2020 Season Preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

By Nick Polak on September 29, 2020 at 8:00 am
Sep 7, 2019; Columbus, OH, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback Justin Fields (1) drops to throw during the second quarter against the Cincinnati Bearcats at Ohio Stadium.
Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports
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Perhaps one of the strangest football things set to happen in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is a week two matchup between Penn State and Ohio State. These two have provided the game of the year in the Big Ten in at least three of the past four years, not to mention that the Lions are one of only two conference opponents to consistently give the Buckeyes competition this decade (#BoilerUp).

Yet, instead of a typical mid-to-late season date between the two Big Ten East powers, we'll see them face off just one week removed from the opener. While the Buckeyes will once again be breaking in a bunch of new starters, that's par for the course for Ryan Day's squad at this point. One thing Ohio State will never be short on is talent.

Ohio State at a Glance

Head Coach Ryan Day (3rd season; 16-1 overall, all with Ohio State)
2019 Record 13-1, 10-0 (1st in Big Ten East)
2019 Postseason College Football Playoff Semi-Final, Fiesta Bowl (29-23 loss to Clemson)
Biggest Losses RB JK Dobbins, WR KJ Hill, WR Binjimen Victor, OG Jonah Jackson, OT Branden Bowen, DL Chase Young, DL DaVon Hamilton, DL Jashon Cornell, DL Robert Landers, LB Malik Harrison, CB Jeff Okudah, CB Damon Arnette, S Jordan Fuller
Biggest Returnees QB Justin Fields, RB Master Teague, ATH Demario McCall, WR Chris Olave, WR Garrett Wilson, TE Luke Farrell, TE Jeremy Ruckert, OL Thayer Munford, OL Wyatt Davis, OL Josh Myers, DL Jonathon Cooper, DL Tyreke Smith, DL Zach Harrison, DL Tommy Togiai, LB Pete Werner, LB Baron Browning, LB Tuf Borland, CB Shaun Wade
Summary The amount of talent returning says it all. There are some legitimate questions to answer about the roster, though, and this team definitely appears to be a step below the 2019 squad. However, having Justin Fields back for his second year in the program should cover up most, if not all, blemishes.
Matchup with PSU The 2020 season may present Penn State's best chance on paper to defeat the Buckeyes since 2017. At the very least, this is setting up to once again be the most entertaining Big Ten game of the season.

Offense

I'm not going to sit here and tell you that it will be all roses and dandelions for the Ohio State offense. Gone is All-Big Ten performer JK Dobbins. Gone are All-Big Ten offensive linemen Jonah Jackson and Branden Bowen. Gone are upperclassmen receiving options KJ Hill, Binjimen Victor, and Austin Mack. Those losses will be tough to overcome.

Of course, overcoming losses like those is a lot easier when you have Justin Fields. The Heisman Trophy finalist from a year ago returns for his second (and presumably final) season at the helm for the Buckeyes and is more than talented to help cover up any growing pains Ryan Day's offense might experience breaking in some new starters.

But he doesn't have to do it alone. The aforementioned trio of Hill, Victor, and Mack is gone, but Garrett Wilson is back after a strong freshman campaign, as well as the smooth and nearly unguardable Chris Olave. Oh, and remember Julian Fleming? Yeah, it won't take too long for him to find the starting lineup.

The biggest challenge this offense takes on might be getting the running game going. "Challenge" is a relative word in this case, but Dobbins was one of the best to ever come out of the backfield for the Bucks. Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon and Master Teague are set to split carries, though it will be slightly tougher sledding without Jackson and Bowen upfront. Still, potential first-round pick Wyatt Davis returns, along with Thayer Munford and Josh Myers, to help pave the way.

defense

Oh no, Ohio State lost another all-world defensive end to the NFL. Whatever will they do?!?

Did I forget to use the sarcasm font? Yes, Chase Young is gone, but this is the Ohio State defensive line. They will never be short on elite pass-rushers. This time, it will be a combination of Tyreke Smith and Zach Harrison off the edge (painfully, both former recruiting targets that strongly considered Penn State). The fun doesn't stop there though, as upperclassmen Jonathon Cooper and Tommy Togiai will be ready to feast on the interior of opposing offensive lines.

The rest of the defense actually will have its work cut out for it replacing stars from 2019. In the linebacking corps., Malik Harrison leaves a big hole. Former five-star Baron Browning has the pedigree but hasn't quite put it altogether on the field just yet. Tuf Borland is a similar story, though a move to the middle should help. Senior Pete Werner could also be in for a big year.

In the secondary, gone are Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, and Jordan Fuller. However, Shaun Wade is back to make sure there is still a first-round talent patrolling the boundary for the Buckeyes. Honestly, the biggest drop off for any position on this roster might come at safety, where Fuller had been so reliable for what seemed like the last 15 years.

Special teams

No shakeups here. Drue Chrisman is back to punt, Blake Haubeil is back to kick, and Demario McCall is back to return. Perhaps the most shocking thing I learned while writing this piece though, is that McCall is a redshirt senior. Perhaps it's because his breakout never really materialized, but you could have told me he was a redshirt sophomore and I'd have believed you.

2020 outlook

There are some big names to replace, particularly on the defensive side of the ball where they lose four All-Big Ten first-teamers (Young, Harrison, Fuller, Okudah), a second-teamer (Arnette), and a third-teamer (Hamilton). And yes, this season will be a much tougher test for head coach Ryan Day given how loaded the 2019 roster was. Still, this roster is burgeoning with talent, and in Justin Fields, they have the only man with a true argument against Clemson's Trevor Lawrence for the title of the country's passer.

In the end, this Ohio State team will go however far the defense can take it. Fields, his talented young wideouts, and strong-enough-looking backfield should be able to outscore most teams, but when they come up against the Nittany Lions in week two, the game will likely be decided while Penn State has the ball. If Kerry Coombs' defense can weather their losses from the 2019 roster, they'll be in great shape to make another title run. If not, they could shockingly find themselves on the outside looking in come playoff time.

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