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Season review: Ohio State reloads in a hurry to get back to College Football Playoff

Urban Meyer didn't need much time to settle the debate about reloading or rebuilding his program.

By the third week of September, it was already clear Ohio State wouldn't be missing a beat despite losing a historically loaded draft class and needing to replace 16 starters this season. And by the end of November, the Buckeyes once again made it impossible to overlook them as a national-title contender by returning again to the College Football Playoff -- perhaps a year ahead of schedule.

That might sound familiar, since it was the same assessment Meyer offered two years ago when the young Buckeyes stormed to a championship with all those eventual draft picks playing prominent roles early in their careers. The remarkable recruiting efforts Meyer and his staff have delivered year after year since he arrived are paying off in a major way, now positioning Ohio State to contend every season even when there's so little experience to work with thanks to the overflowing talent in the pipeline.

Meyer never seems to have much of a shot to win coach of the year honors in the Big Ten, but he had a legitimate case this season for the work he did bringing along all those first-time starters. Recruiting is obviously a big part of the job, and while he has the benefit of working with more talent than most other schools even in the Big Ten, somebody has to sign those players -- and then turn them into playoff contenders after they arrive.

That work is reflected in Ohio State's report card here, along with a look at the rest of the roster ahead of the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl this month against Clemson in the huge semifinal matchup.

Grading the offense: A-minus

The passing attack didn't take the step forward Meyer wanted, and there is plenty of blame to go around for that this season. But that still almost qualifies as nitpicking the Buckeyes since they again topped the Big Ten in scoring by averaging more than 42 points per game while boasting one of the most fearsome ground games in the nation. With tailback Mike Weber, H-back Curtis Samuel and quarterback J.T. Barrett all a threat to pick up huge chunks of yardage on any play, defenses had their hands full whether the Buckeyes were productive through the air or not. And Barrett still tossed 24 touchdowns against just 5 interceptions, which isn't going to draw all that many complaints from Meyer anyway.

Grading the defense: A-plus

Despite facing an almost total rebuild with just three starters returning and also losing a co-coordinator in the offseason, the Silver Bullets somehow might have been better this year. The pass rush didn't miss a beat with Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard bringing consistent pressure, Jerome Baker and Chris Worley stepped in seamlessly at linebacker alongside Raekwon McMillan -- and the secondary was even more impressive. With Greg Schiano stepping in to replace Chris Ash and Malik Hooker, Marshon Lattimore and Damon Webb taking over the three vacant starting jobs, the Buckeyes nabbed 19 interceptions as part of an overall unit that allowed just 14 points per game.

Grading the special teams: C

The Buckeyes were a mixed bag in the kicking game, which isn't likely going to thrill a coach with Meyer's background and the emphasis he places on special teams. Ohio State remains one of the best in the country at covering kicks, and Cameron Johnston is a special talent as a punter. But the Buckeyes had problems fielding punts, at times lacked a spark returning kickoffs and suffered its only loss of the season at Penn State thanks in large part to having two kicks blocked late in the game. Even a feel-good story like walk-on kicker Tyler Durbin's emergence was overshadowed late thanks to some key misses in The Game against rival Michigan.

Grading the coaching: A

The Buckeyes obviously had some struggles with growing pains in the middle of the season, and the coaching staff certainly wasn't immune from criticism when the passing attack stalled in some key matchups. But Ohio State managed its youth expertly, came up with new motivational tactics and approaches to get the team focused after the loss at Penn State and also deserves credit for the work it has done on the recruiting trail -- both over the past few years and with what is shaping up to be a top-ranked class for 2017.

Player of the year: Pat Elflein

The Buckeyes have a veteran, record-setting quarterback, and they also have unleashed a do-it-all weapon who has racked up yardage and touchdown as both a rusher and receiver. But neither Barrett nor Samuel would likely be in position to accomplish what they have this season without Pat Elflein up front to anchor the offensive line. For starters, the senior starts every play as the nation's best center. But he's an invaluable leader in the locker room, he has brought along the youngsters starting alongside him in the trenches, he's a tireless worker, physical blocker -- and the most valuable player on Meyer's roster.