A new era is upon Ohio State football. After a disappointing (relative to Ohio State) 2017 season, that saw the Buckeyes finish 12-2 as Big Ten and Cotton Bowl champions, Ohio State has reloaded once again, and is ready to compete for yet another Big Ten title, and potentially their third playoff berth in five seasons.
Success, obviously, is no guarantee, and the Buckeyes still have plenty of things that need to be addressed before the annual spring game in roughly a month (!!!), and before they kick off the 2018 season in The Horseshoe against Oregon State. There’s obviously going to be plenty of questions about a team that has to replace 38% of its production from last season.
Here are some of the biggest questions facing Ohio State football as they gear up for spring practice:
1. Who will be named the starting quarterback? And when?
The most important position on the field has been incredibly stable at Ohio State in the last decade or so. There’s been almost no question about who the starter in Columbus would be entering every season since 2009 (save for 2015, though Cardale Jones, Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett were all known quantities at that point), as the Buckeyes have been extremely good (and lucky) at finding great quarterbacks.
There’s no question about whether Ohio State has talent at quarterback coming into this season, as all three possible starters were four-stars or better coming out of high school, and no matter who wins the job, the Buckeyes will likely be in very capable hands. The question, however, is around which of the three young quarterbacks will follow the best quarterback in school history, J.T. Barrett.
Redshirt sophomore Dwayne Haskins is considered to be the leader in the clubhouse, after he filled in for Barrett admirably last season, both in garbage time and in the second half of the win in Ann Arbor. The Maryland product completed 70% of his 57 attempts last season, for 401 yards and four scores, flashing an incredible arm in the process.
Redshirt junior Joe Burrow cannot be counted out, however, and now that he’s fully healthy after a hand injury sidelined him last season, he will have just as much of a chance as either of his fellow quarterbacks to win the starting job.
The dark horse in all of this is redshirt freshman Tate Martell. Tate fits better than either of the other two candidates into Urban Meyer’s quarterback run-centric offense, and dominated some of the best schools in the country during his time at Bishop Gorman. Martell isn’t likely to win the starting job, but we’ll likely see him in some capacity throughout the season.
2. Do the linebackers return to form after a down year?
Bill Davis’ first year as linebackers coach in Columbus was a turbulent one, to say the least. The linebackers were consistently Ohio State’s worst positional group in 2017, as they struggled mightily in both of the Buckeye losses. With the loss of two starters: Jerome Baker and Chris Worley, the group will look very different this season, though that may not be the worst thing in the world.
There’s tons of young linebacker talent on the roster, and Ohio State needs some of those young guys (or some of the veterans, like Justin Hilliard, and Dante Booker) to step up for the Buckeyes to compete for a title in 2018. While we don’t know who the starters will be quite yet, there’s no question that the group needs to improve quite a bit in the next season to keep Bill Davis’ seat cool.
3. Which true freshmen will see playing time?
Urban Meyer has made it a point to get true freshmen playing time during his tenure at Ohio State, and last season was the first time that his goal was really realized, and a large chunk of the 2017 class saw playing time. J.K. Dobbins, Chase Young, Baron Browning, Jeffrey Okudah, Isaiah Pryor, Jaylen Harris, Marcus Williamson, Amir Reip, and Pete Werner all saw the field in some capacity, and with another loaded class coming in, there’s no reason to think we won’t see a similar youth movement this season.
Defensive backs Tyreke Johnson, Sevyn Banks, Marcus Hooker and Josh Proctor are all expected to compete for a starting job (or at least playing time), and it’ll be very difficult to keep dynamic playmakers like Jaelen Gill, Master Teague, Brian Snead, “Blue” Smith, Kamryn Babb and Jeremy Rckert off the field, among a number of others. In short, it’s a very good time to be a Buckeye fan.
4. How will Ryan Day and Kevin Wilson co-exist as OCs?
Co-offensive coordinators aren’t new to Ohio State, though a duo of playcallers wasn’t very successful when it was tried last, back in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, under Tim Beck and Ed Warinner. While the struggles under Beck and Warinner certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of Ohio State fans, Day and Wilson are undisputedly better coordinators than their predecessors, and will probably be far more successful.
However, as J.T. Barrett says, “I don’t know. Coach Day and Coach Wilson will make it work”, and while that lukewarm take from a former player isn’t what Buckeye fans want to hear, Barrett brings up a very good point, and as of this moment, we have no way of knowing how the two coaches will work together. The September matchup with TCU should answer our questions.
5. Who fills the open cornerback spot?
Ohio State has produced an incredible five first round draft picks in the defensive backfield since 2014. The Buckeyes have had a fantastic top cornerback every season since 2013, from Bradley Roby, to Doran Grant, Eli Apple, Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore, and Denzel Ward, and will likely have yet another this season. If that ends up being Damon Arnette, Kendall Sheffield, Jeffrey Okudah, or anyone else is yet to be determined, but with the loss of Denzel Ward, the Buckeyes do need a new starter at CB.
While Sheffield and Arnette will certainly see the field in some way, Okudah, Shaun Wade, Wayne Davis, Sevyn Banks, Marcus Williamson and Tyreke Johnson will all compete for the job, with Okudah likely leading the group at this point.