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Ohio State's in a rebuilding year ... and might be the country's best team anyway

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The Buckeyes are a top-flight Playoff contender, even when they shouldn't be. Urban Meyer doesn't have down years anymore.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Nestled firmly between its 2014 national championship and its 2017 recruiting class from heaven, Ohio State was supposed to have a down 2016, relatively.

The Buckeyes underwent the greatest NFL draft exodus of all time. On offense, star running back Ezekiel Elliott is gone, along with a litany of open-field playmakers and stud offensive linemen. On defense, end Joey Bosa is gone, along with stalwart linebacker Darron Lee and defensive backs Eli Apple and Vonn Bell. They were just the tip of a 12-draft pick iceberg. The Buckeyes lost 16 starters, or basically everybody besides quarterback J.T. Barrett and a few others.

So it’s kind of surprising that Ohio State beat the pants off erstwhile College Football Playoff contender Oklahoma last night, 45-24, in the Sooners’ own house after demolishing two decent mid-majors in Weeks 1 and 2. It’s surprising that the least experienced team in the Power 5 did that to a reasonably veteran team whose Playoff dreams were on the line. It’s surprising that it wasn’t close.

But there’s no reason to think Ohio State’s anything but a contender, despite losing so much talent.

It’s probably best to hold off on declaring the Buckeyes’ Big Ten supremacy, because Michigan State just beat Notre Dame, and Michigan still hasn’t had any lasting hiccups. But Ohio State has had the most smashing success of anybody so far.

The offense could hardly look more brilliant. It set a single-game school yardage record in its opener, built up some more steam against Tulsa, and dropped a nonchalant 443 yards against what was last season the No. 16 defense by S&P+. Ohio State gained 6.5 yards per snap against the Sooners, the most anyone’s put on them since Kansas State’s 7.0 in October 2014.

Receiver Noah Brown also did this, lest anyone worry that Ohio State wasn’t adjusting well to losing so many NFL receivers:

The defense has been swell, too. The Sooners gained 6 yards per play when Baker Mayfield’s unit was on the field (reminding the world to never, ever talk trash about the Buckeyes, as Mayfield's backup sort of did), which was only for about 24 minutes. That’s less than the 6.55 it could get in its opening loss to Houston. OU only got 19 first downs. The Buckeyes had seven tackles for loss and forced two turnovers.

They were holistic in their dominance, no matter the side of the ball.

The Buckeyes might only get better, too.

Weird as it is to say such things about a program that’s already been so good, Ohio State’s best days are ahead of it. Prepare to get very annoyed.

Ohio State’s two-deep has more underclassmen than most fraternity pledge classes. Eleven starters and co-starters against Oklahoma were freshmen or sophomores, and just three were seniors. Even if several declare for the NFL early, tons of experienced talent will be back next year, and then that’s only the start of it.

Barrett, the former surprise freshman who's now OSU's veteran leader, was the best QB on the field in Norman, outdueling a previous Heisman contender and dropping an efficient 226 total yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.

Urban Meyer signed the No. 4 recruiting class in the country last February, No. 7 the year before that. This year’s class is likely to end Alabama’s six-year reign atop the national rankings. Bunches of these players will be either coming of age or arriving in Columbus next year. They’re going to be great, in all likelihood.

The scale of Ohio State’s Sooner obliteration was surprising. But nothing Meyer’s Buckeyes do should surprise us ever again, unless they actually lose.