clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Winning repeat championships is hard, but Ohio State has an excellent chance

New, comments

The reigning champion often enters as the favorite, but the Buckeyes are even more stocked than the average reigning champion. Now let's see what happens.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Perceptions change quickly

The numbers get plenty of things wrong. Small sample sizes assure that. Individual games, great or terrible, carry quite a bit of weight, injuries and hot/cold streaks haven't been put into proper context yet, etc.

Still, the numbers often see things before we do.

Heading into Week 12 of 2014, Mississippi State was No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings, with Oregon No. 2, Florida State No. 3, and a boatload of teams fighting for the No. 4 spot: TCU, Alabama, Arizona State, Baylor. Ohio State, still losing the perceptions battle thanks to a strange home loss to Virginia Tech, languished in eighth place, ahead of only two other one-loss teams (Nebraska and Duke).

The numbers, however, noticed that since the loss to the Hokies, the Buckeyes had been nearly perfect. They were up to No. 3 in the F/+ rankings, behind only Alabama and an Ole Miss team that had begun to fade. And then they kept right on playing great ball.

They cruised past Michigan State in East Lansing. They jumped out to an early lead and kept their distance against Minnesota. They hit the gas when they needed to against Indiana and Michigan. And in the Big Ten title game, still trying to distinguish themselves from TCU and Baylor (and with their third-string quarterback, no less), they played the season's perfect game, emasculating a good Wisconsin team, 59-0.

Ohio State was the No. 2 team in F/+, behind only Alabama, when the Playoff pairings were announced. That didn't exactly assuage doubters screaming that TCU or Baylor should have been given the Buckeyes' semifinal slot.

(Fast forward about six months. Some of the same numbers that liked Ohio State so early only projected the Buckeyes second in 2015. The reaction was a scoff. That's impossible -- the Buckeyes are an obvious No. 1. Perceptions change quickly.)

Given an opportunity to prove themselves, the Buckeyes took full advantage. Aided by the same turnover fairy that scorned them against the Hokies, they took down Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Then, despite some unlucky mid-game bounces, they eased past Oregon, 42-20, to win the national title.

Nobody wanted to acknowledge how good Ohio State looked until there was no choice. And now the Buckeyes return 15 starters, boast perhaps three of the conference's four best quarterbacks, and face a new set of obstacles.

Urban Meyer seemed a bit edgy this spring, challenging his team to remain focused in the honeymoon period. He has to break in a new offensive coordinator, figure out what to do about his quarterback situation, find a new big-play receiver and tight end, and attempt to shore up a run defense that wasn't elite.

And, perhaps most importantly, he has to figure out how to keep a team of 20-year-olds from getting too full of itself after it played some of the best football in recent memory. [Update: The challenges will start in week one, with four players — DE Joey Bosa, H-back Jalin Marshall, WR Corey Smith and H-back Dontre Wilson — suspended against Virginia Tech.]

These are first-world problems. They are problems you would ask to have. But they could be problems nonetheless. The team that few thought should have been in the Playoff is now the team everybody expects to defend its title. Can it?

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 13-1 | Adj. Record: 13-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 1
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug vs. Navy 44 34-17 W 95% 39.2 99%
6-Sep Virginia Tech 33 21-35 L 49% -0.7 20%
13-Sep Kent State 107 66-0 W 100% 67.8 100%
27-Sep Cincinnati 47 50-28 W 86% 25.0 76%
4-Oct at Maryland 62 52-24 W 98% 48.3 100%
18-Oct Rutgers 81 56-17 W 99% 50.8 100%
25-Oct at Penn State 45 31-24 W 92% 32.5 97%
1-Nov Illinois 78 55-14 W 99% 53.3 100%
8-Nov at Michigan State 11 49-37 W 97% 42.7 94%
15-Nov at Minnesota 37 31-24 W 92% 33.2 95%
22-Nov Indiana 88 42-27 W 81% 20.8 89%
29-Nov Michigan 54 42-28 W 90% 29.7 96%
6-Dec vs. Wisconsin 25 59-0 W 100% 86.5 100%
1-Jan vs. Alabama 2 42-35 W 74% 14.9 18%
1-Jan vs. Oregon 3 42-20 W 98% 47.7 97%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 47.6 1 17.4 11
Points Per Game 44.8 5 22.0 25

