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Minnesota Football: Opponent Preview #10 Ohio State Buckeyes

Its senior day, and the Gophers will be looking to send them out with an upset

Dontre Wilson will carry a lot of the load for the Buckeyes
Dontre Wilson will carry a lot of the load for the Buckeyes
Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

We are getting closer and closer to the start of the 2014 Gopher Football season! We here at The Daily Gopher will continue our quick previews of the Gophers opponents. We have reached the end of the home schedule, and are in the midst of the toughest stretch of the Gophers schedule. Next up is the Ohio State Buckeyes

Name: Ohio State Buckeyes
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Enrollment: 57,466
Conference: Big Ten (East Division)
Notable Alumni: George Steinbrenner, Patricia Heaton, Rutherford B Hayes, Jesse Owens, Bobby Knight, Paul Brown, Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Johnny Utah
Bill Connelly Preview Link: Here!

Last Season:

Ohio State seemed to have put it all together in Urban Meyer's second year at the helm in Columbus.  They went 12-0 in the regular season pulling out a tough win against Michigan to end the regular season.  Then, they got hit by a buzzsaw in Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship Game.   Instead of playing in the National Championship Game, or even the Rose Bowl, Ohio State dropped to the Orange Bowl (ooh tough drop) where they played Clemson.  And that's when things went from bad to worse.  Braxton Miller got hurt, and a listless Buckeye squad lost to Clemson.  A season that looked so good ended on a sour note.  And as we will see, the sourness will bleed into 2014. Statistically, the Buckeyes were impressive as well.  They ended the year ranked 3rd in the nation on offense and 28th on defense.

Key Losses:

Who would have thought that Kenny Guiton would be listed as a key loss, but he now is after the news that broke earlier this week that Braxton Miller will miss the entire season with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Guiton stepped in very admirably when Miller has some injury issues last season and threw for 750 yards and 14 touchdowns in limited action.  He would have been the no doubt starter this season, but instead is trying to make an NFL roster.  Several other former buckeyes are also in NFL camps this fall after departing including running backs Carlos Hyde and Jordan Hall.  Hyde ran for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns a season ago and will not be easy to replace.  Hall added 536 yards and another eight touchdowns. The Buckeye's top receiver Corey Brown has also departed after catching 63 passes for 771 yards in 2013.  One major thing the Buckeyes will need to deal with is the departure of four-fifths of their offensive line.  Three of the four players were All-Big Ten selections a year ago, and the four had a combined 135 starts between them.

Defensively, the Buckeyes are in better shape.  One big loss will be starting linebacker Ryan Shazier.  He led the team with 123 tackles, had 23.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and four forced fumbles.  That's a lot of production out of one player to recover. The Buckeyes also will have to recover from losing three-fourths of their starting secondary.  Safeties CJ Barnett and Corey Brown along with corner Bradley Roby have all moved on.  All three were strong players and will be tough to replace.  Kicker Drew Basil didn't have to do much besides kick extra points a year ago, which he did at a 77-79 clip, but breaking in a new kicker is always a question mark.

Key Returners:

Offensively, Ohio State is not completely barren, but they are young.  Two running backs saw some action as freshmen last year and will be expected to carry a large load this fall.  Dontre Wilson and Ezekiel Elliot will both be relied upon with a freshman quarterback.  The new quarterback will have plenty of returners to throw the ball to, as Devin Smith and Evan Spencer return at the wide receiver spots.  The seniors will be called upon to give leadership to the rest of the young offense.  Also helping will be senior tight end Jeff Heuerman. Junior left tackle Taylor Decker is the only starting lineman to return, and will be the leader of a mostly new group.

Bill C's Wisdom and Statistical Wizardy

Defensively, Ohio State returns several defensive linemen that will be some of the Big Ten's best.  The entire starting line returns led by sophomore Joey Bosa.  Bosa is a common preseason prediction for Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after a freshman year where he had 7.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss.  Those numbers were nearly identically matched by junior Noah Spence as well, with senior Micheal Bennett not far behind.  Ohio State also returns three linebackers form 2013.  Joshua Perry, Curtis Grant, and Camren Williams all will be expected to pick some some of the slack left behind by the loss of Shazier.  The Ohio State secondary will be young this year with the exception of senior corner Doran Grant.  He will be the leader in the field, and was second on the Buckeyes in pass breakups a year ago with 10.

Question Marks??

The obvious question mark will be how will the Buckeyes cope with the loss of Miller.  By most accounts, it sounds like redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett will be given the reins of the offense in the first game for the Buckeyes.  If he falters, sophomore Cardale Jones who saw limited action a year ago will be ready to step in.  However, neither of these two players are Miller.  The level of the drop off will determine how far the Buckeyes can go.

Secondly, will Ohio States young players be able to step in and perform on defense?  The Buckeyes have a great defensive line, but will be missing great playmakers at linebacker and in the secondary. If the young players can develop and play well, the Buckeyes should be able to stay near the top of the Big Ten

Thirdly, will Ohio State be able to get past Michigan State?  Its pretty much a two team race for the Big Ten East crown.  Many experts had Ohio State winning the Big Ten and making it to the College Football Playoff, but with the loss of Miller, most have changed their tune.  Can the Buckeyes fight through the adversity and make their game against Michigan State a defacto playoff game, or will the Buckeyes struggle and finish closer to the rest of the pack.

What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?

The Gophers would love to go out on a high note on Senior Day, and make a statement that they belong near the top.  It will still be a very hard task.  The Gophers will need to play their most complete game of the year. Ohio State may have lost some great players, but across the board they are still bigger, faster and stronger than the Gophers.  If the run game is clicking by this point, and the line can protect Cobb and Leidner when passing, the offense may be able to move against the Buckeyes.  The Gophers secondary is strong enough to slow the passing game, but will the defensive line be able to go against the strong rushing game that the Buckeyes will bring?  Only time will tell.

Final Analysis:

This was a much easier decision three days ago.  But I still don't think the Gophers are up to the Buckeyes level quite yet.  However, it is certainly possible that by this point of the season things may have gone so far into the dumpster for Ohio State that the Gophers could be looking to win.  The Buckeyes will be good, but the question will be how good-- until we see them in action.  I'd like to say the loss of Miller is enough for the Gophers to win, but I don't think it will be.  It may be less ugly that it could have been, but Ohio State still wins 34-17.