Ohio State received 97 percent (62 of 64) of first place votes in the USA Today Preseason Amway Coaches Poll. They’re comfortably resting atop the preseason polls for Sports Illustrated, Athlon Sports, ESPN’s FPI rankings, BennettRank FBS rankings and dozens of other preseason polls. Urban Meyer’s team is the heavy favorite to capture a second-straight national title by just about every sports book in Las Vegas. And not only is almost no one picking a non-Columbus school to win the Big Ten title, very few are giving any of the conference’s other 13 teams a realistic shot at unseating the defending Big Ten champs.
The Buckeyes’ three-game run to end last season — wins over Wisconsin (59-0), Alabama (42-35) and Oregon (42-20) — was as impressive as we’ve seen in recent memory. The return of three outstanding quarterbacks (sans Braxton Miller who moved to receiver, but still remains as an All-Big Ten quarterback on the roster), All-American First Team selection Joey Bosa, 1,500-yard rusher Ezekiel Elliott and a dozen other potential All-Big Ten players easily justifies the optimism. We even had put seven Buckeyes on the HERO Sports Preseason All-American teams, the most of any team in the nation.
[three_fourth]Oh, and three-time title-winning head coach Urban Meyer is back and has added more depth to a deep team with a 25-plus-man recruiting class that features a dozen players that could contribute immediately.[/three_fourth]
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Shall we go on?
We could literally write a book on the offseason and preseason hype, predictions and expectations of the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes. And although every argument for OSU capturing a second-straight national title next January can be justified, are the Buckeyes really THAT good? Because, according to most preseason predictions, the rest of the Big Ten and other playoff contenders such as Baylor, Oregon, TCU, Auburn and Alabama shouldn’t even bother showing up this fall.
Before hungry OSU fans lose their minds and start calling blasphemy or filing defamation lawsuits in Ohio courthouses, let it be known: this brief thought-provoking piece is not intended to discount anything the Buckeyes did in 2014 or intend to do in 2015. From all indications and calculations, they appear to be the best team in the land. The intent of this piece is to ask the question, are they so good that only a fraction of unbiased college football fans believe they shouldn’t be overwhelmingly heavy favorites to win the program’s ninth national championship and launch another college football dynasty?
Only so much weight can be put into a past season, as roster turnover and player development dramatically alter a team’s makeup and future success rate over a 12-month period. However, looking back at some of 2014, it appears their remarkable season-ending stretch brushed some average performances under the rug.
This is a team that trailed an eventual five-loss Navy team for three quarters in last season’s opener. Granted, J.T. Barrett was not given the entire playbook in his first career start. But OSU played a fairly crisp game, committing only two penalties and one turnover while averaging an adequate 4.8 yards on 40 rushing attempts. They were then embarrassed by an aggressively average Virginia Tech team on their home field and although some terrible decisions by Barrett repeatedly cost them opportunities to get back in the game, numerous areas, including their offensive line, receivers and running backs were wildly inconsistent, if not terrible, throughout the 35-21 loss.
One month later, they blew a 17-point lead in Happy Valley before Barrett touchdown runs in the first and second overtimes gave them a 31-24 victory over Penn State. The defense was dominating, albeit against one of the nation’s worst offenses, but the OSU offense racked up just 293 total yards, including a dismal 74 yards through the air.
They trailed Indiana 21-20 late in the third quarter before the previous week’s goat, Jalin Marshall, who lost two fumbles in their 31-24 win at Minnesota, scored four touchdowns, including a a 54-yard punt return, to give them a Big Ten East-clinching win. It was a game that a lot of playoff predictors kept a close eye on, with many walking away saying OSU was not a playoff team after barely handling the lowly Hoosiers.
It was a similar situation the following week as they were tied with one of the worst Michigan teams in recent memory late in the third before getting two Elliott scores and one defensive touchdown from freshman linebacker Darron Lee to seal the deal. It might’ve been an emotionally-charged rivalry game, but, again, those playoff predictors kept singing the same tune: Ohio State was not deserving of a top four spot.
They weren’t terrible in any area in 2014 but were extremely average in many. They ranked 48th nationally or worse in passing offense, fewest penalties per game, sacks allowed per game and converting red zone opportunities, among numerous others. Devin Smith is gone from the offense, as are key defensive players Curtis Grant, Doran Grant and Michael Bennett, who combined for 173 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, eight sacks and nine interceptions. The losses pale in comparison to other top 25 programs but are still noteworthy.
It feels dirty to nitpick on a handful of team stats and close games but that’s exactly what the College Football Playoff committee is forced to do in order to grab the four best teams (and justify those selections). It’s easy to watch their dominance of Wisconsin, hard-fought victory over Bama and shockingly easy win over Oregon and call them the nation’s best team. It’s equally as comfortable to watch Bosa, Elliott, Lee, Cardale Jones and their All-American-worthy buddies return to Columbus and call them the nation’s best team. However, we cannot forget the regular season games that were a bounce or two away from eliminating the Buckeyes from the playoff conversation.
Are they an elite team? Undoubtedly.
Are those 2014 “meh” performances being overlooked? Are they really THAT good? We’ll find out.