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Austin R. Vaughn | | September 4, 2015

Who's In

  Are the Buckeyes, indeed, overrated? Pretty soon, we'll find out.

With the world awaiting college football’s first Saturday -- well let’s be honest, people have been chomping at the bit for months -- there’s so much drama to sink your teeth into, so much excitement on the horizon and so many questions that have been waiting for answers.

So, at the last possible moment, I will attempt to answer a few of these questions before they become answered for us.

Can Ohio State stay at the top?

The view sure is nice from the top, but it’s quite a feat to keep yourself there. The Buckeyes have no lack of talent, a favorable schedule and all kinds of confidence a la Cardale Jones. Fifteen starters return to Columbus fresh off last year’s 14-1 championship season; in fact, they’ve got so much talent that one of their three quarterbacks, who’ve all had their names in the same sentence as Heisman, had to switch to wide receiver. Speaking of Heisman, Ezekiel Elliott is on everyone’s preseason watch list in what is already being called the year of the running back. And, the previously mentioned favorable schedule? The Ohio State only faces one opponent ranked in the preseason Top 25.

However, starting at the top means you’ve got a huge target on your back and not many teams have been able to hold off would-be usurpers. Only two teams -- 1999 FSU and 2004 USC -- since 1950 have been able to stay at No. 1 in the AP poll wire-to-wire. And, six teams in that timespan started at No. 1 and fell completely out of the Top 25 by the end of the season. Eight teams were able to capture a championship after being named the preseason number one, however, and Urban Meyer’s Bucks have what it takes to become the ninth.

Which is the toughest division in college football: Pac-12 South or SEC West?

Ever since Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre famously called out the previously undisputed “toughest division in college football” by saying his own Pac-12 South was stronger than the SEC West, it’s been a question stuck in the minds of fans and pundits alike. And, it wasn’t a farfetched idea seeing as at the time the SEC West had five teams in the Top 25 and the Pac-12 South had four. Sports Illustrated, The Associated Press and SB Nation has put in their two cents on the issue. A few weeks earlier, ESPN even tweeted out a regular debate between two of its writers arguing who would win in SEC/Pac-12 matchups from top to bottom. But, the only chance we’ll have to see the Pac-12 South take on the SEC West in an actual gridiron face-off will be on Sept. 5, when Texas A&M hosts Arizona State.

When will Oregon finish the drill?

It hasn’t been too long since Oregon butted its way into the national championship conversation, but since 2009, it hasn’t left. In the past six years, the Ducks have won four conference titles, played for the national title twice and fielded a Heisman trophy winner. They’ve put together eight straight 10-win seasons, only missed a New Year's six bowl once since 2009, and were selected as one of the four to compete in the inaugural College Football Playoff. Yet, Oregon has yet to earn the highest accolade in the land; perhaps, 2015 is finally the year of the Duck.

How long will it take Harbaugh to turn around Michigan?

Jim Harbaugh has come to be known as something of a comeback guru after rejuvenating three programs in each of his three stops as a head coach, and it's easy to see why. Harbaugh led the University of San Diego to its first conference championship in 2005 and repeated that result a year later before shipping off to Stanford. In Palo Alto, Harbaugh took a program that hadn’t seen a winning record in eight years to back-to-back bowl games capped by a 12-win season and an Orange Bowl win. Harbaugh didn’t miss a beat climbing up to the NFL; taking a 49ers program that hadn’t seen the playoffs in nine seasons to three straight NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl.

So, it isn’t crazy for folks in Ann Arbor to expect great things from the former Wolverines QB. But, they seem to be expecting them sooner rather than later, and that’s a lot to expect in a conference home to the defending national champion, in-state rival Michigan State and an always strong Wisconsin squad.

Not to mention Harbaugh is 11-12 in his first year with a college program.

What conference will be left out of the College Football Playoff?   

We’re still early into this experiment known as the College Football Playoff, yet we’ve still had many people calling to expand to eight, 12 or even -- could you imagine -- 16 teams. But as long as we’re still dealing with CFP 1.0, the biggest question on everyone’s mind will be which conference(s) will be left out.

As long as there are only four playoff spots for a sub-division ruled by five major conferences, someone’s getting left out. Last season, it was the Big 12 mainly because the 10-team conference was unable to stage a conference championship game, and performance in a conference championship game is a strong factor for CFP committee voters.

However, the Big 12 co-champions let their play during bowl season speak to the controversy. TCU embarrassed the Ole Miss Rebels [of the highly-touted SEC West] 42-3 in the Peach Bowl, and Baylor lost a 42-41 thriller to No. 7 Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl. Those results will most likely keep anyone from overlooking the Big 12, which leaves the ACC to be the most vulnerable to miss the playoffs.

Florida State, the ACC’s representative in the CFP last year, has lost a lot of talent since its 2014 national championship win, most notably Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. However, Clemson, the preseason ACC front-runner, and Georgia Tech, defending Coastal and Orange Bowl champions, could both make a playoff case, and it would be foolish to think FSU won’t be able to reload and make a playoff case for itself as well.

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