With the conclusion of arguably the most entertaining and best played National Championship game in the BCS era, the teams who came up just short of getting an opportunity to play for the crystal ball turn their attention to next fall.
Among those teams are the Ohio State Buckeyes, who finished ranked 12th in the sport’s final AP poll after starting the year at No. 2.
But for a program and fan base that has championship expectations every single year, 2013 could be seen as a failure.
The Buckeyes reeled off 24 straight victories under coach Urban Meyer, but they were unable to get the job done when it really mattered, losing first to Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship game, and then to Clemson in the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl. Back-to-back losses seemed next to impossible less than two month ago, but it still happened.
So where does OSU go from here?
The loss of four offensive linemen will hurt, in addition to junior linebacker Ryan Shazier and redshirt-junior cornerback Bradley Roby heading to the NFL. The Buckeyes will also lose their top rusher in senior running back Carlos Hyde, and top receiver in senior wide receiver Corey “Philly” Brown.
I know that seems like a lot, but relax, Buckeye Nation — it’s going to be fine.
With the reported decision by junior quarterback and two-time Big Ten player of the year Braxton Miller to return to school, the Buckeyes — and Meyer — are going to get another season of one of the most dynamic players in college football. That alone should put fans at ease, and make them excited for next football season.
Yes, finding four players to fill the void left by the graduated seniors on the offensive line won’t be an easy task, but redshirt-freshman Pat Elflein filled in admirably against Michigan and Michigan State in the absence of redshirt-senior Marcus Hall, earning glowing remarks from redshirt-senior center Corey Linsley. Offensive line coach Ed Warinner is one of the best in the business, and during fall camp spoke of redshirt-freshman Kyle Dodson and sophomore Jacoby Boren like they were on the cusp of being great.
Also, replacing the powerhouse that is Hyde might be hard, but the Buckeyes should be able to do so smoothly. It’s clear that freshman Ezekiel Elliott is the guy Meyer sees as next in line, as he would often replace Hyde when he needed a break this year. With an impending improvement from year one to year two at OSU, a backfield of Elliott and Miller could be pretty special. And that’s not to mention freshman Dontre Wilson, whose speed is something the Buckeyes have been missing.
The Buckeye defense was in no way what fans are used to, particularly against the pass, where it gave up an average 268 yards per game — good for 112th in the country — and got torched by Clemson redshirt-senior quarterback Tajh Boyd and junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins in the Orange Bowl.
But with young players like freshman defensive back Vonn Bell and freshman defensive end Joey Bosa, the Silver Bullets could very well return to form next year. They honestly have nowhere to go but up, and Meyer’s 2014 recruiting class (ranked No. 2 in the nation by rivals.com) features plenty of defensive talent including the country’s top linebacker, Raekwon McMillan.
OSU avoids playing traditional tough matchups in Wisconsin and Nebraska in 2014, and are sure to have revenge in their hearts for another trip to East Lansing, Mich., to take on the Spartans.
It’s often said that high-profile programs like Alabama, Texas and Florida State don’t rebuild, they reload.
And as long as Meyer is at the helm, fear not Buckeye fans — OSU will too.