Can a 12-1 season that culminates in a dominating win over your rival, as well as a commanding performance in a New Year's Day bowl game, result in a feeling of disappointment? The answer is possibly yes, if Buckeye fans reflect upon the 2015 Ohio State football season.
A team loaded with outstanding talent (Exhibit A would be the 2016 NFL Draft, with five Buckeyes selected within the first 20 picks, and 12 players picked overall) meandered throughout most of the season, squandering an opportunity to defend its 2014 national championship with a heartbreaking last-second field goal to Michigan State in Ohio Stadium. The powerful performances at Michigan and against Notre Dame in the final two games only left Ohio State fans wondering where that Buckeye offensive juggernaut had been for the previous 10 games.
Flash forward to 2016. Redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett returns as the unquestioned pilot of the Ohio State offense, with redshirt senior Pat Elflein moving to center. Junior linebacker Raekwon McMillan returns to lead the defense. Those three players have already been designated by head coach Urban Meyer to captain an Ohio State team comprised primarily of redshirt freshmen or true freshmen.
With a young but very talented team, plus a challenging 2016 schedule, can Urban Meyer get Ohio State back to the College Football Playoff this season? Athlon Sports polled a few writers to get their take on Ohio State's realistic 2016 win/loss projection.
Ohio State Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Chip Minnich (@ChipMinnich)
For all of the valid concerns about the talent lost, Ohio State fans can console themselves with the knowledge that Urban Meyer and the coaching staff have been actively recruiting some of the best high school talent in the country over the past several seasons, and I am including Alabama in that statement. These are players who are truly chomping at the bit to show what they can do on the football field.
The position groups hurt the most by the early NFL departures would be the secondary and wide receiver groups. Ohio State will field a secondary with three new starters, while the projected starting wide receivers were both injured for most of the 2015 season.
Ohio State opens up at home versus Bowling Green and Tulsa, but will those games be enough to quickly mature the Buckeyes before going on the road at Oklahoma, especially with such an inexperienced secondary? There are some potential road game upsets, with back-to-back night games at Wisconsin and Penn State in October.
Michigan State seems to be the program that continually gives the Buckeye fits. During Meyer's tenure, Ohio State has defeated the Spartans twice in East Lansing (2012, 2014), while losing to them twice (2013, 2016 Big Ten Championship Game). For such a young team, what should be a raucous East Lansing environment may be too much for these young Buckeyes to handle. And of course, "THE GAME" in Ohio Stadium on Nov. 26 could be the biggest since the 2006 season, when Ohio State and Michigan were ranked one and two.
Ohio State has the talent and the coaching to get to 10 wins, and a New Year's Day bowl game appearance. This could be the kind of season that springboards Ohio State into a projected big 2017 campaign.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Ohio State’s six returning starters are the fewest of any Power Five team for the 2016 season. However, the Buckeyes are still one of the safest picks for a Playoff spot. Why? Talent. Head coach Urban Meyer has reeled in some of the nation’s best talent over the last couple of seasons, so the overall drop-off is going to be minimal. A full offseason to work as the starter and no quarterback controversy should be a huge benefit to J.T. Barrett, as the junior looks to regain his 2014 form. The Buckeyes need to find playmakers, but there’s emerging options with running back Mike Weber and receivers Curtis Samuel, Noah Brown and Austin Mack. Despite key losses at each level, the defense should rank near the top of the Big Ten once again. Road trips to Wisconsin and Penn State will test this team, but Ohio State’s season essentially comes down to three games – at Oklahoma, at Michigan State and Michigan. The back-to-back games against the Spartans and Wolverines won’t be easy. However, Meyer’s team has all season to find the right answers and should be hitting on all cylinders by November.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
Two years ago, Ohio State exceeded everybody's expectations and won a national title. Something similar could wind up happening in 2016 given the sheer amount of talent Urban Meyer has recruited to Columbus and the fact that the Buckeyes have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in J.T. Barrett. The secondary is a slight concern (amplified with less pressure coming from the defensive line) but, overall, the Buckeyes should stay in the top 10 all season long.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
If you think all of the talk and hype about Michigan will go unnoticed in Columbus, think again. Urban Meyer may have a number of key holes to plug following the losses to the NFL this past year, but Ohio State has recruited at an extremely high level since his arrival and the Buckeyes should be just fine as the season plays out. Much of the season will be all about quarterback J.T. Barrett, but that will be even more true in the early going as Ohio State re-establishes its identity with many new faces. A showdown with Oklahoma will have tremendous importance on the success of the season, which could end with a Big Ten championship and possible spot back in the College Football Playoff.
Ohio State is still the top program in the Big Ten, even if it is not defending conference champions. You have to beat Ohio State in order to win the Big Ten championship, which neither Michigan State or Michigan will do this season. Wisconsin, however, could score an upset in Madison, which will be bad news for Penn State (which hosts Ohio State the following week; the Buckeyes losing at Wisconsin likely lights a little fire under Ohio State for the following week).
When all is said and done, Ohio State will be back on top of the Big Ten with a superior roster and depth, and Barrett could find himself in New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation.
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
A lot of people are sleeping on the Buckeyes in 2016. The thing is Ohio State – much like Alabama – is going to be a much better team at the end of the season than it is in the beginning. The Buckeyes lost a lot of talent from their 2015 squad, but they are still loaded. J.T. Barrett is as good as there is in the country at quarterback. He'll need to be a calming presence and a guy who can carry this team through some tough times early. Once he does that, look for freshman running back Mike Weber to be the catalyst on offense than pushes the Buckeyes to a division title. Once they get to Indy look for what will then be an elite defense to bring home another Big Ten crown.
By season's end, Ohio State will be much like Stanford was at the end of 2015. It'll be tough for the Buckeyes to qualify for the College Football Playoff, but we'll all know we're watching one of the best teams in the country.