We’re now a week removed from the end of the 2020 college football season, so what better time to start making predictions for 2021? Obviously there will be a ton that happens between now and the start of the new season come (hopefully) August, but it is always fun to try and take a stab at what things will look like way ahead of time. So, we put out a poll on Twitter last week to get a pulse of how Buckeye Nation is feeling about next year.
There could be transfers, injuries, additional freshmen and all sorts of other changes to the roster over the course of the next several months, but here is what you, the fans, predict will happen at Ohio State in 2021 as of right now.
C.J Stroud will win the QB battle
Over 80% of respondents believe that C.J. Stroud will be Ohio State’s starting quarterback in 2021. A freshman this past season, Stroud, like all of OSU’s quarterbacks not named Justin Fields, did not attempt a pass, but there is reason to be optimistic about his talents. Stroud was the highest overall four-star recruit in the Buckeyes’ 2020 class, coming in as the No. 2 pro-style QB and No. 42 overall recruit in the country. In 247Sports’ own rankings, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound California native achieved five-star status as the nation’s 29th overall prospect.
Despite not attempting a pass, Stroud did manage to have a highlight play in 2020 when he ran for a 48-yard touchdown in garbage time against Michigan State in what would wind up being Ohio State’s final game of the regular season. While Ryan Day never officially named a backup QB this past season, it was Stroud who came in off the bench when Fields went down for a play in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson, and he was clearly the No. 2 guy on the depth chart late in the year. It will not be easy to win the starting job by any stretch however, as the other two guys fighting for the job are no slouches.
Jack Miller, who was also a freshman this past season, was actually the first QB committed to Ohio State in the 2020 class, coming in as a four-star prospect and the No. 13 pro-style QB in the country. His rankings took a hit late in his recruitment as a result of injuries, but there is a reason Day was so high on him. There will also be five-star incoming freshman Kyle McCord, who ranks as the No. 3 pro-style QB and No. 25 player overall in the 2021 class. McCord got 8.8% of the vote to start next season, while Miller got 4.4%.
A few respondents thought Justin Fields would return, but he officially declared for the NFL Draft on Monday afternoon.
Master Teague edges out TreVeyon Henderson at RB
In a much closer vote, Master Teague (44.1%) just barely beat out incoming freshman TreVeyon Henderson (39.7%) as the projected starting running back. With Trey Sermon off to the NFL following a dominant postseason stretch prior to his incredibly unfortunate injury at the very start of the national title game, it would appear as though it would be Teague’s job to lose, but Ohio State’s running back room will be filled to the brim with talent come 2021.
An injury to Teague in the Big Ten title game opened the door for Sermon, but before that it was Teague who had served as the Buckeyes’ No. 1 back. He certainly was no J.K. Dobbins, but he was serviceable all year long, rushing for 514 yards on 4.9 yards per carry with eight TDs in seven games. Teague is a big bruising back, but he didn’t quite have the wiggle you'd like to see from an Ohio State running back to really pick up those extra yards and make plays when there isn’t a huge hole to run through.
Which could potentially open the door for Henderson, who comes to Columbus as the No. 1 RB in the country in the 2021 class. Already drawing comparisons to Christian McCaffrey, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound back is an incredible athlete, casually scoring 45 total touchdowns with over 2,400 yards rushing on 198 carries in his 2019 season at Hopewell (VA). It is definitely not out of the question that he takes over the starting job right from day one, but there will be lots of competition aside from just Teague.
Miyan Williams, who got 14.7% of the fan vote, flashed in very limited action in 2020, and I personally would love to see more of the man they affectionately call “Meatball” in 2021. A former three-star recruit, Williams stands at 5-foot-8, 227-pounds, and is a wrecking ball with quick feet and a ton of strength. Evan Pryor will also be joining the mix as the No. 2 all-purpose back in 2020, while Steele Chambers and Marcus Crowley return. There are no shortage of options at the position, lets just hope Ohio State doesn’t try to go with another two-RB system — something that will simply never work no matter whose toting the rock.
Henderson makes the biggest impact as a freshman
Unsurprisingly, based on the results to the previous question, Henderson (52.2%) got the majority of the vote for the five-star freshman who will make the biggest impact in 2021. Impressively enough, Ohio State could potentially add a sixth five-star in the 2020 class prospect if they are able to land defensive end J.T. Tuimoloau, and all six of these guys could potentially make a huge impact in their first year on campus.
