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Column: What questions face the Ohio State Buckeyes as they head into the offseason?

Ohio State will need to replace a quarterback and other key contributors with national championship expectations still in mind.

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

Ohio State’s football season is over, which means the offseason is officially here. Before we fully transition to recruiting, basketball, and the other fantastic sports teams at Ohio State, there are some significant questions for the Buckeyes heading into 2023.

On the surface, the Buckeyes went 11-2 and made the College Football Playoff. To many schools and their fans, this year would be seen as a resounding success. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, Ohio State fans aren’t like most, because the Buckeyes have different expectations than most. Losing to Michigan, not winning the Big Ten, and failing to win a national championship means the Buckeyes were 0-3 in their public goals that define the season.

Finishing up the year 0-2 is not the way any one wants their season to end. The Georgia loss gave a shot of confidence into the arm. Even with that, there were some glaring issues that arose at the end, including giving up over 1,000 yards of offense and 97 points in those final two games. But just looking at the last two games would be disingenuous.

The defense improved significantly in every statistic, the offense showed it can compete with the best defenses in the country, and in spite of all the injuries the Buckeyes dealt with through the year they were still just a field goal going through the uprights away from having a chance to win it all.

What is Ryan Day’s future as the play-caller?

This year there were a larger number of complaints about Ryan Day as a play-caller. After the Oregon and Michigan games last year his reputation came into question. Too many bad games against the better teams on his schedule made it feel like the time had past him by. Gone were the clinical and dynamic games that defined his time as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and in his first two seasons as head coach. The lasting glimpse was his playoff win over Clemson, in which Justin Fields’ arm was put on full display.

After not keeping up with Oregon, having long stretches of stagnancy in tougher matchups, and not having the same inventiveness, the questions really came to light. Day was still doing a passable job as the play-caller, but the responsibilities of being a head coach and play-caller adds a lot of weight to the headset. It felt like a time to pass the torch was here, and this was realized in the lead up to Ohio State’s matchup against Georgia during Day’s production meeting with ESPN.

“Ryan Day mentioned in our production meeting, he’s going to stop calling plays next year, because he needs to become more of a manager as a head coach. And when you’re prepping a game plan, there’s a lot more that goes into it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday to be ready to call those plays on Saturday. So he’s thinking about maybe relinquishing those (play calling duties),” said Kirk Herbstreit in regards to Day’s play-calling future.

In a world where Day gives up play-calling, the question of how that looks will define the offseason. The voice making the decision on a play-by-play basis will be different. This is not a light decision for Day. Giving up that control takes away a defining strength of Day, and that strength is what made him the head coach at Ohio State.

Ryan Day will still be the architect of what the offense looks like, but the game day operation changes entirely. The new offensive coordinator and play-caller is likely already on staff due to the 10-coach rule, but the new voice will have the responsibility of running Ryan Day’s offense to his standards. Whether that’s run game coordinator and offensive line coach Justin Frye, or pass game coordinator and wide receiver coach Brian Hartline.

Whoever is calling the plays will be responsible for bringing along a first-year starting quarterback and building a run game that can be dominant in power run and short-yardage situations. This will come with a lot of pressure, and a lot of questions as the season approaches.

Quarterback Competition

C.J. Stroud played his final game as a Buckeye, and although his legacy at Ohio State left a little on the table, he proved he can lead a team to a playoff while leading an explosive offense. The next quarterback is following up four record-setting QBs, multiple playoff appearances, and three-straight Heisman finalists. Stroud leaves with 8,123 yards and 85 touchdowns — second in Ohio State history in both categories — leaving a lot of production needing replaced.

The contenders for the job are third-year quarterback Kyle McCord and second-year quarterback Devin Brown. Both come with elite recruiting pedigree like their predecessors, but they both come with a different skill set. McCord brings a more traditional pocket-passing style, staying in the pocket and using his arm strength to stretch the field. On the other side is Brown, who is able to create off schedule and has an incredible ability to layer his throws even when he is off platform.

McCord has a start under his belt and a year of experience in the offense, which should give him the edge entering camp. Brown was an early-enrollee and did get snaps under his belt this season, so he could make it interesting. Their play styles are different enough that it can impact how the entire offense looks.

On top of that, there will be plenty of questions and a deep-dive into whoever wins every throw as they enter their career as the starter. The pressure is meant to create the best possible player, and this leads to the expectation that there will be no drop off, even though it is a major transition. There will be tons of questions along the way, and even more when the decision is made — including questions about transfer possibilities. This is the first time in two years, so let’s buckle up.

Offensive Line Depth

On the offensive line this year, there were two All-Americans and two more All-Conference selections. Four out of five starters receiving end of year accolades is no small feat, and shows the talent the Buckeyes had.

This year they will be replacing both tackles in Paris Johnson Jr. and Dawand Jones. These two accounted 1590 snaps played last season. Ohio State has looked in the transfer portal at a few linemen, and zoned in on Washington State’s Jarrett Kingston, who would come in and be able to start immediately. On the roster, Josh Fryar held up well in his one start this season and in heavy tight end duty in the Bison packages.

Center Luke Wypler was the 5th rated center in the country and has a major decision coming up. With many draft sites having him in the 3rd round range, it is unlikely he can raise that status much higher given the position he plays. If he chooses to go, that leaves arguably the largest hole to fill on the team. Matt Jones may have another year of eligibility and can slide over. If not, then Jakub James was the only other player to take snaps at center.

The only full lock to return next season is right guard Donovan Jackson. This gives you a strong foundational player who can play at left guard or left tackle. If you’re Ohio State, the hope would be to keep him at his natural position. Outside of Jackson, there are tons of questions ahead for the offensive line, and year two will be a real test to what Justin Frye can do as an offensive line coach.

Second Corner

This unit struggled this year under new corners coach Tim Walton. The level of play and injuries led to a disappointing season for the third consecutive year. The lack of development could be blamed on the missed time from every corner on the roster. Starters Cam Brown and Denzel Burke both missed times and battled injuries from Fall Camp well into the season, and the young corners struggled at times when thrown into the fire. Jordan Hancock was the third corner coming into the year, and never got going due to injuries.

The health alone raises a lot of questions for the team, and the lack of success should lead to a wide open competition. There are two four-stars coming in Jermaine Mathews and Calvin Simpson-Hunt. With Burke likely being one of the starters, that second spot will be wide open.

For this group, there is continuity going from this season into next with Walton entering year two, and his second year with Jim Knowles should add to his ability to coach what Knowles needs. Developing in year two can define the defense, and if they improve, the defense will have the ability to be even more creative.

The level of corner play is a huge question entering the offseason, and the answers to these questions will have a lot of ramifications on what this Ohio State team can accomplish.

These aren’t the only questions heading into the offseason. The Buckeyes have some key contributors they’ll be replacing and are still waiting on some key players making decisions about their NFL futures. Once the Buckeyes get their answers on the draft front, we’ll have a full idea of what the team will likely look like in 2023.

Ohio State is expected to reload and take another shot at a national championship, and looking across the country they are not alone. They will once again have one of the most-talented rosters in the nation, so expectations will be high. With the additional pressure of ending the losing streak against Michigan, winning the Big Ten Championship, and winning a national championship, these questions will need to be answered early and emphatically.

There is no time to waste for Ryan Day, and every decision will define the next steps for Ohio State as the conference expands with the playoff. Other Big Ten foes have shown they’re not sitting around any more with their recent coaching hires. If Ohio State falls short again, the rest of the conference can make more strides.

That is why asking these questions now is important, and whatever the answers to these questions are will define the season ahead.