2. 86.5

For this year's preview series, I began using percentiles as a way to communicate how well a team played in each of its games last year. It is a useful concept -- most of us understand percentiles thanks to standardized testing -- and it gives us some clues to how a team's final ratings came to pass.

Only five teams put together 90th-percentile performances in at least 60 percent of their games last year.

Percentage of 2014 games in the 90th percentile or better
1. Ohio State (73%)
2. Alabama (71%)
3. Ole Miss (69%)
4. Oregon (67%)
5. Georgia (61%)

(Yes, Ole Miss. The Rebels were at 94 percent or higher in each of their first seven games before crumbling. Last three games: 23rd percentile, 96th percentile, 11th percentile.)

The Wisconsin performance was truly incredible. Ohio State's performance in the Big Ten title game was one of the season's 10 100th-percentile performances, but that doesn't do it justice. Adjusted Scoring Margin is intended to tell us how a team would have fared in a given week against a perfectly average opponent with average breaks.

Top 10 performances of 2014 by Adj. Scoring Margin
1. Ohio State vs. Wisconsin (plus-86.5)
2. Alabama vs. Texas A&M (plus-72.8)
3. Arkansas vs. Nicholls State (plus-68.9)
4. Ohio State vs. Kent State (plus-67.8)
5. Clemson vs. NC State (plus-67.3)
6. TCU vs. Ole Miss (plus-64.4)
7. Ole Miss vs. Memphis (plus-63.7)
8. Oklahoma vs. Louisiana Tech (plus-61.9)
9. Michigan vs. Appalachian State (plus-61.1)
10. USC vs. Notre Dame (plus-60.3)

Even among the season's most perfect performances, that game stood out. It belongs in a museum. Here, let's commemorate it.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.94 21 IsoPPP+ 153.3 1
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 51.2% 3 Succ. Rt. + 142.9 1
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 25.5 2 Def. FP+ 112.1 1
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.9 23 Redzone S&P+ 134.1 4
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 23.4 ACTUAL 26 +2.6
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 9 1 1 1
RUSHING 9 1 1 7
PASSING 52 2 3 2
Standard Downs 2 1 5
Passing Downs 1 1 2
Q1 Rk 1 1st Down Rk 1
Q2 Rk 2 2nd Down Rk 1
Q3 Rk 4 3rd Down Rk 5
Q4 Rk 20

3. What changes?

Ed Warriner is anything but a new name. He was Kansas' offensive coordinator during the final three years of the Mark Mangino era (2007-09), when the Jayhawks ranked 23rd, 13th, and 34th in Off. S&P+. He moved to Notre Dame for two years and has been a part of Meyer's staff for all three years in Columbus.

So despite the loss of coordinator Tom Herman (now Houston's head coach), the Ohio State offense is in capable hands. Meyer offenses usually are.

Still, it will be interesting to see if anything changes. Despite injuries at quarterback -- Braxton Miller before the season, J.T. Barrett in the 12th game -- the Buckeye offense was a killing machine, ranking first in both efficiency (Success Rate+) and explosiveness (IsoPPP+). It hit the ground running (first in Q1 S&P+) and caught up when it fell behind schedule (first in Passing Downs S&P+). Ohio State averaged under 6.4 yards per play just twice all season, and both of the lesser performances (Virginia Tech, Penn State) came against defenses that ranked in the Def. S&P+ top 10.

