There is plenty of reason for excitement and optimism in Columbus this season. Despite losing Carlos Hyde, Ryan Shazier, Bradley Roby and Jack Mehwort in the first two rounds of the 2014 NFL Draft, the cupboard is not all bare on campus at Ohio State University – not as long as Urban Meyer is walking the sidelines and quarterback Braxton Miller is slinging the ball all over the field or running for touchdowns.
Like Athlon Sports reported in its Spring Preview of the team, after a 24-0 record to Urban Meyer’s tenure at Ohio State, the Buckeyes closed 2013 on a two-game losing streak. Despite the sour end to last year, Ohio State is still in great shape. Meyer continues to reel in elite talent, and quarterback Braxton Miller turned down the NFL for one more season in Columbus.
This is a team that can compete for a national title, but could there be some doubt in Meyer as he prepares for the upcoming season? Hopefully, the two losses and the idea the team missed out on a chance at a national title will motivate not only the head coach, but also his team to play at the highest level they can.
Here are five reasons this team can win it all in 2014.
Miller’s return to campus
With Miller back on campus, Ohio State’s offense will be one of the best in the nation. Running back Carlos Hyde will be missed, but Ezekiel Elliott and Dontre Wilson should be a potent one-two combination. The biggest question mark on offense is a line that returns just one starter. Meyer is still searching for the right combination on defense after finishing seventh in the Big Ten in yards allowed in 2013.
An easy Big Ten
The Big Ten East Division is shaping up to be a battle between Ohio State and Michigan State for the top spot. Will the Buckeyes take the next step under Meyer and win the Big Ten title in 2014? Michigan, Penn State, Nebraska and Wisconsin will be better this season, but the two who finished atop the conference last season will do the same in 2014.
I am not a fan of the Ohio State coach. Ask the Gator Nation (which I am not a part of) what they think of the man who won two national titles and left the school under controversy. There is no doubt that Meyer can coach and Ohio State is the “dream job” he always wanted, the chance to be better than Woody Hayes. A 24-0 start was brilliant and a curse in the same breath. The two losses at the end of the season proved what a sore loser and arrogant ass he can be.
A solid offensive line
It was the best in the Big Ten last year. The Buckeyes had to work on rebuilding this offseason, but should be a solid unit again. Pat Elflein made one start in 2013 and is penciled in at one of the guard spots. The other three positions are up for grabs. Redshirt freshman Billy Price and Jacoby Boren appear set to battle to start at center, while Darryl Baldwin could be the answer at right tackle if he holds off talented redshirt freshman Evan Lisle. Helping Elflein at guard could be a couple of different names, potentially converted defensive lineman Joel Hale. Replacing four starters in the trenches is no easy task but Meyer has depth seemingly everywhere.
A solid defense
Despite having a first-team All-Big Ten cornerback in Bradley Roby, the Buckeyes ranked 83rd nationally in pass efficiency defense and allowed 20 passing scores (conference-only games). The back seven should receive most of the attention in the spring, as the line could be the best in the nation in 2014. Ryan Shazier’s early departure to the NFL added to the uncertainty at linebacker. Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant are back as returning starters, while redshirt freshman Darron Lee opened spring with the No. 1 unit. The name to watch at linebacker is true freshman Raekwon McMillan. In the secondary, the coaching staff is counting on Doran Grant to take his game to the next level after earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors last year.
A team of destiny
If you look at the 2014 schedule, you scratch your head and ask, where is the one game that would trip the team up? The Buckeyes will miss production from Shazier and Roby on defense, but there’s enough talent to figure things out as the season progresses. As long as Miller stays healthy, Ohio State can simply outscore every team on its schedule – with one exception. The Nov. 8 road date at Michigan State is a revenge game for the Buckeyes and a matchup that should decide the East Division. If Ohio State wins at Michigan State and takes the Big Ten Championship, this team should be in college football’s playoff.