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Ask LGHL: Who is Ohio State’s most important player other than C.J. Stroud?

You ask, we answer. Sometimes we ask, others answer. And then other times, we ask, we answer.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

Every day for the entirety of the Ohio State football season, we will be asking and answering questions about the team, college football, and anything else on our collective minds of varying degrees of importance. If you have a question that you would like to ask, you can tweet us @LandGrant33 or if you need more than 280 characters, send an email HERE.

We are back with the results from last week’s LGHL SBNation Reacts survey in which we asked you one question about the Ohio State football team and another about the Big Ten’s reported media deal.

Question No. 1: Other than C.J. Stroud, who will have the biggest impact on the OSU team this year?

Perhaps this one wasn’t worded as well as it could have been, but these numbers surprise me a little bit. What we were trying to get at is something along the lines of “Other than Stroud, who will need to have the best season for OSU to reach its goals this season?”

So, that L was on us for the wording, but in terms of impact, it is tough to argue against Jaxson Smith-Njigba. During his sophomore season, while sharing the field with two top-11 NFL Draft pick wide receivers, he broke records and became the breakout star of the campaign.

Back for what will almost certainly be his last go-'round in the scarlet and gray, JSN will look to lead a restocked wide receiver room. So, with the way that the question was worded, Smith-Njigba and what will likely be a bunch of gaudy numbers make sense.

But I am a little surprised that the three defensive options on the list didn’t even combine to equal half of the receiver’s total. With all due respect to JSN, with the video game-level talent that Brian Hartline has assembled in the WR room, if No. 11 never took the field this year, I think that Emeka Egbuka, Marvin Harrison Jr., Julian Fleming, Jayden Ballard, or some combination of WRs would be able to fill in the gap.

On the other hand, the defense was borderline atrocious last season — at least by Ohio State standards — and if the Buckeyes want to beat their rivals, win the Big Ten, get back to the College Football Playoff, and legitimately contend for a National Championship, the improvements will need to come on the defensive side of the ball.

Generally when discussing defense, things work from front to back. A strong line takes pressure off of the linebacking corps and the secondary. While I think that the d-line in 2021 was significantly better than the other two units, there was certainly room for improvement. While the Buckeyes collected a respectable-ish 36 sacks on the year and ranked in the top-25 for pressure according to Pro Football Focus, collectively the line always felt a step slow.

Whether that was because of individual player shortcomings or mismanagement by the previous defensive coaching staff, who can say (I can, I think it was primarily because of the latter). But, with Jim Knowles reconfiguring the defense, hopefully he will be able to get the most of his most talented players, including J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer.

If the defensive line, and especially the edge rushers, can up their game in 2022, that will make life much easier for the linebackers and defensive backs who are adapting to the bulk of the changes in the new defensive scheme.

Question No. 2: How do you feel about the Big Ten ending its ESPN deal?

I am on the record that the conspiracy theories of [ESPN] being out to undermine Ohio State are silly. While of course, the network has a vested interest in the SEC and ACC, the Buckeyes are arguably the biggest brand in college football, so it would be counterproductive to purposely alienate the fanbase.

However, I seem to be outside of the Buckeye Nation mainstream on this, because a plurality of respondents think that the B1G’s reported exit from the worldwide leader is “great” because of the network’s perceived animosity towards the league.

Now don’t get me wrong, I also think that this will ultimately be a good thing, but more because of the added exposure being on three different broadcast networks will bring. I am still slightly concerned about what it means to not have a presence on the casual fans’ go-to sports hub, but in the long run, I am in favor of conferences and broadcasters doing different things, upsetting the apple cart, shirking the status quo.

It would have been the easiest thing in the world for Kevin Warren and the Big Ten to stick with ESPN, because it was the safest thing to do. Earlier this year, Formula One decided to remain with the network despite being offered more money by multiple streaming services. The racing circuit’s decision is different than that of the B1G since the league’s games will remain on linear channels while the races would have been harder to stumble across on streaming.

But I still think that it is commendable that the B1G was willing to turn its back on what has been a long and profitable relationship in order to embrace the latest and most exciting options available.