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Five big questions for Ohio State’s 2019 season

LGHL’s managing editors are predicting good things for the Buckeyes, despite the team’s major changes.

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

We are just four days away from the start of the 2019 college football season, and 11 days until the Ohio State Buckeyes begin their season against the Florida Atlantic Owls on Aug. 31 at 12 noon ET. So, with the season barreling down upon us, Matt and Geoff — LGHL’s co-managing editors — are joining with their SB Nation colleagues to answer five big questions about this year’s Buckeyes.

1) Who is your most important player on offense this season?

This is an easy one. Justin Fields is without a doubt the most important player on offense for the Buckeyes. On Monday, he was officially named the team’s starting quarterback, and with that comes immense responsibility. He is succeeding two of the most decorated players in the 129 years of Ohio State football in J.T. Barrett, who holds nearly 30 Ohio State and Big Ten records, and Dwayne Haskins, who is the most accomplished passer in OSU and B1G single-season history.

Unlike Barrett and Haskins though, Fields has not had the benefit of maturing in the OSU system, as the former Georgia Bulldogs player transferred to Columbus in January. Though he entered college as the No. 2 rated player in the 2018 recruiting class, he is now a sophomore trying to learn a new system with new teammates and with a new coaching staff.

While the OSU defense was abysmal in 2018, there is much to be optimistic about on that side of the ball, thanks to wholesale coaching changes. But, how far the Buckeyes can go this fall will rely on Fields’ arms and legs. If he can progress as Barrett and Haskins did under Ryan Day, then Ohio State could be in for a special season.

If he instead struggles to fit into his new surroundings, or — heaven forbid — he gets injured, it could be a long season in Columbus. — Matt Tamanini

2) Who is your most important player on defense this season?

Unlike on offense, this one is a little more complicated to answer, because we still don’t exactly know what to expect from the defense this season. Much has been made of the new “Bullet” position, which would primarily see Brendon White as a hybrid DB-LB, but reports from camp are that the Buckeyes are practicing more in their traditional 4-3 base, than in their new exotic look (at least while reporters are present to see).

So, while players like White, Jordan Fuller, Shaun Wade, Jeff Okudah, and whomever ends up getting the call at linebacker will be incredibly important, until we fully have a grip on what scheme the Buckeyes will employ and when, it’s probably safest to bet on the guy who we know where he will be on every play, and that’s Chase Young.

The Predator has waited for his time to be “the man” on Ohio State’s defense, and his time is now. As a junior, in what likely will be his final collegiate season, Young is looking to improve upon his 14.5 tackles for loss, including 9.5 sacks, in 2018.

If he is able to be the disruptive force that his talent and work-ethic suggests he should be this year, the scheme that the rest of the team is playing behind him won’t matter quite as much. — Matt Tamanini

3) What should be the biggest change between last year and this year?

The offensive philosophy may be the biggest change we see. Last season, Haskins was a bonafide passer. That was a new concept for OSU, as the Urban Meyer QBs have been option-based rushers with passing as the secondary option. Haskins picked apart defenses at will, and had explosive games against Michigan and Northwestern.

We haven’t seen a lot of Fields — and that includes his sparse snaps at Georgia. He has the ability to run, and will develop an arm with time. How Day uses Fields will be a big question.

The Buckeyes have a reliable and speedy rusher in J.K. Dobbins. Picking up 1,000-yard rushing seasons in back-to-back fashion, a combination of Fields and Dobbins in the option could be potent. On the other side of the coin, the emergence of Chris Olave and senior leadership of K.J. Hill gives the offense two efficient receiving options.

There’s many paths that can be taken by Day, passing game coordinator Mike Yurcich and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. The big question is can their strategy maximize OSU’s potential for success. The Buckeyes have talent and experience, but with a new coach, not everything is crystal clear... yet. — Geoff Hammersley

4) What is the most important game on this schedule, and why?

The obligatory answer is the same every season: Michigan. Not only are bragging rights between the two schools on the line, but conference (and national) title aspirations hang in the balance, too. This season, the Wolverines are seen as a legitimate contender for not only the Big Ten East crown, but the Big Ten Championship. If Jim Harbaugh would’ve won a Big Ten conference title and/or beaten OSU at any point during his coaching tenure in Ann Arbor, I’d be a little more concerned.

But, in order to roll into Michigan Week with a chance to play one week later in Indianapolis for the Big Ten title, you’ve got to survive the regular season. And the first major hurdle for the Buckeyes will come on Sept. 28 when they travel to Lincoln, Neb.

With recent letdowns against Big Ten West opponents (i.e. Iowa and Purdue) this game has all the makings to complete the trilogy. Unlike the the Hawkeyes and Boilermakers, the Cornhuskers played the Buckeyes close last season in Columbus — and I believe a quarterback with a tad more experience would’ve been able to pull off the upset. Adrian Martinez has situated himself as QB1 for Scott Frost’s program, and both are looking for redemption in Nebraska’s capital city.

The early season matchup with the ‘Huskers also has the ability to set the tone for the Buckeyes’ season. A slip up there, and the lingering effects of being a step behind in the Big Ten race could bleed over against Northwestern (a Friday night game on the road in Evanston, Ill.), Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin.

If the Buckeyes win — and especially if they win big — against Nebraska, then I like their chances to run the table the rest of the way through October and November. — Geoff Hammersley

5) What is your prediction for W/L record and postseason destination?

If the Buckeyes lost oodles of talent without replacing it, I would expect a major drop off in terms of wins. But, because of Fields transferring into the program, and sturdiness on the offensive and defensive side of the ball, the Bucks should perform well in 2019. Will it be enough to win the Big Ten? That’s debatable. I think they beat Michigan, but may slip up once or twice in conference games. A 10-2 season is what I’d forecast, with a New Year’s Six bid as the consolation prize. — Geoff Hammersley

Call me a homer if you must, but I just don’t see the Buckeyes taking a gigantic step backwards. When you break down their schedule (which I will be doing in an article next week), it lines up incredibly favorably, considering that they play in the best division in college football (yeah, you heard me).

We should expect some growing pains with Fields early on in the season, but fortunately — unlike in other recent seasons — there is no major, marquee opponent waiting in the first quarter of the year. Now, Luke Fickell’s Cincinnati Bearcats aren’t going to be push-overs, and I certainly do give them a chance to pull the upset, but it’s not the same as facing an Oklahoma, TCU, Texas, USC, etc., as in years past.

So, that should give Fields four games to get acclimated to running the offense against someone other than his teammates. From there on out, they play three of the five teams on their schedule that are ranked in the preseason AP poll at home, going to No. 24 Nebraska in Week 5 as Geoff mentioned, and finishing the season at the seventh-ranked Team Up North.

If the defense has gotten its act together after the 2018 debacle, with no Iowa or Purdue on the schedule, an 11-1 or 12-0 regular season record is very much in the cards. I’ll go with 11-1, just to account for the unforeseen, but assuming there are no major injuries, I think this is a good bet.

As evidenced by Bud Elliott’s 2019 Blue Chip Ratio, Ohio State is by far the most talented team in the conference. So, will there be hiccups with a new head coach, new quarterback, and an almost entirely new defensive staff? Sure, but with their skill and their schedule, it should be mostly manageable. — Matt Tamanini

Ok, we’ve had our say on what we think OSU’s 2019 record will be; now it’s your turn.


What do you think Ohio State’s regular season record will be?

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