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Hoge’s Big Ten Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

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Braxton Miller. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Braxton Miller. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

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By Adam Hoge-

While Big Ten training camps are underway, Adam Hoge will devote an entire day to each of the 12 teams in the conference. He will include a preview on each team, plus news, notes and analysis on Twitter. He will also take your questions on Twitter and 670TheScore.com. Follow him at @AdamHogeCBS.

(CBS) 2011 wasn’t a good year for the Ohio State Buckeyes football program.

After winning a share of the Big Ten title for six straight seasons, everything fell apart when head coach Jim Tressel and star quarterback Terrell Pryor found themselves in the middle of a merchandise scandal and ensuing coverup. Tressel was eventually let go on Memorial Day and the Buckeyes were stuck with interim head coach Luke Fickell, who quickly proved he was nothing more than a good defensive coordinator as the Buckeyes finished with a losing record for the first time since 1988.

But things have turned around in Columbus just as quickly as they got out of control. Ohio State hired Urban Meyer, who has managed to maintain the current talent while adding even more. After he was hired, the Buckeyes were slapped with sanctions that included a loss of scholarships and a postseason ban, but that hardly seems to have affected the longterm prospects of the storied football program.

They won’t play in a bowl game this season, but that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes won’t be a force in the Big Ten. Here’s a look at how they’ll fare in 2012:

Top Returnees

1. DT Johnathan Hankins (Jr.) – Hankins is an impactful nose tackle who stops the run and gets in the backfield. Had eight TFLs last year.

2. DE John Simon (Sr.) – Simon joins Hankins on a deadly defensive line. He had nine TFLs and got his hands on three passes last season.

3. TE Jake Stoneburner (Sr.) – Stoneburner caught 14 passes in a non-existent passing game last year. Seven of them were touchdowns.

4. QB Braxton Miller (So.) – Miller ran for 951 yards last year and his passing improved as the season went on. It’s scary to think what Meyer can do with him.

5. S CJ Barnett (Jr.) – Barnett shows up all over the field. He led the Buckeyes with 75 tackles and added two interceptions a year ago.

Key Questions

How important is it for the Buckeyes to find a passing game?

Urban Meyer doesn’t need a pure passer to be successful on offense, but he definitely needs to improve the putrid passing Ohio State had last year. It was so bad that the Buckeyes had three players tie for the team-lead in receptions with just 14. 14. Seriously.

The silver lining is that all three of those players — Stoneburner, Devin Smith and Corey Brown — are back in 2012. But they need Miller to get the football to them. Let’s not forget that Miller was a true freshman last year and his coaching was suspect at best. He improved in the passing game as the season went along and finished on a high note against Michigan.

Meyer is the perfect coach for the sophomore quarterback. Expect the Buckeyes — which only averaged 24.5 points per game last year — to improve greatly on offense.

Is Ohio State’s defense the best in the Big Ten?

Michigan State’s might be slightly better overall, but Ohio State’s defensive line is up there with any in the country. It showed how good it was last year when it stonewalled Heisman Trophy finalist Montee Ball for most of the Wisconsin game, and it gets defensive end Nathan Williams back from injury.

The Buckeyes also return both starting safeties and cornerbacks. The Christian Bryant-CJ Barnett combo at safety is good one.

It’s going to be hard to score on Ohio State this year and if the offense comes around at all, the Buckeyes could be the best overall team in the Big Ten.

Will a lack of motivation be a problem?

Not being able to play in a bowl game could be a problem, but does it really matter that the Buckeyes can’t play in a glorified exhibition game at the end of the year? Well, for college kids who love the bowl experience, maybe. But Urban Meyer has his team focused on the big picture and knows that this could be an important building block year. It’s not out of the question for Ohio State to compete for the national championship in 2013. Meyer has made it clear that he is going to give his younger players a chance to develop. That means playing time. For the younger guys, that’s all they need for motivation.

Meanwhile, Meyer has already declared the season finale against Michigan as Ohio State’s “bowl game”. It’s a creative ploy that can’t hurt.

Schedule Outlook

Ohio State’s schedule isn’t easy, but it is favorable. They get a Week 2 visit from UCF, which was supposed to be this year’s BCS-buster, but received its own postseason ban last month. The Knights are still good though and that game will be a good barometer for how the Buckeyes might fare this season.

The conference slate includes road games at Michigan State and Wisconsin, which will be tough, but Ohio State also gets Nebraska and Michigan at home.

Best Case

Urban Meyer turns around the offense quickly and keeps his team motivated throughout the season. The Buckeyes split road games at Michigan State and Wisconsin and take care of business at home. Riding high into their “bowl game” with a 10-1 record, the Buckeyes spoil Michigan’s chances of going to the Big Ten Championship Game to finish 11-1 in Meyer’s first year.

Worst Case

Miller doesn’t develop into a reliable passer and the one-dimensional offense is too predictable. The defense suffers key injuries and disappoints. The Buckeyes fall to 0-2 in the Big Ten with a home loss to Nebraska and doubt starts to creep in. Despite going 3-1 in the next four games, they can’t beat Wisconsin and Michigan in the last two weeks and finish 7-5.

Check out Adam’s final verdict on the Buckeyes when his Big Ten preview concludes later this month. Up next in the series are the Penn State Nittany Lions. Tweet your questions to Adam at @AdamHogeCBS.

Catch up on the series:
Aug. 8 – Illinois Fighting Illini
Aug. 10 – Indiana Hoosiers

adam hoge 2012 small1 Hoges Big Ten Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

Adam Hoge

Adam is the Sports Editor for CBSChicago.com and specializes in coverage of the Bears, White Sox and college sports. He was born and raised in Lincoln Park and attended St. Ignatius College Prep before going off to the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he earned a Journalism degree. Follow him on Twitter @AdamHogeCBS and read more of his columns here.

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