Despite all the options at running back, the lack of a clear No. 1 guy in that room opens the door for Henderson to see significant playing time and perhaps even start as a freshman. Right behind him, however, was defensive end Jack Sawyer (32.8%). Tyreke Smith will most likely be returning next season, which would place he and Zach Harrison as the team’s starting edge rushers. Guys like Tyler Friday and Javonte Jean-Baptiste will also look to earn additional playing time, but Sawyer — the No. 4 player overall in the country — could definitely crack the rotation.
Emeka Egbuka, the nation’s No. 1 wide receiver, got 10.4% of the vote, and would likely see a bunch of playing time if Ohio State’s receiver room wasn’t so deep and stacked with talent. McCord won’t make much of an impact unless he earns the starting QB job, but I wouldn’t sleep on Donovan Jackson — the nation’s No. 1 guard — getting reps on an offensive line that will have to replace some talent up the middle.
Haskell Garrett will be missed the most
While Fields and Chris Olave would be the most obvious answers, the fans are largely split on who else they think the team will miss the most next year (given that all of these guys choose to leave). Haskell Garrett has not made any official decision just yet, but the senior received 26.5% of the vote to lead all players. With the free year of eligibility, Garrett could choose to return to Ohio State for one more season, but he may instead elect to test the NFL Draft waters after a dominant campaign.
This vote hinges on not only how good the exiting player is, but also how confident fans are in their backups. There are a lot of unknowns at defensive tackle, which likely aided in the amount of people who chose Garrett and Tommy Togiai (8.8%). Coming in second in this category was Pete Werner at 16.2%, followed by a tie between Wyatt Davis and Trey Sermon at 13.2%. Tuf Borland, aka the J.T. Barrett of the defense in terms of how polarizing he was among the fanbase, received 7.4% of the vote.
Ohio State will be losing a ton of talent across the board, but with the way Ryan Day has been recruiting, I wouldn’t worry about a sharp drop-off and any position on either side of the ball. All others receiving votes included Justin Hilliard (5.9%), Josh Myers (5.9%) and Shaun Wade (2.9%).
Ohio State will win the B1G, make the CFP
Every single respondent in our survey thinks that Ohio State will win the Big Ten for the fifth consecutive season. While Michigan and Penn State will almost assuredly be better next season (right?) and Indiana is on the rise, the fans feel that the Buckeyes are still far and away the best team in the conference. Even though everyone thinks they will win the B1G, 11.8% think that won’t be good enough to make the College Football Playoff in 2021.
Looking forward to: Normalcy
We asked respondents to tell us what they are looking forward to the most in 2021, and the overarching theme from the majority of people was a hopefully normal college football season. Tons of you wrote that you are most looking forward to a full schedule, tailgates, fans in the stands, TBDITL, and all of the other pageantry and aspects of the sport that make college football so great. We sincerely hope that can all become a reality later this year.
In terms of specific in-game stuff, a bunch of people wrote that they are excited to once again beat up on TTUN. Many of you are looking forward to seeing another new quarterback under the development of Ryan Day, while some are excited to see all the young faces in the running back, receiver and linebacker rooms. While The Game was obviously the most talked about matchup among specific games on the schedule, people are also looking forward to the tilt against Oregon and a potential rematch with Alabama in the CFP.
Most concerned about: Defense
In the same tune that most people are looking forward to returning to what will hopefully be a much more normal college football season, there were a good handful of people who said their biggest worry would be another year heavily impacted by COVID-19. However, Buckeye Nation seems to be pretty optimistic, and this wasn’t the most common theme among the responses.
Instead, Ohio State fans are understandably concerned about what the defense will look like in 2021. For most of the season the defense did not nearly live up to the standard we have seen in Columbus in recent years, and that really came to a head against Alabama when the Crimson Tide ran free and put up over 50 points with ease. Whether it was a result of poor scheme, a lack of talent at key positions, or a combination of the two, Kerry Coombs will have to put a better foot forward in 2021 if Ohio State wants to compete for a national title.
The only other real concern among fans is the new quarterback. Justin Fields was one of if not the greatest quarterback in school history, and it will be a tough act to follow for whoever wins the job come August. However, I wouldn’t be too concerned about QB play under Ryan Day. There is no shortage of talent at the position, and with all the offensive weapons that guy will have around him, I expect the Buckeye offense to continue humming without much of a hiccup.