Ohio State Football: Biggest Obstacles in Hunt for Championship in 2013

Justin Onslow@@JustinOnslowNFLContributor IIFebruary 21, 2013

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 24: Quarterback Braxton Miller #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes controls the ball against the Michigan Wolverines at Ohio Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

It isn’t often that a perfect 12-0 season doesn’t reward a major program with a championship shot, but that doesn’t mean 12-0 isn’t something to be excited about.

NCAA sanctions prohibited the Buckeyes from playing in a bowl game following the 2012 regular season. New head coach Urban Meyer saw it as an opportunity to prove how dangerous his squad could be in the coming years, and the Buckeyes certainly did exactly that.

After notching the No. 2 recruiting class in the nation this season (per 247Sports), Ohio State looks to storm the Big Ten Conference on the shoulders of one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and a defense that should dominate the competition in the coming years.

There aren’t many teams that boast as much potential for the upcoming fall as Ohio State. Anything short of a national championship will be a disappointment for the Buckeyes, but they are poised to make it happen in 2013.

Let’s take a look at some of the team’s biggest obstacles in its pursuit for a title this season.

Defensive Inconsistency

The Buckeyes fielded one of the more experienced defenses in the conference in 2012, but defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins and defensive end John Simon will enter the NFL draft this year, and defensive tackle Garrett Goebel used his final year of eligibility as a fifth-year senior in 2012.

Ohio State will be forced to field some new blood on the defensive side of the ball this year, especially with such a talented group of incoming freshmen to garner some immediate playing time.

Inexperience can lead to a lack of consistency, though.

The Buckeyes need more leaders to step up on the defensive side of the ball. Big plays repeatedly hurt the team in 2012, and it eventually finished No. 34 in the nation in total defense. For Ohio State to hope to make a championship run in 2013, it will have to cut down on those big plays and find a way to keep its defense focused and prepared.

Toughest Big Ten Challengers

Wisconsin (September 28, 2013)

Ohio State’s contest with Wisconsin is always an exciting affair, and this year should be no different.

Fortunately for the Buckeyes, this year’s game will be held in the friendly confines of the Horseshoe, and Wisconsin has undergone some major program changes this offseason. Montee Ball has departed for the NFL draft, head coach Bret Bielema left for Arkansas and new head coach Gary Anderson will have his work cut out for him to keep the program moving forward.

The matchup between these two teams is always a battle, though, and the Badgers present Ohio State with the second-toughest matchup they are likely to see in 2013. The road to the championship ultimately begins with Wisconsin on September 28.

Northwestern (October 5, 2013)

Northwestern experienced a resurgence in 2012, finishing the season with a 10-3 record and a berth in the Gator Bowl, in which the Wildcats defeated Mississippi State 34-20.

Ohio State didn’t face Northwestern in 2012, but the Buckeyes will travel to Evanston in 2013 following their matchup with Wisconsin in Columbus.

In the last few years under Jim Tressel, Ohio State had a tendency to play down to its competition in the Big Ten and stumble in “trap games,” like this contest could prove to be. The Buckeyes are a more talented team on paper, but they’ll have to prove it if they hope to complete the regular season undefeated.

Michigan (November 30, 2013)

Buckeyes fans don’t need anyone to tell them how big this game is. The Ohio State-Michigan game is the biggest rival in college football—and possibly all of sports.

The Buckeyes had Michigan’s number when Tressel was at the helm, but Michigan finally came out on top in 2011, proving the rivalry is as relevant as ever. Ohio State topped the Wolverines 26-21 in Columbus in 2012, and the Buckeyes will look to win on the road this year in their regular season finale.

If all goes according to plan for both teams, their November 30 matchup could have major BCS implications. Brady Hoke has done a terrific job rebuilding the Michigan football program, and he’ll have his sights set on taking down the Buckeyes for the second time in three years.

Braxton Miller’s Health

With the success Braxton Miller had in 2012, there’s no reason to believe he won’t put up big numbers this season. The biggest question mark will be his health.

Miller is a dynamic dual-threat quarterback, and his ability to make big plays with his legs makes him the best offensive weapon in the Big Ten. It also makes him an easy target for opponents’ biggest hitters.

Miller doesn’t have to become a pure pocket passer, but the Buckeyes need him under center in 2013 to be a true title contender. He’ll have to find a way to limit the number of hits he takes outside the pocket this season to stay healthy and in control of the Buckeyes offense.

That’s not to say Miller shouldn’t continue to play with the intensity and competitiveness he has shown in the past, but he does need to protect his health. Ohio State stands a much better chance of making a championship run with the Heisman hopeful under center down the stretch.


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