Why Ohio State can win the playoff: Too stacked on both ends
EDITOR'S NOTE: FOX Sports college football columnists Stewart Mandel and Bruce Feldman think a handful of teams have a legitimate shot at hoisting the College Football Playoff trophy this season. This week, they'll make a case for each of those squads.
OHIO STATE BUCKEYES
1. What we like: The defending champs are so darn stacked that their biggest question is whether to start a Heisman Top 5 vote-getter (J.T. Barrett) or national title game winner (Cardale Jones) at quarterback. With 2014 postseason hero Ezekiel Elliott back to run behind four accomplished offensive linemen -- plus the addition of former star quarterback Braxton Miller at H-back -- the Buckeyes are likely to put up 50-plus points on quite a few foes this season.
Defensively, there's proven talent at nearly every position, starting with All-American defensive end Joey Bosa (though he's suspended for the season opener). Between pressure created by Bosa and tackle Adolphus Washington as well as dependable DBs like cornerback Eli Apple and safeties Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell, coordinator Chris Ash will be able to make aggressive calls and stack the box on obvious running downs.
2. What concerns us: Departed receivers Devin Smith and Evan Spencer as well as run-stuffing defensive tackle Michael Bennett were key contributors in last year's playoff wins with no obvious heir apparent. One of several unproven youngsters like Noah Brown or Johnnie Dixon must emerge as a viable deep threat, while career backup tackle Tommy Schutt, a once-heralded recruit, will be expected to fill the void left by Bennett.
But more than any personnel issues, the Buckeyes' biggest challenge in 2015 will be replicating the chemistry that keyed last year's improbable title run. The same core of players that embraced its underdog role against Alabama and Oregon must now manage the weight of a widely expected repeat. The suspensions of four key players for the opener against Virginia Tech presents the first of what will likely be many unanticipated hurdles.
3. What would the committee think? As we saw last year with undefeated defending champ Florida State, how well a team handles its competition matters nearly as much as whether it wins or loses. With only one obvious Top 25 foe in Michigan State (though expect at least Virginia Tech to join those ranks soon enough), the Buckeyes may be held to a near-impossible standard. Too many unconvincing performances and the skeptics will pounce.
Ultimately a 13-0 Big Ten champ will have no problem making the playoff field, and in fact would be the likely No. 1 seed, but even one loss to an inferior opponent could be tempting fate. Last year's team had to sweat out Selection Sunday thanks primarily to a Week 2 dud against 6-6 Virginia Tech. This year's team would be advised to eliminate any suspense.