At first glance, it would make complete sense for a casual college football fan to dismiss Ohio State as a College Football Playoff contender during the 2016 season. Think about the talent lost — 12 players chosen during the 2016 NFL Draft, including five in the first 20 picks. Every single player drafted was a significant contributor to Ohio State's 2014 national championship team.
Peer closer, and you will see why Ohio State fans are brimming with a quiet optimism heading into the 2016 season. It’s a sentiment that’s supported by the fact that Urban Meyer’s team is ranked third in Athlon Sports’ Preseason Top 25.
Below are five good reasons why Ohio State could very well be in the running for another national championship, even with such
a dramatic talent exodus to the NFL.
1. The Strength of These Buckeyes...
Is in the middle on both sides of the ball. Fifth-year senior Pat Elflein resisted the opportunity to jump to the NFL, and moved to center. A two-time All-Big Ten selection at guard, Elflein plays with a toughness and nastiness along the offensive line that will solidify the unit. On the defensive side of the ball, junior Raekwon McMillan has emerged as one of the better middle linebackers in the country, qualifying as a Butkus Award finalist during the 2015 season. And another one of the strengths in the middle is at the quarterback position with redshirt junior J.T. Barrett, which leads me to this point...
2. There is No Quarterback Controversy in Columbus This Season
For all of the talk last summer and early fall about how the quarterback battle between Barrett and former Buckeye/current Buffalo Bill Cardale Jones would not impact the team, the inconsistent offensive results displayed by the 2015 Buckeyes said otherwise. Barrett is the unquestioned leader of the Buckeyes this season, and the offense will be completely focused around Barrett's strengths running an attack that should look more like 2014 than ‘15.
3. There is a Major Youth Movement in Columbus
And that is by necessity. More than half of the Ohio State roster is comprised of either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen, and head coach Urban Meyer has vowed to push his coaching staff to get the players ready to play and contribute this season. With recruiting classes that have been routinely ranked among the nation's best since Meyer arrived in Columbus in November 2012, these players are eager to show what they can do, if given the opportunity. This team will continue to get better and better each week of the 2016 season. Former Ohio State head coach John Cooper was fond of using an old Darrell Royal statement: "If a dog is going to bite you, it will bite you as a pup..." This is a young team, eager to show off its bite.
4. The Schedule is in Ohio State's Favor
Ohio State starts off with two home games, versus Bowling Green and Tulsa, before venturing to Norman, Okla., to take on the favored Sooners. Considering this game is in the third week of the season, Ohio State can use this game as a barometer of how it ranks against another highly-touted squad. Even if Ohio State loses, the Buckeyes can grow from this loss, rebounding in a manner comparable to what the 2014 squad did after the loss to Virginia Tech. Challenging games midseason are at night, on the road, at Wisconsin and at Penn State. Ohio State has to travel to East Lansing on Nov. 21, with revenge on the mind against the Spartans. The season concludes with "THE GAME" in Columbus, on Nov. 28 against Jim Harbaugh and "That Team Up North," the Michigan Wolverines. Look for the Wolverines to possibly be ranked higher when that game comes to pass. And that leads me to...
5. The Disrespect Card
Even if Ohio State is highly ranked by Athlon Sports, Meyer will seize upon the other publications and Web sites that do not view the Buckeyes in the same light, whether that’s in the the B1G or nationally. A master motivator, Meyer will repeatedly stoke the flames of disrespect and disregard within his squad, reminding them that the college football world does not believe these Buckeyes are ready to compete for the College Football Playoff this season.
Will Ohio State make the College Football Playoff after a one-year hiatus? For all of the reasons referenced above, I would not bet against Meyer and the Buckeyes.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a diehard Ohio State fan. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.