Ohio State kicks off the 2014 campaign with some slight uncertainty; something nobody expected the Buckeyes to have heading into the opening game against Navy. After senior quarterback Braxton Miller re-injured his right shoulder in a non-contact drill, Miller was ruled out for the season, giving way to redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett. The unproven quarterback has no game experience at the college level, but the coaching staff trusts his ability (coupled with some help from the outstanding athletes surrounding Barrett) to get the job done.
Whether that works out or not, we won't find out until Saturday afternoon. Ohio State football is just one day away, one day from the beginning of a new season. Until then, here are five things you should watch for against Navy:
Barrett's time to shine
If you were thinking I was going to lead off with anything other than the quarterback taking the snaps tomorrow, you are mistaken. Though Barrett has been thought of as the starter once Braxton moves on from Ohio State, it wasn't expected to be this early. Now, he'll be baptized by fire in his first start at the collegiate level. The good news is he's got a stable of running backs at his side and some of the more exciting offensive players in the Big Ten at his disposal.
The real key tomorrow as far as Barrett's performance is concerned, is how well he can take care of the ball and make the smart plays. Nobody is asking or expecting him to go out on the field and be Braxton Miller. The coaching staff has mentioned time and time again how they view Barrett as a distributor in this offense. Coach Meyer went as far as to say Barrett was "Kenny Guiton-ish" which around Columbus is awfully high praise. But that's exactly what the team needs right now. Hopefully, fellow new starter Kenny Hill from Texas A&M is a good omen (Hill threw for three touchdowns and over 500 yards) although Ohio State fans will gladly settle for a solid showing and a win.
Defensive line anchoring the D
Ohio State has one of the deepest and most talented defensive lines in the country. Although that line is missing one of its stars in Noah Spence (suspended for the first two games of the season), there's plenty of star power up front with Adolphus Washington, Michael Bennett, and Joey Bosa. Against the triple option, those three -- along with Steve Miller, who is starting in place of Spence -- will determine how well Navy can get their triple option offense in motion.
Since the Buckeyes don't play another team of that ilk, it's always an interesting adjustment to prepare for. Just look at the 2009 game. The Midshipmen were mostly contained but still managed to eat up 186 yards on the ground and make it a tight game in the end. If Bosa, Bennett, Washington, and Miller can disrupt their offense as they please, that makes life a lot easier in all other aspects of the game.
Fresh start for the secondary
After a horrendous final three games against Michigan, Michigan State, and Clemson, Ohio State's secondary was completely exposed. While they hadn't been a typical Buckeye secondary all season long, it didn't get much worse than what fans were treated to in those final three games. Navy might not pass the ball a whole lot, but when they do, they're normally consistent if not efficient, meaning the young Bucks may be tested regardless of how few times the Midshipmen go to the air.
With Gareon Conley and Eli Apple both set to see the field on Saturday opposite Doran Grant at cornerback, and Cam Burrows and Vonn Bell doing the same, there's some slight inexperience in the secondary, but this is a good a test as any because they can ease themselves into playing at a high level without being totally bombarded.
They'll be plenty of young bloods on the field as over a dozen first-time players will at least see playing time. Get familiar with the younger players now, as not only are they the future of Ohio State football, but are going to have an impact on the field right away. Guys like Raekwon McMillan, Curtis Samuel, Johnnie Dixon, and even the new kicker in Sean Nuernberger should see plenty of playing action on Saturday.
The guys mentioned above are just the highlights of the bunch. There are also plenty of players who are starting for the first time against Navy, and their play is just as important as the rest.
H-back and the return game
One position in particular I'll be watching for against Navy will be the Star or "H-back," colloquially over referred to as the so-called Percy Harvin-role. Dontre Wilson will take the majority of the snaps, but this year he's older, stronger, and hopefully wiser. Wilson's explosiveness will play a large role in all of Ohio State's games this year, let alone Navy. Last season, it seemed like Wilson was often a broken tackle away from breaking for a big time run. His speed is certainly fun to watch, and with Braxton Miller on the sideline, perhaps the offense will factor him in even more.
Of course, backing Wilson up is Jalin Marshall. Marshall struggled with injuries his first season on campus, but it appears he's fully grown into his role as a hybrid wide receiver type. Coming into the 2013 recruiting class, Marshall was listed as a dual-threat quarterback. Ultimately though, the staff was able to convince Marshall that his highest ceiling was as a playmaker and pass catcher. Both Wilson and Marshall are going to be all over the field tomorrow afternoon, and expect some potential fireworks from this dynamic duo, including on punt returns and kick returns (where both are slotted to see time).