Don't think of it as rebuilding in Columbus this year, think of it as reloading as the Ohio State Buckeyes look to continue their recent winning ways as college football odds favorites.
It has been a strong four year run on the gridiron for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The string started with a perfect 12-0 showing in 2012 when the Buckeyes were ineligible for the postseason, plus a 14-1 campaign in 2014 when they took down the Oregon Ducks in the initial College Football Playoff Championship.
Ohio State came up a win shy of being selected for the final BCS Championship in 2013, and enjoyed another 12-win season a year ago when one late loss kept them from a chance of not only repeating as Big Ten Champions, but also getting a second invite into the CFP bracket.
Winning 50 games in four years is a trend that would be tough for any team to continue, and it will be difficult on the Buckeyes in 2016 after losing so many of their top players to graduation and the NFL. Still, don't feel too sorry for Urban Meyer and the Columbus crowd since OSU is expected to reload and be another force according to the NCAA football odds.
The Buckeyes are listed on the latest futures at 15/2 to be chosen to play in one of the semifinal games at the Peach or Fiesta Bowls and be the last team standing at the title tilt in Tampa. That puts them just behind the Alabama Crimson Tide, with wagering options on the Buckeyes including a 9½ win total (U -125) and sharing co-favorite status in the Big Ten with the rival Michigan Wolverines.
How Fast Can Offense Get Up To Speed?
While the Buckeyes are among the favorites to finish No. 1 in the nation when it's all said and done next January, they rank dead last among the 128 FBS sides when it comes to returning starters from the 2015 slate. Meyer and his staff spent the spring making and remaking depth charts after just six 1st-teamers made it back to Columbus, three on each side of the football.
The good news is one of those dirty half-dozen is quarterback JT Barrett, the redshirt junior out of Wichita Falls, Texas. Barrett was perhaps the most valuable player on the 2014 National Championship squad before an injury knocked him out near the end of the regular season. He had his ups and downs in 2015, benched for the matchup with the Indiana Hoosiers and serving a suspension in the win over Minnesota. Barrett still finished second in rushing with almost 700 yards on the ground and scored 11 touchdowns to go with 11 scoring strikes through the air.
Tailback Ezekiel Elliot declined to return for his senior year and was picked fourth overall in the NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. The top three receivers are also gone, leaving junior Curtis Samuel as the most experienced downfield threat.
Losses on the defensive side were equally big with Joey Bosa, the third overall pick in the NFL draft, and Joshua Perry both teaming up again in San Diego with Darron Lee now wearing New York Jets green. There are a lot of players returning who did see playing time last year, and the big score on the recruiting front was 5-star end Nick Bosa, younger brother of the departed Joey Bosa.
Early Showdown At Oklahoma Will Be A Huge Test
Unlike other top contenders who face a formidable opponent the first week or two, Ohio State will ease new players into action with opening home contests vs. Bowling Green and Tulsa. Though not pushovers, the Falcons and Golden Hurricane give Meyer and Co. time to prepare for the first big test in Week 3, a trip to Norman to face the Oklahoma Sooners.
The Buckeyes then come home to start the conference fixture vs. Rutgers and Indiana before two B1G roadies at Wisconsin and Penn State. November begins with a home matchup against Nebraska before a trek to Maryland. It ends with the last road game in East Lansing against Michigan State before hosting Jim Harbaugh and Michigan at The Shoe.