Position To Watch
Ari Wasserman: One of the first things Meyer said when he was hired at Ohio State was that it takes a great defensive line to win a national championship, and the Buckeyes had one last year, which was one of the main reasons the team completed a perfect 12-0 season. Now OSU enters this year as a national title favorite, but one of the major hurdles the team faces is replacing the entire starting defensive front from a year ago. Though there is young talent stepping in – names like Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are very familiar – it will be crucial for the unit as a whole to be as productive as it was last year. A national championship could be riding on it.
Matthew Hager: H-back is the obvious answer to me for a number of reasons. First, because Meyer and his staff continue to look for the next Percy Harvin – the player that will add that extra dimension to Meyer's vaunted offense. Could that be Jordan Hall? Maybe. Can he stay healthy and showcase the potential most around the program feel Hall possesses? Maybe. But if Hall can't do it, will someone like Chris Fields step up like he did in the spring? The proverbial light might have gone off for the Painesville (Ohio) Harvey product, so he might be the guy at H-back if Hall doesn't emerge.
Pat Brennan: To me, the answer is running back. Ohio State is going to have quite the crowded backfield in 2013, and if your last name isn't Miller, Hyde or Hall, you better get comfortable with the idea of limited touches in 2013. If you're doing the math at home, keep in mind that Braxton Miller has averaged 193 rushing attempts during the course of his first two seasons at OSU. That's close to 200 plays where Buckeyes running backs won't see the ball. After that, OSU has Carlos Hyde, who netted 970 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012. One of his stated goals coming into the 2013 season is to be the first-ever Urban Meyer-coached running back to rush for 1,000 yards or more. And then there's Jordan Hall, who is coming back for his senior season from a medical redshirt. Other running backs – redshirt freshman Warren Ball, junior Rod Smith, and sophomore Brionte Dunn – will just have to impress in fall camp or wait until this senior-heavy position group clears out.
Jeff Svoboda: I'm going to be a little more specific than Ari – the position to watch for me is defensive tackle. I have plenty of faith in Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington (and their backups) at end, but tackle remains a big question mark. I think Michael Bennett has the skill to be an All-American, but he needs to stay healthy (something he certainly can do) after a lost 2012. Meanwhile, Joel Hale is by all accounts a tremendous leader but was on the field for far too many big running plays by the opposition last year. Tommy Schutt had a golden opportunity to make waves this spring and was limited by a foot/ankle injury. Chris Carter has to prove he's more than just a run-stuffer. So there are plenty of questions to be answered.
Storyline To Watch
Ari Wasserman: Part of the reason Ohio State is considered among the favorites to win the national championship is because of quarterback Braxton Miller. Anyone who watched him perform as a sophomore last season saw his incredible ability. But the biggest storyline of the season also happens to be the Buckeyes' biggest question – can Miller stay healthy the entire year? It is incredibly intriguing to see how much he's grown as a passer since last season, but perhaps more importantly is if OSU's coaching staff wants to use him as a runner and if he can sustain health despite taking big hits. Last year he had to leave multiple games with injury, and really he hasn't been healthy an entire year for quite some time. Could a Miller injury cost Ohio State a game, and by extension a national championship?
Matthew Hager: The continued development of the passing game. Was it better than last year this spring? Yep. Does it need to be better this season? Yep. Receivers coach Zach Smith called his group a work in progress during the spring but the on-field product looked like it was coming along. Corey "Philly" Brown looked like he had taken another step, and Chris Fields and Michael Thomas both had big moments. Urban Meyer even named Fields a starter after the spring game. Of course, Braxton Miller will have to throw the ball better than he has, but like his receivers, the progression appears to be moving in the right direction. If OSU can field a dangerous passing attack, it will only improve its chances of reaching the team's lofty goals this season.
Pat Brennan: Overall Mental Toughness. OSU demonstrated the ability to win in the clutch and, in doing so, closed out a historic, undefeated season in 2012. The achievement, however, was born amid an environment of lessened pressure, and perhaps lessened expectations from fans, as the result of a postseason ban. With the ban now lifted, OSU is staring down the same tall order from Buckeye Nation – perfection – all with the added pressure of knowing it's expected of it. The chance to play in the Big Ten Championship Game and the BCS National Championship Game are thrilling incentives this OSU team could get to enjoy. Should adversity strike in 2013 as it did numerous times last year, those incentives could start to feel more burdensome and clunky. OSU's overall ability to navigate the challenges of a college football season fraught with high expectations is likely to determine how much of the preseason hype is validated by postseason's end.
Jeff Svoboda: Along the same lines as Pat, to me, the big unanswerable question this season is whether Ohio State can handle the pressure that comes along with last year's unbeaten season. There's not one game on the schedule the Buckeyes don't have the talent to win, and as a result many fans can't help but think that an unbeaten season is in the cards. Of course, we all know it's not easy to win ‘em all, but that doesn't mean some won't expect it. That pressure will keep rising as the Buckeyes' unbeaten streak keeps going, people keep talking about the unbeaten mark, and things reach a potential late-season crescendo.
Freshman To Watch
Ari Wasserman: With Ohio State's star-studded 2013 class, it is definitely challenging to pick only one incoming freshman and anoint him as the one to watch. But since it is a must, I arrived at Jalin Marshall. Meyer has spoken at length about the need to find an offensive weapon that can make someone miss and serve as a big-play threat, and that's exactly what the five-star prospect does well. Freshmen typically have a hard time coming to Ohio State and having an instant impact, but if the need for that type of player on the offensive side of the ball is great enough, Marshall could have a chance to do it.
Matthew Hager: This one is usually a crapshoot. It's hard to tell which freshmen will have an impact right away because the jump from high school to college is different for everyone. Still, if I had to guess, I would take Jalin Marshall. He seems like the type of player who could become a big weapon in the Meyer offense. Perhaps Marshall will end up as the Percy Harvin-like player the Buckeyes are looking to find.
Pat Brennan:Much was made of Urban Meyer's recruitment of Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas product Joey Bosa, a five-star recruit according to Scout.com. Meyer encouraged defensive line coach Mike Vrabel to take a "wins and losses" approach to recruiting and put special emphasis on nabbing the highly recruited Bosa. Vrabel went out and got Meyer's man, a 6-5, 270-pound defensive end and the cherry on top of the Buckeyes' 2013 class. Scout rated Bosa as the No. 4 player at his position prior to National Signing Day, and with vacancies that need filling on OSU's defensive line, he could have an immediate impact.
Jeff Svoboda: When I first started this exercise, my thought was the answer has to be Jalin Marshall. Now that I see Ari and Matt have chosen the same player, I kind of want to change my mind, but I'll stick with Mr. Excitement. It's often easier for a young player to see the field at the skill positions, and if there's one obvious place the Buckeyes could use a talent injection, it's at the H-back spot. That's not to take anything away from Jordan Hall and Chris Fields, but someone like Marshall is a special talent who might force their way on to the field.