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Ohio State and Alabama lead the way as 2017 playoff contenders

The math has some nice things to say about Ohio State football.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v Clemson Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Bill C.’s recently released 2017 S&P+ projections have Ohio State second behind Alabama, and in front of Florida State and Michigan.

After getting shut out in the first round of the playoff, replacing two co-offensive coordinators, and again turning around 34 of the secondary, a second-ranked projection might feel a little high for some Buckeye fans — but there are good reasons for such a lofty preseason rank.

How the Projected S&P+ works

This is from Bill’s 2017 Projections piece:

Recruiting is easy. I simply create a projected rating based on these two-year recruiting rankings. The recruiting-based projection makes up 25 percent of the overall S&P+ projection.

For returning production, I apply projected changes (based on each team’s returning offensive and defensive production, which are on different scales) to last year’s S&P+ averages. The projection based on returning production accounts for 56 percent.

For recent history, I’ve gotten a little weird. I found that the previous year’s S&P+ ratings were carrying a little too much weight in the projections, so what you see below is a projection based solely off of seasons two to five years ago. Recent history now carries less weight in the overall formulas, only 19 percent. It basically acts as a slight supplement to the two factors above.

So, essentially, it’s 25% 2-year recruiting rankings, 56% returning production (which is based on both experience returning and last year’s S&P+ performances on both sides of the ball), and 19% S&P+ performance from the last 2-5 years.

Let’s dive in to each of those.

Recruiting rankings and Ohio State

The only team to recruit better than Ohio State in the 2017 class, over the last two classes, and over the last five classes, has been Alabama.

Over the last five years, I’d argue that Ohio State has closed the gap with Alabama recruiting-wise, and the group of truly-elite recruiters has closed to about six or seven teams. These six teams have a 5-year recruiting percentage over 96.4%: Alabama, Ohio State, LSU, USC, Florida State, and Georgia. Michigan is charging fast into that category, with the fourth-best 2-year recruiting ranking, but the 19th-ranked 5-year recruiting ranking.

Traditionally, as Bud Elliott writes every season, it’s almost impossible for a team that doesn’t have a blue chip percentage over 50% to win the national title. Last year 13 teams fit that bill.

We don’t have the blue chip percentage numbers for 2017 yet, but to get a rough approximation of national title contenders from a talent perspective I looked at the top-15 2-year recruiters. They include: Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, Michigan, LSU, Georgia, USC, Florida, Auburn, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Clemson, Tennessee, UCLA, and Stanford. That’s a pretty solid list to me.

Returning production

In terms of overall returning experience, the 2016 Buckeyes were dead-last in Power-5 teams. This season things are a little better, with the Buckeyes ranking 72nd overall in team returning production. That’s 50th in offensive returning production and 92nd in defensive returning production.

As Bill explains, the correlations between returning production and future S&P+ are much better on the defensive side of the ball, particularly with overall passes defended. That’s what really hurts the Buckeyes, as one of the best 2016 secondaries in the country was gutted by players leaving for the NFL. It’s the same story on the other side of the ball, where returning receiving yards seems to have the greatest impact on offensive S&P+. Noah Brown and Curtis Samuel’s production will definitely be missed here.

Ohio State is just 72nd in returning production, but nevertheless rank 3rd in returning production as it relates to 2017 projected S&P+. That’s because the projected S&P+ rankings take returning production as it relates to last year’s offensive and defensive S&P+ rankings. So, since Ohio State finished 23rd and 5th in offensive and defensive S&P+ last year, they still do very well in the returning production part of the projected 2017 rankings.

Recent History

This one is easy -- it’s really just Alabama and then everyone else. While Ohio State ranks second, the difference between the two in 5-year average S&P+ is the same distance between Ohio State and USC at 8th. That’s a wide gap.

What does it all mean?

If you’re betting on next season, the pool of teams you should be choosing from is pretty small. There are only four teams that rank in the top ten in all three of Bill’s projected S&P+ factors — Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State, and LSU.

Next we’ll take a look at the Big Ten and playoff races according to these projections.