From the way the 2016 college football season concluded for the Ohio State Buckeyes, with a 31-0 trouncing by the eventual national champion Clemson Tigers, one might think that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer and his team are entering the 2017 campaign with some uneasiness and apprehension. After all, not only did the Buckeyes play poorly in the College Football Playoff semifinal, but they saw seven players (Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley, Curtis Samuel, Raekwon McMillan, Pat Elflein, and Noah Brown) hear their named called in April’s NFL draft.
However, As ESPN's Lee Corso might say, "Not so fast, my friend." Yes, Ohio State ended 2016 with a thud, and yes, Ohio State lost a great deal of talent to the NFL, but Meyer and the Buckeyes are more than eager to get the 2017 season started. This optimism is not only restricted to coaches, players, and fans of the program, as Athlon Sports has Ohio State ranked second heading into the season.
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. Defensive line depth
Any time Urban Meyer has had a national championship-contending team, he has had a deep and talented defensive line. That should once again be the case this fall with defensive end Tyquan Lewis, the 2016 Big Ten Conference defensive lineman of the year, co-starting defensive ends Sam Hubbard and Jalyn Holmes, and interior defensive linemen Dre'Mont Jones and Michael Hill leading the way up front. Throw in Nick Bosa, Robert Landers and Jonathan Cooper, and this is the kind of defensive line that will be able to continually rotate in fresh bodies all season long.
2. Offensive staff shake up
Recognizing that Ohio State's offensive production had fallen over the last two seasons, Meyer decided to make some changes with his offensive coaching staff, hiring former Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson as offensive coordinator/tight ends coach and former San Francisco 49ers quarterback coach Ryan Day as co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Wilson is respected throughout college football as one of the best play-callers in the game, and should bear watching with a loaded offensive arsenal in Columbus. Day is a protégé of former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, and could incorporate more of the fast-break offensive approach Meyer has long admired. Day will primarily work with quarterbacks, which leads me to…
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3. The return of J.T. Barrett
Yes, I am including this on the list as a positive for the Buckeyes. Coming off two inconsistent seasons, Barrett enters 2017 season as Ohio State's leader on the field, and should conclude his college career with virtually every quarterback record in program history. With coaches like Wilson and Day instructing him, look for Barrett to recapture his 2014 form when as a freshman he led the Big Ten in total offense (314.3 ypg) and accounted for 45 total touchdowns (34 passing, 11 rushing).
4. The schedule is competitive but manageable
Ohio State begins the 2017 season on the road on Thursday, Aug. 31 in a night game at Indiana, providing Wilson with an opportunity to beat his former team. The Buckeyes then come home to host Oklahoma on Sept. 9, the Sooners’ first trip to Columbus since 1977. After those high-profile games, the toughest road tests are spread throughout the rest of the slate – at Nebraska on Oct. 14, at Iowa on Nov. 14, and a visit to Ann Arbor on Nov. 25 to take on Michigan, aka "That Team Up North". It is entirely possible that Ohio State will be favored in every game this season.
5. Urban Meyer
In five seasons at Ohio State Meyer is 61-6 and led the Buckeyes to a national title in 2014. Meyer is one of the premier head coaches in college football, but he’s eager to quiet the critics and the naysayers who reveled in the Buckeyes’ shutout loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff. A master motivator, Meyer has a tremendous capacity to stoke the competitive fires of his team, and he will be the primary catalyst for another successful football season for Ohio State in 2017.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.