Ohio State Buckeyes: Michael Thomas



COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer is always trying to find new ways to motivate his players.

Last spring, he had a banner put up in the Ohio State field house reading “The Chase …” in reference to the Buckeyes’ championship pursuits. Meyer said he thought about changing the display for the 2014 offseason. In the end, though, he stuck with the same one.

“We didn’t accomplish it,” Meyer told ESPN.com. “We chased it but didn’t catch it. So the chase is still on.”

Ohio State, of course, nearly made it to its desired finish line. After going 12-0 for the second straight season under Meyer, the Buckeyes just needed to beat Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game to clinch a date with Florida State for the BCS national title. Instead, they fell 34-24 to the Spartans and closed the year on a two-game losing streak with a 40-35 setback against Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer says Ohio State is still trying to finish "The Chase."
So the chase continues, albeit with a much different-looking team in the 2014 starting gate. Gone is four-fifths of the offensive line that formed the backbone of the Big Ten’s top-scoring offense the past two seasons. Also gone are reigning Big Ten running back of the year Carlos Hyde and top receiver Corey “Philly” Brown, as well as the two biggest stars on defense -- linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby -- who opted to enter the NFL draft.

Experience is lacking in many key areas, but Meyer is ready to let some talented youngsters loose, including true freshmen. In retrospect, he wishes he had done so last year, when defensive end Joey Bosa and receiver Dontre Wilson were the only first-year players to make a big impact until safety Vonn Bell started in the Orange Bowl.

“We redshirted too many last year, and that was our fault,” he said. “There was a misunderstanding, and we just didn’t do a good job, especially on defense. When they show up on campus, we need to get them ready to play.”

This spring, early enrollees Raekwon McMillan (linebacker), Curtis Samuel (tailback) and Johnnie Dixon (receiver) were all heavily involved and have secured roles in the fall. Redshirt freshman are also at or near the top of the depth chart at strongside linebacker (Darron Lee and Chris Worley) and cornerback (Gareon Conley and Eli Apple), while true sophomores like safety Cam Burrows and tailback Ezekiel Elliott could force their way into the starting lineup.

“When you talk about inexperience, that’s a good thing right now,” said Chris Ash, who was hired from Arkansas as co-defensive coordinator to help fix Ohio State’s pass defense. “There aren’t a lot of habits that we have to change to fit what we’re trying to do. We don’t have older guys that are comfortable with where they’re at in their careers.”

An already young offense became even greener this spring because of injuries to three senior leaders: tight end Jeff Heuerman, receiver Evan Spencer and quarterback Braxton Miller. The Buckeyes will no doubt look a lot different when Miller returns from shoulder surgery. During the 15 spring practices, the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year often stood behind the offense and wore a camera on his head so coaches could go over what he was seeing on the field.

“We're exhausting every avenue and even inventing different avenues to make sure he's engaged and getting mental reps,” offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. “We're doing the best we can with a bad situation. He has embraced it and is working his tail off, making sure he’s getting the most out of it.”

Herman says the Buckeyes should be more explosive on the perimeter this season, with guys like Wilson, Dixon, junior college transfer Corey Smith, sophomore Michael Thomas and freshman Jalin Marshall at receiver and a stable of athletic tailbacks. The safeties are longer and quicker than they have been in the past, and the defensive line -- which could be one of the nation’s best -- will have four starters who all used to be defensive ends.

The objective is clear: more speed. To that end, Meyer has hammered a new mantra in the players' heads: “4 to 6, A to B.” That means play hard for four to six seconds and get from point A to point B as quickly as possible. It's hard to interview an Ohio State player these days without hearing the phrase.

“That’s all he’s been preaching this spring.” defensive tackle Adolphus Washington said. “He said he’s not really worried about technique and all that stuff. It’s just about playing hard, because if you play hard, effort makes up for mistakes.”

Washington said the defense was greatly simplified this spring, with only about four or five different calls to learn. Aggressiveness trumped scheme.

“The culture of Ohio State is to go hard, not trick you,” Meyer said. “I just felt like there was too much stuff last year, instead of just going hard.”

By moving faster and playing harder, the Buckeyes hope to overcome their youth and track down what they've been hunting. They have been tantalizingly close.

“We’re still on a chase,” Washington said. “We’ve just got to finish it.”
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Almost as soon as it arrived, spring camp at Ohio State wrapped up. Time isn't likely to fly by quite as quickly in the offseason with the summer months sure to drag by until the 2014 campaign finally opens in August. The Buckeyes have plenty of work to do to get ready for their debut against Navy on Aug. 30, and to help pass the time, we're looking at some of the most pressing positional questions they'll have to answer to make another run at a championship.

Who will be catching the passes this fall?

There is no shortage of speed on the perimeter. After emphasizing the addition of skill players on the recruiting trail over the last couple years to boost the passing attack, Urban Meyer appears to have enough depth to work with as well heading into his third season with the program.

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsDevin Smith looks poised to build on a junior season in which he had 44 receptions, including eight for touchdowns.
But how exactly the Ohio State coach will tap into that athleticism and who he'll be trotting out in the starting lineup remains a bit of a mystery even after spring practice, and not even his top returning wideout was assured of a first-team job when camp closed.

Devin Smith will almost certainly wind up leading the way for the Buckeyes as they again try to balance their potent rushing game with more production through the air, and the senior is poised for both a heavier workload and more diverse responsibilities as the coaching staff moved him around to different positions throughout March and April. He is a proven commodity as a deep threat and has become a regular in the end zone, but Ohio State is still trying to tap into his potential and develop him into a more consistent, complete receiver. Getting involved in the short to intermediate passing game is a logical next step for Smith, and shifting him around the formation seems to be the start of that process in preparing him to make a big impact in the fall.

Smith figures to be joined by Dontre Wilson in the starting rotation after yet another head-turning set of workouts, and the sophomore's move to the wide receivers' meeting room on a full-time basis should allow him to get a better grasp on the playbook than he had a year ago when he was largely surviving solely on his natural ability. Wilson still will be involved at times as a rushing threat in the hybrid role made famous by Percy Harvin at Florida, but he's shaping up to be a matchup nightmare in the slot for opposing defenses -- a threat to take screens the distance with his track-star speed or burn linebackers tasked with covering him deep down the field.

