Thursday, April 18, 2013

BUCKEYES HAVE A LONG WAY TO GO BEFORE HEADING TO PASADENA

Braxton Miller
TBT/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell
Ohio State wrapped up its spring football season over the weekend, and will now go into the next few months with some screws to tighten, bruises to mend and some seriously sky-high expectations to live up to this fall.

The Buckeyes, who are now out from under the NCAA bowl ban which prevented them from playing in the postseason — and perhaps a national title — in 2012, will surely begin the 2013 campaign as a favorite to reach the BCS Championship game on Jan. 6.

But as lofty as those expectations are for the Buckeyes going into this fall, in this writer's opinion, they are far from reserving flights to Pasadena. 

Here are five issues which need to be resolved before that can hit up Priceline.com ...

1. OFFENSE NEEDS TO BE ON EVERY WEEK

— Ohio State displayed flashes of brilliance last season on offense, but there were too many slow starts to games and inconsistencies throughout the season which prevent me from believing they will be a surefire 40-points per game unit in 2013, as many are predicting.

Playmakers need to be identified ... and utilized. Sure, quarterback Braxton Miller was an ultimate "playmaker" last season, compiling a school-record 3,310 yards and 28 touchdowns. But, to go unbeaten again — win a Big Ten title game and make it to Pasadena — Miller can't shoulder the load the entire way.

Senior tailback Carlos Hyde had a breakout season in 2012 and should be one of the best runners in the country this fall. However, it's "playmakers" on the edges which will determine how potent the offensive attack will be in Columbus. 

Receiver Corey "Philly" Brown emerged last season — and this spring — as a player who can make big plays, and keep defenses on honest and off Miller's back. But as Meyer stated last season, the team needs more than one or two "wow factor" guys to compete nationally.

Devin Smith, Evan Spencer, Michael Thomas and Jordan Hall — as well as incoming freshmen Jalin Marshall, Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson — have to become those "wow factor" guys. 

If two or three of those players can match that status, then expectations will be met. They could win the Big Ten with Miller, Brown and Hyde alone, but a national title? Unlikely!

2. RIGHT TACKLE

— The Buckeyes return four starters on the offensive line from last season — in Jack Mewhort (LT), Andrew Norwell (LG), Corey Linsley (C) and Marcus Hall (RG) — but lose right tackle Reid Fragel, a player who was integral part of Ohio State's success in 2012.

Sophomores Chase Farris and Taylor Decker have been competing to become Fragel's replacement on the right side this spring. And thus far ... have not impressed. At all.

"I would be disappointed if we're not the best offense in the Big Ten," Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer said, following the spring game in Cincinnati. "The one glaring weakness is that fifth player of the offensive line. We have a legitimate concern about who that player is. I feel good about four of the five starters and unless we get that fixed, there goes the best offense in the Big Ten. 

"One of those young players has got to step up and they haven't this spring."

3. DEFENSIVE FRONT NEEDS TO MAKE IMPACT ... NOW

— Contrary to public opinion, I am not worried about the Buckeyes at the linebacker position. There is great competition going on there and the talent is abundant, especially with Ryan Shazier, who I believe is the top linebacker in the nation going into the 2013 season.

Where I have concerns is on the defensive front, where the Buckeyes lose all four starters to graduation, including the Big Ten's defensive player of the year, John Simon.

Now, it isn't a lack of talent that causes me concern. Sophomore ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence may be the most talented bookend pass rushers the Buckeyes have had in 20 years. However, they will not have the luxury of growing into the shoes of Simon and Nathan Williams. They need to lace them up and go from day one.

They need to be great NOW!

4. KICKING GAME NEEDS SHARPENED

— I know you're thinking, "What? The kicking game could keep the Buckeyes from a national title run?"

Yes, it sure can.

Senior Drew Basil had an average season in 2012 (8-11 FG), and this spring he has seemed to regress. Couple in the fact that he's also the team's new starting punter and you have the ingredients of a troublesome kicking game.

If you don't believe that aspect is important in terms of a national title run ... just ask Oregon about it.

5. WEAK SCHEDULE

— Perhaps the biggest obstacle residing between the Buckeyes and a trip to Pasadena is their extremely weak schedule. I mean, it is really, really bad. Like Sun Belt Conference bad.

The Buckeyes will have problems competing with the Alabamas, Oregons, Georgias, LSUs and Floridas of the world with a schedule which consists of four pitiful out-of-conference tilts — against Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M — and a less-than-spectacular Big Ten docket.

I know that Buckeye fans don't want to hear this, but they must hope that Wisconsin, Northwestern, Penn State and ... gulp ... that school up north have overachieving campaigns. 

It will be difficult for the Buckeyes to reach the BCS title game without a "wow factor" win.

The Buckeyes will not make it to Pasadena without defeating a team in the top 20. 

And sadly, there's a solid possibility that could be the end result for the Scarlet and Gray.