Big Ten Media Days are here, giving us the first indication of how close we are to football.
Before any action takes place on the field, it's time for the media to set up narratives that will either be supported or completely fall apart when the season actual starts. The SEC stranded media, coaches and players in Hoover, Alabama for four days and, since that point, every other conference used their media days as a prop to criticize (justifiably so) the SEC's scheduling habits and Nick Saban.
The Big Ten has various story lines that should not be, in any way, related to the SEC – at least, I hope. The focus should be on multiple playoff contenders and new additions to the conference.
Ohio State is, certainly, one Big Ten school that "moves the needle" on its own, without dragging Alabama or any SEC school into the discussion. Urban Meyer will step to the podium, today, at 1:30. Without any major off-the-field stories to worry about – unlike last year – the focus will be on football-centric topics, such as:
Braxton Miller's Shoulder
The last time we checked in on Ohio State's quarterback situation, fans could be heard praying for Braxton Miller's quick recovery after poor spring game performances by his backups.
With no Kenny Guiton to rescue the Buckeyes, the team would have to rely on either Cardale Jones or J.T. Barrett – that is, if Miller's shoulder isn't fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. Even if it is, Meyer will be asked about Miller's progress, especially as the OSU starting QB learned to fine-tune his mental approach to the game while sitting out all spring.
Replacing Carlos Hyde
Carlos Hyde's absence will be significant, carrying even more weight than Guiton or any departed Buckeye.
The list of talented replacements is endless, yet filled with unknown quantities. Ezekiel Elliott averaged nearly nine yards per carry last season, but that stat is padded by a 162-yard effort against Florida A&M. The sample size was limited to 30 carries, so is Meyer confident Elliott, or a combination of him, Rod Smith, Bri'onte Dunn and Warren Ball can be as reliable as Hyde was?
Improvement in the Secondary
On the other end of the spectrum, it will be similarly difficult to repeat the performance of last year's defensive backfield.
Under new co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash, the Ohio State secondary has nowhere to go but up. Even with a first-round NFL talent in Bradley Roby, the Buckeyes ranked 112th in pass defense. Ash specializes in simplifying coverage schemes and alignments up front, so the scheme issues shouldn't crop up again. The main concern is who lines up on the opposite side of Doran Grant.
The Rise of Darron Lee
Other than Miller's rehab, linebacker Darron Lee was the biggest story to come from spring practice.
Lee has not secured the starting "walkout" linebacker spot, but his play in practice indicates he's the favorite. Meyer consistently praised Lee this spring and, if he's asked about him again, the Buckeye head coach won't deviate from what he's already said about the sophomore linebacker. Is Meyer worried about the weight of those expectations, however?
An Inexperienced Offensive Line
Ohio State's youth will likely to be more noticeable on the offensive line than any other spot on the field.
Taylor Decker's move to left tackle is natural, but the relative inexperience with rest of the line is what keeps Meyer up at night. Luckily, he can lean on the tremendous amount of success generated by offensive line coach Ed Warriner. The overhaul won't be as drastic as it was before the 2012 season, but both Meyer and Warriner will have to replace four multi-year starters in Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell. That is unprecedented their three-year tenures as Buckeye coaches.