So while Meyer didn't name any official starters, those two players are locks to be significant contributors, leaving competition between a handful of candidates to grab a third spot. The Buckeyes have a traditional, physical target in Michael Thomas coming off another big spring, an unselfish, experienced veteran in Evan Spencer who is a willing blocker on the perimeter, and there are also speedy options such as Johnnie Dixon or Corey Smith who could help stretch the field.

Ohio State didn't need to make a decision about any of them during the spring and it didn't rush into one, leaving the competition open for the offseason conditioning program and training camp. Meyer might have a better idea of his pecking order than he lets on and appears to have two clear-cut building blocks to work with as the passing game undergoes its renovation, but it looks as if the project is going to spill into the fall.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer seemed to be guarding a secret, and it couldn’t be deciphered by reading between the lines.

The Ohio State coach joked about being a little bored by his spring game, expressed some frustration about the lack of offensive execution and stressed that there was plenty of work to do at a few key positions heading into the offseason.

But the truth about how good his third team at Ohio State might be was tucked away on the sidelines, leaving little to truly evaluate between them as the Gray beat the Scarlet 17-7 on Saturday at the Horseshoe. And based on the number of players he held out of the spring-closing scrimmage, it might be a safe bet that Meyer is actually feeling pretty good about what he has returning in the fall.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe spring game didn't say much about Urban Meyer's Buckeyes. And he seems fine with that.
“There were guys out there who will either never play or they’re not ready to play now,” Meyer said. “Like, [Ohio State sports information director] Jerry [Emig] hands me stats, I’m not sure what to do with these. I don’t care.

“... We all know what we saw out there. It’s not the Ohio State Buckeyes.”

Exhibition games rarely provide much of a reliable gauge for how good a team might truly be, and in the case of the Buckeyes, that might have been by design.

Braxton Miller was already on the shelf as he finishes up his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. Having the two-time defending Big Ten player of the year and a three-year starter at quarterback out of the equation obviously changes the complexion of the Ohio State offense. Cardale Jones was productive enough throughout camp to win the backup job, but his 14-of-31 passing performance Saturday was yet another reminder of the importance of having a healthy Miller to lead the attack.

Meyer indicated there was some uncertainty about his receiving corps after the spring game, but he had enough faith in Devin Smith and Dontre Wilson that he didn’t feel the need to press either of them into action over the weekend -- aside from a cameo appearance by the latter in a race against students at halftime.

And after watching what could be one of the most talented defensive lines in the country terrorize a rebuilding offensive line throughout camp over the last month, Meyer certainly didn’t need to see any more from Noah Spence, Joey Bosa, Michael Bennett or Adolphus Washington to boost his confidence heading into the summer, adding to the list of starters who effectively were allowed to take the day off.

Cornerback Doran Grant was largely an observer as well, though he did make an appearance to win the halftime derby and became the “fastest student” on campus. Projected first-team guard Pat Elflein was a scratch, and presumptive starting running back Ezekiel Elliott only touched the football three times. Tight end Jeff Heuerman was on crutches after foot surgery, but he’ll be back in time for the conditioning program next month.

So while the game itself left little worth remembering aside from what appeared to be marked improvement and depth in the secondary and another handful of mesmerizing catches from Michael Thomas, there were actually clues littered around Ohio Stadium that Meyer is poised to unleash his most talented team since taking over the program in 2012 and rattling off 24 consecutive wins.

The trick was knowing where to look.

“[The spring game] was a chance to see some young guys [who] really haven’t played, and to be quite honest, I’m not sure how much they will play,” Meyer said. “This is a chance for a lot of guys in our program who work very hard, and to be able to get some guys play or catch a pass in Ohio Stadium or whatever, in the big picture it’s the right thing to do.

“It’s a great thrill for a lot of people.”

The real thrills, of course, don’t come for a few months. And based on the amount of players who didn’t get to actually step between the lines on Saturday, Meyer might not-so-secretly have plenty to be excited about by fall.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The entire roster wasn't on display, leaving some uncertainty about what Ohio State will look like at full strength. But heading into the offseason, there were still some lessons to be learned by the Gray's 17-7 victory over the Scarlet on Saturday at Ohio Stadium.

The secondary has improved

  • The offense was short-handed, starting with the absence of a certain two-time defending Big Ten Player of the Year at quarterback and including short or nonexistent workloads for key receivers. But the defensive backs showed the kind of improvement Urban Meyer demanded since last season's unit finished No. 110 in the country against the pass. In holding Cardale Jones to a 14-for-31 performance through the air without a touchdown, even with top returning cornerback Doran Grant on the sideline, the Buckeyes' defensive backs will head into the summer feeling good about their progress. Armani Reeves and Gareon Conley are both solid options at cornerback, with the former making a statement early in the game with a nice breakup on a deep ball down the sideline. And once Grant and injured safety Vonn Bell are back in the mix to play Ohio State's more aggressive man coverage this fall, the statistics should look drastically better.
Braxton Miller is still the key
[+] EnlargeCardale Jones
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteCardale Jones is likely to enter the fall as the backup quarterback for Ohio State.

  • Jones made progress in several areas throughout the spring, and he's earned the right to head into training camp as the second-string quarterback. But Miller remains the most critical component in Ohio State's spread attack, and his absence was a major factor in what was largely a disappointing afternoon for the offense. Miller will be back from his shoulder surgery shortly and is cleared to resume throwing and working out in time for the offseason conditioning program. It is still obvious that the Buckeyes need him on the field if they're going to make a run at a championship this fall. He'll also need some better work from the offensive line than what the Buckeyes put on display in the exhibition, though not having guard Pat Elflein in pads and limiting tackle Taylor Decker's role didn't do the unit any favors Saturday.
Michael Thomas is still a spring star

  • By now it should come as no surprise, but redshirt sophomore Michael Thomas again led the Buckeyes in receptions in the spring game, turned heads with some eye-popping grabs and looked like a future star on the perimeter. That's a familiar story with Thomas, who has dominated the spotlight during spring camp three years running and capped off the latest one with six catches for 64 yards, including a diving reception for a first down and a one-handed snag along the sideline that highlighted his athleticism and ability to haul in even balls thrown off target. The Buckeyes haven't settled on a true pecking order at receiver yet, though Dontre Wilson and Devin Smith are sure bets to take two top spots. One more time, it appears Ohio State should make room for Thomas in the rotation leaving spring, but obviously he'll need to follow it up with more standout work when practice begins again this summer.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The spring season's star was back on a familiar stage, again stealing the show.

