Coming off a championship in the inaugural College Football Playoff, the Ohio State football team justifiably has large expectations ahead of the 2015 season.
After all, the team returns all but five starters from a unit that won 13 straight games to close out the season and beat Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon by a combined 88 points in its final three.
The Buckeyes come into the 2015 season ranked No. 1 in pretty much every poll out there. An elite offense and elite defense are expected to come together as it did late in the 2014 season from the start and make OSU the title favorites coming in.
Here are three reasons why the OSU faithful might start thinking about making the trip to Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 11 for the national championship game.
An offensive line that makes very good players elite
The 2014 OSU team showed both the benefit and disaster that stems directly from the good or bad performance of an offensive line. In OSU’s home loss to Virginia Tech last season — the same team that the Buckeyes open the 2015 season against — then-redshirt freshman quarterback J.T. Barrett was sacked seven times and pressured countless others.
After that, however, “The Slobs,” as they’re known, came together to create a shield in front of the quarterback. In the three postseason games, new starting QB Cardale Jones was only brought down five times.
Jones used the abundance of time to throw for 742 yards in his three starts and run for 90 more. Maybe even more beneficial from the protection of the line than the quarterback, however, was then-sophomore running back Ezekiel Elliott, who exploded for 696 rushing yards in the three postseason games, adding eight touchdowns.
In 2015, four of the five “Slobs” are back, with only redshirt senior Chase Farris slotting in at right tackle for the now-Baltimore Raven Darryl Baldwin.
Senior tackle Taylor Decker and junior guard Pat Elflein were named to the preseason watch list for the Outland Trophy, given to the top interior lineman in the country, while senior Jacoby Boren was added to the Rimington Trophy watch list for the top center. Sophomore Billy Price rounds out the line that could vault Elliott and whoever starts at quarterback out of Barrett, Jones and redshirt senior Braxton Miller to the top of the Heisman Trophy contention.
The one who shrugs
Junior defensive lineman Joey Bosa has made an absolute joke out of nearly every offensive line he’s stacked up against. His mixture of speed and power has made him arguably the top defensive player in the country, and a very distinct possibility for a future No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native followed up a very impressive true freshman campaign that featured 7.5 sacks by exploding for 13.5 last year. While he did not accumulate any in the three postseason contests, much of that was due to opposing lines doubling up on him, which allowed other pass-rushers, such as linebackers Darron Lee and Joshua Perry, more room to operate.
Bosa is an absolute game-changer for the Buckeyes defense and has been added to virtually every preseason award watch list for which he is eligible. He was a unanimous first-team All-American last year, and with his abilities it is hard to envision him not getting there again.
Another favorable schedule, until…
A constant criticism about OSU since coach Urban Meyer arrived in Columbus for the 2012 season is the lowly competition the Buckeyes have seen themselves up against.
Some say the quality of OSU’s non-conference and Big Ten opponents is a major reason for Meyer’s 38-3 record in Columbus. While many of the critics were silenced after OSU’s thumping of three of the top teams in the nation to finish the 2014 season, they will likely be able to dig up the same complaints in the 2015 regular season.
OSU’s four non-conference opponents — Virginia Tech, Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan — combined to go 30-23 last year, with only Virginia Tech in a power conference.
Of course, the Hokies knocked off the Buckeyes for OSU’s only loss last season, so anything is possible. OSU’s one major regular-season test, for the second year in a row, is East division foe Michigan State on Nov. 21 at The Horseshoe. Last season, OSU went into East Lansing and knocked off the Spartans 49-37 for its signature regular-season victory.
MSU will look to return the favor in Columbus in a game that may very well determine not only who goes to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis, but very well may determine who gets a spot in the CFP.
While it is hard to see the Buckeyes falling to any of their opponents before that second-to-last regular-season game, the OSU faithful can look forward to what already looks to be the biggest game at The Horseshoe in many years.