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B1G Thoughts: Five offseason questions for Ohio State

Ohio State enters 2023 with a lot of questions to answer if they want to take back the Big Ten crown and win a national championship.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara Perenic/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The 2022 season has come to an end. It was a great season that leaves many questions to be answered as we enter the 2023 offseason. Michigan won the Big Ten for the second year in a row, taking the crown from Ohio State.

Ohio State enters the new year a field goal away from a national championship appearance, but now has to replace C.J. Stroud. Will this be the first time in almost a decade that the best quarterback in the conference doesn’t wear scarlet and grey?

Nebraska, Purdue, and Wisconsin enter 2023 with new coaches while Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Indiana’s Tom Allen enter on the hot seat. Penn State has high expectations, Illinois will try to rebound from a late-season collapse, and Minnesota is trying to replace four of the best players in program history.

This is the final offseason before USC and UCLA enter the conference and the new TV deal starts. Teams must build a foundation that will last in the ever-changing landscape of college football. The 2023 offseason is essential for every team, so let’s dive in and see which five questions each team must answer before the 2023 season begins.

Who will be Ohio State’s quarterback for the 2023 season?

For the past two years, Ohio State has been led by star quarterback C.J. Stroud. The two years before that, Justin Fields. Fields was a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, and is currently making a name for himself in the league, solidifying himself as a quality starting quarterback this season.

Stroud is entering the 2023 NFL Draft as a projected top-five pick with all the traits to succeed in the league. Stroud finished his Ohio State career with 8,123 yards, 85 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions with a 69.3% completion rate. Replacing Stroud will be a tall task for head coach Ryan Day and quarterbacks coach Corey Dennis.

The quarterback competition is already underway, with former five-star Kyle McCord battling former four-star Devin Brown through winter workouts. The competition will speed up in the spring with spring ball.

The previous three quarterback competitions were handled differently. In 2018, Dwayne Haskins battled Joe Burrow, and Day called the competition in the spring so the other could find a new program to play for. Famously, this led to Joe Burrow transferring to LSU where he won a national championship and became the no. one overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft. In 2019, Justin Fields battled Matthew Baldwin but was effectively the starter by the end of spring camp leading Baldwin to transfer to TCU stating that he wanted to be closer to home. In 2021, Day let the competition play on all the way through fall camp announcing a starter shortly before the first game of the season.

McCord is in his third year of the program and should get the chance to transfer after spring ball if he loses, but we don’t know how Day will handle the competition.

McCord has advantages, as he is in his third year of the program, and was Stroud’s backup throughout 2021 and 2022. He also has the most — albeit limited — playing experience, having played a whole game against Akron during the 2021 season. Plus, he was the high school teammate of Marvin Harrison Jr., the best wide receiver in the country, which can’t hurt.

Don’t count out Devin Brown though, who is a great athlete with the requisite arm strength to make every throw. Under Day’s guidance, Ohio State has put three first-round quarterbacks into the league. The next quarterback has big shoes to fill, but under the guidance of Day and Dennis, they may be able to limit the drop-off and continue competing for Big Ten and National championships.

What improvements can defensive coordinator Jim Knowles make for year two?

After a dismal 2021 season where Ohio State’s defense couldn’t stop a nosebleed, Ryan Day fired basically the entire defensive staff and hired Broyles award winner Jim Knowles to fix the defense. For most of 2022, the defense was pretty stout with a few cracks, but by season end those cracks busted open, with the Buckeyes giving up 20, 45, and 42 points to Maryland, Michigan, and Georgia in their last three games.

Ultimately the defense improved, finishing the season 14th in total defense and 10th in stop rate, according to The Athletic. In 2021, Ohio State finished 53rd in total defense, so there was a marked improvement in Knowles’s first season.

Historically, Knowles’s defense gets better in years two and three, and they will be buoyed by the returns of linebackers Tommy Eichenberg and Steele Chambers as well as safety Lathan Ransom. The Silver Bullets also have multi-year starters entering their third season, so expectations will be high.

For the past two years, this team was carried by the offense, but with a first-time starter and questions on the offensive line, the defense may have to step up to allow the offense to work through their issues early in the season. The true questions will come at the end of the season, and Knowles will be tasked with making sure his defense doesn’t falter against Michigan or in the College Football Playoff, should they make it.

What changes will Brian Hartline bring to the offense as offensive coordinator?

Ohio State enters the offseason with a new offensive coordinator, as former coordinator Kevin Wilson accepted the head coaching position at Tulsa. Former NFL wide receiver and current wide receivers coach Brian Hartline has been named Wilson’s replacement.

When asked about the promotion, Day said, “Brian has also developed his wide receivers at an unprecedented level and he has recruited as well or better than anyone in the country. Now he’ll be recruiting for our entire offense, and I think that is something that will be positive for our program.”

While he mentioned Hartline’s recruiting acumen, there was no mention of play-calling, — despite reports that Day may be considering giving up play-calling duties. We do not know who will call plays, but Hartline enters as a younger coach with NFL experience. He will be tasked with firstly maintaining the level of play from the past few seasons, while finding ways to improve and tweak an already excellent offense.

Day is still the de facto coordinator, and until otherwise stated will be calling plays, which is good for continuity. Hartline will have to find a way to make it his own while maintaining the best wide receiver corps in the country.

Who steps up in the secondary?

Ohio State’s biggest concern entering the 2023 offseason is the secondary — specifically the cornerback position. The lack of depth and overall talent in the cornerback room was on display as Michigan and Georgia attacked the corners, leading to big plays and long touchdowns which eventually cost the Buckeyes both games.

Denzel Burke had a rough start to the 2022 season before settling down in the back half of the year. He is joined by Jordan Hankcock, Ryan Turner, Jyaire Brown, and incoming freshmen Jermaine Matthews and Calvin Simpson-Hunt, barring any additional transfers.

The room is young and not very deep, but they must improve this offseason if Ohio State wants to be competitive next year. Knowles and cornerback coach Tim Walton have missed on multiple corners in the transfer portal, but just received a Crystal Ball for Ole Miss transfer Davison Igbinosun, which would be a big get.

This room needs a major improvement and an infusion of talent. Burke is the only corner with experience, so every player will have a chance to secure a spot. I’s up to Walton to develop the young players into Big Ten caliber corners and fix what was a glaring weak spot in 2022.

Who plays offensive tackle and where do they find offensive line depth?

Ohio State is losing three starting offensive linemen to the 2023 NFL Draft as left tackle Paris Johnson Jr., right tackle Dawand Jones, and center Luke Wypler all entered their names in the draft. Offensive line coach Justin Frye is going to earn his money this year fixing the mistakes of former coach Greg Studrawa, who left his room with minimal depth and a lack of blue-chip talent.

Frye was aggressive in the transfer portal, but missed out on all of his tackle prospects before finally landing Louisiana-Monroe transfer Victor Cutler, who will compete for the starting center spot.

Frye and his unit were helped out by Matt Jones choosing to put off the draft to maintain his right guard spot, while former five-star Donovan Jackson will maintain the left guard spot. Assuming Cutler wins the job, the middle of the line is secure, but tackle is still a question.

Josh Fryar may be the favorite to land the left tackle spot after serving as the backup tackle for much of 2022, but it is unknown if he will be able to man the left side of the line, which is arguably the most important position as it is tasked with protecting the quarterback’s blindside.

Right tackle will be a battle between Zen Michalski, Tegro Tshabola, George Fitzpatrick, and incoming freshman Luke Montgomery, again, barring any transfers. With a first-time quarterback, it’ll be integral for Frye to put a solid unit on the field and develop depth or else it will be a long season.