Let's take a look at Ohio State as it tries to build off an undefeated season and compete for titles now that its postseason ban has expired.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
Coach: Urban Meyer (116-23, 11 seasons; 12-0 at Ohio State)
2012 record: 12-0, Leaders Division champions (ineligible for postseason)
Key losses: DE John Simon, DT Johnathan Hankins, RT Reid Fragel, WR/TE Jake Stoneburner, LB/FB Zach Boren, LB Etienne Sabino, CB Travis Howard
Key returnees: QB Braxton Miller, WR Philly Brown, CB Bradley Roby, SAF Christian Bryant, SAF C.J. Barnett, LT Jack Mewhort, LG Andrew Norwell, C Corey Linsley, RG Marcus Hall, RB Carlos Hyde, LB Ryan Shazier
Newcomer to watch: Meyer was never able to find somebody to play his hybrid H-back position last year, so the Buckeyes simply didn’t use it. Now the program has two options on hand who appear to fit the mold, and freshman speedster Dontre Wilson could make an instant impact in that role thanks to his wheels and elusiveness. Wilson has quickly made a splash during training camp, and he has the ability to be a factor in both the rushing and receiving game.
Biggest games in 2013: The last week of the regular season is always a cut above the rest, and Ohio State’s trip up north to take on rival Michigan on Nov. 30 could have enormous stakes for a team eying a national title this year. A visit to Northwestern on Oct. 5 will also be a test, and home games against Wisconsin (Sept. 28) and Penn State (Oct. 26) will be critical in the divisional race.
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Almost the entire front seven has undergone a face-lift since last season as six starters have moved on from the program, but there isn’t that much concern about the defensive line because sophomore sensations Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington are poised for breakout campaigns.
There is some hand-wringing going on at linebacker, though, and the depth issues that forced Ohio State to move Boren from fullback to lend a hand on defense last season haven’t yet been corrected. Newcomers Trey Johnson and Mike Mitchell may need to develop quickly to fill out the rotation, because otherwise an injury or two to Shazier, middle linebacker Curtis Grant or sophomore Joshua Perry could create significant problems at the second level for coordinator Luke Fickell.
Forecast: While there might be some uncertainty about a younger, more inexperienced defense, there is absolutely nothing but booming confidence on the other side of the ball for the Buckeyes.
Braxton Miller returns for his third season as the starting quarterback, fresh off a fifth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy race and an offseason of improvement as a passer. A deeper stable of rushers joins him in the backfield to add even more versatility to a ground game that was among the nation’s best last year. Carlos Hyde, Rod Smith, Bri’onte Dunn and Warren Ball give Meyer enough talent to tinker with the idea of putting three of them on the field at the same time. Somewhat shorthanded at receiver a year ago, the Buckeyes also have more targets at their disposal in the passing attack and a pair of tight ends who can create major mismatches for opposing defenses. It obviously doesn’t hurt to have four senior starters paving the way up front and offering some protection for Miller.
That personnel, of course, is coached by Meyer, who has a proven track record of success in his second season with a program, boasting a combined record of 34-4 in his three previous Year 2s -- not to mention an undefeated record at Utah and a national title at Florida.
It all adds up to an offense that might be the most explosive Ohio State has ever had, which should allow the rebuilding front seven on defense some time to develop as the program hunts its first crystal football since 2002.