The NCAA Transfer portal has closed and the NFL Draft Declaration Deadline has passed meaning Ohio State’s roster for the Spring is complete. As the Buckeyes begin their offseason and prepare for Spring Practice, expectations for what to expect in 2023 are fair game.
With the turnover on the roster now settled for the next few months, the place to start is looking at each group. The Buckeyes have significant holes to fill at quarterback, on the offensive line, and the depth across the defensive line. This, combined with players who are expected to increase their roles this year, leads to a need to project quite a bit about what 2023 will have in store.
Ohio State’s expectations as a team are no different, with mounting pressure on the head coach Ryan Day, getting it right with key decisions this year is a necessity. Day has already made a significant move in the promotion of Brian Hartline to offensive coordinator, and putting more trust into Keenan Bailey with his promotion to a full-time coach in his role of tight end coach. Defensively, Buckeye fans expect another big jump in year two under Jim Knowles as the defensive coordinator. Key returnees should aid in that, but the depth remains a large question for Knowles.
The challenge of maintaining the success the Buckeyes had on both sides of the ball should not be taken for granted, but expectations are high with questions for other talented teams all over the country. Each position group will need to elevate its level, and the newcomers to the lineup will be asked to fill some big shoes.
Starting on offense the questions start in two places, but each group brings back huge questions.
The quarterback at Ohio State will be decided by a competition for the first time since C.J. Stroud beat out Kyle McCord and Jack Miller. McCord won the backup job and that gives him an early leg up on second-year signal caller Devin Brown. Whoever wins the job is following in the footsteps of one of the most prolific passers in school history, and will be expected to continue the lineage of successful quarterbacks Coach Day has built.
Ohio State quarterbacks under Ryan Day
|Combined Seasonal Averages from past three quarterbacks
|Combined Seasonal Averages from past three quarterbacks
|68.85 Comp. %
Looking at the numbers, the last three quarterbacks have had an 11-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio and completed just under 70 percent of their throws. That is an absurd standard to uphold, but the precedent is there for first-year starting success. Whether it’s McCord or Brown who inherits the room, there will be no room for drop-off.
Justin Fields made the playoff in his first year as a starter, and Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Stroud both won Rose Bowls. With the returners at receiver and running back, the expectation is having a Fields-like season in terms of team success. Beat the rival – I know it’s not just on the quarterback – and make the playoff while putting up monster stats. That being said, there will be immense pressure on the next quarterback to maintain the level of play and that is the expectation.
This past season Ohio State’s running backs were great, the expectations for this group start with health. Lead back Treveyon Henderson injured his foot against Toledo playing through it at times, but not being the same leading to his season-ending surgery. His running mate Miyan Williams was banged up missing time with a variety of injuries, and before the season started Evan Pryor went down with a season-ending knee injury.
The health of the backfield did not lead to a drop-off in production as a unit as the team still ranked in the top 10 in yards per rush. But the lack of consistency led to a few remarkable rushing performances and impacted the consistency in some situational aspects including short yardage, but this year they will need to be reliable anchors for the offense.
With three new starters on the offensive line, there will need to be patience from this unit which might need to make some success early in the year as the offensive line gets comfortable. They will also be tasked with taking weight off the shoulders of the fresh quarterback.
If they can’t keep their health the offense will be putting a lot of pressure on the rest of the offense like this past season. Stroud was able to keep the offense on schedule and cover up the holes the lack of a consistent running game left at times. The team won’t have this luxury this year, so the pressure is on this group to elevate their level of play and for the fanbase to knock on wood when it comes to the health of this unit.
This is where the expectations raise, we saw what Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson were able to accomplish in their second year as the room leaders. Enter projected first-round pick Marvin Harrison Jr. and leader in receptions Emeka Egbuka. Both of whom are roommates of Kyle McCord and will also carry the same responsibility Olave and Wilson had with Stroud.
Statistically, there is not much more you can ask from this unit, but consistency from Egbuka and Fleming will tell the story of how elite this group can be. They both flashed moments of elite potential, but when the pressure increased in the key moments of the College Football Playoff game against Georgia after Harrison Jr. left the game, they showed there was still a ways to go.
In all three of their second years as starters, there should be a step up from each even with a new quarterback, and this group will come into the year with arguments for the best receiver room in the country. A significant reason for this is the notable talent behind the starting three. Jayden Ballard will be looking for increased play time, Xavier Johnson provides a wildcard to the rotation, and the receivers from the 2022 class will need to separate if they want to hold the grasp on the next-up label from the incoming freshmen.
Will the increased responsibility for Brian Hartline affect the performance of this room and the development of the group? Probably not, but that is a real question. From an expectation standpoint, this is arguably the one that has the most to live up to compared to last year.
The talent in the room should make this possible, and the names themselves should make everyone around the program extremely excited.
This room is the biggest question mark on the entire team, replacing three offensive line starters is never an easy task. Even with the headline-grabbing quarterback battle, none of that will matter if this group can’t play at a high level.
In year two offensive line coach Justin Frye is replacing a first-round pick at left tackle, a consistent starter at right tackle, and a center who was steady at the positions. Now it is probably unfair to have the same expectations for this offensive line compared to last season. If the Buckeyes don’t get this right though, every other offensive position will be affected.
Ohio State missed on their two main offensive line targets in the portal in Jarret Kingston from Washington State and Ajani Cornelius from Rhode Island. This means the staff will be relying on Josh Fryar and Zen Michalski who has limited snaps in his career. On the interior, the Buckeyes landed a commitment from Victor Cutler from Louisiana-Monroe. The transfer said he will likely practice at center if he can provide the consistency of Wypler, the drop-off with returning starters Donovan Jackson and Matt Jones should be minimal.
