Can Any Big Ten Team beat Ohio State this Year?

braxton-miller-ohio-stateLast year was a perfect start to the Urban Meyer era at Ohio State.The Buckeyes went 12-0, capping their undefeated season with a 26-21 win over rival Michigan. Had it not been for a one-year ban from postseason play, they could’ve made a run at the BCS title.

Keeping all of this in mind, it’s scary for Big Ten opponents to think that OSU returns a good number of their offensive starters. This is nearly the same offensive unit that ranked 10th nationally with 242.3 rushing yards per game, and scored 37.2 PPG.

Star quarterback Braxton Miller is back after a season in which he passed for 2,039 yards and 28 TDs, and rushed for 1,271 yards and 13 TD’s. The junior will be the unquestioned leader of this offense and a major contender for the Heisman.

A couple of Miller’s favorite targets are back this year too, with Corey Brown (60 receptions, 669 yards, 3 TDs) and Devin Smith (30 rec, 618 yds, 6 TDs) leading the way. Tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett should also play a big role in the passing game.

carlos-hyde-running-backThe running game should once again be good too, with Carlos Hyde (970 rushing yards, 16 TD’s) anchoring the attack. But Hyde will serve a three-game suspension because of a nightclub altercation, which means Buckeye fans can expect to see plenty of Jordan Hall (5.4 YPC) and Bri’onte Dunn (5.3 YPC) in the early going.

The big question heading into this Big Ten season will be how well Ohio State can replace their defensive losses. They lost eight starters from last year’s squad, which ranked 14th nationally in rushing defense (116.1 YPG allowed). Meyer hit on this topic when he said, “Defense is where the issues are. We lost our entire front seven. I believe we recruited well.”

Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier is one key returner from this unit, and he racked up 115 tackles and three forced fumbles last year. Safety Christian Bryant and cornerback Bradley Roby are also going to play big roles for the Buckeyes’ defense this season. The latter is one of the nation’s top corners, having attained Second-Team All-America status in 2012. But like Hyde, Roby must serve a one-game suspension thanks to an off-field incident.

Despite all of the losses, OSU ranks second in the preseason pool, behind only Alabama. But this certainly doesn’t assure them of any waltz to the national title game. After all, the Big Ten boasts plenty of other strong teams besides just the Buckeyes.

james-white-wisconsinThe tough teams that Ohio State will have to contend with start in Madison, where Wisconsin is coming off back-to-back Big Ten championships. The Badgers need to replace Monte Ball, but their running game should be just as strong as ever with James White and Melvin Gordon carrying the pigskin. Plus their stout offensive line should make the transition much easier.

Northwestern should be a surprise contender since they have a very strong offense. Senior running back Venrick Mack will be all over the field for the Wildcats since he not only runs the ball, but also returns punts and kicks. QB Kain Colter should also have a strong year.

Assuming neither of these teams can knock off OSU, Michigan will be waiting for them at the end of the season. They won’t have speedster Denard Robinson leading the offense any longer. But QB Devin Gardner is hoping that he can keep the chains moving for the Wolverines when they face Ohio State.

Seeing as how the Buckeyes won half of their games last season by 7 points or less, we should be in for plenty of thrilling contests in Columbus. And if OSU can find a way to continue grinding these games out, they could be headed for a chance at the 2013 BCS Championship.

College Basketball Power Rankings for Feb. 8th, 2013

trey-burke-michiganComing up with a number one college basketball team has been extremely challenging this week. After all, most of the top 10 teams lost, so it’s not like one club shined over the others. That said, this week was all about defining potential and considering which teams have the best shot at winning the NCAA tournament. Indiana, Michigan, Duke and Florida have all been very impressive this season, so we narrowly gave the top spot in this week’s power rankings to one of these teams.

1. Michigan Wolverines (21-2) – At this point, some people might be wondering why we’d rank the Wolverines above Indiana following a recent eight-point loss to the Hoosiers. And the reasoning is two-fold: A) this game was on the road, and B) Indiana just lost to an unranked team. This being said, we think Michigan would be slightly better on a neutral court. Plus they looked good in their last game, which saw the Wolverines beat 10th-ranked Ohio State by three points.

