Early-entry deadline for the 2015 NFL Draft has passed so we now know, what players will be returning to which NCAA football contenders next season. Here we examine No. 1 Ohio State futures NCAAF odds.
Fine 15 Set To Return
The biggest question surrounding the Buckeyes is who will be the starting quarterback for next season between national championship hero Cardale Jones, regular-season hero J.T. Barrett and two time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Braxton Miller, who missed all of last season following shoulder surgery. I won't delve into this much because I did elsewhere here at SBR. BetOnline lists Jones as the +100 favorite, followed by Barrett at +225 and Miller at +250. Bovada had Jones at even money, Barrett at +200 and Miller at +250. Nothing has changed since that story as I believe Jones is the guy, Barrett his backup and Miller the starter at Oregon or Florida State in 2015 as an immediately eligible transfer. Miller is enrolled at OSU for the spring semester, but that doesn't preclude him from transferring.
All three quarterbacks would be combined as one starter from last season so OSU is expecting eight starters back on that side of the ball. That group is led by what will be a preseason All-American and Heisman candidate in tailback Ezekiel Elliott. He wasn't even assured of the starting job entering the 2014 season but finished with a bang, totaling more than 200 yards rushing in OSU's final three games. He finished with 1.878 yards and 18 touchdowns as a sophomore. Leading receiver Devin Smith (33 catches, 931 yards, 12 touchdowns) moves on, but fellow wideouts Michael Thomas (54 receptions, 799 yards, nine scores) and Jalin Marshall (38 catches, 499 yards, six TDs) return. It's going to be a truly scare offense.
Seven starters are back on defense, led by end Joey Bosa. He was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and a Lombardi Award Finalist. Bosa led the conference in sacks and tackles for loss and was among the national leaders in both. He was only a sophomore last year as well.
The Buckeyes open Sept. 7 at Virginia Tech, the team that nearly kept OSU from the College Football Playoff. OSU was a 10-point favorite in its '14 home opener in Week 2 but was stunned by the unranked Hokies 35-21. Barrett looked like a redshirt freshman in his second career start, going just 9-for-29 for 219 yards with a touchdown and season-high three interceptions. Tech took the lead for good on a Michael Brewer 10-yard TD pass to Bucky Hodges with 8:44 left in the game. That loss looked worse at the end of the season for OSU as Tech finished just 6-6, including losses to East Carolina and (gasp!) Wake Forest. The Hokies are expecting 16 starters back but still will be sizable home dogs for this one at sportsbooks.
Ohio State closes the non-conference slate at home against Hawaii, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan. Certainly OSU will be sizable favorites on NCAA football odds for each, although NIU and WMU will be two of the Mid-American Conference's best programs.
The Big Ten opener is Oct. 3 at Indiana, and the Hoosiers gave OSU trouble for a while in 2014. On Nov. 22 in Columbus, Indiana took a 20-14 third-quarter lead behind a 90-yard TD run from star running back Tevin Coleman, but Barrett would lead the Buckeyes to 28 straight points and a 42-27 victory. Marshall became the first Ohio State player with a punt return TD and receiving TD in the same game since Brian Hartline in 2007.
Maryland and Penn State visit Columbus the following two weeks before OSU goes to Rutgers on Nov. 24. The Buckeyes crushed the Terps and Scarlet Knights in 2014 but were taken to double overtime in Happy Valley, escaping a Penn State upset 31-24.
A bye week follows Rutgers before a solid Minnesota program visits Ohio State on Nov. 7. Those schools didn't play last year. The Buckeyes travel to Illinois on Nov. 14, and they crushed the Illini 55-24 in '14.
It would be a major surprise, then, if Ohio State isn't unbeaten when Michigan State, which will be a preseason Top-10 team again, visits on Nov. 21. The Spartans bring back their star QB in Connor Cook. The regular season concludes Nov. 28 at Michigan, the first installment of the Urban Meyer-Jim Harbaugh rivalry.
NCAA Football Free Picks: Ohio State is a +550 favorite at sportsbooks to repeat as national champion. It's too early to call that, but I do see the Buckeyes as a solid college football pick, running the table in the regular season and beating likely either Wisconsin or Iowa in the conference championship game. Expect OSU to have a 2015 regular-season wins total of 11.5 when those are posted at sportsbooks.