Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes have an excellent opportunity in 2013 to make a second consecutive run at perfection.
The schedule for one is quite favorable prior to Big Ten play. The Buffalo Bulls, San Diego State Aztecs, California Golden Bears and Florida A&M Rattlers each pale in comparison to the conference.
Of the four Cal is the strongest as the it fought OSU tough in Columbus last season, not to mention are hosting the Buckeyes this year. That said, the Bears are losing key offensive players in receiver Keenan Allen and center Brian Schwenke to the NFL.
Factor in Cal's weaker recruiting class (No. 32 on Rivals.com, tied at No. 31 on Scout.com) in contrast to Ohio State's and its already at a disadvantage. Even worse, coach Jeff Tedford was fired last November according to ESPN.com.
In short, expect the Buckeyes to be perfect when conference play kicks off.
As for what to expect on the field, the line of scrimmage is where games are won.
In [Ed] Warinner’s second spring at OSU, there is much more certainty on the offensive line with four returning starters, all entering their senior seasons.
Of his four returning starters, Warinner said Hall made the most noticeable improvement this spring, but that all four have gotten better.
“Marcus has improved his footwork and … his quickness and change of direction and just all the little mechanics of playing O-line,” Warinner said. “I think Norwell’s bending better … Jack’s a little more confident out on the edge … Corey’s real strong and solid inside.”
Considering the Big Ten's overall style of play and Ohio State is well ahead of the curve with this group along the line. Smashing the gut of a defense will take even more pressure off of Braxton Miller, which only inflates the efficiency of the Buckeyes' offense.
Defenses must now either choose to isolate Miller or focus on stopping Carlos Hyde and the traditional ground game. Regardless, Ohio State features the experience and reliability up front to smack any opponent off the ball.
This only makes play-action more dangerous and will negate the threat of a pass rush.
Factor in Miller's dual-threat talent and Meyer can present a manipulative mixture of power and finesse. Hyde's nose for the end zone and size to win the short-yard situations will match the physicality of every Big Ten foe.
That impact simply allows Miller to set up the passing game and use his feet out of the pocket when needed. Meyer's aerial assault doesn't have to be dominant, but just effective enough to prevent a secondary from sneaking up into the box.
Defensively there are some holes to fill with Johnathan Hankins, John Simon and Travis Howard gone.
Ohio State ranked No. 13 against the run in 2012, but also No. 72 against the pass. Clearly shutting down more consistently in coverage is required to run the table; however, Bradley Roby's capable of locking away half the field as he defended 19 passes last season.
The defensive front is the question, and Frank Schwab of Yahoo! Sports sums it up quite well:
Ohio State always seems to have NFL-caliber defensive linemen, so the line should end up being OK. Sophomores Noah Spence and Adolphus Washington played plenty in the rotation last year. Defensive end Joey Bosa is a four-star recruit, and maybe he'll get a chance in the fall. But they key in spring is sorting out who will contribute early in the season on the line, as well as figuring out who will start at linebacker alongside Ryan Shazier. No other returning linebacker got significant reps in 2012.
Therefore, don't expect a barrage of blitz packages and line stunts from the Buckeyes' front in 2013.
A more simplistic gap-controlling scheme suits inexperience the best, because it allows a player to maximize potential on fewer responsibilities. Only more complex game-planning can occur once consistent production is established as the year progresses.
From opening kickoff in Week 1 through at least early October anticipate a consistent base look from the Buckeyes. Fortunately the secondary's overall talent will provide the pass rush more time, so disguised blitzes and fronts will happen as November nears.
The end results will be a defense that gets off the field on third down, an offense provided with additional possessions and increased odds for a BCS National Championship.