Ohio State 2012 Football Schedule: Keys to Each Game

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMay 9, 2012

Ohio State 2012 Football Schedule: Keys to Each Game

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    With each passing day, we inch that much closer to the college football season kicking off.

    There isn't much more excitement for a team to begin the season than there is for the Ohio State Buckeyes. They return the majority of their team from a year ago, have a proven head coach in Urban Meyer and a recruiting class that is stacked from top to bottom. It's safe to say that the future is looking extremely bright for this program.

    The 2012 Buckeyes will be banned from postseason play, but that doesn't mean this season doesn't mean anything. Ohio State may not be eligible to win the Big Ten this season, but it'll surely play a huge part in who does.

    We've broken down the schedule, given you predictions and listed some of the must-win games for the Buckeyes this year.

    Now it's time to give you one key to victory for each game on the Buckeyes' schedule.

Vs. Miami (Ohio)

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    Key: Come out with the same energy they had in the spring.

    People are really excited to see what Urban Meyer is going to do for this Ohio State program. The spring has generated a lot of buzz, and the Buckeyes led the nation in spring game attendance with over 80,000 fans showing up to watch a glorified scrimmage. 

    I think we all know who the more talented team is between these two squads, and there's really no reason this game shouldn't be decided by at least two touchdowns in the Buckeyes' favor. The RedHawks offense was ranked 103rd in the country last season, and the running game was ranked dead last. The Buckeyes have won both meetings against this program, and Meyer has never lost the first game of the season as a head coach.

    If the Buckeyes come out with the same energy they had in the spring and don't suffer a letdown because they're playing a team that has only reached one bowl game since 2004, they'll be fine.

Vs. UCF

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    Key: Create turnovers. 

    The Knights are a team capable of pulling off an early upset. This is a team that returns 15 total starters and has an offense that averaged over 27 points a contest in 2011. They also competed with Southern Miss and BYU last season, while knocking off Houston and Georgia in 2010.

    UCF is a team on the rise, but the recipe to beating them is forcing a couple of turnovers. The Knights only turned the ball over 18 times last year (tied for second in C-USA), but in five of their seven losses last year, they coughed the ball up at least two times.

    Regardless of how talented this team is, they're not going to beat the Buckeyes if they don't take care of the football. Ohio State forced 20 turnovers last year, if they can create a couple in this game, they'll win easily.

Vs. Cal

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    Key: Pressure the quarterback. 

    In the Pac-12, California may not get much credit because of high-scoring offenses such as Oregon and USC, but this is a team that can hold its own. The Golden Bears finished 7-6 last year and went toe-to-toe with solid offensive teams such as Stanford and Washington.

    The Golden Bears return six starters on the offensive side of the ball, including their starting quarterback. This is a team that averaged over 28 points per game and almost 250 yards in the air. However, they're also a team that allowed 28 sacks, tied for 74th in the country.

    Cal could create a few headaches if that offense gets going, but a way to stop that is to pressure Zach Maynard and force him into a few mistakes (27 combined interceptions in the last two seasons).

Vs. UAB

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    Key: Don't fall for the trap.

    Is a game plan truly needed to beat the Blazers? After all, this is a team that hasn't reached a bowl game since 2004, lost to Florida Atlantic of all teams and was ranked in the 100s in scoring offense and scoring defense.

    The Buckeyes will be the home team in this contest and are likely more talented at every position on the field. The only way I could see Ohio State having trouble in this game is if they get caught looking ahead to the away game against Michigan State next week, and even then a loss here would take a lot more than that.

    The Buckeyes just have to take care of business for the first 30 minutes or so, and this game will be history for UAB.

At Michigan State

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    Key: Protect Braxton Miller.

    We all know what this game is going to be. Both teams are loaded on defense, and it wouldn't be surprising if the first team that scored 10 points wins the game (just like last season's matchup). But the key in this game is protecting quarterback Braxton Miller.

    Michigan State returns the majority of its starters on the defensive side of the ball, a defense that finished third in the country with 45 sacks. Only two teams in all of college football allowed more sacks last season than Ohio State (46). In the Spartans victory last season, they picked up a ridiculous nine sacks, which was the most all season.

    The offensive line remains a question for this team, and if they're not able to keep their quarterback off the ground, this could get really ugly for the Buckeyes.

Vs. Nebraska

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    Key: Slow down Rex Burkhead. 

    Nebraska has one of the most one-dimensional offenses in all of college football. Quarterback Taylor Martinez couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat, and the ground game provides the majority of their offensive production. Running back Rex Burkhead really took his game to the next level last season, rushing for over 1,300 yards and 17 total touchdowns.

