(It should be noted this preseason ranking was determined before news of Braxton Miller being lost for the season.)
2013 Record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in Big Ten (lost to Michigan State in championship game)
2013 postseason: Orange Bowl (40-35 loss to Clemson)
2013 final AP/coaches ranking: No. 12/No. 10
Head coach: Urban Meyer (128-25 overall, 24-2 in two years at Ohio State)
Offensive coordinator: Tom Herman (3rd year at Ohio State), Ed Warinner (3rd year at Ohio State)
2013 offensive rankings: 5th rushing offense (308.64 ypg), 90th passing offense (203.3 ypg), 7th total offense (511.9 ypg), 3rd scoring offense (45.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 4*
Co-defensive coordinators: Luke Fickell (13th year at Ohio State), Chris Ash (first year at Ohio State)
2013 defensive rankings: 9th rushing defense (109.43 ypg), 112th passing defense (268.0 ypg), 47th total defense (377.4 ypg), 28th scoring defense (22.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Stadium: Ohio Stadium (104,944; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2010 (2009, outright)
In a season that once appeared to be all about making the playoff or bust, the Buckeyes still look to have a very good shot at making a run at a Big Ten title despite losing starting quarterback Braxton Miller for the season. Losing Miller cannot be understated for the fortunes of this season, but more on that in a moment. What Ohio State does have is a roster that has been built by landing the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten each of the past four seasons, so the talent on the roster is not much of a concern for the Buckeyes as far as the Big Ten is concerned. One fo the downfalls of Ohio State last season was the defense not being strong enough to hold off a balanced opponent like Michigan State or slow down a potent offense like the one owned by Clemson. When push came to shove, Ohio State’s defensive line was the one being shoved in the clutch. That should change some this season with a focus on toughening up the defense. New defensive line coach Larry Johnson (from Penn State) will have an impact with the play of the defensive line, which could be the best in the Big Ten, with Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa up front and Noah Spence scheduled to return following a multi-game suspension. Ohio State’s opening games may be more difficult now, without Miller, but the Buckeyes should still be able to remain one of the favorites in the Big Ten’s East division.
The loss of Miller is without a doubt a major blow for Ohio State. Miller was Ohio State’s, and the Big Ten’s, best player when healthy and his contributions to the Ohio State offense will not be easy to make up. Miller was not only looking to improve with his passing abilities, but he was also the team’s leading rusher returning this season (1,283 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013). Ohio State should still be able to run the football this fall, but the loss of Miller has the potential to make Ohio State’s running game much less of a threat to opposing defenses. That is, until we see just how redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett adapts to his new responsibilities under center.
Ohio State has plenty of talent, but now head coach Urban Meyer is challenged to find a way to make everything come together in a different way than he may have been spending all summer doing. Meyer is a really good coach — one of the best in the country — but can he manage to keep Ohio State among the favorites for a playoff spot at the end of the year after losing Miller and lead running back Carlos Hyde (NFL) with a lack of significant experience in the backfield? Throwing an extra challenge into the equation this season is Ohio State does not have as easy a non-conference schedule to allow these things to be sorted out without concern. Ohio State faces a decent Navy team in the season opener in Baltimore, and then hosts a Virgina Tech team that should be improved this fall. A home game against Cincinnati could present a challenge to before getting into Big Ten play.
MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Penn State
The road game at Michigan State is still the highlight of the 2014 Ohio State schedule, and the non-conference slate should help show just what Ohio State will be this season. A road game at Penn State, in primetime, could be the first real challenge for the Buckeyes though, despite the Nittany Lions being a thin team when it comes to depth and Ohio State blasting their neighbors from the east 63-14 last fall. If Penn State stays healthy, they could pose a threat to Ohio State at home in a revenge situation. New head coach James Franklin has sparked the program a bit, and playing in front of 100,000 fans not cheering for you could be a challenge for a young quarterback like Barrett. Win this game, and Ohio State will prove to remain a top threat in the East.
HEISMAN HOPEFUL: WR Devin Smith
Braxton Miller would have been the easy pick here, but with the quarterback ut of commission this fall the next best offensive player may end up being wide receiver Devin Smith. Smith should be one of the top receivers for the Buckeyes this fall as Ohio State’s leading returning receiver with 660 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.
* Not counting injured quarterback Braxton Miller
(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)