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College Football Preview: 3. Ohio State Buckeyes

3. Ohio State Buckeyes

Ohio State may have ended up as the best team in all of the land last year, we will never know. The Buckeyes went 12-0 dominating the weak Big Ten all year but of course, were ineligible for the postseason. With Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller returning for his junior year along with a stellar defense it is a real possibility the Buckeyes will end up as the best team this year.

Braxton Miller
Backfield: The whole season rests on the shoulders of Braxton Miller. The scrambler had a breakout sophomore year after a rollercoaster of a freshman season. He looked a lot like Terrelle Pryor last year and has nowhere to go but up with improvement in some key areas this year. Teams that will force Miller to throw will be disappointed; his passing game has developed into a force just as strong as his legs. Though the Buckeyes' offense shouldn't be doomed if Miller struggles with the return of senior back Carlos Hyde. Hyde had a 17 touchdown season (16 on ground, 1 receiving) including a four touchdown performance against Nebraska. With some speed and moves it is possible Hyde doesn't take a complete backseat to Miller.

Receiving: Tight end Jake Stoneburner is now gone but Braxton still has a ton of quality targets. Junior Devin Smith did more than just make the catch of the year last season, he turned into a consistent threat. He should have a breakout year with his great hands and ability to beat defensive backs down the field. A senior, Corey Brown, should also turn into a dangerous weapon this year as well. Junior Evan Spencer didn't do too much last year but should emerge in 2013. Other options for Miller include senior Chris Fields, massive junior tight end Jeff Heuerman and LA product Michael Thomas. With Ohio State's first four opponents (Buffalo, San Diego State, Florida A&M and California) having weak secondaries this passing game could go wild.

Offensive Line: With all that talent in that backfield the Buckeyes need a good offensive line. They definitely do. Senior tackle Jack Mewhort is a 6-7 monster who has proved he is an All-Big Ten caliber player. Along with Mewhort, this line includes two great senior guards in Marcus Hall and Andrew Norwell. Neither of them are small either, both standing at 6-6 and 300+ pounds. Even with some injuries OSU still has incredible depth along this line meaning good things for Miller and Hyde.

Defensive Line: Over the years Ohio State has been rich with fantastic pass rushers like Vernon Gholston, Cameron Heyward and John Simon. Though, this year getting pressure on opponents may prove to be a difficult task for the Buckeyes. The team doesn't have one proven returner on this line with the graduations of Simon and Nathan Williams and the loss of Johnathan Hankins to the NFL. Though even with all that it is Ohio State, meaning there is talent there. Sophomore Adolphus Washington should prove to be a disruptive force up the middle. Starting alongside Washington at the opposite defensive tackle spot should be junior Michael Bennett, who can also fill gaps. On the edge it appears the Buckeyes should rely on sophomore Noah Spence to get most of their sacks. Urban Meyer also managed to reel in a solid linemen in freshman Joey Bosa from Florida.

Linebackers: If Spence and the rest of Ohio State's D-Line struggle to get pressure on quarterbacks it should be outside 'backer Ryan Shazier filling that need. Shazier, a junior, emerged as a threat to get into the backfield and also make big tackles. Though the rest of this linebacker core is pretty weak with the loss of Storm Klein. The middle linebacker position looks like it will be filled by another junior Curtis Grant. Although unproven it appears Grant is up to the challenge of being an important piece to this defense. Sophomore Josh Perry looks like he will fill out the other outside linebacker spot. He isn't as great as Shazier but he can make plays.
Bradley Roby

Secondary: This is the strength of this Ohio State defense. Junior cornerback Bradley Roby returns after briefly flirting with the NFL. Although not incredibly big nor very quick Roby can hang with any receiver in the nation with his coverage skills. If he continues where he left off last year he could be an All-American. Senior safety C.J. Barnett wasn't as strong as hoped last year but is still a soild player in the back. Another senior, Christian Bryant, should also be expected to make contributions to this defense. The depth is also there for this secondary with the additions of impact freshman Eli Apple and Vonn Bell. Both are Top 50 recruits.

The Buckeyes should once more rule the Big Ten with an iron fist. Though, in order for them to take the next step towards a National Championship they need Miller to continue to develop and to stay healthy. If all that happens OSU could end the SEC's run of championships.

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