Since defense wins championships, it's safe to say it will decide the Ohio State Buckeyes' 2013 season.
There are few areas of concern for the offense, even with the suspension of Carlos Hyde for the first three games.
The question mark will be the defense. Urban Meyer will be relying on a lot of new players stepping up, many of whom are sophomores. Ohio State only has four starters coming back from last year's team.
You might be worried as a fan if it wasn't for the sheer amount of talent on that side of the ball. The Buckeyes are loaded with blue-chip prospects who are looking at their first opportunity to start. If those players fulfill their potential, this will be the best defense in the Big Ten.
Of those first-time starters, these three players need to have the biggest seasons.
DE Noah Spence
Although the Buckeyes have four new starters on the defensive line, there's reason for optimism in Columbus. You cannot immediately replace the leadership of John Simon and Nate Williams on the edge. What you can replace is their production.
Part of that starts with sophomore Noah Spence. At 6'3" and 247 pounds, Spence is built to get after the passer.
He's big enough and fast enough to get by just about any offensive lineman. Although still a bit raw, Spence has enough technique and ability with his hands to be more than just an athletic pass-rusher who just relies on his physical gifts.
You can get away with that more in college, but the more one-dimensional pass-rushers are eventually found out sooner or later.
Spence getting after the quarterback will help the entire defense.
DE Adolphus Washington
Most of what was said about Spence applies to Adolphus Washington. Only a sophomore, Meyer will be looking to Washington as much more of a leader on the defensive line.
With his size (6'3", 292 lbs), he is unlike Spence in that he's more than just a pass-rusher. Mike Vrabel will be expecting Washington to stop both the run and the pass. It's not a question of whether or not Washington will be able to get after the QB as his play against the run is much more important.
He'll be in that first line of defense against rushers, and you don't want to see running backs breaking through that first line and gaining five yards every carry.
Given his more all-around game, Washington will be the most important player on the defensive line. His game is very similar to that of former Buckeye, John Simon.
It's unfair to expect a sophomore to immediately step in and be the same caliber player that Simon was. He will, however, give Buckeyes fans a lot to like in 2013 and put himself on a path to follow in Simon's footsteps and be Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.
MLB Curtis Grant
This is a make-or-break season for Curtis Grant. He came out of high school as a 5-star recruit and one of the best linebackers in the country. Since coming to Columbus, Grant has struggled to adjust to the college level.
The junior linebacker has loads of potential. If he can become a smarter player, we're talking about the complete package.
Ohio State is not very deep at the position. Should Grant struggle, Meyer might be forced to play Trey Johnson or Mike Mitchell. It's never a good idea to start true freshmen if you're vying for a national championship, especially when your front seven as a whole is so inexperienced.
Grant has to become a more intelligent linebacker. He needs to know where to be on the field and how to read the game. In addition, he has to erase the missed tackles.
Should all of that happen, Grant will be a huge boost to the defense and the entire Ohio State team.
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