When Hall was injured in 2012 Rod Smith became the backup running back. But fumbles resulted in him not being trusted as a runner late in games. But he did show the ability to block, run and catch the ball.
Young Players Looking to Make a Name
Bri'onte Dunn saw time as a freshman and had some success. He will be looking towards earning more carries is his second season.
Jalin Marshall is an incoming freshman from Middletown, OH. that has shown the ability to make plays from his quarterback position in an option offense. He could see time in a similar role as Hall, but Marshall could pass up the veteran if he can exploit his speed.
Ezekiel Elliott, an U.S. Army All-American running back, is a different type of runner than the rest of Ohio State's running backs. Elliott is a home-run hitter, much like the runners Meyer had at Florida. I don't expect Elliott to get many carries, but when he does, don't blink.
The Old Righty Out of the 'Pen
If Ohio State's come-from-behind win against Purdue taught us anything, it was that Ohio State doesn't have to be conservative due to fear of losing Miller to injury.
While losing Miller for any extended amount of time would be devastating for Ohio State, they don't have to keep him from running because they have a capable backup the team believes in.
This may seem like it's not a big deal, but if Kenny Guiton wasn't standing on Ohio State's sideline ready to go at all times, then I have to believe the coaches might not call Miller's number as often in the running game.
It is Not Just About X-Factors
While Ohio State has no shortage of players that could become superstars, they also have role players that will be of great significance to their success in 2013.
Evan Spencer and Chris Fields displayed their abilities to make plays at times throughout 2012, while tight ends Nick Vannett and Jeff Heuerman were able to show they were more than just blockers, but neither are game breakers.
Meyer, a coach who lamented the fact he didn't have enough play makers in 2012, will have a fully loaded offense in 2013 when he and his Buckeyes take aim at another undefeated season.
But this time they will be looking to go 14-0.