Ohio State Football: Stars Who Must Shine to Lead Buckeyes to Big Ten Title
After an undefeated season in 2012, head coach Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes are among the top contenders in the nation to play for the national championship.
In order to get to that point, however, Ohio State will almost certainly have to win the competitive Big Ten Conference.
The Buckeyes would have won the regular season conference title last year, but sanctions prevented them from playing any postseason games, including the Big Ten championship game. It's also possible that Ohio State would have faced Notre Dame rather than Alabama in the national championship game, but all of that is water under the bridge at this point.
All that matters to Ohio State now is the 2013 season.
Here are three star players who must step up during the upcoming season in order for the Buckeyes to realize that potential, win the Big Ten and possibly compete for a national championship.
Success in football usually starts and ends with the quarterback, and it will be no different for Ohio State this season. Miller made major strides in his second season as a starter last year, but he will have to continue to improve in order to take Ohio State to the next level.
Miller has proven that he is a dual-threat quarterback who can beat opposing defenses in many ways. However, his passing must get better.
He led the Buckeyes in rushing last year with 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns, so he doesn't have much to work on in that regard. He also posted 15 passing touchdowns as opposed to just six interceptions, but accuracy was an issue.
Miller completed just over 58 percent of his passes and there is no question that Meyer would like to see that number much closer to 65 percent in 2013.
In addition to improving his accuracy, Miller must be a bit more aware in the pocket. Despite his mobility, Miller was sacked 28 times last season. That was actually a big improvement after being dropped 39 times in 2011, but he was still hit far too often.
As a running quarterback, Miller is bound to get hit, so he needs to ensure that less contact occurs within the pocket.
If Miller can do all of those things, he'll be good enough to lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten title this year.
Which player is the biggest key to Ohio State's success in 2013?
If Miller is the unquestioned leader of the offense, then linebacker Ryan Shazier is the same on the defensive side of the ball.
Shazier was extremely impressive with inconsistent playing time as a freshman in 2011, but he became one of the premier linebackers in the nation last year. He led the Buckeyes in a number of key statistical categories including tackles (115), tackles for loss (17) and forced fumbles (three).
In addition, Shazier was second on the team behind John Simon with five sacks. Shazier is a jack of all trades on defense, as he is capable of playing the run, defending the pass, rushing the quarterback and doing pretty much anything Meyer asks of him.
The Big Ten is a rough-and-tumble league and defense is often the deciding factor in games. With that in mind, Shazier will be a huge factor for Ohio State this year.
While it wouldn't be fair to compare him to a college football legend like Notre Dame's Manti Te'o, it was proven last season that defense can lead a team to the promised land. That isn't to say that Shazier will be a Heisman Trophy candidate like Te'o was, but he is capable of taking games over.
Shazier is actually far more athletic and explosive than Te'o, so it wouldn't be surprising to see him become the best linebacker in college football this season.
The Buckeyes are currently a team without a go-to receiver, but look for speedster Devin Smith to possibly fill that role in 2013.
After catching just 14 passes as a freshman in 2011, he upped that total to 30 in 2012 while maintaining his insane yards-per-catch number. Despite reeling in just 30 passes last year, he totaled 618 yards for a 20.6-yard average. He also caught six touchdowns, including a huge one against the rival Michigan State Spartans.
Smith isn't the type of receiver who is going to run across the middle and move the chains, but he is a true home-run threat. In order to keep defenses honest this season, Miller must take some shots down the field and Smith will be his target on most occasions.
Miller actually throws an underrated deep ball and is capable of finding open men for big plays, so Smith should have a huge year if he is able to find space.
Like many players on the Ohio State roster, Smith was significantly better in his first season under the tutelage of Meyer. Now that Meyer has a year under his belt in terms of instituting the offense, bringing in his own recruits and instilling his culture on the team, the improvement should be even greater in 2013.
Smith is one of a handful of guys with a chance to become a star this season and his performance may go hand in hand with Miller's.
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