Monday, Apr 23, 2018
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Pundits love Buckeyes, Irish, but don't bet on them yet

College football folks throughout the country are busy polishing their shoes and dusting off the blocking sleds. The start of two-a-day practices are just around the corner.

But the national magazines aren't waiting for college football's heavyweight contenders - Ohio State and Notre Dame - to buckle up their chin straps and slip on their shoulder pads for preseason drills.

The pundits already have dissected the strengths and weaknesses of the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish, as well as the other Division I schools.

Ohio State and Notre Dame met just six months ago in the desert at the Fiesta Bowl. And Jim Tressel and Troy Smith and the Buckeyes scored a pretty easy knockout against Charlie Weis, baby-faced Brady Quinn, and the Fighting Irish.

The same two powerhouse programs are fighting it out again in preseason polls conducted by five major publications, and dreaming of a possible rematch for a national championship Jan. 8.

Street & Smith's and CBS Sportsline have the Buckeyes ranked No. 1, The Sporting News and Lindy's handed Notre Dame the top spot. Athlon cast its vote for Oklahoma.

Ohio State was picked No. 2 by two of the publications and No. 4 by another. Notre Dame was No. 2 in one and No. 4 in two others.

Michigan, coming off a disappointing 7-5 season a year ago and unranked in the final polls for the first time since 1984, is slotted as high as No. 12 in the Street & Smith's poll and as low as No. 19 by CBS Sportsline.

There's no question, the Buckeyes and Irish have star-studded offenses. Smith, 13-2 as a starter, is a darkhorse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He is coming off a sensational junior year in which he accounted for 2,893 yards offense and 27 touchdowns.

Tailback Antonio Pittman had a breakout season a year ago with 1,331 yards and seven touchdowns, but he will be pushed by freshman Chris Wells. And receivers Ted Ginn Jr. and Anthony Gonzalez give the Buckeyes two fast and sure-handed wideouts.

The Irish have Quinn, a Heisman frontrunner; Jeff Samardzija, a talented receiver and minor league pitcher; Darius Walker, a top-notch tailback, and Tom Zbikowski, an intimidating safety who doubles as a professional boxer.

Defensively, the Buckeyes have gaping holes to fill if they intend to challenge for their second national title under Tressel.

It will be a tall order indeed.

Ohio State's defense was gutted, losing nine starters, including the entire secondary - safeties Nate Salley and Donte Whitner and cornerbacks Ashton Youboty and Tyler Everett - and all three linebackers - A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Anthony Schlegel.

The Buckeyes also must find replacements for their leading receiver (Santonio Holmes), top two offensive linemen (center Nick Mangold and guard Rob Sims), and kicker (Josh Huston).

Ohio State will get tested early, with a road game at Texas the second week of the season. Two weeks later, the Buckeyes have back-to-back games against Penn State and Iowa, two Top 25 teams.

Notre Dame's schedule is no picnic, either. It includes Georgia Tech, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State, UCLA, and Southern Cal.

There are plenty of national championship contenders besides Ohio State and Notre Dame. Don't dismiss defending champion Texas, runner-up USC, West Virginia, LSU, Auburn, or Florida.

Those teams aren't tackling dummies.

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