Ohio’s very own Joe Burrow capped off what was likely the single most impressive individual performance in a college football season ever with a National Championship victory over the Clemson Tigers on Monday night, officially bringing the year to a close. While many Ohio State fans are still left wondering “what if,” it is time to close the book on the 2019 season and begin to look forward to another run at a national title in 2020.
The Buckeyes will be losing a bunch of key players on both sides of the ball, but as is usually the case, they should have no problem reloading on talent and putting themselves right back into the national conversation. Depending on which sports book you use, Ohio State currently holds the second or third-best odds to win it all next year. Considering just how much production is being lost to the NFL Draft and graduation, it is a huge testament to the program’s ability to recruit at the highest level year after year.
So which players are going to step up next season and fill the void left by some big-name departures? Who is going to earn themselves the No. 1 spot at their position on the depth chart? Spring practices won’t even begin for another few months, but here at Land-Grant Holy Land we’ll take an early crack at how things will shape out in 2020, starting with the offense.
(Key Departures: RB J.K. Dobbins, WR K.J. Hill, WR Binjimen Victor, WR Austin Mack, OL Jonah Jackson, OL Branden Bowen )
QB1 - Justin Fields
There really isn’t much to say about this one. There will be absolutely no talks of a position battle at quarterback this season, as Fields has established himself as one of the best QBs in the nation and will likely be the preseason favorite to win the Heisman. The sophomore transfer QB was phenomenal in his first season as a starter, finishing the year with 3,273 yards passing, 41 passing touchdowns and just three picks. He also ran for another 484 yards and 10 TDs.
The real question that will need to be answered in the spring is who will be Fields’ backup. While grad transfer Gunnar Hoak has the inside track having been with the program for a year, Ohio State has two very highly-touted QB recruits in the 2020 class in four-stars Jack Miller and CJ Stroud. It would not be surprising to see either of these guys earn the backup role, and both will likely see the field in garbage time next year. Stroud could potentially earn a late fifth star, and my money would be on him to earn the backup job by season’s end.
RB1 - Master Teague
The biggest loss Ohio State will feel on offense next season is that of J.K. Dobbins. The 2,000-yard rusher did it all for the Buckeyes, and it will not be easy to replace his level of production. Master Teague served as Dobbins’ backup this year, and is next in line at the position. The former four-star recruit had a good year in his reserve role, rushing for 789 yards on 5.8 yards per carry with four touchdowns. It is clearly Teague’s job to lose, but he will face some resistance from guys like Marcus Crowley and Steele Chambers. If either of those two were to take a huge step forward this offseason, they could make a legitimate push to start.
WR1 - Chris Olave
WR2 - Garrett Wilson
HB1 - Jaelen Gill
While Ohio State is losing a trio of seniors who played big minutes at wide receiver in 2019, it will arguably be deeper than ever at the position in 2020. The team will be returning its leading receiver in Chris Olave, and former five-star Garrett Wilson who had a stellar freshman campaign is clearly ready for a full-time role. These two are the clearest options to man down the outside, and should be on the field as much as possible. It is behind Olave and Wilson that things become unclear, but that is not a bad thing.
Gill did not do much as a freshman this season, catching six passes for 51 yards and a TD, but should be the favorite to man down the H-back position heading into camp. A former four-star recruit at running back, his experience playing both positions makes him an ideal candidate for the role. Jameson Williams, who played sparingly in 2019, is a burner much in the Parris Campbell mold, and will likely see increased time rotating into the lineup next year.
Then comes the incoming treasure trove of wide receiver talent in the 2020 class. Julian Fleming, a five-star recruit and the No. 1 WR in the nation, appears to be perfectly suited to make an instant impact, and should be the first receiver off the bench in four or five receiver sets, likely playing similar snaps to how Wilson was used this past year. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, a four-star WR, could be an interesting player to watch to take over in the slot, and will definitely also see the field.
TE1 - Luke Farrell
TE2 - Jeremy Ruckert
This isn’t so much a depth chart order as much as it is an “or” designation. Ryan Day incorporated a bunch of two tight end sets into the offense this season, and theres no reason to think he will not do it again next year. Farrell and Ruckert will likely wind up playing equal time over the course of the season, and both will be used primarily as blockers. I’m sure we will hear in camp, as we do seemingly every year, about how Ohio State plans to use its TEs more in the passing game in 2020, and as usual this will not be true — especially given all the speed and talent at wide receiver.
LT - Thayer Munford
LG - Harry Miller
C - Josh Myers
RG - Wyatt Davis
RT - Nicholas Petit-Frere
Ohio State is incredibly fortunate to have three of its best offensive linemen returning for another season in Columbus. Davis, Munford and Myers were all key contributors on this year’s offensive line, and all three announced they would be sticking around for 2020. This leaves just two starting spots to fill, with Harry Miller taking over at left guard and Nicholas Petit-Frere at right tackle. Miller is a center by trade, but the Buckeye staff loved what they saw from the five-star freshman this season and will likely move him over to get him out there. Petit-Frere was just barely edged out by Branden Bowen, and should be in line for the start with his departure.
There are certainly some position battles to watch along the offensive line. Right tackle will be a big one to keep an eye on, as incoming five-star OT Paris Johnson Jr. will no doubt have a chance to win that job in the spring. The Buckeyes have options at guard if they don't choose to move Miller, with Enokk Vimahi and Gavin Cupp waiting in the wings. They also have the hulking 6-foot-8, 360-pound OT Dawand Jones, who is still a bit raw but could push for a spot with a big step forward this offseason. Regardless of who winds up shaping out the starting o-line, Ohio State has no shortage of depth.