Ohio State Football Faces Challenge That Stumped Kentucky Hoops

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Duke basketball’s run to the basketball national championship shares similarities with that of Ohio State football in the past season. Both hit some early bumps — Duke in losses to NC State and Miami, Ohio State with its dismal showing against Virginia Tech — but each turned it on in the postseason, emphatically beating quality opponents on the way to the title.

You could even call Grayson Allen the Cardale Jones of the NCAA Tournament — or maybe Cardale Jones the Grayson Allen of the College Football Playoff. Either way, both emerged from sideline obscurity to be catalysts of their teams’ championships.

As Ohio State football readies for the 2015 season and defense of its national championship, the Buckeyes are more comparable to another team from the 2015 Final Four: the Kentucky Wildcats.

In much the same fashion Kentucky basketball had been in the 2013-’14 season, the 2014 incarnation of Ohio State football was left for dead early, only to rebound for a run to the national championship game.

Kentucky was unable to complete its surprise title chase in 2014, but went into the subsequent offseason loaded with returning talent and bringing in an influx of star newcomers. The Wildcats were trumpeted for months as not just the undisputed No. 1, but arguably one of the best teams in college basketball history.

And it was deserved. The 2014-’15 Kentucky basketball team will go down as the only 38-0 in college basketball history. However, the chapter of history Kentucky sought to write as the sport’s first unbeaten since 1976 eluded it.

Assuredly, there isn’t one player or coach in Lexington who wouldn’t trade all the preseason praise, the wire-to-almost-wire top ranking and historic 38-0 spell for that national championship.

Ohio State football faces its own, similar challenge in the coming football season.

Make no mistake: Ohio State is the undisputed top team entering 2015, and not just because the Buckeyes wear the crown. Barring mass injury or some other unfortunate circumstances, the Buckeyes not being selected a unanimous No. 1 in the initial polls would be egregious.

Jones was star of the Ohio State’s best three-game stretch of the season, if not the best three-game stretch in program history (hyperbole? Maybe. Maybe not.). And yet, he may not be the best quarterback on the team’s roster.

With J.T. Barrett back in the fold, Meyer just might have the two most worthy preseason Heisman candidate quarterbacks in the nation. Add running back Ezekiel Elliott, who ran circles around (and through) Wisconsin, Alabama and Oregon, and Ohio State’s backfield may well be the most exciting since Heisman winners Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush shared one at USC last decade.

Of course, this is the 10-year anniversary of the Bush-Leinart-led Trojans falling one stop shy of the national championship. If 2015 Ohio State football is taking cues from Kentucky basketball, the Buckeyes are also learning from the shortcomings of that USC squad.

Maybe if Vince Young had tried running on fourth down against Joey Bosa, the result would have been different. Then again, maybe if Andrew Harrison is checking Tyus Jones or Justise Winslow is trying to get into the paint against Willie Cauley-Stein, the college basketball championship goes differently.

No matter how significant a team’s talent edge, or its bumps in the road on the way to its destination, it still has to finish.