OSU Writer Introduces Buckeyes

So I've been asked by the GoMids.com staff to write a letter introducing the Ohio State football team to the Navy fans on the site. This would be a great idea -- if I had any idea how this season was going to go.

Simply put, there will be a lot of new faces wearing scarlet and gray when the Buckeyes take the field in Baltimore on Saturday. The leading rusher -- Urban Meyer's first back to top 1,000 yards -- is out of eligibility. So is the player who made the most receptions at OSU in 15 years. That doesn't even mention the four starting offensive linemen who all graduated (literally; they all have degrees), or the two first-round draft picks who left early on defense.

Oh, and the two-time reigning Big Ten MVP and three-year starting quarterback hurt his shoulder last week and is out for the year.

Add it all up and the Buckeyes will be without 12 starters from last year's squad when they line up against Navy, and there's 18 true or redshirt freshmen on the depth chart, so saying I have any idea of what to expect during Saturday's game would be folly.

There's no doubt there's talent on this particulary Buckeye team -- a lot of it young talent. But that term right there is a double-edged sword. Yes, there's talent, but a lot of it is also young and hasn't played a lot or proved what it can do at the college level, either.

That's particularly true at the top, with redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett taking over for Miller. Barrett was a four-star prospect and the 13th-ranked QB in the class of 2013 coming out of Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider High School, but he hasn't taken a competitive snap since the middle of the 2012 season when he tore his ACL as a senior in high school.

He's been lauded as a leader by the Ohio State coaches and players, and his nickname in the program is "The Distributor" in reference to his ability to spread the ball around to Ohio State's targets at the skill positions. But to be honest, anyone who says they know for sure how Barrett will react against a new squad is lying, as just one OSU practice was open to the media in the fall.

The good news for Barrett is that he should have some increased depth at receiver and wideout this season, as Urban Meyer's recruiting the past few seasons has yielded a crop of young, hungry players ready to make an impact with the ball in their hand.

At running back, that could mean a breakout campaign for Ezekiel Elliott, a sophomore who can do it all, or perhaps a standout senior season for big back Roderick Smith or a big freshman campaign for heavily lauded speedster Curtis Samuel.

Out wide, the Buckeyes will turn to Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Corey Smith, Michael Thomas, Dontre Wilson and Jalin Marshall as the top six. Wilson and Marshall will play the hybrid "Percy Harvin" role that will make the speedy, shifty backs/receivers key parts of the offense, while Devin Smith has been one of the top deep threats in the Big Ten for the past two years, Spencer is a dependable senior, and both Corey Smith and Thomas could rebound from redshirt years to be major players.

The bad news for Barrett is that his offensive line returns just one starter, junior left tackle Taylor Decker, and the rest of the crew has six combined starts among them. Right guard Pat Elflein impressed in cameos last year, but the rest of the line is an unknown, though they've been talked up throughout camp.

Defensively, the Buckeyes almost have to be better than last year, when they gave up tons of points and yards in a one-point win vs. Michigan and season-ending losses to Michigan State and Clemson.

The defensive line should be one of the best in the nation as tackle Michael Bennett could be a first-round pick in the upcoming draft, end Joey Bosa could be the No. 1 overall choice in 2016 and tackle Adolphus Washington is primed for a breakout. The team will be missing All-Big Ten end Noah Spence vs. Navy because of a suspension but seniors Steve Miller and Rashad Frazier have experience.

At linebacker, the Buckeyes lost stud Ryan Shazier, who very well could have been the league's defensive player of the year, to the draft but the team expects to be better there. New weakside linebacker Joshua Perry had a great offseason and appears primed for a big jump forward, while senior middle man Curtis Grant is a captain and redshirt freshman Darron Lee will stick his nose into the play.

Looking at the secondary, a unit that was much maligned last year -- in part because it couldn't find two safeties who could cover the pass -- will be led by senior captain Doran Grant, who was fine as a first-year starter last year but will expect more from himself in 2014. Sophomore safeties Tyvis Powell, Vonn Bell and Cam Burrows are very athletic and talented, but finding a second corner has been a work in progress.

The Buckeyes expect to see major improvement on defense, though, with the installaiton of a new aggressive scheme. Chris Ash has been hired to revamp the defense and has installed a press-man setup the players love, while new D-line coach Larry Johnson has pledged to rotate more and encourage his players to attack the backfield.

So what does it all mean? Meyer is starting to put together a team that can challenge those in the highest echelons of the sport, but the Buckeyes might not be experienced enough yet to challenge for a spot in the first College Football Playoff. That's especially true because Miller, who finished fifth in the Heisman voting in 2012, will be out. And with so many young players on the spot, there's no telling if the Buckeyes will be able to bring their A-game each week this season.

No one knows how this season is going to unfold for the Buckeyes, and that's especially true of the early going. The trip to take on Navy's funky offense and defense, hundreds of miles from home, with a brand-new quarterback, is as challenging an opener as Ohio State has had in some time.

How will it go? You and me will find out Saturday.

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