Welcome to the Deadspin 25, a college football poll that strives to be more democratic and less useless than every other preseason poll. Leading up to the college football season kickoff, we will give you previews of the 25 teams that you, the readers, voted to be most worthy of writing about. Now, No. 2 Ohio State.
For the first time in years, 2014 provided us with a college football national champion I could actually root for and not against. It was a moment of beauty when Alabama went down, and the moment got even better when the well-oiled offensive machine that was Oregon was outshone on the nation’s biggest stage by a third-string quarterback and a sophomore running back on the team that barely snuck into the playoff.
Yes, Ohio State, a college football power that has been so hated in the past, somehow flipped the script and had me cheering as Cardale Jones hoisted the trophy above his head. And now, with the core of their 2014 national championship team back in Columbus, Ohio State is probably going to have a lot of people cheering for them once again.
Unfortunately, though, we may not be able to cheer on 12-Gauge again this year. Of all the quarterback battles that have played out this offseason, none have been as paradoxically fascinating and pointless as the one playing out in Columbus. The Buckeyes still have yet to name a starter, not that it really matters.
Ohio State has the benefit of being able to choose from two guys in J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones—Braxton Miller has moved to H-back—that can step on the field and be the best quarterback in the conference and possibly the nation. Both are apt at running the read-option and have proven they can manhandle any defense the Big Ten throws at them through the air or on the ground. Rest assured, whoever gets the starting nod will be fun as hell and deserving of every second of your Saturday they can occupy.
Lining up behind Barrertt or Jones will be Ezekiel Elliot, who proved last postseason that when paired with the Ohio State big uglies, he is one of the most explosive, exhilarating backs in college football. I have Nick Chubb above him as the nation’s best back, but I still think Elliot’s late-season push established him as a program-defining runner. Of course, it also helps when you get to run against defenses that also have to worry about covering one of the deepest receiving corps in the nation.
Out wide, the Buckeyes will certainly miss Devin Smith, who was a dynamo, but with Miller, Michael Thomas, Jalin Marshall, and Dontre Wilson all back, Ohio State’s quarterbacks will not be lacking for options. Thomas will headline the bunch after hauling a team-leading 54 catches for 799 yards and nine scores a year ago.
The craziest thing about Ohio State is that despite how good Barrett, Jones, Miller, Elliot, and Thomas are, they aren’t even that close to being the team’s best player. That honor belongs to defensive end Joey Bosa.
Bosa is the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year after putting together 13.5 sacks and 21.5 tackles for loss in his sophomore campaign. His form is damn-near impeccable, and he’s got the size (6-foot-6, 276 pounds) to just straight up bully any poor blocker who stands between him and a quarterback. This man is likely going to be the No. 1 overall pick come next spring’s NFL draft, so strap in for one hell of a season, because Bosa is going to wreck worlds this year.
(Note: Bosa and Marshal will miss the Virginia Tech game due to team-issued suspensions, but don’t expect that to really affect the outcome.)
A Guy To Know
There are so many guys to know on this team that trying to narrow down one can be a bit maddening. I’m going to go with Ezekiel Elliot.
Elliot started off his sophomore year slow, failing to crack 100 yards in the first three games of the season against three mediocre opponents. But then Cincinnati came along in Week 4 and Urban Meyer finally wised up and put the ball square in the gut of his young runner. Elliot used his 28 carries to crank out 182 yards and one score. From that point forward, he failed to crack 100 yards just three times, and when the postseason came along, Elliot blacked out and wrecked every defense that was placed in front of him.
Starting with the Big Ten title game and ending with the national title, Elliot rushed for 220-plus yards in all three games, scoring eight touchdowns along the way and rocketing up everyone’s 2015 Heisman watch list.
Obviously, it’s a bit much to expect him to come out and burst through the lines, midsection bared to the whole world, for 200-plus yards for every single game this year. But then again, he damn well could if the Buckeyes let him. Elliot is not a bruiser, but he’s also not a scatback. He’s 6-foot, 225 pounds with breakaway speed and X-ray vision, and I actually expect him to break 2,000 yards this season behind the four returning starters on the Buckeye’s offensive line. Heisman or not, if Elliot can keep churning out the big games consistently, Ohio State is actually an unbeatable team.
Can They Make The Playoff?
Yes. Duh. The Buckeyes are one of the most complete teams in the nation, and I fully expect them to cruise through their schedule (still, look out for that Nov. 21 date with Michigan State) and earn a spot.
Usually I’d say something like, “barring injuries, this team can absolutely make the playoff,” but Ohio State proved last year that it can win a title even with star players on the sidelines. This team has the depth, the talent, and the schedule, necessary to make it back to the playoff, and if they aren’t there come December, I will be shocked.
Is The Coach A Dick?
Urban Meyer has been in college football too long and had too much success to not be a dick. He’s bullied reporters, left his Florida team only to return a year later at Ohio State, and is even a dick at the Master’s. But then you see something like this and can’t help but feel for a guy who probably doesn’t know what it means to feel:
Will Ohio State Do It?
The Buckeyes will almost absolutely win the Big Ten and go the playoff, where they will try and become the first team since Alabama to pull off a repeat. Nothing is a sure thing in sports, but Ohio State is as close as you’re going to get this season.
Sept. 7: @ Virginia Tech
Sept. 12: Hawaii
Sept. 19: Northern Illinois
Sept. 26: Western Michigan
Oct. 3: @ Indiana
Oct. 10: Maryland
Oct. 17: Penn State
Oct. 29: @ Rutgers
Nov. 7: Minnesota
Nov. 14: @ Illinois
Nov. 21: Michigan State
Nov. 28: @ Michigan