After being decisively defeated by Alabama 52-24 in the College Football Playoff National Championship, it would make sense to a casual college football fan if Ohio State was to take a step back during the 2021 season. Several prominent players, such as quarterback Justin Fields and defensive lineman Tommy Togiai, declared early for the 2021 NFL Draft. Several position groups, like the linebackers and secondary, will be scrutinized throughout spring football and fall camp.
Yes, it would make sense to a casual football fan if Ohio State was to take a step back in 2021. But if you ask any passionate Buckeyes fan this question, don't be surprised if they give you a strange look.
Ohio State has suffered personnel losses, like any other college football team. Unlike most college football teams, the Buckeyes have the depth of talent to replenish those losses, and not skip a beat heading into 2021. Below are three reasons why Ohio State is still the team to beat in the Big Ten in 2021 and why the Buckeyes remain a threat to return to the playoff.
1. Surprising returning talent
No one was surprised when Justin Fields declared for the 2021 NFL Draft, and Tommy Togiai's decision wasn't a complete shock either. Ohio State also saw starting offensive linemen Wyatt Davis and Josh Myers, as well as cornerback Shaun Wade, enter the draft. But the early-entry deadline didn't bring all bad news, as Chris Olave, Thayer Munford, and Haskell Garrett were among those that decided to stay in Columbus. Olave was perhaps the biggest surprise given some projecting the first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver to be a potential first-round pick, and his return definitely improves the outlook for the offense. Munford will anchor the left side of the offensive line, which will help offset the losses of Davis and Myers, while Garrett will do the same on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Everyone knew that the Buckeyes would undergo some roster turnover after this season, but the situation could have been much worse.
2. Passing game potential
With Olave, fellow wideout Garrett Wilson, and tight end Jeremy Ruckert all coming back means whoever takes over for Fields at quarterback will have the team's top three targets. These three combined for 106 receptions and 18 touchdown catches in eight games. The Buckeyes' receiving corps also will include less established but talented options like Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Jameson Williams, and Julian Fleming to provide the new signal-caller, whether it's C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller, or Kyle McCord, with plenty of weapons to throw to. It won't be easy to replace Fields' presence or production, but whoever gets the starting job will have all the tools necessary to succeed right away.
3. Rising/incoming talent
As it relates to the current roster, the worst Ohio State recruiting class by ranking was in 2019, when Urban Meyer resigned as head coach and Ryan Day was promoted. And that class was still 14th in the nation, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. The class before that (responsible for next season's senior class) was ranked second overall and the 2020 crop, Day's first full recruiting cycle, was fifth. And Day just put the finishing touches on the No. 2 overall class this year, as the program will be adding even more talent to the roster. All of these highly-regarded recruiting classes will not only help Day and the coaching staff fill the holes in the depth chart, but they also are a big reason to like Ohio State's chances of winning a fifth straight Big Ten title and making another run at a national title in 2021.