"It's a nightmare. It's not as bad as the nightmare of having zero, of having no players ever getting drafted. I imagine that's a much more significant nightmare. But this is not easy."
When the 2016 BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl comes to an end, no matter the outcome of the game, Ohio State will be missing quite a group of talented players heading into the 2016 season. Along with Cardale Jones, Joey Bosa, and Ezekiel Elliott, the Buckeyes are projected to lose 12-14 starters from the 2015 season to the NFL draft or to graduation. Though Bosa hasn't officially said for sure if he's leaving, it's more than likely that he'll jump to the next level, considering he's projected as the top pick in the upcoming draft by various experts. Among those that Ohio State awaits a decision includes Vonn Bell, Tyvis Powell, Darron Lee, Michael Thomas, Eli Apple, and Cameron Johnston. Offensive guard Pat Elflein has already made his decision to return for his senior season, a solid return for coach Urban Meyer.
Regardless of who stays, the loss of such key starters will be tough to replace, but Ohio State tends to do a good job of reloading their roster with top talent from recruiting. Coach Meyer mentioned that he was aware of the number that the Buckeyes are likely to lose, but instead is focused only on the Fiesta Bowl and defeating Notre Dame. Expect plenty of decisions to be made after the bowl game, as the players look to either finish out their collegiate careers or head for the professional level of the NFL.
"We just did things differently this year, and that's OK. We're having a great year, I feel like, and we're getting better off the last game. I feel good in what I did as a quarterback, knowing that I got better. I'd definitely feel bad if I didn't feel I got better as the year went on. I feel I got better so I don't have anything to complain about."
Though he only started a handful of games this season, Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett strongly believes that he improved as a quarterback in 2015. With one final showing against Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl, Barrett is also preparing to enter next season as the lone starter at quarterback after a rotation with fellow Buckeye Cardale Jones. Barrett's numbers weren't exactly phenomenal this season, and how could they be considering he only started half of the games he did in 2014. The offense was a different story altogether. This season, Ohio State didn't air it out all that much, riding the workhorse running back Ezekiel Elliott for the majority of the year.
Barrett finished the regular season with 781 passing yards and 10 touchdowns while also adding 586 yards and 11 touchdowns on 92 carries. While his rushing stats were just as good if not better considering the amount of games compared to last season, his passing stats certainly suffered some. But one could also point to the different group of wide receivers that Barrett had to work with as well. The wide receivers took multiple hits from injury, leaving a depleted amount of depth at the position. Against Michigan, Barrett looked much more like his 2014 self, and it's easy to imagine that he'll continue to grow and improve heading into next season as well.
"But the 2016 Buckeyes will also feature a quarterback with Heisman possibilities in J.T. Barrett. Depending on who else returns and who else wins jobs, you wonder what other comparisons you might find from 2016 to 2006."
Doug Lesmerises made an interesting comparison for the 2015 Ohio State Buckeyes. This team has a couple of similarities to the 2005 Ohio State team, coached by Jim Tressel. That team also played Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl after losing a close game to a team that would contend for a national championship. In 2005, the Buckeyes lost to a Vince Young-led Texas team that would go on to win it all. This season, Ohio State dropped to Michigan State, which would win the Big Ten championship and secure a spot in the College Football Playoff. In addition, both Ohio State teams would be losing a number of key starters on both sides of the ball. The win over Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl in 2005-06 would set up a run to the national championship the following season. Can the 2016 Fiesta Bowl provide a similar opportunity for this Ohio State team?
J.T. Barrett will have a shot at the Heisman next year, much like Troy Smith, and there are plenty of other players that could step up as important playmakers for Ohio State next season. Jalin Marshall will return as a wide receiver, linebackers Jerome Baker, Dante Booker, and Chris Worley could all see meaningful playing time with Joshua Perry graduating and Darron Lee potentially leaving for the NFL. A similar situation occurred in 2005 when A.J. Hawk, Bobby Carpenter, and Anthony Schlegel all played their final game in the Fiesta Bowl with James Laurinaitis, Marcus Freeman, and Ross Homan in line to step up.
"He's never been a bad guy. Always been a great kid, but he really wasn't a leader -- kind of a guy in the back of the room. Now he's in the front of the room, and it's night and day different. He's here all day long."
Joey Bosa's time as a member of Ohio State will likely come to an end on Jan 1, when the Buckeyes take on Notre Dame in the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl. The two-time consensus All-American defensive end has had a stellar career, helping anchor a defensive line that terrorized opposing teams for the past couple of seasons. Bosa helped lead the defensive charge for Ohio State en route to a national championship in 2014 as well, and is now projected as the first overall pick in the upcoming NFL draft. As the coaching staff reflects on Bosa's career, it's fascinating to note the changes and improvement in Bosa's game despite his dominance throughout his time as a Buckeye. As Meyer mentioned above, Bosa wasn't a leader early on at Ohio State but as he matured and grew with his rising stardom, he quickly learned that being in his position meant setting an example for the players learning the Ohio State way of playing.
Along with help and coaching by defensive line coach Larry Johnson Jr., Bosa was quick to learn moves to help him succeed both as a Buckeye and moves that would help him on the next level in the NFL. With one final performance remaining against Notre Dame, he'll get a chance to showcase why he's been such an integral part of Ohio State's defense and finish with another win during his career.