- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Leadership is the factor Urban Meyer always points to first with teams that accomplish something special, and it's hard to argue with somebody who already owns two national championship rings.
But that quality is too hard to quantify, so ESPN.com's Michael Rothstein went looking for some numbers that would indicate a team is on the path to a crystal football and found some common threads for the last seven teams to raise one at the end of the season.
Borrowing from his results and applying them to Ohio State, last season's team would have fit pretty neatly into the mold with only one exception. And now heading into a year that won't include a postseason ban, the Buckeyes appear to have all the hallmarks of team that could win it all so we break down each of the characteristics and analyze the likelihood of them becoming a perfect fit for a crown.
Criteria for a champion
Rank 38th or better in rushing offense
Last year: No. 10 in the country at 242.3 yards per game
This year: For all the hype and excitement about what Meyer’s spread offense would do for Ohio State’s typically buttoned-down passing game entering his first season with the program, he quickly offered a reminder that his system is based on a successful rushing attack. With Braxton Miller always a threat to break off a long run and Carlos Hyde returning as his tackle-breaking counterpart, not to mention four seniors on the offensive line, the Buckeyes figure to be even more dangerous on the ground even without involving a deeper stable of tailbacks or speedy freshmen capable of playing the famed H-back position.
Finish 23rd or better in scoring offense
Last year: No. 21 with 37.2 points per game
This year: As powerful as the rushing attack is likely to be, the Buckeyes might really start lighting up the scoreboard if a full year in the system allows the passing game to reach another level. By their own admission, the wide receivers were a bit overwhelmed with their responsibilities at times a year ago, and Miller clearly didn’t always look like he knew where the football needed to go. But Philly Brown and Devin Smith are more polished now on the perimeter, Chris Fields, Evan Spencer and Michael Thomas have added some experience and a talented group of newcomers is on the way for fall camp. Ohio State should only improve its point total this fall.
Rank 15th or better in rushing defense
Last year: No. 14, allowed 116.1 yards per game
This year: Despite looking at times like they were just learning to tackle, the Buckeyes still finished their perfect season as one of the better run-stuffing teams in the nation. And while they have to replace six starters in the front seven, the priority on defense -- being solid against the run first and foremost -- isn’t going to change. With junior linebacker Ryan Shazier around, no tailback is safe. He’s got a rising talent in Joshua Perry and a veteran who appears to have finally flipped the switch in Curtis Grant lining up next to him, which should keep the Buckeyes on track as they break in a young, but talented, defensive line.
Rank 37th or better in passing efficiency
Last year: No. 47 with a rating of 138.9
This year: Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have made it clear, both publicly and privately, that Miller still has work to do before he’s reached his immense potential, and by all accounts the junior has taken that message to heart. Miller took it upon himself to work with quarterback guru George Whitfield during the offseason, and he’s soaked up every bit of wisdom and instruction he can from Herman, who reported for spring practice armed with new drills designed to clean up his pupil’s footwork. Miller appeared much sharper mechanically during spring practice, and it’s safe to assume his passing numbers will be up across the board.
Finish in the top 40 in sacks
Last year: No. 28 with 2.5 sacks per game, 30 total
This year: Occasionally it took dialing up a few more blitzes than Ohio State might normally call, but the combination of pressure packages and defensive end John Simon wound up keeping the program above the cutoff line for championship criteria a year ago. Obviously Simon and the rest of the starting unit must be replaced, but sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington look more than capable of picking up the torch and wreaking havoc in opposing backfields. A healthy Michael Bennett on the inside will provide veteran experience and knowledge, and if the spring is any indication, getting after the passer won’t be an issue for the Buckeyes.
Had at least one player selected in the first round of the draft following the championship year
A pair of underclassmen look to be surefire first-round picks if they wind up declaring for the draft, with Shazier and Bradley Roby both already generating buzz from the experts heading into the season. Roby has already made his intentions to leave after this year clear after his flirtation with the NFL following his redshirt sophomore campaign, and another pile of passes broken up could solidify his stock as a first-rounder. Out of the senior class, Hyde could potentially sneak into the higher rounds of the draft, and the group of four offensive linemen may wind up drawing some attention as well.
Had a player combine for at least 10 rushing or receiving touchdowns
Both Miller and Hyde hit double-figures a year ago, and they’re likely to duplicate that feat again given their respective set of skills. Miller is always a threat with his dynamic speed and elusiveness, and the Buckeyes aren’t afraid to call his number in short-yardage situations either thanks to his proven toughness. Hyde is simply a load in the red zone at 242 pounds, and he was essentially automatic by the goal line last fall.
Did not lose a nonconference game in the regular season
The schedule outside of the Big Ten isn’t going to blow anybody away, though there may well be two games the Buckeyes would be wise not to overlook. California should have Ohio State’s full attention after a closer-than-expected win last season in the Horseshoe, but traveling across the country is a challenge regardless of the opponent. And San Diego State is no slouch coming off a nine-win season that included a victory on the road at Boise State, a notoriously tough venue for visitors.
17hMitch Sherman and Josh Moyer
5dDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman
5dSharon Katz, ESPN Stats & Information
6dMitch Sherman and Dan Murphy