There's little doubt that Ohio State fans are disappointed coming off of the 2011 season. For the first time since 1988, where the Buckeyes went 4-6-1, the program suffered a losing season. Ohio State has dominated the Big Ten and arguably, much of the rest of the country too, over the past decade.
For a team like the Buckeyes to face mediocrity after a long stretch of success left a sour taste in the mouth of many. Of course, not all went wrong for Ohio State in 2011. Several players stepped up and proved their worth as the future stars and leaders of the team. One of the recurring themes that newly minted head coach Urban Meyer continues to preach is the necessity of finding athletes that can make game-changing plays. All through out the spring and fall camps, it is the coaching staff's responsibility to find the players that can be called upon to perform at a high level consistently.
Just about every player that takes the field for the Buckeyes has the ability to make plays, otherwise, they wouldn't be on the field at all. But there are always going to be a select few that rise above the "average" athlete and give superior effort every time they step out on to the gridiron. These players rise to the top as the stand bearers of the program and just like any other team, Ohio State has it's fair share of the elite.
These stars usually determine (along with plenty of help from supporting teammates) how much success your team has in a season. Because of this, the playmakers that are looked upon in key situations can often make or break your team's season. So which five Buckeyes can make or break the 2012 season for Ohio State?
5. Ryan Shazier, Outside Linebacker
Ryan Shazier's tale is an interesting one. Recruited as the 8th best linebacker in the country for the class of 2011, Shazier came on campus with many hoping he could become a solid outside linebacker. Shazier started the year off on special teams, but truly surpassed any expectations set by the coaching staff or the fans. Whether it was making bone-crushing tackles on kickoffs or blocking punts, Shazier got his chance to shine when the coaching staff promoted the freshman to starting linebacker.
In his first start, Shazier recorded 15 total tackles against Penn State, leading the team that night. A couple of days after, Shazier was honored with the Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. Shazier would finish out the year and despite suffering a torn MCL, the linebacker from Florida would finish out the year with 56 total tackles and 3 sacks.
In 2012, the hope is that Shazier is prepped to become the next great Buckeye linebacker in a long, historic list. Only a sophomore, Shazier has the capability to surpass many of the aforementioned linebackers, if he can stay healthy (and doesn't shine so bright so fast he has no other recourse but to go pro after his three years).
Barring any type of injury or re-injury (MCL's are no joke), there are plenty of reasons to have faith that Shazier can continue to rise as a dominant force for the Buckeye defense.
4. Corey "Philly" Brown, Wide Receiver
Coach Meyer has but a few select names that can claim the Pivot role in he and Tom Herman's spread-based offense. One of those names is junior Corey "Philly" Brown. Recruited as a 4-star athlete by Ohio State in the class of 2010, even then, "Philly" had started to gather some serious hype on the grounds of his elite level speed and versatile skill set. In high school, Brown played multiple roles for his team, rushing for over 3,000 yards as a running back and gaining over 1,500 yards through the air as a receiver.
Even before the introduction of Meyer as Ohio State's headman, Jim Tressel had fiddled with the notion of using Philly in a Percy Harvin-type role for his offensive strategies. Expectations rose again, after a solid freshman year in which Brown played all 13 games for Ohio State. Brown's efforts gave Terrelle Pryor another reliable set of hands and took some pressure off of the more often targeted DeVier Posey and Dane Sanzenbacher.
Whether or not you blame the offensive schemes, the inexperienced quarterback or having to deal with a nagging injury, Brown left much to be desired at the receiving position in 2011. Finishing the year playing in nine games, Brown managed only 14 receptions for 205 yards and one touchdown.
After spring camp, coach Meyer had said he needed to find more playmakers and that Philly Brown needed to step up his game and keep improving. With an improved quarterback and hopefully a fully healed body, Brown is the leader for the receiving core. There isn't much experience at that position, so it's up to Brown to show what he's got.
3. Jordan Hall, Running Back
Despite the foot injury that has sidelined senior tailback Jordan Hall, there's no reason for him not to be included on this list. It may be that Hall misses the first two games, but that still leaves 10 games on the schedule for the coaching staff to use Hall's ability.
