With the 2023 college football season fast approaching, Yahoo Sports is rolling out our annual Top 25. We revealed Nos. 11 through 25 in three parts and are now counting down from No. 10 to No. 1 in the days leading up to the official start of the season on Aug. 26.
No. 4 Ohio State
2022 record: 11-2 (8-1 Big Ten)
National title odds: +700
Over/under: 10.5 wins
Following a run of five Big Ten titles in a seven-year span, Ohio State has been pushed aside by its biggest rival, Michigan, the last two seasons.
The Big Ten’s East division was on the line when the Buckeyes and Wolverines squared off 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 berth. Last year, the Buckeyes were still able to squeak into the CFP as the No. 4 seed. In the semifinal matchup with defending national champion Georgia, a re-focused Buckeyes team had a 14-point lead entering the fourth quarter. But that lead evaporated and a game-winning 50-yard field goal try in the final seconds sailed wide.
Final score: Georgia 42, Ohio State 41. It was a brutal defeat for the Buckeyes, who would have been favored over TCU in the CFP title game.
Not only did Ohio State lose to Michigan again, it nearly had the chance to play for a national championship. That double dose of heartache carried over into the offseason for Ryan Day’s 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 return to the top of the Big Ten, but Day’s team has the talent to make it happen.
Biggest question on offense: Who’s the quarterback?
Ohio State has a track record of excellent quarterback play with C.J. Stroud as the latest star to roll through Columbus. Stroud went out with an epic performance in the Georgia loss before becoming the No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft.
With the season less than two weeks away, the battle to succeed Stroud is ongoing. Day said Monday that he is not ready to name a starter with Kyle McCord and Devin Brown still competing for the job.
McCord has been at OSU for a year longer than Brown and was Stroud’s backup in 2022. McCord was thought to have a leg up entering fall camp, especially after Brown missed time during the spring with a finger injury. Since then, Brown has seemed to close the gap and Day said both could see the field in the opener versus Indiana on Sept. 2.
“I think that our staff feels confident with both of them, which is exciting,” Day said. “I asked the staff this weekend after the scrimmage. I took a straw poll and it was almost split right down the middle. So what does that mean? Well, I think that it’s going to continue to go on this week and go from there. Is there a chance that both of them could play in the first game? I think the answer is yes.”
Whoever ends up starting will play with one of the best collections of skill talent in the country. The receiver group is headlined by Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming, and running back TreVeyon Henderson is finally healthy and could be back to the incredibly explosive player we saw in 2021. Behind Henderson, Miyan Williams has rushed for more than 1,300 yards in his career and Dallan Hayden is coming off a strong freshman season.
Other than QB, the biggest question on this offense is the line as three starters departed 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 Josh Fryar is ticketed for right tackle and redshirt freshman Carson Hinzman is the projected starter at center.
It’s not an ideal situation, and it could be something that ultimately separates the Buckeyes from the elite teams in college football in 2023.
Defense should improve in Year 2 under Jim Knowles
Day completely overhauled his defensive coaching staff after the 2021 season, with Jim Knowles from Oklahoma State coming in as the new defensive coordinator. Knowles’ units at Oklahoma State were some of the best in the country, and the Buckeyes were undoubtedly better in 2022 — but not in the biggest games.
The Buckeyes faltered again versus Michigan and then late in the loss to Georgia. OSU was especially hurt by big plays. Entering Year 2 in Knowles' system, will the defense take a step forward? Based on the personnel, it certainly should.
Up front, the Buckeyes return JT Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer at defensive end and have plenty of depth on the interior. Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers return for another year as the team’s top linebackers, and there’s a chance the secondary improves despite four of the team’s top six defensive backs from last fall departing the program.
Ohio State didn’t have any of its departing DBs get drafted, which is unusual for a program that has produced high-level pros out of the secondary. At cornerback, Denzel Burke and Jordan Hancock both return, with Ole Miss transfer Davison Igbinosun coming in with a chance to start.
At safety, Lathan Ransom returns and Ja’Had Carter was brought in from Syracuse. They should both have big roles, but a guy to keep an eye on is sophomore Sonny Styles. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Styles was a five-star recruit and is a major breakout candidate after having a reserve role last fall.
Biggest game: Nov. 25 at 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 take a trip to Madison to play Wisconsin on Oct. 28. Still, this is an obvious choice — it’s the Michigan game.
It’s arguably the biggest rivalry in the sport and it should have major Big Ten title and College Football Playoff implications once again. This year, it’s in Ann Arbor and the Wolverines will look to make it three consecutive wins over the Buckeyes.
And with the Big Ten eliminating divisions and the CFP expanding to 12 teams in 2024, this could be the last time The Game has such enormous stakes.
Impact player: WR Marvin Harrison Jr.
It’s hard to pick anybody other than Marvin Harrison Jr. as the best wide receiver in the country. Harrison showed his massive potential as a freshman in 2021 by catching three touchdowns in OSU’s Rose Bowl win over Utah.
In 2022, with Jaxon Smith-Njigba sidelined by a hamstring injury, Harrison emerged as the Buckeyes’ top pass-catcher. By the time the season ended, he compiled 77 receptions for 1,263 yards and 14 touchdowns. Along the way, he had seven 100-yard games and four multi-touchdown games.
Pick: Over 10.5 wins (-110)
I’ve toyed with the idea of the top three teams in the Big Ten East — Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State — all going 11-1. That scenario aside, there are some tricky games on this schedule outside of the Michigan trip.
No matter who wins the QB battle, a night game at Notre Dame as one of your first road starts is really tough. And then there’s the home game versus Penn State followed by a trip to Wisconsin the following weekend. I’m not as high on Notre Dame and Wisconsin as others, but those are losable games.
The offensive line is a bigger concern than working in a new QB, but the talent level on the rest of this roster is so extraordinary that I have to go with the over here. There will be a loss somewhere, but only one.