Honestly, Warriner's biggest decisions will likely center around who sees the field and who touches the ball. Ohio State returns three excellent quarterbacks, an 1,800-yard rusher (plus, in J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller, two quarterbacks who rushed for at least 1,000 non-sack yards in their respective last seasons), and four of last year's top six receivers. Plus, it goes without saying that they welcome another set of blue-chip recruits into the mix.

It will be almost impossible to keep everybody happy.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
J.T. Barrett 6'1, 225 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9348 203 314 2834 34 10 64.6% 23 6.8% 7.9
Braxton Miller (2013, now a wide receiver) 6'2, 215 Sr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9833 162 255 2094 24 7 63.5% 21 7.6% 7.1
Cardale Jones 6'5, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8704 56 92 860 7 2 60.9% 5 5.2% 8.3
Stephen Collier 6'4, 225 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8588
Torrence Gibson 6'4, 195 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9610
Joe Burrow 6'3, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8970

4. Ladies and gentlemen, the world's first 3-QB formation

From the moment Barrett started playing incredible football (so, basically, the moment the Virginia Tech game ended), we began to realize that Ohio State was going to have an awkward decision in 2015.

Miller helped to lead the Buckeyes to a 24-2 record in 2012-13 but missed 2014 with injury, and now Meyer and company would have to decide whether to stick with the old guy or continue riding 2014's hot hand. Miller was a slightly more explosive rusher, but Barrett's passing numbers were slightly better, so there really wouldn't really be a wrong choice. [Update: Miller announced that is is going to focus on wide receiver.]

This was a tough decision even before Barrett got hurt and Cardale Jones erupted. Despite taking a majority of his snaps against Wisconsin, Oregon, and Alabama (three top-30 defenses), Jones averaged more yards per pass attempt, with lower sack and interception rates, than Barrett. Fumbles were an issue (he had more than Barrett in far fewer opportunities, and he had a particularly silly one in the national title game), but his upside was higher than either of the others'.

With Barrett still recovering from injury, we didn't get much of a feel for who might win. Both have tremendous cases.

  • Barrett was almost impossibly steady after the Virginia Tech game, completing 67 percent with 31 touchdowns to six interceptions in his final 10 games while ripping off huge runs when he needed to.
  • And Jones was the coolest cat in the postseason, shrugging off mistakes and making enormous passes. His line in three postseason games: 46-for-75, 742 yards, five touchdowns, two picks. He's almost too casual, but he was just awesome when it mattered.

Barrett is arguably the most important, as he is the likely starter in 2016 and beyond. But how in the world do you differentiate in 2015?

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Ezekiel Elliott RB 6'0, 225 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9693 273 1878 18 6.9 6.6 46.5% 2 1
J.T. Barrett QB 6'1, 225 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9348 148 1094 11 7.4 6.2 55.4% 3 0
Cardale Jones QB 6'5, 250 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8704 67 352 1 5.3 4.9 49.3% 5 3
Curtis Samuel RB 5'11, 200 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9695 58 383 6 6.6 4.8 55.2% 1 1
Jalin Marshall HB 5'11, 205 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9830 25 145 1 5.8 4.3 52.0% 3 2
Rod Smith RB
24 101 4 4.2 3.0 29.2% 0 0
Dontre Wilson HB 5'10, 195 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9685 18 100 0 5.6 4.9 50.0% 2 1
Warren Ball RB 6'1, 225 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9143 18 85 0 4.7 1.7 50.0% 0 0
Bri'onte Dunn RB 6'0, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9537 9 63 0 7.0 4.3 66.7% 1 1
Johnnie Dixon WR 5'11, 194 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9639 4 20 0 5.0 1.8 50.0% 0 0
Mike Weber RB 5'10, 215 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9603






Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Michael Thomas WR 6'3, 210 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8700 75 54 799 72.0% 19.6% 66.7% 10.7 160 10.7 139.5
Jalin Marshall HB 5'11, 205 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9830 52 38 499 73.1% 13.6% 67.3% 9.6 50 10.2 87.2
Devin Smith WR
48 33 931 68.8% 12.6% 66.7% 19.4 537 20.0 162.6
Evan Spencer WR
37 15 149 40.5% 9.7% 59.5% 4.0 -52 4.0 26.0
Dontre Wilson HB 5'10, 195 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9685 34 21 300 61.8% 8.9% 76.5% 8.8 44 9.7 52.4
Corey Smith WR 6'1, 195 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9031 33 20 255 60.6% 8.6% 57.6% 7.7 10 7.7 44.5
Ezekiel Elliott RB 6'0, 225 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9693 32 28 220 87.5% 8.4% 50.0% 6.9 -101 6.9 38.4
Jeff Heuerman TE
25 17 207 68.0% 6.5% 60.0% 8.3 4 8.3 36.1
Nick Vannett TE 6'6, 260 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9116 23 19 220 82.6% 6.0% 78.3% 9.6 0 8.8 38.4
Curtis Samuel RB 5'11, 200 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9695 14 11 95 78.6% 3.7% 78.6% 6.8 -33 7.3 16.6
Jeff Greene WR 6'5, 220 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8389 2 1 13 50.0% 0.5% 100.0% 6.5 0 N/A 2.3
Marcus Baugh TE 6'5, 255 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9597 2 1 2 50.0% 0.5% 50.0% 1.0 -11 1.2 0.3
Noah Brown WR 6'2, 222 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9187
James Clark WR 5'10, 185 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9105
Johnnie Dixon WR 5'11, 194 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9639
Terry McLaurin WR 6'1, 200 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9051
Parris Campbell WR 6'1, 205 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9359
K.J. Hill WR 6'0, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9304
Alex Stump WR 6'3, 193 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8973

5. Distributing the touches

First, let's acknowledge that Ohio State must replace three veteran receivers, one of whom happened to be the most explosive receiver in America.

Evan Spencer and tight end Jeff Heuerman were steady contributors for three seasons, and Devin Smith's averages (28.2 yards per catch, 69 percent catch rate) would have been unrealistic in a video game. Smith was targeted barely three times per game and almost finished with 1,000 yards. When you've got the nation's best run game and the nation's best deep threat, you should almost never be stopped.

And while we're at it, Ohio State's line must replace its right tackle (Darryl Baldwin) and two veteran contributors (Antonio Underwood, Joel Hale).

Of course, it would be a lot easier to worry if you didn't also notice who returns.

Ezekiel Elliott started 2014 slowly after dealing with wrist surgery in August; he averaged 5.5 yards per carry through the first seven games. But he averaged 6.8 over the final five, then put together maybe the best postseason you'll ever see from a running back: 76 carries, 696 yards, eight touchdowns. His long touchdown run completed the upset of Alabama, and his efficient running (and four scores) put away Oregon.

He will begin the season a Heisman favorite, and he's got at least four former four-star recruits backing him up.

While Smith stole the show with his impossible averages, Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall averaged at least 9.6 yards per target while sharing more than eight targets per game. They're back, as are Dontre Wilson, Corey Smith, new starting tight end Nick Vannett, and, yes, a beaucoup of blue-chip freshmen and sophomores waiting for an opportunity.

