How good will Ohio State football be in 2020?
The best in the country — almost.
That is the early consensus among both pundits and advanced stats.
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Here are five things to know:
1. SP+, an advanced metric founded at FootballOutsiders.com and now hosted by ESPN, projections for the 2020 season were recently released with Ohio State at No. 2.
The Buckeyes trail Alabama while Clemson is No. 3, Georgia No. 4 and Penn State No. 5.
Defending national champion LSU is sixth followed by Florida, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Texas A&M.
Those numbers are derived from a combination of returning production, recent history on the field and recruiting rankings.
Ohio State is projected to have the No. 3 offense and No. 5 defense while Alabama is first and eighth, respectively, and Clemson is No. 4 and No. 13.
2. Quarterbacks account for a large percentage of “returning production” as defined by SP+ creator Bill Connelly, and Ohio State returns Justin Fields while Clemson brings back Trevor Lawrence.
Tua Tagovailoa is not returning for Alabama, but ironically his 2019 season-ending injury boosts the Crimson Tide in 2020 projections because backup/heir apparent Mac Jones put up solid numbers in his place (as noted by Connelly).
Alabama, a dominant recruiter over the past decade, also returns star running back Najee Harris and receivers DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle to check in ahead of the Buckeyes, Clemson and LSU in terms of returning production.
On top of that, Alabama returns a higher percentage of production on defense (60) than Ohio State (47) or Clemson (51).
Despite losing in a College Football Playoff semifinal to Clemson last season, Ohio State finished No. 1 in the SP+ rankings while national champion LSU was No. 2 and Alabama finished third.
The Buckeyes not only bested LSU, the difference between Ohio State’s rating (35.4) and LSU’s (33.1) was larger than the difference between the Tigers and Crimson Tide (32.4).
Clemson finished fourth (281.1) while Georgia was fifth (26.8).
The Buckeyes were fourth in offense and second in defense while the Crimson Tide (second and third) and Clemson (fifth and fourth) also found themselves in the top five on both sides of the ball.
LSU finished with the No. 1 offense in SP+ but only 20th in defense thanks in part to a midseason swoon that held the Tigers back when all was said and done despite their triumph over Clemson on the field.
Ohio State had no such lull during the season but came up short against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, setting up an all-Tigers final that was lopsided enough in LSU’s favor it dropped Clemson in the final numbers.
3. The early top 25s from humans tell a different story than the advanced stats.
A survey of more than a half dozen of those found Clemson a unanimous No. 1.
Ohio State showed up No. 2 on a majority of those looked at, but Georgia and Alabama also received one No 2 ranking apiece.
A composite of the early polls put together by The Sporting News had Clemson No. 1 followed by Ohio State, Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, Georgia, Penn State and Notre Dame.
4. Penn State and Wisconsin are both higher in the SP+ projections than the early polls.
The Nittany Lions are fifth according to the numbers and ninth in the SN poll composite while the Badgers are ninth and 12th, respectively.
Both teams return their starting quarterbacks and a majority of production on defense.
The latter is especially true for Wisconsin. The Badgers rank 17th in returning defensive production (81 percent) while the Nittany Lions are 66th (63 percent).
5. On the flip side, Michigan and Minnesota are both higher in the human perception than numbers projection.
The Wolverines, who must replace quarterback Shea Patterson and most of their offensive line, are 14th in the poll composite and 16th in SP+ after finishing 10th in the latter last season. Jim Harbaugh’s team is 119th in returning projection on offense (36 percent) and 110th on defense (49 percent).
The Golden Gophers are 15th in the poll composite and 20th in SP+.
Coach P.J. Fleck’s returns nearly all its production on offense (82 percent/13th) and almost none on defense (33 percent/125th).
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