As summer soon will change to fall, so to will the college football offseason turn to Saturdays filled with nonstop, bone crunching action. The Ohio State Buckeyes enter the 2014 regular season in a cautiously optimistic mood. The Big Ten runners-up in 2014, the team owns the nation's longest regular season winning streak at 24 games. However, the team also finds itself unexpectedly without the man who started 22 of those 24 consecutive victories; quarterback Braxton Miller. Miller recently had surgery to repair a torn labrum and will be out for the entire season.
In place of Miller, Ohio State will have to rely on redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett . Fortunately for the Buckeyes, Barrett won't have to shoulder the load himself. Thanks to some tremendous recruiting by Urban Meyer, the Buckeyes have an impressive collection of speed and athleticism at the skill positions this season.
It is no secret that some of the fastest, most talented recruits in the country come from outside the state of Ohio, and Meyer has done a tremendous job grabbing talent from different regions.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Ohio State's backfield were the top-three running backs on the depth chart are from outside of the State of Ohio. Speedy, 5-foot-11 tailback Curtis Samuel is a true freshman from Brooklyn, N.Y. who has garnered much praise from Meyer this offseason.
"He's talented and he will play this year," said Meyer.
The starter in the backfield still figures to be sophomore Ezekiel Elliott (Missouri), who most resembles the running style of former 1,000-yard back Carlos Hyde. Joining the two underclassmen is fifth-year senior Rod Smith (Indiana), a big and bruising runner weighing in at 231 lbs.
Barrett's success at quarterback begins with his ability to turn around and hand the ball to a player that can take pressure off him by helping avoid obvious passing downs. If the Buckeyes can count on four-to-five yards per carry like they did a season ago, Barrett will be able to get comfortable and hit his very capable receivers.
Seniors Devin Smith and Evan Spencer lead a crop of receivers loaded with untapped potential. Redshirt sophomore Michael Thomas talks a big game on Twitter and stars every spring game, but has yet to prove his considerable ability of on the field. Look for he and fellow sophomore Corey Smith to get some more playing time in 2014, presenting a couple of bigger targets for a young quarterback.
The wild card in the offense will be starting H-back Dontre Wilson, who is entering his second season under Meyer's offensive system. Wilson was used sparingly as a freshman because, according to Meyer, he was too one dimensional. He had speed and showed some flashes, but he did not fully understand the blocking schemes and other nuances of being a full-time player. Now with another year in the weight room and in the film room under his belt, Wilson will return kicks and punts, along with providing a potentially deadly weapon lining up all over the field on offense.
Meyer has long been lauded a quarterback whisperer due to his work with college legends like Alex Smith, Tim Tebow, and now Miller. He will not allow Barrett to get lost in trying to do too much by himself. Meyer said in a press conference a week ago that he sees Barrett a "distributor" and as long as he does just that, the Buckeyes could still be playing for a Big Ten crown in November. Ohio State should still be favored in all Big Ten games except its Nov. 8 showdown with Michigan State in East Lansing. Barrett will have some big time game experience under his belt by then. It's up to Meyer and the staff to devise a game plan for success.
The road to the college football playoff is undeniably more difficult without Braxton Miller in the lineup. However, Ohio State's outstanding collection of skill players will allow it to stay in contention as J.T. Barrett learns the ropes. Count out the Buckeyes at your own peril.