Ohio State Football: Who Will Be the X-Factor on Buckeyes' 2013 Defense?

Ian BergCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2013

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 24:  Mike Kwiatkowski #81 of the Michigan Wolverines is tackled by Ryan Shazier #10 of the Ohio State Buckeyes after a pass reception in the first half at Ohio Stadium on November 24, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Michigan 26-21.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Ohio State is heading into the new year with a wholesale change coming along the defensive front.

Ryan Shazier returns as the lone starter for the Buckeyes in the front seven, and heading into the 2013 season, he is the playmaker, leader and game-changer for the Ohio State defense.

Urban Meyer’s squad is in search of a second undefeated season, with Shazier being a major part of the plan moving forward. This defense has become reliant on his playmaking ability and this year the Buckeyes need his best effort for a Big Ten title to make its way back to Columbus.

Over the past two seasons, Shazier has been an integral part of the defensive success out of Columbus, earning starts as a freshman and holding down that starting position as a sophomore.

Shazier earned his first start for the Buckeyes at linebacker in 2011. He played in all 13 games and started the last three that season.

In his three freshman starts, Shazier averaged 10 tackles a game and was named freshman of the week against Penn State.

Last season, Shazier built off of a masterful freshman campaign in 2011, turning out 114 total tackles, 17 tackles for loss and five sacks for the Buckeyes in 2012 (via CFB Stats).

By season's end, Shazier led the Big Ten in tackles for loss and was third in total tackles. He also finished the year as a Second-Team All-Big Ten selection.

There are a number of capacities that Shazier is set to fill for this Buckeyes defense this fall. He will be the star performer, but he will also be an on-field leader for the young talent that lines up by his side.

Ohio State has a wealth of rising stars scattered throughout the defense, but nothing replaces hard experience when facing the talent that lines up inside the Big Ten on Saturdays.

When a team needs to rely on youth, having solid leadership is a must to help bring along the potential and keep the focus needed to succeed on the field.

Guys like Noah Spence are among the nation's elite and will thrive this year as new starters, but without a third-year starter like Shazier to help them along, it would be a long season for the Buckeyes.

Heading into 2013, Ryan Shazier is the key to the success of the Ohio State defense. This is his third year in the system and should be his strongest season yet.