Ohio State Football: 5 Best QBs Buckeyes Will Face in 2014
Ohio State may not play in the SEC or face the toughest schedule, but in 2014, the Buckeyes will take on a number of quarterbacks capable of derailing their title hopes.
The Buckeyes had a hard time defending the pass a season ago, allowing 268 yards per game. That ranked 110th nationally, and their deficiencies in the secondary ultimately cost them a shot at Florida State and a national title.
New co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash was brought in to overhaul Ohio State's pass defense. His ability to do so could determine whether the Buckeyes make a run at this year's College Football Playoff.
Some of these quarterbacks have hurt Ohio State in the past, while others are ranked mainly because of their elite skill set. One runs a unique and proven offensive system, while another has a supporting cast that makes him a dangerous threat.
Here are the five best signal-callers Ohio State will face in 2014.
Ohio State will travel to College Park, Maryland, for a Week 6 matchup against the Terrapins and a dynamic offense led by C.J. Brown.
After battling through a number of injuries throughout his career, Brown enters the season as a savvy sixth-year senior with a solid knowledge of Maryland's playbook. He used that knowledge to guide the Terrapins to seven victories and an appearance in the Military Bowl against Marshall last year.
Brown is a dual-threat quarterback who threw for 2,242 yards and 13 touchdowns while adding 576 yards and 12 scores on the ground. He missed most of two games after suffering a concussion against Florida State, but he bounced back and put together the best season of his career.
He's talented, but the group of playmakers around him make the quarterback much more dangerous.
Maryland returns its top five pass-catchers from a season ago, all of whom recorded more than 30 receptions and 450 receiving yards. The group is highlighted by Stefon Diggs—a former 5-star stud who was recruited hard by Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes.
Ohio State will have its hands full trying to defend Brown and his talented group of receivers.
Navy's offense ranked dead last in the country throwing the football a season ago, averaging just 77.6 yards per game.
But Keenan Reynolds' throwing ability isn't what landed him on this list. It's what he's able to do in Navy's vaunted triple-option attack that makes him so dangerous.
The Midshipmen bulldozed their way through the 2013 season, rushing for 325.4 yards per game. That was second only to Auburn, and it helped Ken Niumatalolo's squad win nine games, including a victory over Middle Tennessee in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Reynolds spearheaded that attack, rushing for 1,346 yards (which ranked 18th nationally) and an unbelievable 31 touchdowns (which ranked first).
The Buckeyes will have all of fall camp to prepare for Reynolds and Navy's option attack. They're hoping for an easier opener to the season than the 2009 matchup, when Jim Tressel and a Terrelle Pryor-led Ohio State team almost got beat by the Midshipmen in Ohio Stadium.
Five total touchdowns and 451 passing yards.
That's what Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner accounted for last November when Ohio State barely survived its trip to Ann Arbor.
If not for an errant pass on a late two-point attempt, Michigan likely would have scored the upset of the season in beating the No. 3-ranked Buckeyes. Ohio State prevailed, though, capping its second consecutive undefeated regular season.
While Michigan struggled offensively, Gardner flashed throughout the season and essentially carried the team. He threw for 503 yards in a Week 8 matchup against Indiana and rushed for more than 75 yards in four of the 12 games he played in.
Gardner is in the process of learning his third offense at Michigan after Brady Hoke replaced former offensive coordinator Al Borges with Doug Nussmeier—who previously held the same position at Alabama.
Michigan's new offense should have a decent running game to provide balance to Gardner in the passing game.
Michigan State's defense deserves a lot of the credit for derailing Ohio State's national title run last year, but Connor Cook was equally responsible.
In the Big Ten title game with the nation watching, Cook torched the Buckeyes with 304 passing yards and three touchdowns. His 72-yard touchdown pass to Keith Mumphery at the beginning of the second quarter set the tone for a dominant performance.
Cook surged down the stretch of the 2013 season, throwing for an average of 252.8 yards per game in Michigan State's final six games. His best performance of the year came against Stanford's elite defense in the Rose Bowl, when he threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-20 victory.
Cook will need to find a new favorite target after losing Bennie Fowler to the NFL draft. Fowler led the team in receiving yards (622) and touchdowns (six), but Tony Lippett and Macgarrett Kings Jr. are primed for big seasons.
Christian Hackenberg is just a sophomore, but he brings an NFL skill set to the field that makes him one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the Big Ten.
In fact, Matt Brown of Sports on Earth recently ranked the top 100 players in college football, and Hackenberg came in at No. 36. The Penn State signal-caller has a strong arm and a rare maturity, which sets him apart in Brown's eyes.
As a freshman, Hackenberg won the starting job in fall camp and went on to throw for 2,955 yards (a school record) and 20 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions. He was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year and earned three freshman All-America honors.
The Buckeyes had little trouble dispatching the Nittany Lions in Columbus last year. Braxton Miller and the Ohio State offense handed Penn State a historic 63-14 beatdown, and the defense harassed Hackenberg into the worst performance of his collegiate career. The freshman completed just 12 of 23 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown (and two interceptions).
This year, Penn State will be looking to avenge its embarrassing loss. New head coach James Franklin will get the Buckeyes in Happy Valley, though, so beating the Nittany Lions won't be so easy this year.
David Regimbal covers Ohio State football for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.