Making the case for...Ohio State
As the season approaches, we decided to count down why five teams will win their respective Big Ten divisions. Three reasons apiece will break down why each respective team can punch a ticket to Indianapolis.
Today, we’ll look at Ohio State’s reasons it’ll win the East.
1. Ground and Pound
For as much talk as the quarterback battle has received, it’s easy to forget that Ohio State might have the best running back/offensive line combination in all of college football. Ezekiel Elliott got behind that unit and rode it to a national title. That’s what helped set up Cardale Jones’ deep ball. With all the playmakers the Buckeyes have at the skill positions, it’d be natural to think of them as a more finesse team. But Urban Meyer’s bunch dominated three of the nation’s best by punching them in the mouth. Four of those offensive linemen are back, headlined by preseason All-Americans Taylor Decker and Pat Elfein. Nobody is pushing that group around anytime soon.
2. Next Man Up
One thing the Buckeyes have in spades is depth. Look at every position where they had major holes to fill this offseason. Losing a top receiver like Devin Smith would usually create all sorts of questions. But the Buckeyes have Michael Thomas, who is more than capable of being the new go-to wideout. Throw in the likes of the converted Braxton Miller along with underclassmen Jalin Marshall and Johnnie Dixon, and the Buckeyes will have plenty of options lining up wide. What about at right tackle, where Darryl Baldwin anchored the Buckeyes all 15 games in 2014. Enter Chase Ferris, who has drawn rave reviews from teammates. Decker even said he had the best offseason of anybody in the program. How about cornerback? Doran Grant is the only starter from the 2014 secondary that isn’t back. Gareon Conley will start as a sophomore, which could be the biggest question mark on the entire defense. But camp reports have said that he’s matured plenty in his third year in Columbus. He also might be playing in a secondary with two All-Americans in Eli Apple and Vonn Bell. Life could be worse.
3. Climactic Schedule
When did Ohio State start looking like contenders last year? November. That’s when the Buckeyes got their most impressive road victory of the year in East Lansing and rejoined the College Football Playoff discussion. When are the Buckeyes’ only two Big Ten games that might present a challenge this year? November. Meyer’s teams have historically played their best football down the stretch. He’s one of the few college football coaches to have won multiple national titles after suffering a non-conference loss. The Buckeyes don’t need to be perfect with that non-conference schedule or when they kick off Big Ten play with Indiana and Maryland. But they’ll need to look like the 2014 bunch to take down an upset-hungry Michigan State team. That finale in Ann Arbor won’t be a cakewalk even if Michigan is still in the rebuilding stage. As Meyer said in ESPN’s college football playoff commercial, they’re coming. Luckily for the Buckeyes, they have the firepower to fend off their East challengers.