Top 10: Hottest Storylines as Ohio State Football Kicks off the Season
It is quiet in Columbus. Compared to the previous two, this offseason has been just that for this Ohio State football program—quiet.
With the tumultuous exit of Jim Tressel, followed by the one-year postseason ban, there has been no lack of drama surrounding the Buckeyes. Let's take a look at the top 10 storylines surrounding the 2013 Ohio State Buckeyes.
10. Incoming Class
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Ohio State comes into this season with one of the best incoming freshman classes throughout the college football landscape.
The Buckeye's defense will get an upgrade to an already solid core. Five-star safety Vonn Bell and 4-star defensive backs Eli Apple, Cameron Burrows and Gareon Conley headline the freshman secondary newcomers.
On the defensive front, there are several fresh and talented faces as well. The nationally ranked No. 2 middle linebacker in this class, Mike Mitchell, will join the linebacking corps. Newcomer 5-star defensive end Joey Bosa will also see heavy action.
Defense isn't the only place where the scarlet and gray will see improvements, however.
9. How the Buckeyes Handle Player Departures
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Where there is a pro, there is always a con—and with incoming freshman, there are always key departures. The Ohio State Buckeyes were not immune to the rule this past offseason.
The 2012 team captains in John Simon, Etienne Sabino and Zach Boren are all gone, graduated and into the NFL. Valuable tight end Jake Stoneburner also graduated and is now with the Green Bay Packers.
Starting offensive tackle Reid Fragel? Drafted in the seventh round by the Bengals. Quite possibly one of the biggest departures, defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (pictured above), was a second-round pick by the New York Giants.
Whether or not the loss of veteran leadership will affect the Buckeyes remains to be seen. Nobody would be surprised either way. But look for Coach Meyer and the rest of the staff to rely heavily on the aforementioned incoming class to help fill the gaps.
8. Who Will Step Up at Tight End?
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The departure of Jake Stoneburner leaves quite a void in the Ohio State offense.
Stoneburner was one of quarterback Braxton Miller's favorite targets in the red zone in 2012. Though the senior tight end's contribution toward the team couldn't be measured by stats alone, Stoneburner was hands down one of Ohio State's best run-blockers on the squad last season.
So who's left to help fill the gap left by the graduated tight end?
The tight ends that do remain on the Buckeye roster don't exactly have the most extensive résumé.
Of the five remaining TEs, three juniors and two sophomores, there are only a combined nine receptions for 119 yards and one touchdown for Jeff Heuerman, and nine receptions for 123 yards for sophomore Nick Vannett.
Look for 4-star freshman Marcus Baugh to step up and help fill the shoes.
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The Ohio State Buckeyes secondary has the potential to be the best secondary in the nation.
Returning safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, alongside defensive back Bradley Roby, are good enough as it stands. But this incoming class of secondary players?
This secondary could be scary good.
Even with Roby's one-game suspension following dismissed charges of battery, the Buckeyes should not only be fine in the secondary, but superb.
Look for the coaching staff to use various packages that involve multiple different combinations of these defensive backs, leaving opposing teams no direction to throw the ball.
6. 2013 Schedule
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It's no secret the Buckeyes have one of the easier Top-25-team schedules in the country. But that doesn't necessarily mean they are a lock to go undefeated.
Ohio State's first real test will be in Week 3 when the Buckeyes travel out west to take on California. While the Golden Bears aren't currently in the Top 25, they did push Ohio State to the breaking point last season.
If the scarlet and gray can get past Cal, they will face tough back-to-back matchups in Weeks 5 and 6 at home vs. the Badgers of Wisconsin, and then on the road at Northwestern.
All of these matchups, of course, culminating with "The Game" on the last Saturday of November vs. "that school up north."
While most expect the Buckeyes to go 12-0 throughout the regular season, it isn't a sure thing just yet. Many question marks still remain.
5. Use of Multiple Running Backs
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If there is any position that coach Urban Meyer has some depth at, it's the running backs position. Meyer and staff have multiple options.
Returning to this year's team are seniors Carlos Hyde and the versatile Jordan Hall. The Buckeyes will also have the help of junior Rod Smith, sophomore Bri'onte Dunn, and freshmen Ezekiel Elliott, Dontre Wilson and Warren Ball.
Watch for Ohio State to use Hall as more of a slot receiver, sometimes out of the backfield, with Hyde getting the majority of the carries.
However, with Hyde's upcoming three-game suspension, look for a nice mixture of Hall, Dunn and Elliott out of the backfield.
4. Hyde Suspension
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Though senior running back Carlos Hyde's charges of allegedly hitting a woman at a bar were dropped, Hyde will still be expected to serve his three-game suspension.
The 2012 clear-cut starter, Hyde carried the ball 185 times for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns.
And although Hyde will miss three games, the Buckeyes are well-set to withstand his absence. The three opponents Hyde will miss aren't exactly powerhouses—Buffalo, San Diego State and at California.
Ohio State should be fine until, and even after, Hyde's return.
3. Big Ten Championship
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For the first time under Urban Meyer, the Ohio State Buckeyes will have the opportunity to play in, and win, the Big Ten football championship.
Had the Buckeyes been eligible last year, they would have played Nebraska in the championship game, held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
But this year, it's a whole new ball game. The Buckeyes have something to play for. Last year it was for undefeated rings and a division "title." This year, Urban has the opportunity take this angry football team and harness just that.
2. Braxton for Heisman?
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller breaks a 65 yard touchdown run versus Miami (OH).
Braxton Miller's 2012 season was one to remember. Though Miller struggled at times throwing the ball, the sophomore quarterback was spectacular on his feet.
One of Miller's more underrated plays last year was probably his most athletic. Featured in the video above, this 65-yard touchdown run had several subtle jukes—including one swift stutter step toward the end that sealed the deal.
Miller has been said to be working on his throwing mechanics with offensive coordinator Tom Herman throughout the offseason. Here is what the Buckeyes football beat writer for Yahoo! Sports, Ben Axelrod, had to say:
If Tom Herman & Braxton Miller are right about the progress that they've made, this will be the Buckeye beat's last fall writing about both— Ben Axelrod (@BenAxelrod) August 19, 2013
If what Axelrod, Herman and Miller are all saying is true, this could truly be one special year for the young quarterback—and most likely his last in Columbus.
1. National Title Hopes
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The end goal for any team when they set out on the season is always the same—compete for the national championship.
And given the circumstances, the Ohio State Buckeyes are in a position to do just that.
Coach Meyer, however, downplayed that idea in his interview with Greg Logan of the Long Island Newsday.
Yeah, it was the unknown last year. It's not about the [title] shot this year. It's the fact I've got my staff intact and I have players I know now. We're good. I kind of like where we're at. We've just got to get better.
And from what it sounds, the Buckeyes are doing just that.