NCAA Football Preview - Ohio State Buckeyes

9:56 AM, Aug 20, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -

2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: A NCAA postseason ban was all that stood between the Buckeyes and a shot at a national title in the first year of the Urban Meyer era. While it wasn't always pretty, OSU managed to pull off a perfect 12-0 season.

Half of the team's wins were by seven points or less, including overtime victories against Purdue and Wisconsin. The Buckeyes were successful largely because they could run the ball and stop opponents from doing the same. They ranked 10th nationally in rushing offense (242.3 ypg) and 14th in rushing defense (116.1 ypg allowed).

The fact that the Buckeyes stayed focused and ran the slate in a season they essentially had nothing to play for is a scary thought for the rest of the college football landscape.


OFFENSE: Meyer's spread attack wound up leading the Big Ten in scoring offense with an average of 37.2 ppg. Star quarterback Braxton Miller is back for his third year under center after posting a 140.5 efficiency rating. He threw for 15 touchdowns and only six interceptions, although his 58.3-percent completion rate could stand to improve. The dynamic Miller also ran for 1,271 yards and 13 scores.

Carlos Hyde scored 16 rushing TDs and averaged 5.2 yards per carry last year as a junior, but he is suspended for three games for his involvement in a nightclub altercation. Jordan Hall (5.4 ypc) and Bri'onte Dunn (5.3 ypc) are expected to fill in during Hyde's absence.

OSU is loaded at wideout, where Corey Brown (60 receptions, 669 yards, 3 TDs) and Devin Smith (30 rec, 618 yds, 6 TDs) both return, while the coaching staff injected some speed in the recruiting class. Meyer said he also plans to feature plenty of two-tight end sets to utilize the strengths of Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett.

In addition, the offensive line is regarded as one of the strongest units in not only the conference but the country, highlighted by First-Team All-Big Ten guard Andrew Norwell (6-6, 319) and Second-Team All-Big Ten tackle Jack Mewhort (6-7, 308).

DEFENSE: The defense is a step or two behind the offense and will be faced with the task of replacing eight starters.

Meyer knows that is no easy challenge.

"Defense is where the issues are," Meyer said. "We lost our entire front seven. I believe we recruited well."

Several of those recruits will have to step in and play well if the Buckeyes hope to be in the BCS picture. Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier is the only holdover from the front-seven, and he led the team last year with 115 tackles and 17.0 tackles for loss. Shazier also broke up 11 passes and forced three fumbles. He'll be counted on to fill a huge leadership role on the defensive side of the ball.

There is some experience in the secondary. Safety Christian Bryant and cornerback Bradley Roby were the team's second- and third-leading tacklers, respectively. Roby is regarded as one of the nation's top cover corners after earning Second-Team All-America status in 2012, but he has been suspended for the season opener for an off-the-field incident in July. Roby and Bryant combined for 29 pass breakups, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Safety C.J. Barnett, the team's No. 4 tackler, also returns after picking off a pair of passes.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Kicker Drew Basil didn't get a ton of action last year, as he converted only 8-of-11 attempts. Two of his misses were between 30 and 39 yards, perhaps illustrating why Meyer never seemed too interested in kicking field goals. Corey "Philly" Brown remains a dangerous weapon in the punt return game, as evidenced by his two return TDs a year ago.

OUTLOOK: OSU enters the season ranked second behind Alabama in the USA Today preseason coaches' poll. The Buckeyes are also the odds-on favorite to win the Big Ten Championship, something they are actually eligible to try and achieve this year.

Talent abounds on the offensive side of the ball, and with Meyer's recruiting prowess, the defense may not be quite as big of a concern as it appears on paper. The biggest obstacle standing in the Buckeyes' way might just be the Buckeyes. The coach spent virtually all of his media day session talking about off-the-field issues that continue to haunt the program.

Hyde, Roby, and a pair of recruits were all disciplined on July 22 for separate incidents. Still, Meyer insists the team is focused on one thing and one thing only, and a few bad apples won't spoil that.

"There's been zero conversation about anything other than competing for a championship in November, which we were able to do last year," Meyer said. "We were able to compete for the Leaders Division championship a year ago. That's the only conversation we have."

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