The speedy back from Jeanette, Pennsylvania -- and how will we ever forget the announcers telling us every time Hall and teammate Terrelle Pryor took the field that the two went to the same school -- carried a heavy load for the Buckeyes last season up until Boom Herron returned from his suspension.
When Herron returned, Hall's role was no longer as the starting running back but instead not unlike a spread-type back for better use with Miller's abilities in the shotgun. Hall however still returned kickoffs and punts for the Buckeyes and was able to finish the year with 99 carries and 405 yards, along with two touchdowns.
Hall was also used sparingly in the slot role (something we expect the coaches to take full advantage of this year) as a receiver, where he caught 12 passes for 114 yards and three touchdowns.
Returning as one of the senior leaders, Hall's 2012 campaign could be a great one. Once Hall returns to wellness and is able to prove he can steer clear of the injury bug, there's plenty to be excited about in this coming season. While he's sidelined, Carlos Hyde and Bri'onte Dunn are the most likely candidates to replace him. Their potential ceilings may be just as high as Hall's (or in Dunn's case, potentially higher), but with the type of offense that Ohio State will be running, Hall could prove yet to be the perfect fit.
2. John Simon, Defensive End
The unquestioned leader of not only the defense but the team itself is John Simon. After a monstrous junior season with the Buckeyes, the possibilities for the defensive line as a whole are mind-blowing. Simon himself totaled 53 tackles with 17 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks.
Given the tumult of the past year and a half, you can bet Simon will enter the '12 season with a bit of a chip on his shoulder and should become only the seventh two-time captain in Ohio State history this season. The last to do this was linebacker James Laurinaitis who was captain in 2007 and 2008. Simon was a third-team All-American in 2011 and has already consistently found himself in his new coach's good graces:
"He's revealed himself around here for many years," Meyer said. "This didn't just surface. I'm putting him in a category that, I've only coached one or two like him."
Tebow being one of them.
"I used the term Tebowish," Meyer said. "I've got to be careful not to do that. It should be Simonish. He's a next-level type player: leader, character, toughness, commitment.
"He's elite, elite."
In addition to the relentless work ethic, Simon's physical attributes are off the charts. The coaching staff actually had to hold Simon out of spring training drills and even most of the entire spring game because he was disrupting the offense too frequently.
After starting the past 26 games for the Buckeyes, there are few players you'd rather have lining up on your defense than Simon.
1. Braxton Miller, Quarterback
Just try and find another person as vital to this team's success in 2012. While Meyer and Herman's offense does everything it can to emphasize the individual strengths of each of its components, it still requires a principle cog, which Miller epitomizes in spades.
Looking back on Meyer's previous stints, we see quarterbacks such as Tim Tebow, Alex Smith, and Josh Harris correlating directly to the years in which his offense was at the height of its powers.
Braxton Miller has every bit the potential to be the next in line in that great list of college quarterbacks. There's no doubt in our minds that Miller can be the leader of this offense and as he continues to learn under offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman. After earning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, the potential is high for Miller to expand his knowledge of the game while continuing his growth as a quarterback.
Suffering an ankle injury last year against Nebraska might have caused Buckeye fans some serious anxiety as to whether or not Miller would be able to withstand the punishing blows of the Big Ten's best defenses. After finishing the year healthy, Miller would finish the year having completed 85/157 passes (good for a 54% completion percentage) for 1,159 yards and 13 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions.
While his 4-6 record as a starter may not be much to take to the bank in the area of confidence, its almost a given the season would have been much worse without the quarterback from Huber Heights, Ohio under center. Urban Meyer knows the potential Miller's shown and intends to use his dual-threat capabilities to the fullest. The future of the Ohio State offense is looking bright and much of the praise headed Braxton Miller's way is 100% merited.
Who do you think will make or break the Buckeyes season? Do you think this list is spot on or could it use some rearranging? Let us know in the comments below.