Ohio State Football: The State of the Program After 2013 Season
Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes were one win away from playing for a national championship in 2013, but those dreams were dashed by Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
Ohio State will look to bounce back in an Orange Bowl matchup against the Clemson Tigers, but beyond that, what lies ahead for the Buckeyes in 2014?
With Meyer at the helm, Ohio State's outstanding recruiting should lessen the blow of losing key seniors and a couple early departures to the NFL. The College Football Playoff will debut next season, and the Buckeyes will have an experienced defense and a dangerous offense for a potential national title run.
Here's the state of the program heading into the 2014 season.
Despite losing a lot of talent, Ohio state will still field one of the most, if not the most talented team in the Big Ten next year.
Returning Starters on Offense (5)
Offensive line: Taylor Decker (right tackle)
Quarterback: Braxton Miller
Wide Receivers: Devin Smith, Evan Spencer
Tight end: Jeff Heuerman
The strength of the offense in 2013 was the offensive line and running back Carlos Hyde. Urban Meyer needs to find replacements for all but one starter from that group.
With Braxton Miller returning, though, the offense should still be explosive. The Buckeyes will need to replace four starters on the offensive line, but Pat Elflein, who filled in for Marcus Hall after the Michigan fiasco, played admirably at right guard in relief.
Returning Starters on Defense (7)
Defensive line: Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett, Tommy Schutt, Noah Spence
Linebackers: Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant
Secondary: Doran Grant (cornerback)
Conrnerback Bradley Roby has already announced his NFL intentions, and linebacker Ryan Shazier, projected as a first-round pick by many, is expected to forgo his senior season.
That will give Ohio State seven returning starters to a defense that should be very good, especially in the front seven. The Buckeyes will need to replace three starters in the secondary, which was their weakest unit in 2013.
Ohio State has secured verbal commitments from 17 prospects—two 5-stars, 12 4-stars, two 3-stars and a kicker—with room for at least five more to close out this year's class.
Top Remaining Target
Ohio State's top remaining target is 5-star linebacker Raekwon McMillan. The 6'2", 242-pound linebacker out of Hinesville, Ga. holds more than 25 offers from schools such as Auburn, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame and USC, but his top three are Ohio State, Alabama and Clemson.
Because he's enrolling in January, McMillan is making his decision on December 16. Ohio State has a big need for linebackers this year, and McMillan would perfectly complement 5-star prospect Dante Booker, who committed to the Buckeyes in May.
The Glenville Trio
Three prospects who attend Glenville High School, Ohio State's biggest in-state pipeline, are high on Urban Meyer's list.
One of the three—4-star offensive lineman Marcelys Jones—has already offered his verbal pledge to the Buckeyes. Meyer is working hard to get 4-star cornerback Marshon Lattimore and four-star safety Erick Smith to join Jones in Columbus. Landing all three would be a huge win for the Buckeyes.
Stars of the Future
Three sophomores could be on the verge of huge seasons.
It's hard for a true freshman to come in during his first year and contribute at the collegiate level.
Joey Bosa didn't just contribute—he dominated.
The former 4-star prospect earned a starting role midway through the season and didn't disappoint. Bosa ranked third on the team with tackles for loss (12.5) and sacks (6.5) despite playing as a backup through the first five games.
If he takes another step forward in year two, the Buckeyes could have a star in the making.
No first-year player generated more hype than Dontre Wilson, the speedy playmaker out of DeSoto, Texas.
Wilson showed flashes of brilliance in 2013, but it was just that—flashes. With a full offseason to put on some muscle and really learn the playbook, Wilson could be the dangerous element this Ohio State offense desperately needs.
Look for Wilson to build off an impressive freshman season that netted 441 total yards and three touchdowns.
With Carlos Hyde graduating, Ezekiel Elliott could be the next great Ohio State running back.
Yes, Rod Smith will still be in Columbus, but Elliott showed a lot of promise when he had the chance to carry the ball. The former 4-star running back earned 30 carries during the regular season and ran for 262 yards and two touchdowns. He was a big-play machine, averaging nearly nine yards per carry with a long of 57.
Urban Meyer could be losing a number of his assistants this offseason.
Luke Fickell, Ohio State's co-defensive coordinator, is a rumored candidate for the head coach position at Bowling Green. According to Doug Lesmerises of The Plain Dealer, Fickell would be a great candidate because of his one-year stint as the Buckeyes head coach, serving as a bridge between the Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer eras.
Also per The Plain Dealer article, running backs coach Stan Drayton is a top candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Florida Atlantic. Drayton has been a long-time assistant of Meyer's, but if Florida Atlantic made an offer, it would be a hard opportunity for him to pass on.
The hottest commodity in Columbus, though, is offensive coordinator Tom Herman. The former Iowa State offensive coordinator was brought on by Meyer before the 2012 season, and the young coach has thrived. He hasn't been linked to any specific openings yet, but with the success of Ohio State's offense over the last two years, it would be surprising if he didn't at least nail down a couple of interviews.
The Buckeyes will be tested early with a season-opening game against Navy in Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium. The following week, Virginia Tech will invade Columbus for what will likely be a prime time game under the lights.
Ohio State will close out its non-conference slate with home games against Kent State and Cincinnati before opening league play with Big Ten newcomers Maryland and Rutgers.
The Week 11 matchup, on the road against Michigan State, has already been circled on the calendars. The Buckeyes will be looking to avenge their first loss under Urban Meyer, but they'll have to do it in the unfriendly confines of Spartan Stadium.
The most important game on the schedule, though, is November 29, when Ohio State is set to host Michigan.
Meyer's biggest challenges will be replacing four starters along his offensive line and three of his best players in Carlos Hyde, Bradley Roby and Ryan Shazier. But even with those losses, Ohio State will still have the talent to make another run at a title.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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