Typically after polishing off a 12-0 regular season capped by taking some revenge out on your archrival, fans would be lining up for a conference title game with national championship hopes on the line. Not this year. Not for this team. We're perhaps still a bit hungover from witnessing just the 6th undefeated season in Ohio State history, but we're left with "what if" scenarios, perhaps some cursing at Gene Smith, and a look to the future. It's never too early to get a head start on sizing up 2013. Heck, it's only 9 months until the kickoff of the regular season!
As has been stated here and by Coach Meyer himself, this senior class was truly something special. They'll leave a legacy that will last forever in Buckeye lore. Looking ahead to 2013, there will also be some key players from this past season missing and some unknowns moving forward. That said, the rest of the guys will have another offseason of learning the system and improving. Urban will get more of his guys, and really his first "full" recruiting class since several of the 2012 recruits were brought on by the previous staff. The offense was inconsistent, but was astronomically better than the 2011 offense. The defense struggled for much of the season, but came up huge the last two weeks. Did they figure something out? Or was the Zach Boren switch an even bigger factor than anyone thought? Here's a much-too-early-but-not-really look at 2013:
Assuming nobody unexpectedly goes pro or transfers, the Buckeye offense in '13 will bring everyone back except RT Reid Fragel and TE/WR Jake Stoneburner. This unit should be rolling after the momentum built in 2012 and Braxton will obviously be a legitimate Heisman candidate if he can improve even more on his passing. The players will have another offseason to learn the system of Herman/Meyer. Corey Brown emerged as Miller's go-to target in '12 and should be poised for a big senior season. Devin Smith needs to improve route-running and eliminating the drops, but the Bucks come in with a lot of solid guys back. With the emergence of Hyde late, it will be interesting to see how Hall is integrated back into the system when healthy. Hyde is a big-time bruiser who came up 30 yards short of 1,000 despite missing 2 1/2 games. Miller never was quite the same runner after the Purdue hit, but perhaps he won't need to carry the ball 20+ times a game with the loaded backfield returning. That backfield includes the aforementioned Hall and Hyde, as well as Rod Smith, Brionte Dunn, Warren Ball, '13 commit Ezekiel Elliot, and perhaps another '13 recruiting class memeber such as Jalin Marshall. That's going to be tough to spread out those carries, especially with the QB being the playmaker that he is, but it's a good problem to have.
The rest of the O-Line outside of Fragel are all currently Juniors, and Taylor Decker appears poised to take over the RT spot. Heuerman and Vannett emerged late as a solid TE tandum, and '13 commit Marcus Baugh will join them as well. O-Line depth may be a concern as the 2012 Buckeyes managed to make it 12 games with zero injuries among the 5 starters, which is a rarity in big-time college football. Guys like Kyle Dodson, Chase Ferris, and Darryl Baldwin need to be ready in case their name is called.
Overall, the offense should be the strength of this team in 2013. There are so many guys coming back and they all get another offseason of learning the system. It also helps when Urban can add some great recruits on that side of the ball as well. Still, he may not be entirely satisfied with the "playmakers" on the roster, though a few players separated themselves in that area this past season.
2012 started off shaky, but the defense finished strong, as shown by their 2nd half performance against Michigan. While the overall consistency as a unit wasn't there from start to finish, very few doubted that the defense was littered with individual talent. The entire defensive line should be gone - Simon, Goebel, Williams, and yes, even Hankins. Big Hank said he wanted to come back to win a national title, but with experts left and right pegging you as a top 10 pick, conventional wisdom is you leave early. We'll see. The good news is that Urban has targeted D-Line recruits since accepting the head coaching job. He added 4 to the class last year with Noah Spence, Adolphus Washington, and Tommy Schutt all seeing playing time. 2013 is no different as he has 4 or 5 guys that can play along the line in years to come, highlighted by Joey Bosa. Michael Bennett, Joel Hale, and Steve Miller all figure to see time as well. However, with likely four open spots, it's anyone's guess who will be the starters come August. The bright side is there a wealth of talent to fill the holes.
The linebackers were doubted coming into the season, and that doubt seemed to be valid as the unit struggled for much of the season. The ship seemed to be righted when FB Zach Boren switched over to MLB for the final half of the season. Ryan Shazier improved nicely into one of the best LBs in the country and often played like a man possessed. He will no doubt have to lead some new faces in 2013 as the only returning starter to the linebacking corp as a junior. The other two spots remain big time question marks with Boren, Sabino, and sometimes-used Storm Klein all graduating. Will Curtis Grant pan out? Can any of the highly touted freshmen the last 2 years "pick up" the defense and earn a spot? Will we be talking about Jamarl Marcus, Joshua Perry, or Luke Roberts as the next great Ohio State linebackers? There are plenty of questions surrounding the front 7 of the Silver Bullets as there's a good chance Shazier is the only returning starter up front. It's time to see which of the big name recruits will pan out.
