After a long offseason, college football is finally back in Columbus. Ohio State prepares to host Bowling Green as the Buckeyes set out to prove their talented team can compete with the best in the country. With Urban Meyer and his staff losing 16 starters from both sides of the ball, there will be plenty of inexperience on the field Saturday. But the stage has been set for many of the freshman and other players who haven’t seen the field yet, and there’s no greater opportunity to shine.
There wasn’t any question about who would be the starter at quarterback for Ohio State, unlike many times last season where every other week it seemed to be leaning in someone’s favor. This time around, J.T. Barrett holds the keys to the offense and barring injury, this won’t change all season. Barrett is looking for another breakout season after a sophomore campaign was hindered by splitting time with Cardale Jones in 2015. Barrett has proven he’s more than capable in 2014 where he led the Buckeyes to a 11-1 record while shattering school records of his own before getting injured. Joe Burrow won the battle for second-string over Dwayne Haskins.
At running back, Ezekiel Elliott’s departure certainly made for an interesting battle at first for the spot, but redshirt freshman Mike Weber has emerged as the starter. Curtis Samuel is also listed with an “OR” between them as he’s likely to get some burn as well carrying the ball. Weber had a strong spring game performance and after the dismissal of Bri’onte Dunn, the spot is his to lose despite Samuel getting some carries. Dontre Wilson is listed as third-string.
Even with the recent suspension of Torrance Gibson, the wide receiving depth is still talented from top to bottom. Right now, the starters are listed with Noah Brown OR Parris Campbell at X, Corey Smith OR Johnnie Dixon, and Terry McLaurin OR James Clark at Z. Austin Mack and Binjimin Victor seem to be the third-string options.
The H-back spot left by Braxton Miller will be held by Curtis Samuel OR Dontre Wilson. Wilson’s career has been in search of that breakout season as he’s always seemingly one broken tackle away from breaking long touchdown runs, so there’s a room for excitement with Wilson slotted in to H-back.
The tight end spot is firmly locked down by Marcus Baugh with A.J. Alexander listed as the backup. No surprise there, as Baugh comes into the season ready to shine as the starter with Vannett heading to the NFL.
The offensive line starters are listed as Jamarco Jones, Michael Jordan, Pat Elflein, Billy Price, and Isaiah Prince (from left to right). A very green unit with only two returning starters in Elflein and Price.
On the defensive side of the ball, Sam Hubbard OR Jayln Holmes and Tyquan Lewis are listed as the defensive end starters, which is what was expected with Meyer mentioning Holmes has had a great camp. Hubbard and Lewis should be one of the best defensive end pairings in the Big Ten this season. The backups at defensive end are Nick Bosa OR Jonathon Cooper. In the middle, Michael Hill anchors the defensive line alongside Tracy Sprinkle who backed up Adolphus Washington last season. The backups at tackle include freshmen Dre’Mont Jones and Davon Hamilton.
The linebacking core should be one of the stronger units on the defensive side of the ball. Raekwon McMillan is slotted in at middle linebacker, returning from last season as the team’s leading tackler and is the leader of the defense. Surrounding him are outside linebackers Chris Worley and Dante Booker. Worley has had high praise from teammates over the past couple of seasons and should be a good one to watch. Rashod Berry, Jerome Baker, and Craig Fada are your backups.
At cornerback, Gareon Conley is the starter on one end and Marshon Lattimore OR Denzel Ward on the other for the second corner spot. For safeties, Damon Webb slides over this season with Malik Hooker getting the other safety spot. Erick Smith is listed as the backup to Hooker, while Jordan Fuller is the backup to Webb.
For special teams, sophomore walk-on Tyler Durbin will be starting as the kicker for both kickoffs and field goals as Sean Nuernberger recovers from a groin injury that forced him to miss most of camp. Durbin apparently hit a 62-yard field goal at one point during fall camp, so a big leg could be in play. Senior Cameron Johnston returns as the punter, and that’s no surprise considering he’s been a mainstay since his freshman season and has done a tremendous job. At punt return, Dontre Wilson OR Corey Smith OR Curtis Samuel are all in play. Handling kickoff returns will be Dontre Wilson OR James Clark OR Johnnie Dixon. The long-snapping duties are given to Liam McCollough, and holding for kicks is Cameron Johnston.