Ohio State's Damon Webb (7) and teammates celebrate following an interception during the second half of the Big Ten championship game last year.
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Ohio State won’t have its head coach for the first three games, but the season-long outlook for the Buckeyes is unchanged. They’re as talented as anyone in the country and have visions of the College Football Playoff.
However, as any championship season reveals, luck is part of the equation. Here is what Ohio State needs to fall its way:
1) Get through Week 3 undefeated. Oregon State and Rutgers don’t present much resistance the first two weeks of the season. But Sept. 15 features a neutral site game against TCU in Arlington, Texas, which will essentially be a TCU home game. It’s Ryan Day’s first rodeo away from Columbus and Dwayne Haskins will face a nasty defense outside Ohio Stadium.
2) Haskins must be dynamic. With the departure of J.T. Barrett (and Joe Burrow), this is officially Haskins’ team. Yes, Ohio State has a great defense. Still, the Buckeyes need Haskins to deliver the goods. He needs to limit mistakes and add a passing element that went missing in recent seasons. Haskins could provide OSU with what Jones did during the 2014 playoff run.
3) Win the Big Ten East. Ohio State and Alabama made the playoff the past two seasons without winning the conference championship game. However, it’d be wise to not push your luck. The Big Ten East is without question the best division in college football. An undefeated or one-loss OSU will not miss the playoff if it wins the division and the conference title game.
4) Stay healthy. Obviously, the Buckeyes will do their best to avoid injuries. But that’s not how it works. You’re often at the mercy of luck and freak accidents. OSU has been better than most at replacing injured players — Barrett quickly made people forget about Braxton Miller, Cardale Jones won the national championship when Barrett went down, and Haskins led a comeback at Michigan last season in Barrett’s absence. That may not happen if Tate Martell is thrust into playing, and staying healthy is always paramount for the offensive and defensive lines.
5) Avoid a letdown. This is what cost Ohio State last season. Coming off a thrilling victory over Penn State, the Buckeyes walked into a buzzsaw at Iowa, which ultimately eliminated them from playoff contention. The Buckeyes host Indiana the week after Penn State this season. A road trip at Purdue is another game that could trip up OSU if it isn’t focused.
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