- Led by a solid defense, Ohio State comes in at No. 9 in SI's 2016 college football preseason Top 25 rankings.
Key returning starters: QB J.T. Barrett, LG Billy Price, C Pat Elflein
With just two senior returning offensive starters, it’s easy to cast this as a year of development until the Buckeyes emerge as College Football Playoff favorites in 2017. But Ohio State can fast forward that title timeline if freshman tailback Mike Weber (zero carries) and sophomore receiver Noah Brown (one career catch) can overcome their inexperience and emerge as reliable options to complement junior quarterback J.T. Barrett.
Key returning starters: DE Tyquan Lewis, MLB Raekwon McMillan, CB Gareon Conley
Facing the pass-happy tempo offenses of Bowling Green, Tulsa and Oklahoma to open the season, the Buckeyes need immediate secondary production from the three new starters alongside junior corner Gareon Conley. Strong safety Malik Hooker, a 205-pound sophomore ballhawk, needs the buzz he built this spring as an athletic freak to translate immediately.
Leader in rushing: Mike Weber. He's shifty for a 215-pound power back, but his ability to replace Ezekiel Elliott as a run blocker remains suspect.
Leader in receiving: Curtis Samuel. The speedster will emerge as the Percy Harvin-type slot hybrid who OC Ed Warinner will get touches in space.
Leader in sacks: Sam Hubbard. The sophomore's transition from freshman pass-rush specialist to sophomore starter will benefit from the extra attention on Lewis, the 2015 sack leader (8).
Leader in interceptions: Hooker. He'll benefit from his perch at strong safety because Ohio State plays mostly man, which keeps the corners’ backs to the ball.
Opposing coach's take
"I know this is going to sound weird because they finished No. 2 nationally in scoring defense, but new co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano will make them much better. His specialty at Rutgers were his third down pressure packages on defense, as he was great at finding creative ways to get to the quarterback. Ohio State will force a lot more turnovers because of what he’ll be able to do on third down.
Ohio State’s identity will be completely different on defense, as last year you strategized around Joey Bosa not wrecking the game and neutralizing Darron Lee at linebacker. I thought Gareon Conley, who returns at corner, and Eli Apple (the No. 10 pick in the NFL Draft) were similar talents. You actually saw a lot of teams throw at Apple because he committed pass interference a lot. Once place teams took advantage of them last year was taking the slot receiver, running him 10 or 12 yards downfield and then to the sideline. Ohio State’s safeties struggled to cover and people hit it on them. I thought middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan was overrated. He was athletic and pretty looking but lacked great instincts. They don’t return any guys who are first rounders on their defensive line, so they’ll be an adjustment there.
With J.T. Barrett entrenched as the starter, Urban Meyer can get back in his comfort zone. Just like with Alex Smith at Utah and Tim Tebow at Florida, he’s going to challenge defenses by forcing you to defend the quarterback run. They’re really going to miss the experience of Ezekiel Elliott, especially in pass protection. I wonder how talented their offensive line will be. Last year, Taylor Decker was the guy our staff really liked. Other than him, no one really scared you. They’ll miss Mike Thomas at receiver, but they have quality depth. That group was raw and young, but they can play."
Joey Bosa came to Ohio State as the country’s top defensive end recruit in 2013 from powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas (Fla.). He left three years later as the No. 3 pick in the NFL Draft. Can his not-so-little brother, Nick Bosa, a 6’3 265-pound end, follow suit? Nick arrives this fall from Aquinas as the country’s top end recruit. He brings refined technique that includes elite first-step explosion and powerful hands. Don’t’ be surprised if a similar career arc follows.
4: Rank of the Buckeyes’ recruiting class. Coach Urban Meyer hopes 18 members will play as freshmen.
215: Weight, in pounds, of 5' 10" freshman running back Mike Weber, who will have to replace Ezekiel Elliott as a runner and blocker.
67: Total touchdowns, in 17 starts, by junior quarterback J.T. Barrett.
766: Combined receiving yards of Curtis Samuel and Jalin Marshall as sophomores. Players who accounted for 80.0% of OSU’s catches last year are no longer on the team.
49: Tackles by corner Gareon Conley, one of three returning starters from the FBS’s second-ranked scoring defense.
|Sept. 3||Bowling Green|
|Sept. 17||at Oklahoma|
|Oct. 15||at Wisconsin|
|Oct. 22||at Penn State|
|Nov. 12||at Maryland|
|Nov. 19||at Michigan State|
Top 25 rankings
|24||San Diego State|