2012 was Miller Time in Columbus, but can the rest of the offense step up with him in 2013?
(photo courtesy USAToday Sports/Andrew Weber)
First Practice: March 5th
Spring Game: April 13th *Cincinnati, OH
Has there ever been a less talked about undefeated team in the history of college football than the 2012 Ohio State Buckeyes? I'm being 100% serious here. I can't remember another team that ended the season as the only undefeated team in the country, yet hardly anyone is talking about that season or what that team did.
Instead all of the offseason focus is on the Crimson Tide and the rest of the SEC West. Now, sure the Tide rolled to a 2nd straight national title last season and they deserve all the chatter in the world, but don't think for one Mississippi second that Urban Meyer isn't using the lack of talk about his team and their accomplishment last season as motivation heading into 2013.
Just because they went undefeated doesn't mean there wasn't room for improvement coming off of year one of the Urban Meyer era in Columbus and spring ball in 2013 will set the tone for a team looking to prove 2012 wasn't a fluke. Can this team set themselves up for their first ever Big Ten Championship game win and spoil the SEC party and make a run to the national championship in 2013? Well, the answers begin to unfold as spring practice gets underway today.
Stability Factor (1= chaos, 5= rock solid): 4.5
I'd say things are nearly as stable as anywhere in the country at this point in time. Meyer isn't going anywhere and this team is coming off of just it's sixth ever undefeated season in program history. Add in a nationally recognized Top 5 recruiting class and life is good in Columbus. However, there is the matter of the defense losing seven starters from a year ago that needs to be contended with this spring and for that things can't be completely perfect, right?
Under the Microscope: Curtis Grant, Linebacker
Linebackers are synonymous with the Big Ten and Penn State specifically. However, OSU has produced some damn good ones and Curtis Grant was supposed to be the next big thing coming to Columbus. He was the No. 1 ranked linebacker in the country in the 2011 class. However, what has happened since hasn't been stellar to say the least from a kid that was supposed to be that dominate.
Instead he's been an afterthought, playing in a total of 18 games in his two seasons at OSU and recording a whole 8 tackles. It's put up or shut up time for this once heralded prospect. Either the light bulb comes on for him this spring and he becomes at least a player for a starting spot or he was one of the biggest busts in the world of recruiting at Ohio State in recent memory.
Locked and Loaded: Wide Receiver
2012 may have been an up and down year for Corey "Philly" Brown and Devin Smith at wide receiver and some may argue their inconsistent play killed what could've been a Heisman season for Braxton Miller. They could be right, however it remains that this group is about as loaded with talent and returning depth as any position on the field.
Brown and Smith have to be more consistent, but their talent shined through on more than one occasion. Brown finished the year with 60 catches for 667 yards and 3 touchdowns, while Smith had 30 catches for 618 yards and a team best 6 touchdowns. Behind them is a talented youngster in true sophomore Evan Spencer who caught 12 balls for 136 yards in his freshman campaign.
Add in a healthy Jordan Hall to help take some pressure off and a talented group of incoming players and this unit is stacked, or it should be heading in to 2013.
Jockeying for Position: Defensive front seven
I don't care if you are the two time defending national champion or coming off an undefeated season and bring in one of the nation's top recruiting classes – anytime you lose five of your starting front seven off of your defense there are going to be growing pains and some sense of worry.
Yes, talent can overcome that, but there is a lot left to be proved by a group that has experience, but none of it starting. On the positive side is that there are guys like Noah Spence (237 plays played last season) and Adolphus Washington who saw major minutes last season. They are near locks to take over at defensive end and defensive tackle respectively.
Look out for names like juniors Michael Bennett, Joel Hale and Steve Miller, and sophomore Tommy Schutt – who all saw minutes last season to be in the mix on the d-line as well.
Only one linebacker spot is truly sewn up and that belongs to Ryan Shazier, an all-Big Ten performer a season ago. Who plays alongside him? That's anyone's guess really but like we said before one option in the middle is Curtis Grant. He'll have to contend with his own hype to do so. However the other outside linebacker spot is going to go to a very inexperienced group and could be led by Josh Perry, who is the only one that saw any sort of real action last year (and it wasn't much), but also look for the likes of Camren Williams, David Perkins, and Jamal Marcus to be more than special teams players this spring and could challenge Perry.
Name to Know: Jordan Hall
Think Percy Harvin in Scarlet and Grey. He played last season, but was never truly healthy and as such was never used in the pivot/hybrid h-back position to any great length last season. He's a key component to helping add another dimension to both the running attack and the passing attack. If he can pick things up and show why Meyer was so high on him from the beginning this spring it's just another reason why this offense could be scary good in 2013. Plus the kid is straight up FAST…. Like SEC fast for those of you who still think the Big Ten is all about slow plodding play and grinding out wins.
Spring Will be a Success If…. No One Gets Injured.
Yes, it's a bit cliche to say a successful spring means no one is injured, however with Ohio State that's truly the case. They don't have a lot of proven depth on this team anymore outside of the wide receiver and offensive line positions and that means they can't afford to be losing players that need valuable reps this spring – especially along the defensive line and at linebacker. If they come out of spring relatively healthy and no major injuries then all is good.