COLUMBUS, Ohio -- It is hard to imagine a team coming off of an unbeaten season and still having a chip on its shoulder, but that is the unique position the Buckeyes find themselves in as they prepare for 2013.
The clock stopped for Ohio State when the Buckeyes hit 12-0 last November, after running the table on the regular season and the Big Ten. Due to NCAA sanctions slapped on the program due to the violations during the Jim Tressel/Terrelle Pryor era, Ohio State was barred from any post-season play, so no trip to the Big Ten title game, or the BCS National Championship.
That leaves this group bitter, and angry, and mean. For a team that has not lost a game since the second day of 2012, this bunch is punchy, and that seems to be just what second-year head coach and Ohio native Urban Meyer is looking for.
"The one thing we are doing -- is we are going to find out who is going to play," Meyer said at one of the Buckeyes' first hitting sessions of fall camp. "The focus right now is I want to see who will go really hard."
The early returns suggest that Meyer will have plenty of playmakers to choose from. His Buckeyes are the overwhelming favorite to win the Big Ten title this season, and they are usually ranked second nationally, behind defending BCS champ Alabama.
The most obvious asset on hand is QB Braxton Miller, a legit Heisman candidate who made everyone forget about Pryor in a hurry. Miller's comfort zone in the Meyer spread offense allows him to flourish, but what will make Miller so dangerous is Ohio State's most bankable asset -- a very experienced front line.
The guys in the trench have played in 132 games and made 78 starts between them. Returning starters LT Jack Mewhort, C Corey Linsley, LG Andrew Norwell and RG Marcus Hall are all cut from all-conference cloth. This offense should explode with Miller at the controls and a dominant wall controlling what is in front of him.
"This year we know what to expect," Hall said about the second camp under Meyer. "It is always spontaneous with coach Meyer, but we know that is his style so, while we know what to expect, he still keeps us on our toes."
The Buckeyes still have turmoil and distractions to deal with -- starting RB Carlos Hyde and DB Bradley Roby will both miss games at the start of the season due to suspensions for summer transgressions -- but there does not appear to be anything on the schedule that will knock the chip off the shoulder of this team, despite the disciplinary moves.
SPOTLIGHT ON SEPTEMBER: The Buckeyes will open the season against Mid-American Conference entry Buffalo on the final day of August, and should get little kick from the Bulls. After hosting San Diego State, the Buckeyes make a road trip to face Cal before returning home to host FCS opponent Florida A&M. The Ohio State crowd just hopes the Rattlers bring the band so there will be something entertaining that September afternoon besides the obvious mismatch on the opposing sidelines. Ohio State closes the month with a home date against Wisconsin. The Badgers have played the Buckeyes tough in recent years, but a coaching change in Madison and a team that needed more of a rebuild likely won't have the punch of past Badger units.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Ohio State offense should score plenty of points, so a key for the Buckeyes, at least in the first portion of the schedule, will be to see the emergence of some new dominant forces on the defensive side. The beasts on the line -- John Simon and Johnathan Hankins -- are in the NFL, so the Buckeyes are looking for the likes of DL Michael Bennett to stay healthy and utilize his athleticism and quickness, while DL Tommy Schutt needs to have a big sophomore campaign. Ohio State also has hope that redshirt sophomore DL Chris Carter can be an immoveable force in the middle at 6-4 and 340 pounds. The Buckeyes will also need to see much-ballyhooed Virginia native LB Curtis Grant finally show the potential everyone has talked about for the past two years. There is a lot of pressure on Grant to fill that middle in the linebacking corps, a position that has been crucial for the Buckeyes and filled by some great players over the years.
AREAS OF CONCERN: While the starters are a certain strength, the depth on the offensive line is a pressing concern for the Buckeyes. Heading into fall camp, only four of the backup offensive linemen for Ohio State had any collegiate experience, and much of it had been earned on special teams. Head coach Urban Meyer has harped on the need to develop sound depth along the line, where a single injury could jeopardize Ohio State's grand plan to reach the BCS title game. The likes of fourth-year junior Darryl Baldwin, third-year sophomore Chase Farris, true sophomore Jacoby Boren, and fourth-year junior Eric Kramer will all have to demonstrate the ability to step in and keep the offense churning, should one of the ultra-experienced starters go down.