And then there's the line. Ohio State welcomed back only one starter last fall (tackle Taylor Decker), and it didn't matter. Sack rates were a bit of an issue, due in part to Barrett's mobility (dual-threats tend to take more sacks), but the run-blocking numbers were stellar. And even if blocking for Elliott is pretty easy, a line that returns four starters probably isn't going to be worse at it.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 133.7 3.38 3.8 49.5% 69.1% 14.7% 96.9 7.2% 6.0%
Rank 2 11 17 1 48 12 74 108 40
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Pat Elflein RG 6'3, 300 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8420 16 2014 1st All-Big Ten
Taylor Decker LT 6'8, 315 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9290 29 2014 2nd All-Big Ten
Billy Price LG 6'4, 315 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9157 15
Jacoby Boren C 6'2, 285 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8702 15
Darryl Baldwin RT
15
Antonio Underwood RG
1
Joel Hale LG
0
Chase Farris RT 6'5, 310 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9248 0
Jamarco Jones LT 6'5, 310 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9696 0
Evan Lisle RG 6'7, 305 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9646 0
Marcelys Jones LG 6'4, 315 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8806 0
R.J. Morris C 6'2, 305 So. NR NR 0
Demetrius Knox LG 6'4, 305 RSFr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9518
Kyle Trout OL 6'6, 310 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9010
Grant Schmidt RT 6'6, 300 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8727
Isaiah Prince OL 6'7, 280 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9496
Matthew Burrell OL 6'5, 310 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9493
Keven Feder OL 6'9, 305 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8700

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of NCAA Football stories, rumors, game coverage, and pictures of Puddles in your inbox every day.

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.78 28 IsoPPP+ 127.1 12
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 38.9% 34 Succ. Rt. + 113.9 23
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 34.1 8 Off. FP+ 110.1 2
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.6 88 Redzone S&P+ 101.7 56
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.6 ACTUAL 33.0 +6.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 19 14 19 12
RUSHING 34 42 45 38
PASSING 29 8 8 9
Standard Downs 18 19 18
Passing Downs 11 22 11
Q1 Rk 36 1st Down Rk 8
Q2 Rk 11 2nd Down Rk 19
Q3 Rk 25 3rd Down Rk 19
Q4 Rk 17

6. Masking your weakness

If opponents weren't always losing, they might have been better able to take advantage of the Buckeyes' run defense.

It was by no means bad -- 42nd in Rushing S&P+ isn't exactly 100th -- but it was less than elite, at least against certain opponents. Navy carved the Buckeyes up with its option attack, Indiana's Tevin Coleman rushed for 228 yards on 27 carries, and Alabama's Derrick Henry and T.J. Yeldon carried 23 times for 142 yards.

Everybody else struggled, mind you, but this was a chink in Ohio State's armor.

Offense and defense complement each other, and with Ohio State's offense wrecking shop for most of the year, opposing offenses had to take risks, and the Buckeye defense was more than ready to take advantage. Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, and Michael Bennett combined for 28 sacks, all four starting defensive backs defensed at least eight passes, and despite a passive run defense, the Buckeyes fielded one of the most disruptive units in the country. Their 20 percent Havoc Rate ranked 11th in the country and second in the Big Ten.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 103.2 3.02 3.46 39.4% 71.1% 18.6% 139.8 6.3% 12.0%
Rank 47 78 77 73 89 77 11 33 6
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Joey Bosa DE 6'6, 275 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9809 15 47.0 5.8% 21.0 13.5 0 1 4 1
Adolphus Washington DT 6'4, 290 Sr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9884 15 36.5 4.5% 10.5 4.5 0 3 1 0
Michael Bennett DT
15 32.0 3.9% 14.0 7.0 0 3 3 0
Steve Miller DE
15 27.0 3.3% 6.5 1.0 1 1 1 0
Rashad Frazier DE
12 10.0 1.2% 3.5 2.0 0 0 1 0
Tommy Schutt DT 6'3, 290 Sr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9601 12 9.0 1.1% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jalyn Holmes DE 6'5, 265 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9622 9 8.5 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tyquan Lewis DE 6'4, 260 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8978 13 6.0 0.7% 2.5 0.5 0 0 0 0
Donovan Munger DT 6'4, 300 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8982 10 3.5 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Joel Hale DT 6'4, 295 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8756
Michael Hill DT 6'3, 295 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9240
Tracy Sprinkle DT 6'3, 290 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8594
Sam Hubbard DE 6'5, 265 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9230
Darius Slade DE 6'4, 255 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8457
Jashon Cornell DE 6'3, 265 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9557
Dre'Mont Jones DE 6'4, 265 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9383








7. The line has questions to answer

No. 1 NFL Draft pick?

