July 4 is in the rearview mirror, and that can only mean one thing: The return of football grows nearer.
One of the best ways to pass the time before teams start taking the gridiron again is to read college football previews.
We already dug into Phil Steele’s annual, but now another of our favorites is out: Bill Connelly’s advanced stats-based SBNation previews of every team in the FBS.
Here are five takeaways from the Ohio State version:
1. Ohio State is projected to be the best team in the country.
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Might as well cut to the chase, right?
Besides, Buckeye fans (like everyone else) are more likely to keep reading if they know there’s a happy ending.
The overall ranking, S&P+, has Ohio State projected ahead of defending national champion Alabama (and everyone else) thanks to the No. 2 offense in the country and the No. 10 defense.
How bad could things be if they’re supposed to end up No. 1?
There are some potential bumps in the road, but…
2. The Buckeyes have at least a 60-percent chance of winning every week (except when they are not playing).
Connelly projects win probability for every game, and that brings more good news for OSU: The Buckeyes have at least a 90-percent chance in seven of their games.
Michigan is supposed to be loaded in Jim Harbaugh’s fourth season, but Ohio State has a 74-percent chance to win that game.
What are the biggest challenges?
They’ll come on the road against Penn State (60 percent) and Michigan State (65 percent).
These numbers are more optimistic than Vegas oddsmakers who set Ohio State’s over/under wins total at 9.5. SBN sees the Buckeyes winning 10 games by double digits.
3. Would you rather be efficient or explosive?
The rankings come down to a combination of the measure of those two things.
(Think of S&P+ like OPS in baseball, measuring walks and singles along with extra-base hits separately then putting them together for a final number.)
Some teams win because they get it done play to play while others do more of their damage in chunks and dare you to keep up.
Either will work, but of course being good at both is preferable.
Ohio State’s offense was extremely efficient last season with J.T. Barrett at quarterback. Big plays were less a feature of the attack, especially on passing downs, though they were far from absent.
Barrett, of course, was a major factor in both cases, because he was an efficient runner and inconsistent passer.
>>RELATED: The top 10 Ohio State quarterbacks ever
With drop-back passer Dwayne Haskins Jr. expected to replace Barrett at quarterback, Ohio State might be less efficient because Urban Meyer can’t just plunge his quarterback into the line on every third-and-1, but Haskins’ arm strength could lead to more explosive gains.
That may show up most on passing downs when the windows to throw are smaller and extra zip on the fastball can really come in handy.
4. Urban Meyer might want to work on his halftime speeches.
Most coaches will tell you halftime adjustments are at least somewhat mythical, but the numbers show the Buckeyes were better on both sides of the ball before intermission last season.
The offense was fourth in the country in the first and second quarters but dropped to 12th and 10th, respectively in the fourth (so not bad, mind you, but still not as good).
The difference was larger for the defense, but it was also confined to the third quarter. The Silver Bullets were fourth in the country in defensive S&P+ in the first and second quarters and fifth in the fourth quarter but only 21st in the third.
5. There’s an obvious way the defense could be even better than last season.
Ohio State had the No. 8 defense in the country last season according to S&P+, and that started close to the line of scrimmage.
The front four was as dominant to the numbers as it was to the eye, ranking first in the nation in “havoc rate” (a proprietary state measuring the percentage of plays in which a team either recorded a tackle for loss, forced a fumble, or defended a pass) from a defensive line.
The linebackers, though, checked in No. 77 in the same category, so getting more disruptive plays from that unit (which will have at least two new starters) could provide a lift.
The secondary (also two new starters) ranked 24th in havoc rate, so there is room for improvement there, too.
Of course that defensive line lost some notable players, but the cupboard is far from bare as All-American defensive end Nick Bosa headlines what should be another formidable front.