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Ohio State’s offensive line strength could be the difference against one rival

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The Buckeyes dismantled the Spartans on the ground last season. But can they do it again this season?

NCAA Football: Michigan State at Ohio State Joe Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

“As for Ohio State, the Buckeyes lose key starters in Billy Price and Jamarco Jones from an offensive line that manhandled MSU’s young defensive line last year.”

-Chris Solari, Detroit Free Press

Ohio State’s over-the-top win over Michigan State last year has become something of an afterthought. It came just a week after Iowa handed Ohio State a 31-point loss and two weeks before Ohio State’s regular season finale against Michigan. The 45-point win over the Spartans was decisive from all sides, but came in stark contrast to how things have gone in recent years when the two teams square off. Before this past season, the largest margin of victory in the past six seasons has been 12, when the Buckeyes defeated the Spartans on their way to a College Football Playoff victory. More common are finals in which neither team has been able to reach 20 points.

In these defensive struggles, Michigan State has been able to give Ohio State trouble. In fact, Mark Dantonio holds the best record of any Big Ten team against Urban Meyer-led Ohio State teams, recording two wins in six seasons (2013, 2015). Last season’s uncontested victory was an anomaly in how this series functions, and it is probable that Dantonio will once again built up a defense which can, to a degree, match Ohio State’s own.

Last season, the balance of power favored Ohio State on both sides of the ball. A strong offensive line for the Buckeyes, led by Billy Price and Jamarco Jones, overcame a down Michigan State defensive line, paving the way for 335 rushing yards by Mike Weber, J.K. Dobbins and J.T. Barrett. On the flip side, the best defensive line in the country controlled Michigan State’s offensive line, limiting the Spartans to just three points.

Once again, Ohio State’s matchup with the Spartans comes just two weeks before Michigan. This year, with the loss of Price, Jones and a significant portion of the defensive line, Michigan State looks to be better matched up heading into the fall.

“For Ohio State, it’s a good problem to have, as the Buckeyes now have a handful of strong candidates to lead their offense over the next five to seven years.”

-Dan Hope, Eleven Warriors

The lineup of potential quarterbacks for Ohio State has certainly gotten much more interesting over the last week. First, four-star Dwan Mathis committed to the Buckeyes as part of the class of 2019. The future looked even more secure when, days later, four-star Jack Miller joined the class of 2020.

Heading into this fall, however, the lineup looks rather more stable, with Dwayne Haskins locked in as the starter at least for the opening of the 2018 season. Tate Martell, a commit from the class of 2017, looks to be Haskins’ backup, while Matthew Baldwin sits at third string. All three current quarterbacks came to Columbus as four-star recruits. With the latest commitment of Miller, Urban Meyer and company will have a highly-rated quarterback in five successive classes, giving the Buckeyes an edge at the position for at least the next five season and demonstrating a consistency in recruiting for quarterbacks.

Haskins had a distinct edge heading into this season, having been the only quarterback outside of J.T. Barrett to take meaningful snaps in 2017. This, along with his continued competition throughout the spring, earned him the starting job moving forward, though it is by no means the permanent solution. Chief among Haskins’ competitors is Tate Martell, who, according to Meyer, still has an opportunity to compete for playing time with Haskins as the 2018 season progresses.

While the quarterback situation is set for this season, the staggered classes of both current and incoming quarterbacks means that all will likely have a chance to compete for a starting role at some point in their careers at Ohio State. Though getting beaten out may induce a transfer a la Joe Burrow this past spring, building a strong quarterback competition year in and year out should force all candidates to elevate their respective games.

“His leadership, his presence about him, he’s a good athlete, he’s played a lot of competitive football and he’s handled this camp very well...He certainly was worthy of being drafted and he’s done a good job here.”

-New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, via Patrick Murphy, 247Sports

It is true: J.T. Barrett never really seemed like an NFL-caliber quarterback. He lacks the powerful arm that is still favored for the most part in the NFL and is a bit on the short side for a professional quarterback. However, what has remained remarkably consistent for Barrett in both his five seasons at Ohio State and his rookie minicamp with the New Orleans Saints is his innate leadership ability--something that has already been picked up on by Sean Payton, his new head coach, among others. That leadership may prove to be the critical factor in Barrett making an NFL roster to start the season.

Currently, however, Barrett is in a tough spot. Drew Brees is the de facto starter as he enters his 13th season with the Saints. Taysom Hill, a second-year player out of BYU, is the current backup and heir apparent to Brees, despite going undrafted in 2017. Tom Savage, who spent his previous three NFL seasons in Houston, is also in the mix. As the least experienced quarterback on the roster, it looks like an uphill battle for Barrett to make the team this fall.

However, NFL experts see Barrett’s current position as a good one. Dan Shonka, who worked with Barrett through the East/West Shrine Game this past season, says that “He’s going to be hard to cut.” He cited an example of Barrett’s leadership on the East’s squad, when he entered the room and everyone stopped to listen to him. “It was just like ‘Holy cow, this guy has got a presence about him.’” Shonka also credited Barrett’s level-headedness and his ability to remain cool under pressure. These traits made Barrett a excellent game manager at the college level and, if given the chance, could prove to be an asset on an NFL roster.

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