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Ohio State Buckeyes must avoid all excuses to win Big Ten title

Ohio State overcame tremendous odds to win the Big Ten East without Braxton Miller. It must now adjust again to have a chance at a national championship.

Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

When senior quarterback Braxton Miller tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder in a preseason practice Aug. 18, the then-fifth-ranked Buckeyes were in a state of turmoil. They needed a savior to salvage Urban Meyer's third season as Ohio State head coach.

In stepped J.T. Barrett, a highly ranked recruit from Wichita Falls, Texas. Barrett's progression was nothing short of incredible.

The redshirt-freshman looked dazed and confused against Bud Foster's Virginia Tech defense in front of a then-record crowd at Ohio Stadium. Barrett went 9-of-29 passing and threw three interceptions in Ohio State's 35-21 loss to the Hokies, which continues to be an ugly blemish on the Buckeyes' stellar résumé.

No one would have guessed he'd go on to set school records for touchdown passes (34) and total touchdowns (45) previously held by Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. And -- even more surprising -- no one expected the Heisman candidate to go down in the third quarter against rival Michigan. It was a gruesome injury that left Barrett's ankle broken and Ohio State's coaching staff scrambling.

"We gotta go. We gotta go, and we got a lot of confidence in the guy that's gonna be doing it," Meyer said after defeating Michigan for the third time in his career, 42-28. "His name's Cardale Jones. He's been here for, I think, 120 years."

The loss of Barrett's abilities on the field will certainly give Ohio State many issues to work through, but it couldn't have been prepared to lose the life of a teammate in the same weekend.

Walk-on lineman Kosta Karageorge's body was found near Ohio State's campus Sunday with an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. The news came days after he was reported missing.

The worst part was hearing his teammate, defensive end Joey Bosa, speak after Ohio State's win Saturday. Bosa spoke about Karageorge's playful attitude and said he was sure he'd show up soon.

"Me and Kosta, we were pretty close... He's a super cool guy, super interesting dude," Bosa said. "I have faith that he's good out there. He's a crazy guy. You just gotta know em. He'll come back. He always has the craziest stories. He'll just pop up outta no where and he'll have an awesome story to tell."

The Buckeyes -- after two tragic incidents -- must now band together and try to win a football game Dec. 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium against one of the nation's best rushing attacks and a top-10 defense. Wisconsin won't care about Ohio State's hardships once the game is underway. They are going to try to take advantage of Cardale Jones' inexperience and hammer the Buckeye defense between the tackles.

Meyer said Monday that he's challenged his seniors to finish the job they started when he got to Columbus. After winning 35-of-38 games, Meyer now wants to cap it off with a Big Ten championship.

"I said, 'You shouldn't be in this position. So you have to really reflect upon how that happened,'" Meyer said about his message to his team.

"So that team, every red flag is up, every excuse is out there to not play well, to not win a game, to lose a game," he said. "You have some really good built in excuses. To overcome the incredible tragedy that happened last night, this is a real challenge."

Ohio State has every right to be down this week, but it's about the team's perseverance and ability to work together to get through such a tragedy.

There is no blueprint to dealing with a death, especially in a family environment like a Division 1 football team. But Ohio State has already overcome incredible odds to finish its regular season 11-1 without its two-time Big Ten Player of the Year.

With a heightened sense of urgency, it will be up to the Buckeye defense to play up to their Silver Bullets moniker. Heisman candidate Melvin Gordon already has racked up 2,260 yards, which is good for fourth all time in FBS history. The Buckeyes have struggled against the run down the stretch, but it's time for the front seven to step up in the absence of their leader at the quarterback position.

It's time for Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman to get creative with their packages for Jones, their first-time starter.

You can expect some direct snaps to freshman H-back Jalin Marshall and a heavy dose of Ezekiel Elliott from the tailback position. Whatever it is, Ohio State can handle the pressure.

It has been through adversity before, and they are only stronger for it.