Despite losing a wealth of talent to the NFL, Ohio State is poised for another run at the Big Ten Championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff. Urban Meyer’s team returns only six starters, but elite recruiting has the Buckeyes’ roster stocked for a quick rebuild. J.T. Barrett is the unquestioned No. 1 quarterback and the lack of a controversy under center should allow the junior take full control of the offense. New co-coordinator Greg Schiano will keep the defense near the top of the Big Ten, and there’s no shortage of talent to work with, including standout linebacker Raekwon McMillan, ends Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard and cornerback Gareon Conley.
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Previewing Ohio State’s Offense
Not only did the Buckeyes lose the program’s No. 2 all-time rusher in Ezekiel Elliott, but Ohio State’s all-time leader in total offense — Braxton Miller — also is out the door. That’s a lot of production to attempt to replace, especially when you add in the fact that commodities such as wideout Michael Thomas, tight end Nick Vannett and All-America tackle Taylor Decker also are gone.
Fortunately for coach Urban Meyer, he still has a high-quality starting point in veteran quarterback J.T. Barrett. The offense soared late in the year with Barrett taking snaps and finding receivers, and he managed to produce 682 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in just 115 attempts on the ground, good for 5.9 per carry.
Still, the tasks now are to find reliable running options behind Barrett, reconstruct the offensive line and to begin polishing a corps of speedy wideouts who are not yet proven. Redshirt freshman Mike Weber is ready to emerge at running back, and H-back Curtis Samuel also should get a healthy dose of handoffs.
OSU’s best every-down receivers appear to be Noah Brown and Corey Smith, but both are coming off injuries that required surgery and were limited in the spring. Look out for youngsters K.J. Hill and Austin Mack, who add quickness and provide depth.
Up front, Pat Elflein is expected to shine at center after shifting from a guard spot, and the other returning starter, guard Billy Price, will continue to maul people. Jamarco Jones has emerged as the new left tackle, but the other spots are not yet nailed down.
Previewing Ohio State’s Defense
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Just like on offense, the Silver Bullets return only three starters but have an All-Big Ten anchor in middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan. The junior became a reliable commodity last season while racking up a team-high 119 tackles. He’s expected to be flanked by Dante Booker and Chris Worley, although young Jerome Baker is bucking for a role as well. The tackling ability, depth and potential of this group could develop into a major team strength.
The defensive line won’t be as dynamic with superstar end Joey Bosa and tackle Adolphus Washington now taking paychecks. But Sam Hubbard is an emerging star on the outside, and bookend Tyquan Lewis is coming off a breakthrough season. Also, position coach Larry Johnson can mix in Jalyn Holmes as a pass rusher and has many capable bodies to rotate inside.
Gareon Conley is the new top dog at corner, and it’s time for Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward to begin reaching their potential as cover men. Safety will have a new look with the successful Vonn Bell/Tyvis Powell combo departed, but Erick Smith could be the next standout on the back end.
Previewing Ohio State’s Specialists
Meyer doesn’t like to call for a lot of field goals and, of course, he’s not wild about punting, either. But Ohio State has veteran Sean Nuernberger to handle placements, while senior punter Cameron Johnston is one of the best in college football. The Buckeyes didn’t return a kick for a score for the first time in 13 years. They’d like to start a new streak with talents such as Samuel and Dontre Wilson on the move.
After the loss of 16 starters, the two-deep is now filled with players who were elite high school recruits a couple years ago, which means the clock is ticking on their development. Also, the schedule shows a brutal early road test against Oklahoma and is back-loaded, once again, with clashes against those schools from up north. It would be easy to label Ohio State a non-contender this fall, but the guy prowling the sideline and the vast amount of raw talent on hand suggest otherwise.