Ohio State begins a journey they hope ends in Pasadena in January this Saturday, against the Bulls of Buffalo. After a 12-0 inaugural season that not a lot of people saw coming, a lot of people are expecting the Buckeyes to be playing in the Rose Bowl, minimum, if not the BCS National Championship.
To get there, they'll need to dispatch Buffalo on Saturday, and do it in convincing fashion. This is what I'll be looking for to ensure that happens.
It's time for Braxton Miller to become a complete quarterback. Miller is a phenomenal talent, but up until this point he has been a running back playing the quarterback position, for the most part. Oh, he's made some good throws, but he's not the complete QB he needs to be if OSU is to get to--and win--the national championship. He was far too inconsistent with his arm last year, and relied too much on his legs. With all the talk about how he now understands the offense, the reviews coming out of fall camp, and his improved mechanics thanks to working with a QB guru, it's time for Miller to become the next Troy Smith. Is that a fair comparison? Right now, no. But by the end of the year? Quite possibly.
So who are these new kids on the block? Many of you coming to this fine little corner of the Internet may not be schooled in the Dark Arts Of Recruiting, so let me throw some names out for you that you better write down. Or, you know, copy them so you can Google them later, 21st century-like. Dontre Wilson is the name you might have heard the most so far during fall camp, and he will probably see the field the most on Saturday. He's a speed demon from Texas, and is the prime candidate to play the almost mythical hybrid position that made Percy Harvin famous at Florida and as a diva in Minnesota.
And a candidate for an artificial hip in Seattle...but I digress. I might be a teensy bit bitter.
But Wilson isn't the only young speed merchant that Urban Meyer will deploy, though. Ezekiel Elliott is a running back that will be vying for playing time behind Brionte Dunn and Warren Ball, and he looks to be getting some playing time as well. Finally, there's Jalin Marshall, a stud wide receiver that is probably the most overlooked five star recruit in recent memory. He's behind Devin Smith and Philly Brown right now, but it's going to be tough to keep him off the field. On defense, middle linebacker Mike Mitchell is making his presence known early, and if anyone falters Mitchell will step in and take over.
So do you guys recognize anyone on defense? We know that Ryan Shazier is a legitimate All-American candidate, but the other six guys among the front seven are...who, exactly? Well, we're about to find out. The aforementioned Bradley Roby will be out, so the Buckeyes will be fielding a lot of guys you don't know much about. Up front, the defensive ends will be Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence, and the tackle rotation will be lead by Michael Bennett. Write the names Spence and Washington down, because they're going to be the best DE tandem in the Big Ten by the end of the season. Curtis Grant will be the middle linebacker, and the secondary will have youth in Armani Reeves (Soph) and Tyvis Powell (Fr), but a lot of talent, especially when Roby returns. Last year's defense had some critical breakdowns, especially early in the season, but were playing very good football by the Michigan game. I would expect some early season growing pains, but this defense will be fast, aggressive, and fun to watch.
Is special teams going to be terrible again this year? Let's hope not. Every special teams unit last season was a train wreck, in some way shape or form. It got so bad that Meyer personally took over special teams coaching duties during the season...and they actually got worse. Opponents returning punts and kicks for scores, mediocre punting, very few field goal attempts...it was something as Ohio State fans we were unaccustomed to seeing. After a minor signing day kerfuffle that saw a committed punter eventually sign with Florida, Ohio State seems to have found a gem in Australian Cameron Johnston. He'll team with Drew Basil to hopefully return Ohio State's special teams to one of the better units in the country. Although poor special teams play didn't cost the Buckeyes a game last year, if they continue to play with fire, it will cost them.
Hey, do you like the new uniform tweaks? We've shown you some sneak peeks at Ohio State's uniform tweaks for 2013, but I'll have to see them in full uniform before I pass judgement. The pants stripe looks pretty mundane, but I'll be honest, I'm not a fan of tweaking what I consider the best uniform look in college football. I liked the gray stripes from 2005 as opposed to what they have now, but they aren't bad. The only thing that really bugs me is when Nike rolls out the Pro Combat uniforms, which they've worn the last three or four years. I haven't been a fan of any of those uniforms, simply because they messed with the helmet. Watching the helmet fill up with Buckeye leaves has enamored me since I was a kid, and I still think they're the coolest helmet in football when it's filled with Buckeye stickers. What we've seen so far isn't a big deal, aesthetically, but for the love of all that is right and holy, don't mess with the helmets his year.
So what happens if Ohio State loses? I'm going to burn my couch, that's what's going to happen. And I imagine many of you will, too. But my couch is too big to get through my front door (seriously, my wife has great taste in furniture, but it was a pain in the ASS to get in the house) so I'll have to burn it in place. Which means my house goes up in flames, including all my worldly possessions. And I really like the couch, too. Very comfortable, looks great in the living room. But UP IN FLAMES IT WILL GO.
Is that irrational? Maybe, but it's Ohio State football, yo. It's time to put all rational thought aside for the next four months.
Oh, and Ohio State isn't going to lose.