Ohio State will be one of the dozens of spring games taking place Saturday. After dropping the final two games of the season—the Big Ten title to Michigan State and the Orange Bowl to Clemson—the Buckeyes are looking for a more positive ending to the 2014-15 season.
The road back to a national championship takes a major step forward on Saturday. What should Buckeye fans be looking for when the team takes the field in coach Urban Meyer's third year?
Which backup steps up in a battered offense?
Quarterback Braxton Miller is out. So is tight end Jeff Heuerman. Receiver Evan Spencer has been hampered with a leg injury, too. So who takes the opportunity to showcase what they can do when asked to be the next man up?
Nick Vannett, who had eight receptions for 80 yards last year, has gained a ton of praise from head coach Urban Meyer as the Buckeyes' No. 2 tight end. ”Nick Vannett’s had an excellent spring. He’s one of the two or three most improved players on the team," Meyer said via Kyle Rowland of ElevenWarriors.com.
At quarterback, redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett have been in the biggest battle to be Miller's backup. That position battle may not be solved during the spring game, but it may provide some clarity of the pecking order heading into preseason camp.
Finding new starters on offense
The Buckeyes aren't just banged up on offense, they're also inexperienced.
Ohio State must find a replacement for bell-cow running back Carlos Hyde. Depending on who steps up, this could be done with one player or by committee. Ezekiel Elliott appears to be the overwhelming favorite to win the starting job, but Rod Smith and Bri'onte Dunn are also in the mix in some form or fashion.
Even freshman running back/wide receiver hybrid Curtis Samuel is getting noticed on offense.
Along the offensive line, there are a few spots up for grabs beyond the ones occupied by tackle Taylor Decker and guard Pat Elflein. Fellow linemen Billy Price and Antonio Underwood are also competing for spots along the interior of the line.
At wide receiver, someone needs to start alongside Devin Smith. Johnnie Dixon is generating some buzz as an early enrollee.
Who emerges in the back seven on defense?
There are no questions about Ohio State's defensive line, which should be one of the best, if not the best, in the Big Ten.
There are more questions, however, about the Buckeyes playing behind that defensive front.
Josh Perry feels like a sure thing at the strong-side linebacker spot as one of the most improved players on defense. However, Curtis Grant, Darron Lee and Raekwon McMillan are names to watch in this unit as well.
With cornerback Vonn Bell out for spring with a knee injury, the secondary has taken a bit hit. It's going to need all the help it can get from the linebacker group this year.
Along those lines, the Buckeyes have to get better in pass defense after finishing 112th in the nation against the pass last season. Additionally, Ohio State finished 122nd in the country in long pass plays allowed.
With Bell out, Cam Burrows and Ron Tanner will be called upon to shore up the secondary. There's a lot of youth in the secondary, so this is a group that has to grow up quickly.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football. All stats courtesy of cfbstats.com. All quotes cited unless obtained firsthand.