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Ohio State has plenty of questions to answer ahead of Cotton Bowl

The Buckeyes face a lot of unknowns in the buildup to the bowl game.

Ohio State v Michigan Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In less than two weeks Ohio State will take the field for the Buckeyes’ last football game of the 2023 season. But what will the Buckeyes look like when they take on the Missouri Tigers in a game that figures to be a great deal more important to Ohio State’s opponent than to an OSU team that expected to be among the final four teams standing to battle it out in the playoff?

Questions surround the Buckeyes as the game approaches. What follows below are some of the biggest ones, and what effects they’ll have on the outcome.

What will the offense look like in the A.M. (After McCord)?

Ryan Day’s starting quarterback quickly entered the transfer portal at the end of the regular season, meaning the offense will look different by default when it next takes the field. That will happen on Dec. 29 in Arlington, Texas.

Devin Brown and Lincoln Kienholz will have taken on a great deal more of the workload in preparation for this game. It will be interesting to see if both quarterbacks play, echoing the camp battle between Brown and Kyle McCord that spilled into the regular season. McCord had in excess of 300 more pass attempts this season than Brown and Kienholz combined, so the passing offense isn’t likely to look as crisp without McCord in this game from an experience standpoint alone.

Who will catch the passes?

Of Ohio State’s three 2023 starting wide receivers, we already know Julian Fleming won’t be on the field, as Fleming entered the transfer portal along with McCord. This isn’t just going to affect Ohio State’s passing game, but Fleming’s edge blocking will be missed as well.

As of this writing (and things can change quickly), two-time unanimous All-American Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka haven’t declared for the NFL Draft yet, but that could still happen. It’s entirely possible that Ohio State’s new quarterback will be throwing to Carnell Tate and Xavier Johnson, among others.

How different will the running backs room look?

Miyan Williams has declared for the draft, and both Chip Trayanum and Evan Pryor have entered the transfer portal. TreVeyon Henderson has publicly said he has yet to make up his mind, but if Henderson decides to turn pro, it’s unlikely he’ll be playing in the Cotton Bowl either.

Dallan Hayden can play, and may have to be the bell cow in the game. If Henderson plays, he’s likely to come back for one more year, so it will be interesting to follow that story. However, it’s not going to be ideal for a backup quarterback to start against a good team without his full complement of receivers and with a limited stable of running backs.

Who will cover Luther Burden III?

Missouri sophomore receiver Luther Burden III finished the regular season with 1,197 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. Which Buckeye will get the assignment of taking away the Tigers’ big weapon?

Denzel Burke could draw the assignment if he’s staying at Ohio State for another year, but like the others mentioned above, any declaration for the NFL Draft would likely mean Burke is sitting out — although he has already said he plans to play in the game the last time he spoke to the media. To make matters a little more murky, Jordan Hancock’s breakout year could have him thinking about Sunday football as well.

Who will man the trenches on defense?

The entire starting Ohio State defensive line is in the same boat as guys like Harrison, Henderson and Burke. Defensive ends J.T. Tuimoloau and Jack Sawyer as well as tackles Tyleik Williams and Mike Hall could all enter the draft as well. So, the possibility exists that the entire starting defensive line will be on the field to start the Cotton Bowl.

However, it’s also possible that all four spots will be occupied by 2023 backups. The most likely scenario is probably somewhere in between.

Does Ohio State want to win this game as much as Missouri?

The players and coaches will say all the right things in the lead-up to the game, but the reality may look different. I’ve been around long enough to see what it looks like when an Ohio State team with grand aspirations falls into a bowl matchup it didn’t want. The team has, in those instances, played uninspired football and has struggled against teams it should wipe the field with.

This Missouri team figured to be a tough out even if Ohio State had all of its weapons in place. With a first-time starting quarterback and potentially a lot of holes being plugged at wide receiver, running back, defensive line and cornerback, there is a chance this could be the most frustrating-looking football of the season. Missouri will look to make a statement against a big-name opponent like Ohio State, and the circumstances are favorable for the Tigers to win.

It will be up to the Buckeyes to rise to this challenge — whether it’s the one they wanted or not.

These are the questions that we’ll be getting more clarity on between now and kickoff on Dec. 29. Which ones are the biggest ones to you?