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Minnesota Football: Opponent Preview #9 Ohio State Buckeyes

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National TV in the shoe vs the National Champs.....doesn't get much big stage.

One of the few times the Gophers contined J.T. Barrett
One of the few times the Gophers contined J.T. Barrett
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

In the next week before #GameWeek as we move closer to the start of the 2015 Gopher Football season, we here at The Daily Gopher will give a quick preview of the Gophers opponents. Next up is the Gophers second straight prime-time night game, this time against the defending National Champion 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:

Last season for Ohio State was an interesting one.  Losing Braxton Miller early in fall practice, and then losing an ugly game early in the season at home to Virginia Tech.  It looked like the Buckeyes were just going to be good, not great.  Then they started blowing out teams.  They almost had a bump in the road against Penn State, but pulled out a 31-24 win.  They got a huge win over Michigan State, and then came to TCF.  The Gophers played the Buckeyes touch in the snowiest game at TCF to date, but just could not contain JT Barrett.  Dilly Bar Dan got national publicity, but the Buckeyes still won the game 31-24.  After losing Barrett in "The Game", the Buckeyes if anything actually improved under Cardale Jones bringing us the joy of 59-0, before beating Alabama and Oregon in back to back weeks in the College Football Playoff to win the National Championship.

Key Losses:

The scary thing?  The Buckeyes don't lose hardly anything on offense.  Unless you count former OC Tom Herman who is now the head coach of the Houston Cougars.  The only offensive skill players gone from a year ago are receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer.  Smith is the much bigger loss as the Buckeyes deep threat accounted for 931 yards on just 33 catches, an average of nearly 20 yards per reception.  Tight end Jeff Heuerman also departs, but the Buckeyes have plenty of depth behind him.  Only right tackle Darryl Baldwin is gone from the Buckeyes offensive line as well.  This offense will be scary.

On defense, the losses are greater but still not a ton. Micheal Bennett is off the the NFL after anchoring the center of the Buckeyes defensive line.  He only had 32 tackles a season ago, but 14 were for a loss, including seven sacks.  Only middle linebacker Curtis Grant leaves the Buckeyes linebacker corps, with sophomore five-star Raewkon McMillen ready to step in and fill that hole.  In the secondary, only corner Doran Grant who had five interceptions in 2014 for Ohio State will not return.

Key Returners:

Most teams would love to have to choose between two star quarterbacks. How about three?  Yeah, the Buckeyes are stacked at the position, so much that former two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller is now going to play H-Back for OSU.  The Buckeyes will most likely start J.T.  Barrett who threw for 2834 yards and 34 touchdowns a year ago while also running for 1094 yards and 11 more TDS.  Oh...he's only a sophomore.  The other choice and who looks like the apparent backup for now is Cardale Jones, who only went 3-0 in the Buckeyes three biggest games of the year throwing for 860 yards and 7 touchdowns.  Yeah....poor Buckeyes.  The talent does not drop off any more at running back where potential Heisman candidate Ezekiel Elliot returns for his junior season after running for 1878 yards and 18 touchdowns a season ago.  Elliot and Barrett are a 1-2 rushing punch better than any other team in the nation.  Micheal Thomas and Jalin Marshall return in the receiving corps, and throw in Miller and it doesn't look like the Buckeyes will miss a beat.  With four returning starters on the O-Line including First Team All-Big Ten right guard Pat Elflein, Barrett should be well protected.

On defense Ohio State starts and ends with All-American defensive end Joey Bosa.  He had 21.5 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks in 2014 and created a internet meme with his shrug celebration.  Joshua Perry led the team in tackles at the will linebacker spot with 98.5, and Darron Lee had a whopping 16.5 tackles for loss from the sam spot.  Safety Vonn Bell led OSU with 6 interceptions a year ago, and returns with two other secondary starters.  Even the punter and kicker are back for OSU.  No wonder they were named the unanimous #1 team in the nation by AP.

Question Marks??

Will there be any quarterback controversy?  It appears Barrett will get the start, but if he struggles at all will there be calls for Jones to take over?  How will Cardale do sitting on the bench after his star streak last season.

Secondly, what kind of roll will Braxton Miller have on the field?  Will he be an every down player, or only used in special situations.  I assume they will draw up a few trick plays where he throws the ball as well.

Thirdly, will Ohio State follow last years blueprint?  The Buckeyes have four players suspended for the season opener at Virginia Tech including Bosa and Marshall.  OSU has tons of talent to replace these players, but if the Hokies can keep the game close, does the pressure mount on the Buckeyes?

What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?

The Gophers did a great job in keeping this game close a year ago at TCF, and frankly, that will be a herculean effort this time.  The Buckeyes return a ton of talent, so it would appear the Gophers margin for error is beyond slim.  Not only that,  but while the Gophers will be in an emotional battle for the Little Brown Jug on national TV the week before, OSU will be watching from home on their bye week.  A well rested Buckeye team does not bode well for the Gophers.  On offense, Minnesota will have to get some form of rushing game going,and take whatever the Buckeyes will give them.  Turnovers will be game killers.  They absolutely can not happen in this game.  If they do this could get ugly in a hurry.

On defense, the Gophers will need to stop J.T.  Barrett.  He killed the Gophers rushing a year ago, and had no issues through the air as well.  If he can run loose, forget it.  The problem with Ohio State is that they just have so many weapons that can kill you. If not Barrett, then Elliot.  If not Elliot, then maybe Miller.  There is no reprieve..its easy to see why they are the favorite to repeat.

Final Analysis:

I'd love to say the Gophers can pull the upset and shock the world.  I just don't see any way it happens.  With this game stuck between two huge prime-time trophy games I think the Gophers are set for a complete letdown.  Ohio State just has so much talent on offense, and the Buckeye front seven is just so tough, getting anything on the ground and  protecting Mitch will be a battle.  I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think this one stays close. I see the Buckeyes winning by a few touchdowns...say 38-13.