The Ohio State Buckeyes won’t let a 12-0 2012 season create a complacent atmosphere entering this season. And if veteran leadership isn’t enough to keep the Scarlet and Gray on track, Urban Meyer certainly won’t allow his team to settle for anything less than a championship this year.
The Buckeyes lost some key contributors to the NFL this offseason, including defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, defensive end John Simon, tight end Jake Stoneburner and linebacker Etienne Sabino, but Meyer brought in one of the nation’s top recruiting classes to replenish the team’s talent and ensure a bright future lies ahead for his Buckeyes.
Many of those incoming freshmen won’t see the field in 2013, but Ohio State has plenty of talent in place to make a run at the Big Ten title and a national championship. As long as the Buckeyes’ core contributors repeat their 2012 performance, nothing will stop them from a BCS championship berth this season.
Let’s take a look at some of that talent and power rank the top five players to watch when the Buckeyes take the field this season.
5. Ryan Shazier, LB
Sabino’s departure to the NFL means junior Ryan Shazier will have to continue playing a vital role in the heart of Ohio State’s defense. If his 2012 production is any indication, the 6’2”, 222-pound linebacker will be one of the premier players to watch on the Buckeyes’ defense this season.
Shazier recorded 114 total tackles (17 for loss), five sacks and an interception last season, and also played a pivotal role in Ohio State’s pass coverage in breaking up 10 passes from the linebacker position. The shifty defender has the speed and quickness to match his size, and he’ll take on an even more valuable role this season as a veteran leader in Meyer’s defense.
4. Carlos Hyde, RB
Carlos Hyde saw considerable work out of the backfield in 2011, and built on his strong freshman campaign with a 16-touchdown junior season. As a senior, he’ll have an opportunity to eclipse that number as Ohio State’s premier back once again.
The Buckeyes boast a crowded backfield that will continue to improve with the emergence of sophomore Bri’onte Dunn, but Hyde is in position to do most of the damage in 2013. Look for Meyer to mix in healthy doses of Dunn, Jordan Hall and Rod Smith with Hyde doing most of the heavy lifting.
3. Devin Smith, WR
It’s been awhile since the Buckeyes boasted a truly dominant receiver to pair with their tremendous quarterback play. A couple pass-catchers stood out last season, but someone will have to take a leap in 2013 to ensure Braxton Miller has the weapons he needs in the passing game.
Verlon Reed and Philly Brown could be those weapons, but junior receiver Devin Smith could prove to be the best of the bunch this season.
As a sophomore, Smith recorded 30 catches for 618 yards and six touchdowns, showing a tremendous blend of speed and route-running ability in the process. With two full seasons under his belt and a No. 1 role to fill, look for Smith to step up big in 2013.
2. Bradley Roby, CB
There’s already talk of junior cornerback Bradley Roby being on the fast track to a top-10 selection in the 2014 NFL draft. Given his tremendous 2012 season, it’s easy to understand why.
The 5’11”, 193-pound defender recorded 62 tackles, two interceptions and 17 pass break-ups last year, en route to first-team All-American honors and extremely lofty expectations. With a talented crop of incoming freshman defensive backs and a cornerback like Roby already in place, the Buckeyes will be in position to field one of the best defensive backfields in the Big Ten this year.
1. Braxton Miller, QB
There’s no question which Buckeye will be under the brightest lights in 2013.
The junior quarterback is one of the most electric playmakers in all of college football, and he’ll be back under center this year with designs on smashing his 2012 production and leading the Buckeyes to a national championship.
Miller’s mix of size, speed, vision and passing ability resulted in a 2012 season to remember. He tallied 28 total touchdowns (13 rushing) last season, throwing for more than 2,000 yards and rushing for 1,271 more. If he can stay healthy in 2013, there’s no reason he can’t be a Heisman favorite by the end of the season.
*All stats acquired from CFBStats.com.