    In the victory over Ohio State last year, he rushed for 119 yards, caught five passes for 59 yards and scored two touchdowns. (Both scores came in the fourth quarter, giving the Cornhuskers the lead and the victory).

    Now, Burkhead will enter this season as a Heisman candidate and will likely play well regardless. But if the Buckeyes can make Martinez throw the ball a little bit more than he'd like to, the defense would be much better off.

At Indiana

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    Key: Keep them out of the end zone.

    Isn't this the key to every football game? Sure, but with Indiana it's an even bigger factor. There's a reason the Hoosiers only won one game last season, and it's not really due to a lack of talent. It's simply because they couldn't score when they had opportunities to put up seven points.

    Indiana got inside the red zone 37 times last season (the same amount as the Florida Gators) but only scored 75 percent of the time, ranking 98th in the country. Only seven teams had a lower touchdown percentage at 48 percent, which played a huge factor in why their scoring offense was ranked 101st overall.

    The Hoosiers do return 17 starters from last season, but if they don't learn how to finish off drives, they'll once again lose many football games. If Ohio State can prevent this team from scoring touchdowns, they'll extend their winning streak over Indiana to 18 straight.

Vs. Purdue

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    Key: Produce big plays on offense.

    Urban Meyer has been looking for playmakers on this offense throughout the spring. If he has found any, it would be wise to unleash them against this Purdue defense. The Boilermakers only allowed nearly 27 points per game, which was about average last season, but they had a knack for giving up the big play all of last year.

    Purdue allowed 205 plays that went over 10 yards, which was by far the worst in the conference and tied for 106 worst in the country, with teams like Iowa State, Baylor and New Mexico. They also allowed 54 plays that went over 20 yards, which was third worst in the Big Ten, only ahead of Northwestern and Indiana.

    The Buckeyes only produced 295 yards of offense in last year's meeting, but if they can break off a few big plays, they should be able to win this game.

At Penn State

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    Key: Keep them in third-down situations. 

    Penn State was painful to watch on offense last season as its scoring offense was ranked No. 110 in the country. This season likely won't be much better as the Nittany Lions still have no answer at quarterback and questionable playmakers surrounding them.

    That's why keeping Penn State in third-down situations is the easiest way to knock this team off. The Nittany Lions had the worst third-down conversion rate in the Big Ten and 97th worst in the country last year at 36 percent. They don't have a quarterback who can make enough plays to bail them out, and running back Silas Redd would likely be a non-factor in those situations.

    Penn State has many questions on both sides of the ball with a new head coach and many players leaving. With a trip to Happy Valley, the best way to squeeze out a victory is to make things very difficult for them on offense.

Vs. Illinois

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    Key: Generate pressure on their quarterback. 

    The Buckeyes were one of the worst teams at protecting their quarterback last season, but Illinois wasn't too far off. The Fighting Illini allowed 36 sacks last season, which was the 10th worst in the conference and 109th in the entire country.

    Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase has been sacked 56 times in the last two seasons. In last year's victory, Ohio State sacked him twice.

    It's mighty hard to score points when your quarterback is constantly facing relentless pressure. If the Buckeyes can get in the backfield and create plays, they should have little trouble winning this football game.

At Wisconsin

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    Key: Slow down Montee Ball.

    It's no secret who's going to carry this Wisconsin Badger team this season. Running back Montee Ball rushed for over 1,900 yards last season and scored 39 touchdowns. With quarterback Russell Wilson in the NFL and a few other key offensive weapons no longer on the roster, he's going to remain the workhorse for offensive success. 

    The Badgers still aren't sure who the starting quarterback is going to be, which means that Ball will likely once again see over 300 touches this year. In the loss to Ohio State last season, the running back only touched the ball 17 times but managed to run for 85 yards, including a 40-yard run. He also averaged 10 yards a catch and scored two touchdowns.

    If the Buckeyes expect to go into Camp Randall Stadium and earn a victory, they have to try to contain the leader of the squad. Ball averaged at least five yards a game in every contest last year except one; as long as he runs well, Wisconsin will always have a chance to win the game.

Vs. Michigan

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    Key: Force Denard Robinson to throw the ball. 

    Much like the game against Nebraska, Ohio State is facing a quarterback who would rather use his feet to make plays and not his arm. He only threw the ball over 20 times five times last season. His awkward throwing motion has resulted in 26 interceptions the last two seasons and has been a key reason why Michigan lets teams hang around at times.

    Robinson and running back Fitzgerald Toussaint want to run the ball every chance they get, so forcing them to throw the ball increases the chances of a turnover, which increases the odds of a victory. In the five games that Robinson threw the ball over 20 times, Toussaint either didn't play or failed to rush for over 60 yards.

    If the Buckeyes stop this 1-2 punch from running the ball all over the field, you have to like their chances of winning this game.