Defense will separate the Buckeyes from the rest of the Big Ten this season-that is, assuming coordinator Mark Dantonio has addressed his unit's glaring weakness. Ohio State had the best pass defense in the conference (holding opponents to an efficiency rating of 107.6) yet still finished next to last in third-down conversions allowed (87 of 189, 46%). With three losses coming by a total of eight points, a few more stops could have made a big difference.
To stiffen the defense, Dantonio will deploy the Buckeyes in less press man coverage. Above all, though, he has stressed to his players that they're a year older and a year smarter, and they have to make plays. During the spring he brought his top seniors in for regular 7 a.m. film study. "The idea was that we'd be able to tell freshmen during practice what went right and what went wrong," says strong safety Mike Doss. "We spent the whole off-season looking for things we can do differently."
Doss won't have to change much. He led the team in tackles (87), tackles for loss (10) and fumble recoveries (four) and even blocked two kicks. "He wants to make every play," Dantonio says. "If he has a weakness, that's it. He has to be disciplined." The defensive front is solid from tip to tip. Then there's Cie Grant, a 6' 1", 220-pound senior who started 10 games at corner last year but will return to weak-side linebacker. "When he's in, we have 4� defensive backs in the game," Dantonio says. "When we're in nickel, we have 5�."
On the other side of the ball, Ohio State has four tailbacks—Maurice Clarett, Maurice Hall, Jaja Riley and Lydell Ross—good enough to make significant contributions. That eases the concerns at quarterback, where junior Craig Krenzel is expected to win the job from classmate Scott McMullen.
But as the D goes, so go the Buckeyes. Early games against pass-happy Texas Tech and Washington State will reveal how well those 7 a.m. study sessions went.