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How tough is Ohio State’s 2016 schedule and can they best Michigan again?

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Ohio State will have a far tougher road back to a Big Ten title than you might think.

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, everybody on the Internet dropped a way-too-early Top 25 after the championship game. But now that National Signing Day is in the books, and we know who has declared for the NFL Draft, we can make marginally more accurate predictions for what 2016 might look like. And now, one of the best tools has made its first projection.

The S&P+, an advanced stats forecast that evaluates teams on a per-play basis, has their preseason rankings up today. These ratings combine recent recruiting history, recent performance relative to rankings, and also returning on-the-field production, to come up with a final ranking. Ohio State is ranked No. 14 in the early projections, mostly on the strength of their recruiting prowess and excellent run of recent success; the 2016 Buckeye squad will be one of the least experienced in the entire country. Alabama is perhaps unsurprisingly ranked No. 1, followed by LSU, Clemson, Oklahoma and Florida State.

If these early projections are accurate, Ohio State's 2016 schedule is going to be much harder than the 2015 campaign. Here's how every team on Ohio State's schedule ranks in the early S&P+ projections:

Team Name S&P+ ranking
Bowling Green 60
Tulsa 93
at Oklahoma 4
Rutgers 87
Indiana 56
at Wisconsin 37
at Penn State 28
Northwestern 46
Nebraska 26
at Maryland 62
at Michigan State 22
Michigan 6

While it's possible not a ton of those teams crack the AP Top 25 during the season, outside of Oklahoma and the Michigan programs, there should still be plenty of solid teams. Penn State has recruited very well over the last few seasons, Nebraska can't possibly be that unlucky again, Tulsa and Bowling Green were both bowl teams last year, and even Rutgers can at least say they're bringing back some experience.

The early projections have Michigan as the early Big Ten favorite, ranking them 6th in the country. If the Wolverines can get their quarterback situation right, they will have a very strong case as a contender, but their roster has question marks as well. If you're interested to see how the projections have the entire Big Ten, here's what the Big Ten East looks like:

Team Name S&P+ ranking
Michigan 6
Ohio State 14
Michigan State 22
Penn State 28
Indiana 56
Maryland 62
Rutgers 87

And here's the Big Ten West:

Team Name S&P+ ranking
Nebraska 26
Wisconsin 37
Iowa 38
Minnesota 42
Northwestern 46
Illinois 76
Purdue 88

There are a few surprising rankings if you look at the list nationally. Washington, despite a relatively average season in the W-L column, gets a preseason Top 10 ranking, on the strength of their youth, and impressive performances last season, even in losses. Houston, a likely top 20 (at least) team in the preseason polls and the defending Peach Bowl champion, is only 53rd. That's behind teams like Boston College, Syracuse and Minnesota (not to mention USF). And Iowa, fresh off their surprising run to the Rose Bowl, and even after returning some important parts of their roster, is slated 3rd in the Big Ten West.

What do you think? Is this a reasonable ranking of Ohio State? What else surprises you?