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. 6 Ohio State.
The ways in which the college football reacted to the news of Zach Smith’s abuse of Courtney Smith, and the subsequent knowledge of who knew what and when they knew it, were pathetic. The report created by Mary Jo White, who was hired by OSU to uncover who knew what and when, well, you can read it and decide whether you believe a man prone to forgetfulness and sudden deletion of text messages is trustworthy. The three-game suspension that eventually got dropped on Urban Meyer was inane and pointless.
It won’t take much for all of those things to be forgotten before Meyer’s suspension is even over, because if sports fans—particularly college football fans—are good at anything, it’s forgetting about whatever makes them uncomfortable. That’s even easier to do when there is a lot of winning to be enjoyed, and there will be plenty of that in Columbus this season.
The Buckeyes, with or without Meyer, are going to absolutely kick ass this season. Since he took over the program, Ohio State has posted just eight losses in six seasons. He will miss three games, and far be it from me to predict the future, but I don’t think loss number nine is coming against Oregon State. The Buckeyes are playoff material yet again, and barring some unforeseen event in which the entire Ohio State roster falls off the side of the earth, they will challenge for the Big Ten title.
There are plenty of ways to explain this well-oiled machine’s fine operation, but the simplest one is that they have so much talent on the sidelines that those that reach the field have no choice but to sink or swim. And these are all five- and four-star recruits. All of them. The Buckeyes have the name, the cash, the hot streak, and, like it or not, the coach to cashing in on this bottomless talent pool basically until the world ends.
There’s plenty of entertainment to be had on both sides of the ball, but because the Buckeyes have a new starting quarterback, we’ll start with the offense, which is run by coordinator Kevin Wilson, who, if you don’t remember, was hired by Meyer after he was fired by Indiana for abusive coaching tactics.
Sophomore quarterback Dwayne Haskins is the man for the Buckeyes this season. He was waiting in line behind J.T. Barrett in 2017; through the whole year, he threw just 57 passes but made the most of them, notching four touchdowns to one pick and completing 70.2 of those attempts. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Haskins is strong and decisive with the ball. He’s got an excellent arm, with the velocity to sneak a tight ball through a pair of defenders and the vision (and the offensive line) to make his reads before he does. Haskins is mobile enough that the Buckeyes feel fine using him in rollout packages and letting him tuck it when nothing’s there, but don’t expect him to be a prolific runner, at least not like Barrett. The beauty of it, for Ohio State fans, is that they won’t need him to be.
Any quarterback this this backfield behind him will be just fine. Running backs Mike Weber and J.K. Dobbins both return a year after combining for 2,029 yards and 17 scores. Dobbins was the lead man here, going for 1,403 of those yards, and should be yet again this year. Weber, meanwhile, flashed plenty of exciting potential all season long, using his speed to leave linebackers and secondaries in the dust. As long as the line stays healthy, they’re going for 2,000-plus yards again in 2018.
To combine them with this receiving corps seems unfair, but, again, this is Ohio State. Haskins will have last year’s leading receivers in Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill, while Terry McLaurin, Binjimen Victor, and Austin Mack are also ready to run opposing Big Ten secondaries ragged. All of these guys left high school as the Sports Drink Athlete Of The Year or something; they will be an absolute nightmare to keep up with.
The defense will be run by Greg Schiano, a man who, among his many pitfalls, hit a cyclist one time and, oh yeah, is reported to have known about the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal while at Penn State (the allegation cost him the job at Tennessee but not the one Meyer hired him for). Let’s see how many Schiano Men he can make out of this bunch.
The 2018 defense, like its two most recent iterations, is hardly one you need to worry about, but it’s one other coordinators dream about. Starting up front, Nick Bosa is back again to hold down the line—he’ll be without current NFL ends Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis, though he will be rejoined by soon-to-be all-everything sophomore Chase Young. Also, Dre’Mont Jones is back at defensive tackle for another year before he joins Hubbard and Lewis in the big leagues.
Chris Worley, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, is out at linebacker, though the return of Dante Booker and Tuf Borland should bolster the group while it gathers some much-needed experience. That said, Borland is coming off an Achilles injury suffered in the spring; he should be ready and comfortably rehabbed by the time Meyer returns, though.
The secondary is losing a ton of talent, bringing a ton back, and hauling a ton up from the never-ending well of stars. They will need to replace 2017 star corner Denzel Ward, who’s off to the Cleveland Browns to be yelled at for getting injured. But the Buckeyes return Kendall Sheffield and Damon Arnette, as well as Jeffrey Okudah; those three should be more than enough to replace Ward an maintain dominance on both sides of the field. Behind them, junior Jordan Fuller returns at safety after ranking second on the team in tackles with 62; he also snagged a pair of picks.
Nick Bosa has a name you know and the talent to back it up. The junior from Fort Lauderdale is entering the season as the most feared defensive lineman in the Big Ten and maybe the country. Last year, by way of his ungodly combination of strength, speed, and instincts, Bosa led the team with eight sacks and 16.0 tackles for loss. He will likely do so again this year and then go off to the NFL to make millions doing what he does best—terrorizing backfields.
Of course, this is The Ohio State, the Buckeyes can make the playoff. They have talent bursting out the seams at every position and, despite a batshit schedule and the fallout from the revelation of Smith’s behavior, they have everything any team could possibly need to make to the end of the regular season in playoff shape.
Sept. 1: Oregon State
Sept. 8: Rutgers
Sept. 15: TCU (“Neutral” but in Arlington)
Sept. 22: Tulane
Sept. 29: @ Penn State
Oct. 6: Indiana
Oct. 13: Minnesota
Oct. 20: @ Purdue
Nov. 3: Nebraska
Nov. 10: @ Maryland
Nov. 17: @ Michigan State
Nov. 24: Michiagn