SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #1 Ohio State
The college football staff at SQ has created the rankings of the top-25 teams heading into the 2015 season. We have finally reached the No. 1 team in the rankings: the defending National Champions, Ohio State.
Team: Ohio State Buckeyes
Location: Columbus, Ohio
SQ Ranking: 1st
2014 Record: 14-1
Last Season's Final AP Ranking: 1st
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (fourth year)
Previewing the Buckeye Offense: Ohio State's offense is frightening. No, literally, this offense is something you want no part of.
At quarterback, the Buckeyes can either go with sophomore J.T. Barrett, who led the Buckeyes through the gauntlet of a regular season until he got injured against Michigan; or junior Cardale Jones, whose three games as starting quarterback ended with confetti falling from rafters and a trophy being raised.
Coach Urban Meyer has a great problem on his hands: who should start? So far, it sounds like both will play throughout the season, and the chance of a dual-quarterback system (like the one Meyer had at Florida with Tim Tebow and Chris Leak) almost seems like a lock to happen. And remember, graduate senior Braxton Miller is still on the team, but at halfback.
Speaking of Miller, the Buckeyes' running game features the former two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, as well as Heisman hopeful Ezekiel Elliott.
In last year's playoff, Elliott went off for 231 yards against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl Semifinal, and then he gashed the Oregon Ducks for 246 yards and four touchdowns en route to collecting the Offensive MVP honors in the National Championship game.
Elliott was a huge reason for Ohio State's postseason success.
Between Miller and Elliott, the Buckeye offensive has a variety of schemes to choose from. A wildcat formation could be utilized by Meyer, as well as an option-based offense. Anything could be pulled by the Buckeyes — and that's bad news for anybody going against them.
The weakest spot on offense for Ohio State is the receiving core. Devin Smith and Evan Spencer have entered the NFL, leaving Jalin Marshall and Michael Thomas as the experienced receiving core. Sophomore Noah Brown was in position to have a breakout season for the Buckeyes, but a season-ending injury during practice last week sent a crushing blow to an already depleted receiving core. Senior tight-end Nick Vannett will have an increased role in the receiving game this season, as his mentor Jeff Heuerman was also drafted. Especially in the Virginia Tech game, a match in which Marshall has been suspended, the receivers will need to find a way to get open quickly.
With explosive quarterbacks and rushing game, the Buckeyes also have a stout front line led by seniors Jacoby Boren and Taylor Decker. If the front line is anything like last year, then the offense will flourish. Expect Ohio State's offensive to be one of the best (if not the best) offense in the country.
Previewing the Buckeye Defense: With seven returning starters on defense (just like on offense), the Buckeyes are a tour de force again.
Junior All-American Joey Bosa headlines the "Silver Bullets." Last season, Bosa was responsible for a team leading 13.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles-for-loss. Throw in the team leader in tackles, senior Joshua Perry, and you have a defense that is absolutely loaded for another year of sandblasting conference foes in the regular season.
Safety Tyvis Powell, the defensive player of the game in the national championship, returns for his junior season to shut down more opposing offenses. With fellow junior Vonn Bell at safety, the Buckeyes have a pass defense worthy of being one of the nation's best.
The defensive line will have to fill the void left by Michael Bennett, which is no easy task. Bosa's superstardom last year came off the fact that offenses were doubling up on Bennett, leaving Bosa open to make big plays. Sophomore Tyquan Lewis can develop into another player like Bennett, but only time will tell. However, the underclassman on this team have shined.
Raekwon McMillan and Darron Lee both enter their sophomore season for the Buckeyes as linebackers. Both had standout freshman seasons that gave a small preview of what was to come. Expect McMillan, Lee and Lewis to be the 'super sophomores' on this Buckeye defense.
Comprehensively, the Buckeye defense is one of the best in the country. If I were an offensive coordinator, these are the kind of teams I would fear playing. Between Bosa, Perry, and Powell, this side of the ball has the leadership needed to be unstoppable.
Three Key Games
1. Ohio State vs. Michigan State (Nov. 21)
I've already said this in two other articles here: the Ohio State-Michigan State game will be the de-facto championship game for the Big Ten conference. Whoever wins this game will have the inside track to Indianapolis, the site of the 2015 Big Ten championship game on Dec. 5.
Health will be a huge reason for whoever wins this game. Injuries are a part of the game, and happen to every team, every year. So far, the Buckeyes are down Noah Brown, and the Spartans lost one of their own players to injuries during camp, too.
The Spartans come off a Cotton Bowl-winning season and would love to be back in Dallas for the Cotton Bowl Semifinal this season. However, Ohio State gets the Spartans in Columbus — a place that no Big Ten squad has been able to win at since Meyer took over the program in 2012.
Expect this game to be a site for College Gameday, but more importantly, circle this game on your calendar; this will be the Game of the Year for the Big Ten conference.
2. Michigan vs. Ohio State (Nov. 28)
It is simply The Game. Legends get made between Ohio State-Michigan, and careers get ruined if you string too many losses.
Jim Harbaugh will make it a point for his Wolverines squad to win this game, while Meyer will do the same with his squad. The Harbaugh-Meyer rivalry has the making to be the reincarnation of the Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler Ten Year War from 1969-1978.
With this game being at Michigan and inside of a hostile Big House, the Wolverines would love nothing more than to be the reason Ohio State is shut out of the playoffs.
3. Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State (Sept. 7)
With a few players suspended or injured, this game has the makings to be a classic for the defending champions. Don't expect either team to be completely out this contest in Blacksburg, Va. as the fourth quarter winds down.
Virginia Tech ruined Ohio State's perfect season in 2014.
Ohio State is looking for redemption against Virginia Tech, as the Hokies rolled into Columbus and downed the Buckeyes. Bud Foster, defensive guru for the Hokies, will do everything he and his "Bear" defense can do to stop the Ohio State attack from taking off.
Either way, this is the kind of game college football fans want to see in Week 1.
Final Analysis: Having Bosa and Marshall out for Virginia Tech could put Ohio State in a position to be upset: however, after seeing how Ohio State overcame an early season loss to get into the playoffs, the showdown with Hokies won't have huge implications when the dust settles on Dec. 6.
Michigan State stands in the way of Ohio State grabbing the Big Ten crown, and their Nov. 21 matchup in The Shoe will have someone's division championship dreams go up in smoke. Michigan, like always, has been a spoiler to the Buckeyes in their quest for conference and national titles. The final two weeks of the regular season will be brutal for the scarlet and gray, but if they survive it, expect them to steamroll their opponent in the Big Ten championship.
At a minimum, Ohio State will go 11-1. That's the worst case scenario. The Buckeyes are a playoff team who are hungry to claim a ninth national championship.