A few thousand fans crowded into Ohio State’s indoor practice facility on Saturday, and, as he’s done three camps running, Michael Thomas gave them all something to remember and rave about.

The redshirt sophomore stuck out one hand in the corner of the end zone, plucked a pass out of the air as if the football and his glove were made of velcro and started a team-wide celebration with yet another entry on his spring highlight reel.

[+] EnlargeMichael Thomas
AP Photo/Al BehrmanMichael Thomas is doing his spring thing again. He made a memorable catch during a scrimmage on Saturday.
For now, Thomas has almost nothing of note on his résumé after the month of April in his career with the Buckeyes, failing twice in a row to build on head-turning workouts and jaw-dropping glimpses of his athleticism at wide receiver. But in the midst of a third productive camp and coming off a surprising redshirt season, though, Thomas might finally be ready to carry over some of his springtime success into the fall.

“I just took last season like a developmental year,” Thomas said. “That motivates me more, motivates me every day.

“We’ve been waiting for spring to come around since we knew we were probably going to redshirt. Now it’s here and we’re going hard and competing every day.”

Thomas has had a knack for winning those battles in the spring, and it has only made his lack of production when it really counts all the more puzzling.

As an early enrollee in 2012, Thomas dominated the spring game with a team-high 12 catches, a number that was even more notable with the Buckeyes coming off a season in which no player made more than 14 receptions.

Last spring, Thomas seemed to always have the edge on the practice field during open workouts, using his 6-foot-3, 203-pound frame to overpower defensive backs on intermediate routes or flashing his speed and ball skills to make plays deep down the field.

But his first season in 2012 ended with just three receptions. Last fall, a disappointing training camp in August prompted the coaching staff to bench him for the opener, a decision that ultimately sent him down the path to a season on the sideline.

“He didn’t have a great fall camp,” wide receivers coach Zach Smith said. “So, I didn’t play him in the first game, mainly because I wanted him to realize that we’re not going to go a whole season with him preparing the way he prepared, performing the way he performed in practice. That’s just not what we expect here. After that game, kept going, he kept growing, but we didn’t want to waste a year on Mike just to catch 12 balls or 15.

“We weren’t going to put him in the game unless we had to, so we saved a year, but he got a year of experience preparing to play.”

That extra year might come in handy down the road for the Buckeyes when or if Thomas does end up tapping into his outsized potential, and he certainly had plenty of chances to build himself into a dangerous target while working against future NFL cornerback Bradley Roby on the practice field last season.

Ohio State has been able to put up prolific, historic offensive statistics in the past two seasons while leaning heavily on its rushing attack and not getting quite as much balance from the passing game as the coaching staff would like, an issue Urban Meyer has made well known he’d like to fix heading into his third season with the program. A lack of depth at receiver isn’t solely to blame for that, much like a rough training camp that produced a redshirt for Thomas wasn’t the only factor that limited some of the options and production on the perimeter.

But Thomas has the ability to help solve both problems at the same time. He’ll just have to move his next encore performance up to the fall.

“I just had to reach out a little bit, extra effort, one-handed catch, it hit my glove and stuck to it,” Thomas said after adding another spring touchdown catch to his collection. “There are still a lot of things I have to work on, but we’re getting better every day.”

Small crowds have had a chance to see that improvement in the spring. But the Buckeyes are still waiting to see him show it off to a packed stadium when it truly matters.
Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the new Big Ten East this spring.

Indiana

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: TBA

What to watch
  • Getting defensive: The Hoosiers have had no trouble scoring since Kevin Wilson took over the program, but opponents have made it look even easier. New defensive coordinator Brian Knorr might have his hands full turning around the Big Ten’s worst unit, but Indiana could be dangerous if he can.
  • Quarterback derby: The offense operated just fine with Tre Roberson and Nate Sudfeld taking turns leading the attack, so Wilson might not even need to settle on just one quarterback. Typically it does help to have a pecking order behind center, though, and the Hoosiers will be watching these guys closely to see if one can gain some separation.
  • Next in line: There is a ready-made candidate to take over as the team’s most productive receiver, but Shane Wynn is going to need some help. For all his speed and elusiveness, Wynn is still undersized and doesn’t fit the mold of a traditional receiver, which will make it necessary for somebody like Nick Stoner to step up to help replace Cody Latimer.
Maryland

Spring start: March 1

Spring game: April 11

What to watch
  • Get healthy: The Terrapins have one of the most talented groups of wide receivers in the country when they’re completely healthy, but that was an issue last season with both Stefon Diggs and Deon Long suffering broken legs -- just for starters. Neither of those game-breakers is expected to be on the field this spring, but their respective rehabs are critical moving forward.
  • Give and take: An emphasis on protecting the football on offense and creating more turnovers defensively is nothing new in spring practice, but Randy Edsall might just double down on that message this year. The Terrapins finished last in the ACC in turnover margin last season and were ranked No. 102 in the nation with seven more giveaways than takeaways, which isn’t a recipe for success in any league.
  • Coaching chemistry: The deck wasn’t completely reshuffled, but the Terrapins will have three new assistants in charge and could use a seamless transition as they prepare to move to a new league. Keenan McCardell (wide receivers), Chad Wilt (defensive line) and Greg Studrawa (offensive line) will help deliver Edsall’s message moving forward, and it’s as crucial for a coaching staff to jell and find common ground as it is for players on the field.
Michigan

