Urban Meyer had a phenomenal debut season with the Buckeyes, guiding them to a 12-0 mark. But because of NCAA probation, the Buckeyes were ineligible for the postseason. Fret not, Buckeyes fans: This team is loaded, and, in a down Big Ten, another unbeaten regular season is possible.
As was the case in his previous stop at Florida, Meyer took over a team loaded with talent. Three Buckeyes were drafted in April, and, frankly, that should be the low-water mark for a while. Meyer recruits with a vengeance, and there are already a handful of Meyer-recruited sophomores on the roster who bear watching. He has two of the best juniors in the nation in CB Bradley Roby and OLB Ryan Shazier, and a handful of highly draftable seniors, too. The only potential trouble spot looks to be defensive tackle, but there are ample bodies to throw into the breach at the position.
It would be a shocker if Ohio State doesn't win the Leaders Division -- the weaker of the two Big Ten divisions this season -- and only a bit less of a shocker if they don't win the Big Ten title overall. The Buckeyes are in prime position to play in a BCS game; the only real question is whether they will be in the national title game.
Top senior prospects
S C.J. Barnett: Barnett (6-foot-1, 203 pounds) is one of the top safeties in the nation and headed into his third season as a starter. A high school corner, he can play both safety spots and is a big-time hitter. He is adept in run support, and while he can cover a lot of ground, he has struggled at times in coverage. He led the Buckeyes with 75 tackles in 2011 and was fourth with 56 last season, when he added two picks and six pass breakups.
WR Corey "Philly" Brown: Brown (5-11, 187) led the Buckeyes with 60 receptions last fall. He has elite speed (under 4.4 in the 40) but remains a bit raw as a receiver. His blocking improved last season; receivers that can block are a must for Meyer's offensive system. Brown also is an elusive return man and took back two punts for touchdowns last season. If you're wondering about his nickname: Ohio State has two seniors named Corey Brown, with one from Philadelphia and the other from Pittsburgh. The other Corey Brown is nicknamed "Pitt."
SS Christian Bryant: He teams with Barnett to give the Buckeyes the nation's best duo at safety. Bryant (5-10, 192), one of a long line of Buckeyes who played at prep powerhouse Cleveland Glenville, is heading into his third season as a starter. Bryant is a physical presence and made 139 tackles in the past two seasons. He has average ball skills (he has 20 pass breakups in the past two seasons -- but only one pick), but its ability in run support that's his best trait.
OG Marcus Hall: This will be his second season as the starting right guard. Hall (6-6, 315) was a highly touted tackle in high school and played that position early with the Buckeyes, but has proved to be a better fit inside. He has been inconsistent and is a better run blocker than pass protector. He is coming off his best spring practice.
RB Carlos Hyde: Hyde (6-0, 242) is built like a fullback, but he has deceptive speed and can turn the corner; still, he is at his best rampaging between the tackles. He rushed for 970 yards and 16 touchdowns last season despite missing two games with a minor knee injury. He had seven games with at least 17 carries, including four with at least 22, so durability doesn't appear to be an issue. Hyde has proved a good fit for the spread offense and has a chance to become Meyer's first-ever 1,000-yard running back. His receiving ability is a question, though. Hyde is suspended for the first three games of the season for his involvement in a July altercation.
C Corey Linsley: Linsley (6-3, 294) was a backup guard/tackle in his first two seasons before moving to center last season, where he had no problem with the multitude of shotgun snaps necessary in the spread; he earned honorable mention all-conference honors. A foot injury kept him out of spring drills, but he should be fine this fall. He is extremely strong and gets a great push in the running game.
OT Jack Mewhort: Mewhort (6-7, 308) is a rangy guy who will be a two-year starter at left tackle; he started at guard in 2011. Mewhort is a physical guy who plays with a mean streak, and coaches rave about his work ethic. He had a highly publicized arrest for public urination in June 2012, but has put himself back into the good graces of the coaches to such an extent that they named him a team captain.
OG Andrew Norwell: Norwell (6-6, 319) is heading into his second season as a starting guard; he began his Buckeyes career at tackle -- starting five times at left tackle -- before moving to guard six games into the 2011 season. He is especially proficient as a run blocker, and though he has the frame to play right tackle at the next level, he likely will stay at guard. Besides his talent, the free-spirited Norwell also has gained some notice for not cutting his hair since he has been enrolled at Ohio State (since August 2010). Norwell to the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch: "I like it coming down and below the back of the helmet. I think that's a real cool look. It looks like a warrior, like a gladiator or something."
OT Taylor Decker: He is expected to be the one new starter on the offensive line. Decker (6-7, 315), a sophomore who played a bit as a true freshman last season, is surprisingly nimble and has the needed measurables. Will he be physical enough? If not, look for converted defensive end Chase Farris to take over.
