Andrew Holleran / Photo editor
It’s hard to imagine there being more hype surrounding the Ohio State football program than there is right now.
Coming off an undefeated season in 2012, the expectations for the 2013 Buckeyes are to be better than they were a year prior. Nearly all of the ridiculously early preseason polls have OSU ranked somewhere in the top five. Braxton Miller – who appeared on this week’s cover of “Sports Illustrated” – is one of the favorites to win the Heisman trophy, despite being on the list with last year’s winner, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
Anything short of an undefeated regular season, a victory in the Big Ten championship and an appearance in the National Championship game will likely be construed as a failure for Urban Meyer and his squad this year.
Perfection, after achieving it in 2012, is the goal for OSU in Meyer’s second season at the helm of the program.
It’s March, though, and no one – not even juggernaut Alabama – is perfect right now.
There are plenty of questions that OSU will start trying to answer come Tuesday, the first day of spring practice. Here are five:
1. Is OSU still angry?
With the 2012 Buckeyes ineligible for the postseason, Meyer chose to motivate his players last season by telling them to take their fury out on the teams OSU faced.
“You’re an angry football team. You’re a hungry football team,” Meyer was heard saying on “ESPN All-Access: Ohio State Training Days” last August.
This season, though, Meyer, will have to go about getting his team focused and motivated differently than he did a year ago. Is the drive for a national championship better inspiration than the rage and “shock the world” mentality the Buckeyes had on way to a 12-0 season in 2012?
2. How much better will Braxton Miller be?
Like the team itself, it will be hard for Miller to be much better than he was in 2012. The then-sophomore quarterback broke OSU’s total yards record for a season and was the Big Ten’s offensive player of the year.
Miller and his coach, however, see plenty of room for improvement. Fundamentals and footwork are the key for the rising junior, Meyer and Miller both have said.
“If he becomes fundamentally the best quarterback in America, I think he will be the best quarterback in America. I think it’ll be comical what he’ll do,” Meyer said. “But he’s not there yet.”
How much closer has Miller gotten to getting there?
3. Who are the leaders?
Meyer called the 2012 senior class one of his favorite groups of players he’s ever coached. Along with being close to Meyer’s heart, they were the most important leaders of the team. Without the leadership of John Simon, Zach Boren and co., OSU wouldn’t have achieved anything close to an undefeated year last season, Meyer said. Who will fill that role this season?
Rising redshirt senior Jordan Hall was a captain in 2012 despite being injured for most of the year, and Meyer has said he’ll be a captain again. Apart from the speedy playmaker, Miller, rising redshirt junior cornerback Bradley Roby and junior linebacker Ryan Shazier are likely candidates for captaincy.
4. Who’s Miller going to get the ball to?
OSU gained 5,085 yards of offense in 2012, and 93 percent of that output is returning. The Buckeyes are only losing 370 yards with the graduation of wide receiver Jake Stoneburner, fullback Boren, punter Ben Buchanan (gained six yards on a fake punt) and the transfer of wide receiver Verlon Reed.
Wide receivers Corey “Philly” Brown and Devin Smith, along with tailback Carlos Hyde, were Miller’s favorite targets in 2012. Will that change in 2013?
Hall, now healthy, is likely to be featured heavily in the upcoming season’s offense. He’s made the move from running back to the “No. 3” hybrid role made famous by former Florida playmaker Percy Harvin.
Meyer brought in a top three recruiting class that featured speedy talent at nearly every skill position. Incoming freshman wide receivers Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, James Clark and Corey Smith, along with running back Ezekiel Elliott, could all see the field come fall. None of those five will be on campus in time for spring ball, though, but come August they could push the upperclassmen.
Is Miller excited for the crop of offensive talent OSU will display this season?
“Heck yeah,” Miller responded when asked about the situation at an OSU men’s basketball game against Northwestern in February.
5. Will OSU make the jump other programs have in year two of a new system?
Meyer is now in his second season at the helm of the OSU football program.
In year two at Florida, Meyer won a national championship. So did Jim Tressel in his second year at OSU, as did Bob Stoops in his second season at Oklahoma.
Are this season’s Buckeyes capable of winning it all in year two of the Meyer System?
We’ll find out in the fall, but if it’s going to happen, we might get glimpses of the possibility starting Tuesday.