Spring start: Feb. 25

Spring game: April 5

What to watch
  • Go pro: If it was the coordinator keeping Brady Hoke from putting the offense he wanted on the field, that won’t be an issue anymore with Al Borges out of the picture. Snapping up Doug Nussmeier from Alabama should put the Wolverines on the path for a more traditional pro-style attack, and establishing that playbook starts on the practice field in spring.
  • Quarterback quandary: The competition to lead the new-look offense is open between Devin Gardner and Shane Morris, and how that battle shakes out will obviously have a lasting impact and shape the season for the Wolverines. Gardner has the edge in experience and turned in a gritty, wildly productive outing against Ohio State while injured to end the season, but he certainly has lacked consistency. Morris filled in during the postseason with mixed results, but one of those guys will need to emerge.
  • On the line: The Wolverines were in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in sacks, and only Purdue was worse in the league at protecting the quarterback. Both sides of the line have plenty of room to develop, and those daily battles against each other this spring will need to sharpen both the pass-rushers and the blockers if Michigan is going to be able to win games up front.
Michigan State

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 26

What to watch
  • Something cooking: The finishing flourish in the Big Ten title game and the Rose Bowl showed how far Connor Cook had come from the start of the season to the end, but there’s still more room to grow. His numbers are slightly skewed thanks to the way Michigan State handled the job early in the season, but overall he averaged fewer than 200 yards per game passing. With such a great defense, that was enough -- but boosting that total would be better for the Spartans.
  • Reload defensively: The seemingly impenetrable defense might have been more than sum of its parts, but the individual pieces Michigan State had on hand weren’t too shabby, either. With Darqueze Dennard, Max Bullough and Denicos Allen all gone, the Spartans will need to identify some replacements for the stars of that elite unit from a year ago.
  • Plug some holes: Both starting offensive guards have to be replaced, and given the perhaps overlooked significance of the work the line did for the Spartans last season, that shouldn’t be dismissed as a meaningful item on the checklist. Cook has to be protected in the pocket, for starters, but with the way the Spartans traditionally pound the football on the ground, they’ll need some road-pavers to step up during spring practice to keep the offense on the upswing.
Ohio State

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch
  • Backs to the wall: There weren’t many deficiencies to be found on a team that again went through the regular season unbeaten, but Ohio State’s glaring weakness caught up with it late in the year. The Buckeyes looked helpless at times against the pass, and new co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Chris Ash was brought in to make sure that unit is dramatically improved.
  • Hold the line: The Buckeyes held on to Braxton Miller for another year, but they lost four seniors who had protected the quarterback for the past couple of seasons. That might be a worthwhile trade, but finding replacements up front will be imperative for a team that has leaned heavily on that veteran presence in the trenches since Urban Meyer took over the program. Taylor Decker is the lone holdover in the starting lineup, and he’ll need to assert himself as the leader of the unit.
  • Air it out: Miller had some shaky performances throwing the ball down the stretch, but taking the passing game to a higher level is not solely his responsibility. The Buckeyes also need improved play and more reliable options at wide receiver, and they’ve recruited to address that issue over the past couple of years. Michael Thomas, who redshirted during his second year on campus, might be leading the charge for a new batch of playmakers on the perimeter.
Penn State

Spring start: March 17

Spring game: April 12

What to watch
  • Starting fresh: There are new playbooks to learn again for the Nittany Lions, and spring practice will be the first chance for James Franklin to start shaping his team in his image. That process doesn’t just include memorizing schemes and assignments for the players, since every coach has a different way of structuring practices and meetings. The sooner the Nittany Lions adjust the better off they’ll be in the fall.
  • Next step: As debut seasons go, it’s hard to find much fault in the work Christian Hackenberg did after being tossed into the fire as a true freshman. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns, completing 59 percent and setting the bar pretty high for himself down the road. As part of his encore, Franklin would probably like to see the young quarterback cut down on his 10 interceptions as a sophomore.
  • Tighten up the defense: There were pass defenses with more holes than Penn State’s a year ago, but that will be little consolation for a program that has traditionally been so stout on that side of the ball. Adrian Amos and Jordan Lucas can get the job done at cornerback, but the Nittany Lions need to get stronger at safety -- and also need to fill notable spots in front of them with linebacker Glenn Carson and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones now gone.
Rutgers

Spring start: March 25

Spring game: April 26

What to watch
  • Toughen up: The Scarlet Knights have seen hard-hitting competition and proven they aren’t afraid of a challenge, but the Big East and American conferences don’t provide nearly the weekly physical test that playing in the Big Ten does. There’s no reason to think Kyle Flood won’t have his team ready for the transition and a new league, but developing both strong bodies and minds starts in spring practice.
  • Settle on a quarterback: There’s a veteran signal-caller on hand with 28 career starts to his credit, but Flood made it no secret as far back as January that he would hold an open competition during camp to lead the offense. Gary Nova has the edge in experience, but he also has more interceptions in his career than games started. That could open the door for one of three younger guys to step in, though Mike Bimonte, Blake Rankin and Chris Laviano have combined to take a grand total of zero snaps.
  • Star turn: There’s nothing wrong with spreading the wealth, and the Scarlet Knights certainly did that in the passing game last season. Having five targets with at least 28 receptions can keep a defense off-balance, which is a good thing. But ending the season with none of those guys topping 573 yards might not be quite as encouraging, and establishing a consistent, go-to, big-play threat in the spring could prove useful for a team that finished No. 62 in the nation in passing yardage.

Ohio State spring predictions: No. 5

February, 24, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Preparations to end a two-game losing streak have already started for Ohio State, but the chance to make them with the pads on again after a two-month wait isn't over yet.

There's still more than a week left on that wait to hit the practice field again, and given the disappointing end to the 2013 season and the rigorous offseason conditioning program the Buckeyes have been going through, that time surely can't fly by quickly enough for them. We've already looked at players facing critical springs and key positional battles, and to count down these final few days before camp opens, now we'll make a handful of predictions for what should go down in March and April as Ohio State reloads for another run at a title in the fall.

