Big Ten football preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

Big Ten football preview: Ohio State Buckeyes
August 9, 2013, 9:30 am
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Vinnie Duber

Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. An Ohio State single-season record 3,310 yards of total offense. A fifth-place finisher in voting for the Heisman Trophy. It would seem that college football players can't get much better than Braxton Miller.

But, according to Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer, Braxton Miller can get much better.

"I have yet to see his ceiling," Meyer said of the quarterback during Big Ten media day.

That's an impressive statement given the incredible amount of success the junior QB has had in two years as the Ohio State signal caller. Last season, Miller passed for 2,039 yards and 15 touchdowns while rushing for 1,271 yards and 13 additional touchdowns. All this en route to an undefeated season.

[Big Ten football preview: Michigan Wolverines]

But Meyer is referring to the part of football that's more than just running fast and throwing the ball far. He was talking about leadership, and he was upfront in saying that Miller's leadership skills were just OK last season. Already though, before camp even started, he said that Miller had transformed into the kind of leader he was looking for.

"He didn't do that a year ago," Meyer said. But the coach continued, calling Miller "a completely different guy."

Meyer added the importance of a quarterback's leadership, compared to other positions, going as far to saying that "the job of a quarterback in college football is to take control of a program." With NCAA rules dictating just how much time coaches can make players attend structured activities, Meyer said the junior quarterback's role is invaluable.

It might be hard to imagine just how much better Miller can get. But any more growth, any more improvement could solidify the thoughts of many: that the Buckeyes are going to win the Big Ten championship and maybe even a national championship.

Last year

Record: 12-0 (8-0 Big Ten)

Bowl: Under NCAA sanctions, the undefeated Buckeyes were not bowl eligible

At the helm

Urban Meyer enters his second year as Buckeyes head coach after six years at Florida, and he made quite the statement in Year One with a 12-0 campaign. With NCAA sanctions from the Jim Tressel Era lifted, this will be the first year Meyer will be able to take his team to the postseason.

On the 2013 schedule

The Buckeyes didn't make it too hard on themselves, scheduling four opponents that — even with victories in the quartet of contests — could do more to hurt their BCS title game aspirations than help them. The toughest opponent before conference play begins is California, one of the lower-level teams in the Pac-12. That game will be played, however, on the road in Berkeley.

[Big Ten football preview: Wisconsin Badgers]

Conference play begins with the game that could determine the winner of the Leaders Division and perhaps the eventual Big Ten champion, as well. The Buckeyes host Wisconsin on Sep. 28 in a matchup of two of the favorites to win the conference title. If the Buckeyes can get by that test, another comes immediately thereafter when they must travel to play Northwestern in Evanston. Some breathing room emerges after that with the final real hurdle coming in the regular-season finale at Michigan.

Under center

We've talked at length already about Miller, a quarterback some are picking to win the Heisman Trophy this season. It's going to be tough for Miller to improve upon his sophomore season, but if he does ... wow.

"On offense, we return a bunch of experience, including one of the best quarterbacks in America, Braxton Miller," Meyer said. "Has really grown as a quarterback, has grown as a leader. Very humble young man that I have a lot of respect for."

Back in the fold

Ohio State returns 13 starters from last season's undefeated team, mostly on offense. Of the six leading rushers in the Big Ten a season ago, three are back for this season, and two of those are Buckeyes: Miller and senior running back Carlos Hyde. Hyde, who has been suspended for the season's first three games, chipped in 970 yards and 16 touchdowns to go along with Miller's eye-popping rushing totals. The receiving corps also brings back two starters in Corey Brown and Devin Smith.

“Receiver is probably the one area we were weakest at last year,” Meyer said, “and I think this year, with the injection of some speed in the recruiting class and also development of the guys we have, that I'm really counting on them to become one of the strengths of our offense.”

[Big Ten football preview: Nebraska Cornhuskers]

Season outlook

After last year's extraordinary success, anything less than a Big Ten championship would seem to be surprising from Ohio State. It's the final year of the BCS, and almost everyone expects the Buckeyes to be playing in Pasadena, if not in the Rose Bowl than in the National Championship Game.

"This year's team has high expectations, riding off the coattails of what those kids did last year," Meyer said, "and it's very simple that if we get tremendous leadership from our coaching staff, but most importantly our players, then we'll have a success — I feel strongly about this group having a successful season."