At this year’s Big Ten Media Days, there was an Ohio State reporter who went around asking every Big Ten coach what it would take for the Buckeyes to be bad.
It was a leading question, clearly designed to get coaches to begrudgingly answer something like “Well, they never will be, thanks for the reminder.” And that’s what most coaches said, or something along the lines of there needing to be a catastrophe of epic proportion (see: tattoo scandal).
But if there were ever a year when that question could be at least somewhat prescient, it was this year. Two years out from a national championship and one year out from a team that boasted about a million (okay, 12) 2016 NFL Draft picks, Ohio State has by far its least experienced team since Urban Meyer arrived in 2012. The Buckeyes returned just six total starters — three on each side of the ball — and one could reason, with a tough schedule and a division with great Michigan and Michigan State teams, that this might not be OSU’s year. Vegas even initially set the team’s over/under for wins at 8.5, eventually inching it up toward nine.
Ha! So much for all of that.
Three weeks into the 2016 season, Ohio State has proven to be plenty capable of reaching the College Football Playoff and winning the National Championship. That much was obvious when the Buckeyes traveled to Norman and obliterated Oklahoma, 45-24. Despite all of the talent and experience leaving for the NFL, OSU might be just as good as — if not better than — it was last year. The statistical ratings seems to agree. The S&P+ ratings from Football Outsiders rank the Buckeyes fifth after they finished third last season, and the rating could improve, since a majority of it is still made up of preseason projections.
There are a couple of takeaways here. Even though it’s just one link, it’s clear that in some cases, we rely far too much on experience and far too little on talent in predicting teams’ success. Added years in the weight room are a clear benefit, and sure, OSU doesn’t have “senior leaders” who Know How To Win™ at this level (whatever the hell that means), but the Buckeyes do have better players than everyone else, which should obviously make them a better team.
But the biggest takeaway for the rest of the country, and especially the rest of the Big Ten, is that not only is Ohio State never going to be down, the Buckeyes are turning into a juggernaut that could truly rival Alabama as a constant force in the College Football Playoff.
LETS GOOOOO! Noah Brown!!!
The players that dominated Oklahoma? Most of them are coming back. Quarterback J.T. Barrett is a senior, but the offensive skill positions are mostly dominated by underclassmen. 88 percent of OSU’s 152 receiving yards against the Sooners came from underclassmen. Sophomore Noah Brown led the way with 72 and a whopping four touchdowns. The game’s leading rusher was redshirt freshman Mike Weber, who finished with 123 yards and 6.8 yards per carry. Not a single starter from a nasty defense, which ranks 10th nationally in yards per play allowed, is a senior.
So essentially, all of this team that just beat the living hell out of Oklahoma is coming back. Ready for that, Big Ten?
Moreover, Ohio State is vastly out-recruiting the rest of its conference peers, other than Michigan, putting it in a great spot to compete for a College Football Playoff spot every year. Next year’s class is far and away the best in the country, with six five-star recruits and 10 four-stars. Not only are the Buckeyes poised to be the first non-Alabama team to have the top recruiting class in six years, they also might legitimately be putting together the best class ever. Right now, the class’s average rating of 95.2 is better than any other class since 247Sports started reliably doing rankings (2001 FSU had a higher ratings, but 247 only counted 11 of its prospects). Nobody else even had better than a 94.
— tOSURecruiting (@tOSURecruiting) September 19, 2016
No, recruiting rankings don’t mean everything. But the more talent you have, the more you’re going to win, as Ohio State is proving right now, and good lord, the Buckeyes are going to have far more talent than the rest of their conference for many years to come.
The past two years are a warning for the future. Ohio State won the first College Football Playoff and likely would have made the second, had it not flubbed its starting quarterback decision. This year, the Buckeyes are on track to make it again. That’s nearly as consistent as Alabama has been in its success.
Every program has down years, but under Urban Meyer, it’s looking increasingly likely that the Buckeyes aren’t going to ever fall far below the Playoff conversation. We already knew OSU was elite, but now college football just might have its second juggernaut of this generation.