After faltering down the stretch of the 2013 season, Urban Meyer and the Ohio State Buckeyes have a lot to prove this season.
The Buckeyes were riding a 24-game winning streak going into the Big Ten title game against Michigan State last year. That streak—and Ohio State's title hopes—were completely dashed by a green-and-white blur of defensive dominance.
If Meyer wants to make a run at college football's first-ever playoff, he and the Buckeyes will need to overcome a number of hurdles. Whether it's reshaping a unit that lost talented players, conquering struggles from last year or surviving a tough road test, Ohio State has a lot of obstacles to overcome in 2014.
Here are the three biggest challenges facing Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes this year.
Rebuilding the Offensive Line
Ohio State's strength in 2013 was its offensive line, which featured four multiyear senior starters.
That unit paved the way for Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes' potent rushing attack. Ohio State averaged 308.6 yards per game, which ranked No. 5 in the country.
With Jack Mewhort, Corey Linsley, Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall all gone, Meyer and the Buckeyes have a big issue to address.
That process started in the spring when Taylor Decker, the sole returning starter, flipped from his right tackle spot to left tackle. The only other starter to emerge was Pat Elflein, who is set to replace Hall at right guard.
The left guard, center and right tackle positions remain open. Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay and a host of talented freshmen are expected to come in and compete for spots in the two-deep depth chart this fall.
Regain a Defensive Edge
Ohio State's defense didn't play at the championship level its offensive counterparts did in 2013.
If the Buckeyes want to compete for a national title this year, that will have to change.
Ohio State struggled immensely on defense, particularly against the pass. While the Buckeyes ranked No. 46 in total defense—allowing 377.4 yards per game—the pass defense surrendered an average of 268 yards per outing, which ranked 110th.
That's why Meyer brought in Chris Ash from Arkansas to replace Everett Withers as co-defensive coordinator. Ash is known for his aggressive 4-3 scheme that aims to limit the holes an opposing offense can expose, especially through the air.
Meyer knows that his pass defense cost him a shot at playing Florida State for a national title. He doesn't want the same issue to arise this season.
Ultimately, it was Michigan State who halted the Buckeyes' run to a national title last year. That same giant could stand in the way of Ohio State's title run this season.
With the Big Ten's realigned divisions, Ohio State and Michigan State are now slated in the new-look East Division. The Buckeyes travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on November 8 for a titanic matchup with the Spartans.
Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated produced an early ranking for the 2014 season and tabbed Michigan State as the No. 8 team. That's the top-ranked opponent on Ohio State's schedule. The Buckeyes came in at No. 4 behind Florida State, Alabama and Oregon.
With the matchup in enemy territory, the Michigan State game looks like Ohio State's toughest test of the season. If the Buckeyes survive it, there's a good chance they could redeem last year's letdown.
Stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the lead Ohio State football writer for Bleacher Report.
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