As the Big Ten enters its first nine-game conference schedule, Land of 10 examines each school before its league opener.
ANALYSIS: The Buckeyes are third in the nation in scoring offense and ninth in scoring defense. The defense has actually scored as many touchdowns (four) as the Buckeyes have allowed. They’ve done this against teams that finished fourth, sixth and 21st in the nation in scoring offense in 2015. One of those teams was a national title contender with one of the top Heisman Trophy candidates during the preseason.
Ohio State had to replace an astounding number of players who went to the NFL, yet the Buckeyes have been inarguably one of the two or three best teams in America. College football is witnessing the firepower of Urban Meyer’s fully armed and operational battle station.
KEY GAME: at No. 8 Wisconsin, Oct. 15, Camp Randall Stadium
The game against No. 4 Michigan looms as maybe the biggest in the college football regular season, but it is also entirely possible that if both teams do reach it at 11-0 that both end up making the College Football Playoff anyway, especially if those three ACC teams end up beating each other and Houston loses.
To get to 11-0, the Buckeyes do have to go back on the road and beat a top-10 team for the second straight game. Wisconsin has already beaten two teams ranked in the top 10, LSU and Michigan State, and the 30-6 beatdown of the Spartans should have the Buckeyes’ attention.
KEY PLAYER: J.T. Barrett, QB
There is a ridiculous amount of talent on this team. Much of it, particularly at the skill positions, is still young. The Buckeyes don’t have a seasoned fallback option like Cardale Jones, if something were to happen to Barrett.
FIRST MATCHUP: vs. Rutgers (2-2), noon EST, Saturday, Ohio Stadium
BEST-CASE SCENARIO: The Ohio State team that won the national title in 2014 finished the season on an incredible run, but had the early-season hiccup against Virginia Tech and was down to its third-string quarterback. The 2016 could be even better, and, provided this young team can avoid a similar setback, an undefeated season is reasonable. The dream scenario for Ohio State fans might be beating Michigan in November, but both teams make the playoff and the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines twice en route to a title.
WORST-CASE SCENARIO: Opposing teams figure how to stop throwing the ball to the Buckeyes, and Barrett has a couple of inconsistent performances. The young Buckeyes drop a game they shouldn’t before Michigan, then Jim Harbaugh’s team beats them to win the Big Ten East and, eventually, make the playoff.
REALISTIC SCENARIO: A national title is very realistic, given the talent. Another playoff showdown between Meyer and Nick Saban would be an incredible matchup, so let’s say a date with Alabama in the championship game, which, win or lose, would be a great season, especially considering the talent Ohio State should return in 2017.