Ohio State Buckeyes: National Champions will be favored to repeat
Ohio State just completed an unbelievable run to win the first ever College Football Playoff and claim a national title. While Buckeye Nation will be celebrating for the next few months, everyone else in college football will be figuring out how to beat the defending champs in 2015. It won't be easy, as the Buckeyes return all their key pieces and may be even better next season, and if all else fails, they still have Urban Meyer to lean on.
Cardale Jones started the season as Ohio State's third-string quarterback and finished it with three impressive starts while leading the Buckeyes to a national title. He would be smart to return to school despite being eligible for the 2015 NFL Draft. The problem is, freshman J.T. Barrett is almost certainly going to start at quarterback next season. Braxton Miller claims he is undecided about returning to Columbus, but I sincerely doubt he'll stick around for his final season if he's not guaranteed to start. Either way, Ohio State will likely have at least two very good quarterbacks in 2015. That will put them ahead of the game heading into their title defense.
The big name returning on offense in 2015 is running back Ezekiel Elliott. The sophomore went from a relatively unknown ball carrier to an absolute world-beating monster over the last three games of the season. In postseason wins over Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, Elliott rushed for a ridiculous 696 yards and eight touchdowns on 76 carries. That's an absurd 9.2 yards per carry. He finished the year with a whopping 1,878 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns. There is little doubt the 19-year-old will head into the 2015 season as one of the front-runners for the Heisman Trophy.
Ohio State also has a huge name returning on the other side of the ball, as All-American defensive end Joey Bosa will be back for his junior season. Bosa led the Buckeyes with 13.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss in 2014 and is poised to be even better next year. With guys like Randy Gregory, Shane Ray and Leonard Williams moving on to the NFL, Bosa will likely be regarded as the nation's best defensive player entering the 2015 season. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound sophomore is a beast on the defensive line and deserves all the hype he will get heading into next year.
Elliott, Bosa and the quarterbacks aren't the only reason people are high on Ohio State's chances to repeat. Guys like Joshua Perry, Vonn Bell and stud sophomore linebacker Darron Lee will also be back. Additionally, Urban Meyer has been told that offensive tackle Taylor Decker and defensive tackle Adolphus Washington will return to school instead of jumping to the NFL draft. All-in-all the only real big-time impact player the Buckeyes will lose is defensive lineman Michael Bennett. Everyone else moving on has a ready-made replacement.
Obviously it takes more than a great roster to win back-to-back national titles. Many experts thought Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles would walk to a repeat title this year and that didn't pan out. But this Ohio State team lost its starting quarterback just before the season opener when Miller injured his shoulder, then lost another starting signal-caller when Barrett went down with a fractured ankle. The Buckeyes weathered both of those storms and wound up stronger because of it. They can probably deal with pretty much any distractions that will get thrown their way at this point.
While I believe Miller will transfer this offseason, that will still leave Barrett and Jones to battle it out for the starting quarterback spot. That could cause the kind of drama that might tear a team apart, especially since Jones did just lead the team on a phenomenal three-game run to win a championship. But the team clearly has a solid leadership structure in place thanks to all it went through this season. No matter who wins the job (Barrett is the favorite) I believe the team will rally around him.
While the roster is in great shape, that's not the key that will bring this all together. Love him or hate him (and a lot of people fit into that latter group) there is zero doubting that Urban Meyer is one of the few elite coaches in college football. The guy just knows how to coach and to say otherwise at this point would be foolish.
Yes, Meyer's exit at Florida was messy and he let his powerful program get out of control with the inmates essentially running the asylum – Aaron Hernandez was the worst of Florida's problems but he wasn't close to the only one. It seemed everything there was fine as long as the Gators won football games. When they didn't, things went south in a hurry and Meyer bailed. That could still happen at Ohio State and Buckeyes fans had better be praying that their coach has learned from his past mistakes. Despite all of that, Meyer can coach college players with the best of them and he more than proved that this season.
Other college coaches and experts have called Meyer everything from "a snake" to "shady" in my presence, but none of them has every questioned his talent for coaching. He is the key gear in the Ohio State machine. Without him, the entire Buckeye team would fall apart. He is the real reason other teams should be working overtime to figure out a way to beat Ohio State in 2015.
Good luck to them, because right now it's hard to imagine anyone topping this group of Buckeyes.
NFL Playoffs: 10 best-worst postseason quarterbacks
Photo: Ezekiel Elliott lands SI cover after championship performance
Florida State with no shortage of options to replace Jameis Winston
For more sports coverage, please visit FanSided.com and follow Ryan Philips on Twitter: @RumorsandRants