2. Indiana Hoosiers (20-3) – Maybe not everybody will agree that the nation’s top two teams reside in the Big-10. However, we strongly think that both of these clubs are headed towards a number one seed when March Madness begins. As alluded to before, the Hoosiers lost to unranked Illinois by two points. But remember that this Fighting Illini team is 16-8 and was playing Indiana at home.

Duke v Miami3. Duke Blue Devils (20-2) – Here’s where things get even trickier. The Blue Devils could make a case for being ranked ahead of Indiana – especially based on their outstanding early season wins. However, it was only January 23rd when Duke lost to the Miami Hurricanes by 27 points. The Blue Devils appear to be righting the ship again though after four straight wins, which includes avenging an earlier loss to NC State. A February 13th home game against long-time rival North Carolina should be quite interesting.

4. Florida Gators (18-3) – Florida was in excellent position to grab the nation’s number one ranking; however, they lost to a decent 14-8 Arkansas team by 11 points. That said, we don’t think the Gators are quite THE top team, but rather at the edge of potential number one tournament seeds. It’ll be interesting to see how far senior guard Kenny Boynton (13.2 PPG) and junior center Patric Young (11.0 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.8 BPG) can lead this team come March.

C.J. Fair,  Lance Storrs5. Syracuse Orange (18-3) – Syracuse has really been up and down over the past few weeks. They grabbed wins over Villanova, Louisville and Cincinnati to close out January; then they followed this up with two straight losses to Villanova and Pittsburgh. However, the Orange bounced back with a dominating 63-47 victory over 25th-ranked Notre Dame. Junior forward C.J. Fair has really stepped up his production (13.9 PPG, 7.1 RPG) this season.

6. Arizona Wildcats (20-2) – The Wildcats jump several spots from last week after winning four straight games. None of their recent victories (USC, Washington, Washington State, Stanford) are extremely impressive, but they are all Pac-10 wins nonetheless. Looking ahead in the schedule, it’s difficult to see Arizona not winning their conference and grabbing at least a number two seed for the tournament.

gary-harris7. Michigan State Spartans (18-4) – Once again, Tom Izzo’s squad is back in the national title picture, despite being in the toughest conference this year. Some of the upcoming Big-10 landmines include Michigan (twice), Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Assuming Michigan State can win two or three of these games, they should remain in the top 10 throughout this year. Freshman guard Gary Harris has provided a nice spark for the Spartans with his 12.9 PPG, 1.2 SPG and 41.8% from three-point territory.

8. Kansas Jayhawks (19-3) – In our last power rankings, we were fully confident that Kansas was the top team in NCAA basketball. But back to back losses have changed this notion in a big way! First, the Jayhawks lost on the road to a respectable 16-5 Oklahoma State team. Unfortunately, they followed this up with a road loss to the lowly-TCU Horned Frogs (10-12). Coach Bill Self had nothing bad things to say about his team in quipping, “It was the worst team that Kansas ever put on the floor, since Dr. Naismith was there. I think he had some bad teams when he lost to Topeka YMCA and things like that in the first couple years. But for the first half, there hasn’t been a team play worse than that offensively.”

9. Miami Hurricanes (18-3) – An earlier 27-point win over Duke was no fluke – Miami is for real! Now this number nine power ranking isn’t based on the entire season because the Hurricanes have very ugly losses to Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana State (at home). But this Jekyll and Hyde club also has scored victories over Michigan State, North Carolina, Duke, NC State and Maryland. Throw in the fact that they’re 9-0 in the ACC right now, and Miami definitely belongs among the elite teams.

10. Gonzaga Bulldogs (21-2) – When it comes to mid-majors, we like both Gonzaga and Butler. However, with Butler losing to both Saint Louis and La Salle lately, it’s the Zags that crack our top 10 this week. Following their one-point loss on the road to Butler, Gonzaga has responded by winning five straight contests. Sure most of these were fairly easy opponents, but a 20-point win over BYU (18-7) is definitely a quality victory. 7’0″ forward Kelly Olynyk continues to improve his NBA Draft stock with another impressive year at Gonzaga (17.6 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 1.0 RPG).