Despite winning 24 of their last 26 games including a 12-2 mark last season, the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes are very much a team in transition.
Gone are the likes of Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby, Philly Brown and 80% of an offensive line that was one of the top units in the country.
Yes, Braxton Miller is back, the cupboard is far from bare in the offensive backfield and the defensive line appears loaded with goodies but replacing 10 starters on top of the need for various position groups to take a giant step forward make this one of the more interesting spring football sessions in recent memory.
With that reality as a backdrop, here are five storylines we'll be watching as things rev up early next week.
REBUILDING AN OFFENSIVE LINE
Ed Warriner has his hands full as he's tasked with assembling a unit that can not only keep Braxton Miller upright but also create running lanes for a talented stable of running backs despite the need to replace four starters from a season ago.
Not only that, Taylor Decker is making the move from right to left tackle, something that many seem to be taking for granted though such a move is not as simple as one might think.
Assuming Decker successfully transitions, that leaves four spots with one of those seemingly locked up by Pat Elflein after his strong performance after Marcus Hall's touching salute to the fans in Ann Arbor. Slotting Elflein at a guard spot leaves openings at right tackle, center and (likely) left guard.
Jacoby Boren seems to have the inside track at center after backing up Corey Linsley for two seasons but talk continues to crescendo that Billy Price, a converted d-lineman, could make a serious push for the starting gig.
The right tackle and remaining guard spot situations are murky with a cast of characters in the mix. Darryl Baldwin is the current choice to start at right tackle but like many others, I think this is far from a done deal as redshirt freshman Evan Lisle could prove to have the goods and, of course, Kyle Dodson is still out there as a redshirt sophomore.
The remaining guard spot is wide open. Antonio Underwood's name keeps coming up but he's coming off ACL surgery, Dodson could be in the mix, Chase Farris is still looking for a home, Tommy Brown can't be forgotten and Joel Hale as moved over from the defensive side of the ball. And none of this considers early enrollees Kyle Trout and Marceyls Jones with Demetrius Knox coming this fall.
There's no question Warriner has some guys to plug and play in a search for the best combo and while the starting unit likely won't be carved in stone come the spring game, I'm sure the staff would love the notion of heading into fall camp with the starters at least 80% finalized.
TURNING THE CORNER
With Doran Grant holding down the #1 cornerback spot and Cam Burrows likely transitioning to either a nickel or safety spot, only Armani Reeves, Eli Apple and Gareon Conley appear to be in the mix to start opposite Grant.
It will be on Kerry Coombs to get one of those three ready and while Reeves was the only one of the trio to see significant action in 2013, his minutes were often tough on the eyes as he consistently allowed receivers to get behind him and often whiffed when trying to tackle in space.
As such, despite Reeves' experience, there's no reason to ink him in as the starter. Conley got some run with the starters early in camp last year with Roby on suspension and for my money, Apple is the guy to watch.
Many, including myself, thought Eli would be in the mix last season but it never materialized despite his strong showing leading up to the season. As such, I have Apple as the favorite to land the starting job. In fact, I envision Apple's career playing out much like Roby's in which he makes the most of a redshirt freshman season, assumes a starting gig the following year and never looks back.
I remember watching the jersey scrimmage with Johnny during Roby's redshirt year and both of us thinking that kid might be a star and I felt the same thing watching Apple.
Time will tell and the time is now for all three guys looking to lock up a starting spot.
DIAMOND IN THE ROUGH?
With the linebackers again unlikely to be the strength of the defense and the secondary replacing three starters, the pressure will be on the defensive line to generate a consistent pass rush while not losing sight of stopping the run.
That shouldn't be too tall of task with guys like Michael Bennett, Noah Spence and Joey Bosa still in the fold but the player I find most intriguing up front is Jamal Marcus. I've been on his bandwagon for awhile so maybe it's rose-colored glasses but I think Marcus has the potential to be the breakout player on the defensive side of the ball.
Known as a pass rush specialist, Marcus showed ability to stop the run in the Orange Bowl, showing impressive lateral movement as he pursued plays from the backside.
Spence's three-game suspension will cost him the first two games of 2014 and Marcus should be primed to make a case for heavy rotation time once Spence returns giving Larry Johnson three legit ends without even mentioning an improved Steve Miller and a host of unproven yet highly touted young guys.
UNDER CENTER STAGE
The most important position battle of them all will take place between redshirt sophomore Cardale Jones and redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett as they vie to be Braxton Miller's backup.
Gone is the security blanket known as Smooth Jazz leaving a guy who has thrown two collegiate passes and is most recognizable for typing "we ain't come to play SCHOOL" on his keyboard to duke it out with a guy two years removed from an ACL tear sporting zero game experience.
Jones, by default, will start as your #2 on the depth chart and while he's got the physical makeup (6'5", 250 lbs) any coach would love he looked largely stiff and unsure of himself in limited minutes a season ago. Tom Herman has been saying all the right things about Jones though I'm not sure if that's more about trying to convince any combo of himself, Jones and the rest of us that he's ready for the gig than it is dealing in reality.
Meanwhile, Herman's first quarterback recruit to Columbus, Barrett, sports Guiton-like intangibles and was a top dual-threat QB prospect rated the 11th best player in the state of Texas.
Bottom line, not a lot is known about the pair but you can bet there will come a time or two this season where how the winner of this position battle plays will determine an OSU win or loss because Braxton hasn't played an injury free season since his 2nd year of high school.
PUT UP OR SHUT UP
Frustrated with zero playing time and the lack of production by OSU receivers in the B1G championship and Orange Bowl losses, Thomas lit up twitter, kindly reminding everyone that starters Devin Smith and Evan Spencer combined for three catches and 16 yards in the consecutive defeats.
Now, the team's leading receiver is gone (Brown: 63 rec, 771 yds) and even though Smith (44 rec, 660 yds) and Spencer (22 rec, 216 yds) return, along with Dontre Wilson (22 rec, 210 yds), wide receivers coach Zach Smith recently made it clear all spots are up for grabs.
Against that backdrop, Thomas should have every opportunity to prove he belongs. With unquestionable athleticism, how Thomas attacks the less sexy but critical position responsibilities such as downfield blocking, a skill Smith and particularly Spencer have shown, could go a long way in determining what kind of factor he can be in 2014.