August is here and that means college football season is starting soon. The first games of the 2017 season kick off Aug. 26. And as it quickly approaches, we have 25 days to preview each of the 25 teams in our updated Dr. Saturday 2017 preseason poll. Check here every day to find out who we think the 25 best teams in the country will be. Fair warning, however. We’re probably going to be wrong.
Previous entries: No. 4 USC, No. 5 Oklahoma, No. 6 Clemson, No. 7 Oklahoma State, No. 8 Penn State, No. 9 Washington, No. 10 Auburn, No. 11 LSU, No. 12 Michigan, No. 13 Stanford, No. 14 Louisville, No. 15 Wisconsin, No. 16 Georgia, No. 17 Florida, No. 18 South Florida, No. 19 Kansas State, No. 20 Texas, No. 21 Miami, No. 22 Notre Dame, No. 23 Northwestern, No. 24 Washington State, No. 25 North Carolina
No. 3 OHIO STATE
2016 record: 11-2
Returning starters: 8 offense, 7 defense
Biggest non-conference game: Sept. 9 vs. Oklahoma
Biggest conference game: Oct. 28 vs. Penn State
Key returning player: QB JT Barrett
Key departed player: LB Raekwon McMillan
Three things to know about Ohio State
• The most impactful coaching change in the scope of the College Football Playoff doesn’t involve a head coach. It’s Ohio State’s decision to hire former Indiana coach Kevin Wilson as its offensive coordinator.
Entering the Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal vs. Clemson, the fewest points Ohio State had scored during coach Urban Meyer’s tenure was 14 in a 17-14 loss to Michigan State in 2015. Just think about that for a second; the most futile an Ohio State offense had been in the span of 66 games was two touchdowns.
That’s what made the 31-0 shellacking at the hands of Clemson as shocking as it was. The Ohio State offense couldn’t do a damn thing against a dominant Clemson front. So the team went out and got Wilson less than two weeks later. The former Hoosier coach parted ways with Indiana following allegations of player mistreatment and “philosophical differences” with the athletic department.
Wilson has defended the way he coached at Indiana and said in March that if there were any issues with his tenure there that he wouldn’t be a coach at Ohio State.
Before he was at Indiana, Wilson was an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma for some high-powered Sooner offenses. He needs to recreate some of that pass game magic for Ohio State.
When now-senior quarterback JT Barrett started as a freshman in 2014 — and Cardale Jones took over for the final three games of the year after Barrett’s injury — the Buckeyes averaged 247 yards passing per game. In 2015, as Ohio State couldn’t decide who was the team’s QB, the number dropped to 189 yards a game.
While OSU’s rush game has remained steady over the last three seasons, the pass game only rebounded to 214 per game a year ago with Barrett back as the full-time starter. If Ohio State can get back to those 2014 passing levels, watch out. And the Buckeyes could do that by upping the offensive tempo.
“[Wilson] goes quick,” Meyer said Monday. “He spits plays out real fast. Him and [co-offensive coordinator] Ryan Day work very good together. I like where we’re at. We’ve done more unscripted plays than we ever have for that purpose. I’ll just throw the ball down [in practice on] second-and-one, third down and six, on purpose. They can’t look off a sheet. They have to call plays. Done a very nice job.”
• Assuming he makes strides under Wilson and Ohio State is as good as we think they are, Barrett should be a Heisman contender. But he’s also entering the 2017 season needing to find some new weapons on the outside.
While OSU returns eight offensive starters, two of the departed players are on the outside. Gone is Curtis Samuel, who had 74 catches for 865 yards and seven scores along with nearly 100 carries and eight rushing touchdowns. Noah Brown is gone too; he was Ohio State’s second-leading receiver with 32 catches for 402 yards and seven scores.
The third-leading receiver, Dontre Wilson, isn’t a Buckeye either. Together, the trio had over half of Ohio State’s receptions and caught 19 of the team’s 26 touchdown passes a year ago.
There’s plenty of talent to replace them. Tight end Marcus Baugh could become a focal point of the offense after having 24 catches a year ago and KJ Hill could turn into a reliable deep threat. He averaged nearly 15 yards a catch in 2016.
Sophomore wide receiver Binjimen Victor was a four-star recruit in the class of 2016 and redshirt junior Terry McLaurin was a four-star recruit in 2014.
“The unit is the strongest it’s been since I think the 2014 time,” Meyer said on Aug. 14. “Yeah, you pull out a talent like Curtis Samuel, but as far as just guys going, and very serious approach and the leadership in the room is the best we’ve had, and it’s back like the Evan Spencer times when he was here, and guys just shut their mouth and go really, really hard, and they’re making plays all over the field.”
• It’s easy to look at the departures Ohio State had over the offseason and wonder how the Buckeyes can be better in 2017. In addition to the wide receivers we mentioned above, Ohio State has to replace linebacker Raekwon McMillan, safety Malik Hooker and cornerbacks Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore. All four players were picked in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL draft.
But every other starter on the defense is back. And remember, Ohio State returned just three starters on each side of the ball in 2016. The Buckeyes did alright.
A name to watch on defense is Nick Bosa, little brother of former Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa. Nick’s even wearing No. 97 too. Meyer called him “ridiculous” on Monday, and it’s easy to envision Bosa doubling his sack total from five to 10 in 2017.
Jerome Baker should take over as the leader of the linebacking corps; he had 83 tackles a year ago. And watch out for sophomore safety Jordan Fuller. He steps in for Hooker in the starting lineup.
The schedule lines up nicely for Ohio State too. Both Oklahoma and Penn State visit Columbus, and if things go well, there’s a scenario where the Buckeyes could have the Big Ten East wrapped up before a Nov. 25 trip to Michigan.
That’s why we listed the Penn State game as the most important of the conference schedule. Nothing against the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, it’s still one of the three best in the country. But if Michigan can’t seamlessly find 17 starters, the season-ending matchup could be for nothing but bragging rights as Ohio State looks to a rematch with Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game and a third-straight appearance in the College Football Playoff.
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