The Ohio State Buckeyes will likely be a preseason top-five team heading into the 2013 season.
They return their top playmakers on both sides of the ball. Braxton Miller, Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier and Bradley Roby are all back to lead the Buckeyes.
But the success of Urban Meyer's second Ohio State team will be up to the offensive line—a line that returns four starters, three of which earned at least All-Conference honorable mention.
The key to the line will be the underclassmen. Not only will the Buckeyes need one underclassman to step up to be the right tackle, they will also need depth if they are going to compete for a Big Ten and national title.
The Returning Upperclassmen
The 2013 offensive line should be in good hands for the most part.
The four starters return from last year's line helped the Buckeyes finish undefeated and lead the Big Ten in scoring. Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell are all entering their senior seasons in Columbus.
That leaves Meyer with a bunch of underclassmen jockeying for playing time.
Taylor Decker battled Reid Fragel for the starting spot last spring. But Fragel won out, started every game and played his way on to the All-Big Ten honorable mention list.
Playing alongside four experienced seniors will make Decker's job easier. Miller has the ability to elude pass-rushers, something that could bail out a young offensive lineman like Decker.
The Main Challenger
Chase Farris was brought in by the previous coaching regime as a defensive lineman. When the new staff took over, they loved his athleticism and potential on the offensive side. He is now the sixth man in the rotation.
Farris' athleticism makes him able to play both inside and outside, which is valuable for the main backup.
Even if Farris doesn't earn a starting spot, he will give the Buckeyes something they didn't have last season: depth. Meyer was highly concerned about one of his linemen going down to injury last season because he wasn't confident in his reserves.
It's rare for a team to have the same five players start every game on the offensive line; it's almost unthinkable that it could happen two years in a row. Farris may have to step in and save the Buckeyes, much like Kenny Guiton did for the team in the Purdue game.
The 3rd Boren
Justin Boren made a name for himself by playing at both Michigan and Ohio State. The second son of former Michigan linebacker Mike Boren, Zach had a famous switch of his own when he left his fullback spot to be the Buckeyes' middle linebacker last season.
Now Ohio State has the third brother, Jacoby.
The sophomore appears to be the main backup on the interior of the line, especially center. He's not going to unseat Linsley, but Boren is always one play away from playing the one position that has to touch the ball every play.
Considering his last name is Boren, all Ohio State fans should feel pretty confident.
The Rest of the Gang
Patrick Elflein is probably the eighth lineman on the roster right now. He is an interior guy like Boren and could step in at guard or center if needed.
Kyle Dodson is likely to be the fourth tackle. Tommy Brown will be a redshirt sophomore, but doesn’t seem to figure into the coaches’ plans right now.
Evan Lisle and Timothy Gardner are coming in as members of the 2013 recruiting class. I would be surprised if Gardner didn't redshirt. However, Lisle could add depth and see time in mop-up duty, playing time that could prove valuable when the four 2013 seniors are gone heading into 2014.
What 2013 Will Bring
I’d be surprised if it is anyone but Decker at right tackle when the season gets underway. I just think he has the most ability out of any of the underclassmen at this point.
One of the keys for Ohio State’s success not only in 2013, but in the years to come, will be getting the other underclassmen ready to play. Depth on the offensive line is crucial. Without it I don’t see Ohio State having another perfect regular season.
The Buckeyes clearly have players with potential on the offensive line, but potential never blocked anyone. Ohio State needs Decker and company to save the offensive line.