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Ohio State Buckeyes preview

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Can Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes match last season's finish? AP Photo/Mark Duncan

In his three seasons in Columbus, Urban Meyer has yet to fall to a Big Ten foe in the regular season. The defending national champions welcome back 14 returning starters (and, oh, three Heisman-caliber QBs), so the conference—and the College Football Playoff—looks to be the Buckeyes’ for the taking yet again.

Offense

How the Buckeyes beat you: So you heard there’s a QB battle? Junior Cardale Jones stretches the field (9.9 ypa in three starts last year); sophomore J.T. Barrett makes the right reads and hits his marks (86.7 QBR, No. 2 in the FBS); and senior Braxton Miller adds a dynamic game (32 career rushing TDs). Truth is, it doesn’t matter who lines up under center, because he won’t alter OSU’s formula: power runs from the spread, unleashing rushers via the inside zone. And those pieces, unlike the QB spot, are firmly set. Junior TB Ezekiel Elliott sneaks through creases at the point of attack en route to big gains—14 rushes gained 20-plus yards in ’14—and the line opening those holes returns four starters. In three postseason games, against Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, Elliott averaged 232 ypg and 9.2 ypc. And he gashed Bama, which hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season, for 230 yards on just 20 carries. So 2015? It’s lather, rinse, run downhill, repeat.

How you beat the Buckeyes: The machine is humming, but if there is “concern” on O, it’s identifying a deep threat to replace three-year starter Devin Smith. Junior WR Michael Thomas (14.8 ypc on 54 grabs last year) is a viable candidate, but Smith is not the pass attack’s sole loss. Evan Spencer and Jeff Heuerman depart as well.

Defense

How the Buckeyes beat you: OSU loses two starters from the D-line (DT Michael Bennett, DE Steve Miller), but DE Joey Bosa ensures that the Buckeyes will again boast a QB-hounding group in the trenches. The junior collected 13½ sacks in 2014, but even when he’s not mauling opposing QBs, his presence on the field creates chances for teammates to log takedowns. If Bosa draws the double-team, opponents free up veteran senior DT Adolphus Washington (4½ sacks) to penetrate the pocket. If the coaches dial Bosa back, as they did late last year, blitzing LBs, like speedy soph Darron Lee (7½ sacks), step in. The Bucks’ D-line was as disruptive as any in the country, and its ability to force poor QB play will remain the key to defensive success. OSU should find it. Even if it was against lackluster Big Ten competition, the Buckeyes allowed QBs to register a 28.4 QBR, 11th lowest in the FBS. That will make wins pretty easy to come by.

How you beat the Buckeyes: With improved tackling and more aggressive play in the secondary, the D shored up most of its pressing concerns. Still, QBs shouldn’t shy away from going deep on a team that allowed 45.3 percent of passes to gain 10-plus yards in ’14 (No. 55 in the FBS) and loses CB Doran Grant (30 career starts).