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The Big Ten might actually be the most stacked conference this year

Yes, even the West.

NCAA Football: Ohio State Spring Game Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

“Coaches will always say that their conference is the best in the country this time of year, but it’s pretty easy to tell if they actually mean it. The Big Ten coaches might actually mean it this year.”

-Barrett Sallee, CBS Sports

The SEC, ACC and Big 12 have all had their shots at the mic in recent weeks in their respective conference media days. Now, it is the Big Ten’s turn in the spotlight (Pac-12 media days, for good measure, start Wednesday). It’s a little surprise that Ohio State is a hot topic of conversation, given its top-five finish last season despite being snubbed from the College Football Playoff. However, it’s not just Ohio State on top this season, and the Big Ten as a whole looks to shine heading into 2018. Michigan State, Penn State and Michigan round out the top-four in the Big Ten East, according to Cleveland.com’s preseason poll. In the West, Wisconsin, Iowa and Northwestern lead the way, but Nebraska, led by first-year head coach Scott Frost, could prove to be a challenger as well.

On an individual level, the quarterback position is the most obvious topic of conversation surrounding Ohio State. With J.T. Barrett gone, the offense is now Dwayne Haskins’ to run. Though he has had limited playing time to this point, expectations are high. In fact, he is listed as a top-five candidate on Cleveland.com’s Preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year poll (J.K. Dobbins is No. 3 behind Penn State’s Trace McSorley and Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor). In his short experience, Haskins has already shown outstanding leadership ability, stepping in for Barrett to complete a comeback win against Michigan.

While he will likely not be the centerpiece of Urban Meyer’s offense come the fall--that role belongs to Dobbins--Haskins offers a chance to revitalize an Ohio State passing game that has struggled to find its identity in recent seasons. How Meyer chooses to use Haskins to improve in this area will be a critical question leading into the start of the season.

“Last season, Ohio State was among the nation’s biggest surprise stories and finished in second place, one game out of first.”

-Adam Jardy, The Columbus Dispatch

On the plus side, it looks like next season could be another Cinderella story for Ohio State basketball. Unfortunately, that’s because Chris Holtmann’s squad isn’t getting a high vote of confidence from Jon Rothstein’s offseason Big Ten Power Rankings for CBS Sports.

The basketball insider has the Buckeyes slotted to finish 10th in the conference. This projection is coming off a season in which Ohio State miraculously rose almost all the way to the top of the conference, finishing second in the Big Ten and earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Holtmann, in his first season in Columbus, earned Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, while Keita Bates-Diop garnered Player of the Year honors. Michigan State, Michigan and Nebraska took the top spots in Rothstein’s projections. Only Penn State, Illinois, Northwestern and Rutgers are expected to finish behind.

Unfortunately, Bates-Diop has moved on to the NBA, and Holtmann, despite bringing on a number of outstanding recruits in the 2019 class, is now a known entity within the conference. Statistically, the Buckeyes lose more than half their scoring from last season with the graduation of Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams.

Ohio State has a lot of hope for the future, but it won’t arrive until 2019. D.J Carton, a point guard from Bettendorf, Iowa, is listed as the No. 22 recruit in his class. Holtmann also signed Alonzo Gaffney, the No. 7 small forward nationally.

This season, the Buckeyes will be without the veteran talent of Bates-Diop, Tate and Williams, who each were with the program for four seasons. However, a number of newcomers, including Duane Washington, Justin Ahrens and transfer Keyshawn Woods, could make an immediate impact on the team. Kyle Young, who averaged under nine minutes per game last season, could have a breakout year come this fall.

“With 13.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in his first two years, Bosa has solidified himself as one of the top defensive players in college football and someone who could be in the conversation for No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.”

-Bill Landis, Cleveland.com

On a team with talent at every position group, it can be hard to stand out from the pack. At Ohio State, however, that collective strength seems to elevate everyone’s status. That case was clear last season at the stacked defensive end position. While the line as a whole was celebrated, Tyquan Lewis, Jalyn Holmes and Sam Hubbard all garnered individual recognition throughout the season and were taken within the first four rounds of the NFL Draft this spring, but the loudest conversation surrounded the most junior member of the unit: Nick Bosa. Now, Bosa himself looks to lead another highly touted unit as Chase Young and Jonathon Cooper, who have already shown glimmers of what they can do, join the rotation.

With so much veteran talent around last season (and limited playing time with such a constant rotation), Bosa’s massive impact was still somewhat muted. This season, however, it is clear that he is the leader of the defense and, in many ways, the best player on the team. Though the newcomers to the line are extremely talented, they are still somewhat green, and Bosa will have the opportunity to be on the field for more snaps than he was last season.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, this season will almost assuredly be Bosa’s last in Columbus. He earned first team All-American honors last season and was second in the conference with 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. Following this season, he will be well-positioned for the top spot in the 2019 NFL Draft. On a national scale, however, he will have some serious competition. Clemson’s defensive line, already well regarded last season, collectively returned for another season. Individuals on the line, namely Clelin Ferrell, would have been top picks in 2018. However, Bosa has continued to get better with age, and this season could even eclipse his brother in his impact on the team to show his NFL potential.

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