Coach: Urban Meyer (38-3, entering fourth season; 142-26 overall record)
2014 record: 14-1, 8-0 in Big Ten; first in East Division
Look back: Ohio State’s national championship season really began after the team’s 35-21 loss to Virginia Tech on Sept. 6. After the defeat, the Buckeyes united and rolled through the remainder of their regular-season schedule. The team claimed wins over Penn State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Michigan. Even an early injury to quarterback Braxton Miller and another devastating injury to quarterback J.T. Barrett in the regular-season finale against the Wolverines weren’t enough to derail Ohio State. Cardale Jones came off the bench to lead to the team to three wins and the national title.
Offensive starters returning: 9
Offensive starters lost: 4
Defensive starters returning: 7
Defensive starters lost: 4
Key losses: OL Darryl Baldwin, TE Jeff Heuerman, WR Devin Smith, WR Evan Spencer, DT Michael Bennett, LB Curtis Grant, CB Doran Grant, DE Steve Miller
Top returnees: QB J.T. Barrett, QB Cardale Jones, RB Ezekiel Elliott, WR Braxton Miller, OL Jacoby Boren, OL Taylor Decker, OL Pat Elflein, OL Billy Price, WR Michael Thomas, CB Eli Apple, DB Vonn Bell, DE Joey Bosa, LB Darron Lee, LB Joshua Perry, DT Adolphus Washington
Strengths: Few programs in the country have the embarrassment of riches that Ohio State has at quarterback, with J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones battling for the starting job. Before his injury, Barrett was a candidate for the Heisman Trophy after combining for 3,772 total yards and 45 total touchdowns while leading the Buckeyes to the Big Ten championship game. Jones, meanwhile, shined during his brief time as the team’s starter – leading the team to wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon. Both will play a role as Ohio State goes for another run at a national championship.
Ezekiel Elliott put together one of the best stretches by a running back in quite some time after rushing for close to 700 yards and eight touchdowns. He averaged 9.1 yards per carry average during the team’s final three games, earning MVP honors during the team’s national championship win over Oregon.
Braxton Miller’s move to receiver made Urban Meyer’s decision a bit easier at quarterback and gave the Buckeyes coach with another talented weapon on offense. Miller will join Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall as the top targets this season.
Ohio State finished the season with a top-20 defense last season, allowing 342 yards and 22 points per game. The group returns seven starters led by Big 10 defensive player of the year Joey Bosa (53 tackles/7.5 tackles for loss/13.5 sacks) and tackle Adolphus Washington (48 tackles/6 tackles for a loss/4.5 sacks) on the front line. Linebacker Joshua Perry led the team in tackles (124) and is expected to be a key component for the defense in 2015 along with fellow linebacker Darron Lee (81 tackles/7.5 sacks). The secondary returns three starters, including safeties Vonn Bell (92 tackles, 6 INTs) and Tyvis Powell (76 tackles, 4 INTs).
Weaknesses: Luckily for Ohio State, the Buckeyes didn’t have to rely too much on the kicking game in 2014. Sophomore Sean Nuernberger connected on 65 percent of his field goals last season (13-of-20), but he was 5-of-10 outside the 40-yard line.
The biggest challenges may be avoiding off-the-field issues and avoiding complacency during the long road to another national title.
Outlook: Ohio State is the most talented team in the nation, but the pressure of defending a national title can overwhelm any team. Meyer told reporters at Big Ten media days the climb to get to the top is a lot more fun than starting the journey over again a second time. However, he vowed to make the Buckeyes aren’t miserable this season.
Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech
Sept. 12 Hawaii
Sept. 19 Northern Illinois
Sept. 26 Western Michigan
Oct. 3 at Indiana
Oct. 10 Maryland
Oct. 17 Penn State
Oct. 24 at Rutgers
Nov. 7 Minnesota
Nov. 14 at Illinois
Nov. 21 Michigan State
Nov. 28 at Michigan
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