[+] EnlargeMichael Thomas
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCan Buckeyes wideout Michael Thomas have a breakout season in 2014?
No. 5: Michael Thomas has another big camp.

His springs have been almost unforgettable.

After a horrendous season for Ohio State's receivers in 2011 with no player recording more than 14 catches, Thomas burst on the scene and provided instant optimism for the future of the spread offense with 12 receptions in one memorable outing in the spring game before his freshman season. He followed that up with another prolific set of workouts a year ago, dominating individual drills, making difficult catches look routine and displaying some jaw-dropping athleticism on the perimeter.

His falls have provided almost nothing worth remembering at all.

There were only 3 receptions during that debut season in 2012. Last season, Thomas didn't even see the field and wound up taking a redshirt, though he actually did step on the turf during the brawl at Michigan for his only action of what at this time a year ago seemed likely to be a big sophomore campaign.

Now Thomas appears like he's already at a critical crossroads in his career with the Buckeyes, and both he and the coaching staff could use another head-turning spring from the talented wideout -- provided, of course, that the third time actually is charmed and becomes a springboard into the season.

Ohio State is losing leading receiver Philly Brown and another veteran in Chris Fields, leaving playing time available on the perimeter for an offense that will emphasize the passing game during camp in an effort to find more balance with the play calling. Thomas has a strong relationship with quarterback Braxton Miller, he has all the tools to be an effective weapon and by now there should be no uncertainty at all with the playbook after two seasons in the program. Last spring, Thomas overpowered defensive backs when challenged physically, he made acrobatic catches on deep throws and with his 6-foot-3, 202-pound frame, he presents an inviting target for intermediate routes to help move the chains.

More of the same should be expected leading into April and another exhibition opportunity to show his stuff. The next step will be finally building off it in August.

Players to watch in spring: No. 4

February, 11, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The offseason conditioning program is in full swing. Signing day has come and gone. Blink and spring practice will already be here.

Ohio State is less than a month away from getting back on the field and starting preparations for the 2014 season, and those days probably can't go by fast enough for a program coming off consecutive losses after a 24-game winning streak. To help pass the time, we're counting down the top five players who are facing critical springs, either because it's a turning point in their careers or the Buckeyes are counting heavily on them to fill vacant jobs as they try to get back in contention for a national title again in the fall. The journey continues today on the offensive perimeter.

[+] EnlargeMichael Thomas
AP Photo/Al BehrmanMichael Thomas has been a standout in the last two spring practices. It could be his time to shine in the fall in 2014 after redshirting last season.
No. 4: Michael Thomas, wide receiver

  • By the numbers: After surprisingly taking a redshirt during his second season on campus, the sophomore from Los Angeles still has only three catches and 22 yards to show for his career.
  • What’s at stake: With three years of eligibility remaining, there certainly would seem to be plenty of time left for Thomas to make an impact -- but the clock is actually ticking rather loudly already. The Buckeyes have stockpiled playmakers at wide receiver on the recruiting trail over the last couple years and will continue to do so as long as Urban Meyer is leading the program, and the competition for snaps is only going to get more heated moving forward. On top of that, there might be no better opportunity to move into the lineup than now with Philly Brown and Chris Fields both out of the picture. Brown, in particular, piled up catches and was as consistent a producer as the Buckeyes have had at the position in the spread offense, and filling that void will be at the top of the priority list in the spring. That’s been the time of year when Thomas has shined, showing off his ability to make difficult catches, regularly winning individual matchups with defensive backs and flashing his impressive athleticism. That hasn’t yet translated to the fall, and the Buckeyes would certainly benefit if it did after his third go-around.
  • Best-case scenario: Thomas can’t simply be plugged into the role Brown played in the last couple years because his strength and size at 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds doesn’t really lend itself to jet sweeps and bubble screens. But the Buckeyes could use a reliable target in the intermediate passing game, a physical presence that can run routes over the middle of the field or create separation from defenders on third downs to help move the chains. Ohio State has no shortage of speedy options who can handle the rushing attempts from the perimeter or catch short passes near the line of scrimmage, but having a more natural, traditional wideout in the rotation could expand the arsenal and perhaps provide more balance to an offense that has skewed heavily toward the running game in the last two seasons.

OSU offseason to-do list: Offense

January, 8, 2014
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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Another 12-win season is in the books, though the second one under Urban Meyer did come with a pair of losses at the end that took a bit of the shine off the record for Ohio State. As the Buckeyes turn the page to Year 3 under Meyer, they'll certainly be looking to top that victory total, clinch a spot in the first edition of the playoffs and again compete for a national title. To do so, all three phases will have issues to address, and today the checklist starts on offense.

Improve the passing attack: The spotlight always shines on the quarterback first, and Braxton Miller undoubtedly still has room to grow as a passer. But getting the spread offense to take flight will take more than improved accuracy, better decisions and a tighter grasp on the playbook from Miller. With Philly Brown moving on after a productive career, Ohio State will have to start by replacing him as the leading receiver, a job that should fall to Devin Smith if he can find more consistency on the perimeter. The Buckeyes, though, had fewer candidates to make a play in the passing game than originally thought last season, and Smith and tight end Jeff Heuerman are going to need a group of talented youngsters to lend a hand next fall -- perhaps starting with Michael Thomas as he comes off a redshirt season as a sophomore.

[+] EnlargeDecker
Jamie Sabau/Getty ImagesTaylor Decker will be the only returning starter on the Ohio State offensive line, but a couple replacements are already identified.
Rebuild the line: The day was always coming, but now the reality of replacing four senior starters on the offensive line must sink in for Ohio State. Meyer and position coach Ed Warinner have something of a head start, given Taylor Decker's successful transition into the starting lineup last season, and Pat Elflein's strong work when pressed into duty against Michigan and Michigan State at the end of the year will provide another level of comfort in the rebuilding process. The coaching staff has a lot of faith in Jacoby Boren to fill the void at center, which gets the Buckeyes over the halfway mark, but it will need to identify another tackle and guard during spring practice to complete the unit, begin building chemistry and prepare to meet the high standards of the 2013 group.

