|TBT Photo/Darla Dunkle-Hudnell|
COLUMBUS — Ohio State begins its "chase" for their eighth national championship this Saturday, as they host the University of Buffalo at Ohio Stadium (12 p.m., ESPN2).
Here are five things to watch for in the No. 2 Buckeyes season opener against the Bulls ...
1. MILLER'S PROGRESSION.
Junior quarterback Braxton Miller set a school-record for total yards last season with 3,310 — and a near-record 28 touchdowns — while leading the Buckeyes to a 12-0 record. He also copped a Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year award, and garnered a top-five finish in the Heisman Trophy voting.
And according to his head coach Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman, the Buckeyes' star actually "underachieved" in 2012.
Instead of taking that criticism negatively, as many would have, Miller used it constructively, working vigorously on becoming the complete player his mentors expect him to be. It's certainly apparent that the diligence of Miller is paying off during fall camp, as he's displayed better feet in the pocket, super crisp passes, and most importantly, championship-caliber leadership.
"He is head and shoulders ahead (of where he was last year)," Herman said of Miller. "It’s his grasp of what we're trying to do offensively and his mechanics.
"I sleep a lot easier at night than I did at this time last year."
2. NEW DEFENSIVE FRONT.
The Buckeyes lost all of their starters on the defensive line from last season in John Simon, Johnathan Hankins, Garrett Goebel and Nathan Williams.
If the Buckeyes are to have any hopes of making it to Pasadena for a chance at a national title, the replacements must answer the call.
From a pure talent standpoint the Buckeyes are better, in this writer's opinion. With sophomore ends Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington, the Buckeyes possess two young men with first round NFL potential. Of course, as hall of fame head coach Bill Parcells has stated, "'Potential' just means you haven't done anything yet."
Spence, Washington, as well as defensive tackles Michael Bennett, Joel Hale and Tommy Schutt all possess game experience, but must quickly demonstrate an ability to carry a defense without the support of leaders like Simon, Hankins and Williams.
The talent up front is certainly there, but the key is how quickly that "talent" turns to production.
As with the defensive front, linebacker must replace a bulk of its starting lineup from last season.
Also like the defensive front, the linebacking unit is filled with talent, but short on experience. While the Buckeyes do possess perhaps the best in the country in junior Ryan Shazier, the rest of the group is filled with youth and underachievers.
The Buckeyes have two stellar talents in freshmen Mike Mitchell and Trey Johnson, and a couple of nice second-year prospects in Camren Williams, Joshua Perry, and Joe Berger. They are also counting on Curtis Grant — a former blue-chip recruit from Virginia — to finally live up to his billing as a "stud" linebacker this fall.
This group may ultimately determine the Buckeyes' fate this season — for the good or the bad.
This unit NEEDS to be shored up this Saturday. Or at least a lot more clearer.
4. NEW PLAY-MAKERS.
Coach Meyer absolutely loves play-makers, and he spent his first full recruiting season in Columbus trying to bring those type of players into the program.
This Saturday, that talent will surely be on display, as true freshmen Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson will be a huge part of the Buckeyes' offensive weaponry.
Meyer loves using freshmen, so don't be surprised to see Marshall, Wilson and perhaps others get into the mix early and often.
Again, Meyer needs to know what he has in the arsenal during the opener against the Bulls to better prepare for the title run moving forward.
5. THE SCOREBOARD.
History has shown that teams in their second seasons under Urban Meyer light up the scoreboard at an alarming rate. In his three previous stints at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida, Meyer's offenses have averaged 10 points per game more in the second season than in his inaugural campaign.
In his first season in Columbus, the Buckeyes averaged 37 points per contest, and essentially did it on the fly. Now that they have had a full year and an entire off-season to soak it all in, the renovated scoreboard in Columbus may be hit with a power surge.
If history is any indication, the Buckeyes may average close to 50 points per contest in 2013.
With Miller's progression, the addition of talented new play-makers and actually something tangible to play for this season, the Buckeyes may hang 50 on the Bulls this Saturday ... by halftime.