Ohio State's Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame marked the end of an era. Not only did the Buckeyes bid farewell to the most successful senior class in school history, but many talented juniors will be leaving early for the NFL. While not everybody has made their declarations yet, I'm operating on the assumption that Darron Lee and Vonn Bell both leave, along with Joey Bosa. Eli Apple could also potentially bolt, but I'm guessing he's the most likely of the potential early entrants to stay.
So, with all of those changes, what could the 2016 defensive two deep look like? Here is a way-too-early guess.
Tyquan Lewis (Junior)
Jalyn Holmes (Junior) OR Jashon Cornell (RS Freshman)
This shouldn't be a surprise, as Lewis was one of the breakout players of all of 2015, establishing himself as a more than capable pass rusher. He'll have a bigger role next season, as he won't have Joey Bosa or Adolphus Washington around to soak up as much attention. The Buckeyes have done an excellent job recruiting defensive ends recently though, so expect plenty of competition for backup snaps.
Michael Hill (Junior)
Dre'Mont Jones (RS Freshman)
The defensive tackle position will probably spawn a lot of concerned offseason articles, since Ohio State has missed out on a few big name recruiting targets and may not grab another big name in this recruiting class. Four-star 2016 recruit Malik Barrow is coming off a knee injury and may not be ready to contribute. Hill, a former blue chipper in his own right, improved significantly this season and should get one of the starting spots, but the backup positions will be very competitive.
Tracy Sprinkle (RS Junior)
Donovan Munger (Junior) OR Nick Bosa (freshman)
Sprinkle, whose Ohio State career has come a long way after rather famously ending up in the doghouse, earned some PT in the Fiesta Bowl and recovered a critical fumble. It wouldn't be impossible for Cornell or a highly touted defensive end (like say, Nick Bosa) to crack the two deep here, just to find ways to get them on the field. The Rushman package, after all, isn't shy about mixing up pure positional fit in the name of getting the best linemen on the field.
Sam Hubbard (Junior)
Dre'Mont Jones (RS Freshman) or Jonathon Cooper (Freshman)
Throw Cornell and Bosa in this group as well, but dislodging Hubbard as a starter seems awfully unlikely. The former lacrosse commit turned safety/tight end has found a home on the defensive line, and shined when he was on the field this season. He still has plenty of room to grow, but the potential pairing of him and Lewis, plus some of the youngsters, makes it easy to think Ohio State has a bright future at defensive end.
Strong Side Linebacker
Jerome Baker (Sophomore)
Chris Worley (Junior)
The conventional wisdom is that Worley, a perfectly fine player, would be the favorite to grab this starting job, and maybe he will. But just call it a hunch that Baker realizes his tremendous upside and forces Ohio State to get him on the field.
Raekwon McMillian (Junior)
Nick Conner (RS Freshman)
This is one of the very few positions you could write in permanent marker. McMillian is the undisputed starter at this position, a leader of this defense, potentially Ohio State's best defensive starter next season, and could cement himself as one of the best linebackers in the country. Nick Conner came in a little under the radar last season, but had an excellent Spring Game and probably would have played this season if not for injuries.
Dante Booker (Junior)
Justin Hilliard (RS Freshman)
The staff thinks highly of Booker, and he likely would have earned more playing time had Ohio State not been loaded at linebacker this year, and he's likely to get first crack at starting role, but former five-star Justin Hillard will almost certainly push hard for snaps as well. Ohio State has plenty of options for young, exciting linebackers.
Damon Webb (Junior)
Denzel Ward (Sophomore)
This is operating on the assumption that Eli Apple decides to declare for the draft. If he doesn't, Webb obviously holds down a corner spot. Webb is probably the early favorite to start at corner, but Webb could also end up as a safety to let Denzel Ward, one of the fastest players on the team, start at corner. The defensive backfield may be one of the least settled position groups on the team, so don't write anything in marker yet.
Gareon Conley (Junior)
Marshon Lattimore (Sophomore)
Conley didn't have a great game against Notre Dame, but is the most experienced option on this list, although it's possible Damon Webb plays a little corner as well. If Lattimore isn't healthy, depth could be an issue at this position. Wayne Davis and Kareem Felder will probably not be ready for primetime as true freshmen.
Malik Hooker (Sophomore)
Damon Webb (Junior)
We're guessing that Tyvis Powell decides to leave, but if he returns for another year, he'd grab a starting spot at safety. Hooker is an outstanding athlete and could be ready to make the jump.
Erick Smith (Junior)
Cam Burrows (Junior)
Erick Smith was an outstanding prospect and should be ready to assume more time in the backfield. His backup? That's a great question. Cam Burrows was injured but was in the mix for playing time in 2015. Perhaps Ohio State slides another cornerback to safety for additional depth. Keeping Powell would help Ohio State quite a bit, but if he's out, things will get awfully young, awfully quickly, if anything happens to Smith or Burrows.