- Mitch Sherman, ESPN Staff Writer
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Previewing the 2014 season for the Ohio State Buckeyes:
2013 overall record: 12-2 (8-0 Big Ten)
Instant impact newcomer: There’s no linebacker among the projected starters with the pedigree to fit with the Ohio State greats. But lurking just behind that top group, the potential of true freshman Raekwon McMillan is immense. Rated as the No. 1 linebacker prospect last year out of Hinesville, Georgia, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound rookie has lived up to his billing so far in Columbus.
Offense: QB: Braxton Miller, Sr., 6-2, 215; RB: Ezekiel Elliott, So., 6-0, 225; H-B: Dontre Wilson, So., 5-10, 185; WR: Devin Smith, Sr., 6-1, 197; WR: Corey Smith, Jr., 6-1, 180; TE: Jeff Heuerman, Sr., 6-5, 255; RT: Darryl Baldwin, Sr. 6-6, 307; RG: Pat Elflein, So., 6-3, 300; C: Chad Lindsay, Sr., 6-2, 302; LG: Antonio Underwood, Jr., 6-3, 303; LT: Taylor Decker, Jr., 6-7, 315
Defense: DE: Joey Bosa, So., 6-5, 285; DT: Adolphus Washington, Jr., 6-4, 288; DT: Michael Bennett, Sr., 6-2, 288; DE: Noah Spence, Jr., 6-3, 252; WLB: Joshua Perry, Jr., 6-4, 250; MLB: Curtis Grant, Sr., 6-3, 240; SLB: 6-3, 240; Darron Lee, So., 6-2, 230; CB: Doran Grant, Sr., 5-11, 193; SS: Vonn Bell; FS: Tyvis Powell; CB: Gareon Conley, Fr., 6-0, 190
Biggest question mark: The Buckeyes return only Decker as a starter from an offensive line that dominated last season, running over every opponent -- even Michigan State -- to the tune of 273 yards. OSU's 6.8-yard rushing average led the nation, but its line remains a work in progress. Can this group protect Miller, the Buckeyes' No. 1 asset, and open holes for Elliott and his sidekicks the way Ohio State did for Hyde in 2013?
Most important game: Any one that the Buckeyes lose, seeing how it would likely knock them from the inside track for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Going game by game, the Buckeyes figure to be big favorites every time out until a Week 11 trip to Michigan State. By the arrival of this rematch of the 2013 Big Ten title game -- won 34-24 by MSU -- the Spartans should have sharpened their teeth nicely on defense.
Upset special: The Sept. 6 visit from Virginia Tech looks mildly worrisome. The Buckeyes might need more time to develop consistent play up front on offense and in the secondary, and Hokies coach Frank Beamer will pull out all the stops. The Hokies have won 19 of their past 21 road openers but remain unsettled at quarterback. The Buckeyes, on defense, must use their considerable edge at the line of scrimmage.
Key stat: Ohio State's red zone efficiency (touchdowns/red zone attempts) last season, 84.1 percent, led the nation by a sizable margin. How did the Buckeyes do it? With a punishing ground game and a versatile quarterback. The quarterback returns, and the talent is there at tailback to again post a solid number.
Team’s top Twitter follows: Start with the all-important, but not so exciting, coach, Urban Meyer, coordinators Luke Fickell and Tom Herman, the official account of OSU athletics and AD Gene Smith. Miller, Devin Smith and Bosa provide a sampling from inside the locker room. Brutus Buckeye is worth the follow, as is director of player personnel and self-described OSU #swaggernaut Mark Pantoni. Then there's this guy, who used to play quarterback at Ohio State. And, of course, do not miss the entertainment offered by Fake Urban Meyer and the coach's real wife, Shelley Meyer.
They said it: "We have to assess how we want to gain yardage now. If we wanted to gain yardage last year, a lot of times, [it] was just five guys and a tight end blocking and handing it off to the big boy Carlos and let him go."
-- offensive line coach Ed Warinner on the rebuilt OSU running game.
Stats & Info projection: 10.46 wins
Wiseguys over/under: 10½ wins
Big Ten blog projection: 11 wins. The schedule sets up so well that it’s difficult to envision anything other than an 8-0 start. Even Penn State, while never an easy foe on the road, simply does not match up well with Ohio State (see 63-14 final in 2013). After Michigan State, the three-game finish isn’t all that rough, though, surely, Michigan will stage resistance at the Horseshoe (see 42-41 final in 2013). Nonetheless, we like the Buckeyes to beat every foe but the Spartans, and it’s just too soon to call the game of the year in the Big Ten. So we'll say the likelihood that OSU slips at Michigan State or elsewhere slightly exceeds the chances that it will run the table.