Any fan of college football had to be shocked (and awed) at what occurred during the NFL draft last May. The NFL’s signature event began to sound like a paid advertisement for the Ohio State Buckeyes. It bordered on absurdity.The Buckeyes had five players drafted in the first round alone, and 12 overall. Even more impressive, those 12 picks were all in the first four rounds!! Yes, the talent pool is that deep in Columbus. Urban Meyer inherited a good program and has elevated it faster and more thoroughly than anyone would have possibly thought. Thru just four years, Meyer has a 50-4 record, an undefeated season, a Big 10 title, and a National Title. Typically, a program that loses that much in the draft goes through a major overhaul, complete with frustrating growing pains. But there is nothing typical about the football super-machine Urban Meyer has built in Columbus. Even without the Joey Bosa’s and Ezekial Elliot’s of the world, this team is still the class of the Big 10 and a 100 percent legitimate National Title contender.
Great programs like Ohio State are constantly in a state of flux. As it becomes more and more commonplace for all draft eligible players to depart for the NFL, these super programs have become more adept at reloading. Besides Alabama, nobody is better at reloading than Urban Meyer’s club. Gone from last years squad are five of the top seven tacklers, super-stud leading rusher Ezekiel Elliott, and five of their top six receivers. In total, OSU returns just six starters. So why am I picking them to win the Big 10? I’ve seen this movie before. There will be a period of adjustment, but the horses are in the stable. There is also stability at the QB position. JT Barrett is my top QB in the country. Last year he was part of a strange back and forth that, in my opinion, was extremely detrimental to the squad. This year it’s his show from the outset. That will be a big help. So will new RB Mike Weber and TE Marcus Baugh. As long as Offensive Coordinator Tim Beck doesnt screw it up, like he did against MSU last year, this offense will again be a top unit. Defensively, leading tackler Raekwon McMillan returns, as does Tyquan Lewis who had eight sacks a year ago. A player that stands out to me is Sam Hubbard, who is just a sophomore, but jumped off the screen last fall. Luke Fickell and Greg Shiano will have to get this unit up to speed, but with the athletes available, not to mention their own coaching acumen, its not that big of a deal.
The Buckeyes have an early season showdown in Norman with Big 12 favorite and preseason top five Oklahoma. That’s a hefty order. But otherwise they have until October 15th, and a trip to Camp Randall, to gel, and get the kinks worked out. Additionally, Michigan visits Ohio Stadium Thanksgiving weekend, giving them the clear leg up on the division. While the trip to Oklahoma is a substantial stumbling opportunity, I expect the OSU train to be rolling in time for conference play, and for them to represent the East and win the conference in Indianapolis December 3rd. More than that, this team has substantial playoff possibilities.
I can already sense the hate mail I’m going to get from the maize and blue crowd. It’s funny how entitled a group can get in under a year. Will Michigan be good, even great this year? Yes, absolutely. But I don’t see them making the jump to league champion. It’s a big jump, in a tough league. No shame there. The schedule is not kind. Trips to Michigan State, Iowa and Ohio State all spell trouble. The margin for error in this division is slim. There are enormous questions offensively, too many to make them a favorite. I see them competing, but look what OSU did to them last fall. A 29 point beat down in the Big House. They have a ways to go before I start calling for titles in Ann Arbor. Although they are surely trending that direction.
I will never count Michigan State out. This program has my highest admiration for their toughness and blue-collar attitude. Breaking in a new QB is not exactly a recipe for success. This club will have to lean heavily on RB LJ Scott. But I’ve seen Sparty do this and win championships before. Mark Dantonio is one of the best coaches in the game. It will take some magic to make it back-to-back for MSU. If any coach can work that magic with this group, in this division, it’s Dantonio.
The Iowa Hawkeyes have a very real shot at this thing. I know most people remember the egg they laid on New Years Day, and will scoff at that, but this is a damn good team with a legitimate shot. CJ Bethard had a terrific 2015, and if he repeats that production, the Hawks will be in a very good spot. They also have difference-makers Josey Jewell and Desmond King defensively. If this squad gets rolling like they did a year ago, this is a legitimate contender.
Does Mike Riley have the magic to take his boys from Lincoln to Indy? Sure, I think that’s a possibility. Winning that game would take substantially more magic. If that happens he might think about a spot at Caesars Palace three times a week.