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Smiles all around as Buckeyes prepare for 2013

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP)

Braxton Miller smiles when the prospect of a bowl trip comes up in the conversation.

There was no midwinter journey to a sunnier, warmer spot for the Ohio State quarterback and his teammates a year ago, the result of NCAA sanctions stemming from the tattoo scandal that rocked the program two years ago.

But now the Buckeyes are back in play, both in their conference and in the national picture.

''We've got something to look forward to,'' Miller said with a grin.

There are a lot of smiles around the Buckeyes' training camp these days. Smiles for the extra incentive of a major bowl trip and a shot at a national championship, not to mention just playing in the Big Ten's title game.

Coming off a 12-0 season in Urban Meyer's first as coach, the Buckeyes have 14 starters back including nine on an explosive offense headed by Miller. The defense has fresh faces, but no one questions the talent level.

Here are five things to look for with the Buckeyes in 2013:

1. CUT THE DISTRACTIONS: Two of the Buckeyes' top players had legal problems this summer. Leading-scorer Carlos Hyde, also the team's No. 2 rusher, has been suspended for the first three games after he was listed as a person of interest in an alleged assault of a woman at a Columbus bar. No charges were brought, but Hyde may be in Meyer's doghouse for a while; he's been suspended for the first three games. Star cornerback Bradley Roby was charged with misdemeanor assault after an incident with a bar bouncer in Bloomington, Ind. His case is still in the court system and he has been dropped to the second team and may face additional legal and team punishment. Meyer is not pleased. ''In November we're going to find out. `How's your season going, coach?' Well, if our leadership is good, and we (know the) direction, I think we'll be all right. You have distractions, we'll be an average team,'' he said.

2. HOLDING THE LINE: The offensive front returns four of five starters, so that's a huge strength. All four starters on the defensive line are gone, however. Adolphus Washington, Joel Hale, Michael Bennett and Noah Spencer are the new starters. They were all big-time recruits and there is talented depth behind them. ''I don't feel like we're going to have a drop-off in play or talent,'' D-line coach Mike Vrabel said.

3. MR. PLAYMAKER: Meyer said repeatedly a year ago that he didn't have a game-breaking player who could turn a short run or pass into a long touchdown. After an injury-riddled year, Jordan Hall will fill the role Meyer created for Percy Harvin in his time at Florida. There appear to be more candidates this year, with even a freshman - jet-quick Dontre Wilson - in the discussion. ''We're a faster team,'' Meyer said.

4. MILLER'S TALE: The Buckeyes' junior signal-caller had a breakthrough season a year ago, rushing for 1,271 yards and passing for 2,039 more for a combined 28 touchdowns. His improvement was the No. 1 reason why Ohio State was able to bounce back from a 6-7 mark the year before. Miller is on everybody's watch list for the Heisman Trophy. ''Last year I felt like I was a D-plus,'' he said. ''It's unbelievable how far I came from last year.''

5. URBAN RENEWAL II: The Buckeyes seem positioned for a big season. The nonconference schedule isn't exactly a minefield (Buffalo, San Diego State, California and Florida A&M) and three of the first four Big Ten games are at home (Wisconsin, Iowa, Penn State). Yet only two games in October and one in November are at Ohio Stadium. The biggest test, as is almost annually the case, will come in the regular season-ending showdown at rival Michigan. Rod Smith, one of the guys who will get carries while Hyde watches from the sidelines, has a good feeling about what's about to happen: ''We were good last year. We went 12-0. But that was last year. This year we have some young guys who can really keep the momentum going. I'm pretty sure we're even going to be 10 times better than last year.''

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Predicted finish in conference: 1st in Big Ten's Leaders Division.

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Online:

AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org/

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Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

Tagged: Ohio State, Ohio, Carlos Hyde, Braxton Miller

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