Coming off a 12-2 season that included a Big Ten championship and a Cotton Bowl victory over USC, Ohio State fans were left with a feeling of wanting more. After all, the Buckeyes finished fifth in the final polls of the season, looking in from the outside as Alabama won the national championship.
Heading into 2018, it is entirely possible that Urban Meyer and his team will not be on the outside, but could be very much in the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion. Athlon Sports has Ohio State ranked fourth as the college football season gets ever so closer to starting.
For the first time since the 2013 season, record-setting quarterback J.T. Barrett will not be at the helm in Columbus. Denzel Ward, Sam Hubbard and Jerome Baker were among the seven players selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. Despite these losses, Meyer and his staff have players ready and eager to show what they can do this fall.
Here are the best reasons for and against Ohio State as a College Football Playoff participant:
Three Reasons Why Ohio State Will Make the College Football Playoff in 2018
As stated above, Ohio State has lost several key players. Over the last four seasons, Urban Meyer and his assistant coaches have been rated among the nation's best with their recruiting classes that they have brought to Columbus. The 2015 class (ranked seventh), 2016 class (fourth), 2017 class (second), and 2018 class (second) form the nucleus of a roster that is loaded with talent. The 2014 class (third) has largely departed, but has several fifth-year seniors who will play key roles heading into 2018, with WR Parris Campbell, WR Johnnie Dixon and OL Brady Taylor among them.
The most recognizable name on the roster is junior defensive end Nick Bosa(above, right). Bosa looks the part (6-4, 263) of a future NFL defensive star in the mold of his brother, Joey, and is already being projected as one of the top picks (if not No. 1 overall) in next year's draft. Bosa is one starter on a defensive line that will be among the nation's best, with sophomore Chase Young, redshirt junior Dre'Mont Jones, and underrated junior Robert Landers.
Ohio State's schedule has its challenges, but they are well-spaced out throughout the course of the season. Among the 2018 opponents Ohio State will face, only five played in a bowl game last year -- TCU, Penn State, Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan.
Looking closer at the way the schedule is laid out, Ohio State doesn't have any of these five teams in a back-to-back situation, compared to how the 2016 season was laid out. Ohio State will play TCU in a "neutral" game setting in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 15. The Buckeyes travel to Penn State on Sept. 29, and that will probably be a night game also. Ohio State plays at Purdue on Oct. 20, for the first time since 2013. The Buckeyes also make the trek to East Lansing on Nov. 10, to face a Michigan State team that has traditionally been challenging during Urban Meyer's tenure. Last, and certainly not least, "THE GAME" will be played in Columbus on Nov. 24, a matchup that could serve as the de facto East Division elimination game.
3. Coaching staff
Meyer is considered to be among the very best head coaches in college football. Entering this fall with a 73-8 record in six seasons in Columbus, Meyer has already delivered one national championship (2014), and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
While Meyer is the point man of the Ohio State football program, the assistant coaches on the staff are also highly regarded and well-respected. A key addition to the staff in 2018 is Alex Grinch, formerly Washington State's defensive coordinator. For the Buckeyes, Grinch will serve as co-coordinator alongside Greg Schiano, while also coaching the safeties. Grinch and Schiano are among several Ohio State assistants who could be leading their own programs in the near future, as Meyer's reputation as a strong developer of coaches is well established.
Three Reasons Why Ohio State Will Not Make the College Football Playoff in 2018
1. A repeat of the 2015 season on offense
As mentioned earlier, J.T. Barrett is no longer on the roster. Talented, but inexperienced redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins will be the starter at quarterback. Possessing a strong arm, Haskins has already endeared himself to Ohio State fans by his cool and calm performance in the 2017 Ohio State/Michigan game, when Haskins replaced an injured Barrett and led the Buckeyes to a 31-20 come-from-behind win in Ann Arbor.
While Haskins has exceptional talent as a passer, Haskins is not the type of running threat that Barrett was. In 2015, Cardale Jones was named the starting quarterback by Meyer, but struggled as the team tried to figure out what kind of offense to run. Meyer eventually went back to Barrett. While Meyer seems to give co-coordinators Kevin Wilson and Ryan Day latitude with the offense, will Meyer try to go back to his first love of the spread option offense, and have Haskins run the ball, even though he does not appear to have the skill set as a runner to operate this system effectively?
2. Inexperienced players do not jell at key positions
Ohio State has recruited well over the course of Meyer's time in Columbus. While these players were heavily recruited, key position groups will need to come together for the Buckeyes to be a playoff contender. Besides a new starting quarterback, Ohio State will have new starters along the offensive line at left tackle and center, at two linebacker spots as well as cornerback and safety.
The talent is there. Will it become cohesive enough by the time the Buckeyes have their first big test of the season -- Sept. 15 vs. TCU?
This last possibility is one that any college football coach hates to contemplate, but has to be prepared to deal with in any season. In 2014, Meyer was able to rally his team to the national championship, even after experiencing some growing pains at quarterback. While it would seem unlikely to happen again, would Ohio State be able to compensate adequately if any of the starters were injured for a lengthy period of time, especially with so many inexperienced and unproven players throughout the two-deep?
Ohio State has so many necessary pieces of the puzzle to contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. While Dwayne Haskins is inexperienced, look for Ohio State to rely upon its traditionally strong running game led by J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, as Haskins continues to grow and develop game by game.
The schedule is conducive to a younger team that should get better as the season progresses. The new redshirt year, combined with the schedule layout, will give Urban Meyer and his staff plenty of opportunities to determine which of the talented incoming freshmen should become strong contributors in 2018.
The road to the Big Ten title should once again go through Columbus. If things go according to plan, Ohio State should be one of the four teams left standing come late December.
Athlon’s Projected Final Ranking: 4
Athlon’s Projected Final Record: 12-1 (8-1, Big Ten)
Bovada Projected Over/Under Odds: 10.5
5 Dimes Over/Under Odds: 10