The secondary was plagued by poor tackling all season long (wrap up!!) but improved over the later part of the season. Bradley Roby was named a Thorpe Award semi-finalist but NOT a top three finalist. Does this affect the Redshirt sophomore's upcoming draft decision? He has gotten some publicity about being a high draft pick. He has a decision to make, but the secondary could really use his presence in 2013. Travis Howard graduates opposite of Roby, and Doran Grant may be next in line at corner. Adam Griffin was also on the two-deep at corner and will return. If Roby does leave, that will open up a spot for guys like Armani Reeves and '13 commits Cam Burrows and Eli Woodard. Barnett and Bryant should be back at the saftey positions, and if Bryant can improve his pass-coverage they should be a great back-line for the defense. Ohrian Johnson departs and he was improving throughout the season. Nickelback Corey Brown (3) should be back as well. Roby deciding to stay can make or break it for the secondary, as it will be tough to plug in two new faces at the corner positions.
Overall, the defense has a lot of questions. The last two seasons were admittedly not at the "Silver Bullet" standard of excellence. Poor tackling was a problem throughout 2012 and several of the main offenders (Bryant and Shazier) will return. If both Hankins and Roby leave early for the NFL, this unit will bring back 3 starters from an already inconsistent 2012 squad. When Sabino and Klein were out, Urban was forced to go with Zach Boren, signaling several of the freshmen weren't ready for playing time at LB. The defense improved down the stretch this past season, but 7 to 8 of those guys won't be back. 2013 may be a shaky start with the unit rounding into form as conference play gets kicked into gear. That's the hope anyway.
There was a lot of really good (kickoff coverage, punt blocks, kick blocks, 2 punt returns for TDs) and some really bad (how many blocked kicks did we have? some pretty poor punting when the kicks weren't blocked, penalties). Ben Buchanan graduates at punter, but the Buckeyes have players on the roster and a '13 recruit who can fill that void. Basil will be back and Urban will have his choice of returners to choose from (Corey Brown, Devin Smith, Rod Smith, Brionte Dunn, and on down the line). Some of those from the "freak show," at least the 2012 version, will not be on the 2013 team so it's vital to keep that going. There is some room for improvement, but there's a solid foundation from this past season. This should be a strength next year.
There's a couple of big NFL decisions to make, and perhaps some coaching staff shakeups. There is also the 2013 recruiting class to finish up, with 7 or more spots still available (the class stands at 17 currently). The Buckeyes have a great foundation to build on going into next season, with somewhere around 13 to 15 starters coming back. There's one last thing to take a look at:
If you thought the 2012 schedule was weak, just wait until next year.
8/31/13 - Buffalo (H)
9/7/13 - San Diego State (H)
9/14/13 - Cal (A)
9/21/13 - Florida A&M (H)
9/28/13 - Wisconsin (H)
10/5/13 - Northwestern (A)
10/19/13 - Iowa (H)
10/26/13 - Penn State (H)
11/2/13 - Purdue (A)
11/16/13 - Illinois (A)
11/23/13 - Indiana (H)
11/30/13 - That Team Up North (A)
*12/7/13 - Big Ten Championship Game (Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis)
*Assuming Ohio State wins the Leaders Division
2013 may feature zero games against a top 20 opponent. If tackling is an issue again, Cal on the road in the Week 3 may be a problem. Northwestern finished 9-3 this year, and admittedly I have no idea if they'll be better or worse next season. Wisconsin and Penn State are at home. Purdue on the road may be dicey because it seems like games with the Boilermakers always are. And of course the regular season wraps up in Ann Arbor with The Game, and That Team Up North loses quite a few seniors, chief among them #16. Still, it's tough not to see Ohio State favored in all 12 (or 13) games, which would make 23 of 24 regular season games - Vegas decided to make Ohio State underdogs as the #6 team in the country facing an unranked team at Wisconsin, otherwise that streak might reach 30 plus regular season games.
2012 was special in its own way. It's a season none of us will ever forget, yet because of its uniqueness we're left here the day after finishing 12-0 with already looking ahead to what 2013 might bring. Dreams of FINALLY playing in a B1G title game. FINALLY getting back to a BCS Bowl (hopefully) that counts, and perhaps even beating an SEC team in a game the NCAA recognizes. We witnessed history in Urban Meyer's first season. Yet, the bowl ban in 2012 leaves many fans looking ahead to next season already, and wondering whether 13-0, and subsequently 25-0 to start the Urban Era, is possible. Is a national title in year two possible? It's all in play. This past season has shown us nothing to expect otherwise.