Can No. 4 Ohio State overtake Michigan and compete for a national championship?

Estimated read time 7 min read

With the 2023 college football season fast approaching, Yahoo Sports is putting out the annual Top 25. We’ve revealed numbers 11 through 25 in three parts and are now counting down from #10 to #1 in the days leading up to the official announcement of the start of the season on August 26.

previously: 25-21And 20-16And 15-11And No. 10 TexasAnd No. 9 FloridaAnd No. 8 ClemsonAnd No. 7 Penn StateAnd No. 6 LSUAnd No. 5 USC

After a streak of five Big Ten titles in a seven-year period, Ohio State has been pushed aside by its biggest rival, Michigan, in the past two seasons.

The Big Ten’s East division was on the line when the Buckeyes and Wolverines were knocked out on the final Saturday of the regular season in both 2021 and 2022. Michigan dominated on both occasions.

In 2021, the loss ended Ohio State’s eight-game winning streak over UM and cost the Buckeyes a College Football Playoff. Last year, the Buckeyes were still able to get into the CFP as the No. 4 seed. In their semifinal matchup with defending champion Georgia, the refocused Buckeyes had a 14-point lead going into the fourth quarter. But that lead evaporated and the game-winning 50-yard field goal sailed wide in the dying seconds.

Final score: Georgia 42, Ohio State 41. It was a crushing defeat for the Buckeyes, who could have been favored over TCU in the CFP title game.

Not only did Ohio State lose to Michigan again, but it had the chance to play in a national championship. That double dose of heartache was carried over into Ryan Day’s offseason program. And now there’s an added layer of pressure for Day, who has an incredible 42-6 record in four seasons as OSU’s full-time head coach.

It won’t be easy to beat Michigan and get back to the top of the Big Ten, but Day’s team has the talent to make it happen.

Ohio State was agonizingly close to advancing to the national title game last season.  This year's team has the talent to get another chance.  (yahoo sports)

Ohio State was agonizingly close to advancing to the national title game last season. This year’s team has the talent to get another chance. (yahoo sports)

The biggest attacking question: Who is the midfielder?

Ohio State has a proven track record of stellar quarterback play with CJ Stroud as the latest star to roll through Columbus. Stroud came away with an epic performance in a loss to Georgia before becoming the second pick in the NFL Draft.

With the season less than two weeks away, the battle to succeed Stroud is still going on. Day said Monday he’s not ready to name a starter with Kyle McCord and Devin Brown still vying for the job.

McCord had been at OSU a year longer than Brown and was Stroud’s backup in 2022. McCord was thought to have a leg up on fall camp, especially after Brown missed time during the spring with a finger injury. Since then, the Browns have seemed to bridge the gap and Day said both of them could see the field in the home opener versus Indiana on Sept. 2.

“I think our employees feel confident with both, which is exciting,” Day said. “I asked the staff this weekend after the brawl. I did a poll and it was split almost down the middle. So what does that mean? Well I guess it’s going to continue this week and go from there. Is there a possibility that they both play in the first match? I think the answer is yes “.

Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is leading one of the country's most talented tackle groups this season.  (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. is leading one of the country’s most talented tackle groups this season. (AP Photo/David Dermer)

Whoever starts will play with one of the best talent pools in the country. Leading the reception team are Marvin Harrison Jr. , Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming TreVeyon Henderson is finally healthy and can return to the incredibly explosive player we saw in 2021. Behind Henderson, Mian Williams has rushed for over 1,300 career yards and Dalan Hayden is coming off a strong freshman season.

Other than the QB, the biggest question about this offense is the line where three starters have left for the NFL, including tackles Paris Johnson and Dawand Jones. San Diego State transfer Josh Simmons is expected to fill in at left tackle, senior starter Josh Friar has been ticketed for right tackle, and freshman Carson Henzmann is the expected starter at center.

It’s not an ideal situation, and it could be something that separates the Buckeyes from college football’s elite teams in 2023.

The defense should improve in the sophomore year under Jim Knowles

Day completely overhauled his defensive coaching staff after the 2021 season, bringing in Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State as the new defensive coordinator. Knowles’ units at Oklahoma State were among the best in the country, and the Buckeyes were undoubtedly better in 2022 — but not in the biggest games.

The Buckeyes stumbled again against Michigan and then trailed to a loss against Georgia. OSU was particularly affected by the big plays. Entering the second year in Knowles’ system, will the defense take it a step further? Based on the staff, it definitely should.

Up front, the Buckeyes running back JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer on defensive end have plenty of depth on the inside. Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers return for another year as the team’s MVPs, and there’s a chance the secondary will improve even though four of the team’s top six defensemen since last fall have left the program.

None of the Ohio State draftees were drafted, unusual for a program that has produced high-profile professionals from high school. At fullback, Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock both returned and with Ole Miss moving, Davison Egbenson came in with a chance to start.

Safely, Lathan Ransom is back and Jihad Carter is brought in from Syracuse. Both should have great roles, but the man to watch is sophomore Sonny Stiles. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Styles was a five-star recruit and a prime candidate for the breakout after having a backup role last fall.

Ohio State defensive end JT Tuemolo (44) returns to defense hoping to make a move forward in 2023 after faltering in some key moments preseason.  (AP Photo/Barry Rieger)

Ohio State defensive end JT Tuemolo (44) returns to defense hoping to make a move forward in 2023 after faltering in some key moments preseason. (AP Photo/Barry Rieger)

Biggest Match: November 25th in Michigan

There are some tough games on Ohio State’s schedule. The Buckeyes go to Notre Dame on Sept. 23, host Penn State on Oct. 21, and then make the trip to Madison to play Wisconsin on Oct. 28. However, that’s an obvious choice – it’s Michigan’s game.

It is arguably the biggest rivalry in sports and should have the Big Ten title and influences of the college football game again. This year, it’s in Ann Arbor and the Wolverines will be looking to post three straight wins over the Buckeyes.

And with the Big Ten eliminating divisions and the CFP expanding to 12 teams in 2024, this may be the last time the game has such massive stakes.

Influential Player: WR Marvin Harrison Jr.

It’s hard to pick anyone other than Marvin Harrison Jr. as the best wide receiver in the country. Harrison demonstrated his massive freshman potential in 2021 by catching three touchdowns in OSU’s Rose Bowl victory over Utah.

In 2022, with Jaxon Smith-Njigba sidelined with a hamstring injury, Harrison emerged as the Buckeyes’ top pass rusher. By the time the season was over, he had compiled 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns. Along the way, he had seven 100-yard games and four multi-touchdown games.

Above under

Choose: Over 10.5 wins (-110)

I toyed with the idea of ​​the top three teams in the Big Ten East — Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State — all going 11-1. Regardless of that scenario, there are some tough games on this schedule outside of Michigan’s trip.

No matter who wins the QB battle, night game at Notre Dame as one of the first ways you start is really tough. Then there’s the return game against Penn State followed by a trip to Wisconsin the following weekend. I’m not as high ranked at Notre Dame and Wisconsin as the others, but these are losing games.

The offensive line is a bigger concern than working at a freshman QB, but the level of talent on the rest of this list is so exceptional that I’d have to go with over here. There will be a loss somewhere, but only one.

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