Replace Carlos Hyde: The heavy workload might have made it seem like the stable was relatively empty behind Carlos Hyde, but among the offseason to-do items, replacing the stellar senior running back might be one of the easier tasks for the Buckeyes. The hard part might be sorting through the options and figuring out how to distribute the workload a season after Hyde carried the football 127 times more than any other tailback -- a margin that would have been even wider if not for his three-game suspension to begin the season. Dontre Wilson is certain to get more touches, but the starting job seems likely to belong to somebody else, as the rising sophomore figures to stay in a hybrid role. Ezekiel Elliott showed flashes of his ability off the bench and could be in line for the top job, though perhaps Rod Smith could finally break through or maybe Bri'onte Dunn will come off a redshirt season as a sophomore with something to prove. Either way, the Buckeyes have options in the backfield.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Both head coaches met with the media on Thursday morning in the final press conferences before Friday's Discover Orange Bowl. Here are some highlights from the session with Ohio State's Urban Meyer:

• Safety Christian Bryant's request for a medical redshirt and an extra year of eligibility has been denied by the NCAA. The senior broke his ankle late in the win over Wisconsin in September. NCAA rules state that a player can compete in no more than 30 percent of a team's games -- bowl games not included -- to be eligible for a medical redshirt. Bryant's injury occurred in Ohio State's fifth game. Meyer said there may be room to appeal the ruling but added "appeals haven’t been real good to the Buckeyes here lately." Ohio State just lost an appeal to the Big Ten over Noah Spence's three-game suspension.

• Speaking of Spence, sophomore Jamal Marcus is poised to take Spence's defensive end spot in Friday's game. Meyer said Marcus has practiced well this week, and the coach is expecting big things out of a guy who played sparingly in the regular season.

"Jamal Marcus is going to be a disruptive guy," Meyer said. "He's one of the more talented guys on our team. I'm anxious to watch him play. We had a staff meeting this morning at 7 a.m. and [defensive line coach] Mike Vrabel made that comment to me. He's a quick-twitch guy. This is his kind of game."

• Linebacker Ryan Shazier is from Fort Lauderdale and will have many friends and family in the Sun Life Stadium stands. Meyer said Shazier, who took over Bryant's No. 2 jersey number after he went down, has also assumed a lot of Bryant's leadership responsibilities.

"He has done a really magical job at that," Meyer said. "He was not a leader a year ago. He was a very good player -- by the end of the year a great player. He's been a very good player this year, but he's done a nice job leading, leading by example, practicing hard and even being more vocal."

• Not surprisingly, Ohio State is using this trip to Florida as a way to recruit. Meyer and his staff plan to visit powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas High School on Thursday night. That's the same school that produced current Buckeyes standout Joey Bosa.

"I can list at least two dozen high schools right in this area that are loaded with talent," Meyer said. "We have not good relationships but great relationships with these high school coaches. A lot of them came to visit us at a bowl practice.

"We attack it. It's a primary area for us. Because we have so much experience down here, it's nothing new. We know most of these coaches. And the good thing is, people know Ohio State."

• Shazier and quarterback Braxton Miller have big decisions to make about whether to enter the NFL draft. Meyer admitted that NFL decisions have created distractions for teams "hundreds of times." But he said he knows this group of players well enough to spot potential distractions and "I haven't felt that at all. I've had a couple conversations, many about, 'Hey, we'll discuss this afterwards. Let's go win this game.'" Meyer also said he had no idea what to expect from Miller's postgame decision process even though he has a great relationship with the quarterback.

• When asked what young players have stood out during bowl practices -- something Ohio State didn't have the luxury of using last year -- Meyer named the following guys: Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Joshua Perry, Chris Worley, Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith, Michael Thomas and Billy Price.

• Meyer's most famous former player, Tim Tebow, agreed this week to serve as an analyst on ESPN's new SEC Network this fall. Meyer said he and Tebow still talk frequently, and he hopes the former Heisman Trophy winner hasn't finished playing football yet. Meyer said he's never had a serious conversation about Tebow joining him in some capacity at Ohio State.

"I don't want to disrupt his dream," he said. "His dream is to go play quarterback in the National Football League, and I don't think we're there yet in his mindset that he's done."
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The Big Ten finally has a championship game that rivals the SEC's in national significance.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten is following the SEC's lead in another area: handing out discipline.

A league that considers itself a cut above in every area, including player conduct, had an opportunity to make a statement in the wake of Saturday's fight in the Ohio State-Michigan game. Instead, the league went soft, ensuring that its championship game, and Ohio State's national title hopes, would be unaffected by the ugly and embarrassing incident.

Here's what we learned from the Big Ten's ridiculous response Monday night: Fighting doesn't have long-term consequences. Twisting a helmet? Go right ahead. Just conduct yourself like a gentleman afterward.

After spending two days reviewing the officials' report from the game and the video of the fracas, the Big Ten decided to hand down no additional discipline to the Ohio State and Michigan players involved. The league merely issued a public reprimand -- the wussiest punishment possible -- for Ohio State offensive lineman Marcus Hall and the Buckeyes' coaching staff after Hall gave the crowd a double-bird salute following his ejection from the game. No other players were named by the league, which praised both coaching staffs for defusing the fight.

Ohio State's Dontre Wilson and Michigan's Royce Jenkins-Stone also were ejected Saturday, but they and others -- like Buckeyes wide receiver Michael Thomas and Michigan defensive back Delano Hill -- were spared any blowback from the conference.

The Big Ten is falling back on the NCAA's fighting policy, which calls for players ejected in the first half of a game to miss only the remainder of that game. Although the league has issued suspensions before for throwing punches, they have come for players who weren't ejected during the game.

The league had an opportunity to do more and show that behavior like Saturday's, even in a bitter rivalry game, is unacceptable and has long-term consequences. Monday's wimpy response will be seen as an effort to protect the league's title game and one of its biggest brands in Ohio State.

