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Ohio State Football: 2021 Buckeyes Season Preview and Prediction

Zach Harrison, Ohio State Buckeyes Football

Zach Harrison, Ohio State Buckeyes Football

There's no way around it: Ohio State's unsettled quarterback situation is one of the most intriguing storylines as we plunge into a highly anticipated college football season. All that is apparent so far is that Justin Fields has left a cloud of uncertainty at the position, and head coach Ryan Day eventually will point in the direction of a freshman. Redshirts C.J. Stroud and Jack Miller III have obvious talent, but neither threw a single pass in limited mop-up duty last year. The other candidate is true freshman Kyle McCord, a five-star recruit and three-time state champion who enrolled in January.

But high school trophies aren't going to win the job in Columbus. What will win it: leadership, comfort with the offense and feel for the game.

"I think anticipating what's going on on defense as opposed to reacting is the key to quarterback play," says Day, a former QB himself.

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2021

Previewing Ohio State's Offense for 2021 

Fields completed better than 70 percent of his passes last year and averaged a healthy 9.3 yards per attempt — numbers that aren't likely to be replicated in 2021 no matter who is behind center. Still, Day won't be afraid to spread the ball around this fall.

All success starts up front, and OSU is blessed with two of the best edge blockers in the country in tackles Thayer Munford and Nicholas Petit-Frere. Center Josh Myers and All-America guard Wyatt Davis will be missed, but the Buckeyes still have some quality people-movers inside, including Paris Johnson Jr.

Running back is a loaded stable with Master Teague III at the forefront, and as many as five others who have the goods to contribute, including bullish Miyan Williams and highly regarded true freshmen TreVeyon Henderson and Evan Pryor.

And RBs coach Tony Alford isn't the only assistant with an embarrassment of riches at his disposal. Coach Brian Hartline gets to walk into a wide receivers room with Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Julian Fleming, Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and several other playmakers on hand. Wilson can play in the slot and also operates well on the outside, as evidenced by his 16.8 yards per catch last season. Olave is another big-play receiver who has a knack for impacting OSU's most important games. Tight end also is in good shape with Jeremy Ruckert poised for a productive year.

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Previewing Ohio State's Defense for 2021 

In 2020, the Buckeyes got career years from Haskell Garrett, Tommy Togiai and co-captain Jonathon Cooper, but the latter two are now gone. Garrett is a true standout at the 3-technique position and an anchor on the interior. The Buckeyes need a reliable disruptor on the outside to go with him, and there are several candidates, including Tyreke Smith, Zach Harrison and possibly even true freshman Jack Sawyer.

Ohio State's secondary was exposed in several games last year, but the defense still allowed only 97.6 rushing yards per game and 3.4 per rushing attempt. With starting linebackers Baron Browning, Tuf Borland and Pete Werner all having moved on, it's questionable whether the middle of the unit can flourish again. As the spring session unfolded, K'Vaughan Pope appeared to have a slight edge at strongside linebacker over the rangy Craig Young. LBs coach Al Washington believes Dallas Gant is a natural inside, and he also likes the athleticism of OLB Teradja Mitchell.

Sevyn Banks clearly struggled in the national championship tussle with Alabama, but he still has a chance to be OSU's next premier corner. Cameron Brown is expected to be recovered from a torn Achilles and man the field corner spot opposite Banks, but defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs — credited with developing star cover men such as Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward — will need to have supporting cast members ready to go. At safety, Josh Proctor is omnipresent and smacks ball carriers when he arrives. Marcus Williamson can defend slot receivers and also play a traditional free safety.

Previewing Ohio State's Specialists for 2021 

It's difficult to know if this group can provide any sizzle. Freshmen Jake Seibert and Jesse Mirco take over at placekicker and punter, respectively, while Dominic DiMaccio is likely to continue kicking off. Wilson returns punts, and Demario McCall, back for a sixth year, could return kickoffs again, but he averaged just 15.6 yards per runback in 2020. Perhaps Henderson, who can blast 100 yards in under 11 seconds, will get a shot.

Final Analysis

Whoever inherits the keys to the offense will benefit from the presence of sturdy pass protectors, weapons in all directions and an extremely QB-friendly head coach. Still, there will be pressures and competition lurking all season. Plus, the Buckeyes have some early landmines to dodge with a season-opening tester at Minnesota and a follow-up contest with Oregon. The regular-season schedule could become more manageable as key performers settle in, and it ends with a home date with Michigan State and a battle with the other School Up North. How well the Buckeyes navigate their slate and flirt with a return to the College Football Playoff will depend on the cohesion of the defense, solving the mystery of special teams and a return to offensive efficiency.

National Ranking: 4

Podcast: Top 25 Breakdown and Predictions