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.

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