Ohio State Football: Players Who Must Shine to Keep Buckeyes Undefeated

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Ohio State Football: Players Who Must Shine to Keep Buckeyes Undefeated
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

The Ohio State Buckeyes' remarkable 2012 campaign may not get the recognition of the rankers, but the team will be able to cap off an undefeated season on Saturday if it wins against the hated rival No. 19 Michigan Wolverines.

In his first season as Buckeyes head coach, Urban Meyer has cultivated his team's talents and exceeded all expectations. A win and a brilliant performance from his top players could be a great catalyst for Ohio State in 2013, when the school returns to bowl eligibility.

Nevertheless, anytime these two rivals get together, it takes a top-notch performance from star players to get a win. That will certainly be the case on Saturday, as the Wolverines have just one loss in the Big Ten and come in winners of three straight games.

With that in mind, here is a look at the Ohio State stars that must step up to help finish off the undefeated season against Michigan. 

 

Braxton Miller

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

It's been a popular trope all season where people say the Buckeyes' hopes lie directly on Braxton Miller's shoulders. To a certain extent, that's definitely true and will be the case this week against Michigan.

However, the team did prove it could win despite a paltry performance from its quarterback last week against Wisconsin. Miller completed just 10-of-18 passes for 97 yards, gained 48 yards on 23 carries and failed to score a touchdown.

While Ohio State still somehow found a way to win, the sophomore quarterback cannot have a similar performance against Michigan. 

The Wolverines have hit their stride offensively in recent weeks and will pose the toughest defensive challenge since Nebraska in October. If Devin Gardner (or Denard Robinson) and the Michigan offense begin rolling up the points on the Buckeyes, it will be up to Miller to lead the charge back down the field.

Considering his recent inconsistencies, the Ohio State dual-threat excelling isn't as guaranteed as it once was.

 

Carlos Hyde

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

The overarching reason the Buckeyes were able to survive a poor performance from Miller last week was the continued brilliance of Carlos Hyde.

A bruising junior, Hyde rushed for 87 yards on 15 carries and got into the end zone twice. Those scores gave Hyde 15 rushing touchdowns on the season and extended his streak to six straight games with a score.

If the Ohio State running back extends his streak to seven games, it's extremely likely that the Buckeyes walk out of Saturday's game undefeated.

Michigan has only allowed eight rushing touchdowns all season and its front seven is getting better with every game. Hyde's ability to wear down those lineman and linebackers over the course of the game will not only set up better rushing lanes, but also help Miller and receivers on the outside as well.

It won't be easy, but Hyde's continued excellence may be the key to the entire offense.

 

Travis Howard

Jeff Hanisch-US PRESSWIRE

No matter whether Gardner or Robinson starts at quarterback, there will be opportunities to create a huge turnover.

Robinson's penchant for the pick has become something of a plague. The senior dual-threat has thrown nine interceptions this season and 24 over the past two seasons as he struggles against elite defenses.

Gardner, while more careful, is yet to go a game as a starter without tossing a ball to the opposing team. 

Luckily for the Buckeyes, they have the best ball-hawking secondary in the Big Ten. Coming into Saturday's contest, Ohio State leads the conference with 13 interceptions and Travis Howard is a big reason for that standing.

The senior corner has picked off a career-high four passes this season. If he's able to get halfway to double digits, Howard could swing the momentum in his team's favor.

With an undefeated record on the line, look for Howard to try to make his last game against Michigan count. 

 

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