“Ohio State would’ve been foolish to encourage a two-time captain who has accounted for 100 career touchdowns to look around.”
After the embarrassing loss to close out 2016 in the Fiesta Bowl, plenty of Ohio State players were forced to evaluate their future. While players like Raekwon McMillan and Malik Hooker made the easy decision to head to the NFL, J.T. Barrett didn’t have quite as easy of a choice to make. Ultimately the quarterback decided to return to Columbus for his senior season. While there are some Ohio State fans that were hoping to see Barrett leave, the quarterback’s choice only can help the Buckeyes next year.
Not only did Barrett kickstart the 2014 title run before getting injured in the Michigan game, he is a two-time Big Ten Quarterback of the Year. The Buckeyes have plenty of talent with Joe Burrow and Dwayne Haskins sitting behind Barrett at quarterback on the depth chart, it’s hard to replace the talent and leadership Barrett provides. Saturday’s loss to Clemson was just the fourth start Barrett has lost in his time at Ohio State. Even though Barrett may not have quite as big of an arm like Haskins, he makes up for it with everything else he does. With the offseason to reflect and improve on his performance against Clemson, Ohio State will again be one of the top ranked teams in the country next year, and a lot of that has to do with what Barrett is able to do on the field.
“OSU has recruited the linebacker position well, but a guy like McMillan isn’t easy to replace. With how much McMillan played, there isn’t much experience returning in the middle, so where does Ohio State turn.”
It seems to happen every year after the football season wraps up in Columbus. The exodus of players deciding to forego the rest of their time at Ohio State to pursue their dream of playing in the NFL. This year is no different, with Malik Hooker, Gareon Conley, and Raekwon McMillan already deciding to go pro. While Hooker was the best safety seen in Columbus in quite some time, the biggest of those losses just might be McMillan. So who is going to step up and take McMillan’s spot in the middle next year?
The most logical choice currently on Ohio State’s roster might just be Dante Booker. Big things were expected from Booker last year as he was tabbed to replace Joshua Perry. Things didn’t go as planned though, with Booker getting injured in the season opener, which allowed for Jerome Baker to impress in Booker’s absence. Former five-star recruit Justin Hilliard could also be an option, but the linebacker has had a tough time staying healthy during his time at Ohio State. Another five-star verbal commit who could be considered is Baron Browning. The one drawback about Browning is he hasn’t played middle linebacker since he was a freshman in high school, so there could be a bit of a learning curve if the Buckeyes decide to go that way. No matter who takes over for McMillan, they’ll have big shoes to fill.
“Our mindset is not that we’re defeated in anyway. We’ve been in every game that we’ve lost. There’s been stretches where we’ve just beat ourselves sometimes. We have to learn from those mistakes and get better from those opportunities.”
Tonight Ohio State hosts Purdue at Value City Arena, and the Buckeyes will need to pull the upset if they want to avoid starting their Big Ten conference schedule 0-2. With games at Minnesota and Wisconsin before returning home to play Michigan State, tonight’s game takes on even more importance, because a loss could very easily see Ohio State start conference play 0-5. With the parity in the Big Ten, the Buckeyes can’t afford to dig themselves such a big hole in the Big Ten standings if they have designs on making the NCAA Tournament after missing it last season.
Even if Ohio State does lose tonight, it wouldn’t be the first time under Thad Matta that the Buckeyes found themselves near the bottom of the standings early on in conference play. In 2010, Ohio State found themselves at 1-3 early in conference play before rebounding to win the Big Ten Tournament. 2014 saw Ohio State slump to a 2-5 record early on, but finding their way to earn a NCAA Tournament bid. The Buckeyes have little margin for error with the ugly loss to Florida Atlantic earlier in the year. While Ohio State’s NCAA Tournament hopes aren’t gone by any means, they continue to leave themselves even less margin for error with each loss.
“Without a doubt, we need that (balance) and I think there’s going to be some nights where offensively some guys are going but it’s all the little things that we have to have everybody dialed in to do a good job with.”
While Ohio State might not have a player capable of scoring like Kentucky’s Marcus Monk or Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, the Buckeyes have shown some balance on offense so far this year. The Buckeyes currently have five players averaging at least 10 points per game this year, and junior Keita Bates-Diop sits just outside that number, averaging 9.7 points per game. The only other Big Ten team who can claim five players scoring at least 10 points per game is Penn State.
While it would be nice for Ohio State to have a player like D’Angelo Russell or Jared Sullinger who could take over the game with their offensive output, it does help that the Buckeyes do have other options if somebody isn’t seeing their shots fall. Thad Matta has said that some of his best teams aren’t the ones with a dominant scorer, but instead where nobody knows who might be the leading scorer on any given night. The Ohio State offense will get even more balanced when Bates-Diop is fully recovered from injuries he suffered in the offseason, as well as early in the year against Providence. Even though sometimes it is nice to have that dominant scorer, it isn’t a luxury the Buckeyes have right now, and they’ll have to have all their parts working together to earn wins the rest of the year.