Note: Over the two weeks leading into the first full slate of college football games, we will take a look at 14 of the top teams heading into 2016 and analyze their chances at making the 2016 College Football Playoff. We continue this series with Ohio State, a team that finished 12-1 last year and is ranked No. 6 in the 2016 AP preseason top 25 poll.
|Ohio St. will make the CFP because...||Ohio St. won't make the CFP because...|
Anthony Chiusano: It's only fitting that we follow up our staff's Michigan conversation yesterday with a debate on its bitter rivals in Ohio State.
The Buckeyes were the consensus pick to win the CFP last year for the second-straight season with a myriad of offensive weapons at their disposal and two viable options at quarterback. This year is different to say the least.Top pass rusher Joey Bosa, star running back Ezekiel Elliott and key offensive weapons Braxton Miller and Michael Thomas among others are all living life in the NFL now, leaving nearly a completely new starting lineup on both sides of the ball. In addition, last year's season-opening quarterback Cardale Jones has departed, leaving J.T. Barrett as the top signal caller, no questions asked.
This roster turnover is concerning to say the least for a team that fell below its enormous expectations last year. But similarly to Nick Saban, I don't think it's ever wise to underestimate Urban Meyer. The Big Ten will be a tough mountain to climb this season, but I think Ohio State is primed to crash the CFP party once more this year.
What's your thoughts, Ryan?
Ryan Cooper: When you say "among others" in reference to the stars who left, I think you're selling the amount very short. We're talking 16 of the 22 offensive and defensive starters being gone, leaving just three on each side of the ball.This is a team that I'm more than familiar with because I worked on the beat last season, and you're right to say that it's unwise to count out Meyer. It's also a bad move to discount the 16 new starters, because there are some incredibly talented ones in there who will become household names in the near future.
But the third game these guys play is at Oklahoma, so that's one that isn't easy to see them winning. A loss there would leave no margin for error the rest of the season, and with Michigan State and Michigan on the schedule, as well as all the other teams on the Buckeyes' schedule going all-out because of the prospect of taking down that mighty program, it's hard to see them getting in without some incredibly fast learning on the job.
AC: You're right about underselling the talent lost from last year's group. But one advantage I think the Buckeyes have on their new roster is their certainty at quarterback. Yes, Barrett was inconsistent last year while splitting playing time with Jones. But with Jones gone now, I believe Barrett will have a resurgence knowing exactly how many snaps he'll get without disturbing his rhythm on the field.
I'm not a fan of the dual-quarterback system some teams use when they have multiple options at the position and I truly believe it hurt Barrett's development last season. This is a guy that threw for 2,834 passing yards and ran for 938 as a freshman after starting out as a backup and before eventually injuring his ankle late in the season. The talent is still there and I think Barrett is due for a big season.
Barrett gives Ohio State a sure option with experience at quarterback, which some top five teams like Alabama, Florida State and LSU can't say, as well as the Buckeyes' Big Ten rivals in Michigan State and Michigan. Yes, new skill players will have to step up around Barrett, but with Meyer's big recruiting class coming in, it should be a fairly smooth transition.
Barrett is great and definitely represents the one sure thing offensively. It's also a big plus that those three returning offensive starters are the quarterback and two linemen in Pat Elflein and Billy Price. Those are probably the two areas where it's most valuable to have experience. But that's not to say not having any experience anywhere else won't be costly.RC:
Starting running back Mike Weber has never stepped on the field after redshirting his first year. Top receiver Noah Brown missed all of last year with a broken leg, and it's anyone's guess who Barrett will target besides him.
Things are a little more balanced in terms of experience on defense, with one returning starter in each of the three groups (Tyquan Lewis on the line, Raekwon McMillan in the middle and Gareon Conley in the secondary). Sam Hubbard also moves into a starting role after being a super sub last year and could have a great year.
But Meyer will have to lean on a few true freshman linemen and an underwhelming secondary. It's just hard to see that all coming together in one year.
AC: Relying on a lot of freshmen to contribute right away sure is dangerous, but this group has the talent to step in and get the job done.
On defense, replacing last year's nearly three sacks a game will be difficult, but there's plenty of hope for this young defensive line. Bosa's younger brother Nick steps in as a freshman and can bring similar strength and pass-rushing ability, as could more experienced expected starters that will step in to fill the gaps. At the unit's heart, its all-conference linebacker in McMillan returns and should provide some stability up the middle.
As long as Barrett can find some playmakers out wide and make some of his own big plays using his feet, I think the defense will be manageable and will improve as the year goes on.
I'm a lot less concerned with the defense than the offense, which just isn't giving me any signs that it will be anything beyond Barrett. As I mentioned before, the starting running back doesn't have a second of game experience and the receivers/tight ends who expect to factor into the equation combined for 36 catches last year. That's about 170 catches to replace from guys like Thomas, Miller and Jalin Marshall, not to mention the incredible running and blocking that Elliott provided.RC:
The offense wasn't as good as it really should have been even with all those pieces last year, so where does it go from there?
AC: It's hard to argue with that. Your assessment on the Buckeyes' many, many question marks are spot on. But I still feel that Ohio State has the incoming talent to win an open Big Ten conference this season.
Michigan is on the rise, but I think 2017 is its year to break through the ceiling -- especially after losing in a 42-13 drubbing to Ohio State last year. Michigan State upset the Buckeyes last year under the leadership of spot starter Tyler O'Conner -- who was named 2016 starter earlier this week -- but the Spartans also lost some key pieces that will hurt their chances at a second-straight conference title.
Ohio State had the depth to to sneak into the 2015 CFP, which they eventually won, and I think they can find similar depth this season behind its No. 1 2016 recruiting class.
Some -- or many -- of these questions may never be answered this season as you suggested, but those final two weeks against Michigan and Michigan State will be a lot of fun to watch as the Big Ten jumble gets sorted out.