The Ohio State Buckeyes have plenty to be confident about heading into the 2013 college football season, but there several aspects in particular about this likely national championship contender that are particularly exciting for Buckeyes nation.
Head coach Urban Meyer pulled in another fantastic recruiting class, and will have a more experienced Braxton Miller at quarterback, with an entire year already under his belt. in Meyer's effective spread scheme.
Here is a breakdown of Miller's prospects as he looks to make a strong bid for the Heisman Trophy as well as the other promising elements of this Buckeyes team.
Improvements in the secondary
Two of the key prospects that Meyer was able to land are 4-star cornerbacks Eli Apple and Cameron Burrows, as well as 5-star safety Vonn Bell.
Although outside linebacker Ryan Shazier is the only starter returning for the Buckeyes' front seven, that is an area that OSU seemingly always finds a way to thrive due to adequate depth. The defensive backfield, meanwhile, is a bit of a problem spot, as the Bucks ranked 76th against the pass in 2012 (via NCAA.com).
Bell is the No. 2 safety prospect in the country coming out of high school, according to 247Sports.com's composite rankings.
Considering the inconsistency displayed by Christian Bryant and C.J. Barnett that led to several costly big plays on deep balls, Bell may find himself competing for playing time early on.
There's also a chance that Burrows could play safety, and although he may not play right away, he will give the team much-needed depth at that position.
Bradley Roby has one side of the field covered at cornerback, and the other spot is pretty much up for grabs. Doran Grant thrived at the nickel position, and Apple may be able to fill in on the outside thanks to his physical style and outstanding instincts. He can also step up and stop the run when needed.
Braxton Miller's Heisman campaign
This is a bit obvious, but Miller is going to be one of the top players in the country to watch. As agile and laterally quick as any quarterback in the college game, Miller simply dazzles with his athletic ability and breakaway speed.
However, the most intriguing development will be how Miller develops as a passer. Even though he fared far better in his sophomore campaign, Meyer still believes he can further improve.
In an article by Lee Hudnell of TheBuckeyeTimes.com, the assessment Meyer gave of his star quarterback was rather blatant and seemingly a bit harsh:
Our quarterback fundamentally wasn’t the best fundamental quarterback in America. Tom Herman and I are going to have a chat — why didn’t that happen? He did great work in other areas. Tom Herman did a fabulous job. But Tom Herman and Braxton Miller understand that they have to get better.
Herman is the offensive coordinator and recommended that Miller work with San Diego quarterback guru Gary Whitfield, according to Hudnell.
Miller will welcome freshman WR Jalin Marshall to the fold as an added weapon and will look to build on the momentum generated by such a strong year in which he amassed 3,310 yards of total offense and 28 touchdowns.
It's scary to think about—mostly for opponents—but Miller has plenty of room to grow, as he's just entering the second half of his career in Columbus.
Carlos Hyde's rise
With the exception of the Penn State game, the 6'1", 235-pound running back went on a tear to end the 2012 season and made the Buckeyes' offense more dangerous than ever.
Hyde's breakout performance came against Nebraska, in which he carried the ball 28 times for 140 yards and four touchdowns.
After another incredible performance in the big rivalry game against Michigan, ESPN Stats and Info pointed out how impressive the end of the season was for the junior:
Carlos Hyde scores for Ohio State. He's got a rush TD in 7 straight games (6 in last 3 games alone) #MICHvsOSU— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 24, 2012
His powerful, physical running style punished opponents, and the consistency he showed makes the zone-read option that much more dangerous. Defenses have to account for Miller breaking to the edge while still committing enough players to stack the box and stuff Hyde between the tackles.
As Austin Ward of ESPN notes (subscription required), Hyde's nose for the end zone was a big reason the Buckeyes were able to convert 76 percent of its possessions in the red zone for touchdowns.
Although he hasn't displayed the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield consistently, that is about the only bone to pick with Hyde at this point. His size allows him to step up in pass protection and pancake blitzers. He has the frame built to last through a grueling Big Ten schedule in his final collegiate season.