Criticize Ohio State coach Urban Meyer if you want for not tacking on additional playing-time penalties for Hall and Wilson. Honestly, I don't know many coaches who would have. They're trying to win championships and can impose some internal discipline. Michigan State didn't suspend William Gholston for his actions in the 2011 Michigan game, so the Big Ten stepped in with a suspension. The league should have done the same in this case.

Even a half-game suspension, which the SEC probably has trademarked, would have shown some teeth here. Instead, the Big Ten protects its championship game from being affected, and its biggest brand from being impacted in its quest to reach the national title game.

Monday's response will add to the widely held belief by many Big Ten fan bases that the league goes all out to protect Ohio State and Michigan. The response will bring more heat for league commissioner Jim Delany, who still gets ripped for going to bat for Ohio State's "Tat-5" to play in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.

The championship game is a national showcase opportunity for the Big Ten, a chance to display its best product and the values it holds so dear. You'll hear a lot about honoring legends and building leaders, and big lives and big stages.

Then Wilson might return the opening kickoff, and Hall will take the field with Ohio State's starting offensive line. Are those the images the Big Ten wants to present?

"As bad as it was, we're fortunate the incident did not escalate any further," the Big Ten's SECtatement reads. "More can, and should, be done by both coaching staffs in the future to prevent similar incidents."

The Big Ten could have and should have done more, but chose to do the bare minimum.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Zach Smith won't shield his unit from criticism, and it received plenty for the issues of a struggling passing attack a year ago.

But for all the problems that the Ohio State receivers coach is quick to point out, he's not going to make them shoulder all the blame, either.

The pass protection was far from perfect, and the Buckeyes allowed too many sacks. Braxton Miller is a truly unique weapon at quarterback, but his decision-making and accuracy as a sophomore left plenty to be desired. As dominant as the rushing attack was last season, perhaps the tailbacks could have been a bit sharper at picking up blitzing defenders when Ohio State was trying to air it out.

Those areas of improvement aren't pointed out to absolve the receiving corps, and neither Smith nor coach Urban Meyer have ever sugarcoated their feelings about a group they have publicly labeled as "dysfunctional" and a "clown show."

It does, however, offer a reminder that it takes more than crisp route-running and steady hands to put on an aerial show. But based on the lack of jokes at their expense during training camp, it appears the wideouts have done everything they can to avoid coming in at No. 1 on the list of things holding back the spread offense.

Philly Brown
Greg Bartram/US PresswireCorey "Philly" Brown led Ohio State with 60 catches in 2012.
"Every group had their deficiencies in that area, and the wide receivers probably most contributed," Smith said. "But there’s been definite commitment to improving that.

"I think it’s been a long process. It’s not something that could have happened overnight, and I think where we’re at right now, ‘OK, we’ve taken a step, we’re no longer dysfunctional -- now let’s go be the best receiver unit in the country.’ "

That goal would have been almost unthinkable for the Buckeyes a year ago, when the bar was set almost comically low following a 2011 season in which it took just 14 catches to lead the team.

The transition to a more wide-open offense did yield instant results, with Philly Brown pushing the team-leading reception total out to 60, Devin Smith providing a deep threat capable of striking from anywhere and Evan Spencer showing flashes at times of becoming a reliable third option. But all of them had soft spots in their games, most notably a lack of explosiveness after the catch from Brown and occasional lapses in focus from Devin Smith that led to some easy drops. And there also wasn't much depth to speak of behind them, with only four players cracking double-digits in receptions as the offense skewed heavily toward the rush.

The receivers are intent on changing that this year. And aside from more polished play from top veterans such as Brown and Smith, the Buckeyes are getting vastly improved play on the practice field from Spencer, have skilled and developing weapons in Michael Thomas and Chris Fields waiting in the wings and a fresh handful of talented newcomers with the type of speed Meyer so covets on the edges.

Miller's talent as a rusher and a deep stable of rushers still might keep the Buckeyes from becoming a team that can perfectly balance the ratio between the run and pass. But the development of the receivers this fall can certainly help it come closer than the 2-to-1 mark it posted last season, even if the responsibility isn't all on them.

"I think it’s natural development," Zach Smith said. "A year ago, I told everyone that it was a young group that needed to grow up and develop and get better, and that’s something they’ve done. Fast-forward a year: They had trials, tribulations, had hard times, great successes, and they have grown and learned from mistakes to the point that now they’re able to be a mature group, able to use those learning points in the past to make sure they don’t happen again and to grow from them.

"I’m pleased with the growth from the last year, and now we’ve got to keep going. ... The next step we have to take is the consistent domination as a group. When we take that step, I’ll be really pleased."

And if they do make it, the receivers can share some of the glory the same way they have the blame.

Position preview: Wide receivers

August, 6, 2013
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Breaking down the Ohio State roster as training camp starts to heat up and the program turns its attention to the opener on Aug. 31 against Buffalo.

WIDE RECEIVERS

[+] EnlargeDevin Smith, Isaiah Lewis
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesDevin Smith looks to get help from some newcomers this fall.
Top of the depth chart: Philly Brown and Devin Smith on the perimeter with Chris Fields in the slot

Next in line: Michael Thomas might not have been able to crack the starting lineup with another impressive spring camp, but the sophomore is certainly knocking loudly on the door thanks to a complete package of size, willingness to take on contact, speed and an ability to make difficult grabs with his strong hands. Evan Spencer has also shown flashes of productivity, and he could be a nice addition to the rotation if Ohio State needs to throw another body in the mix.

New faces: The lack of depth at receiver was no secret, and Urban Meyer and his staff attacked that potential weakness on national signing day by loading up at the position and landing some of the fastest targets on their board to beef up the passing attack. Depending on how smooth the transition is for Jalin Marshall, Corey Smith and James Clark, the Buckeyes may have instantly turned a spot that could have been easily tripped up by a couple injuries into a group capable of moving on without missing a beat.

Recruiting trail: Brown could find himself in elite company if he leads the team in receptions for the third straight season as expected. But he’ll have to be replaced in the offseason, and while there are already candidates to fill that void on campus, the Buckeyes are chasing recruits at receiver with the same urgency they did a year ago to make sure the pipeline is full. Four-star commits Lonnie Johnson (Gary, Ind./West Side) and Terry McLaurin (Indianapolis/Cathedral) are already in the fold, and both bring the type of game-breaking speed Meyer so covets on the perimeter.