Granted, the Ohio State offense might not be any worse, so opponents still might not be able to take advantage of the Buckeyes' run defense. Plus, neither Navy nor Tevin Coleman is on the schedule. Still, there are questions, especially now that the Buckeyes must replace both Bennett and the defense's second- and third-best ends.

Ohio State ranked just 89th in power success rate and 77th in stuff rate, meaning you could keep the chains moving on the ground if you were patient (and not losing by three touchdowns).

The Buckeyes boast the best recruiting in the Big Ten, and if young former blue-chippers like Jalyn Holmes and Michael Hill begin to thrive, then maybe the run D will improve despite the losses. But when you're talking about a team like Ohio State, with so few weaknesses, you're going to emphasize any red flags you find. This is one.

Of course, all the run defense has to do is match last year's ratings. The strength of the defense, the pass, will probably be even stronger. Bosa is back and might be the best defensive player in the country. Among returnees, only Arizona's Scooby Wright III had more sacks, and the 275-pound Bosa is strong enough to make plays against the run as well.

In addition, this should be Ohio State's best linebacking corps in years; Lee combined 7.5 sacks with five passes defensed as a freshman, Joshua Perry had a breakout campaign, and Raekwon McMillan should be more than ready to fill Curtis Grant's shoes in the middle. If the defensive tackles hold up, the linebackers should be able to prevent most big-play opportunities.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Joshua Perry WLB 6'4, 254 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9409 15 98.5 12.1% 8.5 3.0 1 2 1 0
Darron Lee SLB 6'2, 235 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8595 15 67.5 8.3% 16.5 7.5 2 3 1 2
Curtis Grant MLB
15 53.5 6.6% 5.0 1.0 1 1 0 0
Raekwon McMillan MLB 6'2, 240 So. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9894 14 42.0 5.2% 6.5 2.5 1 1 0 0
Chris Worley SLB 6'2, 225 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8675 13 9.5 1.2% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Camren Williams WLB 6'1, 225 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9291 14 8.0 1.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dante Booker WLB 6'3, 233 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9721 11 4.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Craig Fada SLB 6'1, 230 Sr. NR NR 15 4.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Devan Bogard LB
6 3.0 0.4% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kyle Berger LB 6'2, 230 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9285
Justin Hilliard LB 6'2, 230 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9848
Jerome Baker LB 6'2, 206 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9686








Nick Conner LB 6'3, 230 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9116

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Vonn Bell S 5'11, 205 Jr. 5 stars (6.1) 0.9867 15 74.5 9.2% 2 1 6 6 0 0
Tyvis Powell S 6'3, 210 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8755 15 60.5 7.4% 2 0 4 4 1 0
Doran Grant CB
15 56.0 6.9% 1 0 5 9 0 0
Eli Apple CB 6'1, 200 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9747 15 43.0 5.3% 5.5 0 3 10 1 1
Gareon Conley CB 6'0, 195 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9322 15 14.0 1.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Cam Burrows NB 6'0, 208 Jr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9719 14 13.5 1.7% 0 0 0 2 0 0
Erick Smith S 6'0, 202 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9665 13 11.5 1.4% 0 0 1 0 0 1
Armani Reeves NB
11 11.5 1.4% 0 0 0 4 0 0
Ron Tanner S
12 7.0 0.9% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Kevin Niehoff S
3 5.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Damon Webb CB 5'11, 193 So. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9820 9 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 1 1 0
Marshon Lattimore CB 6'0, 195 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9729
Malik Hooker S 6'2, 205 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8858
Jamel Dean DB 6'3, 200 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8906
Eric Glover-Williams DB 5'9, 170 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9523
Denzel Ward DB 5'11, 175 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.9032








8. You just don't want to have to throw

And then there's the secondary. Granted, it's easier to do your job when the pass rush is wreaking havoc for you, but despite extreme youth, Ohio State had one of the nation's better backfields.

