These Teams Could Stand in the Way of Another Ohio State National Championship

By Johnny Ginter on August 19, 2016 at 2:10 pm
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The College Football Playoff is the best thing to happen to college football since Bret Bielema made Joe Paterno really, really upset by exploiting a loophole in the clock rules. It is a (relatively) great solution to the issue of legitimacy that has dogged about 35 percent of college football's national champions ever since we figured out the forward pass. Hell, the 2002 Ohio State team won 14 games in an undefeated season and there are still people who want to put an asterisk next to that achievement. Anything short of total dominance is seen as a crack in the armor of an otherwise great team, and in years past a singular bowl win hasn't always been enough to prove anything to a large amount of fans.

What the College Football Playoff does is essentially eliminate any whiff of a complaint about flukes, because if there's one thing that football fans love more than confirmation bias towards a negative, it's confirmation bias towards a positive. A sample size of two proving something that a sample size of one does not is pretty silly, but screw it! These games are awesome high drama and have obviously served Ohio State well in the past.

Still, at some point there is going to be a season, maybe soon, where Ohio State is not in the conversation for a National Championship. Even tangentially. I know, it's ludicrous and maybe even irresponsible for me to say that, but I think at a certain point we're all going to need to assume crash positions for a season where the Buckeyes don't threaten to make noise in the College Football Playoff.

And if this is that year, it won't be because of any major deficiencies on the part of Urban Meyer and company; this is a season with some particularly loaded football teams with a lot of veteran leadership. If the 2016 Buckeyes end up making playoff noise at the end of the year, it's going to be a testament to how crazily good Meyer is at coaching football more than anything else.

So with an eye on the prize, let's take a look at some of the potential barriers standing in the way of Ohio State and college football glory.


Yeah, we might as well get this out of the way right now. It's true: Michigan football has a very real chance to win a national championship for the first time since Truman was in office (halfsies with Nebraska in the mid-90s will never count, sorry). What's interesting about Michigan is that if they end up surrounded by confetti at the end of the season, it will likely be on the back of their defense, which could end up being the best in college football.

What makes Michigan really dangerous is their returning players. Defensively, guys like corner Jourdan Lewis, one of the best in the country at that position last year, and defensive lineman Chris Wormley are anchors that might shore up any holes around them. To say nothing of Jabrill Peppers, which is fine because the rest of the media will take care of that for us.

Why they'll make the playoffs

Supported by their defense, a new QB will use safety nets like tight end Jake Butt and wideout Jehu Chesson to put up enough points to take down the tougher teams on their schedule.

Why they won't

At. As in, At Michigan State, At Iowa, and At Ohio State. If the Wolverines can somehow win all three of those games in extremely hostile environments (and seriously, can you imagine an Ohio Stadium where the Buckeyes are looking to spoil a Michigan shot at the playoffs?), then yeah, screw it, give those guys a shot at the championship.


This is possibly the most talent that Clemson has assembled on one football team, ever. Obviously, quarterback Deshaun Watson is a monster, but up and down their roster they have guys who would be starters on nearly any other team in the country. But it all starts with their all-world QB, who threw for four thousand freaking yards last season. It's unfortunate that people aren't going to remember what he did in the National Championship game, but a 400 yard, four touchdown performance against Saban in a bowl game is nothing to sniff at.

Their defense is somewhat underwhelming, which is mainly because they lost two of the best defensive ends in the country in Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd. But when your offense is scoring 70 points a game, that may not matter. At all.

Why they'll make the playoffs

Watson. If he stays healthy, forget it. He has very few peers in college football.

Why they won't

Dabo Swinney's squad still has to play rival Florida State (another potential playoff team), and if the defense has problems generating a pass rush or stopping teams in general, it suddenly puts a ton of pressure on them to try and outscore opponents in a conference where that's becoming increasingly difficult.


Remember last year when LSU lost three games in a row and their trustees almost served Les Miles' head on a silver platter? That was really, really dumb, but I almost wish that it had happened just so the team would be terrible and the school would have to choke on its own hubris. Alas, Les is back, along with maybe the best running back in the entire country. Like Clemson, LSU can go a long, long way on the back of a star player, and Leonard Fournette is the kind of guy who could easily be that kind of game changer all season for the Tigers.

