Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes have a strong chance to repeat perfection this season.
At the same time, though, coming off a 12-0 campaign last year will earn the A-game from every scheduled opponent. So, Meyer's best players have to constantly be prepared if the winning streak is to continue.
To that end, let's check out Ohio State's key athletes as the Buckeyes seek an encore performance in 2013.
Braxton Miller, QB
Braxton Miller is obviously Ohio State's offense.
Last season he accounted for 3,310 total yards and 28 touchdowns, which helped field an explosively dynamic attack. Miller has also shown signs of improving as a passer, courtesy of a 4.2 percent increase on his completion percentage from 2011 to 2012.
Although that's not a major jump, progress is the only thing needed to gradually get a defense off balance. During this offseason, Miller also took the initiative to develop, as Brandon Castel of TheOzone.net writes:
Miller decided to spend his Christmas break out in California working with renowned quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. [Offensive coordinator Tom] Herman and the OSU coaches were happy to see their team leader take the initiative instead of sitting on his couch playing X-Box.
“I think we made tremendous strides,” he [Herman] said at the end of spring ball.
"We just have to keep plugging away and realize it’s a process."
Simply put: The more Miller polishes his mechanics under center only makes the Buckeyes that much more dangerous.
Carlos Hyde, RB
Running back Carlos Hyde enjoyed an impressive 2012 season with 970 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground. Measuring in at 6'0" and 242 pounds, Hyde's size is a competitive advantage in any short-yard situation, not to mention the red zone.
Factor the presence of Miller and defenses can't afford to isolate Hyde either.
As a result, front sevens will continue getting caught off guard and then slammed in the face by Hyde. Like Miller, he's also still developing into his position. Austin Ward of ESPN.com wrote of Hyde's maturity last Thursday (May 9):
He’s the first to admit he can become a more elusive runner to break a few longer runs and that his pass protection can be improved as well. It also doesn’t mean [running backs coach Stan] Drayton stopped paying attention to Hyde's handling of his new responsibilities -- but there were at least some aspects of his game that no longer required as much monitoring.
The quicker Hyde's vision dissects running lanes, blitz schemes and his peripheral awareness enhances when darting through the hole, the easier it'll be for Hyde to jolt up the NFL draft boards.
Bradley Roby, CB
For starters, Bradley Roby has high expectations for himself this season.
In an article by Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports on April 17, Roby wants the Heisman Trophy:
"I believe I can win it," Ohio State All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby said.
"Corner is probably the second-hardest position to play," Roby said. "It's the only position on the field where everybody sees your mistakes. ... This year I'm focusing on the picks. I want the picks. I want the ball. I want to change the game all the way around."
Well, considering that Roby is coming off a year where he defended 19 passes and made 63 tackles, the production is set up nicely. Obviously, he'll have to bolster his interceptions and force/recover a few fumbles as well. Plus, he'll need to score or at least change the field position.
Regardless of how the Heisman pans out, though, Roby is clearly among the top overall defenders this season. Given his talent to lock down one-on-one, Roby immensely assists the front seven to get more quarterback pressure.
His impact also allows for an expanded blitz package, which is what unfolds in front of man coverage. If anything, the Buckeyes will record more sacks, and Roby benefits from increased turnover opportunities.
Ryan Shazier, LB
Ryan Shazier was one of college football's most productive linebackers in 2012.
Along with recording 115 tackles, Shazier had 17 for loss, five sacks, 12 defended passes and three forced fumbles. That's incredible production as he proved to be constantly around the ball.
And as obvious as it sounds, that is what every defense needs from its linebackers. Shazier's knack for locating the rock and then consistently making plays just puts his talent on another level.
The man also brings admirable toughness as he played through a hernia last season, according to Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch in March:
Shazier said the sports hernia first started bothering him in the Nebraska game at midseason. He played on rather than complain.
A surgical procedure repaired it just over four weeks ago. But during spring practice, as a starter the past two seasons, Shazier wanted to lend leadership to a rather young defensive unit.
“It’s real frustrating,” Shazier said. “Sometimes in the back of your head you think it’s a blessing because you’re not practicing. But to be honest, it’s frustrating, because you see all your guys out here grinding, working hard, doing tough workouts, and all you can do is watch.”
Don't anticipate Shazier slowing down in the fall, however. Just like Roby, Shazier is among the best all-around defenders in the nation.
The Buckeyes can rely on him in any situation and for multiple uses. At his core, Shazier's broad production will keep Ohio State's front seven dominant all season.