Our Big Ten preview series is back. Over the next few weeks, we’ll make our way through the Big Ten East and West from the bottom to the top. The countdown continues with Ohio State.
Ben Goren looks at the team that will ruin everyone and eventually repeat as national champions.
2014 Record: 13-1, 9-0 B1G
WNUR Sports 2015 Staff Projection: 12-0, 8-0 B1G
Key Returning Players: Braxton Miller (WR), JT Barrett (QB), Cardale Jones (QB), Ezekiel Elliot (RB), Joey Bosa (DE)
Key Departures: Devin Smith (WR), Doran Grant (CB), Curtis Grant (MLB)
Gosh, I don’t know. Basically this team doesn’t have a weakness on this side of the ball. Or any side of the ball, but we’ll get there eventually.
Let’s take a look at how terrifyingly good they were last season. The 2014 Buckeyes were the top ranked team in S&P+ overall offense and rushing offense. They were a measly second in passing offense. Not too bad when you have to play a mix of second string and third string quarterbacks throughout the year.
JT Barrett was on his way to a national freshman of the year kind of season at quarterback before he went down to injury. He completed almost 65% of his passes for 2834 yards, 34 TDs and just 10 interceptions. Oh and he also ran for 1100 yards and 11 more touchdowns. He’s probably the second best quarterback in the Big Ten.
He also probably won’t see the field this year.
Cardale Jones appears to be Jamarcus Russell, but he’s actually good. He can throw the ball basically 95 yards through a tire, he can run over linebackers, and he’s the best thing to ever happen to Twitter.
Is it weird that I have a crush on @RondaRousey and scared of her at the same time 😰
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) July 16, 2015
Soooooooo @RondaRousey what you doing after the show?
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) July 16, 2015
Man I wish everyone stop saying I beat a kid in the hospital 91-35…. It was 98-35, had 91 with 1:26 left in the 4th pic.twitter.com/TAJxefv5A4
— Cardale Jones (@CJ12_) February 10, 2015
I’m not sure we’ve ever seen something like what Jones did last year. He showed up and played 3 games, all of which were basically elimination games. All he did was dismantle a pretty good Wisconsin team 59-0, which was statistically the best game any team played all year. Then he hung 42 on Alabama. Then he hung another 42 on Oregon in the National Championship game. He’s an absolute stud.
Braxton Miller was a Heisman candidate at quarterback himself before he went down with a shoulder injury. But he never projected as an NFL quarterback, so Urban Meyer moved him to wide receiver this year.
Can we stop and think about how freaking insane that is? You have one of the best dual threat quarterbacks in the nation, and you just move him to wideout, a move that is great for Miller and his NFL dreams, but is also a move that totally makes sense on the field. It’d be like Florida moving Tim Tebow to H-back his senior year and Florida still being a national title favorite. It’s absolutely outrageous.
Assuming Miller can learn how to run even mediocre routes and has mediocre hands, it’s hard to imagine anyone covering him. He’s 6-2, 215 pounds, and he runs a 4.32 40-yard dash. That’s nutty.
And that doesn’t even factor in the gadget plays Ohio State can throw at you.
Oh, and we haven’t talked about the Buckeyes Heisman running back Ezekiel Elliot, the second best thing to happen to twitter.
— EzekielElliott#⃣1⃣5⃣ (@EzekielElliott) July 16, 2015
Elliot was overshadowed, somehow, by Melvin Gordon and Ameer Abdullah, but last year he still rushed for 1900 yards and 18 touchdowns. He averaged 7 yards a carry. He’s a monster. Normally, teams would have to pack the box to slow down Elliot. Good luck doing that with 12 Gauge at quarterback slinging 40-yard posts like they’re 5-yard slants.
This offense will not be slowed down.
I mean I guess the defense is worse than the offense, but it ain’t by much. The Buckeyes had the 14th best defense last year according to S&P+ rankings, but they did struggle a little bit against the run, ranking just 42nd in the nation. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman rushed for 228 yards against the Buckeyes, and even though Coleman is a great running back, it’s still freaking Indiana.
Here’s the good news: they have the best defensive player, and maybe the best player period, in the nation coming back.
Joey Bosa will be a top 5 pick next year, and he’ll probably be a top 1 pick. He racked up 13.5 sacks, 21 TFLs, and led the Buckeyes to the 11th best sack rate in the nation and the 11th ranked Havoc Rate in the country (Havoc Rate is the percentage of plays that end in a TFL, forced fumble, or a defended pass).
There’s a lot more than just Bosa on this defense too. Adolphus Washington is an animal at tackle and lurking a unit behind them are Joshua Perry and Darron Lee, who bring back 10.5 sacks, 3 interceptions, 25 TFLS, and 166 tackles between them. Curtis Grant may leave at middle linebacker, but honestly, who really cares?
Doran Grant is gone at corner and so are his 5 interceptions and 9 pass breakups, but there’s more than enough talent left on this roster to deal with that. Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell both come back at the safety spots and Eli Apple, who had a great year as a freshman last season, will have a bigger role on the outside at corner.
The sick part for Ohio State is that even if everyone I’ve listed goes down to injury, they’ll still be more talented than any other team in the Big Ten. They’re scary deep everywhere. How else can you explain how well they’ve handled injury crises in the past few years?
Special Teams Preview:
I mean it’s okay I guess. Cameron Johnston averaged 45 yards a punt and put more than half of his punts inside the 20. Kicker Sean Nuernberger didn’t miss a PAT, but made just 80% of his kicks inside 40 yards and half of them over 40. Though he was a freshman, so take that with a grain of salt. All their returners (Dontre Wilson, Curtis Samuel and Jalin Marshall) come back as well. It’s not really an elite group, but they’ll be more than fine. Put so many athletes on the field at one time, and they’ll wreak all kinds of havoc.
I honestly and truly believe that there isn’t a team in the country that’s in a better place than the Ohio State Buckeyes, and if you don’t believe me, look at their recruiting successes. The current crop of freshmen include 6 top 100 recruits and as a class rank 7th in the country and 1st in the conference.
Next year’s class is even more frightening. Headlined by 5-star Nick Bosa (relation to Joey), the class already has 4 top-50 recruits and there is still a lot of time for that number to get even more impressive.
It’s incredibly strange for me, someone who’s hated the Buckeyes for their whole life, to actually root for the Scarlet & Gray, but I am firmly on the Ohio State bandwagon. They’re just too damn good to dislike.
Their road back to the national title isn’t easy. Going on the road to Virginia Tech, who beat the Buckeyes last year and have one of the best defenses in the nation, is no gimme in week one, and home against Michigan State followed by on the road against Michigan is no picnic to close the year, but you’d have to be out of your freaking mind to ever pick against this team before the College Football Playoff starts. 12 Gauge will be a Heisman candidate, Ezekiel Elliot will certainly be one too, and Joey Bosa might be in New York as well.
Buckle up, everyone. Ohio State is going to leave in their wake death and destruction. Stay out of their freaking way.
Best Case Scenario?
Ohio State beats everyone by 50 on their way to the College Football Playoff, where they spank two more unlucky teams and repeat as national champs.
Worst Case Scenario?
Ohio State beats everyone by only 20 points and loses to someone in the College Football Playoff.