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2018 could be Ohio State’s best shot for a national title in a while

The early advanced stats projections love the Buckeyes next season.

Ohio State v Rutgers Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Ohio State, based on the initial preseason advanced stats projections, is in prime position to challenge for another national title in 2018.

The Buckeyes have brought in the second-ranked class two years in a row and should only narrow the gap with Alabama for the most talented overall roster in the country in 2018 (though Georgia’s will be close as well). The talent base is, and has been, there for a title run.

Ohio State ranked No. 1 in the initial preseason S&P+ projections. Let’s break that ranking down:

  1. Recruiting impact. Making up ~25% of the overall projection, recruiting is captured by a two-year recruiting ranking that blends Rivals and 247’s ratings’ total points as well as their per-recruit averages. Ohio State ranks at the top of this list, thanks to insanely high per-recruit averages in each of the last two classes: .9459 and .9429, which were the best in the country in both years.
  2. Returning production. Accounting for a little over 50% of the S&P+ projection, returning production rankings are based not on returning starters, but on the actual on-field production of all returning players, starter or not. For example, although Jeffrey Okudah and Malik Harrison weren’t starters, their significant playing time in 2017 help the defense’s experience despite significant losses at their positions from the listed starters. The Buckeyes typically have low returning production ratings because of their high numbers of early entrants to the NFL. However, this lack of returning production is offset by recruiting at an extremely high level. Returning production seems to matter for defenses more than offenses, and far less for the offensive line than you might think. In fact, the metric with the highest correlation with future S&P+ performance is actually the percentage of returning passes defensed. Ohio State ranks 109th in defensive returning production and 84th in overall returning production... which is a little cause for concern, or at least uncertainty.
  3. Recent history. This is based on S&P+ rankings between the last two-to-five years and accounts for a little under 20% of the final projection. Ohio State ranks second here, with Alabama, Ohio State, and Clemson dominating the advanced stats (and playoff championships) over the last five seasons. After those three, there’s a cluster of seven teams that are ranked within the same distance between top-ranked Alabama and Ohio State. Essentially, that means that Alabama’s in a class of its own, while any of those teams ranked between 4th and 10th likely at least challenged for the playoff fairly consistently during that 5-year span.

What does this mean?

Well, the exact mix of the three factors has changed, but this is the first time that Ohio State has been at the top of the initial S&P+ projections in a while. They’ve come close -- ranking behind Alabama last year and in 2015, but now Ohio State’s two-year recruiting (and Alabama’s slump in the 2018 class) likely put them over the edge.

These are obviously just projections, and they’re only the first set of projections, too — they will continue to be updated as rosters change until just before the season starts. But it’s a good sign that this could be the Buckeyes’ best opportunity to secure another championship.