A week two 35-28 home loss to Oregon that left the Ohio State Buckeyes with little room for error throughout the remainder of the 2021 season. A defense that wound up ranking 59th in the nation. And of course, the first loss to "That Team Up North" for the first time since the 2011 season.
It is against that backdrop that the Buckeyes will begin their 15 spring practices, culminating in the spring game on April 16. Ohio State head coach Ryan Day wasted little time in addressing the issues that plagued his team in 2021, by essentially overhauling the defense with the hires of new defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Jim Knowles, safeties coach Perry Eliano, and cornerbacks coach Tim Walton. In addition, new offensive line coach Justin Frye was hired to help get that group back to a consistently dominant unit, both passing and running the ball.
While the defense was certainly Ohio State's weakness in 2021, and improvement there is a necessity for the Buckeyes to be a national championship contender this fall, there are other areas within and around the team that should have fans excited about the upcoming campaign. Below are three key points that Ohio State fans should look forward to with optimism as the 2022 season approaches:
1. The passing game
One year ago, Ohio State was in the midst of a three-person race at the quarterback position, as C.J. Stroud, Jack Miller, and Kyle McCord were all competing for the starting job; none of those players had even attempted a pass at the college level. After a banner season that saw Stroud pass for 4,435 yards, 44 touchdowns, complete nearly 72 percent of his passes, and finish fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting, the Buckeyes can approach 2022 with tremendous certainty at the most important position on the field.
I can already hear people say, "But what about losing Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson from the wide receiver position?!?" Very valid point, but remember — Jaxson Smith-Njigba returns, and he was actually the leading receiver for the Buckeyes in 2021, with 95 receptions. While Olave and Wilson leaving hurts, Ohio State fans also can take comfort in knowing that potential star talent is ready, and waiting, on the sidelines. Marvin Harrison Jr. had a stellar performance in the 2022 Rose Bowl (6 rec., 71 yds., 3 TDs), while Emeka Egbuka, Julian Fleming, Jayden Ballard, and a fresh crop of talented freshmen are also available to keep the Buckeyes well-prepared to terrorize their 2022 opponents through the air.
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2. The schedule
This fall, the Buckeyes will face nine teams that played in a bowl game last season. So how come this is listed as a point of optimism?
Look closely at the schedule. Ohio State starts out the season with five straight home games (Notre Dame, Toledo, Arkansas State, Wisconsin, and Rutgers), before making their first road trip to Michigan State on Oct. 8. The five straight home games should have the Buckeyes feeling strong, and well-prepared before they have to tangle with the Spartans in a Big Ten East showdown match.
Of those nine 2021 bowl opponents on the slate, Ohio State has the advantage of hosting six of them. The aforementioned trip to East Lansing, as well as the Oct. 29 road game at Penn State and the Nov. 19 date at Maryland are the exceptions.
Out of all of the Buckeyes' 2022 opponents, none will loom larger than having "That Team Up North" come back to Ohio Stadium for the first time since the 2018 season, as the Buckeyes and Wolverines did not play in 2020, due to COVID-19. "THE GAME" is always a big deal, but Ohio State's coaches, players, and fans are eager for some significant payback on Nov. 26 after the brutal 2021 loss in Ann Arbor.
3. Wounded pride
As mentioned already, Ohio State's 2021 season was viewed as a disappointment. An 11-2 record that included a thrilling win in the Rose Bowl over Utah, was disappointing? Yes, when a team had the caliber of talent on hand that the Buckeyes had in 2021, anything less than a spot in the College Football Playoff was deemed disappointing. The fact that Ohio State lost badly to their hated rival, denying them a chance at a fifth straight Big Ten title, only served to pour salt in the wound.
The new defensive coaching staff will have a group of players receptive to coaching, and eager for redemption. Day and his offensive staff will fine-tune the offense to be much better balanced. Add it all up, and the Buckeyes seem likely to reclaim their spot among the nation's elite in 2022.
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— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He also is podcasting for Buckeye Scoop. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.