This is Braxton Miller's "Oh No" Face
Beat the Buckeyes! That has to be the battle cry around Big Ten country in 2013, as the Buckeyes look to be the far-and-away favorites to win the conference title. When a national championship and Heisman contender are in the conference, everyone puts a target on that team all year long.
And so it will be with the Buckeyes, especially coming off a 12-0 season. Ohio State wants to validate the results of the 12-0 season in year one of the Urban Meyer era, but the road will not be easy every week in the second pass through the Big Ten. Even with Nebraska and Michigan State off the schedule.
Even the most ardent member of Buckeye Nation knows that there are some games that will give them a bad gut feeling. Although that game is likely not Illinois, even a lowly team like Purdue can make the Buckeyes sweat, especially on the road.
But those two teams will not be making the following list, as this is all about talent, and both those teams need to reload significantly. However, there are plenty of other teams on the schedule for Ohio State that do not have such problems. Plenty of returning lettermen and starters and bad matchups for some OSU units are the hallmarks making this list.
So let's take a look at the teams with sufficient talent to pull off the big upset in the B1G this fall.
Indiana will continue to test the Buckeyes in pass defense
Record Last Season: 4-8, 2-6
Last Result vs. Ohio State: 49-52 Loss at Bloomington, 2012
Returning Starters: 19
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 53/18
On one Saturday night last October, Ohio State and Indiana found themselves in an incredible shootout. Ohio State kept pulling into the lead, but the Hoosiers had the firepower to keep pulling back into a close game.
Now Ohio State must replace substantially all of the defensive front seven, which means that getting pressure against an experienced Hoosier offense line may not be as easy as last year. That will force the defensive secondary to cover well, but that unit is getting dinged up by a likely suspension (Bradley Roby) and dismissal/indefinite suspension (Najee Murray).
This spells trouble against the most pass-happy team that the Buckeyes will face in conference play. Especially considering this game will be senior day before the big finale at Michigan, the Ohio State players may have their minds elsewhere and that could burn them.
The Hoosiers cannot be taken lightly considering how close the team came in 2012 and the sheer number of returning experienced players.
Even without Montee Ball, the Badgers have enough to win in Columbus
Record Last Season: 8-6, 4-4 (Big Ten Champs)
Last Result vs. Ohio State: 14-21 (OT) Loss at Madison, 2012
Returning Starters: 14
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 52/10
One of the only teams with a more lopsided ratio of lettermen returning to those lost than Indiana would be Wisconsin, which is ironic considering the Badgers are three-time defending conference champions.
Anybody remember the last time Ohio State was the top-ranked team in the country? That would be October 2010, when Alabama surrendered the top spot to the Buckeyes for one week before a road trip to Madison ended the Buckeyes' undefeated season. With Alabama playing Virginia Tech and Texas A&M early, the chance could be there for Bucky Badger to knock off No. 1 again.
Wisconsin is losing the most starters from the defensive secondary, but Ohio State is far more likely to try and win with the running game than the deep passing game. For whatever reason, the conservative play calling of Jim Tressel, Luke Fickell, and even Urban Meyer always seems to come out against the Badgers, making these games close and tough.
Wisconsin held Ohio State to 236 yards in Madison last year. That defensive performance and an offense with enough firepower to stay close will give Wisconsin a chance to knock off OSU this season.
Nebraska has given Ohio State two entertaining games already
Record Last Season: NU 10-4, 7-1; MSU 7-6, 3-5
Last Result vs. Ohio State: NU lost 38-63 at Columbus, 2012; MSU lost 16-17 at East Lansing, 2012
Returning Starters: NU 12; MSU 15
Lettermen Returning/Lost: NU 43/32; MSU 52/13
Both of these teams played the Buckeyes in 2011 and 2012 but have now rotated off the schedule in the last year of Legends and Leaders. While both teams knocked off the Buckeyes in 2011, Ohio State exacted revenge in two very different types of games in 2012.
For Nebraska, the key will be avoiding a young defense getting gashed by a Buckeye team that has largely had its way with the Cornhuskers when Braxton Miller has played. If Miller had not been injured in the second half of the 2011 game, Nebraska would likely have two blowout losses the past two years to the Buckeyes.
