Debate: Who is biggest challenger to Ohio State repeat?

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Ohio State is a near consensus No. 1 choice in each of the major polls. Which team is the biggest challenger to the Buckeyes' hopes of a national championship repeat?

  • Gil Brandt NFL.com
  • Three big reasons why USC could challenge OSU

Since 1950, when the first college football preseason poll was introduced, the team that was selected as No. 1 entering the season has won the national title 10 times, of which Oklahoma was the winner four times. Since 1986, we've had three teams that were picked No. 1 -- Florida State in 1993 and 1999, and USC in 2004 -- that finished on top. Over the past 10 years, the lowest ranked teams in the preseason that went on to win the national title were Auburn in 2010 (22nd entering the season) and Florida State in 2013 (11th entering the season).

So, you see it's rare for a preseason No. 1 to emerge as the champion months later. My choice for Ohio State's biggest challenger is USC, and there are three major reasons why. No. 1, the Trojans possess probably the best senior quarterback in college football in Cody Kessler, who has very good wide receivers to throw to. No. 2, USC has a really good offensive line, anchored by center Max Tuerk, who is a three-year starter and a leader of the team. No. 3, there's good depth on defense and the Trojans have one of the most outstanding athletes in college football, cornerback Adoree' Jackson, who can play on both sides of the ball.

USC has to play Arizona State, Notre Dame and Oregon on the road, but the Trojans have the skill players and defensive players to pull off big road wins. The only concern is due to the scholarship restrictions of the past (lifted in 2014), with the program having less players on scholarship than other top teams. One of the good things for USC, however, is that it played a couple of overmatched opponents to start the season, allowing for younger players to gain some valuable game experience before this weekend's big Pac-12 opener vs. Stanford.

It would be easy enough to go with Alabama, Baylor or some other national contender here, but there is no telling whether Ohio State will even play one of those teams. How about a team that the Buckeyes are certain to play: Michigan State (Nov. 21). The Spartans are coming off a huge win over Oregon, and they pose a more real threat to OSU's chances of repeating simply because they're certain to get a shot at them.

  • Charles Davis NFL.com
  • Michigan State appears to be on a mission

The Buckeyes' biggest challenger might very well be the team that is most familiar with them ... Michigan State.

If familiarity breeds contempt, multiply that by a factor of 100 when it comes to conference rivalries, and the Spartans' win over high-powered Oregon signals a team on a mission. Led by a big-time QB (Connor Cook), Michigan State plays with a passion, a toughness and an intelligence that makes them a difficult out each week. Hard-nosed on both sides of the ball, and led by head coach Mark Dantonio, the Spartans have a keen sense of self, and have totally shed the past derisive moniker of "SOS" (Same old Spartans). These warriors are taking dead aim at Ohio State.

  • Chad Reuter NFL.com
  • Alabama poses greatest threat

With all due respect to Michigan State, I believe the team with the best chance to upend the Buckeyes is the Crimson Tide of Alabama. If the Spartans were hosting Urban Meyer's crew in their de facto Big Ten title clash, I'd consider Mark Dantonio's team the favorite to knock off the favorites. But assuming Ohio State wins a hard-fought contest in the Horseshoe, and that the College Football Playoff Selection Committee won't vote in two Big Ten teams, it will fall on Nick Saban's stout defense and outstanding rushing attack to slow down OSU's playmakers on both sides of the ball. I still expect Ohio State to repeat as champions, but Alabama could keep a playoff semifinal or final a relatively low-scoring affair that can turn on a late turnover or missed opportunity.

Follow College Football 24/7 on Twitter @NFL_CFB.

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