Head coach Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes holds up the Cotton Bowl trophy following the 82nd Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic between USC and Ohio State at AT&T Stadium on December 29, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. Ohio State won 24-7. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

Football

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: Can Texas pipeline spur No. 3 Ohio State to title?

According to a recruiting analysis, this year's Buckeye team is the most talented, ever

Posted July 26th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

No. 18: For Boise State, the Mountain West sky is the limit

No. 17: Mississippi State is breaking in a new head coach

No.16: Virginia Tech’s chances hinge on an up-and-down quarterback

No. 15: TCU has been the model of consistency, but there are 2018 concerns

No. 14: Love is all you need, at least if you’re talking about Stanford’s Bryce Love

No. 13: Notre Dame is on the brink of a real springboard season

No. 12: Michigan has said goodbye to John O’Korn, hello to Shea Patterson

No. 11: With just about everyone back, Michigan State looks for a 2017 encore

No. 10: Penn State bids goodbye to Saquon Barkley, but Trace McSorley’s still there

No. 9: Talented Auburn should be considered a CFP possibility coming out of the SEC

No. 8: Oklahoma has reloaded, eyeing a possible first-ever fourpeat in the Big 12

No. 7: Miami’s dreams of ACC titles and CFP berths have to go through Clemson again

No. 6: Wisconsin’s 10 returning offensive starters ready to state case for CFP

No. 5: Washington’s got two possible Heisman candidates and a top-10 defense

No. 4: Georgia is eager to put last year’s overtime title game loss in the rearview

Today’s team: No. 3 Ohio State

The Buckeyes’ best-case scenario: Dwayne Haskins, who came off the bench to rescue the Buckeyes against Michigan, proves that was a good launching point to replacing four-year starter J.T. Barrett at quarterback. Haskins has completed 70.2 percent of his passes. But he’s only thrown 57 of them. Haskins’ supporting cast will be among the best in the country..

Their worst-case scenario: A promising but inexperienced defense, wiped out at linebacker and searching for new playmakers in the secondary, can’t deal with the inevitable growing pains. September trips to Arlington (TCU) and State College (Penn State) mean the young ones will be on steep learning curves.

RELATED COVERAGE: Ohio State vs. Penn State, the game that will shape the season

RELATED COVERAGE: An undefeated season? There’s a 5.8 percent chance

Inside the Buckeyes

Coach: Urban Meyer (seventh year, 73-8; 177-31 overall at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State)

2017: 13-2, 9-1 in the Big Ten (beat USC 24-7 in the Cotton Bowl)

Returning starters: 7 offense, 4 defense

Goodbye: QB J.T. Barrett; CB Denzel Ward (1st, Browns); C Billy Price (1st, Bengals); DE Tyquan Lewis (2nd, Colts); LB Jerome Baker (3rd, Dolphins); DE Sam Hubbard (3rd, Dolphins); S Damon Webb; DE Jalyn Holmes (4th, Vikings); OT Jamarco Jones (5th, Seahawks)

Spring cleaning: QB Joe Burrow performed well but didn’t like his chances of winning the starting job from Dwayne Haskins, or possibly even redshirt freshman Tate Martell, so he transferred to LSU, where he has a better shot. … A string of domestic-abuse incidents prompted Meyer this week to fire receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Zach Smith. Meyer hadn’t named a replacement as of Wednesday.

J.K. Dobbins of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates a win over the Michigan Wolverines, 31-20 on November 25, 2017 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Dobbins, from La Grange, is the Buckeyes’ top rusher. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Dwayne Haskins, 40-57-565, 4/1 (2nd)

RUSHING: J.K. Dobbins, 194-1,403-7 (1st); Mike Weber, 101-626-10 (3rd); Antonio Williams, 57-290-3 (4th)

RECEIVING: K.J. Hill, 56-549-3 (1st); Parris Campbell, 40-584-3 (2nd); Terry McLaurin, 29-436-6 (3rd)

TACKLES: S Jordan Fuller, 70 (2nd); LB Tuf Borland, 58 (4th)

SACKS: DL Nick Bosa, 8.5 (1st); DE Chase Young, 3.5 (T-3rd)

INTERCEPTIONS: S Jordan Fuller, 2 (T-2nd); CB Damon Arnette, 2 (T-2nd)

Returning All-Big Ten players (13)

Offense: RB J.K. Dobbins (2nd team); OG Michael Jordan (2nd); OT Isaiah Prince (3rd); WR Johnnie Dixon (hon. mention); WR K.J. Hill (hon. mention); RB Mike Weber (hon. mention)

Defense: DL Nick Bosa (1st); CB Damon Arnette (hon. mention); S Jordan Fuller (hon. mention); DL Dre’mont Jones (hon. mention)

Special teams: RET Parris Campbell (2nd); K Sean Nuernberger (3rd); P Drue Chrisman (3rd)

FYI

Top of the class: The Buckeyes don’t rebuild. They reload. Ten starters and seven NFL draft picks depart from the 2017 team, but a recruiting-intensive analysis shows this could be the most talented OSU team of all. The roster’s average player rating by 247Sports is 93.18, the highest number since the grades have been given out. Overall, the last five Buckeyes’ classes have been No. 2, 2, 4, 7 and 3. Only Alabama can top that.

