Ohio State Football: 3 Things Standing in the Way of a Big Ten Championship

David Regimbal@davidreg412Featured ColumnistApril 22, 2014

FILE - In this Nov. 30, 2013 file photo, Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller (5) looks back at Michigan defensive back Blake Countess (18) as he rushes for a touchdown in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game in Ann Arbor, Mich. It seems as if No. 2 Ohio State has spent the past three months in a pressure-cooker. Now, after squeaking out its biggest win of the season against its bitter rival, the Buckeyes have to turn around and play yet another major showdown. They meet No. 10 Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game on Saturday.  (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)
Tony Ding

Down three points late in the fourth quarter of the 2013 Big Ten Championship Game, Ohio State was in Michigan State territory, needing just two yards on fourth down to keep its title hopes alive.

The ball was snapped, Braxton Miller swept to the right side, and the perimeter blockers opened a clear path for a potential burst to the end zone.

But Jeff Heuerman's man broke free on the interior and stopped Miller short of the conversion.

Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes were largely outplayed by a more determined team that night, but one play could have swung the momentumand a conference titletheir way.

Will something that small prevent Ohio State from winning a Big Ten title in 2014? 

It's possible. Despite the months of training, preparation and game-planning, one play could make or break a season. That's usually the way it goes for the true contenders. Elite teams—such as the 2002 Ohio State squad that won a national title—overcome their bigger obstacles or deficiencies and come through with a big play in crunch time.

What big issues are standing in the way of Ohio State's Big Ten title chances this year?

 

Braxton Miller's Durability 

Ohio State's superstar quarterback has had an injury-plagued career in Columbus.

In 2011, the Buckeyes had a 21-point lead midway through the third quarter against Nebraska when Miller rolled his ankle. He was unable to finish the game, and the Buckeyes collapsed against the surging Cornhuskers.

Seeing Braxton Miller in pain has been a familiar sight for Buckeyes fans over the years.
Seeing Braxton Miller in pain has been a familiar sight for Buckeyes fans over the years.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

A year later, the same thing nearly happened at home against Purdue. Miller was tackled hard late in the third quarter, later to be taken to the hospital, but Ohio State rallied behind backup Kenny Guiton in overtime.

Last season, Miller missed most of three games after spraining his MCL during the first drive of the San Diego State game.

Ohio State will need Miller to stay healthy his senior season in order to win the Big Ten title, because Guiton is no longer around to save the day.

 

The Secondary 

Ohio State's pass defense is undergoing a major overhaul—a necessary move after last year's dismal results.

The Buckeyes ranked No. 110 (out 123 teams) defending the pass, allowing an average of 268 passing yards per game. Things completely bottomed out at the end of the season, as Ohio State gave up an average of 377.7 passing yards to its final three opponents—Michigan, Michigan State and Clemson.

Ohio State struggled tremendously to defend the pass last year.
Ohio State struggled tremendously to defend the pass last year.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Three members of that secondary are gone, which includes Bradley Roby, who is expected to be taken in the first round of the NFL draft next month.

Urban Meyer brought in Chris Ash from Arkansas to be co-defensive coordinator alongside Luke Fickell. His specialty is pass defense, and already the Buckeyes are shifting away from the zone to more press coverage.

Bleacher Report's Michael Felder wrote that the secondary's major issues appear to be resolved, but that won't be fully determined until the fall.

 

The Michigan Squads

The two teams best equipped to beat Ohio State are the teams from the state it cares the least about.

Despite Michigan's offensive ineptitude last season, it still managed to hang 41 points and 603 yards on the Buckeyes. The Wolverines were just a two-point conversion away from potentially handing Ohio State its first loss since the end of the 2011 season.

Michigan State halted Ohio State's 24-game winning streak last year.
Michigan State halted Ohio State's 24-game winning streak last year.Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

That honor, of course, was claimed a week later when Michigan State derailed the Buckeyes in the Big Ten title game.

In 2014, conference realignment will put all three of these teams in the same division, and they'll likely be the top three contenders to represent the East. 

Ohio State will travel to East Lansing, Michigan, on November 8 to face a rested Spartans squad coming off a bye week. The Buckeyes will of course close the season against Michigan, but this time, The Game will take place in Columbus.

If the Buckeyes can get revenge against Michigan State and hold off Michigan, they'll likely be bound for Indianapolis with a great shot at winning the Big Ten title.

 

Unless otherwise noted, all stats via NCAA.com.

David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.