Fifteen preseason All-Big Ten picks, eight preseason All-Americans and at least two Heisman contenders. It's going to be hard for any team to compete with the volume of talent Ohio State brings to the field in 2015. There are a few numbers surfacing this week that the Buckeyes' biggest threats might have to exploit in an effort to keep Ohio State from repeating as Big Ten champs.
Michigan State and Wisconsin are the two schools best positioned to knock the Buckeyes off course. According to a couple college football number crunchers, their path to closing the talent gap is through experience and home field advantage, respectively.
The Spartans will be the most experienced team in the conference this season, according to a five-part metric concocted by Phil Steele for his annual preview magazine. The formula includes offensive line starts, percentage of tackles and yardages returning from 2014, percentage of lettermen returning and the number of upperclassmen in each team's projected two-deep depth chart. Michigan State ranks 27th overall in Steele's lists, which is only a slight edge on Ohio State, who comes in second in the league and 30th overall.
The gap might be a little larger if not for Michigan State losing more than 40 percent of their offensive production from last season thanks in large part to Tony Lippett and Jeremy Langford moving on. Ohio State, on the opposite end of the spectrum, returns players responsible for 87.5 percent of its yardage from its national championship season. Sparty's advantage comes on the offensive line, where they return a combined 90 career starts and a couple All-American candidates in Jack Allen and Jack Conklin.
The Buckeyes are younger -- built on ready-to-play talent rather than a carefully-crafted roster of upperclassmen. Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio believes this year's senior class might be his best ever, but says they still needed a few years to properly age.
"This senior class, when we recruited them, as we saw them mature into their redshirt year, the statement was made by a lot of our coaches that they may be the most talented class we've recruited,'' Dantonio said back in February. "That's a positive for the near future, but you don't get where you want to go unless you have your best year as a football player your senior year and unless you have great leadership as well.''
Wisconsin's ace in the hole is home-field advantage, according to the crew at PredictionMachine.com. They used a formula of their own to calculate which stadiums gave their tenants the biggest edge in college football. Camp Randall ranked second in the nation behind only the Mean Green of North Texas.
The Badgers didn't lose a game at home last season and haven't lost to a non-conference opponent in Madison since 2006. Their stadium is often anecdotally considered one of the tougher places to play on the road, and the numbers seems to back that up. Part of the equation looks at the difference between a team's record on the road and at home, which obviously hurts teams that consistently win most of their games no matter where they're playing. That may have something to do with Ohio State's Horseshoe ranking 84th on this list.
Of course, Wisconsin wouldn't get to use that home-field advantage in a head-to-head matchup with the Buckeyes. They won't cross paths this year unless both teams reach the Big Ten title game in Indianapolis. A leg up from the home crowd could help the Badgers get there, though, in what should be another tightly-contested year in the West.
Michigan State gets its crack at the champs during the second-to-last week of the season. Will its edge in experience be any sort of a factor that late in the year? We'll see.
These distinctions might seem small, but most programs will take any small edge they can get when trying to take down the still-rising juggernaut in Columbus this year.