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Ohio State Football: Can the Buckeyes Return to the National Championship Game in 2021?

Ohio State Football: Can the Buckeyes Return to the National Championship Game in 2021?

Ohio State Football: Can the Buckeyes Return to the National Championship Game in 2021?

Ohio State lost to Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship on Monday, concluding a 2020 campaign full of challenges. With a season that was originally canceled, then restarted in late October, the loss to the Crimson Tide will always be remembered as one of the many obstacles the team endured as they reflect upon 2020 with all of its shares of coronavirus-related challenges.

While getting to the national title game was a remarkable achievement for Ohio State, the realities of what confronts head coach Ryan Day and the program looking ahead to the 2021 season are considerable. The Buckeyes' have a talent-laden roster, as evidenced by their two playoff games, but several players are or will be expected to move on to the NFL. This roster turnover could dramatically impact the Buckeyes' quest to get back to the playoff and make another run at a national title when things kick off this fall.

Offense

Key Returnees

RB Master Teague III

WR Chris Olave

WR Garrett Wilson
OL Harry Miller
OT Nicholas Petit-Frere
OT Paris Johnson

Key Departures (Expected)

QB Justin Fields
RB Trey Sermon
TE Luke Farrell
OT Thayer Munford
C Josh Myers
G Wyatt Davis

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Defense

Key Returnees

DE Zach Harrison
DB Marcus Williamson
CB Sevyn Banks
CB Cameron Brown
S Josh Proctor
S Marcus Hooker
S Lathan Ransom

Key Departures (Expected)

DE Jonathon Cooper
DT Haskell Garrett
DT Tommy Togiai
LB Tuf Borland
LB Baron Browning
LB Pete Werner
LB Justin Hilliard
CB Shaun Wade

Three Offseason Storylines to Watch

1. Who is next at quarterback?
As noted earlier, Justin Fields is largely expected to declare for the 2021 NFL Draft. Fields will be departing Ohio State with ample records, and the burden of replacing him as the starting quarterback will fall to three players – C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller, and Kyle McCord – barring the addition of a graduate transfer. Stroud and Miller were true freshmen this season and had few opportunities to play, while McCord is enrolling early and expected to participate in spring practice. No matter which player wins the starting job, Ohio State is going to trot out a quarterback who has never thrown a pass in college football.

2. The offensive line will be revamped
Harry Miller will return but is a likely candidate to move over from left guard to center. Nicholas Petit-Frere will return at right tackle. Losing dependable Thayer Munford at left tackle will hurt, but Paris Johnson was considered the top offensive line recruit in the 2020 recruiting class and will get a chance to fill in at the crucial spot. Matthew Jones substituted at left guard for Miller when he was unable to play versus Clemson in the Sugar Bowl and could get the nod there. Dawand Jones may be given an opportunity to win the right guard spot vacated by the departure of Wyatt Davis. The offensive line will need to gel quickly, considering the inexperience at the quarterback position.

3. Linebackers
Even with the loss of all three starting linebackers, Ohio State has recruited well at this position. Dallas Gant, Teradja Mitchell and K'Vaughan Pope have been chomping at the bit to take over for Tuf Borland, Pete Werner, and Baron Browning. All three were heavily recruited, all three have been biding their time, and 2021 will represent the opportunity to show everyone that there will be no drop-off at this crucial position for the Buckeyes' defense.

— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also is podcasting for Buckeye Scoop. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.

(Top photo courtesy of @OhioStateFB)