Despite a three-point loss at Penn State on Oct. 22 that denied Ohio State the Big Ten East Division, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer was able to keep his coaches and players focused on reaching the College Football Playoff. Ranked third heading into a Fiesta Bowl matchup against Clemson on New Year's Eve, the Buckeyes are ready to win their second national championship in three seasons of the playoff era.
Performances by quarterback J.T. Barrett, H-back Curtis Samuel, and many other newcomers are the reason why Ohio State can truly claim that the 2016 season was merely a reloading, and not a rebuild, after losing so many players from its talented '15 squad. While the 2015 team may have had more talent, the 2016 team is ready to achieve something that eluded its predecessor
Offensive MVP: Curtis Samuel, H-Back
Cited repeatedly by Urban Meyer as the most explosive player on the Ohio State roster, Samuel's versatility as a runner/receiver/punt returner is a crucial reason why the Buckeyes are bound for the College Football Playoff.
Defensive MVP: Malik Hooker, Safety
A redshirt sophomore, Hooker has made acrobatic interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns throughout the entire 2016 season.
Best Freshman: Michael Jordan, Offensive Lineman
With a team comprised of primarily freshmen or redshirt freshmen, this is a difficult selection, but Jordan gets the nod, having started on the offensive line from the first snap of the 2016 season.
Best Play Of The Season: Curtis Samuel's Run On 3rd-and-9 vs. Michigan
A screen play from J.T. Barrett to Samuel looked like a doomed play at the onset. Without Samuel's creativity, it is entirely possible Ohio State does not win that game against Michigan, and does not make the playoff.
Best Performance: Malik Hooker vs. Bowling Green
As stated up above, Hooker's flair for the dramatic was demonstrated in the season opener. The first interception showed the first glimpses of Hooker's athleticism, the second pick showcased Hooker's ability to weave through traffic with the ball in his hands.
Best Game: Ohio State 30, Michigan 27 in 2OT
Ohio State rallied from a 17-7 deficit to tie it up and force overtime against "That Team Up North". Back and forth it went, until Curtis Samuel scored on this dramatic touchdown run in the second overtime period.
Defining Moment: Ohio State's Road Win at Oklahoma
Ohio State won its first two games of the season against Bowling Green and Tulsa, but the 45-24 dominating win at Oklahoma in week three was the springboard for the Buckeyes to serve notice to the college football world that this was a young team that was a worthy playoff contender.
Biggest Surprise: Mike Weber, Running Back
Weber redshirted in 2015 due to a knee injury sustained during fall camp. With the departure of Ezekiel Elliott to the NFL, Weber was expected to emerge as the starting tailback, and he delivered with a 2016 campaign that featured 1,072 yards on the ground and nine rushing touchdowns.
Biggest Disappointment: Ohio State's Downfield Passing Game
Ohio State has a roster full of wide receivers who were heavily recruited by just about every major college football program around the country, but the Buckeyes were not able to consistently throw the ball this season.
Senior That Will Be Missed the Most Next Season: Pat Elflein, Center
Playing at a critical position, Elflein moved to center from guard for the 2016 season and is a finalist for the Rimington Trophy, which is awarded to the best pivot in college football. No matter which player emerges at center in 2017, Elflein's consistency and leadership will be difficult to replace.
Player To Watch In 2017: Jordan Fuller, Safety
One of the highest-rated recruits in Ohio State's 2016 class, Fuller has played primarily in spot duty and on special teams as a true freshman. He could emerge as a starter in the secondary next season, especially if some of the defensive backs declare early for the 2017 NFL Draft.
Biggest Offseason Question Mark: Linebacker
The aforementioned secondary may wind up as the position group to keep an eye out for after the season concludes, but Raekwon McMillan and Chris Worley are both projected to declare for the 2017 NFL Draft. Jerome Baker will return at one of the outside linebacker positions, but the Buckeyes will need two players to emerge at this critical defensive position.
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.