Ohio State is just a week and a half away from kicking off its 2019 campaign, and new head coach Ryan Day is looking to guide his team to a third consecutive Big Ten title.
The Buckeyes have to navigate a tough schedule that features five defenses that ranked inside the top 35 in yards allowed last year.
Michigan State is absolutely loaded with star defensive players while rivals Michigan and Penn State plan to throw a lot of athleticism at the Buckeyes this fall. Day will combat that with a passing attack he revolutionized over the past two seasons and one of the Big Ten's best running backs.
There will be challenges, of course. Here's a breakdown of the five toughest defenders Ohio State faces this season.
No. 5: Penn State Linebacker Micah Parsons
When Micah Parsons was a prized 5-star recruit in the 2018 recruiting class, Urban Meyer and the coaching staff pushed hard for his commitment.
The Harrisburg, Pennsylvania product decided to stay home and committed to Penn State, and as a true freshman last year, he started for a defense absolutely loaded with talent. It wasn't just a growing season for him, either. Parsons led the Nittany Lions in total tackles last fall, and he's expected to do the same in 2019.
No. 4: Michigan Cornerback Lavert Hill
There's a reason Ohio State targeted Michigan cornerback Brandon Watson so frequently in the surprising 62-39 blowout.
The Wolverines defense came into last November's matchup as the nation's top defense, and Lavert Hill was a foundational piece for the unit. After earning All-American honors in back-to-back seasons, he could've easily made the leap to the NFL, but he decided to return to Ann Arbor for one final year.
No. 3: Michigan State Linebacker Joe Bachie
Michigan State's defense gave Ohio State fits in last year's matchup, limiting the offense to a season-low 347 yards in East Lansing.
Joe Bachie was a big reason why. The star linebacker has anchored the Spartans defense each of the last two seasons and will do so again this fall. He was named a preseason All-American by a number of outlets, highlighted by Athlon Sports, and he'll lead the way as Michigan State tries to rebound from a 7-6 season.
No. 2: Northwestern Linebacker Paddy Fisher
Northwestern's surprising run to the Big Ten title game last year wouldn't have been possible without linebacker Paddy Fisher.
Fisher started for the Wildcats defense as a freshman in 2017 and posted back-to-back seasons with over 100 tackles. He registered 116 total tackles a season ago and forced four fumbles, and in the Big Ten title game against Ohio State, he led both teams with 11 tackles.
No. 1: Michigan State Defensive End Kenny Willekes
You may remember Kenny Willekes as the green blur in Ohio State's backfield every other play last season.
The All-American and reigning Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year registered an insane 78 total tackles from his defensive end position last year and ranked eighth nationally with 20.5 tackles for loss.
Willekes hasn't looked like a former walk-on for the Spartans, and that was particularly true when his team faced Ohio State. Willekes racked up a season-high 13 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and a sack against the Buckeyes.