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The Ohio State Buckeyes check in at No. 6 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: Braxton Miller, QB (SO)
Uber recruit Miller did very little to dispel his title of heir apparent in Columbus. While it might have come one year sooner than Bucknuts would have hoped, Miller’s experience in 2011 was invaluable. He showed flashes of brilliance in the second half of the season both on the ground and through the air. Now, he has a coach who knows exactly what to do with the lightning quick 6-foot-2, 210-pound dual-threat dynamo. Meyer’s spread system is the perfect fit for Miller, who will use 2012 as a practice field for potential greatness in 2013.
Trap Game: Illinois (Nov. 3)
The Buckeyes two biggest games of the year should be a road trip to Wisconsin and Michigan at home in the final two weeks of the year. Coming off a tough road trip to Happy Valley and with a bye week looming, the Bucks could be in for a letdown against division foe Illinois as they prepare for their brutal two-game season finale. The Orange Crush is a talented roster and should be dramatically better coached under Tim Beckman. It wouldn’t be the first time a Fighting Illini team went into the Horseshoe and toppled an undefeated OSU squad.
Upset Alert: at Penn State (Oct. 27)
Braxton Miller had one of his worst passing games of the season last fall in the 20-14 home loss to Penn State. He completed only 7-of-17 passes for 83 yards as the Nittany Lions rushed for 239 yards. Fans can bet that Miller will be better and the Bucks rushing defense will be better, but if Ohio State isn’t careful heading into Halloween weekend, it could be looking at another upset. The PSU defense will be stout as usual and the Buckeyes will be playing on the road on primetime national television. This game could either carry divisional implications for the Lions — or, if they are out of it, could be considered their Super Bowl of 2012.
Unsung Hero: Jack Mewhort, OL (SR)
On a unit that is lacking for depth, star power and consistency, Mewhort might be the most important. The Toledo, Ohio, native has played at every position along the offensive line and will now be asked to protect Braxton Miller’s blindside. The outside of the offensive line will be the major question mark and it falls to Mewhort to stabilize the edge. Meyer believes that “he is probably our best lineman and he is our most consistent lineman.”
Biggest Game: Michigan (Nov. 24)
The Wolverines could be the only thing any Buckeye is thinking about this fall. With little to play for but respect, revenge and honor, beating Michigan — and, say, knocking it out of the Big Ten title game — would be the sweetest victory Ohio State faithful will taste all season. With nothing else to play for on the final weekend of the regular season, fans can bet that every ounce of energy will be poured into beating that team from up North.
Revenge Game: Nebraska (Oct. 6)
The Buckeyes were up 27-6 in Lincoln last year with just over 10 minutes left in the third quarter. But Braxton Miller sprained his ankle and the OSU offense went into the tank. The Huskers ended up scoring 28 straight points and winning 34-28. The Bucks finished 3-4 down the stretch after the loss and will now have a chance get revenge on the title contending Big Red on its home turf.
Freshman To Watch: Taylor Decker, OL
The offensive line is the only major area of concern for Urban Meyer heading into this season. He has had to shuffle players around, switch tight ends to tackles and is banking on two young freshman to bolster his spotty front line. Decker has already, through one spring practice in Columbus, found himself as the third tackle on the roster behind Jack Mewhort and Reid Fragel. Expect him and fellow freshman Kyle Dodson to become regulars in the OSU offensive line rotation.
Comeback Player: Nathan Williams, DL (SR)
The senior will battle with sophomore Michael Bennett — and his rehabbing knee — for starting time opposite of John Simon all summer long. Williams missed all but one game last year with a knee injury. The 2011 preseason All-Big Ten selection posted 45 tackles and 4.5 sacks back in 2010 and will be either a starter or top reserve on arguably the best defensive line in the Big Ten.
Defensive MVP: Johnathan Hankins, DT (JR)
John Simon might be the best leader, the most consistent and the strongest force up front for the Bucks, but Hankins is the most talented. The massive defensive tackle has trimmed his weight to 317 pounds and all reports are he is much quicker. In fact, one of the best quotes in the Athlon Sports 2012 Big Ten preview magazine comes from veteran center Corey Linsley. “Hank is now a little bit less of an immovable object and is more of an unstoppable force.” The more explosive Hankins could easily be a top ten pick in the 2013 NFL Draft with an outstanding season this fall.
Newcomer To Watch: Mike Thomas, WR (FR)
The wide receiving corps has no clear playmaker to speak of heading into 2012. The tight ends are very talented but Philly Brown, Devin Smith and Chris Fields don’t exactly inspire greatness. While they are solid players, none are elite All-American talents. Thomas, who caught 12 passes in the spring game, has coaches raving about the 6-foot-2, 193-pounders ability to contribute right away. Braxton Miller clearly had no problems finding him on the field this spring.
Season Defining Moment: at Michigan St (Sept. 29)
Does November 28, 2011 count? The day Urban Meyer accepted the Ohio State job may not be eligible for this list but it might be more than just a season-defining moment but a program-defining moment. And Meyer’s impact could be no more evident than in the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. If the Spartans can beat Boise State and Notre Dame, they will be 4-0 when Ohio State comes to town. If the Buckeyes can go into East Lansing and beat what will likely be a top 15 team, the rest of the conference will be warned. Especially considering how well the offensive line will have to play to defeat Sparty on the road.
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