The Buckeyes got some senior steadiness from Doran Grant, but the other six names among their top seven were all freshmen and sophomores. Now they're sophomores and juniors.

Safeties Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell are big, scary, and awesome. I should expand on this, but I don't know what else to say. Powell's very good, and Bell's fantastic.

And corner Eli Apple was one of the nation's better freshman play-makers, with 5.5 tackles for loss and 13 passes defensed; opponents tried to pick on him and mostly failed. And while Gareon Conley had ups and downs as a freshman, his performance in the spring suggests he should be ready to fill Apple's shoes as Apple fills Grant's. And if he's not, there are other candidates.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Cameron Johnston 5'11, 195 Jr. 48 45.1 5 17 26 89.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Kyle Clinton 115 60.9 38 7 33.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Sean Nuernberger 6'1, 220 So. 89-89 8-10 80.0% 5-10 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Dontre Wilson KR 5'10, 195 Jr. 22 24.0 0
Curtis Samuel KR 5'11, 200 So. 12 20.5 0
Jalin Marshall PR 5'11, 205 So. 24 11.8 1
Dontre Wilson PR 5'10, 195 Jr. 14 9.7 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 22
Field Goal Efficiency 72
Punt Return Efficiency 56
Kick Return Efficiency 92
Punt Efficiency 9
Kickoff Efficiency 23
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 56

9. Consistency needed in special teams

Special teams have long been a Meyer strength. In his last seven seasons as a head coach (2007-10 at Florida, 2012-14 at Ohio State), he has only once had a team that ranked outside of the nation's top 25 in special teams efficiency, and that was in his first year in Columbus. The Buckeyes ranked fifth in 2013 and 22nd last fall.

That said, there's still room for improvement. Cameron Johnston is a devastating punter, Jalin Marshall is terrifying (if a bit inefficient) in punt returns, and place-kicker Sean Nuernberger was solid inside 40 yards. But the Buckeyes didn't get much from punt returns, and Nuernberger did still miss seven field goals overall. With Johnston and great coverage units, I see no way this unit gets worse in 2015, but it could stand to improve a bit.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
7-Sep at Virginia Tech 26
12-Sep Hawaii 118
19-Sep Northern Illinois 78
26-Sep Western Michigan 65
3-Oct at Indiana 81
10-Oct Maryland 56
17-Oct Penn State 37
24-Oct at Rutgers 79
7-Nov Minnesota 42
14-Nov at Illinois 63
21-Nov Michigan State 9
28-Nov at Michigan 35
Five-Year F/+ Rk 43.3% (5)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 9 / 4
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 7 / 3.3
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (8, 7)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 12.8 (0.2)

10. Can the Buckeyes do what few have?

When a defending national champion returns 15 starters, including its quarterback(s), a Heisman-favorite running back, and maybe the best defensive player in the country, it's safe to say it will be favored to win again.

But repeats are rare. Florida State returned almost as much last year and couldn't do the deed. Florida brought Tim Tebow back in 2009 and couldn't. Miami brought back an amazing squad in 2002 and couldn't (as Ohio State fans well know). Repeats happen -- Alabama in 2012, USC (sort of) in 2004, Nebraska in 1995 -- but they don't happen as often as we predict them to.

This speaks to margin for error, first of all. Ohio State barely made last year's Playoff, and if the Buckeyes had lost the turnover battle to Alabama, they wouldn't have made the finals. They have all the experience in the world and a navigable schedule -- there's only one projected top-25 team, Michigan State, which visits Columbus -- but stuff happens in college football, and if you're betting Ohio State vs. the field, the field is still the far safer pick. You just never know how much of a role complacency, injury, etc., will play.

Still ... wow, are the Buckeyes loaded. You cannot ask for much more.