LET'S LOOK AT THE DEFENSE: Even though Ohio State lost a great coordinator in Chris Ash, the Buckeyes replaced him with Greg Schiano, so I'm not expecting any drop in production from a coaching standpoint. I am expecting a big drop in production. I love the defensive ends, and Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard can play for anyone in America. So can Raekwon McMillan at middle linebacker. I "think" Gareon Conley will be fine, but now he has to take all the number-one wideouts, not the twos. Can he do that? Can Marshon Lattimore, Damon Arnette and Denzel Ward be really good at the opposite corner and nickel? Can Dante Booker and Chris Worley play? Are Damon Webb and Malik Hooker ready to replace Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell? I'm expecting this defense to be rather porous early in the year, but get better as the young pups get experience. Will this unit cost them games?
LET'S LOOK AT THE OFFENSE: I actually think this group is going to be pretty darn good from a national perspective. Everything starts at QB, and J.T. Barrett should be great. But you also have to factor in the fact that he has never had a great game without Zeke Elliott having a great game right next to him. Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel are good, but they're not Zeke. With the offensive line, my main worry is the loss of Taylor Decker. Right behind that is starting a true freshman, Michael Jordan. But these moves could be offset by putting in more talented Isaiah Prince and Jamarco Jones, and backing out Jacoby Boren and Chase Farris. I still think this line will be darn good. The wide receivers and tight ends are a huge step back, and there's no way the current group is better than the four guys now playing in the NFL. In short, Barrett has to be great or this offense is going to struggle, because so much is on his shoulders.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The coverage units are great and Cam Johnston is better than great. But the kicking situation is simply not championship quality, and I'm not sure it's MAC quality. Will a missed field goal, or field goals, cost Ohio State this season? Last year they had enough talent to play around a poor kicker. That's not the case this year, and there could be multiple games where the kicker needs to step up and be clutch. Can he do that?
WHO CAN BEAT OSU? Before we look at possible losses, and the predictable response of "We can't lose to THEM", let's understand a few things. Last year, Ohio State had the best team in the country in my opinion. The Best. Well, this powerhouse had to hold on at home to beat the mighty Northern Illinois juggernaut 20-13. They also had to hang on and defeat monster Indiana 34-27 in the last seconds. Ohio State has also seen their 2014 national title team lose AT HOME to a bad Virginia Tech team. And let's look at the Connor Cook-less Michigan State team that waltzed into Columbus and stomped out the repeat title hopes. Urban Meyer is amazing at 50-4, but he doesn't win every game every year.
WHAT ARE THE GUARANTEED WINS? I expect Ohio State to come out of the gate and go full blown Harambe on Bowling Green right between the eyes. Urban's former team? Good luck. Tulsa gets theirs next, and while Ohio State could be looking ahead to Oklahoma, they aren't losing to the Golden Canes. Rutgers comes up after Oklahoma and a bye week, so it's thank you very much to Ash with a serious azz whipping. Ohio State will travel to Maryland late in the year, but I have this as a win. Indiana, Northwestern and Nebraska are not true "guarantees", but the Buckeyes should not be losing to these three teams in Columbus. That gives them seven wins in my book. They can get to the playoffs with ten wins if they are the right ten wins.
WHAT IS THE ULTIMATE GUARANTEED WIN GAME? Every writer in America can guarantee the wins I listed above, but let's go BOLD. I love the Michigan State program for how they do what they do, and what they have accomplished the past 4-5 years. This is an elite program. This is THE rivalry in the Big Ten, not Ohio State vs. Michigan. MSU can beat OSU. Anytime. Anywhere. Mark Dantonio can look Urban Meyer in the eye on game day and not flinch. BUT NOT THIS YEAR. This is my ultimate guaranteed win for the season, and I'm not backing away no matter the circumstances. Last year, it was Virginia Tech that I put myself on the line with. Suspensions. QB controversy. Who cares? Urban Meyer doesn't like to be embarrassed. The Hokies spanked him in 2014, and paid the price. Last year's loss to Michigan State had to cut at Urban's soul, because that was a coaching loss and vengeance will be his. I'm predicting OSU over MSU in East Lansing, and that's my final answer and will not change it. Now, Ohio State has eight wins.
MY WORST CASE SCENARIO: The Oklahoma game should be a Sooner win, and for worst case sake let's go with that as the first loss. In the middle of the year, Ohio State has back-to-back road games with Wisconsin and Penn State. Meyer has NEVER lost a true road game since he's been at Ohio State. Can that streak go on forever? Is that logical? Let's say the Buckeyes lose one of these, probably at night to Penn State, to pick up loss number-two. That brings us to the finale in Columbus with the Fighting Harbaughs. Michigan should/could be undefeated going into that game, so they will need this to keep championship hopes alive. They can win this game, and if they do in this scenario it would put Ohio State at 9-3. Not a bad year with so many new faces. And that's my worst case scenario.
MY BEST CASE SCENARIO: Of course Oklahoma should win this game, but it's Bob Stoops vs. Urban Meyer. Again, Big Game Bob against Urban Freaking Meyer as an underdog on the road. Ohio State beats the Sooners and it might not be close either. They roll through the rest of the Big ten until the final two games. I've already guaranteed the MSU game, so now all they have to do is beat a team that Meyer has outscored 152-103 in his tenure. All wins too. Let's say OSU beats the Wolverines and finishes undefeated? They aren't losing to Iowa, Wisconsin or Nebraska in the Big Ten title, so hello playoffs.
MY TRUE SCENARIO: I do have the Sooners beating Ohio State in Norman, but with coaching matchup I'm fully aware that I should change my signature to "I'm a dumb-azz" if the Buckeyes go out there and take care of business like Meyer ALWAYS does in this type of situation. But I'm sticking with the Sooners. While I do see the double road games in the middle as loseable games, I think OSU finds a way to get through both. Then it's on to Michigan, and again knowing full well Meyer's record against "the rival" all his life it's probably stupid picking the Wolverines. But that's what I'm going to do. My final record is 10-2. I have Michigan going undefeated or losing one, and heading to the playoffs.
MY PLAYOFF SCENARIO: I have Florida State beating Clemson during the season, and walking to the playoffs. Michigan is my second team. I think UCLA puts it all together and survives the PAC 12 to be the third team. I have the Big 12 out on their ears, even with Oklahoma beating OSU. I also have Alabama missing the cut this year. My fourth team in, and it could be with two losses, is SURPRISE, SURPRISE: the Georgia Bulldogs under new head coach Kirby Smart. I have FSU beating Georgia in one semi-final, with Michigan blasting UCLA in the other. My champion is Florida State, who squeezes out a narrow 28-27 win to give Jimbo Fisher his second title.
MY FINAL THOUGHT FOR THIS PREVIEW ON OSU: I do not see a playoff outcome for Ohio State this season, but I have a point to ponder as the closing. If your team beats Ohio State in 2016, SAVE THE TAPE, because in the next five years the Buckeyes will not be losing many games to anyone. I think they're a year away from one of the greatest eras in Ohio State history, but they just might not be a year away. Their time could be now, but I'm just not seeing that.