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(5) Ohio State (0-0) vs. Navy (0-0)



Saturday, August 30, 12 p.m. (ET)

The Sports Network

GAME NOTES: The fifth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes are set to begin life without Braxton Miller as they kick off their national title pursuit against the Navy Midshipmen at M&T Bank Stadium.

In 2013, Urban Meyer's Buckeyes won 12 games, went to the Orange Bowl and finished ranked No. 12 in the nation. But for OSU fans fixated on a spot in the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena after a 12-0 start, it was the back-to- back losses against Michigan State in the Big Ten title game and then against Clemson in the Orange Bowl that ultimately serves as the lasting memory of the season.

Looking ahead to 2014, the road to success got considerably tougher before the campaign even started, in light of the recent season-ending shoulder injury to star quarterback Miller, the reigning two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

The 2014 season will be the last for Navy playing as an Independent before the team joins the American Athletic Conference next year. Led by record-breaking quarterback Keenan Reynolds, the Midshipmen won nine games a year ago, including a 24-6 triumph over Middle Tennessee in the Armed Forces Bowl.

OSU has won all four prior meetings in the head-to-head series with Navy, the most recent of which came in the 2009 season opener in Columbus (31-27).

The Buckeyes boasted the nation's No. 3 scoring offense (45.5 ppg) and No. 5 rushing attack (308.6 ypg) in 2013. However, most of that production came from All-Big Ten back Carlos Hyde, who was a second-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers, and Miller, who contributed 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground. Coach Meyer tabbed redshirt freshman T.J. Barrett as Miller's replacement under center, and the youngster will be asked to pick up the reins and operate behind a largely inexperienced offensive line, which Meyer recently voiced concerns about at Big Ten Media Day.

Leading receiver Corey Brown has moved on, but senior Devin Smith appears ready for an increased role after catching 44 passes for 660 yards and eight scores last year. The same goes for senior tight end Jeff Heuerman (26 rec, 466 yds, four TDs).

The OSU defense returns eight starters, although two of the unit's biggest stars, linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Bradley Roby, were picked in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft. Cornerback Doran Grant had three interceptions to go along with 13 passes defended and 58 tackles last season, and he now steps into a leadership role as a senior. Up front, disruptive tackle Michael Bennett (11.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) returns along with sophomore defensive end Joey Bosa (13.5 TFL, 7.5 sacks).

Meyer noted that his linebacking corps lacks a big-name talent such as former OSU standouts James Laurinaitis, A.J. Hawk or Shazier. However, he said he likes the chemistry and progress the group has made as a whole.

"We completely have blown up and started from scratch, an area that we were not very strong in, pass defense," Meyer said. "And (def. coordinator) Chris Ash has done an admirable job of installing a brand new pass defense that we're going to test and see how it goes."

Reynolds is to Navy's offense what Miller was to Ohio State's, as the Midshipmen finished second in the nation in rushing a year ago (325.4 ypg) with Reynolds leading the triple-option attack. In fact, he set the NCAA record for rushing touchdowns by a quarterback with a whopping 31 on 300 carries. Reynolds, who also set a NCAA single-game record for rushing touchdowns with seven against San Jose State, ran for a team-best 1,346 yards while also throwing for 1,057 yards and another eight scores, against just two interceptions. Only three other Navy QBs have ever thrown and run for at least 1,000 yards in a season.

As usual, the Mids backfield will be a committee approach (eight players topped 200 yards and a TD last year), while the offensive line returns four starters.

Navy's defense had a rough season in 2013, and standouts Cody Peterson (142 tackles) and DJ Sargenti (110) have both moved on. That leaves Chris Johnson as the top returning tackler after posting 84 takedowns in 2013. Johnson also tied with Parrish Gaines and Brendon Clements for the team lead with three interceptions, adding a pair of forced fumbles for good measure. Clements was a pleasant surprise holding down the middle linebacker spot last year as a freshman. Senior Jordan Drake and James Britton will also patrol the middle of the field again, while fellow senior Paul Quessenberry helps to anchor the defensive line at one of the end positions.

The Mids were the least penalized team in the nation last year (2.62 penalties/game), but they boasted only a 54 percent success rate on third down.

Ohio State enters Saturday with the nation's longest regular-season winning streak at 24 games. Surely that is not news to Barrett, who is set to become only the second freshman QB in the modern era to start a season opener for the Buckeyes. If Reynolds breaks loose for a few big runs, the Mids may be able to hang around and keep this one tight for a while. But in the end, OSU simply has too much firepower from top to bottom.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 42, Navy 24

08/29 15:16:00 ET


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