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Defending champion Ohio State will have a tough time repeating

Defending champion Ohio State will have a tough time repeating
Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer and his team celebrate after a 59-0 win against Wisconsin in the 2014 Big Ten championship game on Dec. 6 at Lucas Oil Stadium. (Sam Riche / Tribune News Service)

The Times' annual college football countdown continues its march toward No. 1 with the pick for No. 2.

My fingers tried typing No. 1 next to Ohio State but locked up with what digit doctors now think was a case of Carpel Title Syndrome.

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It was just too difficult, and obvious, for me, to hang it all on "Sloopy."

This countdown, established pre-Bowl Championship Series in the mid-1990s, has a proud history of going cheese grater against conventional wisdom. This is the voice-clearing house that picked North Carolina to No. 1 in 1997, only to watch the Tar Heels finish 11-1 and No. 4.

That season earned Mack Brown the head coaching job at Texas. The next year, when I saw Mack in Austin, he apologized for failing to make my North Carolina prediction come true.

"You were right, Chris," he said. "All we had to do was beat Florida State at home."

Boise State as preseason No. 1 in 2010 …?

That was me, as was Stanford at No. 1 in 2013.

No one disputes the logic behind Ohio State becoming the first unanimous preseason No.1 in the history of the Associated Press media poll.

It was not bragging for defensive end, Adolphus Washington, to suggest the season "could be something special and could go down as one of the best in history."

Ohio State has so many A-list quarterbacks it asked Braxton Miller, a two-time Big Ten player of the year at that position, to move over to wide receiver.

That's like asking Louis Armstrong to move over to tuba.

Here's another fact, though, about trying to repeat as champions when everyone has you pegged at No.1 … it's hard.

Only two teams in the history of the AP preseason poll, Florida State in 1993 and USC in 2004, have gone wire to wire as No. 1.

The last seven schools to open No. 1 have finished fifth, seventh, not ranked (USC in 2012), No. 16, No. 10, third and No. 13.

The dynamics are different when teams are gunning for you from Day 1.

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Ohio State played completely under the radar last season, written off after an early home loss to Virginia Tech. The Buckeyes were not in playoff contention, it seemed, until they routed Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game.

Ohio State won the national title only because of the four-team playoff and the selection committee's brave (but not brain-dead) decision to jump Columbus over Baylor and Texas Christian.

Last year, there was no controversy at quarterback because the promotions were necessitated by injuries, with J.T. Barrett replacing the injured Miller, and Cardale Jones replacing the injured Barrett.

This year all three are back, and healthy. Miller has switched positions while the loser of the Barrett-Jones battle is either going to be last year's Big Ten freshman of the year, or the quarterback who won the national title.

Ohio State is vulnerable (in theory) because it opens next Monday in Blacksburg, Va., with four suspended players against Virginia Tech, which won last year in Columbus, Ohio.

One of the suspended is defensive star Joey Bosa, and the three others are receivers or H-backs. The team is already thin at receiver with the loss of Devin Smith and Evan Spencer to the NFL, and last week lost talented Noah Brown to a broken leg.

The Big Ten East Division is tougher now with the arrival of Jim Harbaugh at Michigan, and Michigan State is itching to avenge last year's home loss to Ohio State.

Working in the Buckeyes' favor is Urban Meyer, who has supplanted Nick Saban as the nation's best coach. Meyer, though, isn't perfect in handling championship follow-ups. His 2007 Florida team, with Tim Tebow, finished 9-4 a year after winning the BCS in 2006.

The higher you are, sometimes, the harder you fall.

"We created a monster," Meyer said about this year's expectations. "You've got to feed it…"

Top 25 so far: 25. Michigan; 24. Nebraska; 23. Utah; 22. Missouri; 21. Arkansas; 20. Tennessee. 19. Boise State; 18. Oklahoma; 17. Notre Dame; 16. Wisconsin; 15. Georgia Tech; 14. UCLA; 13. Arizona; 12. Florida State; 11. Arizona State; 10. Georgia; 9. USC.; 8. Auburn; 7. Clemson. 6. Baylor. 5. Michigan State. 4. Oregon. 3. Alabama.

Follow Chris Dufresne on Twitter @DufresneLATimes

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