Pass-protection will be important, but improving in power run situations as well as on key downs will be where the success of this room is measured. The Buckeyes ranked 117th in Power Success Rate according to footballoutsiders.com and ranked in the top 20 in both sack rate statistics. This line won’t have the same level of top-end talent on the outside, but that doesn’t mean the unit can not collectively improve.
If this line can meet in between the all-tackle atrocity from two years ago and last year, I think that would be a fair level of play to expect.
Ohio State has finally moved on from some of the older names in the room in Zach Harrison, Taron Vincent, and Javontae Jean-Baptiste. These players all had moments where they flashed their immense potential, but to most of the fanbase, a fresh start is needed.
The Buckeyes return J.T. Tuimoloau who had one of the most dominant defensive performances in history and Jack Sawyer who came on in the second half of the year. Both players will have high expectations and will be the tone-setters for the defense in passing situations. Last year, Sawyer led the way in the sack category with 4.5. This is not the production that is expected from edge rushers at Ohio State.
Moving to the interior, Mike Hall Jr. played a pivotal role early in the season and had an incredible opener against Notre Dame. Consistency was hard to come by with the injuries he battled and limited snap counts in some games. Tyliek Williams was similar in the lack of consistency but took a minor step back this past season in year one with Knowles.
The depth here is the biggest question, and for the first time in a while, the depth should be young. Outside of that, the key contributors should be expected to take a step forward this season in their second year in Knowles’ scheme.
This group will have the highest expectations on the defensive side of the ball with the return of both starters in second-team All-American Tommy Eichenberg and Steel Chambers. Eichenberg should be a favorite in each defensive award category he is eligible for, and should be a consensus preseason All-American following his 100-tackle season.
Chambers will now be in his third season at the position and will have his second full offseason in the role. With the importance of linebacker play under Knowles and the responsibilities in the group, there will be a lot asked of the two returnees. They will need to be elite against the run, better in their blitz game, and reliable in pass coverage.
Behind them is Cody Simon who will be competing for additional snaps and the role of the third linebacker in some personnel sets. Pressure will be on him with Ohio State fans chomping at the bit for second-year backer C.J. Hicks. I don’t expect Hicks’ role to grow that much given how Knowles prefers to play his two guys the predominant amount of snaps.
This group has the most to gain in year two in with Knowles, so they will be expected to take a huge step forward and lead the way in 2023.
Lathan Ransom and Josh Proctor both announced they are returning this season which should answer immediate questions about depth. Ohio State lost Ronnie Hickman and Tanner McAlister to the draft but added Ja’Had Carter from Syracuse to round out the more experienced players in the room.
Sonny Styles highlights the names looking to take steps forward this year in playing time. In the 2022 season Styles was supposed to be a high school senior, but re-classified to come a year early. He carved out a role against bigger teams and was a key addition to personnel packages against 12-personnel. Cam Martinez saw more play time last season but fell out of favor with some crucial mistakes. With limited experience on defense prior to Ohio State, he can take huge steps with another year under his belt.
The last name here to me is Kye Stokes, a rangy safety prospect from Florida who flashed immense potential in the Spring Game. His play time was limited due to the consistency and reliability of Ronnie Hickman, but his skillset is the most electric Ohio State has had on the back end in some time. Filling out the three positions should not be a challenge for the coaching staff, but increasing the level of play might be with so many of the same faces returning.
This group will have a mix of new and old faces, but the expectation will be to not have a three-game collapse giving up more than 1,000 yards passing. Many key plays fell on the safeties making mistakes. This year those mistakes can’t happen, and the whole defense can take steps forward if the errors are limited.
This is the last group we’re talking about, but the expectations here are high every year. Now that the talent is back to the standard in the room, there is no reason the Buckeyes should not return to their B.I.A mantra.
Denzel Burke improved his play in the second half of the season and that correlated with him getting healthier. He still did not match the level of play he showed throughout his freshman year, but showed at times he can still play at that level. The other starter Cam Brown has aged out and decided to move on with his career and J.K. Johnson decided to transfer after being the main backup in 2022.
This leaves the second corner position wide open for a list of five players. Jordan Hancock looks the part physically but has battled injuries the last two seasons limiting his experience and effectiveness. Bringing in two ultra-talented freshmen in Jermaine Mathews and Calvin Simpson-Hunt should add to the iron sharpens iron aspect Ohio State strives for.
Overall, the talent is there for this group to raise their level of play, but health played a significant part in this group not living up to expectations. Tim Walton’s name has been thrown to the wolves already, so now it is time for him to right the ship with his room in 2023. If this group can perform to the highest expectations, the defense will be one of the best in the country.
The Buckeyes have a lot of questions heading into the offseason, but expectations for this team should not change. Ohio State was a field goal away from playing for a national championship game and seeing how it turned out, probably winning one. That is why even with a new quarterback and multiple offensive linemen, the expectations for Ohio State will be national championship or bust once again.
When Ryan Day talks about the program, he talks about living up to the standard. What that means for each group is different, but when it all comes together that means beating Michigan, winning the Big Ten Championship, and winning a national championship. Anything short of the standard from any position group on the field means the Buckeyes probably fell short of their goals again.
With a mix of new faces, health questions, and a tough schedule, the Buckeyes will have little time for growing pains. My expectations for Ohio State football are no different from last year, and each group has the talent to get over the recent hump.
As winter workouts approach, we’ll get our first indication of what should be expected of the Buckeyes in 2023.