The Preseason AP Top 25 poll won’t come out until next month, but here at BangTheBook.com, we’re giving you a Top 25 from a betting perspective. Using power ratings to determine the top 25 teams in college football, readers will have the opportunity to look at what the preseason Top 25 might look like if designed by a bettor. Each article will feature a preview of that team with a write-up for each position and an explanation of why the position group was rated that way and some further insight into the methodology of creating power ratings.
The Methodology: Each team is rated up to 100 with eight different position groups considered. Quarterbacks, offensive and defensive lines, and coaching are graded on a scale of 4 to 15, while running backs, wide receivers, linebackers, and defensive backs are graded on a scale of 4 to 10 in half-point increments.
Groups are rated on returning production, potential, previous performance, and a handful of other variables. Information was gathered from all corners of the college football world, including preseason magazines, websites dedicated to specific teams, national college football websites, and more.
The #5 team on the BangTheBook.com Preseason Top 25 is THE Ohio State University Buckeyes.
Braxton Miller enters the year as a Heisman Trophy candidate and his improvement as a passer was truly evident in his junior season. Now as a senior, expectations are the highest they’ve ever been for Miller as Carlos Hyde is gone and backup quarterback Kenny Guiton is lighting up the Arena Football League. Miller averaged 6.2 yards per carry last season and threw for just over 2,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. In the second year of Urban Meyer’s offense, the Buckeyes jumped from 37.2 to 45.5 points per game and improved by over 90 yards per game. Miller’s development has been a major part and he should have his best season yet. Behind Miller are Cardale Jones and JT Barrett, who reportedly looked great in the spring game and subsequent practices.
Running Backs (8.5/10)
As you read through this Ohio State report and wonder how they could possibly be above other SEC schools or Oregon, keep in mind that relative strength of other units in the conference is also a consideration. The bellcow, Carlos Hyde, departs and the Buckeyes also lose second-leading rusher among running backs Jordan Hall. What returns, however, is a trio of Urban Meyer recruits in Ezekiel Elliott, Bri’onte Dunn, and Dontre Wilson, who is more of a slot receiver that runs sweeps. There’s no bruiser here, but power running was never really Meyer’s style and this group may better fit what he wants to do. That being said, it’s hard to argue with Hyde’s production and that’s a big loss. He ran for 1,527 yards and 15 touchdowns. He missed the first three games of the season.
Wide Receivers (8.5/10)
Leading receiver Corey “Philly” Brown went undrafted, but left for the NFL. Four of the top five in receiving yards remain, including one of the conference’s top tight ends, Jeff Heuerman, and one has to imagine that Dontre Wilson will be more involved in the passing game as well. Devin Smith caught 44 passes and eight touchdowns last season as the most experienced returning wide receiver, but other talented recruits are waiting in the wings.
Offensive Line (13.5/15)
The Buckeyes return one starting lineman, LT Taylor Decker, from last season’s team, which helped the Buckeyes to 6.8 yards per carry. Alabama transfer Chad Lindsay should be the starting center and experienced players will surround him on the line. The sole reason for the 13.5 score here despite the talent is that the Buckeyes lost one second team All-American, two first team Big Ten players, and a second team Big Ten player. That’s a lot to overcome in one season and continuity may be an issue, especially if Meyer’s playbook includes more sideline-to-sideline running without Hyde.
Defensive Line (15/15)
To say that this group is stacked is an understatement. This may be the best defensive line in the country. The Buckeyes will be without Noah Spence for the first two games of 2014 for a positive drug test that kept him out of the Orange Bowl against Clemson, but when he returns, the Buckeyes will have he and Joey Bosa at the ends, with Adolphus Washington and Michael Bennett on the interior. The Buckeyes allowed 3.3 yards per carry and racked up 42 sacks last season and these four guys accounted for 24.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss.
This is where it gets really interesting for Ohio State and why there’s so much optimism entering this season. The loss of Ryan Shazier is big, but the addition of #1 linebacker recruit Raekwon McMillan and #6 linebacker recruit Dante Booker mean that playing time and jobs are at stake. The concern is that Meyer brought along safeties Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell rather slowly despite their top-notch billing, so he could do the same here. That would leave Joshua Perry and Curtis Grant as the primary linebackers. As Meyer recruits get more playing time, expect the Ohio State defense to improve.
Defensive Backs (8.5/10)
This, like the linebacking corps, is an intriguing area of the team. The Buckeyes pass defense was terrible last season. They were torched by Michigan, outsmarted by Michigan State, and torched by Clemson. The Buckeyes gave up 286 passing yards per game in conference, though they did win a lot of blowouts. Bradley Roby left for the NFL after mailing in his senior season and safeties CJ Barnett and Christian Bryant are also gone. Meyer attacked the problem areas in recruiting with Powell, Bell, McMillan, and Booker, not to mention Damon Webb and Marshon Lattimore, two more top-15 defensive back recruits. Top recruits are no guarantee, but the potential is there.
Urban Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman have reenergized the Buckeyes offense and have created a juggernaut. The Buckeyes ran for over 300 yards per game and scored over 45 points per game. New defensive coordinator Chris Ash was the defensive coordinator for two years at Wisconsin before moving with Bret Bielema to Arkansas last season. Larry Johnson was a tremendous steal from Penn State to be the new defensive line coach and assistant head coach. Ohio State recruits exceptionally well and Meyer has a solid support system around him from assistants and coordinators.
The Buckeyes are the last of three teams tied with a rating of 91. By virtue of the highest coaching rating, they are the #5 team in this Preseason Top 25. The Buckeyes are coming off a disappointing season because of how it ended. Recruits from the tail end of the Jim Tressel era and the one year of Luke Fickell are mostly gone and that leaves Meyer recruits that are going to fit the system significantly better than the previous players. From an athleticism standpoint, the Buckeyes are clearly the class of the Big Ten.
People may sleep on the Buckeyes at various points throughout the season because of their highly-publicized losses at the end of the season and the loss of Carlos Hyde. This is still a team that is very close to elite status with a very high ceiling because of the program’s talent level and a coach that knows how to utilize and maximize talent.
Also understand that relative conference strength plays a big role in these numbers. Power ratings can be done in a lot of different ways and one of the elements in these is to shade a team’s ratings based on the conference that they’re in. Ohio State probably wouldn’t be favored over Georgia, Auburn, or some of the other teams below them on this list, but they won’t play each other until a potential bowl game, at which point the numbers will require adjustment anyway.
The Buckeyes have a ton of talent and also have a bad taste to wash away from the end of last season. That’s plenty good enough to be in the top five of the Preseason Top 25.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.