2015 Ohio State Buckeyes Football Preview
Head Coach: Urban Meyer (4th year at OSU: 38-3, 24-0; 14th overall: 142-26)
2014 Record: 14-1 overall, 8-0 Big Ten
Bowl Result: Sugar Bowl (CFB Playoff Semifinal) - OSU 42 Alabama 35, CFB National Championship Game – OSU 42 Oregon 20
With a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in Braxton Miller returning and the Buckeyes having plowed their way to a 24-2 record—including a perfect 16-0 mark in the Big Ten—in the first two years of the Urban Meyer Era, Ohio State was expected to be a contender for last year’s inaugural College Football Playoff title.
However, when Miller went down with a shoulder injury during fall camp, most people likely felt like the proud program would have a great season, but not being in the playoff hunt.
After week two, it appeared that would be the case when Virginia Tech and Bud Foster’s defense exposed the inexperienced signal-caller in a 35-21 defeat at the Horseshoe.
Freshman back-up J.T. Barrett, a dual-threat who produced more than 3,700 yards of offense and 45 touchdowns, and OSU responded by reeling off 11 straight. However, Barrett went down in the season finale’ against rival Michigan.
With Wisconsin on the horizon in the Big Ten Championship Game, would back-up Cardale Jones be able to do his part and keep the Ohio State in contention for the College Football Playoff?
The Buckeyes, who were on the outside looking in prior to the game, delivered an eye-opening 59-0 blowout of Wisconsin and Melvin Gordon that undoubtedly earned their way past TCU in the rankings.
Jones (6’5”, 250), who threw for 860 yards and ran for nearly 300 as a sophomore, went on to help lead OSU to wins over Alabama and Oregon to claim the national title.
Now, with three of the best quarterbacks in the country on the same roster, who will be the starter this season?
There was talk that Braxton Miller, who has received his degree, would transfer and play his final year for one of the nation’s other top programs. However, Miller opted to stay in Columbus.
The receiving corps will be without big play threat Devin Smith. Smith, who averaged an amazing 28.2 per catch on 33 receptions, led the team with 12 receiving touchdowns.
The unit does return proven targets in Michael Thomas and Jalin Marshall, who were first and second on team in receptions. Thomas had 54 catches for 799 yards and nine scores while Marshall caught 38 balls for 499 yards and six touchdowns.
Junior Ezekiel Elliott and sophomore Curtis Samuel return in a talented backfield. Elliott, who will be a Heisman candidate this season, ran for nearly 1,900 yards (6.9 ypc) and 18 touchdowns last year while Samuel totaled six scores and 6.6 yards per carry on 58 carries.
With four starters back on the offensive line, pass protection for whoever is under/behind center and running room for Elliott should not be an issue.
In 2014, the Bucks averaged an eye-popping 45 points and 500-plus yards per game and with what they have returning the production may be similar this year.
Defensively, OSU returns seven starters from a unit that allowed 22 points and 342 yards per game during ’14.
Defensive tackle Michael Bennett (14.5 TFL and 7 sacks) and end Steve Miller (6 TFL, 1 sack) are gone, but Joey Bosa—a unanimous first-team All-American last year—is back to lead the front four. Bosa led the team in tackles for loss (21.0) and sacks (13.5) during his sensational sophomore season.
Josh Perry and Darron Lee, who were first and third on the team in tackles last year, return at linebacker. Perry had 124 stops a season ago and 73 of those were solo. Lee, who had 81 tackles, was second in tackles for loss (16.5) and sacks (7.5).
In the secondary, the Buckeyes will be without corner Doran Grant (5 int), but they return juniors Vonn Bell and Tyvis Powell at safety in addition to Eli Apple at the other corner spot. Bell, Powell and Apple combined to produce 13 of the team’s staggering 25 interceptions in 2014.
On special teams, Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson are back to anchor the return game unless better threats emerge. Marshall averaged nearly 12 yards per punt return and took one back for a touchdown a year ago.
Punter Cameron Johnston and kicker Sean Nuernberger also return. Johnston, a junior, averaged just over 45 yards per boot and 26 of his 48 punts pinned the opposition inside their own 20. Meanwhile, Nuernberger had a roller coaster freshman year that saw him go 13-for-20 on field goals. He missed two field goals under 30 yards and was just 5-of-10 beyond 40 yards.
The schedule is very favorable as OSU has seven home games and of their four conference road contests—Indiana, Rutgers, Illinois, Michigan—the season finale’ with their bitter rival appears as though it could be the most challenging. The Buckeyes, who avoid the Badgers and Cornhuskers in league play, will begin the season with a Monday night showdown with Virginia Tech—who dealt them their lone loss last year—in Blacksburg. From there, they return home for three straight weeks where they will face Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan.
With what Urban Meyer’s team returns, one has to like the Buckeyes’ chances of returning to the College Football Playoff.
By Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum
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