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College Football

Top 25 team preview: No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes

Photo: Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Ohio State's Braxton Miller could take big strides in his second season in coach Urban Meyer's system.

Ohio State's 2013 schedule
DateOpponent
Aug. 31 vs. Buffalo
Sept. 7 vs. San Diego State
Sept. 14 at Cal
Sept. 21 vs. Florida A&M
Sept. 28 vs. Wisconsin
Oct. 5 at Northwestern
Oct. 19 vs. Iowa
Oct. 26 vs. Penn State
Nov. 2at Purdue
Nov. 16 at Illinois
Nov. 23 vs. Indiana
Nov. 30 at Michigan

The Big Ten title game is Dec. 7 in Indianapolis.

Top 25 Previews
1
Alabama
By Lars Anderson
 
2
Stanford
By Stewart Mandel
 
3
Texas A&M
By Stewart Mandel
 
4
Ohio State
By Stewart Mandel
 
5
Oregon
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
6
South Carolina
By Thayer Evans
 
7
Louisville
By Zac Ellis
 
8
Notre Dame
By Lars Anderson
 
9
Florida
By Andy Staples
 
10
Clemson
By Zac Ellis
 
11
Texas
By Stewart Mandel
 
12
Georgia
By Lars Anderson
 
13
Florida State
By Andy Staples
 
14
LSU
By Lars Anderson
 
15
Michigan State
By Ben Glicksman
 
16
TCU
By Dan Greene
 
17
Baylor
By Elizabeth McGarr McCue
 
18
Michigan
By Ted Keith
 
19
Oklahoma
By Richard Deitsch
 
20
Boise State
By Lars Anderson
 
21
UCLA
By R.J. Rico
 
22
Northwestern
By Gabriel Baumgaertner
 
23
Vanderbilt
By Zac Ellis
 
24
Northern Illinois
By Martin Rickman
 
25
Virginia Tech
By Zac Ellis
 

Can Alabama make a run at a third straight national title? Can Ohio State replicate last year's 12-0 campaign? Can Oregon maintain its standard of success under new leadership? With the college football season approaching, Sports Illustrated unveils its preseason Top 25.

For more college football preview content, check out SI's 2013 schedule guide, four teams that can beat Alabama package, preseason All-America Team, media roundtable and much more.

The case for

Urban Meyer's teams usually make major strides in his second season. (Utah capped the 2004 season with a Fiesta Bowl appearance; Florida capped the '06 campaign with a national title.) The Buckeyes were undefeated in Year 1, but there's room for improvement. The multi-skilled Braxton Miller is entering his third year as a starter, and he's ready to emerge as a complete quarterback and Heisman contender. Miller has a wealth of weapons: senior running back Carlos Hyde (suspended for the first three games), receivers Devin Smith (junior) and Corey (Philly) Brown (senior), and speedy but injury-plagued senior Jordan Hall, who should return to play the Percy Harvin role, the key to a Meyer offense. Miller will also operate behind four returning starters, led by senior left tackle Jack Mewhort. Meanwhile, after struggling on defense for much of the past two seasons, the 2013 D more closely resembles the upper-echelon units of Jim Tressel's heyday. Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier is among the best in the country at his position.

The case against

Ohio State lost six of its front-seven starters from a year ago, but sophomore defensive ends Adolphus Washington and Noah Spence are being billed as stars. While talented, the Buckeyes lack experience, which could leave them susceptible to big plays.

Schedule analysis

A Sept. 14 trip to Cal could be tricky now that the Bears, 3-9 in 2012, have installed an Air Raid offense under new coach Sonny Dykes. But the Big Ten opener at home against Wisconsin on Sept. 28 and a night game at Northwestern the next week represent the biggest challenges before the season-ending visit from That Team Up North.

Key stat

58.3: Braxton Miller's completion percentage last season, up from 54.1 as a freshman. Previous Meyer quarterbacks Alex Smith and Tim Tebow, both of whom went to New York for the Heisman ceremony, completed 67.5 and 64.4 percent of their passes, respectively, during their junior seasons.

Breakout player

DE Adolphus Washington: The 6-foot-3, 292-pound sophomore takes the place of John Simon and has the makings of an elite pass rusher. He had a sack and a forced fumble in last year's Michigan game and bagged four sacks in the Buckeyes' spring game.

Freshman to watch

RB Dontre Wilson: One of several high school track standouts in the Buckeyes' 2013 recruiting class, Wilson is one of the incoming playmakers Meyer will count on to make an immediate impact. "I'm hoping they are exactly those kind of guys," said Meyer. "They're supposed to be." A 5-10, 174-pounder from DeSoto, Texas, where he won a state track title with his school's 4-x-100 relay team, Wilson flipped his commitment from Oregon following Chip Kelly's departure to the NFL. He seems an ideal fit for Meyer's spread offense.

X-factor

LB Curtis Grant: Ohio State knows it will have a solid secondary, a young but talented front four and at least one All-America caliber linebacker in Shazier. But the all-important middle linebacker spot will likely fall to Grant, a junior and former five-star recruit who, after struggling the first three games of 2012, lost his starting job and played sparingly over the second half of the season. Meyer and co-defensive coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers said Grant regained his confidence this spring. He'll need it now that he's one of the defense's elder statesmen.

Projected 2013 stats (By RotoWire.com)

QB Braxton Miller: 2,400 passing yards, 20 TDs; 1,200 rushing yards, 12 TDs

RB Jordan Hall: 400 rushing yards, 3 TDs; 280 yards, 2 TDs

WR Corey Brown: 770 receiving yards, 5 TDs; 45 rushing yards

Coach speak: Urban Meyer

SI: Is Braxton Miller making the same second-year progression as your previous quarterbacks?

UM: I've seen signs of it. He looks more like a quarterback. I'm not taking away his incredible athleticism, but that's not incredible quarterback play, that's incredible athleticism. I'm seeing a quarterback now, and that's the values of leadership and fundamentals.

SI: Ideally, what would the offense look like?

UM: If you have to say what's the bar, it's the 2008 Florida offense -- very balanced run-pass ratio, very multi-dimensional. A lot of guys touched the ball. That was the best offense I've been around.

SI: How much can your defense improve?

UM: Lack of athleticism hurt us last year. The teams with the little bubble screens and all that, the teams that forced us to play in space, we had trouble defending. I think we'll be better equipped this year.

SI: What is your biggest concern?

UM: When a guy sprains his ankle in practice, I can feel the difference. Our twos need to start acting like ones. There's a significant drop-off.

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