ILB Curtis Grant: Grant (6-3, 241), a junior, hasn't come close to living up to the hype that accompanied his signing with the Buckeyes. While he can run and has all the necessary measurables, he has struggled on the field and has lacked consistency; forget game-to-game consistency, he has struggled from play to play. He had a good spring and is expected to start at middle linebacker. Coaches have praised his preparation; now Grant has to make that pay off on the field.
CB Doran Grant: Grant (5-11, 191) has played in all 25 games the past two seasons and is tasked with replacing star CB Travis Howard in the starting lineup. He had a strong spring to nail down the spot. Thing is, he was solid during spring drills in 2012, then struggled last fall. He has good size and speed, but he needs to be more physical and tackle better.
QB Braxton Miller: Miller (6-2, 215), a junior, is heading into this third season as the starter. To virtually no one's surprise, Miller proved a perfect fit for Meyer's version of the spread; he led the Buckeyes with 1,271 rushing yards and scored 13 TDs on the ground. He also threw for 2,039 yards and 15 scores. But he is far from a finished product -- far -- as a passer and that hurts his NFL stock. He needs to get his completion percentage into the 60s (he is at 56.7 for his career), for one. But, again, he is a great fit for the spread and the main reason the Buckeyes have a shot at playing for the national title.
CB Bradley Roby: The junior might be the nation's No. 1 cornerback; at the least, he's in the top three. Roby (5-11, 192), from the Atlanta area, has elite speed and has five picks and 23 pass breakups in two seasons. At times, he becomes too reliant on his speed and takes unnecessary chances, and he hasn't played too much press coverage because of Ohio State's scheme. Still, his elite speed and ball skills are huge selling points. Roby originally committed to Vanderbilt (as a wide receiver) before signing with the Buckeyes.
TE Jeff Heuerman: He saw extensive playing time as a sophomore last season, starting seven times and making eight catches. Heuerman (6-6, 250) is more of a traditional tight end and isn't necessarily a great fit for the spread offense. But he is a good blocker, an excellent athlete (he has a 36.5-inch vertical leap, which is second on the team) and strong (he can bench press 225 pounds 33 times, the most on the team). Like Hyde, he is from Naples, Fla., but went to a different high school.
OLB Joshua Perry: Perry (6-4, 243), who played mostly special teams as a true freshman last season, has prototypical size and is coming off a good spring. Perry is a big-time athlete -- he was one of Ohio's best long jumpers in high school -- who could be a playmaker. Coaches think he will be solid against the run and the pass.
OLB Ryan Shazier: Ironically, Shazier (6-2, 222), a junior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., originally committed to Florida before he reneged after Meyer stepped down as Gators coach. Shazier has excellent speed, a high football IQ and a knack for big plays, and seems a first-round lock when he eventually finishes with the Buckeyes. He had 115 tackles, five sacks, 17 tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and an interception last season. He could stand to add a few pounds, but his playmaking ability erases almost all concerns about his size.
DE Noah Spence: Spence (6-3, 247) was a highly touted recruit in the 2012 class and played well as a true freshman reserve last season. He has a high ceiling as a pass rusher, thanks to his quickness and athleticism, and showed improvement against the run in spring drills.
DE Adolphus Washington: Like Spence, Washington (6-3, 292) was a five-star recruit in the 2012 class, and he, too, played well as a true freshman. Washington has packed on almost 50 pounds since signing with the Buckeyes and is much further along than Spence when it comes to stopping the run. Washington had a great spring and doesn't appear to have lost much quickness despite the weight gain.
Three must-see games of 2013
Sept. 28 vs. Wisconsin: The Buckeyes' Big Ten opener very likely will decide the Leaders Division title. Both teams feature big-time offensive lines, some questions on the defensive line and some stud linebackers. Ohio State has the better quarterback and a vastly better secondary. Roby vs. Badgers receiver Jared Abbrederis will make for entertaining TV.
Oct. 26 vs. Penn State: The Nittany Lions' strong front seven will pose a challenge for the Buckeyes' offensive line. Can Mewhort and his cohorts keep Penn State's linebackers off Miller and Hyde? And Mewhort vs. Penn State defensive end Deion Barnes will be interesting.
Nov. 30 at Michigan: The Buckeyes have owned this rivalry of late, winning eight of the past nine. Some elite offensive linemen will be on display, and the Buckeyes' defensive ends will go against perhaps the best bookend tackles in the nation in Michigan's Taylor Lewan and Michael Schofield. But Ohio State's skill-position players could feast on Michigan's rebuilt defensive back seven.