The Ohio State football team has the opportunity to make a run at major college football's first ever playoff, and while the Buckeyes are strong in many areas, there are a few weaknesses that could derail Urban Meyer's squad.
Ohio State's flaws were too much to overcome down the stretch of the 2013 season, when it fell just one game short of playing for a national title. What will it take to overcome those shortcomings this year?
Here are Ohio State's greatest strengths, weaknesses and a look at a couple of secret weapons ahead of the 2014 season.
Meyer needs strong quarterback play for his offense to execute at a high level, and that's exactly what he'll get this year from Braxton Miller.
Entering his final season, Miller is on the brink of shattering every quarterback record at Ohio State. The dual-threat signal-caller has mastered Meyer's offense and is primed for big things in 2014.
|Ohio State Quarterback Braxton Miller's Stats|
|Yards Per Carry||4.5||5.6||6.2|
I want to help this team win a Big Ten championship next year. Plus, I want to improve as a quarterback in all aspects of my game. I’m looking forward to working for another year with Coach Meyer and Coach Herman.
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State's defensive line is hoping to trigger a defensive resurgence.
The Buckeyes struggled defensively last year, especially down the stretch when they allowed an average of 38.3 points per game to their final three opponents (Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson).
One bright spot, though, was the defensive line, which fueled a run defense that ranked ninth nationally.
All four starters—Noah Spence, Michael Bennett, Adolphus Washington and Joey Bosa—are set to return. Key reserves such as Steve Miller, Tommy Schutt and Chris Carter will give new defensive line coach Larry Johnson the ability to rotate guys in and keep the starters fresh.
Ohio State's line is so stacked that Lesmerises suggests it could feature three future first-round NFL draft picks.
Ohio State must replace four senior starters along its offensive line—easily one of the biggest challenges Meyer will face this year.
Those seniors paced a rushing attack that averaged 308.6 yards per game, which ranked No. 5 in the country. Finding suitable candidates to fill that void started in the spring, but only one vacated slot was filled when Pat Elflein won the starting right guard spot.
Taylor Decker—the sole returning starter—has flipped from right tackle to left tackle. He'll be expected to anchor a young and inexperienced unit in 2014.
The Buckeyes' secondary will also be young and inexperienced. That unit, too, returns just one starter from a year ago in cornerback Doran Grant.
Ohio State has a number of options at safety. Tyvis Powell won a starting job in the spring, and Vonn Bell was expected to do the same before a knee injury derailed his chances on the first day of practice. That gave Cameron Burrows the opportunity to shine, and now Bell and Burrows will battle for the spot this fall.
There's a lot of talent at cornerback as well. Starting opposite Grant will be a rotation of Armani Reeves, Eli Apple and Gareon Conley. That talent, however, is unproven.
The Buckeyes were horrendous against the pass last year, allowing an average of 268 yards per game, which ranked No. 110 in the country. If the new starters don't settle in quickly, Ohio State could have similar struggles this season.
Dontre Wilson may not be much of a secret, but his playmaking ability isn't as widely known now as it will be by year's end.
That's because Meyer utilized Wilson mainly as a decoy during his freshman season. Despite that undesirable role, Wilson piled up 460 total yards and three touchdowns last year. He showed glimpses of what's to come in 2014.
I kind of slowed down a little bit from high school, but I'm going to use this offseason to get faster and stronger so I can be a player for next season ... Being a top playmaker is what drives me. I am going to work hard in the offseason to earn the coach's trust and be a major player for us next year.
Carlos Hyde's departure created a big need for playmakers, especially in the backfield. True freshman Curtis Samuel could provide a big spark.
That's something he was able to do down the stretch of spring practice. Despite starting at the bottom of a deep depth chart, Samuel impressed the coaching staff with his playmaking ability.
According to Kyle Rowland of Eleven Warriors, Samuel's quick start surprised Meyer.
“The guy that’s in the rotation already is Curtis Samuel,” Meyer said. “I want to say that’s shocking, especially at tailback, because I thought he’d be more of a wide receiver-slash guy."
Whether he lines up in the backfield or the slot, Samuel has a great opportunity to make an early impact.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.
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