No. 1: Ohio State
Coach: Urban Meyer (61-6, entering sixth season; 165-29 overall)
2016 record: 11-2, 8-1 in the Big Ten; tied for first in East Division
Look back: With just six returning starters last season, the inclination was Ohio State would suffer a down year. But the Buckeyes responded the challenge and put together another double-digit win season, their fifth consecutive one under coach Urban Meyer. Ohio State finished tied for first in the Big Ten East and earned the program’s second College Football Playoff semifinal bid. The Buckeyes closed the year with a playoff loss to eventual national champion Clemson.
Offensive starters returning: 8
Offensive starters lost: 3
Defensive starters returning: 7
Key losses: WR Noah Brown, RB Curtis Samuel, OL Pat Efflein, LB Raekwon McMillan, S Malik Hooker, CB Gareon Conley, CB Marshon Lattimore
Top returnees: QB J.T. Barrett, RB Mike Weber, WR Parris Campbell, DE Tyquan Lewis, DT Michael Hill, DT Dre’Mont Jones, DE Sam Hubbard, LB Chris Worley, LB Jerome Baker, S Damon Webb
Strengths: Ohio State’s disappointing loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl left the coaching staff with some work to do during the offseason. Meyer hired former Indianacoach Kevin Wilson to serve as the program’s new offensive coordinator. Wilson, an offensive tactician known for building potent passing attacks, will have the luxury of multi-talented senior J.T. Barrett back at quarterback. Barrett’s looking to bounce back from an inconsistent season, during which he struggled to get the ball downfield.
Mike Weber returns to the backfield after rushing for 1,000 yards last season and he’ll play behind an offensive line that returns four starters, including a pair of all-conference selections in guard Billy Price and tackle Jamarco Jones.
Ohio State saw 10 players on the defensive side of the football get drafted during the past two seasons, yet thanks to solid recruiting, the team has managed to restock at several key positions. DE Tyquan Lewis (8 sacks) and DE Sam Hubbard (3.5 sacks) will attack the edges while providing LB Jerome Baker (6 tackles for loss) and LB Chris Worley (4.5 tackles for loss) opportunities to create havoc in the middle.
Weaknesses: The secondary must deal with the departures of Marshon Lattimore, Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley. The trio combined for 15 of the team’s 21 interceptions in 2016.
The top three receivers from last season are gone, leaving the Buckeyes looking to Parris Campbell and Terry McLaurin to assume bigger roles.
Outlook: Meyer has built Ohio State back into a national power, winning more than 90 percent of his games since taking over the program in 2012. He constantly restocks the roster thanks to an incredible recruiting success.
As good as the Buckeyes were in 2016, there were definitely cracks highlighted in the team’s Fiesta Bowl loss. Meyer has made some key adjustments and the addition of Wilson could help the team reach its full potential.