When talking Ohio State football, most accolades go to dual-threat phenom quarterback Braxton Miller or the destructive defensive line led by defensive end John Simon.
And rightfully so.
However, something that goes unrecognized all too often is the secondary unit, featured by redshirt sophomore Bradley Roby—who is already proving to be one of the best shutdown corners in the nation—alongside senior Travis Howard and junior safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant.
All four are returning starters from a quiet yet effective 2011 campaign, as they allowed just 182.0 yards per game through the air (14th in the NCAA) and forced 13 of the team's 20 turnovers.
Now in his third season with the program, Roby has the experience to become the next great playmaker at the cornerback position. He has the ability to lock onto opponents and the speed (4.31 40-yard dash) to stick with anyone.
Howard had a rough junior debut. There's no getting around it. The infamous "Howard Island" was a joke, and he did nothing more than play well below expectations and Ohio State standards.
But it seems as if he's put that behind him heading into his senior year.
“Travis looks like what a cornerback should look like,” co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch. “We want to see the consistency throughout the season. Through the last two or three weeks of camp, he’s been as good a corner as I’ve been around.”
Which Ohio State defensive unit will have the best year?
Barnett was Ohio State's leader in tackles (75) last season and is currently a Thorpe Award candidate for best defensive back in the nation. He's one of the most consistent players on the team and knows the system in and out.
The 6'1", 200-pound Dayton native is a leader on and off the field and has the athleticism to become one of the better safeties to come through Columbus.
Bryant is a hard-hitting gambler who found consistency toward the latter end of last season. Finishing third on the team with 68 tackles, we can expect the junior to have much improved field awareness, which should contribute to some turnovers.
Adding this secondary (which is ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten by ESPN's Adam Rittenberg) to a downright nasty defensive front seven and you get one of the better overall units in the conference, if not the nation.