ARLINGTON, Texas — We can all agree, with one year of the College Football Playoff now in the books, that the 2014 season was a serious breakthrough for Ohio State, not to mention the Big Ten. And nearly everyone gathered here for Monday’s title game — well, those in the media, anyway — seems on-board with the notion that Urban Meyer’s 2015 team can be even better.
Spoiler alert: The Buckeyes will be a strong consensus No. 1 pick heading into next season. That’ll be true if quarterback and graduate student Braxton Miller stays and fights for his old job, transfers to another school for his final college season or makes any other move. It’ll be true regardless of who bubbles up higher between J.T. Barrett, the quarterback who starred for most of the season, or Cardale Jones, the one who took the reins during the postseason.
However it shakes out, the Buckeyes will be led by one of the premier quarterbacks in the Big Ten and perhaps in all of college football. And everywhere else on both sides of the ball, they’ll be loaded to the gills. That’s what happens when you reach the top a year ahead of schedule, as Meyer believes they have.
“This year, we’re unique,” he said. “We don’t that [NFL] issue.”
What they’ll have is Ezekiel Elliott, Joey Bosa, Taylor Decker, Vonn Bell, Darron Lee — all back, along with the bulk of the rest of the title-game two-deep. Ohio State certainly leads my Too Soon Top 10 for 2015. Here’s the rest:
2. Clemson. The Tigers couldn’t quite solve the Florida State riddle the last couple of years, but forget that noise — they’ll be the team to beat in the ACC Atlantic and in that conference overall. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is your Heisman Trophy dark-horse, folks. Getting the Seminoles in Death Valley will be huge.
3. TCU. Best talent in the Big 12? Close. Best coach-quarterback combo in Gary Patterson and Trevone Boykin? Heck, yes. And the Horned Frogs are back to their nasty ways on defense. Just ask Ole Miss.
4. Auburn. Here’s where my total confidence in Will Muschamp comes in. Forget his rough go as coach at Florida; this is a born defensive coordinator, and Muschamp will instantly fix whatever ailed the Tigers during a five-loss 2014 campaign. They host the Iron Bowl, too.
5. USC. The Trojans aren’t all the way back to their decade-ago level — in fact, they aren’t close to that — but the offensive skill players, led by quarterback Cody Kessler, will be elite next season and the depth throughout the roster will be the best it has been since the days of those scholarship reductions that tormented Lane Kiffin.
6. Baylor. If Robert Griffin and Nick Florence and Bryce Petty could all do it at a ridiculous level, Seth Russell should be just fine running Art Briles’ offense, too. Meanwhile, the Bears’ incremental defensive improvements should continue. Note: The TCU game is in Fort Worth.
7. Michigan State. The defense loses a couple of key performers and — no small deal — coordinator Pat Narduzzi, who’s off to run the whole show at Pittsburgh, but such quality and depth has been stockpiled in East Lansing that the Spartans really don’t have any Big Ten program near their level other than Ohio State. An early win at home over Oregon would be enormous.
8. Oregon. Speak of the devil. Sorry, but replacing Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota will be at least as difficult as meets the eye. The Pac-12 has been improving around the Ducks, who’ll fall short of another playoff appearance.
9. Alabama. Same ol’, same ol’? Not really. The Tide will have to work their tails off just to get to 10 wins.
10. Georgia. The Bulldogs will run the ball just as well as they did in 2014, and their defense should take a couple of steps forward. The conference schedule lines up nicely, too.