J.T. Barrett will win the Heisman Trophy as the Buckeyes starting quarterback. No, not, J.T., surely National Champion Hero Cardale Jones would be striking a pose with that A+ smile in New York City in December. But wait, it can't be Cardale, it has to be Ezekiel Elliott, he of the abs and the sliding into your trophy presentations and all that. Zeke is going to run away with the Heisman, literally and figuratively. Nah, it's going to shock you, but I think Braxton Miller's move to H-Back is going to be the biggest difference, and he's going to be the surprise of the year at his new position.
How naive we all were a little over a year ago.
And rightfully so, if we're all being honest. Coming off of the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship, it was okay to bask, at least a little bit, in the warm, comforting afterglow of getting bragging rights for an entire off-season. An off-season filled with ramped-up expectations in the form of questions posited, honestly, like the first graph of this column, documentaries about the conference's flagship team airing on the conference's network, and ESPN opening up Bristol West in Columbus so that Danny Kanell and Joey Galloway could do some drills with Braxton Miller. That's the cost of success in the 24-7 world of big college football.
And don't forget the unanimous #1 AP ranking, the first time that a team has garnered all the first place votes in the poll's existence.
In hindsight, if there were ever a season that was destined to go the way 2015-2016 Ohio State's went, it should have been much more evident back before the coin toss in Blacksburg on Labor Day. So much talent! So much opportunity! Such a horrible schedule! Ohio State's biggest, baddest, and best opponent was Expectations, that little upstart program based in the minds of the college football people who get to make decisions. And, for the most part, when the country was watching, the Buckeyes couldn't pass every aspect of the eye test.
This isn't a missive at how a 12-1 season, with blowout wins over Notre Dame and, more importantly, Michigan, was a failure. But it wasn't the success that most of the team, fans, and country wanted, wanted, and expected, respectively.
Which brings us to 2016, a year that every Buckeye fan probably had circled as the second major rebuild for Urban Meyer in his tenure at Ohio State. For the most part, those fans are very, very right about what 2016 will most likely be: a project. Though, unlike 2012-2013, this version will have better building materials that should make it a bit easier...at least in theory.
Barrett is entering his (redshirt) Junior year and will be on a lot of watch lists in the preseason. Barrett is a known commodity at this point, but won't have to bother splitting time with the likes of Jones (NFL-bound), or even wildcat options of Miller or Jalin Marshall (also headed for Sundays). But a great Barrett also enjoyed having a great Elliott next to him. This year will not have that.
The wide receiving corps, which wasn't as great in 2015 as it was in 2014, is gutted. How gutted? Take another look at the projected offense. Some of those guys don't even have player profiles in the SB Nation database yet. And it's a good database! One reaction to this projected offense could be best summed up by some typical Cleveland Indians fans of movie fame:
Surely the vaunted Ohio State defense, now under the hopefully-free-of-MRSA clenches of Greg Schiano, will be able to pick up where it left off in 2015. All the defense lost was...let's see here...
- Joey Bosa
- Darron Lee
- Adolphus Washington
- Vonn Bell
- Joshua Perry
- Tyvis Powell
- Tommy Schutt
- Eli Apple
Nothing special missing there. Just the majority of the defensive production for the last two years. Easy fix for Luke Fickell, Greg Schiano and company. No problem. What Buckeyes might we see take the field in 2016? Take a look at our projections. It's a less-green list than the offense, thanks to aggressive defensive rotations, and that whole "next man up" philosophy that helped the Buckeyes deal with injuries, ejections (hi, Mr. Bosa) and suspensions (hi, Mr. Washington).
Pretty much the best known quantity coming back is Cameron Johnston. That statement isn't as ridiculous as it sounds, either.
And the last, best question is what Urban Meyer himself is going to have left in the tank for next year. 2015-2016 was not a "Chase", it was appropriately called "The Grind", and you know it had to weigh on Meyer. For a good portion of the season, anytime the TV broadcast team called for a shot of Meyer, he was almost always bent over, hands on his knees saying God-knows-what to his coaching staff thru his headset (like this, but with more of a frown). Meyer's previous gig in Florida saw a National Championship, then a down year, then another National Championship, before things started to fall apart, both for Meyer himself, and the Florida program in general. It will be interesting to see how Meyer approaches this year, with some new faces on his staff, and plenty of newer faces on the field.
There's no real need to dwell on the 2015 season anymore. The only question that matters about the 2015 season is whose brand of football will make a champion next Monday - Clemson's high-powered style, or Alabama's retrograde variety. Questions like "how did a team that hung 42 points on a good Michigan defense, and 44 on a good Notre Dame defense lose to a Michigan State team that laid such a huge egg in the Playoff?" and "could Ohio State hang with Clemson, Alabama, Oklahoma or Stanford?" aren't important anymore. There are already more than enough questions that need answering about this team in the offseason.