The defending national champions look to protect their crown with a loaded roster. Despite losing Heisman winner Ezekiel Elliot, quarterback J.T. Barrett and four members of the nation’s best offensive line, the Buckeyes are still stacked with talent. At quarterback is the familiar face of Cardale Jones, who started for the first half of the season and led the Buckeyes to a huge user win over Notre Dame. Jones’ was stripped of his starting status after a shaky performance against Penn State, and the team responded around the steady Barrett to earn huge wins over UCLA, Oregon, Michigan, TCU and Florida State en route to a national title while Jones could only watch. You can bet your ass that 12-Guage will be locked and loaded when the Buckeyes head into Happy Valley for a grudge match Jbek Joining Cardale in the backfield is the speedster Curtis Samuel, who split time at running back and H-back last year. Samuel will still see time in the slot, and the coaches will find creative ways to get him the ball in space. This means that you will often see someone else toting the rock in traditional running formations, but it will be a competition to see who gets those coveted carries. Mikey Weber is a good bet to see the carries early on. The sophomore is a stout north-and-south runner who will provide some variation to Samuel’s blazing speed. But true freshman Elijah Walker, the top rated back in last year’s class, will also get a chance to be the Buckeye’s bell cow on short yardage situations. The question of “who carries the ball” might not matter all too much if the Buckeyes don’t run the ball often, and the coaching staff has hinted at a more ariel-focused attack this year. Part of this is playing to Cardale’s strength – they don’t call him 12 Gauge for his running ability – but Ohio State also returns the deepest group of receivers in the country. Senior Michael Thomas surprisingly returned, and all Ohio State receiving record holders are now on alert. The 6’3 nephew of Keyshawn Johnson has the ability to rewrite history at Ohio State. Joining Thomas out wide is junior Noah Brown, an ox of a receiver who recorded 22 pancakes last season. Brown is the Buckeye’s best perimeter blocker, but sophomore Torrance Gibson seems poised to break out as a pass-catcher, and will likely push Brown for time in obvious passing situations. In the slot you’ll see a healthy mix of Jalin Marshall, Dontre Wilson, Johnnie Dixon and Parris Campbell. K.J. Hill and Terry McLaurin deserve to see the field too. The Buckeyes legitimately go 9-deep at this position, and that’s without factoring the pass-catching abilities of Samuel, or their talented tight end group. The one area concern for the preseason favorites lies in the trenches, which is especially frightening considering the Buckeyes’ hung their hats by being dominant at the point of attack in 2015. The Buckeyes look to replace four starters from the offensive line – including All-American Taylor Decker – and are extremely thin at all five spots due to some unexpected transfers. True Sophomore Isaiah Prince and true freshman John Harrison, the top rated tackle in last year’s class, will start at the tackle positions. Their ability to keep speed rushers at bay will largely dictate how prolific OSU can be in the passing game – regardless of who lines up at receiver. On the defensive line the Buckeyes have to replace three starters, including #1 overall pick Joey Bosa. There will be a healthy rotation amongst a deep, yet unproven, front four, but someone will have to fill the void at pass rusher. Fortunately the strength of the Buckeyes lies in the other units of the Silver Bullets. The best linebacker from last season, junior Raekwon McMillan, looks to build upon a great sophomore campaign while taking on more of a leadership role. Darron Lee surprised many when he returned for another season, and he is likely the fastest linebacker in the country. Dante Booker rounds out the trio, but Ohio State goes 6 deep with linebackers ranked 84+. The entire secondary returns, with Vonn Bell and Eli Apple making the best cornerback-safety tandem in the country. The duo of former-five-stars essentially takes away one half of the field for passing attacks, but Gareon Conley and Tyvis Powell are also stout in pass coverage. True freshman AJ Wade will play behind Bell, but the coaches are extremely high on the speedster, and plan on finding unique ways to get him involved in the defensive scheme. Overall, it would be a disappointment in Columbus if the Buckeyes don't repeat as champions this season.