Ohio State was ready for a dream season in the inaugural college football playoff season. With a Heisman candidate returning for his senior season, a defensive line with three preseason all-conference players, and blue-chip talent seemingly everywhere, expectations were quite high in Columbus entering the 2014 season. Then Braxton Miller went down for the season. Immediately, prognosticators from around the country spelled doom for the Buckeyes:
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (3rd year)
Key returning players: DE Noah Spence, DT Michael Bennett, DE Joey Bosa
2013 Record: 12-2 (8-0 B1G)
While the shoulder injury to Braxton Miller is devastating to Ohio State's playoff hopes, the matchup is still pretty tough for Rutgers from a personnel perspective. The Buckeyes boast impressive talent from Urban Meyer stockpiling top ten recruiting classes since his hiring before the 2012 season, and that alone is something to be concerned about. Still, Miller's absence means that Rutgers defensive line can seriously cause some havoc. OSU's offensive line loses four starters, three of them 2013 all-conference selections. Furthermore, offensive line might be the least talented unit on the entire team simply based on what the recruitniks say. If you were worried that Miller might be rushed out of the pocket and forced to improvise often, then who knows what to expect with backups J.T. Barrett or Cardale Jones. Oh, and Carlos Hyde doesn't play in Columbus anymore.
If there's anything that will make you say "whoa, hold on there Rutgers, this is still Ohio State," it's the defensive line. If you ranked the top 15 players in the entire Big Ten, there's a good chance the entire OSU d-line will be on the list. The three players listed as key returners are all-conference stars, and DT Adolphus Washington is a stud awaiting his all-conference selection as well. The four combined for an impressive 24 sacks last season, and will surely make life miserable for any opposing quarterback. The Buckeyes do lose LB Ryan Shazier, who was an incredible playmaker last season, and the secondary didn't exactly shut down the passing game very often. The key will be the D-line - if the front four play up to their potential, the problems in the back seven might not matter too much.
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This is by no means an easy game for the Scarlet Knights now that Braxton Miller is out, but it does make it more interesting. Miller was an electrifying player, and it's hard to expect a redshirt freshman to duplicate, let alone surpass the production that the Heisman candidate brings. It's still a team that can win 10 games without him though, and it's an offense that Rutgers can have trouble with, so I wouldn't go back and re-do your season predictions just yet.