Yahoo Sports' Top 25: No. 3 Ohio State

Yahoo Sports

Welcome to Yahoo Sports’ 2018 college football preseason top 25. A poll that’s guaranteed to be wrong like every other preseason poll out there. Every day in August we’re going to reveal a new team in our top 25 culminating with the reveal of our No. 1 team on Aug. 25. And yes, it’s a team from the SEC.

Previously: No. 25 South CarolinaNo. 24 UtahNo. 23 West VirginiaNo. 22 Central FloridaNo. 21 TexasNo. 20 USCNo. 19 Florida StateNo. 18 OregonNo. 17 Mississippi StateNo. 16 TCUNo. 15 MichiganNo. 14 Boise StateNo. 13 Notre DameNo. 12 AuburnNo. 11 Michigan StateNo. 10 StanfordNo. 9 Miami, No. 8 Penn State, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 5 Georgia, No. 4 Washington

No. 3 Ohio State

2017 record: 12-2
Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense

Getting through the first three games

Urban Meyer won’t coach Ohio State in its first three games of the season. You probably have an idea of why. But here’s a cavalcade of links for you to peruse regarding the non-football situation at Ohio State.

Meyer suspended for three games
Meyer keeping his job shows that winning is everything
Meyer misses the mark by failing to address Courtney Smith
Investigation didn’t conclude Meyer “deliberately lied”
Meyer had conversation with staffer about deleting text messages
Timeline of the entire saga

OK, onto football. Ryan Day is the team’s interim coach for games against Oregon State, Rutgers and TCU to open the season. Meyer is suspended through the Oregon State game and can coach the team during practices before Rutgers and TCU though he can’t coach in those two games. Meyer will be back for a Sept. 22 game vs. Tulane. That game will serve as a tuneup for a matchup vs. Penn State.

The dynamic during the second and third weeks of the season will be one to keep an eye on. It’s not common to see a team coached by an interim coach on gamedays with the head coach having influence during the week. Ohio State’s players are in an awkward situation that isn’t of their own doing here. The Buckeyes are good enough to get through the first three games at 3-0, but if there’s a loss in there somewhere — even if it’s to TCU — the conversations about the team should be fun to watch.

Just how good can Nick Bosa be?

Bosa is the star of the team’s defense. He had eight sacks and 7.5 tackles in 2017 and should improve on those numbers despite a lot of double teams in 2018.

He leads an Ohio State defensive line that would be getting some more attention if it wasn’t for the four stars down at Clemson. Ohio State had 45 sacks in 2017 — up from 28 in 2016 — and had a ferocious pass rush thanks to Bosa and Sam Hubbard. Hubbard is gone, but Chase Young had 3.5 sacks as a freshman in 2017. If Young develops into a bookend for Bosa, watch out.

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A very good defensive line will help out a talented secondary that can more than hold its own. Kendall Sheffield is primed to be the next defensive back taken early in the NFL draft and strong safety Jordan Fuller was second on the team in tackles with 70.

Ohio State returns just five starters on defense but none of them are projected to be seniors. That’s what happens when you consistently recruit top-tier talent that has the chance to head to the NFL early. With four sophomores in the starting lineup there could be a couple growing pains for the Buckeyes. But, again, the first two games should be blowouts.

Dwayne Haskins doesn’t have to do everything

Ohio State’s quarterback competition was so not-close in the offseason that Joe Burrow transferred to LSU to become the Tigers’ starting quarterback. Burrow was the No. 2 to Haskins, who served as J.T. Barrett’s backup in 2017. Yes, Barrett is gone after 25 years in college football. Where were you when his career began?

Haskins held his own against Michigan as Barrett struggled with a knee injury. And that’s all he has to do in 2018 for Ohio State’s offense to hum. He’s got a ton of pieces around him.

The offensive line returns three starters. Losing Billy Price at center is big but senior Brady Taylor is ready to step in. Taylor should know anything and everything about the offense. Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber are back too; they combined for over 2,000 yards and ran for 17 touchdowns in 2017.

The receiving depth is thicker than mud. Parris Campbell was the team’s leading receiver in 2017. He’s back. So is K.J. Hill, who led the Buckeyes in receptions. Ohio State’s top six receivers return for the 2018 season. Defenses aren’t going to be able to focus on one or two receivers in an offense, especially if Haskins can go downfield. And if they do, there’s Dobbins and Weber to contend with.

Ohio State receiver receiver receiver Johnnie Dixon plays against Penn State during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Ohio State receiver receiver receiver Johnnie Dixon plays against Penn State during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Impact player

Johnnie Dixon, WR: Dixon is one of the many receivers returning in 2018 and should be Ohio State’s big play threat. He led the Buckeyes with 23 yards per catch and eight touchdowns in 2017. No other Ohio State player averaged more than 15.2 yards a catch. If Haskins and Dixon can generate a connection down the field, Ohio State’s offense could be just as good as it was under Barrett.

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Game to watch: @ Penn State Sept. 29

Ohio State plays just four true road games in 2018. Two of them are at Maryland and Purdue. Nothing against Purdue, but those are both winnable. The other two are slightly less so. The first road test is against the Nittany Lions, Meyer’s second game back with the team. We think Penn State is Ohio State’s top contender for the Big Ten East, so the winner of this game will have a big edge in the East race.

Best-case scenario

The team doesn’t miss a beat with Meyer’s suspension and an undefeated season takes shape. That’s unrealistic, but we’re not ruling it out.

Worst-case scenario

The TCU game is a loss and Meyer takes full control of a team coming off a loss. So is the Penn State game and so is the Michigan State game. That’s three losses; 9-3 isn’t bad. But that wouldn’t be very good either.

Prediction

Full disclosure, we had Ohio State at No. 3 in our poll before Meyer was placed on administrative leave on Aug. 1. And, quite frankly, we think the Buckeyes are still the favorites in the Big Ten, even if the “situation,” as Meyer has blindly called it, has embroiled the whole university. Let’s go with 11-1 for the Buckeyes and a win in the Big Ten title game to put Ohio State back in the College Football Playoff.

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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