Ohio State Football: Previewing Toughest Big Ten Games in 2013

John RozumCorrespondent IFebruary 20, 2013

Ohio State Football: Previewing Toughest Big Ten Games in 2013

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    Coming off a 12-0 season, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes have the talent and recruiting class to run the table in 2013.

    Ohio State's recruiting class ranks No. 1 on Scout.com and No. 2 on Rivals.com, which obviously has the Buckeyes in the BCS national title conversation.

    Even better, the schedule isn't overly difficult from a non-conference perspective.

    So, we can certainly anticipate Meyer's team sporting a 4-0 record when Big Ten play kicks off in late September. When the conference battles start, however, Ohio State fans have every reason to believe perfection is a reality.

    Expected victories come in the form of Iowa, Purdue (away), Illinois (away) and Indiana, as all four finished last season with a losing record.

    In turn, let's check out the Buckeyes' toughest tests en route to a berth in the Big Ten championship game this December.

Vs. Wisconsin

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    Ohio State's conference opener welcomes Wisconsin to The Horseshoe.

    After a grueling overtime victory in Madison last season, the Buckeyes get to face a Badgers team without running back Montee Ball, as he was a senior in 2012.

    Still, James White is a tough back to face, as he collected 806 rushing yards and scored 12 touchdowns on the ground in 2012. Not to mention, he averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

    This will also be a key aspect in stopping the Badgers' attack because controlling the line of scrimmage is Wisconsin's forte. But an established ground game will set up the pass, and coverage in the secondary was Ohio State's weaker defensive aspect last year.

    Nevertheless, the Badgers don't have the offensive prowess to match that of Ohio State.

    Wisconsin fielded seniors Devin Smith, Marcus Cromartie and Mike Taylor in 2012, whereas the Buckeyes still have Braxton Miller at quarterback in 2013. Per usual, he will be the key impact player.

At Northwestern

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    If there is one team capable of ousting the Buckeyes before Ohio State travels to Michigan, it is Northwestern.

    The Wildcats are coming off a 10-3 season that included wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi State of the SEC.

    Moreover, Pat Fitzgerald's squad's three losses were by a mere 19 combined points. Much like when facing Wisconsin, though, expect Northwestern to present a similar approach with running back Venric Mark.

    He accounted for 1,366 rushing yards in 2012, along with 12 ground scores and an average of six yards per carry. Considering that Johnathan Hankins and John Simon are entering pro football, the Wildcats offense will likely move the ball efficiently through the trenches.

    Northwestern also presents the versatile Kain Colter who will cause the Buckeyes defensive problems.

    As a result, expect Ohio State's offense to really up the tempo and get Northwestern on its heels early. The Wildcats are well-versed against the run, so allowing Braxton Miller to attack downfield will force Northwestern's offense away from its strength.

Vs. Penn State

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    Considering the situation at Penn State when new head coach Bill O'Brien took over, the Nittany Lions found something positive to look forward to last season.

    O'Brien got Penn State to finish 8-4 after starting 0-2, and the Nittany Lions went 6-2 in the Big Ten.

    Jumping ahead to the 2013 season, Penn State will be a tough challenge for Ohio State. Running back Zach Zwinak hit a grand on the ground and receiver Allen Robinson caught 77 passes for 1,018 yards and 11 scores.

    Unfortunately, quarterback Matt McGloin was a senior, so Penn State's balanced offense will be tough to maintain. That said, keep expecting teams to punch Ohio State in the trenches. Controlling the line of scrimmage and game clock will keep Braxton Miller off the field.

    Plus, the threat of Robinson going deep will stretch the Buckeyes defense. Therefore, when possessing the rock, Ohio State has to utilize more balance and take advantage of every scoring opportunity.

    Penn State plays sound defense and preventing the Nittany Lions from winning the field position battle will be most vital because better position for Penn State's offense will mean increased odds of Robinson making a big play near the end zone.

At Michigan

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    The Michigan Wolverines are far and away Ohio State's toughest challenge for 2013.

    First, offensive tackle Taylor Lewan elected to return for his senior campaign, per Kyle Meinke of MLive.com in early January.

    Second, running back Fitzgerald Toussaint is reportedly getting healthier, also from Kyle Meinke of MLive.com in early February:

    Michigan running backs coach Fred Jackson said he saw Toussaint running this week and was "shocked" at how well he was moving just three months after breaking his leg.

    Will he be ready for the start of his senior season?

    "You know what -- I really do, because when I saw him running around, that was shocking," Jackson said. "He's ahead of schedule, and people in the training room feel good about him. I'm not sure, but you asked me if I expect him (to be ready) -- and I would say yes."

    Michigan possesses the same offensive balance as Penn State, but on a much more potent level. With solid playmakers and a mobile quarterback in Devin Gardner, the Buckeyes defense won't completely slow down the Wolverines.

    As a result, the game will once again come down to Braxton Miller's impact. The more he can make plays out of the pocket, the more Ohio State will be able to set up the traditional ground attack and utilize play-action.

    This game will be about ball control and capitalizing on turnovers because Michigan matches up quite well with Urban Meyer's crew.