Somehow, someway, we’re just 10 short days away from the start of the college football season, and after spending the last few months breaking down every angle in the sport, it’s now, finally time to talk about the most important aspect of this college football season: The true national championship contenders. Therefore, go ahead and step aside, Purdue. Deuces, Iowa State. See ya later Clemso -- oh wait, Dabo Swinney’s club is actually really good. Still, over the next two weeks, FoxSports.com will break down all the true contenders for the national championship and give you a couple reasons why, yes, they can win it all. We start in one of the most fitting places possible: Columbus, Ohio, with the Ohio State University. That’s right, even after losing a ton of talent off last year’s club, at least one writer (this guy right here) believes they have enough to return to the college football playoff and win it all. Here are five reasons why.
Getty ImagesJamie Sabau
They’ve got more talent than you do
Look, I get it, I get it. The Buckeyes didn’t just lose a lot of talent off last year’s team, but a historic amount. Twelve players were selected in the NFL Draft overall, including five in the first round. For comparison’s sake, Ohio State had more first round picks (five) in last year’s draft than the entire Big 12 (four)! That alone shows you how good of a talent evaluator and recruiter Urban Meyer is. That reason -- the recruiting part -- is also why I don’t think the freefall for Ohio State will be as extreme or dramatic as many are expecting. Remember, the Buckeyes have, quite literally, had the best recruiting in the Big Ten every year Meyer has been at the school, and over the last three years (the groups that will make up most of this team) have ranked No. 4, No. 7 and No. 3 nationally, according to 24/7’s composite rankings. For comparison’s sake, the rest of the Big Ten has one Top 10 ranking over that same stretch, Michigan, which brought in the No. 5 class last February. Over time, Jim Harbaugh and James Franklin will close the talent gap between Ohio State and the rest of the conference, but that time hasn’t come yet. Don’t be fooled because you don’t know the names on the jerseys: Ohio State is loaded.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
The defense is better than you think
While the offense will almost exclusively be breaking in new players (outside of quarterback), the defense is a bit more seasoned than folks realized. Raekwon McMillan is arguably the Big Ten’s best linebacker (although Northwestern’s Anthony Walker might have something to say about that) and was arguably the single best player on the Buckeyes’ loaded defense last year. He returns after finishing second in the Big Ten with 119 total tackles. Not to mention it was actually Tyquan Lewis (not Joey Bosa) who led this team in sacks last year. Add in four- and five-star recruits like defensive end Sam Hubbard, linebacker Dante Booker and corner Marshon Lattimore who have waited two or three years to show off their skills, and this Buckeyes defense will be aggressive and hungry. Again, don’t be fooled because you don’t know the names. The drop-off will be minimal on this side of the ball.
Getty ImagesJoe Robbins
The schedule is manageable in a down year for the Big Ten
Things are never "easy" in the Big Ten, but all things considered, they could be a lot worse when it comes to the Buckeyes’ schedule this season. Ohio State doesn’t play Iowa at all (a team I actually think will be pretty good this year), and their two toughest road games are against two rebuilding clubs in Wisconsin and Michigan State. Penn State feels like it could be a tough game too -- at least until you remember that Ohio State is 4-0 against the Nittany Lions since Urban Meyer arrived and haven’t lost in State College in over a decade. Plus, even a brutal road game at Oklahoma might not be nearly as bad as it looks; for one, I think the Sooners are a bit overrated, and even if they aren’t, we’ve seen time and again that teams can lose early in the season and still make the playoff (like Ohio State in 2014 for example). Finally, yes, there is that end-of-the-season grudge match against the school up North. But while I’m not doubting Jim Harbaugh (nor should you), the game is in Columbus. And for all the (justified) Michigan hype, it’s still the Buckeyes who’ve won 11 of their last 12 against the Wolverines.
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY SportsTim Fuller
Ohio State has J.T. Barrett and you don’t
I already spent an entire 900 words explaining why you shouldn’t overlook Barrett, so I won’t go overboard here. At the same time, for everything that has happened in the 18 months since J.T. Barrett broke his ankle and gave way to Cardale Jones, what’s easy to forget is everything that Barrett accomplished in the three months prior to that. Barrett was the guy that took a young team and led them from a 1-1 record after two weeks to the brink of a Big Ten title and spot in the College Football Playoff. What people also forget is how good Barrett himself was, finishing that 2014 season with 34 touchdown passes, and compiling overall stats that were good enough to allow him to finish fifth in the Heisman voting. In a division that has a major lack of experience at quarterback (Penn State, Michigan State and Michigan will all have first-year starters), the Buckeyes don’t just have experience at the position, they have a true, game-changing superstar. As I said a month ago: Doubt Barrett at your own risk.
Getty ImagesChristian Petersen
Urban Meyer is a better coach as an underdog
Look, we all know that Meyer is one of the game’s best coaches, a true living icon, but what no one bothers to mention is this: For all the success he’s had, he has often struggled when his team is a heavy favorite entering the year (take last season for example). He’s also done some of his best coaching when people have doubted his team the most (like many are coming into this year). We saw it all the way back at Florida, when he won a national championship in his second year, and then we saw it again in 2014, where Meyer didn’t just do one of the best coaching jobs of his career, but one of the best coaching jobs anyone has in the history of the sport. Yes, it’s easy to remember the confetti falling in the title game, but it’s also easy to forget how far the Buckeyes had to come to get there. To see a team that literally couldn’t move the ball in Week 2 of the season against Virginia Tech shred some of the best defenses in the sport, is a credit to Meyer, (former offensive coordinator) Tom Herman and the coaching staff to show how far things have come. Like Barrett, doubt Meyer if you want. He’s still one of the best coaches in the game, and the biggest reason the Buckeyes can win their second title in three years. Aaron Torres covers college football for FOXSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres or Facebook. E-mail him at ATorres00@gmail.com.