There was no denying that Ohio State would once again enter the 2018 season as the favorite to win the Big Ten, and a popular choice to return to the College Football Playoff. Despite losing seven players to the NFL, five of whom went in the first three rounds of the draft, they return talent and depth up and down the roster. Then it all hit the fan in Chicago.
Now the Buckeyes are awaiting the results of an investigation into what Urban Meyer knew, when he knew it, and why he did not do anything about it until last month. Rather than speculate on what may come down in the coming days, we are going to dive into what we do know about the defending conference champs.
Ohio State at a glance
|Head Coach||Urban Meyer (73-8, 177-31 overall), 7th Season|
|2017 Postseason||Cotton Bowl - Defeated USC 24-7|
|Biggest Losses||QB J.T. Barrett, C Billy Price, OT Jamarco Jones, DE Tyquan Lewis, LB Jerome Baker, DE Sam Hubbard|
|Biggest Returnees||RB J.K. Dobbins, WR Parris Campbell, OT Isaiah Prince, DE Nick Bosa, DT Dre'Mont Jones, LB Tuf Borland, CB Damon Arnette, S Jordan Fuller|
|Summary||J.T. Barrett is gone, but talent remains all across the roster, especially along the defensive line.|
|Matchup With PSU||The last two games have been classics, and a late-September matchup in Happy Valley is shaping up as more of the same. Expect another nailbiter in Beaver Stadium.|
For the first time since 2012, Ohio State enters a football season without J.T. Barrett on the roster. By the time he wrapped up his career in December with a Cotton Bowl victory against USC, Barrett owned an insane 25 program records. To say new starting quarterback Dwayne Haskins has big shoes to fill is a vast understatement. The former four-star prospect, and Penn State target, came on in relief of Barrett in last year's Michigan game, and made several big throws to clinch another victory against the Wolverines.
Haskins will have plenty of help, and it starts next to him in the backfield. Sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins is coming off a freshman season where all he did is carrying 194 times for 1,403 yards and seven scores. His backup, Mike Weber, added 626 yards on 101 carries and 10 touchdowns.
Those backs will line up behind an offensive line that must replace a pair of NFL Draft picks, but return talented upper classmen Isaiah Prince and Michal Jordan. The former will likely slide to the left side after playing right tackle in 2017, while the latter has been talked about as a potential replacement at center for Billy Price after spending last year at guard. Demetrius Knox appears to be the favorite to stay at right guard after starting there for the final eight games last season, but Brandon Bowen, who played the first six games before breaking his leg, will push for time as well.
Perhaps the biggest question surrounding the Buckeyes on the field is at receiver. Despite recruiting as much talent as anyone in the nation, the group has continually struggled to meet expectations. 2017's top-six receivers are back, and interim coach Bryan Hartline may be the spark the group needs. Parris Campbell is the star of the group, but Johnnie Dixon is a legitimate deep threat, while K.J. Hill led the team with 54 receptions. Tight end Marcus Baugh is gone, but Luke Farrell and freshman Jeremy Ruckert are capable replacements.
As has been the case since Meyer's arrival in Columbus, along with Larry Johnson, the Buckeyes' defensive line will be among the nation's best. Despite losing three ends to the NFL, talent and experience are still plentiful. Nick Bosa is the big name up front, but Chase Young is no slouch on the opposite end. Dre'Mont Jones would've been an early pick as well, but elected to return to anchor the interior. Davon Hamilton, and Jashon Cornell will be joined by blue-chippers Taron Vincent and Tommy Togai in the rotation.
Linebacker Tuf Borland was expected to miss significant time after suffering an Achilles injury, but appears to be well ahead of schedule and should return early in the year so long as he suffers no setbacks. Malik Harrison, Justin Hilliard, and Keandre Jones all return, but the most talented of the bunch might be sophomore Baron Browning.
If the line is the strength of the defense, the secondary is right behind them. Despite losing elite talent year after year, the Buckeyes just reload. Denzel Ward went No. 4 to Cleveland, but Damon Arnette and Kendal Sheffield saw lots of action last year. They are joined by a host of elite talent like Jeffrey Okudah, Amir Riep, and Marcus Williamson. Jordan Fuller, another former Nittany Lion recruiting target, returns as the next great Ohio State safety. He will likely be paired up with Isaiah Pryor, but there are several talented options if the sophomore struggles.
Both specialists are back, and among the best in the conference. Sean Nuerenburger was 17-for-21 on field goals in 2017, and punter Drue Christman averaged over 44 yards per kick. Hill seems likely to reprise his role as punt returner, although he was not much of a threat averaging just a tick over five yards per return, with none longer than 22 yards. Campbell was the primary threat on kickoffs last year, averaging over 36 yards per attempt. Weber and Hill each saw time here as well.
The Buckeyes certainly have the talent to return to Indianapolis and win a deep Big Ten East, but all of that is in doubt until the Meyer situation is resolved. The schedule does no favors either, with the early season trip to Happy Valley, as well a trip to Spartan Stadium in November. They do get arch rival Michigan at home, and avoid Wisconsin until a potential rematch in Indianapolis.
The Nittany Lions will almost certainly benefit from getting Ohio State early in the year. Not only will it be Haskin's first true road start (the Buckeyes face TCU in AT&T Stadium) in a rocking Beaver Stadium White Out, but the young secondary should still be figuring things out. Like a year ago, expect the difference to be whichever team wins the battle up front on each side of the ball. Blocked kicks have also played a huge part in the last two meetings.