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Prepare yourself for second-year Justin Fields

The Ohio State QB will likely enter next season as the Heisman front-runner

College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Clemson v Ohio State Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

“The beauty for Day is that he’s finally got a chance to coach the same starter for two years and fine-tune the offense around his abilities. And for [Justin] Fields, he’s going to be even more comfortable and involved in the process now that he’s got a full year under his belt in the system and a Heisman Trophy-finalist campaign that serves as a clear reminder that he’s a fast learner.”

- Austin Ward, Lettermen Row

Heading into the 2020 season, Ohio State will be in a position it has not seen all that often in the past few years: The Buckeyes will be returning a starting quarterback.

While J.T. Barrett was a starter in Columbus for multiple seasons, his time was a bit broken up. The team flip-flopped between he and Cardale Jones after the third-string QB’s miraculous National Championship run. Jones actually finished with more pass attempts than Barrett in the 2015 season before Barrett returned to his full-time starter gig in 2016. The change from the 2016 season to 2017 was the last time a Buckeye QB started in back-to-back years, with Barrett still at the helm, before the reigns got passed to Dwayne Haskins in 2018 and then to Justin Fields this past season.

Despite being one of the highest-rated recruits in the nation before his transfer from Georgia to Ohio State, nobody could have really predicted the incredible campaign Fields put together in his first year as a starter at the collegiate level. There was not much more the Buckeye signal caller could have done, finishing his inaugural campaign in Columbus with over 3,700 total yards and 51 total touchdowns while only throwing three interceptions. It will be a tough act to follow in 2020, but if anyone can get more out of a star quarterback, it’s head coach Ryan Day.

Even after putting up video game numbers in year one, Fields could very well be even better this fall. Ryan Day has been lauded throughout his coaching career as a QB whisperer. With the two together for a full offseason of work, and with Fields already indoctrinated in Ohio State’s system, Day should have no problem fine-tuning an offensive scheme around his quarterback’s rare skillset.

In addition, the loss of J.K. Dobbins will likely lead the Buckeye QB to shoulder an even greater load in 2020. While it won’t be as extreme as the air-raid offense OSU rolled out with Haskins, Fields will almost certainly be relied upon more than he was this past year in an offense that was built around the ground-and-pound run game. With a fully healthy knee, and presumably one of the most dominant wide receiver groups in the entire nation, Fields will have a chance to put his full skillset on display as he battles with Trevor Lawrence to become the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Despite LSU taking home the National Championship trophy at the end of the 2019 season, it was Ohio State that finished the year at No. 1 in the SP+ rankings. The SP+ system, designed by ESPN’s Bill Connelly, is designed to be a measure of college football efficiency. It is not purely a ranking of a team’s resume, as it is intended to be more predictive and forward-facing. Rather than giving credit for big wins or strength of schedule metrics, it attempts to measure the sustainable and predictive aspects of football.

As such, after falling to Clemson in the College Football Playoff in what Connelly deemed a “near-statistical draw,” the Buckeyes still earned the top spot in the SP+ rankings at the end of last season. Ohio State simply played the best overall football throughout the season, and finished with a rating of 35.4, just ahead of LSU (33.1) and Alabama (32.4). The Bucks’ offense ranked No. 4 in the nation, while their incredible defense was ranked No. 2 behind only Georgia.

On Thursday, Connelly released his initial preseason SP+ rankings for the 2020 season. The projections are based on three factors: returning production, recent recruiting, and recent history. Despite a ton of losses to the NFL and exhausted eligibility, especially on the defensive side of the ball, Ohio State stands at No. 2 in the initial projection. Alabama, surprisingly, came in at No. 1, with Clemson at No. 3 and the defending champion LSU falling to No. 6 with the loss of Joe Burrow, assistant coach Joe Brady and a handful of other key contributors.

While Connelly admits that he expected Ohio State and Clemson to be at the top of the pack, he explained that the Crimson Tide are returning a pair of key receivers, running back Najee Harris, and the majority of their offensive line and defensive front seven. In addition, quarterback Mac Jones played well after being thrust into action following Tua Tagovailoa’s injury, and now has the added benefit of previous experience as a starting QB.

The Buckeyes are projected to have the No. 3 offense in the nation, as well as the No. 5 defense despite the loss of nearly their entire secondary and the best defensive player in the country in Chase Young.

Ohio State track and field athlete Sade Olatoye is a recipient of this year’s Wayne Duke Award, earned for achievements in academics, athletics, extracurricular activities and leadership. Each Big Ten program nominated one male and one female student athlete for 2020, with Michigan State’s Scott Piper named the male recipient. The honor was initiated back in 2008, and each winner receives a $10,000 scholarship.

Olatoye is a four-time Big Ten champion in weight throw and shot put, helping lead the Buckeyes to a pair of conference titles. She was also the first woman field performer at Ohio State to take home two Big Ten Athlete of the Championship awards. She has competed for Team USA at the U-20 World Championships and on the Nigerian Senior National Team, and plans on representing Nigeria in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

In addition to her athletic feats, Olatoye holds a 3.63 GPA, majoring in health and rehabilitation with a minor in Spanish. She is also a student-athlete peer educator, SHEROS community outreach chair, and a sexual violence prevention leader at Ohio State.

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