Texas pipeline: Urban Meyer has raided Texas for blue-chip recruits in recent years, and several of those will get a chance to show off in the state Sept. 15 against TCU in Arlington. RB J.K. Dobbins (La Grange) is coming off a sensational freshman season. CB Kendall Sheffield (Missouri City) and RG Demetrius Knox (Fort Worth All Saints Episcopal) are starters. CB Jeffrey Okudah (South Grand Prairie) and LB Baron Browning (Kennedale), a pair of former five-star recruits, are candidates to start.

LT QB excites Meyer: Let’s not forget the youngest Texan on the roster: Freshman QB Matthew Baldwin of Lake Travis. He is a redshirt candidate, working his way back from a torn ACL in the Cavaliers’ state semifinal playoff game, but the coaching staff raves about his potential. “He’s doing great,” Meyer said. “He’s up to 210 pounds (from 190). The receivers love him. What he did at Lake Travis was phenomenal. He stuck around and when he finally got his chance he delivered. I am very excited about him.”

New signal caller up in the air: Speaking of Texans, J.T. Barrett (Wichita Falls Rider) won’t be easy to replace. Often underappreciated because he wasn’t a pure passer, Barrett broke Westlake ex Drew Brees’ Big Ten record for career yards with 12,697 while rolling up a 38-6 record. Dwayne Haskins, a better pure passer but less of a runner, lacks the vocal leadership style of Barrett. Urban Meyer said ex-Texas A&M commit Tate Martell carries a certain swagger to his game and hasn’t ruled him out as the starter.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 6th (41.1 ppg) — right above No. 7 Penn State, right behind No. 5 Arizona

Points allowed: T-15th (19.0 ppg) — tied with TCU, right above Nos. 17 Marshall and Iowa, right behind No. 14 LSU

Passing: 36th (262.8 ypg) — right above No. 37 Boise State, right behind No. 35 Indiana

Rushing: 17th (243.2 ypg) — right above UNLV, right behind No. 16 Ohio

Total offense: 7th (506.0 ypg) — right above No. 8 Missouri, right behind No. 6 South Florida

Total defense: 9th (300.9 ypg) — right above No. 10 Mississippi State, right behind No. 8 Washington

Members of the Ohio State Buckeyes run out on to the field prior to the start of the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini on November 18, 2017 at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 1 (11 a.m., ABC)Oregon State
Sept. 8 (2:30 p.m., BTN)Rutgers*W, 56-0 in Piscataway
Sept. 15 (7 p.m., ABC)at TCU
Sept. 22Tulane
Sept. 29at Penn State*W, 39-38 in Columbus
Oct. 6Indiana*W, 49-21 in Bloomington
Oct. 13Minnesota*
Oct. 20at Purdue*
Nov. 3Nebraska*W, 56-14 in Lincoln
Nov. 10at Michigan State*W, 48-3 in Columbus
Nov. 17at Maryland*W, 62-14 in Columbus
Nov. 24 (11 a.m., Fox)Michigan*W, 31-20 in Ann Arbor
* Big Ten game

Note: Ohio State-TCU will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington

The key game: Nov. 10 at Michigan State. It could easily be Sept. 29 at Penn State, but the Buckeyes might be able to survive one loss. They can’t afford to lose both. The Spartans return 19 starters and 92 percent of their offensive and defensive production, according to Bleacher Report, the highest number in the FBS.

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
201312-2 (8-0)2nd / 12thOrange, L
201414-1 (8-0)5th / 1stCFP title game, W
201512-1 (7-1)1st / 4thFiesta, W
201611-2 (8-1)6th / 6thFiesta, L
201713-2 (9-1)2nd / 5thCotton, W
Total62-8 (40-3 Big Ten)4-2 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

5 schools:

Big Ten — No. 3 Ohio State, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 10 Penn State, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 Michigan

4 schools:

SEC — No. 4 Georgia, No. 9 Auburn, No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU

Pac-12 — No. 5 Washington, No. 14 Stanford, No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

Big 12 — No. 8 Oklahoma, No. 15 TCU, No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

3 schools:

ACC — No. 7 Miami, No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State

1 school:

Independents — No. 13 Notre Dame

Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State

AAC — No. 22 Central Florida

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 2 team

Want a hint?

This school plays Jimbo Fisher’s current and former team this season, both on the road.

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