Nebraska makes this list thanks to the offense though, which managed to put up 437 yards in Columbus last year. With Taylor Martinez still running the show, Nebraska will have a real opportunity to avenge last year's embarrassment in Indianapolis.
Meanwhile Michigan State presents an opposite problem for Ohio State: finding a way to score against the stingy Spartans defense. After two years off from playing each other in 2009 and 2010, the Spartans have held the Buckeyes to a last-minute touchdown in a 10-7 win in 2011 and a couple broken plays in a 16-17 loss last year.
Of course, Michigan State does not have anywhere near a dynamic offense like Nebraska. However, Michigan State has many more lettermen returning and it seems like Ohio State is more likely to get knocked off in a defensive slugfest than a shootout.
Bottom line: both these teams present a real threat to Ohio State, but there's no guarantee either will get the chance.
2008 feels like so long ago, but that was the last meeting
Record Last Season: 10-3, 5-3
Last Result vs. Ohio State: 10-45 loss at Evanston, 2008
Returning Starters: 15
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 54/22
Northwestern may not have broken through to win a division title in 2012, but this team certainly overachieved for a program built to win in 2013. That means Northwestern could be coming back onto the Buckeye schedule at a bad time, as the Wildcats could be a tricky out in Evanston.
Here's the bad news: Northwestern is 1-8 after a bye under Pat Fitzgerald and 1-28 in the last four decades against the Buckeyes (proof of the win in 2004 here). However, not many Wildcat teams have had the guns that this team will bring to bear after five years away from playing OSU.
Unlike most other teams in the Big Ten, Ohio State has had no experience playing against the running attack of Venric Mark and Kain Colter or the passing attack led by Trevor Siemian when Colter is not taking the snaps. Much like Braxton Miller, Northwestern presents many different angles for a defense to stop, which may be tough a week after the Wisconsin game.
Ohio State better be ready for the Big Ten road opener, as Northwestern will need home wins like this to win a division title. It may not be a traditional power, but the purple power will be a tough out for the Buckeyes in 2013, as long as Northwestern's defense does not fall apart against its own tough task.
It may take gang tackles, but Michigan is capable of slowing Miller's offense
Record Last Season: 8-5, 6-2
Last Result vs. Ohio State: 21-26 Loss at Columbus, 2012
Returning Starters: 12
Lettermen Returning/Lost: 48/24
Who else could be on top of this list? While many will roll their eyes at more "Michigan/OSU" love, the fact is that both of these teams are recruiting the tails off Big Ten competition right now. That should lead to some real interesting battles going forward, perhaps even on the scale of the 2006 "Game of the Century."
Michigan finally broke the Buckeye spell two years ago when Luke Fickell was head coach, and Brady Hoke would love nothing more than to beat Ohio State again and up his record to 2-1 against that team. With Devin Gardner looking like a perfect fit for the pro-style offense, Michigan should be able to find more success than when the team was shut out in the second half last year.
The Wolverines surrendered nearly 400 yards to the Buckeyes, which continued a trend of not being able to stop the dynamic Ohio State attack. However, the young talents that are beginning to take over the defense should be more than ready by the end of 2013 to shine in what could be a two-weeks-in-a-row series against the Buckeyes.
Especially with the potential games located in Ann Arbor and Indianapolis, Michigan will have a real chance to knock off the Buckeyes. Look for the Wolverines to put up more points than last year against the Buckeyes, which will really test just how far Braxton Miller and the offense can take this team.
That being said, don't expect the Buckeyes to be underdogs to Michigan or anyone else. However, this is the only game I project that Ohio State will lose in 2013, so it has to be No. 1 on the list of teams with enough talent to knock off the Bucks this fall.
Thanks for reading! Iowa fans and Penn State fans, please direct your explanation about why my list is wrong in the comments below. Illinois and Purdue fans, please don't.
Please follow me on Twitter @DA_Fitzgerald and we will see you next week. Only 3 weeks to football!