Why they'll make the playoffs

People are going to focus on Fournette all season, and given that he ran for 1900 yards last season, he's kind of earned that, but LSU also has an excellent defensive secondary that is extremely deep. Safety Jamal Adams had four interceptions in 2015, and will look to add to that total this year.

Why they won't

Oh, Brandon Harris. You try. You really do. But given that your absolute best game last season came in a game against Western Kentucky where you still only managed to complete 55% of your passes, maybe it makes sense that Miles is content with grinding Fournette into a fine powder while you practice handing off. Harris is a huge liability, and if he shows the form that he did at the end of last season (where he threw six interceptions in five games against only four touchdowns), LSU is doomed.


Amazing quarterback or great running backs, overall excellent offense, capable defense. Are we seeing a pattern yet? All of these potential playoff teams are in this position because they have some significant talent returning in 2016. Quarterback Baker Mayfield might be viewed somewhat unfavorably against Deshaun Watson because he lost their head to head matchup, but last year he was statistically better than Watson (more yards per game, better completion percentage, better QB rating, better touchdown to interception ratio) and there's no reason to think that those numbers won't stay high.

Why they'll make the playoffs

Outside of Oklahoma, TCU, and maybe Oklahoma State, the Big 12 sucks. Because the conference isn't adding a championship game until 2017, Oklahoma will get a chance to beat the absolute hell out of their conference as often as possible to make an impact on the national stage.

Why they won't

Their brutal schedule. The Big 12 may indeed suck, but the Sooners play, in succession, at Houston to start the season, an effective Bye against UL Monroe, but then games against Ohio State, TCU, and then their rivalry game against Texas. History tells us that their playoff hopes can weather the storm of one loss against that early schedule, but two might do them in.


I hate that Florida State is good, but they are. They return an incredibly irritating 18 starters off a team that lost only three games last season, one of which was to Clemson and another to Houston in their bowl game. Of those 18 returnees, 11 are on offense. That's right, the entire freaking offense for the Seminoles comes back, which is nice for them considering they averaged almost 32 points a game last season.

Leading the way is another marquee running back in Dalvin Cook, who put up nearly 1700 yards at 7.38 yards per carry despite missing the Syracuse game with an ankle injury. Defensively they should be solid, and while safety Derwin James gets most of the attention, corner Marquez White could be the unheralded star of the secondary.

Why they'll make the playoffs

Their depth is very, very, very good. The ACC is still not great overall, and the Seminoles will be able to grind down teams with Cook and befuddle them with a defense that only allowed 17.5 points per game last season.

Why they won't

Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers. This is Clemson's year (again), and while they do get to play them at home this season, Watson and company might just be too much for Jimbo's crew.


I don't know about you, but personally the 2016 National Championship barely even registers as a thing that I remember happening. "Cool, Alabama won another title, what do you want for lunch? I'm thinking turkey burgers." I guess it's a testament to Nick Saban that his team can return a total of 11 starters combined on offense and defense and people are still predicting that the Tide makes the playoff and probably wins the championship. It's just all boring as hell.

For instance, if you're asking yourself who their quarterback is going to be, the answer is "does is matter in any way, shape, or form?" Because no, it does not. Just like every other position.

Why they'll make the playoffs

Because Nick Saban made a pact with the devil and their entire roster is filled with reanimated greyshirted zombies that can't be killed through normal means.

Why they won't

Because they shouldn't, dammit. There is a handful of proven players on the Crimson Tide, like wideout Calvin Ridley and safety Eddie Jackson, but at some point the team has to regress. Just a little. Also that November matchup at LSU is going to be epic.

2016 is replete with tough, well-coached, and experienced teams with several really incredible marquee players. If the Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes want to prove that they can play with the best in the country, it starts September 17th in Norman. Win that, and the whole complexion of the season changes, as Florida State, Alabama, LSU, and Clemson blogs will start thinking about writing previews for the Buckeyes.

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