Despite watching the 2012 Big Ten Conference Championship Game from home this December, the Ohio State Buckeyes will be the hands-down favorite to win the conference in 2013.
Urban Meyer led Ohio State to an unthinkable 12-0 season in his first year in Columbus, and will now be under incredible pressure to follow that up with another stellar season, this time capping it off with a big-time bowl berth.
Before Meyer and the Buckeyes can celebrate another strong finish in 2013, though, they'll need to navigate their way past some serious threats in the Big Ten.
The Badgers have won the conference championship outright the past two seasons and finished first or tied for first the last three years.
Therefore, Wisconsin will without question be Ohio State's toughest competition in the Big Ten Leaders division in 2013.
The good news for the Buckeyes is that they will play Wisconsin in Columbus next season, giving them crucial home-field advantage in a matchup that could potentially determine which program represents the division in the Big Ten title game at season's end.
Ohio State will actually open conference play with Wisconsin in September, which means that if the Buckeyes aren't firing on all cylinders early in the year, they may have their title hopes crushed before the calendar even flips to October.
One of the greatest rivalries in sports is Michigan vs. Ohio State, and in 2013 the Big Ten could come down to both teams, as they each play in separate divisions. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes will have to take on the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in 2013.
Ohio State has had Michigan's numbers in recent years, but fell short on the road in 2011.
The Wolverines will also have a Top 10 2013 recruiting class coming next season, including more than a dozen 4-star commits. Michigan will bring in a top-rated quarterback in Shane Morris and a number of talented offensive lineman.
Brady Hoke is 1-1 against Ohio State since joining Big Blue, and certainly knows the recipe to successfully upending the Buckeyes in the Big House.
Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State surprised the college football world in 2012, finishing 8-4 despite receiving heavy sanctions prior to the start of this past season following the child sexual abuse scandal that rocked the university in 2011.
The Buckeyes beat the Nittany Lions last year quite comfortably in Happy Valley, but will square off with the them again in 2013. This time, though, Penn State will be the only side playing with nothing to lose as it enters year No. 2 of its postseason ban.
This matchup is scheduled for late October after the first BCS standings will have been released, and that will only give Penn State added inspiration to try and knock off Ohio State in front of its home crowd. Though Penn State should be considered the last major threat to Ohio State in the Big Ten next season, the Buckeyes would be foolish to sleep on the rest of their conference opponents.
Road matchups at Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois, as well as overlooked home games against Iowa and Indiana are all capable of producing disastrous results for Meyer's squad in 2013.
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