Flexibility: The Buckeyes are much more capable of spreading the ball around in the passing game this season, and neither Meyer nor offensive coordinator Tom Herman are shy about using every weapon available to them. That should take some of the pressure off Brown, but he and Devin Smith will still be the top attractions and favorite targets for Braxton Miller after another season of absorbing the playbook and developing physically. Brown, in particular, should benefit from his improved ability to make something happen after the catch, which figures to significantly improve his yardage total as a senior.

Notable numbers:

-- Brown certainly isn’t likely to match his 46-catch improvement from his sophomore year to his breakout junior campaign, but he does have room to build on his yardage. Criticized early last season by Meyer for not making defenders miss any tackles, Brown steadily improved but still finished the season averaging 11.1 yards per reception -- and boosting that was a top priority in the spring.

-- Devin Smith has proven he can strike from just about anywhere, but perhaps more important for the Buckeyes, he’s also been able to do it when the team needs him to deliver most. On his 10 touchdown grabs through two seasons, Smith has averaged a robust 39.3 yards on his scores -- and three of them have gone down as game-winners.

-- Devin Smith and Brown combined for 90 receptions last season, and while the Buckeyes might take that total again from the starters without much complaint, they’d definitely prefer it to account for a smaller percentage of the overall production. In all, the tandem made 56 percent of the receptions for the offense and only one other returning player finished with double-digit catches last year with Spencer’s 12.

Big question: How much help can the newcomers provide?

The Buckeyes can be reasonably certain they know what they’re getting out of Smith and Brown. They have plenty of optimism for the improvements Miller has made as a passer, and they also are confident in the combination at tight end with Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett capable of expanding the game plan through the air. But Ohio State could use at least one and probably two targets who either haven’t had a chance to shine yet or weren’t on campus a year ago to add some diversity, depth and danger to the WR unit. Thomas is a likely option moving into his sophomore campaign, but the three newcomers will also be watched closely this month to see if they’ll be able to jump right in that mix or if the Buckeyes will have to continue to lean heavily on the veterans.
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The wait is over. The season might not be here yet, but football is officially returning with the start of training camp on Sunday.

So after an offseason filled with questions about issues away from the field, the focus is once again back on the game itself. And these five topics will be worth monitoring as Ohio State reports for practice with the great expectations that come with being ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll.

Who is ready to lead?

Urban Meyer and Braxton Miller
AP Photo/Jay LaPreteUrban Meyer would love to see more vocal leadership from quarterback Braxton Miller this fall.
The Buckeyes don't take the captaincy lightly, and the value coach Urban Meyer has put on leadership has never been in doubt, particularly given how much credit the senior class received for the unbeaten season a year ago.

That makes identifying the right group of veterans to take that torch incredibly important for Meyer as he tries to light a path to the national championship, and while a couple of clear choices have emerged to be the face of the program, August will be critical in finding a few more veterans to set the tone.

Left tackle Jack Mewhort and safety Christian Bryant both have emerged as respected voices in the locker room, and Braxton Miller is also starting to find his footing as a more vocal presence. But a couple of other guys who had high hopes of being in that mix are currently or will be facing discipline for issues last month, which will make it pretty unlikely cornerback Bradley Roby or running back Carlos Hyde will be tabbed for a captaincy. Seniors like Philly Brown, Corey Linsley and C.J. Barnett could fill that void, and junior linebacker Ryan Shazier will need to set an example on defense as well.

What's the state of the passing attack?

Miller will always go under the microscope first, and the quarterback is usually the safest place to start in breaking down a passing game. But he certainly wasn't the only one responsible for some numbers through the air that weren't up to Meyer's standards last season.

Miller has worked hard on his footwork and should be much more at ease with the playbook entering his second year in the spread, but he could also use some better route-running, fewer drops and a bit more depth at wide receiver as Meyer looks for more diversity in his attack. Brown should provide some reliability after a productive junior season, and if he builds on the end of it where he consistently looked like a threat to explode after the catch, that alone will make the Buckeyes more dangerous. But he needs some help from freakishly athletic counterpart Devin Smith, rising sophomore Michael Thomas, veterans Chris Fields and Evan Spencer and a handful of newcomers to help keep the coverage honest.

Are the youngsters ready up front?

[+] EnlargeNoah Spence
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesAfter an eye-popping spring game, defensive end Noah Spence is eager to prove himself in games that count.
The spring game only dumped more gasoline on what was already a bonfire of hype, with Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington stealing the show by combining for seven sacks. But that was only an exhibition, and the Buckeyes are counting on production from those sophomores when it matters.

All four starters are gone from the defensive line a year ago, and while the interior spots are obviously more unsettled than the starting jobs at end, the pressure to perform and the attention will weigh more heavily on Spence and Washington. Both showed flashes of what they could do when given a chance as true freshmen a year ago, but they'll be expected to play like seniors now that John Simon and Nathan Williams are gone.

Can Taylor Decker keep the offensive line at the top of the Big Ten?

Ohio State has fewer concerns about its offensive line than just about any program in the country, and a unit with four returning starters who are all seniors might be more than any other staff would even think to wish for. But that didn't stop Meyer from doing a bit of hand-wringing in the spring about filling the fifth spot at right tackle, and he didn't leave practice in April officially settled on who that guy would be.

It's clear now that Decker will get the nod, and the oversized sophomore will have eyes on him throughout camp to ensure that he's capable of seamlessly replacing Reid Fragel for a unit that was a significant factor in the perfect season last year. Chase Farris shared some of the reps with Decker in the spring and his potential continues to excite the coaching staff, but for now Decker has the advantage. But he'll have to prove over and over in August that the edge is real, and if he does, the Buckeyes could pick up right where they left off.
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.

[+] EnlargeBraxton Miller
AP Photo/Sam RicheLed by QB Braxton Miller, Ohio State should be even more productive on offense in 2013.
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.

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